On the continent of Aurora, no magic-user has been seen in several hundred generations. They may actually be extinct. Many a witch hunt has ended not with just the burning of a magic-user, but also the burning of their literary knowledge. Magical abilities may be inherited by blood, but the ability to properly harness them is something one would need proper training for. Let's just say that recent generations are pretty much shit out of luck in that department. No, Aurora is a vast land, controlled only by the most cunning and hardy of warriors. While a large continent, it is pretty much one season year round: winter. Most of the year, the sun doesn't even show brightly. But we'll hear more about the land later. I think it's about time we introduced the main character here.
"Belak!" Came the bark of a town guardsman. "You're up for the gallows today, scum!" The guard turned a rusty key in a jail cell door, swinging it open heavily. He took a step inward, decked out in the chainmail and purple tabard of the town of mirhold. The guardsman stepped over to a straw pile in the corner of the cell, where the form of a man seemed to be totally inert. The guardsman gave the body a light kick with his mud-caked leather boots.
"OI! GET UP, TRASH!" Giving the body another kick, the guardsman realized something was indeed wrong. Drawing the shortsword from the scabbard at his waist, the guardsman backed out of the cell, grabbing a torch from a sconce in the holding room, and moving back into the cell to get a better look. The guardsman kicked the body again, watching some straw pop out of the shirt and pants it had been stuffed into.
"Gods be damned, he's escaped somehow!" The guard ran out of the cell, leaving the door swinging behind him. Silence fell as his bootsteps receded. Soon, the only thing noticeable in the cell was an ever so slight rise and fall of the straw pile. A low cackle came from within.
"I can't believe that actually worked!" A pair of wiry arms came out of the straw, taking back the pants and shirt. A head revealed itself next, sporting a shaven head with a scar running from the left temple to the end of the chin. A pair of shifty, almond eyes surveyed the room, and the pointed ears listened intently one final time for any noise incoming. When the coast was clear, the man rose up from the straw, dressing himself properly. His skin had a grey pallor to it in what little light remained. A delver, one of the descendants of elves of ancient times. The people of this race usually stay hidden away in the thick forests surrounding the bases of the mountains of aurora, but not Belak. This one wandered into civilization. The delver trotted down the hall past the cells, coming to a stop at a side door. He slowly opened it, revealing a small sleeping quarters. There were a few beds and tables strewn about, with chairs place here and there and guards' possessions throughout. Belak peeked in, taking in the fact that it was empty.
"Alright, I s'pose they're all out for the hanging?" Belak wandered about the room, coming across a pair of leather boots in his size. Slipping them on, he looked about for any exit points. He spotted one as he was putting on a rough leather belt he found on one of the tables.
"Aha!" He exclaimed. "A window!" Belak approached the window, poking at the frame and easing the shutters open. "Wonderful," he continued. "No guardsmen in sight." Dragging a cloak hanging from a nearby bedpost, Belak climbed out of the window to an alleyway outside the holding cell building. Drawing the cloak tight around him, the delver took off at a brisk pace towards the main gate.
"I bet the gates are open this time of day," he thought. "They usually leave them open for hangings for a faster disposal of the bodies, or at least unlocked." Turning a corner at the end of the alleyway, Belak looked about for a nearby shop or "somebody with a loose belt." The delver noticed a pair of hunters leaving a nearby supply shop, their arms laden with trap mechanisms and rope. One of them had a hatchet slid into a loop on his belt.
"That'll do," he murmured, slipping easily through the moderate crowd and sidling up behind his target. The delver then bumped into the hunter's shoulder, drawing the hatchet from the hunter's belt and slipping it into his own, only leaving enough of a gap in his cloak to slip one hand in and out unnoticed. At the unexpected contact, the hunter became irritable.
"OI! Watch where yer goin'! Can't ye see we've got our hands full?" Belak nodded in response, only his nose visible from the hunters' points of view.
"Apologies, sir" he replied in a curt tone, taking off from the confused hunters' position towards the town square. Upon arrival, Belak realized his own mistake upon seeing the heavier security around the gallows. Clearly the guardsmen were still searching for him. Belak made his way through the crowd with his head down, careful not to bump into anyone and attract any unwanted attention in his direction. He was almost out of the crowd when a familiar heavy clanking noise sounded from behind him.
