Choices and Debts

Chapter 1

Consciousness returned slowly, and disorientation forestalled an immediate reaction to the new circumstances. For a moment it seemed as if the struggles of the day before and my strength leaving me for the last time were the remnants of a dream, and soon the unpleasant routine of the existence I had known for years would renew itself once again.

The pain throughout my body was the first thing that didn't seem to fit. Had I been punished last night? Maybe my dream had taken on elements of my actual suffering, particularly if I had passed out before they had finished with me. But I didn't seem to remember....

The place I was in was far too bright, and the surface on which I lay too soft, and I seemed to be covered. My eyes opened briefly, then the pain of exposure forced them closed again. But a few moments of adjustment allowed me to see that while above ground I was not out in the sunlight, but in some kind of enclosed structure.

I started suddenly as my vision focused enough to see someone else nearby, a gnome woman with a stern and somewhat distasteful expression. The pervasive and slightly dull ache gave way to intense agony shooting up my legs as I unsuccessfully tried to scramble from my prone position, managing only to slightly dislodge the sheet that lay atop me. The gnome spoke sharply, warningly, before softening in tone to ask a question, but the unfamiliar words held no meaning for me, and after a moment she called out to somewhere else and left.

I tried to sort through my memories. I'd been on the run for what felt like months but must not have been more than a few days. I'd even nearly been captured again, but managed barely to escape, albeit wounded. By the time I had found myself at the edge of a drop overlooking a road, my strength had nearly failed me. By some miracle a cart happened to pass by whose contents looked like it might safely break my fall, and with no other options seeming to remain, I rolled off the edge at what I hoped to be the right moment.

My memory was hazy enough that I realized I must have passed out upon impact. Somehow, my fall had gone unnoticed and the cart carried my unconscious form ...where? I had a memory of being awakened by a jolt and a fall to the ground... and seeing many faces gathered around, staring fearfully and whispering. There was no way I could escape so many adversaries even if I had my strength, and I could feel my consciousness slipping away, along with the last of my hope that I would somehow survive....

Yet I was alive, in this unfamiliar place. Perhaps when I passed out I had been deemed little enough threat as to be better captured than killed? Yet while I was having trouble moving due to my injuries, I was not otherwise restrained....

My attempts to make sense of the situation were interrupted by the arrival of another gnome, this one appearing noticeably younger, who hurried over to my side carrying a small cup. This gnome spoke with a tone that seemed gentle and even a bit worried, but unlike the previous gnome's words, these I understood perfectly.

"Ah, you're awake! You were asleep for a really long time, I was really worried. I... I don't usually see anyone hurt this badly.... Er, I-I brought some water, I imagine you're really thirsty but it's important you don't drink too much too soon or it might make you sick...." The girl nervously held out the cup, while I stared warily at her, trying to make sense of my situation.

The words spoken had been in Draconic, and had been delivered with a casual fluency that had never been possessed by those of my captors who delivered orders in the language. Learning Goblin had been a necessity, not least because those captors who did not speak a captive's language were not always patient enough to wait for someone to translate before becoming incensed that their orders were not yet being obeyed by those who failed to understand them. And if speaking to other slaves was frowned upon, speaking to other slaves in a language not understood by a captor might be presumed downright subversive by the more paranoid. There was a twinge of pain in my chest entirely unrelated to my injuries as I suddenly remembered the last time I had been spoken to truly conversationally in that language, but I kept such reactions out of my expression and forced myself to remain focused on the situation at hand.

The gnome remained, looking kind and hopeful, cup proffered, for more than a minute as I stared at her and tried to decide if this was genuine kindness or deception, and whether I had any real option in either event, but I was becoming aware of just how great my thirst had become and finally accepted the cup, though as stiff as I was it was necessary for her to keep hold of and help me position the cup. In a moment it was drained, but my thirst had not subsided and it must have shown in my reaction as the gnome shook her head and looked apologetic. "Give it a little more time. I'll bring more when it's safe. How are you feeling? Does your head hurt?"

I didn't respond. I wasn't sure how to. If the tone had been demanding, if the words had been spoken in Goblin, perhaps a response would have come, albeit more likely what seemed expected than the actual truth. What was happening now, though, was just too far outside my experiences for it to be at all clear how to respond.

After a moment, the girl began peering intently and moving her head, looking at me from various angles. I kept my attention mostly focused on her, though I did glance about to confirm that we were still, in fact, alone. When she reached for the sheet covering my body, I hissed and grabbed her hand, albeit weakly. She froze, looking startled for a moment, but it gave way to her previous kind-but-worried expression and she added, "I promise, I'm not going to hurt you. I just need to continue treating your injuries. You're still badly hurt, you might get worse if it's left alone...." I searched her expression, but while there did seem to be some kind of uneasiness, she didn't seem to be frightened of me. In the end, I realized there really wasn't anything I could do at this point, so I let go.

The removal of the sheet led to another unpleasant surprise. "Badly hurt" didn't seem sufficient to cover the situation; my wounds had been bandaged, but there were many, and injuries serious enough that I wondered why the pain wasn't overwhelming me even now. I was not merely too stiff to move; one leg was damaged so badly I doubted I would ever walk again. As the gnome worked to clean and rebandage injuries I lowered my head back to the cushion it had laid upon before I awoke and closed my eyes. I hadn't escaped, and now I would never escape again. Would I even be any use, broken like this? What was the point in anyone trying to help me now?

I must have drifted back to sleep as the next thing I remembered was the gnome speaking softly and being offered another cup of water, and finding that I was again covered. Once more, my thirst was too great to do anything but accept the offered water, but this time I felt noticeably better by the time I finished, even if it still didn't seem like quite enough. When the water was finished, the gnome simply remained by the side of the bed I occupied. At length, she spoke again.

"What happened to you? Can you say? It's obvious you didn't get hurt that badly just by falling."

I didn't respond. I didn't know why she wanted to know. I didn't know what it would mean to her that I had been trying to escape. I had no idea if I could trust her, for all that I needed to accept her care to have any chance of surviving....

"Can you tell me your name? Where are you from?"

I remained silent, and she rambled on.

"Ah, I should introduce myself. I'm Illyvalen Mirilas Forlin, everyone just calls me Illyvalen though. I'm studying as a healer, though I can't do any magical healing....

"Oh, and I also study language, which is kind of fortunate I guess because no one else around when you were found spoke Draconic....

"Ah, and this is my family's place; they kind of had an area set up like this already because of me, so they let me turn it into a small clinic. They were pretty surprised when I brought you back here, though. We don't usually see kobolds within the city and all....

"Um, so anyway, what do you do? You didn't get injured like that working or in a battle, did you?

"I, um, I mean, you don't really need to tell me anything I guess, but, um... you can speak, can't you?"

Her expression had grown fairly concerned, and it didn't seem like my own silence was doing anything to dissuade her, so with some effort, I managed to rasp out quietly, "I can speak."

She smiled and looked relieved. "I was a little worried for a bit. It's okay, you don't have to say anything if you don't want to. But if you need anything, don't hesitate to ask."

Over the next few days I saw a few other gnomes and even once a stern-looking halfling as they performed various tasks or simply observed, but only the young gnome from before interacted with me directly. The girl tended my injuries, brought food and water, and spent many of the hours I was awake chatting continuously on various topics while keeping a close eye on me. I started to realize eventually that this wasn't just a nervous habit; she was trying to keep my mind occupied, and often acted relieved the more clear it became that despite my silence I was following her.

Another realization that took longer to form was that this girl was not simply dancing around the subject of my fugitive status; she honestly had no clue where I'd come from or that I might have been fleeing from anyone. From the information she volunteered I gathered that I was in a place called Korranberg within a much larger area called Zilargo. The mountains I had left behind were to the east, but stretched so far north that I had no idea how far I had come from where I started.

While I could not be certain just how far I'd come in distance, I had apparently crossed a great cultural divide. There seemed little chance I was to face immediate physical threat; aside from a war whose ravages were mostly being felt well away to the north, violence was largely unheard of here. An organization called the Trust put any such conflict down decisively, usually before it could come to blows. It was simply an accepted truth that Korranberg was safe. Undeniably, unquestionably safe.

Further, when I finally mustered the courage to ask how much contact Zilargo had with those living in and across the mountains to the east, I was informed that there was almost no contact at all; the territory from whose outskirts I had apparently fled belonged to a place called Cyre, but had been conquered by hobgoblins and declared the "nation of Darguun"; it was seen as a barely-tolerated pariah state, derided as lawless for its flouting of something called the "Code of Galifar" and its overall propensity toward violence. While I avoided inquiries that might read too directly on my own status, it at least seemed unlikely that I was at great risk of being returned to my captors for now.

As my recovery progressed to the point where I was spending more of my time awake, the girl began to tutor me in the common language spoken throughout the continent. Knowing well how important it could be to understand the speech of those around me, I applied every bit of focus I could muster to memorizing this, which seemed to greatly encourage her; before long she was speaking to me as much in "Common" as Draconic, and she even started in on how the language was written before long. By then I had reached the point where I could sit up without difficulty, and it seemed that writing material was plentiful in this place; a table set by the side of my bed was well-stocked, and I practiced writing various words and phrases during much of the time I was alone. As my understanding improved, the girl began to bring books as well, which provided further opportunity to improve my understanding of where I was and the overall situation.

As the speech of the others who were periodically present became understandable, I had the opportunity to pick up on the occasional conversation. It seemed that I was a common topic of discussion; there was speculation about how I came to be here, how I had been injured, whether it had something to do with some kind of "mining conflict" or even possibly the war.... Apparently someone had noticed the brand on my back, but no one seemed to have any idea of its meaning. Eventually my progress in reading caused them to realize that I understood their language now; rather than restrain their open speculation, however, this simply served to make me a target of their questions. I did not respond to most inquiries, but even my reactions sometimes seemed to give them more to speculate on, despite my best efforts.

Meanwhile, as my strength increased, there was more attention and concern over my damaged leg. Initially, when I was first allowed to attempt to move on my own power, I was provided with a pair of oddly-shaped sticks whose purpose I was told was to allow me to support my weight with my arms. Maneuvering this way seemed incredibly awkward, but it was clear I was still in no condition to stand normally, and I had no desire to spend the rest of my life lying in one place. Those days were some of the most frustrating, as it often seemed like I had only just begun my efforts when exhaustion overtook me and I was being helped back into bed. Yet my endurance did improve, and I eventually moved from needing both sticks to one stick and eventually a simpler cane.

Despite my progress, it was quite clear that my damaged leg was not healing sufficiently on its own and could not take my weight. Illyvalen eventually confirmed that it was going to require magical healing, which was beyond what her clinic could perform. While some of the other gnomes argued with her over whether my case was serious enough, it was eventually decided that the "emergency fund" would be covering my "referral" to another healer.

It was the first woman I had seen here, an apparent relative of Illyvalen by the name of Jeslaryun Mirilas Forlin, who explained the details: The halfling I'd occasionally seen observing the clinic was named Selbrech Kaman d'Jorasco, and his family clinic had taken an interest in Illyvalen's efforts to create a charity clinic out of the very rooms she herself had been cared for in her early years, when it was feared she would not live for very long. While his own oath prevented him from participating in any direct way, he had made a point of both providing advice to Illyvalen in her efforts, and of monitoring those efforts. House Jorasco would not officially endorse a third-party clinic, but word was spread unofficially that he considered Illyvalen's clinic a reputable operation and worthy charity. In return for this consideration, those patients who need urgent magical healing would be referred to his clinic; an "emergency fund" of donated coin was maintained to cover the costs.

The concept of 'coin' was in some ways familiar and in some ways new. Wealth was something my tribe had understood well, and I vaguely recall the way some of the members treasured personal trinkets that they had acquired. But my own understanding of wealth had always been more on the order of what resources a tribe possessed. My recent reading had made it clear, however, that in most places it was up to individuals to find their own wealth and exchange it for what they personally need. In Zil society family members looked after each other, but no one seemed to look out for the tribe as a whole, at least in terms of seeing people fed, clothed, and otherwise cared for. It seemed almost like each family was a tiny tribe living together with hundreds of other tribes, tolerating them but not seeming to really care about their welfare that much.

