All That Glitters
A Tale of "Moray & Co."
landing on the back of the moving box wagon, Istara Dirksteel hissed over
her black-clothed shoulder into the fog, "Are they still behind
to her knees beside her, just as darkly dressed, Cassia Moray looked
behind them, her gold eyes glittering in what little light a nearby
lamppost threw out into the mists. "Yes! Three on the bridge with
longbows!" Shifting her weight, she brought her crossbow up to let
four bolts fly rapidly into the black.
shout of agony confirmed at least one hit.
don't have to tell me twice!" Trevan griped.
her eyes, the dwarfish human gripped his neck a bit tighter. "It's
not like those can hurt you!"
voice of the war ax rose a notch. "Have you noticed what arrowheads
can do to my finish!?" A second later, three shafts thunked into the
wooden slats between the two women. A fourth bounced off of Trevan's
handle, scoring its ornate carving. "You see?!?"
there's a loss! What ever shall we do if you loose your shiny hide?!"
the short woman growled, quickly shifting him to the thick leather holder
on her backpack as the wagon jolted over the cobble street. The driver in
front, shielded from the hail of bolts by a tall canopy, seemed to sense
something amiss was going on behind him. Spurring his horse to the trot,
he wisely ducked his head.
me," the taller, brown-skinned woman asked, turning her body aside
amid another round of shafts, "why we keep your great-grandfather
Istara half-shouted, "We'd never survive half of the scrapes we get
in without his help!"
if he'd only learn to keep quiet…" Cassia said dryly.
muffled "I heard that!" came from behind Istara, as the
brown-haired woman ducked another shaft as it flickered close to her face.
the cart rumbled away, Kev Iba's remaining archers couldn't keep them in range. Shouts echoed through the fog, then stopped as the
faint clatter of boots on cobbles followed quickly after them.
into the gloom as she rose to her hands and knees atop the cart bed,
Istara sighed, "Now they decide they can catch us if they follow on
foot!" Glancing past the edge of the wagon top, she added, "Do
you think we can get off of this thing now?"
her quick-loading weapon away, Cassia nodded. "Sounds good to me…
but not that side!" Placed a restraining hand on Istara's arm, she
hissed, "You want to swim to the Barleyman's by way of the river?
This way! There's a pile of old straw on this side." With a lightness
of years of bounding through trees and over rooftops, she vaulted from the
moving cart, swallowed by the night.
hesitated. It was either this or explain to the driver where she came
from. Gathering her scattered wits, she plunged off the edge, tumbling end
over end before she landed with a shush in a mountain of dry, dirty grass,
enveloped on all sides.
Blazes!" she cursed, thrashing about.
second later, a slim, firm hand tugged her to the surface, setting her
booted feet back on the worn stones of the street. "Shhh! Let's not
make anymore noise than needed!" Cassia said crossly.
the chaff from her hair, Istara hissed, "Don't you think--!?"
Cassia cut her off just as sounds of booted feet on cobbles came storming
up from behind them. "Come on!" With a shove, she pushed Istara
into the mouth of the alleyway, half hidden by the hay pile. As the
retreating sounds of the wagon echoed along the riverside, she watched as
shapes emerged in the half-light of her vision, resolving into three
brutish footmen, each with the leather-and-plate metal mantles the Iba
Gang on their shoulders.
as one, their heads swiveled about, squinting in the gloom. "I can't
see 'em!" one said.
what d'you expect?! None of us can see past our noses in this muck!"
the Second griped.
need that blinkin' yardarm to see where you are, Fromit!"
Third snapped, "Do either of you want to go back to Kev and tell him
we lost those two?"
so! Now get your rumps moving! They have to be headed that way, since
there's no bridge for another six streets or so!" With Third's
prodding, the hulks shuffled off into the night.
women held their tongues until the brutes were out of Cassia's sight.
Saying nothing, the taller woman led the shorter along the side of the
street, into another alley, vanishing into the night like a pair of
lone light above the brick-and-wood building that housed the inn named 'The
Burly Barrel' still burned bright when the two women arrived.
the sable-haired adventurer sighed, "we made it!"
still with your skins and limbs intact! Not to mention my own
finish," Trevan sniped from behind Istara. "It's another
be quiet, Uncle!" said the dwarfish, human woman tiredly.
told you not to call me that, Granddaughter!" the possessed war ax
reminded her, again. Istara just rolled her eyes with practiced patience.
into the light, the two looked around cautiously. No one was outside to
greet them, but the two women could see from the lights in the windows
that someone was inside.
turned to her companion. "Just tell me you still have what we went
into that rat's nest to get?"
patted the bulge in her belt pouch. "Still where I put them. Now,
let's see if our customer is still awake to receive it." Together,
they walked to the door of the inn and rang for the innkeeper, who quickly
ushered them in.
