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First pages

For three days, Huiln the goblin inhabited no world, but swung through the space between. He had expected hurtling hand over hand through The Abyss would be unending falling, like riding Baugn-back, but the Alfyrian Ladder constantly folded the Abyss, so that every rung, every eye-blink, he traversed vast distances, but without the sensation of speed. As the hours progressed, he became increasingly worried that if his weary fingers released a rung, he might be set adrift miles away in the Abyss, without hope of returning to the elves’ bizarre mode of conveyance.

At the mid-point of his trip on the second day, he could no longer see The Five Worlds’ hazy outlines, but only the Alfyrian Ladder’s gossamer thread, which dimly reflected the distant light of The Abyss. For more than twelve hours, he was like a blind minnow in a cave pool, a feeling that the clamminess of The Abyss accentuated, until he glimpsed the first reflected rays from Alfyria, and even better, felt their warmth on his cold face, in a moment of such great relief that he doubted that his arrival to the Elven World, and even standing once again on solid ground, would be more satisfying.

While he should be weary, ravenous, and half-dead, the Alfyrian Ladder’s diabolic links also revitalized its users, so that they never grew tired or hungry. His ribs caged only a few personal beasts: a simmering fury for the sorceress Eurilda, a contempt for his human brother Khyte, and a heartsick hatred for the despotic dryad he had once adored. If Huiln's heart remained, it was a petty, twisted, gargoyle, fluttering as it turned over the events that led to his flight through the Abyss. Inglefras the usurper had stirred up these calamities, like a ladle in a pot of kiuera dumplings; once one of those besotted dumplings, Huiln still occasionally fell apart doing ordinary things, and believed himself still soaked in her influence. That he read everything on dryads in the Grand Goblin Library, and that he experienced firsthand the musk of royal dryads that could compel all, had not mitigated his infatuation; but where knowledge was weak, time wore down the bittersweet hooks of his infatuation, and the dull blade of resentment slashed him free from her allure.

Alfyria, the Elven World, now swelled into enormity before Huiln, its radius pooling gradually but perceptibly, as if the planet oozed into the horizon, and when the goblin realized he would arrive within the hour, he stopped climbing, and bobbed in the nothingness as he speculated on what could transpire on the Elven World. Huiln had never met an elf he liked, and when the elves knew the contents of the letter Eurilda had given him, it was likely some Alfyrians would return that enmity against him. While the correspondence of humans and goblins from a hundred years ago was ephemeral, both the elves and the dryads are longer-lived, and so the former page was evidence of a secret but living history that presaged doom for The Five Worlds. This antique letter, sent from the elf Frellyx to Inglefras and proof of double dealing over a hundred years ago, was rolled around a fresher message, penned only days ago, the plea for the High Tzhurarkh to enter the Dryad War on the side of the Councilor-Generals' army. Eurilda also carried the Councilor-Generals' message, but she could best be described not as unmotivated, but malefic, as she would like nothing better than to see the Dryad war to continue, even at the risk of her enemy Inglefras’s power remaining consolidated, if it would mean a reckoning for the dryads.

As Huiln neared footfall on the Elven World, other Alfyrian Ladders scrolled inward, and his bankers' mind calculated the odds on the distant travelers so quickly that he had no time to engage his imagination. Those that weren't returning Alfyrians were likely humans, from the sundry tribes of Hravak, as the other denizens of The Five Worlds were troubled by the elven invention due to their size, their conservatism, or their fears. Only a handful of sorcerers in Uenarak, the city of giants, could diminish and thereby suppress their gigantic mass to climb the elf-sized ladder; Dryads were slow to use new advances because new thoughts took five years to roost; and the agoraphobic and acrophobic goblins of Nahure were, as a general rule, terrified of this means of locomotion. Only goblins that were considered mad on Nahure, like Huiln, could brave traveling The Abyss.

Huiln wondered if business less dire brought the distant humans to the Elven World. Two days through the Abyss was time enough for Huiln to realize his mission must change. Though he couldn’t break his oath to the Councilor-Generals, as he was bound not only by duty but love for his father, Lord Hwarn, who Inglefras took captive in Wywynanoir, Huiln should play the courier subtly, as Eurilda, being the first to seek audience with High Tzhurarkh Leturo, would be the first believed. Huiln may have entertained the idea of seeking Eurilda out, to determine whether she stood against him, but he must assume she would continue to act in her nature—not because she was giantess, sorceress and fearsome, which were not the strikes he was counting against her, but because she was the faithless friend that left him for dead less than a year ago.

