Fin stood in line to get his ticket for the Portal Station. He stood behind a youth with a scythe strapped to his back and a sickle held tightly in his sweaty hands. Fin noticed the he was shaking, but his gaze was fixed ahead.
Fin reached over to the the boys shoulder and tapped it lightly, the boy swung around with his sickle ready.
“It’s alright,” Fin said withdrawing his hand, “Is it your first time traveling by portal too?”
The boy seemed to calm down a bit at this, “Yes.” he said firmly despite his shaking hands.
“My names Fin, I’m a hunter from Knotwood.” Fin offered his hand.
The boy placed his sickle in a pouch that hung from his belt and wiped his hands on the rough tunic he wore, “I'm Edmin… from Clayfeild.”
“Do you have a hunting partner Edmin?”
Edmin shook his head. “Not many people want to hunt a Dire Wolf along side a pig farmer.”
Fin hesitated, “But you are here, which mean you killed the White Stag.”
Edmin nodded, “Yes, I stalked it for three days before making the kill.”
“Three entire days?”
“All creatures sleep, even the most magnificent of beasts. So I forewent my own rest and waited for the stag to fall asleep. That’s when I made my move.” Edmin said with a sweep of his balled fist, reliving the moment he had swung his blade into the creature.
The line for the ticket booth moved forward, there was only one hunter in front of Edmin now.
“Edmin,” Fin said pulling the boy from his memories, “Why would pig farmer be hunting a stag? And not only that, but chase it for three days?”
Edmin looked down, but his eyes held a fire in them, “My family has farmed pigs for generations, I’ve always felt that I have been destined for something else. Something great. When I saw the stag, I knew that it was legendary to hunters, so I thought that maybe if I hunted the beast I could become something.”
“Something great.”Fin said, echoing his words, “And you ended up here at the White Stag Trials.”
“I was not satisfied with the cards that fate had dealt me, but now the table has been overturned and I am free to be whomever I wish to be!” Edmin looked up, eyes wide with hope.
Fin was moved, but was also concerned for the youth. There was no way he would make it through these trials alive, at least not alone. “Would you like to partner up with me for this hunt?” I cant guarantee that I’ll be able to kill a Dire Wolf for both of us, but perhaps I can be of help to you.”
Edmin grabbed Fin by the shoulders, “Destiny has sent you to me Fin, I would be a fool to refuse.”
“I’ll take that as a yes then?” Fin smiled, resisting the urge to break free from the hold.
Edmin nodded a little too enthusiastically, “Don’t worry Fin, destiny is on our side. Together we will hunt two Dire Wolves and be recognized for the feat.”
The hunter in front of Edmin had finished paying for his ticket and walked away from the booth. “Next please.” said the ticket master, an aging man who had long since outgrown his uniform - likely due to his career of sitting in the same spot while others used the service he provided to travel all over Emberden.
Edmin released Fin from his grip and spun to face the booth. “To Greyplanes thank you.” He said emptying his pouch of Sovrens onto the counter top. The ticket master scowled, annoyed that Edmin had given him too many Sovrens and he would have to count it himself.
It didn’t take too long however, soon the ticket master handed Edmin a thin block of slate with a dull gray gemstone in the center of it. “Just walk through the portal whilst holding this and you’’ll be in Greyplanes before you know it.”
“Thank you sir,” Edmin turned to Fin, “I will wait for you on the other side.” He turned again and headed towards the Portal Station, a platform of polished stone with a freestanding archway made of the same stone. He stepped through the frame without hesitating. The space emitted a bright light that faded quicker than the sound of tearing space could reach Fin’s ears.
“Be careful who you trust to partner with on these trials, Wulfkin.” said a voice from behind Fin in the line up.
Fin turned to the hunter, he wore armor fashioned from fist sized scales, most of which were red.
“Dragon hunter?” Fin asked.
“Amongst other things.” The hunter may have smiled, but a bone white mask covered his face. It had serrated edges that curved towards back towards his ears. “Tooth of a Sharkine Dragon.” The hunter had noticed Fin staring.
