The riverboat pulled against Otter Tail Trading Posts pier. Frequent stops made the voyage to Willowton take longer, but Verentil never got tired of remarkable scenery. Unabating wonder for the natural and unnatural world was even more of an elf thing than an insatiable desire to be impaled. The prodigys Royal Class cabin included a private deck with a view of the Silver Wood. That morning, however, Verentil returned to the top rear deck to marvel at cliffs on the other side of the river.

Callech Borea was a diamond shape (or perhaps it was a pentagram) fifteen or so hundred miles across, with a circle several hundred miles wide stamped in the middle. Some stupendously long time ago, either the circle sank or the surrounding mountains rose. Sand Houses geomancers insisted the answer was ”both, ” and constantly proposed mad schemes to harness the elemental forces involved.

So far, no such scheme had gone off without a hitch.

The regions rock beds sloped gently inward until they reached the circle. There, they plummeted in big steps. Geomancers had a fancy name for that kind of thing, but the term was not within quick reach of Verentils remarkable memory. Of all the academic pontificators at Sand House, the prodigy got on best with geomancers. They had no interest in elf hair, blood, sap, or honey dew perspiration; neither were there any blasphemous squiggles for him to translate on their behalf. That allowed him to hold regular conversations with them.

The Silver River flowed through a deep groove at the base of the last step down. The Sickle flowed through a similar groove, but Verentil wasn on that river. The cliffs were mostly granite, with swirls of malachite, quartz, and stranger rocks mixed in for good effect. Those swirls, Verentil was told, betrayed just how extraordinary the elemental forces at work here were in the stupendously distant past.

Otter Tail, the sixth trading post visited by the riverboat thus far, was built beside and over Otter Tail Creek. Names made sense in the Silver League. Otter Tail Creek cut through several swirling rock formations on its way down to the Silver River – scattering polished semi-precious boulders into Otter Tail Harbor (which almost qualified as a lake). The creek, and a thousand others like it, were responsible for the Silvers abundant precious metals. Verentil admired the timber frames and clever engineering Otter Tails construction engineers used to address the problem of living vertically. It would have been easier to build on the other side of the river, of course, but the Silver Woods fey were quick to murder.

Before the founding of Port Jasper, whenever Carthalgan expeditions violated the Wood, ”fairy rampages ” purged humanity from all of Callech Borea – not just the enchanted forest. Rumors of orc relics in the center of the Wood had induced so many Carthalgan tomb raiders into provoking fairy murder rampages, his countrymen considered Bertramuel Prescott Sand mad for founding a city at the mouth of the Silver. Sand solved the fairy murder rampage problem by promising to murder anyone who trespassed against the Wood first – and founded a secret society called Tarnished Chapter to keep that promise.

The rangers, druids, and woodsmen of Tarnished Chapter delivered, but their success in turn created a problem of its own. Port Jaspers present captains of private industry never experienced a fairy rampage, and increasingly criticized the old bargain as bad for shareholder value. The rampages were at most ”anachronistic anomalies, ” they insisted, and were more likely made up by rangers, druids, and woodsmen to limit resource extraction opportunities for everyone else. If not mythical and not fake fairy propaganda, the captains of private industry reasoned a rampage would provide at least enough warning to pack a large private yacht with plenty of shareholder value – and flee to Carthalga.

”What do fairies know about wealth conservation? ” they asked rhetorically.

That question was never put to the public, but Verentil was the most beautiful creature alive. He was frequently invited to ”meat and fondle ” cocktail parties thrown by senior faculty for Sand Houses most generous donors. Inexorably, fractures formed in the academic community. Demonologists and necromancers grew eager to conserve some wealth of their own, and agreed to opine, in scholarly fashions, that the archaeology of fairy rampages remained ”ambiguous. ”

These experts in fields other than archaeology insisted the size of human populations in Callech Borea during past rampages was too small to extrapolate to modern times. The archaeology department countered with bones. All were all cut to ribbons by weapons of such extraordinary sharpness, not even the finest dwarven choppers could duplicate the damage. The archaeologists made their extensive physical evidence available to the editors of reputable scholarly publications for review.

”Those aren even human bones! ” cried demonologists.

”Do you recognize human bones? ” the archaeologists asked necromancers.

Briefed by their private industry handlers, the necromancers had an answer.

”Archaeologists and their political puppets want to starve working families, ” they said.

”The League produces three times more food than it consumes, ” replied horticulturalists.

”Tarnished Chapter will enslave us all if we don abolish it now! ” cried demonologists.

