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 The Silent Court 
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Post The Silent Court • Posted: Thu Feb 19, 2015 8:47 pm
This is a bit of a side project I've been working on for a while now. A few people might be familiar with it already, but I thought I might share it with the rest of the Underwoods. (If any of you even exist now D: ). I have a few chapters done so far, and this first post will be the prologue.

I'm sure it won't take too long to really get what I'm getting at. Ya get me? ;D

~The Silent Court~

Prologue – The Shadow’s Business

Around and around, the shadowy man spun his dagger. It was brilliant in the subdued light of the tavern, bouncing away the firelight with the sheen of black metal. The man’s gloved hand gave one more push on the hilt and the knife clattered to the wooden table in a sad display, signaling an impish man across the table. Glittering eyes peered up greedily from the tattered Cloak, meeting horror in those of the man the dagger had chosen.

In a quick flash the shadowy man willed the dagger, wood slivers and all, into the air, planting it squarely into the other man’s waiting eye. A gross display of blood and humour sprayed out into the neatly arranged drinks; the man trembled quickly into death.

“Round two,” the man declared, still comfortable in his chair. Around the table sat five other men, gagged and bound to stools, wavering in their lives. “You have all met me before. I warned you then what would happen the second time,” the black dagger broke free of the impish man’s skull, settling calmly onto the table before its master. “I never break a promise.”

The Cloak looked on, satisfied with their fear. His subdued expression turned to a smile and he exaggerated a shrug. “Come on now, I didn’t buy you all drinks for noth-,” the muffled cries from the dark man to his right gave him pause. A few silent seconds ticked on. “It is impolite to interrupt the host, Brasko. Or was it Braski?” The dagger spun again like a drunk’s stupor and chose the noisy guest. Now his blood joined the display.

“Guess it doesn’t matter now,” the killer laughed, looking intently at the others. “There is always something that takes you back, you know. I know what it is like to be like you,” he pointed at none of them in particular. As quickly as he had killed the two men, he downed the whiskey in front of him. “But now I am me, and I don’t care much for the likes of you,” he continued the game, the black steel of the dagger free of any blood. Another man slumped down, very quiet and very dead.

Outside the world roared aloud instead. In the shrieks of a springtime blizzard the Cloak had known these men would come to this tavern. It was the only haven in this part of the Cowl. All that needed doing was the waiting. The owner was asleep in the loft above, comfortable with the warmth of his wife, comfortable in the dark and the storm, unlike his guests. Their door was locked until their dinner party was over.

Their tavern was closed, but the shadowy man’s was open for business. His business.

“And then there was one.”

A man with a rusted beard blinked away the sting of his sweat, looking on the verge of tears. The Cloak finally stood, stabbing the dagger an inch into the sticky table. It started to draw in the blood and the very shadows of the men who sat lifeless around them. Haunting runes etched themselves out of the steel, making the dagger bubble like it was freshly forged.

Rusty Beard’s head bounced violently off of the table, the force of the assailant’s blow nearly unseated him. The shadowy man pulled out his gag and pressed his skull down into the wood, grinding it into the dirt and blood. The pressure from the gloved hand made him sick, made him feel that at any second it would break through like he were made of glass.

“Wha… What do you want?” he choked, the pungency of death around him. “I will give you anything. Just check our bags behind the bar. They… they’re full of money! You can have our entire haul, please! Everyone likes coin..!”

“No they don’t,” the Cloak whispered into his ear, his breath stunk heavy of various liqueurs. “Some people like the lust of cheap women, the dream of rum and pipeleaf. Some men live for the terrible cries of little children on their laps,” he let go of Rusty’s head and kicked him and his stool down to the floor. The crash was muffled along with the firelight. The shadow of the Cloak retrieved his boiling dagger and he cut the bonds keeping Rusty to the stool. “You would know all about that, wouldn’t you?”

Dazed, the last man pulled himself up, revealing his own dagger hidden on his calf. Rusty took as best a stance he could, ready to fight. “You… you’re a real loon aren’t you?” he spat, wiping his face free of other men’s blood. His vision still sparked with lights as he steadied himself. “I hear all you Voiders are freaks!”

“I wouldn’t exactly call you a liar,” the Cloak strolled along casually, mocking the man from across the room. “Make no mistake, I didn’t leave you for last because you’re my favourite. No, Brasko was the real target tonight; the rest of your lot were just a gift I couldn’t refuse,” he grinned, throwing his dagger clumsily. It sailed past Rusty’s left ear and stuck into the animal hide covering the wall. The poor aim made Rusty laugh. And then the man was there, having covered the room without a step to tower over him. The bandit tried to slash with his knife, but his arm would not obey, shackled by some unknown force.

The Cloak no longer smiled at him. The night was over.



This is a dark tale. A story of vengeance; cold, unforgiving, and never Forgotten.
- His Holiness, The Great Prophet Rekhytas

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Post Re: The Silent Court • Posted: Sat Feb 21, 2015 9:48 pm
Chapter One: Drifting

A young woman wandered the darkness very alone. Clad in brilliant red, she shone like a beacon in the storm. This was the night she had been dreading. She was walking into fate, and fate knew she would end, either dead over a blade or asleep in the soft winter snows.

Around Enaira swarmed the sting of a blizzard, punishing her with winds that threatened to cut her into pieces. There had never been a storm like it in all her twenty years. She pulled her cloak uselessly against her face for some memory of heat. Her legs were numb, cold and heavy companions in her journey. Every step felt like ten, the uneven drifts determined to swallow her whole.

Winds of ice scoured the cliff side she blindly followed, her tingling hands holding it for support. They called this place the Cowl, a giant outcropping of earth thrust up in an earthquake long forgotten. It divided Kingdoms now -- the cliff, a massive sentry to her night. High above the Cowl a vast forest grew, laden with deadly brambles and lakes of peat. Those Underwoods had been her destination but she had misjudged this storm.

Enaira silently begged the men she was going to meet were facing her fate in this blizzard, too; she knew what showing up empty handed would mean. Somewhere beneath her feet was the sinister pilgrimage she was accustomed to, but in the whirling night she had lost faith in all her training. Slung along her back were her trusty bow and a shock of arrows. She brought them to fend off predators, but also if she regained the temptation to kill the crew. They surely deserved it, fuelled by their reputations and misdeeds. Yet, she knew it was beyond her, skills or otherwise.

Five highwaymen would outnumber any archer. If they chose to punish her, she would not hold back. It would be better to die fighting than by hypothermia.

Enaira clung to her long red cap as tightly as she could muster. Her travelling wraps held no comfort, frozen with anxious sweat and covered in crusted snow. She had let herself linger too long in that village, she lamented, toying with ways to escape. Others in her situation would tell where she fled to, and they would find her eventually. They always caught their flakes.

A misstep swallowed her to her thighs and her vain struggle only exhausted her further. Enaira slumped down, screaming out into the night that screamed back tenfold in a maelstrom of gnashing winds. She fought against the weight of her cloak and the snow, losing her balance and tumbling down in a sea of white powder and red cloth. She clipped several stones on her descent, ending with a hard clap against the iced over stream that curled the rest of the range down.

As Enaira stood, her right leg plunged through the ice, the freezing water cutting like knives. Enaira grasped desperately at the thin ice sheet, her hand bare and bloody. The water was only a few feet deep but it was numbing her whole body, soaking into her cloak, the weight threatening to pull her further underneath.

With what little strength she had left, the red woman freed herself from the stream. The tavern was beyond any hope now. They would not be able to extort a dead woman, at least in a way she could remember. She lay on her back, letting the sharp snow bite at her uncovered face. Exertion pulled her towards sleep. The heavy snowflakes danced against the dark clouds high above, lulling Enaira into peace.

***

Death felt an awful lot like floating. It had not been long meeting Him, lying on the mountain side in the bitter cold. Great arms had swept her up and carried her far away through the falling snow, away from all her troubles. Enaira swayed back and forth, toward a friendly light far inside the darkness. She had no particular beliefs on the afterlife, but she had not expected it to be so blue.

A dull cerulean glow hovered above her for what felt like eternity, a beacon that invaded her dreams. Enaira felt comfortable in her death, warm with a fiery embrace. She felt as hot as an ember, heat blazing out of her skin. She was bound to a makeshift bed, writhing in pain.

Alive!

Her vision was spotty, fervent eyes attempted to focus on anything above her. Where she had last seen the dancing snowflakes she now could only see shadows cast from firelight. Enaira’s feet and hands were alive with agony, she cried out a sound that even shocked her. She attempted to lift her arm into sight but a weight kept it snug against her bedroll.

Where am I? Enaira managed to pull herself upright, shaking through the burning of her severe frostbite. She was in a tiny room, tucked neatly in a corner and into heavy wool sheets. Her clothes were gone, now dressed in simple stockings. Whoever had brought her here had even gone to the trouble of tying her long black hair into a messy bun. Maybe she was dazed, but she did not quite know what to think.

Around her arms and legs were wrappings, soaked with a liquid whose smell she particularly disliked. Whatever it was, though, had a very soothing touch. She tried to wiggle her fingers but there was no response. Enaira had never had the time to learn any proper healing arts from her guardian. Xanath would have known how to escape those men. He had saved her from worse fates before. Yet it was her devotion to Xanath that brought her here

At the foot of her cot a tall wardrobe loomed, slightly off level with the rest of the room, its doors left open revealing nothing inside. A rough-cut doorway was to her left, offering a view of a raging fireplace, its heat crashing over her in waves. The ceilings throughout were low and suffocating.

