It had been quite some time since her trials in the catacombs and Delamere stood atop the walls looking out onto the fields surrounding Anarόrë Mindon with a smile on her face. The grass rolled with the wind and the smell of the wild summer flowers drifted over her. In the distance she could hear the sounds of metal work. She pondered what new weapon The Artificer might be engineering.
Coal smoke billowed from the blazing forge, flowing up the chute and catching in the evening breeze. Hammer blow after hammer blow rang out into the courtyard as the Artificer commanded the star metal to obey his will.
A burst of embers erupted from the nearby fire as he moulded the metal into a blade. He paused, watching the cinders fall away and die in an unexpected pattern. There was no sound behind him, save the beating heart of flame… Yet he no longer felt alone. The Artificer slowly took in the sooty air and caught but a wisp of something familiar, something that had been thought lost. Someone had entered his domain.
"I was wondering when you'd be getting back, Vitori." He spoke without turning, raising his voice over the hiss of the virgin blade quenching in the cool-water.
“You didn’t give me time to knock.”
Vitori Thaenor Galdimane’s voice was but a rattle as he stepped forward from the shadows and into the light of the workshop.
"Didn't need to," Commodus retorted, turning to see his fellow guardian standing in the threshold. “I have poured my very soul into this forge, nothing can escape me here.”
He saw Vitori barely clinging to life, covered by a worn traveling cloak. What was left of his armour was badly damaged and crumbling into rust, revealing the torn and bloodied garb underneath. His left arm was strapped and bound across his chest, another wound on his neck and down his shoulder had been treated poorly. Several others had been left untreated entirely. His face was badly sunburnt and his bottom lip was cracked and split.
The forgemaster had seen more impressive corpses marching under the banner of the Black Rose.
"You've seen better days, old friend." The Artificer grumbled, crossing the room to the battered Spymaster.
"I have indeed," Vitori mused, exhaling heavily as he leaned his frail form on one of the empty benches. Well aware that the smell of death clung to him like an unwanted thrall.
"I wasn't talking to you..." The Artificer said, as he inspected a puncture in the plate covering Galdimane's right flank.
"Oh! Your concern for my well-being is truly appreciated Commodus…" Feigning offence the spymaster gestured to his injured arm with a flick of his good hand.
"I'm sure you'll survive," he said, smiling at his shield-brother. “Let’s get you cleaned up then. It’s been over a month since Lady Delamere saw you fall and I hold no doubt you’ll be wanting to reintroduce yourself in better graces,”… “Mi’lord.” He added wryly.
“No time brother,” Vitori remarked, ignoring the quip. A faint glimmer of his former self shining through the grime and dried blood that caked his face. “What is the situation here in Anarórë Mindon? I need to know what I’ve come home to.”
Shrike noticed Dalamere smiling over the fields and joined her on the wall. "It's been some time since I've seen you smiling" he remarked by way of announcing himself, and Dalamere startled at the sudden intrusion into her thoughts.
"Forgive me" Shrike continued, "I didn't mean to startle you. I merely wondered if this meant you had heard some good news."
...“Home is it now?” Voke queried, “I’d always thought you preferred the comforts of your great grandfather’s halls”
“Things have… changed Commodus… It’s difficult,” the spymaster mumbled ignoring the jibe, his mind still searching for an answer that he couldn’t quite find. There had been ample time to ruminate during his time away and Galdimane had caught himself increasingly clinging to the concept of home, willing it would carry him back all the faster.
“Aye, much has changed, and you’d not be the only one who’s started to call Anarórë Mindon home.” The Artificer paused to watch Vitori’s reaction, but sensed no change. “I suppose you’d know then, that the High Lord has offered our hospitality to all refugees who fled the black legion.”
“Mmn,” Vitori grunted back, “I have not been idle this entire time my friend. I observed droves of the Asturan diaspora heading north towards Carpathia, and I read too the notices which dot the roadways. It seems that news of the victory was enough to distract the commoners of Middlemark from the civil war, if only briefly. I’d wager The Empress is more pleased with the diversion than the decimation of the chaos horde.”
“I wouldn’t care to place bets on the whims of an empress, we’ve all heard the rumours about her and that hulking raider...” Commodus Voke stopped his inspection of Vitori’s all but destroyed armour and turned to face the man. “Still though, that’s not all... Vit, half the guardians believe you to be dead, there has been talk of electing a new spymaster.”
His chuckle was hollow and dry. “Are we so quick to jump to conclusions?” Vitori asked in a dull tone. “There was no way to send word back through secure channels… And even then, I couldn’t trust that the chaos stain hadn’t taken hold here.”
“You paranoid bastard.” The Artificer shook his head slowly and resumed tending the fresh forged sword. The newly recovered star metal had been quite a pleasure to work with. “Ados has taken to his tower, he barely joins us in the hall these days and when he does his mood leaves much to be desired.”
“Ados acting aloof? Brother, the cause has taken its toll upon us all. I think it’s time to rejoin the others in the great hall, if you wouldn’t mind helping me there.” Vitori adjusted his tattered cloak revealing a badly swollen right knee. “I fear to say, that I return with ill tidings.”
