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Yindjibarndi


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cunning, exploration and perseverance


In the winter they would walk south, nearer to the faraway sands of the world, where slavery and debauchery were as common as orphans. They never came near enough to see the lands, but each and every one both knew and told tales of it, myths born of their imaginations and the tapestry of stories crafted through generations. Sometimes, as he stood atop the very tips of his toes, he believed he could catch the blazing orange sand in his eyes. The winds that coasted to them carried the warmth of the southlands and kept some of the cruelty of the colder months at bay.

When it was hot they would collect up their tents and walk to the north, their journey lasting weeks, sometimes stretching into months. Their pace was that of their elders and of their children, never any faster. They moved as a whole, as a family, or they moved not at all. When they reached the northern cusp of their territory, the frosted breeze of Icewind Dale would drift down with the stronger winds, chilling them and allowing them to survive another sweltering season of heat. This was the extent of their walk, the furthest they journeyed. Out here, nestled between a wood and the barrens of uninhabited swampland, they were left to their customs and their ways.

One year as they made the walk, they found a road carved in a curving path through the middle of their lands. Along it were the trails left by hooves and caravan wheels. "This is alright," they told themselves, as it would bring new stories and new materials that could make better tents and clothes. Perhaps in the wintertime they would no longer want for food. They crossed the new road and the terrain felt unfamiliar beneath their padded boots. He stopped in the center of the road and looked along it as far as he could, wondering where he might find himself if he one day started walking along it.

When each reached the southernmost tip for the sixteenth time, he had a dream, or a feeling, or a decision. Among all of the animals and all of the ways that were theirs, they would choose one to be the epitome of all that they felt and they cared for. In a dream the ferret played with him, curled about his ankles and led him to the mouth of a tunnel. He didn't walk inside. Through the darkness he could see the slender body of the ferret, curled and waiting for him to enter. He couldn't. He woke in a cold sweat.

Yindjibarndi told his great-grandmother about the dream and it was decided. He would mature to follow the ferret, a being of intrepid exploration and strong-willed hunting. He felt conflicted but said little against the wisdom and authority of his elder.

---
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determination, patience and singlemindedness


For a few years, the road did bring happiness with it. They bartered their carefully crafted blankets, ornate clothing, beaded artwork and other things the foreigners regarded as exotic. A word almost forgotten to them was breathed anew by their elders, repeated again and again by the youth until it became a midyear mantra. "Keppa," the name of a stranger worthy of respect. The strangers they met were indeed worthy of respect, bringing with them food bound for far-distant towns that would pay more for carvings and other inedible works that offered no warmth, no shelter, nothing but comforts and aesthetic pleasure. Theirs were commodities easily made and easily parted with.

But the keppa showed interest in their totems, the heirlooms fastened about their wrists or dangling from their necks. One offered food that would remain safe to eat for over a month, if Yindjibarndi would part with the wooden ferret he carried with him. None would part with their totems, for their totems were as much a part of their identity as their names. They were beautiful and many were glad that the keppa agreed, but some few became guarded and defensive, worried that these strangers would dare to acquire their totems by unfair means. They were small, the keppa were often far larger and carried weapons fashioned of more fearsome things than wood and wrought iron.

Yindjibarndi wasn't afraid. He sat with the keppa and heard all the stories of their faraway places, of sands where men walked in shackles, of proud nations of dragons where men held their heads and unbound hands high. He heard of worlds where the stone cut above the land and dared to coat itself with frost. He heard of vast stretches of water filled with salt. All of it filled his head with wonder and awe. Some strong men, men who always carried weapons, claimed to have totems of their own - bears and wolves and jackals. Others called out the names of gods. Every word of theirs was fascinating, telling of places he longed to see with his own eyes.

It was night when a gathering was called, far enough away from the road that no prying eyes would hear. Solemnly the elders rose from their circle, hushed and parted a path through the children, and spoke. "The totem of the badger has been stolen," they declared to their people, all of whom were stricken with grief. The badger was that of the Great Mother Above, their creator, the most sacred of each and all the animals they venerated. Their eyes were cast to the road and their thoughts to the keppa who had complimented their trinkets, the keppa who bought their ornate belongings and sold them again elsewhere for less pragmatic things.

