|Heart of the Hound|
|1.||Heart of the Hound|
|The Tavern of Lost Souls|
|2.||The Tavern of Lost Souls|
|Escape from Guk|
|The Flight of the Mudskipper|
|The Worst Cook in Grobb|
|A Storm of Sorrow|
|Of New Friends and Troublesome Enemies|
|On the Plains of Karana|
|By the Wings of Dragons|
Erollisi day approached, at first, swiftly, and then fell straight into his life with a crash of flower petals and strong perfume. Rhinehart Nasin knew that in order to capture Finella's heart, drastic measures were necessary. He'd heard rumor of a musty apothecary shop in East Freeport that all spurned lovers regarded as their truest of friends, but he'd never considered visiting it - until today. He'd awoken to find the bundle of graveblooms he had sent her through a beggar boy crushed on his front step; their delicate petals ground to a paste beneath, no doubt, the fine heel of her boot. He coughed on the acrid smoke that drifted in curled wisps up from a claw-footed brazier standing just within the store's entry. An old man stooped above a table full of vials and bottles, glancing up with his one good eye as Rhinehart stepped into the room. The other, Rhinehart noted with a cringe, was patterend with savage red welts and scarred over.
"Can I help you with something?" The apothecary's voice came out in a high screech. Rhinehart swallowed his distaste and said, "Yes, actually, I hear that, well, you are able to help one with... matters of the heart." "So it's a love potion you're after, then?" asked the apothecary, bluntly. "Yes," said Rhinehart with a nod. "I've done all I can to win her... that is, Finella, her name is Finella... I've done all I can to win her heart, but she refuses to give." "So you figure it's time to take it." "Yes. In a manner of speaking." He fiddled with the ends of his leather gloves nervously, watching the old man.
The apothecary tongued a blackened tooth at the front of his mouth, and gazed at Rhinehart with that one eye of his. The young man couldn't help but feel as if the other were oriented at him as well, penetrating through the scarred flesh. The apothecary moved suddenly, and with surprising speed, toward a warped wooden cabinet on the opposite side of the room. "I'm fresh out of love potions," said the old man. "They're not easy to make, and it's the busy season. You should've moved quicker if you wanted one." "Well, I..." Rhinehart began, but the old man silenced him with one, withering look. "I may have something else for you," said the old man. "I took this as trade for one of my more potent concoctions just last night. The kerra who traded it swore that it was very old, and very valuable -- unique in this world." The apothecary turned, and with him, he carried a scroll that seemed to crumble at the touch. "It's a poem." "A poem?" asked Rhinehart, not even attempting to hide his disbelief. "I come for a love potion, and you offer me poetry? I have tried poetry! I have tried flowers! I have tried candies! I even had her overbearing aunt removed permanently, if you will, from her life. None of it has done a thing to win her! Why would some tired old bard's hackneyed verses be any different?" The apothecary moved toward Rhinehart, and the flesh around his nose and mouth wrinkled at the smell of years of acids and bases soaked into the old man's skin. Despite his recoiling backward, the scroll was pushed straight into his chest. "This is not tired, and not hackneyed," said the apothecary. "It hasn't been heard for thousands of years. If she can't appreciate that hers are the first spoiled ears to hear these verses spoken to her, then I suggest you find yourself another trollop, because nothing will please this Finella." Rhinehart fumbled for words, but found himself only able to grip the scroll tightly. The apothecary turned, the hunch of his black-clothed back looming in Rhinehart's vision. "What will you charge for it then?" he asked. "Nothing," said the apothecary, over his shoulder and without turning. "Consider it a gift... My devotion to Erollisi on this most auspicious of days." "A fine lot of good that will do," said Rhinehart, chuckling slightly. The old man turned suddenly, and his eye was flared opened and reddened. "Take the scroll and go. I've important work to do." Rhinehart swallowed heavily. "Where did you say the kerra had gotten it?" "Go."
The young man sunk into his doublet and turned, gazing at the scroll. As he made a hasty retreat through the storefront, he unrolled it to see what he had been given, eye passing swiftly over the words.
- Heart of the Hound
- It was an age of great changes,
- And an age of heroes born,
- And in pursuit of true love's lovers' folly,
- Erollisi's greatest champion was sworn.
- For the bold Prince of Wintal Syd
- And the Princess of Koldwynd, most fair,
- Did under love's sweet rapture fall,
- Wrapped ever so tightly in its snare.
- He the captive, her people the captor,
- They developed a dangerous rapport,
- And when came the day he did escape,
- They swore to be together once more.
- Three years did pass, and war waged on,
- Between Koldwynd and Wintal Syd,
- But the battles that raged could not kill,
- The connection that their crown heirs hid.
- Loyal messengers carried letters of affection,
- And their desire for flight became an infection.
- A plan was hatched, a scheme unfurled,
- And before they both could think the better,
- They fled frosty peaks and warring kin,
- Pursuing a life that would be unfettered.
- But it took not long for loose lips to spill,
- And soon a tracker was at their neck,
- Her mission: to capture, but also to kill,
- She was Illisia Iceheart, called the Hound of Zek.
- Iceheart set upon their trail,
- Doing exactly as she did best,
- Delivering deserters all bound up in chains,
- Ignoring, as she could, their cries and their pains.
- And so the pair, it seemed, would be swiftly remanded.
- But they would prove to be not so easily disbanded.
- The lovers traveled ever long to a mountain peak,
- Where the Eternal Prism was said to have its rest,
- It would be their priest, they its penitents,
- And thus their marriage would be blessed.
