A Fork in the Road
Áedán awoke and took one more look back at Doble. It had been his home for so long now. Holjmir was about a ten to twelve day hike, and that's if he cut through Emhar Swamp, but once he got there, his whole world would change. He would train to become a Demon Hunter just like Ulrich had. Once he was strong enough he would hunt down Kai and get his revenge. Kai had killed his brother in a demonic rage. Ulrich was the only family Áedán had left, and it was taken away by his best friend. Now it was Áedán's job to make sure to make Kai would pay. Áedán started down the dusty dirt road that branched out of Doble. It ran towards Nelan but The Silver River ran close to it at one point so he figured would follow the road until it hit the river and forked. With him, Áedán carried only a rolled up a tent tied to the top of a backpack filled with food. There was no room for anything else. If he wanted to make this long journey he needed enough food to get him there. He left his home and everything he knew behind, all except for one photo of Ulrich, their father and him. He felt it was important to remember where he came from. If he forgot who he was he would be no better than a demon, hunting and killing his entire life.
Áedán was still unsure exactly what happened last night. People don't just turn into demons... Kai must've been a demon all along. Some sort of Shape-shifting Demon, sitting there under our noses. That's why Ulrich had never caught Doble's assailant... I'll make that demon pay!
Áedán marched down the little road for hours; the day seemed to be coming to a close, not quite sunset, but close to it. He saw a man with cart in the distance. When the two travelers were about to pass each other Áedán noticed the man was a traveling merchant.
"You there!" He called out to the merchant. It was never a bad idea to get a few more supplies. "You are a merchant yes?"
"Why yes I am. Are you in need of something? I was heading for Doble but it seems it will be nightfall before I get there so I might as well sell a few things to a passing lad." The merchant was a kind middle aged man. His voice was strong and hearty.
"Do you possess any merchandise that can be used for healing? Like a salve or a potion of some kind. My path is dangerous and if I am to run into trouble I want to be prepared."
"Yes yes, I think I have what you're looking for. My brother is an alchemist in Nelan and I get some of my goods from him. This green potion here should rejuvenate and revive you after a rough scrap. It also excels the healing process of cuts or wounds. All you have to do is drink." The merchant seemed happy to make a sale; he obviously didn't get enough customers looking for such items.
"How much will it be sir?" Áedán had plenty of money to spare. Both Ulrich and Dad didn't need coins anymore so he took all they had.
"This potion here will be eighty coin."
"Well that's a fair price. Why don't I just give you a gold? You're a good fair merchant and even stopped in the middle of your travels for me. Consider the extra twenty for your troubles."
"Why thank you sir that's mighty kind of you." The merchant was delighted with the extra pay, obviously glad he stopped to sell to the boy.
"I hope to see you again..."
"Jed. The names Jed."
"Well then Jed, I hope to buy from you again someday." The two went their separate ways as the sun began to set. The wispy clouds in the sky, lit up by the sun, were ablaze with hues of purple and orange; a sight only seen under the wide open skies of these hilled planes. Áedán pitched his tent a few hundred feet east of the road near a couple of trees and ferns. He would sleep there tonight and continue traveling in the morning.
"Come on human, wake up already!" I felt a kick at my side and awoke confused. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and looked up to see Brix starring down at me. I was startled at first but remembered that this demon and I were now working together.
"How long have I been asleep?" I asked, unable to stand just yet.
"It's noon. We've already lost hours of travel due to your foolish napping. I was getting quite tired of waiting for you."
"Alright alright, I'll get up and we can start walking." Today was our third day traveling toward Nelan; we'd reach the city gates in about six hours. I stood and folded up the blanket. I was quite happy that this was the last time I'd be sleeping on these frosted plains, by nightfall I'd be in a warm inn with my own room and bed. As I slid it into my backpack a threw the straps over my shoulders to began the march. The birds were chirping in the wind and there were only a few puffy clouds in the sky. The breeze was small and cool, a perfect day for travel. It was a tad warmer now, as we headed north, and I turned back to look at Mt. Keffner's brilliant peak covered in snow and took in the sight before heading off with Brix. Nelan was surrounded by a thick forest with trees so thick and so tall, I wasn't sure if one could even see the great mountain once inside.
