Luca and Garron lived in the heart of the old human stronghold, south and east of the capital. To the North lie the great Dwarven mines within Mt. Gauseng, and at the base of that mighty mountain was Galgol, the center of all commerce in Sarin. Galgol was the most heavily populated city in the continent, and its many wares were shipped everywhere.

The arena where the Aetherstorm was to be held was located in the Shizo desert, north of Gauseng and the range that held it. The only way to cross the mountains into the harsh desert in the north was through the tunnel the dwarves had constructed at Galgol, so that is where Luca and Garron were heading.

Micah had taken them to Galgol once in their youth, so that they would know the way, but he warned them that humans were often not welcome in the great city, especially since the last rebellion. The dwarves did not bother to dispute the rule of the elves over Sarin anymore; they were far happier to profit by trading under the protection of the royal family. Accordingly, the numerous insurrections by the humans over the last century had drawn the ire of the dwarves and elves jointly, and between the magic of the elves, and the war machines of the dwarves, it was little wonder that the humans were now a scarce and persecuted minority in Sarin.

Luca and Garron had been safe in the forests to the south, hunting enough to live on, and rarely encountering the other races, but in the city, they would be a target for robbery or worse, just because of the shade of their skin and the shape of their ears.

It had been three days since they got clear of the forests and into the hill country. This region looked peaceful now, but that was only because the farms that once dotted these hills had been burned to the ground in the war. No one had rebuilt, because there was no one left to do any rebuilding. The countryside was now devoid of any sign of civilization except for the scars the war had left on the land itself. As Luca and Garron made their way across the fields and over the hills, they took care not to fall into one of the craters or trenches that had been torn from the earth by the dwarves as they marched against the humans.

When they stood at the crest of the tall hills here, they could see the mountains in the distance, and just make out the plume of acrid smoke that billowed perpetually from Galgol’s many factories and furnaces. To the West, they could now see the main road that connected Galgol to the capital, Cirroar. It wound through the hills rather than over them, and in this region was little more than a dirt path. Closer to either metropolis, one would find it paved ornately with fine cobblestones.

Luca squinted his eyes against the Sun, and saw a carriage rolling along the path, pulled by a team of four horses. Luca hadn’t seen a horse in person since before his father died. They were a scarce commodity in the human territories even before the war.

“Looks like a big shot rolling through,” Luca called out.

Garron was crouched down, skimming his spell book for something that would parch his thirst. He looked up sharply, “Everyone is a big shot compared to us, you dumb clod.” The insult lacked its normal good humor, as did Garron himself. He was still distraught over the loss of his mentor.

“Come on, bookworm,” Luca offered, extending his hand, “let’s get down to the road. It’s shady down there, and if you sit in the Sun any longer, I think you’ll dry up and blow away.”

Garron grunted a little as he stood and followed Luca down the hill, toward the road. After a few minutes, they were preparing to cross the trench that formed the barrier between the road and the fields on either side of it, when they nearly stepped on a group of elves.

“Halt!” One of them shouted, drawing an arrow back on his bow and aiming at Luca’s heart. Luca and Garron looked and saw that the trench was filled with elves, covered head to toe in green and black cloth. No wonder they had not seen them; they were camouflaging themselves. One of the elves turned and looked at them. Their faces were covered as well. These must have been bandits, Luca reasoned.

“Shut up, you fool,” the one who had looked at them said. The voice was delicate and very definitely female, but it spoke with authority. “Can’t you see they are humans? They are as much your ally as your foe. Turn your attention to the road, and leave these men alone.” The elf with the bow hesitated for a moment, but a glare from the lady saw him immediately turn his bow back toward the road. He was scared of her; that much was apparent to Garron and Luca as they stood, unsure whether or not they were free to go.

Before they had time to make up their minds, the sound of trotting hooves on the dirt interrupted them all. In a flash, the big shot carriage was before them, and the man with the bow had shot one of the horses, sending a red stain across the beast’s chest, and a flurry of alarmed curses from the driver of the carriage.

Suddenly a battle was under way right in front of Garron and Luca, between the elves in the trench and the elves now springing from the carriage. The horses were spooked and running, but not before one of the bandits from the trench had severed their connection to the carriage, leaving it stranded as the scared animals sprinted away.

Luca wondered who was in the carriage. He wondered what the woman meant when she called them allies. He did know one thing for sure: he loved horses. He always had, and anyone who shot an innocent animal was no ally of his.

As quickly as the battle had begun, Luca glanced at Garron, who nodded his understanding immediately. Garron began to murmur words that were foreign to Luca, and for his part, Luca leapt the trench and buried his sword in the back of the nearest bandit. He kicked the dead elf off of his blade, and turned his attention to a group of his allies, who were trying to pry open the door of the carriage. It appeared the elves who had sprung out to fight had locked something or someone inside behind them before they came out and met their demise. There were three living bandits left, all focused on the door. A ball of fire hit one of them square in the rump, courtesy of Garron. It sent him leaping and screaming away from the carriage for just a moment before Luca put him out of his misery.

Of the last two, one had the good sense to flee, but one drew a rapier and charged at Luca. Faced with the stronger, faster elf, Luca did the only sensible thing, as he saw it. He threw his sword straight into the charging bandit while he was still a ways off. The elf stopped in his tracks, spit a bit of blood out of his mouth, and then fell dead in the road.

“Ay!” Luca called as he wiped the blood from his word, “if there’s anyone in there, it is safe to come out, now. The bandits are dead, and we will do you no harm!”

A couple of minutes passed wherein Luca and Garron took a few gold pieces from the pockets of the bandits, and Luca added a couple of daggers to his collection. At about the time that they were ready to head toward the city and leave the carriage for someone else to find, a sharp click stole their attention. Whoever was in the carriage had unlatched the door. Both men stood still and waited for whoever was inside to reveal themself. The tension was so great that when the door finally swung open, Luca flinched a little.

From within the carriage came a voice with an odd accent, “If you shoot me, may there be a curse on your house worse than on the spawn of Sybilis himself.” The voice was definitely that of an elf, probably from the capital, Garron thought.

Suddenly an Elf sprang out of the carriage with two daggers raised at the air.

“I told you we weren’t going to hurt you, damnit. Stop acting like an idiot.” Luca chastised the elf, “Who are you? Why were these people after you?”

The elf didn’t answer Luca. Instead he turned his slender frame toward one of the fallen elves in the road. “Scora!” the elf cried. He fell to his knees beside the body, weeping, “Damn it all, Scora.”