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Genevieve - by Rhynok

Elamaeus was close to fifty, with an older mans broad chest that came more from good food than exercise. His jet black hair, with a touch of frost at the sideburns, framed a darkly tanned face, with a broad forehead and a square jaw. His ice-blue eyes stood out vividly and seemed to stare relentlessly into your soul, seeing your innermost secrets, passions, and desires.

Maybe that is what made him such a successful businessman. He knew what everyone wanted, and was able to offer it to them and a semi-reasonable price. After all, he was in business to make money.

Elamaeus' breeches were of midnight silk, shirt blazing white, and a billowing cloak of the richest blue, trimmed in silver. He wore a simple gold ring on his left hand, and a silver ring set with a large diamond on the pinky finger of his right hand. His soft, leather boots were of hand-tooled dragon leather. He wasn't a very tall man, but he strode across the continent of Medievia as if he owned it. And, honestly speaking, he did own quite a bit of it. Elamaeus' Emporiums were scattered from one end of the known world to the other. He owned fleets of ships to carry his goods to and from all the islands to the mainland, and only the strongest serpents dared to attack his ships.

The crabs and the Khrait, however, were another matter, one which he was learning to deal with. Perhaps that was the reason his forehead was creased in thought this morning.

A woman caught his attention as he entered the City of Medievia. Pale blond hair framed a heart-shaped face, with wide brown eyes staring out staring out at the world around her. There was wonder, mixed with terror, in those eyes.

Elamaeus walked up to her and her eyes jerked away from the world around her. Her dress was a plain, single piece of cotton, with no decorations or frills. Very simple to make. He recognized it as the sort of thing poor farmers made by hand. She trembled slightly, as a horse does when its ready to enter the race. Or when it's scared of getting hit again.

"You look ... lost," he said disarmingly. "Can I help you?"

Her head began twisting side to side, her curls brushing her shoulders. She reached up with a brown, calloused hand, and brushed the hair out of her face, hooking it back behind her ears. When she looked up at him, he realized his original estimation of her age was wrong by at least a decade, and this irked him. He was usually better at guessing persons age than that. She was very young, 15 or 16, barely old enough to be called a woman at all, and certainly not old enough to be wandering the streets of Medievia alone.

"What's wrong? Do you need help finding your way home?" Her reluctance to speak to a complete stranger was obvious. "Let me introduce myself. I am Elamaeus." She obviously didn't recognize his name, and this also annoyed him.

"I'm ... um ... I'm Genevieve" she stuttered.

"Well, Geni, oh, do you mind if I call you Geni?" Unlike most people, he actually paused and waited for an answer before continuing. At her nod, he continued his statement. "I consider it my duty, and my privilege, to assist you in your moment of distress." He bowed extravagantly before her.

"Come, lets wander around together. Perhaps you will see something you recognize. Then we can find your home. Here we have the Sunrise Gates. To our left, we have the clerics quarter, and to our other side is the warriors quarter."

As they moved westward from the Sunrise Gate, he showed her other sites of interest. There were multiple shops, some grand, some humble, some tacky, some were nothing more than holes-in-wall, but offered some of the rarest items, he opined. They stopped in the Main Courtyard and drank from the fountain together. He sighed contentedly, and tilted his head back.

"I don't know how they did it, but it always fascinates me."

"What?" she asked.

"I said, I don't know how they did got it up there, but its always fascinated me."

"What fascinates you?"

Elamaeus stopped looking at Castle Medievia floating above them, and looked at Geni. "The castle. The one floating above our heads," he answered, with some confusion.

Genevieve looked up into the sky, and visibly shrank in upon herself. She looked around, and was just about to bolt for safety, when Elamaeus grabbed her wrist.

"Who are you?" He was beginning to wonder if she was some sort of spy, sent by his enemies. But, no, he quickly reasoned. She was much too young to be a trained spy, or an assassin, either. Maybe she was a decoy, and others were planning a raid on his warehouses as he sat entertained by this pretty face.

"Have you ever been up there?" she whispered, distracting him from his paranoia.

"What?" and when her question was repeated, he answered, "`Who, me? No," he said, with a deprecating wave of his hand. She was either very naÔve, or very good. "I don't get into politics much. I'm a merchant. Perhaps you've heard of me?" He could tell by looking at her face that she greatly doubted it. He had already told her his name, but maybe she was just being too coy, pretending to be too ignorant.

"I don't think so," she said. "This is my first time to Medievia."

