To the north was the city of Winterhaven. Peaceful and it didn't have much of an army but its magic was beyond compare. From the walls, the Mages of Winterhaven could curse or blast Sorrowdown's army into dust, so invasion there was out of the question. But to the west lay open lands and human settlements that could be absorbed into the empire so, west it was. After many years and battles, everything from the gates of Sorrowdown and west to the Meir mountains became a part of the Sorrowdown Empire.
It was late in the evening and the moon was high as a lone exhausted rider led his tired mount the last few steps to the gate of the keep before collapsing. From a post on the wall, a guard watched and saw the rider. When the stranger fell, the guard called down and alerted the gate watch of the strangers presence. The gates were opened and two guards came out and carried the man in while another led the exhausted horse limping to a place where it would be watered and rest.
In the gate house the guards recognized the uniform of the rider as that of Sorrowdown. This guard most have ridden all night with some important message for Manius Regulus, governor of Parandor and the towns and villages around it.
At his desk in his study, Manius Regulus sat going over the city's daily reports. Work had to be done on the city's water system. Crops this quarter were down from last year and the arena floor needed repair. All boring everyday problems that faced the governor in running a city on a daily basis.
As Manius picked up the sheet concerning the monthly taxes, he rubbed his eyes and stood up. Pushing his chair aside he walked over to the table and picked up the decanter of wine and poured himself a glass. After taking a sip, he frowned. The wine was warm and not to his taste. Well that would be easy to fix. Placing the glass and decanter back on the table, Manius reached out and waved his left hand over the wine. A blue glow emanated from the ring on his finger and a wave of icy cold chilled the wine to the perfect temperature.
Just then there was a knock at his door.
"Come in." He called as he sat back down sipping his wine. At the door a young dark haired man of about eighteen dressed in a white toga trimmed in purple the color of the Pius family entered. "Caius, I'm busy. What is it?"
"We have a visitor." Caius Aurius walked to his fathers and dropped the helmet of the rider on the desk. Manius stared down at the helmet.
"What does Midoa want now?" He pushed the helmet off the desk to roll across the floor. "More men for his games? Taxes, what is it now?"
"I don't know father." Caius picked up the dented helmet. "But whatever it was, he rode his horse to death to get here."
"Interesting." Manius folded his hands in front of him while twisting the ring on his finger. "Where is this visitor?"
"In the gate house."
"Come with me." Manius got up, grabbed a cloak and left the study. It was a short walk through the keep to the gatehouse where he found the guard laying on a bunk looking like he was at deaths doorway.
"Everybody out." Manus commanded. "Caius, you stay."
One by one the guards in the room filed out and Caius shut the door behind them. Manius grabbed a stool and went and sat beside the wounded guard.
"You have something to tell me." He said. "What is it?"
"Midoa is dead." The guard moaned.
"How? How did my cousin died?"
"He was killed by Vibius Herkalus in his viewing stand in the arena."
"Damn!" Manius cursed. "Midoa was supposed to kill that bastard."
"He failed." The guard told them. "But Vibius is dead now. Dead by the Emperors own hand."
"And he sent you with a message for me?"
"Yes." He tried to sit up. "He said to tell you that Bram was back and that he would be coming for you, the ring and your son."
"Message received." Manius pulled a dagger from his belt and plunged it into the guards heart.
"He's nothing." Manius walked to the door and pulled it open. He talked to the guard on the other side then pulled Caius out. "We have things to do."
Without another word, Caius followed his father from the gate house. He had seen that look in his fathers eyes and knew better then to ask any questions. From the gate house they went back through the city to Parandors old senate building. Since the Emperor had abolished the senate, the building was now used for offices of officials Midoa or Manius had appointed. After issuing orders to one of his generals, Manius called for Malipius, Parandors head of the Mage guild then took Caius to his office suite.
"Father, what is going on?"
"Trouble." He told Caius. "And opportunity if what that guard told us is true."
"What do you mean?".
Just then there was a knock at the door and Malipius Didius Otho was let in. Malipius was not an old man, but his use of the dark arts has sipped his youth until he looked almost ancient and crooked. He was dressed like most dark mages in dark robes and he had an air of mystery about him. Using a cane, Malipius hobbled forward to stand in front of the seated consul and his son.
"Hail Midoa." He weakly lifted his hand in salute. "You sent for me?"
"Yes." Manius looked up at the Mage. "You are the most powerful mage that serves me here. I have a few questions for you."
"What can I do for you Sire?"
"Sire?" Manius looked at him lifting an eyebrow. "Why do you call me that?"
