Year 3633, the Sixth Age, the twentieth day of Spring
It was a dreary day as they came upon Port Ly’cath. The skies were overcast and the light dull. A gentle rain had just begun to fall as they rode up to the gates of the medium sized city that sat along the Western Oceania coast line, just south of the Scarred Mountains.
There were not any guards to challenge their entry to the city so Vhindr led the way into the city streets. Just beyond the gates stood a newly built stable and there he and Rhalin left their horses for a pricey sum.
“I am surprised we have made such good time.” Rhalin remarked, “The Fluyt should be in today.”
“Indeed,” agreed Vhindr and he smiled, “The Spring winds from the north have been a good aid in slowing the ships progress. And to think, I never liked the chill north winds.”
“Chill?” Rhalin laughed slightly. “It is warm compared to the winds we get back home, even in the middle of Summer.”
“I cannot begin to imagine what Hornberg is like in the middle of Winter,” Vhindr shivered at the thought.
“In a word: cold.” Rhalin replied.
They talked idly as they strolled through the streets of Port Ly’cath and in short order they were nearing the docks. A loud horn suddenly sounded from the docks, stopping their conversation and causing them to exchange curious glances. Vhindr picked up the pace and jogged off towards the wharves. The old buildings soon fell away and the wooden boardwalks of the docks greeted them, along with another loud horn call. It was still early morning and a light mist floated over the top of the calm waters of the bay. On the horizon a tall mast could be seen moving northward through the mists just beyond the bay. Another mournful horn call echoed across the water from the north end of the docks, but there came no response from the ship.
“Is that the Fluyt?” Rhalin wondered aloud.
Vhindr did not reply and hurriedly strode towards the small tower at the north end of the wharf. The cold blare of the large horn at the tower’s summit sounded across the water again, but it was no use and the ship sailed on unconcerned.
As Vhindr drew near the tower a rugged looking man stomped from the tower’s door and spat on the ground unhappily.
“Excuse me good sir,” Vhindr called to the gruff looking man. “Was that Fluyt from The Port?”
“Aye,” the man grunted and spat again, “Don’t know what Captain D’mont is playin’ at though. No way he’ll make it to Chillbreeze without taking on provisions here. If you were lookin’ for a ride, yer outta luck I’m afraid, m’Lord.”
“Damn.” Vhindr grumbled softly.
“So much for that plan.” Rhalin sighed heavily, “There is no way we will beat them to Chillbreeze now.”
“More than you know.” The gruff man remarked.
“What do you mean?” Vhindr was quick to ask.
“Well, the news is Lord Barrgarah is now Baron of Issia,” said the man. “Even us down here know that man is crazy. Always lookin’ for a fight that one. There will be war now, mark my words m’Lord. Even if yer father tries to stop it, Baron Barrgarah will have his fight.”
“Lord Barrgarah is no warmonger.” Rhalin snapped and glared at the man.
“Well now, sorry I voiced me opinion,” the gruff man replied insincerely before he spat again and headed off.
“You do not think Barrgarah will start a war to avenge the death of his dear friend Ellengar?” Vhindr asked in disbelief, drawing Rhalin’s eye to his.
She did not say anything and looked to the ocean.
“Anyway, it matters little now,” Vhindr said, “Whether there will be a war or not it will still make our trip to the north ten times harder.”
Vhindr sighed and ran a hand across his brow, feeling utterly frustrated.
“Rhalin, will you be able to make our journey across the Gaianaus border easier?” Vhindr asked, “You do have some influence, do you not?”
“Not a whole lot.” Rhalin replied seriously, similarly looking annoyed, “I might be able to pass through with little hassle, but not you.”
“Being the son of a well-known lord has its drawbacks it would seem.” Vhindr chuckled bitterly. “Come, let us find some food and drink where we might ponder this problem.”
“We could just take another ship and follow after the Fluyt.” Rhalin remarked as Vhindr led the way from the docks and back through Port Ly’cath.
