Narod Rada

The Unambitious Ambush
Various

“About a dozen I say!”, Søren cried out. Since he had preferred to walk next to the horse that had been provided for him, rather than riding on it, he had been able to react quickly, drawing his glaive from under the saddle bag, and finding cover behind the fir tree against which he was leaning now. The slim trunk was not in the slightest wide enough to shield his back completely, and would have made a poor cover, had it been his intention to remain there for long. His muscles were tense, ready to leap out against the attackers, as soon as they showed their faces.
Selas noticed, as he carried himself behind a log, that all the other arrows seemed to be shot aimlessly, as not one of them hit any significant spot.
After the first wave of arrows ended they heard one of the attackers shout. “Surrender yourselves, and nothing happens to you. Leave your valuables on the ground and leave this forest.”
Selas looked with a puzzled face over to Taberlin who had joined him behind the dead tree. “There is something wrong here. I don’t think we’re fighting against more than one guy. What do the treetops tell you?” he winked at the Elf. Taberlin was already halfway up the nearest fir tree before the question was finished. He felt safer up there anyway.

After Halvin successfully dodged the arrow that was supposed to hit Selas, he gave the horse he was leading a signal to lay down so it wouldn’t be hurt. Immediately he ran towards the arrow, pulled it out of the tree, and vanished into the wood. While he was silently moving in a wide arc around the bandits that were surrounding the group, he wondered that he didn’t hear any sounds of them. He stood still for a moment to look through the trees and shrubberies at the group, as he saw Taberlin starting climbing a tree and a rather odd look on Selas’ face.
Without further ado Halvin quickly moved into the direction where the arrow he dodged came from whilst he took his composit bow from his back and nocked the very arrow.

“Where’s Halvin? And where’s Jill?” Clayton asked. In the sudden pandemonium of the attack they had lost sight of them both. The saddle of Jill’s pony, where she had been sitting reading her book just seconds ago, was now empty, her little horse just standing there paralyzed.
Jill heard Clayton ask for her, but she didn’t dare to respond. For now she deemed it safest to just stay where she was, leaning against the back of her pony, waiting until the men had dealt with the peril.
She felt her heart hammering her chest like a woodpecker. Damn you tiny heart! she thought. Keep it together! Her fingers wrote some words into her hand, but it didn’t help. She had never been that good in the arts of handwriting, as she had to admit once more.
An arrow whistled two feet above her head. Jill didn’t know much about archery, but these bandits surely were some terrible marksmen.

When he noticed that none of the arrows had a chance to hit any of his companions, or himself, Søren lept out from behind the tree, and started running towards the bushes from which some of the projectiles were coming. Dodging one or two of the arrows he quickly reached the treeline and raised his glaive. The blade cut through the thicket with ease.
Søren was ready to strike again, this time at the person behind the leaves, when he paused. Instead of the dirty thief with a bow that he had expected, before him stood a strange wooden box. On each of its side it had strange arms that moved in circular motions. On top and bottom there stuck out the vibrating ends of what looked like a bow.
“What in the name of…?”, Søren was so paralyzed by his amazement that he almost got struck by an arrow that suddenly came flying out of a little hole on the frontside of the box. Only in the last second he moved to the side and so being wounded fatally in his stomach.
Quickly he looked around to check if the others had made similar discoveries as he had.

The instant Halvin saw the single man standing underneath a big oak tree, he began to slowly move in from the side. But upon hearing a very silent, unique noise that was somehow familiar, Halvin dropped his bow and himself to the ground and rolled aside, just to see a shadow passing by the very spot he stood moments ago. Did that just happen? Picking up his bow, Halvin quickly crawled around the next tree, stood up again and headed deeper into the forrest, his eyes scanning for any unusual signs or traces, his mind racing. Knowing the group being able to deal with the fallacious ambush, he rushed through the woods to reach higher grounds to find out if his mind only tricked him.

Selas had crawled into the bushes from where one of the bow-traps had fired arrows at the group. Neatly hidden behind a short yew tree he found one of the strange looking boxes. Without further investigation he kicked and smashed the device until the vibration and the rotating motions stopped. What a coward. Looking up from the trashed thing he saw Halvin moving in a certain direction. As Selas looked that way he suddenly recognized an odd looking man standing by a large tree, moving his arms and fingers in a way as if he would control a marionette.
At the same moment Taberlin rushed down from the tree, overwhelming the old man by holding him a short blade to his throat.
Selas, a bit confused, hurried toward the oak tree. He was sure, that this was the only foe they were fighting so he started shouting to the group. Suddenly something appeared in the corner of his eye, but it was to late. The young boy had tightened a rope over which Selas fell, completely unprepared. He hit the ground pretty hard with his already injured shoulder and cried out in pain. The young boy tried to overpower the older warrior, but despite the pain in his shoulders, and the numbness of the fall, he had no chance. Eventually Selas stood up and grabbed the rascal by his ear and dragged him to the old man.
As everyone gathered around this unlike couple Selas remembered that Halvin was missing.

Selas pushed the boy towards the old man. He was clothed in a long orange robe that was sewn together rather randomly. On his head there was a pointy leather hat, decorated with several foreign runes and symbols. The boy was wearing short brown pants and a white tank top which was quite dirty and tattererd. His hair was hidden under a dark brown bonnet.

Søren made a step forward and took a close look at the old man and the boy. Then he turned around, and looked at Selas, “What is this?”, he asked with slight annoyance ringing in his voice.
“I’m not quite sure.”, he replied looking at them with squinted eyes. “Let’s ask them!”, he said, raising his gun and pointing it towards the old man.
The young etelä shrugged his shoulders and turned back to the attackers, “What is this?”, he asked again, barely changing the tone of his voice.
The boy had hidden himself behind the old man who stood proud, with arms crossed, in front of the big oak. Without looking at the warrior who asked the question he replied harshly, “That’s none of your business!”
Selas couldn’t stand it anymore. He considered himself patient, but if someone dared to talk back to him in an arrogant manner he could lose it instantly. With two big steps he reached them and pushed the old one to the floor. With his gun pointing to the old mans temple he shouted: “Listen you old fart! You better talk, or you and your boy can…”
“Stop it Selas!” Halvin said, emerging from the bushes laying his hand on to Selas’ weapon. “They are harmless.”
“Harmless?” he said without turning his eyes from the old man. “They ambushed us! Did you forget that?”
Without answering his question Halvin stepped to the odd looking captive and grabbed his hand. On the back of it, there was a circular shaped symbol. It appeared to be carved into the flesh. “These two belong to the order of the new sun. Have you heard of them?”
Selas lowered his eyes to think. “You mean the rebel group who refused to surrender, after the great loss in Gelminan? They kept on fighting for weeks until they suddenly disappeared. If it’s really them, they are a huge threat to the Council and Algaman.” Again he pointed his gun at the captives head, still ignoring the pain in his shoulder.
“That’s over fifty years ago Selas. The group only consists of old, disenchanted and tired people.”
“Hey! I’m not disenchanted! Tired at best…” the old man protested mumbling.
Ignoring him Halvin continued, “Most of them don’t even believe in anything anymore. They meet in taverns to drink, rant about the government and puzzle out subversive ideas which are never actually realized. And obviously from time to time, there’s a particularly bold member who tries to intimidate travelers and get some money out of them, just to waste it on drinks.”
Selas lowered his gun. “I’m not sure if I still know how to grant mercy…”
Halvin lowered his voice and added “… but we have something way more important to do than to play judge in this minor crime drama. We should keep going.”
Selas looked down on the ground lost in thoughts. “Yes. You’re probably right. And you two,” he snapped at the two vagabunds, “let this be a lesson to you.” With a hefty kick in to the old man’s bottom he chased them away.
“Are we ready to move on?” he asked, grinning roguishly.
“I don’t know”, Halving answered, “what’s your shoulder telling you?”
Selas waved the pain in his shoulder aside. “Ready for action!” He waved around with his injured shoulder to test the mobility. His pain contorted face indicated, that he was far from ready to battle again. “Well… maybe just moving on with the travelling should do it for now.” he admitted.
“Selas, let me help you”, Halvin said, while he walked around him. With a quick movement he relocated Selas’ shoulder. “Ha-”, Selas suppressed a painful scream, using all his willpower to not show his pain and grasping for air.
“Listen, everyone!” he shouted in a brisk tone, trying to conceal his pain. “We’re done here. Let’s get moving!”
The group packed their belongings, retrieved their mounts and set off in the direction of the great passage of Luthel, the massive bridge over the Ishon Ren.

View
The Road to Glory
Seraphael & Fona

Selas looked over to Halvin who sat on the other side of the table. With the mug in his hand he pointed towards the mysterious man. The words took time to leave his mouth.
“Now it’s just the two of us. Two old men. Tired. At least I am. Do you know that feeling?”
The Halfblood, who was staring into the fire raised his head to look at Selas and replied after a few moments of sizing him up. “I guess I do. But tell me, what are you tired of?”
“I don’t know…” Selas stood up and reeled slowly to the wall painting in the back of the room. It was filled with battle scenes and heroic feats of the past. The alcohol made him talkative.
“I think I’m tired of running after a purpose in life.” He paused. “Honestly, I’m afraid. Afraid of the fact, that this quest is also unable to fill my quest for purpose. What is the purpose in life after all?” He beamed over to the cloaked man.
“Sometimes” Halvin said slowly, “purpose isn’t something you can find, but purpose eventually might find you.”
Selas turned to face him. “Uuh, mysterious words by a mysterious man.” he scoffed. “You know, that didn’t help at all actually.” With large steps he approached the Half-breed, who was still sitting in his chair. Only his eyes moved, giving away the fact that he was actually following Selas’ every move. “What would you know about purpose? And what’s with all the secretiveness?” Selas’ hand reached out for the other mans hood.
“Calm down, my friend” Halvin said, suddenly raising his voice as well as himself up from the chair he was sitting in, looking Selas straight into the eye, “it wouldn’t be any fun if I told you everything.” With his nose still almost touching Sela’s forehead, he lowered his voice and continued, “You must find it yourself, in your own way. If you are looking for purpose, you should keep your eyes wide open.” He smiled and added “… in every direction…”
Selas resumed the attempt of unmasking hin and was surprised by the swift reaction of his opponent. His tipsiness didn’t help either. His movements were slow and inaccurate. Eventually he tripped over a small stool and fell hard on his face. As Halvin approached him to check if he was alright, the old mercenary was already sound asleep and snoring a little. “May you find your purpose, my friend” Halvin said and smiled again while leaving, since some servants entered to pick Selas up and carry him to a matress in a small chamber in the basement where he was left until the morning.

Before the first rays of light hit the big central tower of Algaman the party had already gathered outside the city walls at the western gate called Guthìden. They were loading their mounts, checking the weapons for the last time and preparing mentally for the journey to come. The chancellor, along with a few members of the high council were there to bid them farewell. The last time they sent a group of adventurers, the farewell was huge. The whole city came to sing and cheer them on. But now, considering the failure of the last attempt they wanted to keep it smaller. The Chancellor and his companions said a few encouraging words, but Boyle was interestingly quiet, as he didn’t have such a big audience to talk to, Selas guessed.

