Authors: Keith Baker
Lei glared at him. “Not alone.”
“I won’t be alone.” He nodded at Lakashtai. “That’s the point.”
“You know what I mean. You’re not going without me.”
“I don’t recall giving you a choice.” It had been a long day and a strange evening, and while Daine wasn’t angry at Lei, it felt good to have some sort of outlet for his anger and frustration.
did,” Lei snapped.
“I’m not asking, Lei. You’ve already been through too much.
We’ve all heard the stories, and you’re not risking your life on my account.”
account? Did it ever occur to you that I might
risking my life in Xen’drik to living in this … this dungheap? My parents were exploring Xen’drik before you were born, Daine. Perhaps I want to go there for
For a moment Daine thought she was going to hit him. Then she turned and strode out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
Lakashtai was the first to speak. She seemed unaffected by the outburst, and her voice was as calm and confident as ever. “I cannot say where our travels will take us, Daine, but Xen’drik is a land of many dangers. If your friends—” she glanced over at Pierce, who had been still and silent as a statue throughout the exchange—“would accompany you, I would not be so quick to dismiss them.”
“Did I ask you?” Anger and guilt mingled in his gut.
“I have never needed your permission to speak my mind.” There was no heat to her words—it was a simple statement of fact. “I have preparations to make, and I’m sure you do as well. Pack for a long journey, and be at the Greenman Pier by the sixth bell. The ship is the
… I’ll tell the captain to expect multiple guests.” She pulled up her hood and stepped into the hall. Pierce followed her; apparently the warforged had no intention of leaving her unwatched.
A minute later Daine heard the sound of the front door. Sighing, he pulled on his shirt and considered what to pack.
ierce kept an arrow on the string as he followed Lakashtai down the hallway. He’d met this woman once before, but the circumstances had been unusual. The war had been a simpler time, when friends and enemies were clearly defined. Lakashtai—he didn’t know where she belonged.
They made their way down the stairs and into the common room in silence. Lei was nowhere to be seen, and Pierce concluded that she had returned to the cellar workshop. At the door, Lakashtai turned to look at him.
“Are you going to ask your question, or shall I go?” She wore her usual ghostly smile, eyes hidden in the shadows of the hood.
“What question would that be?”
“Why I’m here. Why I’d try to kill Daine or offer to help him. Why you should trust me.”
“Why ask, if I will not believe the answers?”
She laughed. “I see this city has already made its mark on you, Pierce. Very well, but whatever you choose to think about me—I believe that Daine needs you. I hope you will join us.”
“That is his choice.”
“No. You choose your own path, but I think you already know that, don’t you?”
Smiling, she opened the door and walked out into the street. Pierce watched her disappear into the crowd, then slowly released the bowstring and shut the door.
Daine was stuffing some clothing in a backpack when Pierce returned. “I will be traveling with you to Xen’drik, and I believe that you owe Lei an apology.”
“No, and not likely.”
Daine looked up from his work. A year ago, Pierce never would have questioned an order. He was warforged, and Daine was his commander; it was in his nature to obey the chain of command. There was no time for debate on the battlefield.
“Why do you not want our company?” Pierce said.
“I told Lei. This is going to be dangerous. I don’t have any choice here, but there’s no reason for you to take the chance.”
“When we had escaped the battle at Keldan Ridge, you led us back into Cyre. We could have started the journey toward Sharn immediately, but you chose to take us back through the mists. Why?”
“I thought there’d be survivors.”
“You placed our lives at risk then: why won’t you do it now?”
“Do you think I’m proud of that decision?” Daine slammed his hand down on the chain byrnie spread across the table. “I went looking for survivors, and what came of it? Another four people lost their lives, soldiers who went into that horror on
orders. I brought us to Sharn, and Jode … “He took a deep breath. “No one else is going to die for me.”
“So you intend to die instead?”
Daine turned back to the clothes. “I’m dying anyway. I doubt there’s anything that woman can do about it. At least you won’t have to watch.”
“Your chances of survival will be increased if I am by your side, and we will both be safer if Lei accompanies us. The last year alone has shown this to be true.”
“This isn’t a discussion. It’s an order.”
There it was again. Part of Pierce wanted to nod, to walk out of the room and leave Daine to his work. His commander had made a decision, but now … “No, it’s not.”
