Fox Force Five
Inside a Nut's Shell
I’m leaving to look for Celleon, …period. I don’t care what the elders say, something’s wrong….I can feel it. No one has heard from him in months, and I’m worried. He also refused to take Aewon with him. “This adventure isn’t meant for those of the sky." Oh Corellon, what if something horrible has happened?! Get a grip, Anna! I realize he wouldn’t want me to come after him, that he’d say “it’s too dangerous for a lady”, or I’ve “spoiled his fun” somehow. But I can find him, I know I can. He’s already taught me the essentials of bow making. I can track a lonely buck and shoot him with the quickest arrow, with the deadliest aim. I know to only drink from the flowing rivers and streams, not from random stagnant ponds. It’s common knowledge that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and that the constellations change with the seasons. I can make a lean-to tent of sorts, and I am not afraid of travelers on the road. I can assure you, I never will be again.
I had to put Artemis down the night before last, a torn ligament I believe. Father will be furious over his prized horse, but I didn’t see the knotted root coming out of the ground! Neither I suppose did, Artemis. I ended her life the quickest way I knew how. I traveled for another two days when I happened upon a man with long, white hair. He was wearing an all white cloak, and rode a plain white horse. He smiled and asked if I’d been to the prosperous city of Oakhurst.
So my travels have brought me to this small town (population 500) called Oakhurst, which let me tell you, is anything but prosperous. When I say the name, do you see tall trees and red, dirt streets? If you imagine just a little harder, you might be able to smell roasted venison, and also hear the sound of laughter from the children playing outside without shoes. Oakhurst is the first town I’ve stumbled upon, with nothing but shacks for houses. It’s starting to get dark, I expect mothers will start calling in their little ones, and the people I seek will soon come out of the shadows they reside in. For such a small town they still have the essentials: a blacksmith shop, general store, healer, jailhouse, and an inn, but this place is nothing like Enyallune.
Confidence, that’s all it takes to talk to these people. I’m not the social butterfly that Father is, nor do I have the sweet, loving disposition that embodies Mother. I will have to do this my way, and I suppose the best place to start my search is in some sort of tavern or inn. No offense, but sitting on this rock writing to you isn’t going to get me anywhere closer to Celleon! But don’t worry, I’ll let you know if I find out anything of importance.
After wandering around the small town of Oakhurst, I’ve decided to stay at the Old Boar Inn. It’s as good a place as any, until I’m able to find out a little more information and start my journey. I must constantly remind myself that I’m not in Enyallune anymore, and that it is common for whores and mercenaries to walk the streets of the night. Here the night life is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The moment I entered this small town, I heard nothing but whistles and jeers from giant, gruff men. I pull my hood over my face to conceal my pointed ears and almond shaped eyes. I pity the stranger who tries to accost me.
Handling a sword is not an easy thing to master. It takes years of instruction to use one correctly, and even then you will still make some mistakes. That is why every citizen of Enyallune goes through a rigorous training at the simple age of 35. Young ladies aren’t treated any different than the young men, and are expected to hold their own against any opponent. Take it from me, such a program takes dedication, hard work and consistency to succeed. As women we know that our men might be away furthering Corellon Larethian’s agenda, we need to be able to defend what is most important to us, our families. This is the simple reason you won’t find “stalkers of the night” in Enyallune. Our women aren’t allowed to be weak.
I’m staying on the second floor at the Old Boar’s Inn. The proprietor said that “there was only one room in the inn, that was fit for such a lady”. The room is a bit small, with the slight smell of mildew. It does have a window with a view of the sunrise, what with the tree line makes for a spectacular view. They say that elves have a natural fascination with nature, but I just don’t understand, how could you not? Trying not to draw attention to myself, I dress in my plain leather armor with a dagger in my boot.
I walk downstairs and head straight for the bar, to the seat closest to the stairs. The main level is dark , low light, which doesn’t bother my elf eyes one bit. There aren’t many patrons in yet, but I suppose more will arrive closer to dinner time. This is a good thing, at least this way I can sit and listen without being suspected, and then perhaps move on with my search.
“A high elf, eh? Far away from your home. Let me guess, you miss your elven wine, too?” the bartender, a handsome young man asks.
