His breath came heavily as his broadsword slashed quickly at his opponent. The fight was almost over and he could practically taste the sweetness of victory. His white blonde hair was dripping with sweat and flicked across his face, stinging his pale blue eyes. But then the fight was over and the mass of people watching cheered wildly. His defeated opponent punched the ground in frustration before a smile came to his face.
Victoriously he thrust his sword into the clear blue skies. He had done it. He had united the clans of the Wyner under his rule.
Suddenly he was standing atop a ridge looking out across the far green lands of Nevārance. Such beauty he saw before him was beyond words. A smile came to his face as the army of Agar men appeared at the end of the long grassy valley.
The battle was all around him then. His broadsword cut apart every one of the Agar who challenged him. These Agar fighters from the south of Kor’vir were skilled and strong. But his Wyner were far better.
He was old now, but strength still flowed through his muscles and his mind was still as sharp as ever. He sat proudly upon his throne in Metrā and gazed down the long white stone greeting hall to the large doors that were open and looked out at his kingdom. From The Teeth in the north west to the islands of The Cuts in the south east his empire extended. He had stretched his hand out and taken the islands of Hess’non, The Reef, Ro’ak, Ab’don, and even the Ice Isle for his own. His Wyner had taken control of all Kor’vir in half a life time, and he had been the one to instigate it, plan it, and execute it to perfection. From this time forth the Wyner would be the most superior in all the land and the other races of Agar humans from the Mol’tev region, the Feltain elves of the wilds, the Marinth men from the north, and the islander humans from Hess’non, Ab’don, The Cuts and The Reef, would be subservient.
He was suddenly no longer in his castle but rather watching a funeral ceremony for the greatest High King known to the Wyner. Vyne’arth was being laid to rest in the high tombs of Yidris Mountians. Forever would he be known as the greatest King, the first High King, the conqueror of Kor’vir, and the most skilled of all the Wyner.
Still looking upon the Yidris Mountains the land of Kor’vir suddenly changed. No longer was it green and beautiful. It once vibrancy had become not but barren lands filled with sick trees and animals. And where the sickness thrived monsters came. Great cities of tall buildings grew out of the barren land. His focus returned to the tomb of Vyn’arth where half a dozen grey haired Wyner were unsealing the resting place of the first High King.
Then everything went green and all he felt was confusion. Who was he? Where was he? What was happening? The lime green was replaced by a bright light and he awoke to see that he lay in a hard bed in the middle of a clean white room where people looked at him from behind glass windows. In his confusion he looked down to his hand to see a large sword tightly in his grasp. The blade was black with a silver edge that was razor sharp. The cross piece was silver also as was the pommel which was carved beautifully in the likeness of a roaring lion’s head. He sat up and looked at the sword, his sword. As he stared into the dark gems of the lion’s eyes, which glowed with inner fires, his confusion disappeared.
Lieut awoke with a jump and glanced about the camp in surprise. A deep concern gripped his mind at the realisation that he had been sleeping. He did not sleep. He could fall into a form of meditative state where he was alert to everything around him, but never did he drift into a slumber. This disturbing situation only enforced the thought within him that something was seriously wrong and increased his need to find Kreha who was perhaps the only person who would know for certain what was happening to him.
Another suddenly realised came to him, a realisation that he had been dreaming of when he first awoke in the laboratories of Metrā. Lieut remembered it like it was yesterday, he remembered the solace he found as he looked upon his beautiful sword.
“Vyn’arth,” Lieut mumbled as he tried to recall the rest of the strange dream.
But Lieut shook his head as the images from his slumber vanished into nothing.
Lieut sighed and glanced about the camp, and was grateful to see that his brother Raith had not seen him sleep. Lieut did not want Raith worrying about him, such concern from his brother was annoying.
Some relief came as Lieut realised that he had not slept for long. It was still early morning and the light of the coming dawn cast the tents and dying fire in a dull grayish light.
Lieut and his company out of Crydon had moved beyond the sparse forests that surrounded city yesterday afternoon and now the plains of Kalladen swept out before him, its yellowish grass waving hypnotically in the salty wind that blew in from the Golden Ocean. They had come across a few Djarcs on the road out of the city, but they had been little trouble for them. All who Lieut road with were skilled in battle and the dozen or so Djarcs that tried to ambushed them had stood little chance.
On the trip Sir Raermin had continued to begrudge Vythe and said very little. Regional Commander Lethain Rook and her bodyguard had also said little, preferring to keep to themselves. Although, Vythe had succeeded in engaging Rook in a passionate debate about politics which Lieut had found quite boring. The Wood Elf, Fluna, had also been quiet, only really talking with Raith, and when she was not she seemed to be constantly looking at Lieut’s brother. During this time Lieut noticed that Raith seemed to become more uncomfortable by Fluna’s presence and tried to distract himself by talking easily with Bārdin and Vythe. Many times they had tried to bring Lieut into the conversation as well, but Lieut had said little as he rode at the front of the group lost in his own thoughts.
Lieut stood up and stretched his back and the stiffness out of his neck and walked slowly to the eastern edge of the campsite to watch the coming dawn and see the reason why it was called the Golden Ocean.
As Inüer drew closer to the horizon the clear blue water of the sea began to glow a brilliant gold, blurring out the many islands and casting the whole of the land in a pleasant glow. Lieut’s golden eyes sparkled brightly as he looked upon the sea of liquid gold and for a moment he forgot about his troubles. As Inüer peaked above the horizon the gold seemed to be sucked out of the water and into the burning ball of fire that brought light to Essinendeür.
Lieut turned back to the tents and as if an alarm had been sounded each of his travelling companions emerged one by one from their personal shelters. Raith then returned to the camp from his hunting expedition baring several dead rabbits in his hands and slight smile on his face.
“Breakfast is served,” Bārdin laughed loudly as he too saw Raith.
In short time the rabbits were skinned, dressed and boiled into what remained of last night’s stew and all except Lieut and Raith eagerly ate their fill.
“We will be making a short stop in Woodland before heading further into Kalladen,” Lieut said as his companions ate.
“What?” Raermin asked in surprise almost choking on his food.
“This is the first I have heard about it,” Rook remarked.
“That is because it is the first time I have said anything,” Lieut replied simply, “There is something I want to see there.”
“Actually, I would like to go too,” Bārdin spoke up as he slurped down his third bowl of stew.
“Might be interesting,” Vythe agreed and Raith nodded.
“Have you all forgotten the reason why we are on this trek?” Raermin asked unhappily, “I shall remind you all that we are going to Port Na’brath so I can take up my rule.”
“What’s the rush?” Bārdin huffed, “If ye were after speed we should’ve headed through Cientrasis.”
“I hate the desert heat,” Raermin snapped.
“Even north through Lancer and Midway would have been quicker,” Vythe said and Raermin looked darkly at him.
“I have a desire to make a quick stop in Pentra,” Raermin replied curtly.
“And I want to stop off in Woodland,” Lieut said with authority causing Raermin to mumble something under his breath.
“Very well,” Rook said with a sigh, “I’d rather be late to the High Commission meeting then to be overwhelmed by monsters on the road.”
After Bārdin had finished his forth helping of stew they were packed and ready to move out and once again Lieut took up the lead and made a swift pace along the road to Woodland.
Although a fire had not long ago gutted the forest, the plants had already started to grow again and the green of the new growth stood out brightly against the burnt wood. Even some of the plants had begun to flower, filling the air with pleasant perfumes and making the once devastated forest brimming with hope and new life.
But among the revived forest was also death and at the side of the road lay many corpses of Djarcs with crows pecking at their innards, completely ignoring the group of horses as Lieut and his company trotted past.
