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LEGENDS OF THE EBONY KINGDOM By: Patrick Danielson

Book 1 THE GAUNTLET OF ANTUM

Chapter 1

The great horror called the World Eater stood taller than even the magnificent golden colossus of Ebana. The thing didnt shamble like the decaying army that had already broken through and ravaged the countryside, no, instead it flowed like a thick writhing liquid as it decimated the countryside. The appendages which hung almost loosely from the enormous horror, swayed from the movement like waterfalls moving sideways along a cliff face. Those appendages could be called arms, Longhorn thought to himself. They appear to be capable of latching onto and ripping apart anything that crosses their path. Then again, he continued, second guessing himself They could be considered tentacles with fingers. Thinking wasnt the giant barbarians strong point and he tried to avoid thoughts whenever possible. In recent weeks he had decided to allow the smarter members of the group make the critical decisions. Longhorn had a bad tendency to nearly get himself killed in his egotistical desire for honor and battle. He recently decided to instead focus on his own strengths and talents which ended up being forcefully removing or destroying obstructions in the groups path.

Longhorn glanced down at his growingly tired war horse. The horse had been pushed to its absolute limit over the past hour and he could hear the animal breathing hard as they raced down the cobblestone road toward Antum. The roadway around him had become a destroyed mess of uncontrolled fires, overturned carts and crushed stone walls.

The bodies of soldiers and rotting corpses dotted the roadside landscape. Many of the soldiers bodies lay in the street riddled with arrows or large gaping stab wounds. They had been

left to bleed out by the roadside by the emotionless horde. As a result, large pools of fresh blood already formed in the gutters and wheel wells of the soft stone road. The lifeless soldiers faces continued to stare upward in wide eye fear and agony from the abysmal horrors they saw and the plague that it left in its wake.

Longhorn never questioned his decision to ride toward certain death, it had been a decision that he made long ago, long before he met Jack. He looked around at the staggering amount death and carnage and wondered if Jack was still alive somewhere. The thought of Jack lying in a ditch somewhere with a similar plague ridden face made his blood boil. Longhorn clenched his teeth and forced the thought out of his head. Many of his friends were gone now, and in the chaos of the recent events, he wouldnt be surprised if they were all dead except for him and the remaining few still riding behind him. Longhorn resisted looking back over his shoulder toward his companions. He worried that if he looked back, he would see another missing face.

As they neared the grand citys walls, the sounds of battle still raging crept up on them. The music of chaos began from far away and grew louder with every step their war horses took along the mangled highway. From many miles out, he could already see the great ebony towers of the palaces of Antum, but even they looked dwarfed compared to the huge billowing clouds of black smoke rising from the city. Soon the abomination would be upon the city, and there was no telling what havoc the beast would wreak once it broke through the walls.

Somewhere up ahead, perhaps in the city already, the traitor waits. Longhorn thought to himself. The thought made him squeeze the leather bridle a little harder and clench his teeth in anger. Longhorn thought about how much pain they had gone through and how much they had been manipulated. This time he didnt shy away, he let the anger build up in him like a power, and he pushed the war horse to ride even faster. Bloodlust filled his veins and his vision became sharper as if time slowed for the barbarian. Longhorns war horse topped a hill and was suddenly ambushed by a sudden volley of crude ancient arrows raining down around him. The arrows bounced off of the cobblestone road and sunk into the newly abandoned wooden barriers built by the soldiers to keep out the undead. They sunk into the discarded bodies of undead and fields around them alike. Longhorn hoisted his traveling bag over his head for protection and pressed the horse not to slow down. Archers! Longhorn shouted amongst the chaos to those following behind him. He looked out and saw the empty soulless eyes of the small scattered platoon of skeletons on the ridge. They stood in a lazy formation with their bows and crossbows firing shots high into the air toward him. An arrow sunk into the pack he held over his head with a whistling thud. Longhorn ignored them and quickly galloped out of range for their bows. Being shot at remained the least of Longhorns concerns at the moment.

As the city grew on the horizon, the sounds of battle continued to grow louder and he heard the faraway clang of sword on sword, women screaming and men shouting. Longhorn and

his warhorse rapidly crossed along the mountain pass below Ravens Peak. The legend of Raven was old enough that it became difficult to know if it had been true or simply made up to amuse children. I dont care what you did, Raven, or how many monsters you fought, Longhorn thought as he passed, It was nothing compared to whats happening now.

