It's interesting to be fleshing the world out beyond all the war and fighting. /shrug.
The morning breeze tickled Dane's skin as he woke up from a deep slumber. He rolled over in his bed, feeling the bedsheets sticking to his back, then pressed his face into his pillow. It'd been such a hot night that he'd barely been able to sleep from all the tossing and turning that he'd been doing. During the day it wasn't a problem for him to keep a cooling, magic aura around him to ward off the heat, but there was simply no way for him to maintain a spell in his sleep.
His memories of the previous few days had come back to him as he returned to the waking world, and slowly his contentedness with remaining in bed was replaced by a sour expression hidden by his pillow. It was time to work.
Dane swung his legs over the side and his bare feet touched the cool, wooden floor. He yawned as he scratched idly at his chest. The unclean stench from so many missed paths wafted up into his nostrils and he cringed. It was little wonder why Karth had complained about his stench yesterday.
As Dane began to gather his discarded clothes, he debated about taking a dip in the lake to clean up. It was certainly preferable to the alternative, but judging by the angle of the sun he assumed he didn't have that much time left for a luxury such as that.
In the corner of his small room was a wooden tub, large enough for him to submerse himelf in it. Dane had procured the tub when he moved into his quarters, and used it for bathing when he didn't have time to go to the lake. He set his belongings down and stood over the tub.
With a deep breath to clear his thoughts, he focused his mind on pulling mana from the air around him. The energy rolled over his arms and he tried to picture a waterfall, aiding him as he molded the mana to suit his needs. After a moment of standing there, water appeared from the palms of his hands and poured into the tub.
That's going to be too cold, he thought. He altered the way he was manipulating the magical energy, forcing the mana to move faster and causing it to heat up. Soon, the tub was filled two-thirds of the way to the brim with steaming, hot water.
Climbing in slowly so as to acclimate his body to the temperature, he sat down and the water rose up to his shoulders. In seconds, all the tension he'd been feeling since he left for Raken was being washed away. He enjoyed the sensation for a few moments before reaching for a cloth that hung over the edge and a little bar of soap that sat on top of it.
As he washed himself, he took care to get every part of himself clean, dipping below the waters surface to wash his hair as necessary. The grim and sweat from his trip began to peel away from his skin as he scrubbed, and he felt refreshed and rejuvenated.
Dane could still remember his short stay in Rogust years ago, and how rarely people bathed. It always stunk. He considered himself lucky that when he was recruited by the Rogarian Academy of Arcane Sciences, they had bathing facilities to use.
Once he felt clean again, he stood up in the tub, careful to make sure he didn't slip, but also to make sure he didn't drip onto the floor. The people living on the floor below him wouldn't appreciate having water dripping down on them from between cracks in the ceiling.
With his arms held slightly away from his body, he closed his eyes and began to focus again. A wave of heat began to engulf him, nearly to the point of feeling uncomfortable. It stole the moisture from his skin and evaporated the water he stood in. He was completely dry in only a few seconds, and his long, disheveled hair fell about his shoulders.
I'm probably not going to get a chance to do that for a while, he thought as he began to comb the tangled mess into something that only loosely resembled neatness. It feels good to be clean again, though.
Dane took his time getting dressed, knowing that as soon as he was ready he'd be headed to the docks to get a boat with Tyrarl. He'd worked with the elf a few times before, so he wasn't anyone new, which he considered a bit of a blessing. The fact that the elf was xenophobic and hid it behind a thin veil of kindness annoyed him, though. There were a few people like him that Dane had met during his stay with the Kitairan military, a sect called the Pureblood Society. They cared nothing for the other races and preached elven dominance over their kingdom and the surrounding lands.
Fortunately for the Coalition, the Purebloods were a vocal minority and held no real power compared to their queen, Relena Lucien. Dane shivered as thoughts crossed his mind about what horrors the Pureblood's leader, Zefar, could unleash on Muriaj if given the chance.
