14 March, Cliffwater Lake: Pales

Dawn rose over the mountains framing Cliffwater. The sun's low reflection in the lake turned the waters a deep crimson. Just beyond the waters edge, men and women stood assembled in ranks, a small army numbering just over six hundred men. Atop the hillock rising in front of the gathered force stood a slender woman and a stocky man.

"Dawn is approaching, Murdoch" the woman said without turning, "That means the spectacle is about to begin."

"Most of the soldiers here are new recruits, they will have never seen what happens when we attack at dawn, milady." Murdoch replied. "I still remember the first time I saw you, atop a hillock at dawn, blazing like heavenly fire on…."

The woman snorted. "I haven't been doing this that long. And you certainly weren't the eager-eyed boy you made yourself out to be."

This time Murdoch chuckled, "As you say, milady."

They both fell silent and watched the sun line creep steadily closer to them. It overtook the group before them, lighting the armored group in front of them. Each man was clad in chain mail, dyed red, with helms and leather to match. They carried spears, had extra javelins strapped to their backs and short swords rode on their hips. Murdoch was dressed much the same, except the spear he carried had heads on both ends. The woman stood out like a ruby in dirt. She was wearing a red lacquered breastplate adorned with silver that had been polished until it shone. Her arms and legs were wrapped in chain mail, and each limb was capped with either leather boots or gauntlets. Her black hair was gathered in a ponytail that trailed down her back and ended at her belt, on what was secured an unusual scabbard. It held two broadswords, each in different sheathes, and a few throwing knives in pockets along the front edge. Her halberd was planted in the soft ground beside her.

The sun has cleared the troops and was moving up the hillock towards her and Murdoch.

"Get ready," He whispered, drawing a quick mock glare from her.

Her name was Escol, and she was a Tactician Grandmaster- a military genius without equal, appointed guardian of the realm of Palas, the mountain empire. The land she was tasked with defending was located in the northeastern part of Vayre, the southwestern corner of the continent, surrounded by ocean to the south and east, and a great wasteland to the north and west.

The sun was at her feet now.

Geographically, she was still on her side of the border, about to lead her small force on a scouting run to gather information on the state of the Melite military. The winter snow had melted away, and the season for war had begun.

Escol shielded her eyes as the sun finally broke fully away from the mountains and triggered the display of power that would inspire her force to win the field. She heard the gasp from the troops as the light hit her armor full on, and she glowed a brilliant crimson. She drew the second sword from her belt, and thrust it over her head as it burst into flames. Murdoch followed suit, hoisting his spear toward the sky, and the hundreds in front of her followed suit.

"We march to victory!" Murdoch bellowed.

She continued to hold the sword aloft until the fire died down, but the effect the spectacle had on the troops would not wear off.

"Murdoch, I'll take three hundred and fifty men west to Palliston and take it. I want the city taken by noon, so the men can rest for the end of the day. Tomorrow we march south." Escol said.

"Yes, milady," Murdoch responded, bowing his head.

"And Murdoch," Escol continued, her grey eyes sparkling in the morning light, "I'm going to lead my men from the front to remind them I'm not all brains. You have command of the overall operation. I trust you still remember how to do it all."

"As milady wishes, I believe I can hold my own away from the front lines," Murdoch pulled on his helmet, "And good luck."

14 March, Ives: Delian

"The council will now hear from the Tactician Major!" The caller announced.

"Cael, pay attention. You're being called to speak!" A man named Pen nudged his companion on the arm. The two were at a table in the back of a huge plaza, pouring over maps of Delian. Lines had been added and numbers inked over cities and forts that were printed on the map. The man he was speaking to was hunched over a map, adding and subtracting troop numbers, jotting down notes in the barren areas marked as the Western Sea.

Delian was a league of city-states governed by a council of representatives. The 14th of March marked the ceremonial first meeting of the year, and nearly the entire city had turned out to witness it.

