It was with stealthy feet that I carefully evaded my father’s guards. A grin teased at my lips– a grin I could hardly contain. Today, we went to Hotazhek Volcano. I jumped from a window into a hedge, and pulled on my padded cloth suit, mail, leathers, and over-tunic after I removed the surcoat and tunic my father had decreed I wear in the castle. Finally, my coif and helm. To any who were not familiar with me, Achille was not present, and instead, just another street warrior. I waved to a few guards on my way from the keep, and was unchallenged. Father hired many freelance warriors to support the ranks of his army in the case of an army of monsters or cross-desert invasions that never came. I looked like just another freelancer who turned down offers of an army commission.
I walked through the streets to a slummy tavern. As I walked through the door, I stopped being Earl Achille Brightcloud, and became Achille the Warrior. I grinned as I spotted my friends. Obrecht lifted a glass as I entered. She was my closest friend and the most true. Many times, we moved together to scout an area, and fought back-to-back as we waited for Ainslinn, Anciel, and Dallan. They were our cohorts, and respectively a full-human mage, a light-blooded war-priest, and an archer. We each drank just enough to feel warm inside, and then we left the city, supplies and arms at ready.
Usually, we went only to the desert ruins. This time, we had bigger plans. We were going to Hotazhek Volcano to seek out the cure for a deadly poison. Some dark-blooded caster stole a high-level combat magic book and used it on an unsuspecting personal enemy. The local priests were having difficulty, since they lacked high-level books. The man was on his deathbed now, and no others had gone to the volcano that we knew of. Nobody else was brave enough. We took our fleet-footed horses from the stables and rode at a good pace. Our horses seemed tireless, as long as we alternated between walking and pacing. We took breaks at the three meal-times, and arrived at Selvaluvias in only a few days.
Selvaluvias was simply beauty. They threw themselves into their arts, and though we saw many who looked starved, they wore clothes fine enough to convince us they had money enough to tend to their own needs. It rained while we were there, and we stayed awake for a few hours to listen to their famous rain music. Water flowed down pipes, directed carefully, to create beautiful music in the downpour. We fell asleep to the melody, and our sleep was riddled with the strange dreams native to the area. Despite this, we woke refreshed, and stayed a second day. It was always hard to leave this city. We were soaked, but we were also merry, and Obrecht and I shared some private moments during one night’s rain. We were discrete, and felt no awkwardness the next morning, despite Dallas teasing.
We left the following morning, just as the rain was letting up. It sounded as though the capital of romance was sad to see us leave. Our horses stayed in Selvaluvias, because they were not sturdy enough to handle the hard climb, even with a carved trail. Hard stone did little good for their unshod hooves.
As one, we ventured north to the looming, ever-present volcano. We took our time, thinking little of the reason we went. We were young, after all, and death was not a thing we thought truly existed. Every night, Obrecht and I explored each other, intrigued by our previous discoveries. Dallan teased us when we returned, and the caster girls giggled and pressed Obrecht for details, which she refused to give.
When we arrived at the foreboding volcano, we were in good spirits, and entered in the middle of the day. A wiser party would have waited until morning.
With quick ease, we found the requested herbs in only two days. The monsters were little danger. A slime or a two-headed hound were nothing before us. We had some difficulty against the lizards, but nothing we thought severe. With Anciel’s healing, we even delved deeper and found mysterious arms, including two strong healing books. Anciel took one, and the other was set aside in Dallan’s pack, to be gifted to the priests who asked for aid. Obrecht found a new shield, and Dallan a new bow. We left with scorched boots, but no permanent injury, and delivered book and herbs to the Icesog barony that requested our aid. The air was bitterly cold, so we hurried back to the south to return to Selvaluvias and get our horses from their humid city.
We arrived to what looked like an invasion made by men in the Driazhek uniform. Everywhere we looked, we saw more. It took us hours to sneak back to the inn our horses were stabled at, and as we left the stables, reins in hand, we spotted the inn keeper looking at a parchment a soldier held. The innkeeper pointed to the stable. “I just saw him go for his horse, sir.”
The soldier nodded and called a group to surround the stables.
Alarmed, I urged my friends to hide again. I couldn’t hide. The leader was the man who taught me to use a sword. He knew my face and posture, and when he spotted me, he began to hurry over. My friends melted into the stable’s darkness, and I approached him.
I forced a smile. “Ho there!” I called. “What does Father want?” I tried to sound casual and self-assured.
The man grabbed my reins and looked me in the eye. “He wants you returned, and for your friends brought to justice.
“They already left.” I lied as I looked him in the eye, the lies chafing at my young soul already.
I couldn’t simply betray my friends like that, especially not after all we did together.