A Small Dusern Farming Village, 10 years ago.
The day had closed but the tavern was open and bustling. Unlike inns on trade routes and such like, this was just a small village tavern with a few rooms for passing adventurers and other travellers.
Cheap oil lit the whole room, save for a small table in one corner that was usually unoccupied.
“Ale, who’s that in the corner?” asked the village smith.
Ale was the bartender, of a long line of bartenders, all named for alcohol. Ale was actually Ale XXIX of the House of Ale, but nobody, including him, paid that much heed.
Ale grinned and leaned forward to whisper conspiratorially, the type that everyone within a stone’s throw could hear.
“You mean the bloke in the black cloak with a sword under? I kid you not, he’s a paladin.”
“Really?” Carver, a local woodsman, blinked,” What church is he with?”
Ale’s grin widened.
“Ask ‘im,” he suggested cheerfully.
“Oy, paladin,” hollered Carver,” Which crowd are you with?”
Ale and Smith backed away swiftly from the drunken woodcutter, fearful of retribution for such casual treatment of the paladin’s patron.
Such retribution was not forthcoming.
“I am not a paladin,” the figure spoke, evidently having long wearied of correcting the error. They had no idea quite how long.
“I am a priest who chooses to carry a sword and shield in place of the traditional staff or wand.”
“So wot crowd are you with?” slurred Carver, doggedly pursuing the question,” You’re not one of those whadayacallem cult priests are you?”
“No I am not.”
“So who are ye with?”
The whole tavern was watching expectantly now, though that was still just over a dozen people.
“I cannot say.”
“Because I cannot.”
“So you ARE one of them cult priests,” Carver continued, his face turning ugly, “Well we don’t need you kind in this town, ya hear me!”
He rose unsteadily, brandishing a fist.
The priest stood and strode for the stairs.
“Mr Beerson, I think I will retire for now.”
Carver was, gently, forced back into his seat by Ale and Smith and supplied with more alcohol.
“If you’re ashamed of your god, then what’s your name?” he yelled as the stranger passed.
“I am not ashamed and my name is Ytilaer.”
His voice as calm as it had always been, Ytilaer left for his room.
Everything was hazy for Carver as he staggered home from the tavern.
He was so mad at that stuck-up cult priest, coming in and interferin’ and preachin’ his heathen ideals to them.
He wasn’t even in his room like he said he was, liar. Wasn’t there when Carver went to give him a piece of his mind. So he was a liar and a coward as well.
Carver was so woozy and angry he didn’t realize that the watchpost at the edge of town was dark.
He didn’t even notice as someone intoned a short phrase.
He did notice when he was suddenly caught in light as bright as day. He probably noticed the fireball.
But not in time.
Ale was dousing the last lamp when he heard the explosion.
Ducking his head out the window, he saw the Eastern Outpost ablaze.
“Bandits!” he screamed, raising the alarm. Blood chilling in his veins, he pulled an axe from beneath the bar. Virtually every business and household in the village possessed a weapon of some sort, especially after some of the stories that had reached them as of late.
The best they could hope could hope for against experienced bandits was for the survival of the children, divine intervention or help from adventurers.
That night, they were to receive all three.
The mage cursed, or rather cussed, as curses were considerably more dangerous.
The fireball had been a knee-jerk reaction to that idiot’s sudden appearance, and now the building was ablaze.
As the six-score armed men swarmed out of the forest’s shadows though, he figured that even losing the element of surprise wouldn’t hurt the plan much.
Yeah, he thought as they hurried forward, a new fireball already forming between his hands, nothing could stop them no-
“You killed him.”
Experienced at both sides of ambushes, the gang halted their raid, half of them swinging around to face the voice, the other half keeping watch in all directions.
For a moment, the mage wasn’t sure what he was looking for, then the moonlight picked out the strange figure.
