1.6 The Mistreated Messenger

 

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Abanar found that a few uneventful days seated on the hard leather of a saddle put considerable strain on the perfect image he had conjured of adventuring. Ach’Nuld had never complained of a sore posterior, not once, in any of his adventures. Somehow the barbarian’s journeys from one fight to another seemed to happen quickly and with little excitement unless there was another fight along the way. Most of the time they barely even seemed to occur, with the beefy barbarian just kind of appearing at the most exciting places.

After only a few hours of the boy and his dire rat riding with him, Arin had decided that Abanar could learn to ride or “bloody well fuck off to whatever weird place you and the rat came from”.  A few close calls and bruised ribs later, Abanar was getting fairly good at staying upright in a saddle. This did nothing to assuage his feeling about sore asses, however, and he took a nibble of dried jerky to take his mind from it. Gonarfin pawed at his hand, begging for a morsel.

“You had plenty to eat when we passed that dead bird,” Abanar chastised, glancing down at the rat. “Oh, don’t give me those big red eyes. You’ll be just fine.”

Amandana made a choking sound, having lingered a bit too close to the boy and her least favorite travelling companion, the rat. She spurred her horse back to the front of the line to be close to Arin. Abanar watched her go wistfully. He admired her silver hair and the way her armor parted in the back just so her leather breeches could be seen above the saddle. Zela trotted past him, giving him a look that almost seemed to chastise him for his thoughts.

Abanar stuck out his tongue at the wolf and scrunched his face before turning his attention back to the road ahead. He was last in line now, his horse clopping along behind everyone else’s down the hard beaten road to Brastirest. The sun was falling, and soon Arin would find a place to declare camp for the night, just as he had the previous two nights.

“No fall behind back there, little strange one.” Bolduf glanced back, never breaking from his light jog.

Abanar nodded, wishing not for the first time that the giant would put on a tunic of some sort. He didn’t really know what the tribal designs tattooed on Bolduf’s chest and back meant, but they were poorly done. Abanar considered himself somewhat of an expert in the field, having helped his father cure several skins marked in the same manner, some quite intricate and beautiful. Xarranod would never have bothered to preserve Bolduf’s shoddy designs. The shaman of the giant’s tribe must clearly have been a drunk to provide such lackluster artisanship.

Forcing himself to look away from the poorly tattooed giant, Abanar noticed a slight rustling in the underbrush to the left of the path. Gonarfin squealed in excitement and leapt from the saddle, his little rat legs flailing in the air until the ground caught him. He bounced, then dashed into the weeds without noticing the impact.

“Gonarfin!” Abanar reigned in his horse as carefully as he could, his eyes ground shut in preparation for the inevitable toss he would receive. Mercifully, it did not come. The horse stopped as intended, this time only using an annoyed whinny to express its displeasure.

Abanar dismounted as carefully as he could, then he rushed after his pet. He followed the small trampled trail that was left by his rat, which pretty quickly turned into a bigger trail, trampled by something much larger. Abanar rushed through with little regard for obstacles in his surroundings, be it thorn bushes or crossbows.

Crossbows?

Thwack.

The boy barely had time to register the thought before a white hot lance of pain bit his shoulder. He cried out in surprise, matched by his fierce little familiar Gonarfin. Abanar ducked instinctively, fearing another bolt, but as he finally gathered his wits he saw that another would not be coming.

A man lay in the tall grass, struggling to maintain a position leaning against a thick bush. A large feathered bolt protruded from his chest, and his breath came in short, wet gasps. A small crossbow slipped from his fingers, caught gently by the thick grass. It was a small, close-range weapon, poor for hunting but fantastic for killing a man in his own house or at an ambush point.

“Used the last… of my strength to load that one. Didn’t even kill… one of you bastards.”

Abanar was a bit speechless, which was not at all surprising considering the bolt buried in his shoulder and the presence of a dying man hidden in a field. Gonarfin, however, had no qualms about taking actions. He sprang onto the man, chewing voraciously at his fingers.

The man cried out, spitting blood.  He batted weakly at the rat.

“Call off your rat, boy.” Arin appeared next to them, staring down with concern at the man.

“Down, Gonarfin.” The rat’s red eyes flashed and it took one more defiant nibble, but ultimately it did as the boy said.

“Why in the hells were you waiting in behind a bush with a loaded crossbow?” Arin stood over the man, his hammer drawn.

“Bleeding the fuck out, asshole. Take a tour… of all the hells!”

