The next four days were rather uneventful as we travelled to the village that Artemis last saw her contact in. As we were about to go to the entrance, Arion all the sudden stopped. Artemis stopped right afterwards. I kept going for a few more feet, but then stopped as I realized that they wouldn’t be coming along.
“What is it?” I asked them.
“Read for yourself,” Arion grumbled.
“I can’t,” I answered, as I realized that it was something written that was making them stop.
“What?” Arion questioned. “Elves have some of the best learning systems out of the twelve territories. I heard all of them know how to read.”
“Most of us do,” I answered. “But I’m an interesting case. All I’m going to say about it is that I can’t.”
Arion opened his mouth while taking a breath in, but then he stopped. He just faced me for a moment.
Artemis eventually told me, “Well, we are just looking to see what the sign here says. It tells at first that some species are banned from the village.”
“I thought Arion outlawed that,” I commented. “But I guess someone might have changed that.”
“It’s either that or someone isn’t enforcing that law,” Arion told me while sounding like he was biting down on something. As I thought about it, even I could tell that he was not happy that someone was messing with the laws that he had put up.
“So which creatures are on the list?” I questioned as I realized that this might cause a problem.
“Werewolves, seers, dwarves, sorcerers, sorceresses, warlocks, enchantresses, and vampires,” Artemis read out loud to me.
“Are you serious?” I grumbled.
“Idiots,” Arion growled at the same time. Shade barked that he was right, which really made me wonder how much the dog understood us.
“We’ll just have to deal with it,” Artemis told us. “Our options are that I lie about what creature I am to sneak inside the village in order to see Destrian, or you two go in to talk with him. My contact is a gnome, so it’s likely that Destrian is still in the area. It was his favorite place last I had seen him. I personally think that you would do better with me there. However, since you guys would get run out of town too or killed alongside me if they find out what I am, we should make this decision together.”
“It would definitely be difficult either way we go,” Arion stated.
“How are we going to explain our group to the guards anyway?” I asked. “We aren’t exactly the most average looking group.”
“You and Arion are business partners working as merchants,” Artemis answered. “You came into town to talk to an old friend, Destrian, as you were passing through from completing a deal that you had just finished. Shade will be our pet and hunting companion. If I join you in town, then I would be either Arion’s sister or wife that tagged along. We get some average names, and no one takes notice of us.”
“Let’s go with sister,” Arion interjected. “The story should be able to work on most people. Only those who are deeply suspicious or who just want to stop anyone from coming into the town would give us trouble. Most of the time people don’t really want to put too much trouble in stopping those who are just passing through. They mostly just don’t want these types of creatures living in their town.”
“That’s rather idiotic,” I commented.
“Yes, yes it is,” Arion sighed. “But the vast majority of people are idiots, so of course it is.”
“Can’t argue with you there,” I replied. “How are you going to hide the fact you’re a vampire? Can’t most people tell by looking at you?”
Artemis then told me, “Most of the time, people can tell by appearance, but that’s because they see the pale skin then look for the signs. Arion is fairly pale, but doesn’t have any of the signs. So as long as I do things like hide the scars on my wrist where I was bitten and make sure my fangs are retracted they won’t have definite proof. It helps that I have something to protect me from sunlight, which most vampires don’t have, because most people are used to vampires only coming out at night. Meanwhile, I’ll stroll up to them in broad daylight.”
“Most people would probably buy into it,” Arion murmured. “For some reason lots of people struggle with telling what creatures others are. A few are difficult, but a lot of them are easier than people make them out to be.”
“Where is the gnome going to be at?” I asked Artemis.
“I’m not sure,” Artemis answered. “He could be at home or not, we’ll see. If he’s not at home, we’ll ask around for him.”
I sighed at the thought of being around lots of people. I hated the very thought of it, but I knew that it was our best chance. I was tempted to try sitting this out, but then I realized that, if the villagers found out about Artemis, it would be best for me to be nearby. I thought to myself that I just won’t say anything to anyone. I hoped that would work out then.
