When the lines of people started forming outside of the Wayward Inn, Alec threw a fit, threatening at the top of his lungs to destroy the entire inn if every last one of them didn't leave.
They didn't leave.
Instead, they bowed before him, claiming that to die at his hands was the pathway to enlightenment. It was at that time that Alec decided he had had enough.
His tranquility, and peace of mind, having been compromised at the Wayward Inn, Alec sought refuge at a far less crowded, and less refutable establishment, the Timber Wall Tavern; a dilapidated shack that made his former residence seem as grand as the Archenon. Even though the only inhabitants of the tavern were; Alec, Solo Ki, a pimp, his three whores, and the barkeep, the tiny inn seemed more cramped and uncomfortable than sitting in a coffin. Nevertheless, he loved it. Early on the pimp and whores had learned to mind their own, especially when it came to the One Elf, for Solo Ki was far beyond the temptations of flesh or tactics of intimidation. Alec, on the other hand, was irritated enough that he was willing to turn the tavern into a bloodbath just to have a moment of peace and quiet. Needless to say, after their initial introduction to the pimp and his whores, Alec and Solo Ki spent their days and nights at the Timber Wall Tavern undisturbed. Alec couldn't have been more content.
It had been over a month since Brice and the Death Guards had returned from their meeting with Rafe, and judging by the outcome of their conversation, they meant to defend the city to the end, no matter what that end may be. Already the preparations were in full swing. The Death Guards, along with Rafe's elven companion X'ander, had organized construction crews throughout the city and had begun building huge wooden planks which, once the battle began, were to be used as pathways to connect the city's rooftops. Apparently the defensive strategy, dreamed up by Rafe and Brice, involved turning the city streets into a 'death trap for the dead', as Rafe put it. It was basic enough, archers would unload their quivers from the rooftops while below them, the streets filled with the walking dead. Though short of being brilliant, the plan was simple and sound, and in the little time they had before the undead closed in on the city it was the best defense they could hope for.
Being mindless feeding machines, the walking dead made for easy targets. It was their sheer overwhelming numbers that became a problem. But what worried Brice, Rafe and the others more wasn't the hordes of walking dead -- who could care less whether it was arrows or rain that fell on them -- it was the deadly and immortal Living Dead. Unlike the Meat Puppets -- who were infected, killed, then came back to life -- the Living Dead where infected while still alive, and never actually ‘died’. As a result, they still possessed some of their former intelligence, though their desire for flesh often overrides their intellect. Nevertheless, such beings were stronger, faster, and far more fearless than they were in life. Luckily, the younger they were, the weaker they were, and Alec was willing to bet there wouldn’t be any ancient ones in this coming army. Those ones still remained on the other side of the Rift, fearful of losing their supposed immortality with a blast of Alec's power.
Worse even than the Living Dead were these new demons that had chased the children. From all accounts, they were seemingly invincible and extremely deadly. With little else known about them, the matter was very worrisome for the defenders, so much so that the Lord Rafe made a special visit to the Timber Wall just to hear the One Elf's opinion on the matter -- which was simply, "If you see one, run." For according to Solo Ki, mage-fire was useless, silver daMaging -- but never fatal. They could be weakened, but never destroyed. Therefore any confrontation with the demons was, like everything else in the elf's life, pointless.
Other than that occasion, they never saw Rafe, which suited Alec just fine, for the Lord of Shattered Rock came accompanied by several guards. One of which was a massive Boulder Dwarf named Gunt, a being known throughout the Seventh World for his savagery and short temper, traits which were unheard of among his race of gentle giants and had caused him to become an outcast of his kind. Somehow Rafe had managed to corral the being into his service, utilizing him as a source of intimidation, and if necessary, as a brutal thug.
Their visit was especially tense, for after Rafe was finished questioning Solo Ki, the dwarf decided to spit a fist sized glob of mucus into Solo Ki's face. Luckily for Gunt, or maybe it was safe thinking on the elf's part, Solo Ki calmly wiped away the bile onto his already soiled cape, then, as though nothing ever happened, he took a sip of tea. After watching Solo Ki back down, Gunt shook with laughter, bellowing out, "Shal min nome." Needless to say, Alec was much relieved when Rafe took his goons and left.
At one point in time, Alec questioned the elf on the encounter, wondering why he hadn't retaliated. Shrugging his bony shoulders he had replied, "He was not a threat. I'm forced to defend myself from death, but insults are wasted on me."
During the past month, the mage Brice had spent most of his time rounding up anyone and everyone who had enough mage blood in them to ignite a candle. Currently he had dozens of mages, some of which actually had rankings within the Order, and now the Red Mage spent a great deal of his time training those he found, hoping to hone their skills and prepare them to face the coming onslaught of undead. Now and again, the mage would join Alec and Solo Ki, always accompanied by the imp Galimoto.
The pest! Alec would have loved to grab the creature's little red body and squish it in his hands until the only thing spewing from its mouth was its innards. He had even tried to do so, several times, but the little beast was too quick and would always dart away, fleeing to the rafters above where it would continue to cast insults in its musical voice.
