Year 3603, the Fifth Age, the fifteenth day of Summer
I confess I find myself disappointed. Of all the places I thought that the legendary Aierthian could give me answers to the question I have. But alas, there is naught to find here. Not within the huge libraries, nor the knowledge of other Magi many hundreds of years older than myself. Surely there must be some text with some comprehensive understanding of the Yineth. For I must know: are they a result of some Magi experiment, or not? Were they created by mixing the essence of humans with rabbits? Or are they just some freak of nature?
I find myself extremely depressed with what I have found here, or more to point what I have not found. I must not give in, I will not give up. But I think it is now time I take a more practical approach to my research.
-My Blessed Life by Magi Siggr Stinfry
Year 3630, the Fifth Age, the eighty-seventh day of Spring
It was mid-afternoon but already the streets of Pentra were cast in a deep shadow. This was due to the fact that the southern city of Essinendeür was situated in an immense gorge which looked out onto the still water of the Gornl Sea. Pentra was the most modern city in all the six realms that made up Essinendeür, for it was only built after the seventh realm, Gornl, was destroyed by a cataclysmic tornado of Fog which tore apart the very earth and left behind the Scar of Gornl and the now called Gornl Sea.
“Down along the beach to the left of the docks is where you will find it, Master Varrintine,” a guard wearing the uniform of Pentra called out as Vhindr Varrintine passed by.
“Thank you,” Vhindr nodded as he kept going.
Vhindr was walking through the narrow streets that ran chaotically through the masses of building which sat in the crevasse of the Pentra Gorge. It was not an overly clean part of town and predominately where most of the poorer families lived. The houses were stacked on top of each other on both side of the cobblestone road. Reaching high and seeming as if they would topple over. Ropes were strung between building designed to hang out the washing, but were also used for thieves to run across the roof tops. But there was not much of value in this part of town, the real wealth was situated upon the great arch that reached across the top of the gorge many hundreds of feet above Vhindr’s head. The wealthy lived up there like kings, looking down up the slums while they sipped their expensive wines and lounged in the padded hammocks as they enjoyed the views across the Gornl Sea and soaked up the warm rays of Inüer.
Up there upon the Pentrin Arch was also where the seat of the High Commission, the military body which tried to keep peace between the six realms and their rulers. But those with a more cynical mind set, like Vhindr, guessed that the High Commission and its Regional Commanders were more inclined to breaking up the peace than advocating it.
Vhindr ran a many ringed hand through his raven black hair and dismissed his thoughts on the High Commission, for he had more pressing things to think about.
The smell of salt hung heavily in the air as Vhindr came upon the docks and the many wooden wharves that stretched out into the still waters of the Gornl Sea. On the horizon many jagged and tall islands littered the water, reminding all who looked upon them of the land that once sat here. Inüer shimmered off of the turquoise blue water and made the Fog that drifted below the surface glow strangely.
As the guard had said Vhindr followed the jetties to the east as they ran along the waterfront before coming to an end where the stony beach swept around the large bay. The stones crunched under Vhindr’s leather shoes and a sense of trepidation came upon him as he spotted the cluster of guards down the beach. He knew what to expect, but he never really got used to it.
“Magi beat you here Master Varrintine,” one guard remarked as Vhindr came upon the group.
A sense of annoyance flicked within him as the guards parted and he saw the Magi kneeling beside the body of a dead woman.
“I do hope you have not tampered with the body,” Vhindr remarked a bit harshly.
The Magi looked up from examining the dead woman a look of surprise showing in his eyes behind his round glasses.
“Of course not,” the Magi snapped, “I am a professional.”
“Who are you anyway?” Vhindr asked curiously as he walked around to the other side of the corpse.
“I,” the Magi proclaimed as he stood up and pushed his shoulders back, “am Magi Siggr Stinfry. No doubt you have read my work. I was asked to come here by the Captain of the guard, if you want to know.”
Vhindr nodded disinterestedly as he looked down upon the young woman who was staring blankly up into the afternoon sky.
“And who might you be?” asked the Magi.
“Vhindr Varrintine,” replied Vhindr without looking at the Magi.
The Magi let out a small laugh, “The much inflated fame you received for solving those gruesome murders in Crydon hardly gives you any kind of authority her, my boy.”
“I guess not,” Vhindr shrugged and look at Magi Stinfry in the eye, “But the High Commission does.”