Soon they were travelling west, away from the safe walls of Algaman. They traveled rather quiet and Selas had placed himself in the front of the group to avoid questions about his bruised face. Even his fedora couldn’t cover the souvenir from last night. He remembered few of what happened and he decided it would be best that way. He reduced the pace of his horse until his pace matched Halvin’s.
“About last night…” he started as he shifted around uncomfortably on his saddle.
The Half-Blood lifted his hand without looking at him. “Nobody knows.” he uttered.

The first day of travel went by with not much to tell. Clayton had hunted some rabbits, Taberlin couldn’t stop talking about all kinds of food, and Jill was reading the whole time as her Pony was tied to the horse in front of it. She didn’t seem to notice that the land was becoming rougher as they approached the Valley of Ishon Ren, the great river running from north to south. Boulders covered in moss started to appear, the road became more winding and in the distance they heard the rushing water.

All of a sudden Taberlin stoppped talking in mid sentence. It was an unusual quietness, and everyone looked at him, just to see him standing motionless with eyes wide open besides Selas.
“Duck!” he screamed and pulled Selas down from his horse. In this moment an arrow bolted through his coat and hit a tree near Halvin.
“Bandits!”, Selas shouted lying on the floor. He was so surprised by the Elf, that he couldn’t react to the fall. It felt like his left shoulder was dislodged. Nevermind, I’m more than good enough with one arm left. He sat up and looked around, the gun in his right hand. They were on the main road in a hollow (in german “Senke”, I don’t know the right word) of about 150 feet in diameter, that was filled with trees and boulders. A perfect location for a trap.
“How many are there?” Selas cawed in the same moment as they started the attack. The group heard the fizzling of the arrows dashing at them.

View
Dinner with the Chancellor
Several

As the fifth day after the initial summons drew to a close, the Council surveyed the small band of mercenaries who stood before them. After nearly a week of harrowing investigations and debate, the pool of candidates had been sifted out until only six remained: Selas, the middle-aged human mercenary; Clayton, the young forest ranger; Jill the Librarian, representative of the dwarfs; Prince Søren, representative of the Etelä; Taberlin, the defunct and default representative of the Elves; and Halvin, the mysterious vagabond. From among all the throng who had opted to offer their services, only these six received the approval of the Council to undertake this mission. On the morrow these volunteers, coming from such widely varying backgrounds, would embark together on a journey from which it was quite possible they might never return.
As the session drew to a close, Supreme Chancellor Alveris stood to address these brave souls on behalf of the Council:

“Friends, we thank you for your patience in putting up with our deliberations and proceedings. More than that, we thank you for offering your lives and services to us for this mission. Of the many applicants who have swarmed Algaman these past few days, the Council has deemed you six alone to be qualified and suitable to undertake this quest. Know that we of the Council are incredibly grateful for your service, and that we believe the day will soon come when all of Narod Rada – and perhaps the world – will share in this gratitude towards you.
You all know why you are here: A star has fallen into the farmlands west of here, over a month ago now. What you may not know is that this is not the only reason you are here. I think you should be aware that another group of soldiers had already been sent out before you. However, we have not heard back from them, and therefore we are sending you out after them. They were a group of stout fighters, yet not one of them has returned or been heard from since.
So know that this mission you set out on upon the morrow is fraught with danger and shall require the skills of each and every one of you. But let none of you feel him – or her – self superfluous, nor let any of you suppose your comrades to be such. You embark on this journey as a team, and a team you must remain, for you will all need each other before the end comes. Therefore trust each other, even when you cannot trust yourself – for not all you will encounter will be as it seems.
We are depending on you to seek out and eliminate this impending threat lurking in the West. I fear the survival of Narod Rada itself may be in the balance, so I beseech you to do your utmost to fulfill your task. Be strong and very courageous, and may Al Nirrin bless your journey.”

After the Chancellor’s speech, each of the remaining Council Members in turn took it upon themselves to speak a few words of encouragement and exhortation to the emissaries. Some of the more long-winded Council Members (in particular Boyle) spoke a great deal more than a few words, much to the annoyance of everyone else present. However, at last even the rambling Boyle brought his speech to a close, and the day’s proceedings officially came to an end. Hereupon Alveris clapped his hands, calling everyone’s attention back to him.
“Very well, my friends, we have done a good day’s work,” he announced. “Now it is time for some feasting and refreshment before our worthy mercenaries retire for the night, in preparation for their departure tomorrow.” Here he turned to the mercenaries. “I would be honored if you would all join me for some repast and conversation at my table this evening. Thus you may all make each other’s’ acquaintance before you set out on your journey in the morning. For travel is always more pleasant in the company of friends than that of strangers, is it not?” The Chancellor smiled amicably.

A tall, dark-haired servant appeared and bowed politely. “Stephanus here will lead you to my quarters, where a feast has been prepared for your entertainment. I myself will join you there shortly,” Alveris stated. Stephanus bowed again and motioned for the chosen six to follow him. He led them out the door of the Conference Room and down a few flights of stairs to quarters reserved for the Supreme Chancellor.

The mercenaries were ushered into a simple but elegant room of white alabaster walls and an ebony tiled floor. A single crystal chandelier, reflecting all the shades and nuances of the rainbow, hung suspended above a spacious mahogany table. But what was of most interest to Taberlin was that this table was spread with a diverse assortment of meats, breads, wines, and other edibles. At the sight of this bounty, he put a hand on his stomach and looked reproachfully at his midsection for the loud growling noises it was emitting at that moment.

While they waited for the Chancellor to arrive, Stephanus showed them to their seats. In a few minutes Alveris joined them and sat down at the table.
“I have tried to provide you all with such foods as you are accustomed to in your own lands,” he remarked, nodding at the dishes on the table, “but I am afraid it may not be quite the same as you are used to. Nevertheless, I hope you will find it to your liking.”

The way that Taberlin was heaping food on his plate and shoveling it into his mouth indicated that it was indeed very much to his liking.

Selas looked around and was not quite certain on what criterias the council chose the other mercenaries, but it was completely different from all the other missions he had been to. Do they have actual battle experience? Are they tough enough for such a long journey, not to mention the battles and the hardships they will face. His gaze came to a halt on Søren.
‘Søren, I believe, yes? You sure look like your blade knows battle. Does your kin also know how to fight in a group of people?’ he asked with a hint of scepticism in his voice.

“Don’t worry about that; human.” , Søren replied with a stern face, “We Etelä have an ancient tradition of hunting together. Have you not heard of what my people did to the hordes of the undead when they tried to invade this country from the east? I will fight alongside with you; if you prove worthy.
“They talk about you, Selas Serawen, good things and bad, but they all agree on one thing: You are tough. I shall look forward to see you in action, and if you can live up to that reputation.”

“I don’t have to prove anything to you, proud Etelä. What if there are others in our group that don’t live up to your expectations? Do you just leave them behind?” Selas stared him provocatively in the eyes. It was dead silent.

Even Taberlin stopped chewing for a minute and looked quizzically back and forth between the two proud warriors. Holding up a plate of desserts, he broke the awkward silence the only way he could think of: “Pie, anyone?”

Søren looked at Taberlin, then back to Selas, and then back to Taberlin. For a moment he sat there silently, looking at both of them.Then he burst out into loud laughter.
“Sure, I will take a slice.”, and with another laughter he turned to Selas, “Here, take some pie as well, my friend. Don’t worry, we shall become as a family in these next week, and in a family the stronger protect the weaker.”
With this last sentence Søren had thrown a quick look at the female dwarf sitting on the other side of the table, but he did not let his eyes linger on her. He then brought his attention down to the pie in front of him, signalising that, for him the issue had been resolved in this moment.

Taberlin’s grin stretched from ear to pointed ear at the apparent success of his fumbled peace-making attempt. “Anyone else want pie? Jill? Halvin? Clayton?”

It was not the offering in itself that took Jill aback, but the simple fact to be addressed so bluntly by the elf. Of course she had tried to prepare herself for all the kinds of characters that she could encounter in this group, but she had to admit to herself that there were more barriers to overcome for here than she could have imagined. One of these was apparently that she was used to be addressed as ‘Miss’ for as long as she could remember – some basic rules of decency she now noticed that she valued very deeply and which seemed completely unknown or at least unfamiliar to the volatile elf. She wrote the feelings of offense away and put on a small smile:
“Why thank you, Mister Taberlin.”, she said, with little hope her subtle lesson on politeness would leave any trace in the elfs mind but also unable to not at least try. Also the pie looked and smelled glorious.
She had been seated at the edge on the back, a sign that the table master showed some understanding to her situation as the only female (and smallest) member of the group by not squeezing her right between all the longlegs. Someone had found an old dwarfen chair that was high enough for her to reach the foods. The elf had been seated in front of her, though he hardly stayed at his seat. So she turned to her right, where the one named Halvin sat, having said no word so far. She noticed him looking at her though and didn’t know how to react. He was clearly far older than her, so she waited for him to take the word.

Halvin smiled while seizing the dwarf, noticing her efforts to establish the suavity she was obviously very familiar with. While Selas and Søren were talking to each other, with Taberlin being busy tasting all the food and Alveris talking his servants into serving more wine, Halvin quietly bent over and said: “Don’t worry, you will get used to that, since he will never get used to proper politeness.” He paused, just to see her reaction, and continued, “but I think you will amaze him anyway with your seven-league boots. It’s either that, or some big bird that must have brought you here in time, considering that dwarfs can’t fly on their own.”
“Now I don’t know if I should thank you or not, Mister Halvin, since you’re able to be simultaneously obliging and inquisitive.” Of all the questions he could have asked, this was the one she found the worst, although it was only natural to ask this, as everyone knew the Hills lay more than one week’s travel away from the capital. “However there hasn’t been need for any special boots or birds: I was sent ten days ago from now, as this was the time the summon reached the dwarfs.”
Again Halvin smiled to himself, for though Jill tried to not show anything of what was going on inside her, he could imagine very well.
“Excuse me young Lady for being so impolitely curious, I am just very surprised to see a delegate of the dwarfs. It’s been some years that I met with someone of your people, so my
understanding of the dwarfen suavity might be both rusty and obsolete.”
“I come to think you are not the only one who is surprised to see me – or any dwarf for that matter – at this table. And it’s me who has to ask forgiveness, I didn’t intend to be so tempered. It’s just all very different here from where I came from.” She pondered the next question for some time. “So you’ve been with dwarfs before, Mister Halvin. Where and when was that, if I am allowed to ask?”
“Of course you may ask. It has been quite some time now that I was able to enjoy the delightful company of a dwarf. The last time must have been three years ago, and if I remember correctly it was a rainy day at the northern banks of the Ishderen. But tell me, why did the proud and elegant dwarfs send such a nice young Lady to join such an apparently not so nice quest?”
“Well, the most obvious explanation would be that they deemed it the best choice. And in fact I am sorry to say that this is the only answer I can give you right now. But don’t worry about me. With all of you big guys around me I feel rather save, and if it comes to it I have means of my own to protect my life. Steel and bowstrings are not the only weapons in this world, you know?”