I've climbed hill after hill on the plains separating Doble from Nelan, but soon all that climbing and stumbling would come to an end. We were close enough to the great city now that walking on, or at least near, the road wouldn't prove as dangerous. Being that Nelan was a city that harbored both demons and humans, it wouldn't take anyone by surprise to see a demon approaching the gates. And so, our trek across the plains had come to an end. We veered away from the mountain range and head in the direction of the road.
Most of the trip had been relatively silent. Neither Brix nor I said much to the other. Our partnership as we called it, was tense. His kind had terrorized us for as long as I can remember. And in a way, my kind had terrorized him for quite some time too. But alas, we each needed at least one ally in Nelan so that we didn't get ripped apart. The town may be inhabited by both humans and demons, but that doesn't mean all the humans will be friendly towards Brix, or all the demons friendly towards me.
After a few hours the forest was in view. The tall green trees loomed over the dark forest floor, trees taller than any plant I had ever seen. The trunks were at least ten to fifteen meters wide, and the trees themselves stretched who knows how high. Deep green foliage clung to each branch even in winter. The trees of Nelan's great forest must be evergreen like the scarce few in Doble. Vines and moss choked many of the trees, creeping amongst the roots and climbing forever up the pillars of bark. I saw a hawk fly over the tree tops, searching for an afternoon meal. I almost pitied the bird. Birds of prey must find it near impossible to hunt here, with treetops so dense and high up, it's amazing they see any prey on the forest floor at all.
As we rounded the final bend in the road, the enormous wooden gates of Nelan came into sight. The gates, although dwarfed by the trees, towered over us by a good twenty meters as we approached them. The gates were wondrous; marvelous carvings and elfish symbols frayed across the frame of each door. And as we finally reached those huge wooden gates I looked up in awe. I wondered, How many years must it have taken to construct such a marvel? Brix was less than impressed however.
"Leave it to humans to waste their time building such a door. Any simple door could've sufficed but noooo, they needed to make a giant heavy one and decorate it to hell."
"Don't you appreciate anything?" I turned with a frown. "Those gates probably represent decades of dedication and craftsmanship."
"I appreciate the taste of a well grown human. Speaking of which, I'm still starving and you'd better follow up on your end of the deal. I'm allowed to eat prisoners right? Because if not, it'll be either you or one of those guards over there." I looked in the direction Brix was motioning to and noticed eight or twelve guardsman along the walls of the gate, as well as two down at the foot of the gate.
"No need to get all anxious now, you'll get your human in time." I mumble in discontent. I can't believe I'm talking about feeding people to this beast. I should just have the guards kill him now... but then again; he's had countless opportunities to kill me and passed on every one. As we walked up to the pair of guards near the entrance, one spoke out,
"You there! Does the demon come civilized or must we eradicate the beast?" The man had a strong voice, accompanied by his broad shoulders and muscular build. As he spoke, the guard had taken a step forward and a hand leapt to the sheath at his side. I was about to answer when a mumble escaped Brix's lips.
"Fool couldn't slay me if he had the help of twenty men..." "Oh hush. He could still kill me. So shut your damn mouth."
"What was that?" The guard inquired, raising an eyebrow in our direction.
"Nothing sir," I replied, "This demon here won't make any trouble. We would just ask for entrance into the city please."
"Very well," The guard answered hesitantly, "But don't you two try anything. We've got dozens of men partollin' the streets, day and night, so if you're a bringing trouble, best turn away now." The guard left his sword sheathed and signaled to the men up on the wall. A few of the wall guards went to a crank and the gigantic wooden gates began to swing open. As I looked through the opening of the gates I could see a brilliant city as alive as the trees themselves. This was my new home. This was my new life.
Áedán's journey has been a lonely one. For three days he had not seen nor talked to anyone. His silence was becoming his weakness. With no one to talk to or share troubles with, he felt he would go mad, and yet, his silence was his strength. His father always told him, "Nothing makes a man stronger than being alone, and how a man directs that strength is what counts." Áedán knew exactly how to direct that strength, each breath he took, each step he took, brought him close to vengeance. No duration of exclusion could stop him. Words meant little to him now anyway; with his father gone, brother gone, and best friend gone, any words he spoke fell only upon his own ears.
