The Razor's Edge

From Rags To Restonford

People sometimes seem to get confused about what is real and what isn’t. One of the good things about me is my ability to keep my story straight. I will tell you the trick to it is simple. I am surprised more people haven’t thought of it. When I decide that I have to tell a lie, I tell it to myself first, and then I decide to believe it, and when I believe it I make that lie more real than any other memory of what happened, and then I think of those other memories as dreams—just dreams. Otherwise it takes too much to remember. I can’t hold a shape if I stop believing in who I am. You can’t just remember every detail—oh yea, that nail is wicked long and black, and the knuckle is hairy, and there is a mole on the back of my hand, and the first finger is longer than the second, and my beard should look like its been growing about two days, and this time my eyebrows should actually meet over my nose, and… its just too much. You have to study the whole creature and then imagine yourself to be that creature and then believe it until reality shifts. I used to think if I believed hard enough I could change other things, but the only thing I have ever been able to change is myself.

Anyways, if you remember the lie as if it really happened, all the details of it, sight sound, scent, touch, feel and taste, then it becomes real and you will always remember it the way it was. No one can trip you up that way.

See that’s what happened with Bartholomew.

He’s the paladin I was telling you about before. Bartholomew decided first that I was his squire, then later decided that he would fire me as his Squire. Except of course I am not his squire and I never have been. It was a lie he told to the guards. But he told it about Daeson, and there is already enough rough and rummage for me to remember about Daeson. And “squire” just doesn’t fit into what I know about Daeson. Then I realized they think I am just “pretending”, lying, like some con man. And I realize that my comrades, the ones I have been adventuring with had no idea who I am, not really. They just think of me as some thief. I don’t think they really like Daeson, and they don’t realize Daeson is only one of who I can be.

But I was surprised at the paladin for lying. But moreover there wasn’t a real need to lie. I don’t understand why he would lie about me being his squire. There are things you need to lie about, but why lie about things when you don’t need to.

We came here to Restonford to meet up with Peltar, the great and powerful. But when we got here the whole town was in an uproar because the Baron Restonford had just been found dead, knifed in the chest, several times. [And no, I didn’t so it!] So no matter where we went there was some guard telling us to move on, but not to leave town, and questioning us about why we were here without being willing to talk to us about the reason we came here.

Well the sorcerer was more interested in investigating the death of the Baron Restonford than in helping us, and—oh yeah—I don’t think I mentioned that now we are in enemy territory. This land is at war with Velune so I guess that makes us spies. Which sort of reminded me that I have been a spy before, but that was so long ago and I don’t really remember exactly what I was doing, but I do remember I was serving an elven lord or maybe even a king. I think I was a good spy. I have always been a terribe thief, my heart just isn’t in it.

I know Daeson grew up in Celene, pretty close to Enstadt, I even met Prince Orlando once—not Daeson—but me.

Anyway, the guards in Restonford wouldn’t let us see the Great & Powerful Wizard of Restonford, nor would they let us into the dead Baron’s castle where he was “examining the crime” scene—which reminds me of someone I used to know and how he used to talk. I’m trying to remember.

But then I noticed this errand boy, about my size, that they sent to the guardhouse to retrieve Inspector Clouseau, their lead inspector. Cloussea looked kind of familiar with his red hair and spectacles and the way he would take off his glasses and would say something profound. And when he took his glasses off everyone would pause waiting for him to say it, so I know it was a well established habit, the kind of habit that people get used to and it becomes a defining characteristic. See I notice those kinds of things. I have to.

So when Clouseau went back into the Castle, that is when I become Griflet, the messenger boy. It only took me a few minutes of talking to him and one handshake to get a good feel for who he was, and even though I knew there was something wrong, I didn’t really understand what it was until I was Griflet, and then I was only too happy to not be Griftlet anymore. I cannot imagine being stuck with only one form, especially when that form is so flawed. I will never become him again. He scares me.

As Griflet I was able to get into Clouseau’s house—his wife is very nice, and makes the bestest waffles, in fact the first waffles, I have ever had. Did I mention that you can never sit down to eat waffles, they can only be eaten on the run, which makes the Girlsinberries jam hard to eat without making a big mess. I guess that is why they have all those deep grooves. If there truly is a blessed afterlife that I pray that the Goddess Avandra provides us with Waffles every day. Once, a long time ago I got to see the girls in the big wooden cask jumping and stomping and making girlsinberries jam, which is why they call it that. Only the most beautiful girls in the village are allowed to participate, the ones selected as the most beautiful at the harvest festival. It is amazing. They stomp and romp, rubbing the berries, and crushing the berries, and then throwing themselves into the berries [makes me excited just thinking about it] while the old women stand in a circle around the huge vat and instruct them in the fine points of jamming, and the men ofthe village stand further back and admire their fine culinary skills. I could only stay for a while and then I had to go back to my wagon.

So anyways I was able to sneak Brandon Darkelf into the castle as an inspector, so he did get to the sorcerer who then agreed to meet with us, except, of course, when we got to his house the guards once again refused to let me in, and I had to go take care of the horses because of the lie the paladin told, so I missed most of what happened inside the house, but I did get a dice bag and 25 gold from one of the two guards, so I guess we are even, at least he had the privilege of paying for his rudeness. He wouldn’t even step aside to let me pass. Looks like real bone dice, or ivory maybe, I will have to get them appraised sometime if I remember.

I did finally get into Peltar’s Tower. There is this old crone living there with the wizard whose name is Charone, I think, and she wasn’t very friendly, but then no one in this country is. She wouldn’t even make me anything to eat. The old sorcerer has this stairwell grown from a single tree. The leafy bush part of the tree, the canopy is all bunched up into a magical bushy shield at the top of the stairs and it will not let you pass to go exploring the upper levels of Peltar’s Tower.

I wonder at what magics it takes to bend a twist a tree into such a marvelous living stair. It reminded me, of course, of the houses of the nobles in Celene, where the elves command such powers over nature to fashion living homes. Brandon looks like an elf, but he says he is something else—an Eladrin, and he says he is not even from this world but from another world where the Eladrin Empire holds sway over all the creatures in that realm and humans are the slaves of the elves and the elves feed off their souls, and turn their souls into black energy that they breath in like a cat sucks the life breath from a baby. I have watched him eat souls before. He is the most dangerous creature I know.

I don’t think I want to go there.

So after their meeting with the sorcerer, the old wizard said that he would go find Andrella, the Baron’s daughter, as she was the only one who might know where the Artina’s Gift flowers are—remember them—the luminous flowers that the City of Velune needs to reinforce their magical barrier.

Now I have to stop here and say that I know bullhockey when I hear it and I have to call bullhockey because someone is lying to someone and I am feeling like someone told me to sit awhile under the bull’s tail. They think I am stupid, but I’m not and here is why. They take us down below the city into some super secret place that only a very few of the most elite guardians know about and tell us their most special secret. Right. Then they send us to meet this wizard, Peltar, who tells us that the dead Baron Restonford, not him, was actually the keeper of the secret, but that he will go finish our mission if we will stay here and ferret out the Baron’s death. Right. See I completely expect some guy in a black uniform to come at me with his black wand and make it flash and suddenly I will be working as Travis the Courier in some postal station on the border of Orcish territory. No way this story is going to have a happy ending. None of it makes any sense at all. I can look like almost anyone but I know I cannot tell the difference between the truth and a well crafted lie. At least not yet. But I used to know someone who could!

So I’ve been watching people real close, because I may have to become real quick to try to escape them when those black guards come for me.

So, where am I? Oh yeah. We end up riding to Garriton where there is this well established super secret assassin’s guild, looking for clues because there were three suspects in Restonford the night the Barrod got gacked, and three clues were left in the Baron’s room, that were so obvious only a numbnut could have been so stupid as to leave those clues behind, so your know they have to be planted, or at least that is what both Bartholomew and Brandon say. The three clues are: a red leather button from the vest of a Garriton Innkeeper named Abraham. A golden violin string from the harp of a bard that was visiting Restonford the night of the assassination. Also there was a red ruby, that was maybe one of the eyes of a Barracuda holy symbol born by the cleric of some fish god they worship in Garriton. You always have to be careful about folks who worship fich gods, especially if they have bulgy eyeballs. I have read stories about them, they will just haul you off to sea in nets to feed their fish god. They have already tried to get us to go on a “lake monster” hunt, but I think they just see us as fish food. I almost forgot—Brandon—who can talk to the dead, as well as swallow their souls—looked through the dead Barron’s eyes and saw that he was completely surprised by his death. He didn’t see it coming. So its hardly likely he was covorting with the Garreton clan before getting himself stabbed in the heart!

