Chapter 3 - So it Begins

After about 4 days, they FINALLY reached Bevenheim. Azure saw it from the distance, he stood on top of a hill and looked upon his childhood birthplace with pride. From the outer walls the city didn't look as bad as people said! There were farms and cottages outside the city walls as well, and looked quite homey. They made their way to the gate and were surprised when the guards didn't ask for a toll or any questions. Honestly, they looked like they could care less about their job. Azure went into the city with Fortuna, a long set of stairs led down into the city, they stood at the top of the landing and looked down. Azure took a deep breath trying to remember anything, really.

He opened his eyes and gave a warm smile to the run down-poverty stricken city "Full of… my childhood…. my life…"

Fortuna shook her head, "That may be, Azure, but this place is a dump no matter how you look at it." She looked out over the city, noting the poorly up kept buildings and dusty streets crowded with people that perhaps had no place else to go.

Azure smiled "It's… great… it has character…" He looked at her "I am excited! I mean! Growing up we NEVER got to see things like this, this is great Fortuna! Not everyone gets the luxury we had/have" He took her hand, led her down the stairs and walked with her through the streets. She would notice just how happy he was, smiling everywhere they went.

Fortuna smiled, even though she had reservations about entering such a rough town. "I grant you it has character. I feel as if everyone is staring at me; I do not belong here."

Azure rolled his eyes and let go of her hand "Whatever you say, Fortuna… They're not gonna hurt you… They aren't used to seeing wealthy people, you would stare too if you had nothing and suddenly saw something like us" Azure then went to the market and would examine each of the stalls, the vendors and their wares.

Fortuna went along with him, staring at the goods he stared at and taking in the colors and outfits and life style of this new place while Grace continued to watch her like a hawk. Fortuna couldn't believe how many Vulperians there were about. The people were a real rarity in Ellsemere, but here just about everyone had fox ears hidden under their bandannas and fox tails swaying behind. She got a few looks for watching the rears of various Vulperians that she passed by, but hardly noticed the commotion she was making. One or two of the younger men strutted around after seeing her watching their tails, and this prompted Fortuna to cling to Azure. When they had a moment away from the crowds, Fortuna asked Azure, "Were there so many Vulperians when you were growing up?"

Azure shook his head "Not THIS many…. But I do remember as a kid a lot more started to move in and become a part of the community… This place is perfect for them really, think about it. Most of the Vulperian culture has to do with caravan trading, they travel from place to place; bartering, buying, and selling. Everything from goods and wares to their own personal trade like jewelry making and blacksmithing." He smiled and nodded as they passed a Vulperian merchant family "They are a very skilled and talented race, masters at their sales… Now, they need a place to live, especially if they have families that cannot move with the caravan. Bevenheim is affordable and there is always a home available since people will be moving in and out at a regular pace. They live on very small to moderate incomes, not to mention they can also sell stuff here; amongst each other and to human citizens. It doesn't matter if they have stopped to live, just renting or only passing through. Get it? It makes perfect sense…" He stopped at a stall and started to examine a GORGEOUS, female, red Vulperian - who was selling her jewelry

"So… No, there were not this many as a child, but… Like I said, I remember a handful and that more were coming in. As we travel, Fortuna, you better get used to it… We will be seeing them ALOT! Not to mention some of the other awesome and amazing races!" He smiled at her and whispered "I have been studying! Like… The fish people, bird people, cat people… ETC!"

Fortuna nodded. "I have heard of such people, but never actually been among them. Sometimes I think i was a little too isolated at the castle..." She paused when she noticed how Azure's gaze was lingering on the jeweler. She squirmed uncomfortably, not certain f she should say something, or how it might be taken if she did.

Azure smiled widely, he looked to Fortuna and made a face "Fortuna… could…. you excuse us for a moment, please? Go to another vendor, I will catch up with you" he then looked back to the very attractive Vulperian

Fortuna swallowed. "Oh... okay. Of... of course." She turned away, crossing her arms and headed elsewhere, but wasn't even seeing the wares of the other merchants. Why should she care so much, when she was promised to someone else? It was none of her business anyways. She couldn't expect him to be single forever, after all. She told herself this over and over, but still couldn't help but feel hurt.

She would look over from time to time, noticing just how happy he was when he spoke to the Vulperian girl.

After several minutes, he walked over to Fortuna and took her hand in his, he smiled "Thank you for waiting… I have something to show you…. As a matter of fact, that young woman kind of helped me…. She's lived her for about 7 years and gave me some useful information…" He looked over her and saw something was bothering her, as her head was hanging low "Is… everything alright? You see perturbed about something…" He bent a little, getting a good look at her face.

Fortuna looked away. "No... nothing..." She lied. "I just... had no idea you were such a ladies man, Azure."

Azure blinked, looking surprised "A… ladies… man?" He chuckled and shook his head "Fortuna, the things you come up with! I am a 1 woman man, really, but… I guess my perfect girl isn't here" he muttered quietly without her hearing "Even though she's you"… He continued "All I was doing was talking to her… That's all…." he groaned "You girls… Always think the worse" and with that, he squeezed her hand and led the way

Fortuna looked away. She certainly hadn't ever caught him looking at her that way. "Anyway, what was it you wanted to show me, Azure?"

Azure smirked "Be patient… I am taking you… calm down…"

Together they went down many dark alleys and paths, some with sewers in the streets and garbage. They watched as they passed a group of children playing in the filth, but they weren't playing ball… They were playing with some rotting trash. It did not seem to phase Azure. They went down some other stairs and actually traveled through a gutted out home, the small, narrow road they were on went right through it. Finally they turned one more corner, they could still smell the trash and sewage in this part of town and it was more poor here than the other parts, but they saw it… Right in front of them a run down wood and sheet-metal house. It was surrounded by 3 concrete walls and there were no other houses around it, all the "neighbors" were above this home, lining the 3 walls and beyond. This house was probably at the lowest part of the town and the only one below the other homes.

Azure had a smile, but… Fortuna could tell… It was a painful smile. He approached the house. All the windows were smashed, one was boarded another had plastic covering it. The door was breaking and warped, with a large, elongated hole in the center. The roofing, made of sheet metal, was falling off and people tried to recover it, by punching in holes and tying the metal together with thick rope. However this did not fix and it was still falling and tons of gaps were in it. The rest of the home seemed to be leaning to one side, broken wood, metal falling off, plastic trying to cover the gaps (making for a shoddy repair). There was lots of rotted cut up logs to the right, along with mounds of trash.

Azure closed his eyes and took a deep breath, he looked as if he was going to cry "This… this is it…. This is my home…." He opened his eyes and looked at it again "She told me… people and families live in it and leave all the time that it has a revolving door… Basically…. its used as a temporary house…. and the longest anyone ever lived in it, was for 5 months… She said… Typically… they live in it… leave and when they come back to Bevenheim, live in it for a bit and leave again… No one pays rent on it…" He walked up to the house "Simply… because it is the last house from that era, when I was young... It is the OLDEST house… and the only one left of that time… About 3 years after I left this city… I guess your father sent money this way to the city, to have houses here torn down… rebuild them and build many more new ones, thinking that would fix the problem of poverty here…" He shook his head in disgust "Why is that? Royalty always thinks by taking the old and giving money for new fixes everything? If he wanted to FIX Bevenheim, he would need to fix its people!…" He took a moment of silence, turned to her, extended his arms and started to cry "So here we have it!…. My home!"

Fortuna sighed. She walked up and hugged Azure. "Azure..." She looked down. "Is that really what you think of me? Of my father? You know he is not the kind of man to solve his problems by throwing money at them." She sighed again, "I know, not important right now. It must be quite a shock to see in such a state of disrepair."

Azure's red eyes fluttered, he shook his head "I didn't mean it that way, Fortuna… but MOST royalty and rich people think they can just throw money at a problem and get it fixed…. and look at Bevenheim… It has MORE homes, MORE people and 100x MORE poverty… That only made it worse" He looked back to the house "I… I loved this house…" He walked to the door, put his hand on the doorknob, ready to turn, but his hand was shaking terribly, afraid to open it. No one was currently living there, so he was allowed to go in, especially when no one paid the rent, bothered to keep it up and even owned it.

Fortuna put her hand over his, steadying it. "Go on, Azure. I will be right here with you."