"Elamaeus's Emporiums?" he ventured, and saw her mouth drop open. She blanched, and then blushed in quick order. She jumped up from the edge of the marble fountain where they'd been sitting together and made a hasty curtsey before him. Okay, he decided, its really hard to control the rising and falling of the blood in your face like that. He had been to quite a few plays, and even the best actors could not blush the way she did on cue.

His laughter echoed across the courtyard, and several heads turned to look his way. A captain of the guard came their direction. His wore a heavy breastplate, shining brightly. It was fastened on over a royal blue shirt. His hands were covered with supple, leather gloves of a fine-grained leather. His boots were sturdy, but scuffed and worn. Still, he obviously took time every morning to brush and shine them. A slender sword hung at his hip, and a heavy dirk was slipped into his wide belt.

He touched his helmet in a gesture of respect. "Evening El. Is all well with you this morning?"

"Yes. All is well, Timothy. Genevieve's family just moved to Med, and I was showing her around. Later on, I'll see if we can find out where she lives, and I'll escort her home. She just realized who I was, though, and that seems to have put her off."

Timothy's smile spread across his lips, but it didn't touch his sad eyes. He turned to her. "You have nothing to fear. Medievia is the safest city there is, and Elamaeus is one of our leading citizens. If you need anything, just ask him, and he can get it for you After all, that's his company motto." With that, Timothy laughed wryly and turned his head away. He saw someone slinking up from the harbor, and thieves often came that way. He made a quick bow to them, and left to find out what this disreputable looking person was doing in his fair city.

Elamaeus raised his eyebrows, stood, and extended his hand Geni's direction. "Come on, there's more to see." He turned and headed south towards the harbor. "I'm getting hungry. How about you?" He glanced her direction, and continued talking. "There's a wonderful little pub down here. Its not the cleanest place in Med, but it has the freshest fish. Tuna, calamari, fresh oysters."

"Fish, for breakfast?" she asked. In response, he turned and looked at her.

"Oh yes. Its delicious. I like ham and fried potatoes, lots of butter and fresh jam on hot bread. But it sits heavy on the stomach and can slow a person down. I want to show you as much as possible this morning, and we need to keep moving." He was grinning like a little boy with a pocketful of frogs.

They continued south till they reached the docks, and he pointed out several ships. The largest and grandest, he pointed out, belonged to the clantowns. They were the protectors of the seas. "I, however, am just a merchant," he laughed. "I have quite a few ships, but I send them out in flotilla's to protect each other. Most clans send out one ship at a time, maybe two, and quite often war upon each other. It's a shame, and a waste of resources. Oh look, here we are." Elamaus guided Geni to a very small table sitting outside on the boardwalk. "Just a minute and I'll be back." He turned and walked into what looked more like a house than a restaurant.

When he came back, Geni said, "I thought you said we were going to a pub?"

"Ah, well." Elamaeus looked abashed. "I'm sorry about that. You didn't look comfortable with the idea of a pub, so I brought you here. It belongs to a sea-widow. Her husband was lost out on the oceans somewhere, and she had nothing left. Her home came up for public auction for tax delinquencies, and I bought it. When I came to inform her that I now owned it, she burst into tears. I stopped her from heading out the door that very minute, told her she had the requisite 30 days before eviction. She was so relieved that she made me supper.

"It was the best meal I had eaten in several years. We fell to talking and made a deal. She now lives here, and cooks out of her home, and pays me a little rent. Its like a very small, very exclusive, restaurant. There are a few people who know about it, and word gets around. She does all right for herself."

A young woman came out shortly, with a delicious smelling fish stew, as well as a platter of fruit, and some fresh bread. She was in her late twenties, maybe as old as thirty. As they took their first bites, darkness fell around them. Geni looked up and saw a ferocious storm hammering the city defenses. Such storms are frequent, but Elamaeus pointed out the strong magic wards protecting the city. It has withstood rain, lightning, hurricanes, tornados, and even fire storms. "These storms remind me of home" he said wistfully.

"Home? Don't you live here?" asked Geni around a mouthful of bread and fish.

"Well, I have a house here, but I grew up in Trellor, far to the northeast. The country up there is far from civilized, and storms ravage the area constantly. Inches of rain turn the land to mud, and feet of snow every winter close most roads around us. So, even though storms may lash at Med's shield, I find I still miss feeling the rain on my face, the tug of the wind on my clothes, and the electrical charge in the air that accompanies a good thunder storm."