With his clothing on, Dane slipped into his ring mail tunic, slid his bracers onto his wrists, donned his duster, and strapped Vengeance's scabbard onto his back. He took a second more to grab his belt pouches, his pack of gear, and a piece of stale bread left over's dinner as he headed out the door.
As he was locking up, the landlord was walking down the hallway and past him. "Out on another job, Master Trueshot?" the elderly man said. "Might I fix you something to eat before you go? I don't think that bread is going to hold you over for very long."
"No thanks," Dane replied between mouthfuls, fiddling with a key he produced from his belt pouch to lock his room. "I appreciate the hospitality, Cain."
"We're open all the time," he said, referring to the inn that Cain ran on the bottom floor. "Stop in any time you get hungry."
"Of course. You couldn't keep me away from those dumplings you're always making." Dane's stomach growled at him at the mention of the soft, meat filled pouches. Cain had managed to perfect an Ursar recipe and it had become one of his most popular items that he made.
"Alright then, take care. I'll see you when you return."
Dane nodded, then his face lit up as he remembered something. "Oh, the month's rent is in the footlocker in my room. I made sure to get it in gold this time instead of platinum coins, too."
"Ah, I'll make a point to stop in then," Cain smiled. For a human, the man was very kindhearted and always looked after his tenants, whether they were temporary or permanent residents. There weren't as many travelers on the roads as their used to be, so Cain had been forced to convert the upper lofts of his inn into rooms for people to live in. It had proved to be a lucrative business for the old man.
Dane waved goodbye and hurried to the end of the hall and down the stairs to the ground floor. He passed through the inn where a number of residents were enjoying a late breakfast. He recognized a few of his neighbours and gave them a courteous nod of his head as he left. Though few of them respected the Blackguard as a whole, they'd come to see Dane as an upstanding member of the guild, rather than the corrupt kind of crooks they usually employed. No one living in Cain's inn took issue with Dane's profession, late nights, or returning to the inn bruised and bloodied more often than not.
The streets were busy, as they often were in Sanctuary. It wasn't possible for him to run through everything, so he had to take his time and slowly navigate through the crashing waves of people moving around. The city-state was built to house only a couple tens of thousands of residents, but since the war, it had nearly tripled in the number of people living there and it was becoming more and more apparent that Sanctuary would need to expand if it wanted to accommodate all the new citizens.
Cain's inn was in the central part of Sanctuary, the heart of the city-state ruled over by King Edward Rance the Third. To the north, sharing a border with Crystal Lake, were the Snowhoof and Kitairan Districts. Dane slipped through the streets and crossed through the edge of the Kitair District, picking his way through the crowds until he reached the doors.
There was a light breeze blowing that day, coming down from the north. Waves chopped at the doors and the boats moored there, and Dane's face fell. It was going to be hard to paddle a boat out to New Haven, let alone to the various islands to investigate the strange individuals moving out, if they could hardly move the boat out of the harbor.
Dane took a moment to look into the red belt pouch on his right hip, the one he reserved for his spell components for magic that required a reagent to consume. He cursed his luck when he found no feathers.
It looks like a levitation spell to walk across the lake is going to be a no go, he thought, making a mental note to pay a visit to one of the many magic shops in the Olaraan District in the southern quarter of the city.
Well, levitation would be too taxing to use for the length of time we'll be needing it, he reminded himself. Better off getting a boat, as much as I hate the idea...
Not seeing his elven partner anywhere in the area, Dane decided to not waste any time and went to the harbor master to procure a boat for them. Tyrarl didn't like it when people spent their time waiting around instead of getting something done.
Many people from all over Muriaj would flock to Sanctuary, as Crystal Lake was a popular place for the rich to get away from the big cities. A large number of cabin homes dotted the thousands of islands across the huge lake, and the city made a tidy business out of renting and selling boats to interested parties. Coupled with their tax levies on imports and exports, and their prosperous fishing business, Sanctuary was a self-sustaining nation all on its own.