“What?” Daine looked up, exasperated.
“It is not an order, because I am not a soldier. I believe that I am a friend, and that makes us equals.”
“Am I mistaken? Are we your friends, or are we simple soldiers?”
Daine closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. “Pierce … of course you’re my friends. You’re the only friends I have left.”
“And if it were Lei? If Lei said that she planned to return to Cyre in the company of a dangerous stranger—you would let her leave us behind?”
“Lei never was a soldier. She’d need our help.”
A memory emerged—Lei fighting a minotaur with her bare hands, while Pierce and Daine stood and watched, but Pierce already knew what tactics were required to win this battle. “If she ordered you?”
“She can’t give me orders. She’s …”
Daine shook his head, striking the table again.
, Pierce! Why can’t you just let this go?”
Pierce stepped forward and put his hand on Daine’s shoulder. Daine froze—Pierce had never made such a gesture before. Pierce looked down at him. “Because I will not let you go, any more than you would leave Lei. This is our choice—not yours. I will not stand by and watch you die.”
Moments passed, as Daine and Pierce stood in silence. Finally Daine nodded. “I guess I’d better go down and talk to Lei.”
“I will accompany you.”
“Oh, I don’t think that’s necessary.”
“I told you—I will not stand by and watch you die.”
Daine looked up at his friend, and a smile slowly spread across his face.
he Dagger River flows through a deep canyon. As it runs south toward the coastline and the Thunder Sea, it meets up with two tributaries running east and west; the humans who first settled the region called this the Hilt. The city of Sharn was built on the top of the canyon wall hundreds of feet above the vast river, but the river trade was far too valuable for the city to pass up, so Cliffside was born: a community carved into the wall of the canyon itself. A web of stairways and bridges crisscrossed the stone face, and the wall was studded with the facades of buildings that stretched deep into the rock beyond.
A steady stream of skycoaches passed between the docks of the Dagger and the city far above, occasionally pausing at one of the Cliffside inns or brothels. These flying boats were an indulgence for those with silver to spare; for Daine, paying for a skycoach was as sensible as throwing a few sovereigns off the edge of a tower. Daine preferred to use the lifts—levitating platforms that slowly made their way from the tops of the towers to the bottom and back again. Travelers might have to wait a little while before one would arrive, but the lifts were free, safe, and reliable.
is a good omen,” Daine said. “Eight months in Sharn, and this is the first time I’ve ever heard of a lift needing to be repaired. What could go wrong with a lift, anyway?”
Lei said nothing. A light rain was sweeping through the
canyon, and Lei had her oilskin cloak wrapped tightly around her body. Her silence was a beacon warning of her foul mood; Lei rarely passed up a chance to talk about anything magical. She had accepted Daine’s apology, but she’d barely spoken to him since then. Pierce was walking ahead of them, carving a safe path through the throngs of people clustered on the Cliffside bridges. Merchants called out to them as they passed, and beggars cajoled and pleaded, flaunting the wounds that they had supposedly suffered during the Last War. Daine knew that Jode would have known the difference between the true cripples and the fakes, but he saw only misery. The thought of Jode’s face brought a wave of loneliness.
“Lei,” he said. “You’re angry. I get it, but what’s the point of coming if we’re not even going to talk?”
He reached and put his hand on her shoulder, and she turned to look at him. Without saying a word, she thrust the tip of her staff directly at his face. Instinct took over; he threw himself to the side, and the staff narrowly missed his neck. Even as he opened his mouth, he heard a loud cry followed by choking gasps. A tall, emaciated changeling was kneeling on the bridge behind him, gagging and clutching his throat; a small knife had fallen from his hand.
“Someone needs to watch out for you,” Lei said. She didn’t smile as she offered him a hand up. “Around here, watch your purse.”
The incident on the bridge helped to cool Lei’s anger, and by the time they had reached the docks on the Dagger’s edge she had dropped the wall of silence.
“Why haven’t we been here before?” Daine said, stepping over a pile of what appeared to be ogre dung. He could see a few of the massive creatures unloading crates from a nearby cargo ship; apparently they weren’t very particular when it came to hygiene. “It’s got all the comforts of High Walls, not to mention a thief in every crowd and fresh shit in the streets.” He studied a pair of merchants who were haggling with their fists. “I wonder how much one of those little caves on the cliffs costs.”