The Realms: A World Apart
Written by Jim Force, 2020 All rights reserved
Resurrection from death is disorienting. For sword-wielding warrior of The Realms, Arturus Carenta, one such occasion shatters his delicate hold on sanity and places the survival of infinite worlds in jeopardy.
Arturus’ eyes reopen and he beholds the woman who has just raised him from the dead, the Druidess Lilith Forestdweller, staring down at him. Her eyes open wider and her lower lip cranks to the left as she surveys his body. He compliments her on her beauty and sits up to kiss her on her cheek. Lilith urges him to rejoin the battle, but her words are sped up and incomprehensible. She’s gone at superhuman speed before he can rise to his hands and knees. From where it landed in the grass at his feet minutes earlier, his own dismembered head stares at him blindly. He snatches it by the hair as he stands. Blood splatters out of the neck, as he spins the face toward him. After admiring his own high cheekbones and square jawline, he lowers his arms and surveys the battlefield. The motley army of Grotesque Daemons still clots the grassy field and darkens the sky, overwhelming his group by power and number.
Melias Saskiir cartwheels out of reach from his latest foes and dashes to Arturus. He slaps a magical longsword into Aruturs’ right hand – the hand not gripping the bloody strands of hair from which dangles his severed head. Shouting over the din of battle as he races back, Melias urges Arturus to rejoin the fight. Arturus’ response is reflexive. A second later he has no idea what he even said to the Elf he calls ‘brother’. Arturus detects something behind him and casually turns. A man-sized fly-like Daemon drags itself toward him. It can scarcely keep its putrid insides from spilling out of the jagged gash in its abdomen, as it raises its sword to strike. Arturus bats the creature down using his former head as a weapon and not the sword Melias had given him. As the Daemon collapses, Arturus’ attention is drawn across the field where the stunningly beautiful Half-Elf Amberlin charges completely naked, sword in hand, at a cluster of disgusting monsters. At that moment he vows to someday marry her. Looking far off to his left, he locks eyes with the Wizard Orjulun, who immediately looks him up and down, then vomits. Orjulun wipes puke from his chin, as he turns to defend himself against a magical attack from a robed and faceless Daemon. Arturus recalls his armor having been split open prior to his beheading, but Orjulun’s reaction persuades him to check the wound. Some wounds leave scars, even after a Resurrection. He rips apart what is left of the chest piece of his armor fully exposing large female breasts. He whispers, “Not again.”
This is the moment Arturus Carenta loses his mind. But, as his grasp on reality slips away he is unaware of the key part he will play to assure reality for the rest of us is protected. Arturus and his adventuring party will save countless worlds just six months from this moment.
As he strolls through the winding dirt and plank streets of the bustling waterfront town of Dumas, Arturus Carenta sees the same wanted poster again and again, but it isn’t the one for which he searches. He notices all the people of Half-Elven descent scrutinizing him, while most Humans barely give him a glance. Likely, it is only the Half-Elves who can tell he is different. He’s not like them. In fact, he believes he is likely the only pure-blooded Elf their race has seen in over one hundred years. Elves almost never leave The Nation and only a select few people from Dumas can deal directly with them. Humans must think he is just another ‘half-breed’.
Glancing around as he walks, Arturus spots larger and larger groupings of the ‘fat and lazy’ merchants he’s grown to dislike so much in the last few months while he has been living off the river-side trail leading to The Elven Forest. He wonders out loud, “What has them so upset this time?” The griping gets louder and more intense as he turns onto a main street near the center of town. Ahead is a large group of merchants, Half-Elves, and Human women and children all shouting in angry voices. They surround a large man who wears distinguished robes and an oversized hat. Stepping closer, Arturus’ keen eyes can spot items in the man’s hands that he keeps holding up to the groans of disgust by the gathered crowd. Closer still, Arturus hears the man through the wails of the crowd. He says, ” . . . and not just the Ambrose wine that was needed to complete a deal to save the house of the poor widow Keeney, but the blade which was to be carried by our very own King Zane as agreed upon by the Queen of the Elves! Now we have risked our entire economy by upsetting those gentle people!” As the man says this, he holds aloft an emerald-encrusted longsword, which Arturus immediately recognizes – to his horror. The man continues, “For this, these three bandits will pay dearly!” As the crowd cheers, three men bound at hands and feet, drop out of thin air above the man, then bounce several times as the ropes around their necks tighten. The three are dead within seconds. The other ends of the ropes seemingly hang from nothingness. The crowd applauds wildly, except a small, cloaked figure making a quick retreat from the area dodging gracefully through the throng without a single misstep. Arturus scrutinizes the figure. It’s another Elf!
