The Regent of Sentinel Stand, the last ruler of the fallen kingdom of Stalwart, had ordered his men to kill us where we stood. Barik had been itching for a fight since the moment we arrived through the impassible storm, and gleefully took to battle in way I had never seen before. In the past he cut down foes out of a sense of duty and loyalty, but now he was a whirlwind of sword and shield, striking enemies with the fury born not only of a soldier’s sense of purpose but also out of genuine hatred of the Regent himself. Barik had lost many friends on the day Kyros’ Edict swept through the valley, blasting through the valley around Sentinel Stand, and all of those deaths would have been prevented if the sovereign had merely submitted.

Once inside the heavy portcullis, we found more troops at the ready. We four had become very proficient at fighting alongside one another, and had faced down horrors the likes of which most mortals had never seen, but wave after wave of fighting would wear us down eventually and a chance mistake would become our last. We needed a way to reach the regent, and his prisoners, without going through the whole of his garrison.

Seeing more than a dozen soldiers ahead of us, gathered in the keep’s central courtyard, we considered our options. Eb’s magic could take one or two out of the fight long enough for us to thin the herd, and Verse had a penchant for shooting flame-wreathed arrows into people – always good for a distraction – but realistically Barik and I would be overwhelmed before we could even the odds. It looked like the Kingdom of Stalwart had reserved its toughest and most well-prepared fighters for defense of the keep, and that the year or more of isolation had not dimmed their spirit.

Without warning the outer wall nearest the assemblage exploded, having suffered a direct hit from a large trebuchet. Members of the Scarlet Chorus began to flood into the courtyard, undoubtedly taking advantage of the hole in the windwall we had provided. While I greatly appreciated the aid, particularly when it came to destroying Kyros’ most stubborn enemies, I knew that, just as we had seen before at the Burning Library, the Scarlet Chorus leadership would take every opportunity to advance their own private and secretive causes at the expense of the greater mission – so long as they had someone to blame.

The courtyard battle was bloody, and both Eb and Barik realized how poorly their weapons fared against the well-armed isolationists, but we pressed on. Improving our equipment was secondary to swiftly accomplishing our tasks before any overzealous Choruster could cripple them permanently.

With the remainder of the keep’s defenders having retreated behind strong oaken doors, the race was on to find a way inside.