“Wait, did we agree that Artemis was coming along?” I asked.
There was a pause until Arion stated, “I think we all just individually decided that it was our best option and went with it.”
Shade barked an affirmative reply.
“Sounds like what happened,” Artemis agreed as she rubbed Shade’s head even though her hands were shaking slightly. “Better get to it then. The sooner we talk to Destrian and see if he will help us, the better.”
“This is a lot of trouble for not even being sure if he is going to help us,” I grumbled.
“I’m the closest thing he has to a friend,” Artemis answered. “So I believe he will help us. He just might want to trade it for something that we have, since he’s almost obsessed with profit.”
“Okay then,” Arion grumbled. “I don’t know if we have anything of value, but we’ll see if he likes anything we have.”
We headed to the gate. There were about six guards in the area, and they were all humans. I knew they would be no problem to handle for the four of us, but we were trying to not draw attention to ourselves. It would have been so much easier if we didn’t have to care about that, but we just had to deal with it.
“Who are you and what business do you have in town?” one of the guards asked.
Arion started to say, “I’m Fray, the girl is my sister Maggie, and the other man is my business partner, Nayor. We are business merchants that just finished a deal. We were heading back home and thought we would see our old friend, who lives in this city.”
“Are you all human?” another guard asked.
I realized that they assumed I was human. They probably had no idea there was an elf in front of them and that bugged me. I was trying to decide if I should insult them or how far I could throw them if I didn’t come up with an insult, when I felt Artemis tense up next to me. With that, I realized that it would be too much trouble to engage with them, so it was better to let them think that we were just a trio of humans with a dog.
I nodded. Shade turned his head to face me and tilted it, as if he were trying to ask me why I was lying. I simply scratched behind his ear a little, and he returned to his normal self.
The guards talked quietly to each other for a moment. They probably thought none of us could hear them. If we were all human that probably would had been the case, but I could. In the end, they decided there was no reason not to let us enter. They allowed us to walk through the front gate. I was grateful to get away from them.
As we walked away, Artemis told us, “Okay, we’ll head to where his house was, but, just in case, look out for a gnome with mint green hair and light gray skin.”
“Wait, Raven, can you see color?” Arion asked. I didn’t answer right away, feeling a little surprised that someone would flat out ask a question about that.
“Why did you ask that?” Artemis questioned.
“I read since dark elves didn’t have light their eyes see things differently, particularly color,” Arion answered. “I was curious about whether or not that was true, and if it affected Raven.”
I nodded and mentioned, “From the few dark elves I met and what I heard, most of us can only see some color or basically no color at all. I’m in the latter group.”
“Wow,” Artemis murmured. “So, I guess you won’t really be able to tell who Destrain is when you see him.”
“No,” I replied. “I’m able to tell that there are at least five gnomes somewhat nearby, but I would not be able to recognize Destrian based on your description of him.”
“I guess that leaves it to us,” Arion stated.
Then the conversation dropped as my travelling companions started to scan the streets for Destrian. I was almost grateful, except it wasn’t quiet. I could still hear all the people in the small city, and it was annoying.
The noise was just another reason why I didn’t like being around people. When I was around a lot of others, the sounds people made only interfered with getting an accurate picture of the world around me. Too many sounds could be overwhelming and make it difficult to focus.
We were travelling through the town center, which was the biggest crowd yet. I debated just completely avoiding the town square, but I instead followed after my travelling companions.
As we neared the end of the crowd, I realized that someone was leaning to bump into me, and it felt like it was on purpose. They did bump into me, and, as I was beginning to suspect, they were trying to grab whatever was in my pocket.
I didn’t really have much in my pocket, but I didn’t like small time thieves that didn’t get their money honestly. So I grabbed his hand, as he drew out the few coins I had in my pocket.
The random gnome let out a cry of surprise as I gripped onto him, stopping him in his tracks. Arion, Artemis, and Shade turned around to look at me.
“You do know there are other ways to get money than stealing it, right?” I asked him.
