The sorcerer stood in the center of the ancient forest, feeling the magical convergence of the area. Trees twisted around the bare center, their ancient bark harder then even the greatest of forged steel. The air hung hot, quiet as the usual noise of the forest dimmed. The power felt here was palpable, the sorcerer suppressing the urge to start now, knowing that he had spent entirely too long in preparation to bungle it now.
They had been here, so long ago. The final place of them. Where the armies and humanity and dwarven kind had descended upon the last holdouts, intent on wiping them off the face of the realm. Then they had vanished, disappearing before steel and fury could rip them apart.
But their mark was still seen, in the center of the forest. So much magical energy had spread from this point, and the sorcerer intended to make use of it. With the power here to be tapped, no one could stand before him, no one would be able to topple the minions he would be able to enthrall or create. The King of Man would be forced to bow before him.
The True Magic was almost his, the sorcerer raising his hand as he focused, speaking in an ancient language, the words wheedled out one by one during decades of research. Words of the world itself, speaking to reality to shape it. With the ancient magic, the act was a little easier, each word taking a small toll on the sorcerer as he began to cast his spell, but it would be worth it.
Magic crackled in the air, swirling around the sorcerer as he finished, the final syllable having barely left his lips when the world itself seemed to crack apart around him, the magical energy rushing into the sorcerer who felt himself stumble slightly, working to contain the magic.
There were... figures. Shadows at the edge of the sorcerer's vision, human-like at first. They began to crowd around the magic man. The sorcerer gave them no mind as he focused his magic still, starting to become use to the power that flowed through him. Then one of the figures took their shadowy head back and began to laugh.
The laugh echoed through the forest, and the other shadow figures joined in, the laughter a cacophony to the sorcerer, who held up his hands, letting his magic flow from his fingers.
The sorcerer's words rang loudly, but the shadowy figures didn't stop, their laughter seemed to increase. One of them reached out and grabbed the man suddenly, the sorcerer stumbling in his casting, his magical faltering. Before he could shake himself loose another hand grabbed him, then another. The shadowy figures converged on him, swarming him as he felt a multitude of hands grip him one by one. A single hand covered his mouth as he started to cast a spell, his voice muffled as he shook, his magic sparking dangerously out of control, the shadow figures seemingly unaffected by the powerful blasts of power.
A final shadowy figure appeared, lithe and beautiful, to the sorcerer's eyes. The man of magic seemed to slacken as the figure began to take on a more earthly appearance. A small figure of a woman, with large blue eyes that stared deeply in the man, smiling seductively towards him. The sorcerer felt calm, despite the hands still gripping him. The woman continued to come into existence, pale skin almost glowing, naked with long white hair falling down past her shoulders. She stepped towards the man, placing her own hands on his chest, smiling.
“So finally one of your kind has come... your magic is strong. It will be more then enough to bring us back... to sustain us,” the woman said, her voice beautiful as the sorcerer slackened more, nodding as much as he could. “The magic of the world that we fed on, as we did long ago.”
Then his eyes darted to the woman's ears. Pointed, rising from her hair at a slight angle, and the sorcerer felt a slight rush of fear, but the calmness that washed over him kept it away, and soon he was wondering why he had even been afraid.
The woman ran her hands up to the man's cheek, the shadow hands of others moving out of her way as she did so, and her blue eyes stared directly into his.
“Thank you human... For your sacrifice... For the Fey.”
The sorcerer's eyes suddenly widened as the woman pulled her hand back, struggling to no use as the Fey female shoved her hand into his chest, and a single scream sounded through the forest, heard by no one as his magic began to disappear, drawn into the Fey herself...
[. . .]
It was a little shop, almost out of the way in the small town that it stood in. It stood a couple stories, it's paint a little old and fading, but a fresh sign had been placed above the door, reading simply 'Adwr and Lei.' On the door itself was another, smaller sign which said they were currently closed, and to inquire about their services the next day.
A carriage came up the road. It was plain looking, with a few ordinary looking horses pulling it. A small coat of arms was on the side of the door, a cross of a quill on top of a sword. It pulled up outside the house, the driver stopping the horses before he tied them to the carriage, then swung off the carriage, knocking on the door.
“We're here, Lady Testarossa,” the driver said. He was an older man, still spry for his age, opening the door and letting down the small step ladder as a young woman stepped out.
“Please, Henry, call me Rumi,” Lady Testarossa said with a sigh, “My parents have been employing you since before I was born.”
The driver, Henry, shook his head, “No can do, Lady. I must give proper respect to those above my station.” Henry had brown hair, graying slightly around the temples and sides, with soft blue eyes that held a calculating expression, as if he was constantly sizing up the situation.
