Photo by Kyle Bushnell on Unsplash

Dawn, the day of departure.

The entire grassy field surrounding the Keep was packed with the results of the last few months’ preparation. The wagons and supply crates took up a majority of the space, the soldiers and civilian workers bustled around the clutter, and the animals stomped and bellowed, irritated by the close quarters. Pixies and mages flitted overhead, while brownies ducked under legs to swiftly move from place to place.

It was the hectic but organized chaos of people who had put their all into being as prepared as one could ever be for war.

The general overall feeling was one of anticipation, and almost relief. Anxiety would come later, once the safety of Arthur’s zone of influence was behind them; but for now, most everyone was ready to get on the road — if only to get it over with.

The Golden Paladin and Hesa were standing in front of what the Golden Paladin referred to as a ‘boat’ — the biggest wagon of the bunch, meant to transport the commanders. The people of Arthur’s Kingdom weren’t known for their extravagance of decoration, so it wasn’t necessarily ornate, but its size and care of construction made it obvious who its passengers were.

“Is this really what we’ll be riding in?” The Golden Paladin asked plaintively.

Hesa sighed. “Arthur insisted. At least we managed to fill it with supplies. Though we will need the space as the other leaders join us.”

The Golden Paladin grunted in resignation and climbed up onto it, casting a quick scanning glance around. They both had had messengers literally constantly popping in and out with last-minute questions and reports, so he knew generally when they could set out, but he was the type of leader who liked to keep an eye on things personally.

He held out a hand for Hesa, who smirked but allowed him to help her up onto the wagon. He knew that look all too well from working with her so closely since his arrival: he was treating her like a Lady, when she was a fully-fledged combat mage, possibly more deadly than himself.

He grinned back, unruffled. This was just how it was between them. He did it on purpose to annoy her, and she indulged him.

A whirlwind of activity overtook them, then sudden silence. The Golden Paladin, reading the energy in the air, stood from his position on the wagon’s front bench and lifted his arm. Tens of thousands of eyes settled on him. It was an electrifying feeling, but one he was well used to.

Move out!” He bellowed. “To the first tower!


Leaving Arthur’s Kingdom was uneventful and, daresay, even pleasant. The forest the Golden Paladin had previously traveled through (and over) was cool and calm, and the soldiers were all in high spirits in the camp that night. The next day brought them into the rolling hills and plains outside the forest, which, with the good weather, made for an achingly beautiful ride. It would have been easy to forget — and certainly some among their procession did — what their purpose for traveling was. But, the Golden Paladin was in no hurry to remind them.

The idiom ‘the calm before the storm’ got a lot of shit, but it was better than a storm upon a storm.

He and Hesa weren’t the only occupants of the massive wagon; Tiann’a and Hroskar, Hesa’s personal adjutant, were riding with them as well. Arthur had stayed behind; she claimed to be far more suited to protecting her Kingdom than traipsing around the world, and had said she preferred using her mind over her sword arm or the Weave. Though poor Hroskar was a harried individual (as expected of anyone tasked with taking personal care of a single-minded firebrand like Hesa), conversation flowed easily between the four of them, making the time pass quickly.

By the end of the first week, though, the atmosphere of easy travel was already fading. Reports had come in from advance scouts about odd staves spotted in their path, jammed into the ground vertically as if they were signposts. Hesa had taken a look at the sketches provided by one of the scouts and her face had immediately darkened.

“Those staves are necromantic markers,” she said tightly. The Golden Paladin knew her well enough by that point to recognize when she was leaning on professionalism to hide strong emotion. For a mage, there were few grave sins, but necromancy was one of them. “Did you see them personally?” Hesa asked a scout. “Yes? Were they alight? It would be something like a purple glow.”

The scout responded in the negative and she pressed her fingers into her forehead. The Golden Paladin dismissed the scout and turned to study Hesa.

After a moment, she said, “If they are not glowing, they are inactive. But that ultimately means nothing. We are well into the territory controlled by Merlin’s troops. He’s stooped so low already: I wouldn’t be surprised if they were his… he has access to such blasphemous magic one way or another.”

“Is there anything we can do to prepare?”

“Not beyond what we are already doing. We can only hope that they are old, and that no one is left to activate them. We need to keep our guard up.”

Clouds rolled in on the eighth morning, as though even the sky itself was wary of the ground it hung over. They passed a stave in the road around midday (thankfully, uneventfully) — one of the necromantic markers the scouts had seen — but the mood was somber and tense.

Then they saw another necromantic marker.

By the time they saw the third, they realized they had walked into a trap.

Oh no!!! A trap!! What will our heroes do?! Find out next time!

Metacosm Trivia Time!

The four sins of magic:

Blood magic — utilizing the innate life power contained inside blood. Any part of a body contains a part of its essence, and since blood is the easiest to harvest, it tends to be targeted over other things like organs or tissue. Victims of blood magic are almost always unwilling, but there have been exceptions.

Soul magic — piercing the victim’s soul container with a magical tether, and pulling their soul power out directly. This is possibly considered the worst sin of all, as doing so is guaranteed to incite retribution from the Creator’s children. As the Ascended as a whole are responsible for the caretaking of souls, soul magic is considered a direct affront and insult. Soul magic is extremely difficult, so there have been very few attempts.

Necromancy — in general, everyone knows what necromancy is. In Metacosm, it is when a mage uses their own will to force life energy back into dead biological tissue. With powerful necromancers, this can be done in one step: killing the body while preserving its life energy. This tactic is risky, though, as the soul may stay tethered to the dead body. These individuals retain their sense of self and are referred to as ‘unliving.’

Summoning — you’re probably thinking, ‘Why the hell is summoning on this list?’ Magic in the Metacosm isn’t without its rules. It cannot truly ‘create’ anything (as creating something from pure will is the realm of the Creator only), it merely manipulates what already exists. It also has no inherent morality (it is a fully neutral force) and takes the path of least resistance. If a Weave-user attempts to ‘create’ something, the magic will find a thing that already exists in that configuration and take it instead. So, summoning is stealing a creature from somewhere else and binding it, making it a form of trafficking and slavery.

N.A. Soleil is a portmanteau pseudonym of the two authors' names.

You can read previous Metacosm Chronicles stories in past issues of Tumbleweird.