If Love Were Only Part of the Equation


Chapter Six


“Knowledge is power, but information is the most powerful weapon.”—Robert Rausch


A pair of steely silver eyes gazed out the dirty window and into the near distance.  They seemed to calculate and examine every inch of the immaculate white wall surrounding the fabled city of Vane. Here and there, rooftops peeked out over the barrier, and a few taller buildings with glassed in windows or balconies could be seen.  But it was the two structures at the northern most point of the city that caught his eye and piqued his curiosity. Twin towers, equal in height and both built of what appeared to be an impossible combination of silver, crystal, and pearl reflected the rays of both the sun and the Blue Star in such manner that their color shifted from moment to moment.  First they appeared a soft pearl, then a kaleidoscope of pastels that morphed into an eye piercing cobalt, and in between, colors that defied the mind’s ability to grasp, let alone define. Neither of the towers had windows—just two wondrously simple yet peculiar obelisks that dwarfed everything else in sight.


His concentration was broken as the blithering idiot of a barkeep limped over to his table and wiped it off. “What can I get for ya, buddy?”


“A beer and whatever you are offering in terms of food today. And feed the four who are with me, and the boy, too.”  He kept his voice level, eyeing the speaker without further comment.  Now was not the time to draw attention to his presence here, no matter how satisfying it would have been to put the fool back into his proper place.


The greasy red-haired man nodded and disappeared behind the bar, shouting the order into the kitchen.


Gravitt looked around the quaint tavern, taking quick note of the location and doings of his party members. Sabre was off in the far corner near the door entertaining her son with some inane tribal song or story, and Brinson was watching with his pathetic attentive gaze from a few tables away. I love it how they pretend I don’t know... they can’t be so stupid as to think otherwise...At the bar, Marcus and Philip doing something much more productive by hustling some man out of money at cards. Interesting how none of them bothered to take the bait and try to correct me on the distance of our ride. They are learning...


The bartender returned to his table, bringing the beer and dragging his bad leg behind him. “So where are you folks headed? Dunart isn’t exactly a tourist town. We’re a stop on the road to somewhere else.”


“We’re going to Vane for the Reopening Festival. It starts tomorrow.”


“Really? That’s faster than I figured, though I’m glad they’re finally getting the place back together.” He shook his head, glancing out to the shining white walls for a moment.  “Don’t think I’ll go back, though.”


“You used to live there?”


“Yessir. I used to attend the Guild, before the Fall that is—that’s when I got my limp. I never thought it would get rebuilt, so I moved here. Opened this tavern and I’ve been happy ever since.”  He looked around for hidden listeners before he continued in a softer voice.  “To tell the truth, sir, I wasn’t all that happy there—going to class all the time was a real pain in the ass.”


Gravitt responded with a gruff laugh, and smiled softly to himself as he continued to carefully probe the tavern keeper.  “Good for you. Tell me, who’s running Vane these days? It’s been an age since I’ve been there.” 


The man almost dropped the glass he was drying. “It certainly must have been an age! Why, Mia Ausa, of course!” Gravitt noticed the man smiled in a sort of peaceful remembrance as he spoke the woman’s name. “Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of her?!”


“She’s one of the Heroes, I know that much,” he said as he drank from his mug, the foam leaving a ring around his mouth, which he wiped away with his hand. “How long has she been in power? Sadly we don’t get news of these things out in the Stadius Zone.”


“That’s understandable, since you’re at least a week away by horse. Anyway, Majesty Mia’s held the throne since the Fall, even though her mother lived another three years. Majesty Lemia never recovered from what Ghaleon did to her, and so she abdicated to her daughter shortly after Dragonmaster Alex defeated him.”


“Is her magic as strong as her mother’s used to be?”


“I believe so, since she’s probably the most powerful mage living in our world—not to mention the most beautiful.” He pointed at a portrait hanging behind the large man. “That’s her. At the Guild we used to say that any boy who saw her would fall instantly in love with her. Can’t say that’s false, and I don’t figure it’s changed any.”


