The Arbitrators, pt. 1
Iness was a cozy town overlooking the River Thom. It was in a valley that was walled off by the Stonecraig Mountains on one side and the Moaning Hills on the other. To either side, farms and woods stretched as far as the eye could see.
Iness boasted a tanner, a blacksmith, a weaver's shop, a couple traveling doctors, town hall, a tavern and inn, a local school, church, monastery, and many other small establishments, as well as countless townhouses and farms. It was a bustling town, if not a city.
The Drunken Oak was the well-established tavern and inn. It hosted regulars as well as traders and other such travelers. So the rag-tag group of adventurers were old hat when they came in one windy, cold October day. The only thing different about this group was the difference in species.
Let me take this chance to explain the different races in this land, the land called Maerid. The more common were Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Little People, and Knoems (whom you might know as Gnomes). But some races were feared, hated, even worshipped. These races either came from a different plane of existence or from hostile or nomadic places. Some of these species were Dragonborn (part-dragon humanoids), Orcs, Deepbeings (part-demonic or otherwise altered humanoids), and Harns (shaggy, intelligent, friendly humanoid beings). There were other races, but these nine were the most common.
Anyway, back to the group that entered the Drunken Oak. There was a human wearing the simple clothes and belt of a Monk. She had short, straight gold-brown hair that was crowned by a golden headband with a sapphire-blue stone. There was also a Little Person, wearing a dark cowl and armed with a hand crossbow that, in his small hands, was the size of a normal crossbow. Looming behind him was a tall Dragonborn. Her scales were gold-red and a huge greatsword was strapped onto her back. Next to her was a Deepbeing, whose long, black and purple robe and tall staff marked them as a mage*. Lastly there was an elf. He had tied back his shoulder-length jet black hair with streaks of green in it and carried the bow, quiver, and shortsword of a ranger, hunter, or woodsman.
The monk came up to the barkeep at the counter, while the rest of her group found a table in the middle of the room.
"Anything in particular for ye and yer companions, miss?" he asked, jerking a head toward the rest of her group.
"Surprise us," she said. She had the accent of a commoner, but there was a bit of something else- something refined and unusual that the barkeep couldn't identify. And, while she was waiting, she asked, "Anything unusual happening 'round here? Any rogue trolls, or evil spirits plaguing the people?"
"Why, are ye goin' an lookin' fer trouble? If you look anywhere hard enough, ye find it. No offense, but y'all don' look like much," he replied, ending his rant with an undignified snort.
"Maybe," she replied. "Maybe not. But I can assure you, we're qualified for anything you can throw at us, short of a tear in the fabric of space-time."
*Mages are magic-users that usually can do magic through words or runes, not books or magical items.
*Hedgewitches are people with a small amount of magical capability, commonly healers or midwives. Often looked down upon by greater sorcerers, mages, druids, or other more powerful magic-users.
The barkeep snorted again, the stubborn man.
"Listen," I said, leaning in closer. "I've worked with the great Wildcat, one of the greatest of monks," I had just cited one of the most well-known and most powerful of hand-to-hand combat fighters. "See that Little Person over there? Herring was the King of the Thieves in the great city of Vernon before he found it too boring and wanted more adventure. The elf, Nightelm, served in the Queen's guard in the Elven capital of Summerwind. The dragonborn over there, Amirai, has won countless gladiator battles and has broken out of 21 jail cells for fun. Don't tell me my team isn't qualified, because I won't stand for it. Now, is there any beasties for us to wrangle 'round here?" I settled back down on my stool.
"Well, I just remembered somethin'," the beastly old man said, "Wyverns. Giant, fire-breathing beasts, and ugly to boot. They've been torching houses, eating livestock, scaring off any traders, merchants, or adventurers like you. Th' guard's been hunting night an' day, an' Alyss the hedgewitch* an' Armen the sorcerer 'ave been searchin' fer an answer or a group of qualified people like yerself. If ye could do away with those monsters, ye'd have everyone's gratitude.
"Very few beasts are monstrous in my experience," I replied, straightening and smoothing my tunic, "Very well, We'll go speak to this Alyss and that character Armen, Mr...?"
"All right. See you, Mr. Jeremy!" I called over my shoulder.
*Hedgewitches are people with a small amount of magical capability, commonly healers or midwives. Often looked down upon by greater sorcerers, druids, or other more powerful magic-users.
As I watched Jayde finish with the bartender, I noticed a shadowy figure in the corner. It appeared to be a Knoem, but that was all I could distinguish from the dark.
"Ok, I've got something," Jayde said, sliding into the seat next to me and disrupting my wonderings. "First, though, drinks. One Glassdoor Whisky."
"Me," said Nightelm, the elf.
