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With practiced agility and grace, Quinn Shimmerscale wove her way through the crowded floor of the Journey's End tavern, balancing a tray of stew and ale tankards over her head.  Standing barely four feet tall, the petite drakin was used to being dwarfed by pretty much everyone around her… even the dwarves… of which there were a lot today.  Word on the street was that a pilgrim ship from Mount Ore had just pulled into the harbor, unloading a gaggle of the bearded beasties come to see the bricks.

Quinn shuffled up to a table full of the dwarven visitors, sliding the mugs of brew across the wooden surface and plopping down bowls full of mushroom stew.  Lowering the tray, she peered over the tabletop, which came to her mid-chest, and flashed her most charming smile at the patrons.

"Long trip, boys?" she said with a twinkle in her violet eyes.

"You can say that again," barked one of the dwarves, downing his tankard in a single gulp and slamming down the mug.  "These bloody bricks had better be worth it."

Quinn giggled for the sake of her customers as she nimbly jumped up onto the table to remove the empty beer mug.  Bloody bricks was right.  The jet-black bricks that made up the bridges that gave Bridgeways its name had gotten somewhat of a bad reputation of late.  That didn't seem to stop the hordes of pilgrims from coming to see the Artificer's handiwork, though.  Whatever.  Pilgrims were good for business.

One of the dwarves looked down at his mushroom stew with bewilderment as he prodded it with his wooden spoon.  "Where's the rest of it?!" he demanded, looking at the opal-scaled waitress with dismay.  "I ordered the stew, not the damn dish water!"

Quinn frowned sympathetically as she leaned on the edge of the dwarves table.  "I'm sorry, sweetie" she cooed, touching the dwarf's arm with her clawed hand.  "I'll see what they can do in the back… our mushroom crop isn't the best this year…" She trailed off, sensing the dwarves' frustration rising.  There wasn't anything she could do.  It was a miracle the kitchen was even open at all with the shrinking food stores.  Time for a diversion.

"Hey, you wanna hear a joke?" Quinn's violet eyes shimmered in the torchlight and she moved in closer, as if about to tell a secret.  The dwarves instinctively tilted their heads in as well.

"What's the difference between a Trade Council bureaucrat… and a gay elf?"

She paused for a moment.

"One has a stick up his ass… and the other…" Quinn grinned mischievously, "… well I guess they aren't that different after all."

The dwarves erupted with laughter as the nimble drakin jumped off the table and quickly scurried back to the kitchen to fetch a another round of drinks.  It was going to be a long shift.

#    #    #

On the other side of the tavern, mercenary captain Robere Gallendown leaned back in his somewhat uncomfortable chair and kicked his boots up.  Around the table, two members of his crew flirted with some local girls while the other ran his typical card hustle on an unsuspecting dwarf.  Being elves, the salvage crew normally drew at least a little bit of attention in port, but not here.  There was always something more interesting going on in Bridgeways than a crew of Heartland salvagers on shore leave.

Polishing off a dirty glass of root whisky with a grimace, Robere scanned the busy tavern with dark green eyes.  The dwarves from the docks were definitely making themselves at home, he noted.  Either these were the rowdiest pilgrims he'd ever seen or drunkenness was part of the dwarven religion.  It wasn't the dwarves he was interested in, though.  His eyes darted to the darkened tables in the corners looking for anyone who happened to be looking back.

Sure enough, Robere locked eyes with a silver-haired human sitting by himself at a back table.  With practiced nonchalance, the stocky elf excused himself from the table and pushed his way through the crowds, heading for the back.  As he walked by the darkened table, the older man started blinking strangely at him and making complicated hand gestures.

Robere sighed.  Everyone thought they knew the secret Boughbreaker signal.  There was no secret Boughbreaker signal.

"You Dumont?" Robere asked, kicking back a stool at the table and taking a seat.  The other man nodded.  Robere threw an arm up on the table and leaned in towards his contact.  "What you got for me?"

"Weapons," the man answered, visibly nervous as he glanced side to side.  "Refined iron… enough to arm two dozen peasants in your little rebellion.  Do you have the supplies?"

Robere nodded.  "Fresh grains and produce from Heartland, six crates of it."

The old man's eyes widened as he leaned back slowly in his seat.  "Good.  Where is it?"

Robere raised an eyebrow.  They must really be desperate for food this far up in the Skies.  "It's on the ship, why don't we—"

"Good," the man cut him off, quickly standing and walking around the table.  "I must be going.  We will arrange for the exchange tomorrow."  With that, he quickly walked away through the crowd and vanished through the door.

"Guess he had somewhere to be," the elf muttered to himself, grabbing the man's half-finished mug of ale.  An attractive bar maiden walked past and Robere's head turned to follow.  Too bad.  It was going to be a good evening.

#    #    #

"You're going to get yourself killed, you know," the wind priest said humorlessly to the young woman balanced precariously on the rocky outcropping overlooking the void.

Lauris looked back over her shoulder at her reluctant companion.  "Don't get your hopes up, Mikael," she said, winking.  "I know how much you'd like that."

Mikael scoffed, but said nothing as he continued to watch the slender priestess inch her way to the edge of the broken bridge.  Beside him, the young boy whose kite had blown off the edge looked on in gape-mouthed disbelief.

Lauris brushed the strands of dark and perpetually wind-blown hair from her face as she leaned out over the endless, glowing sky below.  There was the kite, some twenty feet down, its string snagged on a gnarled root that extended from the underside of the isle.  Beyond that, there was only the dizzying depths of the void.

"Wish me luck," she said, nervously.  Mikael simply stared at her while the boy next to him nodded slowly, mouth never closing.

She reached her arms out beside her, struggling to keep her balance on the precipice as the wind whipped her white and blue vestments around her body.  She looked down, focusing on the kite.  "It's too far down," she began, turning slightly, "I don't think I can —"

Suddenly, the wind priestess lost her balance, arms flailing as a gust of wind caught her from behind.  She screamed as she tumbled out of view and into the waiting void.  The boy screamed as well, rushing forward to the ledge to try to save the priestess.  Falling to his knees, he peered fearfully over the ledge… but there was nothing there.

The boy sat back, shocked, the chill wind still stinging his teary eyes.  Behind him, a pair of feet touched down lightly on the ruined bridge amidst a swirl of blue cloth and his missing kite appeared suddenly before his face.  He turned around slowly to see Lauris standing there, smiling, with the kite in her outstretched arm.

"Someday that's not going to work, you know," Mikael grumbled as he walked up behind Lauris.  The two turned away at once, leaving the stunned boy holding his kite on the edge of the bridge.

"Nonsense," Lauris said.  "The Lady of the Winds favors me."

"The Aspect of Storms favors you," Mikael corrected.  "The other Aspects may decide to punish your arrogance someday."

Lauris shrugged.  Mikael had never approved of her devotion to the Aspect of Storms and the awe-inspiring power it granted her.  Probably just jealous.

The two wind priests continued their trek across Bridgeways' middle levels, leaving the broken bridge behind.  Though the time was getting late, the glow of the void was as bright and constant as ever. Up ahead, they could see the busy markets and taverns of the Crossroads.

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Bridgeways: Return of the Phantom Isle bluefish_enigma bluefish_enigma