Elaine Cunningham

Honor Among Thieves

The Book of Vishni’s Exile: Prologue

Not long ago, in a land of nightmare and dreams, afairy maiden committed an unspeakable crime. In her defense, itseemed like a good idea at the time.

She received the usual sentence: Exile to the mortalrealm until she could record enough entertaining tales to balancethe scales of fairy justice.

Alas, her arrival in the land called Sevrin cametwenty years too late. Had she been caught in some earlier bit ofmischief, she might have witnessed the fall of a powerful sorcererin a summer of bloodshed, heroism, and, from all accounts, highlyentertaining explosions.

To her dismay, the land into which she came borelittle resemblance to the realms described in fairy tales ofold.

Magic was dead, or so the adepts who now ruledSevrin

would have people believe. The old races hadwithdrawn deep into the forests, the seas, and the stone-so deepthat many mortals believed them gone beyond recall.

And what did this reborn land offer in return?

Alchemy, an Art that sought new names for thingsthat always were and always would be.

The greatest of these alchemists, the adepts, didnot stop at philosophy. They declared the gods dead and embarkedupon their own frenzy of creation.

They created potions that healed or destroyed on agrand scale. They created new weapons, useful machines, clevertoys, and wondrous metal creatures that owed their semblance oflife to clockwork and alchemical mysteries.

These innovations brought wealth and fame to theadepts, who shared their fortune with those they ruled. As aresult, the land was prosperous and peaceful, the people ascomplacent as cows.

In short, it was no fit place for a fairy.

Without conflict there can be no story. If the exilehoped to return to the fey realm, she would have to find trouble orcreate it.

Fortunately, there were in this land mortals whorefused the new ways, and members of the old races who were notcontent to fade into legend.

The fairy found them. And she soon learned, to herperil and delight, that neither adepts nor rogues were everythingthey believed themselves to be, nor were they all they hoped tobecome.

This was promising indeed. As every storysingerknows, the more brightly a hero shines, the darker the shadow hemight someday cast.

Chapter 1: Honor Bound

The elf had never slept, not once in a hundred years,so her first awakening was a thing of mystery and terror.

Something was dragging her from unfamiliar depths,away from horrors she could not quite recall. She understood nowwhy the drowning child she’d pulled from the river some years backhad fought and flailed about in blind panic. She would do the sameif she could move.

The elf became aware of the distant murmur of voicesand a plodding metallic heartbeat. That sound was familiar. Aclock, the humans called it.

Humans! Here, in the deepest part of the forest!

Sorrow came swiftly on the heels of shock. Until now,she’d denied any suggestion that the forest might shelter atraitor. Not in centuries, not since Pharimen the Red last awokeand took wing, had any elf betrayed another. But she could think ofno other way any human might find the Starsingers Grove.

“You’re awake!”

The voice was male, the tones deep and rounded withdelight.

“Try to open your eyes.”

She consulted her eyelids and found them willing. Forseveral moments her vision swam with colors that should not be: patches of bright red and blue and yellow and a strange biliousgreen never found in the forest. Light glinted from what appearedto be metal trees decked with leaves ranging in hue from silver toiron grey to the dull green of old copper.

The strange sleep-mist faded. She found herself inthe center of a cluttered room, lying on a raised platform that wasnothing like the low, cozy beds she’d once seen in the forester’scottage.

A metallic monster, a thing more clock than man, bentover her, regarding her with empty silver eyes.

Instinct prompted her hand toward her dagger. To herhorror, she could not move.

“That will do, Feris,” said that pleasant malevoice.

The creature straightened and spun about. Metalwhirred and crunched as it strode away, its motions stiff butprecise.

Gentle living hands helped her sit. She bore thehuman’s touch and, to her surprise, found him as pleasing to beholdas he was to hear.

Not a young man, nor precisely an old one, he stoodtaller than most elves. His garments were simple but dyed a richdeep blue her people favored for starlight rituals. He kept hiswheat-gold hair pulled back from a narrow, clean-shaven face. Hissmile failed to reassure, but she found his gaze soothing, for hiseyes were bright with intelligence, and the color, a blend of greenand brown, was similar to the wood-hazel hue her own would turncome summer.

Thinking of the Greening made her aware of the room’sMidsummer warmth.

She glanced at her hands. They were still winterpale, and the thick braid of hair draped over her shoulder wasstill the color of snow and shadows. No hint of green spoke ofcoming spring.

Relief surged through her. She couldn’t have lostmore than a few days to her first sleep.

“My men found you in a forest clearing, gravelywounded,” the human said. “They brought you to me for healing.”

The memory of that night flooded back-the reason forthe starlit gathering, if not the attack that must have endedit.

“Your men.”

To her ears, her voice sounded flat from lack of use,devoid of music or meaning. But something of what she was feelingmust have sung through. For a long moment the human stared at heras if trying to recall the name of an elusive tune and hoping theanswer might be written on her face.

His eyes widened in understanding.

“Empty night!” He spoke softly, but with the peculiaremphasis humans gave to their oaths and curses. “You believeI was responsible for that appalling slaughter.”

For one terrible moment, her mind envisioned thescene his words painted.She thrust the image away.

“If not you, then who?”

The man turned and reached for a decanter on a smalltable, a long-necked bottle fashioned of blue glass and beaded withmoisture. He poured a small amount of pale gold liquid into a cupand handed it to her.

“Small sips,” he cautioned.

She sniffed at the liquid. It was some sort of fruitwine, sweetened with honey and diluted with a tisane of healingherbs.

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