Lucas of Zhan

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Lucas of Zhan

Postby The Bard » Sat Feb 27, 2016 8:37 pm

This is the story of Lucas, a merchant of Zhan.

Lucas, a troubled man who was tortured by many doubts about his future. He doubted his chances of ever finding success as a merchant. He doubted whether the love of his life would accept his eventual proposal. He doubted his ability to survive in the wilds with little more than a cloak on his back, a sack of his final belongings and a dagger on his hip. Lucas was a merchant of Zhan and Zhan was a city that was no more.

Five years ago, after the traumatic destruction of Zhan, Lucas set forth on this journey. The merchant was by no means considered successful, even before his beloved homeland was destroyed. In fact Lucas was considered, by many, to be one of the most impoverished merchants travelling the routes. If that had not been true before, it was true now.

For years leading up to Zhan's destruction, Lucas had invested everything he owned into a complex and risky plan. The wheels of commerce were set in motion and the poor merchant had made damn sure that he would influence the road in which they would travel. Many long days and nights had been spent making preparations and manipulating which aspects of the market that could be influenced to make his investments pay out. It was a risky game. If any of the guilds in the region caught on to his subtle manipulations, they could use their sheer financial might to reverse everything that he had worked for in a matter of days. There were weeks and months where the diligent merchant would unwork the guilds actions throughout the surrounding cities.

Every action needed to be thouroughly planned and expertly played. Guilds were turned against eachother and powerful investors were tempted towards or balked away from percieved changes in a the grand scale economy. The whole things was a fragile veil. It was tenacious, expansive and so bold that no one would conceive that one man would be capable of leading them in circles. Lucas was playing a fool's game. The game was so foolish that no one would have anticipated it. Much like the fall of Zhan. No one expected that calamity.

The city of of Zhan and its surrounding lands were destroyed. Events had taken place with such speed that very few escaped the tragedy. Lucas was one of those few. At least, Lucas was one of those few rumored survivors; he had never met another in person.

Every plan and action that the unlucky merchant had set in motion was nullified with Zhan's fall. The great city was a cultural center with a strong influence over the surrounding nations and city states. The academies and libraries of Zhan attracted individuals with strong influence from all corners of civilization. Banks in the city were known for offering fantastic rates on interest and investment due to the incredible health of the regional economy. A trip to one of the city's many market districts was considered an experience in itself. Walking among the stalls and shops had a similar effect to visiting foreign lands. Zhan was a complex place and Lucas had spent his life learning its secrets. It mattered little, Zhan was no more. A vacuum of power, culture and wealth was left in its shadow.

There was little in the world that could deter this man so punished by fate, regardless of his doubts. The merchant was a man of average height with a solid frame. His once healthy body had been battered by time and hardship. Between starvation and constant travel, his face was worn gaunt and his muscles were tough and wiry. Lucas had long ago taken great care of his appearance but the past few years had left his brown hair matted and ragged, his face covered in a tangled and thick beard. Even his eyes had aged and bent to the will of time, changing from a vibrant green to a dull steel in the sun's light.

The weary merchant had been traveling north for several weeks. A few suns had passed since he arrived at the Sehir Kon forests. This region was known for being cold, damp, and filled with ancient flora. Colossal trees were commonplace in these northern woodlands and the damp earth was layered with slowly decaying plant matter and musty, nutrient-rich soil. For the most part, the natural aspects of this region were non-threatening; the biodiversity was rich but low in advanced predators. The ambient sounds common to other forested places were often quiet or non-existent. Sehir Kon was a melancholy landscape with a peaceful but soul-prodding effect on travelers. Lucas had last been visiting the harbor city of Hewn Derry but circumstances led him to this darker corner of the world. Several small villages had been passed on his travels north but there was not much in the way of civilization beyond the harbor. This was a wild land.

The forest floor was gentle on the merchant's fatigued feet and knees. Every step was cushioned as the soil behaved much like soft foam. It was nearly enough to make up for the previous week of traveling the poorly marked, gravel laden paths of the Sehir Kon logging trails. Many years had passed since mankind had chopped at these ancient forests but the pathways were miraculously intact due to the gentle climate and slothful beasts that primarily existed in these parts.