Arin knelt beside the man and put a hand on the buried crossbow bolt. He squeezed it and flexed his wrist, giving the man a cold look. “I didn’t put this here, but I can help speed it along the way if you wish.”

The man looked at Arin for a second, wringing his bitten fingers and gasping short, labored breaths. “Fine, fine. I…. I was trying to sneak a message past your scouts. To help Brastirest.”

“I have no scouts. What has befallen Brastirest?” Arin looked to Amandana, who had just stepped onto the scene. Concern shone in her amber eyes.

“Then you… you take it. Save them.” The man struggled to reach inside his coat pocket, but it was held in place by the bolt. He did not have the strength to remain upright any longer. With a few bloody, weak coughs, the man slumped the rest of the way to the ground.

The three adventurers looked on in respect as the man took his final breath. Well, two of them did. Abanar watched the man with practiced eyes, only wondering what would become of a body left in a field. At home, in the Ruins of Londolas, the deceased would always be treated quite properly after being removed from his father’s altar, but this poor man would not be afforded such honors. No one, or no creatures even, save carrion buzzards, would harvest his brain. A waste.

Arin whispered a few words of prayer, then gingerly reached inside the man’s coat. He withdrew a small scroll. He handed it over to Amandana and use the grass to wipe his hands free of the man’s blood.

“Apparently the Duke of Onchester feels as if has been slighted by the Mayor of Brantirest, and wishes to sack the city if his demands cannot be met. He is en route to the city with an army of his own Honor Guard and whatever men he could muster from his personal lands, so as ‘not to involve the crown.’ Impressive.” Amandana rolled the scrolls back up. “Must have been one hell of a slight, to risk a duchy by attacking a city.”

Arin nodded his assent, standing up himself. He turned to head back to the road, but stopped.

“Fucking seriously?”

A fat dwarf finger was pointed straight at Gonarfin, who had resumed chewing hungrily at the dead man’s fingers. The rat looked up for a second, then he returned to his work, the rat equivalent of a shoulder shrug.

Abanar shrugged, then winced in pain and grabbed at his shoulder. “At least he can’t feel his arrow now.”

Arin only stared harder.

“Gonarfin! Cut it out!” The rat hung its head and slunk away from the dead man at Abanar’s request, a few drops of blood trailing behind him. The beast scampered off in the direction of the road, presumably heading back to the horses.

“Now he’s mad at me. See what you did?” Abanar snapped at Arin, shooting him a dirty look before stomping off back to the rest of the party and screaming for Burhar’s aid.


 

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1.5 Interesting Introductions

“What the fuck… is that?” Amandana held on to her wolf by its enormous leather collar, using her other hand to point at Abanar’s pet rat. The adventurers, new and old, had gathered in front of the town well, the last chance to water their horses and gather supplies for the journey.

“Our new travelling companion, I’m told.” Arin cut a hard glance at Burhar, who shrugged. He and the cleric had a few words on the subject that morning, but after the occurrences of the night before, the dwarf could hardly argue. Mery was beyond hope of resurrection, and they would need a mage of any kind when they reached Richye’s Circle.

“I was talking about the disease on a leash.”

Unabashed, Abanar knelt by his slobbering, disease ridden pet and ruffled its back fur. “This is Gonarfin. He’s my familiar!”

Amandana crooked an eyebrow at him, and brushed her long white hair from her face. Her amber eyes flashed angrily at the boy, who hardly seemed to notice or care. He was busy looking her up and down, admiring the few places her smooth grey-green skin was visible around her armor.

“Burhar, I know you didn’t recruit a teenager. The little bastard is giving me staircase eyes!”

“Abanar, this is Amandana, our fighter. Amandana, this may be the only unemployed magic user this side of the Crimson Mountains.” Burhar gestured to each in turn, his tone apologetic yet somewhat patronizing.

Amandana sighed, and looked back at Abanar. “Abanar, this is Zela.” She patted the head of her wolf, who growled as if on cue. “He doesn’t like dire rats.”

She turned, then added an afterthought. “Or elves, honestly.”

Abanar, grinning foolishly, waved at her. Arin, still watching the exchange, came over to the boy.

“Might want to set your sights on a different one, boy. That one… she’s a lot of trouble. Half-Orcs have the worst tempers.”

Abanar just nodded his head slightly, a smile still on his face and clearly not paying any attention to Arin. The dwarf snorted in amusement and left the boy to his thoughts.

“Saddle up!” He called out to the group. “We have a few day’s ride to Brastirest, and then even longer to the next stop.”