Agog at the sight of the impending city sprawl, Huiln wondered how he could continue an upward climb with the ground so obviously ahead of him. If he let go, would he fall to his death, or snap back to Wywynanoir? After two days' climb, he feared to try it, less for the risk to life and limb than the risk of starting from scratch. The goblin scrambled hand over hand towards the elves' crenelated towers, which seemed to bend backwards on themselves, breaking the laws of Nahurian geometry; somehow parallels, rather than keeping their respectful distance, knotted in the elven city. Pools were cut into the ground like panes of glass, flat and still and shimmering, and a series of circular roads, pierced by diagonal roads, sectioned the city.

The crisp iciness of the Abyss gave way to the Elven World's warm wind, packed with the competing aromas of trees, herbs, and the surf at Julaba’s harbor. Julaba did not smell like a goblin city; even while coasting Baugn-back over his home city, Kreona, Huiln could smell the countless constantly simmering pots, whereas in descending to the Alfyrian capital, the predominant smell was of stone and trees, and not cooking.

Nonetheless, hunger crept in, and sweat glided on Huiln's limbs. The final rung was in reach, and the Alfyrian Ladder’s enchantments, which stilled gravity, appetite and fatigue, were about to elapse. The goblin did not want to plummet when Alfyria's downward pull asserted itself over the upward scroll of the Alfyrian Ladder, so he slowed his crawl, as to die so ignobly after such a humbling climb was not a fitting end for the Son of Hwarn.

When Huiln grasped the final rung, he felt the Elven World's faint tug, and his feet swung slowly from their rungs, marking a half-circle as he clung to the bottom rung and tightened his stomach to brake the swing. His shoulders and arms tightened as he dangled over Julaba. While the nearest roof seemed to lay flat below him, it also somehow stretched to a point of union with its neighboring building, though both structures were both vertical and parallel. Huiln was a learned goblin, a voracious reader and a rationalist, so while it would have been a comfort at this moment to think that the world had gone mad, he could only think it illogical and nonsensical. He could either waste time trying to find the sense in nonsense, or trust that there was an underlying reasonableness to the knotted-up city skyline below. Still, while it was logical that the final rung would adjoin an access point, such common sense was no comfort if logic was optional on the Elven World. In the end, he could only take a leap of faith, and drop to the roof.

Huiln landed on his feet, staggering forward at full pace; what saved him from falling face first was bouncing off a robed Alfyrian to land in a pool. Stones and copper coins ground into the seat of his soaked pants, and when he stood up, he drizzled. The elf was two heads taller and continued without breaking her stride; when her eyes passed through Huiln, he thought he saw her scowling, but as she had the bearing of one who was unaffected, he concluded that he imagined it.

Numerous elves continued on the walkway, which spanned rooftop to rooftop on a spiraling course marking the perfect parallels of Alfyrian towers, parallels which impossibly merged, as if a god had unfolded an incomprehensible papercraft over the world of sense. Huiln was reminded of the shell of a chambered nautilus—if it was turned inside out into a chaotic, senseless, explosion of unending contours. While Huiln lacked the innate Nahurian phobias of heights and wide open spaces, this inexplicable tableau tripped a pang of fear. There are not only instinctual fears, but those fears born of reasoning, and this was one of the latter. For as Huiln's eyes tracked the sidewalk at his feet, he could not understand how it led above him to the topsy-turvy pedestrian whose head and shoulders dangled over his own. Had he been tossed into a madhouse, and only thinking that he saw such impossible things as sidewalks that spiraled through the impossible intersections of parallels? Or was this magical, like the Alfyrian Ladder? Or a peculiarity in the elves themselves, so that he was looking at expressions of the Alfyrians' unique apparatus for thought and sense? If he was not mad, he was definitely maddened by the elves' cavalier disregard for common sense.

