On the plains of the Realm’s most rugged and frozen territory, at the southern edges of the valleys and rolling foothills that lie behind the great food producing fields and soils of the Great Southern Valley, lies a small fort. By Celn standards, Akra is nothing more than a waypoint, a literal rest stop on the way to grander places. It’s purpose, unlike other Celn cities, towns or hamlets wasn’t one of opportunity. Most Celn communities began where resources made the living profitable. Often, a ruin nearby yielded Kasillian magic, or the land itself provided necessities a growing civilization needed. Not Akra. For you see, Akra had one sole purpose, and that purpose was survival. Akra was built to keep the sinister races at bay. Situated smack dab on a bottleneck of run off valleys from the Inpenetrable Mountains beyond, Akra was made to send a message. A message to much more savage things that lived beyond and below. A message perhaps some said to Ket itself. This is our land, go back.
The morning air was cold as a lone figure made it’s way up the last stretches of hill toward’s the fort’s North East gate. It was only one of two accessible entries to the heavily fortified structure. Thick massive walls stood majestically like the mountains behind them, the mountains that protected most of it’s perimeter from possible intruders. These walls, though were made by Celn hands, or rather mostly Celn hands. Like most of Cellinor, the fort was built upon the defenses of an ancient Kasilian site. Ruins renovated as the King often called it. The wind bit into exposed flesh and made brushing noises from each of the many gusts that blew against the outside of scarfs, furs, and skins, the layers used to keep the elements away. Dense and cold, like walking under a frozen lake, the chill made the bones ache and the muscles work slowly.
Ahead, the gleaming turrets of Akra appeared first over the rise. The fortress loomed before the figure, itself large and massive. Inside, there would be a whole garrison of the King’s Shield, as well as the associated entourage, that might be willing to trade wares, to turn items and things into hard gold, the only real currency that mattered in the more Lighted cities. The smells of cooking rippled through the air. A warm meal. In these lands, a meal like that like gold itself awaited the proud owner of something valuable in their possession they wished to give up. Possibilities for trade and adventure, always something new as the fort hosted other civilians as well. Akra may have been a dot on the map of Cellinor, but to a cold traveler after a long journey it’s towers were a very welcome sight indeed.
The well layered figure extended two long and coated arms, one to either side. Even beneath the rags and things, one could tell they were well muscled and strong. With the arms outward, it reached up to pull other layers upon it’s top off. In so doing, a small little figure was revealed, sitting atop the shoulder of another, much more giant one. To a Celn who had not spent much time away from one of the points of light within the realm, it might appear as a little miniature verson of a person resting atop the shoulders of another much more mighty person. Perhaps a child being carried by their father. Both frozen, with ice and snow clinging to their layers, a small little hat atop the child, glass beads and small bags dangling from the robes of the mightier one.
A small voice, sharp, high and artfully intoned spoke from under the tiny hat. Unlike a child though, it was clearly someone with the wit and sarcasm of an adult. Below it, two little hands gripped the head of something that unlike a child’s father, now appeared to be the head of a huge lizard. In place of a head that should have belonged to a creature walking on two legs, this head was that of a beast, making the figure look like half a beast, and half a man.
“What is this place?” asked the inquisitive little voice. “I still cannot see very well, and you are not telling me what is going on Ares!”
The head turned and twisted upwards towards the little creature atop it, but like a child unintentially playing peekaboo, the figure turned with the motion too. This frustrated the larger of the two and it’s lizard like snout gave a rough snort. A small burst of fire blew out of it’s nostrils. The fire illuminated the sun’s rays and the scales upon it’s head dazzled with a metallic appearance, like that of brass. The snout opened, and so also did two little reptilian eyes above it. They squinted in a way that looked a lot like a child about to disobey it’s parent. Then it spoke. It’s voice was gruff, and harsh. “Gerrell, I have carried you through these frozen lands for a reason. Do not make me regret doing so!”
“Are all these surface dwellers like you?” asked the little man named Gerrell.
“No. I’m far worse,” said the dragon-man and he lifted the dark little creature off his shoulders. The little man had called himself a “gnome”, said he was from a land of darkness. That had intrigued Ares. Perhaps, this was a Ketian. If so, he imagined that Ket was a much less serious threat than anyone drunk and talking spoke about over an ale.
The little gnome found his footing, and hobbled over to the entryway. It was clear that he had an injury of some kind. “Are all your fortresses guarded by dead bodies?” He asked Ares.
Ares walked over as well, and peered in at the empty gate shack, the lowered drawbridge. Bodies lay everywhere, amongst the buildings and in the plazas. There was no sign of life.
“Caution,” said Ares, who picked up the little man once more. He knew that despite his lack of concern for this creature, or for others in the world generally, that his powers were incredible. With him aloft, he made for a mighty foe to his enemies, he was now freakishly powerful.
Freak the Mighty should our name be. He smirked at the thought. And with the gnome guiding him, he stalked among the buildings, looking for answers to what had happened to this place. But also for treasure. The treasure that once belonged to the dead, had no equal.
*Freak the Mighty is the title of a terrific children’s novel. Written by Rodman Philbrick. I use the name here for this fictional character duo, and give full credit to the author for creating that wonderful duo found within his book.