Friday, November 6, 2015
The Rise of the Elementals, Chapter 1
If everything in the world were combined, it would probably be the color of mead. Murky, crumby, and vaguely brown. Govad swirled his drink around, looking at it from underneath his cloak's hood, watching the salty chunks of fruit bob up and down in the thin liquid. The world was a lot like mead when you thought about it, if you really thought about it. Especially after drinking it.
He placed the drink on the counter and looked around the tavern. Several of the other patrons, almost all human, dwarf, or elf, stared back when he glanced at them. He drew his long sleeves down over his hands, covering his ashy gray skin. Hilldale was a busy town, situated on a major road between two big cities, but was still small enough that everyone could tell an outsider when they saw one.
The bartender tapped the counter, and Govad looked up to see his stern eyes glaring at him from underneath bushy brows. “Make it last, 'cause that's your last one,” he said. “We don't want you getting drunk and causing trouble.” Govad felt dozens of eyes watching his back, waiting and expecting for him to make a scene. His cheeks flushed, turning a darker smoky shade. He downed the last of his mead and stood up. One drink wasn't nearly enough to get him as drunk as he wanted to be. He didn't have the coin to pay for more anyway, though. He walked out of the tavern without another word.
Govad shambled down the street, searching for a place to stay the night. He would leave first thing in the morning, away from this distrustful town. If they would let him get that far, at least.
A hand suddenly pushed back Govad's shoulder. He staggered to the side before catching himself. He looked up to see three men standing in his path. They were your average troublesome, burly types who had a bone to pick with the world even though they already chewed off all the meat. The human who had shoved him leaned down to look under Govad's hood. “Where do you think you're going?” he said.
“Forward,” Govad replied. “Which was already proving to be a bit difficult.”
“Listen,” the man continued. Govad saw his stance was wide, his legs slightly bowed. His muscles were firm but his body lean, often used. However, he was unshaven, and not in a tame sort of way; his hairs grew wildly away from his chin as if even they couldn't stand to listen to him speak. He must spend a lot of time on horseback, constantly working to make ends meet, and not have enough time to spend on himself, much less his family.
“And that's why we've got to teach you a lesson,” he finished.
Govad blinked, one eyelid lagging a bit behind the other. “I'm back in boot camp now?” he said.
“You're gonna get my boot all right,” the human grumbled. He stepped towards Govad, and the two other cronies circled around to prevent escape. Govad wouldn't have been able to run if he tried, but he silently applauded their teamwork. He stumbled backwards to avoid being grabbed, and in doing so, his hood fell back from his head.
The three men tensed, the leader clenching his fists and teeth in a way that made him look more like a caged animal than a bully. “I knew it!” he said. “It's an elemental!”
Govad's dim gray skin was revealed to the afternoon sun. Silvery lines stretched up and down his body, ending in swirls at his cheeks and the top of his bald head. His baggy eyes were solid gray as well, missing the pupils and irises that humans were used to seeing. Govad sighed. He knew of the distrust that his appearance brewed, and constantly explaining himself had begun to grow tiring.
“Elementalborn,” he said.
The human wrinkled his nose. Clearly he was not used to hearing words with more than four syllables. “What?” he said.
“I'm not an elemental, I'm an elementalborn,” Govad explained. “Windborn to be specific. I know, we really need a better name for it, but to be honest my head is swimming right now and I'm not capable of that kind of creative thought.”
One of the men spat, the splotch of saliva striking the ground next to Govad's boot. He frowned.
“You need to leave before you cause damage,” the man said. Govad turned to look at him, but his eyes had trouble focusing. “Your kind're always destroying stuff.”
Govad grumbled. “No, you're still thinking of elementals. See, a wind elemental, now, that would actually be made of wind. And yeah, it would blow stuff down and generally cause a big ruckus. I'm not an elemental, see?” He held up his hand. “Skin.”
The human in the lead had clearly had enough debate about semantics, because he swung his fist at Govad. The windborn was too slow to react, and received the full blow on his left cheek. Govad toppled to the ground. His head had been swimming before; now it seemed that it had swum into a whirlpool.
The man bent down and brought his nose close to Govad's eye. Govad could smell his sweat and the dirt that he had collected over the past several days of work. “You're a danger, that's what you are,” the man said. He spit, and this time the gob landed on Govad's face. He grimaced, but stayed silent. The man straightened up and gave Govad a kick to the stomach, forcing a moan out of him. The three then walked off, presumably back to the tavern to brag about their victory.
Govad resigned himself to spending a moment to recuperate. He didn't want anyone to see him in that state, but he didn't trust his legs enough to hold up if he tried to stand right away. When he heard footsteps approaching, he started scrambling to right himself.
“Are you okay?” a voice said. Govad, halfway towards pulling himself up with the help of a wooden fence, turned to see who was addressing him. When the two people he saw finally blended together into one, he found a young human woman with long black hair staring at him with concerned, tired eyes.
Govad cleared his throat. “I'm in ship shape,” he said, using one of his favorite phrases. He liked it because it was already slurred, so he wouldn't sound any worse than he was.
The woman offered her arm, which Govad took because the fence wasn't putting any effort into getting him off the ground. The woman was wearing strange robes, Govad noticed. They were adorned with several different colors, which stood out starkly against the brown and beige of Govad's cloak and tunic. Around her neck was a circular pendant depicting a key and scroll, the symbols of some god that Govad probably heard of before but couldn't recall at the moment. He also noticed that she was still staring at him.
