There was only darkness all around him. A bottomless void of utter darkness filled with a hollow wind swirling clouds of smoke. But there were living things here also, shapes of monsters lurking in the darkness, their unnatural growls joining the mournful moan of the wind, their glowing eyes promising an agonising death.
Was this the Abyss, Legin wondered, was he dead then? Was there no afterlife filled with joy? No far green land of peace and tranquility? What of the Gods then, The Five, did they not reward the goodly folk with a paradise?
Legin had not been a bad person in life, sure he stole a few things, killed a few people, but he never did with bad intentions. Did he really deserve an eternity of torture in the Abyss for those trivial grievances?
It did not matter now, Legin realised as he floated through the choking smoke, if he was dead and this truly was the Abyss, than there was nothing he could do now?
A shimmer of light caught his eye and reached out towards him from the black pit. The beautiful colours of the Fog wrapped around him and pulled him from the darkness like a lifeline from the heavens.
A slow groan escaped his lips and Legin came back to the world of the living. His head throbbed painfully and a dull pain wracked his body with each breath. Legin groaned again and forced his heavy eyelids to open as he ran his dry tongue over his furry teeth.
“What happened?” Legin mumbled as he looked around the grey stone room.
It was then that he realised he was sitting in a stone chair, the same colour as the walls and floor. But it was not made of stone, but rather some kind of metal.
“I would say it was some kind of failed magick spell,” someone replied behind him and Legin looked curiously over his shoulder.
The man who spoke walked passed his chair to stand in front of Legin. He was wearing some kind of dark grey uniform with a marvelous saber resting on his hip. But what caught Legin’s attention was the man’s hair and eyes, for they were also both grey.
“Spell?” Legin mumbled, his head still heavy and clouded.
“Indeed,” the man nodded calmly, “But, by all appearances it failed utterly. Two of your companions died and another seriously maimed.”
“What?” exclaimed Legin as he jumped to his feet.
A wave of dizziness suddenly came over him and he collapsed back to the seat.
“Your surprise attack failed,” the man continued, “Your magicks are no more and Lancer is now under our control.”
“I don’t understand what you are saying.” Legin ran a hand over his face, “What attack? Why are you talking about Lancer? Who are you? Where am I? What of my friends? What happened?”
The grey haired man seemed taken aback by those questions and his brow furrowed curiously.
“You are not from Lancer?” the man asked, his head cocking slightly to the side.
“No, we were trying to teleport to Galleraze from the Gaia Mountains,” Legin said emphatically, “What of my friends? What is going on?”
The man’s grey eyes narrowed as he considered Legin words for a seconds before he nodded and sighed.
“Two of the dwarves are dead, the other without a hand,” the man replied simply, “The other materialised in a utilities room which we can no longer open.”
“What of the other two?” Legin asked quickly, but the grey haired man shook his head and shrugged. “Which of the dwarves died? Who is in the locked room?”
“The dwarf who still lives does not talk,” the man shrugged, “He just sits by the bodies of his kin and stares at what is left of his arm. The one in the utilities room is called Aurora, apparently.”
“Pip,” Legin gasped in despair, “Lilly.”
“Now tell me: who are you?”
Legin rubbed his face with both hands, forcing away the tears, and shook his head slowly.
“I don’t even know anymore,” Legin said softly, “I’m not sure if I even really knew who I was.”
“Do you at least have a name?” the man asked.
“Well, Legin, it seems to me that a bad set of circumstances brought you hear,” the man said and sighed, “Such bad situations seem common of late.”
Legin looked curiously to the man before him.
“Who are you?” asked Legin and again glanced around at the foreign setting.
“My name is Bel’eak, I am Captain of the High King’s forces detached to the city of Lancer, and Commander of the craft Tempest,” the grey eyed man replied officially and nodded slightly to Legin.
“High King,” Legin echoed in confusion, “Which realm?”
“No realm of Essinendeür,” Bel’eak shook his head, “We are from Nevārance.”
“Nevārance?” Legin breathed in shock, “We? Is this some kind of invasion?”
“Attempted invasion, sure,” the Nevārancien replied casually, “But it too seems to have failed. The wave of Fog that thundered across the land severed your people’s connection to the magicks of the Fog, though not completely as we had hoped. The wave of Fog also destroyed our landing craft, severing all communications we had with the other vessels. We have taken control of Lancer but we are now completely exiled from the rest of our forces with no knowledge of their success, or failure.”
Legin shook his head in bewilderment and ran a hand through his hair.