“Not many will head north this early in the season. Once the winds have changed, sure, but that will not be for another few ten days at least.” Vhindr shook his head. “And I doubt the lords of Gaianaus will leave their port cities unguarded, so we will just come across the same issue.”
“Perhaps if we had just taken a ship to begin with all this could have been avoided.” Said Rhalin, “Like I had suggested.”
Vhindr did not miss the criticism in Rhalin’s voice, but he let it slip by.
“No use thinking about the ‘what ifs’,” Vhindr replied cheerfully, “We know where we are going and who we are chasing and that-”
Vhindr cut himself short as someone in the crowd caught his attention. The black hair of a woman disappeared just as quickly into the people and Vhindr lost sight of her.
“What is it?” Rhalin asked curiously.
“I thought I saw … never mind.” Vhindr shook away his suspicions. “Come. ‘The Wenches Arms’ is this way.”
“What a delightful name for a tavern,” Rhalin replied sarcastically.
“Yes,” Vhindr laughed, “I do admit the taverns in Gaianaus have much more imaginative names than ours. ‘The Ice Dragon’s Lair’ in Issia was a favourite of mine when I was in the capital.”
“’Dreadnaught’ in Hornberg has the best tasting ale. Even better than Midway.” Rhalin replied with a smile, “But you cannot beat ‘The Black Panther’ for comfort, the best stories, and the best hospitality.”
“I do not believe I have been there,” Vhindr pondered curiously, “Where is it?”
“Lone Peak.” Rhalin replied, “On the northern tip of White Loch.”
“Of course.” Vhindr exclaimed and nodded, “We shall have to stop in sometime. Do you have family in Lone Peak?”
“No.” Rhalin was quick to say and her smile vanished.
Vhindr regarded his companion curiously, but he did not speak his thoughts.
“Here we are.” Vhindr stated as they came around a corner. “The Wenches Arms in all her glory.”
“Exactly how I imagined it.” Rhalin remarked dryly as they moved through the door and into the small and dimly lit room.
The few patrons within glanced up at them with dead eyes as Vhindr and Rhalin stood in the entrance. The place was dirty and the floorboards and wooden tables stained and moldy. The air smelt musty and damp, and the corners of the room were cloaked in shadow.
In one of the corners the colours of the Fog flickered and caught Vhindr’s attention. Blinking a couple of times Vhindr rubbed his scared eye and looked again, but the cloud of Fog had vanished. Concern gripped his thoughts and he looked to Rhalin.
“I am not staying here.” Stated Rhalin and walked back out the door.
“It is not that bad,” Vhindr said as he followed her outside and back into the rain. “I have stayed in worse places.”
“I’d rather camp on the side of the road.” Rhalin said seriously.
Vhindr chuckled, “This place is-”
The call of his name cut Vhindr short and he was about to turn around to see who was hailing him. Suddenly a heavy body slammed into his back and strong arms and legs wrapped around him. Vhindr stumbled under the weight and nearly fell to the muddy ground, but somehow he kept his feet.
“Vhindr I can’t believe it’s you.” A familiar voice laughed as the person clung to his back.
Vhindr regained his balance and the other person hopped from his back and darted around in front of him.
“Legin?” exclaimed Vhindr with a wide smile. “You almost broke my back. How have you …”
Vhindr’s voice trailed away as he noticed feint wisps of Fog drift around Legin’s shoulders and arms.
“Is that a common thing now?” Vhindr asked curiously.
“What?” Legin asked back as he looked to his bare arms and shoulders, “What are you looking at?”
Vhindr blinked exaggeratedly and rubbed his damaged eye, and when he looked back to his friend the tendrils of Fog had disappeared.
“Nothing.” Vhindr stammered, drawing curious expression from both Rhalin and Legin. “I must be seeing things.”
“Speaking of seeing, what happened to your eye?” Legin asked.
