The Elderburn - late in the 5th Age of Cloudsinger, a rogue ship named the Briarios suffered a catastrophic engine failure due to a shockwave emanating from a fissure in the Aether at Io's Edge. Scholars believe that the shockwave was caused by the death of an ancient Elderbrain. The resulting "burn" all but obliterated the Illithid population within the depths of Io, and scorched the Font of the arcane forever in ways that scholars are still discovering.
Greetings and Courtesies
Lo there... - the truncated colloquialism in reference to the late Daniel Miller's prayer of forgiveness. The full text features a lengthy recitation, complete with multiple verses in different languages, that is intended to reference not only the entity at fault, but to admonish his or her own legacy as a show of mutual understanding and equality. At its inception, Miller's Prayer was often utilized to quell the emotions of those ignited by the tragedy of Oroboros and to stop in-fighting in the lower class.
Boyo - a casual slang between friends of the lower crust; often used by upper class citizens to belittle one whom they perceive as "less than," those in the lower districts of the world happily claim this word, meaning "child" in halfling, as a means of communicating casual equality. This word can also be wielded as a weapon against those of the court by placing them on equal perceived footing.
*Taka - in stark contrast, this word translates directly to "Master," and holds an additional reverence. The word itself was derived from the Giant alphabet, found in ancient texts detailing the old masters. Those of the court often use it to communicate great respect for those whom they deem above them. To the few that know it in the lower crust, the intent can be the same, though it is often used in a mocking tone.
Dog - a Bounty Hunter.
*Mutt - a slang, derogatory insult in reference to a "dog" that can't learn new tricks, or has difficulty wielding the tools they have.
*Diamond Dog - there are those in the business of catching and killing that are called Sworn. These are individuals who are sponsored by one of those in either the Tyrium Court or the Torkmund Assembly. Sworn hunters receive wealthy stipends, apartments, and higher end weaponry and gear in exchange for their utmost loyalty in regard to specific jobs. A Sworn cannot turn down a job from their sponsor, and have often been wielded as weapons in turf warfare. Despite the perks, there are still many Hunters that steer clear of this proposition, opting to hold onto their freedom for as long as they can...
*Torky - anyone who benefits from a sponsor's allowance, often a Sworn Bounty Hunter (see Diamond Dog).
*Raptor, Talon Chaser - Bounty Hunters who are known to take, or are in the process of taking the specific, high-risk job of hunting down one of the factions of the Spirals; this particular faction was known as the Knight Owls, each marked by the distinct tattoo of a great-horned owl perched upon a closed gauntlet. As these entities were once a powerful brotherhood of soldiers, each job is given the flat rate of 50 platinum pieces for an implied 50 hours of hunting.
Cull - slang for "culprit." Often used in casual description by Lawkeepers and Hunters alike.
Danny Boy - slang in reference to Daniel Miller, the first Loremaster to abandon his post in favor of "tearing down the high towers and breaking the wall of magic." Often used in casual conversation or when dealing with Strainers.
Ferni - slang for Tieflings, or others with Infernal features. Despite its perceived negative connotation, this is often spoken in reverence to such creatures.
Grin - specific shorthand for those officers in The Grinning Brand.
*Smilie - disrespectful slang for those in the The Grinning Brand.
Hatters - direct reference to a mythical entity or boogeyman, often used to scare children back inside at night. Hatters are said to be the things shadows are made from, and if a shadow flickers in your direction to get inside quick, before the lights around you are snuffed out; the Hatters collect those who do not belong...
Shiver - a member of the Vertigo Caste is often called a Shiver; so named because of its innate ability to wield elemental cold energy wherever it goes. Many Shivers are accompanied by large winter wolves, which the Shiver utilizes to help track, trap, and outmaneuver their targets. Each Shiver's eyes are covered by a magical black cloth, but no one seems to know why. Those of the Courts know well of the Vertigo Caste, but their actions, though often sanctioned, are calculated and mysterious. No one is completely sure who pulls the strings of the "Vertighast."