Selas dug his teeth deep into a chicken leg and savoured every second. It had been ages since he ate this good food. Living for himself he rarely cooked, and lately, he couldn’t afford such delicious meals. He looked up from his plate. “Søren. Forgive my harsh words. The world looks quite different now with excellent food in my stomach. I am sure you will contribute your best to the group, I would not think otherwise of you Etelä. I just had a rough time lately.” He grabbed a cup, let it be refilled by one of the servants and pointed it to Søren. “Valesh! Or how you would say…?”

“Skål!”, Søren exclaimed, as he raised his cup also towards Selas. “To your health, my friend. May your enemies fall before you as before me as well!”

The chatter and the feasting went on for a while until Jill, who had endured quite the journey, left the group to get enough rest for the coming days. Little by little the room emptied itself until only Selas and Halvin remained.

View
Wings and Councilmen
Fona

Although the day just began, his eyes rapidly searched the clear morning sky, scanning the few clouds coming from the west. He felt a cool breeze that blew through his hair whilst he stood absolutely quiet and listened to the silent sounds of the nature. He was sure, he had heard the noise of a friend. After a few minutes, he heard the sound again, and moments later, a great Hawk landed next to him.Halvin didn’t need to see the orange-read ornament within his wings to recognize this majesty of a bird.

Years ago, Halvin travelled with Seldeka Argamandin, meanwhile Member of the High Council, through the Eteluunta Desert, trying to convince the Etelä tribes to join the Council in Algaman to bring peace and democracy to all the Provinces and Habitants in Narod Rada. Back then, Seldeka was a new member to the Lower Council, and like many others, he had big intentions though little knowledge of the world outside. He headily volunteered to go to the Etelä tribes, hoping, it would help his ambition to become the youngest High Councilor of all times.
His Father, Selevan, head of the Argamandin Clan and member of the High Council as well, supported his sons dream, but having seen to many wars already he sent out for his old friend Halvin, asking him to join his sons journey, keeping not only one eye on his aspiring yet naive succesor.

During their arduous trip they found a wounded and almost dead Eagle lying in the snow. After a few days of medical treatment and encouragement he got better and Halvin went on to tame and train this very intelligent creature for Seldeka. The Eagle not only learned to answer to the name of Alvar and hunt, deliver goods or messages for Seldeka, but never left the side of his new Master, so he soon took over Halvins job and took care of the young, aspiring Politician. Since then, decades past by, only tightening the bonds of friendship between Halvin and Seldeka, whereas they rarely met.

Halvin hasn’t seen Alvar in years, but the red ring around Alvars left talon was a distinct message from Seldeka – HELP!
Without losing any seconds, Halvin detached the red ring and put it on Eagles right talon as answer for Seldeka, sending Alvar back to Algaman immediately. Moments later, Halvins stuff was all packed up and he headed towards the big city as fast as possible.

Thoughts were racing through his mind while he made his way through Esath Theren, were he had been conquering the mountains. What could possibly have happened, that after two years without any contact, Seldeka would send Alvar? Either way, he could only find out in two days, due to the distance to Algaman as well as the bad weather conditions and small paths he had to travel.

After a long journey, he finally arrived in Algaman, his body exhausted, his mind clear. He soon spotted the leaflets and posters, and heard people on the streets discussing the decisions of the High Council while he stayed out of peoples ways, not being seen.
A few minutes later, he entered the front door to the Argamandin Manor House, being awaited by Seldeka himself.

“Welcome, my friend”, said Seldeka, shaking Halvins hand in the way of the warriors, “you look terrible. Come in, have some food and wine, a bath and some sleep.”
After this brief welcome, they went into a small salon without saying any more words and sat in big wingchairs in front of a fireplace. A servant brought a big caraffe filled with red wine, and some dinner leftovers for Halvin.

“You look older – it’s been a few years, but I don’t remember your hair being white…” – “You haven’t changed a bit. Literally” responded Seldeka, sending the servant out with a friendly gesture.
“Why did you call me” asked Halvin, after the servant had left the salon, “they call out for Mercenaries and you sent Alvar to get me? Something seems wrong… there must be more than that!” – “Something strange is going on. Please, help yourself”, said Seldeka, pointing at the brimmed plate, “let me explain while you dine.” A brief look at the plate full of cold turkey, mashed potatoes and two slices of bread (which would rather make a meal for a servant than a real dinner) made him smile at his ironic choice of words.

“I sense you’ve already heard about what happened in the western farmlands – although we don’t really know what has happened nor what actually is happening there. We haven’t have heard anything from the men we already sent there, so the High Council decided to form a group of mercenaries to investigate the cause so not only the people but also the Council calms down.
Although we were looking out for brave, strong men, willing to fight for their lives and clear these unsolved mysteries, there were a lot of weird folks and even women showing up lately to join the force. Or, if you want to put it differently, anyone who has an intense death wish, needs money or is somehow addicted to suicidal adventures is trying to catch the attention of the Council – still, we are searching for quite the opposite.
Commander Agmars men are trying to sort out the wheat from the chaff, or, as I like to put it, the maniacs from the lunatics. Only few will proceed to go on with this mission, and I … we need a man we can trust.”

During Seldekas last words another servant entered the room, accompanied by two very different-looking yet similar-behaving men. Nevertheless Halvin distinguished them as members of the Council, albeit they didn’t wear their epitogas. “Politics and Society seem to shape even the way one walks”, Halvin thought by himself, while he and Seldeka rose from their chairs to welcome the Councilmen.
Coming closer to the light, Halvin recognized the taller one, before the servant started to introduce both men, according to both courtesy and the almost exaggerated conventions of the High Council.
“His Excellence, High Councilor Svag Petturi and Councilor Cornelius Templeton, this is…” – “Halvin” interrupted Halvin quickly and a little impatient, shaking Councilor Templetons hand. “Good to see you again, Svag”, he said, while shaking Svags hand in the way of the warriors.
“I … ehm, please forgive me”, said the servant, who felt very unpleasant seeing Halvins honourable greeting with Svag, “I did not know you already knew each other…” – “How could you know, Dirideth?” answered Seldeka, “Please, bring more wine for the four of us and leave us uninterrupted. I think we won’t need any more of your services or those of other servants tonight. Send them all to their chambers.” “Very well, Sir”, replied Dirideth.

After the servant brought another caraffe of wine and left again, the new arrivals were seated and Seldeka summarized.
“As I just told Halvin, we are looking out for someone we can trust. There will be many distinct characters forming this investigation force. We sent out Messages in all directions, as well as to the Etelä and the Elves. We even sent word to the dwarfs, albeit none of them will be able to make it in time.
We need the best of the best – and therein lies a great danger. At least, the three of us think this way. It’s going to be a dangerous path, not only considering the dangers the group will be confronted with. We need someone, who can hold a group of lone wolves together.
Also, there are some dark and mysterious things going on, according to a certain rumor within the Lower Council. We can’t trust anybody with this, not even Alveris. If the rumor turns out to be true, there might be a mole inside the High Council.
We don’t know who it could be, and God knows what he’s planning right now. We fear, it might have something to do with the mysterious things happening in the Westlands, and therefore we need someone to know about all this within the investigation force.

We can’t place someone in the mercenary group ourselves, it would be too obvious, and since all our men are too well known it must be an outsider, someone, who has a very versatile set of skills and knowledge. Someone, the Council would accept for the group upon his abilities, not upon political statements."
Without even speaking out his request, he looked at Halvin and waited. Halvin, wise enough not to speak out too fast, held his breath and waited.

“Seldeka told us little of your joint adventures” said Councilor Templeton, “and Svag added some bits and pieces he remembered as well. We think you’re the man we’re looking for, even though we don’t really know a lot about you other than the little Seldeka knows.”
Svag nodded his head and added: “Your skills aside, your political and social indifference and the fact that you are almost unknown to the Council, make you the perfect choice – our only choice.”

Halvin lent back into his chair, slightly amused by these oh so mighty men, almost begging him on their knees.
“You think, the Council will accept me for this mission? Decades ago, I was abandoned by the Council and the habitants of this very city. I was told to leave and mind my own business. If it wasn’t for Selevan, I would have turned my back on this city forever back in that very day. I once again ask you, do you really think that the very same Council, that dismissed and expelled me from the city will accept, if I offer my services?”

Councilor Templeton followed his own thoughts, not delivering himself to the subject. Svag looked Halvin straight into the eyes and answered him: “Yes. These incidents happend way before I set foot in this city, and after all the things you did, a few of the older Councilmen who still remember whisper your name in awe, if they ever even mention it. As far as I know, you stood strong back then, and they do show respect for that, although they might never declare their actions as mistakes.
They might have very mixed feelings about this, but they will vote in favor for you, knowing what kind of man you are.”
Seledak stepped in: “Hell, without you Svag wouldn’t be here, the Etelä wouldn’t have a Councillor, and Alvar and I myself would have died in that snowy pothole Eteluunta.
Hold your horses, Svag”, he immediately added, seeing Svag tensing up, “you know it’s true.
And not only the older ones will vote for you, every other Councilman who sees into your steady eyes, look at your weapons and skills, will vote for you. You should have seen the other Lunatics running around the city these days. You perfectly fit the submission, and if you unveil yourself as Mercenary from the higher north, none of the younger Councilmen will become suspicious.
And don’t ever worry the elder Councilmen any more, they won’t tell stories of past times that could hurt their careers, on the other hand, how should they know what you’ve been up to for the last fifteen years?
Anyhow, we will leave you know, knowing you need to time to think this through. But I know, you will join this group anyway.
Feel free to sleep in here, there’s a Wendigo fur rug in the back of the room that might suit your sleeping habits better than a normal bed.
We shall meet again tomorrow at the Councils final meeting deciding the investigation forces members and briefing the unit at noon.”

No more words were lost when the three Councilmen stood up and exited the salon.
Behind the closed doors Cornelius Templeton asked Seledak on the way outside: “You really think he will do it, don’t you. How do you know?” – “I know this man. And beyond his very cold appearance, his heart is beating for the humans, as well as for the elves, even though both never accepted him into their social structures and often rejected him. He is strong at heart and knows the right thing to do. Don’t worry.”
After this final testimonial, they said their goodbyes and went their own ways.

The next he got up before dawn and left the Argamandin Manor, only minutes before the servants got up and started their day. No one saw as he vanished from the city streets. Once he was outside the city, he awaited the sunrise and entered the city again, this time not wearing his hooded cape, so his face would be visible to passers-by.
He headed for the Council Chamber, arriving way too early. On the way, he had picked up one of the posters, so there would be a reasonable explanation for the Halvin the Mercenary seeking the Councils and no known relation to Councilor Seledak Argamandin at all.

While waiting in line, he noticed a female dwarf passing by, following a guard. Immediately very certain memories came to his mind and warmed his heart. Could it be…? But Seledak said, they would never be able to make the trip to Algaman in time. He gazed after her in disbelief and shook his head. This might become a quest of mysterious ways.
While he dwelled on his thoughts, the line moved forward, and suddenly, a guard Captian stood in front of him, sizing him up with a peculiar look in his eyes. Obviously he had asked Halvin for his name, waiting for an answer.
“Halvin’s the name, and I guess I’m here for the same reason as everyone else”, Halvin stated.
The Captian looked down on a note on his desk, back up to Halvin and said nothing more than “please proceed… out of the door, line on the left. There will be someone with you soon, guiding you and the others to the Council Chamber.” Looking over Halvins shoulder he yelled “Next!”

