I thank everyone for their fabulous reviews and support. This project would not have much with such success without all of your timely encouragement. The following will conclude Hammer of Terrascars, but there will be numerous references to the sequel. Though the groundwork has been laid for the Legacy, it probably won't make its way to this website until early December.
Hammer of Terrascars – Epilogue
July 14th, Castle Ostia,
Despite the army's narrow triumph over the twisted schemes of Nergal on Valor, the rest of Elibe slept soundly in their beds, unaware of how thin the thread was from which doom hung. Our valiant efforts and sacrifices would go unsung in the halls of kings and lords, destined to remain a closely guarded secret amongst the families of the conquerors.
Certainly the citizens of Ostia did not betray the signs of unease or unrest with the return of the reigning marquis. Though the passing of Lord Uther remained on their minds, the ascension of Lord Hector served as a reminder that Ostia would continue to lead the rest of the Lycian League. Hundreds of thousands of Lycians crowded the streets of Ostia to watch Lord Hector's coronation ceremony.
The survivors of the Valor campaign attended in mass, although with the notable exceptions of several members. The ex-Black Fang members, such as Legault, Jaffar, and Nino, took their leave during the previous night. Kent, still incapacitated by his injury, was excused from the ceremony. He protested vehemently that he was fit for duty, but reluctantly agreed when Fiora opted to stay and watch over the wounded knight. Rath and Guy both returned to Sacae, for reasons they chose not to elaborate upon. Oddly enough, Raven chose to stay for the coronation even after expressing his negative sentiments towards Lord Hector during the journey.
I am currently standing at the window of my second floor room that overlooks the courtyard. Here I command an entire view of this area, including a perfect angle to see Lord Hector ascend the steps and allow the archbishop to formally inaugurate his reign. Even in this joyful moment, I can feel sorrow steal over me as I view the holes scattered here and there throughout our company.
Seated second to only foreign dignitaries and congratulatory rulers, the army was located not twenty yards from the raised dais. Retainers and mercenaries alike sat together with Lord Eliwood and Lady Lyndis, though everyone bore signs of grief. It was certainly not easy to accept the death of so many goodly knights and valiant warriors, especially when each and every one of them engraved themselves in our memories. The honorable dead were brought back to Ostia, where they slept in the Royal Crypt until their proper burial. However, since we found no evidence suggesting the death of Karel, I still live in hopes that he too survived the campaign.
My eyes drift down towards an age-worn and weathered journal. Having finished reading the memoirs of my late mentor the previous evening, I have struggled with myself in regards to the fate of this information. Should I make this known to Lady Lyndis, or should I eradicate all traces of this manuscript? After a lengthy debate with my conscience, I have come to the conclusion that this diary shall be secretly preserved. I will not sully Lady Lyndis' affection memories of Sir Mark with tales of his guilt and despair. Let her forever recall him as Drake, Master Tactician of Etruria and not as Mark Valshannar, sacker of cities and slayer of innocents.
The applause below me has peaked in its crescendo, signaling the conclusion of the coronation. Glancing below, I see Lord Hector raising his hands to acknowledge the crowd. Ostian knights are bending the knee, swearing fealty to Ostia incarnate. Tradition dictates that the newly crowned Ostian lord makes a toast to the birth of a new era, and Lord Hector is no exception. I admit his words were nothing like I imagined.
"My brother was still in his prime when the gods saw fit to take him into their folds. In his memory, I solemnly swear to continue his policies and bring peace and prosperity to Lycia. Yet while we strive for peace, there will inevitably be agents of chaos within our ranks. To guard our doors and safeguard our people, we must remain vigilant to the end of our days. I quaff this goblet in memory of," here he paused briefly, "A Nameless General. May he lend us his valor and wisdom should war ever march upon our homeland. Amen."
Consternation raged unchecked after Lord Hector drained his chalice…
Cecilia was interrupted by an urgent knocking sounded upon the door leading to Cecilia's room. Abandoning her pen, Cecilia quitted her chair and stretched slightly. Slipping both journals into a pouch by her side, the tactician slowly walked to the door with confusion displayed on her features. Who could possibly interrupt me at this hour?
The door opened to yield a breathless Ostian soldier. From the sweat pouring down his face, the young man had apparently covered a great distance wearing his cumbersome armor plating. The young man carefully examined the female before him before asking, "Are you, Lady Cecilia of Etruria?"
"Yes," Cecilia answered cautiously, "And why do you ask?"
"Lady Cecilia, my name is Arthur," the soldier explained in a rush, "I was assigned the guard of the Royal Crypt over the deceased this morning. There is something urgent that you must see personally!"
