Medievia Mudslinger

May 6, 2001

A Woman, or A Brother - By Wakethorne

New Ashton is no place for the feeble or the hopeful. The landscape is a slow apocalypse. A volcano leers over the town and belches toxins overhead. Smoke pours up from the lips of the volcano like wispy strands of ancient hair, and the ash falls like dandruff. It covers everything in time. You can see ash when you exhale sometimes - it looks like pipe smoke, and tastes like fuel. That's when you know it's time to leave.

That isn't what brings me there all the time, though. I go there because you always kill the most interesting people. Even the sturdy draugs that guard the streets are interesting. I don't know where they came from, but they seem the best image for the landscape. Part-beast, part-man, these apocalyptic terrors don't rampage. They're the police. They guard the streets instead of tearing them up and dragging the population into the inferno. The town is an institutionalized apocalypse. The end is always near, because of the belching volcano. Order is maintained by demons who keep the place quietly sedimenting, steadily covering everything in ash.

It was in New Ashton, in the bar - I can't remember its name, to me they're just bars - and I met a cleric. When I first saw him, I thought he was a stone monster; he was smothered in ash as if he hadn't bathed in years. When I first saw him, in fact, I didn't know if he was even a living creature. He looked like he had been petrified by some rogue magician, because so much ash smothered his body. Not even his eyes gleamed through until he looked up at me. Not until he moved, did I recognize his human features.

I bought the man a drink. I stole his wallet when he wasn't looking, just to see - I was mostly curious. He didn't seem to have anything worthwhile, and he didn't have much money. He told me he was a cleric, and he used to be a member of a clan. He said, "I'd tell you my name, but I can't remember it right now. Just buy me another drink, and maybe I'll remember."

You can see these same guys in every bar in every village. It's always either a woman, or a brother, that's all it ever is. The only reason I didn't kill him was curiosity. I bought him another drink, and he remembered his name. "I remember now. I'm Lilon. That's my name. I'm Lilon. I'm a man of the Gods, too. Quick, buy me another drink before I forget."

I did. I also took his hand and shook it. "Hello, Lilon, I'm Wakethorne," I replied. He didn't say much to me. He was always on the verge of forgetting. I bought him drinks until he fell asleep, eventually falling over right into his beer. Ash caked deeper into his skin, and some of it drifted out like little clumps of wood pulp into the foam.

The bartender took him out and he threw the poor cleric right onto his belly in the middle of the street. The draugs looked on him with disdain before they eyed me for a moment, and then walked away. I found myself alone. I looked up at the volcano, and realized the time. The purple twilight peeked out from behind the smoke, and a small eye of sunlight winked far off to the east. I looked down at the sack of human flesh on the ground. I could've killed him. I think the town wanted me to kill him, too. The bartender didn't stop me from going out to him. The draugs walked away.

It's always a woman that does this. A woman, or a brother. I only helped him in the beginning because he was a cleric with nothing to do. I figured he'd keep me healed up and blessed for free. All I had to do was bring him drinks. In the beginning, that's what we did.

We made some money, and I was pretty happy with it - I've never been greedy. I cleaned him up a lot. We had some money coming in, from every night I went out. He'd heal me up and we'd take turns in a luxuriant bath with pleasantly attired female attendants. He didn't seem to care much for them, but I enjoyed their company after those long nights. Apparently underneath all that ash was a pretty hefty guy of about twenty-four or twenty-five. He reminded me of the stereotype of clerics. You know those clerics, that drink and eat because they can't do other stuff - except, I was pretty sure he was messed up over a woman, so I suspect there was some other stuff. Not every cleric renounces everything, I guess. We had a good time in New Ashton. I wasn't ready to leave, and I really didn't care if it was eating our lungs up. We had steady money rolling in, and a nice place to sleep at night. I had to throw some bribes around to keep my activities low key, but that didn't bother me much. I still had enough to go around.

