The Scum of All Fears: Squeaky Clean Mysteries, Book 5

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An ominous sight. Book 2 Chapter 1 - Night of the dragons. Chapter 2 - The stranger. Chapter 3 - The slave caravan. A strange old magician. The Speaker of the Suns. Tanis and Laurana. Suspicions grow. The Sla-Mori. The Chain Room. The plan. Traitor revealed.

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No answers. The magic sword. White feathers. For in ages deep, past memory and word, in the first blush of the world when the three moons rose from the lap of the forest, dragons, terrible and great, made war on this world of Krynn. Yet out of the darkness of dragons, out of our cries for light in the blank face of the black moon soaring, a banked light flared in Solamnia, a knight of truth and of power, who called down the gods themselves and forged the mighty Dragonlance, piercing the soul of dragonkind, driving the shade of their wings from the brightening shores of Krynn.

Thus Huma, Knight of Solamnia, Lightbringer; First Lancer; followed his light to the foot of the Khalkist Mountains, to the stone feet of the gods, to the crouched silence of their temple. Paladine, the Great God of Good, shone at the side of Huma, strengthening the lance of his strong right arm, and Huma, ablaze in a thousand moons, banished the Queen of Darkness, banished the swarm of her shrieking hosts back to the senseless kingdom of death, where their curses swooped upon nothing and nothing deep below the brightening land.

Yet in the fullness of sunlight the Kingpriest of Istar saw shadows: At night he saw the trees as things with daggers, the streams blackened and thickened under the silent moon. He searched books for the paths of Huma, for scrolls, signs, and spells so that he, too, might summon the gods, might find their aid in his holy aims, might purge the world of sin.

Then came the time of dark and death as the gods turned from the world. A mountain of fire crashed like a comet through Istar, the city split like a skull in the flames, mountains burst from once-fertile valleys, seas poured into the graves of mountains, the deserts sighed on abandoned floors of the seas, the highways of Krynn erupted and became the paths of the dead. Thus began the Age of Despair. The roads were tangled.

The winds and the sandstorms dwelt in the husks of cities. The plains and mountains became our home. As the old gods lost their power, we called to the blank sky into the cold, dividing gray to the ears of new gods. The sky is calm, silent, unmoving. We have yet to hear their answer.

The Old Man T ika Waylan straightened her back with a sigh, flexing her shoulders to ease her cramped muscles. She tossed the soapy bar rag into the water pail and glanced around the empty room. It was getting harder to keep up the old inn. It was comfortable. The bar seemed to ebb and flow like a polished wave around the living wood that supported it. The stained glass in the window panes cast welcoming flashes of vibrant color across the room. Shadows were dwindling as noon approached.

The Inn of the Last Home would soon be open for business. Tika looked around and smiled in satisfaction. The tables were clean and polished. All she had left to do was sweep the floor. She began to shove aside the heavy wooden benches, as Otik emerged from the kitchen, enveloped in fragrant steam.

He began to set out mugs, whistling cheerfully. Such a gloomy crowd! Everybody nervous, jumping at every sound. I dropped a mug last night and—I swear—Retark drew his sword! Otik shrugged. People disappearing, being dragged off to who knows where. Then he brightened.

She grabbed the broom and began sweeping briskly. Armies massing in the north. And there are these strange, hooded men in town, hanging around with the High Theocrat, asking questions. He tweaked her red curls. Maybe the Theocrat makes it up just to keep people in line.

Both Tika and Otik started in alarm and turned to the door. They had not heard footsteps on the stairs, and that was uncanny! The Inn of the Last Home was built high in the branches of a mighty vallenwood tree, as was every other building in Solace, with the exception of the blacksmith shop. The townspeople had decided to take to the trees during the terror and chaos following the Cataclysm. And thus Solace became a tree town, one of the few truly beautiful wonders left on Krynn.

Sturdy wooden bridge-walks connected the houses and businesses perched high above the ground where five hundred people went about their daily lives. The Inn of the Last Home was the largest building in Solace and stood forty feet off the ground. As Otik had said, any visitor to the Inn would be heard approaching long before he was seen.

