There was an subtle but eerie atmosphere of calamity on the winds of Veram. Omens of death scattered about the lands. Mutilated cattle, fields of deceased avian, the occasional odd silence of nature. But life went on. The lucent sun was far up in the heavens, casting its radiance over the deceivingly peaceful lands. The gentle breath of the wind carried through the trees and over the vast glades. The air was smelled sweet and fresh.
Not to far off from the quiet river of Vallinar was the diminutive town of Haven. A town of neighbors and goodwill. Smiles and greetings passed between familiars. Elvish and human children scurried about the cobbled terrace tossing a ball through the air to each other. A couple food stands sat on opposite sides of the area, vending various forms of produce and materials. A couple of burly men donning bonded leather armor and brandishing swords patrolled casually by, chuckling over shared stories.
Around this time, the common area of The Old Lion tavern was packed with bodies, hard drinkers all of them. They jostled and joked, drank and swore in its dimly lit confines. Dirty rushes covered the floor and serving maids swooped from table to table, collecting coins and absently swatting away roaming hands and pinching fingers. Somewhere off in a corner, a minstrel swept swift fingers across the strings of a lute. A portly barkeep wiped down the long oak counter.
Most of the patrons were regulars taking breaks from their jobs or home lives to relax and make merry. If not, then trying to loose their despairs in the bottom of their brews. Some gambled away earnings while others made profit on their ignorance. The tavern served as a great escape from the heat and the rigors of daily life. A small array of homely alcohols and simple meals welcomed all.
An air of geniality flowed across the tavern accept for one dark corner. A withered old man draped in raggedy robing drained a mug of its inebriating contents. The drink filled his belly with the heat of a small fireball. The fiery sensation spread throughout his body, until he felt his very blood boil. He let out a deep belly full of air and sunk into his seat. A vacant expression of dejection carved into his grey visage. Something seemed to be infecting his mind. A nightmare or a fear. It dragged on his conscious and tugged at his soul.
Groaned the old man. "He rises t-to...the end....Doom."
His raspy words were drowned out by the dull roar of the tavern. Everyone to preoccupied to hear and old drunkards ramblings. But it was no deterrent. Creaky whines escaped the frame of the ligneous chair as he raised up to his feet, clambering to the mug in his spindly hands. "Doom...itss all falling...rising. At the g-gates...clawing out. Clawing out!"
The sudden sharp sibilation of shattering ceramic against hardwood silenced the room and drew everyone's attention to the old man standing over the remnants of his mug.
The grey old man stumbled passed the onlooking patrons and pressed on out into the effulgent sunlight. A withered hand raised to shield his eyes as he falteringly trotted on down the road in his drunken stupor. He maundered on under his breath, scantily clinging to the walls and pillars as he lost himself in the vacant alleys and backstreets. Crimson tears ran down from his eyes and dribbled onto the cobblestone ground. The church courtyard laid ahead. But with every step, more viscus blood spilled from his eyes. "...The end..."
Uttered the old man as he fell to his knees within feet of the embellished church gates. "...is here."
He collapsed, dead, to the ground. Blood pooled below his head and drained into the gutter.
The Court City
The stone streets of the massive Court City bustled with thousands of bodies, making their way about their days. On the outskirts of the city were the lower class citizens, making their wages through farming and selling goods. Meager lives were led with lots of hard work to bare. Here, cattle and livestock were maintained, creating a rather musky atmosphere. It didn't help that bathing was a rare commodity. A young boy dressed in a servants garb dashed from tree to tree, posting fliers. Spattered in crude ink across the front was a picture of a sword. Written below it were to words; 'Employing warriors for the Court'
Closer to the heart of the city, sectioned off by large walls was the middle class population, consisting mostly of common named families with very little influence in the societal hierarchy. The living here exceeds the conditions of the lower class population, with access to bathing houses and theaters. Most properties employ slaves that wait on the families that own them. The most common species used for slavery in the city are tamed cave goblins, who's rabid savagery and violent tendencies were all replaced by astute mannerisms and proper etiquette.