The Magi smiled slightly, “Very well. Perhaps we can work together?”
“No,” Vhindr was quick to reply, “So if you would please leave, and hope that I do not discover that you have contaminated the crime scene.”
Magi Stinfry glared at Vhindr, a slight sneer coming to his face.
“As you wish,” the Magi said through clenched teeth and collected his equipment from beside the corpse. “But I urge you to reconsider, for I am not an enemy you want.”
“Thank you Magi, you may leave now,” Vhindr replied simply and knelt down beside the dead woman.
Vhindr heard the Magi curse loudly before pushing his way through the guards and back towards the city. But he did not care for the man, nor his idle threats, his focus was on the poor woman who met such an untimely end.
“Vhindr Varrintine, I am Captain Arell Starak. Pleased to make your acquaintance,” came a voice which caused Vhindr to look up from the body.
“You are the Captain of the guard?” Vhindr asked with a slight sense of surprise as he looked upon the woman.
“Yes, do you have a problem with that?” Arell asked back.
Vhindr narrowed his dark eyes slightly at the woman. She seemed so young to be in a position of authority, Vhindr was thirty and Arell seemed at least several years younger than himself. She also wore finely made travelling gear, rather than the typical chain mail armour of a city guard. And her surname, Starak, showed that she was somehow related to the chairman of the High Commission.
“My problem,” Vhindr replied after a few seconds, “Is with you asking Magi Stinfry to examine the body.”
“I didn’t,” Arell was quick to cut in, “He came here shouting threats and demanding to see the body. What could I have done? He is an influential man in this city.”
“You could have said no,” Vhindr replied as he went back to looking at the body.
“What damage could he have done anyway,” the Captain replied angrily, “He is well known for his studies into medicine and biology.”
“I know who he is, and the research he has published,” Vhindr said dismissively as he gently moved the dead woman’s head to the side.
“Then what was the problem?” Arell asked in exasperation.
Vhindr glanced up at the Captain and looked hard into her brown eyes, “The problem is right here,” he indicated to the corpse, “This woman’s body is riddled with the incisions and marks where Magi Stinfry has taken samples and made magickal examinations, some I know but others I do not. Such examinations cannot be made twice, so all I can really ascertain now is that this woman was in her mid-twenties, of a poor economic background, she had recently given birth, and was chained up before she was likely drowned.”
Captain Arell looked surprised, “How did you work all that out?”
Vhindr sighed slightly, “Her age is obvious, her clothes show her to be poor, and the bruising on her wrists are clear indications or her being chained up.”
“And recently giving birth?”
“Look here,” Vhindr explained and lifted up the dead woman’s shirt, “See these marking and small incisions. Your Magi caused these when he was examining her, such examinations that cause this are only used to ascertain that she had given birth recently.”
“So how do you know if she actually had or not without doing the tests yourself?”
“The swelling of her breast for feeding the child,” Vhindr pointed, “This blouse of hers seems too small for her size. So I came to the only reasonable conclusion.”
Captain Arell shook her head in bewilderment, “He said you were good at this.”
“Who said that?” Vhindr was quick to ask, “Your grandfather, Chairman Edin Starak of the High Commission?”
Arell narrowed her eyes at him, “You think I got this position as Captain because of who my grandfather is, don’t you?”
Vhindr smiled slightly, “I was not certain of who you grandfather was before now.”
Arell glared at Vhindr as she flicked her platted ponytail back behind her should and crossed her arms in front of her chest.
Vhindr returned the glare with a bemused look of his own.
“Captain. Master Varrintine,” A call came from one of the guards down the beach a ways and broke the tension.
“What is it Mytre? Another body?” Captain Arell asked with concern as she and Vhindr moved towards the guard.
“You gotta come see this,” the guard said between labored breathes as he jogged up to them, “It’s like nothing we ever seen.”
“Lead the way,” Vhindr motioned to the guard who nodded and began walking back along the beach, still laboring for breath.
Vhindr followed behind Arell and the guard as they walked away from the crime scene and the several guards who were watching the area. It was about half an hour later, and on the other side of the bay where a narrow spur of land reached out into the sea, by the time the guard stopped where two other guards were waiting.
“Well?” Vhindr asked when they stopped.
“Up ahead Master Varrintine,” one of the guards pointed to end of the beach.
“Are you not going to show the way?” Vhindr asked curiously.