Azure nodded, took a deep breath and opened the door. The moment it opened, he closed his eyes and slowly got down to his knees, buried his hands in his face and sobbed, remembering how the 3 room-home used to look, the main room was everything, his brother and him played there, his father would work in that room, his mother would cook as it played the role of kitchen, they would eat in there, even as far as schooling went; Azure and his brother were to poor to go to a real school so this was also their school. There used to be a couch, dining table in front of that (with 2 chairs and 2 stools, the stools being for the boys). The kitchen (in the same room) had a wood burning stove, that actually caught the wall on fire once, a large in-wall basin, filled with water and a bucket on the side. There was a metal cooler, they had enchanted with an ice spell, to keep food cold and fresh. The walls were lined with pots and pan, nailed to them. A cupboard contained a stack of 6 plates, 1 which was broken and 2 cups, if you wanted to use one, you had to wash it yourself.

The large room to the left used to have his parents bed, and a small 1 person bed that he and his brother shared together. One slept in one direction, the other in the opposite. There was no room in there. Their toys had to be stored under the bed, or in the bed with them. There was a dresser between the two beds that all 4 members shared, the bottom drawer was shared by Azure and his brother, while their parents had the other drawers. A nice mahogany mirror would hang above this dresser, it was cracked straight across and chipped in the corner, but it was the nicest thing they owned. Their father had bought it for their mother on their wedding day. The last room, was a small room in the back, it was their bathroom/washroom. They had 2 towels and 4 hand towels, a large wooden tub (that had a magic sealant on it) was where they bathed, it was too small for adults, but big enough for a kid. No matter what its size was, they all used it, they actually would share the water though because it took too long to heat it and too long to fill it. Under this tub was a concrete oven-like creation, that was used to burn wood under and heat that tub. Next to the tub was a window that used to look out at the neighbor's house, which actually looked into THEIR bathroom as well! The washroom also contained Their nicest piece of equipment they owned. It was a marble basin, a bit smaller than the tub, held up by a marble basin, also with a heating mechanism below. It was meant to wash your face, hair, brush your teeth, etc (like a sink) BUT! It was also used to clean this family of 4's, dirty laundry. Because of it being marble, the heating mechanics below and an enchanted washboard attached that would rub the clothes automatically in the water and it would get clean very well. This was acquired as a gift from their father's parents, who were rumored to be thieves, smugglers and more of a modern term "mobsters". It was given to them as a wedding gift. There was a backdoor, that led to their yard and into an alley that would lead into the market, now, the door was up against one of those concrete walls. Azure described the house to Fortuna and as they walked through, they could tell that pretty much everything was broken and destroyed… The once beautiful, cracked mirror was now on the floor, shattered. The enchanted washing piece was bushed and smashed and large chunks of marble had been taken to be sold. The walls of the house had holes punched in them, they were falling apart, leaning over and overall ruined. All the other furniture that used to be there as a child, was not there anymore, with the exception of the wood burning stove, which seemed to have been untouched and still worked. Trash lined the house, the floorboards gave way to the earth below and it looked like it had its fair share of a mouse infestation. But people continued to live in here with broken chairs, soiled beds and a falling roof on their heads. Nothing was the way it was before. Azure shook his head "I can't believe it… Even if we were poor, my mother kept this place looking decent…" he closed his eyes again "If she saw this today, it would break her heart"

Grace looked the place over with a nose wrinkled in disgust. "I wouldn't keep my pigs in this mess..." She muttered. Then she added, "Sorry kid. I think it might have been better for you if this place had been torn down with the rest, than to see it like this." Fortuna looked around numbly, and then walked over to where the mirror lay on the floor. She leaned the frame up against one of the walls and picked up a shard. She pressed it against the frame in a few spots until it almost seemed to fit, and then ran her finger across the gap. Her circles glowed faintly and the metal mended itself. She did this a few more times, until one of the shards cut her finger, at which point Grace put a hand on her shoulder and pulled her away from the shattered remnant.

Azure sat up and tried to look into the other room, from where he was sitting on the ground "Is everything okay in there? Is something wrong?"

Fortuna shook her head, "I just cut my finger. Clumsy of me, really." Grace frowned, "We should get you some medicine, miss Fortuna. You're liable to get an infection..." Fortuna made a face, "Oh really, its just a scratch." She left the bedroom and found Azure. "Will you be alright?"

Azure stood and shook his head no, he took her hand and looked it over "Let's go into town and get that taken care of… Alright?" he looked at her, comforting

Fortuna nodded, "Alright, Azure. You just cry if you need to, okay?"

Azure nodded "I understand…"

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++xx

They left the house, feeling a bit depressed, they made their way back into the main part of the city. The found a doctor and went to his office, were seated in a room and waited for the man to come. The door finally opened and in walked a very elderly doctor

He seemed to be a happy, well-educated, old man. "Well…." He said in a happy, cracked voice "Let's see what we have here…." he looked over Fortuna's wound "Ah… I see…" he waved his hand over hers, his magic circle of wellbeing glowed "Cut yourself on a mirror… a very old mirror… no problem…" The elderly doctor, stood up, went to the counter and prepared a small concoction Azure watched with interested, especially the doctor's circles. They were normal circles of wellbeing, that a physician would have. However his were HIGHLY advanced. They doctor walked back and smiled to Fortuna, he dipped a cloth in the glowing purple liquid and wrapped it around her finger. He took the rest of the glowing potion and handed it to her "Drink that"

Fortuna winced as her finger was bandaged, That glowing purple stuff stung at first. She accepted the glass, and quickly downed the medicine, making funny faces and coughing as the taste of it bombarded her senses. Once she had regained her composure she smiled at the doctor. "Thank you, grandfather. I feel a little embarrassed about making such a fuss over a little scratch."

The doctor gave a 'ho-ho-ho' kind of laugh, "'Twas nothing, m'dear… I went to Tri-finity Healers Academy in Ellesmere..." He winked "They trained us in everything… Cuts from mirrors" he smirked "To a sword in the stomach…. Not to mention I was in The Royal Healing Brigade… traveled the world in my youth, helping soldiers, serving the crown"

They removed the cloth from her hand and the cut was GONE! Completely healed! He slowly stood and went to his table "Now… best be off… Don't want to keep you…"

Azure stood "Payment, sir?"

The doctor shook his head and waved his hand "No charge"

Azure smiled and nodded "Thank you! Have a good day, sir!"

The doctor was still facing the counter, writing notes "You too…." he paused and said calmly "Sayer Thornrope"

Azure stopped dead in his tracks, his eyes widened, he slowly turned on his heel and looked at the doctor

Without facing him the doctors smirked and remarked "Don't be so shocked, young Sayer"

Fortuna watched the doctor with a note of surprise. "Wow, you are quite skilled. I can see you are something of a diviner as well as a doctor."

Doctor shook his head "Not quite, young lady", faced them, leaned against the counter and removed his glasses with his shaky hands.

They got a better look at his eyes and noticed…

Azure spoke quietly "You're…. blind…"

The doctor smiled

Fortuna's mouth opened in surprise. "No way!" Grace nodded slowly, "You said you were in the healing brigade and even served the crown... what is your name?"'

The doctor gave a warm smile "My name… is Cyrill Civilchain"

Grace nodded, "That's what I thought. It is an honor to meet you, sir. You wouldn't know me, but you saved my father's life a long time ago. He was a smithy for the thirteenth brigade."

Cyrill thought for a moment, nodding his head "Regren Verdance… Blacksmith with the 13th… Was working on a custom-enchanted, great sword for the Lieutenant… When he dropped the weapon in the fire pit, pulled it out immediately, not to damage the sword…. Dropped the weapon because of the intense heat, burned the palms of his hands, tripped, fell and nearly impaling himself on the sword.. But it miraculously missed all his vital organs…" He smiled to Grace "I remember… He was… in a great deal of pain… I did all I could to not leave scars, but his hands…" he shook his head "Would be left with the burn scars… unfortunately…" He sat down in a chair "Even though that man was in so much pain… He was a trooper and pulled through"

Grace nodded, "Yeah, that was my father. You were a real hero to him. He even thought of sending me to an academy, but I don't have any talent with magic. But what is a good doctor like you doing in Bevenheim?"