“It’s nothing I am fine.” Vhindr dismissed the question, “It happened on a case I am working on, I can see fine.”
Vhindr motioned to Rhalin, “This is my associate Rhalin. Rhalin this is an old friend, Legin.”
“Nice to meet you,” Legin smiled wide, “And before you ask: yes my tail is real.”
As he spoke Legin turned his body so Rhalin could get a better look at the his brown furry tail that protruded out from his loose fitting pants.
“I wasn’t … It’s …” Rhalin stammered awkwardly, but Legin ignored her.
“I want you to meet a friend of mine too, Vhindr.” Legin said and pointed back towards the tavern and to the Nevārancien walking towards them. “This is Bel’eak. You can see him right?”
Legin and Vhindr laughed at that, drawing another curious look from Rhalin and causing Bel’eak to roll his grey eyes.
“Every time he asks that,” the Nevārancien warrior sighed and laughed slightly. “Well met Vhindr Varrintine, I have heard a lot about you.”
“I wish I could say the same,” said Vhindr and he gave a nod to the man. “Are you working with the Grey Rangers, like most of your kin?”
“No, Legin and I are heading north for our own reasons.” Bel’eak replied.
“You may have some trouble now,” stated Rhalin, “What takes you to Gaianaus?”
“Personal business.” Bel’eak was quick to reply.
“We are looking for clouds of Fog.” Legin said cheerfully, “We heard they were still quite commonly seen in Gaianaus.”
Bel’eak sighed slightly in annoyance.
“Clouds of Fog?” Vhindr inquired, raising and eye brow.
“Bel’eak is trying to learn magicks,” replied Legin, drawing another annoyed look from the warrior.
“That is a commendable goal.” Vhindr smiled, “Though I suggest you take care, the Fog has become more volatile than ever.”
“Come on, let’s get out the rain.” Rhalin cut in, “It’s getting heavier.”
“You were the one who did not want to stay in The Wenches Arms,” Vhindr replied with a slight laugh.
“I still don’t,” Rhalin replied quickly, “Surely there is a place to dine around this town that is not in a tavern.”
“There are a couple of cafeterias in the Central Square,” Bel’eak replied and pointed off into the city.
They all seemed to be in agreement and Vhindr headed off down the road with Legin beside him.
“How have you been since what happened in Pentra Legin?” Vhindr asked.
The young man shrugged and cupped his hands behind his head as they walked along.
“Well enough I guess.” Legin replied and turned his blue eyes, specked with the colours of the Fog to Vhindr. “What about you Vhindr? You heard about Vythe, right?”
Vhindr looked away, his lips going tight.
“Yes, I heard of his death.” Vhindr replied stiffly.
“He didn’t die,” Legin was quick to reply.
“Don’t give me that nonsense about there being a life after death, Legin. I am not in the mood.” Vhindr snapped.
“I wasn’t going to say that,” Legin argued, “The stories are true Vhindr, I was there. I saw Dhror and Melenduil appear in a shining light. I saw them heal the cracks in the sky before they disappeared. There were no bodies after they left. Not Vythe, not any of them.”
Vhindr gave Legin a perplexed look and struggled to find the words to form a reply.
“I am not lying Vhindr,” Legin stated forcefully. “I saw it, I was there. Dhror and Melenduil, the Gods, took Vythe with them so he must still be alive.”
“But my brother is not here in this world is he?” Vhindr did say sadly. “If he does not come back he might as well be dead for I shall never see him again.”
“That’s a very negative way of looking at it,” Legin said in reply.
“Well, since what happened in Pentra, it does not really matter.” Vhindr said simple.
“Still think of Arell?” Legin asked sadly as he understood.
“All the time.” Vhindr said softly, and he subconsciously touched one of the many pendants that dangled at his chest, seen through his open vest.
Vhindr sighed and turned his attention to the trek down the main road and the many people around them going about their daily business. Central Square was just ahead and it too looked as if it were busy despite the rain.
