Verentil climbed out of the bed well created by Yllaariels density, pitter pattered across his cabins soft carpeting, crouched over the backpack recently purchased for long excursions, and let out a forlorn sigh. In all his years as something more than the potential of dream given form, years which he could no longer count using all his fingers and toes (but could if he included other appendages), the prodigy had never been called modest. It felt criminal to hide so much buttery honey amber under fabric (regardless of thread count). But the Silver League was full of sophisticated people; and sophisticated people acted strangely around anyone not wearing pants – depending on circumstances.

Eating breakfast was often, though not always, one such circumstance.

Rummaging deeper and deeper for suitable clothes, the prodigy nearly fell into his pack. It was one of those innovations in carrying capacity that were larger inside than out. After settling on a pair of trousers less tattered than those of the day before, but specifically tailored to his uniquely adorable behind, Verentil pulled out a ruffled tunic long enough to obscure at least one previously disclosed elven secret. As condensations of psychic dream drops, elves popped fully grown from the realms of wonder and imagination. The species had no need for gestation or feeding tubes. While undeniably sleek and beautiful, a buttonless tummy muddled his vampiric branding campaign – and that just wouldn do.

For breakfast, Verentil sat at the Captains Table in an unironic puddle of sunlight. The Haxton-Gales sat to his left; a dwarf named Thorvum Rimeclaw to his right. Other movers and shakers from the Silver League closed out the circle. Thorvum, son and heir of Qor-Malechs thane, was returning to Under Icewalls by way of Port Jasper and First Fork. He had been abroad in search of answers.

”To what question? ” asked Verentil.

”How best to reconstruct Qor-Bellaron, ” replied Thorvum.

”Where did you go looking? ”

”Far and wide. Ultimately, I found inspiration in a field north of Tenjan. ”

”An agricultural innovation? ” asked Verentil.

”With potatoes, ” said the dwarf.

”I like a good baked potato, ” said Mr. Haxton-Gale.

”Well grow them in the halls, ” said Thorvum. ”Unbaked of course. ”

Everybody chuckled.

”There isn much soil in the heart of a mountain, ” observed Verentil.

Thorvum waved a broad hand. It wasn the potato itself that inspired him. He had seen and eaten plenty. What captured his imagination was how the Two Song Dynasty grew them. Employing an ingenious water system, the Two Song grew potatoes in long troughs with only a handful of soil. The Scytheblade Mountains provided plenty of water, even if it was often frozen, and dwarves excelled at making stone troughs.

The table murmured approvingly.

Conversation turned to diplomatic efforts pursued by the Silver League in Western Qeqatta. Orc and Thuulemen clans on the high Tekkojaarvu Plateau maintained their independence not only against the forces of modern day Two Song Dynasty, Verentil observed, but also the dreadful Gargogryeon Empire which preceded it, way back in a time presently forgotten by everyone outside Sand House and the academies of Xiangan.

”If the Silver League partnered with Tekkojaarvus tribes, ” concluded the prodigy, ”the ancient treasures put suddenly in reach would astound even our most jaded collectors. ”

Movers and shakers complimented the boy on his command of geopolitical art conservation. Receiving praise gave Verentil a thrill. Sand Houses ”masters ” refused to dispense it. The harder the amber prodigy tried to conform to their expectations, the more irritating their sniveling objections to his brilliant ideas grew. Tiryendil had frequently droned on about the importance of charming with more than butter skin and a uniquely proportioned honey behind. In the worlds ”foremost institution of learning, ” however, it had been Verentils experience that a fine behind produced desirable outcomes more reliably than wit.

At the Captains Table, the prodigy began to appreciate conversation.

”I hear you are an archaeologist, ” said Thorvum.

”I am! ” Verentil agreed.

”A treasure interests me, ” said the dwarf. ”It may fall within your expertise. ”

Verentils butter melted on the inside. Practically the leader of an ancient dwarven hold (recently liberated from demons and the walking dead), Thorvum was a gentleman of influence. Answering his question well might change History Itself, not just the pecking order of chalkboard cleaning assistants. Barely two days out from expulsion, and Verentil already stood on the precipice of remaking the world!