Huiln sat on a bench, patted dry his short sword's sheath, then slid it into the concealed pouch in his cloak. Keeping his eyes averted from the Alfyrian skyline, he told himself that even if the elves had the wits to live in this city, it was obviously a handicap, for he had never met the elf he couldn't better in a business deal. Moreover, it was common knowledge that the once great Alfyrian Empire was in the throes of a collapse; their colonies on Hravak had become resorts, and their colonies on Nahure had become casinos. Good things in excess often become a curse, and this was undoubtedly the case with the elves, who with too much intelligence, found themselves at the mercy of those with ephemeral minds and mercurial gifts.

Thinking poorly of others isn’t the same thing as summoning courage, and the goblin was too intimidated to look up for several long moments. When he realized no amount of resentment of the elves’ gifts would give him the confidence he needed, he weakly stood and walked up the helical sidewalk, trusting to the simple logic that if the elves could walk the spiral, he could too. Even if the elves' mind and eyesight were much different than Huiln's, he told himself that feet were feet, and that was all there was to it. When he found himself looking down, however, his eyes shut by instinct, and ran into the unfortunate elf he had jostled earlier.

“Let me help you,” said the Alfyrian, leading Huiln to another bench, from where he found that looking down from the topsy-turvy sidewalk was even more disorienting. While sitting down. he had no illusion of having his footing; and seemed connected to the upside down bench only by his wet pants.

Even though the sidewalk was both under his feet and over his head, and both rested on roofs the elves had twisted outside of the scope of the three dimensions, Huiln did not fall, but lurched to his feet, woozily. In his disorientation, he blacked out, swaying; his bellows-like breathing drowned out the Alfyrian’s words, so he only heard their kind but patronizing tone.

In the hole punched in Huiln’s mind by the elven architecture, he saw a finely woven skein of webs, drawn so tight they blocked out a dreadful darkness behind them, though the webs were nearly as dark, so that they seemed shadows stuck to shadows. And embedded in the webs were tiny, cheap-looking baubles, which, as they rotated, revealed themselves to be The Five Worlds, and as their clouds wafted and oceans sloshed, Huiln saw they were much too cunning to be miniatures, and somehow were the worlds themselves.

At the touch of a hand on his wrist, he turned his head and found his way through the apparition to see what at first seemed the brightly colored bough of a tree, but as its fuzziness resolved, he saw that it was the elven woman. While the elf's auburn-gold hair lay in nine braids, a shock of the gold jutted over her forehead like a short horn. The comical, unmanageable, tuft undermined her disapproving expression. "Are you trying to sell me something?"

Her earnest, deadpan tone was too much for the goblin, and he convulsed with laughter. “What gave you that idea?”, said Huiln, choking off his laughter and finding strength in his voice, though it was false strength born of mockery and indignation, and not yet of courage.

“Why are you following me?”

“You looked like you knew where you were going,” said Huiln.

“Of course I do,” said the elf. “I live here. I’m guessing you only just arrived.”

Rather than lie, Huiln ignored this and said, “I know this is an unusual question, considering where I am, but what is this place?”

The Alfyrian smiled at him. “You stole here on a Ladder, didn’t you.”

Huiln frowned, but said nothing.

“Answer my question, Nahurian, or should I call the guard?”

“Yes.”

“You want me to call the guard?”

“No,” said Huiln, fuming, “I’m answering your question. I climbed a Ladder.”

“Well, that’s no crime, if you have permission.”

“That I didn’t have.”

“Why did you come to Alfyria? Are you running away or running after?”

“After?”

“After something, or someone.”

Huiln cleared his throat. “It was a little of both.” There was a lull then in their conversation; when Huiln realized the elf expected him to elaborate, he asked instead, “who are you, anyway?”

When the elf hesitated, Huiln cut her off, and said, “don’t bother giving a fake name.”

“Why would I do that?”

“It’s what I would do.”

“Why? Do you even know anyone on Alfyria?”

“Unfortunately, I’m acquainted with two others on Alfyria, though neither call this world home, and I’d call neither a friend.”

“So this is a lonely journey for you, then. You shouldn’t have come.”

“There was also the matter of the dryads chasing me.”

“Are you a criminal, then?”

“On Ielnarona I suppose I am.”

“Cyhari.”

“What’s that? I know some Alfyrian, but I’m not familiar with that idiom.”