After Abanar was given a horse and then pretty much immediately thrown from it, Arin allowed him to ride double with him, and just decided to lead the horse they had recently procured for the boy. He added horse riding to the growing list of things he’d have to teach the boy.

Just as the party passed the last house on the trail, a loud voice erupted from it.

“Hail! Wait for Bolduf!”

Arin nearly fell from his saddle. The large, lumbering half-giant from the night before was waving at them and hurrying down his walk to meet them. A wicked wound ran across his forehead, stitched now but still crusted in blackened blood.

Despite his wishes, Arin reined in his horse, turning it about to face Bolduf. “Morning. Sorry about that.” The dwarf halfheartedly gestured at the giant’s forehead.

The giant, now at his gate, nodded. “Bolduf’s fault. Should probably consider feelings of others before bringing corpse into an inn.”

“Always a good policy to have,” Arin concurred. “No worries, no hard feelings. We are on our way out of town, so…”

“That’s what Bolduf wants to talk about.” The giant scratched his enormous head and looked down. “Bolduf wants to come with you.”

“We’re full, Bolduf. I do apologize.” Arin began to turn his horse back to the road, but a sharp cough from Amandana caught his attention. He looked at her and she flexed, mocking the giant’s large muscles, then she pointed at Abanar and made a few obscene masturbatory gestures.

Arin spit, and glared at her. The giant could come in handy, and Amandana was right, far more useful than a green spellcaster. At least until Richye’s Circle.

“Why do you want to come with us Bolduf?”

“Bolduf’s wife kicked him out. She said I couldn’t even keep the kennels in order, and that she would find someone who could. Honestly, Bolduf kind of tired of her anyway,”

The dwarf stared at the giant, then just nodded and spurred his horse up the road. “Fall in, then. And don’t even think about getting revenge for me kicking your ass.”

The giant nodded gratefully and began to jog alongside the party. He didn’t ask for a horse, which was good, because Arin sure as hell wasn’t letting his big ass break down one of theirs.


(click here to continue to 1.6!)

1.4 Ravenous Rat

The first moon Cassiel, waxing gibbous, beamed down in her nearly complete glory on the gardens just behind the King’s Mug, illuminating two figures attempting to be discreet. One, though young, was much taller than the older, bent figure that was gesticulating wildly.

“Abanar know Felgir can’t go back without him!” The hunchback stomped his feet and spread his arms in dismay, knocking the stakes free from a few nearby tomato plants.

“They aren’t listening to anyone right now! I have to go on the inside, become one of them. Then, when the time is right, I’ll take them there and help them complete it!” Abanar folded his arms and looked off to the side. His grey eyes glowed in the moonlight as he scanned the garden, attempting to ignore Felgir. A slight rustling in the cabbage patch caught his attention.

“See dead halfling in there? That Abanar in few days!” The hunchback reached up and turned Abanar’s face away from the garden to look at him. “Then Xarranod kill Felgir! ALL BAD!”

Abanar scoffed, then narrowed his eyes, looking at Felgir closely. “Seriously, Felgir, how many times has father told you to do something about that unibrow? I mean, if I can see it in the dark, by just moonlight…”

Felgir snarled, but touched his forehead thoughtfully.

“And of course you can go back. Father needs someone to process the ritual sacrifices. He certainly doesn’t want to have to raise anyone else to do it when he has a perfectly good Felgir.” Abanar patted the hunchback on his gnarled shoulder.

Felgir nodded, his face lightening momentarily, but he shook it off and frowned, his enormous teeth trying desperately to jut out underneath his lips. “No! Felgir guard Abanar. That’s what master asked.”

Abanar sighed, throwing his hands up. “Fine. But do it from a distance. I’m not going to try to explain who you are.”

Felgir’s giant furry brow lowered, but he nodded agreement just the same. As the two turned to head back towards the inn, the rustling in the garden intensified and they both spun back around.

A creature burst forth from the garden, fur bristling and fangs flashing. It was at least three feet from head to tail, and rippled with unnatural muscle. Diseased saliva trickled down from its exposed teeth, and its red eyes flashed in the night, casting a dangerous warning. A dire rat.

“Gonarfin!” Abanar squealed happily. “How did you get loose?”

The dire rat shook its head, and the remains of a leather leash dangling from its collar brushed the ground uselessly. The overgrown rat padded up to Abanar and flopped down at the boy’s feet, looking up at him expectantly.

“Felgir bring steel chain next time.”

