This story was not originally meant to ever be a book. I still feel this media doesn't do the story justice. For years I pondered how best to tell the story, and truth be told I don't consider myself the best of writers. If I were to have this story told properly, I'd want it to be in the form of Anime/Manga. My tale you're about to read does not have a beginning or an end that can all be summed up in one book. It doesn't fit well to have smaller books that say might have 40-50 all together throughout the series either. It certainly doesn't fit a movie standpoint as the movie would never end. Perhaps someone could give it justice if it were to be on a television network, but that still doesn't perceive the way I want it to be told.
What truly fits this story best would be a manga book or comic that stretches on for two to three hundred chapters. The heroes come across bad guys at certain times, there are some filler moments to build character, but ultimately it takes time to reach the final goal. And sadly I have no artistic skills in drawing whatsoever; trust me, I've tried. So I work with what I know, and at least this way I get the ideas down on paper, the dialogue said, the story shown. But this portion of the explanation prior to my book goes out to all you artists out there. I would love for someone to take my ideas and draw them out as they are meant to be. Naturally I'd want to work with you on the project, but we can talk details if anyone ever takes up my offer.
So now I want to share with you were my ideas came from. It all started with my best friend whom I met in high school. He was our Captain, and I loved him very much. It breaks my heart to say he is no longer with us. This is the driving force for me sharing what I have with you today. This story originally started out as a table-top role-playing game where Captain was our dungeon master. It was him, my college roommate and his best friend, and myself. The four of us set out on an adventure where we were the bad guys and all forms of chaos and bad things happened.
The session lasted a single semester which didn't really get us that far. After Captain passed away, I sought to keep the story going. I started my own campaign and tried telling the story through three different groups over a period of six years trying to get the whole thing done from start to finish. It was exhausting! Finally after succeeding in where Captain left us off I began planning what would happen next. But I couldn't just write from say chapter 32. I wanted to write everything down from the very beginning. So here I am again, telling his story.
Now most of the story you're about to read didn't happen the way that it was originally designed. In fact, the only character that stayed true was the main character whom I played myself way back when. The other characters were all taken from the other three campaigns I ran that my friends played out as they rolled their dice. Using those heroes as a general starting point, I tweaked them to fit together in the grand scheme of the story so you'll get the best telling of all versions of what happened in the kingdom of Norgate.
But I have noticed I came across one big issue. Most of the places the four heroes travel to were not named by myself. The first city they find themselves is a place called Galvarez. I've looked all over the internet to make sure that this really was some random name Captain came up with, but I have my doubts. Why? Because the main villain he submitted to us was named Alexstraza. I thought that was the coolest name. She's a red dragon with a fiery temper and plenty of power to strike fear into her enemies. The only issue is that the name Alexstraza is already taken by an online gaming system even though the only similarity between the two that I found was the name and the fact she was a red dragon. So I changed her name to Alexandria. Hopefully my loyal readers won't hold a grudge.
My fear is that there are most of these annoying Easter eggs planted in the writing that I simply don't know about. SO! If you happen to see that something you read smells a little fishy, please notify me right away so that I may make the necessary changes. I don't want to be out here stealing someone else's idea. Same as I wouldn't want anyone trying to take mine. Save for the above mention of wanting someone to draw this story out for me. I hope you enjoy the tale set in front of you and hopefully something even greater can come from it.
And if you want to do me a huge favor, please read this story on WattPad so that the book gets more views and attention. It would be a huge help! Thank you ever so much. I love you all! <3
Norgate was a kingdom like any other. It held its own monarchy, established nobility between wealthy families, and upheld rightful laws to govern the likes. But today, Norgate would serve as a path for Fate to lie down its guiding hand. Four heroes, all from different places in the world, would all come together in a rather unlikely situation to become the best of friends. This is a story not without love, or danger, or death. Life is like a roulette of choices, and you never know what Fate will spin.
The king of Norgate would be the cause which brought our heroes together. His death paved the road for his only son to inherit the throne. To celebrate his coronation, the soon to be king would host a festival like any other. Nobles and dukes from all over the kingdom would come to attend the merry party. Their entertainment, a troupe of performers known popularly as The Red Dragons, would set up just outside the castle walls in the gardens. Large canopies of red and gold turned the serene landscape into a spectacular carnival.
The kingdom had been transformed into a festive parade of shops and demonstrations as the circus set up their trade. Fortune tellers, clowns and jesters, fire breathers and sword eaters. The town was alive with the magics of the outside world most would never come to witness outside their own homes.
In the far back of the city waited a rather indescribable carriage which looked totally ordinary. But, inside there were two men, one of which who was not ordinary in the least. The other, his assistant, begged the first to not go through with his plan.
"Please, sire," the man pleaded for the tenth time. "This is truly a mad scheme. You must return to your senses."
Sitting cross-legged on the carriage bench was a man in a long brown overcoat that looked ragged and worn to the point of falling apart. Underneath the coat was a brightly colored suit and dress pants, though those too were worn thin. The jacket was purple on the right side and then orange on the left, split right down the middle by a silver tie. His sleeves were black as was the shirt underneath the jacket and pants as well.
The strangest thing about the man was not the way in which he was dressed, but in the vibrant pink color he had dyed his hair. In his hand he held a small hand mirror and was looking himself over in his reflection. His left hand carried a stylish brush and was painting his face with colored dyes. White face paint, dark colored rings around the eyes, and then a small blue teardrop under his left eyelid. He'd then add a little deep red paint to his lips to make them stand out a little more than normal.
"Nonsense, Collin," the man spoke in a highly sophisticated tone of voice. "It would be rather dull of me to sit up there with all those prudes, stuck ups, hypocrites. It's much more fun being a part of the show."
"But you mustn't draw attention to yourself!" The assistant would continues to persist. "What if someone recognizes you?"
"Wearing this getup? Surely you don't think anyone would believe something so mad."
"But it is mad!"
"Madness. But madness is rather quite fun."
"Can you at least drop that ridiculous name?"
The man would stand up and toss the mirror aside and onto the cushion of the bench. He'd stroll to the door and swing it open with a twirl or his hand, flexing his fingers into a pair of white cloth cloves.
"Not for all the gold in the world," he would say with a wink to his friend.
And with that he'd swing the door shut with a gentle slam and cartwheel away from the carriage like a playful child. He'd do two or three and then hide his hands inside two of his pockets as he entered into the crowd. A little girl would see him and shy into her mother's leg out of fear. Rasmus would look around for a second, confused at what would make the child so nervous. He'd then pull from his coat pocket a long red flower from the stem first, a rose. The girl's eyes lit up seeing the long stem come out of such a tiny pocket, but also the beauty of the red pedals which bloomed in the light of the day. He would hand her the flower, saying nothing, then skip on his merry way.
The unspoken word said a lot of things. For our strange clown his word was interpreted through kind gestures and gifts. To another silence was an act of generosity. Our second hero of Fate was a not a man how one might imagine him. In fact, in his world, even his kind was a rare breed. The fact was, he was a dragon. Least, that's what the world called them. To his race, they were Leviathans in the common tongue that is. His race had no written language or symbols to spell such a word. Dragon is what they were called by word of mouth and then written into history.
The man's name was Balazar. He stood at six feet seven inches and had a three foot long tail stemming from his spine. He wore a magnificent set of armor that glowed in the sunlight. It was a rare find and for that reason quite valuable. Naturally, Balazar did not want anyone to think they would rob him, so he kept his appearance hidden under a heavy cloak. Only his boots and his head could be seen. Though he was not at all ashamed of his heritage, Balazar still kept his identity a secret by wearing a silver helmet he'd taken from a fallen royal knight. Oh yeah, and his skin was blue. People, no matter the race, tended to avoid those of different colored skin. Overall, covered and hidden behind the helmet and cloak, he looked like just another knight returning from battle.
Balazar spoke to no one as he entered into the kingdom. Security was tight around the entry points residing around the castle, but otherwise the guards were lacking. This was supposed to be a celebration after all. No one was worried about a foreign threat. As such, a single man resembling their own knights strolling right through the crowd was nothing to look twice at. Luckily for this country, Balazar was not here for blood. As Fate would have it, he would end up defending this very kingdom before nightfall.
Our third hero was not someone you would ever come to expect. She was the last person anyone would ever think would thrown their life down to save another. Her name was Rose Elenfar. She was a noble from the lands just South of Norgate's borders and the future bride to the current prince of Norgate. She was a beautiful blonde and dressed up as pretty as any queen ever was.
The two nobles entered into the largest of the tents meant for a grand performance in the Prince's honor. Given the best seats of the house, the royalty sat down in their private booths and waved at the fans who applauded them. They were joined by a few other members of the court as well as precious friends of the family. Rose, who didn't know a single one of the foreigners, still held her chin high and played her role as a future Queen. She was polite, kind, courteous, and most importantly, quiet. In this kingdom much like any other of this time and age, a woman's place in the world was to procreate. The men were the dominate voices of the world and every race under the sun understood that.
While everyone settled into their seats, a certain clown began to juggle some random pins he'd found in hid jacket, after having pulled out several other gag toys to get them. No one paid him any mind as they thought he was just a part of the show. He had no problem walking into the tent and finding a nice cozy spot off by the side of the bleachers. Meanwhile, a rather large knight squeezed in between a group of people in the center of the seats which was awkward for everyone. His tail, askew from sitting, swept along by his feet until he scooped it into his cloak with his foot.
Three of our four heroes had entered into their destiny. Now would come the fourth. Trumpets began to sound off as the carnivals main performance was about to begin. The stage was in the center of the tent raised up slightly so everyone could see it. In the back was a small curtain which separated the guests from the performers. The curtain would billow open as several carnies came from backstage. Everyone had a smile on their face as they showed their individual talents in the opening number.
Finally when everyone had filled the stage a man in a leather jacket would sneak in between them and appear in the very front. He was covered from his neck down in various tribal tattoos that mostly resembled flames. His hair was a red and he had a well kept beard that just lined the edge of his face. The man cupped his hands together in front of his face and then expelled a soaring flame from his hands into the air above him. The crowd awed in excitement and the music came to a stop.
"Ladies and gentlemen, boys of all ages! Welcome to the Red Dragons!"
The crowd cheered as the ringleader made his way around the stage introducing some of his people who'd be performing. He'd give a generous mention to the Prince and his court who sat up in the balcony. Then the troupe would begin to file out and the tattooed man was left alone. He raised his hands and gently lowered them, and at the same time the flames from all the candles and lantern in the tent dimmed and were put out. Only the flames lighting the stage were left lit.
"The world is a scary place," he said introducing his first act. "There are demons and monsters of all kinds. Beasts of unspeakable horror and terror. Today you will see one of these very beasts. But be warned....sometimes.....monsters get loose."
Upon his last word the flames would then vanish so there was no light save for what came in through the tent entrance. A shadow of some horrible giant beast spread across the light and crept onto the stage as the creature got closer. Roars of the monster echoed around the tent from the performers selling the show.
A scream shrieked in the darkness. Yet, it was no ordinary scream. There was no delight from the scare; it was purely fear. Another scream sounded off and a slight panic began to grow in the crowd. "Monsters! Monsters are coming!" The lights quickly ignited all around the tent exposing a rather fake looking monster on stage. To a child it might seem quite real, but any mature adult would know it was a man in a suit. Still....the screams were so real. Someone was afraid of something.
The back of the tent stage burst open as the performers ran through the curtain. Terror and fright on their faces. This was not part of the show. As they ran into the crowd they stumbled past the monster man causing him to fall over off the wooden ledge and the large ball-shaped head rolled off and into the first row of children. They screamed with horror as what they saw as the monster came at them and they too ran away in chaos. Parents were quick to their feet to find their children in the mess but by now everyone was in such a hurry they were running every which was to escape.
To say the place was a mad house would not do justice to the scene in the tent. No one knew what was going on nor what the performers had been running from. Then a shriek cried out over the sound of the screams. It was the sound of pure terror and could freeze a person in place. For a single moment small shadows appeared on the edge of tent walls and ceilings until several flying beasts ripped their way through the fabric. They were horrific and ugly, covered in fur and stained with ash. The flying beasts were an estranged cross between a wolf, some form of eagle, and also a bat. Large leathery wings kept them airborne while legs with talons let them rake at their targets.
The flying demons dropped and descended on the people. The guards were trapped at the exit ways and couldn't get in through the mob of people trying to flee. "Make way!" they would shout. "We have to protect the king!" But the mass of people were too caught up in escaping the terror that was behind them. The demons flew in like a swarm of locusts and picked up the random townsfolk. They plucked the woman into the air and flew them out of the holes in the tent in which they entered; the men were given a much worse fate. The beasts lucky enough to have grabbed a male would bite at their necks or shoulders spilling their blood onto those below. They'd then drop the corpse, swallow what flesh and muscle they had in their jaws, then swoop down for another attempt.
"Have no fear, Rasmus is here!"
Jumping down from the risers a man in a brown trench coat landed on one of the flying beasts. The three would fall to the floor and the man who'd been grappled quickly escaped the demon's clutches and ran back to his family. The beasts shrugged off the dirt and screeched at the man in the coat. He turned with a large smile showing off his painted white makeup over his face.
"I challenge you to a duel, my fine feathered friend!"
The beast showed no notice to the man's words and began to crawl at him much like the wolf that it was. Rasmus reached into his coat and drew from it a single red balloon that had previously been shaped to resemble a sword. "Have at thee!" He cried and swung the balloon like a real sword. The wolf lunged and bit at Rasmus with its fangs. At the last second he twisted hid wrist and struck the beast in the neck. But as the balloon made contact the rubbed snapped and exploded. A burst of air repelled the wolf and it flew backwards then rolled several times before coming to a stop. It struggled back up to its feet; one of its wings was bent and it wouldn't be able to fly again. Rasmus stood calmly in place like nothing had all had happened. Shards of the rubber floated on around him and in place of the balloon in his hand there now stood a flashy and shiny rapier.
"The first round goes to me foul beast. Dare you wish another?"
