Al’ev “Olive” Reldin looked up from the wooden deck. He followed the still unfolded sails of the ship with his eyes until they met the mast they were hanging from. She was still there, T’lemya, tail swishing back and forth happily in the wind.
Al’ev decided it was time to have a chat with her. Most people didn’t understand what she was. And people often feared what they didn’t understand. Al’ev could sympathize quite well, after all. A child couldn’t control who its parents were. All they could do is deal with what they were given. Why did so many people not understand that?
So far the heroes had been fairly indifferent towards T’lemya. But they hadn’t exactly been inviting either. No one had taken much time to get to know who she was beyond the surface…except maybe Sindri Stribog’s typical passes…if one could count those as beyond the surface.
It was time to change that and Al’ev decided he was the best one to do so.
Casting a spell on himself he lifted up from the deck, ignoring a crewmember’s gaping look as he went airborn, and landed on the top of the mast.
The Tiefling noticed his approach almost immediately, and quickly skittered to a safe distance, taking up a defensive posture.
“Hello. We really haven’t had any chances to talk since you joined us. Is everyone treating you well,” he said with his hands by his sides, trying not to look threatening.
She stared at him for a few moments, and then cautiously began sniffing at the air. Something obviously caught her interest, because she proceeded to slowly approach him, until she was only a few inches away. “… You… your smell…”
Her voice was so quiet that Al’ev would have missed the statement entirely had she been another inch away or had it been more than just breezy up on the mast. It was a surprise to learn that she was not mute as he had feared she would be, but he knew that indicating his surprise would only serve to further alienate her. Instead, Al’ev chuckled. “Let a Halfling ride your shoulders enough and you may not smell so pleasant either.”
She continued to stare at him, and took a particularly deep smell. “No…” The look in her eyes told him that she knew it was more than that. He knew of several creatures in the world that could sense what he was through various means. But he did not know T’lemya well enough to explain. Instead he chose to continue asking her idle questions.
She answered none of course, preferring to stare at him with curious eyes that seemed to bore into the fiber of his being. It was as though she were questioning his very soul.
After a couple minutes, Al’ev sighed. “Well, let me know if you need anything. You’re traveling with us now. That makes you one of us.” As he turned to leave he felt something sharp under his chin and immediately froze.
Another sniff, followed by “… Why? Why do you smell different?”
He remained silent. She hadn’t noticed he had already cast a quick shield spell over his neck, but that didn’t mean he was safe. He had heard how she had acted when his friends first ran into her, so he had been half expecting this conversation to take this route. That it did was no surprise. But what did surprise him was how angry he felt. He was fighting the urge to toss the Tiefling off the mast and see how well she could swim…
“Ah…” The knife suddenly came away from Al’ev’s throat, and the Tiefling returned to staring at him, the curiosity in her eyes replaced with understanding, her tail agitated and flicking.
“What are you…” He suddenly realized his neck was itching. He touched that area and stood transfixed. It had never happened to his neck before, the scales, it had only been his hands…and only briefly. He had known he was running out of time…but he thought he’d have more than this. He couldn’t go on this month long journey across the sea. Not in this state. It was too dangerous for himself…and for his friends.
He looked down from the mast and saw them gathering to discuss something with Captain Crunch. After being at war with himself for a few moments, he made his decision. “They’ll be fine alone. They don’t need me for this. If anything, it’s me who has come to rely on them…”
Realizing he never unpacked his things when he got onboard, he floated off the mast and turned back to T’lemya. “Don’t let them know I’m gone for a while.”
She continued to stare and he knew that was all he was going to get. He went below decks, making sure a crew member saw him head that way in case anyone asked for him. Then, when nobody was around, he cast another flight spell on himself and followed that up with a spell that made him disappear from anyone’s prying eyes.
Now hidden, he flew out of an opened hole in the deck and headed straight into Orleon where he found a spot he could watch the ship leave. After a few more minutes the sails dropped and caught the breeze. They were off.
“Stay safe…”He whispered, as the ship put out to sea.
When the ship was a dot on the horizon, he walked back into town to purchase a map of Quellion, some rations, and a simple black traveler’s cloak.
He stepped out of the store and put on the hooded cloak. People were starting to recognize him where he went, and worse, he couldn’t control when the scales showed up. Not yet anyway. He’d have to remain cloaked to avoid any potential problems for the time being.
When he reached the edge of the town he pulled out the map he had purchased.
“Eight days if I walk…four to six if I ride.” He said to himself. He then started walking along the pathway to Caori wondering if he’d find the answers he was after. Wondering if his friends really would be alright as he had convinced himself they would be. Wondering if his father and brother were still searching for him even now. Wondering what his mother would think of her son as he searched out answers. He wondered a thousand different things as he walked the pathway back into the Quellion forest. As he did, he missed when the sun had gone down.
Sighing, he spotted a good place to make a camp. The night passed very quietly. It seemed the animals could sense what he was too, for Al’ev didn’t see a single sign of animal life the entire night.
Something was wrong with him. Something had always been wrong with him. And now she knew what it was.
Watching the half-elf descend from the mast, T’lemya knew now what had been bothering him all this time. Dragon blood! And Al’ev was slowly succumbing to it. The physical transformation, the complete loss of control, meeting with hatred and death no matter where one traveled…
She quickly shook the thoughts out of her head. Curiosity – that ever-present burn – took her over. She must follow him.
She watched him go below decks. It was an overly simple means of throwing people off, she thought, but the trust these people held between them meant that they would have taken such an action on faith. But he had already confessed to her that he intended to leave the group. He had to surface sometime.
Carefully making her way downward, she waited in the shadows, out of sight, for her target to surface. After a few minutes, though she saw nothing, she became aware of a strange scent… a very familiar strange scent. The magus was invisible! Though this did hinder her in pinpointing her target, she knew that as long as she was careful not to reveal herself, he would not escape her. This she managed to do, and her efforts were rewarded when Al’ev once again became visible.
In the morning, he began to walk on again. Already the pathway had begun carving its way through the massive Quellion forest. Trees quickly blocked out most of the sky and it wasn’t long before it was almost dark as night. It was a few minutes after this shade had fallen when he ran into his first obstacle.
Four human men stood in his way, blocking the pathway.
“You can stop right where you are, traveler. If you want to keep moving, you’ll hand over all of your valuable items and gold.” One of them said.
Al’ev assessed the men quickly. They were young and strong in the body, judging from the muscles in their arms and legs. But judging from the pants being backwards on one and the way another held his bow, no so much in the mind.
“Guys, you really don’t know what you’re getting into.” Al’ev warned.
“What was that? It doesn’t sound valuable. Suppose we do this the fun way.” One of the highwaymen replied, clearly undaunted by Al’ev’s warning. He and another of his buddies drew their swords as they closed in on Al’ev. The other two stood back with grins on their faces as they readied their bows.
Al’ev shook his head and cast a spell to daze all four. As they all stopped in their tracks rubbing their eyes from the sudden light he said, “Doing this the ‘fun way’ will cost you your lives. Are they not valuable?”
Al’ev was about to say more when a dwarf came out of the foliage on the right side of the pathway.
“That was magic, that was. Arcane magic. Blasphemy in its most heinous form. You’ve sealed your fate, blasphemer.” He said pointing at the magus.
“Boss, this guy knows magic though,” one of the now recovering men said. “What do you expect us to do? He’ll turn us into newts!”
“Idiot. It isn’t impossible to kill a magic user. We have the advantage of numbers. Use that to finish him before he can wiggle a finger or utter another word! Kill the blasphemer!”
Al’ev readied himself for combat as the men were about to charge…
T’lemya, still concealed within the shadows, followed the half-elf into the forest, sleeping in the trees above as he made camp. She had intended to continue following him secretly all the way to his destination, whatever that may be. However, these plans were quickly shattered after a group of highwaymen blocked the road, followed by their stout ringleader shouting orders to “kill the blasphemer.” A knot twisted up in her stomach, and she let her precious dagger fly…
Al’ev recognized the object that reflected light to his eye as it passed his shoulder. It was one of the daggers that had been against his throat the previous morning. The Dwarf clutched the hilt, which was now protruding from his neck.
“T’lemya…” he said.
There was a flickering of shadows, then she emerged from the foliage on the left side of the pathway, her tail flicking in agitation. She reached the dwarf and then pulled her dagger from his neck. She then let him drop. The ground rapidly grew moist from the blood that had been spilled.