“I don’t wanna see it again, nearly threw up the last time,” the guard was quick to reply and Vhindr could see that the other guards felt the same.
Curiously Vhindr turned from the guards and continued along the stony beach, with Arell close behind him. Tall cliffs stood to Vhindr’s left and at the very end of the land spur the beach became filled with large boulders covered in barnacles. It was among the first of these rocks that he spotted what the guards were talking about.
“What in the Abyss is that?” Captain Arell balked as they stopped before the grotesque sight. “Some kind of sea monster?”
Vhindr shook his head and rolled the mutilated corpse over, “Its humanoid. And it seems to be lunge breathing.”
“Some kind of mutant than?” Arell questioned, “Or a sailor who fell over board from a ship and was half eaten by some beast?”
Vhindr shrugged and looked further along the beach and between the jagged rocks. A thought suddenly occurred to him and he stood up from the body and made his way through the rocks and around the other side of the head land.
“Where are you going?” the Captain asked as she followed, but he did not reply.
As the bay disappeared behind the cliff and the Gornl Sea opened up before him, Vhindr spotted his fears lying among the rocks.
“Another body,” Vhindr remarked as he and Arell climbed their way to where it lied, “Female as well. Though very decomposed and half eaten. And look, there is another one, just as old.”
“By The Five,” Arell gasped, “Vhindr I can see old bones amid these rocks. May The Five have mercy.”
“The Gods have no say here,” Vhindr remarked dryly, “It seems that bodies of women have been washing up here for many years and it was only the luck of the undercurrents that brought the most recent one into the bay.”
“Luck?” Arell balked, a worried expression upon her face.
“Yes,” Vhindr nodded and turned his gaze to the Captain, “For I will now find and prosecute this murderer and see that they are executed.”
Arell firmed her jaw and nodded, “I will help.”
But Vhindr shook his head, “I work alone.”
“I want to help,” Captain Arell insisted, “I know you don’t think much of me and that I got this job because of my family’s influence. But I want to help. I want to make Pentra a better place to live in for all. Plus I have the resources to make your investigations easier. Please.”
Vhindr studied the Captain for a few seconds before he sighed and nodded, “Alright. There is nothing more we can do here so let us head back before it gets dark.”
Arell smiled and nodded and the two of them climbed their way back through the maze of rugged boulders. Vhindr stopped at the mutilated body one more time, curiously examining the strange features and twisted of the man. But as Inüer drifted closer to the western horizon, he decided to leave and follow the guards and Arell back to the main crime scene. The young woman’s body was collected and taken to perform a full analysis, though Vhindr knew there would not be much to find and headed into the city to ponder what he had seen.
* * *
He was dead. But he was not scared, nor worried. He felt peaceful as he drifted in the blackness rippled with Fog. At least, he thought he was dead. How could he be certain? But if he was thinking, he could not be dead, so than what was he? Was there a state of consciousness after death? No, that was foolish thinking. Death is an absolute. There is no such thing as something after death. Then, in that case what was he? He must be alive.
He was alive. His mind was working and his heart beating. His lunges cried for air and grasped greedily the breath that came. Tears ran from his eye as he cried, screamed in fact, he was alive.
But what did that mean?
The clash of thunder forced Legin’s eyes to open and he jumped awake. So much so that he slipped from the tree branch he was sleeping on and would have tumbled to the ground if his tail were not still coiled around the branch. Swinging upside down Legin scratched his head and yawned as he pondered the strange dream he just had. But as he rubbed the sleep out of his eye the dream seemed to slip away and he was simply left with a feeling of confusion.
Distant thunder roared in the skies again as a massive front of dark clouds snuffed out the morning light of Inüer. The rain began to fall then and the wind picked up forcing the deluge down harder and heavier.
Legin dropped from the branch he was swinging on and landed on his toes before ducking around the other side of the tree trunk to try and find some cover from the intense rain.
“How long was I asleep?” Legin wondered aloud as he yawned again and grabbed a low hanging apple for his breakfast.
Just then Pip came running through the brush using his hands to try and shield against the pelting rain.
“You slept a while,” Pip said loudly as he came up to Legin, “It’s the next day already.”
Legin shrugged as he tossed away the apple core.
“What’s been happening?” Legin asked as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“It started raining,” Pip replied dryly, “We should find some more adequate shelter, don’t you think?”
