On a crisp warm evening on the plains in Cristarion, on the precipice of the city of Aldermerrow, a small town called Ravensphere cropped out of the dry grass lands. A simple village with a few ram shackle houses along the end becoming more decorative and expensive the closer you got to the centre; the town hall being in the middle. The sun was just setting over the Godspeak Mountains: the tallest mountains in the known world, towards the North. A trickle branch of the Everflow River ran past the perimeter of the village making it able to grow most of its own food.
As the sound of horse hooves on the cobblestone Red Road drew nearer the farm animals stirred and several chickens ran and squawked towards their pens. Now at the gates of the small town the Regius Tutela guards in their chainmail and white fur lined clothes let past four horsemen, the lead dressed in the more expensive armour; steel plate with a chainmail coif helmet, the rest of the men dressed in simple iron studded leather. The lead man himself seamed very old, his hair silver in the twilight underneath the rim of his helmet and his skin crumpled like old parchment however he had strong built muscles, for his age, his broad shoulders making his polished armour tight.
When the horsemen stopped at the local tavern - The Quill and Quandary - a stable boy scurried towards the lead man to take his horse. The lead rider stepped inside for a short while. Minutes passed by but in what seemed like an instance the leader emerged from the tavern, looking around as if to see if anyone was watching however there was nothing to be heard but the steady clang of the smith hammering on the anvil. After standing and conferring with his fellow riders they marched back to their horses, snatching the reins from the stable boy knocking him down in the process. The whole affair occurred within the blink of an eye but it would change the fate of the world.
As Tristan Aldred watched the mysterious men slowly fade from his field of vision through his bedroom window he wondered what on earth the men had even ridden into town for, Tristan was naturally inquisitive but this was a strange enough occurrence to intrigue anyone; especially in a village as remote and small as Ravensphere. With nothing more than a shrug of his shoulders, Tristan wandered back towards his bed, laid down and continued to dream about saving Patricia Philips from a Minotaur.
Screaming. Burning. Smoke in the back of his throat making him choke. Tristan awoke with a jump, his house was on fire. The screaming was coming from downstairs. His mother. He could feel the heat through the floorboards now that he was beginning to wake, the smoke was seeping through the very cracks of the walls. Fumbling around in desperation he tried to salvage as much as he could; stuffing his clothes into a rucksack and anything else of value. Another scream, much louder now reminded Tristan that he had little time.
‘Mother!’ He yelled, trying to force the window open.
Grabbing his desk chair, Tristan launched it through the glass panes of his decrepit window sending it to the streets below in fragments. Using the crammed rucksack as a means of protection Tristan soon followed suit. The impact with the solid ground was not lessened in the slightest by the padding of coats and crumpled underwear, with his head spinning and the wind being firmly knocked from his lungs Tristan struggled to get back on his feet. Through the haze of wood smoke and intense heat Tristan could hear muffled noises calling to him.
‘Tristan! Tristan! Run Tristan!’ But before he could it was too late.
The mailed fist caught Tristan in the side of the head sending him reeling all over again, falling back onto the pavement, his entire body going limp with the surges of pain to his skull. Tristan was only just aware of the hands reaching under his shoulders dragging him up and across the street, pulling his hair back and exposing his throat. I’m going to die, I’m going to die and I didn’t even get to tell Patricia I loved her. To Tristan’shorror once his vision had refocused he saw the bruised, dress torn image of his mother held before him between two of the leather clad men that looked all too familiar, much like he was himself.
‘Who are you bastards? What do you want? This village has nothing of value in it!’ Tristan wrenched as the fleshy bonds bolted to his arms.
An old man with expensive steel and a chainmail; very old, his hair silver in the twilight underneath the rim of his helmet and his skin crumpled like old parchment stepped from behind Tristan, clutching at his chin so that he was looking into ice blue eyes.
‘Oh there’s something of value in it alright, but I think it needs toughening up a bit before it’s thrown into the real world.’ His voice was utterly merciless.
With the flick of his wrist one of the leather men holding Tristan’s mother drew out a long, thin blade and in one swift motion covered the cobblestones with an entirely different shade of red.
Tristan didn’t know what to do, with the crimson liquid dripping from his chin he was paralysed into lifelessness. My mother. They just killed her, right in front of me.