The message Jeslaryun was trying to get across was clear: My further care required a scarce resource, and it was Illyvalen who had pushed to see that that was going to happen. It was also clear from my understanding of Zil society that its members rarely did anything without expecting to see some kind of return on that investment. This was a warning that I was going to owe her, and significantly at that. I found myself returning to some of the books I had read before on the nature of Zil society as I awaited the appointment, now with a new puzzle in mind: trying to imagine what this Illyvalen truly wanted from me.

In the end, imagination proved insufficient to the task. The books I read told me about what tended to drive Zil gnomes generally: an insatiable desire for knowledge and understanding. Perhaps I would be required to sacrifice my silence on the details of my life? Yet of all the gnomes I had encountered, Illyvalen seemed least inclined to pester me for answers to the questions circling around my presence. She could just be biding her time, but that didn't quite seem right. The most consistent traits I observed in her were kindness and consideration for others; if that was a mask for her true intentions, it was one she never let slip for a moment.

So it was on a cold winter morning as I hobbled along behind her down the streets of Korranberg, dressed in somewhat poorly-fitting clothing that she had lent me for the occasion, that I finally chose to be blunt on the matter. "What do you want of me, Illyvalen Mirilas Forlin?"

The young gnome looked back in surprise at my unexpected question. "Huh?"

"You have cared for me for the passing of a season, though I had nothing to offer in explanation or trade. You now offer up your treasures to another to see me made whole. If I am to be in such debt, I would know what price you would ask of me."

Illyvalen stopped walking and turned to stare at me for a moment, surprise shortly giving way to sadness as she broke eye contact and looked to the ground. After a moment, she began to speak much more softly than usual. "When I was a child... I was not in good health. My earliest memories are of being in the very bed you've been resting in, seeing the worry on the faces of family... seeing the pain in the eyes of my parents as I struggled to breathe....

"I... was not expected to survive. My parents did everything they could. Selbrech did everything in his power, but he couldn't offer much hope. When my condition finally started to seriously improve, it was seen as a miracle. The terrible burden I could see in everyone's eyes, the burden of expecting to lose me, disappeared.

"I... don't like thinking about debts. I know how things work here, I know how to keep track of what's owed, but... life... people... are too precious to be reduced to that." Her head lifted at this declaration, and her eyes met mine again as she continued. "I helped you because I want you to live... because it would be too sad if you died and I could have stopped it.... Does that... is that... enough of an answer...?"

I watched her for some minutes as I considered what she had said. I did not know much of gnomes beyond what I had read, but I knew how to read the intentions of those around me, and my instincts told me what I was hearing was a genuine outpouring of how she felt rather than a rehearsed speech intended to elicit sympathy. Eventually, I nodded, then responded more formally. "You have not named a payment as I would consider such things, but I accept your words and will remember what you have asked of me."

Illyvalen blinked in brief confusion, considering my words, then laughed and seemed to brighten. "Heh, I guess I did ask for something there after all. Anyway, we should— huh... that's odd...."

I turned to follow her gaze northward, using my free arm to block out the sun as I focused my vision on the sky; above the distant mountains, a tiny point of light was just barely visible. I had no idea what might cause such a phenomenon, and when I glanced back at Illyvalen she just shrugged and started off in the direction of Selbrech's clinic.

The building marked with the griffon crest was not all that much larger than the wing of Illyvalen's residence that had been converted into a clinic, but the bustle of halflings and gnomes within spoke to a thriving practice. I waited in the lobby with Illyvalen for about half an hour before Selbrech met us, his face showing an unexpected warmth as he greeted the girl. "You've done quite well for yourself. I've been quite impressed with what you've managed to achieve. It does my heart good to know that those who cannot afford our help have somewhere to go. Ah, and this is the mysterious kobold patient everyone's been wondering about. Tikra, was it? I'm Selbrech Kaman d'Jorasco. I understand you need us to take a look at your leg today?"

The brief silence that followed was broken by Illyvalen. "Ah, she doesn't talk much, though she understands Common very well now. But yeah, the leg isn't going to heal on its own. I think a 'Cure light wounds' effect should help, and that isn't too great a strain on the fund under the circumstances."

Selbrech escorted the two of us to a room with a counter, two chairs and a bed that seemed to fold in the middle, raising one end a bit higher than the other. After asking me to sit on the edge of the bed, he proceeded to examine the damaged leg, carefully feeling the bones and muscles, before nodding briefly. "I agree that 'Cure light wounds' should help, but the damage is fairly extensive. There's no guarantee that just one treatment will fix everything. It should do enough to allow you to walk, though." He turned to Illyvalen. "Are you sure that's worth it given the limitations?"

Illyvalen already had a pouch out and was removing shining gold coins from it, handing a total of eight over to the halfling. "Of course it is. We have to try, and to hope."

Selbrech nodded, pocketing the coins and turning his attention back to me. "You should be aware that when an injury has gone this long without magical treatment, the process can be... rather uncomfortable. You may want to brace yourself." I simply nodded; there had been plenty of opportunity in the past for me to become accustomed to enduring pain.

Despite my preparedness, as he touched my leg again with the mark on his arm glowing, the shock of feeling the magic enter me caused me to gasp. A sensation that was not pain and yet was as intense as agony filled my leg as its contents were reshaped.... A few moments later the sensation subsided, and as I stared at my leg I was struck by a sense of dissonance at how rapid and simple an affair this healing had been. Serious injury was rarely visited deliberately onto captives, as rendering one unfit to work was seen as wasteful; yet injuries did sometimes occur due to accident or a captor's inexperience. Injury could be inflicted in a moment, but healing, if it ever came, took time. For someone to be able to take away injury as swiftly as it was inflicted seemed altogether strange, and it was difficult to accept the idea that my leg could be so suddenly rendered intact.

Feeling some trepidation given the incongruity of the situation, I slowly began to lower myself to the floor, keeping my weight supported between my good leg and the bed, then gingerly started to put weight on the newly-healed leg. There was pain, but not of the usual intensity warning that such an act was dangerous. As I shifted, I found my injured leg holding my weight... for all of a few seconds before I collapsed, Illyvalen rushing to my side to catch and steady me.

"Whoa, there. Your leg might be healed, but you still haven't used it in a while. It's going to take time before you can walk normally." She helped me back up to a standing position. "Can you move it all right?"

I experimentally moved the leg, testing its flexibility. There was a bit of pain and a lot of stiffness, but I could tell that it had regained a lot of mobility.... Not all, however; there was a clear difference between what I could do now with that leg and what I had been able to do with my good leg when I was first becoming accustomed to moving on my own. Suppressing a grimace, I responded, "I will manage."

Selbrech nodded. "If you have lingering difficulties, you may want to try the same treatment again in the future... if you find the means to afford it. I need to see to other duties, but I wish you the best of luck with your recovery."

As we made our way back through the city, it was Illyvalen who broke the silence with a question. "So, it seems like you're recovering pretty well now. Do you know where you plan to go or what you plan to do? I know you don't like to talk about what's happened.... I'd be worried, though, if you just left and didn't say anything...."

We continued on for several minutes as I considered this, and I suspect she thought I wasn't going to answer as she seemed surprised when I spoke. "I do not know. I would not choose to return whence I came. If there would be any place for me here, that too I do not know."

"Oh. Well, I don't know for sure either, but, um... you've basically read just about every Common language book I own or could manage to borrow on short notice. I was actually figuring I'd have to teach you Gnomish soon just so you could keep going.... You read faster than most people I know, and you obviously seem to understand what you're reading pretty well. Maybe you'd be good at research?"

This suggestion surprised me, and I thought back over the several stacks of books that had been accumulating on the bedside table. Illyvalen had taken some of them back when I'd finished; perhaps those were borrowed. I realized I had lost track of how many books I had read in total, but there were probably over forty still stacked up right now. There had been a lot of time where I had nothing to do but read....

"Anyway, if you're staying in Korranberg, there are some details to be worked out, but it shouldn't be too big of a deal. You should stay at the clinic until we can be sure your leg is okay, but I can start looking into other options."

There didn't seem to be much else that needed to be said, so we continued back to the clinic in silence.

It was later that afternoon that we learned that the nation of Cyre was no more.

20 Olarune
994 Y.K.
Korranberg Chronicle
Special Edition

Massive Explosion Consumes Cyre

A massive burst of arcane energy consumed huge portions of the nation of Cyre early this morning, according to multiple reports. The full extent of the devastation is not known at this time, but the blast was visible from as far away as Sigilstar, Thaliost, Korth, Vedykar and even Gatherhold. Our most detailed reports come from Karrlakton, Aruldusk and Vathirond, where reporters observed a blinding radiance that spread across the sky, lasting several minutes (see pages 3, 5 and 6 for first-hand accounts). Several accounts from Vathirond indicate that the Lightning Rail track near the Cyran border has been entirely destroyed, and that a dead-gray mist has settled over the area.

The city of Aruldusk is already facing an influx of Cyran refugees from Eston, carrying wild and confusing tales. Many of these refugees are already showing signs of some unknown illness, and officials are struggling to maintain a quarantine. It is likely only a matter of time before Karrlakton faces similar concerns.

At press time we have had no contact with our reporters stationed within Cyre's borders. We will continue to report as new information becomes available, and our thoughts and prayers are with everyone who has friends and family within the affected areas.

The shouts of chronicle vendors in the streets brought my attention away from one of the last unfinished books I had been provided, an apparent narrative account of gnome mate selection and sexual practices whose flowery prose and convoluted scheming among all involved parties presented a considerable challenge to comprehend. Setting the text aside for the moment, I took up my cane and slowly made my way toward the window.

Outside the clinic gnomes were mostly either reading with shocked or intent expressions, or discussing excitedly or nervously with each other. Everyone who did not have a chronicle in their hands seemed to be crowding around the bag-laden individuals selling them, including several gnomes I had seen around the clinic. Jeslaryun was making her way back to the clinic with a grim expression, and barely spared me a glance as she entered and called out. "Illyvalen, are you here? You need to see this."

Illyvalen emerged from a room in the back and began making her way toward the entrance, looking concerned at the other gnome's tone. "What is it? What's wrong?" She took the proffered bundle of paper and began reading, quickly gasping in apparent horror. Looking up at Jeslaryun, she hesitantly asked, "...Uncle Toralnik?"

Jeslaryun shook her head. "I haven't heard anything, but he should have been in Starilaskur this morning. We should know later tonight."

Tearing up, Illyvalen responded simply by embracing the other gnome, letting the chronicle fall to the floor.

Feeling a bit awkward about my complete lack of awareness of the context of this outburst, I made my way as unobtrusively as possible to where the fallen papers lay, scooping them up and depositing them on a nearby table, my eyes widening involuntarily as I quickly read the words displayed upon the top page. Abandoning subtlety, I began rifling through the pages, skimming the various accounts. I had thought the loss of my tribe to be a tragedy beyond compare, but the numbers I was seeing written out were too great for me to comprehend. How many tribes were lost or shattered when an entire nation was destroyed?

"Why yes, of course you can borrow that. Don't mention it. You can just return it whenever, it's not like I was about to read the rest or anything."

Jeslaryun's acidic remarks brought me sharply back to the present moment, and I started guiltily, dropping the chronicle back onto the table. "Sorry, mistress."

This produced a look of confusion from Jeslaryun and a brief fit of giggles from Illyvalen. It took a moment for me to realize what I'd done, then I winced and looked back and forth between the two. It seemed clear Jeslaryun had no idea what I'd said, but I had no idea why Illyvalen had reacted that way.

"Okay, I didn't catch that, want to try running it by me in Common?"

"She said she's sorry, Jeslaryun."

"Yeah, I'm sure you always find apologizing hilarious. Seriously, what did she say?"

I realized I had better speak immediately if I wanted to avoid even more awkward explanations later. "I did not intend humor. I only intended to glance. When I read what happened I forgot myself. When you spoke I was startled and responded... incorrectly. I apologize for my actions."

Jeslaryun blinked at me, taking a moment to consider my response. "...huh. I think that's more than you've ever said to me at one time before.... I guess I understand getting caught up under the circumstances, and it was an awkward moment for asking. It's all right, you can go ahead and finish. But do ask, in the future."

I shook my head slightly and handed the chronicle to her. "I have finished." This seemed to startle her, and it was a moment before she took hold of it.

"Seriously? You've only had that for about 5 minutes."

