Chapter 1 ver 2.2 “It is only when you lose yourself, that you find salvation.” -Valerian expression The music was like her children's laughter, a chorus of silver bells in the chill air. Whomever played performed without joy, their only accompaniment the rolling clouds. She imagined their faces, dancing and smiling through the bars of her prison. The chiming fades, the clouds turn black. The bells clash into a cacophony and a dirge emerges. The clamor always comes before the pain. It's not physical, her suffering, her mind blocks out most of it. Her separation is the agony, the division from both children and beloved sky. The tempo builds, the crescendo imminent. Notes reverberate in her ears as the air thickens. Clouds twist and funnel around her, coalescing into chains. They shimmer dully in the mist around her form and drag her downwards towards the sea. Their jaws dropped. The crew of The Kestrel 's long hours of drill could not serve them now. Rajit's hands remained halfway through a clove hitch. Gunnar stood motionless amidships, whatever duty he was about forgotten. The first mate's whip lay lax at his side, in thirty years of sailing he had never seen such a massive elemental. He had hoped he never would. His men stared at the iridescent mist surrounding her. The angelic form seemed to dance between the ships whilst the vessels drifted, tillers ignored as the sailors gasped in breathless awe. Even Rajit knew the legend, though it was his first voyage. Gunnar called her a tale to scare younglings, a fable. The first mate knew better, he'd seen elementals toy with ships, giving that last nudge to send them onto shoals. Cruel beasts that laughed amongst the screams of sailors. He laid his hand on the cabin boy's shoulder and said. “You'd'ah made a fine seaman Rajit, sorry bout the stripes. 'Only gave 'em as to teach ya discipline, nows'a time to say yer prayers t' whatevah god yeh choose lads. It's bin an honor.” Compassion from a man more like to raise his whip than bark orders broke the spell.
The men's stumbled about in a collective stupor. Some fell to their knees, mumbling requests for redemption. Others wept, but most just stared skyward in wonder as The Kestrel drifted towards The Nightingale. Few noticed the jolt that shot through them whilst crunching wood sent splinters into the mist.
Piero pulled his cloak tighter against the cold. It irked him how this cursed place could be so damned hot in the day and colder than a witch's tit at night. He shot furtive glances down the uninviting alleys. Everything was so damned dreary in this place. These light cursed raven jobs were the worst, bad food, bad wine, and bad weather. No surprise they paid so well, why else would anyone be stupid enough to come to Valenoch by choice. All Piero wanted was to make his drop and get out. Wind willing he'd be gone by sunrise and up to his eyeballs in Freetown ale and whores by sunset. Where in the seven spheres was Angelo? His weasel-like associate was far from punctual, but this was late even for him. â€œBy the Keeper, where are you?â€? He whispered to himself, kicking a piece of gravel. He watched it skip into the gloom, bouncing along the bizarre pavement that looked more like lumpy clay than cobblestones. The eerie ping of stone on glass unnerved him as pebble met obsidian. A second stone followed the first, plinking along until it made a new sound. Instead of the expected plink it was a muffled metallic clang. It sent shivers down his spine as adrenaline coursed through Piero's veins. He drew a soot covered blade from beneath his cloak, careful not to grate the metal against the scabard. Angelo didn't wear armor, and even if he did, he wasn't smart enough to muffle it with cloth. He heard the crunch of his wrist breaking before he felt it, his short sword tumbling to
his feet. Shock drowned out the pain. He knew better than to scream, in this place that would bring more harm than good. The citizens in this part of Valenoch were more apt to rob a man than aid him. Piero stomped down hard, his steel shod leather boots connected, but didn't provide the expected soft thump followed by a grunt of pain. He looked down in surprise, something metallic glimmered in the moonlight, casting a soft blue hue across the blood pooling where his heel used to be. A small knife appeared in his good hand as he arced it where his assailant's neck aught to be. A soft rustling, like a bird ruffling its feathers was the last thing Piero heard as something dark poked through his chest. His vision faded to black as he tried to glimpse his killer, but all he saw were pebbles floating in his own blood. Leoric examined the discarded blade as he knelt over the corpse. Strong steel, good workmanship, coal blackened to avoid detection, nothing more. The cloak on the other hand, it screamed of magic. Just looking at it hurt, his eyes couldn't quite focus on it, as if it blended into the stone beneath. Southern magic by the feel of it. Small wonder the man's face held such a surprised expression, such protection was expensive and hard to come by. He didn't mind spies in general, so long as they disseminated the information he wanted them to. This one had not taken the bait, coming far too close to exposing things about the queen better left within the citadel. It was becoming more and more difficult to keep her condition a secret. The longer she remained in seclusion the more the Vijaeyen's sent, the more he killed the more they paid them, knowing full well most never lived to collect their fee.