In the valley beyond Ravens Peak stood the grand coliseum of Antum. Every spring the grand coliseum would be packed full of spectators when the game season began. Gladiators from all over the world would visit and compete for fantastic prizes of gold and land, and the prisoners who chose to compete rather than face a prison sentence, a possible pardon. How long has it been since I last saw the coliseum? Longhorn thought to himself, I feel like its been years.

The mountain trail ended and the valley below came into full view. Longhorn felt his heart drop out from under him. The sky had filled with unnatural black clouds and pockets of lightning. Somewhere above the thick layer of clouds the moon shone an unnaturally bright red. The gleams of red pierced down through the thinnest clouds bathing the entire countryside in a demonic shade of dark crimson. Longhorn saw as he looked down, that the fallen roadblocks and battles werent restricted to the mountain pass. His gaze trailed the winding road and he saw that the entire valley swarmed with battle.

Beyond the small battles and struggles to hold back the hordes, Longhorn saw the great coliseum. It stood bathed in the fire light glow of several dozen torches burned along its stone walls. The Antum military were fortifying the arena and using it as a base of operations. They readily prepared for the advancing undead armies. The soldiers on the walls stood at attention

with crossbows and javelins in their hands while lines of men stood ready in the entryways with spears, swords and maces at their sides.

Longhorn again saw the horror shambling across the valley and the blood drained from his face. The creature thumped heavily across the countryside leaving deep divots of death and decay in the ground where it stepped. Plants near the giant horror instantly shriveled, turned black and died in the presence of the colossal monster. Behind the monster a long trail of blackened plant life and foliage reflected its vile trek across the countryside. Even now Longhorn still couldnt fathom what he saw when he looked upon it. The thing was indescribably horrific and unlike anything the hero had ever seen before. Longhorn felt the tingling flutter of fear deep in the pit of his stomach. It was a sensation that he wasnt accustomed to, but for some reason the towering beast made his muscles tense up and his stomach want to crawl into his throat. His body screamed for him to flee while his steadfast willpower allowed him to continue to press forward. Longhorn owed it to his friends to push on; he owed it to those who had fallen.

The road zigzagged through the valley and only separated from farmers fields by low wooden or stone walls. The once tranquil countryside had become littered with makeshift barriers and walls. It appeared to Longhorn that these barriers did little to slow down the march of the undead. Many of the barriers now lay destroyed or riddled with arrows.

Longhorns speeding charge toward Antum would be dramatically slowed if he stuck to the roads. He pulled the reigns of the horse sideways and the horse effortlessly leapt over a small stone wall and into a field. The crops had rotted away to black mush allowing the horse to maintain great speed across the land. Longhorn lowered his head to block the monstrosity from his own eyesight and pushed the horse onward. The horse reluctantly continued their rush towards the city.

The roads became more and more littered with the bodies of soldiers and undead corpses the closer they got to the city. The carnage began to exceed past the usual foot soldier and began to include the occasional officer and wizard alike. The roadside bore scars from the damages caused by the spent wizards spells in the form of fires, craters and melting icicles. The wizards really gave it their all Longhorn thought to himself as he passed the remains of a magical wall made of thorns. He saw a patch of living vines still clutched onto a handful of skeleton legs and wondered if it had even slowed them down. Longhorn raced along the wall and pulled the warhorse around the barriers and watched carefully not to allow the horse to step over any of the citys fallen defenders. In Nordic tradition, it is a bad omen to step over a fallen warrior.

Silhouettes along the hillsides showed battles still raging in the distance. Every member of the Ebony Kingdoms army stood lined in formation, desperately battling the undead threat along the city walls. The clang of metal on metal rang out constantly and was only interrupted by the shouts of soldiers. Slow shambling corpses damaged from previous battle still struggled to maintain their march toward the city despite lack of legs or arms.

The horse jumped back onto the roadway and swiftly passed a loose band of damaged skeletons. Longhorn kicked at the undead as he passed, caving in a ribcage and removing a skull completely with his giant boot. The skeletons slowly turned toward him and raised their swords to attack. Somewhere behind Longhorn, a pair of arrows found their mark and brought down another two skeletons in his path. For the first time in several hours he felt comforted. At least one member of his party was still alive and following his charge toward Antum.

