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[Story] The Magic Arts (& Crafts) - Vol 1 - Welcome to West Luna

Discussion in 'UO White Stag Inn' started by Gerorne, Jul 20, 2009.

  1. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Author's Note: I'm not sure what happened to my old thread. It's the last one on the last page, but all the posts are either invisible or inaccessible. (It also says the replies almost equals the views.) And my Volume 2 thread has disappeared completely.

    It's been a long while, but I'm finally going to finish Volume 2. I couldn't leave it unfinished. I'm going to repost all of Volume 1, and Chapters 1-15 of Volume 2, a few chapters a day, then start posting the new chapters.

    For returning readers, if you've decided to reread these to refresh your memory, then great! By having to repost Volume 1, I went through and did revisions on all the chapters, greatly improving them.

    For new readers, I hope you enjoy it!

    -----

    West of the City of Light,
    Where merchants and paladins dwell,
    Lives a young scribe who maintains her simple shop.


    [​IMG]

    Attacks by the deceased dragon Tal'Keesh, have displaced this young scribe from her birthplace in Luna. Lacking the knowledge to survive out in the world, she was given a second chance by the Lord of West Luna, and provided with the means to open up a new shop, build a new home.

    In debt, and struggling to make her way in the world, what will become of her? Only time will tell.

    Her shop, her home, her life - The Magic Arts (& Crafts)

    -----


    Volume 1 - Welcome to West Luna
    Volume 2 - Enlightenment
    Volume 3 - Shades of Truth



    Part of uothief.com​
     
  2. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter I

    I hate this city! Melfina thinks again as she exits another vendor shop. The twenty-sixth time that day. Why do I keep coming back here? Luna has everything, but I can't find anything! I don't know why I waste my time like this, she shakes her head as she moves on to the next shop, unfortunately named Vendor House.

    She holds her pristine, deep blue dress close to her body to keep it from catching on any of the countless items scattered throughout the store. The gold trim shimmers in the mid-afternoon sun. A glance at the sign reminds her of all that is wrong with Luna. I don't know what's worse, the sloppy design of the house, the ugly decor, the haphazard arrangement of goods, or the horrid name. She quickly scans the area and once more begins to methodically sort through every crate, bag, and chest, looking for anything of worth. It's a familiar process that she goes through every month. Every time she makes a promise to never do this again, but every time, the chest waiting at home beneath her bed reminds her that it is sometimes worth it.

    Why isn't there a quicker way to search through this mess! she vents in frustration as she opens up crates of armor and weapons, and bags filled with jewelry. Where are all the scrolls and books!

    And then there they were. Tucked away inside of a small wooden chest, inside of a crate, in the back corner of the store, was the wonderful aroma of paper and the delightful sight of books. Just three books, but they were still books.

    Disappointingly, she finds she already owns two of them, Virtue by Lord British and Talking to Wisps. Maybe I should learn to cook, she considers as she picks up Preparing Poultry. But it's just so much easier to simply cast create food, she thinks as she unconsciously waves her hand in the air, mimicking the spell. It may be unpredictable, but I'm not a picky eater, and it happens instantly. Time spent cooking could be time spent studying, writing, or researching.

    With it already in her hands, she can't help but open up the book, not registering the odd presence of a book cover. Her breath cuts short as she looks at the open pages. Instead of seeing a recipe for lark, wren, or sparrow, she finds herself reading the familiar process of casting heal, but with a slight variation to the tone, a sharper emphasis to the syllables, and a tweak to the hand movement. The right texture and quality to the paper, and the right feel and tint to the inks. A careful eye, a quick flip through the rest of the book, and a pause to sense its magical resonance solidifies her suspicions. A Tome of Lost Knowledge! No creases, no tears, the cover hasn't been foolishly dyed, and pages haven't been written in! The only oddity is the lack of a proper sealant to preserve the pages.

    Melfina calmly puts the book back, closes the chest, and then the crate, and then rummages through an adjacent chest before leaving Vendor House with what she hoped was a thoughtful look on her face rather than an elated one. As soon as she steps beyond the view of anyone at Vendor House, she reaches into her pouch, grabs a hold of her runebook, and casts recall. She vanishes and then reappears in the heart of Luna, where all the city sponsored shops are located. The tailor, carpenter, tinker, healer, and any other shop that is deemed a necessity to the city, all run by friends and family of the archduke. All the shops are appropriately centralized the around building that is the true heart to any city - the bank.

    The midday sun can only mean one thing for anyone with business in the heart of Luna – crowds. Vendors not fortunate enough to own a shop within the city walls are scattered about the central square, shouting out items for sale, services for hire, or offers to be taken, all the while banksitters litter the area in hopes of finding a deal, simply wanting to discuss the latest news, and for the unfortunate passerby, sometimes lying in wait for a target.

    The designer of Luna's bank was either inspired or lazy. It is not really a building in the traditional sense, but rather, the central square itself. Like any building, Luna Bank has four walls and a roof overhead, but instead of doors, it has wide arches with no means to close them. Anyone is welcome to enter and exit as they please, and they do, with most not needing the actual services of the bank.

    The bank relies on the city guard for protection, whose barracks lie above the bank. The second floor also contains an inn for wary travelers and a church for the city's paladins, where they can pay their respects with prayer and gold. There is no need to worry about being robbed in the bank or anywhere else within the city walls. Even within crowds that often become so thick that to see beyond three feet becomes impossible. As long as anyone is within the city walls, a simple yell for the guards will bring forth swift response for the victim and even swifter justice to the criminal. Having a well kept, efficient, and effective city guard is the only thing that Luna has done right.

    I hate this city! Melfina thinks for the twenty-seventh time as she elbows her way to the banker.

    "Hi, Leah."

    "Oh hello, Melfina," she replies happily, "how may I help you on this wonderful afternoon?"

    "I'd like to withdraw one-hundred and fifty gold pieces from my account please."

    "Find something interesting?" Leah asks as she gathers up the gold.

    "Just a couple more books for my library collection."

    "That's good to hear," Leah replies with a practiced tone that seems friendly yet professional at the same time. "How's business been treating you?"

    "A little slower than usual, scribes just aren't in demand. I still have some loyal customers, so I get by."

    "At least you have that," she replies with a sympathetic smile. "Well there you go. Luna Bank always welcomes your business. May fortune favor you."

    As soon as she breaks her way back out of the crowd, she hits a dead run. It would be too confusing to have a rune dedicated to each shop in Luna, so she has to make her way back on foot. Just before she gets within sight of the shop, she forces herself to a walk, wanting to catch her breath and not send signals that one of their items is worth far more than the asking price.

    Vendor House remains empty of other customers. Melfina simply walks back to where she left the books, picks up all three, and pays fifty gold each. It would have been an outrageous price for three such common books if they were as they seemed, but there was a hidden gem that was hers now, and hers alone. Months of aggravation finally yeilded some results. The grin on her face is impossible to hide no matter how hard she tries. Thankfully her back already faces the store.

    Her own shop lies west of the city, still within sight of the city walls, but that may as well be in the furthest depths of Doom as far as the Luna Guard is concerned. One step beyond the walls and Archduke Aedilwulf's decree prevents them from acting against even the most vile of criminals.

    Recalling back home may risk damaging the book in its current unprotected state, so she makes a precise gesture with her hands, touches her runebook, utters the words of power, vas rel por, then as the familiar scent of vaporized reagents tickles her nose, the familiar sight of a gateway appears along with it's familiar hum and the feel of home.

    She steps through the gateway, and without a backward glance, runs into her shop, steps onto the teleport tile that takes her to her library on the second floor, and then releases a yell of triumph. The tome is gently placed on a table as she opens up a wooden chest where she keeps her stash of red leaves used for making a sealant for preserving books.

    Thwip! Thunk!!

    She feels an arrow brush past her cheek as it bites deep into the lid of the open chest. She jumps to the side and prepares to throw lighting at her attacker. The spell is forgotten as she sees an archer dressed all in black reach for the Tome of Lost Knowledge.

    "I ban thee!" Melfina screams to invoke a magical ban on the intruder. As soon as the spell takes effect, he will be forced out and no longer be able to step inside her shop. But he gains a firm grip on the tome before the spell hits him.

    She chases after him but soon realizes that he's much too quick. A fireball or energy bolt could damage the book, so a desperate, "Guards!" bursts from her lips as she helplessly watches him near the forest's edge.

    Melfina slows to a purposeful run, takes a deep breath, and casts clumsy. The thief stumbles and trips over a loose stone with the Tome securely clutched to his body. He springs back to his feet, close to vanishing from sight.

    Then the unbelievable happens. A Luna Guard appears. His polished armor reflects the intensity of his words, "The book, or your life. Choose."


    * * *

    [​IMG]
     
  3. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter II

    The world holds its breath as Melfina watches the scene unfold.

    Her savior stands tall, staring down at the offender from within his impenetrable armor. He radiates the casual confidence of a lion sizing up its prey. The Luna Guard strictly enforce any and all Violations of Property, and there is only one punishment for theft. Death.

    The thief cowers like the rat that he is, cornered and ready to flee the first chance he gets. Random goods from her shop litters the ground beneath him. The Tome of Lost Knowledge must have been the last item he grabbed.

    It's safe, she thinks, and her despair blossoms into hope for recovering the tome, adoration for her savior, and rage at her attacker.

    The standstill lasts but a moment. Panic vanishes from the thief's face, and what was once a cornered rat now resembles a coiled snake. With a smirk, he replies to the Luna Guard, "The frantic scream from the girl tells me this is worth five lives. I choose the book. Come and collect if you can."

    "You don't even know what it is!?" screams Melfina as the guard unsheathes his sword.

    "Mouths are for sucking not talking wench. Let the men handle this," retorts the thief.

    Melfina has no time to be furious as she watches the guard do the oddest thing. He bows.

    "Ha! Already conceding? I must be too much for you. Or are you afraid you might scratch your pretty little armor," he sneers.

    "Anyone can afford the time to properly honor a duel."

    "Afford! Don't talk to me about costs. If I was as rich as you, paladin, I could buy my way to God's graces too."

    Not just a guard, but a paladin as well Melfina realizes with wonder as she notices the ankh hanging from the guard's neck while the thief's words finally crack the paladin's stoic expression.

    "Where is the legendary swift justice I was promised! This has been disappointing. No wonder your kind hardly ever takes the field. Commanding from up on high on thrones of gold." The thief's arm whips out and a shuriken flies from his finger tips before the last word leaves his lips, and immediately sprints toward the paladin, drawing his dagger.

    It seems that the paladin is as surprised as she is. Melfina watches him do nothing but stare at the shuriken as it flies toward his exposed face. The blur of steel and the sharp clang of metal prove otherwise. The thief halts his advance, astonished by the speed of the guard's sword.

    "Not bad," the thief admits grudgingly.

    "My name is Stark. You should know the name of the man who ends your life."

    Hopelessly outclassed, the thief turns his head and looks Melfina in the eye. He lifts up the Tome and carelessly tosses it by the front flap of the cover. "Enjoy!"

    Stark runs forward effortlessly, the weight of his armor hardly hindering him. As he comes within range, Stark's sword strikes out. Yet no matter how good a sword he is, luck is on the thief's side. He can move in ways that a man in full plate cannot. Shallow cuts are all that the guard can manage to land.

    None of that matters as Melfina's only concern is the Tome of Lost Knowledge. Irreplaceable forgotten knowledge rests is those pages. Her eyes track to the book as it sails through the air, pages violently flapping about, hoping they won't tear loose as she knows they must.

    The book vanishes behind the corner of a nearby building. As she races to recover it, she quickly finds her fears have come to pass as she sees at least one page has torn free and lies there helplessly impaled on a crystal growth coming up from the ground.

    "The Tome!" Melfina howls as she turns to face the venomous thief. Burn! Is the only thought smoldering within her as she begins to cast flamestrike. She craves the smell of his charred flesh.

    The thought of how many years of knowledge that might have been destroyed pierces her heart. The fear returning to his face is small consolation. She wants to see him suffer. Yet, he knows he has already toyed with luck for too long. Adding another playmate would make him lose this game.

    Concentrating on her spell, Melfina doesn't notice the shuriken. It bites into her chest, interrupting the delicate movements and concentration needed to cast the spell. She can't let the paladin finish him off before she's satisfied her craving, so she begins anew, but a wave of dizziness soon follows.

    Poison! she realizes. All attempts at casting cure fail, as the poison takes its toll.

    The thief grabs ahold of some of the goods on the ground and flings them at Stark's face. "Pah! Nightshade!" spits the paladin as some of the poisonous plant leaves his lips.

    "Hmm... I like it. Call me Nightshade. You should know the name of the man you failed to kill," he hisses. Before he pushes the paladin too far, he points to Melfina. "Look at the girl, paladin. Kill me or save her. Choose!"

    Unaware that she has collapsed to the ground, Melfina's vision blurs as she watches the thief take off. After him! is all she can think as the guard runs toward her instead.