"YOU CLOAKED SONUVABITCH! GIMME BACK MY HATCHET!" Turning 'round quickly, Belak witness the idiot hunter from before, companion in tow, charging straight past the guardsmen and the crowd towards him. Thinking quickly, belak shoved the nearest person to him with all his might, knocking them off their feet and into the crowd. This caused somewhat of a domino effect, sending numerous people to their knees, and tripping up the hunters and bemused guardsmen as well. One of the guards, however, recognized the source of the ruckus.
"THAT'S HIM! IT'S BELAK! GET THAT FUCKING GREYSKIN!" Belak cringed outwardly at the insult, shaking his head and sprinting straight for the gates. He judged the wall built around them to be "maybe 20-odd feet up." The town itself wasn't too heavily fortified. There were only a pair of spearmen waiting for him as he reached the gates. One lowered his spearpoint immediately, seeking to impale Belak. The other waited warily behind his comrade in a defensive stance. Drawing the stolen hatchet, Belak whipped it just barely above the front spearman's shoulder, pinning the other to one of the gates by his bicep. His yelp of pain messed up the front spearman's concentration, and he took a moment to look to aide his comrade. At the turning of his head, Belak put on an extra burst of speed, taking himself further from his pursuers. He slipped past the spearpoint with ease, latching onto the haft and looping his right arm around it. His left fist came out as the spearman's attention returned to him, and delivered a quick jab to the spearman's throat. Belak's opponent gave a gurgle as his hands clutch his throat. He stumbled back, and Belak took full control of the spear, using the butt to pop his opponent in the forehead, snapping his head back. Belak pulled back and jabbed again with the spear butt, catching the guard in his throat again when the man reached for his forehead. Now with no available oxygen, the guardsman dropped to the ground. Belak stepped over his body, turning and launching the spear at his pursuers, taking out one of the guardsmen and causing his corpse to trip up several more. Belak jogged up to the second spearman, dodging a wild swipe from the other spear and using his palm to drive his hatchet deeper into the guard's arm. The man gave another growl of pain, dropping his spear. Belak retrieved it, and tore his hatchet from the man's bicep, letting him drop to the ground. Kicking the guard out of the way, Belak turned and ducked a flying arrow from another guard and swung out with his spear blade, causing some of the guards to step back from his attack.
"BACK! GET BACK YOU SLAG!" Yelled Belak, feeling the gates behind him for the gap between the gates. Upon finding it, he slid one door inward, sliding outside with another swipe of his spear. "Be seeing you never," he remarked, shutting the gate hard behind him and looking about. Mirhold's plot of land had a lot of rivers surrounding it, he need only pick one moving slow enough for him to not be dragged into rapids against his wishes. Spotting one such river, Belak took a running dive into it, spear and all, just as the first group of guardsmen emerged from the town. The captain of the guard saw his exit, and threw his helmet on the ground in anger, having to have watched his prisoner escape into the horizon so easily.
"Gods be DAMNED! How did he get out of the town so EASILY?!"
"I think we c'n help ye with that, sirrah," came a drawling growl from behind him. The captain turned to see the owner of the voice.
"Really?" He replied in a haughty fashion. "You hunters think you can catch such a creature?"
"Ah, is no thing," said the other hunter, hefting a bear trap back up on his shoulder. "We caught us a coupla greyskins ourselves, sirrah. No big deal fer us. But money would be needed, yeah?" The captain nodded slowly in agreement.
"I suppose so, yes. We can't just go out to the mountain range again and capture a wild one. How much do you require?" At this, the hunters gave each other a knowing look.
"Ah, sirrah, we usually charge well over a thousand gold coins fer a man-thing."
"Yeah, but for you chief, we'll do it fer eight hundred, how 'bout that?" The captain looked at the ground for a moment, clearly torn between his options. Another guardsman sidled up next to the captain.
"Cap'n, the Lord wanted one of those greyskins for himself," he whispered. "And this was the only one who actually came to us. We need this one, and you know that. We can make that payment, can't we?" The captain sighed in exasperation.
"Fine, go get a sack from the treasury for these men. but only half." One of the hunters shook his head at this.
"Ah, sirrah, but why only four hundred? Are we no trustworthy?"
