Prove your loyalty to your People. Show us that you value the Heart of the People more than the way of your father. The human blood you possess weakens you, but the Verdant Council has faith. Faith that you will surpass this shortcoming; faith that the weak-willed human side will not hold you back. We know far better than to allow an artifact with such history, such gravitas, to be allowed long in the hands of mere humans. The Keladr’rhem, the People of the Wood, will put it to far better use. With it we shall prevent the destruction of our homeland. Your homeland.
Be at peace, Lazhar, Sentinel Marshall of the Heart of the People.
Be at peace and take the Banner.
He read it again. And again. And again.
Not once did the words change. Not one single syllable shifted out of place, much less the deeper meaning behind the words.
Not once did this recommendation of betrayal cease to shock him Recommendation? Bah! A travesty of command. A demand!
The Verdant Council of Hierophants had made a demand. They had thrown down the gauntlet.
And they had brought his father into the equation.
Lazhar crumpled the note in a clenched fist staring hard over the walls of the city of Argent. Here he stood, a supposed hero, an ally of this “Black Company” and in his hands was a command to betray everything they held dear.
He looked down at the walls. Blood and bodies littered the base. The power of the Mythal and the wisdom of Faarlung, now aided by Master Kacper Arne, was the only thing necessary to stemming the ever-flowing tide of giants. They foolishly continued assaulting and the wizards kept killing.
Lazhar turned, looking in on the city. It was in a stasis, of sorts. It did not look abandoned or old just…unused. The city looked as if it were waiting for something of great importance to happen and then, only then, it would pick up where it left off and serve again.
It was a city of heroes. Argent, Defense Against the Chaos.
And on its walls stood a potential traitor.
“BAH! Damn you all!” Lazhar gritted teeth and turned to stare into the great chasm opening into the Primordial Chaos itself. Traitor? Him! Akeros Oaklord himself had commanded it. The man, the very council of Hierophants, the servitors of the Voice of the Wood, they commanded that their great defender discard the hopes and dreams of these mere humans and …
Steal the Banner. Theft. Betrayal.
What would it do to Aricia, that nation of humans the elves had long called allies? The cities would fall without the Black Company rising up and aiding them. The land would be subjugated to the will of the Golden Dragon, the Duke Aramakis, Lord Echo, and armies the likes of which could not be reasoned with.
All because he was told to take the banner for himself. For his People.
Lazhar remembered his last conversation with the old Druid. “Ties are breaking here and old loyalties dividing. The Keladr’rhem are pulling away from one another in civil war, Lazhar. The true leaders, our Verdant Council, oppose the rule of the Queen, though we offer her open allegiance. Olestra Flamehair is too new, to unwish to rule us and her mother is now dead. Because of THEM! These invading humans divide us, Lazhar!”
He should have known then. Lazhar felt the separation of honor as the great druid spoke, but he took it to be simple anger. Harsh words. Not meant, not real.
“We can forge ourselves anew away from Monarchy. We will be ruled by wiser heads. By our council.”
A coup. Betrayal of the highest sort.
Lazhar could not understand. His mind told him that he must do this thing. He must perform this deed, for the Verdant Council commanded it. His heart…his heart told him that betrayal would make him like his father.
Lazhar released the crumpled letter, arrived that morning via a quiet raven into his rooms. He watched as the paper flew out into the Primordial Chaos, flew away and out of sight into that land of burning and ice. He turned his back and began to walk back toward the Hall of Champions, held low, heart heavy, mind reeling.
Somewhere farther along the tower another man stood. Not a man, really, but a creature of ice and wind. A Genasi.
Schlag watched the Primordial Chaos from the Great Balcony, unseen by Lazhar and unable to see him. However, when a crumpled note flew backwards, upwards, high into the air and landed at his feet…
Schlag picked it up and saw.