Keeping along the river, as Ulrich instructed, Áedán kept his distance from the road however, staying as close to the river bank as possible for it was his only source of water. The Great Plains were coming to an end; Silver Lake was slowly coming into view, and with it, a new horizon. For days he had seen nothing but the rolling plains, the occasional cluster of trees, and the Base Mountains to his right. What he saw now was a whole new world. He had never been further than the plains, and had heard only stories of these lands beyond, but the stories were nothing like this. In the distance, beyond Silver Lake, lay what seemed to be a forest. Áedán believed this was the forest he had heard of in legend. Elake forest, a never-ending, always dense forest that rendered any explorer lost within its depths. A place where if legend were true, Elves thrived and danced among the branches. As long as anyone can remember though, this tale of Elves was only legend, for no one had entered Elake forest and returned. Each tree in the forest was rumored to be at most, ten meters apart, and look almost identical. Hundreds of different kinds of birds fluttered among these similar tree tops, sending their song to the ground below where it drove a lost adventurer mad. And so, people ceased to venture into the deep Elake forest, for no man has found a break in the trees.
Áedán stared on at his horizon, taking in his surroundings; there was more within his vision than the Elake forest. Áedán looked along the Silver River to see a small village built along its bank; the small fishing village of Bhaile. This was the rest stop his brother had spoken of, and this was his new destination. With a slow determining sigh Áedán began the decent of the last hill of the Great Plains.
He walked down the hill at an angle, making his way to the road. It was far less threatening to enter a village from the road as opposed to sneaking up through the brush.
Bhaile was a simple village. People there could live and die never stepping a foot outside of town. The men were fishers and farmers, and the woman weren't much different. Outside of that, there was only one blacksmith in Bhaile, and only two families of bakers. Unlike Doble, Bhaile was under Legion protection. Fort Kezash was just beyond Silver Lake, and men patrolled the surrounding area in watch for demons.
Bhaile wasn't known for its simplicity or safety however, it was known for Proctor's Bridge. Proctor's Bridge was a massive structure linking both banks of Silver River. This bridge was a huge advantage to the Legion, with it they could travel from North Avalon to South Avalon much quicker. Without the bridge, men would have to walk around the massive river, adding another week to travel time. Proctor's Bridge was twenty men wide, and could hold the weight of thousands. Towering decretive archways laid at either end of the bridge, signaling those to its passage. Áedán had heard his father Bremen speak of the bridge many times. When the archways came into view it reminded Áedán of all he had lost within the past couple years. He tried not to let his despair show as he entered the quiet little town. He wanted to find an inn to rest at and settle in. Unfortunately he wasn't very careful with his rations and his food stocks could use replenishing. What he needed most he felt, was a good sleep. Getting only a few hours each night due to paranoia and night terrors, he could use some sleep.
As Áedán walked through town the dirt path underfoot turned to cobblestone, reminding him yet again of home. Not many villagers were about however, for it was midday and most of the town was out fishing. Áedán spotted an old rickety looking home. It was a simple home, built of wood, consisting of only one story, give or take an attic or basement. There was an older man sitting on the porch on a rocking chair and Áedán approached him. As he did, he noticed that the man had dozed off, oblivious to his approach. Áedán hoped this man could prove of some use, or at least point him in a direction, the town was quite small but Áedán was impatient. Áedán cleared his throat and spoke for the first time in days,
"Excuse me sir," the man awoke distraught and disoriented and began to rub the sleep from his eyes. The man was bald, and his skin sagged with age. The wrinkles in his forehead fell into his large brow. His nose hooked downward, but showed signs of being broken for it nudged of ever so slightly to the left. His eyelids looked heavy, but happy, and calm.
"Eeehwaa?" The old man croaked as he stumbled from his slumber. Áedán sighed before beginning again,
"I apologize for interrupting you sir, but could you point me towards an inn or rest-house? I have come from Doble and a good rest would do me good."
"Oh a stranger eh?" The old man jeered. "And what business does ye have up in 'ere?" Áedán had never been a fan of yokels, and began again in a firmer tone,
"My business is to rest; I've traveled up from Doble and could use a break from my travels."
"Oooh I see," The old man said, beginning to rock in his chair, "You's from Doble; little mountain town eh? You know back in my youth I took to a travelin' too. Walked right up into Doble, yes I did, an met a fine many a people. Nice little town, too many demon scares for me though. Wit only one Hunter, wha can ya expect though I s'pose. Bredford or somethin or other, funny name dat Hunter, yes yes, funny name." Áedán was less than impressed with the old man's babble but raised an eyebrow at the mention of a Demon Hunter.