Cyrill sighed "An accident…. I was still young when I graduated… and then helped on the field… but…" he shook his head "An accident due to my… Overconfidence and immature behavior… left me blinded… I was told to leave. What good is a doctor when he is blind, hm? How can he see his patients? Their injuries? Their ailments? He can't" He paused, reminiscing a bit "I am a very damn good alchemist" he boasted "I love potions… I took on a bet from my colleagues, that I would not be able to create a potion to repair damages to the retina, that were brought on by chemical gasses used in the warfare. A specific gas was being used at the time, called Merrigold gas, a chemical that cannot be seen with the naked eye, until it comes in contact with the senses. Particularly the eyes, when it hits the eyes, they see a yellow color and eventually that is ALL they will see! Overtime it fades, but their sight is gone!" He chuckled "So… I made a potion… it successfully cleared the nasal passage once it was infected with the has, however… The eyes I never got right… I was so confident though, that what I was doing was right!… One thing led to another and before you knew it… I had an explosion on my hands. Thinking 'tweak it here, tweak it there' not really thinking about the consequences mixing certain herbs with the wrong components… It blew up! The liquid burst into my face. My mouth, nose and ears were fine… I suffered no scarring, but when it got into my eyes…"

He shook his head "They were gone… I was in such in a hurry to create the perfect potion, thinking whatever I was doing HAD to be right, that I really lost sight of my studies. What worked together and what didn't, I paid for it. They could not fix my problem, I rushed so much that I didn't remember everything I used to make the potion in the first place…" He grew quiet "I was immature… I would still be out there if I didn't think I knew everything" He stood up, walked to a window and gazed out "Overtime… I started to see outlines of shapes, but I had to learn how to work around my handicap… I took several classes on Aura identification and other classes teaching me how to use my magic to improve and enhance my other senses." He nodded "So, what city needed a doctor? What city would take a handicapped doctor?" he turned to them "Bevenheim… And honestly, I am happy for what happened to me… I learned many hard, life lessons… I taught myself humility and learned a great deal about how people work because of what happened to me. I made a commitment to these people to be effective and affordable" He sat back down, rubbing his knees "Old age isn't fun" he remarked

Grace listened soberly to his story. When he finished, she said, "I see. No wonder you disappeared." She looked down to the floor for a moment, and then said, "Even if your loyalty is to your patients, you need to worry about your own wellbeing too. We have the means to pay, and I feel that any money given to you will only benefit the community here. Maybe it just pays for some more herbs or bandages, but that's supplies you will use on the people here." She walked up to Cyrill and pressed a gold coin into his hands.

Cyrill smiled "I appreciate this…" Azure glared at Cyrill "That doesn't explain HOW you know my real name!"

Cyrill looked to Azure, he looked down at his hands, playing with the coin, making out the shimmer it gave. "I knew your mother and father when they were kids…."

Azure's eyes winded "What?"

Cyrill nodded "Yes… See my memory is amazing because of what happened, I forced myself to learn to how memorize every detail" He continued to play with the coin "Yes… your mother, sweet girl… Flora Rivertree and your father Adair Thornrope… Your mother was 3 years younger than your father. I started seeing your mother as my patient when she was 10, your father was 13… They got married when she turned 18…"

Azure whispered "I didn't know… she was so young… I am 18…"

Cyrill looked up at Azure "Want to know why?"

Azure shrugged "Why?"

Cyrill smirked "She was pregnant… With you"

Azure's mouth dropped open "With… me…"

Fortuna said, "It sounds as if they were really in love. They must have been so happy."

Cyrill gave a warm smile "More than you know… They married right away, to avoid any gossip or condemnation… However HER family disowned her, instantly, this is why you had no Maternal Grandparents… But that wouldn't stop them, they were meant for each other. Your father immediately went out to find a job. He took on an apprenticeship with the local blacksmith and dedicated his future to supporting his family. Two years later, your brother was born… I delivered both you and your brother… I have memorized both of your aura's. That's how I knew it was you earlier. About a year later, when you were 3 years old, your father took over the smithy."

Azure nodded "I showed my companions my old home… the main room was also a work room, father would bring his work home on somedays"

Cyrill nodded "Your father had AMAZING work ethic… He would set his mind to something and get it done!"

Azure smirked "Sound familiar…" He looked at Cyrill "What about my magical ability?"

Cyrill nodded again "Your family, on both sides, has always had magic infused with their system. You and your brother were given special ability though, it seems you have found yours as you know. Odd hair colors indicate that there is strong magical ability in a person. Your brother had it, but was never able to really tap into it for some reason. Your father supported all of you, your mother was a loving woman and always looked out for everyone's interest in the community, helping out the elderly when she had nothing… You should be proud of who your parents were…"

Azure closed his eyes "What exactly happened to them?"

Cyrill grew quite "I didn't take care of their bodies, Azure… I am sorry… I only know what I heard… You were kidnapped, your parents were DEVASTATED… Your father, who never wanted to rely on ANYONES help… He was a man, he thought it was his responsibility to take care of his family, but he turned to his side of the family, whom he had bad blood with because of their dark dealings…. That dirty gang-affiliated family of his said they would find you… They sent out some NASTY thugs to retrieve you… The day after you were kidnapped and these men were sent out… Your father opened the door, I am told, to find the thugs' heads on his doorstep…"

Azure's eyes widened "Really?"

Cyrill nodded "The day after that… He was told his entire side of the family was murdered and that their estate was robbed, whatever was left behind was handed over to the authorities, since they were criminals. Adair was scared, for you, and for the rest of the family. The rest, I heard through reports, neighbors, etc...

The night his family was murdered, he packed up your mother and brother, only grabbed what they needed and decided to go into hiding…"

Azure was sitting down at this point, hanging on to every word

Cyrill's pale eyes, met with his "They never left the city… it was done that quickly… That evening, your father and mother were found, dead in the sewers of the street… Their belongings were scattered everywhere…"

Azure starred at the doctor in horror.

Cyrill continued "Your father's throat was slit, he was holding his own personal, enchanted dagger in his hand… ready to defend… didn't make it… He was killed first. They may have attempted to rape your mother, but she probably told them her secret… So they stopped and just simply killed her and your father"

Azure shook his head "What was the secret?"

Cyrill looked a bit sad "Your father didn't know this… She asked me not to say anything to him or you kids… until she was ready… But… She was pregnant…" there was a small pause "with your baby sister"

Azure felt sick to his stomach and grabbed his head with his hands and shook his head

Fortuna grabbed Azure's hand, squeezing it. She was visibly shaken after hearing that story. Grace could inly shake her head in disgust. "What kind of monsters...!"

Cyrill looked up "Thugs… But we believe they were not the same thugs that kidnapped Azure… instead that they were hired by those men that kidnapped him… That is the belief… So… the next morning, some kids found your parents in the sewers"

Azure shook his head "No more…" He paused and then thought, looking up at Cyrill "My brother! Desyx! What happened to Desyx?"

Cyrill shrugged "No one knows for sure, but Azure… I am telling you… The men that did this were cruel and had no soul… It is the community's belief and the authority's belief that they took him, probably did some things, had "fun", and then killed him… They tried to locate him via aura detection, I even participated in the search… But about 2 days after your parents' death, Desyx's aura disappeared altogether and everyone noticed…. All we found of him, was a yellow bandana with Orenthar's family crest on it, with some blood around the edges…"

Azure closed his eyes "That was my bandana… I gave it to him for his birthday one year…"

Cyrill nodded "That was everything, Sayer"

Azure took a deep breath, stood, nodded and thanked the doctor for everything. He quickly explained to the doctor who his kidnapper was and where he had been all this time.

Cyrill nodded "I knew you weren't dead… but I wish I could have found you… and put a stop… You had a beautiful, loving, caring family… That did not deserve this"

Azure nodded, gave the physician a hug, slipped him a gold perrin into his pocket and left with Grace and Fortuna.

When they got outside, Azure shut the door, looked at the sky and took a deep breath.

Fortuna tightly hugged Azure. She didn't know what she could say to him, after learning of the horrible crimes committed against his family. But she knew he needed someone to be there for him. Even Grace was giving him a sympathetic look.

Azure nodded "Thank you… at least I know now… and at least…" he gave a small smile "What kind of wonderful people my parents were… That's what I have to hold onto…" During this somber moment, a small burst of energy could be felt rushing past them with great speed. They broke from their concentrations and looked around, trying to figure out what happened.

Azure looked "Did anyone else feel that?"

Fortuna nodded, "I thought I felt something rub up against my... my... my pouch?" She looked around frantically. "Grace! Did I leave my purse in the office?" Grace shook her head, "No... you had it on you this whole time." Fortuna scowled, "Then... where could it be now?" Grace shrugged, "Maybe you did leave it behind then. I could have sworn you had it with you..."

