Argrave had been pondering morality the whole time during his journey to Sethia. He supposed it was normal to examine oneself when confronted with the uncaring power dynamics within this southern region of Berendar. Argrave had his own moral code, naturally, and though he might be a bit more flexible than most others, he largely felt he was a righteous person. Everyone did.

And yet Argrave now found himself exposing a secret smuggling ring that offered people freedom from the Vessels, all to earn the good graces of a cult worshipping an ancient god that used its subservient people as walking water bottles.

He reckoned it was a little like exposing the Underground Railroad to become friends with Jefferson Davis.

Of course, Argrave had Galamon scare them a little before exposing them, and hopefully they wouldn’t be genuinely caught… but their operation had gone bust, and there would be no more escapes from the city.

Argrave was drawn from his haze of thoughts at another person’s entrance. He was a bit surprised to see the next comer—Brium, the copper-skinned Lord of Cyprus. Though Argrave could not deny he was surprised he’d climbed the managerial chain so quickly, he came to attention at once, uncrossing his legs and sitting a bit more politely.

“Greetings, gentleman, madam,” Brium began smoothly, coming to stand before them. “I am the Lord of Copper, Brium. I came here to personally thank the three of you for what you’ve exposed here today.” He placed his hand to his chest in thanks but did not bow his head—that little gesture was a good show of his personality. On the surface he was polite, yet beneath was pride and ambition that did not allow him to bow his head to any.

“A pleasant surprise, meeting the Lord of this tower. I am Argrave… of Blackgard,” he hesitated in saying the last part, remembering well what happened when he last used that name. “My companions are Anneliese and Galamon,” he introduced in turn.

“…of Blackgard,” Brium repeated. “What is your home of Blackgard like, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“It’s a bustling riverside city, located where many rivers meet. Place has the only bridge for miles, so it’s a rather busy trade city,” Argrave supplied smoothly.

Brium smiled inexplicably. “I see.” He moved the stool that Jeralian had set across from them, then sat atop it himself. His back was rigid and unbent, and he surveyed each of the three of them in turn.

“This smuggling ring you exposed—I am having men examine it as we speak,” Brium began. “You’ve done a valuable service. Yet strangely, you came to the tower of Copper.” Brium rubbed his fingers together. “Perhaps I am ignorant of your lands, but as I recall… copper is the least valuable form of coinage in Vasquer.”

Argrave nodded, catching the message beneath the Vessel’s words. “Gold and silver are shiny and brilliant. People tend to like those metals for that reason.”

Brium gestured towards Argrave. “And yourself?”

“Copper…” Argrave leaned in until he was at the edge of the couch. “Copper is a strong metal at its core. But when you combine it with something else—a different metal, far from itself—you get something stronger. You get alloys. Bronze. Brass,” Argrave counted the two with his fingers, then waved his hand with a smile. “Both prime examples.”

Brium laughed lightly, raising his hand to cover his mouth. “I see your metaphor. You are different—far from copper, certainly.” Brium lowered his hand, expression stern. “But metalworking is a complex business. The wrong component can weaken the metal instead of strengthening it. How can you be certain you’ll get the results you want?”

Damned metaphors making my head spin, Argrave thought.

“It’s as with anything—I’ve done it before.” Argrave leaned back to emphasize his confidence. “But… if there’s doubt, you can always stick with the reliable—practice, testing. Make a small batch of bronze alloy instead of converting all your copper at once. Once you’re sure it works, upscale the process.”

Brium stared down Argrave. His dark brown eyes had an intense sharpness to them that made it clear he scrutinized Argrave carefully. After a time, his eyes lightened and he smiled. “Do you enjoy poetry, Argrave?”

Argrave was taken aback by the conversational turn, but he answered, “Some, certainly.”

“Do you write?” he pressed.

Argrave shook his head. “Not poetry, but yes, I suppose what I’ve done qualifies...”

“Perhaps, at a later date, I can share some of my poems with you. I have the feeling you’ll appreciate it.”

Feeling strangely insulted, Argrave nodded slowly. “Another time, maybe,” he said without committing.

“But I digress. Back to this matter of alloys, and power…” Brium lowered his head, lost in thought. After a time of deliberation, he raised his gaze up to Argrave. “I think things are as you say. An alloy… the thought has never crossed my mind, but I believe it’s worthy of, at least, a test batch.”

“I’m pleased you agree,” Argrave said, though the words felt empty.

“But cutting past all this…” Brium placed his hands on his knees. “A metalsmith’s services can’t be cheap. What do you want, exactly?”

“To make a strong alloy,” Argrave said vaguely, “… of which my… metal, is a part of.”

“Let’s set aside the vagaries and speak frankly,” Brium waved his hand dismissively.

“Alright.” Argrave thought of his words carefully. “Beyond eking out a place for myself in this city, Argent has something I want. It’s not the sort of thing they give away, either, even if I ask really nicely.”

“Ah,” Brium nodded as if he’d figured things out. “And bronze is more than fitting to break silver.”

“Yeah,” Argrave simply agreed, tired of this long analogical train.

“Well…” Brium crossed one leg over the other. He held his hands out, placing the tips of his fingers against each other like some kind of diabolical schemer. “I’m going to have to work something out for you to do. And verify the veracity of the information you disclosed, naturally. That said…” Brium held a hand out. “I believe this may serve to be a long and fruitful relationship, gentleman Argrave of Blackgard.”

