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Chapter 1: Maerise
(Former) General Artherien Vessifer | House Ighten
Derdia curse the maker of this damn shackle. A large hand twisted on the magical bracer that clasped tight around the left arm of a massive, dark, and hulking figure. This can’t be in vain. The thing hurt, with magic radiating in his mind like a never ending buzz. If he so much as thought about running from his current task, it gave a lovely reminder of pin pricks to his sensitive, overly warm skin. The gilded golden armor piece did not match the rest of his outfit of blacks, leathers, and fur. While he kept it covered for the most part, he was constantly on edge in case it became shown. He was obviously Vessifer- his towering height, pale skin, and bright, shiny eyes. The bracer, however, was not. It was clear the thing originated from Lutria, his enemy country, and if anyone gazed upon it would have many, many, questions. The first of which- why? Because I am a doghound fetching an ancient relic for his master-king. A growl from his throat and he almost threw up. If I stray, I die. He gripped the bracer tightly, hoping to crack it, but it did not bend to his trained strength. Artherien’s only hope was a lead in Maerise.
The week-long ship ride from the island housing the fortified town Marhenport had been rocky, making Artherien’s stomach turn often. He held his own, and despite the seasickness, managed to keep down whatever contents his stomach could hold. This was the last part of the second leg of his journey, having traveled three weeks prior from the capital of his home country of Ironmarsh, Gheisen. But the view of land in the distance was promising. The captain had been shouting orders to the crew for half an hour, preparing to dock.
The city of Maerise sat on the northern coast of Derhan, blue domes and roofs peeking over its tall half-circle wall protecting the white stone buildings from the waves of the ocean. On the eastern side were the docks, and standing proud in the center of the city were three massive spires, the center and tallest of which stood a statue of a woman with a horn. To the southeastern and southwestern sides of Maerise were mountains, with a valley in the middle, which Artherien assumed would be where the main gates would be on the land side.
The mountain on the southwestern side housed another statue, much larger than the one on the spire, gleaming bright white even as dark clouds began to cover a soon-to-be setting sun. This one was a man who stood proud with what looked to be a small dragon perched and wrapped around his arm and shoulder. Dragons? All the way out here? Who bonded with dragons aside from the Vessifer? Irritation bubbled up, but it tasted of bile. Dragons only lived in the Ulpuster region of Ironmarsh, on the western coast.
The weather was warm for a hot-blooded Vessifer, and he could already feel himself sweating. The sun hung low in the sky, three of the moons just visible over the eastern horizon to the left, and huge heavy clouds that they had been outrunning for a day lay close just behind them. Thunder rumbled and the captain yelled a few more orders, all the sails let down so the winds would push them harder to port, while sailors below rowed with their might.
As they neared, Artherien saw winged beasts flying around overhead the city. Too large to be birds, these had to be the dragons. How were dragons so far from the Ulpuster region? One of them flew their way, and it was then he saw a rider perched on its back. Bonded, too? Irritation returned as he pressed himself against the wall of the captain’s deck behind large barrels. The rider came close, and the size of this dragon paled in comparison to the dragons that bonded with his ancestors. This one was small, about 5 meters long, and was missing front arms. Were these mutations?
“Captain Shill!” The rider, a thin dark skinned man called out, “dock seven is open! The receivers won’t be able to meet you there with the oncoming storm, but someone will be available to help unload the cargo.” The young man’s armor was cloth and leather, blue and silver in color. On the saddle was an insignia of the city etched in silver.
The captain on the steering deck above Artherien yelled back, “Tell ‘em to be ready, Sammy! Who am I meetin’?”
Artherien couldn’t decide if it was a curse or a grumble the captain muttered.
“Aye, hurry then!” The captain yelled back as the sound of thunder neared, “This cargo is the worst yet!”
He couldn’t help but wonder if the captain was referring to him. Artherien was the only passenger, as it was a trade run the captain was making. People didn’t ferry to and from Ironmarsh.
