Shortly after their arrival in Dorn, Joshua, Al’ev, and Nelya were put through rigorous tests to examine how skilled they were. These tests had gone exceedingly well. Captain Ozgral was impressed with their knowledge of the rings of defense, claiming that the principles the rings relied on came from old Dwarven philosophy. The captain was even more impressed when he found out how young they each were. When it became clear that their prowess with a blade was enough to get them into the Dwarven ranks, he immediately petitioned to have them assigned to his platoon.
Receiving orders from General Gonasta, the three were allowed to join the Grand Army of Doul after swearing allegiance to the nation. They began a rigid training regiment during their second week of living in Doul. The focus varied greatly. Everything from mastering the many different weapons commonly used in military units to riding the deceptively ferocious rabbyds.
Nelya and Joshua had it the worst, but it wasn’t because of the physical aspects of the training. Instead it was simply due to the language barrier that they all had to get past. Dwarven was a strange language to master for those who had been used to Elven and Common their entire lives. Al’ev had a natural talent for picking up languages on the fly and had already mastered Elven, Dwarven, Common, Draconic, Ignan and Sylvan before they had come to be in this land.
So, while he sometimes chose to help his friends out with learning the native language of Doul, he spent the rest of his down time reading whatever could be found in the books around the garrison and in the nearby town of Dorn.
Dorn had no town guard of its own and instead relied on the Grand Army of Doul for its police force. When Al’ev asked Captain Ozgral about this, he explained that the army had always acted in this capacity. The people enjoyed a higher level of security than that of neighboring nations, but they also had more restricted freedoms. It was something Al’ev had a hard time understanding and would continue to for quite a while during his time in Doul.
Another major change for Al’ev was the dwarven view on religions. Gone were the mentions of the forgiving Sarenrae. Instead, mentions of Torag and Cayden Cailean prevailed. Al’ev found he had some interest in Torag’s focus on strategy and protection, but he also found the dwarf’s philosophies to be a bit too focused on defense. Al’ev knew that waiting for trouble to come to you when trouble chose to was never preferable to seeking out that trouble and facing it on your own terms. That’s one of the reasons why more of his attention fell on the accidental god, Cayden Cailean.
Cailean’s philosophies of freedom and bravery in the face of adversity were much more to Al’ev’s liking, though the god was also a bit too focused on alcohol at times. Al’ev spent much of his time looking into these beliefs, often seeking out the clerics, priests and sometimes, paladins of both deities.
The rest of his time was spent training and much of the training he received as a private in the Grand Army of Doul was actually done in the nearby down of Dorn. The Dwarves believed in teaching by doing, claiming that individuals either sank like the stones that had surrounded them at birth, or they stood upon their own two legs to hold up those stones. So it was that Al’ev, Joshua, and Nelya often found themselves on patrol in Dorn with three dwarven squad mates.
Dorn was a small riverside town that primarily acted as a resting point for traveling tradesmen who were making their way to and from the Elven nation of Quellion. Al’ev estimated that there could have been no more than a population of 750 or so dwarves. But there were still a lot of people to police for the fifty Dwarven soldiers stationed in the nearby garrison under the command of Captain Ozgrel.
He found that he enjoyed walking through the town though even when not on patrol. He would often observe the dwarves working their various crafts and noted how much they loved their stone craft. It showed in everything they created, from buildings to monuments to benches to even dinnerware. It was all made of varying types of stone and all with the most cautious efforts.
Al’ev had read about the craftsmanship of dwarves for some time and, on occasion, he had seen some of their handiwork trade hands in the markets of Halar, These goods usually fetched fairly high prices from those who were interested in such trinkets. He began to understand just why that was after living amongst the dwarves for a few weeks.
Soon after he made this realization, he began to look at the dwarven people with more respect, seeing just how patient they had to be in order to achieve such greatness in their creations. He was admiring some of those creations when he was on patrol, a few months after he had arrived in the country. This was when Al’ev first began to that suspect that another aspect of the dwarven people would make living in Doul much more difficult than he had originally thought.
One thing he had never heard about before that day was the way dwarves, for the most part, frowned heavily upon the use of arcane magic. Most of the diminutive humanoids thought it to be the work of devils and demons and some wouldn’t hesitate to kill an arcane magic user on site.
One more reason for me to not use magic. I suppose Brelzic wouldn’t think of looking for me in the Dwarven army though. I should be safe here for a bit as long as I don’t do anything obvious.
Dressed in the light armor of the Doulish infantry, he followed recently promoted Sergent Fortarg through the streets of Dorn along with Joshua and Nelya.
