New Paltz LARP

August 6, 2014

A Matter of Faith (Part I)

Posted by Sparrow/Druku/Samuel

The wheels of the carriage echoed loudly in the caverns beneath the Arodarth Mountains. This annoyed Kard. The noise reminded him why he tried wasting the week’s travel on foot the last time he went to return to his family. The only thing stopping him from doing it again was the apparently plausible problem that he could be randomly whisked away to parts unknown…again…before he could tell his family that he was alive after disappearing for so long……again. The horseless carriage ride was much faster, even if it was not soundproof, and he did not have to complain about his feet aching. Not that he complained much at home. Barely anytime to anyway.

It had been about a week since he and the Crusaders managed to stop not only the Firsts from annihilating of the world, but also the Emissary Pestilence from spreading her Disease and destroying the population. There was pride to be had in that, and a great feeling of accomplishment. But right now, the Dwarf just wanted to go home and rest the best way he knew how: with good old fashion labor.

An hour or so later, the cart pulled up to a familiar place for the battle weary dwarf: Tharin Jewelers and Steel–also known as home. At least that is what the sign said, anyway. Kard barely recognized the place in front of him. He remembered the place getting bigger in the four years he was in the Labyrinth, but now the place looked enormous. Apparently a single year can do wonders for sales as well, he thought to himself, amazed. Part of him was overjoyed to see the family business do so well, but another part was only reminded that he was not very involved in this world anymore. He helped out when he was there–sitting around just drove him nuts–but when was he really home anymore? The thought left his brow furrowed as he went up to the door. He peered through the window, seeing Dwarves of all kinds bustling around at work. With a deep breath, he clenched the doorknob to open the door when he noticed it felt different somehow. Silver. Very nice.

He did not have much time to admire it, though, as he found the door connecting with his head as it swung open, followed promptly by his backside connecting with the floor. “Oh slag, sorry about that!” Came a husky female’s voice from the door frame. There was only one person Kard knew that was as careless about her surroundings as that. “Maybe if you watched where you were going, you wouldn’t knock your own damn brother flat on his ass,” Kard shouted at the girl.

The girl just stood there, staring at the Dwarf on the ground and blinking in disbelief. This annoyed Kard. “Okay, I’ll just help myself up.” He got up onto his feet and brushed the dirt from his pants and back. “Clearly your manners dwindle as the shop got big-AH!” He was cut off by the sudden and very tight hug that came from his more than ecstatic sister. “Thank Moradin, you’re actually alive! We thought you were dead! Again!” She pulls back from the hug with a jokingly annoyed smile on her face.The girl was about Kard’s height, if not an inch, shorter with dusty blonde hair, broad shoulders, and some stubble growing on her face. It was obvious her face had been shaven more than once by now. She was a strong looking girl, but she still had a modest face to her. “You know, you should really start writing us before you decide to disappear and die again.”

“Ah, I’m not dead yet, Adra” He put a little too much emphasis on the word “yet” then he realized. “It’s just hard to stomach coming back to this place when the prospect of getting teleported somewhere else against my will is so alluring.”

“Oh what? So now we’re too boring for you? Maybe you would have been better off as a corpse then! I’m sure you’d be the life of your own funeral.”

“Not like you’d know! You wouldn’t be allowed near 30 ft. of my casket! You’d likely break the damn thing before I could enjoy my last nap in it!” The two of them tried to maintain an angry composure, but they could not help bursting into laughter at their own stupid back-and-forth. “Oh, it’s good to be back, ya ninny. I was afraid something would happen to this place while I was gone.” He looks back down at the silver doorknob. “Glad I was wrong, seeing how things are getting fancier around here.” Adra simply rolled her eyes and smacked Kard upside the head. “You just get back after a year of being dead-”

“Not dead.”

“-And you’re worrying about the family business? And you said you wanted to be a soldier.”

“What, I can’t be concerned about my family’s well being and my duties at the same time,” Kard asked bluntly. “Besides, how badly could I have been missed for-”

“HOLY ABBATHOR!” Yet another voice from the doorway, this time from a boy about the same height as Adra. The two looked almost exactly alike, except for the more masculine voice and slightly thicker facial hair. “Kard, you’re alive! I gotta go tell Mom and Dad!” And with that, he bolted back inside, screaming for the two older Tharins. Like his sister, the boy was not as thick as Kard, but what he lacked in muscle, he made up for in speed.

“Answer your question, brother,” Adra asked with a noticeable gulp. “It might.” They both looked inside, their faces blank, but terror raging inside them both. Kard was momentarily paralyzed by the thought of what happened the last time he showed up after presumably being dead. His hand unwittingly went to the back of his head, the memory firmly imprinted there. There was clearly no time to lose. He immediately headed for the door and into the workshop. “C’mon, before the Beast shows up. I want a business report and to get to work before things blow up.”

“Right.” They both went inside, Kard taking his first real look at the place in a year. The store was a lot bigger, with more work stations and three full furnaces, but the heavy scent of metal and soot still clung to the place. A new display area had be set up, showcasing the finest the store had pre-made so far, placed directly in front of the work area to show they meant “made on site” when they said it. Several Dwarves Kard had never met before flashed by his vision, new workers in the recent year. More than the two he remembered were there before. They made their way towards the back room, thankfully where its always been, tucked just behind the front counter. Inside the back room, a big map of the continent and a few sales charts hung on the walls, along with a table covered in receipts, orders, and designs for various forms of pending jewelry and armors. From next to the charts, Adra picked up a long iron rod and pointed it at the map. “If you’ll look here, we’ve made large headway in our home country’s market,” She said as she pointed to one of the sales charts. “As you can see, our sales have doubled in the past year and we’ve become one of the leading names in apparel in Mækivé.”

“Excellent,” Kard remarked as he looked over some of the Jewelry designs. Some of them he could not help but make notes in his head on improvements and material modifications. “How are we on the international market?”

“Yeah, about that…” Her pointer slid back over to the map, “Calantha was one of our bigger clients, as you know, but since this whole demon thing started, we haven’t been able to do much business with them, save a rare straggler who wandered down here, and with the borders cut off now–pretty much literally–business is just about all but dead with them.”

“Great…” Kard said as he rested his head in his hand, already feeling weary. “We’ll rebound. If the products good, people will talk about. Demand will go up when they can’t get it, and if they ever drop those blasted portals, we could get a surge of new orders. Keep going”

“Right.” the pointer slid to Jarlsjarlfi. “We’ve yet to break any deals with vending in Jarlsjarlfi and have decided to tread cautiously on the matter. You know how money hungry they can be…” She made a face and moved the pointer over to Berista. “Our Beristan sales have been doing better, but we lost customers near the northwest because of the demon infestations there. Otherwise, we’ve had customers from as far as the Sethrian Sea. We’re making a name in the elvish market. The KBA could actually be helping us out quite a bit.”

Kard kept his mouth shut on that one. He still remembered the stories of the hell the NEA wrought across Keimin, and the scene within the KBA was not a much rosier experience. Farthing–the Farthings–whatever the hell they were now were not faring too great, that is for sure. Adra continued on, moving down to Okime. “To our South, we’ve been getting small orders for weaponry and armor from civilian clientele in Okime. We’ve actually gotten some footing in the Janakwal Province because of it. Otherwise sales have remained steady in Qiyang and Hashar. Managed to get two new furnaces from the profits on those sales.”

“Sounds great. I like what I’m hearing.” Kard kept ruffling through the papers on the table when he came across an obscure paper for neck jewelry. The design looked sound, but the dimensions were all off. Who the hell would have a 48 inch neckline? He picked up the design with a look of confusion on his face. “Hey, what’s this for? These measurements are huge.” He found another paper for wrist jewelry. “This necklace, this bangle, they’re completely out of proportion.”

The female Dwarf turned to look at the designs, a grimace forming on her face. “Oh, that…those are some designs drawn up by one of the new guys. He had this insane idea to start marketing to the Trolls. Like they could actually buy anything from us. I don’t even think they have their own currency, let alone money.”

He looked back at the plans and gave it some thought. The design would be too expensive if made from a rigid material. But if they used something stretchable, then they could make it cost-effective and a reasonable fit for several sizes. Even Troll sizes. “Well, actually…if the folks would consider it, we could make these designs out of-”

“Duck”

“…That’s a dumb idea. Why would you-”

“No, I mean duck,” Adra said matter of factly, arms crossed and looking over his shoulder. “Would you start talking sense, woman? What are you-…oh-” The curse about to slip out of his mouth got cut off by a blow to the side of the head that sent him to the floor. A fist this time, he thought as he regained his bearings. Still a hell of a lot better then the iron slab she used last time…He managed to get to his feet, wobbling slightly from the blow. Standing in front of him was a women a few inches taller than him, with a physique that one could tell Kard inherited from her. With obvious exceptions. She was definitely older than the two other Dwarves in the room, some grey showing in her hair and growing beard and her eyes glistened with a moist amber color. Most importantly, she looked more pissed than an Orc who broke his weapon. “…Do you have ANY IDEA how frickin’ miserable we’ve been thinking you were DEAD!? AGAIN!?”

“…No ma’am, I don’t…” Kard said as he stood there respectfully, if not fearfully of the woman he knew as Mom. The Dwarf wanted to tell her to fuck off and greet him better than that, but he knew very well not to mess with her when she got like this. It worked out in the end, anyway. “You come back after four years, we think ‘this is the end of it, you’re safe, everything’s fine now’,” she yelled at him, fresh, hot tears rolling down her cheeks. “Then you go and disappear for another fucking year, allegation that you’re a criminal and DEAD flying all over!”

A hand set down on her shoulder from another male Dwarf, older than her by a decade or so. He looked calmer, but no less gruff and just as grateful to see their son again. He was between Kard and his mother in height and shared his son’s dark brown hair and brown eyes. “Ambrret, you promised you’d be careful when you saw him this time…you’ll give the boy a concussion.” She whirled around and smacked his hand off, now shouting at him. “I know what I said, Rinar! But we could have lost him again! He our first born son, damnit! He needs to know what the hell that felt like while he was…was running around, fighting and…saving the world or whatever the hell you…” she could not finish the sentence before bursting into sobs and grabbing her son in a powerful hug that almost took the wind out of him. “Where the hell were you!? I thought we’d never see you again!”

