Chapter One: Territorial Dispute




            Kingdom.  It wasn’t most inventive of names, but in nearly two thousand years, ever since the cataclysmic event known as the GodWars, it hadn’t changed, its residents having no say in the matter.  As a realm, it was one of the only safe portions of Hanyr left, ruled by a council of thanes that had divided the city as fairly and as equally as they could since its inception.  There were those who argued over the belief that Kingdom had once been a place ruled by warlocks and necromancers, though others debated that it had one time been a secret haven for the god-touched, later on called celestials as their blood had reputedly thinned and their divine status had waned over generations. Both were amongst the popular theories; though none that had arisen in the city’s long and storied history did much to fully explain how it had come to be.  Most considered it was because no records existed beyond when the city had first been founded.

            Personally, Tyn figured it was because when push came to shove, no one liked paperwork.  And from what he’d seen his adopted father go through over the years, well, him and his adopted brother Adik, he was certain of one thing, he was never getting anywhere near matters of state if he could avoid it.  Going on the road seemed a fitting deterrent to a life spent filing lengthy scrolls and pieces of parchment that contained nothing more exciting than writs and other mundane matters.  The life of an adventurer was far preferable, or so he’d heard, to becoming just another clerk in a city where such menial tasks were seen as far beneath the type of sons that had been raised by Jurel Lumden, famed paladin of Markone and once a member of the famed StormGazers.  Tyn had always liked that name, it had a certain flair to it that just made the word seem to command respect.

            Their adopted father, a human, had taken them both in when they were still children, literally in fact.  Jurel had been dead and gone for nearly four decades now, and his “sons” were just now taking their first steps into the wide world beyond their home, no longer content to remain within Kingdom any longer.  Their training was as complete as it could be within the circle of fighters, paladins, and priests that had taught them so much in their youth. All of them were old men now, and their replacements, all fine men and women of stout heart and the strictest discipline, could teach them no more.  Or so Adik had said.  His dwarven brother was supposedly an expert on thing such as this, though Tyn had questioned him for days now on where they would go.

            He desired adventure just as much as his brother, but didn’t often go charging into battle just on a whim, no matter if it meant glory and riches, as the stories of their father had often described.  Jurel had told them many a tale of his time spent as a youth and later on a middle-aged man within the StormGazers, though the wealth the paladin had amassed in his service to his divine lord had all went to the church, leaving him only enough to live on with his three adopted sons.  Tyn hadn’t quite understood that part, but he’d accepted it at least.  What he’d really responded to however had been the tales of adventure, of how his father had supposedly fought beasts such as dragons, and mirage cats, terrible pack beasts that could fool and adventurer into believing they were many instead of one single beast. 

            Many a tale their father had told them had involved magic, both innate and divine, which were only two of the five major sources that were known throughout the breadth of their world.  There were five schools of magic within the breadth and width of Hanyr, practices that were said to be as old as the realms themselves.  There was Innate, that could not be taught, but was a part of each being to some degree, no matter if it never manifested or not, Arcane, which had to be learned, but could be the very lifeblood of spellcasters  the world over, Ellesum, which was a type of mental magic, that had to be learned as well as cultivated if it was found that a being possessed the necessary qualities, Divine, which was what his father and brother in turn had ascribed to, a source of magic that was godsent, bestowed upon the willing servants of the divine pantheon that ruled and watched over Hanyr constantly, and last, there was Forbidden, which was an odd conglomeration of skills and spells that combined to create a magic of sorts that was ultimately self-serving and more than a little destructive.  Few if any practiced the Forbidden type of magic, particularly since the justiciars, champions of order and justice throughout the realms, were sworn to stamp out the use of such magic.

            Like his brother.  Or at least, like his brother wanted to be.

            Walking out of the front gates they were nodded to deferentially by the guards, men they’d both watched grow from younglings to the strapping soldiers they were now, thanks to the longevity granted to both of them by their individual races.  As a dwarf of the Deep Mountains, so far as their father had been able to tell, Adik was nearly half the size of Tyn, squat and built of solid muscle despite looking a bit bulky. The dwarf would say this was because of the gold-plated platemail he wore, though Tyn knew better.  His brother was just, well, big-boned. 