Standing behind another fortified wall at the very center of the city is the Great Redthorne Palace, home to the royal Redthorne family and their constituents. Along side the brave and valiant royal court knights are elite arch elf sentries armed with bows, arrows and deadly accuracy, and powerful Magi with knowledge of ancient magics passed down from generations of Magi, all with the task of protecting the palace with their lives. Other than the guards, only those who are wealthy, have something of value to the family, or hail from royalty of another kingdom are permitted into this part of the Court City. At the very top of the tallest tower is the royal chambers, where the family resides, protected from harm. They rule through representatives, only appearing to the public during the most important of occasions.
At the base of the palace, was a large auditorium surrounded by chambers that led to hallways which led to more chambers upon hallways. In one of the many chambers, A group of men and women discussed the matters at hand for the business of the kingdom. They sat at a long table at the center of the granite and stone chamber, lit by candle filled chandeliers that hung from the high rise ceiling. "So what of this 'Psycho Songstress'?"
Shouted a portly man in a fancifully woven silk grab. "It's 'Psychic Songstress'...and we've employed her to perform for the Court in ten moons."
Responded a women dressed in teal robes brimmed with gold. "She is said to be one of the best in her profession, with the luring voice of a siren."
The heavyset man scoffed. "Yeah rite...just like all the other half cocked performers in the city. All so quick to be the best at what they do. How do we even know she's any different from the loons?!" "Because I heard her sing."
A deep and smooth voice resounded from across the table. Staring out from beneath a gray royal gown embroidered with silver crests and carefully hemmed designs that lined the entirety of his outfit. As he looked out from beneath the hood, his visage came to light. He had a fair complexion with smooth, groomed features. His eyes were a silvery blue and his hair was white as snow.
When he spoke, the room grew quiet. Nobody had even noticed him join in on the deliberations. "I'm the one who heard her voice and had her brought here...and you can rest assured, her voice more than lives up to the rumors."
Another man stood up, slamming his fist down on the table. "Dammit Asher! Who do you think you are?!"
It was a noble, suited in pristine armor given only to the royal court guards highest ranking soldiers. "Just because your the queens personal errand boy doesn't mean you get last say on-" "You'll do well to refer to your queen as her majesty when your in the palace, lest you risk losing your tongue as well as your knighthood."
Asher said, calmly but firmly interrupting the noble. "Or have you gotten so comfortable in your cushy position on the senate that you've forgotten the laws of the court?"
Pure rage welled up in the noble's expression but he kept his lips pursed and returned to his seat.
Standing up and pacing toward the archway, Asher Runewald
of the Lexdarian family, removed his hood, letting his alabaster lochs flow over his shoulders. "Her name is Noel Riovas. It's not just her voice that's valuable to us, but her skills with some form of instrument. Something I've never heard in all my years. Her music will serve to calm the people of Court City. Then maybe you wont have to hold secretive conferences to discuss the deterioration of the peoples loyalties."
He turned to step out of the chamber through the massive archway and proceeded to walk down the hallway. "I'll be giving her the tour of the palace today...and if you see her, you would all do well to treat her as if she were royalty."
As Asher disappeared down the hallway, the room became filled with hushed whispers and muddled voices. The noble, Sir Rinton Bale
, sat quietly, brooding in his seat with his arms folded across his broad chest.
It wasn't long before Asher came upon the large wooden door that led to Noel's living quarters. He saw to it she would be given a decent sized chamber with all the delights of royalty. He dismissed a grouchy looking goblin dressed in fancy black servants garb standing in front of the door, who shuffled off down the hallway. Stepping up to the door, he gave three resounding knocks and waited for a response.
Rhuneheim"Enchanted eye of nute!" "I've got pounds of fish!" "Taste basilisk breast meat! The new beef!" "Only the finest quality steel are used to craft these magnificent weapons!"
From every direction vendors advertised their wares to passing travelers and adventuring warriors from within the massive fortification. Tents filled with variates of merchandise from all over the land were packed snugly next to each other in long rows that stretched from one end of Rhunheim to the other. Traveling caravans filled with supplies and pedestrians looking to buy or sale items poured through the pairs of large apertures across each of its sides.
Among the many tents and cabins were a smattering of bars and taverns that thrived off of the coin that came with visiting patrons looking for a bed and alcohol. One in particular served as a hub for the more rough and tumble of characters. The Scarred Bull was the name of this establishment, known to be where all the sell swords and mercenaries go to do business and recover from past ventures. They jostled about, keeping to themselves or to their partners, never letting their hands stray too far from their blades. Not many pedestrians wandered in due to the intimidating atmosphere. This ensured that anyone who found their place here was either a capable fighter or needed to hire one.
