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PostPosted: January 5th, 2009, 11:27 am 
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Kendath tossed some wood into the campfire and poked at it until it flared again, casting lambent orange on the faces of his companions. He remained standing, the bundle containing the Shard tucked under his arm. Garthag's eyes glinted in the dim light. "What vengeance?" he asked. "What's your relationship with the Seeress?"

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PostPosted: January 5th, 2009, 12:23 pm 
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Garthag stared briefly at Kendath, studying his reaction as he spoke, before shifting his gaze at the fire with an amused expression on his face. The information that he had been witholding from them did not clearly please Kendath and they would not be amused by what he was about to tell them next.

"How shall I say this in a manner that does not make this awkward?..." Garthag muttered quietly to himself before speaking aloud, giving them his explanation. "I `met` her whilst we were imprisoned at the Meiltha encampment, she came to me really, making an intriguing proposition to me."

As he spoke however he occasionally, inappropriately, could not help but smile slightly at the very thought of what he had planned to do back then. He was not bloodthirsty, but making them realize how close they had come to utter defeat and all that was changed by his will alone.

"She promised me power in return for the shard and, at the time, such an offer was suspicious yet awfully convenient as it seemed that The Lich was her foe as well... Thus I agreed and became her ally, out of convenience really, and had I carried trough with our `agreement` we would not speaking of this matter now....

In fact none of you wouldn`t speaking at all, not breathing either, and I would have, most likely, inherited The Lich`s throne... Yet let us say I saw a few.. complications in our agreement and chose not to let her have your precious shard..."

In the end of his `confession` Garthag threw a silent, venomous glare in the direction of Adeila as a warning not go into greater detail about that specific encounter. Garthag did not see how his personal matters were any concern of theirs, especially those relating to his own family.

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PostPosted: January 5th, 2009, 3:23 pm 
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Merrin felt breath nearly stop in her lungs. All of it. All of it had depended on Garthag's whim. As he shrugged out the last few words of the confession, casual in manner but near as shocking as if the Seeress had visited them then and there, she reeled at the thought.

Everything. The Shard, the Lich, their cursed sojourn in the underworld - her very life, all of their lives - had rested on the knife's blade of Garthag's inclination. The stunned silence nearly vibrated.

"Are we supposed to thank you?" she asked in incredulity, climbing to her feet, leaning on the outcropping of stone behind her. She felt nearly dizzy. "You did one good thing. One. After lying to us, after everything -"

She broke off. His bland expression wakened suspicion. "You're still lying to us."

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PostPosted: January 5th, 2009, 4:34 pm 
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"And your still a naive hypocrite.... still looking down on me as, if I were lesser than human because of what I have done. I have done what one such as you might grasp as `evil`, I have killed and manipulated. Men, women, children, small societies and barbarian tribes all for my own ends."

Garthag said with a slightly trembling voice and his hand formed a fist, he had grown weary of the suspicion directed at him and by none other than this fool. One, who could not understand anything yet seemed to think she knew.

"But never did I do so out of malice, out of necessity, but I know that for anyone so fragile as you the end never justifies the means. Yet I have seen people crumble before power of such crude tools as fear, anger and frustration.

I have seen it in the reflected from the eyes of a man protecting his village, like a crack in his armor where one can easily stab a dagger so that the blade reaches all of the way into the heart. I have slain without pity and felt no remorse as I have stolen the futures of innocent children."

Garthag took pause and looked at Merrin, then at the others and did not stop as he continued. His eyes, again like a steel blade, had awoken from a state of confusion and dullness. They were, once again, cold and unforgiving yet perhaps in a different way as they lacked a certain hollowness about them.

"Yet never did I find any joy nor thrill in the blood I spilled nor the lives I twisted, to form crooked tools for my pursuit of power.

I have sacrificed almost ten years in pursuit of `power`, frozen my heart and denied myself as a living, sensible human being. I have dealt with and struck deals with heinous creatures such as Kalma, The Lich and The Seeress despite their repulsive natures.

All in order to gain `power` and how did my quest for power end? I threw it away on a whim in order to save a race of overgrown lizards, a foolish puppet of the gods, a bewildered assassin who no longer has a place in this world and a senile old hag!