- For the Prism was powerful, and very old --
- Older than war and territory and rage --
- And its powers would preserve love's tenor
- Through their chaotic and brutal age.
- As Illisia pursued them, she pondered their flight:
- Why had they abandoned family, title, and might?
- What possessed them to run without stop, without tire?
- What could be worth provoking such unyielding ire?
- She never could come to any conclusion,
- No matter how hard she thought,
- In the hollow of her heart a small voice nagged,
- But against its ideas she fought.
- On the eighth day out, the lovers found their crystal,
- Sparkling, radiant, splaying a pale shaft of light,
- Upon pale, naked snow, a virgin field,
- And their eyes filled with tears at the sight.
- They came forward reverently, almost fearing their steps.
- Hands extended, they prepared themselves for eternity,
- And on his voice were whispered, "I love you"s.
- And on hers were promises quite dear,
- And it all came to close to simple perfection,
- But Illisia finally caught them there.
- Her arrow struck true, but off --
- Not in the Prince, at whom she aimed,
- Instead it cracked the Eternal Prism,
- Its flawless surface mangled and maimed.
- The lovers thrust their hands upon the crystal,
- Vanishing from the field, as formless as gas,
- Illisia, though startled, made for pursuit.
- Retrieving the shard she'd loosed from the glass
- Before touching the Prism in similar turn,
- And giving into its magic with little concern.
- In a tangle of bodies, they found themselves
- Deep within a cavern of ice and snow,
- Conflict momentarily overridden by confusion.
- Where they had landed? They could not know.
- But an enemy is an enemy,
- No matter the place,
- The lovers jumped to their feet,
- And Illisia rose with quiet grace.
- A stand off commenced,
- As they eyed each other warily,
- Swords were drawn, shields to the ready,
- But the stance was to be only momentary.
- For then the Visitor came,
- A dark old man all in robes,
- And his surprise was as great as theirs,
- At seeing them so composed.
- Before they could banter, bargain, or sniff,
- He let loose a spell,
- Freezing Erasmus quite stiff.
- And Illisia shuddered, feeling true love's great pains,
- As Unna cried out, charged,
- And spilled dark blood from the Visitor's veins.
- The Princess fought hard, but very soon found
- Her limbs stuck in place, her weapon on the ground.
- And the Visitor smiled in sweet satisfaction,
- Then turned to Illisisa, not prepared for her reaction.
- She knocked him right back, she shattered his hands,
- For the voice that had been whispering
- Now issued demands.
- "Go forth, my champion, go forth and drive
- He who dare harms my children
- Back from whence he arrived."
- These strange new stirrings were alien -- but good,
- For the first time she knew why the lovers had stood,
- Why they suffered, and frozen, evaded, and run,
- It was for love, for wholeness, for hatred undone.
- And it was with these feelings she drove the man back,
- Why she grunted and glided, swung and hacked,
- But in time he recovered and whispered incantations,
- And threw spells right at her sans hint of desperation.
- She was losing, she could feel it,
- And so it was with a swing,
- That she toppled an archway,
- Trapping the Visitor clean in.
- Running, sliding, she flew back to the center,
- And as he screamed, cursed, hissed, and rattled,
- She dragged the two lovers toward the Prism,
- To travel beyond the caves they had so embattled.
- She did not know whether it would accept their forms,
- Did it regard them with sympathy -- or justified scorn?
- Then she remembered the shard, bound near her waist.
- She drew it out, said a prayer, and touched it to their gate.
- It took only a flash of light,
- And a clear, high whistle,
- Before they were back in their field,
- Deposited by the dismissal.
- Illisia built a shelter, wrapped the lovers in blankets,
- Stoked up a fire, and hunted for meat,
- Never taking her eye from the way they had come,
- She tended her charges and prepared for defeat.
- But the Visior never followed -- where he went, who can say?
- And so it was that the lovers awoke one day,
- And in the eyes of their guardian, the now flawed Prism,
- They gave thanks to Illisia, mending their schism.
- They traveled together -- the lovers, the hound --
- Down through the mountains and
- Over the ground,
- Toward the promise
- Of a new day, a new way,
- And a civilization
- Where reason, not carnage,
- Brought one's sweet salvation.
- The great Southern Walk
- That populated the plain,
- Where humanity emerged,
- And peace was to reign.
- But all things, they say, have a price,
- For Illisia's treachery,
- The Icehearts were put to the knife,
- The name was lost, their honor soiled,
- They say Koldwynd had them boiled.
- Was it to tempt Illisia to seek revenge?
- If so, they misjudged her, those embittered men.
- Though Illisia grieved, wept, and screamed,
- She never did seek to do them in.
- And in honor of Illisia's fallen kin,
- And to celebrate their queen of queens,
- Unna and Erasmus did contrive a clan,
- Called the Marsheart, and there they began.
- And so the Hound of Zek,
- Tamed by Erollisi's gentle ways,
- Began a life of service
- To her the heart obeys.
- And Illisia had many further adventures,
- While the Marshearts grew and prospered.
- Great ballads they did author,
- Of the accomplishments she proffered.
- In Erollisi's name, she deposed,
- And in Erollisi's name, they composed.
- And so the queen of love was honored.
Rhinehart rolled the scroll back up, struck by it. Could it be true? Had this scroll really just told a story of the Lost Age when humans were born on the Plains of Karana? He felt uncomfortable, and just a bit queasy, knowing what he might be holding. He stole a glance back at the apothecary's shop. Did the old man know what he had just given away? The young man stowed the scroll within his hip pouch and set out swiftly. Finella was gone from his mind. If this was what he thought, it was worth much more in platinum than a kiss from his true love.