Lee Toren, master Pickpocket and Gnome gentleman as he liked to proclaim himself to be, rode just ahead of the large black stallion that cantered along with Flint, a Wererat member of the Hoods, and the bandaged, mangled form of a once-brutish looking Khan Lieutenant, whose name was Amon. The Gnome couldn’t help looking back over his shoulder at the Khan, who gripped the support straps that they had fastened him to the horse with an iron will.  Amon had explained that he only survived the Pyromancer Selena Bradford’s Immolation spell by the will of the gods.  He hadn’t been far enough away to avoid the spell, and it had been well documented that anyone struck by the spell who didn’t possess some form of higher magic, like a Phoenix’s Feather, or a locked Resurrection spell, died.  Since the time they had fastened the Khan to the stallion that Flint had ‘borrowed’ from the guards’ stables in Desanadron, the proud tiger-man hadn’t spoken a single word.  He grunted and growled here and there, most likely out of necessity than out of an attempt at communication, Lee thought, but at least it meant the man was still alive.  He didn’t feel like helping Flint pry a Khan in rigor off of a mustang today.


The small thieves’ company traveled roughly south by southeast, heading for a region of Tamalaria known as the Fiefdom of Lemago, or the Golden Lands, a small fiefdom controlled and governed almost solely by Monks, Samurai, Boxers and a few elemental mages.  The region was moderate sized, consisting of five villages that surrounded a large, central temple.  Each village sent a representative to the temple, once a week, so that the headmen could discuss the state of their own village.  In this way, order was kept, supplies shared, and mouths fed.  And all the while, not a single gold piece changed hands.  It was sort of a joke, the area’s title; the people who lived within the Golden Lands called the region Lemago, which in their own self-made tongue meant ‘land of equals.’  Outsiders could not understand how any government could survive without the use of a monetary unit, and so they called it the Golden Lands.


Lee had fielded several questions from other members of the pack regarding their destination, the first among them being that it was pointless for them all to go to a country where the citizens had little or no money. There would be no profitable business for them there.  “Now now,” Lee said, waving a hand back at them atop his pony.  “Remember, you fellahs can always try looting valuables, though, I wouldn’t recommend it.”


“Why not boss,” one of the Wererats in the pack of hire-ons asked. Lee smiled smugly to himself, reveling in the fact that even though he wasn’t physically the equal of anyone present, he was more than their intellectual superior.


“Because, dear, ah,” he said, trying to remember the Wererat’s name. They had six of them in their party aside from Flint, who only had two of his own men from the Hoods among the pack.  Bogart, Lee thought, raising his pointer finger to the sky, a bad habit he had tried to curb.  Whenever he got an idea, or remembered something, his finger shot straight up; it had nearly gotten him arrested several times.  “Because, dear Bogart, in the Golden Lands, the punishment for theft is life imprisonment.”


A shocked gasp sounded from all of the others, save for Flint and Amon, who didn’t seem fazed by anything.  “That’s roit, boyos, life in prison.  I don’t imagine any of you is lookin’ forward to the idea, is yah?” The mounted Wererats all shook their heads, and kept them tucked low, pulling up their travel cloak hoods.  A storm wind had kicked up from the north, and it blew against their backs with building fury.  They would have to take shelter before long, Lee knew, but they were out in flatlands.  The nearest patch of woodland was still about an hour off at their canter, and the Gnome Pickpocket would not risk the Khan falling off of Flint’s horse if they began to sprint.  The Wererat would have his head; after all, it had been Flint’s idea to save the man and keep him safe until they could get him somewhere.


Amon had, before being secured to the horse, promised to tell the Gnome and Wererat pack about the events taking place in the land, and what had led up to his eventual maiming.  However, since that promise had been made, not a peep could be coaxed from the great cat.  Lee wanted to get into cover from the weather, and at the same time, get Amon to talk.  Oh, what to do, he thought desperately.  He looked over his shoulder to the north, and watched as storm heads collided about twenty minutes away. They would all be soaked to the bone before they could reach the woodland. But, it didn’t have to be that way, now did it?  Lee circled his pony and came to a halt, calling in the others to form a circle around him.  He reached into his tan and yellow tunic, pulling out a spyglass, sweeping the object south, so he could find the exact location of those woods.  He hadn’t been here in almost a year, and couldn’t get his bearings quite right.  There, he thought elatedly, finding the copse of trees he had holed up in once after stealing a priceless gem from one of the headmen’s homes.


