The autumn trees of Viscum turned the light from the late afternoon sun into slanting pillars of russet reds and golds. In keeping with elvish styles and sensibilities, the structures beneath and between the forest trunks blended almost seamlessly with the designs of nature. Wood had been shaped and worked lovingly with spells and chants rather than hewn. What stone there was had been shaped into light and airy arches and buttresses long ago by cunning dwarven artisans, in the dim past when elves still counted them as friends.
The mercantile district of Viscum was no less beautiful for all its shops and booths. The elven people strode along its meandering roads of irregularly shaped and colored stones, conversing in their soft childlike voices. Lilting music drifted from an ivy-covered pavilion occupied by a quintet of musicians, a swirling fugue of ancient woodwinds and strings.
The hushed conversational tones rose to an excited babble as a large form turned onto the street, walking with a purposeful stride. Kerrick was not small by human standards, and among elves he seemed virtually a giant. His sleeveless leather armor, faded from sun and hard use, contrasted sharply with the softly rustling silks of the elves as they scampered from his path, and the luminous green eyes that glared out from under his dark hair could hardly have been more foreign to Viscum’s inhabitants.
The musicians stammered to a halt, staring openly as Kerrick strode by. “Please continue, by all means,” he scowled at them as he passed. “I’m a huge supporter of the arts. If that is, in fact, what you are attempting to produce.”
“Ilphukiir’s Arcane” occupied a circular building at the far end of a shaded cul-de-sac. Stone dryads forever poured water into a pool in the center of the round plaza, the soft splashing masking all other sounds. Kerrick drew a few deep breaths to steel himself as he walked passed the fountain. Elves were difficult to deal with at best, and elven wizards carried yet another layer of pretentiousness to fight through.
The double doors swung open silently. Kerrick’s eyes adjusted swiftly to the dim interior, the sight inherited from his draconic ancestors actually superior to vaunted elvish vision. The round chamber was cool inside, the air heavy with incense and strange spices. Light streamed down from the stained glass ceiling high overhead – a stylized depiction of the sun, moons and major constellations of Greyhawk’s skies. Curving bookcases lined most of the walls, interspersed with glass display cases and statuary. Above the shelves, the mounted heads of strange beasts looked down upon the shoppe’s patrons with glassy eyes.
Kerrick ignored the murmur from the tight clusters of elves as he strode across the intricately patterned wood floor. Behind a counter at the far end of the chamber stood an elf with a light leather apron protecting his brocade doublet. Placing his gloved hands on the countertop, Kerrick gave his most winning smile. “Good afternoon, kind sir. I would like to purchase some vellum or parchment for scroll creation.”
The elf refused to look up. He began rubbing fitfully at the countertop with a soft cloth. “Fresh out,” he muttered.
Kerrick let out a long breath. “There seems to be glass case full of parchment right behind you.”
“That’s for display purposes only.”
“I see.” Kerrick began to drum his fingers softly on the counter. He gestured with his head to a wooden shelf full of glass vials. “How about potions?”
“Ah. It’s not much of a magic shoppe, is it?”
The elf finally looked up. “It’s the finest in all Viscum, sir!”
“Well, you’ve certainly outdone yourself with presentation, haven’t you? Perhaps inventory could be your next concern.”
Kerrick felt a soft touch on the shoulder pad of his armor. “I believe you must be in the wrong place. Armorers and weaponsmiths are on the west end of town. That way their forges and incessant hammering are less likely to offend those of us with more refined sensibilities.”
Kerrick turned slowly. A young adult elf in green and white robes stood behind him, eyes glinting with malicious humor. He held a slender ivory rod capped with a rough-edged chunk of quartz almost insouciantly in his left hand. A pair of servitors stood nearby, eyes obediently cast to the floor – one to carry his master’s purchases, another to hold a flower-shaped umbrella above the wizard’s head to provide shade when walking outside.
For several long seconds, Kerrick stared down unblinkingly at the newcomer. Finally he raised a forefinger to his lips. “Shhhhhhhhhhh. Big people are talking. You’ll have to wait.” He turned back to the shopkeeper, leaving the elf to purple in rage.
There was another touch on his shoulder pad, in what Kerrick could only assume was an effort to spin him around. Sighing, he turned again.
