Buzzards circle the ruins of bold settlers. With a bare foot, Abel steps on a warm piece of what had been the lone building. Black and shiny under the sun, it is back-breaking granite covered in unbreakable adamantine resin. A treasure from another world, the machined block had fit with thousands of others in a master-craft of stone joinery.
Naked and grim, Abel paces out the foundation of its humble size. No bigger than a small tavern, it nonetheless had the makings to survive the hammering of any battering ram carried by man.
Foot-prints of the monstrous horde have churned the earth like a farmer’s plow. He steps across the tracks to a pile of black stone and crushed bodies.
The monsters come, and the man prepares. The road is endless, and Abel Hart steps to its edge. In the distance, screams and snapping wood echo. His caravan is being torn apart under the setting sun. Nothing he can do with a dancing blade or hardened leather against a horde of wild beasts, so he strips off his armor, weapons, and gear.
Abel continues to strip until only his tattoos cover him. Seven runes mark his flesh, each one the stylized symbol of a city he has served on this endless path.
The woman he loves is at both the finale and the beginning of his journey. The beauty he will marry must be won by looping this world and earning a tattoo from every city along the way.
Harmless Hamlet grows. It is an eclectic
settlement founded by adventurers and populated with men, monsters,
and even some women.
In a tall tent, Colgrevance stands with
his arms spread as his orc squire attires him in green-tinted full
plate. He is the defacto ruler of Harmless and the sheriff for the
Jutting out his chin, Colgrevance rolls
his shoulders and squats. “Feels like it fits, but how does it
“Magnificent.” The orc dips his head
and shuffles his feet.
“Be honest, Quad.”
“You are magnificent, Sir.”
Colgrevance snorts. Quadagh was born in
the way of orcs a month earlier, eating free from the womb after his
mother was slain. Colgrevance took him under his wing, raising him to
be a squire during the curcial imprinting and growth that transforms
an orc infant into an orc man.
“Fine craftsmanship from a past age.”
Colgrevance clips his sword and helm onto his hip and his shield onto
his back. “Martle has done well refitting this armor for me. I must
also thank Pipit for recharging its mystic power. It takes discipline
to praise useful people you despise. This is especially important for
“Yes, Sir.” Quadagh furrows his
hairless brow. “Praise people you despise.”
Heart thudding and out of breath, Solaris leans against an old pine tree. Through the needle leaf canopy, the sky brightens in shades from black to gray. The morning’s sunrise is still many heartbeats away.
She growls, shaking her head and clutching her fur-edged cloak. Water drips from skeletal branches and the tip of her nose. She wipes and breathes in the damp air, face relaxing and lungs refreshed.
Crackling underbrush jerks her head. Smithmage Martle scrambles clear of a thicket wearing a voluminous robe covered in twigs and sticky seeds. Legs wobbling, he falls and struggles on with knees and palms.
“Calm down!” Heart steadying, Solaris holds up her hand. “It’s a mystic fear. Pause, and let it clear.”
“No!” Martle recoils with wide wild eyes. “Run! He Comes!” The older man staggers to his feet and stampedes into more underbrush.
Storm clouds smother starlight, and a breeze chills Beorn’s cheeks as he walks the length of an ancient rampart. He coughs into his fist and adjusts his warhammer and shortsword, making sure both are in easy reach at his waist and don’t clank against his dull gray armor.
Below, Jacob waves a torch. “Belazar’s having another vision!”
Beorn grunts and charges past the knotted rope he used to climb up. The rampart ends broken, as if an age ago something colossal took a bite out of the castle wall. Beorn hops over the edge and skids down the steep side. A mini avalanche of crumbling stone rolls after him. He stumbles into the grass but keeps his footing as bits of wall pelt his heels.
Jacob jogs over, quiet as a cat with only his loose tunic and trousers. “Not bad, considering that turtle shell around you.”
Messoack wipes his face with a dripping rag and drops it on the floor, missing the wash-bin he took it from. “I am the candle in the dark for fluttering thoughts.” He kisses his smooth, blue-gray knuckles. “I am the eye within the maelstrom for argonauts.”
The barkeep is draped over the bar-top, a cauterized hole through his neck and red foam covering his lips. A pair of wenches lean against each other at the door, holes through their buxom chests. A minstrel is slumped over his mandolin on the stage, and a half dozen patrons are scattered about the floor. Everyone in the inn is dead, and Messoack doesn’t remember what compelled him to kill them all.
“I am Voice for the Unnameable, but my mind is my own.” He straightens his collar and strides outside.
Voices of Belazar’s companions echo around him, blunted by the smooth walls of the rose quartz room. As their sounds are lessened yet drawn out, so his torchlight is dimmed but reflected. Everything that influences his senses is dispersed throughout the spherical space and stretched between the gaps of his breath.
“This place assaults my perception.” Belazar crosses his thick mountain-climbing legs and sits like a boy mesmerized by an all-night campfire. “I’m drifting.” Time spirals and thoughts from yesterday, last season, and his childhood compete for attention with parallel intensity.
Solaris waves her pale arm in front of his face. “Whatcha doing?” She holds the edge of her short skirt down as she settles onto her knees and reaches for his cheek. “Are you okay?”
With swift, sandaled feet and loose-fitting tunic and trousers, Jacob scouts his squad of mounted adventurers through the night, reaching a lonely inn during the quiet dark before dawn. A cramping calf makes him wince, and he stretches it as his companions rein in around him.
Shortsword in hand and armor clinking, Beorn hops off of Theros, his giant gray goat. “If we hurry, we can loot and escape before sunrise.”
Jacob gestures up to the dimming stars as the sky gains a hint of blue. “The sage warned that our enemy controls flying spies.”
Leather armor creaking, Sylyca dismounts her sweaty horse and spins thin elvish hands about with a hypnotic flair. “I can cloud our travel. No tracks, and blur eyes looking our way.”
“Nice.” Jacob smiles at the petite elf who makes him regret his vow of celibacy as he fingers a blocky stone key. “The secret entrance should be under a stall in the stables. Follow me.”
Beorn brushes a snoring Theros, adding clumps to the fluffy gray pile of fur between his hard leather boots. As he works to smooth the gruff’s coat, the children of Badgertown creep closer.
None of the dozen boys and girls have the height to reach Beorn’s elbow, and only the boy that interrupted yesterday’s story time has the ambition to stretch fingertips enough to pet Theros who stands tall while sleeping.
The gruff bugles like a drowning donkey. The brave boy stumbles backward, and his abnormally large ears turn beet red as several of his peers snicker.
Beorn chuckles and sets his brush on a bench connected to Theros’s stable stall. “Do you kids want another story about Theros?” He points at the boy. “I know you do, Abbot.”
Abbot rubs his big ears and nods, and the other children filter in behind him. Their eyes are wide, and their lips are thin lines.
“So well behaved.” He pats Theros’s neck, quieting a fresh snore. “I must thank your parents for raising you all to be patient and respectful. It is refreshing to have an audience so unlike my bandmates.”