“If they call me a mad man, who am I to disappoint?”
Carter Svan, on The Matters of War and Duty
My Dearest Theresa,
I hope you are well. I know it has been awhile since I last wrote. For that I am sorry. I do not mean to worry you my love. Things are going well here. As well as they could be I suppose. I do miss home, I miss it more each day. I can’t imagine the struggle you are going through without me there, there aren’t words for how grateful I am for what you’ve taken on. I only hope the gold I’m earning is worth it like we thought.
I believe our part in the war is over, at least that’s what Madman Svan told me today. He seems to think the fountain we found today was the actual objective of Eurie and Orinthal as a whole…
“Sir,” The young soldier in his twenties called out. A man a decade or more his senior turn his head to see who stood behind him.
“Yes?” The voice answered more annoyed than anything else.
“It’s the front, they are asking for a report.”
“What is your name?” The man covered in metal armor and the blood of what Henry could only assume was not his own.
“Henry, Henry Ferrier sir.” Henry called out mechanically. Madman Svan turned around to face Henry. He was covered in their blood. The blood dripped down his armor, blood of whoever stood between Svan and this Fountain. Henry made note of how effortlessly Svan held the lance in his right hand. A weapon meant for two hands, this man held with ease in one.
“Nice to meet you Henry, my name is Svan.” The madman said drinking from a mug in his left hand.
“The pleasure is mine, your reputation precedes you.” Svan chuckled into the mug as he drank.
“Does it?” He asked bewildered. “Which reputation is that? The killer or the king?” Henry’s eyes widened.
“I…” Henry managed to muttered out. Svan smiled a wicked smile.
“It’s okay boy.” The man said thrusting his lance into the freshly blood stained dirt. “I’m not going to hurt you. We are on the same side. Even if the men don’t think that.” Henry nodded, trying his best not to step out of place. There was a tension in the air he didn’t understand. If they were allies, why was Hendry afraid for his life? Svan turned around to look at the fountain again.
Henry stared past Svan and onto the fountain. A cascading waterfall at least twenty feet tall., the water poured off each step and down to the next effortlessly, making little noise as it did so. Lush green foliage filled the edges between the water trodden stone steps and the recess of the mountain. At the top of the seemingly natural fountain a piece of the mountain had been carved into a smooth circle. The foliage grew around it, as if making some armistice. Where foliage grew a ring was made with few patches missing. In the center of the ring Henry saw the familiar horn with a line through it from the top left to the bottom right. Cenlore’s Mark.
“Why are you here?” Svan asked staring at the fountain. Henry was not sure whether that was meant for him or the fountain. Svan turned his head to his side, looking at him with one eye. “Henry? Why are you here?”
“Oh right me,” Henry said. “The front, they want a status update on the fountain.” Svan sighed.
“That’s not what I meant Henry.” Svan said exasperated. He put his back to the fountain and stepped toward Henry. “What brought you here to Arkahnis? A land ravaged in war for longer than we’ve been alive.” Svan said through gritted teeth. The anger seeped from his very veins as he spoke, it was unmistakable.
“To serv-” Svan swiped a flat hand through the air in a cutting motion.
“I’m no politician kid. Why did you enlist? What brought YOU here?” Svan barked. Henry took a step back and put a hand on the hook at his waist where his mallet hung. Svan noticed the change. “What part of I’m not a threat, did you not understand?” Svan sighed as he spoke. “I just want to know your why.”
“Gold,” Henry found himself speaking without his consent. “The misses and I, we want to start a home. I am a good blacksmith, but Eurie promised me gold to fight. They also promised that I would learn to be a better smith.” Svan nodded at Henry, approving something that wasn’t sought after.
“And have you found it?” Svan asked relaxing his shoulders as the two spoke.
“Yes, Eurie pays well and this whole campaign I’ve been making weapons. I’d like to think I’ve gotten better.” Henry replied confidently.
“Good, our war is over Henry.” Svan told him pointing to the fountain.
“That right there is why we are here. Do you know what it is?” Svan asked him earnestly.
“A Fountain of Cenlore, the devout worship at them in Eurie and other towns in Orinthall. Riverside is planning to make one.” Svan smiled at him. The kind of smile an adult gives a small child who answered a question, the exact way they were expected to.
“This is a real Fountain fo Cenlore.” Henry opened his mouth to ask what that meant but stopped when Svan continued on. “The mark, the natural state of the fountain itself, you can see this was not built by man. This was built by Cenlore himself, or perhaps one of his children. You know this is a real fountain by the thickness in the air. You can feel it can’t you?” Henry nodded.
“I thought that was the tension in the air, I confused it with the sense of you attacking me.” The madman nodded at that. Henry decided he would take the nod as a confirmation of his safety. At the very least Svan’s intent was not to kill Henry, that much he had told himself was confirmed.
“That’s the torrent.” Svan said calmly.