The large, hexagonal shield and the cross hilted longsword were incongruous in the hands of one dressed in a priest’s robes. The combination did ring a faint bell for the mage but he ignored it.
What caught the breath of the bandit gang though was the crimson eyes, sunken into a gaunt face, all topped by a snow-white monk’s cut of hair.
Something about the unusually large weaponry and the paradoxical sense of both great age and youth worried him, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
The fireball swelled, fuelled by his own fear as the bandits clenched their weapons tighter. They were no fools.
Only one kind of person confronted an entire gang of bandits at once without fear.
“You’re an adventurer,” the leader spoke for them, a masked rogue with a sabre in one hand and a long dagger in the other.
“And you are the Deepwood Bandits, responsible for the razing and massacre of seven villages and multiple farms these past few months.”
The adventurer’s calm, detached tone was at odds with his battle stance, sending chills down the mage’s spine. The alarm bell rang on, unheeded.
“The Lord of this region has placed a 500 gold bounty on your head, 100 gold for each mage and 50 for each rank and file member. 3,800 gold is a lot of money.”
As the adventurer spoke, all six mages let fly with their fireballs.
Faster than the eye could quite follow, two fireballs dispersed in mid-air as though struck in two, while the other four deflected off of the shield back into the bandits’ ranks.
Even as the bandits started to react, he darted across some 20 feet of ground, a mere blur, and took the leader’s head off.
Bandits fell left and right, every blow harmlessly deflected by blade or shield, while the sword took a head with every stroke.
Screaming, the mage hurled every spell he could think of at the man, the monster, that had so casually destroyed a third of the band in a matter of breaths.
Whirlwinds were sliced apart, icicles shattered and fireballs batted aside, no spell availed against him.
Abandoning his assault, the mage turned heel and fled for the forest, surrounded by fellow deserters. But every step was like wading through thick mud, and what felt like a mountain pressed down on him.
Struggling frantically against the bind spell, he forced himself to look up into the eyes, those crimson eyes, of the monster.
“No… this can’t be… monsters… like you… aren’t supposed to… be here.”
The blade rose, as the penultimate body collapsed beside him.
“Why… are you… here… Ytilaer the Dark?”
He didn’t hear the blade fall.
He didn’t even feel it cleave through his neck.
But somehow, with fading ears, he heard the monster’s answer.
“Because nobody else is.”
It was brighter than he remembered, though still not as bright as that brilliant flare that had seared his eyes… when?
He stumbled to his feet, what was left of his charred clothing nearly falling off his untouched skin.
He blinked again and stared around at the scorched watchpost, the cracked and ashy earth and the few, solitary weapons scattered around.
Behind him, a confused sentry with bloody clothes staggered out of the watchpost and the two of them stared at each other for a moment before Carver spoke.
“I think I need to have a word with Ale about what he’s been brewing lately, cos’ I don’t know about you, but this is one hell of a hangover.”
Many trade routes criss-crossed the five Kingdoms, passing through every major town and city, but inevitably, nexuses formed around six cities in particular. Specifically, the capital cities of Tuaiscern, Descern, Dusern and Rosern, while the “middle” Kingdom of Larel had one around the capital and one around Cathaoird, the home of Larel’s major Guild Hall.
The Five Allied Adventurers Guilds granted rights of free travel along these roads across all borders to all members above a certain level, an honour held by no other group. As such, adventurers were often the first source of news from distant lands.
Even so, it still took two days for Ytilaer to be granted the bounties on the Deepwood Bandits.
He didn’t mind. Time was no object to him, and gold was merely a means to an end, or rather, a beginning.
Children laughed and played in the yard of the Dusern Benevolent Orphanage. The refugees from the razed villages were joining in slowly, the nightmares beginning to fade.
The gold would pay for their food, clothing and schooling until they were ready to make their own way, their own story in life.
Bidding them a silent farewell, Ytilaer drew his cloak tight around him and set out into the dying light.
Another Happy Ending And The Adventure Continued.