The wolf growled and snarled to Rasmus who smirked and wove the sword in the air. He would see the beast not back down so he nodded and ram at it. His sword flashed with every swing of the blade as he toyed with the creature. The man was an expert duelist and the feral beast was already weakened due to the previous injury. This wasn't even a fair fight. It lasted a good minute before Rasmus finally pierced the demon through the heart and its body fell limp at his feet.
"I, Sir Rasmus, thank you for this duel."
While the gentleman clown dueled against the fallen wolf demon another hero would rise to save others. As one of the beasts swooped down over the crowd the large knight stood up and drew his silver blade. He cut down the creature and it spun out of control before crashing into the dirt below. The man said nothing as he moved his way down the steps to where another was being terrorized.
In the center of the tent the carnival workers who hadn't fled had gathered in a group to protect some of the innocent civilians. The man with the tattoos was among them. The women held their crying children close to their chests and the men protectively stood around their wives. The tall hero stood with purpose in front of the crowd. The demons continued to flock around them trying to get to their prey. But the man with the tattoos had a power the beasts did not expect. Like some powerful warlock he began to shoot explosive balls of fire from his hands. Each fireball that made contact with the demons caused them to burst into flames and fall to the ground. He had to be careful with each shot though for a single stray strike could bring devastation to whomever it hit. Or worse, if the tent caught fire.
"My queen! No!"
High up in the stands the prince and his court were being attacked by three of the creatures. One of them had grabbed the princess and was lifting her away. The prince shouted as he tried to bat away the demon who grabbed his soon to be wife. The girl screamed loudly as she too struggled against the rock hard talons that held her shoulders.
"Never fear! Prince Rasmus will save you!"
The prince ran towards the stairs and jumped to move faster. But as his first foot cleared the wooden seat his second failed to get high enough. His whole body fell into the stands and he lay flat against the seat. His face smacked against a bag of nut shells someone had been eating. "Oh nuts," he remarked for cheap humor.
"Someone save my queen!" The prince would shout again. The demon gave one final tug and the princess slipped from the hands of the men trying to hold onto her. She shrieked again as the beast flew higher up, out of the tent, and out of sight. The prince fell to his knees and shouted her name. "Rose! My dearest Rose! Come back!"
He would then stand and shout to what was left of the people down below. By now the floor was covered in blood and trash. A few survivors had managed to hide in the bleachers while the King's knights finally succeeded in getting inside. They had fought off the last of the demons inside but the danger was far from over. The tall knight stood with the survivors and the rest of the men who'd found weapons. The tattooed man was standing over one of the demon beasts and burning it to a crisp with flames flying out if his finger tips. Rasmus would now get to his feet and brush himself off. He put his sword back into his jacket where it inexplicably vanished.
"People of Norgate!" Shouted the prince. "Anyone who rescues the princess will be rewarded handsomely. Fight for your future king and show your bravery!"
The knights would shout in triumph and run out of the tent to follow after the beasts. The man with the tattoos jumped down from the stage and joined up with the other carnival workers who looked to him for direction. Rasmus casually walked over as if he too was part of their act. Due to him looking like some homeless clown, he seemed to fit in with their troupe rather well. All that left was the tall knight who did not join with his brethren as they ran off.
"Brann? What are we going to do? Do we help?"
The tattooed man, Brann as he had been called, looked around them. He nodded and would raise his fist which sprouted flames. "The kingdom needs our help. And he said we'd get a nice reward for it too." The others laughed and so the little misfit gang ran out of the tent to give chase toward the demon enemies. Rasmus let the others move first and then proceeded to skip after them with a delighted grin. This left only the tall knight in disguise to follow suit. Each step he took made the ground shake a little.
The village was a horror show. Demons flew all across the sky unable to be shot down by the King's knights. Some carried with them women in their grasp as they headed toward the castle keep. It was too dangerous for the men to try to fire at them for they'd hit the women. As such, the knights were useless to do anything to protect the town once the girls were swept away. They did their best to fan out and protect those on the streets, but the beasts were relentless and tore through the windows and roof tops. Nothing stopped them in their cause unless they were struck down.
Brann and his company of misfit warriors ran down the streets of Norgate as fast as they could. It was clear from any perspective that the beasts were collecting the women and taking them to one of the high towers in the castle walls. Since none of them could risk shooting them down, the best bet was to get there on foot. But there was still plenty of danger on the streets as many of the townsfolk were still fleeing to their homes. The mob stopped to help them with each hero taking on one of the ferocious beasts. Brann had his fire while Balazar and Rasmus each drew blades. Thankfully the demonic wolves were not the most hardy of creatures and fell easily enough. Their greatest strength lie in their numbers. Every time one died it seemed another was around to cause more havoc. Still, the heroes pressed on.
Getting to the tower was no easy task. The further in they went the thicker the swarm of the demons were. The heroes fought against them with everything they had. Brann let himself shine as he took the lead. Due to the lack of civilians he was able to be less reserved about where his flames went. Sending brilliant waves fire out from his hands he burned everything in his path to a crisp. Those that dodged the streams of fire tried flying around him to flank him but were met with the blades of the other heroes. They soon were joined up with the King's knights and the prince who was now sitting atop a white horse and dressed in a royal suit of armor with a shield and lance to defend himself with.
"Hurry men!" He called to them. "Your future queen depends on you."
"Hurrah!" They shouted back and continued to cut their way through.
Brann finally got to the doorway of the tower and succeeded in getting the wooden beams down to block them all inside and thus prevent the demons from following them in. The others took out the strays who were in the large ceremonial hall while Rasmus busied himself covering the windows with curtains. It had little purpose for the windows couldn't squeeze a small child through them and thus those wolf demons would never have gotten in anyway.
The heroes climbed the man stairs of the stone hall and exited at the tower's top. They ran across the long wall and cut down even more of the demonic army opposing them. There seemed to be no end to these creatures and the men were starting to get weary. The knights fought and distracted the beasts while our three main heroes continued to move further on. The prince, lacking his horse indoors, snuck around and under the flying beasts while his men made him a path. He made his way to the front of the group and entered into the last staircase leading to the tallest part of the tower. Brann, noticing the Prince sneak past turned away from the battle and followed. The other two heroes were quick to do the same.
The prince would barge through the tower door and stop dead in his tracks. A look of absolute terror showed in his face. Brann and the others came up behind him s moment later and they too seemed genuinely worried and what they saw. Standing in the center of the round tower lookout was a demon unlike the others they'd seen today. It had their back turned to them, so all they could see were its terrifyingly large wings. They were red in color but resembled flames as if they were born in Hell itself. The rest of the creature was just as monstrous: red scales, sharp claws on the hands and pointed talons for feet, and lastly two angled horns sprouting from the beast's head.
It was then that the prince got a wave of courage for her saw his lover cowering before the beast. He raised his lance and charged toward the Hell demon shouting with a triumphant yell as he did. The thing, whatever it was, turned its head to see what this nuisance was. Then, like a flash, its whole body spun and struck out at the prince. The wings would break apart the lance while one of its claws tore open the prince's chest plate. His body flew backwards and crashed into the wall where a pool of blood would begin to appear under his unconscious body.
Brann's face furled in anger as he looked upon the demon. Now that they could see the front they saw that it was unmistakably female in gender due to a slight roundness in the chest. The cheekbones also were thinner and more rounded out than a male's. At first she seemed angry, like all demons one might imagine them to look like, but as she locked eyes with Brann a certain confused look came upon her face. She raised her clawed hand and spout at him in some language none of them could understand.
Brann would not take any chances. If this was some sort of spell, he'd end it quick. With a quick punch he lunged forward and threw a stream of fire at the beast. She curled inwards, her wings blocking her, as the fire over took her. The other two quickly took the cue and ran into battle. Rasmus, being the more empathetic of the group, ran to the left to where the prince had fallen. He was met with the princess who was quickly inspecting his wound. Despite the fact he lie dying, she didn't seem all too phased by it.
Balazar was the one who would take point. He ran at the demon with his sword drawn and swung at the mass of fire. The blade struck one of the wings but she moved just in time to evade. Instead, his sword struck her shoulder where thick scales prevented any harm. She growled at him and struck at his side where a piece of his metal armor ripped clean off. For a moment, the woman swore she saw blue scales under the armor before the cloak he was wearing covered it up. The female continued with her spin and struck Balazar with her massive wings which bashed him in the back causing him to fall forward. She then kicked with one of her talons and tossed his body at where the prince was. Rasmus pushed the princess out of the way just in time before Balazar's massive body crashed into them both.
Brann quickly came to the rescue as he jumped in from the side of the female and kicked at her legs. Another wave of fire flew with his leg causing the woman to block with her claw. The fire rolled off her as easily as it did Brann. He followed with another kick and then a punch, each one exploding and covering them with fire. Suddenly her clawed hand reached out and grabbed him by the throat; the fire dissipated around them like it was sucked out of a lantern. Brann kicked his feet as he was lifted off the ground; his hands pried at the monstrous claws trying to free his windpipe.
The woman snarled and spoke to him in her demonic language. Brann could not let out any retort. He looked down into her bright yellow eyes while he fought to stay conscious. His eyes started to droop as the air failed him in his lungs. That's when he saw it. Around her neck, just above a bright red amulet she wore on a necklace, was a soft tender strip of flesh bot covered by scales. Brann lowered his arms, feigning defeat, and grabbed a simple hunting knife he kept in his boot. He drew the knife and slashed at the female's neck.
The demon screamed as she dropped Brann and reached for her neck. But there was no blood that came from her neck. Due to his lack of oxygen, he had missed the flesh of her neck and accidentally struck the amulet. A small scar ran across the gem as it cracked and produced beams of red light from the opening. The demon stumbled back and tried to hold the amulet together. She shrieked in her language and pointed to Brann. The light got brighter and it began to overtake the woman. The light was blinding as all the characters covered their eyes and looked away. The light reached out in a dome shaped bubble until it encompassed the entire tower and then vanished back into itself. Not a soul stood to be seen...
The heroes wake up in a most unlikely place. The first thing they notice is the heat. The cool forest air is now a painstakingly dry heat that bears down on them. There are no clouds in the sky to shade them and no trees of buildings of any sort to shelter them. Rasmus is first to wake up and discover their new surroundings. He quickly searches through his pockets, disposing of several gag tricks toys in the process, until he finds a flask and drains it over his head. His makeup starts to smear which he realizes as soon as he's done patting down his face with his sleeve. He gasps loudly and hurriedly reapplies it while the other heroes are waking up.
"Where are we?" Brann would ask as he brushes off the sand from his torso. He doesn't seem the least bit deterred by the heat.
"Some blazing desert by the look of it," replies Rasmus. "Not a lick of life anywhere."
Brann looks around and sees the other two heroes just a bit away from them. The knight is currently getting up onto his knees but the princess does not seem to yet have woken up. He goes over to her and tries to wake her up. Upon doing so she suddenly jolts awake and goes to slap Brann like he were some attacker trying to take advantage of her slumbering form. As if he were almost expecting it he grabs her wrist before she can make contact. The two freeze for a moment, neither one making a move. Brann's eyes look to her hand, but more precisely, in the way she had extended her fingers so her nails would dig at him. It reminded him of some feral cat angrily clawing at a predator.
"Calm down, Princess. The danger is gone."
"Release me!" she shouts angrily while tugging at her arm.
He does as she asks, letting her go. He then stands up and starts walking back to the group as if nothing had just happened. Nonchalantly, he shoves his hands into his pockets. Rose waits for him to move away before sitting up and rubbing her wrist where he'd grabbed her. A part of her feels guilt for lashing out, but then she reminds herself that he was the one who startled her and he had no one to blame but himself.
Despite knowing the man was probably unharmed, Brann now goes over to the knight to see if he is wounded regardless. With all the armor over him it'd be hard for anyone to tell if there'd been any damage. Still, Brann was feeling charitable. He stands over the cloaked man for a moment as he now gets to his feet. Brann's body becomes enveloped by the knight's shadow as he now looms over him instead. The two stare at one another saying nothing. Then without another thought Brann turns away.
"We need to find shelter," he speaks aloud to the others. "There doesn't seem to be anything discerning in any direction. Splitting up will only cause more trouble. We'll have to make a choice and stick to it. We won't last long in this heat. Not without water." His eyes travel to Rasmus who squandered what little water they all had for his own benefit and the clown shakes his shoulders in apology.
"The scary dragon man is right," Rasmus remarks with a charming smile. "We need to get out of the sun."
The princess crosses her arms and pouts. Something in her jaw sets as she willfully stops herself from saying something. But even she can't deny that being out in the heat will lead to no good. Looking down at herself she starts running their situation in her head and the thought of walking around in the poufy and heavy dress she was in was going to be quite a burden. Rose looks up at the sun and then eyes each of the men one by one. Rasmus had a coat he could offer her, but the sight of it looked like it would likely smell something awful. Brann was half naked so he couldn't do much but carry her –which she did consider to be a blessing if she didn't think him to be some sort of deviant.
Then her eyes trailed to Balazar. He in that heavy cloak and armor was surely drowning of sweat. Rose stands up and holds her hand out expectantly. "You there. Sir Knight. Remove your cloak so that I might use it for shade."
Balazar turns to her in surprise and then holds up his hand defensively. Taking a step back he tells her that he doesn't believe it to be a good idea and insists that he keep what he has on his person. The three of them hear that his voice is deep and slightly distorted under the helmet. It almost doesn't seem human.
"You'd let your princess get heat stroke over whatever ailment you have? Nonsense! Take it off this instant."
The other two look at the princess and then to Balazar questionably. It didn't seem wise to argue with a noble, but less one who clearly had a temper. But they couldn't lie they each had their own concerns why he was wearing such bulky armor and hadn't even bothered to strip any of it down. Perhaps it had some sentimentality to him, but one could still carry his helmet could they not? Why not even chose to remove that?