Lilon wasn't satisfied, though. He was coughing up smoke and ash like his lungs were vomiting. When I wasn't around, he'd lay in bed and wait for me to come back with hard liquor. He'd cough and cough, and go through three or four handkerchiefs a night. I came back one morning, and he was vomiting blood and ash. I said, "You've been here too long, my friend."

He nodded, and laid back down. He stared up at the gray ceiling of the inn. "I think we should relocate our operation, Wakethorne," he announced.

"Where?"

"Have you ever been to Dray'mar?"

"No."

"You seem like a desert creature to me, Wakethorne. This money you're pulling in at night isn't really that much when you factor in bribes and living expenses."

"No, it isn't really that much. It's enough, though."

"For now. Have you ever tried running some supplies around?"

"What? Leave these nice beds? Leave these nice baths? I don't think so. I never much cared for sleeping on the ground and eating bread and water. You don't have much of a taste for water yourself, Lilon." I handed him the liquor I brought back for him. He stood up and inspected a gash I had on my neck. He muttered some phrases and gestured with his hands before he touched my wound. A warm feeling coursed through my veins and I felt the scab closing up and fading away without even a scar. I love having clerics around. They're cheaper then potions, and they don't leave that bitter flavor on the back of your tongue that lingers for an hour.

He opened his mouth again, but puffs of ash coughed up from his lungs instead of words. I handed him a handkerchief. I almost spoke, but nothing came out and I just watched him wiping the ash from his lips.

He took a deep breath and held it down. He took the bottle of liquor and threw back his head. He drank the entire bottle in one giant gulp. He threw it away, cringing in pain at the burn. He sighed. "The desert calls to me, Wakethorne, and I'm tired of waiting for the apocalypse here. I'm tired. I want to go to Dray'mar again. I haven't seen my Chateau in Mespa in too long."

I nodded. "Right, your chateau. Okay. Dray'mar it is."

That morning I had my last bath for a long time. I don't even know if he had one or not.

The next day, we took our 'earnings' and bought some covered wagons. We filled them with ore until the horses had to strain against the weight to get uphill at all. There weren't any riding horses around, so we started off just walking - it was slow going. We slept on the ground, taking turns with the watch. I always took first watch and Lilon took care of the cart horses. He kept them watered and brushed. I didn't even try to approach the animals.

There was some trouble on the road, and I think it's important to mention it. Some bandits came at us first. We hitched our freight, when I noticed their ambush ahead. Lilon hung back, cast a fireshield, and guarded the wagons. I sneaked around the woods until I got what I thought was most of them, individually. When I came back, there was a pile of bodies at Lilon's feet. I had assumed I'd be doing all the killing, since I'd always done all the killing. He looked at me from over the bodies, and shrugged. "Nice," was all I could think to say. He got at least three more bandits than I did, and I had been killing them alone instead of one giant wave of knives. He got them all in one swoop. He prayed over their bodies and the corpses collapsed into piles and piles of ants. They scattered like liquid, and we didn't talk much after.

"I think that's all of them," he finally declared.

"Yeah, I think so, too," I replied.

We ran into a troll cleric, but it made the mistake of attacking Lilon first. He dropped back behind the carts, while I slunk up behind the smelly idiot. I drove my blade into his back and twisted it violently while Lilon came back with his fireshield, and it was the end of that troll. We walked the whole way facing little more danger then that.

I'd never seen the desert before - it was amazing to me. I'd seen oceans before, and it's the only thing that even compares. When we got to the edge of the desert, the grasses faded out like green deltas in an estuary of churning yellow sands. I had been hearing him talk about it for weeks while we walked. I rubbed my feet in the firelight and listened to him babbling while he tried to sleep. I always stayed up for the first watch, and he'd lay down and rest his head against a rock or a log. He'd say, "The desert is startling the first time you see it. There's nothing like it in the world. It gets in your blood when you see it. The sand is solid ground, but every moment the wind blows it around like smoke. It's incredible to see it. It makes you wonder, deep down, what the world is really like. I mean, so many tiny rocks blowing around in the wind. You've never felt wind until you've felt desert wind. Seamen may tell you otherwise, but the sea spray is kind. Sand is brutal." He'd blabber on like this in some way or another every night until he fell asleep.