The gnome didn’t answer me but stayed silent. I waited, but then got annoyed by it.
“Look, just let go on the money in the next thirty seconds, or I’ll break your arm and grab the money that way,” I informed him. I didn’t want to deal with him stealing any longer than I had to, but I wouldn’t let him walk over me.
“You wouldn’t,” the gnome stated as he continued to hold onto the money and move against my grip. He didn’t get loose from my grip at all though, it was too strong.
“I wouldn’t test him,” Artemis quietly stated. The gnome didn’t seem to register what she said.
“Raven, I don’t know—” Arion started, but I finished counting out the thirty seconds. I quickly twisted the gnome’s arm with the hand I was holding it with. I then brought my other fist around and slammed it into his arm where I figured the weakest part of his arm was. I heard a crack and the gnome finally opened his hand, spilling the money he stole on the ground.
I let him go, picked up my money, and told the gnome, “Now, I wouldn’t go picking people’s pockets again.”
The gnome clutched his arm, and I heard another gnome from behind ask what was going on here.
“This person broke my arm,” the gnome growled.
“After you stole my money and refused to give it back,” I countered.
“Is this true?” the newcomer asked. The crowd gave choruses of yeses with some nods.
“Well, I can’t say that I’m happy you broke my cousin’s arm, but he did deserve it,” the gnome told me. “So, what are you strangers doing here?”
“We … actually came to see you,” Artemis quietly stated. She kept scanning the crowd as if expecting something to happen because she spoke.
Meanwhile, I sighed as I realized I broke the arm of the cousin of the person we came to do business with. Arion also sighed, and I guessed it was for similar reasons.
Destrian leaned forward, paused for a moment, then stated, “Well, it’s been awhile. You better come to my house. I wouldn’t want to keep an old friend waiting.”
I was surprised at how quick and light his step was as we led us to his house, since he was a gnome. Gnomes usually had very heavy steps, but I couldn have mistaken his steps for a human’s. He talked with Artemis and Shade, catching up on what has been going on in their lives. He was talking in quiet tones that probably only Artemis and I could pick up.
Arion fell back beside me and told me, “Breaking someone’s arm doesn’t really help us maintain a low profile.”
“Yes, I know, I did not think that through,” I told him.
“You don’t think a lot of things through,” Arion stated as he folded his arms.
“I have no argument there,” I agreed.
He turned more towards me as he asked, “And you don’t have a problem with that?”
I shrugged and answered, “That’s just something else I don’t think through.”
Arion shook his head slightly, but didn’t say more. I didn’t know what that meant. I wondered if he was upset or if he didn’t care about it. I could never tell what others were thinking and feeling.
The two of us just followed after Destrian, Artemis, and Shade. Artemis was asking Destrian about his business and family. Destrian was filling her in, doing most of the talking in the process. Shade simply brushed against their legs as they walked and panted happily when he got petted or acknowledged.
This continued on until we reached his house. It was the largest in town. It was neat, orderly and filled with stones and metals. That was unsurprising given that he’s a gnome and I heard that he was a great businessman. His aura seemed to match his house with how solid and structured it felt.
He told us about the different things in his house as he led us to his office. When we reached his office, he sat down behind his iron desk.
Artemis sat down in the chair closest to the desk. Shade tried to sit on her lap, but she informed him there wasn’t room for him on the chair. So he laid down by her feet. She rubbed his head when he did, as if to tell him that it was good that he did, thank him, or something along those lines.
On my insistence, Arion sat in the last chair. I stayed in the back by the door and away from the table. I wanted to have as little to do with these dealings as possible. I fingered with my raven pendant, as I waited for it to start.
“You’re still smiling as much as ever Artemis,” Destrian commented. “It appears that a few decades doesn’t ruin your spirit.”
“Why should it?” she asked. “There’s a lot of good going for me right now. I’m around good people doing good things, there’s not much else people can ask for.”