Kard wrapped his arms around his wailing mother, patting her back to simultaneously comfort her and signal for her to ease up. “In a time distorted nuthouse of a forest, then dragged all over the world by bitter old hag when I was just trying come home…I’m sorry I couldn’t get here sooner, Ma…” Yup, all works out in the end…

After a few minutes of crying, Ambrret finally pulls off and pats Kard’s shoulders. “I’m so glad you’re safe and home.” Her eyes looked shinier now that she had gotten her frustrating out of the way. “Now that we know that, we need to get busy. We just got an order from a big guy in Dan Lodar for a set of ceremonial Gauntlets. Someone’s getting married and they’re too lazy to make the accessories for the bridal party.”

“It’s the surface air, I tell you,” Rinar says as he walks out into the smithery. “Stay put in it for too long, and you start getting too complacent.” He walked right over to his anvil and grabbed a piece of steel and placed it in the furnace. “Ain’t that right, Garnag?” Garnag simply raised a hand from his work. “Whatever you say, Dad.” He went right back to his task, hammering out the shape of a Silver Gauntlet. Without missing a beat, he asks without looking up “So how badly is he bruised this time, Mom?”

“Just a bruise on the side,” she said as she returned to her own work station, inlaying some rubies into a beautifully etched Gold Gauntlet. “He’ll live.”

“As per usual, I see,” Garnag chuckled, waving over to Kard to come over. “You might as well help me make these things, you’re no use to anyone just standing there.” Kard returns the chuckle, a little half hearted, and joins his brother. “Coming from the one who’s no help at all, that’s a pretty bold demand.” He did not have the heart to tell any of them just how close he had skirted death in the past few weeks, so it felt better to just go along with the flow.

Garnag grumbled and went back to his work, “Oh piss off. I’ve been more help around here in the past year than you’ve ever been before.”

“Only because I haven’t been here to show you how it’s done.”

“Guys…” Adra sighed, seeing where this was going already.

“And I suppose you could show me a thing or two about adventuring as well? It sounds like all I need to do is get lost.”

“I was not lost! I knew exactly where I was,” Kard shot back.

“Well you sure took your sweet ass time getting back from there,” Garnag retorted.

“Guys!” Adra was starting to fume, but neither boy seemed to notice.

“I didn’t have a hell of a lot of choice in the matter!”

“Like you didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter leaving for the military? Because you couldn’t bother to stay here with your family!?

“GUYS,” Adra shouted at both of them.

“FOR MONORETH’S SAKE, GARNAG, I was fucking kidding with you! Why do you have to dredge up old arguments! I left to do what I thought was right for me, it had nothing to do with…” His sentence trailed off as he realized that the work had stopped flowing. Everyone in the room was looking at him like he had suddenly spoken Elvish. Two of the unfamiliar Dwarves even started laughing to each other. “…What?”

Rinar looked across the room at Ambrret, the both of them wearing matching confused looks. “You don’t think…” Ambrret started. “He has been gone a while,” Dad started up again for her. “He probably doesn’t know about Monoreth.”

Kard looks at all them, really confused now. “Uh, trust me, I know about Monoreth. He kind of left a present in my head.” He pulled up his eye patch to show them the shimmersteel eye with the “M” monogrammed into the pupil. Garnag, sitting right next to him, got the first look at it, scrutinizing it while the other Dwarves start gathering around him. “…Woah. That’s certainly not your average Dwarf’s crafting…” Several of the Dwarves gathered make similar comments, remarking on the detail, how realistic it looks, and the material it was made of. “Well, Kard,” Garnag said as he got back to work, “I guess this makes you a living relic now, seeing as Monoreth is dead and all.”

“I know that. I saw it with my own eye,”he said, much to the chagrinned snickering of some newer workers. I kind of facilitated it once… “But…but…” And then he realized why what Garnag said was so significant. Monoreth did not die as a Paragede. If he had, there would be no issue, he would just be reborn again at some point. He died as a God. Several times, actually. But regardless of how many times he died and how many time he came back, he died. He cycled out. He was no longer considered part of the pantheon as far as Dwarves would be concerned. Which was problematic for Monoreth, since he was still alive, and now with only one follower to his name. “…But he is alive! I’ve seen it myself, more than once–I’m still not sure how he came back the second time, though…Anyway, he’s alive, he’s well, and most importantly, he’s not gone!”

“Dear, just how hard did you whack that boy in the head? He’s sputtering utter nonsense,” Rinar remarked as he grabbed a pair of tongs and removed the steel from the furnace. “I didn’t think it was that hard,” Ambrret came over to Kard to look him over. “Must be from taking too many hits on the front line. Looks like you actually need some rest after your crazy shenanigans out there. Go take a rest up stairs, we don’t need you acting crazy on us while there’s work to be done.”

“Stop your worrying, I’m fine, Ma,” Kard said as he tried to get back to work, but his mother’s hand slapped firmly down onto his. “…Not another word. Upstairs and out of the shop. Rest up.” Kard was taken aback a little. She was actually serious, not just offering. One did not just “not work” here, one was either seriously sick or wounded before one could consider “not working.” Without more than a muttered “…Okay,” he trudged over to the stairs and up to the house proper, just standing in the dining area, trying to piece together the events that occurred downstairs.

……What the hell just happened?

 

* * * * * * *

 

Kard decided the next day to make a trip to Heimfuld to figure out what could be done about Monoreth. His home town of Vurdorahl had enough folks he could talk to about religion, but most of them were more occupied with their actual jobs most of the time and the capital city would have more extensive history in their archives.

Before he could leave, though, Ambrret stopped him at the door. “The only reason you’re even going anywhere is because it’s within the Country. You’ve been gone long enough without word, I don’t need that again.” Kard just rolled his eyes and hugged her. “Yeah, I know. You know you can’t stop me from leaving anyway. Save you giving me another one of these,” he said as he tapped the welt on the side of his head. The two exchange familial smiles before she lets him go. “Be careful of Nightgaunts along the way. I hope you find some answers, but don’t stay too long. We really could use the help and I won’t house a freeloader,” she say as he hands him some water jugs.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be back before you know it.” With that the Dwarf set off for the capital. It took less than a day to travel there with the horseless carriage. It seemed to take just as much time to park the thing. This annoyed Kard, but eventually, he was able to get out and about in the city. Heimfuld was not a place Kard had been to often, so maneuvering through the crowds was a challenge for him. Not even Kasintha or Xanthera felt this felt this crowded, he thought to himself as he pushed through the crowd. Must have been the sky…He looked up at the ceiling of the city, high above his head and covered with stalactites. Underground, the city was closed off from the rest of the world, did not have to bother with it. It was safer. Secluded.

Cut off.

It took a hard shove from an angry couple behind him to realize that he had stopped moving and was slowing down the flow of movement. He shook his head and continued on his way, letting out a deep sigh. …Being on the surface really does change a man.

Eventually, Kard managed to find a grand building bearing the title “The Forge of Moradin” It was an incredibly well made building, adorned in beautiful embellishments of jewel and carving. At its entrance was a statue on each side of the massive door, both depicting A Dwarf striking at a piece of metal on an anvil. The building seemed to stretch all the way up to the ceiling, like it was never finished because it reached it’s maximum height. Inside, the Building stretched out almost like a citadel. Walls were lined with sculptures depicting dramatic scenes of battle, congregation, and smithery, each made of more extravagant material the closer to the back of the church it was. Sections of the church had small furnaces set up, around which several pieces of crafting were placed before it, and even the aspe was made to look like a blacksmith’s workspace. As Kard gawked at the magnificent architecture, he also noticed several of the church’s patrons, dressed in an odd cross between friar robes and and a leather apron. Tools of the smithing trade stuck out of pockets sewn into the aprons. While several simply moved about to another part of the church, some were sitting in the pews leading up to the aspe-forge and others were consecrating weapons and crafts they deemed worthy of the church.

One of these Dwarves actually noticed Kard at the entrance and came over to greet the gawking fellow. “I guess by the slack-jawed expression you’re sporting that this is your first time here,” he said as he held out his hand. “Welcome to the Forge of Moradin, brother. I am Apprentice Bofrin.”

“Uh…thank you,” Kard replied before remembering what manners were and shook the man’s hand. “Kard Tharin. I’m from Vurdorahl, down south. I came here with something of a, uh…conundrum of faith.”

“Oh? Is that so,” the Apprentice queried as he began walking towards a furnace. “Tell me about it.” He turns to some crafted objects in front of it and inspects them. “Well…” Kard started. He felt almost stupid to come here and even stupider for what he was about to ask. “…What happens when a God comes back to life?” The question was met with a chuckle Kard could have sworn was demeaning in nature. “Obviously, they live their life as a Paragede until they die and are reincarnated. Surely you learned that at some point in your life.”

Kard’s cheeks turned red from embarrassment. He did not even know they could do that. “N-No, I mean…” He sighed and gathered himself. “…A God dies. A God. Not the Paragede, the God. They cycle out because of it…What happens if they come back to life?” He was sure that would get him a better answer, but the friar just stood there looking at him strangely. A moment that seemed to stretch on for eternity was finally broken when Bofrin broke his gaze and picked up a small statue made of iron. “…They don’t,” He said bluntly. “They’re gone from this world. That is the only explanation there is,” he said, taking out an etching tool and carving something on it’s base.

“But surely it could be possible by some means,” Kard pushed, trying not to reveal what he’d seen in the Divine Plane and his left eye. “Is there really no precedent you can think of?”

“No, Brother Kard, there is not,” Bofrin stated, annoyance rising in his voice. “It may be a hard truth to swallow, but once a God has cycled out, they are no more.” He picked up another statue, this one depicting Monoreth. It looked as if it had been in front of this furnace for a long time, blackened in places from soot. “This is a natural occurrence amongst the gods and will continue happening until there are none left but Moradin.” The Apprentice took a  long-handled pan that was next to the furnace and placed the statue in it, and the pan into the furnace. “Such is the case of Monoreth. He is gone.” The statue inside quickly turns red, to orange and yellow, and slowly begins melting. “And he’s not coming back.”

Kard just watched as the statue melted in front of him. For some reason, he gingerly touched his eye patch, the faintest amount of pain brooding in his eye socket. It was almost like watching Monoreth die all over again. There was silence between the two again, broken by Bofrin. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, this metal needs to be blessed and recycled.” He turns to the furnace and begins muttering a prayer in Dwarvish, leaving Kard free to roam the building again.

