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The Scion of the Echoes



  • And I do like the the way that the pics themselves are so relevant to the storyline and how I imagine the people in the story.  Really good 'match.'
  • Waiting in the wings

    I slumped against the wall of the alcove, listening only partially to the discussion going on below.  My fate, it seemed, was being sealed, not at the end of a sword, but with a feather quill on a piece of parchment.

    As Luminé had explained, the Cloister of the Echo had a certain amount of power, but there were rules that had to be followed…  If that power was to be maintained.

    The delegation of elves from the Meridian Spire had made their third visit, and demanded that I stand trial.  The Cloister had no choice but to comply.  All that was left was to sort out the particulars. 

    Luminé stood by the railing, looking down upon the negotiations below, and providing a play by play of the parts that I couldn’t see.

    “I think they’re trying to decide who will travel with you, to the court.  I think I heard my name!” exclaimed Luminé furtively.  She seemed rather excited by the prospect.

    “Why don’t they just kill me here, and be done with it?” I muttered, dejectedly.

    “Hush, I can’t hear.” Was Luminé’s reply.  She didn’t seem to register my wallowing and self-pity.

    I felt a meaty hand on my shoulder, one that didn’t belong to her, and I looked up. 

    Above me, stood Graidd, with a disapproving look on his face.  Between his thumb and forefinger he held toothpick by the hilt.

    “Beggar human keep dagger close.” Counselled the orc, grimly, “Enemy is at the gates.”

    I was tempted to push the dagger away, but instead I just hung my head and muttered, “That bloody thing is the reason I’m in this mess to begin with.”

    The orc peered at me considering my words.

    “Beggar human speaks false.” The orc eventually said, “Beggar human returns through trials, and through blood and through danger.  Dagger is sword and dagger is shield. Dagger is light and dagger is darkness.  Dagger is death and dagger is also life. Beggar human is afraid, and fear mean beggar human is alive.”

    “Quiet!” peeped Luminé, with obvious irritation, “I can’t hear what they’re saying about the spheres!”  

    Graidd ignored her. “Beggar human is fortunate.  Enemy comes to gate.”

    “How the hell is that a good thing?” I snarled at him.

    Luminé gave the two of us each a baleful look, growled something under her breath about ungrateful cretins, and pushed past Graidd, heading downstairs, presumably to get a front row seat to the negotiation over how soon and how thoroughly I was going to be dead.

    Graidd reminded me of something he’d once said, “Is rude for orc to to kill human while human eat.  So human who eat enjoys safety.”

    I furrowed my brow. “Yeah.. so?”

    “Enemy stalks beggar human in wild, attacks in darkness.  Beggar human in much danger.  Now enemy change tactics. Come out in open.  Demand trial.  Now enemy not kill beggar human before trial.  Too open. Too obvious. Beggar human waiting for trail enjoys safety.”

    I considered this.  Being stabbed at any moment by a person in a black mask was not a pleasing concern to have to carry with me.  I supposed it was true that awaiting a trial for murdering some famous noblewoman at least kept me breathing, but it was hard to see much to celebrate beyond that. I still felt my fate was essentially sealed.

    “Beggar human should know, trial not be held in Forgotten City.  Trial be held at Empyrean court.   Long distance to travel to Empyrean court.  Sneaky old hag clever.  Sneaky old hag demand trial at distant castle.  Sneaky old hag buy time for beggar human.  Sneaky old hag demand beggar human travel with procession. Sneaky old hag buy protection for beggar human.  Sneaky old hag demand trial by Empyrean law.  Sneaky old hag prepare beggar human for trial. Sneaky old hag clever.”

    I considered this as well. Graidd appeared to be referring to the orc matron as ‘sneaky old hag’, which I recall he’d done once before.  I supposed it must be true that she would have just handed me over at the first opportunity if she didn’t see any hope for my situation.

    “…Do you really think she can help me?” I asked, with a glimmer of hope in my voice.

    Griadd nodded, but immediately applied a condition. “Sneaky old hag clever. Not waste much time on beggar human for nothing.  Sneaky old hag teach Graidd to make good trade, Graidd make good trades for sneaky old hag.  Sneaky old hag be of use to beggar human… if beggar human be of use to sneaky old hag.”

