Chapter 1: The Raid
Alright, where shall I start?
Ah yes, I remember now.
It all arrived on that early August morning, back in Spandeliyon. Or what used to be Spandeliyon.
The last I saw of that town, every one of it's buildings had been ransacked and set on fire.
In retrospect, I should never have ventured so close to the Borderlands.
Spandeliyon and the outlying villages had been raided several times in the months preceding the August attack.
It was a high danger zone, with two nation-states fighting for political dominion over the area.
But I didn't care much for political agendas or military conflicts in the area.
I was young, driven...and a long way from home.
On the final night of my botanical expedition, my party and I decided to stay in one of the famed gambling inns the small town had to offer.
I was gonna be leaving the very next morning and heading home with my instructor and fellow students. I was looking forward to furthering my studies and cataloguing the various medicinal herbs I'd collected during these past few weeks in the wilderness.
Biology and medicine had always been an interest of mine, even as a child, growing up with the other orphaned children at the local Chantry.
I'd often bring home injured or disease-stricken birds and mammals and try to nurse them back to health.
The other boys used to think I was weak, but the clergy sisters loved me and told me I was a gifted soul...whatever that meant.
The Chantry mother had often commended me and encouraged me to pursue my interest in science and botany once I was old enough to leave the orphanage. I'd left the orphanage at age sixteen, almost four years ago.
But enough babbling.
Back to that troublesome night that was about to change my life forever.
After having enjoyed a warm meal with my fellow expedition team members, I ran up the wooden stairs of the inn and retreated to the privacy of my own room.
Bathing in the generous facilities and changing into a fresh, silky blue tunic, I quickly got in bed and closed my eyes as the soft summer breeze spilled in through my open window.
Rest came easy that night and the attack came with little warning.
I woke up to a series of loud shuffling noises downstairs and heard the scream of villagers from out my window.
As I got up from my bed and quickly looked down from my room on the third floor of the inn, I could see armoured men down in the streets. Lots of them!
Building were being set on fire and homes were being pillaged.
I quickly grabbed my boots and put them on.
Grabbing my leather pack and slipping my sheathed dagger into my belt, I quickly opened the door to my room and ran downstairs, towards the inn's main floor.
As soon as I arrived downstairs, I noticed the innkeeper and several other men and women, including some of my expedition team members, putting their weight against the front door and attempting to block any entry into the building by toppling over the dining tables and putting them up against the windows.
I was about to ask the lot of them who those soldiers out in the streets were and what the hell was happening, when suddenly, the main door burst open and several armoured men came in, slicing through two of my teammates and impaling the burly innkeeper with a nasty-looking spear, right through the chest.
One of the waitresses screamed, while the other townsfolk attempted to defend themselves against the heavily armed intruders.
I watched wide eyed as my expedition leader tried surrendering and telling the men that he was just passing by and had no affiliation to any of the local nations.
He was beheaded, right there, in front of me.
More screams erupted from out in the streets and the smell of smoke and fire was beginning to make it's way into the building.
Without any afterthought for the lives of my colleagues, I ran upstairs into my room and slammed the door shut before leaning against it and breathing heavily.
Maybe I was dreaming, I thought to myself. Maybe this was just a nightmare.
But no, this wasn't a dream..this was real.
I had to escape. I had to do something!
Running up to the window and looking down, I realised I'd never survive the fall.
And even if I did, the streets were littered with dead bodies and armed men intent on burning this place to the ground.
The town militia, if there even was such a thing, had most likely been crushed or had fled in the minutes following the attack.
I slumped against the wall and quivered in fear, overwhelmed with the idea of having to defend myself with nothing more than a knife.
I was quick on my feet, but no match for these trained, sword-carrying invaders.
Suddenly, I heard heavy footsteps making their way up the stairs and I knew I had to move.
In my panic, I let my pack down to the floor and quickly slid under the bed, silently praying to whatever gods were listening...begging for salvation.
Everything went quiet.
Presumably, everyone downstairs had been killed.
I held my breath, almost afraid that the beating of my heart would give away my location.
There was definitely someone upstairs with me.
Maybe it was one of the other inn mates. It was a distinct possibility, given there were quite a few others sleeping here tonight.
No. These footsteps were too slow and heavy. This had to be one of the pillagers walking about, going through each room.
There was no other explanation for the slow cadence of his steps.
Suddenly, I heard a loud crash.
A door had been knocked down.
I gasped, but then realised that it wasn't the door to my room.
I heard a panicked voice, one that sounded like that of an old man's.
He was begging.
I couldn't make out the words, but I knew he had to be begging for his life.
Then I heard a garbled scream and heard a heavy thud land on the wooden floor.
I shut my eyes and began whispering one of the Chantry invocations I'd been reciting throughout my years at the orphanage.
It didn't take long for the footsteps to approach and stop in front of my door.
I held my breath and watched the doorway from my hiding spot under the bed.
I heard a clicking sound and realised someone was trying to open the locked door.
I should've left the door unlocked and wide open.
No one would have suspected someone of hiding in a room with the door wide open!
Everything went quiet once again.
For about ten seconds nothing happened.
Then, with a thunderous crash, the door to my room was kicked open, much of the door frame and locking mechanism breaking and shattering into pieces.
I watched as a pair of heavy brown boots walked into the room and watched wide eyed as the intruder circled around the bed and picked my discarded leather pack up.
I heard him rummaging inside it. Then watched the heavy boots move again as the killer slowly walked back towards the other side of the bed.
I remained perfectly still, swallowing the saliva that was beginning to clog my throat.
Why wasn't he leaving?!
He was just standing there, looking down at the bed and not moving!
Without any warning, the entire bed was suddenly lifted up and toppled over, exposing my vulnerable, defenseless form underneath.
I looked up wide eyed at my would-be killer.
Looked at his blood-stained broadsword and menacing black armour set.
I was paralysed, frozen and unable to move a muscle.
This was the end of me, I thought.
I would die here, in this small burning town, at the age of twenty.
Suddenly, a big gloved hand grabbed my hair and lifted me up so that I was kneeling.
The killer was tall and really big. From what I'd seen down one the first floor, these men had no qualms about slaughtering unarmed civilians, even women and children...
My hair was pulled up and my head yanked upwards.
Through the helmet he was wearing, I could see the dark blue war paintings on my killer's forehead.
That's when I met his eyes.
His eyes...they were fierce, dark and merciless.
The eyes of a veteran killer. The eyes of a soldier.
From that moment on, I was his.