The huge colossal horror approached the arena and the guards there let loose a volley of arrows into the mass of murky slithering and scuttling blackness. It was impossible to tell if the arrows had any effect on the indescribable monster. The terrible abomination flung a dripping appendage sideways and an inky black slime sprayed across the walls and grounds of the arena. The black pools bubbled and spat out thick streams of steam and choking smoke. Some of the guards scattered away from the pools and smoke while other brave men screamed.

Haunting otherworldly moans bled out of the pools. Pale figments of tortured faces appeared in the puddles speaking in strange garbled languages. The guards who looked into those faces didnt need to understand the language to know that they were suffering immensely. Slowly the faces disappeared and replaced by forms resembling monstrously clawed hands and leathery wings. These strange nightmarish creatures gradually clawed their way out of the bubbling pools of blackness. Their bodies obstructed by the dense choking smoke. Soon the entire arena disappeared in the haze of smoke and steam and all that remained were the haunting sounds of the guards screams.

Longhorn didnt have a plan. Longhorn never had a plan. If Jack were here, he would think of something. Longhorn thought to himself as he passed the coliseum shrouded in smoke. Longhorn tried to block out the sounds coming from inside. He tried to not see the shadows of the assortment of creatures that now shared the arena with the leaders of Antums military. I might even take a suggestion from Dok right now. He added as an afterthought trying to distract himself. No, I need to think positively. They may still all be alive. And if they are, we may be able to save a few of these people.

The repulsive creature reached the city walls, the same walls that turned back the necromancers during the Necromancer War. It was the same wall that had even held back the fantastic monsters that Raven faced upon Ravens peak thousands of years ago. It was the wall that had been built tall enough to obstruct the view of most of the city from the outside. The monster approached and towered easily over the wall. Its tendrils sought out and wrapped around the catwalks and squeezed. Stones exploded and giant bricks rained down on both sides. The great beast slammed its immense girth into the wall knocking out huge chunks the size of small homes with each hit.

Inside the walls people scattered away from the creature. They ran toward the far side of the city hoping for safety and salvation. They took nothing but themselves and their loved ones with them as the fled. Many citizens took shelter in the sturdy temples. There they prayed for divine intervention or at worst, a quick death.

Every temple represented a different god. In a city the size of Antum, nearly all of the Gods had a temple devoted to them. Even the evil deities had small hidden alcoves within the city for the faithful to visit. Only the mysterious Gods werent recognized, the ones not fully understood by modern society, or the ones that werent directly mentioned in any historical text.

The last of the city guard and the Kings royal guardsmen were all that remained between the royal family and the eldritch abomination. They scattered across the palace steps with their gleaming platinum armor and readied their polished swords. A general in full platinum plate armor ran to the front of the line and unsheathed his own long sword. He wore an elegant helmet with an ornate red crest of hair running along the top. We stand at the crossroads of the end of days! He shouted to his men while pointing upward to the giant monster If all humanity is to end this day, then we will charge in without fear or regret within our hearts! I know nothing of the afterlife, and no man lives forever. Whatever glory awaits us, well be in great company on the other side! To battle! We shall take them all with us! The men roared with energy and banged their swords across their shields. Its too late. Longhorn thought to himself as he passed into the monsters long shadow. Im too late to stop it. The thought terrified him more than the beast ever could.

The road immediately outside of the walls of Antum curved and traced the cliffs overlooking the Great Sea. The sheer vertical drop famously attracted artists and writers from all

over the world wanting to capture its beauty. The last line of city guards outside of the walls stationed themselves near the gates. They stood shoulder to shoulder with their tower shields propped up and prevented the creatures from passing into the city. They used their shield wall to push back and force the undead over the cliff. The corpses and skeletons tumbled several hundreds of feet down to the jagged rocks below.

Longhorn thought of the city docks at the bottom of the sheer cliff as he raced along the road overlooking the ocean. He wondered how long it had been since he walked along the boardwalk and climbed the massive staircase carved into the rocks below. Those peaceful days seemed long gone. Spring, he thought solemnly, I last came here in the spring.