The morning exodus of the wind haulers still amazed him, despite thirty some odd
years of watching them arrive with the rising sun. The black machines resembled a giant's funeral procession more than the supply caravan they actually constituted. Their sails fell slack as they were furled nonexistent hands, each behemoth disappearing into the great warehouses, swallowed under an ocean of stone. They served an important purpose despite their doom and gloom appearance. Transportation being a very necessary and honorable profession after all. Several turnips lurched in his cart, bringing his mind back to reality as he jockeyed the rickety contraption back to a semblance of stability. Phineas liked to talk, but since he lacked anyone nearby who liked to listen, he spoke to his donkey instead, and the occasional cat. Preparing his best professorial voice he began with gusto. “Transporting goods to Valenoch is both necessary and important, especially food, due to the rather lacking nutritional quality of the soil.” He hadn't seen dirt in more decades than he had toes. The bizarre monstrosity of a transportation system was the cities lifeline, and he did value a full belly. The thought of food brought another query to mind. “Should a person's bodily needs be held separate from their mental needs?” Matilda turned her head back towards him and replied with a whuff. She was a good listener after all, always attentive and responsive. He decided it was a sound philosophical decision and congratulated himself with a broad grin that surprised several half asleep pedestrians staggering out of a local tavern rather hastily. “And stay out ye good fer nuttin vagabonds!” Shouted a large angry looking individual wielding a cudgel. “Reasoning suggests that the portly fellow might be the cause of these poor souls
untimely exodus from alcoholic paradise.” Phineas suggested to Matilda. The drunkards stopped and stared for a moment, wheels visibly turning behind their eyes as they gazed at the curious sight that was Phineas Oglethorpe's transportation emporium. Then one vomited into a gutter, returning their attention back to the angry barman tapping his foot and caressing his cudgel. Fear and a string of curses motivated them to do their best to half stumble, half sprint in any direction except the barman's. “As an educated man I know that all souls on this fine planet are good at something. We all have a purpose my dear Matilda.” He paused for breath before continuing. “In my time here I have discerned that a great number of Valerians are quite skilled at making beer. The remainder have another even more important purpose, drinkin it o' cors!” The last he said with glee, allowing his usual heavy brogue to take over. “Ale jus so 'appens to be one of me favor'd past times!” His faced morphed with strange glee as it shifted to match his changing accents. He slipped back into professor mode, straighting into a rigid posture. Phineas affected a condescending glare at his donkey. “Now, logical analysis from one of my intellectual caliber is also quite important. After all, anything that receives my stellar mental abilities must be of extreme import.” The unstable turnip positioning within his cart decided at that moment that it required all his phenomenal faculties. With an ungainly flop he half rolled, half dove forward to save his precious cargo from upsetting the delicate balance of his cart. “My dear Matilda, as you can see my tactical shift of weight was precisely calculated and executed with such grace and poise that I have managed to stop the untimely demise of our turnips. Now that I have accomplished this esteemed task I shall now extricate myself!” With a grin he clawed his way free from the offending turnip pile and shuffled the contents of his cart to better distribute the weight.
Phineas felt quite proud of his turnip rescue and congratulated himself with a mental pat on the back accompanied by a second face splitting smile. He continued his lecture with an occasional arching of a single eyebrow or cocking his head to the side in what he imagined a series the most professorial expressions. The constant shift of face muscles started to cause a mild headache. He assumed this was in fact due to his heavy mental lifting. Though he thought it a difficult task, he was proud to believe he had out thought himself. “Aeee!” The yelp of dismay brought him back the world around him as he almost ran over an older woman carrying a basket at ant like speed across the road. “Per'aps I shud save me ponderin' fer when drivin ain't involved.” Phineas half mumbled to himself. “Perhaps, perhaps. Perhaps you should watch where you're driving you light cursed half-wit Narg spawn!” “My compliments my lady. I did not think a person of your advanced condition and reduced faculties could produce so impressive a sound from lungs so well aged.” Phineas replied in the most pompous fashion he could manage. “Wah? Advanced lungs? By the Raven, you little rat faced turnip nosed stone spawn!” “Ey now lassie! Don'tchyou be gettin' deh turnips involved in dis!” He replied, anger breaking his accent back into Dwarven slang. Phineas could practically see smoke rising from her ears. Her face was blood red and he feared the exertion might cause her heart to fail if he continued. “Perhaps it's time you found your way home gran, I think you've gotten yourself confused again.” Fear shown in her eyes and anger melted as she bent to pick up her basket. She darted quick looks around to see if someone else had witnessed the event. She knew what
happened in Valenoch to those too old to maintain their wits. An accusation of incompetence was worse than a death sentence. Phineas almost felt bad, he weighed damage done against the possible damage avoided and shrugged. The line between good and evil remained as thin as ever, no matter how careful he tried to walk it. He reverted back to professorial diction and posture, slipping into both a change in accent and voice. She knew he was only one man, though one moment he sounded straight from the academy and the next moment a hooligan from some dwarven cave tavern. Her terror was palpable. She wanted to believe he was toying with her, but within lurked the fear that it was her own mind playing the tricks. “Matilda, this is far too heavy a subject to debate. Let us revert to our secondary topic discussion, peculiar architectural features.” The words felt hollow, despite sounding confident and cultured. They served their purpose. The elderly woman lowered her head, shouldered her burden and scurried away, shooting fearful furtive glances back at him every few paces. While he did enjoy philosophizing during his morning haul it tended to give him impressive headaches. Alas only ale could alleviate them and as every son of stone knew, ale before noon was bad form. So he resigned himself to suffer and returned to architectural musings. Valerian buildings would be considered odd by most non-valerian's standards, but it was their material that held the greatest interest for him. Wrought of dark black rock shot with veins of red, blue, purple and various combinations in between. Phineas thought it beautiful as the early morning light hit it just so. “Tell my dear, which alley do you prefer?” Matilda stopped a moment and replied with a whuff followed by a quizzical look before returning to her plodding trot.