Illyvalen spoke up again at this point, her amusement having died down. "She's already read through just about every Common book I've been able to scrounge up around here. Now that she can get around, I think getting her library access is going to be a top priority."

"Huh... wonder if you've finally found someone who can keep up with you, then. How many languages are you up to now?"

"Um, just eight. ...maybe ten? I don't know if I really understand Giant or Old Common well enough to count."

"Right. Anyway, I'm going to check in with Uncle Noremdal and Aunt Desrala. I suspect folks will be a bit occupied for a bit, so just holler if you need help down here."

Illyvalen waited for Jeslaryun's departure before speaking further. "I didn't know you spoke Goblin." When I offered no response, she continued. "Have you known many dar? We don't see many in a place like Korranberg, though a long time ago this used to be part of a huge dar empire called Dhakaan."

I had difficulty suppressing a shudder at the prospect of being in the midst of a huge empire run by goblins. Illyvalen seemed to mistake my reaction, asking if I needed help getting back to bed, but I simply shook my head, starting to head back that direction on my own.

After I had taken a seat on the edge of the bed, Illyvalen switched languages, perhaps sensing something of my discomfort with the previous choice. "Sorry if I embarrassed you by laughing like that, but, um... why would you call Jeslaryun 'mistress'? That seems really weird to just blurt out all of the sudden."

Feeling awkward and frustrated by all this, I perhaps unwisely broke my silence at this point. "Do you require this of me now?" I saw Illyvalen flinch at that and knew immediately I had erred again. As she started to stammer and back up, I spoke again. "I apologize. I understand you would be curious. This is... a difficult subject for me, and I would prefer not to elaborate further, but taking offense at the curiosity my own actions provoked is not appropriate, especially in this place."

Illyvalen seemed to take a few moments to regather herself before responding. "It... it must have been bad, whatever it was. I'm sorry." At this point, her attention was suddenly drawn to the book I had been reading earlier. "Aah! Wh-where did you find that...?!"

This question seemed rather odd, considering the circumstances. "You brought it yourself in the last pile. It has proven more difficult to understand than the other books you have provided." Hesitating for a moment, I switched back to Draconic, having a bit less difficulty phrasing my thoughts that way. "Are gnome mating rituals always so complicated? It seems like it would be inconvenient for maintaining the population, but if children are more of a personal burden here and not many people die defending the tribe, perhaps that is less of a concern... are you all right? Your skin has changed color...."

Illyvalen's face had become tinged strongly red and her eyes were wide, and she seemed to be having difficulty formulating a response. Finally, she managed to gasp out, "Ah, that, that's not, um... I didn't mean to... um, w-well ah... that's not... that book... um, I don't think that kind of book is meant to be terribly realistic. It's more, um... more for entertainment than informing...."

I blinked, trying to process this. "Have I erred further? You seem distressed."

Illyvalen shook her head. "Just, um, just don't ask anyone else about it...."

I shrugged. "Perhaps that is for the best. It is unlikely that courtship rituals will prove to have any personal relevance, in any event, though I fear that plotting will be a matter of concern regardless."

Illyvalen sighed in response. "That's certainly true. I can try to help a little, but I'm not sure my methods would work that well for you. You seem to pick up on things pretty well, though."

"It is a more subtle hazard than I have previously faced, but probably a less dangerous one in many ways...." Glancing toward where Jeslaryun had parted, I shifted to the topic that I could tell still troubled Illyvalen. "You fear for your kin?"

Illyvalen nodded slowly. "My uncle... her father... was in Cyre on an assignment. He's supposed to be on his way home now, but...." Taking a moment to wipe tears from her eyes, she continued. "This war has been going on for so long... much longer than I've been alive.... Our own borders haven't been threatened, but even our people are sometimes killed due to being caught up in conflict elsewhere. And now... Cyre's gone.... That was the center of the conflict, the very heart of Galifar, but... after so much time, so much enmity... I don't know if anyone even cares about why the war started in the first place any more.... How many people died today? How many more are going to die now? Is this something that's going to happen to Breland next?"

I remained silent for a while before responding, shaking my head slightly. "I do not know that I understand war on such a scale. I understand defense of the tribe, and I know the ways of those who prey on those who are weaker to claim their lives and wealth. I've known hatred, both individually and between... peoples. But I do not know destruction like this. I remember and could speak the numbers I have read, but they are too large to make sense of...."

"Yeah... it's always like that. It's horrible to know such things are happening, but it never really hits you unless you lose someone you care about.... I hope none of your family are caught up in any of this, at least."

I did not respond for several minutes. I strongly considered saying nothing, but something about the situation made it feel like this much, at least, should be let out. "I... have no kin." I did not elaborate. I could not. Just saying that much felt like I was laying bare my greatest weakness and shame, as if I had just now realized how truly pathetic it was to have been taken alive, a harmless child. Did I believe I was supposed to die defending my tribe, having only once seen the season of my hatching come again? Was my survival all these years and my flight from captivity just a testament to my own cowardice?

I was startled out of this self-recriminatory contemplation as Illyvalen suddenly embraced me, crying. I froze, unsure of what to do. How had I upset her? Should I have remained silent after all? What if someone came in and demanded to know what I had done to provoke such an outburst? My mind racing, I latched on to the only relevant memory I could find: Illyvalen's embrace of Jeslaryun several minutes ago. Carefully, I tried to mimic the way the other gnome had returned the embrace, and waited to see if her reaction would subside.

To my relief, this outburst was as short-lived as the one I recalled earlier. In a few minutes she had released me and was wiping her eyes again. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to dig up painful memories. Did you— ah, no no no! No questions! Sorry! ...I probably startled you too. I get emotional like that kind of easily. My family is used to it by now. I... just can't imagine losing... everyone...."

It took a few minutes to gather my wits after both the unexpected outburst and her quick recovery from it, but I eventually managed to respond in a steady voice. "I hope you do not face such a trial." I could not find the words to articulate my impressions of such a prospect... how the very idea seemed like an affront to all the kindness she had shown to myself and others... the fear that it might take from her something so necessary, so important, that it would be like taking warmth itself out of the world.... Part of me was utterly disgusted that I could be considering the deaths of those I hardly knew, who were not even my own kind, as anything even approaching the significance of the loss of my tribe. And yet, imagining that pain being inflicted upon this particular gnome was somehow unbearable.... Feeling the need to move away from this subject, I quickly grasped at another topic. "You said there are some details that would need to be worked out if I am to remain in this place. What does that entail?"

"Ah, well, if you're going to be here permanently you'll need residency status.... There are a couple ways that could happen. One is if you were adopted by a Zil family.... I kind of doubt I could talk my parents into that idea, even though I do kind of like the idea of having a sister. Otherwise, you can apply for residency as a foreigner.... Technically I don't know if you'd be considered a foreigner if you don't have a home nation, but I think the process would be about the same anyway either way. You'll have to fill out some forms and answer some questions... sorry, it can't be helped, they're going to need to know something about where you're from and why you're here. Only the most basic stuff would be public, though....

"There's also the matter of where you're going to stay. I can make short-term arrangements, but for the long-term a lot will probably depend on what you end up doing. I think you should probably apply as a student at the Library of Korranberg; you seem to learn really quickly so it would be a good opportunity, and they have subsidized dormitories.... I can help you prepare for entrance exams, if that's what you decide to try for....

"You'll probably need to find some work in the short term.... I know a few people who could probably use some help in organizing material, I'll make some inquiries on your behalf, if that's all right."

I blinked, trying to take all of this in. The almost off-hand suggestion of becoming Illyvalen's sister was startling given how seriously Zil took family ties. Was it a gesture of sympathy over my earlier admission, or was she seriously suggesting an offer of personal trust on the level of family? Or was it really just as casual a remark as it seemed like it was meant to sound? As she finished her remarks, I nodded. "I have been idle too long. I would be of use if I can. As for questions, I expected such payment to be required eventually.... I shall endure such scrutiny if I must."

It was a little after midnight that the members of Illyvalen's family who were currently in Korranberg began to gather to make their way to the lightning rail station. When Jeslaryun came to let Illyvalen know, I stood and followed, prompting a look of surprise from Jeslaryun and a smile from Illyvalen. As we made our way in a group, Illyvalen took time to introduce me to everyone, and I did my best to file away names, faces, and details about interests, occupations and hobbies in case they proved important at some point. I mostly responded with polite nods or bows and Illyvalen did the talking on my behalf.

The lightning rail station was a bit crowded despite the late hour; most likely others anxiously awaited the same confirmation our group sought. A definite tension could be felt as the minutes ticked away. Eventually, a distant rhythmic snapping sound heralded the approach, growing louder as the coach barreled toward the station at tremendous speed. The huge metal contraption with its arcs of lightning both above and below matched descriptions I had read, but it was still unlike anything I had directly witnessed before, and I instinctively took a step backward, away from the platform it was quickly approaching, before steeling myself and returning to my previous position; this was no predator or weapon, just a peculiar tool, and one I knew about even if I had never actually seen its like before. As it approached the platform, it slowed and eventually stopped, the noises diminishing except for the brief loud buzz that signalled readiness for disembarking and unloading.

"Unbelievable. Unbelievable! The story of a lifetime and I'm stuck on a train! I had half a mind to turn around at Sterngate, but I suppose I'd have been too late to find out anything good...." The gnome lamenting to himself as he stepped onto the platform bore a noticeable resemblance to Illyvalen's father, and as he looked over toward the assembled group, Jeslaryun ran forward and embraced him. "What's this? Quite the welcoming committee. Hmm, has Illyvalen found a new— wait, is that a kobold?"

Illyvalen's father stepped forward. "You had us all worried, you know. I gather you heard the news once you got to Sterngate?"

"I heard enough. If I had had any idea something like this was about to happen.... Why is there a kobold wearing Illyvalen's old clothes?"

Jeslaryun looked up at her father and shouted angrily, tears in her eyes. "If you'd known, you would have skipped out on your train and stayed in Cyre, and we'd have no idea if you were dead or alive! The whole country... the whole country is gone...."

Toralnik sighed and placed his arms around his daughter. "Easy, easy, it's all right, I'm here, I'm safe. I guess you really were worried.... Maybe it was for the best after all, though I hate to be so far from the action. I'd better check in at the Chronicle offices tonight, they're probably busier than a hasted needletooth swarm with all this going on. Now, would someone please inform me why there is a kobold standing next to my niece dressed in her old clothing and leaning on a cane?"

Illyvalen finally spoke up at this point. "Uncle Toralnik, this is Tikra. She's been staying at the clinic for the last few months, recovering from injuries. I think she's kind of shy, she doesn't like to talk much, but she reads so fast I'm running out of books to lend her. She's planning to stay in Korranberg, but not much has been worked out about that yet."

Toralnik looked slightly hurt at this. "There's been a kobold at your clinic for months and you never even sent a telegram?"

Jeslaryun let her father go and wiped her eyes before facetiously commenting, "What, was that newsworthy?" which left her father unable to form a response for several seconds.

Illyvalen took the opportunity to respond. "Uh, sorry, it just kind of... well, after she'd already been here a while it just didn't seem like... uh... I-I mean... it just didn't occur. When I first found her, she was... she was hurt so badly, I... I was afraid she wasn't going to make it.... It was all we could do just to try to save her, there wasn't time to think about anything else...." The transition in Illyvalen's voice and expression from embarrassment to pain and sadness seemed to ease some of the sense of offense. Toralnik exchanged a look with Illyvalen's father, and Illyvalen's mother gave her daughter a quick, reassuring hug.

"I suppose we failed to think of it as well, so it's not just her fault," offered Illyvalen's father. "I don't think anyone's been by the clinic to interview her yet, though." I had to steel myself against the instinct to back away again at the gleam in Toralnik's eyes prompted by this comment.

"Ah, that's... I mean... she's kind of...." Illyvalen seemed torn between not wanting to disappoint her uncle and not wanting to expose me to further scrutiny. Resigning myself to the inevitable, I took a step forward and spoke with calm I did not feel.

"As Illyvalen's kin, you may ask me what you choose. I may not answer every question."

I had expected to endure my interrogation immediately, and indeed it seemed that would have been Toralnik's preference, but between the late hour, the inconvenient location, and Illyvalen's concerns, it was eventually agreed upon that the interview would be conducted in the afternoon. After a brief detour to the Korranberg Chronicle's main offices, we made our way back to Illyvalen's family residence. Despite my overall progress in recovery I found I was exhausted by the time I made it back to my clinic bed, and was very soon asleep.

