Book II - Chapter 53

Chapter 53

 

[Snake Report]

 

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Best that I could recover from the oldest ledgers not yet turned to dust: hundreds of years ago, when the Empire’s ships first returned from the Great Wars across the ocean, there was a man by the name of Farstrider.

Historically, this dated back to the time of conquering, of wealth and spoils. An age where halves were more common, and mixed blood was spilling out of the noble courts like wine. Though most were thrown out to fend for themselves among the common folk or hidden away from the eyes of the noble courts, it’s said that mixed bloodlines came with gifts. Even now, it’s well-known that those with the heritage have a way with nature.

There are tales aplenty of abilities no one has seen for centuries, songs sung by bards of those who could hear the wind or speak to the stones and trees, but the most impressive stories are those of the Tamers. Rare men and women who could stride into a dungeon, unarmed, and return with a wild beast under their command.

Farstrider was one such individual.

It is said that from a young age, they had a way with beasts. Growing to build fame and fortune taming creatures for nobility: traveling on expeditions to bring back exotic monsters from the depths of the dungeon. As the years passed, their skill only improved: their boasted claim, that there was no beast they couldn’t force to kneel. Perhaps, this was true. But, with fame comes pride, and with pride, comes arrogance. They claimed themselves the best in all the continent. The best in all the world. So, finally, there came a day when a contract of true caliber was presented before them. Signed and sealed by the Royal Crest itself.

The contract to Tame or slay the Behemoth.

Details are lacking, but as the story goes: out beyond the great walls of this city, the lands weren't always fields. In fact, before they were ever fields, or farms: they were forests. Old and ancient expanses of thick trees, not unlike those that cover the Northern continent. Lands where men may have cut roads through, but by no means rendered docile. The reason these forests remained, was because every time men tried to cut the forest down, a massive beast would appear and stop them. Old as the lands themselves, it would emerge in the night, and destroy homes, wagons. If some were foolish enough to go unguarded, it would snatch and drag them off, far into the shadows of the trees- never to return.

As the years passed and men encroached further into the Behemoth’s territory, the creature only grew bolder. After destroying an entire Royal cohort which had been sent to put an end to it, the Behemoth was lauded as the most powerful monster on the Old continent. It seems that Farstrider could not resist. His pride wouldn’t allow him that luxury, and so, by wagering his entire fortune on an expedition to capture the beast, he set out on promises of glory. Only to be destroyed.

An entire expedition of soldiers. Mages, mercenaries, trackers: all wiped out in the dark recesses of that ancient forest, slain by that terrible creature. To escape, Farstrider himself stumbled blindly, fleeing as his own tamed companion fought to stall: running farther and farther into the unknown until he was swallowed up. Not swallowed by the monster though, nay. By the dungeon. Down into the depths of the Earth. Tumbling into an entrance known to no living man.

It isn’t known what happened after that terrible fall. Little is written of the event, that I could find, and from what I could recover: Farstrider is said to never have spoken of it at length. All that was recorded is that he met a legendary beast, and that it spared him. That somehow, by this creature’s blessing: his wounded were healed, and he was given a vision. Something that changed him, on a spiritual level. Afterwards, it is recorded that he managed to crawl back from the depths of hell, out of the forest, and returned to the City of the Emperor as the sole survivor of that expedition.

It was then, of course, that the Farstrider Guild was founded-

“-But how?”

“Excuse me?” Alem glanced up at Dren’s interruption. His brow furrowed. “How?”

“Well, you said he spent his entire fortune on the hunt for the Behemoth.” The young healer replied, pointing to the red-stained paper in Alem’s hand. “All of his fortune.”

“Aye. That I did. It’s written here.”

“Then, how did he start a Guild? Wasn’t that expensive? The Guild building would have needed to be constructed, and the Guild License is almost unobtainable. There are only a set number for each city-”

“There’s still more, if you’d wait.” Alem stated, calmly unfolding the sheet further.

“Oh.”