“The…” Henry didn’t want to say it, but he found no other way to communicate the meaning. “The Arcane Torrent?” He asked the warrior opposite of him.
“The same.” Svan studied the fountain. “This is what they came for. The legends describe a war between the gods. They speak of a great battle that happened on Goarahn. A war that wiped the planet clean. A war so terrible that Elya of Creation had to restore the world to something hospitable. She had to recreate almost everything. It was then the Arch-Gods made a pact not to set foot on Goarahn again. Instead they chose to fight their battles through smaller gods and their children. They wove influence throughout the world, and Cenlore chose to leave fountains. Some say it’s because water provides life and hope, others say the very water is infused with the Arcane Torrent itself. Either way the rumors are enough that Eurie and Orinthal as a whole sent an army to claim it.”
“What are they going to do with the Torrent?” Henry asked.
“The same thing powerful people always do, misuse it.” Svan said picking his lance up. “They won’t mean to at first, they will have good intentions Henry. Us mortals always do. I suppose we should get going then?” Svan asked Henry as if all of this was normal.
“What about the Arcane Wars? Weren’t those terrible and didn’t they rip our world into pieces?” Henry found himself shouting. He was angry, the ignorance of man was going to ruin this world. The same world Theresa took her breathes in. Svan nodded solemnly.
“If we learned from history Henry, we wouldn’t be fighting a war over sources of the Arcane Torrent.” He stepped beside Henry, facing the path down the mountain. Henry watched the water cascade down the stone steps. “The torrent is everywhere, and nowhere all of the time. This land, Arkahnis has some of the thinnest barriers between Goarahn and the Arcane Torrent. It’s easier to pull from here, and with that, it’s easier to use. Which means-”
“Weapons...” Henry said knowingly. “They want to make weapons.” Svan began walking down the path whistling a folk song from Eurie titled “The Long Road Home.” Henry wanted to scream and cry. All of this fighting was for nothing more than more power. Eurie had been telling all of Orinthal they fought to liberate the land from this war. This century long war was nothing more than one giant power struggle. Henry felt more than disappointed in himself for being so foolish...
They say the Architects will be done with their work by the end of the week and we can go home after that. Plenty of soldiers will stay behind, but my unit is said to be heading home. I hope to see you soon. I miss you. Perhaps, I even miss you more than you’re cooking. Though, I’ve been spoiled by your pot. I must go now, but I’ll write again before we leave. I send this letter with all my love.
"Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, it's often the most different from us that become our saviors."
(Justicar Svan, Equality Talks of Ehyos, 405)
The half elf's armor was practically cooking him alive, or at least that's how he felt. He raised his blade up high to meet his foe's. He felt his feet sink a few inches into the muddy battlefield. The monster towered over him covered in demonic armor and outsized him two to one. He slid his blade free from the pressure of his foe's strike and feinted away. Per their usual plan two small forms rushed forward and began their attacks. Dazzling lights whizzed by the half elf's head and struck true into the center mass of the beast before him. The echo of a melodic strum chasing the light danced in the soldier's head. The monster stumbled backwards and the soldier knew what to do next.
Picking up one foot after another the half elf rushed forward and leaped as high as he could muster in his heavy armor. He plunged the metal blade deep into the chest of the monster. His blade tore through the metal armor causing an explosion of ichor to pour forward. The elf couldn't stop himself from going down with the monster. It fell back onto its back, a loud crash muffled by the sound of the surrounding battle.
"Thanks!" The soldier shouted to his friends. With both hands he ripped the blade free from the newly formed cavity and looked around. He looked on to the faces of these new found friends and for a moment he was lost to his memory.
The soldier was crouched low to the ground as he moved through the woods. He was careful not to make anymore noise than necessary. He found himself on the edge of the town of Oxbane, which was now under siege by the very monsters he set free. He knew he needed to get back into town but with these monsters around he was determined to move slow. The last one he fought left him with an aching head and at least an hour nap. The soldier woke up with a piercing headache, his blade still in the jaw of the enemy. He counted himself lucky that the worst of it was a pounding skull. He knew better than to run off alone. He couldn't ignore Allyson's cry for help though.
He hoped the girl was still safe. He had lost track of her in the skirmish and she wasn't around when he woke up. The soldier was just about to leave the tree line, into the open field between Oxbane and the woods, when he heard the audible smash of wood. The smash was followed by yells and weapons being drawn. The soldier cursed silently. He turned around moving as quickly and as silently as he could towards the noise.
As he drew closer he saw three figures fighting one of the monsters that had been released. His stomach sank once more, the feeling of guilt overwhelming him. The monster backhanded the light blue demon with the instrument, sending him colliding into a nearby tree. The soldier slid his weapon into its sheath and scaled the closest tree. As soon as he was high enough the soldier drew his weapon and leaped from the tree.