Gravitt turned around and stared at the woman in the painting—her perfect features were almost supernatural. The black curls she wore against her near ghost-white skin provided a striking contrast, drawing out her peaceful dark violet eyes and serene smile. Then he smirked at the barkeep, “From personal experience, I assume?”


The roughly dressed keeper blushed slightly, an expression clearly out of place on his weathered face.  “Aye, although I never stood a chance with her. The man in the other portrait, he’s who she lived and died for—well up until about six months ago, if rumors prove to be true around here.”


He raised an eyebrow as he looked at the picture of the auburn haired man. He was attractive, he guessed—and his grin was a bit cocky—but there was something familiar about him, something a little too familiar, but what? “I see. Who is he?”


“Our other local Hero, Nash of Vane,” the man said bitterly. “Not much of a Hero if you ask me. Traded sides a few times—nearly got the rest of them killed.”


“Yet you hang his portrait in your tavern.”


“Aye, because he did eventually straighten up and fight with the Dragonmaster and Majesty Mia. Some say she’s the only reason he did. I don’t know if there’s truth to that, though. All I remember about him from school is that he was so stuck up he couldn’t sit down! She seemed to be the only one who could temper him.”


“Seems like an odd match.”


 “It most certainly was, that’s for sure. Anyway, he earned back some of the respect he lost by being responsible for most of the rebuilding of Vane. He’d ride back and forth from Meribia every week to oversee the progress the first few months when nothing there was habitable. I always thought it funny that he could stay on a horse. That wasn’t a skill taught at the Guild. Anyway, he stopped in here a lot. Sometimes he’d stay over. Didn’t drink, though.”


“So you say they split up? What happened between them?”


“I can’t be sure, there have been too many rumors. I’ve heard everything from he cheated on her, to she found out he was her cousin, to they just grew apart and even that he was from another planet. You name it. Whatever it was, it was ugly, but they kept the reasons to themselves.  I don’t think anybody really knows the truth, to be honest.”


“I see. And he still lives there?”


The red-haired man walked back towards the bar, speaking as he did so. “Aye. In fact, the latest rumor is that she’s asked him to be Premier of the Guild.”


Gravitt raised an eyebrow, “Really? Is that information reliable?”


“Most likely. Came from an apprentice to one of the Elders. Guild members aren’t supposed to be hanging out at bars, but I figure since classes aren’t in session for another three weeks...”


Gravitt snorted a laugh. “All in the name of good commerce, of course.”


“Your dinner’s ready. Do you want me to call your group?”


“No, they can eat by themselves. I’d rather be alone right now.”




Ziggrat examined the group of people lined up before him. Most were young adults, a few in middle age, but none were older than that.  There were two that seized his attention almost from the start.  The first was a small girl with bright copper hair who couldn’t have been more than ten years old. The other in which he had a vested interest was another child—a scrawny blonde boy who looked to be in his early teens. All of them stared at their feet as he and the other buyers walked by, asking them to turn around, feeling their arms, and inquiring to the trader about their Gifts—if they had any. All of them were carefully inspected, except that little girl.  No one seemed willing to step close to her, and the one man that tried to reach out and pull her head up almost lost his hand when the slave master knocked it away.


Gravitt watched as his father approached the wretched creature with dirty hair and ragged clothes. Unlike her older counterparts, she was not nervous; she was not scared, she was not sorrowful. Her face was calm—almost peaceful—as she ignored the buyers and gawkers that walked by and looked her up and down. One of the traders said to Ziggrat, “This one here’s the Death Child of the Prairie. She can kill a man with just her touch. Expect to pay heavily for her.”


Gravitt looked up at his father, “That man must be kidding! This puny little girl? She doesn’t even look strong enough to pull back a bow!”


“Someday you will learn the legends of the Prairie, my son. And hopefully, someday, you will learn not to judge people at first glance.”


