Chapter 2:

Chapter 2

The Chronicles of Krarshe: The Hearts of Men, Volume 1

Krarshe walked through the gates of the academy just as the morning sun crept over the city walls and spilled into the corner of the academy's barren stone courtyard. He never found out where to go for enrollment, but he figured he'd just look around. The store run by the academy was locked, seemingly not open yet. With no other obvious options, Krarshe wandered the school grounds, trying to find someone while not appearing suspicious.

After maybe ten minutes of meandering about, Krarshe saw someone moving about in the store. He made his way over to it as he saw the teacher from the day before open the door from the inside.

"Oh! Good morning," he said when he saw Krarshe. "How may I help you?"

"I wanted to inquire about enrolling in this academy," said Krarshe.

"Enrollment, eh?" the teacher asked, raising an unkempt eyebrow. "Cutting it rather close, classes begin tomorrow."

Krarshe nodded. "I just arrived in the city. The rains last week made the roads difficult to travel."

"This time of year can be difficult, yes. Where do you hail from?"

"Up north. Outside of Armia," Krarshe said, remembering how the guard reacted yesterday.

The teacher looked at him for a moment, seemingly considering Krarshe's response. "... That's quite a journey. What country is it?"

"I'm certain you wouldn't know of it. It's small, and doesn't get much recognition as being an independent kingdom. You could traverse it in a day by foot and not even realize you walked through an entire country," Krarshe said, trying to get off of the topic.

There was a long silence. Krarshe shifted uncomfortably, hoping this wild-eyebrowed man would just let it be.

Finally, the teacher spoke. "Well. As long as you speak the language here in Remonnet, there shouldn't be any issues. And, of course, that you have accepted currency for the tuition."

Krarshe smiled. "Of course. What is the tuition?"

"Thirty gold roses for the first term," the teacher said flatly. "You'll also need a spellbook and uniform. We can provide these, for an additional fee. While the uniform can only be bought here, you can search for a copy of the spellbook wherever you wish. Also, if you need lodgings, we can provide that as well."

Krarshe was stunned. Thirty gold roses was a staggering amount. Enough for a whole fleet of carts with horses. "H-how much for the-" Krarshe began to ask.

"A spellbook will be an additional five gold roses, the uniform is thirty silver roses, and a room in the dormitory is fifteen gold roses for the whole term." He rattled off the prices as though he had done it a thousand times. Maybe he had.

Krarshe nearly fell over. This MUST be extortion. He must think I have no concept of money in this kingdom, he thought. As he was about to speak, he thought he saw a brief smirk on the teacher's face. But, when he took full notice, the teacher had the same serious, stern look he had from the start.

"If you don't have the funds right now, that is fine. You can pay them tomorrow before the class begins. I understand you must be tired from your journey," said the teacher, smiling, a mask of compassion.

"Uhh..." Krarshe wasn't completely in control of his thoughts yet, still unsteady from the shock. He composed himself and responded, "Yes, I'll need to wait until tomorrow to pay. I assume I won't be allowed to attend classes if this debt is still outstanding."

The teacher nodded. "That is correct. Would you like to enroll now then?"

Krarshe breathed deeply, swallowing. "Please."

"This way, then." The teacher gestured with a flourish, his black coat billowing as he turned and outstretched his arm. "Marcus!"

Krarshe spotted a student in the back of the store, carrying a box. He halted, still carrying the box. "Yes, Professor Owyn?"

"Bring me some enrollment papers. Quickly!"

Marcus dropped the box and ran for the back room.

Owyn turned back to Krarshe and again ushered him in. "Do you know how to write?"

"Not in the common language, no. I apologize."

Owyn held up a hand. "No apology needed. It happens quite often with foreign students. Can you read?"

Krarshe nodded. "Well enough." If he wasn't able to, he wouldn't have gotten anywhere as a merchant.

"Very good. I'll handle the writing then, if that's fine." Marcus came back, breathing a little heavy, and handed a piece of parchment to the teacher. Owyn took it to the front counter. Taking a quill from the corner of the counter, he wet it and readied the fine tip just above the top of the page. "Now, if I can just get your name."


