Zeke took five minutes to get dressed. He found the cleanest pair of pants he could find. He found a suitable dark gray shirt that didn’t make his white skin look completely pasty. He ran a comb through his thick and curly brown hair; it didn’t make his hair look any less like a bird’s nest. It behaved better when it was wet. He packed a few changes of clothes, which he admitted needed to be washed, but he was sure that they would find a stream wherever they were going. He had a passing thought that he should have asked them where they were headed before he agreed to go with the mysterious duo waiting for him downstairs. He would ask them later.
When he had packed as many clothes as he could into his travel bag, he walked downstairs to greet his new travel buddies. As he surveyed the shop, he looked on the table and saw that Gresar’s spell book was sitting there. Zeke had brought it out of his master’s hiding place after Gresar left so that he could practice higher level spells without supervision. Zeke thought it best to take the book with him just in case he needed it. He also didn’t want it to go missing should he leave it in the shop while he was gone. He wasn’t stealing it; he was being responsible. He shoved the book into his travel bag and gave the two a sign that he was ready to go.
The three of them left the shop and entered the hot spring day outside. Zeke locked the door behind them. He also cast a locking charm that would jolt any ne’er-do-well who wanted to break in. He readjusted the travel bag on his back and joined the adventurers in the street.
Zeke couldn’t contain his excitement. He was going to be on a real adventure! He was going to… He didn’t know what he was going to do. He supposed that now was a good time to get some information.
“Just where are we going?” Zeke asked.
“We’re going to your pub to find our other friend,” the woman said.
“Another friend? I don’t even know your names.”
The woman looked behind her and smiled at Zeke. “My name is Rafe Delsani, and my friend here is Simon Hellsburg. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
Zeke nodded his head at them both. “My name is Ezekiel Martens, but you can call me Zeke.” He was having trouble keeping up with them. The two of them were talking long strides while Zeke was having difficulty making a single stride. He surmised that he packed too many clothes in the bag. He would have to downsize when he got the chance.
Rafe led them to the local pub called The Mutton Chop where most of the travelers to Valora would stop to have a few drinks. Zeke wasn’t much of a drinker so he never frequented this place. The pub smelled of alcohol and sweat. The people looked like they hadn’t seen a drop of bathwater in a long time. They didn’t care. They were having a good time.
Rafe and Simon led Zeke to a table where a young woman was sitting with three older men. The young woman had short red hair that was covered under a black bandana, a low cut blue top that well than accentuated the bountiful bosom she possessed. Zeke assumed that it was her that they were there to see.
“Time to go, Moralie,” Rafe said.
“Hold on a second,” Moralie Grey said. She had three upside down red cups on the table. She picked one up and revealed a gold coin underneath. She smiled at the men and placed the cup back on the table. “This is all or nothing, boys. You in?” The three men nodded. She quickly moved the cups around on the table, crisscrossing their paths, humming as she performed. She slowed the cups down before rearranging them in a line. “Which is it?”
The men whispered amongst themselves before they chose a cup. One of them said that it was always the middle. Another man said that the former didn’t know what he was talking about. The third man made up his mind and pointed to the cup on their right. Moralie smiled as she raised the desired cup. There was nothing underneath. The three men groaned loudly.
“Sorry, boys. Them’s the breaks.” Moralie packed up the cups and the gold coin, which was underneath the middle cup, and stood up from the table. “It’s been fun. I’m going to enjoy spending all of your money.” She picked up her bag and the sound of coins jingling together was heard. She blew the men a kiss and joined Rafe and Simon.
The men stood up from the table and said, “We want our money back!”
“And I want to be the queen of Aurelis, but that’s not going to happen,” Moralie replied, not even looking back. “Don’t be sore losers. You had every chance to win your money back, but you just didn’t have what it took.”
The sound of swords being unsheathed caused everyone to get quiet. Rafe and the others stopped walking away and stood still. They slowly turned around and stared at the three men and their swords. Simon smirked, Rafe readied her sword, Moralie pulled out a dagger. Zeke watched this slightly with interest and slightly with fear.
“We don’t take kindly to thieves,” the man in the middle said. He took a step forward and brandished his blade. “Give us what you stole and we’ll let you leave.”
