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A Dreamer Among Ruins Chapter 15: Gathering Darkness by J. Miles Parker
SUMMARY: Erik Rhondis is the hero of the story; this is the tale of the man hunting him. Most of the chapter takes place from the point of view of Captain Hussorn, a man of honor who happens to be fighting on the wrong side.
Twilight's Tower was a spire of night jutting into the sky. At its top, the red flame of tribute the the Collectors burned night and day, its dancing light reminding all citizens of Honesgaar who their true masters were. At its foot, the Darkshore Keep sprawled over ten miles in all directions; home to the ruling house of Engroth. At the moment, the western courtyard, called the Deathyard due to the executions performed there for the benefit of keeping the loyal public loyal, a host of five hundred Enforcers were gathered, currently being inspected by General Taraboor. They were the Honor Guard of High Mage Tiarsul.
The High Mage had not as yet arrived. Outwardly Taraboor was a picture of rigid strictness. Inwardly, he was as nervous as a trout in a net. Tiarsul had been known to do terrible things to those who displeased him. The general had chosen among his Enforcers carefully, so as not to send all of his best men away and leave the city weakened, but so that there would be enough good, stout men in the party to make Tiarsul feel that the best of the best was being sent with him. The mage did not even need one man for a true guard, and were this a mission of secrecy would not wish to have a single man with him; doubtless they would only slow him. However, in this case it was a very public visit to Tai-Ronnys, where apparently he was going to check on the progress of that fool Orrotho in finding Erik Rhondis.
Rhondis meant nothing to Taraboor. Making sure this Honor Guard for Tiarsul met with the mage's approval was of the utmost imortance. He walked forward to the front of the ranks and surveyed the rows of soldiers. The were all over six feet; Tiarsul preferred his soldiers tall. Their armor was, in keeping with Emperor Ph'rothack's House colors, lacquered black with red trim. Segmented plates, all deep black, rose up their torsos to join with giant black pauldrons with the red serpent-and-swords emblazoned upon them. A linen surcoat topped the segmenta, yet again featuring Ph'rothack's sigil. They wore black, bell-shaped helms, lined with crimson lacquer, that joined with a gorget, leaving their faces covered entirely with the exception of large eye-holes. Ph'rothack did not wish for the vision of his soldiers to be impeded, but he also saw no reason to uncover too much of the face. Their armor was crafted of kurtrusite, an ore mined exclusively in the Black Caverns of Qua'poli, which was a far more dense metal than steel, iron or other material that Taraboor had seen armor constructed from.
The soldiers before him were battle-hardened, even those who had never seen war. They were taken from their families as children and thrust into service, being trained by Taskmasters in the arts of battle, even to the point of battling each other in the Pits of Defeasance. Those strong enough to survive three terms in the Pits were officially raised to recruit status. Those not strong enough were buried in mass graves out on the Helvygur Fields. These men before him now had survived ten hard years of brutal regimens, followed by eight nights in the Pits, before finally being declared Enforcers of the Engrothian regime.