Bartholomew and Brandon were in such a hurry to come to Garriton and I think that was a mistake because we should have looked much more closely at the clues back in Restonford first. I wonder too was Peltar is hiding behind his leafy bush. I don’t trust him at all. I think he has sent us on a wild gooseberry chase!

So on the way into town, Brandon Darkelf decided that we should pretend to be someone other than who we are. We decided after a lot of talking that I should be a human princess that is betrothed to Prince Orlando of Celene, and that Brandon is Orlando’s emissary sent to fetch me, and that Bartholomew is my father’s guardian demon, a Tiefling fetched from hell as my protector.
Again I don’t think Brandon or Bartholomew understand what it takes for me to become someone imaginary. It is dangerous. Twice as dangerous as becoming someone real, someone who also exists, who has a separate and unique soul. I offered to become Blanche Dubois, but they said she was too old, and I guess that’s true because a human would barely live long enough to be a pet to an old elf.

So here we are in Garreton. I have no idea why we are here really, or what we are really here to accomplish. But they expect me to help them ferret out information using my feminine wiles, so I guess I will.

I am a leaf on the wind.

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The Food Of The Gods

The Word for today is:

Waffles!

How did I make it this far in life without ever having experienced waffles and apply butter before? I’m not sure that there is any other food that compares. Mrs. Clousseau makes the bestest waffles of all. They are light and crispy thin cakes cooked between hot metal plates. The people of this realm take them for granted as if they were potato cakes. But they are something more—the food of the gods! They cooked waffles are covered with powdered sugar, which is sugar that has been beaten until it isn’t like sugar but more like flower, except the sweetness just exudes from it when you beat it up. Then, after that, you pour warm apply butter onto it. At the Inn we are staying at they also put fruit slices on it too, which was also good, but the apple butter is the best of all. When I ever save up enough to buy a wagon, the first thing I am going to buy is the metal plates used to make waffles. Perhaps I shall sell waffles from my “Waffle Wagon” and introduce them to the towns I pass through. I can imagine people coming from miles around to sink their teeth into the flacky light crispy delicious waffles and warm apple butter.

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A Sin Against Truesilver

Bartholemew slipped quietly back to his room as everyone onboard the boat returned from the galley. He slumped to his knees next to his bed and lit his head rest in the palm of his hand.

“Forgive me, Lord, for I have sinned. I have compromised your commands once more, and it has come back to take me down yet again. Have mercy on your servant. You have said ‘A gift from the Lord is pure, and the Lord adds no trouble to it.’ I had assumed that being aboard this ship was a gift. But through all of the trouble that has been added to me today, I fear that I have made the wrong decision. I fear that I have stepped out of your plan and into my own, thus I am no longer under your protection and guidance. Forgive me, Lord.”

His heartfelt prayer, although mumbled at first began to grow louder as his pleas intensified. “I have done a terrible thing. I compromised your commands because I thought I could control the Wrathstone. I stole it from your holy guardian because I thought I could do a better job at protecting it, as I know you’ve commanded me to do. I broke your law so that I could follow your command…” a small chuckle escaped through the emotions lodged in his chest. “… how hypocritical is that? You would never command me to do such a twisted thing, yet I did it. And what has this action gained me? Nothing but trouble. Since that action, our team has been divided and scattered. We haven’t had focus of vision or unity. Instead, we’ve each gone our own separate way. I’ve been attacked by my young friend. We’ve been accused of theft. I’ve insulted the ranger, and caused William to attempt to kill Brandon. Had it not been for your divine intervention in bringing about the stolen chalice, he might have succeeded, too. All because I compromised and let my plan for how to obey override what I know to be true.”

He grabbed the prayer book he received from the priests in Tempton, holding it close to his chest. “It is also written, ‘If I confess my sins to other followers, I will be forgiven of all unrighteousness.’ I know what I must do, but to do so will probably mean the end of me. It may even put other people’s lives at risk. And despite their flaws, they have done so much to help me. I don’t want to hurt them, too.” Slowly standing, he walked to his pack that lay on the floor and slipped the prayer book inside. Seeing a few scraps of paper in his pouch, he retrieved them and lay them on the floor. Lowering himself on his knees, he knelt over them and began to weep over what he was about to do. Not because he feared for his own life… what he had brought on himself was just. It was expected. But he wept for the torment that he had brought upon all of them for his actions.

He pulled a charcoal stick from it’s protective housing, the one he used for writing in his prayer journals. As a tear fell to the paper below, he began to write:

“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. I have taken the wrathstone and hidden it far away, where the orcs will not find it. I believe that the Orcs will attack this ship, based on a dream that the Lord has given me. I could not let this artifact fall into their hands. I know I have done wrong and I must confess my sins to you to be clean and free from the curse that I have brought upon myself and my team. I, alone, have done this thing. Please have mercy upon my companions, and do not hold them responsible for my actions. Do what you must to us, but please take into account my intentions. I have not done this in rebellion of your authority, but in obedience to the Lord, as backward as that may seem. While my actions have been wrong, my intentions were honorable. I submit myself to your hand, and your authority, even unto death. — Signed, Bartholemew.”

Bartholemew looked down at his work, and he knew. This would be the end of something. The end of his journey. The end of his friendship. The end of blessings, where he would live with this curse the rest of his life. Or even the end of his life. But whatever it was, he knew what he had to do, and placed his life and his future in the Lord’s hands, praying that the Lord would have mercy upon him and soften the preist’s heart by morning.

As he crawled into bed, he tucked the letter safely into his pouch, where he would deliver it at first light.

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From The Diaries of Brandon Darkfell

If the past 24 hours are any sign, I swear I am more confounded by denizens of this plane than I was when I first came here a century ago.

My companions and I successfully boarded the ship for the five day trip to the human city Veluna, complete with the wrathstone securely aboard for transport. Given his, uh, indiscretions of the recent past, young Daeson decided to adopt a new face and sneak on board. To also help cover for him, I adopted his name in conversation with other passengers. Better some would-be law and order type had to deal with me than with the misguided rogue.

Once on board, I also took to the top of the ship to watch or potential attacks and also to permit my traveling companions the chance to chat with others on the boat.

Although I took the edge off with copious amounts of wine, I was alarmed that the rogue did not present himself to me – in one form or another – in all the time I was away from the crowds atop the ship: alarmed because I could nto be sure he had made it. Also, slightly perturbed, as I thought we had made a good and understanding team the past few days.

It also occurred to me that in chatting with Daeson, I had suggested it might be a good idea for us to have the wrathstone in our hands; as opposed to it being guarded by church guards or ship’s crew. This worried me…

I summoned a minor spirit and sent it to search for the wrathstone and report to me where it was being held. I discovered it was hidden in the captain’s safe with no real live guard on it. Shortly thereafter I encountered William below decks, who told me that Daeson was trying to retrieve the wrathstone from the church emissaries, who, of course, weren’t carrying it! Finally catching up with Daeson, I informed him of their error and he and I went off to liberate the gem for safe keeping.

Up until that point, everything seemed fine. Our somewhat disjointed little group at least seemed to come together when things needed to be done.

We barely managed to secure the gem and to slip out without notice. I asked Daeson to give me the gem and that’s when things got precarious.

If we were going to personally secure the wrathstone, it meant, logically, that one of us would have to bear or it, or otherwise be the person physically closest to it. That would make one or all of us targets for foes who might be seeking it. It was a dangerous position to be in, given we are in unfamiliar territory. Furthermore, should the church emissaries note that the gem was missing, they might not react well to our plan. I could already see Bartholomew handing back the stone, apologizing and (not wrongly) placing the blame for the plan on me or on the rogue.

Here I made a decision. The safety of the wrathstone would be most secure if only one person total knew where it was. No one could be forced or tricked into revealing its location; and only one person would be target for any potential attempt at seizing it. That person should have been me. Oh, it’s not that my companions aren’t capable of defending themselves. Rather it is that I can get out of tight situations easier than can they. It’s more too. It seemed a burden that they should not have to bear. I admit what followed was in part my fault because I have been curious about the wrathstone and – because of their own prejudice – they seem to mistake my magician’s curiosity about the item as something perilous. But the stone, while clearly magic, holds no real allure to me – just a trinket some deity is linked to.