Great, I’ve been rescued by a hermit. Enaira sighed long and hard, sinking low into the bed, suddenly embarrassed. And they undressed me!

A door opened in the other room, bringing with it a draft of freezing air. Heavy footfalls and creaking floors signaled the arrival of her savior, or captor; she feared it would be the latter. The faint blue light returned, drawing her gaze away from the fire and to her bedside. A small table covered in tattered parchment and bottles had been her host’s healing crucible. Her breath caught at the sight of a slender knife among the clutter, pulsing with soft light.

Enaira closed her eyes and feigned sleep, listening closely to the step of the shack’s owner. A few drawers rattled, a clanging of a tankard, then a heavy chair was shifted, drug roughly around the board floor. Disquieting whispers echoed into her room. She peered as subtly as possible trying to catch a glimpse of her weapons and her rescuer. No bow or arrows were in sight, but now a slender man was seated beside her, back angled away and arched over the glowing dagger.

The man was a bit unkempt, his hair black and wild, falling over his work. A heavy cloak was draped across his seat; even the clothes he wore now were black as the night. His face was taut and heavy with a stubbly scowl, but his eyes were alive in the warmth of firelight. Despite his outward appearance, the hermit thankfully smelled clean, even a bit like fancy cordials from Enaira’s favourite shops.

“You don’t have to pretend around me, I know you’re awake,” his voice was quiet, even inquisitive. “Your things are hanging in the other room. You must be feeling better?”

Enaira laid still and quiet, as if pretending she did not hear him. But when his question continued to linger in the silence, she shifted in her bedroll uncomfortably. “Why can’t I move my arms?”

“I was half tempted to saw them off, you should be thankful.”

“Oh,” she looked down again. The wrappings made her arms look frighteningly like stumps already. Even the liquid soaked into them looked like blood. “What do you want?”

“What?” He stopped writing on his desk, but did not look at her.

“What do you want for saving me?” She attempted to be stern, but her entire body ached with the effort.

The man looked at her now, his blue eyes appraising her coldly. He frowned a bit harder than he already was, setting his fountain pen down. “You were saying a man’s name while I carried you here. Xanath? Yes, that was it. I knew a man by that name long ago. You could say he and I were good friends.”

Enaira flushed, she wondered what else she had been saying while she was delirious in her hypothermia. Who was this man? She had never seen or heard of anyone like him growing up with Xanath. Her guardian, a man as good as any father, surely he would have talked about his friends… wouldn’t he?

“You should try to rest more,” he ignored her question further. “The compounds I used on you need time to work. I applied a numbing jelly to your limbs, you can’t feel them and you can’t move them,” he surveyed his work, looking less than satisfied. The man lifted her arm and Enaira felt nothing, aside from a sick phantom feeling. “Mind you, healing is not what I’m best at, I’m not even sure if I can save your feet,” he watched a dreadful shiver overcome her.

“I used a Quilstin’s venom to get the job done, I’m surprised you made it through that,” he flashed a sympathetic smirk that bordered on painful before letting her go. He stood quickly, the glowing dagger gone from the crucible.

“If you’re feeling adventurous, don’t be. You will be able to move most of your body in a few hours. There is a chamberpot by the door and preserves under my cupboards. Don’t make noise, don’t unwrap your leg, don’t bother me or enter my chamber, and don’t leave. The blizzard will kill you for sure the second time,” the hermit pulled his chair along with him toward the fireplace, ending the welcoming speech.

The young woman watched his stride. Her host walked like a soldier, duty-bound, until he reached the simple fireplace. He sat down, openly exhausted, holding a heavy tome against his chest. Enaira’s mind was crowded, trying to accept where she was and who she was with. Could she trust this vagabond? He had saved her from the cold’s embrace, but she felt her time here was only delaying the inevitable. Would she even be able to walk out of here?

Enaira thought about calling out, to warn this hermit of the men who might be hiding out in the storm. Her voice was too weak, and despite the time she had spent already sleeping, the medicine she had been given lingered. Soon the howls of the wind faded into a soft respite.

Enaira drifted deep into a restless sleep. Every now and then she felt awake, unable to separate dreams from reality. Various scenes would unfold in front of her, distorted in mottled grays and reds. Once she imagined the entire shack was in flames and the shadows of her debtors danced gleefully above her. Her leg had turned gangrenous and rotted away in another. A brief moment of blackness and the calming blue light returned, her host standing tall at the foot of her bed. His eyes were empty holes, but she could feel him staring, his gaze cutting deep into her.

Next the man was gone, in his place stood Xanath, as old as the day the Gods took him. He was frowning, holding a decorative cane he once displayed on his mantle. It was a brilliant sapphire staff, but broken. Enaira had asked him what it was, who it belonged to, but he never knew, or simply never told her. Xanath’s specter pointed the staff at her and was swallowed by a bright light.

Sunlight.

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Post Re: The Silent Court • Posted: Sun Feb 22, 2015 6:24 pm
I have read all of the Tomes on this matter, this myth that consumes us. I cannot say with certainty who we are looking for, just that I fear we will not find them in time.

Chapter Two: Preservations

It was morning and Enaira was sitting up straight in the cot, her hair stuck to her face from sweat. The wrappings around her arms were gone, cut and displayed out on the crucible beside her. Her bare flesh looked perfect, if not a little red, dyed by the Quilstin venom that had kept her so groggy. Xanath was gone, the hermit was gone, and even the fire had smoldered. She was alone.

“Hello?” Her voice carried well in the shack. No response came. Enaira lifted herself gingerly from the bed, eager to reclaim her clothes. An ornate cane had been left propped up on the crucible, she attempted to get up without it, leg cast and all, but found herself unable to balance. She resigned herself to its help.

The room from a standing perspective was even smaller than she thought, barely large enough for two people; it was perfect for its solitary resident. Outside the songs of snowbirds carried a charming tune, the beams of light that slanted across the floor betrayed the dust from her old bedding.

Enaira’s thoughts drifted back to her bizarre dreams. The empty eyes gave her chills. The shack was nearly as empty, sparsely decorated and hardly homey. Must not have many visitors... she mused.

In the fireplace room, a sad excuse for a den, there was only the singular rocking chair her host had retired to and a small table littered with old books. Enaira flipped through them absently, finding she could not read or even recognize their language. The pages were heavy and stained with age, the margins covered with notes in a fancy, cramped scrawl.

She sighed, giving up quickly on the miniature library. Her red cloak hung above the fireplace among the rest of her attire, still damp and only lukewarm to the touch. A small bin of firewood caught her eye and she quickly tasked herself to kindling the fire back to a satisfying roar. The front door was the nicest thing Enaira had spotted so far, black steel and very heavy. She couldn’t imagine why such a shambled place needed that kind of security.

A shabby axe would be more than enough to cut a hole in one of the walls.

Displayed carefully beside the entrance were her bow and quiver. The satchel was empty, the arrows had been snapped and the flint crushed into dust. Her host was smart; he knew that saving someone did not mean they could not still be a threat. Enaira knew how to be a grateful guest, but she still soured over his caution.

There was another room opposite the entrance. Enaira entered a tiny kitchen, its cabinets mangled and covered in peeling paint. The kitchen was nearly comically narrow, drawing her vision into a hallway of several more doors, all locked. A cold draft drifted in from the end of the hall. Another equally imposing steel door greeted her, barricaded with a large lock, unlike its brother. A backdoor out into the swirling snows, no doubt.

Despite the shambled appearance of everything, she felt hunger pangs wash over her at the sight of the promised preserves. Jams, breads, and vegetables were lined up neatly as if waiting for her snooping.

Enaira helped herself a little too graciously for her own good, cleaning out two jars by her lonesome. The window by the table she was seated at was grimy, but the sun’s light poured through, brightening the hermit’s home beyond what she thought possible. Enaira began to open the cabinets, mildly afraid of what might be in them, but each was empty; her hopes for new discoveries, like a wash basin or chocolate desserts, died.

A tap at the window startled her. Enaira stood quickly knocking the chair to the floor, embarrassed as she heard the frantic flapping of a raven taking flight.

“A little skittish, I see,” a tired drawl from the kitchen entrance made her jump again. “It’s good. Means you know how to survive.”

“Yes, I suppose so,” she stammered, finally taking in the hermit for what he truly was. He was a good head taller than her. Shaggy in his dark cloak, his presence still managed to carry a dangerous aura. He wore heavy riding boots, but his step was far quieter than hers. Snow was caked in every crease of his clothes but the cold clearly did not bother him.

“You ate my peach preserves?” He pointed at one of the empty jars on the table, looking betrayed. “That was my last bottle.”

“I didn’t realize you had these out for you,” Enaira grumbled, she knew she should not have helped herself so openly.

“Well, no, I had figured you would be awake by the time I came back,” the cloaked man pinched the bridge of his nose, as if the world as he knew it had crumbled. “You really ate them all?”

“I’m sorry? I can just take my stuff and leave. Thanks for everything, I guess,” Enaira made for the den but her host stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. The strength of his grip made her anxious. Up this close she was able to truly see his face and her anxiety boiled. A long scar cut down it like a valley, very old and pale, slicing from his brow, down across his right eye, and finally ending under his jaw. She felt herself staring.

“There is no need for that,” the man shook his head, ignoring her gaze and pointed a thumb over his shoulder. “Out there are men who want to hurt you, believe me. I’ve lived here a very long time and I have seen what your debtors can really do. You will not get far on that leg of yours.”

