There are many things close to my heart in this world.
Money is most certainly one of them.
Which was why I was sitting in the painfully under-padded driver's seat of a covered wagon, with a full load of venom vials packed in padded cases behind me.
I hate trading runs.
But I like money.
Part the First: Events, Causes, and Threats
It all started off several hundred years ago. Deep in the void that surrounds this world, a swarm of asteroids idly tumbled through space. Normally, the swarm would have been floating in the void for all eternity. However, for some reason this swarm was sheared away from its endless flight. Perhaps it was an impact with a comet, or an errant wave of gravity, or a god sneezing in the wrong place and the wrong time. It does not really matter. The swarm changed its course by a few fractions of a degree and continued on its way. It flew on uninterrupted until it impacted with an obstacle. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), that obstacle was our world.
TRELLOR TEMPLE, TRELLOR CITY
The mute High Priestess of Trellor stepped out onto the balcony of her beautiful temple. Looking out upon the city, she saw constant bustle and motion. Even at dusk, there were throngs of people on every street. It was an endless cycle of humanity (and others), constantly travelling the streets of the city. The rich citizens were looking for added luxuries; the poor citizens were looking for food, the guards for trouble, and the mercenaries for trouble with the guards, the beggars for alms, and the pickpockets for fools with wide-open purses. The city was alive with people. The people were its lifeblood, its vitality. They made it function, they glorified it, they ran screaming for their lives as a flaming deluge of stone fell upon their heads...
MAGES' GUILD, MEDIEVIA CITY
I stared at the ledger in distaste. From what I could understand, my problem was rather simple: money. Rather, it was the lack of it. While the enchanted gems I sold a few weeks ago brought in over five hundred thousand in gold, that money was no longer in my possession. What I could not figure out was how I could've spent it so quickly. I haven't done anything particularly extravagant in the past few weeks, and I had money from before. The only thing I of real value I could've bought was that staff...
Oh yes, the staff.
I balefully eyed said staff in its corner of my room. Bona-fide enchanted staff, the man said. Thousand years old, the man said. Vaporizes undead on contact, the man said. Of course what the man left unsaid was that it was the staff of a cleric, and that I couldn't lay my hands on it without getting an electric shock. Naturally, he didn't say that until he had the money in his hand. Bastard.
TRELLOR SEWERS, TRELLOR CITY
The rather portly Duke of Trellor scurried through the rank tunnels of the Trellor City sewers. Cringing slightly at the constant impacts above him that rattled the tunnel ceilings and sent dust flying everywhere, he picked up his pace as he nearly sprinted towards his destination. Said destination was a small alcove in the wall of the sewer that was ensconced in deep purple shadow. Walking up to it, he heard a slight click.
"That's far enough," a low voice spoke, directly behind him.
The duke froze as he felt the prick of the point of a dagger touching the back of his neck. "Wh...What are you doing?" he said.
"Merely taking a precaution. The last time you came here, it was with thirty guards. You wouldn't be trying to terminate our little arrangement again, would you?" said the voice.
The duke gulped and put a little bit of steel in whatever passed for spine in him. "It's not that...there has been an accident. You might not have found out about it." And if you had found out about it on your own, my days would have been numbered, the duke thought.
There was a bit of tenseness in the voice as it spoke next. "An accident? What sort of accident?"
"The warehouse. The one with the venom you bought from me. It was...destroyed. In the asteroid storm." The duke flinched a bit as the pressure on the back of his neck increased slightly. The dagger began to draw blood.
"And I assume you have taken steps to make sure that the venom is replaced?" the voice grated. The duke thanked whatever gods were listening that he wasn't killed then and there. The man he was speaking to had a legendary temper. He had killed for far less than the loss of venom that was worth millions in gold.
"Ah...yes, I have. However, I would need more money to entice traders to come here in the middle of the storm...urk." A gloved hand closed over his mouth and nose and the source of the voice came closer, nearly whispering in his ear.
