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Rebellion – Chapter I – Heartstone
The air was a close and cloying cage, one built by the searing sun to suppress the activity of the sane. Those in armour withdrew into what little shade was offered by the ruined walls around them. In this heat even the lizards kept to the shade, running sure-footedly up the walls on their constant quest for food.
One stood alone in the sun, his body cowled in long, dark robes, the deep hood of his richly embroidered cloak swept forward across his face. Though of medium height, his shoulders were broad, though under the robes there was little else to inform a description other than his legs were braced, balanced in the attitude of a warrior. For a briefest moment a breeze puffed to pull back his hood, though all it revealed beneath was the golden life-mask of a nobleman’s helm.
In the dry dust before him knelt a messenger, his sun-reddened legs drenched with sweat and trembling with exhaustion. The drought-formed dust clung to his arms and legs and a vicious wound ran across his shoulder and down his back, as if from the talons of a huge animal. He proffered a message cylinder. “Lord of Kharan,” he gasped through shuddering breaths. “I come … from Daragan of Lanor… with the Emperor’s reply.” His breathing was far heavier than convention demanded of a message-runner.
The robed noble gently pulled the ornate cylinder from the outstretched hand and ignored the messenger as he collapsed to his hands and knees. After checking the seal was intact, the noble cracked the cylinder open and tipped out the tightly furled scroll from inside. In silence he unfurled the message, reading it quickly as he did so, and examined the seal at its foot as if curious. For a few moments he lifted his head to the hills around the ruins, then posed a question to the messenger. “Do you know what this says?”
The messenger raised his head and struggled to his knees again. “Yes, Lord,” he gasped. “My master told me lest … the message became lost.” He paused for breath. “I was pursued, my horse killed. ” He dropped back to his hand and knees. “Help me. Water. I need help…”
The Despot nodded to the shadows. “Release this man from his pain.”
The messenger started, pushed himself to his knees, and tried to stand. He reached for his sword but his trembling legs were too weak to hold him any longer and he stumbled backwards. He had time for merely a single plea for mercy before one of the guards from the shadows sprung forward and swung a vicious-bladed axe.
The flimsy sword shattered under the blow. The guardsman wiped his blade as the dust turned red, thirsty for any moisture.
The dark-draped Despot sighed as he read the delicate scroll with its ornate seal. At the end he snarled, crushed the costly papyrus and threw it to the ground. He barked a word – a simple cantrip – and it burst into flame.
All watched it burn, waiting for their leader to regain his composure once more.