– Amir-al Searas? – Zarah asked as he knocked on the door of his Master’s office. He feared there would be no answer after what they just found out. He waited for none and rushed in to find his master bloodied and cut, but fortunately still alive.
– So you are worried Zarah – Searas replied with a smile. The Bodies of the two assassins from last night layed unmoving with multiple cuts. – Is all… *causgh* alright?
– Master?! You are hurt! – Zarah rushed in to check on his master’s wounds. He took his scroll out and pronounced the incantation, channeling the energy of his spark, as worm light enveloped Searas and his wounds started closing. – Better? If I was a minute late you might have been dead Amir!
– Good thing I sent you to Layla for some training then. – Searas smirked. He stretched and stood up, his strength coming back to him. – What has happened? How did two assassins manage to sneak past all of you into my saray and ambush me in my office?
– I’m afraid they were more than two mt Amir. Battle Commanders Abar’al Sarib and Abdul Samad were found dead in their homes today.
– What? My two most trusted Battle Commanders dead? Who is in charge of the defenses of Gorna Banya then?
– Currently Vice Commander Sahrama has taken responsibility for that my Amir. – Zarah looked at his master with worry in his eyes as he managed to get up.
– Any lead on who sent those assassins?
– None yet my Amir.
– Do you have any good news then Zarah? – Searas yelled in response.
– I’m afraid not my Amir.
Searas threw an angry Lightning bolt at the wall, uncomfortably close to Zarah’s head. He took a few deep breaths, suppressing his anger. Someone tried to assassinate him and managed to kill his two Battle Commanders. This smelled of an invasion, but who? The Seven Hills? Not likely. Was Zerathul finally acting on his threats? Nah the methods were too blunt. Bdin? But why? Emperor Morouz would have just asked if he needed something from him. This was someone new, someone different. He headed out towards the town to try to calm the situation.
– Zarah! Run to Vice Commander Sahrama and tell her to gather all soldiers and close the gates, then she is to meet me in the Command Tower. – he barked his orders.
– Yes my Amir – Zarah bowed and bolted.
When Searas left the saray he lifted in the air to get a better view of the town. The healing magic has restored his strength completely now. Everything looked normal. People going around doing their daily chores. Soldiers marching the streets. The dusty, unused for sometime now, Zeppelin tower sitting as a monument in the town center. He looked outside the town. His unnaturally sharp eyes clocked something in the distance on the road. A lone rider, galloping in the direction of Gorna Banya. Messenger? Most likely! Suddenly the horizon started to blacken. Like an enormous black wave covering the lush green fields around the town. Searas blinked in disbelief. He looked again. Thousands and thousands of men, marching. His heart froze. Who? How? His scouts should have warned him of an army this big. His spies should have told him if someone made a move this massive. He concentrated and whispered to the wind.
– We have a big problem! I’m under attack in Gorna Banya! Headcount around ten thousand coming from the south! Also my two Battle Commanders were assassinated last night and someone tried to kill me as well. – he released the words to the wind to be carried to Amenor, then repeated them and sent them to the Vezier.
He headed to the gate as he expected at least a try for negotiations. As he reached the top of the gate the Vice Commander was waiting for him. The woman was smart enough to realize that the previous order would be overwritten by the situation.
– Amir-al Searas! – the woman began – all forces are gathered and ready for your commands.
– Good work Battle Commander – he replied as Sahrama almost choked to the sudden promotion – I will be leading the negotiations with this unknown…
Searas trailed off as he saw the three men riding in the front. Cladded in full black leathers with holding spears and wearing Black Masks! “NO!” Searas thought “That’s impossible!” They should have been gone for good. What is this? Zanuka assured him that the 2019 appearances were imposters. But how? Ten thousand men stood at his door and their commanders were Black Masks. They were the real thing. Searas could sense his spark aching. That should have not been possible, they have been gone for over two thousand years. All that remained from their legacy was Seigfried and his poor imitations.
– Battle Commander! All mages that can’t wield a blade must immediately retreat from the battlefield! Also if it comes to a battle no spells are to be cast! The three men in the Black Masks are members of the original Seventh Path and are ten fold stronger than any Pathian we know.
– Yes my Amir! – she replied as she ran to give orders down the chain.
The Black Masks stepped forward invitingly. Searas took a deep breath and floated down in front of the gate. He approached them and gave a bow of respect.
– I am Aral Searas Onilyx. Amir of the Sand Blades. Shah of Gorna Banya. Grandmaster of the Order of Air and Ex-Magister of the Mage Academy.
He waited for an answer for what seemed like hours. Every moment was an eternity. Then one of them spoke.
– If you surrender there will be no bloodshed! – he said in a commanding voice – If you don’t we will kill you one by one until you do. These are our terms, mage.
He felt the spite in the word “mage”. It was them alright. He looked the man who spoke in the eyes.
– I am not an idiot – he started – I absolutely realize I’m not going to win this fight.
– The South and the East have fallen – the man interrupted in his commanding voice. – we have taken every pity kingdom, tribe and cult on our way. Surrender and we promise you and your people will live and prosper under the Tenebrian Empire.
The statement washed over Searas as a cold wave. Everything conquered? The man was delusional. Then it hit him. He has not received any reports from his spies today. They should have started coming in an hour ago. Then one of them came through. “My Amir, the Bdin capital is under attack! Tens of thousands of men in black armour led by three men in Black Masks. Emperor Morouz’s forces stand no chance.” And as it came it went, just a whisper in the wind. The Black Mask was telling the truth. Searas looked back at the town of Gorna Banya and took his last breath of freedom.
* * *
Searas woke up in his simple bed, five thirty sharp as he had done in the last two years. The morning air in Plovdiv was crisp and clean. After meditation he left for work as usual. His life in the last two years was the same every day, going to the fields, and dealing with bureaucracy,even though it was mostly reports of what the fields have given today. He helped out with gathering cotton as well as he found it, at best, a way to kill time. He scrubbed his unshaven face, he couldn’t bother to shave any more, maybe once every few months. The Tenebrians have loosen their regime a bit lately, but that didn’t change a thing. The truth was they were slaves to efficiency. He has not seen a Sand Blade in two years. At least his people were alive, hopefully. There were a few rebellions, all in vain. On his way back from work a messenger caught up to him.
– Aral Searas Onilyx? – the messenger boy asked.
– Yes – Searas said.
– I have a message for you sir.
The boy handed him a letter and ran off. Searas looked at the letter, it had the Tenebrian stamp of approval. He opened it to find an invitation. “You have been invited to a Remembrance of the Fallen of Belitsa. A small event will be held at Belitsa from the 2nd of July to honor the Fallen in the Last pre imperial war at Bleitsa.” he read. Memories of that war flooded him. Memories of better times, times of Freedom. Was that another ploy by the Tenebrians, or was it a genuine Celebration? He had no idea, but for the first time in years he found a purpose to push through the days until July.