Slowly his mind awakened, not as it once had been though, the old man was more right than he realised; he had toughened something inside Tristan, no not toughened, awoken, as if from an ancient slumber the power that had been stirred by the death of his mother gave Tristan the fury of a thousand lions; the menace of a thunderstorm.
‘AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!’ The men holding Tristan began to convulse and scream with an inhumane cry as the power Tristan possessed overwhelmed them.
He rose now that the men holding him were writhing on the floor in fits of madness. Tristan’s eyes glowed with a burning white light that pierced through the man who had slit his mother’s throat.
‘Please don’t hurt me, I was just following orders, please,’ the man began to cower on the floor and weep into his hands, unable to even look at Tristan.
I’m going to tear you limb from limb you shit-faced son of a-
Tristan’s eyes rolled back into his head from the impact of a mailed fist to the base of his neck. He blacked out and slumped hard once again onto the slippery surface of the street. The lead man of the group was standing behind Tristan and after knocking him unconscious he hauled the boy over his right shoulder.
‘We have what we came for, tell the rest of the men to burn what can’t be looted, I want to leave this place a blackened ruin that no one will ever trouble to remember, Terrors! It’s time to move on from this shit-hole of a town; we have much bigger plans to enact now!’ The surrounding men cheered to their leader.
The fifty or so mercenaries known as the Infernal Terrors had easily managed to overcome the few number of the Regius Tutela guards that were stationed in Ravensphere, what followed next was a massacre; pillaging every home, every family. They killed and raped their way through the village from midday to sunset, all for the sake of one boy. Tristan had been unceremoniously escorted out of the burning shell of the village before the horror had begun and had been taken with the lead man to an encampment just behind a small hill west of Ravensphere.
It was around the ninth hour of the evening when the screams finally faded and Tristan woke from his comatose state.
‘What-’ Tristan’s words got stuck in his throat, he could breathe, he could move his eyes, but all powers of mobility and speech had been compressed within him.
From his left he saw a young man standing, leaning against the canvas post with an otherworldly sense of arrogance radiating from him. Once he realised that Tristan had seen him he stepped from the shadows into the illumination of the candlelight that encircled Tristan. He was much younger than Tristan had realised, with the smooth complexion and soft skin of someone in their mid to late twenties, his eyes were a shimmering emerald green and his blonde hair fell from his head in streaming golden waterfalls; he wore the same smirk that Tristan expected from his earlier air of arrogance, it was a slap to the face in and of itself. His clothes were made to fit in a striking fashion that emphasised every tone and muscle underneath them, his striding legs had black leather field boots with tucked in grey breeches, a white shirt revealed the beginning of an intricate tattoo, his military jacket was the same grey as his trousers with a slashed back that reached to the back of his knees. He carried no weapons which Tristan saw as a good sign.
From his right hand side now he saw the man who had knocked him unconscious earlier; with his helm removed his cropped grey hair looked more silver in the light. He moved towards Tristan and looked deep into his eyes, much like he did before he commanded the death of his mother. The very thought brought warm tears to Tristan’s eyes and that infinite well of energy was beginning to stir once again.
A screaming searing sound pierced through Tristan’s anger and made him physically recoil in his chair, he could not see where the source of the pain was coming from, and it was as if a thousand hornets were embedding their stingers into his brain. Tristan was crying tears of pure agony until suddenly the pain vanished as startlingly as it had appeared, replaced with blessed silence.
‘Now, now young Master Aldred we’ll have no temper tantrums in this tent thank you very much, try that little stunt again and your brain will feel like a horses personal bucking post for the rest of the night.’ It was the younger man that had spoken, his grin a constant mockery; his voice had all the sentiment of a savaging hyena.
The leader pulled up a chair directly in front of Tristan, still staring at him with the fixation of a hawk.
‘I realise that you probably want to murder me right about now, boy, but make one more fucking move and my associate here will make you burn like a well-cooked little shit,’ The leader leaned back in the chair and beckoned an unseen servant, who quickly supplied him with a silver chalice filled with what appeared to be a golden liquid.
‘I’ll give you village of peasant’s one thing, you sure had expensive tastes. Haven’t drank Imperial Gold in a long time, have you ever had a taste Oculus Domitius?’ The question was directed to the young man in grey.
