The land was still covered in darkness when Zacharias woke; the night had not been kind to him, and dreams of a life gone by haunted him like a vengeful ghost. He did not make another attempt at sleeping, he knew that it would be in vain. Instead, he had chosen to sit on a flat rock which poked out of the cliff’s overgrown face just above the entrance to a small cavern reachable by ground, staring at the starlit sky above the rust colored crowns of the forest. What went through his mind was his alone to know, and hours slowly went by as the moon descended beneath the horizon. There was something magical in nature, something that deeply moved and fascinated Zacharias like a child is entranced by its grandfather’s tales. No, he would never get tired of observing and appreciating the works of Gaia.
Eventually, the sun began to show through the gnarled branches and withering leaves, casting the first rays of light into the misty, autumn grasped forest. Squinted, crimson eyes watched as dawn unfolded, waking up the world for yet another day of untold wonders and unspeakable terrors alike, for as much as he admired the world, he knew that it was not a flawless place, and bliss could turn to grief all too easily. Before he was given a chance to fall into thought once more, the nickering of a horse, coming from the cave below, caught Zacharias’s attention. He remained seated for a short moment before he finally stood up and carefully descended the moist rocks down to the ground. Dropping down the last few feet, Zacharias landed on a mossy surface covered in crunchy, dead leaves in shades from brown to orange. Inside the cave, which was only partly illuminated by the morning sun, there was a dead campfire, now merely black ashes, with a dark brown horse lying next to it, its body covered by a grayed wool blanket.
“I hope you slept better than me, old friend,” Zacharias rhetorically told his horse as he entered the low cavern.
He took the blanket off the horse, which was now rising to its hooves, and rolled it up into a compact bundle which he fastened with a leather strap. After this, he put it into the bag which hung by the horse’s side and in which he stored all the practical things one could need on a travel. Then his eyes darted across the cave to a wall where his armor was carefully laid down. Sitting down next to it, he put on part after part until he was fully clad in his blackened leather armor. It made him look dangerous, and that kept people at bay, which was good.
Moments later, a dark wanderer trudged knee-deep in fallen leaves, next to an unsaddled horse with only a bag hanging by its side, through the forest and towards a small settlement whose rising smoke pillars could be seen past the thicket of branches and leaves ahead. They called it Borstown; a particularly human and particularly ugly name, Zacharias found. Humans were crude beings in comparison to Deigan, they were so unrefined and juvenile in contrast to the elegance and wisdom that was prevalent within Deigan society. Of course, the poor things could not be blamed for their condition, by the time a Deigan becomes adult, a human is already considering his approaching death. Perhaps this childlike behavior did have a certain charm to it in its own way.
The closer he got to the village, the stronger its smell, the smell of civilization, overshadowed the scent of nature and the forest. Simultaneously, the density of the trees began to lighten and the thicket began to break up; here and there, he could now see mere stumps where trees had once stood, and rough trodden paths were carved out into the moldy leaf-covered ground. Houses were now visible ahead, or at least that which humans referred to by the term. In truth, the village was nothing more than a gathering of ugly square habitations built from rough hewn stone, wood and hay, structures that a true Deigan would not even construct for their cattle. Winding cobble paths ran in between the hideous houses, all leading up to a central plaza where this famed black market was meant to find place on that day. Just at the forest’s edge, Zacharias turned to his horse and stroked its head while speaking to it.
“Stay here; the city is no place for you. I will call you when I get back.”
The horse followed Zacharias for two, three steps before halting and watching him go; then, as Zacharias disappeared within the bowels of Borstown, it galloped into the wilds again, becoming one with nature until the true Deigan would have need of it again.
Zacharias blended into the crowd seamlessly; he had never seen so many shady fellows at once, so many people that looked not worthy of a goblin’s trust. Thugs, murderers, brigands and cut-throats, as well as smugglers, swindlers and frauds were amassed here, and though Zacharias thought little of their kind, he could not deny the ease with which he could integrate himself into their crowd. Superficially, he was not so different to their kind: he too was an outcast, and killed for bare coin. But he did so with honor.
Honor… what did that even mean? Was he truly any different to them?
After wading through the people with relative ease for a while, a woman in shining armor forced herself into Zacharias’s sight and tore him from his thoughts. She was a paladin no doubt, or at least some kind of warrior who represented the forces of good, that much was clear. She must be mad or at least half insane to come to a place such as this in that attire, that much was clear as well. Regardless, she was not his business, and he turned away from her again.
The market place was bustling with activity already; some of the stalls were already filled with goods and buyers flocked to each of them, a mystic’s scroll shop being particularly successful, and as Zacharias observed this, the fine smell of burned flesh came to his nostrils. He looked around, but could not find the source of it; perhaps the remains of a recent accident, if accidents were possible in Borstown that day?
Alas, it was still early, and the man with the supposed cure for the Withering, a sickness that has caused so much agony – also to him – would likely take his time before revealing himself. All that Zacharias could do now was waiting, wait for a miracle, wait for a catastrophe, wait for whatever fate had in store for him. And so he sunk against a nearby stone wall with his back, crossing his arms and observing the market with his red eyes, hidden in the darkness beneath his black hood.