"What in the wo-" The small man in full metal armor said as the monster kicked him several feet through the air. The soldier brought his blade down into the soldier of the monster. Purchase was found but to the soldier's horror the blade was lodged between bone and armor.
"Quick!" The soldier shouted holding onto his blade with one hand while his other reached for the dagger in his belt. "While it's busy with me take out its legs!" The demon was the first to react. The horned humanoid strummed its instrument and sang words the soldier couldn't understand. A prismatic bolt danced through the air and crashed into the lower half of the monster.
The monster roared out in pain. It began to throw its body around wildly as it smashed its large hands against itself. The soldier held on tight with both hands to his blade as the monster bucked around. Another short statured man charged forward a war hammer in two hands. The soldier watched in awe and horror as the hammer streaked with lightning as it collided with the right knee of the monster. The soldier's sword became more than something to hold onto in that moment, it became a conductor. The soldier let go as the shock split his nerves in twain. He crashed down to the ground, rolling to avoid the monster's large feet as he did so. He put both hands between him and the dirt shoving himself upright again. The world shaking as he stood.
The two small men and the blue demon leaped into action as the monster fell backward crushing another tree as it did so. All three of them had their own unique abilities.
They were not leaving it to chance that this monster was going to survive.
The monster, now full of new holes and leaking ichor, did not move. The guard strained his eyes in an effort to get the world to hold still. He moved mechanically towards his sword. The soldier put both hands between the monster and the tree and pried it free. His blade now covered in ichor, he sighed.
"My luck..." He said as he began to fight with his blade, attempting to free it of its new prison.
"Hey, are you sure you should be doing that?" The small man with a sword larger than itself called out to him.
"Do you have another way of getting it free?" He grunted as he struggled with the blade.
"I could pull it free, but I'm more worried about that thing. What if it comes back to life, or explodes?" The soldier stopped long enough to look over at the small suit of armor.
"What? Why would you think that?"
"I don't know, it looks like it came out of a kid's story book." The small man said.
"So does your blue friend. I don't think he is going to explode if he dies." The soldier said.
"Of course he wo-"
"Will he?" The other small man with the lightning hammer asked incredulously.
"No! I won't explode if I die! How about I don't die?" The blue minstrel shouted. The small man with the oversized sword approached the soldier.
"Let me," He said as he approached. The soldier let go and backed up. "The name is Sir Jodo Foolhill, Knight of the Order of the Unicorn." He said placing both hands on the blade.
"Nice to meet you Sir Foolhill, I am Tjuringa Toon. Soldier and guard of Oxbane." Tjuringa said wiping his gloves free of the ichor on a nearby tree. "Wait did you say Order of the Unicorn?" He asked as the knight pulled the blade free with one good pull.
"I did," He said handing Tjuringa his blade back.
"Right..." He said looking around. "And you are?" He asked looking at the other small man and the blue skinned minstrel.
"Lance Turbolt," The demon said outstretching a hand to shake. Tjuringa shook his hand, he had no ill will to his kind.
"Gyd Geza" The small man pronounced as he said a small prayer over the monster.
"What are you doing?" Tjuringa asked.
"The same thing I would for everything else that takes a breath, saying a small prayer." He said in a matter of fact tone.
"It just tried to kill us, and it came from some portal. It and its friends have been murdering people in my town for the better part of a day." Tjuringa said harsher than he had intended.
"And I'd bet, this thing, like you is following someone else's orders." Gyd replied as if teaching a child. Tjuringa opened his mouth to respond, but found the words never came.
"Either way," Lance said splitting the tension. "What's going on here?" He asked.
"A lot, and it's a long story. I have to get back to town as soon as possible." Tjuringa said looking around to get his bearings.
"More of those?" Lance asked.
"Then you're going to need our help." The knight said confidently. "It looks like the key to fighting these things is not taking them head on alone." Tjuringa didn't want to argue with that, after all there wasn't much to argue. Of course four versus one was better odds.
"I can't ask that of you. I barely know you." Tjuringa said as he found the direction he was looking for.
"By my Order I can't watch a good town be destroyed." The knight responded, more than a little tradition in his voice.
"I can't let this guy die either." The other small man said clapping the knight on the back. "He saved me from a tight jam a while back." Gyd said smiling.
"Will there be alcohol?" Lance asked sliding his instrument on his back.
"Uhhh, yeah there is some in town. But rea-"
"It's settled then," Lance proclaimed. "Lead the way Chinga"
"It's Tjuringa." The soldier said as if to politely correct him.
"That's what I said, come on the alcohol is getting cold. I can feel it." The blue demon said pushing Tjuringa gently in the direction he had just been looking.
"How did you three meet?" Tjuringa whispered as the four of them moved through the woods slowly.
"Is now the best time to be telling our life stories?" Gyd asked the way a teacher would a young student.
"I... right." Tjuringa said more than a little embarrassed. He needed to know more about the three strangers he was bringing back into town.
"Don't listen to them Chinga."
