REN ducked just in time to avoid a line of arrows fired from tiny channels in the wall. The projectiles soared just above his messy ebony locks, clattering against the opposite wall and then to the floor of the tunnel.
“That was close.” The Prince of Toads stated the obvious. “If you want, I can throw a magical barrier up around you.”
Ren sniffed at the offer as he continued cautiously through the underground cavern. He wore a fitted, sleeveless tunic of dark green leather over a vest of silvril mail. The delicate Elven metal offered great protection while remaining light for ease of movement. Tight brown pants covered his legs and tucked into his cuffed boots, which were dyed the same color as his tunic and had been spelled to make no noise as he crept along on his adventure. Ren gripped the hilts of his short swords with hands protected by lightly armored gloves. Delicate silvril plates covered the backs of the hands and knuckles.
“The last time you cast that spell, I almost suffocated.” An enchanted suit of armor moved to block the pair’s advancement, and Ren swiftly dispatched it with Yfriir, his Elven-smithed weapon that had the added ability to set fire to its victims. The short sword was one of a pair crafted by the famed Elven whitesmith, Twelftheart. The other, Friizen, which could instantly freeze opponents, was safely sheathed on his belt. He searched the pile of metal as he passed, retrieving his weapon and stowing the few trinkets he found in his pack. The Prince, dressed in a purple leather tunic with silver embellishments that matched his crown and the cape fastened at his throat, hopped along behind the Hero. The Prince of Toads may have only been a couple of feet tall, but he made up for his lack of height with expansive personality.
“Point. But I have been practicing.” The Toad pointed to a chamber off the main hall. Ren poked his head inside. He saw a corpse, little more than a skeleton in rags except for a pair of simple, enchanted boots. “Poor bugger,” the Prince said as Ren removed the shoes and added them to their spoils. The Prince’s observation was more insightful than he realized, for the corpse was none other than Epherim Bugger, who had entered this dungeon to make some fast coin—unsuccessfully. They left the corpse of Mr. Bugger and continued down the main hall. Ren recognized and disarmed a firetrap. A spider the size of a large rat dropped from the ceiling, and the Prince crushed it with a repulsion spell before its fangs could harm Ren, who carefully removed the beast’s poison glands and placed them in a corked jar. “Are you going to keep everything you find down here?” The Prince rolled his eyes at Ren’s compulsive gathering.
“You never know when this stuff is going to come in handy,” Ren answered, still picking his way forward. “What we can’t use, we can always sell.”
“Ren,” the Prince said in a scolding, exasperated tone. “We’ve been doing these dungeon crawls for almost six months. Despite your liberal spending habits, we have quite an ample store of gold, without taking into account the rewards you received from the King and his lords for slaying that monster, Grimthorn. You’ve been showered with gifts. You’ve even been given a manor house in the capital city. Isn’t it time we moved on to bigger things?”
Ren sighed dramatically at the Prince’s speech, having heard it more than once before. “We’re not just doing this for the treasure,” Ren replied as he collected the contents of a wooden crate that consisted of various roots and a few pieces of silver. “Dungeoning offers wonderful opportunities to hone our skills in battle and otherwise.”
“Your skills reunited the Lost Unicorn with his people and freed the captive Unicorns that were being held by Grimthorn.”
“You know that was mostly luck,” Ren pointed out, closing his eyes and picturing the beauty of the Lost Unicorn, Celestrian, who, raised by a Dragon, possessed the ability to assume the form of a man. Ren reflected on his first major Quest and how he had fallen in love with the beautiful, silver-haired young man who had hired him.
The Prince noticed a large, ornate door flanked by two statues at the end of the hallway and was pleased that this particular outing was drawing to its conclusion.
“True,” the Toad conceded. “But luck should not be underestimated, and you’re infinitely more experienced now.” The Prince of Toads stared at Ren’s back as the Hero faced the doors before continuing. “Are you certain this isn’t just a grand attempt at distraction?”
“Leave it,” Ren answered curtly as he approached the door and the statues.
