“I must take you lot to see King Ivano at once.” Leif said hastily. “Elves have seen neither human nor dragon for centuries. We have hidden and forgotten for far too long, and considered the affairs of the outside world beyond our reach. It may be time that the elves reclaim the lands that are rightfully ours from the accursed orcs and dwarves. Tell me, where have humans gone in the past millennia?”
“We have moved to the far north, to the northern reaches of the Varian continent. Our ancestors once lived in southern Varia, but those times are no more.” Forte replied.
“North? Have they not heard the ancient prophecy of the great storm? The storm that will split the earth in two, and tear the sky into pieces? The second coming of Lord Ismas, who rides the black horses and brings with him wyverns and tyrant lizards to once again try to conquer Varia? The last time he arrived was nearly millennia ago, and he was driven back by the dragons and races of Varia. Alas, many dragons died in combat with the beasts, and the few that remained slowly died out. There are no dragons left to protect us from the storm.” Leif said while leading Forte down the winding streets of Istanbal. Nightmare floated along and billowed a puff of smoke. Leif laughed.
Forte was struck at the way the forest blended into elven structures. Thick trees, thicker than he had ever seen before, were hollowed into shops and homes with windows. The shops sold some wares Forte was familiar with, such as intricate elven armor and swords, weaved tapestries, and treats. But other shops were completely foreign to him. One such shop had three levitating balls that slowly bobbed up and down and changed color. Another shop was selling what looked like strands of strange looking wands. The trees wound and twisted in fantastic ways, creating precarious bridges and a complicated pathway of wide branches to traverse the city. The elves all stopped and stared as Forte and Nightmare walked down the meandering pathways. Some young elves stared with curiosity, while older elves spat at their feet with looks of disgust on their face.
“I believe the knowledge of the prophecy was lost to the common human.” Forte replied. This was a lot of valuable information he was gathering.
“I heard that humans have also lost their magical capabilities after the old houses of Motley and Sinclair started that terrible war, all those years ago?” Leif questioned.
“Not quite. There are still magic practitioners amongst humans. They have dwindled in number, however, and the king has issued orders to persecute the most blatant evidence of witchcraft and the dark arts.”
The trio passed by a small but fabulous looking bookstore. Forte glanced at the covers of the books. Memoirs of an Elven Sage. A Geneology of Raptors. A Guide to Basic Tree Weaving. Fairy Tales of the Motley-Sinclair. The Bestial Species of Orcs. A Guide to the Fascinating Beasts of Varia.
“Pah. Humans were once a great magical race. To tell me that they have fallen this far… Tell me then, who is your current human king? The last human kings we had contact with were King Elmund Motley of house Motley, and king Alastar Sinclair of house Sinclair. They started the great human war. Terrible times, those were. All the races were sucked into a combat. The orcs sided with house Motley, us elves sided with house Sinclair, and the dwarves took the opportunity to expand their territories beyond that which they deserve.” Leif said.
“The current king of Rottheim is Richard III of house Barron, and the king of Halfast is Simon of house Talos.” Forte responded.
Leif looked quizzical. “I guess time has truly passed. I have neither heard of house Barron nor house Talos. Our current elven king is of the same royal family as it has been forever—the Ealdwin royal family. Our kind does not squabble amongst each other for the throne as your kind has done for centuries.” Leif looked contemptuous.
They reached the center of the enormous elven city, to what Forte could only describe as a palace made of living oak. It was majestic in its own way, but instead of the human favorites of gold and steel and stone, the living oak palace was adorned with gleaming silver and royal blue orichalcum. Forte’s eyes glinted with avarice.
“We are here. You are to address the king with respect. It is customary to bow to the king after he stands.” Leif explained to Forte.
Leif raised his hand and lifted his sleeve, revealing an intricate tattoo of the royal eleven house’s insignia. The guards allowed Forte and Nightmare to pass, although they were clearly uneasy at Nightmare’s presence. They walked into the palace and began ascending a long, winding staircase that was actually a silver plated thick tree branch. Every level of the staircase lead to a different door, but Leif ushered them onto the highest level. Nightmare cautiously levitated behind them.
“We are here.” Leif declared. Two guards stood in front of the king’s door.
