Rolling clouds of weeping thunder hung high above, filling the air with stinging rain and divine lightning. The land lay obedient and silent below, awaiting the dread that was closing in upon it from the wavy Foxhills and Cumber forest in the distance.
There, amidst the howling winds and screaming rain, rose the city of Faxen up from the ground as a silent monument to past glory; now only awaiting doom and despair and yet refusing to back down or give up in its ancient stoic manner.
The city was old.
For over a thousand years its battlements had protected the kingdom of Titus from any outside threat, be it raiders from Svartland or bandit outriders, deserters and more. For over a thousand years the city had stood as the great capital of the kingdom, equaled only by the other capitals of the five kingdoms, and for over a thousand years the gentle light from the Shard of Fire had brought life and prosperity to a land, and a world, that had lost both the sun and the stars in ages past.
The light that remained was raised above the five capital cities of the Kingdoms, each with their own elemental shard, granting humanity its last shred of light in a world separated from the Void only by the thin protection of the Veil, which shimmered slightly in the evening light.
Night was coming to Titus; the Shard of Fire would dim and recharge for the new day, as it always did when a day-cycle was coming to an end. This night, though, no one was certain they would get to see the mild morning light, or any light at all for that matter.
Far in the distance, from the blue-green treetops of the Cumber forest, rose a dark cloud of death and despair ready to envelop and consume the world. Wherever this cloud went, a dark trail of destruction followed and seemed to pave a road through the rolling landscape of Titus.
Upon the ramparts stood soldiers spread out sparsely, but in an hour or so they would be filled with archers, spearmen and swordsmen, ready to defend their home and country with their lives, such as soldiers do.
Now most were resting, preparing for battle, or praying one last time to the Light while looking up at the Shard of Fire with reverence and faith shining out of their miserable eyes.
However, amongst the shaking soldiers that observed the encroaching enemy with visible fear, stood two figures defiant of the barraging rain and looked upon the scenery in a peaceful and calm manner. The soldiers who found themselves closest to these two pillars of support could not help but feel a little bit relieved and hopeful for the future.
One of the figures was an old man emanating an aura of endless peace and fulfillment, with skin as wrinkled as parchment and facial features so ancient that he could claim to be a thousand years old and no one would doubt him.
The other seemed to warp the world around him; standing like a giant amongst men in his mat white armor, which was clearly worn out from many battles and focused on practicality rather than grandeur. He carried a longsword in his belt and a shield upon his back. His light blond hair was cut into a short militaristic style and his eyes were cold like steel.
However, it was the large black scar that ran from his temple, down over his cheek and ended in a curve at his chin that made him recognizable to all: he was Siegfried the Faithless.
The youngest paladin in the history of the order, only man to ever volunteer for border patrol two years in a row, right hand to the High King of Primus, but most importantly: the only man to ever survive being wounded by a voidling and remain sane.
The dark scar across his cheek was proof of the life-and-death struggle he had survived and also proof of what he had lost; emotions, feelings, faith.
Some would argue that Siegfried was no longer human, but just another voidling in disguise and, if not for the intervention of High King Sellion IV of Primus, Siegfried would have most likely have been deemed an abomination to be executed by the Church of Light the moment he had returned from his deathbed.
Beside Siegfried, the old man lightly shifted his weight and spoke with a voice that could only have come from beyond the grave, “My son, we are happy with your reinforcements, but should we not be making preparations for the battle?”
The lightbringer of Titus, high priest of the Temple of Fiery Light, had greeted Siegfried the moment he had arrived as reinforcement from the High King, but since then Siegfried had only been staring out into the horizon while his men had been shown to their quarters.
“Do not worry, Father,” said Siegfried with an emotionless tone of voice, “Preparations are being made as we speak.”
The lightbringer could only nod slightly and let Siegfried do as he wanted. Not only had the man come as the right hand of the High King, he had also come as the Grand Lightbringer’s envoy, which made him heads above any man of cloth within the entire kingdom of Titus.
A few breaths of silence followed until a running man broke the calm with a precise salute the moment he arrived beside Siegfried.
“Sir, we are ready.”
The man was a stern soldier with scars strewn across his face and a bearing that showed him proficient in battle and survival. He was one of Siegfried’s own men, one who had followed the Faithless as he protected the border between Titus and Svartland against Raiders and Voidlings alike; a true veteran of a hundred battles.
