Dominick Petros was not a foolish man, just a desperate one. He clutched his empty belly while rubbing his aching feet with the other hand as he sat beside the well-trod mountain trail. With winter on its way there was no work for a farm hand, and after being run out of town, things were looking grim for the young man.
And so he found himself skulking beside Hadron’s Road like a goblin, awaiting any hapless passer-bys. In his mind he was a dashing highwayman, but to anyone else he was starving vagabond, ready to pounce on the next person foolish enough to bring their coin purse journeying.
He had chosen his site well; the path rounded a large pile of boulders, set against a steep rocky slope. By awkwardly climbing the slope he could see anyone coming up the road and gauge whether or not to strike. So far the day had been disappointing, with not a single traveller passing his way. It was most likely due to the increased presence of grahl in the region. The beastly savages attacking and eating any wary traveller who strays too far off the beaten path.
Suddenly the clatter or hoof beats and the creak of wood drew his attention. Scurrying up the slope he say an elegant two-horse carriage heading his way at a brisk pace. Two men sat atop the wagon, dressed his fine travel clothes but carrying themselves like soldiers. These were a noble man’s guards.
Dominick thanked the absent gods, nearly falling over himself as he hurried down the sloped and prepared to strike. Not only did he finally have a traveller to rob, but it was a nobleman too. He wouldn’t be hungry tonight.
The bandit stood ready in the middle of the road, just beyond the pile of boulders. The clip clop of hoof beats drew closer, the carriage was but a moment away. It was now that he summoned his unnatural gift, the reason he was expelled from his village. The beneath his feet began to hum, resonating softly at first but growing more violent by the second. In that moment he and the stones were one; every worm burrowing through the soil he could feel, every tree root grew through him. His father denounced him as evil, but how could anything evil feel so wonderful?
Reaching out with his mind, he wrenched a waist high wall of stone from the road, blocking the path of the carriage, which had just rounded the corner. The horses reared back in surprise, before leaping over the wall. The carriage was not so lucky though, slamming into the wall and hurling both guards to the ground. A woman’s scream of fright could be heard within the carriage. Two large snaps filled Dominick’s ears as the horses broke free from the carriage and tore off down the road.
“Stand and deliver!” yelled Dom, more nervously than he had hoped.
One guard was out cold but the other rose to his feet with a bloody gash across his chin.
“Stay in the wagon Lady Penelope!” yelled the guard as he drew his sword, eying Dom with murder in his eyes.
“Don’t make me hurt you!” Yelled Dominick, “just give me your gold and I’ll let you on your way,”
“You ‘aven’t even got a weapon!” laughed the guard.
Dom’s eyes rolled up into his head, almost to the point where only his whites could be seen. Suddenly, the ground shook beneath the man’s feet, dropping him to his knees. He cried out in surprise as a large fissure opened before him swallowing him to his shoulders.
The guard looked upon him with fearful eyes, “Demon!” he cried.
Dom ignored him and began to move towards the cabin, but stopped when he realised the ground was still shaking. Perplexed, as this was not his doing, the young man looked around, crying out in fearful surprise as he saw the avalanche of rocks tumbling down the mountainside right towards him.
Reacting on instinct, the stone beneath him rose in a giant wave of mud and rocks, carrying him backwards out of harms way. Sadly though, the carriage and its guards were not so safe. Tonnes of stone and debris engulfed the coach, smashing it to pieces and carrying it down the mountainside. For just the briefest moment, Dominick saw a beautiful young blonde woman within the vehicle, her eyes wide with terror, and then she was gone, buried beneath the stone or carried away.
The failed highway man fell to the ground, gasping for air and pale with shock. He wanted to vomit but his stomach was empty. Instead he ran, never looking back at the scene of death and destruction he had unwittingly unleashed.
“She was the king’s second cousin you say?” asked the man, stroking his well-trimmed moustache more with curiosity than remorse.
“Yes,” replied the second man, Sir Nikolas the Furious, chief security advisor to the king, “Lady Penelope Bartrim,”
Bolivar Trask, the greatest manufacturer of golems in all of Parthoris, put on a face of worry as transparent as a fairy’s wings, “The king must be heartbroken with this loss,”
Sir Nikolas sighed inwardly; it was obvious Trask could not care less about the king’s loss and was curious to know why he had come to him.
“The King and Lady Penelope have never met,” replied Sir Nikolas dryly.
The pair walked through Bolivar’s factory. All around, Trask’s multitude of employees and apprentices were manufacturing golems; humanoid magical constructs built to do man’s bidding. With his one good eye, the chief security advisor examined a trio of young workers shovelling clay into a man shaped mould.
“Clay golems, our cheapest product,” explained Trask, “for an esteemed man like you I could sell you two for eight hundred gold pieces,” the man’s eyes were bright with greed.