Owyn's quill touched the page, but froze almost immediately, before even writing the first letter. The ink began to pool on the page before he responded. "Krarshe?"

Krarshe felt his throat tighten slightly, his brow furrowed unconsciously. "Yes," he confirmed. The hesitation after hearing his name was not that uncommon, but this may have been the first time someone pronounced his name properly in the years since he was last home. It was strangely unsettling.

The teacher turned to look at Krarshe. Krarshe kept a straight face, giving no indication of his concern, his blue eyes staring back steadily at the sharp-featured teacher. "Right, Krarshe." He resumed writing. "Any last name?"

"... No, sir."

Once more, the teacher looked at Krarshe, his eyes narrowing slightly. "A commoner, eh?" He turned back to the paper and finished writing. "Rare to see one of you enrolling in our academy."

Krarshe could see why. At thirty gold roses for a single term, excluding all the extras, it would be nearly impossible for commoners to afford it. He wasn't even certain if he, himself, could afford it.

The two of them went over the specifics of the school, rules, rights, and other details of his enrollment. He elected to forgo the dormitory and spellbook. He bought the uniform, as he had the money on hand, and got one that seemed appropriately sized. After what felt like hours, the sun now illuminating nearly the entirety of the courtyard, it was finished.

"And with that, you are officially enrolled," said Owyn with a humorless smile. "Now, do be sure to collect your fees before tomorrow. Classes begin at dawn."

Krarshe nodded. Taking the school uniform he had just purchased, he left the campus.


"Definitely extortion," Krarshe muttered to himself. "There's no chance I'm staying on the campus. I'd be better off walking here every day. And I'm not spending money on that spellbook. I'll see if I can find a cheap one in Feyfaire." Krarshe continued to fume quietly to himself like some sort of madman. While irked about the ridiculously high price of admission and the resulting barrier to entry, he was largely concerned about his finances. He knew he'd have to find a good rate of exchange on his seals and gerins if he was going to even come close to being able to afford the tuition alone. Bartering was part of his former merchant job, but currencies were a different story entirely. And, as he had just experienced with Owyn, his apparent age made him an easy target for swindlers.

Krarshe paused at the entrance to the plaza in front of the castle. It was mid-morning now, and all of the aristocrats in Castle Ward were scurrying around the plaza, seemingly making themselves look busy to their fellow aristocrats. What do they do all day? Krarshe wondered. As he watched the crowd, he noticed a guard near the castle's entrance eyeing him. Krarshe realized he probably looked like a pickpocket scoping out his target. He wasn't that well dressed after all, and it'd be weird for a child to be watching a crowd of nobles and lesser aristocrats. He decided he should probably move on before they took action against him.

He started toward Stormbridge, as it was likely his best bet for a good money changer. Or at least an honest one. Feyfaire had many of them, but most that set up there would undercut anything you brought in. Being the merchant district, there's high demand for money changing, but it resulted in borderline criminal exchange rates. Castle Ward probably had a few, but they often dealt with nobility. The chances of them taking a child seriously were slim, and it was almost guaranteed he'd be accused of stealing it. And South Bank... Well, he'd more likely be robbed before he even arrived at the broker.

"Ugh..." Krarshe groaned. It was a long way to Stormbridge, a trek he wasn't looking forward to. He was even less excited to come all the way back to Feyfaire for another inn. "This is becoming more of a hassle than I had anticipated." Not wanting to drag this out any more than he had to, he picked up the pace.

As he made his way west toward the river, he noticed Castle Ward was very clean. Feyfaire always had a bit of garbage lying around, but you could mistake Castle Ward for an abandoned city if it wasn't for the high-class citizenry meandering around. He saw some noble women in dresses far too elaborate to be comfortable, looking at jewelry in the window of a store, ridiculing the shabby craftsmanship of it. He passed two well-dressed men, commenting on the state of the ongoing war. Based on what he could catch as he passed by, the queen of Remonnet was meeting with someone from Talyra, and the men didn't sound too happy about it. These aristocrats really did meander around this district endlessly.