“That is a lovely sight,” Vythe remarked as they rode by several Djarcs heads on spikes, “At least it is evidence to show that the town of Woodlands might be prospering.”
Vythe’s words seemed a prediction for as Lieut rode around the next corner the township of Woodland appeared before them. A small wall and open gate stood ahead of them and beyond that the township seemed bustling with activity of rebuilding houses. The guards at the gate nodded politely at them and bid them a good day as Lieut kicked his horse forwards and through the gates into the town. Woodland itself was one of the most spread out of villages in the realm and did not have housing stacked on top of each other with little or no room to move. The houses in Woodland were very spacious with the nearest of buildings no closer than twenty meters apart. The main road was wide and made of broken cobblestone leading to a tall statue at the center of the most condensed housing.
“By Dhror’s beard, I don’t believe it,” Bārdin laughed as they moved closer to the statue of a noble knight astride a tall steed. “Sir Sverth Dunnell, I tell ya if anyone is deserving of monument in their likeness it was him.”
“You knew Sir Sverth good dwarf?” called out a shop owner who was selling his wares near the statue.
“Aye,” Bārdin nodded, “He was a fine lad.”
“Indeed he was,” the merchant agreed, “We built this statue to remember the terrible cost of greed and discrimination. I was one of the few who found Sir Sverth after the riots not too long ago. His sword in his hand still as he lay beside his fine horse which had been killed. Sir Sverth’s monument is a pledge that there will never again be racial waring within Woodland, as too is the monument to the dwarves who lost their lives trying to save the temple from being destroyed.”
“Where is the dwarf monument?” Bārdin asked suddenly.
“By the recently repaired Sect of Artāre of course,” the merchant replied and pointed to the south of the town.
Bārdin grunted a reply before quickly kicking his pony onward and towards the south. With a shrug to Vythe, Lieut followed the dwarf at a slower speed. But soon they came to the Sect where in front of it stood a tall statue of a dwarf with a hammer and a chisel in his hands and a broad and bearded face. In front of the statue Bārdin had dismounted and was kneeling reading the plaque that had been nailed at the base.
Lieut looked from the statue and to the Sect that stood tall and strong as if no fire had ever touched its walls. Its glass dome ceiling glowed brightly in the light and it looked as if the finishing touches were nearly done as the wooden scaffolds were currently being taken down.
From the entrance to the temple strode a noble looking warrior with exquisitely molded plate armor and a large broadsword on his belt. His light blue cloak drifted out behind as he walked confidently with a smile on his face, and his blue eyes twinkled as he saw Lieut and the group of travelers.
“Greetings to Woodland travelers,” the man said as he brushed his shimmering white hair back from his face, “Have you come to aid us, or are you just passing through? Either way I, Vhal, welcome you to the Sect of Artāre.”
Lieut did not reply as he considered the man curiously.
“Well met friend,” Vythe spoke up, “We would like to stay and help, but business urges us to continue on. Are you a priest of the temple, Vhal?”
The man let out a deep laugh, “No indeed I am not,” Vhal replied, “I do not have the temperament to be a priest. My calling is for battle and aiding those in need, and I find both in quantity here.”
“The dead Djarcs along the road was your handiwork then?” Rook asked curiously and the man nodded.
“There are many of the foul creatures in these woods, Djarcs, Gnolls from the rift in the sky, as well as other more foul things,” Vhal said darkly, “I have come to help the village guards to defend their home and to teach them to improve their skills in battle.”
“Is there good money in doing that?” Vythe asked curiously.
“I would not know, for I have not asked for a single coin,” Vhal was quick to say, “Thankfully the villagers have been greatful and provide me with food and bedding.”
“You seem familiar,” Raith said loudly, “But I do not think we have met before.”
Lieut nodded subtly, feeling the same sense of familiarity as his brother.
“I would not think so,” Vhal shook his head, “I am sure I would remember meeting such skilled warriors as you lot clearly are.”
“Ever been to Nevārance?” Lieut asked seriously.
Vhal nodded slowly, “I have.”
“How? When?”Raith asked.
“Through the Divenarn Band of course,” Vhal said, “There are a few who know a passage through the razor sharp rocks. And these days there are even towns and villages built between the towering pillars of jagged stone.”
“When were you in Nevārance?” Lieut asked noticing that Vhal had not completely answered the question.
Vhal paused as he considered Lieut more closely, his crystal blue eyes locking with Lieut’s golden orbs.
The noise of a bell sounding broke their eye contact and a guardsman came running towards them.
“Vhal come quick,” the guardsman said between labored breaths, “Djarcs are attacking the western wall. We’re outnumbered.”
Vhal nodded to the guard before turning a smile to Lieut, “You lot up for some fun?”
“Give me something to kill,” Bārdin roared as he jumped up from the foot of the statue, his eyes bloodshot and his face marked with anger.
Lieut shot a smile to Raith who nodded and Vythe sighed heavily.
Vhal called his horse from the side of the temple and led the way with Lieut close behind him, although, Rook, her bodyguard and Raermin decided to remain behind. But with Raith, Vythe, Bardin and Fluna beside him Lieut did not care, or even notice their absence as he eagerly followed Vhal to the western side of Woodland.
The screams and yells of battle could be heard long before the wall came into view. The inexperienced guards were fighting bravely but the Djarcs had already reached the top of the wall and were breaking through the defences. As soon as Lieut pulled up his horse he jumped from the saddle and drew his sword as he ran into the fray.
The Djarcs were oblivious to Lieut’s approach and he spun through a group of them, his sword ripping them to shreds before moving onto the next lot. In the brief pause in battle Lieut caught a glimpse of Vhal as his large broadsword slashed through his opponents. As quick as Lieut as dispatched a group of three Djarcs Vhal had defeated three also and the white metal of his sword glowed black with blood. Lieut quickly decapitated his next enemy and looked again to Vhal.
The man’s skill with a sword was of the like that Lieut had never seen in someone who was not of the Wyner race. But then again Nevārancien history showed that the purist of Wyner had white hair. So was this Vhal of the Wyner?
Lieut’s distraction almost cost him dearly as a dwarf-like Djarc lunged at him with a blacksmith’s hammer. Before Lieut could parry the attack an arrow whistled past his arm and thudded into the dwarf-Djarcs degraded smithies apron. Lieut did not have to look to know it had been Fluna who had helped him, she was deadly accurate with her bow and arrow, and would likely do very well for herself if she were not so obsessed with Raith.
Lieut gave it little more thought and moved for the next twisted creature in his path. Just then the wooden gate burst apart and a flood of Djarcs rushed in many of them riding atop bears and even wolves. But the animals were just as twisted as the creatures that rode them, with more skin and bone showing then fur and grafted into the jaws and paws were jagged black blades. Just then a bear-riding Djarc thundered down upon Lieut, its knight’s lance diving for his face. But Lieut held his ground and with a sweep of his sword knocked the lance high before continuing the motion so his sword sliced across the twisted bears face, ripping open its jaw and shattering its metal teeth. His sweep had killed the bear causing it to collapse into the ground and sending the Djarc flying from its seat, the tip of its lance driving deep into the earth. Lieut smirked as he calmly walked towards the Djarc who was just getting back to his feet and adjusting the rusted armour and helm that it wore.
“Prepare to die braggart,” the Djarc said loudly as it saw Lieut approach and unsheathed its rust-pitted long sword.
Lieut scoffed and shook his head as the Djarc lunged ahead, a perfect move for Lieut to spin inside its thrust and remove its head.