“If you guys had not noticed, we are being followed.” Bel’eak stated loud enough so only the four of them could hear.
Vhindr was quick to turn about and look behind them just in time to see the dark hair of a young woman try and dart through the crowd.
“Not this time.” Vhindr growled and took off after the fleeing woman.
The others were quick to follow him as he pushed passed the people and from the main road. Along the narrow alleyways Vhindr chased the stalker, every time he raced around a corner he spotted the flow of long black hair disappearing around another turn.
Running along Vhindr caught a glimpse of Legin darting across the thatched rooftops, his baggy pants flapping in the wet breeze. Swiftly Legin pulled ahead of him and around the next corner Vhindr saw his friend leap from the building and land with a roll in front of the fleeing girl.
Desperately the black haired woman took a sharp turn and down another alley.
Vhindr was there in a flash and meeting up with Legin they headed after the young woman.
“It’s a dead end.” Legin stated calmly and Vhindr slowed down.
“Then where is she?” Bel’eak asked as they looked down the alleyway and to the many boxes and crates stacked along the walls.
“Hiding. Obviously,” Legin replied confidently.
“I did not feel any magicks being used.” Rhalin remarked as they slowly started down the deserted path.
“Maybe she went to the roof?” Bel’eak added and looked up at the thatched rooves.
“No.” Rhalin replied, “If she could then she would have done that initially.”
“Who is she Vhindr?” Legin asked, “And why was she following us?”
Vhindr quickly held up his hand to stop the others before he carefully moved forward.
“What-?” Legin began to ask but Vhindr silenced him with a motion of his hand.
Blinking repeatedly Vhindr squinted down the alley as he noticed wisps of Fog begin to drift up from the corners and in between the boxes. He knew this hallucination had to be a result of the Fog in his wounded eye, a knowledge that seriously concerned him. But the Fog like outline of a hiding girl through the boxes grabbed his attention and he dismissed his concerns.
With a simple motion of his hand Vhindr cast a spell at the girl causing her to jump up from her hiding spot in surprise, but otherwise not hurting her.
“Valianna?” Vhindr exclaimed, “I should have known. What do you think you are doing here?”
“I was trying to hide from you.” His younger sister stated as she wiped the mud from her pants.
“You know what I mean,” Vhindr replied angrily as he walked over to her. “Father and Mother let you come here?”
Valianna looked sheepishly up at him.
“Not exactly.” She said with a cheeky smile.
“Go home right now Valianna.” Vhindr said sternly.
“What? No.” replied his sister indignantly. “I am sick of sitting around at home and at the Magi Guild. I want some excitement and adventure.”
“Damn it Valianna.” Vhindr sighed heavily, “Mother is going to kill me. And what about your studies?”
“I am doing a practical thesis.” Valianna replied with a smile, “And I am looking at the everyday application of magicks in a Fog depleted society. So where better to do research than in the field.”
Vhindr growled and rubbed his brow.
“I’m not going home, you can’t make me,” Valianna stated, drawing Vhindr’s stern gaze to hers.
“Yes I could.” Vhindr replied evenly, “But that will achieve nothing.”
“So I can stay with you?” Valianna’s eyes lit up with excitement.
“For the moment.” Vhindr said sternly, “But you will do as I say or shall take you back to The Port myself.”
Vhindr turned his gaze from his delighted sister and moved back to the rest of his companions.
“I know I am going to regret this,” Vhindr mumbled to himself.
“Rhalin.” Valianna greeted with a wide smile, “It is so good to see you again.”
“You too,” Rhalin replied awkwardly, “So you will be travelling with us as well?”
“Every step of the way.” The youngest Varrintine child beamed and turned her attention to Bel’eak and Legin.
“You must be Legin.” Valianna smiled, “Vhindr has told me a lot about you. It’s a pleasure to finally meet.”
