As Casano’or rode ahead of her newly acquired army of some 30,000, her horse pranced and snorted at the surrounding excitement and fear. She had taken the late king’s horse, a huge black warhorse, which suited her perfectly. When nor riding Krian, she would ride this fearsome and magnificent horse. Obtaining this army had been simple, and an old routine for Casano’or. She was now queen of Ravasdes, and planned on creating an empire of fear to use against the Sentinels. She did not fear her enemies in the oncoming battles – Cy’dath and Ki’dasva had already eliminated those who had been the next most powerful gods in the last war – all their energies could now be spent in defeating the lesser gods, in which Casano’or would help, and seizing the Well of Stars, with which Cy’dath would rule the universe. As they neared the camp, Casano’or spotted Arikha. Casano’or spoke mentally to Cy’dath. “Is this your doing?” He returned her thought. “Yes, and she is to obey you – much to her disgruntlement.” Casano’or felt him chuckle. She had reestablished her bond with Cy’dath the night before visiting the Twisted Branch. She was thrilled with the constant presence of her beloved. She grinned, and from the corner of her eye caught Tavius studying her. She ignored him, instead continuing her conversation with Cy’dath. “You have punished her?” “Yes, love – she begged for mercy at the end.” Casano’or now chuckled. It was quite a scene to imagine. “How much longer, my lord?” she queried. “My strength returns rapidly, but it will be some time ere we begin our assault. There are things that require my attention, and yours as well.” “What would you have me do?” “For now, continue as you are. I will instruct you when the time is proper.” “Yes, lord.” She paused. “What of Ki’dasva?” “She, too, begins to gain power, but it will be long ere she is powerful once more. Her state is yet weak.” Casano’or was pleased. Ki’dasva could stay in her state of impotency, for all she cared. The god was jealous of Cy’dath attention, and she and Casano’or disliked each other’s company. When Casano’or rode near a brooding Arikha, the sorceress said, “Nice rabble you have there.” “Sorceress, I thirst. Bring me some drink – and not too hot, mind you.” She hated speaking to the sorceress, but could not resist taunting her. Casano’or turned to Tavius and instructed him to have the Illyran army assemble their camp, and to rise at first light. There would be little rest in the coming days. When Arikha shoved a mug of drink before her, Casano’or put it down without a glance and walked off. At the edge of the mercenary camp Krian waited. She mounted, and took to the sky. After circling the camp, she spotted several soldiers creeping away. She unslung her bow and shot them down in rapid succession. When she landed to retrieve her arrows, she found one man still barely alive. After cleaning the bloodied arrows, she strapped the nearly unconscious man onto Krian, and brought him back to camp. Krian followed Casano’or’s instructions and swooped over the Illyran encampment, screeching a battle cry. She turned back and landed in their midst, next to the officers’ tents. The soldiers backed away, forming a hesitant circle around Casano’or. Several gasped as they recognized the wounded man upon Krian. Casano’or unstrapped the man and tossed him effortlessly to the ground. “This man is a deserter. He attempted to abandon you to sneak back to his whore of a mother.” Her voice resounded with ethereal quality, sounding like the roaring wind itself. She turned to a nearby soldier. “Tell me, good sir: what is the penalty of desertion in your lands?” He trembled, then said, “Death, your highness.” His eyes were wide, and he looked ready to bolt. “Ah.” Casano’or grasped the wounded soldier’s shirt and with one hand lifted him into the air. The crowd gasped at the display of strength. “Then let this young man be an example.” She flung him into the air, and he rose until he hovered twenty cubits above the ground. She turned without a word and took Krian again into the air. As she gained altitude, Cy’dath said, “Impressive. But will fear force obedience again?” “It has worked before.” “Then let them know you are as just as you are ruthless.” She bowed her head in acquiescence. “Yes, lord.” She landed Krian where they had started, and after sending Krian off to hunt, she built a fire. She had shot a rabbit on her way back, and now roasted it over her small fire. Casano’or had begun to create a chain of command within the growing army. After herself, she chose Tavius and an Illyran officer named Miriko as seconds. Directly beneath them she chose several captains, one of which was Alanna the mercenary. The officers of the Illyran army still commanded the same squadrons as they always