I and several of the other juveniles were roused by the cries of alarm that signaled an incursion into the tribe's territory, one that had already gotten past our normal lines of defense. I knew from our teachers that there were many deadly traps and choke points that would ensure that any outsiders making an attempt at infiltrating our caverns met as swift and nasty an end as possible, but it was still unusual for our defenses to be tested to such an extent. Some of those adults minding us made ready to go bolster our defenses, while others made ready to fight in the extremely unlikely event that anyone made it deep enough to stumble into the cavern where we were housed. A few of the juveniles were unsettled enough by the alarm to wail or whimper in distress, but I remained silent, largely unconcerned. I understood our defenses, I recognized how unlikely it was that any intruder, however determined, could breach them. The adults of the tribe knew their roles, and they would protect us. After all, we were the future of the tribe; we couldn't be allowed to come to harm.

Ignoring the other youths, I decided to spend this unexpected mostly-unsupervised time to puzzle over the tablets used to teach reading and writing. They weren't really meant for me — Othax had been the one whose occasional brief vision had garnered the attention and resources of the iejirastrix, and it was his instruction in such matters that was seen as vital; nevertheless, my own interest had been seen as harmless enough, so I was not often chided for the attention I gave to such things. After all, I was still quite young, and it was always possible I might manifest such gifts later on; it would be just as well to have a small head start if so....

"They will come for us soon, you know. The price of blood is demanded. Will you pay it, or will we have to, I wonder?"

I drew back, startled, looking toward Othax, who was suddenly beside me even though I had neither seen nor heard him move. There were shouts and sounds of metal clanging much nearer than I had remembered a moment ago... how long had I been distracted, focused on the tablets? "What... what do you mean?"

Othax did not look at me, and his eyes seemed to be unfocused as he responded. "Would you have us die to give yourself a chance to run? Is it so vital that you should live, of us all, who does not even bear the blessing of Eberron?"

This bizarre assertion shook me deeply, for all that it seemed to make no sense. I tried to respond, to deny his strange prophecy, but at that moment a huge bugbear smashed through the barricade that had been erected to block access to our cavern, prompting squeals of abject terror from all of the juveniles present except Othax, who still seemed to be in some kind of trance, and myself, silent from no lack of terror but a seeming inability to do anything at all. The adults charged with our safety rose quickly with weapon or claw but were dispatched effortlessly.

Othax turned calmly toward the bugbear. "Then so be it; it shall be us." He slowly stepped forward... and the bugbear slammed a club into his side, throwing him against the cavern wall with a sickening cracking thud; his lifeless, broken body slid to the floor as I watched, frozen. The other juveniles began running around in complete panic, and many more fell to the bugbear before a hobgoblin entered the cavern.

"Stop that at once! Those aren't even armed, let alone any kind of threat. If anyone's left alive, they're more use as slaves than corpses." The hobgoblin looked over the room and peered straight at me. "Well, what do you know. This one didn't even have the guts to try and run. Ah, well, probably saved its life at that. Come on you lot, get in here and take that kobold."

Still helplessly frozen, I could do nothing as I was thrust to the ground and held, front down, as a cackling goblin entered with a branding iron that glowed red hot despite the absence of any obvious source of heat. "So you did manage to save some for me, huh? A bit young, but I'll find some way to make it useful."

I wasn't completely frozen anymore, but with strong hands pinning arms, legs and tail to the cavern floor there was little I could do to struggle as the hot iron pressed into my back, painfully burning the scales black... and then it seemed like the brand punctured the scales, a thin spike sliding within me, bringing an agony that was not just pain but terror far greater than I had just faced; greater than I had ever known. I screamed, beyond all capacity for thought, speech or restraint.

"What is it?! What's wrong?!"

The sound of Illyvalen's panicked voice brought sense back to me, if just a little; my scream subsided, and I blinked, attempting to turn my head toward her. Hissing in pain, I stopped, finding my neck would not make the move comfortably. While the unimaginable agony I remembered had passed, there was still a terrible ache running down my back. Trying to gather my wits, I responded. "I do not know what is wrong. My back hurts, and it is difficult to turn my head."

"Lie still for now, then. Did something happen? You screamed so loud you woke me and Jeslaryun."

"I... I must have been asleep. I was in... another place. I was hurt... my back...." I shook my head slightly, wincing from the pain of the move. "I am still disoriented."

Illyvalen frowned, considering this. "You had a nightmare?"

"I... yes." It seemed almost silly to realize I had reacted as I did and raised an alarm over a dream... but the pain had been real, and was still with me. Something more than just a simple dream must have happened.

Illyvalen sighed. "I've heard of this before. I think you were attacked in your nightmare. There's... a creature that lives in the plane of dreams and feeds on dreamers' fears. They can disguise themselves as part of the dream, giving them a chance to sting their victim. The symptoms you've mentioned are consistent. It should heal on its own, but it would be best for you to stay in bed and rest to ensure it can heal quickly. The most I can do is try to help minimize any disruption of that."

I blinked, considering this. It seemed strange, yet it did fit with my recollection of the experience. Perhaps this creature had been the goblin with the iron. Clearly there were more things I needed to learn about dreams when I was able.

"...I know that there's a lot of things you find difficult to talk about, and I don't mean to pry, but if you want to talk about it at all...."

I shook my head and winced again. "I need time to think. Please convey my apologies to Jeslaryun for disturbing her."

Illyvalen nodded, hesitated for a moment, and then departed, leaving me alone as I tried to sort through the memories of what just happened. Last night's uncomfortable discussion had no doubt brought memories of the attack back to the surface of my mind, but while the nightmare had started with that scenario, there were a number of things out of place. I was certain Othax had never uttered such bizarre things to me in his last minutes of life, and while I could not be certain whether or not he'd had any kind of vision, he hadn't acted in any way abnormal that day in my real memories as far as I could recall. The branding also was misplaced; that incident had happened well after the forced march away from my home. Moreover, I had understood the speech of the hobgoblin and goblin in the dream, and I'm certain anything that might have actually been said by them would have been in a language I did not understand at all at the time. And the goblin's voice I had recognized as someone who had not even been part of the raid as far as I knew.

I realized that Othax's words in the nightmare must simply have been incorporating the very sense of guilt I had recognized in myself last night into the incident over which I harbored it. My memories and my emotions had been twisted into that scene in order to maximize the fear the creature could elicit... to make me a better meal.... Disgusted with myself, I closed my eyes and waited for the start of day, unable to sleep but seeking what rest I could.

21 Olarune
994 Y.K.
Korranberg Chronicle
Wir Edition

Prince Oargev Declares Day of Mourning For Lost Nation

In the wake of the tragedy that claimed the nation of Cyre, Prince Oargev has taken the mantle of leadership for the surviving citizens. Making a public statement from the Brelish capital of Wroat, he assured his people that even though the nation had been broken, its people and culture would live on, and that those responsible for the unspeakable atrocity committed upon the Jewel of Galifar would be made to account for their crimes.

"This is a Day of Mourning, not just for the people of Cyre but for all who remember and honor the legacy of Galifar. Even those who have turned their backs on the throne of Galifar still know the meaning of justice, and cannot call such an act of wanton destruction anything but evil. All people of Khorvaire must remember (see Day of Mourning, page A4)

Boranel of Breland Promises Aid to Cyrans

In the wake of the incredible disaster that has destroyed a nation and decimated her people, King Boranel has reached out to Prince Oargev, the only Cyran royal known to have escaped the devastation, promising that Breland would offer shelter and assistance to the survivors of the lost nation. While the full details of this assistance have yet to be formalized, emergency shipments of food and medical supplies have been sent from Wroat and are currently making their way to Starilaskur and Vathirond via Lightning Rail; Vathirond has been directing refugees in good enough condition for travel to make their way to Starilaskur. It seems probable (see Brelish Aid, page A6)

Remains of Metrol Empty By Day, Haunted By Night

An expedition to the Cyran capital of Metrol reveals a city devoid of life; no signs remain of the inhabitants of this once great metropolis, at least during the day. Many parts of the city have crumbled or shattered as if hit by some great concussive force, while others remain almost untouched. The disturbing tranquility was broken as soon as night fell, however; ethereal humanoids began to roam the streets, producing unearthly keening and howling. Several members of the expedition were attacked by these creatures, and some who survived the encounter died later from wounds that would not heal. Based on these reports, House Orien (see Metrol, page A8)

Mutant Monster Attacks on Cyre River

A convoy of Karrnathi cargo vessels bound for Korth was attacked by creatures emerging from the dead-gray mist covering the Cyran side of the stretch of Cyre River running along the Cyre-Karrnath border. Most of the convoy was lost and the survivors were forced to turn back to Karrlakton. Accounts describe strangely-mutated, highly aggressive sea creatures, as well as moving, fluid masses of fire and clouds of electricity. Similar reports from (see Mutants, page A2)

Lost in the Mists; Mishaps Abound at Cyran Border

Since the explosion that consumed the nation of Cyre there have been many attempts to penetrate the dead-gray mist that hangs at the border and obscures the land from scrutiny. Most of those who have crossed into this strange phenomenon have not been seen or heard from since, but a few surviving parties have brought reports of distorted, confusing landscapes and severe disorientation problems. Many of those who escaped were lost for hours only to emerge from the mists well away from either their point of origin or intended destination. Some experts speculate (see Lost, page A3)

Speculation Plentiful, Facts Scarce Regarding Cause of Explosion

Between accounts from refugees and expeditions into the affected area, some details are beginning to come together that might eventually help spread light on the cause or causes of the disaster, but as yet no solid evidence has been found that could provide a conclusive explanation for what happened. Many parties speculate that Cyre may have been attempting to remedy their military disadvantage through some new experiment, but just as many insist it was likely an attack by another nation via some secret undisclosed weapon. Differing accounts place the source of the explosion in Metrol, in the southern city of Making, or in the center of the country's northern regions, and no explanation for the extent to which the devastation conforms to (see Speculation, page A7)

A few hours later, Illyvalen came by my bed carrying a tray laden with a bowl of some kind of soup, as well as a basket with several pillows and a copy of the Korranberg Chronicle. "I've talked to Uncle Toralnik about delaying your interview; you definitely don't need to be dealing with that while trying to recover from a quori attack. No, don't get up just yet; let me come help so you don't strain your back unnecessarily. There we go...." Carefully supporting my back, she helped me into a partial sitting position, propping up my back with pillows. The position was a little awkward and put some uncomfortable pressure on my tail, but with the pain in my back flaring up at any of the obvious attempts to reorient myself I quickly gave up on moving and focused on the meal I had been brought.

"I thought you might want to see the chronicle, given everything that's happening. Though maybe it'd be better if I just read to you. Ah, is the soup all right? I don't actually cook all that often, but Amaltho — that's one of our volunteers who normally does this... er, he w-wasn't as fortunate as we were last night... so he's going to be out for a while...."

Pausing for a moment to consider all this, I responded. "That is unfortunate. I hope that it is not much longer before I am no longer a burden and can be of some use. I am not one to ask about food; I usually survived on much less than has been provided for me here. My kind can eat almost anything. ...while I am curious about the chronicle, I believe anything you can tell me about the creature who attacked me would be more pertinent."

"Oh. Right. Um, I don't really know that much more about quori than what I already told you. They inhabit the plane of Dal Quor, they invade people's nightmares looking for opportunities to prey on their emotions. There are a few types of them, the most common is the fear-eaters I mentioned, but there are also rage-eaters and sorrow-eaters. The attacks aren't common, but they range from minor symptoms like severe headaches or the back injury you've described to short-term comas... and occasionally death...."

I continued to eat, considering this rather disturbing explanation. After a few more minutes, I asked, "So however safe I might be here, I risk death whenever I sleep?"

"Uh, I wouldn't... I-I mean I guess that's technically true, but... these attacks aren't very common... and you seem pretty resilient, you pulled through without magical healing after being hurt really badly. I suspect you could survive even a pretty bad attack...."

This was not the most reassuring response imaginable, but it did seem like she was trying to allay any fears as honestly as possible. After a moment the subtext of her latter statement sunk in and my eyes widened, but I decided it was probably best not to put voice to the unsaid. "Is that all that is known of these creatures and the threat they pose?"