They each knew that the stolen trinket would need to be retrieved. Volunteers among the young adults echoed out, some standing proudly, others rising shakily to their feet. Yindjibarndi was among those that stood. In his mind he was already exploring the faraway places where foreigners walked, the immense walls of stone that they described, the winding streets with all of their scents and their strange sounds, their music and their tales.

---
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wayfaring, optimism and strength


Yindjibarndi and the others prepared for a journey longer than their yearly walk. Each carried in their bags enough supplies to survive for months, divided as an even burden. Their customs had taught them that many hands made for lighter work and they were not a people to question the lessons of their elders' experience. The migration of the clan was interrupted as they all returned to the road, where they would say their farewells and make their rituals of safe return. Yindjibarndi felt somehow disingenuous throughout his family's prayer, though at the time he had no understanding as to why.

Many of his companions would have spent days saying goodbye. Others would not leave at all if not for the feeling of expectation that had mounted over the preceding night. They were the strong, the thoughtful, but not the ones necessary for the continuation of the clan. Each had a solemn understanding of this. In their absence, life could continue among their people almost as usual, albeit with more work involved on the parts of all. Most hoped to return soon.

The road was different to walk on. Although throughout their time, the clan had inadvertently made a path beneath their boots leading from south to north, the road had been cut from the grassland by forceful hand. Walking on it felt less exhausting. It wore less against their knees. Some voiced such observations aloud and were met with scowling by their peers. Walking this road felt foreign and each held a distinct fear in their hearts that somehow their time away from their families would skew them, make them into something alike to the keppa they sought.

Yindjibarndi confessed to himself alone that he felt some fear as well, caught in amid the excitement of exploring these new places ahead.

The others knew how attentively he had listened to the stories of the outside world and they asked him what they might have to expect. Despite living his life as a collector and teller of tales, he found that he had very little that he could say to comfort them. The world outside was, so far as he could be sure, one of an endless and infinite road that was bordered by grass and hills. Far, far ahead they would find stone walls, erected in defiance to time and to the outside world. The keppa wandered only to reach their destinations, not because the wandering felt right. Otherwise, they built.

The others were discouraged by what little he could say. This was a world not meant for them. Omens flew overhead on flocks, each headed south along with their families to hide from the cold of winter. Soon the road would be coated with frost and their nights would be spent huddled close to fires, they knew. Their spirits remained as low as they had been when they left.

---
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Calchas Blaesus: A mad seer.
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wisdom


A dream. All it could ever be, all that it ever was, was a dream. An infinite myriad of roads all coalescing into one singular point, a center at which sat a badger carved of unblemished wood. He walked one road and found it twisting into another. Although he walked a different direction, he made slow, uneven progress nearer and nearer to the badger.

Perhaps it was years. Perhaps it was the moment before the end of all things, when the world would crumble all around him, when everything that he knew and that he held close to him would decay into nothing more than an echo carried throughout the next eon. But one day, finally, he reached the meeting point of all of those roads.

What was a wooden badger in the one instant was a woman in the next, pregnant and smiling with a matronly grace. Her hair was auburn and swayed about he face, at times obscuring her hazel eyes, at times blowing apart to reveal her rounded and red cheeks in full. In that moment she spoke to him. It was with the voice of his grandmother, the voice of his mother, the voices of his aunts and the voices of his sisters. Every woman he had held dear his life said something then and he knew, through the sleepy haze of waking dream, that it was Yondalla.

"No road stretches on forever."



---
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civilization


They arrived at the gates of one of the far-removed cities of the keppa. It was nearer to their homeland than any thought possible, but no less grandiose than the tales the foreigners told. It towered far, far above their heads, reaching an impossible height. Men walked atop these stone walls, each clad in iron, some pausing to look down to them with mirth. Yindjibarndi was convinced that these men were laughing at them, ridiculing them for dressing and walking in ways that were different. He did not mind. Keppa were as keppa would be. Some among his companions showed their offense in their murmurings to one another, the sentiment of returning home chief among their discourse.

The gates were wooden, but metal bands were fastened in place, perhaps only to make the city appear even less welcoming. One keppa with an enormous axe in hand looked down at them, shadowed eyes not visible beneath the visor of his helm. His tone was weary but officious as he offered a paltry greeting. "I had not known," he said, "that the circus would be arriving so near to winter. Don't you people usually head south?" None among Yindjibarndi's company thought to answer the man. Not many of the seventeen realized that his comment was meant to mock them.