Chapter 2

The once proud war vessel had long since become a twisted shadow of its former glorious self. The old ship had seen bombardment from cannon fire, arrows carrying explosive payloads and bloodthirsty pirates. It survived the greatest war time conflict in recent memory, yet Captain Cid couldnt help but feel sad. The greatest damage to the ship, came many years after the war during a simple delivery mission. The gruff old captain puffed lazily on his curved pipe and squinted into the early morning sun. The seagulls busily squawked a miserable morning song as the first mate Lug tied the boat to the pier. Its lookin to be a good un, Capn. The tall grey skinned Orc mentioned casually from behind his oversized tusks. Ya couldnt ask for a better day to kick off the season, it is. Cid continued to gnaw on the end of his pipe and grimaced at the early morning sun while he listened to the familiar sounds of a busy port. The entire length of the shipping dock bustled with activity. Fishing boats began their early morning trek out into the sea while merchant ships hastily unloaded their cargo. Somewhere the echoing voice of a foreman could be heard shouting out orders to workers on the along the docks. Supplies and boxes were quickly taken off the ships and stacked on awiting carts. Lug smiled up at Cid and he quickly shot back a glare at Lug to show his unwillingness to chat about anything so early in the morning. Lug instead busied himself by tying the Domino II to the dock using oversized ropes. Sailing proved an odd choice for Orks, since they didnt usually take to sea travel well. Many Orks despised the movement while others hated the confined spaces of the ship. However,

Lug had proven himself several times over the years and Cid couldnt think of a better first mate to have. For a moment Cid's thoughts turned to Squig, the original first mate of the Domino. Cid wondered if Squig still lived somewhere out there.

Port Antum had always been the busiest port in the world because of the citys centralized location for many of the common trade routes. The accessibility allowed Antum to become one of the most successful port cities and trading hub in the world. A young and clean cut dock worker approached the Domino II and shouted up to Lug Are there any supplies that needed unloaded? Lug looked down at the man only half of his size and smiled. We ave one of the most important deliveries to arrive at your dock this week, but I don think well need ya to unload it, boy. The worker waved an understanding and turned to run back up the dock when he saw something and stopped. Is this the Domino? He shouted up to Lug while pointing at the battered ship, The blockade buster from the Merchant Conflict? Aye, it is boy, it is. You heard of her? Lug shouted back to the clean shaven young man. The dock worker didnt seem to notice or take offense to being called boy; he instead continued his look of awe at their ship. What the hell happened to it? She looks like you pulled her up from the bottom of the ocean. The dock worker asked without looking up. Lug dropped the rope and leaned over the side railing. He me the workers gaze and calmly spoke, Maybe we did. Perhaps we should call her the Phoenix since weve rebuilt her so many times. Maybe this ship sank and we're all ghosts. The dock worker's eyes opened a bit

wider. "Maybe this ship is here to steal the souls of every sailor in the port." Lug added smiling. "Or perhaps we're just bad carpenters." So whats the story? She doesnt look like she should even be floating. A lot of these boards have been broken in half and mended. Did the ship get ripped in half by something like maybe a storm or a sea monster? Or did you run aground on a reef? You ever ear the stories about how its bad luck to ave a woman on board your boat? Lug shouted again. Slowly the dock workers eyes rose from the shoddy remains of the once glorious Domino and to the face of the first mate standing on her deck. The worker nodded carefully as a superstitious fear washed over him. Well theyre true. Lug responded. Captain Cid eyed the dock worker who busy talked to Lug and he puffed out his chest. Cid held the pipe firmly in his mouth while they spoke. Do you want me to fetch a ship builder for you? Get some repairs done while youre in port? he asked spying Cid standing at the cabin door. Antum has some of the best builders on the continent. Unless you would rather sail around to Florartene and have the Elves fix her up. Nay, I think shell continue to float for the time being. We dont know how long well be in port before moving on. Lug said waving the worker away. As soon as the worker left, Cid exhaled loudly. There wasnt any point in letting everyone know how incredibly hung over he felt on their first day in port. Cid rapped his boot against the floor loudly and below deck there came a sudden crash of pots and pans falling over in the galley. The sudden bangs of sound made Cid want to curl up and cradle his head. But his determination to convince the other sailors of his position among them held him fast to the deck of the ship. Cid instead, bit down hard on the tip of the pipe and felt his skull flex.

