They all were seated behind an overly sized table. There was this awkward silence between everyone - except me, of course. I was casually eating all the fruit that was placed at the center of the table. As I caught one of the elves staring me for too long, I shared a grin.
"What?" I said, staring right back at him. "I haven't eaten anything today. It's not every day when one meets demons, and comes back to tell the tale," I said, smirking. I had to change my voice quite a lot so they would understand the sarcastic part of the demons.
"And what a tale it was," the elf responded, face staying as emotionless as ever. I did wonder if all elves had such a hard time with emotions. But I shouldn't assume too much.
Apparently, someone was still missing, which was weird because it seemed that every race was already present in the room. There were humans, orcs, elves, and dwarves.
The door opened one last time, and a final figure entered the room. It was a bit unexpected. Yet another human figure entered the room. But the unexpected part wasn't that it was a human figure, but how pretty the female human figure was. She had burning red hair, but her face wasn't that visible because of her black veil that hid the upper part of her face. Her clothing wasn't too fancy, but yet they were pretty. But it was mostly black that dominated her style.
"I see you've all gathered," the woman said as she walked towards us.
"You're late... again," the human king said out loud, examining her. "We've waited for-"
"I..." the woman said, looking at the king intensely, "...don't care."
That woman has balls. Not literal balls. You know what I mean, me, I thought. Shit, why did I reference myself as you? I'm such an idiot, I kept thinking as I looked at the woman.
A smirk appeared on the woman's face, almost as she was laughing at my thought. "And you must be the new hero," the woman said as she stopped in front of me at the other side of the table, examining me from top to toe - or at least the parts she could because I was still sitting behind the table. There was this moment of a pause.
"Yes. I'm Hero," I muttered, smiling. The silence continued.
"Very well, Hero," she responded, saying last part with a slight delay. It was a moment when I realized that I had wasted opportunity to introduce myself properly. That was also the moment when I realized why articles are so important.
"Well, I guess since we have a new member in our council, we should introduce ourselves," the woman said, smiling.
"Why?" The king said, still annoyed by the fact that he was interrupted. "We all know who he is. Why should we-"
"Because the hero might not know who we are," the red-haired woman interrupted king again, making him even more furious. "It's a nice custom we have here. I even avoided saying your name so you could introduce yourself. Go on. Begin."
The king stared at the woman for a short while but finally released a long sigh. "King Johnathon Rowley. I would be the human's king - if you didn't know that yet."
Of course I knew exactly who he was. We had already met to start with. And I knew that I would have to work with him, so annoying him was a bad idea. He was the one who gave me the hero title, and who I reported to.
"Of course, King Rowley," I said with a slight bow. Rowley smirked. He was obviously pleased.
The woman rolled her eyes and looked towards the dwarves who were sitting opposite side of Hero.
"Daloden Goldstone, at your service, Hero. I've heard great things about you. I'm looking forward to hear more. After all, you're the youngest and strongest hero - at least according to Rowley," the dwarf said. He had a pure white long beard with braids closed by some golden rings. He also had a lot of items made of gold around his neck and fingers. The family name had a meaning.
"It's delightful to meet you. I've heard and read many great things about your ancestors, your family name, and, of course, you. I feel honored to meet you," I said out, bowing once more.
"Hah. The boy has manners," Daloden said, giving Rowley a long smirk. "Call me Daloden, boy. Also, you're always welcome to visit me at Kul Tarum."
I barely bowed before feeling how the red-haired woman now stared at orcs.
The oldest one grinned. Even though he looked older, there was still so much energy behind his smile. "Xorakk, Zodagh, and Borug" -- he pointed first himself and then two other older orcs sitting beside him --"at your service. If it comes to the wall, we're your man."
I was fascinated. Orcs had a diverse history. A long time ago, they had merely been slaves. But now they were an integral part of the country. Yet, they only called each other by the first name basis. Instead, it was the jewelry and markings on the skin that declared their status. And even those jewelry weren't fancy. If I didn't know much about orcs, I wouldn't think that they were important.
"It's an honor," I said, bowing slightly once more. I barely opened my mouth before feeling how the red-haired woman gazed now at elves.
"I'm Qildor Theven, The First Elf. But just call me Qildor," a bit younger-looking elf said, which didn't mean much since they were basically immortal.
