Four knuckles cracked on one finger, then the next. Five long fingers released themselves from their tight fist, and swung back and forth as six long steps were taken. The long, stringy limbs were muscled, but weakly for their length and proportion. The torso, long and thin, was defined, but not rippling with muscles. The face, like the chest, was frail and gaunt, the blue skin stretched thin over the fine bones.
The wind blew a little stronger, a dog barked a little louder, and merchants bustled down the street a little faster. The cobblestone roads ran through the city in straight rows, only to become crooked paths through hundreds of shops and carts of wares. A horse drawn cart clattered down the street, each fall of the horse’s hoof sounding clear throughout the whole street. The rickety, old wheels clicked away only a few feet behind.
Merchant cries could be heard even on the next street over, connected by small, dimly lit alleys, so that customers, in similar settings, could cross from one market to another. The tall stucco and brick buildings had paneless windows, and richly colored cloth hung from some, dull grays from others. Peasants strode through the street, standing just as tall as the city folk.
It was the city of Midgaard, famed city of the land, of which thousands of stories floated the Realms about. Battles had been fought and won on the planes just outside the great gate, and on the walls of the city itself. Great rulers had sat in simple stone thrones among their people here, and tyrants had ruled upon gold in the city’s high twisting towers. It was the city of wonders, of dreams - for all those who lived there.
For those who lived there, those who truly lived there, it was nothing more than Midgaard, nothing more than home. They lived in their cramped streets, lucky to have even half of the walk paved. The true citizens of the city, the actual population, lived near the rank dumps, the trampled back alleys that ran along the walls, yet far enough from the gates to give the city its regal look.
It was here that the giant stood, in the true city of Midgaard, marveling at its piety, its true faith, and wondering how it still suffered. The true people, those who paid their lives for this city sat in muddy streets, in cluttered streets - cluttered with shack houses, and small apartments infested with mice.
He was short for a giant, or what these people knew of them, standing only twelve feet high, and lanky at that. His weak frame was unusual for one of his size, but not so unusual for his particular race. The Arcane were known to be short for the many giant-kin races, and weak, if they were known at all. A simple belt tied his soft, yet travel worn, tunic to his thin waist, and a unadorned pouch filled with small silvers hung on it. Inside the tunic a much smaller leather bag was full of larger gold crowns from other cities unnamable, and possibly unpronounceable.
The blue skinned giant stood on a patch of the road still fitted with tiny cobblestones, in front of a ancient wood framed inn. Uneven chains hung down from a horizontal post near the door, and underneath it, covered in mud and filth a rotting sign had the form of a falcon burned into it. Wings spread out in welcome, the sign had once welcomed visitors to the small village of Midgaard.
The now largely populated city had little use for such a poor inn. Only beggars entered, to pay the few coppers required for a shabby room. The giant gazed upon the beams that held the old building upright, and marveled at the confusing humans who had let such a place become such a ruin.
In a nearby alley a form rustled and a skinny and starving beggar moved from against a deserted building’s wall. His warped wooden staff barely kept the man on his feet, and he shuffled slowly into the darkness, for there was no business to be found around here. The long gray beard was caked with mud and small twigs clung to his shaggy white mane.
The poor of Midgaard were not like the poor of most cities. In the rich coastal towns, the poor were the invaluable fishermen who provided the city with its vital food source. The miners of the mountain towns kept some of the gold dust they dug out of the mountain sides with their bare hands, and bought small farms and built themselves sturdy houses, but the poor of Midgaard were truly poor. Those of the fabled city, the city famed for its power and its legend, were not rich and strong like the tales told. The were ragged and weak. They were the real pious ones, and it was they who took on the suffering of the world, not the powerful church, who’s administers reigned in the great temples in the center of the tall walled city.
Blue skin and thin tunic clung to each other, as the sloping shoulders of the giant bent to take the place of a horse, between the harness bars of a light two wheeled carriage. The giant grunted as he lifted the weight upon his shoulders, and dragged the crooked wheels over the broken ground. Towards the inn that ended this short, but miserable, street he dragged his load, all the way to the only new part of the inn, the oak door. Behind him on the same street, a mother and her two children huddled under the rotting ash door that the inn keeper had once carefully preserved, but could no longer use.
No young lad ran up the giant in greeting, nobody came to tend to the horses, had there been any, not a soul could be seen as the giant set down on one knee to release himself from the load he carried. Still nobody came as the front of the cart smashed down onto the uneven road, from the height of the creature’s shoulders, and the giant took two steps in each stride toward the new door, unassisted by miss or bellboy.
Wooden cart and the merchandise inside could be left unattended in the mud, there was simply nobody around to even care. There was nothing that made the shabby cart stand out from its surroundings. It blended in with the trash that lined the walls of the cramped buildings. Its simple wood body was as nicked and scratched as drift wood that made up the abandoned homes of dead or dying beggars.
Inside the tavern it was not much better. The hundreds of years old tables and chairs were lucky to have held fast so long. There were no brawls in this eatery, no tough travelers or fur traders to pick quarrels with each other. Each table was as vacant as the one before it, and each wall was as unadorned as the next. A wooden bar that now served as a registrar still stood erect near the south wall, with a small tin bell sitting on its dust covered top.
