A/N: About a year ago I took down some stories. I'm putting them back now, and this is one. It ties into my other story, Impervious, as a sort of prequel.
Sethyl Sunblade bit his lower lip as he peered down at the ring between his fingers, carefully lowering a small gem into its frame with thin tweezers. Just before he could fit it properly, a chin rested on his shoulder and bumped his arm, hitting the gem against the ring and sending it bouncing across the table.
Sethyl jerked to his feet, ignoring his spectator as he cried out when his lower jaw was snapped into his upper, and whirled around, nearly backhanding the young elf standing just behind him.
"You little idiot!" He hissed, grabbing the boy by his collar and jerking him so that their noses nearly touched. "Do you know how long it takes to do this sort of detail? Do you know how much longer it takes when you bother me?"
The young elf, Merryck Sunblade, stared up at his older brother with wide blue eyes. However, even as he tried desperately to scrounge up an apology, two firm, worn hands grabbed each of them by the backs of their collars and pulled them apart.
Sethyl cursed as one of his fingers caught on his brother's shirt and twisted, nearly breaking. As he shook out his hand, his father whacked him on the back of the head. "Such language is unbecoming of a priest."
"I'm not going to be a priest. Not an official one, anyway," Sethyl muttered, dropping back into his chair and looking for the missing gem. He ran his fingers through his short, spiky brown hair as his eyes scanned the table. Just as he was about to dart over and smack Merryck again, he spotted it, just barely resting in a crevice in the wooden surface.
As he reached to get it, Merryck's fingers plucked the little gem from its place and he held it out to his brother, though his eyes held a certain resentment. "I just wanted to see what you were doing."
"Well, you saw," Sethyl muttered, taking the gem back and jerkily rearranging his equipment.
Their father patted Merryck on the shoulder and asked him to go get him some wiring from the back room. The boy perked up and darted from the room. It was times like this where he still looked childish, and his little fuzz goatee didn't help matters much; Sethyl liked to tease him he'd never look grown up. As soon as he was out of earshot, their father slouched down on the workbench next to Sethyl.
"You know I don't expect you to take over the business. You have a gift—"
"Yes, I know," Sethyl muttered, ignoring his father's exasperate sigh. "I can set a gem faster than most anyone. That's a gift. Being able to toy with the light? Not so much."
"You mended Merryck's broken arm just last month."
"Any priest over thirteen could," Sethyl debated trying to finish the ring as they talked, but decided against it. Merryck would be back soon enough and he didn't want to have a repeat of what had just happened. What was that definition of insanity...?
His father took in a slow breath and when Sethyl looked at him, he noticed that he somehow seemed old. It was unsettling. He could still see his father swinging him up into the air, tackling him as they play-dueled with stick swords. He didn't like realizing that time was creeping forward, moving all of them toward the inevitability of death.
Watching him, his father shook his head slowly, a half smile on his lips. "I don't know what you're thinking, but if you keep it up, I might have to smack you."
Sethyl tried to laugh. He always had such a way of wearing his heart on his sleeve. He shifted in his seat so that he could better face his father. "Can't you do something about Merryck? He's such a pain. If we need money to send him to school, then I'd be happy to hel—"
"He doesn't want to go to any of the mage schools. He wants to be like you."
Sethyl had heard this speech before, over a dozen times. Just because he could recite it by heart didn't mean that his father would decide not to say it, so Sethyl let him talk. Honestly, he couldn't see why Merryck would want to be anything like him. He was a mediocre priest at best and, while yes, he was a damned good jewel crafter, he wasn't employed at any of the fancier stores. Instead, he was stuck in his family's business, so it wasn't like he'd ever be renowned for his work.
And he sucked as an older brother. Weren't the younger generations supposed to strive to be better than their seniors?
"Sethyl," his father interrupted his thoughts. As he looked up, the older elf sighed. "Have you ever thought of asking about being sent out...? Maybe to the human lands to get experience as a priest...or anything, really."
The voice came from the doorway and both men turned to see Merryck standing there, horrified. He stalked into the room, throwing the wire on the table. "Sethyl can't leave! We need him here!"
Their father frowned. "We'd get by without him, if he chose to follow his own path."
Sethyl had to say he agreed with Merryck. Since the quel'dorei opened their doors to the humans, it seemed harder to sell pretty much anything. In truth, he'd only heard rumors of what it had been like, once upon a time, when it was a strictly elven economy to worry about.
Nowadays, humans were always there, always making things cheaper. It didn't help that they were so easily enraptured by elven appearances, either. A simple wink and kiss to the hand could win a man a sizeable discount and it disgusted Sethyl to think that some of their merchants were probably sleeping with the humans, just to get better deals. If it was love, that would be one thing, but for simple manipulation...
His father frowned at both of them and then shrugged his shoulders. "Well, I was hoping you'd be a willing participant, but if not, that's fine. You're going anyway." As Sethyl's eyes widened, he stood up. "Magister Dawnwhisper had offered to take you with him the next time he goes to the human cities to trade and I told him you'd be happy to accompany him."
"Why would you do that?" Sethyl cried out, feeling as though he were somehow being kicked out of his home.
"You need to get out of this place and see what the world can offer."