They chatted for a little while longer, as he watched her eat. He thought to himself that no city girl-turned-assassin eats like that. City girls worried more about their figures and their looks and the next ball at So-and-so's mansion and the boys who would be there. Boys? Ha, they were more interested in the single young men. She, however, at like the girls he grew up with. Working girls. Farm girls. She wasn't a threat. Just a lost girl in the big city.

When she finished eating, he took the dishes back into the house. He was a few minutes longer than she expected, and Geni started to get nervous. The sailors and dockworkers were starting to stare at her, with sly little smiles. Elamaeus walked out at this moment, and saw them gathering their courage. He also saw her sitting their terrified, but not knowing what to do. The guards didn't come to the docks very often. Most ship captains and harbormasters had their own brand of justice to control situations like this, and it was usually much sterner than even Timothy would dole out.

Elemaeus stood behind her chair, and crossed his arms. One by one his glowering face stared them down. They were looking for a little fun, not a challenge. Geni saw them glancing behind her, and turned to see what was going on. She jumped when she saw someone standing so close to her, but grabbed his hand when she saw it was El.

The group was starting to murmur amongst themselves. They outnumbered him by 7 to 1, and even the oldest one there reckoned he was half El's age. They had finally decided they weren't going to take that kind of look from anyone as old as him.

El gently removed his hand from Geni's grasp, and moved out to meet them. A truncheon, a few knives, and a pair of bale hooks appeared in their hands. He pushed his cloak back over his shoulders. From where Geni was sitting, she couldn't see if he pulled a dagger or not. Come to think of it, she didn't remember him carrying any kind of weapon at all.

At that moment, the door opened behind her, and the sea widow came out. "Jonith, put that away right now. Right now, I said, or I'll scream bloody murder, and I'll have every ship's master out here in a minute, and then see if you can get a job when they see who you're threatening. Master El could buy up every ship in this here harbor, and they know it. Now get out of here. The rest of you, get going, too. I'm in no mood for your antics today." They scattered at her words, like dead leaves before a winter storm.

El turned and gave her a big smile. He moved up to the widow and embraced her, giving her a peck on the cheek. "Thanks, but I could've handled them."

"Pshaw" she said. "You're getting old and they knew it. They only wanted to rough you up, though, and I don't ...."

El silenced her with another quick peck, but on the lips this time. "Hush now. No telling all my secrets." They laughed together, and he turned to Geni. Taking her by the hand he pulled her to her feet. "Are you okay, Geni? They didn't do anything, or say anything, before I came back out?" He looked relieved when her blond curls shook back in forth, rather than up and down. "Good. I would have been very derelict in my duties to you if you'd come to harm. How would I explain that to your family. 'I was carrying dishes when ...'" He looked a little confused as to how to continue this thought. "Nevermind. I want to show you my headquarters," he continued in a attempt to change the subject.

Elamaeus led her along South Street, into the Thieves Quarter. They entered a narrow alley, and approached the back door of a large warehouse. Despite the fact that is was late morning, it was dark where they stood. He was just reaching into his pocket when a dark figure snuck up behind him.

A long slender blade suddenly rested on his cheek, pushing its tip into his lower eye-lid. A strong arm wrapped around his neck, and a sibilant voice hissed into his ear. "Give us what we want, and we won't hurt you, or your doxie. Slowly now, we don't want no surprises here. Things could get ...messy" he said, as he applied a little more pressure to Elamaeus' eye. A bead of blood formed on his eyelid.

Elamaeus swiveled his eyes over and saw Geni, a young man had his arms wrapped tightly around her waist, with a grimy hand covering her mouth so she couldn't scream. Her eyes were wide in terror, her body frozen in place, unable to move. She didn't seem to be having a very good day.

Elamaeus reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of solid gold coins, and let them fall through his fingers onto the ground. He felt the thief's attention change direction, and waited for his chance. The knife was quickly withdrawn, and he was slammed into the wall. Before he could recover, his was punched in the kidneys, and when he fell to his knees, his attacker kicked him in the ribs.

Even though he was curled up into a fetal ball on the ground, he managed to grab an ankle, but just for a moment. It was ripped out of his hands, and he was viciously kicked in the face. He felt his nose crunch, and blood filled his mouth.

Unexpectedly, the thief began to cough. It was a deep, wet cough that sounded like his lungs were tearing.

"Lehri, what's wrong? Pull yourself together man. Grab the gold and lets go" the other thief panted out. He was scared, obviously new to this line of work. He hadn't let go of Geni, though, and that concerned Elamaeus.

