To most people, the loss of everything they had ever known would have been enough to crush their will to continue on. But Al’ev was determined, as always, to make things right again. It was all he ever strived for.
But where do I start?
A dragon’s roar told him that the answer to that question. He would first have to get out of there and fast. He began to run as smoke drifting out of the burning town continued to fill the air between the trees.
The fires that had been started in Halar had been spewing out plenty of smoke, but the wind had shifted directions, as it often did this time of year, and now blew the smoke out of the town and into the forests to the west.
Al’ev hoped that this would work to his advantage, blocking out the vision of any dragons that would be flying by. He was aware that he was not to use magic to aid in his escape, though he did know several spells that could do so. Magic would draw unwanted attention from Brelzic, from his father. That is what his mother had said.
Do I have to cast a spell in order to give myself away? Or does my aura provide enough of a beacon?
The thought haunted him as he continued to run, half expecting a gigantic beast to drop out of the sky and snatch him up in its claws. A few minutes of jogging and he realized that something else was running through the brush somewhere behind him.
Have they found me already?
He paused behind a tree and listened.
The snap of a twig in the distance combined with some red draconic filling the night air from the same direction told him enough.
If I can’t outrun them maybe I can hide? Joshua had mentioned something about there being caves in this area once.
Al’ev started running again, looking for anything that may indicate the location of a cave. It was difficult to make much out in the little light that made it through the smoke in the air and Al’ev noted that it was beginning to get harder to breath. More branches snapped behind him.
“Gods help me…” He whispered as he frantically looked around for anything that could work as a hiding place.
A beam of moonlight caught his eye and he stood transfixed for a moment. This light seemed far more intense than normal moonlight, though he guessed that was because the smoke in the air made the rest of the moonlight very dim.
How is that light finding its way through the smoke?
He couldn’t help himself. It was too odd not to take a look. He cautiously made his way over, attention upon the sky. He stepped into the moonlight and was shocked to find that the air within it was free of smoke.
“What in the world….”
As though the light heard him it started moving off to the South. He followed, staying just inside the ring of smoke free air as it went. He continued on like this for a few minutes, knowing that it was very abnormal for something like this to happen. But the tingle of magic didn’t fill his body which caused him puzzle over what was happening.
Then there was suddenly no ground beneath his right foot. This forced him to quickly look down where he saw a large hole in the ground. He tried to regain his balance but after a fraction of a second, he failed and fell into the hole.
Doing what he could to lessen any damage from the fall, he tucked into a ball in an attempt to protect his head. He hit the ground hard after a moment of falling and then rolled down a slope, deeper into the cave. Then he came to a sudden stop after colliding with a large boulder as an audible snap could be heard from his leg.The wave of pain that accompanied the sound told him that it was probably broken. Despite this he tried to get up and the next wave of pain turned out to be more like a tidal wave. He screamed out in agony, blacking out shortly after as he hit the ground. Before he lost consciousness, he could have sworn he heard the sound of footsteps from near the cave’s entrance.
When he awoke, he had no idea how long he had been out for. He did know that he was no longer on the stone ground. Someone had put a blanket down and placed him upon it. Whoever had done this was also likely responsible for the makeshift splint on his leg.
As he tried to sit up someone spoke from behind him. It was a female voice, one he found oddly familiar.
“Slowly there Reldin. You took a nasty fall.”
She strode forward from behind him and into his vision allowing him to get a good look at her. Comprehension quickly dawned on him.
“Nelya! But how?”
“Nice to see you too.”
“I’m sorry, but I had feared you were dead. Where is Joshua?”
“He’s out taking a look around. We both made it out of the town just after the Fort went up in flames. Blasted dragons! Their kind should be made extinct for this atrocity!”
Al’ev heard a lot of hatred in her voice and part of him went very cold. He realized why after only a few moments. He was half-dragon. What would she do if she knew this? What would she do if she knew he was the reason why the dragons had fallen upon Halar?
He noticed she was staring at him.
“I’m sorry, I just…it’s all still a shock.”
“Where is your girl? Melesteil was it?”
“She went with her parents to Caori.” He looked off to nothing in particular behind Nelya as he fingered the yellow ribbon Mel had given him. “I pray that she made it…”
“You two were close, yes?”