My plan was to try to find a place to hide the gem onboard where no one would find it until we needed to deliver it; or otherwise to secretly keep it on my person at all times.

When my “allies” and I finally got all together again, I told them I had hidden the wrathstone and that they didn’t need to worry about it until we arrived at our destination. I had no idea they would react the way they did!

My would-be friends reacted as if I had committed a crime! All of their unwarranted suspicion and prejudice erupted in a wave of hostility and threats! Did they not see that, once again, I was heroically putting myself in harm’s way to advance our mutual cause and to protect them? Had I not fought alongside them, fell their foes and drawn swords with them against even foes we never should have been able to defeat separately?

I was simultaneously deeply offended and angry. I was fighting the forces of darkness before my companions’ grand sires had been born!

Admittedly I was somewhat stunned and since they had no interest in what I had to say, I simply refused. Bartholomew went off to ponder reporting to the church emissaries what had happened. The others would not stop harassing me. I had not deceived them in any way. I did what I thought best and, well, they had never given me cause to think that any one of them knew any better. Two of them an hour earlier were planning to break into the wrong place to try to acquire the wrathstone an hour ago; and the other one is now taking his marching orders from some book! Ah, if only Xander were still with us so there would at least be one other logical, albeit moody, member of this ramshackle team.

Needless to say I could get away from my assailants easily enough. At that point, I tried to find a way off the ship. I figured if I could make it to land, I would travel discreetly and meet them in Veluna with the wrathstone. That way, whatever happened to the boat, the gem would be safe; and if there were some tracking the stone’s progress – the danger would come to me and me alone. Sadly there was no way off the ship without bringing attention to myself.

At that point, I admit I was rather in my cups and feeling more and more like my old elven friend was the lucky one, being turned to stone. Even Daeson joined in the harangue. Bart went off to confess OUR sins to the emissaries. Daeson went after hi to talk him out of it. Meanwhile the mysterious magic toymaker – whom none of us have known long – became even more forceful in his demands that I prostate myself. Pshaw.

My patience was at an end. I admit I considered tossing the stone overboard. Instead, I slipped away from William and tucked the wrathstone in his gear in his room onboard. It was part prank, of course, but I did think he would eventually appreciate it.

Things kept getting messy, though! Daeson attacked Bartholomew to keep him from revealing our plan. Then, upon his discovery of the wrathstone in his quarters, the toymaker came roaring below decks. He was angry when I thought he would have been thankful! These young races do still confuse me at times. He began to disrobe of sorts and I do think he intended to throw himself onto my sword! I can’t imagine what he hoped to accomplish with that.

Around then, yet more chaos broke out when the church emissaries and ship crew drove everyone onboard below decks into one area with some tale about a missing chalice or goblet or something. I knew nothing of this, nor did it appear that my companions did either. Still, though, they were likely to search everyone and at that moment, William had the stone on his person.

Thinking quickly, Daeson swiped the gem and fled the room with it.

Honestly I don’t know what all else happened next. But I do know this. The wrathstone is now either in the possession of the thief or it is hidden and only the thief knows where. The thief. Had my traveling companions not interfered with my plan, it would be safely secreted away. Or else it would be on my person and I can’t easily have my person physically searched should I choose otherwise. My, it seems my plan would have been best after all.

I doubt the irony will occur to my fellows. Sad, that. I am afraid our little fellowship might be at the breaking point given the luck of trust and confidence. I, for one, would pause for thought before I extended myself — beyond a courtesy – to protect any of them, again.

Meanwhile there are the matters of a missing cup, a missing or hidden gem, a religious sort who is also now supposedly threatened – and four more days to reach our destination. This will be the longest journey I have had in my nearly one and a half centuries!

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The Nature Of Scorpions
D&D; The Razor's Edge

It is important to know yourself, to know just exactly who and what you are.

You can only be true to yourself. And when you try to be someone or something else you run the risk of losing yourself and injuring not only yourself, but also those who trusted you to be who you said you were.

This presents a bit of a problem for me.

Since I don’t really know the answer to either of those questions.

And sitting here in these stolen monk’s robes in the Abbot’s quarters, wearing a stolen face (the more handsome of the two monks), on this paddleboat while guards search the decks looking for Calliper (me), believing me to be a thief, which I am, because they believe I stole some valuable cup, which I didn’t, reminds me of this story.

It reminds me of this story a lot.

You see, one day, not so long ago, a scorpion looked around at the desert where he lived and decided that he wanted a change. So he set out on a journey across the sand. He climbed over dunes and under rocks and kept going until he reached a river. The river was wide and swift, and the scorpion stopped to reconsider the situation. He couldn’t see any way across to the green forests and hills on the other side. So he ran upriver and then checked downriver, all the while thinking that he might have to turn back. Suddenly, he saw a young frog sitting in the rushes by the bank of the stream on the other side of the river. He decided to ask the frog for help getting across the stream. “Hello Frog!” called the scorpion across the water, “Would you be so kind as to give me a ride on your back across the river?”

“Well now, Scorpion! How do I know that if I try to help you, you won’t try to kill me?” asked the frog hesitantly. As a pollywog he has seen another young frog stung and eaten by a devious scorpion. It was a hard lesson to forget.

“Because,” the scorpion replied, “If I try to kill you, then I would die too, for you see I cannot swim!”

Now this seemed to make sense to the frog, who was a bit too trusting for his own good. But he wasn’t a complete idiot, so he asked. “What about when I get close to the bank? You could still try to kill me and get back to the shore!”

“This is true,” agreed the scorpion, “But then I wouldn’t be able to get to the other side of the river!”

“Alright then, how do I know you won’t just wait till we get to the other side and then kill me?” said the frog.

“Ah,” crooned the scorpion, who could bluff his way through any situation, “Because you see, once you’ve taken me to the other side of this river, I will be so grateful for your help, that it would hardly be fair to reward you with death, now would it?!”

So the frog agreed to take the scorpion across the river. He swam over to the bank and settled himself near the mud to pick up his passenger. The scorpion crawled onto the frog’s back, his sharp claws prickling into the frog’s soft hide, and the frog slid into the river. The muddy water swirled around them, but the young frog stayed near the surface so the scorpion would not drown. He kicked strongly through the first half of the stream, his flippers paddling wildly against the current. Halfway across the river, the frog suddenly felt a sharp sting in his back and, out of the corner of his eye, saw the scorpion remove his stinger from the frog’s back. A deadening numbness began to creep into his limbs. “You fool!” croaked the frog, “Now we shall both die! Why did you do that?”

The scorpion shrugged, and did a little jig on the drowning frog’s back. “I could not help myself. It is my nature.” Then they both sank into the muddy waters of the swiftly flowing river and drowned.

So here I am, hiding in the Abbot’s quarters as the boat continues upstream on this swiftly flowing river. Am I the stung or the stinger? I guess it doesn’t matter. They both drowned.

Bartholomew had this vision that a band of orcs would attack this boat and steal the Wrathstone. We all decided to gain passage on the boat to make sure the Wrathstone got to the safety of the City of Veluna. It is a magical place where murder is impossible. I am told that you just cannot kill once you are in there. What would the scorpion do if he ever got there? Would it change his nature?

I didn’t come on board with them. Bartholomew was making much noise about taking me back to the town where I borrowed the horses from those rich adventurers so that we could finish our quest after some thief stole our horses. Somehow, in his mind, I was wrong for doing that. He said they would put me in jail for a while until I learned my lesson, but he is too naive. I have watched men dangle at the end of the rope if they were stupid and got caught for stealing horses. Rulers and lawmen want revenge. They have no desire to teach anyone a lesson.

Of course once we got to Tempton, Abbot Franken said that we owed him for the horses that were stolen from us and deducted that from the reward he had promised to give us for helping the church. Of course no one sees THAT as stealing. Not when an abbot does it.

So I sold the horses to recoup what we should have gotten all along. We almost broke even, because I couldn’t really get a good price, but I had time limits so sometimes you have to take what you can get.

I got a job as “Calliper” the waiter on the Lilysis, this big paddle boat. It looks like some strange gnome dreamed it up. It is a very clever design and honestly there aren’t fifty men below deck getting whipped to make them row, so I guess it’s all good. This girl named Malika interviewed me and gave me the job. The way she looked at me made me real happy I had decided to put on a human face for this job. I thought she liked ginger boys. I think her name means “I like bad” which makes me think she has got something to hide.