"That's what I said. Anyway, these two were traveling on their way here actually. It wasn't until they got attacked by some bandits on the road near Riverside that I joined them. I saw these two cute little guys fighting half a dozen bandits and at first thought I was rescuing two kids. Turns out, these little guys had it mostly under control all on their own."
"Hey that's not how it happen-" Sir Foolhill protested.
"Shh. You don't want us getting caught do you? Anyway I helped these guys out of a bind and since all of us were headed to Oxbane, I thought I'd keep 'em company." He said smiling.
"The weird thing about those bandits is the ones who kept trying to bite me." Gyd said more than a little confused as he recalled the memory.
"Bite you?" Tjuringa asked. Gyd nodded.
"I told you Gyd, those were vampires. They wanted to eat you because you looked like a tiny child."
"I'm a grown man for my race!" Gyd shouted, his face flushed. Lance laughed under his breath. "Those were not vampires, those things aren't real."
"Wait... Seriously? We just killed something as tall as some of these trees that clearly is one of those "Not from this world" kind of things and you are going to draw the lines at vampires?" He asked incredulously.
"Yes, vampires are story book creatures adults use to keep children in line." Gyd responded.
"Don't you believe in Wen? Like, the God?" He asked his voice cracking from confusion and amusement.
"And?" Gyd replied.
"And... You know, never mind." Lance said silencing himself.
"Shhh," Tjuringa said putting his gloved finger to his mouth. He motioned ahead to the monsters in the field.
"Tjuringa!" Lance shouted swinging the large blade around in a huge arc decapitating one of the fallen monsters. "You with us?" Tjuringa watched as Lance brought the blade to a stop. Tjuringa was amazed Lance was wielding one of the monster's blades in combat, especially considered not long ago that blade held him against a wall and added a new hole for the demon. While magic healed him back to his former self, Tjuringa was still impressed the minstrel could wield such a large blade.
"Yeah I'm here!" Tjuringa shouted back and leaped into the fray once more. The sound of steel against steel surrounding him. Tjuringa counted himself grateful for his new friends as he charged to Lance's side careful to avoid the large swings of the blade.
Young Findahl looked up at the night sky. He traced the stars with his fingers. First he traced a crude set of scales across the moon. He heard the door creak open behind him. He turned to see his father approaching him.
“What are you doing son?” He asked taking a seat next to him in the grass. His father rested an arm around him, the weight of the man was more than Findahl could bear. He involuntarily slouched into his father.
“I was tracing the Scales of Cenlore.” His father let loose a soft laugh.
“How is that going for you Findahl?” The old man asked calmly.
“It’s going well I guess, it can be hard to see all of the points because there are so many stars.” Findahl said squinting his eyes.
“You know how those stars got there?” Findahl shook his head still staring in the sky.
“It’s a long story, not one I have time to fully tell you before bed. Do you want the short version for now?” Findahl thought about it for a moment. His father watched him as his brows furrowed and his brain did the mental math. After what felt like forever to Findahl he decided he would want to hear a sneak peak.
“Only if you promise to tell me the full story soon.” His father looked down at him, all of him covered in his father’s massive arm.
“That sounds fair.” His father cleared his throat and then looked high into the sky.
“You see, the stars above us. They were the toys of the gods. The Rile, the God of Shadow and Darkness, stole the stars from Wen, the God of Legends. They say that each star was a fable. Each Fable greater than the last, stories that were meant for man. Rile stole those stories from us and that is part of why Rile is hated by man and the other gods. We were robbed of something that was to be ours.” His father smiled and looked down at Findahl.
“What would those stories have taught us.” Findahl asked, as he often did. A question for every story, at least one.
“We learn much from the stories the gods have passed down to us. Think of all the lessons you have learned from my passing the legends of gods down to you.” Findahl thought about it, then nodded in agreement. Findahl snuggled into his father’s embrace.
“Now let’s get inside. If I don’t get you to be soon, we will both be in hot water.”
“There exists a legend, one more common than that of Jira.” The old man sat in front of the fire, the warm hearth of the childhood home and began his story. The same way he had done time and time before. “The story is that of fantasy, a princess, and love.” Findahl sat with his legs crossed as he had always done. Waiting for his father to tell another legend.
“This is the tale of Lyra. The daughter of Erindore.”
“The Erindore? The god among men Erindore?” Findahl’s father looked at him with stern eyes. “Sorry father.” Findahl knew his father hated being interrupted, but he couldn’t always control his curiosity.
“Erindore settled in after his adventures and married an elf. This was not unusual for the race of man. Then the two led a happy life. Erindore’s fame and status gave them a beautiful life with some land to call their own. A small manor and some farmland. Then his wife Rin found herself to be with child.
It was a happy occasion. For our Erindore believed he was not fit for happiness. The deeds and actions he took during his campaigns and life, he openly expressed to the world that he did not see happiness in his life. The two were overjoyed. They celebrated for months.