The highwaymen with swords began to charge Al’ev, shouting various curses and yelling in pure bloodlust. The two with bows knocked their arrows, clearly pointing them at the Tiefling’s direction.
“MONSTER!” They yelled as they let their arrows fly.
Al’ev didn’t pay them much mind as these men weren’t much of a threat, not compared with what he had been dealing with the past couple months. He pointed his finger at the center of the four men’s formation. “I warned you.” The area erupted in flames, catching all four men where they stood and both arrows midflight.
Al’ev watched the men burn, silently seething at the entire situation. They wouldn’t be getting back up again.
“I warned you…” He said again this time somewhat mournfully as the flames slowly fizzled out and smoke continued to rise to the skies.
After a few more moments he spoke. “T’lemya, why did you follow me?” There was no answer so he turned and saw what he expected, two glowing eyes just staring. He sighed then said, “Fine. Thank you for your help, but you really didn’t need to jump in. I could have handled it.”
She walked over to the smoking bodies and looked them over in an almost curious manner, sniffing the air around them.
Al’ev took this time to look the dwarf over. Finding nothing of interest a few moments later, he used another spell to summon a horse. “T’lemya, we need to get moving.”
She looked from him to the horse warily.
“Wha…Don’t look at me like that. I have a lot of ground to cover and since nobody else is around to look after you, you’ll have to stick with me. We told Little John we’d take care of you.” He waited for her to hop on the horse. Instead, she took a cautious step back, and continued to stare, a slight flick at the end of her tail. “Listen, unless you can keep up with my horse, you’ll need to hop on.” He realized she wasn’t going to budge. “Fine, have it your way,” he said with just the smallest hit of defeat in his voice.
So it was that they traveled together for the next few days, Al’ev by horseback and T’lemya using the trees for as long as she was able. By day two of the journey, they had the elven capital of Caori in sight. Choosing to go around the city rather than enter it, they continued west towards Trinity. By day five, they had left Trinity behind and had turned North towards their destination.
On the morning of day seven they saw the Larian foothills emerge from the mist that covered much of the land before them. The air was crisp, cool, and quite fresh. He knew it all well for this was…
“ Halar.” Al’ev said.
After a few moments of walking he spoke again. “It’s different than it used to be.” His eyes followed the outline of the town. “Well, almost all of it.” He continued as his eyes fell on the outline of the Arcane Library of Halar. “I see the Illundra chose to keep it true to its old form.”
As they got closer to the outer edges of the town, trade traffic became very thick. They soon found themselves in a long line outside the town’s gates. T’lemya appeared to be very nervous about this, and Al’ev noticed her tail had disappeared, presumably underneath her half-cape, as she began blending her motions with those of the travelers around her. “First thing we should do is find some lodging,” he said. “Wouldn’t surprise me if Micky T’s built a branch here, too.”
As the line slowly moved forward, Al’ev debated saying more to her. He did not like the idea of stepping into, what he considered to be, an Illundra stronghold. He did not think he could trust them after all he had learned in the past few months. He suspected they were working with the red dragons even before Goat and Salestrus brought the notion of a dragon war to the heroes’ attention. After all, his brother did have an Illundra wizard with him when he had portalnapped Al’ev. And then there was the meeting with the elven woman back in Trinity after the Hall of Doors incident…
He had learned much from the elven woman and gotten the shard of his mother’s soul from her. He had also heard how the Illundra had reacted when she had gone for help after Halar. It was enough to make their allegiance clear to Al’ev. They were his enemy, whether they knew it or not, and until he found something to make him think otherwise, they were no better than his own father. Of course they were potentially as dangerous…
He didn’t have physical proof though, so he’d just have to keep his eyes open and pray that his enemies kept theirs closed or elsewhere.
All of that didn’t matter right now though. He needed information on half-dragons and the Arcane Library of Halar was one resource he had left untapped.
“I simply couldn’t force myself to return here ever since….” He whispered to himself. “But perhaps I’ll find what I need. Perhaps I’ll find answers.”
They made it into the city with no trouble. The city guards were used to beings of all kinds coming into the trading hub, so they didn’t give Al’ev or T’lemya a second glance. Looking for lodging proved pretty easy as well. The town was full of rooms for travelers. After all, not many of the people currently in Halar were actually residents. Many were traveling traders just like the ones they had stood in line with.
“You’re kidding me…” he said, shaking his head just outside Micky T’s Halar establishment. “Well, I suppose I could see if they have a room,” he looked at T’lemya, “and a roof, available.”
Securing a room didn’t prove difficult and he doubted they’d even notice if T’lemya was on the roof. He paid for the room and decided to spend the remainder of the afternoon in the tavern listening in on the conversations around him, while his Tiefling companion managed to sneak, unnoticed, into the rafters.
He smiled at a few stories he heard, as they were clearly retellings of things he and his friends had accomplished very recently. It took a great force of will to not laugh at some of the obnoxious things they were said to have done, though, such as scaring a village of goblins away from Varalon even while taking care of a sick child who only seemed to eat rat meat. This brought a chuckle out of Al’ev as that “Child” was none other than Grobble, the goblin ambassador.
Another particularly amusing telling was of their deeds in Varalon. When they got to the part where the heroes killed the demon after the woman’s “babies,” T’lemya’s eyes flashed dangerously. Al’ev had to try very hard not to laugh then.
When he had heard enough, he decided to head up to his room for the night. As he lay in bed, his thoughts drifted to all the nights he had spent in a house that hadn’t been too far from there sixteen years ago…
He blew out the candle by his bed and smiled. He thought of his mother and how she used to tell him stories before tucking him in.
“Goodnight, Mom.” He whispered softly.
He could almost hear her reply as he clutched her stone in his hand and drifted to sleep…
The next morning found T’lemya and Al’ev making their way through Halar’s primary marketplace. With the sun they all arose, the traders of Halar. Al’ev didn’t know how they had the strength to barter as aggressively as they were. Certainly not straight until the sun set every evening! He did know it put a smile on his face though.
The Tiefling, on the other hand, became increasingly nervous in such a crowd. Her tail had disappeared, and once again, she was matching her motions with those of the crowd, taking advantage of every shadow to conceal herself in a way that would likely throw off any pursuers. Though she seemed to have become somewhat more comfortable traveling with Al’ev, and continued to keep up with him in the crowd, it was obvious that she retained an engrained sense of trepidation around the general public that caused her to continuously avoid detection at all costs. Particularly in the shadows, he noticed, it would be difficult to track such a wary creature…
“Some things never change,” he yelled to T’lemya over the noise of the crowds. “This side of Halar didn’t burn all those years ago. Trade remains strong, even when relations between nations may not be. It is something I spent quite some time wondering about, but it is clear to me that we all need each other.” He gestured to everything around them. “This is proof of that, T’lemya. Despite all the different races you see represented here, they all get along in their struggle to survive day to day life. And I believe they are all stronger for it.”
T’lemya paused in her evasion, shone her glowing eyes in his direction, and held his gaze.
“Call me an idealist.” He shrugged and gestured towards a large tree in the distance. “Come on. The library is just a bit further.”
They arrived a few minutes later. Before them was a massive building made to appear like a tree. It looked just like the trees that supported the Elven capital of Caori. But this one was clearly artificial. This was the Arcane Library of Halar. “It used to be a living tree…” Al’ev said somewhat mournfully as they walked in.
The building held five stories of book shelving units. The first three floors, they found out when they went in, were open to the public. The fourth level was restricted to practitioners of the arcane who had been approved by the Illundra. The fifth level was almost never accessed and was available only to the Illundra themselves.
This was fine. The journey his friends were on was supposed to last as long as a month. T’lemya and Al’ev had spent the first week of that time traveling from Orleon to Halar. He still had plenty of time to find what he needed, and he figured that, while he was looking through the first three levels, he could figure out a way into the next two levels if necessary.
As they passed the front desk area of the library, they began to see the remainder of the massive first floor. It was a little dark with most of the light being provided by a few holes in the walls that served as windows. The rest of the areas were lit only by candlelight. There were many rows of wooden book shelves, most of which ranged from the floor to the ceiling. All of them were full of books. Every once in a while, as he began to peruse the aisles, he’d see a book taking itself from a table and putting itself back on the shelving units where it belonged.