As the twisted knight-Djarc fell to the ground Lieut turned back to the fight and rush back into the chaos. As he killed another Djarc he spotted other creatures amid the battle that were too tall to be a Djarc. Lieut got a good look at one of them as one of the beasts raced towards him.
It stood nearly seven foot tall with a torso and arms that appeared human, but they had strangely bent legs, like a dog’s hind quarters. Their heads also appeared dog like, large fangs filled there long snouts of their dog head, they had ears of a canine and dark fur covering their bodies from head to toe. Lieut reasoned that this creature must be the Gnoll that Vhal had referred to earlier. In its clawed hands the Gnoll swung a heavy axe straight for Lieut’s head.
Although perplexed by the unusual creature Lieut quickly stepped back from the strike before exploding of his back foot and spinning forwards with a deadly counter. But the Gnoll was very agile and it jumped back from his attack. Lieut pressed his assault, his sword swinging and slashing at all angles at the Gnoll and forcing it backwards. The creature’s leg muscles suddenly snapped and it jumped back nearly ten feet and well out of the deadly range of Leiut’s sword.
With a roar the Gnoll did not hesitate in darting back for Lieut. Again it covered the ten foot distance in a flash and this time its axe swung horizontally for Lieut. Lieut stood his ground and his sword met the axe solidly, stopping the swing dead in its arch. Initially seemingly shocked the Gnoll glared at Lieut, but it recovered quickly and its dog-like head shot forward as its strong jaws snapped from Lieut’s face.
Lieut acted just as quickly and moved his sword to intercept the creatures snapping jaw, shattering its teeth as it bit down on his blade. The Gnoll howled in pain as it dropped its axe and clutched at its bleeding and broken jaw. Lieut put an end to the howls as he stepped forward and drove his sword deep into the Gnoll’s chest. The beast fell limp and Lieut kicked it from his blade as he looked for some more fiends to kill, but by now the battle had all but finished.
The last of the Djarcs and their Gnoll friends were chased back into the forest and the victors let out a joyous cheer.
Lieut sucked in a deep breath as he wiped the blood of his sword and returned it to the specialised clips on his shoulder guard that held it in place across his back. Wiping the sweat from his brow again Lieut looked at the perspiration on his hand with worry. The battle had not been very long, or strenuous for that matter, and yet he was breathing heavily and sweating.
“What is wrong with me?” Lieut mumbled as he angrily rubbed away the sweat with the light gold sash hanging from his belt down his left leg.
“Well fought friend,” Vhal said loudly as he walked over to Lieut, “You are very skilled with sword in hand. It was an honor to fight beside you.”
Lieut looked at the man cautiously, noting that Vhal did not look in the least bit tied from the fight.
“Who are you?” Lieut asked softly so that only Vhal could hear him.
The white haired man smirked subtly before turning his attention back to the others and not answering Lieut’s question.
“Victory is ours,” Vhal yelled triumphantly.
“Three cheers for Vhal, The Hero of Woodland,” shouted one guard and the rest joined in.
“Do not thank me,” Vhal said modestly, “It is you fine men who should be thanked, along with these fine adventurers. I could not have defeated that filth alone. You are the true heroes, not me.”
“Hoorah for Vhal,” the guards yelled gleefully, seeming to ignore the words their hero had just spoken.
“Come friends,” Vhal said as he turned towards Lieut and his company, “You must be tied and hungry. Let us go to the tavern where you can tell your tales.”
Without waiting for an answer Vhal whistled for his white horse, which trotted obediently to his side, and he swung into the saddle before trotting off into the town.
“What a remarkable man,” Vythe remarked absently, “Seeming a true hero of old. It was as if he walked right out of a story book and into the lives of these folk.”
“Come on,” Bārdin laughed, “He said something about free food and drink.”
“I am sure we will have to pay for it. Or should I say you will have to pay for food,” Raith replied with a smile and Bārdin laughed again as the two of them moved to retrieve their steeds, with Fluna following them.
“Are you feeling alright Lieut?” Vythe asked seriously as he turned to him.
“Fine,” Lieut quickly replied, “Come on.”
Lieut could feel Vythe’s eyes on him as he walked away and gathered the reins of his horse before swinging into the saddle and following after Raith, Bārdin and Fluna. Vythe came alongside him soon, the man’s dark eyes still regarding him closely but Vythe said no more and soon they came to the tavern where Raermin, Commander Rook and her bodyguard were waiting for them.
“Are we right to leave yet?” Raermin asked in an exasperated tone.
“We are just about to get some free food and drink,” Bārdin was quick to reply.
“Perhaps we could stay the night,” Vythe suggested.
“If we leave now we can stay the night Ledolm,” Rook replied, “Or even Calias if we push our horses.”
“I don’t mind,” Raith shrugged, “And I doubt the food will be free of charge for us, Bārdin.”
“Whatever,” the dwarf huffed, “The reason I wanted to come here is resolved. So do what yous like.”
“Lieut?” Vythe asked turning to him.
Lieut clenched his jaw irritably, he still wanted to find Kreha and with the Sect of Artāre being in Woodland it was a likely a place as any to meet up with her. But he could see that his companions desired to move on, and it could be a while yet, if at all, that Kreha might come this way. In truth he really did not know how he was even likely to find her, so for now it seemed that the best thing to do was to keep moving.
“Let’s go,” Lieut decided and nodded to his companions.
“You said you had business here brother,” Raith spoke up before anyone could head off. “What has happened?”
“I no longer have business here,” Lieut replied simply.
“What do you mean?” Raith countered.
Lieut glanced to the others before his eyes locked with his brothers, “If you think about it I am sure you will find an answer, brother.”
Raith narrowed his eyes dangerously, but did not reply.
“Friends,” Vhal called cheerfully as he walked from the tavern with a mug of ale in his hand, and stopping them all before they set off, “Are you coming in for a drink and eat?”
“I am sorry to say that we are not,” Vythe smiled in reply, “Business calls us away I am afraid. But it was an honor meeting you Vhal of Woodland.”
“As it was to meet you all,” Vhal replied and toasted to them with his mug, “It is a shame to see you leave so soon, for I would have liked your skill to aid me in the search for the source of the Djarcs and Gnolls in this forest.”
“I doubt you need our help,” Lieut was quick to say.
“But I would have liked it none the less,” Vhal countered with a smile, “But alas, and I bid you farewell. May your sword arms never tire.”
With that Vhal returned through the door of the tavern and Lieut kicked his horse onward, heading for the southern gates of Woodland. The others fell into line behind him and soon the wooden gates appeared through the trees. Over the wide river Hywater they went before departing through the gates and onto the road that lead through the trees and out onto the plains of Kalladen following the river southwards.
The river Hywater soon became much wider as Lieut led the way through the long grass of Kalladen and it raced swiftly southwards over rocks and twisting through the flat expanse. As always the wind was blowing strongly across the plains tossing about Lieut’s hair and annoying him endlessly. By mid afternoon they reached the stone walls of Ledolm and looked in surprise at the extensive repairs that had already been done to the town since it had been nearly completely destroyed by Braga. Many houses now stood within the walls and it was almost the bustling hold that it had once been. The castle had been rebuilt and flags flew from the parapets with the coat of arms of the new Lord of the town. As it turned out a Blood Elf had been granted the title as new Lord of Ledholm for his valor in the battle against Braga and for the aid he had given in the rebuilding of Ledholm.
Although interested in the new development within the town Lieut and his companions decided to push on for the town of Calias further to the south which sat along the road to The Great Foglornt Forest.
