Alsi, land of Fire-Forests…
In a struggling village…
“Ehehehe, got another one”
Blackened fingertips plucked a squirming diamond spider from its silver web, taking great care not to damage it at all. For all the care that was taken, the spider wasn’t happy about this at all, nor was it well pleased to be placed inside a metal tube. Still, everything wasn’t all bad, there were holes in the tube for breathing at least.
“Got enough now I think, don’t worry little friends, I’ll put you back soon”
Leaning up from the silver web was a human with long pointed ears, some manner of elf. It was clear to the eye what kind of elf the old man was. His skin was black and cracked, exactly the texture of charcoal, ash even falling from his body.
Raityne, Cinder elves. One of the gazed races, those who’s descendants were, depending on who you ask, either blessed or cursed by the gaze of the Dragon Sun, Zhulougr.
As with all his kind, he was devoid of hair and his forehead had a cross-like puckered cleft. Within the centre of that cleft, was a black bead. The Raityne cast no shadows, for that black bead is what became of their shadows, and it is by that they survived the brutal toxins of young Sunder. It is said that the bead acts as a third eye, giving insight beyond the material, but if it is so, then for many, and for this old man, it is a closed eye.
He wore trousers roughly made from the hide of some scaled beast, and his boots were hewn of metal lined with fur. The boots, due the years of care, had not one bit of rust. Elastic suspenders held his trousers up. The suspenders were likely also made from some savage beast or fiend. Tied onto these were pouches and tubes. His chest was bare apart from this.
Though an old man, and a wizened cinder elf, his stick-like body still showed strong muscle. He leaned back from the dark corner of his shack, from which he had just plucked the spider and grabbing an orange leather coat with metal plates, he left his bare hovel.
Dust as always swirled about the single street of the village. Shacks like the one he came from leaned against each other, as if together they would not fall apart. Or perhaps, had they not been together, they would indeed have fallen apart.
Surrounding the dirt road and the village was a forest of trees with bark no blacker than the old man’s skin. The leaves of these trees were flames, and in contrast to the state of the sleepy village, they danced with vigor, reaching to the skies and the noxious mist above.
Zhulougr still shone brightly through the mist, but then, considering that the Shroud had passed not long ago, it was still what counted for morning in Sunder. As the old man walked down the street, he passed by the village’s lone saloon. A building which had more bone than timber in its making.
Sitting outside, crosslegged and smoking a pipe of who-knows-what that gave off blue smoke, was the owner himself. Somehow, in spite of being a raityne himself, he was a little pudgy. His clothes, though drab grey were actually silk. Upon his head was a hat that was like an upside-down dish of woven red straw. He slowly blew a cloud out of his mouth and smiled at the sight of the old man.
“Going out again?”
“Ehehehe, I just can’t get enough” the old man replied.
“Yer worse than me and my gas, take care of yourself, ya hear me? Rangers been saying everything’s quiet, but you can never be too careful”
“Aww, yer more as like to die from yer gas than I am going out into the wilds”
“Tch, ‘pose that’s what I get for worrying about a withered branch like youse.”
“Just right, I’ll petrify long after yer gone! I’ll take good care of the saloon if youse want me to!”
“G’wan, get! Who’d leave anything to an old rogue like you? I’ve a wife and kids!”
“I’ll take care of dem too!”
“Aye, after you lose your arms and legs to the beasts in the wilds, you’ll care for me wife and kids with your eyelids. Yer a gentleman, go go”
Shaking his head, the saloon owner managed to get up and return to the inside of the saloon.
As the old man continued down the street, he was accosted by a savage band of bandits! Not one of them came up much further in height than his knee, and all wore hooded ponchos of various materials, such as scaly hides, wool, or cloth. Each was lovingly made by their mothers! They were not bandits after all, but the young children of the village.
“Ehehehe, what does the band of thieves want with me today?” the old man asked.
The children looked at each other, and the current ringleader (as determined by game of tag) stepped forth.
“We, uh, we wanna see the spiders again!”
“Hoh? So you want to see the spiders? Well, I could show you…”
The old man stepped closer to the ringleader and then lunged, sweeping his hand at the poor kid’s ear.
“…but you’ve a spider just here making a home in your ear!”
He displayed a diamond spider held gently in his fingertips.
The children squealed in dismay at the newfound existence of ear-spiders and fled in all directions, shaking their heads in case they too had spiders. Laughing, the old man placed the spider back in the tube he had taken it from.
“A lot more of em these days. Gonna be a lot of mouths to feed” he mumbled as he left the village.
It was dark under the acid, the light of Zhulougr did not cast far. Obscure lumps floated here and there, amid this, the bones bobbed in the current. Metal-like coral grew on both rock, bone and the more obscure matter that resisted the corrosion of the toxic waters. Things that bore a passing resemblance to fish swam lazily. A shadow followed them, stalking, shifting from bone to bone, coral to coral, keeping close to the loose bed of the acid lake.
It was biding its time. Closer. Closer.
Too far and it would fail to close the distance. The fish were slow, but they were not that slow.
When lacking in speed, patience is one of the greatest virtues of a hunter. Our shadowy predator was not lacking in patience. It was a being that would wait for days in one place if it thought that a meal would result from the wait. Not perhaps the smartest of creatures.
Feelers twitched in the acid, it felt that the fish were close enough, but just as it was about to move, the prey were spooked by something, and fled into various crooks in the coral. The hunter froze. It was aware that it could easily become the prey of something else.
Yet everything was quite still. The hunter took a risk.
A single compound eye opened up and twitched. The creature normally kept the eye closed because of the orange glow it had. What it saw was thin silvery brilliance! Disregarding all else, the hunter rushed out before this enticing prey could escape and bit down and grabbed with its claws. A moment later and the hunter realised its mistake.
It was not a highly nutritious and thin eel! It had bitten on something that stuck in its maw, that bonded to its claws! It thrashed in rage at being cheated, but very quickly rage turned to panic as it felt a great strength from the silver thing, an upward pull! It struggled but the strength was wily and used its struggles against it.
The hunter was drawn closer and closer to the surface! It could not escape! It had become prey!
With a laugh the old man jerked his sliver thread and his catch broke the surface of the acid, sending a deadly spray of the dread waters flying. He slammed it against the lake shore, and taking a rock he had placed earlier he brained the catch! The catch itself was a ghastly creature with a white human-like flabby face, the rest of the body was covered in muddy shell, it was not unlike a one-eyed man-faced lobster.
Taking out a tube, the old man put the spider he had been drawing thread from back inside and then he took out a new tube and a new spider, teasing the poor thing to produce thread and then casting the line into the lake.
“Think I’m lucky today Ehehehe, gonna get a big catch, big catch”
The old man continued his hobby until he got the feeling sticking around any longer would lead to getting eaten.
He was of course, warmly welcomed back at the village.