”What treasure is that? ” he stammered.

”Glacierbeard Hold, ” said Thorvum. ”Many said the fabled keep lay beneath Icewalls. We know it was once connected to Qor-Malech. But a lot of digging has revealed no trace of its legendary vaults. Consequently, some suggest it may lay beneath Qeqattas Dormusilgir. ”

”You are skeptical, ” said Verentil, ”because of distance and terrain. ”

”Precisely. ”

Like searching for pants in an extra-dimensional backpack, Verentil rummaged through a nearly perfect memory. Ancient dwarven keeps were not a primary focus of his scholarly pursuits, but saying that would not change history.

Besides, his talents were expansive.

”My specialty is translation, ” he conceded by way of modest redirection. ”I have a knack for unraveling what others find impossible to decipher. My services were required on a number of tablets recovered from Qor-Malech and sent to Sand House for study. ”

”Then youve seen mention of our Glacierbeards? ”

”Yes, ” said Verentil, ”in reference to alchemical metals. ”

Thorvums eyes gleamed.

”They grew orichalcum in solution, ” he said. ”Or so it has been engraved on stone. ”

”A wondrously alchemical metal, ” said Mrs. Haxton-Gale.

”I can add anything to the conversation on alchemy, ” conceded Verentil. ”With respect to the location of the Hold, however… I never realized it was a mystery in need of solving until now. But I am confident I know where it isn . ”

”That could be useful, ” said Thorvum, ”depending. ”

”If it were under Icewalls, some of what I translated would have mentioned it explicitly. Though Sand Houses Qeqatta collections are more limited, orcs and Thuulemen did record transactions with mysterious dwarven clans. ”

Thorvums gleam brightened. Dwarven eyes were expressive.

”Qeqattas dwarves are few in number and deeply mystical, ” continued Verentil. ”Masters of bronze, they instructed both Gargogryeo and Two Song in that metals manufacture and use. ”

”Two Song bronze is as strong as steel, ” said Mr. Haxton-Gale.

”And twice as heavy, ” said his wife.

”Orichalcum? ” asked Thorvum.

”No mention, ” said Verentil. ”The Hold isn there, either. ”

”You assert it is a mythological construct? ” asked the dwarf.

He was not angry. The possibility had been recognized.

”No, ” said Verentil. ”But its not in the most obvious places. ”

”Cairn Peaks? ” asked Thorvum. ”Ironic if we left it behind trying to find it. ”

”No, you have moved closer, ” said Verentil. ”I put Glacierbeard Hold in the middle of Frost Gyre – north of Icebreaker Point. ”

He braced for ridicule and nit picking. The dwarfs handsome, rocky features softened instead into a glow of contemplation. Verentils heart fluttered. An actually important person declined to reject one of the prodigys bold propositions outright. It was a new and wonderful experience. Even the short-lived human movers and shakers seated around the table wore expressions of thoughtful consideration. What interested the powerful dwarf interested them.

”When Great North Ice became Frost Gyre, ” Verentil continued, ”Glacierbeard Hold was isolated by freezing water, crushing icebergs, and ceaseless storms. ”

The audience turned expectantly to Thorvum.

”There are islands off the coast, ” he said, nodding. ”Weather permitting, we see them from high observatories on Icewalls peaks. Farther north, even the most adventurous explorers have only spotted mountains of ice. Some are large enough to rest on the sea floor. A few suggest Glacierbeard Hold is one such behemoth – a splinter of lost Great North Ice. ”

”Its a romantic notion, ” said Verentil, ”but I believe there is a mountain of rock. I doubt it breached the ancient ice plateau, but I am confident it rises above the sea. ”

”What evidence supports your contention? ”

The audience turned to Verentil.

”A low road heads north from Icebreaker Point, ” he said.

