Ilfanti and the Orb of Prophecy
The Empress has been kidnapped while in the midst of trying to unite the races. Her true whereabouts are unknown, but her return is vital to the survival of the Seven Kingdoms.
One dwarf, the Mage Ilfanti, is determined to find Karleena and return her to the realm to face the threat of Zoldex and fulfill her dream of unification. His mission will not be an easy one. He must journey far from the Imperium in search of a mystical artifact that will allow the wielder to have any one question answered. That question: “Where is Karleena?”
Follow Ilfanti as he returns to a life of an adventurer and battles against time to save the Imperium. Will he be able to find the mystical artifact and locate the Empress in time?
v v v v v
This has all the makings of a great tale: The realm is in peril; a kidnapped damsel in distress; and the old adventurer coming out of retirement for one final quest to find an artifact that will reveal the location of the Empress, bring her back, confront Zoldex, and then usher in a new era of peace and prosperity for all races.
Three centuries of rust and dust. Cala and Herg were right to be concerned. They were right to have doubts. A lot has changed in three hundred years; not counting my silken black hair that has been replaced by this whitish gray. I’m older than any dwarf has a right to be, and I actually think that I still matter, that I can still make a difference.
Maybe I am deluding myself. Then again, maybe not. I may be old, but I still feel as young and as energetic as when I was a Paladin. The years have treated me well. I never gave in to the passage of time. I always worked hard to make sure that I was physically fit. Perhaps I may fall a step or two behind my younger self, but I will keep up.
Yes, I will keep up. I will not give in to the norms of society. I will not be an elder that others look at and brush aside as being frail and weak. I will not be a burden on those I care about. I am Ilfanti. I am a dwarf. I am a Mage. I am going to find the Orb of Prophecy, then the Empress, then see this war through to the end, and when I do, I am going to dance on the top of Zoldex’s grave.
For most citizens of Egziard, the nights were a form of salvation and reprieve. The scorched dry lands of the desert were harsh and unforgiving. The temperatures during the day were amongst the highest in the world, often peaking at 150 degrees Fahrenheit on what would be considered a cool and breezy day for that region.
The night was a respite for the people that lived in or roamed the desert. The temperatures dropped considerably without the raging sun baking down on them. Many animals that populated Egziard were nocturnal for this very reason, seeking shelter during the dry sunlit hours.
The nomads who wandered the desert were no exception. They never remained in the same spot for long, always moving from one place to another in search of food and water. The centuries had honed their senses—it was said that a desert nomad could sense the presence of water from a mile away, or more. Once they came upon it, a nomad could even drink a single drop of water from the desert sand.
The wanderers traveled in small groups, usually consisting of members of an extended family unit, or several families together that had forged an alliance. The larger groups were more developed and stronger, but this was not the norm for the nomads. Each group, or tribe, had a single leader: the sheikh. This individual—who was always a man—would determine the migration patterns and all activities for his tribe, including interactions and negotiations with other nomads.
Ptahmose was the sheikh of the Ptahhemat-Ty tribe. The group had been forged when his great-grandfather, Ptahhemat, had forged an unlikely alliance with Ty, a well-known raider who butchered anyone that his tribe encountered. Ty was in the elder years of his life, and all his children were women, and as such, unable to lead the tribe. He then forged an agreement with Ptahhemat in which the two wed their eldest children and combined their separate nomadic groups, creating the largest tribe in Egziard.
The size and strength of the Ptahhemat-Ty tribe had never been more formidable. Ptahmose, though not a direct descendent of Ty, was as ruthless and bloodthirsty as the tyrant had ever been. He had expanded his power over the past three decades, and not even the pharaohs were willing to challenge him on the open sands.
The Ptahhemat-Ty tribe currently consisted of over six hundred able-bodied warriors. An additional thousand members of the tribe were the revered elders, the wives, and the children who were not yet old enough to join their fathers. They also boasted the possession of a herd of camels that could carry all of the warriors, as well as ninety massive abuephas—the rampaging beasts that could topple a stone wall with ease.