The sound of stone grinding against stone echoed through the hall as the statues drew petrified swords. The sculpted warriors swung their weapons at the point that just seconds ago had been occupied by Ren’s head. Missing the Hero completely, the enchanted guardians followed through with their respective attacks, despite the sudden lack of a target, and instead cleaved the heads from each other before crumbling to dust. A resounding click echoed in the chamber, joined by the Prince’s pleased chuckles as the door screeched open on ancient hinges. Ren kicked the rubble aside and entered the final chamber, unwilling to continue the conversation; the pain of losing his lover to the royal duties as Prince of the Unicorns was still too fresh, despite the time that had passed. The Prince of Toads allowed him the silence, following the Hero into the room.
An ivory chest stood at the far end of the chamber, emanating a faint, magical glow. Identical grins crept across Ren’s and the Prince’s mouths. Chests like this were rare and inevitably contained priceless treasures hidden in days past. Ren placed his hand on the smooth white wood, tracing the delicate carvings that adorned the edges. Neither spoke as Ren knelt before the mystic container. A small, silver bone dangled from a braided silver bracelet around Ren’s right wrist. He slid the bracelet made from the hair of his lover over his palm where he could grasp the Thief Bone, a magical token that could open any lock. Ren placed the bone against the lock on the chest, and a loud click assaulted their eardrums. He placed his hand on the lid and eased it open with reverence. Ren and the Prince peered inside.
“Son of a bitch,” the Prince whispered. Ren reached in and pulled a single bit of parchment from the depths of the chest. He delicately unfurled the ancient paper and looked upon it. “Well?” The Prince’s anticipation was unbearable. Ren scowled and balled up the ancient scroll, tossing it aside.
“Just a spare bit of parchment.” The disgust was evident in his voice as Ren slammed the chest shut, then sat on top, dejected.
“You’ve got to be shitting me.” The Toad Prince ran over to the discarded parchment. He uncrumpled it, twisting it this way and that, trying to decipher the mystery of it. “It must be some kind of hidden message.” The Prince closed one eye and then the other, attempting to figure out the parchment’s secret.
“It’s just an old piece of blank vellum,” Ren lamented. “No value at all.” The Toad Prince paced around Ren as he sat on the chest. Ren shifted to look at the rear wall of the chamber.
“Why the hell would anyone guard this worthless piece of trash with two stone warriors?” the Prince raged. Ren shook his head before hanging it in despair, his gaze falling on his boot. A tiny point of eldritch green light shone there. No. Not on his boot—
His eye followed the point of light to a small hole in the stone wall. He traced a crack that originated at the hole and traveled the length of the wall. He stood slowly, the Prince ranting in the background, and moved toward it. Ren removed the black blade, Shadowfang, Grimthorn’s own cursed sword from the scabbard on his back. He carried it with him always lest it fall into the wrong hands. The blade had once pierced Ren’s chest, killing him before his mystical lover had revived him. Now he raised it above his head, ready to loose its destructive force upon this wall.
The Prince noticed Ren’s actions and ceased his prattling. “What do you think you’re doing, you mad bastard? Put that thing away!” Ren ignored the Prince’s order and brought Shadowfang down on the crack in the stone. The wall crumbled, spilling that sickly green light into their chamber while Ren returned the evil sword to its resting place. “Dip me in shit and call me Stinky,” the Prince whispered.
Ren entered the cleft in the stone. Inside he spotted a slightly less impressive, much-aged chest. He placed the Thief Bone against the keyhole, but no sound broke the silence. Ren’s eyes grew wide with surprise. He repeated the motion with no sound of the locking mechanism releasing. The Hero shook the Bone, wondering why the enchantment wouldn’t work on this chest. There didn’t seem to be anything special about it. Maybe the spell on the Bone had finally worn off! The Hero’s mind raced, and panic rose in Ren’s throat at the failure of the magical trinket. Despite his apprehension, he pushed on the lid. It opened easily. Whoever fashioned this dungeon must have had complete faith in their ruse because they hadn’t even locked the final chest. The Prince followed, peering over Ren’s shoulder. Inside this chest were numerous enchanted objects. Ren lifted out lockets, rings, potions, and a few mystical articles of armor and clothing. He attempted to stow these in his pack but paused.
“What’s wrong?” the Prince asked. “Grab this stuff, and let’s go.”
“I can’t,” Ren answered.
“I’m out of room in my pack!”
“So what?” The Prince resisted an urge to slap the young Hero.
“I knew I should have bought that pack from the traveling merchant we met on the road,” Ren continued, oblivious of his imminent slapping. “You never know when you’ll need a little extra room.”
“Just dump out some of the crap you’ve collected!”