“Next please.” The ticket master sounded frustrated, as if his lunch break had started and his replacement hadn’t come to relieve him yet.
Fin stepped up to the booth and placed thirty Sovrens on the counter. “Greyplanes as well.” He had read the price for a ticket to Greyplanes carved into a wooden plaque behind the ticket master.
“Be foolish enough to trust others and you’ll end up getting burned by them.” The dragon hunter said from his spot in the queue behind Fin.
“Making allies isn’t foolish,” Fin said as he turned to him, “Especially going up against beasts as dangerous as Dire Wolves.”
The dragon hunter stepped closer and pulled his mask off to reveal his scorched skin, “I trusted someone. They were my hunting partner - this is where it got me.” He put his mask back on.
Fin’s voice caught in his throat, he had never seen such extensive burns.
“I don’t need sympathy Wulfkin, just heed my warning.” The dragon hunter pulled a hood over the back of his head. It was a thin fabric, probably connected to the tunic he wore under his armor.
“Next.” The ticket master tapped his stubby fingers on the booth window. The dragon hunter stepped up next to Fin and payed for his ticket.
Fin headed towards the portal platform, the burned face of the dragon hunter still stared at him in his mind. He almost tripped on smooth stone of the Portal Station’s raised platform. He approached the portal gate, the ring of stone began to grind, each stone rotating in place. Fin held the ticket in front of himself, without the ticket to guide his transportation he could end up anywhere - or nowhere. He stepped through the gate, the once empty space glowed, the light growing in intensity until he couldn’t see anything at all.
Fin felt a slight tug, followed by a violent jerk forward. When Fin could see again, he wasn’t in Emberden’s capital anymore. Greyplanes had a small township that was larger and far more established than Knotwood village where Fin had spent his whole life, but was certainly smaller than the city he had just come from.
Cobbled paths ran through the town, leading to shops and houses of the same gray stone. Wild grass covered the ground that wasn’t cobble stone, long enough to sway with the gentle breeze that ran through the flat region.
Stepping down form the platform Fin handed his ticket to the ticket master, who unlike the previous transport officer had a wood and stone desk with no booth to be seen. He opened a draw and dropped the ticket inside and smiled at Fin but otherwise remained silent.
Fin recognized some of the people around him to be hunters from the trials, but he didn’t see Edmin among them. He heard a rustling in the long grass that was too loud to just be the wind, Fin turned to see Edmin’s head appear from the grass he appeared to be laying in.
“How good of you to join me Fin!” he said jumping up from the bed of grass that now lay flat. “Where to?”
Fin scanned the area, noticing someone that looked like a traveling merchant enter one of the larger stone structures of the town. It had stalls out the front with stacks of various goods.
“This way.”Fin followed the path of stone to the shop. It had a large wooden plaque which read ‘Garrad’s General Goods’. The plaque looked newly painted with colors that stood out far too much in the gray stone town.
Entering the store, there was a roll of paper mounted on the wall. Beneath it was a small wooden desk with quills and a half empty ink pot. Fin tore off a piece of the paper and and began writing a list of things he might need for the hunt. Edmin was reading over his shoulder intently but remained quiet.
Fin finished within a minute, he tore the list in half and handed one half to Edmin. Edmin marched to one end of the store leaving Fin to gather his end of the list.
He started by picking out some dried meats and a wheel of cheese, it was important that he packed food that wouldn’t perish too quickly but also provide them with enough energy to hunt their prey. Fin held a loaf of bread in his hands, it wouldn’t last long on their journey but he was hungry and wanted to fill up before they left. He dropped it into a weave basket he had picked up a few ailes back.
Next to Fin was someone about his height wrapped in a cloak, they were stuffing loaves of bread into a pouch on the inside of the cloak they wore. Fin turned towards the shopper and was about to explain that the store provided baskets so there was no need to stretch their cloak, when he heard yelling behind them.
“Thief!” the store owner - presumably Gerrad - yelled while stomping towards them.