"Listen to me. I have paid you in full for that venom. You have not delivered it to me. It was destroyed through your incompetence; your miserly inability to spend any more than you thought you could sneak past me on protection for it. It was your wretched money-grubbing hands that caused this. Not mine. You will replace that venom and you will place it in my possession within two days, or there shall be consequences. I refuse to give money for what is rightfully mine. Do you hear me, you fat pig? I will have my venom. I do not care how much you have to spend to get it, but get it you will, or I will personally use your head as a paperweight! Are we clear?"
The nearly asphyxiated duke barely managed a nod. The hand withdrew from his face, and a boot impacted the small of his back. Flailing his hands wildly, the duke lost his balance and fell into the rapidly flowing river of excrement in the center of the sewer tunnel. Barely keeping his head above the effluvia, he managed to grasp the ledge of the walkway at the side of the tunnel and pulled himself over it. As he lay gasping on the walkway, covered in offal, he barely saw a shadow detach itself from the wall and flow deeper into the tunnel. As it vanished, he heard the mocking laughter of the man who had threatened his very life. Vonliege, leader of the Crime Underground thieves' guild.
MAGES' GUILD, MEDIEVIA CITY
I sat at my desk in the Mages' Guild, fingers tracing arcane motions before me, my mind flying along the ethereal ways, contemplating the sublime mysteries of Magic...oh, forget it. I was sitting at my desk, twiddling my thumbs, staring out into space. I was bored. Really bored. Bored to the point of petrifaction. I still had not found a way of getting more money. There was peace and prosperity in the major cities, and no shortages of goods whatsoever. This meant that the prices paid for incoming goods would be small. Really small. Miniscule. And that was not good. Low prices meant low profits, and I needed profits. However, as there was no place to get decent profits, I was stuck at my desk, twiddling my thumbs...err...contemplating Magic. I rolled my eyes, put my head down on the desk, and decided to think as little as possible about my impending bankruptcy.
*Hey, Erik. How's it going?*
A mental transmission. Joy. Apparently, my clan members have decided that they wanted to get a piece of my misery for themselves. Maybe it was a hot commodity. If so, I wanted a share of the profits.
*Nothing, Rastid. Indulging in a bit of self-pity. You?*
*Getting ready to make some money. Isn't everyone?*
Oh, that was just great. Not only did the little weasel laugh at my money problems, but he also wanted to add insult to injury.
*I'm not in the mood for taunting, Rastid.*
*Taunting? What, haven't you heard the news?*
News? What news?
*An asteroid storm has hit Trellor City. All the warehouses were utterly ruined. The merchants there are paying through the nose for any and all goods!*
Trellor. Asteroids. Goods. Money.
Well yes, it was childish, but I was understandably agitated.
*Heh. Thought you'd see it that way. I've got some more information for you: apparently, the Duke of Trellor has put word out that he'll be paying a lot of money for a delivery of venom. By the wagonload. Want to pop over to Lyryanoth City, pick up a few loads of it and haul it to Trellor together?*
Apparently, Vryce had just smiled on me.
*What would the Duke of Trellor want with that much venom, anyway? It's enough to poison an army!*
*Who knows? Who cares? He's paying the wagon's weight in gold for that venom! Are you coming, or what?*
Well, it was a tough call. Should I supply extremely virulent poison to a man whom I would not trust to shine my shoes, let alone rule a city? I pondered and agonized over what I should decide.
For a whole two seconds.
*Lyryanoth, here I come!*
I grabbed what equipment I had lying around (not much); considered how many times Rastid's schemes got me into hot water (too many), and got ready to leave. As I neared the door of the guildhall, I noticed that I had not done one important task.
The fireball sailed gracefully from my outstretched hand, soared in a perfect parabola over the main work hall, and impacted a certain object near my desk. I grinned as I watched the faux staff burn. I wanted to do the same to the lying scum who sold it to me, but that would have to wait for another time. Turning to the wall lockers near the exit, I grabbed a small pouch marked "Trader's Supplies" from mine, and left the building in search of my transportation to Lyryanoth.