“Not something I would expect to hear from someone whose kind is experiencing heavy backlash since Tark took over,” Destrian stated. “But you were always the more optimistic one. So, I’m curious, what are you doing here when getting caught could lead to an angry mob? And why are you traveling with these two gloomy looking humans, or is the tall one human even?”
“No, I’m a dark elf,” I answered.
“Really?” Destrian questioned. “I heard that they were all gone.”
“Speaking how I’m standing right here, I can assure you there is still a dark elf in the twelve territories,” I replied.
“Not much for pleasant chatter is he?” Destrian questioned. “Not only that but if looks could kill, he would have killed us all by now.”
“You are entirely correct there,” Arion stated. “But we deal with it.”
“So are you just a gloomy-looking human?” Destrain inquired.
“Yes, I am very much a gloomy human,” Arion answered.
“We are traveling around on a mission together,” Artemis told Destrian. “We think that the lynphoma can help us succeed.”
“What mission?” Destrian questioned.
“Sorry, but I’m not sharing that,” Artemis told him. “It would be safer if you know as little as possible.”
“Am I in danger of someone chasing after you killing me, or of Raven killing me if I find out?” Destrian asked us.
Artemis and Arion looked back at me, as I told him, “Probably both depending on how you react.”
There was a pause before Destrian asked, “Is it important?”
“Yes,” Artemis answered without hesitation.
“Okay, I won’t ask any more questions about the mission,” Destrian told us. “So, let’s talk about the lynphoma.
“You have helped me out several times during the last few decades Artemis. I wish to help you out. I did have some people willing to buy the lynphoma though, so I would like to get something that your group is carrying on you in return. That way I at least have something to show for all the trouble it took to get it.”
“What exactly do you want?” Arion questioned.
“Raven, I assume that you’re the owner of all the elfish forged material that your team is carrying,” Destrian stated.
I sighed as I realized that I immediately didn’t like where it was going. I soon nodded anyway.
“My price is simple,” Destrian continued. “Elfish forgery is hard to come by for those who aren’t elves, so either give me your sword, your bow and arrows, your pendant, or all twelve of your knives; then I’ll give you the lynphoma.”
For a moment, I was a little surprised that he sensed all twelve knives on me, but then I remembered since he was a gnome, he could sense metal. It was second nature to him just as sensing auras was second nature to me.
I immediately knew that I would pay the price. We needed the lynphoma, and I owned him that at least for it and breaking his cousin’s arm.
There was no question for me what I was going to give him right then. Out of those four things—the only other things I own except for my clothes, a water pouch, some tools, and a bag where I keep some food—what I was going to give up.
The others were awestruck as I put twelve knives on the desk. Five from my belt, four from my boots, two from my back sheathes, and a last one from a hidden sheathe on my left leg. When it was done I walked back to my place in the back of the room. Silence filled the room.
Destrian nodded and said, “Yes. It appears you paid your side of the bargain. I’ll be back in a moment.”
Destrian seemed to vanish out of the room, as he quickly left.
There was a lot of silence in the room. I didn’t think much about it.
Then Arion murmured, “I thought you would have given away the sword.”
Artemis (and possibly Shade) nodded in agreement.
I simply cocked an eyebrow at this. I couldn’t see why they would make that assumption.
“We just guessed that since Arion’s been using it the entire time,” Artemis replied. “You don’t seem to need it that much. I mean, you’re the best fighter I’ve ever seen with whatever weapons you use, but you don’t use the sword as much.”
I didn’t want to respond to her statement. I didn’t mind that they guessed what I was going to give up. I just didn’t want them to know why I couldn’t bear the thought of parting with my sword, my bow, or my pendant. It was personal, and I didn’t want to share that with them.
Destrian saved me from responding by walking in. He was holding a necklace in his hands. It was simply a circular pendant on a metal chain. I could feel the object’s magic seem to fade in and out of the object. The few times I could feel it, I could tell it was powerful. But since it was phasing magic, I couldn’t feel it’s full magic all the time because the magic seemed to fade in and out too.
