Chapter One: The Boy and the Sorcerer
Ingens-Urbis was a large city located on the southern edge of the Viridis Plains and the northern edge of the Laxitas Forest. It was the capital of the Regius Empire, which spanned from Velow River at the top of the Viridis Plains, to the Frigus Mountains which lay to the south of the Laxitas forest. East to west it ran coast to coast. The Empire was bordered by Lyset to the north and Gammelt to the south.
Ingens-Urbis was considered by many to be the centre of civilization and a wealth of knowledge lay there, with various librarys and colleges in both science and magic. The city was divided into four pagus or districts. Industria or Industry to the South-West, Nundinae or Trade to the South East, Agnitio or Art and science to the north, and Optimus or Aristocrat in the centre. The wealth of each pagus inhabitants going up in that order with Industria being the poorest, while Optimus being the wealthiest hence holding the Imperial Palace.
The city was relatively young being established at the same time as the Regilus Empire about 400 years ago. Since then it had grown rapidly and three times so far, a new city wall had to be constructed to protect the ever expanding edges of the city. Two main roads ran through the city, bisecting in the very middle which was called the central crossroad junction. Everyday thousands of travellers, from traders to soldiers, passed here.
For nearly the entire history of the city there had been peace and stability. However recently there had been unrest in the city. The streets were full of soldiers and people murmured among themselves, spreading rumours like wildfire. The peaceful state of Ingens-Urbis, nay the world itself, was about to come to an abrupt halt.
* * *
A full-moon hung overhead as a lone figure walked down the streets of Ingens-Urbis, still wet from a recent rain shower. Wrapped in a black travellers cloak, with a face hidden by a hood, the man walked with a purpose apparent in his stride. He knew exactly where he was going and what he was doing, unlike so many other pathetic humans in the world, he thought to himself.
His boots splashed as they hit the wet cobblestones. And yet no one noticed him as most people were asleep, exhausted from their pointless lives. Anyone else up at this hour, like him kept to themselves. His life had meaning. He knew however that if he failed his self-appointed mission tonight, that meaning was as good as gone.
Validus was his name, and he was a Veneficus, or Sorcerer as the common people liked to call them. Tonight he had a very important mission. One that would affect his present, future and potentially past, for what is the use of a past for one with no future.
He was growing old. Though still relatively young in standard terms, at 37 years, in the terms of things as a whole, the life of a planet, of a star, of very space itself, this was a very short time left in the world indeed. As was the way a sorcerer thinks, outside the box. So far outside that the box becomes inverted and you couldnt look inside if you wanted.
The darkness wrapped around him, blending with his clothes. Here, at night he was in his element. Confidence pulsed through his veins as he strode forward. He entered the Industrial district. The change in environment was instantly apparent. The streets narrower, the houses older and the repugnant smell of effluent, casually thrown from windows into the street, hung in the damp air. Here there was even less light. However the smell ruined any enjoyment that he might have taken in this.
Validus stopped mid-stride. He looked at the lights of one of the cities many inns. He could hear men laughing and talking, only briefly interrupted by the drunken singing of a overly sated patron. He took a deep breath. Of all the places, he murmured under his breath, exasperated.
The inn was two stories high with a the name, The Drunken Soldier, painted neatly over the door. There were a couple of drunken bums sitting propped against the exterior wall, but apart from that, the inn was rather tidy in comparison to its rickety surroundings. Still, with all people crammed together indoors, it wasnt exactly Validus idea of relaxing environment.
He closed his eyes, checked his sword was easily accessible at his side under the cloak and sighing, stepped forward towards the door.
* * *
Leo frowned. The crowd was large tonight. He knew there would be trouble. Though only 13 years old, after working in The Drunken Soldier since he was seven, he could quite easily tell when trouble was going to occur. And right now trouble was practically screaming out, ready to explode at any moment. He leaned against the door frame, tired even though it was only about 9 oclock.
Leo ran his hand through his straight, medium length light brown hair. For a 13 year old he was of average build and height, not terribly athletic, but not a fat pig either. His eyes, striking grey with green flecks through the grey like shards of green glass. His face was well shaped with a straight nose and enough cheeks to retain his youthful appearance, while at the same time not appear chubby. He had to admit he was rather pale, but overall not a bad looking boy for his age.
