Brandark's soft-voiced curse, rich with wonder, expressed Bahzell's own feelings almost perfectly. The Horse Stealer glanced at his friend, but only briefly, for the sight before them wouldn't let him look away for long.
The stonework of Belhadan and the Empire's roads had been marvel enough, but this was the first time the hradani had seen the work of dwarvish engineers untouched by the influence of any of the other Races of Man, and they knew it. No one could have looked at the western face of the Dwarvenhame Tunnel and not known it, for no one but a dwarf could have conceived and executed such a project.
The entire face of a mountain had been sliced away to create a sheer, vertical wall of smooth rock eight hundred feet high at the least. There was something merciless about the perfection of that sweep of stone, a purity of line and plane which nature could never have produced. It had been imposed by a hand and eye which thought in straight lines and the consummation of function, and it loomed above the puny mites at its feet with a majestic severity too intense for beauty.
The mouth of the tunnel itself was a black dot against that vast backdrop. Only as they approached its portcullis-fringed maw and the flanking bastions carved from the rock to either side of it did its size truly become apparent. Those bastions were garrisoned, as was the battlemented traverse work cut to overhang the full width of the gate. Sentries looked down on the travelers from embrasures, murder holes for heated oil and banefire, and arrow slits, but the duty officer must have been warned they were coming, for the stocky dwarf only raised his axe to Bahzell in salute and waved them past.
Truth to tell, Bahzell had paid the guards little heed, for his attention was riveted to the tunnel itself, and he felt a fresh sense of awe as hooves clattered on the hard-paved approach and he strode under its massive vault. As a rule, he disliked underground spaces. He wasn't exactly claustrophobic; it was just that most caves and tunnels made someone his size feel hemmed in. But the Dwarvenhame Tunnel was fifty yards across, with a stony roof so high above the roadway that it seemed to float suspended rather than press down upon him, and a reassuring breeze flowed through ventilation shafts on silent feet of chill, fresh air. The light within was dim compared to the daylight without, but it was much brighter than he would have expected. Wall-mounted lanterns burned every twenty yards, and even though they lacked the reflectors he'd seen in places like the Belhadan chapter's training salle, they threw powerful spills of illumination along the tunnel. It took him several minutes to realize why, and then he inhaled sharply.
They didn't require reflectors because the walls themselves served as reflectors. The stone wasn't simply smooth; it was polished almost to the quality of a mirror, without a single tool mark to mar its surface, and he shook his head in baffled wonder.
"What?" Wencit asked quietly from beside him, and Bahzell turned his head. The wild wizard's eldrich eyes looked eerier than ever in the subdued lighting, floating like twin pools of witchfire under his brows. Their shifting glow was so bright Bahzell thought he could almost have read by it, yet not even that unnatural sight could distract him from the odd sense that the tunnel didn't truly exist. That it couldn't exist.
"The walls," he said after a moment, his voice soft, almost hushed, as if he felt some compulsion to speak without the tunnel's creators overhearing him. "There's not a tool mark on 'em."
"No, there isn't," Wencit agreed, turning to cock his head and consider the walls himself. He studied them almost critically, then shrugged. "Actually, I think this may be even better than some of the work I saw in Kontovar," he mused. "Of course, it's been a while. I suppose my memory could be playing tricks on me."
Bahzell swallowed, jarred by the casualness of the wizard's tone. He could forget Wencit's age and reputation for days on end-or no, not forget so much as set them aside or fool himself into thinking he'd come to grips with them-and then some offhand remark would drive the old man's sheer antiquity home like an arbalest bolt. Like now. No one else in the world could possibly refer to twelve hundred tumultuous years as "a while," yet to Wencit of Rum, that was precisely what they had been.
For an instant, Bahzell was terrifyingly aware of the age and knowledge-and power-riding peacefully along at his side. This was the man who had strafed Kontovar. Who had fought the Lord of Carnadosa himself, and all his inner council, to a standstill in the first, desperate days of the war which had doomed the Empire of Ottovar. Whose protection had prevented the Dark Lords from pursuing Kontovar's refugees to Norfressa to make an end of them. Bahzell Bahnakson was not a man who felt awe easily, but there was not-could not be-a more perilous being in all the world, and for just that instant, a fear-touched awe was precisely what echoed through Bahzell's bones.
But the moment passed. Not because the Horse Stealer felt any less respect, but because Wencit had chosen for it to pass. It would have been impossible for Bahzell to imagine anything less like the dark and terrible wizard lords of the ancient tales than the plainly clothed old man on the horse beside him. No one who ever met Wencit of Rum could mistake the steel at his core, but the wizard had never sought wealth or pomp. His was a quiet authority which came from who he was and what he had done, not from the sort of mailed fist which could impose obedience. He was a wanderer, moving about on missions of his own, often inscrutable and mysterious to those about him, who turned up unexpectedly and then disappeared as unexpectedly as he'd come. He was as comfortable with barbarian hradani as at the King-Emperor's own court, and for twelve hundred years he had been a law unto himself.