“I wouldn’t pay a single silver for her until I see demonstration, Father. You know how these traders are.”


“I don’t want her powers, Gravitt.”


“I don’t like the way she’s looking at us—as if she’s reading us. I’d buy her just to thrash her for that haughty dead pan face she wears!”


The older man sighed at his son’s annoying display of arrogant adolescence. With a growl he grabbed the boy’s shirt collar. “Lay a hand on any of these children, and I will repay your insolence in triplicate! They may be slaves to the Tribes, but they are still people, and they deserve to be treated as such.  You are not yet a man, Gravitt, and so long as you live under my flag you will abide by my laws.  Son, or no son.”


The trader came up behind them then and cleared his throat, “Do you plan to make a purchase today, sir?”


Ziggrat sighed and pointed at the girl. “Her, and the blonde boy at the far right.”


“The Death Child and the Quake Child? I warn you that the Setin sold them to us because they are just too dangerous. Both of them have Wild Magic that is incredibly powerful—and I don’t think either of them have ever learned to control it.“


“Do you want to sell them to me or not?!”


“Of course, I just felt it would be proper to give you a fair warning.”


“I appreciate that, but--”


Gravitt interrupted, “Father, those kids couldn’t even lift your saddle!”


“Silence, boy. Did it ever occur to you that maybe I am tired of having servants? Maybe it’s time I had a family again?”


Gravitt felt the color leave his face, and his silver eyes slashed at his father, but the old man didn’t even acknowledge the look.


“Your mother and I always wanted a large family, and look at these poor children! Enslaved by their very own people—stolen from the only family they’ve ever known.“


“You don’t need more children, Father. You need a stronger army! We could have so much more land and so much more wealth if we were to just conquer a few nearby towns.”


“We have plenty of land and we have plenty of money. I want something else—something more meaningful, and I don’t mind spending a little of my silver for it.  That’s something else I wonder if you’ll ever learn, boy.  That there are more important things than money, or power.”


“You’re going to squander our fortune helping these brats, Father!”


Ziggrat muttered something under his breath, and walked away to make payment with the impatient trader. Gravitt scowled at his father’s departure and then sneered at his latest acquisition. “What’s your name, girl?”




“Is that your given name or your family name?”


“My family is dead; I can't use their name anymore.  I'm just Sabre.”


“And you are from which tribe?”


“The Camilathe.”


“They are the ones infamous for their riding skills, correct?”




“And you are the Death Child? I’ve heard of you. Aren’t you supposed to be twin to the Storm Child?”


“Yes. Please don’t call me that.”


“I’ll call you whatever I want. My father is purchasing you as we speak, slave! Where is your brother?”


The girl’s eyes raged with fire. “Dead. The Setin killed him.”


“Idiots. Together the two of you could be quite useful to us, to me. We’d never have to worry about being attacked again—not with the two of you to defend us, that is.  By yourself, you’re useless, in a fight, anyway.”


The girl scowled at him, her small frame pulling itself up to its full yet pathetic height, but she didn’t speak.


Ziggrat returned, the blonde boy following him. Gravitt snarled as his father introduced the two children to him. These poor excuses for human waste are more valuable as weapons...forget using them as playmates for me...playmates I do not want, nor do I care for...I don’t understand your intentions, Father...and I doubt I ever will...You’ve become weak. When Mother died, you died with her...




Gravitt called Brinson over to his table in the far corner of the room, “We’re not going to wait until tomorrow. If we leave in an hour, we should make Vane before sundown. It’s only a two-hour ride. Tell your red-headed lady friend to get the horses ready. Her son can stay inside with you.”


The Tribal started to walk away, but paused as the portraits—specifically the one of the man—caught his eye.  Noting the hesitation, Gravitt called him back and asked coarsely, “The man in that picture, do you recognize him?”


The blonde haired man scrutinized the painting, and then spoke in an even and neutral tone: “Yes. It’s hard to forget someone who wears his hair in such a ridiculous fashion. Although when I saw him, he was older—or at least he looked older.”


