Morland: Blood and Sweat

Arise, Son of the Dragon

– ORIS PRISON CAMP –

The extravagantly armored Knights gathered in the largest tent where the bare ground had been adorned with a thick carpet that bore the Empires emblem.

Cushioned armchairs were arrayed in a circular pattern around the wooden table, and on that table, several figurines depicting flags, soldiers, and monsters had been placed systematically.

This gathering was unlike the others that were annually conducted in the capital, where they would sit around a large golden table and each would share tales of valiant deeds that they had accomplished during their travels.

Due to recent events, the meeting they were having here held a different purpose and such gatherings were rare among the knights.

The Holy Knights were known throughout Morland to be symbols of great power and justice, and it was rumored among the mortals in Morland that if all thirteen knights were to gather in the same place at once, their combined presence would be enough to purge evil in a region.

All Holy Knights were trained in Moriandia, the capital of the Imperial region, and out of the hundreds of candidates, only thirteen knights were allowed to exist at the same time. In rare cases, potential candidates may endure the trials, and these are assigned squireship under one of the knights and await appointment if one of the current Holy Knights were to perish.

An event that rarely ever happens. Vedial mused.

This had been declared by Emperor Gherial decades ago, and he had only done this to instill hope to those that overcame the trials but were not chosen.

After years of waiting anxiously, a group of nobles came together and proposed a new division to be formed from the recruits that had been left out in the Holy Knight selections. To maintain the nobles support Emperor Gherial allowed the establishment of the division and named it The Golden Embrace.

When it was first formed the Golden Embrace was held in high regard, especially since it was composed of highly talented nobles. The Embrace was trusted with protecting both the Imperial capital and the surrounding regions while the Holy Knights were absent.

The Golden Embrace stole the Holy Knights spotlight and due to their popularity, they soon became the new heroes of Moriandia.

Unfortunately, this all changed during the great war when the group suddenly split into two factions and fought against one another, however, with strength equal to the Holy Knights, their battles escalated and nearly brought down the entire capital.

Echoes of a raging battle in the capital caught the Holy Knights attention, and their immediate return brought the rebellion to a close.

After the war, the notorious Golden Embrace was quickly dissolved because of its instability. The Knights regained the peoples trust with their heroic effort and drew the Emperors favor, and by Morias hand, the Emperor blessed them with a boon that carried over from the first generation knights to the present.

Thats why regardless of their small number, one Holy Knight could rival a platoon of soldiers from the Imperial army. However, to avoid a similar revolt, the most powerful Holy Knight in each generation is bound by oath and duty to remain in the capital at all times, his task is to protect the capital and its people.

At first, people thought that the power that had been granted to them might have been too great for any mortal to possess, but this was only true when that power was pointed against them.

The Holy Knights stood by the people and even the soldiers went out to war boldly knowing that a much greater force stood beside them, thats how it has been since the beginning.

Vedial looked around the table as the rest of the knights took their seats in the respectful order provided.

The highest-ranking knight sat in the largest armed chair, on his right was an empty seat designated for Vedial, as Seuvial took the seat on the captains left with her squire Calestian sitting next to her. Reginald stood still by the empty chair as he waited for his sire.

The Captain looked up at Vedial with a raised eyebrow.

”Yes, pardon me. ”

Vedial walked over to the empty chair and then took his seat, Reginald did the same and sat down on the other chair next to him.

With the two now seated the awaited meeting commenced.

”I heard you have yet to execute this unusual magic-user Captain. ” Seuvial suddenly queried.

Vedial shot a glance at Calestian, he was sure Seuvial had other matters to worry about other than the execution of a low-ranked magick-user. Her top concern was re-capturing the remnants of the escaped prisoners, especially after the recent setbacks.

The Captain remained silent, but Seuvial noted the furrow on his brow and immediately halted her query. Seeing an opportunity to speak, Calestian burst out from the silence and continued to pursue the case.

”Captain! This mage is a stain upon my… Umm our reputation, ” Calestian blurted. ”He is a danger to Oris and its people! ”

Reginald slowly started to nod his head in agreement to Calestian, but he dared not speak out without permission in the presence of the high-ranking Knights. Vedial watched the Captain closely and even through his expressionless outlook, he could see faint ripples of irritation as Calestians voice grew louder with each sentence.

”Shut your mouth Calestian! ” Vedial growled slamming his hand on the table. ”How dare you try and lean on the Captains graciousness to rid you of the shame from YOUR foolish actions?! ”

The Captain did not say a word, he sat silently with his cheek resting on the back of his hand.

Serenely.

