Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Interesting Steve

Once upon a time I sat with several friends on a sunny Sunday afternoon on the BYU-Hawaii Campus. Somewhere in our conversations we came up with a game show idea (which I will not share because I still believe it is a brilliant idea and needs to be done). From this game show idea a rather sad obsession of mine developed. And from that obsession sprouted this little short story. Hopefully it's an interesting (ha ha ha...) read!

Interesting Steve

Steve Smith liked to believe he was interesting. Being born with a combination of entirely generic names, to parents who were, admittedly, quite average and unremarkable, had only fueled his desire to assert, if to nobody but himself, that he was indeed interesting.

If Steve were a comic book hero, he decided his name would be The Interesting Steve. If he were a villain, he’d be the Interesting and Nefarious Steve. Needless to say, his creativity with pseudonyms for his alter-egos did little to bolster the validity of his desired self-image. Of course, he reasoned, creativity was hardly a prerequisite for interestingness. Surely, simply by virtue of his obsession with being interesting, he must have become so.

What Steve did not know and did not understand was what actually made a person interesting, or that being interesting was entirely subjective. Still, he might’ve been quite pleasantly surprised to discover that three of his acquaintances found him interesting, in one fashion or another.

Suzy Jackman, a girl from his math class, found Steve cute because his eyes narrowed and his lips pursed whenever he was trying to solve a particularly difficult problem.

Jared Cobb, being something of a scientist and casual observer of everyone in his general vicinity, was thoroughly curious as to what led Steve to lay upside-down, staring at the blank white ceiling in a service stairwell while eating lunch at work.

And Cami Johnson, a long-lost childhood friend, knew without a shadow of a doubt that Steve was an entirely unique person simply for the fact that he listened to her when nobody else did. If he were to ask her, he would find out how greatly in awe she held him for the way he remembered seemingly trivial details about her stories, appearance, or even scent from their childhood explorations.

But Steve was entirely unaware of these feelings and opinions. He was, it might be said, non-blissfully ignorant.

If you were to ask Steve’s best friend, Martin Franesinico—whom Steve adored simply for having a quite interesting and unique last name—what made Steve interesting, he’d shrug, go back to playing whatever video game was popular at the moment and then casually say something along the lines of, “Just is, ya know?”

Since Martin lacked the social awareness required to reassure Steve when he needed reassurance, he’d never once let Steve know that he found him interesting. After all, that’s not exactly the type of thing you just let your friend know at random.

This left Steve in a rather depressing predicament. He was, as far as he was aware, entirely without any social justification for feeling interesting, which, naturally, made him feel quiet bland. And so if was that he decided to take the most extreme measure he could think of, on the off chance it might work.

After a long, rather uninteresting day of school and work, Steve, using a level of stealth and secrecy the CIA would have taken note of, snuck into his neighborhood friendly nuclear power plant. This required MacGyver-like skills. First, he disabled their security camera network (and everything else for that matter) with a home-made EMP device he’d looked up on Google and had assembled after several months of scrimping and having to buy the expensive components. Next, he scaled their barbed-wire fencing, using a thick rug as protection. He slinked and slunk around the plant grounds, making use of the EMP created confusion and shadows to hide him.

The nuclear compound had several buildings. The one with the nuclear reactor he stayed clear of. Getting inside that to steal anything would’ve been even more impossible than everything else he was doing. He instead rooted through the other buildings until he located a storage facility, which, with the help of a paperclip, some duct tape, and an extremely small amount of home-made explosives, he was able to enter.

After rooting around miraculously undetected for forty-five minutes, he exited the plant with seven pounds and thirteen ounces of actively radiating substances of an undisclosed nature (apparently the workers knew exactly what was stored inside because it lacked any form of labeling aside from the hazard symbol).