"Um, I guess the Library would have more, though it could take some effort to find it. Maybe that's something to consider looking into later."

There not being much else to say on the subject for the moment, I focused on finishing my meal, while Illyvalen read aloud some of the articles from the chronicle. It seemed that whatever had destroyed Cyre had stayed behind, transforming the land into a nightmarish realm of strange monsters and uncontrolled magic. The hopes for finding survivors from most of the nation's cities seemed to have diminished significantly with the first day's findings, but there were more expeditions planned or still underway to try to discover more about what happened.

We were interrupted unexpectedly by the arrival of Selbrech, the halfling who had healed my leg only the day before, who bore a rather worried expression. "I apologize for disturbing you while you're with a patient, but I have a rather urgent matter to discuss and Jeslaryun said she thought you might be a while...."

Illyvalen set the paper aside and shook her head. "It's no problem. What did you need?"

Selbrech glanced briefly at me, and seemed as if he was considering whether to ask to speak in private, then he shrugged and returned his focus to Illyvalen. "I need to ask a favor, and a rather significant one. My family has been summoned to Breland to help with the refugee situation developing up there. Most of us will need to be on our way to Starilaskur within a day or two. I'd like to keep my practice operational in our absence, but as it stands it would be just Mulbo and Riliana, plus our Zil staff members. I know Mulbo can handle the role of healer and keep an eye on Riliana, and Riliana knows the records well enough to manage some of the logistics, but neither of them are really experienced enough to keep the place running on their own. I'd... like to hire you as something of an administrative consultant. Mulbo will be in charge, but you have experience he'll need in order to keep things running smoothly, and there's no one here I would trust more with such a role."

Illyvalen simply stared wide-eyed, speechless for several moments. Finally, she stammered out, "But, but I... I have to manage my own clinic. I can't just leave...."

"Of course not. This would only be a part-time obligation; we'll be operating on reduced hours and referring most non-urgent care elsewhere, and Mulbo and Riliana can manage some of the time without you, I'm sure. And you have others here who can help carry some of the load in your absence. ...I wouldn't ask if I didn't think it was important, but I don't have a lot of options. I'll need your answer soon."

Illyvalen considered this for a minute before responding. "All right. I'll agree. I do want a favor in return, though. Can you use your mark today?"

Selbrech scowled at this. "You know my oath doesn't allow—"

"Of course not, but you were planning on paying me for this job, right? I don't think an advance on that is out of the question."

Selbrech blinked at that. "...Ah. Yes, I suppose under the circumstances that's not too much of an ask. I can advance you a week's pay, and I can offer a field healing today; we don't get all that many injuries in a place like Korranberg. I take it your patient needs another 'Cure light wounds' for her leg?"

I started in alarm, looking toward Illyvalen despite the pain of movement. "My life is not in danger. My leg begins to be useful. You said I would recover from this new injury. It does not seem necessary or wise to incur more debt to speed my healing further."

Illyvalen looked over to me, and hesitated before speaking. "It... it might be better to do this now. Your leg is still not fully healed; I could tell by the way you were limping when you tried to walk on it last night. There are some Zil who can heal you, but the price they ask will not be measured in coin. Once Selbrech's family leaves, it might be some time before you can see a Jorasco healer again."

"Would it not also take some time before I could earn sufficient coin to repay the cost of the healing I have already received, and more still to earn enough for a second healing?"

"Well... for the kind of work I think you could find in the short term, you should be able to earn a little over two galifars a day. You'd have some other expenses, but if you're willing to share a room for a while that can be kept down. I think you could save up the cost of two healings within a month if you live frugally."

I took a few moments to consider this information. It would have been more comfortable to be useful and earn the required coin myself. Yet it sounded as if the opportunity for further healing might not present itself for much longer than the time required to earn such coin. It did seem unlikely that I would need to run here, and yet while I could live with a limp, how long would I be doing so? Korranberg might be safe now, but what if this war spread? What if my pride now ended up costing me my life in some future crisis? There was also the matter of my being confined to bed again by this new injury. It would heal on its own, but that was more time spent being helpless, a burden on those around me. "...I can accept such a debt for now."

Illyvalen looked relieved at this, while Selbrech inquired further, "What is this about a further injury?"

"She was attacked by a quori overnight. She's suffering from back pain and difficulty moving consistent with a spinal injury, but I don't think it's too severe. The main concern is the leg, but the healing might help with that issue as well."

Selbrech nodded. "It might, but as you say, the leg is the real worry in this case, so we'd best keep our focus there." Taking out a coin purse, he counted out twelve coins of gold, handing them over to Illyvalen, who separated and returned eight of the coins; the entire exchange had a sort of sense of ritual to it, and gave the impression that physically receiving the coins was terribly important to Selbrech somehow, despite having provided them himself only a moment before. After returning the gold to his purse, he turned his attention back to me as Illyvalen pulled back the sheets to expose my injured leg. "You already know what to expect from yesterday. It shouldn't be as bad this time, but it will probably spread beyond your leg. Are you ready?"

I nodded, bracing myself as he touched my leg with his mark glowing. The sensation, while uncomfortable, was much less intense as it spread through my leg, and after a moment began to run up my back. It seemed to fade quickly, and I found that my back still hurt, but it had diminished to a dull ache which seemed like it would be possible to ignore if I was sufficiently focused. I tried turning my head to each side and encountered little resistance. Slowly, I shifted out of bed, bringing myself to a standing position. This time neither leg offered any pain, though I could still feel that the muscles of the just-healed leg were weaker. I took a few steps away from my bed without the aid of my cane, and turned to face the gnome and halfling. "My leg is still weak but I can move fully. That is more than I thought possible after I was injured."

Illyvalen seemed torn between elation at my recovery and worry over my sudden exertion. "Are you sure your back is okay?"

I slowly shifted my position, twisting and bending a bit, in order to test my own flexibility. "There is still pain, but much less. It is not difficult to move."

"Well, you might still want to take it a little easy for today, but getting in some exercise is probably good. Do you think you're up to talking with Uncle Toralnik? Once he's heard you've been healed, he probably won't want to wait, so it might be better to go surprise him at the office." Illyvalen grinned slightly before adding, "that way you have the excuse of the fatigue of an outing if you need to cut things short."

I nodded slowly. "That is likely for the best."

Illyvalen turned back to Selbrech. "I'll stop by your clinic in the morning; presumably we can discuss any further details then?"

Selbrech nodded and bowed. "Indeed. I'm grateful for your help."

As there was still a fair bit of time before Toralnik would have expected me for the interview, Illyvalen suggested that we see to some errands first. After seeing me dressed in another set of borrowed clothing that just barely fit my frame, she shook her head and declared that the very first thing we needed to do was to purchase some proper outfits. While the idea of spending even more coin after incurring the debt of a second healing was not one I relished, it was hard to argue with the necessity of fitting clothing given the norms of a city, so we made our way to a tailor's shop that Illyvalen was familiar with.

Despite the initial surprise of the gnome within at receiving a kobold customer, he seemed eager for the "challenge" and I was quickly subjected to a bewildering selection of fabrics and images of clothing styles. The only thing to really catch my eye was a hooded traveling cloak, which seemed much less unwieldy than the various hats depicted in terms of providing a bit of protection from the sunlight that made daytime travel about the city a bit painful even now. For the rest, all I really cared about was that it was inexpensive and easy to move in, but Illyvalen kept looking between various paintings and me and commenting on how things might look with various alterations or whether certain materials or colors "complemented" my scales or my eyes. I mostly let her indulge herself in this, though I tried to discourage consideration of the more expensive materials until she finally said with some exasperation that I needed to have at least one nice outfit for special occasions even if I was planning to dress like a common laborer most of the time. In the end, we settled on a total expenditure of 4 gold and 8 silver coins, covering a formal outfit made of leather, a cloak, a vest, and small selection of shirts, pants and skirts that met with Illyvalen's approval.

Once the details of the outfits had been finalized and the tailor finished the lengthy task of measuring and recording the lengths of various parts of my body, we finally took our leave of the shop. By this point I was starting to feel a little run down and had started using the cane again to rest my newly-recovered leg, so Illyvalen suggested we visit the Central Library for a couple hours before heading to the Chronicle offices.

As we neared our destination, there was the sense of the organized, bustling city giving way to a more open, tranquil space, albeit still populated by the constructed dwellings favored by the city's inhabitants; these were much more spread out, with grass-covered soil replacing stone paving between them. As we made our way deeper into the center of what Illyvalen referred to as the "Library District", it became clear that we were making our way toward a building of such substantial size that it towered over all of the buildings nearby. It looked more like a fortress than anything, yet the sizeable main entrance saw many people coming and going without challenge — mostly gnomes, but several humans, half-elves, dwarves and halflings as well. Large lettering of the Common script carved above the entrance identified the building as "Library of Korranberg"; below that a newer sign further clarified "Central Library Building".

As we stepped inside, I faltered, eyes widening. The building's interior seemed to be populated with shelves of books that ran up walls and aisles all the way to the distant ceiling, so far above us that two tiers of platforms of what looked to be woven strips of wood supported by metal poles ran around the shelves, presumably to allow easier access to the upper portions. Near the center of the floor, stairs led up to another floor that clearly had a similar arrangement. "Perhaps one truly could record all knowledge in so many books...."

Illyvalen laughed quietly at this comment and whispered, "These are just the General Interest shelves. The Main Archives are stored extradimensionally, though you won't be able to access those without registering with the Library, and that's going to have to wait until after you've got residency sorted out. If you find something of interest on these shelves, though, I can check it out for you. Mostly, though, I figured you might want the opportunity to sit down and read for a bit. Come on, I'll show you how General Interest is organized."

It turned out that all the books written in Common were stored on the first floor, while books in Gnomish were split across the first three floors and books in other languages had their own section on the third floor. Each shelf had codes marked on them that indicated the range of subjects to be found within, and there were labels with similar codes affixed to the binding of the books themselves. There was a certain logic to the codes, and I figured in time I would be able to navigate to desired subjects, but for now I simply tried to note which shelves I might be most likely to want to revisit soon. In a section that focused on something called the "outer planes" I stopped to examine a book whose title caught my eye: Dream Hunters: The Predators of Dal Quor. Briefly skimming the contents was enough to verify that I had indeed found a book discussing the nature of these "quori" that Illyvalen had mentioned, so I brought it with me as Illyvalen continued to lead me through the Common-language shelves.

While it was tempting to consider gathering a selection of books as we went, I decided it was best to limit my focus for now. After finishing the tour of the shelves, we made our way to the second floor reading tables, where I did my best to ignore the stares and murmuring my presence invited and focus on the book I had selected. Illyvalen excused herself to retrieve a title from the foreign language section, and it was during her absence that a large, scarred human happened to approach the table, sneering in distaste. "I heard they let all sorts in here, but I didn't think that included vermin playing dress-up. What are you doing so far out of your cave, lizard-rat?"

Despite my attempted focus, being addressed in such a manner startled me into making eye contact with the stranger, which I immediately sensed was a mistake. There was a dangerous intensity in his eyes that I recognized; it was the same smouldering flame that burned in me when I had indulged in the fantasy of orchestrating some elaborate revenge against those who murdered my tribe, the flame I had to learn to conceal from my captors in order to survive. I had to suppress a shudder as I realized that for no reason I knew, he would enjoy seeing me die in front of his eyes. I knew better than to show fear at this point; submission was not the right gambit for this kind of hatred. Defiance would be worse, however. I needed to seem like I was not worth his attention. Returning my gaze to my book and making the utmost effort to keep my voice from faltering or betraying emotion, I answered simply, "I am reading."

The human leaned forward and smacked the table with one hand. "Is that some kind of joke?" When I offered no further response, he leaned even further forward. "Perhaps I should offer to help the staff with their vermin infestation. After all, if there's one of you around, there's usually a dozen more hiding nearby. Isn't that right?"

A gnome suddenly cleared her throat behind the human, startling us both; I hadn't seen her approach, and the human was clearly unused to being snuck up on like that; he whirled around to face the newcomer as she spoke. "Please move along, sir. You're disturbing the patrons."

The human scoffed at this. "Patrons? What patrons?"

"Me, for one." The gnome pulled out a chair from the table and sat down, setting a book in front of herself.