He had "Plagued" Lehri, who would be out of commission for a while Elamaeus began to pull himself to his feet slowly, leaning against the wall. Lehri continued coughing, and it got worse. His face started to turn blue, blood spraying with each cough. He turned and staggered away, hoping to find a cleric, one who will turn a blind eye on his trade, and heal him anyway.

The second thief turned to Elamaeus and screamed at him, "What did you do to him, you hell-spawn. You kill't him, and all we wanted was some money. You did'n have to kill 'im over it. You's got plenty already."

Elamaeus responded by balling up his hand and pointing it at Geni's captor. Arcs of lightning flared from his clenched fist, hitting him in the face a dozen times. There was the sound of sizzling, like raw meat dropped into a hot skillet. He let go of Geni, and ran down the alley screaming.

Elamaeus gathered up his gold, and stuffed it back into his pockets. Then he gathered Genevieve into his arms and held her while she shook. After a minute, he disentangled himself from her and told her they'd better be going.

"I wanted to show you one of my warehouses, the one I use as my base of operations. I'm so sorry, I thought we'd be safe, here, in broad daylight. I should just take you home instead."

At those words, she shook her head. "I just arrived in Medievia today. I left my family and came here to earn some money, so I could send it to them, so they could pay their taxes, and keep the farm, and..." she started to cry again.

Elamaeus looked bewildered at these words. Finally, he said, "Come on, let's go. It's dangerous enough standing here, and I don't want those two to find some friends and come back for us. I may not be able to handle very many, no matter how unskilled. And if they know who I am, they're bound to bring some " He led her quickly to the fountain in the center of the quarter, and entered the portal there, muttering under his breath, instantly transporting them to the mages quarter. He headed east on Enterprise Avenue until they were alone.

"Okay, we should be safe enough here. Now, tell me more about why you're here. I thought you'd gotten separated from your parents, or were shopping alone and were to meet them later."

Geni had calmed down enough to talk sensibly now. "My family has a small farm, 'in the shadow of Mt. Vryce,' as my daddy says. It hasn't been doing so good lately, and I could hear them arguing about money a lot." She went on about the little things she did around the house, but with three other siblings, money was getting really scarce. "So, I came here to do what I can, and send them the money they need. And, now, they won't have to feed and clothe me anymore, so that's a little they can save," she tried to finish brightly, but the tear stains on her face ruined the effect.

Elamaeus shook his head sadly. She obviously hadn't considered what she had contributed already. Now they would have to take time to prepare their own meals, clean, and hire someone to watch the rest of the children. Out of pity, Elamaeus didn't mention any of this to her.

"You mentioned a job in one of your warehouses. I don't know what I can do, but I'll do anything for you. If you'll help them."

"What gave you the idea that you could make it on your own in Med?"

Something in his words picked her pride, and she answered boldly. "I've heard stories about you, about how you ran away from home when you were sixteen, too. You joined a caravan, and when bandits attacked, you were the only one to lead your wagon out of the woods and to safety. That's how you got your start." So saying, she crossed her arms and glared at him, daring him to prove her wrong.

He sighed and turned away. "Okay, let's keep walking. Its getting hot, and I want to find a shady place to sit down and rest." They wandered east a little more, and then south through the Main Courtyard, under the shadow of the floating castle. Nestled between the courtyard and the harbor was a quiet little park. They walked in and sat down. A few children were in the park, too. They were playing tag and chasing butterflies. And Elamaeus began his story.

"I was born and raised in Trellor. My father was a tradesman there. I had learned a lot about woodcraft and carpentry from him by the time I was six or seven. But it didn't interest me.

"I wanted to be a guard. I saw them strutting around in their fine armor, looking proud and strong. They were defenders of the common people, helpers of the poor." His eyes began to glow in the re-telling of his youth.

"I spent every free minute I had at the drilling grounds, watching them." Elamaeus started pulling up tufts of grass, and tossing them at the children. "They would march. They would stand in lines, shining in the sunlight. Swords flashing, spears raised high, flung against targets painted to resemble our enemies. It was all a little boy could dream of becoming.

"I made my own little sword and shield from scraps my father let me scrounge up. I remember racing down to the parade grounds. I hid behind the hedges and went through the motions I had been watching for months.

"One of the guards found me there. His name was Trayloc, and he scared me to death that first day. He grabbed my ear, stood me up, and marched me home. I have never been so humiliated in my life, and I've only been more scared once. He kept going on about snakes in the bushes, and how I could've been bit and died right there and how everyone would've been real sad but I would have still been real dead." Elamaeus stopped for a moment and shuddered. "I still hate snakes. All reptiles, really But it started with snakes."