“All right, gentlemen.  There’s a bad bit of weather coming up on us quickly, and I’d like to be in out of it before too long.  You gents are going to take yourselves full speed to that wooded area to the south and a little west of our path.  There’s a natural shelter in the trees there.  Find it, and set torches on either side of the shelter.  Flint and I have to take a slower pace, him because of our guest, and me, well, because I’m riding a fuckin’ pony, roit?” The Wererats chuckled among themselves, still unable to get over how ridiculous Lee Toren looked atop a pony.  “Flint and mister Amon can’t go too fast eifer, seein’ as our guest is mostly ‘eld on wif leather straps, okay?” They all nodded, but didn’t quite leave just yet.  “Bogart, Simon, give us yer cloaks.”


“Aw, boss,” whined Simon, a small, pudgy Wererat.  He was an Initiate in the Hoods, Flint’s thieves’ guild, and Flint had brought him along on this particular series of jobs to hopefully build the boy’s character.  It wasn’t going so well, Flint thought with an inward growl.  “Do we ‘ave to?”


“Yes, you do maggot,” Flint spat at him, barring his teeth at the youth.  Both hirelings tossed their cloaks at Lee, who had forgotten to specify that he wanted Flint to take them, so as to cover and protect Amon from the rain they were bound to ride through.  The diminutive Pickpocket was hit full-on by the heavy leather coats, and, unable to maintain balance, flailed about as he fell off of the pony’s back and onto the blissfully soft grass with a thud.


Covered in cloaks, his harumph of wind being knocked out of his lungs barely registered in Flint’s ears, but he had to chuckle a little anyway. As he dismounted to help Lee up, Flint looked back over his own cloaked shoulder and saw the first genuine smile from Amon that he had seen since meeting the man. There were very, very sharp teeth in that grin, and he suddenly remembered that in the animal kingdom, cats ate rodents. Shuddering a little at the prospect, Flint hauled Lee to his feet, throwing the leather cloaks over his own shoulder and placing Lee Toren back in his saddle.  The Gnome brushed himself off, scowling and cursing in Gnomish the whole while.


“Bet you fink that’s funny, huh,” Lee grumbled at the two lackeys. “That’s comin’ out of yer pay,” he said, and started his pony forward at a canter.  Whining about yet another hit to their pay, the pack of Wererat underlings sprinted ahead on their mounts, quickly becoming indistinguishable dots in the distance.  Lee rode on, silently, next to Flint, who had helped Amon put the two cloaks on over Flint’s extra, which he had given to Amon before securing him to the horse.


“Hard to find good help these days, eh,” Amon managed to croak before he grasped for his water skin.  Flint looked sidelong at Lee, who could only look at the Khan and shrug his shoulders to Flint.  “I completely understand that problem.  It’s difficult to be in charge of so many fools, I know.  I could hardly keep up with it all,” he growled, spitting some of the water to the ground after washing his mouth out.  “Well, let’s be going then.”


“Wait a minute, you ‘aven’t talked for hours now,” said Lee, looking back up at the thunderstorm approaching at speed.  “Wot gives?”  Amon smiled a small, creeping smile, sending shivers down the Gnome Pickpocket’s spine.


“I’m not big on talking to people who would rather have let me die back there.  You two took a risk on me, you know.  Even a half-dead Khan is still a Khan.  And we are dangerous, my stout friend.”  Amon sighed heavily, relaxing his body in the straps that held him fast to the horse.  “At least, most of us are.  I’m not feeling particularly capable at the moment.”  Flint patted Amon on the shoulder, trying to give what comfort he could to the once-proud tribe leader.  The first pellets of rain splattered against the Wererat’s facial fur, and he turned to look into the sky.  They were going to get pounded.  He didn’t mind in the least; for the gods’ sakes, he lived in a sewer system!  He was used to it.  But Lee Toren was picky about this sort of thing, which was out of place for a Pickpocket.  If he could avoid it, Lee wouldn’t even go out to pick pockets in the marketplace of Desanadron on a rainy day, saying that it would ruin his good leathers.  And Amon, well, he was a great big cat if one thought about it long enough, Flint mused.  Poor kitty, heh heh heh.


