They could kick a boy out of Sand House for cavorting with demons, but they could not take away his determination to remake the world in his own image. Five foot four and too thin to see, Verentil Silvertip brushed curly black bangs out of dark chocolate eyes, adjusted straps on a heavy backpack recently purchased for long excursions, and marched up the ramp of a wedding-cake riverboat. Navigating to the top rear deck, he struck an angry pose in fashionably ripped breeches and a leather tunic that failed to reach the bottom of his ribcage.

Every light was Verentils best, but morning light was his best, best. Honey amber skin glowed like butter beneath the crack of dawn. Around him, some sails came down, others went up, masts waved, oars splashed, winches screamed, crates crashed onto docks, and people cursed in every language of the world. Verentil was a prodigy at interpreting anything written down, no matter how fanciful. Spoken words, however, went in one sharp ear and emerged from the other as only babble.

The prodigy slammed a delicate fist on a hard wooden rail and emulated profanity. Invisible sea dust forced his eyes to water. Blast it all to the Devolved Plateaus! A talent such as his required neither lecture halls nor libraries to do its thing. Contrary to opinions expressed behind his back and to his face, Verentil required no favors from professors or graduate assistants. He cavorted with only one demon on a regular basis, and Yllaariel was only pretending to be a demon. Unless he was pretending to be a devil. Was ”cavorting with devils ” a thing?

It didn matter!

Verentil was within his rights to have toes nibbled by either demons or devils in the privacy of his own dormitory chamber. Such shenanigans were no one elses business. He was not running around in public wearing symbols advertising his favorite cult. He took no advantage of civic zoning ordinances to loudly and repeatedly proclaim toe nibbling the one true expression of spiritual truth. He rang no cacophonous bells to remind the public at large when he believed it was a proper time to either nibble or be nibbled. So many cults practiced so many sincerely held spiritual fetishes in Port Jasper, someone rang some damn bell every five damn minutes.

The clanging was so bad, a plurality of the population supported melting all the citys bells down and turning them into cannons that could be used to better ensure the freedom of trade. Having forgotten how much it hurt the first time, Verentil slammed the same delicate fist on the same hard rail. None of this mattered! He would prove he knew how to recreate the world by just doing it.

”Peer review that! ” he told a seagull.

The bird leaned back.

Verentil fed it a cracker and apologized for yelling. The short-sightedness of short-lived mortals wasn the birds fault, and harbor sounds had by then mollified the young genius a little. Port Jasper was a handsome city of beige granite, polished river cobbles, and utilitarian architecture. Outside the pretentiously high walls of Sand House College, the citys people were cordial and industrious. There was nothing not to like about them. Verentil should have explored the city more often. He rubbed his eyes. This was not a setback. It was an invitation to excel. He couldn change the world from inside a library, anyway.

Changing the world required the right glyph.

”And the right glyph is out there, ” he told the gull, pointing to the world.

Powered by dwarvognomatic servo contraptions that certainly weren safe, the riverboat pulled away from its pier and turned east. Verentil panicked. He meant to reach Willowton on Willow, not some distant land across the Shallow Sea! An industrious middle-aged woman bird watching in warm clothing assured the prodigy everything was fine. North Harbor traffic always headed east. The ship would circle Sand Castle Rock and head west from South Harbor.

Verentil thanked her. She smiled and went back to watching birds. There were plenty to watch. The creatures were attracted to Verentils glowing honey butter amber skin. Counting how long it took them to swoop from him down to the water and back up to him, Verentil considered the drop perilously far.

How could such a tall boat float?

Two thousand miles of the Silver River and her tributaries dumped all the rain and snowmelt of Callech Borea into Port Jaspers harbor. There, the rivers crystal water mingled uncomfortably with Shallow Seas gray green browns. When Verentil caught swirls of clarity precisely right, he saw through to the bottom. Ten or fifteen thousand years ago there was no Shallow Sea and the Silver River (called Pale by orcs) plunged over a two-step waterfall. Now submerged, the waterfalls first step alone made Verentil woozy. Intimidating darkness obscured the sharp rocks he suspected lurked even deeper.

The riverboat started its turn. Before being wiped out by the war to end all wars with giants, orcs knew Sand Castle Rock (which had no castle at the time) as Justice Fang. Priests with lightning bolts tattooed on their faces tossed criminals off the top during thunderstorms. In the present age, people jumped off because thats what the Voices told them to do. It was a matter of civic concern, ”but nothing could be done. ” As bodies tumbled down granite ridges, they broke apart and fed scavengers. Verentil wondered if orc pieces ever made it all the way down to the lake that had been at the base of the waterfalls second step ten or twenty thousand years ago.

