"And he had come, death, the shatterer of worlds.
He tore down the world with glee.
And that which was left, was broken.
He smiled, for he knew they would rebuild again."
Book of the Fall, Chapter 1.
Beli had never seen such a building in all of his seventeen years. It was a castle!
It could only be, nothing else began to explain the visage that faced the hairless young man.
A large drawbridge, at least three horses wide and twice as long, crossed a steep-walled moat filled with little water and more than a little fire oil. There was no gap between the foreboding outer wall, which was black as the pit, and the moat. They joined seamlessly and offered no handhold for a besieging force. The top of the outer wall, which was at least twenty feet above the ground, was shaped with high merlons. An enemy ladder would not get purchase but a defending archer received stout cover and an ideal position from which to rain down his arrows on the fools attempting to force entrance.
Such madmen would have had to cross a hundred feet of open ground under a hail of arrows and no cover, even next to the wall. For the designer of the unique gate entrance had moved the platform above the gate, back from the gate face, and smoothed the ledge in-between to a curved finish. Thus defenders could use projectiles at those foolhardy enough to cower beneath the gate for protection.
Beyond the drawbridge Beli could see a cavernous maw with a cast iron portcullis built midway in, which withheld entry into a concave space with no visible exit.
The young man had no time to ponder this mystery as a stern, gravely voice shouted down from the wall above,
The man, if it was a man, was slim and clothed entirely in black, his face part-covered by a metallic veil that reflected the weak, morning sunlight into Beli's eyes. Beli raised a hand to shade his gaze and looked at the sentry on the western side of the gate, before replying,
"I am Belian, son of Davranar. I come to be tested."
These were the words he had been told to repeat by the letter of acceptance the Guild had sent. The phrase, a time and date were the only information on the letter. Only those who could read were accepted into the Guild so it was said, a strange rule to Beli, but such was the prestige of the Guild no one questioned it.
"Enter Belian, son of Davranar," came the reply from above, as somewhere spokes turned and the portcullis moved rapidly upwards, in rhythm with Beli's chest. The time of testing had come.
As the portcullis rose to reveal the dark, concave chamber beyond, Beli began to have doubts. Up until now this course, one his parents had urged him not to follow, had seemed intangible, a dream of grand, noble warriors on white horses bringing law to the lawless. But the dark, claustrophobic chamber beyond was no dream, and the numerous, fading stains on the inner walls spoke no words of nobility.
Beli's first step was an eternity, sweat dripped from his brow under the gaze of the sentry and his eyes flickered nervously between the path he had come and the chamber ahead.
"In or out boy?"
Startled, Beli jumped to the sounds of raucous laughter.
"Well at least you're alert boy, now are you coming in or do I get to practise with my bow?"
Tilting his head back Beli could see that two new figures had joined the sentry.