The Good, The Bad, The Eldritch: Fighting The Tide
Year 1019 A.F.
Omnihome, Xenohunter’s Guild district, The Hunter’s Lodge
Zailas the Slayer
‘The Hunter’s Lodge’ was a little tavern at the edge of the district. It didn’t look like much from the outside, just another nondescript gray stone brick building same as any other in this part of ‘The World’s Center’ save for the sign on the roof proclaiming the name, which glowed a neon blue in the dark of the late night thanks to an illusion enchantment.
Korrohm or ‘Korm’ as his patrons called him was going through the usual end of day choirs. Lock the windows and doors, put up the stools, wipe down the counter and tables. The sorts of routine tasks any tavern owner goes through every night.
It was a few minutes before midnight when he dragged the trash cans outside he spotted a figure approaching. “Oy, who’s that there?” The grizzled old dwarf called out as he squinted into the darkness and wiped his hands upon his ale stained apron.
“Howdy Korm.” A familiar voice called out as an elven figure reminiscent of a beanpole, too thin for how tall he was emerged from the shadows.
It took a moment to recognize the late night visitor. Dark gray trench coat, matching hat, red eyes, a xenohunter judging by the weapons peeking out from underneath his coat. Korm could always recognize them, given they were most of his clientele. “Zailas.” He nodded in greeting to the figure as he recalled the name. “You’re out awful late, lad.” He stated with a concerned frown. Zailas the Slayer was a frequent patron, didn’t drink much, mostly socialized with his friends especially that redheaded she-elf that was always on his arm. Unlike other more haughty and egotistical elves he never started trouble.
The Slayer nodded. “Yeah, sorry. Are… are ya closed? I-I could really use a d-drink.” He pleaded with a shaky stuttering voice and rubbed the side of his head in manner that suggested either stress, or sleeplessness.
“Aye, sorry lad.” The dwarf replied as he gestured to the ‘closed’ sign on the door. It was long past closing time and Korm had suffered through a particularly long and hard day. He had a to train a new waitress who while charming was a bit of klutz, and had to deal with more than a few jackass elves. Needless to say there was a good reason why there was the common saying of ‘They get along like elves and dwarves’. Understandably he wasn’t in the mood to deal with the demands of another one.
Zailas nodded and looked disappointed. “Yeah… okay, sorry.” He began to turn and walk away. He wasn’t the type to make demands or cause a ruckus. Even if he had walked all way from the barracks in hopes of getting a drink, if he was told ‘no’ he’d leave it at that.
“But for you lad…” Korm felt a sudden change of heart and held the door open, then motioned for the Slayer to enter. “I can spare a few minutes and a mug ‘o mead or two.” Zailas thanked him profusely as he took shaky steps through the door. The inside of the tavern was far more lavish and unique than the outside. The countertop was tiled with scales from hydras, dragons, and nagas. A pair of giant tusks adored either side of the swinging door. The mounted head of a troll near the end of the bar served as a hat rack. Korm finally got a good look at the Slayer in the light of the tavern. Poor elf clearly he hadn’t slept in days. “You alright lad? Ya look pale, and you’re shakin’.”
The Slayer nodded as he took a stool off the counter and nearly dropped it as he set it on the floor. “I’ll manage, I just need somethin’ to…” He fell silent as if he was having trouble finding the words. “Somethin’ to get my mind off the nightmares.”
The moment Korm set a mug in front of Zailas he snatched it up and drank it down in loud gulps as if it were the sweet nectar of the Fates. He then took a gold coin (which would pay for at least a dozen mugs of mead) from a duster pocket and set it on the counter and gestured for a refill. It was on the third or fourth drink his tongue loosened enough to start talking. “You ever heard of Silver City?” The Slayer inquired as he leaned heavily on the countertop.
“Silver City!” Korm exclaimed in anger. “Nae a man or woman alive that has nae heard of the atrocities committed thar by the Fury! Mark my words, this world will be better off when the ones responsible for what happened to all those poor damned souls meet justice! Preferably at the end of a rope!”
“That’s the one.” Zailas nodded as he buried his face into his hands.
“The newspapers says we’re going to war with the Fury and its about damned time to! Someone needs to stop those bastards before they kill us all!”
“I mean Shapers Fist! Hordes of the risen undead marchin’ from house to house pullin’ folk from their homes, literally devourin’ them in the street! Men, women, children! No one was spared!”
“And they didn’t even get to stay dead! The curse of undeath spread to the victims–” Korm was beginning to shout in outrange when Zailas interrupted.
“I KNOW!” He screamed with an expression of wide eyed fear. The room fell silent save for Zailas labored panicked breathing. He looked to be on the verge of passing out, forced to hang on to the edge of the counter to keep from falling over.
Korm didn’t understand the outburst at first, then it dawned on him. “By the Fates… ya was there weren’t ya?”
Zailas responded with a shallow nod and slumped against the counter. “I grew up there during the occupation, and I was there again in my nightmares.” His long ears twitched slightly, “I can still hear the screams even as I’m awake.”
Korm felt his heart sink into a pit in his stomach. “Oh lad… I’m so sorry. If I had known I nae–”.
Zailas waved a hand dismissively. “No need to apologize. I brought it up.”
Once again the room fell into silence until it was broken by the sound of Korm pouring another mead and setting it on the counter. “I’ve got sumthin’ stronger if ya need it.”