Cael stood and stepped towards the giant stage that served as the podium for this meeting while mentally calming himself. These were politicians, not soldiers, and he had to be careful how he spoke to them. He didn't have an imposing figure; he stood slightly shorter than the average man, and wasn't built like a soldier. He reached the podium and, with his feet out of sight, stood on his toes to get an extra inch of height. He began talking with a nervous grin.

"Councilors, and other persons of note, our military is once again sound, we have recovered from last years treachery and now it is the time to campaign. I propose a strike to our wooded north, capture the forts at Havva-Ley and Alcist-Ley, and then make straight for the Raelit border. That will divide the land into two parts, and give us time to assess the situation and make further plans at that time." Cael paused to wipe the sweat off his forehead and continued. "The expedition is set to begin as soon as possible. The bulk of my force has crossed the Cawla, and awaits only myself and the troops from Ives."

The rebellion had occurred last year, almost immediately after Cael had ascended to the rank of Tactician Major, the second one in service at the time to Delian. The other, a man named Lane, had led the revolt. It began within the military's ranks, fueled on accusations that the government was a corrupt mass, oppressing the people and using the military to accomplish its strong-arm goals. Soon even commoners joined Lane's growing banner, and the region north of the river Cawla was taken and held by Lane. To make matters worse, Ennant and Kappa attacked Delians borders, claiming chunks of precious land.

"I have toured our defenses on the new borders with Kappa and Ennant, and I believe they will be sufficient for protection while we focus on the north." He continued.

Cael remained loyal to Delian, and guided the reeling army against this new state, as well as halted the advancing armies of from the south and east. Before winter set in, Cael had begun reclaiming land across the Cawla. He spent the winter months drawing up a campaign to reclaim the lost land, but an order from the Council, meeting unofficially, changed his plans.

A fat councilor rose to his feet, interrupting Cael. "We agree that action must be taken, but what about our farmland we lost to the north of the Tenna River? Shouldn't that be our top priority?"

Cael stared at the councilor and thought to himself, Apparently he wasn't invited to the Council's war meeting. I have issues with wasting our time on the worthless woodlands of the north myself. Lane's not going anywhere this year, but our leaders decided he has to be made an example of before we do anything else.

"Our most pressing business is to regain our border with Raelit, so we can be aptly defended from them, the greater threat. If we have accomplished that by midsummer, we can devote resources to retaking our lands in the south." Cael lied. "If there are no further questions from the councilors, I will excuse myself. I have a war to begin."

14 March, Abdun: Raelit

"Volley!" Lane bellowed, loosing a shaft with a twang to join about two hundred other arrows launched at his command. "Baelin, your men stick to support, give us cover until we close to 50 yards, then break up and begin individual action."

Baelin signaled his acknowledgement, and then raised his right arm as the greater portion of Lane's men nocked their bows and set to fire on Baelin's command. Lane and around fifty bowmen drew swords and daggers and advanced on the gate to the town of Abdun. It should be unbarred- Lane had his sharpshooters eliminate anyone near the gate before he began the attack- and make sure everyone else stayed well away. They reached the gate, and Lane signaled two men to haul open the massive doors. The doors were pulled open with a creak, and arrows whistled and impacted with a thud in bodies. The defenders brought down more of Lane's troops as they rushed inside. An arrow glanced off a man's shoulder in front of Lane and pin wheeled past, only inches from his face. He and the first wave in began to find cover, using it to exchange volleys with the defenders, and allow more of his men to enter.