    Well, this was more like the world as I was used to it… but it was encouraging.  I rose to my feet and accepted the dagger from Graidd.   I’d made it this far, and through no small amount of effort. It didn’t make sense to give up while I still drew breath.

    Now that I was up, a bustle in the hallway drew my attention.   A group of at least seven smaller orcs from the Vek tribe stood there, whispering amongst themselves . One of them was looking our way and tapping his foot with impatience.

    Graidd observed them disdainfully, “Worry worry worry, impatient Vek.  Graidd bring you beggar human soon enough.”

    “Bring me?” I asked.

    The Vek, who did not appear accustomed to being kept waiting decided that enough was enough and swarmed me like so many gnats.

    “Weakling Vek have no need to be rude…” complained Graidd, as the swarm of Vek jostled me into the hallway.

    “Hey!” I cried, “Where are we going? What’s the big idea?”

    Graidd stood there in the alcove with a bemused look on his face, until I was swept around the corner and lost sight of him.  

    “Hey stop it!” I exclaimed, as they pushed me down the hallway.   My body was still recovering but even without being injured, I wasn’t enjoying this treatment, “Will someone at least tell me what’s going on?!”

    The Vek sure seemed interested in me, but not for my conversational abilities.

    One put his hand over my mouth and said, “Shush.”

    They continued to push and or drag me down the hallway and into a room where even more Vek Orcs were gathered.

    I’d not yet been to this room, but it was full of large rocks which, upon closer inspection, were some kind of tablets with symbols and writing on them.

    One of the largest looked like a big circular millstone, but it was carved on all sides with curious symbols.

    One of the Vek, who seemed to be in charge, cast a doubtful gaze upon me.  I felt like I was being priced at a market… and not favorably either.

    Finally the orc turned to his companion and said:

    “One wing.” 

    It sounded sort of like a question, but not really.

    “One wing.”  Replied the other orc, in what sounded like a very clinical assessment. 

    Two other orcs with quills and parchment immediately set to about scribing something, which, of course, I could not read even if I’d cared to, which I didn't.

    The orc who seemed to be in the lead snapped his fingers, and a number of the Vek ran up to me with all manner of measuring equipment. 

    “Clothes.” Barked the leader, and in hardly an instant, the Vek had torn my robes away, despite my protests, and I was struggling to cover myself up in front of them.

    I was naked as a jaybird.  

    “Hey now!” I exclaimed, with a flush rising in my cheeks, “What is the meaning of this!”

    “Shush!” commanded the Vek leader again, as his team of subordinates set about measuring my body.

    The Vek were measuring me and calling out numbers, and the scribes were jotting them down.

    “I will… I will NOT shush!” I said, after a minute of shushing. I grabbed at my robe, which was being held by one of the Vek, and wrestled it away from him, using it to cover myself, rather than trying to put it on.

    As suddenly as it had begun, the Vek inspection was finished, and the lot of them huddled around the carved millstone comparing the notes from the two scribes.

    “One wing.” Said the leader after what seemed like deep consideration.

    “One wing.” Agreed another of the Vek, grimly.   He narrowed his eyes at me.

    I stood there awkwardly clutching the robe against my pelvis, with an incredulous look on my face.

    The Vek turned their attention to the millstone and began to murmur and whisper amongst themselves mournfully, pointing at various symbols.

    After a time, one looked up. He seemed surprised to find me still standing there.

    “That’s not how you wear a robe." he said, gruffly, "Get dressed and begone.”  

    These orcs had no qualms about adding insult to injury.

    Fuming, I put the robe back on.   I was about to air my grievances at these orcs, but instead decided based on my limited experience that I would likely only earn myself additional humiliation, and so I did as I was told and left.

    It was Luminé who found me skulking through the hallways, trying to puzzle out what God I might have offended, or what kind of horrible person I must have been in a previous life.

    “Great news!” she exclaimed, when she saw me, “We’re leaving for the high court tomorrow morning!”

    “Yeah,” I replied, hollowly, “That’s delightful.”

    “Oh cheer up,” added Luminé with a sheepish grin.  “At the very least, it means you can get a good night’s sleep.”  

    She was wrong about that, too. 

