Chapter 6
The Call in the Night

Eagle Plateau, Byrn; Anno Regis 1275

"I don't really believe in Fate. However, if I did, then Fate's hand was evident that night. The first time I heard that voice... It goes beyond description. Two things set my path in life: my search for truth... and her..."
--Excerpt from the assorted writings of Mark the Guardian

The main road was not far from the plateau and Mark figured it would only take four days to reach the castle on foot. In all truth, he did not expect to win an audience with the King. Nevertheless, he was determined to go forward with his plan. Perhaps it would be enough just to take a stand against the Guard's actions.
He had not gone far when he saw a chubby youth crouched over something off to the side of the road. As he was passing by, Mark glanced over to see what was keeping him so preoccupied. It seemed that the youth was using a flint and steel to make a fire. Winter had ended only a few weeks ago and most of the grass was still dead and dry. Mark quickly realized the danger of the situation and ran to the youth.
"Stop!" he shouted.
The youth looked up and gave Mark a puzzled look.
"What do you want?" he asked.
"If you make a fire here, it could spread through the whole field!"
"That's the idea," the youth replied casually and went back to striking the flint.
"What!?" Mark could not believe what he was hearing.
The youth's eyes gleamed as sparks leapt from the steel, his teeth flashed and his unruly red hair made his whole head appear aflame.
"The mastery of fire is Man's triumph over nature. It holds the power of creation and destruction. Nothing else in the world is so beautiful. Nothing. To give this field to the flames... It'd be... glorious!"
Mark was aghast. "Are you mad!?"
"Maybe I am," the youth said with a chuckle, a chuckle that broke into maniacal laughter. Once the laughter finally died away, the youth glared at Mark. "Are you going to stop me?"
Before Mark knew what was happening, the youth charged at him with speed that belied his girth. He caught Mark in a bear hug and squeezed like a python. Mark struggled to bring his hand across his body and grasped the hilt of his sword. He jabbed at the youth's abdomen with the pommel. The youth grunted, but did not release him. Undaunted, Mark repeated the attack again and again until the youth finally let go to hold his injured side.
Thinking fast, Mark grabbed the youth's belt and yanked it off. While the youth fumbled to keep his trousers up, Mark grabbed his arms and bound them fast. With Mark proving to be too formidable a match, the youth tried to run, but his trousers fell around his ankles and tripped him. Mark circled around, drawing his sword and steadying the point between the youth's eyes.
"You're a threat to the kingdom and its people," Mark declared. "I'm making a citizen's arrest. I'll deliver you to Dragova myself."
The youth's aggression instantly gave way to fear. His eyes widened and began to well with tears.
"You can't do that!" he cried. "The soldiers've been a lot rougher nowadays. With my record, they'll, they'll..."
Mark's expression did not change. "If you knew the consequences, you shouldn't have done the deed."
"You don't understand!" the youth screamed. "Fire... It calls to me! I have to feed it!"
In spite of all the damage he could have done, Mark could not help pitying to poor, disturbed creature. "You truly are mad..." He lowered his sword. "Perhaps the King will show mercy in consideration of your sickness."
"Are you blind!?" the youth howled, his raving edged with anger. "The King isn't the just and noble ruler he's made out to be!" The youth paused and looked aside. "At least, not lately..."
"What do you mean?" Mark asked.
The youth's words were now gravely serious. "The Dragon Guard's been going all over the place arresting so-called traitors and criminals. They kill anyone who resists. It's crazy." He met Mark's eyes with the grim look of a condemned man. "You turn me in and I'm dead... or worse..."
Mark paused to ponder what the youth had said. If what he said was true, the attack on Mark's uncle was not an isolated incident. His suspicions were deepened more than ever. He had to find out the truth behind all this. The only way he knew was to move forward.
"I'm on a journey to make the King account for these misdeeds," Mark said. "When I see him, I'll make a plea on your behalf. What's your name?"
The youth sighed. "My name's Ignatiy. You'll need it for my grave marker..." Looking down at his bare legs, his fleshy cheeks flushed. "Could you do something about this? It's kind of embarrassing..."
Mark sheathed his sword and fetched a length of cord from his pack. He bound Ignatiy's arms with the cord and fixed his belt back in place. Resigned to his fate, Ignatiy obediently marched in front of Mark, complaining often but never attempting to escape.
When night fell, Mark set up camp. Since Ignatiy had nothing on his person save the gear to set a fire, Mark shared some of his own provisions. Although the captive's wrists were tied together, it was not great impediment to him eating. Once they were settled, Mark pulled out his journal and started to write in it. Ignatiy was content to stare at the campfire.
"It's pretty," he said, "but not as good as the one I was going to make..."
Mark shook his head. Ignatiy definitely seemed like a hopeless case, but there was no malice to him. Mark hoped that the rumors of widespread corruption were false and Ignatiy would be treated justly, but he did not really doubt the rumors at all. If Ignatiy was not such a threat to others, Mark would have let him go then and there, but he was too dangerous to leave alone.
Once Ignatiy fell asleep, Mark slowly followed in suit. He knew it was dangerous to sleep given the nature of his companion, but he had stayed up the night before and it was wearing heavily on him. He then rationalized that it was important to be fully alert while on the road, important enough that he could afford the risk of a little sleep. As he drifted into the realm of dreams, he found himself alone in an inky void. The emptiness was pierced by a voice, a girl's voice.
Anyone who can hear me, I need your help. I am imprisoned in the soldier city of Dragova. Evil forces are at work in Byrn, forces that seek to use me for their dark plots. There is not much time left. Please, hurry!
Mark awoke with a start. Unlike most dreams that quickly fade away, the voice's words were still clear, deeply etched in his consciousness. He looked over to Ignatiy, curled in blissful slumber a little closer to the fire than he should. The voice may have been real, but it was just as likely to be nothing more than a dream... or even a trap. Still, he would be passing through Dragova anyway. Considering all the portentous signs he had seen thus far, the voice was worth investigating.