My job as a waiter was working out okay. I was able to really listen in to a LOT of conversations and learned what some of the folks were up to. There is a thief on board the Lilysis (besides me, I mean) but I don’t know who it is for sure yet. I have my suspicions, but . . .

I found out where the abbot was staying. He had these two monks in a room and they never came out, but Brandon told me later that it was just a red herring, to throw people off, and that the real Wrathstone was hidden in the Captain’s safe. I wonder sometimes why they call a deception a “red herring”. Are those particular deceptive fish? There must be some story about a red herring I have never heard yet. I have to remember to ask Bartholomew, or maybe Brandon. He might know.

We got the Wrathstone, because it just seemed to me that I had to, as much as possible, change what Bartholomew saw in his vision. Túriel told me that the secret to changing a prophecy is to change lots of little things that eventually all add up to a big change.

That’s how she did it. And she had the gift.

You have to stay close and listen to people who have the gift.

But even though it seemed like the right thing to do it was the wrong thing to do I guess. Like a stupid trusting frog I let Brandon carry the stone, and then he decided that he was going to hide it somewhere and not tell us where he put it.

He is a creature of death.

He swallows the souls of the dying. He likes this stone too much. We finally got it back from him, finally, well sort of. He left it on the new guy’s bunk on the ship. I think he thought they were going to search the ship and might find it on him. He’s not really a team player, you know. But then when you see all your companions as your next potential meal I guess being a team player is sort of like playing with your food. He was much more interested in getting laid by Malíka than talking it out. So I told Malíka all he wanted was to get in her pants. Brandon got pissed and asked what I was doing so I admitted I was just being a cock-blocker, which is what Stefán used to call me as a little kid when I went into town with him.

I didn’t know what it meant then.

I get it now. Boy do I get it.

So then we get the Wrathstone back. But wait, Batholomew tells us that Silvertongue has told him that Abbot Franken is the key to peace and must be protected. Túriel told me about some terrible dark times. She said that I was supposed to be on the “other” side, but now I would serve the side of light. I wonder. Can a scorpion actually stay saddled on a frog all the way to the far side of the river?

So I told Abbot Franken I would pretend to be him so he could stay safe in his room. I thought it was a good idea. It was a way of making some of those “little changes” I was telling you about. But then it all fell apart. But then Brandon had horns for Malika, and he got all “my precious” with the Wrathstone, and then Bartholomew decided to tell the Abbot that we had taken the stone and who knows what all, like telling secrets ever does anyone any good. I had to stop him from making a terrible mistake. It would end trust when trust is most needed.

Why do I have to get into a fight with my friends to make a point? Why is it paladins confuse honor with just being naive. People expect me to be stupid. But in my own way I am smart. I understand things. I understand how things work. I understand that a long time ago someone made up all these rules and when people follow them it works better for groups of people, especially the ones with power and money. But then people forget that someone made up those rules. It is easy to make up rules. Truth has its place. But then so does deception. So do secrets.

So then the new guy is about to attack Brandon and I really didn’t want to see him lose his soul. The new guy that is. Brandon wouldn’t fight him, he would just kill him—any way he could. But the new guy didn’t seethat. I could tell he thought it was going to be a fair fight. Why don’t people see how dangerous Brandon is? He really is. I am staying real close to him. The wagon folk have this saying, “Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer.” It’s really true.

So there, in the middle of what is about to be this big fight, Captain Harvel comes in and announces that Chancellor Malakoy’s precious cup was stolen. I looked at Barthlomew and we both had the same thought, except I think HE was also wondering if I took the cup. But what we were BOTH thinking was that he was holding the Wrathstone and that they were going to find it on him when they searched us which is just what they were about to do. I was right by the door and so I ran, I grabbed the bag off him and ran. I knew it meant they would think I did it, but you know they were all going to think that anyway. It’s my nature. I made it all the way to the back of the boat and jumped in between the paddles to the center axel where I hid the stone. It was real hard trying to tie it to the axel. We kept turning and turning. But if you look at the axel, and not at the world spinning around you, it’s easier. And no one will think to look for it there. I sure hope that’s true, because I can’t keep it on me now like I wanted to.

So now I am here in the Abbot’s room, and I put on the face of one of his monks, and his robes. Maybe no one noticed whether or not there were two of three of them. Maybe. I’ll wait here until he comes back. I think I’ll tell him how I stole the Wrathstone (just me), to keep it safe, and I will also tell him that I did not steal the Chancellor’s precious goblet. People will expect me to steal something. It’s my nature, they will think, but stealing isn’t my nature—deception is. I knew that Brandon swallows souls and I still gave him the Wrathstone. (I am such a frog sometimes!) Of course he stung me. It’s his nature. Batholomew decided to confess his sins to Abbot Frankin. He thinks honor and truth are the answers to every problem. Even when telling the truth is the wrong thing to do. He can’t help it. It’s his nature. It’s the nature of the new guy to keep his secrets. I should be more like him. I used to be.

This is just like a game of poker. This is a lousy hand but I have to figure out the best way to play it. The abbot needs to keep his confidence in Bartholomew, I mean he IS the paladin. He is supposed to be the hero. The abbot may want to see the Wrathstone as proof, and I may have to give it to him, but I’m not sure what I will. Giving it to him might be proof I’m telling the truth, but then I will have changed none of those little things that need to be changed to change prophecy. On the other hand NOT telling him might be the card I need to play to save my life. And then there are others I need to protect. No one on this boat knows I am a friend of the adventuring group, so the crew believing Calliper to be the thief protects them. And then, on the other hand, maybe it would be easier to protect both the abbot and the Wrathstone if Abbot Frankin keeps it on his person. So I may need to lose this hand to win the game. Sometimes you have to do that.

The problem now is that no one trusts anybody. No one trusts me, and I’m not sure I even trust myself. I had to even ask myself if I stole that stupid goblet. I never did look in that gem bag, so I guess I should. Just to make sure. Now the captain mistrusts everyone on the boat, the passengers more than his crew. The abbot only sees us as pawns in some game he is playing. If Batholomew is right, he may be out last best hope for peace, but the man isn’t my favorite person by a long shot! I have to think he is destined to become something more than what he is now.

Bartholomew almost drew his sword on me last night, but he still trusted me enough to let me grab that bag off of him when I ran. So maybe he sees that I am just trying to help him? Honorable shouldn’t be stupid. I think maybe Silvertongue put me here to help him out with that. Somehow we all have to find a way to trust each other and work together if we are going to survive this journey up river.

Trust.

I mean, it worked out well for the frog didn’t it?

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All About The Horses
A Lesson In Loyalty

Daeson’s Journal

It is practically impossible to make a good horse thief when you are travelling with a paladin. That should be listed up there in some rule book for novice rogues. It really should. We found the Wrathstone that the old priest sent us looking for in the wererat warren. I even managed to free it from its stone prison without the key. I am getting better at picking locks—at least old ones that secure ancient evil artifacts. I am not sure what it does, but Bartholomew—he’s the paladin I mentioned—says it makes him sick even to have it near him, so he asked me to carryi it and keep it safe until we can get back to Tempton to hand it over to the priests. Which we did. But I’m not there yet.

It was a bitter battle. There was that glow-eyed Teifling in the cage, the dark elf, and the were-rats. I still had two sections of cave fisher tongue stuck to my neck. That filiment won’t come off without ripping skin off with it. We rested, and Bartholomew woke up and told us about some dream he had about a big boat with a paddle wheel that got attacked by orcish pyrates or something. He hadn’t ever told me about one of his dreams before, so I guess this one was more significant. He is a paladin. Maybe it was a vision from Silverhead, the god he worships. There are so many. It gets hard to keep them all straight.

Grandmother used to talk about visions and dreams. The wagon people believe in visions too. I’ve never had one, well not one that I knew was a vision, but it doesn’t surprise me that a paladin would have them.

Did I mention Bartholomew is a Tiefling? I have heard about them before. My people call them cambion, the child of a demon and a human. I have been travelling with him for a while now. Ever since I left the caravan actually. He is pretty strong and pretty brave. He is very honest. I doubt he ever told a lie, ever in his life. He is kind of like that old king with the wooden teeth that way.

We also found a metal boc unerneath a secret stone in the floor. There was a scroll that Brandon wasn’t able to read, a potion, and 28 gold pieces. We also found a skeleton in the cave in and the key (that’s right, after I manage to get the treausry unlocked we find the key on a dead skeleton). Brandon, he is the elf I told you about before, the one who can make dark magic. He swallows the souls of the dying, but he says he isn’t evil. He did try to save me, so even if he is evil I owe him one, right? I mean anyone who risks his life ot save you from a cave fisher can’t be all bad.