Seriously, what DO they do all day?

Before he knew it, Krarshe was able to see the Silver River's banks. The river cut right through Remonnet, with Castle Ward, Feyfaire, and South Bank on its southeastern shore, and Stormbridge on its northwest. From where he stood, he could see the great stone arches of Stormbridge, from which the district got its name. Despite supposedly being hundreds of years old, the bridge was in nearly perfect condition. Krashe wasn’t sure if it was because of manual maintenance or if it was protected by magic, but its care was of utmost importance. It was perhaps the biggest, most well-known landmark in Remonnet.

The bridge was fairly busy as Krarshe began to cross it. Carts rolled down the middle of the bridge, bringing food from the farmlands outside Stormbridge, or carrying finished goods to be sold in Feyfaire. The outer edges of the bridge were filled with pedestrians; some carried sacks, filled with smaller trinkets to sell at a street stall, while others just appeared to be travellers making the long trip to and from the trade district. Krarshe stopped to peer over the low stone wall of the bridge, looking down at the water. Some fishing boats floated by with their hauls, heading toward South Bank. Even well over a hundred feet from the water, he could see the size of the catch they had. Krarshe's stomach growled. I'll have to have some fish later, he thought, his stomach growled thinking about one of his favorite dishes.

As Krarshe neared the end of the bridge, he caught the smell of smoke and the distant sound of metal clanging. Separated from Castle Ward, the northern part of Stormbridge housed most of the industrial production. The southern half of Stormbridge, however, was residential and commercial. All things considered, this was probably Krarshe's favorite district of Remonnet. He just wished the inns here weren't so expensive. He made his way toward the financial district in Stormbridge, where he was likely to find a money changer. It didn't take long to find one near the bridge. If people came from Feyfaire looking for a better rate, this would be the first spot in Stormbridge they'd come to. This business had prime real estate, and thus likely wouldn't have survived if it cheated its customers. Krarshe opened the door, the chiming of the bell welcoming him in.

"I'm in th' back! Gimme justa moment, eh?" a hidden voice called out from past a door behind the counter.

Krarshe slowly walked in and headed toward the counter. Even though it was near midday, there were numerous candles illuminating the room. In the light, the place seemed dusty, and the room was eerily quiet, a sharp contrast to all the noise from the nearby industry. He saw a scale on the counter and a pile of stones cut into precise blocks. There was a large tome opened next to a quill. Peeking at it, Krarshe saw a bunch of numbers scribbled down at weird angles all over the page. The writing was too messy to read, and too scattered to follow what it was for.

"What can I do for yeh?" asked a voice, startling Krarshe. It was an older man, largely bald, with a few stray long hairs from the sides brushed over the bald spot. His scraggly, pointed beard and mustache were as white as the rest of his hair, save for a dark streak down the length of his beard. He slowly stroked his beard, demonstrating how it had grown accustomed to its shape, as his tired, gentle eyes quietly evaluated Krarshe through a small pair of eyeglasses.

Krarshe cleared his throat. "I'd like to exchange these for roses," he said as he pulled out the seventeen copper gerins and placed them on the counter.

"Seventeen copper gerins? Let's see..." He picked them up and looked at them carefully, holding one between his wrinkled fingers as he studied it. He then picked up his quill, wet it, and began scribbling on the book, seemingly starting wherever the tip hit the paper. "That'd be... Umm... And current rate..." he muttered, speaking his thoughts as he wrote. The broker paused for a minute, bringing the quill tip to his lip as ink dripped down it to his chin and followed the black streak in his beard. Krarshe's face contorted a bit in concern before twisting itself into a stifled smile at the peculiarity of the old man.

"I can give yeh thirty-eight copper roses," he said finally, punctuating the page with a large drop of ink. He looked back to Krarshe.

"That's fair," Krarshe said, nodding. "Could I also exchange this?" He took out a single gold Imperial seal and pressed it into the counter.