  • With a jagged stone

    The halls of the cloister stretched on and on, with twists and turns and echoes.  Murky distant echoes. Even the air had a liquid quality to it, a dull blue-ish gray fog that absorbed sound and gave everything a milky quality.

    There again, on the edge of my vision, someone moving away.  Drifting through the fog.

    “Hey… hello!” I called out, but my words sounded quiet and muffled in my ears.  I gave chase in the direction I thought the person had gone, but another twist another turn and I seemed to be back where I started.

    Another movement, closer this time.   I thought I saw a face, like a young woman.

    “Arkey?” I dared suggest, chasing in the direction it had gone. “Is that you? Please don’t go!”

    I ran now, to catch up with her.  Ran through the milky fog, through the halls of the cloister, where everything looked like every other thing.  How long did I run? It was so exhausting.

    I thought I saw her again, and this time gave chase without speaking, but a flurry of black feathers spooked me, as a crow or a raven crossed by path.  As soon as it appeared it was gone.  I tried not to be distracted, and gave chase where I felt the woman had gone.

    Finally, a ray of light pouring down from the heavens broke up the murky hallways, and I found myself in a circular chamber, with no roof, and a large jagged looking rock in the middle of it. Above me the sky was cloudy, but for a single shaft of light, peeking through to illuminate the chamber.

    Within the chamber, a small turtle, looking very much like a mossy log, slowly meandered across the stone floor.

    I approached it cautiously,”Arkey, is that you?” I ventured, “You’ll never get anywhere at that pace.”

    The log-turtle slowly turned its head towards, me and tilted it sideways, glancing at me askew.

    “This is my shell,” replied Arkey’s voice. “I’m not going to leave it. It is my home. It is not much, but it is what I have.”

    The turtle resumed plodding slowly across the floor. 

    “I think you could go faster if you left it behind,” I suggested.

     “I can’t. It keeps me safe.” The turtle paused, “And even if I could. I hate being left behind. I wouldn’t do that to someone.”

    The turtle carried on a bit further, but then stopped, and I think it actually started to cry.

    “I… I’m sorry?” I said.  It was more of a question.  I didn’t know what I was apologizing for.

    “I always get left behind!” sobbed the turtle.

    “I’m sorry!” I stated again, this time with more of an idea why one would be sorry, “I wouldn’t leave you behind.” I added.

    If anything, this seemed to upset the turtle even more. “That’s what people always say!” and then “I just want to go home…”


    A sudden flurry of feathers and a great black raven dove upon the turtle, clutching it in a cruel pair of talons.

    The turtle retreated into the shell, and the bird appeared to be carrying a mossy log.

    “Hey!”, I exclaimed and tried to strike out at the bird, with my good arm. “You let her go!”

    The bird acquiesced to my request, but not as I had hoped.  The bird flew high above the large jagged rock in the middle of the room and dropped Arkey down upon it.

    There was a horrible cracking sound, and I could see blood.

    “Away you vile animal!” I cried at the bird, running to Arkey’s defense.

    She was upside-down, and struggling to right herself.  I picked her up, and put her on all fours.. all threes.

    I saw that one of her front legs had been severed in the fall.

    The turtle appraised her damaged arm. “Looks like we’re the same now, scarecrow.” She commented calmly, tears forgotten.

    “Cawwww!” cried the bird, perhaps looking for another opportunity to make a meal of the poor turtle.

    “I’m sorry,” I exclaimed again, “I really am rubbish as a scarecrow.”

    “I know.” Agreed the turtle, “But it’s okay.”

    To my surprise, the turtle’s arm began to regrow, good as new.

    “How can you do that?” I exclaimed, “I thought only lizards could do that?”

    “Maybe I’m special?” replied Arkey. “Maybe I’m more log than turtle?  You can’t kill me. I just grow back again. Again and again.”

    Arkey’s arm continued to grow… but not just her arm.  The turtle as a whole was growing. In fact, I had to back away, she was starting to get so big.

    With a final disappointed Cawww, the raven took to the skies in search of easier prey.

    Arkey kept growing.  And as she grew, it seemed to me she became angry.  The moss on her back grew as well, becoming bushes and trees and finally a great forest.  The cloister fell or disintegrated as Arkey became too big for it.

    Finally it was just me, and the turtle, and nothing else.   There wasn’t room for anything else.

