by Phoebe Z
(This is a rewrite and continuation of my original Prologue)
|The crunch of dirt below the strange leather boots of the heavily cloaked figure was the only sound in the forest. Birds did not sing here, even the wind hushed around these trees. The sky was bright blue, but not a cloud skittered above the leafy tops. The trees here were all of a single variety that was unfortunately unnamed. They had thick, dark brown bark, wide, lush green leaves and wide trunks. They most likely had countless uses but remained untouched.
Except for one. The figure came across the fallen log. It hadn’t rotted, it was above that. The bark and roots had stayed intact. Only the leaves had fallen away. The figure sat down and pulled out of a small sack a handful of golden berries with little feathery bits near their broken stems from his cloak. He ate them off the stems. He left the dozen sticks on the log and continued on his way.
Are you bored?
The narrator was only describing the surroundings, which is a crucial part of the task of narrating.
You’ve been latching onto more details than normal.
The figure had no business in what the narrator narrated.
Do you have any new insights on what I should do?
The narrator had only one insight, and the figure had already heard it. Whether he listened, well, the jury was still out.
The figure continued to follow the dirt path aimlessly.
The dirt continued to crunch, the sky continued to be blue, the clouds continued to avoid, the wind and birds continued to hush.
The figure realized he wasn’t getting anywhere.
He stopped walking and glanced over his shoulder. The fallen log was only a throw away.
The figure knew damned well.
Fine. Where should I go?
The answering sound of hooves trotting on dirt rang out in the quiet forest. When the figure turned around, he saw a centaur coming up behind.
That doesn’t make sense.
Regardless of the sense-making of the centaur, the figure called out to him.
“Excuse me, good sir,” he called, “Where are you heading?”
The centaur stopped. He looked at the hidden figure with obvious suspicion. After all, the figure was taller than the average man and covered with a heavy violet cloak.
“Oh yes. To Mythspell, just up this trail. Fine little town, come visit,” he said with a smile.
So much for suspicion, hm?
The centaurs are friendly and courteous creatures. This one, in particular, was so nice, he leaned down to offer his hand. The figure hesitated.
“Thank you, sir, but I think I can manage,” he said politely.
“Nonsense!” the centaur exclaimed with a hearty laugh. The figure awkwardly chuckled and tried to edge away. He found his feet would not move.
“No, I am sure. Just up this trail, yes?” he said.
“Yes, up this trail. Such a short distance to ride, much longer to walk,” the centaur said with a wise nod.
“Thank you for the offer bu-”
The figure got up on the centaur.
Oh Estus, no, no, no.
The centaur went galloping off wildly. The figure could barely keep his seat. He was bouncing up and down and sideways. He dug his fingers in the fur of the horseback and gripped tighter with his legs. The wind was loud now, rushing past the sides of his head. This torment lasted only a few extraordinarily long minutes.
They arrived at the gates of Mythspell. They were large, broad and made of fine wood and metal. The walls themselves were made of dwarven-styled stone. The guards posted at the gates nodded to the centaur as he passed into the gates.
None of this would have been noticed by the figure. He was dizzy and almost fell off when the centaur slowed to a walk and entered the city. Only after listening to the narrator did he think to look around. Past the gates now, he looked over his shoulder.
There was no gate.
He sighed with a snarl.
He slipped off the centaur and thanked him weakly. The centaur disappeared into the crowd walking along the city streets. The figure stumbled out of the way and into an alley. He leaned against a wall, catching his breath and soothing his nausea.
The bagel from Jou’s sat uneaten on the inn’s counter. The owner, the one who put the bagel there, sighed. She shook her head and frowned. He was skipping another meal. She stepped away from her post at the counter and walked to the trapdoor in between two large, messy bookcases. She slammed a heeled boot onto the door and shouted.
“Mars! Get up here and eat your lunch!” she shouted. There was the faint sound of grumbling, and then footsteps up the stairs. The owner lifted the trapdoor against the wall and glared at the young man who walked out. He wore casual working clothes with the sleeves rolled up. His brown locks flipped out crazier than usual and he was starting to smell. The owner’s frown intensified.