The human took another look at me, scowled, then turned away. As he was leaving, the gnome made another comment in his direction. "A word to the wise: the Trust frowns on violence in our cities, even against non-citizens."

Once I was certain the human had gone, I risked a glance toward the gnome who had intervened. "Thank you for that."

Her returning gaze was cool, neither hostile nor friendly. "Interesting response," was all she said before returning her focus to her book.

The rest of the time at the library passed without incident, Illyvalen returning after a few minutes with an ancient-looking tome in a script I didn't recognize. My own book seemed to present a mix of fact and speculation, but it did cover the information Illyvalen had provided in more detail, naming and categorizing a few different kinds of quori, typical behavior patterns, a few tricks for trying to identify when a quori was hiding within a nightmare, and even some talk about rare magical items that could provide some protection to those who experienced frequent nightmares. One chapter even discussed a technique called "lucid dreaming" that could give a dreamer more control over a dream, and thus a better chance at evading or fighting off a quori intruder, but noted that it could be particularly difficult to employ during nightmares.

By the time I had finished that book, returned it to the shelf where I had found it, and returned with another book, Illyvalen was standing up to return her own book. "I think that's enough for today, we should head to the Chronicle offices now. Did you want me to check that out?" I nodded and handed over the book, a work more specifically about the technique of lucid dreaming. "Huh, interesting. Anyway, I'll just be a minute. Let's meet at the entrance."

"I would prefer to accompany you. There was... an incident earlier." Illyvalen raised an eyebrow at this, but refrained from immediately questioning me further as we made our way up to the third floor, then down to the counters on the first floor, and eventually out of the building.

"He called you a what?!"

We had put a bit of distance between ourselves and the library before Illyvalen had pressed for an explanation, so there were not as many people around to hear this outburst, but I still found myself glancing around nervously at various passers-by. "A lizard-rat. I believe he wanted to frighten me into fighting or fleeing."

"That's... that's... I can't... Why?!"

I had not before witnessed Illyvalen quite this agitated, and I began to wonder if it was not better that she had been absent for the actual event. "I do not know the specific cause for his hatred of my kind, but I could see it in his eyes. He would have enjoyed causing or even just witnessing my death. I... have faced antagonism before, but I will admit to feeling a bit shaken."

Illyvalen took hold of my arm in what I gathered was meant to be a reassuring gesture. "That's so horrible.... Do you want to return to the clinic? I can probably put Uncle Toralnik off another day, considering I have some news of my own I can offer...."

I shook my head. "No. I do not believe a delay would make much difference." After all, regardless of how many things ended up disturbing me today, I was not likely to have more than one nightmare to worry about.... Illyvalen maintained contact as we continued on our way, while I continued to watch for any signs of the human from before or any other signs of possible hostility from those around us.

As we entered the offices of the Korranberg Chronicle I began to regret my insistence on immediately dispatching this particular obligation as the bustle of activity ground to a halt, the attention of seemingly every gnome on the premises falling upon me. Murmurs not quiet enough to truly be discreet reached us as we pressed our way forward toward Toralnik's desk, trailing a growing crowd behind us.

"Isn't that the kobold they found lying in the street a few months back?"

"I heard from my baker that one of her cousins heard from their coworker that their grandmother saw a kobold with a cane like that in the waiting room at that Jorasco clinic just the other day."

"Isn't the gnome next to it the one who runs that free clinic?"

Just as it was starting to look like we might have difficulty actually reaching our target, a door with a window set in it opened and a gnome stuck his head out, shouting with a gruff voice in a language I didn't understand. The crowd dispersed almost instantly, everyone suddenly finding something to be doing, though it was clear attention was still being paid to us, just more furtively.

Toralnik stood as we approached. "I was under the impression you weren't going to be able to make it today. It might have been simpler for me to drop by the clinic under the circumstances." Glancing around the office and then back to me, he said, "Come, let's go to one of the interview rooms. It won't stop them from eavesdropping, but at least you won't have to watch them do it."

The interview room was small but well-lit, with light spilling in from an outside window. Toralnik asked us both if we needed anything to drink, and we both accepted glasses of water. I sat down on the window side of the room, so as to face away from the glare of the sunlight. Illyvalen sat beside me and spoke first.

"I think I mentioned before, but Tikra doesn't talk much, and in particular I think she still has some trouble with phrasing things in Common, so some of her answers may be in Draconic; I can translate for her. I can also speak to some of what happened when she first came here better than she can herself, given she was unconscious for several days."

Toralnik nodded and sat down across from us, a stack of sheets in front of him and a pen in his hand. "Of course. Of course. Now, what brought you to Korranberg in the first place?"

"An accident."

Illyvalen translated my words, then both she and Toralnik looked at me expectantly, as if neither could imagine that might be all I had to say on the subject. After a moment, Illyvalen stammered out, "uh, from what I heard from witnesses I think she dropped out of the back of a cart that had come here from Zolanberg. She was in pretty bad shape, though. I don't know if she'd even remember arriving in the city."

"I remember a little... falling to the ground... seeing frightened faces... I expected to die."

"It sounds like you had quite the harrowing experience. Fortunately, I understand Illyvalen was close at hand?"

"Ah, yeah, I found her almost immediately. She was hurt very badly. I knew she needed help immediately, so I sent someone to the clinic with instructions for Jeslaryun while I did my best to stabilize her condition. We eventually got her moved safely, but I wasn't sure she was going to make it for a while. It was such a relief when she finally woke up...."

"I imagine it would be. I gather you've been recuperating for some time now. It must be good to finally get out and stretch your legs. Have you seen much of the city yet?"

"I have only been able to walk far for a short time, but I have seen Selbrech Kaman d'Jorasco's clinic, the Lightning Rail station, the Library of Korranberg, and this place. Though I have seen little, I have read much of the city."

"So, where did you come from originally?"

"The mountains."

"Er, do you mean the Seawall Mountains? Those span the entire eastern border...."

"I was unconscious for most of the time I was carried south. I had never left the mountains before, so I do not know where I was in relation to here."

"Oh. Is that why you are planning to stay here in Korranberg? You don't know where your home is?"

"I do not know where my... home is. That is not the reason I wish to stay."

Illyvalen looked to me with a question in her eyes and I nodded my assent. "She said earlier she doesn't have any family left. I don't think she has anyone or anything to go back to...."

"Hmmm. As I understand it, kobold societies are generally communal, without much attention paid to close relations. Are there no members of your tribe who would take you in?"

I closed my eyes at this, unsure I could keep the pain from showing in them as I reluctantly answered. "There are not."

"Why is that the case?"

I didn't respond. It was only when Illyvalen put an arm around me in attempted comfort that I realized I was trembling with uncontained emotion. Disgusted, I clamped down hard on the turmoil within and hissed out, "I do not intend to discuss it."

I detected a hint of nervousness from Toralnik as he cleared his throat and continued. "Ah, yes, well, so what are your plans for your stay in Korranberg? How are you adapting to the differing culture here?"

I waited until I was certain I could keep my voice steady before I opened my eyes and continued. "I have begun to study this place and its culture, but it will likely be some time before I learn what my role must be. Illyvalen believes that there would be a place for me here, and I follow her guidance. I have adapted to more difficult circumstances than this."

I realized the opening I'd left only as Illyvalen translated my words. Toralnik reacted immediately. "What kind of circumstances?" I held my silence, and after a minute Illyvalen picked back up, speaking to the previous question.

"Ah, as for plans, I've been looking into some possibilities on her behalf. She's an extremely fast reader and picks up on things very quickly, so I think she would be good at anything involving organizing information. There should be some short-term options with that, and longer term I honestly think she should apply to one of the colleges at the Library. They do have some scholarship opportunities for promising foreigners...."

"Those scholarships are pretty competitive. Do you really think she could get in?"

Illyvalen turned to me at this question. "How does the lightning rail work?"

I blinked at this sudden change in subject, and hesitated for a moment before responding, being forced to use Common as I lacked the Draconic vocabulary to express the concepts. "A storm elemental is bound to the coach. It uses lightning energy to move the coach over a rail of conductor stones."

No sooner had I finished responding than she was again directing a question at me. "How is an elemental bound?"

"Zil alchemy using Khyber dragonshards. I do not know the details."

"Are there other forms of travel that use a bound elemental?"

"House Lyrandar uses bound elementals in both sailing ships and airships. I... think there are vessels for mining as well."

"What's the ruling body of Zilargo and how is its membership determined?"

"Zilargo is ruled by the Triumvirate. The Councils of Nine for Trolanport, Zolanberg and Korranberg each select one representative to represent them in the Triumvirate." At this point, I was mostly quoting what I had read before almost verbatim.

"What's the majority religion of Zilargo?"

I blinked at this. "Do the Zil have one? I gathered they try everything to determine their preference."

Toralnik broke in at this point. "Wait, wait.... You're putting me on, right? This is some kind of routine."

Illyvalen's eyes widened and she responded almost indignantly. "You know I wouldn't do that! It's just, I've been talking to Tikra a lot while she's been recovering, and she comes to an understanding of what she's told very quickly and retains a lot. I had to teach her Common, and I don't think she knew how to read or write before she came here. I've been supplying her with just about every Common book I could get ahold of, and everything she just answered was in one of those."

"All right, all right. But if you want to sell me on this, then I'm asking the questions, and answer in Common if you please. What are the schools of magic?"

I hesitated, thinking back. This had come up in my reading, but hadn't been an area I'd felt it critical to focus on. "...Abjuration, Conjuration, Transmutation, Evocation... Illusion, Necromancy... er, Enchantment... and Divination?" Illyvalen's wide smile suggested I had managed to recall correctly. Toralnik simply moved on to another question.

"There is a beverage to be found here made from enchanted water. What is it called and why is it particular to gnome cuisine?"

"Maleko. Almost all gnomes can perform the enchantment."

"Which Dragonmarked House runs the Sentinel's Guild?"

"House Deneith."

"What are the Five Nations of Galifar?"

"Cyre, Karrnath, Thrane, Aundair and Breland. Though I understand Cyre has been destroyed."

"When did the war begin?"

"894 Y.K."

"When did Zilargo declare its alliance with Breland?"

"962 Y.K."

"Who is the leader of Breland?"

"...King Boranel?"

"Who is the leader of Aundair?"

I shook my head. "I do not know. I knew of Breland's leader only because his name appeared in your chronicle today."

"Hmm. All right, perhaps that's a little too current. How long have there been humans in Khorvaire?"

"About three thousand years."

"What are the four ages of Eberron's history?"

"I do not know."

Illyvalen interrupted at this point, sounding slightly annoyed. "I said she was promising. I didn't say she was ready to apply today!"

"Easy, now. I didn't say her ignorance disqualifies her. If anything, it'd be more suspicious if she could answer every question I could throw at her. Even so... is this all supposed to be things you've learned since arriving here?"

"I had little cause to know of the affairs of Khorvaire before I arrived."

"Uh huh. How old are you supposed to be, anyway?"

"I have seen the season of my hatching come again six times."

Toralnik's eyes bulged a bit at this. "That... that's... I had heard kobolds matured quickly, but... are you even an adult?!"

"I would be old enough to... procreate, I believe is the correct term — if I had a tribe to require it of me. I believe I would be considered young, but I am not a juvenile." I observed Toralnik turning a bit red at my first comment, and considered the circumstances of my observing the same of Illyvalen. I wondered if the topic of sex was somehow a difficult one for most gnomes.

"Ah, yes, well... so, I understood that you were not expecting to be able to make it to an interview today due to having been injured again?"

"I was stung by a tsucora quori during a nightmare. I was not previously aware of such predators, but I have begun studying them today."

"I've heard of quori attacks, of course, but rare as they are, yours is the first case I've had an opportunity to inquire upon. I understand the nightmares that attract such creatures are fairly intense. Can you describe it?"

I hesitated to respond at all to this query, but decided there was a little I might express without digging too deeply into matters best left unsaid. "A twisting of memories into a false narrative... as if the true were not burden enough...."

"Memories of... conflict? Personal tragedy? Humiliation? Give me something here, you've obviously got a story to tell."

I began to feel weary of this questioning, and as I held my silence this time I noticed Illyvalen's expression grow concerned. Toralnik leaned back and sighed a bit, seeming to accept that I wasn't going to give him what he wanted. "Very well. What changed to bring you out here today, given such an injury would normally require more rest?"