Around him, the small gathering had closed in somewhat. Eveth and Dren had made room for Imra and the basilisk to crouch beside them. Tuth had taken a seat upon what had once been a chair, but now looked much more like a stool.

Alem cleared his throat, before continuing.

It was then, of course, that the Farstrider Guild was founded. Licensed under the Emperor's seal, to operate as an independent organization. The Guild Crest, as well as the Guild foundation and original structure, were provided as partial compensation, as attacks by the Behemoth ceased upon Farstrider's return. Still, the primary value which provided the Guild financial stability in those turbulent times, I presume was...

"Was what?" Eveth asked. "Go on."

“The handwriting is difficult to make out." Alem replied. "The letters are smudged. There are a few words that show through: it clearly says that he came back something of great value, or some object that he was able to present to the Emperor of the time and receive a reward for.”

 

“Does it say what that was, exactly?” Eveth asked. “You're not being very specific.

“Technically, I have to assume it does." Alem replied. "Although the paper is too stained, from here... from here on I can’t make out many of the words.”

“Let me see it, Alem.” Eveth reached forward and plucked the page, wax paper seal and all, as she began to skim through. “Gods, this is a mess. Val really had this on him?”

“Yes.” Alem nodded. “He made it sound as though the people who had been after him were looking for it.”

“So, some torn out page of Guild history and… what? The backside… is this some sort of map? Different ink, and the ledger isn’t in any language I recognize.” Alem watched as her eyes narrowed, and she began to mutter under her breath. “This is some sort of cipher.”

“I thought the same thing.”

“Not just any trivial one either, this is complicated… Alem, I didn’t know Val could write more than his name, much less make something like this.”

“He couldn’t. Look there, though." Alem pointed. "I think that’s Drother’s signature. See the mark? He must have written this, before he died.”

“Really…” Eveth trailed off, as her eyes widened. "Since when did that old man know letters? I never saw him touch a quill once."

"That old man knew a lot of things. More, I think, than he ever let on."

"So, you think Drothers wrote this. How did Val get it?"

"Tuth?" Alem asked.

Beside them, Tuth nodded as he raised his hands, gesturing. A fist, two fingers, pointing, out in a circle. Another fist, another circle. An open palm... Alem stared intently, trying to follow... but just like all the other times before, he'd come up with almost nothing of value.

The group stared.

The silence grew.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Eveth finally blurted out, sending some more pointed gestures of her own in Tuth's direction. “Why couldn’t you learn to write? I offered to teach you plenty of times.”

Tuth returned her motions with one hand, along with a shrug.

“Alright, alright, everyone just simmer down.” Alem raised his voice as Eveth and Tuth began to glare at one another. “No need for that.”

 

“He’s making fools of us.”

“He’s not, it’s just-“

"Hand talk." From the edge of the group, a new voice joined. "Signing language." Imra leaned in, hands shifting into quick forms. “Good for hunting, good for silence.”

The group quieted.

"That's right." Alem stated. "Val understood it. Does it make sense to you?"

“It is different from what I know.” Imra said, watching as Tuth signed in her direction. “Still, I am surprised to see it here.”

"Well, fat lot of good that does us." Eveth muttered. Beside her, Dren frowned, crossing his arms. "Do you understand any of it, Alem?"

"I don’t, truly. At least, not enough to be useful.” Alem replied, shaking his head. “I never learned in detail. All I know is what Val told me before he died. That they had found something, and they had set the ropes. He also gave me this, wrapped in the paper itself.”

Alem raised a small object, catching it in the light.

“Is that…”

“A mana crystal.” Alem confirmed. “Small, but quality.”

“Set the ropes, and a crystal.” Eveth started at the cipher once more, eyes flicking along the lines of symbols and text. “Set the ropes… set the ropes... You really haven’t come up with anything else?”

“No.” Alem replied. “I don’t understand many of Tuth’s gestures. Only the few we used for combat, or practiced with. Val was the one who understood the finer details.”

 “We’re sure Drothers wrote this, and not Varar?”

“At the very least.” Alem confirmed. “It’s not Varar’s handwriting- I’d recognize that messy script anywhere.”