    He kneels down before her, says a prayer and lays a hand on her shoulder. Shocked, she sees flames begin to engulf him. She feels the fire begin to consume herself as well.

    The world turns black.


    * * *
    [​IMG]
     
  4. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter III

    I wasn't too late. Not this time. Stark thinks to himself as he watches over the unconscious body of the young woman. The shuriken has been removed from her chest and the poison cleansed from her body, but the bleeding continues. A simple enough wound to bandage up, but one that shouldn't be ignored. "Forgive me my lady, but I must bare your chest to apply the bandage. I give you my word, my intentions are honorable," he says gently has he uncovers her chest.

    Suddenly, an arrow tears past his ear, piercing the ground in front of him. Nightshade!

    "Away from her!" commands a voice from behind.

    Rather than finding himself facing the return of the thief, Stark looks up at an armored noble returning from a hunt. With magnificent antlers attached to his helmet and ornate longbow drawn, he sits atop a masterfully trained nightmare. Its eyes are as focused as its master's, and is poised to trample Stark with its hooves or breath fire upon him the instant the command is given. However with an arrow aimed at his heart, the noble obviously will handle the situation himself.

    "Step away from my scribe," he says coldly.

    "My Lor-"

    "Silence!" Stark backs away.

    "Who are you? You're no Guard. They no longer patrol beyond the walls. Do you have any idea what they do to anyone those impersonates them? And to **** a woman! You will answer me or you will wish the Fires of Truth are all you will have to face." The scribe stirs. "Better yet, she can condemn you right here and my shaft shall remove yours." The arrow's aim moves from heart to groin, and it seems as if he's ready to charge as his antlers lower.

    "Melfina. What happened," the noble speaks with the same voice of command to the recovering girl as he did to Stark, himself.

    "Lord..?"

    "Tell me what happened, so this may be finished."

    Stark freezes as his heart races, fearing any word from him might loose the lord's wrath before matters were clarified.

    "What? No... He didn't attack me," she says to Stark's relief. He fought off a thief, and somehow cured the poison."

    "Cover yourself up," he says. "Is that what you were doing?" he directs back towards the paladin.

    "The poison is cleansed, but the wound needs to be bandaged," Stark presents the bandage in his hand.

    "Then finish. Melfina, stay still." The noble finally relaxes the tension in his bowstring.

    "If I may," asks Stark of the scribe, happy to move about. Melfina nods.

    "What happened?" hears Stark, as he begins to apply the bandage.

    "A thief. He must have followed me home. The Guard had him cornered but the thief poisoned me. He let him escape to save me."

    "You sound upset by that," says the lord.

    She timidly replies, "He destroyed a book," as she looks at the ground.

    "Enough with your books," he says sharply. "It's almost time for payment. Take care of that before your hobbies. You will pay, or you will go, and then everything belongs to me. Including your books. I might use them for a bonfire to celebrate."

    "Yes Lord Luna," she says through her teeth, then sets sets her dress back over her shoulders after Stark finishes.

    "Good," he says, matters settled. He turns to Stark. "Paladin. I am the Lord of West Luna. Tell me your name and why are you outside the walls and on my land."

    "My name is Stark, my lord, and I was performing my Final Rounds."

    A Luna Guard is given orders to make his Final Rounds of the city only if he committed a gross neglect of his duties. They are sent to patrol the city beyond the walls, spiraling outward until the city was no longer in sight. This was to remind them of the privilege it was to serve Luna, and show them one last glimpse of the place they can no longer return to once their rounds are completed. It was not a remnant from the days when the Luna Guard would regularly patrol beyond the walls, defending more than just the city itself, like some believed.

    Lord Luna frowns in disapproval. "Why?"

    "My failure in South Luna," Stark says quietly.

    "The Dungeon Slaughterer."

    "Yes, my lord. I see you've heard," he says, voice becoming steadily quieter. "Almost all were slain, guards and prisoners alike. A lone thief is the only one unaccounted for."

    "The same thief who was here," says the Lord of West Luna.

    "No sire. Some inconsequential thief. I cannot remember his name. My captain thinks it was him but I don't believe so. The slaughter was done by more than one person. It had to be. The carnage was..." Stark shakes his head. "This Nightshade who attacked here is more capable than that one."

    "Continue then."

    "I was the first to arrive. I invoked the Gifts and I gave of myself all that was possible, but there were too many in need, the damage was too extensive. I passed out..." he clenches his jaw, eyes beginning to sting. "When I woke... most were lost. A few survived, but have yet to awaken. The Dungeon Slaughterer escaped, and I was given my final orders."

    "You were punished for trying to save them!" Melfina exclaims.

    "He was punished for wasting time."

    "But he tried to save lives!"

    "Tried," said Lord Luna. "While the murderer remains free, able to kill again. Maybe not prisoners this time, nor guards, but innocents. Customers of Luna's shops and the merchant vendors themselves. This paladin here might have prevented that."

    "You can't believe that!"

    "Watch your tone," Lord Luna warns. "Save your energy. I am telling you what they believe, not I. Dead guards don't require pay. While he may have followed a fresher trail and captured the murderer. Instead, the murderer remains free, and will create fear and doubt. Faith is lost in the fabled Luna Guard. A loss of faith may have little effect, or it may build to a loss of faith in the entire city. The flow of profit into the city could dry up."

    "If money is all that matters, saving guards could still have saved the city the money needed to train new guards," Melfina argues stubbornly.

    "You should know better than that. Have you been away from Luna that long? Or you just never cared enough to learn about those who protected you. Training to be a Guard is no different than any other profession. You pay a dowry to enter any apprenticeship, including the Guard. Only once someone is officially sworn in, does the city pay them at all. Profits, and only profits, direct all aspects of Luna." Lord of West Luna notices a look on Stark's face. "Speak paladin."

    "My Lord, you only speak half the truth."

    "So the Guard chooses to challenge me, like he did his captain."

    "Yes, Luna is concerned with profits," he proceeds cautiously. "But without profits, Luna would fall. Those profits are used to maintain the Guard, maintain the city, and it is used to send paladins out into the land to spread the Light," defends the Guard.

    "Spoken like a true resident of Luna. But if you think it's important to send paladins out into the land, why did you choose to become a Luna Guard? I assume they are so rare because of what you have just said. There hasn't been a paladin Guard in at least a generation."

    "I go where God guides me," he says simply.

    "And did he guide you to into your Final Rounds as well?"

    "He must have, for I am here," Stark says with confidence. "And in being here, I have saved your scribe. Lord of West Luna, your goods are used and praised by many residents of the City of Light, and you have the respect of many within for what you provide. By saving her, I help you, and in doing so, I have helped Luna."

    "And preserving Luna is God's will of course," the lord finishes. "And what will you do when your Final Rounds are complete?" he says finally amused by the guard.

    "I am already finished, my lord. I was doing an extra loop when I heard her cry out."

    "How thorough of you."

    "And I will do what I have always done. Go where God guides me."

    "And you believe he guided you here and now."

    "I do."

    "While I do not have your faith, this is what I see. What you did at the dungeons was the only thing you should have done. You have proven your abilities as a paladin, both in combat and in healing, just moments past when you fought off the thief that poisoned my scribe. You seem to seek perfection in all your duties, and are willing to give counsel when you think one above your station is wrong," he pauses, "Not that I am wrong about Luna."

    The Lord of West Luna continues, "And as you saw for yourself, walking West Luna is more dangerous than walking in the City of Light." He looks intently into Stark's eyes, "I am in need of a Guard of my own, to defend my lands. And it must start with one who is well versed in such duties. I wish to take you into my service. Do you accept," he offers.

    "I do," he answers without hesitation.

    "Kneel."

    "I, Stark, paladin of the Order of Light, do hereby swear before God and on all the Gifts of Light, to do all within my power to defend your lands and all within, until my service ends, through loss of rank or loss of life. With all my Courage, in the spirit of Love, spoken with Truth."

    "Rise Stark, Guard Captain of West Luna."



    * * *

     
  5. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter IV

    "Says he has business to attend to and leaves just like that," the bitter scribe mutters as the Lord of West Luna rides off. "What kind of important business can he have at day's end? He's probably just going to get ready for a party, and wants me to get you settled in so he doesn't have to do it himself!"

    She has been through an eventful day and just wants to relax and recuperate. Instead, something else gets stacked onto her shoulders.

    "Forgive me Merchant Vendor, but attending a party is important business for lords. As many deals are made at a party as at a formal gathering," the newly appointed guard captain responds.

    "That may be, but he's not a lord," replies Melfina.

    "Of course he's a lord."

    "No, he's not. Walking around in fancy armor, carrying his fancy bow, and living in his fancy house doesn't make him a lord!" yells the exasperated Melfina. The ordeals of the day have worn away at her patience.

    "Yet you, yourself, call him Lord."

    "He's never told me his name. What else am I supposed to call him? Sometimes I think Lord of West Luna is his name. He believes forcing me to call him that will make me believe he really is a lord, but I know better."

    "He has lands-"

    "Lands! Let me show you the lands that he claims as West Luna. His shop..." Melfina points to the extremely large and well kept marble structure over in the distance.

    "Manor house," the paladin can't hold back.

    "...right over there," Melfina talks over Stark, ignoring him, "My shop right there, and his second shop that's right here in front of us. Three buildings! That's it. That encompasses the vastness of the great West Luna," Melfina concludes, somehow staring down at the taller paladin with her auburn eyes. Her cropped brown hair seeming to be alight in the dawning sun.

    "Three shops," repeats Stark, sounding impressed. "All successful if I am not mistaken."

    Melfina remains silent, dumbfounded by his stubbornness, and reminded of her plight. If only he knew how large her debt was to the Lord of West Luna. He didn't just lend her seed money for her shop, or only pay for some supplies. He paid for its entire construction. Melfina had enough goods and gold to restock her shop, but had nowhere near enough gold to build a place to sell them. And then he approached her.

    Melfina used to have a shop within Luna itself. Attacks by the God of Wealth, Tal'Keesh, and her army changed all that. Lord of West Luna had been impressed with her previous shop, from its focus and depth of goods, to its fairness of price, organization, and looks. He took a gamble by funding the construction of her new home. He even had it built right next to his own. He would provide all the advertisement needed, so she would only have to focus internally in making the shop profitable. The current agreement between them gives her total control as long as she can make quarterly payments to pay off her debt, otherwise she forfeits everything she owns.

    Melfina wrote out the contract herself. What else could she have done? She had lived within Luna all her life. She knew nothing about the outside world except through books. Books she lived for. Without a shop she would have had to sell them to survive, with no hope of getting them back. It had been her life's work to build up the collection she had, and slowly parting with it one book at a time was an unbearable thought. She had no choice but to take the Lord of West Luna's offer. Yet if she couldn't make the next payment, she would then lose them all at once.

    "What did you do to me?" Melfina asks to change the subject.

    "I cleansed you of the poison that coated the shuriken, then bandaged up your wound," Stark says.

    "I know that," she looks at him angrily. "But what did you do? I remember fire," she shudders at the memory.

    "There was no time to use a bandage to try to siphon off the poison. It was only a weak poison but…"

    "Weak! I collapsed!"

    "Only because he struck you close to the heart," he explains. "Otherwise you would have hardly felt the effects at all. That thief was quick, maybe the quickest I have ever seen, but he wasn't a killer. His bravado was just a mask for his fear. There was desperation in his eyes, not malice."

    "And you were still going to kill him knowing that."

    "Of course," Stark says simply. "He stole from you. The punishment is death. Weren't you trying to kill him yourself?"

    "I wanted to, but..." Melfina struggles to explain, ashamed of what she is about to admit. "...it would never have happened. I'm a scribe, not a mage. I've never had to use magic in a battle. I don't have the proper reflexes. I can cast spells of the First Circle without a second thought, as well as a select few that I use regularly, but that's about it. I usually have to look up most spells... I just...," she clenches her teeth as her anger returns. "He ruined… my book!" Melfina turns and runs toward where she last saw the Tome fall.

    Her heart races as she reaches out to pick up the impaled page that tore free from the Tome. Relief floods through her as she discovers her mistake. It was the cover that had kept it hidden from other shoppers, and not a page, that had ripped free as she had feared. She picks up the Tome of Lost Knowledge and flips through the pages. She searches for any significant damage, and finds none.

    "It's just a spellbook. Was that worth risking your life?" Stark asks as he approaches from behind.

    Melfina furiously turns around, releasing her anxiety on the paladin. "Just a spellbook! This is a Tome of Lost Knowledge! Do you have any idea what that means! It is a copy of one of the original spellbooks that were put together when Resurrection had been found! When all eight Circles had just been completed! When mages still seached for a Ninth!"