He went to several of the Dwarves in the hall to ask the same question. Some responded with arrogance, some with pity, and some just couldn’t understand what this strange Dwarf was trying to get at. But no matter which Dwarf he spoke to, they all responded the same; Once the God has cycled out, he is gone and will not come back. Every time he received this answer the pain his eye grew more, nothing bad, but noticeable. This only made Kard more determined to find an answer that fit the reality he had seen, but the Apprentices had had enough of this Dwarf’s ramblings. As Kard went to ask one more Dwarf, Apprentice Bofrin came up to him with another, older Dwarf along with him. “This is the man,” he said, “This is the one who has been spouting nonsensical questions and disturbing the congregation!” The older Dwarf looked Kard over once. “I see…young man, I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” he said as he escorted Kard out of the building without a second thought. “You are causing a disturbance we don’t need and are distracting our Apprentices from their work. I don’t know if you’re trying to start some bizarre cult or something, but you must face the truths of this world.” Kard tried to put up resistance, but the other Dwarf was stronger than him and he soon found himself outside, the other man slowly disappearing behind the now imposing door. “May Moridan favor your craft.”

“Wait, please,” Kard exclaimed, stopping the door before it can close. “Please, I swear to you I’ve seen it. I’ve seen Monoreth dead and I have seen him come back to life. He is alive!” He pulled off his eyepatch and showed the old Dwarf the eye he had. “This was given to me by him. He made it himself. It was even Blessed, just over a week ago! If he were dead, he couldn’t. Just look!”

The Dwarf did indeed look, his curiosity growing and enticing him to step out with Kard to take a closer look. Before long, his hand came up to touch the eye. “May I?”

Kard grimaced. Oh joy, yet another person trying to get at this thing. He fidgeted until he finally relented to the man’s request. “…Fine. But you make any moves to take it out and I’ll rip your hand off first.” The other Dwarf was surprised by such a threat, but let it slide and touched the ey delicately. He traced over the “M” carved in its center and the carvings on it. His eyes narrowed as he scrutinized every detail he could on the shimmersteel. Oddly enough, the pain that was in his eye lessened just slightly. “…What is your name, brother,” he asked after he was satisfied with his search.

“Kard Tharin.”

“I see…” The older Dwarf stroked his beard. “…We are done here. You should go now,” He said as he opened the door and stepped inside. Before he closed the door, though, he turned back to Kard. “I am Smith Rak. You may hear from me again, Brother Kard.” The door closed shortly after, accompanied by the sharp sound of metal banging into stone. Kard stood there staring at the doors, it just dawning on him this guys was able to open and close the huge, iron clad doors on his own. …Holy SHIT, that guy is strong! His impressed state didn’t last long, though, as he was still stuck without what seemed like a proper answer. Feeling tired, he departed from the church to find an inn for the night. He figured it was too late to be travelling now anyway.

That night Kard slept restlessly, but the one time he did sleep well enough, he dreamed of a crumbling, decrepit city with a single flickering light standing at its center. He only woke up once the light went out.

 

* * * * * * *

Kard returned home the following morning and for a week after, things seemed to return to a sense of normalcy in the Tharin household. Ambrret ran a tight ship to keep work flow going, Garnag tried to push Kard’s buttons while they worked together on orders, Adra managed the front displays and any customers that came in, and Rinar happily kept to his weapons crafting. The other ten Dwarves under Tharin employ worked around the clock to get the last of the Dan Lodar order done and shipped out on time. Everything was normal, but Kard couldn’t seem to focus on any of it. He went through the motions, but his mind was elsewhere. It returned to the dream he’d had that night. By now it was obvious to him what it had meant, but not what to do about it. Maybe it would be better to let Monoreth fade into obscurity. Probably means I’m the only things stopping him from actually dying out. The logic of his religion sounded right; he shouldn’t be a god anymore, so worshipping him would be pointless. Someone in the Crusaders said that Gods draw their power off of prayer. If I’m the only one, does that make him weak? Does it hurt to only have one follower? If it does, maybe it would be better to just…Kard sighed and just went back to his work. He knew this wasn’t going to be an easy decision and he really did not want to make it while he was busy.

The work day was coming to an end and Ambrret rang the bell to signal the end of the work day. Everyone looked confused by this, since there was at least another 2 hours in the work day, but they still gathered by her for the end-of-the-day report and to a lesser extent, their pay. “Alright, everyone. We all put in a good effort today and thanks to all your hard work, we got the wedding order finished in time and ready to ship to Don Lodar,” she stated, quite pleased with their efforts. “I figured we wouldn’t get this done ‘til tomorrow morning with how things were going, but we actually managed to finish them ahead of schedule. So for that reason, everyone gets the rest of the night off! And paid!” A hearty cheer shot out from all the workers. “But that doesn’t mean we can slack off tomorrow,” Ambrret continues. “So I want you all back here on time, ready to work, and…does anyone else here a bird?” Indeed, a screech that sounded something like a hawk could be heard in the building, leaving everyone wondering where the noise was coming from.

Adra was the first to notice that sitting on the front counter was a hawk with a letter in its beak. She walked over to it quizzically and took the letter from its mouth. “I didn’t think birds would come down this deep underground.” With it’s job complete, the hawk flapped out an open window and flew off down a tunnel. She looked down at the note to see a wax seal on it in the shape of a creature with tentacles. Turning it over, she recognized her brothers name on it in fine, cursive Common. “Hey Kard. It’s for you, apparently. From someplace with a sick sense of glorifying Nightgaunts…”

“What the hell are you talking about,” Kard said as she handed him the letter. He turned it over to the seel to see the squid on it. “…Adra…that’s a squid, you dope. It on the flag of Aranarth.” Adra huffs and crosses her arms. “Well how should I know that? I’m not as well traveled as you are,” she retorts, looking over his shoulder as he opens the letter. “So, what’s it say?”

“I’m more concerned with who it’s from,” he says, scanning the letter for a name. “It’s not like I actually know anyone from the Tear Drop Islands…wait…Vigil was……no, he’s not there anymore…” He continued reading, the rest of the family noisily trying to get a peek at the letter as well.

To Kard Tharin of the Crusaders of the Council,

I wish to cordially invite you to a party hosted at my estate in the Aranarth of the Tear Drop Islands on the eve of the 28th of May. Do not worry about transportation, as a Teleportation scroll has been provided. Full accommodations have been handled personally as well. I look forward to your arrival.

Sincerely,

Agarwaenor Halfelven

King of the Aranarth of the Tear Drop Islands

Kard’s jaw went slack from shock reading that over, but the rest of the family was more impressed and amazed than he was. “Holy crap, you got in good with a KING? How did you manage that one,” Garnag said as he punched his broth in the arm playfully. “…I honestly have no idea,” Kard replied bewildered. “The last time I even saw the guy, I was telling him off for abusing magic.” And I thought his name was Argollo…

“…You insulted royalty? Kard Tharin, I know damn well we taught you to be more respectful,” Rinar scolded, both parents giving him a death glare worthy of an executioner. “I also figured your time in the military put some respect and fear in you! Did you learn nothing from that incident in Bawerstrom?” Kard just rolled his eyes at his father. “My squad was full of petty morons and the captain was a blowhard xenophobe. And I learned plenty about fear in the four years after that, thank you very much.” He pulled up his eye patch and pointed at the metallic orb underneath. “Besides, the bastard took control of me, pluck the first eye out, and then froze me in time when I tried to leave for not liking that he took control of me.” He put the eye patch back on and pointed at them defiantly. “And yes, this is the second shimmersteel eye. You wouldn’t believe the hell my socket has been through.”

Ambrett just held up her hands as if to say ‘I’m not touching that,’ and shook her head. “Either way, what are you going to do? For all you know, he could have you executed once you got there. Especially with your manners…” She said not-at-all passively. Kard scoffed. “Hey, my manners are just fine.”

“When compared to an Elf in mixed-racial company,” Garnag said right on cue.

“Like yours are much better,” Adra shot at her brother. “Or do I need to remind you of that little girl you scared and the thrashing her father gave you for it afterwards?”

“I made one joke! One little joke! How was I supposed to know she’d freak out like that!?”

“Maybe by realizing she was, you know, a KID,” Kard stepped in. “And not one of your slag-for-brains friends.”

“Alright, the three of you. Enough,” Ambrret commanded to break up the ensuing fight. “You all need to fix your manners. Even you, Adra.” She blushed and looked away defiantly as her mother scolded her. “So…what are you going to do Kard?”

He didn’t need to ponder it long before answering. “I might as well. If it’s just a party, I might as well enjoy myself. If it’s a trap…I’ve been in far worse situations before. What’s one more harrowing tale to throw under my belt?” He almost sounded pleased at the thought of things going sour, but for the most part, he just wanted a distraction from his brooding. It could be fun, anyway.

 

* * * * * * *

The 28th came and night was approaching. After work, Kard made sure that he was bathed, well groomed, and wearing his most formal attire. It had been awhile since he’d worn it, but thankfully he hadn’t grown anymore, so the worst he had to deal with was patting the dust off of it. He looked himself over in the mirror once he was all ready. …Hmm…I guess I don’t look too bad.

A knock at the door broke his train of thought. Kard turned to see Rinar standing in the door, smiling at his son. “Well well well, who knew you could clean up so well?” Kard just grimaced and tugged at the cuff of his sleeve. “I feel so stiff in this thing,” he said, un-amusedly moving his arms to test the fit better.

“The point is to look good, son, not to be able to move.” Rinar chuckled and pat him on the back. To his slight surprise, there was strange lump on Kard’s back, part of which felt like a handle. “Throwing axe?”

Kard shrugged and pulled the note out from a pocket in his coat. “Just in case. ‘Cover your back, protect your comrades, never go into unknown territory unarmed.’ It’s a good rule of thumb the military teaches you.” Out from the note he pulls out the Teleportation scroll, marked for its destination to the the king’s castle.

“Good to know you learned something from all that, then,” Rinar chuckled. “Ready to go then?”

“Yup.” The two gave each other a one armed hug before Kard stepped up, holding the scroll in front of him. “You may want to step back. This is going to be…weird.” Once his dad was further away, he opened the scroll, read it off, and in a blinding flash of light, disappeared from the room, leaving only the older Tharin alone. As he walks out he thinks to himself how the the business could really use some of those scrolls.

A moment later, Kard appears at the entrance to Agarwaenor’s residence, falling over from wobbly legs and severe nausea from the trip. …I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that kind of travel…Suppressing the urge to heave, he got back on his feet and steadied himself before heading into the royal castle. At the gates stood a checkpoint where guards were inspecting guests as they came in. One of them stopped Kard and proceed with his search. “Do you have any weapons on you?” Kard eyed him suspiciously. “Why does it matter,” he queried back to the guard.”

