Prologue
A Hero is Born

AZ 1444 - Late Summer
Maranthe, Notos

Covered in blood, gripping the sword of a slain of legionary in his unsteady hand, Ionathas stood alone in the streets of his hometown. The Kobalos lying dead at his feet seemed to be the last of them, for he could hear no more sounds of battle. There had been at least forty Kobaloi, attacking the town at its weakest, in the dead of the night while most of the garrison was away for a training exercise.
How could this have happened? Nearly three hundred years had passed since the Chaos Dominion invaded Notos. The Kobaloi were not native to this land, not even south of the river, so far as anyone knew. Yet they could only have come from across the river. Were they survivors of the war who took refuge where no Notian dared to tread, waiting for the day they could strike a blow to avenge their fallen masters?
The few soldiers who remained and the stout-hearted villagers who dared to defend their homes against the Kobaloi were all dead, but somehow Ionathas had survived. No, he had done more than merely survived. He had triumphed in the face of hopeless odds. An untrained youth wielding a sword for the first time killed at least ten Kobaloi all on his own.
His heart swelled at the realization of his victory, but that feeling of levity was short-lived. A wave of light-headed dizziness swept over him. Though most of the blood that covered him was not his own, young Ionathas had suffered his share of wounds during the fight and the warrior's fire no longer burned to drive him beyond the limits of mortal flesh. He could feel himself falling as his vision blurred and faded.

* * *

Ionathas slept fitfully for what seemed like an age. Brief glimpses and indistinguishable voices peppered the otherwise dark silence. He did not know what was real and what was a dream, or even whether or not he was still alive. However, it finally came that the dark was banished by a blinding light.
It took his eyes a moment to adjust. Above him was a stone ceiling, a sight unseen in Maranthe, and beneath him was a bed with an equally unfamiliar feather mattress. The scent of pungent medicinal herbs wafted from the strips of linen binding his wound.
Looking to one side, he saw the sunlight filtering in through a narrow window. Turning his head to the other side, Ionathas saw a well-groomed man in fine robes seated at his bedside. The man smiled slightly.
"You have been asleep for nearly a week," he said. "Some of the doctors thought you were too far gone when they brought you here, but I had a feeling you would have the strength to pull through, especially after you bested those Kobaloi."
"Where am I?" Ionathas asked, his voice frail from disuse.
"You are in one of the guest rooms of Castle Notos," the man replied. "When I caught word of what happened in Maranthe, I had you brought here to be treated by the court physicians."
Ionathas felt a little dizzy trying to understand what the man was telling him.
"The castle...? Court? Who, who are you, sir?"
"I am Cronos," the man replied solemnly, "Duke of Maximilion, legate of the Zephyrian Third Legion, and governor-general of the Protectorate of Notos."
Ionathas could hardly believe a commoner like himself was speaking the governor. He hastily rose up to bow, but did not even make it halfway before he winced in pain and clutched at his wounded stomach. The Duke himself rose from his seat and gently laid Ionathas back down.
"You must not strain yourself," the Duke said. "I am not so rigid and cruel to demand obeisance from a wounded man."
"But I am lowborn, milord," Ionathas said weakly. "Why do all this for me?"
"Birth means little when weighed against deeds," Cronos replied. "Thirty men died fighting those Kobaloi, including trained men of the Legion, but you alone emerged to save your village, a feat that has reached the ears of the King himself. As a reward for your actions, I would like to sponsor your training in Hesperia, that you might prove yourself worthy to join the Royal Equestrians. What say you to that?"
The chance to become a knight... It was almost too good to be true. A woodcutter's son in the poorest town in Notos, Ionathas' prospects in life were meager at best, but with the Duke's patronage, all that could change.
"Do you mean it?" Ionathas asked with childlike awe.
Duke Cronos nodded.
"A fighter of your caliber can be made to do great things with the right training. You would be a credit to both Zephyr and the people of Notos."
Looking as if he had just remembered something, the Duke picked up a sheathed blade resting against his chair.
"I have something for you," he said, "a weapon of great worth in both function and symbol." He drew the sword and held it near Ionathas to see. "I took the liberty of having your sword reforged and this is the result, an infantryman's gladius into an Equestrian's spatha. It retains its steel core, your iron will, but it has been tempered and strengthened, just as you will become. The edges have been plated with silver to combat evil, your duty as a knight, and the tip gilded to show the favor of the King. The blade has also been etched with runes to render weak magic powerless, for no frail craft will be a stumbling block to one such as you."
Ionathas looked at the weapon in amazement. He could hardly believe it was once the simple sword he had taken from a dead soldier to fight the Kobaloi. It was then that he vowed to become a knight worthy of such a weapon, to become stronger and to protect everyone in need. He would dedicate his life to the fulfillment of that vow.