This meant getting a small, two person boat would be easy. Harbor Master Zin, an elf that had grown up in Sanctuary's Central District, lived and operated out of the small shack at the beginning of the pier. The building was nothing special to speak of, but all it needed was a room off to the side for living quarters and an office for Zin to work out of.
A carved wooden sign shaped like a boat read "Harbor Master" in flawlessly etched letters. When Dane opened the door, he was assaulted by the strong scent of fishermen, and he had to swallow to keep his composure. It always reeked near the docks, but in a tiny room where many people congregated on a daily basis, it was far worse.
After a short wait, Dane approached the counter where Zin was frantically writing something down in his ledger. The elf had graying hairs that fell around his face, and a pair of circular, gold rimmed glasses in front of his red eyes. It was such an odd color to see on an elf, but it hadn't been the first time Dane had seen a non-metallic colored eye.
"Name?" Zin asked in a raspy voice, not bothering to look up from his paper work.
"Dane Trueshot," Dane replied. "I require a small sailboat for two."
Zin looked up at the mention of Dane's name. "Oh, it's just you. Headed to New Haven for the day?"
"No, on a job."
"Ah, well make sure to bring it back in one piece. I won't charge so little next time to replace anything you break." Zin scowled at him from behind his spectacles. He scribbled Dane's name in the ledger and told him, "Dock thirteen, on the right side. The sail is a little worse for wear but it should suit your needs." He scoffed, "I'm not sure why you want to pay the extra money for a sail boat when the wind is blowing in from the north. You won't get anywhere in that thing."
Dane reached into the belt pouch on his left side and produce a few gold coins to give to the man. "You let me worry about that. Here's the deposit. I'll pay the rest when I return."
Zin swiped the coins off the table and put them in his apron's pocket all in one smooth motion. "Just remember I'm charging you by the day." He shooed Dane away and called out, "Next!"
Dane left quickly so that the next person waiting to get up to the counter, and then he headed outside. A short flight of stairs lowered the pier closer to the water, and he followed it to the docks where the boats were moored.
I wonder where the damn elf is? He thought as he passed by dock ten.
No sooner than the thought had left his mind, he heard someone call out his surname. Dane frowned. It felt insulting to be called by his family name rather than by his first name, especially when it wasn't preceded by a title of any sort. A part of him missed the days of his name being prefixed with "Captain", back when he had commanded a unit in the Kitairan Army. Hearing his name on its own only reminded him of all the people he had crossed and all the people he had hurt.
"You know I prefer to be called Dane," he called back, looking behind him to see Tyrarl walking towards him with his staff in hand.
"In my culture it's rude to call someone by their first name until they've been acquainted properly," Tyrarl sneered.
"You don't get much more acquainted than fighting and bleeding side by side," Dane shot back, meeting his glare as he turned to face him.
Tyrarl Everglow was an elven druid from Kitair. Dane wasn't sure what his history was, but from what little he'd seen of the druid's magic, he was powerful. Perhaps even powerful enough to rival to his old professor from the R.A.A.S., Sylenthros Leafsblade, Kitair's current Archdruid.
Had it not been for the perpetual, sour expression that Tyrarl wore, Dane would've thought he was handsome. He had platinum blonde, soft looking hair that flowed behind him as he walked. His face had more defined features than a humans, with a sharper chin and a small nose. His eyes glittered like freshly polished silver coins. Though he looked broader than his frame would suggest, his robes merely hid his thin frame. They were green, embroidered with blue markings and patterns. The robe opened up in the front and back where a blue sash kept it cinched close, revealing brown linen pants and his pointed boots.
It was an extravagant outfit, and anywhere else in the world Tyrarl would've looked out of place. Fortunately for him, Sanctuary was used to the various eclectic tastes of the people who lived there.