"Sorrowdown is in flames." He said with a faraway look in his eyes. "Midoa is dead. You and your son are now all that is left of the Pius line. That makes you the emperor if you make the move now. If not, the empire will crumble. The time you have been waiting for is here."
Manius smiled. These were just the answers he was hoping for. He had the men and forces to pull the empire back together under his name. There was just one more question.
"And what of Bram Thorn?"
As Malipius heard that name, all the blood drained from his face. His body began to tremble and his mouth opened with a groan. That faraway look in Malipius's eye turned into a crazed glare then a cold cackle rang out. Manius jumped to his feet and pushed Caius behind him as he grabbed a sword from a rack on the wall.
"Sorrowdown empire will never exist under your pathetic role Manius Regulus. You and your son will either be puppets under my control or you will be dead like Midoa. This is your only warning. I, Bram Thorn am coming for my revenge!!"
Suddenly Malipius laughter turned into screams of pain. Malipius fell to the floor as his body began to contort. Bending backwards, a loud crack echoed through the room as the Mage's back snapped and Malipius died with a final scream.
"Father! What was that? Is he dead?"
"That was just what I was afraid of." Manius threw his sword down at Malipius body. "He was possessed."
"Not what." Manius looked at his son. "Who. Bram Thorn to be exact. The craziest warlock that ever lived, and died."
"I don't understand."
"Sit down." He walked back to his desk. "I have a story to tell you."
It was early in the morning before the sun rose over the horizon when the smell of fear drifted out through the air. Fear and something else. Hunger. As Sima padded her way through the forest, she smelled something was on the hunt and it had caught the scent of prey. Like the hunter she was, Sima followed the scent. It was a familiar scent. One that was always there in Lanayh, The scent of an elf and it was scared. Sima cocked her head and took in the second scent. That of the hunter. It was a wild scent. One that wasn't usually found in Lanayh but there were a few here. She knew that smell well. It was one of her oldest enemies. An enemy she had battled many times before and never an easy battle. it was a Garmr out hunting in Lanayh.
With the hair on her neck raised, Sima slowly made her way through the bush. The smell of fear burned her senses driving her on. Garmr were ravenous hunters that once on a scent, never turned until they they had fed and their bellies were full. They were huge black dog beast usually kept by goblins as trackers because of their great hunting skills.
Finding the trail left by the Garmr was easy. They had a scent like no other beast. Sima followed it into a heavily thick area then heard a sudden scream. Gathering herself, Sima leaped over the bushes to find the Garmr advancing on a young Sky elf who's wing hung down from his back looking damaged. With one look at the scared elf, something in Sima's heart said no. She would not allow this innocent elf, one of the many who lived their lives just to protect this forest and every animal in it from harm. She had seen them help and care for everything in the the forest from a sick and diseased trees to a wounded mad bear. she would not let the Garmr hurt the elf in any way.
Gathering her strength, Sima roared and made a mighty leap which put her right in between the advancing Garmr and its intended prey. With the way barred, Sima roared her challenge to the great dog beast and held herself ready for its attack. Surprised but unfazed by the big cat, the Garmr attacked. It came in snapping at Sima's throat for a quick kill. But Sima was no novice to battle. She twisted under the attack and leaped on the Garmr's back as it tried to turn back at her. Her claws ripped wide and deep scratches as she bit into its neck. The Garmr howled out in pain as it shook and tried to shake the cat off its back. Diving to the ground it rolled trying to crush Sima. With lightning speed she jumped off and was ready when the Garmr got back to its feet.
As it stood snarling at Sima, she pawed the ground sharpening her claws for the next attack. Sima's eyes never left the Garmr as she paced in front of the scared elf. Her muscles were tight, then they jumped at each other. As Sima and the Garnr clashed, Sima's teeth went right to the Garnr's thoat and she bit down crushing its windpipe. It shook struggling to shake her off and get breath into its lungs but Sima held tight. It wasn't long before it gasped its last breath. Sima had won.
Dropping the dead Garmr, Sima turned to the elf as it drew itself back. As Sima tilted her head, she laid down and began to clean her wounds. Surprised that the Puma wasn't attacking, the elf stood up and carefully held out his hand to Sima. After taking a sniff, Sima began to lick the elf's hand.
"You just saved my life Sima." The elf sat down in front of her as Sima looked back panting. "I knew you had the heart I was looking for. I have a reward for you."
The Elf stood up and in a flash of blinding light it disappeared and a handsome blond man in glowing golden robes appear. Standing in front of the big cat was now the sun god Alee. He reached out and touched Sima right between the eyes. Suddenly her mind became sharper. She looked up at Alee and knew something in her had changed. She had grown bigger, stronger and faster and much more clearer in her mind.
