Verentil Silvertip Remaker Of Worlds
For a condor gliding up the Willow River, it was as far from Willowton to Qor-Arungrim as back to First Fork. While the Silver ran smooth and flat, however, the Willow poured into a succession of long skinny lakes separated by artificial waterfalls. In cooperation with Willowtons industrial engineers, the dwarves built a system of dams, channels, and locks to get barges laden with people and commodities between the two cities. To capture the benefits of standardization while mitigating risk, some skinny lakes were lengthened by submerging others until all were roughly the same length.
It was easier to maintain fewer locks than more; but too few (and therefore too massive) dams invited calamitous flooding. The dwarves dug tunnels into the cliffs behind each dam to help divert extraordinary floods should a dam higher upstream fail. The hazards of living underground had long ago forced dwarves to develop exemplary safety protocols – not that any protocol ever stopped them from digging too deep for their own good.
Cables pulled barges. Clockwork towers pulled cables. Engaged in conversation with Kelrins delicious leather-wrapped behind as it flexed and relaxed its way up an embankment, Verentil agreed the river was a wonder of both the natural and industrial worlds. But the prodigy had constructed an elaborate ruse to misdirect his pursuers. If barge traffic reported seeing him, that effort would be rendered moot. Kelrins delicious behind doubted anyone would notice a figure five foot four and too thin to see walking along a ridge line, but he accommodated the prodigys anxiety wherever the main trail drifted close to gear towers.
They took a break near a stream. Verentil couldn shed obscuring fabric fast enough whenever an excuse to do so presented itself, but Kelrin stubbornly refused to take off his armor. He had gotten to the point, however, of allowing Verentil to pull off his boots. Kelrin chuckled at how much the elfs barely discernible musculature strained just to get one off.
”Do you need help? ” the ranger asked.
Verentil insisted that he did not. Once both boots were off began to wash the rangers big, powerful feet. They were always pungent after a days hike. In spite of his physical weakness, was undeniably effective at loosening up dense foot muscles. He put his entire body into it. Kelrin put on his most stoic face. Every now and then, however, the ranger failed to prevent his head from tilting back, his eyes from rolling up, and his mouth from drooling. At times like that, precisely fitted leather armor became constraining and uncomfortable in certain places.
”You don have to take me all the way to Arungrim if you don want to, ” Verentil pouted.
Kelrins head snapped back to alert.
”No, its fine, ” he insisted. ”Besides, theres trouble. ”
”So youve said, ” said Verentil, ”but what is this trouble? ”
”None of the big cats can say, but they
e sure its big. ”
”It might not look like it, ” pouted Verentil, ”but I can take care of myself. ”
Kelrin wiggled strong toes against a buttonless tummy.
”Thats not the issue, ” he said.
”Whats the issue? ” asked Verentil, rubbing in between each toe.
”You might be the trouble. ”
”What? ” cried the first elf in twenty-two universes. ”Preposterous! ”
Kelrin let his head tip back, eyes roll up, and tongue fall out.
”I agree its hard to believe, ” he said, shaking himself to standing. It was time for a swim, Kelrin insisted. He dove into the stream, leathers and all. Verentil sighed. A few hours after drying off, the ranger struck a conspicuous pose on an equally conspicuous boulder. Verentil hadn gotten the armor off, yet, but his ranger was certainly striking a lot of poses on a lot of boulders. That was a form of progress.
Beyond the ranger and his boulder, the lands curve tickled Verentils gift for understanding. Geomancers agreed that Callech Borea was a shallow bowl more than a thousand miles across surrounded by mountain ranges, even if it was impossible to see the slope by looking at one piece. Half the geomancers insisted the bowl was what remained of a gargantuan volcano that spit out all of Southern Ostrobeth. Sometime later, different elemental forces pushed up Cairn Peaks. The other half insisted Urarhtu spit out Southern Ostrobeth, the Silver River eroded the flows down to what was presently the floor of Shallow Sea, and the Cairn Peaks were present the entire time. A handful put forward the claim that the basin of Shallow Sea was actually the Mother of All Calderas, and that outflows from that stupendously enormous volcano were responsible for the creation of Ostrobeth, Qeqatta, and Lengsshan.
Verentils mind went mushy trying to interpret the view as a script written in the language of elemental gods. The prodigy was partial to the third explanation, though he had no hard evidence to support it. As his mind raced back and forth across the horizon in search of evidence, he recovered his balance by focusing on the rangers delicious behind. Kelrin stretched, announced that it was time to find a camp, and climbed down from the boulder. He led Verentil into a narrow crack in the earth. A stream ran through it. The air smelled thickly of pines, cedars, spruce – and ranger meat packed into leather. Verentil honored the stream by splashing around in it. Kelrin declined to allow his boots to be taken off this time, and waded in fully dressed.
”Isn it uncomfortable getting wet in armor? ” asked the prodigy.
”It doesn rub? ”
”You get used to it, ” said Kelrin.
