Usually, when Amber travels the city, it’s within the confines of a carriage surrounded by guards. She is allowed to look out and wave to the people, but that is the extent of her freedom. Mostly, she is ferried to the [Nobles]’ private park where she may play with other [Noble] children. It’s usually a lot of fun, especially when [Bards] or [Fools] are there.
Lifting her hands, she adjusts the mask on her face as she walks beside her bodyguard. She glances at him, but she is unable to discern his thoughts through his mask.
“Are you sure I need to wear a mask?” she asks the man.
He nods. “Yup. You’re the [Princess] of the kingdom. If they see your face, they will know it’s you and then they’ll tell the [Guards] and force you back into the castle.”
“And you’ll get in trouble,” she adds.
He shrugs. “Probably.”
“Won’t they punish you?”
“Nah.” He waves his hand. ”Your father hired me to protect you from danger. He did not tell me to make sure you stayed in the castle.”
“Ohhhhh,” she says, understanding what he is saying. She was a bit afraid that, when he bent the window bars and jumped out of the castle window, he was disobeying orders. But, if nobody said he can’t, well, you can’t follow instructions you don’t have.
Nodding to herself, she shifts her attention to the streets of Kurzix and the people passing by. This is the first time she is walking through the city, and the experience is very different and confusing. People are yelling, talking, rushing.
“So, how long till we reach the [Nobles]’ park?” she finally asks.
“[Nobles]’ park? They have a [Nobles]’ park here?”
She nods. “Yeah, it’s in the [Nobles] district. It’s where all my friends play.”
“Well, I don’t know where the [Nobles]’ park is, but I do have an idea on where we can have a lot of fun,” he answers cryptically.
Amber frowns. The park is fun. Is there something more fun she can do in the city?
She opens her mouth to ask but stops when she smells food.
“Ah, perfect! The market. Let’s get some food,” Bone echoes her thoughts.
Amber knows what a market is; it’s a place where people can buy goods and services. Her [Tutor] long ago explained how the commoners acquired goods. What her [Tutor] failed to describe was the congestion and noise of the throngs of people. Shouts and calls echo above the crowds, currents of men and women bumping into each other as they navigate, and the pervasive smell of food that seems to be everywhere at once.
She grabs her bodyguard’s robe, who turns and looks down at her. “Never been to a market, have you?” he asks and she shakes her head.
“Are you scared?” he asks. She considers being honest, but her curiosity is stronger than her trepidation.
“No,” she lies.
Bone nods and kneels down. His hands grab her waist and lift her up. She is about to yell but stops when he puts her on his shoulders. She blinks behind her mask.
“Is this better?” he asks
“I, uh, yes,” she answers after a bit. For some reason, she feels much less scared now.
“Perfect! Let’s enter. Keep an eye out for any [Butchers], [Bakers], and [Grocers].”
The next hour is an adventure for Amber. She points and directs her bodyguard to various stalls, where he buys a variety of different foods. At some point, Bone buys an empty barrel to better carry everything he bought, which he carries under his arm.
Finally, once the barrel is full and Bone seems satisfied with his purchases, they exit the market and Amber is finally let down. She almost falls over from how wobbly her legs are, but her strength returns not a moment after. Her bodyguard lifts the barrel and puts it on his shoulder.
“Alright, if I remember correctly, the place should be a bit further. Let’s go.”
She follows him, now very curious about what he intends to do with all that food.
Edith grunts as she lifts herself off her chair. Her bones, brittle with age, shake for a moment under the strain. With a slow breath, she leans on her cane and makes her way to the kitchen.
“Nana, Nana, what’s for dinner today?” a young boy interrupts her, the other children stop playing with their toys, also curious.
“Oats,” she answers, receiving groans from all the children.
“I’m sorry children, but food is a bit expensive now, what with the war. We need to save our money as much as we can,” she answers softly, the children sighing but accepting her words.
“What about Sir Edwir? Will he bring something?” the same boy asks.
Edith bites her lip, unsure how to answer. Out of all the orphanage’s patrons, Edwir donates the most. Not just in money, but also in clothing, food, and toys. He comes by weekly, always with a present for the kids, and a small donation as well. She had asked why he does it, and he had only answered that living in an orphanage is better than living with raccoons.
Regardless, with a war on the horizon, he warned her that he will not have time to visit the orphanage. That was over a month ago. Her stores of food are low. She will need to make a trip to the market, an arduous task for her now, due to her age.
As she is about to enter the kitchen, she hears a knock on the front door. Curious and hopeful, she makes her way to the door, the children already up and waiting to see who it is. From their faces, it is clear they are hoping for Edwir.
When she arrives, she swiftly removes the locks on the door and opens it.
Her hopes are dashed; standing at the door is not Edwir, but a masked stranger.
This immediately sets all sorts of alarm bells ringing in her head.
“Hello, are you Edith? Is this the orphanage?” he asks, and she finally notices a child next to him. A young girl with a mask on her face.
“Y-yes,” Edith stammers, expecting another addition to her already large family. She can already see it, the masked man wishes to abandon his daughter here. She is sickened that there are people like this, but, at the very least, he is abandoning a child instead of selling one.
“Perfect,” he says with a cheery voice. He leans to the side and, to her surprise, lifts up a huge barrel. He walks forward and enters her home without her permission.
“I saw you have a yard in back, I’ll go prepare.”
“Wait, who are you? This is an orphanage! You can’t just barge in!” she yells, raising her cane. Not that she expects it to do anything.