“No I’m just,” it was then that Fin realized the owner was yelling at the cloaked figure, who was already running from the store. Fin’s blood surged as he couldn’t help but give chase, he dropped his list as close to his basket as he could manage without looking and was already half way out the door by the time Edmin had looked up to see what all the yelling was about.
Fin ran down the cobbled path of Greyplanes after the cloaked figure, who was headed towards the Portal Station. Fin ran, the wind pushed against him and blurred figures of townspeople rushed past him as he gave into the chase. He was gaining on the thief, who hadn’t looked back since fleeing the shop.
Fin was close, only a dozen paces behind the cloaked figure. Out of instinct he drew his knife, readying himself to pounce on his prey. They had passed the Portal Gate now and were headed towards the grassy planes that lay beyond the town. A quiet thought prompted Fin to ask why he was heading away from the town, but that thought was pushed out by the thrill of the hunt.
Only the hunt mattered.
Fin leapt forward at the thief, taking him down into the long grass of the planes. Fin was on his feet quickly, knife in hand and breathing heavily, blood still pumping fast through his veins from the thrill of the chase.
The thief struggled to get up, their small build swimming in the large cloak that they wore. They managed to get untangled and sit up, gasping for air in short bursts. Must have been winded by the tackle.
Now that Fin had caught the thief he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do, “Why did you steal from the store?”
“I was hungry.” The thief sounded young, probably just a boy no older than twelve.
“Do you not have family to feed you?”
“I did, but they were killed. My tribe,”
The thief nodded and removed the hood that covered his head. A mottled gray and red face with black eyes stared back at Fin, a single black horn protruded on the right side of his forehead. “I’m Onikin, we aren’t welcome in town and I’m not welcome in my tribe anymore. I didn’t know what else to do.”
“Onikin...” Fin lowered his knife.
“It means he’s a half demon.” Fin turned to see the newcomer, he was taller than Fin and wore a cloak similar to the boy. He pulled his hood back to reveal his own black eyes and two black horns. “Like me.”
Fin turned his knife towards the Onikin man, “Why are you here?”
“Same reason you are hunter, I’m in the trials.” The man turned to the Onikin boy, “What tribe were you from?”
“Ghar-Sands.” He replied, his dark eyes beginning to tear up.
“Go to the Pinerust region, to the woods in it’s south. My tribe is there, Ghar-Viper. Tell them Wrathiel sent you. You will be safe there.”
The boy stood up and thanked the Onikin hunter.
“What is your name young one?” he asked.
“Well Nathael, tell my tribe that I will return to them as soon as I am able.” The boy bowed and ran off towards the setting sun. “You can put your knife away hunter.”
Fin turned away from Nathael and nodded, “Of course.” He sheathed the blade and followed the Onikin hunter back towards the town.
“So you’re from Pinerust?” Fin asked as Wrathiel as he pulled his hood over his horned brow. “Do you know Mavric? He’s in the trials too, he owns a tavern there.”
“Onikin aren’t welcome in humankind settlements. My tribe was passing through the region when I hunted the White Stag, I hope not too much time has passed and the boy can find them.”
“Oh,” Fin had heard of Onikin but had never met one. They were a nomadic people, hailing from Ghennix - the splinter realm inhabited by Demonkind. They weren’t welcome in Ghennix so they roamed the Humankind realm of Anveil, looking after their own.
Wrathiel stopped walking and grabbed Fin by the shoulder, his other hand igniting in black flames that danced around his arm, “I need you to keep quiet about my race, hunter.”
Fin nodded, keeping as still as he could, “I will, if you explain why you need me to.”
Wrathiel balled his flaming palm, the fire dying down instantly. “You don’t seem to share the prejudice for our kind as many do, despite drawing a knife on that boy.”
“That’s just a habit, I didn’t mean any harm to Nathael. I was caught up in the hunt.”
Wrathiel released him. “I want better treatment for the Onikin, that’s why I will win the trials and earn a place in the court. But there are many that would do anything to keep a half demon out of the royal court of Emberden.”
The two walked back towards town, the air thick with an uneasy truce.