Many faerietales are told in Ealisia. Most bards shy away from such tales as legends and songs reap more coin. Some will take the time to entertain young and old with fantastic feats, most likely of the imagination. Most likely, but not certainly.
1 – Everett
This land hides all sorts of people. Although words of deities or wisdom of men may hold sway beyond the great mountain ranges and vast steppes to the south, on the icy plains of Par the law of strongest governs all.
Best to let the strongmen of the north think that anyway, Everett Two-Step muses as he takes in the landscape.
Cold bites his skin through his thick cloak. Only one season is known in these parts. Nearwinter. A perpetual state of cold and gloom. For one half of the year the sun never sets. During the other, darkness covers the land.
Today, the sun will rise no higher. Everett shades his eyes with his hand to better observe their surroundings. Given his height, he is not an ideal scout. An accommodating boulder provides him with a good vantage point. It makes not difference. There are no signs of life on the rolling landscape which reminds him of the more accommodating climate of his homeland.
Despite his light step, frosty earth crunches beneath his halfling feet as he jumps off the boulder. Behind him he hears two other sets of footsteps. They make an odd couple, that halfblood and the dwarf.
Her features do not betray much of her elven heritage. Stocky as he is, the dwarf cares for her wellbeing more than for his own comfort.
This is not a place to make an unsheltered camp for the night. Strange beasts roam these icy lands in daylight. Stranger beings may be on the prowl in the dark of night.
Pulling his cloak more snugly around his chest, he looks up at the crest of a small hill ahead. Perhaps from there they will have a better view of the lands. Perhaps the next dale will provide them with the shelter they need. Not knowing puts him on edge.
Light footsteps tell him she moves closer. Unlike her, the dwarf stomps when he walks. That is probably why Mic likes to hang back. Everett smiles at Eiza as she kneels beside him, arm resting on knee. Her long braid nearly touching the ground. She scans the dale as she speaks.
“It has been days since we lost their trail Everett.”
“Those hunters know the area, Eiza. That inn must be close.”
“Would you find easier pickings around Toral?”
“Lord Umberkwath, if that is even his name, is gearing up for war. If his men caught me recruiting within their ranks, I’d be hanged without a trial.”
She is right, ofcourse. The lands of Toral offer more potential recruits for his band. Yet something draws him out into these plains. Only hardy fighters or foolish adventurers will quest out here without reason. Just the type of people he seeks. Those who will swing a weapon for the mere promise coin and adventure.
“Very well,” her gaze is intent on a nearby vale, “Over there. Smoke rises in the south east.”
“How do you see it?” he says and peers into the distance. All he sees are clear skies and frosty earth. It is at moments like this that he is glad to have a ranger with him.
“Beyond the highest hilltop. We will not cover that distance in one day.”
“Then we had better find a shelter for the night.”
Rising, she gestures at Mic who swings his large warhammer up off the ground and swaggers forward. All without a word.
When they lose the daylight, they will lose the warmth. As the cold seeps from the ground into his foot, he is glad that he wore his fur-lined boots.
Her long legs carry her up the hill ahead of Mic and himself. Men yell at each other as a beast growls in agony. A strange hue of blue light casts a strange aura over the hilltop. Everett does not like magic. Especially not the kind used in combat. It gives his opponents an unfair advantage.
“That sounds like a giant,” Mic says between two bites of air.
Cresting the hill, Eiza immediately draws an arrow, and in a fluid motion nocks it on her longbow, aims and let’s it fly.
Everett reaches her a moment later, just in time to see her arrow strike a twelve foot stone giant in the shoulder.
Limbs flailing, the grotesque mass of skin and stone lumbers towards a hooded figure, reeling under the onslaught of its assailants.
The hideous creature roars as a stone-crusted fist snaps the protruding shaft from where it is lodged in its body.
Arcane energy tethers the giant to the hand of a bulky figure, hood pulled over its head, with a blueish beam of energy.
Despite its arms swinging through the beam, the connection does not break.
“Strike it again!” a voice booms from beneath the hood.
A man clad in a bearskin takes two strides then leaps forward, greatsword swinging from his side in a an attempt to carve through the giant’s leg. He lands awkwardly, and the massive blade misses its mark, his momentum carrying him forward, dodging the swing of the giant’s club.
“Careful, Eiza. You’ll draw it to you,” Everett says.
“I can take care of myself, Ev.” Another arrow takes the giant in the leg. Its jagged head snaps in their direction. Black, bulbous eyes lock on to Eiza.
Flanking the giant stands a figure clad in worn armour, losing an arrow from the type of longbow wealthy knights use. A difficult shot from that distance. Everett notices the effort required to draw the bowstring and as it flies Everett knows it will strike true. Impressive.
The impact of that arrow staggers the giant. As Eiza’s third arrow strikes, Mic finally crests the hill. With a angry growl the giant turns and strides uphill towards them,dragging a huge club behind it.
“I told you!” Everett says and rolls out of its way, only to realise he is not the focal point of the giant’s charge.
It’s gigantic strides bring it up close quicker than Everett expected.
Mic dashes forward but is swept aside by a massive arm, metal scraping on the rock-hard skin, as he is sent rolling down the hill.
“Mic!” Eiza cries out, her attention turned to her lover for a split second.
With surprising swiftness it swings its club at Eiza and knocks her off her feet.