    "All of that is considered obsolete these days," Melfina continues, eyes staring past Stark's shoulder, voice off in the distance. "The Eight Circles are complete, so what use is magic theory when there is nothing left to discover? For most mages, it is enough for a spellbook to be a mana focus and contain only the instructions for casting spells. This," Melfina shakes the book in his face, forcing Stark to step backwards, "is key to understanding the past and gaining insight into another time. Key to reliving what they went through. The joys and exhilaration of unlocking secrets of the magical arts itself. Discoveries that have benefited all the land! Lessons that shouldn't be forgotten. Lessons that we may need to remember for the future. This needs to be preserved for the contents within. Preserved to honor those who have come before us. Preserved before all the copies are lost! For all I know this might be the last copy!"

    "I understand. My apologies Merchant Vendor. I did not realize. From the way our Lord was speaking to you, I did not know it was that valuable." Stark bows his head.

    "That's because he didn't know what was stolen. And how many times do I have to tell you that he's not my lord… he's not anyone's lord because... He. Is. Not. A. Lord!"

    "Repeating a statement does not make it true. He is obviously a lord. He speaks, dresses, and carries himself as one would. He owns lands and has a people…"

    "I am not his people. If I was his people, shouldn't he provide me with protection?" Melfina challenges Stark as she touches her wound.

    "He has provided you with a Captain of the Guard."

    Melfina slightly grimaces. "He's not a lord!" she persists. "His parents aren't even of noble birth. He has common blood!"

    "All noble lines start from common birth if you look far enough. They must become noble. Much like a city must begin with a single brick, a single wall, a single shop. And West Luna already has three. South Luna began from humble beginnings as well, and now it is a flourishing annex of the City of Light that Luna could not do without. So must it be with the Lord of West Luna. He may not be of noble birth, but he has noble blood. I sense a greatness in him."

    Glaring at him Melfina responds, "You're a naive fool. What would you know. I've known him for two years now, while you only talked with him for two minutes before you swore your oath to him."

    "The existence of greatness cannot be denied. I have faith that I am right. Just give it time. You will see. I am honored to be Guard Captain of his lands."

    "Well Captain, escort me back to my library before the Tome gets stolen again.

    The scribe stalks past his shoulder, and the guard captain follows.

    * * *​

     
  6. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter V

    Focusing his eyes, Stark takes in the room as he appears from the teleport tile. The scribe extends her arm out toward the room and says, "This is my library."

    A scan is all it takes to see signs of the merchant vendor's encounter with the thief. A bow lies carelessly discarded on the ground. An arrow bites into a chest along the far wall. Stark could almost feel it still quivering, as if it had just been released a moment ago. Half the room is a chaotic mess. Books, paper, and ink bottles litter the floor, with the aisle of overturned tables as the obvious reason.

    Despite all that, it's easy to see this room is usually well kept. More than well kept. The other half of the room has small, wooden tables sitting side by side, each perfectly aligned with the next. The accompanying chair for each table is likewise precisely set, with not a single mote of dust in sight.

    "Why so many desks? Surely you don't use them all."

    "This place is open for anyone to use, unlike the Luna Library where only a privileged few have access. All are welcome as long as they respect the books."

    Melfina begins to pick up the mess on the ground. As Stark bends down to help, Melfina sharply yells, "Wait! Are your hands clean!?"

    He stops and looks at his hands. A little intense isn't she.

    "Make sure they're clean." Stark wipes his hands with the damp cloth she throws at him. "And dry," she adds as she throws him a second cloth. "Just set everything on the table there, I'll organize it later."

    "And the bookshelves might look empty now, but they'll be filled soon enough," she adds.

    "Not at all what I was thinking. These are the most books I've seen collected all in one place," he says impressed.

    Encouraged, Melfina continues, "Oh. Well. Most people don't yet understand what a privilege it is to have access to this wealth of knowledge. They treat reading and writing as if it is just a tool for commerce. It's so much more than that! But it's not entirely their fault. No one's provided them with easy access to books of such a wide variety. This place will have something for everyone! The stories of individual people and entire nations will be here. So will the tales of bards, reference books, recipe books, and anything else you can imagine! Accessible to anyone."

    "And research. I have books that I'm working on, filled with my own research that I'll share with anyone. Well... when I'm finished. Some of it at least. The ability to leave a life time of research so others can pick up where you left off, or to build upon what others have done before... that is a blessing that most people don't realize we have."

    "The value of books isn't lost on my Order. Paladins must all carry The Book of Chivalry where ever we go, to remind us of our training, remind us of the history of our Order, keep our prayers with us, and provide us with answers."

    "I know about The Book of Chivalry. The Keepers give me some to sell whenever I run low. I've glanced at it, and it's not what I was expecting really. I was expecting... more."

    "Merchant Vendor, those books of Chivalry that you sell are just a hint of what's contained in a true Book of Chivalry. The books that we give out for vendors to sell are meant only to help spread our word, and generate interest in our Order. They contain only abbreviated versions of the Books of Purpose, History, Psalms, and Theory. The Books of Procedure, Invocation, Training, and Battle are left out entirely."

    The scribe puts on a very disarming face and Melfina meekly replies, "I would like to see that sometime, if I may, honorable Paladin."

    Keeping an amused grin from reaching his face, Stark says, "So you can be polite. At least when you want something." The confused look on her face forces him to add, "You'll figure it out in time."

    Still bewildered, "What?"

    "Sometimes words are meaningless if they don't come from within." Stark continues, "And yes of course, you can look through my Book of Chivalry, on your honor that you will not reproduce the sections intended for the Order alone. Those sections will not make sense to the uninitiated without the guidance of a Keeper, or at the very least, a Paladin."

    "Of course, I know how to guard important information." Stark watches the scribe walk over to a cabinet in the far corner of the room. She pulls a key from her pocket, and unlocks the cabinet. Inside are only a handful of books, each carefully spaced out from each other. "I keep the oldest books here, away from the light. Most people don't realize it, but something as harmless seeming as light can eventually cause damage to paper."

    "The Light is both gentle and strong," Stark says reverently.

    "So can moisture, extreme heat, and extreme cold, and the oils on our own fingers too." Melfina gently adds the Tome of Lost Knowledge to her collection and then closes the cabinet and locks the door. Caressing the wood of the door she says half to herself, and half to no one at all, "This was all meant to be for Luna. Now it's even harder to reach them."

    "What do you mean?"

    "This place. Not these actual floors and walls, but this library, all of these books. My home. It was in Luna. I had to leave. Lord of West Luna helped me get a new start."

    "I can see what he must have seen in you."

    Melfina turns red. "Well that doesn't matter. This will become the center of knowledge of the entire world some day."

    Stark laughs. "I wish you luck."

    "It won't take luck. It will take a lot of work and time. You'll see." Melfina's eyes begin to droop and a yawn escapes her mouth.

    "You've had a hard day today. You should eat and rest Merchant Vendor. Your body needs to recover."

    Melfina utters something and a wedge of cheese appears. She starts to lose her balance and Stark steps forward, ready to catch her.

    "I'm ok. Just got a little dizzy." She gets up and goes into a cabinet and pulls out a loaf of bread.

    "Come and join me."

    They both take a seat and the guard captain gladly eats, finding the events of the day have given him a huge appetite.

    "I saw you scanning the room when you appeared, as if taking in a crime scene."

    Stark nods.

    "What was the first thing you noticed?"

    "Well, a quick scan told me plenty. The mess is isolated to one aisle of desks. That shows the path the thief took. The wide spacing between desks means he knocked over the tables on purpose to slow you down as he made his escape. The arrow in the chest along the far wall makes me assume that's where you were standing, most likely preparing to put the Tome of Lost Knowledge away in the sealed cabinet. The common look of the bow and the way he discarded it tells me he cared nothing for it, and was most likely picked up off of the floor of the Luna Bank where someone else was just tossing it away. The short distance from where the bow was left and where you were standing tells me that the arrow was meant only as a distraction, as no one could have missed from that distance. The off center desks right over there shows where you cleared your way as you chased him."

    "Did you notice anything else?" Melfina asks, a half-knowing grin beginning to form.

    Stark runs the scenario in his mind, and can't think of what she's hinting at.

    "As you entered the room, something you should have noticed but didn't?"

    Stark stands up and looks around the room once more... and he still can't figure it out.

    "As you entered the room?"

    Stark looks back to where the telepo- "It was silent!" Stark realizes. "That's how he was able to sneak up on you. There's no popping sound when your tile is used."

    "In Vas Wis," Melfina smiles. "The results of dedicated research. That's just an example of what this place will accomplish someday when more people realize its value. This level is the true treasure of The Magic Arts and Crafts, not the store beneath."

    Stark laughs, a new light in his eyes. "You're less crazy and more dangerous than I thought, Merchant Vendor."

    "Why thank you Guard Captain," Melfina smiles. "Looks like we're finished here. I only have one bedroom upstairs, so you'll have to sleep in here for now, until we find out Lord of West Luna's plans for you. I'll bring down some extra blankets."

    Melfina retrieves the blankets, wishes the paladin a good night, and heads back upstairs. With hours yet before he will be ready to sleep, Stark pulls out his Book of Chivalry and takes comfort in that which is familiar to him.

    * * *
    [​IMG]
     
  7. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter VI

    Only silence greets Melfina as she steps outside. Something brushes her cheek and she looks up to find the sky an unreal shade of blue. Green leaves and purple nightshade petals fall from the sun overhead. The light fall quickly turns into a storm.

    "Help!" a desperate Melfina screams, looking for anything recognizable through the storm's blinding fury. Warmth radiates from behind, and she turns around to find her gaze landing upon Stark. Light surrounds him as all the petals and leaves flare up before coming close to touching him, creating a sphere of safety within.

    He reaches her and his radiance protects her from the endless storm. "My light is both gentle and strong."

    Melfina smiles.

    "I see what Lord of West Luna must have seen in you." Stark then raises his gaze over her shoulder.

    Melfina turns to find the Lord of West Luna before her. He stands impervious to the flames engulfing him as his nightmare towers behind, releasing its deadly breath.

    "I see gold."

    The Lord of West Luna draws his bow and fires. The iron tip penetrates into her heart. Stark doesn't even blink an eye. Lord Luna steps forward and yanks the arrow out from her chest leaving a gaping void.

    "There it is," says Lord Luna as he stares at a newly golden tipped arrow. "But it's not enough." He plunges his arm into the void of her chest. His eyes lock onto hers while he sifts through her soul.

    Melfina shrieks when he withdraws his arm and the Tome of Lost Knowledge is in his grasp. "This will have to do."

    The Tome turns to ash.

    * * *​

    Melfina wakes. Her hart is pounding. It takes a moment for her to realize she is still in bed. A few moments more and she realizes the room is too bright.

    I've overslept.

    She gets up, and her mind races to adjust her schedule to the lost time. She peeks under the bandage and finds the wound healing nicely. After putting on a simple light blue dress, she heads downstairs.

    Sitting at one of the library's desks, Stark sets a book down and says, "Good morning Merchant Vendor. How are you feeling?"

    "I woke up late. We need to get started. Do you need breakfast? I can make some."

    Melfina starts moving her arm in a circular motion, but Stark interrupts. "No thank you. Save your energy. I ate the leftovers from last night."

    "I need to finish giving you the tour of West Luna and then I have other business to take care of."

    "Very well," says Stark as he puts the book back on the shelf and Melfina leads the way.

    Back on the bottom floor, Melfina takes Stark to the building in front of them. They climb the sandstone steps and she yells, "St. Michael!" Silence is the only response. "Oh well, I suppose he's out. Probably restocking." She extends her arm. "Welcome to the House of Poison."

    "The Merchant Vendor who owns this shop is a saint?"

    "Oh no. Michael is Lord Luna's uncle. Lord Luna is the one who owns this place and Michael runs it for him. We call him St. Michael because... well... because it annoys him," he says impishly, "He deserves it."

    "We?"

    "Me and Gwen. She runs the House of Furniture. We'll go there next. But as of now, this is the House of Poison. Here you can find any manner of items that deal with poison and poisoning, except for curing it. Poisoned weapons, kegs of poison, poisoned food, and even instructions on how to become proficient in poisoning your own items if you're inclined to learn. A copy can be found in my library." Melfina grins.

    "You can smile about that even after yesterday? What if Nightshade bought the very weapon that was used on you from this very place?"

    "Knowledge isn't the problem, how certain people use it is. There are legitimate ways to use poisoned weapons."

    "It's not the weapons I really have the most problem with, it's the food. What use does it have other than poisoning the innocent or assassination? At least a dagger can be a clean and quick kill after the poison has slowed the victim down. Death by poison alone is a cruel fate. And with food, too many times the identity of the poisoner is never even known. There is nothing honorable about poison," says and angered Stark.

    "Well you can take that up with Michael when you see him. Don't yell at me," says a now also slightly angered Melfina. "Let's leave this place then. Off to the House of Furniture."

    They walk back towards Melfina's shop and past it. On the right is Lord Luna's manor. It is built with the same marble and sandstone materials as the other two shops, yet there is a sense of majesty to it. A wide sandstone stairway leads to the main floor. Two potted Rose of Trinsic bushes and two mounted polar bear heads are placed on either side of the entrance.