Hesitantly Balazar reaches up and slowly pulls away his helmet. There is a collective gasp from the lot of them as they see Balazar for who he really is. His skin was of a cobalt blue color and his eyes red like flame. His face or more specifically his skull was more prominently of a reptilian shape which was distinguished by his snout-like nose and abundant lack of his ears. Two small horns bulged from his head and a trail of scales moved down the back of his head like spikes going down his neck before disappearing into the armor.
In fear Rose backs up and falls over her feet onto her butt, "A dragon!"
Calmly, as if he'd explained this hundreds of times over he replies, "I am not a dragon."
"But you're blue!" Rasmus points out while pointing his finger observantly at the man.
Balazar would look at Rasmus and give him what could only be compared as a look of disappointment, "Yes my scales are blue, just like yours are white. And the princess' like tan. And the one with the strange markings on his."
Brann looks down only for a moment as his tattoos, noticing the others are all staring at his too, then replies, "So if you're not a dragon, then what are you?"
"In your tongue, you'd call me a Leviathan."
Tossing the helmet aside Balazar then begins to unfasten his cloak. He offers it to Rose, but she doesn't bother standing up to grab for it. Rasmus instead takes it from him and for a moment holds it over his head, comparing the massive size difference between them both. As he fools around with the cloak, Balazar then goes to removing the armor piece by piece. The iron plates clash with one another as he drops them carelessly. Clearly they mean nothing more to him than a way of disguising his nature.
As his frame becomes revealed to them they all cannot help but stare at him. His chest is consistent with the scales from his neck and back though the pectoral plates are the largest of them all in compared to size and width. His shoulders would then be the next thickest of the bunch and they consistently grow smaller as they travel down the arms until they are so tiny they blend into the skin itself. The inner arms and hands seem so smooth despite they know the texture would be dry and rough, much like a snake or iguana hide would be. His nails though possess a gleaming sharpness to them that likely rival that of the scales if they aren't harder even. The pointed talons were clearly capable of digging into flesh.
Seeing them all staring at him like he were a threat Balazar tries to explain himself. His people live near mountains usually and build homes and cities in the dense trees that encircle the mountain's base. Their claws are no more used for climbing than they are for hunting and he explains it's actually bad practice to dirty one's own claws. Like any other civilized species they have assortments of tools and appliances they've integrated for their labors. Rarely is there any civil disputes between their own kind, and any sort of bad blood was always handled by a court of their elders. Violence was seemingly unheard of to them.
After his long explanation, or defense of his kind, Rasmus then is the first to make a response, "So if things are so great...why did you come to Norgate dressed as one of their knights?"
Looking troubled, Balazar turns his head and tries to find his words, "My people were attacked. By the kingdom of Norgate."
Rasmus gasps loudly and turns to Rose for some clarification. Brann eyes her suspiciously. But Rose denies the accusation by swiftly turning up her nose and looking away from them all. "Hearsay! My people would never."
A scoff is heard as Balazar clenches his fist, "Of course someone of royalty would deny it. I was there. They came into our woods and tried to enslave us. Their methods were brutal. Cruel. Sharp iron clamps they threw on the woman. Nets for the children. The men who fought back with met with cold steal blades. My people were not warriors. We were peaceful. Unprepared for war. We did our best to save our kin, but so many were lost."
"But not you?" Brann interjects.
"I survived. By hiding as their own. I was there when the King was stabbed." He stopped for a moment, ready to say something else.
Rasmus spoke up before he could continue, "Wait I thought the king died of old age? Died of natural causes in his sleep?"
Again the group looked to Rose who sighed and got to her feet. She patted away the sand and then crossed her arms angrily, "That's what we told the people. We told the kingdom he'd gone on a hunting trip where he got sick from the elements. In truth, yes. He came back injured. The healers could do nothing for him by the time he returned. They never said what happened. But...I heard the mages talking. He died from a blade."
Rasmus seemed confused, "If the king was dead then why did you come back here? Didn't you already get your revenge?"
Brann smirked as he figured it out, "He wasn't coming for the king." His eyes trailed back to Rose and her eyes widened at the realization. She quickly moved a few more feet away from Balazar.
Holding his hand out Rasmus argued further, "But you were there fighting with us. You helped us fight alongside the prince. Why not just kill him then? Why protect him?"
"I wasn't there to save him. Those monsters came and attacked innocent bystanders. While I have no love for what you humans did, my honor forbids me from letting evil go unpunished. Only those who have wrongfully sinned will find the end of my blade. I owe it to all of those fallen."
Rose now moved behind Brann and Rasmus for fear of what Balazar would do. Brann pulled his hands from his pockets and crossed his arms threateningly. If Balazar was going to do something, he'd have to fight Brann first.
"Relax, your majesty," Balazar said now in a completely different and calm tone. "It was your king who attacked us. Not you. Besides, I gain no pride in attacking a woman."
Rose was about to make a rather loud retort to that when Brann held up his hand to diffuse her. "So if we're all in agreement, no one's going to try to kill anyone today? No? Then I suggest we get back to the matter at hand, getting out of this desert."
"I've got a compass," Rasmus would offer while he began to search through his many pockets.
Brann shook his head, "A campus is worthless without a map. Going north won't do us any good if the nearest town is in the exact opposite direction."
"Oh," Rasmus pouted dejectedly.
Raising her hand Rose would point to the sky to their East, "We need to go that way." She waited a second before explaining her reasoning. "The sky is lighter that way. It's where the water will be. We head toward water and we'll find civilization."
"Is that true?" Rasmus would ask as he stared really hard in the direction she had pointed.
A loud ripping sound then made the rest of them jump as Rose began to shred the bottom of her dress as well as the sleeves. They watched her rather afraid to ask what she was doing. She said nothing in response to his question or the obvious one they all wanted to ask. Taking Balazar's cloak from Rasmus and holding it over her head Rose stepped over the pile of discarded fabric and began marching on. The others watched her for a moment before passing glances to one another.
"Good enough for me," Brann said and followed along after her.
The desert was merciless. Even though it was past noon, the sun was still just as unbearable. With not a cloud in sight the four heroes knew their troubles would not end until nightfall. And that's if no other dangers presented themselves. They still had to find a source of water or they might not make another day's worth of travel. Even Brann who at first didn't seem unbothered by the heat could not overcome the need of thirst and was starting to look slightly pale from overexertion.
Rasmus had taken off his coat some time ago and was carrying it in his arms, but the heavy weight of it made walking more difficult than it would have been shouldering it. If not for the heat he likely would have pushed through. Rose was feeling just the same as she kept adjusting Balazar's stolen cloak over her shoulders and her head. Countless times she found herself weighing the cost of dropping it and leaving it behind, but she didn't like the thought of the sun beaming down on her skin any more than it already had.
Balazar was the only one who still had some pep in his step. Now that he wasn't burdened by the weight of all that armor he felt more alive. It was true he was more at home in the shade and tree line, but his reptilian body was in the perfect climate to survive an environment such as this. The only thing he had to really carry was a long broadsword on his back and the few purses and pouches on his belt. Aside from Rasmus, he was the only other one to have brought a water skin with them. Sadly the contents had been empty prior to him journeying into town. He never thought he'd have to worry about finding such a thing while traveling inside the kingdom.
It was nearing nightfall when their spirits were finally lifted, and not because of the sun's progression downward. As the sky darkened a small patch of the horizon was notably lit up, indicating only one thing: civilization. With purpose they began to walk faster towards the unknown spectacle. After another hour or so a large city began to form in the distance. It was hard to make out at first, for the shape of it was unlike anything the group had ever seen. Rasmus even made a comment about how it looked more like a mountain than a city, but they couldn't deny the light shining off of it. Unless the mountain was on fire -which it wasn't- mountains just didn't glow like that.
As they got closer they realized why their eyes had been playing tricks on them. The city itself was built inside a massive wall that surrounded the entire land. It had to be as large as two or three castles stacked on top of one another. It was unheard of to thick of such a thing. How had they managed to bring up something so grand scale as this without it tumbling over? And then, even more perplexing, pillars of varying sizes made up what they could see over the walls. Compared to the wall, they were four or five times as high as the wall itself. It was mind blowing. Each monument seemed like it touched the very sky and went all the way up to the heavens.
Finally the heroes found their way to the wall's base where they noted a section of it had been carved open forming a gateway. They were fortunate to have come at the city from the angle they had for there were only three ways into the city. The other two were full across the entire length of the town on the other side. They would have had to walk that entire length just to get inside.
As they came up toward the perceived entrance the answer as to the making of the wall also became clear. Metal. The massive structure was made of some form of steel which is why it could remain rigid and standing. Yet, not one of them could comprehend the method used in making the wall in the way that they had. Rasmus had read in books of forges so great and tall as to make armor for a dragon. But the size of those forges seemed incomprehensible compared to what it must have taken to build a wall like this.
And behind the opening they could see in the gateway they saw the truth of the pillars. They were buildings. They were made of steel and glass and the light reflected off of them. None of them were blacksmiths, but surely this construct must have been made by magic. There was simply no other way for something like that to exist in the natural world.
There was one other thing about this strange land that the heroes noticed right away, and this particular discovery was not one they wanted to know the reasoning for. That was the smell. The place wreaked something foul. It was worse than sweat, worse than rotten fruit or meat. Something was dying in this town and no amount of cleanliness was likely to get rid of it. It made each of the four heroes want to gag whenever the wind picked up.
There were no guards patrolling the entranceway as the four travelers moved into the town. Probably because they didn't expect anyone to come wandering out of the wilderness, or they didn't believe anyone would chose to leave in that direction either. Though there were no guards, there were plenty of people nearby. What was most surprising about the masses was how many different species there were. Orcs and goblins were freely walking about in the street! Back in Norgate they both would have been beheaded at the very sight. That, and the two races hardly were ever seen together. While both liked to live underground, Goblins didn't usually stray far from their nests. Orcs on the other hand made their nests were their prey was. Once the hunting ground was used up, they'd travel to another.
But it wasn't just the foul-bred species moving about as if it was some common occurrence, there were plenty of Dwarves, the occasional Elf, even a few lizard folk –though none of them seemed to share the daunting size and stature as Balazar did. What was most rare between them all were the humans. At least, pure ones. Any time the group thought they saw one of their kind they'd see a tail of some sort, or a stray pointed-ear peeking out from behind a hairline. Dogs, cats, monkeys. It was hard to tell where their bloodlines came from, but it was near impossible to pick out a human that was solely human. Naturally, the four heroes all felt a little out of place.
Moving their way further into the city they found even more peculiar things about the city. The first was the roads. They were made of stone and layered like brick in the streets all the way to the buildings. Some were small and organized, placed down almost decoratively; and others were larger and seemed to spread out in slabs. There were no horses anywhere, which kept Brann thinking how did people get anything moved from place to place?
It was then that Rasmus noticed something even stranger. He'd been looking ahead of them trying to see where they might be heading toward when he noticed a young boy moving between two of the larger buildings. He had ragged clothing, indicating he was clearly poor if not homeless. But he was the first Rasmus had seen that didn't look like the clothing wasn't new. This was the first thing he'd taken notice of when they entered the town. How a person dressed told a lot about the person. For example, if he chose to wear the prim and proper clothes his parents would have wanted him to wear he could easily be recognized as a prince just as Rose did in her gown. That is before she'd torn it to ribbons. Instead, he chose a different entire for his little gimmick and no one second guessed a man in a tattered cloak to be worth much monetarily.
As Rasmus watched the boy he saw him suddenly look around like he was searching for someone. Or more specifically, to make sure no one was watching him. That's when their eyes met. Rasmus couldn't believe his eyes he had to do a double-take. Had he not been looking directly at the child he never would have believed it, but the boy's face was that of a mouse. It was clear some hybrid species, but Rasmus had never heard of Ratfolk. Before he could get a closer look the boy's face turned to panic and he rushed out of sight. Rasmus curiously broke off from the group and hurriedly walked into the alleyway, but the boy was nowhere to be found.
"Everything ok?" Brann called over to him.
Turning back around with a purse in his lips he nodded, "Sorry. Thought I saw someone."
"Someone you know?" he asked back in disbelief.
"No just.....a trick of the eyes."
While he didn't really understand whatever Rasmus had meant, Brann shrugged it off and kept walking as Rasmus fell back into step. Rose gave him and passing look then went back to inspecting the town. She'd tugged the cloak tightly to her to hide her ripped dress and the simple fact that she were a woman in a town she didn't know. It didn't help that from her perspective everyone she saw looked male. It wasn't exactly easy to tell the difference in other races. One might think that could be said for Orcs, or Goblins, or Gnomes, but the same truth could be said of Dwarves and Elves alike.
The sad truth was it was actually really hard to tell a person apart when they all wore cloaks and armor. And even when they weren't, she couldn't tell if those in dresses around her were woman either for the men looked just the same. Elves didn't exactly grow beards, so that method was out the window and when it came to Dwarves both genders had beards. One might be able to identify a woman by the size and shape of her chest, but what about the men who were more gluttonous? Or the woman who weren't quite as filled out? Rose was lost in a town she did not understand in the slightest and every question seemed to have more questions built into it.
Brann was probably the only who didn't really seem bothered by where they were. He'd been to several towns and kingdoms in his travels with the circus. Every town had its perks and every town had a fault. He couldn't really come to blame any certain person for living the way they did. Which probably stemmed from Brann's own mindset which was that of only care for oneself. So as he went back to heading wherever they were going his mind started to turn on him. How had he gotten himself into this situation? He stuck his neck out for someone else and now look where it got him. What possessed him to stand up and fight alongside the prince? If he'd just minded his own business he'd still be back in Norgate. He'd likely be back in his own bed right now with a stein of ale on his bedside.
His thoughts were interrupted by Rasmus who apparently wanted to share whatever was on his mind after all. "Did any of you guys see that kid?"
"What kid?" both Brann and Rose asked at the same time.
"There was a young boy in really dirty clothing. He looked almost as if he were half-rat."
"Half rat?" Rose asked in a confused tone. "You mean like a hybrid species?"
"Well, yeah. I mean I think so. I've never met any human-animal crossbreed. But those kinds are everywhere. Just look around. I've never seen so many. It's a little freaky."