Even with all of his power and the prosperity of his tribe, Ptahmose was unwilling to accept that the Ptahhemat-Ty tribe could not further increase their station. There were legends of an ancient temple known as Ramahatra that contained within untold secrets and powers. According to the legend, not only did this temple have unfound riches, weapons, and more power than anyone could ever dream of, but it also contained the Orb of Prophecy.
The Orb was reputed to be a mystical artifact that many had sought over the years, but none had managed to uncover. The question of whether it even existed added to the legends and the enthusiasm of those brave enough to wander the desert searching for it. According to the legends, if the Orb of Prophecy were in your possession, then it would reveal the answer to any question you could ask. The future was already a written book for the Orb, and the bearer could use it to alter his own destiny by seeing what was to come.
Ptahmose was certain that the Orb existed. He had, of course, heard the legends since childhood, but recently the tribe had uncovered a small compass of unique origins during a raid. Those on the expedition claimed that the compass would lead them to Ramahatra and the treasures within, if even a fraction of the legends were true. Ptahmose demanded that Ramahatra be discovered and its treasure possessed solely by him. The power of the Orb had to be his alone. With it, he would be able to expand his power and rule all of Egziard, even going so far as to overthrow the mighty pharaohs.
His brother and trusted confidant, Ptahetep, had cautioned him about following the compass directly. Not only did Ramahatra supposedly have these untold treasures, but it was also cursed and protected by an evil that had not been known to the world for many millennia.
Though Ptahmose did not believe in curses, he respected his brother’s advice. He had sent ten scouting parties of fifteen men each out into the desert to seek the location of the ancient temple in the direction that the compass was pointing. But that was over a fortnight ago, and his patience was now growing very thin.
For Ptahmose, remaining idle too closely resembled death. He wanted to be always moving, but the advantages of carefully planning the plunder of Ramahatra were too great for rash action. As the days passed, he sent smaller groups out into the barren wastes of Egziard to search not for the lost temple, but for his scouting parties. None ever returned.
He stood at the edge of the small encircled area where his tribe had erected their tents. Most of the people were huddled around fires and talking amongst themselves. Ptahmose could not rest, though. His people were out there, and he wanted to be able to do something about it.
That was when he saw them. They were too far away for him to see clearly, especially in the darkness, but he could just make out a trio of men running towards their encampment. There were no camels or weapons in sight, only the three men. Ptahmose wondered if they could be part of one of his scouting parties, but if so, where were their mounts and equipment?
He drew his scimitar and emitted several long calls that sounded like the word “la” in varying harmonic tones. Hundreds of men rushed to his call, their weapons also drawn and facing the oncoming trio. Whoever they were, friend or foe, they would find the Ptahhemat-Ty tribe waiting for them.
b b b b b
The three men found no solace in the breeze of the night. Their hearts were pounding, their lungs were straining for air, and their chests felt as if they would explode. Their exposed skin was red, blistered, and cracked. Each step was excruciating agony, but their terror of what was behind them kept them moving—pushing them far beyond their limits.
There had been fifteen of them to start. Fifteen fully garbed and heavily armed members of the Ptahhemat-Ty tribe. Even with such a small number, other groups of nomadic wanderers that more than tripled their numbers would flee before them. They were the strong, the powerful, and the ones to be feared.
Now, these men trembled with the mere memory of what they had observed. Their only thought was that if they could reach the encampment of their people, perhaps, just perhaps, they would live to see another sunrise. Finally, after running without rest for days, the last three survivors saw their destination. They could see the strong and proud warriors of the Ptahhemat-Ty tribe moving out to meet them. Ptahmose, their relentless leader in front, would be first to come upon them.
A scream from behind jolted two of the runners. They did not even need to turn to know that another of their party had fallen victim to the dark-skinned witch and her minions. This was not the first companion they had lost. When the first of their group had fallen the others had searched for the attacker, but could only find the skeletal remains of their companion; as if all of his flesh and organs had been devoured. Many joined the first, and those that survived learned that the one that fell would at least provide a slight distraction so that the survivors could try to push on.
