Gun Elf
The Elf with a Gun

A thin gray mist settled over the wooded valley, blown down from the mountain tops by the dour, chill winds. Like most of the Kingdom of Spear, the valley was heavily wooded, with trees littering the landscape and not much else. The skies were gray and overcast most of the time and the kingdom's location in the northern part of the northern hemisphere made its weather just as dreary. Most residents of Spear, even those in the capital city, rarely ventured outside due to the cold. Instead, they chose to stay inside their homes, keeping themselves warm by the fire of their stoves or fireplaces, passing the time by reading a good book or listening to one of the six channels on the radio.

Rakaken stretched his beefy arms with a groan as he stepped out of his small canvas tent. Breath continually fogging up in front of his face due to the cold, the large man wore a frown under his tusks, silently cursing the entire region for its awful climate. Rakaken reached back into his tent and pulled out a ragged leather coat. He then threw the heavy thing over his shoulders. Shoving his bare green arms into the sleeves took some effort, as did clicking the metal latches at the front closed. Within a few seconds, the coat's built-in spirit sensed his body and activated the heating system. Rakaken sighed as the cold receded and his body began to warm up.

"Damn, it's freezing out here!" a shrill voice to his left complained. Rakaken turned in time to see Hixxit emerge from the small tent next to his, the small man's tiny green body fully covered by thick winter gear. "Shikes, it's supposed to be fekkin' summer! I hate this bloody place."

The goblin's shrieking seemed to wake up the rest of the boys, as Lo and Xing emerged from their tents as well. The McAdden brothers were as different as night and day. Lo was the younger, but he was a full head taller than his older sibling, with tufts of straggly blonde hair growing out of his almost-bare skull compared to his brother's shaggy brown. Xing was rail thin and crafty, while Lo was fat and dumb. Lo also had dark brown skin and black eyes while Xing was blue-eyed and as pale as an elf. How it was possible that these two ever came out of the same woman, Rakaken would never know.

"Hixx, you little green turd, do you have to scream and holler every gods-damned morning?" Xing grumbled, his short brown hair sticking up on his right side.

"Frik you, you hairless monkey!" Hixxit hissed back. "It isn't my fault that we goblins are fair and delicate while you human brutes can live in this gods' forsaken ice pit."

"Oh, well excuse us if our kind don't much care to be livin' in garbage like your lot!"

"How dare you! That is an ethnic slander!"

"Oh, stuff it up yer arse!"

Rakaken just sighed and decided to ignore the two's bickering. They were like this almost every morning for the past six months of this job, and you could only threaten them so many times before you just stopped caring. Tuning out the argument, the orc looked up into the morning's gray sky while opening up a pouch of coffee. Upon breaking the plastic seal, the pouch's contents began heating up and he took in the welcome aroma of freshly-brewed (imitation) coffee.

Seven more weeks. Seven more weeks in this freezing hellhole before the contract was up and he could go back home. He had missed his wife and son. Leaving them behind whenever he took off to perform these jobs was always hard, but thankfully his wife understood that this was what a merc's life was like. What he regretted the most though was missing his son growing up. He was only five months old when he left; the boy must be huge by now!

Seven more weeks. The past few months had been hell. Not that the job was difficult per se, it was quite the opposite. The humans who made their home in this icy wasteland were absolute primitives; they had little running water and electricity and mostly got around by horse and wagon. They still even used spears and swords for the gods' sake! No, this job was beyond simple, it was like taking candy from a baby. At least, it should have been. What made the job so bad was the cold. The absolute, mind-numbing cold. Rakaken was from Hillborn, in Aegis. The city was nearer the equator so the weather was more moderate. He'd seen his fair share of winters, but not like this. The hardy orc had never been to a place that felt like it wanted to kill you and kill you slow at that. The cold was hell.

But this job would only last for seven more weeks. The job was originally supposed to last only four months, but the damn cold and unexpected blizzards delayed many of the caravan shipments into the capital. The client wanted none of his competitor's goods to reach the city, so it was his crew's job to keep it that way. Spear was a reclusive kingdom, primitive but rich in rare earth elements. Their king had opened up limited trading just a few years ago, and those foreign companies he chose to do business with would be filthy rich. Well, filthier rich. Needless to say, the competition for those contracts were high. High enough that one of said companies didn't mind playing dirty in order to get them.