Skirter - those who live in the shanty towns and small villages beyond the walls of the three bastions of Wynnrik.
Squid - disrespectful slang for the broken race of Illithid that now roam the surface of Io.
Spiral - it is common knowledge that the Knight Owls, and the dissonant factions of the sorcerer clans, unleashed hell willingly by igniting the Font of Magic at the turn of the Age. It is their fault that Io spins toward its destruction, and this blame persists through time. Such entities of chaos, those who threaten the balance of the universe by their own existence, are called Spirals.
*Arky - casters connected to the arcane blood burned when the Font was ignited. Many died because of this, and those who survived were forever changed. This term is a negative slang for another, called "Ark-touched," which is no longer used.
Tusk-head - a half-orc. Normally "tusk-face," the swap of the "head" in the slang denotes a loss of intelligence as well.
Known Curses and Lewd Language or Gestures
Kahna - reference to a mother or matriarch having sexual congress with another.
Strix - reference to a product of defecation.
*Kahnastrixa - reference to a mother having sexual congress with another and possibly while also defecating, but the combination is unclear.
Submitted in haste - Edwin Ferguson, Lorekeeper
Ra'vigal is a good pup. He finds the meat. Must move fast. Must move quiet. But he finds the meat. The others, they know him. He sniffs well, he digs well, he is the best. Some have come looking, for his stash they think, the place he hides the meat. But no, they never find it. Ra'vigal needs no stash. Ra'vigal covets something much, much more powerful. Much more, dependable. It climbs. It climbs the holds it built for itself. Ra'vigal is an excellent climber...a secret he will take to his grave. His fellows do no climb. Only dig. Dig and fish, dig and fish. ...The hunger, it festers, such pain. But Ra'vigal has lived with pain. He knows what to do, and the value of something his fellows will never know.
"Right on time, boyo." I watch the gnoll creep forward from the shadows. The thing's an imposing sight in the moonlight, standing a good foot or two over me as he emerges, then slinking and cowering, bending with respect to my eye level. I give him a small nod and watch a gracious smile spread across his dog face. "How is the night, Ravi?"
The creature gives a small yip, like a hyena, followed by some clicking and chittering in the back of his throat. I watch fresh saliva hang from his lips. Good. He can smell it. I know better, so I pull out the sack of butchered meats. The gnoll nearly recoils in dread fascination at the bag, blood beginning to soak through the bottom. I watch his feet scamper in place with impatience; but he knows what I want. "Easy, Ravi. Easy..." I hold up a hand.
Ravi stares at my palm, then the bag, then flashes his head toward my hand. A watcher might think he was going to eat my poor right hand, but instead he presses his forehead into my palm. Not a headbutt, not a tap, he stays there...and I focus my breathing. He does the same. Slowly, together, we control ourselves. My adrenaline twitch and his hunger; we breathe. The clicking in the back of his throat slows, then stops, a calm settling over him. His eyes open again, clear and focused. I ask again, "How is the night?"
His voice is thin, raspy from years of abuse and battle. "It cold, Friend. Wolf moves in South bend, by the grin. Master...harder to track. No smell this time."
"How about the kid?"
"The child is quick. Cunning. No prints, no feet perhaps." Ravi smiles at his own joke, then coughs and continues, shrugging his thin shoulders. "Not much more to tell..."
"I need a point, Ravi. Or this meat goes in the river..."
Ravi's head snaps to me. "Friend would not do this. Ra'vigal has done his best. He can only track on runs. Ra'vigal would never-
I hold up my hand once more. "Sorry, buddy." Ravi quiets, still eyeing the bag. "This one's on a tight clock. I need anything you have. Anything you can give me."
Ravi rises, taking a deep breath. I've known him a few years now, and I've watched an intelligence and an empathy grow inside of him. He looks down at me, calm and resolute. "Tribe is growing, and starving. Friend's meat helps, but more needed sooner. We grow, we change...but hunger. It makes us...stupid." He taps his head with a claw. "...Vicious."
