Chapter 1: The Runaway

Alanas shifted in her seat, her nerves eating away at her. She poked at her food once more, doing this for almost an entire half hour. Her mind was elsewhere at the moment and it had no time for an appetite.

"You alright there, missy?" At the sound of a voice being so close to her, the young woman jumped. When she turned towards the voice, she saw the tavern's owner and bartender standing there.

He was an Orcish man, tall and decently strong looking despite his protruding gut, and even though his face was rugged and scarred, his smile was too kind.

"Ah, sorry. I'm… I'm fine." The young woman responded. She glanced back and forth between the map spread across her table and the large man. The man, noticing her wavering attention, spoke up.

"Heard you were lookin' for a guard." He said with a grin. Alanas's attention focused back on him at the mention of a guard, and she nodded.

"Yes, I am looking to get to Celeste. I wish to pass through the Twin Peaks so that I can arrive as soon as possible." She drew a path along the parchment through the mountain range and tapped at the city's name. The Orcish man pinched his chin in thought.

"The Twin Peaks, huh?" When Alanas nodded once more, he let out an amused huff. "If you're so sure, then I suggest asking that sellsword over there." The bartender jutted his thumb over to a table in the back of the tavern. Alanas's eyes followed it to a person clad in full steel plating, staring down a mug of ale.

"Oi! Sellsword! Come 'ere! This lady's lookin' for a guard!" The bartender hollered as he pointed at the much smaller woman.

"You're calling her over here already?" Panicked, Alanas bit her bottom lip as the armor-clad person slowly rose to their feet and made their way to her table. The bartender simply laughed to himself and walked back to the bar with a small wave goodbye.

For Alanas, talking to sellswords was different from talking to knights. Sellswords weren't as loyal as knights, only doing the minimum to get paid. Knights, on the other hand, followed a code.

Alanas grimmaced as she soon remembered the last sellswords that she had spoken to earlier and how rude they were to her. At one point, a man had the audacity to try and rob her blind only a few days ago!

"Leena." The armored one stated, their voice gruff yet light. Alanas's attention was torn away from her countenance to glance the other over. The sellsword's armor was more weathered and worn up close, scratches and dents decorating the metal. Alanas glanced up at the much taller person to attempt to see their face behind their helmet, but nothing could be seen. The person took a seat across from Alanas. When they noticed that Alanas was just staring blankly at them, they spoke up once more.

"The name's Leena." The armored person spoke again. Alanas soon realized that this person was a woman. Alanas blinked a few times.

"Oh, um, greetings, Leena. I am Alanas. It's a… pleasure to meet you."

"What's the job?" Leena's monotone voice called out. Alanas felt her face involuntarily squish.

Sellswords are all the same. She thought. They'd rather get to their money as soon as possible. They don't even have the decency to make light conversation.

"I just need you to be my guard as I travel to Celeste." Alanas slid her map towards Leena, showing her the marked route. Leena glanced down at the map, her attention immediately being drawn to the Twin Peaks.

"We can't go through the Twin Peaks. The bandits and their leader reside in that area, as well as other dangers. Unless you plan on buying thirty more sellswords, we aren't going that route." Leena stated as she pointed at the map.

Alanas let out a tired sigh. She already knew that going through the mountains was dangerous, but it was the quickest route to get to Celeste, and going around the Twin Peaks would raise her chances of being caught by the Dragon Guard.

"Please, I need to get to Celeste as fast as possible." Alanas begged the other woman. "I can pay really well - 100 gold pieces." The younger woman added, hoping that the promise of more gold could sway her. The armored one eyes Alanas for a moment.

"Why?" Leena began.

"What do you mean, 'Why'?" Alanas said with a sour expression.

"Why do you need to get there so quickly? If your reason is good enough, then I'll take the job." Leena stared into Alanas's eyes, searching for any lie that she could find.

Alanas shifted more in her seat. Should she really tell this random sellsword the truth? Or should she just make something up? Telling Leena the truth might lead to Leena taking her back to her parents for an even bigger reward.

"I'm… running away from my family. I know that they've sent others to return me to my home. I don't want them to catch up to me." Alanas's head fell down towards the map, her eyes turning to where her home resided. Leena thought for a moment.

"Alright." Alanas's head shot up as she watched Leena stand up, staring down at the girl, standing at least two head above her. Then, Leena knelt down to one knee.

"I, Leena Grayflame, vow to bring you to Celeste safely."

Alanas could only stare at Leena, caught completely by surprise, and for a quick second, she smiled.

Gnel Shix, a little goblin, rummaged around through a small wagon by the town's local tavern.

"I am a good goblin." Gnel grins to himself. "Thieves steal money but I only take food. That makes me a good goblin." He states matter-of-factly as he opens a crate containing dozens of fresh apples. As he goes to grab one, Gnel's ears ring with the chime of shifting armor. Not wanting to be caught, Gnel swiftly crouched further into the wagon.

"Do you really think that she went this way?" A deep voice questioned.

"Of course. What do you think the spell called 'find object' does?" A second, higher pitched voice responded, tainted with annoyance.

"Don't get smart with me, mage." The deeper voice growled.

