• Trent Raber

The Child ( a tavern tale )

The stones of the hearth are sturdy and strong, the flickering firelight reflected on their polished surface. Larger than most, the fireplace of The Black Dragon Inn is well known as a place where one can be regaled by tales of the realm. With well-made chairs and benches of oak surrounding the large area in front, one will usually find someone sipping a glass of alfarian wine or drinking a horn of dwev’larian ale, ready to share a tale of battle or intrigue with any who are willing to listen. This evening was no different. As the warmth from the fire blankets the bustling inn, a cloaked figure takes a seat by the flames, with mug of ale in hand.

The shape of the shadow marks the figure as female, but large for a female. Not unsightly, just taller, more muscular than most. The hood of her fur cloak pulled forward, shadowing the features of her face as she tips the mug to her lips. With a single look at the ornate hilt protruding from the fur covered scabbard resting at her side, one can tell this is a sword of worth, and seemingly much too large for a woman to bare, yet she carries it with ease. She is quiet and keeping to herself, only speaking when she calls for another mug of ale. Only sirens are known to have a voice that beautiful.

It’s dinner time in the bustling inn and as families are finishing their meals, the parents begin to take up wine and song as the young ones notice someone seated by the fire. They know this usually leads to stories of heroes and monsters, so with permission, they rush to the front of the fire to take a seat. Four boys and one little girl, whose features match the rest save slightly pointed ears, hurry to get the best seat in front of the stranger. The boys move to put some distance between them and the half breed girl at their side, but the young girl doesn’t seem to notice, nor care. They sit and look up with anticipation.

“Do you wish to hear a tale young ones?”, she says in a voice soothing to the ear.

The children all nod their head in unison. The traveler takes notice of the little girl’s face, noticing a look of bewilderment.

“Ok, let me tell you the story of one as young as you. A tale of good versus evil, and those caught in between. You! Another ale please.”

A small goburin comes from behind the bar carrying a mug of fine dwev’larian ale, handing it to the traveler. She leans forward to hand him the empty, and the goburin’s eyes grow wide in amazement. As her cloak falls back slightly, the goburin notices how beautiful the features of this traveler and smiles with excitement as he realizes she is telling a tale. She flips him some coin and scratches him behind his ears. He quickly swallows the coin and pulls up a seat next to the lovely maiden. As he sits, she notices a horrible scar across his throat from one side to the other. A look of sympathy crawls across her face.

“This story begins with the birth of a child. Long ago, in the lands far south of here, there was a young girl born to one of the many tribes of the wintery lands. She was of silver hair like her sisters and more beautiful than most, although all of her clan were known to be easy on the eyes. Her mother was a fierce warrior and a leader of her peoples. The child’s father was lost months earlier while defending their lands against the creatures of the cold lands to the south. Taken by one of the vicious Blood Ice, leaving her mother to raise the young one on her own.”

She tosses a large gulp back from the mug and looks back to the children.

“The birth was hard on both child and mother. The midwives and shamans tried with all their skill to save her mother, but alas, in the end she succumbed to her wounds. As the midwives cleaned and blanketed the child, they noticed something unique about this girl. Unlike the others of her bloodline, her eyes were a light purple in color, like two amethysts in a sea of snow. As the child cried out, obviously searching for the warm embrace of her mother, the shamans in attendance notice the flora in the dwelling turning and reaching for the child. Almost as if they wanted to answer her cries. Another cry bellows from the newborn, this time angry. To the astonishment of those there, the flowers in the home wilt without reason, drying and falling apart as if aged a hundred years. The shamans know there is something special about this child. Kaylia, one of the elder shamans, reaches forward and takes the child to her breast.

“Come little one.”, Kaylia said. “We shall call you Alora. Let us get you back to the temple.”

She tips back the rest of the mug and looks down at the little goburin.

“Can I trouble you for another, little one?” she says with a smile.