Rose then stopped abruptly and put her hands on her hips, "Oh so you don't like cross-species? Is that what you're saying? Think you're better than everyone else? Are you one of those Purists?"
Rasmus backed up as Rose got in his face and he waved his hands in front of him apologetically, "No! Nothing like that! I'm just not used to it is all."
"Well get used to it!" she screamed at him before turning around front and shoving past Brann and Balazar both.
The three traded glances one more time and then noticed some of the folk around them had stopped what they were doing to watch whatever had just happened. Rasmus smiled awkwardly while Brann just kind of scowled. He shrugged it off and started after Rose.
Rasmus just looked at Balazar with an honest and sad face, "What did I do?" But he shrugged to and followed after without an explanation.
The group travelled further into town past the marketplaces and shops that were now starting to close up for the night. They all wanted to stop at one or two for their own personal reasons, but Rose seemed determined to find whatever it was she was looking for before stopping for leisurely wares. They didn't bother asking her what it was she was hoping to find, they just waited as she came to each corner street and weighted the turns in her mind. Gears were certainly turning in her head, but the boys were clocked out for the night.
Finally everything came into place as Rose brought them all to a small looking inn. The doors were small and the building was not but three floors. It was clearly meant for smaller races and from how far off they'd come from the busy streets she imagined it wouldn't get much business and therefore be slightly cheaper than staying in the fancier ones.
"It'll be five silver pieces a room, and his kind aint welcome."
The four heroes all looked at the innkeeper in confusion before turning to see Balazar bending over to get through the door. It was apparently common for smaller places like these to discriminate toward other races, likely just to provide some sort of peace of mind for the patrons. But the problem that daunted over them more was the matter of payment. Brann had only but the clothes on his back, which was more a figure of speech due to the fact he never wore a shirt. Rose too only had whatever had been on her person at the time of her abduction. She had been used to keeping all of her things in her room at the castle. That and everything she ever needed was handed to her by numerous servants and maids. Rasmus it seemed would be the one to come up with their needs and he started to search his pockets for his coin purse only to pull out several uninflated balloons, a rubber chicken of all things, and a set of dice that weren't even six sided.
Before he could find what he was looking for Balazar reached over their shoulders and dropped several shiny gems onto the counter top. "We'll take the floor. I trust that'll be enough."
The other three heroes all looked at Balazar in surprise as the innkeeper picked up the gem and inspected it. To him, they were easily more than enough. He'd over-payed. But he wasn't about to go making change for the fact. While currency exchange wasn't exactly a measured agreement, the man knew he could get a large some of goods the next time he needed to stock up. He quickly scooped them into his hand and dropped them into his pocket out of sight then fumbled for the keys to the top most floor.
"Welcome to the Rabbit Hole, Misters and Miss."
Rose said nothing as she grabbed the keys and started toward the outside where they could get to the upper levels. Brann followed, accompanied by Rasmus next. Balazar waited for the others to move around him before looked at the innkeeper once more. The man did not seem happy to have invited such a fierce looking man into his home, but the money was just too good.
As they made their way upstairs Ramus would then ask, "So what's the plan?"
"About what?" came Brann's reply.
"Well, we're in a strange city, we have no idea where we are, so what's the plan?"
Rose would snap at the both of them, "I'm going to bed. That's the plan."
"Bed?" Rasmus asked in shock. "But we just got here?"
"We've been walking for hours. I'm tired and covered in sand. I'm going to bed."
Rose found the first room from the top of the stairs and unlocked it with one of the keys. She then dropped the others outside her door and slammed her own door shut before locking it from the inside. Rasmus picked them up then looked to Brann hoping to talk her out of it, but he only shrugged and went to the next door down. Rasmus found his key for him and then handed the other to Balazar. They ended up going to the other's room and awkwardly switched in the cramped hall then shut the doors for the night.
Even though Rasmus was sad to end the night with so many questions unanswered, he was excited to see his new room. The first thing he did was jump on the not-so-comfy bed and laugh quietly. The bed was terrible. It was firm in some spots and crooked in others. It was perfect! He then got up and ran about the room opening up all the dresser wardrobe drawers to see what was inside. Then he ventured to the window and opened that too. Once he was content with how awful the hospitality was –which he embraced as a sign of humility of sorts- he began the nightly ritual of removing all of his makeup and washing up before bed.
Meanwhile, Balazar entered into his room and went straight to the bed. He tossed off his sword and belt and set them gently against the wall. Lying down on top of the bed, which didn't even remotely come close to supporting his size, he fell right to sleep. Rose, likewise, also headed straight for her bed after first removing the awful dress. She hated wearing that thing; she was glad to be finally rid of it. After taking off her wrings, bracelets, and earrings, she unclasped her necklace and set it gently on the dresser by her bed. She didn't bother lighting one of the oil lamps offered on the table. There was enough light coming off from the window to not see where she was walking. It was make sleep a little hard to come by, but her body was tired enough to push past it. Rose was so ready for this day to be over.
The only one who wasn't ready for bed it seemed was Brann. Although he'd entered his room, he didn't stay for more than a minute as he waited for the others to get settled in their own. He then turned right around and walked back down the stairs to the bright city in the night. He didn't even bother writing a note or informing the others where he was going. They didn't need to know, and he didn't want them to know. More than anything he needed a drink. Something strong enough to take some of the stress off his back. So much had happened today. His mind had a lot to process.
One good thing about being in a grungy-looking city was that Brann didn't have to look very far to find a tavern. That being said, he didn't want to be anywhere near the inn where his friends –if they had the slightest bit of an inclination to go and try- could come and look for him. So Brann returned to the streets choosing a different path than the one they'd taken when coming into the city. He wanted to see what all was open and what his options were. The night crowd was just as busy as the day crowd, though less noisy. The venders and patrons weren't shouting back and forth discussing wares making the night scene much more appealing to Brann.
But those that did come out to sell what they had were much more inviting. They were much friendlier than their daylight counterparts which pleased Brann greatly. He could take with them for hours. He must have walked past three or four establishments all advertising a good time just on one stretch of the street block. But Brann wasn't after any companionship, so he ignored their pleas tonight. Perhaps the following evening his mood would be more charitable.
After a few more streets he found a tavern that didn't have a flock of women standing around the doors trying to invite men in. He strode through the double doors that swung open on either end and moved to sit at the bar top. The place didn't have anything special about it, which suited Brann perfectly because he wasn't looking for flare. Tonight was about quiet and peace of mind.
While he waited for the bartender to notice him, he took a quick glance around the room. To his left were two older gentlemen each conversing about their day and lives while smoking from their pipes. In the center of the tavern was a group of Dwarves all drinking ale and being their naturally rowdy selves. As one might expect in this quiet non-distinguishable establishment there was someone far off in the back corner hiding his or her appearance with a long cloak they'd pulled over their head. Brann smirked to himself at the sight. So typical, it was almost cliché.
The other thing that Brann noticed was there wasn't a girl to be found. That was until the kitchen door swung open and the bar's waitress came out with a tray of food for the Dwarves. At least she worked here. He didn't have to worry about her trying to flirt him up for better coin. Still, his eyes couldn't stop from wandering and he watched her pass by him on her way to the party in the center. His view looked her up and down until he noticed a single rat-tail poking out from the bottom of her skirt. Was she one of the rat-people that Rasmus had seen? She looked human enough, save for the tail. Even still, he didn't feel the need to continue investigating her.
"What are you having, sweetie?"
Brann turned around to see the bartender who'd addressed him. Instantly his heart stopped and skipped a beat. The woman was gorgeous. He had been so distracted by the waitress he hadn't even noticed that this new person had come up from behind him. Her face which was speckled with freckles seemed so gentle and shy hiding behind locks of ginger hair. Her skin was pale and smooth, not like the other humans he'd seen today who seemed to be far more tan and dark.
Like the other waitress, she wore a modest dress with an apron over the front, but even through it he could tell she was well-endowed. Brann appreciated her modesty, unlike all those other girls he'd seen today who pushed their chests up with tight corsets and lined their shoulders with feathers. They looked like exotic birds, trying to use flare to bring in their prey. But not this woman. She was different. She seemed so innocent. His mind curiously –almost desperately- wanted to know if she too might have a hidden tail under her skirts, but he couldn't bother trying to see what with the bar top between them.
"What have you got?" Brann would ask as his eyes helplessly trailed across what he could see of the woman before him.
The girl awkwardly fidgeted behind the bar by tapping her fingers on one of empty glasses in front of her. She seemed uncomfortable being there. "Well ale's typically our biggest seller."
"I'm looking for something a little stronger."
She would pull out a bottle of aged whiskey and set it atop of the wooden counter, "How's this?"
"Make it a double," he would say as he smiled at her.
Brann crossed his arms on the table and he watched her eyes look down at his forearms, lingering there for a moment before looking back at the glass to pour him his drink. She slid it over to him and he'd take a small swig of it before setting it back down. His eyes continued to stare at hers while her own curiosity continued to take in the sight of his tattoos.
"You like them?"
The woman made a little squeak as she tried to reply, "Yes they're very interesting. Do they mean anything?"
Brann would hold his arms out flat in front of him to show off the other sides of his forearms she hadn't seen yet, "Some of them do. Those I did for religious reasons, you see. The others I guess you could say were more of a hobby. Each one's done by my own hand. Except for the dragon on my back that is."
"You did them yourself?" she asked in shock. "Didn't that hurt?"
"Nah. Pain doesn't really bother me."
The bartender pushed a stray lock of her hair behind her ear, "Wow. I can't imagine doing something like that. I'm such a wimp when it comes to pain."
Brann smirked and took another sip of his glass, "Well I can't promise I'll be gentle."
The girl blushed and then giggled, mostly because she was unsure of how to respond to that sort of statement. She was used to men flirting with her, but not in such a charming way as he was. Perhaps it was his calm personality, or maybe the lingering threat of some danger he presented. But she was hopelessly stricken by him and knew she had to get out of the situation.
"Well I'll be around. Let me know if you need another drink."
"I didn't catch your name," he'd say quickly before she got a chance to walk away.
"Alecia," she'd offer.
"Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Alecia." He gestured with his glass and then offered his own, "The name's Brann."
Alecia would smile and turn away from him to go see to another patron at the bar. Brann couldn't help but notice the red in her cheeks becoming brighter and more vibrant. Then, just to sate his own curiosity, he leaned over the bar since he knew she wasn't watching and confirmed there was no trace of any tail, rat or otherwise. With a soft chuckle he sat back down and finished his glass. Something about this girl called to him and he wanted to keep playing whatever game this was. Brann slid the empty glass forward as noisily as he could and Alecia looked back for a second. She offered him a pleasant smile, but didn't come back to refill it just yet.
He watched her leave the bar and go check on a few tables, trying her best to avoid looking back at Brann as much as she could. She seemed to linger at each table longer than she needed as if willing one of them to ask something of her. In the end she ended up only refilling two mugs of ale and was back at the bar with Brann before she knew it. She filled his glass up again and pushed it back to him. His hand reached for it as she did so, and she quickly pulled back before their fingers touched. She would deny that what she did was intentional, but to Brann their cat and mouse game was moving along splendidly.
The night went on like this for quite some time. Brann continued to flirt with Alecia and she did her best to not give him anything more than she could help. In her mind she prayed the man was harmless, but she couldn't stop herself from being drawn in. His charm was like a thick fog and she was lost in it. Every time she escaped she found she was dragged right back in until it was just the two of them talking among the quiet tavern. Other patrons came and went. The shady-looking rogue in the back ended up falling asleep at one point and quickly left his seat (and subsequently the bar) as soon as he'd realized he'd nodded off.
It was nearing the morning when it was in fact just the two of them left. Brann had taken down several drinks and knew that he had no coin to actually pay for them. He was pretty sure he could get the tab removed by how things were going with Alecia, but if he couldn't solidify his flirtatious games he'd be in some rather uncomfortable trouble. Not that it looked like anyone would come around to try and hold him to his debt. And he was so sure of himself that he could overpower the girl anyways if she tried to do anything about it herself. Not that he'd want their new relationship to head that direction. Getting her on his good side was what he'd spent all night trying to accomplish. He didn't want to strike out now by admitting he had never planned on paying for his drinks in the first place.
As Alecia began to clean up she disappeared into the kitchen a few times. Brann took this chance to do a little digging. Once he was sure Alecia wouldn't return in a timely manner he reached over the counter top and lifted a small jar he'd seen the girls drop tips into. He didn't want to take too much, but he also couldn't afford to not take enough either. Brann shoved what he could fit into his hand into his pocket and sat back down like nothing had happened. When she Alecia finally came back around he was making a full display of counting out the coins he'd looted as if sorting his payment.
"Is there anything else I can get you, sweetie? We're about to close up."
Alecia leaned over against the bar and pulled away his empty glass. Her eyes looked at the small pile of coins and noted he was being a little too generous for what he owed. Still, she wasn't going to stop him. She needed the money.
"Actually," he said as he pushed the assortment of silver and bronze coins in her direction, "I'd like to get you something instead. Can I escort you home?"
Now Alecia's face couldn't decide what it wanted to do. Part of her flesh seemed to blush from the sudden rush of heat, but her expression was like she'd seen a ghost. This was exactly what she didn't want to happen, even though her mind was ecstatic at the option. Brann watched her eyes drift to the kitchen to the other girl she'd been working with all night. He couldn't see what the other girl was mouthing to Alecia, but he was sure it wasn't the first time they'd talked about whatever it was.
He waited for her attention to turn back to him and he'd carefully ask, "Unless you've got someone else walking you home?"
Her answer came quick and she fumbled over her words, "No! I mean, yes. No. I'd be happy to have you walk me home. Let me just go get my things."
Alecia swept the coins into her hand and reached under the bar to deposit them into the jar where they'd unfortunately just come from. She smiled at him and headed off into the back as she had before. Brann had half a mind to reach for the jar once more, but didn't feel like pressing his luck. Instead he kept up his gentlemanly act and waited for her by the door. When she returned Brann noticed Alecia had taken off her apron and let down her messy hair. He held the door for her and the breeze from outside ran the scent of her hair by his as she walked on by.
