It was a rare sight to see Aleks atop a horse, he had spent almost the entire time traveling so far in his carriage. He would occasionally come out for fresh air so the slaves were only somewhat familiar with his appearance. Of course, everytime he did come out in public no one could see his face, as he always wore a solid gold mask that seemed to radiate some kind of strange power.
If anything, the slaves that did see him were too afraid to even approach him or look at him. Especially his mask, they feared his mask most of all. If any accidentally glanced at his mask, they would always see his deep and piercing eyes which seemed to peer into their souls sending shivers down their spines. Only a very few were ever able to be in his presence when he took the mask off. All of the slaves, including those who served as warriors in his army, were deeply afraid of him and any thoughts of resisting or of escape had already long gone from their minds.
The reason Aleks was riding on a horse this day was because he wished to survey his army which Lenia had been training and managing over the last couple of weeks. Even though they had begun their march into the Steppes, the training never stopped. Whenever the day’s march ended, the training would begin and his army were becoming much better organized and disciplined. Any that fell short or didn’t meet up to Lenia’s expectations were beaten up badly by her personally and all of the warriors also began to develop a healthy fear of her.
“It’s hot.” Aleks said while observing his army marching in an orderly fashion. It was a much different sight than when they first set out even though it had only been a few days.
“Master, you only now realize it’s hot? Maybe you spend too much time in the carriage. You should wear something lighter.”
Nelay was following close behind Aleks on her own horse and pretended to mutter under her breath. Despite her quiet demeanor to others, she loved to complain under her breath whenever Aleks was involved. Usually those complaints had something to do with her master’s strange habits and tastes. To Aleks, it was almost as if she were acting like a nagging wife. As usual, Aleks ignored her grumbling and pretended not to hear her.
“I suppose the weather on the Steppes would be desirable to most, but I just can’t find it comfortable. I prefer cooler weather. Tonight should be an especially hot night, be prepared.”
It seemed as if Aleks was just making small talk, but Nelay understood his intentions. Tonight would be the night of the first attack and it was Nelay’s responsibility to ensure that the attack succeeded. The expedition of the Northern churches had been divided into several groups and each group were approximately an hour’s ride from each other. The purpose of this was to cover as much ground as possible while sweeping through the outer areas of the Steppes. Their targets were any loose tribes they came across. If they could thin out the numbers of tribals on the Steppes before they could gather into a horde, it would be beneficial to the expeditions. They needed to at least remove those from the region so that they could continue to establish a secure colony on the Steppes.
This was in fact the second phase of the expedition. The first phase had been carried out in relative secrecy. A forward force had already infiltrated the Steppes and establish a large fort within it and a growing town with many essential infrastructure. This was to be the headquarters of the expedition and its initial town. From here, the eventual conquest of the Steppes would take place. This would of course be the third phase which would happen at a much later time.
Currently, the objective of the expedition was to sweep the outer regions of the Steppes and all the surrounding areas of the town and fort in order to establish a safe region for future conquests. They would then build a road and a safe transportation route to Kordusk to ensure a reliable supply and reinforcement path. In order to achieve this goal, a great amount of manpower was required. That was the purpose of the many churches involved forming factions which had gathered together many clergyman, soldiers, servants, slaves, knights and mercenaries. They would not only be the initial vanguard of the expedition, but also the first colonists.
“I understand.” Replied Nelay after a moment of silence.
“It is good that you understand.”
Aleks dismissed her with a wave and Nelay turned her horse and rode off while Aleks continued to observe the marching troops. The terrain in this region was mostly flat with the occasional rolling hills so the marching wasn’t difficult. It would only become more rugged and hilly as they went further into the region however. They hadn’t come across any tribal encampments as they marched, which was within his expectations as Grobak had been handling his mission quite efficiently.
“Now, we wait.”
“I feel like I can almost smell its stench in this place. Have you found nothing?”
“It is difficult to say. You have to understand that the number of foreigners, mercenaries, adventurers and others pouring into the city over the past few weeks numbers in the tens of thousands. It isn’t as simple as you think Shelise. Tracking him down is like trying to find a needle in a haystack and he has covered his tracks relatively well.”
The beautiful woman named Shelise stood looking outside the window of her luxurious hotel room. The room was similar to the one Aleks had stayed in when he was in Kordusk. They even stayed in the same hotel. Although she wasn’t aware of this, Shelise felt something off, something she couldn’t describe well. It was like the smell of rotten filth or the stench of the sewer. It was difficult for her to explain and there was also the chance it was all in her head and not real at all.
“I know it was here Eneran, we need to find it immediately!” Shelise shouted in anger while smashing her fist against the wooden window pane and shaking the glass within.
Eneran raised his eyebrows in dissatisfaction. There were only a rare few who ever dared to speak to him in such a manner. He was a Legendary being and extremely powerful. The only ones who had dared speak with him in such a way in the past were all dead. However, despite his annoyance at Shelise’s attitude, he only snorted and shook his head.
“You may be a priestess of Tihr and a potential Saint, but do not forget that I serve Mystra. We may be allies but I do not serve you. I was slaying thousands while you weren’t even born yet! Don’t forget your place.”
Shelise turned her head and stared at Eneran. Her expression was much calmer than he expected and as he looked in her eyes, they began to shimmer unnaturally. He felt uncomfortable the longer her eyes met his until he finally looked away. There was something in her eyes he couldn’t explain, a strange power to them. She was certainly someone blessed by Tihr.
Eneran threw up his hands, “I don’t know what else you want me to say. The Nightfury has a few leads but she hasn’t found anything concrete and the expeditions already left a few days ago. If he is among them, it will be even more difficult to find him if he has escaped to the Steppes. There are no gods there, and the power of faith and divinity will be weakened.”
“I don’t trust that woman.”
“Melisana may be from the Church of Murder, but she wants to find your brother as much as us, if she can’t find a solid lead then most likely he isn’t here.”
“It is not my brother!”
“Fine, then what should we do next?”
Eneran was growing frustrated by this seemingly endless fox hunt, but this was an order by his goddess which he couldn’t refuse. He couldn’t understand what was so important about this young man who had already lost everything. What threat could he pose? Eneran greatly doubted he was able to do what he was suspected of doing and questioned whether he was truly so dangerous. Nonetheless, this was his mission. He could only go along begrudgingly. A mighty legendary being such as himself was reduced to a lowly hunter, he could only shake his head.
While he was considering this a light knock was heard on the hotel door.