Journal Entry 2
Why is there so much training? Haven’t I already shown I was good enough to go? Like, I get that the Shirrans are going to be there. But it’s not like there’s going to be a full confrontation. They stay near their rift opening, we stay near ours, right? I just wish that we could bring more than only a few mages.
Like, I get it. DON’T ATTRACT THE SHRYKES. They smell the magic. But how do we even know that’s what’s causing them to attack? It’s not like the Ursei are telling us how many we can bring.
Heh, maybe they’ll bring too many, and after they’re wiped out we can go steal their gate ore as well as getting our own. One can only hope.
Day 89, 3223 AFR
The next two days involved many trips to the barracks, smiths, tailors, and pantries that littered the streets of Greater Habara. Having skipped the banquet that first night in favor of more preparation, he had the luxury of passing on the hangover and subsequent lost time that would have accompanied it.
As for shops, Garn had his favorites that he liked to frequent. His last stop on his itinerary was at Hexed and Hungry, a small smithy with a bad reputation for being run by a magic-crazed hermit. Garn knew better than to give in to the beliefs of the common man. He had known Baran Ghash, fourth of his name, for many years, having first met the man when the two of them had grown up. Third-of-the-name Baran used to love bringing his son over to play so he and Garn’s father could talk politics, dispute the latest gossip, and sit around drinking ale by the gallon. The friendship was inevitable.
The front of the small-looking building looked like it was poorly cared for, the stonework not quite up to the standard that anyone competent would allow to have their professional name associated with. The one window to the left of the heavy wooden door was a bit fogged with age and dust, the paint peeling slightly on the left side of its frame. All of this Garn absorbed within a moment’s glance. He had been here many times before, and he knew that the run-down look was part of the charm that Baran was going for to keep out most of those he didn’t already do business with. Those that knew him and his work knew that they would keep going back to him, even if he was working out of a crate in a back alley with nothing but rags on to cover his dangly bits.
People assumed that just because he was eccentric, Baran had the taint known to come from overexposure to magical essence. They assumed that by working with the substance often in his profession, that must be why he was “off.” This was far from the truth; Baran was just an odd fellow, making noises and saying nonsense under his breath simply because he could. Garn always assumed it was he secretly enjoyed the concerned glances it inspired in those who overheard.
Magic ore, once refined, was powerful stuff. Prohibitively expensive to acquire, only those who had more coins than they knew what to do with had any appreciable amount. The odd bit could be found in unlikely places, however. One such place was here at the Hexed and Hungry. To protect his enviable horde, Baran had wards set on the doors and traps ready to be sprung.
Garn knew Baran had dabbled with the magic essence, but he didn’t know to what extremes the smith was willing to experiment with the stuff. What he did know, however, was that Baran was more than he seemed.
As he came through the door, Baran looked up from the short sword he was polishing, and a grin quickly crossed his bearded and dirty face. With a wave and a muttered syllable, the door swung shut and locked of its own accord. He then focused on Garn, granting his full attention, and the grin he had sported faded slightly, taking in Garn’s haggard appearance.
“You, my friend, look like hammered shit.”
Unsurprised by the bluntness, Garn couldn’t help but smirk at the comment. “It’s been a rough few days, believe me. I wish that I were here strictly on a social visit, but alas, I have need of your services.”
“You do realize that I’m not one of those whores you lot in the houses love to visit, right?” The self-amused smile that Baran gave off hurt to look at. “I can’t offer the kind of service I’m sure you’d love to get right now. But beyond that, what do you need?”
Garn fought down the groan and smile that warred for purchase on his face. “I need her back, Baran.”
Baran’s smile, so carefree and jovial just a moment before, became very serious. He knew what was coming. He knew something was wrong, otherwise Garn wouldn’t have asked for it without him having reached out first. Gaze flicking back and forth between Garn’s serious eyes for a moment, Baran sighed and gave a silent nod. He then headed into the back, where he kept his cluttered office and the smithy. The front of the shop acted as a sales-floor for the goods he made. The back was where all the real work was done. As he opened the door to it, Garn felt a slight wave of heat from the furnace in the back.