Enaira opened her mouth to speak but could not form a proper question, or a polite one for that matter. The more she spoke to this man the more she distrusted him. Xanath had warned her about kindness in strangers, how she could not let her guard down over a debt. She met the dark gaze of her host and felt little kindness.

“You are free to leave, I won’t stop you. But that cane you’re leaning on is not a token of our time together.”

“How did you know about my debtors? Better yet, how did you know Xanath?” Enaira pushed, trying her hardest not to stutter. “How am I supposed to know you’re on my side?”

The man seemed to contemplate her for a moment, reassessing her in her aggression. He smiled weakly and released her arm. “I only said I knew a Xanath. I know all about Brasko and his men, and he knows all about me. If you stay here, if only for a while, they will never bother you again. If I can promise you anything, I can promise that.”

“And why are you helping me exactly? I certainly haven’t heard of you, and I’ve lived in Loskoltos a long time. Nobody ever talks about some scary hermit up on the Cowl.”

“Then you haven’t lived here long enough,” he extended a gloved hand to her. “My name is Mervil.”

Enaira took his hand, the glove rough and bound by heavy twine to his forearm. “Enaira. But I’m sure you already knew that,” she watched for a reaction that did not appear. “I will only stay for a few days, until I’m feeling better.”

“It’s the least you could do for eating my favourite jam,” he smiled.

“The least.”

***

Later that evening, despite Mervil’s efforts, he found Enaira’s leg had begun to putrefy. He had feared she had not been found quickly enough in the blizzard, the leg frozen from exposure. Hesitantly, she accepted more of his Quilstin medicine, drifting into sleep. Mervil promised to keep the pain to a minimum, watching the tears staining her face with a dark emotionless one.

The next morning Enaira would wake groggy as before, her right leg stumped at the knee. She prayed it had only been a nightmare, but her Gods were not listening.

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Post Re: The Silent Court • Posted: Tue Feb 24, 2015 4:32 pm
Our host is a peculiar one. He is both warmth and bitterness, impossible to read until he speaks. He carries a Tome he will not let me touch. I have seen him perform acts I could never hope to achieve with a Vessel like mine. Maybe if I ask nicely he will let me read a passage or three…

Chapter Three: Barron

Nights on the Cowl were far more boring than Enaira had expected. She normally avoided the area in the dead of winter, knowing what kind of trouble she could get herself into. Even with Mervil’s company, if she could really call it that, the red-clad woman felt very lonely. Most days she would get a response or two, if he were home, but countless errands kept her host away the majority of the day. Enaira had attempted to read some of the dusty books scattered around the den but found that every last one was in the same foreign language she did not comprehend.

“So is this all you do, run around all day, chop up some wood, and sleep in that chair?” She had asked one evening, five days after her rescue. Mervil had been slumped down in a daze before the fire for hours. Often she would find him daydreaming, if not lost to her he would be reading from one particular book in his collection. Enaira was not privileged enough to see it and Mervil made sure she understood that. He had not answered her then, or on this current night.

The shadow of Brasko’s bandits had kept her with Mervil longer than she had expected. Enaira felt no obligation to stay or to help her shadowy hermit, but she could not ignore the echoes of his promises, or her reliance on crutches. Her debtors were powerful men, even all the way up here. Many other clans held Brasko’s in high regard and would die for them at a word’s notice. It was absurd to think that Mervil would be some kind of threat to him, but the genuine tone in his promise was hard to ignore. There had not been so much as a whisper of them searching for her, at least that was the news the hermit had brought her.

“I’m grateful for your hospitality, but you’re going to have to talk to me eventually,” Enaira huffed, trying to convey her starvation for small talk. She was seated across from him, basking in the heat of her fire. If there was one job Mervil could trust her with, it would be arson.

“I’m not a talker,” he said coolly, making conscious effort to keep fixated on the flames.

“You don’t have a family? Friends?”

“Of course I do,” he replied. “I’m just a hard man to find.”

“You said you lived here for years. I’ve been here a fortnight and nobody has made a courtesy call,” she folded her arms, kicking her leg up to rest on the kindling bin. “I have friends. They must be worried sick about me,” she mused. An empty threat couldn’t worsen the mood. He did not have a response to that, choosing simply to close his eyes.

Outside a squall had kicked up, clattering shutters Enaira had heard but never seen. Mervil claimed she could leave whenever she desired, but whenever she had managed the courage to pack, he merely reminded her of the consequences all over again.

“Not to be rude, but you had more than enough trouble on two feet on this mountain path,” Mervil quipped again, a favourite one of his. He had been encouraging her to stay indoors until the snow had melted. The suffocation of the small space made her weary.

He recently had promised to let her take the journey to the closest town, a village at the base of the Cowl, but only with him shadowing a few meters behind. Enaira longed for the spiced meats and heavy cordials of Barron, but Mervil was always too busy to go.

“I think it’s time for bed,” he mumbled, clutching his favourite book as tightly as ever. Enaira frowned, looking to the exit she could not use, the violet tome in Mervil’s hands she could not read, and the barred door that she could not enter. There were just too many rules here. Mervil walked slowly into the kitchen and into his bedchamber, the loud click of the deadlock bidding Enaira goodnight.

***

Crack

An axe splintered through Enaira’s dreams. Dawn had barely touched the horizon and her breath coiled above her like a constrictor. Enaira strained to abandon her well earned heat, but she was drawn out by curiosity. She hadn’t known Mervil to be this early of a riser; however, there were nights where he did not return at all. She threw on her heavy cloak and gloves and pulled her long cap snugly over her ears.

The heavy steel door was finally unlocked for her.

Crack

With only a light pull on the handle, the door moved silently. The air was crisp and fresh, a welcoming embrace after her fortnight of recovery. Dim light sparkled off of the snow, twinkling almost in unison with the stars above. Rolling drifts splayed out far into the landscape, untouched and breathtaking.

Mervil’s home was situated on a long plateau, dwarfed inside a ring of tall pine trees wider than her hips. Enaira had never seen this place before. They were nearly on top of the Cowl up here, on top of the entire world. The rest of the Kingdom was nestled somewhere down the southern edges of the mountain. In the abyssal darkness the people of Loskoltos were sleeping, unaware of her gaze.

Enaira took a wary path through the thin line of trees. Her makeshift crutches were far sturdier than she gave them credit for. Her short journey emptied out into a wide field of snow, glistening rose as the sunrise. A quick gust brought the smell of smoke and broiled meat, tugging her away from the beauty of the mountain vista.

Crack

Mervil was standing far into the field, a black shade in the twilight. Behind him a bonfire danced in the chilling breeze. With another great heave he brought his axe over his shoulder, eager to continue his work. Displayed on a large stone beneath him were various animal bones, half finished carcasses, and well-seasoned logs, the axe swinging heartily upon them.

A spray of bone fragments scattered into the wind as Mervil removed a leg. He quickly threw the meat into the fire. His face was covered in a red kerchief, matching his cold cheeks. On her approach Enaira could see the charred remains unattended in the flames. She scooped up a long stick and began to fish out her breakfast.

“I wouldn’t eat that,” Mervil was beside her now, the bloody axe absent from his gloved hand, as if it were carried away in a breath.

“I couldn’t resist, it smells so good,” she griped, watching and prodding her blackened hopes. Mervil had been a saint when it came to sharing food, but all his meats were spiced and more salt than substance.

“Especially wouldn’t smell it, either. These deer had the Gryps.”

Enaira did not know what that was, but she wrinkled her face in disgust anyway. She dropped the stick into the fire and pulled her cloak over her face, suddenly cold and definitely not hungry.

“Sorry for all the noise, I had to deal with them before anyone else got a hold of them,” he half hid a process of feeding the fire with an assortment of garments frozen with blood. For all the mess they had cleaned up, Mervil was shockingly free of stains.
“We will have to go to Barron today for supplies, namely food.”

Her heart soared. She had longed to see a familiar face or hear a familiar voice, the quiet and serious Mervil did very little for her loneliness. The man had earned her trust but she was still not sure how. There was a way he carried himself that frightened her, even now in the open world. Everything was a secret and rarely was she privileged to know something.

“Looks like you’re half ready anyway,” he frowned behind his kerchief.

“It’s not like you’ve been promising me a trip!” Enaira jeered, folding her arms to fight the cold.

“True enough,” Mervil quickly disposed of the remaining cadaver. It did not resemble much of a deer to her. She pushed her thoughts away, catching up to the step of her host. He motioned her to the other end of the plateau, himself already prepared for the journey. It was actions like that that made her pause every now and then.

Mervil had a rucksack neatly placed on a stump, his axe resting beside it. He lifted the pouch up and motioned for her to sit down.

“This is not much. I’m no more a carpenter than I am a doctor, but I want you to have this,” he pulled out a ruddy looking object and handed it to her. It was squat in its dimensions and had a couple of straps on one end. The bottom of the device was flat, jutting out a fair distance perpendicular to the straps.

Mervil watched the puzzled look on Enaira’s face melt away as she realized what she was holding. A shabby wooden leg. Her new leg.

“Like I said, it isn’t much. I learned a few things from a… an acquaintance of mine in the Capital,” Mervil began to undo the straps of his prosthetic leg but was stopped by a sudden embrace.

Enaira felt him recoil at her touch and quickly did the same, embarrassed. “Sorry, I just don’t know what to say,” she stammered, slipping the straps up on her thigh.