He remembered his reaction the first time he had seen this as a child. The sense of wonder it brought that often spurred him towards learning the how and why behind what he saw. It was how he used to look at magic, before he learned more of who he was. He had missed being in a magic library, this magic library. It was the closest to home he could get as he spent a very large portion of his childhood here.
Al’ev continued searching the aisles until he found a book that had something of interest to him. He found a few more books in this manner, then found an empty table and began his search.
In the back of his mind he knew he wasn’t likely to find much in the public areas of the library. Information on half-dragons had been purged out of several other libraries in the land. This library, especially after having been burnt down once, would likely be no different. But he suspected that if the Illundra really were keeping an eye on him, or hiding knowledge from him, they wouldn’t expect him to come back here.
Al’ev had to admit, it was a bit of a desperate move, strategically speaking, for him to return to where it all began for him. But he had always known he’d end up coming back at least once. There was no reason why he shouldn’t. Halar was no more dangerous than any other town at this point. Heck, even Trinity was probably more dangerous after all that had happened in the Hall of Doors and with what he learned during his meeting.
Al’ev’s mind continued to wander as he finished looking through book after book. It was a skill he had acquired after spending large portions of time with his nose in the text.
The Illundra were able to track him, thanks to the Arbiter’s Tome he’d been forced into leaving at the guild hall in Trinity. He’d have to do something about that next time he was in Trinity. If the Illundra were working with his father or brother in any way, then he had to get rid of the tome or replace it with a replica as soon as he could.
He thought about the problem a bit more as he finished up his research for the day and saw it was already night. A replica would probably be a quicker solution and would probably be the only sure way. Hopefully they hadn’t already taken it.
He returned to the Inn, T’lemya shadowing him as usual, just after the stars lit the sky.
That night he dreamt he was a child running through the streets of the old Halar. He hadn’t dreamed like this in a long while. It was an overwhelming sense of home and of belonging.
Things he had longed for when he was only a bit younger.
T’lemya saw he had a smile on his face before she returned to her perch that night.
They had finally reached their destination, a city that Al’ev had called Halar. Having grown up in the shadier less populated parts of Varalon, T’lemya was unused to the crowds of people that she had seen in Trinity, and to see it repeated in Halar was still strange to her. Certainly she had heard stories from others about larger cities – a staggering mass of different races all pressed together in one location, comfortably living out their lives – but to see it firsthand was a completely different experience.
She had always been cautious in crowds, for as far back as she could remember, but this was an entirely different level. Even in Trinity she had managed to avoid the majority of the general population, but here, traveling with Al’ev, she had no choice. Al’ev seemed oblivious to the fact that they were walking through a giant crowd, as if he did not think they were dangerous. There may have been many species who didn’t seem to mind the presence of others, but that did not mean that they would not unite to kill a girl with demon blood.
She decided she had to remain undetected.
A wave of relief swept over her when they finally arrived at Mickey T’s, and she was even more pleased when the night proved uneventful. Re-entering the crowd the next day, however, returned all of her tension to her. She ducked and wove, mimicking the movements of the people around her, taking advantage of every shadow to minimize her appearance. She was so wrapped up in her work that she completely missed Al’ev taking note of her movements until he spoke.
“Some things never change.” He yelled to T’lemya. “This side of Halar didn’t burn all those years ago. Trade remains strong, even when relations between nations may not be. It is something I spent quite some time wondering about, but it is clear to me that we all need each other.” He gestured to everything around them. “This is proof of that, T’lemya. Despite all the different races you see represented here, they all get along in their struggle to survive day to day life. And I believe they are all stronger for it.”
The speech surprised her so much that she completely stopped her evasion tactics. There she was, in the middle of a large city, in a crowd that might kill her if she were revealed, being told by a half-dragon that it was acceptable to be of any species. What was more, he sincerely believed that interactions between different races were positive for all involved.
She was so stunned by his genuine faith in people and his universal acceptance of others that all she could do was lock eyes with him.
They arrived at the library a few moments later. It was shaped like a tree, which T’lemya found strange, but she passed it off as Elven taste. She was thrilled, however, when they entered the library. It was dark and gloomy, full of deep shadows – the perfect place to avoid detection. As Al’ev wandered off in search of books, T’lemya took to the shadows, almost disappearing in them, and began to scout the library for traps and quick escapes.
The library was, for the most part, boring. The first few floors held nothing of interest – no traps, no concealed passageways, not even someone to hide from. These mages and their books! It seemed as if, once writing was in front of their noses, they simply could not look away! She was used to actively avoiding others – the merchant in the street would have her hands for stealing bread so she didn’t starve, and the demon-hunting zealots would destroy her without a thought if they found out what she was – but these mages failed to provide even the slightest jolt of adrenaline!
Her efforts were rewarded, however, when she reached the higher levels of the library. A librarian waited outside the fourth floor, taking papers from people before allowing entrance. Perhaps she could not sneak past without risking too much of herself, but it did mean that there was likely a challenge headed her way. She liked challenges…
Satisfied that the interior of the library was as safe as it was going to be with a bunch of magic-users running about, she proceeded to examine the exterior. Though she may not have understood the draw of using tree shapes in architecture, the design was very convenient to climbing and perching, and she reveled in every second of her exploration.
For the most part, the exterior held nothing of interest – no apparent dangers, no concealed exits, no useful information – but she would continue her climb to be certain of its security. She reached one of the upper branches and perched to look out at the city. T’lemya was about to continue when a new scent reached her nose. The entire climb she had smelled only outside and city, but now there was a stale scent in the air, of stillness and musty books – a stronger version of what she had smelled inside the library – but she could find no visible opening. She followed the scent closer and closer to its origins, until she was certain she was as close as she could get, but still she could find no opening. Then she remembered where she was – a library for, and built by, magic users. Instead of continuing to scrabble about, she focused her attention on the wall. A section above her caught her attention.
To a normal person, or even to a distracted person, the wall would have appeared seamless, but T’lemya noticed there was a very slight difference in the texture of this particular section. It was too high above her for her to jump to reach it, so instead, she took her dagger out of its sheath. Holding it as an extension of her arm, she jumped, aiming to tap the tip of the dagger at the targeted section and… it disappeared into the wall.
Satisfied with her discovery, she made a mental note of the location of the exit in relation to the interior of the library, and descended. She returned to find Al’ev hunched over a stack of books, and decided to spend the last bit of the day monitoring the people who came and went.
The next day went much the way of the first. This time Al’ev worked on the second floor. He found no mention of half-dragons. He did, however, find a little information on how the guild’s tomes worked. It wasn’t the guild’s books exactly, but something very similar. They were used in ancient times to track criminals.
“Figures,” he commented dryly.
Some wizards also used them as spellbooks. But from what he could gleam, rendering it impossible to read was not something one could do. The closest thing to that which the book mentioned was thinking in different languages, which wouldn’t help if the language was legible to whomever you were trying to hide the info from. The only known methods of ceasing such a book’s writing was either destroying the one it wrote about, understandably not something Al’ev was wanting to do, or destroying the book, which was also something Al’ev didn’t want to do.
“So I’ll have to make a replica and steal the real one.” Al’ev sighed. “Goat wouldn’t be happy if he found out. But this could mean more than just my life if it was used to get to my friends as well.”
After leaving the library that evening, he decided to take stroll through the area that used to belong to his mother. When he arrived, he was surprised to see that the building was still there. Though it had clearly been damaged in the past, repairs appeared to have been completed. He stared at this building recognizing it for what it was. It was like a time portal of sorts. But it only worked on his mind, and his alone.
He was snapped out of his reminiscing by the sight of figures moving beyond curtains which were backlit by candlelight. A young boy’s laughter could be heard as a figure that had to be the boy’s father came into focus and picked up the boy.
He began to feel like he was intruding so he left the happy family to their evening. He began thinking more about his future on the way back to Micky T’s.
That family seemed so happy. He wondered if he would ever be able to have something like that someday.
The thought startled him. Did he really want that? He spent a while thinking about that question. By the time he laid down in bed he had admitted to himself that he did. He smiled as he began drifting off.
Sleep was fleeting, however. He awoke several times with images of his friend’s faces flashing in some strange light. He also thought he heard loud rumbling, and felt certain there was a sensation of magic in the images, but he couldn’t be sure. He hoped that they were alright but knew that if they weren’t, he couldn’t do anything for them as he was now.