Brandon was able to use the skull from that skelton to look through its eyes and see its final moments. He did this ritual. Sometimes in his rituals his head spins and his tongue lolls out like that time I saw that dead guy hanging at the crossroads, but not this time. He said he saw these statues of lizard men spin and a passage opened up, but we couldn’t figure out how to make it work and Brandon said the magic had gotten too old and weak.

Titus Priscus then summoned Bartholomew using one of the stones. I think I wrote about them. The stones let you communicate with someone far away who has another stone. Titus is one of those Dragonmen, but one of the very prissy ones. I met him once, but he was such a snob, he couldn’t be bothered. He isn’t too good to ask for our help though when the orcs kidnap his sister, which is why he was summoning Bartholomew.

We fought some rabid rats. and found an invisible ledge that let us back across the pit. The cave fisher wasn’t there this time. I hate cave fishers. We got back to the old building where we spent then ight befoe we came into the warren and someone had stolen our horses. I hate horse thieves! And it is 6 days to Tempton! Longer if we were walking, and without horses we were walking.

I was able to sneak four horses out of the stable by the Inn so we could make goodtime back to Tempton. I mean Bartholomew had said how important it was we get down to help out Titus Prissiness in the elven kingdom. We needed to move fast. William said we needed to get the Wrathstone back to Father Franken quickly too. Normally I don’t steal horses, I mean I know what it is like to have a horse stolen, been there, done that. But these are wicked times and sometimes you have to take short cuts to catch a break. But Batholowmew figured out it was me who stole the horses and instead of joining us at the rendevous point he stayed there at the Inn and spilled all my beans to the constable. William tried to reason with him, but he send a message that I needed to bring the horses back and turn myself in or he would hunt me down. Like there is a choice?

Brandon and I left a couple of horses behind for them just in case he recovered his senses and we went on riding to Tempton. Brandon sent s stormcrow back with a message for Bartholomew to hurry up and catch up with us. We camped out by the river and they did catch up with us, but then I found out that the guys who owned the horses I borrowed were out looking for me too. With friends like Bartholomew who needs a city guard?

We caught up to them by the river and Bart told me that he planned on taking me back to “face justice” as if justice was something that was his decision. I wish the world was the way he thinks it is. You have to make your own justice. No one will give you anything. The laws are created by the rich to protect the rich and powerful. When we need more wolf’s heads to redistribute wealth to those who need it!

We made it to a small town where the orcs had set fires to a couple of farm houses. Bart and William healed up farmer Mojave and Apothecary Kaylen before they came to the Inn. I forgot to mention they passed us that night by the river. They came real close but didn’t see us. I wonder what they are doing here. Orc’s don’t usually travel this far north I hear. I got some Old Tobagan at the Inn and was finally able to get the Cave Fisher tongues off my neck.

Someone locked me out of my room and I had to climb a rope up the outside to get back in to sleep. The next morning they were all still very tired and it took me forever to get them woke up to hit the road. We made good time and did get to Tempton by sunset.

We gave the Wrathstone, this ancient evil artifact that the church had long sought after, and Abbot Franken basically said, thank you so much, and you owe us for those horses you borrowed so we will deduct that from your reward money. I realized how this was going to go, because he was a real a-whole like that before when Ash died. That fat frack doesn’t value what people do for him or what it cost to get him what he wants. Someday I will teach him a lesson about that. He needs a good lesson in loyalty.

I realized what was happening and went back down to the stable and took the horses to sell. I could tell that the fat abbot was just going to steal those horses and keep them to replace the missing horses and then bill us for them too. I couldn’t let him get away with that. That just ain’t right. I didn’t get a good price for them, but it was better than nothing. Brandon wants me to steal the stone back, and maybe I can. If I get a chance I will.

I heard them talking in the hallway saying that they were going to go with Franken upriver to the City of Veluna. I have heard about that place. It is protected by magic. They are all going to take the riverboat. So now I am back to wondering about Bartholomew’s dream.

I am a leaf on the wind.

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Somewhere, not too far away...

“Yes, Overlord. How many I serve you?”

“Stand up, you groveling scum! My patience wears thin with your kind!”

“Yes, m’Lord. Your eminence. His nastin…”

SILENCE! Do you hear that screaming? That is the sound of failure, and I do NOT tolerate failure. Your predecessor failed me and lost that which he was bringing me. For that, he forfeits his life. Slowly.”

“I will not fail you! My life is yours! My duty is only to serve you! Shall I go south to the mountains and take back the Bell?”

“No, you and your pitiful orc band can not be trusted with such a task. It will be YOUR task to head north of Asnath and retrieve the Wrathstone. You will bring it straight back to me. You do not want to fail me.”

“No, no failure, no. We will return with your Wrathstone, m’Lord. Yes, we will retrieve it.”

“Yes, you will. Before you leave, bring me a few thick pieces of skin from Gol’Nak before his flayed corpse gives up its last breath.

I’m hungry."

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The Changeling

CHANGELING
“Hide the boy. I’ll come for him by night.”

Túriel shivered and pulled her dark cloak tighter around her frame as she stared into the darkness. It was a clear, bitter night, with a chill east wind that whipped cruelly at her ragged clothing. The moon had begun to dip, brightening the stars above her. The air was still tainted with the scent of burning. The wagons that had once been their home, the entire caravan, would continue to smolder for days until there was little left but ashes, and memories.
Far in the distance, a night jay called, its cry echoing through the moon silvered trees. Túriel crossed herself—fearing the omen and knowing in her heart that her sister Shándra would not come.

Túriel waited all the same.

The river that flowed by the mill roared in the darkness; crisp water flowing swiftly over the small weir, a strong current to turn the heavy mill stones. Túriel was comforted by the sound. After a lifetime among the Vistani, Túriel and Joren had abandoned the life of the wagon people and now made the mill their home. Túriel recognized the omens. After all she had the sight. Not like her sister, Shándra, but enough to provide her with glimpses—and hope. The mill and the river would provide for them in the long winter ahead but so many things had already gone wrong, crops gone fallow, unseasonable rain. She had not foreseen those problems. Her husband had already sold much of his inheritance just to restore the mill. There was little left. They were one unlucky harvest away from starving.

Shándra had to come soon.

So Túriel stayed, long after her husband had closed the mill door and put out the tallow candle, long after Shándra’s small son had given in to sleep. Now only the orange glow of the hearth illuminated their cottage. The night wore on and she watched the moonlight dance on the water as the crescent descended below the trees, listening all the while for the approach of horse hooves. But Shándra never came.

Túriel fed the old sow as the first rays of dawn lit the sky. Her bones ached this morning from the long hours standing in the cold night waiting for Shándra to come. The sow grunted and snorted as she ate, gorging on the roots Joren had collected in the meadow the day before. She would farrow soon and that would pay the taxes on the mill. If they were lucky, there would be enough piglets in the litter to eat as well as sell. It had been too long since she’d had any meat that wasn’t fish or rabbit.

Túriel heard a door close, distracting her from her reverie, and looked across the garden separating the sty from the cottage to see her husband as he left the cottage and made his way to the mill to begin his labor. There were sacks of grain stacked against the wall to grind for neighbors who had fared better during harvest. She followed him to the mill, and stood in the doorway watching as Joren set the mill stones turning, beginning the long hard toil that filled his every day. At night she would rub oil, mint and herbs into his skin to sooth his aching muscles. Túriel loved Joren.

Through all their toils and strife she loved him still. She had vowed never to regret her decision to take a ghadja as her husband, though she knew that since he was not Vistani born he would never be accepted by her people. Still she loved him, and she was touched by the fact that he had such faith in her, even though he would never understand her ways. She looked back at the road and worried again about her sister. She wished Shándra had listened, and had left the caravan when she had left. Her father had forged such a dreadful pact with the Djan Mizhak, and she knew that the horned ones were not to be trusted. Túriel had seen what lay in store for her sister. Shándra had still been among the Vistani during the attack of the horned demon-spawn that other people in the realm called Tieflings.

“Tia?”

She turned at the sound of a child’s voice and jolted with surprise as she bumped into a small figure. Nicolai was standing behind her, his emerald eyes solemn, staring up at Túriel with a quiet stillness at odds with his tender years. How long had he been there? She hadn’t heard the boy approach.

