Deadrick’s roar echoed up the mountain walls as he bound towards the Mages, his gun was drawn but he hadn’t fired yet- he had planned to use some scare tactics first.
But the Mages hadn’t taken any sort of offensive stance- the only movement they made was more defensive.
Then Deadrick noticed it- raised hands. Surrender. He stopped running, skidding to a halt, sending a dust cloud over the Mages.
“Okay, what’s with the funny business?” Deadrick growled, straightening himself up and sheathing his weapons.
One of the Mages at the front of the crowd stepped forward. His hands were still raised, but he lowered one of them to remove his hood.
His face was old and weathered- with skin was like charcoal. The whites of his eyes were stained and black, and his pupils had a faint green tinge.
“Please… traveler… we mean you no harm,” He said. His voice was low and raspy.
Deadrick narrowed his eyes.
“I’ll be the judge of that,” He said quietly.
The Mage who had spoken lowered his arm slowly, and used his arm to gesture across the silent crowd.
“Tell me, do we look in a position to make any sort of attack on you, traveler?”
The question made Deadrick look over the crowd again. The man was right- this wasn’t any kind of formation.
Only the first line or so were wearing hoods- the rest of the group wore tatty linen clothes- most of which were torn and dirty. The women held babies, and small, round-faced children looked up at Deadrick with big eyes.
They were refugees, running from their homeland- running from Juhra.
“You are willing to risk your life for this?” The Mage who Deadrick had spoken to first, who revealed his name to be Avenathar, asked.
The refugees had welcomed them, and they had fashioned a makeshift campsite within the tight confines of the road, complete with a campfire-which provide some much needed warmth and light in the constant darkness and cold of Nefern Dale.
Danyel had been unwilling to sit down with them at first- and Deadrick understood his reluctance. Refugees or not, they were still the Syndicate… still the ones who had summoned Juhra.
“Its what I do,” Deadrick replied almost uninterested, taking a bite from a small chunk of bread.
The rest of the refugees had scattered around the campfire, trying to get as close to the source of warmth as they could.
Avenathar, Deadrick, Danyel, Bruad and Nerui were closest to the fire.
“It was never agreed by the entire Syndicate that we would summon the great demon,” Avenathar explained.
“And yet you still did,” Nerui said.
Avenathar shook his head.
“A large majority of us were against the summoning,” Avenathar began, “In the old tales, Juhra was a great scholar- from the northern islands, he came to the Mainland in his search of all knowledge, which he wrote within a large, iron-bound book called the Durei nae Font.
“When he arrived, he had the misfortune of meeting a demon named Meilonat- who desired the Font, for it contained many spells and charms which would give him amazing power and control over the other demons.
“Juhra- while great, was greedy. He first demanded payment. Meilonat had no currency, so offered Juhra something greater- demon magic. He told Juhra that the magic he could provide him with was greater than anything know to any living Kandrakhanian.
“Juhra agreed, acting the simple human, charmed by the ways of the demon- but, in reality, Juhra had his plan laid out. He laid the Font on a pedestal, and told Meilonat that it was now protected, and it could only be taken from the pedestal should Juhra allow it.
“Meilonat, now blinded by his want for the book, agreed, and gave Juhra a small amount of his power,”
“But he had been tricked,” Deadrick said.
“When Meilonat grabbed for the book, it disintegrated into nothing. Realizing that he had been tricked, he moved to attack Juhra. But Juhra was ready, combining the power of the knowledge that he had stored within the Font- which he had memorized, and his new found demon power, he fought back- destroying Meilonat’s form, and sending him back to the Underlands,
“But, before Meilonat completely disappeared, he used the last bit of his power to drag Juhra into the Underlands with him,
“When they reached the Underlands, Juhra murdered his captor. But it was too late- he was trapped in hell, and he was slowly driven insane by the horrors of his new home,”
Deadrick narrowed his eyes as Avenathar finished speaking.
“What use would he have been to the Syndicate?” He asked.
“Disregarding the fact that he was insane, he was still incredibly powerful,” Avenathar said, “They thought that he would be controllable, and that they would be able to use his magic to gain some sort of standing within the Mainland…”
“You mean start another war?” Danyel snapped.
“The Syndicate has split down the middle. We have become anew- we have families, cities. Many years have passed, and many of us have changed. We do not wish for any more war. But, then there are the devout of us, ones who still wish to bring to life the greatest Demon kind, and take control of the Mainland… they wish for darkness, and evil,”
“When they summoned Juhra, they only brought his essence- trapping it at the very top of the Citadel, magically chained. As our greatest sorcerers worked on discovering a way to take his power, he was calling out… all that time, sending messages to every Unholy beast in the land.
“Before we knew it, they began flooding in. They took the Citadel, and we were forced out as they spread across the region like a disease. We’re one of the last few refugee groups out,”
Avenathar had been quick to dispel the blame that Deadrick had been so ready to put on him. But what he had said had only reinforced what Deadrick had been feeling since he had first noticed the young children- the families.
They were still people- they had spent so long behind the mountains, with the rest of the worlds hatred pointed squarely at them- nobody had considered that they had developed a complete nation in the war-torn land.
“If you are willing to risk your life to rid the world of this evil, then you have our backing,”
Deadrick gave him a small nod of thanks.
“What is the safest way to the Citadel?” He asked.
“The Skelari Flats is the fastest way, but the Unholy are drawn to it because of the Ecrid,” Avenathar told him.
Nefern Dale was a large region, but only some of it was habitable. When the Syndicate began the first war by summoning the dragon, they used the source of Ecrid that was buried deep below the land in the centre of the region.
When they released it, there was a great burst of Ecrid, which grew outwards, burning and destroying the very land- leaving only the outskirts habitable.
This great area of Ecrid fissures became known as the Skelari Flats, and would be the quickest way to get across the region.
“With the Unholy haunting it, you’ll never get across. The safest route would be to go round the Flats, using the road that connects the towns and Outposts. It will take you longer, but you will at least come out alive,”
Deadrick got to his feet, holding out a hand to Avenathar.
“Thank you,” He said.
Avenathar looked fairly shocked at the handshake, but took it nonetheless.
“My pleasure… and Deadrick?” He said.
Deadrick looked at him.
“Good luck,” He replied.
Deadrick took one last glance at the refugees, and began walking away- followed by Nerui, Danyel and Bruad.