Shade

Prologue:

The war is nearly over for Deloria, and its great heroes have failed. Sparkling, half-melted shards fall from the Spire of Glass and rain down over the ragged remnants of the Crown’s army. The shockwave coming from the meteor strike-one of only dozens raining down on the city of Halmern tonight—blows most of the men clean off of their feet before the onrushing flames can broil them in their armor. Those who remain are easy pray for the press of acolytes skittering like roaches in advance of the great golems brought to hammer down the castle walls and doors. Against the starry curtain above, one can see mages from both sides taking to the sky, streaking back and forth like glowbugs, dancing embers over the burning city. The breaches in the city’s walls have been slowly widening in the past hour, and now the larger part of Vremen’s forces wait only for the end of the meteor storm to move into the city. Even now, though, the more disposable (or simply less disciplined) advance force has flooded some of the streets, taking the Eastern Warrens and the Goldstone District, moving in two diagonal lines to converge more or less intact on the palace grounds. But here in the South City Center, the battle is still just dim echoes and screams. In Valgrahf park, a last-ditch escape is being made. Termis Halford stands with eight of his apprentices in a great circle. They face inward, chanting over nine pots of burning incense. The ceremony has begun, and having secured the area, the drafted militiamen turn their eyes to the Potions Master (still wearing his lecturer’s wig, which hangs askew and forgotten in the evening’s chaos), who turns around to adress you. “This is it. Termis says he’ll have the portal open in twenty minutes. We still don’t know where it’ll take us, but it’s the best we can do with the materials at hand. Hurry now, and pray the clock tower doesn’t go down,” he says. The breathy affectation goes out of his voice, and he sounds younger, more vulnerable than he always has.

...

Eight months ago, after Gimwood fell, Halmern’s Collegium of Arcane Studies, the largest guild-run facility in the country, proposed a dramatic plan to evacuate the entire city to the allied nation of Hunngardt, but parliament unanimously rejected it. Attempts to appeal directly to the king were immediately shot down—losing the capitol would mean losing the entire nation, and furthermore, the Collegium’s duty (indeed, the duty of every stout-hearted patriot) to put the glory of the Monarchy before their lives should make their role in the coming conflict quite clear. Some did not give up. Termis, the Ritual Keeper, borrowed, bought, and stole what he could to complete a lesser ritual. He convinced eight students to do what twenty Masters were supposed to. Secretly he and the few who were convinced of the hopelessness of standing and fighting, of the cruel hubris in shutting the noncombatants inside the gates risked treason charges by reaching out to anyone who would help. Locals, foreigners, students, clergy, sellswords, streetrats, hungry purses, and open minds all saw the value of the plan. There would be parties sent out to haul supplies, to collect refugees, to defend the portal, and to make sure it all happened on the night of the attack, after it was too late for the authorities to step in and before the enemy overran the city completely.

...

Termis’s cloak billows as a strange, hot wind blows out from the center of the ring, sending streamers of sweet-smelling smoke in eight directions. You have your orders—go quickly, work together and secure supplies and refugees. Save as many people as you can by getting them safely to Valgrahf Park. In all directions save for north (where distantly lies the besieged palace), the city stretches away mostly intact, save for the few unfortunate blocks crushed and burned under falling meteorites.

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Honez

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