“Cyhari is my name. Cyhari gon-Azuri gont-Czebele,” she continued, giving her name in the Alfyrian manner, as the elves have two surnames, one from their father and one from their mother. Cyhari, offspring of Azuri and Czebele, was how it translated into Nahurian.

“Oh,” said Huiln, recognizing Cyhari’s middle surname, Azuri, from Khyte’s recap of their escape from the Alfyrian Embassy, although he had never met the elven Guard Captain as Azuri had been in Eurilda’s pouch much of the time.

“Oh? Your name is Oh?”

“I’m Huiln,” laughed the goblin uneasily. “Son of the House of Hwarn,” he finished, as Cyhari had been so formal as to give her own full name. Something about her embarrassed him for wearing wet pants; noble birth to a wealthy house of great renown may not be good enough for this one. Moreover, dread augmented the goblin's mortification; terror which lingered from the premonition of webs during his brief black out. If his vision was just a mirage of his exhaustion, then how could he explain that he should stumble by chance into the daughter of the same Azuri? He feared that the Spider-God was spinning a net of coincidence, and this elven woman had been snared together with him. In that moment he cared less for first impressions than for reverently navigating the imprint of fate, and respecting the vessel of the gods' auspiciousness. “So...are you going to turn me in?”

“Of course not,” Cyhari said. “You may get dizzy walking this abstracted aerial concourse, but the endlessly convoluted tracts of the Alfyrian courts would swallow you whole.”

“Thank you. Though while this glimpse of Alfyria is astonishing, I am already familiar with the elven mind, as my second home is the Grand Goblin Library, where we have many of your classics in the original Alfyrian.”

“Oh,” said Cyhari. “I did not mean the goblin mind is less refined.”

“I took no offense,” lied Huiln, who had never met an Alfyrian he liked. By and far, the Alfyrians of the Nahurian embassy were intellectuals, and intellectual Alfyrians thought only the rarefied and the esoteric were the proper domain of the intelligence, so that the smarter you were, the more unlikely you were to stop and smell the roses, and instead to see life's ephemera as a flatulent vapor. As the brilliant passed many veils to ponder mysteries so abstruse as to be opaque to common minds, the elven intelligentsia were philosophers, metaphysicians, magicians, and poets—snobs one and all, who barred entry to more expressive thinkers, such as metal workers, painters, sculptors, chefs, fashionistas, and even the architects that had designed frightening structures that seemed not built for use, but as divine offerings. And while Huiln was an inveterate reader, he was equally a sensualist, as enthralled by the finish on a fine ceramic tea service as he was the aromas of goblin food culture, and he looked down on minds insensate to the depths of substance, which hid wonders and experiences. Perhaps his antipathy to elves stemmed from his recognition that he was no less a snob than they were, though he was inclined to the epicurean model.

“You like books?” asked Cyhari. “This city has a wonder you should see. Follow me.” The elven woman took a few steps, then turned to Huiln, who had not moved from the bench.

Huiln stumbled after her. “Don’t you have someplace to be?”

“Yes. I was on my way there when we met.”

“Where’s ‘there?’”

“My first visit was wondrous. I shouldn’t ruin the surprise for you.”

“But why not ruin it? We’re perfect strangers. In fact, I insist.” Huiln staggered and lurched as the concourse twisted and turned to spite three dimensional form, but Cyhari walked gracefully, either oblivious to the madness bred into these buildings or inured to them due to her daily routine. When the sidewalk kinked, and they faced a drop of hundreds of feet, Huiln stopped trying to second guess gravity, sighed, and proceeded down the plummeting incline. At first, he tried to correct for the angle of the descent by leaning backward or forward to keep himself from being flung from the constantly varying inclines and declines of the road, but since his center of gravity never changed, this only caused him to stumble more often than not. Just when he had accustomed himself to trusting the road and walking upright despite his senses, a feathered beast flew over the edge to land on a promontory that jutted out from the skywalk, where it shuffled forward not on legs, but by walking at the claws at the end of its four wings. Its forewings, more developed than its hindwings, dragged itself forward in an almost insectoid gait, which made its rider bob like one drunk; occasionally, its forewings would partially unfurl in this shambling motion, revealing a glimpse of its enormous wingspan. While its beak and claws were rust red, and it sported a three foot scarlet, orange, and violet feathered tail, the rest of it was piebald white and black.