Argrave looked at the Vessel’s hand, acknowledging that the other intended for a handshake. He triple-checked he was wearing thick leather gloves and was quite thankful for the protective enchantment as he reached out and took the other’s hand.

“Likewise,” Argrave concluded.


Their party walked from the tower of Cyprus. Argrave’s steps were heavy. He felt guilty, like he’d done something wrong—the talk with Brium hadn’t assuaged that feeling.

“There’s something I’m curious about,” Anneliese spoke.

“Are all poets deviants?” Argrave tried to guess her question in jest. “The answer may surprise you.”

“No,” she laughed while shaking her head. “This name—Blackgard. You use it consistently. That is what I was curious about.”

“Oh.” Argrave scratched the back of his neck, lowering his head.

“You’re embarrassed,” she noted.

Argrave looked at her. “If I wasn’t before, after that call-out, I definitely am.”

“Your embarrassment only makes me more curious,” she pressed.

Argrave took a deep breath and sighed. He looked between both of them—even Galamon expressed that he was focused on Argrave’s answer.

“That city I described, back there…” Argrave paused in the road. “It doesn’t exist. But I’ve made it before.” Anneliese and Galamon looked at him strangely, and he quickly added, “In the game.”

Argrave continued. “A lot of northern and southern Berendar are divided by a big river—in the future, it becomes an almost natural border between the rebels and Vasquer loyalists. The biggest bridge between the two is an important place to hold in the war. It’s located in a valley, too, so it’s quite a defensible place. There’s a sizable and largely ungoverned native population, too.”

“So this city, Blackgard—you founded it in the game?” Anneliese questioned.

“Yeah,” Argrave nodded. “Probably the best bit of land in the game. Lots of good farmland, choke points preventing raids, pre-existing population, center of trade—”

“But the name,” Anneliese stopped him. “What does it mean to you?”

“Just a name, isn’t it?” Argrave answered, turning back to the road.

“I do not believe it is merely that,” she insisted.

Argrave bit his lip, the answer on the tip of his tongue. “Alright,” he surrendered, throwing his hands up in the air. “If Gerechtigkeit wins, the world ceases to exist—it becomes a void. A void is blackness. I considered that name—Blackgard—just as that. A guard against that endless darkness. A guard against Gerechtigkeit.”

“I see.”

“You see,” Argrave repeated.

“I think it is a noble name,” she said sincerely.

Argrave laughed. “Well, I should probably stop using it, or it’ll stick.”

She tilted her head. “Is that so bad? It is a fine name, and it does indeed represent what you do.”

“Well…” Argrave scratched the top of his head, thinking on the matter.

“Do you not intend to establish this Blackgard once again?” She held a hand out to Argrave as though to encourage introspection. “You said you wish to follow the course you deem best. Is this not part of it?”

“I’m no lord,” Argrave shook his head. “Can’t press some buttons and make people build a whole damned city for me as I could before. Someone inexperienced like me would do a lot more harm than good.”

Galamon shook his head. “You overestimate the abilities of lords, I think.” He looked around. “This place alone is testament to that.”

“Why does it seem like you two are trying to persuade me?” Argrave questioned suspiciously. “We’re thinking about the distant future when tomorrow is uncertain. Let’s stay on task, shall we?”

The two of them conceded with slow nods.

“Good,” Argrave said in conclusion. “I know you two might be blue working with the Lord of Copper back there. He views us as a means to an end. What he hasn’t considered, hopefully, is that he’s the same to us. Argent, Cyrprus, Aurum—I don’t intend this to be some sort of power game.”

“How do you mean?” Galamon questioned.

“We’re raising a dog,” Argrave said with a little smirk. “A fierce dog, to compete in the dog fight. We’ll raise Cyprus up… and then we’ll bring in Aurum and Argent, and the two will snarl and bite at each other. And who, you ask, wins in this bloody sport?”

Argrave waited for an answer, but neither Galamon nor Anneliese supplied one.

“Definitely not the dogs, I’ll tell you that much. Poor bastards.” Argrave shook his head woefully. “No, the spectators win.”

“The people of the city,” Anneliese guessed.

“Them, too,” Argrave acknowledged. “But I was really referring to the southern tribals. Guess that guy’s way of talking rubbed off on me.”

Anneliese furrowed her brows, lost in thought. “But how…?”

“If I’ve got things right, we’ll soon be involved with Durran and Boarmask. Ask yourself this—why weren’t any Vessels at Argent when the raid occurred?” Argrave spread his hands out. “Because Cyprus used what little influence they have to make that happen.”

“I think I understand now,” Anneliese nodded.

Galamon adjusted the sword on his hip as he thought, then asked, “Why is Durran working with Cyprus?”

“Were I to guess… he hopes to earn a better living situation for the tribals,” Argrave pointed to Galamon. “He’s a tribal himself, you see. Brium probably made empty promises. Fellhorn doesn’t like violence, but lies and deception are fair game.” Argrave held his hands out. “This is only my speculation, of course. I think we’ll find out the truth of things quickly enough.”

“I worry about what the Lord of Copper will ask of us,” Anneliese admitted.

Argrave sighed. “Yeah. That’s the uncertain bit. We have to hurry up and wait once more.”


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  • Buried on a hill overlooking a little river with pinecones all around
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Bio: Author of the #1 'Heroes of Berendar' fan-fiction. Vicar of Crust. President of the Richie Aprile fan-club.

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