“Aww, he just couldn’t wait for us to get back to camp. Such a sweet boy,” Abanar crooned as he rubbed the overturned rat’s belly.  “We are going to have so much fun, Gonarfin. Ready for adventures?”

A single drop of green saliva rolled off of the rat’s teeth as it rolled a little to the left, absorbing the attention.

“That’s my boy!”

 

(click here to continue to 1.5!)

1.3 To New Beginnings and Never Boring Brawls

“Is he always that grumpy?” Rane asked between mouthfuls of runny stew.  In his haste to speak, a stream of yellow liquid oozed from the corner of his mouth. Burhar slid him a handkerchief and shot him a disgusted look, which seemed to go unnoticed.

Since the boy was going after the bowl like a starving animal, Burhar motioned for the barkeep to bring another one for him. It was oddly mesmerizing to watch anyone eat a disgusting dish with such zeal, and Burhar could hardly look away, despite his growing nausea. He could smell the ingredients now. Boiled pork, parsnip, and one more thing that made his sensitive nose burn, but he couldn’t place it.

“Well, we lost a couple of party members and got shorted on our fair share of payment, so you could say it’s been a challenging week for us.”

“Lost? I’m sorry to hear about that. I am sure they fought bravely until the end, good sir.” The boy put down his spoon and bowed his head reverently.

“Oh, they didn’t die. Well, maybe not both.” Burhar sipped his ale and looked up, thinking. “We lost Toffin in the Catacombs, but he’s a dwarf and a hunter, so I doubt that’ll kill him. He’ll probably be mad when he finds us, though. Or angry. Probably both.”

Slurp. “The other?” Rane noticeably brightened at the word Catacombs.

Burhar shook his head. “Our thief did what thieves do, just like I thought he would. He made off with his share and some of ours. Now if we ever find him…”

“So you are in need of a thief!” The boy hopped in the empty seat next to Burhar and leaned uncomfortably close. A strange old hunchback seated alone a few tables away coughed violently, and Rane shot him a dirty look. “What a coincidence!”

“Is that what you took away from that conversation? A smarter man would have understood that I’d rather party up with a Bangorian prostitute than trust another thief.”

“So no thief then?”

“No thief.”

The boy looked disappointed, but he perked up fairly quickly. He took the handkerchief, at long last and to Burhar’s great relief, and wiped his face clean of the dribbling, toxic stew. “Good news then. I am actually Abanar, the famed illusionist. Sorry for creating such a mysterious illusion and misleading you.”

Burhar narrowed his eyes at the strange boy, trying to guess how many namedays he had under his belt. He guessed fourteen at the most. “Go home kid. This isn’t a game.”

“No, I’m serious, I can-” the boy waggled his fingers, and small dancing lights bounced across the bar and down to Arin. The dwarf didn’t even notice. To be fair, the dwarf was preoccupied with his growing evening plans.

Burhar shook his head, his grey eyes warm but regretful. “Sorry kid, there’s an age limit.”

Before the boy could offer a rebuttal, the oaken door to the inn burst open. A half-giant stooped to enter, carrying a wooden club in one hand and a tiny, lifeless body in the other. The overgrown beast frowned as he stood to his full height, a good eight feet tall. His suspicious eyes tracked the room.

“Does this belong to anyone?” He roared, waving the corpse high in the air. The unfortunate thing actually brushed the ceiling.

Burhar looked closely, then put down his mug and stood up. It was Mery. What in the Three Hells had she started now? He cautiously approached the oversized creature, hands raised.

“I believe that used to be my wizard.” He was about ten feet away now, and despite Mery’s face being completely disfigured in some sort of animal attack, he was sure it was her. Arin had called it. Excellent spell caster, but a complete bumbling fool in every other aspect of life.

“Ha. She let herself right into my cages. I almost never got her out myself, after the beasts were worked into a killing frenzy.” The giant half-smiled, revealing a few jagged yellow teeth. He raised his club arm and showed off a few deep, bleeding scratch marks. “Dominus and Fluffy get a bit worked up at feedings. Poor thing walked in at the wrong part of the day. Hells, first time that’s ever happened.”

While the giant was explaining exactly what happened, he was using his hands to mimic the attack. Hands that still held a club and the poor, deceased Mery. Other patrons began to gather around to hear the story, a concerned smattering of voices surrounding the scene. It occurred to Burhar a bit too late that not everyone was in ear shot to hear the story, and that a menacing giant waving about a dead halfling wizard would not be well received by certain parties present.