Arturus turns his attention back to the emerald-encrusted sword. He knows it must be trickery of some sort or maybe the blade is a copy. Only he knows where the real one is stashed. He looks back at the cloaked figure and plots an intercept course. Also blessed with a nimbleness of foot, Arturus reaches the other Elf at the outer edge of the crowd, just before they begin to disperse. Placing a hand on the Elf’s shoulder, he says, “Greetings Brother.” The Elf seems absolutely startled to see Arturus, but still in a hurry to leave the immediate area. “This way,” he says in perfect Elven, as he gently steers Arturus toward a narrow alley, glancing over his shoulders the entire way. A final glance back at his colleagues swinging from nooses gives Arturus a shiver and muddies his thoughts. Although he questions whether following this Elf is a good idea, he does as he is told.
The cloaked Elf pulls down his hood, once they are in the seclusion of the semi-private alleyway. He speaks in Elvish more out of habit than intent and says, “I am glad to see another one such as myself here, even one so close to the sky as you.” He smiles as he regards the stranger’s near freakish height, then looks out beyond Arturus towards the alley entrance, to assure no one is following. “This place reeks of Humans. I just wish I had some other option.” He coughs and clears his throat to quickly excuse himself from that uncomfortable subject and says, “I am Melias Saskiir, pleased to meet you,” and quickly adds a flourish and bow. “I thought I’d be the only Elf in this foul town. I am glad to see I was mistaken.”
Arturus smiles at the mention of his height and replies back in Elven, “I am Arturus Carenta. I too thought I was the only full-blooded Elf here. What other option are you talking about brother? Might I be of some help? I too wish to be free of Dumas.” As he speaks, his mind wanders back to his former companion’s execution.
The Elven language is lavish and lengthy to pronounce, just this small exchange lasts long enough for most of the crowd to disperse. “I have something I must check on, actually. It takes me out of the city and into the forest. You’re more than welcome to come along if you wish,” Arturus says, with a note of anxiety in his voice.
Melias breaks eye contact and frowns. “Which forest?”
“It’s just a small forest about a mile from here. If my gut is right, we’ll find nothing there. But hopefully, I’m wrong and my gut has shit for brains, and we’ll find a small treasure hoard I’ve hidden away.”
Treasure? Melias’ impression shifts from uncertain to dedicated. At least it wasn’t back home. He certainly isn’t ready for that venture. “Sure,” he says, smiling. Pulling his hood back over his head, he nods, “Lead on, my friend Arturus. The two walk out of town, taking the most direct route.
Rastorn spots two cloaked figures who seem to float across the ground, so fine is their grace of movement. They seem to be beating a retreat out of town just as he is, but they are much better at it. The two can spot the paths least used and direct themselves past those who do not want to see anyone go by. “What in the Nine Hells? Interesting…” Rastorn pulls his hooded cloak closer to him trying to ward off the ever-present chill. He follows. I’m getting blasted burs in my damned robes, he thinks as the cloaked figures dart from the city and into the wilderness beyond.
Melias jerks his head slightly to the side and back.
Arturus glances quickly behind them and spots a hooded man wading through the high grass closer to the bottom of the hill they ascend. He follows their footsteps exactly as he curses to himself. Arturus halts and spins around. “You there – state your name and business! I know you’re following; I can hear you cursing!”
Rastorn mumbles, “‘Hear me cursing?’ Those bastards are tens of yards away…only one humanoid race hears that well…” He looks up at the face of the man yelling at him. His eyes focus, then widen. “I am called Rastorn. I mean you no harm. Just curious,” his rasping voice calls out.
“Greetings, I am Arturus and this is Melias. We wish you no harm. It just isn’t wise in this day and age to sneak up on someone like that. What brings you out here following us anyway? I can’t see a reason you couldn’t come along. Since my three former partners have umm, gone missing maybe I can talk the two of you into a job I have. Interested?” Arturus speaks in common and then repeats in Elvish.
Stepping closer, mainly to get a better view of the two elusive individuals, Rastorn answers, “Yes, I’d say it is indeed dangerous to ‘sneak up’ on anyone.” Then, in crystal clear Elvish, he adds, “And what type of ‘job’ do you have in mind?” When he gets close enough to verify the two men are Elves, he stifles a gasp. Elves! Fearing their reaction to his deformed face and pallid blue flesh, he ducks his head, so the cloak hood shields their view. He heard Elves are vain and mistake ugliness as evil.