“King’s orders. No weapons allowed during the festivities.” Kard gritted his teeth and relented, removing the axe from his coat and handing it to the guard. He looked at Kard judgmentally and placed it ina very small collection of other weapons. Kard’s cheeks went flush with embarrassment. This annoyed Kard. Regardless, the guard continued his inspection. “Can you cast any magic, Sir?”

“Not without a weapon, I can’t,” he said brusquely. The two glared at each other before the guard stepped aside. “Very well. Thank you for your time and enjoy our king’s hospitality, Sir Tharin.”

He gave the guard curt “Thanks,” and began proceeding in when he noticed the guard addressed him by name. He did a double take, seeing the guard taking care of another set of guest, no longer paying attention to Kard. He thought about that quizzically as he proceeded to the main hall. Was I that expected to come?…And when did I become a “Sir”?

Just outside the hall was decked out for the extravagant affair. Pristine statues of marble lined the corridor, Flowers that seemed to come from all over Keimen were set out to accentuate the entrance, and even the red carpet seemed to glow of it’s own accord. People of all races seemed to be present, even a Satyr or two. Or Faun. Or both. It was still hard to tell the difference for Kard. They looked to be lining up to enter the main hall, chatting idly with each other about politics and their life and self important issues. They were all wearing elegant dresses and dapper suits, each boasting of wealth and nobility.The only ones who weren’t were the Satyrs, or Fauns, who were very modestly dressed, but they were a being Kard paid little attention to.

And then there was Kard, who’s finest attire could compare to peasant rags in the current company. But he joined the line, feeling uncomfortable surrounded by the socialites around him. He could not help but feel as if he was being looked down on, even by the people who were shorter than him. He tried to ignore the feeling and just followed along the line, tuning out people’s conversations and going with the flow. In doing so, he almost blindly walked into the main hall and missed when the the announcer called out to the room “Sir Kard Tharin, Duke of the Island of Lerengroth” upon his entrance. Huh, that’s a nice touch, announcing people names, he thought to himself as he walked down the stairs to canned applause. Once he got to the bottom though, he completely froze up, suddenly realizing the implications of his greeting. Hold up! Did he just call me a Duke!? What the hell is going on!?

It took a tap on the shoulder from the guests right behind him to snap him out of his stupor and get him to move on so the rest of the guests could enter. Several of the other patrons offered simple greetings or a nod of acknowledgement as he walked through and he tried to greet them all in kind. He could not feel more uncomfortable or baffled as he walked further into the party, though, making a beeline for the refreshments table in hopes that he could just blend into the background. That plan was popped out of existence when a certain king popped into existence right in front of him. “Hello, Kard,” said Agarwaenor, surprising and startling the Dwarf. “I’m glad you decided to show up. I was worried past transgressions might have barred you from attending.”

“You scared the crap out of me…uh, your highness,” he said respectfully, though not sure why. “I was, uh…s-surprised to receive an invite like this, so…uh, I f-figured I shouldn’t pass up the ch-chance to attend.” What am I doing? I don’t even like this guy, why am I trying to be nice? And why am I a Duke!? “First of all, Agarwaenor will do just fine. Second, why are you stammering,” King Agarwaenor said with bemused and amused eyes.

“Because I’m a Duke and I have no idea when or how that happened,” Kard blurted out, trying not to attract too much attention.

“Oh that. Huh…I probably should have mentioned that in the letter,” Argollo said half-thoughtfully. “Anyway, yes, you are now the Duke of one of my Islands. Congratulations!”

Kard couldn’t help but smile out of awkwardness and confoundedness. “That’s…very generous of you, your hi-uh, Arg-Agarwaenor. But for those of us who don’t get the logic behind this, why? Last I checked, scolding a king wasn’t exactly grounds for a societal promotion.” One of the guests heard this remark and gave Kard a sideways glare before turning back to her partner.

Agarwaenor simply chuckled and placed his arms on Kards shoulders. “Well after you left, I realized that you were right, in a way, and that not all people have the same comfort with magic as others.” He pulled back, then motioned for the two of them to sit down. Kard sat opposite from the king, but the table was rather wide, so Agarwaenor got up and moved closer to the Dwarf. “I could simply apologize, but then again, I could do that, then Stasis you and say that I really wasn’t or tell the guards to arrest you once the party was over, and you’d be none the wiser” He shrugged his shoulders. “You couldn’t just trust me and the possibility of having magic used on you against your will started all this anyway. So instead of just using words, I decided action would solve the problem better and quicker. And now you’re a duke. Make sense?” He smiled sincerely, hands clasped idly in front of him, oblivious to whether this was odd or not.

“Uuuuhhhh…” Kard could only reply after hearing that line of thought. Strangely, it did make sense, the compensation was just enormous to him. “…Yeah, sure…” Awkwardness started setting in again, as Kard had no idea how to respond. “I, uh…guess I’d like to apologize as well,” he finally stammered out. “I should be paying better respect to a king, regardless of how I feel about his actions-”

“Oh think nothing of it,” the king interjected, passively waving his hand at Kard. “I prefer when people speak their minds. It makes things so much easier. Besides, I needed more people to help govern these Islands. There so many of them…” he slumped back in his chair with an exasperated look on his face. “It works out for both of us, I assure you.” A waiter walked over with a tray of champagne glass and offered them to the two nobles, who both took one. Agarwaenor raised his to Kard and said, “A toast: to your new Dukedom, to resolved matters, and to a delightful party.” They clinked glasses and took sips of the bubbly drink and stumbled into conversation from there. The rest of the night, Kard became less awkward with the other nobles present and even managed to leave a few with positive opinions of him. It was still going to take A LOT of time to get used to this notion of being in a position of power, but the Dwarf thought he could handle it with some effort. Of course, that could have been the Champagne talking.

 

* * * * * * *

 

The next day, Agarwaenor introduced Kard to the island he would be governing and the manor to which he would have access to as long as he reigned as Duke. They reviewed the general duties of his title and the intricacies of how to do it well and showed him the various forms and paperwork he would invariable need to go through for all manner of official business. He even threw in some lesson in etiquette so Kard didn’t embarrass himself at future events. With all this finished, Agarwaenor gave him the forms to fill out to officially enact his title as well as copies of all the legal forms for him to study, then assisted his trip home with a Teleport scroll tailored to send him back to the shop.

An hour later, Kard appeared in a flash of light within the work area of the shop, where unlike at the palace, he wretched onto the floor from nausea. In front of the entire work staff and his family. It was not pretty. “Damn it, Kard…” came Ambrret’s dazed and haggard greeting. “Are you alright? What happened, are you sick?” She got an old rag and used it to clean up the vomit while two of the workers helped Kard up to his feet. “I’m fine, Ma…” Kard tried to reassure her and failed at it. “Teleportation is just not kind to people who aren’t used to it.” He started wobbling again, so the two Dwarves kept him held up for him.

“Alright, get him into the back room, let him sit down,” Ambrret commanded. And so he was taken into the back room, just about everyone else following him. Kard felt a sense of claustrophobia with everyone crowding around him like this, but he was not in a position to just be left alone. “Soooooo? How was the party? Did the king try to kill you,” Garnag asked abruptly. The rest of the Dwarves present nodded with Garnag’s statement, too eager to learn about the event–save for Rinar, who just looked sorry for the lot’s behavior.

“So…the party went okay,” Kard started.

“Yeah?”

“There were plenty of important people…”

“Yeah?”

“And King Agarwaenor, um…apologized for his liberal use magic.”

“Wait, seriously,” Adra butt in. “He apologized to you?”

“Yup…Oh, and uh…I was named a Duke.”

The entire room fell silent, staring at Kard in utter disbelief. “………WHAT,” came the question on everyone’s lips from everyone’s mouths.

“Yeah…I was named a Duke…I had the papers with me, um…” He looked for the paper that he clearly did not have with him anymore. “Uh…Adra, there’s gotta be some papers back in there, could you bring them in?” She just nodded dumbly and went out to the work area. Garnag was still trying to process this information as Adra came back in with the papers. “So let me get this straight. You yell at royalty, something that should get people killed, or at least jailed…and it gets you an invitation to a party and a title of nobility!?”

“Yeah, I really don’t get it either…” Kard said as he started ruffling through the papers, pulling out the form for his title. “But as soon as I sign these papers, I will officially be…” He reads through the paper until he finally comes to the point where his full title is written, then shows it to his family. “…Sir Kard Tharin, Duke of the Island of Lerengroth in the Aranarth of the Teardrop Isles.”  The other Dwarves stared in silent amazement at the paper, as the news slowly sunk in, faces brightening, and even Kard starting to smile. “…You realize what this means, right?” Rinar said out loud to everyone. The excitement in the room was building quickly and ready to burst, so Kard let it burst.

“That’s right. The Tharin name is officially a noble family!” Everyone burst into loud cheers and applause, everyone in the building getting crushing hugs and congratulatory punches as they celebrated their newly obtained status. Rinar went upstairs and grabbed the good liquor from their stores and brought it down to share with everyone. The work day was all but forgotten in the commotion of their revelry and by the time it actually ended, everyone was drunk and happy and loud all the way back to their homes, the entire Tharin family settling into their own and taking the time to jovially talk of the future and what this means for them, until Garnag spoke up to ask, “So…what does this mean for the shop? Are we closing down this place?”

“Hell no,” Ambrret and Rinar both exclaim at the same time, then Ambrret continued. “This business has been our life blood for years now! If anything, your brother becoming a Duke will drive business right to our doorstep!” Rinar smiles wide and slams a fist down on the table. “We’re staying open for business, and nothings going to change that!” While they were talking Kard was going through the papers that Argollo gave him. There was plenty he had to look through and learn, but one form suddenly made him smile brighter than the sun. “Nothing’s gonna change that, huh? I’ll do you one better than just staying open,” Kard says as he pulls the papers out and slams them on the table. In large letters at the top read ‘Permission for and Acquisition of Property for Sales and Business’. “We’re gonna expand to other countries.”

Garnag spit the mead he was drinking out in shock while Adra grabbed up the forms and started looking through them. “Holy slag, Kard, are you serious!?”

“You bet I’m serious,” he fired back, already on a roll. “Think about it. Tharin Jewelers and Steel is doing well in the southeastern market, but we’ve yet to break any real ground in the rest of the continent.” He started walking over to a window that faced north. “On top of that, with all the crafting we’ve done, there’s still one area we haven’t broken into yet: Enchantments.” He turned back to his family, completely sure of himself and his excitement. “Don’t you see? Aranarth is full of magic. It IS magic. With all the skilled magic users there, we could generate a brand new clientele with normal and enchanted merchandise!”