“How many ships landed in Essinendeür?” asked Legin as he slowly shook his head.
“Nine in total,” replied Bel’eak simply, “One for each capital city, three on the morrow plains where the forces of Krnōrel and Sesserrech are fighting, and one here for Lancer.”
“The rulers of Krnōrel and Sesserrech are fighting?” Legin quickly asked in surprise.
“After the son of Lord Cardonian and the daughter of King Lienthor were assassinated by our agents, war resulted,” Bel’eak said, his voice controlled and clear.
“How do you know so much about our land?” Legin’s brow furrowed in confusion.
“We have been planning this invasion for some time,” a slight smile came to the Nevārancien’s face, “We even managed to infiltrate the High Commission and bend them to our designs.”
Legin laughed slightly, “I’m not surprised by that. The High Commission claim they are only advisers with their Regional Commanders and military foundation. But anyone with a brain can see that they are trying to take control of all the realms. And you guys stabbed them in the back, didn’t you?”
Bel’eak smirked, “You do not seem to devastated by our invasion.”
Legin shrugged, “Don’t care for any of the rulers. They all think they are high and mighty and horde all the wealth for themselves. What does it matter which one of them is in control, it doesn’t make any difference.”
“Things will certainly be different under Nevārancien rule,” Bel’eak stated, his grey eyes unblinking, “I can promise you that.”
Legin regarded the man before him curiously then.
Suddenly a great shudder ran through the walls and floor of the room causing Legin jumped to his feet in shock.
“My ship is still standing, but it will not be for much longer,” Bel’eak remarked seriously.
“Captain,” a grey haired woman called as she raced into the room through the open door, “It’s coming down, you must leave immediately.”
“Are all evacuated?” Bel’eak was quick to ask and the woman nodded.
“Except,” she stammered and looked to Legin.
“My friends,” Legin exclaimed, “Where are they, we have to get them out.”
“Let us move quickly then,” Bel’eak nodded.
“But Captain,” the other Nevārancien protested hesitantly.
“The people of this land have lost their magicks, they are no threat to us,” the Captain replied confidently.
The woman nodded and led the way out of the room. Legin followed quickly and was curious to see that the hallways throughout this place were also of the strange grey metal. The woman and Bel’eak quickly moved through the identical corridors and made a few confident turns at junctions that looked the same as the last one. By the time the turned into another similar room Legin had completely lost his way.
But he quick dismissed his thoughts for there was Kōrrin sitting in a corner in front of the bodies of Ynald and Blarrid. As Legin slowly approached the dwarf he realised that it was only parts of the dwarves for they both had been cleanly severed in pieces and the wounds sealed. The other parts of them must have materialised inside a wall, Legin reasoned and winced at the sight.
“Kōrrin,” Legin said softly as sat beside the gruff dwarf and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Ge off,” Kōrrin snapped and moved to shove Legin’s hand off, the arm Kōrrin used to try and removed Legin’s hand had been cut off halfway down the forearm and cauterised.
Kōrrin got halfway from removing Legin’s hand before he stopped and held the stump of an arm before his dim eyes.
“Kōrrin, we have to go,” Legin said softly and took his hand off the dwarf’s shoulder, “The place is collapsing.”
“Go then,” Kōrrin growled.
“You can’t stay here, there’s nothing you can do now,” Legin argued.
“It’s me fault they’re dead,” Kōrrin replied harshly, “They followed me, and I led them to their deaths.”
“I was the one who asked you guys to come,” Legin was quick to say, “If anyone’s to blame for Ynald and Blarrid’s deaths it is me.”
“Nah,” Kōrrin shook his head, “It was the damn bunny who cast the spell when I said no.”
“She is locked in a room near here,” Legin explained and Kōrrin got to his feet.
“Farwell me lads,” Kōrrin said to the bodies of his kin, “Ye both’ll find yer places beside Dhror in his mighty halls. Let’s go crazy monkey, leave the yineth she ain’t worth our time.”
“We can’t leave her,” Legin replied harshly, as he joined Kōrrin, “She will die if this place falls. I know you are not the kind to leave someone when they are in trouble, Kōrrin.”
The black bearded dwarf gritting his teeth and growled angrily.
“Damn ya then,” Kōrrin threw up his arms in defeat, “Lead the way, where is the damn bunny?”
Before Legin could reply another violent shudder wracked the structure, causing bits to fall from the ceiling and for Legin to almost lose his balance.
“We must hurry,” Bel’eak remarked once the shaking had stopped and motioned for them to follow him.