had, to uphold order. They army was composed of four major components: infantry, light and heavy cavalry, archers, and war engines. There were also scouts, who were woodsmen and were constantly on the move. The mercenaries together formed a company. The war engines would slow travel, but they were necessary. There were trebuchets, siege towers, and heavy missiles, which shot large crossbow bolts. Casano’or rose after her meal to inspect the army. As she walked through their ranks, soldiers jumped to attention, to which Casano’or replied with a nod. They were most diligent after her most recent display of severity. The war engines were in superb shape, having been heavily maintained throughout the past years. Those who manned them knew well their craft. The infantry was extremely organized and sectioned off. Each alon consisted of 10 closely-knit soldiers; each annon had ten alyn, each maron have four annyn, and each massen had five maryn. Each massen trained together, as did the subgroups. The encampment was organized in orderly lines, each massen together. Each soldier in the infantry was armed with short swords and a bundle of small spears, as well as any personal daggers or other miscellany. The archers had each a longbow and crossbow, carried in an efficient rig on their back with two full quivers of 50 arrows each, one long arrows for the yew bows, one with shorter bolts for the crossbows. Each cavalryman had a small crossbow that strapped onto his left arm, a bundle of spears, and a long, leaf-shaped and weighted sword ideal for lopping off heads. All in all, the Illyran army was one of the finest in the human kingdoms. As she rode back towards her own fire, Tavius rode up, reining in only half a pace from Casano’or. “WE have a visitor.” He motioned behind him, and Casano’or saw soldiers standing aside for a figure garbed in gold and riding a large warhorse. As the visitor neared, Casano’or gasped in astonishment. “Rho’stri?” she whispered. When Rho’stri reined in, she drew down her hood, and Casano’or heard Tavius gasp. Rho’stri, in her natural form, was unlike any other now living. She was of the ancient race of the Maradi, a race that had thrived in the time of the Kortiri. Casano’or’s mother had been Maradi. Rho’stri greeted Casano’or in the native tongue of the Kortiri, which was similar to that of the Maradi. “Ala’haidan, shoren ath.” Greetins, o favoured one. She held up a milk-white hand in salutation. Her black nails glinted in the fading light. “Ala’haidan, crilohn ath,” Casano’or replied. Greetings, o trusted one. Rho’stri blinked her pupil-less eyes. Her bone-white hair swirled around her face in the soft breeze. The Maradi and the Kortiri were similar races. Rho’stri’s face was adorned with intricate symbols in black and red. She, like Casano’or, was ancient. Casano’or had though her old friend dead a millenia past. “Casano’or, amman me rohrlon dhrona.” Casano’or, you tread on perilous ground. Casano’or replied in the same tongue. “Has it ever been elsewise?” “Perilous not for yourself, but for the entire world.” “It is not I who resists Cy’dath,” Casano’or shot back. “But it is you who resists the Well of Stars.” Casano’or stared at Rho’stri. “The Well is a power source – I seek only to put it in the right hands.” Rho’stri gave Casano’or a thoughtful look. “Would is surprise you to know that the Well is sentient – and has chosen a conduit to oppose you?” Casano’or blinked in surprise. “Yes, I suspected it was sentient, but…who is this conduit?” “It is one who will fight you in the end.” When Casano’or continued to stare are Rho’stri, the Maradi continued. “To divulge the identity of the conduit would be to disrupt the Pattern. I am sorry, old friend.” The Maradi had held a belief based around what they called the Pattern, which was the balance of the universe. Casano’or cried out in rage and stepped threateningly towards Rho’stri. Tavius scrambled backwards. “Curse your Pattern! Rho, I will have the name!” She shifted to her ethereal form, her voice once again taking on the qualities of a raging storm, her fingernails morphing into talons, and strange markings appearing on her skin. She had inherited some of the shapeshifting abilities of her mother’s race. “When the time is proper, perhaps.” Casano’or hurled a ball of flame, but Rho’stri had already shifted to the form of a golden eagle and was taking to the air. She screeched, and flew off. The warhorse she had been riding wheeled and galloped out of the camp, doubtless returning to her lair. Casano’or trembled with rage. It was not that Rho’stri jeopardized her safety, but that should she fall, Cy’dath also would fall. For he had given her a part of his life force, so that through her he might strengthen. If she died, so too would Cy’dath.