“Closer than we knew…until just before the attack.”
“What of your mother?”
“She….” He paused. He didn’t know how to answer Nelya. Telling her that she vanished in a flash of light would reveal that Nalef was a arcane magic user. It would make her suspicious about him. From what he gathered from his mother before she had gone, this was not something he should make widely known. “She’s gone.” He decided not to lie, but not to tell the whole truth.
“I’m sorry. How? No, never mind. I wouldn’t want to relive it either.”
After a few moments he ventured forward with another question. “How long was I out, Nelya?”
“It was a good while.” She indicated the sunlight sneaking into the cave from near the entrance.
Al’ev watched as a rope dropped into the cave and a human boy dropped down it.
“There you are! I was worried about you. What took so long?” Nelya said.
“I went a bit further towards the town to get a better idea of the situation there. I didn’t see any dragons, but the fires were still burning. I didn’t see anybody alive. What about Al’ev, is he okay.”
“Just fine, thanks to you guys.”
“Oh good, you’re awake. Had me worried there. Do you think you’ll be able to walk any time soon?”
“I don’t think so. This leg got pretty banged up when I fell.”
“Yeah, I knew it would have to be painful for you to scream out so loud that we could find you. I knew we were following someone, but we didn’t know who until we heard that.”
“So that was you behind me? Then it wasn’t dragons…”
“No, they were too busy destroying the town to hunt down a few kids like us, blasted beasts. If I ever see one of those creatures again, I’ll be sure to place a sword right through its eye.”
Joshua looked down at Al’ev.
“Where is Mel? What happened to your Mom?”
“I got Mel and her family out of the town…but we were separated in the forest. I think they were heading to Caori. Mom is gone.”
Joshua looked away after a few moments and wiped a tear away from his face. Al’ev had never seen him cry before. “I’m sorry Al’ev.”
“If we make it out of here, Joshua, I’m sure it will be those dragons who are sorry.” Nelya said.
He looked over at Nelya as she spoke. “I’m going to go see about getting you some crutches. Nelya and I are going back into the town as soon as we can. We don’t know where our families are, but maybe we can find some clues when we get there.”
Al’ev nodded and then put his head back down on the ground.
The three of them spent the rest of the day in relative silence. Clearly shock had gotten to all three of them and worry ate away at their moods as the night continued on.
The following morning, his fifteenth birthday, Al’ev was helped out of the cave and, with a pair of crutches assisting him, the three of them made it back towards Halar.
Smoke still arose from the town, but there was nothing moving from what they could see. The smell of burning skin assailed their noses as they drew closer. The front entrance had been destroyed and they found it somewhat difficult to navigate the stone that had spilled about the ground surrounding the area.
Finally inside what remained of the town’s outermost walls, they decided to make their way past the Fort and to Nelya’s house. They arrived to find cinder ridden rubble.
Nelya was silent, but Al’ev could see how tense she was as he was forced to stand back and watch Joshua and her dig through the rubble.
Al’ev looked around the area, searching for anything that would have been out of the ordinary. He didn’t feel comfortable being back here. Decorations from the Festival of Unity still hung from several buildings that remained mostly intact. Several bore the signature signs of having been on fire. The town had been at the height of its celebrations when the attack had come. It was devastating to even set foot there again. He looked back down the road to where smoke still rose from the fort.
If only I’d known, maybe I could have done something…
A loud gasp from Nelya caused him to turn back towards the smoldering home.
He saw her standing on top of the rubble with her hands over her mouth and started to make his way to her, carefully. Joshua beat him there, as he wasn’t as hindered by a broken leg as Al’ev was. He was quick to take Nelya into his arms and she turned and began crying into his shoulder. The two didn’t say anything, but Al’ev knew what the reaction had meant.
He made it over to them and found the charred skeletons of a pair of adult elves as well as three smaller elven children of varying sizes, probably no more than seven years old.
Nelya’s family had not made it out of Halar alive.
Eventually Joshua was able to pull her from the rubble and the three of them stayed a long time outside the home.