“Well, that’s just great.” Eveth muttered.

"Eveth." Dren frowned as he looked on beside her. "We're all upset enough as it is."

"I just want to know what the hell was so important that Val had to die. There’s no way this isn’t connected."

"All of us do.”

"Then Tuth needs to start explaining. The Guild’s a crisp, I’ve been chased through the streets, we've all been branded criminals, and Varar is still missing-"

“Shush.” Apparently, that was enough. Alem blinked, as Imra’s hand tapped the bottom of Eveth’s chin lightly. “No more words. You are tired. Foolish.”

“What-“

Eveth’s chin was tapped again.

“Silence. The God will speak now.”

Alem felt his brow raise as Eveth did, in fact, stop talking.

Normally, he would have expected more than just a fierce retort, but instead the Mage seemed… frozen beside the newcomer.

“The God?” He asked.

Imra’s hand retreated from Eveth’s throat, as the Elf’s face set to a smile of far too many teeth. A beautiful ferocity that sent a chill down Alem’s spine.

“Yes, the God: The Great One of green flame, banisher of death.” The slurred accent continued. “The reason you all live. The one purpose, which you all now serve.”

“Now, hold on a second-“

“Do not speak.”

Alem felt his jaw clench shut as Imra turned on him. She raised her arm. The Basilisk that had been wrapped around her neck coiled down until its head rested in the palm of her hand.

“While you bicker, the Great One believes he has come to understand.” Imra’s hand extended, fingers pointing towards Tuth. “You and your kin have found something outside this city. Something precious, that other humans desire.”

Alem saw Tuth nod from the corner of his eye.

“The Great One says this to be motive.” Imra stated, motioning towards the pile of bounty papers. “What is it you found?”

“The crystal?” Dren asked.

“Not you.” Imra replied, pointing back towards Tuth. “Him.”

“Weren't you listening? We already tried that.” Eveth growled, only to be silenced once more. “He’s mute.”

Imra didn’t even glance in her direction, hand hovering a fraction of an inch from the Mage's face.

“Think.” Imra slowly turned, scanning over their faces before settling on Dren. "You are clever, are you not? The God believe he knows the answer already. What of you?"

Still staring at the paper, the boy seemed deep in thought.

"Did Val and you..." Dren looked up, staring at Tuth with wide eyes.

"What?" Eveth glanced at him.

“It’s the Dungeon." Dren pointed towards the paper in Eveth’s hands, excited. "You and Val found the entrance, from the story!”

“There’s no way.” Eveth pulled the page away from him. “If there was another dungeon entrance, someone would have found it and turned it in to the Empire by now for a giant sack of… coins…” She turned towards Tuth once more. “I don't..."

Impassively, Tuth stared back.

"No."

This time, Tuth let a small smile show as he raised one hand and tapped a finger to his temple.

"You have got to be kidding me.” Eveth whispered, before two fingers appeared in front of her lips. “Did Varar know about this?”

“I certainly didn’t.” Alem muttered.

“None of us did, clearly!" Eveth snapped back. "How long has this been going on-“

“Silence, humans.” Imra shot Eveth an angry look. “Be glad the Great One is lenient."

"Oh, he’s a lot of things.”

"Be very glad, then." Imra growled. "I think it is not your stolen gifts he needs for this today, but instead: your talents.” She turned to Alem, lifting the serpent towards him until the snake hovered inches from his face.

“My talents?” Alem asked, warily. The urge to reach for his hammer was ever-growing, as the Basilisk in front of him bobbed before his eyes with a quiet hiss. In the back of his mind, Alem could hear the familiar warning bells sounding once more, the hair on his neck rising.

He did not find the sensation to be pleasant.

“Yes.” Imra moved closer, setting her hand down on his shoulder as the Basilisk slithered out, to quickly wrap around his neck. It coiled tightly, hard as steel. “You are what God needs now.”

“And what would this God of yours have me do?” Alem asked.

“A simple request.” Imra replied.

“Bring us there.”