Davi

“Read it again, Davi.” Granpere said again.  The fourth time Davi had said only one word of the scripture incorrectly.  Reading had always been difficult for him, but he started the scripture again.  The words droned on in his head as he read them.  A stupid story about a stupid man and his stupid bird with some stupid moral at the end.  Davi didn’t care for these lessons, he had read a hundred stupid stories off a hundred stupid scrolls kept in a hundred different holes hidden in Granpere’s Tent.

Granpere had made him read more ever since one day by the oasis.  Davi hated fishing, but it was Granpere’s favorite.  The wiry old man had so few teeth that fish was the best food for him.  The chickens and goats and camel’s the small water village kept were too tough for his chewing, so Granpere liked to fish.  Few trees grew out in the desert, but most if any were in the loamy soil near the Endless Oasis.  People called it that because if it ever ended, so would the town.  It was a name given as a joke at first, but it seemed that no matter how much water the traders took out of it, the levels never went down.  Davi had been out on a tree limb when he had had a fish on the line.  He remembered hooking the fish and losing his balance on the branch and falling into the water.  Then he blacked out and woke up in his home hours later.

Granpere told him he got pulled in and nearly drowned because silly half-witted Davi didn’t let go of the rod.  Some fish are just better left in the pond, he had said.  Since then Granpere told him stories of old, forced him to read scriptures written on stinky scrolls and began teaching him weird dances and hand motions.  The lessons were always early in the morning before most had awakened, and Granpere said never to tell anyone what he did those early mornings, or about the hidden scrolls or the funny dances.  He told him only to practice when he knew he was alone and if he ever got caught to say he had heard it from a trader, or learned it from a passerby, but didn’t know what it meant.  Granpere became very secretive after that day at the oasis.

Meanwhile, all around him, life continued as usual in Endless Oasis. Herds were still herded, drovers came and went, water sales continued.  Davi’s parents were water sellers, and they kept a small stand right at the entrance of town.  They could collect great goods being the first sellers to be reached.  Davi spent most of his day loading a camel with full water skins and bringing it too and from the oasis to keep the buckets full.  It was a lucrative business, water sales, in the Marabi Desert.  Smack in the middle was the Endless Oasis.

It was an odd place, Endless Oasis.  The center of a huge desert expanse between two great realms, it could be seen from miles off because of the great abnormal mountainous structures that surrounded it.  Not mountains in the traditional sense…  it looked more like a giant curved rock had been dropped in the middle of the desert.  When travelling West to East from Daudria to Padua, the Drover’s road through the desert lead directly to Endless Oasis.  The road comes in on a south eastern bearing.  The giant rock appears when one is still 30 miles from it. It appears as a little pebble on the horizon and grows to a mountain of immense size.  Nestled on the northern edge is a one mile inlet to the center of the rock face wherein lies the town of endless oasis.

For as long as anyone can remember traders, cattle drovers, and water caravans have come and gone on a regular basis.  A few small inns and a few small trade shops and corrals for particularly wild animals are all the town really is along with a series of water shops.  Endless Oasis remained a small town incapable of expansion for lack of tillable land.  The oasis was rich enough for small numbers, but could never support a full city, many traders brought in all sorts of rare goods and animals and traded them regularly for water.  Some caravans would trade only water.  Some of the great cities like Padua and Daudria Keep had people that would actually pay for water from Endless Oasis.  Their water was a luxury in some circles.  It had certain taste qualities lacking in other waters.  River water was nothing in comparison.  The Rich-wits were dying to find something to spend their money on.

All of this an more made Endless Oasis a small village naturally protected by the desert and surrounding mountains from invasion, and Bandits generally stayed away and no authority dare send any troops across the desert.

It was protected by The Drover, Granpere had told Davi that The Drover stopped here on his way to the Forways.  That is what kept Endless Oasis safe.  The Drover had stopped everywhere, but he liked Endless Oasis best because he had felt hopeless in his drive across the desert with 100 head of cattle and no water in sight.  The Drover had prayed to Sol that he might find enough water to supply his herd, and the next day, he had found the Oasis.  Granpere said that The Drover blessed the oasis with his kiss when he bent down to drink.  Davi always thought it was funnier if The Drover peed in it, and that was his blessing which was why the Oasis never ran out.

