Chapter 1 – Into Gulliver

     The half-elf dropped into a crouch as her gaze stayed on the rabbit ahead. She kissed her dagger soundlessly. A flick of her wrist saw the rabbit tumble into the wet grass, the dagger lodged deeply into its side. It tried to get back up but it was winded and Vel was faster. She moved, pulled out her blade and slashed against its throat.

     “I guess it’ll be rabbit stew tonight.”

     A few expert cuts and Vel was away, taking the legs and liver leaving the rest to the local scavengers. She made her way back to her makeshift camp and wasted no time cooking her kill. As she sat to eat, she tried to think of a way ahead. The half-elf had left Qortac with what gear and coin she had on her. With precious little time and no plan in mind other than ‘getting out’, she’d just about managed to pass a message on to Nanya after Selise had come through with her ticket out of Mathin. Then she’d just run. She’d managed to hitch a ride on the river all the way to Chircerro. From there, she’d hiked across to Sreorud where she’d loaned her skills to a merchant and travelled with him and his cargo to Yazhirno. She’d continued to travel this way, putting more and more space between her and her hometown while trying to lay low. 

   She still had no idea what the hit had been about. All she knew was that those guys had been serious. She’d crossed into Tergor about a week ago. Knowing this was a human kingdom, she’d stayed off the roads and lived off the lands as much she could. She’d relaxed at first, thinking she was relatively safe. Then she’d realised just in how much trouble she was. She was a city lass. Even as a streetwise kid, she’d never had to kill and prepare her own food. Without a bow, hunting was just as much a game of chance as it was one of skill.

     Velatha shook herself out of her thoughts and finished her meal. As night started to fall, she threw the scraps of her meal into the bushes and broke camp. She did not linger, knowing the smell would likely invite an opportunistic predator to investigate. Instead, she set her sights on the glimmering lights of the village below. She’d quite honestly just stumbled upon it. It now seemed a destination like another. With only a handful of coins to her name, she’d need to make money fast if she wanted to be able to settle down somewhere any time soon. With this in mind, Vel walked down the hilly forest and towards the village. 

   A rumble in the skies above got her to look up but the moon and stars were hidden from even her elven sight. She shivered as the temperature once more dropped and the wind picked up. Knowing she only had minutes before the rain started again, Vel picked up her pace. The road came into view just has the first drops hit the tree canopy and Vel was lucky enough to find a large leafy shrug not too far from the dirt track winding through the trees. She nodded to herself and stopped, burrowing into the shrub and using its leaves as poor protection against the elements. She couldn’t afford to sleep but she couldn’t risk carrying on either. And so she settled for a short rest.

     The sound of footsteps along the road caused Vel to startle awake from her light doze. She blinked into the pale light of the dawning sun and stifled a grunt as her neck made it once more known how much it didn’t appreciate sleeping on the cold and wet ground. The soft cling of metal on metal brought Vel back to the present and she watched from the relative safety of her little bush as two men appeared from around the corner. They walked side by side and in silence. Both wore chain mails, explaining the noise that had caught her attention. One was an elf, though a relatively small one as he seemed to not even reach the 6-foot mark. A great axe was casually thrown across his back. The other was young human, though with a very elven colouring to his hair and skin; somewhat scruffy white hair was definitely not normal for a human that looking barely in his twenties. That warrior also seemed to favour the axe. With nothing better to do, Velatha gathered her gear and stepped out onto the road. The men stopped, hands hovering over their weapons and Vel just stood there for a few seconds, hands open and away from the weapons at her hips.

   “Just looking for company on the road.”

   The men seemed to relax slightly and Vel, in turn, let her hands drop to her sides. She fell in step with them as they started on their way again.

“The name’s Illumi Loreweaver, obviously from across the sea. And this is Jax. He’s from further North.”

   Vel looked at the elf and the human in turn and nodded. “Velatha, from Qortac.”

   The three lapsed into silence as they continued to walk. As the morning sun finally broke through the clouds, the travellers stepped out of the forest to the sight of the village just a little way ahead. The wind whipped at the group as they stepped away from the relative protection of the trees. Dark clouds coursed through the skies on phantom wings and Vel shivered under her leather armour. The air smelled of rain, both past and future, and the half-elf could only hope the weather would hold.

   “How about we stop by, try to find a decent pint of ale?” Illumi said with a nod towards the village.

   As Vel and Jax agreed silently, the three travellers picked up their pace. As they approached, Vel studied the sight before her. ‘Village’ was too strong of a word to describe the grouping of ten-odd buildings by the road; hamlet might have been better. Laughter rang out in the chilly air, children playing around in the muds without a care in the world. The baleful look of a nearby farmer spoke of a different mood among the adults. As the three approached the entrance, a guard stepped forward, another behind him.

   “Oi! Where are you… elves going?”

   Jax frowned. “Excuse me, sir. First of all, I am human, just like you. Second, we were looking for a tavern to settle into after our journey.”

     “Human?” 

     The first guard narrowed his eyes as he looked between the three of them. Vel stood still, well used to such scrutiny. And bigotry, when she thought about it…

     “Looks like an elf, don’t he just?”

     “Haha, don’t he just!”

     Illumi scoffed at that and Vel privately agreed. Trust humans not to be able to make the difference between an elf, a half-elf, and an elven-coloured human.

     “Well, if you all swear not to cause trouble…” Stupid Number One said.

   Jax glared at the guards and Vel couldn’t help but chuckle.

   “I don’t know if I should be insulted for myself, or on your behalf, Jax.”

   Vel watched the staring contest between Jax and Stupid until that guard scoffed.

   “Hurry along before I impale you.”

