Lang surveyed the troops that had been placed under his command. There were seven hundred and fifty in all. Lan was standing beside him. He was there to see the troops off.
Lan stepped forward first. “My people assembled here today. You have one trait in common. Whether you’re pixies or elves you have an uncommon courage and zeal. I wish you all the best on the battlefield but, please, don’t be reckless. Fight the hardest you can, but don’t sacrifice your lives in the process. Our people need those like you in order to build a beautiful future. A future that your efforts will lay the ground work for. I will ask the Gods to protect you but I will rely on your courage and strength to see you through. My greatest wish is to see all of you return home alive. May the Gods grant you fortune on the battlefield.”
Lan’s words elicited a burst of cheers and clapping from the soldiers. It took Lang several minutes to quiet them down enough so that he could speak.
“The Royal One has blessed us with his kind words. I thank him for the confidence he has placed in us,” Lang said. “We are truly the hope of the people. Our individual backgrounds are insignificant. We are the first line of defence for the elven people. All of us are here because we volunteered for this assignment. I applaud you all for your courage. It is our duty to keep the trolls away from our families and loved ones. The truth is that we won’t all survive, but those who do fall in battle will not die in vain. For every elf that falls we will make the enemy pay dearly. We will take the lives of a dozen trolls for every one of us who falls. Let us march to meet the enemy with unshakable courage and unwavering steel. We will show them the strength of the elven people. We will buy safety for our people with our very blood! We will fight, for the Royal One, for Het Wald!”
A massive chorus of cheers came from the soldiers. Lan waved at them as they marched away from the capital. Lan stopped Lang before he could depart. “I meant what I said. Don’t take too many risks,” he whispered. “Bring as many of those men and women home as you can. A living hero is more valuable to us than a martyr.” Lang nodded.
“Larick, I want you to choose someone to speak with the troops.”
“They will be most efficient if you speak with them directly, your majesty,” Larick stated.
The troll king shook his head. “I can’t stand that kind of thing. That’s why I want you to pick someone who’ll do a good job.”
“Then I would suggest Joseph Pinbol for the task.”
“He’s on the front line leading the advance unit. Does it really have to be him?”
“I am aware of that, but he is also the best choice. His voice will reach the soldiers like no one else’s can,” Larick said. “You can send someone who you trust completely to hold the line while Joseph returns.”
“Summon General Brun!” the king ordered. “I have a job for him.”
“The meeting is over,” Professor Mord said. “It’s all thanks to your suggestion. You should be proud of yourself.”
“I suppose,” I mused. Sadow had said that my suggestion was the reason that he changed his position. I was sceptical. Call me paranoid if you must, but I was concerned. What was he planning? Something else to deal with me, perhaps.
There was a sharp rap on the office door. “You may enter,” I said.
I heard Professor Mord rise. His robes fluttered in an odd way. “It’s good to see you, Magi.”
“There’s no need to bow,” Sadow’s hollow voice answered. “I merely came to speak with this formidable young lady.”
“You can speak in front of the Professor,” I kept my voice neutral.
“I see that you respect him a great deal,” Sadow said. “I just came to thank you for your assistance and to apologise for anything I may have done to offend you, for any misunderstanding. It will be highly unfortunate if we can’t come together in harmony.” The implied threat in his message was clear. He had every intention of taking my life if he saw me as a risk. He was giving me a chance to submit. To Tartarus with that and him.
“There is no misunderstanding,” I replied.
“Very well,” Sadow said. “I’m returning home in the morning. I trust that we will meet again.”
“I look forward to it,” I said.
After he left my office I faced the direction that Professor Mord’s tapping was coming from.
“Such a polite Gentleman,” he said. “It’s good to see you get along with him.”
I excused myself and went to my chamber. Professor Mord had a great deal of reverence for the Magi. It wasn’t unusual. They were Hecate’s chosen mages. Almost every mage strived to gain the kind of power that they possessed, and respected them. The only reason that I had become an exception was because Michael had told me the truth about Sadow. Someone like him… Why would the Goddess bless him? Was power truly the only thing that mattered to her?
I heard a sound as I turned my doorknob. It was the sound of a spell being activated. I ran down the hall away from my chamber. I was almost deafened by an explosion. It knocked me off of my feet. I felt a sharp pain as my head came into contact with the wall. Someone had cast a time-delay fireball spell in my chamber. It wasn’t difficult to figure out whom.
Drake was fluttering around over me. I could hear his shrieks and his leathery wings flapping. I pulled myself up. “It’s okay, Drake,” I said. I felt my forehead. There was a bump from where I hit the wall. I wasn’t bleeding though. I sat down and reached into Drake’s mind.
I instructed him to fly into my chamber, what remained of it. His sonar revealed jagged edges where once there had been a smooth doorway. The door itself had been shattered. I had Drake scan my chamber. Everything had been destroyed, except…
I left Drake’s mind and carefully walked into my chamber. Smoke filled my lungs. There was a burning heat surrounding me. I coughed, but continued forward. I found it on the floor. I had been right. It was one of Michael’s messenger devices. I burned my hand picking it up. I tore a piece of cloth from my robe and wrapped it inside.
“Illyana!” it was Professor Mord’s voice. I turned toward the doorway. I felt his wrinkled hand take my shoulder and pull me away from the remains of my chamber. I kept a tight hold of the messenger device and allowed myself to be taken away from the smouldering chamber.