“Okay. Okay,” Ren conceded as he went through his pack and removed the least valuable of the things he had found. “There,” he said, gathering the valuables from the decrepit chest, and then lined up his discarded items neatly on a shelf of rock.
“Why are you doing that?” the Prince asked.
Ren shrugged. “What if I have to return to this dungeon for some reason? If I put these here I can gather them up then.”
“That’s ridiculous.” The Prince grimaced. “Why the hell would you need to come back down here?”
“Den of bandits? Necromancers? You never know,” Ren said. The Prince just crossed his arms and scowled at his Hero friend. “Fine. You win. I’m done.”
“Good.” The Prince had regained his control. “Let’s get the hell out of here. We have to get back to the city. Lord Dalliance is holding a celebration in your honor this evening.”
Ren rolled his eyes. “How many is this now?” He turned to his toady companion.
“The twelfth by my count,” the Prince answered. “Who cares? His daughters and servants are smoking hot!”
“Good point,” Ren agreed with forced flippancy. Celestrian was never far from his thoughts, and though he wouldn’t admit it to the Prince of Toads, his encounters with the attractive servants were nothing more than distractions, much like the pair’s frequent dungeon crawls. The two adventurers made their way out of the chambers and on to another evening of debauchery at the manor of Lord Dalliance.
THE thin, pale-skinned young man, his long silver hair flowing behind him like fluid waves of Elven metal, walked as though drifting across the stone floor of Ren’s bedchamber. He was naked to the waist, with delicate jewelry draped about his throat. Tiny beads dangled from silver rings in his nipples and navel. Just above his silver looking-glass eyes, a pearlescent horn protruded from the center of his forehead, adorned with a delicately sculpted ring of silver and a tiny cascade of blue stones. Ren sat on the edge of his bed drinking in every inch of his True Love. He watched as Trian’s delicate feet picked their way across the stone floor. Ren marveled at the pearly toenails that matched the horn, just as he had on the night they’d met over a year ago. Ren’s gaze traveled up the finely sculpted legs to the thin bit of sheer cloth tied about Trian’s waist. It offered no privacy, and Ren could see every detail of Trian’s ample manhood. Ren suddenly became aware of his own excitement. A playful smirk danced across Trian’s delicately pale pink lips as he too noticed Ren’s obvious reaction.
“Lie back,” Trian whispered as he reached the spot where his lover sat. Ren obeyed while Trian knelt before him, gripping him with a slender, artistic hand. The Unicorn boy dipped his head to please his Hero.
“Oh gods, I’ve missed you,” Ren spoke to the ceiling, his eyes closed. Trian removed his mouth with a wet pop.
“Missed you too, love,” he said softly, his breath raising goose flesh on Ren’s skin before he continued with his delicious task. Ren reached down and caressed Trian’s forehead. He propped himself up on his elbows for a better view. Trian turned his silver eyes up to meet Ren’s hazel-tinted irises. Ren bit his lip as Trian picked up speed. Ren moaned with satisfaction. Trian chuckled. The Hero’s breath became erratic. Trian smiled with pride. Ren threw his head back and arched his spine. Trian finished his task, then rose and reached his hand out to Ren, who happily took it.
“I can’t believe you’re here,” Ren breathlessly told his silver-haired lover.
Trian smiled brightly. “I’m not.”
DAWN broke on Aurumtine, capital city of Vrelenden and home to the King, Varic. Daybreak was a golden affair in Aurumtine, owing to the fact that the ancient King Aurum, for whom the city was named, had a penchant for all things golden. In fact, it was said that he commanded his smiths and masons to mix gold dust in with much, if not all, of the materials they used to build the city. In the proper light, and dawn’s light was the most proper, the city shone golden, literally making it the kingdom’s shining jewel. It was a beautiful image for stories or poems, but if one was waking up with a hangover from the previous night’s revelries, it was damn painful. Ren was reminded of that fact now, emerging from his dream of Trian. He sat up in bed, the golden light stabbing his eyes and making his head throb, adding to his confusion as he searched for his lover, who he now realized had never been there. Disappointed that Trian was still thousands of leagues away on the Hidden Isle, Ren rose with a groan and pulled the heavy drapes on his windows closed. Bathed in the cool, blessed darkness, his headache subsided, and he could think more clearly. He made his way to his nightstand and gulped down the water his manor-keep, Dalina, had placed there. Her forethought always amazed him, anticipating his need for water before he even sought the elixir that Lord Dalliance’s personal Potionsmith had created. The elixir aided in one’s recovery the day after his lord’s affairs. It tasted of piss and licorice, but it did the trick, and Ren dropped back into his bed for a few more hours of sleep.