But neither Tika nor Otik had heard the old man. He stood in the doorway, leaning on a worn oak staff, and peered around the Inn. The tattered hood of his plain, gray robe was drawn over his head, its shadow obscuring the features of his face except for his hawkish, shining eyes. Was this old man a Seeker spy? Tika, find our guest a chair.

He must be tired after that long climb. A great many stairs He stood in the center of the Inn, peering around as though confirming the location and position of each table and chair in the room. The common room was large and bean-shaped, wrapping around the trunk of the vallenwood. He looked with particular interest at the fireplace, which stood about three-quarters of the way back into the room. The only stonework in the Inn, it was obviously crafted by dwarven hands to appear to be part of the tree, winding naturally through the branches above.

A bin next to the side of the firepit was stacked high with cordwood and pine logs brought down from the high mountains. No resident of Solace would consider burning the wood of their own great trees. So did the old man. He muttered satisfied comments to himself as his eyes went from one area to another. Tika stopped sweeping and leaned on her broom. The old man dragged it across the floor and shoved it up against the trunk of the huge vallenwood, right across from the firepit, then stepped back to admire his work.

Now bring over two more chairs. Need six around here. He seemed about to protest, but, at that moment, there was a flaring light from the kitchen. A scream from the cook indicated that the grease had caught fire again. Otik hurried toward the swinging kitchen doors. She set them where he indicated. Put them next to the firepit, in this shadowy corner. And I want one, right here. He chuckled. It will be a party such as the world of Krynn has not seen since before the Cataclysm! Be ready, Tika Waylan. Be ready!

Tika went to pour the ale. F lint Fireforge collapsed on a moss-covered boulder. His old dwarven bones had supported him long enough and were unwilling to continue without complaint. He spoke aloud, though there was no sign of another living person about. Long years of solitary wandering had forced the dwarf into the habit of talking to himself. He slapped both hands on his knees. Warmed by the afternoon sun, the boulder felt comfortable to the ancient dwarf, who had been walking all day in the chill autumn air.

Flint relaxed and let the warmth seep into his bones—the warmth of the sun and the warmth of his thoughts. Because he was home. He looked around him, his eyes lingering fondly over the familiar landscape. The mountainside below him formed one side of a high mountain bowl carpeted in autumn splendor. The flawless, azure sky among the trees was repeated in the waters of Crystalmir Lake. Thin columns of smoke curled among the treetops, the only sign of the presence of Solace. A soft, spreading haze blanketed the vale with the sweet aroma of home fires burning.

As Flint sat and rested, he pulled a block of wood and a gleaming dagger from his pack, his hands moving without conscious thought. Since time uncounted, his people had always had the need to shape the shapeless to their liking. He himself had been a metalsmith of some renown before his retirement some years earlier. He shook himself, angry at feeling sentimental, and began slicing at the wood with a vengeance.

Roof probably leaked, mined the furniture. Stupid quest. Silliest thing I ever did. After one hundred and forty-eight years, I ought to have learned! Flint squinted into the setting sun. He thought he saw the figure of a man striding up the path. Standing, Flint drew back into the shadow of a tall pine to see better. A longbow was slung over one shoulder and a sword hung at his left side. He was dressed in soft leather, carefully tooled in the intricate designs the elves loved.

But no elf in the world of Krynn could grow a beard He held open his arms and, before the dwarf could stop him, engulfed Flint in a hug that lifted him off the ground. Hoisting me around like a sack of potatoes. Five years is a long time for them, a few moments for us.

He scowled up at Tanis. You were ugly enough. Although the half-elf abhorred killing, Tanis would not be one to hide from a fight behind a beard.

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Wood chips flew. Lights began to wink on, making the homes in the trees visible among the vallenwood. The night air was still and calm and sweet, tinged with the smell of wood smoke from the home fires. Now and again they could hear the faint sound of a mother calling her children to dinner. It was deeper, more somber than Flint remembered.

The dwarf frowned. His friend had changed in five years. And elves never change! But then Tanis was only half-elven, a child of violence, his mother having been raped by a human warrior during one of the many wars that had divided the different races of Krynn in the chaotic years following the Cataclysm.

