Custagine: A Peaceful Job 6

The meeting with Custagine’s three subleaders of the Guild was quick and basically a reiteration of what he discussed with Donrump the day before. He made pointed remarks in Donrump’s direction about greed at the expense of people’s ability to live and said that society has no place for such avarice, that it would infect the civilization with a choking, prolonged death.

Donrump left the meeting as soon as he could in a huff and an imperious upturn of his head. Custagine did not see him again that day, and was quite content with that. He did not like Donrump, but he could not replace him. Once past a certain rank, Guild ranks were for life or abdication. He knew Donrump would not give up his ill gained wealth, so he could only wish to survive him, then replace the vile man with someone better.

His other two subleaders, however, he quite liked. The kobold was a very likable being and the gnome was very friendly, and even flirty, with him. Coming from a species unable to have sex, however, he did not understand exactly the flirtations or what they meant.

Custagine looked to the kobold and asked, “Tihkrelk, the day has already started, and I think your eyes would be hurt. How can we get you home?”

“Ah,” said the kobold, still in the shed, “Let’s see. We’re on The Hill, not too far from The Pit, yes?”

“Correct,” said Custagine, “Do you have someone who lives within The Pit you can stay with?”

“No no,” replied Tihkrelk, “But I can get home that way.”

Rose Vine asked, “How so?”

“Lost City of Blade.”

Both Custagine and Rose Vine looked at one another, then asked around the same time, “Lost City of Blade?”

“Sure,” said the kobold, “There’s New City and Old City and so on. There’s also the Lost City.” He pointed to Custagine, “A number of dwarfs live in Lost City of Blade, in fact. You should come visit sometime.”

“I shall,” replied the dwarf, “Now that I know of it. But I do not know how to get into it.”

The kobold gave a shrug, “To be honest, many Lost City of Blade there are. Several connect to one another, but not all. Some are very small locations, the size of closets or attics or the like. You see,” he pointed to the west, “where the Hill slopes downwards at an angle there?”

Rose Vine was the first to say, “Yes, of course.”

“That’s where the Lost City started. Long ago there were rowhouses there on the hill. Then a major storm came and The Hill had a landslide that covered most of those houses. That landside is what causes that section to look slumped.”

“I see,” said Custagine, “And the buried houses remained mostly intact?”

“Indeed!” chittered the kobold, “Some damage, but mostly intact, yes. Some of us light haters figured out how to tunnel into that housing and we took it as our own residences. Then some other sections of the Lost City sprung up over time from other such disasters. A small earthquake. A bit of flooding. We light haters took each opportunity for new underground housing, seeing it as our duty to not let perfectly good residences go to waste in a crowded city. A few of the city’s failed projects also became our homes and added to Lost City.”

Custagine gave a ‘huh’ and Rose Vine nodded a few times, interested. They both eventually asked almost the same time, “Go on?”

“One former Overlord awhile ago wanted a tunnel that went through the ground level of The Hill, going from north to south, and east to west, then eventually the other four directions. They were to be paved and softly lighted and allow carriages to pass by from one end of the city to the other without having to go around The Hill.”

“Because they’d go through it. Interesting.”

Rose Vine just nodded and waited for more.

“Exactly. However, the project was never finished. Once it was also forgotten about, we closed off the tunnel entrances and finished the unnels how we liked them. Every so often an Overlord would attempt to make a sewer system, but most ran out of funds and stopped mid construction, only a few areas of the entire city have working sewers. The other intended sewers make perfectly good housing for some of us.”

“And you say some of my fellow dwarfs live in this Lost City?”

“Not some,” said the kobold, “Quite a few. Only some will be above ground like you, Custagine. Many still think the daylight will turn them to stone, so they stay underground. A few generations of dwarfs exist that never left the Lost City.”

“I can only assume,” said Custagine, “that they and your fellow kobolds kept on digging up new tunnels and expanding the underground?”

“Yes, of course. Population is always growing. But there’s a few disconnected portions of the Lost City that do not have tunnels going to, because even we who call ourselves a ‘Lost City Citizen’ forgot about them, or never knew them! A few of these disconnected ones will never be tunneled into, for they are Netherbrain or Brainslayer territory.”

“Ah, I see,” said Custagine. Both Netherbrains and Brainslayers were sapieent species, brought to the Isles of Doom by the Curious Deities, just like the dwarf, gnome, kobold and dozens of other species. But they tended to be hostile to the other Children Species, the sixty sapient species brought by the Curious Deities here, because they tended to, in short, eat brains. They could exist perfectly well on animal brains, and civilized ones will, but even so, many of the other peoples would rather avoid either of the two species.

“Yes, indeed. They have their territory, we have ours. It is a coexistence of sorts. Everyone lives content.” Tihkrelk gave a shrug, “More or less. Always someone wanting someone else’s territory, but they tend to police their own and we ours.”

“So,” asked Rose Vine, “One of the safe areas of Lost City is nearby?”

“In the Pit,” replied Tihkrelk, “lies both the safe and unsafe areas of the Lost City, actually. One safe to me is nearby. If you can provide me some shade, I can run to safety with your help. But, Custagine, Rose Vine, if you want to visit me in the Lost City, do not go this way. It’s the long way around to where I live. I’ll give you a map or show you the easy entrance sometime. Then you can visit.”

“Might as well,” said Rose Vine, “then you got time to do housecleaning before hosting guests!”

Custagine had already begun to look around and found a sheet of wood that was leaning against the back of the shed, apparently it was left here intended to be used to patch up another building. He grabbed it and offered one end to Rose Vine. They both lifted it over their heads and the dwarf gave a nod to the kobold, “This should work. Shall we?”

The trio quickly but carefully stepped from the shed towards The Pit, the gnome and dwarf holding the wood over their kobold friend, who thanked them. He closed his eyes as he hopped into The Pit, grabbed a wall, and climbed down, opening them once more after he got deep enough that daylight would not hurt him. Within moments, he was out of sight.

Rose Vine then said to Custagine, “I’d like to make you dinner tonight, boss. Stop by my place later?” When Custagine accepted the offer, she told him how to find her place, then chatted with him a bit more, flirting some before excusing herself and leaving to do her day’s business.

Custagine spent the rest of the day supervising the reconstruction of The Library, not knowing the adventures that Bop and Bash were having this day.

When the appointed time rolled around, Custagine showed up at Rose Vine’s apartment in Old City. It was a spacious place on the second floor of the building, with a nice view into a garden from her small balcony. He was admitted entrance after a short knock on the door.

Rose Vine was naked when she greeted him, her light blue skinned body on clear display.

Custagine did not seem to notice, and did not comment on it. He just entered with a polite word of the loveliness of the apartment and its furnishings, as if Rose Vine had been fully clothed.

It was she who brought it up once she passed by a body length mirror, “Oh! That’s right, my clothing! Please forgive me, boss, I forgot to put them back on.”

“Cust.”

“What boss?”

“I said before, Rose, you can call me just Cust.”

The pretty gnome gave a nod, “Ah…sure. Sorry, last boss didn’t even want us knowing his name. Cust. Okay. I’ll do my best to call you Cust.”

“Thank you very much.” Custagine then asked, “I know that dwarfs have a custom of nudity when we tunnel, because it matters not to us if we’re nude or not. I did not know gnomes also have a habit of nudity in privacy.”

“Not really, no. It’s not a gnome thing, it’s a me thing.”

“How’s it a you thing?”

Rose Vine tapped her bare forearm, “My skin, remember? My Polar Elf grandmother? My temperature is off, I’m often warm to hot in this city, usually hot. Even with minimal clothing, it’s a hot place for me. Nudity helps me keep cool.”

Custagine gave a nod, “In that case, if it would make you more comfortable, I can also go nude.”

Rose Vine gave a soft gasp and a giggle, “Cust, please! If you do that, you’ll get me hot!”

Custagine just gave a blank look in response, not understanding.

“It means you’d get me aroused….” Rose Vine saw he was still giving a blank look, “And…want to have sex with you….you don’t understand do you?”

“I understand the need to copulate for a non-dwarf species to have children. I do not understand how to do it or anything related to it besides it must occur before pregnancy can occur, which must happen before birth can occur.”

“Ah….er….yes, that’s….basically….right. I mean, you’re not wrong. But you’re kind of taking the fun out of sex.”

“Oh?” Custagine had begin to take off his working clothing and boots, “Sex is fun?”

“Well, it’s fun for me.” Rose Vine watched the dwarf strip with interest, looking over his hard and muscled body completely devoid of hair. For, as a stone born people, how could they grow hair? When Custagine fully stripped down, Rose Vine looked startled, exclaiming, “But!”

Custagine asked curiously, “What? Is something wrong?”

Rose Vine pointed to the junction of where his legs met, “You have no penis!”

Custagine looked at her crotch and pointed to her womanhood, “Is that a penis?”

“No, that’s a…nevermind! A penis is that long…well, ideally long….dangly thing between a guy’s legs. Though I guess in some species, like the Saurids, it’s in a sheath that only comes out when aroused. It’s…um….kind of important?”

“It is?” Custagine looked confused. He did not have a penis and never saw one, so he was unclear on the very concept. So he asked, “Why?”

“Well, aside from being my favorite part of a man’s body,” said Rose Vine, “and important for sex…no, no, mandatory for sex, it is also how men urinate.”

“Ah,” said Custagine, only slightly understanding. He then followed up with, “What is urinate?”

Rose Vine gave a blink a few times and flopped on her one chair, “But! What is….you dwarfs do not fornicate nor urinate? How do you get rid of waste?”

“How’s that?”

Rose Vine sighed and gave a shrug, “Of course. When we drink…we, being a typical species, that is…we can’t use it all. There’s either stuff in our drink our bodies do not like, or we drink too much at once, or whatever. Point is, urination is how we get rid of liquid waste from our bodies.”

“Oh, I see.”

“I know you dwarfs are big drinkers, one of you can take a keg of beer in no time. What happens to it?”

“Oh,” said Custagine, “Anything we drink, or even eat, we fully process. We use it all to fuel our bodies and grow. Anything we find we can not use we store in a special orgasn. When we die, we turn to stone, and our organs turn into maggots. These maggots that were organs leave our corpse and burrow into nearby stone and give new dwarf life. But that one special organ…it never turns into a maggot. Or rarely. When it does become a maggot and that maggot does become a dwarf, it is usually dark and evil and we tend to call it a Polluted Child. Or Impure.”

“So you don’t get rid of food waste either?”

“No, course not, food does not go to waste either for us dwarfs.”

Rose Vine made a motion with her fingers, “Turn around?”

Custagine did so, and Rose Vine saw that he had no actual buttocks nor anus. He was as smooth and featureless in the backside as he was in the front, like some sort of child’s doll. When he was done fully turning around, he sat down next to Rose Vine, and asked, “Is sex really that interesting?”

“Well, it is for me.” She looked at Custagine, studying him some. Then on impulse she gave him a hug and wrapped her arms around him, “Though, it may be interesting to try a romantic relationship for once. Without sex getting in the way of it. What do you say, would you like to try it?”

“I’m afraid I’d fail you.”

“Most men do,” Rose Vine laughed, “But let’s not worry about that. Actually, let’s ignore what I said before. I am interested in you, bo….Cust….and do have feelings for you. Have since you first visited my village long ago. I’m glad to be working with you. I should just be happy with that and not ruin it with a bad relationship. If we broke up…”

Custagine just gave her a pat on the cheek, gently, and a soft smile, “Follow your heart.”