Cecilia frowned, "Lead the way, Arthur. Please explain on the way."
The two hurried through the densely packed hallways of Castle Ostia. Lord Hector's speech had certainly riled up the attendees, throwing confusion amok in the castle. Every coronation speech in the past had always foretold tranquility and wealth to Lycia, and Hector's premonition of woe and battle was certainly unappetizing.
"I was to relieve old Duncan roughly half a candle mark ago," Arthur explained as his long strides navigated through the halls, "However, when I arrived there with two brothers-in-arms, we found Duncan slumped over his table, apparently asleep. The problem was that we could not awaken him!"
"Perhaps someone slipped him a healing draught?"
Arthur shook his head, "Impossible. Old Duncan is a steel suit of armor on legs. He never eats or drinks while on duty. Besides, we found no evidence of any liquid on him. We did find a magical staff of some sort abandoned at his feet."
Cecilia sucked in a breath, "Sleeping spell then. What are you trying to tell me?"
"Lady Cecilia," the young soldier gulped, "You do recall the three cumbersome chests you deposited in the Royal Crypt along with the coffins?"
A cold lance of fear streaked up Cecilia's spine, "You don't mean…?"
Arthur nodded grimly, "We're here. Take a look for yourself."
In the Royal Crypt, Cecilia's eyes widened. Everything in the Royal Crypt was undisturbed, save for the disappearance of Mark's writings. Three rectangles uncovered by dust bore evidence where the chests were placed. On the ground, there were no signs of disturbance save for the occasionally footprint.
Cecilia frowned, "These footprints are yours?"
Arthur nodded, "All of these either belong to myself or my friends. This is what compounds the question. Duncan's shift is two candle marks starting from dawn, which means any thief who removed these chests must have disturbed the dust on the ground! Yet when we arrived here, there was no disturbances at all save for the missing chests."
"Is there anything else amiss?"
Arthur nodded, "One more thing. Take a look at the wall over yonder that is half obscured by the suits of armor. We moved the armor for your benefit."
Cecilia turned to look. Her eyes widened even further at the words magically engraved upon the wall.
A thousand years since the last Reckoning,
Unleash the flames of a second Scouring.
Unbent, unbowed, undaunted,
Fear not the wrath of Winter Unending.
"Impossible…" Cecilia murmured.
July 21st, throne room of Castle Bern,
King Desmond tapped his left index finger impatiently on the arm of the throne as Murdock brought the latest candidate for Zephidel's tutor before the king. The man was hooded so that his face was unseen, his left hand gripped tightly around a crutch while the right held a thick tome. Murdock seemed to have all the patience in the world at the tutor's painfully slow gait, but Desmond's patience was wearing thin.
Finally, after taking nearly ten minutes to cross perhaps twenty yards and endure the poorly disguised laughter from the courtiers, Murdock led his charge before the king. The man unveiled his hood, revealing a somewhat wizened face covered by an unruly mop of gray hair. He panted hoarsely and seemed ready to fall from his expedition into the palace.
"This is the man?" Desmond raised an eyebrow slightly, "This is the man who is considered to be the greatest literary figure in our entire realm?"
"My liege," Murdock bowed, "Your orders were to find the greatest intellectual in all of Bern. Master Xavier's writings soundly defeated all other masters of lore in a week's worth of testing and screening. He has dedicated almost all of his fifty years of life to the study of…"
"Fifty? Ha!" A young courtier laughed outright, "That old relic looks at least seventy!"
"Nay, I'd say eighty," a knight said, "Most likely to kick the bucket in a few weeks under Prince Zephidel's 'voracious' appetite for facts and knowledge."
Xavier's closed eyes did not open as he turned around blindly, "Excuse me, who said that?"
A brief moment of stunned silence then exploded into a flurry of laughter.
"A blind master," a young wyvern knight named Narshen choked out, "Almost as outlandish as you, Gale!"
King Desmond raised a hand for silence. After a moment's consideration, the king smirked slightly. To the surprise of everyone there, the king nodded his confirmation, "You will do perfectly. Master Xavier, you shall find the Heir in the royal courtyard in company of his sister, Princess Guinevere."
"I thank you, your majesty," Xavier bobbed humbly.
Murdock's normally calm face was troubled, "Your majesty, I beg leave to speak. The Heir suffocates under this barrage of literary words and begs leave to master the language of kings. Prince Zephidel thirsts for the wisdom to rule and the strength to do battle. Might I be allowed to…?"
"I know what you are about to say, Murdock," King Desmond boomed, "And my answer shall remain the same. As Zephidel's father, I naturally have the 'greatest' interest in the well being of my children. It is still too early for Zephidel to learn the ways of war. He shall continue to study the mechanics of literature and lore."