“It’s fine. We’re here to eat and have fun,” he replies, still walking. The kids get out of his way as he strolls to the back of the orphanage.
“This is trespassing,” she announces.
He stops at the door. “Trespassing doesn’t exist when you’re having a barbecue.”
The kids, having heard him say, “fun,” and, “food,” all rush to the door, struggling to open it.
“Oh yeah, Amber, take your mask off and say hello to the [Caretaker].
The masked girl finally enters the home. She reaches up and removes the mask.
Edith’s eyes widen in shock.
Azernick walks through the camp., Two [Elite Guards] and his [General] walk at his side as he passes through [Soldiers]. The [Soldiers] quickly take a knee at his passage, but the [King] ignores them. His sights are set on a tent in the center of his army, a large tent emblazoned with a black raven.
“My liege, are you sure they will be able to slay Enderan? If they fail, I fear our march will have been wasted. We have no way to bypass his [Mend-Iron Aegis].”
The [King] of Shival smiles, fully understanding his [General’s] fears. The skill, [Mend-Iron Aegis] repairs the metal wall of Kurzix using ambient mana from any and all damage. In theory, with enough firepower, the wall could be overwhelmed; unfortunately, that would require several more kingdoms’ worth of resources than Shival has.
“Follow,” he orders his [General], not answering the man’s questions. It would be far easier to show him instead.
Azernick walks towards the tent entrance, and, like the [King] he is, strides in with an air of importance. Already, six [War Priests] are in preparation for the ritual. Their eager eyes turn to him. The eldest [Priest] smiles with a crazed look. “Is it time? Are we to summon him?” he asks in a slightly giddy but subdued voice.
“Him?” his [General] asks, curious and confused.
“Yes, the Lord!” the [War Priest] exclaims quickly, “We will summon him here to work Odin’s bidding,” he answers.
The [General] frowns. He’s met [War Priests] before, and these look more like savages than anything else. Insane, even.
“They are talking about Micheal.”
“An [Archangel]? Impossible. Not even a contingent of [Archpriests] could summon one of those monsters.”
“I said the same,” the [King] retorts, “but the followers of Odin have found a way. They promised to summon an Archangel and use its power to kill Enderan. Then, Shival will take over Kurzix and will trade exclusively with the Aesir kingdoms.”
The [General] gulps loudly. The Aesir have a well-deserved reputation for being powerful and just. They do not allow [Slaves] and hunt down and kill those who practice the dark arts. They assist the poor and finance orphanages in other kingdoms. Their churches tend to also have the lowest prices for healing and are even completely free in their Theocratic kingdoms.
The common Jack born into the Aesir’s kingdoms counts himself lucky, but for the princes of nations, the Aesir are an insidious foe. More than one sovereign has watched his power get eroded away by the [Prophets] and [Apostles] of Odin till his state is plunged into interminable civil war. When the Church’s [Paladins] finally come and restore Order, prince and pauper alike welcome them with open arms.
“I hope you know what you are doing,” the [General] relents. He has sworn to protect the [King] of Shival, regardless of who the [King] is at the time.
“I do,” he answers before returning his focus to the [War Priest]. “My army can engage tonight, but only after Enderan is dead.”
The [War Priest] nods several times. “Then we will begin,”
The [Priest] turns around abruptly and collects his staff while the rest of the [War Priests] grab supplies. Bags, pouches, rings, potions, and various other items are chucked into a bag. The [War Priests] assemble around a cleared patch of ground next to their tent. On the ground is a magic circle, one so complicated that Azernick doubts an [Archmage] could understand it.
The [War Priests] move in step, placing expensive crystals and enchanted items throughout the circle. Six poles are placed at the edges. They begin to glow, creating a transparent dome that seems to still the air.
“This is rather extensive,” his [General] comments and Azernick agrees.
Eventually, the preparations are mostly complete. Several of the [War Priests] make their way to their carriage. From the back, they lift up a magically glowing, sealed casket. They set it reverently in the center of the circle.
The lead [War Priest] steps up to the casket with staff in hand. He chants something which causes the staff to glow. Then he smacks the casket and several of the glowing seals disappear.
Then, he kneels down and removes the lid.
The naked body of an old man lays still inside. Were it for the slow rise and fall of the man’s chest, one would think he’s a corpse. The old man’s limbs are tied and his mouth is covered.
With a lick of his lips and a giddy smile, the [War Priest] bows to the body before rushing over to Azernick. “The Preparations are complete. We can begin the summoning right now!”
“Your summoning requires a sacrifice?” Azernick asks after a moment.
He stares at the elderly man, expecting the whole idea of sacrifice to bother him, but no, all he sees is a body…
The [War Priest] quickly nods. “Of course. An [Archangel] is not a simple being to summon. It requires either an enormous amount of mana or a worthy sacrifice,” he points at the naked body, “That is Bernard, a former [Archpriest] of Odin who has lost his mind to madness.”
“You sacrifice your own,” the [General] exclaims, appalled.
The [War Priest] chuckles and nods. “Of course. Madness is no excuse to end one’s service to Odin. Only through the All-father can we truly join him in Valhalla!” he yells loudly, which causes the other [War Priests] shout in recognition.
A tiny part of Azernicks brain, the part containing the remnants of his conscience, tells him that this whole deal is bad. That the [War Priests] are crazy and that making deals with the Aesir is a horrible idea.
Unfortunately, his conscience has been quieter than a cricket since he murdered his father for the throne.
“Begin the summoning,” he orders.
The [War Priest]’s face crinkles into an even crazier smile.