The General of the Navy shuffled his papers in his hands, trying not to look up across the table of the War Room at the other officers. The room was lit by brightly flickering torches, illuminating the plain wooden table with the map of the land of Coravis stretched out across it, as it had been for the last five meetings. An awkward silence hung over them all. The highest ranking leaders of the military forces of the Imperium were all brought together in one room, waiting for their commander.
The door, made out of heavy steel-bound wood like all the doors in the Imperial Castle, was thrown open, and Keros Imperator strode through. As always, he was an imposing figure, the tallest man in the room, with long blond hair framing a strong-boned and royal face. Pale gray eyes fastened upon each man in turn as they rose from their seats rapidly, and the General of the Navy quickly set down his papers and stood, bowing at the waist to the man to whom he owed his alliance, adding his voice and chanting, "Hail, Imperator!" with the rest of the commanders.
Keros spoke quickly, his efficient and clipped voice wasting no time, "Gentlemen, be seated." Amid the scrape of chairs, he swept forward and settled into the chair at the head of the table, chain mail clinking quietly as he did so. "What is the state of affairs of our army?" he asked, pointedly looking at the General of the Armies across from the General of the Navy, who breathed a silent sigh of relief.
The big General stood again, drawing lines on the map with one iron-clad hand. "Our forces grow strong, my lord. The armies are massed," he outlined the edge of the Dracvane city-state's lands, tapping the map in certain places, "in these areas. We are poised to move into Kyris' territory the minute you give the word. The troops are well supplied, and assuming we have the support of Pinerre, we will have the manpower to crush Kyris quickly and launch a similar attack on Golara. Within two weeks, we should have both capitals taken easily, with little loss of momentum."
"You have the support of Pinerre," the nervous-eyed ambassador from the northern kingdom spoke up quickly, trying to assure all the armed and armored men in the room. The General of the Navy could not help but sneer a little at the man's cowardice. The Kingdom of Pinerre had quickly allied itself with Dracvane the minute that they heard that it was amassing a legion to overthrow the surrounding countries. Being the closest, they would have been the first to go.
"This is good," Keros intoned simply, "Well done, General." His level gaze moved on to the General of the Navy. "What of our fleet?"
The man addressed flushed quickly, and got to his feet nervously as the older, gray-bearded general sat back down. He stammered, shuffling through his papers. "The, ah..." he swallowed and started again, "Imperator, I regret to inform you that the Ichenean Isles still have superior forces compared to our own." He winced, praying that the ruthless man in front of him would not take offense, "I fear that were we to take to the seas, the Elves would overcome our ships and come for our army." A quiet muttering filled the room, as the other generals whispered among themselves, debating the information, but the Imperator raised one hand, silencing the murmuring and causing the General of the Navy to freeze. But Keros' voice was as calm and emotionless as ever.
"It comes as no surprise to me," he said, unruffled. "The Elves have always been a powerful naval force. It is fortunate that they are involved in their own problems, and ignore the mainland." He gestured for the General of the Navy to sit, which he did gladly and with a silent sigh of relief. The Imperator then gestured to the next general, and the next, getting their reports of homeland security, potential troublemakers, and economic status. The General of the Navy paid little attention; His work there was done, and the Imperator hadn't been angry with him. Hell, he hadn't even raised his voice.
The last report finished, Keros Imperator rose to his feet, six feet and then some of armored muscle and deceptively sharp mind. The generals all leaned forward, knowing that their lord had reached some kind of decision, and they were not disappointed.
"The Navy is still in no way ready to challenge the Elves for the Islands of Ichenea," he stated, "But our forces grow hungry to advance, and I shall not disappoint them." He looked directly at the General of the Army, and a small smile covered his lips, though it didn't reach his eyes. The Imperator was a cold man, through and through. "General, pass the word to your commanders. We march on Kyris and Golara at dawn." The men at the table broke into a smattering of clapping, and the General of the Navy joined in willingly, glad that his forces would not have to risk battling the Elves just yet. The Imperator silenced them all with a raise of his hand.