    With the turtle’s two giant black eyes staring down upon me, I heard Arkey speak one last time.

    “They’ll all pay for what they did to me.”


    I’d been tossing and turning for hours, slipping in and out of haunting dreams, but when I woke from the being under the stare of the turtle, I immediately sensed eyes upon me again.

    A lithe figure stood in the doorway, her face illuminated by phosphorous lamps in the hallway beyond.  Her hair was dark, and she looked very young, but simultaneously very old, in that way that only elves are capable of looking.  What appeared to be a small jagged chunk of aquastaine hung from a chain around her neck.

    Her style of dress was not that of the monks of the cloister.  She leaned against the stone frame of the doorway casually, appraising me.

    I managed to prop myself up with my one arm.  I felt exhausted after a very unrestful slumber.  I sensed she could be dangerous, but at this point I was starting to feel resigned to my fate.

    “I suppose you are here to kill me then,” I ventured, meekly.

    A frustrated look flashed across the elf woman’s features, and she strode into the room purposefully.

    “Oh yeah,” said the elf in a sarcastic tone, the sort that I normally would have associated with a petulant teenager, “Some stupid elf with a stupid voice wants you dead, and so you paint us all with the same narrow brush.  Awesome. Very human of you. I applaud.”

    The elf accompanied her sarcastic statement with a slow clap.  Maybe she was just a teenager, or at least, a teenager by elf standards.

    “What do you want then?”, I muttered, tiredly. “If you’re not here to kill me, just let me sleep... so that someone else can kill me tomorrow.”

    “Well, you’re a lovely barrel of sunshine aren’t you?” mocked the elf, “Show me your stupid arm.”

    “..What?” I whined, half-heartedly.

    In a way, I wasn’t even surprised.  I was starting to feel like it had been an uncommonly long time since someone had asked me some absurd question about my arm.

    “I’ve ridden two days to be here, without stopping, so come on, let’s have at it.” The elf didn’t seem very shy at all, and prodded me in the side uncomfortably, forcing me to rise up into a sitting position. “We’re all gonna die sooner or later, and if I didn’t get any sleep, I don’t see why anyone else should.”

    The elf pushed and pulled me until she had my shirt peeled back, and the stump of my arm was fully visible.   I felt strangely vulnerable, like I was naked in front of her.

    “You’re not even going to tell me your name first?” I chided, with what I imagined was a playful tone.

    “Don’t get any stupid ideas,” said the elf girl, smacking my on the side of the head.

    “Ouch!”  I complained, reaching up to rub my head.

    “Fine,” said the elf, speaking quickly, “I’m Faenwynne, of the Pyrian house of Illaris, third of my name, representing the J’dareul-Ttara.  Etcetera etcetera, now can we just get this over with?”

    I didn’t have a clue what to make of her behavior.  People always seemed to want to know about my arm these days, but this strange elf girl seemed like she was asking as a chore, not out of interest.  I could barely contemplate what to say to her.

    “You may have all night to sleep, sunshine, but I have places to be, so can you hurry it up?” the elf insisted.

    It was the middle of the night, so I couldn’t imagine what places this girl… Faenwynne… could possibly have to be, but I decided the sooner I could be rid of her, the better.

    I thought once more about my arm.  I hated it when they asked.  I really hated it.  It was like it was something that I could hear a million times but it was always a hateful topic to me.  I didn’t like talking about my arm, I didn’t like thinking about my arm. I just wanted to pretend it wasn’t a thing.  Like having one arm was normalcy… having two would just be absurd.  Why wasn’t life just like that?

    Reluctantly I recalled loss of my arm, “The poison couldn’t be stopped,” I would tell people, “It was the only way I could have survived.”

    Faenwynne simply rolled her eyes, “I don’t care about that part.  Tell me what it MEANS to you.”

    Her statement was annoying, but of course, not unexpected.  I considered the circumstances that had resulted in the situation.   

    It had been a salt viper of course, one of nature’s crueler creations.   

    I’d been working in one of the salt mines, with a hundred other fellows.  We’d been assured that the mine was safe, cleared of all dangerous critters, but either one had been missed, or it snuck in afterwards.  Regardless of the reason, I reached down to lift jagged chunk of rock salt, and came away with bloody fang marks and dizziness.  The foreman immediately called for my arm to be chopped off.  Naturally, I was fired the next day.