He looked around at the bushes and shrubs, at the lengthening shadows and stood up quickly. They had walked longer than he expected. And telling his life story wasn't exactly how he had planned to spend the rest of his day. "Let's go eat a late lunch. The guard usually increases right at dusk. If we time it right, we can make it to the warehouse when they're about. You can spend the night there, and I'll figure out what to do with you tomorrow," he said brightly.

She shivered a bit as the sun dipped below the skyline west of them, and he put his arm around her. They walked out of the park, turned north, and headed back to the main square. He turned right, and began looking for a delightful little shop he knew.

"Why does the guard increase? Especially in a place like that? I don't think you could pay me enough to go in there alone after dark," Geni stated vehemently.

"Oh, its not so bad. Timothy watches out for me. He had a daughter that disappeared about ten years ago in that area. They never found her body." He paused for a moment, then continued on. "He took it really hard. That's when we first met.

"He needed a lot of money right then. His wife's health greatly deteriorated after the disappearance. I think she just gave up on life, and wanted to die, but didn't have the courage to commit suicide. Then, when she got bad enough, Timothy didn't want to euthanise her. Despite all that the doctors could do, and all the money I paid them, she faded away.

Geni gasped. "Suicide? You ... what ... is suicide ... okay here?" She stumbled over her question, as if she had never considered it before.

"Um, well. Suicide. That's a tricky subject. The priests all frown upon it, except for a few belonging to the darker cults. They don't publicly espouse such views, but it isn't unknown for them to assist people in their endeavors."

"What? You mean, priests help people commit suicide? That is evil! Priests are supposed to help people, not kill them. These cults need to be hunted down and ..."

"I tend to agree," Elamaeus interrupted gently. "But, its hard knowing who believes what, and how each worships, when we keep our religious practices hidden from public view. For instance, euthanasia is strictly against the oaths a cleric takes to heal people, but ..."

Here it was Geni's turn to interrupt. "What's 'youth-in-age'?"

"Oh well, that's another real hard topic to tackle. Especially with someone so young. When a person is really sick, and has no hope of recovery, sometimes the people around them ... well ... they assist them to ..." He glanced at her, and Geni wasn't catching the drift of what he was trying so hard not to say. "Nevermind. If you don't know, I don't want to tell you."

The blood suddenly drained from her face as she understood what he meant. She opened her mouth to object, but he hurried on with his story.

"In order to repay the doctors and the hedge witches, Timothy was working extra little odd jobs. I was trying to hire extra guards for my warehouse from the mercenaries, but no one would do it. Not at night, at least. He did it, though. In gratitude, I pulled a few strings, and got him a promotion. He, in turn, makes sure the guard is increased at sundown, when my employees start going home. It makes them feel safe enough to work a little later than normal.

"So, you see, we should be safe enough," he said with a laugh.

"Finish your story, please," she asked like a little girl. Geni was getting tired from all the walking, and was leaning into him like a daughter would her father. He led her inside a shop, from which a delicious aroma emanated. As they sat down, he nodded at the owner. A thin, gray man with a long face, he entered the kitchen and began giving orders to the cook.

"Okay, where was I? The hedges and the snakes. That's right. Trayloc marched me back to my father. They had a serious talk about it, which turned into a decent friendship. Trayloc had seen me lurking about, and had taken a liking to me. He agreed to watch out for me. But, he wanted to come pick me up, take to the training grounds, have me in plain view the whole time, and march me back home.

"My father agreed. To this day, I'm not sure why. Maybe Trayloc got a good deal on a table or something. Whatever happened, those were some of the happiest times of my life. I'd help out around the shop, getting all my chores done so that when Trayloc came, I was ready for him. Looking back, I was probably like a mascot for the men. "The Littlest Guard"", the would call me.

"But, eventually, I grew up. Father decided it was time I moved on in the world, and tried to improve my lot in life. I had only two skills, carpenter and guard. Not much to start on. What he decided on was this: I would hire on as a caravan guard, travel to Sceptrum Isachi, buy some rare woods, and travel back home with another caravan. If that didn't work, maybe I could find a job there as an apprentice.