"You're Qildor?" I muttered, eyes widening. "I'm sorry. I'm just... in awe. The stories about your heroism is-"
"They are probably very exaggerated," Qildor interrupted me.
"Anyway," the red-headed interrupted.
"Another time, Hero," Qildor whispered with a smile. I gave him a sharp nod.
"Then there's you, the next generation hero, Hero," she said. But before I even coughed to get my throat clean, she continued, "and then there's me."
That woman just skipped me.
She looked at me for a short moment, giving me this flirty smirk together with a short curtsey. "I'm Aldrynte. I'm a dragon," she said. "Call me Aly."
I was frozen for a moment. Of course she was. It only made sense. There was supposed to be a dragon who would oversee the old contract. It only made sense that Rowley would be fearful of her. But I didn't expect to see the dragon in the form of a beautiful woman.
"Can we get now down to the business?" Rowley said as he leaned forward, elbows on the desk and head resting on his hands.
"Certainly," Aldrynte said, walking all the way around the table and sitting next to me, giving me this smile. All I could do was return the smile. For the first time - as she got close to me - I could see her eyes. They were red oval pupils - beautiful.
"The hero has decided to allow demons to settle near the other side of the wall. That's unacceptable!" Qildor said it out loud. I was slightly surprised that he was the first to say something like that. And he did manage to catch my stare. "Nothing personal, boy."
"That's fine," I said, smiling. I stood up so they all would look at me since I wanted all the attention. I felt a slight shiver going through my spine. But the words were the only thing I had left. So I did the only job I thought I was good at - talking.
"First of all, they are not demons. They are fire giants. There's a huge difference," I barely began before Qildor coughed.
"And how do you know that they aren't deceiving you? What if the next thing they'll do is attack the wall?"
"Because they gave me a lot of other information as well about the demons. If you look carefully at them, they could be mistaken by the demons, but they are definitely humanoid," I continued, looking at Qildor, but just for a moment so he wouldn't feel comfortable. As I saw how many were not convinced, I snorted.
"I love our history. Especially the period when this alliance didn't exist. Back then when we were also slavers. We enslaved lesser creatures to fight against demons so we could survive. Not every race in this room did that, but many did. Some of us even were enslaved by another," I said as I looked towards the orcs.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm not blaming anyone. This is now history. But why wouldn't the demons do the same? Why wouldn't they enslave those who were left at the other side of the wall? Why wouldn't they force them to fight for the demons, for their own species survival? And for the fire giants, it's especially painful since they do look similar," I explained, looking around the room. The room atmosphere had changed. Many had thoughtful expression, and some others were still doubtful.
"And why should we trust them?" Daloden asked, playing with his beard.
"Even if we trust them, I wouldn't still risk letting them through," Qildor quickly announced.
"And I'm asking neither. I agree with both of you. And that's why I've already presented the best solution: let them settle on the other side of the wall. They don't even need to settle directly next to the wall. Just a slight distance away. We can still keep an eye on them from the wall, and we'll still see over their city what's going on afar. The fire giants will also protect the wall and keep an eye out. Let humans themselves slowly communicate with them, learn about them. Perhaps in time, we'll come to trust them more and create this new connection."
Rowley nodded. "And I approve what our hero is trying to do."
Qildor looked at Rowley. "You do?"
"I do. He's our hero. If he has reached the conclusion he has presented, I trust him," Rowley said.
"He has been a hero for how long again? Two days?"
"Three days," I said, trying to keep up my smile.
"Thanks for proving my point," Qildor said, glancing at me.
"And yet four days ago he defeated the strongest demon king. He also went against the visibly strongest looking demon army while you didn't even show up. And he talked to them, instead of just annihilating them. I guarantee you that any other human, orc, elf or dwarf wouldn't have done that.
"That's the difference between humans and Elves, Qildor. We learn, but you're still stuck in your traditions," Rowley said, sighing. But just before Qildor opened his mouth, Rowley raised his hand. "I'm sorry if I offended you, my old friend, I'm not saying traditions are bad things. But not right now."
It was Aldrynte who finally coughed. Everyone looked at her, making me retake my seat. "Since the Hero's action is about the other side of the wall - even though it's directly behind the wall - it's the human's king right to decide what is being done at that side of the wall. Unless everyone vetos it."
"I assume everyone understands how foolish this is," Qildor said.