”Lieutenant… ” Calestian was taken aback by Vedials piercing rebuke. He had not expected the man with royal blood running through his veins to indirectly stand up for a peasant. ”My… apologies, Captain. ”

A veil of shame seemed to cover Calestians face as he slumped back in the cushioned chair.

Vedial glared at Calestian and found it hard to believe that the young squire had passed the same trials as he had a few years ago.

”You let your guard down, thats why the mage got the upper hand. ” Seuvial voiced her opinion.

The two squires had been knocked out for nearly half a day, and by the time the squires recovered, Lieutenant Vedial had already subdued Darrel and had him locked up deep in the Rune-Cells.

The Rune-Cells were still experimental, but Vedial had pressed the royal architects to employ them anyway. It had not taken him much convincing, particularly after recent events.

The Greyhearts escape had caused a stir in Morland, and the guards complaints of prisoners getting harder to contain had finally been heard. Their escape not only validated Vedials suggestion but the destruction they caused created fresh room for such a construction to be made.

Vedials idea was simple, but the design required would be difficult to employ. He had asked the royal architects in Moriandia if they could design a cell with the ability to siphon magic from anyone contained inside.

Those crafty geezers. Vedial smirked proudly. They even made bracers to counteract the siphoning effects on authorized individuals.

The Rune-Cells had been built with pairs of runes incorporated in each brick, one rune would reinforce the brick, while the other would create a small siphoning field around it. The completed cell would then have a much larger surface area which created the siphoning field inside the Rune-Cells.

”You may proceed, Captain. ”

The Captain glanced across the table, as he seemed to be looking for someone.

”I apologize for my delay. ”

The Warden suddenly slipped through the tents entrance, he quickly strolled across the room and clumsily pulled out one of the empty chairs. He was a middle-aged man who had a round face and stripes of grey hair that were plastered around his head.

”Oof. ”

The Warden sighed as he rested his round body, the man had grown fat during his time in Oris.

”You may begin the briefing. ”

Several scrolls rolled onto the table as the Warden rummaged through them looking for the information requested. The Wardens job required diligence and strength, of which the current warden seemed to possess neither as Vedial noted.

”Thanks to the construction support requested by Lieutenant Vedial from the capital, we have managed to restore ninety percent of the structures that were demolished during the escape. ” The Warden began. ”This mostly includes the cells and the guards barracks that suffered the most damage. ”

”What of the prisoners? ”

”Yes of course. ”

The Warden cleared his throat and scrolled his finger down the scroll.

”Our recent records show us that we had seven hundred and fourteen prisoners before the Greyhearts made their escape. ” He muttered.

”Go on. ”

”Six hundred and eighty-two prisoners were recorded after the prison break out… ” The Warden gulped quietly. ”Out of the thirty-two escapees, only twenty-four have been recaptured. ”

”Twenty-five, Warden. ” Reginald quickly added to the number.

”Dar-rel was not part of the escapees, ” The Warden stated. ”He does not belong here. ”

”He does now, ” Calestian murmured.

Seuvial shot a glance at Calestian who shied away from her chilling eyes. Calestian shrunk back into his chair and shut his mouth.

”It seems that the figures you gave us were inconsistent with the prisons prior records, Warden, ” Vedial remarked.

”Yes, our numbers may have been slightly off track, but was it not the failure of your squires to subdue a lone mage the cause of it? ”

The Captain rolled his eyes at his Lieutenant wondering how he would respond to the Wardens bait for a debate, a subordinates shortcomings were often evidence of his superiors incompetence.

”Indeed, the squires may hold a part of the blame. ” Vedial began. ”However, in such a situation even under the objectives of my mission, my incapacitated subordinates came first. ”

Vedial knew the Wardens tendencies to spark and fuel arguments, after lighting the fires he would immediately turn them around to justify his mistakes.

This was only natural for a man who has been in charge of the Oris for over a decade now.

His exposure to the varieties of brainless fools has turned him into one of them. Vedial mused then folded his arms across his chest.

”So you agree- ”

”Warden! You continue to annoy me with your show of innocence, the longer you drag this along, the longer it will take for us to complete the task. ” The Captain interrupted the Wardens facade. ”Now tell me how many prisoners are still missing out there?! ”

”Umm-um about eight, Sire. ”

The fear of the Captain was a blessing, and the Wardens tricks of veering around the truth were cut short.

Seuvial took a scroll from her satchel and handed it to the Captain. After reading the scrolls contents, the Captain handed it to Vedial who proceeded to do the same.

”The Greyhearts were the current dungeon miners? ” The Captain asked.

”Yes, we believe that they are the ones who orchestrated the entire plot to escape. ” The Warden eyed Vedial provocatively. ”So far, none of them have been captured. ”

Oris was the largest mountain in all of Morland and its peaks could be seen from any direction on the continent. Legend had it that the mountain itself was formed from the residue that was left after the god of creation Oris and the god of the heavens Tazuriyari molded Morland into form.