Azure tapped on Fortuna's shoulder "I see it…" He looked to Fortuna "Sorry for not asking your permission, but I put a spell on it… So if something happened… we would be able to trail it…" He pointed to a rooftop and on the roof they saw a young, male Vulperian of golden-tan fur and hair, with black tipped, Vulpe ears, and a bushy, white-tipped, Vulpe tail. The young Vulperian's calves/feet were of the same color, the toes were tipped white and had black claws. He wore earthy-toned, colored clothes; with frayed ends, loose sashes, belts, straps and line with pouches. His arms had leather guards with metal attached to protect his knuckles.

As the team looked at the young man, the noticed he was hunched over pulling apart Fortuna's pouch.

Fortuna looked over at the Vulpine, "Oh, he should not be doing that. The enchantment on my pouch is a little... temperamental..." She nodded. "Temperamental." "More to the point..." Grace asked, "how are we going to get it back? I could chase after him yelling bloody murder, but I don't think it would do much good." "Hmm..." Fortuna continued to watch the Vulpine as he incredulously pulled her mackerel out of the pouch, followed by a roasted turkey. She pointed at him, and her circles pulsed, and the bag writhed in the Vulperian's hands. Its opening began to move like a mouth as the bag tried to clamp on to his un-expecting face.

The Vulperian barred his fangs at the pouch and gave a low growl. His fangs turned into a grin and they watched as he took some kind of dust from one of his pouches, tossed it into her little purse and the saw a little cloud form, going "poof". Azure cocked his head "What the hell was that?"

The Vulpine stood, tied her pouch proudly to one of his sashes, with all the others and darted off, jumping from roof to roof.

"Oh for the love of God!" Fortuna complained, "Mage dust! He came prepared." Grace hurried after, doing her best to track the Vulperian's movements, but she was fighting a losing battle."

All 3 of them gave into the chase, the Vulperian had speed over them BIG TIME, as it is a an innate Vulpe ability. As they ran, Grace was the most impressive of the 3, Azure performed a quick incantation, casted it on Grace to match the speed of the young Vulperian, her only drawback would be him scaling the buildings and running the roofs.

Grace frowned. They would never be able to capture the thief at this rate. She had to get up on the roofs with him to stand a chance. Luckily she had a lot of upper body strength, and when she found an opportunity she scaled a lattice and leapt to the rooftops hot on his trail. Now that she had a better view of what was going on, she started herding him to the left, trying to force him into a dead end where she could corner him,

The Vulpe noticed Grace tailing him for a while, he tried losing her and finally stopped. He jumped up onto the highest roof in front of him. He stood on the edge and looked down at her, letting out a Vulpe bark and shouting "Ey! What do you want? Can't you see I am busy, old woman!"

"Old?" Grace drew her sword. "Why does everyone say that? I'm twenty-seven! That is not old!" She gritted her teeth and composed herself. "You have stolen from my friend. You will return the pouch at once, or I'll take those thieving hands of yours."

He gave a fanged grin "Heh! Ya go another thing comin' I NEVER fail a job… This is how I make my living, back off… My name is Cervius Silverclaw! Don't forget it!" He performed a backward flip and vanished! When Grace came around to look, she didn't see him!

Grace was seething by the time she found Azure, with Fortuna trailing after him. "Damn it! Damn it all! He got away!"

Azure looked dumbfounded "WHAT! Come on! All her stuff is gone!" He shook his head "Wait… I did put a tracking spell on it! We can follow him, wherever he went!" He looked to Grace and Fortuna

Grace nodded, "I, for one, cannot allow this insult to pass." Fortuna added angrily, "I want my food back!"

Azure shook his head and rolled his eyes "Look, Fortuna… I will buy you a new purse for now… We can enchant it like the last one, get some traveling items… and follow this guy, get your stuff back… Okay? Come on, let's go to the market"

Fortuna nodded, "Alright Azure. Just think, this is our first real adventure on our journey."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++xx

Forutna followed Azure into the bustling marketplace. She was worried now, glancing about and keeping a steady gaze on anyone who passed too close to them. She didn't want to be suspicious of everyone, but after what had happened it was difficult to trust the strangers all around her. They were just lucky it was a pickpocket and not a mugger or something. She could tell Grace was in a bad mood as well. Not just the moodiness that would come with failing a mission, something else. Had the thief said something to her to cause this? Fortuna placed the last piece of wood into the position in the fire pit. She held her hands forth, causing a spark of flame to shoot out and take the shape of a firefly before it dove into the kindling, setting it ablaze. She sat back and sullenly watched as the kindling burned itself out, but by then the larger pieces of firewood had started to ignite. Now that the fire was made, she sat down on a nearby stone, and started working on enchanting her new purse to hold her newly purchased supplies. They were more meager than what she had started with, but it couldn't be helped. She tried her best to concentrate on the task, but couldn't help but be nervous. Grace was clearly upset over her confrontation with the thief earlier that day, and Azure was still grieving over his family.

Azure sat next to Fortuna, as she was working, he laid down and rested his head in her lap, looking up at her "how's the enchanting going?"

Fortuna paused what she was doing, and looked down at him. "You should not be so familiar with me, Azure." She chided. "Especially with Grace in one of her moods."

Azure frowned "I can't help it, Fortuna…" he smiled at her "You're just too cute… you know I have always had a soft spot for ya…"

Fortuna sighed, "Is that what you tell all the pretty girls?"

Azure chuckled "All the pretty girls? Come on, Fortuna… Yer my girl… Even if you DO have someone…"

Fortuna regarded him silently for a long while. "I do not understand you in the least, Azure. You say these sweet things, but you never smile for me that way."

Azure blinked "Smile for you in… 'that' way? What… on… Enova?" He sat up and looked at her "What has gotten into you tonight?"

Fortuna looked away, "Its... nothing really. I just... I had not realized how much you had changed over the years. I did not know you nearly so well as I thought, and it was a little... shocking to me."

Azure chuckled nervously, shaking his head "I… still… don't understand where you are coming from…." he groaned, stood up and let out a frustrated sigh "So sorry, Fortuna… I try to have a nice time with you and you just end up ruining everything"

"Me?" She crossed her arms. "I am not the one who started flirting with people in the middle of the marketplace. Perhaps some of the Vulperians got the wrong impression because i had never seen one before, but I had never seen such a beautiful smile from you before. You looked... truly smitten."

Azure shook his head, unsure of what she was referring to. Then suddenly he closed his eyes and shook his head "Wow, Fortuna, I never expected this from you…"

Fortuna said softly, "Well, what did you expect? I mean, I know it is not my business who you should smile for, but I still could not help but feel a little hurt at seeing how easily you would smile for someone else."

Azure reached in his pouch, he looked angry and hurt. He pulled out something wrapped in a tan paper, it had a red and white ribbon on it. He threw it at her "The smile… was for you… She was a jewelry maker and enchanter… I was smiling because I was thinking of YOU!" he shouted "So be a, Prregito (Bitch) about it and assume shit!" he shook his head "You obviously don't know me then… If you would think that I could replace my feelings for you so quickly and that I am a total slime…" He started to walk away "SURPRISE!" He blurted as he walked into the forrest to cool-off.

Fortuna stared down at the gift, and then pressed it into the ground until it was almost entirely embedded. "What was I supposed to think... when you sent me away." She muttered under her breath. Eventually she stood up and stormed off in the opposite direction, until she found a secluded grove where she fell against a tree and started crying.

Grace had been watching from a short distance away, and shook her head as the Azure and then Fortuna both stormed off. She walked up to where the two had been sitting, and looked down, noticing the half-buried gift. She shook her head again. "Fortuna... you and your pride..." She bent down to retrieve the wrapped item. "I"ll just hold on to this for now... she won't accept it while she's still angry but... she'll regret it..."

She glanced after Azure. "I know I should oppose this, but..." She shook her head yet again. "She should be able to choose for herself."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++xx

The next day, they traveled west, crossing the Vertund river and what seemed to be heading toward Merkar. A bustling, live and thriving city, filled with wealthy, young families, every-flowing businesses and constant activity. This was also another common city for Vulperians during their travels, they make quiet a profit in such an affluent city. While they were heading in that direction, Azure and Fortuna constantly would glare at each other, once in a while they would make an obscene gesture toward the other, but they pressed on.

As they reached the city walls, Fortuna's dark mood lightened momentarily. "Oh, hey, Merkar. I have always wanted to come here one summer and look at all the art. We should visit some galleries while we are here, Grace." She pointedly ignored Azure. Grace sighed, "Perhaps we should focus on retrieving your belongings, miss Fortuna." Fortuna nodded, "Yes, of course. You are right."