“I couldn’t have you moping around all day, it was getting depressing,” Mervil was rigid again, not looking at her. He helped her up and made sure she was stable. He pulled out the cane he had given to her their first night together and handed it to her.
“You’ll still need this for some time, but if things go well…” he trailed off, looking far to the south of the Cowl. “Well, we’ll see,” Mervil slung his bag across his back and began the trek down the mountain towards civilization.

Enaira looked back to his humble little grove, the shack barely visible among the proud trees, tall as sentinel towers. The steel door she had left open was now closed, reflecting brilliant reds from the sunrise. The smile on her face almost hurt and the bitterness of the mountain gales finally did not.

***

Mervil had done just enough. He had shown her the way down the Cowl, though, not particularly the safest. When the smokestacks of Barron Village finally peered out of the mist, it had to have been three hours worth of a journey. A journey where Mervil neatly compressed his thoughts into: “move”, “to the left”, “wouldn’t suggest that”, and most poignant of all: “what are you smiling about?”

As the slope lessened and the trees began to dot the path, they finally came across the normally weathered trail. Simple lamp posts lined the snowy walkway, their candles burning with the Eternal Flame. In the spring, flower beds would have staggered all along the path and even the occasional sugarcane would sprout. Despite it being a gate into relatively unknown territory, the villagers of Barron honored it like any other patch of earth.

The Village was famous for its lavish gardens and wineries. Every swath of houses harbored at least one tavern. At least being the polite way of describing it. It was no secret that if the drunkards did not roam in the Capital, they flocked here. Even the guards enjoyed a drink or plenty, none were stationed at the gate or in their tiny tower that morning.

The shadowy man had declined to accompany her through the unlocked gates. A heavy satchel of coins and a hastily written list were the only things she had been tasked with. Enaira could only discern a few items on his paper but when she turned to ask Mervil he had already snuck away.

If there was one thing she did not miss about civilization, it was the noise. The mornings in Barron were never too busy, especially in the winter, but today the murmur was near maddening. Enaira dodged horse drawn carriages, the mistaken bumps of passersby, and the ever grabbing hands of stumbling drunks. Callers on corners were raving about a recent marriage of noble families she had never heard of and some advertised for their favourite pub, most having just left it behind. Braver boys were using their platforms to catcall women, ugly and beautiful. Barron was a summer paradise, but its life drummed on under the winter snow.

These streets were familiar to her, having treaded them with Xanath when she was a child. He had led her by the hand many times through the different vendors and gardens, and she eventually returned that favour. Around the bend was a candied shop she loved, but Mervil never seemed keen on sweets, so she passed it by with a childish degree of difficulty.

The skies were clear and the wind was fair throughout her visit. Enaira’s final appointment was with a very specific vendor, so the list decreed. She found him tucked away and seemed to be the only man selling jams. He was stout, balding and sweaty from his fire in spite of the cold weather. The man’s tunic was unbuttoned, revealing where the rest of his hair had fled to. Just under his collar she could see the hints of a putrid scar. Jagged and bruised edges ran from his collarbone and disappeared down his torso, his skin looked as if it had been boiled and minced in flames.

“Hello, young miss,” he clapped his hands together. “As you can see, I am the best purveyor of jams this side of the Cowl,” the vendor cradled a jar of raspberries like a newborn. “I always buy from Alvz’s Wineries what they can’t seem to mash into liquor before the snow flies. We’re talking the best second quality fruits, two Koltos a jar! If you can’t drink ‘em, you eat ‘em.”

Enaira looked down at Mervil’s terrible writing, trying to determine a number, or even some letters. “I guess I’ll buy five jars of your peaches, sir,” she assumed everything about her request.

The man began to speak but paused, his showmanship gone. He looked her twice over, from the list in her hand to her arched eyebrow. Quickly he arranged five jars onto his table and pushed them impatiently towards her.

“Thanks?” Enaira reached into the coin purse to pay but the man protested.

“These are on the house, miss. My warmest regards,” he shifted uncomfortably, pulling his tunic up to his neck. “Now if you could just let me carry on,” the vendor ushered her out of his hut, but there were no other customers waiting.

What a loon.

Enaira gingerly placed the jars into a rucksack, fitting them tightly against a bundle of carrots and a rack of dried pork. She slung the bag over her shoulder and returned to the bustling streets. Across the centre square she watched as two burly men tossed a third out into the slush, curses flying between all three. It had to be noon by now. Mervil had not given her a time limit, but the longer she stayed the more anxious she felt about it.

“…Brasko…”

The name brought her to a halt just outside her way home. A door to a tavern, the Rum Ruum, was open and a loud chorus of laughter echoed out into the street.

“But enough about that old hog, what were you yammering on about?” The voice spoke again. Enaira sidled up to the door, peering into the dark and smoky room.

“Eh now, no sense in jumping at ghosts, Siq,” another man spoke, leaning precariously in his chair, wet boots resting on a table. He was barely older than Enaira, dressed up in a long green cloak that did not suit him. “Nobody has heard from that chicken *Navi* for weeks now. Even Thom from up on the Peak hasn’t been seen whoring since, either.”

“I won’t believe anything till the Callers get the right wind of it,” Siq was the bartender, tall and lanky, but just as sour looking as his patrons. “Even if they hit hard times with the Knight’s Guild and run off, they’ll be back. They always come back, Kazar.”

The man in green shrugged and laughed. “Brasko being gone means there’s room for another lowlife to run the show. Might as well be you, me, or that jam guy down the street,” Kazar looked for agreement among the bar, most of the men wallowing away in their liquor. “You know the guy, Siq, what’s his name? Horace? Hoki?”

“Damned if I know!” Siq laughed, pouring another brandy for a particularly sad looking man. “If you start something up you know where to find me. Just don’t be pinching me out of my rum.”

“You know my brother is the only rum man in my family!”

Enaira had heard enough, stepping quietly away from the door. She could not imagine a kind of trouble that would force Brasko and his thieves out of Brigand’s Peak. She passed through the iron gate, still unguarded, and started down the path. She could choose to leave now, with a bag still heavy with Koltos and another with food. Things had been worse before, but Enaira frowned; she knew she could survive, but she was no thief. Not after the kindness Mervil had given her.

The idea that Brasko was gone made her insides flutter. Even if the thief in the Rum Ruum was right, who could kill all of those men and keep it a secret? Enaira craned her neck to take in the twisting paths up the Cowl and repositioned her bag of spoils. Mervil stood in the distance, beckoning her back up the mountain side, choosing for her.

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Post Re: The Silent Court • Posted: Thu Feb 26, 2015 5:29 pm
The girl is smitten, any fool can see it. Now the matter with who exasperates me even now. I admit that he is not an evil man, but he has done evil things I am not sure the Gods could ever forgive. She is young and, despite her role, still believes there is a place for her emotions in this world now. I envy that.

Chapter Four: Truth in the Bottle

Kazar was the finest thief in all the Five Kingdoms, or so his brother often boasted. If there was a coin to be had or a woman to be loved he fought more valiantly than the Loskoltos Guild Master. Tonight the younger brother was spinning yet another tale.

“And then after he stabs the guy in the eye, he leaps off the cliff,” Railin threw his arms out wide in a daring pose, knocking his rum right off the bar. “*Navi*, sorry about that Siq. I already paid for that one, right?”

“Well, no you-,”

“What was I saying?” He looked dreary eyed into the crowded tavern. Somehow finding his answer, he snorted. “Then the damn fool breaks his ankle!”

The Rum Ruum erupted with varying degrees of laughter, Railin the most enthusiastic of all. He wore similar robes to Kazar, a milder green with black trim; clothes that did not fit a thief. The older of the brothers laughed along with him, although a bit forced.

“You always know how to keep my reputation high, don’t you,” Kazar clasped his shoulder and signaled for another round for Railin and himself.

Enaira sat quietly in the corner chewing delicately on the awful bread the Rum Ruum passed as food. Trips to Barron had been very frequent since her successful peach fetching; Mervil often chose to stay at home rather than watching her. This tavern had its charms but she was here for information not for drinks. Kazar had done all but mention Brasko each time he passed through, but if anyone would know the truth it would be another thief.

Kazar and Railin were an odd pairing. The two men were amiable most times, coming in together and sharing drinks and merry tales of their ill deeds. Other less flattering visits had occurred, usually ending in a fist fight and then more drink and merry tales. Despite being criminals, Enaira almost felt a connection to them. Mervil had warned her of befriending people in Barron, he claimed the Village’s good-natured attitude towards brigands would spell disaster.

It had been nearly a month, the snow at the base of the Cowl was melting, and Brasko’s band had not even pissed on Barron land. Enaira felt as safe as ever, even surrounded by these thieves.

“I hear the Guild has been nosing around the Peak lately,” Siq flipped Railin’s empty glass over, ending the evening binge. “Got any clue what they’re looking for?”

“Can’t say I know,” Kazar held down his brother’s unflattering hand gesture. “Brigand’s Peak is pretty much a ghost town now. That big oaf Master of theirs probably wants to set up shop and shoot any man that so much as thinks about hiding a stash.”
There was a swell of chatter among the men, most of which had fled the Peak during the winter. Enaira recognized some of them, but could not name them.

“I can’t see any fool trying. If that Voider Al’non is up there with all his Knights, they can have it,” Siq said. “I’ll tell you, if I woke up one morning and my tavern had more blood on my floors than wood, I’d have my *Navi* out of there.”

“You sure that was blood and not Miq’s wife slopping?” Railin chuckled, losing the battle with his drunken stupor.

