In the beginning, there were only the Gods.
Aeons untold passed as they drifted aimlessly through the Void, until they grew bored with this state of affairs. In their infinite wisdom they brought into existence Creation, but with Creation came discord. The Gods disagreed on the nature of things: some believed their children should be guided to greater things, while others believed that they must rule over the creatures they had made.
So, we are told, were born Good and Evil.
Ages passed in fruitless argument between them until finally a wager was agreed on: it would be the mortals that settled the matter, for strife between the gods would only result in the destruction of all. We know this wager as Fate, and thus Creation came to know war. Through the passing of the years grooves appeared in the workings of Fate, patterns repeated until they came into existence easier than not, and those grooves came to be called Roles. The Gods gifted these Roles with Names, and with those came power. We are all born free, but for every man and woman comes a time where a Choice must be made.
It is, we are told, the only choice that ever really matters.”
– First page of the Book of All Things
The sun was setting on a field of corpses.
Black passed by a group of orcs building a pyre, nodding absently when they stopped piling up logs to salute – green eyes swept over the bloodied plains, taking in the devastation the Legions of Terror had wrought. Camp fires were already burning in the distance, sprawled across the hills, and by the sound of it the officers had already distributed the night’s ale rations. He would join them in time, but for a little longer he felt the need to stay here. To stand in the middle of what a decade of planning had brought forth. Callow’s standing army had been annihilated today, over two thirds of their number slaughtered before they broke ranks. The Wizard of the West had fled, his power broken. Good King Edward’s head had been popped off like a bottlecap by an ogre and the Shining Prince had been mobbed by a company of goblins until one drew a red smile across his throat. The Kingdom of Callow’s strength had been crushed in the span of an afternoon, and Black would see to it that it never recovered.
“It’s getting dark out, Black,” the voice came from behind. “You should return to camp.”
It never ceased to amuse him how a woman the size of Captain could be so eerily quiet. Even decked out in full plate, the olive-skinned woman had been noiseless in her approach. If not for the other senses that his Role afforded him, he would never have sensed her closing in. Turning to have a look at his right hand, Black raised an eyebrow when he was presented with the sight of Scribe standing next to the woman in question. Unusual of her to wander onto a battlefield, even one where the fighting was long over.
“Soon,” he agreed. “Scribe, you have a report?”
The plain-faced woman fished out a scroll from the bandolier hanging across her shoulder and handed it to him without a word. Breaking the seal absently, Black unfurled the parchment and scanned the lines. A moment passed until the barest hint of a smile quirked his lips.
“That should keep the Procer occupied for the time being,” he murmured. “By the time the fighting dies down we’ll have the border secure.”
Handing back the scroll to Scribe, he returned his attention to the battlefield. The companies assigned to the thankless work of burning the bodies would have to work through the night, at this rate. He’d have to see about arranging a rotation when he returned to camp, if sufficiently sober soldiers could be produced. A tall silhouette striding forward purposefully caught his attention as the dark-skinned man it belonged to deftly sidestepped a pair of orcs carrying a log twice the size of a grown man.
“You could have told me we were having an after-battle get together,” Warlock teased as soon as he was close enough to be heard. “I’d have brought a few bottles, though admittedly the scenery’s a little morbid for my tastes.”
Black rolled his eyes, though he caught Captain discreetly suppressing a smile. Scribe eyed Warlock with the same mild bemusement as always, as if she couldn’t believe the charmingly smiling man standing in front of them had been the one to call down a rain of hellfire on the enemy barely an hour earlier. Not an unusual reaction: sorcerers with that kind of power were rarely so jovial.
“Happenstance,” he replied. “We’ll be heading back to camp soon enough.”
Warlock cast a look around, looking for the fifth member of their little band and coming up empty.
“Ranger’s already gone?” he asked.
“As soon as the battle was done,” Captain informed him.
The dark-skinned man grimaced.
“I didn’t think she would actually…” he said, trailing off after a sideways look at Black’s face.
“What’s done is done,” the Black Knight cut through, and that was the end of that.
The four stood in silence for a long moment, watching the night slowly crawl over the fields of Streges.
“Ten years,” Black finally said.
“Six, for the earliest ones,” Scribe disagreed quietly.
With a last look at the battlefield, the Black Knight turned away without a word and started for camp. Warlock slung a friendly arm over Captain’s shoulder, murmuring something that drew a smile from the much larger woman as Scribe methodically adjusted her bandolier before following. The Dread Empire of Praes may have won the war, but the clock was already ticking. The Legions of Terrors had made a lot of angry orphans through the afternoon’s bloody work, and in time that would mean one thing –