Rise of the Battle Mage

Marius prodded along in a line with the other children, scared, cold, hungry and absent sleep. Many of them had no idea why they were here. He did. His mother knew they were coming. She knew they would take him and even though she warned him she did not refuse the sack of gold they offered. It would be a better life, albeit a hard one, it would not be as merciless and unforgiving as the life he’d lead up to that point. The money would make a better life for her, the magisters would see that he was taken care of, and she could move on with her life forgetting her first son. He would still be Marius when they were done with him, but not the Marius she’d given birth to and raised. He wanted to hate her, but he understood, he was smart for a boy his age. Many of the other children around him sniffled, well past crying out for want of their parents, but marched with their heads bowed as revenant guards flanked their column on both sides.

The girls were formed in one column, boys in another, lead off to separate rooms each lead by a cold and unfeeling revenant who lead the others. Magic of this kind was common in Raivac, and the lands it governed, since the rise of the Dark Father Disciples. They held the majority in the magister ranks and their rapid and violent ascension had caused a war among the magisters that threatened to destroy the world around them. Not that they cared. Unlike the more benevolent magisters, nothing was off limits for the Disciples. They’d restarted the practice of forcefully conscripting children who showed latent magical abilities. Oddities were often experimented on, even killed, in the name of magical advancement. Many died in their care as they simply threw numbers into vicious training regimens wherein only the strongest would survive. What came out the other end was humanoid only in appearance. All of the Disciples had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, secrets, and the power that provided no matter how dark or inhuman. After all, magic with limitations was the steadfast mantra of the weaker and more benevolent among the magisters, and many of them were dead. Those that weren’t had retreated to smaller holds and villages in the surrounding lands and often fought losing battles against the forces of the Disciples. Their horde of servants, summoned creatures, mindless fanatics and the undead would hunt day and night for signs of the other factions and see them converted or killed, mostly killed.

The revenant’s lead them into a room with a raised dais where they sat before a crooked old man in a long and flowing grey robe. His skin was weathered with age, his form gaunt and frail, and he had a shock white beard that flowed out from beneath his hood. His face, save his completely white eyes, was obscured in the darkness of the hood. Each child was brought before him, and sent off to either side of the dais. Those sent to his right lived. Those sent to his left would soon wish they were dead. Whatever latent bit of magic they had was not enough to interest The Disciples. In happier times they might have been used as scribes, assistants, and understudies. The Disciples had no need for anything they saw as weakness amongst the living. Marius stepped before the dais, tilting his chin as the man’s skeleton like fingers felt over his face. He felt subtle pulses of magic as the man touched him, as if he were probing and looking for something. The man paused and glanced to an adjoining wall in the chambers that separated the boys from the girls. He tilted his head to the left as the wall began to give way, the children began scattering to all corners of the room as screams could clearly be heard from the room beyond. The revenants, without orders from their master, began to move and herd their charges. The man hissed an order for them to stop and they turned their attention to the crumbling section of wall

As the wall fell away the wrinkled old man got to his feet and the revenants drew their swords. Five men and a woman, with the largest of the men shouldering a small frightened girl entered through the hole. They lead the other children behind them. They all wore a mixture of greys and whites, their armor, cloaks and weapons were adorned with a dagger plunging into an eye with rays that radiated out from its center. It was the symbol of the Free Blades. Assassins who were completely immune to magic. They could not be harmed by it, and they could not benefit from it. The old man on the dais moved to command the revenants but his hands gripped at the hilt of a large dagger that had caved in his chest cavity. These greater revenants were not tied to their master however and so they continued to move on their own, and pressed the attack. While the largest Free blade stayed in the middle of their ranks, and two at the rear continued to move children through the hole in the wall, three others skillfully began clearing the room of the revenants.

A woman, her voice was lilting, moved from the rear and began to gather all the children in the room. "Quickly now" she chided, as the boys fell in line behind the girls. They moved back through the passages to a small courtyard, moved to its north wall where a small and winding enclosure concealed supplies and cargo. They began to guide the children through slowly thorough a large hole concealed behind some crates. Some of it had arrived with the children on a wagon. Six of the crates had been broken up from the inside, there were crusts of bread and a few damp spots in the hay that had been packed inside the cargo, likely from a water skin. This was how they’d entered the fortress undetected. The Free Blades began hurrying them through the small hole as quickly as they could and at least one of them began beating at it with a shovel in an attempt to widen it. Marius heard the shouts of men and dogs as one of the free blades leaned around the corner and loosed a crossbow bolt. An arrow was lodged in his shoulder when he pulled back around the corner, and you could clearly hear the thud of a body as an approaching attacker fell to the dirt. The Free Blade broke the arrow off in his shoulder and cursed. The large man, clearly their leader, wordlessly looked to his injured comrade. The man with the arrow wound said one word. "Poison." He gave a singular nod to the others as he pushed the last of the children along. He pitched his crossbow aside, and drew two short swords that had been concealed in a crossed scabbard on the small of his back. Even as the poison began to course through his body he charged out from behind the enclosure and in moments the screams of dying men, the shouts of those joining battle, and the ring of steel on steel could be heard.

The Free Blade at the rear, still near the opening in the wall, drove his sword down into the skull of a ravenous dire wolf as it stuck tried to crawl through the opening. He kicked at another who managed to make it through and stepped forward to a knee to drive his sword through its middle. As it fell two more followed it and dove on the Free Blade. He rolled with them, even as he cried out in pain, and when he was against the wall he slammed his steel lined gauntlet into the wall creating a large spark. Bits of man, beast, and earth rained down on the fleeing children from the resulting explosion, and smoke billowed from the side of the castle wall as the cargo was engulfed in flames. They made their way down the rocky shore to a nearby river and clamored into a very large rowboat. A set of three quivers and three bows waited in the prow.

The woman quickly dropped into the prow of the boat and split the third quiver amongst the other two. She, and one of the others, took up position at the sloped stern of the boat firing arrows at the shore as men and beasts poured from the smoke and fire left by the explosion. Arrows, crossbow bolts and weighted stones splashed into the water around them. The largest man took to the oars, rowing powerfully, while the other stood at the stern of the boat with a dim lantern, making them easier to see but in the pitch of night they could not otherwise see where they were going. Several of the projectiles landed in the boat, and Marius huddled with the gaggle of children as they struck. A boy not much younger than he went slack and fell over the side as a weighted stone split his skull. Several more had also fallen, and many others cried out from injury. The two at the prow cursed and screamed as they fired their arrows faster and faster, so quick in fact that their fingers bled. The large man who worked the oars was grinding his teeth but he said nothing, and the same of the man in the prow. As they reached the other side those who could move piled out of the boat without waiting for the Free Blades to prompt them.

As they reached the other side and began making their way up the bank a singular figure waited. As missiles landed around him, he did not move. In the pitch black of night the sword that he drew began to give off a faint glow.

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