    Several vendors stand in different colored robes, indicating which area of furniture they're to be selling. A stunning blond woman dressed in studded leather armor and apron walks in from the back room.

    "Stark, this is Gwendalyne, Lord Luna's sister and Grandmaster Crafter of the House of Furniture."

    A welcoming smile beams from Gwendalyne's face. "You say that as if your own work isn't grandmaster quality, Mel." Turning to Stark. "I'm glad my brother has decided to hire a guard. We've talked it over so many times. Well, as Melfina said, this is the House of Furniture. We sell everything here. Tables, chairs, chests, cabinets, dartboards… pretty much anything you could possibly think of. Made to order from the wood or stone of your choice, or purchased from our pre-made selection. Single piece or bulk order, we can do it. And we have vendors ready to assist in customizing your old furniture with our furniture dying tubs, free of charge. And of course extra special orders can be left on our message board over there."

    "That sounds like a lot of work for one person."

    "It is, but it's worth it. Many people have plenty of money and time, so they often decide to completely redecorate their house. Or do a complete remodeling. I have quite a few repeat customers. People love their homes and will pay large sums of gold to improve them in subtle way that only they'll notice."

    "Which reminds me that I have to finish the table I started working on in the back." She waves the saw in her hands. "You'll be sleeping in here for now. We have a room made up for you. Just come back later and I'll show you the rest of the place. Take the side staircase, that's the only way into the private rooms of the manor."

    "Yes, my Lady." Stark bows.

    Gwendalyne laughs. "I'm no lady. Just Gwendalyne will do."

    After a pause, "As you wish Merchant Vendor Gwendalyne."

    She shakes her head with an amused smile on her lips.

    "You'll have to come over later too, Mel, and tell me all about what happened yesterday. I'll bring the food, you bring dessert,” she says, eager to hear about yesterday's events.

    "Of course Gwen, I know exactly what to bring." What am I gonna bring? She knows I don't cook! The anger is only surface deep however. The dinners are always fun, as long as she has the time for it.

    Melfina leads Stark back outside. "Done. That's West Luna. Now go start guarding." Melfina says trying to shoo him away with her hand, already thinking about the rest of the day as she tries to catch up with her schedule.

    "I'd like to know more if you don't mind. Such as what is that building," says Stark as he points to the building in front of them. The House of Furniture, The Magic Arts & Crafts, The House of Poison, and the house with plaster walls could make a city square, with a crystal spring in the center, if Lord Luna ever fulfills his vision. "I need to learn the surrounding area as well, if I'm to properly do my job."

    "Oh ok, let me show you. Draven is usually home at this time."

    They walk around the corner and up some wooden steps. Vines creep up the walls. Melfina doesn't bother knocking. She's always welcome here.

    Long counters fill the floor making neat aisles. All sorts of items lie on top with a small plaque by each. Some are weapons, some of it armor. A skull over here, a crystal ball over there, and a miniature ship in the back. Each item has a small plaque next to it, and is protected by a glass case.

    "Lass, always a pleasure to see you. And who is this that you've brought with you?" says the red haired man, with just a touch a grey to it.

    "This is Stark, Guard Captain of West Luna. Stark, this is Draven." Stark nods.

    Draven laughs. "Interesting. A Guard Captain. Is this another attempt to get me to join West Luna? It might work. Finally something worth offering. Guards, like real cities have, and commanded by a paladin no less."

    "Well... as of now, there's just the one guard. But I still think the advertisement that Lord Luna could provide you would be good for your museum."

    Draven grins. "You're a persistent one. But once again, I'm providing something unique. It'll advertise itself eventually, with only a little effort. All Lord Luna would do is speed up the process. I'm not selling goods like you are, just sharing my experiences. I can afford patience. Money can go to my next adventure instead of Lord Luna. If he could get me visitor numbers that even the smallest shop in Luna gets, that would be a different story. Not even the House of Furniture gets that, and that place has gotten him accepted by the Luna nobles. Come back to me when there are guards for him to captain over and I'll think about it."

    "I actually wasn't here for that. I'm just giving Stark a tour of West Luna. He wanted to become familiar with the area."

    Draven's face lights up. "Come here lad, let me show you the Museum of a Thousand Wonders! I've traveled all over the world collecting rare and unique items and I've decided to share them with everyone. Melfina here has been trying to convince me to write my travels down in a book. I may do that someday, but there are still places to see."

    "You should write it down before you forget."

    "I won't forget."

    "You better not. You've had a very unique life. It should be recorded. It would make a great addition to my library. But I have an appointment to prepare for so we'll see you later."

    "Have a good day Melfina. And you too, Captain Stark. You're welcome back anytime. If you want to come check out these wonders... or wish to guard my place for free." He chuckles to himself and walks the two of them to his front door.

    With her mind thinking ahead, she tells Stark, "Ok, that's it for today. Gwendalyne can probably answer your questions when you see her tonight. I have to take care of my shop now."


    * * *

     
  8. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter VII

    Rest. There was no time for rest. The scribe was still walking away and his mind was filled with all the tasks he needed to accomplish to fulfill the duties of this new life of his. Guard Captain. Through a bizarre series of events, his life has been set on a new path in a heartbeat. His entire life has been directly guided by the Keepers of Chivalry; deciding when to start his apprenticeship, when to take the oaths, the focus of this studies, and the service he should choose. All of the major decisions, and even ones not so major, were decided for him, often times never being told why. The answers to "why" don't always lie in the present, young one, Brandon would tell him. Be patient. You will see. God has a plan for you.

    But Stark ends line of thought because Melfina has suddenly stopped. Thankfully, the answer to this particular "why" remains in the present. A man stands waiting in the shadows of the museum. Still and silent, he watches the scribe's shop, oblivious that he is no longer hidden.

    Black thigh high boots and full length apron are worn on top of red pants. Strands of red hair peek out from beneath a black bandana. Another thief. How do they all know about that Tome? Was it being watched? Waiting for it to leave Luna's walls? Why not buy it themselves?

    He watches as the scribe creeps toward the new intruder. Foolish woman! Stark remains still, wondering why she isn't casting a spell. Silence and surprise are their most potent weapons. Weapons he won't throw away with the merchant vendor between the thief and himself. She moves deliberately with no sign of fear. Stark can only hope yesterday's events have tempered her, and not made her reckless.

    Sword clenched. Eyes fixed. Stark waits.

    Then Stark recalls Melfina's words, I'm a scribe, not a mage... I usually have to look up most spells... as the merchant vendor can almost touch him. What does she think she can do? With every muscle tensed, Stark prepares to save the stupid woman. His heart slows down rather than speeds up as his training unconsciously takes over.
    Still as stone, Stark watches her reach out toward the intruder. Surprise is lost. He knew she was there. Quick as a fox, he locks her wrist in an iron grip.

    "Not this time, girl," he says darkly.

    Stark launches forward.

    The grim scowl framed by a neatly trimmed goatee soon melts into a smile. "You got close though. I'm impressed."

    "Almost! I'll get you one of these days!" laughs the scribe.

    Stark's charge dissipates but his sword remains drawn while he reevaluates the situation.

    "Then you'd only need a couple dozen more times to make it even." A rueful grin covers his face. The scribe hits him in response.

    "Gamblor, it's good to see you."

    "I know," He says matter of factly. "Too bad you look terrible or I could say the same." She hits him again, much harder this time. "Where's your regular dress? Looks like you make cupcakes rather than sell scrolls and books on the All Powerful Magic Arts. Don't tell me you've given up and run a bakery now!" He raises his nose and sniffs.

    This time her hit moves him a step back. "Shut up!. As a matter of fact I am baking something today. For dinner with Gwen."

    Stark walks up to the pair. Sword finally sheathed. Threat of danger passed.
    "Oh Gamblor, this is Stark, the new Guard Captain of West Luna. Stark, this is Gamblor."

    "Gamblor," Stark says his name, as if tasting something unfamiliar. "Treasure Hunter?"

    "Yup. Stark," Gamblor pauses, imitating the guard captain, "Boring?"

    "I wasn't named to describe who I am. My name is just my name. My actions define its meaning, its meaning does not define my actions."

    "So it's what I thought." Gamblor smiles that smile of his.

    "Ignore him, he's an idiot," Melfina interrupts. "Sorry Gamblor, I don't have my list written out yet, I've had a late start today, I'll go take care of that right now."

    "Shame, shame, shame... a late start! Your shop can't maintain itself you know," the treasure hunter says. His constantly playful tone quickly becoming tiresome.

    "Shut up," Melfina says much less enthusiastically this time as she walks towards her shop.

    "Watch it Gamblor," Stark warns. "The Merchant Vendor was attacked by a thief yesterday. She was poisoned and needed rest."

    His grin wavers. "Well, don't I feel stupid."

    Good, thinks the guard captain as he follows Gamblor towards the shop.
    "What did this thief look like? I travel a lot, maybe I've already seen him, or will sometime soon."

    Of course there couldn't be any other reason you might know thieves Stark doesn't say out loud. Instead he asks, "And what would you do if you find him, Treasure Hunter? Have you ever dealt out Justice?"

    "Why don't you just say kill."

    "Because it's Justice," Stark says firmly. "She would have died had I not been here."

    "Then this thief, whoever he is– "

    "Nightshade."

    "Then Nightshade deserves to die. But you would have said the same had it been just the theft, and no poison, wouldn't you?" challenges Gamblor.

    "Say that to Melfina. She believes the book he attempted to steel is worth her life."

    "And if it wasn't! If it was just Virtue you'd still say the same!"

    "That book should be treated with respect."

    "And if it was just a shopping list?" he says darkly.

    "I suppose if you heard someone desperately calling for the guards, you'd waste time trying to question the offender. Ask him which Violation he committed, then let him decide what a fair punishment is? I suppose you know the economic and personal worth of every item that's stolen the instant you appear to defend someone, without even seeing the item that was stolen. Stealing can end lives. Punishment is dealt in kind. An instant and swift punishment has brought about a safe Luna."

    "Theft is not murder. Only in Luna are they one and the same."

    Stark's dealt with people like this before. If you choose to live in a city, you agree to it's rules. Most people accept and understand. Others don't accept, but understand and just choose to live elsewhere. A few neither accept, nor understand. Or more precisely, pretend to do neither, because of what they do, and not because of any belief. Their actions show the true reasons behind their protestations. "What is it that you do for the Merchant Vendor?"

    "What don't I do is the real question," he puts on his fake smile instantly. "I get things."

    "What kinds of things?" Stark probes.

    "For Melfina, supplies. For her inks, spells, and whatever. Stuff that can only be gotten in dangerous places, or are just outta the way for her."

    "Luna sells everything."

    "If you're patient enough, rich enough, or both. There's no telling when some items are in stock, and that's where I come in."

    "So you get things for Melfina. And others I assume?"

    "If you need it, I can probably get it. For a price."

    "How and where do you get these things?"

    Before he responds, Melfina appears, oblivious to what has been going on. "There you go. I added a couple more items than the usual. I need them back in about two weeks."

    "Special items? I hope that means I get special payment." He winks.

    "Just get it back to me in two weeks!" She hits him smiling.

    "Ok, ok. Must have an important client."

    "Yeah, one of Luna's generous nobles wants a spellbook that's attuned to reptiles, he's paying a lot for it because I told him I could dye it the exact color he wants."

    "Bleed'em dry, Mel. They owe you for everything you've had to pay because of'em." Then he adds, "Anything else new with my favorite West Lunite?"

    "Oh! I found something yesterday. Come upstairs and I'll show you." She grabs hold of his wrist and drags him with her.

    "Anytime."

    Stark begins to follow them upstairs, but he hears movement. A man dressed in vibrant blues and reds walks nearby. Stark tries to hail him, but the stranger only hastens his step, quickly moving west, well beyond the furthest reaches of what could be considered the boundaries of West Luna.

    Stark just shakes his head. This place is so different than Luna. He knows this is his new life, but he can't help but wonder - why?


    * * *
     
  9. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter VIII

    "How much could'ya sell it for?"

    Melfina simply shakes her head. Typical Gamblor. "The answer depends on who you ask. Not much more than a regular spellbook to most, quite a lot to collectors, and priceless to the few who understand its potential."

    "Well start scribing up some copies then!!"

    "I…"

    Gamblor plops down some paper, uncaps an ink bottle, picks up a quill, and crams it into her hand. "Come on! Start scribing some gold!" He makes her dip the quill into the bottle.

    "St... stop it Gamblor!" She manages to say amidst her laughter, "It's not possible! The techniques were lost. The the inks can be mixed, and the paper made, but to put it together as a spellbook. It just can't be done. Not anymore."

    Melfina has spent countless hours studying spellbooks. Their history and construction. Basic spellbooks were easy enough to make. Even apprentices could make them. But it takes greater and greater skill to add various enhancements. Allowing the mana to flow gentler or being more forgiving on the precision required to cast a spell were just a couple of these features. And any mage of any skill would be able to identify the specific enhancements each book had by feeling it's unique resonance.