“Really. You better not skip dinner or I’ll lock the damn trapdoor and you can starve down there!” she said.
Mars turned to her. His reaction was completely hid by the white mask he wore on his face. The black dots for his eyes stared silently. A small chuckle escape from his hidden lips.
“...still in disguise?” he said in his whispery, feathery voice.
The owner snubbed him. She indeed was disguised as a young elf maiden, with light skin and lighter hair done up in a nice bun.
“The inn’s opened, child,” she practically hissed at him. Mars shrugged and looked over at the bagel sitting patiently. He grabbed it and started to walk down the steps. The owner stopped him.
“Hold up. I want to see you eat that,” she demanded.
He abruptly turned his head to her, and she imagined he was glaring in annoyance. Sure enough, his tone proved her guess true.
“You’re thinning.” She crossed her arms. She looked far less intimidating as an elf, but Mars knew Onyx, the owner, was much powerful than she let on with would-be-customers.
“so are you,” he muttered, in reference to the disguise. She had been experimenting with the perfect height-to-weight to best fool those who wished to stay at the inn into thinking she was the new apprentice whose only task was to watch the inn while the innkeeper was elsewhere.
After an awkward moment of Onyx only glaring, Mars slouched and shrugged.
He held the bagel with one hand and reached behind his head to unfasten his mask. Holding on to one of the freed straps, he pulled the mask away from his face. He ate the bagel, throwing dirty looks at Onyx, who just stared at him cooly.
When he finished, she let him leave. The slam of the trapdoor falling in place was the last thing she heard before his footsteps disappeared into the basement. She sighed again. She shook her head and frowned.
Someone ran past one of the front windows, skid to a halt, and started pounding on the door. Onyx looked up in mild annoyance.
“Come in,” she called.
The door was almost slammed off its hinges as the half-orc Sull ran in. Onyx raised an eyebrow.
“Lady Onyx!” Sull cried, half out of breath, “Gold was spotted at town square!”Onyx gasped, in anger and shock.
“What’s he doing?” she demanded, her voice losing its disguise and turning crackly and old.
“Nothing at the moment, Lady Onyx,” said the half-orc as he slumped on the ground, “He blends in so well, I almost didn’t recognize him.”
“Quaktia take him,” she swore under her breath, “Thank you Sull,” she said to the half-orc on the ground, “Tell Farrell to keep tabs on him.” The half-orc nodded grimly.
Onyx turned to one the bookcases, losing her disguise as she did so. She was now her true form, an old hag with a silvery bun and wrinkly skin. She hobbled over to one book. She grabbed it and flipped the pages. It was full of people that she had determined to be worth her continued communication. She found the page she was looking for. She closed her eyes and gently spread her fingers on the page. She muttered an incantation, then she muttered her message.
“Calia Trulia,” she muttered, “I need your son here now.”
“Silly, my dear, you are ready to go?” asked a soft, warm, elven voice.
Silver looked up from his map of Mythspell. His travel bag hung on his shoulder, mostly empty. He had only some money, identification, and a few hair ties for his long blonde hair.
“Yes, Mother,” he said to Trulia. She smiled sadly and lowered her bright blue eyes. Her hands were clasped behind her back and she stood tall with an elegant and graceful air.
“You’ll be back tonight, yes?” she asked quietly. Silver nodded. He returned to reading his map. Mythspell was a fairly large town, almost a city. The carriage would take him to where it sat on the edge of the estate, but then he would be on his own.
“Silly,” his Mother started but then stopped. Silver looked up. She was still looking at the ground, but now biting her lip. Faint tears were in her eyes. She shook her head, and they disappeared.
“Be careful,” she said. Silver smiled at her.
“You know I will be,” he said. She lifted her arms to beckon him. He stepped to her and they hugged. She caressed his hair. His long, blonde hair he had inherited from her.