LYRYANOTH TRADE POST, LYRYANOTH CITY
The trading post of Lyryanoth was just like I remembered it. It fit in perfectly with the rest of Lyryanoth City, that is to say that it was a smelly, run-down dump that was full of humans and lizardfolk avidly hurling insults and spit at each other. Ducking a particularly burly lizardfolk, I quickly looked around, checking if Rastid was there. Unfortunately, he wasn't in sight. Muttering something about loud-mouthed thieves and what I'd do when I finally caught up to him, I began tracking him. However, as tracking is a skill that isn't taught at the Mages' guild, all I managed to track down were a pair of riding lizards. They were mean looking brutes. Even for twelve-foot long lizards. I was going to grab one's reins when a blur of green hit me, throwing me nearly three yards. Fortunately, a pile of wooden packing crates broke my fall. As I was lying dazed in a pile of wood chips formerly known as a stack of packing crates, I heard a voice. "Sorry about that. You shouldn't have been near those lizards."
Clearing my eyes (not an easy task when you feel like someone is driving spikes into your head with a ball-peen hammer), I instinctively looked towards the source of the sound. Standing there, small as life and twice as grungy, was Rastid. He hadn't changed a bit in the few months since we last met. Short guy, black hair, black eyes, and baggy green clothes. Well, they probably used to be green. Right now they were so covered in dust, dirt, and several other unmentionable substances that it would be impossible to pin their shade down to anything more concrete than "something you might find on the forest floor". "Rastid. What's the idea with using me to make kindling?"
Rastid at least had the decency to appear shamefaced. "Sorry. You shouldn't have gotten your hand near that lizard. He's grouchy."
I blinked. "Grouchy? How grouchy could you be to justify impact at fifty miles per hour?"
Rastid rolled his eyes. "That grouchy," he said, pointing to a small stack of limbs (human, lizardfolk, and other) lying near the big lizard.
"What, that thing actually ripped off their arms?"
Grinning, Rastid replied, "Nope. It ripped off their bodies."
"Bodies. Those arms are all that's left. Apparently, it doesn't like their taste."
I stared at the lizard. It turned its head so that an eye was facing me and hissed. I hissed back. Yes it was petty, but I was not about to be one-upped by an oversized iguana. The lizard replied by breathing a bit of smoke through its nostrils. I jumped slightly at that, and drew back. A lizard that breathed smoke undoubtedly had some dragon in its ancestry, and I was not about to go up against a dragon's relative. Dragons took that kind of thing personally.
Rastid lightly punched my arm and pointed towards the back of the trading post. "Stop teasing the lizards. I've already acquired mounts for us, and two covered wagons full of venom." Indeed, there were two horse-drawn covered wagons parked near the back of the trading post, alongside two rather disreputable looking nags.
"Rastid. There is not a chance in the deepest, darkest hell I am traipsing from one end of the continent to the other on one of those glue maker's rejects," I said. "Those look like they'd collapse if you breathed on them the wrong way. How much did you pay for them, anyway?"
He seemed to nearly sulk. "They were cheap."
I would have none of that. "So are you. I am not riding a horse with three hooves in the grave. I am not riding lizards either. Or unicorns. And if you mention one word about camels, you will be arriving in Trellor via air, with my bootprint on your rear end."
Rastid sighed. "Whatever. I'll go to the stables, get a good horse. It'll cost a ton of money though, with the price of the covered wagon, goods and all. I will only have enough money for one horse. You'll have to go get your own."
"I am not going to buy anything from whoever sold you those nags. He's probably a bigger cheat than the bastard who sold me my staff is. I am going to be walking."
Rastid eyed me warily. "Staff? What staff?"
"Never mind that. Go get your horse. And take these wretched pieces of gristle back where you got them!"