“Well, you’ve still got your pride,” Flint whispered to Amon through the reverberating thunder that hummed through the air around them.  “That should count for something.”


“Among my people, it means everything,” Amon grumbled as he ducked his head under his borrowed cloaks.


“And what about honor,” Flint inquired, squinting his eyes as the rain began to pound down on and around them with increasing ferocity.


“To my particular tribe, honor is gained by destroying our foes, and doing what is best for the people of the tribe.  Many tribes of Khan care not for honor in the field of battle.  I, however, led my people with the ideals of straight-forwardness, strength amid impossible odds, and the protection of those weaker than oneself.  Service to the tribe before service to oneself is the ultimate honor.  I,” he said, choking on the words.  Flint could almost hear the hint of a single sob in there, as the large Khan shifted his weight forward, away from him.  “I cannot serve anyone as I am.”  Flint put his hand out, then pulled it back.  He wasn’t sure how the tiger-man would react to more sympathy.  This most likely was the most kindness or help that Tiberious Amon had ever received in his entire life.  Best not to push the envelope.


And so for an hour and a half the three of them trotted along through the pounding rain, until at last they entered the shelter of the trees that Lee had stayed in before.  The other Wererats had posted signals on the trunks of trees, pointing them toward the cave-like shelter of a hollowed out tree, taller and broader than the other arbors around it.  Lee immediately dismounted and sprinted into the shelter with the other Wererats, while Flint swung his legs off and started working on the belts and straps he had used to secure Amon to the horse.  As he worked, he heard a soft, low growling coming from the Khan; oh boy, Flint thought, I must have really pissed him off back there, patting him on the shoulder.  But when the Khan didn’t move, Flint moved himself through the thick, springy moss of the wooded area around to the front of the steed; Amon was fast asleep.  “Gods I wish Stockholm were here,” he said softly aloud.  The soaked Wererat finished taking the belts off, and eased Amon down off the mount, trying not to wake him.  The man needed rest, food and shelter.  Flint would not be held responsible for keeping any of the three from him.


With the tender movements of a father carrying a slumbering child to bed, Flint brought Amon into the shelter of the tree, and moved him over to a single pile of hay that lay against the innermost wall of the tree.  One of the Wererats made a snorting noise in his throat at the sight, and Flint, after having laid Amon down, came back and slapped the younger Wererat in the mouth.  “The hells was that for,” complained the younger lycanthrope, rubbing his snout.


“This man has seen and been through more in his life than you probably ever will, whelp,” Flint growled.  He barred his yellowed teeth at the younger man.  “And with the right help, he’ll probably go on to do even more with his life.  I’ll not have you scoffing at him, or my treatment of him. Remember, I am your superior in the guild!”


Flint took a trembling step forward; he was older than this upstart, which gave him the advantage of experience.  However, Tony was slightly shorter than he, and was a profoundly accomplished grappler.  Close quarters combat was not his specialty, and if the underling decided to grab him, he would most likely be pounded.  But his age and the set of his eyes, cold, unmoving, unafraid, set the young Tony to shaking visibly in his spot. Then Flint remembered his other advantage; unlike most other members of his Race, he wasn’t allergic to copper.  His copper short sword hung on his hip, ready to be drawn at any time.  “Remember your place.  And if Tiberious asks for something, you get it for him, understood?”  Tony nodded his head barely, and as Flint looked to the others of his brethren, they too agreed.  “Very good.  Now, we could all use some rest, but someone has to go get food.  You all wait here, and I’ll go bag us something.”