A bit of a loner, Leo still managed to maintain a humorous façade at the inn. Because of this he was generally well liked by the inn patrons. He had never been schooled and was illiterate, but as far as he was concerned since he would be working at the inn most of his life, this was unimportant. He still knew a basic level of maths which was needed to work out whether any patrons were trying to cheat him out money.
A smoky haze hung over the large room like a mist. There were at least 40 people crammed into the room, all sitting around square tables with about five stools per table. Smoking, drinking, talking, arguing and in some cases even singing. It would not be long until one of those arguments, fuelled with alcohol, turned into a fight, which more often than not, involved sharp objects.
Hey boy! one of the patrons called out throwing him five perons#, Another round over here, and a loaf of bread too. Make it quick before me and the lads here start sobering up.
This statement was met with a gale of laughter from the drunks sitting with the man. Leo rolled his eyes. It still amazed him at how many times a drunken man could find the same unfunny thing absolutely hysterical. He guessed that alcohol made the world seem like a funnier place. Though he wouldnt know since he had never drunken it in his life, and never intended to in spite of working in an inn. Right away sir. he replied to the man.
Leo trotted over to the owner or the inn, his uncle, at the counter. He had been living at with his Uncle since he was four, ever since his parents, whom he barely remembered, were killed by bandits. Though harsh and strict, his Uncle provided him with shelter, clothing and a full meal every night. Leo placed the peron on the counter, Four mugs and a loaf of bread.
His uncle nodded, poured four mugs of lukewarm beer, and pulled a stale loaf of bread out from under the counter. Keep your eyes open tonight boy, his uncle said quietly. I get the feeling something bad is going to happen.
Leo nodded, Yeah. I got the same feeling. Its only a matter of time before one of these drunks pulls a knife in an argument.
Just keep your eyes open and your ears alert. Remember, dont get involved, whatever you do.
You know me. Dont worry. Leo replied confidently.
Its because I know you that I am worried, his uncle replied in a tone of exasperation.
Leo stuck his tongue out, piling the bread and beer onto a tray, then walked briskly back over to the table of men without spilling a drop of beer. A skill that one picks up early on in the serving business.
Good lad, the man who ordered said. Youll make a fine barmaid one day.
This statement, also was followed by a gale of laughter. Leo ignored it. Trouble would come to the bar by itself eventually, let alone he go looking for it. Besides, in his eyes, he had far more composure than any drunken oaf at this inn, even though all he did was serve them, so the joke did not affect him deeply.
Leo heard the door bell ring and looked up to see three men enter, cloaked from head to foot in white robes. The men stood briefly at the door looking around. It appeared that they were looking for someone or something.
Leo walked over to where the men stood. Can I take your cloaks gentlemen? Leo asked politely.
All three men appeared to stare at him, even though he couldnt see their eyes under their hoods. No thank you, young sir, the tallest of the three answered in a cold nasal voice that sent shivers down Leo's spine. We would however, like a table, away from the crowd, if possible.
Of course sirs, right this way. Leo replied, and led them to a table in the corner. Can I get you gentlemen anything to drink?
Red wine preferably, replied the tall one again, handing Leo nine perons. It seemed he did all the talking for the group.
Leo nodded, and went to get the wine from his uncle. When he got back he found that the tallest of the cloaked men had removed his hood, to reveal a pale face, with sunken cheek bones and yellow eyes with slitted pupils like a cats. The man had no hair and instead the top his head was tattooed with runes. Leo shuddered. This man was strange alright. Can I get you gentlemen anything else? he asked, hoping the answer would be no so he could get away from them.
Actually you may be able to help us, the tall man replied, a cold smile on his lips. We are looking for someone. Yet we only know his name. He is a very important person to us and we have package to deliver to him.
Shoot. Leo replied. The sooner he answered their question (or not), the sooner he could get away from these strange men.
Do you happen to know a man by the name of Leo?
Ummm . That would be me, Leo replied cautiously, getting ready to run, should the men try anything.
Oh.. the tallest man said slowly. Is that so
. then, with a sudden movement, he pulled his hand out of his robe grasping a handful of brown dust, which he threw at Leo's face.