When I actually saw the desert, I started saying the same things back at him.

Yeah, I guess we were good friends by now. He showed me the desert, he took care of our horses because he knew how to do that stuff, he kept us healed and refreshed and his prayers defeated most of our roadblocks. I took first watch, because I knew how to do that at least. He took good care of the horses. I sneaked ahead when we got antsy, and he guarded the freight. We met other traders on the road. There weren't very many, and we just eyed each other until one of us passed. We never talked to them.

I saw her first, and tried to just walk past without making eye contact. She was resting and petting her warhorse. She was beautiful - and huge. It isn't easy finding women who are amazonian and lovely. I grabbed my dagger and tried to stay relaxed. Sometimes when you see people, and their arms are thick, and their equipment is unbelievable, you just keep walking and hope they don't decide to squash you. When they move, you jump. The sight of her rippled arms was enough to scare me. She also wore a black leather collar. I didn't investigate the letters spelled out in shimmering tiny diamonds but I just assumed it was ceremonial. She smiled at us, though, and that scared me. She had no business smiling at us. I kept walking, with my head turned enough to see her move.

Lilon didn't keep walking. He stopped, and his jaw dropped. He collapsed to the dusty trail, right across from her. She reached out a hand and grabbed his arm. "Lilon! Lilon, is that really you?" she asked, her voice as beautiful as her face.

He nodded, star-struck.

She jumped up to her feet and embraced him. He was pulled up off the ground by her overwhelming strength. He hugged her delicately despite her bear's embrace. He touched her long, blonde hair, and ran his fingertips down her back. He closed his eyes.

It's always a woman that ruins a guy. A woman, or a brother.

"Where have you been?" She let go and smacked him upside the head. "I haven't heard from you in months!"

"I've been... Well, I spent most of my time in New Ashton," he replied quietly.

"What were you doing there? What could you possibly be doing there?"

"Oh, nothing much. Mostly I got drunk."

She hugged him again, "We hadn't heard form you in so long. We thought the worst. I'm so glad you're still alive!"

"I'm still alive, I guess. How have you been?"

She paused, letting go of him. "I'm wonderful." Then she touched the collar around her throat with the diamond letters. "I'm married." She took her hand and shoved it in his face. Her wedding ring flashed in the harsh desert sun. "He didn't feel like coming with me, this time. Usually we go on trading expeditions together. He didn't feel like it this time - he was helping one of our friends instead."

Lilon looked at the ring, and he couldn't take his eyes off of it. She put her hand down and he still stared at that finger. "I can't believe you're married. I still owe you that fire-diamond, don't I?" His voice was forlorn, perhaps the most despairing I had ever heard it.

She nodded, but then shook her head. "No, I have two or three now, somewhere. I have lots of stuff, though. I don't need you to get it for me anymore."

He smiled, sadly, still staring at that ring. "I can't believe you're married."

"I am. He's wonderful. You cut your hair."

"I did."

"You used to have the longest hair of anyone I knew. Did you keep the braid, or give it to someone?"

"I threw it away."

"Really? That's so sad. You had beautiful hair. You should've given it to someone."

"No, I had no one to give it to. I was in New Ashton, and it just kept getting too dirty and filthy there. I cut it off and threw it away. It's probably underneath a foot of ash and trash by now."

"That's so sad..."

She ran a hand through his hair. We hadn't bathed in weeks, not since we left the city. Our hair was grimy and full of old sweat and desert sand but she didn't seem to notice. She ran a hand through his hair and her sparkling eyes faded into the past, then her hand continued down his back. They embraced again.

She whispered, "I missed you."

I turned my back to them, and got out my flask and took a drink. I gave some to our horses, too. I wasn't part of their world any more.