And you believe I am still lying to you?!"

Garthag hissed back at her in frustration and even standing up at the end of his long rant, retributing her suspicions with anger, he was not lying after all. Lying and not telling were simply to different things, had they ever asked anything when he was at his weakest he may have been inclined to reveal something yet since they never sought his counsel or demanded the truth about his agenda he never had told them anything.

And now this ignorant brat dared question him after the sacrifice he had commited for their sakes, by one good deed he had made up for a hundred evil one`s for no `evil` act he had commited compared the scale of his sacrifice. He sat down silently and lowered his voice as the racing of his heart began to slow down, the blood hammering in his skull began to fade. As he spoke again he was again calm, collected yet his voice had the same amused contempt as before.

"No, I hardly think there is anything else I can tell you that would be of use to you and I am hardly waiting for another opportunity to kill you. Not after the sacrifice I commited for you. Do not speak of that, which you do not understand.

Do not assume you can understand the horrors that your beloved Kendath has endured or commited, do not for one second believe you have even taken a step on the same dark paths that either of us has treaded.

Or...." Garthag held his tongue for a while and smirked before finishing the sentence, to deliver a cold reality that poor Merrin must have overlooked countless times before.

"Do you ever speak of what he has done, when you two are alone, does he tell tales of the times he slit the throats of people and took pleasure in it?"

Garthag said with a venomous tone yet kept his calm as he knew what was to come, he had taunted and mocked them enough to read the reactions. They would threaten him, hurt him and all because he spoke the truth out loud. As ever their egotistical natures wouldn`t have changed and Garthag prepared to witness, to feel a flashing blade held against his throat.

As always Garthag knew he had gone too far with his words and the vemon they contained.

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PostPosted: January 5th, 2009, 11:45 pm 
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The knife spun faster than the eye could follow, and thudded into a tree beside Garthag's head. "Never," Kendath said, "have I ever taken pleasure in killing. Never have I felt - " And he broke off, at a loss, for what had he felt? Nothing he could name, certainly, and nothing he'd ever heard of, talked of...

Nothing. He'd felt nothing, all those times he'd watched the life seep out from his victims' eyes. Absolutely nothing.

Kendath hated it, then. He hated how his knife had buried itself in the tree, a handspan - not a hairbreadth - away from Garthag's ear. He hated the barely contained tremors in his voice as he'd spoken. He hated the way he'd darted a glance at Merrin, terrified of her thoughts. He hated himself for what he'd done, hated the hate in Garthag's voice, hated himself again for caring.

Three strides brought him to the tree to rip free his knife. Garthag told the truth. Lies could not have kindled the fury in the mage's voice, could not have come so close to pushing the master of control over the brink of control. Kendath hated him for that, too. The truth. The humanity that Garthag had revealed, the pathetic spark of hope that maybe - just maybe - there was something in the mage worth salvaging.

Bloody curse it all.

"Well, that was fun," Kendath said, snapping his knife back into its sheath. "Easily for us, the best we can do now is get to this outpost in one piece. Which means I'm back to my shift. Garthag, you're staying up with me. Wouldn't hurt to sacrifice a little more."

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PostPosted: January 6th, 2009, 1:08 am 
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They dissipated in silence. Kendath and Garthag to the outcropping of rock, Merrin and Adeila to the fire.

It was still too small. Merrin stared at it, shrugging her cloak back on, trying to lose herself in the glowing embers. All the effort did was encourage her mind to wander. It turned the fingers of fire to reaching, clawlike hands, and Merrin squeezed her eyes shut. That didn't help.

She lay back down, wrapping herself in her cloak and putting one arm behind her head to stare up at the sky. The cold pinpoints of stars stared back.

Did she know what Kendath had done?

Merrin had let her eyes creep over to study his silent form on watch before she caught herself. She guessed at what he had done. She'd seen the frenetic intensity in his face, that night after the Citadel, and felt cold steel at her throat. He'd asked her, then, if she knew what he was. If she was afraid. She had been. She still was. Afraid to ask what he'd done, afraid to know what blood stained his hands whenever her small ones fit into them, afraid to think past the reassuring embrace.

