The Akai Amulet
“Hah! Children-dressed-as-warriors, let me show you how to fight!” ~~Grittinius Vox Vercettitrix
Darker of skin than most elves and standing over a foot taller, Grittinius is an anomalous mountain of a demihuman. Elaborate patterns of tattoos cover much of his exposed flesh. Clad in a small leather pouch and a large shirt of brilliant silver mail, he strikes a figure both intimidating and resplendent with masculine sensuality. His face remains stony and grim for the most part, but he occasionally allows a crooked smile to creep across his chiseled features. Long black hair is thrown back over his broad shoulders. He wears no jewelry save for a pair of large golden hoop earrings, which would likely look exaggerated or effeminate on any other man but on him serve only to increase his air of confidence and power. An elaborate glaive and an enormous sword are slung across his back.
Grittinius hails from a frozen continent, far to the south. Born into a small community of tribal elves living on the harsh tundra, he was schooled since birth in the arts of wilderness survival and combat. His father was the elf tribe’s storyteller, and so he was raised among stories of many mythical beasts.
As Grittinius grew, he retained his interest in the old tales—cultivating in particular an obsession with dragons. He found himself inspired by the tales of the great winged lizards who could call forth the very elements themselves. Working that inspiration into his training and exercises he even managed to style his personal combat maneuvers after legends of the way dragons fought.
Shortly after Grittinius reached adolescence, he embarked on a quest to prove himself as a member of the tribe and as a hunter. Required of every man in the various elf tribes of his homeland, such a quest typically requires the aspiring brave fasting and meditating in the tundra before seeking out and slaying some dangerous creature or rival of the tribe—though some have also succeeded by making great discoveries or explorations.
Grittinius took his trusted polearm and a pack and set off across the tundra, vowing not to return until he had justified himself as a Vercettitrix and an elf. He traveled for many nights across the frozen land, hunting for food and water to replenish his supplies as he went. After perhaps a week, he decided he had gone far enough from home to satisfy the spirits and constructed a shelter out of ice and brush to meditate in. Having done so, he carefully covered his weapon and pack so as not to suffer deterioration or attract scavengers and sat down, resolving not to move until he had a vision of what his quest was to be.
Grittinius sat that way for four days, unmoving. Hunger gnawed at his stomach, but he had lived through hard seasons and ignored the hunger. And so he sat. Cold threatened to tear off his fingers and nose, but he had traveled through blizzards and ignored the cold. And so he sat. Dehydration made him faint and weak, but he had strong will and was determined to see his quest through to the end, for there was no shame in dying in the fulfillment of one’s quest—one died a man. And so he sat. And on the fourth day, he fell into a deep trance and had a dream.
The state of trance was deep, but the details of the dream were burnt so vividly into Grittinius’s mind that when he awoke he could recall every detail in perfect clarity. He dreamed of a vast winged shadow, armored in dark scales stained with blood and blackened with fire. He dreamed of destruction, the immense shadow sweeping over his tribe’s village and leaving burning ruin in its wake. He dreamed of death, the charred skeletons of his parents, elders, friends all lying burnt and brittle in the grassland, wet with melted snow and blood.
Waking from his vision with a sense of great sorrow and forboding, Grittinius gathered his belongings from their concealment. He ate much and drank deeply, knowing he would need to recover his strength before he set out. He stretched his tired muscles and ensured he was ready to travel again, and then lay down to rest before he set off.
On the morrow, Grittinius woke early with the sun and without any further preparation began his long run back to the village. Abandoning his pack for he knew it would only slow him down, he sprinted when he could and hunted and ate when he tired of sprinting. He ran through the day and walked through the night, until he caught sight of something on the fourth day of his mad rush home. A pillar of roiling black smoke reached from the horizon up into the stony gray clouds that dominated the sky. His heart gripped by a wave of frozen terror, Grittinius pushed himself into one final sprint. Reaching sight of his village several hours later, he slowed to a fearful walk.