The road out of Ledolm branched away from the river of Hywater and led directly across the plain to Calias. Although the distance between the two towns was not that great it soon became evening and they were still on the road. As Inüer vanished below the western horizon the light grew darker, and with no moons shining this night it promised to be a dangerous time to be in the wilderness. Although, a feint greenish glow seemed to eminate from the great rift in the sky and gave some light to a black night. But Lieut and his companions did not need to worry themselves about the dangers of a dark night for the town of Calias greeted them.
The gates were closed, as was the custom after dark, but they were allowed to enter without argument. Like Ledolm, Calias had also been almost destroyed and like its neighboring town the people had rallied together to rebuild it. But in the darkening streets Lieut had little chance to observe what the rebuilding had created and instead concentrated his attention to finding a suitable tavern to stay the night. As taverns are the most common thing in any decent town it was not long before he was dismounting from his horse and handing the stable hand the reins.
“I’m starving, come on Vythe let’s get some food,” Bārdin said loudly as he led the way into the building. “And let’s not forget about the beer.”
The others similarly filtered from the stables and into the tavern with Lieut following slowly as he looked up at the oily black rift in the sky. Inside the tavern it seemed that Bārdin had already ordered a feast for everyone and was sitting down at a few tables which had been pulled together. A large fire crackled at one end of the long room and opposite it were a trio of musicians who were playing a jolly tune. Lieut sat down at his companions table in the spare seat between Rook’s bodyguard and Fluna, where he poured himself a mug of water from the pitcher which had already been placed on the table.
“Look there are more of your Peacemakers, Regional Commander,” Vythe remarked to Rook and pointed to a table where the member of the United Concord sat. “Recruiting more sheep, I see.”
“I don’t understand your attitude Vythe,” Rook replied honestly, “The United Concord has done a lot of good. Especially for those who had lost their homes and to the effort of rebuilding the towns in this area.”
“My issue is in the fact that they work for the High Commission,” Vythe was quick to reply.
“Why?” Rook asked.
“Because their operations undermine the Lord’s and King’s authority,” Vythe replied, “And they give power to the High Commission.”
“The Lord’s and King’s authority would not be undermined if they had actively done something to begin with,” Rook responded, “The fact that the United Concord is an implementation of the High Commission is superfluous. Would your attitude be different if the Conconrd was controlled by the Sects of The Five, or another religion?”
“Of course not,” Vythe replied, “But the fact that they work for you and the High Commission makes it worse. It has become obvious to me recently that the High Commission and you Regional Commanders are striving to take away the rule from the Kings and Lords and bring all of Essinendeür under a single rule controlled by you.”
“That’s a nice conspiracy theory Vythe,” Rook smirked, “And just to entertain the thought, why would a single ruler be a bad thing?”
Vythe looked surprised, “Because diversity is a good thing. The many different rulers provide different thought and understanding of life’s problems. With a ruler in each realm they are closer to the problems that those realms cope with, which allows them to implement a better solution than someone on the other side of the continent.”
“Which is what we have now,” Rook nodded, “And that is not exactly working well, now is it?”
“Not everything can be resolved overnight,” Vythe replied as he lent back in his chair, “Krnōrel is a fine example of the system working well, and I believe with my father’s guidance Sesserrech will see the same success. I’ender will do well under King Haron’s rule as will Cientrasis under Baelor. In time Norrendōrel and Gaianaus will also see prosperity and well being for its citizens.”
“Perhaps,” Rook conceded, “But how long will it last? The division of the continent also promotes conflict. One King will always come along who desires more power, more wealth or more land and that will reignite the wars between the realms.”
“One almighty ruler will be no different,” Vythe was quick to say, “There will be those who resist their commands and rebel against them.”
“Then what is the solution?” Rook asked seriously.
“Honestly I cannot say,” Vythe shook his head, “Perhaps a combination of both systems.”
“But then the Kings and Lords will feel as if the control over their realms has been taken away,” Rook replied.
Vythe smirked, “Is that not what a single emperor will do anyway?”
“Yes,” Rook nodded, “But at least then there is no ambiguity as to who has what power and how much of it.”
The conversation between the Regional Commander and Vythe continued on for a long time and even by the time all the food was gone and the others had begun to retire to bed the two of them had not reached any form of conclusion or agreement. But at least they seemed to agree that they did not share the same ideals as the other and they both also eventually went to their rooms.
As the barroom emptied Raith decided to go out and explore the city a bit leaving Lieut by himself. As his brother left Lieut absently made his way up stairs and out onto a balcony that made up a form of common area for all the travelers who were renting accommodation. But at this late hour only Lieut was there and he sat down in a wooden chair and he looked absently out across the city.
Lieut let out a deep breath as he continued to worry about the fact that he was feeling tired and exhausted from the battle earlier that day and the ride from Woodland. But despite his lethargy Lieut refused to let himself sleep.
Lieut’s golden eyes popped open in surprise as the voice pulled him from his slumber. So annoyed at himself for falling asleep Lieut did not even regard the person who woke him up until she spoke again.
“Dreaming nice dreams were we?” Kreha asked pleasantly as she sat on the railing before him, her legs swinging in a carefree manner.
“No,” Lieut shook his head.
“The voice of the winds tells us you have been seeking us,” Kreha remarked and smiled as she cocked her head to the side, the strands of her straight black hair fluttering in the wind.
“I have,” Lieut nodded, “And I admit I am glad to see you again Kreha.”
“Well this is a turn up, isn’t it,” Kreha said with a devious, “Last time you were eager to go your own way and leave poor me to go my own. Why has it changed we wonder, yes we do indeed.”
“I need to know what is happening to me,” Lieut implored as he got to his feet to stand before Kreha.
“You assume we knows?” Kreha asked innocently.
“I don’t assume,” Lieut replied seriously and a slight smile came to Kreha’s face.
“You are dying,” Kreha said simply, “But we think we are only confirming what you thought.”
“Why am I dying?” Lieut asked, his voice showing no emotion.
“Because you should have died,” replied Kreha with a sad expression.
“At the crash when I first came to Essinendeür?” Lieut asked and Kreha nodded.
“Would have died if not for us,” Kreha smiled sweetly.
“And when the Fog leaves my head I will die.” Lieut stated more than asked. “What of Raith?”
“He will live on sillys,” Kreha rolled her eyes, “He only got a scratch across his eyebrow. But it was enough for us to manipulate the Fog into his mind and make sure he did not stop you from reaching us.”
Lieut let out a deep breath and he lent heavily against the railing next to Kreha.
“Poor Lieut does not want to die,” Kreha said as she observed his face, “Now that he knows what life is he does not want to lose it. How interesting.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Lieut asked and he shot Kreha a slight glare.
“It means what we mean it to means,” Kreha giggled, “And we means to mean what we mean.”
Lieut scoffed and looked back across the city, “It does not matter if I die or not. I cannot do anything about it.”
Kreha laughed aloud, “Do you expect us to believe those words? So stoic Lieut. We are no fool, you have been looking for us to stop yourself from dying not to simply confirm what you already guessed.”
“Can you save me from dying?” Lieut asked looking back to Kreha.
Kreha shrugged and smiled before pointing her finger at Lieut. From the tip of her delicate finger a stream of Fog drifted out and begun to swirl about Lieut’s head. Suddenly Lieut felt a sharp pain at the side of his head and he gritted his teeth as he tried to force away the agony of his skin peeling apart. Lieut growled and gripped the wooden rail tightly as he knees suddenly became weak. Blood flowed down the side of his face as Kreha’s stream of Fog forced its way inside his head. As the last of the Fog seeped into his wound the pain stopped and Lieut began to breathe heavily as his knelt by the railing and watched his blood drip onto the wooden boards of the balcony. Wiping away the blood from his face Lieut staggered to his feet and glared at Kreha.