"I believe not. You'll get half now, and the other half when you capture that greyskin. ALIVE." The hunters nodded simultaneously.
"Aye, I believe this partn'rship'll work fine fer us all." One of the guardsmen returned with a sack of gold, and handed it off to one of the hunters. The captain pointed in the direction the river Belak had dived into ran.
"Now go. I don't want to see either of you here unless you get that greyskin."
"Oh aye, sirrah, we'll get yer greyskin."
"Yeah, we're on the job." With that, the hunters took off down the riverbank at a brisk pace, sack of gold jangling all the way. The questioning guard shook his head.
"Cap'n, do you really think those two will catch that greyskin?"
"You'd better hope so," came the gruff reply, "or it's all our heads on a godsdamned platter when the Lord comes looking for his new slave." Their was a collective shiver from the guardsmen at the mere thought of the lord of their territory. Lord Voffo was not a man to disappoint. Not if you wanted to live. Of all the Lords of Aurora, Voffo was quite possibly the most cruel, and he had developed a penchant for exotic slaves as of late. A delver was merely a new collectible in his eyes. And so went the daily ritual of rulers and minion in the land of Aurora.
Now to interrupt the story for a moment, I bet you're wondering about the name of the continent itself: Aurora. 'Why such a sweet name for a place that seems too dark?' you may be asking yourself. Well, the word itself comes from the root elven word for beauty, or vanimelda. However, no one speaks elvish anymore. Most of the populace of Aurora speak the common tongue, with some garbled orcish mixed in, depending on the region. The only ones who had anything close to traditional elvish were The Shaded Ones, but one of their kind hasn't been spotted in over a century. Now with the current state of Aurora, you can blame it on mortals themselves. Massacres, genocide, warfare stretching throughout the ages. Humans and the more powerful races of bygone ages sought to eliminate each other, in a time scholars simply call 'The Extinguishing of the Old Cycles.' Cycles are determined by how often a full sun can be seen for a full day; on Aurora, this is only one day a year. The Extinguishing was supposedly the last time when the Gods actually interacted with mortals, each telling their worshippers what would happen if their side did not win the great wars to come. What happened after that, most Aurorans have no clue. Many great libraries of that time were destroyed by followers of the God of Death, Silf. According to one such rare and holy scroll, the mortals had discovered something that Silf was quite against. He made a desperate pact with the other Gods. A dirty trick, it was, to have mortals wage war amongst themselves, that Silf and his acolytes could destroy the thing mortals had. Was it stolen? Perhaps. But the holy scroll says no more. And here we are in what used to be paradise; Aurora, The Frozen Wastes. But of course we can't have this whole tale be about lore, so let us continue where Belak left off... Several miles downriver. Much blubbering and splashing could be heard as Belak's floundering form flew along.
"Aw yeah, water," he thought, "my old enemy. We meet again." But Belak had a trick for his lack of swimming abilities this time around; the hatchet and spear he had stolen. Rolling over onto his back in the water, Belak looked around quickly for any nearby outcroppings of rock or earth.
"There!" He thought, spotting what looked like a pile of gravel and river stones piled up on the left bank. "I've got this." Slashing out with the hatchet, Belak got the old iron blade to stick between two well-set stones. Then came the spear. The delver used his other arm to do an overhead swing onto the bank, sticking the spear blade all the way into the ground. With this, Belak heaved himself out of the water. Spitting out some soil that had gotten into his mouth, Belak checked out his surroundings.
"No sign of the mirhold crowd," he croaked, yanking a stone from the bank pile and sharpening his hatchet's edge. "I can't afford to stay 'round for long, though. More'n likely, they've got those hunters from earlier out after me on commission." Having finished giving his hatchet a coarse but useful edge, Belak quickly removed his shirt, cutting off sections of each sleeve to make the whole affair a 3/4 sleeve. He then put his shirt back on, and cut the seams on each sleeve, making a pair of makeshift pouches. One he immediately slid into his belt, the other he put a couple whetstones in, tying the pouch properly and sliding it too into place. The delver then replaced his hatchet, finally pulling his spear from the dirt. He pulled up his hood, chastising himself lightly.
"Gods, and it's still so early. I'd better take off, those goons won't sit around!" With that, Belak set off northwest, through a light snowfall into an unknown forest, spear at the ready just in case.