"There were severe storms at that time of year, so the caravan headed south, around the Ar'raeydu Desert. There were a dozen more towns along the way, and we headed close enough to Mt Vryce that a group of pilgrims joined us. We went through New Ashton and the city of Dray'Mar, then Arcadia. We swung west then, so we passed north of the Outlaw Legion clantown. The very name filled me with righteous anger. I felt as if I were an actual guardian of peace and justice, instead of a mere caravan guard. I wanted to swoop down and smite them." Elamaeus laughed out loud at the memory of his impetuous youthfulness. "They aren't quite what I thought they were back then.

"But it was in forest north of their clantown that we ran into trouble. Our caravan was attacked by bandits and driven northward. We weren't harassed and picked off by archers one at a time, like most bandit lords do now. This was an all out frontal assault on an unprepared group of amateurs. We were routed and fled.

Their food arrived. It was a nice bowl of soup, with a gentle, soothing flavor. There was some sliced bread with it, and a bit of butter.

"I ended up on the edge of the desert, with no idea of where anybody else was. I was really alone for the first time in my life. As my eyes scanned the horizon, I saw a square structure out there. I didn't know it then, but it was the Ulhazzen Prison. Voices behind me sent me flying, heedless of the heat and the sun and sand, and the fact that I had no food or water with me. All I knew was that there was a form of civilization in front of me, and certain death behind me.

"I arrived at a bad time, though. The first guard I met told that it was a bad time for a tour. I didn't want a tour, I wanted a glass of water. I stumbled on inside and was immediately set upon by rioting prisoners. Looking back, I think they mistook me for a guard because of my armor. Trayloc had given me some of his old armor from his younger days. He showed me how to care for it, and I had faithfully examined it every night before bed, and every morning before putting it back on. Despite the running battle I had come from, it still looked good. And it served me well.

"Although I was exhausted, I quickly dispatched those first two easily. They weren't very good. They had throwing knives and axes, but once you throw them away, you're unarmed. Trayloc taught me to never throw my last weapon."

I turned left and headed toward the southeastern tower. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of some survivors of our caravan. I was set upon repeatedly. By the time I reached the base of the tower, I was afraid the guards would attack me, because of my blood-spattered appearance.

A waitress came and took their empty bowls. The owner came up and quickly filled the table with platters of hot meats. Fowl, beef, boar, and something Geni thought might be goat. Elamaeus loaded her plate with tidbits from everything, and told her to eat it all. He took a whole fowl, and put it on his plate. He pulled something from his belt, chanted a few words, and a slim knife appeared in his hands.

He caught her incredulous look. "Oh, this, it's a simple invisibility spell. I keep it invisible, so most people think I'm unarmed. Its best to keep a few secrets to oneself." He began carving up his bird, and popping the pieces into his mouth.

After he finished his first bite, he continued his story. "The way south was a dead end, and I ended up turning north anyways. I skirted the edge of the prison wall, getting attacked by rioters and half-crazed dogs. I got to the northern edge and found a withered garden there. I turned west and found the doctor. Poor man had been working himself ragged, trying to keep up with everything. It was a doomed effort from the beginning, but he couldn't see it. He attacked me with his scalpel, and as I back-pedaled, I swung my arm and disemb.... Um .... Hurt him. I didn't mean to do it, and I've always wondered if he lived. I found a corner and fled south. These were the offices, and I chanced upon the warden. He was hunkered down behind his desk, gibbering and raving. I didn't know what to think.

"I saw a letter on his desk, and picked it up. I don't remember most of the letter, but I still remember the poem that was in it." Elamaeus began a sing-song chant,

"the Drallan
mighty warriors"the Drallan
stealthy bandits
attack all fools that enter the sand
none may pass

cower in fear
run in terror
give up their goods to the desert tribe
trade dries up

the Drallan
without targets
lacking water
pray to their dark goddess of terror
for relief

the goddess
has no pity
hears not their cries
demands more sacrifices from the tribe
blood, pain, fear<

at long last
the tribe dying
starving, thirsting
the goddess listens to her priests' pleas
grants respite

inside caves
the warriors sleep
dead to the world
waiting for trade to resume again
when they will wake

until then
fearful future
the world is safe
but the evil goddess is patient
in all her schemes

"It didn't make any sense to me, but I didn't have an extensive classical education. Woodcraft and sword craft were all I knew at the time.

They had finished eating their main course, and the owner brought out some chilled fruit for desert. Raspberries and cream, with a nice cup of coffee. "I found the kitchen, and got a little food and water to sustain myself. While there, I was attacked nearly a dozen times. I heard the cook screaming apologies down a hallway, but he was gone by the time I got there. It seemed he had given them all food poisoning, and that's what started the riots.

