April, 2003

“You tell Master Farthingsworth,” said the Duke behind his desk, pointing his quill menacingly at the distraught page before him, “that eighty-thousand gold crowns is highway robbery, all I’m asking him to do is fix a bloody door. You tell him that.”
The page nodded nervously, though visibly relieved that the fifteen minute tirade concerning the downfall of an “Honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay” and the decidedly dubious heredity of the Duchy’s chief stonemason was nearly at and end. He let out a squawk, however, when the door to the office burst open and a wizened figure stormed in with a flurry of violet robes.
“OUT!” the figure (who seemed to the page to be at least eight feet tall and breathing fire) roared, and out the page went, streaming scrolls and papers in his wake.
“Ah, Ralben,” said the Duke amiably, “I’m glad you finally deci-“
“SILENCE!!!!!!!!!” the other screamed, very much like one would imagine a stack of ancient books screaming. The Duke raised his eyebrows slightly and settled back in his chair, certainly more curious than offended.
“YOU…you ignorant…megalomaniacal…STRIPLING PUP!!! How could you have done this? What in the nine hells possessed you to think that you could play with fate like this?!?!” the old man roared.
“I’M NOT DONE DAMN IT ALL!!!” The little man took a few deep breaths and continued a bit more calmly. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done? Obviously not the bloody dangers involved, nor the enemies you could make simply by *attempting* such a stunt. Oh! And let’s not forget-“
“Ralben…” the Duke attempted again, but was silenced with a nasty look and an upraised finger.
“Do you even have any idea what Aluviel’s Embrace is like you nitwit!?!?! It’s paradise! The lad had peace, and silence, and joy AND NOW HE VERY LIKLEY THINKS HE’S IN HELL BY COMPARISON!!! Oh..oh..and let’s not forget poor Salmnow Dawn! Oh no! How could you have POSISBLY CONSIDERED yanking that poor boy back from the grave just to RIP THE LIFE BACK OUT OF HIM to do THIS!?!?!?”
“TELL ME!!!! TELL ME HOW THIS BRINGS THAT WOMAN OF YOURS BACK! THAT MAN IN THERE ISN’T EVEN YOUR BLOODY SON!! He’s the damned Chosen One, given life again but with no purpose. You know what I’d call that eh? I’d bloody well call it some bloody rotten damned torture that’s what I’d call it!”
“Ralben, I…”
“So now you’ve finally done it! Crossed right over that bloody line into a fantasy world of elves and pixies where Deb Rahl is the bloody emperor of all and master of life and death, is that it? WELL LET ME TELL YOU WHAT-”
“RALBEN!” the Duke shouted at last.

“I didn’t do it.”

The little man deflated a bit and sputtered.


“I didn’t do it. Alex died an enviably righteous death, why would I take that away?”


“He *was* the vessel, but we’ve both known that for months.”


“I have no idea, but there are a lot of people around here dead-set on finding out.”

Ralben coughed into his hand and straightened out his robe a bit, though his calm demeanor was betrayed by the deep crimson his cheeks had become.

“Erm. Well then,” he said in his normally crisp and proper tone. ”I believe I will go aid them in their quest then.” The Duke responded with a solemn nod, and the wizened alchemist moved towards the door. He stopped in the doorway and made at examining the masonry of the frame.

“Good stonework this,” he said with a cough, patting the wall gingerly.

“Ralben,” replied the Duke, interrupting the other man’s escape plan.

“Hmm?” he replied lightly.

“Welcome to Stormstone Sound.”

“Thank you, my lord,” Ralben responded, leaving.


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