    The Lost Knowledge tomes were special. They all shared the same resonance, and one that no scribe had ever been able to replicate. Stranger still was the fact that all attempts in copying these tomes not only failed in making another Tome, but failed in producing a mana focus altogether. They books were just books. They were useless in spell casting. And the last, and greatest mystery, was the text was only comprehensible while a Tome was being held. Scribes attempted to copy the notes inside, only to find that they had been writing random, meaningless letters.

    "It's enchanted so it can't be copied. Whatever they did back then, we don't know how to do it anymore. That's why they were named Tomes of Lost Knowledge." Sadly, they were named more so for the loss of knowledge for creating powerful mana focuses, rather than for knowledge contained inside. "The only known copy for the past hundred years or so, before I found this one, was in the Luna Library. It was destroyed in the Dragon War."

    "Tal'keesh didn't like books?"

    "Records. She wanted to destroy all of Luna's records. Of taxes, loans, trends – economic or otherwise. Records can't be rebuilt like walls can. Luna's still in recovery. The Tome of Lost Knowledge was just collateral damage."

    The Dragon War. Over before it had scarcely begun, yet it changed everything.

    The old king had a glorious reign. A fearsome combination of resources, ideas, and the will to see them through, brought about a level of prosperity Luna had never seen. His ideas built Luna up, and his ideas tore it back down. You cannot challenge the gods and expect the challenge to go unanswered.

    The old king began proclaiming that it was Luna that could grant true wealth, and that the God of Wealth was obsolete. The words were spoken and Tal'Keesh responded. Dragon and god, she descended on Luna with fury and flame, both fueling her army's spirit and melting Luna's resolve.

    The war began during the Gathering of Light, and it was the strength of the Order of Light that forged the defenders as one. The final battle was a sight to behold. With the Defenders of Virtue lighting the way, Luna's residents rose up beside them in defense of their home. Spirits defiant, they fought with honor. The God of Wealth fell, but at a heavy cost. Her bones were kept as both trophy and warning, and Luna would be forever changed.

    "Well, the king died for his sins. Too bad the war ended with that fool Aedilwulf proclaiming the end of Luna's kings, only to proclaim himself Archduke. It's the same thing!"

    "Don't forget the war also created that treasure of yours."

    All he can do is shrug his shoulders and grin. "What greater treasure can there be than that of a Dragon God. Dragon. God. You laugh now, but you'll see."

    Melfina just rolls her eyes and pushes him toward the exit. "Come on, time for you to get on your way."

    "Where'd your fancy new guard go, Queen I-Can't-Look-Out-For-Myself."

    "He guards West Luna, not just me. Go and leave already and get my supplies."

    "Whatever you say, my Queen."

    Before Melfina can respond, a melodic voice chimes in, "Queen? How long have you been a queen?"

    Gamblor's eyes widen and he quickly backs away from the new arrival. "Cadence! It wasn't my fault!"

    The beautiful voice came from an equally beautiful body. The gentle waves of her long, auburn hair gently cling to her stunning figure. Golden brown eyes crackle with a fire that comes from a life of equal parts glamour and adventure as only a bard can live.

    "You're lucky I'm here on business, Gamblor." She glares with a fearsome, yet cute, glare that Melfina knows she could never pull off. "You can make it up to me tonight. I'll be playing in Luna, sweetie."

    Gamblor looks up through the ceiling. "Look at that. The day sure has gone by fast. I have another stop to make. Good day ladies," he says, somehow managing to wink at both of them at the same time. He makes his way out, keeping as far as possible from Cadence as he passes by.

    "Hi Melfina, how are you? Sorry I have to do this to you, but a job's a job, and Lord Luna pays well." Cadence extends her arm, handing Melfina an envelope, the emblem embossed into the sealing wax is that of Lord Luna. The arrow point strikes fear into her heart.

    "Yeah I know." Melfina puts the envelope straight into her pocket. They both know what it is. Lord Luna always uses Cadence to deliver bills and invoices.

    "Well if you need any money, you could always capture the Dungeon Slaughterer, his reward's at five-thousand gold."

    I wonder if St… wait…

    "That's it? For all that he did, he's only the price of a spellbook! They must not want to catch him too badly."

    "I'm sure they're just trying to save on reward money. The longer he's free, the higher it'll go."

    "…and where do you find good prices on swords?" comes Stark's voice from off in the distance.

    A very familiar and chipper voice responds, "Oh, you just have to shop around for that. It seems like everyone sells weapons, and there is no telling who has the best quality and best deals until you see it for yourself. The best swords go quick, so you have to check daily."

    The guard captain walks into the shop with a very vibrantly dressed man. The next trend will most likely be blinding white cloth and armor, adorned with flowing patterns of gold and lime green. Tom always seems to start new fashion trends. "Tom! How have you been?" says Melfina with a warm smile.

    "I've been doing excellent, as usual. It's a beautiful day for finding deals. And I continue to do so at your lovely establishment," he says with a smile that believes the world couldn't be any more perfect. "I'm here to pick up the usual."

    "Naturally," she nods her head at one of her favorite regulars. "It's already here waiting for you. Scrolls and runes, bagged and ready."

    "You're the best!" Tom says. And then turning to Cadence, "I can always count on her."

    "She's a wonder alright. Stopping by the inn tonight, cutie?"

    "I wouldn't miss it for all the gold in Luna."

    Cadence flashes a smile, says her good-byes, and heads off.

    "For all those times you've thrown in a little something extra, here, I picked up a gift in Moonglow. For your shop."

    Oh no… I hope he doesn't expect me to display it. His taste is so… Luna. She opens up the bag and is pleasantly surprised to see holiday mistletoe that makes a kissing sound if someone walks beneath it. "It's from MAGIC!"

    "Of course. No one else does it better. They have the manpower, and the resources. It's quite a company." Magical Add-ons, Gadgets, and Intriguing Charms sells only the best quality, and often unique, house add-ons. From bottomless trash barrels and teleport tiles to night sight earrings and mood rings. Some of their products have become a home construction standard. "I'd be terrified to compete with them. Buying and selling. That's the way to go. No wandering dangerous wilds and slaying dangerous beasts, and no wondering if someone is selling better quality products at a cheaper price. I buy from those who want to sell, and sell to those who want to buy. Everyone wins!"

    "I do appreciate your business, Tom."

    "Just keep the scrolls coming. I'll be seeing you. Items don't buy themselves!"

    Movement in the corner of her eye reminds her of Stark's presence. "I hope you know more Tom's and less Gamblor's."

    "Oh, Gamblor is harmless," she says dismissively.

    "There's something about him I don't like." Stark says as he goes back to his duty.

    The shop quiets down, and her pocket grows heavy. She pulls it out the letter and breaks the seal. She can't get herself to read past the heading. It's in her own handwriting. The ink still wet on her contract with Lord Luna, and already the debt was being dangled in her face. He was her first customer. She can't help but sigh.

    Lord Luna pays well.


    * * *
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  10. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter IX

    Only a few hours of rest, and the guard captain wakes. Time to start another day, but first, he prays.

    The room had been used for storage before it became his own. He was told to move everything out except for one bed, blanket, pillow, and a clothing chest. The bed was large, and the room could easily fit eight of them. Any extra furniture must be paid for separately, with a ten percent discount at the House of Furniture of course. Stark, however, preferred the emptiness.

    As he prepares himself, the stillness of the early morning allows his mind to wander. As always, images flash through his mind. Images he can't ever forget.

    Focus on your duties.

    He shaves, and then puts on his armor. Not the full plate, just the chain mail. He doesn't have the luxury of the Luna teleport spells anymore. One guard for all of West Luna. Mobility is important. Dressed and freshened up, Stark focuses on the new day.

    Still asleep, the guard captain takes note as he moves past the merchant vendor's room. Exhausted from stonework, she wouldn't get up until midday. Her shop is fully stocked, and her vendors would arrive before the shop opened. She sold an impressive amount of items each day. For impressive amounts of gold. It was amazing what people would pay for just a small change to their homes. And it was more amazing that she could keep up.

    As for the Lord of West Luna, it seemed he often spent his nights elsewhere, as an honored guest of one Luna noble or another. He could be anywhere. Those nobles would probably love to know secrets of this pair.

    He eats a quick breakfast in the kitchen, and prepares a simple sandwich to take with him. The food is always excellent here. Far better than he's used to, but he hardly notices. Breakfast is just another chore. After cleaning up, he steps outside.

    The stillness of the morning is unsettling. The sounds of trade and crafting, the sounds of life, are absent. In this place, at this hour, there is silence.

    But the air was crisp, and training would feel fresh. He unsheathes his sword, and performs the exercises that have been instilled in him. Starting slowly at first, he maintains perfect form as he moves faster and faster, becoming a whirlwind of motion. The sword sings to him. A song of Justice. Of Valor. Of Honor. There is no doubt that the Order is his true calling.

    A blur of motion one second, still as the air itself the next. His breath still at a steady pace. Training his breathing is part of training his sword. The breeze caresses the dampness on his face and he wipes away the beads of sweat and begins his rounds. Rounds in the open to be seen by all, and hidden from sight to watch and observe.
    At this time of the morning, no one else is awake. No witnesses to deter criminal acts. A vulnerable hour. Of course he thinks the same of every hour. That's his biggest obstacle. He can't be vigilant every hour of every day. The best he can do is vary the time and place at which he guards, trains, explores, and eats. Even sleep is scheduled to have no discernible pattern.

    Hours pass, and rounds are completed. Time to explore. Stark heads northwest, past the boundaries of West Luna, until he reaches the shore. Learning the surrounding area is as important as learning West Luna itself. There's so much I've never seen, he thinks to himself as he stares out into the sea of black. The distant view from Luna's walls were incapable of preparing him for this close up look at the vast nothingness before him. It looks like the night sky, full of pinpricks of light, yet empty of substance. It was too much for him to comprehend how the sun could rise at the horizon, the same as above land, and the sky would still melt from red, to orange, to blue, and back to black as the sun rose and set, yet the ocean would remain a constant black. And West Luna stood as part of a peninsula surrounded by it. Even now he could see the sky begin to lighten, and distinguish itself from the ocean.

    Lake shores would gradually slope away and transition from land to water, but here, at the ocean shore, the land was there and then abruptly stopped. It makes no sense. Stark dips down to one knee, needing to touch… it. His arm flinches as it passes through exactly what it looks like - nothing. He runs his fingers along the edge marveling at how it doesn't crumble away. Smooth, like a polished blade. Looking at his fingers, he can't find even one speck of dust clinging to the tips. History and legends talk about bodies of water, roaring and teeming with life, but now… It's all gone.

    He walks along the shore for several minutes before cutting inward toward the forest that populates most of the peninsula. Still a stranger to him, no one will be able to hide once he and forest become acquainted.

    Beneath the forest canopy, the paladin bends down to pick up a water shard to help quench his growing thirst. During the fabled fall of Britain, when factions splintered into smaller nations, the oceans vanished and the world burned, and crystal growths of water began sprouting forth from the ground when none had existed before. Crystals that are both hard and translucent as ice, yet only cool as glass and will not melt at the touch. These shards liquefy into drinkable water at the touch of saliva, specific vibrations, large enough pressure, and extreme heat. And somehow they still evaporate to make the clouds.
    Stark looks off into the distance as water tickles his tongue, and a glint of light catches his eye. A few steps closer and he can make out a giant mass of water crystals sprouting from the ground.

    A crystal well, he thought.

    Stark takes careful note of his surroundings. Landmarks would make things easier than an endless monotony of trees. All of a sudden, a paralyze spell strikes him in the shoulder. He recovers and takes cover behind the closest tree. Developing resistance to magical attack through repeated exposure was part of training as a paladin, but he still feels a slight tingle in his shoulder.

    Where?

    The guard captain clears away all thought, allowing the smallest sound to reach him. Then he hears it, a steady sweeping along the forest floor. Robes scraping the ground? Too close. He dashes to the next tree, turns, and gazes back to where he stood, ready to take in who and how many.

    He watches shamefully as a crystal elemental makes its way toward him. Looking almost exactly like a crystal well, these elementals sit still, waiting to attract unsuspecting prey. It paralyzes its victim, then takes its time to drain it dry. Small animals, children, and in some cases, adults, have fallen victim to this creature, but any half-decent warrior can handle one.

    Stark steps out from behind the tree and bows with a closed fist over his heart. The hum of his sword as he unsheathes it sends a tingle through his spine.

    "Now we end this."

    The creature seems to feel the same, as it tries to paralyze him once again. He watches as the air wavers and attempts to roll his shoulder with the force of the impact, attempting to evade its affects, as the spell makes contact. The sword sings his reply. Each swing strikes with precision, attacking the joints in what is both the creature's camouflage and armor.

    A few moments more, and the battle is over. He honors it once more with a bow. "You have taught me well this day." He picks up proof of his kill to redeem for gold.