Outside, Alecia and Brann walked side by side away from the tavern and towards the more residential area. The route was unfamiliar to him as they headed down streets he hadn't been through yet, so he made sure to memorize certain landmarks for his trek back. They talked more about the city and Brann made up some story about him traveling through in search of work. He'd told her already about the carnival some point earlier in the night. The best way to lie about things was to tell the truth about others. She didn't really need to know the details of how he got to the city. He wasn't still really sure he'd believe it if he'd said it out loud.
The apartment building which she lived, like several others on the block, had over twenty different floors and each of them had balconies extending from the outside doors. Brann seemed almost in awe by the size of the complex and truth be told he was curious to see what the inside was like.
"So here we are," she said shyly.
"You live here?" he asked with his curiosity ever growing inside him.
"It's nothing special," she would admit. "The rent is awful and the neighbors are loud and rude. Plus, the place is kind of smelly."
Brann would look back at her and ask, "I'd really like to see it."
Alecia gulped and looked at him bashfully, "You-you would?"
"If that's alright with you?" he'd reply with his charming smile.
Alecia looked away as her blush returned to her. She had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen if she brought him up to her place. Her mind was still torn on if she could wanted it or not. The thought of what was to come was daunting, yet she was so excited by the prospect she didn't want to not take the chance. Brann seemed so kind, and so caring. Sure he looked scary with the tattoos, but she couldn't deny the connection she felt to him.
Reaching for her key she unlocked the lobby door and offered, "Follow me then."
The two entered into the complex and passed through the main hall. They passed by a section of the wall which Brann noticed several boxes cut into it each with numerical values etched into the metal plating. He wondered what something like that was used for, but didn't bother asking Alecia for the answer. She then brought him to a larger hole in the wall big enough for roughly four to six people to stand in. Extremely weary of stepping into the metal cage he looked at it with an odd expression while trying to understand its purpose.
"I promise it's safe," Alecia said kindly; she didn't think to assume he'd never been in one, why would she? His hesitancy was obviously linked to the fact the cage didn't seem very secure. "I've never seen this one break down. It's actually one of the newer models not unlike those old and rusty ones in the slums. I heard one of the dropped a whole carriage down once. Though I guess that isn't very reassuring is it? Sorry."
She laughed awkwardly which worked like a charm to Brann because the sound made his heart flutter. Her giggle was so intoxicating. Everything she did just made her seem that much cuter and more appealing to him. He had to have her. Summoning up his courage he stepped into the cage with her and allowed her to lock them inside of it. His mind was less focused on the thought of being imprisoned in this odd contraption and no more so wrapped around the idea that at least she was in there with him.
On the wall near the grate that closed was a large gear with a handle that swiveled like half of a clock. Above the semi-circle gear was a panel with small, horizontal levers which could be flipped left or right. Alecia flipped the toggle of the eight lever up and then pulled the handle of the large gear from one side to the other. The gears began to turn and from above them came sounds of metal cranking upon itself. The cables hoisting the carriage they were in began to lift the entire cage upwards making Brann stumble for a moment before he caught his balance.
"I promise it won't fall," she tried to sound helpful.
Seeing him lose that charming part of himself did the trick for Alecia. He seemed so scared inside but of course due to his male machismo he'd never show it. But she could tell the ride made him nervous and Alecia swooned. Finally she was seeing the real him. There's no way a man like that could be any danger. Any reservations she had were now long gone.
Floor by floor they travelled until the carriage stopped at the eight floor. Alecia pulled the handle back to its resting position and then toggled the switch from their floor to the first. She pulled the grate open allowing them to escape the metal deathtrap (as Brann feared it to be). Alecia let him out first and then shut the gate behind them once they were both back on solid ground. After a second or two of it being closed the gears would all start to turn again and the cables would descend the carriage back to the bottom floor. Carefully, Brann looked over the gap and watched it move. If he hadn't been so scared of falling he might have taken more time to check it out. But there were other, more important, things to attend to.
"What was wicked," Brann said in disbelief.
"Are you sure?" she asked with some slight fear to her words. Now she was worried she'd scared him a little too much. "I told you it was safe, didn't I? You can just take the stairs next time if you'd like."
Brann would quickly reply to save his pride, "I wasn't afraid."
Alecia giggled and began to walk away from the lift and further down the hallway. She stopped halfway down then pulled out a second key to open her own door.
"Promise not to judge me...?" she asked hopefully.
He would smile and nod his head. Alecia opened the door for him and let him pass through so she could shut it behind them and lock the door, bolting it closed with a second toggle. Brann eyed the quaint apartment with fascinated eyes. To all his life he'd never seen something so sophisticated. The room had tiled floor and smooth walls. To his right was a little cooking area that contained a personal fire pit of some sort. He went right up to it and opened the little latch that opened to the inside of it. Much to his surprise, there was no wood inside. Instead were bundles of coal that had not yet turned to ash.
"I've got some matches in the kitchen if you want to get that burning."
"Matches?" he asked, unsure of the word.
"Yeah....matches?" she looked at him with an odd expression. "You know...little sticks you rub together to create fire?"
Brann was more than puzzled, "Is that another word for flint?"
She would laugh at his word and stick her tongue out at him. She thought he was just playing funny, teasing her to get a reaction out of her. "Ha ha. Here in the city we call them matches." She disappeared into the other room for a moment and then tossed him the box. "Here you go flint-boy."
Brann caught the box and opened it up. Sure enough it was a tiny little stick with some hard coating on one end. This was supposed to start a fire? How in the blazes did it work? He thought about touching it, but then if it were magic it might explode. Not a good idea. He looked over to her and found her staring at him expectantly. She was waiting for him to do something. At a total loss he took the match and pointed it at the coal and waved it back and forth like it was a magician's wand.
Alecia burst into laughter. Brann looked back in annoyance but couldn't gather the anger he wanted. She was practically curled over with her arms holding her stomach as she giggled and snorted. Seeing her break like that caused him to chuckle a little himself. She was having the time of her life, but not because she thought he was stupid. To her, he was just fooling around to make her laugh and it had worked. By the time she stopped she had tears in her eyes.
"You are too funny," she said as she rubbed her wet eyes. "I haven't laughed like that in a long time."
Taking the match from him she struck the end against the side of the box igniting the little stick. Brann watched with a new fascination. She'd done that so easily. Rubbing flint and stone together was painstaking work. Or even worse when there was no flint and one had to reply on kindling and rubbing two dry pieces back and forth to get a spark. Though, all of that was a moot point when Brann could literally make fire appear in his hands. But to the laymen man, this was a major discovery!
Alecia set the burning match into the furnace against the coals and they instantly went up in flame. She then dropped the match into the fire and shut the grate. Brann continued watching like this was the greatest thing he'd ever seen in his life. The fire spread so quickly it was like magic. No wood caught fire that way. Whatever was in the coals had to be something special. The same with the coating on the match.
"Come on," Alecia would say. "Let me give you the tour."
Across from the kitchen (the adjacent room from where they were in) was the pantry. Next to that a closet which she only named and did not open. Brann didn't know what a closet was, nor what a pantry was, but he didn't ask her those questions either. This city had some strange language and he really didn't want to sound like a fool. She'd already teased him for calling matches as flint. The room they had been standing in is what she called the living room and had several couches and chairs to sit at. Each was covered in leather which he didn't notice until he walked by one and ran his hand over top of it. He wondered how she'd gotten her hands on such fine leather and how they managed to fold it so perfectly over the double seat. Another mystery left to baffle him.
She would lead him beyond the living room, opposite of the kitchen, down a small hallway. Directly to their left was a bathroom, but it only fit one. He wondered what she meant by that phrase. Fit one? One what? One bath? What the hell was a bath? He assumed it had something to do with bathing, but at this point he had no idea what to expect from her.
Across from the bathroom was her bedroom. He peered inside and was glad to see at least this room looked normal. There was a bed. A room for the bed. Makes sense. She walked in and picked up some stray clothes before throwing them in a small opening against the wall, another "closet". She then sat on the bed and kicked off her shoes before patting the spot next to her.
Not quite ready to accept the invitation he would ask her, "Is this all yours?"
"Well yeah," she said a little more of the shyness coming back to her, "It's just me. No family. Just me."
Brann couldn't quite place the tone behind her words. She seemed almost ashamed by this. Was there something wrong with living alone? Back at the carnival he'd lived alone, though there were plenty of other tents nearby so he was never really alone. Wasn't that the same for her? Didn't several others live on this very floor too? Or did they not share the sense of family and closeness that those back at his home held?
He moved over to the bed and put a hand on her shoulder with a reassuring smile. She looked into his eyes and she into his. For the first time tonight she didn't rush to look away and Brann really got to see the beautiful copper shade behind her eyelashes. They seemed so familiar to him. He dared to think his were a shade like hers. Maybe that's why he was so attracted to her. They both had the same color hair, though with how short he kept his it would have been hard to tell. And for whatever reason his facial hair did not sprout out red, instead being dark and almost black.
There was silence between them, neither daring to speak, or move, or look away. Finally Brann would offer her the kindest words he could, "I don't have any family either."
He wasn't sure what compelled him to say it, but it seemed like she'd to hear just that. She leaned in closely to him and instinctively he too did the same. Their lips found one another and the two embraced each other with such a desire it could light a fire underneath them. Brann's hands came up around her head, running his fingers through her ginger hair. Hers found his back and were exploring the folds and curves of his muscles. They were so strong and firm she couldn't stop touching them.
For the longest time neither of them dared to make another move. The kiss between them was finer than any wine and tasted so strong. Stopping now could ruin everything and neither wanted to stop drinking from the cup they both desired for so long. But it was Brann who took the plunge and began to try and move Alecia as they kissed. His right hand fell away and cupped her back while his left found her butt and he lifted her like she weighed nothing more than a feather. She clung to him not of fear of being dropped but that if she let go he may leave her forever; she couldn't bear to fathom the thought.
He set her on her back in the center of the bed and formed his body over top of her. Her soft body cradled in his arms and the two seemed to mold into one flesh. The only thing stopping them were the clothes between them. But neither of them let that get in their way. Her hands continued to explore whatever they could reach while his retraced her shoulders and neckline as if it were a polished gem. There was no stopping the two of them. They both wanted this. They both needed this. They were each other's perfect drug.
The room became hot, almost as terrible as it had been in the desert. Brann felt like the sun itself: burning with a heat so intense it could melt anything. When he next opened his eyes he noticed something was very wrong. The room had seemingly changed color. Everything was orange. For a moment he thought he was dreaming and he felt as if he had been wrapped up in her autumn hair. Then the realization hit him. The room was on fire.
What a peaceful rest! Rasmus had never felt so refreshed. The sun was just starting to rise when the gentleman clown woke up full of energy. He sprang from bed and quickly went through his morning routine of putting on his face. Once properly dressed and disguised he left the room to explore the town around them. Hardly anyone seemed to be awake at this hour. Those who had stayed up late were heading to their beds and only the early risers such as himself would see the sun coming to greet them.
He felt it best to do a little sightseeing before returning to his compatriots. There wasn't much to see within eyesight of the inn, but that didn't stop Rasmus from taking in it all. Every stone had a story to say, every wall a history, and every door a view into somewhere new. In a million lives he'd barely scratch the surface of trying to see it all for he saw things the way no one else did. His mind raced with hypothetical possibilities as to why each grain of sand had fallen the way it had and landed in that certain spot. To others it was carried by on the breeze. To Rasmus, that single piece of earth could have once ridden in a mare's mane bridled to saddle under a renowned diplomat.
After fantasizing about all the seemingly silly and ridiculous stories in his head he made his way back from the block of streets he'd passed simply by spacing out of where he'd been. He returned to the lobby of the inn and noticed an elderly lady minding the kitchen. Rasmus politely interjected himself into conversation with the woman (who he quickly learned was the wife of the establishment) and used his boyish charm to coax her into letting him finish cooking while she sat and relaxed with her feet propped up on a stool.
Ramus regaled the innkeeper with stories that seemed straight out of a bard's silver tongue. He had a wondrous way of words and the wife felt like she could see the image painted right there in her head. He shared with her the daring escapades he survived when dealing with a powerful and fire breathing dragon, though his story was nothing like that of what had actually happened.
"And that's when I dropped a house on her!" he laughed and slapped his spatula on the countertop.
The wife laughed with a hearty chuckle and clapped her hands with excitement. "Oh such a tale! Dear boy you ought to be out in a theater telling these stories. I'm sure you'd make a killing."
Rasmus smiled at the thought. Show business. Maybe he should ask Brann about joining his circus when they find their way home. The thought entertained him greatly. Looking down at the pans of grilled meat and potatoes he decided the food was ready for plating. He served the innkeeper first and then went to gather his friends. He moved upstairs and started at Rose's door. Lady's first and all that. She barely opened the door for him. Rasmus explained that food was ready and she hesitantly declined. Playing it off like she was not a morning person, she bid him farewell and returned to her bed. Rasmus shrugged it off and was about to knock on Brann's door when instead Balazar's opened up.
"Morning chap! Food's downstairs!"
"Thank you for letting me know," he said and made his way downstairs.
What came next was a terrifying scream as the innkeeper's wife got a firsthand look at their newest tenant. Even though her husband had explained the situation to her the night before, it still came as a fright to see a towering, blue, dragon-like creature descending one's steps. Balazar apologized several times for his appearance but the damage had already been done. He excused himself from the situation and offered to go find his food elsewhere.
While all the commotion was going on downstairs, Rasmus turned his attention to Brann. He rapped on the door but there was no noise. Strange. Even if the scream from downstairs hadn't woken him surely the knocking did. He knocked two more times before finally getting worried that something was amiss.
"Brann? Open up! You in there?"