“Murderer!” Arin stumbled off his bar stool and drew his hammer. His other hand was still fiercely clutching his mug of ale, which he promptly killed and flung to the barkeep. She looked alarmed, but a bit excited, maybe even aroused. Burhar suppressed a shudder. Perhaps she wasn’t the proprietor of this fine building, Burhar thought, or she didn’t quite understand what was about to happen.

Or possibly, he thought, she’s just really into angry dwarves.

Despite several mugs of ale, Arin leapt from table to table, closing the distance between him and the giant in a few short seconds. His braided copper beard swung from side to side with each crunching impact on the thickly cut tables, and his brown eyes, though a bit glassy from the ale, flashed in anger. The giant’s own eyes widened as he realized what was happening, and he dropped the dead halfling to hold up his hand and wave frantically, vainly attempting to signify peace.

Arin was having none of that. He pulled his wooden shield from his back as he made one final leap. The inlaid vine-wrapped runes pulsed and grew bright for a mere second, illuminating the scene with a flash of purple light.  The edge of the shield then crashed into the massive forehead of the giant, driven by the momentum of a very stout, inebriated dwarf.

The giant stumbled back, blood streaming from his prodigious brow, but did not fall. He grabbed the dwarf from off of him and sent Arin tumbling to the floor, crashing through a few tables. The dwarf’s hammer clanked to the ground, but he held fast to his shield, using it to catch the brunt of his impact. Screams rang throughout the bar, as now everyone present realized the gravity of the situation and scattered about.

“You dare attack Bolduf?” The giant let loose a guttural cry and brought his mace down towards Arin with a mighty swing.

Burhar yelled a warning, and Arin rolled just enough for the club to crash into the floor next to him, splintering the wooden floor and creating a wide crack running several feet down. Now, Burhar was sure he could hear the barkeep somewhere in the background noise, lamenting the damage.

As he recovered from his roll, Arin slapped a hand on the wreckage of a nearby table. The wood sprang to life, leaves and vines erupting and knotting together. The giant hauled his club up again, preparing for another swing. Thick vines wrapped the giant’s arms, squeezing and restraining it. More sprang from the floor and rooted him. A look of absolute confusion and dismay crossed the poor, bleeding giant’s face.

Arin struggled to his feet, more a result of the alcohol than the fight. He raised his free hand, and a vine flipped his hammer back to him. The giant saw this, and pulled against his restraints, his misshapen muscles knotting and cording with strain. Bolduf tried to grab his club from his imprisoned hand with his free one, but the vines tossed it away.1.3 To New Beginnings and Never Boring Brawls

“Bolduf can explain!” He blinked away blood, his eyes wild and staring at the slowly approaching dwarf.

“Maybe I’ll hear it from you tomorrow.” Arin scowled, slightly slurring the words. He listed a bit to the left, then righted himself. His eyes widened, and with a hearty shout he leapt forward and brought his ironwood club to the defenseless giant’s temple. Bolduf slumped against his vine restraints, unconscious.

A scream split the air seconds later, from right behind Burhar. He spun, alarmed, but it was only the barkeep. She charged past him and shoved Arin, who almost fell. He looked at her apologetically and spread his hands.

“You are going to have to fix-” she gestured about, her arms flailing in all directions-“THIS!”

“Calm down, love!” Arin looked about at the destruction, squinting through his drunken haze at the mass of shattered woods and newly grown vines. “I can fix it in the morning, after a bit of rest. Of course, there might be a few leaves attached to the new tables, not sure if that’s the style you want to go with-”

She slapped him. She went to slap him again, but he ducked under this one and caught her in his arms. After a few moments of struggle, she relented. After Arin released her, she grabbed him by his beard and led him away, smiling a bit.

Burhar groaned. Abanar appeared at Burhar’s side, also watching the dwarf and halfling head upstairs, both laughing at this point. Burhar put a hand over the boy’s eyes.

The old cleric sighed, looking around the room. An unconscious giant, wrecked tables, a dead halfling, and spilled ale adorned the place. The King’s Mug had not previously been what one would consider an upscale establishment, but the dwarf and giant had managed to bring it down another star, at least temporarily.

Burhar absently kicked at the deceased Mery. “Well kid, seems we have an opening in the magic area.”

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1.2 Ale and Adventure

Arin Iodulfson loved a good meat stew and ale. He wasn’t entirely sure the dish in front of him was quite that, however. He sighed and took a long draft of the ale. Smacking his lips and trying to catch the little dribble that escaped to his thick beard with his tongue, he decided that at least the ale was tolerable enough.

