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As Zefaer wakes up in his cold little home in the woods, knowing it had rained the night before as it was damp, he hears all the animals coming out at the morning light. Taking the light peeking through his window as his cue to get ready for hunting today, he sits up in his creaky bed.
As he stands up from the bed, it creaks in relief of the pressure it’s felt all night from him tossing and turning all night. Zef still has the nightmares, even now, after all that has happened. I can’t shake the feeling that someone was behind the death of my grandmother, he thinks to himself.
Shaking his head maybe a little too violently, after a few moments he gets rid of the thought. His stomach growling reminds him of something that he seems to forget everyday he wakes up. I have more important things to think about right now, such as what I’ll even be eating today.
Walking over to the door, picking up his arrows and quiver, slinging them over his shoulder with a light tap, he opens the always squeaky door, and walks out into the squishy ground that lays on the other side of the threshold of his shabby shack that he calls home. He notices that it is quite humid out today and as he squints his eyes to look out into the distance he also takes note that it’s a bit foggy. The bunnies that were conversing all hop away when they see Zef, not wanting to be his next meal.
Very quietly and carefully watching out for branches, he tiptoes into the forest in search of his dinner. With the rain that came in last night, it had all the animals spooked, so it was hard for him to find any game. Zef assumed that they were all still scared and worked a bit harder to search. But little do the animals know, its all over and they can come out now.
As he is walking along the light path he has made for himself from walking this way so many times before, he finds a beautiful doe munching on a small patch of grass. This will feed me for a week, he thinks to himself. Zef stops in his tracks too afraid to make a single sound and scare away his dinner.
Carefully he pulls out his bow and a single arrow, knowing he can surely make it in one shot. He sets the arrow on the string with a very quiet ting sound. Making sure the doe is still there, he pulls back slowly, takes a deep breath, looks again to see the doe, steadily aims at his target, and lets go. It lines up perfectly with the doe's head as it sails to its intended target, killing it in a single shot.
He holds his hands up victoriously as the deer goes down with a thud, knowing it has to be dead for sure now. Zef is also very pleased it only took one arrow because birds scarcely come around his home anymore, so he really has to conserve his arrows. It's either that or attempt to haggle with the local hunting station attendant. He has tried this many times to no avail.
Hopping over to the corpse, much like the bunnies hopped before he left, he kneels down next to the doe. Since he knows it will be too heavy for him to drag back alone, he takes out his knife and starts carving into the doe, taking what he needs. And when he sees that there is more room in his large sack, he takes a little more, because this will sell well at the meat stand in town. He makes a mental note to bring the rest of the meat home later, for now just covering the deer with some large leaves in an attempt to keep the animals away.
Not wanting to waste any time, he skips skinning the meat and just throws it all into his bag. This bag has held so much meat before, surely it can hold this too he reassures himself as he stuffs the bag with a few blood stains at the bottom with as much has he can. The bag is in quite good condition considering how often he uses it for meat. Washing it in the river every few days certainly helps too.
Since the doe was close to home, only about half a mile, he takes the meat back and spends a few hours skinning it all. Zef knows that the meat seller will pay more coin for well-presented meat.
When he is finished with that, he goes back out to pick up the rest of the meat. Knowing how easy it is for himself, he allows about an hour to get what he needs, which ends up being just enough time to not only get the meat but skin it too, as he has become very efficient at it.
He is in quite dire need of money right now, he knows. The coin from his hunt will go into the savings he's slowly added to, to make improvements to his shabby home. He also needs it to buy fresh water, because the river near him is notorious for having poisonous algae in it.
As he is passing through the market, he takes in the scenery as he always does on the road to Nibelhiel. Spring has just begun, and the flowers are starting to bloom. Right next to his home on the left side under the window is a rose bush that is budding at the warm spring sun. That bush always tells him with the harsh winter is over and warmer weather is coming.
When Zef gets to the market, it is bustling with people all over the place. He can hardly even hear himself think with all the talking among everyone and sometimes even shouting. Someone over there wants a larger basket of fruit for less money. A woman over there is begging with tears running down her face for the vegetable seller to give her just one more potato, but she hasn't got the money. Children are playing in the open area by the fountain.
