Free Realms: The Rinaldo War Prologue
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The three-year Briar War had devastated the Sacred Grove. The exiled Darkthrone had built up a massive chugawug army, and finally made her move. It didn’t go well for either side. While the traitorous ex-royal was eventually killed in combat, it took another year for things to go back to normal, and even then, the scars of the war remained. I was a member of the Medic Corps during the six-month-long Battle of Stillwater Crossing, in which the entire town had to be rebuilt. After the war, I was just another vet, working the day shift at a Seaside water ice stand. But not for long. I, Darius Redhill, was about to see battle again.
Seaside was a huge town, made up of three districts, like the capital city of Sanctuary. There was Cliffside, built into amazingly tall sandstone cliffs. It was the tourist district, the face of Seaside, and where I worked. There were the Slums, a small neighborhood packed with poor fishermen and shell collectors. And there was Oceanfront, nestled next to a luxurious cove. Anybody who was influential or rich in Seaside lived in Oceanfront. I’m sad to say, I lived in the Slums. Vet benefits and a part-time job selling shaved ices don’t add up to much.
I suppose it all started one day. The noon sun was blazing, and in the heat of the summer, barely anyone was still inside. Business was good. I was just accepting a few coins from a ten-year-old pixie, when two tall men wearing gray suits walked up. They had shiny copper badges pinned to their breast pocket. I recognized the insignia immediately. They were from the Royal Elite Service, a small force of bodyguards and intelligence agents. “Gentlemen…” I said nervously. From what I’d heard, RES agents were above the law. “Can I… ah, get you anything?”
“Is your name Darius Redhill?”
“We’d like to speak with you about a very important opportunity that would benefit all of the Sacred Grove.”
“And what’s that opportunity?”
“Just come with us. We’ll get you lunch at that cafe by the beach.”
The Ocean Treasures Cafe was practically off limits to people from the Slums. They had the best food in Seaside, bar none. Sure enough, the men bought lunch. Over the main course, fried Chipsen Fish, I worked up the nerve to ask about what this opportunity was. The man on the left (the two were almost completely identical) spoke.
“I’m sure you’re aware that ever since the Briar War, things haven’t been as idyllic as before.”
“Far from it, sir.”
“My point is, ever since the end of the war, there’s been a sudden spike in organized crime. We suspect a person named Rinaldo to be behind all illegal activities in the Sacred Grove. We don’t know whether that’s his real name, or whether it’s even a he, but whoever it is, they have their fingers in every pie, so to speak. Drugs, extortion, kidnapping, the list goes on. Queen Valerian has assembled a secret task force to deal with the threat. We want you as a medic.”
“Why should I?”
“Let me put it this way. You have two options here. One, you could stay here in the Slums and never do anything with your life again. Or two, you could join the task force, and see action again.”
It wasn’t a hard decision.