I plop the bag at his feet. He looks down at it, then at me, before bending once more and snatching it up. He lingers this time, and I hold up my hand. He presses his forehead into it and I give him a little scratch. I feel him press just a little harder, then move away. "Child made a door. At Rail. Be fast. Be safe. Bye, Friend."
"Bye, Ravi." I watch the gnoll slink back into the shadows, thinking as I pull back on my gloves, checking the frayed threads one more time. I've gotta' get this damn thing fixed...
There's something people forget about magic and travel. It isn't by feet. It's by inches. This is what I tell myself anytime a smilie sprints off five hundred feet in the direction of a door slinger, cursing himself that he didn't mark the cull. This is what I tell myself when I leap over railings, when I see the flash of a green cloak, soaked through by mud and slick with the smell of days without a decent bath. This is what I remember when I shove past the 8-feet of muscle ahead of me and utter, "Out of the way, tusk-head." and this is why I keep telling Rayph he needs to work on his cardio.
I play every inch as I sprint toward the gleaming armor of The Grinning Brand. I feel heavy impacts behind me, enraged breath on my neck, hot and ignited. With flecks of spittle beginning to paint my back, and shouts of warning from the grins, I tuck into a slide... And whack my shoulder good on the way through. Which is nothing to the pin toppling behind me as the half-orc bruiser slams into the pack of them. I slide out of view between the rails, flashing a toothy smile at the attendant; I just made her day, I'm sure. Careful, Izzy. No one wants Olivia jealous.
I slip in feet first beneath the rail, hand over hand to slow my fall. I hang for as long as I can, slowly inching my feet toward the damp fissure below the rail. Feeling the rumble coming...I drop when I can hold no more, checkers of light and darkness flooding the tunnel walls above and below me.
They say this is where the first trades of Strain were made, according to good ole' Daniel's scriptures. So I think it's fitting to pull my twill and light it up. You know, for the spirit of the thing. I think of Rayph and I pause, the roll halfway to my mouth. That's the thing about Strain; if you're not careful, it becomes everything to you. You think about how it felt when you had it, how it feels now that you don't, and when you can get it again. Hughes wasn't careful... Someday I'll find him choking smoke in a gutter with his veins torched from the inside out; but it'll be his choice all the same.
There's scraping ahead of me and I watch a shadow slink away. Pocketing the Strain, I measure my footsteps carefully, taking the time to listen. There is a whisper and crackle around the corner, and a satisfying pop, flecks of purple and black smoke swirling at the edges of the stone. Another door.
I sprint around the corner, pulling the twill again as I move. Remnants of smoke just beginning to dissipate from the spell, I pull a pouch from the set. Fine sapphire leather, specific and cold to the touch. With a gloved hand, I pull the strands open and dig out a handful of bright, cold-iron dust, tossing it to the smoke ahead of me. Each grain of dust impacts the smoke like a hammer hitting stone; sparks fly at first, then the billows burn white hot, connecting like electrical tethers in a fraying web.
Sucking in air like my life depends on it, I reach out...and grasp the web.
The earth stretches and whines around me, my own vision focusing to a singular point about ninety degrees down. Then I feel the lurch. I am flung toward the rock ahead of me, instinctually closing my eyes, adrenaline pumping for the pain, but I pass through it. A shield of swirling smoke and residual magic keeps me from being pulverized; rocketing through space and time in an instant. If I weren't the rider, this would have been cool, but it isn't the fall that kills you...and my momentum is only borrowed.
With a secondary popping sound, I slam into a table, smashing my nose on the top and flipping it forward as I attempt to roll...only to rocket my own legs into a bookcase. I feel the thing start to pitch forward and I press my legs into its frame to keep the heavy oak from crushing me...but I can do nothing to stop the books, candlesticks, plates, silverware, and a small, plush owl bear from toppling over me while I stifle a swear.