"The king is busy." The guard declared.
"Tell him I am here." Leif said, showing his tattoo again.
The guards looked at each other and muttered, and then tentatively let the party through.
King Ivano sat upon a throne of glistening silver and orichalcum, wearing a leafy crown of silver and holding a cup of wine. He was being served lunch by five servants. The king put down his utensils at the sight of the party, and the servants hurriedly set aside his plate. He wiped his mouth. By his side were an intricate silver sword, and a finely strung bow of willow. The king was of average build for an elf, and was nearing old age. His gray-white hair blew in the wind, as the top of the palace was partially open to the elements.
“Your majesty, I request an audience to present to you the human, Forte Mott, and his dragon Nightmare.”
The elven king stood. Forte did not bow, and Leif shot him a warning glance.
“How many elves fell defending the house of Sinclair? How much of our blood war spilled? Fighting for a petty war? A human’s war? No human shall enter the fair city of Istanbal again. Your kind is exiled. You are exiled. Leave, at once!” The elven king thundered.
Leif looked exasperated. “But sir, there is a dragon. We believed that the dragons had all fallen, and—“
"Begone! Shame on you Leif. I thought I taught you better." The elf king responded.
The guards grunted. “The king’s orders.” They grabbed Forte and Leif by the shoulders and dragged them out of the royal palace. Nightmare followed his master.
After leaving the palace gates, Leif placed his hand on Forte’s shoulder. “Sorry, my friend. You must leave Istanbal. It is the king’s wish. As a royal servant, I cannot go against the wishes of the king. You must understand, the elven Ealdwin royal family has suffered tremendously by the hands of humans, and human afffairs. I cannot blame my king for his outburst. It is somewhat justified.”
“I understand.” Forte replied.
Leif lead Forte and Nightmare to the southernmost gate of the city. He brought their caravan, and bid them farewell. The party left Istanbal.
The dense elven forest made way for more fertile plains and light forestry. Forte and Nightmare continued their journey south, towards the Bay of Mists, the ancestral capital of Varia, where the powerful magical ancient line of humans, the Motley-Sinclairs, once lived. They saw more grass huts, a sign of orcs, but decided to avoid them for now. Forte was also careful to avoid any signs of dwarves. He learned from the orcs and the elves that dwarves were a warmongering race, and were readily trying to defend their existing territories while expanding their domains beyond their borders.
Forte decided to camp for the night around a bit of forest that was defensible against beasts. He fell asleep with Nightmare curled up against him for warmth. The scales only hurt a little.
Forte awoke with a start to the sounds of shouting and clanking metal in the distance, coming his way.
“Blast it, he’s too strong!” A dwarf voice shouted.
Both Forte and Nightmare went onto high alert. Despite their attempts to avoid dwarves, it seemed like some sort of battle was occurring. They went into stealth between the bushes, and crept up slowly to get a hill top view of the battlefield.
It was a regiment of dwarves fighting against what looked like an army of orcs. An entire army. Forte spotted an extremely large orc in the battlefield, wearing a skull on his head and wielding a cumbersomely large iron mace. He surmised that that orc was a leader, either a general or even a king. This bothered him tremendously.
From his understanding of orcs through his reading as a child in the Mott estate library, orcs were a tribal race of brutal beasts. They never fought together under one banner, and yet there were hundreds of orcs on the battlefield right now, fighting against less than a hundred dwarves. The dwarves were getting smashed left and right, and Forte assessed the situation. It was definitely not wise to get involved now. He would simply observe and see what exactly prompted the orcs to rally in such numbers. As the fighting went on, he realized that the answer was not a “what”. It was a “who”. The largest, towering orc was shouting commands to different sections of the army, and it seemed as if the orcs were still fighting in groups with their tribes. The large orc was the key. He had somehow unified the orcs into a singular fighting force. Forte could only surmise that he unified the orcs through sheer might and fighting prowess, and was looking for more orc tribes to subdue.
A horn sounded through the plains. In the horizon, Forte saw a thousand dwarves marching, lead by a king. These kinds of battles, he had only read of in stories. The orcs and dwarves must have fought for territory like this for centuries upon centuries, Forte thought to himself. Incredible. He was witnessing history unfold in front of his very eyes.