Perhaps fifteen miles south of the village, a low campfire burned. The intoxicating scent of cooking meat filled the small glade. Only a few ribbons of smoke curled into the air above the graceful trees, almost as if trying to hide from prying eyes. Shadows wavered like ghosts from the uncertain light of the fire. In the flickering glow, the pale patches of Glaze's dark lightning face seemed to catch
Glaze, never one to waste time, sat near the border of the shallow illumination. A narrow, plain stone lay in his hand as he rasped the rock back and forth across his pair of curved swords. Luminescent steel caught the low light of the fire in occasional glints. His bow lay only a foot away, easily within reach in case of ambush. The rabbit, earlier shot for his dinner, lay boiling in an enamel pot in the hot coals along with a pot of coffee.
Standing quietly was a handsome, black mare. Delicate hooves supported its well muscled body, and strap marks where his saddle was fastened. Steam rose from her nostrils' as the steed bent and ate the long green grass after nervously snorting and glancing at Glaze. A rope tethered him gently to the tree, but her devotion to Glaze made running away from him unthinkable.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Glaze spoke into the night.
"Come and take a seat, Barol."
Equally out of nowhere walked another man. His pace matched Glaze's own; one of slinking in hidden shadows and remaining secret. Confident, yet light and quick. Crossing the clearing, he sat a few feet away and appraised Glaze. For his part, Glaze never glanced at the man's face, but continued sharpening his pair of blades. A moment or two passed in silence, as the assassin seemingly ignored his visitor.
"Manage the target okay?" At this Glaze looked up at Barol and smiled.
"Please. The real problem was finding a decent stable for poor Amyna." A small, polite laugh from the other man broke the comfortable silence.
"I gathered as much. Still, watch your step in this area. People have long memories, and-"
A snort cut him off. "Is there anywhere I don't need to watch my step?"
"Fair enough. But these guys aren't bad, a pair managed to jump me."
"Poor guys. On that subject, why are you here? Last I heard you were checking in with Feralia's trading embassy." A glint of teeth as a sly smile crossed the older man's face. "I assume they decided to cut back on trading with our dear nation."
"No offense, Glaze, but despite their Council's dislike of our leader doesn't mean they'll deny trading rights." Glaze's brow wrinkled in disgust at the mention of the King. "I know, I know, but at least they are willing to trade with us as well, no?"
"Damn profiteers. If anything, they should-"
An exasperated grunt interrupted him. "You asked why I am here. Well, the boss is on the warpath."
Dark eyes snapped up to meet Borel's bright green ones in a frustrated glare. Within an instant, Borel's hands flicked up in a gesture of surrender. "Not my fault. Your own deeds bring this upon you."
Glaze leapt up and strode away, his figure framed against the fire's healthy glow. "Stew? Coffee?" the assassin asked, bending to carefully take both pots from the smoldering coals.
"Coffee, please," replied Borel, tossing a mug to the bent figure, who spun and caught it by the handle. "But don't avoid the subject. I know he dislikes the popular support for you within our… group. This goes deeper than that, I can tell. Glaze, he despises you. Why? Envy of your skills, perhaps" An amused grunt as Glaze handed him the steaming mug of coffee and settled back against a tree to eat his stew.
"Hardly. He has powers I cannot hope for."
"As do you! Your races give you each advantages over one another that balance you out perfectly, making a perfect pair of warriors that complement one another like a pair of separate, but equal, swords!"
"Much thought has gone into this, I see. Any reason?" A resigned shrug as Borel sampled the coffee. With a wince, the other man glanced up at Glaze.
"Urgh, too sweet."
"A few drops of honey. I enjoy it," claimed Glaze, pausing from his stew for a deep draft from his own mug. "And your reason?"
"Always been my job to figure out units of fighters within our ranks. These things just come naturally now. But that's beside the point. Gemun sees the common man's secret adoration and hope for you. When this comes to a head, one of you will fall in disgrace. The other will be exulted above the rest of his competition."
"Already happened. Who's the leader of the Magefall?" Glaze asked, sarcasm heavy in his voice.
"Gemun rose to power not through his superior ability, but your temporary disability. You know this. He knows as well."
Glaze set down his empty bowl and drained the last few dregs of coffee from his mug. "I am for bed. 'Night, Borel."
With that Glaze flipped over, angry thoughts racing through his mind. No, soon his torment would be enough, without these accursed emotions draining his energy. Flicking a rock out of the way for his ear, he heard a passionate sigh from Borel before he too went to sleep.
A pair of children swam within the river, letting the cool water run over their body. Pleasant cool blue delighted them, the brilliant shade glittering below the sun. Their rough, homespun clothing lay forgotten upon the shore as they dove beneath the weak current.
One, a boy, with the barest tracing of grey lightning upon his face, splashed some water at the girl who floated lazily just downstream of him. As the water hit her, she straightened vertically and glared mischievously at the grinning boy.
"Got you, Duena!" The boy giggled highly and raced upstream, away from the affronted girl. In mock anger she rushed after, the water parting around her stomach as she steadily gained on the older boy.
Finally she caught up to him. Knowing his advantage was lost; the child spun and splattered her again with the cool liquid. Giggling, Duena returned with even more, and soon they were in a full-out water battle.
After a few ferocious moments, they both came to an unsaid truce. Floating back next to each other, they clambered out and lay in the sun for a few moments.
"Do you think maybe one day… that maybe we might ever… umm…." she said. Daniel rolled over to look into her clear blue eyes. His dark hair fell over his pale face, and that astonishing contrast alone made her forget her next words.
"What'd ya mean?"
"Uh, never mind."
"Please! Tell me! I won't tell anyone ever."
"Daniel, I…" she stalled for time with another pleading look for him to drop it, but she was spared from telling her friend by a voice that cracked through the silent woods like a crow call.
"Daniel? Duena?" called a motherly voice from somewhere down the stream. "Are you out there somewhere?"
"Yes mother!" Called back Daniel, Duena's lost words apparently forgotten by the arrival of his mother. As they slipped their relatively drier bodies back into the garments that waited, Daniel glanced at Duena and muttered.
"You owe me a secret, Duena!"
Inwardly sighing in relief, Duena flashed a toothy grin. "Maybe one day."
He smiled back widely. "Of course!" With that they both scampered off to Daniel's mother's waiting arms.
Deep in his dream, Glaze's brow furrowed and he rolled over to a more comfortable position.