The fire was close. The two would be there soon. They desperately hoped that they would make it in time. All they needed was a few more minutes. With their bodies feeling like they were about to burst, both water-starved men ran harder toward their salvation.
Another scream of agony pierced the night, and Bek knew that he was alone. He tightened his grip on the artifact that they had claimed from Ramahatra and pushed forward. He was almost there. He could see Ptahmose clearly now.
“My Sheikh!” he cried out.
“Bek!” Ptahmose called in return.
Then he heard it. It was not the beating of his heart, but the silent rumble that signaled the end. “Beware the witch!” he cried out as he stopped and tossed the artifact to Ptahmose.
“Bek?” Ptahmose questioned as he caught the item. Before his eyes, Bek began convulsing and screaming in agony. The sand around him burst skyward and the scout began clawing at his skin as if something was crawling on him that he was desperate to get off.
Then he saw it. They were small orange and black snake-like creatures. They were no bigger than the size of a finger, but hundreds of them were swirling all over Bek’s body. They moved like quicksilver, never stopping as they crawled around him.
“What madness is this?” Ptahmose gasped, taking a hesitant step toward his scout.
In moments, Bek’s body fell to the ground, only dried and crusted skeletal remains left behind. The creatures dropped back within the sand in which they had come, and Ptahmose watched as the sand moved with hundreds of tiny bulges until they dropped down to the normal desert calmness.
“What madness is this?” he repeated, glancing around at his people in hopes that someone would have an answer. “What just happened?”
Ptahetep stepped forward cautiously and jabbed the skeletal remains of Bek with his saber. The bones disintegrated with his touch. “The curse,” he spat as he jumped back.
Ptahmose looked down at the item in his hand. It resembled the compass that allegedly pointed to Ramahatra. It was a triangular black piece of onyx with golden markings around the edge and a single golden serpent in the middle. Clutching the item in his hand, he turned away from Bek and returned to the encampment. Ramahatra had been found.
21st day of Ulugerflin, 7951 AM
“Be careful and don’t be too cocky.”
Those were her words. Cala’s words. Cocky? Me? That is something that I would never even have thought of back in my Paladin years. Back then life was a constant adventure, one grand scheme after the other, each more dangerous than the last. How I miss those days.
Most Mages go out in their Paladin years and visit the races of their origins. They have a deep need to find their roots and learn what makes them truly tick; not just what they had learned sitting in a classroom, but also seeing what it meant to be an elf, a dwarf, a wraith, or whatever; what one truly acts like and is. That held no allure for me. Perhaps I was just strange.
I am a dwarf. I don’t intend it as a slight to my people, but they will spend their centuries on this planet working in a mine, crafting armor and weapons, or waging war. They feel that this existence is glorious, and if they were to die in battle, then it would be a good death. Sure. That’s fine. But that’s not for me.
I think dwarves are honorable and noble. I think that there is no better ally in the entire world—and I have visited a great many places beyond the boundaries of the Seven Kingdoms, so I would know. If a dwarf becomes an ally, it is for life. He would die by your side and never question that decision.
It is not a bad code to live by. I too forge friendships that transcend time. I would die fighting beside Cala or Herg without regrets and feel that it would be an honorable death. I would gladly sacrifice myself if it would mean that they survive to see another day. I am a dwarf.
But then in some ways, I am not. I cannot be happy mining for precious gems and elements. I have no desire to become a blacksmith or craftsman and forge weapons, armor, and artifacts so glorious that they would stand the test of time. No, that life is not for me.
That life may be good for a normal dwarf, but I am also a Mage. I was raised since infancy to be what I have become. I have learned history, mathematics, science, literature, and more. I cannot look at the face of a cliff and see potential gems locked inside. To me, that is time-consuming and boring. Perhaps that is why after I met my first dwarves in Tregador during my Paladin years, I decided to shave my beard and never allow even a single day to pass without making certain that I was clean-shaven.