Just as any of the two hundred men Siegfried had arrived with, this man was loyal to him and his leadership. Even if Siegfried was branded Faithless by all around him, his men would sooner die than abandon their commander.
“Good,” responded Siegfried without any hint of being pleased, “Let us finish this.”
Without as much as a gesture of farewell, Siegfried left the ancient lightbringer upon the ramparts all alone in the falling rain.
“Faithless,” murmured the lightbringer, “By the Light I pray we will survive this night.”
The old man stared out at the darkness encroaching from the forest and sighed, before slowly limping away with the help of a few arriving acolytes.
Within the central plaza of Faxen the remaining nobility were gathered together like a flock of sheep. Many of them were heavily protesting the unseemly treatment they received, as they were forced to stand surrounded by a 100 men with loaded crossbows and grave expressions upon their faces.
Several nobles had already tried to bribe their way out of the plaza, but each and every one of them were now enjoying a bloody nose and a stern warning of death should they try once more.
As yelling and curses flew across the yard, Siegfried entered behind the soldier who had led him here and ascended a small podium so that every man and women present could see him clearly.
All fell silent, only whispers of shock and ridicule ran through the crowd as the word “Faithless”, was said countless times.
“Lords and Ladies of Faxen,” said Siegfried and raised his voice to an almost emotional state, “I have come here to conscript you to the army.”
He went straight to the point without pulling any punches, and as he spoke a couple of solders marched up with heavy cases between them; cases which they placed on the ground and opened to reveal a large number of swords and spears ready to be used.
“You may take a single weapon and a single piece of armor, the soldier who presents these to you will give you a squad number, you are to immediately report to your assigned station. That is all.”
As if everything was explained calmly and rationally, Siegfried made to step off the podium when a voice rang through the crowd and challenged him:
“Who do you think you are, Faithless? First you bar us from leaving the city, towards safety, and now you forcefully conscript us into your doomed army!? Preposterous!”
The man who spoke was a large burly man with proud blond hair and a mustache that seemed intent on defying the laws of gravity. Siegfried stopped in his tracks and turned slowly, letting his ice-cold eyes fall upon the man with the weight of the world upon them.
All around several soldiers shifted their weight as they either sighed from pity, grinned in anticipation or just closed their eyes and awaited the inevitable to come.
“What is your name?” asked Siegfried with a voice dripping ice upon the plaza ground.
“Belmound, Javis Belmound! Cousin to King Ivar of Titus, 14th in line of succession!” his proud voice rang out and lifted the spirits of the surrounding nobles. They too were important, they too were close to the royal house or perhaps even in the long list of succession; no doubt, their voices had to be heard!
“The King will hear of this!” they shouted in unison.
Siegfried looked to the side, to the soldier that had guided him here, and nodded. The soldier nodded back and pulled forth a small sack from which a strange liquid dropped out with regular intervals.
He handed the sack to Siegfried, who accepted it wordlessly and turned to the crowd.
“Your king is dead.”
With his stone-cold voice he emptied the sack and revealed its contents, a head of an elderly man with a dark gold crown on his shriveled head.
A gasp went through the crowd as they realized what Siegfried had done, a right that only the High King of the Kingdoms possessed: the Right of Annihilation.
Only used twice during the entire millennial old history of the Kingdoms and only one of those times was it used against an actual king of the four subordinate kingdoms.
During an extreme crisis the High King reserved the right to act swiftly and without any interference from the subordinate kings, to either punish, control or conscript a rebellious population or group without any prior notice.
And now they were all subject to it; their king was dead, no army would ever dare to disobey a direct order of the High King, and they too would have to become solders, or meat fodder to be precise, in defense of their homeland.
“Monster,” whispered and anonymous voice within the crowd, which was then repeated again by another, and another, until the entire crowd whispered in fearful despair.
Siegfried gave one last look at the assembly before turning in a tight motion and marching down from the platform, out of the plaza. Behind him the resigned nobles began scrambling towards the standardized weapons they were offered.
“Finish within the hour”, Siegfried said to the man who followed him two steps from behind, “Then have them stand in front of the commoners… That should motivate the crowds greatly.”
The man gave a slight grin and saluted before storming off to perform his orders to the very letter.