COMPONENT 04: TRAVELERS
“Why must it come with us?” Gavin walked ahead, eyes peeled for movement. “Do you realize the sheer amount of questions it will overwhelm us with? It’s asked far too many already!”
Walking through the streets of Triden’s Gate, Lavina pointed a finger at her guardian. “Angon is a he not an it! And he comes because he’s strong, lost and alone, and because he doesn’t recall who he is!”
Angon walked along behind the one and a half elves, thrilled to be leaving the dreary snow-blanketed town. Through the ten minutes they walked the road out of the city, Gavin never stopped complaining. It was confusing to the awakened Angon. Why didn’t the Gavin ever stop moving its mouth?
“Gavin.” Angon walked faster to stride beside him. “If you don’t enjoy being with us, why do you not journey elsewhere?”
The elf’s jaw dropped wide at such audacity. He stopped in his tracks, clenching his fists. Lavina burst into a bout of laughter as Gavin spun and shoved a finger into Angon’s massive chest.
“How dare you!”
It took only the reminder of the height disparity to make Gavin shut up and stomp away grumbling.
“What did I say?” Angon looked to Lavina. “I did not plan to upset the Gavin.”
“My name is Gavin!” Lavina giggled again, and grabbed Angon’s hand, pulling him. “You said nothing wrong!”
Confusion was common for Angon. He wished he could remember things. Although he bared few memories, they were ones that made little sense. Flashes of light, a hairy creature with bifocals—and screams. What did they mean? Despite that, Angon couldn’t have been more confused than when they reached the edge of Triden’s Gate.
Where he stood it was still the season of icicule, with snow and moaning wind, but a score of steps away were green grassy plains. The contrast was amazing; white one foot and green the next—nature was stunning to Angon. The hills far in the distance boasted various trees and plant life. The flowers outside were as the snowflakes in the city. It was the strangest thing encountered yet.
Lavina regarded her new friend. “Angon?”
Her warm smile and friendly demeanor had his core was melting. The half-elf closed her eyes and smiled even wider. Angon tried to smile back, but he wasn’t sure he did.
Lavina turned and stepped across the curse barrier. The sunlight shone on her cloak as she untied the neck clasps that held the thick cloth on and dropped it to the grass.
Lavina’s skin was so fascinating it was as if the sun itself kissed her—and much of that skin showed.
Angon looked away embarrassed to gaze any longer. He turned back to her and watched as she as she kicked off her boots, going barefoot in the grass. She stretched out her toes and then stretched her legs behind her. Now she only wore a small skirt and a top that showed cleavage and her entire stomach.
What if she took off more? What did these feelings mean? He got them throughout his being. It was a lofty burst of air in his stomach.
The final thing she did was shake her head, letting auburn hair flop around her shoulders. The perfect half-elf gave a sigh of relief.
Lavina looked up to find Angon watching her and staring at her bosom. She blushed and spun away.
“Please!” Gavin scoffed as he shed his harsh weather clothing, leaving nothing but skin-fitted leather armor. He too showed his midriff but to Angon it wasn’t as appealing. “The gargoyle doesn’t care for your chest! He doesn’t have manhood. I mean do you see him?”
Manhood? Angon didn’t understand, but he was sure he wasn’t a gargoyle and didn’t enjoy being called one.
“Um.” Angon was unsure of what to say, because he found Lavina appealing, from her toes to hair—He changed the topic. “Your hair and skin, they are pretty.”
He grabbed his face. That wasn’t changing it.
“Idiot.” Gavin doubled over laughing. “We’re sol elves! Our entire race is pretty.”
Lavina drove her elbow into Gavin’s side.
“Ow! What in the Abyssal Queens?”
“For calling Angon an idiot!” She hit him again. “He doesn’t understand certain things. So we need to teach him!”
She turned to Angon with that trademark smile and once again warmed his inner workings.
“Elves are the oldest race in the nine—well ten lands. We weren’t always the best to witness. When we were a young race, there were no sol or nox, our race was the sengall. We lived underground and had stark white skin and were blind. We had no appreciation, but once a hag witch named Esrenca created a curse to make a pair of sengall able to see.