Custagine: A Peaceful Job 5

Custagine started the next day by arriving at the work site a bit early. He mostly did so to see Bop and Bash, and see how they did on their first night on duty. When he arrived, the twins were guarding the front door together, heads a bit droopy, fatigue evident. Also evident were their tracks in the grass, apparently one or both of the half-ogres would walk about library to make sure nothing was happening around the other side. Custagine could see at least six trackways in the dew, meaning the twins did such a patrol at least six times. When he got close to them, their heads were drooping some and he said gently, “Hey, guys. Long night?”

“Night was night.”

“Long is long.”

Custagine looked from one to the other, giving a shrug. It was too early in the morning for him to really understand, “I suppose. Anything happen last night?”

“Nope.”

“Yup.”

“Uh…which is it guys?”

The halfling twins looked at one another, then Bop said, “Walked about the building twice me did.”

“Five times me did! Like walking more, me.”

“Well,” nodded the dwarf, “I thank you for standing guard. Go ahead home and get some good sleep.”

“Sleep! When tired, sleep good!”

“I do it better than you!”

Instead of running off, the duo walked at a brisk pace down the Hill and away. They shoved each other once, gave a loud laugh, then continued on, apparently joking with one another.

Custagine only had to wait for a short time before two of his subleaders arrived. The one was a very short kobold wearing a leather apron and frilly top. The other was a blue skinned gnome woman in a one piece red dress.

To the large eyed kobold he asked, “Did you bring no sunhat or parasol?”

The kobold blinked his large eyes a bit, asking, “You…understand the sunpain?”

“My tribe often traded with kobolds a bit deeper in a neighboring cave complex. My own people hated the sun, bought they thought that it was because the light would kill us. I can attest to the fact that’s not true. But I understand you may want to head off soon as you can, so you don’t get too much sunlight. Let’s see…” Custagine looked around some, then moved over towards a small shack with some tools in it. It faced the right way that its back wall and roof would block the morning sunlight, “Please, use this if it would help.”

The kobold scurried into the shack, keeping the door open. He thanked Custagine softly, “You are kind.”

The gnome lady, a bit shorter than he, propped herself up against an exterior wall of the shack and gave her boss a soft smile. She asked in a gentle voice, “What kind of meeting is this, boss?”

Custagine looked around a bit for the arrival of the third person he was expecting. After a bit of waiting, he shrugged, “Looks like he’ll be late. To be honest, part of this meeting was to talk to you each in private, so we may as well do that now. Ah…” He gave a brief shrug, “I suppose this will work. I’ll talk with you in the shack and you outside of it, and the door will give just enough privacy, I imagine. That okay?

Both gave a soft nod, and neither said anything to the contrary, so Custagine walked into the shack with the kobold, shutting the door gently behind him. He then began, “You’re the Guild’s chief accountant, yes?”

“Of course, sir,” said the kobold. His people are the biggest bankers in the Isles, nearly every single bank in the Isles is owned or managed by one of the kobold peoples. The kobold then bowed to Custagine, “Oh, my name is Tihkrelk.”

“Custagine, it is nice to meet you, Tihkrelk.” Custagine returned the bow, then asked, “How much do you trust Donrump?”

“About as much as I love staring into the sun.”

“Right, me too. I need your help. I do not trust him, I do not like him. He hungers for money too much. You know where all the money goes and how it all comes in. I need you to find any evidence of wrongdoing on his part. I want you to be keeping an eye on him for me. Can you do that?”

“I can, but the question should be, am I willing to?”

“Fair enough,” nodded Custagine, “Are you willing to?”

“Enthusiastically and for free. It will be my pleasure.”

Custagine gave a soft laugh, “I like you already, Tihkrelk. Is there any question you may have for me? Anything to talk about?”

The kobold chittered a bit as he thought to himself, then gave a nod, “Well, sir, it’s like this. You Seven Heroic Wonders saved my people once. My entire tribe, but two, had their lives saved by you eight. Eight…seven…wait…”

“I know, it doesn’t make sense to me, either. Storytellers and historians think seven sounds better for the group name, I figure.”

“Well…okay.” The kobold gave a twitch of his fingers. As a lover of facts and numbers, thinking about a group of eight people being called the Seven Heroic Wonders would give him some fits. Eventually he coughed and then continued, “I’d like the autographs of each of you. Starting with you.”

“I can give you mine, yes. And I can give you letters to the other Wonders to introduce you to them. I can even give you an excuse to take business trips to meet them. But there’s two you can’t get the autographs to, sadly. And perhaps a third.”

“May I ask whom?”

“Riastarthae I can’t sense any more….”

“Sense?”

The dwarf tapped his head, “We worked so well together because we could all communicate to one another with our minds. We can sense each other across great distances.”

“What an interesting ability!”

“Thank you,” smiled Custagine, “Anyway, Riastarthae’s link is silent. I’m not sure where he is, or what’s going on with him. He may be injured, or dead, or in a coma, or just trying to break the link.”

“A shame. The other two, sir?”

“Shenta’s already off the Isles. She went to North City…the City of Portals or City of Gates, whichever you prefer…and is away, exploring the larger world. I know not where she is besides that.”

“Oh. Hard to get, then. Hers would be a crowning achievement.”

“Hah!” Custagine gave a short laugh, “I suppose so. As to the third, that would be Ironguts. He has, sadly, been killed. I’m not sure how.”

“Sad, sad. Liked him I did. He was my favorite. I mean, ah….second favorite. Sir.”

Custagine laughed again, “Don’t worry. I prefer honesty over courtesy. Be honest. I can take it. May I ask why?”

“Well, he was a Runner. So he was my people’s size. But he played these tricks that were quite entertaining. Sir, a request?”

“Yes?”

“I can work some of the finances around to hire some adventurers.”

“Adventurers?” inquired the dwarf.

“Freelancers. Wanderers. Explorers. Troubleseekers. Ruins raiders. They’re people who risk their lives for thrills and adventure and finding treasures. Most have a specialty of some sort. I can hire a group to try to find out how Ironguts died and who killed him. Then maybe a group of bounty hunters to bring them to justice.”

Custagine gave a short pause and a soft hmmmm. Then he nodded, “Alright. Let’s work on the investigation for now. But your priority is still on Donrump.”

“Sure, understood. I think you’ll like the results.”

Custagine nodded, “I’ve no doubt, with you in charge. Now, anything else?”

“Not today, sir.”

Custagine grabbed the door handle, “If you’ll excuse me then. I’ll let you know when I’m done.”  He then departed, shutting the door behind him. When he left, he looked to the gnome lady leaning against the wall, “Did Donrump arrive yet?”

“No. He’s late.”

“He is,” said Custagine, “But it is okay. It gives me time to meet you. Rose Vine, isn’t it?”

The lovely gnome lady gave a soft blink and nodded, “Ah, yes, it is. I didn’t know you knew me already.”

Custagine smiled, “We very briefly met before. I talked with your mother more than you, but she spoke of you.”

Rose Vine thought a moment, her eyes then going wide, “I remember now! You and the other Seven Heroic Wonders stopped by for supplies in our town!” She then grinned, “Hey, I wonder, how come there’s eight of you?”

“Confusing, isn’t it? I’ll talk about it later with you, okay?”

The gnome nodded, “Sure, boss. Maybe over dinner?”

Custagine gave a nod, “I’ll be happy to then. I’ll buy whatever dinner you like most.”

Rose Vine gave a soft sigh, grinning, “I meant as a date, Custagine. May I call you Custagine, boss?”

“Of course. But…what’s a date?”

Rose Vine looked startled a bit, then gave a short laugh, “Oh! Oh, my mistake. I completely forgot. I…I’m sorry.”

“Forgot?”

“Yes,” the gnome lady said, “Your people don’t…can’t…have sex. And you don’t have females. So you don’t know social customs very much, do you?”

“No, I suppose not.”

“A date is when two people go out to be romantic with one another. They get to know each other better, and if they like each other, continue to date. And if they really like each other, they will fornicate and marry. Sometimes in that order, sometimes marriage first.”

“I do not understand all that. However, I would still be willing to date you if that means sharing dinners with you and become friends with you.”

The gnome lady gave a bright smile, “I’d like that, boss. Custagine. Custagine boss. Boss Custagine. Sorry.”

“Don’t be. Cust is fine, actually, if you like.”

“Ah…but it’s too…”

“No no. I insist. You may call me Cust.”

The blue gnome lady gave a soft blush, nodding her head, “Thank you, si…Cust!” She asked, “So what did you want me to do for you?”

“May I call you Rose?”

“Yes!” said the lady readily, “Of course, Cust!”

“It’s like this. When I had workers moving books from the library here to a warehouse, less wheelbarrows full of books arrived than there should have. And I’m not even sure how many books each wheelbarrow had on them, I suppose it was variable depending on size and weight and…”

“Sir?”

“Huh? Oh. Anyway, I’m afeared that some of the books may be lost.”

Rose Vine gave a soft giggle.

“What’s funny, Rose?”

“Ah, not the lost books! It’s your choice of words. Afeared is rather archaic, I haven’t heard someone say that since….since my polar elf grandmother!”

“Ah?” Custagine looked over the blue skin of the gnome, “Is that…”

“Yes, it is.”

Custagine thought a moment, then asked, “I don’t know about sex, because my people are unable to have it. But I do know that the product of two different species is a halfling, and halflings are sterile. And that means they can’t reproduce.”

“This is true. But a few halflings are not sterile. Nastrians, Lagomazons, Elfs, if at least one of those is a parent, then there’s an even chance that their child or children can reproduce. My mother was lucky to be born with the ability to do so. And that’s how I came to be here, with blue skin.”

Custagine nodded a few times in the short story, “I see. Interesting. Are there any others that can do this?”

“I’ve heard of a few other peoples who can breed halflings that are fertile. But the books?”

“Oh! Yes. I’m giving you discretionary funds, and, thanks to our kobold friend, an idea. Hire these ‘adventurers’ peoples and look for the books for me.”

Rose Vine nodded, “Sure, I can do that. Just the books?”

“How’s that?”

“Well, there’s other things of cultural importance, right? Lost cities. Statues. Cartouches. Wonderful buildings we do not know of any more. Paintings. Songs. Jewelry.”

“I get it. OK, let’s broaden that out a bit. I want the focus to be on the books, because they’re pretty perishable. Water, fire, even bad air can destroy them. But every item of cultural importance is to be recovered. For places that can not be moved, like your lost cities, mapped, catalogued and explored. Do you want to do that?”

“Yes, sir, but you really should have asked Tihkrelk to do that instead.”

“Why’s that?”

Rose Vine gave a soft smile, “Because his people practically worship books.”

Custagine: A Peaceful Job 4

The next day, just over two dozen workers showed up atop The Hill, in addition to the two halfling ogres of the prior day. Custagine split the workers up into two groups, and had the two halfling ogres to step aside. Half of the workers he tasked to preparing to build a proper wall. The other half he tasked with removing as many books as they could, taking them down to a warehouse he leased near the bottom of The Hill.

“But why?” asked one of the halfling ogre twins.

“Yes, why but?”

“The removal of the books, or having you two stay by my side?”

The large pair gave a soft shrug, “Both?”

Custagine nodded softly, “Guess that’s fair. For the removal of the books, that’s simple. I want to renovate the entire library and remake it with modern materials and techniques. Something so precious as the place where books are held should have a better building. Stronger construction. Proper shelves for books, proper racks for scrolls, proper display cases for maps. And so on.”

“And no book in library make easier work doing.”

“Yes, what he say well I say too.”

Custagine nodded, “Ah. Yes. Well. I agree with you two. Besides, it’s a pretty risky move, and I don’t want the knowledge lost”

“What risk?” asked the duo.

Custagine pointed over The Pit, the gaping hole where the Curious Deities fell as, and became, the Mummy Deities, “I want to float the library over that!”

