ARC 2 - Chapter : West Arran
Tucker could no longer see the sun when the two of them reached West Arran at last. He was beginning to feel a knot in his stomach the further they walked down the wooded road. The scenery was bathed in a deep blue wash and the brilliant reds of the sky were rapidly deteriorating. Just as Tucker was about to say something about J.D. getting them lost (feeling horrible admitting that Shenna’s warning was still fresh in his mind) they spotted a white sign around the bend.
Location Discovered: West Arran. See your Codex for more information.
“Oh good,” Tucker said as the unease in his gut softened. “I was starting to wonder if you had led us down a wrong path or something.”
J.D. took the jab in stride.
“Starting to believe what Shenna told you about me, huh?” He looked ahead when Tucker gave him an awkward shrug. “That’s the thing about girls. They’re quick to form an opinion of me when they barely know me. I honestly don’t even think I had a chance to prove myself with her.” He sighed. “Doesn’t really matter now, does it? I doubt that adding magic to my abilities would do anything to sway her in my favor.” He kicked a stone down the path and it skittered into the now manicured grass along the sides. “Judged on the surface. Sucks, but what can you do, right?”
Tucker reached out and gave J.D. a friendly jab in the arm with his fist.
“Have you seen me?” he asked with a grin. “I think I know how you feel. You’re the first person who agreed to hire me, even with the way I look. Everyone else judged me by my horrible appearance.”
J.D. gave him a sly side glance.
“Can’t be that horrible if Shenna likes you.”
Tucker’s cheeks reddened.
“Alright,” he said. “Enough of the sappiness. We’ve got a job to do, and I don’t want to be stuck out in the dark. I hope you’ve got a place for us to sleep?”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” J.D. assured him. “There’s a place for us. Maybe even more than one.” When Tucker gave him a confused look, J.D. smiled. “You’ll see. Have a little faith in me, will ya?”
“I’ve got faith,” said Tucker. “I’m just don’t like the unexpected.” That was the truth. Up until now, he had been trying to keep a leg up on what was going on around him in Acaedia. He didn’t want to find himself ambushed again, either by humans or monsters. It didn’t help that he knew that this mission involved taking down a mysterious creature. That was enough mystery to make him jittery.
Thankfully J.D. calmed him down a bit.
“Don’t worry so much. Learn to keep a level head. I can tell you this much: These Arranians are wealthy people. If that wasn’t already apparent from the sign announcing our destination, take a good look at their property in a few minutes. The places they live in make Castlederg look like a tiny blip on the map. Harvesting ingredients for potions is a very important and profitable profession. Without it there would be a lot more deaths from small injuries and sickness and the like. Think of these people as the ones in charge of providing the healers with their supplies. Maybe they don’t sell their potions to every healer in the area, but they do to a good deal of them. They’re rich, and that’s how I can afford to pay you so well. I don’t think I have to tell you that they place a lot of weight on appearances when it comes to their business, so if you have a spell to disguise yourself or something, now’s a good time to get yourself in order.”
“I hear you on that,” said Tucker and he pulled his scarf up over his nose, mouth, and ears, leaving only his dark hair and eyes sticking out to be seen.
The scarf actually felt good in the chilly evening air. There was a lot more wind now that they were closer to the mountains and the scenery was more elaborate than anything that Tucker had encountered in Acaedia so far.
Trees looked less and less like pines and firs and instead grew thicker with limbs stretching out at odd angles, as if they were reaching for the night sky. Tucker could tell that these trees had been tended because they all appeared manicured in the same way that a farmer back in the real world would clip and nurture an orchard of apple trees.
But, these weren’t apple trees. On closer inspection, there were strange light-blue pieces of what had to be fruit hanging in clusters from the tree branches. These fruits also glowed slightly in the oncoming moonlight, looking to Tucker like night lights set on the dimmest setting.
The further they got down the road, the more clustered these trees became. Soon there were stone walls sectioning off the clusters of trees, and then the road turned from plain dirt to a finely ground stone powder that crunched nicely under their boots.
“Look!” J.D. said suddenly, pointing ahead to some lights in the gloom. “We’re nearly there.”
He was right because only a few more minutes of walking and they had arrived at a small collection of very large buildings surrounding a circular fountain. These buildings were made of a sepia-like stone at their base, with tall windows cut out, as Tucker expected. Each window had a fancy arch and paned glass windows from where the light was coming from. On closer inspection, these lights weren’t candles like Tucker had seen in Castlederg, but rather the warm glow came from oil lamps sitting in each window. The effect was cozy and comforting after such a long walk through the dark wilderness.
Craning his neck to look upwards, Tucker observed that the houses, which were really more like mansions than anything other type of dwelling, turned to the traditional wooden rib-like design, enclosed with plaster work and then shingled rooftops. A few of the mansions had rows of four or five triangular flags hanging from their walls, on which was displayed what had to be their family crest.
“Must be nice to have money, eh?” muttered J.D. with an impressed smile. “All that space to yourself. Nobody would ever bother you.”
“Yeah,” Tucker replied. “But, what about having to dust everything? That would take an entire weekend!”
“You actually think these people clean their houses themselves? Get off it. They’ve got servants to do their bidding, as well as assistants who help with the harvest. I imagine those are the ones we’ll be dealing with the most.”