He loved her, didn't he? Wasn't that enough? Must they drag the past up from its messy grave?

Merrin realized, heart sinking, that she was a hypocrite, lying there, disregarding Kendath's transgressions as past and gone and flinging Garthag's in his face. But they were different. They had to be different. Kendath and Garthag were not the same.

A crackle of the fire made her start. The stars still stared down. The night still swooped in. Merrin bit her lip and let her eyelids fall, touching the surface of slumber.

A skeletal grin made her jerk awake. Merrin set her teeth to wait for dawn.

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PostPosted: January 6th, 2009, 3:27 am 
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Garthag quietly yet surprisingly willingly followed Kendath to his lookout over the campsite and sat down onto the rock, that Kendath had occupied earlier. Garthag did not speak a word at first, knowing that Kendath was still gripped by his waving emotions and what Garthag had in mind to say would not make him any happier.

Instinctively Garthag gazed around him, scanning the surroundings albeit he did not believe that another attack on the same night was possible yet he did not count that out. Then he gazed at the `bewildered assassin` and could not help, but smirk in the shadows of his hood.

"Incidentally, relating to the matter of lies, I have yet another confession, whether you believe it or not, not once during our journey did I lie to any of you."

Garthag said with an amused voice, even chuckling briefly as he scanned Kendath expression.

"There exists a distinct yet fine line between simple lies and witholding information, simply not telling is not lying. In there lies an irony, had you ever asked of me about such matters I may have confined to you some of my knowledge yet never did you ask of it, not once.

I know why, it was because you were afraid Kendath, there is no shame in that, but not of me. Maybe, it is that you only feared what I would say, even that one night at the in when I told you that I killed my family. That was no lie, I did so unwillingly and indirectly yet those events set into motion were triggered by me resulting in my family`s death.

So you see, I have never lied to anyone of you, simply told the truth and what greater weapon would one need than that? To recognize the cracks in an opponents armor, to see the flaw in his pattern of attacks or to simply see trough all the lies they tell others in order to mask themselves from the pain?

Lies? There is no victory in a world based on lies.... So why don`t you just ask me? Whatever it is that you want to know, that is after all why you brought me here. Not to protect Merrin or to disturb my rest that much is certain."

Garthag said with a voice filled with contempt and yet a strange sense of amusement. Kendath had obviously brought his up here for a chat and thus Garthag wished to collaborate, Kendath if anyone would be able to shoot back at him instead of miserably whining in the corner to his gods.

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PostPosted: January 6th, 2009, 10:42 pm 
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Kendath slammed his deadpan into place not a second too soon, for Garthag's bluntness had caught him off-guard. He seated himself on an outcropping opposite the mage and set the Shard to rest, a nondescript bundle, beside him. Then he leaned back to study his opponent. Garthag's point proved nothing, of course. He could be lying as he spoke. In fact, Kendath had only to lunge and kill Garthag where he sat. He marveled at the prospect.

He marveled also at how, heartbeats later, Garthag still sat. Perfectly alive. Perfectly amused.

Garthag wanted bluntness? Fine.

"Why don't you leave?" Kendath asked. "You'd spare us all a pain in the ass. Now there's the greatest sacrifice of all."

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PostPosted: January 7th, 2009, 3:20 am 
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Garthag`s amusement went awry and disappointment was written all over his face as he grinned slightly at the question. Clearly Kendath had not simply suggested that he should depart? Considering the price keeping an experienced mage on their side should prove an asset, but alas Kendath`s world was no longer ruled by logic.

His world revolved around two vital pieces, The Chosen or Merrin as he would have prefered it and the very shard lying besides him on that rock. The shard was evidently the key to give Kendath and the rest of the world peace, no

"Not what I expected, but understandable considering your standing...

I won`t leave because I wish to see this through, I have wasted already too much effort in aiding you to leave now simply because I annoy you.

Yet if that is your wish, I might honor it, if you can answer me one question.

Where would I go?"