The pregnancy was not without its challenges. Rin fell sick often. She fell ill of simple colds, and more severe ones. She always seemed to pull out of them when they seemed to be getting to an unmanageable level. Erindore grew his first gray hairs during this time. He was proud of them though, not ashamed. He famously called them his badges of honor, the first strides of fatherhood.
The land was not sure who was more excited for their baby to arrive, Rin or Erindore. The two were overjoyed at the coming days of their child’s arrival. Then the night came, the night of birth. A night of joy, sorrow, and much more than the Erindore had expected.” Findahl’s father took in a deep labored breath.
“The birth was long and hard. The hand maidens spent so much time washing towels and working with Rin. By day’s arrival their child was brought into the world. It was to Erindore’s shock, dfismay, and horror, none of which more than the other. He saw his baby girl, all covered in crimson fur, with hooves for feet. His daughter, was not his.” Findahl’s eyes grew wide.
“So it was that Erindore banished his new child Lyra and his love Rin. He banished them both away to a keep hidden in the mountains of their land. It is said, that there is a valley where no men must go. For they will be enchanted by the charms of Rin and eaten by their daughter, the demon child. This valley holds apples of sin and corruption. Over time people forgot of this valley. After a decade, no one spoke of it in Erindore’s land. When he passed, no one spoke of his love and daughter then either. And so they were lost to time, and some say they live on. Cursed to reside in that valley, that valley of despair.”
“There is a story everyone in Goarahn tells. A story that keeps children in their beds at night. A story young and old parents pass down from generation to generation. The story of Jira. The name still strikes fear into some adults to this day.
The story is a little different from region to region and continent to continent but the overall message is the same. This is the story I tell to you young Findahl. For All gods want their legends told and it is our jobs to tell them.” The old man took in a deep breath and drank on his wine. A small boy with auburn hair sat attentively listening to the story his father was about to tell him.
“There was a small boy about your age who lived in a town about this size.” The man was interrupted by Findahl’s voice.
“Do you adjust the city and age for the audience?” His father smiled a frustrated smile.
“Findahl, you should be careful with your questions. There are people in this world who would not do to be questioned so opnely. You are intelligent, but it could land you in hot water one day.” The fire in the chimney cracked and popped. The warm hearth making a cozy wine-filled man, and an eager curious young boy happy to be together.
“As I was saying, there was a young boy about your age in a town this size. He would often run off in the night. He was not up to no good. Nor was he intended to do evil of any kind. He loved to explore and find the wonder of night. He often saw things a small boy should not. He saw people who should not be together.
He witnessed crimes and unsavory activity. Though the young boy did not care for any of that. They were merely milestones for the tree lines. For this young boy wanted so desperately to have something other than an ordinary farm boy life. He wanted adventure. He had heard the tales of Aeridorn the Great, and Eulden the of the Shadows. He wanted to be a legend, he wanted to do legendary things.
He strived to be great. He found himself in the thick of the woods each night looking for something new and adventurous. One morning he was returning to his home a little later than usual. His mother was waiting for him this time. She scolded him for being out without telling her, and for being out at night. She warned him of the dangers of the world. The young boy promised her he would not do it again.
He promised her he would be better and stay in his bed at night. He promised her all of these things. To be fair to our young boy, he tried. Each night he stayed in bed, he suffered great sorrow. He yearned for adventure. This went on for a week. What like the longest week of this boys life. Then he left in the night again. He could no longer stand the thought of adventure lost. It was on this night our young adventurer stumbled into a fairy. This fairy was not like most fairies, when she saw the young boy she approached him.” He took in a deep breath and another swig of warm wine. Young Findahl sat on the edge of his seat, the brown wooden chair threatening to topple over as he did so.
“The fairy said to him. “Young boy, why are you out here all on your own?” The boy wasn’t sure what to make of her. Her small glowing form was something he had not seen before. Before tonight he had only heard stories of fairies.
“I am looking for adventure. I am looking for the start of my story. I want to be great like Eulden of the Shadows.” The young boy confessed to the fairy. The same confession he had made many times before to adults in his village. The fairy put her small delicate hand to her chin and asked.
“What would you give for such a story to be yours?” The young, foolish boy said the first thing his heart could muster.
“Anything.” The word slipped from the boy like steam a kettle. There was not trapping it.
“Anything eh?” The fairy responded. The fairy pondered over the boy for a moment and then said to him, “You know that these legends you speak of, the lives they led were not easy. They do not reflect the stories we tell of them. The deeds they achieved were great, but the hurdles they had to climb. They were great and arduous. Is this still something you want.” The boy set his jaw and found the determination and confidence only a young boy can.
“Yes.” He said, trying his best to sound like the man he wasn’t.
