The Runner On The Road
The sun would be setting shortly as a diminutive figure resembling a child came running over a small hill on the road between Shadowmire and Oliveloft. The road was lined by heavy oak trees on both sides. In many places the broad limbs of the heavy trees would hang over the road, creating a natural canopy. Moss hung down in sheets making the road seem frightening to a traveller, especially a solo explorer. A little farther off the road the ground became much softer and cypress trees took over. Eventually, the land disappeared altogether leaving only swampland on both sides of the path. The road was certainly the fastest way to travel, but not necessarily the safest.
Shadowmire was the kingdom of the therians. A therian was someone who could shift into the form of an animal or into a hybrid form which was a combination of animal and whatever race the person was to start. In that city a therian was given a chance to live a normal life. There were two kinds of therians; those who were born with the animal blood already coursing through their veins, and those who had become infected with the disease. Therians by birth were referred to as “true” therians. True therians generally grew up understanding the nature of their disease, for at least one parent had to be infected with the disease in order to transmit it to the child. Those who became infected later in life simply were not prepared for the changes their body would undergo during transformations. Generally, these people were not welcome in normal society. As with any kingdom, animal included, there were rules that had to be followed and people who needed to enforce those rules. A city full of werewolves, werebears, wererats, and nearly any other sort of animal was no easy place to keep safe. It was this fact which caused the creation of the Therian Council. The council kept the city running as well as most other cities in Delphia. Lately, however, strange things had been happening around the area. It was because of these oddities that the little gnome was now heading into Shadowmire.
Shadowmire’s closest neighbors were the gnomes of Oliveloft. The gnomes had been hearing reports of amassing armies and murmurs of a brewing war. Penn Darvel, the runner on the road, was going to find out if the rumors held any validity. Penn was average in nearly every way. He had traveled from Brentwood, a small village just south of Oliveloft. Brentwood was as average as Penn, and thus a perfect place for him to live. Oliveloft was the chief city of the gnomes. It was beautiful in its simplicity, blending nature and industry in such a way that would make both elf and dwarf proud.
Gnomes tend to keep to gnome business and doing so had not let them down in hundreds of years. So while the gnome city was abuzz with rumors, but they were short on any real facts or details. Penn and his family, the Darvelbustaganni’s, believed that a war was coming. Ignorance would not save them from the devastation of battle. Therefore, they decided Penn should travel to Shadowmire, a more diverse city, and seek out his old friend Attilla. Attilla had moved to the therian city when he discovered he had been born with therianthropy. As he grew into a young gnome, he also grew into his ability to control his animal form which was a wereporcupine. Attilla and Penn had been best of friends, and even though Penn understood why his friend had to leave, he hated it. The two had stayed in touch through letters for a while, but Attilla’s letters came less and less until finally they stopped altogether.
Penn, with the prodding of his parents, had sent a letter a few weeks earlier expressing his concerns and his desire to see Attilla. Although it had been years since they had written, Penn still held out hope that his friend would respond. His faith in his friend had proven worthy when he got a response quickly.
THE ONLY WAY TO UNDERSTAND THE GOINGS ON IN THE WORLD IS TO VENTURE OUT INTO IT. MY GUESS IS THAT YOU HAVE NOT GONE ANYWHERE TO VISIT, EXCEPT MAYBE OLIVELOFT (WHICH DOESN’T COUNT AT ALL). COME AND STAY WITH ME IN SHADOWMIRE. WE ARE HOSTING A FAIR SOON AND IT WOULD BE GREAT TO SEE A FAMILIAR FACE. YOU CAN LEARN ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE WORLD, BUT MORE THAN THAT, YOU WILL LEARN ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT YOURSELF. YOU ARE MISSED, MY FRIEND. YOU CAN FIND ME AT THE CRESCENT CRAWL TAVERN.
So Penn readied himself for his trip. He was nervous, to be sure. Attilla had been right, Penn had never gone anywhere but Oliveloft, a trip he made once again. He wanted to tell a few of his friends about the trip. All of the old gang missed Attilla, but none were ever as close as Penn to the therian. His friends doubted there would be any war, and even poked a bit of fun at Penn, calling him a warmonger. They sent well-wishes to Attilla, but Penn felt it was more for his sake that any real sincerity on their part. He needed supplies for his journey anyway, so it was not a wasted trip. Penn and his family were not wealthy, so he could afford only the bare necessities. As he walked the streets of Oliveloft, he took the city in. He breathed in the smells. He closed his eyes and simply listened to the sounds of the bustling city. Penn wondered if all the cities in Delphia were like Oliveloft. They were not.