The ship called the Domino had once been highly regarded as one of the fastest ships in the armada during the Merchant Conflict. Many of the involved kingdoms tried to downplay the severity by instead calling the war a conflict, however Cid knew better. The Domino was no longer the ship that it had been during the war. At one time it had been carved and made of the finest wood, strongest sails and lightest materials. The Domino had been one of the fastest and most beautiful ships in existence. Now, it consisted of many of those same pieces reattached with crude boards and quick sloppy craftsmanship. Cid ran his hands down the railing and thought about his ship. The same thing happened to her as happens to all things. Time happens. Time passes and life goes on. Time and sea monsters are the only things that never change. How many years has it been since the war ended, nineteen? Cid thought to himself solemnly. Most of what they tied to the dock and called the Domino II actually came from the ship of a princess that disappeared over a year earlier. Squig wouldnt be too happy to see the shape his ship was in. A series of heavy footsteps moved sluggishly through the halls of the ship. For a moment they stopped and were replaced with the sounds of groans before stomping up a set of narrow stairs to the door behind Cid. The grizzled captain listened to the footsteps stop behind the door and waited. Were here. Cid spoke through the door, We just tied up the Domino II and you can de board whenever ya feel like youve sobered up." Cid stopped to wait for a response and when one didn't come, he continued. "I suspect that ya have a few hours before they expect ya to be at the coliseum. The person behind the door remained silent for a moment as this information processed.

How does it look out there? came a heavy gruff voice speckled with hints of a hangover from behind the door responded. The voice sounded deep and simple and carried a heavy weight with it. Cid again gazed up to the crisp blue sky, warm sun and the circling seagulls in the air still squawking their morning songs. Cid then looked to Lug who showed no evidence of the night of heavy drinking they had all shared the night before. It looks damn awful out ere. He responded in a grizzled old sea captain voice. You sure youre up for it? Its been a long trip and the Arena is on the far side of the city. Cid added through the rickety door. The person on the other side of the door exhaled loudly and Cid waited for a response that didnt come. I thought ya berserkers were better at holdin yer booze. Cid mentioned with a chuckle. The stranger grumbled loudly and slowly pushed open the door. The thin wooden door creaked and the whine it produced split both of their ears. The stranger took a deep breath of the fresh salty spring air and exhaled loudly. Slowly the strangers gaze rose up the mast to the flag waving lazily in the morning breeze. The fluttering flag proudly adorned the familiar yellow and black insignia of his family crest, and from behind his mask, the stranger smiled. Hey Lug! Cid shouted down to the Orc first mate. Arrange for a carriage to come pick up our passenger. We wouldnt want him to get mobbed in the streets. Lug smiled a toothy tusk filled smile Aye captain. Do you think he may like a chauffeur thatll sing him a lullaby as well or perhaps give him a nice foot rub? Lug laughed. The stranger paid him no attention and continued to strain through his hangover. Cid thought for a moment before continuing. Find an inspector too while youre at it. I heard those same rustling noises again between the walls during the journey from Ordius. Cid added.

Are you thinking that you have rats? The strange voyager asked We definitely have something aboard our ship, but I think theyre bigger than rats. He responded to the passenger. Cid looked knowingly down to Lug who nodded his understanding. Do you think well need more than an exterminator for them Captain? Lug asked looking up from the lower deck. Cid thought about his response for a moment while he continued to chew on the end of his long pipe. No, I think well just need a sweeper to shoo them away. Hopefully theyll be happier in Antum and we wont have to worry about them anymore. Cid walked slowly down the steps to the deck where Lug stood watching him. You and I will head into the market and get some supplies for the return journey. I dont think we should be around when the inspectors come through. Lug nodded again his understanding of what his captain was telling him. Ill take care of it, sir. Lug added solemnly.

Chapter 3

The grand city of Antum stood as a shining pillar to the grand Ebony Kingdom. Antum had always been the capital of the Ebony Kingdom and home of the towering Ebony Palace. Its polished black spires stretched so far upward into fine points that they seemed to disappear into sky itself. The ebony towers and spires glistened black in the bright sunlight and defined the very name of the kingdom. The kingdoms flags made of the finest silk waved in the warm breeze from the palace windows atop the spires and along the walls making the already beautiful castle a remarkable sight. The castle sat atop a lush green garden of exquisite flowers, fountains and hedges. Many of the citys citizens commonly strolled through the vast gardens and among the hedges where they could enjoy the amazing view of the city around them. Surrounding the Castle extending outward like spokes on a wheel, ran the six primary roadways of the city. These six roads separated the various districts and markets within the city and allowed for easy and safe travel.