“Ah, a wise choice, it is a fine shade of twilight. I think you have a poet's soul my dear.” Matilda whinnied in response to the compliment. Phineas thought it sounded appreciative. The great road was worn as smooth as polished marble due to the heavy traffic it endured on a daily basis. Various arterial by-ways sprouted off at odd angles. These less traveled lanes had strange lumps and mounds oozing from them, creating a bumpy ride. The result was they were avoided by most carts and had been for the last millennium, thus their enduring kidney jarring nickname, 'the spleen ways'. “It is quite a shiny alley, a bit lumpy for my tastes. It reminds me of when I considered baking as a new profession. A decision made in passion, the result of the most amazing pastry. Anyone who had eaten such a magnificent treat would be compelled to bake.” His words dripped with longing for another treat so glorious. Letting nostalgia take him, he considered a second attempt at baking, but dismissed the idea as pure foolishness. “I know for a fact. It was unique. Such purity of goodness could never be replicated.” Matilda seemed nonplussed, perhaps if he could conjure a single tear to mark the emotional importance of the event she would be as moved as he was by the glory of pie. “Regardless, my baking produced some very interesting concoctions.” He shook his head in disgust at the memory, muttering “skeefo” under his breath. The curse brought more unwanted attention as several cultist's stared him down with their patented, 'shame on you' expression. “A pox upon thee non believer. Avernus shall rise up from the depths and drown thee for thy insolence and disrespect.” “Is'at so? And 'ere I thought 'e was busy playin mermaid wit yer mum!” “You, you beast. You fiendish swine.” “Oh common now love, is dat d'best y'got?” “You shall pay for your impiety with blood.” He responded dramatically, raising his
hands and gesturing towards Phineas with menace and zealous light in their eyes. A crowd began to gather, at a safe distance of course. This was Valenoch after all. At this point they started chanting various gibberish and bits of words. Phineas listened for a moment, curious if there was a single word power evident in their ramblings. Hearing nothing but attempts at cantrips he laughed. A few of them stumbled in their words. He stood up on the cart and stared at them. This unnerved the cultists and ruffled their feathers in a very satisfactory way. Most were mumbling now with more than one awkward glance to the left and right. They didn't want people to know they were frauds. Usually at this point everyone ran away screaming obscenities and crying warlock to the nearest guardsmen. A dark thought shadowed each of their faces. This little man did not fear their attempts at magic. Even worse however, was their growing fear that he might know it himself. A slow grin crept across his face, allowing Phineas's teeth to poke through his scraggly beard as he stared them down.
Chapter 2 “Worthless, vile, no good, dirty, never ending, rubbish!” “Talking to it doesn't sweep it Jax.” His brother replied. “No, but burning it might.” Garreth's single raised eyebrow quelled any ideas of combustive cleaning. Jax's soft heeled boot swirled the contents of the hearth around, examining the bits of twine and scraps of parchment littered about amidst odd scraps of canvas. Despite his honest attempts at procrastination his maddeningly patient brother handed him the ancient splinter ridden broom Jax called 'the beast' and left him alone with the dust. Unlike his father Garreth never stood over him, forcing labor. Garreth just pointed and left him to the task. In some ways it was worse than Beorg, at least he had the luxury of hating Beorg. Garreth wasn't mean, strict, or even harsh. He just did things that looked like they needed doing. It drove Jax to the brink of madness to consider someone searching for chores rather than avoiding them. He found the idea of someone who liked working difficult to comprehend. At least with his hands busy his mind was free to wander. Jax began to sweep, allowing his mind to search for escape routes whilst his hands endured the usual splinter induced torture. He needed a plan, some excuse to leave the shop. He knew Beorg would never entrust him with the morning deliveries so long as faithful Garreth was available. Perhaps he could find something that only Garreth could do. No, then Beorg would just save the chore for after the deliveries were done. Maybe he could create a false emergency, yes, his mother needed him at home. But Beorg would know she didn't. Jax refused to surrender, his mind attacking the problem. “Yowch, by all the light cursed, raven marred, narg spawn.” Jax continued mumbling obscenities whilst Garreth ducked his head through the swinging double doors. After noting that it was the usual splinter induced agony he returned without comment to whatever task he
had appointed for himself. Jax sucked on his finger a moment, debating whether he would have to amputate the finger before gripping the cursed splinter between his front teeth and yanking it out. Tears welled in his eyes and his knees buckled as he fell backwards into the wall, sliding down until his rear crunched on top of the modest pile he'd accumulated in his few minutes of sweeping. Staring at the nearby nail barrel inspiration blossomed. While sitting, he was just short enough to be invisible so long as no one came too close to the barrel. Tall for his age and lithe as a whip he was all leg. He'd finally found a use for his shorter torso. He stood up a little too fast and staggered, the blood rush to his head causing him to sway. With a quick shudder he waited for the world to return to focus, brushing his long black locks out of his eyes with annoyance. He hated how long his hair was, always falling into his eyes and getting in the way. However, it bothered his father to no end, thus making it worth any amount of personal annoyance. Jax returned to the sweeping with a vigor, the task's drudgery forgotten as he concocted an escape plan.