The scent of burnt ozone scoured his nostrils as Flint stepped out of the shelter and into the woods.  He could scarcely smell anything else, so powerful were the bolts of lightning tearing through the skies overhead.  The sound of animal life could just be discerned on the edge of his hearing, and he used his Race’s innate ability to amplify this one particular sense. Suddenly, he could hear everything around him, from the slow, rhythmic filling and emptying of Amon’s lungs to the skittering of a spider on a nearby tree.  Squirrels and rabbits chit-chatted from bolt holes, trying to make sense of the great fury in the sky.  Stupid animals, Flint thought with a chuckle.  It’s called a storm.


He moved slowly, stealthily through the shadowed woodland, bolting from cover to cover, for a good fifteen minutes, tracking the sounds of deer in the woods.  The feel of the moss underfoot did wonders for his disposition; it was soft, springy, and slightly moist, providing good footing for the hunt, as well as some relief for his city-spawned calluses and foot sores.  Running on cement for most of his adult life had made his bare feet tough as nails, though few understood his reasoning for not wearing anything on his feet most of the time.  He believed that one could feel the heartbeat of the city under one’s feet, and that footwear just hampered that. Here, it let him feel the essence of the woodland.  And it was a lovely essence to absorb oneself in.


There, he thought suddenly, spotting a deer taking a drink from a nearby stream.  Flint slowly, carefully drew his bow from his back, taking note of every creak of his clothes, every twitch in the animal’s muscles.  He focused his hearing further, to its limit, listening to the deer’s heartbeat. Normal, steady beating, he noted, making sure to keep his own movements slow and silent.  No room for error, no mistakes, he chanted in his mind, his own silent mantra.  The bow was now out in front of him, and he drew and notched an arrow, again, slowly and silently.  Another noise, close by, caught his attention.  A snapping twig.  Oh gods no!  The deer looked up, its heartbeat suddenly rapid and pounding, like a piston in one of those confounded Gnome devices.  But as Flint watched, stuck in place, he saw another deer, a large buck, approach.  The female’s heartbeat slowed and steadied once more, and Flint took aim at this new specimen.


Half an hour later, as the Wererat dragged the huge buck back through the woods to the shelter, he wondered at the wisdom of taking down the larger beast.  He could barely haul the thing, and his aging bones were screaming at him in protest.  Fire burned through his legs as he made his way the last twenty yards to get the thing next to the shelter tree.  He dropped his burden, and shuffled inside, heaving breath.  He saw that everyone except for Lee and Tony was asleep, and immediately ordered Tony to carve out the meat on the deer, and to think of some way to use the organs and bones, so as not to dishonor the large beast.  Tony sprinted outside, glad to do something other than rest.


“Get enough for everyone,” Lee asked, looking up from his whittling. Flint nodded slightly, looking at Amon for a long minute.  How much do Khan eat, he wondered, taking a seat against the wall next to Lee and taking out his water skin.  Lee put his hand on the water skin, and pulled out a silver flask.  Flint grabbed it out of Lee’s hand before the Gnome could even offer it, and drank deeply.  Ah, he thought, Elven wine.  Good vintage too. “Stole that in Eringwood a few months back.  The liquor, not the flask,” Lee said without looking away from the little piece of wood he was carving into the image of himself.  The two companions sat in studied silence a while, neither bothering to say anything.  “E’s a tough ol’ sod, he is,” Lee whispered, nodding his head toward the sleeping Khan warrior.


“Indeed.  It’s a miracle he survived.  I think I know the spell that he was hit with.  No one else in recorded history has survived it without being a Pyromancer themselves.”


“You think maybe he’s one, but doesn’t know it yet,” Lee asked, blowing away the last shavings before setting the wooden piece on the floor next to him.  Lee kept four or five of the little idols with him at all times, leaving them behind after a big score on a well-to-do house or mansion.  If he sacked a castle, he left two or three of them.  Or if he hit a thieves’ guild, he left all four or five behind, his own little trademark.  But, there was always one guild he would never hit, that being Flint’s guild, the Hoods.  And one residence he’d never strike; the old Aixler estate.  Even though the Aixler line would die with Byron, he would honor the Dread Knight in this way.  The old boy had done him a great number of favors in life.