The moment the dust hit his face, Leo felt his body freeze. He couldnt move a muscle. He was completely frozen like a statue. The tall man pulled a evil looking long black dagger out from under his robe. His companions grinned. Apparently nobody had noticed what was happening in the corner.
Dont worry, he said to Leo. I like you boy, so I will make this as quick as possible. Now to give you your package.
With that statement he advanced on the boys frozen body, dagger drawn. Leo realized there was nothing he could do. He was going to die.
* * *
Validus entered the inn as quietly as possible but still managing to ring the bell. Nobody seemed to notice. He looked around for his target. He quickly spotted him in the corner. However something was wrong. The boy didnt seem to be moving a muscle. Then he noticed
. Shit he muttered under his breath.
He lunged forward shoving both drunks and tables out of his way. His right hand going to his sword while his left hand drawing runes in mid air. So far the assassins hadnt noticed him which was good because if they did, they would kill the boy before attempting to attack him.
When he was only a metre away, the leader of the group looked up, but only just in time to see a blue ball of supercharged energy flying towards his head. His head disappeared in a shower of blood, brain and skull fragments. The ball kept flying blasting a hole in the wall and instantly disappearing the moment the moonlight touched it. Quickly, without giving them time to react, Validus decapitated the remaining two assassins with his sword, their severed heads rolling on the wooden floor.
By now everyone had noticed what was going on in the corner, and after seeing what Validus was, those sober enough to stand ran for the door, while the extremely drunk stumbled away in the general direction of the exit, which in their eyes was any door including the broom cupboard. Validus rolled his eyes. He wasnt planning on wasting his time killing a couple of drunks anyway.
He pulled a small vial out of his cloak and forced the top down the boys throat. Drink, he commanded the boy, in an emotionless voice.
The boy spluttered. Are you trying to poison me!? That tastes terrible!!
Three points of note boy, Validus sneered. One, I just prevented you from getting skewered. Two, if it was poison you would be dead. And three, you can move now.
Oh, said Leo said surprised, moving his legs and arms around. Ummmm. Thanks for saving me, sir. But ummm, how do you know my name? And who are you anyway? And why did those men just try to kill me?
I know allot more about you than your name boy, replied Validus. But for now there is no time to explain. There will be more assassins here any moment, now that they probably know I am here.
With this, Validus grabbed Leos arm and dragged him towards the door.
* * *
When a strange man with a hidden face comes and saves you from three psychopaths with daggers you dont complain. Nor when he cures you of apparent paralysation. But now the strange man had grabbed his arm and was dragging Leo towards the door. He yelled out to the only person that would bother to help him, UNCLE HELP!! he screamed frantically.
However Leo was surprised to see that his Uncle was already watching the unravelling scene with a look of sadness, yet not great concern on his face. Its been awhile Validus. his uncle said to the strange man, whose name was apparently Validus. I was beginning to wonder if you would turn up.
The man, Validus, nodded at Leos Uncle. I would like to stay and chat, but as you have seen others already know about our being here, he nodded at the bodies of the former assassins. You have no problem with me taking the boy now?
No, I understand what you can give him, noticing the tears in Leos eyes, his Uncle went over to him and kneeled in front of him. We dont have time to talk and I am sorry that I can not explain further Leo. But I have to tell you, follow this man, do as he says, go where he goes, and listen to what he teaches you. He can give you a life far better than what you could ever have here.
His uncle hushed him. Go Leo, and dont look back. Be strong and farewell.
Validus nodded at Leo's Uncle, then towing Leo, who was now in tears, he walked out the front door into the night.
* * *
As soon as the pair exited the inn they were set upon by three more white robed assassins with broadswords rather than daggers. Validus raised his left hand casually and a bubble of transparent red energy surrounded him and Leo. As soon as the swords hit the bubble, they were blasted from the assassins hands with such force that their wrists visibly snapped. All three assassins whimpered holding their now shattered, useless wrists
Validus removed the field with a flick of his hand, drew his sword and began systematically slaughtering the men who were still clutching their hands and had no time to react. In the meanwhile Leo had curled up into a ball on the ground and was whimpering like a kicked puppy.