"Illyvalen arranged a second magical healing for my leg. The injury to my back was partly healed then."

Illyvalen spoke up again at this point. "That was a matter of lucky timing. Selbrech came to see me at the clinic. His family has been called to Breland to assist with the refugee situation. He's leaving Mulbo and Riliana behind to keep the clinic running, but he wanted to bring me on to help them because I have experience managing a clinic."

Toralnik blinked. "Now that is news. Jorasco doesn't usually hire people outside the house for anything remotely administrative. That's a lot of trust he's placing in you."

"Uh, I guess so. It's only part time, and they're reducing their hours, so I should still be able to put time in at my own clinic, but I'm going to have to leave more things to Jeslaryun now."

"You were going to have to do that anyway, though. You're planning to apply to Lyrris soon, aren't you?"

"At some point, yeah. I suspect I might not have time for a while. I don't know if we'll see many refugees this far south, but things might be busier, especially with Jorasco mostly pulling out of Korranberg."

"Mm, well, don't wait too long. I know the clinic is important to you, but you shouldn't put your life on hold for it."

"It's not like I'm not studying every day anyway. And most applicants are at least five years older than me."

"You're not most applicants. You have a rare talent that shouldn't go to waste."

"I know, I know. It's not like I haven't had this conversation a dozen times already. But the clinic is important. It's not in the way of my life, it's part of it. Finding a way to balance it with the rest is my game."

"Heh, well, if you put it that way, then I'm sure there's nothing to worry about." His attention turned back to me. "I suppose we're coming to a close, but I would be remiss not to ask if there are any of your experiences prior to arriving in Korranberg that you would be willing to speak about." After I responded simply by shaking my head, he continued. "Ah, well, mysterious origins will at least provide a tantalizing hook for the story. Thank you both for making the time for this."

Illyvalen broke in as Toralnik started to stand. "Ah, there is one more thing. There was an... incident earlier today. A human foreigner insulted and threatened her in the library while I was away looking for a book. I could hardly believe it when she told me."

Toralnik looked back at me and raised his pen again. "In the library? What happened? Did you say anything?" As I related the incident, he shook his head a bit as he wrote. "There are a number of people who have had... confrontations with kobolds, especially those involved in mining along the Seawalls. I'm not shocked to hear of someone holding a grudge, but to behave that way not just in a city, but in the middle of a library... was he warned?"

"Not in the usual sense as far as I know, but a gnome patron did mention to him that the Trust wouldn't allow violence here. But... even if he'd fought kobolds before, Tikra hadn't even seen him before. Why would he have a grudge against her?"

Toralnik shook his head. "I'm sure all he saw was another kobold just like others he'd encountered. That may be an ugly thought, but it's how things are when it comes to many people's relations with the monster races. Er, no offense, but that is the term many would use. At any rate, hopefully the Trust has their eye on him now in case he tries to cause any further trouble."

After the interview was concluded, Illyvalen and I made our way back to the tailor's shop again so that the first of the outfits in the order Illyvalen had placed on my behalf could be fitted. The dark blue shirt and pleated skirt turned out to be impressively close to a perfect fit when I changed into them, and as I stood in front of a mirror while the tailor made some minor adjustments, I had to admit that Illyvalen was right about the color; despite some similarity in shade the clothing stood out from my scales in a way that made both seem more colorful. I would have to defer to others on whether it qualified as fashionable, but it was eye-catching in a way I wouldn't have expected.

Once we had returned to the clinic, Illyvalen ushered me into the back area, and from there into the residence proper. Her bedroom was the closest to the clinic, unsurprisingly, and seemed unusually cramped due to having a small cot squeezed into the space between the bed and the writing desk. "I guess it'll be a little crowded in here at first. I'll get some help moving the bookshelf to another room tomorrow. You should take the bed for now, I want to make sure you get a good rest so your back doesn't bother you tomorrow."

I blinked in surprise at that. "Would it not be more convenient for me to remain in the clinic?"

"While we could put off moving you another day, I'm a little concerned that things might start to get busy soon. We don't have a lot of room for in-patients here. Er, if you're uncomfortable not having a room to yourself I can stay with Jeslaryun instead...."

"I did not mean to imply that. I merely do not want to impose on your living space."

"Ah, I don't mind. If anything it'll be nice to have company, and we can spread things out a little once the bookshelf is gone."

I nodded in acknowledgement. "Assuming I have recovered fully tomorrow, what should I do? I would prefer not to be idle, and I understand you will have duties to occupy you during the morning."

"Well, there are some matters we should take care of once I'm free, but in the mean time... I guess I can talk to Jeslaryun about finding you some work to do around the clinic. If that doesn't pan out or last long enough, you could stop by the library again.... I don't think it's likely you'll encounter another incident like today's again, that's really not how people generally behave in Korranberg."

"I am aware. Further, I cannot hide away and still expect any opportunity to find a place for myself. It has been made clear to me that this is as safe a place as I could hope to find."

There being little else to settle for now, I spent about an hour reading before retiring for the night.

My dream, while having a disturbing element to it, was not the kind of threatening, fearful environment that would have made for the conditions of another tsucora attack. I mostly recalled wandering the caves where I had hatched and lived my first few seasons, looking for something terribly important, while repeatedly being turned away by ghosts of tribe members angry about my having let them die. Despite the surreality of the scenario I never quite recognized that there was something wrong about it that signalled it as a dream; it seemed that the trick of this "lucid dreaming" technique would not come to me quite so easily, but I resolved to keep at it.

Jeslaryun came in to check on me in the morning, Illyvalen having apparently already departed before I awoke. After inquiring about my back, which no longer pained me, she sat down on the writing desk chair, facing me and peering at me for about a minute before speaking again.

"So, I think we kind of got off on the wrong foot. With the way Illyvalen reacts and behaves so innocently toward everything, it's kind of easy to forget sometimes... that she's actually really a pretty good judge of character, and does know how to keep herself out of trouble. If she wants to take a chance on you, then she sees something in you I don't, and you probably deserve the benefit of the doubt. I'm going to try to lighten up a bit. But there is one thing I have to tell you straight, no sugar-coating to be "polite". Our family is well-connected, especially Uncle Noremdal and Aunt Desrala. Illyvalen's their only child, and she means more to them than their own lives. If anyone were to hurt Illyvalen, and they found out about it... the kind of retribution they would bring about would be difficult to imagine. I don't think anyone else in our family would be particularly forgiving either."

I nodded solemnly to this. "If Illyvalen were brought to harm, I believe I would desire revenge against those responsible as well."

Jeslaryun blinked at me a couple times; clearly this wasn't quite the response she had expected from me. "Ah. So long as we understand each other, then. I understand you offered to help out around the clinic? We could use it; a few of our usual people have had... family issues to deal with recently. I'll show you the ropes."

I spent the next few hours performing various menial tasks around the clinic, initially alongside Jeslaryun; when it was clear that I had a full understanding of what needed to be done, she excused herself to see to other matters and I continued unsupervised. By the time she returned to tell me to take a lunch break, she seemed impressed at the progress I had made. Being praised as a hard worker felt strange; in my past experiences, hard work was what kept you from being berated and punished... some of the time. Even if one discounted the expectations of my captors, it was my understanding that among my kind industriousness was a standard to be met, not a mark of distinction. Yet, if it was something to recognize here, perhaps that would prove to be advantageous in establishing a place for myself.

Illyvalen returned to the clinic about the time I was preparing to return to work. "How are things going here? Are you up for some more errands?"

Jeslaryun interrupted before I could respond. "One hour. Just give me one more hour. She's worth two of Mauruto, and at this rate I might not have to stay late finishing up."

Illyvalen giggled slightly at the almost comical look of desperation Jeslaryun adopted, and grinned widely. "There's no great hurry on my part, but I'd say that's up to Tikra."

The pleading look Jeslaryun sent my way seemed false, but more in the sense of play-acting than deception. There was some genuine earnestness in her request, though, so I nodded. "I will continue my efforts here for now."

Once I had finished my tasks to Jeslaryun's satisfaction, we made our way back to the tailor's shop again for the fitting of the vest and a second outfit, this one in lighter, muted colors. The pants took a little more adjustment than had been needed in my previous outfit, but it was still less than an hour before we had finished. The next fitting, which would include all the remaining outfits ordered, was set for the following week.

We next made our way to the Library District. Not far from the Central Library Building we had visited yesterday, we entered a small building marked with a sign reading "Identification and Immigration Services". The interior had a few different offices, a reception counter, and a pair of tables, one of typical size and one of the appropriate height for humans. Chairs sized for both gnomes and humans lined the wall to one side of the door.

From the moment we entered I had the sense of being scrutinized intently by people I could not see. I tried to pay no more mind to this sense than to the gnomes who were actually, visibly staring at me as Illyvalen walked up to the counter, conversed quietly for a moment, and then returned with a few sheets of paper. Taking a seat at the smaller table and motioning for me to do so as well, she spread out the pages and explained each one. These were known as "forms" and were made up of several prompts for information and spaces for the information to be written. Said prompts ranged from simple to bewildering, and Illyvalen had to assist me with some or in a great many cases direct me to mark a brief series of glyphs that she indicated stood for "not applicable."

Date of Birth was an issue that arose immediately. Setting aside the minor detail that I had not been born per se, I knew only the season of my hatching, not the precise date on a calendar I had only recently learned. Illyvalen assured me that it really only needed to be accurate to within a month, and a good faith estimate was fine; it could be corrected later should we ever learn the exact date. Thus my claimed "Date of Birth" became the first of Aryth, 987 Y.K., based on my best guess as to how deep into the season my hatching had been, and Illyvalen's guidance on mapping to the Galifarian calendar.

Illyvalen directed me to list the address of her residence as my own place of residence and provided the date of my arrival in Korranberg. For the explanation of my arrival in Zilargo itself, after some discussion, Illyvalen suggested it would be best to claim to be a "stateless person" originating from within Zilargo's borders, on the assumption that it was probably more likely my place of hatching had been on the Zil side of the border than on the Cyran/Darguul side given that I had actually made it to the western edge of the Seawalls by myself. While I knew that my point of origin during my flight had not been the place where I'd hatched, the logic was still sound enough; it was not that unlikely that the territory my captors had claimed for themselves was on the Zil side of the border, as that border was enforced by the Zil only where they had mining interests.

After each of the prompts had been answered or marked as inapplicable, the final page had space for a more open-ended explanation of any relevant details. It was here that I wrote out an explanation of my limited knowledge and the reasons for uncertainty surrounding some of the information provided. Once Illyvalen had looked over everything twice and was satisfied that it was all in order, I wrote my name on the final prompt, asserting to the veracity of the information provided. Illyvalen brought the papers to the counter, spoke briefly with the receptionist again, and then returned. "They'll want an interview with you. I won't be able to come along, but I think we've talked about all the important stuff that will come up. Just be truthful and explain why you don't know what you don't know. You should be okay. Everything you say in the interview will be treated as a secret; they won't share it with those who don't need to know, so you don't have to worry about gossip or anything."

We waited in chairs along the wall for several minutes, and eventually a female gnome stepped out of one of the back offices, came to the waiting area, and called my name. Forcing calm, I stood and followed her to a stairway leading below ground, and into a small chamber with a single small table and two chairs. I sat in the chair indicated as the gnome closed the door, then sat down across from me and placed a folder in front of her on the table. As the door closed, I noticed the number 2 briefly appear and disappear on its surface.

"Firstly, anything said here is in strict confidence. The Trust will be informed of what they need to know, but it does not go beyond. That is a duty we take very seriously, the price for which is absolute honesty. We cannot abide lies or prevarication if the peace of our city is at stake. This room is enchanted against any outside eavesdropping or scrying. It is also enchanted to prevent lying. Now, I've read your application. I've also read several outside reports about you, and there are a number of details that need to be cleared up if we're to extend you the benefits you've requested. You can answer all my questions to my satisfaction, or you can walk out that door and remain a visitor in our city until it is time for you to move on. Do you understand?"

I clamped down hard on the sense of dread that threatened to overtake me and responded in a steady voice. "I understand."

"You list your place of origin as the Seawall Mountains, but you've provided no details about your tribe or its territory. Are you iredar or irvhir?"