The goburin looks up and lets out what can only be described as a purring sound. He runs off with the empty mug and quickly returns with another, larger in size this time. She smiles at the little guy and throws him another coin from her purse. He quickly swallows the coin and takes his seat.

“Many years pass. Alora is now in the years shortly before womanhood, not much older than you are young one.”, she says as she glances a smile at the half blood little girl. The girl smiles back with excitement.

“Many in the tribe, were unsure of Alora. She seemed to wield some kind of power over the nature of living things but didn’t seem to be able to control it. Some of the elders claim she is an abomination and should be exiled from the clan. They are warriors at heart, and their shamans use magics to heal, but none had ever been able to draw the life from living things before. Only Kaylia stood her ground and refused to cast the child out.

Shunned by many in the tribe, especially those of her own age, Alora kept to herself. She spent most of her time reading and learning. Kaylia attempted to teach her the ways of the shaman, but with each attempt Alora made at simple spells, the primal magics would rage out of control. She unwillingly set fire to the training grounds in the temple and once even turned the entire winter’s crop to ash, forcing the clan to trade what precious metals they had for weapons to feed themselves for the winter. No matter the mishap, Kaylia would not give up. Even when Alora would proclaim she hated her, she stood strong. Telling her she will come understand these gifts, it will just take time…and faith.

One day, a wanderer came to their settlement, looking to trade furs and speak with the clan’s shaman elders. This was not unusual as many of the tribesman around the area would come to trade with the clan. The winter is cold and harsh in these lands, and the inhabitants have to work together to survive in its embrace. He set up camp outside the settlement, as to not intrude on the clan, and came to the temple. The three clan elders, Kaylia, Milena, Valfori, agreed to meet with the wanderer and hear his requests. He is lead to the temple, a large structure in the center of the settlement. He was impressed with the construction of stone and wood, lined with furs to keep in the warmth. He steps inside to find the three elders sitting in chairs in front of him.”

“Come sit wanderer. What do you require of us”, Kaylia said with grace.

“With honor sisters. My name is Edogard Stahl and I come to warn you of danger coming your way.”

“Danger?” asked Milena. “There has been peace between the clans for centuries, and we have negotiated a truce with both the Meh-Teh and the Alsvi. What possible ill will could any have with us?”

“These dangers do not come from these lands my lady. They come from areas far to the east of here.”

“The east? Other than the fine silks brought to Black Bone Harbor, the peoples of the east do not come west.”, she said with confusion. “What possible quarrel do they have with us?”

“My lady, tales have spread of the one born with control over life and death. There are those that wish to harness that power and use it to their own means. They are coming for the girl. You must prepare.”

Kaylia sits forward, looking at the man in front of her with concern.

”I told you Kaylia, that girl was cursed! She should have been exiled”, Milena exclaims abruptly. “If what this man says is true, she must go!”

“I agree”, stated Valfori. “That abomination is not worth the lives of the rest of the clan. She needs to be put down!”

“Yes. End her suffering and purify these lands.”, said Milena. “We will offer her to the gods”.

Kaylia stands, “To fell that young one is to fell one of our own. We cannot be so harsh to one of our sisters. There has to be another way.”

“Kaylia, we know you care for her, but she is of troubled spirit and mind. It is what is best for the clan.”, said Valfori.

“You are willing to end the life of the daughter of Sirianna over the words of an outsider!”, screamed Kaylia. “Can we at least verify his story first!”.

Milena looks to Valfori, with disdain for Kaylia she states, “Fine. Edogard is it. How do we know you are telling the truth? How can we verify this evil is coming?”

“If you allow me, I can show you.”, he says.

The elders nod as he turns to the door. He opens the door and lets out a high pitched whistle, almost beyond their ability to hear. He extends his arm out in front of him as a large bird lands firmly on his forearm. The creature, with head white as snow and brown body, extended its wings outward showing a wingspan of at least seven feet in length. The sisters looked on, impressed.

“Come to me. Place your hands upon me. We will see through the eyes of my friend here.”