”Few know it! ” said Thorvum. ”Collapsed long before Qor-Malech was resettled. ”

More than a road, thought Verentil, it was the attack vector of a dwarven raid that doomed several ancient civilizations. His theory on that subject was not tolerated in Sand House. Qor-Malechs elite were patrons of the institution. It made no difference that the holds current occupants came from the south, and therefore bore no responsibility for the degeneracy which once afflicted their current homes previous ruling line. Only now did Verentil realize ancient Qor-Malechs real target was the Glacierbeard secrets and not the treasures of Urarhtus Basileus. If he had recognized the significance of that small clan sooner, he could have stated his hypothesis incontrovertibly.

Now it couldn be stated at all.

”I can say Glacierbeard Hold will be easy to reach in this present age, ” he said. ”But I put its lowest chambers on that ancient road – and doubtless others. The Asamati Basileus ruled from beneath Great North Ice. A monstrous, scheming creature, the Mother of Crones stretched her claws through a network of mystical passages, some of which might still provide access to the secrets of a lost dwarven world. ”

”Why would a giant Crone have access to a dwarven hold? ” asked Mr. Haxton-Gale.

Verentil hesitated. It was a delicate subject.

”The giants enslaved my people then, ” said Thorvum, ”but no longer. What you say rings true, lad, as far as I can follow. At least there is something to look into. ”

Hesitatingly, Verentil suggested the dwarf remain aboard rather than disembark at First Fork. Given a bit more time, the prodigy could produce more actionable information. Thorvum insisted he would stay aboard to Scythemoor and back three times over if it got him a solid lead on Glacierbeard Hold. Returning to his cabin, Verentil floated above all three of Tuolangs moons. It required neither might of arms nor (too much) magic to alter the course of nations. He would need something to write with, though – and on. Uniquely proportioned behind up, face buried in an extra-dimensional backpack, the prodigy pulled out scribbling paraphernalia and bounced onto his fluffy bed.

Reaching forward, he wiggled small fingers greedily.

”Yllaariel, ” he purred. ”Bring the Book! ”

Not long after, Yllaariel extruded from the dark transform.

”Whats the…? ” the imp began to ask.

”Please! ” anticipated Verentil.

Yllaariel reached behind his narrow back and pulled a thin slab of obsidian wrapped in unicorn leather from nowhere that could hide it. Verentil wiggled his fingers faster, enduring the elongated pixies teasing about whether or not it was the right book as long as he could manage.

”This is important! ” the peerless scholar insisted.

Yllaariel sighed, handed over the book, and played with Verentils feet like a bored cat. Oblivious to sensations so distant from his racing mind, Verentil watched liquid gold sigils flow across volcanic glass. First Snakes blasphemous letters could never answer questions about the condensations of psychic dream drops which were the prodigys own people, but went on at length about races more mundane than the elves. During breakfast, it had been a stray recollection of a reference by giants which convinced Verentil that Glacierbeard Hold lay sealed in ice. He knew as well that the Arkhanate employed marking stones to organize its mystical pathways.

”Those stones were lost ten or twenty millennia ago, ” said Yllaariel.

”Dwarves record every giant stele they bang their faces on. ”

”First Snakes doodles include all that? ”

”Of course, ” said Verentil. ”What kind of minion are you? ”

Yllaariel ran his stingers tip over the sole of a buttery foot. Concentrating against maddening and debaucherous ideas, Verentil scribbled markings correlated with references to ”dwarves in ice ” onto overpriced sheets of paper.

The riverboat progressed against the Silver Rivers current. First Fork came and went. The second Silver City founded, and largest by population, it was a rustic sprawl of cobblestones and timber clamped around the confluence of the Silver and Sickle Rivers. First Fork produced most of the food that went on to be eaten in the League – and brewed most of the beer. Old Dwarf Road ran north from the citys busy docks straight to Qor-Malech Under Icewalls. The third city to join the League, Qor-Malech provided a majority of its eponymous silver. As agreed, Thorvum sent word of a change in plans and remained aboard anticipating Verentils revelations.

