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Chapter 1 ver 2.0 Jax's eyes narrowed in on the target. With cat like grace he stalked his prize, the scent of rhubarb and chocolate mingling in his nostrils. His senses remained alert, he fought to maintain control as the intoxicating odor drugged him. The crunch of dust beneath his feet roared in his ears, matched only by the rumbling of his stomach. Pausing momentarily he listened to the creek of a rocking chair complimented by gentle snores. He crossed the pantry, careful not to touch any one of the thousand jars precariously scattered across the myriad of shelves, his feet avoiding broken bits of glass in the dim morning light. Each doorway entering into the kitchen looked like a gaping maw ready to devour him. Jax laid his hand on the smooth stone wall and reminded himself to breathe. His gaze darted around the room, alighting on anything that looked edible. He crept across the cold stone floor. Every breath was a battle to remain calm, his coarse wool tunic soaked in sweat despite the chill air. Silence reigned as he reached the window sill, his fingers trembled as he strained to reach the steaming pie. With a muffled grunt he stretched, his feet slipping in his own sweat as he groped blindly cursing his short arms. He stopped and listened again, the snoring had stopped. Agonizing seconds passed until the creaking resumed, a full minute later the snoring followed. Swallowing a sigh of relief Jax clambered onto the stone counter, reaching across the water basin he wrapped his hands around the base of the pie tin. Drunk with glee he shimmied down and took a single step across the kitchen floor. That's when he felt it, even adrenaline and purest joy could only numb the pain for a moment. The shock hit him like a hammer and he dropped the scalding pie, the contents scattering across his unprotected legs and feet. Jax's thin leather sandals offered no succor for his sizzling toes. He bit down on his lip so hard it bled, fighting the urge to scream he limped back to the pantry, stumbling and knocking several cans of peach preserve across the floor, his feet crunching as they crushed


the remnants in his wake. Cries of dismay echoed behind him as he clambered over a barrel in his attempt to escape. The window had seemed so easy to come down from, but exiting was proving far more difficult. Curses and the distinct sound of a cleaver being pulled free of a butcher block spurred him onward. Jax half climbed half fell through the other side, landing in the coal bin he had thought so fortunate a step ladder only a few moments earlier. The crack of broken glass followed by the sickening sound of it entering a bare foot gave him renewed motivation. The screams were punctuated by a cleaver chopping far too close to his head as he extricated himself from the coal pile and scrambled into a nearby alleyway. Burned and beaten, he licked the splattered bits of pie off his throbbing hands, ignoring the rumbling of his empty gut.

Far to the east, mouths agape, the sailors blinked in disbelief at a goddess shimmering across the waves. Their duties forgotten, they stared at the spectacle before them. Her angelic form seemed to dance between the ships, the entire armada caught in a single breathless gasp. Every seaman worth his salt knew her legend, the elemental chained by the evil queen, purest magic bent to her vile will. She looked like a young woman formed of mist, the sun's dying light reflecting off the waves gave her a golden hue. They watched as myth came to life. Her binding began with a song, sweet and soft. Then the music changed, becoming chains, shackles of glittering magic that rose from amidst the ships and constricted her chest as the spell bound her. They heard it louder now, the siren's song coursing across her limbs. She didn't seem to resist. It was a bitter irony to the crewmen, her prison sounded so beautiful. They watched


her last fleeting moments of freedom, her mercurial nature taking hold as she darted from ship to ship, finally plunging into the sea amidst a shimmering viper's nest of magic encompassing her. The sea rushed into her, a delicious sensation licking her skin. She relished the salty tang of brine soaked air. She yearned for more time, tickling the foaming white caps and tumbling across the churning roil. With resignation she rose from her beloved sea, the iridescent threads surrounding her split and arced across her form. She heard the sailors cry out words of warning whilst others wept. Once, their pity had warmed her, given her hope. Now she just waited as the opalescent chords split again, forming a net across her skin, a burning spider web that seared tracers across the sailors eyes as they stared unblinking. The familiar feeling settled, caressing first skin and working inward. She weathered the molestation with her usual stoicism, retreating into the depths of her mind. The chains took hold, a second skin that fit too tight. It chafed, a maddening itch felt everywhere at once. She thought of her children, watching them play in the morning dew as the pain of the bonds settled into place and nudged their slave westward.