Gritting his teeth the spymaster looked Voke dead in the eye. “Orcs are upon us Commodus, I watched them swarm in from the eastern expanse and they’ve been marauding unrestricted in the wake of the black crusade.” He tried to lift himself off the bench but his head span from the effort, as black spots crept over his vision.
“Galdimane?” Voke moved to his brother’s side, supporting his weight. “Greenskins you say?” They started out slowly toward the door. “So, it’s to be war again?” A thin smile cutting the stern lines of his weathered face. “You’ll be in need of a new suit my boy, and this time I expect you to treat her right.” The pair stepped out of the forge into the main courtyard, heading towards the great hall of Anarórë Mindon.
Shadows crept over the hall with the setting Sun, greeting every crack, every crevice. A blanket of black smoke ebbs now, stalking, guarding. He sees his brethren heavy hearted.
Orcs have ravaged many amongst Eastern tongue, striking in hoards again and again to fight the Dragon Empires.
Vor steps fourth now in the shade night. His hood weighs heavy as he reaches down to remove a small dagger lodged in his thigh.
Burning in shadow he heals the wound. But for how many more times will this canvass be stitched? Yet the artist will always continue to paint.
"You're both clumsily loud." a snide remark exchanged in compassion as Vitori and Voke joined by the warmth of the hearth.
Leaning against the merlins, Shrike made to keep talking when he noticed something in bailey below that made a smile creep across his own lips. "Or perhaps we should head down to the great hall and I can tell you the good news"
"Good news?" Delamere inquired. She had stood on guard longer than she was needed and her replacement had been with her for many hours. She had been lost in thought. She had been contemplating how she would greet him. He had being gone such a long time. She faced Shrike "I am quite hungry and I have stood watch long enough."
Mysana had been Delamere's replacement for guard of the night watch and had left her to her thoughts as she stood watching the grass roll. Another of the Guardians had come up the wall and starled herself and Delamere, as he greeted Delamere. She looked across the wall to the soft sound of his voice and then returned her gaze to the fields below as they made a small conversation. She stood listening to the soft murmur of words just making them out clearly. Making no attempt to make it look like she was eaves dropping, but even then, she had no inkling of what they were talking about. Being a relatively new member to the Guardian force the things they spoke of were new to Mysana so she ignored them. Thankful that Lady Delamere was finally leaving the wall to eat and rest, she returned her focus to the fields and duties as the night guard.
Thoughts crossed her mind as she watched the darkening fields. In the distance a dim glow of the nearest village illuminated the horizon. a small scatter of camp fires could be seen as travelers set up camp for the night. She pulled out her journal and made an entry for her latest quest of events. In time this journal would hold many notes and information Mysana needed to help find her heritage and how she had ended up where she is and why so many people had feared her. She finished her entry and closed the journal. Her gaze swept over the fields again as the fires of travelers were dimming and the moon was finally setting. The night watch was almost over for her as a small line of light began to rise over the horizon. She thought of her bed that would be waiting for her when her replacement finally arrived to take over for the day. Sleep was not far from her mind as she watched the sun begin to peep over the mountains. As she watched the sun creep ever so slowly into the sky she swore she saw the faintest outline of a creature soaring into the mountain peak before disappearing in the glare of the dawn. She looked at her cloak she had slumped over the wall and saw the insignia of the Guardians. The griffon. Was that what she had seen settle into the mountains after a night of hunting? She noted that in her journal as she waiting for her replacement, then sleep would come shortly after.
Shrike's face cracied into a grin. "Food it is then. I imagine you'll want to get your strength up." And with that Shrike was off, sensing a raised eyebrow behind him before the noise of a frustrated sigh and the sound of Dalamere coming up behind him. Before decending to the baily he paused to call back "Oh and Mysana, I know you're expecting intruders to be coming from the outside, but maybe the watch shouldn't be so easy to startle?"
A short snort of laughter came from Mysana "Well I'd see them wouldn’t I?" She said "Didn’t even know you were there until you spoke" turning her attention back to the fields she made a mental note to hone her sense of environment and when such a person would be sneaking up on her. Training will take that out of her she thought
The streets lay quiet and still as Shrike and Delamere strode towards the great hall. By this hour many had gone to sleep, readying themselves for the next day's work. She didn't believe how hungry she was until she had thought about what food might still be left in the hall. The main meal would have been fed to the Guardians hours ago and everyone would have shared stories of the days past with full bellies. Though the food would be cold, hot soups or stews would still be atop the fire. She quickened her pace, whatever the meal it would be welcome. She climbed the steps behind Shrike as they reached the door to the hall.
Shrike and Delamere walked mostly in silence; Delamere seemingly still lost in thought and Shrike worried he would blurt out the truth if he opened his mouth. The silence was finally broken as they neared the steps to the hall by a loud rumbling noise. Shrike looked back with a laugh, "Just how long ago was it you last ate?"
"Some time in the morning?" replied Delamere with mock sheepishness.
"Well, there's pleanty of people still in there by the sounds of it. With luck there'll still be something hot." Shrike watched a look of confusion flit over Delamere's face as the noise from the hall finally hit her, replaced quickly by a smile.
"Well let's get in there before whoever it is eats it all then" and together they pushed open the great doors to reveal a gathering crowed of Guardians by one of the far hearths.