After dispatching the last of the last of the assassins, Validus grabbed Leos wrist, pulled him to his feet and dragged him into the shadows of a nearby alleyway. Pull yourself together boy, or we will end up as dead as them. he said coldly. We have to get out of the city quickly. Do you know anywhere we can get horses?
Still crying silent tears, Leo nodded, In the Aristocrat district, at the central crossroad junction, there is a large tavern where all the wealthy stay. There are big stables, which are full of horses.
Good, we will head there straight away. Validus noticed the tears of Leo cheeks. And for gods sake boy, be a man and pull yourself together, NOW! Youre just going to jeopardize our position in that condition.
Leo wiped his tears with his arms and gulped. O-Okay. I-Im fine now.
Good. Lets go then. Stay close behind me. And with that Validus strode off into the night, with Leo running to keep up.
* * *
They slunk through the shadows of the city. Validus was nearly completely silent in his steps, while Leo, as Validus put it, made as much noise as a drunken elephant. However, even with all the noise made by Leo they reached the Aristocrat district with no further encounters. They stopped at the edge of the brightly lit district.
Here we will have to change our angle of attack. Validus whispered to Leo. There will be less places to hide, and more servants and followers of the throne.
What has the throne got to do with anything?
Validus put his forefinger over his lip. Later. For now we concentrate on getting out of the city alive. Now here is what I want you to do. You know where the inn is right?
Okay, I want you to go on ahead without me. Act casual. Stay in the open. If any guards ask your name and what you are doing out so late, you are Phil Snell, and you are coming back from delivering a package on behalf of a patron at the inn to Stan Hop. Do you remember all that?
Leo nodded again. Why such a complex alibi though?
The more you have to tell about who you are, while keeping it relatively simple, the more likely it is they will believe your story. As long as you tell it convincingly that is. If you dont tell it well, it doesnt matter how good it is as a story, they will probably ask questions anyway. And if they find out who you are you will probably be dead within the hour.
Okay. What do I do when I get there?
Hide in the stables. Make sure no one sees you. I will be along presently. And dont think of heading home either. We already know they can find you there. Now go and for gods sake, be careful boy.
Why dont you just blast away the guards who get in your way with your magic?
Six assassins I can handle. An army might cause me to break a sweat. And I would prefer to keep things simple rather than be chased by a thousand angry soldiers.
Yeah, I guess that makes sense. Leo replied embarrassed.
Now stop asking foolish questions and go already, boy.
Leo gulped and stepped into the light of the street. He looked behind him briefly but could not see Validus anywhere. He had disappeared into the shadows. Almost considering heading back home instead, he knew deep in his heart that Validus was right. If we went back to The Drunken Soldier he was as good as dead.
He started walking down the brightly lit street, with pole mounted lanterns down both sides of the road. Here rather than ramshackle packed together houses, there were large stand alone houses built to the eastern Imperial style#, with their own gardens, which in some cases were full of many exotic animals.
Leo tried to appear as inconspicuous as possible, walking with a determined stride and head held high. He managed to walk for about eight minutes before coming across a city guard who stopped him. Ho there boy. What are you doing out at this hour?
M-my name is Phil Snell, Leo replied trying to keep his voice confident, but quavering nonetheless. I am delivering a package to Stan Hop.
Hmmm is that so. Wheres your package then? the guard asked suspiciously.
Ummm what I meant is I am returning from delivering a package to Stan Hop.
I think you better come along with me to the station boy.
Leos heart sank. He had blown it. What seems to be the problem officer? a clear calm voice cut through the night silence.
Leo looked around to see where the voice had originated to see a man coming towards them. The man was well dressed in a purple tuxedo and black trousers. He was medium height with shoulder length wavy dark brown hair, clean shaven, square chin, and bright green eyes. Leo guessed that every woman in the city must swoon over this man. He appeared to be somewhere in his late 30s. And to Leo he was a complete stranger.
Nothing of interest happening here sir. the guard replied. Go along your business.
Has Phil here done something wrong? the man asked, shocking Leo almost visibly, at his knowledge of his alibi. I just sent him out to deliver a package to Stan Hop.
This boy is telling the truth then?
Well if thats what he told you then yes.
