Chapter 1

The rat peeked out at the quiet street, visibly weighing its chances. A weak fire spell roared from inside the building convincing it to scurry for freedom. Halfway across the street the small rodent paused... nose in the air, reconsidering. Too late. My bronze dart caught it in its midsection, tumbling it end over end towards the far side of the street, where it fell with a small plunk into the canal.

"Blast!" I cursed, "Lost another arrow! Not to mention the five coins for the rat!"

I removed another slender dart from the sheath lying atop a canvas bag half full of dead rats.

"This is no work for a warrior!" I muttered slumping back down against the doorway to the granary.

"You call this work?" A youthful voice boomed down at me... I moved aside slightly to hide the bag of rat corpses. I recognized the voice of course, and knew it was time again for my weekly "you can do better than this, Gareth" lecture. When I finally looked up into the face of my friend Blaster, I knew that he hadn't missed the significance of the bloody bag. My face grew red with embarrassment.

"Yeah, work is work," I replied, scarcely louder than before. "Hard enough to get a decent job these days."

When I first met him, he was just a skinny kid arguing with some street toughs. He insisted that they call him "The Blaster", as he had just been accepted into the Poet's Guild and had big plans for his future. They had another name for him, not nearly so nice. I don't know if their slander against his mother was true or not, but he did have the look of a street kid himself. The fact that a Guild accepted him was enough to make me side with him. I unsheathed my axe and stood behind him, easily twice his size in my armor. The street toughs thought that it was a really good time to go fishing. Or anything that took them far away. Quickly.

He never told me his real name and I never asked. I told him about my past, guarding caravans for over twenty years, before finally giving in to the lure of magic to be found in the Kingdom. I was accepted into the Warrior's guild immediately. Maybe Taebek liked me... I told people that he must have thought I was so old I might die before the regular initiation was over. Still, for all my greater years, I wasn't much further along in my training than Blaster was in his. He didn't talk about his past, but he chattered endlessly about his plans. He promised that he was going to be a powerful Poet, healer and master of animal magics. I got the impression that I was the first person to ever listen to him, let alone believe him. Still, it seemed like such hard work... learning new spells and mastering new weapons. Stuff we never would do guarding caravans. Each time I learned a new skill, Blaster and I would celebrate, at first over a few roasted birds I bought... later, as he outstripped me in talent he started springing for full banquets to celebrate. Though we joined the Phoenix Clan together, we really had little in common in those days. But we were friends and we died more than once for each other. Thank the Gods that Resurrection spell worked right! Not like it is today.

After he reached his ultimate goal and was accepted as a Muse, he donned his brown robes and began to run into me less often. I can't say I thought much of his new friends, but they were all very powerful Mages and Poets... Blaster had at last made good on his promise.

I could tell that he was preparing an unusually scathing lecture this time, but was interrupted by the noise of a flurry of fire spells from inside the building. The door made a grinding noise as it opened and a cloud of smoke, unpleasantly redolent of charred rat, wafted out.

"I found their last hiding place!" The young Mage said proudly, dragging a heavy bag out the door, while waving away the clouds of smoke. He stopped when he saw I wasn't alone, and then formally bowed, "Excuse, me, Sir Muse. I didn't know you had company, Gareth."

"Who is this and why in M'hul's name are you hunting rats?" Blaster said condescendingly, barely nodding at the youngster.

"This polite young man is Gaku. Gaku, this is Muse Blaster. It is precisely in M'hul's name that we are hunting rats, Blaster. You know how poor this city has been the last few years... we can hardly afford to lose the new harvest to a bunch of rats, now can we?" I said, patronizingly. Dragging myself to my feet, I slung my bag over my shoulder; blood from the skewered rats ran down the back of my armor. I didn't care; besides, Gaku's bag was much heavier... the kid did good.

"M'hul is paying five coins for each rat. Nothing to sneeze at, Blaster."

Gaku was uncomfortable with Blaster's condescending attitude, so I grabbed him by the shoulder and dragged him down the street.

"If you really need me for anything besides a lecture..." I instructed over my shoulder, "Gaku and I will be at the Tavern."

We went to sell our rats, leaving Blaster standing in the street in front of the Granary. It looked like he wasn't finished talking, but we were out of earshot. With a clap of his hands he disappeared.

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Story tagged with:
Romantic / Magic / Fiction /