"One Coldburn Beer."
"Ta." said Herring, the Little Person and group's rogue.
"A lemon water."
"Mine." murmured Dex, the Deepbeing and mage.
"And that leaves the Inferno Firewater for you, Amirai," she said, handing the fiery drink to me. I could feel my insides melting when our hands touched, and was glad that my super-armor of scales prevented me from going red. When I had the brew securely in my hand, I downed it like my life depended on it.
"Ok," Jayde said, not noticing (or pretending not to notice) my odd behavior, "Wyverns. Big, nasty brutes, fiery and mean. Been torchin' the countryside and taking the animals. I'd reckon, from what Mr. Jeremy said there, around three of them. Apparently there's some local mages, Alyss and Armen, who've been trying to stop them by magical means."
"We've never faced anything this big before," murmured Nightelm, always the little optimistic ray of sunshine.
"What of the army or the local militia?" asked Herring. "It's their duty to keep the peace. They're honor- bound to it."
"They're too busy helping the people put out fires and save livestock, and what few spare soldiers they have are no match for the beasts. I say we find one of the mages and see what they're up to," replied Jayde.
The next morning we all stood blinking in the sunshine outside the tower of Armen the Sorcerer. I made sure that all 13 of my knives and my crossbow were secure on my person and that I had my sparkling sense of humor with me. Positioning myself so that I was in the shadow of Amirai, I loaded my crossbow.
Jayde knocked on the door.
"Jayde!" screamed Amirai, launching herself over me to catch Jayde as she flew through the air. "Um. Are you alright?" Amirai asked, setting Jayde on the ground.
Jayde winced. "Just dazed is all, thanks. What kind of do-gooder mage would booby-trap his door? Seems suspicious to me."
As if on cue, an illustrious but alarmed looking mage bounded down the stairs.
"Hullo," he said, "Who are you?"
"Um, we're just adventurers who, you know, were just, like, seeing-how-the-bad-guy-wyvern-conquest-thingy-is-going-and-if-we-could-help," stammered Jayde, wiping ash off of her face. "Is exploding doors a thing you do normally, or is this like, an experiment gone wrong?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, it was a social experiment," breathed the man who could only be Armen. He spoke in a fast, breathy fashion, that made you wonder when he had time to inhale. "What happens when a traveling, foreign group such as yourselves finds a mysterious mage tower and tries to break down the door?" he said, and continued without giving us a time to argue that, actually, Jayde had only knocked. "But where are my manners? Come in, have some tea or coffee or juice or..."
And so we found ourselves ushered into a small, round room that looked like any other main room in any other large house, except that it was as round as a drum.
When it wasn't safe to talk audibly to one another, we used Elven Sign Language (ESL) to communicate. I don't know what I was expecting, but I thought that a mage's tower would be more, well mage-y, I signed to the rest of the group.
"Um, Mister Armen sir..." said Amirai, "We're here to see how the wyvern problem is coming. We heard that there are wyverns plaguing the people, and wondered if we could help."
"Yes, yes those," replied Armen. I was intrigued to notice that he was sweating, and that his movements were shaky and almost undecided, as if he were being forced to move by an internal attacker. Pointing his finger, the sorcerer sent a blast of magical fire toward the hearth, lighting the logs and kindling there aflame.
"Now, Alyss and I have been cooking up something magical," he said. He was practically vibrating now, and his eyes darted to the left and right, as if looking for a way to escape. "Let me show you." He whispered something awful, and everything went black.
I saw the mage whisper those words.
The Binding Spell.
Instantly, my hands began to tingle as I brought my magical shield up just in time to stop the flow of ancient draconic magic coming from the stupid mage.
"Im'ha Kai," I murmured, sending my magic out and striking at the source: Armen.
The others fell forward from their captive position.
"Quesadol," I said. Magic net. Binding Armen from head to toe.
It burst open, and from it, I felt a force against my mind shield, that kept others from reading my thoughts.
I had to close my eyes.
I could hear the others fighting and calling to me.
Come on, Dex.
I pushed back the force, mentally grasping it and throwing it away.
I opened my eyes.
I was lying on the ground, spread prone in the crater that used to be the tower. My friends buzzed around Armen like bees, shooting and slashing, but the globe of magic around him was too strong. Every once in a while, he would send bolts of lightning at them, and they would dodge out of the way.
Understanding hit me like a hammer.
I searched my brain for the best incantation.
Jayde almost got hit by lightning.
Amirai pushed her out of the way and got zapped herself.
Jayde punched Armen's sphere and was blown back into a wall.
Armen turned Nightelm's arrows back at him so that he was chased around by them.
Herring was thrown in the air, then kicked into a clump of grass.