Oris is rumored to hold all kinds of minerals and ores that are known to mortals in Morland, the Mining Guild in Moriandia claimed there were more precious rocks hidden within the massive mountain.

The mountain is also home to hundreds of catacombs and chambers that lead to various dungeons, and these dungeons are known to harbor a variety of monsters.

”Your reports say that several dungeon miners died before the Greyhearts became the regulars in Oris, ” The Captain read to the now mellowed Warden.

”Yes, they were the best, and with their many labors we cleared over forty dungeons in the past year Sire. ”

”Thats quite impressive. ” The Captain looked up at the Warden as he commended the fugitives. ”They must have been well prepared. ”

Normally it would take an ordinary adventurer team at least twenty days to clear a dungeon, all members of the party would be equipped to the best of their ability before the escapade.

”Yes, we did invest in them quite a bit. ” The Warden stammered.

”They got too strong, ” Vedial muttered. ”We heard of how they easily cut through the lines of guards here. ”

”It also says here that; Monsters were funneled from the catacombs out into the yard, how in Morias name did they do that? ” The Captain inquired sternly.

The Warden slowly shook his head as an answer to the query, no one knew how the Greyhearts had managed to do it. The Warden seemed like an honest man but somewhere along the way had grown lax, and that was not good for a man, especially one with such a great responsibility.

Somehow monsters had been led out of the dungeons and ended up attacking the guards and prisoners alike. With the monsters at their side and rioting prisoners, the Greyhearts then easily broke through the hundreds of guards that were stationed there, and many lives were lost that day.

A strong silence permeated the air before the Captain shattered it with his stern tone.

”Just how strong did you let them get Warden? ”

The Warden looked like he had chewed on a sour lemon as he curled his lips too frightened to speak the truth.

The fact that the Greyhearts had gotten stronger was obvious, however, the Warden was failing to admit how he had carelessly groomed the prisoners just to clear the treasure-rich lower dungeons for his gain. It was common practice to frequently rotate dungeon miners, lest the prisoners grow more powerful than the guards.

”Kenoi, Siica, and Pettir were the only prisoners in Oris that ranked closest to the Holy Knights, ” Vedial sighed under his breath. ”Its hard to imagine they perished clearing ordinary dungeons. ”

Vedials statement only put more pressure on the Warden and before long his bubble burst. When the Knights first arrived and begun conducting their investigation, Seuvial had made the realization that most of the notorious prisoners had perished during a dungeon mining and in all instances, one of the eight members of the Greyhearts had always been present in the particular party.

”Do not presume we are fools Warden, and the Captain will not ask you again- ”

”Heroic! ” The Warden blurted. ”Last we checked… They were all ranked under Heroic, and most of them were level twenty-five. ”

”Eight prisoners with that much strength?! They sound like junior paladins to me. ” The Captain began. ”We have unveiled much of what you were doing here Warden, the rest you will answer in Moriandia. ”

”No-no please I had not known they were causing the casualties in the minings- ” The Warden pleaded.

Two guards came in through the opening and grabbed the Warden by his arms each on one side, the two holstered him up to his feet and proceeded to drag him out from the tent.

”Wait! ” The Captain leaned forward from his chair and looked straight at the Wardens eyes. ”Tell me the truth Warden, how many dungeons did the Greyhearts clear? ”

The Warden bit his lip to keep his silence, but after looking into the Captains eyes, the Warden relented.

”One… hundred and eight. ”

The circle went silent in awe as the Warden was taken away by the guards.

Even though it took a lot of preparation, clearing a dungeon was nothing but a simple task for an adventurer, clearing ten was dedication, twenty dungeons, was pure talent and fifty was nothing but experience, a lifetime of it.

Now to clear one hundred dungeons was like spitting in the face of the god of craft himself and telling him he could do better, the only known individuals capable of getting that far were the Holy Knights, however, they can only be sent to clear a dungeon only if the denizens were a threat to Morland or if that particular dungeon held an ancient artifact.

Even with the power to clear an entire dungeon, there are a limited number of records that show where the Holy Knights had completely cleared one.

”I suppose the suspicions must be true then, ” Vedial remarked. ”One of the geezers suspected the same thing when he came to build the rune-cells. ”

”Suspected what? ” Calestian blurted.

He appeared to have regained his composure and had been listening carefully the whole time, but suddenly his eyes sparkled due to the nature of the conversation.

”Absurd, the whole irony of it, ” The Captain exclaimed. ”Could this truly be the resting place… ”

”…Of the Heart of Oris. ”

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