The Highseekers in Haven are still wise and virtuous men. By the way, did you find what you sought? I went seeking both. Which did you mean? He turned the piece of wood in his hands, still not satisfied with its proportions. Or are we going to go into town and get some dinner? Though it had been many years since they had journeyed together, Tanis unconsciously slowed his pace, while Flint unconsciously quickened his.

I heard tales of healing, but it was all trickery and magic. But what of you? How was your journey to your homelands? Tanis saw the look but asked his questions anyhow. The stories we heard? The clerics vanished three hundred years ago during the Cataclysm. So say the elders. Flint came to a dead stop. Tanis motioned. The red rays of the setting sun glistened briefly on a piece of metal flashing among the trees. Tanis saw it once, lost it, then saw it again. Flint squinted into the gloom.

It was a hollow, whirring sound that started out low, then grew higher and higher and eventually attained a high-pitched, screaming whine. Soaring with it, came a voice. We are the spirits of those poor souls Flint Fireforge left on the barroom floor. Did we die in combat? We died of shame, cursed by the ghost of the grape for not being able to outdrink a hill dwarf. It was a kender, one of a race of people considered by many on Krynn to be as much a nuisance as mosquitoes.

Small-boned, the kender rarely grew over four feet tall. He wore bright blue leggings that stood out in sharp contrast to his furred vest and plain, homespun tunic. His brown eyes glinted with mischief and fun; his smile seemed to reach to the tips of his pointed ears. He dipped his head in a mock bow, allowing a long tassel of brown hair —his pride and joy—to flip forward over his nose. Then he straightened up, laughing. Tas grinned up at them, leaning on his hoopak staff. It was this staff that had created the eerie noise. Tanis should have recognized it at once, having seen the kender scare off many would-be attackers by whirling his staff in the air, producing that screaming whine.

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The staff itself was made out of a single piece of supple willow wood. Although scorned by every other race on Krynn, the hoopak was more than a useful tool or weapon to a kender—it was his symbol. Flint, embarrassed, returned the embrace reluctantly, then quickly stepped back. Tasslehoff grinned, then looked up at the half-elf.

He waved the kender away.

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The two went down in the dust. Tanis, chuckling, started to pull Flint off the kender. Then he stopped and turned in alarm. Too late, he heard the silvery jingle of harness and bridle and the whinny of a horse. The half-elf put his hand on the hilt of his sword, but he had already lost any advantage he might have gained through alertness. Swearing under his breath, Tanis could do nothing but stand and stare at the figure emerging from the shadows.

It was seated on a small, furry-legged pony that walked with its head down as if it were ashamed of its rider. Two pig-pink eyes stared out at them from beneath a military-looking helmet. Its fat, flabby body leaked out between pieces of flashy, pretentious armor.

A peculiar odor hit Tanis, and he wrinkled his nose in disgust. He loosened his sword and kicked at Flint, but at that moment the dwarf gave a tremendous sneeze and sat up on the kender. Tasslehoff quickly did the same. The hobgoblin sat astride the pony, watching them with a sneering, supercilious look on his flat face. His pink eyes reflected the last lingering traces of sunlight. Five goblin guards, dressed in crude uniforms, came out on foot.

You have no right to be walking in the city limits after dark. You are under arrest. Tanis, Flint, and Tasslehoff all looked at each other questioningly. Each of them could speak some goblin, Tas better than the others. Had they heard right? A blue crystal staff? In Solace! This new Theocrat has much to answer for!

Reaching up, he swung his battle-axe from its holder on his back and planted his feet firmly on the path, rocking back and forth until he felt himself balanced. We are hungry and tired and late for a meeting with friends we have not seen in a long time. We have no intention of being arrested. He had drawn no weapon but stood staring at the goblins with interest. A bit taken aback, the goblins glanced at each other nervously.

One cast a baleful look down the road where his leader had vanished. The goblins were accustomed to bullying peddlers and farmers traveling to the small town, not to challenging armed and obviously skilled fighters. But their hatred of the other races of Krynn was long-standing. They drew their long, curved blades. Flint strode forward, his hands getting a firm grip on the axe handle. Flint swung his axe with deadly accuracy and timing. A goblin head rolled into the dust, the body crashing to the ground. Their swords crossed and held for a moment, then Tanis shoved the goblin backward.