That's where Rak's crew came in. They had been hired by one company to prevent any shipment of goods from another company from reaching the capital of Spear. If the competitor company failed to deliver as agreed, then the king would most likely hire another company -namely the one that hired Rak and his men- to replace them. It was a simple plan, one that his employers would never get away with if they tried to do it in Aegis, Pfeil, or any of the more civilized nations. But Spear was a shithole that didn't even have the most rudimentary access to the Aethernet so such a scam was perfect for them.

It was such an easy job. Except for the cold, Rakaken couldn't complain about anything. The caravans carrying the goods through the mountainous regions around the capital were all horse-drawn wagons, and its defenders armed with little but crossbows and spears. None of them were a match for the gear his crew carried with them. The entire job was an almost bloodless affair since as soon as the caravaneers saw what one of their arc lances could do, they gave up without a fight! Well, mostly.

There was this one brave punk that just wouldn't give in. Rak had threatened him, then beaten him, but the kid would just not stop fighting. So, the orc gave the human what he wanted: a nice, quick death. Then he hung up the idiot's corpse on a tree near the road as a warning to the other caravaneers: Rakaken's crew were serious, and if you were stupid enough to fight then you would die.

"Boss," Xing spoke up, breaking Rakaken out of his thoughts. He turned towards the man to see that he had the satellite monitor link activated. "The next caravan's on its way. Should get to the pass in 'bout three hours."

The orc nodded. "Alright," he told the other two. "Gear up. It's time to go to work."

Xing's calculations were right on the dot. It took the horse-drawn carriages of the caravan three hours to wind its way through the pass to reach the mouth of the valley. This was the place Rak had chosen to set up the ambush. Well, perhaps ambush was the wrong word to use. Upon sight of them, the caravan usually gave up peacefully and let the mercs destroy their goods without a fuss. They knew that their swords, spears, and crossbows were no match for modern day arc lances.

Rakaken, Xing, and Lo were standing right in the middle of the road, waiting for the caravan to arrive. Hixxit was half a mile away on top of a cliff; in case of any trouble, the goblin was to rain death from above, sniping away with his long-range arc lance.

"Alright, boys," Rak told the two humans as the caravan ground to a stop some fifty feet in front of them. "Get yer game faces on." He drew his arc lance from its side holster, the cold metal tube folding out to expand to its full three-foot length. He and his men held the weapons loosely with both hands, the barrels pointed groundwards. They didn't want their targets, who were most likely already nervous, to get so spooked that they did something stupid.

The three mercenaries waited for the caravaneers to exit their wagons like they usually would, but none of them did. After a few minutes of waiting, Rakaken cursed. He absolutely hated deviations in a routine. It usually meant someone was about to die.

"You know the drill!" He shouted towards the horse-drawn wagons. "You wanna live, you get out here with your hands up and surrender your goods! If you don't, well then, keep doing what yer doing! No skin off my tusks if you idiots wanna commit suicide."

Despite his harsh words, only silence met his threat.

"Fucking hell," Rak growled. "They wanna be difficult, fine." He reached up to his ear and activated his communicator. "Hixxit. Warning shot."

"You got it, boss," the goblin replied just before a bolt of sizzling green energy shot down from his position. The bolt impacted the road directly in the middle of the mercs and the caravan, exploding loudly and showering the area with smoke and gravel. The horses neighed in fright, some rearing up in their fear, but the nervous looking carriage drivers managed to calm them down.

After the smoke cleared, Rakaken shouted out, "Next one will be a lot closer, so I suggest that you pukes get off those wagons now!"

As if in answer to his ultimatum, a bright flash of lightning followed by a loud clap of thunder erupted from the sky. To his horror, the lightning bolt struck right on Hexxit's position, throwing up a large explosion upon hitting.

"Shit!" Xing cursed. His brother merely looked up in shock.

"Hexxit!" Rak barked into his communicator. "Hexxit! What's your status? Hexxit!" Nothing but static was heard on the line.

Before the mercenaries could regroup, movement from the caravan caught their attention. From the lead wagon, a figure stepped off. Rakaken saw that it was a woman, lithe and thin, wearing a dark gray overcoat over a light gray suit. She had long blonde hair, though it was so light that it might as well have been white. A white collared shirt with a gray tie and black leather shoes completed her outfit. She was absolutely beautiful, but the beauty seemed unnatural, almost ethereal. What struck Rak most about the woman though was her long, pointed ears.

She was an elf.

"Damn it," the orc cursed. An elf. What the hell was an elf doing all the way out here?

"We are so screwed," Xing mumbled.