The part of his mind in control of planning had struck a metaphorical chord with the thought of genetic mutation as a result to high levels of radiation. And so that is exactly what Steve planned to do. But simply exposing himself to radiation would not suffice. No, he deigned to expose a spider, which he intended to let bite him, a frog, which he intended to lick, and a random assortment of several other creatures which he’d been able to get his hands upon in quick fashion.

After five rather uneventful hours of basking in high doses of radiation with his captured experiment creatures, Steve decided to go forward with his plan, and he did so.

He woke the next day with no noticeable result to his experiment. And indeed, two weeks passed without a single sign that anything had happened, except, perhaps, for an aching he felt, which might’ve been attributed to his experiment, or possibly to a tumble he’d taken down the stairs when he’d gotten up in the middle of the night to pee.

But after two weeks, give or take a few hours, and despite all meaningful scientific research suggesting such a thing was not possible, Steve’s body changed as a result of his admittedly dangerous activities. In short measure he grew extra eyes, scattered about his person, six extra, to be precise. His body developed glands which produced high quantities of a mucus-like substance which quickly covered his body. His fingers and toes elongated and his sense of smell somehow granted him a smell-based radar-like affect. Though he didn’t immediately notice, the entire back half of his body emitted a soft yellow glow. And lastly, he developed chitin scales all over his neck which inexplicably worked to filter oxygen from water, making him virtually un-drown-able.

Now, an uninteresting person, or perhaps simply an ordinary person, would be terrified by these changes. Steve was thrilled. Sure, going out in to public dressed in ordinary clothes was out of the question, and living an ordinary life was all but impossible. But Steve wasn’t looking for ordinary and bland. He wanted interesting.

What Steve had not anticipated as a side-result of his ill-advised experiments with radiation was that the few people close to him would shun him because of his new changes. Even his best friend, Martin, who maintained a vigilant nonchalance about everything, could not handle the “new and improved” Steve.

And so after a matter of only a few days Steve found himself most definitely interesting, but entirely alone and rejected by society, friends, and family.

Like many people who’ve been hurt or rejected too many times, Steve’s heart began to harden, his will twisted into something dark and terrible, and his actions were not long in following.

It began as petty crimes, stealing stray cats and dogs from shelters so that he’d have something to eat (since part of his transformation involved giving him strange gastronomical desires). But his crime spree quickly grew. In no time he was stealing claimed pets, breaking and entering (to get aforementioned pets), and several cases of vandalism and indecent exposure.

The thrill and excitement of his new lifestyle motivated him to bigger and bigger heights. He sought greater adrenaline highs, and activities that would surely make him more interesting.

In April 2012, WeeklyNews, a world-wide publication, featured a picture of Steve growling at a crowd after having robbed a bank upon the cover of their magazine. The headline read: Villain or Misguided Freak?

The Interesting and Nefarious Steve crouched down in the shadows behind the news stand he’d stolen the magazine from and smiled.

Only interesting people made it on the cover of WeeklyNews.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Push the Button

Well folks, here's a little something to look over. I don't have a direction to this and I'd very much appreciate any ideas about where to go with it, or any feedback on what's already here. I'm imagining this as a short story of some type (yes, I've got a whole page of a short story without a direction in mind, shame on me!).

Push the Button

Cliff Branson was a push-the-button type of guy. After 400 years of life, why not? He’d met—and been shot at—by six sentient alien species. His body was long gone. The only thing really human about him anymore was his brain, which, despite the best technological advances, he was pretty sure only barely resembled the one he’d been born with. He had nothing to lose, really. So pushing the button came naturally to him. In this case, it was a big, bright blue button on the center console of an abandoned alien spaceship.

Captain Gobb and First Mate Smith were arguing about something—Cliff wasn’t paying attention—probably about whether or not they ought to push the button. Apparently, one of the many hostile alien species had taken umbrage with the crew’s claim on the abandoned alien ship and was coming right for them. No doubt they were in imminent risk of being blowing apart, which seemed to happen on a by weekly basis—the imminent risk, not the being blowing apart part.

