Zefar gets his name from a moderator I really, REALLY hated from the Steam forums when I was an avid poster there. Putting him in as an antagonist is my way of saying "Fuck you, you fruity Swede!"
Kitair had not changed much since the wars. Though the cobblestone streets had once been broken and homes shattered by the demonic invasion so many years ago, the people had begun to return to a state of normalcy. The giant cavern that the city made its home in was dead silent, save for the echoing voices of the townsfolk milling about. Lights from the roots of the Brightwood Forest above shone down on the elves, giving their city the illusion of daylight despite being so far underground. Everything was illuminated in the soft glow, except for one spot near the palace.
A circle of freshly patched dirt loomed over a giant spire that had been erected before the palace. A spot that never should have been. It was where the demons had invaded, and wherever they defiled the ground, nothing seemed to want to grow there again. Tried as they might, the druid's magic was not sufficient to heal the forest, and the blackened spot that cast a dark circle over the city and much of the royal palace remained as a silent reminder of the horrors that had befallen Kitair.
At the center, beneath the center of the black dirt, was a spire of rock that stretched nearly to the roof of the cavern. At its base were a number of displaced buildings, tilted away from the rock upon twisted earth. The surface of the spire had been worn down, as if it had been exposed to the elements for a millenia. Pockmarks covered it's surface, and when one got closer, they were actually tall, clear windows to the hollow inside. The top had been flattened and smoothed down along the sides to form a tower shape, and from the tops, hung from every available surface, was the green livery of the Kitairan Kingdom. The long banners depicted a tree with a bejeweled crown around its upper branches, the same symbol that covered the royal palace and that which was worn on the tabards of the kingdom's militiamen.
There were only two doors into the spire. One faced westward, on the opposite side of from the palace. The other, much larger one, faced the palace's grand staircase. It was a simple iron-wrought gate, but it's size was what made it intimidating. The door was a towering fifteen feet, providing more than enough headroom for a giant to fit through. This gate was flanked by a number of guards, whom all saluted as an elf left the palace, heading towards the tower.
Sylenthros Leafsblade, Archdruid of the kingdom, strolled past the sea of metal and green tabards that parted as he walked. He commanded total respect from the elves, second only to Relena Lucien, the Queen. Sylenthros' duty was to the people, tending to the various gardens, farms, and orchids that thrived underground because of the druidic magic he and others like him used. Few questioned him or got in his way.
That is, except for Lord Aurin Zefar, leader of the religious sect known as the Pureblood Society. Sylenthros frowned as he approached his tower, seeing Zefar dressed in flashy red and purple colors, flaunting his station and riches over anyone who saw him. He looked like an oddly colored peacock, and strutted like one, too.
Sylenthros came to a halt before his tower door, only a few feet from Zefar. He put on a petulant smile and said, “Good afternoon, your lordship. Is there something I can help you with?”
“Can the pleasantries, I'm in no mood for it,” Zefar snapped. “You know full well why I'm here, you traitorous filth. How dare you approach the Queen and bring my loyalties into question, in open court!”
Sylenthros' smile didn't falter. He waved the guardsmen away, dismissing them before the conversation continued. “Now, now, Zefar. That anger is really unbecoming of a leader. What would your subordinates think of the way you're acting? You should try calming down a bit. Perhaps a Xenarian herbal tea? We've recently opened up trade agreements with-”
“I don't want any tea from any filthy furballs!” Zefar roared. “I demand to know why you singled me out in court today?”
“With the way you're acting,” Sylenthros said, “you're definitely not getting any tea.” He smirked as Zefar's face only got redder. “It should be no surprise why I put forth the motion to have you removed. You've impeded every attempt at diplomacy since the end of the war. We're trying to negotiate with the Rogarian Emperor to bring an end to this tension we have brewing in the Coalition, and you've been doing your damnedest to put a stop to it. We are no longer at war, Zefar.”