            Tyn was a celestial, a race that was said to be either the progenitors or the offshoots of elves and another enigmatic race, either angels or a long-lost civilization of demi-gods that had apparently fled Hanyr long ago, prophesying the GodWars before they ever happened. That was how the tales went anyway, that the demi-gods had bestowed their greatest blessing upon the realms in the form of their continued lineage, of which Tyn was a part.  From the slight, golden glow of his skin to his long, tapered ears, he was full-blooded celestial, though he had no idea of his clan, nor of why he’d been left within the vast forests of the Silver Wood. 

            He’d been second of their father’s children to be found, though Adik had been discovered not far from where Jurel had found Tyn, wandering about lost and confused.  He’d only been five years of age at the time, the tips of his ears still drooping as was normal of a celestial child until they reached the age of ten or older.  Some never felt their ears firm up until they were in late teens, which was still almost like infancy for his race. 

            Lush greenery surrounded them on both sides as they walked past merchants and other folk coming and going from the grand city, either seeking to sell or buy needed wares.  Kingdom was a widespread realm, stretching for many leagues east and west across the breadth of Kuben, the continent that Adik, Tyn, and their brother Vacca had known as home for so long.  It was among the most peaceful and tolerant of nations, protected quite well by its justiciars and other champions, though still imperiled at all times by the other, more violent nations that shared this continent with their far more peaceful neighbors. 

            There were dangers to be sure upon the land, though for the most part the heavy stone walls that were part natural rock formations and part ingenuity laid down by their father and the thanes, had kept the worst of them at bay.  All others, savage beasts and the like, knew better than to attempt to storm Kingdom, as had been seen many years before, when the three brothers had still been deep into their training. Tyn could remember the beast raids that had been attempted, the small lizardfolk known as ablak’s proving to be rather troublesome as they had managed to rile up other beasts within the vast forests surrounding Kingdom.  That uprising had been quelled rather quickly and with minimum bloodshed, but he’d heard his father more than once mutter about how the ablak’s were growing bolder with each passing year.

            As he looked around Tyn inhaled deeply of the redolent odors that reached his nostrils, thinking not about ablak’s or other dire things in that moment,  simply enjoying the freedom from the city that he and brothers had enjoyed only briefly when their father had been alive.  Jurel had been a rather protective parent, even when the three of them had grown big enough and skilled enough with their chosen weapons to aid in the defense of the city.  A good father, he had still been somewhat stifling in his manner, though of the three brothers, only Adik had ever seemed to fully accept this.

            Their other brother, Vacca, had defied their father outright more than once, and after the old paladin’s death had taken it upon himself to leave the city, going his own way as he had not been allowed to do so in his younger years.  Of the trio, only Vacca had ever possessed such an obviously defiant spirit, showing his affinity towards the woods beyond their home early on as he had snuck away time and again, seeking to learn the skills necessary to survive on his own.  Tyn had envied his brother at times, though never when one of the seasoned veterans of the woods, one of the famed rangers, had brought Vacca back per their father’s orders.  The punishments that Vacca had been forced to accept had not been pleasant, no matter that he’d never been beaten or tortured in any way. Instead he’d been subjected to lecture after ear-blistering lecture, and then forced to attend the morning and even prayers with their father, something that Tyn had thought  was worse than a beating.

            Vacca’s lineage was just as different from Tyn’s as his own was from his father and Adik, he was an elf.  The pointed ears, like Tyn’s but somewhat shorter, were the only trait the two of them shared, there all similarities ended.  Tyn’s facial features were a little more blunt, stronger in a way, where Vacca’s were a little longer and far more lean.  His eyes were almond-shaped, where Tyn’s were oval but still situated more or less like a humans.  And one of the most telling differences was that Vacca’s eyes were a deep, rich brown, where Tyn’s were, like the rest of his race, a solid, sky blue, without iris or pupil.  All celestials, as far as he had seen in his life, shared this trait.  They could see as normal folk could, though far better than humans in the night, but still retained the eerie quality that unnerved most who did not know of them. 