Zailas looked up then downed the contents of the mug. After a soft sigh of relief he shook his head. “Any more and I’m liable to make a mess on your floor.”
“How about some water and bread to wash it all down then?” The Dwarf offered.
“Yeah, appreciate it.”
Korm laid the plate and cup on the counter. “So how often ya been havin’ the nightmares?”
Between bites Zailas answered. “Every time I shut my eyes for the past week.” He paused for a moment thoughtfully then add. “And ya know that’s not even the worst of it.”
“Oh?” Korm asked with a hint of disbelief. “What is?”
Zailas cleared his throat and took a sip of water in preparation to speak. “Well I’d rank my nightmares at about number four of my worst issues, the other three are fightin’ it out for the top spot. First my team’s mentor Professor Doe…”
Korm interjected. “Oh! I know the ole Prof. Great man! Brillant and mad as they come. He’s a credit to xenohuntin’ the world over. I was there when he helped end the xeno attack of 981. Man is a damned hero!”
“He has also been missin’ for six weeks and the guild is officially declaring him dead. I don’t believe it for a second though. I-I just can’t believe it.” His voice cracked.
“Any idea what happened to him?” Korm frowned.
Zailas shrugged. “Him and his blue door just up and vanished one day, and no one anywhere in the known damned world has seen or heard from him.”
“Wait him and his ‘blue door’?” Korm questioned with a raised eyebrow.
“The blue door, his office door. His office can move around. Its a Fate relic, ancient magic, dimensional pocket type a thin’. The fact that his office is gone isn’t so strange. What is, is that he’s been gone for so long and hasn’t checked in with anyone. He’s out there somewhere though. He just has to be.” Zailas looked at his reflection in the cup, for just a brief moment he thought he could see the Professor standing over his shoulder with a smile.
“Well you and your buddies is rookies right? Will the XHG let you become full members without the Prof? Don’t ya need him to complete the trails?”
“And we move onto the next thing keepin’ me awake at night. Short answer we don’t know, they’re still decidin, long answer ‘don’t matter anyway’, because of what is probably the worst of the worst now that I really think about it.”
Korm winced as if bracing to be punched in the gut.
“Sarya–” Zailas voice caught in his throat and he winced. Even thinking about what was going to happen to her brought pain to his heart.
“Your pretty little redhead, aye?”
The Slayer frowned deeply and shook his head he began to respond but was cut off by the twelve chimes of the clock tower in the town square. Once the chimes were finished he explained. “She isn’t ‘my’ anything and I don’t think she is ever goin’ be. I’ll give ya the short version, she has to go back to her homeland to be married to man she absolutely despises, because of stupid elven bullshit royal blood nonsense.” He suddenly slammed his elbows on to the table and buried his face in his hands again. “And I swear to the Fates I still hear screamin’! “ There was a sudden gust of wind against the window making a thud noise. His long pointy ears twitched. “And that sounded like an explosion.” He declared with a concerned expression.
“Its the wind, lad. Your mind is playin’ tricks on ya, stress can do that.”
Zailas sighed and nodded. “Yeah yeah, you gotta be right.”
“But so wait… ya and Sarya. I got the impression ya two were tagether. I mean by the Fates anyone that looks at ya two when ya’re in here would think so. I’ve nae ever seen ya turn an eye to another woman, nae her any man but you. Most folks might even be jealous of what ya two have.”
Zailas didn’t react save for looking just a bit sadder and more deflated. He leaned on the counter with his palm on his forehead and let out a deep sigh.
“Ya two do love each other right? I mean it seems down right silly ta me ta even ask.”
“I’ve gotta be one hundred percent honest.” Zailas lifted his head to look Korm in the eyes. “I just don’t know.”
“Ya nae bloody know?” Korm asked with unveiled surprise.
Zailas shrugged. “I grew up in an orphanage. Well, till I came back after scrounging for food one day and found a smokin’ crater where it should have been. I ain’t never had parents, or family or even a pet. How would I know what ‘love’ is?” He paused for a moment then asked, “ Korm, have you ever been in love?”
“Well… I thought I was once, but then I sobered up and realized she was as ugly as the south end of a mule goin’ north. I suppose I get what’cha sayin’ love is a mysterious and fickle thin’ I can’t really think of a way of describin’ it in objective terms. I guess its the kinda of thing where um, if you’re in love ya just know it, lad. Sorry I can nae explain it any better than that.”
“Well don’t matter anyway. In a month or so I’ll never see her again. Maybe it’s best if I never learn what love is, at least I won’t suffer without it that way.” Zailas chuckled morosely.
“Well lad, ya got a month right? Maybe things will change? Ya know what they say about hope and determination.”
Zailas nodded. “Change the world, yeah. Alright I’ve clearly taken up enough of your time.” He dropped a second gold coin as a rather generous tip for a few silver in mead, and bread.
Korm began to protest, “Oh no lad that’s too much,” but was silenced by a wave of the hand.
“You’ve more than earned that by listenin’ to my belly achin’.” The Slayer began to stand but stumbled as it felt like the ground shook under him. “Whoa. Mead musta been stronger than I thought.” He chuckled at first then fell silent as he noticed Korm’s expresion.
With a worried look the Dwarf replied. “No lad… that wasn’t the mead. I felt the ground shake, and I’m hearin’ the screamin’ now to.”