The twins oooohed a bit, then considered, “How get in do people do/”

Custagine unraveled their words a moment, before nodding some and pointing out, “Well, bridges of course. Big, arcing, stone bridges. Or maybe…” He gave his chin a tapping and thought a bit.

“Him lost in mind.”

“Yes, imagination land has visitor.”

Custagine snapped out of it after a bit, “Stone bridges would work. But someone may want to get up there faster, or safer, Maybe a few small buildings here and there about The Pit with those magical runes of teleporting so people can arrive in the library easier.”

“But how it float?”

“Yes, lots of people under it blowing hot air?”

The dwarf gave a point vaguely northwards, “The Portals have reopened and North City is once again trading with other places outside The Isles. That includes floatstone. Floatstone will make the library float.”

The twins gave a bit of a nod, agreeing with one another, “Smart, him.”

“Hey now,” Custagine blurted out to a laborer, “Careful with that!” The laborer was carting off several books at once in a wheelbarrow, the cart overloaded and dropping scrolls here and there. He looked to the halfling ogres, “Would you mind helping with those? In fact, I got a job for you two today. Someone stays at the warehouse and makes sure everything is taken care of there. The other one walks back and forth between here and there recovering anything the workers dropped. You can switch off the work whenever you two are bored of what you’re doing.”

“Do that, we can!”

“Yes, sound good it for us is!”

Custagine gave a nod, “Good. Come on back during lunch, bring me something, and I’ll treat again.”

“Yes, we do!” both said, and then ran off exhuberantly.

Custagine spent the rest of the morning inside of the library after that. He went from one area to the other, slightly nervously monitoring everything. The workers were not themselves literate, so saw no inherent value in the books they were working with. They were just here for the money they’d earn for working that day. Many would be back tomorrow. Some wouldn’t be. A few would bring friends, and new strangers would likely appear. That’s just how it worked typically in jobs like this.

But to Custagine, he wished that the workers paid a bit more attention to what they were doing. More than once he was visibly pained as a worker actually stepped on a book or a scroll that they dropped out of their wheelbarrow, or just carelessly ran the wheel of said tool right over someone else’s dropped items. Whenever he could, he’d run with his short dwarfin legs to try to save the items that he could. He chastised the workers carting the material out to be more careful, and mostly ignored what the half plastering and starting up the west wall’s repairs.

Custagine gave a loud gasp of shock as one of the workers casually tossed a gold filigree embossed book into a wheelbarrow that had already been stacked to overflowing. He managed to grab hold of the book before it fell on the floor, snatching it and holding it tight to his chest. He shouted to the entire group, “Everyone, be careful! Please!” some workers, for a time, were more careful. But as soon as Custagine’s attention was elsewhere, most drifted back to doing the work with a minimal amount of effort. And oft was the case that careful labor was tossed aside to achieve the minimal effort.

Custagine did praise the people working on the west wall, but pointed out some methods he wanted the workers to use to make sure the finished construction was secure. It was shortly after explaining a technique to one of the workers that he heard a less than polite ‘ahem’ behind and slightly above him.

He turned around to see the form of the elder human with the obvious fake hair that looked like sunburnt straw greet him with a scowl. He asked, “What do you want, Donrump?” with a short and terse voice.

“These workers are all to go home. What you are doing here is to stop immediately.”

“Excuse me?”

The human with the small hands pointed at Custagine, “This is not an approved project and you are not using Guild labor. As the head of the Guild, you are supposed to think about enriching the Guild itself. I will not allow you to run around with these charitable projects when money is to be made.”

“Excuse me?” Custagine repeated. He also noted his own hands were larger than the human’s, which is odd to him as the human had many more feet of height over him, “If I’m really head of the Guild, then I have the authority to do what I want and you’d only be able to blow hot air. You’ll be more respectful to me from now on, underling. As for this, as it’s a city project, I’m using city funds to hire citizens of the city to work on it as my duty as City Treasurer. If you have a project for the Guild to undertake that needs my approval, submit it to me. Otherwise, you have authority of your own over several divisions in the Guild, you want to make money, you go and make money.”

“Fine, I submit this, ‘sir’.” The sir was very strained. “Fire all these people. We can hire immigrant laborers for fourteen copper a piece a day. That’s a fraction of the two silver pieces you’re offering. We can then charge the city your proposed budget, artificially delay it, then charge another ten to fifteen percent on top to finish the work, calling it overage fees or incentive for expedited labor. We can make a nice profit on it.”

Custagine growled, “Not for this project! You want profit, fine, find me projects that are of little importance to the city at large and we’ll have Guild laborers work all over them. But projects important to the city, such as waterworks, food, housing repairs, and excrement removal are off limits. As is the library.”

“They’re just books. We can’t make money on them. We do not even charge people to rent them. What good are they?”

The dwarf took a step back, “What good are they? They’re a link to our past! To a future people dreamed of! To history and philosophy and the dreams of others. We can learn languages with them and see art we could never see in person. Why,” he held up the book in his hands, “This is the only copy of ‘He Whom She Loved’ in the entire kingdom, maybe the last copy in the Isles!”

“isn’t that the fairy tale?”

“Maybe,” nodded the dwarf, “But that’s not important. What is important is that this copy still exists and what is in it. True or not, it may have secrets to False Heaven that we’d never know of otherwise. It’s invaluable just on that alone.”

“We can’t get to False Heaven, we can’t sell to them, we can’t buy from them, why should I care?”

Custagine scowled at Donrump, “Didn’t you own a bunch of casinos in the casino mecca of Chance, only for them to go out of business five times?”

Donrump look indignant, “I fail to see the point!”

“The point is, you obviously can not see the true value of things. Now I’m giving you an order as Guildmaster. There’s three of you that report directly to me, I want to see all three of you here tomorrow morning. Then, I never want to see you at the library again.”

Donrump gave a scowl, sneering at the dwarf. He did not reply, only instead turned and quickly walked off.

As this talk went on into the early portion of the lunch hour, Custagine was left finishing the talk with only two witnesses about, the halfling ogres, who had returned with lunch. All the other laborers had went off in small groups to find their own meal. The duo asked, “What problem him?”

“Don’t worry about it, friends.” He looked into the bag, smiling in satisfaction at the gnome food brought to him, “Donrump is just a small minded man with small hands.”

“You know what say hands small of man.”

“Yes, Not grip big things able to do.”

Custagine did not get the joke, if there was one. He just gave a short nod and a shrug, “Anyway. I was wondering, what are your names?”

“Bop am I. Bop he not is.”

“Bash not he. Bash me I.”

“So you’re Bop and Bash?”

“No,” said the duo, “Me and he Bash and Bop.”

Custagine looked from one to the other, then shrugged, “Alright. I can follow that.” He couldn’t, but they did not need to know, “But I wonder, who gave you the names?”

“Huh?”

“I do not know much, but I know with species who have parents, the parents give the children names. But you two are orphans, aren’t you?”

The halfling ogres nodded, “Parents no have do we,” they said.

“Can I ask what happened to them?”

The one that Custagine thought was called Bop said, “We killed in birth mom person.”

“Dad person druid ogre. Big. Powerful. Not know him did birth we were.”

Custagine gave a short nod at that. So apparently their dad never knew he impregnated their mother, and she died giving birth to half-ogre twins. Then he asked with his eyes bulging some, “Your MOTHER was the human?”

“Big mom!”

“Mom huge! Had to be!”

Custagine nodded again, sighing, “Sorry to hear that. So who named you?”

“Other kids orphans.”

“Lots and lots, named us they did.”

The dwarf asked, “Have you ever wondered what your intended names were to be?”

“Nope!”

“Why?”

“Names are important,” said Custagine, as he began to ate his lunch, “Because they tell you who you’re supposed to be. Who your parents wanted you to be. The dreams they had for your future.”

“Fake names make fake future?”

“No good is that, good future we want.”

“How we do get real names?”

Custagine looked from one to the other and back, then shrugged, “If your mother wrote your names down somewhere, you could read them.”

“Nope.”

“Can’t.”

“Why not?” asked the dwarf.

“No read can we,” said both halflings.

Custagine gave a short nod, “I can teach you. Or I can read it for you if you found anything.”

“Look will we!”

“Maybe stash of our treasure young it be!”

The trio ate for a bit more before Custagine asked, “Out of curiosity, how many wheelbarrows full of books made it to the warehouse?”

“Me count ten fingers and one finger. And again eight fingers and lastly five fingers.”

“Do me count nine fingers. Then six fingers. Then that it, cause here we come.”

Custagine added it up, “I thought I counted forty nine wheelbarrows being carted out. That makes ten unaccounted for.”

The halflings kept eating for awhile, because hungry, they were. Finally they asked, “Huh?”

Custagine shrugged and shook his head, “Something for me to worry about. In the meantime, I got an idea for you both.”

“Oh! Boss good ideas we like!”

The dwarf gave a short smile, “Ah, thanks. How would you two like to guard this place at night?”

They both frowned, “No like!”

“Why not?”

The twins stated, “Day work, night work, sleep none.”

The dwarf parsed this and nodded, “Ah. Of course I mean you’d only have to work at night. The daytime you can use for anything you want, such as sleep.”

“And playing kids?”

Custagine nodded, “And playing with the children.”

The twins looked at each other, then nodded, “OK, we guards. Boss, bye.” Then the two went off, taking the rest of the day off. They figured they started night work now, so day work was over. As they left, they talked to one another about which groups of kids to play with this afternoon.

Custagine: A Peaceful Job 3

Custagine went right up The Hill the next day, early as he could. He only stopped by a small food vendor on the way to grab breakfast, today it was a course but filling Ogre treat. It was hearty and filling and good for a day’s work, but it was not very tasty. Ogres were really dumb, and they never learned proper ways to cook. But they did it well enough.

He arrived at the top of The Hill with a bright smile, and headed towards the Library, each step he took brought  that smile down until it turned first into a frown, then a scowl.

Only two people were here.

“What’s going on here?” he started off, “Who are you two, and where’s everyone else?”

“Well, sir, see, it’s like this,” started one.

“Our boss, he say it a simple job. Not need many people. Only send us.”

Custagine went to the side of the Library with the great gaping hole in the wall, pointing to it, “Does that look simple?” Then he quickly followed up with, “Are one of you even a carpenter?”

Both men looked at one another, gave a shrug, and shook their head. The one offered, “We’re just general laborers.”

“Yeah,” said the other, “You know, lifting, hauling, stuffs like that.”

Custagine looked from one to the other with a sigh, “I…fine. Alright. Which of you knows the city the best?”

They each pointed at one another and said, “Him does.”

Custagine gave the two a look over. They were mostly human, but had something different about them. Taller, heavier. Hairier, sloping foreheads. Bigger noses and ears. He asked, “Half-ogres?”

“Twins!” they both said gleefully.

Yes, Custagine now saw the family resemblance. He shrugged a bit with a sigh, “Your mother must be proud. Alright, you both know the city well?” He glanced at one halfling – the term used for anyone who is half of one species and half of another – to the other and back again, “Huh.”

“Yes,” said the one twin, “It is confusing.”

“Even we do not know which of us is really us,” offered the other.

“Of that I have no doubt. Alright, let’s do this. I’m going to write up a bunch of posters looking for more workers. When I’m done, I want you to post them across the city. Can you do that?”

“Sure, that’s something we can do.”

“Probably.”

Custagine shrugged, “Good for me. OK, you, the one on the right, you. When we’re done, you walk down that hill and post the posters all over the city to your right. And you on the left, you do it to the left side of the city. OK?” Custagine had little doubt the brothers did not understand east from west.