“I knew he was familiar. He was the mage in Nerak last December, wasn’t he?”


Brinson nodded again, a placed a bit of cynicism upon his words, “Yes, the one I got the horse from. He was so drunk he couldn’t even see his cards, let alone play them.”


Gravitt sneered, “Excellent.”     


Brinson walked away, his ponytail swinging behind him.  As he did, an older man, his face shrouded in a dark cloak passed him and took a seat at Gravitt’s table.  The Tribal stopped and turned back to get a better look at the newcomer, or perhaps to listen to what he wanted with Gravitt, but his master fixed him with a cold glare and a growl, “You have something to do, don’t you? Then do it and rid myself of your presence.” If I didn’t need you for this operation I would have killed you before we left Briggatt...I think I despise you more than the woman...


Gravitt grinned at the man as he watched his servant bow and walk away. “Good help is indeed hard to find.”


The stranger pulled at his glasses and for a moment the two stared at each other, the black depths of the hooded man's eyes seeming to somehow reflect the darkness within his own soul.  With a mutual shiver, both men abruptly blinked and turned, glancing away from the other. “Indeed, although I still see you have the two that… your friend sent me and asked to let you borrow.”


“Yes, they do fair work, and the others actually believe they are Tribal.”


“Good, but you better not risk taking them into the city. Someone might recognize them.”


“I know. I figured they might be of use to you.”


Readjusting the worn spectacles and then pulling the hood further over his brow, the older man rubbed the thick mustache under his beaked nose. “I have your wares. I only brought enough for you to do your demonstration. After that, you’ll have to dispatch a messenger to me, and I will send the rest. You’d look suspicious carrying all of them.”


“Agreed. The messenger will probably be me, though. You’ll be at the Ruins?”


“Yes. It’s now about half a day’s ride from Vane. They moved it as far as they could into the forest—probably so they wouldn’t be reminded of their own failure. I still think the top is visible from inside the city, though. It’s a bit, crude, but it serves my needs.”


“How...charming. Let me see what you brought.”


The bearded man took a large silver canister out of his cloak and opened it. “Just use one alone at first—on a wine bottle or something like that. Do yourself a favor and make sure it’s sealed or you’ll learn an interesting lesson in the laws of physics and gravity.”  Noting the blank expression on the other’s face, the scientist continued: “You’ll need a magician around you when you use them though.”




He put his hand in the cylinder and pulled out a handful of small emerald green stones, and then dropped them back inside one by one. “The next thing you should use them is a tree or a rock—nothing too big. Put the canister in an opening, or bury it somehow into your target.  They will affect any large object near them, but I advise not leaving them exposed.  You’ll probably need a few wizards around for that to work—definitely not a problem to find in Vane.  Try not to get clever with them.  They are far more dangerous than their small size would indicate.”


Gravitt took the plain looking container from the man and stared down into it, a malignant gleam of green light irradiating his features. Satisfied that they were intact, he closed the lid and asked, “You’ve already been paid?”


“Yes, by our mutual… friend.”


“Good. I’ll be in touch.”


The elderly man pushed himself back from the table and nodded. “Happy travels. And remember, the word of Mia Ausa is law in Vane. Don’t cross her, or you could end up dead.”


Gravitt’s face suddenly transformed into the epitome of virtuousness as he spoke: “Cross her? Never! I’m her biggest supporter. I doubt she’ll recognize me, though. Last time I saw her, we were kids.”


His companion stood up and smirked, “Let’s see how long you can keep up that charade. Your friend on the inside will make himself known to you soon. Just keep a low profile until then, all right?”


A low profile in Vane? That’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one...


As he watched the old man walk away, he felt a smile form on his lips. Looking back up at the two portraits, he grinned. We’ll make good use of you, Nash...and Mia, you’re about to get something I’m sure you’ve been wishing for...and probably never dreamed possible...