            Sadly, his race was not all that prevalent upon Hanyr, or so he had heard, hailing from another realm that was largely unknown save to select scholars and those few celestials that had not been born within this realm.  Tyn had heard the name of the place, Daewyll, a place of such powerful magic and natural beauty that to look upon its verdant fields would cause lesser beings to weep, perhaps even crumple to their knees in awe.  He’d listened to such tales with rapt attention, wondering if one day he could perhaps see such grandeur.  For now though his life was here, with his brothers, one of whom had not been seen in almost a year’s time. 

            Of the three of them, Vacca had taken their father’s death the hardest, his fragile mind unable to cope with the loss of the man that had raised them all since they were children.  No matter that a human lifespan was measured in decades, the three had looked up to and respected their father, treating him with all due respect not only because of his title and exploits, but because he had been the only man who had cared to take them from the wilds.  None of them knew their origins, only that they had been found not far from one another, an inexplicable circumstance that had never been fully sorted out.  Dwarves, celestials, and elves never really got along, which would make their being found within the same forest, alone and cast away it would seem, all that more confusing.

            Jurel had seen it as providence in a way, finding three young lads whom he’d seen fit to take as his own, giving them a home and a life that they might not have had otherwise.  Each of them knew in their hearts that he had saved them, though it was still curious that their own kind had never seemed interested in questioning how it was that a human came to befriend and raise three vastly different lads as his own.  Tyn had never thought about it much, he’d enjoyed the life that Jurel had given them, as had Adik and even Vacca, despite his defiant ways. 

            As he and Adik gained a bit of distance from the city, the hard-packed dirt road beneath their feet, Tyn wondered just where Vacca had gone this time.  His training as a ranger of the woods had been completed only a few years before their father had passed on, though Vacca had only returned now and then, attending the funeral and then disappearing for months at a time. The last time Tyn and Adik had seen him the ranger had been bound for the northernmost parts of Kuben, seeking adventure as always.  That had been almost a year before, and far beyond any length of time that Vacca had spent away from home.  Adik had told Tyn not to worry, that Vacca would return in Vacca’s time, not theirs.  It had been with only a shrug that the celestial had acknowledged his dwarven brother’s words.

            Continuing to stare around at the woods and the road ahead Tyn shook his head as he thought back to how he’d allowed his brother to sway him into following what might very well be a fool’s course.  Adik had finally given into the same wanderlust that had gripped Vacca early in life, wishing to see the wider world beyond their fair city and prove that they were indeed their father’s sons.  Tyn hadn’t argued much honestly, but then, when Adik spoke, most people listened, no matter if they were dead set against whatever the dwarf might say.  Whether it was by the blessing of Markone or the simple fact that Adik could convince a miser to part with his fortune out of sheer selflessness, the dwarven paladin was capable of convincing anyone that his path was the right one.  More annoying than this really was that he could do so with his brothers, those who had known him for so long, as well. 

            His brother’s promise of grand adventure and of course the promise of spreading the word of Markone into the wilds and even into the hearts of the wicked had sounded like so much divine rubbish to Tyn, but even so he’d been unable to fully explain the headache he’d experienced shortly after thinking in such a manner.  He knew his brother’s devotion to his lord and liege was absolute, no matter that his dwarven nature sometimes ran contradictory to what Markone stood for.  Their father had noted this during Adik’s training and had eventually decided it was better to allow nature to run its course, especially considering that his son had taken so well to the teachings.

            Tyn had studied the texts and scrolls penned by the priests of Markone as well, though had always seen more use for the practices of a fighter, not of a holy warrior bound by edicts and honor to fight always with dignity.  He didn’t mind hitting an opponent when they were down, nor did he have the same qualms as his brother about striking an unarmed and defeated foe.  It was one less devious bastard that could come back later and attack again.  Adik of course did not see it that way.