Back through the door the moved and turned down another corridor, following the wall of the room they were just in around the back to where Legin reasoned the bodies of Ynald and Blarrid had fallen in the corner. There they came to a single door, much smaller than the previous doorways.
“In here,” Bel’eak said as they stopped before the door, “Though I do not know how we are to open it.”
“Aurora, are you in there?” Legin called through the metal.
“Legin?” came a muffled reply, “You are alive, thank the Gods.”
“Kōrrin is here also,” Legin said, “Don’t worry we will get you out. Can you use any magicks?”
“I dare not,” Aurora was quick to say, “I fear what will happen if I try as I can see the result of the attempted teleportation before me in what is left of poor Ynald and Blarrid.”
“Damn,” Legin grumbled and turned to Be’leak, “Do you have a crowbar or something?”
The Nevārancien shook his head, “These doors operate electrically, you need a specific tool to open them without power and alas we do not have one available.”
“We are going to have to use magicks,” Legin nodded to himself.
“Do not be a fool, Legin,” Aurora called out, “The Fog is too unpredictable now. Leave me. Save yourselves.”
Just then another great shake rippled through the corridors followed by a great explosion from above.
“You heard her, let’s go,” Kōrrin said simply.
“I agree with the dwarf,” the female Nevārancien nodded, a worried look on her face.
“I won’t leave you,” Legin yelled in denial, “We have already lost too many friends today. Stand back I have to try.”
“Yer mad,” Kōrrin exclaimed as he backed away with Bel’eak and the other Nevārancien.
Legin was not listening and he growled and balled his fists as he stood facing the door. The magicks of the Fog were now all but gone for some inexplicable reason, but he had to try, he had to do something, he could not just leave a friend to die.
Looking deep within himself Legin could feel his connection to the Fog was stronger than ever for some reason. He could feel an unusual power within him swell. Wisps of Fog began to reach out like vines from his arms and shoulders and his fists started to glow brightly.
“I won’t let you die,” Legin said through clenched teeth, completely oblivious the fact that the structure around him was again shaking apart.
With a burst of speed and power Legin lunged forward with a double punch to the face of the locked door. His sent an even greater shudder through the metal structure and almost caved the door inwards. But it was not enough, the door was still standing and the roof above him was falling.
“Legin, we have to get out,” Kōrrin called above the rumbles and explosions.
“Get out of here then,” Legin yelled back as he summoned the power within him again. “Go, I can get her out. Quickly get out of here, I’ll be fine.”
“Yer daft boy,” Kōrrin snapped back.
“Go Kōrrin,” Legin yelled, the Fog once again swirling around him.
This time the dwarf nodded, his eyes wide with shock as he looked upon Legin.
“All of you leave,” shouted Legin and he pounded the door again.
Another great shudder ran through the craft and the door blocking Aurora’s freedom caved in slightly again. Kōrrin and the two Nevāranciens had thankfully left, but Legin could not, he had to save Aurora.
“Can you squeeze through?” Legin asked loudly through the slightly ajar door.
“No, it is too small,” Aurora said, her voice filled with anxiety, “Go, Legin, while you still may.”
“No,” snapped Legin and he summoned the power of the Fog again.
Bits of the ceiling and walls continued to tumble down and a large explosion erupted from along the corridor sending debris and billowing into Legin. But he was not thinking of that, he was completely focused on his task at hand. The magicks within his hands continued to grow and the Fog continued to swirl around his newly wrapped, white fabric, forearm guards and half finger wrappings. Legin could feel his energy draining rapidly but he had to continue, this last blow had to be a lot stronger than the last if he were to succeed.
Another explosion erupted right behind him, but Legin held his ground and closed his eyes against the smoke. Yelling out Legin lunged ahead on last time and released all the energy he had gathered in one last bid to save Aurora. As his fists connected with the metal a great shock-wave burst forth, blasting away the smoke and sending the broken door catapulting backwards into the small room and through the opposite wall. Smoke billowed out from the room and Aurora stumbled with it coughing and spluttering.
As the dust cleared Legin spotted a familiar form crumpled in the corner of the small room.
“Pip?” Legin exclaimed in disbelief and rushed to his friend’s side.
It seemed that Pip was still alive and breathing as Legin gently shook his friend from his unconsciousness.
“Come on Pip, get up we need to get out of here.” Legin said hurriedly as he pulled Pip to his feet.
“What happened?” Pip wondered as he staggered from the room.
“Why didn’t you say anything, Aurora?” Legin asked seriously as he stood back from Pip and gave the yineth an annoyed look.