“Very well then,” The fairy said to him. “Come back to me tomorrow night and I will set you on the start of your adventure.” The boy nodded and returned home. His mother was waiting for him again. She yelled at him. She for the first time in his young life spanked him. She warned him of the woods. He told her about the fairy. Her offer for adventure. His mother screamed and locked him in his room. She told him not to trust fairies and that he would not be returning to the woods tonight.
The boy decided he would in fact be going to the fairy that night. So, he left after she left. A locked door was nothing for him to get through. He used an old set of lock picking tools he had found in the village and after an hour of trial and error, he got out. He left in the middle of the day and waited for night time to come. He was just beginning to get hungry waiting for the fairy, when she found him.
“Are you ready?” She asked him. He nodded. He was more than ready. “Then you will be my champion. My collector of souls. You will be the very force that strikes fear in the hearts of all.” The boy scrunched his eye brows as she spoke.
“I don’t want that at all.” He said determined to get his way. “I want to be a good force, a legend of honor and victory.” The fairy smiled and tapped him on the forehead.
“Those things all depend on who’s side of the fence you are own. You will be the champion of the fairies. Together we will protect our kingdom. Jira, of the night. Now go forth and collect what I seek from your town.” The boy felt a strange sensation come over him. His arms and legs grew three times their size, his torso stretched painfully. His head morphed, it all hurt. He screamed but no noise came of it. When the transformation was complete the boy stood twelve feet tall, a large humanoid shadow figure. The shadows falling off of him like water from a cliff. “Everyone will fear the night, darkness, and even their own shadow thanks to you Jira.”
“I do not want this. I will not do it. The boy said, his voice now deep and monstrous.
“You will, and the town is already dead, I just want you to collect their souls I left behind. You first feeding should be an easy one.” She said sharply, her face much more twisted than it had just been before.
“You what?” The boy tried to cry at the thought of his mother and the village being killed. “How did you know where they were? I always get lost trying to find home. How could you have found them?” The deep shadowy rumble of his new visage echo’d through the woods.
“I followed your footprints of course.” She said slyly.
So our young boy found himself transformed. He found the urges to go collect the souls too strong. He could smell them from here. So he did, and so he would continue to do. We tel this story to remind our young that going out at night and disobeying their elders can be dangerous. Jira, of the night is out there collecting. The last thing we want for our young is to be collected, or worse… Become one of Jira’s servants.” His father stopped speaking and finished the cup of warm wine.
“Is that a true story?” Findahl asked politely.
“As true as any other story my boy.” The old man said smiling.
“What if I vowed to stop him?” Findahl questioned his father determined for an answer.
“Then you would be choosing not to learn the same lesson Jira did as a boy. Not everyone is meant to be great. Some of us reach for the stars but end up falling from the sky.”
He had marched from the last city for what felt like days. His pack on his back and nothing but his wares. He was a simple traveling trader. He tried to make sales as people passed by, but Stemy found that no one wanted to trade with him. That was the case until one day he stumbled upon fate itself.
Stemy had been walking all day, the sun beating down his back the whole way. He was sweating through his traveling clothes, or as he called them, his only clothes. He stopped at a bridge and set his pack against the wall and looked over at the river at the clear crystalline water flowed gently onward. Each bend in the water around rocks and logs seemed to have a purpose.
“It must be nice,” Stemy the troll said to the river, “to have a purpose. To be needed. Not to have to carry around some pack and practically beg for people to trade with you.” Stemy was not a normal troll, he was smaller than most and he was disfigured. Not in the way you would think, trolls in his homeland were proud of moles, broken teeth, and what humans would consider blemishes. Stemy did not have this, he was half human. His face was just different enough to not pass for human or troll. Different enough to make him an alien in both camps though.
“It could be you there too. You could have a purpose.” The voice nearly startled Stemy right over the edge of the bridge. He looked over to see a gnome, covered in filth and mud. “You could be the guardian of this here bridge. You could guard the very river below it. It could all be yours.”
“I’m not sure what you mean sir.” Stemy said confused by the sight of this gnome and the whole situation if he was being honest.
“You and I, we could make a wager you see. This is the bridge of lost debts. Each person to pass must pay their debts. I am the collector.” The gnome said smiling, his teeth sharp. Stemy couldn’t see well from where he stood but they almost looked filed.
“I do not have any debts good gnome, for I do not have much to my name at all.” The gnome’s face contorted into a wicked grin.
“We all have debts young Stemy, we all have prices we have yet to pay.”
“How did you know my name?” Stemy asked, his fear climbing up from deep beneath his stomach and right into his throat.
“Can you taste that? That’s the truth of it, right there at the back of your throat. That fear you feel is you knowing just how right I am.” The gnome began to slowly walk toward him rubbing his hands together. “Don’t worry I’m a fair man.” Stemy put his hand on his knife in his back pocket and pulled it out. The small pairing knife waved before him. The gnome laughed.