Most of the townspeople didn’t yet trust the three outsiders who had joined the Dwarven ranks, and Al’ev didn’t blame them. They had done little to prove their worth in the short time they had been there. Still, their authority was no less than another other soldier in the army and Al’ev made sure he remembered this as several eyed him cautiously.
The patrol was relatively quiet. With the nation’s traditional honor system intact, dwarves rarely caused problems for one another and even rarer were the times that the army had to get involved. But there was one incident near the end of their patrol route that would cause Al’ev to have a very troubled conscience.
They were nearing one of the town’s taverns when a human form crashed out one of the windows. When Al’ev rushed over to see what was going on, he found that he vaguely recognized the face of the person
Sergent Fortarg ordered the pair of dwarves they were with to investigate the innards of the inn, then Joshua and Nelya were asked to inspect the area immediately around the inn. It was standard procedure. Al’ev and Fortarg assisted the human back to his feet.
This man was an older human, likely in his fifties. Al’ev had seen him around the Arcane Library on several occasions in the years past and recalled that the man liked to read about the school of magic covering evocation spells. He also knew that the man was capable of casting these spells. As such, he knew what was going on almost immediately upon recognizing this man’s face.
“Why were ye thrown from the inn?” Sergeant Fortarg asked.
“I’d like to know that myself, dwarf. Oh pardon me…” He squinted at Fortarg’s uniform “…sergeant. I’m not in the greatest of moods. I suspect that’s because I was attacked for no good reason. Perhaps you can do something about this?”
“NO GOOD REASON?” Angry shouting came from the window and Al’ev listened as heavy stomping issued from the wooden floor just inside the inn. Then the door was thrown open and a dwarven man, likely the owner of the inn from how he was dressed, approached the sergeant and Al’ev.
“Calm down sir. Violence only creates more problems. Let’s talk this out.” Al’ev calmly suggested using his best dwarven.
“Fortarg, ye be letting boys into the army these days? He’s barely older than a child!”
Al’ev remained silent. He thought it was odd that the dwarves had allowed a bunch of fifteen year old children into the army, but he wasn’t about to question it. He decided it would be wiser to let Sergeant Fortarg handle this question.
“This “child” has proven he is capable, and the fact that he has a more level head than ye do right now proves that he is well placed in this army. Reldin is of age according to dwarven laws and customs. Ye be knowing this."
“Reldin…” The man whispered silently and Al’ev felt a shiver go down his spine. The human man wasn’t the only one who was recognized it seemed.
“More importantly, sir, what is this all about?” He changed the topic.
“He’s a demon, he is. I saw him conjure a demonic floating light to illuminate me inn using some fancy word. I’ll have none of that in my inn!”
So I was right after all.
“Benander, ye know dang well we can’t be throwing someone through windows just because of their sorcerous ways.”
“But Fortarg, even ye be…!”
“No. Let me finish. I don’t like it any more than ye do and I doubt the human will want to stay here anymore after the courtesy you’ve shown him. I suggest ye calmly go back inside and I’ll just forget I heard what ye did.” Sergeant Fortarg said as the two dwarven soldiers assigned to his squad emerged from the inn.
“Nothing abnormal inside, sir.”
Benander started grumbling under his breath. “Of course there be nothing abnormal inside. Ye were here last night drinking enough ale to drown a leviathan.”
Fortarg raised an eyebrow at this then spoke up again. “Go on inside and look into cleaning the mess up that ye created, Benander. I’ll have no reports of injuries from broken glass because of this.”
The human mage, who had been staring at Al’ev in silence spoke up when Benander was out of earshot.
“Is this how you dwarves treat all guests within Doul?”
“I’ll be nice and give ye a bit of advice, sorcerer. Ye be finding no warm welcomes from any true dwarves of Doul as long as ye be using those sorcerous ways. I suggest ye head for human lands with haste. Most dwaves would kill ye on site for what ye’ve done.”
“But all I did was use a little magic!”
A few passing dwarves froze in their tracks then turned and approached where Al’ev and Fortarg were talking. Al’ev saw them growing near and immediately went to impose himself between the group and the mage.
“Move along, citizens. We’re handling this.” He said in dwarven.
The dwarf who appeared to be the one with the highest status in this group eyed Al’ev for a long second, then let his hand fall away from the war axe that hung at his side.
Al’ev crossed his arms and watched the group of dwarves leave as Sergeant Fortarg finished speaking with the human.
“This is outrageous. An entire nation of close minded fools!”
“Careful what ye be saying about mi kin, human. I’m only going to ask ye one more time. Leave now or I’ll be forced to bring ye in to speak with the Captain. He doesn’t take to blasphemers too kindly.”