The city itself sat defensively cliff side high above the Great Sea. The sheer vertical slope of the cliff in addition to the height ensured that no enemy would ever dare attempt to attack the city. The breathtaking overlook of the sea drew artists, travelers and pilgrims from all around the world eager to experience the beauty.

The jutting towers of the college as well as the towers of the castle could be seen for miles even behind the great city walls. These magnificent structures also acted as easy beacons for ships trekking across the Great Sea. Antum harbor remained the greatest source of income

due to its centralized location. This resulted in Antum and the Ebony Kingdom being among the wealthiest and most powerful of nations.

The seaport of Antum employed many of the citys residents and fishermen, as well as housed much of the kingdoms vast navy. A long stairway, carved into the cliffs and caves leads the traders and sailors a thousand steps up to the citys districts. A hundred ships sail in and out of the city daily trading and traveling to other kingdoms and continents. Antum fishing ships famously caught some of the most delicious fish, sea-snakes and other creatures in the world.

The streets of Antum were paved with smooth carefully constructed cobblestones. These well maintained streets extended through the city and extended out several miles along the most common trade routes. The paved roads allowed for fast and easy travel from the many small towns within the Ebony Kingdom. These roads were frequently patrolled by the kingdoms mounted military which severely reduced bandit activity within the state. Below the citys street ran a full aqueduct and sewer system. The complex sewer system ran all throughout the city and provided the citizens of Antum a clean city and healthy lifestyle. The sewer began as a series of tunnels created both for an easy escape route for the royal family as well as shelters during the Necromancer War. For the past thousand years the sewer provided an easy way to bring fresh river water into the city.

King Seraph Roguesong of Antum was renowned for his kind and fair attitude in both national and local matters. The citizens of Antum regarded him as a King for the people. King Roguesong selflessly regarded the needs of his people and subjects above all else. He maintained

an open court within the palace grounds to allow the public to air concerns and grievances directly to his advisors. He made every effort to know the constant goings on in his capital and kingdom. King Roguesong made fair decisions and was quick to act. Strangely, most citizens knew little about his history or the royal familys. Seraph had been on the throne of the Ebony Kingdom for over sixty years but didnt look any more than forty years old. This resulted in many speculations regarding his ancestry. Many rumors guessed that his ancestors had been Elves which were know to live for hundreds of years. Many rumors ran rampant regarding the history of the Roguesong dynasty. Each whispered story seemed stranger than the last. Some people believed that they had been chosen for the throne by the Gods themselves at the beginning of the Second Age, while others claimed that the family secretly held ownership of a rare magic artifact which granted their family the position of King. Most citizens of the Ebony Kingdom didnt concern themselves with such stories. Citizens chose to leave the speculation and tall tales to foreigners and the imagination of children. The citizens instead reveled in the wisdom and foresight of their King. They accepted that the Kings personal history was only known by a select few, and many felt fine with that.

The city of Antum saw thousands of visitors daily. Most visitors were merchants and farmers coming into the city to sell and trade their wares. Other times, these visitors were pilgrims coming to visit the temples and shrines devoted to each of the many Gods. The vast temple district had been built for quiet serenity. The streets were wide to allow plenty of room for large groups of people and there were many benches and trees spread throughout the district. Near the center of the district, the city constructed a large public garden filled with walkways and exotic flowers. In the center of the park stood a large ornate fountain depicting brass statues

of each of the creation Gods as they had been described in ancient texts. The Gods surrounded and looked upon the central fountain as if watching life first emerging from its watery spout.

The most notable district of the city comprised the most advanced and respected magical facility in the world. Antum was home of the famous wizards college, Thorntwist. The college consisted of a series of eight tall ivory white towers and several ancient stone buildings. The towers were arranged in a wide circle encompassing the grounds. The awe inspiring ivory towers reflect a brilliant contrast to the glossy black towers of the Ebony Palace. The Thorntwist towers were interconnected together with many spider-webbing walkways and bridges. Each tower represented one of the arcane schools of magic. Each towers contained offices, classrooms and dormitories. A series of older stone buildings sat the foot of the towers. These buildings were left over from the wizard coalition and the earliest incarnation of the college. As years went by and the towers were built, these old plain buildings quietly became housing for the first year students.