Grace fumbled with the gift still in her pocket. Now wasn't the right time to give it back to her, but would the time ever come at this rate? How had this animosity grown between them so quickly?

They got into the city just fine, but making their way THROUGH was a different story. Azure was the only one who could detect the bag, since it was his spell. They ended bumping into tons of people and could barely hear each other over the mounds of crowds within the market place. Azure was ahead of the two, he saw something that caught his eyes "I… THINK I SEE HIM!" he exclaimed and chased after what he saw. The gap between him and the two girls grew bigger, until Azure was out of sight.

Fortuna was almost carried away by the crowd as she tried to squeeze between several people to keep up with Azure. Why did he feel the need to rush ahead like that when she was already having trouble keeping up? "Hey! HEY! Azure! Wait for a moment! I am..." She paused. "Azure?" She stopped in her tacks, heading over to the side of the road. "Did you even look back once you jerk? Fine then! See if I try and find you in this... mess!" It took Fortuna a while to realize that she had lost Grace as well. She suddenly felt a lot more nervous. "Well this is just great..." She looked around nervously for a while, but eventually decided that since she was stranded in the marketplace, she might as well do some shopping. She spent the next hour going from stall to stall, looking at all kinds of goods and things she had never seen before from fresh fruits native to the region to candies to jewelry both simple and elaborate and even different clothes. She lingered over one stall, looking at a leather book cover that depicted Orrentar at the Battle of Generio. It made her think of Azure, even though she was still angry at him. Part of her wanted to buy it for him as an apology, but the other part berated herself for being so quick to cave in. Why should she have to be the one to apologize. He had blown her reaction way out of proportion! As she stared at the book cover, an elderly Vulperian intruded upon her thoughts. "Can I help you with something, dear?" She looked up at the shopkeeper and shook her head. "Oh, no, I was just thinking..."

The shopkeeper was an older woman with greying fur. She was dressed up much as any of her kind, with frilly yet worn looking garments, of earthy-tones, a bandanna over her ears and many bits of jewelry, though much of it looked to be made from materials of little actual worth. The elderly Vulperian woman took a seat in a homemade wicker chair, just behind the stand's table "Such a nice day today, don't you think, young lady?" she spoke in a quiet and cracked voice.

Fortuna looked up at the sky shrugged. "I suppose the weather is pleasant." She hesitated again, and then finally asked, "How much for this book?"

The Vulperian woman peered over the table "oh… um… I… uh…" she stuttered and stammered a bit "Is something wrong, mother?" a calm, collective male voice said from behind She looked up at the young man and replied "No, sweetheart… I just am not quite sure what you wanted for that book of yours"

He approached the table and looked at the book, then at Fortuna. Their eyes met, he wasn't Vulperian, he was human. He had medium-shaggy white hair, with a couple brightly colored, bandannas around his head that the hair was both under and over them. His eyes were as red as bright rubies. His face was very calm and relaxed, but seemed to have stress marks. Perhaps he worried a lot. His clothing was the same of that of the Vulperians, however his were a bit more bright and had some designs here and there. His shirt was long and short sleeved, frayed around the edges, he wore a few sashes around his waist and the shirt extended past them. He had long pants of the same color and design, with brown leather tie-up boots. The accessories he wore were; a necklace, a leather bandolier-like piece with pockets and pouches attached, a satchel that seemed to be full, a large pouch of money on one of the sashes, and leather criss-crossing straps, up both arms. One of his ears were pierced with a couple hanging earrings and on the right side of his jaw was a deep, old scar. He was a little younger than Azure, probably about 16 years old. He smiled warmly to Fortuna, she would get the feeling that if they were together, he would protect her no matter what. "Now…" he said in an alluring voice "For a sweet thing like you… I would… have to say… 2 perrin…"

Fortuna nodded, retuning his smile. "Two perrin... and would you mind wrapping it for me?" She couldn't help but stare at his face. Hopefully she wasn't giving him the wrong idea, but there was something familiar about him. She couldn't quite place it, but it was enough to bug her.

The young man nodded "Of course…" he reached under the table and wrapped the book up, quickly, but beautifully, tied it with twine and handed it to her. "All set" He remarked "Don't hesitate to come back" The elderly Vulperian remarked "Don't hesitate at all, young lady! My boy needs a beautiful looking lady like you!" she tugged on the man's trousers "Don't you think she's pretty? You should ask her out!" she said loud enough for both to hear The young man turned red, smiled and chuckled at the woman "Mother… please…" "OH! Ask her to come back for dinner! I am making my famous Tricard soup!" She looked at the girl "Been in the family for generations! REAL Vulpe food!" The teen was smiling, but staring at the sky, waiting for her to be done and stop embarrassing him. He smiled to Fortuna while she continued to ramble on and then asked "Would you…" he braved, asking shyly, looking away from her "Like to come to dinner, miss?"

His mother glared and hit his leg with her walking stick "You look a girl in the face when you talk to her, boy!"

He looked to Fortuna, smiled very timid-like, and was turning as red as his eyes

Fortuna smiled, and gently answered, "I am sorry to say this, but I could not accept your offer. I am already spoken for." She laughed softly, "But you do know how to make a girl feel appreciated..." She added under her breath, "Unlike some people..." She dug into her new purse and produced two perrin. "Here you go."

The boy took the perrin and clasped his hand around hers, he leaned over and whispered in her ear "Even if you are spoken for… Could you… at least come for dinner? It would… mean the world to my mother, she has raised me since a child and at her age… I know it would make her happy… I don't know how much longer she will be with us… My father is already gone, company would make her smile"

Fortuna hesitated, and eventually answered, "I would, but I am not sure if the people I am traveling with would agree to it. I should at least bring it up to them."

He pulled away, taking the Perrin "Thank you… You take care and hope to see you again"

"And you, sir. Take good care of your mother." She took the book and then left the stall, breathing a sigh of relief. That interaction had practically oozed with awkwardness. But that young man must have had an interesting life, being brought up by Vulperians.

He pulled away, taking the Perrin "Thank you… You take care and hope to see you again"

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++xx

Some time had passed and as Fortuna was exploring the market, she felt a tap on her shoulder, it was Azure. He had dirt all over him and a bloody scrape on his cheek. A weak smile crawled over his face "Hey…" he said quietly

Fortuna betrayed some surprise. "Azure... your face...!" She reached for her new purse and pulled out a silk handkerchief, then started rubbing it against the scrape.

Azure winced and pulled away, he looked around, took her hand and lead her to a spigot that was leaking, crystal, clear water. Beneath the spigot was a marble basin that was overfilled with water because the spigot had been leaking for some time, and water was gently flowing over the sides.

Fortuna dipped the handkerchief into the water, and then resumed tending to his scrapes. "Azure, what happened to you?"

"I chased that Silverclaw fella…" he groaned and lifted up his sleeve, she would see a series of 4 parallel claw marks, they seemed to be red around the edges, possibly infected. Azure shook his head in disappointment "I chased him and chased him… Used some spells to get me on the roofs and move faster… I trapped him and we tussled a bit, but… His physical combat skills are 100% better than mine… He did this" he pointed to his arm "And…" he lifted his torn pant leg, out of his boot, exposing some bite marks "That…" Azure groaned and closed his eyes, sitting down on a bench next to the basin "I thought I had him… but… the bite… it burns real bad… I don't know where he went, I looked at the bite then back up and he was gone. Those walls were WAY too high to jump up onto, so I don't know how he escaped… So… I am…" he looked down "Sorry… I failed you, princess"

Fortuna shook her head, "Azure... by all rights I should lecture you on rushing ahead without waiting for me and Grace, but..." She looked away, "Seeing you with those wounds... scares me. It could have been so much worse I dare not think of it." She bit her lip, and then eventually held her hands out. "Keep this between us, but... I used to sneak in and watch Father when he was training with his magic." Her hands gently weaved back and forth, and Azure felt a relief from his pains, but Fortuna backed off before the wounds had closed entirely and frowned. "This is bad... I think the wounds have been infected or poisoned..."

Azure was in pain and very uncomfortable, he actually started to sweat a little, which was a bad sign "Fortuna… what… should… I do? I am starting to feel real warm"

Fortuna shook her head, "I can suppress it for a while, but we need to get you proper treatment. And we need to find Grace." She bit her lip again, "Maybe its a bad time to bring this up, but a nice young man asked me over for dinner. Not that i... you know... but... his mother was Vulperian, so maybe she can help you out."

