Balinar stepped in another hidden knee-deep puddle of rancid, thick, oozing mud and swore loudly. Somewhere in the mist-covered swampland around him, an animal gave a short mocking bark.
Grumbling under his breath while he slowly extricated his booted foot from the heavy clinging mud, he again ran over the events that led him to this place. A simple message, a request for help from an outlying clan, that was all it had taken. The dread dragon Nimos had awakened, and the strongest warrior from every clan was summoned to defeat him.
Balinar had battled and defeated ten of the best warriors from his clan for the honor of answering the message. The day he had left his clan was full of celebration and honor, and it was with a light heart that he had picked up his pack of supplies, donned his leather and chain armor, strapped his axe to his back, and left the Clan of the Rising Hawk to assist the Clan of the Raging Bear.
He had been the youngest in his clan to earn both his Hunter and his Warrior braid. The best in his class with the horkke, the special two-handed and double-bladed axe favored by his clan.
And now look at him. He had reached the camp of the Raging Bear to find it burned to cinders, the only witnesses a small group of elves. They agreed to give him a guide to Nimos’s lair, to help him defeat the dragon.
With a wet sucking noise, the swamp finally released his boot. A cloud of noxious gas came up with it, coloring the already sulfurous air with a rotten stench. Mud and moisture clung to every part of him, from his metal helmet to the food he ate. It was impossible to keep his axe dry and clean, and already his chain shirt was beginning to rust.
The mist ahead of him swirled and parted to reveal a tall, slim figure. The elf.
“Human? Must you be so slow? We will never reach Nimos at this rate, you really must make an effort to move more quickly.” Not waiting for an answer, the elf turned and disappeared again into the mist.
Fracking elves. All his life he’d heard stories about how beautiful, how graceful, how wise and kind and giving the elves were. BAH. Elves are assholes.
“Elf!” he bellowed into the mist, in the general direction he had last seen his companion disappear. “We have been walking for nearly two days. I need to rest and eat.”
Again the elf appeared, a look of irritation and disgust on his thin angular face. “Very well. Rest. But make it quick.”
Fracking elves. “Is there no solid ground for me to rest on? I cannot sleep in the mud, Elf.”
The elf grimaced. “My name is not ‘Elf’. My name is Glindaranyaflormindalar. And if you need to rest, you can do so where you are.”
With that, he turned up his nose, and gracefully folded himself into a sitting position. That was another thing. Elves were reputed to be so light that they could run atop drifted snow without even leaving a footprint. The same was apparently true of mud, as the elf seemed to float just a bit above the sucking and noxious mud that so plagued Balinar.
Not a single spot of mud marred the pristine white robes worn by the elf. His elaborately braided hair showed not a single tangle or fray. He might as well have been settling down to have tea with the Queen or some other nonsense.
Balinar grunted and gave in to the inevitable, sitting down with a sickening splash right were he stood, knowing that a step in any direction could easily bring him to another hole. Another layer of the sticky mud coated his legs and backside. Grumbling, he pulled his pack around. Trying not to wince at the sorry state of his weapon, he pulled out a wrapped package of dried meat, berries, and fat. Ravenously, he ate it to the last crumb.
The elf watched him with barely concealed disgust.
“What?” he demanded when he was finished.
Sneering, the elf replied. “You humans. Always eating the flesh of other animals. I do not understand it, it is one of your more disgusting habits.”
Balinar glared at him. “Humans need to eat. Several times a day, in fact, though you’ve not given me the opportunity. Meat is just as good as any other kind of food. Animals in the wild kill and eat each other every day. It’s hardly unnatural.”
The elf sniffed. “Yes, of course. You humans are barely a step above animals yourselves, aren’t you? Are you quite done resting yet?”
Suppressing a roar of rage, Balinar clenched his fists, feeling the blunt nails press into the skin of his palms. Over and over, he repeated his mantra, the only thing that had kept him going this far. I need to kill the dragon, and I need the elf to take me to the dragon. I need to kill the dragon, and if I kill the elf now I’ll be stuck in this thrice-bedamned swamp forever. I need to kill the dragon…
He relaxed his fists and turned again to the elf, barely able to contain a murderous glare. “No, Elf. Humans need to sleep for a good part of the day. You may be able to survive with only a few minutes sleep a night, but us humans need HOURS of sleep. I have not eaten or slept in nearly two days while trying to follow your skinny backside through this swamp. I will collapse from exhaustion if I do not get some sleep. Now.”
With that, he closed his eyes and leaned his head back on his pack. The elf harrumphed once or twice, then fell silent.
Fracking elves. Balinar slept.