Liberum Arbitrium [SIZE=10pt]For many centuries, the Circle has ruled with an iron fist, but with the desertion of one of their own, the Circle finds themselves involved in a war. In a midst of all this chaos, Ash, the son of the Head Priest, is given a gift that will determine the outcome of this battle. Little does he know, his actions will impact the lives of everyone around him.[/SIZE][SIZE=10pt].[/SIZE] [SIZE=10pt]Prologue[/SIZE] "Line up the men on the wall, we cannot let these them pass!" Lord Cyrus ordered, pointing up at the huge thirty foot stone wall. The wall towered above them, casting a long black shadow which covered the kingdom. For most of the day, the city folk lived in shadow in amongst the foot of two mountains. Only in the later hours of the day would they feel the rays of the sun as it crossed to the opposite side, but it was short lived. It was always cold here. Soldiers dressed in thick leather hide made from the skins of animals, with long swords hanging at their sides and bows on their backs, hurried towards the steps. In orderly fashion, they climbed up the stone steps and took their places on the wall and readied their bows for the first wave of invaders. "My lord, they approach the walls!" Cyrus withdrew his sword, and rushed up the stairs, his long grey hooded cloak flapping in the wind behind him. The symbol of a horned canine was stitched onto the back of the cloak symbolizing bravery and loyalty, worn only by the people of Aduri. He joined his men on the ledge and squeezed in between two men to observe the battlefield. There was a sea of men dressed in black leather charging towards them shields held up high in the air to protect from a rain of arrows. But they were the least of Cyrus' concerns. At the back he spotted fifteen eleven foot humanoid creatures, with ashen white bodies and no faces. Each humanoid carried a Morningstar in the left, and a shield in the other. A crown of thorns sat atop each of their heads, the branches dyed red. They were called the Faceless; hairless creatures spawned of dark magic by using the bodies of the dead and combining several as one. The disciple had full control over them, directing their attack as the creatures themselves could not see. And at the very back of the army stood a man dressed in a black cloak. He wielded a quarterstaff in his left hand, while his right remained hidden beneath his clothing. His face was hidden, but Cyrus knew who this man was. His name was Ghetsis, and he once served the Circle of Priests, until he decided they were on the losing side. He formed an alliance with the Shadow Triad, and from there, managed to build up a kingdom. The forces of Jabaq grew in power each day, and Cyrus knew that if something was not done, the world would be covered in darkness. Men on the wall drew out their bows and loaded their arrows. Cyrus lifted up a hand. "Hold your fire!" A man from a kingdom other than Aduri would release his arrow, but the men of Aduri knew to trust in their commander. Cyrus was a seasoned warrior, and had once served as a priest himself for a short time until he was thrown out for his lack of faith. He had been sentenced here to the wall by the High Priest Giovanni to live out the remainder of his days. The wall was the only way to pass through for the mountain ranges stretched from one side of the continent to the other. If the wall fell, all would be lost. Foul creatures of darkness would pour into the remaining kingdoms and devour all that is good and pure, leaving only a trail of destruction behind. Running wasn't an option — refusing to fight would only delay the inevitable end. It was better to go down fighting for a noble cause rather than run and hide like a coward. Pushing his grim thoughts aside, he focused his attention on the battle ahead. The enemies, from the kingdom of lost souls, Jabaq, charged towards the great wall. Frenzied battle cries erupted from the men. Cyrus brought his hand down. "Fire!" he roared. A rain of arrows poured down below striking men and ending lives. But not all were struck down. Men carrying shields defended themselves from the arrows and continued to run, as more arrows flew down below. The monstrous Faceless walked slowly taking one large stride at a time, but mere arrows did them no little harm. Ghetsis slammed his stick to the ground causing the earth to shake. Ladders erupted from the ground at the foot of the wall reaching to the top allowing the men to climb. "Take down the ladders!" Cyrus ordered. He rushed at one of the ladders and kicked it down, watching it topple over flattening several groups of soldiers. "My lord!" said Saturn. "Look!" He lifted a hand and pointed to the sky. A large reptilian creature with bat-like wings hovered in