“This is the lynphoma,” Destrian explained to us. “While you wear this, you will have the power to walk through any tangible object. If you hold onto another person while putting it on, then they will also be able to pass through objects, as long as you stay connected. The charm breaks when you take off the necklace.
“There are some limits though. First, you can’t pick up or grab a hold of new people when you are wearing it. You’ll just pass right through them. Second, if taken off while you’re passing through something it will cause you to combine with the object you are in, which will most likely kill you. Last and most important of all, the power will work for you while you’re wearing it only once. After that, it will just be a regular amulet on you.”
“So we can each use it once?” Arion asked.
Destrain shook his head and told us, “No. Let’s say you wear it then take it off. Later Artemis is touching you as she puts it on. It will still work for you that time. You only can’t put it on and expect it to work after already wearing it once.”
Arion nodded in response and questioned, “How do we know this is the real thing? During the last few years I have found five rather convincing fakes of that magical object.”
“Let’s test it out,” Destrian said. “Grab a hold of Shade.” Artemis went to grab him. Destrian went to put it around Shade’s neck when unexpectedly Shade ran forward and grabbed a hold of it.
To me it felt like Shade was completely gone. He was there, then he wasn’t.
I heard Arion shout, “He’s going through the wall!”
“Oh my,” Destrian stated. “Apparently it works when you have it in your mouth too.”
“Raven, you’re the fastest runner, go find Shade now!” Artemis shouted as she was starting to sound—if I was correctly interpreting it—frantic.
“I don’t know where he is!” I shouted back.
She started to race out the door, as she screamed, “I’ll find him then!”
“Artemis, I don’t think that’s a good idea!” Arion shouted as he raced after her.
I started after them.
“Thanks for the lynphoma, Destrian,” I murmured. “Goodbye.” I wasn’t sure how he reacted because I left before he really had time to.
I exited the house. Arion was halfway down the block chasing Artemis, who was going right around the corner while shouting Shade’s name. I took off after them.
I caught up to Arion after three blocks. I wasn’t moving at my top speed though because I was uncertain of what to do if I caught up to Shade. Artemis was a quarter of a block ahead of us. From what I could guess, Shade was an eighth of a block in front of Artemis.
People were constantly in our way. They were being pushed out of the way, or in Shade’s case being passed through, by us. We were definitely drawing attention to ourselves now. Arion and I caught up to Artemis as Shade was passing through the guards at the front gate.
The guards then tried to block the gate from letting us through.
Artemis wasn’t going to put up with that though. Shade, who I believed was her best friend, was in trouble and these people were in her way. She let her fangs out and hissed at the guards. She wasn’t a friendly human anymore but rather a vampire, a creature known to some only for bloodthirst.
All the guards but one were smart enough to move out of the way. That unfortunate guard found himself being pushed by Artemis as she ran through the gate. He flew back a couple of yards and landed on his back. Arion and I just ran right past him. The guard groaned as we did.
We continued to race on. Arion glanced back.
“Oh joy,” he shouted. “They are gathering a large patrol at the front gate! Just our luck!”
I could sense he was right, so I just rolled my eyes. They could attack us in numbers, but when alone they were terrified of us. It made no sense to me.
It took us ten minutes to catch up to Shade. Artemis was shouting at him to stop, but he kept going and passing right through us. It felt like a cold wind passing through you as Shade ran through you.
I started shouting at him to slow down, using my ability to speak to animals. He eventually began to slow.
In about three minutes, he stopped. It took another three minutes to get him to spit the amulet out. When Shade spit the amulet out, it was as if he just appeared out of nowhere to me.
Artemis knelt down and hugged Shade. She whispered to Shade things like don’t do anything like that again and such.
I just awkwardly stood there with Arion.
Arion interrupted the moment by saying, “Hate to ruin the moment, but we kind of have to get out of here now,”
Artemis looked up towards the gate and a realization of what just happened hit her. She looked down at the ground.
“Yes,” she murmured, sounding like she did something wrong. “We probably do.”
We then started to head out to the Royal Vaults. At the pace we were going, it would take us three days to reach there. Then the heist was on.