The next time he awoke from a dreamless slumber was to the toady sound of the Prince whistling in the sitting room. Ren’s mind boggled at his companion’s resilience. No matter how much he imbibed or how many comely wenches he bedded, the Prince always awoke in good spirits before Ren had time to feel human again. Ren reached for his water chalice and found it thankfully full once more. He gulped down the cool, clear liquid.
The sounds of Ren stirring alerted the Prince. “You awake?” he called from the other room.
“Yes,” Ren croaked. “Give me a moment.”
“No worries, no hurries, mate,” the Toad replied in tones much too cheerful for the hour of the morning. Ren forced himself to peel off the clothes from the previous evening and move to the basin to wash up.
“Put something decent on,” the Prince’s voice drifted from the sitting room. “We have to have an audience with the King today.”
Ren pinched the bridge of his nose. The King, he thought. Just what I need. Ren respected the King and even liked him, as much as one was allowed to like someone in such a position of power. He knew an audience with the King meant a request, some inconsequential quest or another. Ren was the heroic flavor of the week, and so every time the King had a subject with a cat in a tree, His Majesty summoned Ren. He could scarcely complain; the King always paid handsomely for whatever inane task he came up with. Ren opened his wardrobe, confident it contained only his clothes and not the doorway to a mystical land. He chose a pair of chocolate-colored pants and a tunic of pumpkin orange embroidered with emerald vines. Ren pulled on his emerald satin dress boots and heard a familiar whispering. He stood, vaguely aware, and moved toward Shadowfang. The cursed blade whispered in his mind, daring him to wield it as Grimthorn had, begging for vengeance, horror, and the chance to taste blood. Ren removed the slightly curved black blade from its scabbard, admiring the handle sculpted to look like a spine and the organic black vines with their jeweled thorns for accents that adorned the guard. His eyes lingered on the dark jewel mounted where the blade and hilt met, Vaterel, which stared back like an eye, the whispers growing louder in Ren’s mind.
“Oy!” The Prince’s voice broke the mild spell. “Put that bloody, evil thing back in its sheath. Honestly.”
Ren shook his head to clear it and did as the Prince bade.
“Sorry,” Ren offered.
“Why do you keep that thing around?”
“I don’t want it to fall into the wrong hands,” Ren replied, rubbing his chest where he bore the scar of Shadowfang. “Who knows what foul enchantments are on this thing?”
“Point,” the Prince allowed. “We should get going. The King is awaiting our audience.”
Ren nodded and slid Shadowfang onto his back as he strapped his own enchanted short swords to his waist. “Let’s see what orphan Varic wants us to save today,” Ren said, leaving his chambers with the Prince following.
THE manor house King Varic had bestowed upon Ren was not far from the palace, and so their trip to the castle was short and uneventful. The young Hero was afforded a freedom within the walls of the palace that few shared. The guards rarely gave him a second glance, and his weapons were allowed to remain in his possession. He and the Prince picked their way down the lavish hallways. After the months spent in Aurumtine, the friends could have found their way to the throne room during the darkest hour of the night, having had almost daily audiences with the King. As they approached the ornately carved doors and the guards posted outside, Ren raised a hand in greeting.
“Well met, Ren,” the larger of the two guards said. “What brings the Mighty Hero of Vrelenden to the King’s throne today?”
“No idea, Crikus,” Ren answered with a chuckle. “I thought you might be able to tell me. Did Lady Bulwargle lose an earring?”
Crikus barked a laugh, earning him a punch in the arm from the other guard. “Easy, Lumblin,” Crikus complained and then leaned a little closer to Ren and the Prince. “Somethin’s up, I reckon,” he whispered. “People’ve been arriving all morning from all over Vrelenden.”
“What’s up?” the Prince asked. “War?”
Crikus shrugged. “Not sure, Your Majesty. There’s been a lot of arguin’ and raised voices. It doesn’t feel like war talk, but somethin’s brewin’.” Crikus straightened up.
