The piercing scream of a, probably last, member of a moribund species shattered the frozen, paralytic silence of the Nindortharn Pass and was then suddenly cut short by the termination of the last individual of this species.
Typically, this was anything but a quiet pass. Typically, every lovely morning, dozens of people trekked down this road by the river Algorich, making their way beyond the Valley of Nindor and on to the Thaesterian lowlands. This was a relatively notable trade artery that axed through the valley, nudging the only local major city of Nindorlach and pressing on northeastward into the wastelands. Merchants who sought to set up trade relations with the northerners and the orcs (although a common joke in the Nindor said there was really no difference) often took this path to avoid gnome country and the resultant cross-border taxation.
Tonight wasn’t quiet, yes, but it wasn’t typical, either. Lightning slashed the sky and the water of the river Algorich tumultuously whirled round and round – up, up and out of the actual riverbed. This resultant column of water then swung round, aiming for the head of an unfortunate individual not too far away – well, not too unfortunate. Drawing a two-handed sword, this individual spun round, drawing a wide arc in the air. His weapon glowed like a thousand suns in the darkest night, and the column broke. It shattered in midflight as the wind howled, carrying a million water drops – the spawn of that collapsed column – off to parts unknown.
He wasn’t a tall man, barely taller than an average fourteen year old. His wind-weathered face spoke of a hundred battles, this one being merely, by his expression, a trifle. He had a short nose and dark (albeit slowly graying), short hair, barely going further down than his ears, wore a suit of plate armor and looked as if his best days were long gone, or he was at least telling himself as much.
Lightning struck, again, but this time not from the skies, but from the left hand of a cloaked figure standing about a hundred paces away. In the right one they grasped an ethereal, translucent sword with a bright purple glow.
The swordsman jumped out of the path of the lightning bolt, letting another participant of this surreal battle take point. She wore no armor; just a plain dark green robe that would’ve offered her no protection from swords or axes. She was young – definitely younger than the swordsman – and youth, in all its splendor, still shone from her gentle, beautiful face, and from the bright red, living color of her long hair.
Raising her hand in a clenched fist, she quickly made a set of signs in the air, drawing wide arcs with her fingers. Stretching out her left hand, she, herself, flung a lightning bolt at the one rapidly approaching her. The bolts collided and shattered, making way for the fourth combatant in this battle of the supernatural and supralogical.
He wasn’t tall, either. It was usually rare for an elf to be taller than a human, it often being vice-versa. Wearing a suit of leather armor, an expression of mild irritation and a head of spiky, silver-white hair (by no means in any way implying that he was old), this Elven youth charged the cloaked figure, devouring those hundred paces as if they were hamburgers, broadsword in one hand, dagger in the other.
The wind seemed to blow in the precisely right direction tonight as it swept after the elf, urging him on. Naturally, the cloaked figure wasn’t going to stand down as easily. A sequence of three fireballs flew at the whitehair, who, arm stretched out to the right, rolled aside, using his hand as leverage to jump back to his feet as if nothing had happened and push himself back into a sprint forward. On the left hand side of this battlefield, the two-hand swordsman joined him in this charge, although his heavy armor and sword made him significantly slower.
The cloaked figure, in their confusion and being caught off guard, found themselves doing the one logical thing they still could – spikes from the ground. Making two quick palm movements in the air, the trio’s opponent uprooted the earth itself, making large stone formations as sharp as daggers emerge from the ground right in the paths of the two swordsmen.
Unfortunately to the figure, that was precisely what they were expecting.
The whitehair elf fell forward as the spikes rose. For a moment, you’d have been expecting him to take one right through the heart. However, an elf was not a human, and that had certain extra bonuses when it came to agility.
His hand stretched out, grasping at this forming stalagmite’s tip, and in an action almost too quick to make out, he handwalked his way over the spike. The cloaked magician was, needless to say, surprised; but that did not stop him from getting his act back together quick enough to face the elf, ready for a duel with ethereal sword in hand.
The elf stood, facing the figure, and, almost absentmindedly, puffed slightly upwards, towards a loose strand of his hair.
“Well, now,” he muttered, “that was interesting. Never thought I could do that. Well. Let’s get on with your skewering into pieces, then, ar’taith.”
The piercing scream of a member of another moribund species pierced and shattered the silence of the Nindortharn Pass.
