It was a big place, the Castle, it always had been and had it been able to talk it would not have said so proudly, but with certainty. It had a proud heritage the Castle did, founded by the first men so long ago that some believed it built by the ancients.

But it was a human place, crafted by sorcerers and made to last forever.

It had been the birthplace of the Blood of the Earth but no one knew that anymore, or at least very few did. Those few of the Blood remembered, but they had been born in the Castle and could hardly forget that. Very few remembered that the place had been crafted by wizards and hence the unbroken stone of the walls was attributed to the ancients.

A lot had been forgotten about the Castle as it aged but nothing had been lost. It was all in the library of the Guild, but they had moved far away with their decline in numbers. No one from the Guild ever came to the Castle anymore, there was only the Court Mage. He was not a young man but by the standards the age of the Guild is judged he was barely a child.

A man of merely sixty years was hardly a Mage at all by any standards. The Guild no longer accepts those who are not old enough to have died. They don't accept many who have died either and so the court Mage stayed in the Castle.

A lot went on in the Castle, more than any but the Blood and the Castle knew. Not even the king was aware of all that went on in his Castle. He was called a king, the man who ruled in the Castle, but in truth he was not. His reach went no further than the walls, but even that was too much for this man who had been left the Castle by his brother.

The Castle had loved the old king, even if it could never say, he had been a great man even though he barely lived long enough to be called a man. He had lived his whole life in the Castle as many within the giant stone walls had, but he had lived with the Castle as few knew how.

Only the Blood lived with the Castle and there were but few remaining within the Castle much less within the world. The Blood had been killed on sight so long that only those unable to die had remained, but surely they had prospered.

No one knew of the Blood anymore, like no one knew of the Guild or the Castle.

As time had progressed knowledge had passed from circulation and so the Castle was not given the care it desired and neither the Blood nor the Guild were feared as they should have been. The Castle cared not for this change but could do nothing to stop it.

It was called the Castle and always had been, since it had been made to accommodate the growth that had been forecasted. It was nearly filled now, but that too had been forecasted, as had the slowing of the population growth.

The Guild had no way of knowing the future but it could be predicted with great accuracy with the application of mathematics. The ability to forecast so had almost been lost in the Castle and instead false fortunes were told.

It was a great city and not, in truth, a castle. But the Castle was the safest place in the world, it had been built to last forever and it was doing quite well so far. It had outlived its builders and almost all of the Blood born within the walls.

But the Castle knew it would be challenged, the Blood knew it too and so those remaining without were finding that they must return. The humans within the walls knew nothing of the danger and relied on the guards dotting the walls to keep them safe as they lived their lives.

The guards patrolled the Castle as the citizens lived in bliss.

The Castle Guard was the only guard in the world that was true to its home. The Castle had always commanded loyalty and so the guard gave it, willingly. But their numbers had become small as the peace persisted.

Nothing could break these walls, everyone had been told that this was so, and it was true to the best of anyone's knowledge. Of course there was one thing that had never been tested against the walls and the Guild who had created the Castle so long ago had hoped it never would.

The Demons had tried before to breach the walls but they could not, they were not strong enough. But in recent times the Rage had re-emerged and while it was believed that they too would not be strong enough, there was no reason to think they would not.

The forest could not be cut back to give clear sight and so the guards had to be quick to see all that was in sight. The Thorns in the forest would protect as best they could but, while they could fight the Demons, no one believed that they could fight the Rage.

And their numbers dwindled as the humans became greedy like they once had been, when they created the Blood of the Earth. But now they turned to other things, with the art of the Blood long gone they could not help but turn to their greed and see what was nearby.

The eyes of a Thorn were the most valuable gems in all the lands and the Castle was no exception.

But the Castle's love of the Thorns and their forest had led to the king's law that no Thorn was to be harmed by a citizen of the Castle. Maybe in another city, another castle, the people would have disobeyed in secret. But the kings of the Castle always knew, they could not be fooled.

It was not the kings that knew, it was the Blood that guided them, but the distinction was not known within the city. Nor was the presence of the Blood. The people still feared the Blood, but not as they should have.