Still out in the open, he dashed to the first house on his right. Closing his eyes, he lowered his shoulder and pulverized the closed door. Splinters flew in every direction as his momentum carried him and the remains of the door onto the man standing just inside. Lane rode the man to the ground with a crash, rolling off as a sword slashed down, embedding itself in the door. He scrambled to his feet and faced the second man just as he finished wrenching his sword free from the door. Panting, Lane let his opponent strike first- a lunging thrust intended to skewer and pin him to the wall- and parried it aside with a clang. He grabbed the man's wrist with his free hand, brought his knee up into his crotch. All air exited the body as the man grunted, while Lane shoved the limp man onto the floor. A quick jab into his chest dispatched him, and he focused his attention on the remaining soldier. He had recovered from Lane's entrance, and was advancing slowly, sword drawn. Lane knew he saw how his comrade was beaten, and he wouldn't fall for the same trick. Instead of waiting for a charge, Lane bounded for the man himself, clearing the distance in a few steps. He traded several slashes and blocked a particularly nasty stroke, and turned the blade so both men had their swords locked above their heads. Staring the man in the eyes, he drew a dagger and stabbed the man in the heart. Blood gurgled from his mouth as he collapsed at Lane's feet. Lane quickly wiped both blades on the man's tunic and sheathed them, then crouched and crept over to the open door, and peeked out.

The enemy still held the ground across from the entrance, and were trading arrows with Lane's men inside the wall. Baelin's men had reached the gate, and more were pouring in, filling in positions behind the men already there. Pulling his composite bow off his back, he watched as an enemy bowman popped above the barricade and loosed an arrow. Lane counted to himself the time it took for the archer to ready himself after he had ducked down again. When the man popped up again, Lane's had fully formed a plan in his head. He nocked an arrow and began counting as the man ducked down again. When he reached the correct time, he released his arrow, which caught the man in the neck as he was coming up. His choked cry and errant shot distracted the bowman to his left, who paid for that with his life. Arrows thudded against the house as Lane scrambled back. Lane dared a peek through the window and saw several of his men charge the house opposite his, spurred on by his flashy attack and the distraction it caused. He heard a call for retreat, and saw archers abandoning their posts. Some retreating men took arrows in their backs, but most made it down the street, to, Lane assumed, regroup and hold the new line. He got to his feet and exited the house.

Baelin was at the gate, bellowing for stretchers. Lane smiled at him and called for men to begin advancing, clearing the houses out. He also signaled his sharpshooters to take to the rooftops and fire at targets of opportunity. Guards were posted at the gate, and a ward was set up under Baelin's eye as men practiced field surgery and tended to the wounded. All seemed to be going well.

"Baelin! Report!" Lane called.

Baelin was a veteran commander. He was a Templar- trained like Lane in tactics at the Academy in Phi, but instead of returning to his nation of birth to fight, he stayed in Phi. He met Lane fifteen years ago, when he was a student in Baelin's class. They kept in touch after Lane's graduation and return to Delian, and when Lane began expressing his ideas to lead a coup, he had hurried to Delian to help. He now pulled a map out of his satchel as he approached Lane, and gestured for his commander's company.

"News from the south, Lane." He said as he opened the map. "Delian readies itself at our border, men and material cross the Cawla in the open. Cael himself has returned from the southern borders, presumably to attend the meeting at Ives."

"How recent is this?" Lane asked, staring at numbers written on the map.

"Less than a week old," Baelin replied. "Today should be the ceremonial first council meeting."

Lane shuddered at the thought of those meetings. "Why would they attack us? Even we know they lost farmland to Kappa. They don't have the resources to wage war on us as well as defend their borders. Cael must realize this isn't their best course of action. The question is whether he has the spine to do what is right or what is ordered of him."

Baelin nodded.

"Baelin, I need you to go south. As soon as we finish here, take half the men south to Havva Ley and hold it against Delian. Send a runner to Kilni Ley and have them reinforce me here, I need men and war machines." Lane folded the map up and handed it back to the smaller man.

"You shall get them in one weeks time, Lane." Baelin accepted the map, and left, heading to a group of his archers he would take further into the city.