Al’ev spoke a few words of remembrance, much in accordance with what he had seen the cleric Tif do at funerals for those who followed Sarenrae. Al’ev didn’t know if that was who Nelya’s family worshiped, but he suspected it didn’t much matter to her.
They eventually moved on from her home and went to Joshua’s home, passing the destroyed Church of Sarenrae. The Drovernath residence was no more than stone and cinder, just as Nelya’s home had been. Joshua hesitated for a long while before Al’ev placed a hand on his shoulder.
“You have to be sure. Come on. No matter what we find you still have Nelya and me. You’re not alone.”
Joshua simply nodded and the three of them started going through the rubble. The light was starting to dim by the time they found what they feared they would. In the back yard of the home, Al’ev found a large scorched area of earth and called the other two over.
“I’m sorry Joshua….”
“It’s….okay. I figured they didn’t make it.” He said wiping a tear from his eye. “But I swear Al’ev. When I find the ones responsible for this, I’ll kill them without a second thought.”
Al’ev didn’t say anything. In a way, he was responsible for this. Saying as much now was not something he thought Joshua or Nelya would handle well. He’d have to keep that information to himself for a while as well.
“We should see if we can find any weapons laying about that we can use.” Al’ev suggested after some time of silence.
“Why? There is nothing left here for us to fight.” Joshua asked.
“Because we can’t stay here. We have to go somewhere else and we don’t know what will be standing in our way. I’ll feel safer knowing we have a chance of defending ourselves than if we had left without weapons.”
“He’s right, Joshua. We should be able to find something near the garrison…”
Al’ev winced at the thought but knew that she was right. That was the most likely place to find arms in a town like Halar.
They made their way through the debris littered streets of the decimated Halar and found several longswords laying by the charred skeletons of dead Halarian guardsmen. They had no way of identifying any of these brave souls, but not one of them would forget the men who had taught them to wield the blade and the ones who served beneath those men. Al’ev again said a few words of remembrance in accordance with the followers of Sarenrae then went back to assisting the others.
After gathering a few supplies from the marketplace, they began to make for the town’s entrance. As they rounded the final corner around a building, Joshua slammed into someone.
“And where might ye be going?” The dwarf said as Joshua rebounded off of him.
Al’ev looked the man over. He was little more than four feet tall. He had a short, well kept beard and wore steel plated armor with a cape flapping in the wind behind him. At his side was a war axe of a type Al’ev had not seen before as well as a small hatchet. “Who are you?” Al’ev said as Nelya helped Joshua off the ground.
“I asked ye a question first. Don’t make me ask again.”
“To be honest, we’re not sure where we’re going.” Al’ev answered.
“We’ve lost everything keeping us here, so we have no reason to stay.” Joshua said.
“So ye saw what happened to this town then?” The dwarf said, hands on his hips.
“The events of the night that put the town in this state are forever etched into my soul, sir.” Al’ev decided to try speaking a bit more politely.
“Perhaps we will listen to this story of yours and decide what to do with ye after that.”
Al’ev finally took in the line of similarly dressed dwarves behind the man. They appeared to be heavily armored as well, most carrying war axes but several with other weapons. There had to be twenty of them.
“You’re from the Doulish army, aren’t you?” Al’ev said, finally understanding who he was looking at.
“Aye, that we are.”
Al’ev thought about the implications of an army from Doul showing up within the trade town of Halar.
Where are the elven armies? Why was Doul the first to respond? How did they get here so quickly? It has only been a few days.
“I’m sorry if I’m come off as being rude…” He was searching for the proper title to address the dwarf with.
“Ah, captain. But would you mind answering how you managed to get here so quickly? Word of Halar’s destruction should only be reaching other cities by today at the earliest. A response this fast is hard to believe.”
“Ye seem to be a sharp one, so answer me this. If we had known the town had been sacked, do you think we would only send a single platoon to investigate?”
“Ye would be right. We were on patrol when one of my scouts saw smoke coming from this direction. We decided to see what was going on.”
That makes sense. But I still don’t know if I should trust him. Those fireworks that destroyed the fort came from Doul…
“Well if you don’t want to tell them about the dragons, Al’ev, then I will.” Joshua said.
“Please do. I just…need a moment. It’s all hitting me again.” Al’ev lied.