But when someone spots Zef, everyone immediately takes notice and moves out of his was as if he's got some contagious disease. They all stare, staying silent. Then all at once everyone is out of his way and there is a clear path for him to walk. I could get used to this, he thinks to himself.
It is a very hard trade here in the market, and everyone knows it. Either you've got the money to buy produce or meat you need, or you don't. Most sellers are very firm on their prices because they have to make a living too. Once in a while, someone will be new in town, and want to please everyone with their prices, so they let the people haggle with them more than they should and end up losing out on the amount of coin they could have.
Zef goes up to the usual stand he sells to, to sell the deer he found today. He waves to the man. "Hey Jel. I've got a good one for you today." Pulling out the biggest hunk of deer meat he has ever seen, he goes on, "I mean look at this piece of deer meat. You could feed a whole family with this!"
"Aye, son. You could." The man, Jel, looks a little impressed at such a find. But then again, in all his years, he has seen much bigger hunks of deer meat. Though here it is still quite a feat to find one bigger than the usual size they are.
Trying to haggle for a higher price, Zef asks as nonchalantly as possible, "So, what do you say Jel. Think I could get even maybe a few more copper for this one?"
Jel seems taken aback by this. "Now you listen here Zef. You've known me long enough to know that I don't usually change my prices at all. But, damn it kid. For you I just might."
Thinking about it for a moment, Zef comes to the conclusion that the man feels bad for him and is trying to lighten up Zef's day where he can, even if it means giving up a few copper to his slightly larger than usual piece of deer meat.
Now it is Zef's turn to be surprised. He didn't expect Jel to be persuaded so easily. He was just taking a stab in the dark with the question. "Really? That would mean so much to me. Especially with what happened to my grandmother recently and all." Zef is milking the fact that his grandmother died for as long as he can. As long as he gets more coin out of it for his small home, he doesn't see the harm in it. She would have done the same he thinks to himself.
"I've been meaning to say something to you about that." Then he hushes to a whisper. "Here, let's go back to your place in the woods. I'll bring your coin and we can talk." Jel looks around, seeming a bit paranoid. "I don't want the wrong ears hearing this, if you know what I mean."
Zef just nods and starts walking in the direction of his home.
But as soon as he turns around, Jel shouts after him, "Of course I'll eat this fine piece of deer with you for dinner!" Then he catches up to Zef and claps him on the back. And then Zef makes his way home, bringing along a visitor.
I never thought I'd have anyone over. After what happened, no one has even wanted to be around me. But it is a welcomed surprise. He thinks to himself as he takes in the scenery once more.
It is quite a turn of events. Zef most certainly never expected Jel to say any of what he said, let alone have him wanting to go back to his home to talk. No one has said a single word to Zef since his grandmother died. But everyone has their suspicions about it though.
On their way back, Jel talks about how his meat stand is doing, but Zef pays very little attention, just nodding every once in a while, to make Jel think he's still listening. Zef is actually thinking about what Jel could possibly want to talk about that he doesn't want anyone else to hear.
Could he have news of Zef's grandmother or what happened to her? Does Jel think the 'freak accident' was just a cover up? Was he there and saw something that could help in Zef's ongoing investigation? At this point Zef is convinced that he has to know whatever Jel wants to tell him.
When they get to Zef's home, Zef holds the door open. Jel takes a seat at a small table in the middle of the room, and Zef takes the one right across from him, as those seem to be the only seats in the room, besides the bed.
Zef starts the conversation as Jel is looking at all the knickknacks Zef has littered all around the shelves of the house. "So, what did you want to talk about Jel? It must be important for you to come all the way here." Zef gestures around himself.
Jel looks almost startled at the silence being broken so abruptly. "Oh, right. I wanted to talk about your grandmother."
Zef looks at him very confused, but almost antsy in a way. If he has answers, I need to know them, Zef thinks to himself, waiting for Jel to speak. When he doesn't say any more, Zef questions, "What about her? Do you know something?" He raises his voice a little unintentionally at the end because the subject is still a very sore one for him.
"I do actually. I've just been trying to figure out when it would have been best to tell you. And when you brought it up today, I couldn't pass up the chance to talk with you about her and what happened." Jel rambles on for a moment.
But Zef stops him. "Jel, if you know something, then spit it out."