“Oi, my brother’s wife’s been sober for two months. Besides, living with her has got Miq pretty familiar with what’s blood and what’s not,” Siq scowled, or at least appeared to be. Enaira always thought of him as scowling. “Only thing he can’t figure out, or any of those Knights either, is where all the bodies got off to.”

Enaira had picked up inklings of a murder on Brigand’s Peak but had not thought much of it. People died up there every day, it came in the paperwork of being a criminal. Now, hearing the story in this place, she could almost fit some sort of puzzle together, but she did not know what it was.

“Maybe the twist will catch up to Al’non, Gods know he’s had it coming,” Kazar frowned as Railin gracelessly passed out in his chair. “He might be the Guild Master, but that man has a lot of enemies around here. I figure he’s only dared because Brasko’s been gone so long. But I’ve had enough of all this dead talk, Siq,” he pulled out a fancy coinpurse and paid his outlandish bill. “I’m sure Railin will be back in tomorrow. Make sure he gets the bill, too.”

The green thief shook his brother awake, or as near conscious as possible. Kazar made himself a crutch and left the Rum Ruum as they always had; one drunk and one comatose. Enaira ignored the urge to follow him, to pellet him with more questions. She landed into her trouble with Brasko that way, and for being a thief Kazar just did not feel right. She paid her tiny due to Siq, who merely eyed her curiously, and fled back into the night.

***

Railin stunk of alcohol. It was not a new smell for him, but one Kazar did not care for. They may have been partners in crime and liquoring but they were family first.

The two thieves had retired to their benefactor’s attic. Kaz had learned that with enough coin, charm, and clever threats, he could make any man his friend. During the harsh winter, the mayor of Barron had made a fantastic friend, suiting them up in warm clothes and plenty of money. Up here he could watch the business of the village uninterrupted, single out any future targets or keep notes on the men not too fond of him.

Tonight, as usual for the week, he watched a familiar figure. A young girl in black and red had left Siq’s tavern, looking keenly around her. Kazar had not noticed her until recently, sitting in some forgotten corner of the bar, eating the same terrible sandwich. Was she one of Al’non’s spies? It certainly would not be the first time the Guild Master had hired such a terrible shadow; a beautiful, but terrible shadow. Her reliance on a cane did little to hide her in a crowd.

Whoever she was, she always sat in for Railin’s stories and the gossip from all the men of Barron and the Peak. The red woman would never speak, but always listened. Listening for what? Kaz rubbed the sleep from his eyes and let out a long sigh, closing the shutters.

He did not like hurting women.

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Post Re: The Silent Court • Posted: Sun Jan 01, 2017 7:21 pm
-Let's try this again shall we?-

We have seen sights forgotten for generations. I cannot help but feel pity for our friends, as impossible as it still seems, that do remember. They walked these lands together in war those generations ago. Now they walk alone and burdened by further bloodshed and hatred. I am glad to be ignorant of their sorrow.

Chapter Five: Scouting

The old peddler danced a few decades younger than his age. It was not only the sweat on his brow betraying him, his deep laugh lines and snowy beard had erased all doubt. Spring in the port city was warmer than usual; an uncomfortable heat swelled in from the bay and blanketed the markets in a humid mess.

Daedus, whose age was hardly an improvement on the man in the booth, had been quietly shopping for stewing vegetables. He lived a quiet life as well, alone and humbly in a flat hidden among the docks of Alvz Port. Never one for crowds, he usually picked around the Market Square barely past dawn, but today it seemed everyone had shared his aversion.

The sun blazed proudly, a golden sliver barely above the horizon, lighting the streets full of bickering people. They fumbled and pushed through the narrow lanes between vendors and arguments of cut lines were loud and constant. Only this booth, the one with the peculiar old timer, was quiet.

Daedus lived a simple life. A simple life had simple needs.

“I see you share a love for fish and silver, my dear fellow,” the sweaty peddler’s eyes twinkled impishly. Daedus was surprised to be addressed despite being the only customer there. The man jumped down from his calling stand in a plume of colour and facial hair, eager to barter. He was wrapped in a green cloak with mustard yellow fringes, the garb of a nobleman, although a bit on the short side.

“You might ask ‘what fool sells fish at port towns?’” The older of the two waited for an answer, but all Daedus could muster was a hum and indifferent shrug.

Just here for the calm, he mused silently.

“Not a talker, I understand,” the man laughed, his smile bright and welcoming. He stepped out from his booth, smelling ever so slightly of sour tarnish. “The answer is simple: the fish aren’t for sale, they’re just my breakfast. I only deal in trinkets: brass, silver, occasionally gold. And,” he picked up an elaborate case with the delicate care of a father. Expecting jewels, Daedus was staggered to see the box filled with mounds of silverware.

“You’re joking right?” Daedus chuckled, his voice as tired and wispy as he looked.

“I thought the fish already settled that. I’m neither a fool nor a jester. Most of the time anyway,” he winked and shut the case quickly. Extending a moist palm, the vendor smiled almost too genuinely. “The name is Yazstromo. Not Yuzstromo or Yazstromeo. Sound it out, I’ll help you the best I can.”

Daedus butchered the name on his first attempt, but Yazstromo was persistent and jovial until he was triumphant.

“I’ve never heard such a peculiar name in all my years,” Daedus did his best to avoid using it. “I take it you’ve come in one of the ships, yes?” The City he called home, Alvz, was the greatest trade center in all of Loskoltos. Ships from all the known Kingdoms moored here, carrying all kinds of confectionaries and perfumes. Names like Yazstromo could have come from any land as far as Daedus was concerned. Once he knew the names of neighbouring kingdoms. Once. He did very little other than exist in his tiny corner if he could help it.

“Not in the slightest, my friend. I’ve been in this exact spot for years,” he wrinkled his already wrinkled nose and returned to a second chest inside his booth. “Loskoltos and I go way back. I could give The Cowl a run for the dustiest thing still here,” another infectious laugh made Daedus smile wider than he had in a long time.

“Surely you don’t expect me to believe that,” the younger man laughed quietly. “I’ve been here longer than a few years and I’ve never heard of you or seen this emporium of… things.”

Yazstromo seemed too busy with his new treasure, looking earnestly at Daedus as if pleading him to question about it. The chest was made of a rich, dark wood, and had a padlock a size too silly to keep it shut.

“I’m a traveler, a Scholar of sorts. You’re just the lucky sort to find me at the Port today,” Yazstromo stopped and appraised his customer in a new light. “I didn’t get your name, Squire?”

“Daedus. Daedus Stoutfall.”

“Well Daedus, what do you think of this?” he relinquished a tiny metal object from the mahogany chest, clutching it gingerly between his hands. The trinket was a tiny brass bird, a simple pleasant design from far away, but when Yazstromo brought it uncomfortably close to his face, Daedus could see so much more.

“It’s a mechanical bird?”

“Yes, but I see that you see more than that.”

The innards of the trinket clicked quietly under the murmur of the market. Daedus caught glimpses of a gear system underneath the metal plates. He had seen devices with gears before, but this one was so small and trivial in comparison.

“It’s a complicated mechanical bird?”

“Exactly,” Yazstromo took one of Daedus’s hands and placed the device in his palm. “I’d like for you to have it. Consider it a token of our short time together. Normally I would not part with something so intricate, but he compliments you so well. I even named him. You can change it if you’d like, but he might protest.”

Daedus felt like his very breath would break the little bird. He had never owned anything as beautiful, at least something that was strictly a decoration.

“I’d be honored to take it, but you don’t even know me,” he went to return the gift but Yazstromo wagged a disapproving finger.

“Take him home for the night, and if things don’t work out between you two, I’ll gladly take him back.”

The crowds of customers began to migrate through their lonely exchange, as loud and boisterous as before.

“What does he even do?” Daedus turned the bird over, looking for anything the gears might have been necessary for.

“You’d have to ask the woman who entrusted it to me,” the peddler laughed. “Though, I wouldn’t recommend trying, she’s probably long dead by now,” Daedus did not know whether his new friend was joking or not, so he took the neutral stance and said nothing at all. “If you learn anything about old Lewis there, be sure you come to me first.”

“Who else would I even consider?”

“That’s the spirit, Mr. Stoutfall.”

***

The remaining hours in the Alvz market had been even more peculiar without Yazstromo’s company. Daedus was ever mindful of the fragile trinket in his rucksack, careful not to bump a passerby or stub a toe in an upturned cobblestone. The bird was like a burden now; he could sympathize with a man wishing to give the mechanism away just to be free from the fear of breaking it.

That’s probably why I have it now, just to worry over. Daedus had lamented. He had tried to work his way back to Yazstromo’s booth to give him a piece of his mind, but the crowds kept pushing him further out. Eventually he accepted his fate; after all, he could just bring the bird back the next day.

A few bundles of stewing vegetables, some fresh oils and a loaf of rye bread later, Daedus had exhausted his coin purse. He worked as a dockhand in the day for a modest pay and, if he could manage the hours, his nights were spent cleaning ships for spare Koltos. Practically living on the pier for all his years had paid off, he knew which Captains would pay well for his labour and which Captains would rather die than see his vessel tidied.

I bet this little bird is worth something. Daedus had caught himself thinking this a few times in the market, especially at stands selling clothing or jewelry. Fortunately for ‘Lewis’, Daedus did not have anyone he cared to fancy with such things. The extra coin would do nothing but sit in some corner in his house, which was the fate the tiny bauble would have anyway.