Cassia located her charge; dressed in a somber ensemble, seated at a table
in the one corner of the inn's common room. The russet-haired man was
staring into the flames of the open fire pit, watching as the wood smoke
curl-climbed up the flue.
got her bearings on the inn's tavern. With a glint in her eye, she nodded
to Cassia "See you after you finish up, Cass. I think I'll take a
bracer or two."
take it easy," Cassia reminded her. "I need you clear-headed for
the trip home."
long as she avoids strong spirits, she will be fine," said Trevan
archly. "Unlike the time in Bar-Tar."
you never forgive me for that, Uncle?" the short woman asked as she
left the common room.
Not after that ax throwing contest--!" Trevan complained, his voice
drifting off as the doors closed behind them.
her head, the sable-haired treasure seeker stepped towards her client, who
half-rose from his seat at her approach.
Cassia greeted, "Master Kine."
motioned for her to sit down, his bark-brown eyes wavering from her face a
little as he looked around. "Did you.. um, I mean, were you able
unlaced her belt pouch, gingerly removing the two embossed, crystal
earrings from inside. "It was a bit rough getting out of their den,
but here they are."
a pleased grin, Kine took a moment to examine them himself. "Perfect!
Not one dent or score!" He gingerly took the two earrings in one
palm. "These are a strong link to my family's past. Every woman for
the past ten generations has worn these as a bride of the reigning
weren't easy to find. But, I didn't have to go too far to figure out who
it was that the thieves looked to."
fully understand the difficulty you went through, Miss Moray. When these
had been stolen, we wanted nothing more than to get them back and see the
guilty punished. But, when we learned whose gang the thief belonged
nodded. "Even the constabulary in this town don't dare to cross steel
with Kev. But, a job is a job, and now it's done."
what will you do now, Miss Moray? Surely a man like him won't let you get
away with taking back what he stole!"
it 'professional courtesy', Master Kine," Cassia smiled, running a
hand over stiff muscles, remembering the climb up the sheer walls of Iba's
hideaway, and the chase that followed when someone discovered her
presence. "Besides, I did a job for him once." Seeing the shock
in his eyes, she asked, "You do remember my services are for anyone
that can pay my fee?"
I… yes, but, I never thought you'd work for a criminal like Durgan?!"
a rueful glimmer in her eyes, Cassia admitted, "Well, he may be a
cutthroat, but he does have an incredible personal collection. Speaking of
Kine reached to the satchel beside his chair, pulling out a thick, brass
tablet from inside. "One of the few remaining plates from my family's
foundry; the first ever in Burkavale." Turning it over a few times,
he added, "My ancestors etched a copy of one of the first languages
human-kind ever used onto several of these plates. Unfortunately, hard
times at places over the years force many of the originals to be smelted
down for mundane uses." He passed it over to Cassia, remarking,
"It's not gold, but…"
will do nicely, Master Kine," Cassia interjected with an awed tone.
"This will add to my collection, and… if applied right, I can
finally translate some of the other pieces I hold as well."
his chin on one hand, Kine commented, "You are a strange person, Miss
Moray! You work as a thief, yet you take only what others have stolen, and
you ask not for gold or other riches in return, but for old, musty
artifacts and histories!"
teacher once said, 'Gold can rust, and jewels lose their luster… but,
knowledge is the one treasure that can last forever.'."
one eyebrow, Kine uttered, "Indeed." Then, in a conversational
tone, he queried, "Miss Moray, may I ask you a… slightly personal
the tablet into her back pack, Cassia shook her head. "I don't
ever since we first meet, something has been niggling at me for some
that is?" Buckling the pack closed, she looked back at the noble.
the back of his neck, Kine plunged ahead. "It's your eyes. How did
they ever become that gold color!?"
was silent, then she burst out laughing. "Oh! Is that all!?"
Seeing his confusion, she quickly replied, "Forgive me, Master Kine!
