Gray and black clouds marched across the once-blue sky. The wind stripped many of the trees of their orange and red foliage. Before long, the darkened sky flashed with bolts of lighting, and thunder rolled in the distance like ominous war drums. A sea of hardwood trees swayed as far as the eye could see in every direction, but in the center of a clearing rose two towers.
The towers were tall, and their walls blazed white, even amongst the coming darkness. The polished stone flawlessly highlighted the craftsmanship of their architect. Each tower looked as if it was carved out of a single piece of stone. Compounding this illusion, no windows were set in the stonework, for their inhabitants did not require any such hindrances to the structures’ beauty. They were pyramidal in shape, but elongated so they appeared stretched upward. They were joined by a bridge near the top of the towers which was accented by a series of flying buttresses. Statues of warriors lined the outside of the structures as well as several walkways that merged into a single road that was the only way in or out of the towers.
Along the stone road, a chocolate-brown horse bore its blue-cloaked rider. Two score similarly-clad individuals came out to greet the rider. The horseman threw back his hood revealing a pronounced jaw and brow bone, long, brown hair, and a short beard that covered his face and neck. He stood taller than his peers, a little over six-feet tall, and his entire frame was reinforced by bulging muscles. Beneath his cloak, he wore a steel breastplate with chainmail sleeves, and a bronze-hilted, hand-and-a-half sword hung at his belt.
“Welcome general,” a woman greeted the horseman. “What news do you bring?”
“Come now, haven’t we known each other long enough to drop such formalities, Evera?” the man smirked.
“Well you know,” Evera giggled, “since you have become the leader of the military and all, I don’t know.”
“Oh come now, you have just as important a position documenting battles while sitting at a desk.”
“Same old Kai. Not a humble bone in your body.”
“If you two are done, we have a lot to discuss,” another cut in. Beneath his blue cloak sat a white-bearded, wrinkled face. His eyes were brown and steely as they looked unblinkingly at the general.
“Of course. My apologies Magister.”
“Have you managed to drive the worlox any further north?” asked the Magister.
“Only minimally, and at great cost. We lost hundreds of wizards in the campaign to drive the demons out of Goandria. Their strength seems to be wavering, but it is still impossible to tell just how much strength they have remaining. Their underground dwellings are labyrinthine and go on for miles and miles.”
“Lorkai, I think I have a new assignment for you…”
“I’m listening, but first there is something else that I wanted to bring up to you,” Lorkai interrupted. “Several of our brother and sisters have been captured by the enemy. I was hoping for permission to send a battalion to go rescue them.”
“A whole battalion? That is more than I feel comfortable committing to such a campaign when we may have found a way to return the worlox back to the spiritual realm. But we will need someone with your talents to head northward into the heart of their domain and see if we can open the portal,” the Magister replied.
Lorkai’s face contorted. “I fail to see the problem. Even if only one wizard was captured, it would be worth the effort for a rescue.”
“Yes, but we are at war, and in war, sacrifices must be made. Those men and women knew what they signed up for when they set out for battle.”
The Magister raised his hand. “Your concerns will be taken into consideration my friend. For now we must celebrate, for our champion has finally returned home, and we are one step closer to victory.”
Lorkai and Evera followed behind the Magister and their fellow wizards as they were led to the dining hall. “He never changes, does he?” Evera whispered with a smile.
“No, stubborn as a mule that man is. It must be nice to always be right.”
“It’s so nice to see you again. So how are you doing really?”
“I definitely missed my little buddy out on the front lines. There were so many times I wished you were there to help keep me sane.”
“I missed you too. Sometimes I wished I was out there fighting with you. It can get… stuffy… in here after a while,” Evera said, tilting her head towards the Magister.
“At least here you get warm meals and a real bed. Evera, you do not want to see what I see.”
“And at least you get a feast in your honor,” Evera winked.
“I definitely cannot complain about that.”
The general was led into the eastern tower, even though he had travelled the hallways dozens of times before. Along every corridor, wizards and civilians alike lined up to greet Lorkai, shaking his hand as he walked by. Several women embraced him exclaiming, “Praise Voshnore for you and your victories!”
“Looks like I still got it,” he said, nudging Evera.
“Yes, a swollen head…”
After a long white hallway, the Magister swung open two oak doors that were several inches thick, holding his hand out to let Lorkai be the first to pass through. Upon entering the tapestry-laden room, the smell of freshly-roasted meats and simmered vegetables slammed his nostrils. About a hundred wizards were already in the dining hall and offered a standing applause upon seeing their guest of honor.
“Please sit at the head table in the back. We hope that you will find everything to your liking, general,” announced the Magister. This was followed by another round of applause.
Once Lorkai took his place, he raised his hands. Suddenly all were silent, their eyes fixed on him. “Gentlemen, ladies, fellow wizards, it has been our sacred duty to protect Goandria since Voshnore blessed the first of our kind.
“Then generations ago, the worlox came and quickly defeated all who stood in their destructive path. All save the wizards, whose weapons were the only ones who could send those creatures back to the land they came from. We have been fighting so long and so hard, with no real victories to speak of, until these last few years when we have finally been able to push the worlox further northward. My friends, this is just the beginning! I will keep pushing forward, I will not stop, and I will save you all from the worlox demons that infest our lands!”
A series of cheers erupted from the crowd. Some began chanting the general’s name while others simply sat back down to tend to their food. Evera took her place next to her friend, and together they sat down. Beside her was a middle-aged man with graying brown hair who leaned forward and inclined his head slightly. “So general, since you have at last returned, what are your plans now?”
“To sleep in a bed; heck I would even take the floor with a pillow at this point.” Lorkai smirked.
“I can imagine. It has been some time since I fought in the wars myself. Back then we had no sanctuaries such as this; the worlox were everywhere.”
“I will see to it that we never return to such times. We will be free, and I will not let them return to this land.”
“And so far you have kept that promise. I cannot thank you enough for what you have done, Lorkai.”
“It’s a process. Soon I will secure total victory.”
“Speaking of, the Magister mentioned he had a new assignment, that he and the council have found a way to reopen the portal to the spiritual realm and return the demons to their own realm.”
Lorkai leaned forward and glanced around the room for a few seconds. “Yes, he mentioned something about it, but he was quiet about the details. To me, it seems too good to be true. What do you know about this supposed miracle plan, Romma?”
Romma let out a prolonged sigh, “Not much, just that it is being peddled as the means to end the war. I do know the Magister and the council have been working tirelessly behind closed doors. Anything is possible I suppose.”
“That’s what concerns me.”
*You can download Goandria: The Schism here.