Both nodded their heads, then started to sit down.

“Wait wait!” started the dwarf, “Hold up. This will take awhile, so you can’t just sit around, you need to do something.” He pointed to the Library, “You see that destroyed section?”

Both halflings nodded, “Yes, looks back. Nasty. Very bad. We sad.”

“Why’s that?” asked Custagine.

“Like library,” says one.

“Like reading,” the other states.

“You two can read?”

Both nodded eagerly, “About the only thing we can do well!”

The dwarf gave a rub of his chin, “Well, shows me for judging. Alright, while I’m writing up the posters, you two go in the Library and take all the books from the ruined part of it and put it in the good part of it. The really bad books put in the center hall so I can look at those later. Can you do that?”

Both gave a quick nod, “Sure, of course!”

Custagine quickly amended, “Without spending all your time reading them?”

The duo looked at one another, then shrugged, “Probably?”

Custagine gave a faint, “Good enough,” then clapped them both on the shoulders, “Alright, make me proud. I can’t wait to see how hard you two work!”

The two halfling ogres ran off into the library, only to smack into the door frame. They both tried their best to enter in at the same time that they stuck themselves together. Being that neither was very bright and both wanted to be first in, neither thought to angle themselves in a way to let the other in first.

So Custagine had to shove them both forward on their lower backs, then went about. He moved over to one of the larger buildings, where the Council holds supplies, grabbing writing utensils, lots of poster papers and a portable desk of short stature that you can use as a lap desk. He took them all back to the hilly area before the Library, and began to do his own tasks. A few small rocks kept the used and unused papers from blowing away.

A few people came strolling by on their way from one location upon The Hill to another, or from the city itself to a location here, but he did not really pay attention to them. Once he was in his work, Custagine kept his mind focused. He was so focused that he did not notice his assistant, Donrump, move by him in mid-morning, giving the dwarf a sneer.

Sometime before lunch, the twin halflings stepped on over to him and blocked his sunlight, casting two huge shadows over him and his paperwork, “Done, we is!”

Custagine finished one more poster before looking up, asking, “What?”

“Done, we is!” they said in unison again.

Custagine glanced to the Library, then the daylight, then gave a nod, “Ah, well. Very good. Do you two have any money?”

“Yes, we carry coins.”

“Good, good,” Custagine pointed downwards, “How about you guys go take a lunch break. Go ahead and grab whatever you like and bring me back something. I’ll pay you back for all our meals.”

“Oh, good boss!” said one.

“Yes, much loyalty we give you!” said the other.

Custagine gave a fond smile, then added, “You can either take your time and return after the typical lunch hour is over, so you have a long break, or you can come back earlier and put the posters up when you return. Once they’re up, you’re done for the day and can go home.”

“Good boss, but tough boss.”

“Yes, hard decisions to be made.”

“How so?” asked Custagine.

“Not mind nap after lunch, we do,” offered the first.

“Uh huh,” said the second, “But also not mind being home early, play with our kids.”

Custagine gave an eyebrow quirk at that. Kids. These two had kids, plural. He gave a short shrug, smiling, “Well, I’m sure you two will make a good decision.”

“Maybe one of us will take the nap,” said one.

“And the other of us will go home early,” said the other.

Custagine looked from one ogre halfling to the other and shrugged, “May work. Bring me back something, remember. Just no ogre cuisine, ate that for breakfast.” He then looked about the non-existent workforce, frowning and muttering under his breath, “For no good reason.”

The two ran off, skipping a few steps. Custagine gave a short sigh, then went back to work. He lost himself in thought as he drew out the posters. They had pictures of The Hill, the picture of what most people see a laborer, which was a stick figure and a pickaxe, and pictures of the coins being paid for each day’s worth of work. Then he wrote out in the most commonly used language, that of humans, on the bottom the details of what he was looking for.

Suddenly, Custagine’s daylight was shadowed by the forms of the two halfling ogres. He looked up curiously, asking, “Back already? But you weren’t gone long.”

“No, but can be fast, us two are.”

“Yes. Bring food back, did we.”

“Course you did,” said Custagine. He finished the poster he was working on and set it in the finished pile, then asked, “What did you get?”

“Foxling food,” said the one.

“Good meat. Very good.”

Custagine began to wonder if the duo always talked in order, for her had noticed that they tended to talk in a way almost to finish or at least compliment the other’s sentences. Like one had the mindset to start a sentence and the other was better at finishing. He just shrugged and nodded, “Sounds good. Join me?”

“Eat with you, us do?” the duo asked.

“Sure, why not?”

“Much loyalty,” said the one halfling.

His twin agreed, “Earned much, good boss.”

“So, which did you two decide on?” asked Custagine as he took out his spiced and finely chopped meat sandwich from the bag the duo  offered to him.

“Early go home, play with our kids.”

“Children are future, after all.”

Custagine gave a short shrug, pointing out, “I wouldn’t know. But I guess it’s true.”

“Why not you know?”

“Yes, no children have you do?”

The dwarf gave a sigh, frowning, “Sadly, no. No dwarf knows their own children.”

“Oh, sad that is,” said one comfortingly.

“Yes, children good. They like you, but better.”

Then the duo said together, “And sex fun.”

Custagine looked from one to the other, stating, “You know, I’ve always heard that, but I still do not understand what sex is.”

The two ogre halflings gave a collective gasp so deep that it almost created an atmospheric disturbance, then very frenziedly they began to explain, extremely poorly and not very intelligibly what sex is, what made it enjoyable, and why they try to have it as often as possible. It left a rather bad taste in Custagine’s mouth, the dwarf barely understanding it more but liking it quite a bit less.

As the two were speaking, animatedly and obscenely, several members of the Council and the Overlord passed by. Custagine didn’t offer them a nod, out of social concern for them. He wagered the did not want to associate with him currently, due to his companions being so vulgar, and gave that respect. After lunch was done, he offered the stack of finished posters and said to the brothers, “Remember, one of you to the right of the city and one to the left. Post them all, not too close to one another, and when you run out you can go home.” He then dug out of his coin purse what he owed for everyone’s lunch and the day’s wages for the duo. Then he gave each a small bit extra.

“Very boss good!”

“Yes, but work to do then home we must!”

“Play with kids again! Hurray!”

Custagine stood up with a sigh and walked over to the Library. He studied the work, giving a soft hmm of satisfaction, “Not bad at all, actually. I should have given a better tip.” The duo had near completely recovered all the books from the ruined west wing and placed them into the east. The ones they did not were all in neat piles. He spent his afternoon moving those and studying the whole Library.as he did, seeing how to rebuild it. Often, he’d gaze into The Pit just  below the opening and gaping former location of the west wall, thoughtful.

Then when he was done for the day, he left. The Overlord came near, asking, “How went today?”

“Not as good as I’d have hoped, honestly. I thought I’d have more workers.”

“Give it a few days. You have great workers in the two you were with today.”

“Oh? The two halflings?” asked the dwarf.

The elf gave a nod, “Yes, they’ve been very helpful. Lots of the city had them to thank for aiding them. Good with the kids, too.”

“So they said. Hey…they don’t eat them, right?”

The elf gentleman snorted, “My, no! Why do you ask?”

The dwarf sighed, “Folk tales of my people said ogres would eat other people.”

“No no. They love kids, and kids tend to love them. Must be because of their simple personalities, they’re pretty childlike themselves. Of course, to an elf…”

Custagine gave a tilt of his head, “Wait, you say kids. Not their kids. Why?”

“Halflings are not capable of reproducing of course.”

No Story, So Setting Info

Couldn’t write a story last night, so have some setting information instead.

 

The Godswar was a gigantic war that took place between the Curious Deities and their proxies, the mortal peoples. Elfs were assigned as generals of the war. The Curious Deities came in three camps, the Selfish, the Selfless and the Self-Aware, ten male and ten female deities per camp, making a total of 60 deities. Each deity also brought, created, or altered the various species to add sixty intelligent species to the Isles in addition to the native humans. No one knows anything about the Godswar, no one can recall. People just know it was fought and, at the end of it, the Curious Deities became the Mummy Deities and fell to the centermost point of the Isles. Shortly after this happened, a foreign devil and his minions tried to use this void, but the Seven Heroic Wonders (of which there are eight, but historians are bad at facts!) destroyed the foreign devil and the other commanders of his.

 

False Heaven is full of incredibly powerful humans and a rare few members of other species, usually there by invitation. They were a wildcard faction in the Godswar, able to more or less stand up to a Curious Deity. After the Godswar (and later during the ‘Saving the World’ arc), several of them declare themselves the New Deities, but most of the Isles are tired of deities so call them False Deities. False Heaven is about the same size as one of the seven ‘smaller’ isles, except that it flies at about the height of a low cloud. Many theorize that False Heaven actually was one of the smaller Isles, and say it was likely Magic Isle.

 

The ‘smaller’ Isles are not very small at all. They’re each about the size of England and Wales, give or take. The main island is about the size of Australia plus three of the ‘smaller’ Isles together. The focus of the ‘Saving the World’ arc is on the main isle, but future arcs will be set on the smaller isles. The isles are:

 

1-Twin Isle, which is really one isle with a gigantic lake in the middle of it. Lots of marine life have a colony in this lake, so Dolphinoids, Piscethons and others will be found here easier.

2-Dark Isle, which only gets as bright as a day during a solar eclipse. Shadowborn tend to live here, but there’s a large population of sun-fearing dwarfs here as well.

3-Wild Isle is where creatures like no other exist. Further, the terrain is extreme. It’s not just a forest there, it’s a primeval forest that other forests only aspire to be. Mountain are not just mountains, they’re natural skyscrapers.

4-City Isle is one gigantic city. From one coast to the other, it’s a full city and nothing but. Food is grown on rooftop gardens, in parks the size of a few city parks, and fished out of the sea. Much of it is imported. It is an urban maze that even natives of the Isle get confused in. Each city block has its own style, and small neighborhoods tend to act like smaller cities within the larger one.

5-Jungle Isle is a jungle’s jungle. The undergrowth is as tall as a grown man and the overgrowth is a full canopy. Few people live in the depths, any signs of civilization tend to be along the coastline. Life here is savage, often short, and tends to be more primitive.

6-Desert Isle is one giant desert with a river running through it. Said river ebbs and flows depending on rain and luck. It has several ruined cities in the middle of it and three main ones near the coasts. Ancient pyramids dot the landscape. Giant reptiles run wild across the sand. One of the Heroic Wonders, Blwthwyle, is native to this isle.

7-Ice Isle is a polar paradise. Snow and ice everywhere, the temperatures are barely above freezing on a good day and typically dip below zero. It is somewhat warmer on the coastline, where warm ocean winds will sometimes blow in, so most civilization is found there. Native animals include giant wooly beasts. There’s supposed to be an ancient wise woman trapped in the ice in this Isle.

 

Then there are two other major locations, which is the underground of the Isles, which can link any and all of the Isles together in long, winding tunnels. The other is the moon, which does not orbit the planet of the Isles. Here, the world of the Isles is so large, the moon actually ‘orbits’ around the Isles, not circling about them like ours would, but running in a circle like a pendulum might. It circles around the region of the Isles, but stays basically where it is in space. In here, the moon is what actually gives daylight

Custagine: A Peaceful Job 2

Custagine knew what his first job as the Treasurer of Blade was going to be. He wanted to reinforce the giant crater with dwarfin earthworks techniques, so there was little risk of further buildings slipping into the hole. Once that was done, he desired to send teams down into the hole to demolish the buildings much too dangerous to use and reinforce the supports for the buildings that could still function safely.

The Overlord readily agreed and quickly issued an edict to make it official.

