The city of Aggramon was a quiet one. Nestled along the coast it was not a place of extreme power and greed. Nor was it a place of poverty and despair. When described to outsiders one might call it simple. The people lived simply, which suited them, and they were kind. That is until the creatures from the sea started to push up from the tides and kill Aggramon’s people. This simple city became lost to locked doors, curfews, and death. The people no longer stroll through the town but hurry past while glancing over their shoulders. As more and more terrifying creatures emerge from the depths the people grow more weary.
Freya sat quietly in the Cornered Crab tavern waiting for the ‘others’, as she deemed them. With her back to the wall and her long legs up on a chair she surveyed the crowd. The people of the city moved differently these days. As an honest thief and hustler she had been able to make her way through life undetected for the most part. Knowing people – watching people – was her way of life. These days no one was willing to gamble their coin away. Folks clung to their every possession like the greatest of misers.
“Give me another!” A booming baritone voice cut through her thoughts.
Freya looked over and saw Lincoln, the local butcher, at the end of the bar. He was already into his fourth mug of ale and slurring his speech. She guessed he had been drinking before coming to the tavern. Ale dripped through his greying beard as he tried to talk through gulps. His wife had just been lost to the monsters that plagued the city not but two weeks ago. His once kind smile and gentle humor was fading. Celine, his wife, had been loved by many, and her loss was a deep wound.
“Get ‘way from me! I’m perffect fine,” Lincoln spat the words at his friends, Keval and Patrick, as they hauled him up from his stool. Lincoln half heartedly tried to fight them off but was dragged out of the bar, tears streaming down his flushed cheeks.
Keval, handsome with a chiseled jaw and large build, turned back to the gawking patrons, “Nothing to see here! Get back to your business.” His icy blue eyes met Freya’s for a moment. Under the hardness she saw his pain. He nodded slightly to her as she raised her glass in knowing acknowledgement. It was hard watching friends lose their way, a plight all too common recently.
Freya looked around the rest of the room. Everyone that sat within the Cornered Crab was losing their way. The air was heavy with despair and mourning. She shifted in her seat and finished her mead. Growing impatient she got up and tossed a few coins on the table. I’m not waiting forever, she thought as she turned to go.
As she moved towards the door a familiar man entered wearing the colours of the city guard. Freya’s eyes met his.
“Leaving so soon, Freya? I thought you were better than that.”
She fought the anger bubbling under the surface at his accusation. “And I thought you were punctual Captain,” she saw his jaw twitch slightly at the remark. Raising her eyebrow she sized up the man before her. Captain James Highwater in his pristine uniform was a handsome man. Despite his calm features she could see the tenseness of his muscular shoulders and noticed his bow was out and firmly grasped in hand. “So,” Freya crossed her arms over her chest. “Why are you late?”
“I had a little more trouble locating our companions then I had hoped,” his voice held a tinge of anger that Freya had not heard in a long while. Whatever had happened in the city clearly did not sit well with him.
Not wanting to push the issue Freya gestured towards the door, “So where are they?”
As the words left her lips the door behind James opened with a creak. Stepping through the threshold were two figures. As the door shut behind them Freya was able to get a better look.
The first figure ducked through the door with purpose. Freya held her breath ever so slightly as her eyes briefly met those of the ifrit striding towards her. His eyes were swirling wisps of black as he stared back, his eyes evaluating the room. He stood almost seven feet tall with crimson and purple robes loosely wrapped around him. The colors denoted that he was still a student at the Academy but a powerful one. His skin, a smooth onyx with cracks of blood red scattered across it, appeared to be steaming from the heat he emitted.
“This is Boom,” James gestured towards the ifrit. “One of the top in his class and a descendant of a great line.”
“Boom?” Freya didn’t bother to hide her mocking tone.
James sighed heavily. “Don’t ask where he got the name, trust me it is better if you don’t know. Just know that he is beyond capable. He will come in handy.”