“Don’t know, though I highly doubt it.  Just smiled upon by the gods,” Flint said, taking out a wedge of cheddar from his rucksack.  He took the whole thing down in three bites, chewing thoroughly, savoring the taste of it.


“I’ll never understand your obsession with that stuff,” Lee noted, shaking his head and smiling.  Flint swallowed the last of it, and turned to the Gnome as he stood up.


“Well, I’m essentially a big, talking, bipedal mouse, my friend,” he said with a chuckle.  “It’s sort of instinct.”  Tony came back in with a huge armful of deer meat, and the two Wererats sifted through it for the best bits, taking them outside to cook while Lee salted the little bit they left behind for later use.  An hour later, they came in and roused everyone to eat.  As Flint leaned down close to Amon, the huge Khan hefted himself into a sitting position with his one arm.  “We’ve got food ready, Tiberious.  Come on, I’ll help you out,” Flint said, but stopped just short.  Amon was staring out of the hole in the tree at the cooking fire, the flames reflected in his huge, green eyes.  For a moment, the Khan warrior shook, almost a convulsion, but then steadied himself.


“Yes, of course,” he croaked, allowing Flint to be his second leg as he hopped over to the entrance.  He indicated where he wanted to be seated to the Wererat, well back from the fire, and as he was handed a strip of venison, he glowered at the fire for another moment before devouring his food.  Lee had seated himself directly across the flames from the former Lieutenant, and Amon looked him over as he sat in silence.  He had noticed that the Gnome had been carving a little statue of himself before he passed out for a quick two-hour sleep.  “Mister Toren, could I have a word with you?”  Everyone looked expectantly at their employer, who shrugged his shoulders and set his meal aside.  Lee came waltzing over around the fire, and took a heavy seat on Amon’s left side, Flint on the right.  They appeared to be the only two in the group brave enough to get close to him, and Amon admired them both for their courage.


“Wot’s on yer mind there, fellah,” Lee asked, smiling broadly at the Khan.


“Please, don’t spoil your fake smiles and pleasantries on me, mister Toren.  I hardly deserve them,” Amon said, and he heard the mixed snickers of the others assembled around the fire.  Lee Toren’s eyes went wide a moment, and he let the smile drop.  “You don’t trust me, and that’s just fine. It proves you have good judgement.”  At this comment, Lee grinned a little, quite genuinely to Amon’s perceptions.  “You’re quite good at shaping wood I noticed.”


“Not as good as an Elf or a Cuyotai, but yeah, it’s a little hobby of mine.  Why?”  Amon took a long draw on his water skin before he continued.


“I’d like you to take a thick branch from one of these trees, and shape me a leg,” Amon said, and Flint and Lee’s eyes went wide with astonishment.


“D’you ‘ave any idea how long that’d take,” Lee nearly screamed, hopping to his feet.  “First off, I’d have to find a branch thick as your real leg, and mind you my friend, that’s a pretty monumental task in and of itself!”


“No it’s not,” Amon said, keeping his voice level and cool.  He pointed up at a large spruce, to one of its lower limbs.  “That one there will do nicely.”  Lee turned and looked at the indicated branch, stunned into silence for a moment.  The bastard’s thought this one out, he thought.  “And it shall have to be made of three separate parts, mind you, as to be jointed.  I’m sure one of these gentlemen can teach you how to do that.  If they can’t, I can,” he added.  “I’ve seen this done before, mister Toren.  The former Chieftain of my tribe had a leg made of wood.  Lost his real one in battle with the Simpa in the Allenians.  We’re not true lycanthropes, you see.  We’re just tiger-men, mister Toren.  Our regenerative powers do not include the re-growth of lost limbs.”  Lee looked at him with a shocked and appalled glare for a minute before slowly breaking into a smile.


“Can’t regenerate, so you improvise, eh?  Must say, I’m impressed. But are you sure about this?  I mean, I know some great Alchemists could whip you up a real leg no problem,” Lee said, trying to worm his way out of this mess.  But Flint was grinning from ear to ear; the Wererat bastard was going to help him get this done, he knew it.  There would be no getting around it.