I lie still for a moment, listening. The bookcase, now liberated from its load now resting on my face, is let down easy atop the pile. Breathe, John. I focus my breath, and pick apart the noise. The tiny scraping near my head is first, followed by the chittering squeaks. Mice. Archived, I spread the sense out. Creaking boards and foundation. Old house. Lower end. Maybe District 5 or 6. No one is screaming at me, and I can hear the wind as it lances through an empty home. Abandoned. Slums. District downgraded to 6 or 7. And if it's 7, kid's about to be in a world of hurt at the hands of the fringers. One more thing; footsteps, quick, frantic, not far. I slide myself out from under the case as quickly and quietly as I can, now thankful for the bruises, as the pile of old books and childhood keep the bookcase from yielding any more noise.
I step out into an alley, the rain giving up for the time being. Lucky, really, because any idiot can follow feet splashing in puddles. I take two steps and pause... Crap. I can see my breath.
Something whistles up ahead. High and crisp. I barely have time to set my feet before they are knocked out from under me. I start to rise before being pressed back down by the heavy paws of a massive wolf. Its eyes bore into mine, and I take note of its gold and bronze irises. Often their wolves have some scarring, signs of war, but this one's coat is fresh. Bright white and beautiful. "Well, aren't you a pretty puppy." It barks in my face, spittle raining down, and its beautifully sharp, white teeth bared.
Another sharp whistle and I can breathe again. The cold voice hits my ears from down the alley as if it were whispering to me. "Stay down, dog."
I lie there, shooting up one mock salute. "Yep. Staying down. Just havin' a smoke." On my back, I pull the twill from inside my coat, spinning the Strain into fingers. "Don't let me down, now, Danny boy." Wetting the edge at my lips, I snap my left thumb and middle finger together. The fibrous pads of the fingers spark and the flame is set. Now, Strains are not things you smoke. Smoking is a casual thing; take a drag, speak some strix, take another. It takes time. Strains were not built for casuals.
I take one drag, and inhale the raw arcana of our past. The Strain is consumed completely, its casing turning to ash on my chest. Elemental fire courses through me; pain numbs, replaced by Rage. The seller called this mix "Burn," and though it feels similar to my Asher stash, this is certainly not for healing. No infernals built this. This was made by druids.
"Don't do it, dog."
"IT'S BEEN DONE." Whoa. I'm actually spitting lava. So let's test this sucker. I focus my breathing, and focus on my right hand. Fissures of lava and flame begin to crack through it, threatening to explode at any moment. So I let it, and turn it toward the Shiver. Whips of fire and lava are flung from my fingertips toward them. I flourish like my favorite kung fu villain, sending waves of lancing burn toward them. I don't have to be accurate; I just need to burn time.
"Cease, child." The Shiver emerges, pushing the rising smoke and steam from his form and slamming me into brick behind me. These things are strong, its cold fingers digging into the flesh of my torso. But it pulls back suddenly, burns appearing on its hands. I smile. It growls, then punches me. Really hard.
I feel my body arch in tremendous pain and force as I am rocketed upward onto one of the divider walls. Whatever injuries I suffer in the next minute I won't feel, so let's earn this. With another burst of flame from my hands, I shoot to my feet, but the Shiver is already there, pushing through the fire and grabbing my throat with an ice-covered hand.
I feel the cold creep across me, extinguishing the flames and numbing my connection to the arcana. "Hands off, Shiver." I wedge my arms around his own and snap it sideways, breaking the grip and landing a little off kilter.
"You cannot wield your own Strain, dog." As it sets the bone back in place, the cold fibers resetting the injury.
"It's a means to an end." I seethe.
"It is a means to your doom."