Garthag inquired raising an eyebrow with an inquisitive look in his eyes, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that Kendath, the least of all people, could provide him an answer. This was Garthag`s answer, pure and simple, where would he go after this? Home? He had none, not anymore. To the Meiltha? Unlikely, having opposed them already made him their opponent. Back to that mountain and begin his work again? No, heavens no, such work was already beyond him.

And there he sat, tired and spent, riddling with a bewildered assassin, who could easily silence him. Yet did he care for his own life? Hardly, having known many of this world`s wonders had been enough and he did not wish to go down a bloody road again in order to gain something he could have achieved already. Nor did he inspire to fade away in some dank village at the edges of the world, amounting to nothing more than an old sage of sorts.

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PostPosted: January 7th, 2009, 10:02 pm 
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Kendath leaned forward, studying Garthag in the dim light. What had he expected? Protest? Compliance? Not this, certainly - this indifference. The indifference, if anything, testified that Garthag might, against all reason, be speaking the truth. It also testified something else.

If left to his own devices, Garthag could very well become the deadliest enemy they'd ever faced.

Indifference was power. Kendath had seen the slate of Garthag's face, had heard the sterility in Garthag's voice. Here was a man who had nothing more to live for, who could watch the world go to hell without a single catch of breath. This kind of man was the edge on the spinning blade, the sharpest weapon of all. Kendath knew. He'd been such a weapon, once.

How to explain this?

"Listen," he said. "I don't care where you go. You've got a mindful of wit and a pocketful of gold, so buy yourself a manor and retire. You'd far outlive me, I'm sure." He drew back a bit, contemplating his next words. He couldn't recall the last time he'd been so honest with Garthag. "On the other hand, Merrin and I might die next week. Bloody abyss, a legion of corpses might find us tonight and then we'd all be dead by tomorrow. We're alone, the four of us, surrounded by enemies. Merrin I trust completely. Adeila seems skillfully harmless. But you? You, who have come this close to destroying everything we've ever worked for? Our enemies are out there, Garthag. You're right here. I don't have eyes in the back of my head. I can't watch them and watch you at the same time.

"Now do you understand the predicament? What would you do, in my place?"

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PostPosted: January 8th, 2009, 1:16 pm 
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For a moment Garthag seemed baffled by Kendath`s sudden change of tone, there was no defiance nor hate when he spoke as, if he was actually asking him for counsel. For a moment Garthag grinned as he did not find this amusing at all, that honest flat voice was one that he hadn`t had direct at him for a long time.

He hated Kendath for talking to him like that, like he was akin to him. The emotion flushed over Garthag and he opened his mouth.

"Nothing, absolutely nothing."

Garthag answered with a smirk on his face, barely masquarading his anger behind an somewhat amused tone of voice.

"I would recognize that keeping a mage along would prove useful, considering that his expertise will be useful in the future as they did in the Shadower fortress. I would also assess the situation as it procceeded, and realize that only a madman would betray my cause when he has had literally countless opportunities to do so.

The fact that he is unlike me does not matter, after all he is just a tool, a blunt tool by nature, devoid of any prospectable future. One that envies all those, who have that prospect yet still seeks something in this life.... Nothing more..."

Garthag reasoned with a calm voice, not even blinking as he described his current standing. His tone was cold and blunt as ever, but again his voice was dull and did not seek to cut at anyone. There was no venomous hissing nor anger related to his words, no contempt nor amusement, like a blade that had lost it`s edge. Yet his expression suddenly changed and he raised an eyebrown as he inquired in return yet another question.

"So tell me something in return... Had you not met Merrin yet separated yourself from the Meiltha, what kind of life would you lead? Empty, devoid of any prospect? Or pretentious, a lie that those around would never know that there was a void within you that you simply could not fill?

You were saved by her, I never sought anyone to save me yet I had my reasons to stop falling any further. So how do you think you can judge me? To think that you are any different than me?"

Garthag asked with a flat tone, examining Kendath`s expression all along. By his nature Garthag was a blunt tool, but he knew how to hit a nerve and now he wished to see, which nerve he would hit.

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PostPosted: January 9th, 2009, 12:09 am 
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Kendath thought about his answer for a long time.