“As they say in Dhasallia,” the white-haired elf said, placing three tankards nigh overflowing with ale on a table in a dark, damp room in an equally dark, equally damp tavern before his two comrades, “good work, guys. Another two or three such jobs and we’ll be able to relax a while. Maybe buy a villa somewhere down south.”
Tara – for that was the name of the redhead mage member of this group – sighed. Every time they even so vaguely spoke of future plans, her Elven brother-in-arms would mention a villa in the south, and his eyes would glaze over with dreams of such a villa. She didn’t mind it in any way, it’s just that whenever asked why this villa mattered so much, he’d say nothing but, ‘No reason’ and that irked her quite a lot, because she felt like, for some reason, she needed to know.
“Pipe dreams, Aercadh,” the older man muttered under his nose, “I thought we agreed. We reach our goal of two thousand gold crowns, and then I quit. Get out of Thaesteria, get out of these wild borderlands and, taking half of that, I head south and back home to Dhasallia, where I would finally retire. You two, splitting those two quarters left, won’t afford a villa down in the south. Think of how far it is, how much the food’s gonna cost, how much---“
“Enough, Darmod, I get it.”
Darmod. That was an interesting name, thought Aercadh.
It wasn’t Dhasallian, certainly, despite Darmod continuously claiming he was from there. It might’ve been some human barbarization of the elvish name Diarmuidh, or one of its variants. Not exactly the sort of name that hints at one’s origins. Such names often occured within families of mixed human and Elven roots, or within Elven families that had gotten slightly better off and adapted better to human society – but Darmod looked neither Elven nor half-Elven by any standard.
Aercadh, himself, came from the west of Thaesteria, from a small Elven ghetto in an even smaller town popularly referred to as a hellhole. Every morning you would be roused from your sleep by a scent best described as an amalgamation of the subtle textures of dog dung and cow fart, and as you walked down the street you had to be careful not to trip over sleeping hobos. The bright side of living there – the only bright side – was that the ghetto’s population constituting an overall majority of the town’s inhabitants, there was no real notable discrimination against elves.
Well, except on holidays. Tradition.
“Irrespective of what we’ll actually do with the money,” Tara muttered, rousing the other two from their respective moments of being lost in thought, “we still need to earn it. And I rather hope that you won’t waste what we earned today on ale. These are the last pints you’re getting today.”
These words provoked a low if only slightly amused whine from Aercadh.
“Tara, you’re such a spoilsport---”
“No, shut up, Aercadh. You know very well what happens when you start drinking.”
Aercadh let out another low grovel and shot Tara an amused smile. “Fine,” he finally said and took a gulp from his pint. Tara sighed, and shot a look out the inn’s window, where, in the distant east, the sun was starting a weary, slow ascent through the sky.
“Tara,” he said, quietly, “what will you do with your part of the money?”
“My part of the money?” she echoed, a curious expression on her face, as she seemingly drifted away from the conversation entirely, her eyes distant and glazed with an air that only dreamers ever have. “Well,” she said awhile later, “I think I’d just do what I’m doing right now. Doing whatever I can to survive. The Order of Magi doesn’t like illegal mages like me, remember? Sitting in one place is unhealthy for me.”
“You’re a pretty sad person,” Aercadh replied, simply, his face remarkably serious for that sort of statement.
“I mean, really. You can’t ever have a home. Tara, you say sitting in one place is literally unhealthy to you, and that’s pretty darn true – well, you’re gonna die if you sit in one place, yeah. Someone’s gonna come around and cleave your pretty head off. But not sitting in one place, never… is really unhealthy to anyone, Tara. Settling down is a thing you ought to do sometime. And you can’t even do that, because that particular option was forcibly taken from you.”
Tara opened her mouth, closed it again, and then just smiled. A smile incredibly shy for her.
“Wow, Aercadh, that was pretty intelligent for you. I’m surprised. Pleasantly.”
“It’s the ale. Like you said. I really shouldn’t drink more.”
She laughed. Aercadh laughed, too. Even old man Darmod managed a grin, and out the window, the sun finally emerged from beyond the horizon.
“Okay, fine,” Tara said, a few moments later, and grinned. “You can have one more pint.”
-----------------[color=rgb(178,34,34);]This is one of those short stories which, after writing, I find myself asking, "What the heck was I trying to say with this?" - there's no overarching plot nor plot twist, just the introduction of three characters and a battle scene. Then again, most of my short stories tend to be either experimental or... practice, so it worked quite well in that regard. Anyway. Comments appreciated.[/color]