As Rastid was taking the horses back to the stables, bemoaning the loss of money all the while, I took out the package marked "Trader's Supplies". Inside were a few tools of the trader's, pardon the poor joke, trade. A set of enchanted rings of regeneration made of crimson iron, and a matching set made of silver. A pair of reinforced boots with spikes and a strong aura of magic. A burlap sack, similarly enchanted. Finally, a light set of pants radiating a similar magical signature. Each one of these items was enchanted in a way that would make my trip easier. The crimson rings would permit me to regain my strength far quicker than I would usually have, letting me run non-stop for nearly the entire daylong trip. The silver rings would do the same, but for my magical abilities. While wearing them, I would be able to gain back my mana quickly, and as such be able to cast spells faster. The boots and sack were enchanted to give me a strong short-term burst of energy. What that meant that I could sprint for longer distances without getting tired, and then quickly recover. Finally, the pants would give me greater endurance for longer runs. Added together, they empowered me to run at velocities that would make a racehorse envious, for distances that would ride any beast of burden into the ground. They cost me a good amount of money to buy, but they were worth it. As I finished putting them all on, Rastid returned, leading a spirited warhorse. He grinned. "Well, I've got my ride. Did you get yours?"
I grinned back, and tapped my boots. "I have it right here. Shall we go?"
He nodded. "Let's." We walked back to the wagons, and waved our hands in front of the horses pulling them. Those horses were a very strange breed, used in pulling covered wagons all over the world. I have never ever seen them without a wagon attached; in fact, I have never seen them at any age but vigorous youth. Another interesting thing about them was that as soon as you placed your mark upon the wagon, they'd follow you anywhere, except off road. Also, they'd match any speed you took, and were impossible to exhaust. I strongly suspected that they were not real horses, but rather extremely sophisticated magical constructs created by a powerful wizard. However, I was certainly not complaining. Grabbing my wagon, I chanted a small magical phrase and pointed my finger at a plate on its side. With a flash of light, my name appeared on the plate, written in fluid script. Rastid rolled his eyes slightly, produced a pen, and scribbled his name onto the plate of his wagon. Snickering slightly, he led his wagon out of the trading post and onto the road. I followed, muttering.
Part the Third: On the Road Again
A DUSTY ROAD, THE WILDERNESS
Having recited a scroll of quickness to give me the necessary endurance to match speeds with Rastid's horse, I jogged easily along the road. It was a beautiful day, the birds were singing, the brooks were babbling, and the insects were trying to eat me alive. After electrocuting the third swarm of bugs that mistook me for an early snack, I began to get very, very annoyed. "If I see another wretched insect today, I will torch this entire damned bog! What kind of a moron builds a city in the middle of a damned swamp, anyway?!" I shouted.
Rastid snickered, then grew pale. I raised my eyebrows. "What, no snappy comment today?"
He slowly turned his head to the left, and then to the right. "Not exactly..." He raised a hand and pointed shakily behind me. I turned around, and looked at the biggest swarm of insects I have ever seen darkening the skies. The air filled with the sound of buzzing, and suddenly I had a desire to run and hide. "Wasps. It had to be wasps, didn't it. Me and my big mouth."
Turning back, I saw that Rastid was no longer around to hear my words. Instead, he was hightailing it down the road, as fast as his horse could carry him. I looked at my fast-disappearing trading partner, and then at the gigantic storm of wasps that was swiftly approaching my position. "Oh well. Discretion is the better part of valor after all, heh heh...RASTID, WAIT FOR ME!" I took off after Rastid, my magic-enhanced speed propelling me forward.
INTRA-CONTINENTAL HIGHWAY, THE WILDERNESS
Having ditched the cloud of wasps (and having the stings to prove it), Rastid and I managed to get to the great Inter-Continental Highway. This massive road stretched from the DeRah Vilaldom to the city of Trellor, our destination. However, to my chagrin, the road brought problems as well.
"Did you hear a twig snap?"
"Are you sure?"
"I heard that there were rogues along this stretch of highway."
"You think they're going to attack?"
"Are you SURE?"
"Any other questions?"
In fact, there were rogues on the road. They just weren't tracking us. Many groups of traders traveled on the road daily, and the rogues were trying to hijack a wagon that was approximately a mile in front of us. Once we got to the site of the battle between the caravan and the rogues, it was obvious who won. The corpses of the hapless rogues were scattered all along the road, a few hung from trees, and several unrecognizable bits were flung this way and that.
"There, are you happy? Here are your blasted rogues."
"Blasted is right. What kind of weapon could rip you apart like that?"
"Shockwave spell. Nasty piece of work. I could cast it, I guess...it's rather difficult at my current level of skill."