They returned to the library the second day – a prospect that T’lemya had initially found completely unappealing. However, somewhere in the nonstop muttering and the excited chittering about the library, Al’ev had mentioned that it contained books about various species. And so, while the half-elf scoured the second floor, T’lemya proceeded to the section potentially containing books about Tieflings. Though there were no books specifically dedicated to them, she was excited to find an oversized encyclopedia that claimed to contain information about all sentient beings. She excitedly opened it, flipped to the desired section, and found…
… almost nothing. Every other species in the tome had pages upon pages – entire chapters – dedicated to them, but the Tiefling section was less than half a page in length.
“Tieflings are a half-breed species. However, unlike most other half-breeds, Tieflings do not receive their demonic blood through direct inheritance. Tieflings are created when a being makes a pact with a demonic-type creature. In exchange for power, the being must perform a sacrifice, and receives physical traits of the demonic being with whom they have made the pact. These physical traits are then passed on to their descendants.
Because of the nature of their creation, Tieflings are generally distrusted or hated by other beings. There have been many reports of Tieflings carrying an aura about them that makes others nervous. This effect is noticeable whether others are aware of the Tiefling’s demonic blood or not.
Historically, humans have been the beings who have chosen to make such pacts, and as a result, most Tieflings are half-human. The demonic side of their appearance varies drastically between individuals, depending on both random genetics and on the type of demonic creature that was involved in the pact. As such, Tieflings may vary in appearance between indistinguishable from normal humans to indistinguishable from full-fledged demons. Variations include the absence or presence of: various skin tones and eye colors, horns of every size, sharpened teeth, cloven feet, and non-prehensile tails.”
T’lemya felt her heart sink all the way into her stomach. Was there no more information than this? She desperately searched for any other reference of her species in any other book, but found no additional information. There was nothing left for her to do but return to following her newfound companion in his search. She kept to the shadows nearby, lost in thought.
There was no information on her species – not even in one of the most reputable libraries in existence. She had hoped that the encyclopedia would answer some of her questions. Instead, it left her with more. Dazed by her readings, her mind wandered… and suddenly, she remembered something that Little John had said to her.
It was a long time ago, and she was very young. Little John – her beloved captain – had taken her under his wing a little more than a month before, and they were returning to his hideout after a long day of training.
Her voice was incredibly soft. It was the first time she had spoken to him – perhaps the first time she had spoken ever, for all he knew. He stopped in his tracks and looked at her with kind eyes. “What is it?”
“…John, what am I?”
She had expected him to laugh at her, or mock her, or tell her that she was demon spawn that needed to be purged. She braced herself for his answer.
Instead, he pulled her aside and sat down next to her. “Look, T’lemya, if you want to know about where you came from, I can’t answer that. What I can tell you is that you are who you choose to be. Species has nothing to do with character, and character’s the only thing what matters ‘round here. I trust you, but you gotta learn to trust yourself if you wanna make it.”
She came out of her memory with a small smile on her face and a tear in her eye. She would be all right. What did it matter where she came from? She was T’lemya, and that was all that mattered.
She went to sleep that night missing Little John more than ever.
When he emerged from the inn on the third day after hastily gathering up his things, it felt like he hadn’t gotten any asleep at all. But he still had work to do. At least his scales hadn’t shown themselves since the mast incident.
He moved to the third floor and spent much of the morning examining the entrance to the fourth floor. There wasn’t anything very abnormal. Everyone who went up to the fourth floor only had to show some kind of paper. After asking a few of the people who came back down, he learned that this paper was required for admittance to the fourth floor. Al’ev thought about this as he finished looking through a few more books. He had grown quite frustrated by the time the sun began to set on the town he had once called home. The search was turning up nothing. He was wasting his time.
That time in the library ended shortly after the librarian, rather rudely, came in to kick him out.
Cursing, he asked to check out a pair of books for the night and promised to return them the next morning. She agreed to let him borrow the books if only to get him out of there sooner so she too could leave……
The third morning came and, as expected, Al’ev was anxious to return to the library. Having found nothing in her search the previous day, T’lemya rebelled at the thought of spending another day there. Books on magic were so boring!
Instead, she decided to explore the town some. Since she was on her own, she was thrilled to be able to take all the back alleys and rooftops she pleased, particularly when she was provided with plenty of shadows. She felt at home running undetected through the city, and was determined to enjoy every second of it. It was not meant to be, though, as her plans were interrupted with a single shout.
Normally, she would have ignored the sound – after all, people were often mugged in the alleyways, and it was usually none of her business – but this shout was slightly familiar, and enough so that she decided she must investigate.
Sticking to the shadows, she carefully peered around the corner of a building toward the direction of the sound. There, perhaps fifteen feet in front of her, was a group of three large middle-aged men in merchant clothing standing in a tight circle, kicking and beating at someone on the ground. Then one of the men stepped back, allowing her to view the victim. It was a young half-elf, slim and short for his race, with pure black hair. Then the half-elf rolled in an effort to avoid some of the blows, and she caught a flash of the palest of blue eyes.
She was in the midst of planning her next action when one of the men drew a knife, murder in his eyes. In one swift motion, without thinking or the slightest hesitation, she let her dagger fly, catching the man with the knife square between the eyes. The other two stopped, shocked by the sudden death of their cohort, and spun around, drawing their weapons – one held a short sword, while the other carried a heavy wooden club. In the shadows, they had no hope of seeing her, and she begged internally that they would run away.
They did not.
The man with the club advanced down the alley first, taunting and calling for her to come out and fight them. She knew it was better for her to hide than fight, and so she began to retreat around the corner. Unfortunately, this particular alley was littered with garbage, and in her retreat, T’lemya knocked over a pot at her feet.
It did not matter how skilled she was at hiding – she had given herself away.
The man with the club, already enraged by the death of his friend, appeared to become even angrier when he discovered T’lemya. “Demon! Murderer! I’ll kill you, you vile beast, and mount your head on my wall!!!” And with that, he swing his club with all his might in her direction. She was fortunate in that it was an attack made less accurate by his rage, but a large weapon in a small space meant that she had little room to dodge. She twisted out of the way as much as she could, but didn’t quite move fast enough, and the weapon connected with her hip. It was a glancing blow, to be sure, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t going to have a nasty bruise in the morning.
His attack had left him open, however, and survival instincts kicked in. He may have been a large, strong man, but she was fast, accurate, and practiced – a dagger between the ribs took him down silently and instantaneously.
The last man looked at her, clearly shocked by the sudden death of two friends. She had not forgotten the club man’s hatred, however, and so, with her electric green eyes locked onto the third man, she took a slow, menacing lick of her dagger, tasting the bitter iron of blood. The final man decided that it was not worth his life to attack her, and ran away without looking back.
T’lemya collected her thrown dagger, and then turned to the half-elf. He had managed to catch his breath by this point, and stood, dusting himself off. “I’m not sure why you saved me, but thank —” His sentence was cut off when he looked up and saw T’lemya standing before him. He rubbed his eyes, as if to make sure he was seeing correctly, and then broke out into a huge smile.
“T’lemya! What are you doing here?”
She returned the smile, spread her arms, and bowed to him.
“Nah, nah, none of that bowing stuff! Come here!” He embraced the reluctant Tiefling. Then his face turned serious. “Really, though, what are you doing here? What happened?”
T’lemya sighed. She knew she would have to speak to him to explain. She hated speaking.
The boy grinned mischievously, “Well, before you get all worked up over having to actually form words, let’s get to a safer place.”
He led her back to his personal hideout before asking again, “What happened? Did Zachariah go after you, too, or did you come to bring me home?”
She studied the boy for a long time before responding. “Zachariah is dead.”
“Oh, so you killed him! Great!”
“No?” He paused.
“No,” she answered quietly but firmly.
“Well, what happened, then?”
And so she explained, in as few words as possible, how Zachariah, the boy who had dressed as a Tiefling in order to bring about her death, had been killed in his flight from the Heroes of Kassadin.
“Well, that’s great – the little prick deserved it for what he did to us. But then, why are you here? Did you come to bring me back to Varalon?”
“No. John sent me away to protect me from people like Zachariah.”
“After all these years, you’re still the only one who calls him John… Ah, well, it’s better that you didn’t come to get me, anyway. I’ve made it into the guild here, and they seem to really like me!”
T’lemya paused for a second as a thought came across her mind. It could work, but only if…
“Calan… could we use your influence for John?”
“What, you mean to get him more contacts and whatnot?”