I thought you were going to ask for something… well! To be honest, I've
never had someone ask about my eyes."
cannot imagine why? They are… rather unique."
unusual," Cassia admitted. "Being gold-colored isn't their only
attribute. With them, I can see very well in near-darkness."
Maker! Like tales of some animals I have heard of," Kine replied.
"But, just how did you acquire them? We're you born this way?"
chuckle. Seeing the nobleman's interest, she leaned back in her seat and
pursed her lips. "No. To be honest, my eyes used to be as normal as
yours are, and they didn't turn this way until after I passed my
thirteenth year. I was at the right age when I was wanting to belong to
something. I was too young to follow in my father's trade, and my…
condition over boats left my mother's shipbuilding work not a good option.
I started looking for something else to belong to, and sure enough, I
thought I found what I was looking for one day…"
a look of disbelief, thirteen-year old Cassia looked down into the jagged,
rock-lined hole in the ground before her, Turning to fix her sea-green
eyes on Dunkir, who was grinning like it was all some supreme joke, she
stated, "You can't be serious?!?"
bet!" Ruddy-faced with a snarl of blaze-red hair, the leader of the
odd-assembled group of young teen-aged boys crossed his arms over his
cast-off leather vest. "You want to join The Red Round Guard? You go
down into Helm's Watchhole and bring us back a smoothie stone from the
furthest chamber inside. It's the only way. Every one of us has one."
He fingered a flat, reddish disk dangling from a thong around his neck, as
if to prove his legitimacy.
chorus of "Yeah!" came from the other boys, forming the loose
half-circle around their leader and the prospective new member.
looked back at the hole, tugging at the hem of her favorite 'outdoor'
dress as she toed a small rock with the tip of one of her boots. Flipping
it forward, she watched as the rock dropped through the opening. A few
clatters followed, then a couple that were fainter, then silence.
mean… down in there??"
Dunkir, Goudy, his left-hand man, snorted. "'Praps she fears the
tried sounding disinterested, unnerved by the apparent depth of the hole.
Everyone around Tane knows about the Howler of Helm. The beast which
steals out at night to feast on the bodies of those unfortunate to be
caught out at night near the Watchhole!" Dunkir rolled his eyes at
her. "Or do you spend too much time with that effeminate father of
yours to listen when people at the tavern talk?" The bigger youth
laughed, only to be cut off by two quick kicks from the short girl; one in
the knee, and the other hitting his belly, sending him gasping at the
Da is a professional dancer! Don't you dare call him that again!"
other boys growled and stalked forward, but Dunkir waved them back.
her be! We'll let the Howler deal with her… if she's unlucky enough to
meet the beast!" Getting back to his feet while rubbing his bruises,
Dunkir snatched a torch from one of his gang and tossed it at Cassia.
"Here! That will last one complete trip to the Howler's Lair and
back. You'll find it at the end of the tunnel."
stared at the torch. "Don't I get a weapon? A staff or a knife,
have to make your way with what you have on," Dunkir said, smirking.
"Oh! You do get a torch," he added, tossing a stick with black
strips of cloth wrapped around on end at the girl. "But it will only
last you long enough to get there and back, so you'd better not be draggin'
the stick, Cassia glowered at Dunkir. "It's foolish to go down
somewhere like that, not knowing what to expect, without a weapon!"
of the other boys made an exasperating sound. "Aw, give her a knife
so she'll stop complainin' and get on with this!" a second chuckled.
Fair's fair," Dunkir snapped. "She has to do it like the rest of
us did. No weapons." With a snide twist to his smile, he added,
"Or the whole thing won't mean nothin'… after all, we all come into
the Guard as equals, and we wouldn't want to see any new member as less
that that. Even if that member is a girl!"
a scowl, Cassia coolly tucked the torch into the side of the belt on her
dress. "Fine! Let's get this over with."
motioned to two of the boys behind him. "Get the rope."
wicked grins, they brought a long coil of hemp forward, trudging towards
Cassia eagerly. With swift movements, they looped on end three times
around her middle, before tying it off.
is the only way down the hole," Dunkir said, answering her question
before she could put it to words. "It's also the only way out. When
you get to the bottom, look for an old stake that we left in the ground.
Tie your end off on it, and, when you're ready to come out, yank on it
twice. We'll be waiting to pull you up."
each of the boys once more, the dusky-skinned girl swallowed hard.