The giant could not even hum to himself as he approached the bell, the only sign that somebody could be found in this place. Or was the bell, too, just a reminded of what the place used to be? The dust on the bell was not as heavy as that on the surrounding table, but its sloping sides could account for that. As an abnormally jointed hand reach to lift the bell, and rattle it for the first time in ages, the giant heard a cough behind him.
“Its been a long time since I have seen your kind in a place like this,” a past middle aged man said in a sickly voice. He looked around the room and coughed again. The Arcane looked around the room as well, as if to delay the conversation with this unidentified man. This place was different from when his father had visited years before.
“How long has it been?” the innkeeper murmured aloud, more to himself than his new guest. “Oh, where does the time go?”
“My father told me of a tall wooden inn, strong of frame, and warm of heart, and of an innkeeper who welcomed all those of good in the Realms. Could this be such a place?” The giant looked at the dusty floor. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the shorter man nod, and he smiled weakly. This inn was not as grand as his father had described. A dark shudder hung from its lower hinge, barely attached, to his left, and then he noticed it wasn’t the only one.
“The last of your kind here, your father I suppose, said that he could not stay longer, but someday, somebody would send word. I guess that time has come, and he has sent you.”
The Arcane nodded in response, but stilled his lips in their slight quaver. His father had died a year ago. It had been his wish that his son, his only son, travel to the most marvelous city in the world, that his son travel from their small home towards the tall walls that marked Midgaard on the horizon. He had nodded to his father as his eyes closed forever. He had not been able to cry for his father, he could not bring himself to bring the lifeless corpse to his own chest, so that somehow, just maybe, the beating of his own heart could bring his father back. He had done none of this, but he had nodded. It was all his father could have ever asked of him.
So he had gone, for his father, across the long plains, deserts, from village to village, from city to even larger city, until he had come to one greater than the rest. Each time he had asked a local patron of which ever tavern he slept in that night, they would point eastward and said, “Follow the sun, it will bring you to the greatest city of them all, the city blessed by god himself. Under the golden sun you will find the golden treasure of Midgaard.”
So they said. The mud that ran up his feet and over his ankles, the mud that had taken the beauty from his white sandals, said that much. But the scar that reached even beyond his mind was the only evidence he needed. His father had loved this city, these people so much as to send his son, his most prized possession, to the great walled capital of Midgaard. Had it always been like this? Or had his father seen through the lies, and filled his heart with compassion for the true people of this city?
“ Your father, what does he wish to tell me?” the innkeeper asked a bit too soon.
Bowed head hid the tear from the human, but he could stay quiet forever. “My father, the one you speak of, wished me to tell you--he--he wished his son come to the place of his dreams, even when he could not.”
A tear streamed down the human’s cheek, running hot and salty into the thick mustache, hanging over his lip, and then fell, slowly to the packed dirt floor. The dusty ground drank deeply from the single tear, all the compassion the man had.
“Your father,” he repeated, “what does he wish to tell me? What does he wish to tell his people, his friends?” He waved his arm around the room, as if to gesture to invisible patrons, in his mad memory, and illusion. “Just what does your father wish us to know?” And he broke.
The elongated face of the Arcane could not look down upon this human, in any more than a physical way. Never before had a human cried on his behalf. And if not for him, for his father, for his kind. They had always traded magic item for pure gold crown, dark ruby, and glistening diamond, but never before had they fought side by side, shared blood, and wept in each others arms. His father had been the first to live with the humans, actually live with them, not just beside them. He had become their friend, their trusted ally, but then he had had to leave the great walls of Midgaard. He had to leave his people for those who called themselves his kin on accordance of height, skin, and feature.
He had traveled back over land and sea, to the cries of his people, knowing he would never return, but he had sent his son. He had died, but he had sent his son, to the dream he knew he would never relive. And his son had promised to go, as he knew he would, on deathbed, or otherwise. The cries echoed in his mind, and he remembered where he was.
The old man, huddled in the door frame, in which he had previously stood so tall, cried for his memory of the man, the Arcane, who had made him the richest man in all of Midgaard, in all the world - rich with friendship. He wept tears of genuine sorrow, and he wept tears of pure grief. The world was now an empty place without his friend, and years of hope, that maybe, somehow, his brother, his true brother, in all the important parts of the word, would return to his side, to bleed for his cause, and to love this world more than any living creature.
The giant reached into his hidden pouch, the one filled with gold, and with his nimble, thin fingers withdrew something that clearly did not belong to him. He walked forward, his eyes slightly different, by the sight he witnessed, as if it had given hope where none was expected, and perhaps, where hope was feared.
Blue fingers swung the simple steel chain, slowly, like a clock’s pendulum, swinging the perfectly crafted crystal that clung to the bottom of the steel braid. The tall man bent to his crying brother, for he saw in this man what his father had seen, and pressed the Soulstone into the man’s hand.
Whispering, he told the man, before the man’s heart failed him, of the grief, “Tell your friends, tell the whole world - tell them who has come to the slums of Midgaard,” the crystal pulsed with life but once, then faded, but he continued, “tell them my father has come home.”