“It’s only rain,” Legin laughed as he held his head back and closed his eyes, letting the driving rain splash against his face and body.
Suddenly a fork of lightning shot out of the dark clouds and struck the prison wall to the south, sending veins of electricity through the glassy walls.
“And lightning,” Pip shook his head and tired harder to hide behind the tree trunk.
Legin laughed and shook his head at his friend.
“Hey, what’s that?” Legin suddenly exclaimed and pointed to the east and the doors to the guard’s barracks.
Through the haze of rain and the dark of the storm a line of bright torches could be seen moving up to the gates. Minutes passed and more prisoners turned up and started banging on the prison doors.
“Have Vythe’s plans begun already?” Pip asked with concern as he came from behind the tree.
“Maybe,” Legin mumbled as he continued to watch the prisoner’s crowded in front of the gates, “But it seems too soon. And where is Vythe?”
“He could be down there,” Pip said suddenly, “Come on we should be too.”
Pip grabbed at Legin’s arm as he started towards the cliff side short cut. Legin hesitated before following after Pip, something did not feel right about this but he could not figure it out.
Pip started down the stony steps, agilely not slipping on the wet stones and making good speed despite the weather. Like Vythe, Pip was of Men, but still had remarkable skill and foot work regardless of that fact. Such dexterity was predominately seen amongst the Elder Races, in the likes of Snow Elves, Wood Elves and Blood Elves, even the Yineth and Halflings were considered naturally dexterous and agile. Dwarves, being short and stocky were of course the exception that proves the rule. Legin, being neither human or of the Elder Races, as far as he knew, also possessed none of the traits from any of the races. But Legin was arguably more nimble and swift than the fittest Wood Elf.
Legin was close behind Pip as they reached the ground and cut a quick path through the tin houses which were being battered and destroyed by the fierce storm. Soon they came upon the mass of prisoners who were shouting and waving burning torches as others bagged repeatedly upon the doors to the barracks.
It seemed strange to Legin as he filtered through the masses, there was no order to this riot, no uniform call coming from the prisoners. It seemed as if they had just simply decided to group here and bang on the doors. It seemed to him also that many of the inmates were wondering the same thing, and some had even started to leave.
“Borris, what’s going on?” Legin called as he came upon one prisoner he knew well enough.
“Who knows,” Borris called back, shouting to be heard above the storm, “Aurora told me to gather up everyone and make a showing at the barracks.”
“So it is a riot?” Legin nodded, but he was not convinced.
“S’pose you could say that,” the man replied, “Aurora gave us no direction though.”
Legin scratched his chin in confusion.
“You seen Vythe around?” Legin asked after a few seconds.
“Nope,” Borris shook his head before quickly moving to stop some of the prisoners from leaving the lackluster riot.
“What’s going on, Legin?” Pip asked with concern.
“I don’t know,” Legin shook his head.
His concerns continued to plague Legin as he and Pip remained around the outside of the crowed of prisoners. Both of them waiting and watching to see what would happen. But as the rain died down to a steady shower and the storm moved off towards the East, the guards had not come out to quiet things down and nor had Vythe shown up.
Legin shook the rain from his hair and sighed as the mass of prisoners slowly began to break apart and head off to do their own things.
“Borris,” Legin called and moved to catch up with the other prisoner, “That was useless, you lot heading back to the West now?”
“North,” Borris replied gruffly, “Aurora took it last night. What were you doing? Sleeping?”
“I was actually,” Legin laughed, “Why did she do that?”
Borris shrugged, “Vythe showed up with that Lieutenant fellow and told her to attack Zairole, so she did. You and Vythe always have good information, best to act on it. So why don’t you know about this already? You and Vythe break up?”
“Don’t be silly,” Legin was quick to reply, “It’s just I didn’t expect it to happen so soon.”
“Whatever,” Borris scoffed and shook his head before moving off with his mates.
Legin and Pip trailed behind as they left the tin houses behind and made their way along narrow and now muddy roads that ran along the foot hills of the Northern Hill southwards, before turning back towards the north. The many plateaus of the Northern Hill passed by slowly as Legin was lost in thought and tried to understand what was happening.
He had still not come to any realisation when they came to the top of the hill and to the cliff top that offered an amazing view of the whole prison compound. The rain was still falling as Legin made his way to the Faction building which stood in the middle of the plateau and where he hoped he would find Vythe. But as he entered he did not spot the white sleeves and black and gold vest of his friend. Instead he only saw Aurora sitting in a cushioned chair at the end of the hall awaiting the arrival of her bodyguard, Borris.