“Alright, alright.” Jel takes a deep breath. “When she died, it wasn’t an accident. There had to have been someone behind the whole thing. It seems too fishy. No one just happens to die the way she did.”
He must have seen the evidence too, Zef thinks to himself.
Zef scoffs. “I know that. Now tell me something I don’t know. If not, then I’ll be researching on my own.” He wasn’t in the mood to play games, not that he ever was as of late.
“All I know is what I saw. I was there when it happened. I know the secret your grandmother didn’t want you to know.” Jel looks a little spooked just thinking of that night, as he shivers.
Zef is skeptical of it all. “Okay… And what did you see?”
Jel thinks for a moment and then starts, “Well, I was just packing up for the day and heading home in my wagon when I heard the commotion. I went to check it out and make sure everyone was alright. It seemed that your grandmother was talking with a powerful wizard. You could see the bright green aura emanating off him, and we both know enough about magic to know that means he’s a wizard of the highest class. The cloak he wore was a dark emerald green to complement the bright green.”
He thought for another moment, and continued, “I don’t remember much after seeing him. Only that when I came back to my senses, your grandmother had been killed, and no doubt by this wizard.” He sighed afterwards, like it was hard for him to say all that.
Little does he know that it was very hard for Zef to listen to all of what he had to say. But putting his emotion aside, Zef writes down everything Jel says, and then gets out one of his books. “So, you said the wizard was wearing green and his aura was green too?” Zef says as more of a question. When he finds the page he’s looking for almost instantly, he turns the book to Jel, so he can see too, and asks, “Did he look like this?”
As if a lightbulb goes off in Jel’s head, he exclaims, “Yeah, that’s exactly what he looked like!”
Now Zef sighs, but not for the same reason. The man on the page is one of the most highly respected wizards in Vestra. It’s at this point that Zef begins to regret looking into his grandmother’s death at all. I should have just left it alone and continued being naive in thinking that her death was an accident, Zef thinks to himself as he realizes what the weight of what he’s gotten himself into.
For the rest of the day the two of them spend their time at the small table in the kitchen looking over all the books Zef has. They find what they need and decide to rest for the night and begin anew in the morning, Jel retiring for the night in a sleeping bag, and Zef tossing and turning still in his squeaky bed.
When they wake in the morning, the decision to go to the city to find this wizard. As they are getting supplies together for the journey, Jel asks “Do you think we should bring Adri? She’s the best hunter I know. She could have brought me a whole pack of deer like the single one you brought today. Adri would be pretty good to have with us to make sure we are well fed and taken care of along the way.”
Zef groans quite loudly, seeming to already know where Jel is going with this. “Do we have to bring her? She’s so sassy and always has a comeback for everything.”
“So do you.”
“I do not.”
“That perfectly proves my point.”
Zef groans even louder and longer this time. “Fine. But I don’t want to talk to her.”
“Don’t even go there kid. I know you like her. Hell, the whole damn village knows you like each other. You both grew up in the sandbox together.” Jel gives Zef a slight glare, but then looks away. It’s not really Jel’s style to be so serious all the time.
Zef looks down, knowing full well now that he’s blushing. “I mean… Maybe I do. She’s a lot like me you know. Or how I was before my grandmother died. But I don’t love anyone. I probably never will.”
Jel chuckles. “Oh, trust me, I know just how alike you two are. It’s not like we need another one of you though. One is plenty.”
Zef is a little offended by that statement. “What do you mean by that?”
Jel tries to recover and fails horribly. “Uh, well. You are a unique individual. So, if there was another, you wouldn’t be unique anymore. You can’t have more than one of the same person in the world. It would break or something.”
Zef stops him there, knowing he’ll just ramble on and on again if he doesn’t. “Don’t hurt yourself. I understand.” With that he drops the subject.
They decide that leaving as soon as possible would be for the best, so Zef can meet the man that killed his grandmother before this killer has the chance to catch onto them and run away. Zef and Jel spend about twenty minutes packing up for the trip. But of course, it’s actually Zef that takes all that time; Jel is ready to go in about five minutes. He spends the rest of the time while waiting for Zef to put away the books and tidy up a bit.
Zef looks through his things one more time, thinking he can never have too much stuff, hence all the knickknacks littered about the house. “Now all that’s left it to convince Adri to come with us and be on our way. Do you even know where she is at this time of day?”