“What did you do that for?” Lieut growled, his golden eyes burning with inner fires.
“Feeling better?” Kreha asked simply as she picked at something in the corner of her eye.
Lieut looked confused and flexed his finger in front of his face. The lethargy he had been feeling recently had seemed to have vanished and he could feel muscles humming with energy. A slight smile came to Lieut’s face and he looked back to Kreha who was also smiling.
“I do feel better,” Lieut smiled, “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank us yet,” Kreha replied quickly, “We can take what we give just as easily. In return we ask you do us a small favor.”
Lieut narrowed his eyes suspiciously, “Go on.”
“You come from Woodland, yes,” Kreha stated and Lieut cocked an eyebrow, “Notice anything interesting there. Near the Sect of Artāre perhaps?”
“Is this your small favor?” Lieut asked suspiciously, “Tell you if I saw anything interesting in Woodland?”
“No, but did you?” Kreha asked, her expression serious.
Lieut shrugged and shook his head, “Like what?”
Kreha pouted and crossed her arms in front of her chest making her small bust appear larger then it actually was.
“After Anduěr died the others of The Five have been cautious,” Kreha said unhappily, “Makes it hard for us to find them. The way we can find them is through their demi-gods. But they too are tricksy. So did you notice Artāre’s demi-god in Woodland, someone who seemed out of place among the commoners?”
Lieut shook his head slowly and Kreha narrowed her eyes.
“We may have found one in Sparren,” Kreha continued, “One of Antōre’s demi-gods, but we need to be sure. This is the favour I ask of you, go to Sparren and we will show you whom we mean and you will make them reveal themselves and then kill them. Antōre will not ignore such an action and seek revenge upon you and when he shows up we will kill him. Yes indeed we will kill him.”
Lieut looked away from Kreha as he considered the proposal and looked up to the great rift across the sky. The dim green glow from its black depths cast the city in a strangely ominous light, which seemed to intensify around Kreha. He looked away from the chasm in the sky and to his hands that clutched the railing and thought about the strength that had quickly returned to him once Kreha had pushed the Fog back into his head.
“Fairris is in Sparren,” Kreha said, drawing a surprised look from Lieut. “Imagine how devastated she and the rest of your friends would be if you died. We asks only a simple task, and only one, after it is done you may live your life to its full beside Fairris, and your other friends. We knows, yes we do.”
“Alright, I will do this favor for you,” Lieut finally agreed, “But I will have your word that the Fog you put into my head will be all that I need to live out my life and not require to do more favors that might bring about the destruction of the world.”
“Have we ever lied to you?” Kreha asked innocently, “The Prophecy is nonsense, made up by fools worshiping false Gods. You see more fools now in constant prayer to The Five in hope that they will find salvation where there is none to be had. We never wanted to see the world we love destroyed.”
“But will it become destroyed as you kill more of The Five?” Lieut asked seriously.
Kreha looked away, “I don’t know. I hope not. But that will not stop me from my revenge.”
Lieut’s brow furrowed as he looked at Kreha, just then she had seemed the most honest and sincere he had ever seen her.
“We will see you in Sparren,” Kreha suddenly looked up at him and smiled, “Tootles.”
With that farewell Kreha vanished in a sparkle of stars that drifted into the night sky leaving Lieut to consider whether his choice had been the right one.
When morning came Lieut had a spring in his step and was filled with energy and an eagerness to continue the journey. As Lieut moved from the balcony where he had watched Inüer rise he bumped into Raith and Fluna along the second floor landing where they were exchanging heated words. Awkwardly Lieut slipped passed them and noticed that Fluna seemed on the verge of crying and Raith looked remorseful and annoyed.
Only giving the encounter a brief thought Lieut joined the rest of the company in the main barroom where Raith and Fluna accompanied them shortly. Lieut noticed that they both seemed upset and avoided looking at each other as they sat down to eat and drink. After a short breakfast Lieut led the party out of Calias and set a swift pace towards the jungle of the Foglornt Forest. As they rode along Lieut could see clearly that Raith and Fluna must have been involved in some form of argument earlier and now they purposely avoided each other. Raith was riding beside him while Fluna was towards the back of the company where Raermin was trying to engage her in conversation. It was not long before they reached the tree line and were greeted by a large stone monolith that had recently been put in place and carved into it were large words in Common tongue and languages of each of the Elder races.
“As granted by the Kings of Krnōrel and I’ender you are now entering the lands of the Valenthōr and the Sātor Warriors.” Vythe read the sign aloud, “Any crimes committed will be judged by the laws of this land.”
“What a surprise they forgot the Grün Narād dwarves,” Bārdin remarked angrily and made some quieter grumbles in his beard.
“Ironwood has been empty for many Ages,” Vythe replied with a shrug.
“That don’t change anything,” Bārdin snapped, “It’s still dwarven lands as well.”
“I guess they did not give it much thought,” Raith said dismissively.
“Ain’t that always they way,” Bardin replied darkly, “Let’s go.”
No more remarks were exchanged and Lieut continued into the forest path with little thought to the declaration. Under the trees of the Foglornt the light of Inuer was taken away by the thick foliage. Only occasionally a shaft of light pierced the thick canopy and illuminated the dirt road. The air was filled with the sounds of many creatures and the scents of hundreds of flowers. Lieut continued at a quick pace which did not allow for the others to take their time to observe the wildlife.
However, Lieut did pull his horse to a stop when midday came, to allow his companions a chance to rest and take a meal. Because the trees and undergrowth of the Foglornt were dense they could only move their horses to the side of the road as they rested. Thankfully the track through the jungle was not some narrow path and was wide enough for two carriages to squeeze past one another. The heat of the day had increased and became amplified by the heavy humidity and warm wet air that lingered under the tree tops. But none of that concerned Lieut, in fact he did not even notice it for he was still revived by the renewed energy he felt in his limbs and muscles.
As he waited for his companions to finish eating and resting Lieut glanced curiously to the shadows of the undergrowth and in the branches of the trees. Something did not feel right to him, the hairs on the back of his neck tingled and a chill seemed to wash over him, pushing aside the humidity in the jungle.
“You seem better brother,” Raith remarked quietly as he came over, distracting Lieut from the deep shadows in the vegetation.
“What do you mean?” Lieut asked in reply.
“Don’t try and deny it, Lieut,” Raith smirked, “I am not the only one that has noticed that you have not seemed well recently. But ever since we left Calias you have seemed better.”
“Let us just say that what I was seeking found me,” Lieut replied in the same soft tone as his brother.
“You spoke with Kreha?” Raith said with surprise, “Well, what did she say?”
Lieut smiled slightly, “You have nothing to worry about, and now neither do I.”
Raith nodded and smiled, “This is good news. I can now leave your company in Pentra with a clear conscience. Did she ask anything in return?”
“A small favor,” Lieut shrugged and looked back to the shadows in the trees, “Nothing I cannot handle. Which is more that can be said about how you handled your breaking up with Fluna.”
Lieut smirked and Raith glared angrily at him.
“We were never together,” Raith replied quietly, “I feel that she wanted something that I could not give her.”
“I guess she did not take that news too kindly,” Lieut said with a slight smirk.
“You saw us this morning in Calias,” Raith shrugged, “You know, sometimes I wonder if it would have been better to stay the way I was, before the Fog freed my mind. I do not understand women, and these emotions confuse me even more.”
Lieut’s attention to what his brother was saying trailed away as he noticed that the shadows had grown exponentially, as had the cold air. Lieut’s sword quickly came to his hands as the darkness seeped out of the trees and encroached onto the road.