The next day, while settling into his new home, he drew up the plans for the bulwarks as well as projected amounts of supplies and laborers needed for the first three phases. He’d need to verify this with others, people with more experience in the field, people who could see difficulties of the project one pair of eyes could not, but for a first draft, he was very much pleased.

Looking over the plans for errors he may have missed caused him to chuckle. The foundation of this project lay in old dwarfin fortifications for war, when they had to defend themselves against Saurid invasions. He was quite pleased that he could used concepts of war for the peaceful purpose of housing. It made him smile deep inside.

Custagine saw that is was later in the evening, quite later than he had expected, really. And he had not eaten all day. He packed up his paperwork in a safe carrying case then set off to find some dinner, then off to the daily informal meeting of the Council.

Custagine heard that, in the City of Blade, there’s one place to eat. The Avenue of Cuisine, which is actually four roads and an old gatehouse. The centerpoint, the old gatehouse, is one of the old gatehouses from the days when the first city wall existed, that which split New City from Old City. Without much use any longer, the gatehouse permanently had the portcullis in the upper position and the gate open, the gatehouse itself converted into two big restaraunts. Seating with a view was atop the gate’s towers.

But that was just a small part of the Avenue of Cuisine. The eastern and western running roads on both sides of the gate, in New City and Old City, were where most of the food was really at. Street vendors lined the roadways in the New City, for they couldn’t afford real establishments. In the slightly wealthier Old City, the newer construction allowed for places designed just to be eateries. Long dining halls, small cafes, hole in the wall family joints, Old City had all kinds of places to eat.

One could walk down just these four roads and eat across all the Isles of Doom.

Custagine had a slight impasse, however. Dwarfs do not eat for pleasure, they just do it to survive, just like everything else they do. And he knows if you’re here, eat for pleasure. He slung his carrying case across his chest, safely, and walked into the section of the New City that had its part of the Avenue of Cuisine. Mostly to satisfy his gnawing hunger and partially to get into the mindset of eating, he took a few things from a few street vendors to eat on the walk.

He grabbed a few sticks of sweetmeats, a vegetable soup which he found surprisingly delicious, and a small bag of ‘Corn That T’were Popped’. He didn’t ask how or why it was popped, or what popping even meant, but he was pleased with it.

But those were just appetizers at best. If he was only going to eat one meal this day, it had to be larger. So he went off towards the Old City section of the Avenue of Cuisine and strolled alongside the walkway where all the fronts of the eateries rested against.

Each of the establishments had written in its own native language what it served. As there were sixty different people in the Isles, this would be extremely confusing to anyone not of that species, or had not learned that particular language. It made for a beautiful chaos of words, but it was still just a chaos until you focused. Luckily, each of them also wrote the same information in the one language everyone uses.

The human tongue.

He knew he was not interested in dwarfin food today, though it may be a safe bet for him. He wanted to experiment, to try something he had not before. He knew Netherbrain food was right out, for they found neural matter to be the height of delicacies. Elfin food was something for a very refined palate, and even though both Blwthwyle and Moonlight Kiss cooked elfin staples for the Heroic Wonders, he still was not used to it. So he simply strolled down the street, passing by places that sold those three cuisines, looking for something else.

Dolphinoid food smelled pretty good, but he noticed that it was all fish. Fish was one food no dwarf ate, for no fish exist in large numbers underground. so he started to pass by them also. As he could not eat rocks and minerals, ‘Goyle places were likewise skipped.

He came to be in front of a Shadowborn establishment. He remembered Rudricke stating on a few occasions that the best food in the Isles are the Shadowborn’s. He rememberd Ironguts fighting that Runner food was the best each time that came up, asking Rudricke why Shadowborn food would be so much better.

“Because, friend Ironguts,” Rudricke would explain, “The Shadowborn have a very diminished sense of taste. Further, it seems, of their sense of music and pleasures of the…ah…other pleasures. So to make up for these deficincies, Shadowborn learn the best techniques and use the best ingredients, so they can have even a fraction of the taste in the food that we would taste easily.”

That was good reasoning for him, so the first Shadowborn place he saw, a smaller place with only seven seats, was where he decided to eat.

Now, he did not know what the food was, he wasn’t aware of the names of each dish. So he asked the chef as he took a seat, “Something with meat, no fish. Some vegertables. Sauces. A stew or soup perhaps, though looking for something less liquid focused than those.”

The chef gave a nod, his grey face giving a slight twist as he thought of what a dwarf may like that fits those criteria. Then he began to make Custagine’s meal.

“Not very crowded tonight,” Custagine said to break the silence.

The grey skinned man kept silent for a bit as he concentrated to precisely cut the food in front of him, using a small knife on a carrot to precisely carve said vegetable into a pagoda. Once done, he nodded, “Not very crowded most nights.”

Custagine inhaled deeply and sighed, “Shame. This place has a nice smell to it.”

“Lots of spices.”

“Is that so?” Custagine gave a rub of his chin, “Hey, tell me, does everyone along the Avenue of Cuisine use spices in their foods?”

The cook looked at Custagine curiously and shrugged, “Not sure. Probably?”

“Nine out of every ten?”

“Not sure. Probably…seven out of ten. Maybe more. Maybe nine out of ten.”

“Maybe, huh…” Spices. That could be something he’s looking for. He knows he wanted to diversify from just having a gold based economy, but not sure what else to use. But spices, if in enough use, just may be it.

“Yeah, anyway, here you go, food. You want a drink?”

“Ah, yeah. Any bee…actually.” He smiled to the cook, “Whatever you have that you think will go with this best.”

“Yeah, sure, got what you want.”

Custagine was about to dig right in, before noticing the food. It was mostly meat with some vegetables. But the meet was cut precisely to form specific shapes. Namely, words in Dwarfin for ‘Good Eats’. The carrot that was carved into a pagoda stuck upright out of a sauce for dipping the rest of the food in, the sauce of two colors that intermingled like a painter’s brush just glided across them. Potatoes formed a field with which peas and corn played a sport upon. Custagine kept on staring for a bit, before going, “Hey…”

“You eat with your eyes first.”

Custagine looked from the chef to the food. He stared at it for a time. Then he had an itch in his mind when he had an idea that could be barely contained and he felt that he just learned an important life lesson. He gave a short laugh and agreed, “So it is!”

The meal was, to put it simply, quite delicious and Custagine was very pleased. To the sullen joy of the chef, Custagine would visit for dinner at least once a week for as long as h e was in the City of Blade. Whenever he left on business, it was often the place he would go first when returning to the city. He had other favorite eateries, including some run by other Shadowborn, but something about this place held a place in his heart.

He arrived just in time to the informal council meeting. Happening almost daily, barring weather or festivals, or the actual weekly council meeting, it was more of a social gathering than one of council business. To be sure, some of that was discussed, but mostly topics to finalize what was voted on before or ideas to vote on later. Never debates.

It was always held in one of the oldest cafes in the city, over drinks, upon the outdoors veranda. It gave a beautiful view of the city. Typically.

The cafe abutted against the crater within the hill. across the street from it, the City Library, with one portion of the West Wing of it destroyed and fallen away into aid pit. The exterior wall was never repaired, the wing completely open to the elements and thieves.

Custagine quickly gave his presentation about the bulwarks and recovering use of buildings fallen inside the pit. Then he packed his material up and barely stayed around while the council members talked gently amongst themselves, generally agreeing on the merits of his plans. By the time they agreed to vote on it next regular meeting, he was almost across the street.

Custagine stared across the open wall with a deep frown, his hands balled into fists, knuckles turning white. What he saw almost brought him to tears while desiring to yell to the heavens simultaneously. Books were being destroyed due simply to exposure to the sun, wind and rain. This was a terrible sight to him.

While dwarfs did not have books of their own, when he first arrived in the outside world, he discovered the usefulness and pleasure books incarnate. He asked Blwthwyle to teach him to read, and whenever he could, he was reading through one book or another. Any topic, and genre, learning or pleasure, he’d read whenever he had time and whatever he had at hand.

A library was almost a religious structure, and this was almost a desecration.

Custagine quickly tromped back, giving a soft wave to the other council members as he passed by them, moving as fast as his shor dwarf legs could take him. He headed not back to his home, but to the headquarters of the guild. He had to do something about this, quickly.

“Ah, sir, good evening,” came the secretary in the lobby, “We are almost closing for the eve…oh, sir. I didn’t know it was you, sir.’

“Custagine.”

“Pardon, sir?”

“My name is Custagine.”

The human demurred softly, rubbing his hair a bit, “Ah, yes sir, it is, I know that. But as you’re the head of the-”

“Then I decree you and anyone else who would call me ‘sir’ instead call me Custagine.”

“Sir, that is…I mean…it’s rther uncouth.”

Custagine walked on through, “I’m a dwarf, I live for practicality, not social graces! Now send in my deputy!”

“Which one, sir?”

“Custa…what do you mean, which one?”

“You have three deputy heads that serve under you directly, sir. Er. Custagine, sir. Sir Custagine.”

The dwarf gave a shrug, “Do I? Send in whoever’s here.” He then finished his trek into his temporary office. His real one was still being renovated. Custagine had already grabbed new papers and began to work on new plans, to save the City Library.

“You asked for me, sir?”

“Custagine,” grumbled the dwarf.

“Right, sorry, the secretary told me,” the human said as he entered in, shutting the door behind him. He glanced at the papers, asking, “How can I help you?”

“How many laborers do we have right now not currently on project?”

The human, an older elderly man with a set of straw colored false hair atop his bald head shrugged, “I’d need to figure specific, but I think about five heads and…”

“Good, that’s enough for now. I want to put them to work.”

“Certainly, doing what?”

“Rebuilding the West Wing of the City Library,” Custagine said quickly.

The elderly human gave a shrug, “And who is paying for it?”

Custagine gave a short, “Huh?”

“We do nothing if it does not bring profit. Who is paying for the project?”

“I don’t know! Just do it!”

“Can’t.”

“It will put people to work.”

“Yes, but can’t,” repeated the human.

“And why not? And don’t give me profit.”

The human shrugged, “Nothing can be done for free, even if we may want to do it. I couldn’t care less about that ancient abode of books, myself. However, if someone were paying for it, I’d pretend to care as much as their gold earned.”

“Knowledge is always profitable, deputy.”

“Is it, sir?”

The dwarf stomped his foot, “I’m not arguing this with you. We’re putting something up against the exposed wall to protect what’s inside. I don’t care how the money is earned, whether I have the city pay for it, or issue a tax break to us for it, or some other means. I’ll pay for it myself. But you…whatever your name is….will start to make this happen, now. I want those five heads and their teams on site at the break of dawn tomorrow.”

“Donrump, sir.”

“Excuse me?”

“My name, is Donrump. And I will…just this once…start the project off without proper procedures. But I must warn you, this is not something that will happen often. Money first, then work or product.”

“Fine,” grumbled Custagine, “So long as we’re agreed tonight. This will be good.”

“Good does not bring gold.”

Custagine: A Peaceful Job 1

A PEACEFUL JOB

“Peace is the only thing you have to fight to take, that once you have, you must share to use it,” is something that, according to Custagine’s uncle, his father would say.

Custagine never knew his father. No dwarf ever could. The next generation of dwarfs are born, literally, from the corpse of their father. A mono-gender species of all males, the dwarf lifecycle is simple. Once a dwarf dies, its body hardens into stone and becomes a statue. As that happens, their internal organs turn into maggots and burrow into the ground. Those maggots will seek out rocks and ores and then grow within that rock. After a random amount of time, they’ll spring forth physically fully formed but mentally still in need of nurturing. So typically their uncle will educate them, should any of the uncles still be alive.