    “I suppose you could say it means that nature will deceive and destroy to protect whatever it considers to be its own property... and the world has no sympathy for nature’s victims.” 

    “Hmm.” intoned Faenwynne, without seeming to agree, or disagree.

    Despite it being the middle of the night, I could hear what sounded like quite a ruckus going on in the cloister.

    “What’s going on?” I asked, now that I was starting to wake up for real.

    “Probably just the dwarves arriving,” responded Faenwynne, waving her hand dismissively. “Okay, here’s what I think.”

    The elf positioned herself in front of me, and peered down her nose at me.  She seemed both childish and elegant.

    “These people who are protecting you follow a lot of rules.  Rules I don’t like very much. I don’t care for rules.  I’d like you to understand that.”

    “Um… okay.”

    “And I don’t like you very much.” Continued the elf, “I don’t like your story.  I don’t like your face.  I don’t like your stupid arm.  I don’t like the way you smell.  I don’t even like the way you blink. It's stupid.  I don't like you. I think you’re going to get a lot of people killed, and I don’t think anything good is going to come of it.”

    “Say what now?!” I think I was taken aback, my urge to respond to her personal attacks were overwritten by my urge to understand how I was possibly going to get people killed.  But then, people were already dead because of me. Samuel DeCaire and the rest of the Caravan workers… and the Huntress, though that didn’t seem like a great loss.

    “Oi!” came Wheatley’s voice from the doorway, “Let the poor sod rest, will ya? He’s marchin to his end tomorrow, I hear.”

    Ulmug grunted.  Then he took notice of the elf, and loomed towards her, menacingly.

    “J’dareul-Ttara, not welcome.” Spoke the giant orc, and spat on the floor at Faenwynne’s feet. 

    I”, replied the elf, with emphasis, and standing as tall as she could to stare the big orc in the face, “I was invited here. J’dareul-Ttara will be represented.  Quarter-wits will not. Now out of my way you cheap whetstone, before I decide my blade could use sharpening.”

    Faenwynne breezed out of the room, perhaps a little more hurried than bravery would have called for, but Wheatley was laughing, “Ha.. ah-ha! Whetstone! I’m gonna use that one!  What a feisty lady.”

    The orc seemed rather unhappy, but did not have anything to say. Not even a grunt.

    I was still rather wary of the pair of mercenaries, although they might have saved my life.   I didn’t enjoy the idea of being left alone with them, so I decided to try and follow Faenwynne.

    Ulmug, oddly, stayed behind but Wheatley kept pace with me, “I wouldn’a bother with that one lad, she’s outta yer league.”  He advised.

    The thought, honestly, hadn’t remotely crossed my mind.

    It was still the middle of the night, but the cloister seemed to be buzzing with activity.

    “Who gits elves anyway? Am I right?” offered Wheatley, as we trialed behind after the young elven woman.  She was very quick on her feet, which I supposed was typical of elves.

    Wheatley continued, “I never could understand them elves obsession with nature.. I mean, think about it.. Tha sound of nature ain’t nothing more than tha sound of millions of animals, birds, and insects desperately trying to get laid…  no… I take it back.  I completely understand the elves obsession with nature.”

    Wheatley chuckled to himself, and we momentarily found our journey interrupted by a trio of dwarves, who turned to us and bowed politely.

    “Colvin, how do you do?”

    “Wellby, how do you do?”

    “Romrin, how do you do?”

    These dwarves were also hurrying through the cloister, and didn’t pause long enough to entertain my reply.

    "Now Dwarf ladies..." Wheatley was saying, letting loose a low whistle, "Lemme tell ya a few things 'bout Dwarf ladies."

    We emerged outside a large chamber and I saw many people were already inside.  The orcish matron was there, and a number of the Vek orcs that I’d encountered the day before.  The human monk Matthias was there, as was Graidd, and the three dwarves we had encountered along the way. 

    As Faenwynne entered the room, the doors were shut behind her and I heard them locked from within, and so I was left standing outside stupidly, with Wheatley still going on about bedding elves, or bedding orcs, or dwarves or anyone else he could con out of their clothing.  



