Caves were home to many skittering critters of Cymeris. Spiders the size of horses nested deep in the darkness, away from the daylight machinations of the surface races, coming out to hunt at night. Twisted visages of humankind made their dwellings in the dark tunnels above, often on top of a spider’s nest unknowingly, leading to inevitable conflicts between the two. Rats of all shapes and sizes scavenged on the leftovers from the other creatures that made their homes in the caves. The people of Cymeris, whether barbarian tribes or civilised towns, knew to avoid caves unless absolutely necessary.
Necessity, however, had a tendency to rear its head on the occasion.
In a cave outside of the city of Cymeris, a darkened cavern was lit by a dim ball of blue light. A female elf sat against the wall, cradling the ball of light in one hand with a book in the other. She was young by her people’s standards, with vibrant green eyes and fair skin under the blue tinge that the light was giving off. Her hair was long and messy, knots and split ends causing her blonde hair to resemble hay used in a horse’s stable and her clothes were ragged and torn, a sort of beige colour, though remarkably clean by the standards of cave living. The cavern itself was cold and damp, a constant drip resonating from the corner. Occasionally, the shuffling of a Darkwalker raised the elf’s head, turning her attention to the entrance, though the Darkwalkers had learned to avoid that particular cavern. They did not bother her and she did not bother them. Such a situation was needed for the elf, an illegal practitioner of magic was not welcome by anyone, and her countenance was now known to the local authorities and city guard. Her tribal kin would not take her back, having a disdain for city dwelling elves and their lack of adherence in their more traditional beliefs. She could go to a flesh-shaper, though she had yet to work up the courage to undergo such a process; she was quite attached to her appearance. It was part of who she was.
A new sound caused her to raise her head once more, gazing towards the door with a wary expression, like a deer that had just detected a predator. There was nothing coming through the door, though her protective runes that lay concealed around the nearby caverns should keep her protected; Darkwalkers did not know how to dispel them and outsiders that did know how would at least alert her to their presence by doing so. It was surely nothing to worry about, so she got back to studying her book.
She heard it again, another new sound similar to the last one. She knew all of the native sounds like the back of her hand. These new sounds were unnerving.
Then, suddenly, she felt it. One of her outermost runes went down. Dispelled, not activated. She closed her book and shoved it into a small satchel that rested against her leg. Another rune was dispelled, giving her an idea of where the new intruders were coming from. She slung the satchel over her shoulder and darted to a small pile of furs that she had used for bedding. Another rune went down. They were getting closer. Now she could hear the inhuman screams of Darkwalkers. The outsiders had obviously clashed with them and were quite possibly here for them, it was not uncommon for the city guard to venture into nearby caves to clear out Darkwalkers and other vermin. Vermin including run-away, illegal mages. She grabbed the furs and quickly rolled them up, securing them with some leather straps and strapping them across her back like a backpack. Another two runes dissipated. She could hear them clearly now. Armoured boots crashed against the stone floors of the caverns. Steel clashed with Darkwalker blades and the sounds of spells exploded all around.
She ran for it, down a corridor that still had runes active. She was no longer listening to the sounds of combat, nor was she sure if she was being followed. She just focussed on running, placing one foot in front of the other as fast as she could. She knew the layout of the caverns and hoped to lose any would be pursuers through their twisting corridors, where any wrong turn could send them into a spider’s nest or a large gathering of Darkwalkers. She had to take every precaution. When her heart pounded in her chest, she kept running. When it felt like her ribcage could not hold it in, she kept running. When the bile started to rise in her throat, she kept running. She was not physically strong and her level of stamina was low due to her lack of any physical exercise. Fending off Darkwalkers was simple for a mage and did not require physical exertion.
She saw the light of the outside ahead of her. Her running had become more of a fast-paced stumble by this point. She just wanted to collapse and rest, but she was so close now. She burst out of the cave entrance into the daylight of Cymerisian spring.
Her exultation dissolved. A group of six individuals drew their weapons and stared at her as she exited the cave. There were three individuals wearing expensive looking plate armour, one of which wielded a large, two-handed warhammer and two bearing a standard sword and shield, a man in robes that she immediately identified as a mage and two individuals wearing lighter chain armour with lighter looking blades. One of the sword bearing armoured figures approached her slowly, his shield raised, but not in an actively aggressive manner. The crest was that of the Highlord of Cymeris. These individuals were members of the Liseri house, the ruling faction of Cymeris. She did not want to be taken captive, but she lacked the strength to fight and her vision was already blurred.
She collapsed to her hands and knees, her body finally prevailing over her willpower as she vomited up the contents of her last meal. She was shaking, over exerted from her mad dash through the caverns.
“My Lord,” the man in robes spoke up, “you might want to confiscate that bag of hers before doing anything else.” Before she could resist, the bag was snatched from her grasp and handed to the robed man. “Yes. This is what has been going missing from the mage’s library over the past few months.”
“That’s all well and good, Terrance, but what of her?” the armoured man who had snatched the bag replied, gesturing at her with his sword.
The robed man shrugged. “Eh, we should probably kill her,” he uttered apathetically as she managed to push herself backwards onto her knees, wiping the sides of her mouth. The whole situation left a foul taste in her mouth, figuratively as well as literally. She was still shaking.
One of the lighter armoured individuals stepped forwards, a woman with brown eyes and hair pulled into a tight pony tail. “Isn’t that a bit harsh?” she questioned, though the robed man cut her off as she spoke.
“I am the only one who knows what she is capable of,” he glanced at her now, his facial expression was one of disgust, “she’s untrained and recovering quickly. If you won’t do it, then I’ll do it.” His hand started to glow, tendrils of fire snaking around his wrist.
“Enough!” the original armoured figure shouted, turning his head to look at the other two, before looking down at the shaking elf. “Place some wards on her. We’ll take her back with us.”
“What for?” the robed man asked, his wrist still alight with magic fire.
“But she’s dangerous. She’s just scum; worse than the criminal organisations and families in Cymeris.”
“She’s also a person like you or me,” the chain wearing female interjected, grabbing some pre-warded rope from the robed man’s horse.
“Hey, don’t touch anything in there!” the robed man replied, the fire immediately dissipating as he rushed over to the woman, making feeble attempts at taking the rope back from the more nimble woman, causing a slight chuckle from the armoured figure who the elf had tentatively identified as the leader of the group. The chain wearing woman crouched behind the elf, the robed man having backed off now after giving the elf one final, venomous glance.
“Sorry about him,” the woman whispered quietly as she bound the elf’s hands. The elf could feel the magic suppression of the warded rope take effect immediately, draining her of her power. She was still shaking. “He’s an ass to everyone, but he is sort of right. You’re dangerous.”
Dangerous. To the elf, this was a preposterous concept.
The elf turned to look at the woman. She opened her mouth to speak, but before anything could come out, she collapsed to the side, fortunately away from the area of the dirt where the contents of her stomach was festering in the sunlight. On top of physical exertion, the wards placed a heavy burden on the elf’s mind and she finally caved to the effort.
“Put her over the back of my horse. Cymeris isn’t far from here,” the leader instructed as he climbed onto his horse, a strong-looking animal with chestnut hair. The woman, along with the help of the two other armoured figures, lay the elf just behind the leader’s saddle, securing her hands and feet to the saddle bags. The rest of them mounted up and the group made their way away from the cave. The Darkwalkers would not be a threat from that cave for a few months at least.