As a strong, typically hard to kill people, the dwarf clans were often asked to provide troops to various groups for war, and thus they rarely knew peace.It seemed like a strange and alien concept, something far off in a dreamlike realm. It was like water to a drowning person in a desert or gold to the greedy in debt. Peace was like that to Custagine, a concept that was so foreign and strange it just crept into his brain always. Forever there, always itching at his consciousness.

He knew not how many he slew, if he killed at all, or for that matter, what he slew, when fighting in the Godswar. Like every participant of the Godswar, no one knew what they did in it. No one knew who they fought for, nor against, nor alongside of. He just had feelings and fleeting glimpses at the edge of his soul the things he may have done during the battles, and he liked it not at all. He liked not who he thought he was during the time when he knew not whom he was.

Being assigned as the head of the guilds was an accomplishment he enjoyed. Sure, there was some fighting to get him completely seated, but his clan had the most prestige amongst the dwarf clans, and the few merchant houses not owned by dwarfs reluctantly agreed in exchange for certain trading rights. He was not privy to the final negotiations, it was all a conflict, which he did not want to partake of, for he was sick of conflict of any kind at this point. Being one that abhorred ceremony also, he eschewed one of those and simply and humbly acceped the regalia of his office and the paperwork giving him his authority.

In no real rush to start his position, Custagine took a leisuerely path around the main Isle from his clan’s homeland. He still desired to make it to the city of Blade before his appointment officially began, to be sure, but he saw the sights of the world as he went by. He was curious about the world he helped fight to save. about the people who live in part to his actions, about the beasts who continue to exist because of his efforts.

Custagine stopped for a time at Betrayal Bridge. A large, ornamented all stone bridge spanning a wide chasm that was almost halfway between his own clan’s homelands, the Kingdom of Blade, and the southern end of the Kingdom of Moohs, it had been constructed with great care and obvious defensive value. Each end of the span had been built as a powerful gatehouse, with a pair of defensive towers on each side of each gate. The wide bridge was further defended in the middle, where two more powerful gatehouses had been built upon the bridge with their towers anchored into the side of the bridge where the span of the bridge and the supporting columns met together. The oddest thing about Betrayal Bridge lay in the fact that no country lays claim to it, nor has records of its construction. Betrayal Bridge, it is said, just is. As a show of goodwill between neighboring nations, none held a monopoly on guarding the bridge. Either no guards were posted at the bridge, or each of the region’s powers supplied an exact number of guards for it, typically four, one for each guard station. Currently, no one was guarding the bridge. This would typically invite bandits and opportunists to take residence within, but none have yet taken over.

As a dwarf who lived most of their life underground, Custagine had some knowledge of stonework that humans just did not. The bridge was quite simply, beautiful. From all viewpoints. It was built perfectly, the stonework was well designed, the placement and arches and details all perfect. It was obvious to him that love went into the building of this bridge. And it was strange to know that no one ever claimed to being its creator.

While he’d have enjoyed taking in the view here, not just of the bridge, but the large trees nearby and the deep chasm the bridge spanned, he could not. He gave a last look downwards, seeing the craggy upthrusts of the ground within the chasm and the fog that nearly eternally clung to the rocks far below, then trekked onwards.

One uneventful journey later got him to the city of Blade a day before he was to take up his position as head of guilds. He was greeted at the gate by a few guards and given a small escort of two of them. They took him not to his assigned residence, nor his new workplace. They took him to the Palace of the Overlord.

From the gate to the Palace was quite the journey in itself. It seems the newest buildings were closest to the city walls. The buildings were created almost haphazardly, with residences right next to industry and long stretches of businesses intermingled with more houses in between. Most were built of stone, almost all of them were built uniquely. While many were the approximate size of humans, Giants did exist in the City of Blade and they could not live in such small houses. So very many houses were built on a gigantic scale, each one being built approximately the size of a city block and five stories in height.

Elfin houses were never built of stone, they were all wood, and not worked wood. They lived in houses of living wood, with leaves still blooming across the walls and roofing. Dolphinoids lived in magical water spheres, their homes just big balls of water that existed here or there. Being very social beings and having no concept of shame or privacy, they paid no attention to anyone who stared into their housing to watch them.

The irony of this portion of the city was that, even though the housing and the other buildings seemed to be really new, it was called the Old City.

The New City of Blade lay beyond, where the flatlands of Blade started up the Hill of Blade. In ancient times of long ago, the Hill of Blade was a meeting place for human tribes all over. Legend has it that it was here, before the Curious Deities arrived at the Isles of Doom, that a great leader united all the tribes of humans together. Here, on the hill, that leader proclaimed a desire for peace and snapped his own blade in half. He asked all the other tribal leaders to do the same, and after assurances of how to live together in peace and a formation of a new civilization, they did so. Then, they buried all their broken blades and left to live in peace for a time, until the Curious Deities arrived and ruined that dream. Custagine could admire those ancient humans, and despise those deceased deities.

The New City was so named because the original city of Blade, oft called the Original City nowadays, was built on the top of the hill, with its own set of walls. When the city continued to grow and population scaled unabated, people were forced to build outside the first city walls, making the new city. Built centuries ago, the New City was very old and falling apart. Houses were just as much ruined as fanciful. Broken walls were boarded up by any material their owner could find, be it wooden planks, stones, bricks, or in some cases, rusted bits of armor. Roofs were often sunken in, sometimes with gaping holes in them.

The people of New City were just as intermingled as those of Old City, neighbors being of any of the siixty species plus humans. Humans were still the dominant in terms of population, but the other peoples all were jointly involved and existing in this living community. New City did not belong to any one people, it belonged to the people of New City. And they were fiercely proud of their part of the City of Blade that had very long ago seen the last of its good days.

Custagine crested the hill to where the Original City of Blade lain. The sight shocked him, for there was a gigantic crater in the hill with buildings barely clinging to the ground that was their foundation. The Original City of Blade was devastated, it looked like a wasteland. Worse, it looked like a wasteland that had been the victim of two natural disasters preceding a meteor impact.

And that wasn’t far gone from the truth. At the end of the Godswar, the Curious Deities, now deceased, fell to the Isles of Doom as the Mummy Deities. More to the point, they fell into the Hill of Blade, burying themselves deep into the ground within the hill. This had destroyed most of the Original City, nearly eighty percent of the hill’s top being a vacant gaping hole in the earth that marked the tomb of once powerful deities.

The people of the Original City had rebuilt some of what they could. This was where the wealthy and noble lived. This was where the premiere merchants resided. This was where the artisans birthed culture that others imitated. This was where the curious fell dead. If those of the New City were proud of their region of the City of Blade, the survivors of the Original City were doubly so. Fiercely proud of who and what survived, they did their best to rebuild what survived or incorporate the surviving ruins into the newer construction.

The Palace of the Overlord, the ruling center of the Kingdom of Blade, was, of course, at the center of the Original City of Blade. And, of course, it did not survive the impact at all, it was splintered into fragments and lay down below amongst the Mummy Deities. The current Palace of the Overlord was ironically named. Along the edge of the hill that did survive, where the original wall had fallen apart, overlooking the New City and Old City, was an outhouse. And on that outhouse hung a golden sigil that used to be one of the door knockers of the original Palace of the Overlord’s kitchens. As many records as possible that could be saved rested in the New Archives, which was nothing but a fire pit with the chimney caved in and a bit of metal bolted on a swivel to close the pit itself to keep the precious papers safe was it in its entirety.

“Welcome, Custagine! I’d invie you to my throne room, but it gets crowded quickly.” The Overlord was fairly quick to joke about his own predicament, for, as an elf, moreover as Blwthwyle’s father, he understood that change was always and forever happening. And that some change may be for the better and some may not, and you must simply accept that nothing will last forever. Not even an immortal elf.

“Thank you, my friend.” While Custagine and the other Heroic Wonders were friends, he knew Blwthwyle’s father long before he knew her, and long before he moved to Blade, much less became its Overlord. It was a quiet, but firm, friendship, one where they could pick up exactly where they left it decades agone. Custagine looked out at the view before him, then said curiously, “I’ve always wondered, why is the Old City the newer constuction and the New City the older one?”

“The New City is so named because it was newer than the Original City. That, of course, makes sense,” said the Overlord. Then he pointed outwards, “And nowadays you’ll rarely find someone who understands this, but what we call the Old City now used to be the Walled City, for it lay between the two walls that circle the city. The death of the Curious Deities made it so that the area we now call Old City took the name out of irony, for there’s a newer city in Blade.”

“Oh? Just where can you fit another part of this gigantic city?”

“Right here, of course. Where the Original City was we’re rebuilding. Residents have taken to calling it the Newest City of Blade. I suppose in the future, if we expand again, they may need to rename it to the Almost Newest City or something. But that’s a problem for another year.”

“Where would you expand, though? The walls are sturdy and aren’t moving, and building walls that could encircle yet another Old City’s worth of land space would be prohibitive.”

“Yes, I’ve thought of that. But there’s another city already, here.”

“Which?”

“Why, there, the Buried City of Blade.” The Overlord pointed into the giant pit, and Custagine could finally see, or rather he now noticed, that old houses had landed upon outcroppings, or melded into the sides of the pit, or stacked upon one another. Parts of houses were clumped together, obviously springing from what used to be multiple different residences, with rope bridges spanning the ways and forming what could very liberally be considered streets.

As he was taking all this in, he whistled, “That just shows the strength and resiliency in the citizens of Blade.”

“Agreed. But I was also thinking of beyond the walls, also. A city without walls about it. Maybe the Expansion City of Blade. A city that continues to grow outwards as far and wide as need be.”

“Interesting,” Custagine imagined it. Then he asked, “Have you ever thought of building upwards, as well?”

“No, maybe I should! The Upper City of Blade!”

“You people sure like your various cities.”

The Overlord gave a brief laugh and a shrug, “Perhaps. We’re a united people, deep down, you can’t spite any citizen of Blade, anywhere they lived, without spiting others from all over the city. When invaders march against us, we all unite together as one. But even so united, even being one gigantic family, we do have our own peculiarities. Our own cuisines, our own slang, our own vision of what the City of Blade really is. We’re fiercely involved in whichever region of the city we call home and are competitive with the rest about our love for our chosen region.”

“You seem to love this city.”

“More than anything,” the Overlord agreed. Then he laughed and told a joke only an elf can make, “I’ll die an Urban Elf…nay, I’ll die a Blade Elf, or I won’t die at all!”

Custagine had to recall what Blwthwyle said about elfkind one time. She did not talk about this fact but the one time. Elfs live on the mana around them. If an elf lives for a century in the same area, that mana will change them to reflect what that region represents. Blwthwyle, born a Desert Elf, could become a Grasslands Elf if she stayed within the Kingdom of Moohs for too long, for it was a grasslands. She cursed it as a remnant of the Chaos that all elfs were born from, and explained that the tattoos upon an elf’s body were designed to help lock their forms so they did not devolve back into the Chaos that they are still part of. Combined with an elf’s immortality, the only way they may die is through extreme violence, and Custagine understood the joke and finally laughed.

The two stood in silence for a time, Custagine glancing into the pit with some regularity. Then he made mention, “Tomorrow, I start…”

“I know. Congratulations. I have a request to make of you.”

“As head of the guilds, I’m supposed to be impartial to…”

“Yes, I know,” the Overlord interrupted, “Don’t worry. It’s not in regards to that.”

“Oh? What then?”

“Your companion, Rudricke, is planning to rebuild his ancestral kingdom. I offered to loan funds and material, and personelle, to make it possible.”

“What? But why?” Custagine looked at the ruined areas of the city, “Surely you could use these resources here!”