Rowley's eyes flashed as he looked at Qildor. "A lot of things we have done is, according to you, foolish. At first, the adventurer's guild was a silly idea, but now some of your very own people have become adventurers," Rowley said, staring at Qildor. "But I respect if everyone here decides to veto it," Rowley said with a sigh, leaning back and looking at the other races.
Aldrynte sighed. "So, I assume you put it on a veto?" she asked, looking at the elf.
"Yes," Qildor said, nodding.
"Very well. Everyone who agrees to veto it, raise your hand," Aldrynte said.
I looked around the room, almost expecting everyone to raise their hand. But for my surprise, only elves and dwarves had raised their hands.
"Veto has failed. Hero, you can begin settling fire giants at the other side of the wall," Aldrynte said, giving me a warm smile.
"May I ask, why you didn't vote for it?" Qildor asked, looking directly at the orcs.
"Human king said it already. You haven't even been at the wall for a while. But we have seen the fire giants. Some of us have even worked with them," Xorakk said, smiling.
Borug grinned. "They ain't bad lads. We have seen a lot of things from the wall. But this, my friends, is something I've never seen before. Our hero might be young, inexperienced and new, but he knows what he is doing," the youngest Orc said.
I smiled and gave the orcs a slight nod.
Qildor sighed. "So be it. But since I don't trust them, I'll send some of my elves to protect the Kirkwall," he said.
"Be our guest," Xorakk said, reaching out his hand.
Aldrynte coughed once more to get attention, finally looking at me. "Anything else, Hero?"
I nodded. "Yes. One small thing."
To be quite frank, it was a huge deal. It took me a while to reach a decision that I should tell that to them. Mostly because telling them will affect me as well. But I couldn't just keep it as a secret.
"Go ahead," Aldrynte said, nodding.
I stood up once more. "I talked with fire giants. Apparently the strongest demon who I defeated was not the strongest. There's this real king. Or as they like to call him: The Supreme King. Silly title, if you ask me.
"He's beyond the mountain, and he's apparently a lot stronger than any other Demon King that has ever lived. But he likes to stay in the background and appoint a new fake Demon Kings. For him, we are like his playground. All of this is just a game."
The room went silent. Everyone just stared at me, not sure what to say. After a cough, it was Qildor who opened his mouth slowly, thinking of what to say. "That's impossible," he said.
I could've stopped him right there, and already explain everything since I knew what he was going to ask. But I stayed silent so he could continue and say out what was in everyone's mind.
"After The Volcano, there's nothing. Evil's Castle is the last thing standing. It's the furthest point one could go. Many adventures have shipped around the mountain just to see if there was a possibility to sneak behind the enemy lines. But there's nothing. Even that trip around The Volcano was dangerous because of the flying demons trying to destroy the ship. In the end, there's nowhere to go or hide. There's bad weather, there's an ever falling ash, and there's a sickness that will board any ship circling The Volcano. Maybe they could hide inside the volcano, but we all know that's also impossible," Qildor explained as he looked at me and everyone else, intensely. They all looked at Qildor, except Aldrynte who looked at me, a smile on her lips.
"Yes," I said, nodding, looking back at Aldrynte, but just for a moment. "That's what I thought as well. But then I heard something ridiculous. Impossible, I thought. But it turns out that the impossible is the truth."
"And what's that?" Rowley snapped, wanting some answers.
"It's all an illusion. Well, not all of it, but most of it," I said it out, trying to stay serious.
"You're fucking kidding me," Daloden said as even he stopped petting his beard.
I smirked. "The Volcano is stupidly tall and steep because we shouldn't try to climb it. The Volcano seems to be erupting all the time because it needs to look dangerous. We don't want to die, after all. And the sides are constantly colored by lava so nobody would try to circle the volcano on foot. And it has worked," I said, looking at Daloden.
"Are you saying that during our whole history, there has nobody been powerful enough to see through such illusion? You're saying that someone has kept such powerful illusion up every single day? And you're saying that nobody hasn't been stupid enough to try to climb The Volcano?" Qildor said, looking down at his table, half facepalming.
"No, and yes. First of all, we have reached The Volcano in a mere hundred year or so. Until then we've been slowly pushing towards it. I'd assume that back then such illusion wasn't necessary. But yes. That just proves how powerful the real Demon King is. And I think there's definitely someone who has tried. But they have never made it back to tell the tale," I said, looking at Qildor.