I think they just stared at each other. The only thing I heard was wind and sand.

Suddenly she said, "Who's your friend."

"Oh, this is Wakethorne. Wakethorne, I'd like you to meet Solaria."

I turned back, and they had drifted apart. She held out her hand, and I took it. I kissed it, and slipped her wedding right off her finger. She didn't notice.

She looked me up and down. "Lovely," she declared. "You're either a gentleman or a scoundrel. Either way, I'm flattered."

I handed her ring back. I smiled at her. She gasped and snatched it from me.

"Scoundrel!" she said, "You are such a scoundrel!" She pushed me, and I fell into the covered wagon to land in a dusty pile of ore. I fell right through the canvas to my surprise. She was very strong.

She turned away from me again. "So how did you meet this fiend, Silly Willy Lilly?"

He laughed at us, with throaty bellows. It was the only time I'd ever heard him laugh. "Oh, we ran into each other in New Ashton," he admitted. "I offered to help him out trading. I don't think he's done this before. Look at him, he's real young. He thinks he's old, though."

I squinted at him and shook my head but I decided to let him have this one. Solaria liked him, and that kept her from killing us. Maybe she'd come with us the rest of the way. I pulled myself out of the wagon, and walked back to the front. I announced, "Well, it's been a pleasure. We have to keep moving. We don't have horses, so we just have to keep moving."

Solaria frowned, "How come you don't have horses?"

Lilon shrugged, "There aren't too many good horses in New Ashton. It's not a good place to raise anything."

She shook her head, "Well, are you headed to Dray'mar?"

He nodded.

She said, "So am I. I have a horse, though. I heard they had a nasty fire, and they could use some timber. Not too many trees in this wasteland."

"I guess they don't need more ore, but they'll probably still like it," Lilon sighed. "It doesn't have any blue in it. I didn't know what else to bring from New Ashton, though. I may not get a good price, but we'll make some money. All they have is that timmerite stuff, anyway."

"Yeah. Well, I guess I'll see you there. Will you be staying long in Dray'mar?"

Lilon shrugged. "Maybe. Will you?"

She smiled her sparkling smile again. "I'll be spending the night, at least. In my lovely Mespan Chateau, of course."

"I guess we will be, too."

I sighed. I looked up at the sky. The sun was pressing into my skull, and I wanted to get moving. I figured I'd just start walking, and he could catch up with me.

Solaria passed me down the road. She was flying on horseback, and I don't know how the wagon kept up with her. I didn't see Lilon again for quite a while. I made it all the way to the city walls without him. I sold the ore, and sold the wagon and the horses, and I moved past the giant gates.

Dray'mar is another astounding vision when you first see it. I stood outside the gates and looked up at it. A giant tower scraped against the cloudless blue sky - I watched it as I approached. Dray'mar is a stark desert city, the dust-battered walls shimmering in the heat of the midday sun. The tower was tinted slightly blue against the solid color of the sky. Veins of blue wove through the stonework and the very top was too high to make out when I stood at the gates.

When I went inside, I wandered through the town aimlessly. The people eyed me with thin, black pupils through their veiled faces. The Durgeons stared, too. Some of them followed me around, but nobody attacked me. I didn't know what a Durgeon was right away. I found out their name later on, from Drucinda. Right then, they were just sturdy, and well-equipped men with hidden faces that were following me around. I didn't like that.

I couldn't find an inn. I walked all over town and I just couldn't find one.

I found myself in a cloth-shop, somehow. A woman looked up at me from her work. She smiled and greeted me. "Hello, my name's Drucinda. May I help you, stranger?"

Drucinda's shop was nothing more than a hollow square carved out of the blue-veined rock, but the entire room was alive with glowing fabrics: violets, reds, greens, and blues. Great sashes hung from the ceiling, and beautiful, ornate arrises covered the walls. I sat down on a small bench and took another drink of my flask. I was running low on water. "You have a beautiful store, ma'am," I said as I looked around.