Davi slipped up in his reading.  “Again, Davi.” Granpere said again, the fifth time.  Davi could barely write his name.  He had never taken to scrolls and books the way the other kids in the village had.  There were precious few out at Endless Oasis, but everybody read them, and everybody knew them all, front to back, by heart.  The book of the gods, the scroll of the drover, the Bird and the Samaritan.  There were songs about some of them, the mallet and the bird was a favorite of many as it was a call and answer song that children loved to sing along with.  The moral of the song was that curiosity killed the cat, or in this case, the bird.  Davi had been more a fan of pushing.  Pushing just about anything.  He grew up a little faster than the other kids so he was a little bigger and awkward in his body, so he liked to push the other kids around.  They called him slow and stupid and Doofus Davi, and he pushed them because he was bigger and stronger.  Davi didn’t like being mean, but pushing and rolling, and fighting had always been a faster edge of his.

One day, when Davi was 10, he found a straight piece of reed at the Oasis, and he swung it around a few times.  It was about three years ago, and the other kids had begun to catch up to him in size.  He found the stick, it was about 4 feet long, and he played with it until he snapped it in two on a tree.  He had really liked the reed, so he looked into finding more like it and had begun a collection.  If people asked what he had them for, he always told them to build something and to mind their own business.  Davi did not consider himself smart, but he knew he wasn’t dumb, but just in case, he wanted to be really good at wielding a stick.  He would smack them on trees over and over.  Some lasted longer than others, but most of them broke after about a hundred whacks.  He didn’t know it then, but he began doing some of the crazy dances Granpere had taught him, and danced with the stick as he did them.   He’d never needed the stick since he’d started collecting, but if he ever did, he’s be ready to smack someone with it.

Finally, he finished the scripture to perfection.  “And the moral of this scripture, Davi?” Granpere asked ever so calmly as though he hadn’t just dealt with an uncooperative 13-year-old half-witted student.

“Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket?” Davi wasn’t sure, he hadn’t really been paying attention, but he knew the gist of the story, the man in the story had found a bird with an injured wing, so the man nursed the bird back to health.  The bird was ready to fly again, but had found he liked the man’s kindness greater than the sky, so he feigned that he still could not fly.  Out of kindness, the man believed the bird and continued to feed and nurture the bird.  Eventually the bird began asking for lavish things spinning tales of how they might help him one day fly again, the most important of which was a nest of gold that would bring him strength, the bird had said.  Rather than question the bird, and risk the favor of the gods for throwing out a wounded animal, the man saw to it that every whim of the bird was met.  Eventually, the man died for he had spent so much time saving the bird, that he had lost his job and his family and his money.  He apologized to the bird before dying in his bed.  Seeing that the man was of no more use, the bird got up from his lavish nest of gold which had cost the man his finest horse (a truly important and lengthy part of the scripture), the bird got up from his nest of gold and sought to fly out into the world again.  The bird jumps from the window in the story, but has grown fat and weak in the time he only spent hopping around and faking injury has forgotten how to fly, and the bird plummets to the ground where it breaks both of its legs.  A passing cat notices the wounded bird and toys with it for a while and eventually eats it.

“Close, by a stretch you are correct,” Granpere nodded, “the story is not about the man, it is about the bird.  Do not forget where you come from, Davi.  Wherever your wings may take you, do not forget your role.  Birds are meant to fly, not to be fed.  What are you meant to do?”

Davi didn’t answer.  Granpere always ended his lessons with hypo… hypo… testicle questions?  Davi couldn’t remember how to say that word.  “Thanks Granpere” Davi moaned.  There was still time before his parents would filling the satchels with water.  Davi rushed to get his sticks and go to the Knoll where he practiced his dances.

As quietly as he could, Davi retrieved his sticks from the hut where his family slumbered.  Carefully, he unwrapped the heavy blanket revealing the lighter blanket that covered the sticks and kept them quiet for transit.  He kept them under his makeshift cot of reeds and bamboo shoots.  Davi thought himself clever picking this spot, a common place for people to keep hidden treasures.  Back out the front door he went with a quick glance to either side of the hut’s low entrance.  Good, nobody was watching.

Down the path, through some tall grass, under a tree branch, and the last part, he waded through the water  to a hidden cove of tall grass and trees.  There he began smacking away.  One! Two, Three on that bully…  Two Three on another foe.  Turning quickly spinning here and there twirling the stick.  Davi felt strong, limber, fast.  He could defeat any enemy with his stick.  He closed his eyes and twirled imagining himself knocking a hundred big scary snarkinlings dead with his favorite spin move.