“I’ve seen the wonder,” said Huiln, as he stood rigid and waited for it to shuffle far ahead of them.

“That?” asked Cyhari. “That’s a krydayn. While it isn’t something you see every day, that’s not the wonder. There are at least two dozen of them in Julaba. The wonder is just ahead. Watch your step. Krydayn droppings are no joke—you’ll stink for a week or more.”

Voices and footfalls murmured around the suspended bend of the concourse walkway, where they passed into a bustling hall, with glass walls burnished so bright that their faces stared back at them, crowded by the dim shadows of the bookshelves inside.

“Is this your library?” asked Huiln.

“Even better. This is Quront Sabata, the Elven Bookstore. Well, the vastness of it,” she admitted, pointing up at the dizzyingly giddy elven edifice, that seemed to borrow not only substance from the surrounding buildings but volume from the gaps between them. “But not the entirety of it. Quront Sabata has many storefronts.”

“Franchises.”

“No, all our cities connect to this one,” she said.

“You can’t mean...” said Huiln.

“Yes, you can enter through Kuln to browse the stacks here in Julaba.”

“How is that possible?” asked Huiln, counterfeiting a hint of astonishment, while conjecturing that the elves discovered the Doorways after all, despite Frellyx, Eurilda, and the Councilor-Generals’ assurances that they had not.

“How isn’t it?”

“Don’t be glib,” said the goblin. “How does it work?”

“Pentadimensional theory is on the fourth floor; magi-architectural tomes are on eight.”

“Fine. Show me the books,” said Huiln. “I’ve had my fill of your stretched-out city.” If only Kuilea was here, he mulled. His sister mocked him for learning Alfyrian—and Ielnaronan, Uenarakian, and the babbling languages of the Hravakians—for the purpose only of reading books.

“We must part ways,” said Cyhari, “as my shift begins.”

“Are you a clerk?”

“No. I am Treikondant Cerund.”

While Cerund was Alfyrian for Order, used equally to define sects of wizards, factions of knights, and religious cults, Treikondant was even more ambiguous, alternately translated as knowledge, form, and structure; hence, Huiln wasn’t sure if Cyhari was a Guardian of the Library or a Knight of the Towers. “Who sells the books?”

“Quront Sabata neither sells nor lends understanding; treikondant nel cerundor, sivar cobori.”

“Knowledge is neither possessed nor borrowed, only learned,” translated Huiln aloud.

“’Learned?’” snickered Cyhari. “Nahurian is a beautiful language, but translation into the goblin-tongue diminishes this phrase. Cobori is similar to the word learned but nearer to the word identified.”

“As in located, or discovered?”

“No. Cobori is untranslatable without reference to Alfyrian philosophy.”

“Which I’ve studied,” said Huiln, his chest inflating as he fumed at her patronizing tone. “And speaking of untranslatable, why call the Quront Sabata a bookstore when it’s clearly a library?”

“Treikondant Cerund sell not books, but the limited license to read them, and we guard the Quront Sabata from copyists, from those that would abuse what they have learned and from those that do not respect its value. Cobori measures not only knowledge, but integrity. It is a concept you may never understand, as the gulf between our worlds is wide, Even in antiquity, our philosophers had no common ground, and this divergence has grown over the centuries, so that our definition of simple concepts contrasts remarkably. Your ancient sage Luenara wrote that learning is an act of imitation, which Nahurians take as axiomatic without knowing the origin of the idea, while her ancient Alfyrian counterpart, Tzupontila, defined learning as an act of identification, of identifying with the object of knowledge, which elves are taught as children. The sum repository of all of our cobori, the Quront Sabata, resides in every city for the cobori of all Alfyria.”

“What you say seems reasonable,” said Huiln, “though I understand integrity, I’ve read Luenara, and you disparage goblins again.”

“Again?” said Cyhari.

“Yes, I lied earlier. What you said was offensive.”

“I apologize for the bitter,” said Cyhari, though her eyes smiled, and she did not seem contrite at all. “But here is the sweet, Huiln Son of Hwarn.” Through a circular entryway, books and scrolls stuffed rows of shelves. The acrid aroma of old paper and dust was cloyingly sweet to the book-loving goblin.