"We will remain on land for now, conquering the nations and bringing them under Imperial rule. The elves are a threat, but they rarely intrude without being interfered with. We will wait until we have access to the factories of Golara and Auvayn, and then we will turn our gazes to the south and the Isles of Ichenea." The Imperator allowed the generals another round of applause, and then dismissed them all with a wave of one gauntleted hand, saying, "There is much to be done. To your duties then, and may Sigard the Victorious favor us."
The generals stood and bowed, each silently praying to the god for victory as their liege so desired. Rising together the men left hurriedly, already buzzing with the information and conferring on plans. The General of the Navy walked with the General of Engineers, discussing potential defenses against the dangerous fleets of the Ichenean Isles.
As the last officer exited the room, the Imperator took his seat again, lost in thought as he looked over the map of Coravis. He smiled once again, and spoke to himself in the silence.
"Let the war begin."
With a small pile of books laid out across her table, the young elven maiden's eyes scanned intently across the well preserved pages before her. The runes flowed together in unfamiliar patterns, depicting battles from centuries past and landscapes beyond the vast watery horizon. It was far from her favorite choice of literature, though this was the task she had been given for the day by her instructors. And in Valaril, the Academy of the Isles of Ichenea, it was best to do the assigned work.
The texts in question were written about a hundred years ago, which was easily within the elders' lifespans. In fact, Avelia Serilan was certain that her master was at least that old. Old enough to have seen a dragon, certainly. She brushed her long white hair out of her face tiredly, turning the page and scanning the images and runes on the next sheets of parchment. She was researching the state of the nations on Coravis at the turn of the last century, and it was hard work, because the happenings had not become old enough to be turned into songs and myths.
She browsed down the next page and turned it again. A hundred years ago, the Dragons still ruled over the majority of the mainland. The mysteriously powerful scaled mages had organized themselves in a loose hierarchy, and had spread across the land, and many of the humans that then lived there had little choice but to swear fealty. The dragons themselves swore fealty to one leader that they called the Dragonking. Then, according to the histories, a human uprising began, but then the story became remarkably vague.
There's no way the humans overthrew all of the dragons... But the book didn't say that. All it had was the cryptic phrase, "With a single blow, Danre, the leader of the humans threw down the Dragon King, and as he fell, the dragons of the world cried out in pain and fled the battlefield, never to return." She shook her head, brilliant white hair entering her vision.
Dragons were even more powerful mages than her people, and where the elves had magic that manipulated the natural elements, dragons shaped the world to the way they wished it to be. There was no way that a single human, likely without the aid of magic, could destroy that.
But there was no questioning the fact that, other than individual sightings, nobody had seen a dragon in a hundred years, let alone talked to one. And, while vague and very unlikely, this story was the only justification for that fact.
Avelia huffed in irritation and slammed the book shut, setting it to one side and tucking her hair behind her ears then lower her chin to her hands, resting for a second or two. She closed her amber eyes, massaging the lids, before opening them again and looking at the irritating book in question.
Then she noticed something. There was the corner of a page sticking out of place near the end of the books. Absentmindedly, she flicked to the page in question, planning to fix it. But it was not a page in the book. It was a few loose-leaf papers hidden in the book, next to a picture of Danre battling the Dragon King. And they were notes, three pages of notes, on the Dragon King. Curious now, she lifted them out and skimmed over them, wondering what student had accidentally left the notes in the Academy's library.
The first page in her hand almost made her set down the pile, as it seemed to be just a retelling of the tale she had just read. It was only when she turned to the second page that she found something else, something entirely not in the book. Her eyes grew wide as they danced across the notes in her hands, hardly able to believe such information hadn't been made known. Without bothering to so much as glance over the third page, Avelia pulled herself from the text and quickly retreated from her table of books, not bothering to put even one of them away, clutching the papers in one hand. She had to talk to her master.