“What?” the Yineth coughed and wiped the smoke from her eyes.
“Never mind that now,” Legin cut in, “Let’s get out of here.”
Just as he spoke and moved to follow in the direction that Kōrrin and the others had gone the roof caved in and blocked their exit.
“Damn it,” Legin swore and looked back the other way, just in time to see that too become blocked with fire and smoke.
“I told you to leave when you could Legin,” Aurora remarked sadly, “Now we are to die.”
Another great explosion sounded behind Legin and that wall broke apart with a gust of swirling smoke and darkness. Covering his mouth and squinting through the have Legin smiled, for he saw a light pierce through the black smoke clouds, reaching out to them.
“Not yet,” smiled Legin as he turned back to Aurora and Pip.
Grabbing their hands Legin turned back to the distant light. He thought of the moment when he stopped the prisoner from killing the guard back at the Gaia Prison. He had somehow moved with such speed then.
“I can do it again,” Legin said determinedly as he barred his teeth and raced through the smoke and rubble.
Fire and smoke followed him as he pulled his friends along, dodging bits of falling ceiling and jumping collapsed walls. But he was just running, there was no great speed in his movements and he realised that he would not make.
“No,” Legin yelled in denial as he saw a huge piece of flaming rubble move to seal their doom.
As the light seemed to be snuffed out by the dark flames everything seemed to slow down around him and he felt the power build inside him. Legin felt as if he were flying as suddenly he was out of the burning structure many meters away with green grass under his feet and the fresh air blowing through his hair.
A great tremor shook the earth and Legin looked back around to see a strange yet massive building tumble to the ground. Eruptions of the flame and smoke flashed all over the metal surface and dust and dirt billowed in the clear sky.
“Lilly,” wailed Pip as he fell to his knees, breaking Legin’s astonishment at the sight before him.
Legin winced and dropped beside his friend, “Maybe she got out somehow, or maybe she never teleported with us in the first place.”
Pip sobbed and looked to the ground.
“She is probably back in the Gaia Mountains fuming over the fact that we left without her,” Legin tried to laugh and he placed and hand on Pip’s shoulder.
His friend did not reply and covered his face with his hands.
“You’s got out,” Kōrrin called out as he raced over to them, “Ye got the devils luck boy.”
Legin half smiled and did not reply as he turned his attention back to Pip.
“Come on,” Aurora sighed, “Let us leave this depressing foundation and head into Lancer.”
Helping Pip to his feet Legin nodded and moved with Aurora towards the dusty road which led towards the gates of Lancer at the foot of the mountain ravine a couple of hundred meters to the east. Kōrrin paused and looked back to the smoking pile of rubble before he joined them.
The city of Lancer sat at the mouth of a deep gorge which split a tall mountain in two. It was said that a powerful Magi cut the mountain in two long ago because he did not want to walk around, or over. Legin reasoned there might well be some truth to the tale for the sheer walls of the canyon were obviously very smooth. But despite how the ravine was made it was the easiest way through the mountain range and into the realm of Krnōrel from the north. Whoever had first built Lancer knew this and had the city built right at the entrance to the canyon, stopping anyone’s path from either direction unless they pay a toll. This was how Lancer had gathered its wealth and how it grew so large.
Lancer was also at the point where the three realms of Gaianaus, Cientrasis, and Krnōrel met, and thus did not hold allegiances to any of the rulers. An independent rule had developed and due to its streets being filled with corruption, greed and immorality it had adopted the name The Lawless city of Lancer.
But it seemed that now the warrior who came from Nevārance in that strange ship had very much taken control of the city, and with magicks now but a mere memory for most there were none to oppose them.
As Legin led his sad group to the gates he saw the Nevārancien Captain, Bel’eak issuing orders to some of his troop.
“As much as you can salvage,” Bel’eak was saying as Legin approached, “Priority should be given to the Power Cores and Thrusting Engines, and then what metal you can gather. Understood?”
The group of warriors nodded and sounded their understanding before heading for the smoking pile of twisted metal.
“Legin,” the Captain greeted, “I am surprised you made it out.”
“So am I,” Legin nodded and smiled sheepishly.
“You are to stay in Lancer than?”
“For a night at least,” shrugged Legin and looked to his depressed company, “We will gather travelling gear before heading off for the Yineth Plateau.”
“Good luck on both accounts,” Bel’eak replied, “This city is still in the phase of submitting to our control, so it will be hard to find a place to stay or provisions for that matter. Especially if the locals know that you were with us.”