"So the people in front of us could rip apart a few groups of rogues easily, huh?"
"Yep, looks like it."
"So that means that we stick right behind them and let them clear the road for us?"
"Rastid, you're smarter than you look."
The group in front of us cleared the road very well. We came across the bodies of a pack of man-dogs, a few scattered corpses of banelars, the remains of nearly a horde of trolls...it seemed that the group could easily clear the road for us all the way until Trellor. Or so we thought.
"The wind is picking up, Erik."
"I can see that."
"What does that mean?"
"Well, it could mean several things..." At that moment, a covered wagon was flung through the air in front of us, its occupant screaming in terror. "...But in this case, it is probably a tornado. RUN!"
We jumped away from our covered wagons and ran headfirst into the wilderness surrounding us. We ran, and ran, and ran, the screaming of the tornado right behind us driving us forward. Finally, the roar of tortured air stopped, and I stopped along with it. Looking around, I noticed that I was in a forest. I had no idea where in the forest I was, beyond a slight telepathic nagging that told me that my covered wagon was a few miles to the north. Following the mental signal, I walked towards my wagon. As I got closer, the telepathic signal increased in strength, until I got within sight of my wagon. As that happened, the signal suddenly shut off. As I looked around, I noticed Rastid coming out of the forest, without his horse. "What happened to your horse?" I asked, raising my eyebrows.
Rastid grimaced. "Banelar ate it. I barely managed to get away without getting poisoned."
I nodded. Being poisoned by a banelar was not a pleasant experience, and we had no healer around to cure us of the poison if we were exposed to it. I walked over to the wagon to check for damage. "Not a scratch on it. Do you think the tornado missed it?"
Rastid took a look at the various signs of destruction along the road. "Missed it while ripping out half the trees alongside the road? I doubt it. How the hell did it stay in one piece?"
I shrugged. "It's probably a magical construct, like I said earlier. In any case, we have little time to speculate. Shall we get going?"
Sighing, Rastid replied, "I lost my horse, remember? How am I going to keep up?"
"The same way I do - magic. I've got another scroll of quickness around - you can recite it and run as fast as me." I opened up my pouch and took out a rolled-up piece of parchment. "Start reading."
Rastid quickly chanted the syllables on the scroll, nearly choking on some of them. As he completed the spell, the scroll flared and crumbled into dust. "Done. Now what?"
"Start walking." I stepped onto the road and began walking towards our destination. Rastid followed.
INTRA-CONTINENTAL HIGHWAY, THE WILDERNESS NEAR MEDIEVIA CITY
We were walking along at a fairly fast clip on the large paved road as suddenly a cacophony of screams and shouts assailed our ears.
"Xp me! Xp me! Xp me!" "I'm blind! Help!" "Anybody wanna duel? Come to the arena!" "Selyte is a no-good piece of excrement!" "YOU TAKE THAT BACK!"
I sighed and turned to Rastid, who was doing the same thing. As one, we said the name of the particular type of creature causing this sonic barrage: the Newbie.
Allow me to explain. The difference between a Newbie and me or Rastid is twofold: severe disparity in power levels and a completely nonexistent knowledge of the customs of the world. It is as if whenever a single shred of power awakens in a person, he suddenly loses all memory of his former life, and sleepwalks to the New Adventurers' Guild in Medievia City to wake up there. He remembers nothing about his past life, and knows nothing of the world. We understand their problem - we were all newbies once. However, the annoyance factor is...high...to say the least.
"If all goes well, we'll be out of shouting range of the City soon," I remarked to Rastid.
Rastid visibly suppressed rolling his eyes. "You had to say it, didn't you. Take a look," he said. I looked at the road and suppressed a scream of sheer exasperation. Rastid nodded stiffly. "How wonderful. A traffic jam."
The entire road was closed off by two massive covered wagons. One was attempting to turn to the right, while the other was attempting to turn to the left. Between the two wagons was the navigation guide for the area: an old retired Medievia City Guardsman. Said guide was now nearly tearing out his hair in frustration. That was to be expected. The guides who watched over the various intersections of the great highway and adjoining roads thought of them as their homes. They sat permanent camp at the intersections, and any disruption of normal traffic would be as jarring to them as the continuous stream of newbie chatter heard from Medievia City was to me.