the sky, its long muscular tail moving from side to side. It opened its mouth revealing two rows of sharp dagger length teeth, a forked tongue resting within. "It's a Noivern!" he cried. Cyrus glanced at the opening between the two mountains and spotted the creature. It was a fearsome monster that made its home within the mountains, attacking all that dared to disturb its environment. Cyrus and his men had faced only ten of these creatures in a lifetime and only one was killed. The other Noivern were only wounded and sought refuge back within the valley to recover. "Saturn, look after the eastern wall, we can't afford to have any of these men reach the top," Cyrus ordered. The man was a good two years younger than him having only reached the age of twenty-five three days ago. He had been trained with a blade since he was a child, and was one of the best swordsmen in Aduri. His hands had dealt killing blows to opponents twice his age. Saturn nodded and hurried down to the eastern side of the wall. The Noivern dove to the ground, bending its wings back as it dropped like a tonne of bricks. It stopped metres away from the sand, breathing a cloud of acid into the faces of men. Flapping its wings, it gained altitude and prepared to attack again. Cyrus reached his right hand over his back, grabbing his bow and arrow. He had been the only man in recent times to kill a Noivern. His father had been the first. It took great concentration and accuracy to kill such a beast. "Cyrus, the beast it's helping us fight," Jupiter said, letting her spear drop to her right side. The tip of the weapon was covered in blood. Cyrus looked at his companion. There weren't many women who made their home in Aduri, but some women longed to prove themselves as capable fighters. Jupiter was two years older than himself, and she could fight as well as any man, destroying the belief the battlefield was no place for a woman. It was often said she lost himself in battle, throwing herself at enemies sometimes with no weapon in hand. "That beast will turn on us too; you know that as well as I do, Jupiter. Where is your dagger? I have need of it." Jupiter dug a hand into his pocket and pulled out a curved copper dagger. He gave it to Cyrus, hard eyes gazing up at the man. "You're going to slay the dragon?" Cyrus nodded, and took the dagger from Jupiter after placing his bow on the ground. "Grab one of my arrows and hold it out low." Jupiter nodded and followed Cyrus' orders, holding the arrow at level to his waist. Pushing back his cloak, Cyrus stretched out his arm above the arrow and brought the edge of the blade against his skin. He cut deep and let the blood drop onto the arrow. He lifted the composite bow and aimed it towards the creature, loading the arrow into its position. He placed his fingers on the piece of string and drew it back. Noivern could only be killed with a certain arrow; one covered in the blood of a pure man. The wings were its weak spot. The Noivern was oblivious to Cyrus, its attention focused on the men from Jabaq. Cyrus released his hold and the arrow hurtled through the air striking the creature in its left wing. The beast screamed, a high pitched raspy screech that made a man's flesh crawl. It dropped to the ground and lay motionless. "Good aim Cyrus," Jupiter smirked. Cyrus lowered his bow and returned it. "The battle is only just beginning Jupiter. I would like to speak to Charon — he may have some information that can help us turn the tide in our favour." He looked around the battlefield. Men around him swung their blades fighting off invaders as they climbed up the ladders. They were losing. Ghetsis had the advantage in numbers. He turned away. "Charon is in his quarters." "Lead the men. I will rejoin shortly." Jupiter nodded, and raised her sword, rushing forward to engage in a duel with the enemy. Cyrus hurried down the stairs, pushing his way through the battle, stopping just once to drive the tip of his blade into the stomach of the enemy. The soldier fell to the ground. Cyrus stepped over him and made his way to the underground tunnel system. He stopped by the deserted fireplace, and knelt down, feeling the ground for the handle. Moments afterwards, he found the handle, and moved aside the snow to lift up the hatch. "The battle does not fare well, does it?" a voice said. Cyrus closed the hatch and looked towards the source of the voice. An old man sat behind a desk with a pen in his right hand. Charon's age made it difficult for him to fight effectively and so he contributed to the war effort with knowledge instead. He had a mind for tactics and always seemed to know what the weak points were. Cyrus walked over and took a seat across from the man. "Ghetsis' power grows. We cannot hold this