    A pair of great orcs clad in grey and white robes stood outside the doors, silent sentries, motionless yet menacing.

    Behind them, a murmur of voices, some male, some female, some lilting cascade of elf, some the gruff tenor of dwarf.  It wasn’t so much that I could make out what they were saying, except that there seemed to be either a debate or heated argument going on.

    “I’ve got a bad feeling that this meeting is all about me..” I said, to nobody in particular.

    “That bad feelin? It’s called accuracy,” advised Wheatley, taking a swig out of a flask, “Have a couple’a stiff drinks, and it won’t trouble you anymore for a while.  Trust me, I’m an expert.”

    He seemed to be pondering sharing his drink with me, but then his face took on a greedy expression, and he took another swig, before tucking it securely away.

    “Seems to be like ye be the most interesin’ thing wot happened around here since who knows when.”

    He gestured to the door, “Some folks in there like interesin’ things.. some folks don’t.”

    He then gestured to himself, “Me, I think you’re trouble… n’ tha’s fine. Trouble generally pays tha best.”

     Luminé was approaching down the hallway, and gave a holler “There you are! I’ve been looking all over!” she smiled, “I’ve got tomorrow’s breakfast… or yesterday’s dinner, depending on your point of view!”

    She sat down next to me, with a pleasant smile and tore off a chunk of bread from an aromatic loaf.  She handed it to me, “Fresh baked!” she assured me, “Stole it from the kitchen’s myself,” she added, conspiratorially.

    “Th..thanks.” I sputtered, already stuffing my face with it.  I don’t think I had realized how hungry I was. 

    Luminé had a linen wrap containing preserved meats and cheese and carrots and she laid it out between us like it was some kind of picnic.

    Wheatley reached to grab something, only to have Luminé swat his hand away, “Sod off,” she told him, “Your portion is with the orc… and really, what kind of friend are you? You left him behind snivelling like a toddler after a tantrum, while you’re off bothering my patient.”

    “Aw, he’s fine,” complained Wheatley, “You know ‘ow it is with some orcs.  Dun wanna work with the J’dareul-Ttara, and who can blame em’?   I sure as hell don’t.  And now ee’s forced too.  At heart, ya know, he’s just a big kid. I’d be a blubberin’ mess too.”

    Still, Wheatley took another wistful glance at our food, and then wandered off back the way we’d come.

    Luminé looked after him, clicking her tongue with distaste. “He should talk.  Strange bedfellows, these days bring.”

    Between mouthfuls I managed to say, “Faenwynne said she was from the J’dareul-Ttara, what’s the big deal with them?”

    Luminé peered at me, cracking a smile, “I see you’ve met our spirited elfling… but it really surprises me how little you know of others.  J’dareul-Ttara were the Py’rai inquisitors of old, and although an orcs mind may seem a bit rough around the edges, the orcs have a long memory for war atrocities.”               

    I frowned, “That sounds pretty serious..”

    Luminé nodded her agreement, “The fair folk and the orcs waged war upon one another for centuries, it is said… before the great sorrow broke the world.  Some would say that the Py’rai elves and the Orcs they fought against, really weren’t all that different from one another.   Both races had this raw fury within them, rage that they could channel into the battle, and both races also were very spiritual.. Elves call it nature, and Orcs call it the Celestial, but it’s really two sides of the same coin.   Similarly the Balance of the Elves and the Focus of the Orcs are peas in a pod… but I’m getting away from my point.”

    Luminé paused to chow down on a hunk of cheese.  I tried some as well, and was greeted by a pleasant smoky flavor.    I casually pondered whether this was going to be my last supper, before Luminé brought me back to the conversation at hand.

    “You could say that the Py’rai and the Orcs even respected each other, in combat.  Hated each other sure, but brave warriors on each side fought and died with honor.  An orc wants to die on the battlefield, if die he must, the Py’rai were usually very accommodating in that… but not the J’dareul-Ttara..."  

    "They believed in a different kind of warfare.  They waged war against the soul of the enemy, not killing them, but breaking them.  They used dark magic to take the spirit of a warrior and twist it into a terrified screaming tormented awareness. The orcs they captured were released back to their tribe, their minds capable of nothing but cowardice and self-loathing.  As a mercy, the orcs had to execute their own, watching one of their brothers quake in fear and wet himself at the sight of the headman’s axe. What could be more demoralizing for an orc, than to see a brave warrior so emasculated?”