The flotilla drifted. The oncoming squall approached unnoticed. Sails flapped free. Crews gazed in astonishment at a creature of legend, a gauzy mist coalesced into naked human form. The soft swell of her hips left no question as to her sex, the gentle roll of her bosom stole their breath and entranced their hungry eyes, the gathering tempest visible through her ephemeral skin.. The world slowed around her until stopping in a frozen moment. A single sound cut the silence. A cabin boy, too young by several years at least spoke. He smiled as she danced between the ships, stirring the rigging. Sea roughed sailors stood scattered around him, some knelt, prayed or wept. But Rajit stood alone with the first mate and mouthed her name,
whispering it with a lovers grace. â€œLyrael.â€? Sparks of resistance kindled within her. The struggle was short and brutal. The tension of her bonds increased, making movement more cumbersome. Lyrael ignored it. That voice, a child's voice had spoken. What had it said? If she could only hear it clearly. Her mental fog thinned as she concentrated. Focusing on that single voice she turned her body and dove in its direction, cracking mast and sail alike the sea rose into her. The waves roared in her wake, drenching the decks of the ships she passed. Ignore the oily taint of magic on your skin, she thought. These sensations belong to another body. Find the voice, don't listen to the music, hear only the child. The bonds screamed at her to fly west, their music screeching urgency. 'Why go west? Why not go skyward?' her voice chimed like a thousand bells, jarring the chords of magic binding her. Her chains began to vibrate. The sailors nearest the boy heard it first, her name carried on the wind. Ripped from their reverie, half drunk with beauty they staggered, grasping the ship for support. The cabin boy felt fear rise in him as an angry strand of magic slithered free of Lyrael's binding. It entered through his stomach and clawed towards his throat, stealing words before they were even spoken. Rajit heard his windpipe collapse with a soft crunch. He's knees buckled and he fell to the deck, still mouthing her name though no sound escaped his lips. The first mate looked from the boy to the Elemental and back, his mind shaking free from its stupor before he too said her name. The boson was next, his deep baritone carrying across the fore deck, awakening the entire ship. Then the captain's voice joined. He had seen her plight before, and knew her story well. His voice strained to traverse the roaring sea as he bellowed her name.
Lyrael's heard them clearer now, as each crew took up the call. She clung to the sound, their chanting a soft whisper battling the rising maelstrom roaring behind her. The bonds weakened minutely as the spell sought to silence the sailors, tiny strands winding away from her to steal their voices. Rage kindled within, it surged and overpowered reason. She would not be chained. With a howl of fury her bondage was rent. She fled east. The sea parted in her wake, cutting a deep crest amidst the armada and scattering nearby vessels into the abyss. A cry escaped her, rising above the wails of dying men. Reveling in the warmth of the setting sun, she screamed across the golden waves as if the suns fire could burn a path to her freedom, like shimmering angels illuminating her exodus. Burning chords lashed across her body, joy transformed into agony. The spells gentle suggestion to go west became a cudgel's brutality. Cables of blinding fire consumed Lyrael's senses and wrenched their wayward servant screaming from her beloved sea. The Elemental was beaten and bludgeoned into submission. The will to escape evaporating as her mind surrendered to inevitability. The pain diminished in response to her acquiescence. Gulping salt soaked air she relished the ability to breathe as the white hot agony abated. Drugged and lethargic, her sentience struggled to remain. Lyrael tried to think, but it took all her focus just to breathe. The shimmering threads of magic grew into span thick cables, allowing just enough space for her beleaguered torso to respire. As the ability to think returned she realized her desperate flight had drained her strength. Lyrael took a deep pull of salt soaked air, singing a pleading song unto the heavens. The haunting notes flew to her brethren. She called for aid, knowing her task would now
require more energy than her battered body could channel. Her plea completed she uttered a beleaguered sigh and drifted westward. Lyrael floated, mourning the drowning of the sun in the chill waters of the eastern sea. She wept as she crossed the carnage her flight had wrought. Her tears opalescent sapphires dropping through the mist, burning blue fire amidst the wreckage, like the final embers of a guttering flame. They too fought whilst the sun's dying light wept fire at their passing as both were consumed by the sea. The light of day descended into oblivion and only her tears remained, smoldering behind her.
Leoric observed the proceedings with his usual dispassion. The robed magi mumbled their nonsense and did their best to touch upon the power locked in the objects they possessed. At times he wanted to separate the superstition from the magic and show them the truth, but he knew where that road led. As much as he hated to admit it, Valmora was right. Their foolishness kept them guessing and left the true power in the hands of a select few, allowing only the most accomplished and loyal to handle actual magic. They babbled as he waited for them to finish with the only true word in the chant. Leoric knew that saying it was more than enough to complete the process, the blood and herbs added an interesting bit of smoke and scent, but nothing more. The heady perfumes from the altar wafted into his sensitive nose and he separated each aspect, noting a few new bits thrown in. He wondered who was getting creative at the Scuola Sera. Perhaps someone was testing to see if it mattered, Leoric made a mental note to investigate at a later time. â€œRinascitaâ€? The word recalled his attention to the ceremony, the other nonsensical
jargon didn't even register, but the true word rang clear in his mind as the altar came to life. An empty basin atop the altar darkened as the smoky torchlight dimmed. The smoking contents turned to ash as the stone bled a thick purple liquid until the basin was filled to the brim. The newer acolytes stepped back in awe, unused to seeing true magic at work. Leoric suppressed a grin, their naiveté never ceased to amuse him. He walked forward and reached within the dark liquid, pulling out a small stone chip inscribed with numerals on the front and a single name on the back. Leoric stifled surprise as he read the name aloud. “Varist, merchant quarter, three.” He knew two of the Varist's children. One boy was too old for the ceremony, he had arrived with the family when they sought refuge in Valenoch. Sacrificing the second was a thought he didn't even want to consider. He would take their third child. It must be young, as he didn't know of it. How many years since he had seen their mother? The smell of cardamom and sunflowers came unbidden to his nose, it was her smell. He reminded himself this was just another lottery, another child chosen for the greater good, this one would be no different than the last ten, the last hundred, the last thousand.