“Not this again,” Bārdin said loudly as he too saw the darkness descend upon them and brandished his axe. “Come and get me then you spawns of darkness.”
The horses suddenly whinnied in fear and thundered away to the west, leaving them stranded to face the shadow. Cries of terror echoed into the air as Lieut noticed Raermin fall to the ground his eyes wide. Rook and her bodyguard also fell to the dirt and began to cower as the darkness descended.
“I knew we would meet this foe again,” Vythe said confidently, “So here is something I prepared earlier.”
Vythe took up a wide stance and brought his hands close together at his right side. The Runes upon his silver gauntlets glowed fiercely as the Fog rushed into a ball between his palms. As Vythe thrust his hands forward the ball glowed brighter than the light of Inüer and blasted into the darkness. In a blinding flash the light ripped through the cloud of shadow and cast it back into the trees to reveal the real threat coming from the undergrowth.
Nearly two dozen white skinned Wood Elf sized creatures screeched and covered their over sized pale eyes as the shadow dissipated. They were thin and bony with almost translucent skin that was covered with many thin blue and purple veins and no hair. Their ears were pointed and the flesh of their faces was pulled tight against their skulls showing their ridged foreheads, broad cheekbones and hollow eye sockets. The creature’s nose resembled the void of a human skull once all flash had been stripped from it. Their lips were thin and their mouths were wide and filled with needle like teeth that they bared angrily as they came from the trees. A strange black material in odd designs made up their clothes and in their hands they bore weapons that seemed as glass.
But as Lieut deflected the first creatures attack he found that the translucent weapons were as solid as steel. Dark red blood flew through the air as Lieut slapped aside another attack and ripped open the monsters throat.
“In the trees,” Lieut heard Fluna yell as more of the vicious creatures rushed from the brush.
As two more of the fiends fell at Lieut’s feet he caught a glimpse of Raith dancing his way through a trio of the monsters and both Vythe and Bārdin fighting desperately against the overwhelming odds. Lieut also noticed that Raermin, Rook and her bodyguard were still cowering in fear and Fluna was fighting hard to defend them.
Lieut did not have time to even consider moving to help Fluna for the pale creatures continued to rush them from the trees. Lieut smiled confidently and with glee as he worked his large sword in dazzling and intricate maneuvers, his technique perfect and his arms and legs bursting with energy. At that moment as several more of the creatures fell away from him clutching at their mortal wound, Lieut believed that killing some demi-god for Kreha was a small price to pay for the strength he had when at full health.
Lieut heard a scream from behind him, followed by two more yells of pain and terror, but he had no time to look and see what had happened.
Lieut growled angrily as he kicked low at one of the creatures, breaking its bony leg at the same time he parried its attack. With another slash he severed the creatures arm at the shoulder before meeting the next creature in line. Lieut clenched his jaw in frustration, the onslaught of these fiends seemed endless and he realised that they would overwhelm his friends if no end came soon.
Forcing a break in the combat Lieut looked to Vythe who had his Twin-spear in hand and was fighting desperately against the relentless enemies.
“Vythe,” Lieut called out, “Hit me and Raith with some magicks.”
Lieut did not wait for a reply and turned his attention back to the three creatures that were stabbing at him with their glass-like swords. Lieut worked quickly to defend against the assault and he realised that these creatures were not stupid and were actively talking to each other in a strange hissing language as they tried to devise some strategy.
“Lieut, Raith. Catch,” Lieut heard Vythe call out and he felt instantly the tingle of magicks at his back.
Lieut quickly stepped back from the attacker and spun about to meet the wave of magickal energies. Vythe had done well and the blast was overflowing with the power of the Fog. With smile Lieut slashed the ball of magicks causing it to dissipate and the Fog to be absorb by the Anther Crystals mounted on his sword. Right away Lieut felt the power within his sword and he twisted back to face the horde of fiends. As he spun back around Lieut slashed horizontally at the creatures as he released the build up of Fog magicks within his sword.
The wave of golden energy shot forth from his blade, slicing through the masses of creatures and basting into the tree line on the opposite side of the road. As Lieut’s blade of light rushed forth, so too did a similar one from Raith’s twin blades and with just the same devastating effect on the enemy.
All of the creatures that had been before them on the road and coming from the trees had been cut in half and lay twitching in the dirt. A loud crack suddenly sounded and several trees shuddered violently before falling to the ground. Inüer’s light cascaded through the hole in the canopy and shone brightly on the road causing what creatures remained to shriek in pain and run for the undergrowth.
Lieut smiled victoriously as he flicked the blood from his sword before returning it to his shoulder clips and moving to group up with his friends.
“I be Bārdin, son of Bain,” the dwarf yelled triumphantly into the forest, “Remember that when I come for you all in Grün Narād!”
“Finally we see what was in the darkness,” Vythe remarked as Lieut walked over to him, “But what are they?”
“Scum, is what they are,” Bārdin growled and heavily kicked one of the corpses.
Lieut smiled slightly and looked to see the fate of his other companions. Raermin and Fluna seemed well enough as they sat beside each other, and it seemed that Raermin had found his courage for he bore many superficial wounds and his bloodied sword was still in his hands.
“Lethain,” Vythe called out as he quickly moved to the Regional Commander.
Lieut followed to see the half-elf breathing heavily with her arm and side of her head covered in her own blood. Rook was still tightly holding the hilt of one of the creature’s glass swords as its blade was embedded deeply in its former owner’s chest. Beside her in pool of blood lay her bodyguard, his throat ripped open.
“Are you alright?” Vythe asked with concern as he quickly looked at the half-elf’s wounds.
“It’s not serious,” Rook shook her head, “But I don’t know what came over me. I was so afraid, so filled with terror that I could not even draw my sword. I wanted to, I was screaming at myself to do so. But my arms would not move. It was only when the creature jumped upon me that I acted.”
“I was the same,” Raermin spoke up as he and Fluna came over to them, “I do not know how Fluna over came it.”
“You fought in the end, Raermin,” Fluna said smile, “And saved my life.”
“But I was a coward to start with,” the knight looked away.
“Don’t feel bad lad,” Bārdin said, “That shadow of theirs creates despair, I know I have encountered it twice before. Your action were not your own.”
“By the way, that was a nice spell to remove the cloud of shadow Vythe,” Raith remarked and slapped Vythe on the shoulder.
“After what happened in Grün Narād I put much thought to devising that one,” Vythe smiled back.
“What happened in Grün Narād?” Raith asked curiously.
“Now is not the time for stories,” Lieut interjected, “Besides we now have a long walk ahead of us without the horses.”
“I am afraid you are right,” Vythe nodded, “But we should not leave without burying our companion and burning these foul creatures.”
“I will bury him,” Lethain Rook said, “In truth I did not really know him, I hired him from Brown’s Place back in Crydon. But I feel responsible. Its strange, I never even asked for his name.”
Rook looked sadly down upon the body of the man as Lieut and the others moved to pile the dead creatures to burn them.
“What kind of blade is this?” Vythe asked as he began collecting the swords that the creatures had been wielding. “It seems as glass, but is as hard as Bārdin’s skull.”
Vythe and Raith both laughed aloud, and Lieut cracked smile as Bārdin began grumbling in his beard.
“It’s Reethium, if you actually want to know,” Bārdin huffed, “It’s a crystal ore, as hard as any castle forge steel and half the weight. There were plenty of Reethium veins throughout Grün Narād.”
“How come these are the first Reethium blades I have ever seen?” Vythe asked curiously as he studied one of the short swords.