“No, I prefer to go with the wood,” Amon grumbled as he adjusted the stump of his leg on the ground.  “True strength comes from taking the bad with the good, my friend.”  Lee was flustered for a moment, and had to stall for time.


“Well, that is, erm, well, it’d still take a damned long time to carve it out.”  Amon finished what little was left of his meat in a few pulls.


“No matter.  I’m sure you have a couple of days to spare.”  Lee got to his feet and stomped back around the fire, taking up his plate and shoveling food in as fast as he could.  Flint could see the frustration and anger building in the Gnome.  He could understand just plenty; after all, two more days’ pay for he and his men would be an additional two hundred gold pieces, and Lee’s budget was already running low as it was.  Flint couldn’t ensure that his men would want to stick around for that long in any case. And the trip back to Desanadron would be another eleven days, even on horseback.  That would be time unpaid for.  But he couldn’t let Amon not get his request.  Something about the Khan’s survival seemed essential.  And after all, he couldn’t just come this far and be left for dead.


“As a matter of fact, we d-,” Lee began in protest, before Flint stood up to interject.


“Do,” the Wererat said abruptly.  “You boys can head home,” he said, addressing the members of his crew.  “Mister Toren can’t afford to keep you around any longer.  Take the mounts and head out at sunset.”  The Wererats stared in astonishment at their leader.  “And Lee, you are still going to pay me.”


“But, sir,” stammered Tony.  “Are you going to be okay?”  Flint cast a disdainful glare at the younger Wererat, who slinked toward his other companions.


“Sunset is only a couple of hours away.  Start getting your things together, gentlemen, and prepare to head back to Desanadron.  Give Stockholm the word that I’ll be a week or two behind you, due to the extra travel time.  That, and there’s someplace I have to go on my own before returning home.  Understood?”  The pack nodded as a whole, and started to put their camping gear in the proper containers and packs.  The horses were brought over shortly, and the sun lowered towards the horizon.  Flint, Lee Toren, and Tiberious Amon sat in studied silence, each taking in the situation and their surroundings.  Shortly before the sun set, Flint stood and stalked over to the branch that Amon had indicated earlier, the one he wanted made into his leg.  The tall Wererat hacked at its base with his short sword, chips of wood flying this way and that, the echo of wood splitting vibrating through the air.


“Right then, sir,” Tony said, mounting his steed.  The others weren’t looking too happy about the situation, and Flint knew exactly why; they didn’t trust the Khan in the slightest, and as far as they would probably be concerned, fashioning him a leg would only make him more dangerous.  But they knew that their leader was capable and competent.  Flint had been an effective second-in-command of the Hoods since the Guild’s restructuring, and many of the men considered him to be the real leader of the Hoods.


But he knew his place, knew that Jim Cline was the man in charge. And he wouldn’t do anything to upset that order, like they did in other guilds.  “We’re all ready to go, sir.  Mister Toren,” the young Wererat said, turning his horse to look at Lee Toren, the master of Pickpockets.  “It’s been a pleasure working with and learning from you.”  Lee simply smiled a fake smile at the youth before turning his head away and grumbling unhappily to himself.  Flint approached at speed, dropping the thick, heavy branch on the ground before the diminutive Pickpocket to work on.  Flint walked up to Tony’s side, and patted his horse on the flank.


“Ride hard and quick, my boy.  And remember, tell Stockholm I’ll be along shortly.  He’ll get the message to master Cline.”


“Um, why don’t I tell master Cline myself,” Tony asked, raising an eyebrow.


“Because, master Cline is not going to be pleased that I’m not returning with you.  You would most likely be spending a good deal of time in the infirmary if you were the messenger of such news.  Stockholm, as you well know, cannot be harmed or injured so easily.”  Tony nodded, agreeing with the elder Wererat’s advice.  The Red Tribe Werewolf, Stockholm, was the Guild’s third-in-command, and their resident ass-kicker.  He had formerly been a Soldier, a Knight, a Boxer, and a Wrestler.  The huge, war-hardened Werewolf was currently spending time with the Hoods as a combat advisor and a discipline instructor.  Why he had chosen to stick with the Guild after his first contract, however, was still a mystery.  After all, he was a man who spoke constantly of honor.  Why would he work with a thieves’ guild?  No matter, Flint thought.  Other things to worry about for now.