            Out of all the quarrels they’d had however, all the discussions and fights over how different their lives were, Tyn knew his brother’s feelings, he knew Adik’s heart. They were brothers, no matter the difference of race.  The bonds that lay between them were such that not even the death of their father, the one that had brought them all together, would sunder that most important tie.  Of course they still had differences, one that came to mind being the frittering away of money towards the church and the most righteous of causes.  Adik did not crave wealth or grand fortune, preferring to give such material things to those who needed them, and of course to the church.  That alone vexed Tyn, and had angered Vacca more than once in the past, since the ranger was quite materialistic when it came to matters of magic and its use to keep him safe in the wild.  Needless to say, where Tyn was cautious in his spending of coin, Vacca was downright selfish. 

            “I still say you gave too much,” Tyn said, rolling his eyes at the armored dwarf beside him.  Adjusting his grip slightly upon his weapon, a longspear that had been given to him by their father years before, he shook his head in mild disdain.  Adik looked up at him, a slow smile barely visible past his rich and luxuriant beard.  While most dwarves would have allowed their beard to hang loose, with maybe a few ornamental pieces used to plait the mass, Adik had taken it upon himself to procure several golden and silver bands to secure the braids and loose parts of his beard, keeping it easily kept neatly and manageable as it length lay against his broad chest.  He was without a doubt one of the most fastidious dwarves that Tyn had ever known, and he’d known a few in his time.  They had Jurel to thank for this.

            The dwarf was bedecked in armor that featured carvings of several stylized warhammers, his weapon of choice, from his shoulders down to his heavily booted feet.  Though the god Markone favored the broadsword, Adik had proven quite adept with his hammer over the years of his training, and had kept either one or two of the weapons upon his person at all times.  Aside from this was the heavy metal shield that was strapped to his back, covered over by his shortened red cloak.  A helm of hammered gold blended with steel reinforcements covered his shaved head, fitting snugly despite the absence of any hair. 

            Much like his brother, though without the flare, Tyn was garbed in plate mail as well, his own shining in the light of day as it had been polished before they’d set out.  Neither of them squeaked or squealed as they walked, the padding they’d stuffed into the joints quite comfortable and useful in reducing noise.  His own head remained bare, though he would not have it any other way, fully enjoying the touch of the wind upon his long, golden locks.  His weapons included his longspear, a greatsword strapped to his left hip, and a large metal shield that was likewise strapped to his back, sans cloak like his brother.  Their supplies for the road ahead were held in packs that were affixed by shoulder straps to lie secured to their shields, offering only a slight amount of weight as they continued on.  All in all they were prepared for almost anything, no matter if it was beast or otherwise.

            “Bah, me brudder from anudder mudder,” Adik grinned as he uttered his favorite phrase, “’Tis but a pittance t’ the church what gave me so much.  If ye’d only drop yer durned pride an’ find yer faith, ye’d know the truth of it.”

            Tyn knew he would regret asking, but he did anyway. “And what is that o’ stunted one?”

            Adik allowed the crack about his height pass with only a stern look.  The celestial and the dwarf had been raised together, such insults had been a natural part of their days for far too long to offer true insult.  Their father had scolded them more than once for such behavior towards another, though even he had come to accept that boys would be boys. 

            “Pah!” Adik exclaimed, “Did our fadder teach ye nothin’ ye glitterin’ elf?!” The silver-tongued dwarf guffawed uproariously at the sour look that Tyn leveled at him in that moment.  This was by far and large not the first time that Adik had used such an insult to pull Tyn from his current state of ruminations.  He was not an elf, nor would he care to be.

            “He taught me better than to listen to grumbling boulders that mumble through the briar patches they call beards.”  Adik laughed long and loud then, startling several small birds and other animals as they could be heard scurrying through the brush.  His brother was quite loud when he wanted to be, a fact that irritated Tyn to no end at times. 

