New York City, New York, USA, 1999.
The corners of 42nd street and Broadway in Manhattan were affectionately called One Times Square. At 11:58pm on December 31, 1999, Times Square was packed with revelers waiting to ring in the New Year. This year in particular, more people than ever before waited for the dropping of the ball. Waiting alongside the undulating mass of people was a single stranger, seemingly out of place, or more accurately, out of time.
He had shoulder length brown hair, slightly greying at the temples, his hair styled to frame an oval face with cheeks that dimpled when he smiled, laugh lines permanently etched into the corners of his mouth. One brown eye and one blue still twinkled when he laughed, although the crow's feet betrayed the youthful face. And a lilting voice, now more serious than in days of old. He was of medium height, well fed but fit, clothes immaculately tailored, longsword buckled to his left hip, parrying dagger on his right, and a harp bag slung over his shoulder.
That last sentence was the clue that the man was out of place. He was dressed more appropriately for 1499 rather than 1999, and certainly no one in this time period carried a longsword, or parrying dagger at their hip. He could have been an actor from one of the many Broadway plays, except there were no plays currently running of that genre. No, this man was no actor; he did not carry himself like an actor, more like a warrior. There was strength in his presence and determination as well.
He had been in this time for a week, waiting for this exact moment. A slight nudge in the right place and at the right moment, and time was back on its correct path.
"Timekeeper, has the error been corrected?" he asked, absently grasping the pommel of his sword.
"Yes, My Lord, the New Year will be like every other," was the response in his mind. "The error in their technology has been corrected as well."
"Good, then when the new year is rung in, we can leave," he sighed. "This place distresses me."
His stay in this time had been difficult. The noise, the crowds, the lights, all of it bombarded his senses until his head ached with it. But it was necessary, there was an error in the symmetry of time, and if left unchecked, would have been catastrophic.
While the New Year had actually already happened at the meridian, this location was important. The sentient Runesword, Timekeeper, had determined that New York City, and more specifically Times Square was the exact position on Earth, and 11:58pm was the exact moment when the alignment was perfect to nudge time back on course.
"10... 9... 8... 7... 6... 5... 4... 3... 2... 1 ... Happy New Year, Happy Y2K!" The noise was deafening, the screams of the revelers, the party favors, and the emergency vehicle sirens. It was pandemonium out there and it was time to find another place. It was time for peace and quiet!
"Timekeeper, let us find a quieter time to relax," drawing the sword from its scabbard. "Somewhere in the British Isles during the middle ages, but after single-malt was first distilled. I find that I cannot live without it. Perhaps the Scottish Highlands, along the river Spey."
"What time, My Lord?" Timekeeper asked.
"Some time in the mid 1500's," he replied. "Make it near a good distillery, or monastery that produces excellent single-malt whisky."
"As you command, My Lord," the sword replied.
The sword's blade glowed with a bluish tint, as its runes glowed silver. Like a pocket door sliding open in a wall, an opening in the fabric of time appeared: a gateway to a different where and when. The man stepped through the doorway, and it slid closed behind him.
Scottish Highlands 1539.
He stepped out of the doorway onto a dirt road leading toward Auchindoun Castle. His destination was not the castle, but a small town near the castle. Arriving at the town of Mortlach, he looked for an inn or tavern.
The innkeeper was out front sweeping his porch when the man walked up to the inn. After identifying himself as a traveling Bard, he offered his services in lieu of payment for room and board. After negotiating a satisfactory contract the Bard sat on the front porch and lit his pipe. The innkeeper returned with a shot glass and earthenware jug, and poured an amber liquid into the glass. The man took the glass and sniffed the contents and downed the liquid in one sip.
The liquid burned a little going down, "not near as smooth as Gnomish," he thought dejectedly. "Hmm, I bet they do not know to age their whisky. Perhaps I can change that."
"Where is your whisky produced?" the Bard asked.
"There is a Monastery just in the foothills, overlooking the valley," the innkeeper explained. "There is a spring close to it discovered by a brother years ago."
"Hmm, I think I may need to visit this Monastery," the Bard thought to himself. "Maybe, I can teach them about aging their casks."
The dinner crowd was large after word went out that a Bard was not only staying in the town, but also would be performing after dinner. The inn was humming with trade and conversation, anticipation of the evening's entertainment hanging heavy in the air. A hush fell over the crowd as the minstrel walked to the front of the common room and picked up his harp. The innkeeper took this as his cue to toss another log on the fire, and as the taproom brightened from the blaze, the Bard began to play...