“I know,” she whispered. She laid a kiss on top of his head and released him from her grasp. He walked down the steps of the Estate and to the carriage. His mother watched him go.
A lump built in her throat, but she was too skilled to let it show.
‘Be careful, my dearest Silver,’ she thought, ‘Your brother is very powerful.’
The figure was well rested. From the passing townsfolk, he overheard gossip of the arrival of the heir to the estate. He got up, reluctantly, and wandered the streets. He walked along the road and went relatively unnoticed. The glances he did get were mostly curious children. There were a lot of children. Elfish, human, and orcish children were everywhere, running, playing, laughing, and generally having a good time. The parents, also as varied, looked to either have their hands full or to have given up.
It must be a holiday.
As the figure walked, however, he began to see less and less children. Instead, he saw anxious crowds gathering and heading in roughly the same direction as he. He quickened his pace.
“Have you heard?” he overheard one elf ask his friend.
“Just a little bit. Is it true that the Heir Lord is here?” his human friend asked.
“Yes, I asked the guards myself,” the elf said, “And rumor says the Eldest got lose.”
“I heard that too. Do you think it’s true?” the human asked.
The elf’s response was lost on the figure as they were swept along by the growing crowd. He looked around and saw worried and stressed expressions. Soon they all found an even bigger crowd. The rumors met the facts as there in the center of the ring of people was the Heir Lord and the Eldest themselves.
The figure worked his way to the front of the crowd to see them facing off. They were two dwarf-elves, a half-race commonly called delves, and were both young and able-bodied. From the gossip, the figure reasoned that the blonde delf wearing blue and silver royal clothes was Heir Lord Silver, and the brunette delf wearing common garb was the Eldest.
The noise of the crowd was too much to hear what they were saying, but they were plainly engaging in a heated debate.
“You little twit! You think you can send me back to that old crone?” the Eldest spit.
“Yes, Gold,” the Heir Lord said cooly. He gripped a handle in his belt a little tighter. Gold stretched his fingers while keeping his eyes on the Heir Lord.
“I will never be forever contained,” Gold said, “Know that much, Silver!”
Silver mentally rolled his eyes. He cautiously stepped forward to his half-brother.
“I don’t care. What I know is that you and your mother are too be imprisoned for your crimes. Whether I have to throw you back in once or a thousand times, I. Don’t. Care.”
Gold snarled and stepped forward. Little black swirls of magic gathered on his palms.
“We will not be stopped. For every escape-”
“I don’t care!” Silver yelled and charged forward.
Magic flashed and metal gleamed and the crowd roared. The figure stood still, very still, and waited for the dust to settle.
There was the sickening thud of heavy metal against flesh. The Eldest flew backward, straight towards the figure watching.
The Eldest slammed into the energy shield cast by the figure. He knocked him down as the crowd behind them scattered. The figure was unharmed but pinned by the heavy delf. The delf was unconscious and blood dribbled from his mouth. His clothes were scrunched up around his stomach.
“Oh my Amos,” the Heir Lord cried, “I’m sorry!” He ran to the figure who lay calmly under the Eldest. The crowd watched from a distance, thinning by the minute as people left. Apparently, they collectively decided the battle was over. The delf reached the figure and leaned over him.
“Are you okay?” he asked. A few strands of his long, blonde hair fell down around his face. His bright blue eyes shone anxiously and darted between the figure and the Eldest.
“I’m fine,” the figure said. The delf sighed and smiled. Then he grabbed the Eldest’ legs and dragged him off the figure. The Eldest’ head scratched against a stray pebble.
“You can get up now,” The Heir Lord said. It sounded like a polite order. The figure shrugged and sat up. The delf gave him a quizzical look.
“Are you going to stand?” he asked.
“This is the first time I’ve been off my feet all day,” the figure chuckled, “Give me a moment.”
The delf puckered his lips but nodded. He lifted the Eldest’ legs and hoisted them above his shoulders.
“What’s your name?” the figure asked casually. The delf stopped.
“Oh, um, you don’t know?” he said.
