Spires looked at the papers on his desk in front of him. Behind him, the noises from the city which had given him his name drifted through the panelled balcony doors. He permitted himself a small, tired sigh. No one was around to notice this lapse in the unshakable exterior he kept up. The lack of sleep was starting to take its toll. But too many things still needed to be arranged if even only half of the documents contained some truth. It was hard to be sure about news from afar.
Things were afoot. Too many pieces were moving at the same time, seemingly independent from one another. But his years in the colonies had shown him coincidences didn’t exist. There had to be a connection. Some piece of the puzzle he was missing.
He looked at the different documents again.
The first was a letter from Ailana of Lazuly. After Arakis they had kept up a regular correspondence. Both of them had information the other could use. It was always useful to keep up with the latest gossip from the upper echelons of the Ever Empire.
By itself, the content of the letter was relatively innocent. The Ever Emperor was being reclusive and eccentric. But then, he had always been that way. Creatures were stirring in the Barrier Mountains in greater numbers than before. And there were reports of things moving in the swirls of the Prison. Some claimed to even have seen flashes of long trapped demons in the mists.
Of course, the Prison was always acting up. By itself this wouldn’t be much to worry about. But, here he picked up another report, the Nothern barbarian tribes were also rumoured to be on the march, boosted by demon magic. Spires’ ships and contacts across the human lands reported above average movement in the far North. Whole tribes and nations were said to be on the move, with demons driving them on. Of course, no one reliable had actually seen them. It was always someone who had talked to a trader who knew someone who had had a drink with a lad who had seen something.
But then, most people wouldn’t live long enough to report demons on the move. Especially if the person in question was human. They either ended up mad or dead.
The rumours were similar to reports from closer to home. All along the North Eastern border of the territories of the City skirmishes were breaking out. Orcs were pouring out of the Arakis mountains in ever greater number. So far most of them had been diverted around the colony. Directed towards easier prey. But if the numbers kept increasing at this rate then Spires’ border guard would be hard pressed to keep the lumbering brutes at bay.
The whole mountain range seemed to be emptying. But if it was because the orcs had joined forces with the barbarians, if they were looking for plunder or if they were being driven onwards by invading legions no report told. Standing in the way of an orc migration was a sure-fire way to get eaten. Even for one of the Narathi scouts.
And then there were the lands to the west of the city of Spires, the ancient kingdom of Aldis. The land of the Dead. Dreadful and bleak. Devoid of life and yet home to one of the greatest human civilizations. The dead there were restless. Ships had disappeared while mooring in previously safe harbours along the coast of Aldis. Those ships alone had lost Spires a small fortune in goods from The Ever Empire.
But if the coasts were unsafe, then the interior was even worse. For some reason, fighting had broken out amongst the different undead factions. And living explorers were simply considered new recruits. After losing large parts of several expeditions sent to gather intel from Aldis, Spires had stopped sending them. He was blind in the Southern parts of the human lands.
Spires put the different documents down again. There had to be a connection. Gracefully, cat-like, he got up and walked onto the balcony. Down below, he saw the city of Spires spread out towards the harbour. Several of the rock spires that gave the City its name reared up around the palace. To the left stood the Little Tower, a nod to the mages college in Lazuly, home too many of the mages of the city. Over to the right, nearer the city wall, the Watchtower stood guard. Highest of the spires, an elf standing atop it could watch all the way to the foothills of the Arakis mountains. And over by the docks, the Spires Chapter Company. Low and broad, it housed the largest trading chapter of the city. Much of the wealth of the colonies was linked to that spire.
Around this last spire, Spires saw several of his regiments march towards the docks. At the moment it was still Rangers, Ballista’s and one of his units of sword dancers. Not too many yet. But the call from the Empire would come. Spires could feel the storm brewing on the horizon. The Ever Empire would come under attack again. He intended to have his pawns in place when it did. And so, the sons of the colonies were being shipped home.
Behind him, the door to his study crashed open. His secretary El’An rushed in. Three strides brought Spires back to his desk. He arched an eyebrow in anger at El’An. This was not to be accepted. Proper form needed to be followed. One does not simply rush in on a Prince. El’An was young, granted. But youth only could excuse so much.
El’An held a scroll at arm’s length in front of him. He eyed it as if it could catch fire at any moment. “A report sir, from the Dragon Isles” he said in a timid voice. “It was just now delivered by messenger bird”
The Prince of Spires looked at the sealed scroll. And saw the reason for El’An’s haste. Four ribbons were attached to the seal. Each of them was Red and White, the colours of the City, his personal colours. The ribbons and seal were a code used for the most urgent of missives. El’An had probably never seen it being used. The only message more urgent then this one would be one from the Ever Emperor himself. “Thank you, El’An” Spires said as he took the report. “You may go.”
Spires rolled the letter in his hands for a short while after El’An had left again. He hesitated to open it. Would this be the missing puzzle piece? What could be so important that the message carried this encoding? With his nail Spires broke the wax seal and opened the letter.
Great disturbances have shaken the Dragon Isles. The different volcanoes of the archipelago have become restless. And the dragons are awakening and rising. Not just one or two. But they all seem to be waking from their eternal slumber. Even the oldest ones, which were already in deep sleep five hundred years ago when we first found them, are getting restless. It won’t be long before even they rise.
Already at this moment, large groups of them circle on the thermal currents surrounding the islands. And, which is the direct cause of this letter, the first Ancient Dragon has left his lair. As I write this, he is currently feeding on one of the herds around New Harbour.
This seems news of great importance. Hence the urgency of this missive.
Commander An-Ar Oleth
Spires dropped the letter. The dragons were waking. He never thought it would actually occur in his lifetime. It was indeed the final piece of the puzzle. He thought back to his lessons in the mages college in his youth, almost a thousand years ago now. There were the prophecies. In all Elven writings about dragons, there was always only one reason why the dragons would all wake up. It was worse than he had anticipated. For once, the Prince of Spires was caught off guard.
The Apocalypse had come.