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shores of the Lucien Sea. The wind travelled east over the Tantro continent. It traversed province after province and town after town. It swept through lopsided mountain villages, each thatched roof peaked with snow. It coursed across massive plains, providing relief to Parvanian field workers wiping sweat from their rust-red brows. It raced across the miles of the fetid Baltak Swamp, bringing the fae with their magic dust motes and foreign spells to help the coterie of witchen who traversed the murky fields on stilts and moss-covered, moving caravans. Next it gusted along the great Tantro Trail for hundreds of miles. It gathered the scents of cardamom, mule dung, moth-eaten silk, lovers sweat, floral aromatics, clay from the Amniac River, roasted dark meats, and bitter caffica beans from the north western tropics of the Eccerow Mountains. It then moved south for a hundred miles more, following a jagged line of trees leading into Roanoke forest. If the wind could hasten a thought, it would marvel at the sheer size of the forest. The gigantic, wooded world filled to bursting with hearty green and yellow mutlu trees. The mutlu trunks and leaves boasted a myriad of splotchy hues, and each changed colors subtly over the days according to their own personal season. Roanoke was the biggest forest in Eurastad, appearing to any passing draccus or air ship as a lush and detailed palette of oil paints. The leaves drooped and wilted like limp and cobwebbed hair until a wind such as this blew through them, their bodies ballooning like a hundred-million tiny sails on a sea of ochre and gold. When a mutlu died, its body and leaves turned a calcified white and over the years its hollow and holey framework would crumble into chalky bits that lined much of forest floor. This sand of the forest soon sprouted into thousands of seedlings that could only hope to become like their crooked predecessors. More often than not the sprouts were overshadowed by the woolly and barbed burkabar plant, the creeping harisse grass which grew in orange, wild clumps toward cracks in the canopy, or any of the hundreds of flora that competed for a chance to spread far and wide as long as Eiema, the nature spirit, would allow. If the wind could perceive the vastness – the dark, musty hollows, the devil bogs, the dense maze of strong, interweaving branches and creeper vines, or the
twilight meadows where the toad congress sang their eerie dirges – it may have given pause. But Roanoke, like the rest of Eurastad, needed a good airing out every once in awhile and so the wind flitted and whispered, spreading through the forest and bringing with it the stories of the outside. As a gust drifted through the mutlus at the forest's edge, it flowed under the nose of a dark and dangerous creature. He stood taller than most men, shadowed in several flowing brown silks and braided leather from a bunyip's tough hide. A silver vest glinted against the sinking sun, its material made of interwoven, steel rings no bigger than a mouse's thumbnail, but stronger than an binding rune. A thick leather band roped around his waist holding a pouch containing several empty viles. His left hip flaunted a flat, elongated stiletto sheathed in a matching red scabbard. The dark man's shoulder's were angular and broad, matching a muscular chest that heaved just faster than normal. His limbs and hands were long and graceful, almost spindling when he traipsed through the mutlu branches like a simian in the Eccerow rain forests. His skin looked ashen in the fading light streaming through the trees, like a copper quionne hiding unpolished in a justopened treasure box. His chin and nose were pinched, his cheeks high yet hollow and framing his sunken eyes. The eyes had no apparent iris, just one massive pupil in each socket, both staring with deadening certainty at what lie just behind his footsteps. Wavy, auburn hair fell to his neck, its sheen most lustrous in the way oil sits heavy atop the sea's surface. His thin, pale mouth was wide with mirth like a Bogabi desert jester, fixed under a curled mustache. His purplish lips barely concealed rows of smallish, winking teeth. Night fell upon Eurastad and the smells on the wind trailed up the dark man's nostrils. His half-lidded eyes fluttered while the man breathed deeply like a chef wafting the contents of a new entree to test its fragrance. He picked and prodded through each and every smell, discarding the food, human and animal waste, fowl, and far-off spices. The dark man searched for one scent in particular, and nothing else would do. The smell could not easily be described. It was ethereal and fragile, like lacy fairy wings or webbed feather seeds. Overall the smell was uniform, but subtle
differences lingered in as a face would gain recognition by swimming into motion from one's memory. In this case the smell was bubble-light laughter, a warm hearth, braided blonde hair, hot sweet rolls and roughly bound books filled with crayon drawings. The aroma lingered as one, but upon careful inspection the dark man knew it came from two sources. It was lighter than air with tiny pockets of heady fragrances that suggested something more than just an unusual wrinkle of the nose. Few creatures could detect such a fragrance, but the dark man let it fill him up while its complex richness enlarged his black eyes. A low growl escaped his throat. What the dark man smelled were dreams and his mind thrummed with roaring hunger. Behind him two shadowed figures stood watch. They too growled, their body's twitching while awaiting further command. Just as the wind flowed freely through the invisible forest border, the dark man could sense this distinct smell seeping through a magical barrier. The barrier could not be seen by the naked eye, but it shimmered and pulsed like a blinking mirage on a sandy horizon – only disappearing when the gaze looked directly upon it. The dark man's knot-braid boots stood right at the border, covered in the white chalk of dead mutlus. The border spell – though weak – repelled him and made him want to turn around and head back into the forest. Several months ago, the dark man could not stand this close to the border without severe convulsions and full-body pain, but now the twinge of magical energy could be scratched and forgotten like the itchy bite of a teasley beetle. The final rays of sun dipped beneath the tree line, casting Roanoke in a cold bath of ambient light and criss-crossing shadows. The dark man felt the spell breaking down as though the light had been its final source of power. It cracked like translucent lightning, surging out of existence all around the Roanoke border. In seconds it was gone. For most creatures it was like the spell had never been. Any normal passer-by or forest animal would never notice a difference. But the dark man did. He motioned his followers to his side while his mouth contorted into an icy smile that pulled at the sinewy muscles of his long face. “No longer a prison,” the dark man said. “A fortress. The furcula is broken.”
The dark man flexed his mind, feeling the growing power that coursed throughout his body and soul like an omnipotent, wayward narcotic. Soon, nothing would stand in his way, and the first door to his destiny had opened. Silent as a forest cat, the dark man took his first step out of the forest in eighteen years. The sensation felt like a mild shock through his body. It was an old, waning magic trying in vain to hold him at bay. Thousands of invisible strings clawed at his body, urging him back into the forest. But they were too thin, and broke like passing through cobwebs. The dark man laughed at the pathetic attempt. Weak warlock magic was no longer enough to chain him. His two followers stepped behind him and the three stood on a ruddy dirt path that lead into the commercial district of the closest province. The dark man stared down the skinny path while his nostrils flared. He could almost see the scent, wafting over the few cresting hills, merging through a small field of harisse and leading him right to his prey. As the border spell broke with the impending darkness, the intensity of the aroma increased. The dark man could wait no longer. He started walking while his followers fell into step right behind him. “Tonight we feast as free men,” the dark man said. “Tomorrow a new reign begins.”
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