After the Flames
The Feast of Samhain
Location: Felonwood Hold, Harkania, Cymeria
Timeline: Late Night, 31 October 3550, Samhain
The bonfires had been relit and provided a flickering light over the area. Moonglobes augmented the fires, chasing the darkness into the shadows. A strong breeze caressed the land, dispersing the overwhelming stench of burned flesh. The quick actions of the celebrants and the Guard had saved the buildings and the hall itself from serious damage.
Mikhael's arms and face were slightly reddened from proximity to the heat of the warfire which burned hotter than regular flames. He had avoided serious injury, however, and a quick wash with a mild vinegar solution had taken the sting out of the burns. He approached a small group of men, and one woman gathered at the edge of the courtyard, ringed by moonglobes which cast a bright light over the area. The moons of Gaia rode high, further dispelling the horrors of the night. It was probably his imagination, but Mikhael felt as if the Judge's rings burned brighter than ever.
The woman was Anastasiya, Mikhael's older sister and Seneschal of the Guard. Her gown was disheveled, and Mikhael noted a bit of singing around the ends of her red-gold hair. Standing protectively next to her was his Ryndar, Hawke Windwalker. The next thing that Mika saw was that several of the men were firmly roped together, arms, legs, and torso wrapped in loops of rope. Guardsmen and members of the Morrighan watched them closely but were keeping a distance. All of the prisoners were clad in the dark robes of y Carthu apostates that had immolated themselves, and their bodies twitched convulsively. They appeared to be trying to raise their hands, perhaps to crush more of the warfire globes. Anastasiya and the Cymry members of the Guard stared at the bound men with absolute distaste, bordering on revulsion.
Anastasiya watched her brother approach, her eyes glancing over him, relieved to see that the High Lord had not been injured in the melee. She had not been able to get through the flames and fighting to reach his side when the attack first occurred. "Highlord, I am pleased to see you unharmed," she said quietly.
Hawke stood with Ravencall cradled reverse in his arm, still drawn but out of the way while standing around. "You look a little singed, Mikhael..." A group of riders loped slowly by, the leader looked at Hawke, and he pointed to the path, lifting and pointing his arm a few times to indicate the direction of their patrol. The soldier nodded and kicked the group into a gallop as they headed out of the clearing. Hawke turned and pointed at a nearby table that had been cleared. Sitting atop the table were a half dozen of the globes. "That's all that were left. What should we do with them?"
Mikhael approached the gathered globes, extending his arcane senses toward them. There was a taint, but it was from those that had handled them. The globes themselves were benign, as much as they could be considering they contained warfire. He glanced at Hawke, "Get some of the Guard to pack them for transport. They will be usable to burn out wyvern nests."
He took a deep breath and motioned Hawke closer to the captives, "There is magic here, Hawke. Remember High Halleck? This was done by the same adept. It is like a reverse of spirit-binding. It's as if their chalon, their very spirits, have been...erased. In its place is this compulsion." Mikhael stopped and shook his head, "This is like no magic I have ever encountered."
Hawke nodded and walked over to a knot of watchful Guardsmen. He spoke quietly, and his empty hand gestured toward the globes. Four of the guard immediately headed for the table, a few peeling off to hunt for some suitably cushioned boxes. Hawke made his way back to stand beside Stasya and Mikhael. "I can understand the value of the target, but...why? I mean...this seems a waste of resources and manpower for a vague gain."
Mika shrugged his wide shoulders, "Wide swath of targets, but more important to y Carthu, the setting." He looked around at the farm. It was bathed in the cold light of the moons, Hi'Arth and Marnwr, with the latter's three rings glowing in the night sky. Light from the bonfires and moonglobes helped alleviate the darkness. And yet, there was a coldness that lingered that had little to do with the night or time of year. "There is more at play here, Hawke, than a simple strike at a prime Cymry target. It could not have been aimed at me because no one could know for certain where I planned to celebrate Samhain. Perhaps Gero's people can pry some information from our captives?"
Hawke smiled. "I don't think that should take long..." The Ryndar turned and watched the group of men packing the globes. "...I am getting very tired of this. I miss the days when our enemies simply needed to be handled with good steel, not all this sneaking."
"The Purge has ever hidden its intent in rhetoric and propaganda, my friend," Mikhael said. "Kimber felt we had no right to censure their beliefs and words. I am not sure of that myself, especially after this. Where does one draw the line between basic rights and activity and beliefs that harm others?"
Hawke's free arm shot out to indicate the field and the bodies still scattered around. "I understand the right to worship, but this is definitely not harmless speech. If some members of the Guard had done this, it would be called Treason."
Mikhael was silent for several moments. "You are right, of course, Hawke." His eyes traveled over the field where bodies lay, some in light, some in shadow, many twisted grotesquely by the flames that took their lives. Not all of the dead were adults. His eyes locked with his sister's. The Seneschal was alert and watchful. It was as if she guessed the direction of his thoughts.
"Your orders, High Lord?" Anastasiya asked, knowing in her heart what her brother would have to do.
"This sort of action cannot be tolerated and will be dealt with swiftly and harshly, but we will not harm the innocent," Mikhael's voice was clear, his tone that of the High Lord. "Not all who follow the words and beliefs of The Purge would condone what happened here. If we slaughter them indiscriminately, we are no better than they."
Mikhael's icy blue eyes settled on the mindless acting prisoners, "Let Gero and his people question the one who has charge of his senses. These others will be imprisoned without a chance for parole. I will begin my own investigation. Powerful and brutal magic was used here. This archadept needs found and punished."
Hawke nodded and turned to the nearest Guard officer. "Burn the attackers' bodies. They like fire so much, it's the least we can do. Take some men and make a last sweep around the edge of this property for any stragglers and scouts."
The guards set off to follow Hawke's orders while Anastasiya dispatched another group to secure the road back to Stormholm Caer. First Marshal Brychan Emrys began the grim task of identifying dead Guardsmen. Mikhael pulled Lynx, one of the Morrighan aside, "Begin gathering everyone for the ride home, make sure we have conveyances for the injured. It will be dawn soon and I wish to return here in full daylight for another search. We will leave a Guard contingent to protect the hold here." Lynx nodded and began spreading the word so they could begin the journey home.