Servants... thought Tucker. The idea sounded wonderful - to have people who would take care of everything for you. But, then he thought of the flip side of that arrangement and realized that the people who were doing the serving most likely didn’t have much of a life outside of seeing that their employers were pleased.
Knowing my luck, he thought, I’d be one of the servants. It sounded like being a servant was no better than working a lowly job back in the real world. Tucker wondered what the people in charge of the hulking mansions were like. How did they treat their staff? Were the workers happy to do the work? Or did they only do it to support their families, if they even had families of their own?
He realized that he had slowed his pace when J.D. called out to him from a few paces down the pathway, having come to a stop by the fancy stone fountain.
“There will be plenty of time to sight-see in the morning. Until then, I’d like to get indoors with something hot to eat. Unless you orcs live off of one meal a day, which I certainly do not.”
“Sorry!” said Tucker and he hurried, shuffling his feet as he closed the gap and passed by the fountain to accompany J.D. The sound of the water trickling down over the stone carving of the winged dragon was peaceful, and the smell of the air was fresh and clean. It made Tucker suddenly very thirsty and he wished he had his old refrigerator from back home with the ice machine in the door.
It was only another minute of walking before they apparently arrived at their destination, which was a house similar in size and design from the rest they had seen, except this one had a large sweeping front porch against the stonework of the ground floor. The porch was made out of stained wood that barely squeaked under Tucker’s boots as he climbed the small batch of steps that led onto the platform. But, the porch didn’t mean that the mansion was any less fortified than the other buildings they had seen so far. In fact, there was a hulking wooden door that appeared to be reinforced by metal work, protecting it from being smashed to bits by a large enemy. Black ribbons of steel criss-crossed in a grid-work over the wood, and in the center of the door was a brass door knocker.
As they stood in front of the door, text appeared before Tucker, causing him to jump slightly at how bright it appeared in the darkness.
Thorne Mansion discovered. Private residence.
Tucker’s eyes traveled up the structure’s towering front and they widened when he registered four floors of height along with what he guessed was a traditional lookout on the roof where an archer could stand guard. He could only guess at how far back the mansion stretched.
“This is where we are going to be staying?” he asked breathlessly.
“If we’re lucky,” J.D. answered. “I have a sneaking suspicion that they’re going to put us up in a storage shed near the gardens, but what do I know? Maybe if we play our cards right we can work out way up. It’s only for a couple nights anyway. But, I wouldn’t mind doing some exploring.”
Tucker agreed. This was the sort of place that typically had many locked doors in an RPG. He wished that he could try out his lock picking skill, but sadly he had no lock picks, and he doubted that his sneaking skills were good enough to go unnoticed - especially when he was carrying around his magical staff.
There would be time for exploring later, he figured, and also a chance to read up on West Arran in his Codex once they were shown to their chambers. He was also looking forward to finding out more about what sort of creature they were going to be tracking. Once he knew a little bit about the thing, then he could more wisely spend his next XP point.
Until then, Tucker stood silently beside J.D. as his companion reached out and knocked the brass knocker three times on the door. The sound was extremely jarring in the quiet of the evening. What crickets there were suddenly stuttered at the interruption.
Tucker knew that J.D. couldn’t see his face completely, but beneath his scarf he was smiling in anticipation. What an adventure he found himself on! Who knew what was coming next?
There wasn’t long to wait.
Heavy clicks and a few creaks of the doorway’s mechanisms, the entrance swung back and an older gentleman wearing a dark green uniform, complete with a vest and high leather boots, greeted them.
“What do you want?” asked the man in a stern tone. His expression was firm, and he observed them like annoyances for knocking in the middle of the night.
J.D. took the lead and smiled as friendly-like as he could considering the cold welcome.
“I have business with the owners,” he said. “The two of us are here to investigate the tampering of the greenhouses.”
The older man, who Tucker took to be the butler of sorts, raised an eyebrow slightly.
“Am I to just take your word on that?” he asked. “Do you have credentials?”
J.D. gave a slight start, then rummaged in his pack.
“I have it here somewhere...sorry...”
After a moment of the butler rolling his eyes, J.D. retrieved a golden coin and handed it to the man.
The butler brought the coin up to his eye to see it more clearly in the dim light, pressed his lips together, then lowered it.
“I see,” he said. “For a second I thought you were just someone playing a practical joke.”
“Do you get that a lot around here?” asked Tucker suddenly, much to both J.D.’s and the butler’s surprise.
The honest question caught the butler off guard, but after a slight lifting of one side of his mouth, he warmed up to them a bit. He opened the door wider.
“You’d be surprised. Lady Thorne will be pleased to see you, though I dare say she expected an appointment during the daylight hours.”
“Apologies,” said Tucker. “We got a late start.”
“Regardless, you are here now,” said the butler, stepping aside to motion them forward. “Now, come inside quickly. We do not make a habit of keeping doors open for long once night descends.”
J.D. stepped through the doorway without hesitation. Tucker followed briskly, and once inside, the heaven wooden door was once more secured and locked up tight.
Bio: I have been a writer pretty much from the time I could hold a pencil and scribble letters. I am looking to develop my craft and better my storytelling. I am a huge fan of fantasy and horror in all their incarnations. When I'm not reading, I'm usually hunting for Legos. You can find me trying to decipher the mini-figure blind bags at the local big-box store.