Phineas waited as their courage waned, several cultists stopped chanting altogether. Their eyes locked on the gathering crowd around his cart. He let his grin slowly stretch from ear to ear, savoring the discomfort in their faces. Unlike their deep mumbled chanting he said each word crisp and clear. “Senindas,serindas, svot, quantus bitre hai vessa andat fuor” The cultists had been very dramatic, with their low throaty voices in unison. Phineas's was not dramatic, it was quiet. The difference was the resonance, his words did not sound
spoken. They rumbled and the very stone shook to its timbre. The crowd took a few steps away from the cultists, leaving a visible gap around them. The smell of urine drifted up to Phineas. That was his signal. The front of one cultist's robe was wet already when he vaulted over the cart. Several of the others soon soiled themselves as he landing directly in the center of them. Shock and fear gripped each hooded charlatan in equal measure. He took a deep breath, noticing that all of them held theirs. “BOO!” He roared! They fled like startled pigeons. The crowd roared with laughter. “Wot was all dat garbldee gook der Phin? Somfin bout senininasserus?” Asked a toothless Barkeep who recognized him. “Roughly translated it means, 'Sassafrass, sassparella, stout, how many beers did you drink before you went out?'” He replied to a second chorus of laughter. Phineas and his antics were well appreciated in the warehouse district. He bowed with a flourish, his trademark smile splitting his weathered face in two. Foreigners were hated as a rule in Valenoch, but that didn't mean they couldn't be fun. Only a fool would think they could threaten a Valerian with magic. The very concept of it was beyond him. The city was built on the stuff. Valerians joked they could spot a hedge wizard at forty spans. Phineas hopped back onto his cart, smiling at his faithful steed waiting for him. As soon as he was well past the crowd he reached into his cart and removed a frosty beer, fresh from the tavern. He took a long drought and sighed as his headache faded. With a twinge of distaste he brushed various dead inspects out of his cart, the price for true magic could be a heavy one. However, when the use of power only amounted to beer acquisition, the lives of insects sufficed well enough. He decided this would be a good day with such a fantastic start. Humming contentedly to himself he trundled onward whilst considering whether the city had been molded out of
dough, or perhaps clay. It looked like it was made out of dark ceramics, even the streets had a mild curve to them. Then again, the city was not a grid like that of his birth. “Maybe it was liquid and something froze it. Or maybe it was burned, hardening like clay in a kiln.” Now that was a novel idea, he would have to store it in his fantastic memory next to that thought he had the other night concerning drinking about thinking, or was it clinking when drinking? He let Matilda trundle along the road, the only time he used the reigns was when she saw something edible and needed a reminder. A narrow alleyway caught his eye. Valenoch's alleys had seen the least use over the past millennium. Phineas imagined that they remained much as they were when they were built, or grown, fired, or however it was they came to be. They reminded him of the rapids near his grandmothers cottage on the banks of the river Lascia. As a child he had sat for hours entranced by the chaotic river. The stone here rose and fell in a similar fashion, cresting in small waves less than a quarter of a span in height, but no less interesting for their diminutive stature. “Well 'ell! I's only a span an a quart'ah!” He chuckled “I must agree with you my dear Phineas! Important things are small. Larger individuals can be overlooked as commonplace. Unlike minuscule mysteries such as yourself!” “Why thankee perfess'sah!” “My pleasure my good man!” Matilda ignored his conversation with himself, responding only when directly addressed, preferring to devote her own attentions to finding things of an edible nature. “Ah, perfess'sah, this 'ere is one o me fav'rits!” The uneven stone had tiny lines carved in it. “Now my dear lad, I imagine that this here marked the eddy and flow within the river of
stone. Though perhaps it was a placid stream of stone, stone has always seemed calm to me. Although on occasion it does have a wicked sense of humor.” “Well sah, it does 'ave a dry wit!” “It is rather fitting, is it not my good man!” Phineas loved stone, like was not a strong enough word for his connection with the earth. It understood him. Or perhaps it put up with him as no one else could, he thought with a loud chortle followed by a happy snort. The snort startled a group of religious zealots mumbling under their breath and brought down a new series of curses upon him. Or perhaps it was the fact that he nearly crashed into them rather than snorted that bothered them. “You rock spawned wretch! No good, worthless, fishmonger's get!” He listened for a moment, always game for learning new insults. Unfortunately they were of the common variety, insulting his mother and his birth. “Now then, my good fanatic. How is it that you assume that an act on my part reflects my parentage.” The fanatics stared, expecting the common brogue of an uneducated hauler they were stunned by eloquence. He let their mouths stay open, pausing for dramatic effect. “Now then, this is especially valid as my impression of nobles is decidedly low. I must say that my experience with the gentry thus far has placed their character well below the most of common laborers, especially where cart driving is concerned.” He paused to let the cogs turn, taking a breath as he imagined he could hear the gears grinding in the fanatics brains. “I have personally known a number of fantastic fishmongers. Most of them happened to be wonderful drinking companions. As such I consider being 'a no good son of a fishmonger' to be a rather positive thing. Thus perhaps I am a 'good son of a fishmonger'” He paused again, allowing for the roaring laughter to subside. The gathering crowd
was grinning ear to ear. They were well used to his shows by now and were no longer confused by his language. Many a fine tavern discussion had transformed into a grammar lesson when it was drunkenly requested that he explain what in the Raven's name he had said. His insults were a thing of legend in the area, something he was quite proud of. â€œTherefore, following this perfect logic, I believe this should be a compliment and I thank you for your kind words!â€? He punctuated the finale with his a grin that threatened to divide his face. Confused and unsure how to react they shuffled off into some dark place amidst the jeers of the crowd. With chuckles and re-tellings given to late comers they melted back into the hubbub and bustle of the foreign quarter, allowing him to resume his previous musing. Thinking about his former home touched upon a subject he felt best left banished to the recesses of memory. He decided that extolling the virtues of stone was better than ruminating on the sins of his father, especially in terms of his mental health, something individuals seemed to question on a daily basis. Stone was solid, dependable, helpful in any number of situations and reliable unless neglected. This foreign earth was not quite as familiar to him as his native limestone hills, but he didn't hold that against it. People can't help where they're from and he had never been a fan of all that racist gibber jabber tavern folk seemed so fond of. The strange rocks of Valenoch had become closer to him than his family ever had been. Although it wasn't quite in the same species as himself he could still consider it a distant cousin. If he wasn't racist against the humans he might as well not be racist against the stone either. The stone was certainly a better companion than most of the greedy men he had met in his time. This stone did feel slightly off however, it seemed unnatural somehow. He loved it all the same, he was after all a tolerant sort of fellow and he did love his strange companion all the more for her eccentricities. He had his fair share of them after all. He pondered the list of
his own oddities for some time until a gentle humming brought his mind back to the world around him. He looked up just in time redirect his cart out of the path of a rather large patrol of city guardsmen and silently thanked the stone, receiving a gentle thrumming in response that sounded decidedly bemused to his ear.