"You will wait for me to pull on it, right?"
our honor," Dunkir avowed, raising one hand to his heart solemnly.
All the other boys quickly followed suit. Almost too quickly. Watching as
she stepped closer to the edge, the red-haired youth added, "Oh, and
remember to watch where you put your feet!" He then slapped a
broad-palmed hand against Cassia's backside, making her yelp as she
inadvertently leaped forward into the maw. For a span of heartbeats, her
scream reverberated against the walls of the hole, coming to a stop when
the rope snapped taut in the hands of the two holders.
could be heard for several moments, except for the creak of twisting hemp.
Then, six words rolled out from the mouth of the fissure: "I'll get
you for that, Dunkir!"
later, under the flickering light from her loaned torch, Cassia picked her
way along a narrow tunnel, strewn with jagged rocks and signs of other
unpleasant things. Thankful for her boots, the young girl was certain by
the smell wafting up from the mere inch of water under her feet that they
would never come clean.
is gonna be upset with me… I should've brought my old boots!" Sshe
groped with her free hand along the tunnel wall, peering off into the
gloom that sat on the edge of the torch light. Now, as every splashed step
echoed wetly in her ears, little by little, this whole affair was
beginning to sound less and less appealing than it originally had.
she told herself, using the familiar name her mother always used, "if
you get out of this, let this be the last dumb thing you ever do!"
Turning around, she looked back down the way she came. "Really, it
wouldn't be so bad to just turn around and go back. I mean, they gave you
their word that they'd wait to pull you out… and father says 'a person
is only as good as their word.'"
grimaced and sighed, plopping down on top of a rock behind her. "I'm
stuck down here!"
a moment, all she did was sit and mope, while the sounds of water and the
crackle of her torch kept her company.
of the Canticle!" she uttered at length, using one of her mother's
oft-used curses. Looking at the burning end of the torch, Cassia squared
her shoulders and stood up. "At the least, I can find another way out
of this place. There can't just be the one opening… or there wouldn't be
any air down this far." So consigned, she turned and continued her
way deeper into the darkness ahead.
enough, she found a few holes in the roof of the tunnel that had the press
of air coming through them, but they were too small to afford her any
egress from this underground realm.
she cursed, "You'd think I'd find that 'farthest chamber' by
as if fates were listening, the light from her torch illuminated a
widening in the tunnel before her. Moving forward, Cassia raised the light
higher, watching as the walls dropped away, turning into the entrance of a
she sighed, suddenly mindful of the words Dunkir spoke before she came
down here. Edging her way to the lip of the entrance, she peered into the
room, not knowing what to expect.
the tunnel, a space a large as her mother's house curved around like a fat
elliptic shape, with protrusions and jagged rocks breaking through the
surface of the walls. More rocks, from large to small, littered the bottom
of the chamber, shadowing the far end beyond the reach of her torch. The
air, while stale with overtones of musk and something else foul, was
breathable, and the trick-trick of water echoed in Cassia's ears.
a flutter in her belly, Cassia slowly reached for a handhold on the side
of the tunnel entrance. Mindful of slipping and falling,, she gripped the
stone face with one hand, keeping the lit torch high overhead as she made
her way down.
wasn't until she was nearly at the chamber floor when she heard a growl…
a low, menacing sound. Turning around, she stared into the gloom, just as
a pair of eyes flashed into view, glowing with a golden-amber light.
Caught in the gleam, the young girl could only watch as the owner of the
eyes crept slowly forward, a series of tapping sounds indicating it was
ether clicking a fair-sized set of teeth, or its claws were clacking
against the gravel underneath.
a rush, the creature appeared fully into the light, its muscles visible
even under a covering of ebony fur. A feline head snarled, its jaws
snapping as it growled, charging towards her. Paws out, it reached towards
her with claws extended. Jerking backwards, Cassia slipped the rest of the
way to the floor, throwing herself behind on of the larger rocks that
happened to be close to her. Just a hairsbreadth behind her, the beast
slapped empty air, snarling in frustration.
didn't scream this time—she was too much her mother's daughter for
that—instead, Cassia used the only weapon she had on hand: her wits.