"You are merely an ally, nothing more," Tyrarl said, and left it at that. "Now have you been wandering around aimlessly or have you actually accomplished something this morning?"
Biting back a harsh response, Dane replied, "Yes, I've gotten us a sailboat. We can head out any time you're ready."
"A sailboat?" Tyrarl brushed aside a few strands of loose hair as the wind blew it in front of his face. "A waste of money."
"It's my money to waste," Dane shrugged. "Besides, I'm a capable enough sorcerer. It doesn't matter if the wind is blowing the wrong way, I'll just blow harder."
"Hmph, what an inefficient use of magic."
"Whatever," Dane said, realizing if they continued this discussion, he'd likely want to strike the elf. "Let's just get to dock thirteen and get going. I'm not happy about having a reconnaissance mission today."
"Not everything needs to end in fisticuffs." Tyrarl rolled his eyes. "One day you humans will understand that."
"And one day you elves will learn that not everyone needs to conform to your believes," Dane shot back. "Now, let's get going."
Tyrarl had always been a reliable partner when they were teamed up for a job, even if his personality was always grating on Dane. His healing magics were invaluable, and had it not been for the druid's quick thinking, he would've lost one of his legs during a skirmish at the Sanctuary-Olaraa Border against some Legion scouts. The elf's behaviour every other time they were together always suggested he didn't care one ounce about Dane, or any human in general, but he hadn't hesitated to patch up a large, gushing wound.
I suppose his duty to the guild is important, too, Dane reasoned. They walked down the docks, surrounded by the sounds of the waves lapping at the shore beneath the boardwalk. They found their boat tied around a pole at the end, it's sails tied against the mast to keep it from being pushed around by the wind.
"Well, there's our ship," Dane said, smiling as he gestured to it.
"Ship? Looks more like a tub for bathing," Tyrarl glowered. "And you expect me to spend days with you in that dingy?"
"It's not a dingy," Dane corrected, "And besides, unless you have a better plan for investigating the islands, we don't have many other options."
Tyrarl fell silent as Dane clambered in and worked to begin raising the sail. When the elf climbed in after him, it rocked and he was instantly hit by a wave of nausea.
Not now. Please don't get sea sick now. Dane fought down the urge to throw up and kept his mind off the swaying boat he stood in.
"Well, hurry it up!" Tyrarl had taken to sitting at the stern of the ship, watching impatiently as Dane worked.
"Yes, Princess," Dane said, irritated.
A few curious individuals had stopped to watch when Dane had gotten the sail up and the ship jerked backwards from a gust of wind. There was some laughter and a more people stopped to watch.
"He doesn't even know how to operate a boat."
"What a stupid human."
"Hey, you're not going to get anywhere like that!"
Dane just smirked, not acknowledging their jeers. "Tyrarl, get the rope."
The elf grumbled as he slipped past Dane to undo the rope connected to the dock, while he raised is hands and pointed them to the ship. With only a little bit of focus, he was able to conjure a sharp wind that blew from the palms of his hands. The sail went slack at first as the two winds collided, but then it quickly turned out and started moving the ship into the lake.
The onlookers shut up all at once and gaped as Dane flashed them a cheeky grin. They looked away from his gaze and went back to their business.
"Are you don't playing around?" Tyrarl asked as he returned to his seat.
"You're not fun," Dane grumbled as their boat fought against the choppy waves, headed towards New Haven.
It was going to be a long couple of days while they searched for whatever it was they were looking for, but before they could do anything, they'd need to meet the client in New Haven. As they passed a few islands, Dane felt his skin crawl, and he looked towards the forested inlet. It felt like someone was watching them, but there was no one there. He wondered where the paranoia was coming from, but shrugged it off and decided to sit down while his magic propelled them onward.
With any luck, perhaps they'd be done their scouting of the lake by the end of the week. Then he could return to dry land, where there was a lot less swaying. The thought was almost enough to keep him from heaving over the side of the boat.