“Three?” Melias interjects. His head tilts and brows raise as he asks Arturus, “Like the three that were… um… tied up recently?”
Arturus, slightly taken aback to hear a human speak Elvish so well, continues the conversation in Elvish. “I uh… am a thief of sorts. It’s a long story, but basically, I rob caravans stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. I used to work for the merchants and now I quite enjoy stealing from them. But I need help, and my colleagues seem to have um… skipped out on me. Yes, the three that were hung. The sword the man held up was hidden and that’s where I’m going, to check on my effects.”
Melias’ mouth drops open.
“Forgot to mention this – didn’t I?” Arturus says.
“This is strange,” Rastorn says, “I know I am not accustomed to the ways of Elves, but to openly state ‘I’m a thief,’ to total strangers is very odd in the eyes of humans. ‘A thief,’ you say? Stealing from merchants… what would you say if I told you I was an official of the law? Not saying I am, but you are quite open with your business my Elven friend.” He considers silently how such large and open mouths get men killed in cities such as Dumas, as he further introduces himself. “I am a practitioner of magic. I wield it and I mold it. There is nothing special about me other than those two facts.”
Melias yanks his shirt collar away from his neck as he chuckles, “I’m just along for the ride. I don’t even know this asshole…” He steps away, just in case Rastorn is the law.
Arturus responds, “I am not too worried, I’ve been searching for a wanted poster of myself for a while. Apparently, I’m either not good at finding posters or they don’t know what I’ve been doing. Plus, I know this forest well if I need to hide.” He shrugs. “I speak what’s on my mind and damn the consequences to later.”
Rastorn chuckles at the uneasiness he has caused. “Gentlemen, no worries. I am of no consequence. I am leaving this town as well; too many… bad memories.” He approaches them further and holds out his hands, palms up. He offers a wrist to shake to both.
Arturus steps forward and accepts the human’s wrist. Grasping it, he gives a vigorous shake and nods his head. “Shall we be off to my secret stash then?” he asks.
Relieved, Melias shakes the wizard’s arm as well. “Spellcaster, huh? That’s interesting. I don’t see many of those around anymore.” Smiling at Arturus, Melias says, “Look … I didn’t mean anything with the crack about the asshole…”
“That’s alright, I know I can be one sometimes, and I should’ve been more honest. I deserved it, honestly.”
“You’re right,” Rastorn tells Melias, “Cultury is where you find most of those who practice the Arts. I am merely here because it is my place of origin and I needed to restock some supplies.” He turns to face Arturus. With a gleam in his eye, he says, “Yes, let us go find this treasure you speak of.”
“Excellent. It’s not far from here. Less than a mile, actually,” Arturus says as he leads the way.
As the three men top the hill and enter the forest, the only person within Dumas who could have witnessed their departure looks right at them but is so lost in thought he does not see them. His name is Orjulun. Looking out his bedroom window, he takes a mental inventory of his preparations and plans. You’ve paid tribute to (which means “bribed” – a common practice in Dumas) the right people to assure you leave your home unseen. You’ve chosen the time of day when there are the most distractions on the opposite side of town. You’ve used your remaining gold to purchase four saddled riding horses. Earlier today, a trusted fellow Wizard introduced you to three successful swordsmen who agreed to ride with you to the next city, if you supplied the horses and left today. Having these guards was the final piece. Unfortunately, you just saw the three “swordsmen” hung in the town square for banditry. Maybe Ayh-ctog isn’t as good or trustworthy a friend as you thought. Worse yet, maybe someone else got to him first! If Lickmer knows you plan on leaving . . . you must leave soon! This plan can still work – all you need is three men-at-arms to agree to go with you. “Scorses will light the way! All I need do is open my eyes and all will be revealed.”
“Less than a mile?” Rastorn knows his apprehension probably sounds like whining to the Elves, but they don’t know the fathoms the old mage had to walk only days before. His feet hurt and he wishes for a horse.
Melias chuckles and rolls his eyes. He wonders if the Human is even capable of walking a mile. Humans seem awfully out of condition to him. “Rob from the rich, fat merchants, huh? Give it to the poor peasants?” He rubs his chin. “That sounds nice… unless you are a merchant.”
Arturus points to another wooded hill south-west of the city. “That’s where we’re going. Not much further. Through the valley and up.”