View
The Tree Hugger
AlledocYnattirb

Arms outstretched in ecstasy, Taberlin charged headlong through the treetop canopy of the forest at the base of the Thev Helmin Mountains. The wind whipped back his chin-length blonde hair from his face and whirled it around his elven ears. His boot-clad feet leapt from branch to branch as nimbly as a squirrel, and despite his reckless pace, nary a twig was snapped in his passing. On the ground below him, the world swept by in a wild blur, but up here in the trees — his trees — he was in his element. Exhilaration surged through his entire being, and with an additional burst of speed, he cleared a breach in the woods with a single bound, landing effortlessly on a bough on the opposite side without slacking his pace in the least. Up here, nothing could stop him, nothing could go wrong, nothing was ever amiss. If only he could go on forever and ever . . .

Finally he collapsed in a nook between two broad branches and the sturdy trunk of an oak tree in blissful contentment. Soon he would have to turn back and return to the army outpost to report the day’s findings — not that there was much to report. There was that odd little man who was smoking a pipe and making shapes with the puffs of smoke which Taberlin found very fascinating, but he doubted that Captain Durint would be much interested in that. And there was the woman at the cottage who was baking pies — blueberry and apple and strawberry rhubarb, and one other one he wasn’t quite sure of the flavor, because she had caught him sticking his fingers into her fresh pastries and chased him away with a broom before he had gotten to taste it. Taberlin felt that she had really over-reacted to the whole incident. It wasn’t as if he was going to eat the WHOLE pie. There would be plenty left for her. And the soldiers so rarely got sweets on patrol . . . he missed the chocolate and pineapples and star fruits and papaya the traders from the North brought down to the Elven capital of Hal-Tarhyaeldyin. He hadn’t tasted chocolate in so long . . . but it was too cold here in Narod Rada for cocoa or anything like that to grow. Why, it was too cold even in Hal-Tarhyaeldyin for cocoa to grow! Those kinds of things only grew in the tropical lands far to the north, beyond where even the Elves lived. He wanted to go there someday. It must be a great place, if chocolate grew on trees there . . .

Or bushes. He had never actually seen a cocoa plant, so he didn’t know what they looked like. For all he knew, it could be a kind of flower, or even a vine. But he hoped it was trees because he couldn’t climb flowers. At least, not unless somebody put a spell on him and made him really small . . . or maybe if he were washed a lot and hung up to dry, he would shrink. That happened to clothes sometimes. Once that had happened to his socks, and he had to wear his boots without them for a week until he got new ones. Then his feet had started to smell funny after a while. He didn’t mind that so much himself, but apparently other people around him found it not very nice.
He looked down at his brown suede boots as he remenscienced about that incident. A golden leaf gently wafted down from the branches above him and landed on his foot. It looked kind of like a frown, the way it landed, he decided. So he picked it up and turned it around to make a smile instead. Then he added two acorns for eyes, and sat there grinning back at the face he had created on his shoe.

A bird landed on a branch next to the elf and cocked its head curiously at him. Taberlin mimicked its action. The bird was apparently insulted by this, because it squawked angrily and flew away. Taberlin followed its flight with his eyes. Suddenly he sat upright. What was that strange thing down there in the gorge?

In an instant he was down in the gorge beside the odd shaped object. Now that he was closer, he could see that it was a human body. And not just any body. Judging by the attire, it was a messenger sent on official business from the High Council of Narod Rada. A few feet away he caught sight of the important-looking message capsule that contained the scroll the messenger was supposed to deliver. He went to retrieve it, then came back and stood beside the body. He stood there awkwardly for a few minutes, not sure of what to do. Was the messenger still alive? He didn’t want to just take the message if its intended carrier was still in the realm of the living, but it seemed kind of rude to ask a person if he was dead. Especially if he wasn’t. But the body hadn’t moved since he had found it, so he was rather suspicious that it WAS, in fact, dead. But just in case, he gingerly poked it with his foot.

“Hey, mister?” he asked nervously. “Are you alive?”

There was no response, so he turned the body over, revealing a deep gash on its forehead. The face was cold when he touched it, and didn’t flinch or move at all. He felt for the pulse.

Nothing.

Looking up from this angle, he could see the loose stones that had recently fallen from the mountain pass above. He could make out the place where the messenger had slipped when the path beneath him gave way and crumbled, taking him down the steep mountain side with it. There had been a fierce thunderstorm two nights ago, which had washed away large parts of the rocky mountain trail. That must have been when the messenger had fallen to his death.

Taberlin stood up, clutching the message capsule tightly in his hand. Should he open it? What message had the emissary been carrying? He had obviously been heading to Hal-Tarhyaeldyin. That was the only reason any humans ever dared to venture into the treacherous Thev Helmin. The message in his hands was meant for the Elves, for his people, whom he hadn’t seen since he left his home 5 years ago. Or was it 10 years ago? Or twenty? The time between his exodus from the Elves and the time when Councilor Templeton had found him wandering aimlessly, befriended him, and found him a job as a scout with the army of Narod Rada was all a blur which he prefered not to think about.
The message may have been meant for the Elves, but it originated from the government of Narod Rada, so since it hadn’t made it to its intended recipients, it ought to be returned to the Narod Radian government, he decided. Or at least it ought to be entrusted to the nearest representative of that government. Which in this case, was Captain Durint — who was probably wondering where the doofleschnaurtz his absent-minded elven scout was at this moment. He should be getting back, anyway. Durint would know what to do.

Without another moment’s hesitation, he shimmied up the nearest tree and took off towards the army outpost.

________________________________________________________________

Captain Durint turned the message capsule over in his hands, thinking. Instead of the usual accounts of the amusing antics of the forest animals or the savory smells of some farmer’s wife’s latest baking, his elven scout had actually brought back some important news. News that he wasn’t quite sure how to respond to.

Taberlin was convinced that the message was intended for the Elves of Hal-Tarhyaeldyin. That was the most plausible and likely explanation, but if an official document fell into the wrong hands, it could be devastating. It was better to be certain of the intended recipient. Unfortunately, the knowledge of who that intended recipient was had died with the original messenger. The message itself would likely indicate who was intended to read it, but as only a captain of a troop of 50 men, he did not have the authority to open a sealed government document. The message would have to go back to the capital, to whomever had sent it in the first place, and be recommissioned. And he knew just the person for the job.

“Taberlin! Come here for a moment!” he shouted into the dusky evening. The elf came cautiously, dragging his feet, wondering if he was in trouble, and if so, what he had done wrong this time. All he had done was taste the stew. And the corn porridge. And the bread rolls. Three of them. But it wasn’t fair that he had to wait for everyone to finish washing up and assemble in line and be served their portions one at a time—that took so long! And he was hungry! And the food smelled so good . . .

Taberlin’s mind stopped racing for excuses to cover up his latest possible misdemeanors when he saw the expression on the captain’s face.

“Taberlin, I have an important mission for you,” Durint explained solemnly. For once the elf stood completely still, without even so much as his fingers twitching. “I need you to take this message back to the High Council at Algaman and explain what happened. Just tell them what you saw, and where you found this, exactly as you told me. You’re the fastest traveler among my men, and this is urgent business. The sooner this capsule is safely back in the hands of the High Council, the better. Then they can decide what further course of action to take. Hurry, now!” he urged, handing the capsule to Taberlin.
“Yes Sir!” Taberlin cried, saluting, and was off like a shot. But in 5 seconds he was back.
“Ummm, Sir?” he asked. “Is it ok if I have dinner first? I’m famished!”

“TABERLIN!!!” came a bellow across the camp. “YOU THIEVIN’ IMP, HAVE YOU BEEN STICKIN’ YOUR PRYIN’ FINGERS INTO MY STEW AGAIN??? AND WHERE’S MY BREAD ROLLS? JUST YOU WAIT UNTIL I GET MY HANDS ON YOU . . . ”

“On second thought, I guess I’m not that hungry,” Taberlin said quickly, turning to go.

“Taberlin!” Durint called after him. “Wait!” Taberlin paused and looked back, expecting to receive a scolding. But instead, the captain was chuckling. “Here!” he said, throwing a satchel at the elf. Taberlin quickly opened it to find that it contained 5 bread rolls and some cheese. “Thanks!” he grinned back at the captain. Then, stuffing a roll into his mouth, he set out once again for Algaman.

__________________________________________________________________________________

As he neared the capital city of Algaman, Taberlin whistled a tune he had composed along the journey. Occasionally he sang the words, but the lyrics were mostly about being in the trees, so they no longer seemed applicable once he left the forests near Thev Helmin and began to cross the plains and meadows surrounding the capital city.

When he finally arrived at the main gates of the tower fortress Agath Helthe, he found a crowd of people milling about and shouting. Something important seemed to be going on. He tried to listen to find out what all the fuss was about. Something about mercenaries and applications and rewards and dangerous missions, but nothing about dinner, which was what he cared about most at the moment. He had long since finished off the cheese and rolls Durint had given him, and his stomach was making its presence (and its emptiness) very clearly felt. He needed to get this mission finished quickly so he could find something to eat.

“Excuse me!” he called loudly, but nobody seemed to hear him above all the ruckus. “HELLO!”
When shouting failed to produce a result, he took out the message capsule and waved it over his head. “I HAVE A VERY IMPORTANT MESSAGE TO DELIVER TO THE HIGH COUNCIL!” he shouted. “CAN SOMEBODY TELL ME WHO I CAN GIVE THIS TO? Please?” Still nobody seemed to notice. He looked around for someone important looking, and spotted a man wearing the apparel of a Council guard. He went over to the man and tugged at his sleeve. “Excuse me?”

The man turned around. “Who are you?” he asked.

“My name’s Taberlin. But that’s not important. I have an important message to deliver to the High Council. And that IS important. Can I see them?”

“I’m sorry, the Council is very busy right now choosing mercenaries to participate in the quest to investigate the fallen star in the west. They have no time for trivial business. They can’t be bothered,” the dark-skinned man explained.

“Not even for one of their own messages?” Taberlin asked, holding up the message capsule.

“Where did you get that?!” The guard demanded, trying to grab it out of the elf’s hand.

“I found it up in a gorge near Thev Helmin. It was next to some dead guy. I think he was a messenger for the High Council, ‘cause he was wearing those funny clothes they wear. And plus he had this, of course,” Taberlin explained.

“Dead?” the guard inquired, suspiciously.

“Yeah. I mean, I’m pretty sure he was dead. He had a big ol’ gash in his forehead, and his skin was cold, and he didn’t have any pulse. And he didn’t answer me when I asked him if he was alive. So I’m pretty sure he was dead. Otherwise it would be kinda rude not to answer me, wouldn’t it?”

“And you just FOUND him like that?” the guard’s eyes narrowed and his hand went to his sword hilt.

