Now you’re not going to believe me, but I had plans to publish a high-effort article today. Yessir. Yessir. However, I remembered we’re currently in that weird Dec 25th - Jan 1st time where, at least in the places that celebrate this time of year, there still aren’t that many people around.
So anywho, here’s the prologue chapter of my fantasy book ‘Black Reign: Tales From The Grand Company’ originally written over the course of six months during the pandemmy times (2021) and self-published on Kindle.
I copied it over here verbatim, so you’re likely to see a few spelling errors as regrettably, I thought it would be best if I was my own editor.
Enjoy! And maybe if I keep this up for 30 years, I’ll have the whole book open sourced, because lord knows I'm not writing another one.
BLACK REIGN: TALES FROM THE GRAND COMPANY
PROLOGUE - THE OLD WOMAN
– THIERNA –
This would be the last time she would do this, Thierna told herself. Again. Enough was enough. She was old. It wasn’t so much the hike, but at this point in her life the pay was not worth the effort. She was a staunch believer in moving with the times, and this type of teleportation was a particularly ancient way to travel. Dilvam Doors, named after the buffoon who centuries ago got them working again. Why couldn’t Sorcerers use a horse caravan to travel like everyone else? Sure, it might take a couple of extra days, but this entire process required a bunch of extra rigmarole.
Letters had to be written up a week in advance, she had to gather increasingly rarer materials and lug herself up to this remote hill an hour out from the village to lord over a circle of mossy, bored-looking runestones. No doubt her sister in the Atale capital was doing the same.
Her sister would be getting ready to send the Sorcerer all the way over here, for what meaningless purpose Thierna could only imagine. Honestly, wouldn’t it be more efficient to send the person instead of the letter?
Thierna rested her tired old bones on a sitting rock she had fashioned a few decades ago. Back then, she decided the tradition to stand was silly. It wasn’t as if she had a supervisor.
Even at her pace, Thierna had arrived a few minutes early. These were the moments she liked to savour. The view was utterly delightful. The hills and valleys curved and arched, placing the tiny fishing village of Salport perfectly nuzzled between them. Rising from the village was a mist of husky smoke, hinting the air with the smell of smoked salmon and haddock. The sky was at the beginnings of a sunset, burning a hot pink. The smoke seemed to blend with the tapestry-like curves of the white clouds, creating a scene akin to a moving painting.
Back along the path she had taken to get here, etched out from before her time, the stone paving was unmaintained and crumbling away, revealing the earth below. On both sides of the path the flood of grass shone a bright bluish-green and different sized rocks and boulders littered the ground. They acted as markers for her ascent. Their original use was knowledge that was no longer relevant.
How much time till they arrived? Thirty seconds?
Thierna decided she had better get ready. Her sister had sent through a confirmation signal. Too early, as usual. As she was here, Thierna decided she might as well begrudgingly acknowledge it.
How hard was it to do things precisely at the right moment? The view would have to wait until after the Sorcerer had arrived.
Thierna stretched down from her seated position to reach for her wooden staff that had fallen from its perch. A loud cracking sound ripped out from her back and she felt herself seize up. Unable to even squawk, she settled into a long, low groan instead.
Eventually, the pain subsided. Tempting the gods, she went again for the staff, carefully this time. As the second confirmation signal rang out, Thierna went through the abjectly worse pain of humiliation. A failure of this magnitude had only ever happened twice in her entire life. Thierna knew she would never hear the end of this from her sisters.
She had augmented her staff with a few bits and bob and various long poles made of differing materials and junk she had gathered over the years. It granted her the privilege of tapping the runestones without having to get up from her seat. She had to lean a teeny bit further, as she had apparently shrunk some since she was last here. It would seem her staff would soon require another extension, except this was the last time she was doing this, so maybe it didn’t.
After tapping the ones with the correct pattern, the circle of runestones rose and formed itself into a free-standing archway of sorts in the way it had always done. It certainly knew how to take its time. The display had lost its impressiveness the third time round, back when she was a teenager. Nowadays it was a case of ‘going through the motions’. Thierna wasn’t even sure how Dilvam Doors worked anymore. Tap the runestone that looked like a cross, tap the other one that looked like two lizards doing the tango. Whatever her body was doing to help accommodate this had become a forgotten second nature.
Opening Dilvam Doors was a dying art, at least out here. Her sister on the other side was probably using these skills a lot more. Maybe.
When did I last write to her?
Either way, Thierna had learnt this skill from her mother and although she had tried to pass this on to her granddaughter, the lass had been completely uninterested.