"We are one and the same," he said at last, "but for one difference." And he smiled, leaned in, and whispered, "You were a fool. I still am a fool."

As Kendath got up and walked away, he wondered what good had come out of that brief exchange. Before, he'd simply distrusted the mage. Now, he didn't know what to think. Was Garthag, whose heart pounded as cold as the ice on the distant mountaintops, capable of redemption?

It wasn’t until he'd seated himself on the opposite edge of the campfire did he realize the irony, and laughed. If Garthag's heart was ice, what did that make his heart? Stone? He envisioned a heart carved like a boulder, gray and heavy, caving in against his ribcage. Weeks, months, an eternity ago, he'd hauled this heart to a strange circle of firelight and asked to become a Renegade. If Merrin had acted rationally - as he would have acted, in fact - she would have killed him on sight. But she hadn't. In fact, she'd invited him in. Did that make her twice the fool?

Well, he thought, gazing at her bundled form by the campfire. He was glad for her foolishness. Ecstatic that she'd been stupid and naive and... Merrin enough to trust him. He pulled his gaze upward, toward Garthag's hooded silhouette. The mage had spoken the truth. He would not betray them. Not now when he'd sacrificed so much. Not for the reasons of a sane man.

Trust Garthag. Kendath wondered if he hadn't transformed into some sort of vegetable.

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PostPosted: January 10th, 2009, 9:00 pm 
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Merrin lay awake a long time that night.

She could feel the lure of fatigue tempting her into a doze. Once or twice, she slipped into fitful slumber, and each time awoke tense, to hear her heartbeat pounding in her ears. It was more exhausting to lie there until the nameless fear subsided, hands curled into fists beneath her blanket, than it was to force herself to remain wakeful. Only Kendath and Garthag, silently watching, kept her from rising to pile fuel on the fire, as though the flames could drive away the encroaching darkness. Merrin didn't want them - him - to ask. She didn't want to talk about it.

Somewhere near dawn, as stars paled in the eastern sky, she slipped past a doze and into dreamless slumber. The scant hour between the time dawn began to hint and the moment the sun exploded into the soft darkness of Merrin's precarious sleep was a flimsy defense against fatigue.

She sat up, squinting into the brilliant horizon, and shaded her eyes to look down at the dead coals that were the remains of their fire. The air was still crisp and cold. One of the horses stamped and snorted.

Her breath misted faintly on the air when Merrin rose to step around her sleeping companions and lean against the warm flank of her horse while she dug in the saddlebags for what unsatisfying breakfast awaited. Her halfhearted fingers found the strips of dried meat, but Merrin closed her eyes and leaned against the solid animal. She could almost imagine that the warmth was Wyvern, and almost fall asleep again.

You're not eating enough. Merrin straightened and looked at the fire. He was asleep. She shook her head and pulled breakfast out of the saddlebags.

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PostPosted: January 17th, 2009, 7:16 pm 
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No more corpses haunted their trail. The road wound up through the mountains, toward snowcapped peaks and snowy nights. The Shard was tucked safely away. No more mention was dropped about the Shadower Lord, or Kendath's near failure to guard the camp that night.

The stout towers of Amarinth loomed into view on the third day.

Amarinth hadn't changed much since the last time Kendath, Merrin, and Garthag had had the misfortune of poking their heads through the gates. The same walls sat solidly on the same pass, like fat urchins who'd found cushioned seats and refused to budge. The same carts, black from the mines and reeking of sulfur, clanked up and down the crushed path. The same guards loitered about the gates, picking teeth the same color as the noonday sun.

Four travelers stood on a pine-incrusted bluff overlooking the road, and watched.

Kendath tugged at the hem of his bandage. Wagons clattered by with irritating regularity, with more exiting the city than entering. The drivers huddled, stupid with midday daze. Even with one hand, he could easily drop down and borrow a ride into the city. But how to hide the body before the next wagon rolled around the corner?

He glanced at Merrin. "Our friend the Prince might fancy you still. I should first scout out the city and see."

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PostPosted: January 18th, 2009, 5:30 pm 
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Merrin grimaced. The twin mountains rising to white-capped peaks above Amarinth stared immovably down, flanking the one pass for miles around. Noonday sun speared down and reflected with merciless intensity on the city's highest spires. Her eyes itched and stung, reminding her of the last near-sleepless nights.