“CRACK!”  his stick suddenly hit resistance and fell the floor after it shook his hands from a sudden obstacle.   Davi opened his eyes and looked first to his stick on the ground and fell backwards from the tremor of pain up his hands.  He shook his hands out, figuring he had just miscalculated and hit one of the trees.  He looked to his left where there should have been a tree and saw a similar stick, like his standing straight up and down in the ground, wobbling in the ground as though someone had just placed it there.

“Hey!  Who’s there?” Davi grabbed his stick quickly and set it at his side, one hand forward the other resting bent elbow at his waistline.  He felt most naturally ready in this position, ready to fight.  “Come on… who is there?”

Davi looked left, he looked right, spun around and checked both directions again.  There was no evidence of anyone but the stick in the center of the clearing, still wiggling slightly in the ground.

A noise from a tree near the entrance to the clearing.  Davi ran over, I’ve got you now, he thought.  He stopped and crept around the tree when he heard a thump behind him.  He turned and swung, but stopped short as it was just another stick wobbling offensively in the ground.  Frustrated now, Davi stomped the ground with fury, then another thump, from around the tree this time.  He dexterously hopped around the tree.

A loud thump this time, from right behind him and suddenly Davi’s legs were taken out from under him.  He brought his stick up to defend his chest, but there was a similar stick aimed right at the choker of his neck.  Davi followed the bamboo reed up nodule after nodule to the hands that held it, wirey veiny hands held the bamboo reed.  The arms were equally as veiny and wrinkly.  Wrinkly as the man’s face.

“Again, Davi.”

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Murdock

He opened his eyes, but did not see.  He felt searing heat in his torso and numbing cold in his arms and his legs.

He remembered his death and he screamed.

He closed his eyes and saw with his mind’s eye the acid dripping on his skin as dark hooded figures carefully poured it over his skin removing layer after layer of tissue.  He ought to have passed out from the pain, but an enchantment kept him roused.  Layer after layer until they exposed his heart.  That they plucked out with bare hands after the acid calmed for a moment.  The acid bottle was poured out until empty and wore the sinews down to the bone, down to the bone.

He opened his eyes again.  Still he did not see.  He sat up and felt little and less with his hands.  Pressure only, and a cold numbness, he felt through his fingers.  He was underground he guessed by the utter lack of noise.  A foul smell permeated the room.  Sour and strong, it stung his nostrils.  The scent of death, he had smelt it before in a surgeon’s room after battle.  Surrounded by darkness, he clumsily brushed his hands across his body where the acid had been drawn, feigning a hope that the vision had been a dream rather than a memory.

His hands were met with the unfamiliar touch of bone.  Where his skin ought to have been there was only a rack of barren clean ribs.  He palmed downward from the ribs to the hollow where his entrails were once kept.  A gaping space remained until he reached the crown of his hip.

Here he felt skin atop his hip.  His fingers were met with the rough grooves of threat intertwined with flesh where the flaps had been folded over and bound together.  He screamed again at the boiling heat he felt where his flesh had been removed.  He found his neck had been stitched in a similar fashion just below the collar bone and at the shoulders.  To the right of his neck, the acid had bore a gap between the remaining skin and his shoulder blade.  The other side the tissue remained carefully woven beneath the collar bone around the shoulder blade bridging the gap between neck and left shoulder.  As he wriggled his dead fingers between his ribs, he felt a fine silken thread in an angled pattern down a seam.  The grooved folds met at the spine and abruptly ended at the pillar of bone.

He closed his eyes again and saw his own death again.  It was more of a shadow of a memory this time.  Then, several dark clad men hovered over something.  He realized, his body.  His vision flashed to the huddle and he saw needles and dexterous digits folding and tying his mangled form.  He screamed once more as he saw his own face atop the abomination he had become.  His eyes were open, but they did not see.

“Murdock” a voice willed him quiet, not knowing if he had heard the voice or thought it.  He opened his eyes, but still did not see.  The voice echoed in his head completing the illusion of hearing in the underground chamber.

He spoke back to the voice, “I am Maxwell Tigris of the Honorable House Tigris, Sworn Sword of the Realm of Daudria, and King Daudrain” a pained yell.  The name became an echo of its former meaning.  Burning he felt where his lungs once breathed air.  His voice had become a fraction of what it was, barely a whisper, but booming with some dark power.  Enough so that it echoed through the chamber clearly.

“Murdock,” the voice willed again.

“Who is that?”