“Yeah … same.” Legin replied awkwardly, “I mean he never said he had a sister. But it’s nice to finally meet you. I mean not ‘finally’ … have you met Bel’eak?”
The Nevārancien laughed at his friend’s awkwardness and extended a hand to Valianna.
“It is a pleasure to meet you.” Bel’eak said with a smile as Valianna accepted the hand shake.
“Well aren’t we a merry bunch.” Vhindr said sarcastically as he pushed through the group and back towards the main road.
But Vhindr stopped in his tracks and his eyes widened when he saw a single figure standing at the entrance of the alley, heavily cloaked and seemingly shrouded in shadow.
“You.” Vhindr gasped and summoned his Fog long sword.
The cloaked figure suddenly vanished in a flash of light and a dozen black skinned fiends took his place.
“Djarcs.” Vhindr exclaimed as the spawns of evil charged towards him.
His companions were quick to heed his warning and Legin and Bel’eak raced into the fight. Vhindr relaxed a bit, knowing that Legin and Bel’eak could take care of the dozen or so creatures.
“I thought Djarcs were supposed to be destroyed along with Gildon the Deceiver.” Rhalin said with concern.
“Some must have lingered,” Vhindr stated dryly and turned his attention back to the fight.
The twisted forms of Men, Elves and Dwarves that were the Djarcs stood little chance against the likes of Legin. Vhindr’s friend with a tail of a monkey charged into the Djarcs, fists flying and swirls of the Fog trailing behind him. A tall Djarc with rusted armour went flying into the air from Legin’s punch. The creature’s flight was stopped abruptly as Legin was suddenly in the air as well grabbing the Djarc by the head and launching it back into the other fiends.
“Your friend Legin certainly has a strange way with magicks,” Rhalin observed curiously as Legin blasted apart several of the creatures with a beam of energy.
“He is strange.” Vhindr stated.
“They’re both so good.” Valianna exclaimed as Bel’eak easily cut through three heavily armed and armoured Djarcs, his saber flashing in a blur of motion.
“Heads up.” Vhindr yelled as he noticed several Djarcs drop from the roof top and race towards them.
In an instant Vhindr had his Fog sword in hand and he instinctively moved to defend his sister. But she was no novice in battle and she met the closest Djarc with enthusiasm.
Spinning under the Djarcs wild swing Valianna’s Fog mace shattered into the creatures kneecap and sent it screaming to the mud.
Vhindr had little time to admire his sister’s skill as a Djarc darted towards him.
“On guard vagabond.” The Djarc said pompously as he took up a fighting stance.
Djarcs were a creation of Gildon the Terrible, who had taken normal people and twisted and tortured them to his evil purposes. Although only cruelty and malice filled these creature’s thoughts and desires they still resembled normal people to some extent.
“Take that,” the nobleman-like Djarc cried as he attacked Vhindr, his tattered coat of a lordly individual flying out behind him. “And take this. And this. I have you now.”
Vhindr smirked in amusement as he parried a clever slash and responded with a powerful energy blast of magicks with his free hand. The ball of magicks thundered into the Djarc, ripping his arm from his shoulder and causing the creature to stagger back a few steps.
“I say,” the Djarc exclaimed as he looked at his destroyed shoulder. “Good shot old boy.”
Vhindr ended the creatures torment by taking the twisted Djarcs head from its shoulders with a slash of his Fog long sword.
Vhindr was quick to look to his sister to see if she might need aid. But he breathed easier and smiled as he saw the Djarc in front of Valianna fall backwards to the mud in a series of popping noises and explosions of blood all over its body.
“That’s a nice spell.” Vhindr called to his sister.
“Thanks, my brothers taught it to me.” Valianna smiled back and together they joined Rhalin who had just finished off another Djarc.
“You have some good moves there Rhalin,” Vhindr remarked sincerely as the woman wiped her blade on an old cloth.
“You’re not bad yourself,” the woman replied casually.