Rumi sighed, shaking her head. An old conversation they had been having ever since Rumi was old enough to speak, and one she had never been able to win. Now was not the time to renew the battle, however. She was on urgent business.
Rumi stepped towards the small shop now, dressed in some traveling pants and shirt. She wore her hair short, at least shorter then most girls of her age, going to about her shoulders, with a raspberry beret atop her head. A single pencil was stuck in her ear. Clutched in her left hand was a small notebook, which Henry glanced at.
“Do you expect trouble, Lady Testarossa?” Henry asked, concern on his face, “Are you quite sure we need these two? I'm sure you could employ someone who is... more reputable.”
“No, I just never know when I might want to sketch a little something, Henry,” Rumi smiled, “But thank you for your concern. And no, I believe these two are who I need. At least, their translator. I hear he managed to crack the ancient dwarven hieroglyphs before even the dwarf historian at the castle.”
“Mmm... I heard he hadn't,” Henry said, rubbing his chin, “And that the historian at the castle got it.”
“Well of course he's going to say he got it first,” Rumi laughed, “Now come on, we're dawdling enough.”
She moved up the small set of stairs towards the door, completely disregarding the closed sign, and knocked. There was no answer, and Henry glanced towards the sign, then towards Rumi, who knocked again.
“Lady...” Henry started, bringing his hand up to point to the sign, but Rumi shook her head, then knocked a third time.
The door opened, an annoyed looking man glancing at them. He was tall, dark skinned with brown eyes that had a slight slant to them, with black hair that seemed disheveled. He wore a basic gray shirt and brown pants.
Henry raised an eyebrow. A man of this one's appearance was rare this far to the north in the Kingdom, and the man stepped outside, then pointed towards the sign, and then made a couple motions with his hand that was lost to Henry.
“Of course I know how to read, but this is far too important to wait,” Rumi said to the man, having apparently understood the motions. The dark skinned man looked surprised, and made further motions, then held out his hand.
“It's a pleasure to meet you as well, Paul Lei. My name is Rumi Testerossa,” Rumi said, taking his hand and shaking it. Henry coughed, speaking up now.
“That is Lady Testerossa, please keep that in mind, young man,” Henry said. “Why do you not talk?”
Paul made a motion with his hands, and Rumi laughed, nodding, then turned to Henry.
“He's mute. Henry. He couldn't say anything if he wanted to. He speaks the hand sign, it's an old form of communication used by soldiers to communicate back in the Old War when they couldn't talk without fear of being heard,” Rumi said to him, “I remember reading about it a few years ago, it seemed like a good skill to pick up.”
Henry sighed. Despite being her bodyguard, Rumi seemed to pick up skills and knowledge he had never heard of, then turned back to Paul, “We have traveled for several days to employ you and your companion, Mr. Lei. Lady Testerossa will have more details for you.”
“Yes, yes, but first, where is the other one? Edda Adwr, I believe?” Rumi asked, looking towards Paul, “You are the translator, correct? You can translate the old dwarven hieroglyphs?”
Paul nodded towards the last part, then made a motion with his hands, finally pointing towards the town. Rumi followed his gaze, then nodded, clapping her hands together.
“Alright then! We'll go get him, and then I can explain the job,” Rumi said with a smile, then took Paul's hand, tugging him suddenly down the stairs and towards the carriage. Henry sighed and closed the door to the shop, then followed after them, opening the door for Rumi once more.
“Thank you Henry,” Rumi said, climbing up into the carriage, turning back to Paul, “Well are you getting in?”
Paul looked towards Rumi, then Henry, who was making a disapproving look. One minute he had been working on translating an old book, a fairly easy task and paycheck, and now this girl had appeared and was dragging him off. Henry had referred to her as a Lady, and their carriage was nice, if plain.
But if you were really rich, you didn't need to flaunt it.
“Lady Testerossa, it is uncouth for you to share a carriage with a young man. He can sit up here with me,” Henry said, “What would your parents say?”
“I don't think they'd care, Henry, they like people,” Rumi said, “Besides, once we pick up Edda, there will be someone else with us, and it'd be silly to have three of you out on the carriage with only me inside. I don't want to be lonely the whole trip.”
Henry sighed, shaking his head and motioning for Paul to enter the carriage. He did, taking a seat across from Rumi, who smiled at him.
“Did you grow up in this area, or south? Or in the east? I have some family in the east myself, a few cousins or seconds cousins, I believe,” Rumi said, “We get letters and send letters to them now and then.”
Paul made a motion with his hands, glancing out the window for a moment, then made another motion.
“Parents were friends so you two became friends, huh?” Rumi said, “I suppose you can get good work here as a translator and a sell sword. The old ruins in the areas the dwarves abandoned, for one...”