"You have no proof," Qildor said. But his eyes were telling me something different. He didn't want to believe. And who would?
"I actually do," I said, looking at Qildor.
"Really? And how can you prove this?"
"Go outside and look at the mountain. It's gone," I said, smiling. "The Volcano is such a huge illusion, that we can see the tip from here. But the truth is that it's not that tall. Once we know it's an illusion, we can see through the illusion, which means we won't see the tip anymore. Some of the most powerful illusions need conditions to keep themselves up. For this illusion, the condition is the lie - it exists. When I found out the truth and looked at the mountain, the illusion had disappeared. I didn't see the mountain anymore."
"That's nonsense. You're saying that there's not even a single adventurer, who might've thought it was an illusion?" Qildor said. Daloden just stood up and walked towards the window.
"Apparently not. Or not enough to believe that it actually is. Who could've thought that demons can deceive, right? Shocking."
Daloden coughed. "It's gone," he said. Everyone slowly turned to look at him. They all understood what he meant. As I gazed at Aldrynte, she was the only one who was not looking towards the window, but me.
"That's a huge discovery," Rowley said, frowning.
"That's why I also trust fire giants. If they truly were demons, they wouldn't reveal such secret. Never," I said.
"And that's why sometimes you talk and work with different creatures, not fight," Rowley said, sighing.
"And how did they find it out?" Qildor asked.
I smiled. "Their leader said that they overheard it, and after that, they barely got away with it. Well, it mostly meant they didn't get found out. They would've been slain if there was even a suspicion," I said. By now, almost everyone was near the window, looking far away.
"It's still there," Qildor said, raising his eyebrow.
"I guess you don't believe it enough," I responded.
"Shit," he muttered. "It disappeared. Great."
"So, I wanted to give you this information. That's all. I'm done," I said, sitting back down.
Aldrynte smirked. "Impressive," she whispered.
"I'm impressed," Rowley said out loud, looking at me with a half smirk. He walked back to the table, got himself seated, leaned back and began clapping. "You're a true legendary hero," he said. To be honest, I was surprised that Rowley was as supportive as he was.
"Ah, it's nothing. Really," I muttered, feeling how my ego grew slightly.
"So, I'll leave everything about this new demon lord to you. May the Gods favor you," Rowley said, nodding.
"Of course," I responded, smiling. It took me a second to realize what had just happened. "Wait, what?" I muttered.
"He said that you're now responsible for leading the charge against the Supreme Demon King," Aldrynte said, smiling.
"What? I-I. What?" I said.
"Come on, it's only obvious," Qildor said, sighing. "Even I agree with Rowley here."
And to be fair, it was surprising that Qildor agreed with Rowley.
"Then it's decided. I'll leave everything to you," Rowley said.
I had dug my own grave. It was to be expected, or I thought it to be a possibility, but I dug my own grave, still. All of it was unfair. I became a hero by luck - or perhaps unluck - and now I'm leading a charge against an even stronger demon? It all sounded like destiny, or the gods hated me.
The room was silent, everyone stared at me expectedly.
"Fine," I said, sighing once more. "But I want the new demon lord information not to leave this room," I said, looking at every race presentative in the room.
"Why?" Rowley asked.
"Because the last thing I want is stupid adventurers going where they shouldn't and die. I need time to prepare for this. Possibly years. We have one chance, and if the enemy knows what we know, he might make the first move. We don't want that," I explained.
"I can give you a year," Rowley said.
"A year? Are you serious?" I said, looking at him.
Rowley nodded. "More than that, and we are letting the demons regroup. It has always been around two years before a new demon king starts to rise," Rowley said, looking at me, seriously. "Usually the hero takes care of the next Demon Kings for a while as well, but we don't want to repeat the next cycle, do we?"
Even I was surprised. Only two years. It was probably one weak Demon King after another until either the hero became old and weak, or they'd die somehow. But I wouldn't be able to defeat next one either way, so if I wanted to try something, I needed to do it within a year as well.
"Fine," I said, sighing.
It was either do or die. But I still felt like I was a terrible cheat.
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- Matthew E. Damson
I'm someone whose pen-name is Matthew E. Damson. Some others know me as Elven. I'm also known as elf, elfie, elves, pointy ears, and some more. To be honest, I have no idea why they call me other names, but they create nicknames, not me.
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