Joshua and Nelya related the tail of the destruction of Halar to the dwarves who had formed into two lines of ten soldiers each behind Captain Ozgral.
“So ye be sayn’ that a bunch of Reds flew in and destroyed the town for no apparent reason? And that some of the fireworks we sent exploded just before the attack, destroying part of the garrison?”
All three nodded.
“We’ll have to get this information back to my superiors as soon as possible.” He signaled one of his scouts who was atop what appeared to be a giant rabbit with a saddle attached to it.
Al’ev realized the creature was a rabbyd, a beast used as a mount in the Grand Army of Doul. These creatures were comparable to a common horse used in other nations and, like their smaller rabbit cousins, could be quite vicious if not trained properly. Al’ev also recalled that, with their sharp claws and teeth, they could be more than vicious if they were trained properly.
“Fortarg. Take all that ye have heard here straight to General Gonasta. No doubt she’ll have instructions for ye from there. Ride fast soldier.” Captain Ozgral watched Fortarg ride off upon the back of his rabbyd then turned back to Al’ev, Nelya and Joshua. “Ye mentioned something about having trained with the Halarian Guard but ye only be children. Why would the guardsmen train ye.”
They looked at each other.
“It was for the Day of the Swordsman.”
“Ye still celebrated that ancient holiday?”
The children nodded.
“Al’ev here was this year’s champion.” Joshua said.
“If that be true, where is the blade?”
“I was wondering where it went myself actually. You had it at the festival, didn’t you Al’ev.”
He nodded. “I let Mel hold onto it.”
“Who is this ‘Mel?’” The Captain asked.
“She is someone very close to him. Why?”
“Don’t ye worry about that. Can ye at least describe the blade to me.”
Al’ev didn’t hesitate. “Perfectly balanced, it seemed to have a feel of age about it. It’s edge was very sharp. The pummel had the symbol of the Halarian guard on it. A tree that looked much like the arcane library…well, before all of this.”
“That be the blade. I’m inclined to believe ye, though my gut says that I shouldn’t. You said ye have nowhere else to be and that everything ye had was destroyed here?”
They all stared at him for several painful moments then nodded.
“Would any of ye be interested in joining the Doulish army. Perhaps we’d give you a chance for revenge against those scaly death mongrels.”
Al’ev didn’t even hesitate. He knew where the captain had been going with this all along. “Captain, I’d be honored to join your ranks if it meant getting stronger.”
“Me too. I won’t forget what happened here. Those dragons will pay. I swear it.” Joshua said, standing by Al’ev.
Nelya stood up. “I won’t let my family’s death mean nothing. I will join your ranks as well if it means getting a chance to go after those beasts.”
“Aye, I figured ye’d say as much. We will head back to our own garrison located near the village of Dorn on the morrow.”
“That’s not too far from here.” Al’ev observed.
“No, it isn’t. When we get there we will test yer skills with a blade. If ye pass, we will allow you to enlist.”
“Captain, I may have won the tournament, but I doubt I could fight well enough to pass a military grade test on just one leg.”
“Aye, that would be difficult. Nora?” He turned back to his troops and Al’ev saw a dwarven woman, who appeared to be dressed in a heavily armored garb belonging to some deity he didn’t recognize, step forward. It was clear she was a cleric. “Please attend to this boy’s injury. The rest of you. Set up camp outside the walls and be ready to leave in the morn.”
The dwarves did as the captain ordered and got to work setting up tents. Nora was able to heal Al’ev’s leg with little apparent effort. Al’ev guessed that the dwarven cleric had seen far worse during her service with the Doulish army.
The night went by slowly. Al’ev listened as he heard crying from the tent the soldiers had lent to Joshua and Nelya. The noises continued on and off throughout the night. He felt terrible knowing that his mere existence had caused their families to perish. This thought haunted his own mind throughout the night. The few times it wasn’t, he thought of his mother and of Mel and hoped they were both okay.
When he awoke the next morning, he finally realized that there wasn’t anything he could do about his situation but continue forward. He would head to Doul with Joshua and Nelya and they would gain a higher level of martial prowess. Perhaps they’d even gain the ability to obtain revenge for all they had lost the night Halar was destroyed.