‘Oh yes many a time, the priests of the Ten might cry alms but they’re stuffed to the brim with gold, never was a favourite of mine I must say.’ Oculus Domitius continued to smirk in a way that was becoming increasingly nerve shredding to Tristan. What does that sick fuck find so funny?
‘I can tell you what I find funny if you want Master Aldred,’ Domitius’ smirk widened.
How did he? It’s like he-
‘Heard your thoughts? Well it may come to a surprise to you that I can indeed, read your thoughts, that is just a fraction of the power I possess,’ the smirk remained but the seriousness behind Domitius’ eyes spoke volumes.
‘Indeed you can. Now stop trying to show off you prancy fuck-face,’ the leader got up from his chair and placed his cup onto a nearby table.
‘Of course, aren’t you going to introduce ourselves first though?’ Domitius walked forward to stand next to the old man both facing Tristan intently.
‘Oh you have to be so eccentric about everything don’t you? Fine, young Tristan Aldred, this here is Oculus Domitius Egnatius, sorcerer of the Oculus Maleficia, and I have the illustrious honour of being Deigmar the Wicked, leader of the Infernal Terrors,’ Deigmar’s grin stretched to match that of Domitius next to him.
So a mercenary lord and one of only ten sorcerers in the world, what more could be worse. Although Tristan was awed by who stood before him, the slaughter of his mother had filled him with a courage that would not have been possessed by any normal boy. Even in his particular circumstances Tristan was still dazed as to why these series of unfortunate events had occurred to him.
If you can hear my thoughts why don’t you just let me speak to the both of you,Tristan tried to put on the boldest… brain voice he could think of.
‘Why you’re quite right Master Aldred why don’t I let you speak,’ with a flick of his finger the invisible vacuum that was holding back Tristan’s words was removed.
‘You shit-stained, donkey-fucking arseholes! I’m going to hunt you down from the very depths of hell if I have to and rip you’re fucking hearts out and piss in the holes, I’ll – ‘ Tristan couldn’t continue his string of profanities as the previous head splitting pain that had assailed him before had now returned with reinforcements.
Through the haze of pain he realised that it must have been Domitius who was the source of the paralytic pain which deteriorated Tristan’s senses within minutes. After the maelstrom, the pain slowly began to recede from Tristan’s skull leaving nothing but a beating throb within his temples.
‘Speak like that again and next time I’ll reduce you to the intellect of a dancing monkey, understand?’ Tristan could only nod in reply.
‘Right then, good. Now you are no doubt wondering why I, and my merry band of cutthroats, have arrived at your village; burned it to the ground and left none alive but yourself,’ Deigmar picked the chalice up once again taking a hearty swig of the amber liquid within.
‘The very reason is simple, my associate here young Domitius is one of only ten sorcerers in the world, as I have already mentioned, he is attuned to certain magical phenomenon, in particular certain children born with powers much like his and after today’s display I think you’re beginning to piece together the puzzle,’ Deigmar fixed Tristan with his hawk like stare once again.
‘So you’re telling me you came all the way from fucking nowhere, burnt down my entire home and murdered my mother right in front of me! All to find out whether I had the same twisted fucked-up powers as your lunatic here!?’ Although Tristan’s fury was high he was still amazed at Deigmar’s implications.
It was true what he said, Tristan had used magic, it had risen out from somewhere deep within him to the point that he couldn’t even control it, it was a force of pure and raw natural energy that could not be commanded nor contained. But something wasn’t right, he was nobody, he didn’t come from anywhere special, he wasn’t born into wealth or greatness, his mother was a Clairian and so was his father. His father. That’s it. He had died before he was born but that must be the link, his mother rarely ever spoke of him and even then only in fragments.
‘Now, now Master Aldred don’t get ahead of yourself, before you even think about how you were blessed with these mystical prowess you might want to hear what we have planned for you,’ Domitius took a seat on the chair in front of him.
‘With you and Domitius’ powers we could do whatever we wanted, no pompous pricks lording it over us, denying us our privileges, taking our rights.’ Deigmar spoke with wickedness in his voice, undeniably where he acquired his name.