"Good evening, my name is Reginald Ravensblade and this is the first in a series of stories that I like to refer to as, 'Tales from the Bard'."
"Hmm, if I tell them the truth, that Andor is a planet in a completely different galaxy," he thought. "They are either going to call me a heretic, and have me burned at the stake, or call me a witch, and have me burned at the stake. Either way it will be a hot time for me. No, I need another way to describe this mystical place, hmmm."
"These stories all take place in a land beyond the seas, where no man of Scotland or any of the other known lands has travelled - save only me. This distant land is called Andor, and lies beyond the New World that you may have heard has been found by the explorers of Spain.
"The first few stories will center around one main character and a very dear friend of mine, but before I get into that, perhaps a little geography is in order.
"The land of Andor stretches from ocean to ocean, centered along the equator, and is home to a diverse population of races and ways of life. A large mountain range bisects the continent horizontally, half-way between the equator, and the northern tip. The mountain chain is called the 'Dragon Back Mountains'. At the western end, the mountain chain splits into a 'Y'. The lower section veers to the south, and continues vertically toward the southern tip of the land-mass. The upper section tracks north, and ends at the coast. Several volcanic mountains dot the landscape in the center of the 'Y', and are called the 'Dragon Tooth Mountains'.
"The western lands above the mountain chain, are called the Northern Reaches. They are home to the many mountain dwelling folk of Andor, as well as to what are left of the dragon races. The eastern lands above the mountain chain, are referred to as the Wastelands.
"The Wastelands, once lush valleys, fertile plains, rushing rivers, and idyllic vales, were ripped apart, and desolated during the God Wars, for in Andor mighty beings like the Gods of old still meddle in human doings. The area is completely uninhabitable now, and few ever venture there.
"The Eastern Realms, are the home of the various human kingdoms, duchies, and baronies. Once a vast empire, seated at Aithen, it is now split into small kingdoms, and city-states. The great Thangdaemon forest marks the inhabited eastern portion of the realm. East of the forest is no-man's land, unexplored.
"The Central Plains are the crossroads of the continent. Merchant trade passes through there, to all Cardinal points of the five realms. Various human nomadic races call the Central Plains home, as well as several small city-states.
"The Western Realms start west of the mountains, and are home to the race of Elves, and other members of the faerie, or fey races. Beautiful cities, lush forests, and majestic vales dominate the landscape.
"The Southern Reaches contain the great desert, and are home to the other nomadic tribes of the region. Great monuments to a bygone age litter the landscape of the interior, and these are the permanent home to various unsavory races, chief amongst them the Orcs. Great cities decorate the coast of the Southern Reaches, home to a seafaring society and give access to the numerous archipelagos south of the continent.
"The land of Andor is a magical place. Literally, magic can be found in every rock, and tree, and this power is alive. Originally, three great races were attuned to this power. They were created to live in harmony with each other, and their creators. But alas, they rebelled and were cast down by their Gods, or so the legends say. They were named: Tarran, Elfen, and Thangdaemon.
"Eldritch is the name of the living power inherent in all things. It is the basis of all the magic in the land. It is found in every quarter, high and low. Every living creature has it, every plant and mineral.
"The three great races I previously mentioned had an innate ability to call it forth and use it directly. Within their races certain bloodlines had the ability to not only call it forth, but also to store it and speak it, so a simple command of "silence" with power behind it would become a spell. Eldritch became word and words became magic.
"Those that could speak magic within the Tarran race were called Witches or WitchLords. In the Thangdaemon race they were called Witches or Necromancers. In the Elfen race they were called Witches or Warlocks. No race since, has been so closely attuned to this power, as were the original three.
"Other races used Eldritch differently. It gives Elves immortality and the ability to commune with nature and shape things of power. Dwarves there are in that land, and they have long life and can coax precious metal and gems out of pure rock and shape them into precious treasure. Gnomes, too, can coax gems and precious metals and can infuse those treasures with power. Humans who have a spark of Eldritch become sorcerers. Though their magic is weak, they can call upon the power in other things to create spells, potions and the like. Other races use it in different ways, but all access Eldritch in one form or another.
"Now, when I first met Aaron Blackmoon, I thought there was something different about him. I would come to learn how truly different he was. The story we are about to embark on follows Aaron's journey of discovery of his true ancestry. So sit back, get comfortable and we'll start our own journey of discovery. I bring you the 'Thief of Roses'..."