“Making peace with the human filth is a foolish mistake,” Zefar said, a sneer creeping onto his face. “Better to choke off their relations with the rest of the Coalition and do away with them for good.”
“Mmm, seems like you have a bit of a personal grudge against them, don't you?” Sylenthros asked, already knowing the answer. “You do realize she never would've fallen for you, right? That temper, that arrogance, it's little wonder she ran off to be with a human.”
“Silence!” Zefar shouted, storming over towards Sylenthros. “I will not be mocked by a upstart child like you!”
Sylenthros continued to smile. “My dear Zefar, I think you forget your place.” He wriggled his fingers, and in an instant, vines began to creep up out of the ground and entangle the other elf's legs. Before Zefar knew what was happening, he'd been rooted on the spot, unable to move. With a subtle clenching of his fist, the vines constricted, pulling themselves taut over their captive's body. “I tolerate your existence only so far as I need to.”
His smile quickly faded, and was replaced by a scowl that was only intensified as his golden eyes began to shimmer with magic. “Were it my choice, I'd have outlawed that precious Society of yours long ago.” Sylenthros' voice took on an unearthly, dual-tone aspect to it, like two people speaking simultaneously down a long tube. “I suggest that you walk away now, before I decide to make you into a thorny pincushion.”
Zefar tilted his head up slightly so that he was looking down the length of his hooked nose at Sylenthros. “Don't you dare threaten me, Leafsblade. You know full well how much power I hold within this city. You should watch your step before you end up bringing disaster upon your house.” He scoffed. “What's left of your ill-bred family, anyways.”
Sylenthros clutched his hands in a fist until his knuckles turned white. In response to an unspoken command, the vines twisted and tightened, eliciting a groan from Zefar. “If you ever speak ill of the fallen like that again, I won't hesitate to kill you where you stand, and damn the consequences.” They glared at each other for a long moment before he continued. “You forget how little power your Society holds within the House,” Sylenthros said in his dual-toned voice. “You barely qualify as a minority party beneath the crown. Never mind the fact Relena would never, ever allow you to uphold your extremist ideals within the court, let alone when it comes to her international policies.”
“I wouldn't be so sure of that,” Zefar said with a grunt. A free hand managed to grab hold of one of the vines and they ignited in flames, leaving his coat and skin unharmed.
“And what's that supposed to mean?” There was not a chance in a millennia that Relena would ever consider one of the Pureblood Society's over-zealous, xenophobic ideals. The only reason she tolerated their existence was because they all came from rich blood, and they could easily sway people over to their side if she pushed too far. If she pressed the issue, they could easily paint her as a tyrant and that would be enough for the Society to drive the public into the streets in support of them.
“What that means, Archdruid, is that things are not as picture perfect as you seem to think they are.” Zefar dusted his shoulders off, removing the last few ashes from his cloak. “You think you are in control here? You fool. This kingdom is run by our good graces, by our money. Not by your will, and not by Relena's.”
“This country has survived plenty without your help. Had it not been for the rest of the Coalition-”
“Ah yes, here we go,” Zefar began mockingly. “This is the part where you praise your pet human, right? The part where you tell me that the non-elves aren't that bad, where you try to convince me that my ideals are wrong?” He lowered his voice into a whisper. “Where is your damned human now? Huh?”
Sylenthros found he couldn't find an answer to the elf's questions. He'd walked right into that trap, something he wasn't normally used to experiencing. It was usually he who one-upped other individuals, and the fact Zefar had done it so easily only signified how irate he was becoming. He was becoming blind to reality the further he argued with the elf. He took a deep breath to calm himself, but Zefar kept going.
“I'll tell you where he is!” Zefar shouted. “He's run off! He took the Patriarch's sword with him, got it destroyed, though for all we know he probably shattered it himself just so he could steal it. He knew full well the power Matrosil contained. Now he wields that monstrosity, tainted by the hands of those furballs and their... eccentric tastes, and he's running around like some damned hero!”