wall for much longer." "I do not understand why you insist on fighting a battle that is not even yours to be concerned about," Charon replied, placing his pen down on the table. He leaned forward. "High Priest Giovanni banished you here and yet you willingly fight for him. The Circle has brought this war upon themselves. Let them deal with it." "I may not be a part of the Circle no more, but the threat remains the same. If Ghetsis' forces break down this wall, they will head for Madari to break down the barrier. If the Old One is set free from his cage and Ghetsis manages to take its power as his own, do you think any of us will be spared?" Charon leaned back, bringing a hand to his chin, rubbing the area tenderly. "The Circle should be punished for their crimes. They want us to bow down before their false deities, but I will not be so foolish. There is only one true God and he is locked in his cage. Ghetsis can free him. The Circle and their followers will cease to exist." "You speak of treason." A dry laugh escaped the old man's throat. "You despise the Circle as much as I, Cyrus. They had you cast out for being one of the Faithless, and the High Priest Giovanni had my wife executed for stealing a loaf of bread. Why you continue to support the Circle is beyond me. The other lords have withdrawn their support." "Ghetsis is a far greater threat." "Is that what you want to believe?" Charon shrugged. "You will find there is an increasing number of people who disagree with you, Cyrus. Lord Colress of Ramar has severed his ties with the Circle and is now sending his men to aid Jabaq in the war. There is even a rumour that Lord Archer of Yahma is planning a revolt. You can choose to continue fighting the war against Ghetsis, Cyrus, but you will soon find yourself on your own." "The Circle is the lesser of two evils." Charon sighed. "I see that I cannot change your mind." He leaned forward again. "I assume your next question is whether or not he can be stopped. The answer is yes, he can be defeated. He is only a mortal man after all." "And you chose not to speak of this earlier?" "You did not ask." Charon's loyalties were unknown. He appeared to show support for Ghetsis' cause, yet he remained here within Aduri, helping Cyrus and his soldiers fight. The other soldiers loved Charon, believing he was one of the reasons the wall remained standing. If Charon were to be found a traitor, the morale of the soldiers would be broken beyond repair. But for the time being, Charon had done nothing to show his support for Ghetsis. All he could do was keep a close eye on the man and hope he remained loyal. "What have you learned?" "Have you heard of the Winged Mirages before?" Cyrus nodded. "You're speaking of the three birds, Zapdos, Moltres and Articuno. The pagan Gods." "Then you are aware the birds have great power." "We don't even know if they exist. We can't believe a word the mages say." "They may not be true Gods, but the birds are very real. There are three amulets in this world that contain their power and if they are found, you will be able to craft a weapon powerful enough to stop the army of Ghetsis in their tracks. Locating the amulets is a task on its own however. All three were once in the possession of the mages, but civil war broken out between the different factions, and the amulets were lost." Charon gestured down to the paper on the table. Glancing down, Cyrus realized the man had drawn a map of the region of Iduji. Some of the names had circles around them. Cyrus looked up, frowning. "You know where they are?" "I have sources. One of the amulets is currently in the possession of two merchants in Madari. The second amulet lies in the dragon tamer city of Qubo and the final one is in one of the bandit camps." Charon pulled his gaze away from the map. "Find the amulets and you'll have the power to win the battle to impress the Circle you seem desperate to satisfy." "I will not leave this kingdom to go treasure hunting," Cyrus replied then rose up from his chair. He prepared to leave when Charon spoke again. "Then you will have no chance of winning this battle." Cyrus stopped at the door and turned around. "How do you know this?" "I've lived for seven decades, Cyrus. You have yet to reach three decades. I know many things that you do not. You can choose to ignore my suggestion, but in doing so you may just hand over Ghetsis an easy victory," Charon replied tonelessly. His eyes were just as vacant. It was hard to tell exactly what thoughts were going through the man's head. "Ultimately, it is your choice. If I were to search for these amulets, I would begin my journey soon." "I am not abandoning this kingdom." "Perhaps in time you will change your mind." Charon stood up and rolled the map