“Yeah. I’m a scout with the army, and I was out on patrol up near Thev Helmin. So I was watching this bird that was making faces at me, and it flew away ‘cause I made faces back, and it flew right past this shiny thing down in the gorge nearby. So I went to go check it out, and it turned out to be a dead messenger guy. ‘Cept, I didn’t know he was dead right then. But he was kind of lying on his face, and he didn’t move when I poked him, so I got kind of suspicious that he WAS dead. So then I turned him over, and he sure seemed dead, what with the nasty gash and the cold skin and the no pulse. I asked him just in case, but he didn’t answer. It looked kind of like he fell down from the mountain pass going up to Thev Helmin and Hal-Tarhyaeldyin, ‘cause there were a bunch of loose rocks and stuff that had fallen down. So I think that’s how he died. So I found his message bottle capsule thingy, and I didn’t know what to do with it. I couldn’t ask the messenger ‘cause he was dead. I mean, I could have, but there wouldn’t really have been much point, since he was dead and all. So I took it back to Captain Durint at the outpost, and he told me I should bring it back here as fast as I could, and bring it to the Council and tell them what happened. So then I left to come here, but I forgot to eat dinner, so I went back, but then Cecil yelled at me because I ate some of his bread rolls — but only three, there was like 150 left, so I don’t know what he was so mad about — so then I thought maybe I’d better not stay for dinner, but Captain Durint gave me a bag of food, so it was ok. But now it’s all gone, so I’m hungry. You don’t happen to have any chocolate or anything on you, do you?”

The poor guard stood baffled by the elf’s whirlwind narration. What’s chocolate? he wondered to himself, but then he shook his head to clear it and snapped back to attention.

“Well, we’ll have to get you an audience with the High Council immediately,” he declared. “This could be very urgent business. Come with me.”

Taberlin followed the man up the numerous flights of stairs to the Conference Room, where the High Council was meeting. The guard spoke to another of his fellow officers at the door, explaining the situation to him. The other guard nodded and let them pass, looking curiously at Taberlin.

Taberlin waited in the doorway while his guard guide made his way up to one of the Council members (Taberlin could tell he was a member of the Council because of the epitoga robe he wore) and explained what had happened. The Council member looked worried at the news, and relayed the information to another Council member of higher rank. This Council member stood up and addressed the Supreme Chancellor.

“Excuse me, your honor,” he announced. “But we have just received word that there is a messenger here with news of possible great import to this Council body. I motion to suspend the examination of the quest candidates until this matter can be looked into.”

A man, who appeared to be the Supreme Chancellor, turned his head, and his piercing gaze fell upon Taberlin. The glance made the elf feel strangely self-conscious, and he looked at the ground and scuffed his boot on the floor. “Very well,” the Chancellor consented. He turned to address an odd-looking group of people, who obviously weren’t Council Members, at the far corner of the room. “My humble apologies, but if you would excuse us for a moment, we would greatly appreciate it. We will continue with the examinations as soon as possible. Please be seated while we look into this matter.”

Turning back to Taberlin, he smiled reassuringly. “And what message do you bring us, Sir Elf?”

Taberlin recounted the story again, but in a significantly more organized and concise way than he had told it to the Council Guard. The awe he felt in the presence of the Supreme Chancellor seemed to have chased his ADHD away for the moment. At the end of his tale, he handed the message capsule to the Supreme Chancellor, who took it and opened it. After quickly glancing over its contents, he looked back at Taberlin.

“You were right, Sir Elf. This message was indeed intended for the Elves of Hal-Tarhyaeldyin. It was an urgent request for aid to send us the best warriors they had to spare to help us with our quest. You have heard of this quest we propose, have you not?”

Taberlin shook his head. “No, Sir. Well, I heard a little about it on the way here, but I don’t know what it’s all about.”

Alveris sat back and folded his hands in his lap. “Not long ago, reports reached us that a star had fallen and struck the Western lands of Narod Rada. Strange events allegedly followed. We sent out a commission several weeks ago to investigate these rumors, but they have not returned, nor have we heard any news from them. Since they set out, the rumors which reach Algaman grow stranger and more gruesome. The people of the Western lands are beginning to abandon their homes and farms in fear. We are not at all sure of the nature of the danger that lurks in the Western lands and is driving the people away, for the reports are all scattered and incoherent, but it must be stopped. Therefore the Council deemed it expedient to send for the best warriors from all the various lands and tribes, to seek out and vanquish this unknown force of evil. Your coming found us in the midst of examining and debriefing some potential candidates for this mission.”

“We had hoped,” Alveris continued, “to have the benefit of Elvin aid on this venture, as they are highly respected and valuable allies of Narod Rada, but I am afraid that the quest is scheduled to depart at first light tomorrow morning. We dare not wait much longer, lest the peril in the West grow out of control. As the message has never even yet reached the Elves, we cannot expect them to send an emissary in time to join the quest. I am very sorry that this venture shall not have a representative of their noble race. But it cannot be helped. Unless,” he paused and looked intently at Taberlin. “Unless YOU would do us the honor of representing your people on this quest.”

“Oh, no, I can’t do that,” Taberlin protested. “I’m a nobody. I don’t have any Elvin skills. I can’t wield an Elvin sword up to standards. I can’t sing Elvish music or write Elvish poetry. I don’t know any healing magic. I can’t even read and write much Elvish! All I can do is run through the forest and climb trees. The other Elves wouldn’t even want to own me as one of them. They’d never pick ME as their representative!”

“Perhaps your people would not have chosen you for this position,” Alveris mused, “but it seems that fate has, as, to my knowledge, you are the only elf here in Algaman at the moment, and there is no time to send for another.”

Taberlin thought about this for a moment. “I can’t do it to represent my people,” he said slowly. “They’d take it as an insult. But if you really want me to go on this quest, I will. Don’t know why you’d want me to, ‘cause like I said, I don’t think I’ll do much good, but if that’s what you want, I’ll go. Just please somebody send a message back to Captain Durint so he knows I’m not coming back.”

Alveris nodded his half white-haired, half black-haired head. “Thank you, Mr. Elf. The Council is honored to have you on this quest.”

“Wait a moment, we hardly know anything about this fellow! He just showed up out of the blue, claiming to have found this messenger already dead — for all we know, he could have killed him himself! We haven’t even checked his qualifications. Do we have any authority who will endorse him?” protested a Council Member who gave the vibe of being rather edgy.

A small, frail-looking man, wearing glasses and the robe of a Lower Council Member, made his way to the front and raised his hand. “I’ll endorse him. I’ve known him for quite some time. He’s an old friend of mine. I vouch for him that he is honest and worthy to serve on this quest.”

“Councilor Templeton!” Taberlin exclaimed in delight.

“Does that satisfy your objections, Keldin?” Alveris asked the Council Member who had opposed Taberlin’s appointment.

The Councilor nodded reluctantly.

“Very well, then, Mr. Taberlin, if you will join the others, we will continue our examinations and debriefing.”

View
Clayton's Problem
Cylance

It was more of a hut than a cottage. It sat snuggly between the trees, and the only paths that lead to it was a well-beaten dirt one twisting up to the wooden front door. Someone traveling through the forest could perhaps walk right past it without even realizing its existence.
There was a smoke house a few hundred feet from the hut. There was an outdoor fire with a rack over the flames, from which hung a caldron. There was also a frame in which a deer hide had been strapped for tanning.

Clay sat on a log by the fire. He held a wooden shaft over the flames. The fire blackened the wood and softened it, and he gently straightened the wood when it was soft enough. His shirt was thrown over a tree branch a few yards away, and the fire cast a flickering golden hue over his pale well-built chest.

There was a rustling in the trees in the distance, and Clay, quickly placing the arrow shaft aside, sprang to his feet just as a young women protruded onto the path that lead to his home.
“Hi, Clay,” she called, and her voice rippled with mirth.

“Hey, Miranda!” He reached behind him, clutched his shirt, and quickly slipped it over his shoulders as he met her at the front door to his home.
She laughed a little, but it didn’t reach her face. “Of all the gods, you’re so self-conscious.” She leaned forward on her toes and planted a quick kiss on his mouth. “How many times do I have to tell you, I don’t care about your scars?” In the next instant, she had turned and walked past him into the house, her hair flowing behind her.

What was it about her that went so fast, making him feel like he was clutching after the wind? What was it that, at the same time, made his mind feel like it was stuck in slow motion?

She stood inside his house. The interior was filled with colorful carpets littering the floor and hanging on the walls. There was a desk and a single bed in the far right corner of the room, but not much else.

She took off her jacket and flung it across the chair. She stood in the center of the room as if she owned the place. Of course, she always looked like that, wherever she was: like she owned the universe. Maybe she did.

“So,” she said, “guess what I heard this morning? And you better believe it, but as soon as I heard it, I came directly here.” She clutched her hands together, and her eyes sparkled, as if she had the most brilliant of all surprises.

“What?” He asked, more out of a desire to watch the animation play across her face than in any interest in what she had to say.

“I was in the market, and there was an announcement. The council, it seems, is recruiting mercenaries to go on a quest, an adventure. You know about the star that fell, and the consequent oddities with the monster-sightings? This all concerns that. They need able-bodied fighters to go on a quest! I thought of you immediately. With your past and all, I knew you would be the perfect candidate.”
Clay grinned wryly. “Well, I’m glad you think I have an able body,” he said, crossing his arms across his chest.
“Oh, come on now!” she lightly punched his arm. “I mean it. They need you there! You might have insights.”

He frowned, took a step back. “No, I don’t think so, Miranda… I have no desire to investigate the strange happenings, the monsters, or my own past. I want to leave it all behind, I—-“

Her face had fallen dramatically. She looked like a four-year-old who had her candy taken away. “But, Clay! You live here like a hermit.” She swept her arm out, indicating the room. “You never have visitors, except me. You never see anyone, and you never leave your stupid forest! You never even come into the city to see me!” She looked like she was about to cry. “I mean, I love you, Clay. But you’re only 25, and you live like an old man. And you’re capable of far more than the life that you live.”
He looked flustered, almost angry. “I have a job, Miranda! I’m a ranger. They need me to patrol this section of the forest. This is my job, I can’t just leave it!”
“Don’t give me that, Clay,” she shot back. “You know they would rather you were out there searching for monsters than here waiting for something to happen. You’re wasted potential.”

He looked anywhere else but her face, which was right in front of his. A long moment of silence passed before he spoke up in a quiet voice. “But, what will you do when I’m gone?” he asked.
She let out a laugh and flung her arms around him. “If the quest was more than two weeks, I wouldn’t let you go, idiot.”
-

He didn’t like the city. He didn’t like the feel of the cobble-stone underneath his feet, or the narrow ally-ways hedged by high, solid walls. The instant his feet left the soft dirt of the forest it was like he had been disconnected from the world that he had known and felt a part of. There was a web of life that consisted of the trees’ roots winding like a complex network deep beneath the ground. There was flexibility in the trees and the light that fell through their branches. When he entered the city, in all the noise and the din, he felt like he was suffocated.
But there was a reason that he was joining this quest, and it had nothing to do with Miranda’s pleas. He would never tell Miranda the reason why, and he hardly knew it himself.