“That actually sounds brilliant…” Ambrret chimed in, amazement building in her voice. “Anything we need enchanted, we could send to this new store for enchanting–for an additional cost of course–while that store does business with the islands around it and the coastline as well! We could make a killing!”

“And why stop there,” Kard posed leaning on the table in front of him to look at everyone better. “We could set up shop in Kasinthia, too. It’s a mixed race kingdom with people of all different nationalities who’ve come to live there. It’s like Keimin’s melting pot, And it’s one of the most open nations to racial equality on the continent. We hit there, people talk to their families in their home countries, we’re making even more more money now than we ever did!”

“Kard, this all sounds pretty ambitious. Building a second store sounds great, but building a third…” Adra pointed out, deflating the mood some in the house. “That could stretch out of control, especially considering the distance between the stores. We’d have to be very careful how we handle our sales and products with the main store and keep a solid and regular line of communication open at all times.” Doubt began to flash in everyone’s eyes, even in Ambrret’s, the most ambitious of the lot for their business. Kard could not let the excitement die down now. He was too sure to let them give up on the idea.

“It does sound daunting, I know…but I wouldn’t be suggesting this if I didn’t think we could do it. With all the growth this family has had, I have no doubt that we could turn ourselves from a small establishment underground to a well oiled collective that could sell all over Keimin.” He looked to everyone at the table. “Come on, we’ve always talked about going bigger, about reaching out and making our names known. Well here’s our chance! There’s nothing stopping us from taking it except us.” Kard put his fist on top of the form. “I think we’re ready. Who’s with me?”

The rest of the family exchanged looks with each other, silently weighing each other’s resolve in the matter. Rinar was first break the tension and put his fist on the documents along with his son’s. “I’m in.” He said firmly and confidently. Ambrret looked happily surprised at her husband. “Well if he’s in, then I’m definitely in,” she said as she threw her fist in too.

“I’m in too,” Garnag said, putting his fist in with the other Tharins. It all came down to Adra, who was still unsure. “Come on, Adra…this is a family matter…we can’t do this without the whole family,” Kard said to try to convince her. Everyone waited for her to speak when finally, her face brightened with the rest and she put her fist down on the documents. “I’m in.”

“Alright! Let’s show all of Keimin the stuff that Tharins are made of!” They all raised their fists up and slammed them down on the documents in solidarity, breaking the table in the process. They all cheered at this; breaking the table in an agreement like this was good luck, showing a sign of conviction and strength to see the whole thing through to its end.

“And Garnag and Adra will manage the stores!” Kard said while he still had the hype going. Both siblings almost went to agree until they rethought just what Kard said.

“Wait, WHAT!?”

 

* * * * * * *

 

It took quite a bit of time and convincing but Kard finally managed to get Garnag and Adra to agree to manage the new stores they hoped to open. Of course that “bit of time” stretched for days, but that was not a problem, they had plenty to do in that time. The shop bustled with activity while plans were made for their new enterprise. As the other employees of the shop worked on completing their orders, the family got to work signing all the paperwork, teaching the children about business management, and perhaps most important of all, creating a coat of arms for the family. They drew out plan after plan for an idea before finally settling on a simple image: two axes crossed over each other diagonally, overlying a diamond ring, the diamond shining proudly between the two axe heads. With a design they could all be satisfied with, work was instantly started to make a stamp of the design and when it was finished, the first document stamped was the documents to open the store in Lerengroth. They sent out the papers through the mailing service in town to the Palace, and soon enough, a few days later, they had complete approval to open shop.

Two weeks eventually passed and the Tharin children set out for the Aranarth with supplies for the trip and the new store opening. Of course that is not all they were bringing with them. To make sure they keep business flowing, the children also had to drop off some goods along the way, so they had to make a stop in Morthyr during their travels. The delivery did not take very long, but the sun was already setting by the time they had finished, so they decide to head back to the inn they rented at for the night. “It’s a good thing it’s peaceful around here,” Adra said as they started heading back. “Let’s us just relax after riding and camping in that carriage all this time.”

“Ah, you’re just a wuss,” Garnag teased her. “Obviously it’s no trouble for men like your brother and I. We’re build of tougher stuff. I thought you could handle it better, though.”

“Because you’re men, huh?” Adra grabbed him in a headlock suddenly and noogied his head while he was still off guard. “If anyone is made of squishier stuff here, it’s you, dumbass.”

Kard rolled his eyes and was about to tear them apart when he happened to see a familiar face. It was Elvish, which was obvious, since they were in Berista, but he had sworn he had seen it in the Crusaders before. “Hey, I’ll meet you guys back at the inn. I think I see someone I know,” He said as he started off to go find out if he was right.

“What, aren’t we allowed to meet them,” Adra protests, her brother still in the headlock while he struggled to get out. “I’d like to think we’re nice enough that you can introduce us to your friends, Kard.”

“Yeah, fat chance of that being true. Just get to the inn.” He turned to go after the woman before they could get another word in. If he was right, then he could actually get some insight into his own problems from talking to her. Garnag finally got out of his restraint and huffed as Kard left. “Alright fine! But it’s getting cloudy, it could rain,” He called after his brother.

Kard had heard his brother, but he wasn’t really listening anymore. The woman was more important right now. He came up to her and tapped her on the shoulder from behind. “Uh…excuse me, ma’am.” She turned around with a quirked eyebrow, confirming his suspicions; it was Mirfain. “Kard?” she asked with a confused look that slowly softened into a smiled. “It’s nice to see you. What are you doing here?”

“I’m here on business for the family,” he said, noticing a brooch she was sporting on her chest. It held the symbol of the Holy Triumvirate on it. “I, uh…see you’re here on business as well.” He’d known she’d switched to using Apotropaic magic, but this confirmed to him what she was doing with it. “A small break, but yes, I was delivering messages to certain people,” she said matter-of-factly. “I’ve been rather busy and yet not at the same time. It has been a series of odd occurrences so far.” She nodded and noticed his look at the brooch, keeping silent about it and its meaning.

Kard noded, finding her response pretty vague, but that was not what he wanted to press; what she did on her break was her business. Why though… “Yeah, I’d say I’ve been taking it easy, but there’s no real breaks at a forge until the day ends.” He looked around Mir to see if there was anyone else around her. “Are…you alone?” She nodded, following his gaze some. “I am. Why, is there something you would like to talk about in private? I can oblige that if you wish.” She smiled again, but something about it seemed off.

“Well, it couldn’t hurt,” he said offering back his own slightly forced smile. “We don’t talk a lot at work, so, why not sit down and chat for a while?”

“I would be more than happy to. I know a good coffee shop around here,” Mir said, giving Kard a strange look he didn’t quite get. What? Is it risque or somthing? “Unless there is a place you know that you would prefer,” She continued, smirking a little. Kard shrugged, hiding his confusion at the look she gave him. “I haven’t been to Berista in years for anything other than work. Wherever you want to go, so long as it’s got a stiff drink. I could use it, dealing with those two knuckle heads.” He pointed a thumb over his shoulder at the space where his siblings used to be. “They’re driving me up the wall.”

“Alcoholic it is. I have a place in mind.” Mirfain motioned for Kard to follow her down the street and after a few turns, they arrived at a nice looking built bar. She went inside and sat at a table near the back, Kard following right behind her. “First round is on me,” she offered.

“Words I like to here,” He chuckled as he sat down in the chair opposite her. He thought she would pick something closer to the bar proper, but the back worked just as well. It meant less people to listen in. It was welcomed privacy he did not really know he wanted. “So, how goes your work?”

“Work has been…difficult,” she admitted, ordering a pair of strong drinks for them. She shook her head. “Yours?”

“Also difficult. But satisfying.” He reclined back in his chair. “It feels good to be working with metal again. I mean, besides the idle tinkering I do on our down time at the Council. And with the family business expanding in past year, there’s plenty of work to be done.”

“Metal? Are you a smith? Or do you work with smaller things?” she asked.

“Smith and Jeweler. Primarily a jeweler, though; my ma predominantly runs the business,” he said as the drinks get to the table. “Thank you.” He picked up his mug and took a big swig from it. “Though terrible as it sounds, the whole demon nonsense has helped bolster our armory sales. Terrible thing, but business is business…” Mir took a drink from her own cup sadly and said “Demons are terrible business, but yes, business is indeed business, however unfortunate it may be. They still roam Keimin, so you may wish to mind yourself at night,” she warns.

“Oh, I know. We still have to deal with Nightgaunts in the tunnels under the mountains.” He took another sip from his mug then set it down. He knew this conversation was not going to go much farther and he had bigger issues to deal with. He took a moment before looking back up at her and asking point-blank, “So…a Justicar, huh?”

Mir met his glance, her eyes looking very…neutral to the Dwarf. “Yes. There were some things that needed to be accomplished and this accomplishes them, among other things. I am sorry if you have a problem with this arrangement.”

“No one said I had a problem,” he said matter of factly. “With you, anyway. You’re a big girl, you can make your own choices in life.” He steeled himself before he got to the next part. “I just want to know why, considering before we went to the Enchanted Forest of Death, you were a blood mage.” Mir’s eyes narrowed. “People change,” she said, matching his matter of fact tone. “And as such I changed too. You were gone for an entire year. Explaining that much to you would take too long, and you’d not understand half of it.” She came off sounding almost condescending to the Dwarf. Kard did not particularly like the tone she was using, but he was going to have to keep going if he wanted some answers.

“Well, I’ve got some time on my hands. Go ahead, spin me a tale.” He picked his drink back up and sipped it. “I’m all ears.”

“Then I shall try to phrase it in a way that I can help you understand,”she explained in the same tone that she had been using before. “When you along with the rest of the Crusaders disappeared for a year, I had to find a new place of employ. As such I joined the Justicars. What else do you need to know about?”

“Makes sense, in its own right,” he said as he looked at her from over the tip of his glass, “Except that seems like a pretty radical change in occupation. You were an avid blood magic user before we all disappeared, but you suddenly decide to give up all your magic just to ‘find a new place of employ’?” He put his mug down, a little too forcefully. People don’t just change. They don’t just give things up. They have a reason. Help me learn yours, I need advice here. He stared her down, annoyance slowly dripping into his voice. “Admit it. You didn’t just join the Justicars on a whim. There’s more to this than you’re letting on.” He sat up straight. “So…what is it?” Mir took a slow sip from her drink. She looked off a little to the side, measuring her words carefully.