The city surrendered two hours later- the thirty-two surviving soldiers throwing down their arms and emerging to end the battle. Lane had them put under guard and called for a final report on the battle. Twenty-seven men killed, thirty-four more wounded. The walled city was captured intact, its fields and populace relatively unharmed, and Raelit unaware that it was lost- probably until at least late summer, when its food tribute won't arrive. Furthermore, Lane captured a fairly vast military store. From the prisoners, he learned that most border towns were also restocking points for the Raelit infantry. In total, nearly one hundred apiece in bows, spears, swords, and mail vests. Thousands of arrows were found, although most were unfletched. Lane had it all moved from the stockrooms into wagons, which Baelin would accompany south. Lane decided it was time to give marching orders, so he had the men gathered, and stood before them. He was lightly armored, his old chain mail from Delian worn under his leather armor, his bracers and gloves were also leather, as were his boots and leggings. A ratty green half-cloak was worn over his left shoulder, to provide some protection to his composite bow when it was not in use. He wore a double quiver full of arrows on his back as well. A pair of shortswords rode at his hip, as well as a pouch containing spare strings for his bow. He wore his black hair short, and had a few days growth on his face. His perpetual smile was perhaps his most recognizable physical trait.

"Well fought today, lads. You did everything I expected from you. In two hours, most of you will be marching with Baelin southward, escorting our haul in weapons. The rest of you will hold the town with me, until we get reinforced. Then we will march west, our objective being the port of Danis. Your captains have the rest of your assignments, and I'm proud of you all."

14 March, Launch: Tain

Trystan dismounted and handed the reins of his horse to the stable master who met him in the street. His feet touched the cobblestones of the port town of Launch, and he breathed in the salty air. The town looked archaic- monolithic buildings of stone, square pillars holding up massive facades and friezes, depicting pasts long forgotten, a recurring coat of arms that Trystan thought vaguely resembled the one engraved on his cuirass, the emblem of the sovereignty of Melite. The dark grey sky matched the stonework, and the rolling shadows fit right into the architecture. When a hand suddenly rested on his shoulder, he instinctively leaned forward while raking his curved cavalry falcatta from his hip, and slashing while he spun around. He watched as the hands owner- a young girl of no more than ten- was bisected by his slash, yet continued to smile at him. His blade wasn't even slowed by her body, and the force whipped him around.

"Prince Trystan, decurio and Tactician Major of Melite, we thank you for honoring our request for your presence so swiftly." The girl spoke, "I am tasked with bringing you to the audience chamber, please follow me."

Trystan shook his head in disbelief. Although he still held the title of decurio, he had long since stopped commanding his own cavalry group. Now, he was in charge of all affairs of martial matters for Melite, and led most war efforts personally. He assumed that meant the rumors were true about the man who summoned him. He put away his sword and began to follow the girl, who appeared to be heading to a temple at the end of the street. On a whim, he reached out and swiped at her shoulder. His hand passed through her body without pause. She stopped and spoke to him without turning.

"I would appreciate it if you didn't do that."

"Sorry," Trystan said sheepishly, though the lack of substance in her seemingly normal body raised more questions than it answered.

They walked in silence until they reached the building Trystan had privately predicted to be their destination. The doors opened as she approached, and she politely stepped to one side.

"It was nice to meet you, decurio Trystan, I will be waiting to escort you back to the stable as soon as your conference is over."

Trystan nodded, and stepped through the double doors into the shadows. He had absolutely no idea where he was going, so he kept walking forward. The doors shut behind him, plunging the building into pitch darkness. He put his arms out in front of him, and continued to advance forward. His foot caught a stone, and with a curse, he flew forward, landing flat on his stomach with a crash.

"No need to prostrate yourself before the master of the house," a bemused voice stated from right in front of him. "You could simply say thanks."

Candles flickered to life, and Trystan looked up. A young man in a simple blue robe and silver circlet was seated across a wood table, just feet from where he had fallen. As he made his feet, he noticed a chair on his side of the table.

"My seat?" he questioned the man.

"I had expected your first question to be a little more intelligent," the man responded, "But yes, that chair is meant for you, if you wish to sit."

Trystan smiled, and sat down.

"Who are you?" he asked at last, "and why have you summoned me?"

"I couldn't tell you, for my name is lost, even to me. I can tell you what others call me though. As you probably have suspected, I am the Archsage Emeritus, responsible for the scholars and students of Tain."