If they'd recognized her before, the gate guards could do it again; no chance of merely sneaking in. "Feldwar can fancy whoever he pleases," she said, folding her arms and hearing the irritable note in her voice without bothering to check it. "What does he think he can do to me?"

As though she could hold an entire city at bay if anything turned ugly. Merrin sighed and let her hands drop. "I'd rather be with you," she said, only half realizing she'd spoken aloud. A headache was pounding in her temples. She shook her head as though that could clear it. "Never mind. If you think you should."

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PostPosted: February 16th, 2009, 3:19 am 
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Kendath nodded and was gone, vanishing into the trees. The road from this vantage was a mere a ribbon rolling with dust and wagon wheels. No hiding any bodies, then. He'd have to enter the city like an ordinary yokel. He only hoped the guards' memories weren't half as long as their swords.

-----

Wanted: Merrin Dragonrider. Blue eyes. Brown hair. Short. Claims to be the Chosen of the Gods. Charged with: heresy, blasphemy, treason against the Noble House of Vryngard, and whatnot. Reward: 5,000 gold, dead. 10,000 gold, alive.

The notice was pegged on a guillotine outside the city hall.

The notice made Kendath very, very confused.

At midday, Amarinth's streets resembled the streets of any other city. Stuffy. Stifling. Stinking with the stench of a thousand unwashed bodies. The most sullen of sullen breezes rolled down the mountains. Far from clearing the smell, it merely tugged a haze of smoke over the sky, screening it until the very air reeked with rancid gases from the mines. The sun had fled. A blanket of gray cloaked the distant mountaintops. The clouds promised a sullenness to rival the nearly nonexistent breeze. Their rain would be miserable.

Kendath, still staring at the notice, was breeding a temper to match that of the gathering storm. At length he snatched the parchment off its peg and marched up the steps.

The doors of the city hall were thrown open. The guards flanking it were of the same tooth-picking caliber as the ones at the gate, and they waved him soundlessly on. Beyond the doors, the hall was dim and cool. A purple cloak sat behind a desk at the end of a columned walkway. The face above the cloak nicely matched the fabric's hue. The opposite side of the desk trailed a long line of civilians. A rope of civilians, in fact, meandering its unhappy way to the doors through which Kendath had just entered.

Kendath sullenly took his place at the rear of the line.

The ages ticked by. A farmer had lost his chicken and wanted a replacement. A lady had bartered away five gold for a love potion that'd turned her lover into a newt. A merchant had been robbed three times that week and wanted the culprit dead by a public hanging. The cloaked man's face darkened to a deeper shade of purple with every passing minute. Kendath's fingers left sweaty streaks on the notice clenched in his fist.

At last, the line in front of him was reduced to a single merchant. The man had worked himself into frothing frenzy, crying oaths, demanding compensation. The guards hauled him out.

"Next," said the mouth above the purple cloak.

Kendath drew his hood over his head and approached the desk. Slam went the notice, right under that purple nose.

The man in the purple cloak was busily scribbling away on a sheet of vellum. He didn't deign to look up.

Beside him, a guard declared in monotone: "Please articulate your question."

Kendath ground his teeth. "Suppose I'm interested in some quick wealth. Bounty hunter, you could say. Who's the employer? Who has the gold?"

A jewel-studded hand reached up to scratch a purple-cloaked shoulder. This motion was followed by a lazy shrug. "The employer is the current ruling seat of this city. The one who 'has the gold,' as you so clearly articulate, is the current ruling seat of another city."

"Prince Feldwar?"

"I daresay you have twice the torpor of a hibernating bear and almost half the aptitude." The man in the purple cloak looked up for the very first time. The bleary eyes appraised Kendath for a fraction of a heartbeat, then returned to the vellum. "Prince Feldwar is dead. Amarinth has a new prince. You may call him Prince Felturn, and you may address him as Your Highness."

It took a moment for Kendath to realize that Prince Felturn was referring to himself in third person. "What happened to Feldwar?"

