1 Prologue

Bram Vidali quickened his pace, as he neared the familiar alley. He was completely soaked from the heavy pour, and while any other day he might have taken shelter, alas today he did not have the leisure. He soon found himself in the lower quarters of Cantana'a.

Not a soul wandered on the usually bustling streets. The eerie silence rendered Bram somewhat uncomfortable- an euphemism for what he surreptitiously knew was fear. Fear, that he -just like so many others- were heading towards an impending disaster.

In his array of thoughts, Bram soon found himself in front of a most deplorable building. The rickety door looked like it would come crashing down any time now. Bram knocked twice. Several moments later, the door rattled and creaked open.

Glancing behind him, Bram fumbled inside. The door was not yet closed that a sturdy hand clamped his shoulder. The room was dark, and Bram had to squint to decipher Jhal Manik's imposing figure.

" Is he already here?" Bram promptly queried. He could already feel the poodle of water forming at his feet.

Jhal merely urged him towards a corridor that led to a seemingly empty room. He sniffed. Incense. A prayer room then. He stepped forward, his sandaled feet nudging something . Frowning, Bram almost kneeled until someone coughed. Brusquely straightening himself, he swirled around.

Jhal was gone.

"Never has there ever been an earth mage so disconnected to his surrounding," a grave voice said.

While Bram could not quite point out where the voice came, he knew he was not alone. Sighing, he sedately bowed. " Ha'aryr di Maye."  Maye walks with you.

"Always," the voice chuckled.

" I did not think you would come," Bram uttered, his face pinched. He hated the darkness. The unnerving feeling that crept his neck - of being watched and not quite knowing if he was safe.

"And yet I knew you would," the voice calmly replied.

" Guards have already flocked the upper quarters. I did not even know if I would make it. In fact they'll be here soon. Everyone remotely associated with Yebar Ionnis are being dragged out, and words have it that old Kherik's body already hangs at the martyrs' square."

For one prolonged moment, Bram's words were met with silence and he could not help but picture again the marred bodies of comrades he had rubbed shoulders with on a daily basis. It could have been him, if not for his indecipherable streak of luck.

"It was expected," finally came as the dispassionate response.

Something inside Bram almost broke at that very moment. Lashing out was all he really wanted to do, but he knew better. Whoever was with him had the potential to be tenfold the nightmare they were presently in. They would be getting out of this. He did not know how, but it just seemed entirely plausible. Soon they would be freed of this baseless tyranny.

" Ionnis will reach Cantana'a by tomorrow," his faceless companion asserted.

Bram nodded. He knew what this implied. Of the resistance - including himself- only about a hundred remained. Worse, with the recent attacks, they had all scattered and gone into hiding. Bram himself was drained, any mana he had left would not even ensure his own safety.

Shoulders slumped, he gulped. " So what do we do?" He could already feel his body quivering.

What would they do? Bram often wondered - if he ever came out alive of this mess- how it would feel to be part of this conspiracy. Thousand twists and turns, thousand extraordinary tales, and yet here he was.

"What do we do, you ask young mage." The rap of a heel echoed.

Bram abruptly turned. By the old ones, silver hair!

The earth mage's eyes soon trailed to the iridescent stone held out to him. Confusion etched his features. Whatever was this supposed to mean.

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"Today young one, the gods shall favor you."

***

For the clueless:

Mana (noun) :a spiritual emanation, an essence bore, if attuned and controlled can be displayed as magic.

Mages are those who are able to use their mana( the common people while bearing the mana, can make little or simply cannot make use of it) and even wire into an attunement, e.g a fire mage.

They are, per se, not necessarily limited to one attunement.