Cliff yawned—it sounded like the real thing, his very own yawn, despite coming from a speaker in the back of his artificial mouth—leaned forward and, you guessed it, pushed the big, blue button.

The captain and first mate stopped arguing when the tell-tale rumbling of an FTL drive warming up shook the alien ship. They both turned, and as one and exclaimed, “Cliff! What have you done?”

Cliff returned what he thought of as his “lazy grin” and shrugged. “Looks like we’re heading somewhere.”

Like a whirling dervish, Captain Gobb spun and started taking in the details of the alien console, or attempting to, anyway. The console was nothing but indecipherable symbols.

“If we’re taking a jump to dead space I’ll… I’ll…”

“Kill me?” Cliff suggested. “A little bit of a hollow threat, all things considered, don’t you think, Captain?”

Half the muscles on Captain Gobb’s face were twitching. He stared at Cliff for a minute and then turned around and barked commands to the rest of the crew. Cliff had already stopped paying attention to the people around him. His eyes were fixed out the front window, which, at the moment, didn’t show much of anything except for blurred light, which wasn’t half as awe inspiring after several thousand jumps.

A few moments later—or perhaps it was many moments, he had a tendency to lose track of such things—the blurred lights out the front window came into focus, the FTL drive hummed to a halt, and they were hovering outside an earthlike world. The big giveaway that it wasn’t earth was that there was unmolested nature instead of man-made structures blotting out everything green.

“Blue button leads to paradise. Check,” Cliff said, turning with his “goofy smile” on. “Want to take a hop down in one of the shuttles? Do you think they have deer? I haven’t seen a deer since I was fifteen. We could go hunting."

Half the crew was staring at him like they wanted to strangle him—he was used to the look. The other half of the crew was staring wide-eyed out the window. Honestly, it was like they’d never seen a real world before. Of course, since the next oldest person on board was a paltry fifty-seven, Cliff supposed they probably hadn’t.

“Those green spots,” Cliff offered helpfully, “are where plants are growing. And look, the water is still blue here. Isn’t that nice?”

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Dominions of Glory:10

Dominions of Glory: 10

Here's a bit of a longer section...Not sure how much more of this I'm going to post since I'm starting to run into a lot of issues that need fundamental re-writes... But I'll see what I can do to keep people happy...

“Baelin what?” Whisper asked, looking first to Dilirian and then to Baelin for an answer. “Baelin what?” she repeated.

“I’ve got a bit of money,” Baelin said, leaving it at that.

Whisper stared at Baelin and he got the distinct impression she wasn’t just looking at him, but searching for something. “There’s stories,” she said solemnly, “Old stories, faerie tales that mothers whisper to their children as they fall asleep. My father used to tell me several interesting ones.”

“That’s nice,” Dilirian said dismissively. “I bet one of them was about gold magically appearing in the mountains.”

“Not in the mountains,” Whisper chided. “But yes, actually. There’s one in particular that comes to mind.”

“Let’s hear it,” Baelin said, genuinely curious. He didn’t know many faerie tales or Old Stories. His mother hadn’t known many and wasn’t one for story-telling. Aside from that, he spent so much time alone he simply didn’t have many opportunities to hear them.

“In the Old Days, back when Iln was a small city in Baeilnidor, there was a small, protected family with few descendants. They were extremely wealthy, and lived like kings, some even said they had once ruled all the land from the Western Sea to the lava fields of Duun far to the east. But now they were simply a wealthy family of particular note, that kept themselves holed up in a private fortress in the middle of Iln.

“As often happens when rich folk hide themselves away, all manner of rumors sprung up about them about who they were and where they came from. Most of the stories were nonsense, obviously: they were never seen because they only came out at night; they never left their fortress because they were all hideous and disfigured. All a bunch of nonsense. But, if you could sift through the dross, there was a common thread to many of the more reputable theories. It seemed certain families had long kept watch on the family in question, and had noticed odd things about them. Things disappeared or appeared at random when they were about. People who drew their ire would often vanish without a trace.