The eldritch blast hits me square in the chest and I'm tumbling through the air; falling, without style. I hit the wet stone, a meridian between the last two districts, with a sharp snap and my whole left side goes numb. There's a ringing in my ears, either from the Strain or the impact, either way vision's a bit fuzzy. I hear the whistle and something white runs past me; probably blocking my exit. I try to focus on the tall wall where I came from...where I see it leap down to meet me. Water splashes on either side of us. Why is it so damn loud? The Shiver sighs, while I fight to focus through the rising pain and falling arcana.
"You stretch too far, mutt. And now you have added insult to your attempt at injury. You have taken your steps an inch too far ...But do not mourn; my lance will silence you." Frost-lined boots click toward me as it recites its code of execution. The night just keeps getting better. "...Take solace in the fact that no creature shall mourn you. The cold shall stay their memory." The cold fire of its lance ignites like a flamethrower, casting flickering blue light across our landscape. Piled boxes, ramshackle tents, hanging lamps devoid of oil...and painted marks upon each, red as blood, and all lined with bone, stripped clean of any remaining flesh. "As it is now, and as it shall always be, you were not prepared to meet The Three." It raises the blade, and I watch something else rise behind it.
Two strong claws grip the Shiver around its torso and fling it down the strip. The blade dissipates with a sharp crack as the Shiver rolls and recovers, seething breath escaping between its sharpened teeth. It then straightens, summoning the blade once more, and walking slowly back toward us. "...No one shall mourn another dead dog in the street."
I stare at the back of the creature; matted, spotted fur and wiry, toned muscle. "Ravi?" I try to rise, but I'm bruised in places I didn't know I had.
"It fine, Friend." Ravi's raspy voice, laced in something sinister, sends a feeling through me I was not expecting. The gnoll looks back at me with a smile, then rises to his full height. Eight feet tall and half-flexed, he addresses the Shiver. "All often forget, but tonight I remind them. Ra'vigal always brings the meat..."
Then we heard them. First a few yips, like the mewling cries of a lost puppy, high in pitch and odd to the ear. The Shiver stops, and lets out a quick whistle, a grin stretching across its lips... But no wolf comes. Instead he is met by a sharp bark from the shadows, and a low, cacophonous rumbling growl as dozens of red and yellow eyes rise from behind the piles of refuse and the discarded. Dozens, upon dozens. Every month the Lockgnaw clan pushes further along the meridian. They grow, and anyone that knows gnolls... They are always hungry. It drives them toward great things. Terrible, great things.
"Be fast. Be safe. Bye Friend." Ravi smiles, gives me a nod, and howls his war cry as it is echoed by his brothers. They're not scared tonight. Meat's back on the menu. The howl rises as one sound, a sonic spear to the dark heavens, and then all at once stops. An eerie tension rises as no gnoll moves, only the the cold breath of a Shiver without any options rising and falling in the night. Then I hear Ravi click once. Just once, and they're on it. Converging like a rabid wave of teeth, claws, and voracious hunger. I see a few flashes of an eldritch lance and hear the cries of pain and growls of vengeance, but I can't watch long. I have to move.
"Bye Ravi." I scurry backwards toward the wall, unable to look away for a few moments, but another surge of pain in my side brings me back to the present. I check my ribs; yep, there's two...scratch that, three. Kahna, this better be worth it. I find Ravi's hand holds and start up. Halfway there I feel a pop in my hip. Three quarters and my shoulder gives out. The Burn is still active and I'm numb enough not to care. I spit up blood at the top, and stare at a pair of filthy leather boots and an outstretched hand.
I stare at the hand. At its scars along the back of the hand - burns, perhaps - and the curious missing pinky. Then I see it; at the wrist and spiraling up the arm. I take note of it as I take the hand, and, with a lot of effort, are helped to my feet.
"C'mon. Let's get outta' here."
I limp after the little form. Down the alley. I watch him carefully, quietly; which is fine. I hurt too much to talk right now.