Swinging its weapon wildly, it ran at Tanis. Our Fewmaster works for the—ugh! It groaned, then slid off onto the ground. Tanis turned quickly and disarmed the creature. He kicked it in its stomach and the goblin crumpled over. Another goblin sprang at Flint before the dwarf had time to recover from his lethal swing. He staggered backward, trying to regain his balance. Tas, without ever losing the innocent, childlike expression on his face, reached into his fleecy vest, whipped out a dagger, and threw it—all in one motion.

The goblin clutched his chest and fell with a groan. There was a sound of flapping feet as the remaining goblin fled. The battle was over. Tanis sheathed his sword, grimacing in disgust at the stinking bodies; the smell reminded him of rotting fish. Flint wiped black goblin blood from his axe blade. Tas stared mournfully at the body of the goblin he killed. It had fallen facedown, his dagger buried underneath. You can never get rid of the smell, you know. Flint fastened his axe in its carrier again, and the three continued on down the path.

The lights of Solace grew brighter as darkness deepened. The smell of the wood smoke on the chill night air brought thoughts of food and warmth—and safety. The companions hurried their steps. In Solace. Finally, however, the irrepressible kender giggled. N early everyone in Solace managed to drop into the Inn of the Last Home sometime during the evening hours these days.

People felt safer in crowds. Solace had long been a crossroads for travelers. They came northeast from Haven, the Seeker capital. They came from the elven kingdom of Qualinesti to the south. Sometimes they came from the east, across the barren Plains of Abanasinia. It was to the Inn that the three friends turned their steps. The huge, convoluted trunk rose through the surrounding trees. Lanterns, hanging from the tree limbs, lit the winding stairway. Though the autumn night was settling chill amid the vallenwoods of Solace, the travelers felt the companionship and memories warm the soul and wash away the aches and sorrows of the road.

The Inn was so crowded on this night that the three were continually forced to stand aside on the stairs to let men, women, and children pass them. Tanis noticed that people glanced at him and his companions with suspicion—not with the welcoming looks they would have given five years ago. This was not the homecoming he had dreamed about. Never in the fifty years he had lived in Solace had he felt such tension. The rumors he had heard about the malignant corruption of the Seekers must be true. These clerics had been misguided, Tanis believed, but at least they had been honest and sincere.

In the intervening years, however, the clerics had gained more and more status as their religion flourished. Soon they became concerned not so much with glory in the afterlife as with power on Krynn. He turned and saw Flint silently pointing below. Looking down, Tanis saw guards marching past, walking in parties of four. Armed to the teeth, they strutted with an air of self-importance.

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To think we should come home and find evil on our very doorsteps! Reaching the top of the stairs, Tas flung the door open wide. It engulfed them and washed over them soothingly. Tasslehoff, his quick kender eyes sweeping the crowd, gave a yell and pointed across the room. Tasslehoff was already sliding through the muttering knots of people, his small, lithe body barely noticed by those he passed. Not that he stole things—Tasslehoff would have been deeply hurt if anyone had accused him of theft. The last thing Tanis wanted tonight was trouble.

He made a mental note to have a private word with the kender. The half-elf and the dwarf made their way through the crowd with less ease than their little friend. Nearly every chair was taken, every table filled. Those who could not find room to sit down were standing, talking in low voices. People looked at Tanis and Flint darkly, suspiciously, or curiously.

No one greeted Flint, although there were several who had been long-standing customers of the dwarven metalsmith. The people of Solace had their own problems, and it was apparent that Tanis and Flint were now considered outsiders. A roar sounded from across the room, from the table where the dragon helm lay reflecting light from the firepit.

The table where Caramon sat was shoved back against the tree trunk. In fact, it was sitting in an odd position. Tanis wondered why Otik had moved it when everything else remained exactly the same. Tanis hastily removed the longbow and quiver of arrows from his back before Caramon hugged them into kindling.

He seemed about to say more but was overcome by emotion. The twins were never far apart. Then he frowned. The half-elf looked into a corner formed by an irregularity of the vallenwood tree. Then he saw a slight figure sitting huddled in red robes, even in the heat of the nearby fire. The figure had a hood cast over its face.