"Hanged himself. Next!"

"Wait." Kendath leaned over the desk. "Who is the other one? The other city? Who will pay me in full if I bring back Merrin Dragonrider?"

"His name's Je'id. Haven't I already told you? Next!" Felturn gesticulated - by far the most interesting thing he'd done thus far - and a pair of guards detached themselves from the walls to make grabs for Kendath's arms.

Kendath made himself scarce.

He burst out of the city hall, head whirling. Amarinth wanted Merrin? Granted, Amarinth had always been a neutral city, cursing the Renegades and kissing their feet without pausing to draw breath in between. But to have Merrin as an enemy? To antagonize the Chosen of the Gods and, through her, all the Renegade dragonriders? And who in the abyss was this Je'id?

He reached the bottom of the steps, where he stood, rooted to the spot, at the edge of the marketplace. He breathed deeply the stale air. His thoughts reeled. What now? Should he meet his companions outside the city? He hardly had anything to report aside from a usual "proceed with caution." Passing through Amarinth was inevitable, unless they somehow managed to bypass it by taking a detour through the mountains... but no – a detour would take days. Perhaps they could sneak through the mines...

Someone jostled him from behind. He felt a hand on his shoulder.

"Pardon me, sir," said a voice of suspicious courtesy. "Do I know you?"

What...? "Nay, sir," Kendath said, turning. "I daresay - "

Kendath knew a blade when he felt one. Especially when he felt it pressed, ever so gently, against the small of his back.

"Do remove your hood - ahh. I thought you looked familiar. I do know you, don't I?"

Cultured accent. Soft sigh. Of all the peachy noblemen... Kendath tried to twist himself around, but the blade bit ever more gently into his back. He stiffened.

The voice tickled his ear, soft as a kitten's purr. "The banquet that our late Prince Feldwar held so very recently - do you recall? You stole my dance. What was her name again?" The notice jerked out of Kendath's hand. Another sigh. "Ah, yes. Merrin Dragonrider. Ten thousand gold. Where is she, pray tell?"

"My apologies. I don't know you."

"No, I'm quite afraid that you do."

Kendath twisted and, in one fluid motion, seized the man's hand. Bone cracked. The man gasped. The dagger fell, and Kendath caught it before it struck the ground.

"No," Kendath said. "I'm quite afraid that I don't."

His enemy was indeed a peachy nobleman, a dandelion with lacy cuffs and a collared doublet. Had they encountered each other at Feldwar's banquet? Kendath had no idea, but all the same he poked his dagger against the man's back, under his feathered cloak, and began walking. No rush, no fuss. They strolled alongside the street - Kendath on the right, gripping the dagger with his uninjured hand. Civilians passed them by without a second glance.

"Let's talk," Kendath said, once they'd turned off the main thoroughfare and onto a smaller boulevard. Clouds roiled above them, casting gray upon the quaint little shops lining the street. Kendath never once broke his pace. Neither did he ever break his hold on the dagger. "Who is Je'id," he asked, "and why does he want Merrin Dragonrider dead?"

"Je'id is the new Renegade authority." The response was instantaneous. Sweat beaded on the nobleman's brow. "He belongs to one of the noble houses. A scion of an ancient lineage. He - "

"Why is he Merrin's enemy?"

"I... I don't know." Peachy Nobleman swallowed. They'd turned yet another corner, this time onto more of an alleyway than a street. Peachy Nobleman's eyes darted along the bleak faces of the walls. Desperately. Searchingly. The alleyway was empty. They kept walking. The dagger's blade pressed - ever too gently - against his back. "It... it says here. Heresy, blasphemy, treason, and... whatnot."

"Pray define 'whatnot.'"

"I... ah... Help! Help - "

The blade penetrated with a sickening crunch of vertebrae. The nobleman pitched over, twitching as he hit the ground. Kendath spun around.

Too late. The witness - a woman in an apron and a cap, a shopkeeper - stood slack-jawed at the corner of the alley. In a split second she was gone, pattering away with a shriek that could have woken dragons in their slumber. Another shriek, then another. Their echoes ricocheted off the walls.

Kendath made himself quite scarce indeed.

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