Orjulun half-hurries, half-slinks out of the city, glad to see it falling behind him on the trail. He is glad to be out of its clutches, even if it is only a few hundred yards. It isn’t just because his master is cruel and a criminal. It isn’t just because the king is a dullard and a murderer. No, he is glad to be out because it means his freedom. For the first time in a long time, he is free to make his own decisions. That feels good, and it is a feeling Orjulun wants to embrace for a while. He closes his eyes and breathes in the fresh sea breezes. When he opens his eyes, he spots three men walking through the valley along the side of the road. He brings the horses to a halt and studies the group for a moment, then shrugs and heads towards them. He hopes they aren’t brigands set to rob him. Maybe he was meant to run into these three. It can’t be a coincidence that he lost three possible guardians and now before him is one person for each horse he pulls.
As the group starts working their way up the small, oblong hill, they note a young, clean-cut man in sky blue robes approaching. He rides a healthy-looking brown horse and is pulling three more saddled horses behind him. Rastorn turns quickly on his heel and holds out a hand defensively, twisted in the somatic form of spell preparedness. “State your business stranger!” The shout is more akin to a hiss, but his point comes across clearly as his face distorts into a scowl.
Orjulun reins his horse to a stop a few yards from the stranger. One of their group is a mage? Orjulun hadn’t seen many adventuring Wizards in his day. Most he knew were quite happy to stay in the relative safety of the city. Still, Orjulun didn’t like being threatened, especially when he has just as much right as anyone to traverse the roads and valleys. “I don’t want any trouble from you, sir mage,” Orjulun says, “I had hoped to ask if your group might wish to accompany me to the next town in return for these three horses, but based on your suspicious nature and your blatant provocation, I am quite happy to be on my way alone.” Scorses guide my path, Orjulun silently prays, while awaiting a reply.
Melias looks sidelong towards Rastorn and scoffs, “’State your business?’ Come on… who died and made you road marshal?” He steps forward and lifts his hand. “Sorry about the stern nature of my companion, he’s a bit grumpy that we have yet another half mile to walk.” Pulling the hood from his head, he exposes his blond hair and pointed ears. He approaches the horses and appraises them, for he had classes on how to ride and favored putting those very skills to use. Three empty horses and three strung up thieves… the whole thing smells fishy to him. Perhaps Arturus is in cahoots with this stranger and setting them up for a robbery. Wouldn’t they be surprised to discover how incredibly poor I am now, he thinks. Riding, he decides, is still preferable to walking. “It appears we share the common goal to leave Dumas far behind us. It is a nasty place.”
Arturus introduces himself, then looks at Rastorn and smiles, knowing it was in the same tone and words with which he halted the mage. “We have one thing we need to do before we head elsewhere. If you do not mind a short detour, I think I speak for us all when I say we’d be grateful to travel with you to the next city or wherever the four winds might carry us. Hmm, four winds and there’s four of us.”
“I’ll just be happy to get my ass on a horse again… I’m getting too old to travel by foot, you know. Sorry to be so brash,” Rastorn says, casting a glance at Arturus. “I thought that was common greeting among people nowadays,” he adds with a cynical chuckle. “Not to mention the things I’ve seen in my days. A man with three extra saddled horses tromping up behind a group of men traveling looks mighty strange. Who are you and from where do you hail?”
Melias adds his own chuckle to the comment. These men are too uptight, in his opinion. That, he decides, is to his benefit. They need to be on their toes if they are travelling with him. After all, there is no telling when she might show up.
Melias works his way to the second of the three horses, checking its hooves, it’s teeth, it’s eyes, it’s fur… he is quite meticulous. “I am Melias, by the way. I am new to the area.”
“My apologies to you all,” Orjulun says with a raised hand. “Perhaps I was too quick to take offense at your words. I am Orjulun Mirrorstar, former apprentice to the Court Magister Lickmer. I now leave of my own will, as I have had my fill of the corruption of this city.” Smiling at Melias, he says, in Elvish, “I cannot vouch for their quality, friend Melias, but they were purchased at the same stables that sometimes provide mounts for the King’s men.” He turns and slouches slightly in the saddle, to see the face beyond Arturus’ cowl. “Yes, Arturus,” he says in Common, “I am in no true hurry, so a brief detour would be acceptable. Please, choose your mount and we can be on our way.” Orjulun knows Elves are typically honorable people, so that eases most of his concerns. Still, he decides to remain somewhat guarded. Scorses had led him down this path, so he is determined to see where it leads.