"Yes," she replied, taking it more as a fact than a compliment.

I asked, "Is there an inn in town?"

She shook her head, "No inn."

"Is there anywhere I could get a bath in town? I'm really dirty from my travels."

"No. Water is too valuable here for bathing."

"Okay. That's wonderful news. Is there any way I can clean up? I hate being so dirty."

She smiled. "You do dirty things, get dirty. Do clean things, stay clean."

I nodded, "Yeah, thanks for the advice. I guess I'll see you around."

I walked around a bit, just sightseeing. People didn't seem to like me much. I found Lilon poking at an ancient looking door. "Lilon," I said, it's about time you got here. Did you know how horrible this place is? I mean, I haven't found a single place to take a bath yet. I need a bath, Lilon. There isn't even an inn." I was beginning to feel desperate.

"Have you ever seen a ghost before?" As responses go this wasn't one I was expecting.

I looked at him and shook my head. "I really don't care about ghosts, all right?"

"I want to show you the only place we can clean up in town. Have you ever heard of Mespa?" he asked.

"No, but I'm willing to bet you're about to tell me more then I ever wanted to know without finding me a bath or an inn." He had my interest, but I suspected there would be a price to pay.

"You can go a few more minutes without a bath. Come with me." He pushed open the door, and stepped into a tunnel over heaps of rubble. The ruins of an ancient city were right through a door at the edge of city wall.

Like most ruins, there was rubble, and the last staunch teeth of walls. Occasionally a larger chunk of building survived. Sometimes you'd even get to see a near-complete construct of the blue-veined rock with all but a roof.

He walked into the rubble with a smile on his face. "Shh..." he warned

I followed him into the dry heat of sunlight. The rubble wasn't very good for shade, unlike the massive buildings behind the thick city walls. My shadow scraped in the dirt at my feet and I kept my eyes on my darkness, squinting against the light.

Lilon grabbed my arm. He pulled me into the ruined city and I followed like an errant child. Well, maybe not that. I followed like a non-believer in the gravity of the bewitched. I wanted a bath, and he was blabbering about ghosts. I was running low on water, and he dragged me through the sun.

He stopped me at a shimmering blue fountain. The water trickled out of the broken stone, an ethereal blue. I hesitated. Lilon dove in and he whispered, "It's the blue mineral timmerite that makes the water this way. Look, just use it. Timmerite won't hurt you any more then the ash did. Keep quiet, though. Stay quiet, here."

I dipped my hands in the liquid and slowly sipped a little of it. I shrugged - it was mostly water with only a slight aftertaste. I drank a little of it, and the rest I poured over my head. I splashed it up my bare arms and I ran it down my back. Lilon did the same.

I turned to him to speak, but he pressed his wet hand over my lips. He whispered, "Shh. You'll scare them off if you talk too much."

I frowned. I turned and scanned the rubble. I wasn't really looking for anything in particular. When I first saw the shadowy figure, I thought it was an illusion of my sun-baked brain. I squinted into the glare and watched the figure, like a woman sculpted out of beams of light and puffs of dust. I realized, quite suddenly, that it was a ghost.

I pressed my hand into Lilon. He looked up from the water. He turned slowly and nodded. I whispered, "Ghost."

He put his hand on top of mine. He smiled wistfully and followed the floating woman with his eyes. He leaned to my ear and spoke softly, "Mespa was a glorious place, my friend.

"Simply glorious. The ghosts still reside in this world of glory. I wish I could tell you more about Mespa, but I simply don't know. I know it was glorious, though. Timmerite had quite an explosion. Boom towns always fade, though. They always fade." He patted my hand and pulled it off his cloak. I let it drop to my side.

I spoke, but still softly, "Is there an inn to rest at?"

He nodded. "There was a place we used to stay at. I'll take you there. It's within the ruins. Our inn. Chateau de Sol."

I muttered, "Fantastic. I bet it's not really an inn."