Tanis felt a sudden reluctance to speak to the young mage alone, but Tasslehoff had flitted away to find the barmaid and Flint was being lifted off his feet by Caramon. Tanis moved to the end of the table. The robed figure looked up. The half-elf sucked in his breath and fell back a pace. He stared in horror.

The face that turned toward him from the shadows was a face out of a nightmare. Changed, Caramon had said! Tanis shuddered. It glistened in the firelight with a faintly metallic quality, looking like a gruesome mask. The flesh had melted from the face, leaving the cheekbones oudined in dreadful shadows. The lips were pulled tight in a dark straight line. For the eyes were no longer the eyes of any living human Tanis had ever seen.

The black pupils were now the shape of hourglasses! The pale blue irises Tanis remembered now glittered gold! There was a faint suggestion of a smile on his thin lips. Sitting down across from the young man, Tanis swallowed. Are you cursed? Caramon took a seat next to his brother. He picked up his mug of ale and glanced at Raistlin. The young man spoke in a soft, wheezing voice, barely above a whisper, as if it were all he could do to force the words out of his body. His long, nervous hands, which were the same golden color as his face, toyed absently with uneaten food on a plate before him.

Tanis bit his lip. What, twenty? And there I passed the Test. Caramon flinched. Caramon fell silent and gulped down his ale, glancing nervously at his brother. There was clearly a new strain, a tension between the twins. Raistlin drew a deep breath and continued. My body and my health are irretrievably shattered. And my eyes! I see through hourglass pupils and therefore I see time, as it affects all things. And so I see every living thing. The half-elf shivered at the cold touch and started to pull away, but the golden eyes and the cold hand held him fast. The mage leaned forward, his eyes glowing feverishly.

It was a plain wooden staff. A ball of bright crystal, clutched in a disembodied golden claw carved to resemble the talon of a dragon, gleamed at the top. Raistlin stared at him, then his lips parted in a caricature of a grin. A tall, young, red-haired girl loomed behind him, carrying a tray of mugs. Caramon grinned. You, too, Flint. Red hair curled around her face, her green eyes danced with fun, freckles were lighdy smattered across her nose and cheeks. Tanis seemed to remember the eyes, but beyond that he was blank. I am one hundred and two, yet seem no more than thirty to you. And to me those hundred years seem as thirty.

This young woman must have been a child when we left. Then her face darkened. Under strange circumstances. It was a small scrollcase made of black, highly polished wood. He slowly removed a thin piece of parchment and unrolled it. His heart thudded painfully at the sight of the bold, black handwriting. Bad luck. R aistlin leaned forward. He and Caramon exchanged glances as thoughts passed wordlessly between them. Kitiara was their older half-sister. Tanis hesitated, then licked his dry lips. He coughed. The kender saw Tanis flush.

She was going north with Sturm. We have not heard from her since. She is, after all, a mercenary. He slipped the scroll back into its case and looked up at Tika. Tell me.

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At least I think it was a man. His voice was hissinglike and he spoke with a strange accent. Then he left. The old man over there saw him. Flint touched his arm. Everyone except Raistlin turned. The mage relapsed into the shadows once more. At the door stood a straight-backed figure dressed in full plate armor and chain mail, the symbol of the Order of the Rose on the breastplate. A great many people in the Inn turned to stare, scowling. The man was a Solamnic knight, and the Knights of Solamnia had fallen into ill- repute up north.

Rumors of their corruption had spread even this far south. The few who recognized Sturm as a long-time former resident of Solace shrugged and turned back to their drinking. Those who did not, continued to stare. In these days of peace, it was unusual enough to see a knight in full armor enter the Inn. But it was still more unusual to see a knight in full armor that dated back practically to the Cataclysm! Sturm received the stares as accolades due his rank. He carefully smoothed his great, thick moustaches, which, being the ages-old symbol of the Knights, were as obsolete as his armor.

He bore the trappings of the Solamnic Knights with unquestioned pride, and he had the sword-arm and the skill to defend that pride. The knight held the door open for a tall man and a woman heavily cloaked in furs. The woman must have spoken a word of thanks to Sturm, for he bowed to her in a courtly, old-fashioned manner long dead in the modern world.