A fortnight ago, he had lost consciousness again while journeying in the forest. There was nothing to bring it on. One moment he was traveling with his bow slung across his shoulder, the next moment he was falling down to the ground beneath his feet.
When he became conscious again, he was sitting in his chair in his room. The shadows had fallen, and he knew a great deal of time had passed. He didn’t know whether the time that elapsed was just a day, or a many days. He had no recollection of how he had gotten to his house or of what had transpired during the elapsed time. He only knew that he had a mysterious gash on his left side, apparently a knife wound. He also had a few bruises scattered across his torso.

The last time he had passed out and woken up again in another place, he had been 15 years old. But he didn’t want to think of that.

The fact was, since that day a fortnight ago, he had grown increasingly more paranoid and concerned. He was scared it would happen again, whatever “it” was. And for this reason he wanted to leave, if only to clear his mind for a few weeks.
--

The man at the desk acknowledged him with a respectful bow, recognizing him immediately. “Ranger Marlorsa, sir, I am sure the council will be pleased to find that you have chosen to be affiliated with this quest!”

Clay hesitated, regarding the man. He was sure he had never seen him before.
“Commander Agmur said you might be coming!” the man clarified, gushing.

View
Short legs on long roads
Kasperov

The spot appeared as soon as the cart climbed on top of the slope, turning into the shape of a child as it quickly approached. The way the person moved disturbed the man, being not a movement of a child at all. For once, it had a female touch, which at first stirred astonishment in him and then something darker. However there was also something he couldn’t quite put a finger on, so he waited until his carriage caught up with the kid, hoping he could catch a glimpse of her face under her hood. But the girl was keeping her head low, leaving his lit up curiosity unquenched, as long as he didn’t want to draw too much attention on himself.
When he had come out of the woods a few miles later, he granted his mule some lunch in a bend of the street and laid himself beside his cart. His thoughts kept trailing the endlessly floating miles lying before and behind, spinning like a millwheel in his head.
Waking he saw the girl coming out behind the tree-clotted turn. As he watched her through his half-closed eyes, he was suddenly able to narrow down his vague guess of queerness he noticed before. She was too old for her size. He saw it in the shape of her mouth and the age of her skin, peeking out of her sleeves and under her hood. He guessed her not younger than twenty-five, but even for a small woman she was too short, the tip of her hood wiggling not more than three foot above the dusty street her tiny boots were trotting on.
He tried to act casually preparing his cart for getting back on the road when the girl drew up on him.
‘Hey you!’ His brain couldn’t think of something smarter. She didn’t seem to even notice him. He attempted another try.
‘Hey! Girl! You need a ride?’ That seemed like an improvement to him. ‘I-I could take you on my cart – take you with me, I mean, on my cart, I’m no…’ The little woman stopped. She seemed to hesitate. He assumed her father had told her not to talk to strangers.
‘Come on, I won’t harm you. I’m just a merchant man. See?’, and he pointed at the boxes stacked in the back of his cart. Out of the gaps between the boxes peeked the green tops of carrots, lettuce leaves and shreds of cabbages. The man tried to put on a smile he thought inviting but which turned out to just increase the creepiness of his advances. The woman started walking again. He came up behind her.
‘Hey, girl, wait! Where are you going? You have nothing to be afraid of!’ She was walking faster. He adjusted his pace to hers.
‘Girl, don’t just leave an old man at the side of the road. My cart is broken, you know? I need your help!’ He knew that attempt was fruitless, but he couldn’t think of something better. His mind was racing. Dark things had crept inside his mind and were quickly taking control. His breath began to go shorter.
‘Girl!’ He was shouting now. ‘Stop! Don’t try to escape. You’ll just make it harder for you.’ He saw her running, but her short feet were no match for his thick, hairy legs. He caught up on her fast, twenty foot, fifteen. Suddenly she whirled around, stumbling backwards. Her hand was helplessly waving a short sword before her. The man saw tears shimmering in her scowling eyes, slowed down and put on a mad laugh.
‘You don’t even know how to use that, do you?’
He made a leap towards her, which lured her into pulling a hasty blow, accompanied by a thin cry. The man easily stopped the blow with his hand, grabbing her wrist and twisting it. An even louder cry went unheard by the deaf wilderness around them, as her sword dropped to the ground. At the same moment the man used his momentum to knock her over. With a thump and a wailing she landed on her back. His foul breath urged her to vomit, the tears in her eyes clouded her sight, and he spread her arms holding her wrists in a painful twist. Then he got in a dilemma, needing to use his hands to untie his pants. He could not have known releasing her hands would be more of a problem. He would not know either, because he would not know anything anymore, since his head had frozen to stone. His body, being devoid of all neural functions, fell into a series of uncontrolled spasms before his heart stopped beating and he dropped dead on the ground.
Jill wasn’t able to get up for a couple of minutes. After she got herself to control the stream of tears and the sobbing – stupid sobbing, she was stronger than that! – she got on her feet, trembling. The dead body just laid there, deformed and disgusting. The rapists face had not had time to show surprise the moment the life had been taken from it, so it still had the sick look of the depraved on it. She couldn’t stand it, but she was not able to go near the son of a bitch either. She just ran away as quick as she could, but not before she freed the mule, who just stood there until she gave him a push and then trotted away in the grass.

She had to use it. There had not been another way. Only two days since she had left the mountains, left her family, her friends, her teachers, everything for this stupid quest, and she already had been forced to use the Book, the Book which should not be used. Had it been necessary? Had it not been her obligation to endure her fate instead of giving up so easily on her secrets? But the man would have killed her after it, she was sure of it. There had not been another way. Stupid humans! Why should the dwarfs bother to help them keeping in check new monsters when they weren’t even able to keep in check the monsters they already had? They didn’t deserve a librarian. On the other hand, maybe her teachers were right, maybe the librarians were preparing for exactly this. This time, this fallen star. They didn’t know, but what choice did they have? In a way Jill cursed herself for being such a quick learner, for having cheated her way up to the top. Dis should have gotten the job, nobody liked her, and she was the better librarian, she was thorough, disciplined. She wouldn’t have had to use the books, she would have thought of something smarter. But she, Jill, daughter of Bly, had been chosen to go to Algaman, to respond to the council’s requests and travel with longlegs whom she didn’t even know and who didn’t have the slightest clue of what a librarian was.
The fear of the attack had turned into aggression, she noticed, and she had to channel it. She wrote it in her hand, wrote it away, as she had learned for all this time now. She assumed she would have to do it a lot more times in the next days.
Later that day she met a group of nuns from the Order of Tnelis, a small communion devoting their life to silent service. The skilled eye was able to deduce whence they came looking at their clothes, which showed the seal of Cornbridge Abbey, and so in mutual understanding Jill quietly joined their group for the rest of the way to the capital, for that was where the sisters were headed. The nuns wouldn’t ask about Jill’s looks, and if they wondered, they didn’t show. Their creed told them not to discriminate between any kinds of creatures they encountered and which needed their help, and it was known that they didn’t repel a guest at their homes or their groups, as long as he too held the oath of silence as long as he dwelled among them.
Sheltered by the strength of the group and the immunity of the order, Jill had time to unwind and let float by the miles and days until she arrived at Algaman. Her journey so far had been a constant strain on her vigilance, since it had been considered best to send her out all on her own. The whole story had been explained to her in such a fragmentary way that she still struggled with her task. Of course, she was the first of the librarians, but still, why didn’t one of the teachers go to save the day? Her fahter had told her the Faculty could not spare one of their teachers, for the instructions and the studies had to go on, but she could not see the wisdom of sending a forty-five year old just-graduated underage on such a dangerous journey all by herself with nothing but the Book and the knowledge that came with being a librarian – the best, that is. At least there could have been spared a squad of border guards to accompany her to the city – they would have made sure something like that … accident wouldn’t have happened. But then again, she knew she wouldn’t have been able to stand the company of soldiers, hell, of men, for more than five hours.

Two hundred and some dozen miles the Eastern Road wound itself from the point it crossed the southern hill-path to the rice gate in the southeast corner of the walls of Algaman. Jill had been treading it a fair forty miles when she had encountered the Tnelis nuns, the slow, steady pilgrimage of which didn’t force her to strain her pace all too much and which got her to the vast rice fields of the rural Algaman suburbs in less than one more week. The sisters didn’t hesitate to beg for food at the doors of the farmers, and they did get plenty, albeit simple alms, as one would expect for gifts demanded by obligation, and with the same insouciance they shared it with their fellow journeyers, of which Jill by the end wasn’t the only one anymore. Women travelling single and in pairs had joined the safety of the herd, so that their group had swollen to a mute flock of over twenty people, some of which didn’t conceal their not always just curious feelings for the dwarf, even if they weren’t allowed to say it out loud. It was all right with Jill, who more than once was thankful for the terms under which she travelled and which spared her the nosy inquisitiveness she dreaded unavoidable once she had to leave the group at the threshold of the city, the walls of which became visible in the light of the setting sun ending the ninth day of her journey. Jill had pushed the thoughts of how it all would turn out at the court of the High Council at the edge of her mind as long as she could, but with the first sight of the distant walls throwing their long shadows in her direction as if to grab her and suck her in, the wave of uncertainties rushed back into the center of her mind like the flood overpowering the walls of a sand castle.

They made their last camp outside the city walls six miles from the gates in a huge empty rice barn, a victim of the euphoria of the fruitful years when the farmers had become desperate for storage room because of the repeating exuberance of the harvests, resulting in randomly raised barns all across the countryside. They now all stood empty, their decay resembling an illustration of the droughts of the recent years. The nuns made a fire out of the scattered lumber that had fallen from the collapsed roof and pitted walls, and Jill let the mesmerizing dance of the flames fill her mind, until everything else inside her head faded to blackness, just as the world around the fire did, and she didn’t need to notice her mind falling sleep like a sheet of paper soaked into the embrace of the deep blue water.

If it hadn’t been for the friendship between Asher of the Low Council and her father Bly, steward of Lexairanda and therefore Warden of the Library, Jill would have just been too late. The official summon for ‘mercenaries’, the title under which she would have to travel from now on, was rendered just four days ago, which would have made it impossible for any dwarf to answer the call at all. Bly had visited her in her room in the fifth floor of the private caves of the Library, so she had known from the beginning it was something important – otherwise he would just have called her into his chambers.
‘Read this!’ was the only thing he had said handing her an embroidered scroll of paper. There had still been a glance of amazement in his eyes witnessing the speed of her reading, even though he should have been familiar with the librarians’ skills in the written word by now.
‘They’re looking for warriors, not bookworms. Why are you coming to us with this?’ she had asked.
‘I do not come to them. I come to you. As you can see there is no seal on the scroll. This is not an official letter. The council will meet in five days, and if Asher is right and they are going to proclaim a bounty, we will not be able to be there in time. Neither if I put this in court. I am the steward, and I will be held responsible for this, so do not worry. But you have to leave tonight. Alone.’
‘That explains the haste. But not the choice of representation. What has the Library to do with this?’ She hadn’t asked for an answer, for it was clear what her father wanted, but she needed to know if he had thought this through.
‘If this turns out to be a real danger, we will have time and strength to oppose it in sufficient ways. But you of all know where our strength comes from. We need to comprehend this thing – these things – if we want to be able to adjust them. Jill, you can’t be so blind to not see the providence of your life and the position it gained you – gained us. If there has been a reason why I put you away from your family, why I chose this life for you, it has to be this.’
Her superstitious father. It had been his luck she already had decided to go when she had first laid eyes on the letter. But she granted him the satisfaction of persuading, playing the convinced, if it was just to avoid having him longer in her room then utterly necessary.