    Stark cleans his blade and walks back toward West Luna. He breaks for lunch at the forest edge then meditates. He kneels down, in a different manner than when praying, with his body bent at the waist, and sitting on his heels, and clears his mind. His sword isn't the only weapon that needs to be maintained.

    He returns to West Luna, and round after round, he watches and learns. He counts the steps in between buildings, and walks with eyes closed. He takes in the sounds of saws, chisels, and hammers, and takes whiffs of the odd smells from outside the House of Poison. He will know West Luna as well as he knows the Book of Chivalry when he is done.
    Night falls, but he remains on watch. It would be only a few more days until the full moon, but he hardly notices. It was more important to know when the moon was waning towards the shadow moon, and light visibility would be low. West Luna needs to be guarded by night as well, so his rounds continue.

    The lights go out early at the House of Poison while those at the Magic Arts and Crafts burn on. Merchant Vendor Melfina seems to stay awake at the oddest hours at times.
    With the moon well overhead the sound of laughter drifts in from the east, and Stark can make out a pair of young men making their way west, almost on a path that would cross West Luna. He opens his mouth, ready to hail them, but as soon as they see him they angle away and go silent.

    Such a distrust of strangers out here.

    Another pair walks by later on that night, this time keeping hidden beneath the hoods of their cloaks. These two move with nervous glances, and Stark would prefer if they stayed clear of West Luna. He stares at them in the moonlight with his hand on his sword hilt. They get the message and hurry on by, making sure he doesn't follow.

    I hope the other two will be safe. But I can't leave with this many people about.
    When the guard captain finally judges that his shift is done, he heads back to the manor house of his lord. He eats a simple sandwich, then heads back to his room to remove his armor. After a quick bath, decides what time to wake the next morning, writes down in his journal and knows it will be easy to wake up in only a few hours. The paladin then kneels by his bed and begins to pray.

    * * *

     
  11. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter X

    No time to relax. Melfina examines her diminishing supply of magical reagents. Why can't it be easier to restock regs! It seemed as if everyone dabbled in magery from at degree or another. It was good for business but frustrating when low on supplies. Gathering reagents was out of the question. With the amount she needed, it would be even more time consuming than chasing down stocked supply shops. Some shops hire help whose sole job is to go from shop to shop, waiting for fresh shipments, but that wasn't an expense she could cover.

    I need to be able to carry more each trip! She sighs in frustration. Later… I'll solve that later . If there is a later. I should have told him one week, not two. What if he's late! What if Lord Falcon changes his mind? What if he already did? What if he found someone else to make it? What if he doesn't buy it!? Why did I procrastinate! Melfina shakes her head as if to shake off the mounting pressure pressing all around her.

    The first quarter payment was almost due, and she hadn't be setting money aside. Dividing her time between library and shop didn't help matters either. But it's out of her hands now, and going about her normal business keeps her from falling into despair. At least business was good today, but the grind of making scroll after scroll, and keeped stocked with supplies for those scrolls was a consequence of that.

    She lets her arm do the work while her mind constantly churns from subject to subject – what she was doing with her life, ideas for her books, the nature of magic, and organizing and acquiring more books for the library. The notebook she always has nearby is and eclectic mix of all of these thoughts, and is also her escape from the troubles of life.

    "But no matter how many… the center…" Melfina says to herself, thoughts not even fully finished in her own head before dismissing them. She hears a careful knock, and finds Stark appearing. "Excuse me, merchant vendor."

    Melfina lifts a hand, and hides a smile, and finishes writing down her current thoughts before replying. His use of her formal title always made her smile. Never so he could see it, of course. The respect in his voice expects professionalism back. And his voice really does say it with respect, it's not just a simple greeting for him. He doesn't just see a girl, one who's probably younger than any other he's seen. Her age isn't an issue when it comes to her level of skill, but not everyone has seen it that way.

    "Yes, guard captain?"

    "Do you have a moment? I was wondering if you could answer something for me."

    "Of course," she motions to the chair across from her, "sit."

    Stark sits, and removes his gauntlets while she pours him a cup of water.

    "I've been watching the traffic in and around West Luna. There are a lot of strange people at night, when, as far as I can tell, all shops are closed. They head somewhere further west. Often, they move as if they don't want to be seen, and I doubt the hoods of their cloaks are used only to keep out the cold. I don't like it."

    Melfina knew what it was all about, but she let him finish, enjoying how clueless he was.

    "It's nice to hear how seriously you take your position, guard captain." And she really has felt safer since he was hired. Reminiscing about that first meeting always puts her in a good mood. She certainly would be afraid to face him. He doesn't wear all the armor he wore that day, but it still looks heavy and strong. "It's the Infinite League. That guild owns several places out west. Lord Luna hasn't figured out how to deal with them just yet. Their services attract a certain kind of people."

    "I've never heard of them."

    "Good to hear," Melfina says with a knowing smile. "I didn't think you were the type though. They have a couple of real shops, but they revolve around their main business," she pauses, making a bet with herself as to what his reaction would be, "They run a *****house."

    His face goes blank, and can't help but giggle at his expression. I win.

    "Just because they've been outlawed in Luna, doesn't mean they won't pop up somewhere. They just make too much money. And since Luna withdrew its protection around here, they set up as close as they dared. We're just unlucky enough to be in the way. I don't know the League members personally," her mood darkens a little, "but one time one of their stupid, drunk, dirty clients dropped an oil lamp near the shop and almost set the place on fire!"

    "I see," he says grimly. "Thank you, merchant vendor. That's cleared things up. I'll watch out for them."

    She glances down, and her notebook sparks a thought. "Can I ask you something?"

    "Of course."

    "What were you doing the other day? Were you meditating? You're not a mage…" she trails off, confused.

    "Oh that. Yes. But not what mages do, I believe. It's a concentration technique. To clear the mind so the body reacts as efficiently as possible. To be used in battle, but it can be trained outside of it."

    "I've never heard of that."

    "It's a bushido technique."

    "The samurai? But you're a paladin," she says tilting her head with a puzzled look on her face.

    "Yes. To both. All paladins must choose a secondary area of study. Some choose healing or tracking or even something like fishing. We all learn a little bit about several disciplines, but we must choose one to concentrate on. Our diversity, alone and as a whole, is what makes us the best, both inside and outside of battle."

    "Why choose that? I don't think I've heard of anyone who knows bushido."

    "I didn't, actually," Stark answers in a tone that is both ashamed and proud at the same time. "My Keeper, Brandon, insisted on it. At that time, no paladin had ever chosen bushido as their Concentration. Or since, I think. The Tokuno borders are still too freshly opened for it to have spread far. Keeper Brandon thought it was time the Order learned."

    "If there aren't any others, who teaches you?"

    Stark answers frankly at first, but his voice picks up an intonation that Melfina knows she must have herself when she talks about her books. "I learn on my own. They have their own form of the Book of Chivalry. I was given a copy. I was unsure about it at first, but… after just skimming through it, I could already see that there was a strong code of honor that applies to everything they do. It is compatible with the code of chivalry in so many ways. I've learned so much studying it."

    "But… if you're the only one, why would they get rid of you?"

    Melfina regrets her question as soon as she's finished asking. Something about it changed his mood. All the life she just saw is gone. He's not just quiet, he's… elsewhere. Is he that ashamed from being dismissed? That's stupid, he did the right thing.

    "They didn't, I'm still a paladin. It was the Luna Guard I was dismissed from." A moment of silence lingers between them. "But now I'm a guard for West Luna. I should get back to that." He doesn't even bother to put on his gauntlets. He picks them up as he stands and walks toward the exit.

    She almost lets him leave, not sure what just happened, but she manages to call out before he's gone.

    "Stark!"

    He stops, not turning around to face her.

    "What's wrong?"

    He whispers, "I should have gone after the Dungeon Slaughterer."

    "So you wouldn't have ended up here?"

    The strength seems to pour out of him as his shoulders slump. And although his back is facing her, she see the shallow breaths, and can hear the tears wanting to come out.

    He talks more to himself than to her, each word more painful than the last, as if each were slowly peeling away a piece of his soul. "Focusing on my duties keeps me from remembering. At night… I can't stop… There was so much blood… Staying behind… it didn't help. They were right to get rid of me. There was so much blood. Nothing I did... I couldn't… It didn't… I…"

    Melfina rushes to him, but she didn't know how to comfort him. She squeezes his hands, the only place with no armor. Melfina tries making eye contact, but his hollow blue eyes just look through her with anguish.

    "It wasn't your fault. You know that right? You did all you could."

    Her words sap the strength in his legs and he falls to his knees. "It wasn't enough. I couldn't save him… I…"

    ...couldn't save him, she reads from his lips as his voice gives out.

    "Sometimes that happens. Guards–"

    Stark continues over her, oblivious to what she's saying. "My brother… he always looked out for me. Defended me. Some kids tied me to a tree once, and left me out in the snow. When he noticed I was missing he came after me. He got there at the same time as the wolves. He fought them off. He lost two fingers, but he fought them off. And he made it so the kids never messed with me again. And he'd do all kinds of small things like always give me the bigger half of whatever we ate."

    "Then when the Order said they couldn't take him, that the Guard was as far as he could go, he always trained with me, made sure I was doing well. I didn't stay behind to save the others. I only tried to save him." Stark looks up a bit, and his haunted look rips into her. "That's why… that's why I failed. I forgot my duty. I became selfish. And I was punished."

    She doesn't know what to say. She rests his head on her shoulder and he manages to whisper one last sentence before he breaks completely.

    "He said he wanted to go to Heaven."

    Time passes, neither know how long, until it's all fully released. She helps him up, providing what strength she can.

    He picks up his gauntlets puts the armor on, outside, as well as in. "Good day, merchant vendor, I have to get back to my duties."

    This whole time. He's been hiding. "Stark," she says gently, "call me Mel."

    His eyes remain still, but his minds struggles to shut everything out, including herself. But her words had been enough. "Mel," he answers back, voice steadier, soul mending. He then nods and walks with strength, returning to his duties but not his isolation.

    * * *

     
  12. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter X

    Opening his eyes, he finds himself near Draven's museum, but several feet off of his intended mark. Better than last time, but not good enough. He walks to his new starting point, closes his eyes, and begins again. One, two, thre-

    Stark stops. He heard... something. He opens up his ears to the ambient sounds of West Luna.

    Again.

    A yell.

    Melfina!

    Stark runs to the shop and in no time emerges on the library floor and fury boils in his veins. Melfina is backed up against the far wall, both wrists locked in an iron grip. Gamblor looms over her. Her scream makes the assailant flinch, but his grip holds strong.

    The silence of Melfina's teleport tile allows him to appear unnoticed, and her scream helps to muffle his charge. Halfway across the room, Gamblor hears the guard's rush behind him, and frantically swivels around and places Melfina between himself and death.

    Melfina's eyes widen as she sees the charging paladin. "Stop!"

    And he stops. Just out of reach of Gamblor and his hostage.

    "Release her," says Stark with a cold voice that sends a shiver down Gamblor's spine. "Now!"

    Melfina breaks free as Gamblor jumps at the command. Stark's sword is ready to act as soon as she's clear, but surprise finds her clinging to his arm.

    "I said stop it!"

    Stark takes his eyes off of Gamblor and turns to face a furious and frightened Melfina.

    "Stop!" As soon as she's sure that he's understood, she stalks back toward the terrified Gamblor, and jabs a finger deep into his chest, "That's what you get! Maybe I should've let him kill you! What am I supposed to do now! Tell me!"

    He pushes himself off the wall, and grab's the scribe's wrist before she can poke him again. "Think of something or move on! I don't control the full moon! And I didn't time it to be last night!"

    "I only have one day! One! What can I do!" Melfina bursts into tears as she pounds on Gamblor's chest with her free arm. He tries to hold her close, but she roughly pushes him away. "Don't touch me!"

    "Well don't blame me! You don't know what I went through trying to get those stupid flowers for you! You should have told me a month ago! Always putting things off to the last minute! If I did that, I would've come back a day too late! Keeping so many secrets. If you told me what was going on, maybe I could have done something more!"

    Before she can respond, Stark asks, "What's going on, Mel?"

    She turns around. "He didn't get them! The items on the list!"

    Stark glares coldly at Gamblor. "Return her payment."

    He opens his mouth, but then quickly shuts it, grinds his teeth, and pulls out a bag of gold. He offers it to Melfina, but she just snatches it from his hand and throws it at his head.

    "What am I supposed to do with that!"

    "Go buy yourself some sympathy!"

    Melfina cries. Stark acts.

    "No Stark." She inhales deeply, and continues in a dejected voice. "It's not his fault. The moon blossom patch was destroyed."

    "He can't just go to another patch?"

    "As if it's that easy!" Gamblor starts off heatedly, then he remembers the sword and sees the anger still in his eyes, and shuts his mouth.

    "They only bloom during a full moon. They need to be in full bloom to have the properties I need for my special dyes. Lord Falcon was going to pay me two-hundred thousand gold. It was going to be enough. For new supplies, new books, and… my payment." Melfina closes her eyes. "I don't have enough anymore." All her hope exhales from her mouth and she falls into a nearby seat.