“How did things go?” Aurora asked curiously as Borris stopped before the Faction Leader.
“How were they meant to go?” Borris replied gruffly, “Plenty of prisoners showed up, but nothing happened. Was that what was meant to happen?”
Aurora shrugged, “If it occupied the prison authority’s attention, then yes.”
“What is going on?” Legin interrupted, his quite concerns overflowing.
“Legin,” Aurora looked slightly surprised as she noticed him at the back of the group of prisoners. “I expected you would be with Vythe.”
“And where is Vythe?” asked Legin slowly as he moved to the front of the group.
“I think this will explain everything,” Aurora said as she picked up a letter that sat beside her and handed to Legin, “Vythe asked me to give this to you if I ever saw you again.”
Slowly Legin took the letter from Aurora and broke the wax seal before unfolding it.
My dear friend,
If you are reading this then it fills me with great regret. By now I will be free of this prison, or dead, hopefully the former. This new prisoner, The Lieutenant, or Lieut as he is calling himself, is a headstrong and arrogant man but just so happens to have a means of escape. A means with a limited window for me to join. I desperately tried to get word to you but events sped up and moved out of my control. I have been in this prison for ten years and had to take this opportunity. And I trust you would have done the same if our places were reversed.
You are strong Legin, and you will find your owns means of escape. I hope I will see you again someday soon, you and your Pip.
Your always friend,
Legin could not believe the words he was reading and in a daze turned from Aurora and began a slow walk out from the hall. He heard the Yineth call out to him, but it did not register as he fought back the tears welling within him. Outside the rain greeted and masked the wetness that had already appeared on his cheeks. Without thinking where he was heading he continued to walk with Pip behind him in a similar daze having read the letter over Legin’s shoulder.
The next thing Legin realised is that he was squatting at the edge of the cliff in his private spot on the Northern Hill. The rain had stopped and Inüer was poking His face through the clouds warming up the afternoon and drying up the rain that had fallen. Blankly his blue eyes, flecked with pink, gold and green shards, gazed at the tin sheds below his position. Most of the sheds had been knocked over by the fierce storm, but already the owners were rebuilding.
“Damn Vythe,” Pip said bitterly as he sat a few metres behind Legin with his back to a tree. “I never liked him anyway.”
“Don’t say that Pip,” Legin was quick to say as he continued to stare out across the prison.
Pip sighed heavily, “You’re right, I shouldn’t have said that. He was our friend. But he left us behind.”
“We don’t know the circumstances,” Legin replied simply, “That Lieut guy could have forced Vythe to leave then, without finding us first. But I cannot believe he is gone. What do we do now?”
“We don’t need Vythe to make all the plans,” Pip said getting to his feet, “Remember when we were kids running the streets of Pentra together? Vythe wasn’t around then. We only met him when we were dumped in this hole. Sure he’s been a great friend, but Vythe is gone now. Things will just be the way they were before we crossed paths.”
Legin sighed and sat down on the wet grass, looking to the sky and closing his eyes to soak in the warm light.
“I suppose you’re right, Pip,” Legin said, “It’s just, I know I will miss him dearly.”
Pip nodded, “I know.”
The birds in the trees chirped and sang happily as silence fell between Legin and Pip. The sound of bees was loud in the air as they went about collecting nectar from the fruits trees which covered the Northern Hill. With the storm spent and disappearing into the eastern mountains, which could be seen above the prison walls, light fluffy clouds now drifted slowly in the blue sky.
“I can’t believe Vythe wrote ‘your Pip’ in the letter,” Pip suddenly huffed, “Like a I belong to you, Legin.”
Legin rolled back on the grass and laughed, “But you are my Pip.”
“Please,” Pip replied irritably, “I was the one who showed you how to steal your first apple, pick your first pocket, and snip the strings of your first pouch. If anything you are my Legin.”
Legin laughed again and jumped to his feet, “Come on Pip. We need to start putting some plans in motion if we are going to find a way to escape.”
Pip smiled wide and nodded, “That’s more like it. We will be out of here in no time if we put our minds to it. What’s the first stop?”
Legin smiled wide and scooped up and apple from the ground as he walked from the grove.
“First we need to talk to Aurora,” Legin replied and took a large bite of the fruit.