”Are they human bones or not? ” asked the archaeologists.

”Archaeologists are engaging in fear politics! ” cried demonologists.

So it went. The debate sold more publications (across all genres) than any other controversy in recorded history – possibly more than all other controversies combined. Publishers competed with one another for necromancers and demonologists to write opinion pieces.

Verentil worried. He knew the rampages were real, not only because of the bones, but because he knew exactly who was responsible. It wasn ”fairies ” in general, but one fairy in particular. Eaurlindel, the present universes third elf, was a humorless musician who revered the beauty of edges. He focused particular admiration on the sound edges made passing through obstacles. There was no obstacle Eaurlindels edges could not pass through. As soon as he drew his sword (and he was fond of swords), a thousand foes would die before a single one realized they were dead. Not quite a year ago, the prodigy found himself at the center of a necromancy department all hands meeting.

”The rampages are real, ” he insisted while strapped naked to a lab table.

”Don make a fuss, ” said the Dean of Necromancy.

e inviting catastrophe, ” insisted Verentil. ”Eaurlindel is nothing like me. Hes a Too Tall, mean to the core, and he despises savage species. No one will escape. ”

”We savages have our tricks, ” said the Dean. ”Don make a fuss. ”

”Tricks won save you, ” said Verentil. ”Eaurlindel is the personification of cutting things to pieces. If Tarnished Chapter gets dissolved, you will all be cut to pieces. ”

The necromancers shifted uncomfortably in overstuffed chairs.

”Who is going dissolve Tarnished Chapter? ” asked the Dean calmly. ”How long will they survive? Nothing will come of this ridiculous campaign. But we will have gotten paid. ”

”Every day more idiots head into Silver Wood to proclaim their freedom, ” said Verentil.

”And Tarnished Chapter kills them, ” said the Dean.

”And we have more bodies to work with, ” observed another necromancer.

”They won be able to kill them all! ” cried Verentil.

”You suggest an organization designed for killing can handle a few idiots, ” said the Dean, ”but also suggest one elf can kill everyone in the Silver League overnight? ”

”The archaeology is clear! ”

The Dean sighed.

”If it does turn out Tarnished Chapter can keep up with keeping the idiot population down, ” he said, ”and the organic vampire supply proves insufficient, well help out. Meanwhile, we get paid. A lot. Don make a fuss. ”

Demonologists had a similar argument, if less eloquence.

”Fine, ” Verentil conceded. ”There are too many humans anyway. ”

Staring at the charming rustic engineering of Otter Tail Trading Post, the prodigy wondered if his capitulation failed to assuage department bean counters – and if it was his opposition to risking the lives of every human in the League which prompted his expulsion. Maybe he should ask Eaurlindel to wipe them out early. No, that was spiteful. In addition to necromancers and demonologists, perfectly nice people lived in the League. Besides, asking Eaurlindel to do anything was a waste of time.

The insufferably arrogant Too Tall would just tell Verentil to do it himself.

Eaurlindel spent most of his time on other worlds anyway. Tiryendil was older and got on the musicians nerves. Verentil considered asking Tiryendil for his opinion, but the warlock spent most of his time visiting stars and experimenting on demons. Yllaariel was even older yet, and got on both the musicians and the warlocks nerves.

But worrying about necromancers and demonologists conspiring with robber barons to the detriment of all wouldn get Verentil anywhere but the bottom of a bottomless anger pit. None of their scheming would matter if he remade the world how it should have been made in the first place. Watching crates roll from a riverboats belly along a dock and into a warehouse soothed him. Different crates rolled from the warehouses to the boats hold. Verentil wondered about what was in the crates, how it would be used, and what kind of people would do the using.

A squad of dwarves decked out in hiking gear stomped down the riverboats ramp. Thorvum led them. Verentil waved. It made him sad to lose his new best friend so soon. Thorvum wanted to find the old low roads, however, and it would take too long to catch a boat heading back to First Fork. Dwarven legs marched fast – especially up the side of a cliff. Watching the troupe disappear over the ridge, a new kind of dust intruded on bright chocolate eyes.

This dust didn hurt.

The prodigy had taken the first real steps towards changing the world.

With its business done, the riverboat pulled away from Otter Creek Trading Post and continued up the Silver. In Royal Class, Mr. Haxton-Gale bought another bottle of red wine. Verentil paired it with a bowl of berries fresh from the cliffs – and two whole scoops of ice cream.

”What will those dwarves find? ” asked Mrs. Haxton-Gale.