What she had uncovered was too important to wait.
"Kyris' armies are crumbling under our assault, my lord." The General continued his report. "After a week of this battling, they will not stand much longer."
The Imperator nodded once, saying, "You are doing well, general. Continue the invasion, but when they get into the cities, hold your men in check. We need their resources, so keep them... relatively unharmed." A shadow of a cruel smile crossed his lips, and his generals grinned as well, knowing that a small amount of plundering and looting would go unnoticed. Keros Imperator then gestured for the General of the Army to sit down, looking towards his other commanders. "What of the other nations? Has Auvayn or Haran mobilized their armies?"
The General of Reconnaissance, a tall and slender man dressed in the cloth uniform of the Dracvane Army, spoke up immediately, "Not in the slightest, my lord. Haran's forces are always active, and Auvayn's army is standing on alert, but they seem content to defend their own borders and let us capture their neighbors with no interference." He chuckled derisively, "They aren't willing to come out of their lands to deal with us."
Adding in his own laugh, the General of the Armies commented, "And by the time we reach their borders, we will have amassed an unstoppable force. They won't stand a chance, and then we will force our way into the rest of the continent." The other officers gave cheers and pounded the table with their fists, while the Imperator's lips pulled back in a vicious grin.
"We will become the unstoppable avalanche, and Coravis will be brought under a single rule," he said, satisfied with the reports he was receiving. Getting to his feet, he dismissed his generals, allowing them to continue the efforts.
As the generals stood, prepared to leave the war room, the door swung open and a man dressed in Dracvane noble attire stepped in. He took an overly gracious, possibly mocking, bow, the quiver of arrows on his back tilting forward as he did so. The Imperator's impatient eyes flicked over to the intruder, addressing him with distaste.
"To what do I owe this... unannounced visit, Lord Falsmir?" he seethed, each general picturing gruesome images of this man's corpse, should his news not be of the utmost urgency.
Rising from his bow unconcerned, knowing his cause to be sufficient reason to interrupt the meeting. "There is a guest seeking audience with you Imperator," he began, shocked expressions aimed at him from the many generals and a fierce grimace set in Keros' lips.
"What sort of guest is it that you find your actions justifiable, Lord Falsmir?" he questioned, putting special weight on the man's title, one he might soon find himself lacking.
Despite the cold fury his actions had almost unleashed, the man remained unphased, a small and slightly sarcastic smile crossing his lips. He spoke two simple sentences. "He is an elf, my lord. He comes to share his knowledge and pledge allegiance to you."
At those words a slender man stepped around him and knelt, dark gray cloak flowing around him. As he inclined his head, his black-tipped white hair fell forward to reveal long and pointed ears. "Alaric Talarene of the Elven Isles, at your service." He looked up into the Imperator's face, revealing slanted, pupilless blue eyes, "I have... information, that you may wish to hear."
The aged elf rested a hand on his apprentice's shoulder as they exited the council hall. He knew of the outcome before they stepped into the room, but it had come as a shock to the young mage who had discovered the information. Avelia could not believe that the elders, the wisest of the living elves, had dismissed them so easily.
"It is not our place to meddle in human affairs, nor do we have the resources to leave our own lands." The Prime Minister and the rest of the council were especially emphatic of that, and unequivocally shot down her idea.
Avelia looked up into Temerlan's eyes, and started to voice the complaints, to impress on him just how wrong the council was, but with a look and a shake of his head, he ended her protests for now. They walked back to his offices in silence, but the second the door was closed, Avelia could no longer hold her tongue.
"Those xenophobic, close-minded fools!" She spat, falling into one of the chairs scattered in the room. "They didn't even consider my plan! I don't think they care about the humans and Coravis at all!"
Her mentor, moving smoothly and gracefully, stepped over to the tea kettle sitting on its tripod and picked it up, filling it with water from a spigot. "The Council does make a valid point, Avelia. The elves have their own problems to deal with. You know that."