“Oh. I am Caliu Silver Axefury, Heir Lord to the Axefury Estate,” he said with a proud look in his eyes.
“Un K,” the figure replied.
“Pardon?” the delf asked.
“My name is Un K,” he said as he finally stood. The delf smiled politely and nodded.
“Yes, nice to meet you,” he said. He started to drag the Eldest away. Un K followed him.
“Who is that?” he asked with a point to the Eldest. Silver glanced at him from the corner of his eye.
“My half-brother, Eldest of the Axerfury children,” he said, automatic but hesitant.
“Quite the handful,” Un K said, “Is that why you’re Heir Lord?” Silver nodded.
“You’re not from Axefury are you?” he asked. Un K shook his head. “That explains you’re lack of knowledge. The conspiracy of my brother and his mother was made public a few weeks ago.”
“I do know general history of this region,” Un K said, slightly hurt, “I suppose current events escaped my study.”
Silver perk up. “Are you a scholar?” he asked. Un K offered a shadowy smile.
“I suppose you could say that,” he said.
“What do you study?” Silver was very interested now.
“Oh, a little of everything,” Un K said proudly, “I favor psychology and politics the most. Oh, and literature.”
“We must discuss,” the delf said, beaming now, “It has been a while since I’ve shared new viewpoints.”
“That sounds splendid,” the figure said.
They arrived at a little inn tucked away between two stores. The one on the left sold weapons, the right one sold magic. The inn itself was shabby and look a bit run down. It needed a paint job and new roof shingles
“Is this,” Un K paused, looking for words, “his prison?” He tried to sound surprised. It worked, mostly. The delf nodded.
“It may not look like much, but yes.” He looked nervously at the figure. He was still within his purple cloak that hid his face and body. Silver sighed in regret. “I’m not supposed to let anyone know about this inn.”
“Why not?” Un K asked, feigning innocence.
“Privacy, mostly,” Silver said. He dropped his half-brother’s legs and walked up to the inn’s door. He pulled a key from a pocket on his blue shirt. He slipped it into the door and they heard a little click. Silver hesitated.
“Don’t tell anyone, alright?” he asked, looking over his shoulder at the figure. Un K metaphorically rose an eyebrow, but literally offered a shadowy smile.
“Of course. My honor,” he said.
What the delf didn’t know was that the figure’s honor was as reliable as a dog instructed to write a letter.
A retarded dog writing a classic novel.
Oh Estus, please hush.
Regardless, Silver bought it. (He wouldn’t know a lobotomized dog if it bit him in the face.)
You are a handful.
The door swung softly inward. After pocketing the key, Silver again lifted the legs of his half-brother and dragged him into the inn. The figure followed close behind.
The inside of the inn was warm and cozy. A fireplace burned low in the left wall in front of a staircase leading up to a darkened hallway. A couch rested on the opposite wall, old and tired. In front of the back wall was a counter. On the back wall were twin bookcases. In between these, a young-looking elf stood slightly livid.
“You’re late,” she said, first in a crackly voice, but soon she switched to a sickly sweet one upon seeing the figure, “And you’ve brought a friend.” Her slanted, yellow eyes shifted over to the figure. His polite smile met her forced one.
“Hello, ma’am,” he said.
Silver unceremoniously dropped the legs of his half-brother. “What was I supposed to do?” he asked, “Tell him to go someplace else? I wanted to discuss matters.”
The elf-looking woman tightened her fists resting on the counter. Her eyes never left the figure. She examined him from head to toe with her critical gaze. Then she sighed, or rather, lightly groaned. Her disguise fell away to reveal a wrinkly, hunched old hag. The old hag hobbled from behind the counter to the knocked-out delf. He was drooling and a small cut bled from his forehead. She threw one last glance at the figure.
“You were lucky this time, Caliu Silver,” she hissed. He looked at her strangely.
“What do you mean-” he tried to ask.
“Shh!” She jerked a finger hasty to her lips. She yanked her sleeves up to her scrawny elbow and started to wave her hands in smooth upside-down semi-circles. Mist-like magic seeped from her hands and fell slowly upon the Eldest. She muttered something under her breath.