“Oh come on. That little thing.” Stemy blinked and the gnome was holding it. He didn’t even see him move, feel the knife be taken from him. “Listen hear boy. Here is how this work. We play a game of dice. Simple enough. You just need to wager something. If you win, your debts are clear and free. In fact all future debts will be free and clear. This is how kings are made boy. If you lose, I take what you wager. The more you wager, the more you can win.” The gnome smiled and held out a handful of dice.
“I don’t want to play sir.” Stemy asked.
“I’m afraid that isn’t an option.” Stemy didn’t like this response, he grabbed his pack by the handle and began to back up. Heading back the way he came but not taking his eyes off the gnome. Then Stemy bumped into something, he turned his head to see the gnome standing there hands outstretched.
“Listen, leaving isn’t an option.” The gnome said growing impatient.
“I didn’t look away from you, how did you do that?”
“I’ll tell you if you win.” The small filthy thing said to Stemy with more than a little glee in his voice.
“Fine fine, I’ll play… What are we playing.” Stemy said his voice falling apart. He set down his pack and sat in front of the gnome.
“Oh the rules are simple. We play Fate. You know how to play Fate right?” Stemy nodded. He had played the dice game Fate time and time again. Essentially it was straight gambling by chance. Two players would roll two six sided dice. A single die would be placed in a cup, rattled around and then placed face down. So no one could see the result of the dice in the cup. The two rollers would then roll their dice. Once they see their results, they can make their bets.
The cup is then removed to reveal the die in the cup’s number. The objective is to have both of your dice match exactly the dice in the cup. If this was accomplished then it is considered a win. If only one die matches it is still a win if the opponent does not have a matching die too. If both players have one matching die or both players have two matching dice, it is considered Divine Fate, and then the players re-roll Fate again to try and find a winner.
“Great.” The gnome said handing Stemy two dice. The gnome put one die in a cup and shook it, then slammed it on the ground. The two players rolled. Stemy rolled a two and a four. The gnome rolled a two and a six.
“So, what will you bet?” The gnome asked.
“What are you betting? I need to know in order to offer something fair.” The gnome thought for a moment and then nodded.
“That’s fair. I am offering the debt of your wife’s life. In three years you will marry, she will fall sick and die. I am offering her freedom.” The gnome said matter of factly.
“How can you-“
“How can I know that?” The gnome said the same time Stemy attempted to speak. “It’s magic boy. The same way I know your past, present, and future stories. I am a pledge of Wen. The God of legends. He imbues me with the power to change people’s stories.” Stemy was no stranger to Wen. He had heard of this kind of power before, but he thought it just legend.
“Then tell you what you are going to say next?” The gnome said. Stemy’s head froze, that is what he was going to say.
“Okay, I can’t leave and I must bet…” Stemy said his voice more than a little shaky. “I wager my pack.” The gnome laughed, a deep belly laugh. “What is so funny?”
“You think, the trinkets, food, and other garbage in that sack is equivalent to your wife’s life?” The gnome sneered. “Let’s take the pack and all your good luck for the next year.” Stemy’s head tilted.
“Yes I can do that.” The gnome said before Stemy could ask.
“Okay then.” Stemy said. His heart pounding. The gnome lifted the cup to reveal a single four. Stemy cheered. The gnome pouted.
“Well,” He snapped his fingers. As he did so, Stemy felt a relief from his shoulders, a stress he had not known he was carrying before it was lifted.
“Woah.” Stemy exlaimed.
“Neat huh? You don’t realize how much of your fate is already written and carried with you. The debts you owe.” The gnome said. “Let’s go again. You still have a few debts to clear. The two rolled again. Stemy rolled a three and a five, the gnome rolled two threes. Stemy grinned.
“I wager a year of my sleep in exchange for immense wealth in the next year.” Stemy called out happily.
“A year of sleep it is, in exchange for the monetary debts you would have incurred this year. You do not get to make demands, but I like where your head is at.” The gnome lifted the cup and a five revealed itself. Stemy cheered again. The gnome grimaced this time.
“Fine. One more go of it. We will clear all the slates.” The two rolled die again. Stemy rolled two ones, his heart sank. Two of the same die could mean a big win, normally worth three points instead of one, like one matching die would be. The gnome rolled a two and a one.
“Three ones total, isn’t that risky. I’ll tell you what. I’ll clear all of your debts, all misfortune for the next decade. You will live a dream life of health and happiness guarenteed.” The gnome said slyly.
“And what would I have to put up for that?” Stemy asked, more than a little tempted. After all it could be any number and then there would be a re-roll. The odds were decent of him being eternally happy.
“You take my place, you are given the gifts of Wen, but you must guard this bridge. You must be the keeper of the fates and stories.” Stemy didn’t like the sound of that. Then he thought of a beautiful woman, or a beautiful troll he wasn’t picky. He thought of happiness, he thought of how exile did not feel great now, but happiness. Happiness sounded lovely.
“And if we have a re-roll?” Stemy asked.
