The Long Way Home

From 1d4chan
Small Book.pngThe following article is a /tg/ related story or fanfic. Should you continue, expect to find tl;dr and an occasional amount of awesome.

It wasn't until dawn that Tarlassiel stopped running. Collapsing at the bottom of a shrub-covered ravine, he looked up at the sky, considering the situation he was in. How did it all go so wrong?

It had started with the casino. The lawless human border town of New Kersh, here on the eastern edges of the south continent, had the most interesting games Tarlassiel had encountered in his 120 years of life. It was exquisite. Dice of different sides, shapes, sizes. Card games of almost infinite complexity, with combinations of potential winning hands numbering in the tens of thousands. Roulettes, hand crafted by lizard artisans. Bets on everything: gladiator games, clockwork beetle races, Sergal eating contests. Probability elementals summoned by an unassuming Faestir calculatrix watched over the games, ensuring cheaters were dealt with. Tarlassiel didn't cheat. Perhaps he should have.

It had started innocently enough, him playing a simple dice game and winning a modest sum. Then that smiling, tan-skinned human dancer girl with the husky voice suggested he have some more dwarven ale, and led him to a table where a game of Yoshuri was being played, a gnoll croupier smiling silently at the attentive crowd. Tarlassiel bet. Then lost. Then bet again, with higher stakes this time. And lost again. And so, as midnight approached, he had lost his entire allowance, a considerable sum; he was, after all the son of Dutchess Kryleira, ruler of the more prosperous Drow city of Ilshum.

With sobriety came the realization of what he'd done. He borrowed money from a Dwarf, and lost that too. Returning to the stout, bearded figure, his prepared apologies were ignored, and two Sergal enforcers stepped up. The Dwarf was Eberhard Axehandle, apparently a notorious figure in these lands. Telrassiel smacked his face with his palm and groaned. How had he managed to become indebted to a gangster?

He had ran, then. And only now, as the dawn lit up the unfamiliar forest around him, had he stopped to look around. Where had his flight taken him? The trees were vast, moss-covered and silent, like temple arches. The ground, covered in mulch and leaves.

His ears twitched. Voices! Were they coming after him? He stood up, brushing himself off, and drew his blade. They wouldn't take him unprepared!

The voices grew louder. Telrassiel's keen hearing allowed him to form an image of a group approaching, the noises they made making their path evident. They were moving in a slow, leisurely pace. Not like a hunting party. He strained to listen.

"Look, all I'm saying is, we shouldn't have listened to that toothless old fart in the inn! He was obviously insane, and now we're going off into Asu knows where in order to find... a heap of rocks?" A shrill, human male voice. "That heap of rocks is the key to the home to the creators of my race. I cannot ignore information about such things, regardless of the trustworthiness of their source." A deep, resolute voice, as if carving the words into the air. An elderly Faestir . "I don't know about you guys, but I love it here! The trees, the grass... It reminds me of home!" Soft barks. That must be one of those sentient dog-men Telrassiel had encountered during his visit to Solaris. He relaxed. These were adventurers, a party journeying through the woods. He sheathed his blade, and walked towards them, confidently, with arms outstretched in a gesture of peace. Already rehearsing a sob story about how a Drow prince managed to find himself two continents away from home with no money, he smiled as the party came into view.

They would be his ticket out of here.

...They had been walking for hours, twisting paths taking them deeper into this forest, somewhere along the easternmost coast of Lindwurm. Telrassiel noted his exhaustion, his frantic run from New Kersh and this march with his new traveling companions into the wilderness were taking their toll on his feet. But he took pride in not complaining or slowing down. He walked tall, hands in his pockets, looking around at his surroundings...

THWACK! The flat end of a broad halberd struck him in the back of his head. He swore, and looked back to see the elongated, vicious-looking head of the party's Sergal warrior, Udmyn. He had his tongue out, like a dog.