He blinked and saw his destroyed form for an instant.

“Murdock,” a drone in his head, “Will you see.”

Was it a question or a command.

“I can’t see.” He said

“Will you see,” the voice said again, the same monotonous drone.

He closed his eyes and saw his full form again, young and handsome.  In flashes, his life was shown to him out of order.  A young man, a baby, a child of eight, the vignettes of his mortal life.

At last, his marriage, his first born son.  So full his young life had been.  The man he saw was strong with auburn hair, brown eyes, a silver chain about his neck with the house crest, a long tooth upon the medallion that rested neatly in the sloop of his neck.

He opened his eyes and did not see.

“My life,” he said

“Will you see.”

He closed his eyes and saw a funeral.  The handsome man mourned.  Two pyres burned in a meadow surrounded by trees and a few people.  One large pyre, the other much smaller.  A number of the people near the pyre coughed and hacked as the black smoke invaded their chests.  The heat burned the man’s face and the flames licked at his toes, like fingers beckoning him to join them in their morbid fiery dance.   The handsome man dropped a small gathering of dried wilted flowers into the large pyre and turned away.  As the flowers struck the burning corpse in the center of the furnace they lit in a blinding flash.

The handsome man was now pallid and sullen.  His hair matted and thin.  Wind from a storm made the humble accommodations creak as rain batted against the shutters and dripped through holes in the ceiling.  He tossed a noose over the center beam of his humble accommodations and tied it off to the support across the room.  He climbed the chair beneath the knot, donned his rough spun collar and kicked out.

He opened his eyes and did not see.  He thought a moment and mourned the woman, mourned the child, and mourned the man in the visions.

He closed his eyes to cry and saw black hoods cutting down the man’s body, now limp showing little sign of life.  Necromancers.  He remembered his death again and screamed.

“Why did they not let me die! My life was forfeit.”

“Murdock”

“I am Maxwell” he felt his neck where the noose had once been.  He felt his silver chain embedded into the grooves and folds of skin folded beneath his ribs.

“Murdock”

“I am-“

“Murdock”

Murdock opened his eyes and saw through an amber haze the orange glow of torches in the stone walled room.  The stone table on which he sat was scarred with acid.  The leather bindings that had held him dangled at the edge of the stone platter chained to metal bolts in the far edges of the rock.  There was no sign of the black hooded men.  The burning where his torso had been lingered, the numbness of his limbs lingered.   Through the dull glow of tarnished gold, Murdock saw a door, and through that door, he tread.

“East.”

A genuine maze of corridors met him on the other side of the door.  The voice seemed to have been willed from the direction of the door.  That direction must be east.

He worked tirelessly his way out of the corridors only to emerge out the side door of a temple behind the steppes.  The limestone carved eyes of the Nine followed him down the steppes.  Passing each in order.  Kael, in the middle, at the top of the steppes, a candle in one hand, a hammer in the other.  He had been a mason.

A memory tickled Murdock’s forehead of tapping a hammer on some stones as a child.  The Child’s name was Max, and he loved to help his pa build.  He turned to face Kael and thought to kneel and pray forgiveness for his attempted suicide.  The burning in the void grew hotter as if the Nine themselves prodded him with hot branding irons. As he stood, he thought of his first memory of the steppes.  As a boy on his 10th name day, one of the Mother’s Children had marked him with blood between his eyebrows.  Murdock grasped the memory with his mind fighting the will of the voice, trying to kneel.  His knee shook for a moment as he held on to his life before death.   Just then, the memory of the boy began to fill with yellow smoke.  The haze corrupted his minds eye and turned him from the visage of Kael, and back East. As the smoke cleared, a memory of a hangman’s noose remained, gently swaying.  Murdock faced the large wooden doors of the empty Temple of the Nine and paced toward them.  He brushed the crest of his skull, as if to wipe away the blood that had been there so many years ago.

As he approached the great double doors, etched with the images of the Nine, Murdock heard a shuffle.  One of the keepers of the temple gently swept the hallway leading to a smaller chapel for funeral preparations.  As he thought to touch the door, the hot pokers returned to his chest, eyes beaming from the steppes and bursts of invisible flames from the doors.  Hotter than boiling oil it burned that Murdock clutched his chest and writhed in pain.  His hands were met with fleshless ribs and a hollow where his entrails ought be.

I won’t get very far like this.  He thought, as he focused on the simple faded pink cowl that encircled the keeper.