Lucas was constantly working towards improving his traveling attire but it often seemed an impossible task. He would reinforce his shoes but rip his cloak. He would patch his cloak but lose his hat. He would replace his hat but have his travel bag stolen. It was a constant battle and he was, at all times, in a war of attrition with the road ahead. This time it was his boots. The flimsy things had once been well crafted and reinforced leather traveling boots. Much of the original material had been replaced, tacked, or glued to repair the shoes to a respectable state. Time had not been kind to the man's feet but his boots had often experienced worse. It seemed that he would need to save up for a new pair. No other solution seemed possible at this point.

Sehir Kon, despite the placid nature of the place, was usually avoided. Travelers and settlers were not keen on the mythos that surrounded the wooded northlands and even though many had traveled the region safely and returned, the horror stories and legends stuck within the minds of civilized people. Lucas didn't know what to believe but after his previous travels, Sehir Kon was a welcome sight. At least it had been.

The dehydration finally caught up with Lucas and his tense muscles. A sudden charley horse dropped him, in agony, to one knee and his face firmly planted into the forest floor. During the sudden muscle spasm in his calf, a single arrow shaft passed directly through the air where his heart would have been and wedged itself snuggly into one of the many overgrown trees. It was luck. Luck had often saved Lucas in his travels. It played an important role in his escape from Zhan.

This situation was dire in comparison.

The merchant's mind was spinning from exhaustion. The agony from the contracted muscle was impossible for him to ignore. Lucas scrambled to find his bearings and detect the origin of the attack but his vision was blurry and his focus had abandoned him. No more arrows came. Nothing was audible but his own panicked breath on the still wind.

For a moment, and only a moment, he closed his eyes in an attempt to regain visual acuity. When he opened his eyes, the face of a barn owl was several finger's breadths away from his face. The merchant jerked back in surprise and realized that his situation was much worse than he had anticipated.

It was an ancient story. A story that had never been confirmed because it always had the same ending. It always ended in death. The bird men of Sehir Kon were used to terrify children for ages. Of all tales related to the forest, it was taken the least seriously because no one had ever found a trace of evidence that these demon creatures were real.

The creatures were built much like humans but somewhat taller and with a more slender frame. Every proportion in relation to a man's was just different enough that it was uncomfortable to watch them move. Their shoulders and collar bones had a strange shape to them and their neck had a less distinguishable anatomy from that of a normal man. The creatures were not feathered, save the front of their heads which were the faces of owls rather than men. The back half of their heads had long, straight hair that varied in coloration from one fiend to the next and was carefully braided in strands and complex designs. Their ears were mishapen and recessed and they were able to easily turn their heads in odd and uncomfortable looking positions. Clothing among the creatures was sparse, functional and unique; Lucas pondered the thought of clothing as art for a moment before returning to the sinister surroundings that he found himself entangled in.

The eyes were black as onyx.

There were three of the bird men in total. They made no attempt to speak. When moving they were silent beyond perception. Lucas wondered whether the creatures could speak, considering their mouths were beaks.
The first beast's eyes stared him down while the others checked the surrounding forest and began to dig through the merchant's belongings. This made Lucas nervous. He understood the stories and that he would not leave this clearing alive but the loathsome monsters digging through objects they could never understand left a sour taste in the merchant's mouth.

When faced with opposition Lucas would sometimes talk big or verbally attack those who worked against him but this was no such situation. There was something inherently menacing about these creatures. It consumed every ounce of energy that Lucas had to keep himself from passing out from shock. The bird faced man assisted him with losing consciousness. In a sudden turn, the creature's head spun to a horizontal position and a sharp pain struck Lucas in the abdomen. The bewildered traveler looked down and saw the hilt of a carved bone knife sticking out of his gut. He coughed and some blood came up with his spittle.

Before everything went black, he thought he heard a whisper in his ear. An alien voice with a eerie and sing-song quality to it.

Did it say “sleep”?
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The Bard
 
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