"Heh. You really did a number on him, huh? ...I doubt we'll see him again, even if he DOES make it outta' there." He moves a few crates, setting them up like a small barricade, motioning me over. "Here. Let me have a look at you..." He produces a small medical kit, and I let him lift my shirt to check my ribs, leaning in closer. He whistles. "Damn. That bruising sucks...ya' know what, I think I can-
The blade enters his throat and slices deep and clean. I feel warm blood flow over down the knife, and across my hand. As his eyes meet mine, I twist it and drive upward until I hear a tiny crunch, cradling his head and waiting for the life to leave his eyes. His form crumples to the ground, a pile of flesh and bone. With a sigh, I pull back his sleeve and make sure. I check the detail of the tattoo; armored gauntlet, horned owl. Then I pull the order out, opening its fine duskweave cover. With the tip of the blade, I dab the halfling's blood onto the space next to my signature and let the magic do its work.
A small shuffling behind me sheathes the knife, and I shift my body to obscure the other as best I can. The form is a small, frail creature; childlike. I pull one of my gloves off and hold up my bare hand.
"Hey. Kid. It's okay." I can see her eyes dart behind me, examining the crumpled form. I snap my fingers a few times. "Don't look there, it's ugly. Keep your eyes on me." I walk slowly toward her, taking in her frail form; cloak, bandages, large hood, cradling something in her hands, and pulling it closer to her form. "Hey, it's alright. It's over now. What do you need? Are you cold? Do you need help? Let me just-
Her eyes, bright and yellow, dart to me, the knives of her pupils stopping me in my tracks. The word burns from her tongue and seethes the air with hatred. "...Raptor." She glowers, stepping backward into the night...and disappears.
I think to call after her; to explain. But instead I stand there, a crack of thunder sounding above me. As the rain hammers harder and harder, I stare into the dusk of the alley. A long moment passes, drops of water soaking into my hair. A triumphant howl splits the night and rocks me slowly back to the moment. Fifty hours, fifty plat.
And that. Is that.
Lawkeepers: The Grinning Brand
Vertigo Caste: Active and Legal
Population: 22,000 - 26,000
Missing Persons Reported: 154
Registered Races (in descending order)
Human - Aasimar - Tiefling - Kenku - Kobold - Gnome - Goblin - Illithid (rare)
Income Spread (monthly)
40 sp - 500 gp
Districts: 7 (approximate populations)
*1: Feederstep - 2,000
*2: Railstep - 2,500
*3: Spyrescythe - 1,500
*4: Spyrelight - 3,500
*5: Grinraker - 3,000
*6: Utriena - 5,500
*7: Lunatic's Fringe - 2,000
Port Connection / Tourism Notes
Possible Gang Activity between Districts 6 and 7.
Possible Asher Market
Possible Strain Market
Vertigo Caste: Disbanded and Illegal
Missing Persons Reported: 5
Registered Races: Aarakocra - Genasi - Elf - Halfling - Human - Aasimar - Firbolg - Kenku - Dwarf (rare)
Income Spread (monthly): 50 gp - 1200 gp
*1: Fennrir - 4,000
*2: Entragon - 4,000
*3: Orelai - 4,000
*4: Siestra - 4,000
Features and Security
+ Controlled Population
+ Low Crime
+ Safe night life
+ High Artisan
+ High Tourism
+ Magical Protections
Lawkeepers: The Addikai
Vertigo Caste: Inactive
Missing Persons Reported: 0
Registered Races: Unregistered
Region: Briarios Fault
Faith Council: The Severed Wing
Income Spread (monthly): 3 cp - 100 cp
Respectfully submitted, VI - 484 - .57, Ermin Ferguson
Lo there do I see my transgressions,
Lo there do I see my flaws,
Lo there do I see, laid before me,
The path ever that was.
Lo there for my hands,
Lo there for my body,
Lo there for my brother, my sister, my heart,
The Old Ways follow,
And forgive me, my art.