Sheathed in gleaming white imported marble, Sand Castle Rock looked more like an actual fang than when it was called one. Seeing the fortress daily instilled a reverence for cleanliness that distinguished Port Jasper from her mother civilization. Bertramuel Prescott Sand was born a poor boy from a poor family in a fishing village on the eastern coast of Carthalga. No, not really. That was an exercise in poetic licensing on the part of The Founders hagiographers. The Sand family was quite prosperous back in their day, but ”man of the people done good ” played to crowds better. The pirate admirals statue stared resolutely from the fortress which bore his name toward the manor house in which he once lived (presently the so-called ”foremost institution of learning in the world ”).

Verentil bore the memory of Bertramuel Prescott Sand no ill will. Port Jasper was Port Jasper on the Silver River, and not Port Sand on the River Sand, because The Founder was a modest pirate admiral. He named his city after the Jasper Mounds tableland. Centuries early, Carthalgan explorers called the river ”Silver ” because it was full of the stuff, and Sand declined to change a name that made perfect sense.

Of course, the river was also full of sand….

That was neither here nor there!

Due to Sand Houses pioneering scholarship on orcish archaeology (to which Verentils genius contributed a great deal), calling the river ”Pale Silver ” had started to catch on with the general population. Studies by First Fork brewing guilds even concluded that changing from ”silver hops ” to ”pale silver hops ” improved the flavor of beer – and consequently both its price and profit margin.

Whatever the price of beer, citizens of Port Jasper waited until The Founders death to name monuments after him. His magnificent statue exemplified Silver League Realism. Port Jaspers civic style differed from the hyper-sexualized excesses of Carthalgan Erotic Heroism by presenting plausible anatomy. Verentil had nothing against heroic erotica, but for descendants of Carthalgans to accuse anyone of cavorting with demons (like it was a bad thing) was rich – that species of rich which made laws to oppress others for doing what the rich wanted to remain their exclusive domain.

As promised, the wedding-cake riverboat angled west.

South Harbor was a tangle of ramshackle alleys wrapped around warrens of poverty and commercial cavorting accommodations. Civic leaders wrung their hands about the accumulation of social ills, ”but nothing could be done. ” The granite bluffs of Jasper Mounds abutted more forcefully against the southern estuary compared to the northern. Sheer rock surfaces constrained horizontal construction and forced the population to live in tall, wobbly structures with tiny rooms.

Prehistoric orcs did Port Jasper a favor, however, by carving sacred caves into the bluffs. Once handed over to captains of private industry (along with generous grants to incentivize economic development), the caves proved ideally suited to the secure storage and preservation of diverse commodities. Inexplicably, giving public land, tax subsidies, and gold to captains of private industry failed to alleviate poverty. It stimulated demand for cavorting services, true enough, but economic theory wasn Verentils real domain of expertise.

Of even greater interest to the prodigy than corrupt civic government (though not unrelated), most people Voices told to jump off Sand Castle Rock were stevedores from South Harbor. Civic leaders insisted meaningful inquiries would prove too costly to undertake, and meaningless inquiries helped no one. Consequently nothing could be done about the Voices. Verentil once offered to investigate the caves free of charge just for the opportunity to extend the collective understanding of how ghosts impacted the most vulnerable members of society, but his offer was declined.

The citys refusal to get to the bottom of possessed jumpers vexed archaeologists. The formerly sacred orc caves presented a perplexing enigma. When orcish geomancers first hollowed them out of solid granite, there was no Shallow Sea. Roughly a thousand feet below the present surface lay the ancient forest floor of Bow Lakes Lowlands. None of Sand Houses top rank thinkers, Verentil included, could explain why the ceremonial caves appeared uniformly above the level of a sea that only filled up several thousand years after their excavation. Lower rank thinkers insisted people other than orcs made them. The stratigraphy was clear, however, and ”Degenerate Giant Theory ” (also ”Dwarf Troll Theory ”) was nonsense.

Verentil pressed small hands against the small of his back and stretched. Fine, it was an excuse to push fingers under breeches and grab his own tiny behind. Sometimes a boy needed to grab a tiny behind when his own might be the only one in reach. He inhaled composure and exhaled aggravation until futility overwhelmed him. At that moment, Verentil Silvertip personified frustration wrapped in resentment. Which tiny behinds would lecherous professors grab now? Had a bitter behind rival set him up? Impossible. His behind had no rivals. Expelling the only elf who had or would ever attend the institution in this or any Universe – outrageous!

Verentil retreated to the Royal Class lounge. As a dazzlingly beautiful prodigy, he commanded the affections of many, including the serpentification of greed, and never went without. After a few soothing fruit beverages and several bowls of gelato, he turned to watch trees drift past windows. The Jasper Mounds tableland sloped down gently from high ridges against a young sea toward the extinct caldera of a stupefyingly ancient volcano a thousand miles away.