Stepping in through the wooden swinging doors were two soldiers from the Court army. They wore sterling armor and brandished long broad swords at their hips. "Hear ye!"
One of them declared, looking out at the weary patrons. "Hear ye! All able bodied warriors! Her and his majesty require the use of your sword for the defense of the great Court City!"
None answered too quickly, as working for royals often meant signing contracts and abiding by strict societal rules. It wasn't the best choice as most of the mercenaries preferred to work on their own terms, protecting convoys filled with resources from wayward beasts and bandits. It was work that came frequently with all of the travelers that passed through Rhuneheim.
Hearing no response, the soldiers decided to take a load off and grab a drink. They had spent the entire morning searching for recruits and sending them to the city to be fitted and inducted. Walking around in their plated armor was a challenge on its own with the heat of hundreds of bodies walking amongst each other, vying for good deals or simply passing through. It was a good time to recharge their engines. "Hey barkeep."
Called one of the soldiers as he sat at the the bar, removing his helmet. Brown hair covered his head, matted with sweat that dribbled down his forehead. "I'll have an ale, and make it cold."
There wasn't any supply of ice, as access to it only came to those who knew their way around ice magics. But certain bars did make a habit of keeping reserves of alcohol stored in cool places for hot days. This wasn't one of those bars unfortunately, and the soldier was soon served a room temperature ale just like all the other patrons.
"Why is the Court even recruiting anyway? Doesn't his majesties army have enough swords?"
Spoke the soldier as he practically choked down the warm brew. "Who knows."
Answered his partner, sitting down on a stool next to him. "Maybe the family is planning a war...or perhaps they're just preparing for a possible rebellion."
Removing his helmet as well, the blond haired man wiped away the sweat from his brow and signaled the barkeep for a round of ale. "So you think the rebellion is serious?" "There's been a severe shortage of resources for the middle and lowers classes for a while now, so I imagine its possible. But nobody really knows...or they just aren't willing to say anything."
He took a swig from his mug as the bartender deposited it in front of him. "Well...At least soldiers don't have it so bad."
Emptying the contents of his drink with a look of disdain, the soldier slammed the mug down on the oak bar table and wiped the froth from his upper lip. "Yeah...if you live by yourself. But some soldiers are having trouble if they have to provide for a whole family."
Just a couple hundred yards from the large fortification of Rhuneheim was the forest known as the Runwald woods. The forest was a beautiful one despite the many bandits and rebels that made it their home. They loved lurking in the cover of tree's waiting for undefended caravans or wealthy travelers to rob and pillage. Its best to traverse the forest during the day, and stick to main roads until out of the thicket. Unfortunately, someone rather new to the area failed to have any knowledge of the forests dangers.
A young woman from another city had wandered into the trees, diverting away from the gravel path. A patch a rare growing mushrooms caught her eye, drawing her attention. She had been harvesting the mushrooms when a group of four thugs confronted her baring knives and devious intents. "Please...take my gold! Just leave me alone!"
Screamed the girl, pulling away from one of the grunts wandering hands. "Now what are you doing out here all by your lonesome. Don't you know it's dangerous to be out in the woods all by yourself?"
The girl backed against the trunk of a tree, quivering with fear. "I-I'll leave just...just don't touch me!"
The thug grinned, flashing crooked teeth stained with yellow and black. "Oh you're not goin anywhere sweetness."
The Felstone Mountains
A then sheet of pale snow covered the peaks of the Felstone mountain range. mountain goats grazed or the patchy grass that trailed down the steep curvature of the rocky hills and overpasses. It was rather warm across all of Veram, however this region of the land seemed to be colder than any others, accept for the wastes of course. At the base of the mountains were vast plains filled with an ocean of grass that covered the ground for miles, reaching into the horizon. ahead of them were wetlands and ahead of that was the great Narwood forest. On the other side of the mountain was the distant Wynn Sea. From this range, it was nothing but a blue line at the edge of the world.
The view from high up in the Felstone peaks was a great one to be admired by few explorers, but it was one of beauty and awe. Just below, walking through the ravine between the towering mountains was a small convoy of travelers. Horse drawn carriages filled with supplies were accompanied by a couple of farmer families and a diminutive escort of hired swordsman. They were coming from the kingdom of Firtsholm with fresh produce and live stalk to be delivered to the Court Kingdom across the pond. The journey was a rigorous one, but worth it in the end as the coin made from the sales to the wealthy kingdom would help Firstholm with affording more resources and hiring more soldiers to defend against the creatures that wandered out of the Narwood.