"I decided I needed to get out of there as fast as I could. I headed for the western gate, and was attacked just as I got there. I tumbled down the steps, and knocked over two more men. At first I mistook them for guards because they wore armor. But they weren't guards at all. At least, not prison guards.

"I recognized their armor as that of the bandits that attacked us. Their fresh wounds bore testament to this fact also. I stood up and drove my sword under the breastplate of the closest one, but the other dodged into a cave in the prisons foundation. It appeared that the prison was built on top of a complex of caves.

"I found him as he started down a ladder, and brought my sword down on top of his helmet. Unfortunately, I hadn't thought it through, and he clattered all the way down, alerting everyone that I was there. I clambered down and decided to take the battle to them instead of waiting for it to find me.

"Somehow, I surprised the first guard, but turned a corner and found three more people waiting for me. A guard, a mage, and a priestess. I had never been in a battle like that before and barely survived. But I found that some of their equipment was better than my own. I cleaned my sword, sheathed it, and picked up a whip. I nearly dropped it too. It was made of living snakes, and had four heads on it. They twisted and writhed, but didn't attack me once I held it.

"I moved on, and struck in stealth, but nearly died again. I had heard them screaming about protecting the 'worm eaten'. Worm eaten what, I had no idea. I had heard wrong. It was a War Maiden, a beautiful woman with the strength of a warrior and the spells of a mage. She was a beautiful and terrible site to behold, and I was again exhausted when she was dead.

"I retraced my steps, and found a room of sleeping men. I looked at them and saw they wore rags and manacles, and had signs of recent abuse. Slaves, I hunkered down against the wall with them and rested for a while.

"I knew I didn't dare fall asleep, so I stood and kept going. There were three more sets of War Maidens and their entourages. To this day, I don't know how I survived. Well, yes I do. But I'll get to that later.

Elamaeus got up, nodded at the silent owner, and extended his hand to Geni. As they walked outside, he said "I eventually found a path that went up and down, and twisted around about. These hallways were lined with expensive wooden paneling. It was exquisite a thousand years ago, when it was first installed. Now it was rotted away, but I could still see the glory it must have been at one time. There were also painting on the walls. Gruesome, fearsome things. Blood-drenched scenes of war. Even worse were the family scenes." Here he paused and shuddered. "Never mind. I won't say anymore about those things I saw."

The lamplighters were out in full force, and torches cast pools of light here and there. They also created deeper pools of inky blackness. They headed deeper into the Quarter, and Geni shivered. His words were conjuring monsters out of the shadows.

"Don't worry. We'll make it to the warehouse safely." Elamaeus smiled down at her.

They had finally reached his warehouse, unmolested this time, and he let them in the same door he had tried earlier. It was silent, so everyone must have already gone home. He locked the door securely behind them, took her by the arm, and led her past bales of cotton and silk. Mounds of ivory, and stacks of iron.

"This is just the bulk materials I sell. There are offices out front where we do business, and a large suite upstairs, for those evenings when I work late. I thought about having you sleep there, but it would look very inappropriate for you to be there in the morning. I have a private room below, where I keep my valuable items. Private viewing only, to a few select customers. Come on, that's where I thought I'd leave you for the night." He led her down some steps hidden behind some stacked crates, unlocked another door. It was pitch black, but he chanted a few words in an unknown tongue, and a small ball of blue light appeared.

"Eventually I found her," he said as he led her down the hallway. "The Avatar of the Dark Goddess. I didn't realize it then, but these were the Drallan bandit warriors of the poem I had read in the warden's office. She was a hideous old crone standing over a blood stained altar. No, I take that back. She wasn't old. Just hideous. Her visage reflected all the evil of her goddess, her body twisted by the black magic's she practiced." He led her

"Whip in one hand, I dropped my shield, drew my sword and charged her. We fought for what seemed like an eternity," he whispered. "I had no idea what had gotten myself into. I was about sixteen, but, I was so sheltered in Trellor, from the evils of the world." Here, Elamaeus stopped and lowered his head. He was silent for such a long time, that Geni had to prompt him to start talking again.

"Well, what happened," she asked.

"I'm here, aren't I?" he answered impudently, and grinned at her. Her grin turned to revulsion as he opened the door to the room. A foul stench rushed out at them. She gagged at the odor, and threw up all over the floor.

Elamaeus put his arm around her again, led her inside, and sat her down. He closed the door, dismissed his light, and lit a small lantern. It shed just enough light to emphasize the darkness of the room.