The broker snatched it up not a moment after Krarshe took his finger off the large gold coin. "I-is this... An Imperial gold seal?" He looked it over several times, turning it over, rolling it between his old, ink-stained fingers. The large gold coin shown brightly in the light, the series of interwoven triangles and concentric circles, all encircled by a serpentine design emblazoned upon its surface glinted in the sunlight. He went down behind the counter and came back up with a small trinket. He put it up to his eye, revealing the lens it had, and looked at the coin through it.

A minute passed before he finally spoke again. "Where'd yeh find this?" he asked as he looked at Krarshe inquisitively.

Krarshe saw this question coming. Imperial seals were rare, much less a gold one. "My father was a travelling merchant. He came across it during his travels, and held on to them in case he ever found himself in dire need." Seemed believable enough.

The old man pursed his lips, not having a counter remark he could respond with. He placed the seal back on the counter and ran to the back room. Krarshe heard a crash of books and boxes, followed by more noises as he rummaged through the back room. Finally, he came back, covered in dust and dirt. He blew off the cover of a book he carried and opened it up. He flipped through the pages, scanning them for a minute before he finally stopped. His long, thin finger pointed and slid across the page as he read and mumbled the words, taking quick glances at the coin through the small lens.

He put the lens down and closed the book. "This," he started, "this is, undoubtedly, an Imperial seal. Doesn't 'pear to be a forg'ry neither." He stroked his beard again, tugging on it slightly as he thought.

Krarshe stood there, awaiting a response that never seemed to come, just silence. This long silence went on for several minutes. The broker began pacing slowly, staring at the floor as he tugged on his beard. Every so often, he'd stop and look as though he were about to say something, only to continue his pacing. Pacing, stopping, pacing, pausing, beard-tugging. This dance seemed to continue for an eternity.

Krarshe was getting impatient. "Umm... Excuse me?" he called out, raising a hand meekly, almost afraid to break his concentration.

The broker stopped, and turned to Krarshe. "Fifteen gold roses," he said bluntly. His eyes weren't the soft, gentle eyes that Krarshe saw before, but cold, hard eyes of a businessman.

This was way more than Krarshe expected. He knew that Imperial seals were rare, but this exchange rate was hugely in Krarshe's favor. And, this was likely after the broker attempted to make a better deal for himself.

"Is this the rate for each of them?" Krarshe asked.

The old man froze. "E-each?" he asked, stammering.

Krarshe pulled out two more of the gold seals. As he put them on the counter, the old man's eyes grew wide, his mouth fell open. Krarshe looked up at him, snapping him out of his trance.

He cleared his throat. "Y-yes. Well." He paused and sighed. The broker nodded slowly, surrendering. "Yes, fifteen gold roses for each." He chuckled slightly. "Would've done less if I knew yeh had more. Clever lad," he said with a smile.

Krarshe returned the smile. "Well, then if I could get those forty-five gold roses."

"Of course," he said, as he returned to the back room. "Anything else I can do for yeh, mah lordship?" he called back in jest.

"I think that would be all," replied Krarshe, as he began to pace around the room casually. He looked out the window, watching people and carts alike begin their journey across Stormbridge. He heard a few coins hit the wooden floor, followed by a "Five curses!" and a groan as the broker crouched to pick them up.

"Actually," started Krarshe, "I have a question."

Another groan of relief. "Certainly."

"Why are these Imperial seals at such a high rate? Not that I'm complaining." Krarshe smiled.

"A bit of a silly question, eh? Prolly because they're not minted anymore," said the broker, still shuffling around in the back. "Not since the empire collapsed nearly a century ago. They were the only ones who knew the process. Not like yeh can use normal forgin' methods." Krarshe heard some clinking from the back room. "The design makes forg'ries real hard, wi' that level of precise detail."

"Oh... I wasn't aware," Krarshe said, slowly, rubbing the back of his neck bashfully through his blonde hair.

The broker came back to the front room, dropping a sack on the counter with a clink. He raised an eyebrow. "Yer a strange one, lad. Yeh been kept locked up or something?"

The two laughed.

"Well, thank you for enlightening me," Krarshe said.

The old man nodded and said, "Of course! And thank yeh for gracing me with riches."

Krarshe tied the sack to his belt and went back out into the city.