   Vel stopped and turned to glare at Stupid in turn. The buffoon and his friend stammered, looking anywhere but at her.

   “I’m sorry, m’am,” Stupid mumbled.

   “We just doing our job.”

   Velatha huffed and nodded.

   “Would you please point us in the direction of an inn or tavern?”

   “Eh, if you’d follow me,” Stupid beckoned for the group to follow.

   “I don’t know this guy seems like he needs a lesson,” Illumi muttered even as he followed quite a few steps behind and with his hand hovering over his weapon.

   “Come with me,” the guard said again, his voice slightly wavering still.

   He gave Velantha a nervous look which the woman ignored as Jax laughed quietly beside her. Vel followed in silence and managed to maintain a somewhat cold and indifferent look on her face, though Jax’s mirthful spluttering was not helping. Stupid pointed west as he walked.

   “Gobdead Tavern. The only one here worth a name. South is the chief’s longhouse. Would go there though. He’s a strange man.”

   Vel noted the intel in the back of her mind even as Illumi strode forward.

   “About time. You walk slow,” the elf walked towards the door as he mumbled these parting words.

   Jax said nothing and followed his travelling companion. With nothing better to do, Vel made to follow and nearly jumped out of her skin when Illumi kicked the door open. Jax looked at his companion like he’d seen a mad man and Vel couldn’t help but agree. Illumi, carried by his momentum, stumbled across the threshold. He straightened and tried to look like he’d meant every one of his moves, forcing Vel to work hard to keep the smile off her face.

   “Where can I get a drink?” 

   Jax sighed as he followed the elf and Vel could only shrug as she did the same. As she stepped inside, amber eyes swept the room. Three tables stood in front of a bar counter to the back and left of the room. Directly in front of Vel, stairs led upwards – to the rooms available to hire, Vel assumed. The room was lit by three flickering lightposts in the corners. Three men sat close to the bar, two trim-looking men in dark and modest clothes; the other in fine-looking clothes in purple and overweight.

   “Customers!”

   The barmaid came out from behind her counter even as Illumi sat at the closest table. Jax followed and sat opposite his fellow warrior. The barmaid quickly wiped the table and turned to the men with a smile.

   “Can I get you anything? We have food and we provide shelters. Haven’t had many travellers in these parts lately…”

   “Glass of ale,” Illumi ordered.

   “Same here,” Jax 

   “Manners, my friends,” Vel said as she approached the table.

   The barmaid nodded and went off, not taking the slightest offence at Illumi’s tone. Vel wiggled her feet as they sunk into the stone-coloured carpet, muffling the sound of her leather boots. The barmaid came back to serve her travelling companions even as Vel studied the three men standing near the bar. Knowing she needed money fast, Vel smiled at the waitress as she followed her to the bar, making sure she was close to the man in purple as she leant by the counter.

   “Do you happen to have a selection of drinks I could look at? I’m afraid ale does not agree with me.”

   “I’m afraid not, but Tergori wine is still much in store. A glass will cost 1gold piece though.”

   Vel hummed softly as she cast her eye on the bottles sitting on a shelf behind the bar. She stepped backwards as she focused on the group behind her. The mark was clean and the other two were too incompetent to have noticed. Rather they stood in front of the larger man in purple finery and sneered at him. Vel was about to make a move for the man’s coin pouch when his words froze her in place.

   “Believe me, they have my daughter!”

   “See anything you like?”

   Vel returned her attention to the barmaid and the bottles in front of her.

   “I’m not entirely sure.”

   “Well, take your time,” the barmaid said with a smile as she busied herself with cleaning the bar.

   Vel’s attention switched back to the conversation behind her. The half-elf could see her travelling companions starting to drink their ale even as the two thugs behind her laughed at the fancy man.

   “Fancy tale. Now, where’s your coin?”

   Vel straightened as she heard the two thugs laugh and say “Well, let’s make him pay us either way.”

   The two thugs stood up and walked to corner the noble, one on either side of the table. Velatha took a purposeful step back, knocking into the well-dressed man. Only his purse was no longer her target.

   “Pardon me, kind sir,” Vel said as she pretended to stumble.

   From the corner of her eye, she saw her travelling companions still mid-drink. The thugs stood unmoving as Velatha drew her rapier and attacked the one standing the furthest away from the warriors. The thug stumbled back, bloodied, even as his comrade was attacked by Illumi as he sidled closer to the man in purple. Illumi’s great axe bit into the thug’s side and the man swung his mace wildly, missing his target, before he fired a crossbow bolt at Illumi that went whizzing right past Illumi’s head. Jax Blackforge jumped over the table and rushed the thug that was aiming for Illumi, swinging his axe and catching the thug across his chest. Illumi attacked again and the thug moaned and stumbled.

   “Stop please! Don’t kill me.”

   “May I point out that you started this fight?” She readied to attack the thug in front of her should he move but stayed her hand for now.

   “Spare us! We’ll go.”

   “Bunch of cowards,” Illumi spat at the thugs. “Gang up on this man. How dare you!?”

   Jax Blackforge placed his axe at the nearest thug’s throat

   “Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you right now!”

   The scared man whimpered. And suddenly the man in purple found his words once more.

   “Kill the bastards. Good for nothing scoundrels!”

   “We didn’t mean no harm, good sir. Only need monies! Things be hard!”

   Jax looked at Velatha.

   “Should we let them go?”

   Vel looked between the thugs and the man in purple.

   “Sir? About your daughter? Did these men kidnap her?”

   “Oh no, no. This is far more sinister! My city, Ninerest, is under control by an evil necromancer!”

Chapter 1 – Into Gulliver
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