“You actually plan on eating that?” Burhar sat next to him at the rough wooden bar, leaning in close with his sharp nose to examine the mess inside Arin’s bowl. “Even smells a bit off. I’m getting hives just looking at it.”

Arin half smiled and raised his mug. “I plan on drinking enough of these to make shoe leather taste like beefsteak.”

“If you’ve got the copper, I’ll keep ‘em coming all night,” the halfling barkeep announced from a few patrons down, standing atop a stool to reach them. She winked at Arin and hopped over to her dish station, wiping dirty mugs with an already dirty cloth. Around her front she wore a well-used apron smattered with all manner of debris, but when she turned Arin could see she was wearing rather form fitting leggings.

Arin smiled, but it disappeared when he noticed Burhar’s wide smile and knowing eyes. The man’s gray eyes nearly matched his gray hair in color, which could have been striking if he wore anything but dull gray healer’s robes.

“She’s got a thing for you.” Burhar laughed as he stirred his own ale with a finger.

“All the halfling ladies do, my boy. Now, if only the dwarven ladies looked quite as good.” Arin quaffed a good quarter of his mug and slammed it back down.

Burhar shuddered. “To be honest, I can hardly tell the difference.”

“Oh, it’s there lad. You see it more after you’ve had a few. Ales and ladies, that is.”

Burhar had just taken a drink of his ale, and almost spit it right back out. “I’ll take your word for it. Hey, does this taste like it has honey in it? I’m allergic to honey. At least, I think I am.”

Arin took a long look at the cleric, who was eyeballing the drink warily. The man had only ordered one piece of dried fish to go with the drink, and Arin wondered if he would manage to eat even that without worry or complaint. “There’s no honey. It’s ale. Just barley and hops. If you were allergic to those you wouldn’t make it far in this world.”

The man shrugged his shoulders and took a tiny bite of his fish, then washed it down with a little more ale. “Fish isn’t bad. Hard to ruin dried fish, though it is spiced pretty heavily. Hope there’s no-”

“For Iuldin’s sake, just eat the food, drink your drink, and order another one. I can stand you better after you’ve had a few.” Arin looked around the room, his braided beard swinging dangerously close to his stew. “Where is Mery?”

“She said she had to pick up some things from the local shops,” Burhar said, never looking up from his ale. “She won’t be long.”

“Amandana go with her?”

“No. She’s at the edge of the wood, walking her wolf/dog/thing.”

Arin cursed. “Oh, that daft wench Mery. You know she can turn a two horse town into a labyrinth if you let her lead. Wizard or not, she has the worst sense of direction I’ve ever been witness to.”

“Gentlemen! Mind if I join you?” The voice belonged to a tall elf with long thin brown hair and a wispy, unkempt beard. It was the sort of remarkably thin beard that when the opportunity afforded, it should be shaved. Arin immediately disliked him and his less than impressive beard.

“There’s an open seat,” Arin replied, gesturing to his right and putting his mug to his lips with his other hand.

“So I noticed your lively shield-“ the elf gestured at Arin’s back –“and your friend’s sigil on his robes and wondered if perhaps, you two are heroes in search of a worthy cause.”

“If the worthy cause is money,” Burhar responded, smiling at the elf.

The elf furrowed his brow, checking the sigil on Burhar’s robes to ensure that it was indeed, that of Iuldin, the god of peace, healing, and charity. He even cast another glance at the purple runes interwoven with seemingly alive vines carved into Arin’s broad wooden shield, although Arin doubted the man knew what those meant.

“My name is Aldor, and I ride from the east. There is a town there called Tilgridaalr, part of the-”

“I’ve been there. I have a few cousins there.” Arin finished his mug and tapped it on the table, signaling the flirty barkeep. “A round for all three of us,” he announced when she arrived. “This man’s had a long ride. Must’ve, to have forgotten to shave that weird growth on his jaws.”

The elf smiled, ignoring the jab and still clearly optimistic about his chances as he accepted the ale. It faded as he began to speak. “Then you should know the city has befallen a terrible fate! The Goblin King rallied the different hordes nearby, somehow, and managed to conquer the city. The reports have not been, well, good. I have taken it upon myself, along with a few others, to rally support from the countryside wherever we can find it.”

Burhar made a terrible face and looked into his ale. Arin sighed, swirling his fresh one and looking at it briefly before looking at Aldor in the eye.

“My cousins are assholes. Let them sort it out themselves. They are probably hiding in caves with the rest of the Yurnolfson side of the clan, hoping the problem will sort itself out before they have to risk their own little necks.”