Thierna’s granddaughter had wanted to be a knight, a protector. She had looked so cute swinging her toy sword around and wearing play-armour. What was Thierna supposed to say to that? Don’t follow your dreams? Stay here and tap rocks intermittently for the rest of your life? Yes, actually. And now her granddaughter was long gone. Didn’t even write…
Hm, that hadn’t shown up in a while…
Thierna had long since reconciled with what had happened, it only hurt for a little and at least it kept the memories in her mind. Perhaps that’s why Thierna knew this would not be her last time doing this.
A flash of blue matched with a small thunderous boom, ripped her thoughts back towards the Dilvam Door. Small crackles of light bubbled and sparked out from the gaps between the hovering runestones. The runes glowed a brilliant fuchsia, sizzled and gave off a slight burnt smell, further etching themselves into the stones.
There were two blurry figures on the other side. One must have been her sister, the shorter one. One must be the Sorcerer, the short, but not that short one. Even though it was blurry, she could already feel her sister was staring daggers at her. Probably because of her seated position and her jury-rigged ‘extendo-staff’. Her sister was clearly keeping to the tradition of standing up the entire time.
Honestly, Thierna didn’t care. What was her sister going to do? Report her? Not invite her to gatherings?
Pfft, this is a part-time job.
The short, but not that short figure, the Sorcerer, walked through.
The Sorcerer’s outfit was a mixture of crimson and black, though the black took vast precedence over the crimson. The crimson colour was relegated to lining the rims of her stereotypical pointed hat and the rest of her long jacket. The satchel had failed to jump in on this game of ‘colour match’ and was a dull brown. Dangling from her neck was a dull silver necklace, but Thierna didn’t recognise the insignia. It looked overly designed. The Sorcerer had a darker skin tone and underneath her hat, had short black hair that went down to her neck. She looked young.
Who didn’t look young to you?
Perhaps it was Thierna’s more recent thoughts, or maybe it was the hair, or the stance? Thierna could not help feeling… Sad? Nostalgic? There was an odd and unwanted familiarity that bloomed when staring at this Sorcerer’s face. Thierna quickly decided to look elsewhere.
Her eyes landed upon was the Sorcerer’s weaponry. Attached to her hip was a short sword, and she had equipped a unique looking fingerless glove on only her left hand. The glove looked like it could be a relic of some kind. That was not surprising. Most Sorcerers had something, even Thierna had her staff and a few baubles and trinkets at home.
The Sorcerer looked about, her eyes off in the distance, scanning for something else. She had not yet made eye-contact with Thierna. It did not faze Thierna too much. Some Sorcerers were like that. Too busy in their own worlds to offer a simple thanks. Instantaneous transportation, an expectation rather than an exception, despite its rarity.
To Thierna’s surprise, a look of nausea crept onto the Sorcerer’s face. Thierna tapped the runestone that, to her, looked like a sleeping snail. The Dilvam Door sparked out of existence, wiping away the blurred image, and the runestones made their descent back to their original positions.
At the same time, the Sorcerer unexpectedly rushed to and buckled over behind the nearest boulder and started making slight heaving noises. Thankfully, it sounded as if nothing came of it. That boulder was Thierna’s twenty-fifth favourite, and she didn’t want to have to re-rate the entire list.
What an interesting development…
From Thierna’s experience, Dilvam Doors were not too kind to those that didn’t have a certain type of blood. Newer Sorcerers might feel odd the first time, but this reaction was more exclusive to those that were less magically able. Certainly a rarity among licensed Sorcerers, but not something that was impossible. Still, this Sorcerer was presumably a novice. Thierna could not help but try to pry further.
“You are a Sorcerer, aren't you? I was told to be expecting one.” Thierna added a nanny-like addition to her tone. The Sorcerer recovered hastily and swung round to face her.
“I am Averus, I am an acting-,” Averus paused for a moment, “I am a Sorcerer from the Atale Sorcerers Guild,” she then stuck her hand out toward Thierna from an uncomfortable distance, probably expecting her to get up.
A Breitlandian accent? This robin’s a long way from home. Not that I can comment, I still haven’t moved from here.
Uncertain of the results of Averus’s boulder escapade and if there was anymore up-chucking to come, Thierna opted to shake with her staff, instead of her hands.
“I’m Thierna... but I have to say, you certainly don’t smell like a Sorcerer and where’s your license? Hm?” Averus slightly reeled back from this and subtly tried to check her scent and then blinked, as if remembering the second part of the question.
“Ah, well... I don’t yet have one, but they wouldn’t have let me through if I wasn’t somewhat official. See? I’m wearing a pointy hat.”
Thierna nodded in pretend agreement. The hat argument was solid, but it was clear this one was fresh off the boat, quite gullible and unlicensed to boot.