”Why get used to it? Are you that bashful? ”
”These woods are more dangerous than you realize, imp. ”
”I am not an imp! ” Verentil stuttered, flabbergasted.
He could practically hear Yllaariel laughing on the other side of the dark transform. A while later, they reached a deep pool. Over millennia, the stream had scoured out a hollow in the opposite cliff. There were plenty of ledges high enough to avoid torrents caused by unexpected downpours. Even though he had just splashed around, any excuse to remove fabric was valid and Verentil began to pull off his tunic. Repetitive examples would eventually hypnotize the ranger into following suit. Kelrin stopped the prodigy with one hand and a gesture to be quiet.
Verentil rolled his eyes.
”Yes, yes, ” he said. ”The woods are dangerous. ”
Kelrins hand slowly pushed the prodigy away from the pool and toward a cracked boulder. Verentil wavered between resistance and outright rebellion. The orc came out of nowhere. Or maybe he came from the pool. Perhaps he ran across the water. Despite sharp eyes, Verentil saw no place for such a formidable creature to hide either in the pool or against the opposite cliff. But Verentil had tricks. Others could also have tricks.
The orcs tricks failed to catch Kelrin off guard. The ranger drew his blade with one hand, brought his crossbow up with the other, and gave Verentil a hip bump. The prodigy tumbled backward into the boulder crack. Embraced by shadows and strange angles, he instinctively disappeared.
Had Kelrin planned that? Was he actually that competent?
The big Orok, bare-chested and growling, came at the ranger with fists in spiked gauntlets. The brutes speed and strength alarmed Verentil, but Kelrin refused to give ground. The ranger advanced into his adversary, pulling his blade forward rather than swinging or stabbing. Passing under the orcs leading fist, he slid a sharp edge along ribs. It made a cut the orc wouldn acknowledge as a wound, but it was first blood.
The Orok spun on his leading foot and brought the other heel around to hook his opponent. Kelrin slid away, turned, and fired his crossbow under his sword arm. The orc anticipated as much, and was transitioning into a leap before the bolt launched. He couldn avoid the shot completely, though, and took another slash across ribs.
One spiked gauntlet punched forward, followed by a jab from the other – and a knee. With his back to water, Kelrin sprang across his opponents side too late to avoid an elbow. The sound of impact felt painful to Verentils ears, and he was safely across the dark transform. Refusing to grant Kelrin the luxury of distance, the orc pressed after the ranger. Kelrin stopped in his tracks, took a half step back, turned, and slashed up with his sword.
The orc accepted the cut, which unambiguously qualified as a wound, and grabbed Kelrins hand at the end of the swing. The ranger was strong; the orc was stronger. Kelrins second bolt released. The orc had no choice but to accept that too. Then he punched Kelrin in the face with the hilt of his own sword.
Kelrin reeled backwards. Verentil felt like less than nothing. Any of the other three elves would have ended this fight before it started. Eaurlindel rampaged across half a continent. Tiryendil bound demons to different stars. Yllaariel decided to become the minion of an archdevil on a lark. By way of contrast, the first new elf in twenty-two universes made small fires, turned into mist, and hid in boggle holes. Sometimes he translated books for dirty old necromancers.
Irritating eye dust had somehow managed to cross the dark transform, too.
The fight outside remained an even match. That gave Kelrin a fifty percent chance of dying. Verentil wouldn die even when the present universe ended, and yet he was the one hiding in a boggle hole. Kelrin was only in danger because he had agreed to lead Verentil to Arungrim. As it turned out, the ranger was correct and the woods were more dangerous than they appeared. The prodigy felt a flick of anger rise in his own defense. This was not one hundred percent his fault. If Tarnished Chapter had let him go about his business in his own way, instead of suggesting that he was the trouble they were guarding against, Verentil could have hidden in a boggle hole until the orc gave up out of boredom.
Tarnished Chapter was therefore responsible for getting its own man into trouble. The idea, or even a suggestion of the idea that Verentil could have threatened anyone was preposterous. All he could do was talk big about changing the world. The prodigy became aware of a weight on his belt and pulled out Snakes Bite. Hope sparkled in bright dark chocolate eyes. Yllaariel called the weapon a terrible artifact. The edge still looked like it couldn cut butter hot.
When did the knife get hungry?
The even match grew up close and personal. Kelrin had lost his longsword and replaced it with a short, broad one. The orc had lost one gauntlet. Both fighters were bloodied, staggered, and high on their own hormone supplies. The orc surged forward. Kelrin stabbed his short sword into the brutes abdomen. Pained but not dead, the orc grabbed the ranger by the throat and squeezed.
Verentil revised his assessment. It was likely both combatants would die. He burst from his hiding place. As soon as he formed an intention to strike with the dagger, he was the best knife fighter in the world. His body moved with speed and ferocity. Too fast to see, Snakes Bite cut an ”X ” across the orcs thick, muscular back. Whether through hunger or some other mechanism, the blade had become plenty sharp.