    Stark removes his gauntlets, rests a hand on her shoulder, and tries to will strength into her.

    Gamblor takes seat, slightly away from the two, wary of Stark, and perhaps Melfina as well. "You can't dye it a similar color? I can go get any other ingredient you need. No charge."

    "No. He's very picky. He's going on a hunt soon, and wants it to match his outfit. It took him an hour to go through my entire sample book just so he could ask if he could take it home so he didn't feel rushed!"

    "What about selling him something else?" asks Gamblor.

    "I don't have anything else to sell that's worth enough."

    Stark adds, "What about the Tome of Lo-"

    "No! I won't sell that. Don't say it again."

    "What about the other books in the cabinet?"

    "I'm not selling that collection. I'm not going to part with those."

    "You'll have to if you-"

    "No Stark," she says with finality.

    "Why not just sell a copy?" Gamblor asks simply.

    "I told you already! It can't be copied!"

    He lifts up his hands in supplication, and puts on an innocent face. "I meant a fake copy. Sell it to some ignorant collector or something. I'm sure you can think someone to sell it to that wouldn't look at it too closely. Or maybe you could even tell them about your situation to get sympathy, and make them think they're taking advantage of you while helping you out? Tell them you don't have any choice. It's the only way to save your shop."

    The words leave a bad taste in Stark's mouth.

    "I can think of several-"

    "You're not considering that," Stark interrupts.

    She shrugs her shoulder out from under his hand and glares up at him, "If you'd let me finish, I would have said that!"

    Stark backs off and slightly bows his head. "I apologize, Mel. I didn't mean to question your honor." He then turns his gaze upon Gamblor.

    "Don't glare at me, guard. I don't see you coming up with any ideas." He takes an exaggerated look around the room and adds, "There's no danger here. Get back to work."

    "Don't talk to him that way," Melfina snaps at Gamblor, and then looking back at Stark, "and take that look off your face. He's my friend too."

    Gamblor smirks, trying to provoke Stark, but he's able to keep himself under control and is rewarded when Melfina notices Gamblor's smirk and flicks a wad of paper at the fool's head.

    "Mel." She looks up him. "If you won't sell the Tome, and you can't make the revenue selling other goods… I think you have to try selling Lord Falcon a different colored spellbook. Just be prepared to convince him. Have fully dyed spellbooks to show, instead of just the sample book, and have compelling reasons."

    Gamblor adds, "Just tell me what you need. I'll get it to you by tomorrow morning, tonight if you need me to."

    "No… I have everything I need. I don't think it will work though, but I'll try."

    "No. Look at me Mel," Gamblor says, "If you want to convince someone, you can't feel like that. Convince yourself that it will work. You are the professional here. You know what you're doing, and you know what's best. If you don't believe it, he won't believe it. Come up with real reasons, and know that your choice is the better one. The way you say it is more important than what you say, with something this trivial. Believe, and so will he."

    He's good. Stark makes a mental note that he needs to watch him more closely than he had been.

    Stark simply adds, "You can do it." And he gives her shoulder another squeeze.

    "Ok. I'll do it. But I need you guys to leave me alone so you don't distract me while I work. I have everything I need, so there's no need to stick around."

    "I'll be back tomorrow to check in on you anyway," says Gamblor.

    "So will I." To check on both of you, he adds to himself. "You can do it, Mel. I have faith in you."

    * * *

    [​IMG]

    Rules for Being Human" by Dr. Carrie Ann Scott
     
  13. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter XII

    Ready. I think I'm ready. I don't have the order, but I can do this. She steps up to greet Lord Falcon. "Lord Falcon, always a pleasure to see you."

    "Of course, Merchant Vendor," he nods graciously and warms to her smile.

    "That's a very nice color on you. Is that a new cloak?"

    A grin appears on his face. "Yes, it is. It's the new style."

    "It suits you. But, I'm sorry to say I have some bad news. The moon blossom patch I needed was destroyed. Your order would take another month to complete."

    "I see," he says disappointedly.

    She lightly touches his shoulder and puts on a sympathetic smile. "I know you were looking forward to your hunt."

    "It's mating season. When they're most aggressive."

    "And I noticed you chose a color that would blend with their surroundings."

    "That's…"

    "…very honorable of you. Hunt them with the same methods they use to hunt with. Hunt them in a way they can understand and respect you for."

    "Well they are majestic animals."

    Melfina lays out several spellbooks on the counter. "Here are several colors that I thought would work just as well, especially this one." She pushes forward her favorite choice and beams a self-satisfied smile.

    A laugh bellows forth from his chest, "That's perfect! I should have let you choose for me in the first place."

    That's it!?

    "Excellent choice," Melfina says elatedly, and the pressure that had been weighing on her vanishes. "It'll be ready in a few short hours. I have all the ingredients, all of them fresh since they're pretty common and easy to obtain. There won't be any problem this time."

    "Oh excellent. My lady hates these hunts. With all the gold I'll be saving, I can get her a gift," he grins.

    Melfina freezes.

    "How much? No wait, don't tell me. I'll just pay you twice the amount of a regular spellbook."

    She knows he's right, and is being more than generous. She also knows it's not enough. "Thank you."

    "'Til this afternoon then."

    Melfina watches hope walk out the door. She collapses into her chair and smothers her head in her arms.

    Moments pass and she hears the heavy footsteps that can only be Stark.

    "I saw Lord Falcon. I take it you couldn't convince him."

    She answers with her face still buried, "I did. But I forgot I can't charge the same price. I'm so stupid."

    A silence settles between them. There's no advice he can give her, and no more options to take.

    "I can stay if you need me."


    "Just leave me alone. For a few minutes."

    He leaves, and Melfina sits. Not moving. Not thinking.

    She must have fallen asleep, because someone speaks up in what she thought was an empty room. "Midday naps. I thought I was the only one that took'em. Great for the skin and they rejuvenate the mind. A sharp mind equals nicely trimmed trades."

    Melfina looks up to see the always vibrantly dressed Tom Recsu.

    "What's wrong?"

    With nothing left to do she tells him everything.

    "I don't loan out gold," he says with regret. "I've tried it. Too much stress. But… while I can't say that I've dealt with mage shops before, I'll consider buying something from you."

    Her blood races, and she replies without thinking, "There is one thing that might work." What am I doing?

    Melfina stands and leads him to the library. "This is where I keep my rare books." She opens her cabinet and pulls out two books. "This is a Tome of Lost Knowledge. I have… two… of them. I… uh… I can part with one of them. I'll keep the one that's in better condition…" her voice trails off, not knowing how to continue.

    Tom picks up the book, feels its weight as if that meant something to him, and flips through the pages. "Well, it certainly looks old."

    "Tomes of Lost Knowledge are the oldest spellbooks in existence."

    Tom carefully sets it down. "I can't afford something that rare, Melfina."

    "You understand my situation." I hope you'll understand. "I can sell it cheap. That's what you do. I want to sell, and others will buy something like this." Like it, but not this specifically.

    "I suppose I can flirt a bit with spellbooks. This'll be a good first experience. Maybe it'll even become a permanent part of my business." Tom's heartwarming smile burns into Melfina's heart. "I know it's not much, not as much as it's probably worth from what you said, but all I can afford at the moment is a quarter million."

    She can save her shop, but seeing him feel guilt for thinking he's ripping her off magnifies her own.

    He mistakes the look on her face and his own guilt builds. "I know it's not enough, Mel. But it's all I can afford. The rest of my money is tied up elsewhere. But I'll tell you what. I'll give you half the profit I make when I sell it."

    But you won't be able to.

    He mistakes the reason for her silence and continues. "Whatever I can do to help. You've always been generous with me." He pulls out a check, ready to hand over a fortune for a book that isn't even worth a handful of ash. "Just say the word."

    Her heart pounds, and she hesitates only a second before answering. "Ok." I can't lose my home. Not again.

    Tom writes the check, signs it, and offers salvation.

    No, I can't. But she takes it anyway. Her body has gone numb, and so have her thoughts. She extends the imitation Tome and Tom and he reaches for his newest purchase.

    She feels a tug, and realizes she hasn't let go. "No... no wait... no. I can't. I can't do this, Tom." She looks his caring face, while her eyes are desperate for forgiveness. "I have to find another way."

    "Mel. It's ok. Don't worry about it, really. This happens all the time. Sometimes it's hard to let go. These kinds of items create special bonds with their owners. No need to explain. We'll just forget about it." He smiles again, and takes back his check.

    He pauses just to make sure she doesn't change her mind again, then rips up her last chance.

    "Well, I came here to buy some supplies. I'll take twice the regular. I can at least help out that much."

    She packs up his order, and once again watches all hope walk out on her. Someone stirs in the corner of her eye, and there stands Gamblor.

    "You should have done it."

    "How?"

    "Easy! You were doing so well. He's a professional, Mel. It happens all the time to him! This experience would have made him even better at what he does and helped him in the long run."

    "No Gamblor, it's not right!

    "Is it better to lose your shop!"

    "Of course it's not better! How could it be better!"

    "Well that's what you chose!"

    Melfina looks around for anything to throw at him, when she looks up, Lord Luna fills the entrance, with Stark right behind.

    "Problem?" he asks as he looks from the sealed ink jar in Melfina's hand over to Gamblor.

    "No, everything's fine," she answers hastily.

    "It's good to finally find you on the floor, rather than in your library."

    "Lord Luna!" Lord Falcon's voice booms from behind, as all three move into the shop. "This scribe of yours is quite the vendor. Not even inventory problems can stop her when she wants to make a sale. And my wife was very happy to hear how much I'd be saving with the new selection!"

    Lord Luna looks steadily at the scribe as she finishes the transaction.

    "So how's business Merchant Vendor Melfina," Lord Luna asks.

    He knows. She stares at the floor.

    "As I thought."

    "So you were right, Lord Luna," says a woman of an age with Melfina, hidden by the towering forms of the two men. Not a woman. An itch. A bad itch she thought she was rid of. "It's been such a long time, Mel. Lord Luna told me of your situation, and of course I came to help out an old friend."

    "Reba," she hisses.

    She wags her finger and tsks at her! "It's a good thing you are an old friend. I insist that everyone show me the proper respect. You know it's Lady Reba."

    "What do you want?"

    "Is that anyway to greet someone who offers help?"

    "Why, are you going to return my house and start working for the League so everyone knows what a slut you are!"

    "Such impropriety. But what else should I expect." She looks at the shop with disdain. "But you're right that I am here to bring you home."

    "Come work for me, Mel. You were never meant for this. Running a shop all by yourself. I knew you couldn't pull it off. My original offer still stands. For such an old friend, I'll even only ask a fraction of what I charge the other merchants. You can even have your old room back," she says with a deceptively innocent smile.

    "I'm sure the smell won't be too hard to get rid of. My lovely little Sasha took to your room as her bathroom, and I didn't have the heart to stop her. You know how finicky she is. It's a good location, as you know. You won't be able to keep stocked no matter how fast you work."

    Melfina grinds her teeth. Anger so hot it melts all thoughts before they can fully form.

    "You have no where else to go. You know this is the best deal you can get. I have all the resources you could need. And the manpower so you don't need to waste time restocking. No running out of supplies like what got you in this situation. You can focus solely on scribing."

    Something tickled her memory.

    "It would be so good to have you around again," She looks Melfina up and down. "I'll even buy you a new dress. Something more… fitting… for Luna's standards."

    She wanted to slap that smirk off her face.

    "I know you're stunned into silence. No need to thank me, Mel. You'll do that with the money you make. With my first cut, I'll think I'll buy a nice, new pillow because knowing you're around will help me sleep soundly."

    Then she remembered. A chance. Melfina grabs a pen and two sheets of paper and starts writing furiously.

    "A thank you card isn't necessary," she says condescendingly.

    She signs her name at the bottom of the second sheet, puts her seal on it, and folds both over. One last series of hand motions and she's done.

    "What is that?"

    Melfina grabs two bags and slams them into Gamblor's hands. He looks down and reads the two words scrawled onto the paper.

    "Bring that here," commands Lord Luna.

    Gamblor looks back at Mel, then moves. In one smooth motion he picks up the ink bottle she was going to throw at him, and launches it at Lord Luna. Stark grabs his lord out of the way while Gamblor snatches the Tome and dashes past them.

    Stark turns to pursue, but Lord Luna commands, "Stop. I'm done here. You stay. Make sure she doesn't remove any other goods from my shop." He turns back to Melfina. "I'll be back tomorrow to settle this breach of contract. You have one last night to say good-bye."

    Lord Luna walks out, followed by that *****, Reba.

    She looks at Stark. "Why didn't you say something!"

    "But... you have a contract. You have to honor it."

    She lets out a wordless scream then yells out, "Get out!"

    "I'm sorry, I have my orders."


    * * *

     
  14. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter XIII

    "on't do it! No!"