Now he looked at Bahzell, raising one snowy eyebrow, and smiled. It was an oddly intimate little smile, as if he knew what the hradani had been thinking and found it amusing, yet there was a wry twist to it, as well. Perhaps, Bahzell thought, the real reason Wencit had never built himself the sort of wizard's tower the old tales described or established himself in luxurious wealth and authority in Axe Hallow or Midrancimb or Sothfalas was far simpler than most people had ever imagined.
He was lonely. Could it truly be that simple, the Horse Stealer wondered? And yet, how could it not be? This man's flame-cored eyes had witnessed the fall of the greatest empire in history. He'd seen the wreckage of that empire washed up on Norfressa's shore, watched over and guarded it as it painfully and laboriously set about putting its pieces back together. And aside from some of the elves of Saramantha in their self-imposed seclusion, he was the only one who had. How many people-how many friends-had he known across that vast sweep of years? How many times had death washed them away and left him alone once more to pursue his lonely task as a continent's guardian? The grief of so much loss must eat at a man's soul, yet the only way to avoid that sorrow would be to isolate one's self as Saramantha had-to erect barricades and defenses against feeling-and that, Bahzell somehow knew, was something Wencit simply could not do. And so he took people as he met them. All people, on their own terms, accepting them for who and what they were, for he needed them to remind him of who he was… and why he had given and sacrificed so much to protect them for so long.
"You were commenting on the walls?" The old man's voice prodded Bahzell with unusual patience, and the Horse Stealer shook himself, then grinned.
"Aye, so I was," he replied, grateful to Wencit for breaking the train of his thoughts. "I'd not've thought anyone would spend the effort to polish them this way. Tomanak ! I'd've said no one could do it!"
"Ah, but they didn't-polish them, I mean," Wencit said. Bahzell looked at him for a moment, then flicked his eyes back to the glass-smooth stone.
"And just how would you describe whatever they were after doing, then?" he asked politely.
"Oh, the stone's smooth enough," Wencit agreed, "but they didn't have to 'polish' it. This-" he flicked a hand to indicate the entire wide sweep of the tunnel which surrounded them "-is sarthnasik work."
"Sarthnasik?" Bahzell repeated carefully. The word was obviously dwarvish, though it seemed overly short for their language, but he'd never heard it before.
"It translates-roughly, you understand-as 'stoneherd,' " Wencit told him.
"Does it, now? And what might a stoneherd be?" Bahzell felt Brandark urging his horse up behind him and sensed the Bloody Sword leaning towards Wencit with his ears cocked. Vaijon wasn't far behind, and Kaeritha smiled crookedly as she moved her own mount to the side to make room for the young knight-probationer. Clearly she was already familiar with the term, but Bahzell wasn't, and he eyed the wizard intently.
"A stoneherd is a dwarf who practices sarthnasikarmanthar," Wencit explained. "That's the traditional dwarvish discipline-or art, perhaps-which allows them to command stone."
"Command stone?" Brandark repeated, sounding as dubious as Bahzell felt, and the wizard chuckled.
"That's the simplest way to put it," he said dryly. "I can give you a more technical explanation if you really want one, but I doubt it would mean a great deal to you." The Bloody Sword raised an eyebrow, and Wencit shrugged. "Do you remember the night I tried to explain how wizardry works?"
"Yes." Brandark rubbed his nose. "You said something about the entire universe being composed solely of energy, however solid it may look."
"Precisely. And if you'll recall, I also said that all wizardry consisted of was a set of tools or techniques with which to manipulate that energy?" It was Wencit's turn to cock an eyebrow, like a professor checking to see if his students followed him.
"Oh, aye. We recall it, right enough," Bahzell assured him. "Which isn't to be saying we're after understanding it, of course, but we do recall it."
"Good. Because sarthnasikarmanthar is simply a specialized version of the same thing-one which applies only to stone and which only the dwarves have developed. A sarthnasik doesn't 'dig' or 'cut' a tunnel. He visualizes it in his mind-much as I suppose you or Kerry visualize the mending of a wound when you call on Tomanak for healing-and then imposes that vision on the energy other people see as 'solid stone.' "
Wencit shrugged, as if what he'd said was self-explanatory and as simple as baking a cake, and Bahzell stared at him, appalled by the implications.