He took me deeper into the ruins. I saw more ghosts, drifting like clouds of dust in the dry desert wind.

He took me to a house that still retained most of its roof. It wasn't enough to keep the sun from piercing the crinkled and broken shingles overhead. I breathed in the ancient dust. Lilon took two steps into the building and said, "We best get ready. Solaria is shopping right now. She'll be coming here after."

"Ready for what?"

"Solaria's coming back. That's what."

"How do you know?"

He said, "She told me. We have catching up to do."

"Yes, but how do you know she'll come back here?"

He looked at me and frowned. He said, "This used to be our own little hideaway among the ghosts. She has to come here. She has nowhere else to go."

I sat down on a ledge of a broken wall. I said, "Should I stay?"

He paused before replying. "Yes. I need you to stay here with me. She's... She's married."

I nodded, "Right. I bet he's a big scary bastard, too."

Lilon shook his head. "I don't know who it is."

I dropped my stuff. "He keeps her in a collar. She's got biceps the size of my waist. He's either a behemoth, or... Well..."

"A comparatively weak drunk like me. Yeah. That's how it is with her."

"Um, maybe. What does comparatively mean?"

"It means that next to her, I'm insignificant and weak."

"Okay, I guess that's what I meant."

I laid out some food and we ate. Lilon never seemed to run out of food. He always handed some food to me at the oddest times. He'd just say "Here, have some bread," and hand me loaves of bread or whatever he felt like. I don't know how he got them.

We stayed there all day, waiting. Ghosts came and went aimlessly. I realized quite suddenly that I loved seeing ghosts - something about them spoke to me. I remember that my brother told my sisters and I stories atop Mount Vryce, about the heavens and the spirits. I always thought it was silly. Ghosts wandered in a forgotten ruined city, and it proved him wrong. This was what I see for me when I died - my spirit remaining only to drift through the ruins of a lost memory. I looked over at Lilon, and I realized how much he had in common with those ghosts. He had found some alcohol somewhere in town and he was drinking it, staring at the door. It took him awhile, but he did eventually fall asleep. Ghosts moved in and out as if we didn't exist to them. I tried to wave, but they didn't notice me - so maybe we didn't.

Solaria came that night. I was keeping watch, and Lilon was sleeping. Solaria walked through the ghosts as if she didn't even see them. She passed through their airy bodies without a break in her step; I'm surprised the ghosts didn't step out of her way. She came into the room with a smile. "Is he asleep already?" she asked, looking down at his recumbent form.

I nodded.

She shook her head. "Well, I come bearing gifts, and he'd best wake up for his." She stepped over the rubble and our few supplies and she grabbed him by his neck. She lifted him up in the air and shook him roughly. "Hey! Hey, Lilly-Face wake up, wake up!"

He belched, and she cringed, dropping him to the ground. I caught the edge of the scent that came from his mouth and I stepped out of the room.

Solaria came out a few moments later. She said, "How much alcohol has he had?"

"Lots. Too much."

She put her hands on her hips and stared down at the ground in the starlight. "So, is he usually like this?"

I nodded.

"Where did you find him?"

"New Ashton," I replied.

She cringed. "That horrible place?"

"Yes."

"What was he doing there?"

"Drinking," I replied with a shrug.

She stared at the empty doorway. I waited for her next question. It took a minute for her to form the words in her brain. "Why is he doing this?" she demanded after a while.

"You have to ask?"

"Yes. Why would anyone do this?"

I sighed. "In my experience, there are two things that do this to someone. It's either a woman, or a brother."

"Well, which is it? Woman, or brother?"

"That's a stupid question."

"It is? Why is it a stupid question?"

I didn't answer. I looked at the moon. I sighed. I said, "Your husband will tell you. Ask him."

She blinked. Her eyebrows shot up like startled cats. "What?"

I didn't say anything else, I just walked away. I didn't even get my few supplies from inside. She called out to me to wait, but she didn't follow. I disappeared into the ghosts.