The Eldest small wounds healed over. Then he woke with a start.
“Wha- Where-” he looked around in panic for a brief moment, “You!” he snarled when he noticed Silver and the hag. She shook her head slightly and snapped her fingers. The Eldest started to float upwards.
“Dirty, filthy mage!” he roared as he struggled in the air, “I’ll kill you! You will die, you hear me-?” He cut himself off with a gasp when an invisible force swiftly dragged him away to the stairs.
“Twilight wife! Orc lover! Hexed virgin-!” he cried and screamed all the way up the stairs and out of sight. A solid thump of heavy wood finally silenced his furious ravings.
“Now that that’s settled,” the hag muttered. She turned abruptly to the figure. “Just who do you think you are? Tricking a lord's son into revealing one of the best-kept secrets in the Estate?” Silver burned a bright red and became suddenly very interested in the floor.
Un K smiled and shook his head. “I’m afraid you're mistaken. The Heir Lord told me nothing I didn't already know, Lady Onyx.” Both sets of eyes widened. Silver’s in surprise and Onyx’s in indignant shock.
“You told him my name?” she practically screamed at the delf.
“I did not! I would never!” he ‘yelled’ in tone high-pitched and panicky.
“He didn’t,” Un K said calmly. Onyx tore her glare back to the figure.
“Just who do you think you are?” she hissed.
“Un K, Lady Onyx,” he said. He smiled. She hissed.
“What do you what, then?” she asked, “If you know anything, boy, you’ll know that crossing me is a death sentence, at best!”
“If that were true, why did you simply imprison the wayward son?” he asked.
“Answer the damn question, you filthy spy!” she demanded.
“I would if I could, but, to be honest and fair, I have very little idea of what I want from this place.”
That did it.
A blast of hot, angry magic exploded from the hag. The figure flew back, only stopping when his body hit the front door. He crumpled to the ground and stayed there for a few seconds. The hag was huffing, hands curled in fists, shoulders arched high, arms pointed down from the elbow, and legs spread for support. The delf held his breath the way one does when an angry hornet buzzes around their head.
The figure uncurled from his position on the floor and slowly stood up. Despite being still covered in cloak and shadow, he was positively beaming.
“Praise Estus,” he breathed, “You are amazing!” He put a hand against the door to steady himself. “How did you do that?”
The mage’s eye twitched. Silver took a slight step back. He looked at Un K with a look of ‘Cut it out, you insane bastard! You might get us all killed!’, which was, incidentally, his exact thoughts. Un K simply chuckled and waved a hand at them.
“I mean you no harm, Lady Onyx,” he said pleasantly, “I am on a mission of sorts, and it led me here. If I offended you, I apologize. If you could graciously accept that, I would be pleased to learn from you.”
Her whole face scrunched up in hot, pride-hurt anger.
“Don’t give me any more funny business, boy,” she finally hissed before restoring her elven disguise and swiftly returning to her post behind the counter. Silver took this as a cue to leave. He quickly ushered the awe-struck figure out the door.
“Are you insane?” he demanded when they were outside.
“No, but I suppose it seems that way,” Un K said with a chuckle.
Silver rubbed his forehead with his fingers
“Who are you?” he asked, mostly to himself.
“Un K,” he answered simply.
God, if looks could kill, Un K would be dead from the one Silver shot him.
“Do you still want to discuss matters?” Un K asked hopefully.
Silver bit his lip and tapped his foot.
“Yes,” he said honestly, “You have to be either a genius or the insane to act like that in front of Lady Onyx.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say genius. Walk with me?” he offered.