“So tell me, Leafsblade,” Zefar continued, “Where is your human now? What good has he done for you or Kitair?”
Sylenthros smirked, knowing that Zefar had just cornered himself easily. The dual-tone faded from his voice and he said, “You seem awfully informed of what young Trueshot has been up to lately. Are we taking an interest in the human? I thought your Society condemns male-on-male-”
Zefar's hand came up so fast that Sylenthros felt rather than saw the slap across his face. “Watch your tongue, filth! I will not tolerate these accusations!”
“Refresh my memory,” Sylenthros said as he rubbed his cheek, “Who was it that stopped on my doorstep and started making threats?”
The other elf just clenched his fists around the staff he held and snarled at him. “You watch yourself, Leafsblade. You just wait and see. You'll end up like that brother of yours.”
Before Sylenthros could retort or threaten Zefar any further, a number of Society guards came into view from around his tower. While those loyal to Relena wore the green and brown of their kingdom, the elves in the Society wore a red tabard with the same tree design on the front, minus the crown. They stood out easily enough in a crowd, but fortunately for everyone concerned, there were so few militant Purebloods that no one cared about what they did.
Zefar left with his entourage escorting him, not bothering to say anything further to the Archdruid. All Sylenthros could do was stand there and watch as he headed down the street.
Pompous ass, he thought, doesn't he know who is truly in control here? It's not him or his damned society running things. It's Relena and her supporters. As if the Society could even do anything to change that.
Sylenthros waved his hands and the iron doors slid open at his command, allowing him access. He stormed up the few short stairs until he was inside the tower, and the doors slammed shut behind him of their own accord.
The inside of the tower was dim for only a moment before the elf snapped his fingers and the room was bathed in light. Growing all around him was a garden of lush Brightwood Oaks and a whole host of other plants, from apple trees to golden raspberry bushes. A pond ran through the center of the tower, fed by a nearby underground river. A small foot bridge connected with the other side of the room, and it was patrolled by magical brooms, mops, and buckets, whose task it was to keep the few spaces not covered in verdant green grass clean. The room was designed for him to greet guests in a quiet, serene setting. It had a set of chairs with a table to accommodate meeting and sharing some tea. However, Sylenthros' visitors were few and far between in recent days, so the garden was mostly just an escape for him to get away from his duties most of the time.
As Sylenthros crossed the bridge, the trees rustled, happy that he'd returned. He could feel the spirits calling out to him, asking for his attention like children tugging at his robes. But right at that moment, he didn't feel like taking care of them. He still had some business to attend to before he could relax, and the argument with Zefar had given him a throbbing headache.
Normally he would tend to his garden by hand, watering each plant individually, pruning the leaves, and plucking the fruit from the orchard. It was supposed to be soothing, but today he didn't feel like dealing with it. With a bit of focus and a clap of his hands, the dull rumble of thunder filled the room as a cloud formed in the center of the garden. Rain began to fall from the ceiling and gradually it covered the entire lower floor of the tower as it expanded. Once Sylenthros was sure the whole garden was getting fresh water, he headed up the spiral staircase to the top of the tower. The Brightwood trees dimmed as he left, and the staircase was only lit by a dull glow from below.
The second floor of the tower was more utilitarian than the first, as it housed his personal library and office. When the war had ended, Sylenthros had personally translocated all the books he'd stored in the Rogarian Academy of Arcane Sciences into Kitair. It had taken months and lots of labour, but it was worth it in his mind. He wanted to keep his precious tomes out of the hands of the empire that had called him a traitor for returning to Kitair in its hour of need.
Sylenthros continued upwards to the top. The third floor of the tower, the highest one, housded his personal quarters. Though the stairwell looked like it could have continued, it ended abruptly at a simple, wooden door against the right wall. It contrasted the brown stone with its sky blue paint and white filigree. Sylenthros waved a hand over the handle and a lock clicked, allowing him entrance.