And the mage, he would mostly talk of the advancement of his students, speaking with particular pride when it came to the extraordinary feats of the girl Emily, whom, according to Brice, was above and beyond the most powerful mage he had ever seen, even though she was but fifteen.
"If she continues to progress . . ." Brice would say, his excitement growing. "She could restore the bloodline, turn the Order into Gatekeepers once more."
For a moment he would smile, then the silky soft skin of his face would grow flaccid, his eyes lowering in despair. Alec knew that at such times he was reminded of what was to come, and of the very real possibility that all of their lives would soon end. Or maybe the mage was just remembering the other child, the one he lost, the one he stole from home with promises of limitless potential and infinite possibilities . . .
Either way, Alec preferred it when the mage was happy, even missed seeing the flashing teeth light up his face.
Every time the mage visited he made certain to ask Alec to join his troop, and every time Alec refused. Not just because he had anxiety about being around several mages at once -- an environment which was far too similar to his imprisonment at the High Tower -- but even more terrifying than that was the girl Emily and the way she looked up at him with those wide brown eyes. At once beautiful, yet unsettling. Whenever he had the misfortune to run into her, which was usually when Nathalia came to visit, the girl would stare at him for the duration. He dreaded her arrival, found her to be a strange and disturbing creature, not to mention the fact that she had incredible power and Alec knew first-hand how great of a danger that made her. What disturbed him most about the girl was the possibility that when she looked on him she saw a hero. Saw a lie. She credited him for her existence, when the truth of the matter was that Alec didn't care the least bit about her father, had never intended to save him. It was merely a coincidence that he lived and was able to give her life while thousands of other potential parents were destroyed.
As for Nathalia, she spent her days watching over the children as though she was their mother, clothing them, feeding them, practically suckling them at her breasts (perhaps actually doing so, though only in Tetloan's dreams). She even managed to corral the fire haired demon child's behavior. Now the boy looked up to her with respect, love -- and if Alec wasn't mistaken -- a great deal of lust. Though not nearly as much as the imp Galimoto, who openly ogled Nathalia's cleavage at every chance he could get.
However, neither of them could compare with Alec's own desire to be with her once more. How could they? Having shared her bed before, over and over again, he had grown accustomed to quenching his lust as soon as it arose. Now, for both of their sakes, he had to be weaned from it. Like the drug chopa, he was addicted, reminded of the pleasure whenever he saw her, whenever he caught her scent in the air. To the dead with the imp and the boy! He wanted to ravage her. And would have, even if he couldn't escape the elf Solo Ki, her supposed father. To the dead with him too! If he was so intent on following Alec wherever he went, then he would have to watch as Alec threw his daughter on the bed and . . .
Biting his lip was not enough to curb his desire for Nathalia. However, the trio of whores were somewhat helpful in this regard, and yes, the One Elf did actually remain at his side during such sessions.
In fact, the only time the elf left his side was when it became necessary for Alec to relieve himself. But even achieving that brief period of solitude had required a great deal of discussion. A discussion which ended only after convincing the elf that all he would be destroying while defecating was the elf's sense of smell.
The One Elf . . . Other than administering to him during potty breaks, he was to Alec the perfect companion. He just sat, drank his tea and was silent. He never asked questions -- why would he? He knew everything. And though it was difficult to get him to speak, when he did, their conversations were always enlightening. One day in particular the One Elf said a great deal. Brice had just left, once more thwarted in his efforts to recruit Alec to his cause when their conversation began . . .
"What does Smiley want me from me anyways? More than likely I'll end up incinerating his entire pack of mages." Alec said, his words spoken more for his benefit than for Solo Ki's.
"Like many he wishes to live in a world that is pure and good."
Alec had been lost in thought, staring into his mug of ale before the voice of the elf startled him to attention. Considering his words a gift, he hung on the One Elf's every raspy word.
"Unfortunately he has yet to learn that the world is built on chaos, and that his quest for order is contrary to the nature of reality. This desire cannot be fulfilled and through failure he grows ever desperate, eventually falling prey to the most absurd forms of hope."
"Like believing in someone like me?"
The elf slowly nodded, sipping his tea.
"You see, what Brice refuses to acknowledge is that we are the problem. The Plague is the solution. The gods see it, but Brice cannot . . .
Sometimes Alec felt himself getting swept up in Brice's cause, and after hearing him speak with such passion he almost believed there could be hope.
Then . . . there was the One Elf.
Always present, always looming near, his tattered cape draping over his bony figure like a death shroud. Alec knew Solo Ki would be there till the end, waiting for his death, waiting for him to destroy all and put an end to the elf's work in the Seventh World.
In the proximity of the One Elf hope seemed like a joke.
Though it had yet to begin, Alec was tired of the war. Tired of hearing about it, and tired of thinking about it. Like Solo Ki, he wasn't interested in victory so much as he was simply longing for the fighting to end.
The month was, for the most part, uneventful. Then, the day came that for no reason at all -- unless drunkenness can be considered a reason -- Alec accepted Brice's invitation, and stumbling his way through the light of day, with the One Elf in tow of course, he joined the Red Mage for a lesson.