I prefer exploration. I want to find the unknown. I want to broaden my horizons. If something has been lost for centuries, I will seek it out. If it is something that others claim does not exist, I will journey to the corners of Terra to prove that is does. In short, I am an adventurer. Life, to me, is more meaningful when I believe in what I am doing, and there are constant perils and obstacles that must be overcome.
Unlike most Paladins, my time away from the Council lasted two hundred years. I have never felt as alive or as energetic as I felt during those two centuries. Though I have grown in fame in the Council, have trained dozens of Apprentices, and have even become a member of the Council of Elders, nothing has ever compared to my Paladin years.
Perhaps I never should have stopped. Who knows where I would be now. Probably on a ship somewhere seeking the next grand adventure or discovery. But I’m about to do that anyway.
No, I do not regret returning to the Council. It was time. An abundance of something good is never satisfying. If I remained an explorer and an adventurer, eventually, even that life would have stopped being meaningful. It was time to come home.
But now things are getting bad. As bad as I ever remember seeing things; worse, even. Zoldex, an eternal that I cannot even give the honor of calling a fiend or tyrant, has returned. I am not completely positive, but it appears that he has been manipulating events in the Seven Kingdoms for quite some time. Orcs and hobgoblins have been raiding the villages of elves and dwarves. Both Xylona and Vorstad—two proud and noble cities—have fallen. The humans have been experiencing uprisings, and now a fleet of mind-boggling magnitude has arrived to support Zoldex’s rise to power.
Yes, things are bad. Karleena had been trying to change things. She, as the Empress, had seen the signs before they got too bad and moved to try and unite the races. An admirable goal, but one that was destined to fail. Back in the Race Wars, many of the races were united in a common goal. The humans betrayed the alliance and claimed the Seven Kingdoms for their own. Even with the threat of Zoldex, it is hard to fathom how generations of prejudice and resentment can be overcome.
Still, the Empress had been trying. Trying, and in a small way, succeeding. But then she was kidnapped, and now the Imperium has been plunged into war with Aezia. Master Askari assures me that Aezia is not behind the Empress’s abduction, and I believe that he is right. Instead, Zoldex must have orchestrated it. He wants the unification to fail so that he can conquer the realm. That must not happen.
The one person who should be standing up to Zoldex is Pierce. The two were enemies before there even was a Mage’s Council. At their final confrontation, Pierce won and Zoldex was banished. Now, the fool won’t even let the Council get involved. He feels that the Mages are above the concerns of the realm. I hope he comes to his senses before Zoldex jabs him in the ass and shows him that we should have been involved all along.
Since Pierce isn’t facing his nemesis, the fate of the realm has fallen onto my shoulders. Not that I am complaining. This will be a quest that would have made my mouth water when I was younger. Then her words come to me again like a dagger wedged in my side.
“It’s been three centuries since your wild days.”
Thanks, Cala. Is that what you really think of me? After all of this time? She is right, though. It has been three hundred years since I’ve last had the exhilaration of a true quest. Since the last time someone tried to kill me. Since the last time I leapt blindly off of a mountain and all that I could do was laugh at the absurdity of it as I plummeted to the water that I had not known was below.
Of course, those details I leave out when I tell my stories. I captivate audiences with retelling my adventures, but I never let them know the worst of the dangers, and the times when I thought I was going to die. No, I tell about the excitement, the glory, and the rewards. That’s not how life really works, though. Not really. Life is full of pain, suffering, and hard work. I would spend years on one of my quests that could be summed up into a short ten-minute tale that would raise the hair on the necks of listeners.
I guess that makes me a good storyteller. This will take more than a story to save the day, however. It has the makings of a great tale. The realm in peril; a kidnapped damsel in distress; and the old adventurer coming out of retirement for one final quest to find an artifact that will reveal the location of the Empress, bring her back, confront Zoldex, and then usher in a new era of peace and prosperity for all races.
Three centuries of rust and dust. Cala and Herg were right to be concerned. They were right to have doubts. A lot has changed in three hundred years; not to mention my silken black hair has been replaced by this thinning whitish-gray. I’m older than any dwarf has a right to be, and I actually think that I still matter, that I can still make a difference.