She did not keep the letter. It wouldn’t have been of any use. An unofficial invitation of a council member found in the hands of a dwarf woman would cause her more trouble than it would help. But she didn’t need to worry about that. She was carrying another letter, this one being as official as it had to be to impress the lower guards and bureaucrats, until she finally stood before Asher himself in a small room inside one of the noble houses littering the richer parts of the city, though not an administrational one.
The counselor, a fat greasy man sweating like a hooker in church was lying on a ridiculously expensive looking canapé and tried to read one of dozens of various scrolls stacking on a round desk beside him, a task which was hardened by his huge belly shortening the reach of his stubby arms. He didn’t bother to sit up when his servant introduced Jill.
‘What is this? They’re sending a girl?’ he exclaimed, suddenly breathing very loudly. ‘Are you sure she’s the real one?’
‘She has got the letter, Master’, the servant said calmly but without looking him in the eye. The counselor impatiently snapped his fingers in the servant’s direction until he was given the paper.
‘Well’, he said when he had finished reading, which to Jill felt like an eternity, ‘it doesn’t make it any less preposterous to me, Milady, even if by the words of your father I am advised to show due respect to you. What did he think? How am I supposed to explain to the council they should accept a little girl-‘
‘A librarian, if you excuse me, my Lord’, Jill interrupted, looking him straight in his small watery eyes. He avoided her stare.
‘Yes yes, I’m sorry all right. But really, how old are you? You look like a teenager to me.’
‘I was born forty-five years ago, my Lord, however counted in the age of men I would still be held as a minor, having not completed my fiftieth year, which would be the twenty first of a human. Nevertheless my rank as the first of my order ensures me of being perfectly capable of providing the services you are looking for.’
‘This I somehow doubt. This quest is not a fieldtrip for nosy students, you know? The last group we sent never came back.’
‘I am aware of that’, she said.
‘Well then, how are you going to protect yourself? Are you trained in any of the fighting arts? For all I know, reading books never got a man – nor a woman – to survive a blow from a sword.’
‘Then my Lord, with all due respect, you do not know much at all. But be assured that I am more than able to take care of myself. Although I can and will not prove to you here and now, I dare to say that if the council will not send me with the rest of your brutes and beasts to the West, there may not be much hope at all for you to fight against whatever is lurking there, if it should decide to come your way.’
She knew her face had changed its colour while she was speaking, and it made her only more furious that she wasn’t able to control herself in front of this stupid man. How her father had come to be friends with this pathetic meatball was beyond her, but then again most of the things her father used to do did not fit into her understanding of reason and sense.
Meanwhile Lord Asher was still trying to decide if he should feel angry or intimidated, and as he was not able to keep those feelings on the inside, his face showed both of them in alternating phases of hideousness. He finally settled for something between wounded pride and careful retreat.
‘Big words for such a small person’ was his first attempt on regaining his upper hand in the discussion. ‘We will see if the Council will believe your high claims when you talk to them tomorrow. However I advise you to reconsider your act, since they won’t give you the advantage of having asked for your assistance in the first place. A good day to you, Miss Jill.’
And with that the audience had come to an end. The servant showed Jill out of the room and house and handed her over to another servant, whose responsibility it was to lead her to her dwellings for the night. It was not far off, though it was at the rim of the nobles quarter, at a guesthouse used for servants and messengers. Her room was still more comfortable than her cell at the Library, so she didn’t complain to the servant, even more since it wasn’t his fault and he had really made an effort not to show too much bewilderment over her appearance. She thanked him and locked the door behind her. She had to think about the next day’s convention.

Asher had his servants inform her of the time she had to be at the doors of the Council. The official hearing of the candidates was set to noon, but the Council was holding a Session in the morning to which – if everything went according to Asher’s plans – she would be summoned. So when the rustling of the city’s awakening wrenched her from her sleep, she washed herself and put on her festive robe, which she had to take with her for just this one occasion, a fact that bothered her sense for efficiency more than it should. It was a black gown falling down to her feet and which was inscribed with vertical columns of silver letters – not the letters of the Book of course – telling the oath of the Librarians. It was written in the older literary language of Orth, so in the end it was more of a decorative pattern for anyone who wasn’t a Librarian. The gown lacked a hood, which forced her to carry her chestnut braid openly, but for the sake of the occasion she opened them and fixed them again to a tight knot on the back of her had. When she was finished, she put on some light shoes she had ordered the evening before. The servant had not managed to choke down a grin when he had realized he had to buy children’s shoes, which she had rewarded with half the money he had spent and a wordless sendoff.
Now she was standing before fifty man leaning over their desks to get a look at that tiny person wearing children’s shoes who had just used the most pleasant words to tell them they could all suck their dicks if they didn’t give her priority in the selection. They didn’t realize she had said this, for in their ears they had only heard the most convincing statement of how valuable the Library of the dwarfs were to their enterprise, but that was how it had been intended by Jill. The part with them sucking their dicks was just recognizable for someone of her own kind able to read the words between the lines, and it was solely for her own amusement.
The most intelligent looking of the men, who had been introduced to her as Alveris, Supreme Chancellor, finally seemed to have something to say.
‘We have heard the words of the dwarf, my fellow counselors, and it seems to me there is no need for further dispute. Is there anyone to disapprove the selection of Miss Jill, daughter of Bly, for the quest of investigating the threats of the west, than he should speak now.’
Some of the men looked at Jill, pending their alternatives until Jill looked them straight in the eye, which forced every single one of them to look down on their desks. The longer the silence lasted, the harder it got for anyone to speak up. Finally the chancellor took the word again.
‘Thereby I declare that the Council has approved of this matter as it has been presented. In the name of the City of Algaman and the land of Narod Rada I, Supreme Chancellor Alveris of the High Council, grant you the honor of serving this country with all you have to offer by traveling to the place of the fallen star in the west and report all there is to know to this institution upon your return. Good luck, Jill of the Librarians.’
The council drowned in a sea of murmurs and whispers that arose with the end of the chancellor’s speech, and she was guided out of the meeting chambers and to a room where the first of the candidates already lingered, waiting for their election.
She didn’t care to take notice of them for now. She had to recover from the dreary talks of men for a minute and sat down on a chair near the wall.
‘Well, at least that wasn’t too hard’ she thought taking out a small book she had carried in a pocket of her dress. It still was an hour until noon, so she decided to used the time to do what she did best: read.

View
From the South (Søren's Introduction)
Theoderich I

The snow was blowing hard and cold over the wide plains of the Eteluunta Desert. As far as the eye could see, the snow stretched into all directions. They sky was cloudy, and only a few spots of the endless, high blue were to be seen. In the far distance a pack of jäkarhus could be heard, crying their deep growl. Somewhere, out in the white, they were going on a hunt. Far and wide there was no sign of civilisation. No humans came ever out this far, even less the elves, and only some of the dwarfs. Just one lone wanderer was slowly making his way north.
On the first look he would have looked like a human, to the uneducated observer that is, an extraordinarily tall human, but a human nonetheless. And indeed, he had a face, hair and beard, two eyes, two arms and two legs, just like an ordinary human. He was, however, one of the etelä, the proud people that inhabited these southern lands. Some say that they descended from giants, mingling with humans, some say, they came from across the ocean. Fact is: they settled down in the desert a long time ago, being the only people in Narod Rada that was willing to put up with the everlasting cold and whiteness. They lived in tribes and clans, led by those who were the strongest and most honourable fighters.

The day before Far Vastaa, presently chieftain of the Mustekala, and father of Søren had been on a walk along the walls of Linnä, the capital of all the etelä living across the Eteluunta Desert. It had already been getting dark, when he heard a hoarse cry in the air. Far looked up, and saw a raven gliding down from the sky. It landed on a nearby parapet, dropping a little scroll on the ground.
As Far picked it up, the raven cried again, and lifted itself up into the air, disappearing towards the north. The chieftain opened the scroll. Immediately he recognised the smooth writings of Svag Petturi, the representative of the etelä before the High Council in Algaman. Far’s people did not have much business with the humans in the north, as neither these had with them, but as the Eteluunta was part of the realm of Narod Rada, it was required for even the etelä to be part of their silly games of politics. For this purpose Svag Petturi had left his home, and joined the High Council. Ever since the southern tribes had been able to live in peace, without having to deal with the humans and their imperious ambitions very often.
This message, however, seemed to actually be of relevance for Far’s own interests. “Søren!!”, his voice thundered across the courtyard underneath him, and again “Søren!!!”. Everybody looked at him for a moment, then there began a movement in the crowd. A young man started pushing through the crowd, and finally climbed up on the wall, next to the chieftain. He knelt before him to greet him, “Yes, my Father? You have called for me?”
Far Vastaa smiled. He said, “Rise up, Søren, my son.”, and as the young man had done so, he continued, “Svag Petturi has sent word from Algaman.” At the mention of Svag’s name Søren looked aside. Politics and debates were not anything highly esteemed in the code of honour that the etelä kept with all their lives.
“I need you to set out for the capital immediately.”, Far proceeded. At this Søren looked back at his father, “To Algaman? What could possibly be a reason for me to travel there? The hunting season is about to start, and I need to prepare myself for it.”
“You are a strong and brave man, my son”, the old chieftain said with a smirk on his face, “you shall have your preparation, but it will not be in these snowy lands. The High Council is hiring hands to investigate strange happenings about a fallen star in the far east. I want you to represent your people, and your father, on this quest.”
“A fallen star?”, Søren’s clear eyes started gleaming. “Yes”, Far answered, “it is said to have fallen three weeks past, into the Westlands. There are rumours about hideous beasts around where the star as struck. The humans want to investigate it. Svag says, it is a very big thing. Only the best of the best will be admitted to join the group. He thinks there is much glory to be achieved on this quest.”
“Svag…”, Søren said, not trying to hide in his voice, how low he thought of that man, “he is a politician, what does he know about honour, and great quests? He, who has forsaken what makes a man a man? Who chose the pen over the sword. Who is he to tell any of us how we are to achieve our honour?”
Far’s face grew grim, his voice became stern and strict, as he spoke, “He is one of the etelä nonetheless, and moreover your mother’s cousin twice removed, from the noble tribe of the Miekkakalites. He may not have chosen the most glorious occupation, but this is a sacrifice our families had to bring, in order to keep our peace with the humans. And though he may be a bad judge of a good battle, I want you to make sure, whether he is right on this one or not. You will honour your father and obey, you will travel to the human city of Algaman, and join this quest. There will be enough chance for you to prove your skill, and as you return, nobody will think of you as a coward. I will not let a gathering like this happen, without having a representative of our people with them. And you are my oldest son, one of my most trustworthy fighters, you will go, and you will not bring shame on your family’s name, I know that.”
Søren had shrunk under his father’s rebuke, but now, as he spoke, he took new courage, and, straightening his back, answered, “Forgive me, father. I will do as you said. I will set out for Algaman immediately, and I will travel to the western borders of this land to find this fallen star, and to return in honour.”
There was not much more to be said among them. The people in the courtyard that had stopped to listen to the conversation, remained there for a little while longer, but as soon as Søren had climbed down from the wall to get his gear readied, they slowly started moving again. The true value of this adventure would not come out until his return, until then, there was still time.