”Adventure! ” said Verentil.

”Monsters? ” she pressed.

”Certainly. ”

”Dragons? ” she pressed harder.

”Maybe a frost drake, ” said Verentil. ”Definitely demons. ”

”How exciting! I wonder if everyone will die. ”

”If so, their deaths will be engraved in stone, ” said Mr. Haxton-Gale.

”In painstaking detail, ” agreed the missus.

It was all right to contemplate the death of every human in Callech Borea as an abstract consequence of Eaurlindels rage, but Verentil felt uncomfortable thinking about the death of his new best friend on an adventure the prodigy himself initiated. Verentil would sprout anew from a root in Reverie if he were ever torn to pieces by demons underground. Should he be more careful about sending less immortal beings into danger? The youngest elf was tipsy, but not at risk of suffocating, when he collapsed onto his bed that evening. Yllaariels stinger failed to tickle all the right places with its usual precision – leaving Verentil only on the precipice of bliss.

e distracted, ” the prodigy complained.

”When an old secret comes to light, ” said the imp, ”more than one gear starts turning. ”

”You sound like Tiryendil. ”

Yllaariel scooted up Verentils back and put his lips against the prodigys ear.

”Do you want to remake the world? ” asked the imp.

”Maybe, ” replied Verentil nervously.

”That will be tough if you keep getting sent back to Reverie. ”

Yllaariel tapped his stinger on one of Verentils uniquely perfect buns. He sounded like Eaurlindel. Instead of saying that out loud, however, Verentil lifted his uniquely perfect rump a little higher and nodded submissively. Next morning, the remaker of worlds crawled out of the bed well created by Yllaariels density and stepped onto his private deck. He reached up with small hands, stretched as far as he could, a bit more, took hold of the heavens, and pulled them down to his smooth butter honey chest. After repeating the exercise several times, the pain in his bottom subsided and he felt light as air once more.

Why was Yllaariel the one that floated?

Elves were such inscrutable creatures.

The first new elf in twenty-two universes leaned over the railing and looked into the water. Boulders and pebbles glinted in the rivers depths. Their haphazard arrangement represented more than unsorted alluvial erosion. In a moment of enlightenment, Verentils mind interpreted the river bottom as a metaphor for all the worlds in this cycle of Creation – washed by an ethereal current.

Why should the remaker of worlds remake just one?

Every pebble should become an amber jewel!

Raising his gaze, Verentil stared into the spaces between Silver Woods ghostly trees. Branches shifted in breezes, forming patterns of light and dark that altered the respective transforms – and readjusted the boundaries between realities. It was dangerous to trespass in the Wood even without Eaurlindels singing blade or Tarnished Chapters snipers. The idiots were doomed.

A skiff appeared out of nowhere. It glided across the forests reflection on water between Verentil and shore. At its prow stood one orc. A cloak of gray pine needles beneath a shawl of rusty leaves wrapped her powerful physique. The female Jorok caste served as the ”mouths and faces ” of orc society. They never appeared by chance.

At the rear of the skiff, two wiry Shorok males pushed poles – and pulled. With long, flat faces and narrow eyes, Shorok had a stature similar to Verentils (albeit wrapped in long strands of ropey, coiling, sinuous muscles). Traded as commodities by orc clans, the diminutive males excelled at fussy work. The poles these two pushed and pulled were scarcely longer than they were tall. The Silver was much deeper than that, of course, but orcish ”oar sticks ” fixed in water and released on command. They were tricky to master, but these Shorok showed great skill.

Initially indifferent to the riverboat, the Joroks imposing head turned toward Verentil at the precise moment she passed between him and the Wood. Eyes and ears met. It was not love, or resentment, or anger, or any emotion the prodigy could identify. He waved, cheerfully. The Jorok nodded, enigmatically. Mist rising from the river swallowed her skiff. The skiff and its orcs vanished like ghosts. Slipping partway through the dark transform could not evade even the youngest elfs eyes completely when he concentrated – but it was still impressive.

”More gears than one, ” said Yllaariel.

Verentil nearly jumped out of honey amber into cold river water.

”Don do that! ” he cried.

”Get better, ” Yllaarield replied.

”How would she know about the secret roads? ” asked the prodigy.

Yllaariel wrapped Verentil in a back hug and nibbled.

”I don know, ” the imp said. ”How would a seer know about secret roads? ”

Verentil waved away the critique.

”Fine. Then she knew before I did anything. ”

Yllaariel pointed his stinger at the Silver Wood.

”Its hard to pick the right needle in a forest, ” he said.