“Well, after many long years of speculation, without even a single person seeing a living soul inside the fortress, my great-grandfather, nine or so generations ago, snuck inside the fortress as a young man. You see, my line was one of the families that had long kept watch upon the family in question, for there was a general mistrust of that family, and those who watched were there to ensure they never ventured out trying to reclaim the vast empire that had supposedly once been theirs.

“Once inside the fortress walls he found vast troves of treasure, diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and of course, gold, chests and chests of it, just lying about. But as he wandered through the place he saw no sign of any life. He wandered and searched, careful at first, but as it seemed to him that caution was no longer needed, he walked about in the open, and went so far as to pocket enough gems and coins as to make himself a wealthy man.

“He searched until darkness fell upon the city. And just as he decided the place was abandoned and that he should return home, he heard a ragged old voice behind him. He turned and saw a man who looked to be three hundred years of age, such was the state of his wear. His skin hung and sagged as if it were ready to fall from his bones, his eyes were so far set back in his skull that they could barely be seen, and all that was left of his hair was a few stray white wisps.

“After a moment’s pause my great-grandfather took a step back, somehow fearing the wrath of this decrepit old man. ‘You are too late, Watcher,’ said the old man. ‘My seed has escaped these barren walls.’ At which point he began to cackle, and as he cackled, it seemed to my great-grandfather, so many generations ago, that the very stones beneath the man turned to gold beneath his feet.

“The old man, realizing that the stones beneath him had turned to gold began to curse and shout and threatened to summon fire if my great-grandfather did not flee immediately. So my great-grandfather turned and ran, still with his treasure hidden away in his pockets. As he ran he said it was as if a wind was sucked out of the world and drawn into the spot where the old man stood, cursing him.

“Well, upon returning home my great-grandfather, so many generations back, spoke with his father at length about what he’d seen. His father told him that the old man was part of a family long known to have odd things happen about them, such as having stones turn to gold. His father then went on to explain that they, being my family line, had been watching that old fortress specifically to ensure the family within never turned whatever dark powers they had on the world in conquest.”

Whisper let her last words hang in the air for a moment and then bowed her head.

“Wait, what?” Dilirian said. “That’s the end? That stories absurd. Surely you don’t believe it. You speak as if the man had the Magic the Old Stories tell of. Surely you can tell the difference between a child’s fable and the truth?”

“It’s how my father told it to me,” Whisper said firmly, looking as if she might pull her mace out and use it in a moment.

“And besides,” Dilirian continued, oblivious to Whisper’s mood, “the golden paving stones within the Baeilnidor fortress were put there by Jahin the fourth, it is well known. I should know; I crossed them a dozen times a day for the entirety of my life. Jahin had decided to make a show of our province’s wealth by slowly replacing each stone within the fortress with golden bricks, but he died several days after the project began, having changed only a small portion of one hallway out. His son, my great-grandfather as many generations back, Heridon, saw the folly of his father’s plan, but did not have the heart to tear up the golden bricks, and left them as a memorial to his late father.”

“What was the point of the story,” Baelin quietly asked.

“I thought it would be clear,” Whisper said, shooting a venomous sideways glance to Dilirian. “In that story gold mysteriously appeared as it has tonight.”

“But under quite different circumstances,” Baelin noted.

“Well, yes,” Whisper said and began to say something else when Dilirian cut her off.

“A bunch of nonsense,” Dilirian said.

“I’m afraid she’s not full of nonsense,” came an accented voice from the darkness. “I’m afraid her version of the tale is much closer to the truth than yours is.”

Dilirian and Whisper both had their weapons drawn in a moment.

“Put those away,” Baelin said because he’d recognized the voice. He called out into the darkness, “Hazeem, come to the fire, will you?”