She nodded silently. Calan thought for a moment. “Yeah, I think they would listen to a proposition to work out an information deal between the Halar and Varalon guilds. You would have to come with me, though.”
She indicated her agreement and Calan led her to the rooftop where they proceeded for a few blocks in the direction of the library before dropping down. He approached an abandoned building, and made his way to one of the side windows, where he proceeded to produce a complicated series of knocks. A whistle came from the other side of the glass in response, and he led her around the other side of the building and into the basement.
The basement, it turned out, was actually a series of tunnels that appeared to run under a good portion of the town, and T’lemya didn’t doubt that there were multiple sets of these tunnels throughout the city. She entered the tunnel with Calan, and was met at the first junction by a group of ten.
One of them stepped forward – a gaunt man with a high brow and cheekbones, who wore an air of arrogance like the robe of royalty. “What is the meaning of this, Calan? Why have you brought a stranger into our midst?”
“Peter, this is T’lemya of Varalon, lieutenant to Little John, and a dear friend of mine. I have brought her here today that we might propose an alliance of sorts between the guilds of Halar and Varalon for the trade of information and potentially of favors.”
“Little John I trust, as you should be well aware Calan. But why should we trust her,” the man said glaring at T’lemya.
Calan then explained how he had often found himself in trouble when he was growing up in Varalon. As an urchin and part of Little John’s crew, he was expected to steal in order to survive, but that he had been a slow learner in the area of not getting caught. “On many occasions, T’lemya saved my life, allowing me to better my ability to survive on my own. She is also the reason that I was able to join your guild in the first place. Before I left Varalon, a boy named Zachariah had joined our guild – a xenophobe who hated all non-humans. He made several attempts on my life during various missions – all of which T’lemya thwarted.
Unfortunately, she was the only witness to these events, and Little John, who has always preached tolerance among members of his group, could not believe that any of his crew would try to kill another. To save my life, which was in constant danger while Zachariah lived, T’lemya helped me to fake my death, and then created enough of a distraction to allow me to sneak into a trade caravan and escape the town. The truth of her character continues, as she saved my life once again today. If you trust me, as you have indicated by allowing me to join your guild, and you trust Little John as you’ve already indicated, then you must trust T’lemya.”
Peter was silent for a few moments after Calan finished speaking. Then he let out a soft chuckle. “You really think it’s that easy? Certainly, I could take your word that she’s trustworthy, but what good is trust among thieves? You say she saved your life. I say that, in a hick town like Varalon, it would be easy to survive.” He approached T’lemya and started to circle her. “You certainly look the part of a thief: nice black leather, easy to maneuver and difficult to spot. But appearances mean nothing in a real town like Halar.” He looked haughtily toward the rest of his group, which was chuckling in agreement. “What proof do we have that she is anything more than another urchin, begging on the streets?”
He laughed loudly with the rest of the group, but as he turned around to gloat more, he caught sight of silver: her dagger under his chin, millimeters from his throat, and he had no idea how long it had been there. The others in the group went silent as they realized that their leader’s life was in the hands of the creature they had been insulting.
T’lemya locked eyes with him, staring with all of her intensity, and then slowly leaned forward and sniffed. “You look like a noble, but you stink like garbage.”
Though it was expected of guild leaders to never show fear under any circumstance, Peter’s eyes were screaming in terror. Sensing the deadly seriousness of the situation, Calan stepped in.
“As you can see, sir, she does have her skills,” Calan stammered, his words compressing somewhat out of nervousness. “The garbage comment was not an insult – she can actually smell it on you, and you know, it is policy to use dumpsters as methods of escape and espionage, sir. Little John trains his crew well, and T’lemya is the best to have come from Varalon. It may be worth your time to consider a pact with Varalon, sir.”
T’lemya continued to bore into Peter’s soul with her stare.
“Well… perhaps I did underestimate our friends in the Varalon guild. It seems as though Little John has chosen an acceptable lieutenant. Very well, perhaps we may discuss the terms of such an alliance…”
The dagger slowly pulled away from Peter’s neck, though T’lemya kept it drawn and remained prepared to spring into action.
Focused on T’lemya now, Peter asked, “What do you propose?”
She flicked her eyes to Calan, then back to Peter. Calan understood, and took over once again,
“The specific terms are something that would need to be discussed directly with Little John. However, I do know that he would like information about current events in Halar, particularly anything that would affect Varalon and his operations. Simple trade manifests of outbound cargo convoys highlighting profitable targets wouldn’t hurt either. He may want assistance in other areas, but information is his primary interest.”
“I see… in that case, we will need a mediator or ambassador to run between us.” Peter turned to T’lemya. “I assume that would be you?”
T’lemya shook her head. “Calan.”
Peter raised an eyebrow. “Calan? To do such a task? You would relinquish such an esteemed position to someone whose skill is so low that you have had to save him many times?”
Calan appeared ready to protest but he held his tongue when he saw the look on T’lemya’s face.
T’lemya looked from her friend to Peter and said again, “Calan.”
“Very well… Calan, escort your friend from our headquarters, then prepare for your return to Varalon. When you arrive tell Little John that we accept his proposal to form an alliance as presented by his capable lieutenant. Let him know that we will freely trade information with him through you, providing that he is willing to provide us with information as well. As far as I am concerned, any non-information services can be negotiated as-needed. And T’lemya…” He locked eyes with her. “You had better hope this alliance is worth my time, or your next visit to Halar might be rather… unfortunate.”
She simply flicked her tail and left, dagger still in hand. Calan had to walk fast to keep up with her pace.
Outside the headquarters, Calan turned to face her. “Thank you so much for everything, T’lemya. I owe you my life more times over than years that I have lived, and now I owe my position in the guild to you. It will be so nice to return home!”
She smiled at him and gave a slight bow. He hugged her once more before they parted ways. As she watched him leave, she hoped that she had made the right decision. She hoped that giving Calan the mediator position would protect his life from this new guild, and that it would make him indispensable. Then he rounded a corner and was gone.
Mind buzzing with nostalgia and hope for Calan and Little John, T’lemya made her way back to the library. It was almost dusk by the time she arrived, and she decided that perching in the branches outside the front door was just as effective as going inside to wait for Al’ev. As it turned out, this location was ideal for spotting Al’ev leave the library, as well as the movements of several other men…
Al’ev left the library absently scratching his neck, face buried in a book, as he made his way back to the inn. He missed the small group of men who discreetly followed him through the emptying streets of Halar. When he looked up from the book, finally, and saw that he made a wrong turn he decided to put the book away.
“Lucky I didn’t walk straight into a wall…” He muttered under his breath.
He turned to leave the alleyway he had entered but paused when he saw the group of men waiting at the entrance. Their weapons were already drawn.
“Your kind isn’t welcome in this town,” one said.
“You made a mistake by coming back here,” another threatened.
“Your kind killed my family sixteen years ago, monster,” a third yelled.
Why would these men have something against half-elves? They were a common sight in Halar. How did they know he had just come back after sixteen years? None of their words made sense. Unless…
His eyes widened and only then did Al’ev realize that he had forgotten his cloak that morning. That last remark was one of pure hatred. It was a type of hatred he too felt burning as bright as the fires that destroyed this town when he was younger. He couldn’t blame the men for wanting to take their anger out on him. Knowing how they felt, he doubted this was going to end without the crossing of blades. So Al’ev did the only thing he could.
He drew his weapon, the sword he had the guild custom make for him a week and a half prior.
“I’m not here to hurt you.”
“LIAR. Hurting people is ALL your kind EVER does!” the third yelled again, the fires of rage clearly visible in his eyes.
“Please. Don’t make me kill you.” Al’ev pleaded.
“As if you could, beast. You will die in this alley, monster. Halar will finally have revenge!” The speaker and his followers charged down the alley towards Al’ev.
As Al’ev cast a spell and a magic shield appeared on his right arm. He would need it to protect himself from the oncoming onslaught of blows, he thought, as he dropped into a defensive stance. Maybe he could wear them down and get out of this without killing them.
The first blow came in hard enough to shake that thought from his mind. Though Al’ev’s weapon had been created to fend off such attacks, the strike was strong enough to worry the magus. He knew he was in real trouble, however, when the first man’s attack was used to hide the second man’s thrust.
Al’ev’s reaction time was just enough to place another magical barrier in the way of this one, nearly stopping the blow completely.
The sword tip still left a shallow cut on the magus’s right forearm and the wound began to bleed.