As we approached the blocked intersection, the drivers of the two wagons were screaming obscenities at each other over the head of the harried-looking guide. The guide seemed ready to haul out his sword and whack both of their heads off when we finally arrived at the intersection. Warily peering at the nearly out-of-control guide, Rastid turned to me and asked, "What do you think we will have to do to get through this roadblock?"
I cocked my ear and listened. Then, I grinned my most evil grin. "Rastid, we are not going to have to do anything. Our problems are about to be solved."
Rastid looked at me in confusion, then stopped and appeared to consider things. He then grinned. "Ah, I see. But don't you think that is too cruel a fate for them?"
I raised my eyebrow. Rastid continued grinning like a bandit and settled back to watch the fireworks. We hadn't waited more than a minute when...
"Hey! There are two covered wagons at that intersection!"
With terrified screams that would suit ten-year old schoolgirls more than veteran traders, the two men blocking the intersection jumped nearly ten feet in the air. As fast as they could, they grabbed their wagons and ran as the horde of newbies rounded the turn of the road. Stopping at the intersection, they ran up to the guide. "Hey, mister, which way did they go?"
The guide took one look at the newbies, and then towards the quickly vanishing dust kicked up by the wheels of the two fleeing traders. He then grinned vindictively. "Heh, they went that way!"
With a cheer, the rampaging newbie horde ran off at full speed after the two hapless traders. As the dust kicked up by the pursuing group cleared, the guide turned to us. "Well, what can I do for you two?" he asked, scowling.
I put on my most disarming smile. "Ah, wise guardsman, could you perhaps direct us to our destination, the city of Trellor?"
The guide shrugged. "It's to the east. It's over the horizon though. In fact, you'll likely be travelling for many more days, as it's on the other side of the continent."
Waving my thanks, I motioned the horse drawing my covered wagon forward. As Rastid and I left sight of the guide, he turned to me and whispered, "Why didn't you warn those two guys about the newbies?"
I put on a big smile. In other words, I opened my mouth and showed all of my teeth. "They blocked the road, and therefore our cash flow. Can you think of a punishment that fits that crime any better?"
INTRA-CONTINENTAL HIGHWAY, THE WILDERNESS NEAR THE VILLAGE OF GDANGUS
Ah, Gdangus. A small village situated on a peninsula that jutted into the Great Eastern Ocean. A picturesque, quaint little hamlet whose primary produce was bananas. A wonderful place to retire. Why was I thinking about Gdangus?
VAS CORP HUR!
That's why. As I frantically ducked the pressure wave caused by the shockwave spell, I took stock of the situation. I was getting pounded badly. Rastid was not moving, presumably dead. There was a very large and very smelly Troll mage firing very large and very deadly spells at me. What to do. Abandon ship? And leave our freight? Not a chance. Stay and fight? Yeah right. One more shockwave and I was finished. Strategic retreat into the woods was out. The creatures out there would tear me to shreds if I didn't have a shield around the area, and I didn't have enough mana left to create one. What to do. Oh well. When in doubt, call for backup.
Focusing my mind (and nearly getting hit by another shockwave in the process), I sent out a quick message to whomever in my clan was listening to that mental frequency. The basic gist of the message was simple. "The manure pile has hit the windmill. Send help. Near Gdangus. Over."
Unfortunately, while I was sending the message, the Troll was not napping. Seeing that its shockwaves were not totally effective, it decided to do things the old fashioned way. In other words, it clenched its massive paws into fists, grunted, and proceeded to give me the beating of my life.
As my bones began to crack and my organs started turning to jelly, I dimly heard a short incantation. A very large explosion followed that incantation, immediately followed by something soft and wet hitting me in the face. After waiting a few moments, and realizing that no more hits would be coming, I opened my eyes. I stared at the carnage surrounding me. The Troll that was attacking me was lying dead near the edge of the road. And hanging on the trees. And congealing in the ditch nearby. You get the idea. Also, I was covered from head to toe in Troll viscera. Apparently Trolls didn't smell any better on the inside than on the outside.