“’Cause it’s ridiculously hard to work with,” Bārdin shrugged, “To melt it down you need a constant flame hotter than molten rock, but once molded and cooled it ain’t going to break easily. And to put an edge on it you need a blue diamond and a hell of a lot of patience. Reethium is no good in the cold though. Put it in ice until it turns a deep blue and it will shatter like glass.”
“And worth some decent coin, no doubt,” Vythe smiled widely as he dropped several of the swords into his extra-dimensional pouch.
“For being a son of one of Sesserrech’s most wealthy families you have a strange desire for an easy profit, Vythe,” Raith remarked with a smirk.
“How do you think we Varrintines became so wealthy?” Vythe laughed back, and Raith joined in.
“Riders approach on the road,” Fluna spoke up as she slung another corpse upon the pile at the side of the road.
From the west the sound of hooves thundered down upon them and a tall Sātor Warrior dropped from the saddle as he pulled up before them.
“Fürin,” Vythe greeted gleefully as he moved to meet the strong Warrior, “It has been too long my friend. I am glad to see you, even happier seeing you come astride my horse.”
Fürin smiled back and clasped Vythe firmly by the wrist as the other riders pulled their horses to a halt, one of which was Lieut’s own horse that had fled when the shadow had descended upon them.
“Do not set the Reivers aflame,” Fürin said to Vythe with a serious expression on his face.
“Reivers?” Vythe asked in confusion and Fürin pointed to the pile of the pale creatures.
“We know not their actual name, thus we have named them Reivers,” Fürin explained, “They have come down from the north with shadow and despair. Fairy light pushes back their veil of shadow, but the Reivers are vicious fighters. We have lost many good warriors to their blades.”
“I am sorry to hear that,” Vythe said sadly, “We too lost a companion today.”
“Too many have lost their lives to these creatures,” Fürin shook his head.
“Why can’t we burn them?” Bārdin asked loudly.
“An open flame is disrespectful to the forest,” Fürin said seriously, “Where a burial will feed the plants and earth. The dead will be buried.”
“Well you can do that if you want,” Bārdin huffed, “I ain’t wasting my time digging a giant hole for this filth.”
Bārdin kicked one of the corpses that had fallen down the pile.
“Some respect would not go astray, master dwarf,” Vythe hissed angrily.
“You could say the same to them,” Bārdin was quick to reply, “Conveniently forgot about this land belonging to the Grün Narād dwarves as well ay Sātor?”
“Bārdin, now is not the time for that,” Vythe was just as quick to remark.
“Don’t be angry Vythe,” Fürin calmed his friend, “My warriors and I will bury them ourselves for it is clear you have your own matters to attend. As for the monolith that stands upon the borders, it will be changed. But considering Grün Narād has been but an empty tomb for many centuries I question the worth of it.”
Bardin and Furin glared at each other.
“Grün Narād will be again filled with dwarves one day soon, I can promise you that,” Bārdin said slowly and menacingly.
“Thanks to you gathering our mounts, Fürin,” Vythe spoke up, breaking the glare between the dwarf and the Sātor, “I am glad we will no longer have to walk.”
“Then go my friend,” Fürin smiled widely and clasped Vythe by the forewarm again. “And fear not, we will purge our land of these Reivers soon enough.”
“Finally you speak some sense, Sātor,” Bārdin huffed, “I would help you, I got a quarrel with this lot meself. Business calls me elsewhere though, but if that’s done quick be sure I’ll be back this way to lop some Reiver heads.”
“You would be welcome to join us,” Fürin nodded, “Grün Narād and the Foglornt is your home after all. We should strive to put ancient grudges in the past where they belong.”
A slight smile came to Bārdin’s face and he nodded, “Shame we dwarves and you Sātor didn’t see eye to eye in the past. A good relationship could have been formed.”
Fürin smiled and nodded as he and the other Sātor Warriors then handed over Lieut’s horse as well as his companions and he led the way from the battle ground as the Sātor began to dig a hole at the side of the road to bury the dead.
It was two days of near constant riding through the thick jungle until they reached the bridge of Karrar’gorn which arched over the river Myst where it divided into two. The stone walkway reached out across brown waters of Myst where it seamlessly moved into a small cave high on the side of the cliff.
The cliff face curiously looked remarkably like the prow of a ship as it cut through the water and divided the river Myst almost exactly down the middle. On the other side of the cave another stone walkway arched out and touched down on the opposite bank where the dirt road continued to wind back into the jungle.
After staying the night in the small cave, as was the custom when travelling through the Foglornt, it took another two days with no incidents before they emerged from the jungle and moved out onto the Aierthian Plains. From there it was another three days across the rolling plains before they saw the city of Pentra.
“Well, this is where I will bid you all farewell,” Lethain Rook said with a slight smile as they stood inside the gates of Pentra where the road divided.
The path to the left moved along the top of the ravine that Pentra was built within, and to the rich section of the city that sat upon a massive bridge that arched across the whole city, called the Pentrin Arch. The path on the right wound downwards and into the city proper where the commoners and homeless lived.
“It has been a pleasure having you,” Vythe smiled wide and dipped into a slight bow. “I hope that our conversations have broadened your outlook on the current political environment.”
Rook scoffed and smiled wide, “It was a pleasure to be had, Vythe. But my political viewpoints will not be so easily swayed. I look forward to seeing you all again, and I am sure that I will.”
“I will be coming with you to the Pentrin Arch, Rook,” Raermin said, “I have business there. I will meet the rest of you here tomorrow morning.”
“I will come with you,” Fluna spoke up as she moved to join Raermin and Rook.
“Very well,” Vythe said, “In that case, farewell Regional Commander, and we will see you bright and early tomorrow morning Raermin and Fluna.”
Everyone seemed in agreement and Rook said another goodbye as they parted ways and Lieut led the way down into the city of Pentra.
“Follow me,” Vythe spoke up as he took the lead, “I know a gentleman who will pay good money for the Reethium swords I gathered from the Rievers.”
Lieut and the others did not complain and Vythe took up the led through the narrow and winding streets of the city. All about them the buildings were built high and many alleyways broke off and ran chaotically through the city. The streets were crowded and Lieut bumped shoulders with many folk as he followed after Vythe. On every street corner there was a merchant yelling at the passers-by and Lieut noticed children with bare feet running about cutting purses off belts as they went. A sudden commotion broke out as one of the kids was caught by a man who did not seem too happy about having his money purse nearly stolen. Holding the young boy by the scruff of the neck the man called over a pair of patrolling guards and explained the situation. Lieut did not see how the situation ended for they turned down another road, but he suspected that the boy would spend some time in the city prison for stealing.
As they moved along Lieut noticed that Vythe was leading the way into rougher area of the city, where illegal activity was likely prosperous and where one should always thoroughly check what they were buying before they handed over the gold. The buildings in this area were also less clean and poorly cared for. Between the houses and over the streets was strung many ropes that occupants of the higher buildings used to hang their washing on. But Lieut also noticed that such ropes allowed for skilled thieves to move between rooftops easily.
Vythe soon turned down a side alley where they passed by a drunk in the gutter and after a few twists and turns he stopped in front of a boarded up window. As he stopped Vythe banged loudly upon the wood and a hard looking woman opened it from the inside.
“What d’you want?” the woman asked with a bored expression on her face.
“This is still Ulrik’s Emporium, is it not?” Vythe asked with a smile.
“Ulrik died five years ago,” the woman replied simply as she lit up a Sap tobacco cigarette, “It’s Ulga’s Emporium now. So what d’you want?”
“You must be his lovely wife he spoke so much about,” Vythe replied sweetly as he lent on the window sill.