"Of course I do, Master." Avelia said, and sighed, deflating. "It's just... The Dracvane Imperium is getting closer and closer to controlling the entirety of Coravis, and they have never been friends of our kin. Our trade would be cut off from the lands beyond the Larensdrac Barrier and they could even turn on us. Our troubles would increase radically." she protested with a heavy sigh. The fifteen members of the council were the closest thing the elves had to rulers, and their decisions were final. But it just wasn't fair. "What I found could stop the Imperium in its tracks. But we're not sending an emissary to any humans?"
Temerlan closed his eyes, meditating for a second, and Avelia felt the presence of magic in the air. He held that position for a few seconds longer, then sat down and poured two cups of suddenly steaming hot water, stirring in the herbs to make tea. As he passed one cup to her and sipped his own, he calmly asked, "If you were to send an ambassador, where would you send them?"
Avelia thought for a few seconds, taking a drink of her tea and letting the warmth calm her down. Looking at him again, she said, "I would send the emissary to Auvayn, to Chancellor Melara in Atonal, and pass on the information there."
"A wise choice," he replied, in the same tone. "And you are right. Auvayn has been our ally in the past and we have had good dealings with them."
She shook her head sadly, "And now we're letting them down. The elves will send no envoy to our human friends, and so we doom them."
Temerlan regarded her with tilted head and a half smile on his wrinkled face. "Correction, my apprentice. The elves send no official messengers." Avelia looked up, confusion warring with surprise across her face.
"Y-you can't be serious," she stammered, but the older elf merely continued to smile. "M-me? Break the Council's commands?"
"Technically, they only forbade the sending of an ambassador with the information. They said nothing of you leaving of your own volition." Temerlan said, smiling. Avelia stared at him. He sighed. "You were the one who was so set on going to the humans. I agree. But I am unable to leave, as my absence would be noticed. But I can tell them that you are conducting experiments on one of the smaller islands, and that should buy you enough time to get to Atonal without their notice."
Astonished, she asked, "You would go against the council?"
Temerlan laughed quietly. "It would not be the first time, nor would it be the last. But they tolerate me."
At this point, nothing could surprise Avelia any more. She rubbed one hand across her forehead and eyes, trying to process all of this at once. The silence stretched for a full minute, and then she looked at her master. "I'll do it."
Temerlan smiled kindly, with just a hint of mischief glittering in his brown eyes. "I always knew you would." He got up then, and went to the door, looking back and forth outside to check for any passerby, and came back to her, talking in a low, conspiratorial tone. "When you get to Atonal, talk to the Chancellor. Ask her for soldiers, knights, anything she can spare, to accompany you on this mission. It's a long shot, especially if Auvayn is preparing for war like any sane country should be, but you can't do this alone. You'll need help."
Avelia nodded, and he continued, "Unfortunately, I can't help you past this point. I can give you a boat for your 'research' but any more than that and it will be obvious that I'm helping you. Pack light, you leave immediately afterward."
She smiled, shaking a little. "Thank you, Master. Your faith in me is inspiring."
With those words the older mage took another sip of tea and let out a quiet sigh. "This will brand you as a traitor, Avelia, but it is necessary. Be swift, young one, our lives may very well hang in the balance." Almost choking on her own tea at his foreboding words, Avelia set down the glass and shook it from her thoughts. She could not concern herself with failure now, she need only to get ready and be on her way.
"I will return soon with my pack. Until then, Master Temerlan," she spoke, rising from her seat and giving him a quick bow. As she turned to leave, a faint shadow washed over her pearl colored hair and Temerlan shook his head slightly. This was for the good of their people. He would concern himself with her well being when she returned. As her young robed figure slipped from his sight he whispered a prayer to Alduril, goddess of magic, that she would return from her quest, and that she would find heroes to accompany her.