After a few minutes, Baran returned, holding a dark blue sheath wrapped in a fine cloth, polishing the hardened leather as he did so. Down the length were cover plates, intricate engravings filled with a cool silver metal that shined as the light from the window struck them. With a sigh, he walked over to Garn and solemnly passed the weapon and sheath to him. He knew what this meant. Garn was going to get himself in trouble again.
With a shake of his head, all joviality gone, Baran asked the question that was evident on his face from the second Garn had asked for his sword.
“This blade is nothing like I’ve seen before. Whatever you’re up to, I highly doubt it needs this, at least until I’m done examining it and can tell you more about what it does.” Baran shook his head as Garn began to respond. “No, wait. Let me finish. This feels wrong. You know it just like I do. Playing with magic blades is a fool’s game, and we are no fools. We’ve seen too much blood betwixt us for that.”
A sad smile crossed his lips as he took in his oldest friend’s words. “I know. But I have to do as he asks. Kyari needs me, Baran. I need it to do what has been tasked of me. If I succeed, he’ll let her go.”
With a roar that surprised Garn, Baran slammed his fist down on the shop counter he was talking over. “That’s a cart full of shit and you know it! He won’t ever let her go while you’re still useful to him.” With a shake of his head, he quieted down to just above a whisper. “It’s too dangerous.”
“What choice do I have?”
After a brief pause and an exhaled sigh, Baran responded. “None.”
Baran gestured to the sword, pulling it out of the sheath. It was a beautiful weapon, it’s long blade shimmering with slight flecks of blue as the sunlight from the clouded window caught against it. The crossguard was designed as braided vines, much like a rose bush, including the thorns, centered with a deep blue gemstone embedded through the entire thing, making it visible from both sides. Upon close inspection, a slight fire was visible inside the stone, dancing slowly. Beneath that was the handle, long enough for a comfortable two-handed grip and ending with a flared, pointed base. Garn knew it would probably register just above a tickle, should it be required to come in contact with someone’s temple or something.
“Let me explain what I’ve figured out and done to her. She isn’t like anything that any of the smith’s guild has seen before. The essence in her is cross-threaded with the ore, almost as if woven together before smelting. From what I can tell, she has as much magic in her as one of the capitol’s mage council members, possibly even two of them, all packaged in this nice little sheath. No idea how to activate her, or what she does, but I was able to gather that she…” He paused briefly. “I don’t know. Maybe.” Another pause. “I… I think she can feel. Like a person does. It feels like she knows your heart. Sees you as you hold her. Or something like that. I’m not sure, just the vibes I was getting from her. There’s traces of transmutation, enchantment, as well as a tiny strain of necromancy in her. I don’t know what to expect. But she’s powerful. Treat her like a lady, Garn. She deserves it.”
With a contemplative look and furrowed brow, Garn glanced up from the sword to look at his friend. “Wait, didn’t you say you did something to her as well?” He chuckled. “You’re the expert here; is that all you’ve got for me?”
“Well, you’re not wrong. After laying over her with a detection net, I found that the pommel was weak in energy. I’m not sure I did it right, but I channeled a few drops of ore into her. Afterwards, she seemed to brighten up a little. It gave her that little dancer in there, so I left it at that. I didn’t really want to experiment too hard. You know how my luck goes when I start to play with magical stuff I don’t know anything about. Especially necro shit. No thanks.” The smile that usually found its home on Baran’s face was back as he made the last jest.
“I’ll be careful, old friend. Don’t worry too hard for me. Besides, I’m not allowed to die. If I died, you’d start crying. And If you did that, the town would run you out. We all know you’re an ugly crier.”
“Aye, that I am,” Baran agreed with a chuckle. “It’s been good to see you again. If anything happens, I’ll harass the old man for your girl. I’ll see her home, one way or the other.”
“I know. Thanks again.”
With a somber handshake that meant more to the both of them than they dared to put into words, Garn left the shop. The last item on his list acquired, he made his way back to his rooms in the keep to make sure everything was in order and to gather up his packs. He had no idea when he’d be back, if ever.
It was with little love for the road that Garn set out for the capital city of Remna Major, the largest of the eight great cities responsible for manning the voyages into Syn Doa’s rift every twenty-six years. His future, and his daughter’s, depended on him surviving the coming months.