No answer came. With a huff he would look through his pockets and come out with a wire egg beater. He pulled a strand of the metal cord out and then attempted to pick the lock with the tip of it. The latched clicked open after a few tries and Rasmus made a soft shout of triumph. Throwing the remains of his broken utensil over his shoulder he opened the door and peaked inside.
Brann awoke with a start. Like a wild beast he sprang up from where he was lying and tossed a fireball toward the end of the bed. Rasmus shouted and closed the door swiftly and he felt a rush of hot hair sneak through the gaps in the wood.
"Are you mad!" he yelled to the terrifying fire-starter on the other side of the door. "It's just me!"
Opening the door again he quickly stepped in and started swatting the fire with his coat. Thankfully nothing had really ignited so the battle was quickly won. He then brushed off the soot from his jacket and slung it back over his shoulders. He turned to give Brann a piece of his mind, but the look on Brann's face told him something was wrong. Brann was staring at his hands like he was suddenly seeing them for the first time. Then he jumped with some startling realization and began checking the rest of his body too.
"You...lose something?" Rasmus asked, not really sure what was going on.
"What am I doing here? How did I get here?"
Stepping forward some to try and be gentle about his words, "Brann....did you forget where we are? We're in the city. You know....the one in the middle of the desert?"
"No I know that!" he shouted and pulled back the covers.
Good. He was wearing his pants still. And his boots apparently. Which even Rasmus found to be strange. Brann got up and looked over himself again as if expecting a tail to grow out of his back or some other nonsense. He was covered in dirt and ash, but otherwise he didn't appear to be harmed in any way. Rasmus' jaw was hanging open like he couldn't decide what to do with it.
"What happened to you, mate?"
"A fire." Brann tried to make sense of his words. "There was a fire."
"Weren't no fire here, my good man. Unless you went chimney climbing. Horrible way to make a living, you know. My great uncle Charlie was a chimney sweeper. Let me tell you his beard is as long as my left foot."
Whatever Rasmus was trying to say completely baffled Brann he stood there dumbfounded for a minute before finally finding his reply, "What in Heaven's name are you talking about?"
"My great uncle Charlie. Worked every night sweeping them shafts. Till one night that is the Blarneys felt the need for a midnight roast and cooked him right on his sit's upon."
Brann's head was spinning. He couldn't make any sense of what Rasmus was trying to explain. He shook his head and gestured for the door, "Get out of my room."
"Well sure but don't you want breakfast?"
"Leave!" Brann shouted with more ferocity than he'd meant.
His temper was at its highest and he couldn't stand to look at the man standing in front of him. Rasmus scoffed and turned away, slamming the door shut behind him. Brann groaned and slumped down to the floor where he stood. Running his hands through his hair he tried to remember how he got there. How had he gotten home last night? The last thing he remembered was Alecia.
Alecia! His heart raced and pounded in his chest so hard he grasped at his torso. What happened to her? He tried reliving the events from last night over in his head. He'd left the inn before going to bed. He remembered passing by all the local establishments with the girls in the feathery dresses. Vaguely he remembered sitting in the tavern and drinking. How much had he had? It wasn't like him to get drunk so easily. But maybe someone had slipped something into his drink?
That must be the explanation. Everything else seemed too crazy to believe. His memory told him he went to her place. They made love. Brann never behaved that way. When he wanted to be with a woman he didn't bother trying to ensure both parties were satisfied. He took what he want and that was his business. But then after that....the fire. Had there really been a fire?
Brann looked down at his pants. They looked like they'd been burned. Now, due to his profession, he'd enchanted all of his clothes to resist a flame. But that didn't stop the smell. He reeked of smoke. And not just his clothes, his hair too. The fire had been real, however unlikely it seemed at this moment. There was only one thing he could do: he had to go back to her place and see if a fire really occurred.
Standing up he went to the door but paused before opening it. He couldn't go out looking the way he did. No one needed to know he'd been connected to this mystery fire and that he might have been the cause of it starting. If he were to return to the scene of the crime, metaphorically speaking from his perspective, he'd need to pretend it was the first time seeing it. He didn't need any suspicions going around.
Knowing full well there wouldn't be any clothes left around, he decided to chance it anyway and open up all the drawers in his dresser. Empty. At least he checked. Upon standing up he noted another door in his room he hadn't paid any attention to earlier. Possibly one of those closets he kept hearing about? Opening the door he realized it wasn't a closet at all but a personal bathing room. There was a seat of sorts with water in the bowl; even he could figure out what that was for. There was then a basin grafted into the wall and upon lifting the handle water shot out!
Magic. Incredible thing. He played with the sink several times just watching the water turn on and off and then vanish down the drain in the center. Such a marvel. Back at the carnival they had to keep their water in junks and barrels and then refill them with rainwater. Other towns he went to they could draw from wells, but those always tasted funny to him. The water here was no different, which he discovered he had a distaste for as soon as he braved himself to scoop some into his palms.
The last strange device in the washroom was some sort of tub. It too was grafted into the wall and made of something that felt like marble only not as hard. There were three handles to this tub. He started from the bottom. Although he heard something metal moving when he flipped it, nothing apparent seemed to happen. Strange. The second one up he could tell looked kind of like a plug. It too did nothing when he flipped it. Maybe he should have started from the top?
So that's what he tried. Water sprayed out from the hose, but not the one he was looking at. Brann hadn't noticed there was a second faucet above him in the wall and it splashed the back of his head with cold water. Brann let out a cry of surprise and stumbled backwards onto his ass. He swore several times, and very loudly. Angrily he then snatched a towel off of a rack next to him and dried his hair down.
Brann felt like a total fool. He hated whatever sorcery this was. It made him wish being back in his own tent where he had everything he ever needed and nothing extravagant to tie him down. He didn't need some magic water to clean himself. Brann looked back at the tub and noted it was filling with water. Cold water, but it was rising none the less. He threw off his clothes and stepped into the chilling tub as he summoned up a warm aura around him. It would be enough to heat the water and not freeze off any of his extremities. After pulling over a rag that had been hanging above the towel he bathed himself at his own pace and then stepped back out to dry himself. He wasn't sure how to make the water go away.....but he'd worry about that later.
Once clean he took to washing his clothes in the dirty water. It was all the same really anyway. He gave them a good scrub them hung them to dry (using a mild flame to pass some heat along as he did). Next were his boots which took a little more attention since he couldn't just submerge them without ruining the leather.
After taking much longer than he would have liked Brann finally left his room now feeling refreshed and presentable. He had hoped that by shutting the door he could leave that embarrassing feeling behind him, but he had a feeling that there was only going to be many more things along the way to remind him just how lost he really was in this town.
Some time after breakfast Rose emerged from her bedroom and stomped down the stairs of their inn. She noted Balazar sitting down by a nearby tree sharpening the sword on his back with a whet stone. He looked up at her once then focused on the task at hand so as not to cut himself. He wouldn't notice it, but she'd tailored her dress once again. The ends of the dress she tore off were now hemmed up so they wouldn't fray; she did the same thing with the sleeves to give herself more airflow in the arms.
"Have you eaten yet?" she would ask him.
Balazar nodded and responded, "Aye. Went to the Pig's Head down the street. Had myself some eggs and roasted......I forget the word they called it."
"Pork? Roast? Lamb?"
"Armadiller or something like that."
Rose looked puzzled, "I'm not sure I know what that is."
He shrugged as he continued to run the stone across the blade, "Some sort of desert creature native to this land. It was tender, but not very flavorful. I'll have to cook for you all later. It's commonplace for the men in my tribe to do the cooking."
This seemed to peek her interest, "The men do the cooking? What do all the woman do?"
"What you might expect any female to do: raise the young. They spend time nurturing them and raising them, educating them to hunt and survive. The men are in charge of building the homes, doing repairs, keeping everything clean and functional."
"That's quite a role-reversal," she'd admit.
Balazar stopped what he was doing and gave her a look that meant he either wasn't sure what she said, or wasn't sure what she was implying, "Explain...?"
She just gave him a smile and shrugged her shoulders, "I think it's nice. In our lands, the women tend to the children, but they clean the homes. They are called home makers. They men do our hunting and have jobs and the like."
"But men are better suited for building and tending to the land. This is why our women hunt. It takes only but a skilled hand to fly an arrow to kill. Strength matters very little. It would almost be a waste to send men to do something when their might could be used far more in other places."
"Hey I'm not arguing," she defended herself. "I think it's great." Changing the subject she then blurted out, "I need to go shopping. Will you take me?"
Balazar was deterred for a moment by the sudden change in their conversation. "Shopping? What is this?"
Rose looked down at her dress and gestured her arms over it, "I can't wear this every day. I need new clothes."
"And you need money I assume?"
Rose shook her head and answered with quick determination; she'd already made her mind up. "No I'm going to pawn my jewelry. It's useless to me here. I need something functional until we can figure out how to get home."
"Then why do you need me?" he would prod her further.
"I need an escort. I'm not walking around in a town I don't know by myself. You'll be my bodyguard."
"Can I join?"
Rose turned around and saw Rasmus walking out of the lobby toward them. Balazar set down his stone and inspected his blade with approval. He then stood and sheathed the blade into the leather case over his back.
"If you promise not to be annoying," she'd reply to Rasmus.
"Annoying? Me? Princess, when have I ever been annoying?"
Rose's eyes squinted as she glared at him, "You're dressed like a fool. Why would I not find you annoying?"
In his most formal voice, "The court jester, I'll have you know, is not a fool, but a tool. The king chooses a jester quite carefully as they are all well verses in many forms of delight and scripture alike. I can recite for you all thirty six novels of the Tales of Unending Woe, while doing some exceptional voice work I might add."
Both Rose and Rasmus too seemed unimpressed by this feat. Rasmus pouted and lowered his head, "No one ever appreciates the Woe."
The town was much more lively than when they had come in the night before. And the people seemed in a much better mood too. It was quite the contrast from their night-time counterparts. As it were, not a single Goblin could be seen. More Elves and Dwarves were out, and far more humanoids were seen. Every street was crowded with people coming and going in some direction. Some were walking with purpose, others just walking. Some loitering on the corners asking for money. Rose kept special attention to not look them in the eye.
There was one other key difference in the night life and the early morning day. Dispersed on every corner street stood a tall knight-like figure made out of shining gold. It was larger than Balazar by a good two heads. It's body was made of gears and metal plates similar to that of a clock. Its hands were balled up into fists, giving it the impression of a cannon ball. Over its chest was a round insignia which resembled a family crest of sorts and in the center of the crest was a green gem fastened into the frame.
The three heroes stopped and stared at the towering statue, but Balazar was first to speak, "I don't remember seeing those last night."
Rasmus, being the curious fool that he was, started to reach up to touch the emerald. Rose leaned over and slapped his hand causing him to pull it back and whine.
"What are you doing?"
"I just wanted to see what it was. What's the big deal?"
"We have no idea what these are or what they do. What if someone thought you were stealing that gem? Huh? I don't want to get thrown in prison because you couldn't keep your hands to yourself."
Looking at his hand he pouted and made little faces to her as if his hands were puppets, "I wasn't going to keep it..."
"Look around," she'd say ignoring his childish demeanor. "Not a single person is walking near these things. They're intentionally avoiding them. Why is that?"
Balazar would notice the same thing, "It does seem a bit strange."
They watched from a distance at the nearest drone, besides the one they were at. Across the street it became obvious that anyone who was walking in their path swerved to avoid them as if some magic bubble prevented them from getting close. Others tried as hard as they could to get past faster and sped their pace to do so. It seemed everyone knew something that these three did not.
"It's probably best if we move on before we find out why," Balazar offered.
The group continued down the streets and began exploring the many different shops on their way. As a whole, weapon shops were the most popular. Most of the booths had the same product if you were savvy enough to know the difference. But a few of them specialized in a certain trade which Balazar could appreciate. He liked swords. They look of them, the shape, the size, the difference in the cut. He even commented to the both of them that he'd love one day to have a sword as tall as he was.
Few and far between the weapon shops Rose would find clothing vendors, but nothing seemed to suit her taste. Her dress alone could buy out any of these handmade supplies and she wasn't ok with bartering her only dress for something not up to par. She also needed to find someone who could trade for the jewelry she'd tucked inside her corset and those too were far more valuable than anything anyone here was trying to make a living off of.
Rose had almost given up when she shook her head to the last place on the street they'd chosen. She looked back for her escorts and both of them were still fawning over some stabby thing or another. Rose didn't care in the slightest. She groaned and rolled her eyes and decided to move on without them. She turned the next corner, figuring they'd eventually come looking for her, and tried her luck on another one. In the middle of the alleyway she'd turned into was a small red tent tucked away between a couple of vendors who were selling food. Had she not eaten just a bit before then she would have stopped then to let out some of her frustration. Whatever they were grilling was very tempting to her foul mood.
The tent itself was red in color and spread out on its tables were silk robes and baggy pants, meant for clothing of warmer climates. These particular styles were meant to be loose to catch the wndow and sand so even if the outfit didn't fit just right it would still be exactly what she needed. Gently patting the linens with her hand, she examined the feel of the material. Just as she hoped, she was pleased with just how incredibly soft they were. Picking one up she then spread it across her body to see how it would fit and look on her.
"Red is your color, miss. It flatters you."
Inside the darker corners of the tent stood a woman dressed in the same style as what she was selling. However, Rose noticed instantly she was not human. The woman was covered in brown fur and her face had a feline look to it, complete with fluffy ears, slitted eyes, and pointed whiskers. Rose gasped and dropped the shirt as she took sight of the cat-woman. The lady didn't seem all that surprised at Rose's reaction.
"Forgive me, miss. I didn't mean to frighten you. Please don't take my appearance the wrong way. I assure you my goods are as high of quality as any other store."
"You're a Felis!" Rose remarked in astonishment.
The shop keeper lowered her head slightly and sighed, as if this was something she was ashamed of, "Yes, miss. Forgive me if I've dismissed your desire to shop here."
Rose then realized how her reactions and words were coming off and quickly tried to remedy what was happening, "No no! I'm sorry. This outfit will do fine. I want to buy it. Do you have somewhere I can change?"