Piero pulled his cloak tighter against the cold. It irked him how this cursed place could be so damned hot in the day and freeze his marrow every night. He shot furtive glances down the gloomy alleys. Raven jobs were the worst, bad food, bad wine, and bad weather. He just needed to get his partner and get out. 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 weasellike associate was far from punctual, but he always showed.


“By the Keeper, where are you?� 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, reminding him where he was as the pebble made a new sound. Instead of the expected plink it was a muffled clang, like a rock hitting a piece of metal covered by cloth. Adrenaline coursed through Piero's veins as he drew a short blade from beneath his cloak. 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. Shock drowned out the pain, he hadn't heard a sound, nobody was that good. He knew better than to scream, in this place that would bring more harm than good. A city of criminals was more apt to rob a man in distress than help him. Piero stomped down hard, his soft leather boots connecting with darksteel. The razor sharp metal glimmered in the moonlight, casting a soft blue hue across the blood pooling where his heel used to be. A soft rustling, like a bird ruffling its feathers was the last thing he heard as something dark poked through his chest where his heart aught to be. Leoric examined the blade as he knelt over the corpse. Strong steel, good workmanship, but 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. He didn't mind spies in general, so long as they learned what he wanted them to. This one had come far too close to exposing things about the queen better left unsaid. It was becoming more and more difficult to keep her deterioration a secret. The longer she remained in seclusion the more they sent, the more he killed the more they paid them, knowing full well


most would never return to collect their fee.

The morning exodus of the wind haulers still amazed him, despite thirty some odd years of watching them depart with the rising sun. The sea of black machines more closely resembled a funeral procession than any trader's caravan he'd ever seen. Their sails fell slack as they were furled, each beast disappearing beneath the eastern gate, 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. 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 several decades in fact. The bizarre monstrosity of a transportation system was the cities lifeline, and he did value a full belly. Thoughts 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 drunkard 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 food 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!” He morphed with strange glee into rigid posture and 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. “Now my dear Matilda, as you can see my tactical shift of weight was precisely calculated and delicately executed with such grace and poise that I have managed to stop the untimely demise of the most important of 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 broad 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 very professorial expression. The repeated usage of the latter was causing a mild headache. He assumed he was beginning to out think himself. A difficult task no doubt , but he was proud to say that he was the only person who could accomplish the task. “Aeee!” The yelp of dismay brought him back the world outside his own mind 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's, you little rat faced turnip nosed stone spawn!” “Ey now lassie! Don'tchyou be getting de 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 to those too aged to maintain their wits. An accusation was more than enough. Phineas almost felt bad, he weighed the damage done against the possible damage avoided and shrugged. The line between good and evil was as thin as ever. He reverted back to professorial diction and posture, the change in the woman was palpable. Her eyes wanted to believe he was toying with her, but within lurked the terror 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, but they served their purpose. The elderly woman bent her head over 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. Without ale to alleviate them, his musing had to stop. The buildings were odd by most individuals' standards, but it was the ground that held the greatest interest for him. Made of dark black rock shot with veins of red, blue, purple and various combinations in between. It shimmered when the early morning light hit it just so. “Tell my dear, which alley do you prefer?” Matilda replied with a quizzical look before returning to her plodding trot. “Ah, a wise choice, this one shimmers quite nicely in the morning twilight. I think you have a poet's soul my fine girl.” Matilda whuffed 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. However, other less traveled boulevards and avenues within the city had strange lumps and mounds oozing from them at interesting angles. “It is quite a shiny alley, but it's lumpy. It reminds me of when I considered baking as a


new profession, a decision made in passion. It had all been a 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 thought for a moment that perhaps others had eaten said treat before, but dismissed the idea as pure foolishness. “I know for a fact. It was unique. It 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 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?” At this point they started chanting various bits of words. Phineas listened for a moment, curious if there was a single word of magic evident. 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 of course 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. Phineas let a slow grin creep across his face, letting his teeth 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 the hope of 'a great cleansing' before it could form in Jax's mind. His 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. Pushing such disturbing pondering aside 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 if he found 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, 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 thrice cursed thing between his front teeth and yanking it out. The fresh healed skin was still tender from the pie incident. 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, often a joke at his expense he'd finally found a use for his shorter torso. He stood with a jolt and staggered, the blood rushing 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, but it bothered his father to no end and so was worth any amount of suffering to maintain. Jax returned to the sweeping, all drudgery forgotten as he concocted a plan to escape.