then placed it under his right arm. "You should probably return to your duties, Cyrus. You can think about my words later when the battle has died down." The man hobbled away. Cyrus cursed to himself. If not for Charon's old age, he would be out there on the battlefield. Shaking his head, he climbed up onto a stool and pushed up the latch to climb back out. As soon as he was on the main ground, he made his way back up to the wall. More ladders had fallen lessening the amount of men climbing up onto the wall. Still, some had reached the top. Drawing out his sword, Cyrus rushed forward and drove his blade through the forehead of a pale soldier. He pulled out his blade and threw his body over the wall's edge. The battle continued all around him. Men screaming curses at each other, the sounds of swords clashing and the cries of the wounded and dying played in his mind... and a horn blowing. It was a deep sound that echoed throughout the mountains. "My lord, they are retreating! The battle is won!" Cyrus stopped. He had heard the sounds of a horn blowing; the sound of retreat. But why? It seemed random; Ghetsis' forces had the advantage. If they continued their attack the walls would be covered in enemy soldiers. But the enemy troops stopped their attacks and climbed down the ladders, to retreat back to their leader. Even the monstrous Faceless stopped. Luck was on their side again. But he knew this was just another small victory that would not last. Jabaq would send out another force; perhaps this was their plan? To attack, retreat and attack again later in the day, making Aduri's men tired and less alert. Cyrus prepared to make his way down the wall when a group of three soldiers approached him. "We've caught one of the soldiers from Jabaq on the eastern wall. He slaughtered four of our men. Shall we kill him?" Mars asked a petite female with fiery red hair. Two other men accompanied her, one of them being Saturn. In between them a blond male sat on his knees, hands tied together behind his back by a thick rope. Cyrus noticed a deep gash trailing down his left arm, but the prisoner didn't seem too concerned about the wound at all. Cyrus looked at his elite guard then looked down at the prisoner. Like all soldiers from Jabaq, he was dressed in simple white linen cloths, except this particular prisoner's cloths were stained red; most likely as a result of battle. And like all soldiers from Jabaq he had a symbol engraved in his upper left arm. It was a scythe, one of the many symbols of death. On both his wrists, he wore golden plated bracers. They signalled to Cyrus he was not just a common soldier of Jabaq, but had greater skills that would please any rich merchant looking for a protector. "He fought hard, but we eventually beat him down," Saturn said. The prisoner spat a gob of blood at Saturn's feet, then grinned, "You're a lousy fighter," he said, brown eyes fixed on Saturn's face looking amused. Saturn glared, curling his fingers around the hilt of his sword. "A lousy fighter? I overpowered you." "You fight like a girl," the prisoner added, still grinning. Saturn growled, aiming a kick at the prisoner's ribs bowling him over to the side. All humour faded from his eyes and tone as he struggled to sit back up. "That's the problem with you people; you have no sense of humour. I guess living within the shadow of the mountains makes you a miserable lot." He managed to sit upright then looked at Cyrus. "Ah, you must be the great Cyrus. I've heard a lot about your heroic deeds," he added. "What is your name?" Cyrus asked. "Morty." Cyrus knew the name, but hadn't seen him before. Yet his reputation preceded him; he was part of the inner circle of sell swords of Jabaq, hired mercenaries with uncanny skill with a blade. His attitude confirmed it; downright careless to the core with no sense of morality. They relished in the art of killing, taking sheer pleasure in watching others suffer. Killing was a sport; it was rumoured they often competed in amongst each other to see how many people they could kill in a day. In Cyrus' eyes they were filth; walking pieces of corrupted humanity blessed with superior swordplay skills. Cyrus' eyes met Oliver's. "I want you to take him down to the dungeons; I will speak with him later." "You're not going to stand around and chat, but I was only just getting started. Ah well, I suppose we'll have a bit to talk about later then, perhaps over a warm campfire with a cup of ale and a wench?" Cyrus didn't reply. Morty forced a sigh. "No? That's a shame. Nothing tastes sweeter than drinking from a wench's cup." He laughed at his own comment, before he was dragged away by Oliver and Saturn. Cyrus sighed. His troubles were only just beginning. . Thoughts are much appreciated!