Freya gave James a sour look, “His robes suggest his skill, Captain. That doesn’t concern me. I’m concerned with why we have a student instead of a teacher.” She would not normally take such a tone with the captain, but her patience was wearing thin. The city needed skilled help now – not more amateurs making messes.
James grabbed Freya’s elbow and pulled her off to the side before she could react. “Listen Freya,” his voice was hard as he whispered in her ear, “we are all doing our best to protect this city and it’s people. You are here to repay a debt. Or have you forgotten what I’ve risked for you?” His blue eyes bore into hers, his frustration clear.
“No,” she stated flatly, remembering all too well that she herself was not here by choice.
“You do well not to,” his voice held a silent threat. “This is who the city could spare Freya.” He abruptly turned back towards the others. “And I will be leading them myself,” he called firmly over his shoulder.
Freya couldn’t keep the look of shock from her face. Why are they sending James? Are they sending him to watch me? To watch us all?
Freya’s mind raced as she did her best to compose herself and moved back to the group. Whatever happened from here was out of both their hands and she knew it all too well. She made a note to talk to James later.
As she approached the group, James held out his hand in gesture to the other man that had entered. “Freya, this is Samson Ashbane.” Freya nodded to the stoic half elf standing before her. His smokey brown eyes stared curiously back at her as she took in his gold hair. His ears gave away his elvish heritage though they were not the traditional length of a full blooded elf.
“He comes from the church district near the upper city and is a talent with curses,” James held his chin up high towards Freya, waiting for her objections. Not one to play the fool Freya held her tongue. She would bring her concerns and her questions to the Captain’s ear, but not now.
“I’m Freya,” she stated as she nodded her head towards the men. She turned towards the ifrit, “Forgive my rudeness earlier, Boom. I meant no disrespect.” Boom did not speak or acknowledge the gesture as he moved past her towards the bar.
“Don’t worry, love,” Samson’s deep voice whispered as he came closer to her. “I’m not as easily offended,” he winked at her and followed Boom to a stool.
Freya let out a long sigh. This is going well. She could tell that she would have to keep an eye out for Samson. He was the reckless sort she was sure. And Boom held his own silent threats that did nothing but keep her on edge. She herself knew the value of silence. This made him dangerous.
“Relax,” James stated as the two men sat and ordered a drink. “I need your head sharp for this run.” He glanced over at her.
Turning to meet his gaze Freya couldn’t help the smile that lifted a corner of her mouth. “I could tell you the same thing.”
His face broke with a smile that quickly vanished, “I won’t relax until we find out what is happening and how to stop it.” He turned his gaze back to their new companions. “But you already know that. As I know the same holds true for you.” James headed towards the bar without another word.
Freya smiled. James knew her too well. Society saw her as a criminal, but James saw her as a friend. Friends were hard to come by these days. Having grown up with the Captain he was always looking out for her, always keeping a watchful eye. James was still, to this day, keeping a watchful eye, but now for different reasons.
Freya remembered him vouching for her during the trial. He hadn’t looked at her once as she had kneeled on the platform, tied to the post, the sun beating down on her exposed skin. The crack of the whip and the smell of blood still fresh in her memory. She gazed over at him as he threw some coins on the bar for the men. I owe him a debt. I’m here to pay it. It was hard for her to admit to herself. She hated owing anyone anything, especially James. But if going on this journey was her only way out then so be it.
She made her way across the room to the others. She swept Samson’s glass up from the bar, “So when are we leaving?” She took a long draw from the glass. Samson just watched with curious eyes.
Before James had a chance to answer there was a shrill scream from outside. In a rush of staggering motion and panic a man burst into the tavern clutching his side. Freya noticed a small pool of crimson spreading along his gut. “Help! Help me!” The man bellowed to the room as a second form entered the tavern on his heels.
The pointy eared figure on the man’s heels was a gremlin. Freya knew it to be a fuath. Just little bastards as far as she was concerned.They stood about two feet tall and had lobster claws for hands. Fuath were particularly horrible to look at or deal with. They kept mainly to the shores and for one to have come to the inner city at all was unsettling.