“It’s a good thing you’re pretty,” Daedus said as he emptied his rucksack into his pantry. Lewis had been the last item to be put away, placed delicately on the mantle in his tiny den.

By the time he had retired to his flat the sun had hit midday and the humidity had a made a mess of Daedus’s mood. Situated off of one of the larger piers, his flat was usually eclipsed by the shadow of a trawler, keeping it at least bearable inside. The thought of Spring seemed lost on Loskoltos, one day wintry winds had brought ice into the harbor and on the next hot summer breezes had blistered it all away.

The dockhand was thankful he did not have to work in the heat for at least a few days. The Southern Knight’s Guild was coming to Alvz to recruit new soldiers, so most fleets kept clear of the dock, fearing conscription of their best crewmembers. Daedus had never worried about service to the Capital, each time the Guild came to his door they would see a tired, thin man who looked barely able to lift a chamberpot on the best of days. Now, even better, Daedus was a tired, thin, and old man.

In his youth he had dabbled in the art of swordplay, he even held onto a fencing blade he had quite fancied, but blood and glory were out of the question now. Daedus would happily clean decks until he could no more.

Having locked his door and pulled his curtains, Daedus attended to his next crucial mission: dinner. The clicking bird on his mantle seemed to keep time with his cutting knife. As quickly as Yazstromo had invaded his life, Daedus had prepared a pleasant stew. He ladled out the pale brown soup and pulled a chair up to the lifeless Lewis.

“It’s been a long while since I’ve had company, little friend,” he kicked his feet up on a stand nearly as rickety as himself. “You just keep ticking and I’ll keep on eating.”

A few helpings of beef stew passed and Lewis now occupied his fumbling fingers. Even with all his calluses, Daedus could tell that the metal was rich and smooth, surely something that could not be replicated in Loskoltos’s mines.

“Now I hardly think Lewis is a name fit for you,” he whispered quietly, feeling a bit foolish to be talking to a trinket. Daedus wracked his brain, rocking back and forth in his chair. “Maybe Quill? Or is that too expected?”

The gears clicked once more, then silenced.

“That’s strange…”

A loud rapping came from the front door, jolting Daedus from his seat. He never received visitors, especially this late into the evening. Perhaps if he kept quiet they would just leave. A few moments passed and there was another, sterner knock.

“Not interested!” he called out, putting Lewis aside. Daedus moved quietly to peek through his curtains and make sure his locks were shut. “You’ll have to come back in the morning!”

“That doesn’t suit me,” a voice replied, feminine but hard all the same. “It’ll just take a moment.”

Daedus stopped his hands at the first lock. If someone were out looking for trouble they would have waited until night, wouldn’t they? They also would have just kicked his door down. He shook his head and opened the door to the late caller.
A tall slender figure stood waiting for him, cloak rustling in the cool breeze. The evening light covered her in shadow and Daedus’s fire cast soft shadows on her face, but not enough to see it by.

“Yes, can I help…”

“Your name is Daedus Stoutfall, correct?” She interrupted, choosing to stay in the alley rather than enter his flat.

“Yes, but how did…”

“You have a bit of a reputation as a deckhand around the port,” she tilted her head at him, a smile hidden somewhere inside the hood. “I’ve just landed and need some help.”

“Well, can’t this wait until morning? I was just about to settle in,” Daedus turned to the dying fire and the remnants of his supper. “I think I’ve done my fair share for strangers today.”

The woman did not respond right away but held a hand up in protest when Daedus went to bid her goodnight. “I’ll pay double your normal fee, even a few drinks down at the pub. I’m here only for the night and need to sail by morning,” she flashed two gold Koltos.

Daedus coughed abruptly, tidying up his shirt even though it would soon be dirty from lower deck work. He wasn’t interested in the gold, but it was impolite to turn down free ale. “Come in, just let me grab a few things and we’ll be on our way.”

The woman entered but made no sound, her footfalls silent despite heavy boots. She had left the door open, letting the firelight spill out into the night. Daedus was not a short man by any means, but she was the tallest woman he had ever met.

“That won’t be necessary,” she rounded the mantle, hood still low on her face. “I’ll have everything you need and plenty of others to help you.”

Daedus was ushered out of his flat and down the alley almost hurriedly. “And what do I call you?” He asked, attempting to catch his breath. She didn’t answer, gliding along the pier effortlessly. First that peddler had pulled his chain and now this towering woman was doing the same. Daedus wasn’t an angry man, but he did have a cranky streak when he was tired.

Could this day be any worse?

”Wait, where are we going?” They sailed past several piers and had turned toward the market square instead. The night was young and none of the Eternal Posts were yet lit.

“Drinks!” She laughed, stopping up by the pub. A drunken chorus carried out into the salty air, a shanty Daedus recognized as a popular Royal Navy song. A couple of Loskoltos guards stood on either side of the door and removed their helmets at their approach.

“Captain!” They both saluted, opening the door for them. Daedus froze at the threshold, the pub full of soldiers stumbling into salutes.

“You can call me Naomi Goldenwing, but that’ll be Captain to you from now on,” she smiled down at his dumbstruck face, laughing warmly. “Welcome our newest recruit, boys!”

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Post Re: The Silent Court • Posted: Sun Jan 01, 2017 9:26 pm
There has always been a stigma towards Voidwielding in Loskoltos. I have no strong feelings either way, I draw power from Vessels like most men, but I do not fear ‘Voiders’ as the rabble do. Vessels and Voiders are gifted peoples but they have waged against each other far longer than history cares to record. Unfortunately, those battles were waged with swords more than minds. I am thankful I am not a common man; I could not bear to live in a world where my neighbor could throw fire, whether it came from a Vessel or the Void.

Chapter Six: New Stances

Daedus continued do stare deeply into his drink despite a hearty rousing from the soldiers. Naomi, apparently his new Captain, was off entertaining a few other recruits. They looked nearly as downtrodden to be in this pub as he was.

Gods, this must be a dream. No, a nightmare!

“Why the long face?” A familiar voice cut through the swelling chatter. “If you’re trying to catch that brandy on fire with just your eyes, I think you might actually do it.” The empty seat to Daedus’s right was now taken by the rump of a, now thankfully, less sweaty silverware vendor.

“You!” Daedus gaped, nearly falling from his stool. “What are you doing here? Did you have something to do with this ridiculous woman?”

“Now, now, that’s no way to speak about your Captain, solider!” Yazstromo laughed heartily, a twinkle in his green eyes. “Make no mistake, Mr. Stoutfall, Naomi Goldenwing makes no mistakes with her recruits.”

“I’m nearly fifty years old; I haven’t so much as touched a sword in nearly half that time. She could be King Darik’s Advisor and I still wouldn’t trust her judgment,” Daedus would have been embarrassed to hear the exasperation in his voice if he were not too mortified to care.

“Surely that’s the ale talking, mate,” Naomi clasped his shoulder, having swept her way to the bar as silent as she navigated the Port. “There are things that we will need to discuss, but this is not the place. Enjoy yourself, Daedus, you come highly recommended by Yaz here.”

Daedus bored his gaze into his older companion, waiting for him to burst into flame. Unfortunately, he just sat there beaming on.

“You’ve earned my trust as well,” she dug into the pockets of her cloak and removed a tiny mechanical bird that should have been resting neatly on a mantle down by the docks. “Most men would have sold this as a mere trinket, but Lewis here was made by the finest Vesselsmith in Loskoltos.”

Vesselsmith, there was a term Daedus was not familiar with.

“I’ve heard he’s fine at quite a few other things, too,” Yazstromo said. He winked obtusely, waiting for a rise that never came.

“Before you go any further,” Daedus said, raising his hands defensively. “You’re clearly mistaken. You have the wrong man. I am not fit to be a sailor, a soldier, anything but a deckhand. Can I please go home?”

Naomi seemed to ponder this, tilting her head again in her peculiar way. She pulled back her hood, revealing a strong angular face and long blonde hair. Her appearance seemed off, almost foreign to Daedus. There was no denying she was beautiful, but her eyes fell on him, stern and piercing like a hawk’s.

“I’ll consider it, but only until you have heard what we have to say,” her warmth from earlier was gone, as if she were dealing with an unruly child. “You could say that even Master Al’non himself has requested you join my crew. Only an invitation from the King is more distinguished an honour.”

Daedus had heard of the Guild Master before: a hero among the land, leader of the Kol Knights and the King’s armies. Al’non was the only son of little known immigrants from across the Shivering Seas. He was a master duelist and rumours abound claimed he was a Voidwielder, a distinction he did not deny.

The King was the voice of Loskoltos, and Al’non was the fist.

Yazstromo folded his arms and joined Naomi in their silent appraisal of him. What would Al’non want with him? What could he possibly need a menial, tired, and middle aged man for?

“What do I have to lose? I’ll listen to what you two have to say, but that doesn’t mean I’m about to enlist in the Royal Navy,” Daedus finished his drink, wishing he had five more in the queue. “I just met you both today, and I’m not particularly happy about it. No more surprises.”

An odd metallic whir cut Daedus off. The tiny bird in Naomi’s palm began to tick again, as it had in his flat earlier that day. It sprung up, lively as if it were a real bird.

You can make that three new friends today, Daedus. Lewis’s beak opened and the words carried out in a pleasant, musical way. It was unlike anything the deckhand had heard before.

Daedus thought to pause, but simply turned back to the bar and lifted his empty glass to signal another. “I swear on my mother’s grave I’ll never go to the market again,” he promised loudly.