Ducking down, she grabbed a handful of gravel from the ground. Standing
up, she waited until the beast lunged again, its head so close, she could
feel the heat from its breath against her skin. With a pitched grunt, she
threw the handful of rocks at the creatures face.
howl that followed made the marrow in her bones turn to runny sludge, as
the beast jerked back to scrub at its face and mouth to dislodge the sharp
little stones from tender tissues and eyes. Recovering, Cassia quickly
moved to another larger boulder, further away from the beast. Looking
back, she watched at it gathered up for another lunge, only to stop in
mid-stride, going no further than it had before.
stopping it?" she asked herself. Scared, but curious, she looked
closer as the beast strained, before falling back on haunches, growling
and hissing at the prey now out of reach. It was then that she noticed a
heavy metal collar around its neck, with a chain of heavy links dangling
down between the two front legs.
Shock now replaced her fear. "What sort of person would chain a
creature like this down here?"
beast offered no help, rumbling as it glared at her.
Cassia snapped back to reality. "Well, so long as it stays there, I
should be all right." Looking around, she tried to see where the
smooth stones Dunkir spoke of were at. Mindful of the hateful glare of the
beast… no, the Howler, she thought, Cassia picked her way carefully
around the rocks. Making sure that she didn't get too close to it, she
searched all along the far wall, but found nothing. All of the stones that
were small enough were still sharp or malformed, and anything larger was
far too large to be considered as the right kind for this challenge.
of the Canticle! This is getting ridiculous! They send me down a hole that
houses a beast, with not even a knife to defend myself, to find a stone
that isn't here!" Sighing, Cassia flopped down onto a low-sitting
stone, facing the Howler, whose eyes never left off watching her progress.
Her lips thinned. "Oh, this is a waste of my time! I'm getting out of
here, while I still have the light to do it!"
up, she started to pick her way back towards the entrance. Halfway there,
she heard the Howler begin to growl anew.
you hush! I'm going, and you just leave me be, understand?" she
snapped, turning to face the Howler again.
was then she noticed that the beast wasn't facing her. Its nose was
pointed at the far wall, as it growled again, but this time Cassia could
hear a different pitch in the noise. Was it fear? Holding her torch
higher, Cassia squinted into the gloom. Just then, a trick-trick-trick
sound caught her ears. Even with the growls of the Howler, she couldn't
miss it. Searching her memory, she tried to recall what sort of thing made
sounds like this…
in the Maker's name…?" Suddenly, she remembered. "Shards! Rock
beast's growls climbed another notch, adding an eerie counterpoint to the
scrabble of claws over stone.
the torch around to make it glow brighter, Cassia thrust it high overhead
to light up the cave. What she knew of Creepers came from her father and
mother, who had once encountered them on a trip into the highlands around
Tane, searching for seasoned woods for a new ship. While they said little
about the encounter, she had been warned to never go into dark places
where these tenacious scavengers made their nests.
warning, they were there: three large creatures that looked like a mix of
beetle and spider, one-third the size of the Howler. Their bodies gleamed
black in the light of her torch, which revealed their sharp-pointed limbs,
angular heads with fanged mandibles, and whip like tails that looked like
a thin rat's appendage. They made no noise themselves, but the trik-trik
of their claws on stone was enough of a sound to put fear into anyone's
chained beast was no exception. Backing it's ears, it hissed and snarled,
backing away from the trio. For the longest moment, the insects swayed on
their legs, as if deciding who would get the first crack at the bound
beast. Then, the closest one gathered itself up and leapt at the Howler.
Unable to do much in the way of dodging, the beast roared and lashed out
with its paws, smacking the attacker aside like it was batting a
fluttering fly out of the air.
left its flank exposed, and the second Creeper charged in. Claws darted
out, and the Howler screamed. Soon, everything seemed to be all dark
shapes, shells and fur while Cassia looked on with horror. The Creepers
would dart in, stab, then retreat, leaving the beast with little time to
react to strike back. It could barely defend itself, and only once did it
gain some advantage when it swatted one Creeper down, the insect getting
stuck between a short gap between to boulders. With a howl, it sank its
teeth through the hard carapace, only to get stabbed when the other two
attacked at the same time.
that the creatures were ignoring her for now, Cassia felt the strong urge
to scramble for the entrance and leave this den of horrors. But, a
stronger tug of emotion held her in place. Perhaps it had something to do
with the way the Howler was outnumbered. Maybe it was due to her younger
years. Whatever it was, Cassia knew she couldn't stand by while a chained
animal was torn apart by these scavengers.