"Eyes on the path, darkelf. And pay attention to what you're doing, this isn't a stroll in the park. Weapon out, space 7 paces, scan the surround, silence your steps. Understand?" He hissed at Tar with a dry, desert accent. The drow turned away from the Sergal's face, his breath smelling of raw meat and blood. "I understand." "Good," the reply came, "Then I won't have to remind you again. Walk like you just did, and the next time you get whacked in the head, it'll be the business end of my spear." The Sergal licked his lips and moved away silently, crouching. Tarlassiel rubbed his head and swore again, quietly this time. He walked with caution now, weapon drawn and ears attentive to the soundscape around him.

As he listened and scanned his surroundings, he realized how different the forest was compared to what he had entered in the morning. It was much quieter, and the trees were older. The ground was damp and mossy. No birds sang now.

Suddenly, they stopped. Rhyn, the small, energetic corgi ranger who scouted ahead of the group, had halted abruptly and was motioning to the rest of the party. Tar approached with the rest, looking at where Rhyn was pointing.

It was a trail. A depression in the mossy ground, as if someone had dragged a heavy sack across it. Tarlassiel knelt beside it. The corgi was alert, ears out. "It's nearby. I think. The scent's all over the place, and it's moving in strange patterns... I can't track it properly." "What sort of creature made these?" Tel asked in a hushed tone. "A wurm of some kind?" "Not a wurm. Worse. I've smelled this before, it's the smell of a..." The corgi's tale was interrupted by a loud crashing and an unearthly wail. The party dropped to the ground, but it was too late. They had been seen.

Tarlassiel looked at the emerging creature. It was taller than a man, its scaled snakeing lower body pulsating with muscle contractions. Its upper body, rising above even the sergal, was vaguely female-proportioned, and as his gaze traced the gray figure, it met the thing's eyes, green-gray and glowing with power. It stretched out a grotesque clawed appendage towards them, each of its four arms bending in strangely obscene gestures, and roared again with a voice that seemed to Tarlassiel to contain a hint of sadness within all the fury.

"Godsdamnit." He heard Lutessa, the Faestir adventurer who he had understood to be the leader of the party, partly because of her authority, partly due to her age. She stood up, drawing her weapon. "Godsdamnit, naga. Just what we needed."

They rose to their feet, and the naga coiled itself, and charged, like a blur, unnaturally fast for something this big. Tarlassiel dove out of its way, his blade bouncing off the creature's tail. He saw the Sergal hiss in approval as he struck out with his halberd. It would be a long fight.

Udmyn was baiting the thing, egging it on, stabbing at it almost playfully. Lutessa leaped, jumping twice her own height, landing gracefully on the creature's back. It reared and shook, swatting at Lutessa, but the Faestir had time to stab it through the shoulder blades with a short sword before tumbling down to the ground and landing on her feet. Rhyn, the Corgi was muttering something, making gestures with her paw-like hands, and Tarlassiel felt the familiar taste of magic in the air, a sudden dryness. It was probably going to be fire, or a bolt of lightning.

For the first time in his life, Tarlassiel felt that he had gotten in way over his head. These adventurers were obviously far more experienced at what they were doing. He looked at the naga, and suddenly it turned to face him, and its eyes met his. He froze, mesmerized by the glare, willing his muscles to move but completely unable to break the trance he was in. Cold sweat was pouring down his back.

A smile seemed to pass over the naga's bluish, corpselike lips. It turned, and charged again. This time, directly at Tar.

Time seemed to stretch. Talrassiel saw the serpent creature bearing down on him, saw the spell cast by the Corgi hit the naga's back without it as much as shrugging in response. It stretched out its arms towards him, as in beckoning him forward. He saw the naga's mouth distend, revealing rows of razor-sharp teeth. More than anything in the world, Talrassiel wanted to close his eyes, but he was unable to. He was forced to watch his death close in.