Trystan couldn't believe it, but it had to be true. The man was Tain Undying, a figure of power and legend, rumored to be much older than even Melite itself.

The Archsage continued, "The reason I called you here is twofold, but first, as a sign of respect, do you have an questions?"

Trystan couldn't help himself, "Are you really the Archsage?"

He chuckled and nodded, "I am indeed. I am steward to the land and islands that make up Tain, and have been for many years." He paused, "Many, many years. Now it is my turn to ask you a question."

Trystan nodded his assent.

"What do you know of shadows?" The Archsage asked.

Trystan frowned. "Shadows? We all cast shadows, Archsage. Every person, beast and object."

"That is true, for the most part. Shadows are a natural part of everything we see. And that includes this world."

"If that is true, where does this shadow fall?" Trystan questioned, "Certainly not the sky, it is the source of light. I have seen the ocean and the great Erg, and neither of them is darkened by the shadow of our land."

"Vayre's shadow doesn't fall on this world. Instead, it occupies a world of its own. The land is called Nocturne, and it is a land of broken ground, orange sky, and boiling rivers. A rather hellish place."

"Did you summon me here to discuss sunlight and geography, Archsage?"

The Archsage smiled. "Yes, and much more. However, the more you know, the more you forget, and it slipped my mind that you have a nation to attend to. I will make this meeting brief, and send you on your way."

The Archsage studied Trystan before continuing. Trystan was small in stature, ideal for horse riding. His long black hair was left free, and was mirrored on his arms by two black ribbons tied to his elbows. He wore a silver breastplate over a green tunic, with silver mail decorating his lower arms. His outer thighs and lower legs were also covered in silver armor. A curved blade rode on his hip, along with a set of daggers. A quiver rode on his hip, so his bow must be with his horse.

"I'm assuming you know your histories. The version you've learned is, however, woefully incorrect. Let me expand on it and present the true facts. As per legend, Tain is an ancient nation, part of the ancient human kingdom of Vayre, which is how this land got its name. The kingdom was established to present a unified defense against the Tarvos, a savage man-beast that threatened human existence. Man triumphed after hundreds of years, and sealed the Tarvos inside prisons on the shadow world, Nocturne., and Tain was charged to remain vigilant in their upkeep. However, the empire grew stagnant, and ten years after the war ended, Vayre collapsed under its own weight. It fractured into many nations; many of them still survive today. Tain is devoted to the knowledge of the past, and the safety of the future. It is for the future that I have to tell you to leave now. I've wasted to much time, and I can't delay you any longer."

Trystan frowned, unsure of what the Archsage was talking about "One more question, if I may?"

"Go on," the Archsage replied tersely.

"That girl who brought me here, what was she?"

"She is human, like you and I. Her name is Melini. Her condition is the result of an unfortunate accident- rare, but I've seen far too many of them in my years. Her body was eaten away by the raw power she was harnessing, and now she is merely a shadow generated by her enormous will."

The room suddenly felt smaller for Trystan, however, the Archsage wasn't finished.

"I think it is time you left here, decurio Trystan. You have a long ride ahead of you," He smirked, "Pales marches along the Lonis, and makes for the stronghold at Talin. They will attack it in 4 days time."

Trystan leapt to his feet and glared at the Archsage. "I thank you, Archsage. I must be on my way."

"You won't make it in time to save Talin. Ride for Kolint, gather an army. I'll see you in 6 months time."

With that, the doors opened and the lights sputtered out. Trystan spun and left the building at a dead run.

14 March, Palliston: Melite

Escol ran with the leading edge of her force, yelling as she charged the assembled villagers. Less than four hundred of her force charged with her. The rest were dispatched on other tasks under Murdoch's command. The villagers turned out in force, and with the addition of the town's garrison, her force was outnumbered by about a hundred.