I must be mad!" Turning around, she stooped over to find a fair-sized
stone. Hefting it, she took aim at one of the two pressing their attack,
and let the stone go with as much strength behind her toss as she could
rapid *CRIK-CRIK-CRIK!* sound - sounding like something unnatural tapping
against the surface of rock - along with a sudden hiss indicated that she
had struck her target. The Creeper had scuttled back from the Howler, but
it simply returned to his attack, ignoring her attack altogether.
grunted in dismay. She desperately found a small pile of loose stones
nearby, and quickly began to toss them one after the other at the two
insects. The constant shower of rock finally attracted the attention of
one of them. Moving away from the Howler, it swiveled around on spindled
legs, orienting on this new nuisance.
You dung-eater! Come on! Here I am!" More stones followed her taunt.
a burst of speed, the Creeper ran across the chamber in a eyeblink.
Ducking, Cassia barely missed getting caught by the sharp fangs as they
flashed overhead. Rolling underneath the insect, Cassia did what instinct
prompted her to do: she jammed the burning end of her torch into the
scavenger's underbelly, where it was softer than its upper shell.
hissing sound threaded along a shriek. The Creeper toppled onto it's side,
kicking at the heat attacking its underparts as the fire from the torch
set its oily hide alight. One limb cuffed Cassia hard, sending her flying
into one of the boulders. Her head smacked against stone, leaving her
the demise of their fellow, the other two Creepers paused in their attack.
Seizing the chance, the Howler pounced on the nearest one with a scream of
rage. Claws and fangs cracked through shell, and another shriek rent the
air. With one burning and the other being masticated, the last Creeper
showed what little brains it had, scurrying back into the darkness.
last thing Cassia beheld was the fire consuming the one Creeper in a
her senses returned to her, Cassia felt like her head had been set to a
anvil and beaten on with several large hammers. Groaning, she slowly
opened her eyes, she spied her outstretched arm, and her lonely torch just
beyond her fingertips, burning low.
Maker," she said slowly as she reached for the wooden handle before
her. The flames were just barely clinging to the fuel-soaked tip, and
their weak light barely cast any light into the air around her. Picking it
up, she rolled to her side before pushing against the rocks beneath her,
rising up to get her wits back. One of the first things she noticed was
the aftertaste of the stench the one Creeper made when she set it afire,
still hanging in the air.
she hissed, holding her head where it had made intimate contact with the
rocky floor. "I hope those Creepers are really gone… this torch
can't last another round like that!"
then, a low rumbling sound came to her ears. Swallowing thickly, she
peered into the darkness. "I-I sure hope that's only you…
heard a snuffling sound, followed by claws clicking as something slowly
approached her over the gravel. A second later, the Howler emerged into
the dying light.
the beast didn't leap at her or even snarl. All it did was walk forward,
its sides heaving with shortened breath. The shaggy beast looked at her
with two pale-gold eyes. No, make that one eye, since the other was
covered with a milky miasma, painfully obvious to her that it was
completely blind on that one side. This close, Cassia could see the darker
splotches of fur, indicating that it had suffered some wounds from the
scavenger insects. With the battle rage departed, the Howler looked more
like a tired old cat than a monster from the underworld.
a surge of pity, Cassia eased herself up onto her knees, still wary of the
beast as it stood before her, panting. She touched a spot just behind its
left ear, mimicking what she did for the felines that gathered around the
wharves during a hall. Her nails scratching lightly through the thin fur,
she was rewarded with a broken, but rumbling purr as the Howler closed its
eyes in pure bliss.
you poor… poor thing!" When it shifted its head, Cassia spied the
dangling length of chain attached to the metal shackle around its neck.
What shocked her was that the chain itself was broken clean through on one
of its links.
Y-You're free!" she stammered, almost stopping her scritching.
"But… if you aren't held fast, why didn't you come after
you are not a threat here, young one."
expecting an answer to her question, Cassia jumped in surprise. Gripping
the one side of the beast's face, she turned it so she could look into
it's eyes. "D-D-Did you s-SAY that?"
amused chuckle bubbled up behind her, just as a rich amber light started
to fill the cavern, growing in intensity with every passing moment. "Turn
around, young human…"
cautious movement, Cassia did as told, unsure whether it was a trick of
her exhausted mind, or something altogether…
not fear," the voice said, its tone rich as bee-sweets. "You
shall face no more danger this day."