“There are times in our lives when we question whether or not what we do is correct. She swirled the mug, watching the liquid whirl around. “Sometimes that prompts a change that others see as radical or strange.” She looked at Kard, her eyes challenging him to keep going.

Kard listened intently only to be lead into something he already knew. He was already in the middle of his own questioning of that. He needed help answering that question, not another dance around the subject. “Alright look,” He said, trying not let his annoyance go beyond that. “I don’t know what went on while we were gone, but something happened to you that made you change. Your entire. Life.” He found himself raising up in his chair and leaning across the table. Realizing how serious he was getting, he sighed hard and sat back. “I need answers why, Mir. I need answers.”

“Those answers are something you would not be able to understand.” The reply was quick, harsh, and rude. She put down her mug gently, and stared, a glint in them betraying there was more to her answer than she was letting on.

Kard was getting desperate now. She wasn’t giving him even an inch and he really wanted to hear something from her. He slammed his hands down on the table, his voice low and even, but seething with a need he couldn’t suppress. A few bar patrons heard the slam and turned to see what was going on, only to lose interest when they saw it was a Dwarf getting mad in a bar. “You want to play that game, fine. I’ll admit it. I’ve got my own selfish reasons for asking. I’m currently a heathen in my own religion because I’m worshipping a god that should be dead but isn’t. I’m the only person who’s worshipping him right now and I don’t know if what I’m doing is right or not.” He leans in to her, his voice low and and getting angry. “A god’s life is hanging in the balance…and I need help finding what to do. Why. Did you. Become. A Justicar?”

“You’re asking the tainted, damned, demon-charged, blood turned apotropaic mage for life advice about being a heathen. By the stars, Kard, are you truly that dumb?” She asked softly, giving him an incredulous look. “You think my reasons are any less selfish? Your reasons decide the life of a god and as such are much more selfless than you give yourself credit for. I cannot help you.”

Outside the Bar, Adra and Garnag had been watching through the window, trying to figure out what was going on between the two the whole time. “You think he’s trying to get it on with her,” Garnag said, turning to his sister. Adra rolled her eyes, not taking them off the two. “Don’t be stupid, slag head, have you ever seen Kard trying to find a girlfriend?”

“Hey, he does plenty of things we don’t know about, he could be sneaking a-oh crap, they’re moving!” Inside, Mir had gotten up from the table and was walking out the door. Garnag pulled Adra around the corner just before Mir left the building, Kard not far behind her. “You don’t know that you can’t help me,” he yelled at her as she kept walking away from him. “I don’t know what you could show me and you don’t either!” He finally manages to catch up to her and grabs her arm. “Why won’t you tell me? Are you in some kind of trouble or something?”

Mir whirled around, attempting to wrench her arm from his grip. “Kard I know things that I should not. I have interacted with people whom you would not wish to see or be seen by. There are things that I could say that would put your life at risk. Now either let go of me and stop this line of questioning or I will use force.” She glared at him. Her free hand moved behind her back, waiting for his decision.

Kards eyes narrowed at the sound of the threat. There was definitely something going on, and it sounded more and more dangerous the more she resisted. “You’d really attack an unarmed man…” He refused to break eye contact with her. Someone was going to break here and it wasn’t going to be him. “That’s not something you’d do to a comrade. Not without a damn good reason to hide something. So I’m going to try to drill this into your head as best I can.” He gripped her arm harder and pulled her down to be at his level, staring her right in the face. “If you’re in trouble, then I’ll help. Forget about answering my question, just tell me. If you really don’t think you can and you want to start something, then I’ll gladly fight you and kick your ass all over Morthyr. But I’d rather just hear everything from you. Got that?”

“I’d attack an unarmed man forcibly detaining a Justicar,” she said bluntly. Her expression softened a little in guilt after saying that and her gaze dropped to the ground. “Kard,” she began, her voice barely a whisper, “there are things I cannot speak of unless pushed beyond a point I can stand. Even then it would depend on who the questioner was and what they asked about.”

She then looked back up, a fire in her eyes. “Let go of me. If you wish a fight, a fight you shall have. I shall not attack an unarmed man for that would be a stain on my reputation. However if you wish to go that route I shall not hold back my wrath.” She challenged him again with her eyes, daring him to fight her for the answer. Or maybe she was inviting him…

He held her gaze for a long time before finally letting out a long, heavy sigh. He let her go and started looking around his surrounding, finally finding what he was looking for at the edge of an alley. “Wait here.” He went over to the object–a plain looking metal pole–and picked it up, twirling it slowly in his hand. “Just so we’re clear, you’re the one who wanted the fight, not me.” The pole snapped up right into his hand, then he turned to her, grabbing it with both hands and a battle hardened smile on his face. “Show me what you turned into.”

Mir nodded. Instead of drawing her sword, she walked down an alleyway, giving no indication, but clear intent she wanted Kard to follow. She kept walking until the alley opened up into a large, square shaped dead end. Kard warily watched her as she moved. He was not sure what she was planning with this, but he felt like he didn’t have much choice. He followed her down the alley, his brother and sister staring intently from around the corner. “Holy slag, they’re actually going to fight each other,” Adra said excitedly to her brother. “Hell yeah, they are. This could either be really bad…or some really kinky foreplay,” Garnag replied, completely serious. This was met with a punch to the head and a dirty look from Adra. “Come on, lets go see what he looks like duking it out.” The two sneak over to the edge of the alley trying to watch without being noticed.

Turning at the end of the alley, Mir drew her sword. “I turned into something that should not be,” She said as she saluted, stepping back into an offensive stance and waiting. “Well that’s  an understatement. No offense,” Kard said as he got to the end of the alley, getting himself ready to attack. “So now I have to beat out why you did!” He let a hand drop off from the makeshift staff and thrust it forward at Mir. She backed away from the thrust and darted around the Dwarf, taking a swing at his back. He swung the staff around and grabbed the staff in both hands, blocking the attack, but staggering some. He gained back his balance and swung low at her legs.

The swing hit, throwing her off balance and causing a sickening crack to ring out in the alley. She hopped backwards, then quickly touched her hand to her leg. The pained look on her face disappeared and she gets back into her stance, watching him carefully. He glared intently at her. He’d forgotten that she knew healing magic now. This is going to make things tougher if I can’t hurt her. He grips the staff and begins stabbing at her with a flurry of thrusts.

“Told you it was foreplay,” Garnag whispers to Adra.

Mir dodged in and out of the thrusts, unable to get a strike in while dodging and keeping her distance. Shaking her head, she took a direct thrust, then pushed the staff aside, making him lose part of his grip on the weapon. She jumped in close and slashed quickly at his chest, cutting into his shirt and his chest. Some blood started to drip out of the wound while Mir healed her own wounds again, yet he still grinned. “Heh…that tickled.” He picked his staff up, then slammed it into the ground, the earth around it shattering, even the ground at Mir’s feet starting to crack. The broken pieces of ground rose up around his staff and molded around it into an earthen lance, proudly held by it’s master. “Mine won’t.”

Surprised, she jumped back and tried to back away further. For a moment, Kard thought he saw a look of regret on her face, but if he did, it was quickly replaced by determination. He did not let her get more ground or time to think, running at her and thrusting the now huge spear at her with a loud yell. She attempted to block, but the lance hit her square in the chest. She coughed up blood and dropped to a knee, raising a hand to her chest to try and heal herself.

“Oh no you don’t,” He shouted at her, his weapon’s earthen coating suddenly breaking apart with a loud crack of thunder, stunning her in place before she can move any further. Mir stops, as does the magic she was about to use, stunned from the sudden electricity in the air. Before the effect could wear off, Kard wound up and slammed the staff into her back, forcing her down into submission and knocking her out quite handily.

Garnag and Adra still watched, completely dumbfounded at the array of magic their brother just displayed. “Holy slag, did you know he could do that!? That was awesome” Garnag shouted. “SHHH, shut up, you idiot! They’ll hear us,” Adra tried to warn him, but the damage was already done. Kard looked up to hear his two siblings at the end of the alley, seeing them as they try to hide again.

“What the hell,” he yelled at the two caught Dwarves. “I told you two to go back to the inn! What are you doing here!?” The two finally came down the alley to face Kard. “We couldn’t help it,” Garnag explained as he tried to calm his brother. “We just wanted to see what was up with you and your…lady friend.” It meant to come off as a joke, but looking at the now unconscious body, it was hard to make that sound funny.

“…Are you kidding me? Really?” He looked angrily at Garnag and put the staff under his arm. “Listen up, I need you two to help me get her to the inn and into our hotel room. Then you’re going to go down to the Lobby and STAY THERE until I’m finished with this. Understand?” The two Dwarves looked at each other with genuine fear in their eyes. Kard tried to soften his expression and sighed. “Look, I’ll explain things later. Everything’s going to be fine, I promise. now please. Help me.” The siblings looked at each other once more before nodding and helping Kard move her to the inn with him.

 

* * * * * * *

 

Kard got Mir’s body up to the room at the inn and set her down on the bed, laying her down on her belly so her back was facing up. Adra and Garnag excused themselves from the room and left Kard alone with Mir. Once they were gone, using the staff that beat her, he channeled the little magic he could into it and placed it on her back, making it glow warmly and mend the wound it invoked on her.

As soon as Mirfain came to, she opened her eyes and quickly pressed a hand to his chest, where she had dealt the wound before. It looked like it hurt some to move her arm, but she still poured some of her own healing into him. He groaned softly as the cut on his chest healed up neatly, chuckling slightly. “I appreciate it,” He said as he took her hand and moved it to comfortably rest on her head. “But I can’t do that much to heal you, so you’ll have to do the rest yourself. I’m just a bandage.” He pointed at the absent wound on his chest. “And that was just a cut.”

“It was still something that needed healing,” she argued. She healed her head, then moved her hand around to finish the healing on her back. “I’m…I’m sorry about that. I had my doubts about certain matters. I still do, though you’ve done much to alleviate many.”

“By beating you into unconsciousness? Really,” Kard almost laughed at the thought. “You’re one weird chick, Mir. But if it helped, then who am I to judge.” He sat down in a chair by the bed. “So, are you ready to talk?”

She sighed, but nodded. “You wanted to know why I changed so drastically, correct? What caused this shift in my life?”

“That would be it, yeah.”

