Mid-Morning, Eliza, November 17th, 499
Betting and gambling was something me and my buddies always loved to do on our off-time, or well, whenever the hell we felt like it. It was always a joyous time, our drunkenness paired with our competitive nature made for beautiful chaos that nothing else could replicate. This time, of course, was no different than the others. Already, most of my buddies were giggling and hiccuping from the excessive amounts of beer they downed within the last hour.
Tensions are high, dice roll across the stained oak wooden table with golden coins shimmering in stacks in front of us. If I can land just one more set, all that could be mine. I swear, if the dice fails me...no, it won’t fail me. My track record of winning these games has always been 50/50, but I have a gut feeling that the odds are in my favor.
After a failed attempt by one of my friends at making a stack, the dice were passed along to me. Three ivory dice lay in front of me, carved carefully from bone and painted with blood-red dyes to mark the numbers. Those three dice are what stand between me and being the richest lass in this whole barrack.
I cup my hands around the dice and scoop them up near my chest. I quietly whisper a prayer to Gaia--
I want money, dammit
--and then I release the dice. They clatter against the wooden surface, rolling out to different ends of the table.
One of my close friends, Adalbert, pushes the dice toward the middle of the table. We all curiously look at the results, bumping heads with one another.
“Not a set,” Adalbert concludes, flipping his curly black hair out of his eyes. He begins to push the dice toward the next person in line.
My face flushes with anger. I slump back into my seat, watching as the dice go around the room to the other 10 people I’m playing with. Sets were called by almost everyone around me, only further rubbing salt into the wound.
“Aye! You're on your 4th set Aldus,” Adalbert calls out after the dice make their way halfway around the table. He reaches over to give Aldus an aggressive pat on the back. He responds with his usual cheeky smile, that one with no thoughts behind the eyes.
I perk up as soon as I hear the news. That lad is one set away from taking the money, just as I was. Come on, meathead Aldus? He has to be rigging the game, there’s no way in hell he should be winning.
The dice were continuously passed around the table with more and more sets being called, up until it reached me. Once again, I take the ivory dice and fling them toward the middle of the 11 of us. I jump out of my seat to see the results. It seems I’m the first one to be curious about what they landed on.
“Mm, not a set,” Adalbert announces, shaking his head. He bundles the dice together and passes them down the table once more.
Embarrassment crosses my face. I quickly cover up my fear with a large sip of beer from a mug that’s near me. Is it mine? No, but I don’t care. The wimps here are drunk enough as is, you could say I’m doing them a favor.
As the intoxication rushes through my mind like a plague, it hits me. A sly smile forms on my face, and I slip my hands underneath the table. At last, I can finally pull out my favorite trick in the book.
A quiet fizzling sound begins near the center of the table, but nobody pays any attention to it. The quiet noise grows to loud sputtering, and at last, everyone at the table vaguely realizes what is going on.
“Stand back!” Adalbert demands, forcibly pulling the two closest to him out of their seats. The grown men flail backwards, falling off their stools and onto their asses. He grabs them by their collars and yanks them to a far wall.
I heed the warning, although my seat isn’t anywhere near the explosion radius. In a flash of light, the dice explode into beautiful hues of reds, yellows, and everything in between. Small sparks erupt from the explosion, charring the surface of the table and catching one of my buddy’s pants on fire.
I couldn’t help but laugh at the sight of everyone flailing around like chickens. The moment was so chaotic that nobody even took a moment to think of why the hell the dice exploded. I can be so damn smart when I wanna be.
Amongst all the chaos, another loud bang is heard. We all avert our attention to where the noise came from, the front of the room. The large, wooden doors that were once locked shut are now ajar with a familiar figure stoically standing amongst the smoke.
“What in sweet Gaia’s name is going on here?!” the person demands, waving his hands to clear the smoke. “What have I told you fools about slacking off?”
Adalbert blushes, rubbing the back of his head. “Commander, we were just taking a small break. I swear we were just leaving before the explosion happened- I-“
The smoke clears, revealing a tall, strongly built man with a scarred face and piercing blue eyes. His black hair is cropped short, revealing scars and burn marks all around his tanned head. He is the commander of the fire sector, everyone’s favorite asshole.
