Prologue

             The wind whipped grit around Rahz as he crouched in a rocky crevasse. The blasted desert known as the Wastes was one of the most desolate places on the continent, but tonight he was just one watcher among many scattered around the plain. It is almost time.

             Sacral, Rahz’s former home, would be making its return to the world, just as his master had predicted. The city, taken by a betrayer - a former friend - who tore the city out of the world to somewhere other, even as she ascended to godhood on a wave of stolen power.

             A flicker in the valley, then a flash of light in the distance - A great black wall now stood a few hundred paces from Rahz, as familiar as the back of his own hand though he hadn’t seen it in centuries. The great city state of Sacral had indeed returned. Tens of thousands of its inhabitants crowded the battlements of the outer wall clamoring for a look outside.

             Rahz felt the commotion the appearance triggered amongst the other watchers. A host of minds and talents reached out to the great city, eager to learn more. And were slapped back by a surprisingly powerful surge of magic. The message was clear – lives could have been taken. Posturing or truth, Rahz would need to find out. His master was eager for news. But it seemed as though at least one worthwhile opponent still lived in the city, whether a friend of old or a new player remained to be seen.

             Brief skirmishes broke out across the Wastes, opportunists taking advantage of their rivals’ distraction to strike or simply spies stumbling across each other and reacting violently. No need to let others have all the fun. Rahz gestured and a dozen dark-clothed forms detached themselves from the shadows and rushed off into the darkness.

             It didn’t take long for the crowds to lose interest in looking out at the fields of black rock. Some of them wandered atop the wall for a while, but none seemed willing to open the gates and venture outside in the dark. As the moons set, they slowly drifted back to their homes until only the odd patrol was visible passing by.

             Time to see what they’ve done to the place. Rahz moved in fits and bursts, as silent and unpredictable as the shadow of a bat under the twin moons. He slipped over the wall unseen and moved into the broad expanse of farmland that separated the outer wall from the inner. He ran silently through long fields of grains and vegetables, pastureland and tight groves of trees - everything Sacral needed to feed and clothe its huge population.

             The inner wall was even taller than the outer, designed as the last line of defense for the original inhabitants of the great city. It was as lightly guarded as the outer had been. Wherever the city was, I guess they didn’t have much to guard against. Rahz thought as he moved into the city proper. True to her name, the White Mother’s followers had repainted every building he could see white and kept everything meticulously clean. All the statues and murals Rahz remembered were gone as well, replaced by depictions of their goddess triumphing over Death – a skeleton wearing a crown – or battling a shadowy figure called the Deceiver. Rahz grunted in amusement. Looks like she’s managed to come up with a new enemy to blame her problems on. Though he wouldn’t admit it, being back in Sacral was unsettling. Everything was as he remembered it but strangely distorted, like a reflection in an imperfect mirror.

             Rahz chose one of the main thoroughfares that would take him to the heart of the city – to the great temple. There weren’t many people about at this late hour and it wasn’t difficult to move about unseen. He didn’t even bother taking to the rooftops as he would have in the past. Still, it was a long way and, even moving at speed, the sun was threatening to rise by the time the temple came into view.

             A few early risers were starting to emerge from the houses and Rahz was forced to hide. He saw people passing by the great temple – it too repainted and covered with elaborate murals of the goddess. Few of the people acknowledged the building. Those that did made only a token gesture of obeisance as they passed by. The fires of piety have cooled here. For a city so overfilled with religious imagery, it was surprising to see the people treat the focus of their faith as nothing more than a habit or even with indifference. She never understood faith herself when she was mortal, so there’s little surprise that she couldn’t instill it in her followers.

             He settled in to his hiding place atop a large house. He would watch and wait until his master decided to act. When the time came, Rahz would move through Sacral with his Crows and reap bloody murder.

Next Chapter: Chapter 1 - Maura