"Three 'na half gold roses."

Krarshe stared at the merchant blankly. What is this outrageous price?! he thought. He looked at the spellbook, the last copy he could find anywhere in Feyfaire. The leather-bound tome looked to weigh several pounds, nearly as big as the crate the street merchant used as a counter, and had a strange collection of symbols stitched into its cover. He had no idea what it said, but the merchant assured him it was the book the academy used. For this price, I wouldn't be surprised if I'm being deceived... No way this is worth three gold and five hundred silver, Krarshe thought. His experience told him not all merchants were honest.

"C'mon, boy. 's almost time ta close shop," the merchant said, looking toward the sun as it crept down closer to the top of the city walls. His hairy arms twitched and flexed their large muscles as he rhythmically tapped the crate impatiently with his index and middle fingers.

He was right, it was getting late, and Krarshe still hadn't secured any lodgings. The idea of buying this ridiculously priced book bothered him though and he just couldn't bring himself to pull out his coin purse.

A hand slammed down on the makeshift counter from behind Krarshe. "Sold!" Krarshe looked back to see a teenage boy with short, messy brown hair behind him. The curls and waves of his hair accentuated the freckling on his youthful face. Krarshe wasn't entirely certain, but the boy appeared to be slightly shorter than himself and similarly slim. Removing his hand from the table, Krarshe saw a pile of rose coins.

"Ah-ha! Fantastic!" shouted the merchant with a grin. "See? That's how ya need'a be!" The merchant handed the boy the tome. "Well, I oughta be a closing up. Wish ya luck, lad," he said to Krarshe as he began to collect the few wares he still had.

Krarshe turned to glare at the sudden customer who stole his prize out from under him, his face not hiding the scorn he felt. The boy, despite what he did, seemed remorseless, his face maintaining its innocence.

"Are you also a student of the academy?" he asked.

Krarshe looked down at the book in the boy's hands. "Yeah..." He was still too frustrated to look at him in the face.

"Sorry, sorry. I didn't mean to take it out from under a fellow new student." The boy's face remained jovial. "Perhaps we can share the book? What's your name?"

"Krarshe," he muttered.

"Karsh? What an odd name," the boy said with a smile. "My name's Tibault. Pleasure to meet you." Tibault reached his hand out.

Reluctantly, Krarshe took his hand and shook. He's as innocent as his face, he thought, frustrated that he couldn't maintain his anger. He disregarded the mispronunciation.

"You have to be one of the only elves attending this academy. Do your parents hold land in Remonnet?"

Krarshe shook his head. "No."

"Surely you can't be from Thalas'anir, right?" Tibault asked, pressing Krarshe for an answer.

"N-no. I'm from the north. Outside of Armia."

"Oh, okay. Seems strange that you'd be sent this far for schooling. Are there no other academies up north?"

Krarshe was growing tired of this interrogation. He needed to find lodgings soon, and this was eating up his precious time. He decided to try and force the issue and started walking down the street, slow enough for Tibault to follow, but quickly enough to convey that Krarshe had somewhere to be.

"I wasn't sent down here, actually. I came here by choice." Krarshe looked to see if Tibault was following him, which he was. Must be the talkative sort. Not inherently bad, but always tiresome. "I decided to enroll on a spur of the moment."

"R-really? That must be a first!" Tibault laughed. "I don't know anyone who enrolls in this academy by choice. My parents forced me, personally. 'You will not shame the Dumont name!'" Tibault mimicked, wagging a finger like one scolds a child. He laughed even harder than he did before. "You see, my family... I come from a family of mages. If I didn't go, they'd probably disown me." Tibault stopped walking for a moment. "Probably if I fail too," he said solemnly, barely above a whisper. Krarshe couldn't tell in the dimming light that illuminated the street what kind of expression Tibault wore, but he thought he saw a slight flicker of concern in his brown eyes.

"Well! I'll just have to not fail, right?" Tibault, back to his happy self, laughed again, running his hand through his curly brown hair as if to comb away his somber thoughts.