I wonder where he dragged up those two? He walked across the crowded Inn with a proud and noble air, such as he might have worn walking forward to be knighted by the king. Tanis rose to his feet. Sturm came to him first and threw his arms around his friend. Then the two stood back to look at each other for a brief moment. The cloak is a little more frayed. There are a few more dents in the ancient armor.

Then the knight turned to greet Caramon and Flint. Tasslehoff dashed off after more ale, Tika having been called away to serve others in the growing crowd. The mage drew back his hood, letting the light fall on his face. Sturm was too well-bred to let his astonishment show beyond a slight exclamation. But his eyes widened. They hover up off the ground. Their roots suck food and water out of the atmosphere. What news? She was going to look up relatives of her father, she said. That was the last I saw of her. Did you find your father? Of all his friends, she had been the one he most longed to see.

After five years of trying to get her dark eyes and crooked smile out of his mind, he discovered that his longing for her grew daily.

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Wild, impetuous, hot-tempered—the swordswoman was everything Tanis was not. She was also human, and love between human and elf always ended in tragedy. Yet Tanis could no more get Kitiara out of his heart than he could get his human half out of his blood. Wrenching his mind free of memories, he began listening to Sturm. Some say my father is dead. Sturm smiled, a melancholy smile that softened the lines in his proud face. Caramon stood up to peer over the table. My sword broke in a fight with an ogre.

Theros Ironfeld put a new blade on it today, but it cost me dearly. Ignoring the question, he caressed the hilt of his sword lovingly. Tanis looked up as the two barbarians walked past their table, heading for empty chairs that sat in the shadows of a corner near the firepit. The man was the tallest man Tanis had ever seen. Although the man was bundled with the furs barbarian tribesmen live in, it was obvious that he was thin for his great height. His face, though dark-skinned, had the pale cast of one who has been ill or suffered greatly.

His companion—the woman Sturm had bowed to—was so muffled in a fur-trimmed cape and hood that it was difficult to tell much about her. Neither she nor her tall escort glanced at Sturm as they passed. The woman carried a plain staff trimmed with feathers in barbaric fashion. The man carried a well-worn knapsack. They sat down in the chairs, huddled in their cloaks, and talked together in low voices. I brought them here, told them they could get food and rest for the night. He described their encounter with Fewmaster Toede. Although Sturm smiled at the description of the battle, he shook his head.

I rattled my sword at them and they thought better of the notion. The mage looked at him from the shadows of his hood, his golden eyes gleaming. His friends moved closer to hear him. Armies of strange creatures, not human. There is talk of war. Easily bored, the kender looked around the Inn for some new amusement. His eyes went to the old man, still spinning tales for the child by the fire.

The old man had a larger audience now—the two barbarians were listening, Tas noted. Then his jaw dropped. The woman had thrown her hood back and the firelight shone on her face and hair. The kender stared in admiration. Tas had never before seen such hair, especially on the Plainsmen, who were usually dark-haired and dark-skinned. One other person listened to the old man. This was a man dressed in the rich brown and golden robes of a Seeker. He sat at a small round table, drinking mulled wine. Several mugs stood empty before him and, even as the kender watched, he called sourly for another.

She bustled quickly over to help him. He snarled at her, mentioning poor service. She seemed to start to answer sharply, then bit her lip and kept silent. The old man came to an end of his tale. The boy sighed. Tasslehoff saw Hederick frown. The friends turned. All were immediately overwhelmed by the beauty of the Plainswoman. They stared in silence. They carry such stories in their hearts. The man drew near her protectively, his hand reaching for his weapon.

He glowered at the group, especially the heavily armed warrior, Caramon. He is her bodyguard, by the way. Though I imagine from the looks they exchanged that their relationship goes a bit deeper than that. I have not the art. Sing the child your song, Goldmoon. You know the one. He gave it to the woman who stared at him in fear and astonishment. Her companion seemed to make a whispered protest, but she did not hear him. Her eyes were held fast by the glittering black eyes of the old man.