"She beat me. No, it was more than that. It was utter defeat in every way you can imagine," he said, turning back to her. "She grabbed me by the neck and dragged me over to a pit in the ground. She cast a light into it and illuminated eight or nine lizards. Bit ones, bigger than a grown man. Eight or nine feet long. Teeth like a shark. Tongues sampling the air. They snarled and snapped and leapt at the edge of the pit. The avatar hauled me to my feet and propelled me towards the altar, and forced me to my knees. I began thanking all the gods that she hadn't thrown me into the pit.

"Then she gave me a choice. Worship her goddess, or die. In the pit. With the lizards tearing and rending my living flesh." He stopped and shuddered again, dragging in a deep breath.

Elamaeus turned and looked at Genevieve's perfect face. She was lovely. "You have that choice now. I don't have the lizards, but my warehouse opens onto the sewers, and that rats are quite big now." He bent over and pulled open a trapdoor that stood between them. "Or, you can kneel, and pledge your service to the dark goddess."

"But, all those people you've helped. Timothy, and ... and that widow. The Sea-Widow with the restaurant. And..." but she stopped speaking as he began laughing, a deep uproarious laugh. She began to laugh a little too.

"Where do you think Timothy's daughter disappeared to, and how do you think I know the widow's husband is really dead.?" When he stopped, she could hear the squeaking of the rats gathering in the sewers below her feet. Large red eyes peered up at her, teeth glinting yellow in the light. Those eyes belonged something the size of a hound, not a rat. Her mouth began to quiver, and tears rolled down her cheeks.

"Are you going to kill me?" she whispered.

"Have you made your choice?" he asked in return.

He turned and opened the door to leave, and bowed to the old crone as she entered.

"Wait, where are you going," she cried.

"There's a lonely widow mourning her husband tonight. I thought I'd go comfort her tonight."

"So, everything you said has been a lie."

Elamaeus's eyes flashed hotly. "I haven't lied once to you" he declared as he turned to face her.

"What about sending my parents money?"

"I'll pay top dollar for their farm when it goes under. Then they can move here and work for me." As she opened her mouth to go on, he said, "I did pay for all of Timothy's bills, and I did suggest the widow go into business for herself."

"How did you get out of Ulhazzen?" she asked.

He looked puzzled, but he answered it anyway. "I knelt in worship, and felt power flooding through me. The avatar laid her hands upon my head, and everything became clear to me.

"The warden knew the caves were there, and built the prison on that location in order to use the prisoners as sacrifices to awaken his goddess. The prisoners became suspicious. He ordered the cook to poison them, so her minions could kill them all at once. A massive sacrifice. But they screwed up.

"Her warriors were from the bronze age. They were highly skilled, but their armor and weaponry was so inferior that even the prisoners beat them off. That's why I, an untested boy, could kill them so easily. My used armor was still made from modern technology. Even the best bronze can't stand up to steel weapons.

"I was sent back up, and ordered to kill every prisoner there. As well as the cook and the warden for incompetence. The guards hailed me as a hero, and assisted me in tracking down my lost caravan. As the sole survivor, it all became mine. The guards traveled to Scept with me. They spread the word about how I had single-handedly put down a prison riot.

"And the rest is history" Elamaeus said.

"Was is worth it? Selling your soul for gold?" she spat at him.

"It wasn't the gold, it was my life I bought. The gold is a reward for service. Life is what I get in return for worship. If I stop, well, I can't stop, Not now." Elamaeus bowed his head.

He felt a tender hand creep into his. "Okay, I'll do it."

His head jerked up, with a puzzled look in his eyes. "What?"

"I'll kneel and worship, under one condition." At his look, she went on. "I want to be your heir." She placed her hand on his mouth. "Tell people I'm your young wife, or your illegitimate daughter, niece, or whatever. I want everything you have," and she smiled wickedly up into his eyes.

She stepped away, and her face changed, hardened. "But I don't want it for my life. I'm doing it for my family. I want to send them money. Tomorrow."

Genevieve knelt at the altar for a few moments, her brow creased in concentration. Elamaeus felt mixed emotions as he saw her change. Her face became more beautiful than before, but there was a hardness to it, too. An innocence lost. She stood, and they turned to leave, and she stopped suddenly. "One last thing." She walked over to the crone, and spit in her face. The woman raised her hand to wipe her face, and never saw Genevieve's hands come up. She pushed the old crone into the sewer with the rats.

Genevieve turned her back on the sounds of tearing and shrieking, and walked out, closing the door behind her.

December 29, 2006

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