Lanra wasn’t a big town and some might have called it boring, but it was bustling and far from quiet. With sandy roads, rough, brick buildings and horse droppings everywhere you stepped, it was quaint. The year was 1361 and it was the middle of a scorching summer.
The Thorn and Thistle Inn was the hub of the town – being the only Inn in a twenty-mile radius. It was always busy, but somehow, they never ran out of ale – water however, was another matter.
Outside in the garden with a large tankard of cool ale sat a red humanoid, with a long swishing tail and horns curling from his head. His black eyes scanned the garden and he smirked. This was a Tiefling, a descendant of demons, but mostly accepted in the world. His bright red hair was tied up and his horns were decorated with handmade jewellery. He had two scimitars on his back which were covered by a black cloak. The rest of his clothing was simple, with plain leathers and a white cotton shirt.
He spotted someone interesting sitting at the table beside his. A female halfling, holding a tankard as tall as her own head, she seemed drunk and her blonde pigtails were a little messy, but she seemed happy enough. He noted the battle axe resting against the table and he wondered what kind of warrior she was.
Before he could approach the halfling, loud shouts echoed from the nearby forest. He looked up and saw a scrawny woman in dirty rags running out of the forest. She was screaming for help, but he could see no beast following after her. He stood from his bench and waited for her to reach the garden.
She stopped at the fence and tried to catch her breath as exhaustion and tears knocked her lungs for six. “Please. Someone,” she breathed. “My son.”
“Slow down, take deep breathes,” the Tiefling said softly, his voice deep and smooth like honey. He watched the woman try to compose herself, but she didn’t do a very good job. “What is your name?”
“I am Rase, tell me what happened, Mary.”
“A beast. Took my son, Jimmy. Please. Help us. He’s all I have in this world. Please”
“What kind of beast?” he asked. He noticed, out the corner of his eye, the halfling woman was watching over the rim of her tankard, her brown eyes fixed on the poor woman.
“I don’t know, we were picking berries and he was right behind me…I swear he was and then…”
He didn’t know how to comfort the woman as she once again burst into tears. He awkwardly touched her arm once before retracting his clawed hand. Suddenly the halfling woman shot up and did her best to calm Mary down. She cooed and shushed her, her hands grasping Mary’s tightly.
“Please help, I don’t have much, but I’ll give you anything – everything I have.”
Rase bowed his head low and said, “I will bring your son back to you, this I swear.”
“Me too,” the halfling piped up cheerfully, her voice sweet and innocent. “We’ll go together and take on this beast. And we’ll bring Jimmy back to you, alive.”
He looked at the halfling in shock, to make such promises, to give the woman such hope, was foolish. He thought her impulsive and he wasn’t sure if he wanted her to join him in rescuing the boy. But that axe of hers certainly looked like it had seen a few battles before and he remembered not to judge someone before seeing them in a fight.
“Go and rest, we will return soon with your son,” the halfling said and sent Mary on her way, still crying and mumbling about her son.
“Well aren’t you confident,” he said sarcastically. “You don’t even know what beast took the boy.”
“No beast in that forest is dangerous enough to kill someone. I’m sure he just got lost or something.” She held her hand out to Rase and smiled brightly, “my name is Freya.”
“Rase.” He took her hand and shook it firmly. The strength of her grip surprised him, she seemed like such a kindly girl with those pink cheeks, but she had some strength behind her smile.
“Shall we get going then?” Freya asked sweetly as she lifted her axe with one hand and finished her ale with the other.
“I suppose.” This was a pain. All he wanted was a rest, just a day to himself. He wanted a day away from adventure and nearly being killed by monsters. But it wasn’t meant to be, not in this town. Far too much happened in this small town, mostly fights as tempers flared with too many people crowded in such a small location. He looked up at the sun and basked his face in its heat for a moment, taking this opportunity to meditate. He couldn’t have refused the woman’s pleas for help, that would have gone against everything he was raised to be.
“I’ll join you,” a deep female voice sounded from behind Rase.
Rase tilted his head to take a glance over his shoulder and he sighed. Just when he thought things couldn’t get more frustrating, he spotted the pointed ears of an elf. Her black hair draped over one shoulder, her green cape flapped in the wind, revealing a beautifully made bow. A large quiver rested at her side and a few small dagger hilts glistened in the sun.
“Sure, the more the merrier!” Freya shouted with a cheer.
He closed his eyes for a moment and exhaled. “Very well, elf.”
“It’s Kalopsia, but you can call me Kal.”
‘How kind,’ he thought to himself quietly and forced a smile. In all his years, he had never had a good experience with an elf. They were all arrogant and cruel, especially to those of other races. He sighed and walked through the gate, exiting the garden and leaving the Inn behind. Whether the two women followed him or not, he didn’t really care. But they did. He hoped they would be able to help him save the boy from the forest and not be a distraction to their new-found mission.
The three of them made their way to the forest, the faint sand path showing them the way. Freya chatted constantly, her bubbly personality testing the patience of the silent Kal. Rase glanced around, his gaze darting constantly. It wasn’t that he was paranoid, he just knew that nowhere in the Empire was safe, not for Tieflings anyway. He glanced at every bush, every fence, every tree – everything that someone could hide behind.
They entered the forest, the tall trees towering over them like mountains. But it wasn’t daunting, the forest was safe and not a dangerous place to venture. It was one of the main ways into the town and people would traverse through it every day. No one had ever been killed by one of the beasts in this forest, they were all far too tame. People would get robbed if they weren’t careful, but that was rare with new guards patrolling the entire town.
“Something isn’t right here,” Kal said quietly.
He shook his head. “Feels fine to me,” he replied a little louder.
They continued silently, not really sure where they were heading or what they were looking for, but Rase figured they would know when they saw it. He wasn’t sure what Kal felt when they entered the forest, but he wasn’t sure if he wanted to know either.
He stopped in his tracks when he heard a rustling off to the left. Freya bumped into him with a dull thud and pushed Rase off balance, forcing him to catch himself.
“What did you stop for?” Freya asked.
“Shh,” he urged with a hiss. He slowly unsheathed one of his swords and held it tightly in his right hand. He pointed towards a cluster of berry bushes not too far from the path. Something was watching them and they weren’t being subtle – with their loud scratching and clicking. Rase was surprised that Kal had felt something was wrong in the forest, he had never met someone who was able to do that so easily.
They waited, none of them daring to breathe or move. Freya twirled her axe in her hands and Kal slowly knocked an arrow, whatever it was, they would be ready for it.
Before Rase could move, a huge, blur jumped out from the undergrowth and attempted to bite him. He managed to dart to the side and that’s when he saw a large rat, bigger than a common house cat, with sharp teeth, red eyes and torn ears. Its black fur was matted and wriggling with bugs. Brown foam bubbled from its mouth as it snapped angrily. He glanced back to the bushes and looked up at the trees above. More of them were crawling along the ground and the trunks of the trees. Some of them carrying bones in their mouths, others panting with hunger.
“These are not from here…” Freya whispered. “What are they?”
“I don’t know, but they’re not living,” Rase replied as he twirled his sword and slammed the sharp tip into the rat by his feet. He had never fought rats before, this would be fun.