Maybe I am deluding myself. Then again, maybe not. I may be old, but I still feel as young and as energetic as when I was a Paladin. The years have treated me well. I never gave in to the passage of time. I always worked hard to make sure that I was physically fit. Perhaps I may fall a step or two behind my younger self, but I will keep up.
Yes, I will keep up. I will not give in to the norms of society. I will not be an elder that others look at and brush aside as being frail and weak. I will not be a burden on those I care about. I am Ilfanti. I am a dwarf. I am a Mage. I am going to find the Orb of Prophecy, then the Empress, then see this war through to the end, and when I do, I am going to dance on top of Zoldex’s grave.
Of the Seven Kingdoms comprising the Imperium, Dartais was the wealthiest. Even the near-utopia of Danchul paled in comparison to the accumulated riches of the Dartais nobles and high lords. The fact that this affluence was grossly increased after Emperor Conrad forged the Imperium was not lost on people.
Prior to the formation of the Imperium, Dartais was a merchant kingdom that often lost its cargos to the stronger fleets of Frocomon. Though they were excellent merchants and fisherman, the people of Dartais could not withstand the powerful warships that preyed upon them.
Conrad and Morex—both from Dartais—decided to try and confront the Frocomon plunderers head-on. The two shared a vision and soon gained followers. They assembled a crew and acquired a ship. Though they began as only a single ship, they grew their fleet and fame as pirates, striking the Frocominians down and claiming the superior vessels for their own.
In time, the fleet of Frocomon was decimated, and the merchants of Dartais were able to prosper by increasing their trade routes and expanding their operations. As money continued to line the pockets of the nobles of Dartais, their ships and crews grew, making them the largest merchant fleet in the known world.
Today, those same nobles and their descendants had unimaginable wealth. Under the direction of Queen Dornela, they explored the Dartais Islands and soon claimed them as a retreat for the nobility of the realm. Only the rich and elite could hope to reside on these islands, and everyone who was anyone scrambled to prove their fortunes and relocate there.
The nobility that remained behind became the high lords of the two remaining coastal cities—Bellmore and Water Haven. Though other small towns and villages were scattered throughout Dartais, the workers and impoverished citizens populated these, and not a single member of the Dartais nobility would even acknowledge their existence.
As was often true in the realm, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. The workers of Dartais are often underpaid and are forced to endure harsh working conditions, long hours, and life-threatening tasks. Many would claim that society was not fair, but with the nobles secluded and not even bothering to look at the workers that they employed, whom would they complain to?
Water Haven—the smaller of the two main Dartais cities—was a coastal harbor city. Its name was well known up and down the coast, for it was the central point of commerce for the eastern seabed. Not only did they dominate the eastern coasts with their trade routes and merchant fleets, but they also supported a bustling economy with tour ships that brought vacationers close to the Dartais Islands—the closest most people would ever come to nobility themselves.
This waterfaring city was the one that Ilfanti opted to visit to begin his journey. He was closest to the harbor ports of Trespias, but ever since the legions of Zoldex arrived, there was no way in or out of the harbor. Instead, he had to travel north to Dartais, and there was no better destination than Water Haven.
Stripped of his normal Mage’s attire, Ilfanti was garbed in the wardrobe that had served him so well during his Paladin years. He wore a long sleeved cream-colored shirt with a pocket on each side of his chest. A light brown leather vest fastened on top of the shirt. His pants were of the same color and material, though he was shocked to admit that he had a little bit of trouble getting them to clasp—undoubtedly, they must have shrunk over the centuries because he certainly didn’t feel as if he had gained weight since his Paladin years. He had dark brown leather boots and a belt that had a dagger and a Mage’s satchel clasped to it. Too many people favored cloaks, especially Mages, but Ilfanti went with a dark brown koxlen-hide jacket—that appeared very worn—with the front left open to complete his ensemble.