"Your majesty!" Murdock protested, "Prince Zephidel has already completed his coming-of-age ceremony and…"
"Silence!" The king thundered, "Who are you to presume that I have forgotten? Do your duty, Murdock, and lead Master Xavier to my son."
"Yes, your majesty…" Murdock bowed and led Xavier away. Behind him, the ringing laughter trailed behind them.
Turning through several flights of stairs and innumerous hallways, Murdock led Xavier to a beautiful palace courtyard. Even blind Xavier could hear the peals of laughter coming from a small girl and the bright chuckle from a young man. Turning the corner, Murdock saw three people secluded away in their favorite rose corner. A purple-haired lady was standing guard near the Heir and the princess. Murdock acknowledged her presence with a nod. Upon seeing Xavier, the Heir's laughter died away.
"Another tutor, Murdock?" Zephidel sighed.
Murdock bowed slightly, "Your highness, you should not despair. I'm sure his majesty is only acting in your best interest."
"I sincerely doubt that," the purple-haired woman frowned, "His majesty knows full well that…"
"Brenya!" Murdock cautioned, "You should not say these things!"
"But it's true!" Brenya protested, "Everyone knows Prince Zephidel withers at all these wisdom-sprouting, self-conceited teachers who think they possess the knowledge of the world!"
"Excuse me," Xavier coughed slightly, "I may be blind, but I'm not deaf."
"Brenya," Zephidel chided gently, "Enough is enough."
Brenya looked abashed at her prince's reprimand. "My apologies," she mumbled.
Murdock shook his head, "I am just as frustrated as you are, Brenya. But what can we do to change the king's mind?"
"Perhaps we are going in the wrong direction."
Everyone save blind Xavier and young Guinevere arose and bowed in respect when Queen Hellene entered the small Rose Castle, as Guinevere liked to call it.
"Mama!" Guinevere gleefully said as she bound over.
The queen smiled serenely as she gathered the young girl into her arms. After Eliwood and his friends' courageous defense of Zephidel, the queen had thawed out her frozen heart and welcomed Guinevere with open arms.
"Mother?" Zephidel asked.
"General Murdock," Hellene said softly, "Could you please ensure that our conversation is not overheard."
"At once, your majesty," Murdock bowed as he left.
"Master Xavier," Hellene began, "As a mother and a queen, I beg you to help my son. For the past several years, Zephidel has had nothing but old professors fling poems and flowery words at him. He is the Crown Prince of Bern, the future king of the most militant country on the face of Elibe! He cannot waste away learning these incompatible subjects!"
"Literature and prose can be excellent tools in peace, your majesty," Xavier rasped.
"This is Bern!" Brenya exploded, "What do the awesome wyvern lords of the sky and the mighty paladins of the earth need besides weapons and a foe?"
"Master Xavier…" Zephidel began, "Please…"
Xavier smiled thinly, "The king will have my head for this, but I cannot teach you, Prince Zephidel."
"And why not?" Brenya said furiously, No one insults the Prince in my presence!
"Because I have not come to merely teach the laws of kingship," Xavier said, "What is your ambition, Prince Zephidel? Are you content to merely govern Bern through times of peace?"
Zephidel looked Xavier straight in the face, "No. I wish to become a king of Bern whose name shall be on the tongues of every man, woman, and child in Elibe."
"Interesting," Xavier said as he held out the tome in his right hand, "Then take this, and tell me what you see."
Queen Hellene and Brenya both looked at the leather-bound book that Zephidel held in his hands. Despair lanced through Zephidel's eyes as he thought of the many pointless tomes he read in the past. That despair was banished immediately when the book was opened.
"Manuscript of Elibe's Castles?" Zephidel said incredulously as he flipped through the pages, "What in the gods' name…?"
"The layout of Castle Bern…" Hellene murmured.
"Look at all the pretty pictures!" Guinevere giggled.
Brenya's eyes widened, "The Sacae Schism, Isolate Ilia... This is…?"
"What do you see?" Xavier asked again.
Zephidel raised his eyes to Xavier's face, "I see Bern's royal standard flying over every town in Elibe."
Xavier opened his eyes slightly and looked into the Crown Prince's eyes, "Stand forth, Zephidel of Bern, Sacker of Cities, and Conqueror of Elibe. I have many ideas to impart to you."
Zephidel found that this was the first time he looked forward to a tutor's lecture.
Zephidel also found that those two unnaturally golden eyes didn't bother him in the slightest.
I think I am evil. With the ending of this ridiculously long epilogue, Hammer of Terrascars is now officially finished. Thank you reading and please review if you have the time.