Chapter Four

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2010 A.S.

OFF THE TORRENT coast of the Fell Wastes lay a misty isle. A mere speck of ink on the maps of Fyrsta. Over three thousand years before, when civilization had stretched to the far corners of the realm, the tiny isle had not been worthy of a name. However, time has a way of changing even the most inconspicuous of places.

History turned its eye on the island when a band of nine, seeking solitude, landed on its humble shores. Their quest for isolation gave birth to an athenaeum of fame—one founded on the noble aspirations of acquiring and preserving knowledge. As is so often the case, an ideal became something more, until out of this lonely island rose an army of formidable scholars who called themselves Wise Ones, for they alone possessed the knowledge of runic power—the most consistent way to draw from vast energies that move in shifting currents throughout the realms.

Fyrsta took note, history remembered, and the once unknown isle became legendary. As did its stronghold and monolithic spire.

The sprawling stronghold of the Wise Ones was hewn from a stalwart crag that overlooked the harbor town of Coven. The stronghold was a thing of rising towers and thick battlements that sat like a stone sentry against time, silent and brooding, watching the bustle of people carrying out their meager lives under its imperious gaze.

Secrets dwelled in its foundations, ancient powers roamed its drafty corridors, and knowledge was entombed within a labyrinth of libraries, all carefully catalogued and safeguarded by hunched-back scribes who painstakingly etched their treasured Lore into tomes bound by iron and leather.

That was, of course what the Order wanted everyone to believe. Things had generally worked this way, history was accurately recorded—most of the time. But when the so-called keepers of the past disagreed with history, then events were conveniently forgotten.

Much to the Order's shame, there was one such exception that could never be forgotten. Try as they might, masters and scribes could not conceal the creature from their dull tomes of yellowed parchment, or erase the eccentric Archlord who granted her entrance, because time was such a fickle thing and history even moodier.

In one of the countless, drafty chambers set high in a jutting spire, a group of the chosen few sat listening in rapt attention to Yasimina, a willowy, fair-haired Wise One. Twenty-two stoic apprentices dutifully scribbled notes as she lectured on the realms beyond in soft, cultured tones that had misled many a student into thinking her a lenient teacher.

The apprentices were evenly spaced, sitting attentively on giant stone steps that pooled into the amphitheater's center. They dipped their quills into inkwells, wiped off the excess ink with harmonious precision, and put tips to parchment like a hive of busy drones.

This perfect concert of flowing ink was broken by a discordant pupil who never did anything dutifully. The source of discord came from the very back of the chamber, on the highest bench, where no other apprentice cared to venture lest they be contaminated by the careless creature behind them.

Everyone—masters, apprentices, novices, guards, servants, and stable boys alike—tended to give the nymph a wide berth. She was a conundrum that was best ignored, a nuisance and outcast—a temptation coveted by all.

Currently, the nymph was lying on her stomach, propped up on her elbows while she doodled aimlessly on her parchment. She seemed a dream, a vision, and the only thread connecting the nymph to reality was a cascade of vibrant red curls, spilling over her slender shoulders before pooling on the harsh stone beneath her body.

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