Ilfanti walked down the cobblestone streets and studied the people that he passed. Many glared at him with spite, some in fear; all looked impoverished. Five children, all so thin that they looked as if they had not eaten in weeks, surrounded one woman who was dispensing small pieces of bread.
The Council of Elders member could not believe how bad things looked. Water Haven was supposed to be the most prosperous harbor city in the Seven Kingdoms. From what he saw though, it looked more as if the people were bonded in slavery and working for a few scraps of leftover food. It was not a sight he would soon forget.
Every turn he made was the same. There were definitely shop owners and street peddlers that did not look as destitute, but behind every corner, children that were little more than skin and bones held out their hands begging for scraps of food or money. Ilfanti only wished that he had brought more than just the Jewel of Amara to finance his passage to Egziard and back. If so, he would dispense all of his riches from his quests to these people so that they could afford a decent meal.
Spotting a tavern, Ilfanti decided to try and gain some information on the ships that were in the harbor. At any given time Water Haven had well over a hundred schooners and smaller vessels docked, and he needed to know which would be the most suitable for his purposes. The journey to Egziard would be a long and harsh one, and he had to be careful to select a ship that could actually handle the voyage.
As he stepped inside the doorway, the loud chatter and laughter slowly faded as every eye turned toward him. One man was still laughing until the person next to him hit him on the shoulder and beckoned him to look toward the door. Ilfanti scanned the room and held the gaze of each man present.
The prejudice of humans ever since the Race Wars ended never ceased to amaze him. They were the ones who had betrayed their allies from the Wars, and yet they had the audacity to act as if they were the ones wronged. Incorrigible. Refusing to be intimidated, Ilfanti strode over to the bar and sat down on an open stool.
“No dwarves allowed,” the bartender barked as he glared at Ilfanti.
“You get a lot around these parts?” Ilfanti asked.
“What?” the bartender asked in amazement that the dwarf was bothering to talk to him.
“Dwarves,” Ilfanti clarified. “Do you get a lot of dwarves around these parts?”
“Of course not!” the bartender shouted as if offended.
“Then why would you ever make such a policy?” Ilfanti asked.
“It covers anything that isn’t human,” he said proudly.
“Oh,” Ilfanti replied, mocking the man by acting that this was a great revelation he never considered. “I see.”
“Good, then get out!” the bartender screamed, his patience lost.
Two men walked over and stood behind Ilfanti as if to persuade him that he should leave.
“Since you don’t get a lot of dwarves around these parts, allow me to explain a few things,” Ilfanti said. “If I was a normal dwarf, this conversation would have ended the moment you told me that no dwarves were allowed. If I was a normal dwarf, I would have pulled an axe or some other heavy-set weapon and attacked anything and anyone who dared to stand between me and my ale. If I was a normal dwarf.”
The bartender glanced at the two men, his features showing the slightest hint of worry on his brow. “If you were a normal dwarf,” he repeated slowly. “If you’re not, then what in Tanorus are you?”
“Oh, I am a dwarf,” Ilfanti admitted. “But I am also a Mage.”
“A Mage?” the bartender laughed. “Where’s your robes and cloak?”
Always the cloak, he thought, rolling his eyes before responding. “I am on a quest and seek a fast ship. It is of vital importance to the survival of the realm. Due to this, I opted to wear this ensemble instead of my normal Mage’s attire.”
“You’re no Mage,” the bartender snorted. “Vital importance to the realm? Bah! Not a single ship in this port would take on a dwarf as a passenger.”
“I hope that you are mistaken with your claim,” Ilfanti said, wondering if the prejudice of humans would extend so far as to cause him difficulties with securing a suitable ship.
“Find out for yourself,” the bartender growled. “Boys, get this creature out of here!”
The two men reached out and placed their hands on Ilfanti’s shoulders. “Come on, runt.”
“You know, when on these little adventures of mine, I typically do not like to use magic,” Ilfanti sighed. “Be grateful for my restraint.”
“Yeah, sure,” the bartender laughed.
As the two men began to lift Ilfanti out of his seat, Ilfanti twisted in the air, twirling over and kicking his feet toward the heads of those holding him. They dropped him as they brought their arms up to shield their faces.