Elves were the only race on Erde who were capable of accessing the full scope of the Aethernet without any outside devices. They could mold and cast magics like no other, able to rain fire or ice or lightning down upon their enemies, all without the need of a grimoire. Magic was completely natural to their kind; casting spells was like breathing to an elf.

The elf stopped fifty feet in front of them, some ten feet away to the caravan's left. It was a good move, Rak idly thought, as it put the caravan and its goods out of the way of the line of fire. Why would she care though? Did the company sending the goods hire her to protect the caravan? But why would an elf do that unless-

"Surrender now and I give you my word that you won't be hurt," said the elf. Even her voice was beautiful, like a musical note from a viola: both enchanting and stern.

Rak grinned. "Is that so, my lady? You're a long way from home, aren't ya?"

"Uh, boss. Maybe it ain't so smart ta talk back to an elf, eh?" Lo asked him nervously.

"Easy, boys. We're fine." The orc sneered, directing a dirty look towards the elf woman. "This one's been hired to escort the caravan, haven't ya?"

The elf shrugged. "So what if I was?"

"Ha! No self-respecting elf in any of the high houses would lower themselves to bodyguard duty. I'm guessing you're a Freelancer, then?"

The elf let out a defeated sigh. "You got me."

"Um, boss?" Xing asked, obviously confused by their discourse.

"It's simple, you dimwit." Rakaken pointed to the elf. "There's no way any elf would work as a Freelancer, at least no elf that was still in good with their house. No boys, what we got here is what we call a broken elf. One who was born without the ability to cast spells."

"But then how'd she do that lightning thing?" Lo asked.

"The same way we would do it," Rak pulled out a small black device about the size of a paperback novel from his pocket; it had a cord running from its side to the comm unit in his ear. "With a grimoire. But casting spells that powerful sucks up a lotta juice. I'm guessin' our pretty little miss here can't cast any more till her grimoire's battery recharges."

"Wow, you're pretty smart," remarked the elf.

"Thank you."

The elf continued. "I'm hoping you're smart enough that you'll surrender. I've been hired to do a job, and as a professional, I won't give up until I complete that job."

"What a coincidence," Rak said. "I'm a professional, too. I take pride in completing my work, and so I can't give up, same as you. But," the orc now frowned, his eyes lighting up with fury. "You killed our friend. And because o' that, I'm gonna be unprofessional, just this once, and say I'm gonna enjoy fryin' your ass. Let her have it, boys!"

With that, the mercenaries took aim and opened fire. Sizzling green ethereal energy flew through the air, headed straight for the beautiful elf. It was at that moment that Rakaken realized he had made two mistakes. One was that the optimal firing range for hand-held arc lances was about thirty feet; any farther than that and they got extremely inaccurate. The other mistake was that he forgot about the elves' second most lauded feature: their incredible agility.

From fifty feet away, the elf was able to nimbly dodge the arc lance's bolts of fire. With a grace, no other race possessed, she easily managed to twist and avoid each and every shot they made, up until their weapons overheated and had to shut off for a few moments lest the heat destroy the barrels. It was at that moment that the elf attacked.

She reached into her coat and drew a strange looking device. It had a grip like an arc lance but was only seven inches long and shone like chrome. It had a cylinder of some sort in the center of the frame and its barrel had a hole going down the center with notches carved into the metal. When the elf pulled the trigger, a clapping sound like lightning happened, along with a flash from the muzzle. Within the blink of an eye, Rak felt a hot impact on his right arm followed by a spray of blood.

A slugthrower! Why was an elf using such an antique weapon? It was ridiculous! She might as well have been using one of the Spears men's crossbows.

But regardless of how old the weapon was, it still proved most effective. Two more shots from the weapon took out the McAdden brothers, as a set of neat holes appeared in both their foreheads. The two human mercs collapsed onto the ground, their brains leaking out onto the roadside.

It was then that Rak's arc lance started beeping, signaling that it had cooled enough to be usable. With a snarl of fury, the orc aimed the weapon and began shooting out bolt after bolt of green fire. Unfortunately, due to the range and his injury, the elf was easily able to avoid them. When Rakaken's arc lance overheated again, the elf took the moment and sent a bullet right into his chest.

Rak blinked, surprised at finding himself on the ground. He looked down at his chest and saw the gaping hole in it, steam rising up from the bloody, gushing wound and into the cold morning air. He tried to take a breath and coughed, blood spilling against his tusks. The orc heard footsteps approaching, and looked up to see the elf standing over him, the barrel of her gun aimed right at his head.