Oliveloft was the epitome of charity and community. The entire city lived and breathed as one entity. No beggars walked the streets; for they were clothed, fed, and offered jobs or taught skills. Troublemakers found Oliveloft a tough place to make a coin, and generally didn’t linger. Gnomes weren’t willing to step over one another to further themselves. Community was always placed above self. Experiencing a city like Oliveloft only furthered Penn’s naivety. Gnomes here were kind-hearted and humble. War had never found the great hill of Oliveloft, but would find its inhabitants a worthy adversary. They knew how to protect their city.
There was no gnome king. Prophecy had spoken that a king would emerge at a time of great turmoil. He would ride into the city on the wings of a dragon and lead the gnomes to victory in the darkest of times. Many believed it, and many discredited it. The truth was that Oliveloft and the gnomes had thrived for ages without a king, and that was good enough for everyone.
Unlike Oliveloft, Shadowmire was a city of controlled rage; and that control was always precariously preserved. It was a melting pot of criminal activity. Although the newest king to the throne had brought a mild credibility to the city, it still had many years of work. King Jericho had set up the Therian Council. His council was to regulate all facets of Shadowmire and seek to achieve a peaceful existence with the surrounding cities. Thanks to King Jericho, the city was in a state of change for the better.
Dundersnuff, the dwarven mountain fortress, was completely at the whims of their king. Thaddeus Gladstone had recently become king when his father was killed by an ogre attack while on the road back from Pinevale. Dwarves are a tough and hardworking race. They have great loyalty to family and friends, although that friendship is generally hard to attain at first. The dwarves work so well together and follow instructions so keenly that they have created some of the most fantastic structures in the world. This natural unity also helps them boast the greatest military force. Dundersnuff has withstood many wars and has never fallen.
The elves, on the other hand, are far more independent. Each elf is encouraged to seek out whatever makes them happy as an individual. With their exceptionally long lifespan, the elves often change their profession a dozen or times. For this reason, the city of Alhaven has no large castles or elven made fortresses. Nature is at the core of elven society. They keep their structures simple and try only to amplify the natural order without cheapening its beauty. The elf king, Typherius Swiftsong, may suggest ideas but never imposes his will on the elves. Since the rumors of war have begun, the elves have all but disappeared into the forests of Alhaven. Some say the elves will not fight in any more wars. Others say they are simply gathering their army together. No one knows, yet everyone cares.
Humans are the most diverse race. The great citadel at Pinevale harbors the main concentration of humans, yet they have worked themselves into every corner of the world. The humans have high station in all of the major race’s courts. Grey Arrington is the human king, and he has done a fine job. He took over the throne at a very young age and is now in his early thirties. He is a wise man with good council around him. The humans are somewhat self-centered, but in a different way than the dwarves and elves. They do not have the extended life cycle awarded to the other races, and are therefore more apt to push themselves very hard to get what they want. Humans often surprise the other races with their tenacity. They are at their best in times of trouble, and troubling times seem eminent.
The halflings have no city to call their own. After the Halfling War the humans and the dwarves enacted the Insubordination Proclamation, which states the halflings are no longer allowed an area in which to fortify or build an army. This is because the halflings attempted to overthrow both Dundersnuff and Pinevale with the help of the trolls. They would have succeeded in seizing Pinevale had it not been for the unexpected help of the ogres. It has only been eleven years since the Halfling War and it is still a powder keg. Halflings are mistrusted, and that sort of excommunication only fuels their thirst for revenge. Although they are not allowed to officially recognize a king, everyone knows that Poffo Rossetti holds all the power in halfling business.
The gnome thought about all of these things as he travelled. The journey from Oliveloft to Shadowmire was a two day hike, and at this point Penn had already spent a night camping in the wild and had no desire to do so again. With the city only a few miles ahead, Penn decided to run the rest of the way. He loved to run, and he was great at it. While Penn ran, he had a sort of sixth sense. He could navigate a crowded street without slowing or sprint through a thick forest at twice the speed of his friends. It was as if the path would show itself to him in a way that eluded others, all he had to do was follow it. So he took off to attempt to make it to Shadowmire before it got too dark.
After about a mile of running, the sun had completely set. The darkness within the veil of trees was frightening, and the dangling moss was downright creepy. On a dark path in the middle of the swamp outside the therian city was no place for a solitary little gnome. It was no place for anyone who knew better, but Penn simply didn’t know the true danger of his situation. If he had known, he would have run in the other direction.