Wincing at the horrific stench, I turned to look for my mysterious benefactor. Scanning the road, I finally found him standing over Rastid's body. He was a rather imposing sight. Dressed from head to toe in the blue armor of a Dragon Highlord, with two Mystical Talismans of Medievia hanging from his neck, he radiated an aura of power. That aura practically screamed "Hero".
I forced myself to relax. "Hello, Abarix." The Hero named Abarix smiled slightly. "Troll trouble, Erik?"
I nodded. "Thanks for bailing me out like that."
Abarix shrugged. "Glad to help a fellow clan member. Rastid got his sorry butt killed again, didn't he."
I smiled ruefully. "Yes. Mind helping out...?"
He nodded. "No problem." Reaching into a small hole in space that he was holding, he drew out a pulsing red stone. Holding it over Rastid's corpse, he whispered a long incantation, far longer than any that I had heard earlier. The stone began to glow with a brilliant white light. Suddenly, the world went white, and I heard a rushing noise in my head. When the light cleared, the scene was as it was when Abarix started his incantation, with one major difference. Rastid was breathing again.
Abarix waved his hand over the body and whispered a few more words. Light flashed again, and all of Rastid's wounds were healed. Sketching a bow, he spoke a final phrase, and vanished into thin air. I sighed, and walked towards my wagon.
"Come on, Rastid. Time to finish things up."
TRANS-CONTINENTAL HIGHWAY, BOUNDARY OF TRELLOR CITY ASTEROID STORM
We stood upon the road to Trellor, at the edge of the storm. Ahead of us, Trellor burned. Hundreds of flaming streaks flew across the sky to culminate in explosions within Trellor and its surroundings. A single impact from an asteroid would kill us. It did not matter what size the rock was. At the rate the stones were flying, no amount of magic or armor would protect us if one hit. Steeling ourselves, we started to run as fast as we could. Stones were falling all around us, the fields blackened with soot from the impacts. What couldn't burn was smashed by the constant impacts. Ahead of us, the Trellor trading post stood miraculously intact. Just because magic couldn't protect against direct impact, didn't mean that protection was impossible. Powerful spells bound into the stone of the trading post twisted and warped probability so that no asteroid hit the post.
We accelerated. Nearly there...flaming death falling all around us...faster...there. We were in the dubious safety of the trading post. Calling the terrified attendant from under the stone arch where he was hiding from the storm, we nearly flung goods from our covered wagon at him. Quickly taking the venom, he opened up the strongbox of the trading post and as quickly as he could, counted out six million coins, in one-million-coin bars. Grabbing the reins of the wagons, he then led them to the protective enclosure where the trading vehicles were kept. We quickly ran to the Trellor Portal, nearly diving into the mist. Once in the astral plane, we relaxed. We were safe. And we were rich.
I liked the sound of that word.
THE LAIR OF THE MASTER THIEF, CLIFF OF DAHNAKRISS
Vonliege walked quietly into the shadowed room, holding a small wooden box. Nearing a high-backed chair near the fireplace, he stopped and went to one knee, bowing. "Why do you come here, my pupil?" a voice spoke quietly, but still with a hint of power.
"A gift, master." Opening the box, Vonliege presented its contents to the man who trained him, as well as countless generations of thieves. The box contained a small dagger with a shimmering green blade. "A dagger of venom."
The old thief in the chair smiled. "So that is why you had so much venom shipped to your base, my pupil. I thank you for this gift."
Vonliege blinked in surprise. "You knew it was I who had the venom shipped to Trellor?"
"Of course. The Duke of Trellor is a spineless old fool. He has neither the need nor the courage to buy so much venom."
Vonliege smiled. "Old? One might make the same accusation about you, Master Dahnakriss."
The ancient thief laughed, a surprisingly youthful sound. "Old? Yes. Spineless? Hardly! Still, it is a princely gift, and for that I thank you, my pupil."
Vonliege stood and grinned. "A gift from one prince of thieves to another?"
The ancient thief mirrored the grin. "Indeed!"
Their laughter echoed long into the night.