"How do you feel Sima?"
[Strong.] She stood wondering where that had come from. How was it that she now understood everything he was saying. [Who bright man?]
"My name is Alee." He said. "And I have something I want you to do. I want you to find someone for me and help him. Be his guide. Will you do that for me?"
[Yes Sun man.] Sima didn't know how, but she knew exactly who the bright man was and what he wanted. She would help him.
"Good." He ran his hand through the tan fur on her head. "Find Niro and be his guide. Help him be the hero I know he can be."
At the edge of Sorrowdown, Bram Thorn stood and watched as the city burned. He could sense that what he was looking for wasn't here. The Emperor was dead, he knew that. Someone had beaten him here so he couldn't get his revenge on Midoa Cassius Pius, the man who had ordered his death. But the men who had carried out the order were still out there and so was their families. He would make them suffer for what they had done to him.
As he watched the flames blow in the wind, a wagon of people who had made it out of the city pulled up along the road.
"Aiya Stranger." Called a man from the front seat. "If you seek Sorrowdown, you can see it is no more. It was burned to the ground by escaping slaves. We gave them shelter and food and this is how they repay our kindness. I pray a pox will fall on every last one of them and shrivel their manhood. We head for Parandor keep for safety. What say you?"
Bram barely looked at them. He just raised his hand and sent a blast of fire at them and incinerated them screaming. As Bram looked at the smoldering ashes, the name Parandor kept running through his mind. He began to laugh and disappeared.
In the freezing land of Aerola, far to the west of Kensor, the sun shined brightly on the snowy dunes of the plain. A great white arctic caribou stepped out from behind a huge snow mound and stopped to take a scent of the air. Sensing no danger, it bent down and started scraping at the ground to get to the tender leaves of grass beneath the snow. Off to the left, hidden among the dunes of snow, Yarden Pek watched and waited for his chance to attack. Yarden was young, pure white furred Yeti of the Mada clan from the nearby Mohn Mountains. He had been out all morning tracking caribou and had finally managed to get one separated from the herd. He was being very careful. He knew that the slightest sound or hint of his scent would alert the beast of his presence and it would bolt. He had to be slow and take his time making his approach if he was to make a kill today.
Slowly he inched his way out of the dunes keeping the wind coming from the north. He prayed to Kearn the winter god to keep the winds in his favor for just a few more minutes. All he had to do was make it a few more feet to his prey and with his icy touch, he could send his ice running through the caribou's blood and bring the beast down with a frozen heart.
Hugging the ground, Yarden merged with the snow and ice and crept inch by inch forward. His claws were exposed and ready. He had blocked out everything around him except for the caribou. He didn't see the polar bear that watched from the distance and he didn't hear the rumble coming from behind him until the ground began to shake. Then the caribou lifted its head sensing danger and bolted away. Yarden dropped back into solid form and sat up and watched as the caribou trotted off across the field. That was when he felt the vibrations in the snow and looked back to see smoke rising from the mountains. As Yarden put his hand to his brow to shield his eyes from the glare, he realized the smoke was rising from just where the entrance to the clan caverns were. Something was wrong back at the Mada Caverns. He had left mother and his younger brother there sleeping when he went out to hunt. He wasn't sure of what exactly the smoke meant, but he knew it wasn't coming from any cooking fires. They used the heat from the mountains heart to cook and forge weapons and other metal objects. And since the Yetisans don't need heat, a fire in the mountain could only mean one thing. Trouble.
The closer Yarden got to the caverns, the thicker the smoke came billowing out. He could smell the smoke as he ran and something else. He smelled fear and blood in the air. Yarden quickened his pace leaping from cliffs edge to the next trail as his fear grew. Moving at his top speed, it took him less then ten minutes to make it up to the cavern entrance. As he came around the trails bend, the smell of blood filled his senses. He hurried on to the hidden gates, then stopped when he saw two smoking bodies lying by the gate. Horrified, he looked down at the two smoldering heaps. It was Zuri and Kenton Pah. Two brothers that had been standing watch at the gate for years. Their fur was scorched down to the flesh and there was a look of absolute horror on what was left of their faces.
Fear pushed Yarden on. Something powerful had done this and whatever it was, it had gone into the gates and down to the city.