"Do you mean Bremen?"
"Yes yes! That's da one. Well you's should know, ha! You's been livin' there. How is da old Hunter anyways? Found any company yet? He ever marry dat girl o' his?" Áedán saw now what he'd failed to realize since leaving home, with his brother gone, Doble was defenseless.
"Bremen Dreick died ten years ago under the deceitful hand of a Night Demon. He was my father." As Áedán's gaze drifted to the ground the old yokel didn't seem to notice.
"Oooh, you's a Hunter's kid eh? Fine blood dat. Be proud o' yer blood boy, blood defines you. See my pa; he was a great cap 'in up in Fort Kezash ya see. A fighter dat one, went out wit a bang. A True Demon passed by the fort an smashed da whole place to pieces. Up in smoke it was... yes yes. It's what set me out a travelin' all those years ago. It's what led me to Doble, where I met dat Bremen fellow. We was good friends, shared many laughs. Couldn't stay long though, only a year or two an I hada move along to the next town, in search of da demon that done slain my pa. Was out for vengeance, was out in anger. Don't let dat anger blind you boy. Find a place, settle in it. A candle burning twice as bright dies twice as fast. Those is my words to you, Bremenson." Wise words as they were, Áedán wasn't going to hear any of it. He wanted vengeance and no foolish yokel was going to keep him from it.
"Yes well, all I really need now is a place to rest."
"There's da young for ya, always chargin' straight ahead, ain't payin' no mind to da left or right... Yes yes, no mind at 'all. Inn's a thata way Bremenson, right on da river bank it is. Yes yes, o'er on da riverbank. Hard to miss, built with big logs an such." As he spoke the old man jutted his thumb to the right of him pointing down the cobblestone road.
"Thank you sir... You were truly a friend of my father's?"
"Oh yes. Sad that, ol' Bremen's death. Ha... I'm the old one here now ain't I? Bremen was just a young buck when we met. Twas about fifteen years younger than me... Yes yes, fifteen years. He ever tell ye where he got dat axe o' his? Won it from me in a card game oh yes he did. Quite a poker face dat one haha! Yes sir, dat axe was one of da few things salvaged from Fort Kezash when it came a tumblin' down... Yes yes, that and an ol' blade I kept fer myself. Funny blade that one, very shiny, made funny things happen a couple o' times, sup in the attic now. Hey, you's got Hunters' blood, you need a weapon? It's da least I could do fer a son o' Bremen's... Yes yes, least I could do. I'll up an fetch it fer ya! Y'all just wait on 'ere, I won't be but a second." Before Áedán had much time to speak the yokel left his rocking chair and went inside his simple home. Áedán took the liberty of leaning against the porch railing as he waited for the old man. In a few minutes the sounds of moving furniture and fumbling about echoed down through the house.
"I hope the poor old man doesn't hurt himself." Áedán mumbled. "Nice of him to go through the trouble though, all I have on me is this hunting knife; a sword will do me good." With a final thump and the sounds of footsteps growing stronger Áedán looked up to see the old man carrying a sheathed blade in his hands.
"'Ere it is, just like I told ya." The man smiled at Áedán and held the weapon out towards him.
"You can't expect me to take that sword from you for free? It must be worth a good amount of coin."
"Nah, don't cha worry 'bout a thing there boy. This here's a gift, in honor of your fallen pa. Take it; it's nothin' but a dust collector up in dat attic. You'll put it to good use I'm sure." With another wise smile how could Áedán resist such an offer? He took the sheathed weapon in both his hands and nodded towards the older gentleman.
"You never did tell me your name sir?" Áedán inquired.
"Just Walter will do just fine."
"Alright then Walter, it was nice to meet you and thank you for the gift. I must be going now; perhaps I'll see you around."
"Ha, da only way y'all be seein' me is if ya happen by dis here porch. I'm a bit too old for movin' much these days. You take care now boy." And with that, Walter waved the boy off towards the inn and sat back into his chair, all that exercise was more than the old man was used to, or so he likes people to believe...
[10 ½ pages in word docx]