     “If the J’whatsit-ara are so hated by orcs, why is there one here?” I asked.

    “She’s representing the Py’rai.  They’re having some kind of vote… about what to do with you.”

    Before I could respond to that, there was a great calamity in the room, and the door opened.   The two orcs stepped aside, and one of the Vek orcs I’d been molested by earlier poke his head out.

    “The council is ready to receive the bird with the broken wing.” He announced, with exaggerated emphasis on the wing.

    I sat there blinking until Luminé nudged me in the ribs, “He means you, silly.”


    The room I stepped into was so tense that you could cut the atmosphere with a knife.  The room contained an octagonal table, four seats were occupied, and one was on the floor on its side, where Faenwynne, apparently, had knocked it over.

    She stood now, waving her finger accusatorially at the orc matron.

    “This vote,” exclaimed Faenwynne, in a biting tone, “Is a sham. And shame on each and every one of you for partaking in it!”

    She cast her steely gaze around the table staring for a moment at all those seated there.

    The seats were occupied by my Vek tormentor, the Orc matriarch, the Human, Matthias and in the final chair, I was surprised to recognize the Dwarf Lord Osrin, a long way from his home in the Bastion of Solin.

    The table itself was a strange construct, as it had a hollowed out middle, with four round balls sitting in it.  Two of them were black and two were white.  I saw that they had arrived there out of a hole in the table, and that each section of the table had two holes in it as well.

    Osrin did not look at me, but stared grimly at the four balls in the middle of the table. 

    Matthias seemed like he wanted to look anywhere but at the four balls in the middle of the table.

    The Vek orc had his eyes closed, and seemed to be praying.

    Only the Orc matriarch met Faenwynne’s  steely gaze.  

    “This is what we all agreed upon,” stated the Matron, flatly. 

    I could see in her gnarled old hand, she had a white ball and a black ball, and she was moving them around slowly in a circle.

    “The hell it was!” challenged Faenwynne, “This is a broken council.  A sham vote.  There are eight chairs here, and three are vacant.  This vote is madness, and anyone who didn’t show up to participate in it, should be counted as a vote against!”

    “The grand races are represented. You represent elf-kind,” the matron spoke, evenly. “As well you must, for you know, the Empyreans would never participate in a vote that could make their court seem biased. Their pride would forbid it.”

    Faenwynne spat, “An old toothless orc knows nothing of Elven pride.”

    At this comment, Graidd, who had been standing off to the side, drew his blade half way out of its scabbard, but the orc matron held up her hand signalling for him to let it go.

    “The Dünir could not come,” said the Niküa leader, without looking up from the table, “They are too far away and too few in number.  So I must speak for all Dünzenkell.”

    “Here here!” shouted one of the other dwarves, but was quickly silenced by a death stare from Faenwynne.

    Faenwynne’s glare landed upon Osrin, “Now there’s a surprise, the good Dünir, hiding under a rock, when they’re actually needed for something.   You know as well as any Niküa, that no Dünir would ever accept allow a Niküa to speak for the king under the mountain.

    Osrin slowly looked up and met her gaze, “Yet I am here, and he is not.” Spoke the dwarf.

    “Because,” insisted Faenwynne ominously, “Hiding under a rock is a sensible response when you don’t wish to participate in madness.”

    The dwarf shrugged, “That was certainly our thinking when elves sought Dünir participation in the past.”

    Faenwynne slammed her small fist down on the table, “You look me in the eye and say that!”

    “Now now,” interrupted the matron, “Had we a month, the Dünir would have attended, but our time was three days, and now it is up.  We must make do with what we have.”

    “Oh yeah?” sniffled Faenwynne, starting to sense that she was arguing the losing side, “What about the Vaelune?  Are you going to tell me that the humans are too far away and too few?”

    Suddenly, she shifted her gaze to me.

    “The humans spread over this world like a cancer, same as the last one.  They do not contribute, they only consume. This one is like all the others. Support him, and you support our destruction.”

    “Hey!” squeaked Matthias, “There are two black balls and two white you know!”