Hurrying on, Yarden couldn't help but wonder who could have done this. It couldn't have been the Snowmen who so frequently tried to get into the city. They were made of snow, they couldn't handle fire. It couldn't have been the Kensi, those savage beastmen were afraid if fire too What about the Humans? Could they be responsible? Yarden couldn't see how that would be possible. The Yetisan had been friends with the people of Torcin for over one hundred years. They traded with them and their children even attended their schools. There was no reason they would attack, it just didn't make any sense. But if not them, then who could it be?
As Yarden hurried down the tunnel, he made the turn and went down and enter the main cavern which housed the people of the Mada clan. It was hard to see anything, smoke filled the cavern burning his eyes but Yarden did see the burning bodies of Yeti warriors everywhere. Scared, he ran on screaming for someone to come tell him what had happened here. As he searched, he went from the market area to the homes further back praying he wouldn't find any of his family. It wasn't long before he found himself on the lane where his family lived. He stopped at his open door afraid to go in. Afraid of what he might find.
Slowly Yarden pushed the door open and stepped in. The homes and shops in Mada cavern had all constructed from a series of chambers in the caves. The ceiling were all of different heights. Some homes had three or four rooms, some had more. Orbs of light glowed from high up casting low levels of light through all the chambers and halls. As Yarden stepped into his home, he could see things scattered everywhere. Chairs knocked over, broken plates and mugs on the floor and a bowl with the vegetables his mother had been preparing for tonight's dinner crushed and trampled. Fear for his family turned his stomach as he searched each room afraid of what he might find.
He went from room to room searching closets and under beds and found nothing. There was no one there. Yarden stopped, he looked down and at his feet there was a sketching of him with his mother and his two brothers. He picked it up and hung it back in its place on the wall. Where were they? He tried to think. Where would they go if there was trouble. His mother would take the boys and go to Levin the Elder. He would know what to do.
Running out from his mother's apartments, Yarden dashed through the streets. He went up the lane and made a turn four blocks up passing dead and burning warriors along the way. At the fountain in the center of Mada, Yarden heard a huge explosion that shook the cavern raining debris down from the upper levels. Looking up, he saw smoke pouring from the hall of Elders. Whatever had attack them, must still be up there.
Yarden was scared. He knew he was no match for whatever had attacked the clan, but if there was any way to avenge all the dead Yeti, he would have to find out what had attacked and why. Merging with the ice, Yarden stepped into the ice wall and made his way up to the higher levels. He stuck to the walls not going to deep into the ice so he would have no trouble seeing who the enemy was. Once on the top level where the Hall of Elders was, Yarden stopped before he entered. He said a quick prayer to Kearn to give him strength and luck, then slipped into the hall moving very slow.
What was once a thing of beauty and pride, the hall of Elders was now in total ruin. Where once the walls were made of beautiful gleaming ice crystal, shining like diamond, now black soot and ash covered large portions on the wall. The twin rows of statues of the elders had been smashed and lay in pieces all around the chamber. Only one statue was left standing. In the front of the chamber, front and foremost of them all stood the statue of Rocca Kah the first elder and the Yeti that brought the clan to the Mohn mountains. As Yarden moved in for a closer look, something moved out beyond the ice wall. There was someone in the room. It was a human, he looked strange, he wore tattered black robes and he had long gray scraggly hair. Yarden knew right away this was a wizard of some sort. As he watched, he could see he was talking. No, he was screaming but there was no one else in the room but him. No matter how hard he tried, Yarden couldn't hear what he was saying but he was obviously mad and looking for something.
As Yarden watched, the Mage shook his fist at Rocca Kah screaming something then stopped. He stepped closer looking up into the statues eyes, then sent a bolt of energy that blew its head off. It shattered into a thousand pieces and fell all around the mad mage. He through back his head laughing hysterically kicking through the derbies until he found something. A ring, it had been set as one of Rocca's eyes. Satisfied with his find, the Mage turned and faced Yarden. Afraid he had been found, Yarden moved further back into the ice ready to dive into the glacier if he had too. As he looked back the Mage made a gesture with his hands and disappeared in a flash of darkness.
With the Mage gone, Yarden slid out from his icy hiding place and looked around at the devastation he had caused. Who was the mad Mage and what was it that he had found? Where were the rest of his people? Yarden needed answers and only a human could give them to him. He had to go to Torcin, he had friends there. Maybe Xander Cordan could help him find his family and friends, Maybe he could help figure out who the Mage was. Torcin was about a day’s run away. Yarden returned to home and packed what he thought he might need then left sealing the caverns gates behind him. As he looked back at the snowy gates to Mada, Yarden remember someone he had met while hunting a few years ago. Someone not too far away. Maybe there was someone else up here on the tundra that could help. Maybe he should go to Casthor.