Hazeem walked into the pool of light cast by the fire. He had olive skin and graying hair, which had been brown the last time Baelin had seen the man. His head was oddly shaped, coming to a point at his nose and sloping backward sharply for both his forehead and chin.

“I thought you’d long since left Shadyridge,” Baelin said.

“And so I have,” Hazeem said with a keen smile. “But I made my destination different than I originally planned.”

“Who is this?” Dilirian asked, still holding his sword even though Hazeem was clearly no threat and Whisper had since put away her mace.

“My name is Hazeem. I am a friend of Baelin’s.”

“Not much of a friend,” Baelin said. “I thought you were half a world away.”

“Bah,” Hazeem said. “They could run me out of town, but they could not get me to abandon this place. I’ve made a home in the mountains where I’ve been able to overlook the land for miles. I’ve seen you in the fields on many occasions.”

Something in the way Hazeem spoke made Baelin nervous. He instantly thought back to all the times he’d used Magic in any area that might’ve been seen from above. He’d done so dozens of times, but he could hardly believe Hazeem would’ve been able to see the results of that use from so high up.

“I wish you’d let me know you were still here,” Baelin said. “I would’ve come up for a visit.”

Hazeem laughed. “I think it has been best that nobody knows I am around.”

“Yet you make yourself known now,” Dilirian said, finally sheathing his sword.

“I was drawn by the fire,” Hazeem said. “And seeing it was simply Baelin, well, I figured I would offer words of warning.” He paused for a moment. “But I should speak to you first, young one,” he said while looking at Dilirian. “When traveling alone through the mountains, you would do well to learn to step quietly. You never know when you might stumble upon a bandit encampment. I shadowed you on your trip for several hours without notice; you were so loud you didn’t have the chance to hear me.”

Dilirian flushed.

“But more than this,” Hazeem said, “I warn you. There are devils about. You would do well to be wary. I have killed many of the creatures in this area, but I cannot say with certainty that you are safe.”

“That’s why we are here,” Baelin said. “To hunt the devils and keep people safe.”

“Ah,” Hazeem said as nodded his head in sagely manner. “The young and ill-tested journey together. I hope this is an expedition you were not coerced into taking?”

“We decided to come because we had the necessary tools,” Dilirian said, quite defensively.

“I see that,” Hazeem said. “Armor and weapons are good for these devils. But I have spied far larger problems in the distance: smoke rises from across the river in Gaulder. The country-side burns and winged devils can be spotted in the air as night begins to fall.”

“We’ve heard of this also,” Baelin said.

Hazeem nodded as if that was expected.

“You said my story was more correct,” Whisper said, suddenly changing the topic. “How would one whose homeland would appear to be so far away know anything of this story?”

“How does anything know anything?” Hazeem asked. “It was taught to me. And you,” he looked to Dilirian, “should not show such ignorance of your own house. If you knew anything of history you would know that story you just shared was a lie. How long has your family line been in power?”

“Some five-hundred years,” Dilirian said proudly.

“And how many of those years have they been seated in Iln?”

Dilirian hesitated. “Nearly one hundred.”

“Then how is it that you can claim your ancestors are responsible for something that took place before they were given the Iln seat by their king?”

Dilirian had no response, which brought a smirk to Whisper’s face.

“I would think the important point of this young lady’s story, though, would be that the old man who is spoken of in the tale shares a name with young Baelin here.”

Baelin’s face went red and he hoped the darkness hid the reaction.

“I was getting to that,” Whisper said, “before Dilirian cut me off.”

“I did not!” Dilirian insisted.

“Wait, the old man was named Baelin?”

“Well,” Hazeem said, “Baelelin, which is the more formal version of your name and is often shortened to simply: Baelin.”

Baelin frowned.

“Wait, now you’re saying that our piece of gold appeared randomly because Baelin was here and he happened to share a similar name as someone from a stupid story you heard once?”