“Why I ought to…”
The mage appeared to be weaving a spell Al’ev recognized so he quickly stepped forward and placed a hand on the man’s shoulder, hoping to calm the man down and force him to stop his casting. But his action had the opposite effect. He was forced to duck back as the human man spun faster than he imagined was possible for one of the man’s age.
The mage’s sword, which Al’ev hadn’t even noticed before this, danced across his vision in a slice that had been meant to make him a few inches shorter had he been any slower to react. Al’ev felt the magic radiating from the blade. It appeared to be the same spell the mage had been casting before Al’ev interrupted. He had never seen anything like this before.
A spell being cast through a blade? How is that possible?
He had been so surprised by the attack and puzzled by the use of magic he had seen that he was unable to stop his dwarven ally from knocking the man down in a tackle. The mage didn’t stand a chance as Fortarg was widely known to be one of the best grapplers within the garrison and had proven so on several occasions. He was even rumored to have wrestled several rampaging rabbyds into submission once, coming away without a scratch.
Al’ev assisted in disarming the mage and tying his hands behind his back while Fortarg covered the man’s mouth with a gag. It was the only way they could hope to keep him from casting any more spells.
Al’ev didn’t like the idea of taking this man in simply because he was an arcane spell caster, but he had attacked a soldier of Doul. Each soldier was an extention of the royal family, and attacking a soldier was like attacking the king himself. As such, this offense was punishable by death in Doul and Al’ev knew this man didn’t have long to live after Captain Ozgral heard of this.
Nelya and Joshua as well as the pair of dwarf privates returned and together they brought the man back to the Captain. The Captain heard their report of what had happened and looked the mage over.
“It is because of yer kind that this world teeters precariously on the edge of destruction, blasphemer. Erasing you from existence would be doing the world more than one favor. You shall hang at dawn for your transgressions. In the mean time, Reldin, thrown him in a cell.”
“The rest of ye grab some shut eye.”
They all saluted the Captain and Al’ev dragged the human mage to a holding cell beneath the garrison.
The man didn’t struggle and had been silent until Al’ev started locking him up behind the bars in the garrison’s small prison.
“I sense the magic in you, boy.”
Al’ev froze for the smallest fraction of a moment. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
The man chuckled. “You can’t hide it from me just as I couldn’t hide my power from you. There is something else that is different about you though.” The man appeared to ponder this as Al’ev looked around to make sure they were the only ones down there. “Yes, that’s got to be it. Your power seems to be much greater than my own. That would be due to your mother I’d imagine.”
“Come now, it was either that or your father.”
Al’ev shuddered at the mention of the word “father.”
“Perhaps it was both?” A smile appeared on his lips. “You know, you look quite familiar to me. Your last name was also familiar. Reldin…Reldin…Ah yes, you’re Nalef’s little boy. That explains it.”
“Silence.” Al’ev said quietly.
“Oh but I have so much more I want to discuss with you! I wouldn’t dare stop now.”
“I said silence.”
“Now how did you manage to escape from Brelzic’s attack? I was certain they had all the information they needed to get to you.”
“For the last time, prisoner, I said…wait, what did you just say?”
“Ah, seems that name got your attention. Perhaps a couple words managed to get through to you after all. Funny that I would come across you now, only a few scant months after they burned down Halar.”
“What do you know of this?”
“Surely you know the red flight has eyes and ears everywhere?”
Al’ev took a deep breath as comprehension nearly stole it from him. “You…you’re their spy?”
The man grinned. “I’m glad to see the information I sent them wasn’t false after all. You truly are bright.”
Al’ev threw open the door, drew his blade and had it against the man’s throat in an instant.
“Come now, all I wanted was a civil conversation before I’m hanged.”
“No, for the pain you’ve cause me, for the pain you’ve caused my friends, for the town you caused to be destroyed, I’ll kill you right here.”
“Before you do, perhaps you should consider who is really to blame for all that you have mentioned.”
“What are you getting at?”
“The only reason any of that happened is because you exist.”
Al’ev glared at the man.
“Not buying that, huh? I suppose the only other person who could be at fault for this would be your mother.”
“Leave her out of this.”
“Al’ev? What’s taking so long?” Joshua walked into the cell block and saw Al’ev with his sword against the man’s neck. “What’s going on?”
“I wonder, how much have you told your friends?” The mage whispered.
Al’ev immediately put his blade back in its sheath, threw the man back and slammed the cell door. He immediately stormed out of the cell block without another word. Joshua turned to follow as the man called from his cell “I guess he hasn’t told you then? Perhaps your friend isn’t all he claims to be….”