By then, I was standing, barely. Black-colored magic sparked at my fingertips, growing steadily into a ball.
Armen turned around just in time to raise a magical wall, shielding himself from the beam of magic that I sent at him.
We connected minds by magic.
This was not Armen the sorcerer, I observed. This was a wyvern, using him to get what they wanted. The wyvern was there, in his mind, just out of reach. Its nest was high in the rocks of the Stonecraig mountains. It lived with its-her mate, relative, and child. It flared up.
Who dares! it roared mentally, Flamesong will kill all of the two-leggers! Murderers! Traitors! You killed my father and hundreds of others, just to feel safe or to have our horns adorn your walls!
Flamesong! roared another, different voice, Can't you see that this one is different? There is no hate in the body, it has not killed anyone! Quieter, it said, If you wish to take revenge on the two-leggers, take revenge on the two-leggers that did kill Earthsong.
Earthsong? I asked, Who was Earthsong?
A wonderful wyvern, the second wyvern replied sadly, A wonderful mate. He was killed by a two-legger female with green fire.
White fire? I asked, Do you mean magic?
Of course she means your quaint little magic, the first wyvern, the younger one, replied disdainfully, what do you think she meant?
Ignoring her, I asked, Where does this mage- two legger with green fire, I mean, nest? I can go and fix this, if you'd like.
YES! KILL THE INSIGNIFICANT WORM! cried the younger one, Please?
No. I said, no killing if it isn't necessary. I am Dex-song. I will confront the woman and do all that I can to avenge your Earthsong, if you stop attacking the innocent farmers and animals and townsfolk. Deal?
Deal, said the elder one, whose name, I discovered, was Greatsong.
Deal, said Flamesong, a little reluctantly.
Ending the connection, I sent a blaze of fire toward Armen. There was no saving someone once they had been possessed or controlled forcibly.
I opened my eyes.
I sank into a hard faint, dead to the world around me.
I saw Dex collapse. A wave of emotions washed through me, worry and fear and relief that they were ok enough to faint at all. Pushing them back, since emotions are a weakness, I ran toward Dex, jumping over a dazed Herring and rubble. When I got to them, I knelt quickly and checked for a pulse and a heartbeat. They were alive, their heart beating slow and steady. I picked Dex up and walked over to the others.
"Well, team, we are not doing so hot, are we?" I asked, surveying the smoldering ruins. Herring was nursing a wounded arm, Amirai was tending a fainting Jayde while trying to put out the little fires caused by static electricity coming off of her scales, I had an openly bleeding arrow graze, and Dex was still out cold.
"Here, let me help with that," said a cool, female voice from behind me. I looked up into the eyes of the Innkeeper's daughter. A shortsword was hanging on her belt and her hands were steady as she wrapped up my wound.
"Thanks," I said gruffly, and noticed that other village folk were also tending to my friends or putting out various fires that kept springing up. One of the traveling doctors that I recognized from the tavern took Dex from me and put him on a makeshift medical cot.
"Well, adventurers, you'd better give me an explanation for this and quick. Why did you just kill one of the valley's most powerful mages and destroy his house?" a man with a mustache who could only be the mayor demanded, coming up to me.
I looked him square on and said evenly,
"You'll have your answer when Dex here wakes up. All I know is that he invited us in to have tea and then he made us all stop moving with magic. Dex stopped him from doing it, and then the tower kind of crumbled on its own," I said. "And Dex needs their rest, so there'll be no waking him up now." I looked defiantly into his eyes until he looked away.
"Very well. Doctor Mayhem, Doctor Arlington, help these people get into their rooms back at the Oak. Move out."
"Yes, Alyss has green-colored magic. Why?" asked Mayor Turner. They were sitting in a private room in the Drunken Oak. Dex was awake and sitting in a high- backed and supportive chair and Herring had a giant wrap of bandages around his middle, due to several broken ribs and bruising from being kicked by the late Armen. Jayde was napping. She had been the worst hurt, since after she'd been thrown into the wall, it had collapsed on her. Why am I always the one hurt the most? she had asked jokingly. That one bar fight, that hippogryph attack, the exploding door, and now this!
"The wyverns that attacked through Armen said that the mage that killed Earthsong- one of their own, had green fire- I mean, magic." Dex's voice pulled me out of the past. "So we need to find out what made her attack a helpless wyvern."
"Shall we call it a night? You know, go confront another possibly-super-powerful mage when we're not all moaning in bed with bandages?" asked Herring, wincing as he shifted position and his bandages moved.
"All right, team," said Amrai, who had been, like, deputy leader since Jayde got hurt. "Let's get dinner, baths, and rest. We can deal with witches and sorcery tomorrow."
End of part one.