Not being strangers to animal friendship, the elders come forward and place their hands upon his broad shoulders. He is warm to the touch, even in this cold climate.

“Now close your eyes and relax.”

He mutters a strange language, none of them have heard before, as his eyes begin to glow a bright blue color. The eagle on his arm screeches and flies out the door. Kaylia can feel the primal energies running through him to her as her mind begins to float. Then suddenly, in her mind’s eye, she sees the settlement from above. The temple, the smiths, the fields. She can see it all as the bird flies higher and higher.

“Head south my friend”, says Edogard.

The bird turns quickly to the south and heads out over the frozen wilderness. Soaring on the winds high above.

“It should not take him long to get to the base of the mountains, just bare wi-”

Suddenly, in all of their minds they see a line of flame come flying from the trees, striking the bird directly, and the connection is lost. Edogard drops to one knee, grimacing in pain.

“They are here!”, he says through pressed lips.

The traveler rubbed a silver pendant hanging from her neck. She seems almost lost in the words of her story as she stares out at the flames. She snaps out of her mind and looks towards the children. Quickly she notices that many more have joined her. Parents have come to join their children and listen to this strange tale. Wine in hand, a look of sadness on their faces. She looks over at the little girl, no parent behind her to join in. She smiles at her.

“The sounds of battle came quickly. Screams of children can be heard as the assault begins. Kaylia and the others rush out of the doors. The scene in front of them sickens Kaylia to her stomach. Dark cloaked figures have invaded the settlement, seemingly floating across the frozen ground as if lighter than the air itself. Kaylia turns to Milena and screams, “Sound the Horn!”

From under her robes, Milena pulls out a great horn, blood red in color and slung around her shoulder as one would wear a bow. She pulls it to her lips and begins to blow. The sound is almost deafening as the call to battle is heard throughout the settlement.

Edogard, makes his way back to his feet as he hears the call of the horn. He steps out of the temple to the sound of battle as the warrior women of the clan begin charging the cloaked figures. Magic flame flying from the dark figures as the clan warriors dodge and roll out of the way, striking the dark beings where they can.

He looks to Milena as she drops the horn and throws off her robes to reveal beautiful plate armor, ornate with filigree like he has never seen before. She pulls a large sword from the scabbard on her back. Looking back to Valfori and Kaylia she says, “Protect the temple.”

With that she charges forward driving her sword through the back of one of the hooded creatures nearby, a green sludge like substance staining her sword as she pulls it from the beast. As the creature falls to the ground, it’s hood falls backwards revealing a hideous sight. The creature was large and had the features of a snake, with no legs and scaled arms, all leading up to the face of what used to be a man, now covered in scales and with large fangs protruding from its lips.

“By the gods! What abominations are these?!” she shouted.

“Milena, go! Organize the warriors. Lead the defense.”, Valfori says as she looks to Kaylia.

“Kaylia gather the children and get them here! I will hold the temple.”

With that, Valfori steps forward, moving her hands in a motion only known to those of the weave. She pulls some herbs from a pouch at her side, blowing them from her hand, and in a booming voice she exclaims.

“Votorus Formustri Est en Palatae”

A bright green light emanates in all directions from her body, growing in size. The body of the slain being pushed back as by some unseen force. Her eyes glowing green she continues to mutter the incantation as it grows to cover the entire temple and the area surrounding. Those who are not warriors begin to run for the temple, easily passing through this barrier, as those chasing them are stopped in their tracks. Edogard grabs Kaylia by the arm.

“Take me to her. I can protect her!”

With uneasy feelings, Kaylia leads him west from the temple toward her home. They hide and duck in the shadows, moving as quickly and unseen as possible around the settlement. Kaylia sheds tears as she passes by the innocent slain. Mothers, fathers, children, all lay dead, causing rivers of blood to flow through the muddy grounds of the settlement. She should have listened. She should have taken the girl away.