Excerpt from the Path of the Strain, by Robyn Veit
"Kanastrixa!" The curse was a little louder than I wanted; I can feel the heads turning, the sneer and stink eyes already formed. "Yeah, yeah, 'Lo There' and all that..." I utter the rest under my breath, or maybe it's all in my head by now, but whatever the sentiment, at least the half-orc in full-plate isn't wearing the 'you-will-die-screaming' face.
Satisfied with the mutual feeling of contempt, I set back to work on my hand. There's a blasted spike through it.
I examine the wound, turning my hand around enough to get both angles. Yep. It is INDEED all the bloody way through my hand. Lucky for me, the nerves in this hand are shot anyway. Bogeys hate my right hand; every job, every time. Sometimes it's a spike, often a sword...one time it was a handshake-turned-fireball. Magic is the worst best friend of my right hand.
"Here ya' go, Izzy." A young lass appears at my right, sliding a shifter of firewater over to me with a wink.
"Thanks, Liv." I give her confident grin and a nod, which seems to brighten her face a bit before she walks off. I count the beats in her step, the grin fading. This is going to hurt.
I take a swig of the firewater, swishing it around my sore gums. It helps to numb the bruises; it's a good taste tonight. I feel my eyes glaze a bit, focused on nothing in particular. I make sure to focus my breath instead, exhaling in a thin and even column; the monks might say I was trying "dance the flame without snuffing it" if there were candle in front of me. I just do it to distract my brain from what I know is coming.
As I take one more swig of the hard booze, practically ignition fuel, I fish into my coat and pull a leather twill roll from within. Holding my hand aloft at the elbow, I unroll the twill quickly and carefully, checking to see if my Ashers and Strains have mixed; nope, no punctures, no cracks. We're good. In the far pocket I draw a small, thick rod of glazed oak. Fresh tooth marks already on it, I set my jaw and clamp my teeth onto it, calming my nerves.
As if ahead of my own courage, my left hand pours the remaining firewater unceremoniously into my grizzly wound. The feeling of guttural betrayal catching in my lungs, I rip the spike from my palm, warm blood pouring from it and lacing down my arm. Still seething, I slam the fresh spike - it's got bloody barbs on it - onto the table, as Liv rushes back with a fresh glass of firewater, worry painting her face stoic.
I stare at the hole through my hand only a moment longer, pulling a vial of Red Ash from the twill. I pop the cork and pour it into the hard liquor. The flecks of red begin to spin as I agitate the liquid, tiny pillars of choking smoke beginning to cyclone around fits of flame at the rim. With another sharp intake of breath, I neck the Asher.
The effect is instant. Infernal fire licks the roof of my mouth and sulfurous smoke leaks from my flaring nostrils. As the edges of my vision go red with chaos, I breathe. I breathe and watch...as the flesh, as if I were staring back through time of my own immolation, reforms from the edges of the hole in my hand. It is as if the devil himself has set my veins aflame, and it feels about as much, but it's over pretty fast. The hole disintegrates, new flesh and a fresh scar forming at the palm. With what I hope to be a manly grunt or two, I clench my hand into a fist, cradling the wrist to my chest and wait for the devil's sight to fade.
"That one looked like it hurt..." Something heavy sits next to me, and I wipe the manly tears from the edges of my vision as he passes me a cold glass of ale. The entity who bears my company wears a similar dark leather duster to my own, but with armored plates sewn across the arms and shoulders. A dark navy bandana holds back long tendrils of matted hair, beads, and feathers; marks of his tribe, he says, though I'm not sure what pack the mighty Rayph Hughes calls home. It seems to change every couple of months.
Never one out of his uniform, Rayph adjusts his black gloves, tan skin fading toward the shadows at the edges of the tavern light. After his icy eyes scan the room but for a moment, he pulls back his coat; always the intention to flash the Arcslinger fastened to his hip - an expensive endeavor that probably cost him a rib or two, but worth it to wield the wizard's bane.
I cough up the last of the smoke from my lungs, the infernal ash fading. "How's pickings?"