The carriage came to a stop, with a knock on the door as Henry called out, “Lady Testerossa, I'm afraid we can't go any further in the carriage. The streets are blocked for some kind of... tournament.”
Paul smiled, shaking his head and silently chuckling. The door opened and Rumi went out first, followed by Paul as she turned her attention to the crowd. In the center of town a small circle was made, wooden boards and haystacks denoting where one should not go, and two figures circled each other in the center. Both of them wore padding and had a dull metal sword used for practice, with a judge standing off and watching them.
“So this is where you said Edda is? Is he competing?” Rumi asked. Paul nodded, his hands moving again.
“Hah! Well he shouldn't have won last year if he didn't want to compete this year,” Rumi laughed, “Is he fighting right now?”
Paul glanced towards the combatants, then nodded, making a couple signs.
“How long will we have to wait? I worry about pickpockets, Lady Testerossa,” Henry said. Paul made another sign, and Rumi nodded at Paul.
“Calling me 'Lady' isn't going to deter any pickpockets, Henry,” Rumi said to Henry, “And this is suppose to be the last fight. Though if Edda wins, the champion apparently has a few other duties to perform...”
Henry frowned, turning his attention back to the fight. “Which one is the young Edda?”
Paul pointed towards the smaller of the figures. Of the two combatants in the ring, one was a large man, with his padding a little too small for him. His sword was larger then Edda's, though just as dull. He had a beard that was braided, and he let out a roar as he charged at Edda.
Edda himself was still fairly tall, though nothing against the mountain of a man he was facing, and a few inches shorter then his friend Paul. His shaggy blond hair could be seen sticking out in places on the padded helmet he wore, and his long sword looked a little too big for him, but he hefted it with ease, dodging the swing of the great sword his opponent gave, bringing his sword up and whacking against the padded leg of the man.
“Point, Champion!” the referee called. The man scowled as he lifted his sword, suddenly finding Edda in front of him again, his fist balled around something. He looked confused, only for Edda to throw his hand forward, dirt from the ground coming from his hand and temporarily blinding the man. He stumbled back, Edda dashing forward and bringing his sword up, stabbing up at the man's throat, coming to a stop a couple centimeters from doing so, before pulling his sword back.
“Killing attack! Winner, the former champion, Edda Adwr!” the referee shouted. Edda stuck the sword in the ground, taking off his helmet and shaking his head, sighing to himself.
The big man rumbled, removing his helmet and stalking up to Edda, one hand rubbing the dirt from his eyes. He grumbled, then held out a hand, and laughed.
“I assumed the villagers here would not have a man who knew how to fight! Thank you for proving me wrong,” the challenger laughed. Edda grinned back, shaking the man's hand.
“Hey, glad there's no hard feelings,” Edda responded, “You are pretty good, but I don't think you usually just fight with a sword.”
“Hrrmmm, perceptive. No, I usually prefer a maul, or a shield with my sword,” the man nodded, “But it is good to branch out.”
Cheers erupted from the crowd, and Rumi frowned, tapping her chin. “I want us to leave as soon as possible. This could be a problem.”
“Do we have a final challenger?” the referee shouted, looking towards the crowd, “Anyone who thinks they can best the champion?”
Henry sighed, then stepped through the crowd, moving quickly before he got to the fence and hay, jumping over it easily and landing in the circle, dusting himself off idly as he stood in the dirt.
“Lady Testerossa requires your presence, young one. Since she can not have you tied up with this, I will challenge you,” Henry said idly, “Single sword combat, you get points from wounding attacks, and can win with a killing attack, yes? Time limit?”
“Well... five minutes is the time limit, yes,” the referee said, glancing towards Edda, who just shrugged, “Very well then, if you're sure, sir. We'll get you some padding and-”
“Not necessary,” Henry said, shaking his head and holding up his hand. “Just need a sword. I'd prefer something light, if possible, perhaps a rapier-like sword.”
“Look, I have no idea who you are, but I'm not going to hold back,” Edda said, “You should wear the padding.”
“It will just slow me down,” Henry said, shaking his head again, “Please, I simply wish to get this over with.”
Edda sighed and turned towards the referee, shrugging, “It's his choice.”
“Alright then,” the referee said, then made a motion to a young boy by a large chest, with other dull swords. The boy looked through it, then produced a long thin rapier, running towards Henry and presenting the sword to him. Henry took it and swung it a few times in the air, then nodded appreciatively.
“Well kept for a practice sword. The weight is good,” Henry said. “Yes, this will do nicely. Do we count down to start, I assume?”
“We do,” Edda said, raising his own practice sword. He eyed the man, wondering if he was good, or just crazy. Possibly some kind of combination. Henry held the sword at his side, eying Edda as the young man took a couple steps, the referee stepping forward.