‘It would be our turn to be able to go where we please and do as we please. Deigmar the Wicked would lead the Infernal Terrors to a glorious independence. No longer will we have to scrape away the inconvenient monsters that lurk in the dark places of the world, or the wannabe bandits thinking to make a name for themselves, it’ll be time for the petty lords of Aelidar to bow down to us!’ Deigmar’s enthusiasm had increased throughout his oration.
‘I don’t believe this, you twisted fuck, and you massacred my entire livelihood just to achieve some twisted fucked-up fantasy of yours where you get to play lord? You’re more delusional than I thought if you think I’m going to willingly work to help achieve this insane piece of madness!’ Tristan began to strain against his bonds that controlled his body.
Domitius was in control immediately. Tristan’s voice and body were once again firmly leashed in so that he could neither move nor speak, only watch, watch as Domitius’ mocking grin got ever closer to his face, as sweat ran down the side of his cheek.
‘And what makes you think we were planning on asking you nicely?’ The pure malice behind his voice was undiluted and fierce.
What are you going to do to me?
‘Make you forget.’ Domitius moved to tower above Tristan.
From his weak and vulnerable position Tristan was becoming aware of the overwhelming sense that something terrible was about to happen; he fought with all his will both mental and physical against the bonds that Domitius had restrained him with, he even dared to tap into that deadly and animalistic place were the Essence pulsed and throbbed, yet to no avail. Domitius began chanting in a strange and unfamiliar language. His eyes shimmered and became glassed over with the same blazing white light that Tristan’s had not five hours earlier. He placed his hands to either side of Tristan’s skull, his fingers extended as if to wrap Tristan’s entire cranium within his grip, he could feel the Essence pulsing through Domitius, rather like a conduit than a source tingling from the tips of his fingers to the base of Tristan’s neck. And then the pain began.
If he thought that his earlier experience from Domitius had been painful, that was nothing but the calm before the storm. Now it was the feeling of hammer blows to his skull, as if to sunder it from within. It didn’t just affect his mind. The pain arched across every fibre of his being, his skin seared as if on fire, his bones were put under the pressure of a thousand tons. As it seemed that he could no longer take any more pain, as if death itself could be the surest release, Tristan began to scream.
It wasn’t until the second hour of the afternoon on the third day after the tormenting experience that Tristan finally stirred from his slumber. His first thought was about how hungry he was, no not hungry; ravenous. He moved apart the flaps to his tent to the open air of the Vermillion Fields, he was already wearing his usual clothes and the smell of bacon and warm bread was a promise to be easily taken. He made his way to the main tent belonging to Deigmar the Wicked, the light of the bright sun being let in through a hole in the roof of the pavilion which also let out the smoke from the cook fire on which sizzling pork bacon was being crisped to perfection. Tristan took a seat on a nearby stool and managed to consume two loaves of bread with butter and what must have been a whole piglet of bacon. While wiping his grease stained fingers on his breeches, none other than Domitius Egnatius walked in; Tristan had known Domitius from his childbirth, he was his tutor and master in sorcery. Not long after that, Deigmar walked from behind the bedroom flap of his pavilion buckling on his sword.
‘Good afternoon Master Aldred a fine day it has been while you’ve been sleeping,’ as always Domitius’ smile belayed his actual expression.
‘A fine afternoon to you to oh most pretentious of teachers, what shall we be learning today? I would suggest a spell which wakes me up so as to not miss these oh so riveting lessons.’ Tristan shot back with a smile that was equally smug as Domitius.
‘Or maybe I should come and kick your skinny little arse out of bed eh? Maybe that would help haha!’ Deigmar spoke up, then took a swig of his favourite drink; Imperial Gold wine.
‘No my ever cocky apprentice, today we shall be learning about the metaphysical transmutation of the Essence into the most basic of the elements,’ Domitius poured himself a glass of wine, with his hands barely moving a muscle of course.
‘Hold it a minute, before you start setting each other a blazing Tristan I want you to tour the Second Rank to practice your marksmanship with Ulfid, then see to it that you complete your other lessons before finally letting Domitius set your balls on fire.’ With this Deigmar began to scrutinize the reports laid out on the command table.
‘I shall go get changed and begin my arduous tasks at once.’ Tristan gave a low bow mocking the noble lords of Aelidar, and then exited the tent with a brief glance and nod at Deigmar.
‘Father.’ He smiled and exited the pavilion.