Rayph's gruff baritone slips out, like hard whiskey across heavy sapling, "Slim. The knights are moving, and Feathertongue just put up another gatehouse." He pauses strategically, measuring the shared privacy of mutual contempt in the room. A band of brothers, sure, but none that wouldn't turn for the right coin. Rayph sighs, pulling a bit of parchment from his coat. He pours Ash into its center, meticulously measuring - practiced, and precise - before rolling it tight and tying it off. He regards it with thought, like a piece of art, letting it dance between his fingers lazily.
I watch with a mask of indifference, then get bored. "Anything to pass on?" Anything no one else wanted.
Rayph snaps to, shoving the cigar into his coat, and pulls a fine duskweave envelope from within. Fresh trails of black displacement still fresh at its edges, he passes it to me.
I snatch the envelope eagerly. Duskweave means high brass, which is good coin. The fabric alone will pay my rent. ...I try to dodge Hughes's eyes as I tear open the seal and study. The ink is still wet.
"Shut up, torky. We can't all have an allowance..." Description's good, seal is legit. Looks like I'm cloak hunting tonight - and I'm the only one.
"You might have a rush on this, boyo."
"Oh?" I ask as I pull on my gloves, checking the rune thread on the back of the hand. The left one is fraying; piece of backstore junk...
"...I hear there's a Shiver that's picked up his scent."
I try to stop the chill from running up my spine. Appropriate, I know, but no bloke takes a decent job without some risk assumed. A Shiver means serious coin is involved, and though I'm one mean Sai in a dark alley, I'm not one to choose my death at the end of one of their blades. I'll have to move fast if I want to get ahead of his wolf. "What's the score?"
"Fifty hours. Fifty plat." Hughes whistles.
"Then what am I talking to you for?" I pocket the twill, donning my hat and sending a confident nod to Liv. She winks good luck; I'm gonna' need it.
Magic is a funny thing. Beautiful, but funny. The static between dreams and possibility; the time between a common man and a god. You could pluck it from the ether, a strand of a grander weave, tie it around your finger, and call it yours. Like a friend you've always known, it would stick with you, grant you insight into the world beyond, and protect you from those with ill wills. It is also volatile; like an open flame, if left untended, will raze the world. It became the great equalizer for the intellect, and a tool of the disciplined and dedicated.
But these days are gone.
Magic is a force of the rich, held behind a fortress of letters and laws. The weave diminishes, its threads severed and pulled back behind these walls. And with the Spirals looming, those of us born with gifts carry the curse of Io, forever poisoned by its chaotic fate.
You can spin magic too, boys, for a slice of your soul and a life of servitude. You might even enjoy yourself, as a bit of you slips away with every invocation. ...And you wonder why so many of them Shiver in the dark...
But I do not hold to these truths, my brothers. I am but a man of intellect.
I refuse this world order.
The Weave belongs to us all.
And Lo There Do I See the path is broken; my light, my fire, my blood, my vine - I see it still in my dreams. I dream of herbs, petals, the natural line. It goes back and back into antiquity. Bound by earth and stone, deep within the cracks, beyond the Edge; ashes of the Elderburn, hearts of fire and ice, dust and bone, a pound of flesh, and the ancient eyes of the beings before.
I see them all, my brothers. They do call to me. The six wings in their stead, we find them in need of our Will. A banner to wield in our hearts and minds - a rallying cry of a people unwilling to bow down to the Drowned God, who refuse those of Blood and Fire, and who laugh in the face of the Stormlord - for we, men of intellect, harness our own destinies; we are not bound by history - we make our own.
Those who deny intellect have forgotten the face of their Father, and as we know, I, like my brothers before me, was born of the Weave itself.
The old world beckons you, my family. It calls for its soldiers in the coming war of our redemption. Step forward, champion, and claim your Strain...
The last word and testament of Daniel Miller, Loremaster - Firma 117
Respectfully submitted to the Vertighast Division, Evidence Locker 341 - Stormwrack.