She held her hands out, tracing strange designs in the air as she worked some magic over his wounds. This wasn't the magic of a competent healer by any means, but the burning feeling eased, and stopped spreading, though it didn't entirely cease.

"Thanks…" he remarked, then Azure nodded "Dinner sounds good… we could use a good meal…. before going any further in our journey" He fixed up his clothes, cleaned the rest of himself off "Let's find Grace and go back into the market… I will get some potions in case something like this happens again, and get a needle and thread for repairing, during the journey…" He smiled and took her hand, going back into the market place with her

Fortuna paused for a moment. "Oh, right, before I forget." She held out the book for him. "I got you this... consider it to be my way of apologizing."

Azure took the book and gently opened it, he held it up and smiled widely "WOW! A book about Orenthar!" he smiled to her "Thanks so much, Fortuna…." he hugged her, pulled back and smiled "And mine? Did you like what I got you? I thought of you the moment I saw it!"

Fortuna looked away, "Well, actually... I... have not opened it yet..."

Azure frowned and looked down "Oh… I see…" He sighed "Oh well…" They continued to walk. As they were walking they happened to pass by the stall that Fortuna was at earlier, with the young man. They were about 10 feet away from it, looking around and pointing to other stalls. The young man notice Fortuna and smiled, he was just getting ready to wave to her when something caught his eyes. The man's eyes widened the moment he saw Azure, his mouth dropped a little "There… is… no… way…." He went to his mother, bent down to her "Mother I need a small break… I will be back shortly"

"Yes, yes" she said sweetly "Have fun…"

He whirled around on his heel and glared at Fortuna and Azure he looked up and smirked. He darted out of the stall grabbed onto a nearby pole and swung himself up on top of the neighboring stall. He ran up the wall, grabbing onto the ledge of a window and hoisting himself up onto the roof. Keeping a close eye on them through and ariel view of the crowd. Running along the roofs to follow them, performing all sorts of parkour and acrobatic moves, maneuvering himself around. He jumped down from one roof to another, grabbing onto a ledge, but then dropping down. Performing summersault in the air, holding his arms across his chest and letting his feet catch onto a board that was extended between two other buildings. He was hanging upside down, watching the two from behind. Glaring at them, he said "It has to be!" he flipped so that when he landed on the ground, he was on his feet,he darted through the crowd, but he was starting to lose them as Azure and Fortuna caught sight of Grace, and they headed down an empty path amongst buildings. The young man looked around his eyes catching series of crates! He leapt to one, across to the other, across to another and ran up the wall, high enough to grab on a clothes-line rope. Then slowly making his way over to the building to his right, placing one hand at a time. He got to the building and ran across the roofs, jumping, flipping and doing all sorts of tricks. Finally he reached the alley the trio was in, they were alone. He watched from above. Azure smiled to Grace "At least we found you… Where did you go to?"

Grace scowled at him, "I was following you... and then I lost you. And then I realized we'd left miss Fortuna behind somewhere along the way. I'm glad I managed to find you again, it would have been quite a chore to track you down in this city." She paused, noticing that Fortuna and Azure seemed a great deal less tense together, and then smiled. "I guess it all worked out though."

Azure smiled and nodded "We did…" he shook his head "and WE found YOU… not the other way around…" The trio turned to leave the alley The man's burning, red eyes grew bigger. He jumped to the next building, grabbing onto a ledge. The three heard some noises and looked up

He kicked off the wall, did a backwards flip, landed on a sloped, cloth awning, he slid down it, flipped forward and landed on his feet DIRECTLY in front of Azure, about 2 feet away from him, glaring deeply into his eyes.

Azure's eyes widened in shock and was taken aback, his mouth dropped a little and was speechless.

Fortuna crossed her arms. "Showoff..." She muttered. Then she realized who it was that had landed before her. "Oh, hey, its you again." Grace, however, instantly tensed, her sword hand flew to the hilt of her rapier as her eyes narrowed dangerously.

The young man grabbed Azure by the collar and started to run into him, hurling him into the back wall. He pulled away and slammed him into it again "YOU BASTARD! YOU EVIL BASTARD!" tears started rolling down his face "HOW COULD YOU? WHY?" He grabbed a traditional, handmade, Vulperian dagger from his boot and held it to Azure's throat "I should kill you on the spot!"

Azure's eyes widened even more, speechless, he was shaking all over "What is your problem, kid?"

"Azure!" Fortuna watched wide-eyed as he was forced back against the wall in a split second. Grace, however, was much more collected. The tip of her rapier came to rest against the side of the young man's neck. "I wouldn't do anything rash if I were you."

The young man glared at Grace, his red eyes felt as if they were piercing into her soul "don't… test… me…. woman…"

Grace was shocked when she felt the handle of her sword start to cave in, around her hand

He narrowed his eyes "This is between me and him…" He looked back at Azure "Explain yourself"

Grace threw her weapon aside, gritting her teeth. "Damn... he has magic too!" Fortuna, however, went to grab at the man's sleeves. "Please, stop this! I know how you must feel, but Azure is not the man to whom I was betrothed!"

The man laughed at Fortuna "That's what you think I am upset about? How wrong you are!" He looked at Azure "He knows me… He knows why I am angry!" Azure shook his head "You have the wrong guy… really… I don't know you!" He punched Azure in the face "I have the right guy! Not many guys have silver hair and emerald green eyes with flecks of gold!" He grabbed one of Azure's hands and held it up "Who also has a custom magic circle!" Azure shook his head "I don't know what you're getting at!" The young man groaned and let Azure go, shaking his head "You grew stupid with age then…" He pointed to his face "LOOK AT ME! How many guys do you know that have red eyes and white hair? HUH! TELL ME SAYER THORNROPE! TELL ME NOW, BROTHER!"

Azure starred at the man, dumbfounded and silent

Fortuna brought her hands up to her mouth. "It... It can't be...!" Grace frowned, "Not exactly a warm family reunion..." Fortuna nodded, "Not exactly, no..." Then she addressed the young man, "If you claim to be his brother, then why do you attack him as one would a mortal enemy?"

Desyx looked at Fortuna, then back at Azure "You failed me…. as a brother… as family… I looked up to you…"

Azure was still in shock "You're…. dead…"

Desyx shouted "I SHOULD HAVE BEEN! You never came back!" he tugged on Azure's clothes "I guess the rich life was just too good for you, huh? Yeah… you were kidnapped they took you away and you started your new life as a noble… You didn't bother to come back to your home, to your family… Not to even look for us!"

Azure shook his head and argued "They told me you were dead! I had no where to go!"

Desyx shook his head "You could have still looked… asked… questioned… Did you? NO! The guys that kidnapped you, hired murderers to kill Mum and Pa! I was only 7! I had to watch as they drug dad through the streets naked, behind a horse! Then kill him! They did the same to mom! They took me away… to the two that kidnapped you… I thought I would see you again… But I didn't… instead those two men took me, they purchased me off the murderers and SOLD ME! Do you know what that is like? BEING SOLD IN A SLAVE TRADE? When you're only 7?" His eyes filled with tears "I was first sold to a child laborer… I worked 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, sewing boots for nobles! I passed out from the heat and was sold to a Nobleman to take care of his horses! I would clean 40 horse stalls EVERY DAY, 6 days a week! One of the horses got away…" He took off his shirt and exposed his back where there were whip marks "I paid for it… then sold again" He put his shirt back on

"I was then sold to a blacksmith…. I stayed there for 1 week, when finally…." undid the straps on one of his arms and showed a deep scar from a burn mark "a fresh, hot sword fell on my arm…. Again, I was beat… but this time… nearly to death…" He lifted his head up and there was a scar that went around his neck "He put a small leather collar on me… like a dog … It was so hot that it rubbed into me skin and I would bleed… I was chained to a wall, outside… in the burning sun… no food… no water…" He pointed to scar on his chin "This… was the last punishment I got…. He wanted to see how his new style of dagger "cut" on flesh… He grabbed my hair, slammed my head against a tree… I passed out… When I came to, my face was cut my head was bleeding because he busted my head wide open…." he pulled back some of his hair, away from the bandanas, showing a scar. "I just laid there… in the sun… bleeding to death… with no food and liquid in my body for 2 weeks…. I ate leaves and drank mud from under the tree… The ants and other bugs started to crawl all over me… animals urinated on me… crows started to peck at my body …" He narrowed his eyes

"Until… that one day… The Vulperians came to town… the traveling caravan, coming to trade… My "master" took his weapons and armor to sell to them… They came back to see his other items… and then… a young Vulpe… My, now older brother, found me! He poked me with a stick, thinking I was dead! But when he saw my eyes look in his direction, he ran to his parents Older Vulpes… His father and mother… and a couple others from their tribe came rushing over… His father picked me up and cradled me, while his mother brought fresh water, pouring it over me and giving some to drink…. They did everything they could… I was almost dead…" He closed his eyes and looked away "They wanted to take me to a doctor, but my "master" wouldn't hear of it… They tried everything to get him to take care of me… Got furious with him… When they saw that wasn't going anywhere, they tried to trade for me… Nothing…. So.. They set me down on the ground and left, I thought I was done… 1 hour passed and they came back with the rest of the caravan… They pulled together all their moneys, valuables, jewelry and gemstones to get me…."