It was just as his dream. Tents and shelters burnt to the ground, the wood only charcoal and ash and the stone tumbled and scorched. People and livestock alike killed by horrible flames, only skeletons clad in a few remnants of blackened metal armor. Tools and weapons all melted to slag or incinerated, nothing left usable. Grittinius walked amidst the corpses and ruins with tears in his eyes. He knew that the dragon had killed all his tribe and that therefore he would have stood no chance against it alone, but that did not erase the shame of his having failed to find and kill it before it harmed his people. Falling to his knees in the rubble of his home, he renounced all admiration he had for the creature that had done this. Vowing to find and kill this abomination along with all its race, he threw off the blanket of depression and grief that threatened to suffocate him with its weight. Determination burning in his heart, he stood and put words to his oath as he sealed it with a sharp cut of his dagger across his hand. Brushing his bloodied palm over the skulls of two elves in his home which he assumed to be his parents, he swore revenge a third time, bellowing it into the cold wind.
Grittinius stalked through the frozen waste in a rage. He gave off such an intensity of emotion that even the beasts stayed from his path, and he crossed the territories of many other tribes without being harassed or even stopped. He knew that he would need help to find the worm and likely to slay it as well, despite his determination to strike the killing blow. All he had was his vision of the great beast circling above the ruin of his village before flying northeast, towards the great sea. There were no mountains to the northeast, so the creature must have gone across the water, to Sekai.
Grittinius walked to the port city of the humans to the east, where his tribe had gone from time to time to trade for the goods they could not obtain themselves. Metal quarried from the stone and curiosities from the lands across the sea. Magical ingredients from which the elders brewed potent elixers and with which the smiths crafted their finest work. A little confused by the bustle of the port but unwavering in his determination, Grittinius found a trade galleon headed to Amaterasu and bought passage with his strong back and a guarantee of protection should the ship be attacked.
The galleon sailed for many days, the weather fair enough until they rounded the peninsula of Shiro. The cheers as the dark line of jungle appeared on the horizon were quickly silenced as the wind died to a dead stop. An ominous mountain of night-black stormcloud loomed to the south over open water, rushing towards the ship at an alarming rate as it darkened the sky with its bulk and the water below with both its shadow and an incredibly dense wall of rain and sleet. The crew immediately rushed to furl the mainsail and batten the hatches, their training taking hold of their bodies as they worked to secure the ship against the coming storm and lash themselves securely to the boat so as not to be lost.
Alas the efforts of the crew were late and little despite their experience and training, for the storm would have wrecked any ship known on the seas of Aka. A veritable wall of torrential rain battered the crew, forcing most of them below deck before the cloud even neared the boat. The shadow of the huge black clouds and the hideous rain cast the galleon into a blackness as deep as any night on a new moon. Hurricane winds tore the sails which had not yet been furled loose and spun them off into the darkness of the storm, taking with them the fore mast as it broke off with a sharp crack. The force of the storm churned the waves into huge mountains of water at least as tall as the ship’s mast, throwing the galleon about as Grittinius clutched tight to the rail and grasped his polearm close as he shut his eyes tight against the elements. A wall of water crashed across the ship, burying it deep within the sea for a moment before it returned to the turbulent surface. The damage was clear, the galleon broken nearly in half by the force of the horrible storm. Grittinius was picked up like a doll by the wind as the fragment of rail he had lashed himself to came free and was blown far into the air above, just in time to see the rest of the galleon disappear beneath the waves.
Buffeted by the wind and thrown back into the unforgiving ocean, Grittinius clung tight to the wreckage of the galleon’s rail and his treasured glaive. Swimming when he could and holding tight when he could not, he managed to be pushed and blown to the edge of the storm and saw that he had been carried much closer to land by the winds and waves. Paddling with all his remaining strength, Grittinius managed to push his away from the hurricane and towards shore, eventually dragging himself up the sandy beach to collapse sodden and exhausted in the undergrowth of the forest just past the tide line.
Waking as from a nightmare, Grittinius staggered into the forest in search of fresh water. Leaning on his glaive and going carefully in this unfamiliar warm land, he made slow progress across the forest until he stumbled upon a small stream, where he drank deeply and sat down to rest for a time.
After resting, Grittinius began walking once more. He knew not where in this vast unfamiliar land he might find the dragon that had slain his tribe, but he felt sure it must be here. It suited him well that he might not find it for a time, for he knew that he was not yet strong enough to defeat it and he must seek out both help against and information about his enemy. Having walked through the forest for two days he happened across a trail, which he followed. In time the trail crossed a road, and he followed that. Having met no other travelers up until this point, he was surprised to see several bands of men and women along the road as he passed them.
Eventually he arrived in Shiro and the rest, as they say, is history…