The charred body of the petty highwayman made a gurgling sound as the last breath escaped it. General Debinani Rahl sighed a bit and wiped the crumbled remains of the sulfurous ash from his gloves. He leaned against a lone tree, withered and lifeless, in a lone green amongst the tightly packed houses of the lone clearing in the shattered woods. Dark, unnatural clouds raced across a sky that shone crimson with the sun’s setting. Everything here was dead except the grass, which flourished like nowhere else in the shattered remains of his homeland. He removed his glove and crouched down to run his fingers through the dark, rich soil – the kind of soil farmers dream of having in their fields. He looked from the dirt in his palm to the corpse and back again.
“Even after all these years, it seems I can not avoid feeding you,” he whispered to the grasses.
He looked up and before him stood a mighty tower. A tower that had seen five generations of monarchs, one matriarch, and nearly a thousand of the finest, most dedicated troops he had ever led. Yet now the place was dark…empty…dead. The walls of the tower near the ground were stained an eternal sickening shade of crimson. The wind whipped through the dead forest and made a lonesome howling noise as it rushed between the homes of the murderers and thieves who now lived in this sacred grove. A fitting eulogy there had never been.
The heavy iron door of the tower slid open slowly, and an unkempt, aging man poked his head out.
“Hello Gunter,” said the General, trying to force a pleasant smile on his lips.
“Ohhhh! M’Lord!!” said the other man, eyes wide in amazement and shuffling out the door and down the steps, straightening the little hair he had left on his head, “If you had sent work you were comin’ I’d have had tha place all fixed up fer ya!”
The General did genuinely smile then. Gunter Ix was far from the brightest man he had ever met, but he had served as Nicolai’s apprentice for several years, and was very likely the singularly most loyal man to the Turon line that lived. He had placed Gunter in charge of maintaining the old headquarters building when the Society finally pulled out of Felucca because the little man had simply refused to leave the place when the time came, and he was certainly intelligent enough to keep the door locked and his head down.
“There’s no need for that Gunter, I just came to sit under this tree here,” he said, patting the dead thing that he leaned against,” no need to get all ruffled. How have things been?”
“Well…errr,” replied the man, his initial excitement fading at the prospect of standing out in the open for any period of time, “I’ve got a few friends who live hereabouts, dey come and visit quite often cuz dey like ol’ Gunter’s cookin’. Most of the others leave me alone, some don’t. Dere’s been nights where nuttin but dat spell ye put on the door ”˜as kept the villains out. But Tiberius and da Marshall come check up on me quite often too, so I’s guessin everything’s alrigh’.” He continued to look around nervously, obviously expecting the aforementioned villains to spring up at any time.
“Well, we can certainly lock the place up, you can come to the other side. We could certainly use a good ”˜jack and cook at our new headquarters. And…Gunter…it’s very likely that we’ll never come back to this place.”
The man shook his head, “Nau…me home be here, if’n ye not mindin’ m’lord. I keep da forge hot for ol’ Nicolai’s sake, and as I’ve said, I gots some good friends here abouts.”
“Don’t be so nervous, old friend, I’m quite sure there are more Storm Guard casing this place out then there are villains to come strike at you.” As if summoned, a man in a violet sash passed into view between the structures on his patrol route and was gone again just as swiftly. Gunter relaxed a little bit, but still never left the steps of the tower. “Lots of things seemed to have changed around here.”
“Oh aye…new neighbors of all sorts be here. Seems dose Shadune fellers sold off most of da land te anyone who’d be buyin it.”
They both sat in silence for a while, but it wasn’t long before Gunter became jittery and uncomfortable.
“Well, ehrm…m’lord,” he said, standing and easing his way back into the tower, “I do gots some werk te be doin’…few trapper friends o’ mine be comin’ in tonight, we be havin a nice dinner at the big table.”
The General nodded and forced out a smile for his one, lonely, dedicated vassal. “Alright Gunter. It was good seeing you, call if you need anything.”
The man nodded and went back into the tower, closing the door and dropping the huge iron bolt with a clang.
Debinani Rahl sat amongst the shattered ruins of mighty Northwood; alone with the wind, a corpse, and the ghosts of a thousand slain defenders.