Yazstromo laughed his infectious laugh again. “That’s my last surprise for the day, my friend. I can’t promise anything on the Captain’s part though. I figured Lewis would have chewed your ear off long before we fetched you”

“Finish that drink and we will head to the Deliverance to discuss the matters at hand, there are things I know you will want to hear,” Naomi smiled at him again, almost with a sign of pity. She handed Lewis to Yazstromo and pulled away into the crowd, joining the merriment of her crew once more.

The bar was loud, much louder than the night Daedus had envisioned he would be having. Maybe it was the ale, but he could not help by smile at the ridiculous time he was having. He, an old man, was sitting in a pub at the invitation of a fetching young lady. There was always a first time for everything wasn’t there?

A chorus in the Navy’s shanties began to rise above the other drunken yelling. Daedus knew the words well. Before long he joined in, surprised even at himself.

***

Enaira dabbed an oily spread on her blistered knee. Mervil had warned her about travelling too often on her leg and, as always, he had a point. Angry blisters had formed from all of the rubbing on the wood. He had done a decent job on the finish, but two trips a week down the mountain had taken its toll.

“Either you forgo Barron for a while or I’m going to have to carry you on my back,” Mervil ripped out a page from a book he had been studying all week and threw it into the fire. “And I’m not throwing out my back.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” She folded her arms, accidentally smearing the ointment on her tunic. The hermit just smiled, very subtle but not too subtle. “I told you I’m only going because of what I’m hearing about Brasko, not to get away from you. Well, not just to get away from you.”

Mervil surveyed her quietly for a moment. He would do that often, stop talking and stare at her. It had been irritating at first, but she found he was becoming a better conversationalist over the last while. Maybe it was a nervous tick he had; surely he was just adjusting to actually having someone sitting in front of the fire with him.

“I think tomorrow we will run another drill,” he broke the silence, changing the subject quickly. Often he would ignore any gossip Enaira had gathered, as if he already knew what she was going to tell him. For the last few days they had been practicing stances with her archery. With her new leg she had found it difficult to call on Xanath’s training, but Mervil was a natural, almost like he had done all of it before. “Once we have you caught up, I think a trip to the Capital is in order.”

The Capital city of Loskoltos, Kol, was a place Enaira had not been since she was a child. It was three days south of Barron Village and four days west from the Port City, Alvz. That was assuming you followed the main roads, complete with their fair share of tariffs and ruffians.

“I can’t picture you as the city type,” Enaira said.

“You’d be right,” Mervil replied curtly. “But there is someone we must meet with there, assuming everything is going well with him.”

“You don’t sound confident. Who is this man? One of those friends you keep mentioning but I never see?” Enaira smirked; she found some of Mervil’s abrasiveness was rubbing off on her.

“Are you familiar with Vesselsmiths? Voidwielding?”

Enaira stopped smiling and looked away from Mervil’s accusing gaze.

“Of course I am. If you knew about my contracts with Brasko then you should have already known,” she said quietly. “Xanath was killed by a Voider. Brasko enlisted one from across the seas. Betrayed his word. Betrayed our contract. Betrayed us.”

“Who was this Voider?” Mervil leaned forward, focused on her every word like never before.

“I killed him,” Enaira spoke with no remorse. Or at least, she feigned it well. “You can’t trust people like that. I should have known better.”

Mervil let the room go quiet. He folded his arms and shook his shaggy head. The dagger he fancied appeared back in his hands glowing with its dull cerulean glow. He was fast with that blade, Enaira could never figure out how he did it. Mervil held it out to her to take.

“You’re sure? I just admitted to killing a man,” she stared at the black knife, not sure if this were some kind of test. “Well, I shot that one with an arrow. Knife on a really long stick if you really think about it.”

“Just do this for me and I will tell you everything you need to know,” Mervil flipped the dagger and offered the handle earnestly.
Enaira gripped the dagger, its handle strangely warm but very comfortable. The blade continued to pulse its soft light. Mervil stroked his beard in thought, sitting back in his chair looking relieved.

“I don’t understand. What is this thing?” Enaira could feel some kind of weight in the blade, not from metal but from something.

“It’s a Vessel. Well, not exactly. It’s complicated,” Mervil rolled up his sleeve, revealing an assortment of rings and bracelets. “It’s like a Vessel, full of magic. Not any particular type, however. Those Eternal Lamps that the cities love, those have Bloodfyre magic. Specialized. I wear a ring of Bloodfyre, helps with the cold.”

“That dagger is a different kind of special. Its magic comes from the same place as the rest. Except its magic is the Void.”

Enaira looked away, placing the dagger down on the table. “I’d rather not have anything to do with that.”

Mervil laughed. It was a bizarre sound.

“This is just the beginning, dear,” he retrieved the dagger and holstered it quickly. “I understand how you must feel about Voidwielding. Xanath was killed by it but he had knowledge that only I can pass to you now. This man we are meeting is a Vesselsmith. The Vesselsmith for Loskoltos ”

“I told you, I will have nothing to do with Voiders!” Enaira snapped, standing quickly, barely balancing herself in time with her cane. “It’s bad enough you wear and use Vessels as you do. How do you know so much about me, about Xanath? I’m tired of hiding in this shack. You say you’ll tell me everything, then go ahead and do it!”

Mervil turned away and motioned for the door. “If you leave through that door I cannot promise you any further protection. You want answers? You are going to get them. We need to see Olaos in Kol, first. There are things you need to learn. Otherwise, Xanath will have died for nothing.”

Enaira’s face became hot as her frustration boiled. She moved to strike with her cane but it stopped abruptly between them, an unknown force ripping it from her hand. It clattered across the board floor behind Mervil, his hands hidden in his cloak.

“I… I didn’t mean to do that,” Enaira had to grip the table tightly to keep herself from falling over. He just stood there, tight lipped and head down.

“You’re not what I expected,” Mervil went to walk past her, Enaira reached out and grabbed his twine bound hand.

“Stop, I’ll listen to what you have to say.”

He shook his fist out of her hand, causing her to lose balance and fall to the floor. Mervil ignored her and continued down the hall, slamming the door to his bedchamber. Enaira cried out a few choice words with no response. She struggled to her feet and retrieved the cane and her travelling cloak.

She would find her answers elsewhere.

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-Carl Sagan


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Post Re: The Silent Court • Posted: Fri Feb 24, 2017 7:25 pm
The Dagger’s glow invades my dreams. Almost like it calls to me. Calling to someone…

Chapter Seven: Thieves in the Night

The night was starless and quiet, sweet spring rain on the wind. Enaira had never been in Barron at night, it was a time forbidden to her to leave Mervil’s ring of trees. She had tried and failed to do so in the past, Mervil having either locked her in or waking up just in time to catch her. He had made no attempts to stop her tonight; there had been finality to their confrontation.

Something nagged Enaira as she made the dangerous trip down the dark mountain path. Maybe it was regret or maybe she was relieved to finally be free. Whatever it was, she knew some of it had to be fear, a fear that at any moment Mervil would come from the shadows and drag her back.

Perhaps it was a multitude of other primal worries. Could she defend herself? Even with her new training with her bow she was afraid she wasn’t ready. Without the aid of her cane she could barely walk, let alone run if she had to. There were still nights she lay awake and weep at the loss of her leg, remembering the pain as vividly as the pain of finding Xanath in a pool of blood.
What had she been doing staying with Mervil? Clearly there was no reason to keep her there any longer. Everyone considered Brasko and his bandits long dead. Answers about Xanath would have been nice, but Mervil kept those locked away just as he had everything else.

Enaira sighed, staring unfocussed at a knot in the wall of the bar. Her thoughts raced unchecked, but one kept pulling her back: The Rum Ruum was unusually quiet. Perhaps it was just the time of night, but it was unsettling nonetheless. The place was nearly empty save for a few patrons she recognized to be as permanent a fixture as the paintings on the walls. They remained motionless in their chairs until their mugs needed filling. Siq was there behind the bar as always. Enaira would catch his glance from time to time and he would stiffen pretending his staring was accidental.

The green bandits were not there, Kazar and Railin, and without their chatter The Rum Ruum was a queer, disquieting hall. Siq hobbled over to her table, a tiny alcove in the back of the bar she highly favoured.

“Anything else for you, miss?” Siq asked gruffly, cleaning a smeared glass with an equally dirty rag.

“No, I’m fine, but thank you.” Enaira feigned a smile, her mind still buzzing.

“Awfully late for a lady to be here, if you don’t mind my saying so,” he looked to the door and back to her booth.

“I don’t mind, but like I said, I’m fine,” Enaira felt a pang of guilt at being rude, but she was not interested in company, not now. Siq sneered his usual sneer but left without issue.

“That wasn’t very ladylike,” a familiar voice from behind made her jump. A dark figure slumped down gracelessly across from her in the alcove. For a moment she thought it was Mervil, but the man was not nearly tall enough. “I guess you aren’t as nice as you look.”

“That’s usually how it goes with your women, remember?” Another man approached the table, placing his open palms on the table and smiling from under a dripping hood. “Mind if I join this lovely dinner date?” The second man sat on the bench beside her, placing her cane on the table, admiring its glittering in the firelight. Enaira reached for it but the first man slammed a jagged dagger into the wood between them.

“Barron is not a kind town in the daylight, there are sinister sorts in the night. You should be careful, the pretty thing you are,” the man opposite pulled his hood back. It was the loud one, Railin. His face was kind as usual but his eyes were dark, almost sinister in the dim light of The Rum Ruum.