“When they did, they realized they were so disturbing to look upon; they set out into the world in opposite directions. Each met a being called a nymph—A creature of nature that desired lust and reproduction only. So each of the two Sengall paired with the nymphs during different times of the day and the nymphs gave birth to the Sol, Nox, Dusk, Dawn, Nimbus and Naias Elves.”
Angon crossed his arms and scratched his chin. These nymphs were the key to their refinement. He thought of himself, he didn’t know how he looked.
“I think I perceive, but what of gargoyles, if that’s what I am, are we beautiful?”
Gavin burst into such a fit of laughter he fell to his knees and had a difficult time breathing. Angon watched him, curious as to his condition. Was he dying?
After shooting a glare at Gavin, Lavina looked back to Angon. “You’re not a gargoyle. I would wager to say perhaps a construct? Although I haven’t met one like you. You look like forged, so let us call you a… forge.”
Angon grinned. He liked knowing what he was.
Gavin cleared his throat. “Since today’s history lessen has finished, and we have given a name and species to the gargoyle, let us continue.”
Lavina glared again, wishing to shoot him in the face with a Firebolt. The missile of flame did too much damage, and she didn’t use healing spells.
“And I implore you!” Gavin held up his hands. “Do not ask anymore questions for if we must stop and explain every blade of grass then I fear our journey will outlive even lengthy lifespans. And I fancy going back to Windale soon.”
The elf spun and walked west. Lavina grabbed her cloak and boots, Stuffing them in her pack, which in honesty looked as if it didn’t hold a large snowball. Angon didn’t question it any further for it made the Gavin loud and didn’t want to invoke the wrath of it again.
“Well come on!” Lavina marched after her tall elf friend.
Angon walked after them giddy with anticipation. Everything was brand new and full of experiences. But something hooked his soul and caused him to turn.
The forge looked back into Triden’s Gate, with forever-clouds hanging over the city replacing old snow with new, and the storm fell heavier now they’d left. A sensation came over him, not that he belonged, but something sought him—Begging him not to leave. He had guilt, but why?
With a shrug the happy forge turned and left with his new friend, Lavina, and the Gavin.
Gonzeelda pointed a dagger at Weiggs “Dig you whiney excuse of an owlcat!”
The orc woman stood against a brick wall, with one bare foot propped. Her twit of a minion, Weiggs, crawled on his hands and his knees searching through the ruins of the alchemical laboratory in Triden’s Gate; the same building where the homunculus emerged.
Weiggs tossed a rotted board to the side. “I no understand for what we look!”
Gonzeelda snapped a broken brick from the building and hurled it at the fool, striking the back of his head. “Keep complaining and I will sever your tongue with a dull knife! Or better yet, I’ll feed you to the gut-sharks at the docks!”
The minion screeched and moved quicker. Gonzeelda knew he feared water more than owlcats. She found it humorous that the grotesque and terrifying gut-sharks lived on the other side of the Helopian lands, near Angel’s Outpost. She had no plans to tell him this truth, he deserved to piss his pants.
Another orc came from the street. Despite the snowstorm gaining strength, she recognized Budge by the sound of his clumsy footsteps.
“It cold.” Budge approached. “Not normal!”
She’d acknowledged so due to the increase in Weiggs’ chattering teeth. The lady orc was more than a teensy bit curious why. In a city cursed by the gods, for what reason might the curse worsen? And so fast at that! Unless it had something to do with the homunculi’s awakening. If it did, then the gods must be fearful of what else existed beneath the ruins—The exact reason she had Weiggs digging. Either way, he could use the exercise.
Gonzeelda regarded the shivering Budge. “Deal with the cold, we aren’t complaining.”
“Uh, okay!” He stared at her with a blank face.
The orc woman’s eyebrows twitched as she clenched her fists. She wanted to beat the fetter out the idiot. But she gave it a few more moments… She ran out of patience, pulled back her fist, and drove it into his jaw.
Budge toppled and landed in a pile of snow, which was so light, he vanished. Gonzeelda didn’t get what happened—As if gnomes had stolen him. When he didn’t emerge she stepped closer and peered into the snow. There she found a sinkhole and with the way it curved, she couldn’t estimate its depth.