            The woods around them swayed gently in the constant breezes that passed along like unseen ghosts, caressing everything they touched with their light, phantom fingers as Tyn closed his eyes, enjoying the breeze as it tousled his hair.  His pointed ears twitched suddenly as he heard a noise not too far ahead and to their left.  Adik was too busy touting the lessons on piety and giving that Jurel had attempted to teach each of them for so long, his loud voice almost drowning out the slight noises that Tyn continued to hear.  The dwarf would prattle on and on if not checked in his favored speeches of their father’s days and how one had been expected to bend knee and give thanks to the holy Markone for each and every day within his service, and on and on and on.  It was litany that Tyn had heard more than once, and one he would have preferred Vacca was here to suffer through as well.

            His attention remained upon the sounds of rustling from somewhere off in the brush to their left as they grew closer.  Adik was of course still talking, Tyn had learned through years of experience that it took far more than anyone could produce to shut the dwarf up.  He didn’t have the knack for stealth that their brother Vacca had, nor the inclination to learn, which might very well get them into trouble down the road.  Still Tyn heard the slight, furtive sounds as he drew closer to the concealing brush that hid the rest of the forest away from the road, frowning as he heard something else along with the scuttling.  There was a wet, tearing sound, something he’d heard before but did not enjoy.  The wet tearing of flesh reached his ears again as he tightened his grip upon his spear, thinking that if this was to be their first encounter away from the city, he was more than ready.

            There was no reason to expect trouble less than a mile from the city, but it was better to stay sharp as their father had taught them, to be ready for anything that might come along.  Even for a paladin their father had been sharp-witted and more than capable of holding his own in the wilds. 

            “Be silent a moment brother,” Tyn cautioned, not turning around to see as Adik pushed his lower lip out, giving his brother (from another mother) a stern look for interrupting him. 

            “What’re ye about ye shiny elf?” the dwarf asked, “Ye’re knowin’ better’n t’ be interruptin’ me when I’m speakin’ o’ father an’ what he taught us!” Tyn rolled his eyes again as he shook his head, wishing to any and all gods that would listen to clamp his brother’s lips shut in that second.  Of course that wouldn’t happen, no matter if he swore allegiance to Markone as his brother had pestered him about for so long.

            “There is someone up ahead, just beyond the trees. Can you see them?” Tyn waited patiently as he pushed aside the screening brush, his own eyes narrowing as he tried to see past.  The dwarf made a rude gesture as he peered forward, looking up at Tyn as he came to stand side by side with him.

            “Ye interrupted me fer that?” Adik spat, “Ain’t nothing more’n a coupla humans out in the durned forest!”  Tyn shook his head again as the two of them made their way further along, the brush wavering where he’d parted it.  How had his brother seen what he could not ?

            The answer came as he looked down, seeing several gaps in the tight shrubbery near Adik’s level, easy enough to peer through as the dwarf continued to walk ahead.  As they walked the scrub began to thin out, showing a much more detailed scene as Tyn could now see past the foliage, seeing the two humans that Adik had already noticed.  What he saw though was far different than the simplistic explanation given by his brother would warrant.  Through the thin screen of trees that were all that separated the two brothers from the humans he could see far more than Adik had cared to notice. 

            The path they were on curved to the left, the untamed forest to their left shaded and kept from the majority of the sunlight by the leafy canopies that hung far overhead, seeking to conceal the forest floor from the view of passerby.  Tyn’s keen vision was easily enough to pick out the two figures however, one small and one fully grown, a child and an adult.  That both were clearly human was not hard to affirm, though as Tyn saw the third human come into view, beneath the female that crouched over him, his eyes widened slightly, his jaw dropping just a bit.  As he stopped the woman’s eyes found him, dark pools of shadow within the darkness that fixed upon him as in her left hand she held something that looked soft and rather wet, dripping some dark fluid that he could only guess was blood.  In her other hand she held a rudimentary carving knife, a crude tool made from either bone or rock, he couldn’t be sure.

