Chapter 1: Winter
Nalias could barely see the city and fortress Huntrost through the storm, even though the grand fortress was only a hundred or so feet away. He felt the weight of the snow falling off his beautiful cloak, and saw the ice crystals landing on the fringes of his hood. The air was frigid as all life stood still, as winter was especially harsh in the Doro Nand. However, Nalias, being a human, was rugged and tailored to survive such condition; this was coupled with the fact he was a huntrivik and had special abilities to help him survive as well. Although the dense shroud of snow interfered with his enhanced senses, he still had a good sense of direction and complete memorization of the land.
Nalias spent the last few months enjoying his time off from questing; though now the Grandmaster of the Huntrivikyos — and his mentor– Harian wants his second-in-command to investigate some ruins. Harian believes that there was possible shade activity in that area, but it seemed more likely to Nalias that his surrogate father just wanted some peace and quiet. Being bound by his sense of duty, Nalias was obviously going to complete the task, but he didn’t feel strictly bound to the rules either and felt free to bend them when he felt it necessary. He deemed it necessary now for he has other, more personal business to attend to…
Through the buried field he marched, his footfalls quiet and calculated; not because he was exercising caution, but rather this style of movement comes almost naturally to him and other huntrivikyos. The snow piled up on the ground at an alarming rate which impeded his progress, but he marched on still. He soon reached the end of the field and the mouth of the forest. Nalias took one short look back, seeing nothing he moved on.
The trees in the grand forest caught the snow and lessened the density of the snowfall. Unfortunately, with the trees being filled with snow, Nalias was not able to climb them and run from branch to branch, forcing him to stay on the ground for a much longer journey. Nalias moved very slowly (for a huntrivik, which is about a running pace for the average human) as well, taking caution not to disturb the tree branches he ducked under. If he got buried, the rest of his trek would undoubtedly be even more of an unpleasant trudge. Despite such danger, he still took advantage of his newfound visibility to gaze at the scenery. He saw streams frozen over with ice that had a delicate grey shade that stretched for miles. He saw the stark whiteness of fluffy new snow lay over trees of rich brown, the burdened branches holding up heaps of the relentless snow. Nalias loved winter; despite such unforgiving and relentless cold, it held an unmistakable and uncontrolled beauty. Nalias didn’t just love the winter though — he loved the wilds. Here, in nature’s impenetrable walls, he was free and unburdened. Nobody held authority over him here, he could say or do whatever he saw fit. He loved the dangerous and mysterious nature of these untamed lands, as it forced him to survive on his merits alone.
Hours passed and little occurred save for the blizzard subsiding, and a bitter, subzero cold setting in. Despite this, he still trudged onward for he knew that his destination was near. He eventually came to a steep cliff, which he quickly scaled in seconds without as much as an afterthought. From his new vantage point, he looked northeast and was satisfied to see he was only a few miles away from his destination. With his enhanced vision he saw the village in detail. He saw the people gather around the communal pot in the center of the town. As customary in the Doro Nand, humans treated each supper as a community-wide celebration. Everyone brought meats and threw them into the boiling stew, along with other filling and delicious foods. He saw the village’s militia sitting among their families, with their swords and helmets laid gingerly at their side. He also saw an elderly woman who seemed to be in her two hundred’s, who was patiently waiting for all others to finish eating until she poured herself a portion. Nalias deduced that she must be the village leader, for it is expected in human culture for all leaders to wait for everyone to partake in the food.
Nalias was all too eager to join their merriment and savor the warm food, but now an unease slowly grew in his heart. He grew wary about the confrontations ahead, of eyes all staring at him when he revealed his identity to them. Above all, he was wary of how two certain people would react at the sight of his face. He looked up and saw it was now getting darker and decided he would much rather deal with this later. He walked anxiously along the cliff path until he found a cave that had foreign footsteps leading into it. He immediately stopped, swiftly grabbing his bow and notching an arrow. It was possible that a shade of Celeste was scouting the area for a raid. He grabbed a rock and threw it into the cave and held his breath with his bow drawn.
“Acretho?” A voice bellowed from within the cave.
Nalias let out a sigh of relief, and put away the arrow and collapsed the bow.
“Acretho, brother!” Nalias shouted back in reply.
A man walked out of the darkness with a smile on his face. Nalias guessed he was in his late twenties, which is the same as Nalias who was at the youthful age of twenty-six, only becoming an adult in his coming of age two years prior. The man had curly black hair and had a dark complexion, only being about an inch or so shorter than Nalias.
“Greetings, huntrivik. What is your name?”
“Nalias, Huntrivikyos faction of course,” he grinned, “How about you?”
“I am Soren of the Calian faction, newly appointed knight and messenger!” he said with a joking pride, striking a triumphant pose in the process. Nalias, having quite the sense of humor, couldn’t help but share in his laughter.
“Please, do come in huntrivik. I was just about to light a fire.”
They sat around the strong flame for hours, telling stories and myths their elders have once taught them. Nalias was just glad to have the company, and someone to share jokes with. Eventually, Nalias got up and lifted a boulder to block the entrance to prevent the wind from sputtering out the fire. When he got back he saw Soren putting on a kettle with a slab of venison to eat. They soon sat and ate the delicious game.
“So,” Soren started, “what brings you hundreds of miles away from Huntrost?”
Nalias quickly stiffened up but soon relaxed, “Just a bounty, nothing too exciting.”
“Ah, well I was sent by my leader Calithra to deliver a message to Grandmaster Harian. A meeting of the factions or something of the sort.”
It grew quiet for a few seconds until Nalias spoke up, “You know, Harian is my mentor.”
“Really? What is he like?” Soren said in an enthusiastic tone.
“He is very serious, very much a leader. He’s like a father to me. He cares about me, even if he’s too stubborn to admit it.” They both laughed and sat in silence watching the fire for a long while.
Eventually, Soren put away the kettle and laid out some cloth. “I’m quite tired. I am going to sleep. I know you huntrivikyos only sleep like once a week, so do as you will” Soren yawned as he laid down next to the fire.
Nalias wasn’t tired but decided some sleep wouldn’t be a bad thing. Besides, it meant he could put off going to the village. So Nalias found a quiet corner in the cave and fell fast asleep, dreading what tomorrow will bring.