"Yes," Yindjibarndi answered, "but we have left our people in search of something stolen from us. Please allow us inside that we may continue our search." Guffaws were heard throughout the ranks of armored men. They spat a few words and made a few gestures to one another and slowly, dauntingly, the amazing doors parted open to reveal a crowded scape of people and stone buildings beyond. Immediately the clamor of people hit their ears, what fragments of conversation they could make out all referring to unknown things.

They made their way inside slowly, cautiously, as they would move on a hunt. Some shook in their boots. Others clenched their hands to fists near the weapons on their belts. Even Yindjibarndi, who had spent nights dreaming about a place like this, felt oppressed by the overbearing structures and the loud conversations of the people on the street. A child cried news aloud near to him and he leapt away, eliciting a chorus of laughter from the busy people scattered around, before they all scurried off in search of a better passtime. They began seeking the totem through the streets.

Yindjibarndi became separated from his fellows. He wove through the winding, twisting maze of streets alone. Each corner seemed to sprout corners, which sprouted more corners in return. Soon enough he could feel the city was infinite, creating more world to occupy the more Yindjibarndi explored. Yet each of the streets were different. Some divided apart for housing, where children would run through the cobblestone streets and weary-looking women would toss refuse from their windows. Some were for merchants, where keppa shouted their wares and what they wanted for them, each proclaiming his wares were better-made and more worthy than his neighbour's. Some, still, had functions that eluded Yindjibarndi as he observed these enormous strangers going about their business.

In one of these streets he met Myrtle, a woman who looked much like he and his people did. She had tan skin, just like him. Dark hair, just like him. And she stood at the waist of most keppa, just like him. She laughed when he explained how lost he was, wrapped her arms about one of his and led him through the puzzling maze of streets as though she knew them all intimately. She brought him back to the gates, where they found his companions.

"You all seem a little lost," she laughed. None of them joined her in laughter. They told her what they sought, why, who took it, everything that they could muster and she listened to everything. Then when their tale was done, she explained that the trade route they wanted to follow spanned more than a dozen cities across four nations. Months of journeying to places filled with stores that would buy an ornate carving. As they listened to Myrtle's advice, their shoulders all sank, their breath became heavy and they found for the first time in their nomadic lives, their feet truly ached.

They left that city in the same night, choosing not to indulge in the inns or to overburden Myrtle despite her hospitality. All but Yindjibarndi started off in the direction that they had come as soon as morning arrived. "Come with us," they told him, though he declined solemnly. Somebody would have to find the lost totem. Myrtle had detailed the path he would need to walk. He set off on his own.

---
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Calchas Blaesus: A mad seer.
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death


Another dream. This less vivid than the last. Around him were clandestine black marble pillars, darkness stretching on beyond them. The pillars formed a narrow corridor. Beneath him was a velvet carpet, dyed purple, marking the path that he ought to follow. He made his way forward slowly, something languid about his motions, something heavy caught around his limbs. He looked to his hands and saw the passage of years marked in minutes as veins grew bulbous and his bones more distinct.

Around him was something he could not clearly see, slinking in silhouette through the unlit space beyond those pillars. It made its way from one to the next. A pair of eyes glinted as they caught the dull light, always fixed on him as he made his tedious way forward. He called out to it, asking, "who are you? Did you bring me here?" But for the longest time, it didn't care to respond, only circling him like a predator waiting for a moment of weakness in its prey.

Without a warning, the creature crept from the shadows before him. Its motions were fluid and predatory. Its body was alike to a dog's, but somehow indescribably sleeker, ephemeral. Its brownish eyes fixed on him and its mouth opened, an ageless voice neither masculine nor feminine resounding outward.

"Die here, roam forever." Saliva glinted on the creature's pointed teeth.


He was jostled awake by the dream. His hand went to his neck, fingers coiling around the wooden ferret clasped there. If he were to die out of the sight of his family, his soul would wander forever in search of them, blinded and deafened and never able to find its way. He knew that. Quietly, he settled his head down again and attempted to sleep. He would need his energy to continue walking come morning.