Cassia's blinking eyes, the orange-glow swirled like something alive,
coming from an upright rock, carved with funny markings. The light
suddenly shifted, coming into a more defined formation above the stone,
finally fitting the shape of a elfin face with eyes of glittering gold, a
patrician nose, and small, shapely lips beneath a mane of flowing, amber
Maker…" Cassia breathed.
face spoke with the voice, chuckling at Cassia's statement. "No,
young human. I am not the One-That-Made-All. I am Jishen, the Old Elven
Patron of Knowledge."
any volition, Cassia sank to one knee. "Lady…forgive my trespass
at ease. I come not to punish you, young one!"
you seek reasons," Jishen explained. "Reasons for why
this creature is here, and what reason do you have for existing."
sat down with a thump, not reacting as the old beast settled itself
against her back amid the popping of its joints. "H-How…
not the how, but listen well," Jishen said gently. "My
presence has never been revealed to human eyes, so you must hear my words,
for after this, no other human or elf may ever hear them again."
Cassia's green eyes fixed unwaveringly on the golden entity before her.
a soft smile, Jishen nodded. "Your courage has aided my guardian,
and in the doing, has kept my holy stone safe once again." Her eyes
dipped towards the glowing stone. "For seasons untold, six my holy
stones have remained in this place. I had a number of my followers remove
them from a former shrine in the Elven homelands, when the Royal house
suffered the loss of it's eldest heir. The advisors that served that House
blamed the presence of these stones for his death."
interrupted, "But how can a stone cause death?"
"They believed the stones to be cursed," Jishen stated sadly. "Over there years, much of the old Patrons have fallen into disrepute among the elven people."
paused, as if remembering those days, then continued speaking. "My
most loyal followers placed them on a elvish ship, to sail for a safe
place to await return after proof of the heir's death was confirmed. But
the ship sank while sailing the once-ancient waters that once covered the
land above us."
raptly, Cassia breathed, "Wow…"
then, these stones rested under the waves, guarded by the water and its
creatures. But when the water receded, and the lands shifted and reformed,
all the stones were crushed save one," Jishen went on, "which
came to rest in this cave. The stone called for a new guardian, and the
beast you saved from the scavengers was the only one to answer the
rumble, almost an acknowledgment, came from the Howler.
then, knowing my stone was safe, I have been at waiting for the time when
the stone could be returned… but now that time can never be."
looked up from her listening. "Why not?"
Elves now look to new Patrons," Jishen said, shaking her head. "Where
once I was sought out for wisdom, now no one remembers my name. My former
followers exist only in idle legend and infamy. I can never return to the
hearts of Elves, since I will soon go to the forgotten place,
From-Where-All-Come. But, before I go, I hoped to find one last soul to do
a service to, and ask a service of." Smiling, the entity fixed
her stare on Cassia's eyes.
scrambled to her feet. "W-Wha-? ME?!? What can I do!?"
ask that you take my last stone with you when you leave this place. Take
it to keep the memory of my work on this world, and the memory of my
words, so that they will not be lost once again."In return, you may
ask for something that I have within my means to give you, as a
gift," Jishen explained. "But it must be one that you can use for the
rest of your mortal life."
a small frown, Cassia closed her eyes in thought. Turning those words over
in her mind, Cassia struggled to come up with an answer. Just then, a pop
near her hand startled her. Looking down, she watched in dismay as the
torch fizzled out completely.
no!" Reaching out through the glow the entity was casting, Cassia
cradled the spent torch in her hands. "Now I can't see to find my way
back to the outside!"
face brightened. "You do not wish to be unable to see in
paused. "Well, who doesn't? I mean, it would be handy, since I could
see where I was going…"
that is what I will grant you," the deity said, nodding. "Young
human, pick up my sacred stone."
what to do, Cassia nevertheless did as she was told. Lifting the stone,
she noted how warm it was; as if it had sat in the sun all day, baking.
a boon to you, I give this gift to you, Young human. Receive the gift of
elven sight, so that you may never fear the encroaching darkness
again." Jishen intoned, her own eyes glowing brighter with every
the same time, Cassia watched with wide eyes as the stone began to glow as
well. Unable to take her sight from it, her head was fixed in place, as if
pinned down by the warm, amber light. The light felt as if it was lancing
though her eyes, burning into her head, but there was no pain. Just
the light from the deity dimmed and faded all the way to nothingness,
leaving a lingering kernel of light hovered near Cassia. "Use my
gift well, Young human. Remember your task, and always keep the knowledge
close to you…" With those words, the presence of Jishen slipped
away, vanishing with the last of her light forever.
her eyes, Cassia looked up from where she stood, her hands still wrapped
around Jishen's holy stone. What she saw nearly made her drop it, but she
recovered quickly enough, her mouth wide as she marveled at the sight
before her; the cavern was dark, but she could see the faint outline of
the rocks, where warmth was still lingering.
she whispered, turning around. Now, she could see the bodies of the rock
creepers that littered the floor of the chamber, slowly cooling in death.