Sethyl strode through the door to his father's shop, dirt and sweat stains ruining his robes as he shuffled up to the nearest chair and collapsed into it. In a second, he felt that he was being watched. He didn't open his eyes, knowing that would be the cue for a barrage of questions. Instead, he sat there in silence, reveling in the fact that he was home and that even after being gone for nearly a month, his brother was still there to look up to him...even if he hadn't done anything worth looking up to.
The human cities had been a definite change of scenery. He wasn't fond of them, though he supposed he could see that their business would fare far better if they continued to cater to their peoples' allies. Somehow, just the fact that his rings and trinkets had been made by elves made them worth more in the common folks' eyes.
By the light, he'd even had a few women ask him if he was some sort of noble, as his clothes were of such a fine make. While he'd somehow managed a straight face, he'd had to laugh when he was by himself. The only reason his robes were finer than theirs' was because they'd been woven with magic rather than fingers. In another dozen years, those fast-learning humans would be making their clothes the same way and the awe of it would be lost.
For the times as they were, however, it seemed that everything elven was more desirable to the humans and he was starting to see why merchants were so quick to offer their wares to humans before their own kind.
Regardless of profits to be made, Sethyl was glad to be home. He'd told his magister mentor that he looked forward to being out of sight from prying, curious eyes, though in truth, he'd been excited to come home and tell Merryck of the world beyond Silvermoon's gates.
He couldn't help but wonder if his little brother would want to live in the human cities, as curious as he was.
Sethyl took in a slow breath and opened one eye slowly to peer at his brother, who was sitting across from him with baited breath, fingers laced as he rested against the table between them, not wanting to lose his chance for stories by rushing his brother into talking.
The two held each others' gazes for a long, quiet moment before Merryck couldn't take it anymore. "Was it bad?"
"Like having dozens and dozens of yous running around," Sethyl said pointedly, though he grinned and reached out to tussle his brother's hair.
Merryck jumped up and ducked out of his reach. "Don't touch me until you've had a bath!"
Eyebrows twitching toward one another, Sethyl darted to his feet and caught his younger brother in a headlock. As the boy struggled, he laughed. "Don't disrespect your elders, you little brat."
Merryck managed to break free and he stuck his tongue out, irritably running his fingers through his hair to try to fix it. Even as Sethyl teased him that he couldn't fix a rat's nest, his brother returned to dogging him. "But what was it like? Are the human cities really made from grungy bricks? Do they really not use magic the way we do?"
"You are such a pain," Sethyl sighed. He tried to step past his brother, enjoying drawing out the suspense, but paused as the elf moved to block his path. With a gentle smile, he reached out and messed up his brother's hair again. "Let me get cleaned up and then I'll tell you all about it, alright?"
Merryck beamed as he stepped out of his brother's way. "I'll hold you to that, you know?"
Sethyl stood in front of a small stone, shuffling his feet as he gripped his plate helm under one arm. The wind caught his tabard and made it flutter as his green eyes read over the name engraved upon the worn rock again. Somehow, it seemed that if he read it enough times, maybe it would change. Maybe he could take Merryck's place.
With a sigh, Sethyl squatted down and ran his fingers over the untrimmed grass. Too many had died to keep everyone's graves well kept. Perhaps he could come by and tend to it, though that would not be fitting a task for a Blood Knight.
He sighed again.
"They offered me a position as a captain," he told the rock, wondering if there was actually anything left of Merryck to hear him. "I turned it down. Dad's having a hard time keeping the shop running...especially with you and mom gone...and I figured when I wasn't defending the city, I could help out. He was furious with me. As usual, right?" He paused, feeling tears welling in his eyes. Sethyl pinched the bridge of his nose for a moment as he willed himself not to cry. When his loneliness had lessened enough for him to regain control of his emotions, he took in a ragged breath, though it seemed so guilty an action to do around the dead. He shouldn't have been the one breathing.
"I don't know what I should—"
"Are you Master Sethyl Sunblade?"
Sethyl snapped his mouth shut and turned a hateful glare to the elf who had interrupted his visit. The man looked to be a Farstrider, though something about him felt off. Was he a high elf in disguise? Sethyl dismissed the notion as he rose to his feet, keeping a cold gaze on the man. "I am."
The elf held out a letter to him. "This is for you."
Snatching the envelope from the other's hands, Sethyl easily tore it open and his gaze flitted over the carefully penned words—Orcish, not Thalassian. It was...had this elf really thought it necessary to interrupt his visit to his brother with a meager guild invitation? As he looked up to inquire if this was some kind of joke, he found himself to be standing alone in the cemetery.
Sethyl paused and looked around and then back at the note in his hands, as though he expected that to disappear as well. However, it was no trick and the parchment—still fresh as though it had just been written upon moments before he'd received it—remained in his hands.
He considered tossing it to the side, but something stopped him. For a moment, he was sitting back at his father's worktable, with Merryck peering over his shoulder, whispering how he wished he could get a letter like that and asking Sethyl to make sure to tell him what came of it.
Sethyl blinked and the magic of the moment was gone. He was back in the cemetery, with the wind adding a cold edge to the air that made him shiver.
He folded the note carefully and looked back down at the marker one last time, a sad, half smile playing on his lips. "I'll let you know, okay?"