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Albyn, Llael.
12th of Octesh, 611 AR.

The greylords arrived at the first light of dawn.

“I am greatly relieved to see you,” Yegor said with a toothy smile embracing each of the six wizards heartily. “I haven’t seen another member of the Covenant in two months,” he said. “It is an honor to serve at the front, but I am not one of the soldiers. I miss my bretheren.”

“Likewise,” said Dimitri– or was it Lavir? Yegor couldn’t remember their names. The six men wore grey cloaks bearing sigils of rank and power, and the distinctive long beards of their Order. Yegor looked over them at the large trunks borne on the cart they rode in on.

“Ah, do I dare hope my request was granted?” he said softly, searching their eyes. Dimitri (or Lavir) smiled.

“Zerkova approved your request,” he said. Three of the men stepped forward. They were older greybeards with a vicious flint in their eyes. They carried black staffs made of some kind of ancient soapstone with grotesque faces carved into their surface. A sickly green aura seemed to emanate from the eyes of the carved visages. It was a strange presence Yegor was very familiar with: the sensation created by many Orgoth artifacts that exuded the power of trapped souls. They were dark tools.

But it was a dark time. Darkness was called for.

“We are here to deliver the weapons, and oversee their use,” one of the old men said in a gravelly voice heavily accented with some northern dialect Yegor couldn’t pinpoint. “As well as see their return,” the man added, staring Yegor down. Yegor nodded.

“Of course, of course,” Yegor said placatingly. “I have no designs for them beyond what Zerkova wills. Uhm, she has been made clear on their application here, has she not?” he said even more quietly. The six of them nodded.

“It is…unorthodox,” one of the greylords said slowly. “But she has perceived the plan’s potential for other similar engagements. She wishes to gauge your plan’s effectiveness. If it succeeds, it shall be repeated elsewhere. If it fails…” the threat behind his trailing words was very clear. The man smiled and the air temperature around them dropped enough to cause frost to blossom on the grass at his feet. Yegor did not feel cold– no frost wizard did– but the implication was not lost on him. “Well. You know the price of an ambitious failure,” the other greylord finished. Yegor bobbed his head.

“Of course,” Yegor repeated. “Oh, one other thing. The kovnik in charge here has not been…hmm…supportive of this maneuver. As such I would prefer we keep the process under wraps until the correct time,” Yegor said diplomatically.

“These tools are not subtle,” said Dimitri/Lavir with a raised eyebrow. “And we have very little time. How do you propose we move forward?”

“The First Army is just down the hill preparing for an assault,” Yegor said. “It is coming any day. They have a good chance of breaking through.” This statement surprised the greylords.

“You have so little faith in our defense here?” one of the older ones said in alarm. His voice was like sheets of ice grinding against each other. “Then why have you ordered these weapons brought? They were not given for a doomed defense, they are to be returned after victory,” he said harshly.

“And they shall be,” Yegor lied, putting his hands out placatingly. “Our defensive fortification down there is not the true last stand, it is a roadblock to Albyn. They will have a much more difficult time entering the city with so many civilians still present, and we have a way to pressure them to attack before they are prepared. The Kovnik has prepared a defense there that will inflict sufficient casualties to make an attack on Albyn far less likely to succeed. This is all meant to buy time for the Supreme Kommandant’s contingency in the event Riversmet is not retaken.”

“We are not interested in the broader strategy,” Dimitri/Lavir said in annoyance. “We are here to ensure these tools are put to maximum effect, and returned intact.”

“And I am telling you,” Yegor said, annoyance creeping into his words, “that we must wait to apply them until after the Cygnarans begin their assault. Kovnik Vasily will be distracted at that time. The initial assault on this town will necessarily fail. We are too well protected. The enemy will be forced to await replacements for their losses. By the time the Swans truly threatens us here, we will be ready to unleash our surprise,” he said. “This must be handled delicately in the meantime.”

“If this kovnik is not willing to take the necessary measures for victory, then we should remove him,” the oldest greylord said firmly.

“I have considered this,” Yegor said. “When the time comes I shall do so, but it cannot appear to the troops to be a takeover. They must believe their officer was killed in combat. I will then bear the yoke of command, and all pretenses of subtlety shall vanish.”

“What do you want us to do then?” Dimitri/Lavir asked impatiently.

“I need a ternion on the front line as soon as possible in order to blunt the enemy attack,” Yegor said. All six men laughed.

“You deign to send us to our deaths in a trench!?” Dimitri/Lavir scoffed. “We are not common soldiers.” He clicked his tongue. Yegor bit back his temper.

“I am not sending you to your deaths,” Yegor said. “I need you to help inflict maximum casualties during the enemy assault, and then provide concealment for an organized retreat back here. Without assistance, the Winter Guard on the line will rout and be obliterated before they can return. This is unacceptable.” That part was true, at least. “I, too, will be accompanying you to the front during the attack, and I will encourage Kovnik Vasily to join me. He will be a casualty of the engagement,” Yegor said quietly.

“Very well,” one of the older ones said. “But the escorts will remain here to protect the weapons and manage their distribution,” he said. “We will need several days at least. And even once the weapons have taken hold, their charges will not be strong enough to wield them properly. It normally takes months before a reaver has sufficient strength to bear a weapon to its full might.”