“Yes, I am far away from Enyallune. We drink the finest of wines in all the land. Our vineyards-”
He polishes a wine glass, and sets it on the bar. He leaves, but returns with a leather pouch, which he then pours into my wine glass. A ruby red liquid falls from the pouch and as he pours it, he smiles up at me. “Karen is the name, if you need anything let me know.”
“How do you-?” I stutter.
“My uncle is a traveler, he’s been everywhere that the sun has seen. You said that you’re from Enyallune?”
“I am. My cousin Celleon has gone missing. He has always been some sort of adventurer, but he also has always come back home. He said he was to meet up with a brother and sister from Nyenalian, the rouge city. That he would find treasures beyond even my wildest imaginings, but he hasn’t come back. "
“Well, what if he met a lady? Or what if he is just a victim of wanderlust?” Karen smiled.
“My cousin is not a Halfling, therefore he couldn’t possibly have been taken by wanderlust. A lady would be absolutely absurd! He is betrothed to another, we all are unfortunately. That is the price you pay for being a high elf, I suppose. For example, I will not be given a choice. When I return home, father will have chosen the best possible candidate.” Karen smirked, and walked away to help another.
I sit at the bar for a few hours, and observe the incoming patrons. Starting to lose hope, a minstrel comes over and starts to play a…love song? Is this a joke? I look to Karen and he points to a crazy, built halfling sitting at the bar, directly across from me. He just sits there, with a smirk and wiggles his fingers in a vertical wave? Silly Halfling, I smile polietly and order another glass of wine. How funny, he thinks he has a chance with me. Doesn’t he realize that I have suiters lineing up all the way from Kordin?
Once the halfling realizes he’s getting absolutely nowhere with me, he decides to talk to Karen. I overhear him ask about some abandoned citadel and without thinking interject, “What do you know about the people that went on this journey?”
“I don’t know anything, m’lady except what a good friend of mine told me on his deathbed. I’m honor bound to write a scroll about it. What I know is that the citadel, called the Sunless Citadel, is home to goblin tribes. This citadel is home to a healing fruit, and the goblins bring this fruit to the summer fair every year for trade. " He tells me of the dying man’s story, and I in turn tell him of Celleon. He stops me midsentence and walks toward a fellow in a dark corner. I hadn’t even seen him, but I get up and walk over as well.
“You look like you could use company. The name is Praxis, and this is-uh-” the halfling stammers.
“My name is Analise Cloudcroft, of the royal bloodline of de vere von Drakenberg.” I sat down at the traveler’s table, and put my feet on the table…and I let him in on the story so far.
“Well, since you’ve already decided that you were going to join my table,” he looks at me, “and you folks DO look harmless enough. If you take your feet off of my table, then the pleasure is all mine. Viceak is the name, and now that we all know each other and another round of drinks is on it’s way, I presume…perhaps you can tell me why I’m lucky enough to have you wonderful folks join my table?” Sarcasm? I can’t tell. But his hood falls from his head as he swats my feet off of the table. He’s an elf! No, a half-elf, his ears might be pointy, but his eyes are more round than my own, hardly noticeable.
Praxis waves at Karen, and orders another round for the three of us.
“You look like a ranger of sorts, my friend. Have you been out toward the Sunless Citadel?” Praxis asked.
“Indeed I have,” Viceak answered.
“Then you could go with us!!” I exclaimed.
“What? Where are WE going?” Praxis looks at me.
“To find Celleon? Right?!” I looked at him. “Celleon went to find gold and treasure that was promised him on his quest. If you come with me, assuming he’s found the treasure, I will split it with you. I just need to find him, I fear for his safety!”
“I suppose we could go on this quest, if gold and treasures are involved. Viceak, what do you think?” Praxis asked.
“I don’t have anything better to-” all of a sudden, Viceak gets up and starts talking to thin air. “Hey! You there! Show yourself!”
A small figure in a dark cloak stands up to its full three feet and takes off its hood. It’s a small girl! Without pupils! Her eyes were the color of snow, and she gave me a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach. She had the most outlandish hair, deep purple like my eyes. She polietly smiled and simply said, “Good evening gentlemen, and lady…”
“Why are you sneaking up on us?” Viceak inquired.