The entire flotilla stopped working, the oncoming squall forgotten in their childlike bliss. Ships began to drift out of formation as every crew gazed in astonishment at a creature of legend, a gauzy mist coalescing into a 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. A gathering tempest was visible through her ephemeral form. Their breath stolen in unison, the world stopped, a frozen moment in time. A single sound cut the silence. A cabin boy, too young for such a post. He alone seemed unaffected, smiling as she danced between the ships, stirring the rigging. The boy mouthed her name, whispering it with a lovers grace. “Lyrael.�


Sparks of resistance kindled within her, prompting a struggle that lasted the span of a breath. The tension of her bonds increased. Lyrael ignored the pain. That voice, a child's voice had spoken. If she could only hear it clearly. She had to leave her body, hide from the pain, the helplessness. Ignore the oily taint of magic on her skin, the sensations belonged to another body. The bonds screamed at her to fly west. 'Why go west? Why not go skyward?' her voice chimed like a thousand bells, the chords of magic binding her 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, 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. The first mate looked from the boy to the Elemental and back, his mind turning over once or twice 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 the them clearer now, one by one each crew took up the call. She clung to the sound, their chanting roar battling the rising maelstrom rising 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 her, rising until it surged and overpowered reason. She would not be chained. With a howl of fury her bondage was rent. Wasting no time for exultation she fled east. The seas 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 blunt force trauma. Cables of blinding pain consumed Lyrael's senses and wrenched their wayward servant screaming from her beloved sea. The Elemental was beaten and bludgeoned into unquestioning 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 sang a pleading song unto the heavens, sending haunting notes 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 death of day as the sun was extinguished by 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. The final light of day descended into oblivion and only her tears remained, smoldering behind her. They too fought inevitability whilst the sun's dying


light wept fire at their passing as both were consumed by the sea. A final thought of resistance fluttered across her haze of consciousness. It was annihilated as the well known demands of the spells' compulsion reasserted themselves.

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. “Rinascitaâ€? It was the only word her heard, the other nonsensical jargon didn't even register, but the true word rang clear in his mind as the altar sprung to life. An empty basin atop the altar darkened as the smoky torchlight dimmed. The smoking contents turned to ash as the stone bled until the basin filled to the brim. The newer acolytes stepped back in awe, unused to seeing true magic at work. Leoric suppressed a grin, their naivetĂŠ never ceased to amuse him. He walked forward and reached within the dark liquid, pulling out a small stone


chip inscribed with careful 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 children, the one that came with them to Valenoch was too old. The second he didn't even want to consider, it would be the third then. He must be young, as he didn't know of it. How many years since he had seen her? How many years since he had smelled her hair? It was just another lottery, just another child to the slaughter, 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 difference was the resonance, his voice rumbled and the very stone shook to its timbre. The front of one cultist's robe was wet already when he vaulted over the cart, 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. 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 this morning 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 anyway. A narrow alleyway caught his eye. Valenoch's alleys had seen the least use over the past millennium and it showed. 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 the stone, like was not a strong enough word for his connection with the earth. It understood him as nothing else did. Or perhaps it put up with him as no one else did, he thought with a loud chortle followed by a happy snort. The snort startled a second group of religious zealots mumbling under their breath and brought down a new series of curses upon him. “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 with eloquence. He let their mouths stay open for a moment before continuing. “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 them well below most of the common laborers.” He paused a moment for impact, taking a breath as he heard 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 considered being “a no good son of a fishmonger” to be a rather positive thing.” 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 had become a thing of legend in the area, something he was quite proud of. “Therefore, following this perfect logic, said insult is clearly transformed into a complement and I thank you for your kind words!” He punctuated the finale with his usual face splitting grin. This of course unnerved them to no end and they shuffled off into some dark place amidst the jeers of the crowd. As fast as they had gathered they dispersed, allowing him to resume his previous musing. This train of thought threatened to stop on a subject he felt best left banished to the recesses of memory. As such he decided that extolling the virtues of stone was a far more beneficial than ruminating on the sins of his father. Most 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 generally quite 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. This


strange earth had become closer to him than his family ever had been. He decided that 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.


RavenGuard Chapters 1 and 2