There was no place in the kingdom where the arrival of the Blood was a good omen, but there were few where it was not welcomed. The Castle was a place where the Blood was dreaded but not unwelcome.

The Blood knew more than anyone could but it not was the wisdom of ages that gained them this knowledge, nor magic as the people believed, but their ability to hear all there was in the world. Only humans can wield magic and there are none who wish it were not so.

After all, the humans need some edge, they are the weakest.

But few people within the Castle had magic and even fewer knew of it. It was becoming less common as it was becoming less necessary. Though it would soon be more necessary than ever and equally lacking in the people of the Castle.

But the people of the city needed magic very little anymore. They had steel and it was almost as strong and vastly more useful in the eyes and lives of the uneducated. A Mage armed with steel could destroy the world if they so desired, but none who could wield the steel desired so.

It was the blessing of magic that made those tainted by it were unable to use steel. It was the test of any who entered the cities of men, the steel steps. The steps stopped all those who bore the taint and turned them away.

Those with the taint resided within the Guild. Only a Paragon of magic was free of the taint, or a child of it. It was against the law of the world to harm a Mage for bearing the taint. For the taint came with the use of any but the healing magic and some applications of even that magic, a magic that it has always been impossible to use for evil or even wrong.

But few of the people of the Castle knew what the steel steps were for and few knew that magic continued to exist. But with the amount of people in the Castle if was hardly beyond belief that magic had been almost forgotten by those who could not use it.

Of the six people who could use it only two used it for good and the others used it for fun. One was the court Mage, a healer and a necromancer who could not leave the city, and the blacksmith. The use of fire in magic is the second fastest way to accrue the taint but the blacksmith had yet to accrue any in himself.

He was not the only blacksmith but he was the best. He was not the cheapest and nor could he be, but he had the most clientele of all thirteen smiths working within the Castle walls, and he was the one who left the walls most often.

The people of the city plied many crafts but most popular among them were the arts. Few could claim that tailoring was an art but many claimed it of metal work. The arts thrived within the city and so had brought with them, over the years, a great deal of artisans until no more would stay.

There were fire breathers, now devoid of the magic that once characterised the art, and there were jugglers and acrobats, but no Thorn had been through the Castle in a long time. It was not that humans did not welcome the Thorns it was that the Thorns did not welcome the humans.

But there was more to the people of the Castle than their art, despite its abundance. There were tailors and there were cobblers and there were brewers and there were inns and there were the guilds that remained.

The people of the Castle were almost just like humans anywhere else but there was one important difference that must not be overlooked by anyone. The people of the Castle were the people of the Castle. The belonged to it the same way it belonged to them.

The Castle belonged as much to the common men and women as it did to the king or queen. But there had been no queen in the Castle for many years, since the birth of the king. The queen had died giving birth to the healthy son.

The Castle had grieved with the king and his sons when the queen died. She had been a good woman and, although not born of the place, a true child of the Castle. She had raised her elder son into a boy who could live with the Castle almost like no others could.

The king believed that his mother would have lived if the healer had not vanished but two days prior to his birth. He was misguided in this belief as the court Mage had arrived the day before and, although he was even then a great healer, he had been unable to save her.

The healer had been of the Blood and had had his age questioned and so had to leave. For back then the Blood was still hunted, despite the Castle's dissatisfaction of the practice. The Blood had left not to save himself but to save others.

He was one of two remaining within the Blood who had never been disarmed. And for him, unlike for his brother, it was not an abundance that lead to this fact, but skill. And his magic. He was adept at hiding things.

But he had returned when the king came of age, after the king's brother had died. He was unknown as the healer who had abandoned the queen and was now merely the royal adviser and spy master. He was not obliged to know everything the king needed to know but he still had a way of doing so.

He was the only one of the Blood who possessed of magic and so could hide himself from the sight of humans. But none of the Blood had been strong in magic and so it was all he could do to shield himself, and so the taint had never taken him, not in his whole long life.

It was in the middle of summer that the snow started and it was the middle of winter when the sky caught fire. Those of the Blood knew they must return and none but one other saw the signs and felt they must return to the Castle.

As now the Demons moved.