Everett dashes between the giants legs, slashing calves and thighs. Form the corner of his eye, he sees a burst of energy emanate from ascaled hand, picking up speed as it travels the length of the tether, before slamming into the giant with a loud crack followed by a gentle humm that fills the air.
This time the man clad in a wolfskin strikes the giant, driving the tip of his greatsword through a soft spot in the giant’s back armor. Buckling under its own weight, the giant skewers itself and in a final spasm brings down it’s huge club on Eiza who is still sprawled on the ground.
Everett flinches at the crunch as Mic howls somewhere behind him.
Chest heaving from the exertion, the man clad in wolfskin pulls the sword – with some effort – from the giant. It buckles into a sad heap on the hilltop. The tether dissipates as the armoured figure approaches the hooded man in the dale below.
He has never gotten used to the strange quiet following a fight. Everett turns his attention to Mic, kneeled by Eiza’s mangled body.
“She’s not breathing!” Mic says to him.
Blood flows from her ears and nose. Her elvish skin has lost its yellowish hue and turned pale. He lays a hand on Mic’s shoulder and squeezes it gently.
“I am sorry, my friend.”
Mic sobs, cradling Eiza’s body in his lap. The dwarf will not take this well. His band will miss her service. This is a great price to pay for any number of recruits. It is an unwelcome reminder to the harshness of his trade. It is what life is on these plains.
“I guess we owe you a thanks.”
Everett turns to see the hooded figure standing not far from him, flanked by the armoured archer. Despite the archer’s human features, tusks protrude from the man’s bottom lip. Some orcish heritage there somewhere. Though worn, his armour is of good quality and a matching set.
Scaled hands hang by the hooded man’s side. Everett is certain there is a tail hidden underneath the robe. He has heard of such men, yet never met one. Not many exotic visitors make it this far north. How peculiar.
“Who in the world takes on a stone giant with only three men?” Everett asks, sheathing his daggers. It seems like the polite thing to do given that they have lowered their weapons.
“Two actually,” the armoured archer says, taking the string from his bow in a swift motion. His voice is surprisingly pleasant.
Looking over the grounds where they just did battle, another stone giant lies dead amongst some rocks down below.
“You are insane.”
“The human started the whole thing.” A scaled finger is raised and points at the man in the wolfskin, who gently wipes his blade clean of the giant’s blood.
“Oh right,” he says, “if you’d have let tusks over there set his trap, it would have gone over so much easier.”
“Collect their heads, we’ll need them to collect the bounty,” the hooded man says, with dismissive wave of his hand.
Clearly the scaled man is in charge. Everett does not know what to make of the exchange. What price would be worth this risk?
“We should bury her,” Mic says, appearing at Everett’s side.
“Not going to do much digging here,” the scaled mansays. He thumps his boot on the hard ground to make his point.
“We’ll gather some rocks and build a mound, Mic,” Everett says.
“That’s some good armour she’s wearing,” the armoured archer says.
“She will be buried with all of her possessions in tact.” Mic almost growls at the half-orc.
“Why don’t you start gathering rocks, Mic. I’ll speak with these gentlemen.”
With a snarl, the dwarf walks away into the dale, making for some boulders and loose rocks.
“So you’re hunters then?” Everett asks, standing in the shadows of the three taller men.
“Who’s asking?” the archer says, not entirely without disdain. The man’s boots are worn, yet well maintained. In fact, all the leather on his person seems to be well oiled. Only a trained soldier would tend to his armour so regularly as for it to show.
“How rude of me indeed,” Everett replies, removing his hat in a flourish.
“Everett Three-Stride, of Barridor’s Bloody Band, at your service.”
“A mercenary? Why I could cleave you in half with a single swing of my…”
Everett’s blade is at the half-orc’s throat before he completes the sentence. He is disappointed his band’s name did not make more of an impression.
“You were saying?”
“Now now, there is no need for that,” the hooded man says, raising his scaled hands, “though I would not mind to see the human bleed for the trouble he’s caused me.”
Some energy dances between the man’s fingers. Quick as he is with a blade, Everett knows not to underestimate even the weakest wielder of the arcane.
“So you’re not a party then?”
His blade slides into its sheath with a satisfying click as Everett turns to the hooded man.
“We are. Some foolish old innkeeper hired us to slay these rock giants. Bad for business he said. Needed the roads clear. What roads? Whatever. We took care of his problem. Now we’ll collect the reward and be on our merry way.”
“Do you know the way to an inn?”
Finally, the break he needs! If there is an inn, than there is a gathering place for local strongmen. Just what he is looking for.
“We do, yes.”
“Can you take me there?”
“Whatever business would you have at that inn?”
“What do you mean?”
The hooded man gestures at their surrounding.
“This is not really a hospitable environment, is it? There was not much business to be done there from what I saw.”
“My business is my own,” Everett replies, puffing up his chest just a little bit.
The hooded man sighs.
“Very well. If you’re to travel with me, I may as well give you name.”
For whatever reason, the hooded man pauses for a second. Everett glances at the archer, who shrugs and rolls his eyes.
“You may call me Ragnar. Perhaps in time I will share my tale with you. For now, you I will accept your company as we make our way to the inn.”
A cough from the archer makes him turn his head.
“That’s Willy. The bare chested one with the poor manners is Vin.”
Nodding at each of them in turn, Everett turns his attention to Mic, who is moving another load of rocks up the hill.
“This will go faster if you all help,” he says and walks towards his friend.