“Hmph,” the Prince of Toads noised, rubbing his chin. “This ought to prove interesting.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Ren added. “If I have to climb one more tree for some damn noble’s cat—”
“There was that Spiney Nugrat that one time,” the Prince interrupted.
“Don’t remind me. My hands were swollen for a week after that. Why would anyone want one of those things for a pet?”
“Nobles aren’t always the sharpest swords in the armory,” Crikus offered and then, realizing the Prince was there, hastily added, “No offense, Your Highness.”
“None taken, Crikus. I heartily agree.” The Prince offered Crikus his most beaming toad smile and patted Ren on the thigh because Ren’s shoulder was out of reach and said, “Let’s get in there. Those cats aren’t going to save themselves.” Ren nodded and pushed open the door to the throne room.
“Good luck, fellas,” Crikus whispered after them.
KING Varic Gastorin Melendrin Allendale Farhaven hailed from a long line of Farhavens who had held the throne of Vrelenden for at least two ages. The previous Kings were renowned for their valor, their prowess in battle, and their unwavering dedication to violence in all its myriad forms. What they were not renowned for was a sharp wit or a particularly open mind. Their dedication to hygiene was also highly suspect, preferring the hunt to a bath at any given time. The previous Kings were also all firstborn sons who followed directly in their fathers’ footsteps. They were capable rulers whom none would call cruel. That’s not completely accurate. There was Calithus Farhaven. He had been the one exception to the heroic Farhaven legacy, known during his short reign as Calithus the Cruel. There’s always at least one bad apple on any family tree, though it could have been worse—others only bore rotten fruit.
Varic prided himself on thinking outside the tree. He valued those traits he shared with his predecessors, but not at the expense of honing his mind as well as his body. He was fair and forgiving when the situation warranted and resorted to violence only when absolutely necessary—though it had been said in hushed tones throughout the kingdom that the King’s tongue was sharper than any sword made by the greatest Elven smiths. He was also a second-born son, who ascended the throne because his elder brother Brankwyn was a rotten fruit that hadn’t fallen far enough from the tree and had mistakenly drunk a chalice filled with poisoned wine he had poured for Varic, wrongfully convinced his little brother was plotting his demise. Varic had the responsibility of the throne thrust upon him but rose to the challenge and ushered in an age of prosperity in Vrelenden. He personally led the armies against the traitor Grimthorn and delivered what had appeared at the time to be the killing blow. He recognized the sovereignty of the various races and creatures of his kingdom, much to the chagrin of the Church of the Holy Smiter. Another of his disparate traits was his impeccable grooming. Always the gentleman, his elegantly coiffed golden hair, precisely trimmed beard, finely tailored clothing, and piercing green eyes made him the object of desire for many of his subjects, whose hearts he could melt with a smile.
That smile lit Varic’s face as Ren and the Prince entered the throne room, quieting the muttering men of state gathered there. Ren bowed, and the Prince tipped his crown as the King stood, spreading his arms in welcome.
“Gentlemen,” the King called from the stone platform where his ornately carved but well-worn throne sat, “I give to you the Hero of Vrelenden, Slayer of Grimthorn, and Wielder of the Fire and the Ice.” Applause erupted from the lords and statesmen in their courtly finery. “Well met, my friends. Come and join us.”
“You are too kind, Your Majesty.” Ren’s face blushed the deep crimson reserved for those occasions when one’s elders put one on display in front of their friends as the Hero moved toward the throne.
“Nonsense. The whole of the kingdom is in your debt for removing that foul scourge from our midst.” Varic descended the steps that led to the throne to meet the young man and his toady companion. He shook their hands in turn as Ren looked at the faces gathered. They shifted and shuffled as the King and the Prince exchanged greetings. Lord Manterbury leaned over to speak to Lord Culderbrithe, and Ren’s eyes grew wide. There, at the back of the throng, stood one of the cursed undead. The Heroic Instinct took over and Ren’s arm pushed the King behind him as his other drew Yfriir.
“Zombie!” Ren bellowed as he charged through the crowd, intent on slaying the vile creature.
“Ren,” the King called from behind him. “No!”
Ren’s mind refused to understand the King’s command and ordered his legs to keep moving. Ren didn’t see Varic jump up from where he had pushed him or realize that the King dashed after him.