Súri stood behind him, a stuffed doll tucked on her hip. She rubbed her eyes with one hand and toddled toward her mother. Túriel looked at the turning millstones and put her hand on her nephew’s shoulder. “Keep Suri outside, Nicolai.” She told him. The mill was no place for an infant.

Nicolai nodded and took his cousin’s small hand and led the baby out. Suri’s steps were wobbly, but she didn’t fall.

They watched the children leave.

“Shándra didn’t come . . .” Joren voiced at last. It wasn’t a question.

“No.” Túriel’s voice was soft, resigned.

“Is she dead?" Her husband looked off into the distance. He could not bear looking into his wife’s eyes as he asked a question already suspecting the answer. He knew that she could read his thoughts in his eyes.

Túriel understood that Joren wasn’t asking her what she knew. He was asking her what she had seen. And there was nothing she could say.

“Shándra would not abandon Nicolai.” Joren added, and the significance of those words fell like stone between them.

They were both silent, grieving a loss that had yet to be confirmed. And mixed in with the loss was growing worry at what to do with Nicolai. Túriel knew that Nicolai figured prominently in all that had happened. The Djan Mizhak wanted her sister’s son—the child they had bargained for. Shándra had come to Túriel, her sister, looking for hope amid the dark shadows she had herself foreseen. And when their father refused the surrender little Nic to them, and broken the dreadful pact, the Vistani clan had paid the price.

But surely the Tiefling leader would not still be searching for Nicolai. Not now that they had taken their revenge.

Joren met her eyes. “I will tell Nic.”

Túriel knew the sadness that shrouded the boy, the look in his eyes beyond his few years. “He knows.”

Nicolai watched Súri shaking a leaf in her chubby hand. The baby had a big four-toothed grin as she made fluttering noises in the air. Her hair had grown since Nicolai had seen her last. Her hair was the black of raven’s wings, like Túriel, her mother’s hair, and like his own mother’s hair. He remembered everything about her, could fashion an image of her in his mind with perfect clarity. It was a gift he had—the remembrance of faces. Nicolai had hair the color of ginger, like his father, Taliesin. Or so he had been told. Nic reached out and stroked Súri’s raven locks. He liked the feel and the deep color or raven wings, so very different from his own auburn hair. He smiled and after a moment the sunlight shifted and his own auburn locks shifted, grew darker, to rivaled those of his cousin.

Nicolai looked back at the mill. He knew Túriel and Joren were sad. He was sad too. First sad for Daeson, his friend, who was beneath the flowers, and also for his mother. The demons had stolen her blood, and taken her life with them. His mother had been frightened too. He could feel it as she’d handed him into Túriel ’s arms and rode off into the night.

Shándra was dead.

Nicolai knew that somehow. It was like a big black cloak that enveloped him in folds of heavy cloth, dragging him down. He was alone now. He was no-one’s son. It would be better if he were in the ground.

Túriel watched Nic play with her daughter through the doorway of the mill. Joren came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her, drew her back against him. Joren knew how fond she was of Nic. Túriel had nursed her nephew as an infant, alongside her own son, when Shándra grew ill and could no longer produce milk. Her bond with Nicolai was almost as strong as it was with Súri and to her it was clear what they should do. She believed with all her heart that it was what he sister had always intended.

But despite the ache in her heart, Túriel knew that she and Joren couldn’t keep another child.
Especially so soon after they had put their own son, Daeson, into the ground. The thought of her son was too painful. Her eyes welled, and she choked back her tears. Instinctively she looked out into the meadow where he was buried. The white flowers still grew where she had planted them. The mound of earth covering his grave was yet freshly turned, had not yet settled. She had sewn him into a shroud she has fashioned of sackcloth. She had spent the days following his death rendering his face so carefully, trying to capture with accuracy every detail in pigments on a flat white stone before time eroded her memory. Then spent days creating a second image, this one on canvas, for she knew the rain and weather would begin their work on the painting she had poured so much of herself into, eroding the pigments in wind and weathering, stripping away the clarity of her memories along with his painted emerald eyes and raven black hair. The painted stone served as a marker for a boy whose life had barely begun.

“We should send him off with Stefán.” Joren spoke quietly, distracting Túriel from her thoughts of her dead son. “He can take the boy to Tarandra. She will know better than we how to hide him from them.”

“He’s just a boy, Joren.” Turiel said quietly. She watched Nicolai, and remembered how he had played with her own son. The two boys were of an age, born under the same moon. Her hand instinctively rose to her breasts as she remembered feeding them—twin sons of different mothers. Had she not promised Shándra that she would raise him and care for him as her own, as a brother to her own son? Out in the meadow the boys had played like twins. Now only a grave ringed with white flowers bore testament to those joys.

Her husband shook his head sadly. “We have little enough already.”

“He has nothing.” She said, “No one.”

“He has his name and his life.”

“Does he?” She asked, “Who will feed him?”

“Who will feed us?” Joren touched her shoulder. “We should take him ourselves to the horned ones before they come looking for him here!” It was the smart thing to do, he thought. Not the right thing, but the smart thing.

“Shándra didn’t fight the Mizhak so her son could be given over to them!” If she thought he was serious, she would have been furious at the suggestion.

“Even his being here could endanger us,” Joren said, then looked beyond his wife at their daughter who was playing with Nicolai. “He was promised to them even before he was born. His being here could endanger Súri. If the horned ones come for him. . . ” Joren left the thought unfinished, as if speaking the words might give them power. He turned Túriel to face their daughter. “Besides we have nothing to offer him.”

“Love.” Túriel pleaded. “We can offer him love. Shándra believed that.” Túriel looked back at Tamás, realizing with a terrible dread that Shándra had left Nic with them, knowing she wouldn’t live to collect him. “And she knew he would be safe here. She wouldn’t have brought him here, if she didn’t.”

*

Túriel looked up from her gardening as she heard footsteps approach. She recognized the traveler. His arrival was expected. She suddenly realized that she had been planting for many hours now. It was time to separate the young seedlings and properly space them into long rows. The work was not difficult, and it allowed her to lose herself in the repetition. The morning had past, the sun was already high in the sky. She looked back at the long rows she had planted with a sense of surprise and satisfaction. Súri was over by the mill with her father watching him carry and stack sacks of flour into a cart. Nicolai was sitting by his cousin’s grave in the meadow, studying the stone portrait of his friend and playmate, now resting cold beneath the earth. Túriel could remember a time before Súri was born when the two boys had been the best of friends before she had left the Vistani.

Túriel turned back to face a young man, his thick dark hair woven into a long dark braid, making his way towards the mill through the soft, wet soil beside the weir. His features betrayed his Vistani heritage.

“Stefán.” She greeted and embraced him. It was Stefán who had introduced her to his Gadja friend, Joren. Every time she saw Stephán she had to smile at the recollection of that first meeting. It did not matter if Stephán thought the smile was for him. In a way it was. After she left, Stefán had remained with the wagon people and Túriel had feared for his safety. So many of the Vistani had died in the fires or fallen during the attack of the Djan Mizhak.

Stefán nodded in return. His eyes were dark and shadowed. “Have you been up to the caravan?”
Túriel felt a cold chill. She could not bring herself to visit the caravan again since she had left her people, let alone now to revisit its smoldering remains.

“I went to lay offerings for the dead.” Stefan said slowly and Túriel could see that he was holding back tears. “I found Shándra there.” He paused, tears continued to well.

Túriel bowed her head. “Aye.” It was no more than she already knew and yet her heart ached anew at the confirmation. She did not falter or feel a need for tears. She had already seen this moment in time—not the death of her sister, but Stephán bringing her this news.

“She’d been murdered.” His voice deepened with anger, and he slowly slipped a Tiefling arrow from his own quiver, handing it to Túriel . "The arrow was . . . "

Stefan stopped mid-word and stiffened, looking beyond Túriel. His jaw dropped and his expression shifted between confusion and fear.

The seer turned, knowing what she would see. Stefan had helped her lower her own son into the earth. Had remained with her, singing the old songs as she planted flowers on Daeson’s grave. But she had seen this moment in time. Though she had not fully understood it, until now. She braced herself and turned.

Nicolai?

Not Nic, but her dead son Daeson stood before her, looking up at her with eyes and expression she knew by heart. And now she understood her perplexing, impossible visions. He was like his father, a wandering minstrel, a bard who frequently travelled the Voll River, but who had explored many of the lands of the Eastern Flaness. All she knew of him was that he claimed to have been born in a northern settlement of Dundoo. The gift he inherited from his father was why the Tiefling’s wanted him.