“Of course,” Yegor said once more. “But we don’t need an army of hardened reavers, we need numbers and terror. I will take you to a place where–”

“FORGESEER YEGOR!” Vasily’s voice shouted abruptly from behind. Yegor turned to see Kovnik Vasily approaching with a unit of armed riflemen and looking rather angry.

“You didn’t inform me that we were receiving a visit from the Covenant,” he said, the intense suspicion plain in his voice.

“Ah, my apologies, Kovnik,” Yegor answered smoothly. “They have just arrived. They are here to reinforce–”

“I think I know well enough why they are here,” Vasily growled. “What is in the cart?” he asked sharply, pointing to the locked trunks in the back of the horse cart behind them. “Open them.”

“These are our personal effects–” the oldest greylord started, but Vasily waved him off dismissively.

“Open them,” he commanded. “Now.” The old greylord stared furiously back at Vasily for a moment, then slowly turned to unlock the first huge trunk. Yegor held his breath and prepared a spell in his mind to kill Vasily. He would only have a moment…

The trunk opened. Vasily jumped onto the horse cart and rummaged through it.

“I object to this!” one of the other greylords said furiously. “Your superior will hear of your disrespect!”

“Vasily,” Yegor warned sharply. “You should stop this.” Yegor expected a retort from the kovnik, but instead Vasily’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion.

“What are you looking for?” The oldest greylord asked. “I keep a bottle of vyatka and my coin purse in the other trunk, if you’re trying to rob us,” he said with no hint of sarcasm.

Vasily ordered the rest of the trunks opened and rummaged through them as well. There were only books, robes, and various personal effects of the six bearded men. Yegor felt just as surprised as Vasily.

“Are you done?” Dimitri/Lavir asked furiously.

“I… I apologize,” Vasily said sheepishly, hopping off the cart. “I-I thought–”

“You thought what?” the oldest wizard said, outraged. “Just who do you think you are?”

“Vasily,” Yegor said softly, almost kindly. “ I asked the Covenant to send us any assistance to stop the enemy advance. They are here to help us fight.”

“We may not look it, but we are deadly in battle,” the elder said calmly. “Please keep that in mind the next time you feel the need to invade our privacy.”

Vasily was genuinely flustered now, his ears red in shame. “Ah, I… Yegor,” he said, turning to the hulking man, “please, accept my sincere apologies for doubting you.” He turned stiffly to the greylords. “And you all, as well. I was operating under mistaken intelligence that contraband was being smuggled into the city.”

“What ‘contraband’?” Dimitri/Lavir asked in alarm. Vasily sighed, rubbing his brow. He dismissed the unit of very confused riflemen, who turned back towards the town muttering amongst themselves.

“Yegor and I have had a… disagreement… over a particular battle plan he has proposed,” Vasily explained. “I was mistakenly informed that he was proceeding with his plan against my orders and smuggling weapons into the town in spite of my wishes,” Vasily said. Yegor could practically see the fight draining out of Vasily. Yegor sighed with intense relief.

“You know I have to report this action,” Yegor said compassionately. Vasily nodded, straightening himself, trying to regather his pride, but Yegor could see the light had left his eyes.

Falsely accusing Covenant members of treason was no small mistake. If there was any hope of them returning home after this war, Vasily would probably be demoted at best, and at worst, imprisoned for disloyalty. Yegor actually felt quite bad for him. Vasily Bazarov was misguided, but he was still just trying to serve his country. Yegor had to restrain himself from trying to comfort Vasily by telling him that none of this actually mattered, that he would be dead in a few days and no actual report would be filed. As far as Kommand would hear, Kovnik Vasily would die with honor.

“Of course,” Vasily replied, his voice hollow. “You must do your duty,” he said. “Well.” He cleared his throat, wilting under the glares of the six furious wizards. “Since I am here, I should also inform you that our observers reported a third company of trenchers arrived last night, and a message came not thirty minutes ago from Kommander Milorad in Frénosel. Several warjacks have been diverted from the enemy line. I imagine an assault is coming to us very soon. If you are to join us in the fight…” he trailed off.

“I will don my armor and join the men, as will my brethren,” Yegor said with a nod. Vasily nodded back.

“I am glad for your help,” Vasily said, addressing them all. He hesitated for a moment, still stunned by his catastrophic mistake, and then marched back to the town. Yegor waited for him to leave earshot before turning to the other Greylords in surprise.

“I thought I was going to have to kill him,” Yegor breathed in astonishment. The gray old wizard in the group smiled at him with hooded eyes.

“Oh, and you thought we simply transport valuable weaponry in locked trunks?” he said in sly amusement. Two of the wizards pulled one of the large trunks off the cart and then lifted a secret hatch inside the cart bed, revealing their true precious cargo.

Massive broadswords with ghastly visages, similar to the staffs three of the wizards carried. Ancient Orgoth weapons, full of trapped human souls that cursed all who touched them with insatiable bloodlust. As Yegor peered at the evil weapons, he could sense the torment of the human essence within. He shuddered. They closed the compartment.

“I applaud your discretion,” Yegor said, “although I am greatly concerned that Vasily knew you were coming. Had been a little more thorough…”

“This disturbs us as well,” one of the wizards said. “I will have to alert the Order and discover the leak. But in the meantime, we must prepare. Three of us will accompany you to the attack. These three,” he gestured at the older wizards, “will prepare the weapons. Tell us how to proceed, Forgeseer.”