Varic was at his back now, and the King threw his powerful arms around Ren’s torso, pulling him back as his arm arced through the air, Yfriir just missing the horrorstruck Zombie. The creature backed away as Varic restrained the Hero and spoke close to his ear. “Calm, friend. Calm.”
Ren did calm down, and when he had sheathed Yfriir despite his confusion, Varic released him.
“I don’t understand,” Ren said, breathing heavily.
“This good creature is the reason I called you here today,” the King explained, indicating the cowering Zombie. “He has come to request our help, and by helping him, we shall help ourselves as well.”
Ren shook his head to clear it and noticed that the animated corpse wore some semblance of courtly attire.
“What are you on about?” the Prince asked, perplexed. “Zombies can’t talk, let alone ask for help.”
“So we had always thought, Your Majesty,” Varic told the Prince. “Though we are finding out all is not as we thought.”
Something scratched at the back of the Prince’s mind, a memory of something he had read somewhere that he had completely dismissed at the time. Now the memory realized it had a bearing on the conversation and tried desperately to be recalled. “The Zombie Nation is real?” the Prince blurted as the memory forced its way over the precipice of remembering.
“It is indeed, my toady friend,” the King confirmed. Ren looked from the King to the Prince, completely lost. “They have been seeking lands and sovereignty under the Treaty of Terith’Van Mortuar.”
“Damn,” the Prince said with admiration. “That’s an interesting approach and makes for a solid argument.”
“It does?” Ren asked, revealing his ignorance of the gist of the conversation.
“Indeed.” The King explained, “The Treaty of Terith’Van Mortuar is the document my ancestor, Garndal, signed granting the Vampires the land and governance for their Emperium. As undead beings themselves, the Zombies seek similar protection under this agreement.”
“But Vampires are sentient beings that were once human,” Ren interjected.
“As are we, young man.” The gray-skinned horror finally spoke, his voice raspy and thin like the wind carrying leaves through a graveyard.
“It can talk!” Ren’s incredulity was evident.
“Yes, he can,” the King corrected. “As a matter of fact, I was seriously considering granting them their request before our desiccated friend brought word of treachery.”
“What kind of treachery?” the Prince asked. Varic motioned to the Zombie, offering him the chance to tell his story to the new arrivals.
The Zombie cleared his throat, a sound like the first handful of earth tossed onto a casket. “My name is Moritorius.”
“Hold on,” the Toad Prince interrupted. “Moritorius? Seriously? Did your parents know you’d eventually turn into a Zombie?”
“No, Your Majesty,” Moritorius answered. “Moritorius is the name I chose for myself when I was reborn to this life. In living I was known as Brenthal Dignorn, a scholar and wordsmith. It was my constant use of the tools of my mind that I believe bestowed retention of my ability to think and reason. Zombies are made in many ways, and there are various levels of intelligence in our ranks. I assure you that many of our kind are intelligent and nonviolent.”
“So you don’t all crave the flesh of the living?” Ren asked bluntly.
“Unfortunately, that is one thing that unites us all,” Moritorius answered honestly. “Though some, like myself, know enough not to prey on humans. And it is our aspiration that if we have lands to which we can call the others of our kind, we can curb the violence against the living by offering bestial alternatives to human flesh.”
“Sounds like a plan,” the Prince conceded.
“Indeed,” Moritorius continued. “And we have already begun building a governing structure and calling the lesser castes to our lands. We hired a sorcerer to create an object that would draw our kind. Unfortunately, I fear, therein lies our folly.”
“How so?” Ren asked.
“I believe he has used magic to influence our Emperor, the esteemed Cardamom Rutabaga.”
“Hold on.” The Prince stopped Moritorius once more. “Cardamom Rutabaga?”
“Not all Zombies choose to rename themselves in unlife,” Moritorius answered smugly. “Until recently he was willing to settle this diplomatically. He had faith that King Varic would hear our plight and act accordingly. However….” The Zombie paused and drew in a rattling breath.
“However?” Ren urged him on.
“However, since the sorcerer has joined our ranks, the Emperor has taken a more militant approach to the situation. He has sent out parties of feral Zombies to turn people to our cause.”
“You mean he’s making more Zombies,” the Prince of Toads inferred.
“He’s raising an army,” Varic added ominously. Moritorius inclined his head, indicating they were both correct. The King scowled. “His efforts have begun to encroach on our lands as well. I have had news from the borders that entire villages have been ransacked