---
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Calchas Blaesus: A mad seer.
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reach, survival, prevalence


The road was far different when he had to walk it alone. Although the conversation had never held enthusiasm, never entertained any reverence for the new sights and the new smells that dotted the surrounding landscape, he found he missed it all the same. If nothing else, he felt a certain safety when there were a number of others he could rely on. Now, with nothing but a walking stick and a week of supplies in his possession, he made his way onward alone.

On either side of the path, trees were falling bare with the coming cold. His path led him north, to where he would only see more snowfall, more ice. He knew that the wind would become harsher and he prepared his clothing accordingly, but he could only rely on the skins so much. They wouldn't protect him when the snow mounted so deep as his knees, or when the wind became strong enough to bowl him off of his feet. He had an appreciation for the size of keppa - it provided them a strength to survive merciless weather without such a need for weighted tents or caravans. As he found shelter in a hollowed tree, he observed that his slighter size had its own distinct advantages as well.

That night he built a fire, far enough from his tree that it wouldn't catch and burn him in the night. The fire was meant as much to keep animals at bay as it was to provide warmth to his resting place. He covered the opening with a spare cloak to shield him should the wind shift its position. Myrtle's word had him heading to a series of places she called the Ten Towns, where the snow was thick enough to swallow a man whole. The thought had him shivering more than the draft that seeped beneath the foot of his cloak-made doorway. He huddled up tight, doing his best not to mind the mud and the insects that crawled over and around his head. Before he reached the Ten Towns he would need to cross a forest, another city owned by dwarves and one owned by elves.

His sleep was thick, uncomfortable and devoid of dreams. When he woke he didn't remember nodding off at all. He felt as though he had been awake the whole time, sitting through the cold, but the light peeking in through the top of his cloak-doorway told him otherwise. In an instant, it seemed it had become morning. He rose groggily to his feet and set about dismantling his camp. It was his people's custom to eat on the road and he had not yet abandoned that part of tradition. It was pragmatic. Leave earlier, replenish energy as you move.

He marched his way onward, further north. The road adopted an upward slant. Snowfall began to trickle down from above, collecting in the tops of otherwise bare trees. The foliage became scarcer until he could see no shrubs or bushes at all. With no berries or fruits to scavenge, he started to worry about whether his rations would last him to the Ten Towns or not. By Myrtle's description they were some distance away, but Yindjibarndi had spent the whole of his life walking and remained confident that he could cross a considerable distance in just the one day. Although this terrain was nothing like he had walked before, becoming progressively rockier as he persisted.

The notion occurred again that he could turn around. He could be home in all of three days travel, perhaps explore that city again. He dismissed the notion. No road stretches on forever. Hours slipped by and before he could fathom where the day went, he was searching for another place to rest. Finding none he erected his tent beside the road, using the same cloak that had been his door as a buffer between himself and the building snow. Another night of heavy, dreamless sleep that left him feeling as though he'd been completely without rest went by.

The next morning he repeated his routine, packing away his belongings at eating as he moved. Eight days worth of rations remained. Far more than half of what he left the preceding city with, but still he was concerned. He opted not to dwell on it. A knife and sling both hung from his belt and if he truly needed to find food, he was certain he would find an animal a short enough way off the road. Though when he allowed his thoughts to linger over why he was so sure of that, he found he was only distressing himself further. Memory of being stalked by the sleek black dog-thing in his dream occurred and recurred throughout the first few hours of his walk.

Relief came when he saw thickets at least a day ahead.

---
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Calchas Blaesus: A mad seer.
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ruthlessness, ferocity, violence


It was evening when he finally reached the woods. The sun pierced the dark clouds above, bathing the snow covering the otherwise naked trees in dull russet. The land beneath his feet became different, from rocky to a bed of dead, frosted leaves. Although he saw no food around him, he was relieved for the difference in scenery. It meant, at the very least, that he was making progress nearer to his destination. The land still felt as though it as sloping upward as he made his way ever forward, though now he started to wonder if it wasn't his mind making the road feel all the harder for him.