Túriel had been haunted by visions of her son resurrection since his death. And now she understood the nature of her visions, and with that understanding reality reshaped itself before her, revealing to her yet another thread of her future. Understand the thread and understand the tapestry. But now she knew it was not his return from death, but rather the fact that he continued to be.

“It’s me, Nicolai.” The boy took Stefán’s hand. Don’t you know me Stefán?” The boy asked, and Vistani reached down tentatively and ran his fingers through the boys raven locks, as iridescent as beetle’s wings.

The boy looked up at Stephán and Túriel wearing the face of her dead son, with emerald eyes and hair of the blackest black. He smiled, oblivious to the impact of his appearance on the adults who stared down at him, “I want to go home.”

The statement took Stephán by surprise.

“The caravan’s gone, lad. There’s nothing there but ashes.” Stefan told him. “You had best forget it.”

Nic frowned. “Nothing’s forgotten.” He said softly, looking up at Stefan. “They took her soul. Do you know how to get it back?”

The adults looked at each other, uneasily.

“No, Nic.” Túriel said eventually. “Go find Joren now, help him with Suri.”

Nic’s eyes flickered to Stefan then back at Túriel . “Am I going to stay with you?” he asked, “or will Stefan take me with him?”

Túriel felt Stefán’s eyes boring though her. “Find Joren, Nicolai. We will talk of this later.”
The boy waited for a long moment, looking up at Túriel, and then he slowly walked off. She knew more than she could tell him. But she had to let the moment unfold. These things cannot be rushed.

Stefán watched Nicolai disappear into the mill. “Nicolai?” He stuttered, “How?” He motioned with one hand, trying to gesture the unexpected change he had just witnessed in the boy. “He looks like Daeson now.” He stammered, “Exactly.”

Then he turned to Túriel, “Did you do this?”

Túriel smiled, “No. He did.” She added, “He is like Taliesin."

“Then he will be safe.” Stefan paused, “The demons are not searching for Daeson.”

Túriel looked down. She smiled. She understood the signs. All of the moments in time that had led to this moment. After an uncomfortable silence she asked, “Stefan, will you stay here, with us?” She asked, avoiding Stefan’s statement.

“Enstadt.” The young Vistani shook his head. “It will be safer if I go there.”

She listened in silence, never uttering a word of protest. She wished that he would stay with them. He was all she had left of her family. Then, in the silence of the moment, Túriel heard her husband’s calling. “Suri! Suri!”

His voice was filled with fear.

Instantly terror struck Túriel’s heart and she broke into a run. They both raced out of the mill and towards Joren.

Joren was frantic. “She’s gone!” She cried. “Suri is gone! I-I was stacking sacks of flour, and when I looked…” His eyes scanned the land, “Suri! Suri!”

Túriel stopped beside his husband, but little Daeson continued on, running unerringly toward the water. He didn’t falter in his step. The Joren saw him. His eyes widened as he saw his son, only recently put into the ground, run past them.

Daeson ran directly to the weirs edge. At the bank, he didn’t stop, but plunged in. The icy water gushed over him and the pull of the current forced him downwards. His knees bumped against something solid and he reached down. He felt cloth and found his cousin’s small arm and kicked against the strong currents, struggling upwards. His head broke the surface and he gasped. Then he lifted Suri up into her father’s outstretched arms. Stephán leaned in and grasped him, pulled him up out of the water onto the grassy bank.

Joren was sobbing Suri’s name and Daeson watched, shivering as Túriel shook her daughter, pleading for her to wake. Suri finally coughed and vomited up a gush of water. Then she began to cry. Túriel and Joren enclosed their daughter, and each other, in their arms, rocking and crying. Daeson watched and continued to shiver. Then Joren turned to stare at him, and Túriel grasped her husband’s forearm and explained, “It is Nicolai. He has his father’s gift.” And Joren broke from the huddle and grabbed the boy, “Thank you, son!” He sobbed and drew the shivering boy into the warmth of their arms. “Bless you!” And Túriel wondered just whom he embraced. No, she knew. She let the moment unfold.

*

That night Túriel settled the young hero into the pile of sheepskin and cloth beside her daughter. The boy had been unusually quiet all evening. Of course they had been deciding what to do. Stefan was willing to take the boy with him. But when Joren looked into the boy’s eyes, he touched a joy that he thought he would never again experience. Daeson knew that his future was being discussed. His silence unnerved her even more than his endless questions.

“It will be a cold night, Nic.” She told him as she tucked another sheepskin around him. “Call me Daeson,” he said, and it was the last time he had to remind her. Suri sniffled beside Daeson and the boy shuffled over and curled about her. “I’ll keep Suri warm, Tia.” She brushed his hair back and kissed them both goodnight.

In the other room, Joren and Stefan were talking in hushed tones. Túriel sat down next to her husband and looked at him for a long moment then leaned against him, resting her head on his chest. “I’ll not send him away, Joren.” She said at last, bringing an evening long discussion to an end.

“We have so little already.” But there was no fervor in his voice. He knew his heart wasn’t cold enough to send the boy away, not now.

“I’ll not send him away.” She repeated. “His life is as fragile as a leaf floating on the wind. Will you leave him to furious winds of this wanton storm?” And Joren slowly shook his head in agreement.

“And Stefan,” she looked across at the young man, he caught her gaze and leaned forward, smiling. “You will be staying as well.” She watched as he prepared himself to argue, then added, “There is no future for you in Enstadt. Your destiny is here, with us, not with the elves!” His face shifted, and he leaned back to consider her words, which she knew she had delivered with perfect accuracy to penetrate his arguments.

*

Daeson sat up in his bed, unable to sleep. The shadowy darkness frightened him. It always had. He knew there were monsters in the world. Real ones. And some of them would come for him. They had already come for his mother and his grandfather. Still his mother taught him to be brave. She even took him walking in the forest long after the moon was gone, treading the deer paths into places as feared as Dark Hollow. But what had really frightened him was when he grandfather told him that he was a monster too! And that he belonged with the other monsters.
Túriel woke as the pre-dawn skies turned violet, and sat up to look not at the boy her sister had left with her, but at her son, reborn. A gift. A second chance.

Daeson lay with Suri, lit by the watery rays of first sunlight that flittered through the cracks in the wood. Túriel lay back down and was just about to fall into sleep again when she heard Súri cry out. She sat up again to go to her, but heard faint shushing noises and saw Daeson gently rocking the baby. Joren pulled Túriel sleepily back down into their bed. She could feel the smile on his lips when he brushed them against her cheek. Then he raised himself up on one arm to look across the room at the children. His daughter was safe.

And so was his son.

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Departure

Interesting running into their missing party member shortly after Bartholomew and Xander left Tyneman’s Festival. It almost seems that some unknown hand writes an unseen script, sometimes making my job easier… and slightly more annoying. If I believed in the gods, I might perceive that they have a twisted sense of humor.

After learning about the location of Craigstad me and my new partner would be off to find him. We soon acquired a skiff from a gentlemen named Jonkler to head downstream to the stronghold of Rastor. Luckily, he also threw in a fishing net which definitely came in use on the long trek to our destination.

I can’t finish tonight, someone else feel free to pick up

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Justice!
Daeson's Journal

I am a terrible thief. I should be a good thief, but I’m not. They tell me that my mother was as skilled as anyone in purloining a coin, or even snatching a jewel from one of the temple idols. If the gods are watching they must be idle. Or maybe she was just that good to escape even their omniscient gaze.

When I was real small, I remember once when we went in to visit a jeweler. She had given me very clear instructions about what to do, and we had practiced over and over to make sure I would get it right. She always said there was no room for error in our what we do. That is true of our acrobatics as well as theft. If someone sees through the misdirection, the trick won’t work.

Anyways we go into the jeweler’s room and she is dressed up in suck finery that I thought she looked like a real baroness or maybe even a queen. They brought out the jewels for us to see and while they are looking at them she pinches my leg which was my cue to start squaling, which I did, and so she asks them for some water, but I kick the guy in the leg and while he is messing with me he snatches up a couple of the best gems and has them ready for me to swallow when they give me the water. Diamonds go practically invisible in a glass or water. Did you know that? Even big ones.

Well there were all kinds of accusations but there were no jewels to be found on either one of us and we walked out just like she knew we would, but then we also knew better than to go back there again!