A shadow in the corner of his eye moved, and he was free. He blinked and dropped to the ground, then looked up. A tall figure stood between the naga and her prey, shouting and pointing at it with a thin-bladed rapier. It was the human in the party, a wizard by the name of Selonius. Suddenly, as if he had emerged out of water, Tal's hearing returned.

"...foul creature! You... Shall... Not... PASS!" The wizard turned his grinning, bespectacled face towards Talrassiel, winking and remarking "I've always wanted to say that!" The naga seemed to the drow to have a disgusted look. "I shall strike you down, and you will die, alone and unmourned in this forest forsaken by the gods..." The naga lashed out against the wizard, but he dodged the attack skillfully, and mumbling a word in an arcane tongue, his hands crackled with magical light, and bright, shifting streams of color flashed from the wizard and hit the naga's head. It roared, blinded. Tal's head was suddenly clear.

With a sound that was half battle cry, half moan, Talrassiel swung his long-bladed sword and dove under the naga's arms. He hardly saw where he was aiming, but with a fleshy squelch, he struck, burying the sword into the creature's guts. He let go and rolled back, as the naga screamed and clutched the blade, pulling at it, and as it screamed he saw Udmyn the Sergal skewer the snake-thing on his spear, pulling it out and spilling blood and ichor, and then Larnessa landed on the naga's back once more and decapitated it with a quick, precise stroke of a longsword. Tal watched the head fall to the ground in a slow, arcing motion, and land with a soft thump on the forest floor. It was over. He looked at his blood-soaked hands and stained, dirtied clothing, and sighed. He was still alive.

Later, at nightfall, they made camp inside a ruined tower standing on a hill. Talrassiel could hardly tell that the lumps of stone on the shrub-covered hilltop had ever been a building if it hadn't been for Larnessa finding an inscription in what she claimed was the ancient language of her people. She was excited, pacing about and poring over the ruins in search of more writings. The party settled down around a small campfire, each sentient looking the others over thoughtfully as they carefully ate their rations: the sergal consuming a freshly-killed squirrel, the corgi chewing on dried, salted meat, the human enjoying a couple of thin enchanted wafers, and the Faestir eating a handful of fruit, then boiling some water to make fresh-smelling tea the color of fine brandy. Tal ate his own rations, then turned to the Sergal sitting beside him.

"I appreciate you saving my life. All of you..." he began, but the predator interrupted him brusquely. "Look, darkskin. Right now, you're a useless fuck. And maybe you'll grow to be a slightly more useful fuck, but at this moment, there's no value to your life, and if I feel you're a burden to us, I'll gut you and let you bleed out in the woods. I don't need your appreciation. I need you to be good in a fight. And don't think that we've all bought into your little tale about how you ended up here in these woods. Exiled, shipwrecked and robbed, my ass. I'm keeping my eyes on you." Spitting on the ground, the sergal rose and left the campfire. Shocked by the Udmyn's rudeness, Talrassiel turned to Larnessa. "What's wrong with that guy?" he asked, hurt in his voice.

"Nothing's wrong with him," she replied patiently. "He's Sergal, my friend. They're all like that." "You've done a lot of business with Sergals, then, Madam, that you know them well?" Talrassiel inquired. "Business? Sergals don't do business with other races, young drow. They simply sell their services. And they always extract their payment in advance. And another thing you should remember... If you ever cross or cheat them, may the Gods have mercy on you. Because a Sergal certainly won't..." "If, as you say, they always collect their pay in advance, how would I ever be able to cheat a Sergal, madam?" Telrassiel interjected. "Well," the Faestir looked at him, "I've seen people try to underpay them. Or sell them something or other, pocket the money, and then not producing the goods... I've seen a lot of things in this world. But know this, my friend: the Sergals can forgive greed, avarice, corruption, cruelty and treachery, but only as long as it's not directed at them." "Why are you telling me this, Madam?" Telrassiel blushed. "I know your people," she answered bluntly, looking him straight in the eye.

That night, he slept uneasy.