            Looking closer he could see that her arms were coated in gore from her fingertips nearly to her elbows.  Swallowing hard Tyn took a step forward, noting that the younger human, a little girl, had noticed him as well.  In her small hands was a badly chipped wooden bowl, scarred and beaten from years of hard use no doubt.  The child’s eyes were wide as the two of them beheld the armored celestial that now came towards them, and widened further as Tyn could hear his brother crashing into the brush behind him.  Blood dripped slowly from the knife in the woman’s hand as she continued to stare at them, almost in challenge as she stepped in front of the body beneath her.  The girl did not move.

            Keeping his steps slow and measured Tyn walked closer, silently willing his stocky brother to do the same.  Thankfully as Adik saw the bloody knife in the woman’s right hand the dwarf didn’t express himself in his normal manner, which was to exclaim an oath to Markone’s sacred bones or some other ridiculous aspect of the god.  Tyn believed in the god of his father, but he did not serve him.  Instead Adik made his way forward until he was standing even with his brother, one hand straying just within reach of his beloved warhammer.  As a paladin of Markone, Adik would not dare to harm an innocent or a non-combatant, but as the woman raised the knife slightly Tyn could not help but tense.

            “What’re ye about woman?” Adik bellowed, his left hand coming ever closer to the haft of his weapon.  The woman saw this and slowly lowered her knife, a look of fierce determination settling upon her features.  She was a mess as Tyn could see, her and the girl both.  They were coated in grime and dirt, as though they’d not bathed in days or even longer.  The girl was rather cute, for a human, and the woman might have been beautiful once.  Time however had not been kind to her, or so it seemed.

            Just as Adik was about to ask again, the woman spoke, her voice more like a raven’s throaty caw than a human, “My daughter is hungry, she has to eat.” Both Tyn and Adik looked at the child a little closer, finally noticing the dark circles under her eyes and the way that her dirt-smeared cheeks sank in slightly.  Tyn had seen such a condition before, but far worse.  His mood softened just a little as he continued to look at the child.  But as his gaze roamed to the dead man lying at the woman’s feet his eyes hardened a bit, his lips pressing together to form a thin line of caution.

            “Did you kill him?” Tyn asked the woman. The filthy mother looked wistfully down at the man before closing her eyes. Tyn quickly noted the brief glimpse of sorrow that passed over her features just then, as did Adik.  She had known this man, that was for certain.

            The woman shook her head as she spoke, “My husband died recently, nearly three days past,” she sniffed, wiping her eyes as best she could on the arm of her filthy shirt, “His heart done gave out on ‘im.” The woman opened her eyes, which were now misted over the two of them could see as she turned to face them.  There was a fire deep within her eyes that both of them instantly noticed, a burning defiance that would not trifled with.

            “My husband woulda done the same for our girl if it was me lyin’ in yonder weeds, “ she said, her words hard and confident,” My daughter needs t’ eat.”

            Tyn didn’t know whether to nod in understanding or retch.  What manner of life had brought these two to such a state?  He’d heard of those who ate their own kind, but until now had never seen such madness.  Looking to his brother Tyn could only shrug as he shook his head, hefting his spear as though to head on his way once more.

            Adik had a different idea however, “Can ye not find a life within the city?” the dwarf asked in his gruff voice. The woman, who by this point had gone to a knee, plopping the fleshy organ within her daughter’s bowl, was already back at her task, no doubt determined to make as good use of her husband as possible.  She turned to the dwarf with a sad look as she spoke again.

            “We’ve tried, but none will help us. Roland is our only means o’ survival any longer. He’s the one what helped me an’ my family t’escape the abandoned keep that was supposed t’ be our new home.”  Adik looked to Tyn just then, a curious glint coming his dark brown eyes that celestial knew all too well.  Rolling his own eyes yet again Tyn planted the blunt end of his spear against the ground again, vowing just then to make his brother pay somehow for dragging him into championing yet another hopeless cause.

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