The elf pushed his ale away, untouched, a confused look on his face. “But, you heard the Goblin King part, right? That sort of thing just can’t be left unchecked!”

“Like that beard?” Burhar laughed.

Aldor’s eyes grew hard, and he opened his mouth to speak, but Arin cut him off with a wave of his meaty hand. “Come close elf,” he said, beckoning. The elf narrowed his eyes, but leaned in anyway.

“Fuck off!” The dwarf shouted in Aldor’s ear. The elf scrambled back, up and off of his barstool. He cursed them both for fools and took his leave of the inn, muttering idle threats the whole way.

“Beautifully handled, my good dwarf.” Burhar slapped him on his shield, shaking his head and smiling. “Who gets his ale?”

Arin only answered by draining his completely full mug in one ridiculously long quaff, and pulling the soon-to-be-forgotten elf’s mug toward himself.

‘”Fair enough.”

As soon as Arin breathed a deep, relaxing breath, silently resolving to enjoy the rest of his evening, another elf arrived at the vacant seat. This one was perhaps too young to grace such an inn as the King’s Mug. His striking white hair fell over his right eye as he turned towards the dwarf.

“Oh man, that soup looks delicious.”

Arin only turned his eyes toward the boy, and with a grimace slid the bowl over. “Then you can be the first one of us to try it.”

The boy’s eyes lit up and he took a healthy bite, his teeth clattering on the wooden spoon, as if he were unfamiliar with how the device worked. He smiled and nodded. “Best thing I’ve had in ages.”

Only incredulous looks greeted the boy, and from more than just the two closest to him. Even the barkeep rolled her eyes and moved along.

“You guys looking for an adventure? I’m Rane, the mysterious elven thief.”

Arin howled and stood up. He secured his ale and stomped down about seven seats, splashing droplets of ale as he went. After making himself comfortable at his new location, the surly dwarf took out his hardened ironwood hammer and slapped it on the bar next to him. He cast a challenging glare around the room, and then, finding no takers, turned his attention back to his ale, and occasionally, the barkeep.

“Rough week,” Burhar told the boy, shrugging his shoulders apologetically.

(click here to continue to 1.3!)

1.1 Of Feelings and Phylacteries

Abanar leafed through the latest installment of Ach’Nuld the Conqueror, liberally skimming past paragraphs of lengthy description brimming with purple prose. When key words such as axe, blood, or just plain dialogue of some kind appeared, he would sit up and focus intently.  Ach’Nuld was fighting a dragon bare handed in attempt to rescue his third true love of the story, a well-endowed princess from Lestonia, when a bony hand snatched the book from Abanar’s hands.

Red, glowing eyes, peered down from a hollow skull at the book. A flowing black cloak swirled about the lich as he flipped the book over and read the reviews and the excerpt. His jaw opened and shut, a sharp clack ringing through the stony castle room. The reading candles perched on either side of Abanar’s chairs flickered, but did not extinguish.

“Barbarians? Really?” Xarranod shook his head. “Where do you even keep finding these things?”

Abanar looked up and shrugged, still seated in the plush purple lounging chair he had been reading in. He cocked his head a bit to the side and extended a hand towards the book, his pointy elven ears bushing the soft fabric of the chair.

“I’m at a good part father. Give me five minutes!”

Xarranod looked around at what had once been the Royal Library of Londolas, many years ago.  Books lined the room, packing the wall to wall shelves. The non-fiction section was much dustier and untouched than the fiction area. His red eyes searched the room briefly, and then he grunted. It may have been intended as a sigh, but Abanar had a hard time determining the difference from skeletons, even if the skeleton was his father.

“I leave you in here to read up on your illusionist studies, not this drivel.” He held up the book, flipping the cover around so Abanar could see the well-muscled barbarian on the cover, standing victorious and soaked in blood from a thousand kills. “Do you want to meet a barbarian? There are a few rotting in the catacombs I could pull back from the nether for a while. Not really pleasant chaps. Not a lot going on up here, really.” He tapped a bone finger to his temple. Clack clack.

Abanar’s eyes lit up for a brief second, then read his father’s fairly hard to read expression as sarcasm and dropped the smile. “No, father. I’ll get back to work.”

Xarranod grunted again, this one seemingly a little more pleasant and satisfied. However, as Abanar reached towards the dusty table next to him for his student’s copy of Sorcery, Secrets, and Sacrilege, the lich stopped him.