Freya didn’t hesitate as she swiftly removed a dagger from one of her many sheaths. She took a calculated step forward and flung the dagger towards the fuath’s head. From the corner of her eye she saw Samson move from his stool, his guisarme now firmly in his grasp, charging to cut the beast down. James, arrow notched, was already calculating a shot.
Her blade landed with a thunk into the wall behind the creature as it continued to rush forward, screeching. Fuck, Freya cursed under her breath and drew another two daggers from her thigh sheaths, lining up for another throw.
Streaking by her ear with a loud whistle, Freya barely caught sight of the orange fireball as it connected between the gremlin’s shoulder blades.
Freya whipped her head around to see Boom floating a few inches off the ground not far from her, his arm outstretched. She sucked in another breath at the site of him. His flesh had broken open where the red trails had been, flames now licking up from the openings and across his skin. His black eyes held fast to the fuath as it lunged forward off balance into a table screaming in pain.
Dangerous indeed, she thought as she moved behind a table.
Samson rushed forward his weapon about to strike, as James let loose an arrow. Both came down with a quick grace, finding purchase in the gremlin with ease. Freya couldn’t help but wonder if they had fought together before.
Freya released another dagger at it’s exposed back. The blade flew end over end catching within the wet flesh of it’s shoulder blade. The fuath staggered forward against the table and with a gurgled shrill cry slumped to the floor, dead. The man that had rushed in now huddled in a corner of other patrons just beyond the corpse, clutching his side, his wound looking worse.
James gracefully placed his bow upon his back as he moved over to the man and the other villagers. He immediately started giving orders, bringing them out of their fearful haze.
Samson quickly flicked his wrist and a cascade of blood scattered across the wooden floor. Securing his pole arm he made his way to the wall where Freya’s blade stuck out. He tapped the end with his pointer finger and the blade vibrated. Wiggling it free from the boards he made his way over to Freya who now was doing the same with the blade in the gremlin’s shoulder. “You have a lot of power in your throws,” he stated as he twirled her blade in his hand. She could hear the flirtation in his voice.
Her blade came out with a sloppy thwick sound. She pointed the end of it towards the long, deep gash that now lined the little beast, “You have a lot of power in your thrusts.” His eyebrow rose and she smiled back at him ever so slightly. Standing she held out her hand for the dagger he had retrieved.
Samson returned the blade. As he did he pulled her in ever so slightly, whispering, “It would be my pleasure to show you my skills some time.”
She turned, meeting his eyes, “You’re right, the pleasure would be all yours.” She stepped away from him and back to the corpse. Samson walked back over to his drink chuckling to himself. Boom had already made it back to his stool, his skin back to its regular black. Men, she thought leaning over the body.
The creature was abnormal to Freya. Never before had they come this far into the city. They were never that curious or were cut down too quickly to be trouble. She looked over at the man in the corner being tended to. His shirt was lifted and she could see the wound, a smooth gash across his middle. She knew the wound of a blade when she saw one. The fuath, with its clawed hands, wasn’t what attacked the man. She had seen some of those wounds in the past and it wasn’t a sight to forget, all jagged edges and torn flesh. Even bones broken in horrific angles never to set right again.
So who attacked him? Who was he running from? Why did the fuath follow him? Her questions swirled around in her head frustrating her.
Suddenly there were more screams from outside. She heard faint yells near by of ‘Grindylow’. Her eyes snapped up to James. He met her gaze and she knew he had heard it too.
Grindylow were the sea dwelling demon cousins of the goblins. They were shark-like in the torso, chest, and head but they had eight octopus legs that they used for movement, capture, and killing. These beasts were not something many survived.
Without hesitation Freya moved for the door, James not far behind her. She saw that Samson was already charging out the door and that Boom was gliding outside, the flames lapping up from his skin lighting the way, a beacon.
Freya smiled to herself. Perhaps they’ll do after all, she thought as she rushed into the night’s salty air.