He searched for another place to spend the night, deciding to make his way deeper into the woods the next morning. For the most part, the surrounding plants protected him from the wind, though occasionally a clump of dislodged snow would fall to the ground around him. Yindjibarndi found a place between two trees, where branches overhead would likely shield him from any falling snow. He pitched his tent between them and settled down. By now, he expected his sleep to feel abrupt with no signs of its occurrence aside of the passage of time. Around him he could hear the sounds of the forest in winter; a few chittering insects and the chirping of what few nightbirds hadn't migrated to escape the snow.

He was woken with a sudden, sharp, ripping pain around his ankle. His eyes shot open and he saw a bloodied muzzle clasped tight around him. Before he understood in full what was happening, the creature that had seized him began to drag him out of his tent. He scrambled for a few moments, drawing the dagger from among his possessions, clasping it so tight his knuckles were white around the pommel as he slid over the animal skins. His own teeth seized his bottom lip to cease the budding cry, lest he alert more creatures. A few scrambled, half-thought prayers flew through his mind, some for the strength he would need, others for protection, some few for salvation. Die here, roam forever.

When the tent parted from around his face, he saw the creature. A wolf, its maw stained dark red with his blood. As soon as Yindjibarndi was clear of obstruction, it started shaking its head from side to side, attempting to rip the leg off at the knee. He bit so hard around his lip that he broke the skin, tasted his own coppery blood, then cried out despite his best efforts not to. Bending to sit he raised the dagger high, not thinking clearly enough to ponder what might happen if he missed, and thrust it down into the wolf's cranium.

The iron cut clean through the wolf's fur, skin and flesh, scraping deep into the wolf's bone. The wolf growled its pain. Yindjibarndi wasn't sure if he felt that maw tighten around him or if the throbbing pain of his parting flesh was magnifying naturally. He started to feel lightheaded and fought hard against what he feared would be unconsciousness. He raised his dagger and thrust down again, striking the same place, this time yielding some purchase. He heard bone crack. The wolf growled all the louder, jerking its head to the side. Yindjibarndi screamed again as he felt his knee torn from its socket, but thankfully, the limb remained attached to him.

Aiming through tear-filled eyes, the halfling raised his dagger anew, bringing it down with one hard, final thrust. He struck the same place a third time and broke through the bone, plunging his blade into the brain beneath. The wolf's body jerked once then fell limp, one of its hind legs twitching in place. Yindjibarndi felt he couldn't breathe, dropping his dagger and hurrying to remove the wolf's jaws from his leg. He felt vomit rise to his throat as he saw what remained of his flesh, bone visible in the carnage. He dislodged the wolf's maw and tossed its head aside, bandaging his destroyed leg as best he could in what cloth was available in a desperate attempt to stem the bleeding.

Another growl emanated from the side and Yindjibarndi realized he wasn't alone. Suddenly solemn and calm, he became convinced of his upcoming demise. From the corner of his eye he thought he saw that same sleek black hound, until he realized almost too late that it was the wolf's fellow hunter. The creature ran at him, intending to topple him over. Yindjibarndi's fast hand retrieved his dagger and desperately, without aim, held it upward to meet the oncoming wolf. The animal bowled him over and fell atop him, jerking and squirming. Yindjibarndi felt the warmth of its blood coating his chest. The dagger sank deep into the wolf's neck and, enraged, the thing died slowly atop him.

Pinned and bleeding, the halfling fought to free himself before some other creature came along. He couldn't hear anything approaching over the sound of his own heartbeat, pounding desperately behind his ears. As the halfling struggled to lift the impossible weight of the wolf from his chest, he felt a darkness encroaching on his vision, flooding his head. It was hot and heavy. He fought it back as best he could, bit his lip again, sucked on the copper blood. It was all futile. Yindjibandi's struggle became weaker and weaker until he found his limbs too heavy to move. His consciousness ebbed away and he lay beneath the wolf, smothered with blood and fur and death.

---
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time, age and experience


To his surprise, he woke.

The first thing he noticed aside of his sheer state of being alive was the incredible pain flowing from his calf and throughout his body. He attempted to move but found every part of him was weighted down, his limbs refusing to accept the coordination of his mind and remaining bound to whatever it was that happened to be beneath him. He opened his mouth to call for help but his throat was hoarse and only made a dry, raking croak. His vision swirled and left him effectually blind, though he could be sure of a dim light, wherever he was.