I blinked in surprise at this question. Even my captors had not seemed to grasp this division in my race, noting only that some of us sometimes tried to kill each other if we were left together unsupervised. This was the first time I'd heard these terms used by a non-kobold, and I wondered if my interviewer truly understood the difference, or merely thought she was asking if I was something akin to those in Zil society who claimed reverence for the Dark Six or associated with the so-called cults of the Dragon Below. In some ways it felt like a strange question to be asked. Gnomes had a perfectly good sense of smell; why was it not obvious? But I could not fault someone who had probably never encountered another kobold before for not knowing my scent from the stench of those formed from Khyber's blood.... "I am iredar."

The gnome simply nodded impassively. "How long did you live with your tribe?"

I winced, unsurprised that this had come up but still not quite prepared for it. I took a moment to be sure I could keep my voice steady before responding. "Long enough to see the season of my hatching come again. About fourteen of your months."

"That's quite young to be estranged from your tribe. Not to mention a lot of time unaccounted for between that separation and your arrival in our city, appearing beaten to near death. And then there's that mark that's been reportedly seen on your back, that no one seems to recognize. I don't suppose you can tell us what that means?"

This was it... the moment I dreaded since I first found myself in this place. Yet there was a strange, serene calm that came with it, as if I was somehow floating above all my fears. This was why I truly wanted— no, needed to stay. This was what I was asking them for. I had to be able to admit to someone just what I was running from if I was ever going to feel safe.

"That mark identifies me... as property of the Gan'vorhaa clan."

The gnome leaned back in her chair, her eyes widening. The dispassionate tone she had held thus far was abandoned as she muttered. "Damn the Six.... I'd heard reports, though it's difficult to get good intelligence on Darguun...." She narrowed her eyes at me, and her voice turned a bit colder, though not emotionless. "You don't exactly have the bearing of a slave."

"It seems unlikely that cowering or servility will serve me here. I can abase myself when I must to survive."

The gnome sighed and shook her head, then looked over the papers in the folder in front of her. "This puts what I'm seeing here in a different light.... I take it you were taken from your tribe? How did that occur?"

"My tribe was attacked. I was too young to defend. I only know that the attack came deep into our territory. They came upon the chamber where the juveniles lived. They killed the adults that stayed to defend us, and killed several juveniles as well. I was taken alive. I do not know if any others survived.... I saw bodies everywhere as I was dragged out...."

This time it was the gnome who was struggling to maintain her composure. "I... I see... and you were... taken to Darguun at this time?"

"I was chained and forced to march to caves claimed by the Gan'vorhaa. I do not know on which side of your border."

"Then you were not taken out of the mountains?"

"I never left the mountains before the circumstances that brought me here."

"And those were?"

"The Gan'vorhaa were attacked by a bugbear clan. The distraction gave an opportunity. I helped free a few slaves and we ran when there was an opening."

"Yet you arrived alone. What happened to the others?"

"We scattered to make it harder to follow and capture us. I don't know what happened to the others. I ran as fast and far as I could. I was nearly captured again, but got away. Was hurt. Kept running. Don't remember everything. Ledge overlooking a road. Fell into cart...." My words were coming out in a rush and I realized I might not be making sense.... I had lost control of my tone as well and I was trembling as my remembered flight made me feel like I should be jumping out of my chair and running now. I clung to the armrests and closed my eyes, trying desperately to force my emotions down, to control the anxiety of reliving those memories.

After a few minutes I felt like it would be possible to speak clearly again. "I am sorry to have made such a display. Do you need me to try to explain again?"

"N-no.... I think I... understood the important parts.... I think I have what I need to assess your background. I am concerned about this Gan'vorhaa clan, if they are operating on the western Seawalls.... With your permission, I'd like to bring in someone from the Library, an expert on goblin cultures, to debrief you on your experiences. If there's a possibility they may pose a threat to Zilargo, it could be very important for us to know as much as possible about them. After all, our safety is your safety, if you are going to be staying with us."

I nodded. The gnome stood up, asked me to wait here, and exited the room. After about five minutes she returned along with the gnome I had so briefly spoken to yesterday at the library. This time, upon closing of the door, the number three glowed briefly on the surface, seeming to confirm my supposition about the purpose of the previous number's appearance.

"This is Lynara Tal Davandi. She's one of the senior researchers in the Soladas college, and an expert on both ancient and modern goblin cultures. While information about this particular clan may end up being used and disseminated, she has agreed to keep your role in it a secret. Is that acceptable?"

I nodded and looked to the other gnome, who was standing near the door and looking at me with the same cool and impassive gaze as yesterday. "You speak goblin?"

"Of course."


She shook her head. "Use whichever you're more comfortable with, Common or Goblin. Now, let's start from the top. What is the name of this clan?"


"That sounds like a Ghaal'dar clan. They mostly inhabit the lowlands of Darguun. You encountered them in the Seawalls?"

I frowned at this, thinking. If this was just a researcher who had been called in on short notice, then it had been an oversight to have informed her of the details of where I encountered the clan prior to bringing her into the conversation. Unless one other operating premise was false....

"I am a gnome." My eyes widened, then narrowed. While the statement felt a bit off, like I hadn't been able to say it quite right, it nonetheless had been made. "It is possible to lie in here."

The gnome who had been interviewing me earlier blinked in surprised confusion, but the researcher whistled in an impressed manner and commented, "You are an interesting one. Yes, it is possible for some people to resist part of the effect of that enchantment some of the time. Even so, I think you would find it difficult to lie convincingly to either of us here. As for whether we could lie to you... who can say?"

The interviewer scowled at the researcher. "You should not make light of such things. Yes, that enchantment is not infallible, as has been shown, but it is reliable enough most of the time. I can assure you that what you have heard from me is true, though perhaps some of it was... simplified."

I nodded, then looked back to the researcher. "Then you are a Trust agent?"

This produced a gasp from the interviewer and a broad grin from the researcher. "As to that, you may safely assume that anyone foolish enough to answer yes is most certainly not. I wonder just what could have put such an idea in your head."

"You are one who needs to know where and how I encountered the Gan'vorhaa. You pretended not to know their name, but knew where they were. If the seriousness of the secret nature of the interviews here is true, you should not have been informed of any significant details until after you were brought here."

"You are a sharp one, aren't you? Perhaps your friend is right about you being cut out for the Library. But you shouldn't assume too much. After all, you did just give an interview to the Korranberg Chronicle yesterday. Your origins might be mysterious, but you do freely admit to being from the Seawall Mountains. It's not as though information like that doesn't get around."

I frowned at this. Something still seemed slightly off about this explanation, but I couldn't place it. I was shortly interrupted as the interviewer spoke up. "Could we please stop playing 'guess the Trust agent' and get back to the matter at hand?"

"I apologize. Yes, the Gan'vorhaa claimed territory in the mountains."

"That is somewhat unusual. It is normally Marguul clans who inhabit that region. Tell me what you can about their territory and what you observed them doing."

I spent several hours going over as much detail as I could recall of my time with the Gan'vorhaa, slipping back and forth between Common and Goblin depending on which language proved easier for particular sentiments. They were most interested in the work that had been assigned to the slaves. While I did not know much about the planning that went into those efforts, it was obvious that the primary goal of the mining efforts was the creation of weapons. What those weapons were intended for I had no idea, but it was clearly concerning to my questioners. Also of concern was the fact that there were gnomes among the Gan'vorhaa slaves, though I had had little contact with them and was not able to provide much detail. When it came to discussing the treatment of slaves, I found myself increasingly speaking in Goblin and letting Lynara translate, as the researcher seemed to have a knack for rephrasing things in a way that didn't make the other gnome look ill.

Another major concern was attempting to place the location. I was asked to describe in exhautive detail the appearance of the area surrounding the caverns, and every detail I could recall of the terrain I crossed both in the forced march to those caverns and my panicked flight away from them. By the time I was near the end of that flight, my memories were too hazy to be of much use, but they pressed me for anything I could recall, especially about the place where I came to the road. In the end I could only disappoint them; I had barely been conscious by that time, and everything seemed a blur of pain, fear and exhaustion. Eventually Lynara departed, and the interviewer waited several minutes for me to regain my composure before speaking again.

"I suspect that what you've told us will be of help, though only time will tell. I'd like to thank you on behalf of Zilargo for your efforts today, as I can see it's been difficult for you. There is still one more matter we need to discuss before we can conclude things here, however."

I simply looked at her as calmly as I could manage and waited for her to elaborate.

"I'm certain you are aware that one of our most important precepts in Zil society is the importance of dialogue and discussion over force of violence. 'Five words can defeat a thousand swords' is not just a saying but a guiding principle. We recognize that it is not always possible to resolve conflict without violence, but we are committed to keeping our cities and our nation free from the threat of violence.

"From all I have heard, I think you have a great deal of legitimate grievance with this Gan'vorhaa clan, and maybe even some who might have helped put them in the position to carry out their activities. Certainly the state of Darguun has a great many things to answer for, and not just in cases like yours. But as unlikely as it might seem right now, it is not impossible that we may some day have peace with Darguun. We might one day have Darguul diplomats or merchants walking our streets, abiding by these same standards. Can you live with that? Could you walk past someone who you feel has your tribe's blood on their hands and leave them be?"

I stared at my interviewer, stunned. Just yesterday I had been reminded of the fantasies I harbored in my youth, of a hatred I had learned to hide for my own safety, pretending it had been broken by fear. Now I was being challenged on whether I could resist the temptation of being handed an opportunity, and I realized what I was really being asked, the true and terrible price of the safety I sought. A price... that I had already paid. A part of who I was — who I used to be? — raged futilely within me as the realization of the commitment I had already made collapsed the passage to what I knew my tribe would have demanded of me.

"I knew long ago my fantasies of revenge were a juvenile's indulgence. I think they may rest within me all my life. Contemplating them is sometimes a comfort, but less so now. I owe my life to one who would be saddened to see me take life from others. I will not hurt her to satisfy a debt I once imagined I owed to those long dead. ...perhaps I am no longer truly a kobold. I have no place with my kind. It will not be my role to avenge them."

The interviewer seemed a bit stunned by my response, but eventually offered a sad smile. "I can't presume to say what it means to be a kobold, but I can say that you are a remarkable individual.... Welcome to Zilargo. If you'll come back upstairs, I'll get the remaining paperwork started."

As I returned upstairs, I saw Illyvalen pacing nervously around the waiting area. Many of the gnomes who had been present earlier were now gone, and the light from the windows had diminished with the coming of evening. As she saw me returning to the waiting area, Illyvalen looked first relieved, then concerned. "Are you all right? You look exhausted. What happened in there? You were gone so long I was afraid something had happened to you!"

"I am exhausted, but I have not been harmed. They needed a considerable amount of information. I believe they are satisfied now."

We were shortly informed by the receptionist that while my residency request had been approved, due to the late hour we would have to return at a later date to have identification papers drawn up and notarized. I was more relieved that today's ordeal was over than disappointed at the prospect of delay. Illyvalen seemed torn between excitement and concern, and I could tell that not asking questions was a strain on her as we made our way back to her residence.

Illyvalen's room was indeed a bit less cramped with the rearrangements that had been made in my absence. As I collapsed onto the cot, Illyvalen sat on the edge of her bed and looked at me in concern. "Are you okay? I know it's hard for you to talk about things.... I had no idea they would be at you for hours or I'd have warned you...."

"It was not all about my request. Some of my... knowledge about the mountains was of... interest to the Trust."

Illyvalen's eyes widened at this. "Really?! How so? How could you tell? What sort of... sorry. You don't need that right now. It's just hard not to ask."

We remained in silence for a while, and I wrestled with whether to tell her more. I knew it was hard for her, having this divide between our knowledge and understanding. I was sure that more than anyone else I could trust her. And yet, I knew also that knowing the truth of what I'd been through would hurt her. I didn't want to share that pain. This was my burden, one I hoped someone like her should never have to carry. There was still more I could say... but I did not feel ready. The debt I owed her felt enormous, especially now that I realized that my own acceptance of the consequences of that debt had, in the end, won for me the protection of Zilargo. The person I had been when I first came here would have eventually had to move on, seeking means to her revenge in some other place. I would remain because Illyvalen's kindness had changed me into someone who could accept this place, and into someone whom this place could accept. That thought brought equal parts relief and shame, and I quickly gave up any hope of articulating my conflicted sentiments.