Sev and I entered the shop and followed Rhodes through a carpeted hallway. A beautiful aroma wafted throughout the room. Unsurprisingly, the shop was full of flowers; on the dining table, hung on the ceiling and on the floor, it was literally a sea of flowers. Rhodes rolled up the carpet, revealing a small hatch into the basement.
“Hop in after me,” he grinned, but rather than jumping into the hole, he had to squeeze and force his way in all the while huffing and flexing his already-bulging muscles. I swore I heard the wooden floorboard creak in agony. There was a loud gasp when he finally fell through and started laughing to himself. I carefully slid myself into the hole and jumped off.
The fall was about 7 feet, but as the tunnel floor was padded by a wornout mattress we managed to at least prevent any unnecessary injury.
The tunnel went deeper for a few hundred meters before opening up to show a large room with more interconnecting tunnels. At the center was a long table with a beastskin sprawled over it.
” You been making more tunnels lately, Rhodes? Where do all these holes end up at?” I stared at him, baffled. Rhodes had better not destroy my city with his ant of a tunnel.
” Aye. Some of the tunnels end up outside the city, others go deeper into the mountains and other sinister places I wouldn’t want you coming close to. Me and the diggers have been making more emergency escape and supply tunnels in case another war breaks out and also smaller tunnels for intelligence operations.”
As we walked closer to the table, I saw various symbols of different colors and patterns all over the beastskin and small-shaped figures neatly arranged by the side of the table. A map.
” We killed one of the lesser beasts roaming near the city. It was apparently called a rughorn. ” Rhodes spoke as we approach the beastskin. ” You see, my boy, one of the books I read in the forbidden archives of the city library mentions that a good commander thinks at least 6 months ahead of his opponents – ”
“And a great one thinks 6 years ahead. Yeah, I’ve read that book,” I said, staring into the map and taking in all the details. The book Rhodes mentioned is one of the many books discovered within the mountains during my uncle’s rule. The expedition to uncover this priceless treasure itself costed the lives of many of his men. Have I mentioned that Rhodes was the only person allowed to call me boy? ” So, this map will help us do that, I believe?”
” Smart boy. We’ve been gathering information within and beyond our borders to make this map as accurate as possible..and I have some disturbing news.” Rhodes began to make his way around the other side of the table, taking a few of the small-shaped figures with beast heads and placing them on the map, beyond the mountains to the left of Brule.
” About a week ago, one of the scouting units I sent deep into the western mountains uncovered a nest. Now, I know that discovering one so far away should not be much of a threat to us, but the number of beasts just keeps growing. We know that these beasts rarely ever come out of the desolated areas and if they do, nothing good ever comes out of that. ”
When beasts of the desolate lands merge in the hundreds, it forms a swarm. When tens of swarms gather in one place, a nest takes shape. This display of considerably unnatural behaviour threatens to tip the balance of life inside and out of the desolate lands. Already within the past few months, news of missing farmers found dead and horrible disfigured and mutilated circulated throughout the city and rumors of these beasts roaming outside the desolate lands, entering protected territories and hunting the unfortunate traveller, locals and traders alike. Rhodes’ face turned cold and hard as he pointed at the figures, his chiseled jaw outlining the face of a veteran warrior.
“So far, we’ve somehow been able to prevent the swarm from entering the mountains, but if the nest starts to move, my scouts will only be able to maintain their positions for about a week at best. And as I’ve said before, we killed one of the beasts near our city. Although the sight of lesser creatures can be quite common, a case like one so close to our city has never occurred before. This is where I need your help, son.”
“I understand. Even though we are technically under the rule of the Rustars, we can’t expect them to provide us with any military resources while they are still engaged in a war against the Riddoc Kingdom. An emergency war council meeting will be held later this evening. I expect all reports to be documented and presented before the council, can you handle that, Rhodes?”
“Consider it done. Moving on, I have reports on the war with the Kingdom of Riddoc,” Rhodes’ face relaxed and he smiled as he took out a scroll from the pouch hanging on his waist. The rustars and riddocs have now been at each others’ throat for a year. Since the capital of Rustar was located near the coast, the resources they own have been steadily dwindling due to King Fernand wanting to expand his rule over the coastal cities. The city of Brule was located 300 miles inland and the last city within the King’s sights, he then consolidated his rule over the span of a couple of years before declaring war against the Kingdom of Riddoc – the neighboring kingdom to the central west – citing a claim over the tainted forests near the enemy kingdom as his rightful ownership. While the Rustars are known to be one of the more powerful military-industrialized kingdoms on the continent – possessing a third of the old world artifacts – the Riddocs on the other hand are a versatile merchant kingdom, acquiring defensive pacts with other nearby kingdoms and duchies due to their strategic trade location. The Riddoc Kingdom also believes in the preservation and cultivation of nature. Or whatever is left of it after the Great War.
“I also have news with regards to the Myre.”