The guard looked at Leo. Alright boy. Youre off the hook this time. Thank your lucky stars your master was here to bail you out though. And with this the guard trode off into the night.
Sir. Do I
For gods sake boy, cant you do anything right?
Who else would it be? Validus smirked. Anyway it is a good thing I am here or you would be on your way to interrogation.
I didnt expect you to look like that under that hood of yours. I kinda thought youd be
you know more evil and magical looking.
Validus raised his eyebrows. You really should learn not to judge on first impression and stereotypes. That is not the way of an open minded man.
Yeah, well what did you expect skulking around in a black cloak like that, Selas muttered under his breath. Anyways why would the guards show so much interest in a kid out by himself at night?
Obviously after what happened at the Drunken Soldier they are on the look out for a boy and a man in a black cloak. Thats the benefit of having interchangeable appearances. Remember that boy.
So this means the guards are working with
Later. Validus cut in. For now we should remain objective. From now on stay with me till we get to the inn. And let me do the talking from here on.
Sure I have no problem with that. Leo replied, sounding relieved.
They started off into the night. In spite of passing several more guards on the way, they were not stopped once now that they were travelling together. Validus remarked dryly that the city guards must be complete fools if they expected their targets to still be wearing a black cloak.
Presently, after about half an hour of walking, they came to the inn, which was, as Leo had said, located on central crossroad junction. Even at a distance it was obvious how much larger it was than The Drunken Soldier. Across the door was a wooden sign with the name The Golden Bough carved into it. Unlike most other buildings in the district this one was built to the Northern Lyset style#. The building was three stories high with a archway leading to the central courtyard and entrance. The stables were located at the rear of the building.
Validus led Leo to the stables. Go and find a place to hide in there and stay put. I will be back in a minute.
Where are you going? Leo asked curiously.
To get some supplies. I shouldnt be too long.
Leo nodded and walked to the entrance of the stable, peering inside cautiously to check no one was around. It appeared to be clear apart from the many horses in stalls. He turned around to see that Validus had already disappeared into the night. He turned back to the task at hand and entered the stable. After searching for a minute he found an excellent hiding space behind some sacks of feed that were piled in a back corner.
About 15 minutes later Leo heard footsteps on the cobles of the stable floor. He peered cautiously out from behind the sacks of feed to see that it was indeed Validus, whom had replaced his cloak and was now carrying two saddle bags, slung over each shoulder, which he casually flung on the ground.
Leo walked out from behind the pile of sacks and waved. I see you didnt manage to get yourself captured this time. Validus smirked. Here, put this on. Validus threw a smaller cloak in Leos direction.
Whats this for? Leo asked, quite happy in his current tunic and pants.
Its cold outside. On horseback the last thing we need is you getting frostbite. Validus replied without any tone of actual concern on his voice. You know how to ride boy?
Well, I have never ridden before but I am sure I can learn quickly.
No time. Youll have to ride with me for now. When we have time later, I will teach you.
Validus walked down the stalls, carefully observing each horse. Leo watched with mild interest has he placed his hand on the mane of the horse for a couple of seconds. After going through all the horses once, Validus then returned to a jet black mare that was in a stall about halfway down the stable. This one will do fine. He said more to himself than Leo.
Validus opened the stall gate and led the horse to the end of the stable where he chose a saddle and bridle, which he placed on the horse. Then he led the horse back to the centre of the stable where he attached the saddle bags to the saddle. He turned to Leo, Alright, get on now. You will ride in front of me.
Leo trotted over to the horse. It wasnt till he was standing right next to her that he noticed just how big she was. He placed his hand on the saddle and tried to pull himself up, but only sliding down after each attempt. Then he noticed the stirrups, which he placed his right foot in and gradually, with much effort, managed to get himself on the top of the horse. Validus watched this entire ideal, not offering any advise or help, smirking silently to himself.
Move forward on the saddle so I have enough room to sit. Validus instructed, then with the grace of an acrobat pulled himself onto the saddle behind Leo.
Okay. You ready to go boy?
Leo nodded, Would you take no for an answer?
Validus grunted in reply, then without another word spurred the horse into a gallop heading for the darkness of the city and what lay beyond its edges.