When Cyhari stuck out her fist, Huiln was bemused by the gesture, which on Nahure usually presaged a street brawl. The elf smiled, and said, “May you find cobori in Quront Sabata, and may all the bitter become sweet.”

“I hate elves,” muttered Huiln.

“What was that?” she asked.

“I’m elated to see so many shelves,” said Huiln, smiling as if he hadn’t read a book in months, though it had been only days since he had asked Councilor-General Quhinei for a book to ease his doldrums on the Dryad World.

Huiln’s arrival in the Quront Sabata was a blur; he had never seen so many books—like twenty Grand Goblin Libraries poured into one building—and his excitement seemed to whirl him past lines, clerks, and stairs to the literary treasures within. Even a colorful, panoptic, mosaic, that stretched along one extensive hallway, only registered enough interest for him to make a mental note to revisit it. Each book slid into another book, so that despite his hunger and stink, the days glazed together as well, not hours in sequence, but a series of book spines embedded with intriguing titles and containing mind-changing ideas. There was Kratoru’s Vines and Verities, a rare treatise which contained only dialogues in which all parties were reportedly drunk; Savelia’s Space is a State of Mind and Vice Versa, a famous Alfyrian architectural tome which clained the dimensions of the mind and the physical world interpenetrated, but other than that thesis and a few glib aphorisms, Huiln found demented; Tzupontila’s Nahurian Dialogues, a very famous book both here and on the Goblin World, for its detailed account of Tzupontila’s debates with the Nahurian philosopher Luenara; Otoka the Wise’s Worlds and Time, an attempt to critique the religious position on how The Five Worlds and The Abyss came to be; the very dry but invaluable Kinulcra and Culture Creation, which told the history of the elven longevity drug and the way that it had not only shaped, but irrevocably altered, Alfyrian society; he chortled his way through Azuri’s Twenty Goblin Myths, a stylistically beautiful collection of classic goblin fairy tales so atrociously mistranslated that the author added twenty brand new stories to the Five Worlds—and he enriched goblin culture at his own expense in attributing them to Nahurian folklore, and not his own imagination.

The backdrop to Huiln’s reading changed many times; though he paid little mind to anything other than the constantly turning pages, without thinking he would first shift in his seat, then pace the room, his eyes still riveted to the open book in his hands, until eventually he would walk the halls and rooms until he found a more comfortable seat. In so doing, eventually Huiln’s withers rested in dozens of chairs, and he became acquainted with every floor in the Quront Sabata, though he knew them less by their interiors than by the books on their shelves. The only things he knew by sight were the Quront Sabata’s five fountains, for when he could not ignore his thirst any longer, he was unwilling to risk getting a book wet—even The Seven Sisters, a trashy Cuvaernian picto-fable he read in the wee hours one morning—and would dash to the closest fountain, take pains to ensure he was not watched, then drink his fill and wash his face and hands. Though sorely tempted to take a few handfuls of coins from the shallow waters, Lord Hwarn did not raise a petty thief—though Huiln was a treasure hunter and once or twice an embezzler, he hoped there was nothing petty about him.

While Dryad literature in the Grand Goblin Library’s collection were elevated and stylish classics that he read and reread, the books in the dryad camp may have been new, but they were also atrocious drivel like the lurid chapbooks peddled by Nahurian merchants. By comparison, every book in the Quront Sabata had some strain of excellence to commend itself to the most voracious reader. To have plentiful examples of the Alfyrians’ gift for literature only made him despise the elves even more, though he would no doubt die coveting their eloquence, and try to make it his own with his final words.

How could anyone read Alfyrian literature, let alone write it, and be so lacking in humility like the elves themselves? Huiln’s first stack of books contained ideas that burned indelibly; silver-tongued epiphanies that inspired not for a moment, but exalted hearts for a lifetime. Hours turned into a day, as if the goblin was again on a world-spanning ladder, and this time the books quenched his hunger. He wondered bitterly if more than a handful of Nahurians were true authors, and the rest plagiarists, stealing their best ideas from elves. Or, almost as bad, they dressed their original ideas in a style copied from a goblin Alfyriphile, and cast a shadow twice removed.