    Melfina wakes from her daze to find Stark still standing in the corner. Today is the day. Everything out of her hands. And all Stark did all night was stand still as a statue, keeping a watchful eye on her, following his stupid orders. No words of comfort, no conversation at all. Just his dutiful silence. Some friend.

    The commotion lures both of them outside. Melfina finds herself watching Cadence confronting Lord Luna, with Gwen standing by firmly in support. The Lord of West Luna does not flinch and holds steady the letter in front of him while an annoyed Lady Reba watches on.

    "I'm not for sale! Not this time!"

    "Go deliver it yourself!" Gwendolyne yells at her brother.

    "I won't deliver that to my friend!" Cadence continues.

    Pride swells Melfina's heart as they put in what fight they can. However, Lord Luna maintains an outward calm, warding off the onslaught. He turns toward Lady Reba, then notices the two who have emerged from the shop. "Guard Captain. I am in need of your services." Her elation deflates when Stark moves without hesitation.

    "Deliver this letter to Merchant Vendor Melfina, and confirm that she has understood its contents."

    Accepting the letter, Stark walks back toward Melfina.

    "What are you doing!" she yells at him.

    "Delivering a letter."

    "Why!"

    "It's my duty."

    "I need more time! Gamblor-"

    "-is a thief. He's taken your Tome and he's not coming back."

    "At least make him do it! You're my friend! You don't have to do it!"

    "I am a guard. He is my lord. I have my orders."

    "What does this have to do with guarding anything! You're not some soldier guarding an important package! He's right there! He should deliver it himself!"

    "I swore an oath. On my honor, I must do this." Stark extends the letter to Melfina.

    "Vas flam!" she shrieks and a fireball is loosed.

    The watchful Stark moves the letter from the fireball's path.

    Her fury flares even greater. "Vas flam! Vas flam! Vas flam!"

    Stark encases the letter in his hands and dodges. He moves quickly but cannot dodge them all. But as the last fireball strikes him, he spins away and it skips across his armor, leaving him unharmed.

    How!? She throws two more, directly at him this time, but he evades them with ease.

    Her anger transforms into tears. She stalks toward him, ready to accept her fate, but he pulls away when she attempts to snatch the letter from his hands. "Give me that!"

    With a dutiful voice, he replies, "You have shown hostility toward receipt of this letter from the Lord of West Luna. I am required to read it aloud as proof that you have heard and understood its contents." He pauses for any response she may have, then proceeds when none arises.

    "You, Melfina, have failed to pay your rent in a timely manner and are thus in breach of contract. As per our agreement, of which we both have signed copies, the premises in West Luna of which was originally named The Magic Arts & Crafts, are hereby forfeit to the Lord of West Luna, as well as all belongings contained within said premises. You are hereby evicted, effective immediately."

    He hands her the letter. She crushes it in her fist and turns around back toward the shop. Stark quickly steps in her path. "You are no longer allowed to enter. I'm sure Lord Luna will let you keep something. But you have to speak with him first."

    "My offer still stands, Mel!" yells Lady Reba with a self-satisfied smirk on her face.

    "Vas flam!"

    The distance between them makes it easy enough for Lady Reba to sidestep the fireball.

    "Arrest her! She has committed an aggressive act against an innocent bystander!"

    "Don't taunt an angry mage," Lord Luna replies.

    Lady Reba instantly flips moods. She pouts her lips and looks up at Lord Luna with wide eyes. "You are of course correct, Lord Luna." And she attempts to grab onto his arm. Lord Luna doesn't allow it, and Lady Reba's mood flips back. "Take my offer now, Mel, or I'm altering the conditions!"

    "Alter away!"

    "You now have to pay rent for your old room."

    "I'll pay to have you sleep in your dog's mess!"

    "You have to find your own place to sleep."

    "That shouldn't be hard. Men seem to find their way into your bed easily enough."

    "Your floor space rent is now doubled, and so is the percentage I make off of you!"

    Melfina spits at Lady Reba. "That was my home! You won't make any money off of me."

    "It's not your home anymore. And now neither is that," she points at The Magic Arts & Crafts.

    With a silent shriek, Melfina stalks over the Lady Reba and attempts to grab a handful of her hair, but Lord Luna stops her.

    "I'll hire someone to follow you and pick up every reg you find before you can pick it up. Without any seed money or the supplies that I'm offering you, you'll never get back on your feet. I can't wait for the reports to come in on each failure to start a new business, or each new hole and tear in your dress that can no longer afford to mend."

    Melfina cries and Reba's smirk widens.

    "Come Melfina. If Lady Reba will not help you out, I'll leave you with enough to get started on. Not enough to survive in Luna's competitive market, but enough for elsewhere. Let's go take an inventory of what you have."

    Lord Luna proceeds toward the shop without a backward glance. Lady Reba hurries to catch up.

    Cadence and Gwen try to comfort their friend but a new found rage grows from her tears. Mind focused, she grabs hold of her spellbook, moves her hands in precisely set interweaving circles, and speaks the words of power, "Vas cor por!"

    What was once empty space between Lord Luna and the shop, becomes filled with her rage given life. Towering above even the antlers on Lord Luna's helm, the energy vortex looks down upon all those before it. A piercing stare somehow burns from a featureless face. Purple skin covers the rippling muscles of its humanoid upper half, but instead of legs it moves about on a tornado as chaotic as the emotions that created it. It will not turn on its summoner, but once let loose upon its enemies, it cannot be controlled.

    Lord Luna steps back, pulling Lady Reba with him. With no weapons and no steed, the two are helpless before it. Before is can crush them with its massive arms, Stark's sword rains down upon it.

    "Run my Lord!"

    Stark sword flashes like lightning, but the vortex isn't truely made of flesh, making it hard to land a solid blow.

    Back and forth they strike. Deliberate and surgical opposing wild and savage.

    Stark sees an opening and strikes deep into the creature's chest. It has no heart, but it must have felt pain. A roar bellows forth from its core and a backhanded swing sends Stark flying through the air.

    With the sword stuck in its chest, the vortex moves toward Stark with its hands interlaced into a massive fist and its arms raised over head, ready to land a crushing blow.

    "...o something! Mel!"

    Mel finds Cadence shaking her out of her daze. She didn't really mean for this to happen. So she responds. Please let this work, she thinks as she casts dispel. "An grav!"

    In the middle of its swing, the vortex bends in on itself and in a puff of smoke, it vanishes. Silence. Then Stark's sword clatters to the ground.

    Stark stirs and Melfina runs toward him. She heals his wounds as the rest gather around.

    "You shouldn't have done that," says Lord Luna.

    "I know," she says with resignation.

    "He could have died today."

    "I know."

    "You'll get no more sympathy from me."

    "I know," she says. It barely comes out as a whisper.

    "It's time you left."

    "B... but. I have a twenty-four hour grace period."

    "What more can you sell? No one will approach the shop today. Not now." Her eyes take in the destruction the vortex had caused. Dirt, grass, and water shards litter the area.

    "I know bu..."

    "Is it safe?" calls out a voice. Melfina's heart races as she recognizes it. Everyone turns to find Gamblor peeking his head out from behind a building.

    Lord Luna ignores the question and inquires about his presence. "Yes?"

    "Why yes it is, Lord Luna," Gamblor says cheerily, ignoring Lord Luna's tone, and flaunting the Tome of Lost Knowledge in his grasp. "And a beautiful day as well."

    "I see you weren't able to sell the Tome."

    "Oh of course not, my lord. It was never for selling. Just good reading for the trip." He flashes his teeth at Lord Luna while handing Melfina a letter.

    With renewed strength, Stark snatches the Tome and shoves Gamblor back.

    Gamblor opens his mouth and Stark's sword hand stirs. Before either can do more, Lord Luna commands a short and swift, "Silence!"

    Melfina notices none of it. A smile beams from her face. She hands the letter to Lord Luna and as he reads the it, she pulls out a checkbook and walks toward the shop.

    Lord Luna signals Stark to hold before he can think to follow.

    "What does it say?" Mel hears Gwen ask as she enters the shop to find a pen.

    It says I've sold the formula for my silent teleport tiles. MAGIC bought the rights to it, and they paid well.

    "No!" screams Reba as Melfina walks back outside.

    Melfina smiles a sweet smile at her ex-friend.

    She steps up to Lord Luna and hands him a check. "Here's my payment. In full. All of it."

    He nods. "I accept your payment. You will now pay taxes on any income you make as would any other resident of West Luna." He adds in a more menacing tone. "You will not attack my guards again, or you will be punished."

    "Yes… Lord Luna."

    "The shop is yours. Welcome to West Luna."

    * * *

     
  15. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Afterword

    And that's it. The end to Volume 1 of a planned eight volume story. Whether I end up writing it all remains to be seen.


    --Eight Volumes?

    Volume 2 is almost done, and I'll begin posting those chapters up immediately, and am beginning to outline Volume 3. If I begin a Volume, I will finish it. After that, I may end up summarizing the rest of the story. It's not something I want to do, and I'll do my best to complete it all, but if the choice is either just stop writing, or write summaries of what was supposed to happen, the later is the better choice.


    -- The Revisions

    As for revising Volume 1, I am very thankful that my old thread disappeared. There was a lot of revising done to most of the chapters, and it's now better because of it. It's been over a year since I last worked on my story, with Volume 2 unfinished, and because of revising this volume, it's given me ideas on how to make the ending to Volume 2 better.

    And another consequence of the revisions, I've found that I really do like what I've written overall. There was a lot of typos, bland sentences that needed some life to them, excessive words that just didn't need to be there, but overall, the structure and pacing were there, and only a few times did I actually add information and adjust it.


    -- The Inspiration

    This is the first story of considerable length that I've written, and I wanted to do two things when I started it.

    I wanted to write a story based around the two main characters I played in UO. With Melfina as the true main character, and Stark as a counterpoint to her. And have the setting and mechanics of the world inspired by Ultima Online.

    And since I was sure there would be plenty of traditional fantasy cliches that I'd be using in the long run, I wanted the story be unique in that it almost exlusively takes place in one location, West Luna, and was not the much more common "hero's journey." They will grow and change, but their journey will mostly be internal, and not have to do with actual traveling.


    -- Commentary

    The most difficult chapter to write, by far, was Chapter X, where Stark blames himself for his failure and the death of his brother. I definitely wrote the most drafts for this chapter, and this one was revised the most.

    The chapter that was the most fun, was Chapter XII, so much happened in that chapter to build up to the end. And both Tom and Reba developed a lot more than I had in my notes. I hadn't known that it was Tom that Melfina was going to try to scam until I wrote it.

    Some of the most fun segments to write are the story snippets of history, like the Dragon War. There's just such a different style to them because there's no dialogue whatsoever.

    The dream sequence was also incredibly fun to write. After the first five chapters took place in the span of only one day, I didn't know how to transition out of that, and that idea popped up.

    The ending originally didn't have a the fight with the energy vortex, but I realized there needs to be some action going on in the end besides a confrontation of words. The actual solution to Melfina's problem, I didn't figure out until Chapter IV or V. My outline simply said that she "pays rent", without saying how.

    The silent teleport tiles came about simply because I was posting up chapters as I wrote them, and it didn't make sense that Melfina could be ambushed if there's the loud reverberating pop that the game actually makes. And because of that accident, I got my ending.


    --Chapter Documents

    Each chapter has some kind of letter, diary entry, manuscript, etc. at the end of it. The idea was to have it all hand written. And I still plan on doing it. I like the calligraphy that I've done, but I decided that what I had for Stark and Melfina's (and the rest) hand writing styles, wasn't working. So I'm redoing them, and will just put them up when I finish.


    -- Random Notes

    The part of the conversation in Chapter XII that triggered Melfina's idea on how to save her shop, was that Reba used some very similar words as to how Tom described the MAGIC company. Talking about resources and manpower. The difficult part was trying to figure out how to put it in there without giving away the ending. I have no idea what reader's think when they read the words "The Tome!!" but I was hoping the vagueness was good enough to create some kind of a red herring.

    There are eight planned volumes, and there are eight virtues in UO. Each volume is loosely themed around one of them. The first letters of each chapter spell out a sentence that refers to which virtue it is. I originally planned for twelve chapters, which is why Chapter XIII doesn' start out with a letter.


    -- What did I learn?

    Part of the reason to do this was to actually learn from it. What do I think I learned?

    I'm good enough that it's worth it to keep on writing to see how much better I can get.

    I developed a good way to keep track of all of my notes.

    There is a big difference between outlining and writing. I already knew that I was the kind of writer that heavily needed to outline my story before beginning, but I learned that there was a very clear point where the outlining stopped, and where the writing began. The outlining gives the satisfaction of assembling something. Writing gives the satisfaction of discovery. That's the part where the characters say something I didn't know they were going to say until I typed it. Or where some particular aspect of the world's history unfolds before my eyes.


    -- Up Next - In A New Thread

    Volume 2 - Enlightenment

    So feel free to leave any comments about Volume 1 here.