With an unseemly gait, Murdock strode deftly toward the keeper.  His back turned, the young man was oblivious to the silent assailant’s approach.  Murdock grabbed the man’s cowl by the hood and pulled him straight off his feet.

He let out a guff as his broom trickled to the floor.  Murdock’s strong hands were cold on the keeper’s chin as a quick twist ended his life in a satisfying crack.  Murdock thought of the sound of felling a tree in the woods to build his house.   His wife held his child as they built their house on the hill.  The dead man wilted in his cowl and fell to the floor.  The thump taking the place of the crash of the tree as the yellow haze engulfed the memory until only a noose remained.

Donning the cowl, Murdock left the corpse where it laid.  A strong wind will raise some eyebrows.  Murdock realized this cowl would only be a temporary solution to hiding his emptiness.  Plate Armor will do.  The plate would just be a shell, but an armored man is not uncommon.

Approaching the doors brought back the burning in his gap, but he thought it might be slightly fainter now having covered it with the cowl.  Murdock palmed the door to open it.  The eyes of the huntress burned themselves onto his hand.  He pushed through the pain and opened the door.  In the sunlight of the early afternoon, through the orange-yellow haze of his undeath, Murdock saw the charred skin of his burned right hand flake off revealing new beneath.

The white washed and wood and stone buildings of the streets of Daudria shone a deep yellow through the gaze of Murdock, as the people wandered the streets unknowing of the dark presence that exited their holy temple of Nine.  Castle Daudrain loomed to the northwest, the grey stone work seeming to consume the sun’s light.  Murdock turned his head east, but walked north.  He knew these streets, he had been here before.  The temple of the nine on the southernmost tip of the city.  He had been here for a funeral once.  He saw the procession in his mind for only a glimpse before the haze swallowed it whole.

Murdock traveled North along a main thoroughfare.  He paid little mind to the merchants shouting in the streets, peddling their wares.  Scents and tastes meant nothing to those that do not live.  Though he could smell the roasted pork from the vendor to his right, his mouth did not salivate.  The vendor he sought billowed smoke from his stacks.  The open doors to the large shack bore a canopy out into the street to shade from the sun.

He stepped into the shade.   the apprentice boy worked a box of sand over a helm, scouring it of its rust.  He looked up and gawked at the pale face beneath greasy blonde hair and orange eyes unlike any he had seen before.

“Where is your master?” Murdock inquired.

“Away.” The boy stammered. “M’lord, you look a might bit ill.”

“I need a sword and a breast plate to fit my hand and cover my chest,” Murdock rasped in a loud whisper.  He picked up a large steel blade with a black leathern handle and a red pommel jewel.  The steel was darker than most, the scabbard was black leather.  A thought of his first sword arose, a practice blade given by his father in the yard of their lord’s keep.  Murdock mused a moment and was turned from the memory by orange and the east.

At this, the boy perked up, made comfortable by the familiarity of a task.  “I’ll have to take  your measurements m’lord.”

“That won’t be necessary, something of your stock should suffice,” Murdock hissed, trying to avoid removing his cowl.

“Surely, you must, Master Hobsmith can make you the finest plate, but it must fit form,” said the boy, trying to upsell the custom plate, as he had been taught, “if you are shy on the street to show your breast, my string and snips are behind the curtain anyhow, come here if you like.”  The boy set the sand barrel down, the helm displayed speckled bits of rust yet on its crown.  He hopped to the floor and scurried behind the curtain.  Before the curtain had settled, the boy reappeared holding the curtain back for the now slightly amused Murdock.

Murdock stepped behind the curtain.  Behind it were several racks of shields, swords, hauberks, helms, half helms, mail shirts and raw materials.  The heat from the furnace could be felt by a living men, but it only served to wisp Murdock’s hair across his face.  The room was dimly lit by the furnace and the window to the next street.  Murdock indicated to the window, and the boy eagerly closed it to satisfy his customer.

The room was now full orange, lit only by the furnace.  The narn glow of the furnace was sent in all directions by the vaguely reflective steel in the room.  The boy pulled a length of string from his roll and stood ready to take his measures.  He measured shoulder to wrist, then around the neck, snipping lengths and looping them on hooks on a board labeled individually for each body part.

“Lift your arms, m’lord,” The boy said.

“Perhaps, you would like to just give me one from your stock.”  The little humanity allowed to him tried to spare the boy.

“Nonsense, we’re halfway done now, m’lord.”