Azure listened "He let you go… right?"

Desyx shook his head no "No… he didn't…"

Grace shook her head. "Such cruelty... my father would never have treated a slave like that..." Fortuna looked down to the ground, moved by the emotional display.

Desyx continued "That night… When my master was asleep… I heard some noise… The young Vulpe was there, with his father and mother…. They cut off my collar and his mother carried me to a waiting carriage, Her and her son crawled in the back and wrapped me up in a blanket, holding me, the driver waited for the boy's father, who had went in my "master's" house. When his father came back, his hands and face were bloodied… The driver motioned the signal and the other carriages moved forward, we were pulling other horses, mules, and trailers with boxes, supplies and cages with exotic animals… Everything these people live on and sell while they travel. When the mother asked… The father replied that he tried to handle is civilly, but he had to resort to self-defense… He looked to me, brushed my hair back and reassured me that I would never have to worry about him, or anyone else again…"

He wiped the tears from his face "I was in safe hands… and that THEY were my family now… And they are… I grew up with the Vulperians, they taught me trade, I worked with them, they fed me and I continued to eat with them, I played and grew strong with them, I learned how to enchant items, how to summon beings, how to use elemental magic and so on…. My big brother taught me how to pickpocket and steal… How to the advantage of the world around me, by climbing buildings and jumping from roofs… I have traveled the world with my Vulperian family… I went through the "boy becoming a man" ritual with my brother in Vulperian tradition even went on to meet the Vulperian elder, from our caravan's tribe… Each caravan has a tribe they belong to…." He undid the front of his shirt and on the right shoulder was a scar, but it was done in a design, it was in the shape of a fox-paw, with the claws. Inside the paw, was a symbol from the Vulperian language, that signified his tribe, around it was a tattoo design, in red ink. "When you're accepted into a tribe… as a man… as one of the family… you receive the scar and tattoo… it takes about a month to finish, it's painful, but worth it… It's a sign of who I am…" he redid his shirt up "At least they cared for me… They are my family…. Look at you… even if I was dead… you stayed! you never bothered to look! You just lived the comfortable life…" he shook his head and spat at Azure's feet "You disgust me… I used to look up to you… and now…" Azure shook his head "I would… have come… if you were alive…" he put his hand on his chest "You have no idea how devastated I was, when I found out my family was dead…. But… Desyx…" He smiled "We're together now… Please… let's be happy about this…" he reached for a hug

Desyx stepped back, shaking his head

Fortuna nodded, "He speaks true, Desyx. I came to know him just after he was brought to Ellsemere. He would have given anything just to spend another moment with his family."

Desyx shook his head in disgust "No… I don't care… you could have looked… I should be dead, Sayer…" Azure frowned

A Vulperian came to the alley, he was about mid 30's, he looked to Desyx "Desyx… your mother calls… Supper is ready…" he looked at the other 3 "I am assuming these are the 'guests' you were expecting?"

Desyx gave a low growl and walked to the man "Not anymore"

The man pulled Desyx by the ear "Don't be rude, young pup!" He looked to the trio and smiled "Please… come eat with our caravan… His mother made extra for the guests…"

Azure looked to Fortuna, unsure of what to say or do

Fortuna bit her lip, but eventually she nodded. "Of course, I would not be so ingracious as to refuse your hospitality."

The man nodded and kicked Desyx in the rear "Help your mother prepare the meal, pup!" He nodded to the others and led the way Azure drug his feet, walking slowly behind everyone

Grace stopped only to retrieve her damaged weapon, and then stuck to Fortuna's side as the princess followed the Vulperian along. But Fortuna would glance expectantly behind at Azure from time to time.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++xx

Darkness began to settle around them, behind the city, was the caravan. Carriages, trailers, and tents were all forming a little village, in the center was large fire, with meat curing on a spit. There was a very large pot, cooking nearby with Tricard soup, brewing. The caravan party was everywhere, some were partying; talking to each other, others danced near the fire, and children ran around nearby playing tag. Desyx's mother was tending to her stew, while the men cooked the meat.

Azure looked around "It's like… a festival… is this…?"

Desyx looked over at him "This is normal… Vulperians always throw a festive dinner, to celebrate the day of good trade, and pass along good energy for the next… It keeps everyone's spirits up…"

Azure smiled "What a beautiful thought…" Desyx's mother came to the trio "Please, please! Come sit by the fire!" Some Vulperians were already forming a circle around the fire, handmade mats were laid out for people to sit on. The trio took their places. Azure watched as Desyx helped his mother out

His mother came up to the trio, she smile at Fortuna "I already met you… but haven't met the other two…" She introduced herself "My name is Klia…. This is our caravan…"

Azure nodded "A pleasure… I am Azure Foxclove"

Klia smiled "It's a pleasure… I am glad my son met such fine, young people"

Desyx started making faces as he tended to the Tricard

Grace kneeled upon the mat, making an elaborate gesture with her hands ending with her left clasped over her heart, and then she said, "Honored hosts, I thank you for the esteem of sharing your fire this night. I will trade my laughter for your smiles."

Klia smiled and clapped "Beautifully done! You know us Vulperians well, then young lady! Thank you! Not often I see such a formal greeting!"

Some of the other Vulperians gathered around and admired Grace

Some smiled, "I thank you. My name is Grace Verdance, and my father was well respected among the Vulperians. He was the one to teach me Vulperian customs."

Fortuna looked over, somewhat impressed. "How come you never told me about this?" Grace smirked, "It didn't really come up, miss Fortuna. There aren't a lot of Vulperians in Ellsemere, unfortunately."

Klia smiled "I am one of the oldest in the Caravan and most of what I says goes… So… It is my honor to welcome all three of you, into the Silverclaw Tribe" she said with a wide smile

Azure's smile dropped

Grace narrowed her eyes for a moment. "Silverclaw tribe..." She quickly composed herself. "I remember my father breifly instructed a young man by the name of Therim who hailed from the Silverclaws."

Klia smiled "Oh… I don't know him, myself… but there are a lot of Silverclaws… You see… In Vulperian culture, we do no have last names, as you humans do… Instead we take on the name of our tribe, in this case… Silverclaw… We are not all related… just from the same tribe, so I am sorry I do not know him, personally…" She motioned to Desyx "Like my boy there, his name was Desyx Thornrope… When he became apart of the Vulperian tribe and culture, his name was changed to Desyx Silverclaw"

Azure nodded "I see…"

Desyx stopped the conversation "Dinner is ready!"

Klia motioned to the pot "Please… help yourselves… Jin will be carving the meat… There are plates and utensils over there, and fresh bread has just come out!"

Everyone around grabbed their plates, bowls and silverware. They got as much food as they wanted, the meat came from a cattle breed called Grone, large hairy cows, but with massive amounts of meat on them. The Tricard soup was a traditional Vulperian food, that had a mixture of native herbs, vegetables and shellfish in it. The bread was also traditional, warm and fresh too! Everyone took their places, sat down, ate and talked amongst each other. Not too long into the meal, Azure spoke to the Caravan, informing them of their journey, where they came from and where headed. They told them of the obstacles they had and were going to face. This eventually led into Desyx informing everyone that Azure was his brother, this brought a bit of a heated discussion to the Vulperians.

Finally Klia spoke up "Look…" She looked to Desyx "This… is a difficult time for you and your brother… But you should not be mad at him, son."

Desyx's mouth dropped "But mother"

Klia smiled "Desyx… you are a young man now, you must let go of this anger and hatred

that had brewed in you for so many years. Your father would ask the same…" She leaned over and gave him a kiss on the head "You must let go… and your brother still loves you and it's obvious he wants a relationship with you…"

"BUT!" Desyx tried to protest

Klia held up her hand and slowly stood up "People of the Silverclaws, you have all welcomed this boy as one of your own. He is my son and will always be apart of us…" She looked to Desyx "However… Your brother is on a journey to find himself… Both of you, as different lives as you have led are in the same journey. Who are you, Desyx? A Silverclaw or a Thornrope? a Vulperian or a Human?"