“A couple of adventurers, huddled together in a dark corner, talking about treasure. Am I wrong? Are you not planning on going on some sort of adventure?” the she halfling asked cunningly.
“Maybe. What is it to you?” I replied.
“I love gold.”
“Don’t we all,” laughed Praxis.
She rolled her eyes. “I’m quick on my feet. I know how to get in and out of most places. I can usually see a trap before it ever becomes a REAL problem,” she smiled.
“However, you weren’t able to sneak up on us.” Viceak smirked.
“Hold on. My cousin Celleon is missing! If we are going on this quest, we need someone with the talent that she speaks of. I can’t open locks, how about either of you?” I asked.
“Lady, we haven’t even decided to leave.” Praxis turned to Viceak. “Did we?”
“Look! There was treasure promised my cousin! If we find my cousin, we will find the treasure,” I exclaimed.
“But how do we even know if your cousin and whoever he was traveling with, will share this treasure with us?” Viceak asked. "What if we travel on this journey, risk our lives, and it’s all for nothing?
“I realize you don’t know Celleon, but you have to trust me. He’s not like that, and I promise every one of you will get your fair share of gold or treasure.” I tried to pinkie promise.
Rayne, the she halfling, smiled. “Sounds like you’re going on a quest to me…,” she winked, and interlocked her pinkie with my own.
“Well, if the wilderness is too tough for the boys, then so be it! But I refuse to give up on my cousin. Rayne, if you want to join me and you can do what you say you can, I really could use your help,” I stated.
“My services aren’t free, lady,” Rayne smiled.
“And I swear by Ehlonna, the goddess of the woodlands, you will get all that you deserve,” I exclaimed.
“I couldn’t help but notice these five tankards of ale just sitting at the bar. I thought maybe you’d be interested in drinking them?” A plain, ordinary young man set the drinks on the table in front of us, and helped himself to a chair.“Who are you? It must be raining crazies!” Praxis demanded.
“No, I think it’s a full moon,” Viceak stated.
“Oh! It was rude of me not to formally introduce myself. My friends call me Ziad, and truthfully I overheard you were interested in the Sunless Citadel,” Ziad replied.
“Maybe, what is it to you?” Praxis growled.
“Adventure and possibly a few treasures. Scrolls would be nice,” Ziad said.
“Scrolls?” I asked.
“I can cast a few spells, I’ll help with all that I can,” Ziad insisted.
I picked up a tankard of ale and held it in the air. “To the Sunless Citadel! Who’s with me?!” Ziad quickly put his tankard to mine. Praxis got a crazy glint in his eye, chuckled to himself and put his tankard against ours. Rayne smiled and put her tankard in the circle. We all turn to look at Viceak. With a far away, and distant look, he adds his tankard to the mix. “To the Sunless Citadel.”
The sun is just starting to rise, it’s rays bathing the town of Oakhurst. I have a small headache, from drinking a bit more than I should have last night. What with Praxis trying to prove he could outdrink Viceak, and Ziad buying round after round, how could I not? I tried to stay as sober as I could, and observe my new companions. The only problem with that: Karen’s elven wine had the room spinning a little more than I wished it would have.
If only Mother could see me drinking with the likes of halflings and half elves, what would she say? Elves focus on magic and spirituality and evince disdain for material things. We tend to be more interested in our own elegance, because beauty is strength. We are ingrained to believe that we are the chosen race of the gods, and that the other races of the world are inferior. Halflings aren’t to be trusted, half-elves are part human which means they are fickle and short lived. Father would be very against my leaving with these people, but I’m not afraid! I think my new companions might have some issues, but that’s still nothing compared to me needing to find Celleon alive and well. If these people will help me succeed in my quest, I don’t care how pointy their ears are.
I pack the rest of my things, and head downstairs. I want to be one of the first people to meet at the rendezvous. I order a small plate of spiced red potatoes and smoked venison, and wait. Praxis is the first to show. He orders a drink and comes to join me at my table.
“Good morning,” he smiles. “Have a little too much fun last night?”
I smile politely. “Drinking already?”
“You act like there are certain times of the day when one can drink,” Praxis laughs.