Al’ev grunted as he pushed his attackers away with his sword and magical shield and he cursed. These men had military training and, judging by their age, were likely based in Halar back when the attack had happened. As such they probably had years of experience and training and would not be as easy to take down as the highwaymen who had assailed him the previous week.
Five to one odds were bad. But against opponents like these those numbers were downright terrible. Al’ev would have been slain by the second attack had he not had the benefit of his own time spent in Doul training as a soldier. Though he was prepared for their tricky tactics now, it was all Al’ev could do to continue to defend himself. His mind was racing but it kept coming back to the same thought. They’d wear him down much sooner than he’d wear them down. If he didn’t figure out something to…
Her daggers found their mark again. This time dropping a man who had managed to get into Al’ev’s blind spot. His allies saw this happen and broke off to see who was aiding the half-dragon. Almost as if she materialized from the shadows themselves, her eyes were all that they could see for the few moments it took for her to walk over to the dead man and pull her daggers out. Al’ev wasn’t certain, but he thought he saw her lick the dagger clean.
Four to two odds were better, but now he had to make sure someone else made it out of this alive as well. T’lemya was used to street tussles, yes, but he guessed she wasn’t as used to fighting ex-military men. If this dragged out long enough for her element of surprise to wear off, and it quickly was, things wouldn’t go well for her.
He decided the men had to die. He had warned them and they were clearly out to kill him. This had to end before he drew too much attention to himself or worse, T’lemya was injured.
Switching stances now, he began casting another spell which he then channeled through his sword. He swung at the man while he was distracted by T’lemya’s entrance. When the blade connected with the first of the attackers, electricity formed along the sword’s edge greatly damaging the skin the blade cleaved through. He screamed painfully before the blade finally reached a vital spot. He dropped to the ground already dead.
Two of the remaining men turned once more to face Al’ev. One brandished a chain with a strange spiked construct at its end. The second had a traditional axe which looked more useful at taking trees down than it was in hand to hand combat. The last remaining man pointed his sword at T’lemya and said, “I see the scaly bastard has brought a friend. Or perhaps you are something more, aren’t you, you little slu….”
He didn’t finish before T’lemya launched herself, daggers spinning, onto the man stabbing for his throat, releasing a harsh, gritty cry that scraped against the eardrums. That was as much as Al’ev could see before he too, was engaged in combat.
He caught the axe wielder’s weapon on his magic shield and dodged the chain on the first pass. As it did, an idea took him. Yes, it could work, and it would even the odds.
“You should have let me be. But now…” When the axe came away for another strike, Al’ev reached out and caught the swinging chain on his sword arm. Even through his chainmail it stung, but it was the result he was going for. Smirking, “…this ends for you.” He grabbed the chain and channeled another electric spell through it, straight to the man holding the other end of the weapon. The ex-military man dropped to the ground convulsing, lightning dancing around his body. Al’ev knew the man wasn’t dead yet, but he wasn’t getting up any time soon either.
T’lemya was standing again, viciously licking more blood off her daggers as she searched for her next target. Al’ev shuddered a little before turning towards the axe wielder. With only one target left, he hoped the man would just run. But it seemed the man was too far into his bloodlust to think clearly. His tactics and form had grown sloppy and Al’ev was able to easily dodge the first flurry the man unleashed. The man didn’t get a chance to launch a second flurry as Al’ev quickly ended the fight by running him through with his sword.
Al’ev turned once more to the man who had been convulsing on the ground intending to put him out of his misery, but T’lemya had beaten him to it. She was covered in blood from the man’s repeated stab wounds – and there appeared to be far more than necessary to kill the man. As she stood staring down at him, she emanated a soft sound. It was brief – no more than a few syllables – and, like her normal speaking voice, would have been lost in the noise of everyday life, but as it were, Al’ev was able to just make it out. It was harsh and gravelly, as her battle cry had been, and had a quality that seemed to grate on the nerves.
However, for just a moment, there was an undertone of music – a brief song, accompanied by a distant expression that most would have easily overlooked due to the unsettling air that her species gave off. The sound, and the expression, disappeared as quickly as they had appeared, to be replaced by her normal blank expression. She stared at the man for a few moments more before she started to walk away.
“Thank you. I’m not so sure I could have handled that one alone.” Al’ev said finally catching his breath.
She stopped, spread her arms wide, and gave a slight bow. Then she adeptly leapt onto a rooftop, disappearing from the magus’ sight.
“Still an enigma…” He muttered as she went.
Looking around at the dead men, he grew angry. Not at the men, no. They were just victims. He wasn’t even angry at himself, as he was beginning to see that he was a bit of a victim too. Instead he again cursed the blood in his veins and the scales that were once more hidden by his skin. For how long this time, he didn’t know.
“I need to figure out how to stop this before more people die needlessly….but how? There hasn’t been a single sentence in the library yet that has been helpful.” He began to hear the sound of feet hitting dirt accompanied by the clanging of metal armor approaching. The fighting had created enough noise that the town guard and others would surely be coming to see what had happened.
Al’ev decided to cast the flight spell on himself and then invisibility once more, using this combination to leave the scene without a trace. He left the alley just as the first town guards came into the alleyway.
Flying towards the stars, he realized that his search would lead him to the restricted areas of the library on the next day. He had known all along that he would have to make his way in. The fourth floor, he observed, would be easy to enter. All he needed were the papers, and swiping those would be quite simple. He didn’t know if he could make it into the fifth floor though.
He made his way out to Lake Halar to clean himself up while he puzzled at various methods he could use to get up to the fifth floor. Seeing the white foam rising as a result of The Tears of Larian in the distance, Al’ev Let his mind drift some more.
The Illundra were known well enough throughout the Arcane Library branches. After all, they had created them. So it would be impossible to get up to the fifth floor with only a piece of paper saying he was allowed entrance by the Illundra. It would be equally impossible to impersonate the mysterious magic wielders without more to go on than a few interactions and what he read in a few books.
As he washed his blade, he realized he’d probably have to break in if he couldn’t find what he needed on the fourth floor. If that happened, he’d probably have to make his way out of Halar quickly. There were bound to be a few magical defenses he’d have to deal with. He expected the use of alarm spells and possibly even wards. But he also suspected that the Illundra wouldn’t have overly strong defenses in the fifth floor of a branch library.
When he returned to the inn, he mentioned to T’lemya he’d be needing her help the next day and warned her to get some rest. Shortly after that he took his own advice and slept deeply, but his dreams were not pleasant.
He saw himself as he was today, the normal looking half-elf with brown hair that only hinted at his red scaled heritage. His friends stood on either side of him as they looked over a cliff together at something in the distance. The ocean, he realized as the scene became clearer, the ocean and the sun as it was just setting.
Al’ev was about to make a comment on how glorious it looked, but then Garyuu suddenly vanished. Al’ev was startled out of speaking and stared as Eremes followed in Garyuu’s wake. Garyuu disappearing made sense, but why had Eremes disappeared next? As he thought this his attention was stolen by another sight in the dream. Al’ev watched as his own visage grew marred by anger and slowly became more and more reminiscent of his brother until the transformation was total.
He managed to take his eyes from the wings that had grown out of his back just in time to see the last of his friends disappear. He now stood alone overlooking the ocean and the feeling echoed with an emptiness he felt in his heart. “Power is meaningless without others. You have nobody left to protect. You have failed,” his mother’s voice said angrily. He collapsed on the cliff edge and began to sob until something near the sun caught his eye. Standing up to face whatever it was, he began to roar as the forms of several dragons came flying out of the sun towards him. Then…
He awoke. It was everything he feared and all he was trying to avoid in one nutshell nightmare….
The sun’s rays shone through the shutters of his second story room reminding him of where he was. It was morning already and he had much to do. He couldn’t remember much of the dream, he realized as he prepared for the day. But something about it he felt he should have remembered. Something deeply concerning. Frowning, he shook the dream from his mind and left the room.
That morning he and T’lemya made their way through the marketplace. Al’ev held his cloak tighter over his form when he heard people discussing the deaths of the five men the previous night. He couldn’t help but notice that T’lemya had a bit more of a bounce in her step as the stories continued to spiral out of proportion.
They reached the Arcane Library of Halar and went inside. Al’ev dropped off the two books he had borrowed the previous day at the front desk. Then the two made their way up to central stairwell to the third floor where they appeared to busy themselves.
What they were really doing was planning their incursion into the fourth floor.
