Part 1: Introduction
Prelude To Our Tale: A Magnificently Daring and Dangerous Escape
I could stand it no longer. My surroundings served only as a reminder of everything that had transpired. "I can run away," I thought. No sooner had I thought it than I began to plan it. I never belonged in this life anyway, and now I will make a new life... one of my own choosing.
I picked up anything in the house that I felt would fetch a substantial enough sum. Stuffing all of it into an oversized bag, I ran off to the nearest junk dealer and unloaded everything at once. I could've easily gotten more, but I was in a hurry. I'd heard there was a curious new flying machine called a zeppelin that would be leaving for Tarant later in the day. It seemed as though it was my only hope of leaving without being followed.
"I would like to purchase one ticket for the IFS Zephyr," I asked politely once I found the ticket counter.
The ticket seller seemed surprised, "One? Are you certain, madam? What about...?"
"I'm certain," I cut her off. "It's quite urgent and this is by far the fastest way to Tarant." She hesitatantly counted the gold pieces I'd placed on the counter in front of her and handed me my ticket in exchange. I thanked her and raced off to the zeppelin.
It was glorious. My heart caught in my throat when the zeppelin first rose off the ground, but soon excitement overcame my apprehension and I began to enjoy myself. I've done it. I'm free.
My fellow passengers had the kind of class that I could only buy temporarily, but they didn't seem to mind sharing my company regardless. I chatted with a girl named Victoria, the youngest of three pretty young daughters of the Warrington family. She wasn't quite so young as to be my daughter but it was close enough to bear consideration. She babbled on about adventures and various magicks for so long that it nearly put me to sleep. It was dreadfully boring, but the girl had always reminded me of the kind of person I had wanted to be when I grew up. She was enthusiastic and adventurous, excited for what the future might bring. Chatting with her felt almost nostalgic.
There was another girl by the name of Wilhemina that I'd known off and on in recent years. She couldn't stop yammering about the man she's going to meet when we arrive at Tarant. I'd met him a handful of times, a fragile young man by the name of Jared. He constantly had an expression that made it look as if his mother had just died. The whole thing made me want to roll my eyes, but then I also envied Wilhemina's innocence. Just because I was old enough now to be tired and bitter didn't give me the right to look down on those who still had their youthful naivete.
Even old Horace had a roguish charm about him. I found him rather attractive for a half-elf, but he wasn't around when I was younger so he didn't have the slightest idea about me. He bragged and bragged about his successful heists thinking to impress me. It was awfully charming, but if only he knew.... I made tentative plans to meet up with him later in his private cabin.
I tried to strike up a conversation with a few of the more dapper gents sharing a game of chess, but all I got in return was their subtle contempt. They barely paused from their game long enough to give me a disapproving stare and take another sip from their drinks. The nerve! Did they think that I wouldn't notice? It had always been like that since childhood, though. Is it really going to be so easy to escape who I am? I walked up to the bar intending on ordering a shot of whiskey, but then I thought better of it. The kind of people on this zeppelin weren't the kind to drink whiskey so I ordered wine instead. Upon tasting it I had to admit, the wine was exquisite. I'd always longed for such finery. I strolled out onto the deck to finish my glass while taking in the splendid view of the mountains. I'd probably never have another chance to experience any of this, so I had to make the most of it while it lasted.
If the shaking of the zeppelin hadn't caused me to drop my glass, the sight I saw outside certainly would have. My emotions were a tangled mix between wonderment at the strange flying machines zipping around the sky and horror at their attack. I'm going to die on this blasted thing.
Flames erupted on the deck of the zeppelin and quickly spread throughout the rest of the levels. The passengers below began panicked screaming while I merely looked after the strange machines, dumbfounded. It was as though a part of my mind desperately wanted to be more drunk than I'd had a chance to get before the end came.
One of the machines crashed into the zeppelin's port propeller, exploding in an instant. The sound was deafening, and the force of the explosion launched me nearly off the other side. I gripped onto a nearby rope for dear life, clinging to it desperately.