"D'you mean to be telling me," he said very slowly after a moment, "that a dwarf can simply wish something like this-" he waved at the tunnel again "-into being?"
"Hardly!" Wencit snorted. "It takes a great deal of concentration and imposes a tremendous drain on the life energy of a stoneherd. Something like this tunnel or some of the other tunnels and cuts sarthnasiks have produced for the Empire aren't anything they do casually, Bahzell. But the ability is undoubtedly the real reason dwarves seem so much more comfortable underground."
"And they still do it today?" Brandark sounded uneasy, and Wencit turned to look at him. "I mean, there's no White Council-hasn't been one for twelve hundred years." Wencit cocked his head, and the Bloody Sword frowned. "I don't think I like knowing that a bunch of wizards have been running around unsupervised all that time!"
"They're not wizards," Wencit said, and sighed at Brandark's expression of disbelief. "Sarthnasikarmanthar is no more wizardry than the elves' long life spans are, Brandark. Rock is the only thing a stoneherd can impose his will on, though most sarthnasiks do seem to have a greater affinity for metal work than even other dwarves do. I think it has something with their sensitivity to the ores in their raw state. But a stoneherd could no more 'visualize' a hole through you than Vaijon here could."
"Sounds like wizardry to me," Brandark said stubbornly, and Wencit shook his head.
"I suppose that-in a very specialized sense-you can define it that way if you absolutely insist," he said, "but no wizard would. It's a natural talent no one can learn to duplicate without the same inborn talent. In fact, most wizards would agree with the historians that sarthnasikarmanthar was the very first cleft point for the Races of Man."
" 'Cleft point'?" Bahzell repeated. Wencit nodded, and the Horse Stealer rubbed his jaw. "And what would a cleft point be?"
"A cleft point-" Wencit began, then paused. He rode in silence for a few seconds, scratching his own beard thoughtfully, then looked around at his audience. "How many of you are familiar with the works of Yanahir of Trofrolantha?" he asked.
Brandark started slightly, but the others only looked blank. The Bloody Sword waited to see if anyone else would speak, then shrugged. "I've come across the name," he said cautiously. "I've never seen any of his actual writings, but I've seen some older works cite him as a secondary source. He's supposed to have been a historian and philosopher from the time of the First Wizard Wars, isn't he? Frankly, I always thought he was a myth."
"He wasn't," Wencit assured him. "And you're right about when he lived. In fact, he was court historian for Ottovar the Great and Gwynytha the Wise."
Brandark's weren't the only eyes that went wide and round at that. Ottovar the Great had lived over ten thousand years ago, and the wizard smiled wryly as he saw the unvoiced thought behind their eyes.
"No, I wasn't around at the time," he told them in a dry tone. "I did, however, have the opportunity to read his works before the Fall. The Imperial Library in Trofrolantha had an almost complete collection." He paused again, meditatively, and his voice was thoughtful when he continued. "You know, I haven't thought about Yanahir in centuries. I'd forgotten that no one in Norfressa ever had the chance to read him." He shook his head again. "Maybe I should find the time to sit down and jot down what I remember. It certainly couldn't hurt… and it might do quite a bit of good, now that I think about it."
His voice trailed off, and he gazed into space, looking at something no one else could see. The others glanced at one another, waiting for him to resume, but over a full minute dragged past without his saying another word, and Bahzell cleared his throat.
"I'm sure that's all very well, Wencit, but would you be so very kind as to be getting on with whatever it was you were telling us before you came all over historical?"
The wizard twitched, then grinned at the hradani's acerbic tone.
"Forgive me, Bahzell. When you have as many memories as I do, you sometimes get a bit lost sorting through them. As for what I was about to say, Yanahir was a wizard himself, as well as a historian, and he was fascinated by the Races of Man. Of course, there were only three then: humans, dwarves, and hradani."
"Three?" Brandark looked up sharply. "What about the elves?"
"Oh, they didn't even exist until after the First Wizard Wars," Wencit told him. "In fact, it was watching them come into existence that started Yanahir wondering about the original three races."
"The elves 'came into existence' after the Wizard Wars?" Brandark sounded stunned, and Wencit nodded.
"Of course. Ottovar and Gwynytha created them."
"What?" Bahzell stared at the wizard in disbelief, and Wencit sighed.
"I see I do have to get as much of Yanahir's history written back down as I can." He turned his glowing eyes on Kaeritha. "I know Mistress Sherath gave you a good, solid grounding in history, Kaeritha. Didn't she ever mention Yanahir or the Cleaving to you?"