“You cry like a young baby who’s had the teat taken from his mouth,” Whisper said.

“I do not!” Dilirian cried.

Hazeem smiled broadly, revealing a row of pristine teeth that belied his aged appearance. He gave Baelin a wink and settled down by the fire as Whisper and Dilirian went about a verbal war.

The argument continued on for some minutes before Dilirian sulked away from the firelight, defeated by Whisper’s sharp tongue.

“That boy has no brain in his head,” she said, still fuming.

“He’s just had one small portion of his education neglected. I think you’ll find few nobility willing to admit that a commoner knows more than them in any subject they consider of worth.”

Baelin and Whisper both agreed to this.

They continued idle conversation until Dilirian came back. Baelin invited Hazeem to share their fire for the night, but he opted to return to his home, wherever that was, and said he would join them again in the morning.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dominion of Glory: 9

Dominions of Glory: 9

Baelin was last to wake the next morning. Whisper and Forden were in the kitchen, talking and laughing over a boiling pot while Dilirian brooded in the corner.

“He lives!” Whisper said. “You might want to take a hand through your hair.”

Baelin muttered to himself as Forden and Whisper laughed. He found a bucket of water sitting on the counter and used it to make his hair manageable. “What’s for breakfast?”

“Leftover stew,” Forden said. “With a few extras added. You need to get injured more often, Baelin. I haven’t had so much company in years!”

“Glad my suffering could help someone.”

“You don’t look to be suffering much,” Whisper said. “How were you hurt?”

“Some of the little devils came upon me while I was working my fields. Buggers were halfway done gnawing on me before I had time to draw my sword.”

“You’ve recovered well,” she noted.

“Aye,” Forden said, “unusually so.”

Whisper raised an eyebrow. “So, shall we hunt today?”

Baelin raised an eyebrow of his own.

“The devils,” Whisper explained. “Forden’s told me the village had planned a hunt but it’d been delayed. I thought perhaps we might go today.”

“I’ve never met someone so anxious for violence,” Forden said.

“Not violence,” Whisper said defensively. “Action. Some people are built for fighting.”

“Like you,” Forden said.

Whisper shrugged. “I like to think so, but perhaps that‘s narcissistic. I’ve developed skills and talents and finally have a way to put them to good use. Can you blame me for wanting to feel useful?”

Dilirian spoke up from the corner. “By the looks of your face you’ve had plenty of chances to use your skills.”

Forden gave Dilirian a menacing stare and the young noble went silent, but it was too late, Whisper’s face was a storm cloud boiling over, her eyes ready to shoot lightning. If she had a retort, she kept it to herself, and slowly the storm upon her face abated and she went about eating in silence.

“Do you think we should go?” Baelin asked after several minutes of uncomfortable silence. “I mean, after the soldier’s stories… What if we find more than the little devils that attacked me?”

“What’s the point of fine suits if you cower inside?” Whisper said maliciously. “If there are bigger devils there are bigger devils. You two are better equipped than ordinary soldiers. You’ve obviously got some talent. And those who have the ability to help have the obligation to.”

“Fighting for a noble cause?” Forden said. “Sounds like you’re ready to be a martyr.”

“Not looking to die anytime soon,” Whisper said. “Just a way of looking at the world.”

Forden nodded. “A good way. Not many would take it up. Most county folk live it a bit, I suppose. We’ll take in a stranded traveller or someone down on their luck, that goes without saying. But not many would put their lives on the line without something to gain themselves.”

“I have plenty to gain,” Whisper said.

Forden shrugged.

They finished up eating while Forden made attempts at small talk about the weather and customs on the other side of the mountain.

After Whisper’s goading, they decided to make a three-person trip up into the mountains, forgoing to company of poorly equipped and untrained villagers. They spent the better portion of the morning gathering supplies and preparing for several days away from the village. They reached the foothills by mid-afternoon, with the sun several fingers away from the crest of the Desper Mountains to the west.

