Gale wore equipment well-suited to his new complexion, a tunic measured to perfection along with a pair of pants — ebony-coloured and sewn from Dragon-Ash. Without any sleeves, his arms stood protected by no more than a pair of intricately designed vambraces, while his neck donned what appeared to be a bevor, both forged from Dragonbone. There was armour around the waist as well, an ornate addition to what might have been a unique set in the World of Transition.
Despite the materials behind its construct, the armour held onto a modern design suited to mobility-based combat, barely showing signs of having been made from bone or ash.
“My aeter distribution is much cleaner with this equipment; it should improve control as well,” the boy said on observation. “If I recall correctly, Ser Zane did mention the armour being enchantment-friendly. Though, considering its permanence, I ought to choose those more carefully.”
Gale shifted his eyes to a wooden sign post, letters faded and worn from years of duty. He walked a little closer, reading the words — Basaraa Village. It was where his quest was to begin, a quest for which Lord Bloodseed offered little information.
At the entrance, Gale offered a badge etched with concentric triangles on one side and the seal of the Suntarian military on the other.
“This isn’t counterfeit,” the village guard said. “But I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such a mark. Is there a new lord in Suntaria?”
“No, there is no new lord,” said Gale, smiling as he did. “It’s the mark of a separate division within the Suntarian military, Combat Representation. I’m the first to be part of it.”
“Sounds very interesting,” the guard said with a laugh. “I suppose that makes you someone big then?”
“Nothing too extravagant.”
“I like you, boy,” the guard said. “The name is Mar; I wish you pleasant business in Basaraa Village.”
“Gale,” the boy said, returning the favour. “I’m sure I will.”
A small village located in the mountainous regions of the Godvildian realm, Basaraa counted a population of not more than five-hundred people. It was funnily noted for lacking a pub, which led to its lack of popularity amongst wandering adventurers. Nonetheless, the village formed an integral part of the Godvildian trade routes given their reputation for the crafting of quality leather and cloth-based equipment.
Gale received a warm welcome from most of the villagers inside — ordinary people unfazed by the boy’s amber eyes and complexion. When he announced the purpose of his visit, one of them offered to guide him to the Village Elder’s house even.
“I find that good, young men are often the first to die,” the villager said. “Is the military worth it, considering how much it takes away from you?”
“I’m in no position to disagree with you, milady,” said Gale, respectful in his tone. “But there is nothing else I’m good at in this world.”
“Please be at ease,” the villager said, laughing aloud. “You can call me Lana; there is no need for honorifics. And speaking of your worldly worth, you mustn’t be so quick to put yourself down.”
“I’ve been blamed for that too often.”
Given Lana’s age and demeanour, Gale couldn’t help but remember his mother. But as much as it bothered him, there was little emotion attached to the remembrance. He shook his head in attempt to disperse all thought. It confused Lana, who hastened her steps to march ahead. After having overtaken Gale, she turned to press her palm against his forehead.
“You should be careful,” said Lana kindly. “It’s difficult to get used to the weather out here; but you don’t appear to have a fever.”
“A lot like my mother,” thought Gale. “It was ignorant of me to think that I may have been able to forget them completely.”
The two of them parted ways at an ordinary-looking house, built like any other in the village. Gale thanked the lady for her service, and proceeded to enter. The inside was sparsely furnished, but decorated extravagantly with odd things of varying value. With no one in sight, the boy looked around until stumbling onto a short table fitted with what resembled a bell.
Gale took a seat and tapped at it, causing it to ring just like it did in his former world. It still amused him, the little similarities. He heard a cough, and then footsteps. Eventually, a short, old lady appeared, dressed as ordinarily as the house itself.
“Elder Gram?” said Gale, uncertain in his tone. “I’ve come here as a representative of the Suntarian military for the request that was posted.”
“Well met, child,” the lady warmly said. “I must apologize for my keep; it must be unlike what you are used to at the capital city. And yes, I am Gram.”