“And you don’t care if it’s extremely selfish and personal?”

“You might as well just get on with it. I didn’t essentially promise to beat you up for nothing.” He chuckled a little darkly and pat her shoulder. “There, now we’re both being selfish. So go for it.”

“…I forsook blood magic because I could no longer stand to use the thing that killed my mother and my troupe. My utter fear and hatred of any body raised from the dead to do someone’s bidding also comes from this. Apotropaic magic allows me to fight and protect myself from the thing I dread above all else.” She turned her head so as not to face him. “During our struggle against Pestilence, I was this close from losing it altogether. Especially-” her voice cracked, “especially with Reign. Seeing him again, like that…like my mother-” she broke off, her voice shaking a little.

Kard listened to Mir as she told her story, taking it all with patience and care. He did not think he could completely understand where she was coming from, but he knew he’d be none too happy to see the shambling remains of his family either. “I see…so you couldn’t handle it anymore…” He felt bad now for beating it out of her like that, but he was feeling desperate and she had not given him other options. “…Why did you feel the need to hide that so badly? I could have understood that.”

She took a deep breath, pausing to collect her words. “Because that’s not the only reason I am a Justicar. I am one because…” She paused again, leaving a pungent tension in the room. “Kard, have you ever done anything you wish you could take back, but can’t without the world you’ve built up crashing down around you?” she asked, changing the topic.

“Um…” He tried to think of even one decision like that, but so far, except for going with that group into the Labyrinth, he couldn’t really think of anything like that. And that was a decision he couldn’t exactly have controlled the outcome of. And had resolved itself. His hand moved up to his eyepatch, recalling that time. “I only regret one decision…but that matter is resolved.”

“What would you do if there was one you wished you could undo, however, undoing it would require everything you had done in a certain amount of time to become nullified, and put your life at risk if not forfeit it for the sake of putting things right?” she asked further. Her tone of voice was oddly flat, considering the question she just asked.

“Everything just…gone. Like it never happened.” It was a deep question to ask, one he had never had to think of. “…Sounds like our mission to fix the timeline.” He sat there for a moment to mull that question over. What would I do? I’d be a complete different person if I did that…but if things turned out for the better…The memory of the beggar in Xanthera flashed in his mind. The sight of her cup spilling out. The boots of his fellow soldiers as they kicked her. His fist bashing their faces in. “………If it would set things right…I would make the choice to undo that moment.”

“Do you believe in Monoreth?” she changed topics again. “Do you regret worshipping him?”

The question struck him as odd, as he did not really understand how one could truly regret faith. “Uh…well no, of course I don’t regret it. I just…don’t know if it’s right. In Dwarven faith, when a god dies, they cycle out of the Pantheon. They aren’t supposed to exist anymore. I’ve seen him die twice now, and twice now he’s come back to life and I’ve never heard anything like this. It seems like it would be better to let the god live, but then I’m preventing what should be a natural progression.”

“Would his resurrection not cycle him back into the Dwarven Pantheon?” she posed. “Regardless, if he is your god and you believe in him, and you do not regret it, then you are doing what you feel is right. If you feel he deserves to be worshipped, then worship him for what he is. He is one of your gods. Is he not?”

“…He is…I mean, he gave me this nice socket cozy,” He said as he lifted up his eye patch to show of the eye once more. “And you’d think his resurrection would fix things, but its not that simple…once a god dies, he’s almost literally erased from all tomes and texts and lore. They are very much left for dead. And with no one to worship them, they simply can’t live anymore after that. That’s how it has been and always been. Yet here I am.”

“Because currently, with him alive, there would be two ‘living gods’ that the Dwarves would have to either choose between or accept both of, am I correct?” She turned her head to see his eye. “Then the question truly boils down to this. Would you be satisfied with allowing him to pass on? If that is the way Dwarven gods are worshipped, then you are right, he should by all means be dead. Are you comfortable with letting him return to what everyone else says he should be? Or do you feel he should be here? Do you regret allowing him to live?”

“…Huh? Two li-…that not what I…” he stopped, silence filling the room. Silence was becoming too common an occurrence in Kard’s life. This annoyed Kard, but he really had to think that one through. “………I suppose that’s the answer I’m trying to find…”

Mir smiled at him. “Kard, the only faith you should have to worry about is your own. If you believe in him, then he deserves to live, at least in your eyes. If you have no regrets, then the answer has been with you all along, you just weren’t able to see it on your own. One should never have the power to police another’s faith.” She looked down at the floor regretfully. “If there is one thing I have learned from my time in the Justicars, it is that.”

“…I see,” Kard remarked at her assertions. It only matters that I believe it…It sounded right, but he wondered if there was more to this. “…You said there was another reason that you joined the Justicars. What was it?”

“I would rather help you in what ways I can before elaborating on my own problems. After all, yours are what we’re trying to work through, are we not?” she asked with another half-hearted smile.

“Don’t you try and change the subject now. You’ve given me plenty of things to think about on my own. You’ve helped a lot. But now it’s your turn to talk about your problems.”

“My problems are that I want to take all of this KBA nonsense-bullshit and shove it up my superiors asses!” she exclaimed. With a sigh she got up from the bed. “Kard you’re going to want to kill me for this and by all means I don’t blame you. Yes, there is a second reason I joined the Justicars. I joined so I could try to find more information about who killed my troupe, as from what I know whoever it was was after my father, someone I know the Justicars were also after.” She placed her hands on Kard’s shoulders. “Yet there’s more to it than that.” She bit her lip, then whispered something into Kard’s ear.

Kard’s expression dropped like a sack of rocks as she pulled away, looking defeated. He’d thought this nonsense was over with, and here it was rearing it’s ugly head again. “…Mir, you can’t be serious…” He tried to reason it off as joke, but the expression on her face could only betray her truth further. “…You’re with them!?”

“I thought it would help me get closer to the bastards that murdered my troupe. I was right. I was in a highly emotional, confrontational state of mind when I made the decision.” Her fists suddenly clenched and unclenched, a pained look showing on her face. “However that does not excuse it. I swing between wanting to see everything through to its end and wishing someone would properly catch me off guard and kill me. I’m a terrible person, I know this. I only wish I could find some way of making it right before I tell someone and they end me. This is what I regret above all else.”She looked from Kard to the pole lying next to the wall. “For my actions, all of them, would you kill me, right here, right now?”

“What!?” He almost fell out of his chair when he heard that. “You’re seriously asking to kill you. Right here. And right now.”

Mir shook her head. “I meant more of if the thought had crossed your mind,” she explained to him. “Perhaps asking ‘could you’ instead of ‘would you’ might have got my message across better. Though if you held enough ill will against me for it I would not hold it against you if your answer to both was yes. I’ve betrayed all of you far enough.”

He looked down and away from Mir, his brow deeply furrowed. He had thought to do something, that was for sure, but killing? “…I don’t think I could do that. Have you arrested…most likely. But even then…” Kard sighed and growled in frustration. “Was there really no other way for you to get that information?”

“No, there wasn’t.” She shook her head. “At this point though it doesn’t matter. I’m going to die, if not by execution then by the Justicars or by a knife in my throat. I cannot stay in any of this much longer, I simply cannot take it. I only wish I knew what to do with what I know. I would rather help you with your problems, which will determine the rest of your future, than worry about my own, which will only last for the next month or two at the most.” She placed a hand on his shoulder again. “My life was doomed a long time ago. You should focus on your own. I only ask you do not out me until I decide how to bring it all down.”

“If you had no other way…” Kard pondered the words Mir had said earlier. “…If you could turn back time and undo your involvement in this…would you do it?”

“Yes,” she answered without hesitation. “Nothing is worth what I have done. I would much rather never find what I seek. But that cannot be. Time cannot be messed with once it has passed. I have made these mistakes, and as such I will pay for them. I only wish there was something I could do to attempt to make up for said mistakes before my time comes. That has naught to do with your plight, however, so I am sorry for taking up your time with it.”

Kard’s breath stopped for a moment as he made a decision. By all means this woman should be arrested. She committed terrible crimes, let innocent people die, all in the name of finding out about her family’s murderers. Surely this should be the better course of action. …But then…they’ll know exactly where she is…He could not believe what he was about to do.

“……It’s true. You can’t change the past,” he finally said. Before he continued though, he grabbed the brooch from Mir’s chest and tore it off her clothing. “Nor can you undo anything you’ve done.” She stood there as he continued, making no moves to stop him. “There’s only one thing you can do about it now…” He dropped the pendant on to the floor and raised his staff high above his head as Mir’s head slowly slumped down. He knew exactly what he was going to do. With all the strength he could muster, he brought the staff down…

…and smashed the pendant apart. “You can die…so that you can move on with your life.”

She looked at the broken metal on the floor, surprised. Then she looked back up at him, an amused expression crossing her face. “Given the opportunity, could you do that to your false eye?” she asked, curious.

“Good question…” He said, a smile creeping onto his face. “If I wanted it broken though, I’d probably ask a friend to do it instead.” He smirks at her. “Though that’s a hard nut to crack, I tell you what.”

“And if you haven’t asked anyone yet, why would you? After all, it is from your god, is it not?” She returned the smirk as best she can.

“You could be right. Maybe I could have just been looking for someone to ask.” He said it confidently, but he was sure that the both of them knew he wasn’t.

“You’ll find what you’re looking for,” she said, smiling. “Maybe you just have to look with a different set of eyes.” The joke was poor, but she tried.

“Ugh…that was just awful…” He chuckled wryly at the terrible humor. “So…you’re pretty much dead now. What will you do now?”

“I return to my duties, begrudgingly, until I find a suitable time to leave once and for all, condemning myself to both death and hell for my actions. This may be the last time I see any of my comrades. I thank you, Kard, for everything you have done for me. If I can be of any assistance before my time comes, please, I will do what I can to repay you.” She holds out her hand for him to shake.

“Hmmm…” He puts his hands in his pocket, mulling over the offer. “…You know, I think there might be a way you could.” He pulls a hand out of his pocket and shakes her hand. When he pulled his hand away, though, there were two Arvirs in her hand. “How does a job sound?”

She looked at him like he had suddenly grown a second head. “Kard, you do understand that once I leave I will be hunted down. On top of that the Council may even want my head. As much as I appreciate your offer I cannot in good conscience take it nor put your family in that sort of situation.” She held the Arvirs back out to him.

“Well, that would be the case…if I was talking to Mir.” He shuffles the pieces of the broken pendant on the floor. “But Mirfain died recently. I was sure the news would have gotten around by now. I’m simply hiring some young upstart smith for my new shop in Aranarth.”