The Overlord gave a shrug, “Maybe, but we’re already having laborers working on top of one another and resources piling up because they’re dumped in the wrong spots. We’re confused here. I need to clear a lot of that out so I can organize it all properly.”

“Yes, I suppose I can see that.”

“Besides, I gave him the condition of not only being a trading partner to us, but to trade with other regions through the North City of Portals that they’re far closer to, for us here. He’ll pay back the support over the course of years by giving us trade goods, and ideally at the most opportune times for us to recieve them. It’s not exactly one sided.”

“I can see that. What favor did you have of me then?’

“I want you to oversee our relationship with him, of course. Make sure he has what he needs. Pass on our requests for what goods he obtains. Arrange the transport. All that.”

Custagine gave a nod and a shrug, “Yeah. I can do that. Perhaps I can visit him more often due to that.”

“Yeah, maybe. Hey….how would you like to also be the Treasurer of Blade?”

A ‘short’ essay on the structure of the story

(A ‘shor’t note on the structure of the story)

The ‘Isles of Doom’ story structure is somewhat atypical. It’s comprised of several parts, the first of which is the “Saving the World is not Changing It” saga. This saga starts after a major and potentially world ending conflict called the Godswar ends, with the main characters, the Seven Heroic Wonders (of which there are actually eight, historians never record history perfectly) finishing off the last major followers of the final enemy who could have obliterated the Isles. The Godswar is never detailed, it will never be detailed, the best you can expect from it are dreamlike visions and some suppositions from characters assuming some minor things they did during it. This is on purpose, because the adage ‘less is more’ is all too often not followed in modern fantasy stories. People must understand that some portions of a story must never be told, that in the telling it is diminished, that said portion of history is lessened the more it is detailed.

The first several entries are called intro stories, but they collect more properly into a prologue. Right after the end of the major conflict that would have been the story of any other writer, we begin, but the prologue is designed to take us from that finale to how the characters try to reintegrate into a society they saved but did not change with them. The Wonders are much greater than they were before, but society stayed placid and budged not an inch in any direction. While civilization was saved and lives were as well, neither evolved any. So during the prologue we see the Wonders trying to find their role in a world that they almost effectively left behind, and start their story on what they want to do. Now that the prologue is done, the stories will focus on one character at a time, in their own region, doing as their own plotlines have them do. Custagine’s story will be the first, and will be told until it arrives at a turning point in his life. Then we see either Blwthwyle or Sprout’s stories, then the other one’s, then another will have their story told. Shenta’s stories will be told intermittently, as she has a storyline of exploring a gigantic world, we can see her story in bits and pieces and across multiple events in her life. Each of the characters will arrive at their own turning point, and then we end the focus on them and move to the next one. After all their stories arrive at the turning point, we’ll see a portion of the story where they all deal with what happens and how they wish to continue from it. Then we once again focus on one character at a time through their second acts, until ocne again another turning point arrives or their storyline ends. Should at any major point any of the Wonders join back together, their stories of course join back together, until such a time comes to pass as they once again part.

Then at some point, the “Saving the World” saga will end. The next major saga will be “The Guilded Age” about 900 years after. But 900 years is a long time and there are people who do have stories to tell between now and then. These stories may, individually, be shorter than any of the major sagas, but together they do bridge the eras, tie things together, and explore the setting more. Often they’ll focus on one or a select few aspects of the setting and tell specific tales. Their stories will be as long as needed, and there are quite a number of them, all told. Some may be quite short, as not all heroes live long, and some will have tremendous impact on the ‘Guilded Age’ era.

During “The Guilded Age” portion, we’ll meet three teams of specialists, and once again the stories will be intertwined but told from different focuses. Each team will have their own storylines and plotlines. They all have the same endgoal, but how they arrive at if, if they do, is unique to each group.

Near the end of the ‘Guilded’ era comes another major plot twist. This takes us to the third and final major saga, which can be a very long story indeed. The end of this saga ties up all the previous ones and ends the three major sagas of the story.

There are two big sections of the setting which may not have stories told about them. Floating above the Isles is a kingdom called ‘False Heaven’. It has its own storylines and characters, some of which are major forces in the rest of the Isles, though it typically tries to keep to itself. Its story may be told in whole, or it may just be told in parts, just portions that are important to a few characters and they interact with the larger world of the Isles.

The other major setting portion that may or may not be touched on is a portion of the time before the Curious Deities arrived at the Isles and found only humans living there with an advanced society, before the other intelligent species arrived. This storyline would be pretty standalone compared to the rest of the Isles, but no less important, with some major ramifications to later periods.

The inclusion of both the ‘False Heaven’ and ‘Human Era’ storylines would, I think, only benefit the stories of the setting at large, but in the scheme of things, they could be considered ‘side stories’.

But even with the two optional periods, even though both impact the Godswar in some way, never will the Godswar have its tale told. Because those are tales for each reader to come up with, because your imagination of the Godswar is all that matters. Because even if everyone out there imagines all their own versions of the Godswar, none of them would contradict one another and be any more or less real than any others. Because the scope and structure of it is just that big.

Because its story is too damn big on the setting to be told.

BTW: In case you wonder how to pronounce Blwthwyle’s name, it’s in the Welsh style. They W are to be replaced by a soft ‘oo’ sound, kind of like an ‘ooh’, with a very faint w before it. So it would be pronouned basically ‘Blooh-thwoil’, more or less.

Saving The World Introduction Finale: Heart of Rage

Shenta departed from the strange demon silently, contemplating, after Riastarthae informed her of her new immortality. She was now immune to poisons, corrosives, diseases, would regenerate from any wounds, would never age another second, and in short, be an immortal in all ways.

It seemed like a cheat to a warrior woman, but she did not chastise Riastarthae for the gift. She just left silently.

After she was gone, Riastarthae spent some time just staring at the sky. He waited for a time afterwards, just to make sure she was far enough away. He did not want her to see what he was about to do. Once he was sure she was gone, he took a deep breath, and gave out a long, deep sigh.

Foreign devils. Strange demons. Neither belonged to the Isles of Doom. He knew that deep down, but he knew that he wanted badly to stay in the Isles, to protect them from either group, even though he himself is a strange demon. Because he found a place he wanted to call home, a group he wanted to call friends, and a person he wanted to call his loved one.

He helped the ones he wanted to call friends to destroy a foreign devil and the devil’s subcommanders. But his friends soon parted, and he only got to say goodbye to one of them. And while that one was the one he cared the most about, he just tricked her into taking a gift that he wasn’t sure she even wanted.

And worse, she closed her mind to him, so he had no idea how she really felt.

The Seven Heroic Wonders and him all shared a mental link. It is what made them into an extremely effective and proficient strike force. Blwthwyle could adapt tactics based off of the enemy’s activities and the entire group would instantly understand the knew plan and their role in it. They’d be able to communicate across distances, and understand each other’s meaning.

More importantly for Riastarthae, it kept him calm. It kept his rage subsided and buried. He felt at peace, for the first time ever in his long existence. But now the Wonders were spread across the Isles, or dead, and the link was broken and his rage kept building.

Riastarthae blamed himself for the split. He knew that the link allowed the Wonders to see what he truly was, and that his human facade was a mere mask. He knew they understood he was a roiling, teeming mass of tentacles and terror, a chthonian mass that defied reason. That just seeing him was a blasphemous act that one’s eyes would rebel against by shutting their higher mental functions down until they recovered. His form was born out of Chaos, and any being any way bearing an ordered and static form would find it anathema. He knew he had to hide it.

But the Wonders accepted him, even knowing through the link exactly what he was. He would sometimes wonder if it was due to the link itself helping to shield their minds, or if they were just naturally wonderful beings and could accept even his own true form.

He wished for a time that there was another foreign devil around, just so he could thrash against it and vent his anger.While he was born of Chaos, like all strange demons, and obstensibly wanted to break down all reality into a chaotic mass, to him that agenda was one that could be done far into the future. And then once all reality is broken down, the powerful, which he hopes in his deepest heart to be his friends in the Wonders and those like them, could use that mix to reform reality into something perfect. And, dreaming against all dreams, reform him into someone not a strange demon, just a being who could be loved.

But a foreign devil was a child of the Void. They wanted to usher everything into oblivion, and they wanted to force this entropy across all reality now. Whereas the children of Chaos want everything dissolved into a primordial froth, those of the Void want everything eliminated. A reality where even time and space have been slaughtered and their corpses eradicated.

As such, Riastarthae hated them most of all. As such, he willingly deserted his own people just to fight one foreign devil far away in the Isles of Doom. Just because he felt fate’s strange tingling pulling him here. Because he knew friendship here.

And now, there was nothing to keep his fury controlled. No friends. No foreign devils to combat. And crushing his heart most of all, he knew he betrayed the one person he loved by giving her a gift using subterfuge. He just hoped that he blocked the link with Shenta in time so she did not know that the gift was borne from his own fluids and life, that it was his own strange ichors that he distilled for consumption, that his heart’s blood now prevented her demise via any means.

Riastarthae gave a shout that broke apart nearby clouds in the sky, reversed the waves in the sea, and tumbled the boulders of a nearby mountain. A cry of such furious intensity that animals in a wide radius surrounding him instantly fell dead.

He kept control enough to understand what he was about to do, and not wanting to destroy the home he fought to protect, he flung himself into the air with a powerful jump. Not bound by the laws of physics, Riastarthae moved through the air. He did not fly, exactly, nor did he jump nor walk in the air. He simply moved through it, almost like a swimmer with fins. And soon he broke past the cloud cover and felt the sun beat down on him.

Riastarthae’s eyes ever grew clouded with the red mist of his primal rage, that which was his birthright and gift to others, but saw False Heaven in the distance a bit before he lost control. And he saw the Champion of Order’s demonians fly through the air, two legions of them, down towards the Isles. He knew what they were, how evil their hearts beat, the devastation they caused.

And he knew what to vent his frustrations upon.

Demonians, while fairly dumb, are pretty powerful. These artificial beings have no empathy, no emotions, no compunction against slaughter, so long as they can save their dark lord, the Champion of Order. While typically used for shock troops and foot soldiers, they can be given simple tasks and fulfill that task with slightly better than animal intelligence. They were definitely a threat to the Isles and its occupants, but what was the true threat was if they completed the task the Champion of Order gave to them. So Riastarthae, deep in his mind, understood that the wholesale slaughter of these pitiful yet powerful beings would be only beneficial to the Isles.

Riastarthae dove right into the mass of demonians floating downards to the Isles. If he was not compromised by the rage beyond all fury, he’d understand they were falling in a search pattern, and were going to travel across all the Isles, not just the central one. But this information was beyond his intellectual capacity for now, he could not care. He just found glee in flying straight through the demonians on the edge that were spreading apart from the rest of the group.

Riastarthae kept flying in a zigzag line through the mass of demonians, his speed, power and mass allowing him to just tear through the demonians as if they were little more than two sheets of paper glued together. They splattered in a red mist and became as if dust, the power of Riastarthae’s rage incinerating them and giving them a nearly instant funeral pyre, almost cremating them upon impact.

The powerful warrior, the traitorous strange demon, fury unchained, had danced the dance of gory devastation through the demonians, and paused when he found they no longer bunched up enough for flying through them to be effective. Not caring if anyone below saw him, but instinctively knowing he was still above the clouds, he let go of his human facade and once again became as he was born as. His body defied colors, his tentacles were so multitudinous as if to match and exceed all the hairs upon a human’s head. A gigantic beaklike maw at the center of his mass issued a war cry with such fervor that many demonians were instantly decomposed and rotted away as they were blasted apart from the force of the sound. Now, ancient fury from before life itself was unbound. Now, that which should no longer be gave into its birthright to save that which is. Now, death’s grim scythe had to pause in admiration for the bloodlust of this one being.