The orc kneeled and stuck her head through, trying to look deeper. She reached her hand and touched around until she found something solid, warm, and with five digits—A hand—Which grabbed hers. A cry escaped her lips as the powerful Budge yanked the female orc from her perch. They both grunted as they landed hard and became buried in white.
Gonzeelda swung her first, searching for Budge. She missed. “Idiot! Weiggs come here and free me!”
The thuds of Weiggs waddling across the street caused a creaking beneath them. She realized too late to stop him—His weight added to the strain on the street and the ground, caused a collapse. The three orcs tumbled through the darkness and each ended crushed next to one another still buried by snow.
They were unconscious and hours passed before the trio awoke. Gonzeelda opened her eyes first and found herself in darkness. She searched around and maneuvered her arms, digging through the soft surroundings; she emerged in a room void of snow. Glowing stones dotted the walls and floor. The orc stood and examined everything with scrupulous precision
The air was thick with magic and Gonzeelda could sense it in her bones. Any wrong move could set off an arcane ward, sending them to the Abyss.
She sucked in a deep breath and listened. While being no normal orc warrior that only wielded an axe, she had her own library of spells and she was using one to gauge the exact danger.
A single ward might be fatal… If not Budge and Weiggs needed to set them off one by one.
A chill ran through her spine and she froze. They’d fallen into a death trap! Whoever had set up the wards wanted to protect something. Something important.
The long room, bore a dirt floor.
Dead vines hung from the ceiling and protruded from the walls. Under debris rested a stone table that appeared smeared in dried blood, and parts of the ceiling had collapsed.
With another spell she allowed herself to see without light.
The woman’s eyes glowed with a soft aura. Everything turned as bright as day and she held respect for the chamber.
Even though broken vials and jars covered the floor, the alchemical symbols and circles everywhere proved impressive. Even the small shards of glass had magical rituals carved into them. Not impressive—frightening. The alchemist that had worked there must’ve gone mad. She didn’t see a skeleton. He had to of escaped.
Something caught her orc eye. A weapon, large and magical. She spotted the scythe embedded into the sole standing pillar. Tremendous magical power emanated from it. Her orc blood told her to claim it so many enemies might fall beneath that power. Yes, it had to be hers. The trip wasn’t a waste, plus her hunch proved correct, now she could fight the homunculi. The only question? How to deactivate the wards.
“Budge?” She formed a devious smile.
A dwarf with an icy blue beard stomped the halls of Citadel Belltower. He stopping every few steps to kick an unseen rock. Something had Buster Ironheart steaming at the ears.
For the fourth day in a row, Sheeva had ignored his prayers. Well, not ignored because she still granted him power and protection, but for the life of him he couldn’t decide what clerical garments to wear, what to eat for his first breakfast, or which sermon to give to the little ones each morning. She even no longer woke him in a prompt manner.
Clan Belltower accused the muscled, dwarf priest of relying too much on divine guidance from their goddess—The most fettered thing he’d ever heard. It was normal to ask which boot to tie first. That decision mattered! If the chosen wrong, who knew what chaos may ensue!
Buster turned the corner, walking past a bell-shaped sconce, the red flames lit the hall and gave off a series of dings signifying the turn of the hour.
Buster stopped. A small dwarf stood before him. He hadn’t even seen the beardless chap. The boy was in the typical robes of an altar boy and had a mop of dark hair.
“Ah, yes, Leelam.” Buster coughed. “I was just coming to give the day’s sermon!”
The boy shrugged. “Brotha Busta, the sermon be over! Ye slept through it again, didn’t ye?”
The war hammer strength accusation hit the old dwarf in the gut.
“Ye missed it!” The altar boy’s shoulders slumped. “Sista Buckles gave the sermon.”
Buster slapped his face. “Oh by the goddess’ hairless toes!”
“Such language!” A female dwarf approached from the nearby stairs.
She had violet hair tied back in a bun and freckled skin, wearing cleric robes and sandals.
“Aye, my apologies Sister Buckles.” Buster blushed, and patted the boy on the head, ushering him to leave.
“I’m jesting.” She gave Buster a quick hug. “Ye speak however ye see fit.”
“Damned if I be apologizing for that.” He hugged her back. “Cursing puts hair on a young one’s chin.”
She nodded, smiling at him with dimples he always happened to notice.
“I be saying me sorry for having ye take over me own burdens.” Buster said.