Chapter 3 Black pinpricks appeared before Lyrael and slowly stretched skyward to form the silhouette of Draenoch. The great towers rose up from Raven's Bay, marking the gateway to the harbor and offering salvation to the few surviving ships fleeing the storm. The placid waters erupted into madness as she arrived. The still air reached gale force in moments, sending mammoth waves crashing against the sea walls, battering the unlucky vessels. The tempest bashed them together like matchsticks, as indifferent to the sailors cries as to the their deaths. Enveloped by magic the squall swallowed their screams and roared through the stone causeways of Draenoch, barreling relentlessly against battened storm shudders. The staunch city endured, ordered streets empty. Black clouds overhead dumped rain into the swirling winds. Water rose and found worn culverts, the downpour raging into large cisterns that would soon overflow into the sea. Rain lashed against the black cliffs of Sharr, Draenoch's western border. Lyrael strained to force the storm up the cliffs, but her power wained. The enchantment urged her onward, but she felt ragged. Moving so much water had sapped her strength. Halfway up the towering walls she collapsed, letting the water pull her earthward.
A thousand times a thousand he had done his duty, watching the light fade from their eyes, ignoring the pleasure he felt within as Beloch's hunger was sated. But this one was different. He didn't know the child, he didn't want to know it. Leoric ran his hands through his matted black locks. They were soaked in sweat, clumping between his fingers as he pulled his hair back to the base of his neck for the hundredth time. He could feel the tension in his
neck, always worse when he stressed. It felt like a small rock was buried between his skull and shoulders. He attempted to stretch it out to relieve some of the anxiety, instead it just cracked and crunched, the ligaments releasing for a moment of relief before tightening back to their former rigidity. His discipline was always weakest when a woman was involved, taking a man's life was easy, formulaic. A weeping man was disgusting, a woman pitiable. Wiping his grimy hands on a fine silk tapestry he scoffed at his own foolishness. A passing servant gasped at his callousness and stopped. Leoric saw the thoughts written across his face, the horror and affront, the desire to reprimand weighing against apprehension. The liveried man was new. Leoric knew every loyal servant by sight and name. He'd always believed that it was better to terrify a new spy sooner rather than later, lest they begin to think themselves clever. He didn't walk, so much as saunter towards the servant, allowing his height to work to his advantage as the man realized just how tall Leoric was. He let him take in the sparkling darksteel glimmering beneath his tunic, watching his eyes widen as they reached his own. This spy was very new indeed, his shock and fear oozed from every pour, a tangible scent in the air as he stared. Whoever had sent him hadn't even bothered to warn him about raven eyes. Based on the small pool of urine growing at his feet however, he knew what they meant.
The buildings of Valenoch did not look built so much as born, the overgrown children of the black rivers of volcanic glass surrounding them. They varied in height immensely, the monsters of the warehouse district dwarfing the various official buildings bordering them. The customs and excise house he was now approaching displayed the typical Valerian utilitarianism. Squat and functional Phineas doubted it had changed much in the last thousand
years. The nearby and much larger city guard post held a great deal more interest for him. A three story, somewhat rectangular mound, it was littered with carvings. The most obvious were the crenelations and cornices that seemed to bring the building to life. Each was a wealth of beauty, covered with natural themes. Phineas thought this fitting considering the distinct lack of greenery in Valenoch. He paused a moment to examine a leaf covered facade, until the angry shouting of the traffic behind him forced him away. Legend had it that there was so little crime in the city that once the guardsmen had needed a separate internal police force to monitor bored guards. “I wonder what happened to them.” Phineas thought aloud. “Some says dey became deh RavenGuard.” “Well that's just plain foolishness.” “Whose deh worst, the demon or 'is servant?” “Well as I was saying, before you so rudely interrupted me..” “I dinn't interject nuttin! You was thinkin' not speakin professah!” “Hmm, you make a sound observation despite your lack of eloquence. Regardless, I'm sure Matilda is quite curious what happened next.” “Ah, fair point. Continya on as yeh were.” After a great deal of exaggerated throat clearing Phineas continued, this time addressing Matilda rather than himself. “The story claims that one clever sergeant had been an apprentice stone carver before signing on with the watch. His former profession quickly turned into a hobby during his idle hours. In this very guard house.” Phineas waited for a response from his audience, after a time Matilda noticed his gaze and whuffed in his direction while tossing her head. While not the exact response to his dramatics he had hoped for, it would have to do. He continued with more flair, assuming the problem was with his telling rather than the riveting content of the story itself.