There are two realms that exist, Ursei and Shirrah, independent of each other, save for a bridge that opens every 26 years, staying open for three years each time. This bridge is also known as the Rift of Syn Doa. Inside the Rift exists the rare magical materials and thaumetic ore which both sides needed to propel their respective populaces to power and strength. Naturally, the rift has maintained a status as a contention field between the two realms. It was a battleground for those found worthy of entering. Determination of who would represent each realm is a grave and important process. For Ursei, such a serious undertaking was also revered as the ultimate form of entertainment for the unwashed masses.
This iteration of the Rift Trial was to be held in the city of Phirra, the closest of the other seven major cities to Greater Habara. Each iteration of the opening, the cycle’s trials were held in a different city, as a means to “help unify” Ursei, and more specifically the continent of Remna Major, as one force and people.
Everyone knew that was a load of shit. The only reason the host city rotated was an understanding of mutual destruction from all parties involved if some means to balance who was able to access the rift was not found. This was the compromise. Each city had its handful of houses that ruled it. Some houses sought justice, order, and fairness. Others, less so. If there was one thing that all citizens of Ursei understood, however, it was that those who entered the rift, and their respective house, would benefit greatly. Every house wanted their champions to be the ones allowed inside the rift. There was a catch, though. Only so many people could enter the rift before its portal became unstable. Were it not for that, all houses from all eight cities probably would have just flooded the rift on every opening.
Needless to say, with the restriction, a better means had to be found. One of the roles for those inside the rift was to fight off the denizens that lived within, the Doa-Shryke. The Doa-Shryke were demonic creatures that, as cunning and ruthless combatants, demanded a fierce response from every house in return. Such a need was what inspired the Trials.
Garn had a trial to catch. And this one was in Phirra.
Phirra was only about an eight-hour ride by horse from Greater Habara. When Garn was a much younger man, he had worked in a stable as a means to pay for the right to the owner’s loft to sleep in. In hindsight, this probably wasn’t the greatest arrangement, but a roof over your head when thunder and rain are about is quite a nice thing indeed. As part of that employ, he learned many things. Most of those things pertained to the care and riding of horses. With a ride in his near future, that history served him well.
The horse lent to Garn by the Dinsala stablemaster was a sturdy mare. He knew the horses kept for Gravos were maintained very well. Quickly checking her feet and giving her a pat-down, Garn quickly found the mare warming up to him.
A few small treats further helped to win her over. After about ten minutes of giving her attention, she even went so far as to wrap her neck and head down over his shoulder as he stepped up to her in a hug-of-sorts. Needless to say, she was friendly. She didn’t love the bit as Garn slid it into her mouth, but that was to be expected. Hopefully, the treats prior helped to mollify her, he thought.
Once the saddle was secured, all the straps and belts secure as they should be, saddlebags and packs loaded with his belongings, weapons, food, and assorted needed goods as intended, Garn was off for Phirra.
He was not, however, alone. As he left the gate, Garn found three other horses pulling up alongside him.
“Heya buttercup! Feeling a bit better than the last time I saw you?” Rang out the familiar voice of Maia. Next to her, to Garn’s surprise, were Zaak and Andras.
“Just so we’re clear, I’m really not up for round two quite yet.”Zaak was smiling as he said this, but Garn could tell that their little skirmish had given the bulky man a slight dose of humility.
“Your leg looks a bit less, uh...” He paused briefly. “Tender,” Garn quipped back, chewing on what word to use for a moment. “Maia, did you do that?”
“Not a chance. If I went around healing anyone that looked like they had a scraped knee, I’d never get anything done in the day. No offense.” A smile flashed across her face in Zaak’s direction. Zaak only let out a huff of air from his nose as a response. “Besides, these boys had their own people assigned to them for that fight,” Maia continued.
They started off as the conversation continued, all three of the newcomers having packs, saddlebags, and visible weapons upon their persons and horses.
“So why are you three here, anyway?”
Andras finally inserted himself in the conversation. “Gramps in there said that we put on a good enough show that we were to accompany you as part of your team for the trials.”
“I’m here because you’ll die otherwise,” Maia cut in.