There was motion to his side and he attempted to move his head, succeeding by roughly an inch. A powerful wave of nausea struck him, though as he became aware, his belly was too empty to allow him to vomit. He heard a voice, somehow deeper than it should possibly be, telling him to "rest now." A hand was on his forehead, stroking back down his hair. Whoever it was, at least it wasn't a wolf.

A face slowly came into focus and he saw that it was feminine and narrow. Elongated ears, dark hair, emerald eyes. He closed his own eyes and let the sense of weight overcome him. To his disoriented mind it felt as though he were being sucked into the surface beneath him. A mattress, he supposed. Another dreamless sleep overcame him, though this one not nearly so restful. Days of exhaustion and now injury all amounted to this one lengthy bout of rest from which he felt, this time almost peacefully, that he might never wake. Even the aching of his tattered leg couldn't disrupt him.

When he finally woke again, his wounded leg was draped across the lap of something ancient. An elf, by the tales he had been told. Willowy and beyond time, with pure white hair and a face somehow devoid of any wrinkles. Yindjibarndi awkwardly lifted his way onto his elbows. He could see his wound, could see the lithe fingers of the elf darting through it with a needle and thread, stitching him back together where there didn't seem to be enough flesh to sow. He felt lightheaded again, watching on as though the limb weren't his. For all he could feel from it, it may well not have been. There was no sensation beneath his knee and no pain at all within his body.

"Will I be lame?" He attempted to ask, though again he found his voice too coarse and weak to properly intone the words. The elf appeared to understand. Although the timeless thing didn't raise his eyes from the wounds, he replied in a too-rhythmic, singsong way,

"No. But you will be staying with us for the next few days. You are in Silverymoon, in Selune's church, and you are safe here." Yindjibarndi watched the elf's lips move. Slow, deliberate intonations. He felt he was in a strange state, with no sensation beneath his knee. Though the why of it was beyond him, he felt he could see motions that the elf didn't make, all by observing those that the elf did. Subtle tinges and twitches, things that ought to have been imperceptible. Even though he was sure of his strange state of mind, he couldn't bring himself to feel any worry over it. The elf must have had him under some manner of hex or enchantment, he reasoned, without the ability to muster a solemn feeling about it.

When the elf had either finished with his calf or lost attention, he gingerly placed it back down on the bed. The elf's eyes settled on his and again those too-pale lips moved, stating with over-precise motions, "I'll be sure that you're brought something to read."

---
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knowledge


He was bound to the bed. A nomad caught in place. All around him were off-white walls carved of ancient wood, the occasional brownish rings showing just how many years beyond his potential the tree had reached before it was felled to create a home. The furniture was simple, practical. Bookshelves, writing desks, cabinets and drawers. All of it fashioned of the same or similar material. There was a certain meticulous distance between each object in the room, evident of many hours spent stressing over making everything 'just so.' It was too clean. Yindjibarndi was certain that he could feel his mind slipping.

Each morning the willowy old elf brought him food and a book. The elf would raise one snow-white brow incredulously as Yindjibarndi returned each tome by the following morning. Crippled as he was, he had little to occupy the many, many hours of the day. So he read volume after volume of elven heroes and histories, of philosophers' discourse. He learned the past of the city in which he now resided and through penmanship more suited to creatures of ancestry, some of the tongue most popular to its denizens.

The time came when he could lower his body from the bed. He became reacquainted with the estranged sensation of cold against the soles of his feet. His gait was marred by a limp, but the mere ability to walk from one side of the room to the other gave him enough confidence to proclaim that he was prepared to leave. The ossified elf watched him in silence as his courageous smile slowly wilted down again. When Yindjibarndi's skepticism showed most clearly the elf chose to speak, a bluntness to his tone. "The pass north will kill you in winter. This bed is yours until Spring."

He learned many things throughout that winter. That the elf's name, or the name that he used for those not of similar descent, was Elym. He learned as much of the elvish language as could be learned over a season. Tales, songs and histories. When he was well enough, he left the boundaries of Elym's home and explored the streets of Silverymoon, finding it a far quieter city than the first he had seen. This was a city filled with artistry and architecture, overstuffed libraries and the lore brought by scholars from nations Yindjibarndi had never heard of.

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Characters:
Calchas Blaesus: A mad seer.
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