Without thinking, but with knowing what he was doing, Riastarthae’s tentacles danced through the sky, tearing apart his enemies, rending the legions apart with a chaotic methodology that almost made the carnage machine like in its precision. His tentacles ripped apart demonians, threw them through one another, flexed and pulverized the brave who tried to fight back. Riastarthae gave an absurd laugh as he felt demonians using their axes upon his body, as if they could even itch him. And his scathing retort was that slaughtering shriek, a tearing apart of demonians from his tentacles, and searing blasts of hellfire issuing from all his many eyes.

Then, from out of nowhere, a bolt hit him in the center of his mass. Riastarthae was stunned and fell through the sky before righting himself again. He saw another bolt issued from False Heaven, understanding that the demonian’s dark master, the Champion of Order, had come to their rescue. The second bolt nearly blasted him unconscious, but it did sap almost all his strength. He barely managed to reassume his human facade as he crashed into the sea, so as not to afrighten any who may see him. The last bit of consideration he was able to give anyone for quite some time.

Riastarthae’s fell was a preamble to the fall of the blood red mist that was his former opponents. The Isles were inundated for the next three days with a blood rain and fog from the sheer number of demonians who had become as fine paste within the sky. Riastarthae knew he had more to kill, that he may have only taken out half of the force, and struggled to swim to the surface of the sea even as he fell deeper within it and got swept up by the tides. He only hoped that the peoples of the Isles could defend themselves of this invasion and thwart the Champion’s ulterior goal. He fell into a coma within the sea, only after promising himself he’d defenestrate the Champion of Order for this deadly affront to his pride.

Then, he’d promise he’d kill the one person he hated the most afterwards. The one person whose death he could not celebrate.

Himself.

Saving the World 8: When the Leaf Blows

Sprout had parted from her fellow Wonders with a smile and a giggle, and she was gone before anyone could respond to her, only her ephemeral laughter on the wind.

Sprout was without a doubt a prodigy with nature magic, including the ability to travel through plantlife. Before any of her Wonders could even look her way, she melded into a tree and vanished, by the time any even opened their mouth to respond, she was conceivably anywhere in the Islands that had some plants to spring out of. Always flighty, the Wonders were not surprised that she had just vanished.

Sprout sprung forth from a cactus in a desert not too far from the sight of the final battle. The Sylvanian only stayed there briefly, for she had only heard about deserts prior. She just had to see what one was like. For an intelligent plant person, the sweltering heat, bright sun, and dry air become rapidly unpleasant. She stepped back into the cactus and vanished once again.

Without knowing what a tundra was, she arrived there within one. The child, for she was in human terms merely a six year old girl, found this area much more pleasant than the desert, though not quite as welcoming as a grasslands or woodlands. Still, it was a pleasant enough location to spend time within and explore, and had a beautiful blue sky and soft clouds to watch and meditate upon. Sprout decided to explore this land for a time.

She spent days walking down one direction, moving about one pathway, all seemingly at random. Without any real destination in mind, she just kept walking. She took in the sights, the flatness of the land, the wildlife. When she got bored, she sat and stared at the bright blue sky and watched the clouds as they, themselves, wandered aimlessly about the sky that was their home.

Eventually, Sprout became thirsty and glanced around the region. She glanced to the east, finding the sparkling sight of a body of water shimmering from the sunlight. Sprout journeyed on her short legs towards the water at a casual pace, taking the better part of an afternoon to get there. Childlike, but patient, was Sprout.

Along the way, she found a wounded deer, the child using her magic to heal the wound quickly. The deer curiously stood up on all fours again, then gave a short noise of happiness before licking Sprout across her face. The duo played and jumped about for quite some time afterwards, Sprout giggling, before a strange noise in the distance had it leaping off and away.

With her brief companion parted from her, Sprout continued her little trek to replenish herself. She knelt by the side of the pond and drank deep of it. If only she looked around, she would have noticed the bleached bones of several animals about the other side of the pond. The water was not just impure, it was alkaline. Poisonous. Sprout fell to the ground, passing out from imbibing too much of the vile liquid, fallen backwards upon the hard ground of the tundra.

Sprout did not know how long she was out. She had not seen the stars in the area beforehand, and it was now morning, she would need to wait until night fell just to get an approximation of how long she was out. She knew only two real facts, that she was no longer near the alkaline pond, and that a small herd of deer had been grazing about her. She conjectured that her friend she helped had repaid the aid.

Sprout got up and gently petted at the small herd, strokignt he soft fur of each deer, plucking away burrs and healing the small wounds wildlife gathers from simply living. She spread out some of her petals as she did this to gather sunlight to nourish her, for as a Sylvanian, she was able to photosynthesize. The girl was content but unhappy. The tundra was not a place she liked overmuch, though definitely more welcome than a desert. Eventually, she gave one last petting to her deer friends and walked into some brush, using it to teleport herself away.

She journeyed to a forest she knew, one she had trained in the druidic mystical arts. And she was shocked. Surprisingly, a large amount of the treeline had receded and pulled away, only tree stumps showing that once large and graceful trees graced the area. The plant-child surveyed the area for a period, trying to determine exactly what happened. She found the evidence of axes having felled the trees, and parts of axes strewn about randomly. She also found a large amount of bootprints havind trampled the ground, and once she sorted out the jumbled mess of the prints all being made from people walking repeatedly over the same area, she followed the trail of them to a small river beyond a short hill.

There, she found a lumbermill processing the trees, log flumes built to send the lumber on its journey to a town perhaps miles away. She could not see who was doing this, the lumberjacks apparently having the day off and a few people working the mill. The roofing of the mill kept her from gleaning any details from the hilltop, however.

Sprout turned away and flung herself into the woods. Without breaking a twig or bending a branch, she ran at full speed through the trees and undergrowth. She noticed that there were too few animals making their natural noises within the area and frowned once this registered to her. But her breakneck pace remained unhindered.

Sprout flung herself to the natural domicile of her druidic teacher, only to find it empty. Not even her former teacher’s guardian beasts remained in the area. The little hut in the woods had looked a bit dilapidated and worn down, one corner slumping and showing signs of an impending break and collapse. This just wasn’t right.

Sprout shifted her senses and listened to the woods, trying to hear where living beings were. She could hear birds and rabbits but not her former teacher. She then sniffed the air and tried to sent her teacher out, to no avail. Even talking to the trees gave no hints.

Sprout had spent weeks in these woods, trying to track down her teacher, hiding from the lumberjacks and rescuing whatever animals she could from their dangerous logging or their hunts. She never let them see her, but she knew stories about her presence would soon spread amongst the camp. And she further understood that she put her mission, and the lives of the animals of the forest, at risk if the lumberjacks sent trackers into the woods. Without finding any leads and not able to do much more for the animals without risking them, she knew it was time to depart.

She did not use the plantlife to teleport herself to her destination this time, for she wanted to see areas of the woods she had not journeyed into this visit. She saw a streambed gone dry, bushes dying at the peak of their growing season. She saw bunny burrows that lay empty and berries rotting on the ground uneaten. They were little signs that something unnatural had happened to this wellspring of nature. It concerned her greatly.

Sprout’s travels took her past a diminutive hill. She only casually glanced at it at first, looking for other signs of degradation. Another dry stream bed, and the rotting remains of several fish that used to live within the stream went past the hill. Then she recalled that hill not being here before and really examined it. She noticed it was artificial, and made primarily of stones piled on top of it with grass growing wild over them.

A cairn. A burial cairn. She found her old teacher.

Sprout spent days atop the hill, mourning her lost teacher. Her people were unable to cry, but that did not prevent them from knowing grief. And she quietly grieved for her now deceased teacher. She remembered the lessons, about everything needing to pass, but they did not soothe her young heart very much. She eventually left a small token to her teacher, one of her own seeds she plucked from her ‘hair’, burying it at the side of the cairn.

Sprout knew the closest druid was an ogre not too far from here, whose domain was a hilly dale just south of these woods. She walked some distance before teleporting from where she was to where she wanted to be. Sprout emerged from the ogre druid’s sacred tree, an insult to a druid, but she cared little.

The young Sylvanian could smell the ogre and ran towards him. While she ran, she tried to remember the name of this druid, it was something simple and stupid, but she only met him once before. As she ran, she recalled it as ‘Smash’, a rather inept druid, for ogres and magic typically do not mix, but no less fervent in his belief in the need to protect nature. Finally, she came up to him, shouting, “What happened?”

Smash looked at the newcomer curiously, holding the dead body of a human in one of his large hands. He shrugged his shoulders, the dangling body swaying limply. Rigor mortis has not set in, the kill was still brand new. Smash said simply, “Smash kill intruders.”

Sprout was thinking far ahead in the conversation than Smash was at, and she knew it after pausing and calming down some. She was already near the ending, and Smash wasn’t even at the starting line. She gave a shake of her head, “No no. I mean, good work there, Smash, well done. I mean…” she pointed to the woods she was tutored in, “There. My teacher is dead and the woods are being logged.”

Smash threw the dead human away as if it was no more special than a rotten carrot and tilted his head to think a few moments. Then he nodded, “Two seasons ago, he died. Smash buried him ancient ways.”

“Did you notice how he died?”

“Yeah, Smash noticed he no longer breathing and no longer moving, so co…conc….concluded that he died.”

Sprout sighed. Ogres would never be a forensic specialist either. They were an extremely simple people. She asked, “I meant, what killed him? Did he die of natural causes?” Such a thing was very unlikely. Druids as advanced as her teacher were immune to poisons, did not need to eat, sleep or drink, and no longer aged. Even a human could live for centuries, if they had the druidic skills her teacher had. When Smash shook his head negatively, she asked, “Arrows?” Another shake of the head and she asked, “Swords?” Smash kept shaking his head and Sprout kept on thinking of ways her teacher could have died, each thought getting a negative reaction. She finally asked, “Was it by an axe blade, was he hacked?”

Smash nodded his head at that, “Yes! Hacked apart! Smash had to bury two parts of him, Smash was sad. Smash felt bad that day. Bad feel lasted all week. Very bad death.”

Sprout frowned then asked, “Smash, you’re a powerful warrior druid. Your magic enhances your already incredible strength and makes you nearly impervious to damage. Why did you not take revenge?”

“Smash did his duty.”

“What?”

“Smash buried fellow druid. Intoned the song of parting. Asked for fellow druid’s reincarnation. Smash not need to take revenge.”

“Why not?”

“Because him domain is him domain, and Smash domain is Smash domain.”

“What?” Sprout knew what was coming, but still had to inquire.

“Ancient druid laws, remember. A druid’s domain for that druid. Others not inter…fear? Interfere. Me not take revenge cause domain not mine. Domain not yours, neither, Sprout.”

“Maybe not,” she yelled with some exasperation, “But only a few of us druids banding together would have stopped the killers from profitting on their kill! Just three of us would be enough to end the logging and defiling of the natural beauty of those woods! Join me Smash, and we can find a friend, and together we can….”

“Smash not join. Friend not join. Smash domain is Smash domain. Friend domain is friend domain. Ancient druid way.”

Sprout knew, then, what her real battle was about. So long as they replanted and kept a balance, she had no real hatred for civilization and its people. They needed lumber. What these people did went beyond decorum, it was a few steps past what she’d consider proper, but at its heart it was not the problem.

It was the entrenched tradition of domains, about one druid standing up for their own small natural kingdom. How the brotherhood had stood alone and not acted in any way together like brethren of a cause should.

She knew that her real enemy was her fellow druids.