"W-wait, please," Rakaken pleaded. "I… I have a family…"

The elf sighed in distaste. "I know," she told him, right before she pulled the trigger.

Edelweiss groaned in joy as she warmed herself by the fire. The cold was absolute hell on her fragile elven body, and she was glad to finally be indoors and safe from the awful weather outside.

"Comfy?" a voice spoke in her head. It was deep and gravelly and belonged to the warriors of old.

"Very," she answered, closing her eyes and leaning back in the recliner she was seated in.

The elf had just returned from getting paid by the company, whose local manager was most pleased to learn that all future shipments of their goods should reach the capital without complications from now on. Edelweiss doubted that their competitor would hire more mercenaries now that they knew all future convoys would be protected. Hopefully, they would see such a venture as too expensive and count their losses.

"Thanks for the help back there," Edelweiss said. "I couldn't have gotten that sniper if it wasn't for you, Duke."

"Don't mention it, darlin," the voice told her.

"I can't wait to get back to Aegis. Spear is way too rural for my tastes." the elf looked around the room, seeing the almost medieval looking tavern. Thankfully, it wasn't too busy tonight as the hour was late and most of the patrons had gone home to their beds. No one was at the fireplace but her and she enjoyed the solitary time alone; it was just her and the wonderful heat.

"Someone's coming," warned the voice.

Edelweiss idly glanced over to the approaching human, noting his advanced age and haggard appearance. He seemed harmless enough, but regardless she stayed wary. Her right hand snuck underneath her coat to grasp the grip of her pistol.

"E-excuse me? Miss?" The man suddenly looked wide-eyed as he remembered something. "Um, it is miss, isn't it?"

Instead of getting offended, Edelweiss just laughed. "Yes. Yes, it is."

"Oh, good," The old man looked even more nervous as he continued to talk. "I'm, uh, my name is Zhao Baker. I… my son was the one who was killed… by those bastards. He was just delivering his cargo and they… they shot him down like a dog, then hung his body up… I…"

"I'm so sorry," Edelweiss told him, her feelings genuine though she couldn't help but feel uncomfortable at the situation.

The old man wiped up his tears and smiled. "No, please. Don't be. You avenged him, and for that I thank you." He reached into his pocket and took out a crumpled envelope. "I-it's not much, but this is all my savings. I want to give it to you. Please, take it. As thanks, for my son."

"That really isn't necessary…"

"Please, take it!" Insisted the old man.

"I don't take assassination jobs," Edelweiss told him coldly. Then, in a less harsh tone, said, "but I will take your thanks. You're welcome." She smiled.

The old man smiled back, returning the envelope to his pockets. "I'm sorry… I…"

"Don't be." The elf pointed to the empty chair next to her near the fireplace. "Please, sit down. Why don't you tell me about your son."

The old man's face lit up with joy. He quickly joined her in the chair by the fire. "He was kind. And brave, so stupidly brave. He was such a good boy, always doing the right thing. I miss him…"

"I'm sure a lot of people do."

Edelweiss then sat back and listened with a smile to the old man as he recounted tales about his son and his all too brief life. At the end of the night, she felt as if she had known the boy all his life.

Races of Erde, part one

Orc: Orcs are a large, powerfully built race native to the central plains of the Silver Continent. Their tough, leathery skin ranges from green to dark red, and the males have tusks that grow from their lower jaw. Because of their brutish appearance, many wrongfully consider orcs to be stupid. In fact, they can be as intelligent as any human or elf.

Goblin: A small, green race often found living in the refuse piles of cities around the world. Because of this, many consider them to be nothing more than vermin. Goblins are known for being extremely cunning, though if this is because of their true intelligence or the fact that many tend to underestimate them is unknown.

Human: The most numerous race on the planet. Very hardy and adaptable, and can be found on almost every continent. They have been enslaved by the elves numerous times throughout the Ages, and evidence of this can be seen in the modern era through the fact that the largest populations of humans are found in the elven nations.

Elf: Beautiful, swift, immortal. Elves are the masters of the science of magic. They are the undisputed rulers of Erde, as elves control all the major nations in the world. Unlike other races, elves can tap into the Aethernet without the need of devices. They can then access all the information within and cast spells with the greatest of ease. Elves are thin, graceful, and shorter than most races. They are always pale, and their eyes have cat-like, slitted pupils. Elves are also not very sexually dimorphic; other races find it almost impossible to tell the males from the females.