“She’s here because we’ll probably all die otherwise,” Andras continued. “Besides, you really think I’m going to pass up the opportunity to explore a new city without having to sneak my way past guards to do so? There are only so many sewers a man can crawl through before he starts to question if life is worth living, y’know what I’m sayin’?”
Everyone paused for a moment to digest what he had just said. With a small shake of his head as if to shake out what he had just heard, Zaak continued the explanation. “Lord Dinsala has decided after our show the other day that we were skilled enough as well to accompany you during the Trials as your entourage. Back-up, if you will.”
The road out of Greater Habara was fairly busy in the morning hours as Garn and his companions continued to lightly banter. The fairly flat, packed earth of the road made for uneventful riding, and after about two hours’ ride out of the city gates, the quartet found themselves in more shade as the trees about the road began to thicken a bit. Maia had rode off to the side, striking up a conversation with the master of a cart carrying woven goods also heading for Phirra, so the men let her be, discussing the expectations for the coming days. No one spoke about it, but all three of them could feel the tendrils of nervousness start to eat at them slightly.
“When we get to the city, Gramps said that we need to make sure to visit the arena first thing, to check in that we’re arrived in the city for the Trials. After that, we’re free to find lodging and do as we please ‘til tomorrow, when the preliminary rounds will begin. He was saying that for a Phirran Trial, usually about three thousand contestants will be drawn in. Weeding out about a third to half the remaining group each day, that gives us about...” Andras closed one eye and looked upwards, attempting to calculate.
“We can expect around a full week of preliminary matches,” Zaak cut in. “They’ll give us a bit of rest between days fighting, rotating who is up and the formats of their challenges. It’s possible that they may spread it out a bit more to make sure contestants are fresh and ready, so going for two weeks isn’t outside the realm of possibility. Seeing as we have a group, we’ll probably be facing other small groups, at least for the first few fights, until the pack is weeded down enough that you being our leader will allow us to be included as part of your admission. At that point, we could either continue to fight squaded, or you could opt into solo rounds.” Garn looked over at the man and made eye contact, acknowledging the comment.
“How is Maia going to play into all this, group battles and all that?” Garn asked, glancing over to her, still engrossed in chatting with the carriage driver off to their left. The road was wide, with a good twenty feet between the three of them and her. Catching the hint of her name, she looked over to make sure she wasn’t being beckoned over, then resumed her conversation.
“As far as I know, most entrants are going to have someone with them to treat wounds and whatnot. I think the trial has staff to that effect as well, but I’m not sure I’d trust the quality.” The dubiety could be heard in Andras’ voice. “We’ll have to find out if she is going to have to actively be in the battles or not though, since if we make it all the way, she’d be included in the people heading into the Rift.” He paused a moment, a tiny grin quirking up the edge of his mouth for a moment before he started up again. “Think there will be other ladies in the trials too? I mean, we’ll be there for who knows how long. I’d love to meet someone a bit nicer to look at naked than Zaak here.”
The other two paused for a moment, before Garn responded. “Uh, just how often are you seeing him naked, dare I ask.”
“You know, I was wondering the same thing,” a troubled-looking Zaak added.
“What about magic in the Trials?” Garn asked, trying to get the conversation back on track. “We have Maia, but what about offensive magi? Are we going to have to fight our way through ghost swords and thunderbolts?”
The other two both shook their heads, neither having any idea how that’d factor in.
”Lovely,” Garn let out dryly. “I guess some info-hunting is in order once we get there as well. We’ll need to know what to expect, what we’re up against.”
The three of them continued to chat as they traveled, Maia eventually coming back over after concluding the conversation with the traders. As the four passed by a small lake off to the left of the road, they all agreed to stop for a brief lunch. Smoked meats and cheese were passed around, with Garn producing two apples from a pack as well. He had the first, and gave the second to his mount. Making sure that the horses were still hale and giving them a bit to eat, they rested for a brief while to take in the scenery before continuing on their journey. A few hopeful birds danced in the treetops above them, but soon departed unsatisfied.
During the mid-afternoon, as the four crested a slight hill in the road, they could make out the outline of the large walls surrounding the city of Phirra off in the distance.