“Then we re-roll with the same bet.” Stemy hadn’t thought of that. He hadn’t lost yet and thought, he had might have just enough luck for it.
“How long would I have to take your place gnome?” The young half troll asked.
“For ten years or until someone else takes your place.”
“Deal.” Stemy said less than a little sure. The gnome removed the cup to reveal a two. The one roll that would secure his defeat. Stemy without thought shoved the gnome backward and ran. As he ran the ground began to move under him, but he did not move at all. With a small simple snap a game of dice, a conversation and a bridge had all changed his life.
Stemy would go on to protect that bridge, gambling away the debts of strangers and earning more than a little of his fair share of spoils. Stemy would remind as the Troll Bridge of Fate.
“The difference between a mask and one’s face is the amount of time worn. The longer the mask is worn, the more likely it is to feel like the face, instead of just a mask. It can become confusing as to which is real and only a mask. There exists a school out there. A school in which people learn to wear the persona of others as a mask. A school in which the art of it all, is to become someone other than themselves. They lay, waiting, slowly pushing their agenda on the world.” Findahl’s father spoke the words methodically behind vacant eyes.
“Does that school really exist?” Young Findahl asked, his curiosity peaked. His father nodded still looking through Findahl.
“That’s what the stories say. They say that this school of mysterious people exists. There are rumors that the land is shaped the way it is because of this school. I don’t know how much stock I put into that, but the rumors spread like wildfire.”
“If the rumors are just that, why should we believe them? Shouldn’t we question their validity?” The young boy’s brain was hard at work as he asked his father about this mysterious school. His father stood and patted his son’s head, revealing scars across his massive forearms.
“It’s good that you question things, but know who you are asking questions of. Not all are as kind as me, son.”
“There isn’t much to do about the current circumstances.” The old man sat at his modest desk, in his modest office. He was looking over the paper work for the newly incarcerated.
“I understand,” The half elf sat across from him in his guard’s uniform. “It’s just Renwah appears to be a victim of the wrong place and wrong time kind of thing.” The old man scoffed as the guard spoke.
“He attacked some adventurers with Craig. Craig and his stooges, Renwah included, attacked THREE adventurers. I’d say that’s not something Oxbane, Eurie, or Orinthal would tolerate. Wouldn’t you say Tjuringa?” Tjuringa looked to the ground his ears beaming a bright red.
“Then can we please move on?” The Justicar sighed as he spoke. “I am not getting any younger and there are matters I actually need to attend to. While I do enjoy these talks, these meetings don’t do that much for us I’d say. The Lady gets what she wants though...” The Justicar shuffled his pages looking for the next one.
“Well, I’d like to keep talking about Renwah. There is more to it.” The Justicar stopped moving papers and without moving his head looked at Tjuringa. Tjuringa could feel the irritation in his stare.
“I thought we had decided to move pass this.”
“Respectfully sir, I had not agreed to that. If you will just listen for a moment I think there could be something to this.” The guard practically wringed his hands dry of feeling as he nervously waited.
“Tjuringa… if you insist.” He said with a heavy sigh. He set down the papers and gave the guard his full attention. Tjuringa’s blue eyes were darting to and from the Justicar’s gaze as he began to speak.
“It’s just that Renwah had some interesting things to say about a key and a vault. He said that he knows where a key is that leads to a secret vault under the city. He promised that for his freedom he would show us where the vault is and give us the key.” Tjuringa must have spat the words out because the Justicar’s face was painted in a mixture of confusion and skepticism.
“Did he tell you what was in this vault by chance?” The old man said frowning. The guard could feel the mounting pressure of the doubt the Justicar possessed.
“Well, no. He did say it was a relic of Oxbane’s history. I was thinking it could be more information on Torrential Forgery. While our weapons are already made using that concept, what if there is more to it? Yarg would jump at the opportunity for more information.” He spoke confidently in his assumptions.
“I bet our blacksmith Mr. Renhand would love new information. I’d also like a giant pile of gold and all the crime in the city to be gone.” The Justicar sighed. “I’ll tell you what Tjuringa. You have him tell you where the vault is. You go explore it with another guard, off duty of course. If it pans out we will look further into it. If what he says is true, he could be looking at early release or being released immediately on time served. Does that sit well with you?” The guard on the opposite end nodded. “I trust you and your judgement. If he is lying, he will be served his justice like anyone else.” The Justicar stopped speaking, moving on to the next page.
“Tjuringa, is it cold in here to you?” The guard looked puzzled by the question but gave a simple shrug. “I must be getting older, these old bones have been freezing lately. Could you start a fire please?” The guard smiled graciously and walked over to the hearth. He lumped in wood and started the flame.
“Let’s move on to the next one then. I really appreciate you trusting me Justicar.”
“Think nothing of it. Let’s move on.” He said resting his hands on the next page. “What is going on with these adventurers and bringing us people? A gnome now?” The two shared a laugh and continued through their list.