Krarshe and Tibault walked in silence for a while. The sun was all but set, and the street lamps had almost all been lit. The raucous night crowds would be out soon. He heard a yell behind him and turned to see Tibault on the ground, the spellbook falling to the ground opened.

"Curses, I hate Feyfaire. The stones here are so uneven," Tibault said, rubbing his knee.

Krarshe reached out a hand to help him up. "Yeah, the streets here are especially dangerous at night, and not just from the people. I've certainly received my share of scrapes and bruises." Tibault took his hand and stood up. While he dusted himself off and checked for any injuries, Krarshe went and picked up the spellbook. He flipped through a few of the dingy, yellowed pages. They were filled with strange symbols and characters he didn't recognize. "What language is this?"

Tibault made a few forceful blows against his pants and looked up. "Honestly, I don't know. I hope they'll teach us how to read this, or I'm in trouble."

"We BOTH would be," Krarshe corrected. The two laughed.

"All I know," Tibault started, "is that it's whatever language the spells are in."

"They're not in the common tongue either?"

Tibault shook his head. "Certainly not. Again, I don't know what language it is, but whenever I've heard my parents cast spells, I can't understand a word of it. They won't say what it is either."

Krarshe closed the spellbook and studied the stitched characters on the cover again before handing the book back to Tibault.

"Well, I should be going. It's a long way to Castle Ward," said Tibault.

"Are you staying in the dormitory?"

"No, no. That place is ridiculously expensive. It'd be a mistake for anyone to stay there. I think only those from wealthy families outside the capital stay there. Mostly nobles, you know? My family lives in Castle Ward."

"Oh, you're one of those aristocrats," Krarshe said. That would explain the lack of hesitation buying the book. Rich folk.

"I mean, my father is a lesser noble, barely worth acknowledging. We only received a title in the past couple generations. But yeah, I guess so," Tibault said with a shrug.

"Never would have guessed."

"Most of the students at this academy are. The academy has a reputation for being very prestigious," stated Tibault.

"Is that why the prices are so high?" Krarshe asked.

"Are they? I wouldn't know, actually... I've only heard from others how ridiculous the dormitory is," Tibault admitted as he looked away, clearly averting his gaze from Krarshe. "Wait. Did YOU pay by yourself?"

Krarshe nodded.

"Wow. That's incredible. You're not a noble, and you paid for it yourself?" Tibault shook his head in disbelief.

So the prices WERE exorbitant, Krarshe thought. Perhaps it's intentional as a barrier to entry for commoners?

Tibault interrupted Krarshe's thoughts. "I really must be going. My parents would be furious if they knew I was still in Feyfaire at this time."

Krarshe looked around. The night crowd was in full swing, with drinking, gambling, fighting, and the like. "Yeah, you better get home. Again, Feyfaire can be pretty dangerous at night." A roar from the masses erupted as a drunken fist fight began. "For multiple reasons..."

Tibault watched the two burly men across the street exchange blows for a minute. "Yeah. Well, Kash, I'll see you in school tomorrow," he said with a toothy smile.

Krarshe nodded as Tibault ran north, disregarding that the pronunciation was getting worse. "Now," he said, "I have to find an inn."

As Krarshe headed toward the city walls in hopes of finding a cheaper inn away from the central plaza, he thought back on the spellbook. What language was that? The fact that the son of a mage family wasn't sure means it must not be a language most people use. Whatever it was, it was clearly not talked about publicly. Krarshe continued to think on it as he walked through the dimly lit streets of Feyfaire.


The inn's dining hall was abuzz with the drinking crowd. Bottles clinked and mugs clomped on the wooden tables as guests made merry the night with the assistance of ale. Krarshe sat quietly at his table, awaiting his food. Because of his time with Tibault, he ended up having to put off his dinner until all but the most dedicated drinkers remained in the hall. He ended up having to settle on The Easy Lute, one of the less-known inns in Feyfaire, but a high quality one. The price reflected that too, at seventeen silver roses a night for two meals, a private room, and a hot wash basin brought to the room every day. Krarshe was mildly put off by the price, but it wasn't all bad. It helped that he was able to negotiate a discount for an extended stay, so he wasn't paying full price.