“So that’s why we’ll need two papers. One for each of us.” Al’ev said receiving nods as he explained the rest. “When we get up there, we’ll have two objectives, so to speak. One, I’m looking for any information on half dragons we can find. Two, it’s becoming increasingly likely that we’ll have to get up to the heavily restricted fifth floor. We’ll need to see if we can discern what defenses, if any, ward people off from it. But be careful. If worse comes to worse, we can come back tonight and finish up what we need to. Either way, we should make our way back to Trinity relatively soon. “
She didn’t say anything, but began staring into different aisles of books at the people who were down each.
“I like your attitude,” Al’ev said with a smile, “I’ll distract, you’ll swipe. Let’s get to it.”
T’lemya moved off to the darker parts of the third floor, of which there were many as the library’s lighting was strictly candlelight on this level. It was assumed that people would be able to create their own light if they needed more.
The first of their targets turned out to be a young adult human male, no more than 16 years of age, who looked eerily similar to Little John. But the kid must have had some special ability as he did have a paper in his hand with the seal of the Illundra on it.
Al’ev called the young man over and, seeing that the boy held several books that covered the schools of magic, engaged him in a conversation about the merits of different types of magic. The boy eventually started to argue what school was the greatest, stating that necromancy, while many considered it vile, was clearly the best.
“Even the fallen could aid you in battle!” He said a bit too loudly for a library and was shushed by several people at once. Al’ev had to admit that this boy’s position got under his skin a little as, out of all the schools of magic one could study, necromancy was not only the most vile, but perhaps the most evil as well. He missed when T’lemya easily swiped the boy’s paper and replaced it with an imposter.
When it was clear they had reached an impasse, the boy said something about being late and continued on his way out the door.
“Kids these days. ‘Oh I can raise the dead to do my bidding. They can fight my battles for me. It’s so great!’” Al’ev said mockingly. Seeing T’lemya staring at him with a slight tilt to her head, he remembered the whole reason he had called the young man over in the first place. “Did you get it?”
She let the paper materialize in front of his face.
“When did you…oh, I got too involved in that conversation…didn’t I?”
She smirked, then let Al’ev’s coin pouch materialize next to the paper.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” He took both items from her. “Thanks. I suppose that means we just need to find one more paper and make our way up.”
The second paper went much the way of the first. It disturbed Al’ev a bit when his next target was also a young adult around the age of sixteen. Perhaps more disturbing was the fact that she, too, favored the necromancy school.
While Al’ev got into another heated, but quieter argument with this girl, T’lemya swiped the girl’s paper. There was almost a bit of trouble when, just after she had removed it from the girl’s pouch, the young necromancer reached down to pull out the paper and wave it in front of Al’ev’s face to emphasize a point. Luckily T’lemya had quickly replaced it with a forgery as she had the first. But it was close.
They met again in another aisle and T’lemya indicated her success.
“Well, at least that time I saw you take it.” Al’ev chuckled. “Let’s go see if that was worth it.”
They made their way up to the fourth floor where they were quickly asked to show the Illundra seal on their papers.
When the librarian was satisfied, the two of them were allowed to go about their business. Al’ev noted that this floor looked like the previous two, though the floor space in the room was actually smaller. That wasn’t surprising as the building did appear to narrow, much as a tree normally would, as one moved higher.
He wasn’t at all surprised that the sense of magic was strong above them and around them. It had been throughout the library. But it certainly felt stronger now that they were on the fourth floor.
“Interesting. Okay, keep an eye on the entrance to the fifth floor. And let me know if you find any books mentioning dragons…specifically half dragons.”
They spent the next few hours looking around – Al’ev focusing on the bookshelves while T’lemya searched the area for any danger, as she was wont to do. Al’ev was elated at finding several books covering subjects he hadn’t seen before, nothing specifically about half-dragons, but several about truly ancient dragons.
Then, much to Al’ev’s surprise, T’lemya found the motherload, so to speak. It was a very plain book that she handed to him quietly. He looked over the cover and found it odd he hadn’t thought to look for a book like this one sooner.
“Works of the Ages: A Study of Novels,” Al’ev said quietly and began flipping through it. When he was about halfway through the book, T’lemya stopped him and flipped it a page back.
She simply pointed her finger at the title.
“Dragons and Other Races: A Comprehensive Study of Dragon Interactions with Other Races” He stood transfixed. This sounded exactly like the kind of book he was after. “That sounds exactly like what I need. I wonder if…” He read the description under the title. It confirmed what he suspected. This book had what he needed to know.
“Now, where to find it? Ah, no way!” He was elated. Some genius author/magician out there had imbued this book with the ability to trace where all the works it mentioned within were at any given time. There were only three copies of “Dragons and Other Races” listed within the book. One could be found in the Arcane Library of Caori in the Illundra restricted section there. That was out of the question as Al’ev knew for a fact that the Illundra frequently conducted research there. Another was listed as destroyed and therefore was a lost cause. But the third copy was much more promising.
“Arcane Library of Halar- Illundra restricted section.” So it was there, just above their heads. He was so close to possibly finding the answers he had been after for half of his life. His hands were beginning to shake in anticipation.
“It’s here T’lemya. We need to get up to that fifth floor…” He thought about it and began to walk over to the staircase which led up to the fifth floor but T’lemya grabbed his arm and pulled him the opposite direction. “Now what are you doing? The stairwell is over there!” He whispered quickly.
She shook her head and pointed at the wall on the opposite side of the room.
“What about it?” He said, puzzled.
She looked at him and pointed again.
“Would you just…oh. Oh!” A breeze had just hit the wall from a nearby window and caused the wall to shimmer a little. It was not something that one would consider normally characteristic of a wooden wall. “Clever…how did you see that?”
She just grinned and her tail swished back and forth a bit.
“I should have guessed they’d do something like that. Show an obvious entrance but hide the true one behind magic. I’d hate to find out where that false staircase leads. Probably isn’t as pretty…” He looked back at the staircase, mind racing.
Now that they had found the entrance, they had to make a decision on what to do. Entering now would not be wise as many people would see them. So that meant they had to enter when everyone had left for the night. But as they had seen the previous nights, the Librarians made sure every floor was empty before they left for the night.
“Okay, I’ve been thinking about how we’d be able to enter this place after it closed and determined that the easy way to get in after dark was to just not leave. So we’ll have to stay hidden until everyone is gone. I don’t think you’ll argue with that, will you?”
She shook her head, then quickly scrambled up the nearest bookshelf, perched in the rafters, and looked down at him with a grin.
“Excellent idea. This may sound a bit silly to you, but when I worked as a librarian in the past, I don’t remember looking up at the ceiling of the library very often. My eyes were usually too focused on books. So let’s say we hide up there when they’re closing. With a little invisibility, we’d be able to hide quite easily. The magic in this place is so strong that even if they did detect magic use, they wouldn’t know if it was something occurring naturally or otherwise.”
And so they put their plan in motion. All it took was a little climb into the rafters to get it started. Once he was in place, Al’ev turned to cast invisibility on his Tiefling companion and himself only to watch her disappear into the shadows. When all had gone silent, Al’ev pulled out his spell book and read a spell he had never used before.
“Okay, this isn’t something I can use very often, but it should be quite helpful here.” He muttered a few strange words and gestured strangely. When he was done, his eyes had started glowing a strange blue.
T’lemya, who had emerged from the shadows to join him, was looking at him funny.
“No, I’m not trying to mock you. This spell lets me literally see the magic around us. It will help me find any magic obstacles we may come across when we get up there.”
She nodded and dropped silently to the floor. Al’ev followed closely behind. They approached the hidden doorway and cautiously proceeded through it. Beyond the false wall was a staircase that led up and another that led down. About 10 steps up, Al’ev saw the first of the magical defenses.
“Just a second. It’s an alarm spell. If we would have stepped beyond this,” He pointed to an invisible line and traced it wall to wall, “it would have alerted the caster to our presence.” He looked into his spellbook and found the appropriate spell to suppress the alarm for an hour. “That should give us a little time.”
When they reached the first landing of the stairwell, it was T’lemya who stopped Al’ev by throwing her arm out in front of his chest. Al’ev looked at her questioningly as she started searching the walls. Then he heard a click as she pressed something in the wall and another from the floor just in front of them.