His bedroom was the most luxurious room in the tower. Soft, plush carpeting covered every square inch of the floor. Silken drapes hung over the windows, only allowing a dim glow into the room. Against the right wall rested his bed, with blue covers over it. The mattress was soft and round, and when he slept in it he sank into it. Across from the bed was his dressed and armoire, placed next to each other.
Not wanting to dirty his carpet, Sylenthros removed his shoes and made his way to the armoire. He opened it and parted everything to the sides. The back panel of the cabinet was plain, with no discernable features anywhere on it, but that's why Sylenthros had wanted it. He pressed his hand flat against the wooden surface and a shimmering, purplish-white rune appeared in the oak. He pulled back quickly as the cabinet slammed shut and began to rock violently.
The entire armoire shifted to the right to reveal a hidden staircase up to a fourth floor. Sylenthros ascended the stairs as they wound up to the top of the tower. His legs screamed at him in protest, but he kept going, huffing up the last few steps before opening the door at the top.
The inside of the room was dark, much like the rest of the spire. However, suspended in the room were dozens of globes, like stars against a night sky. Each of them varied in size and color. When Sylenthros stood int eh center of the room, the doorway behind him shut, casting the room into complete darkness save for the light given off by the low hum of the scrying globes around him.
From where he stood, he could reach out and touch any one of them without reaching. Some showed images of the Kitairan country side, flickering between images that gave him a perfect view of the entire kingdom if he watched long enough. This provided the Archdruid with a much needed advance warning in case of a Legion invasion that he had been anticipating since Pyreburn's rampage across Muriaj.
The system had taken him years to develop, but it was worth it to have something that relied on nothing except for himself. With the Purebloods around, he didn't want to take the chance that they might convert one of the regular military's scouts into their employ to use against them.
Sylenthros reached out and grabbed one large globe from in front of him, then set it to hover in the air befor ehim. The image fade duntilt he ball became clear, showing only a swirling maelstrom of water. He whispered low into it, his voice barely audible even to himself.
The water began to take form, showing the city of Sanctuary from a bird's eye view. After a few seconds, the image faded out and the surly looking Highlord appeared in its vision.
“Aye, this best be important,” Gantors said. “Ye know I only let ye keep in contact cause I be needin' a set o' eyes an' ears in Kitair.” His brow was matted with sweat and his hair was dingy and disheveled. The room he was in was large, with many small beds lined up in rows behind him.
“Highlord, it's a pleasure to see you again,” Sylenthros said. He bowed low with a great sweep of his arms. The globe maintained a constant distance from him at all times. When he righted himself, he said, “I assure you I'd only contact you if it were a matter of importance. Are you in the infirmary?”
“That I am, but it ain't fer me,” Gantors replied. He shifted his gaze down and to the right. Sylenthros made a gesture to shift his view over to where the Highlord's eyes had fallen. On the bed was a sick dwarven boy in the throes of a high fever. “Been tendin' t' th' lad fer days now. He's been gettin' better since I first took 'im in my care, but not by much.”
“Curious,” Sylenthros said. “Well, he's in your capable hands, so I'm sure he'll be fine. I actually wanted to get in touch with you on the status of Sanctuary.”
Sylenthros always spoke to Gantors about matters outside of Kitair. He never went to talk to the newest commander that Kitair had placed at Sanctuary. He was a surly, pompous sort of elf that didn't care for getting his hands dirty, and preferred to leave matters to his subordinates. As far as the Archdruid was concerned, he couldn't be trusted. He carried himself like a Pureblood, and he didn't want to risk having him as an informant.
“Everythin' be goin' smoothly,” Gantors replied, his image flickering back into view. “I been makin' preparations t' start movin' against Legion territory within th' next few months. Dunno how much we can do 'bout them wit' the force we have. It all depends on things on yer end.”