Tony and the rest of the hirelings took off into the sunset, riding north west as hard as their stallions could be driven.  Flint waved good-bye to them one more time, and then immediately turned his attention to Lee and Amon.  “How’s that leg coming, Lee,” he asked as he approached the grumbling Pickpocket Gnome.


“I’ve only just started, ya filthy mouse,” he spat, holding his whittling knife up over his head and stabbing the branch, hard.  “I neigh ken why we don’t just find oorselves an Alchemist ta whip ‘im up a real leg!  This is a big pain in my ass, carvin’ this thing!  And you,” he shouted, pointing at the seated Khan.  Amon looked up from his silent musing, his eyes locking onto those of the Gnome Pickpocket.  He was surprised to find true anger and resentment in the Gnome; perhaps he would be better off letting the Wererat help him.  After all, Flint seemed to know something that neither Lee, nor Amon himself knew, about the tiger-man’s fate.  “You are by far the worst guest I’ve ever had the displeasure of keeping company with!  You’re costing me money, time, effort, and an awful lot of headache!  Give me one reason I should finish this leg of yours!  Give me one good reason I should make it jointed!”


“Well,” Amon said, without so much as moving a muscle.  “For starters, I don’t think the gods would look very favorably on a man who saves someone, just to let them live in helplessness.  Secondly, I’ll be of much more use to you in the future if I’m mobile,” Amon said, letting his voice trail slightly at the words ‘use to you’.  “And lastly, it is not like you have to, mister Toren.  It is simply a request from a nearly crippled Khan, to a very capable and handy Gnome fellow.”  Amon smiled slightly, surprised that he could still be such a deceiving individual.  He hadn’t meant to lie, or cheat Lee Toren out of his own services.  He simply had to convince the conniving little Pickpocket through sugarcoated words, and that was the end of the matter!  But the guilt held on only a moment longer, and Amon didn’t feel the need to defend his own actions for the time being.


“Well, I am pretty good with me hands, all roit,” Lee said, looking at the tree branch.  He had already removed the outer layer of bark, and the fine white wood underneath shone through the deepening darkness as the moon rose above the woods in the night sky.  “And maybe doing the joints won’t be so bad, so long as I make the measurements and cuts roit now. Okay, mister,” the spry Gnome said, shuffling over towards Amon with a length of some sort of cord.  Out of training or instinct, Amon grabbed a nearby rock, keeping it hidden in his palm.  He made absolutely certain to keep the movement slight, like a muscle spasm or other involuntary movement.


As Lee pulled the cord out, however, Amon could just barely make out little sets of numbers on the cloth; a tailor’s tape, he realized, letting the rock go rolling away.  “S’a good thing you leggo’ of that rock, chum,” Lee said, not looking away from Amon’s eyes, which had gone wide with amazement. “I’m pretty observant of such things as that.  ‘Ave to be, seein’s I’m so small and everything.  Now, make yer leg as straight as you can get it,” the Gnome said, taking down notes on a piece of parchment, compensating the measurements for what remained of the stump on the Khan’s hip.


As soon as he had the numbers, Lee set to work on the leg, and Flint kept a watchful eye on the surrounding area.  He could sense that somewhere far in the distance, in which direction he didn’t know, the fate of the lands of Tamalaria was about to be decided.  Would it matter if Amon got his new leg in a day, maybe two or three?  Would there be a world left for him to re-learn how to walk in after another week had passed?  And if there was, then what role would he play in that world?  Furthermore, what would become of this amazing Khan, who had survived the impossible?  As he looked toward Amon and gave him a wry smile, he spat on the ground near his feet, looking up at the moon.  He supposed that if he was to ever find out, he’d have to get back to living in the present, so that the future could come on time.