The two lines crashed into one another, and people died. She gripped her halberd with both hands as she blocked blows from the two soldiers she faced off with. Sharpened swords skittered off blunt steel as she was forced backwards a step, and then another. Another step back, and she got the opportunity she wanted. She planted her back foot and caught an impressive overhand stroke between her halberd's top spike and the blade. Twisting her weapon, she ripped the sword out of the surprised soldier's hands. She raked the blade across his eyes, blinding him, and then caught him in the chest with her elbow, forcing him back. Escol used the new room to continue her fight. She thrust her halberd forward and locked weapons with the lone man she faced. She applied more pressure on her attack, watching his eyes dart between his blade and hers as he struggled to keep her from overpowering her. Seeing an opportunity, she spun to the side, planting her front leg in his path, and watched as he lost balance and sprawled on the ground. She brought the butt of her halberd down on his temple, and he lay still.

"Spare them if you can! Kill them if they pose a risk to you! Show no mercy until asked!" she shouted.

Moving forward again, she watched one of her men fall beneath enemy swords. Hefting her halberd, she charged at the killer. He hadn't even pulled his weapon from the dead body when she reached him, and she drove her halberd into his gut. He crumbled forward in a spray of blood, staining the ground red. She gave her slick weapon a yank, but couldn't dislodge it from the fallen body. Cursing, she let it go and drew the first sword from her scabbard, parrying the slash from an opportunist who challenged her. Steel clanged as her off hand searched for a dagger on her belt. She gave up ground to buy time, and, coming off a riposte, deposited the dagger in the woman's stomach. Her enemy's gaze faltered as she stared at her wound, and Escol buried her sword in the woman's chest, inches from the dagger wound. She withdrew both her sword and dagger, and knocked the fatally wounded woman to the ground. Ahead of her, she could see the end of the battlefield- her army had worked it way through the opposing force in a little under ten minutes. Glancing behind her, she could see men and women with medical skills tending to the wounded. Ahead of her, a cheer went up as the last of the defenders surrendered. She strode to the middle of the field, and one of her soldiers approached her, and handed her a spear with Pales' colors attached to the butt. She drove the point into the ground, and raised her sword above her head.

"Victory for Pales!" she shouted!

"Victory!" her forces shouted back.

She turned to the man who brought her the standard. "Send runners to recall Murdoch and his men. I wish to speak with him. Break camp and move it here. I want tallies of men lost and material gained. Break into the granaries and stores here, take what we need for the night and leave the rest."

"Yes milady, it will be done"

14 March, Ives: Delian

"A moment of your time, Master Cael?" A young voice from behind him asked.

Cael was in his customary military garb. He wore light chain mail emblazoned with the black and yellow sun of Delian, and plate mail epaulets to hide his slim shoulders. A large black cape flowed to his ankles, and contrasted the yellow material worked into his gauntlets and boots. Two swords and collection of daggers rode on his belt. A black targe was strapped to his left forearm, nicked and pitted from battle. A scar that ran from his lip to past his right ear marred his boyish face, and his golden hair hung well onto his back, tied together with a black ribbon that blended into the cape behind it. He was ready to move north, and was watching his men breaking camp on the plains outside of Ives. He stood on the battlements of Ives with Pen, his general, and was discussing the logistics of a forest campaign as he was interrupted.

"What is it?" He asked, turning around. A young boy stood behind him, carrying a scroll and wearing the colors of a runner for the council.

"Councilman Eldin asked me to fetch you before you left, sir. He requests that I take you to him." The boy held out the scroll, which doubtlessly held summons from Eldin that was much less polite than the boy's.

Cael waved the scroll away. "Lead on, little one. Pen, I should not be long, you are in command until I return."

Cael followed the boy down the stairs, out of the gatehouse, and through the second set of gates leading into Ives. Though it seemed deserted, Cael knew the public was still attending the council's meeting, which was well into its fifteenth hour, not counting the break for a midday meal. Cael was led to the actual council building, a grand edifice of stone and timber, and escorted inside. Eldin was waiting for him, and ushered him into a room, closing the door behind them. A single candle lit the room. Cael was suddenly glad he was armed.

"Master Eldin, what urgent news summons me away from my army?" he asked, breaking the silence.