By the time they docked, the clouds had already moved above them, the sun had set, and fat, heavy rain drops pelted the wood at their feet. Artherien had pulled the hood of his fur coat over his head, but the heat was making him sweat. Deciding against the swelter, he yanked the hood back down and shook his hair out before tying the length of it back with a leather thong. I’d better only be here a short while. A house of knowledge should be the first place to start looking. Perhaps a historian could be of use.
Artherien wasted no time in disembarking, quickly paying Captain Shill the rest of his fees. The captain ushered him off before turning to deal with a large green skinned man in a similar blue and silver uniform the dragon rider wore. Artherien asked no questions. He headed the opposite way to a large metal gate guarded by another tall green man and a shorter, dark skinned woman. They both adorned silver armor with blue and green accents, indicative of their Derhanish guard.
As he neared them, through the pelting rain and dim light, he saw the green man had short tusks and sclera the color of piss. The woman was average height for one, average looking aside from the bright blue eyes that bore daggers into him.
“Halt!” The man called out as Artherien neared. “All visitors are required to sign in with the deputy in the commissary’s office, through that door there,” he motioned to a heavy looking wooden door that led into a stone building, guarded by yet another man. “Any weapons must be surrendered and the intent of travel will be explained to him. All questions are to be saved for the deputy.”
The female guard slowly turned her head to her comrade and without looking away said through gritted teeth, “And welcome to Maerise.”
“Ah! Welcome to Maerise.” The green man muttered before watching as Artherien moved with hesitance toward the door they mentioned. “Did you see how big that guy was?” His whisper was unintentionally just loud enough that Artherien could hear.
He realized then he wouldn’t be able to hide his identity. It was rare for anyone human or humanoid to be taller than that green man, much less an entire two handspans taller. If they only knew he was considered short by his kind! He let out a heavy exhale as he rotated his shoulders. The seasickness was finally wearing off.
The door mentioned had another guard standing at it, a dark skinned human, but this one male. He made no indication of acknowledging Artherien’s existence, ignoring him completely as the larger man ducked his head to enter into the office. Once inside, he found the room to be tall, much to his relief, and despite the stone walls and floor, was quite warm. A fire in the hearth against a far wall lit the room in a vivid glow, giving a dry heat that while hot, was a small comfort to the sweltering outside. Something made his skin crawl being in there, and he doubted it was the uncomfortable warmth, or the bracer on his arm. Shaking himself off, he wiped the rainwater from his face.
“Ah, another visitor to the city of Maerise. How do you do?” A skinny man about his age with orange hair sat at a large desk that was covered in papers, files, objects and other items. Behind him was a tall wooden cabinet with hundreds of open cubbies, many of them empty. “Come to visit the College? Learn some history, do some trading? All are welcome here, so long as you don’t pose a threat.”
The feeling didn’t go away, and Artherien realized the similarity of the discomfort was akin to when the bracer had been placed on his arm. Was he wandering off track from his goal? His hand moved over it through his sleeve as he considered what the College could be.
“Fine. Just traveling through.” His speech was twanged with his native Ironer accent, but he understood fluently.
“Not a problem, but I will need to sign you into our ledgers. Protocol is protocol.” The man stood, and it was then Artherien noticed the ears on him. They were elongated to a point, about an inch, extending out behind him.
“Elfirrin..” Artherien’s blood began to course faster through his veins, and he could feel his fingers start to twitch with anticipation of transforming as they wrapped around the handle of the scythe at his back.
The deputy paused and exhaled before turning to look back at Artherien. His tone changed drastically as he became serious. “You’d do well to remember this is a neutral zone. I may be of Elfirrin blood, Vessifer, but I have no association with Lutria or her monarchy. Whatever irritation that runs through you, I felt it too the moment you entered this room, but I will not allow it to hinder my job.” He took a deep breath and received the papers he needed before sitting back down. “The question now is, will you do the same?” He tapped a quill on the side of its inkwell.
Releasing the weapon handle, Artherien exhaled as he stepped forward. “I’ll do as I need to accomplish my current goal.” The warning was there.