“Not at all. I just remember how much you consumed last night, what with your contest between yourself and Mr. Viceak. I simply thought you might have lost the taste for Oakhurst’s ale,” I replied. Ruffian, I think to myself. “Who won the contest last night?”
“Why I did, of course!” I didn’t think his little goofy grin could get any wider. Karen came over to refill my pear juice, and Praxis ordered breakfast for himself.
“Oakhurst’s ale is like liquid gold! Very fine! Here, try a taste for yourself,” Praxis handed me the tankard. I took a big wiff first, as you would a nice glass of Enyallune wine. What the? Are you frickin’ kidding me? It smelled of horse butt dabbed with vinegar and blue cheese. I took a sip, not wanting to be rude. My mouth recoiled, and my cheeks burned from the dry, skin-shredding acidity. Laughter erupts around me. I blush, and notice Rayne sitting right beside me.
“When did you get here?! I didn’t even notice-” I stammered.
She laughed. “A few minutes. Don’t let Praxis fool you, neither one of them won the contest last night.”
Praxis’ face turned bright crimson. “What do you mean?” I asked.
Rayne smiled. “They started the contest with one intending to beat the other, in friendly competition of course. But after the seventh round, they were both telling each other how much they loved each other. At this point they were spilling more on the ground, than actually drinking. On the eighth or ninth round, they went to toast each other, but instead both completely missed, and hit the other full on in the face with the tankard. They were both knocked out on the spot. I’d say it was a definite tie.”
At that moment Viceak and Ziad walk in, deep in conversation. “Good morning guys. I know of a blacksmith just on the edge of town. He will have the essentials we will need before we set off,” Ziad advised.
Praxis paid the tab, and we set off towards the blacksmith. Us: a noble born high elf, a half-elf, two halflings, and a human. A rag tag group of adventurers, each on this quest for their own reasons. Celleon, this is the best I can do. I’m coming for you.
I don’t think I’ll ever get used to waking up early, but I suppose the sun and I have a mutual understanding. I respect it, revere it, but I’ve always felt more of a connection with the night. The moon doesn’t judge, and the darkness conceals any imperfection. Everything seems surreal. I realize we are all leaving to rescue Celleon, but what if it just isn’t enough? What if by this time, he’s already gone? What if lays slain somewhere in the deep recesses of the castle, and what if we are just too late?
“Annalise?” Ziad poked me with a stick.
“Ouch! What the hell?!” I hoped my eyes expressed the storm I felt brewing inside of me.
“Are you ok? You look like you’re contemplating something serious…”
“I’m just thinking of Celleon. What if we’re-“
“Don’t even speak what you’re about to say.”
“But you asked-“
“If you speak it out loud, you could potentially make it known to the cosmos. In other words, you would be giving the statement energy. The more energy it has, the more willing it is to actually come true. Never say something out loud that you wouldn’t want to happen. You won’t like the outcome.”
Could this be true? Energy to words, how silly! Words cannot hear when they are spoken about. How will they know that they indeed are stronger? And how can they possibly know the precise time to strike? It just isn’t possible. But then again, what are the incantations for his everyday spells, but intricate words that are given energy to create wonderful magic?
I look back at him to respond, but he’s nose deep in a green leather-bound book. If I’m honest with myself, my brain is screaming for me to get home. Go straight to the ocean, get on a boat, and sail so far from here. Father won’t be so angry if I come back now. But my heart, screams for me to be brave! To shoulder what seems, the weight of the world, to find Celleon, because I know that I can. It’s always a constant struggle between the two, the heart and the brain.
We continue to walk towards the Sunless Citadel. Vicek informs us that it would take normally three days to travel to, however because of the frequent stops we must make thanks to Ziad’s low endurance, we will make our destination in four. He constantly apologizes, and gives the men his magic “devil weed”, so no one seems to mind. They invite for me to share in their fun, but I decline. The smoke smells like skunk, it’s particularly foul. I just wish we’d get there already!
As the third day turns into night we happen upon three stones, at least nine feet tall. They give me an eerie feeling, but they appear to have some sort of writing on them. I can’t make it out, but it does seem very familiar.
“It’s goblin writing.” I jump as Ziad speaks right behind me.
“How are you so sure?” Praxis asks.