“I didn’t steal anything, you gladly gave it to me,” Moralie said, holding up a coin purse. “And it’s impolite not to accept gifts, but if you really want it back so badly, you’re going to have to come and get it.”
“I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t start bar fights in every town we go to.” Rafe sighed.
“Sorry, boss,” Moralie said. “Can’t be helped.”
Rafe pulled out her sword and braced for impact.
The three men rushed them. Zeke found a large man to hide behind. Rafe and the man in the middle, a large, bearded man, hairy arms, smelled rotten, clashed swords. They tried to outweigh each other; the bearded man won. Rafe was shoved into the man that Zeke was hiding behind. She swung her right fist and hit the man in the face. He stumbled backward and clutched his face, surprised. Before he could ready himself, Rafe knocked the sword out of his hand with hers and pointed the blade at his neck.
“I concede,” the bearded man said.
Moralie had pinned the thin, bald man up against the wall with her array of daggers. The man looked scared as he looked down at the dagger that was mere inches from his manhood. “I do, too!”
Zeke looked over to Simon and saw that he hadn’t moved. He was just staring at the short fat man, daring him to make a move against him. His look was enough to paralyze him into inaction.
“I’m done,” the short fat man said. He dropped his sword to the floor.
Zeke came out of hiding and smiled meekly. He couldn’t believe how quick everything had happened. He was impressed and a little disappointed that it was over. He wanted to learn how to kick butt like that, too. Maybe he could get one of them to teach him the way.
Rafe put her sword away and chuckled at the poor excuse of a man. She turned away from him and proceeded to walk out of the pub. Moralie retrieved all of her daggers and followed Rafe out of the pub. Simon snapped his fingers and the short fat man fell to the floor, whimpering sadly. Simon grinned as he left. Zeke humbly followed behind him.
The four of them stood outside of the pub and breathed in the fresh air. They didn’t know how bad it smelled in there until now. They all hoped that they could wash the stench off of them.
“Let’s get our horses,” Rafe said, walking down the busy street. “Zeke, I hope you can ride a horse.”
“Horse back riding is a skill every boy in Valora must have,” Zeke said with pride, though he didn’t admit that it was a skill that he rarely used so he was a bit rusty.
“Good, we’ve got a hearty horse for you.” Rafe laughed as she thought of the horse she had in mind for him. “He’s a bit wild, but I’m sure someone like you can deal with it.”
“Sure thing,” Zeke said, gulping.
The four of them walked in silence as they passed the busy merchants hawking their wares. Zeke passed the pastry shop and desperately wanted to buy a dozen danishes of various flavors. His stomach reminded him that he had not eaten breakfast yet. He wanted to ask Rafe and the others if it would be alright, but they were leaving him behind, intent on getting to the stables where their horses were kept. Zeke sighed and continued to follow them.
When he caught up, he decided now would be the best time to ask them what the quest was.
“We’re going to find the Alta Stone,” Moralie replied, twirling one of her dagger between her fingers.
Zeke gasped in surprise and excitement. “The Alta Stone? That thing has been missing for centuries! No one knows where it is! Some say that it is at the bottom of the Viridian Sea. Some say that it’s at the top of a volcano in the Tybalt Kingdom! Some say…”
“Some say you talk too much,” Simon interrupted.
“Ha ha ha, you’re real funny,” Zeke said with mock laughter.
“We know exactly where it is.” Moralie tossed the dagger into the air and then caught it. “We consulted an oracle and she told us where to find it.”
“Where is it?” Zeke couldn’t resist asking.
“Mount Rialto,” Rafe replied.
Zeke gasped again, this time out of horror. “Mount Rialto? You mean Mount Death?”
Mount Rialto was a place that was well known to the people as an evil place full of demons and dragons and a sundry of unpleasant beings. Most people who had ventured to go there never returned, and those that did were never the same again. Most of them were now babbling idiots that sat in the corners of pubs and drooled on themselves. Zeke wasn’t sure which fate was worse, but he supposed that he was going to find out.
Next episode: The quest gets under way and Zeke engages in some horse play.