Invasion The pale winter sun emitted little warmth as it made its way across the afternoon sky. The icy cold following in its wake didn’t bother the tall Terian gazing out over the southern mountains near the edge of the Highland Rim. Rynn Windrunner couldn’t see any movement on the flat wasteland serving as the border between the northern and the southern lands, that did bother him. His black war kraal tugged playfully at his arm with its massive hooked beak. Seeing the look in the intelligent giant bird’s eyes, he rolled his in mock exasperation. He couldn’t blame the kraal for feeling restless. They had been sitting idle in the cold without moving for too long. Gently pushing its beak aside, the Terian war commander softly reassured it. “We will be leaving soon, I promise.” Satisfied, the kraal stopped tugging and began preening its glossy black feathers. Rynn had done as instructed and had arrived here at the meeting place at the proper time but, of the lowlander who carried his orders, there was no sign. Nothing moved on the rocky plain. He could see no one walking through the mountain passes. Irritation prickled his insides like a razorthorn patch scratching under his skin. Except for his Xar, Kaman Baat, he kept men waiting, not the other way around. He especially didn’t like waiting on the barren flats of the Highland rim with nothing but rocks and scrub breaking up the end winds of a blizzard. Wrapped in a snow cloak and dressed in hardened riding leathers, Rynn stood as still as stone in the biting cold, refusing to acknowledge it. Involuntarily, his hand kept gripping the bone hilt of his sheathed broadsword. Tracing a finger along his skin, he could, like all Terian war commanders, activate one of the magical runes carved into him by the Saigan shamans with their blood knives and ward away the cold. His body’s natural energies, combined with the magic of the rune, would start a fire burning in his blood. He chose not to. That wasn’t the warrior way. He wouldn’t betray that code unless circumstances were truly dire. As long as he could avoid it he never wanted to use the Saigan’s hated magic, not after what they’d done with it to his brother. He was of the black, a warrior of the north, and had a reputation to uphold. A stone’s throw away a brilliant flash sparked in the air and drew his eyes to it like a moth to a flame. The spark started small but spread fast, widening into a fiery hole large enough for a man to step through. Tall and cold faced, Cyadine Syndell, with his long blonde hair tied back, finally appeared and the flaming hole faded. Seeing the lowlander’s red and black robes trimmed in gold Rynn wondered what kind of warrior he was. Gold was always the color for the warrior castes of the south, just as black signified them in the north. The lowlander’s robes weren’t soft like most magicians, his looked more like a uniform. Made out of formed leather instead of cloth and were split in the middle, warrior style. They appeared hardened enough to turn a blade and looked like the type of armor that the yellow skinned warriors of Esia wore. His stride also marked him as a warrior. He glided over the ground with a viper’s grace, quick, deadly and sure. Not many men caused the Terian commander to feel wary but watching this one approach caused a sliver of fear to crawl down his spine. The sword hanging over his shoulder seemed right. Its sweat stained hilt had probably gotten that way from being used. Like the war commander, who braved the freezing cold without magical assistance, so did Cyadine Syndell, Royal wizard and advisor to Vargas Salidor, ruler of the fourteen kingdoms. He had, to or else this proud Terian war commander would think him weak and possibly ignore his orders. The deadly royal advisor was far from that, in any sense of the word, and was never ignored. Long ago, he had been trained for war in special combat by the best battlemaster on Tyrus. He had learned his lessons well, including those on customs and cultures. “You’re late!” The sharp reprimand cut through the air like a whip’s lash once the other man was close enough to hear over the howling wind. Cyadine eyed the hard-faced Terian with a flat, icy stare. In as brusque a manner he said, “Are your men in place? Is everything ready for your supposed invasion of the fourteen kingdoms?” Rynn blinked, outrage twisting his face. Hand tightening into a white hot grip on his sword’s hilt, a tic started to spasm on one of his scarred cheeks. He expected answers or obedience when he asked questions. If his men, or any man besides his Xar, whom he already harbored a deep hatred for, showed such insubordination or disrespect, it would be considered a blood challenge. The offender would die, kicking and quivering on the end of his sword, for his lack of manners. Rynn did something he was unaccustomed to and forced himself to regain a measure of composure and reigned in his temper. He knew without being told that this man whom the masters sent would have him dead on the ground before his sword cleared its scabbard. His yellow-eyed Elvynn master had informed him, and all of the people working for them here in the forsaken lands, that this icy cold, half man’s words must be obeyed. He led those who served. If they expected their promised rewards they were to obey him without question. “It’s now time for your attack,” said Cyadine softly, his voice a sibilant hiss. Its rasp sounded like a viper sliding across stone. Deliberately, he ignored the commander’s outrage. To do otherwise might later lead to disobedience. He couldn’t allow that. His masters had lots of plots in motion for their return and needed each of their followers to do exactly as ordered. If one plan went awry, the whole return might collapse. A delicate puzzle was being built and it hinged on the placement of its pieces. Cyadine knew this because he was the puzzle maker. “The lowlanders will not act against you. Dalmar Ariass is dead and a civil war is about to begin in the fourteen kingdoms due to my actions within their government. Now is the perfect opportunity