The foliage in the foothills was still green, though many leaves were turning their varying hues of gold and red. Thickets were thinning, and game trails that were normally hard to find were clearer to find. On a whole the chill of fall was beginning to show its effects upon the land.

“How high up do you suppose we should go?” Baelin asked.

Dilirian hmmm’d for a moment. “I think I was maybe half an hour above the forests when I was set up. Up where the mountains get truly rocky.”

“What were you doing up there?” Whisper asked.

“Crossing the mountains,” Dilirian said. “I came over from Silverbrook.” He gave Baelin a pleading look, begging him not to tell her the truth.

“Most people go around instead, don’t they?” Whisper asked.

“Usually,” Dilirian admitted. “I was hoping for a bit of adventure.”

“We’ll find some before the end,” Whisper promised. “With the way the world is turning, it’s only a matter of time.”

Baelin agreed and they continued their journey through the foothills and up into the pine forests that grew before the mountain broke free and shot into the sky.

They spent the rest of the day hiking and huffing –armor was heavy – and vainly searching for any unusual signs or marketing that would hint devil’s had come their way.

When the sky was disposing of the last of its light, they finish setting camp. A large piece of oiled canvas tied between two trees and hung over made for a tent large enough for the three to sleep without bumping into each other. They made a fire a few feet from their tent and supplies and set about warming themselves against the growing cold.

Whisper took the liberty of taking their travel food and spicing it up with a few herbs she’d picked up as they’d hiked, creating something resembling an actual meal, for which Baelin was grateful. Still, his body needed more energy; it was still healing, after all. Though he was far from certain of the beneficial properties, he’d started suspecting that using Magic had helped him heal, and decided a little use now might help reinvigorate him. Having no particular need at the moment in mind, he decided to be a little showy, obliquely though. He concentrated on a rock back and to Whispers left and, in his mind, told magi to turn it into gold.

The familiar wash of warmth opened up in him and coursed through his body. In one instant there was a stone, another, a solid nugget of gold rested out in the open, ripe to be picked up. To his delight, using Magic had had the desired effect. Baelin felt a little less tired, a little less sore. He was still far from refreshed, but he was, without a doubt, better off than he had been when he’d sat himself upon the stone he’d chosen as a seat.

“Any of you feel that?” Dilirian asked, his eyes wide.

“Feel what?” Baelin asked, worried he somehow given himself away.

“Dilirian shook his head and looked out into the darkness beyond their camp. “I don’t know, it felt… like a wind, an unusual one, it blew past me and was gone in an instant.”

Whisper nodded. “I felt it to. It’s probably nothing, a bit of heat blown off the fire by a breeze.”

“Yeah…” Dilirian said, still scanning the darkness behind Baelin. After a while he turned his gaze to behind whisper, as if he’d find something beside their tent. “What’s that?” he said, pointing. “Something’s catching the light.”

Whisper turned, following Dilirian’s finger. Baelin could just make out the widening of her eyes in her profile as she saw the golden nugget he’d created. She reached out and picked up the lump, hefting it in her hand and then holding it up to the firelight, examining it. “It looks like refined gold.”

“That’s not possible,” Dilirian said. “The Despers aren’t known for having much gold at all, let alone pure gold.”

“See for yourself,” Whisper said, holding the gold out.

Dilirian took the stone, slightly smaller than a chicken’s egg, and examined it carefully. “This is refined gold. But what’s it doing sitting up here?”

“Weird,” Baelin added, trying to avoid suspicion. “Lucky us, I guess.”

“Not like we need it,” Dilirian said, obviously excluding Whisper.

“We?” Whisper said. “That’s worth a fortune and you’re telling me neither of you even care?”

Dilirian shrugged. “I’m from a rich family. And Baelin… well.”
Baelin gave him a look and Dilirian shut up.