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PostPosted: Sat Sep 3, '11, 6:53 pm
Chapter 1: A Moment of Glory

Ryan pulled his thick cloak tightly against his body as he stepped out of the inn and into the ankle-deep snow that carpeted the streets of Mystoke. He was alone; Nial and the others had retired to their rooms for the evening. The long trek across the freezing plains of Frigidia had taken their toll on his cohorts' morale and health; they would need at least a full day's rest--if not more--before heading into Mystoke castle. The Layan rebel, however, was made of sturdier stuff; an entire life of living on the periphery of Elysium society had toughened him up more than Nial and Laya would ever understand.

The Layan rebel wandered aimlessly through the streets of the great Laya's hometown, never quite sure if he was sight-seeing or looking for something. Few people were outdoors at this hour and the only sounds he could hear were the murmurs of the Mystokians inside their homes and the chilly wind groaning through the empty intersections of the town.

It didn't take long for Ryan to get lost in the endless alleyways of the city’s residential district, although the man couldn't care less. His colleagues were probably going to rest long enough that he could finish his outing and return to the inn before they noticed that he was gone.

Ryan's trudging through the snow eventually brought him to a wide alley not too far from the castle. The sight that greeted him as he entered the street surprised him: dozens of people huddled together, trying to keep warm in the freezing temperatures. The Layan man's heart throbbed with compassion as he gazed upon the wretched masses of the Layan lower class, people who struggled to keep warm with thin blankets and even thinner clothing. A few small fires made in the street provided enough warmth for some of them to not feel the now-stinging cold while simultaneously cooking some broth or soup whose smell made Ryan think that they were simply eating anything edible that they could find littering the ground.

Little children gathered around the fires, furiously rubbing their reddened hands together, their loving mothers sacrificing their own comfort in order to guarantee that of their children. For several long minutes, Ryan said nothing. Finally, he joined himself to the masses and struck up conversation with one of the men who stood about with a group of other destitute fathers.

"I've never seen you around here, before," the man said.

Ryan grunted. "Yeah, I'm not actually from Mystoke, or Frigidia for that matter."

"I can tell. Layan or Orakian?"

"Does it matter?" responded Ryan, a bit defensively.

"I suppose not. Once you're at the bottom of the barrel, it doesn't really matter who you are; you just fight to survive."

The Layan rebel wiped some snow from his shoulders. "So how did you all find yourselves out here in the cold?" he asked, concerned.

The man sighed. "No central government to see to our plight, perhaps. The population of Mystoke grew, but the city itself has always stayed the same size. Not enough room, I guess. For quite a few years—and by that I mean generations--we stayed at the castle, since there was no royal family around to occupy it anyways."

Ryan lifted an eyebrow. He closed his eyes, hidden to the man by his shades, and played the image of the poor and downtrodden Frigidians setting up their homes in the abandoned castle. It probably wasn't comfortable, and it was probably still cold inside, but at least they were protected from the freezing winds and frequent blizzards within its confines. "Seems like you had a good deal back there," he observed. "Why would you leave it behind?"

The man laughed bitterly. "We didn't leave as much as we were expelled."

Ryan took a deep breath; he knew where this conversation was going. "By Lune?" he asked expectantly.

The man nodded. "A garrison of Lune's army showed up one day in Mystoke and declared that they would occupy the castle. They forced us out of it, telling us that the great Laya's palace was not the place for 'the rabble of her people.' ‘Couple of the men tried to fight back, but were hacked to pieces and strewn about the numerous living chambers and dungeon cells as an example." Tears began run down the man's face, freezing and solidifying as they reached the middle of his frostbitten cheek. "There's just nowhere else for us to go anymore," the man lamented. "I doubt any of us could make it from here to New Mota, and, even if we did, there are probably even less opportunities to work there than here."

Ryan watched the man clench his fist, but said nothing. He himself felt like doing the same thing; Lune's foolish war against the Orakians was bringing misery to his own people. He had foreseen this; that's why he had become a rebel.

The man went on, “I don’t know if Laya would’ve wanted this for her people. I don’t know if she’s looking down at us with compassion, or if she’s cackling from wherever she is, glad that her castle is now ‘unsullied.’ But you see all of us here? The Orakians never did anything to us, this is all in-house. Ironic, huh?”

Before he could speak up, Ryan’s concentration was broken by a sudden desperate scream. He and the other Layan men spun around to see a woman sitting against the wall of a house, crying profusely. He jogged through the snow over to the woman, who was holding a child in the arms. The kid, a young red-haired girl of about seven, lay motionless, her eyes open, but ultimately lifeless. Her skin was so pale that it practically blended in with the snow itself. The young girl had frozen to death.

Another child, a few years older than the girl who lay lifeless in the loving embrace of her mother, his face smudged with ashes, stood over the woman’s shoulder, staring sorrowfully at his dead sibling. The young boy shivered as cold ate through his shredded tunic. Ryan looked at the boy and smiled. He removed his cloak from his body, instantly exposing his body to the chilly winds that blasted the denizens of the alley. He sat the boy down next to his mother and wrapped his cloak around both of them. Before either of them could thank him, the rebel stormed out of the alley way, in the direction of Laya’s castle.

Stepping through the gates, he was immediately met by a pair of violet-haired women brandishing long swords, their equally-violet armor hidden beneath thick, brown mantles; they were Amazons. “Halt!” cried one of them. “Identify yourself!”

Ryan tried to mask the anger that welled up inside. “I am Ryan, a dragon knight of the armies of Laya!” he retorted.

The two Amazons looked at each other and nodded. “Thou art welcome here, dragon knight. What may we do for you?”

“I want answers,” bellowed Ryan, who ceased to mask his contempt for the two representatives of Lune’s army. “Why were the occupants of the castle expelled? It was their home!”

“I’m sorry,” said the Amazon unapologetically. “Lune’s orders. Laya’s palace is considered to be a place just as sacred as any of her temples and shall be treated as such. That means no—“

Ryan silenced the warrior woman with a wave of his hand. “Can’t you see? The very people that you all are fighting for are freezing to death at Lune’s orders!” he screamed. At that moment, he felt a strange sensation in his right hand. The dull pain in his fingers alerted Ryan to the fact that he was beginning to transform. The hair on his right arm promptly fell into the snow and soon his olive skin was replaced with golden scales. His fingernails grew into long, sharp claws.

The Amazons apparently had not quite noticed the limited transformation because one of them continued. “We are only obeying Lune’s orders. Now, if you to persist in arguing with us, we’re going to have to ask you to vacate the premises.”

The dragon knight let out a loud screech and swung his right arm in the direction of one of the armed warriors. Before she could lift her sword in defense, his claws ripped into the woman’s throat, causing blood to spurt in all directions, dying the snow around them crimson. The Amazon grasped what was left of her neck as she fell backward, staining more of the ground around her.

Her companion stared in horror and was about to lift her sword against Ryan when he hissed at her. “Tell Lune that his days are numbered and that his stupid war will soon come to an end, starting with garrison stationed here. You have one day to pull out of this place, otherwise the Layan-Orakian Alliance will crush each and every last one of you all. The choice is yours.”

The surviving Amazon stared fearfully at Ryan and then ran back into the castle, leaving her slain companion lying in the crimson ice. The Layan, whose arm had reverted back to its human form, turned away and walked quickly back to the inn.
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