The remaining machine turned about to continue its attack on the zeppelin, determined to bring it down. I saw the pilot - a full-blooded ogre! I could see the crude bloodlust in his eyes for just a fleeting moment before the rickety contraption he was in exploded without cause. The flames leapt from his machine and onto the zeppelin, only speeding up the inevitable.
My only remaining prayer was that the frayed rope I clung to with white knuckles wouldn't light on fire before it snapped entirely. I'd much rather be splattered over a good rock than burned alive, especially wearing such a frilly dress. I've seen such things catch fire before and it's really quite the gruesome sight. I winced, thinking about it.
My train of thought was interrupted by the loudest, most horrible noise I have ever heard in my entire life. The sound of smashing glass, splintering wood, and snapping ropes wailed an unbearable cacophony as the zeppelin finally made its impromptu landing amidst the squat foothills. I closed my eyes and instinctively continued clinging to the rope.
I do not know how much time passed like that, but eventually the noise quieted down and I felt myself swaying gently in the breeze instead of being pulled mercilessly towards the ground. I opened my eyes to find myself hanging from that rope, mere inches above the ground, and the slightest bit of blood tricking down my wrists as a direct result of my vice-like grip. I slowly allowed my muscles to slacken and placed my feet on the ground.
The wreckage around me was a complete disaster. There were flames still billowing out of the zeppelin's broken windows and debris was littered all over the tiny valley it crashed into. "Help... Help me, please...", I heard a weak voice. It seemed to be coming from nearby, slightly further into the wreckage.
I grabbed ahold of a broken chunk of the zeppelin's hull and squatted underneath it. My arms flared up in intense pain when I tried to use them, still stiff from my clinging to the rope. Determined, I pushed harder and harder until at last the chunk of wood toppled over. I doubt old Merle would've been able to lift that, just goes to show being a proper lady isn't everything. Underneath the wooden chunk I saw an elderly gnome, gasping out his last breath before my very eyes.
"Oh thank you, my friend... I haven't got much time." His voice was weak and the strain of speaking caused him to go into a horrible coughing fit. I could tell at a glance that he was going to die, and soon. I pitied him. For his sake, the least I could do was listen to his last words. He seemed to think they were awful important and I was no stranger to the sight of death.
The little gnome shifted and his passport slid out of his coat pocket along with a book of matches. He reached out and pressed a ring into my palm. "You must find the boy... f-find the boy... and give him back his ring... and he will know what needs to be done." The next coughing fit was so horrendous that if I didn't know better I would've said he was faking. I was scared, not because he was going to die but because he didn't seem like he was being melodramatic.
"You must listen to me... we had to do it... he did unspeakable things to us... we... we had no choice but to do what he said... there are... so few of us left but the work is... almost finished and then... the evil... you can't imagine... he's... he's coming back to destroy everything... everything... and everyone..." Maybe he was being a bit melodramatic after all. I'd never died, so I couldn't really say what goes through one's mind when they do die. It would be a pretty good practical joke to play, I would think, and everybody would have to admit you got the last laugh. This is no joke. I felt a bit guilty for doubting the poor gnome.
"Please... just find the boy." He coughed again, lighter this time. His time was running out. "Tell him that I escaped... I came back to warn..."
Then his eyes glazed over and he stared up at the clear sky. I recognized that look as if I'd seen it a thousand times. It's not the kind of look you ever forget. "...he will know what to do. You, my friend... it's all up to... you." The gnome's body went slack. I placed my hand over his face and closed his eyes. Rest in peace, little gnome.
I caught a flash of motion out of the corner of my eyes. I quickly and instinctively stuffed the passport, matches, and ring into my pockets before looking up. I could see it more clearly now... there was a robed figure heading straight for me, striding with absolute purpose. Another survivor? No, nobody on the zeppelin was wearing a robe. I felt a lump forming in the back of my throat.
So much for that good start on my new life.