Looking behind her, she nearly gasped at the massive, large shape of
reddish color before her, only to recognize the feline shape of the Howler
a moment later.
It's only you!" Reaching out with one hand, she rubbed behind it's
ear, hearing it pant and purr. It was then she noticed that her hands
looked colored in similar red-tones as well. "Incredible! Perhaps
this is what elves really see in the darkness!" She chuckled to
herself, before turning around to look for the cavern entrance. There, she
could make out the faint, faded outline of her hand prints going up the
at least I won't have to worry about breaking my neck, trying to find my
way back out," she said to herself. Taking a step forward, she
stopped and turned back to face the Howler. "Oh! You're free now! You
can come out and never have to worry about those Creepers again."
Howler let its head sink back onto its forepaws, a rumbling sigh making
its body shake.
frowned, but her mind flashed with a new insight: the beast's mistress was
gone, and it was far too old and blind to go out into the open after all
it's years of service to Jishen. "I see. I wish you could come with
me. Mother would certainly let me keep you until it was your time… but,
maybe it's better this way." Kneeling down, the sable-haired girl
impulsively threw her arms around the beast's neck, mindful of the chain
and collar. "Be well, faithful one. I'll never forget you or this
Howler leaned into her hug, its throat vibrating with another purr.
the beast, Cassia stood up and gave it one last look, before turning to
face the far wall once more. She had a climb and a long tunnel ahead of
her now, but, at least it was a little more bearable than it was before.
so," Cassia said, blinking her golden eyes as she finished her
telling, "I climbed out and made my way back to the entrance of the
Watchhole, where I was surprised to find that Dunkir and his boys had
kept their word. Once they pulled me out though, things proved that
something more had happened to me, other than just me getting my new night
vision." With a half-smile, she recalled, "The boys took one
look at my face, and said some prayer to the Maker before they turned tail
and ran off. It wasn't until I got home, and my mother made me look into a
mirror that I saw just what had spooked the boys."
nodded towards Cassia. "Your eyes."
I never could fathom the reason why, but I assume that Jishen wanted to
mark me in some way. Sort of like when someone carves their mark on a tree
or rock." Cassia sighed. "But, since then, I've been stuck with
this, and it's sort of added to my notoriety."
Kine shook his head. "An incredible tale, Miss Moray. And well worth
sitting here listening to it." Kine then shifted, remembering
something as he pulled out a small cloth pouch. "Oh, I nearly forgot.
Your payment for expenses."
grinned, pushing the pouch back towards the noble. "Keep it, Master
Kine. I have my payment," she said, patting the pouch containing the
tablets at her side. "That's all I need."
a loud sound of raised voices erupted from behind the doors leading to the
tavern. Before Kines or Cassia could rise or do anything else, a large
form burst through the entrance, ripping the doors from their hinges in a
shower of broken wood and splinters. It tumbled for a few more feet before
coming to rest against one of the building's supports.
Maker! I recognize that man," Kines half-shouted, seeing the form
resolved into a heavy-set man with dark features. "That's one of the
second shout, followed by a blur of silver flying through the door, made
Cassia groan. "I think I know," she said, watching as the blur
thunked into the support just inches above Thom's head.
Istara!" Trevan shouted, his handle quivering as his flight ended.
"I told you to ignore him!"
to the doorway, a very irate—and slightly tipsy—Istara scowled at the
larger man, planting her hands on her small hips. "What did you
expect me to do!? That capson tried to get fresh with me!" The small
woman then charged into the room, barreling into the man just as he
recoiled groggily to his feet, sending them both crashing into a cluster
of chairs and tables.
the noble turned to look at Cassia incredulously, the sable-haired woman
sighed and flashed a rueful smile. "Did I mention that we would need
to cover sudden healing expenditures?"
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