"Tactician, your army is nothing without its orders. A mass of men with nothing to do." Eldin smiled, "We have orders for you, Tactician, so you may have an objective for your men."

Cael frowned, "We do have an objective, Councilor. My army was built to retake the north."

"That is your mission yes, but we have a set of objectives for you as well." He produced a scroll from his robe and handed it to Cael. "When you have reached the Ley, you may open this scroll and issue the orders needed to achieve your goals."

Cael took the scroll and tucked it into his belt. "As you wish, Councilor."

14 March, Academy Grounds: Phi

"My lord Maren, a message just arrived for you."

Maren stood at a lectern in the front of the room. "You interrupted my class to bring that matter to my attention?" he set down his pointer and clasped his hands.

Maren was a Deacon of Modei, one of seven Grand Templar, and the current headmaster of Phi's Academy of Mathematics and Military Science. The class he was teaching was an advanced seminar on modern sphragistics.

"It's from abroad, Lord Maren. I thought you'd wish to see it immediately."

Maren kept a level expression, but he mentally kicked himself. He had made a point of all communications from abroad be brought to his attention immediately. How could he get out of this without looking foolish?

"Lord Kallit" the messenger continued, unknowingly offering him a way out, "is waiting in your office. He was present when it came in."

Maren feigned a sigh, "Well, I better not keep him waiting. You can all go."

Five minutes later, Maren entered his office, immediately noting Kallit had brought a friend. He was a very heavy man and stood off to one side as Kallit rose to greet Maren.

"I am sorry to hear your class was interrupted, Maren" the Kallit said with a seemingly sincere smile. "This matter is, however, much more important than your class on numerals and sigils. I've always thought that class bordered on Arcane myself. That's Heresy, you know."

"We go over this every week. My class is no more Arcane than your class on Chumeia and Metallugry."

"Of course," Kallit nodded.

"Are you sure it's indeed from him?" the fat one burst out.

They both scowled, and turned their attention to the scroll.

"Of course it is, look at the mark, imbecile." Maren said, exasperated. He picked up the scroll and wagged it in front of the man's face, just fast enough that he couldn't actually see what the mark was.

Maren already had a good idea about what the scroll contained and whom it was from. The stamped seal on the front all but had confirmed his guess. A circled snake biting its own tail, bisected with a sword. The Ouroboros merged with a weapon became the emblem for the sacred symbol of Phi itself. It was the seal of the Grand Templar.

Maren drew a dagger from his belt and slit the wax, unfurling the scroll.

He read:

19 February

Greetings and blessings,

Much has occurred since my last correspondence. You must forgive me, but I must be brief and vague. If this message contains military information, it will be too dangerous to send. I have committed the Templar and Phi to backing Lane's war. As well off as he seems now, it is still far too early to commit our forces in the east. He has become more independent of me lately, but I can still direct him where we need him. We need a second Tactician Master. Lane doesn't have the resources as of now to wage a war beyond Raelit and Delian. Waiting for your reply.

Baelin, Grand Templar

There was a brief silence as Baelin's news sank in. Maren unrolled a map from a bag beside his desk and laid it on a table. Snaring a piece of lead, he began laying out plans for Phi's Templar to invade Raelit.

14 March, Palliston: Melite

Murdoch found Escol in her tent, which was pitched in the town square of Palliston.

"Milady, I'm sorry I am late, the first battle of the season is always the hardest to finish up."

Escol smiled, "Understandable, I've been busy as well."

She held up a map that detailed the area they were in. "I have studied the surrounding area and troop numbers, and I believe we can take quite a bit of territory with the men we have…" She paused.

"Thirty-three killed or wounded in action today," Murdoch supplied.

"Right," She barely acknowledged the number, "Send the wounded and some able men back home, I'll write up orders for five hundred more men to come join us. We'll take territory and hold it. I'll have them meet us at Talin. We'll take it, and then make for Kolint. We'll ride tomorrow, and feast in Kolint in a weeks time!"

"I look forward to it," Murdoch grinned. "We ride tomorrow."