“I studied with the wizards and sorcerers of the guild near my hometown. Goblins were often used as slaves, watchdogs, or test dummies. It was necessary to be able to speak with them.”
“You performed tests on goblins?!” I asked.
“Of course we did! They are simply vermin of the world, you know this to be true,” Ziad exclaimed.
“I’m going to go set up camp,” I replied, and walked away.
I needed to find an area away from the road, and preferably under a few trees for concealment purposes. It didn’t take me long to find an ideal spot. I found thirteen large pieces of granite, and made a circular pattern in the dirt with them about four feet in diameter. I then went on the hunt for dried leaves, moss, sticks and other things I could use as tender. I put these things in the middle of the granite circle, then start my hunt for kindling.
There’s something serene about the forest. The way the dew glitters on the leaves in the trees, and the way fairies that dance around and whisper to each other, without being noticed. When I was younger I would try to mimic the whistles of the birds in the trees. I always figured that if I could talk with them, we would be such great friends. They would teach me to whistle so that we could communicate, like the great ancestors of old.
-what’s that? I hear the sound of a twig snapping in the distance. Directly in front of me, I see a buck of grand size. We lock eyes, and in their depths I see an animal as shocked to see me as I was to see him. I slowly pulled the bow from my pack and knock an arrow. I close one eye, exhale, inhale, and with the natural accuracy given to me thanks to my heritage, shoot. The deer blinks, and stumbles to the ground, dead.
I can’t believe I did it! I brought the deer down by myself! Celleon would be so proud. I needed to remember this exact location. There was absolutely no way that I could drag this deer back to camp my myself. I continue to get logs and bigger sticks to make a fire, and head back to camp. Everyone has crowded around my fire pit.
“Hey guys! I have a few more branches and sticks for the fire. Does anyone have a flint and steel in their pack to help start it?” I ask.
Praxis reaches in his pack and pulls out his, then proceeds to make the fire.
“I’ve shot a deer a little further in the woods, but I can’t pick him up myself.” I smile. I know I’ve done well, these men thought I would be useless. They all that I would just get in the way. Ha! I have shown them! Funny how things work.
“I wish I could be of more assistance to you, lady, but my strength is that of a small child. I will stay here with Praxis and meditate.” Ziad turns from us and walks away. It seems I’ll have to look toward Vicek. Of course I should look to Vicek! With those biceps, how could I not?
Vicek is leaned against a tree, eating a shiny red apple. He smiles slightly without looking towards me, I’m sure knowing that I will require his help.
“Sir Vicek, may I request your assistance?” I ask.
“I will gladly bring the deer back to camp, on one condition.” He looks straight into me eyes, serious as can be.
“One condition? You do want to eat don’t you?” I ask angrily. “Why would you let a perfectly good deer go to waste?” I practically scream.
“I would never!” With the look of utmost disgust he continues by replying, “I will only bring the carcass back to camp if you allow me to cook for you. Venison Steak with roasted tomato. If you happen to have a few slices of elven bread, I think it would compliment the entrée nicely.”
I just stare at him, feelings of embarrassment tinged with gratitude flow through me. I smile politely back at him, and reply with the only thing I can think at the moment. “But of course. Besides, I don’t think I’m in any position to refuse.”
Praxis fake gags. “I think I just threw up a little. But only a little.” He walks away from the roaring embers that have consumed the pile of sticks that I had gathered.
I roll my eyes and walk towards the spot where I slayed the creature. I forsee that halfling’s mouth becoming a problem.
He continues to smile at me and takes my hand and leads me into the forest. The first part of the journey we walk in silence, bows out, ready. I break the silence, “I’m sorry for snapping the way I did back there. I’m just not-”
He stops walking and says, “Annalise, don’t. You don’t have to explain yourself to me. I’m a man who’s been through countless small battles. I’m not soft.”
“I know, I wasn’t- I mean, you don’t-”
He put his hand gently on my arm. “Annalise. I don’t hold anything against you.”
We find the deer right where I brought him down. “He’s beautiful, isn’t he?”
“Majestic for sure,” Vicek replied.
Like the carcass was a sack of potatoes, Vicek picked the deer up and put him over his shoulder. It didn’t even look like the load strained him. He simply smiled and said, “After you, m’lady.”