The commander slams his fist against the wall, motioning to Adalbert to hush. “Enough. Go do your jobs, you’ll need the payment to make up for this exploded table. How dare you vandalize the property the queen has so graciously granted to you all? You should be ashamed of yourselves.”
His voice was always gruff and aggressive with no room for sympathy. I never cared for that man. If you’re gonna boss us around, you at least gotta respect us. I hate when people demand respect from me but never return the favor. It’s like we are nothing more than little lads to him.
As I stand there with a scowl on my face, the commander takes notice of me. “Soldier Ivybrook, why aren’t you out getting the queen’s items?”
I slowly turn my gaze towards him, picking at a scab on my face. “Huh, what stuff?” I ask with a blank expression.
What the hell is he on about…
His eyes darken. “You fool, the swords and potions she ordered 3 days ago! You’re supposed to be in Southern Alai right now, why the hell are you still here? Once again, you choose to be a lousy and…”
As the commander spoke, the angelic princess Irisina passed behind him, and my was she captivating. Her beautiful, brunette tight curls against her golden skin paired with those emerald eyes, she looks like a painting. Her white nightgown billows in the light breeze passing through the open halls. She was like a ghost, a beautiful apparition. I lean over the commander to watch her pass, giving a sheepish grin as she waves to me. Soon, she leaves my sight, and my face returns to its original scowl.
“IVYBROOK! FOCUS! ARE YOU REALLY THAT INCOMPETENT? JUST BEHAVE!” the commander yells in my ear, causing me to falter and eventually stumble backward. Within seconds, a good bit of the other soldiers begin to laugh at the situation. Do I care that he called me incompetent? No, he does that to everyone, but something was bothering me.
It feels familiar again. This keeps happening, and I don’t know why. Time slows close to a stop, the laughs fade into a grumble. That gross, vile feeling goes up and down my throat as I press myself back against the wall. I notice the feeling of the brick behind me, the cold, the roughness.
“Fine,” I say at last. “Give me a list and I’ll leave, just...stop yelling, you’re killing my eardrums loudmouth.”
The commander opens his mouth, presumably to flame me, but instead, he hesitates. He mumbles something to himself and shakes his head. The only thing I could make out was “it’s not worth it.” Yeah yeah I know, I’m too good at winning arguments for you to even think about trying to pick one with me.
“Queen Aerick primarily requests you pick up her head general’s order for a new set of swords from Ausmedas blacksmithery,” the commander begins, pulling out a map as he speaks. He sets it up against the wall and points to a location near the outskirts of Gian, a Southern Alai kingdom against the northern border. The trip was already going to be long, the extensive boat ride west across the Alainian sea and the long horse ride up to Gian would at least take a few weeks or so if I got lucky with the pass over. After a small pause, the commander continues his explanation. “However, she also wants something for herself personally from Greenwood Forest, from that shabby little cart and that senile old man.”
“Magic Man’s Cart?! Oh my god, am I actually goin’ to the magic man’s cart?” I chime in, gazing at a small clearing in Greenwood Forest, a large forest on the western outskirts of the Alai mainland. I always adored that place for as long as I could remember. It’s one of the few places you can buy stuff in Greenwood Forest, and I love that silly old man that runs it.
The commander pauses for a moment, looking up at me. “Uh, yeah, I suppose so, if that’s what you call it. She says that as long as you say you’re there for Queen Aerick of Asay, you’ll get the items. For your weak memory, this should work in your favor.” I laugh a bit, but his stern face with those deep, creased eyebrows leads me to believe he wasn’t trying to joke around.
“They’re fragile, so if you dare break any of it, you have to go back to get replacements. Oh, and it’s coming out of your paycheck. You’re already in debt, so you best be careful. Unless you really do want to spend the rest of your days cleaning out the dungeons,” he concludes, rolling the map back up. “Be back by the end of the month. If you aren’t, you will be presumed dead.”
I sighed, reluctantly nodding. Only 25 days to get from the utmost eastern area of the country to the utmost western area, seems totally fair to me.