"Look, I'm just saying. So long as she has her necklace on, it should track her. Once we get her back to that gilded cage of hers, you can go back to whatever you knights do and I can continue with my things, alright?"

Gnel's blood began to boil. There was one thing that he hated in the world more than anything and those were cages - and he hated snakes a lot! Gnel peeked out from his cover to look at the two cage people.

There was a tall goliath standing at at least two Gnels tall. His skin was completely white except for his black markings. He wore armor that was completely green, made of pretty green scales. The other was a short man with large, round glasses sitting on his nose. His robe was the same green color as the goliath's scales, and there was a symbol of a dragon over where his heart was. The goblin watched as the two stopped walking for a second.

"The princess is nearby. Keep an eye out for her while I set up the call, Regs." Using his good, smart brain, Gnel figured that they short man was Wells and the bigger man was Regs. Furrowing his brows, Gnel leapt out from the wagon and pointed his small knife at the two, an apple still in hand.

"You will cease with your cage nonsense!" Gnel cried out.

"What in the world-" Wells turned toward the goblin, but unfortunately Gnel was louder.

"You people know nothing of the life inside of cages! Yet you put others in them! It's terrible, awful, horrible!" Gnel spat.

"Is that a goblin?" Wells squinted at the little goblin, pushing up his glasses to get a better look at the situation.

"Look out! He has a knife!" Before either Wells or Gnel could react, Regs charged at the goblin and swung his club. Once the club connected with Gnel's body, he was sent flying through the air.

Glass shattered as the little goblin crashed through the window of the tavern, making all of the patrons glance over. Alanas was the only one to run towards the injured Gnel.

"Oh my gracious, are you alright?" The woman placed a hand on the goblin's arm.

"They're coming… to put the princess... In… cage..." Gnel spoke, dazed.

Immediately, Alanas turned to Leena with a frightened expression on her face, her skin turning paler. Leena, noticing the fear in her employer's eye, stands at the ready with her spear in tight grip and she positions herself in front of the young woman.

Just then, the front door of the tavern swings open, breaking off at a hinge or two, to reveal a large silhouette of a man - no, a goliath prepared for another attack.

"Get back here you little gremlin! I'm not finished with you yet!" As the goliath says this, Wells steps beside him. His bespectacled eyes scan the tavern, almost uninterested with those within, until his gaze falls onto Alanas. His eyes widen as he places a hand on his partner's arm.

"Wait. Wait, wait, wait! Regs, ignore the goblin and look! There she is!" Both of the newcomers' eyes flickered to Alanas who shrunk behind the massive body of Leena's armor. Wells stepped forward, putting on a brave face whilst straightening his back. Swinging an arm to the side, the mage began to speak.

"Move, sellsword." He demanded. "We're here for the girl."

Leena eyed the two through her helmet, studying as much as she could of the pair. Then, she tilted her head up higher.

"As her hired sellsword, I will ask you to leave. She no longer requires the protection of her family." Leena's response was as unwavering as a mountain, yet it only made the mage grit his teeth with anger.

"Then you shall die a meaningless death." Wells pointed an open palm at Leena before closing it into a fist, reciting magic words. Immediately afterwards, Regs, the Goliath, charged at her. Leena went to dodge the man, but soon found that she could not, just as Regs closed the distance between. He slammed his club into the side of Leena's head, knocking her helmet off.

"What the Hells?" Wells took a step back as widened eyes stared at the sight before him. Leena's skull, cracked from the impact, slowly turned towards the two to stare right at the mage with her empty eye sockets.

"Regs get it-!" Wells was cut off short as pain shot up his leg, causing him to yelp. Snapping his head towards his leg, he found that there was a goblin latched onto his ankle… with his teeth.

With Wells's concentration gone, his spell dissipated and Leena was able to regain control of her body once more. She slowly rose onto her feet, and then caught Regs' club in one of her hands as he attempted another swing.

"That's enough." She said, yanking the weapon out from the man's grip. Tossing the club in the air, Leena caught it by its handle and immediately swung at the Goliath's head, subsequently knocking him unconscious.

While this happened, Wells growled bitterly as he kicked the goblin off of his leg. Gnel, the goblin, landed unceremoniously on his back on the worn wooden floor. Wells, turned towards the creature, about to cast a spell when Leena stopped him by hitting him on the head, also knocking him out.

From her spot, Alanas ran to Leena and inspected the damage done to her skull.

"Are you alright?" Alanas asked. She traced a finger along the fracture, only to have Leena reflexively move her head away.

"I'm fine." She said, picking up her helmet. Once she returned her helmet to its rightful place, Leena turned towards the goblin lying on the floor. "You should be more worried about him." Gnel, the goblin, lay face-first on the floor with muffled groans and mutters of cages being one of the only sounds in the tavern. Alanas rushed towards him and knelt beside him. After a quick inspection, only finding a few bumps and a really big bruise, Alanas gingerly flipped him around. He continued to mutter with his eyes closed.

"Poor thing, you did so much to help me, little friend. Thank you."

"I… helped? We're friends?" Gnel breathed out. With a smile, Alanas nodded.

"Yes, we're friends."