Jel thinks for a moment, it seems he’s done a lot of thinking lately. “She should be at her family’s stand selling the fruit they picked earlier this week. You forget that we are neighbors. The strawberries are perfect right now. I’d get some for the journey if you could.”
“I’ll see if I can get my hands on some.” Then Zef is reminded that he was never given his coin for the deer meat he gave Jel. “Hey, Jel. I don’t mean to be rude. But where’s the coin you promised me?”
“Ah, right. Here you are kid.” Jel tosses a silver coin to Zef.
“Jel, that’s a lot.” Zef looks at the coin, astounded that he would be given so much for just a piece of deer meat.
Jel sighs, “Zef, I want you to have it. I know you really need it right now. Put it in the savings jar over there to save up for a better home.” He walks over to Zef and pats him on the shoulder.
Still taken aback, Zef says, “Well, thank you. I’ll make it up to you I swear.”
Then they head back to the village to find Adri, so they can get moving before nightfall. Upon arrival, they spot her immediately being her usual saleswoman self, trying her best to sell the fruits her family grows outside the village. “Peaches! Get your peaches here! Five copper a peach! Or five for twenty copper!”
Glancing at Jel quickly, Zef nonchalantly walks over to her stand. Pretending to peruse the fruits, he then looks up, blushing already. “Uh, yes. I’ll take a box of strawberries.”
Adri looks at Zef very surprised to even see him in the village at all, let alone at her stand. She trips over her words in a way that Zef always found cute. “Sure. Here… Here you go. That’ll be… uh… ten copper.”
He hands her the copper. Jel must be off checking on his stand. I’m glad he’s not here though. He would only make things more awkward with her than they already are, Zef thinks to himself before saying, “Adri, Jel and I need to ask you something. But not here. Not where everyone can hear.”
Adri looks very confused by his statement, but blushing all the same, because the guy she’s liked since she was a kid is talking to her. Get it together Adri. You got this. Please don’t mess this up, Adri repeats to herself in a pep talk so she doesn’t trip over her words again. “Sure. just wait down there by the trail out of town and I’ll let my family know I’ll be gone awhile.”
“Let them know it’ll be a few days at least, maybe more.” Jel interjects, showing back up out of nowhere.
“Jel, don’t you have a stand to take care of or pack up for the day or something.” Zef says hinting at the fact that he’d like to talk with Adri alone.
Jel completely misses it, saying, “I already took care of that. My gracious wife is going to take over the stand until we get back. The thought of it makes me a little nervous, but I’m sure she’ll do great.”
Adri is walking away at this point to let her parents know the news. Zef is just glaring at Jel whisper shouting, “Jel, I wanted to talk to her alone, you know… to catch up a little… maybe ask her out. I’ve been wanting to for awhile now. I just didn’t think it would really be possible, so I had given up on it. But with the journey ahead, I may have a chance still.”
Jel scratches the back of his head and awkwardly says, “Sorry kid.”
Making their way to the biggest city in Vestra, Zef just lets the subject go for now hoping he’ll get a moment alone with Adri later. Looking at the map, they see that it’s only about half a day’s journey.
Along the way, Zef takes in the scenery as he always does; something about it is just so calming to him. Jel looks for game because he’s always worried about having enough food. And Adri is pretty quiet the entire time making it hard for either of the men to know how she feels about it all.
When they get to the city, all of them are quite relieved. Even now with how fit all of them seem to be, it’s still quite a hard thing to do to go an entire day walking. Most would have stopped at half day and made camp until morning. But with the task at hand, Zef knows they have to make it there as soon as they can. Adri and Jel don’t seem to mind joining him for this and going all day to make it to the city.
“Does anyone know where we might find an inn?” Jel asks finally having a chance to stand stationary for a moment.
Zef laughs for a second before saying, “I think I’ve got us covered.” He points to the inn right in front of them.
Walking in, they see that it is more of a tavern on the ground floor and all the rooms would be up above. Spotting the person in charge of the bar, Jel asks in the nicest voice he can muster, “Hello. What a nice establishment you have here. Might we be able to rent a room with two beds for the night?”
The woman has a real rough voice. “Sure. But it’ll be more for two beds. Are you sure you want that lad?”
“Oh. Yes. I don’t mind the price.” Jel bats his eyes at her a little. She looks to be in her late sixties though.