“I heard you were still here,” said Cyhari, who sat down at the wide stone table across from him, where the difference in their height was more pronounced; to rest his elbows on the table, and his head on his hands when poring over a book, Huiln knelt in the high-backed elven chairs, while Cyhari sat with legs crossed and her hair draped over the back of her chair. While Cyhari again wore what he knew now was the green and gold raiment of the Teikondant Cerund, the passage of time was marked by subtle changes—the elf had swapped an azure choker for a necklace of woven ebon and gold filaments, and light beaded on the gem-studded gold threads of pendant earrings. This was when he realized how long he had been reading.

Though Huiln was engrossed in The Labors of Vagornu, a lengthy Hravakian scroll that detailed the adventures of a mythic human hero, he forgot the tale in his fascination with the Alfyrian woman who for some suspect reason had taken an interest in him. Mingling with the library odors of old paper, glue, and dust was an oily floral scent, no doubt the elven woman’s perfume; for some reason, the fragrance reminded him of market day in Kreona, when all the goblin women, no matter what their standing, slathered themselves with not only perfumes, but lotions, creams, and other cosmetics, so that the deathly hot market square would reek with the bouquet of goblin women.

“I brought you something to eat,” she said, though his opinion of the young Alfyrian only rose for a moment, until he saw her bland offering: odorless pastries, neither herbed, spiced, or iced.

“Thank you,” said Huiln, and ate without comment. While he wouldn’t call them revolting, they tasted as savorless as they looked, and their dryness made them hard to swallow; and while filling, the fullness was bloating, leaden and unsatisfying, and no sooner did the rolls pass his lips than he felt constipated. By the tenth bite, it became a grueling endeavor, and Huiln understood why both Khyte and Frellyx—and that one was elven born—detested Alfyria.

“You didn’t have to do that,” said the goblin, not able to bring himself to say thank you for the unappetizing fare.

“I wasn’t planning on it,” said Cyhari, “but I met another traveler—by the look of it, a tall Hravakian that wears blonde braids and a poorly fitting Alfyrian robe; in that she has traveled not only from one world to another, but to her frayed state of mind, I suspected she was your cohort, and you would like to know of her arrival. The rolls I made last night from patu flour, salt, water, itrapi leavening mud...”

“Say no more.” While Huiln preferred Eurilda studying in the Quront Sabata to her in audience with the High Tzhurarkh, the thought of her nearby made the goblin even queasier than the knowledge that he just ate mud, or a foodie’s refinement of it. Perhaps it was only Huiln’s eclectic taste, and desire to acquaint himself with every book that caught his eye, that took him far and wide in the Quront Sabata, and made unlikely a run-in with the giant sorceress. Or perhaps they paced parallel aisles? “I know her, and she’s no human.”

“I did say ‘by the look of it.’ My father also recognized her from my description, and has informed the High Tzhurarkh and the Treikondant Cerund that a giantess roams the Quront Sabata.”

“Azuri would know,” chuckled Huiln.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s only hearsay, so I shouldn’t comment.”

“Agreed,” said Cyhari, and the silence that followed stymied the goblin, who wanted her to beg for the story. Pretending to be discreet was an old goblin trick to spread gossip from one side of Kreona to the other.

“You’re not curious?” he asked.

“It can wait. Save your story for dinner,” she said, handing him a rich, cream-colored, card with painstakingly embossed letters, which read:

Czhever 11-09

 

Esteemed Son of Hwarn:

 

As the fellowship of Lord Hwarn made Merculo's fetes and feasts more tolerable, I was delighted to hear of his son's arrival on Alfyria. Your company is eagerly expected from today to Czhever 11-11, during which time I hope to be regaled with your many adventures and any odd bits of folklore or goblin learning you might share.

 


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Keith Hendricks has an MFA in Creative Writing from The Ohio State University, and lives in a loving, Doctor Who-addicted, anime-driven, Hamilton-quoting, and book-fueled family. You can find his thoughts on writing fantasy fiction on his blog, Shoreless Seas and Stars Uncounted. You can find another sample of his fiction writing on Wattpad, The Eye of Wysaerie. When he's not writing fantasy fiction, he's writing reviews for NerdSpan.com.


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