Darkness concealed a man in the corner of the bar. He had arrived earlier in the evening, ordered a cask of ale, and been no more the bother. Cilla, the barmaid, had even forgotten about him. Then a tall man with lavender eyes and an odd gait came through the door and asked her for a man that fit his description. From within the shadow, he watched their interaction and knew that this was the man who wanted his help. Business was picking up, and he wasn’t one to complain.

“Excuse me, sir?” Cilla was smiling, she looked young and innocent, perhaps only a child when Elysa had dealt with the Olthoi Queen. What a farce. There was another one prowling now. No, not one; that was a blatant misrepresentation, there were several more. It was becoming more likely that Elysa’s miracle would need to happen a second time to stop this latest incursion. The ground was shaking with the arrival of the overgrown bugs and there was no sign of Asheron. He smiled at the girl as he mused about the old man, sitting in a sequestered room of his castle, paralyzed by fear and stricken impotent by the arrival of the Olthoi.

“Yes, Cilla.” The girl blushed, abashed that he had remembered her name. He smiled and leaned into the light as he answered. It was as much an acknowledgment to the girl as it was to the tall man.

“There is a man here that wants to speak with you. I…I felt compelled to ask you if…”

“Bring him over, Cilla.” He smiled and cut her off, leaning back into the darkness.

Cilla walked back to the man and motioned to the table. He pushed past her and sat across from the figure.

“Greetings. I am interested in procuring your services. I am aware that you are a man whose capabilities include the circumvention of certain defensive measures. This is an enthralling ability to me. I seek your assistance in allowing such a gift to be given freely.” The tall man spoke methodically, almost mechanically, and the other noticed that the lavender glint in his eye was much more than it had appeared.

“What would you like me to do?” the first man asked, his curiosity piqued.

Hendac and Jenavere waited for Antius’ response. Jenavere looked impatient. Hendac merely watched as Antius glanced back and forth across the pages they had delivered. He motioned to Jena in an effort to calm her down, but it was too late.

“Antius. There’s no time to review all of our findings.” She held her voice in check, but her frustration came across in the venom that laced every word. “We’re looking at a brood ten times the size of the one that Strathelar, Cragstone and I faced the first time. We’ve got to act quickly and get scouts out there now. This isn’t something that will go away. This is war.”

Hendac placed a hand on her shoulder and smiled lightly toward Antius. Jena looked at Hendac and sighed resignedly. He looked back to Antius, who placed the papers on the desk. A shocked look spread over his face as the color drained.

“Ten times?” he asked hoarsely.

“At least,” Jena responded. Hendac nodded as well. The ground shook lightly, and Hendac motioned downwards. “Listen, Antius. All along, I’ve been saying that the Olthoi only recoiled after the death of the One Queen. It was fear, something that they had never known before. Scholars be damned. I mean no offense to either of you, but damn your hubris.

“For so long, scholars have been basing their findings on supposition. They’ve supposed wrong. The Olthoi have been breeding new queens for years. But this attack isn’t being led by one of them. The queen that we faced before was hundreds of years old. Most of these newer queens are young, some immature. Their scent glands aren’t even fully developed. They don’t have the capacity to lead…yet the Olthoi are more organized. You can feel them moving under us now. They’re burrowing faster.

“You’re a wise man, Antius. You’ve assisted the people of Ispar in many ways through your diplomatic efforts, but there is no diplomacy here. There is kill, or be killed. We need to act before we’re killed. Do you understand? We’re facing an olthoi older than we can fathom, perhaps older than Asheron.”

Antius nodded, “Indeed, I do understand, Jenavere.” He began writing on a blank sheet of paper. He handed the paper over to Hendac. Hendac nodded and handed the sheet to Jenavere.

“Antius…I’ll do what I can. Just see that Elysa gets those reports. It won’t matter how many men you give me if we can’t find out what is calling the olthoi here.” The ground shook again. “We’re running out of time.”

Jenavere and Hendac turned to go.


“…allowing for Asheron’s magic to be circumvented by anyone, without the need of pledging themselves directly to the service of Bael’zharon,” the man finished.

“Obviously you told this fool that no such thing would happen,” Nuhmudira stated. The silence with which her response was met quickly drove her to anger. “You’re not considering this, are you? I forbid it! You are my retainer!”

The man sat comfortably and retorted in a cool manner, “I am on retainer to you, Magess. I am not your retainer. I do jobs for you when you pay me.” He paused as she seethed. “This man is paying me handsomely to see that this is done. I’ve come to you to see how precious these people are to you, how abhorrent seeing their very souls manipulated in such a way is to you, and to see what you would offer me to alter the results.”

“Extortion does not suit you, Oswald.”

“Murder suits you, mistress, but you needed to wash your hands of that. You came to me to keep your hands clean. I’m not above the lowest of the low.” He smiled, unmoving.

“You say that what you will do to each shrine will alter the magic so that neither Bael’zharon nor Asheron are tied to the souls of our people; instead, it will go to this man?” Nuhmudira had made her way to her cottage window, looking out into the desert night.

“That is what he says. Apparently he is much like you and I, Magess, far beyond the meager existence of the chaff. His goal is power, I’ve been paid for a job and I will do it, but I’d like to see what you’d like done in response.” Oswald was full of confidence. Nuhmudira could feel the change that had come over him-he was something more than he had been. She had seen to that, and now he was working for another. She had underestimated the strength of his will and would not do so again.

“If I cannot stop you, then I will offer you the same price as this other employer for a small concession to be made in the implementation of his device. I will not see my people suffer, so I will make sure that they are protected by Asheron’s spell…but their souls will be their own. This power will not go to that other person. I cannot allow it. What say you to that?” Nuhmudira remained staring out the window, already knowing the response.


She turned slowly. “Done.” Suddenly, Nuhmudira was tossed from her feet as the ground shook and the floor of her cottage bucked. Oswald slipped into the shadows and a glinting blade slipped silently from a sheath. Through the center of the room poured a host of olthoi. Soldiers, Eviscerators and Warriors thundered into the room. Nuhmudira lost sight of Oswald as she summoned the will to shatter the encroaching horde.

All across Dereth the chittering could be heard. The night air became foul and the land split asunder as the Olthoi Horde clambered through the earth.

Dereth was now lost in a tide of darkness.

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