Kazar was seated beside her, a grimace plastered in place of his usual smirk. His green cloak was dotted darkly with the rain she just now realized was hammering outside.

“Can I help you two?” Enaira asked flatly.

“Maybe you can, Red,” Railin picked up her cane, testing its weight in his hands. “You haven’t been too great at sleuthing around this town. That blinding horror you wear all the time really doesn’t help hide you either.”

“What Railin is trying to say,” Kaz interrupted. “Is that we aren’t the only ones to notice you here. It’s a dangerous world for a kid like you.”

“Excuse me? I’m not a child and I’m not in the mood for whatever this is,” Enaira stood but now Kazar struck another dagger firmly in the table.

“Have a seat,” Kazar whispered. “No need to make a scene. Siq hates blood, pukes every time, a real mess. Plus he has to clean that up after, too, and I mean, you’ve already soured his mood enough.”

Enaira cautiously returned to her seat, glancing at Siq who merely shrugged. Of course you aren’t going to do anything, bastard.

“What are you doing in Barron?” Railin pulled out a loupe, scrunching up his left eye and continued his examination of the cane.

“Nothing that concerns two thieves,” Enaira said.

Kazar snorted. “You like to call it as it is, don’t you? Most people this far up the Cowl have a little crime in them. You can cut the act though, answer our questions and you’ll keep your other leg.”

“I have a lot of unanswered questions tonight, too. I don’t think threats are going to get you what you want.”

“You know,” Railin peered up from his work, the loupe giving him one larger eye than the other. Normally it would have been comical but he was frighteningly serious. “I’ve been with a lot of gals, but imagine the maneuverability with some legs missing,” he smiled as he watched her face pale. Kazar shot him a peculiar look and Railin merely shrugged in return.

“Railin and I have been around a good portion of Loskoltos, we know what work you’ve done in the past. You’re one of Brasko’s runners, aren’t you?” the older brother folded his arms, kicking his feet up on the table. Siq coughed disapprovingly. “Or should I say, you were one of his runners.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” Enaira replied, tapping her finger nervously on the table. Maybe she could grab one of the knives, but what then? “He really is dead, isn’t he?”

Kazar nodded. “No bodies yet, but that crew is long gone. Either Al’non took the bastards or someone else did us the favour.”

“I can’t believe it…” Enaira had heard the rumours many times before, but it finally felt real. All it had taken was the threat of new thieves to get her there.

“So you can stop anytime now,” Kazar took a drink from her glass.

“I haven’t been doing anything for Brasko, not since the blizzard,” Enaira contested.

“Then what are you doing here, sneaking around?” Railin popped the loupe back into his cloak and eyed Kazar warily with the cane in hand. “Brasko doesn’t have any need for Nodes now. Haven’t found his Vessels but you’re stepping on a lot of toes stealing Nodes for nobody.”

Siq and a few others shifted toward them, but no one spoke or attempted to intervene.

“I’m not! You two thugs aren’t great at sleuthing either, apparently,” Enaira’s whisper was harsh. This subject was not something she wanted to spread around.

“We’ve watched you for a while now, Red,” Kaz said hotly. What’s with this girl? Two knives and still nothing? “You’re running up and down the Cowl. Errands, Nodes, whatever it is, we don’t like it. Whatever you’ve been taking, we want it. Barron is ours now. You worked for Brasko but now you're gonna work for us.”

“My contract was with Brasko. I’m not stealing anymore, especially not for you two,” Enaira’s voice quavered, she felt the danger now, now that it was too late.

Railin slammed his hand on the table, their daggers clattering with the silverware. “Then you’re working for Al’non, aren’t you? That freak. You’re selling us out. People up here keep disappearing without a trace. Probably even told him where to find your old boss. Where is that Voider, up high on the Cowl waiting on your signal to burn us in our beds?”

“I’ve never met the man! What are you going on about? The King wouldn’t burn down a village, whether the people deserved it or not.”

“Look her, you snotty—“

“Enough, Railin,” Kazar barked. He turned to her now, any kindness she had seen in him before was gone. “You’re making a mistake here, Red.”

“The only man I’ve been meeting is that hermit up there, the one everybody jumps about,” Enaira said. “He saved me in the blizzard and helped me get better.”

Now it was Railin’s turn to turn pale. The Rum Ruum went silent, the pounding of the spring rain growing louder.

“I swear, you must have hit your head, lady,” Railin pointed angrily with her cane. “First that jam guy starts screaming about some shadow man and now you. If you aren’t stealing Nodes or working for the Knights Guild, then what are you doing with a Vessel like this?”

“What?” Enaira said, shocked.

“It’s empty, but I’ve never seen one this intricate,” Railin handed it to Kazar, who cradled it warily.

“The only place you find ones like this are in the hands of the nobility. That or the Guild…,” the older brother spoke slowly. Damn. She is working for Al’non. A few beats passed. He met her gaze. “Sorry about this.”

Railin flashed toward one of the daggers but Enaira was faster. She drove one of the daggers through Railin’s hand and into the table. The younger thief howled in pain, his brother caught off guard by the sudden spray of blood. Enaira rammed her shoulder into Kazar knocking him to the floor, and attempted a sprint to the door.

Enaira’s wood leg splayed out beneath her, sending her tumbling hard into the floorboards. The Rum Ruum erupted with cries all around her. She dragged herself to the door, grabbing her quiver and used it to get back to her feet. Enaira threw the door open and ran out into the pouring rain.

“You *Navi*!” Railin screamed after her. “Don’t just stand there, Kaz, get this thing out of me!”

The night was dark as pitch, the rain punishing Enaira as she ran. Eternal Lamps fought valiantly to illuminate the Village roads but to no avail. She stumbled again into the mud, disoriented and unable to catch her breath. Soon they would be out looking for her and she could never outrun them.

Where is the path? Enaira staggered through the dark streets, unable to find any landmarks in her daze. She hadn’t got far and could hear a crowd gathering at the bar. I have to hide. A terrible crack of thunder sounded from somewhere above the mountain, lightning illuminating the sky and earth below.

“There she is! She’s trying to get away!” Railin’s voiced sounded above the roaring rain.

Enaira turned attempting to gather her bearings. Long lines of Eternal Lamps dotted the street back to the market and she knew the gate was somewhere behind her. Another flash and she could make out two lurching silhouettes in the town square. The thieves. She had to act.

Enaira nocked an arrow, attempting one of the stances Mervil had taught her. She had to shift her weight differently with her wooden leg otherwise her accuracy would suffer. Her breathing was labored, waiting on the storm to illuminate her targets again.

Crack

The world was bathed in a horrible blue light. Enaira took her shot, the bandits alarmingly close. The arrow pierced through Kazar’s shoulder before darkness returned, his cry of surprise drowned out by thunder. The archer turned to further the distance between them, slipping in the mud but managing to stop her fall.

“Stay back! There’s more where that came from!” Enaira called out, the rain crashing over her. Enaira finally found the coarse brick of the gate, resting her shoulder against it, readying another arrow.

Crack

Enaira heard a terrible splintering and found herself falling to the soaked earth. Pain shot through her stump as slivers of wood dug deep into her flesh. The light from the gate’s Lamps caught the glimmer of metal and the glimmer of Railin’s eyes as he held aloft a double handed war hammer.

“Now I’m going to crush the real one!” He swung wildly but Enaira scrambled away in time, the hammer smashing against the brick arch. “Give it up, Red. You think the Guild can just come up here and start shipping good people away? Scare us into doing your bidding? Your Master is gonna find we’re not all cowards up on the Peak!”

Enaira rolled out of the way of another lurching strike. She cried out for help. “I don’t work for the Guild, I don’t! Please!”
Railin grabbed her tunic from behind, tossing her hard into the wall. Under the arch they were bathed in a sinister red light, the Eternal Lamps dancing vibrantly above.

“We're gonna ask you one more time. What is Al’non doing on the Cowl? What is he doing with the bandits there?” Kazar joined them, holding his shoulder where the arrow stuck sickeningly out. Blood and rain darkened his fine cloak. “Answer us and this will be over quick. Only fools carry empty Vessels. Fools and Voiders!”

The Eternal Lamps suddenly blazed to life, bathing them all in near daylight.

“Stop doing that!” Railin lifted his hammer, ready to strike at the shriveled from of Enaira. The Bloodfyre continued to rage, growing brighter and brighter. Kazar shielded his eyes with his good arm, staggering backwards. Railin made to strike again and the Lamps exploding in a shower of glass and fire in response. The bandits stumbled back as the Bloodfyre tried to ignite their damp clothes.

“Enough with your tricks,” Kazar regained his footing. The Bloodfyre burned all around them like spilt oil. The wounded bandit drew a slender sword, holding it to Enaira’s throat.

“But the night is young,” a queer voice answered, echoing under the archway. Railin and Kazar turned away from their victim and towards the towering cliffs. Lightning seared the sky above the Cowl, bathing a tall and shadowed figure standing just outside the gate. The pools of burning Bloodfyre suddenly distorted, changing from crimson to an inky black. All through Barron the other Eternal Lamps changed their colours, casting the streets in sinister, otherworldly light.

The third man stepped into the light, drawing a small dagger out of a sheath on his thigh. The black flames from the Eternal Lamps suddenly billowed down and screamed into the blade. Strange runes bubbled out of the black steel, as if the flames were forging the blade anew. Enaira knew that knife.

Mervil.

_________________
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It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.

-Carl Sagan


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