CHAPTER ONE

A Land of Death and Darkness

Part One

"Come along now." The dwarfish human waved and weaved through the crowd.

The tall, lanky man followed, slipping by fluidly with the tide of people. Cloaked in a thick onyx fur-leather coat to ward off the chill of the northern continent, his hood hid his shadowed face from those around him, many of whom shifted their stares constantly across anyone and everyone that crossed their paths. A distrusting society, the cloaked man felt uncomfortably comfortable that he fitted right in.

He noticed a hooded elf looking at him from behind one of the shop's tables away, up and away from her meal.

Unlike Mud Town, the city of Edge wasn't a freezing swampland. Frozen dirt hardened into ground akin to clay. Buildings were packed into a compact heap of enclosed streets called The Pile, and walled shophouses were lit rarely by the gaps above the streets where light beamed through from above with whispers of cold winds. Rickshaws filled with crates of deliveries were pulled through the alley-wide paths, with its puller shouting for pedestrians to make way.

The close-quarter preserved the heat akin to bodies snuggled dead frozen in the wasteland. Firewood and oil were hard to find in Devara, thus conservation of heat was more important than generating them.

Another shadowy glare came from the corner of his eyes for a fleeting moment but vanished when he turned to look.

"Nadier!" the short man called out again.

Nadier had almost lost sight of the short man who had darted into a small tunnel that ran under an overpass. He slipped through the crowd and ducked under the dusty dirt bridge.

"Are you sure about this, Ratface?" Nadier said it without insult. The Guide was, after all, only known as Ratface.

"Positive," Ratface turned back to answer. "The expedition is underground, but ma' source says if we find it, we'll be able to go north."

"And can we trust your source?"

"Oh yeah. Friend of a friend kind of thing."

He trusted Ratface as a Guide. Through his time as an assassin, he had occasionally relied on the man to pull him through the ever-shifting snow dunes of southern Devara. But he thought the man slightly mischievous, always having some prank or trick or lie up his sleeves. Dealing with Ratface meant keeping your nose up, ready to act. Or at least, react.

Daylight was quickly vanishing. The evening's shadow now hit the wall, even though only 6 hours of the day had passed. The more north you were, the darker and colder the land. Nadier found it weird they were meeting an expedition that was planning to set out at twilight instead of dawn.

He was not sure when it happened, but Nadier started getting... curious. And it might just kill him.

They turned through another smaller alley. A rush of cold wind carrying snow signalled they were now at the outskirt of The Pile and were about the exit the main city. His Guide turned a corner into an open stable and Nadier lost track of him.

"Ratface?!" Nadier exclaimed louder now that no one was around.

But he had no reply.

A decade ago, when such situation arose, Nadier would have turned away and slunk back into the shadows. But a lot had happened in those few years. He pulled out his twin daggers - Styx and Tons - and loaded two copper vials into their hilts. He slid his fingers into the rings of the weapons and swung them behind his palm, hiding the blades against his wrists.

He took a calming breath that prickled cold before he walked out.

"Hello," he greeted. "I assume this is a trap for me?"

Ratface was gagged and held back by a muscular woman twice his size. It was at that moment Nadier wondered why Ratface was even called that. The man was tiny, sure, but his face itself was not particularly rodent-like in features. It was hardened and chiselled, as if made in a forge. His hair was the silver of steel, which he guessed could be mistaken for rat hair if you squinted.

Surrounding Ratface, aside from the woman warrior holding him, were four other mercenaries wearing the thick fur coat common around the parts.

"Well, we couldn't pass up the chance to catch the infamous Nadier the Wanderer. The last of the dark elves," a mercenary elf answered. "Ratface here was so kind as to lure you for us."

Slavers. In a land without much natural resources, the only thing you can grow and trade in was people.

"And what are you going to do with me after this?"

The slaver leader shrugged. "Someone will buy you. But you'll be far up north then, where no one will hear you scream."

He looked left to the four packed Trhaskars - white furry bear-like steeds with antlers - whose backs were loaded with supplies, a caravan with a couple of cages sat waiting to be pulled on the other end of the stable. They were stocked to leave north.

"Well, that settles my travel itinerary. Ratface?"

Ratface's constipated struggle turned into a notched grin. Blue lines glowed on the side of the Guide's face.

The warrior holding him exclaimed, "Wha-!"

Ice lances punctured the woman's body as Ratface shot the magical spears off his snow drenched back like a porcupine spiking out. The warrior gurgled her last bloody breath as the ice detached from Ratface's back and she fell spine first, dead behind.

The leader gasped at Ratface's surprise surprise. "He's a mage!"

Before the slaver could react or even draw his weapon, Nadier was already next to him, sinking his dagger into the leader's heart. The man coughed blood, blood retching forward in shock. His followers stood in stunned silence. In the blink of an eye, their commander and second were taken down. That must have been a surprise to them, but Nadier was about to stop their hearts.

He set his knife atop the other and pressed down. With a motion to gut, he pulled the inset blade out, sparking flash against the other. The flinting lit the chemical from his copper vial that now drenched his daggers, and both blades suddenly burst into flames, lighting his hands in pyres of red like phoenixes in his palms

The other slavers panicked. While the elf mercenary drew his sword to fight, the last survivor attempted to flee, only to slip on ice that Ratface made, and falling down onto sudden spikes of frost that burst from the ground, riddling his body with holes.

With a roar, the mercenary's sword glowed white with magic and he charged at Nadier. Nadier kicked with an overhang filled with deft precision, knocking the sword aside. With a quick landing, he pushed his body forward and jammed his offhand dagger's point under his opponent's chin. Blood flowed down Nadier's hand and splattered droplets across his face. His opponent's body went limp and he released his blade, dropping the corpse to the floor.

"You're such a rat," Nadier called Ratface.

"Well," the latter replied with a shrug, dusting frozen blood off his shoulders. "Ya' asked for a way north. Might as well get rid of scums on the way."

Nadier sighed as Ratface began getting the Trhaskars ready for travel. The former assassin walked to a nearby water barrel to wash the blood off. The reflection showed his grey aeronium skin, unique to the dark elves. His jet black hair had gotten longer in the seasons off. He found them helpful in keeping at least his head warm, letting them wrap around the side of his head messily. The blood splatters on his face were the same colour as his irises. The pointed ears of his reminded him of daggers.

After splashing off the blood on his face, he began scrubbing the liquid that had washed over his hand. As he pulled back his sleeves, it revealed a swirling rip in the grey, outer aeronium skin, showing glimpses of the bright elven tone beneath.

Dark elves were not called dark elves because their skin were naturally dark. It was just a coating. They were called that because they were deathly allergic to light.

"Nadier!" Ratface called out. "Ya' ready?"

He turned to find his Guide having loaded 3 of the 4 Trhaskars with their own equipment. The cages from the caravan were thrown out, and the 4th beast of burden was strapped to the front, ready to leave.

With his people buried to die under a mountain and the gate that applied the aeronium coating gone, Nadier now moved North towards the land where daylight never shone. Perhaps he could find remnants of his people there, hidden within the buried network of old dwarven tunnels. Maybe there was a way to recoat himself before his own layer completely dissipates. It had been nearly a hundred years since his last coating and they were starting to fade.

The Dark Continent - encased in ice and shadow for the history of the planet - was his destination. The Frozen North.

"Daylight's catching up to us," Nadier answered Ratface. "Let's go."


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