“How the hell did he do that?”
Ilfanti dropped and landed on his feet. He then shot a leg out and kicked one of the men in the shin. As the man reached to grab hold of his leg, Ilfanti punched him in the chin with a violent uppercut and dropped him to the ground, unconscious.
The second man grabbed a barstool and slammed it down where Ilfanti had been standing, shattering the wooden legs. Ilfanti dodged out of the way, jumped up onto a second barstool, and then leapt on top of the man, his legs wrapped around his throat. Bringing his fists slamming down on the man’s head, he kept punching until they fell to the ground and his second attacker was unconscious.
Ilfanti rolled off of the man and crouched, looking at the bartender. He raised his hand and began waggling his fingers. The bartender started to feel cold and began to shiver. He turned to look at the bottles of ale and grew infuriated as he saw them frostbitten and encased in ice. As he began to breathe heavier, he could see his own breath coming from his mouth like a white mist.
“What madness is this? I thought you said you didn’t use magic?” he protested.
“Actually, I said that I typically do not like to use magic,” Ilfanti corrected. “I find myself making an exception with narrow-minded imbeciles that feed on hatred, fear, and prejudice.”
“Stop!” the bartender cried as icicles began forming on his nose. “Please stop.”
“Only under two conditions,” Ilfanti said.
“N-n-name th-th-them,” the bartender struggled to say, his teeth now chattering.
“First is information,” Ilfanti said. “Is what you said true? No ship will take on a dwarf?”
“N-n-no,” the bartender said. “One sh-sh-ship may.”
“What ship?” Ilfanti pressed, his fingers still waggling with his spell.
“The Soaring Mist. It’s f-f-full of f-f-freaks like you.”
Raising his other hand, Ilfanti waved it and a gust of wind toppled all of the bottles of ale, shattering them as they fell to the ground. “That wasn’t very nice,” Ilfanti said. “As for the second thing, there are children starving in the streets. You will offer free food and drink to them for the rest of the evening.”
“Imp-p-possible!” the man protested. “I w-w-won’t do it!”
“Oh really?” Ilfanti asked with a lopsided grin. Raising the hand he just used to send a gust of magical wind, he clutched his fist and it began to glow, emitting a bright illuminating light. “With this spell, I could leave this tavern as little more than a crater in the ground.”
All of the patrons that had still been watching the exchange made a desperate dash for the door with the threat. Ilfanti glanced to the door and blinked his eyes. The first person that reached the opening crashed headlong into an invisible barrier as strong as any stone wall.
“Can’t have people leaving the party,” Ilfanti said. “You have five seconds to make up your mind.”
“Do it!” one of the patrons pleaded.
“Don’t be a fool!” another protested.
“Fine,” the bartender sobbed in defeat. “Fine, just don’t do anything else.”
Ilfanti stopped waggling his fingers and stood up. His other hand was still glowing, though—the brightness continuing to increase. “In the future, will you serve members of other races?”
The man glared at Ilfanti with pure disdain in his eyes. Ilfanti could see that this man was not going to change his views for anything, much less a threat. “I will serve them,” he sneered.
“Excellent,” Ilfanti beamed, accepting what he was certain was a lie, as he unclenched his fist and the light vanished. “I’d hate to see you have to go through this again.”
“You destroyed my stock!” the man cried. “I’m ruined!”
“Look again,” Ilfanti beckoned.
The bartender turned and looked at his shelves behind the bar. All of the bottles remained as they were before Ilfanti’s attack. “I don’t understand.”
“Like I said, I’m not a normal dwarf,” Ilfanti claimed. “It’s simplicity in itself to project an illusion into your mind. After all, not only am I a Mage, but I am a Council of Elders member.”
“Trickery,” the man growled derisively.
“Perhaps, but your inventory is fine,” Ilfanti shrugged. Closing his eyes, he concentrated for a moment and then smiled. “I have just sent a message to the starving and poor. They will be arriving shortly. If I hear that you went back on your word, I will be back, and next time…”
“I understand,” the bartender moaned in frustration.