By extending the nobles voyage, Verentil knew that he had placed himself under pressure. Pacing his cabin, in one moment the prodigy felt elated by the prospect of changing history; only to have those feelings dashed by doubts and reservations. When Tiryendil deposited him at Sand House, Verentil proved an eager student. Not just fully grown, he came equipped with a supernatural understanding of visual information and couldn be anything other than the brightest star in the sky. Like a star, he wasn always the most grounded thing. Many of his ideas were unworkable. But they were never dull or lazy. In spite of earnest attempts to fit in, to participate, and to view others with affection, Verentil faced constant dismissal, rejection, and recrimination.

Yllaariel, the second oldest elf in all Creations (and by far the dizziest), was right to question Tiryendils judgment. Verentils mood darkened. Why had Tiryendil taken him to Sand House? Was it an act of sabotage? Was Tiryendil (one of the Too Tall elven breed) envious of Verentils talents? Dread crept into his studies. It was one thing to be rejected by sycophants and toadies. If a dwarven nobleman ridiculed Verentils work, too….

Memories of unkindness attracted dust back into dark chocolate eyes.

The wedding-cake riverboat drifted past the glistening Silver Wood. The rock beds from Jasper Mounds to the east, Cairn Peaks to the south, Scytheblades to the west, and Icewalls up north all sloped down to the center of Callech Borea. The stupendously ancient and vast caldera was covered by ghostly white trees. In the middle, too far to see from the river, rose an ambiguously volcanic stump. Few humans ever laid eyes on that mound, but Verentil was born on its slopes – albeit in another world. Even in the mundane world, Silver Trunk was breathtaking in its broad, craggy, primordial grandeur. Fairy trees erupted so thickly from its sides, the Trunk looked like a stump of old wood covered in moss, lichen, and new buds.

Across the boundaries of reality, the mountain became something else entirely. In Reverie, it continued up for miles before spreading into a celestial canopy of opulence. That tree, Verentil could see from the river if he squinted right. Its light softened his anxious pout into a faint smile. Across the dark transform in Phantasm, the tree was a monstrous oak with flowing bark that twisted into gigantic skulls.

The prodigy had awakened twenty some odd years earlier – the first new elf in twenty-two universes. Twenty years failed to qualify as even an infinitesimal blip in the counting of his people. Pixies (real ones, not elves pretending to be demons), fauns, and satyrs kept him company. Sometimes he explored the trees dark hollows. There, he played with boggles and the occasional ghoul. His smile grew more defined.

Then Tiryendil showed up and took him to Sand House.

Verentil stopped smiling. In that place, he ran into tenured necromancers with unorthodox theories about blood. They were unpleasant people. Each had turned a few residents of South Harbor into ghouls, however, so Verentil had playmates when the institutions living residents became unbearable. Tiryendil proffered arguments about the importance of not wasting formative years in a land of dreams and wonder, but Verentil considered those arguments stale rationalizations for why he had to suffer.

He stared toward Silver Trunk. It would be easy to return to the pixies, fauns, satyrs, boggles, and ghouls. Verentil wouldn even need to get wet. The tree was where Yllaariel meant by someplace sensible. The fake imp could carry the real prodigy to it.

But that infuriating, maddening know-it-all Tiryendil had a point.

Verentil would never have realized he could remake the world in his own image without leaving Reverie; certainly, he would not have developed a firm conviction to do so. The world remaker returned his attention to First Snakes liquid gold letters. Thorvum had treated the peerless scholar kindly so far. Verentil could trust that collecting references to the ancient waystones of giant sorcerers would be appreciated. His trust had been broken in the past, it was conceded, but that only showed it could also be immortal.

In fact, Verentil would study twice as hard!

The prodigy could not banish all trembling when he handed over sheafs of handcrafted notes the next morning. Where one of Sand Houses masters would have said ”I hope inconveniencing myself for scraps of paper proves worth it, ” Thorvum said only that he couldn wait to dig in. The prodigys dread of ridicule receded further as the dwarf lingered longer on each new page. When Thorvum started referring back to earlier pages, Verentil allowed himself to feel confident in a favorable outcome. Other important people drifting around the Royal Class lounge took interest. At last, Thorvum leaned back and patted the top of the papers with a broad hand.

”Youve done it, lad! ” he said.

Always prideful, Verentil never before felt pride.

It felt good.

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