“No more time today, my boy. I actually have a quest for you.”

Abanar’s eyes widened, and smile crept over his boyish face all the way to his elven ears. He brushed some of his long white hair out of his face, but it stubbornly fell right back. Distracted, he tucked it behind his ear.

“Like, an out of the castle quest?”

“Indeed.”

Abanar leapt from the chair and embraced his father, bones, cloak, and all. The lich coughed and placed a hand between the boy’s shoulder blades, gently patting.

“How many dragons will there be? Princesses?” Abanar released Xarranod, and was now jumping up and down, fists clenched at his sides.  He paused briefly, thoughts churning, and whispered, “Mountains of gold?”

The grunt/sigh sound erupted from the lich again. “Nothing like that. You just have to convince a group of adventurers to pick up the Wand of Ammiptiyad Azunnaille from the Kazamar Depths, take it to the south end of Barrador, and drive the lich that lives in the Ruins of Castle Nidea out.”

“The Wand of who?” A slightly crestfallen Abanar responded. “And I don’t get to go?”

“Ammiptiyad Azunnaille. And no.”

“Empty Dad Zunal. And, it would be better if I go with them to make sure they actually complete the quest!”

“I’ll write it down for you. Now, you’ll need-”

“A secret identity! I’ll be a Halfling thief named Rane.”

“What? No.” The lich rubbed his temples. Scritch scratch. “You are an elf, Abanar, and an illusionist. Just stick to what you know. Also, you aren’t going to adventure with them. You are going to set them on an adventure. Are we clear?” Xarranod emphasized the word set by pushing the air with his hands.

“I can’t just tell them who I am!” Abanar furrowed his eyebrows and threw up his hands.

“Nobody knows who you are! You’ve set foot out of these ruins like five times, at the most!” Xarranod’s voice was harsh, but softened as he noticed the look on Abanar’s face. “I still remember the day the villagers left you on my doorstep. As I looked into your beady little elvish eyes, and noticed your stupid little ears poking out of the basket, I just couldn’t sacrifice you to the gods like all the others. That, and I’d already sacrificed enough elves that year. Fortunately, my servant Felgir wanted a friend and you grew on me.”

Abanar stared at his father, listening intently.

“I don’t really know where I’m going with this. Just, get out there, do this one thing the way I ask you, and maybe the next quest will somehow, kind of involve a dragon and gold. Best I can do for now.”Xarranod-and-Abanarweb

“So can you make me look like a Halfling though? I really don’t think an elf is quite as believable as a thief.”

“What?” The lich shuffled through the stack of books on the table and yanked out a copy of Illusions and You. “Read this and get back to me on whether or not that’s a good idea.”

The book hit Abanar in the chest, and he caught it, stumbling backwards a bit.

“I’m also sending Felgir along to watch out for you.”

An audible groan escape Abanar’s lips. “Oh, come on. My first quest and I get escorted by the hunchback?”

“The hunchback knows towns better than you. Who do you think gets food for you? I don’t stock much in my pantry these days!” Xarranod straightened his robes and raised a finger at the boy. “And don’t talk back to me, boy. Do you want to spend the next year cleaning these ruins? I’ll reanimate that jester I kidnapped for your eighth nameday and make him haunt you. You remember how annoying that asshole was.”

“Sorry father.” Abanar spent a brief second remembering the brightly colored entertainer and shuddered. He had not particularly asked where the man had gone, but he did remember asking his father not to bring home any more face painted people for his birthday. They were as scary as facing the Three Hells, and five namedays since had not changed his opinion of them.

Abanar straightened his slim shoulders after a few seconds and looked curiously at Xarranod. “Why do you want them to drive a lich out of its home, anyway? Shouldn’t you guys be friends? Like old Undead University Alma Mater buddies or something?”

“That guy is a serious asshole. We knew each other way back in the day. Never got along well. Besides, that guy is a baby killer. No hesitation, just serves ‘em right up to the Dark Ones.”

“Really? That’s your motivation? I’ve seen some little skeletons out by your altar. You’ve killed a few.”

Xarranod pulled Abanar in close and put an arm around the teenage boy’s shoulder. With his other hand, he pinched the boy’s cheek. “But not all,” he cooed, finishing the sentence in a playful, sin-song voice. “Truth be told though, I just really want a lich-ready summer home in the southern end of Barrador, and good, broken-in ruins in warm climates are hard to find these days.”

Xarranod laughed and lightly shoved the boy away. “Off you go!”

(click here to continue to 1.2!)