Begrudgingly, Silver agreed. As they walked and discussed various matters, the subjects deepened and broadened at a fascinating rate. Silver forgot his hesitation in the midst of such scholarly talk. They got so engrossed in their conversation, that the had to sit down. They chose a bench located by the side of the road that guarded the entryway to the city’s park. If they had not been discussing the pros and cons of the latest political strategy of Adaburg, a nearby city dealing with a surplus of Thieves’ Guilds, they might have noticed the beautiful day that the rest of the citizenry where enjoying, by themselves, with friends, or with their family. Large sharppeach trees that towered over even the three-story shops, dotted the park, offering shade to the lazy and fruit to the daring. Bitter Blossoms grew in clumps here and there and children amused themselves by daring their friends to smell them. Clouds in different shapes and sizes were sprinkled in the sky, taking the shape of whatever the viewer loved most. Couples, laying upon blankets on the grass, would point to one and whisper in their lover’s ear: “I see you in that cloud.” Then they would giggle or sigh or kiss and the day would peacefully go on.
Of course, none of this was noticed by the delf and the figure, currently discussing the war in Knight Valley.
“I wish those knights saw reason like you do,” Silver said with a sigh, “But everyone knows they’re so caught up in their internal drama, they’ll never ask what it’s all for.”
“Yes, it’s quite a shame. But I like to hope there are at least a few who have asked, or at least thought, but don’t know what to do about it. It’s easy for outsiders to say what they’d do, but we don’t know anything about anything until it’s right in our face,” Un K said.
Silver nodded, lost in thought.
And so they continued. Later, the sun started to dip down and the air cooled. Un K mentioned the inn, but Silver was hesitant.
“It’s not really an inn, you know,” he said.
“But it can be used as such? I’m afraid I don’t have much currency or knowledge of local inns,” Un K argued, “But for Lady Onyx, I can think of several means of compensation.”
“You can try, I suppose,” Silver said. He looked out at the darkening park, looking troubled.
“I would like to, yes. Besides, where are you going to go? Nighttime carriage rides through the country are dangerous enough without an Heir Lord as the prize.”
Silver bit his lip and blushed lightly. Through their discussion, Un K had noticed this was a common reaction to an argument he agreed with but didn’t want to admit.
“Fine,” he said, standing from the bench, “I hope you’ll be able to talk Onyx into it because I don’t see any other way.”
So they went back to the inn. Onyx was less than pleased to know that they had spent the better part of the afternoon and evening talking, but (after Un K’s lengthy argument) she agreed to let them stay the night. They parted ways to their rooms and slept.
Basements are often associated with dangerous secrets. The basement of Onyx’s inn was no exception.
This basement was an obvious living space, what with the cluttered desk, messy bed tucked in a corner, and large floor-to-ceiling cabinets. Thrown aside carelessly on the bed was an orange robe with yellow trim. The floors and walls were made of stone, bearing the weight of the inn above. A tiny window let in a sliver of silver moonlight, aiding a dying candle with the effort of illuminating the room.
A masked man worked magic on a suit of orcish plate armor.
He was welding thick, woven cloth to breaks in the armor with his magic. His sleeves were rolled up, and sweat dripped from his hands and face. Through the black dots of his mask, he focused on directing the molten heat from his hands onto the metal, melting it just enough to weld the cloth to the armor. It wasn’t art, but it was practical. He had finished sealing the armor shut with cloth and magic by the time the sun started to peak out from beyond the horizon.
Seeing the sun peek through his window, the man sighed and stood from his crouching position near one of the large, wide feet. He grabbed the robe, slipped it on, and climbed out the window. When he stood, he was now behind the inn, facing the more wooded part of Mythspell’s park system. He set off in the dim dawn into the woods.
He knew these woods well, very well. He followed trails with calm, but determined footsteps. He came across a nest of sleeping birds and slowed to a halt. He sighed and swallowed.
He rubbed his hands together and muttered a spell. He conjured thick, inky magic and spun it into a ball. He spread his palms and the ball floated upwards. It curved down when above the birds and fell abruptly, encasing the family in its spell. A few moments passed.
Tiny wisps, swirling with colors, jumped from the magic ball. The man raised his magic-coated hands to meet them. They zipped down and stuck on the spell he had cast on his hands. He folded them into the large sleeves of his robe and hurried back to the inn’s basement.