“Flesh and blood men are enough for me,” replied Furious dourly. It was unknown to anyone but Sir Nikolas how many men served him. Even King Elehan was unsure. As well as being head of Arthadia’s armies, Nikolas was also responsible for a secret order known as The Shield. Established by King Elehan’s father Argus half a century ago, the Shield is a network of like minded spies and soldiers dedicated to fighting darkness and maintaining peace in the land. The organisation’s arms even reached outside Arthadia’s borders, going as far as the Empire across the sea, though that is a well-kept secret.
“Yes, of course,” Trask conceded, sounding slightly petulant, “Perhaps if you could tell me why the King’s chief security advisor is here…”
“Lady Penelope’s attack was caused by no mere avalanche,” replied Sir Nikolas, scanning the room for prying ears, “One of her guards survived, and informed us the rockslide was caused by a demon in human form,”
Trask’s eyes narrowed and he spat upon the ground, “Long have I warned the king of these hell breed. They increase in number with each day…”
Furious held up a hand to silence the golem-maker, “Your cries have not fallen of deaf ears. The king is curious about this new type of golem you wrote to him about; one you claim can track empowered individuals…”
“Hell breed,” Bolivar corrected.
Sir Nikolas nodded but did not adopt the term, “The king would like to commission some of these new golems. He requests that you have them track Lady Penelope’s killer and bring him to justice,”
Trask smiled widely, “The king is most wise. My new golems cannot only track hell breed, but they’re much more powerful and durable than other golems. I am confident they will become protectors of the people, ridding the world of abominable demon-kin. In fact I have already begun development, in anticipation of this moment. Come, let me show you,”
He eagerly led Nikolas through a small, non-descript door into a much larger room. Before them stood what appeared to be an ornate suit of armour, ten feet tall and jet-black with gold overlay. Twin glowing yellow eyes hid behind a cold face of iron, hammered and moulded to mimic that of a man.
Trask looked upon the golem like a proud father, “I give you, the Sentinel,”
Elsewhere, far above the ground and away from such terrestrial problems as bigotry and hatred, a beautiful young woman danced on air. Her name was Ororo Monuru, and she was far from home.
At least a few hundred spans below here was Castle Greymalkin, a fine home, and yet it did not feel like her true home. Her true home, the place where she grew up, where she first felt the winds swirl to her beck and call, was far to the west. Often she floated upon the winds, sometimes to heights greater than birds dared to fly, in the hope she would catch a glimpse of her homeland.
She was gifted, there was no doubt; the very weather was her servant. For years her tribe worshipped her as a goddess, and she in turn rewarded them with blessed rain and protection from the angry storm gods. That all ended though when a freak storm ravaged her village while she slept. To this day she still did not know whether she caused the devastating weather in her dreams or simply failed to stop the storm in time because she was asleep.
Charles Xavier gave her home then, saving her from being stoned to death and bringing her far across the sea to a cold but green land and placing her in a hut made of stone. It was different, but she found family there, and acceptance. And despite all this, she still found herself longing for a much different land.
The countryside that spread out beneath her was breathtaking; lush green pine forest spread out far to the west and north, occasionally broken with crystal blue lakes. To the east, the grey ocean was just visible, and she spared it one last glance before looking down upon her current home.
Just south of the castle, lay the thriving town of Greymalkin; a moderate sized place full of friendly people. Much of the areas income came from travellers and merchants, passing along the well-trod Hadron’s Road towards the southern ports in Levista. The people there were surprisingly accepting of the unusual tenants their lord kept, perhaps because of his heroic exploits in the past, or how well he had cared for the town.
Benevolent but powerful was the best way to describe Lord Xavier. The man had the ability to read and control minds and yet he never abused it, instead dedicating himself to protecting all gifted individuals and fighting for their acceptance in the world.
Ororo, called Charles’ voice in her head, I sense a gifted person in trouble! I’m mentally sending you their location. Scott and Logan are already on their way by horseback, but you can reach him much faster.
“I’m on my way,” she said aloud, although she knew she didn’t have to.
Below she could clearly see Scott Summersett and Logan racing north of the castle along Hadron’s Road. The people of Greymalkin affectionately called them the Knights of Greymalkin, as they were always racing to someone’s rescue, as well as protection the town itself from attack.
Ororo, whose name meant storm in her language, summoned the winds to propel her forward at tremendous speeds. Xavier had implanted the victim’s location in her mind, meaning she knew exactly where to go. The trees below swayed dramatically in the wind as the young woman soared overhead. Suddenly she halted in mid air, scanning the area. The trees were too thick, blocking anything on the ground from view.
As if reading her thoughts, a large fissure immediately appeared in the ground swallowing up several trees and revealing the shocking scene below. A young man, looking very dirty and weary, with messy brown hair and haunted dark eyes, stood surrounding by half a dozen giant armoured figures. The armoured brutes has to be ogres, for no other race was so large, and yet she had never heard to the beasts wearing such fine armour.