A bard was playing to the side of the room, strumming a lute, likely what gave the inn its name. Based on his familiarity with the other inn staff and several of the patrons, Krarshe assumed he was either an employee or a regular musician. He began reciting the opening verse The Five Curses, one of the more common songs he'd encountered in Armia, when a voice came from behind him.

"Your food, sir," said the waitress, placing his plate of pork, beans, and some sort of green vegetable that Krarshe wasn't sure what it was. Some kind of local produce, he guessed. They had sold all of the fish Krarshe had wanted so badly this afternoon, so he had settled on this. He looked at his plate disappointingly only for a moment before looking at the waitress. She had dark brown eyes that matched her dark brown hair, which was pulled back into a ponytail and secured by a small red ribbon. Her smile was enough to warm the heart of any weary traveller. This certainly made up for the lack of fish and extra cost for the inn.

"Thank y-" Krarshe started before being interrupted by a crash. He and the waitress looked over to see another waitress, a catfolk, quickly trying to pick up the dropped mugs and clean up the broken bottle. Her orange ears, tipped with white, drooped slightly atop her short orange-red hair, clearly distraught over her mistake. Her orange tail, touched at the end with white like her ears, hung low, curled behind her as she crouched down.

"Oh! Na'kika, wait. Let me help you with that," Krarshe's waitress said, running over to the catfolk girl. He watched the two of them clean up the mess as the room returned to its cheery atmosphere. The catfolk Na'kika continued to look sullen, her tail and ears giving away her emotions.

Krarshe took a bite of his pork while he watched. It wasn't the best food he'd had, but it would do. It was worth the price to be served by such pretty girls, he thought. He shook his head at his own thoughts, trying to dismiss the charm they had cast upon him.

His waitress returned to the table as Na'kika took the mugs and shards of the broken bottle into the back. "I'm sorry about that," she said, slightly out of breath.

"Not at all. Was she okay?" Krarshe asked. "She seemed troubled."

"Yeah, she'll be fine. She's new, and isn't used to making mistakes. They'll happen, so it's a lesson that'll be good for her to learn."

"Indeed," Krarshe said. "It seems her ears and tail do most of the talking for her."

The waitress' expression changed, more sullen than Krarshe was expecting. "She..." She looked around, and then leaned in closer to Krarshe. "She lost her tongue, actually. Apparently her village was raided by some mercenaries on their way to Rolith. Most of the villagers were killed, her parents included."

Krarshe was horrified. He knew there was a war going on, but this savagery was as bad as the bandits. Maybe worse. "But why would they take her tongue?"

"I'm not sure, to be honest. She doesn't talk about what happened much, not that she can. She usually tries to communicate with gestures, but specific details are hard. She doesn't know how to read or write either, being from a small village." The waitress sighed, bringing her hand to her cheek as she wistfully watched Na'kika bring another few mugs and bottle out. "Maybe it's because of how important their tongues are. You know, with how catfolk show affection through licking," she whispered to Krarshe, even quieter than before, to the point where he could barely hear her over the roar of the room. "I don't know, honestly. It's cruel, whatever the reason. And to such a sweet girl."

Krarshe wasn't sure how to respond. He just quietly watched the catfolk girl nimbly make her way through the busy dining hall. Aside from the mishap a moment ago, she was quite agile, a trait very common among catfolk. At least, from what he had heard.

"Well, if there's anything else you need, just let me or Na'kika know," said his waitress, flashing that alluring smile. She certainly knew how to keep customers coming back to this inn.

What a devious tactic, thought Krarshe as he watched his waitress leave, her pale blue skirt swaying with her hips as she walked. He turned to look at Na'kika again. She seemed in better spirits than before, but her ears and tail told a different story. One of sadness. More than just dropping some cups and ale.

Krarshe turned back to his plate. School began at dawn the next day, and he had a long way to walk. It'd probably cause problems with Wild Brow if he was late on the first day. Krarshe smiled to himself, thinking about the look that teacher would make if he called him that to his face. With that pleasant imagery entertaining him, Krarshe dug into his food.