The next morning Søren rose early, and left Linnä when the sun had not yet risen. With him he took his trusted glaive Kunnia, his coat, and a few provisions for the journey. He did not have much time, and had to travel fast and light.
He travelled through the snow as fast as he could, and by the end of the second day, he had reached the edge of the desert, where the air grew warmer, and the ground greener. On the third day he could cover even more ground, for his running could keep up even with some trotting horses, so when evening came, he could already see the great tower of Algaman, that the humans called Agath Helthe, sticking out against the horizon. He entered through the city gates on the morning of the next day, and quickly headed towards the great market place in front of the inner fortress. Here, in the shade of the great tower, Svag Petturi was already waiting for him.
“Søren, my son, it is good to see you”, the older man exclaimed. His beard was short, and his eyes had started to grow dim. He wore a soft, wide robe, and smelled nothing like the wilderness at all. Søren forced himself to smile a little, “Master Petturi, it is good to see you.” Svag laughed, “Please, drop this ‘master’ talk. We are all one family, are we not? ‘Svag’ will do, as long as we are among ourselves. Tell me, how is your father? And you mother, the dear cousin of mine? But what am I doing? We don’t have much time. The briefing is to start soon. We should be getting inside and up, I suppose. My, it IS good to see you. It has been a while since I have seen one of our kind wander these parts of the land.”
Søren stopped listening to him, while they were walking up the stairs. Svag had indeed changed a lot from the rest of the etelä. He had been living with the humans with too long. Worse, with these wise men and politicians. Only if he could slay one enemy with every hundred words he spoke, he would still be possibly be considered a great warrior. But then… maybe he DID kill hundreds of people with his words each day.
Then Søren noticed something that made him stop. “What?”, he asked, and stared at Svag, who turned around and answered, “I said, you will find the payment that the High Council has offered to those who partake in this great adventure more than pleasing.”
Søren couldn’t believe what he had just heard, “Payment?”, he asked, “Let me put this straight: I am not here to be paid. I am not one of your other mercenary people, greedy for money. I am Søren Vaikne, son of Far Vastaa, son of the great Hjalmar Vasara; prince of the Mustekala tribe, an etelä with all my heart and blood. I am here to find out whether this quest you speak of is worth pursuing it, and if so, I will join it, for the honour and glory of seeking great adventure. It would be a shame for me to take money for what I am born to do.”
After this, Svag was astonishingly silent for the rest of the way. He only muttered a few words to the guards to be let in, when they finally arrived at their destination. There he stepped back, and let Søren walk through the door by himself.

View
Friend and Foe (Selas' Introduction)
Seraphael

His heavy steps and the clattering of his weapons against his thick leather armor went unnoticed in the noise of the bustling activity of the large entrance hall. A huge ragtag crowd clustered around the main desk in the middle of the room.
‘So many fools’ Selas thought by himself while finding his way through the masses. Some who knew who he was backed off on sight and as he closed in to the desk, more and more people took notice of him. Some eyed him with fear, some with hatred and some of them were blatantly surpirsed. As Selas reached the desk the murmuring stopped.
Completely oblivious of who stood before him, the man at the desk looked up and said. “Look, we don’t need just anyone, mister. I can give you the papers for you to fill out, but don’t get your hopes too high.”
Selas examined the young clerk shortly, he looked up and and around until he spotted something in the back of the hall.
‘Hey Margus’ he yelled, ‘what’s up with this lad here?’
‘Selas?’
A brown skinned man stepped out of his group and came up to the desk.
‘What are you doing here? Well, stupid question…’ he added hastily. ‘Let him pass!’
The guards made way for the newly arrived and Margus took him to the hallway leading to the High Council Chamber.
The recurring noise they left behind forced Selas to raise his voice.
‘Does the High Council really think he could investigate the meteor impact by sending amateurs?’
‘Shh Selas, lower your voice! Calm down! Come on… It’s good to see you again, after all these years. I would have never thought to see you in these buildings ever again.’
‘Do you think I’m happy to be here? I saw these leaflets all over the city. What is this shit?’ he handed him over the tattered piece of paper.
‘Selas, relax…’
‘Margus, don’t stress my patience…’
The man in the ceremonial outfit looked around sheepishly.
‘The high council ordered us to recruit a group of mercenaries to investigate the impact.’ – ‘But they were aware that promising huge amounts of money would attract all sorts of inexperienced people, weren’t they?’
‘Yes, and honestly, we don’t know why they want it this way but look, it’s our job…, we have to follow orders.’
Selas sighed.
‘Oh come on, didn’t you overcome your hatred by now? It’s been such a long time!’
Judging by the look on the mercenary’s face he was far from it.
‘Sorry man, I didn’t… mean to…’
Now it was Margus’ turn to sigh.
‘Listen… Selas, I know that Agmar, the commander in chief of this whole mess isn’t happy with it either. He is trying to filter out the best mercenarys but as you see, it’s not that easy. He even sent out some of us to recruit in mercenary guilds. I hope he is not risking too much with that.’
‘This means I have to talk to Agmar?’
‘What, you want to join?’
‘Problem with that?’
‘No, no, you are one of the best around here… But you know… This mission is under the banner of the high council.’
‘I know Margus, I’m not stupid. I have made my choice.’ with these words he turned around.
‘Hey… uhm… do you know anything about Rhyna?’
Margus shook his head.
‘Unchanged…’
Selas nodded slowly.
‘Thanks.’
With this he left the guard and marched straight into the direction of Agmar.

‘Commander Agmar?’
The highly armored man turned around, eyed Selas from top to toe. ‘And you must be… Selas, right?’
‘My reputation precedes me, I suppose…’
Agmar pointed to his weapons. ‘I know only one mercenary who uses a five-shot combined with a single shot rifle. If you mind following me while talking, I’m terribly busy!’
With this he started walking towards the other corridor, leading to the north part of the building.
‘Everyone is going crazy since the impact. The high council is making some strange decisions lately and every self-proclaimed adventurer wants to make his fortune with this meteor investigation, and me… I’m in the middle of it, trying to keep my sanity. We could actually use someone like you right now, you know?’
‘That’s why I’m here.’
Agmar stopped in his track.
‘I honestly didn’t expect to gain your support, concerning your history with the council.’
‘My motivation has nothing to do with the high council. I’m here to serve.’
‘Follow me, Selas!’ he picked up his pace again and directed him to a door in the back of the hallway.
‘My guards are still searching for other capable fighters like you.’
He opened the door and led them to the back of the dimly lit room…

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The Beginning of a Quest . . . (Posted by Brittany)

The folds of Cornelius Templeton’s flowing epitoga rustled softly as he hurried to the Council chamber. Supreme Chancellor Alveris had convened an emergency session to address the strange rumors that had been trickling into the capital city of Algaman these past few months . . . frightening rumors, disturbing rumors, rumors of a projectile plummeting from the heavens and crashing into the peaceful farmlands in the western fringes of the country. As if that wasn’t a strange enough phenomenon in itself, further reports had come in of frightening occurrences in the general vicinity of the impact zone — mysterious disappearances and sightings of unnatural monsters — all of which served to terrify the good citizens of Narod Rada. The High Council had sent out a party to investigate these claims within 2 days after the first reports reached them, but it had been 3 weeks since anything had been heard of them, and the people were growing more and more uneasy as the rumors reaching the capital became more frequent. Something had to be done.

Knowing he was late, Councilor Templeton tried to slip quietly into the room without attracting attention, just as Councilor Boyle was standing up to address the body. Boyle’s abnormally large eyes bulged even further than normal from their sockets as he spoke, as if by so doing he was trying to add emphasis to his words. Councilor Templeton found himself involuntarily agreeing with his daughter, Gladys, that at such times Councilor Boyle did indeed remarkably resemble a large bull-frog. He immediately dismissed the thought as disrespectful of the councilor’s position and instead attuned his ears to hear what Boyle was saying.

“It has been three weeks since we last heard any report from the investigation unit,” Boyle declared, eyes bulging. “At a good pace, it is only a week’s journey to the outlying farmlands where the crater is alleged to be. Giving them the same time frame to return hither, the entire trip should only have taken two weeks.”

“Perhaps they encountered delays along the way,” Councilor Keldin spoke up. “A bridge may have been out, or they may have encountered bad weather which slowed their pace. There are many possible explanations for why they have not yet returned.”

“Even so, such difficulties would have delayed them a day or two, at best. They should have returned. Something has gone wrong,” Boyle insisted.

“The people are growing restless,” Storrsen chimed in. “They wonder why the Council does nothing.”

“Do the people not know that we have sent a company to investigate the crisis already?” Templeton spoke up.

Supreme Chancellor Alveris folded his fingers together and pursed his lips. “No,” he stated. “They do not. I thought it best to send trusted emissaries to ascertain the truth of these rumors secretly, before making our concern public, lest they prove false and only serve to stir up the people unnecessarily.”
“Do you believe these reports to be false, then?” Templeton asked, almost incredulously.

Alveris shook his head, the black and white locks of his shoulder-length hair mingling for an instant, before settling down to opposite sides of his face. “I had hoped they might prove thus,” he confessed. “But there can no longer be any doubt as to their veracity.”

“We must send out another force to investigate and meet this threat,” Boyle stated vehemently. “And they must be the very best our land has to offer. We must seek the assistance of the best warriors that can be found, whether they be of our own people or not. We must send delegations to the Elves of the North and the Dwarfs of the East and the Etelä of the South. We must send out a proclamation throughout the land that we are seeking skilled mercenaries to find and apprehend this unknown peril that lurks in the western lands.”

“But to do so would be to admit weakness and our own insufficiency!” Keldin exclaimed. “The people will lose faith in us! If they see their government groveling for aid, they will think we are incapable of handling the situation ourselves. They will think we cannot keep things under control, and it will undermine our authority. The people will succumb to fear, and it will lead to chaos and anarchy.”

“Now is not the time to be concerned with our pride,” Alveris said softly. “If this crisis is not resolved soon, no one will dare to venture into the Western Lands near the impact zone. We will lose our primary farmland, and most of the year’s crops. The people will starve. There WILL BE no people to lose or hold faith in us.”

Silence hung heavy in the air as the Council digested the Chancellor’s words.

“I suppose that settles it, then,” Keldin sighed heavily.

  • * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Hear ye, hear ye!” the town crier called the attention of the people in the streets. “The High Council has issued a decree summoning all the bravest and truest of heart and noblest of skill in the arts of war to partake of an epic quest, journeying into the lands of the West to seek out and put an end to an unknown menace which threatens the good people of that region. For any who would dare to undertake such an endeavour, let it be known that the peril shall be great and the journey taxing, and the nature of the enemy to be faced unknown. Further be aware that the reward offered shall not be diminutive. But the Council seeks not the aid of common vagabonds; only those whose hearts are noble and whose skill is great are requested to enter into this quest. The faint of heart need not apply. All those who deem themselves worthy of the task shall appear before the Council at high noon five days hence.”

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