“Alright. For one night it’ll run you about,” She pauses to think of the total, “twenty silver.”
“You’ve got a deal.” And Jel drops the coin in her hand, exchanging it for the key to the room.
“You’ll be in room 12. It’s just at the end of the hall on the second floor. Big number 12 painted above the door.”
“Thank you very much ma’am.” Jel does a quick bow to her and leaves to go upstairs to find their room.
Zef and Adri trail behind him a bit as they make their way to the room. “It sure will be nice to sleep in a real bed for once.” Zef mentions, mumbling so low that only Adri hears it. She giggles a little.
Agreeing that they should rest for the night and start fresh in the morning, everyone falls asleep quite quickly, being so tired from the day’s journey. Jel and Zef share one bed, sleeping as far away as the small bed will allow, while Adri has a whole bed to herself.
Sleeping on an actual bed makes Zef feel much more refreshed than he ever has been in the morning. I feel like we can get a lot done today. I hope we can get to the wizard that killed my grandmother and avenge her today. The sooner this is done, the better. Zef thinks to himself.
His thoughts flee as soon as they enter his mind because of the impending earthquake of Jel’s obnoxiously loud snoring. To him it feels as if the whole inn is shaking. To stop the earthquake before it can do too much damage, he throws a pillow at Jel.
He wakes up as soon as the pillow touches his face. “Wha. What happened? Where are we? What’s the matter?” Jel asks in quick succession in a groggy voice.
“Jel, calm down. You know where we are. And we have a lot to do today.” Zef says as calmly as he can, relieved that it is finally quiet, and also wondering how it didn’t wake him up the night before. He comes to the conclusion that he must have been very tired after an entire day and half a night walking to get to the inn they reside in now.
Jel wakes up completely a few minutes later, only to be followed by Adri. Zef knows she can also be difficult to wake up, so he tries the same technique as before. It seems that he is two for two on the pillow throwing technique to wake people up.
After they check out of the inn, they decide to ask around to see how to get to the building they are looking for. Zef starts with asking how to contact the most important wizard in this city. When he gets a lot of strange looks and people mentioning or pointing to the tallest building that can be seen in the distance, he decides that maybe it would be a better idea to ask what road to take to get to the building the fastest. Maybe I should leave Luka, the great wizard out of this altogether. I might get more answers if I do. Zef thinks to himself in thought of deciding how best to get the answers they need.
Along the way when the crowds get large, Adri holds Zef’s hand, and usually he would think nothing of it, but since he quite likes this girl, it sets his heart aflutter. Adri, however, feels electricity flow through her the entire time she is holding his hand. But she tells herself that it’s, so she doesn’t get lost, because being lost in a city this big would be a disaster.
Eventually after asking around enough and asking the right questions, they finally make it to the building and in good time too. It is a little difficult for even Jel because they are all from a small village. So, being in such a large city is confusing from him. And because of that, the others are confused as well. Jel does take note though, that everyone seems to still walk everywhere. It does seem that some things never change.
Standing in front of such a tall building is very intimidating to all of them. Adri looks almost scared at this sight. Zef takes this as his moment to ask her out. “Hey, Jel why don’t you check out the place for us? Adri needs a little pep talk.”
Jel looks a little skeptical of what Zef is about to do, but says “Uh, okay sure. I’ll be right back then.”
But none the less, Jel just walks right through the front door, telling himself that it’s for Zef that he’s doing this. He repeats this to himself as he is looking around the bottom floor of the building and seeing how hard it would be to see this Luka guy.
In the meantime, Zef is overthinking on what he should even say to Adri. Finally having enough courage to talk, says, “So Adri, I’ve been thinking about this for a while.”
She looks a little worried of what Zef is about to say. So, she puts a hand on his shoulder. “Zef, it’s okay. I know it’s been hard for you since your grandmother died. But I’m still here for you. I always have been.”
Zef looks a little confused, but continues, taking note of what she’s said as well, “Thank you Adri. That means a lot to me. But I actually wanted to talk about something else. Even though I’ve been spending a lot of time alone in my… home... in the woods, I’ve also been thinking about you. And I’ve missed you, but I also didn’t want to bother you at your vegetable stand.”