I found a crevice in the rocks and fallen stones and followed the path down into the darkness. There were people underneath the city. They were my kind of people. They were alive, they were mean, and they were aggressive.

I stayed down there most of the night. I didn't want to come back to the stars until I was ready to see Lilon and Solaria again.

In the twilight just before sunrise, I rinsed off at the ethereal blue fountain. In that light, and with that water, my skin looked like it was a little blue. I think that's why the Dray'marian skin is so dark. The timmerite water infects them, and their skin turns blue, and then they drink more water, and it turns nearly black.

I found my way back to Chateau de Sol. I peeked inside before I entered. They lay on opposite sides of the room, wrapped in their cloaks. I took this opportunity to go through Solaria's things. I didn't steal anything, but I had to take a look. I was really looking for a picture of her husband, but there was nothing like that. I didn't even recognize most of the stuff she had with her. I didn't take anything from her. She didn't have anything I really wanted, and I don't like things I can't identify.

I left again - I didn't want to be around them in the morning. I went into the city, and found Drucinda's shop again. I gave her a small fortune left over from the trading and she let me stay in a room in her house. She fed me well; Dray'marian cuisine is spicy, and it tastes like the bitter blue mineral. Timmerite is everywhere. In my dream, my skin turned blue, and then deepened into a near-black.

Drucinda was a nice enough woman. I spent some time working in her shop when the money started to run out. I helped her with her elaborate cloths, rolling them and unrolling them, and even some measuring and cutting. The Durgeons stopped following me around all the time. I knew a few people in town, and they waved at me when I passed. I learned my way around underground. Whenever Drucinda bored me, or said something that I didn't like, I went underground. I blew off steam on the unfortunate inhabitants at the fringe of the delicate desert society.

I was underground when I found Lilon, again. He was lying in a puddle of his own blood - he wasn't dead, but he was close. Two obsidian daggers jutted out from his back like broken teeth. His skin was pale and slightly blue, and his blood stuck to everything in the room. I pulled him up from the floor and he moaned. Liquor scent poured from his lips like pipe smoke. "Lilon, are you all right? C'mon, you're going to be all right."

I had a spare healing potion with me, and I pulled it out and popped the cork. I said, "Here, one last swig before you die, friend." I poured the green fluid into his mouth and watched him gag and swallow. I tugged the daggers from his back while the healing aura swirled through his blood.

He looked up at me with desperate eyes. "Wakethorne? Wakethorne, she left me. Wakethorne, what am I going to do? She said she didn't love me anymore and she left me."

I sighed. "C'mon, Man. You don't belong down here. I've been staying with a shopkeeper, but she's been robbing me blind over it. I'll leave her and I'll take you somewhere.

Look, I'll come back with you to Mespa, and your little place. We can pack up and get out of here. We can go somewhere else."

His eyes glazed over, and wandered through the cool darkness. "Where?"

I helped him to his feet. "I grew up by the sea. Did you know that?"

He tried to push me away, but he was still too wounded and drunk to make any impression. "No."

I pulled him closer and took his arm over my shoulders to keep him standing. "My family farm was a mile from the ocean. Have you ever seen the ocean, Lilon?"

"Yes."

"Well, you've seen the desert before. You've seen the amazing huge cities and huge volcanoes. You might as well see my tiny old farm. I haven't been back in a long time. I'll take you there, and we can start up the farm again. We have to start doing something, you know. I've been in this shop, and I've been helping out a little. It's good for you sometimes to have something to do. I think it'd help you move on."

He pushed me back with more force this time. "Wakethorne, I don't want to see your farm."

"You know she's gone," I told him. "You can't live in the past forever. You can't just live in the past, because you're not dead yet. C'mon, where do you want to go. We'll go there. It'll be fun. We'll ride camels to the ocean, and buy a ship in the City of Medievia and take up fishing. We'll journey to the Arctic north and load up on pelts to take somewhere. We'll make and lose our fortunes as many times as we can. We just have to keep going. We have to keep moving forward."