After what seemed like a lifetime, Edogard and Kaylia finally arrive at her home. They enter quietly through the back. As they enter, they find Alora standing in the center of the room, crying as the sounds of death bellow in from the settlement around her.

“This is my fault. They are here for me.”, she says.

“No, my child. This is not your fault.”, proclaims Kaylia as she embraces the child to comfort her.

“I can hear them calling to me…” cries Alora.

Kaylia turns to Edogard. “What is this about? How can they speak to her?!”

“Gather your things. We must get this one away from here.”

“Get them out of my head!!!”, screams Alora.

“They are getting closer! We must move quickly” shouts Edogard.

Kaylia begins to gather some things to travel. She puts a heavy fur cloak around Alora and asks for her help. They quickly gather up bread, some dried meats, and water skins. She tucks a small dagger into the belt of Alora and grabs her sword. The scabbard is beautifully wrapped in furs and the ornate hilt protrudes from the top, adorned with a silver circle on the pommel. The sounds of the enemy are louder now as they close in on the location of Alora.

Edogard turns to both, “We must move quickly, and I have no time to explain. Please, do not be scared of what you are about to see.”. He kneels beside Alora, “I promise you; I am here to protect you.”

Standing, he quickly takes off his thick cloak and drops his sword to the ground. He begins to remove his shirt, lifting it quickly from his back.

“What are you doing? You’ll freeze” said Kaylia.

“Just stay behind me.” he replies.

Alora looks up and sees a well-built man, very muscular in nature, with hair as black as night. She is in awe as she notices the beautiful tribal inspired tattoos covering his entire body, sprawling from the top of his back to the bottom of his legs.

“I really like your tattoos” she says.

He turns smiling, “Thanks little one. Now follow and stay behind me.”, he says firmly.

Edogard throws open the front door of the home and charges outward into the snow, Alora following closely behind.

“Tattoos?”, Kaylia questions as she follows them out the door.

Kaylia comes through the door behind them, only to find them all surrounded by these strange dark creatures. One steps forward and hisses,

“Give us the girl, and no more will lose their lives”

Kaylia begins to unsheathe her sword, ascertaining quickly they are vastly outnumbered and have very little chance of survival. The fact that Edogard left his sword behind still stinging in her mind.

Edogard steps forward, blocking any view of Alora. He plants his feet firmly into the ground, in a stout and wide stance. He speaks with a booming voice.

“My name is Edogard Stahl. Knight of the Fallen Star. Protector of the six and defender of the Order of the White Oak. Ancestors, hear my call!”

Alora looks on in amazement as the tattoos covering his body begin to glow in a bright blue light as Edogard falls to one knee. His skin begins to stretch and grow, quickly ripping apart as the arms and legs of this man begin to increase in size. He screams as the muscles tear and stretch. Kaylia and Alora look on as the man doubles in size, as his appendages grow and appear to be made of pure stone. Two large wings spring from his back, extending outward with a length of at least fifteen feet. His hair grows long to the center of his back, as he stands to face the creatures in front of him, now towering over them at close to nine feet tall.

Kaylia is frozen in surprise. She had heard stories of men that can turn to beasts, but never in her life has she seen anything like this. She stares for a moment, as she watches the patches of skin fall from the large, stony arms and legs, wondering if this is the work of the infernal planes. She raises her sword as she sees the enemy around them take a step back, surprised by what they are witnessing.

Edogard, lets out a mighty roar and quickly moves forward with cat-like reflexes. He snatches the creature who spoke by the top of its head pulling it into his chest. With a quick squeeze a sickening crack is heard with the whimper of the beast as it falls slumping into his arms. He drops it at his feet like a satchel of garbage and stares out at the rest of the enemy with his glowing blue eyes.

“Leave now. She is protected by the order”, Edogard growls.

“Leave now, and I will let you live.”