“I assure you that whenever you're ready to mobilize, Kitair will be there to help you as you helped Her,” Sylenthros replied. “We're currently in discussions in Court to begin planning for the operation. Though there's been some... problems.”
“What kind o' problems?” Gantors asked. “There ain't time t' be foolin' around, so let's have it.”
“The Pureblood Society is getting in the way of progress. They've shut down the motion and the current politics here would prevent the Queen from utilizing her power of veto. The Purebloods have too much money at their disposal.” Sylenthros smiled, feeling a sense of confidence wash over him. “Though, I've put through the motion to have the Purebloods dismissed from the Royal Court, and all seem to be in favour of it.”
“That be good,” Gantors said. “I hope ye get it all sorted out before we mobilize. The Legion be gettin' cocky lately. They be comin' up into Sanctuary's territory an' attackin' towns. I dunno what they're thinkin' or what they're up ta. I wanted t' hire Dane out to invesigate but that Blackguard captain o' 'is is keepin' him pretty busy these days. Ain't heard a peep out o' the lad since he handed this boy off t' me.”
“Trueshot found the boy?” Sylenthros asked. His curiosity had been piqued. “Most interesting. Where was this?”
“A town called Raken, in Sanctuary's southeastern territories,” the dwarf replied.
Sylenthros turned to grab another globe. He ran his hands over the smooth, glass surface and set it hovering next to the one housing Gantors' image. The second globe began to flicker and swirl like a whirlpool as Sylenthros attempted to scry Raken's location. In a few moments, he found the destroyed, pillaged town sitting in the middle of the Kelial Plains, between a number of small farming communities.
“Grisly. Is it really the Legion's doing?” Sylenthros asked. The buildings were crumbling and had scorch amrks on the walls. Half decayed bodies littered the streets and fields.
“That, or it be some very ruthless bandits,” Gantors said. “I be hopin' it be the latter, but I doubt it. Th' place stinks o' the Legion's handiwork, or so Dane says.”
It does look a lot like Tran did, Sylenthros thought. To be sure, he reached into the sleeve of his robe and produced an aged piece of parchment. It was the report he'd received over ten years ago when the Fleshgorger orcs had attacked Tran. After looking it over quickly, while Gantors waited for him to speak, Sylenthros noted one small but significant difference between Tran and Raken.
“Were there any missing children?” he asked as he rolled the parchment up and slipped it back into his sleeve.
Gantors thought for a long moment before he spoke. “Not that I know of, but I can mobilize a team to investigate Raken.”
“Do it,” Sylenthros said without hesitation.
“What makes ye so sure that children are missin'?”
There was a long pause. “So that be why Dane thought it be the Legion's doin'.”
“Get back to me as soon as you find out more,” Sylenthros said. “And if you get any information from the boy, contact me immediately. Things may have just taken a serious turn for the worse.”
“Aye, I'll mobilize the men quickly an' be in Raken within an hour's time.” Gantors saluted and his image faded.
Sylenthros let out a sigh. He thought that after talking with Gantors that there would be less work to deal with, not more. He thought to scry Dane's location and speak to him personally, but then he remembered the bracers he wore that protected him from magic, including scrying.
He decided that there was nothing more he could do until he heard back from Gantors about the status at Raken or about the information from the sick child. For the time being, Sylenthros left his scrying room and the armoire slid shut behind him. It had been a busy day, and all he wanted to do was sleep. Tomorrow he could inform Relena about this new development.
He began to disrobe when he heard a shuffle outside his window. Cautiously, the elf moved to the wall and slid the window open. He had his best offensive spells on the tip of his tongue as he poked his head outside.
There was nothing there.
What would have made that noise when I'm more than three stories off the ground? I don't sense any levitation, invisibility, or teleportation spells. Was it just my imagination?
Sylenthros shut the window, but not before setting a ward to keep watch outside while he slept.
Strange things were happening, he thought.