In his head, Murdock sighed, but his body lifted his arms.  The boy reached around to grab the string around his chest but stumbled when he met no resistance.

He stood back up using Murdock’s hip for support.  He gingerly pushed his hands to Murdock’s chest and looked up at him for an answer.

Murdock put one finger to his mouth.  The boy looked at the pale face and orange eyes in the glow of the embers of the furnace.  As the look of knowing mixed with fear took his face, the boy made to scream.  It was quickly choked off by the powerful grip of the undead lord.  Murdock lifted the boy from the ground with an outstretched arm.  The boy flailed in resistance grasping Murdock’s forearm trying so desperately to pull away.

Murdock loosened his grip and spoke softly, “You will help me don this as though you were my squire, boy, and you will keep your mouth shut.” He pointed at a breast plate with a large skirt and wide shoulders.

The boy nodded, too afraid to do anything else.

“Do not scream, boy.”  He put the boy down and removed his cowl.  The child reacted surprisingly well.  The shock of near death took away his voice as well as his will, Murdock surmised.

The breast plate was heavy, and the lad struggled to mount it on the hollow-chested wraith.  Once set in place, the boy tightened the straps concealing Murdock’s ivory core in a shell of steel.

“Fetch me something of some elegance, a true knight ought have a cloak.”  Murdock requested as he shifted his body under the new weight of his armor.

The boy ducked behind yet another curtain, and emerged with a tattered white cloak, though one could hardly call it white at this juncture.  It was probably something some poor sap had traded for a blade or a knife in desperation.  The boy dexterously slung it over murdock’s newly broadened shoulders and hooked it with a circular clasp with a half moon and a star engraved on its face.  It must have once belonged to a priest of the Old Lights who walked the country evangelizing.  The clasp seemed to vibrate as it rested on the breast of the undead soldier, though it made no sound against the cold metal of the plate steel.

“Come with me if you want to live,” said Murdock, allowed a moment of humanity by the voice, his instinct to kill the boy was quelled by the logical conclusion that a missing boy was less suspicious than a dead boy, and the voice was rather aqueous with its instructions.  The boy grabbed a leather sack and put in a loaf of bread that had been staying warm on the stone above the furnace portal.  He put a small knife in his belt and followed Murdock out of the shop.

They wound through the streets of the city, looking no less than a shieldless knight and his squire.  A shieldless, horseless knight at that.  Murdock and his companion found themselves at the Bridge over Torm.  The Torm raged beneath Murdock as he took his first few steps onto the bridge that was four horses wide and nearly a quarter mile long.  The sun had worked its way across the sky to rest nearly behind the great castle Daudrain to the west.  The immense fortress cast a shadow, which at this hour left the centermost highest turret’s silhouette at the feet of Murdock’s great shadow.  For a moment it appeared that Murdock stood atop the tower, like some great conquering king had erected a monument to himself after having won some great victory.  A tiny head and small framed human shadow stepped up next to it and looked up at the great statue.  The leather sack on his shoulder fat with a loaf of bread made the shadow look like a hunchback.

Murdock looked at the boy and looked to the east.  The bridge had a small wall on either side only about three feet high to ward travelers from going overboard to the tumultuous waters before the great waterfall into the Mouth of the Sea.  He walked to the middle of the vacant bridge, and he stopped.  The ocean breeze in the middle of the Bridge over Torm mixed with the foam of the waterfall shooting directly upwards on travelers on the bridge.  Murdock had stopped here and looked over the sea before as another man.  That man had seen the ships come into the Mouth and dock in the harbor many hundred feet below down a great corridor of steppes through the mountain on which castle Daudrain was built.

The boy walked up and looked over the bridge as well.  A gust of salty wind wetted the boy’s face even though the waterfall was seemingly miles below where they were standing.

Murdock saw the boy, his skinny features so full of life and fear.  Just then, a carrion bird perched itself on a riser in the wall.  The bridge was empty, and the world went silent but for the ruffle of the black feathers on the carrion bird.  The bird looked upon Murdock, and piercing gaze that cut through his armor and made his bones burn.  He looked at the boy again, grabbed him by his right leg, and flung him over the bridged.  The wind picked up just then, carrying the boy’s scream up to the sky so that the Old Light, the New Light, and the Nine might hear it, but Murdock heard nothing.  He turned away and walked east across the bridge, leaving the leather sack that had been dropped in a moment of pause.

Behind him, another carrion bird fluttered down and perched itself on the next rise in the wall.

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You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.

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