I think maybe is she had lived maybe I would be a good thief. But it seems like the gods want we to walk some other path. Sometimes I really think so. Except them I remember what I am and I know that I can wander whatever road I want to, I will end up here again so I better find a way to get good at this.

We made it into town, and Bartholomew and I went to the Temple of Pelor to talk to Brother Darmouth. Shagrach stayed outside of town and said he would wait for us for two days before he would head on back to find his people. We didn’t make it back in time to meet up with him, so I guess that is where he went.

It was amazing to get so close to a goblin. I know that I could render him real well if I needed to. If I had some paper I would sketch him, but I don’t have my old sketching pad anymore. I used to make some money drawing people, except no one wants to be drawn the way they really are, which I what I like to do. It’s important to notice those details that make one person look so very different from another person if you want to get them right. And it is not just their appearance, it is also the way their expressions shift across their faces and the way they hold their bodies. To get the drawing right you have to do all of that and it has to be _exactly _right. But people want to look better than they do, which basically means that women want to be more beautiful and men more muscular and masculine than they really are. So if you want to make a living sketching people, you have to keep that in mine and make them look younger and more beautiful if, and I emphasize this, _if _you want to get _paid _for your trouble.

Now that I have learned that lesson I think I can make a better living sketching portraits of people. Maybe, someday if I can ever afford a wagon I can start mixing pigments and paints and paint some folks on canvas, but it is very expensive and it takes a lot of time to mix pigments and get them right. If I had a wagon I could also store all my acrobatics equipment so I could put on some really excellent performances. It is a way to make a few coins. If I had a partner to work the crowd while I was performing we could make even more. It is hard to steal anything while I am travelling with Bartholomew because he is always suspecting me of taking things even when I’m not. I’m not sure how to explain a whole horse and wagon. So right now I just have to think about it, cause I doubt I will ever have that much money all at the same time.

This morning started out good.

Shagrach and I went fishing and I speared a few fish, a couple of very nice ones, he got one most excellent dogfish with whiskers that were longer than the palm of your hand. The sines of those suckers are very sharp and poisonous. You have to be very careful when you catch them or pick them up, cause those fish know just how to flip to spear you with their spiny fin.p.
I started to roast them over the fire on some sharpened spits but Shagrach reminded me that we had that magic pot we got from the hobgoblins—oh yeah, that reminds me, never, ever confuse goblin and hobgoblin when you are talking to a goblin. Goblins get all red in the face over someone calling hobgoblins goblins, like three letters make such a difference. Anyways we got this pot, and it almost cleans itself. The fish soup I made tasted better than it ever had, and I am only a mediocre cook, but with a pot like that I might be able to make some money cooking if I can figure out how to work it out.

Xander, the elf, even said something nice about how the food tasted. I was really surprised. He is the most unsociable elf I ever met. Ok I just had to erase all that stuff I just wrote about Xander, so I know the page is sort of scritchy here cause this eraser is just about a nubbin now. He is just swell. We are great friends. I have much I can learn from him. Ok. There.

Xander and Bartholomew killed a bear. They wasted a lot of the meat somewhere in the woods, but I wasn’t sure exactly where to go to find the carcass, so now it’s food for wolves. I did salt down the skin and make some jerky from the shoulder meat they brought back. I wish they had brough back more fat. You can fry anything in bear fat.

Bartholomew took out that glowing stone he carries and was talking to it. Somehow the stone lets him talk to other poeple far away who carry other similar stones. I would really like a set of stones like that, but you would need the whole set, and I think you really could’t steal them because I bet the wizard who made them could use them to find you. He was walking about the Praetorian Crest, and I remember hearing baout it before. They think it was stolen a long time ago and Bartholomew and I decided we need to find it to stop whatever is going on below the river where the three champions are buried. The lich is there, and I think it has something to do with the three champions. One of them is a dead dragonman, there is a word for them, but I can’t think of it just now. Bartholomew hates them because they drove his poeple away from their homeland and took it over. It’s hard to blame him. You can never trust a dragon. Really you can’t.

Of course, I have always heard such terrible things about the Tieflings, though that is not the world my people had for them. They consorted with demons, in fact they are sort of demon spawn, or cambion,themselves. So it’s hard to believe they are very nice people. All my life they warned me that the Tieflings are looking for me, and that I have to diguise myself and be sure to stay away from them. I think grandfather should never have made that deal with them. I don’t care what the reason. Nothing good comes from making deals with demons.

But Mister Bartholomew is different. And I don’t think they would look for me if I am traveling with one of their own. I think the best way to hide is to hide in plain site. No one looks for you there. Mister Bartholomew seems nice, and even Brother Darmouth did some magic and said that he knew that Mister Barthomew’s heart was pure. I’m just glad he wasn’t looking at me. I’m sure my heart could use a good cleaning. Which reminds me that I need to find some silverpolish.

I tried to make some money in the town. The thing that worked was becoming a priest of Pelor. Everyone in the market wanted to donate food, so I guess the priests of Pelor must have reputations for having a big appetite. I blessed a whole bunch of people at the fair, and who knows, everyone says a Vistani blessing is real. I just know that farmers want to hear that their crops will grow and that they will have great harvests. Old sinsters want to hear that handsome young men will soon come courting. It’s not hard to tell a fortune if you just use your head and ask the right questions before you start talking.

But then I slipped up on this one knave. I think his name was “Mandy”. What were his parent’s thinking, huh? Good enough for him, no wonder he is such a jerk. I caught the chord wrong when I went to slice and he came unglued and started chasing me. Then it seemed like there was nothing under the sun that was going to go right for me. I caught my heal on the edge of thw wagon when I tried to jump over it to get away. So I fell. There were guards standing in all the wrong places and, well, finally he caught up with my by good friend’s tent. Oh yeah. You hear it right. I managed to pull the section of tent awning down over him, but then his brother in law Bill comes out and grapples me. I managed to get free, but those two guys must have practiced running with the hounds cause I could not get away from them. The fact I kept tripping didn’t help. You cannot run in the sandals. You just can’t. Especially sandals stolen from a priest. Bill slugged me a couple of times and busted my nose after Mandy tackled me down to the ground, and then a guard named Jack showed up, who was Mandy’s brother in law. Yeah. That’s right. His brother in law!

So the guard threatens to kill me, or just cut me up, but he never even thinks about taking me to the guardhouse, so you know he is exactly the kind of city guardsman you always hear about. Finally he decides to take everything I own, my sword, my dagger, my coin purse and divide it up with his good buddies who are all having a laugh at my expense. They went on and on about what a bad thief I am, and of course, the worst part is that they’re right. I am a terrible thief. Ican be a great entertainer, but that requires money and equipment I don’t have, so it ain’t happening. He even ripped off my shirt, so now all the clothes I own in the world is a pair of pants. I do have some armor, so I can wear that. I also have a priests robe, so I can wear that, only not when Bartholomew is around. So now I have even less money than I did before.

The acolyte at the entrance to the Temple of Pelor wouldn’t let me in, and then Xander wanted to charge me 100% interest on any coin to get myself healed, so I told him to go copulate with an orc. I hear elves think that is about the worst insult you can say. I found the healer, who didn’t charge me anything, but I would never go to him again. Never. I had to become an acolyte to get back into the temple. I could have found a stable, but with my luck some horse would have stepped on me, so I figured the temple was safer.

I thought a lot about killing Jack and Mandy and Bill. A lot. I guess maybe I am the only one who sees that killing a man is just another form of stealing. It’s a funny thing killin’ a man, you take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have. They took my stuff but they didn’t cut me up, or kill me, or even put me in prison. So I guess I should return the favor. It’s just very hard not to think about revenge. Uncle said I always have had a temper, but its probably all because of that bad deal my grandfather struck, and then all the stuff that happened later.

Things could be worse though. Brother Darmouth bought me a used shortsword to replace the one the guard took. And Xander bought me a used crossbow (and I will _never _figure that one out). I am a bad thief, but I am an even worse fighter. I need to find a new troup of acrobats and do what I am good at. I can’t even win a fight with a dandy and his brother in law. Not sure how well I will fair against orcs! That’s where we are going. There are orcs in the Kron Hills that have the bell they stole from the Temple of Pelor. We think it has more magic than Brother Darmouth knows and that it probably figures into all the stuff that is happening here. So now we are off to fight orcs. So like I said, I’m not thinking my odds are too great for surviving this, but I got balls like turkey eggs and I’m not scared of nothing.

Well, not usually.

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