    Faenwynne turned her withering gaze on him, and for the moment, was silent.

    Immediately, the timid little man covered his mouth, realizing he’d basically given away his vote, but with only four balls in the mix, it wasn’t likely anyone would have had any doubts regardless.

    “The Vaelune were invited,” the orc matriarch spoke, rolling the black and white orbs in her hand, round and round in a circle. “But to get here, they would have to travel through Quincarnon lands. We must assume that they were prevented or waylaid.”

    “Why?”  said Faenwynne, almost pleading now, “Why must we assume that?  Why mustn’t we assume that they determined that it was too dangerous to come?  If simply coming here was too dangerous, than surely following this plan is too dangerous.”

    Now the orc matron leaned forward in her chair, and the spheres in her hands both disappeared into the slots in the table.  I could hear them rolling along wooden channels.

    Although in her mind and in her heart, Faenwynne already knew what the vote would be, her eyes were glued to the center of the table, as were everyone else’s in the room.

    “One vote each for the Niküa, the Py’rai, the Kaelar and the Vek,” spoke the matron in a conversational tone, as the balls rolled down.  Nobody interrupted her. “Osrin, thane of the Sons of Solin conferred with three of his brethren, and voted his conscience.”

    The balls rolled within the table.  I could hear them rolling down slopes, and dropping down a level, then rolling again.

    “Faenwynne Illaris, daughter of Erredwynne, inquisitor of the J’dareul-Ttara was invited to vote her conscience.” Intoned the orc matron.

    The table was certainly a curious construction.  I wondered how many different tunnels the ball had rolled through.  It seemed to me like it had gone down two levels already.

    “Matthias, Knight Templar of the Legion of the Deep was invited to vote his conscience.”

    All I could hear was the sound of the ball rolling, and the orc matron’s voice. The people in the room all seemed to be holding in their breath, and so, I realized, was I.

    “Starsinger Walamb, of the order of the Ten-tailed god conferred with three of his brethren, and voted his conscience… the Ren’kai, though represented, agreed not to cast a vote unless to break a tie, and in the event of that tie, it falls to me to cast that vote.”

    The ball rolled out into the middle of the table, knocking into the others with a metallic click.  Two black balls, three white.

    “And, on behalf of the Cloister of the Echo, I vote my conscience”

    And here I thought I’d finally get to learn the orc matron's name.

    Throwing her hands up in the air, Faenwynne exclaimed, “Of course its two votes for the orcs, and one for everyone else, it was an act of the purest self-deceiving optimism to have ever thought anything different!”

    Nearly bowling me over, she stormed out of the room.

    I found Luminé at my side, offering an arm to steady me. I felt grateful for it.

    “Well, that was thoroughly unpleasant,” muttered Matthias, standing from the table, and retreating to a corner of the room, fidgeting nervously.

    The orc matron now turned her eyes to me.

    “What you have witnessed today,” she spoke, “Is a decision by the Alliance of the Voice, that we shall protect you from your enemies.  But in return you must do something for us.”

    “What?” I exclaimed, “I’ll do it! Anything?!” 

    The matron leaned forward, peering towards me.  I saw in her hand, another sphere.  A hauntingly familiar sphere.  It was the bronze eye of wrath.

    “You must continue to seek the truth of what happened to the world that was.  You must seek the truth, and you must find it.”

    “Yes, yes, fine!” I agreed, somewhat hurriedly, “I’ll do it if you can get me out of this mess!  Is that really all I need to do?”

    The orc matron leaned back, “There is... one other thing that needs to be done...” she said, in what suddenly sounded like a rather mournful voice.

    I felt Luminé’s grip on my arm tighten slightly, I would even say, uncomfortably.

    Two of the Vek approached and pulled her off of me.

    “What?” I mumbled, confused as to what was happening.

    “I’m so Sorry,” she said, as I looked down at her. “But this is really going to hurt.”

    I turned back just in time to see Starsinger Walamb jab something into the stump of my arm, and I cried out in agony.

    “What have you done!” I screamed in pain, and collapsed on the ground, clutching at my stump arm.

    In the matron’s hand, the eye of wrath burst back into life, its flaming malice staring into the depths of my soul...  and oh, how it burned....

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