“I know you now.” The mage gave an exaggerated expression of surprise. “You’re House Viscum’s pet freak, are you not?”
“In these more enlightened days, we prefer to be called ‘Abhorrent Abominations.”
“Yes, you must be.” The elf held the hand that had touched Kerrick out to his servitor, who promptly wiped it with a white square of silk. “It must be quite a menagerie at House Viscum these days. I hear the youngest son consorts with all manner of strange beings. Lowly half-breeds, grays, wilds, even a drow or two. It’s said he’s even changed the son of an allied house into some monstrous thing, with silvery skin and hideous blue eyes. It would appear House Viscum has become rather strange and whimsical in its dotage. Perhaps it has finally entered into its decline, and needs to fade away gracefully before it leads us all to more embarrassment.”
“And of course your own house, in a blaze of sheer civic responsibility, could be convinced to fill the void of Viscum’s passing?”
The elf’s lip curled disdainfully. “And what could one such as you know of House matters or of lineage? House Amakiir has contributed heavily to the Academy of the Arcane for nearly one thousand years, human!”
Kerrick smiled brightly. “And my ancestors were ancient when yours first thought sharpening sticks just might catch on.”
The tight knots of elves watching the exchange began to whisper amongst themselves, though Kerrick could hear a smattering of laughter at the expense of House Amakiir. The mage’s lips became a hard line as he stared up at Kerrick, trembling in anger. “Oh, that’s right, human. You claim to share heritage with the Great Wyrms, do you not? You appear to be just another member of the lower races. I see nothing special about you.” He rapped the base of his staff against the wooden floor. A fierce glow sprang from the quartz crystal, which he shoved angrily towards Kerrick’s face.
Kerrick willed his eyes to turn pitch black, making the elf jump hurriedly back. Baring teeth that had sprouted fangs, he exhaled sharply. A stream of acid shot forth to form a hissing puddle at the mage’s feet. “I know you don’t get out much, and there’s probably the matter of your family hiding you in the attic out of embarassment throughout your childhood. But I assure you, most humans are incapable of that.”
The elf turned pale. He turned quickly to his servants to seek some kind of solace. Both still kept their eyes firmly fixed on the floor, but he could see them gnawing at their lips to maintain their composure. Others among the shop’s patrons likewise seemed to be enjoying the mage’s discomfiture, and were taking fewer pains to conceal it. Anger overcoming fear he whirled to face Kerrick. A crackling blue nimbus formed about his free hand as he stomped towards his tormentor, bringing frightened gasps from the onlookers. “I doubt House Viscum would mourn the loss of its pet. Perhaps I’ll take you back to my tower, and determine your true heritage through vivisection…”
The elf’s rant broke off as Kerrick’s left hand shot forward, clutching him roughly by the front of his silken robes. Sharp ridges showed along his upper arm as he lifted the wizard kicking up to his own eye level. Kerrick held his left hand out to the side, a ball of flame forming above his gloved palm. “And perhaps House Viscum will send me to your tower as part of a much-needed urban renewal project.”
Kerrick let the struggling mage drop as soon as he had cancelled out his own spell. The mage hurriedly smoothed the front of his robes, stumbling awkwardly as began to back away. “My family shall hear of this!” His voice cracked as he began pushing his servants towards the exit.
Kerrick dispersed the fiery orb with a negligent flick of his hand. “I’m sure they’ll be overjoyed to learn how you were prevented from hurling a lightening bolt in a crowded, circular room by one of the lesser races. Perhaps they’ll even bake you a cake.”
As the door slammed shut, Kerrick turned again to the shopkeeper. “Now, where were we?”
The elf behind the counter quickly dropped a large sheath of paper before him. “I believe you were buying some parchment,” he stammered. “And then leaving. Quickly.”
Kerrick again favored him with a bright smile. “So I was.” He dropped a handful of gold coins on the counter. “You’re quite right. This is an outstanding magic shoppe. I shall favor you with all my patronage.”
“Oh…thank you, sir,” the elf replied weakly as Kerrick turned to leave. He paused to wipe the sheen of sweat that had appeared on his forehead with his rag. “I can hardly wait…”