The enemy look forward. Each begin to rub a pendent hanging around their neck and speaking in a tongue not familiar to these lands. As they do so, a black thick smoke begins to weave around them each, almost as if they were calling the shadow itself to their bidding. With a strange sound like the wind blowing and the irritating smell of Sulphur, one disappears and suddenly appears directly at his side. With that several begin to quickly disappear and reappear in places around Edogard. Slashing with their claws and gnashing with their fangs. One slings only what can be described as a snake like tail at Edogard’s arm, latching around it and pulling him to the side, as another slashes furiously at his other side, their claws seeming to somehow make the stone creature bleed. He lets out a roar of pain and falls to one knee.

“Help him!”, screamed Alora.

This woke Kaylia from her amazement at what she had just witnessed. She raises her sword, and charges forward to his side, slashing quickly at the creature binding his arm. It lets out a growling yelp as it frees Edogard’s arm allowing him to move quickly to the creature on the other side, grasping it by the neck. With a quick twitch of his hand, the creature slumps dead. He turns to see all of the enemy heading this way, being chased by the remaining warrior women of the clan. At least fifty of these dark creatures advance on their position. Pulling his wing up in front of him to defend the blast of fire coming from the creature to his left, he turns towards Kaylia.

“We must go! We are outnumbered and we must protect the girl!”, he bellows as Kaylia makes a quick parry and thrusts her sword through the creature in front of her. She looks up to him with ferocity, as she too notices the oncoming horde.

“We can run to the west, towards the forest. We can lose them in the trees!”, she exclaimed.

Kaylia quickly moves towards Alora, with the intention to snatch her in her arms and make toward the heavily wooded forest to the west. As she steps her direction, her eyes meeting Alora, she can see the fear on Alora’s face. She returns a reassuring glance in hopes to keep the child calm, when suddenly she smells that horrible scent of Sulphur, as she feels four blades penetrate the side of her furs. It’s cold at first, and then warm as the blood flows over the claws of the creature next to her. The poison is quick, as she begins to feel tired and her eyes become heavy. With a swift slashing movement, the creature opens her chest. Her sword falling to her side, as parts of her insides fall to the ground in front of her. She looks to Alora with tears in her eyes as she falls to the ground motionless.

Alora looks on in horror as the only person to care for her in this world falls to the ground. Profound sadness clouds her mind, quickly replaced with anger. She looks to Edogard who is down to one knee with three of these creatures attacking him and climbing on his back, slashing wildly. She looks back to the woman who cared for her. The woman that would never give up on her. The woman she loved. A look of anger crawls across her face. She lets out a bloodcurdling, “NOOOOOOOOOOO!”, as her eyes begin to glow a bright purple color.

Edogard looks up to see the girl screaming, eyes as bright as the sun, as purple energies flow from her body. Her hair begins to float upward as the energies surge through her body, lifting her off the ground as she levitates about four feet in the air.

The attackers are stunned at what they see, giving Edogard the chance to throw them to the ground. He quickly wraps his wings forward around himself as he knows what ever is coming will not be good.

“I SAID LEAVE ME ALONE!!!!”, Alora screams in a voice that seems not of this world.

Purple lightning flies from her body and begins to strike every living creature around. Both her sisters and these vile beasts are struck, each wilting to a skeleton as they fall to the ground, seeming to age many years past death. The bolts of purple weave through the camp, touching every living thing, allowing it to jump to the next. Trees, flowers, small animals, warriors, attackers, all begin to fall to the ground. With each strike Alora can hear their screams, and it gives her a sense of fulfillment. With a final burst of energy exploding outward and staining the night sky a bright purple, Alora falls to the ground unconscious.”

The cloaked wanderer wipes a tear from her face as she finishes the last of her ale. She looks to the crowd in front of her, all quiet and tense with anticipation. She looks down to the small girl in front of her, tears streaming down her face. She throws a smile of encouragement her direction and continues.