One armoured figure extended a hand to grasp the young gifted but a wave of soil rose beneath its feet, hurling it away. Their target dove through the gap created and began to run as fast as he could. The armoured giants gave pursuit, but they were much slower than their prey. To make matters worse for them, several more fissures opened up in the ground, causing several of the hunters to tumble.
The man outdistanced his pursuers, but failed to notice that two of them had circled around until he almost ran into one. Ororo chose that moment to come to his aid, plunging herself towards the ground and summoning a large bolt of lightning to strike the brutes. She landed on her feet beside the man, who jumped in fright.
“Be calm, I am here to help you,” she said, before pushing him out of the way of a giant armoured fist.
The two ogres she had struck with lightning should be unconscious or dead, but surprisingly they seemed relatively unharmed. To make matters worse, the other attackers were drawing closer. A large gust of wind held the two attackers at bay while she rushed to the young man’s side.
Something about the way the creatures moved concerned her. There was no swagger, each walked in exactly the same way. Furthermore, none made a single sound. There was no chatter, no grunting, not even any loud breathing. Nothing was distinguishable beneath the heavy armour; even their faces were completely hidden by emotionless steel masks. Only their glowing yellow eyes were visible, and no ogre had eyes like that.
“What are they?” she asked loudly, talking over the rushing wind.
“I…I don’t know!” The man was scared, and so very tired. Ororo could tell he was on the fire of collapse.
She clutched his wrist and wrapped his arm over her shoulders, supporting him as she prepared to lift them both out of reach. Without warning though, two beams of crimson hellfire burst through the woods, knocking one of the enemies off its feet.
Scott and Logan charged through the forest on horseback, the squire clearing a path with his tremendous abilities. Without his enchanted spectacles, Scott would be force to keep his eyes closed at all times to hold back the fiery power dwelling within them. He lifted his glasses once more, blasting several trees from the ground and creating a temporary barrier between the knights and the half dozen enemies just arriving at the scene.
One creature remained standing, and its companion was quickly rising to its feet once more. Using the horse for momentum, Logan launched himself forward, unsheathing three razor sharp steel blades from each hand as he did so. He barrelled into the figure with great speed, though it barely reacted, and plunged his bladed deep into a shoulder joint in the armour. The look of surprise on his face was clear to everyone.
“There’s nothing in there!” He shouted, before the monster grabbed him by the neck and hurled him away.
While the thing was distracted, Scott struck it square in the face with his hellfire beams. The thing stumbled but quickly corrected itself, revealing half its iron facemask had been torn away.
Ororo gasped in surprise; there was nothing inside the armour but a bright yellow flame. It was some sort of magical construct. In her surprise she lost her grip on the young man and he collapsed to his knees.
“Oh gods, the beasts of hell have come to claim me!” he cried.
Scott struck the construct again, this time in the leg, toppling it over, but the second one was already on its feet. To make matters worse the other beasts were quickly smashing their way through the barrier of fallen trees Scott had created.
“We need to retreat now!” yelled Scott.
Logan ran from the forest like a wild man, with many sticks impaled in his back, giving him the appearance of a rabid hedgehog. With a snarl he pounced upon the back of the standing goliath and wrapped something over its head; his wolf skin coat. The beast, blinded, swing wildly but succeeding only in killing a nearby sapling.
At that moment Scott’s tree barrier shattered, and the rest of the beasts came barrelling through.
“Ahhh!” cried the man, and as if echoing him, the ground began to rumble.
It was subtle at first, but quickly grew into a tremendous upheaval of soil. No one present could remain standing, including the constructs. Logan had to quickly dive out of the way as one fell forward, nearly crushing him.
Great fissure opened all around them, swallowing some constructs while huge columns of stone erupted like spears. Ororo feared the earth would swallow them all, so she grabbed the young man by the shoulders and screamed for him to stop. But it seemed as if he was in a trance, with his eyes rolled up into his head and his muscles incredible tense.
Not knowing what else to do she screamed for the others to run; Logan’s horse had fled, but Scott had managed to maintain control of his long enough to pull Logan atop behind him. He shot Ororo a worried glance but she screamed for them to run once more.
Wrapping her arms around the man, she summoned a great gust of wind to carry them upwards. A small tornado developed blow them, carrying them high into the sky. The moment the man broke contact with the earth he visibly relaxed, and the ground below ceased to shake.
The scene of devastation below was awe inspiring; not a single tree remained standing for two hundred spans around the battle site. None of the constructs were visible, either the trees had crushed them of the earth had swallowed them.
Scott and Logan were blow, riding swiftly back to Greymalkin and she did the same, all the while worrying who, or what, had sent those beasts after her unconscious passenger, and wondering if there were anymore out there.