“Limb hits are one point each. Not immediately lethal hits are three points. Lethal hit is a win. Fight until the time is up, or one scores a lethal hit,” the referee said, “Begin!”
Henry moved forward, taking Edda by surprise, his sword coming up to block the blow, the rapier sliding across the metal as Henry stepped backwards. Edda brought his sword around. Henry's left side was open, and Edda's sword went for the opening.
The blunt metal was stopped by Henry's hand, who grabbed the sword.
“Point, Champi-” the referee declared, stopping when Henry brought the rapier around, attacking quickly with a series of slashes, hitting Edda's right arm, sweeping down to slash across both legs, until he whirled the rapier around and stabbed at Edda's head, stopping a centimeter from his forehead.
“I believe that is my win,” Henry said, letting go of Edda's sword, then shook his left hand, wincing a little, “You really were not holding back, young man. Good for you. Unfortunately, neither was I.”
“Errrr... winner, the challenger!” the referee said, after a brief moment of silence. Edda paused, then laughed, shaking his head.
“I never thought about that! You lost a point to give yourself a chance for a win,” Edda said, “Though I doubt you'd have done that were these sharp.”
“You underestimate what I would do for Lady Testerossa. I am suppose to protect her,” Henry said, sticking his sword into the dirt, Edda doing the same, “Now then, she is over there, and I-”
Now Henry was interrupted as the large man from earlier lifted him up, roaring towards the crowd.
“Looks like you have your champion! Now let us feast, I came partially for that as well!” the large man yelled boisterously, Henry attempting to get free as the villagers yelled with excitement, funneling out of the center of the city and heading towards the annual harvest feast.
Edda laughed, shaking his head as he stripped out of the extra padding, looking up as Paul came forward, Rumi accompanying him. The street was rapidly emptying as the crowd moved towards the feast, giving them all some relative privacy.
“Hey Paul,” Edda said, stretching a little, “Who's this?”
Paul made a few motions with his hands, and Edda nodded, turning to Rumi.
“Well then, nice to meet you, Rumi,” Edda said, sticking out his hand. Rumi took it and they shook, Edda glancing towards Paul once more, “So you have a job for us?”
Rumi smiled, nodding towards them, “I do indeed. I recently found out about a dwarven ruin that was discovered on some property my family owns, a couple days travel from here. Some preliminary looks show that it dates back from the Dwarven War.”
Edda looked interested now, rubbing his chin, “The Dwarven War? Humans destroyed most of the ones in their sieges...”
“Exactly! But this one appears intact, and filled with old dwarven hieroglyphs and other old texts... Well, the hieroglyphs at least, my family has been keeping anyone from going in, but I heard about your friend here and how he knows how to read them,” Rumi said, “Anyone else is an official government worker who'd just curtain it off and not let anyone explore it!”
“Dwarven made artifacts could be sold for a lot of money too...” Edda said, leaning back now as he stared at Rumi.
“And? I'm not interested in that. There's got to be a lot of history in there, and maybe something that can be used to help people. Their aren't many dwarves left, and they don't have much of their history left either,” Rumi said, “It could help them rebuild, and improve relationships with the humans and dwarves.”
Edda looked towards Paul, who held up his hands and signed towards him. He sighed, then nodded.
“Alright, Paul definitely wants to check this place out himself. Consider us hired. You will have to pay for expenses. We can leave tomorrow, since your bodyguard is going to find it difficult to leave the celebrations until then,” Edda said. “There's an inn nearby, you should be able to find a room.”
Rumi shook her head, “Nope, we're leaving as soon as possible. Get the supplies you'll need and we'll be off.”
“But what about your bodyguard guy?” Edda asked, raising an eyebrow.
Rumi waved her free hand dismissively, “Don't worry about Henry, he can look after himself. He'll know where we're headed anyways, so he'll catch up eventually. How long until you are ready?”
Edda and Paul shared a glance, talking it over quickly, both of them shifting to sign as their hands moved rapidly, and they turned back to Rumi.
“Give us an hour. I need to get cleaned up and we need to gather some supplies for the trip,” Edda said, “Is that good?”
Rumi nodded, “I also have some supplies, food and some tents and other things prepared with my carriage.”
“That'll help, but we still have some personal supplies,” Edda said, nodding, “Mind giving us a lift back to our place then?”
“Of course,” Rumi smiled, turning and heading towards the carriage, Edda and Paul sharing a glance.
“So she understands sign too, huh?” Edda said idly, then elbowed Paul, “She's cute.”
Paul just raised an eyebrow at Edda, then rolled his eyes as Edda walked after Rumi, laughing softly to himself.