The guild must not want to waste their time with this…
“So, what are you then? Since you’re certainly not magical and you’re not a Sorcerer, but you’re absolutely dressed for the occasion. Are you a magician? Have you come to host a party?” Thierna pressed on.
She knew she should not be doing this. The Atale Sorcerers Guild would not allow just anyone passage through the Dilvam Doors. However, Thierna consistently got more information by ruffling just the right number of feathers.
“Ah-” Averus attempted to interrupt, but Thierna had one more bullet left.
“Is… is that a pack of playing cards?” Thierna grinned uncontrollably in astonishment as Averus looked towards her inner jacket pocket. It had been a simple jab, but Averus actually had playing cards. It was too much. Thierna couldn’t help herself and cackled as softly as she could manage.
“Okay Thierna.” Averus's face had turned into a look of determination mixed with a hint of embarrassment “I may not be ‘official’ now, but I am a Sorcerer. No paper or documents can change that fact and come the end of the century I promise you I’ll be remembered as one of the greats!” She declared shamelessly. Thierna subtly winced, coming from someone who couldn’t handle walking through a Door the statement felt almost pitiable. Yet, there it was again, the bitter nostalgia.
The naivety, the childishness, the bullheadedness, the familiarity. Stood before Thierna was the apparent reincarnation of her petulant granddaughter. It was any wonder if this one also ran away from home.
Thierna couldn’t help it, she felt her heart soften a tiny bit. There were many times when her granddaughter had said similar statements towards dismissive elders, including Thierna, trying to prove her eligibility as a knight to anyone and everyone who doubted her.
“Well, you better hurry if you wish to prove me wrong. I could bore to death at any moment. What brings you to Salport, oh Great Sorcerer?” Thierna inquired. She was not expecting a full answer, but Averus proved quite forthcoming with the information. Not the best trait to have.
“I’m heading to Valera to look for that missing Mathis kid.” Averus nonchalantly replied. Again. Not the best trait to have.
Of course… Valera.
The people of Valera Isle had cut themselves off almost a decade ago. Thierna heard about the bottle that had been found a few months ago, but to think it would trigger such a response. Everyone here had long since given up thinking about Valera, especially now with what emanated from it. An un-poked beehive doesn’t exactly buzz, does it?
“You are aware of the situation, yes?” Thierna felt she had to check; a handful of people had gone missing over the years when venturing that way. So much so that fishing had entirely stopped in those waters. Well, that and other reasons.
“Mostly. Why? Are you worried about me granny?” Averus mocked in a child-like tone.
“As worried as I am about my neighbour five-doors down.” Thierna immediately tutted back. In a duel of snarky retorts, she would not be defeated. “I’d like to know if I’ll be forced to climb back up here, heaven forbid you actually return.”
“No need to worry there then.” Averus batted back. “I’ll be taking a caravan back. It’s more efficient. I only did this because it was in my contract. I believe it was under Section twenty-one, clause three. Or as I call it, the ‘For Dramatic Effect’ clause. Can you believe I was ready three weeks ago, but wasn’t allowed to leave on my own?”
Thierna had not expected that response. It was a good one. She watched as Averus turned to walk down the path to the village and then doubled back.
“I was told I’d be able to rent a boat here, do you know where?” Averus asked.
“You can rent a boat at one of the southern ports, Ernie’s might be a good place,” replied Thierna.
Realising this might be the last time she would be able to speak with this delusional weirdo, Thierna couldn’t help feeling a bit... worried? The girl was likely a Grand Company mercenary being used as a canary. If she didn’t return, things could then be escalated. Or, in other words, the girl was here to see if the job was worth wasting a Sorcerer’s time. The fact it had been months was evidence enough no one wanted to go to Valera, not even mercenaries. The girl had come alone. No guild mates? No friends? Did nobody care about her?
Great, now I’m compassionate.
“Actually…” Thierna hopped down and hobbled towards Averus, handing her a small keepsake. It was a small chain necklace with a miniature runestone similar to the ones that had made up the Dilvam Door. “Here, take this.”
“Oh! Um... what is it? Does it do anything?” Averus was staring at it hard, trying to figure out the trick before she was told.
“It’s only a memento. However, I expect you to return it to me once you’re back.” Thierna added sternly.
“Right, right...” Unconvinced, Averus began to leave again and then doubled back one more time, pointing towards the keepsake. “Are you sure this does nothing?”
“It’s a warding charm, it’ll keep you safe.” Thierna called back. This was not true, but you must throw a few bones out now and then.
“Aha, I knew it! Thanks!” Averus excitedly waved goodbye and marched her way down the hill before awkwardly tripping over one of the loose rocks.
Hm. It’d be a shame to lose another one.