“Ah, trapdoor. Not very original….oops!” It was again Al’ev’s turn to stop T’lemya. “I take it back. I almost missed it, but when you hit that button a rune appeared on the floor where I imagine that trapdoor is.” He pointed it out. “See? I know those symbols well. It is a rune of fire imposed on one of lighting. Certainly wouldn’t have felt good. Let’s see…” He looked through his book again. “Ah yes!” He worked his fingers around the rune and T’lemya watched as it slowly disappeared.
“I reversed the spell for writing magic.” He smiled. “Come on.”
And so they went, working their way up a surprisingly long stair well that wound its way up more than 30 feet. Along the way they found more traps, but between the two of them they were able to make it through without tripping any of them. Finally reaching the end, they emerged into a very tiny room that contained only a pair of bookshelves. The layers of dust that lay on everything told them that this area of the library hadn’t been accessed in quite some time.
“Not much of a private collection…” Al’ev said as he started to look through the shelves. “Be careful with these books. Most of them have strange magical auras around them. I’ve heard rumors of books that attacked people that were trying to read the secrets they held within.”
Eventually Al’ev found the book he was after. He pulled it from the shelf and was delighted to find it didn’t have any strange magical auras he couldn’t identify. But it was a hefty novel.
It held promise.
“I’ve got it. We should get out of here. My suppression of that alarm spell is probably going to wear off in the next ten minutes or so.”
T’lemya gestured to the other books on the shelves and Al’ev knew what she was thinking. With a sigh he said “I’d love to take the rest of them with us. I’m sure they hold untold wonders within. But we can’t. They’d know for certain someone had been here. The longer it takes them to realize this, the better. Let’s go.” He shoved the book into the bag along with the other book that led him to it in the first place.
The two then made their way back down to the fourth floor, keeping a cautious eye out for more traps. They found that a couple of the mechanical traps had managed to reset in the short time they were up in the Illundra room, but they were ready for them. After some time of proceeding down, they reached the fourth story landing where they had first entered the stairwell.
Al’ev paused for a moment. “T’lemya, do you think these stairs lead out?” He gestured to the stairs going down.
She grinned, nodded and started walking down, tail again swishing.
“I take it you know where this goes.”
She nodded again and continued walking.
“Works for me.” Al’ev said with a shrug.
The bottom of the stairwell ended with no visible exit out. But T’lemya walked straight into a wall and through it. It was another illusion. Al’ev found out that the other side was the open air in Halar. The Tiefling was still grinning, tail swishing, looking very pleased with herself.
“I suppose it makes sense. If you wanted to make a quick exit, and couldn’t use magic to do so, then you’d want something like this. They learn from the past well.” He looked out over the marketplace of Halar and could almost see the flames rising again. “They had much to learn from…”
Al’ev and T’lemya went back to the inn and gathered the rest of their things.
“Back to Trinity.” Al’ev said simply. “It’s been about two weeks since they left on the ship. By now they should have reported to Goat. He’ll know if we need to head back that way or not.”
And so they made their way back to Trinity. Along the way Al’ev began delving into the book he had procured. He was anxious to find out anything he could about others like himself.
Especially if they had mentioned anything about how they handled their transformations. The first thing he noticed was something he had missed initially, and it nearly knocked him out of his saddle.
“This book,” he said quietly, “it’s written by that girl in The Forgotten Tails.” He stared quietly at the name and then read it out loud. “Aris, Aris Ashensoul. She was real…” Throughout their travel during the first day, he was able to read a good portion of the book, finding a few answers to some of his numerous questions.
Aris Ashensoul had written this work only four centuries prior. This meant that, given she was half dragon, she may very well still be alive somewhere. “Perhaps something to look into later…” he mused as he flipped another page.
Some of the story talked about in The Forgotten Tails turned out to be true. The incident in the marketplace that the story was centered around had happened. But there were a few things that hadn’t happened.
Firstly, she hadn’t lived in the town all her life as the story had said. Instead she had been merely passing through and had stopped for provisions she needed to continue along her journey. Secondly, she had left the town before word of what she was could spread. Aris was never hunted by any dragon hunters. Such people were frowned upon even more so than those of half-dragon blood back then. Apparently there we many more half-dragons in the world then, too, as Aris mentioned she had regular contact with several in her writings as well, including one who had red dragon blood in his veins.
Then Al’ev got to the part he had been looking for the entire time. Aris had spoken with several of these half-dragons and compiled a short list of ways to make the transformation, which always started when the person was in their mid to late 20’s, easier. She split them into two categories. The first was full of ways one could transform, but they’d lose themselves. Then, in the second category, there were a few ways of maintaining one’s mind without losing themselves to their dragon blood. She mentioned performing arts as one such method. This section stuck out to Al’ev, as he didn’t discount the fact that dance, as silly as it may have seemed, was one of those arts that had been mentioned.
Aris went on to warn that not succumbing to the blood wasn’t easy to do, but that, with enough willpower, it was possible. She made it another point to mark down how those who didn’t take the paths outlined in the second category had ended up dying after viciously, mindlessly, attacking various villages and towns at the slightest provocation.
“So I have a chance.” He said as he finished his reading for the night. He put away the book and pulled out his mother’s stone. “You knew. That’s why you taught me how to dance when I was younger. Or had tried to…You really are amazing, Mom.”
He still had a lot of the book left to read, but what he had read had heartened him. He thought about what his mother had been saying when he was learning how to dance but couldn’t recall many of the details. He decided that sleep had to come first before the details would surface and so he let exhaustion take him.
He didn’t dream that night.
Al’ev and T’lemya woke up the next morning and continued on to Trinity. If they pushed it, Al’ev knew they could probably reach the mega city within that day. Relating this information to his companion, they started off at a good pace.
About 18 hours away from the metropolis is when they spotted the first sign of trouble.
Lots of smoke.
It rose like a pillar into the sky and pooled into a massive cloud above the metropolis. Lighting lanced across the cloud’s length every now and then illuminating the countryside for miles. It was the only illumination to be seen as the sun itself wasn’t able to penetrate the acrid cloud that was spreading above.
Al’ev put a bit more urgency into his horse’s stride.
They were still hours away from the city by the time they saw the flames reaching into the night sky. The flames had to be several stories high to be seen this far away from the city.
“I know this scene…” It was all Al’ev could manage before he spurred his mount onwards once more.
It was like riding into a nightmare spawned straight out of his childhood. It was eerily similar to the illusion the witch in the Quellion woods had cast upon him and he shuddered at both realizations.
When they were an hour away, the scent of burning skin assailed them. About thirty minutes away, the smoke became thick enough to force Al’ev and T’lemya to cover up their faces with their cloaks.
When they finally reached the once great city walls, Al’ev wasn’t surprised to see that the guards were not at their posts. Whole sections of the grand walls had collapsed. Entire segments, easily 20 feet across, were missing as though something had torn giant chunks from the wall.
Just inside the gates that led into the Elven district of Trinity, they found out why the guards were not on guard duty. They were too busy helping injured people to be checking everyone who entered.
A few minutes in, they also found the missing chunks of the city wall. It was apparent that they had been used to crush several buildings within the city, sometimes even more than one building per wall section.
The situation was dire enough that T’lemya didn’t even bother to hide her presence, Al’ev noted as he directed the mount towards the center of the city.
“What has happened here? The city was perfectly fine only six days ago. Now it looks like it was the very center of a battlefield.” He looked around a bit more and saw the bodies of several children who were long gone. “Or hell…”
By the time they reached the central sections of Trinity, another hour had passed. The debris that littered the streets ranged from various household objects to entire households and they had proven very difficult to navigate on horseback, so Al’ev had to dismiss the steed which was more than happy to leave. It appeared that at least half of Trinity had been razed.
With what was left of the guild hall now in sight, the two walked into the remains of the lobby area and found Groatal as well as Trevor resting on a pair of the few remaining benches.
Al’ev walked over and shook Goat awake.
“What happened here, Goat?” Al’ev asked quietly though he had known the answer when he had first seen the smoke.
Goat’s eyes snapped open and Al’ev had to dance back to avoid the guild master’s weapon which had seemed to appear from nowhere. When recognition finally made it into his bloodshot eyes he answered Al’ev’s question. “We were right. It was the Reds.”
Al’ev stood in silence. So he was right. They had attacked Trinity. If they were willing to attack a place like this…then nothing was beyond them now…
“Tell me how it happened.” He said quietly, absently itching as his chest. T’lemya stood quietly beside him, listening as the Guild Master described what had started as an ordinary day in the once peaceful city of Trinity.