The Felis seemed unsure of Rose's kindness, but she would nod and point to behind the curtain, "Yes. Please help yourself, miss."
She led Rose under the curtain separating them from the street. Pointing to the back of the tent there was another hanging cloth that Rose could stand behind if she wished. The shop keep did not follow her, as she wanted to keep her eyes close to the front of the tent. It was dangerous to keep one's things unguarded in this city. Glancing back at Rose she watched her set down the jewelry (save for the necklace around her neck). The woman eyed the jewels heavily and pondered the value of them. So as not to stare however, she looked back at her wares for another moment before turning her attention back to Rose and then suddenly gasping loudly.
Rose nearly jumped out of her skin, "What! What?!"
On Rose's lower back was the mentioned tattoo that had caused so much alarm in the Felis woman. It was a beautiful design, shaped like two parallel vines interwoven over an open cat eye. It wasn't too large to be noticed and in a place that would never been seen under her clothes. It was rather frowned upon for woman to have any sort of body disfigurement. A tattoo was strictly taboo. But in this case, marked Rose for something the Felis had never thought she'd ever see.
"My lady!" the Felis said aloud and bowed down to Rose. Showing her true commitment, she lowered herself all the way down to her knees and then flattened her torso to the ground and outstretched her arms above her head.
Alarmed, Rose moved over to her and tried to get her to stand back up, "Hush! Hush! Don't bow to me!"
The woman seemed confused, "But, my lady? You're of royal blood." And then she gasped again. "And your dress! Quickly. We must hide you."
The shop keeper turned around and quickly ran to the outside of her tent. She began unbinding the strings of the tent to a flap would cover them inside and she didn't have to worry about anyone bothering them. Once done, she began pulling out various outfits and tossing them onto a table nearest them over unfinished patterns and dresses she'd been making prior. Rose stood there being very confused by everything and not understanding what she needed to do.
"Hold on. Calm down. What's gotten into you all of a sudden?"
"We have to find one that fits you. Try these on."
With no say in the matter the woman began handling Rose bundle after bundle of clothes that Rose could not keep up with. Rose tried to protest and lay them back down only to be handed another assortment by the determined Felis.
"Wait a moment. Wait a moment. How much is all of this going to cost?"
"No payment. Not for you, my lady."
Rose shook her head and dropped everything she was holding. "Oh no. I don't accept that. My gown. The one I was wearing. If you're going to give me anything you will trade it for this."
Finally the shop keep stopped moving about in a crazy fashion and looked at Rose sincerely. "Is that what you want, my lady?"
Already having made up her mind she nodded, "Yes. It is. You should be able to get a high value for it if you try to sell it. Or whatever else you want to make of it should you reuse it for something else."
The woman was almost in tears. She came to Rose again and knelt down with tears in her eyes, "My lady. Such kindness! Bless you. Bless you!"
Rose awkwardly tried to pull away, not used to this sort of treatment. "No thanks are necessary. The payment is fair." The woman nodded and stood up, wiping away her tears. Rose then continued, "You never told me your name."
"Acera, my lady."
"Please to meet you, Acera. You may call me Rose."
"Princess Rose," she said with a smile.
Shaking her head Rose laughed, "No. Just Rose. Please."
"As you wish, my lady."
Rose then began helping trying to pick up the clothes she dropped and organizing the large selection Acera had picked out for her. She began trying them on calmly until she found ones that fit her just the way she liked and the colors matched her hair. Even though she felt like every pair had been made for her, she knew she couldn't take them all. She had to find the ones that were best. Though Acera continued to try and persuade Rose to take more.
"Please, Lady Rose. I insist. They all look so wonderful on you. You do your people proud."
"Acera," Rose would say hesitantly. "I need to ask you something."
"Anything, my lady."
As if wondering if someone were nearby and listening, she lowered her voice, "DO you know if the plan was a success?"
Acera tilted her head to the side in a confused manner, "I'm sorry? I don't follow."
Again, only this time even more hushed, "The plan? In Norgate?"
"Norgate?" Acera shook her head. "I'm sorry, Princess. I've never heard of such a place."
"Please, it's just Rose."
"Oh yes. Sorry."
Rose sighed and looked at herself in a small hand-mirror Acera had provided for her. She'd need to do her hair to really complete the look of what she was going for, but it was a start just to have better clothes. Still, there was a heavy burden on her heart that she had yet to figure out just where they were in the world. Why had Acera not heard of Norgate? What had become of her people? What happened to her family?
Acera would pick up on her sudden change in mood and ask, "Is something bothering you...Rose?"
She would shake her head trying to not let it bother her, "No. Nothing. Just a little homesick."
As if reading her mind, Acera moved over to Rose and took the mirror from her. She began to brush out and untangle Rose's hair. Rose's eyes closed and she let out an audible sigh of relief. It felt so nice having someone playing with her hair again. And not just in the way her servants did it for her. They were always so harsh and rough with her. Acera was not. It felt almost like a mother's love or beloved kin.
"May I see you?" she asked after a long silence before them.
"Just for a moment," Rose would gently offer.
Acera stepped away and held out the mirror to Rose once more. Before grabbing it though, she reached up and unclasped the necklace. She exchanged it with the mirror and then looked at herself. A light glimmer of light refracted off of her and Rose noticed her appearance had changed entirely. Her blonde hair (which was now expertly woven into a crown braid) had become silver. Her pale skin was no longer soft but covered in fur just the same color as her hair above her head. Her eyes were the same color only now they were slit like a cat's eye, just as Acera's were.
"You look lovely, Rose. A true Felis."
Rose looked over herself in the mirror with longing. It had been so long since she looked like her own people again. Every now and then she removed her magic necklace for the sake of some peace of mind, but now, dressed in their clothes, she felt like one of them again. Rose smiled to Acera and they switched back the mirror and necklace. As soon as the clasp was shut again another shimmer overtook Rose and she was back in her human form.
"You have done me a great service, Acera. I will not forget this gratitude."
"The pleasure is all mine," Acera responded happily.
After a long walk back to the inn, Rose was once again ready to brave the market streets of Galvarez. She’d deposited her bags from Acera’s stall onto her bed with the intent on hanging them up later. For now, she had only one thing on her mind: food. Taking out a bag of coins she’d traded for her jewelry, Rose would then leave the inn and begin her search. The thought of her friends came to her mind making her want to start scanning the crowds. Balazar wouldn’t be hard to find because he was tall and blue. But Rose didn’t really feel up to having lunch with him. Knowing her people had killed off his made her feel rather uneasy around him. She thought about trying to find Rasmus next; his voice would carry over any crowd. Then again, she wasn’t sure how she felt about him either.
As fate would have it, it was Brann whom she ran into. Out of habit, she smiled and waved to him to get his attention before her rational reasoning caught up with her. Rose hadn’t wanted to be around any of them today; she’d wanted to focus on herself and exploring the city. She instantly regretted it when he came up to her, whistled a cat call toward her appearance, then ran his fingers over the silk of her dress to feel the material. Rose pulled the cloth away from him and gave him a stuck up look of disgust.
“Lookin’ good, Princess. You almost look like one of us common folk now.”
“Ha ha. Very funny,” she’d reply sarcastically.
“Seriously though,” he’d offer, “It suits you.”
Crossing her arms she moved her weight onto her hip and replied, “Well thank you. I had to sell my dress to buy it.”
With more surprise than actual alarm Brann blurted out, “That shirt cost you that entire dress? Sorry, Princess, but I think you got robbed.”
“Well, that’s not exactly how it happened,” she tries to explain. Could she explain? If she did she’d have to explain why the Felis was so kind to her and that would give away her secret. Perhaps it was best left unsaid. She then noticed Brann was giving her a look waiting for her to explain what she meant when she shook her head and started to walk again. “Nevermind.”
“Suit yourself, Princess,” Brann said without a care in the world.
After asking Rose what she was heading to next, Brann knew exactly how to help her. Continuing the way he’d been going, the two of them moved back up the street in the direction of the inn while Rose slowly slipped back into her own thoughts. At one point they stopped to let traffic move by and her attention was drawn over to Brann, or more specifically, his tattoos. Each one was delicately drawn out to point an overall impression of flames. Every curve neatly tucked in with the other symbols. Every stem a perfect flower, so to speak. And then there was the dragon in the back to really capture the theme. It was clearly the centerfold of the artwork and set perfectly against his back to make the image look as if the dragon was really breathing fire.
Rose thought about asking him who’d done the work, but she wouldn’t know the name for she’d never had any interest in that sort of thing. Her own tattoo wasn’t so much a piece of art as it was a piece of her culture. It was a part of her. It was a symbol of her clan. She supposed maybe there was some connection between the two of them after all.
Brann led Rose to the bar that he’d gone to the night before. He’d figured Rose would throw up a fight at eating in some putrid smelling tavern, but she didn’t say a word. She could get herself food, and he himself could use a drink. He was also on his own mission: to find Alecia. After leaving the inn this morning Brann had returned to the scene of the crime. And that was no understatement. The building complex Alecia lived in had been completely destroyed. Only ash and some metal framework were left in the pile of charred remains. The buildings next to it had also taken a serious toll to their structure. They were still standing, but the tenants all had to be evacuated as some of the rooms closest to the outside walls had gone up in flame
Blending into the crowd Brann looked over the sight with a dejected gaze. He had done this. There was no other explanation. And while he didn’t normally have guilt over the things he did in his past, he knew in his heart and soul he’d never just kill for sport and without reason. There was no reason for this. No explanation. No justice. It made him sick to his stomach and for a moment he forgot the other reason he’d come. Had Alecia survived? Looking over the crowd around him put him no closer to answering that question.
Stepping into the bar however still did not please his curiosity. Alecia was not here either. Nor was the woman who helped run the bar the previous night whom Brann might have known more about her coworker than he. In her place was an Elf now who had long brown hair. She seemed friendly enough, like the ratgirl from before, but Brann was only interested in finding Alecia. Behind the counter of the bar now stood a tough-looking human who seemed like he was made of muscle. He looked like he could even challenge Balazar in a fight.
“Come on in folks. Out of the heat, grab a seat. What do you want to drink?”
Brann gave a suspicious look to Rose and whispered, “Think he meant to say all that in rhyme?”
Rose chuckled a little to herself and whispered back, “Yes I do think so.”
“Right,” Brann affirmed and moved to a table this time rather than a stool at the counter. The Elf would come to greet them and ask for their choice in drink. To which, Brann naturally had to make a taunt at Rose by saying to the Elf, “She’ll have something fruity. Perhaps something with no personality?”
Rolling her eyes she returned his gaze with a snide look of her own and then corrected him, “Two steins of ale. And he’s buying.” The Elf would nod and go to fetch their drinks while Rose leaned back in her chair. “I’m not some fragile little floof, Brann. I wish you’d stop treating me like one.”
“I guess we’ll see about that won’t we?”
Returning a moment later the Elf handed them their drinks and then went to tend to other customers. Brann would take his mug and chug down a good half of it. As he drank away, he watched Rose from the side of his eye with a curious suspicion. Clearly he was baiting her, and Rose would call his bluff. She picked up her mug and would quickly start to gulp hers down as well. She had to sit up to do so, but she would rise to his challenge. She drank every last sip until there was nothing left but foam and slammed the mug down with a loud gasp of satisfaction.
“Well well,” Brann complimented. “Color me impressed. You really can put it away.” He’d then flag the waitress to bring them another round.
“Like I said,” Rose smirked, “I’m no floof.”
Despite this proud moment for her, she hiccupped then rather loudly causing her to blush and Brann to chuckle. His laugh made her glare at him once more before hiccupping again. Rose whined in protest and tried to mentally stop herself from making another sound; none too successfully either.
“So you have any luck figuring out where we are?” Brann said to change the conversation.
Rose shook her head, “No the girl who sold me these clothes had never heard of Norgate prior to me coming there.”
“Hmmm, that’s too bad. Yeah I came in here last night and the bartender didn’t know either. We must have travelled a really long way for no one to have even heard of it.”
The Elf then returned with another round and butt into their conversation, “You two not from around here? You know, if you’re lost, you should talk to Nautilus.”
“Who’s Nautilus?” Rose asked as she gingerly reached for her drink.
“You know that really tall tower in the middle of the city? That’s where he works. He’s the town’s wizard. He knows everything.”
“A wizard?” Brann repeated with interest in the subject. “That sounds promising.”
Rose patted Brann on the arm and excitedly asked, “Hey why don’t when we’re done head over there to meet him?”
The Elf shied away and made a hesitant whine, “Well…” In the middle of taking a sip Rose set the mug back down and asked what the matter was. She would continue saying sadly, “Nautilus doesn’t just invite anybody into his tower. He’s got a lot of duties for the city and rarely schedules appointments. I heard once that someone had to wait an entire year just to get in.”
“A year!” Rose exclaimed. “We can’t wait a whole year!”
Brann took another sip of his beer then slyly remarked, “So we force our way in and demand to see us then?”
Rose was not impressed with his humor or tone, but before she could speak up the Elf spoke again, “I mean if you really need to see him you could always talk to his apprentice.”
Now they were getting somewhere. Rose probed further, “And where is his apprentice?”
“Well…that’s a little tricky too,” she replied while leaning over one of the bar chairs at their table. “She lives there with him, and only ever comes out to buy supplies and such. But, she has been known to attend some of Lord Briar’s parties. He has one almost every weekend. If you’re lucky, you can catch her there.”
“And when would this next party be?” Rose asked to make sure she understood every detail; it also wouldn’t hurt to know exactly what day of the week they were in since none of them had thought to ask such a question.
The Elf put her finger to her lips and thought about it. “Well, if he’s having one this weekend it’ll be two days from now. Otherwise you’d have to wait until the next one.”
Smirking, Brann raised his glass and held it toward Rose, “Care to join me for a ball, Princess?”
With a smile she would grab her own glass and clink it against his, “It would be my pleasure.”