“But they are amazing.” Valianna exclaimed and pointed to Legin and Bel’eak who had already defeated the dozen or so Djarcs and were casually walking back to the group as they talked merrily.
“Don’t know where they came from, but that was fun.” Legin smiled wide as he stopped before the others.
“A decent warm up,” Bel’eak agreed, “Now where is the one who brought them here? And more importantly who was he?”
“It was the assassin Rhalin and I have been chasing.” Replied Vhindr, “I am certain of it.”
“It was very risky of him to teleport from the ship just to throw some Djarcs at us,” Rhalin added pensively.
“He is daring us to follow him to Gaianaus.” Vhindr replied, drawing a nod from Rhalin.
“Well let’s go after him then,” Legin clapped his hands together, “It’ll be like old times Vhindr. Except, well, less traumatising … I shouldn’t have said that … sorry Vhindr I didn’t mean to bring up painful memories … I mean … I’ll just stop talking now.”
Legin’s voice trailed away and he ran a hand through his thick black hair awkwardly.
“It’s fine Legin,” Vhindr sighed, “And you are right, we must follow him into Gaianaus. We must find a way past the border.”
“Can we stop and see Maul on the way?” Valianna asked excitedly.
“What? He lives in the Gaia Vale,” Vhindr replied with a perplexed look.
“No. He moved to the Scarred Mountains,” Valianna corrected.
“You are sure?” asked Vhindr, a curious spark coming to his eye.
“Of course I am sure.” Valianna rolled her dark eyes, “Mother still writes to him, and he helped me with a few essays about runes.”
“Who is this Maul?” Rhalin asked with intrigue.
“An old family friend,” Vhindr clarified, “He used to work with our father.”
“A dwarf who lives in the Scarred Mountians who is a family friend.” Rhalin stated as a look of excitement also came to her face.
“Exactly,” nodded Vhindr, “Let us go at once.”
Hurriedly Vhindr and Rhalin led the way from the alleyway littered with dead Djarcs and through the small crowd who had come to see what the commotion had been about. One of the city watch looked like she wanted to stop them and explain the situation, but one look at Vhindr's vest, which identified him as a family member of the Varritnine's, she held her tongue. Vhindr did not bother stopping to explain either and led the way back through the city streets, heading for the main gate.
“I think I missed something,” Legin stated as he followed.
Bel’eak laughed, “I thought you would be used to that by now.”
“Like you know what’s going on,” Legin snapped back.
“Maul is a dwarf living in the Scarred Mountains,” Bel’eak stated, “Their halls run throughout those mountains. Mountains that sit on the borders of Gaianaus and Sesserrech. Come on Legin, you can figure it out.”
“How do you know so much about Essinendeür Bel’eak,” Valianna remarked, “Considering you have only been here a few years.”
“We all studied Essinendeür extensively leading up to the invasion,” the Nevārancien replied with a shrug.
“Why did Nevārance invade?” Valianna asked curiously.
“The same reason anyone invades another realm or country,” replied Bel’eak casually. “Power, wealth and its natural resources. Those in Nevārance are lacking all of those things, except the Wynar, my race, of course. Our High King was greedy and a disgrace to the Wynar name, and thus tried to take Essinendeür for his own. I am glad the man is now dead.”
“Are you glad the invasion failed?” Inquired Valianna as she studied the Nevārancien closely.
“Very much so,” Bel’eak said with a smile.
“I know now.” Legin suddenly proclaimed, “We are going to try and go through the Scarred Mountains into Gaianaus, right?”
“And there it is,” Bel’eak laughed.
The others joined in as well and Vhindr shook his head at his friend, knowing well that most of the time Legin only acted naive and foolish.
They soon came upon the city gates and gathered their horses from the stables. But neither Legin or Bel’eak had mounts and explained that they preferred to run on foot. Vhindr did not debate the issue and soon they were all on the road heading for the Scarred Mountains on the horizon.