for you and your men to wreak havoc. I want the lowlanders to think you are invading! You are to strike hard and fast. Your actions should serve as the catalyst that plunges the Kingdoms into civil war, and crumbles their government, making it easier for our masters to return.” Rynn wasn’t aware of a civil war, but he knew Dalmar Ariass. He was, or had been, the strongest military commander in the lowlands. A small bit of remorse swept through him. He had matched swords and men against the lowlander Marshall and had been defeated by the skilled general twice. He had been looking forward to a third meeting and had developed a wary respect for him. Briefly, he wondered what killed him. They were close to the same age and he expected Dalmar should have lived for a few more years. At least, thought Rynn ruefully, he should have lived long enough for me to have defeated him once. “I will personally insure that nothing will be done while you attack, for a while. Our masters are certain that their banishment should be ending soon and that the retrieval is drawing near. They want you to cause chaos in the fourteen kingdoms and draw their military’s attention north. They want it pointed here until the anointed time.” Cyadine paused, leveling a hard, icy blue eyed stare at the Terian commander. “Heed this!” he said in such a way that it was certain he wanted no misunderstandings. “No attacks are to be directed west. None towards our masters’ new homeland, is that understood?” The royal advisor silently waited until Rynn nodded. There were still two barriers put in place by the gods, but Cyadine knew his master had plans for them. Something had to be done about the corruption of the magic in the ancient city of Talathandria, from where almost all creational energy flowed. And something had to be done to prevent new limitations from being put upon the magic again. After that, nothing could be done to stop his masters. The royal advisor also had his plans for revenge. After he had been banished from the battlemage order, he had been trained by the Elvynn Tua-latin, the conclave of Elvynn creational war wizards and was now in charge of preparing the way for their return and the retrieval. Like all battlemages, he didn’t need components to call magic, but he possessed two artifacts that could. One was worn by his son, and the second was strapped to his back. It had been for handling the forbidden parts of creational energy that he had been banished and not allowed to achieve his black and gold robes until he had learned patience. Only fourth slash or higher battlemages are allowed to wield the abilities of a true creational mage or Elvynn war wizard. If one possesses a creational artifact, like the sword strapped across his back, they can work any sort of magic that they want to or be protected from it. Cyadine didn’t need the sword. He was both battlemage and war wizard trained and had enough elvynn blood in his veins from his mother to work magic without a device unlike most humans. But he liked the use and feel of the powerful mythryll sword known as Spellbreaker and its special powers. While training as battlemage, he’d been taught how to use all types of weapons, and was deadly with or without them. Most thought he preferred the sword, he only showed it when practicing in public. He let them think such and practiced others alone in his chambers, or with his son. The cunning royal advisor knew that if his enemies or watchers believed one thing they wouldn’t be expecting something else. The sing songy voice of his despised battlemaster filled his head with his horrible accent, saying, “Never ret your enemies see all your power or strength, unless it is part of a greater plan. Let them see you taste the wine out of the bottle, but don’t tell them about the poison already in their glass.” He had learned about things like this from Trakiko Matsuri before being disgraced and cast out of the order by the ancient battlemaster. For the past twenty years, he had hidden his abilities, had let others believe that he didn’t possess all of them anymore. Soon that would change. The royal wizard had been taught by a man he considered the closest thing to a father that he could have ever had. A man who was once the greatest of the Esian generals. He was still the greatest battlemaster at the Academy. Cyadine used one lesson well. Deception of one’s enemy is the single greatest art in war. Slowly the blonde haired advisor began laying out plans and tactics, setting the stage for the supposed invasion of the kingdoms. Rynn listened skeptically, at first, then he began nodding as the wisdom of the other man’s plans took shape. After a few minutes, begrudgingly he shook his head, respect and admiration showing on his face. Gone was the cold. Now, he hardly felt the biting wind during their long discussion on tactics and strategies. When they finished, both looked at each other and smiled, thin, tight smiles of respect. The Terian war commander put aside his misgivings about this man that the master had chosen. This lowlander wearing the gold trim truly knew war and how to wage it. He knew exactly what it would take for their masters to overcome the kingdoms. Maybe, he thought admirably, this man knew war even better than Dalmar Ariass. Once their discussion ended, Rynn threw a leg over the saddle of his war kraal and pulled on the massive bird’s reins. Calling down, he said, “All will go as planned.” Rynn raked the bird’s sides with his spiked spurs and the kraal threw itself into the air, wind exploding from its wings. A loud scream erupted from the bird’s throat and echoed across the barren wasteland of the Highland Rim. Climbing high into the cold air, Rynn looked out over the land, then down at the blonde haired man watching him leave. He had a good plan for his Xar. One that would make him believe he was getting him the south. At least until his masters returned, then the north would be given to him. That was the payment for his services. Revenge and a way make good on his promise years ago to his brother to regain his lost honor.