The sister stepped back and put both hands atop his shoulders. She kissed him on the cheek. “Anything you need.”
Buster’s face turned beat red, and he stuttered.
Buckles put a finger to his lips. “Sheeva has not answered my prayers either and unlike you I don’t sense her strength within me. It is time to accept that she has abandoned us. We must move on.”
“Blasphemy!” Buster shook his head. “Sheeva’s temple still stands. In fact I will go! I’ll find the answers to our questions!”
Buckles gave a heavy sigh. “The only one who has questions anymore is ye.”
Buster couldn’t believe what she was saying. Next to him, she was the next most loyal cleric. She lived and breathed the word of Sheeva!
“Tell me ye be jesting!” His heart broke.
Buckles patted his cheek. “Ye can’t even choose yer own socks without a prayer. The world be too dangerous for ye.”
Buster stomped his foot. “When whispers of abandoning the Goddess be about, I have no choice!”
“I didn’t mean to upset ye so.”
“Well, woman ye damned well did!”
“Buster Ironheart!” Buckles looked into his eyes. “Ye know Sheeva’s temple is a ten day journey to the west! And past the accursed Triden’s Gate! Giants and other beasties romp the lands!”
“I got me Hellsmasher.” Buster referred to the two-handed hammer on his back. “And no giant has bested a Belltower dwarf in centuries!”
Buckles shook her head and hugged Buster tight. “Do not let it be ye who ruins the lucky streak.”
The woman Dwarf walked past him.
He watched her leave. “It be not luck, it be Sheeva’s protection.”
Buster touched his cheek where Buckles kissed him. A moment later it dawned on the dwarf what he had sworn to do. He had promised to travel to Sheeva’s temple, a place no one had ventured to in one hundred dark moons, because no one knew where it was. On a normal day he’d pray to the goddess and ask if it he’d made the right choice… but the past four suns had not been normal.
“Oh my Lordess where do ye be?” He closed his eyes, trying to sense a blip of her presence, but only felt frigid.
Buster grumbled and kicked an imaginary stone again and continued the hall. How to get to his destination? The giant’s weren’t bright, but their size and numbers made up for it. He had to ask for an answer… Yes, he couldn’t leave without it. If the goddess answered, she was still alive, and the trip needed to happen.
The stubborn dwarf hurried to the bottom of the citadel where Sheeva’s shrine rested. When he entered the chamber he found a group of altar boys and girls singing hymns.
“Aye ye little buggers, get ye moving!” Buster clapped. “I need alone time with the goddess!”
Without protest the three dwarven children scurried away, but they whispered something as they shut the door behind them. Buster hadn’t heard what they said, so he went to the altar before a statue of the female, dwarven goddess. She wore silky, see-through throws which hugged her contours.
“Sheeva me Lordess!” Buster kneeled. “If ye still live, tell me. Give me a sign. I be ye most loyal follower. Others think ye abandoned us. They think ye dead! It can’t be best to find a new Goddess!”
Buster received no answer. In defeat, he retreated to a pew and sat. The dwarf set his hammer against bench. He leaned back, tired; his eyes grew heavy as lead. Without understanding why he accepted the drowsiness and then he fell asleep.
The war priest dwarf had no dreams, nor did he know how long he slept, but when he opened his eyes, something struck him as different and terrible. The statue of Sheeva had crumbled and behind it stood a doorway—a portal he’d never seen. He wanted to be dreaming as he leaped to his feet and choked.
A tear escaped his eyes as he retrieved the pieces of Sheeva’s statue, then looked again at the doorway. It manifested in a solid wall. A staircase led into darkness.
Was it a sign? And where did the stairs lead? He knew himself to be on the lowest floor. So if the stairs led further…
Something else caught his eye. An icy looking bare footprint had appeared. He grabbed a foot of the statue and crawled to the print. With great precision, he placed the foot over the icy patch. It fit to perfection. Sheeva had been there! It was a sign!
Buster grabbed his hammer, the Hellsmasher and never glanced back as he descended the stairs. If he had turned, he may have seen Sister Buckles peeking in the door at him and nodding.
She closed the door and left. “Sorry Buster Ironheart, I’m sorry to trick ye… But ye may be the goddess’ only hope.”