“It started with his room and was kept secret at first. The captain was quite strict and they say the sergeant feared being reprimanded for defacing public property.” Phineas raised a single eyebrow and attempted his best impression of a man imparting a secret to another. “Oddly enough, when the captain of the guards discovered the sergeant's redecorated quarters he did not get upset. The captain complimented the work and suggested he train others in his hobby. Soon after the officers mess was dotted with a number of crude carvings. While few had the gift of the sergeant, they continued practicing. Eventually others took up the chisel and unofficial training sessions began in the quiet off hours within the officers' mess hall. The caliber of the carvings improved as more skill was discovered, or so the legend goes.” Phineas remembered hearing the tale while waiting in line to pay his taxes. A guardsmen had been explaining a rather crude carving in the excise office. A merchant had asked why the outside was so beautiful while the inside was quite the opposite. The guard had explained that the first carvers had started on the inside, and only the best were allowed to work on the outer facade. He had to agree. It made sense. The official buildings were quite boring from an architectural perspective. However, the elaborate carvings did a wonderful job of illuminating the otherwise gloomy structures. Phineas's favorite was an ancient carving, still beautiful despite being worn down by the sandy eastern winds. It consisted of two falcons soaring over a forest. The detail was exquisite and their eyes seemed to glow in the morning light. It reminded him of his youth, escaping from the great hall and playing amongst the trees. The reprimands and whippings were well worth his afternoon hours spent daydreaming in the groves of the dryads, when dryads had still inhabited those woods. He recalled with a fond melancholy. Phineas's gentle reverie was shattered as he was plunged into darkness. After a
moment his eyes adjusted to the heavy shadow cast by the inner walls of the city proper. He had been so caught up in his thoughts he had forgotten he was still moving. Shaking his head and gripping the reins the cart nearly ran over a silk clad fellow. Tall and lean he wore the distinctive facial tattoos of the southern kingdoms. â€œVire and ash, you clueless clod, vatch vhere yuur rolling.â€? Each word came out slow and deliberate, the r's rolled in the southern way. Phineas listened, absorbing the accent and trying to recreate it in his mind. The man awaited a response and soon gave up trying to speak Valerian. He instead lapsed into cursing in a strange rasping dialect that sounded more like coughing than a language. The cart trundled on unperturbed by the foreigners colorful tirade. Phineas was quite sad that he couldn't understand, he found the art of insults to be a lively and entertaining exercise of the mind. He decided at some point he must learn more languages, seven was simply not enough. He pondered where he might find another teacher, in the past he had learned from sailors. While plentiful, they often remained in the city for only a few weeks or a month at most, claiming the sea was calling them. Phineas thought it was the call of an empty purse more so than the sickening rock of a boat. Regardless, consistent teachers were very difficult to find. As such he was often in the process of learning two or five languages at once and he sometimes mixed them up. He often blended them together, making a rather wonderful new language he liked to call the Phinetian dialect. Their truancy aside, sailors tended to know many tongues and were more than happy to teach him the choicest bits of any language in exchange for a few tankards. A few years of generous ale donations often resulted in a tolerable handle on a language. It also allowed him to curse in more than twenty tongues. A boast he was quite proud to prove on request. As such he had earned a certain notoriety and was often consulted on matters of extreme import, such as how to best insult a particular person based on his country of birth or
race. This of course brought up thoughts of his own country of birth and how best to insult himself. This digression unfortunately reminded him of his own reason for finding succor in Valenoch, which returned his thoughts to architecture in record time. He looked up at the eastern gate and smiled. Like the outer gate it was surmounted by a huge Raven. The similarity between the structures ended there however. This creature was constructed entirely of darksteel and she called to him with her sweet morning song. He had many reasons he could easily list ad nausea to leave the city, but the sight of her banished them all. Her feathers arced out from her body along the sides of the tunnel, seamlessly transitioning from obsidian to the deep purplish blue of darksteel. Her pinion feathers curled down towards him lovingly, teasing him with their proximity. The tips of them were so close that he could almost reach if he stood on the top of his cart on his tip toes. He had tried jumping to reach them on a number of occasions, but his beloved stone was an unforgiving mistress when he crashed into her. He decided he didn't need any new bruises this morning. Tall amongst his own people, his span and a quarter height was quite tiny compared to the average Valerian's two spans. He looked with longing over his shoulder at the claws descending from the base of the sculpture. Despite being twenty spans above him, he wished they would lift him so he could be closer to her. The fact that the darksteel was as like to shred as caress him was a minor detail he chose to ignore. His desire to fly was still strong after two hundred years, he wondered if he would ever be granted his wish. He had constructed a great number of fabulous devices to this end, much to his dismay. He had never hurt anyone with his creations, well, not on purpose anyway. His sigh caught on his lips as he saw the vendors preparing for market. Called the gateway to the east for good reason, Valenoch's exotics market always held some new contraption or gizmo for him to investigate. Sometimes he managed to save enough drakes to
buy something. He'd play with it until curiosity got the better of him. Happy days would follow, carefully diagramming the devices inner workings and examining their intricacies. Phineas couldn't resist discovering all the wonderful cogs and contraptions hidden within. Despite precise reassembly they never seemed to function after his ministrations. He wondered if all the spare parts left over were the reason. Phineas shook his head, they were simply extra pieces placed within the device in case something failed and needed replacement. He diverted his cart from the main road filled with the morning haul and continued on a minor detour or two through through various treasure troves of machinery. He meandered through the stalls with his cart, listening to the curses and cries of anger caused by his inattentive wandering. And sometimes by his donkey's occasional sampling of this and that. He couldn't blame her, donkey's were curious by nature, much like himself. One must satisfy curiosity at some point or the mind will explode with an over abundance of it . He was often a victim of terminal curiousness himself. Here and there he glimpsed various wondrous bits of this and that. He kept his distance by maintaining his perch upon the seat of his cart. Phineas had learned that placing himself in too close a proximity of shiny things was detrimental to his coin purse. He loved shiny things. Eventually he forced himself to turn away from the market brimming with mechanical goodies and headed back to the now much less congested thoroughfare. The morning rush was almost finished and he was very late. The expected impact of the city's spires never came. Instead, she felt soft hands lifting her up. Her children had answered her call. Enveloped in their forms the rain traveled upward against the obsidian walls. Together they transcended from chaotic gusts into a singled focused emanation. Like a bowstring pulled taught they drew together both wind and water. They found the icy peaks that towered above Draenoch, where only the massive towers guarding the seawall were visible as black shards poking through the raging squall.