Joshua slammed the prison door behind him before the man could say anymore.
“What was that about?” Joshua asked calmly, telling Al’ev the door slamming had been for the sake of the prisoner.
Al’ev weighed his options. He still hadn’t mentioned a word to anyone about that night and he was determined to keep it that way.
“I think that guy may have been one of the reasons Halar was attacked. I was going to kill him when I found out, but the dwarves are going to finish him off anyway so I’ll leave him one last night to contemplate his death.” His voice sounded cold, even to his own ears.
After a few moments of silence Joshua spoke up. “Come on. You sound like today has driven you to the brink. Even if he did do something to lead the dragons there, it was still the dragons who did it all, right?”
“Let’s get some food.”
“I’m not hungry. I’m think I’m gonna go for a walk.”
“Need some company?”
“No, it’s okay. I’ll be back soon.”
Joshua shrugged then ran over towards the mess hall where Nelya was waiting, visibly impatient. Al’ev made his way out of the garrison and back to Dorn.
The town had mostly gone quiet for the night. Al’ev passed several soldiers on the way to the inn where they had found the human mage earlier that day and nodded to each. He passed by nobody else by the time he got there. Looking the inn over, he wasn’t overly surprised to see that the window had already been replaced and that the glass had been removed from the ground outside.
Al’ev walked inside and was instantly slammed by bellowing laughter which he now associated with dwarves who had been drinking.
“Yep, right out that window. And then they dragged the blasphemer to the garrison! I imagine he’ll be hanged in the morning!” The inn keeper looked up from behind the bar. “Ah, there he is! One of the soldiers who captured the mage. A round for the soldier!”
“Thank you.” Al’ev said sitting down on a stool that was a bit small for him. He waited for the mug to be placed in front of him and took a sip. He didn’t much care for the taste though he savored the burning feeling this drink tended to leave.
“So what brings ye back here, friend?”
Al’ev was amazed by the change in Benander’s attitude. “I’ve actually come back to inspect the room the man we took in was staying in. The Captain asked me to look for any evidence a blasphemer would have.”
“Aye, I’ll take ye up there as soon as ye be done with that drink. Ye earned it.”
Al’ev smiled and chugged down the burning liquid. The innkeeper and a few patrons cheered as he finished. Then Benander lead Al’ev up to the room and allowed him to conduct his search alone.
He investigated the room thoroughly and found several of the man’s possessions. Among them was a spellbook with several spells scribbled down in it as well as several texts he hadn’t read before on martial tactics and how they intertwined with arcane knowledge. He was anxious to read them as it wasn’t a subject he had ever seen exclusively covered before.
The final item Al’ev found indicated that the man had been traveling under the guise of a courier.
It was a letter addressed to Joshua Drovernath. Al’ev looked its envelope over very carefully for a few moments. The handwriting was very familiar. He paused and considered why this man who had been a spy would be carrying a letter made out to Joshua.
Was he using Joshua to get to me? In that case, who is this letter from?
He decided to open it.
To my friend Joshua,
I could hardly contain my joy when I heard you made it out of Halar alive! I overheard somebody mention your last name and describe you in detail. You’re in Dorn now? Joined the army? I hope you and Nelya are being careful. She is with you, right? We’ve all lost too much already and I don’t think I could bare the thought of losing you as well.
I’m so sorry about your family. Your Mom and Dad were such nice people. I cried for days when I heard they hadn’t made it out alive. I guess my family was lucky and I have our mutual friend to thank for that, though Daddy won’t admit it. We all managed to escape thanks to him and his mother.
Daddy, Mom and I have started a new life in Caori. The first few months have been pretty rough, but guess what? Daddy has an audience with the Illundra tomorrow! I guess they are asking him to put forward plans for designing a knew Arcane Library!
I’m sorry this letter isn’t longer as there is so much I want to ask you right now. But perhaps the one question that hasn’t left my mind since that awful night is if our mutual friend made it out alive. The man who had mentioned seeing you didn’t say anything about him. Have you heard from him at all?
Please write me back as soon as you can.
Al’ev had to sit down on the bed as his legs almost gave out from under him as
tears of joy flowed freely down his face.
“Oh praise the gods she made it.” A great weight suddenly lifted from his soul and he looked at the letter again. He knew he would have to ask Joshua to send one back immediately under Joshua’s name. Joshua would be suspicious, but Al’ev didn’t care. He finally heard about one of the two people who hadn’t left his mind since that terrible night.
He looked up at the ceiling and spoke to nobody in particular. “Thank you.”