“Orjulun Mirrorstar, fine name lad. Now, when you say, ‘former apprentice to the Court Magister Lickmer,’ you mean you are a mage’s apprentice, yes? You and I have some things in common then,” Rastorn says as he mounts the horse the Elves aren’t studying. He cares about animals, for they are useful and helpful, but those two are far too meticulous in their examination by his reckoning. These aren’t for sale or prize; they’re bloody horses to sit my ass upon. “Wine,” he offers the newcomer, then pulls the stopper from his wine skin with his teeth and takes a lengthy swig. “It’s fine and aged well. Not a hint of vinegar in this batch; I brew my own. Oh, I brew ale and mead as well,” he says, eyeing each in turn. There are no takers.
Once they are all mounted and riding along the hillside, Melias further appraises each man. Orjulun uses all the right gestures and bows in an Elven way. He decides any man who has studied another culture expressly to make them feel comfortable must be principled. This Rastorn character is ugly, even by Human standards! His voice is not the sing-song lilt of the Elves, but more like that of someone who has gargled with shards of pottery. Still, Melias recalls the proverb, ‘You can’t judge a Human by his hovel.’ As for Arturus, he believes they will all learn how much he can be trusted when they arrive at their destination.
Arturus leads them along a roundabout route to a secluded spot in the woods atop the hill. At the end of a row of oaks, he dismounts and moves ahead on foot, waving the others back. He soon reappears through the underbrush with a look of disappointment on his face. “They took it all! Every copper! Now what am I supposed to do?”
To Melias, it was nothing ventured – nothing gained. By the Nine Hells, he had a horse now, so it wasn’t that great of a loss to him. With a shrug he says, “Sorry to hear that,” though he didn’t really feel as sorry as he led on. Steering his horse so he can face the others in the group, he laughs and says, “Look, we may not have the quick and easy riches like we came out here to get, but we may have gained something far better. Perhaps the gods themselves had something in mind when they threw us together in this series of coincidental meetings.” He looks back towards Arturus, “There will be more treasures. Let’s go find them.” As Arturus joins their circle, Melias asks the group, “Where is our next village then?”
Arturus considers what Melias had said. It was disappointing to see everything he worked so hard and risked so much for to be stolen by supposed partners, but perhaps that would lead to something far greater. He decides he no longer feels bad about seeing them hang. It was grim, but that’s just how things work out. “You’re right, of course. I believe everything happens for a reason. Maybe instead of giving the poor treasure, it might be better to help them better fend for themselves. We can overthrow an evil Lord, free those in slave positions and so on. Nobody appreciates things that are just given to them. So, young Wizard, where is it you are heading again?”
Quite disappointed that there is no treasure to be seen, and missing his protective magical items dreadfully, Rastorn answers the tall Elf, “I believe he may still be a little green. I’ve done quite a bit of traveling in my day. The road we left is called The Eastern Tradeway, it runs south to Darkuth. From there we can go west on East Road to Metava which continues to ASU or continue deep into the south to Homeland. Where do you all believe we might discover some new treasures?”
Orjulun graciously gestures for Rastorn’s wine and takes a sip. It isn’t the fine wine he is accustomed to drinking at the castle, but it washes the road dust from his throat. He smiles and nods his thanks to Rastorn, as he hands back the skin. He uses this time to take stock of Arturus. He hid his riches out here, where anyone could get them? Wouldn’t only a thief looking over his shoulder do something like that? All three men had lowered their hoods when Arturus returned from the brush, so Orjulun now has a clearer view of their heritage. Although until now he never met an Elf in person, he had extensive training in Elven cultural norms in case he was ever called upon to represent Dumas in dealings with The Nation. As far as he knows, there are no evil Elves. “Well, I suppose anyplace is better than Dumas,” he says. “But I have heard unnerving things about Metava… it seems the leader is assassinated every so often, and this is apparently accepted behavior in choosing a new leader. Darkuth… Lord Darkoth’s eyes are said to match those on their flag and that has always made me a bit nervous. I only wish to leave here, so wherever the road takes us is where I must go.”
There is only one way out of Dumas: Eastern Tradeway. This infamous road leads from the edge of the Elven Forest and Dumas, past Darkuth and the Lava Flow, all the way to Homeland and beyond to Miragia. It seems to be safe in alternating turns. The road to Darkuth is usually safe, but what would the group encounter once there?
To be continued . . .
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