“I’m glad we understand each other,” Ilfanti grinned. “And by the way, thanks for the information on the Soaring Mist. I’ll go look them up right now.”
As he walked outside of the tavern, he had to grin as he saw hundreds of children lining up for food. It looked like he had what it took to help them out after all. He watched as they started inside, and though the bartender was not being very polite, he was handing each of them a plate of food.
Satisfied that his work was done, Ilfanti headed toward the docks. Though the bartender said that the Soaring Mist would work with a dwarf, he wondered if it would be capable of handling the demands of the trip he needed to make. The voyage to Egziard was not an easy one—the journey would be long and fraught with peril. Whoever accepted his commission would need to be aware of that and feel that they had a chance for success.
As he reached the docks, he was shocked to see a large gathering milling around a pair of individuals. The group did not seem violent by any means, but he was curious to see what was going on. Grabbing a lamppost, Ilfanti hoisted himself up so that he could peer over the people in the street. Two men, an adlesian and one who looked as if he was a barbarian, were handing out gold coins from several chests.
Ilfanti shrugged at the peculiar scene, but moved on further down the docks. Whoever they were, at least they were helping those less fortunate. Ship after ship was moored to the docks. Ilfanti was impressed by how large and sturdy the vessels looked compared to the one he had used when he first went to Egziard three hundred and fifty years ago. Back then, the ship was lined with one hundred able-bodied men with oars rowing the boat whenever the wind was not strong enough to keep them on course. Now, he saw very few boats with oars.
He spotted a heavily tanned barefoot man who had a scruffy face—as if he had not shaved in several days—and the overall look and feel of a sailor. The man was lying on the dock with one leg dangling over the edge.
“Excuse me, sir,” Ilfanti said. “I was hoping you could point me in the direction of the Soaring Mist.”
The man looked up, squinting in the glare of the sun over Ilfanti’s back. “Everyone knows the Soaring Mist,” he said. “What do you want with her?”
“I wish to charter her services,” he said.
“My own ship may be available,” the sailor said. “Where are you heading?”
“Egziard,” Ilfanti replied.
“Egziard?” the man said as he scratched his chin. “That’s a bit out of my normal shipping lanes.”
“That is why I asked for the Soaring Mist,” Ilfanti clarified.
“Sure, sure,” the man said. “Just keep going down to the end of the dock. You can’t miss her.”
“Thank you,” Ilfanti said.
He continued down the dock, a little excitement and anticipation in his step. The sailor said that everyone knew of the Soaring Mist. That must mean that she was not a small, broken-down wreck that was willing to take on any passenger foolish enough to pay. At least he hoped that was what it meant.
Reaching the end of the dock, the wooden supports went off to the left and he turned. At the very end he paused in admiration. If this was the Soaring Mist, it was breathtaking. Never before had he seen such a magnificent ship.
The Soaring Mist was larger than any other ship he had passed thus far. It stretched two hundred and twenty-seven feet long and almost forty-five feet wide. A thirty-foot bowsprit extended from the bow of the ship. He easily recognized the finely crafted figurehead in intricate detail of Artriema, a legendary aquatican princess rising from the waves with a trident held forward. If what the bartender said was true, and this ship would accept non-human passengers, Ilfanti felt that the symbol of Artriema was a significant one. She was a young aquatican princess that paved the way to peace with the humans hundreds of years ago, ending a deep-set prejudice and conflict between the two civilizations.
There were three masts towering into the sky, the largest of which, the mainmast, was eighty-five feet tall. The flag of Dartais, the purple flag with a golden border and a scepter in the middle, was flapping in the wind at the top of the mainmast. As he studied the ship in awe, he realized that there would be no substitute for this one. Somehow he needed to convince the Captain of the Soaring Mist to take him on his quest. Grinning, he was ready for the challenge of persuading the Captain that Egziard was exactly where the Soaring Mist was always meant to go—with him along for the ride, naturally.
Review by: Shiy Conrow, Wiggle Rheum
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