Of The Dividing of Meridian - Volume I
The waiting was the hardest part. They had been waiting for hours. Conversation had long since ceased, giving way to a palpable silence heavy with tension and worry. The only sound in the drafty hall was the flicker of the torches on the pillars, and the patter of the rain outside. Far'Nohl sat upon his throne at the far end of the hall, resting uneasily with his chin in his hand. His fingers beat out a steady rhythm on the arm of the great stone chair. He stared straight ahead, blinking seldom, focusing his gaze on nothing in particular. His thoughts wandered aimlessly, and ever he tried to force them to focus on other matters, but they would always wander back to the concern at hand.
Sweat beaded beneath his tangled mass of red hair as endless worry gnawed at his psyche. Something must have gone wrong, he thought. We should have heard by now. He was not alone in the hall, but the others with him were just as concerned, though they did not all show it. Four members of his Council sat with him, keeping the vigil until the rest of their number arrived. Each remained silent, but Far'Nohl wondered at how calm they appeared, despite the odds they currently faced. Something mysterious had occurred. The Great Empire was connected to all of its colonies through the mystical Nexus. Two months ago, this colony's connection was severed. No one knew how, but it happened. The whole province knew the moment it did.
The land itself shook, and the sky seemed to rend apart, its brilliant blue giving way to deep scarlet. The people had cried out in terror. Every mage collapsed to the ground, writhing as though in agony, screaming inhuman screams that could be heard across the land. As quickly as the cataclysm struck, it had passed. Within minutes the worst was over. Or so they thought. Soon, messengers were coming from the eastern border of the province. They brought with them tales of monsters moving across the land. The Empire had placed magical barriers around all its provinces to keep out their enemies. With the connection to the Nexus severed, the Council feared the protections were no longer in place.
Hordes of enemies, the like of which had not been seen in the Empire since time out of mind, were now roaming the countryside killing at will. As Prince Regent of the fifty-ninth Meridian of the Empire of the Nexus, Far'Nohl found himself the unwilling leader of a country at war. Armed and ready though the people were, they knew precious little about the enemy which was even now marching toward them from beyond the Empire. General Kraanan had been dispatched to scout their coming, and report what he could. It was his return they were waiting for. Kraanan's wife, Shal'ille, sat crossed-legged on the floor at the foot of a pillar, meditating quietly. Her golden hair fell in careless waves around her upturned face, her eyes closed and her breathing deep.
he wore robes of purest white, with a belt of interlinked silver stars. She folded her hands in her lap, holding a golden talisman in the shape of the sun. Despite her outwardly calm demeanor, her own apprehension was made apparent by the worn spot on the talisman where her thumb had rubbed away the finish from the metal. Her younger sister, Jala, was pacing back and forth along the length of the hall. Her dark, brown hair was tied back in a tight braid. Her robes were violet, deep and royal. In her arms she carried a golden harp, which she occasionally strummed as though about to begin a song. Each time she did, however, she seemed to think better of it and resumed her vigil. Dark-haired and stolid Faren stood nearby, casually watching the flames dance on the end of a torch.
He stood against a pillar with his arms crossed over his heavy, brown robes. As he watched the flames flicker in the darkness of the hall, he ran a hand thoughtfully through his thin beard. He took comfort in the fire, and allowed it to mesmerize him, temporarily forgetting his stress. Every now and again he would watch Jala, wishing he could reach out and comfort her. He did not, though, and as he watched the torch he wondered why. A wooden table sat to one side of the hall, and strewn across it were a large number of books and scrolls. Seated before the pile was Riija, Far'Nohl's royal chronicler. He seemed to take no notice of the others, but busied himself reading and re-reading ancient texts to keep his mind occupied.
He was a funny little man; shorter than the others and slightly wider, his hair had begun to receded leaving the very top of his head bare. What hair he had left was bright red, and hung down almost to his shoulders. He wore robes of a deep, deep, deep gold. So dark it was almost brown. On the table next to him sat a half-drunk bottle of wine. He took it up, took a sip, and then went back to his work. The reverie was broken by the echoing crash of the hall doors being thrown open. The sound was deafening in the silence, and made everyone's heart skip a beat. Riija dropped the book he had been reading, and Jala nearly broke a harp string. Far'Nohl snapped his head up, straightening as a rain-soaked, armor-clad figure strode the length of the hall, his cloak trailing behind him.
General Kraanan was a tall and imposing man. His hair was silver throughout, and cut short as befitted a soldier. His beard was silver, as well, and long enough to reach the base of his neck. His stark, blue eyes twinkled with a youthful vigor, however. His armor, though unadorned, was dark red. He had removed his helm, with its plume of black feathers, and carried it under his arm as he strode to the end of the hall and dropped to a knee before the prince. "My lord," he said. "Rise, General," said Far'Nohl, eagerly. He looked to Shal'ille, who had leapt to her feet, and nodded to her. She ran forward then, throwing her arms around her husband. He embraced her in turn, rising from his knees and pulling her close.
"My lord," Kraanan said again, releasing Shal'ille, "what news I bring is grave, indeed. All our worst fears have proven true. The Nexus has severed, and the Empire's defenses have fallen." "How can that be?" asked Jala. "It is not possible." "I assure you it is," Kraanan told her. "You felt it the same as I. We all did. Our connection to the Empire has been broken, and the shields which protected this land have vanished. We are exposed, my lord. The holes in the barrier have allowed all manner of unseemly creatures to enter our realm once more. Orcs, first and foremost. And our people have paid dearly for it. "The enemy has captured much of the East. Even now, their forces march southwest from Silver Lamp. At least, what used to be Silver Lamp.
The city has been completely destroyed." He held up a roll of parchment then, and addressed Riija. "May I?" Riija shrugged and stood aside. Kraanan moved to the table, the others following. He pushed several of Riija's papers aside, and spread out his own scroll. On it had been drawn a map of the land of the Meridian. It was encircled on three sides by mountain range, and the Great Ocean to the north. A second mountain range ran from south to north through the exact middle of the map. Two large forests were drawn in green ink, and eight black dots indicated the location of cities. Kraanan let his finger drop at a point on the northern side of the eastern forest, not far from a dot labeled as Jixa.
"This is where the enemy was last spotted," he explained. "My scouts report that both Berg and Silver Lamp have been utterly decimated. The orcs are now marching westward toward the settlement of Jixa." Berg and Silver Lamp had been crossed off the map in red ink.