Scholars occasionally traveled to Thorntwist College from all over the world. The outland wizards typically make a pilgrimage to Thorntwist at some point during their training. These wild wizards, usually taught by lone mentors, were recognizable by their simple robes and handmade books. They came from all over the world to share knowledge, study magic and train their abilities beyond what their teachers were capable of.

Alumni attending Thorntwist are organized by their area of study and expertise. Every student and teacher are recognizable by their unique color of robes. Each color represents the wizards specialty magic or area of study. On warm sunny afternoons, it became common to see

the students travel through the city during class breaks. The mixture of students, each with different colored robes filing through the college gate appeared almost parade like to the citizens.

Despite the magnificent college and moderate student body, magic still remained a mystery. Even the most veteran sorcerers openly admit to their limited understanding on the subject. It was common knowledge that the majority of the magical prowess and understanding had been lost long ago. In addition to teaching, the school also stands as a research center trying to rediscover the long lost knowledge and the largest magical library in existence.

The arrival of spring became a monumental occasion within the Ebony Kingdom. Yearly on the first day of spring, Antum hosts week long celebrations, parades and opens the coliseum for the season. Alongside the spring celebration, Thorntwist also holds a grand festival. The purpose of the festival is to allow the demonstration of various magical abilities and knowledge. The college hosts tournaments of skill, knowledge and bravado between wizards and witches. The tournaments typically drew in wild wizards eager to compete and compare their knowledge to those from the college. The students loved to watch the Thorntwist tournaments. It allowed them to see different magic in action and test their skills against their classmates. The tournament also stood as the opportunity for outland wizards and scholars to come and showcase unique new uses for spells, to show off and sell potions, or display captured magical beasts.

Somewhere a bellowing horn blasted a heavy deep sound sending flocks of birds from their nests and scattering for the sky. The sound reached the farthest rolling farmlands where it surprised farmers and their farmhands. For a brief moment of surprise, they stopped their field

work of planting the spring seeds. Their eyes rose to the horizon and the dusty road that lead toward Antum. They recognized the sound as one they had heard before. The sound didnt frighten them any more than it did the cows who insisted on continuing their grassy breakfast. The sudden blast of the horn vibrated off of the stone buildings within in the city. The echo bounced within the city's outer stone walls surprising the elderly and waking babies. Groups of homeless dogs stopped rooting through garbage and howled alongside the horn in unison. Even the blossoming trees throughout the gardens around the Ebony Palace seemed to sway a little more than usual in the blasts wake. Puffs of purple and pink blossoms fell and circulated into the wind carrying them spiraling down the city streets. People all over the city stopped and froze in the middle of what they were doing when the horn fist blared and still looked vacantly in the direction of the sound long after the horn finally died out. When the horns blare finally stopped, the air became a vacuum of silence that immediately felt strange and foreign. Nobody who had heard it moved and none of them spoke. Slowly, as if waking from a dream the people of the city awoke from their daze. For a long silent moment everyone in the city slowly blinked back into consciousness. Some followed this with a dazed pondering of their surroundings as they search for the memory of what they were doing before the horn had sounded.

Children all over the city grew large toothy grins and began tugging on the arms of their parents. Young apprentices in the markets and stores temporarily abandoned their jobs and ran out into the streets. Packs of people formed groups in the streets and moved together through the

city. More people came out of their homes, shops and stores and joined them. By the time the various small crowds reached the gates of the outside walls, they had become large migration masses of people.

Far above the crowds the city guards watched while standing atop the walls and within the watch towers. The guards silently wore the Antum city emblem across their chest. Their dark grey dyed studded leather armor didnt reflect light and allowed them to blend seamlessly into the walls grey stonework. The camouflage made it impossible to count the number of guards standing watch along the wall.

They watched the mass of people pass underneath them with equal bits of envy and jealously. They sneered as the masses passed by with looks of pure joy on their faces. The guards wanted to join their friends, family and everyone else below them currently stampeding out of the city.