Verentil considered first the imps point, and then his other points.

”So… before I wrote it all down, ” he said, shifting his no longer sore bottom away from danger, ”a seer would have been required to interpret all the symbols against the background of every possibility. ”

”Which would clearly be impossible, ” agreed Yllaariel.

”But because I did the hard work, they can now see Thorvums destiny? ”

”You sound like Tiryendil, ” said Yllaariel, nibbling harder.

”Is Thorvum in danger? ” asked Verentil.

”Not from her, ” said Yllaariel. ”That one is an ally. ”

”How do you know? ”

”Because Im the second oldest elf in all Creations, ” he said.

Verentil relaxed into the elongated pixies embrace.

”Whos the oldest? ” he asked.

”Youll see. ”

”How many universes will that take? ”

”The more the better, ” giggled Yllaariel.

The imp faded away like another ghost.

”You can warm me up and then leave me like this! ” the prodigy cried.

But the imp could. Verentil rushed inside to find another solution to his most immediate problem. Several days later, it was no ghost that materialized on his deck in the middle of the night. Though deep in dreaming trances, the prodigy retained an awareness of the world around his body while he frolicked with werewolves and centaurs. He was, after all, made from condensed psychic dream drops. Yllaariel was no longer anywhere to be seen or felt, but the shadow beyond the deck door was much wider than an elongated pixie. It was likely a dwarfs shadow. He was a quiet dwarf, skilled at getting onto private riverboat balconies – and opening locked deck doors.

Verentil trembled with anticipation. Was he going to be abducted – or assassinated? Being immortal wouldn help with abduction. He had a few tricks that might throw a kidnapper off his trail, but maybe the dwarf was just there to steal a backpack. Was another gear turning? Verentil remained motionless while the thief, assassin, or abductor entered his room and approached his bed.

It was so exciting!

Silhouetted against light from outside, the dwarf briefly cast a shadow on a wall. The shadow of a stinger emerged beside it – and struck. Thick dwarven fingers stopped inches from Verentils neck. After several moments, the prodigy reached out and touched their tips. They were made of stone! Yllaariel extruded from a dark hole. Old elves had amazing tricks – like killing a thousand enemies with a single cut before even one realized they had died; or petrifying an assassin by stinging his shadow with a shadow stinger. Verentils best trick was lifting his uniquely perfect little bottom just right.

Well, he had to admit that was a pretty good trick.

”What was he going to do? ” asked the prodigy breathlessly.

”Grab you and disappear. ”

Verentil examined the statue. It was amazing. Still….

”Theyll charge me extra for transporting a statue. ”

Yllaariel grabbed the dwarf by the back of his petrified leather armor. Improbably, almost comically, the elongated pixie lifted the statue into the air, carried it out to the deck, and tossed it into the river. Apart from the deep, slurping splash (and the fact any boat coming along by day would see the statue a hundred or so feet down through crystal water), it was a fine solution to this most immediate problem.

”Thats not the end of it, though, ” said Verentil.

”Of course not, ” Yllaariel agreed.

Verentil ran through possibilities. Thorvum would have no reason to abduct the prodigy… unless he wanted to be sure no one else could learn of the secret roads. Had Verentils new best friend only acted friendly to gain advantage? Such behavior was commonplace in Sand House, and dwarves were even more notorious schemers than graduate assistants.

True, Thorvum acted friendly before Verentil demonstrated any capacity to reveal the lost secrets of Glacierbeard Hold. That was not dispositive. He might have realized Verentil was a real elf and not just a fairy crossbreed or pretender. Precious few realized what it meant to be a remnant of Beautys Remnant. Dwarves were one of the oldest civilizations in the presently known universe, however, and some knew a lot. Yllaariel complimented the prodigy for scratching beneath the surface without prompting.

”You think it was Thorvum? ” asked Verentil.

”No, ” said the imp. ”But every dwarf has rivals. The higher up, the more. ”

”How would they connect him to me? ”

”Spies and augurs. ”

”So they know Thorvum has a secret, ” said Verentil, ”but came after me because…? ”

”Easy target. But you weren . So another secret has been revealed. ”

”And more gears will start turning? ”

”Yes, ” said Yllaariel.

Verentil clapped his hands and pounded his feet on fluffy tiramisu.

”I really am changing the world! ” he cried.

He clutched onto Yllaariel and refused to let the imp evade his duty.

点击屏幕以使用高级工具 提示:您可以使用左右键盘键在章节之间浏览。

You'll Also Like