Slowly, as if in a trance, she began to strum the lute. As the melancholy chords drifted through the common room, conversations ceased. Soon, everyone was watching her, but she did not notice. Goldmoon sang for the old man alone. Her father the chieftain Makes long roads between them: The grasslands are endless, and summer sings on.

O Riverwind, where have you gone? O Riverwind, autumn comes on. I sit by the river And look to the sunrise, But the sun rises over the mountains alone. The grasslands are fading, The summer wind dies, He comes back, the darkness Of stones in his eyes. He carries a blue staff As bright as a glacier: The grasslands are fading, the summer wind dies.

He orders the people To stone the young warrior: The grasslands are fragile, as yellow as flame. The grassland has faded, And autumn is here. The girl joins her lover, The stones whistle near, The staff flares in blue light And both of them vanish: The grasslands are faded, and autumn is here. There was heavy silence in the room as her hand struck the final chord. Taking a deep breath, she handed the lute back to the old man and withdrew into the shadows once more.

Tanis looked at Hederick, whose face was flushed and scowling. The old man appeared not to notice. No one has worshiped him for a long time. They blamed the destruction of the world on the gods, instead of on themselves, as they should have done. I believe in them, though. I hope to see one someday! Then he fell silent.

Huma became lost in the forest. He wandered and wandered until he despaired because he thought he would never see his homeland again. He prayed to Paladine for help, and there suddenly appeared before him a white stag.

He could not shoot an animal so magnificent. The stag bounded away. Then it stopped and looked back at him, as if waiting. Huma began to follow it. Day and night, he followed the stag until it led him to his homeland. He offered thanks to the god, Paladine. A chair crashed back. Tanis put down his mug of ale, looking up. Everyone at the table stopped drinking to watch the drunken Theocrat. Corrupting our youth! He looked around the room with a pompous air.

Obviously a witch! He reached clumsily for her staff. You cannot take it. I take what I want. He shoved the Seeker backward. His arms flailing wildly, he tried to catch himself. He lurched forward, too far, tripped over his official robes, and fell headfirst into the roaring fire. There was a whoosh and a flare of light, then a sickening smell of burning flesh. He had become a living torch! Tanis and the others sat, unable to move, paralyzed with the shock of the incident.

Only Tasslehoff had wits enough to run forward, anxious to try and help the man. But the Theocrat was screaming and waving his arms, fanning the flames that were consuming his clothes and his body. There seemed no way that the little kender could help him. Then we can smother the fire. He swung it, using all his strength, and hit the Theocrat squarely in the chest. The man fell to the ground. There was a gasp from the crowd. Tasslehoff himself stood, open-mouthed, the staff clutched in his hand, staring down at the amazing sight at his feet.

The flames had died instantly. His skin was pink and healthy. He sat up, a look of fear and awe on his face. He stared down at his hands and his robes. There was not a mark on his skin. There was not the smallest cinder smoking on his robes. Look at the staff! It was made of blue crystal and was glowing with a bright blue light! The old man began shouting. Arrest the kender! Pictures of Gabby are found in the man's prison cell, and Riley fears the sadistic madman has Gabby in his sights.

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The search for answers becomes darker when Gabby realizes she's dealing with a criminal who's more than evil. He's truly the scum of the earth, and he'll do anything to make Gabby and Riley's lives a living nightmare.

The Scum of All Fears: Squeaky Clean Mysteries, Book 5 The Scum of All Fears: Squeaky Clean Mysteries, Book 5
The Scum of All Fears: Squeaky Clean Mysteries, Book 5 The Scum of All Fears: Squeaky Clean Mysteries, Book 5
The Scum of All Fears: Squeaky Clean Mysteries, Book 5 The Scum of All Fears: Squeaky Clean Mysteries, Book 5
The Scum of All Fears: Squeaky Clean Mysteries, Book 5 The Scum of All Fears: Squeaky Clean Mysteries, Book 5
The Scum of All Fears: Squeaky Clean Mysteries, Book 5 The Scum of All Fears: Squeaky Clean Mysteries, Book 5
The Scum of All Fears: Squeaky Clean Mysteries, Book 5 The Scum of All Fears: Squeaky Clean Mysteries, Book 5

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