Lieut sighed and turned his attention away from the exchange, as did Raith and Bārdin. After a few minutes of discussion and haggling over the price of the Reethium swords Vythe finally agreed to an amount and they left the alleyway. Again Vythe took up the lead and directed Lieut and the others through the streets and finally to a tavern down by the docks of Pentra.
“The Clam Beard,” Vythe said aloud as they walked through the doors and into the small tavern, “You will not find a better pub in Pentra.”
Lieut looked cautiously about the dimly lit room; a bar stood opposite the entrance and to the side was a small fire place. The smell of damp wood, ale and tobacco filled the air as Lieut followed Vythe to a table in the corner. At the bar an older man absently wiped the bar top as he regarded Lieut’s company curiously. There were not many in the tavern, all of which were old seamen who had nothing better to do then to drink ale and swap overly dramatized tales of their younger days.
“Soon this place will be overflowing with the evening crowd,” Vythe said as they sat down, “And you will have no trouble finding a Captain to sail you to Nivalna, Raith.”
Vythe’s words proved true and as the night came on the tavern quickly filled up and was soon bustling with conversations among many sailors. Naturally with the combination of beer, woman and individuals who had spent a long time at sea fights broke out and Lieut watched with mild amusement. Once the tavern had filled up Vythe pointed out to Raith a few people who were looking for sailors to hire on their next trip.
“Well what do you know,” Vythe exclaimed, “There is Captain Rabaster of the Typhoon. I remember sailing with him a few times, I am surprised to see he is still in business. But then again, where else would he be? Come on Raith I shall introduce you.”
Both Vythe and Raith got up from the table and filtered their way through the crowed to the table where the older man was talking to potential recruits for his ship.
“I hate sailing,” Bārdin remarked to Lieut, “No sensible dwarf would ever go out on the oceans. It’s not right I tell ya. If Dhror and Melenduil wanted us lot to be on the sea they would have made us like fish.”
Lieut smirked and did not reply as Bārdin continued to rant about the stupidity of people going out on ships, or even swimming in water deeper then your own shoulders.
Lieut noticed that Raith and Vythe were now coming back through the crowd. But as they came closer a drunken sailor thought it would be a good idea to try and fight Raith. The drunk shoved Raith backwards and said a few angry words towards him. Lieut smiled slightly as he saw his brother’s pale purple eyes narrow dangerously and his back foot subtly shift into a fighting stance. The drunk said a few more words and a cruel smile came to Raith’s face as he said something in reply. The drunk shouted angrily and launched a heavy round house punch towards Raith’s head. Before the drunk’s fist came anywhere near Raith’s head he lunged forward, his forearm blocked the drunk’s punch and his own fist thundered into the man’s face. The drunk staggered back a few steps before falling to the ground unconscious. Raith smirked slightly as he moved to join Vythe and continue back to their table.
“Well?” Bārdin asked as Vythe and Raith sat down.
“Captain Rabaster will take me on until Nivalna,” Raith smiled slightly, “But he has not heard any word of Elza recently.”
“Do not worry,” Vythe said cheerfully, “I am sure you will hear news in Nivalna. That place is a mecca for sailors, pirates and the like, and unusual items from the far reaches of the lands. I hear that even a few ships have begun to make more trips towards the Southern Kingdoms.”
Raith nodded and took a long drink of water.
“A toast,” Bārdin said loudly, “To the last night in such fine company. You have been a good friend and companion Raith and I wish ye all the luck in the world.”
All four of them clashed their pewter cups together and swallowed what was left in them.
The night continued with easy conversation between them and even Lieut joined in occasionally and quickly the night went by. As it became late the crowd had died down, most fallen unconscious from the excessive consumption of bourbon, scotch, and beer, and were sleeping under the tables in their own vomit.
Bārdin and Vythe also retired to the rooms they had rented, both seeming a bit drunk as they walked beside each other, Vythe using the dwarf’s shoulder to steady himself.
“Last call,” the barman called out, “If you ain’t got a room, get out.”
Lieut shrugged to his brother and together they left the tavern as the barman and another man began to drag the unconscious bodies outside and into the gutter.
Outside the tavern opened up onto the docks and many boats and tall mast ships sat quietly along the wharf and anchored out in the harbor. A light mist had drifted in off the Gornl Sea and cast the whole of Pantra in a mysterious veil.
Lieut took in a deep breath and stretched his arms behind his back and Raith came and stood alongside him.
“I am going to miss travelling with you and the others,” Raith remarked sadly as he looked out across the bay.
“Really?” Lieut asked with a slight surprise, “You were always one to work and travel alone.”
“Everyone changes, I guess,” Raith shrugged.
Lieut did not reply and continued to look at the mist and the slight shimmers of Fog that still drifted within it.
“You know, now that I have organised to leave, I am hesitant,” Raith remarked and again Lieut did not reply.
Raith angrily grabbed Lieut by the shoulder so they faced each other.
“Don’t you have anything to say?” Raith asked in frustration.
“What is there to say?” Lieut replied with annoyance, “You are going to do something you want, and I am glad you are, you know I am. What more can I say? Should we embrace each other and shed a tear over this departure? People come in and out of each others lives constantly. You are following what you want as am I.”
“We are brothers,” Raith replied quickly, “It should be different.”
“We may be brothers, but tell me how long have we acted as such?” Lieut asked, “Not even for a year, that is how long. Before we were nothing but rivals at best, why should that change? Why does it need to?”
Raith narrowed his eyes and looked hard at Lieut for a few minutes.
“Perhaps I was wrong, not every one changes,” Raith finally said with a disappointed tone. “But I think you are hiding what you really feel.”
Lieut did not reply and he turned his golden eyes back to harbor and the coming dawn. Raith sighed and did not say anymore so they stood in silence as Inüer slowly crested the eastern horizon and pushed away the mist over the harbour. Vythe and Bārdin emerged from the Clam Beard soon after and together they made their way through the city and to the main gates.
“The Typhoon does not sail until mid morning,” Raith said as they walked through the streets, “So I have plenty of time to bid you each farewell.”
“That’s good,” Bārdin grinned, “I going to miss you lad. But ya gotta do what ya gotta do.”
“Bārdin is right,” Vythe agreed, “And do not let anyone try and persuade you differently. One of the few things Elardōre actually taught me before he went crazy was to not be concerned with other people’s opinion. The only things that matter in life are the things that matter to you personally. Everything else is not worth your time.”
“I will be sure to remember that,” Raith nodded and smiled slightly.
Very soon they reached the main gates and saw Raermin and Fluna already waiting for them in the saddled and ready.
“It took you all long enough,” Raermin remarked when he saw them, “Let’s be off then, we still have a long road ahead of us.”
Lieut stopped walking and turned to his brother to say farewell, as did Bardin and Vythe.
“Good luck lad,” Bārdin said and roughly slapped Raith on the arm before turning away to gather his pony from the stables by the gate.
“Give Elza a kiss for me when you meet her,” Vythe smiled wide as he clasped wrists with Raith.
Raith laughed uncomfortably and gave Vythe a nod before Vythe also went to retrieve his horse.
“Good luck brother,” Lieut said sincerely, “Don’t get yourself killed.”
Raith smiled and nodded, “Same to you, Lieut.”
With nothing more to be said Lieut gathered his horse from the stables.
“I did not know you well Raith, but I wish you luck,” Raermin spoke up and nodded respectfully to Raith.
“And to you,” Raith returned the nod before turning his attention to Fluna. “Farewell Fluna, I hope you find your happiness.”
Without waiting for a reply Raith turned from the group and headed back into the city with a wave over his shoulder. Lieut smiled at his brothers actions and without saying anything he rained his horse out the gates and onto the road across the Morrow Plains to Sparren.