Azure smiled, this was a similar conversation he had with Sephria before he left Klia smiled to him "You are apart of the Vulperians, you always will be and you will always be a Silverclaw, but you as a person… You must discover yourself as well… And I believe you should accompany your brother and his party, on their journey so that you too may discover yourself" The Caravan muttered amongst themselves, nodding in agreement with Klia. Klia sat back down and hugged her son "In the olden days, young men in our culture would do something similar… I think you should too…" She looked to Desyx and the others "May my boy… Your brother accompany you?" Azure's smile widened and nodded "I WOULD LOVE IT!" He looked to Grace and Fortuna "Please? Can he come with?"

"Err..." Grace looked unconvinced, bit Fortuna nodded. "I would not mind." Fortuna said. "I only hope we do not cause him undue trouble."

Klia smiled "He is no trouble"

Desyx growled "Do I not have my own say in ANY of this?"

The male Vulperian from earlier, leaned over and gave him a warning bite, common in the Vulpe culture, on his ear with his fangs "NO! you do not! Listen to your mother, this is good for you, pup!"

Desyx crossed his arms "This is so unfair! If Cer-" All of a sudden, the festivities was interrupted by a loud howl, the trio noticed the clan groan and complain as they buried their faces and looked away. Cervius darted across the campgrounds, leapt in the air and landed in the middle "I am here everyone! what did I miss!" He had about 50 pouches attached to his sashes

Desyx stood up and shouted "Cervius!" He exclaimed, running to him and embracing him.

Azure and the others noticed that the Caravan was put off by Cervius's arrival Klia frowned "Cervius… where have you been?" Cervius gave a fanged grin "Making money, what else?" He ran over to her, threw down the pouches and sat down, his tail wagging back and forth "A lot, huh?"

The Male Vulperian, referred to as Rime, growled at Cervius "You give a bad name to Silverclaws, everywhere, pup! And by extension, Vulperians!"

Cervius rolled his eyes and brushed him off, looking to Klia for approval

Klia picked up a pouch, looked in it and tossed it, she did this with about 3 more and then shook her head

Cervius looked disappointed "….you don't… like them?"

Klia looked hurt "Cervius… there are Vulperians who steal… and pickpocket… and all sorts of unethical things… Like the Sunfire tribe… or the Flatfeet tribe… Not Silverclaws, Cervius… not us… Your father… would be very hurt to see the man you have become…"

Cervius growled and stood up "Whatever…" He looked over and his eyes met with Fortuna's "Ey… you are…" He saw Grace, he narrowed his eyes and then glared at Azure, which turned into a smirk "How's that bite wound of yours, buddy?" Azure gritted his teeth

Klia looked at Cervius, then at the trio "What does he mean?"

Fortuna gasped, "It... was you?" Grace stood up. "Cervius Silverclaw, you told me to remember the name, and so I have." She started walking toward him. "You have stolen from one of my companions, attacked another, and insulted me. How are we to make amends for this?"

Cervius crossed his arms and shook his head "I owe you nothing, bitch…"

Klia stood up, grabbed Cervius by his fuzzy ear and yanked him down to the ground. "No son of mine will treat our guests in such a manner!"

Azure blinked "Son?"

Desyx smiled proudly and nodded "Cervius is my big brother… At least he's a big brother who DOES look out for me!"

Klia felt terrible and looked to the trio "I am so sorry! Explain what my boy did and I will fix it…"

Rime walked over to Cervius and placed his paw (foot) on Cervius's face, digging some of his claws into his face "You disgrace our tribe, pup! And make is difficult for your mother! How dare you!"

Klia grabbed the bags and brought them to Fortuna "Which one…. is yours…?"

Fortuna looked over the lot of them, and picked hers out almost instantly. "That one! I recognize the stitch work I put into the side. See! Its a cat!" The crudely crafted image hardly resembled the named animal. "Also, the enchantments. Watch!" She held the bag' mouth open, and as her circles glowed, the bag started to suck in whatever loose objects were around. She stepped back, but then glanced at Azure, and was reminded of his condition. "Oh, but more important are the wounds that Azure suffered. They look poorly."

Klia crawled to Azure and looked him over, Azure pointed out the wounds. She placed her hand over her mouth and started to cry "I am… so sorry… We can take care of these…" She looked at Azure and Fortuna "Vulperian saliva can be quite infectious… it's a defense mechanism against our foes… These are starting an infection, but we have the remedies to clean them out, both the bite and claw marks… Claws carry infectious properties as well…" She shook her head "Before you go to bed, we will tend to these… I will also send remedies with Desyx for your travels…"

Cervius squirmed around, under Rime's paw "What do you mean, travels?"

Klia glared at Cervius "Your little brother is going on a journey with these people"

Cervius growled "NO WAY! He's my baby brother!"

Klia stood and barked at him, bearing her fangs "It's not up for discussion!" She pointed to Azure "This poor boy you attacked is his blood brother! They are real family and must discover their true bonds, Cervius"

Cervius scoffed "Don't make me laugh! I am more of a brother than that little weakling is!"

Desyx nodded in agreement

Rime pushed down on Cervius's head "Shut up, pup! Before I give you a bite, you will never forget!"

Cervius shook his head "No! Desyx isn't going, unless I go with him!"

Everyone grew quiet.

Grace, Fortuna and Azure ALL noticed, wide smiles grow on the Caravan's faces, as they shouted in approval. It wasn't that they thought it was a good idea… They just wanted to get rid of Cervius.

Azure closed his eyes "Oh heavens…"

"Out of the question." Grace scoffed. Fortuna nodded, "I am sorry, but I must side with my friend on that point. We simply cannot accommodate another traveler."

Desyx grinned "Then it's settled… I am not leaving!"

Klia looked very distraught

Azure stood up and shouted "Fine! He will be coming with us!'

"What?" Fortuna looked shocked. Grace brought a hand up to her forehead and groaned. "Azure... you cannot simply decide for our whole group like that..." Fortuna protested.

Azure bent down to Fortuna "I am sorry… But please… Fortuna… understand… That is my baby brother! I haven't seen him for 9 years! I thought he was dead until today! I need to be with him, we need to be a family again… And if I have to take the good with the bad, then so be it… I will not lose my brother a second time!" he looked at Fortuna with fiery, stern eyes… a look she had never seem from him, before

Fortuna turned away, looked over Desyx ad Cervius. She bit her lip, and then silently nodded.

Azure stood straight "Both will be coming with us…"

Klia nodded "I guess… it's settled…. I just don't want you fine people to get in trouble over my eldest…"

Azure reassured her "Trust us… we will be fine…" He smiled to Desyx

Desyx huffed and stormed off to his tent.

Cervius pushed off Rime's paw, growled at him and then walked to Azure "You have no idea what you're in for…. I am Desyx's big brother… I saved him from certain death… Where have YOU been all his life?" He snorted and pushed past Azure, then following after Desyx "Des! Wait up!"

Rime approached the trio "You have our thanks… But… There must be SOMETHING we can do… to thank you for this task and an apology for the troubles our young pup has caused the three of you…"

Klia nodded "What is it? Name it? Money? Enchantments? Goods? Potions? Anything?"

Azure looked to Fortuna and Grace

Fortuna shrugged, "Nothing comes to mind." Grace held up her rapier, with the damaged handle. "Maybe you can have a look at this. I wouldn't mind some repairs, and maybe some enchantments."

Rime took the weapon and nodded "Certainly… Our Blacksmith will work on this, it will be ready before you leave tomorrow…"

Klia nodded "Please stay with us, we can set up a tent and beds… You may eat with us in the morning as well…"

Azure nodded "Tomorrow… We will look at some potions, we need to take some with… and perhaps you could teach some quick enchantments… Other than that, we will be fine"

Klia nodded, both her and Rime walked off to prepare bedding for them for the night.

Azure looked to Grace and Fortuna "Thank you… Thank you… Thank you…"

Fortuna smiled, 'How could I say no, when you looked so excited to meet your brother." Grace shook her head, "I won't speak against miss Fortuna's decision, but I hope you realize you've invited quite the handful along. I don't think you'll be getting on Desyx's good side so long as that Cervius is whispering in his ears."

Azure nodded "I… understand"