Adri stops him from rambling on and on by rambling herself. “I know. I know. And I feel bad that I haven’t reached out to you like I should have. I just didn’t know what I could do for you. Look Zef. I like you. I have for a long time. And now I have the courage to finally ask you, Zef will you go out with me?”
Zef is quite surprised and a little taken aback by her sudden burst of courage. “Oh my god. Adri. Yes! Of course I’ll go out with you! I was about to ask you the same thing!” And with that he gives her a light peck on the cheek and hugs her gently.
As they pull apart Jel is walking out of the enormous building to tell them what he has found. “You two love birds want to hear what I found out while I was in there or not?” He seems uninterested in their bout of romance that just occurred though. Zef comes to the conclusion that Jel is just really tired today and wants to get this over with.
Both Zef and Adri look away from each other awkwardly, and Zef is the first to say something. Clearing his throat, he says, “Uh, yeah sure. What did you find out in there Jel?” He points to the massive building looming over head.
Jel comes a bit closer to both of them, not wanting anyone else to hear. “From what I’ve gathered, to even be able to talk to Luka, we’ll need an appointment. But with my charming skills and good looks I might be able to talk to receptionist into letting us in without an appointment.”
“I don’t know Jel. That seems a bit risky. But if you think you can pull it off, we’ll go along with it.” Zef scratches the back of his head, not really sure what else to say.
After a bit more talking and weighing their options, they decide to go with Jel’s idea. Hoping this all goes smoothly, they walk confidently into the building to set the right tone.
Jel is in the middle, with Zef and Adri flanking his sides. He makes it to the front desk and looks at the woman with flirtatious eyes. It seems to be working so far. What only matters now is what he says.
They went over it a few times before coming in; everything needs to go perfectly. This is Zef’s one shot to take down his grandmother’s killer.
“Hi, we have an appointment with Mr. Luka at 2:30.” He looks at his watch, “We seem to be a bit early though. We can wait if you’d like.”
She doesn't look convinced at all and Zef gets nervous. “You’re Julia?”
Adri raises her hand, “I am. Sorry, they are my bodyguards.”
The attendant seems to ease a little at this. “Okay. I will let Luka know you are here.”
After waiting for what seems like forever to Zef, ‘Julia’ is called. They all stand together and follow Luka’s secretary to his office. Every step is more agonizing than the last for Zef. All he wants to do is burst into a sprint and bust down Luka’s door to get the revenge he so desperately deserves. But he stays in character for quite awhile longer. Zef knows he must see the man before he can do anything.
As they make their way down the very long hallway, they eventually make it to an office with the title of LUKA in all capital letters. Just seeing this puts Zef on edge, yet he still remains as calm as he can be.
All this changes when he walks in the door of the office, nearly taking the door off the hinges as he passes so quickly. “Luka!” He says with so much emotion, Jel and Adri couldn’t tell if he was going to begin crying or attack Luka.
Luka looks very calm and business like as he comes around his desk to greet everyone. He is taken aback at how, to him, this unnamed person is greeting him. He tilts his head to the side the smallest amount, but goes back to business man in a flash. “Hello all, what can I do for you today?” As he speaks, he makes small gestures with his hands.
At this point, Zef is glaring at him, as if to kill him with a single look. If only it were that easy. But he says nothing.
Luka moves on to Jel and Adri, who are much better at hiding how much they hate this man. They even shake his hand. But when Jel does, he is a little more hesitant than Adri was. She has almost no idea what’s going on right now.
Cutting right to the chase, as all formalities are out of the way, Zef gets even more upset. “You killed my grandmother, and now you will pay for that. With your life.”
“What ever could you be talking about?” He tilts his head again, more in confusion than anything.
“Cut the shit Luka. You know damn well what I’m here for. Your life.” Then Zef pulls out the wand no one ever knew he had.
Luka drops the act and pulls out his wand as well. He points it directly at Zef and presses forward quickly to cast a spell.
Zef thankfully sees it in time and dodges behind a chair. But not in enough time because the chair flew chunks everywhere and one lands in his side, exploding out the back. Immediately downed, he lays on the ground waiting for the sweet embrace of death he has been waiting for since his grandmother passed a few months ago.
As he is fading away into darkness, the last thing he says is, “I will get my revenge on you Luka. No matter what it takes. Death is not the end of me.”