And so the two heroes sat and ate their meals while discussing plans for the upcoming ball. Once they were all settled up they parted ways to see what other useful things they could learn about the wizard Nautilus and his mysterious apprentice. Brann agreed he’d help in the effort, but in the back of his mind he was still focused on finding Alecia. He couldn’t stop until he knew for sure. Had she survived? Sadly the rest of the day bore no results on that front and when the group all returned to the inn Balazar recommended they have dinner at The Pig’s Head, per his outstanding recommendation. After talking business and getting a few drinks in themselves the heroes found themselves surprisingly enjoying the others company for a change as they shared stories about all the strange and different things they’d seen in a day’s time.
Rasmus,” So he throws down his cards and goes ‘Blark no! Why the loomp would I be quinken that!”
The rest of the table burst out laughing, even Rose who had to control herself from spilling her drink. “What does that even mean?” she giggled hysterically.
Brann slapped the table with one hand while wiping a tear from his eye with the other, “That is the best story I’ve heard in my life. You’re making that up. You have to be.”
Shaking his head and putting his hand on his heart Rasmus would say, “I swear on my honor as a gentleman, every word you heard tonight was true.”
“No I’m with Brann,” Rose snorted in her laughing fit. “You’re pulling our leg. There’s no way that’s what happened.”
Balazar would cross his arms and say proudly, “I agree. Now I’m no master of your language but I’m fairly certain ‘Quinken’ is not a real word.”
Ramus waved his hands back and forth, “I swear! It really happened! How could I make that up?”
Brann pointed at Rasmus accusingly, “I’m gonna go down there and ask every single one of them if they saw you there.”
“Go ahead,” the clown replied as he leaned back in his chair. “You’ll see I never lie about a good story.”
Rose would just shake her head and look around the room with a quiet sigh. After a moment she brought her attention back to the group. “It’s getting late. I think I’m going to head back.”
As she got up to leave the others would follow, though Balazar took a detour to pay for their meal. Rasmus would walk alongside Rose, but Brann wasn’t quite ready to head to bed just yet as the others were. He didn’t tell them why, but he still hoped somewhere out there would be a clue as to what happened to Alecia. Perhaps she’d shown up to her night shift? It was worth checking out. So while he went to desperately find clues, Rose returned to her room and began to unpack her bags from earlier. Only after everything was put away would she turn out the lights, strip down, then remove her necklace and climb into bed.
It was early in the morning when Balazar woke up. The sun was just starting to rise but it couldn’t be seen yet from their place in the city. Only those who lived in the tall buildings could faintly see the sun’s morning rays. Balazar left his bedroom with all his personal gear on his person. He hated going anywhere without them. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust people, which was true from a matter of perspective. His issues simply stemmed from anxiety. What if he needed something –like his gold- and he was caught without his pouch? What if he was attacked by a large bird seeking to eat him for dinner? He’d surely be killed without his sword. Then worst yet, as it came to pass, what if he was sucked through a magic space crystal that stranded him in some desert city? Balazar was glad he was prepared for anything.
He would leave the inn and head down the street to the Pig’s Head where he enjoyed his unusually large breakfast. The owners were glad to see him and even threw some extra pork out for him as recognition of his patronage. Still, he left a generous tip who took care of him and then continued on his journey. Today he would check out the southern side of the city. The group had decided yesterday to check out each place individually in hopes of better understanding of their whereabouts. Rose insisted on taking the East side where the more cultured and wealthier citizens lived. Brann then volunteered for the North which he had his own agendas in. This left the West and the South to be covered and Balazar drew the short straw so to speak. They’d learned that the more poor families lived out that way which also included lesser species such as Orcs, halflings, and most predominantly the rat-folk. The group decided that he might have a better luck navigating the area while also communicating with the locals due to his own racial minority. He wasn’t happy about being singled out the way he was, but it was the simple truth. He was the only non-human of the group. So far as the rest of them knew at least.
The southern side of the city –or more commonly addressed as the slums- was a pitiful sight compared to the rest of the shining metal city. The smell itself was horrifyingly worse in this district and it wasn’t hard to see why. The homes which had previously been seen made of brick, wood, and or metal were now barely put together as shacks and huts. The walls were made of some poor quality sheet metal and held together with tiny screwbolts and wire. One good gust of wind could likely tear the whole thing down. And also, the metal wasn’t even in the best condition. Most of it was rusted out or missing sections where the owner patched tarp or rotted wood to cover the hole.
Flies, bugs, and other sort of pesky insects buzzed around in the air. They were attracted first to the smell, but second to the water. While the desert looked like it never rained, the ground here was muddy and filled with puddles. Running down from one of the iron works factories to the Northwest of the slums was a long river which ran across the west end of the slums. The water, like the ground, was dark and thick as fog. Not a soul was seen anywhere near the waterfront; only a fool would try drinking it after all. There were a couple of bridges across the river, but given the quality of the construction from the homes Balazar didn’t risk treading across.
Upon entering the slums Balazar first noticed that there was almost no one out and about. The orcs and goblins thrive at night so they would be tucked into their homes during this hour. Most of the humans and half breeds also wouldn’t be out either since it was still fairly early in the morning. This left only one race left and that was the rat-folk. Balazar set out to explore down the muddy streets while swatting away at the flies. He didn’t so much worry about them biting him for his skin was thick with scales, but he still found them to be a nuisance regardless.
Balazar didn’t have to travel far to find trouble. Four rats of massive size came to approach him just as soon as he crossed the figurative border. Though he was taller than the group, they still were larger than most humans. Plus, three of them were bulky. It was unlikely they were as strong as Balazar was though he had a sinking feeling he was about to find out. Their sour demeanor confirmed by the pipes they carried in their hands.
“Hey blue, you lost?”
Balazar didn’t answer; another one spoke, “Yo, Chet. I think he’s looking for a beating. This is Rat Town, ya know. And you a’int no Rat.”
One of the others would point to Balazar’s hip, “Yo look! Check out his sword! How much do you think we can get for that?”
Instinctively, Balazar would reach for his blade when suddenly the sound of thunder exploded in his ears. The ground in front of him burst up causing him to jump back in alarm. Looking back up he saw the skinniest rat pointing some sort of crossbow-looking device at him. Actually, he wasn’t sure what it was. It didn’t have any strings or arrows so it wasn’t any sort of bow he’d ever seen. Plus, the barrel was smoking. Some type of magical weapon? The Rat would pull a little notch in the handle locking it in place; the clicking sound it made caused Balazar’s heart to leap.
“Not so fast, blue. Unless you want the next one in your chest.”
Out of fear of the magic exploding pipe, Balazar lowered his hand. He hated ranged weapons. They were cowardly. A true warrior fought with his hands. If he could just get close to rip it from the rat’s hands. He just needed to get his hands on one of is gems. Could he be faster than the weapon? He didn’t actually see it fire. It was possible it might have a waiting or casting time to it upon activation.
“Hand over the sword, blue. Not asking again.”
The crystal was in his left pouch. He just needed to grab it quickly and activate the power. Balazar growled at the rat in annoyance. As quick as he could, Balazar went for it. There was no way he was giving up his sword. Not without a fight. He thrust his hand into his pouch and snatched up a gem. But he wasn’t fast enough. Before he could pull the gem from the pouch the magical weapon ignited and sent out another thunderous boom. Some force faster than his eyes could see struck Balazar in his left shoulder. He stumbled back clutching the wound, only, upon looking at it he noticed there was no wound to be found. Not but a tiny scuff mark in his scales from the impact. Whatever the weapon did, it wasn’t strong enough to break his hide.
The rats all gasped as they realized their super weapon hadn’t even dented the blue-scaled lizard. Balazar grinned and bore his teeth, showing his fangs like the creature they believed him to be. Now freeing the blue gem he crushed it against his chest and the pieces shattered into a sapphire light. Electricity pulsed through Balazar. His scaled shined brighter than the sun as he was enveloped by the light. Then, as fast as lightning itself, he took out all four rats in quick succession. Seemingly, it looked like he did it all at once. A chain of lightning followed his body’s path as he traveled from one rat after another and delivered a jaw-breaking punch to their heads. Unlike their weapon however, there was no explosive sound to accompany the lightning. Instead, the tone was more high pitched and screeching as if two metal blades were scraped together.
In a seconds time he was standing over the fallen bodies of the rats he’d knocked unconscious and waited for the crystal’s affect to wear off. His breathing was quick and deep like he’d just gone through an intense workout. But the danger for him was over. Or so he thought. The ground under him started to shake telling his instincts that something heavy was moving his way. He looked back and forth and then found something even more surprising than the rodent’s magical weapon. One of the golden statues that the group has seen in the market place was now moving toward him at an alarming rate. It moved slower than a human might walk, but due to its size and leg span it travelled farther than his own footsteps would have been. Each footstep made the ground pulse from the sheer weight of the machine.
Reaching for his sword for a second time now, Balazar refused to back down from a fight. His moral honor would not allow such a disgrace. But before he could draw the blade he was interrupted yet again as a tiny rat-child came running up beside him and tugging at his arm. Balazar was taken off guard by the small child who had come out of his blind spot. He curiously looked at the boy who had a frightful look on his face. His eyes trembled at the sight of the golden giant.
Trusting the little boy’s judgement Balazar would let the child pull him into an alleyway and cut across the streets. They moved quickly through the slums ducking under fallen huts and weaving behind corners. The giant was persistent though and seemed to track their location knowing which street they would come out on. Finally the two managed to turn down a route the giant couldn’t follow and left it behind to search in vain. As they waited out the giant’s search, Balazar looked at it through their hiding spot. He had no idea where the things eyes were for the statue for it didn’t resembled any sort of normal head. Yet, it behaved as if it did have eyes so clearly there was some form of magic possessing it. Balazar was getting rather sick of these magical items.
Finally after what felt like forever the statue gave up its search and tried to find another street to investigate. The boy stood very still even after it left; Balazar as a result did the same. Only when the footsteps finally quieted did the boy seem to relax. He’d stand and pull Balazar out of their hiding place. Surprisingly, Balazar quickly realized they had not been the only ones hiding. More and more rat-folk also began to come out of the woodwork now that they were safe from the golden giant. Balazar was shocked to see how many of them had been around him and he hadn’t noticed a single one.
“What was that thing?” Blazar asked the child.
The boy shook his head. He grabbed Balazar’s arm again and started pulling him down the street once more. Confused but conforming, he followed after without any argument. Balazar tried asking more questions but it seemed that the child refused to talk. Eventually he just gave up and allowed himself to be led to wherever they were going. Before him now was a large tent made up of green and moldy tarps. The boy would disappear under the tarp with ease; Balazar had to do some careful navigating to follow suit into the tiny doorway. There was no hope for him to even stand inside so he’d sit immediately at the door and curl his tail up behind him.
In front of him were several sleeping cots all side by side with one another. A few of the rat-folk were sitting among the cots but it didn’t appear any of them were sleeping in them. The boy who’d saved him had joined one of the older looking rats inside who was wrapped up in several blankets. The rat –Balazar couldn’t determine whether it was male or female- was extremely scraggly to say the least. He –or she- had long messy fur which didn’t look like it had been cleaned in years. The stench alone of the tent was enough to make him glad he sat by the doorway.
The boy would begin to speak with the elder in some sort of language that resembled Dwarvish. This of course why he didn’t answer Balazar’s questions; they didn’t speak the same language. Awkwardly he would look around the room to the other rat-folk who were all staring at him. He wanted to smile as humans would do to show affection, but it meant showing his fangs and he didn’t think that brought out the right impression. Instead, he held up a stoic façade and waited for someone to try communicating.
“The boy tells me you attacked Vigo and hid boys,” the old man finally said, doing so in a slow and raspy voice. Balazar was only slightly more positive the rat was male now. He could still be wrong though.
Clearing his throat he replied, “They challenged me and shot at me with their magic boom sticks.”
“The humans call them pistols,” the elder informed the lizard. “They are deadly. And dangerous. The humans have killed many of our kind with them.”
“Where did they come from?” Balazar inquired.
“We make them here. In the factories. They monitor our jobs. Make sure they are not stolen.”
Balazar now regretted not breaking Vigo’s gun when he knocked him out. “Someone should have been watching Vigo more closely then. He tried to kill me with that pistol.”
The elder continued, “Vigo is harmless. An angry mutt who dislikes those who are not Rait. The humans are the dangerous ones. He stole that gun to defend us from them.”
Balazar was starting to get angry. His own inner rage from his people’s slaughter was manifesting in his words. “He shouldn’t have to smuggle out weapons to defend himself or any of you. None of you should. Your people should be living together in prosperity not choking on dirty water and fumes. How can you stand for this atrocity?”
“We have a plan in motion,” the elder said before coughing for a moment. “Please. Do not fear for the Rait. It is the humans who will soon fear us.”
With his mouth agape Balazar exclaimed, “You’re planning on attacking them? They’ll slaughter you.”
The elder was sure of his own plan, “The Rait have lived in the mud for far too long. Soon the Rait will rise and the humans will sleep in the river.”
Balazar couldn’t stand to hear another word. Fight? They would die. They would all die. Sure a few humans might suffer because of the struggle but Balazar already knew this plan was folly. He stood up angrily and took half the tent with in upon doing so. The rats screamed and scurried away leaving only Balazar and the elder who was too weak to move. The rats watched him from afar, trembling in their hiding places, as Balazar roared in anger and extended his claws.
“I’ll not allow another race to be slaughtered!”
The elder shook his head as he opened one blind eye up to the angry lizard, “You’ll never stop Ratigus. Our champion will bring our salvation. All will fear the Rait!”
With an angry growl Balazar would turn and storm off. The rats then all swarmed to their elder to protect him as they’d failed to do a moment ago. Balazar felt their eyes watching him from the nooks and crannies of the homes. He took a loud angered sigh before straightening up and withdrawing his claws. He was still furious, and would be for a while. The rats were searching for their freedom but going about it in all the wrong ways. Attempting to fight the humans would only bring death to both sides and none would be better off for it. Not only that, but how many innocent civilians would get caught in the crossfire? These are the thoughts that plagued his mind as he stormed out of the slums.