Irritation grew on the Elfirrin man’s face. “Do not test me,” his hand raised and a glowing ember of light was pulled from thin air as a crackling ball of energy grew to the size of a walnut, “You are not in Ironmarsh, this is not a time of war, and I am not your enemy. Yet. Give me reason to be and I will happily send your body to the Akooa.” His fingers continued moving, sending small lines of electricity to the growing ball of energy.
Moons, Artherien. Aunt Jem’s voice echoed in the back of his head, and he let out a heavy exhale. “I have.. No intention of starting altercations.” It took every fiber of his being not to attack the man in front of him.
“That’s good news then!” The man’s tune changed back as he gripped the ball of energy, dissipating it. He then marked off some things on the paper in front of him. “What is your name then, country of origin, and purpose for your visit?”
“Artherien Vessifer, Ironmarsh, travel.” He decided not to mention his house name as he had been banished, after all.
“Because of the sensitive nature of the political ongoings in the world at the moment, I do need to ask, as you are a Vessifer, are you at risk of transforming under any slight duress?” He looked up at the larger man, curious blue eyes watching.
Artherien was at risk of transforming now! Gritting his teeth in effort to keep his eyes from being noticeable if they started to glow, he shook his head. “No.”
“Excellent! While you are staying here in Maerise, do you have a point of contact?”
“I won’t be staying long enough to be making friends.”
“Just traveling through, then. Alright, if that changes, please come see me again and we can have your paperwork properly processed. Last order of business is the safekeeping of your weapons until you leave, and of course the small matter of your traveler’s tax.”
Artherien didn’t like the idea of going anywhere he wasn’t familiar with without his scythe, but the fee was a different story. “Tax? What tax?”
The orange haired Elfirrin looked up at him with brows raised. “For traveling through, of course. Any non-resident or tourist staying shorter than two weeks, wandering merchant, or traveler is required to pay a fee for passing through. It’s the traveler’s tax. Keeps infrastructure up and people like me with a job.” He smiled, though it seemed more of a polite, mandatory response. “It’s 10 LP, and an extra 2 for every day you’re here, for up to two weeks.”
“Ah, it’s Lapis Pence.” He dug around in his coin purse before showing Artherien a dark blue, shiny coin. An unknown face had been etched into it. “I’m unsure the currency you use, but one LP is worth about a fourth of a gram of gold.” He placed the blue coin back in his pouch.
Reluctantly, Artherien pulled off his weapons and set them against the desk before rifling through his gem pouch. He wondered if he’d have enough to get to where he needed to go. If he ever figured out that destination. He’d have to cut costs where he could. “How long did you say a tourist had to stay without having to pay the tax?”
“Two weeks.” The deputy turned to look over the wall of cubbies, reaching inside one to pull something out.
“Then.. tourist. Two weeks.”
“Ahh, alright- I will need a point of contact for your stay, as well as a weekly check-in with me. There are a few taverns as well as an inn nearby, but if you’re looking for something on the cheaper side, well, try the Looselip Dog.” The deputy set a key on the counter. “But there is also a fee for transference of weapons from gate to gate, able to be retrieved once your stay is complete. This key will open the chest it’s in.”
Grumbling, Artherien clutched his gem bag. “How much?”
“5 LP for every week, with your first week paid up front.”
So 1.25 grams of gold per week. He eyed the scale on the man’s desk before pulling out the small amount of gold coins he even had. The rest were gems and moonstone, much more precious and valuable. He reached over to set the coins on the scale before pausing. “How do I know that is the correct transference rate, and you aren’t skimming extra to line your pockets?”
The deputy smirked and rested a hand against his stubbled chin. “How do I know you aren’t going to take advantage of your time here and not follow check-in protocol?”
Artherien hadn’t thought about not checking in. Fist still held over the scale, he gave the other man a dark look, “It would betray my morals to go against an agreement, no matter how trivial or time consuming it may be.” He set the correct amount of coinage on the scale.
The man raised a brow at the self-righteous giant before him, moving the hand supporting his chin to stamp the papers. “Be on your way then.”
Artherien had missed out on the social cue that he didn’t have to check back in if he had just given a bit extra in LP.