“I see your point,” Legin sighed and nodded with some disappointment.
Just then one of Bel’eak’s warriors approached with a large and wealthy looking man waddling behind.
“Captain, this is…” the warrior began but the fat man cut him off.
“Brave warrior, from distant lands,” the other man bowed awkwardly and nearly over balanced, “I am the Steward of Lancer, and I bid you welcome. We have much wealth to share with you. We are all at your mercy, so allow me to guide you to a smooth transition to conquering our humble city.”
“You are the leader?” Bel’eak asked seriously as he approached the fat man.
“I am Steward Vandervelt, yes,” the wealthy man bowed again.
Vandervelt never stood back up, for as soon as Bel’eak drew close enough his saber flashed out of his sheath and took the fat man’s head off.
“He surrendered,” Legin exclaimed in horror.
“This is a city of vipers and cowards,” Bel’eak was quick to reply as spun to face Legin, “We know well the corruption that chokes these streets, and this Vandervelt was the head of that filth along with the other rich men. If I had let him live he would have put all his efforts to destroying my ranks from within. Now he cannot, and now the others will know not to test us.”
Legin shook his head, “He was defenseless.”
“He was scum,” the Nevārancien replied evenly, “Not worthy of your pity.”
“Agreed,” Kōrrin nodded, “Well executed grey hair.”
A slight smile appeared Bel’eak’s face at that as he wiped and sheathed his deadly saber.
“Find what provisions and bedding you can,” the Nevārancien said simply, “You are all free to go.”
“Were you going to stop us?” Aurora asked seriously.
“I could,” Bel’eak replied just as seriously, “But I won’t. An unfortunate chance caused us to cross paths, and you lot have lost enough because of it. Go, and find your next series of unfortunate events.”
“You could try and stop us,” Legin smiled confidently.
Bel’eak narrowed his eyes at Legin, and Legin returned the intense stare. A slight smile came to Bel’eak’s face and his blue-grey eyes twinkled.
Slowly the Nevāranciens hand inched towards the hilt of his sword and Legin’s fingers twitched with anticipation.
“I still have my magicks, remember,” Legin said calmly, and Bel’eak’s hand stopped, “But if you drop your saber I won’t use magicks.”
The Nevārancien chuckled, “That is a tempting challenge, and being the Champion of the last five tournaments back home I would usually accept. Alas I have things that need attending to. Another time Legin.”
“Gladly.” Legin smiled back.
With that the Nevārancien Captain turned and headed to talk with another of his warriors.
“Gen’tarr,” Bel’eak called as he waked away, “Find me a horse, I need to learn what happened to the rest of our invasion fleet.”
Legin turned to his companions and shrugged before he led the way into Lancer to find what they might.
Walking through the streets, Legin quickly realised that the place was in a chaotic disarray of confusion. What little rebellion against the Nevāranciens that could be seen was quickly quelled. Lancer was once infamous for its slavers, but now those slaves, who were mostly of the Elder Race, had turned on their masters and joined the grey haired warriors.
Curiously though, Legin did not see any looting or raping which was a normal affair when an army took a hold of the city. These warriors from Nevārance were the definition of disciplined, and their invasion had been calculated and structured, nothing had been left to chance. But from what Bel’eak had told him Legin could see that they had not anticipated the wave of Fog rolling across the land and destroying their landing craft. The Nevāranciens had simply adjusted quicker than the defenders in Lancer and smashed through them for a quick and decisive victory.
It seemed that Bel’eak had been correct in his assumption and as Legin and the others walked the streets they found no place to rest for the night, nor anywhere they could buy provisions even if they did have enough money. But that did not bother Legin and he put his thieving skills to good use. With the confusion of the city’s restructuring and being brought under Bel’eak’s control Legin had no trouble stealing from the rich of Lancer along with the stores of the Nevāranciens. It took him some time to gather most the things they needed for their journey and by late afternoon they left Lancer, which was already firmly in Bel’eak’s grasp.
Legin had managed to gather most of the necessary items, focusing on packs, weapons, armour and other travelling gear. He did not worry about gathering much food as he was confident in his hunting and foraging abilities in the wilder lands. Out of Lancer they passed by many outlying farms whose occupants were looking in shock and curiosity towards Lancer and not fulfilling their daily chores.
By that night they were out of the city and camping in a shallow cave in the foothills of the northern spur of the Iron Mountains. Legin’s gaze was to the south as they sat around the fire in silence, his mind wondering what he would find in the Yineth Plateau and hoping he would soon learn who he was.