Warm sea air met glacial cold. Frozen winds roared defiance at the storms ascent into their domain, fire and ice mingling to create an even greater tempest. The gale raced across the ebony crags and plunged downward in an avalanche of air. Carried by her children Lyrael watched the wastelands below increase in size as they plummeted down the mountain. She hit the ground with a rush, the momentum crushing her as she tumbled across the arid landscape. As her wits returned Lyrael heard the crack of sails spreading their canvas simultaneously. They looked like funeral shrouds, each sail attached to a black stone contraption with no visible driver. The scrape of stone on stone crunched, the grating sound rising in volume as the machines gained velocity. Each one was a small mountain on its own. The ground surrounding the road sank as the wind haulers passed, like boulders tumbling down a mountainside They were the reason she was bound. For all her strength, Lyrael was a slave to a wagon train, pulled down and surrounded by broken volcanic stone and ash. The air here stank, acrid and gritty. Her children struggled to move the heavy wagons, she roared encouragement as they inched the obsidian brutes forward. Strange and beautiful, they were smooth as glass with no hard edges. They looked like monsters from the depths of the ocean, great oblong beasts. Triangular sails stretched across each vessel, resembling enormous cones, sliced in half and spread lengthwise. Lyrael felt more than saw as she drifted amongst her children, goading them forward. The night was hard and long. The heavy canvas fought her every span of the journey. A featureless road rose before her. Like a river of twisting night it was visible only when moonlight escaped the clouds, dashing a quicksilver glimmer of its presence across the
blackened landscape. Time passed unmarked until the smell of them reached Lyrael, a soft warm moldering with a hint of decay. Bracing against nausea, the fetid stench soaked into her. 'Nargs', she thought with disdain. She couldn't see them, but she didn't need to. Their aroma identified the wretched creations. She detested it, but their scent had become a welcome one over the last thousand years. The stronger the smell, the nearer her destination, and release. Bits of tall grass and murky pools began appear alongside the road. Her anticipation mounted as scrub grass transformed into warped brush and gnarled trees. The air was rancid and drenched her with humidity as they forced the wagons into the bog. Condensation formed quickly on the wagons. The chill mountain air in her wake created eerie circular cascades as it warmed upon the smooth stone road. Like effervescing quicksilver the ghostly procession bled water across the highway, setting it aflame with a cold blue fire as the rising sun ignited the glinting droplets left in the wind haulers wake. Exhausted she trudged onward, time passing. Her children had left without a word, exhausted by their labors. Lyrael clung to consciousness. Forcing herself back into a semblance of cognizance she looked around her. The swamp had dissipated back into scrub grass and rubble. The road now cut an arrows flight to the city. Valenoch began as a smudge, a single black smear under the rising sun. Next came the walls, an opalescent glimmer stretching into an elongated line. But it wasn't the walls that shimmered. It was the crystals, the strange formations that grew from the fortifications. They resembled sapphire eyes torn apart. The iris's cut and lain across the earth, shimmering sadly in the morning light as if they missed the eyes they once illuminated.
The blackened walls curved outward in a massive v, arcing towards the road on either side, inviting entry. She was close, so close. She could see Beloch's Cairn now, standing imposingly behind the walls, providing more deterrence than any fortification ever could. A seamless gentle curve, she wondered if the earth had bled them out, a monumental scab to staunch some great wound. A shadow loomed over the wind haulers. The rising sun was blocked by stone, allowing the true size of the outer walls to become apparent. At over two hundred spans high they cast a colossal shadow. Lyrael saw her then, carved in the semblance of a bird with wings forever caught in the down stroke of flight. She grew out of the tunnel, arcing beneath the entryway, as if attempting to escape. Beneath, a portcullis raised on her arrival, each crossbar the breadth of a horse. The binding chafed and her consciousness was slipping again. Hope fluttered across her fading senses, the hold was weakening. With redoubled effort she strained and the stone caravan groaned in response. Closing her eyes and ignoring the disconcerting lack of sky, she passed a second portcullis and entered Valenoch. With the arrival of true dawn the last thread of binding snapped. She broke free screaming her ascent home to her beloved sky. Under slack sails the caravan spent its' momentum plodding across a massive square and coasting into gigantic warehouses. Within moments, an army of swarmed on them like ants on a carcass. Out came goods of every sort. From one came fruits and vegetables, another nuts and dried meats. From others came live stock complaining. Works of skill and technology replaced the bounty of the harvest. Bundles of wheat were exchanged for blades and armor, jewelry, machinery and textiles of the highest quality. As the sun rose higher in the sky, the wagons' brakes were released and they slowly reversed under the weight of their own
girth. They pivoted astward to begin their long return to the sea, trundling now under gravities pull. First at a crawl and then with increasing velocity they rolled down the gentle incline and began their return to Draenoch.
A city without disease or hunger, severe justice and nonexistent crime,a sanctuary for the unwanted, pariah's, thieves, the corrupt who were...