“But if anyone were to find out…” She began to protest, but she just stopped talking, a genuine smile coming to her face. “I’ll think about it. I still have much to do, cleaning up that Mirfain’s mess. I’d not be able to start work for some time. Would that still be acceptable?”

“I don’t see why not, so long as you leave your past at the door and don’t trail any mud in when you come in.” He chuckles at the metaphor. “When you are ready, come to Lerengroth and look for Tharin Gems of the Sea. We’ll be waiting for you.”

She nodded, speechless from gratitude. Eventually she found her voice. “May the stars watch over you, Kard. I will never forget this.” She picked up her sword and went to leave, but he stopped her before she could. “Hold on.” He grabbed some parchment, ink, and a pen from his pack and wrote something down on it. He tore off the part he wrote and folded it up into a small piece and slipped it into her hand, whispering in her ear. “Read it. Memorize it. Then burn it. Don’t let anyone else see it but you.” Then he sat back down and let her leave. She had her own things to deal with.

 

* * * * * * *

 

After Mir left, Kard cleaned up the broken pendant, then came down to get his siblings, who were relieved to have seen Mir actually leave the inn in one piece. He told them what he could without compromising Mir’s identity and their moral involvement. He told them he and Mir had trouble in the Crusaders and they finally got to resolve it. He never gave them a name and told them she was trying to escape an abusive family, so it was better they not mention they saw someone like her in case anyone came looking for her. They seemed to buy it, but they were not happy about being left in the dark like he did.

It took a few more days for them to get to a port, after traversing through a harrowing safe route between Demon Zones in the Glimlit, and got on a boat to the Island of Lerengroth. It was located surprising close to the Glimlit’s coastline, so the trip was short and sweet. Kard gave them a tour of the mansion he received and eventually they found the shop that would become their new establishment. They unloaded all the supplies they brought with them and set up the store in a way that Adra could be happy with and before the day was over, Tharin Gems of the Sea was ready to open. Not that day, though, as everyone was tired as all hell and really need some well deserved rest.

The next morning, Everyone got up to send off the two boys. Adra hugged each of her siblings goodbye and sighed. “Alright, try not to kill each other while I’m not around,” she said sadly. “Get home safe. And tell Dad I won’t let the surface air make me lazy.”

“Will do, Sis,” Garnag assured her.

“You take care of yourself now. Write if you need anything,” Kard said as they were about to leave. “Oh, and don’t be surprised if I send someone your way to help out here. I have someone I promised a job to ages ago. She should be here later in the month. If you’re not sure if the person should be here–and this goes for both of you–if you’re not sure if a person knows me, ask ‘Which way does the wind blow?’ If they don’t answer ‘Toward the back of the cavern,’ its probably not safe. Only use that if it seems dangerous. Got it?” Both siblings nod in kind. “Good.” He hugs Adra one more time before leaving. “Good luck, Adra. We’ll keep in touch.”

With a wave to both of them, the Tharin boys head off back to home. Save for some strange flying meat that seemed to crop up by the Sethrian Sea, the trip was relatively boring and the two got home safely. The boys bickered with each other, as was normal, but without Adra to buffer them, they got out of hand more often than not, which left more of a mess for Ambrret to yell at during work hours. While they were gone, the older Tharins had sent to receive the paperwork to set up shop in Kasinthia, Kasinthia. Indeed, life was basically the same in the Tharin Household for the next few weeks as they planned for their next shop.

They finally got confirmation from the Kasinthian government to begin setting up shop within the city, and just as they had with the trip to Aranarth, they packed up supplies for the trip and the store and the two left for Kasinthia. They got out of the mountains and into Kelta before the trouble started.

Kard and Garnag had been fighting for a long time on the road by the Alnuit Sea.

“That’s why sapphires are better! They’re just more versatile than rubies,” Garnag exclaimed, looking smug and superior after his argument.

“What are you talking about,” Kard scoffed. “Rubies go with a wider variety of colors, and are fantastic to inlay into weaponry. Sapphires are too passive a stone for that!”

“Are you kidding!? They look great as a combo with Emeralds and Rubies on the hilt of a sword!”

“Yeah, but you rarely see them on their own on weapons. And you just used Rubies in your example! So you just helped prove my point, dumbass!”

“How about instead of throwing names around, you talk to me seriously and not like I don’t know shit!?”

Kard growled angrily. This was not the first time he’d heard this line. “I never said you didn’t! You’re the one putting words in my mouth and overreacting to our conversation!”

“Oh, go ahead and blame it all on me again,” Garnag threw back at him. “Why don’t you try taking responsibility for your crap instead of passing it off on someone else!” He snarls at his older sibling. “…Or just run away to the military.”

“OKAY, THAT’S IT!” Kard stops the carriage and decks Garnag right in the face. The younger Tharin fell backwards off the cart into the dust, Kard jumping down on top of him and punching him over and over. Garnag kicked up underneath his brother and threw him off over his head. Both brothers stood back up and rushed at each other, getting into an all out slugfest, grappling with each other until they fiound that they are not alone. Coming out of the forest next them was a huge Hinbilinbear, letting out a loud roar. This shocked the boys out of their fight enough to stun them in place in fear. “…Garnag…” Kard says after gaining back some composure. “…Get a sword…I’ll get my axe…on my word…”

“…Okay…” Garnag said, looking up at the huge creature. It raised up a paw and snarled at the two men, swinging it down towards them. “NOW!” They dodge out of the way of the bear’s strike and jump into the carriage to get their weapons. The bear took another swipe at Garnag, swiping him in the side and breaking one of the carriages seats. With a yell, Kard slams his axe into the bears arm and stands in front of his brother. “GARNAG! Can you stand!?” He ducks from another blow from the bear, which breaks a portion of the carriage’s cargo section. “Y-Yeah…I can move!”

“Good! Get ready to stab this thing in the head,” Kard shouted back at him, taking a slash to the arm from the bears claws. Kard channels the powers of the Thaum into his axe and swings it hard, a shock wave of electricity colliding with the bear and stunning it in place. “DO IT!” On cue, Garnag jumps from the carriage and stabs his sword into the swords head, twisting it as best he could while bear thrashes in the throes of death. The Dwarf loses grip of the sword and and flies off the bear, slamming against a tree. “SHIT!” Kard runs over to his brother, his breath ragged and blood running down his arm. “Just hang on, I’ll get you healed…don’t worry…” He pulls his axe over to his brother and places it on his side, channeling the magic through the blade and into the wounds on his body, closing them up and removing the evidence they were there.

“…Thanks…” Garnag said, feeling weak and defeated. “…What about your arm.” He said weakly pointing to the bloody limb. “Not important, so long as you’re okay…” Kard replied, trying to hide the pain. They looked at the dead bear in front of them and the damaged carriage they now had to drive. The sun had not set yet, but it was low in the sky. They were not going to make it to the next town by nightfall, so Kard just sighed and pulled out tent bags. “…We should set up camp for the night. I’ll get the tent up and-ur!” He clutches his arm, the pain starting to become too much for him now that he actually felt it. Adrenaline did not last forever. This annoyed Kard.

Garnag got up and took the bag from Kard. “Here, I’ll do it. You just take it easy.” Garnag set up the tents and got Kard comfortable. He then started skinning the bear, which surprised Kard greatly. There were not a whole lot of skinnable animals underground, afterall. “…I didn’t know you could skin. When did you learn to do that?”

“While you were gone last year,” Garnag said bluntly. “I went with Dad to Kasinthia for a trip and we stopped by a tanner’s booth. I thought, you know…it could be helpful someday…”

Kard nodded, impressed with his brother. “That’s pretty cool.” There was silence between them for a while, the sound of skin peeling off flesh and the natural sounds of the night the only noise. Kard could not handle silence any more. “Bro, I have to ask…why do you keep bringing up me leaving?”

Garnag stopped his skinning, cancelling one source of noise that night. “……Maybe because you didn’t consider anyone else when you left. You just decided after one visit to another country that you were joining the Military.” He looks over his shoulder at his brother. “It felt like…you abandoned us. Like you ditched your family to go chase some stupid dream that could get you killed…and leave us all behind.”

“…You were worried I was just going to leave you all behind? That’s crazy,” Kard came over to him and put his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “I was never going to abandon you guys. I always come back to the shop when I have time off, I always put in the effort…”

“And that’s it. That’s all you do when you come home. You work…” Garnag started skinning again, shrugging off Kard’s hand and letting the implications sit in. It did not take Kard long to figure out what his brother was saying. “…So that’s what you’re getting at…” He sighs. “Look…I know we haven’t gotten to hang out since I left home, but that doesn’t mean I abandoned you. I mean hell, I’m asking you to be the manager of a store in some crazy scheme to expand our business.” He looked down at the bear that’s been partially skinned. “I mean, I could have asked you to manage the store in Aranarth, where there will be some pull already just because I’m now a Duke…but instead I asked you to manage Kasinthia. And let me tell you, I’m not known there. I was a military dog. No one knew who we were by name. You’re going to be building this from the ground up from nothing…I asked you because I have faith that you can do it…” He managed to get his arm around his brother and pulled him into a hug. “And I’ll still come visit you when I’ve got some time off. For non-work reasons, I promise…okay?”

Garnag didn’t say anything. Kard thought he failed to get anything through to his brother, but he proved the older Dwarf wrong and wrapped an arm around him, sort of hugging him back. “I’m holding you to that, slag head.”

Kard just chuckled and pushed him off. “I expect you to, dipshit.”

* * * * * * *

 

The two brothers managed to get to Kasinthia without another hitch and found the store after a few hours of searching for the place. It took longer to get the shop set up with one less person to help out, but they eventually got the shop set up how Garnag wanted it. They christened the store Tharin Marketplace Armory and stood proudly together at their new store. Garnag looked to his brother, smiling broadly at their efforts and the future the shop held. “Well, looks like we’re done.” The smile turned sad. “I guess you’ll be returning home in the morning, huh?”

Kard just looked up at the store and for bit before shaking his head. “Eh, Mom and Dad ran the shop on their own before we were born. They can do it again for now.” He patted his brother on the back and pointed down the street. “C’mon, I know a good pub we can get drunk at.”

The two dwarves walked through the hustle and bustle of the evening city life. He and his brother started bickering shortly after, but by the time they got to the bar, they had broken out into laughter. They hadn’t laughed at each others arguments in a long time.

This satisfied Kard.

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