The dazzlingly beautiful prodigys eyes spotted an orc watching the riverboat from a crag. A member of the Orok caste, his powerful physique glistened forest green. Inhuman eyes met. Verentil realized at once that it was love. In truth, orcs saw poorly. Bat ears made up for it. But ”ears met ” was not a construction Verentil was familiar with – and elves had cat ears, anyway.

The Silver Leagues population centers were connected by the Silver River – and separated by vast stretches of unspoiled wilderness. Vestiges of the antediluvian orc clans which once ruled the continent of Ostrobeth persisted within their shadows of larch, cedar, and lichen. In fairness, Carthalgan demon-cavorters played no role in the fall of that mystical civilization. Humanity was not even fit for enslavement when the Arkhanate of Urarhtu went to war with everyone shorter than sixty feet tall. The muscular forest green hunter smirked in Verentils direction. Relentlessly, the riverboats progress separated their glances, their ears – and finally their dreams.

A handsome burgher and her husband took seats across from Verentil in the lounge. She introduced her party as the Haxton-Gales, and asked if Verentil was a vampire. With only four elves awake in all Creation, humans often mistook the prodigy for an enigmatic night predator. It was not unreasonable. Vampires were derivations of elven necromancy, after all, and very fashionable. Several ”masters ” of Sand House held firm to a belief that Verentil was an ancient, sun-tolerant vampire having a lark at the institutions expense. Another faction insisted he was one of the so-called ”Princes of Yu ” – but that was practically the same thing.

”I exhibit vampiric tendencies, ” Verentil conceded, ”but don bite. ”

”Is there a word for a vampire who doesn bite? ” asked Mrs. Haxton-Gale.

”Thirsty! ” said her husband. ”Bartender! Three glasses of your finest red wine. ”

Truly, Verentil never went without.

”Where are you headed? ” asked Mrs. Haxton-Gale.

”Cairn Peaks, ” said Verentil. ”Ive an interest in the regions archaeology. ”

”Are you associated with Sand House? ”

”Previously, ” replied Verentil.

”But no longer? ” asked the handsome burgher.

”Theres been a scandal. ”

”At Sand House? ” scoffed Mr. Haxton-Gale. ”If I was a betting man…. ”

”You are a betting man, ” smiled the missus.

”I would have bet that dull bunch incapable of scandal. Youve been wronged. ”

”Just so! ” insisted Verentil.

”Bartender! ” called Mr. Haxton-Gale. ”Make it a bottle! ”

Some unknown time later, Verentil fell face first onto the cool sheets of his Royal Class cabin bed. It was like falling into a bowl of chilled tiramisu. An elongated pixie with a poisonous tail emerged from the dark transform overhead. He was an exquisite creature – if not quite as exquisite as Verentil. Much stronger than he looked, Yllaariel pulled the amber prodigy up and flipped him over to prevent him from suffocating in comfort. Verentil grabbed the pixies tail and tried to nibble on its stinger.

”The first new elf in twenty-two universes, ” said Yllaariel, ”and you
e hopeless. ”

”Im drunk, ” protested Verentil, ”not hopeless. ”

”I wonder if Tiryendil was drunk when he put you up with the humans, vampire. ”

Yllaariel snorted.

”Imp! ” said Verentil. ”What do you want anyway? ”

Feeling grabby, Verentil knew what he wanted at least and tried to pull the overgrown pixie down on top of him. Against all appearances, Yllaariel could hover while carrying a horse. Much lighter than a horse, Verentil pulled himself into the air. Unperturbed, he wrapped his limbs around Yllaariels narrow body and tried to bite his neck. The overgrown pixies skin was hard as treated rubber.

”Id like to take you someplace sensible, ” Yllaariel sighed, ”and leave you there for a thousand years to grow up. But Tiryendil says that would only make you even more irrational. ”

”Im drunk, ” said Verentil. ”Not irrational. ”

The prodigys feeble arms tired quickly. He let go, allowing his top half to flop onto the bed. His legs remained wrapped around the pixies wasp waist. Yllaariel pried those off easily, and Verentil sank back into chilled tiramisu.

”What are you looking for in Cairn Peaks? ” asked the elongated imp.

”Wouldn you like to know? ”

”Thats why I asked. ”

”Im not telling, ” said Verentil.

”You don think I can make you talk? ”

Verentil pretended he could hold out against any torment. Twenty or thirty seconds into tickles, he let slip that the secret to remaking the world in his own image lay buried under either Cairn Peaks or Kernaemon. Possibly both. When Verentil Silvertip, remaker of worlds, remade this particular world the way it should have been made in the first place… they would be forced to let him back into Sand House.

”Do you have any idea how dangerous it is to remake a world? ” asked Yllaariel.

”I can know until Ive tried, ” replied the first new elf in twenty-two universes.

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