“Not at all, Revered Elder,” said Gale with a low bow. “I am only a recent recruit and in no position to judge your status or situation.”
“I don’t remember the last time I met someone as polite as you are,” said Gram. “Your divine blessing is well earned.”
Gale lost composure over the remark, but quickly regrouped to assess the information at hand. As far as he could tell, the fact about his blessing was far from common knowledge, bound between Zane and the Three Pillars of Suntaria alone.
“You needn’t panic,” said the Elder. “I had initially taken you to be a demi-human, but I’ve lived a long time, and I am yet to come across one as fiercely dark as you are. There are fewer stories still of humanoid creatures that fit your description. But given the oddity of your appearance, I concluded to the existence of a blessing.”
“I’m sorry, Revered Elder,” said Gale, bowing once more. “For a moment, I had suspected something awry.”
“Please, don’t be; it’s only natural,” said Gram. “And yes, the request; were you briefed about it by any chance?”
“No,” admitted Gale. “I was merely instructed to arrive at Basaraa Village and hear of it from you.”
“I’ll explain as much as I can then,” said Gram. “We are craftsmen by trade, very good in fact. And much of the materials we use are from Basaraa Forest, which happens to be home to several lesser monsters and humanoids.
“Expeditionary groups are escorted by the Village Guard, and it’s a system that’s helped us survive. There’s also the barrier that was erected long before my time; a three-part spell strongest at the border and weaker through the distance.”
“If I may, how much of the forest have your expeditionary groups explored?” Gale asked out of curiosity.
“We mostly stay within the area in between the first and second barrier,” revealed Gram. “But we have ventured beyond the third barrier as well. It was important to map the forest, and some of the better materials are more commonly found past the second barrier.”
“Have either the monsters or humanoids become restless with this activity?”
“For as long as I have lived, the forest creatures have been benevolent,” said Gram. “We respect the marked territories, and in return, they let us explore without worry. Not the goblins though; they’re too greedy to accept a pleasant enough relationship. It’s beyond fixable, ever since they began feeding on us as well.”
Time had slowly begun to unravel the World of Transition, its denizens and its laws. This was a divergence for Gale, an occurrence that didn’t comply with the earth realm. Not that it bothered him; but the discovery of humanoids beyond the three great races did fascinate him to a certain degree. In his mind, goblins marked merely the first step toward long exploration.
“Does the request have anything to do with exterminating the goblins?” asked Gale, eager to set foot in Basaraa Forest.
“In part, but it’s not as simple as that,” said Gram, a grim expression on her face. “Our guards are often able to handle the goblins by themselves, but it’s the Hearth King causing problems.”
“The Hearth King?” repeated Gale.
“Goblins are of low intelligence, and are rarely able to work in large groups,” explained Gram. “But a Hearth King is a once in a hundred years evolution of intelligence and strength. We don’t fully understand it, but the goblins unite under the king’s presence. And this one has been able to push in as close as the village borders. We’ve lost a lot of good soldiers to his command.”
“I believe I understand what I must do now,” said Gale. “Rest assured that the issue will be taken care of, hopefully sooner than later.”
“We are in your care, young child,” Gram warmly said. “Also, remember that we are open to doubling the reward if you’re able to exterminate or disband the goblins in under a year.”
Gale nodded in acknowledgment. Gram stepped away from the table and retreated to one of two rooms in her house, returning shortly after. She handed the boy a map and what appeared to be a small pouch.
“We’ll need proof of the Hearth King’s death,” said Gram. “Through the evolution, the creature is known to acquire a pair of horns. You may keep one as a reward; a King’s Horn has great use in aeter enhancement medication. The pouch is enchanted to preserve its quality.”
“And the map?” asked Gale.
“There are safety zones within the deeper regions of Basaraa Forest,” said Gram, pointing at marked locations on the map. “You should be able rest there comfortably; it’s also well-stocked with food and hunting equipment.”
“I’ll take my leave then,” said Gale. “Thank you for all your guidance.”
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