“His name is Dominick Petros,” announced Charles Xavier an hour later, as she sat in a comfortable chair beside the young man they had rescued.
Dominick slept deeply on a goose down bed in one of the many spare rooms within the castle. The slumber was partially due to exhaustion, but also induced by Ororo’s patron, who possessed vast mental abilities.
All the Knights of Greymalkin stood about the room; Logan and Scott, both looking weary and sore; Lord Xavier’s stepdaughter, Jean Grey; H’nk M’Koy, resident alchemist and acrobat; Ororo herself; and the elf Khert, the only non-human living in the castle.
“That’s not all you got from him,” stated Logan.
Charles, looking slightly offended, continued, “I only skimmed the surface Logan, as you should know I refuse to pry into people’s minds uninvited,”
“Stepfather, I’m sure Logan meant nothing buy…”
“It is of no matter Jean. From the young man’s mind I gleaned he was driven out of his village when his gifts first revealed themselves. A common occurrence across the world I would imagine,” he shot Scott a significant glance, “these armoured monsters attacked him somewhere outside Adara and tracked him all the way here,”
H’nk, having been hanging upside down from the rafters by his feet, promptly dropped to the ground and cleared his throat.
“From the descriptions provided to me, I believe I may be able to shed some light on your assailants,” H’nk stated, his educated voice at odds with his ape-like appearance. He looked to Ororo, “They were essentially walking suits of armours you said, filled with flame?”
“Yes,” she could practically see the gears turning in H’nk’s mind; he was the most intelligent man she had ever met, as well as a dear and loyal friend.
“Ah, as I though, that fits the description perfectly for a golem,”
Charles rubbed his temples, a frown evident upon his face. “I’ve seen golems before H’nk, in my travels to the east. I have never seen a golem like those I saw within this boy’s mind,”
H’nk shrugged, “I fear this may be a new, more powerful form of golem sir. Once all golems were formed with clay, and given a semblance of life buy filling them with magical flame. Over the years, new forms have been devised; wood, stone, iron. I don’t doubt someone has created a powerfully armoured golem. My only concern is who would send so many after one young man?”
“I’m more concerned about how they found him,” replied Charles, “Golems are not intelligent, they can only perform the most basic of tasks, generally in the service of a mage or anyone rich enough to buy one. I cannot fathom a golem being able to track a man for so many leagues,” reaching for his crutches, he lifted himself up onto his one leg, “I shall meditate in the Cerebras chamber and consult with my learned friends, the rest of you should go and fetch some dinner, its been a long day,”
He spared a glance at the sleeping Dominick, “Perhaps someone should stay with him in case he awakens, Jean could you…”
“I’ll stay,” Ororo volunteered. She felt the man would need a familiar face when he awakened.
“Very well,” nodded Charles, before leaving with Jean at his side. The others soon followed, though H’nk lagged behind.
“Would you like some company?” he asked, a hopefully glint in his eye.
“Thank you H’nk, but I will be fine. Go, enjoy supper,” she couldn’t help but notice the look of disappointment on her friend’s face.
“Oh, very well…I’ll bring you some food later,” he hurried from the room, without looking her in the eye.
Ororo tried to say “thank you” but the burly alchemist was already out the door. Confusion set in as she made herself comfortable in the chair previously occupied by Charles. The pair had been friends for years; she relished his witty humour while he delighted in her carefree nature, and yet lately he had been withdrawn, as if it hurt him to be around her.
She sat pondering this, losing track of time in the process until the sudden arrival of Khert made her nearly jump out of her chair. The dark hued elf had a bad habit of appearing in rooms without knocking. His former family, monks of Solaris, must have been accustomed to him teleporting around in a cloud of sulphuric smoke, but the tenants of Castle Greymalkin will still adjusting.
“Khert! You have to stop doing that. You scared me so badly I nearly struck you with lightning!”
“Apologies Ororo,” the elf briefly bowed his head in mock shame, barely hiding his mischievous grin, “but H’nk asked me to bring you some supper,” he presented a plate of cold lamb, cheeses and bread, with a cup of water.
“Why didn’t he bring it himself?”
“He did not say, but he did rush down to his laboratory fairly quickly afterwards,”
Ororo could not abide this behaviour anymore. In her homeland, her people spoke their mind; they not keep secrets or hide their thoughts in the shadows. She resolved it was time to confront her friend.
“Khert, could you please stay here and keep watch over Dominick?”
“It will be for only a few moments, Lord Xavier said he would not awake for at least several hours,”
As if on cue, the entire castle began to shake, subtle at first, before escalating into a floor-shaking rumble. Mortar dust rained down upon them and books fell from the shelves in the corner.
Ororo spun about ensure the safety of her ward, only to find him awake and staring in wide-eyed fear at Khert.