“I saw what those men did to you,” she said, and winced, her hazel eyes focusing on his cheek. “You don't look that good. Let me help you.”
Govad smirked and took his arm out from hers. “How do you know I didn't deserve it?”
“No one who fights someone three on one is ever in the right.” She smiled, though still clearly thought of Govad as a crazy tramp. Govad resented that slightly, even though it wasn't wrong. “My name is Audrie,” she added.
“Hmph,” Govad said, and started walking away. Audrie watched him for a moment before striding briskly to catch up. Govad quickened his pace (at least the punch had sobered him up enough to walk straight), but her legs were longer and she maintained his speed.
“You're heading out of town,” Audrie said. Her hands were folded in front of her as she walked, her thumbs nervously staging an acrobatic battle. “Wouldn't it be better to head back to recuperate?”
“You saw where those three were headed right?” Govad said. “Bad idea for me to do the same.”
“Well, you're walking towards the forest.” Audrie stared at Govad, but he kept his eyes focused forward. She pursed her lips. “The Shadir Forest? It's dangerous and filled with monsters, from all accounts?”
Govad chuckled dryly. “I'm the dangerous one, by all accounts. Shouldn't you be afraid of me, if you trust what everyone else is saying?”
“Why, because of your skin?” Audrie said, grinning. “Please, my boss is a half-ogre.” Her smiled faded. “Was.”
Govad sighed and stopped walking, then turned to face Audrie next to him. He wished he were able to grow a beard so he could appear more old and wizened, but he settled for licking his front teeth and sticking out his jaw. “If you must know, yes, I am heading into the Shadir Forest. That's the way I need to go and I would like to involve as few people in my journey as possible, dangers be damned. Is that what you wanted to know?”
“That's where I'm going as well,” Audrie said. “There is something in there that I need to find before someone...a murderer gets to it.” Tears began to well up in her eyes. “I lost everything and everyone I had last night, and maybe it's just hitting me now, or maybe it hasn't hit me yet, but the only thing I care about right now is stopping the man that destroyed my home from getting what he wants. I can't do it alone, though. If you are headed in that direction...will you help me find the Four-Cornered Staff?”
Govad blinked. “Nope.” He turned and started walking down the road, south towards the forest. “Nope, nope, nope. Not getting involved in that. Good luck, but nope. There are plenty of people in this town who want to humiliate dangerous people, though, maybe try one of them.”
Audrie sighed and went back into town. She clearly hadn't expected such a tall order to work anyway. He shrugged to himself. Sometimes, problems had to be ignored. He pulled his hood back up, despite the afternoon sun beaming down on him. He looked down the road ahead of him, with the dark forest at the visible end. He then noticed two horses riding from it towards Hilldale. When he saw the flag that was flying from one of them, he stopped short. “Oh, no.”
Audrie gasped when Govad suddenly grabbed her arm from behind. “On second thought, you know, that is a noble cause that I should certainly not deny. I would be honored to join you on your quest.”
“Really?” Audrie said. Her stoic expression turned bright again. “Thank you! You don't know how much this means to me.”
“We should act quick,” Govad said. “Let's be off! You can tell me more about the situation on the way. Let's take the path around the fields instead of the main road...”
“Hold on,” Audrie said, grabbing Govad's shoulder before he could walk to far ahead. “We should gather some supplies. And you were right, there might be others in town who are willing to join us. The larger our group, the safer we'll be.”
“Yes, yes, quite true,” Govad said, glancing from Audrie to the road south and back. “But I think we would be wasting too much time. You did say the word 'murderer,' that's pretty serious.”
“Exactly, but...oh, here are some of the king's men! They must be informed.” She dashed off before Govad could stop her towards the knights that were approaching from the south. Govad stayed back, trying to lean against the fence casually.
“Excuse me!” Audrie said. The guard closest to her waved a hand to his companion, and the two stopped. He looked down at the monk expectantly. Audrie bowed. “Greetings, sir knight. I am a monk from the Eirian Monastery to the northeast. Last night it was burned to the ground by a man disguising his appearance with a leather hood. It being within the kingdom of Cadereria, this news must be brought to the capital and a search begun for this man! I believe he seeks to cause yet more destruction.”
The guards exchanged a look that told how they were not expecting to deal with this sort of thing today. The closest looked back down at Audrie. “That is...horrible, to say the least.” He spent a moment grasping for words. “But...we cannot stray from our current path. We are riding for Raylea, however, so we can pass on a message to the king so he can address the issue.”
The corner of Audrie's mouth twitched downward, and it looked like she might cry again. “That will allow him time to escape. Still, it must be done. If you will wait for me, I will write a letter to give you, so you can pass it along in Raylea to someone who is able to offer help.”
“The king himself will read it, my lady,” the knight said.
They spurred their horses and continued towards Hilldale. Audrie walked back to Govad, who carefully avoided making eye contact with the guards. “Well, as soon as I finish this letter, I will be off. Will you join me?”
Govad looked at the knights again. “No, turns out I won't be able to. I've got to head off as soon as possible.” He stepped forward, gained his balance without the help of the fence, and adjusted his cloak around his shoulders. “Good luck with your...murderer.”
Audrie frowned and didn't say anything, so Govad started trudging towards the forest. He put one hand on the hilt of the sword he had concealed under his cloak. It was going to be a long journey. He put his other hand on the flask he had in his pocket. Good thing he had his mead.