Lilon gathered his strength and pushed me off. I hit the wall and fell. He laid hands on himself. He prayed a flurry of spells, many of which I didn't recognize. Auras spilled down from the ceiling and surrounded him in a blinding flurry of holy electricity. "No. No, I don't think so. Wakethorne, you're my friend. You move on. You move on."

I didn't say anything. I sat on the ground and looked up at the hefty cleric. The glow of alcohol still sparkled in his eyes, it outshone the many auras swirled around his body.

He dashed down into the deep sewers, and I watched his sparkling energies turn a corner and disappear. I sighed. That night, I took all the money I had left and disappeared. I bought up as much timmerite as I could and I loaded it into a wagon.

At night, when I was hungry, and Lilon wasn't handing me bread, and my feet hurt and I still had to care for the horses, and I didn't have anyone to take any watch, or anyone to talk to, I stared up into the stars and saw the ghosts in my head. Lilon's hefty figure floated through the ruined little house, his Chateau. His ghost wandered aimlessly like a puff of dust in the desert wind in my dreams.

I spent the next few months just wandering. I didn't have anywhere in particular to go. I took stuff from one place to another and made a little money. Sometimes bandits or trolls drove me off, and I'd lose everything. Sometimes I drove them off. I ran into others, but I never talked or challenged them. I just did my thing. If someone said hello, I'd grunt and keep walking.

One day, a day like many others, I found the trail that I had arbitrarily chosen led down by the seaside. I looked up at the skyline, and a particular mountain looked back at me. I stopped in my tracks. I knew exactly where I was. My old farmhouse was half a day away. I hadn't been back in years. I abandoned my freight in the middle of the road, and ran into the forest. I kept the mountain at my back, and the smell of the water at my left. I tripped on a piece of the fence my grandfather had put up around our farm, that I had spent ten years mending. I smelled the intense odor of apple trees and ocean down on the ground. We used to grow apples, and wheat until my father died. I picked myself up off the ground and walked along the rows of apple trees just like my Dad did every single day of his life until he died. Saplings and tall grasses peeked up at the giant trees. In another time, I'd be out with my older brother cutting the small sapling invaders down, keeping the land clear for the apples. I walked through the wheat fields, too. The wheat was still there, whipping wildly in the sea breeze. I found my old house. Chateau de Wakethorne.

The walls still stood, but the roof was crumbling away with moss and birds' nests. The stream still flowed, but the waterwheel had cracked and fallen. A deer trail passed through my old room through a large crack in the wall. I felt like I was walking through a fertile Mespa. Everything human was torn away, and instead of sand the forest moved in.

I was quiet, but I didn't see any ghosts.

I filled my flask in the stream, and I sat down. When I left years ago, there were piles of dirt in the yard, where I had dug deep holes for my sisters. I had left them unmarked, and I couldn't see them anymore.

I looked down into the stream again, reaching for water to rinse my face off. I stopped. I looked down at the face. It was like seeing a ghost. My brother had this face, right before he left my mother, my sisters and me. His had fewer scars, though. I looked at my scars, and that's where I think my face began and his ended. Someday, I'll be nothing but scars. Then I'll have my own face.

I got my daggers out and rinsed them in the stream, staring myself in the eyes. I didn't stay long. I went back to the road, grabbed the freight, and my feet walked to New Ashton.

I didn't expect to see him there alive, but Lilon was back. He was sitting in the same bar where I met him before, caked in a new layer of ash. He'd been there about as long as I'd been wandering, at a guess. I sat down across from him, and I bought him a drink. "Let me buy you the drink, for once," he said.

I waved his gesture off. "I bet I'm the one with the money."

He laughed, "Yeah, I bet you are. What brings you to this place again? I never thought I'd see you again, and here you are in this stinkhole."

I shook my head and said, "You know what I always say. It's either a woman or a brother."

I bought him a drink and told him about my brother.

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