The orcs agonized scream forced Verentil to jump back.
Yes, he meant to cut – but not to cause that much pain. The sound of the cry was unnatural. How deep could the cut have been? Verentil could barely open a barn door. The orc dropped Kelrin and spun around, foaming with rage. All the muscles in the brutes remarkable physique tensed on top of one another. Verentil covered his head with both his arms and scrunched up into an adorable amber ball. He had only meant to buy Kelrin a little time!
The orcs terrifying face calmed. A moment later, he tipped forward. Verentil realized that he should step out of the way at the last moment. When the orc hit the ground, Verentil thought Kelrin had managed to slip a strike in from behind, but the ranger was also lying face down on the ground – right where the orc dropped him. Verentil rushed to his companion.
”Glad you could join the fight, ” said Kelrin weakly. ”Vampire. ”
”Well, I…. Its not really…. ”
The sound of two satirical hands clapping descended from behind and above.
”You dropped Rashuk, ” said a husky albeit feminine voice. ”Not bad. ”
She was a big one, another Jorok – but not the same shamanistic seer Verentil had seen from his private deck on the Silver. This Jorok wore studded hides instead of leaves, and was backed by a squad of heavy Orok bruisers in chainmail. A few Shorok wearing only painted glyphs crouched sensually between and around the legs of their larger companions. The orcs occupied various ledges up the ravine.
Even with his terrible artifact, Verentil considered the situation hopeless.
”Maybe we missed a few caves, ” he whispered.
”Maybe, ” Kelrin chuckled.
”Be sure no one down there dies, ” the Jorok sighed.
One of the painted Shorok clinging sensually to her leg nodded eagerly, disengaged, and started down the ravine. The ropey muscles in his arms and back flexed beneath tattoos in ways that set off Verentils beautiful mind – and warmed his inner butter. Maybe the prodigy had seen something like that in a recent trance. Perhaps he should have paid more attention. Yes, he could have said something to Kelrin. At the time those trances struck him as good frolics and not harbingers of doom.
The Shorok reached him, bowed politely, and gestured to Kelrin and Rashuk. Verentil bowed politely back. The Shorok squatted down and examined Rashuk first. That was only fair. Having faced the ”vampire, ” the big orc was probably closest to death. The little orc sighed, hummed, and clucked a lot as he crawled around on the big ones body. Though not much larger than Verentil, the Shorok had remarkable assets.
The tingle of healing magic on air currents came as no surprise. Shorok often skulked around battlefields unseen, putting their champions back together. That only wounded what remained of Verentils pride. Not counting his terrible artifact (which had been a gift from an archdevil through the auspices of a naughty older brother), this little orc was more useful in a fight than the first new elf in twenty-two universes.
The little orc stood up and stretched, sensually. When not slouching, he was five foot five. Pulled tight over narrow, rectangular frames, their skin had a satisfying texture of ropey, veiny, sinewy goodness – and their tiny tusks were natural jewelry. Eyes met. The Shorok turned away from Verentil before he got too excited, and twisted bashfully.
”Whats the situation? ” the Jorok called down.
”Great and sagacious mistress! ” the little orc yelled up in response.
”We can skip the formalities. ”
”As you wish, great and sagacious mistress! Rashuk won soon walk; but won soon die, either. That isn so bad. He can walk. ”
”I can walk, ” agreed Kelrin.
Verentil helped him up.
”Good, ” said the Jorok. ”Ive always wanted a couple of Tarnished captives. ”
”And you had them, ” said another voice even higher up. ”For a time. ”
It was a dwarf, and he was not alone. The Shorok beside Verentil sighed. Verentil comforted him with a hug. The little orc hugged Verentil back, and introduced himself as Braghi. Verentil reciprocated introductions. They continued hugging.
The other orcs tried to vanish into hidden caves. The dwarf up top folded his arms and waited. Sometime later, the orcs reemerged. Behind them marched a line of myrmidons with heavy shields. An eagle fell out of the sky. A moment later, Otilia checked on Kelrin, then Rashuk, and complemented Braghi on his work. The little orc bowed his head politely, but continued hugging Verentil for fear of embarrassing revelations.
”You made all those poses to draw their attention, ” pouted Verentil.
”Why are you upset? ” asked the ranger.
”He thought you were posing for him, ” said Otilia.
”And you knew about the caves, ” groused Verentil.
”Only some of them it seems, ” said Kelrin.
He scratched the back of Verentils head with strong fingers. The prodigy stopped pouting. He might have even dipped his head forward, pressed his eyes shut, and rubbed against Braghi on account of something like unbridled ecstasy. But he saw flaws in the rangers plan.
”It was foolish to rely on me to save you, ” said Verentil.
”You did save me, ” said Kelrin.
Verentil opened his mouth, and shut it. He did save him. Braghi nibbled on an amber neck.
This day turned out pretty awesome.
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