"I told him three gold coins or no deal...and he just went crazy, screamin on about some oath."
Said a rough faced farmer to one of the guards who were riding horseback. "Mmhm..."
Grunted the guard dully in reply as the farmer blathered on. It had been half a day since the left Firstholm and already, the journey had become tiresome. They were on their way Undheim to board a ferry to Westhold but had to make it across the mountains and hills along the way. The trip was going to take roughly three days before reaching the ferry. Then they had another three days on water to look forward to.
The route the convoy was taken was the same they had taken many times in the past to import and export goods between other kingdoms. Though recently, the pass they used had become home to a frightening beast. A fact they became immediately aware of when the creature stepped out from a cave in the side of the mountain. A giant Warog had made a nest out of dead shrubs found lining the ravine. The Warog looked like a cross s between a bear and some kind of wild boar. The creature was at least ten feet tall standing on its hind legs. Its back was covered in coarse, spine like hairs, and had a short maw filled with haggard fangs.
"What in the hells!"
Shouted a guard as his horse whinnied and bucked at the sight of the Warog. Farmers frantically took cover it roared and bared its yellow fangs. "To arms!"
The hand full of guards took up positions in front of the wagons, ready to take on the beast, some of them happy to break away from the mundane task of escorting supplies.
A howling wind blew through the thicket of towering trees that filled The Narwood forest. Most areas were kept in perpetual darkness by the thick canopy above. The distant call of various creatures echoed out in a chorus of chirps and howls. On the outskirts of the forest, where the trees weren't as close to each other, a small party of warriors gathered at a makeshift campsite. Four tents were propped up in a circle around a small camp fire. Sitting on a mossy boulder was an elf armored in bonded leather with a plate protecting his chest, boots, and gauntlets all forged from elven steel. His almond shaped emerald eyes looked out from his angular face, and his hair was raven black, fastened behind his head in a braid. Gripped in his hand was a worn piece of parchment. Scrolled across the front of it was a crudely drawn image of a black figure holding a bow.
Declared another warrior steeping out from behind a tent. "What is it?"
Answered Commander Eylaan Iondaer
of the Aryandai Tribes, looking up from the paper. Despite his young features, Eylaan was well over eighty years old, although this was considered middle aged at best by elven standards. "All of the preparations have been made. The men should be ready to move out in the morning."
Eylaan nodded. "Very good. We'll leave just before dawn, and the sun will be on our side."
The warrior looked down to the page between the captains armored fingers. "What's that sir?"
He asked, bringing the elf's attention back to the image painted on the front. "It's what we've come here for. The fabled whither of Rhuneheim"
Scratching his head, the warrior raised an eyebrow. "And...that's the key to getting past the Ice Wall?"
Eylaan shook his head. "No...we have to cut out its heart and deliver it to the shaman from the wetlands. At that point, although I'm not sure how, she said she would create what we needed from it."
Pondering the thought while looking over the picture, the warrior gave pause. "Are you sure we can trust the shaman? Are we even sure this is gonna work?"
Instead of shouting or scolding his insubordinate, Eylaan simply place a firm hand on the warriors shoulder and gave him a reassuring smile. "It's our best option if not the only one. We don't have much time before the eclipse, and everything we've worked for over the last twenty years will have all been for not."
After a few silent moments, the warrior nodded in agreement and stepped off into one of the tents to ready his gear for departure at dawn.
In the meantime, Eylaan continued to study drawing, thinking back on old memories he had of stories told by the tribe explorers. Back before Eylaan was a hunter for the tribe, when he was nothing more than a wide eyed elfling. They returned from the world bearing stories of far away kingdoms, and oddities of all kinds. One story that came up was that of the Wither of Rhuneheim. Some called it the floating specter. Others called it the Avenging Black Sentry. 'It'll put an arrow through your soul' They said, retelling their experiences. One of the hunters had brought back a piece of paper with a picture of the creature, said to be drawn by a survivor of the entities wrath. The paper that now was the only piece of evidence Eylaan and his convoy had towards finding the Whither that lurked in the Narwood.