“Alora awakens to find herself on her bedroll at home. For a moment, she thinks to herself, was this all a dream. A feeling of relief as she sits up looking around the room for Kaylia. Then she smells the awful scent of Sulphur. She sees the smoke from the windows of the dwelling. She looks to the left and finds Edogard, as a man again, packing their things.

“It wasn’t a dream was it”, she says softly.

“I’m afraid not little one”, he replies.

Handing her a change of clothes, he looks to her and says, “Get ready little one. We must go, they will come again.”

Alora undresses and puts on the fresh clothing, putting the dagger back into her belt. She turns to Edogard and asks, “Why is this happening to me?”

“That young one is a long story and in time all will become known. For now, I can tell you that I am Edogard Stahl, a Knight of the Fallen Star, guardians of the Order of the White Oak. You my child are one of the six, and I am sworn to protect you.”

“One of the six?”, she asked.

“It was prophesied that six children would be born after the time of the Changing. Four with the power over the elements, Earth, Air, Fire, Water, one with power over space, allowing them to travel between the planes, and one with the power over life and death itself. You are the latter little one. You are a very special and important child. Your destiny is more than you could ever imagine.”

“I don’t understand”, she says with tears in her eyes.

“I know Alora, but with time and training you will. Until then, I will protect you, with my life if it is required. Now, we must be going”, he says firmly.

He turns and puts on his furs and motions to Alora to do the same. She bundles her cloak around her and takes one last look around her home. She turns to Edogard, who is sheathing his sword and tying his cloak. He reaches down and slings the pack over his broad shoulder as he leans down and picks up a scabbard wrapped in fur, with an ornate hilt protruding from the top.

“Kaylia’s sword?” She says, as she holds the tears back in her yes.

“Yes, little one. I think she would have wanted you to have it. I will carry it for you until you can carry it yourself”, he says with a comforting look.

“Now let us go, they will be coming back soon.”

The two make their way out of the door. Alora begins to cry as she sees the bodies of all her slain sisters, skeletal remains of what they once were. Rivers of blood flow through the village.

“I, I did this…”, Alora whimpered.

“No, my child, the power inside you did this. You did not.”, he says as he puts his arm around her.

“The past cannot be changed. We must look forward to the future. Avert your eyes to this destruction little one, more important paths lie ahead”, he tells her reassuringly as they move towards the forests to the west.

As the reach the outskirts of the village, he turns and looks behind him. He raises his hands and mutters a language not familiar to Alora. As his eyes glow blue, he moves his hands in a circular motion raising both to the sky as fire erupts from the village. A fire as white as the snow, burning hot, removing all evidence of what transpired there. He turns to Alora and out stretches his hand. She takes it as they disappear into the deep forest ahead of them…”

Our wanderer looks to those around her. She nods her head and stands, grabbing the scabbard at her side. She kneels down to the little goburin and drops several coins into his hand as she scratches his ears. He lets out a purring sound, and quickly swallows the coins, heading back to the bar to tend to customers. As she heads for the door, she feels a tug on her cloak. She turns to find the young girl at her side. She kneels down to meet her eye to eye and throws back her hood, finally revealing the beauty of her features, including her long braided silver hair.

“What happened to Alora?”, asked the young half blood.

“Well my child, that is a story for another time”, she says as she tussles the little one’s hair.

The young one reaches out and touches her face, almost lost in the beautiful purple of her eyes.

“My name is Sarina.” says the little one.

“I know my child. Don’t worry, we will meet again soon, and I will finish my story.”.

With that she stands and heads through the door, everyone taking notice of her beauty.

The little goburin approaches the half-blood little girl, motioning her to a table nearby where he has procured her a fresh plate of food.

“Thanks Scrat, you didn’t have to spend your coin on me. I would have figured something out.”

Scrat purrs as he looks towards the door where the wanderer just left.

“I know. I want her to finish the story too. Hopefully she’ll be back soon. She was really pretty, and I really liked her tattoos.”, Sarina says as she takes a bite of spiced potatoes.

Scrat looked up at her strangely, wondering what she was talking about…

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