"Not that I can remember," Kaeritha said after several seconds of frowning thought. "She did describe sarthnasikarmanthar to us, but I think that was because some magi have stone-working talents which could be mistaken for it by people who don't know the difference and she wanted to be certain we did. She certainly never mentioned anything about 'cleft points,' though. And she didn't say anything about the elves having been 'created' either. Of course-" she twitched a shrug and grinned "-Mistress Sherath tended to concentrate on Norfressan history, Wencit. That's quite ancient enough for most people, you know."
"Oh, dear." Wencit rubbed a hand over his eyes, and as their glow disappeared behind his hand, he looked every year of his unthinkable age for just an instant. Then he lowered his hand and smiled crookedly. "Let this be a lesson to you, my friends. Never assume that just because something was once common knowledge it must be still."
"I'm thinking it's likely you're after having a bit more opportunity for that than such as we do," Bahzell said dryly, and Wencit chuckled.
"No doubt," he agreed, then shook himself. "All right. Basically, Yanahir was curious about how the different Races of Man came into existence-or, to be more precise, about how the differences between them arose-and he decided to find out."
"But weren't they always different?" Vaijon asked, brow creased in confusion.
"No." Wencit shook his head firmly. "I'm not privy to all of the techniques Yanahir used in his investigations. Remember, he'd studied directly under Ottovar, and many of his techniques had been lost long before even the Fall. I do know some wizards are actually capable of traveling through time, though there aren't many who can do it, thank Orr. And only a madman would do so willingly, given that one can only travel backwards, not forward, and that a careless act on the wizard's part would be entirely capable of… um, uncreating the time from which he came." He grimaced. "But Yanahir had developed some of the best scrying spells of his time to assist Ottovar in the First Wizard Wars. He might have used some variant of those, and whatever he did, those of his contemporaries who were privy to his studies accepted his findings unequivocally."
"And those findings were?" Brandark asked, and his eyes were almost as bright as Wencit's with the knowledge-hunger at his core.
"Originally, there was only a single Race of Man," Wencit said simply. "Humans."
"But that's-" Vaijon began, then stopped.
"But that's ridiculous," Wencit finished for him, and shrugged. "No doubt it seems that way, but Yanahir insisted the evidence was there. According to his studies, the three 'original' Races of Man had all diverged from one another during what he called 'the Cleaving,' when the 'cleft points' that distinguish them drove them apart. As support, he pointed to the emergence of the elves. For that matter, we've had evidence of our own to support the same theory in the halflings. All the tales and histories agree that there were no halflings until after the Fall, and I can personally attest to that fact."
"So what were the cleft points?" Kaeritha asked.
"Well, for the dwarves, it was sarthnasikarmanthar. The occasional human had possessed the same talent, though in much weaker form, before the Cleaving. According to Yanahir, people with the talent-or the potential for it-were drawn to one another, and gradually, as they interbred, it grew stronger and stronger in their descendants. I said earlier that it's a talent, not true wizardry. Brandark found that difficult to accept, I believe, and now that I've had a chance to think about Yanahir's theories a bit, I'm not sure he was entirely wrong to doubt it. In a sense, it is wizardry, but a very specialized sort. It's almost like wild wizardry in that respect, and, like wild wizardry, it produced certain physical changes-" his hand flicked up, indicating his burning eyes "-in the people who possessed it.
"The most obvious one, of course, was their shorter stature, but there were others. Their life spans increased considerably, but their fertility declined. And there were no dwarvish wizards. Yanahir's conclusion was that sarthnasikarmanthar or the potential for it somehow desensitizes its possessors to the rest of what wizards call the magic field. Since they can't even perceive it aside from its manifestation in stone and ores, none of them can ever develop the techniques to manipulate it."
"And the hradani?" Brandark demanded.
"Oh, yes. The hradani." Wencit smiled sadly. "Do any of you know where the word 'hradani' comes from?" His listeners shook their heads. "It's a shortened version of the original word 'hradahnahin,' which came in turn from the Old Kontovaran 'hra,' which meant 'calm,' and 'danahai,' which meant 'foxlike.' "
"Calm?" Brandark repeated very carefully. "Did you say calm?"
"I did. And before the Fall, it was exactly the right word." He looked at the two hradani. "I know your people's tales of what the Carnadosans did to you during the Wizard Wars, Bahzell, Brandark. But even the darkest of them don't tell it all. For thousands upon thousands of years in Kontovar, the hradahnahin were considered the calmest, sanest of all the Races of Man."
"I don't believe it," Brandark said flatly. "I can't believe it!"
"I'm not surprised," Wencit told him. "How could you, given the curse the Fall left your people? But it's true nonetheless. Your people were always bigger, stronger, tougher than the other Races of Man, but there was no such thing as the Rage, and your lives were only a very little longer than those of humans."
"What happened?" Bahzell asked very quietly, and Wencit sighed.
"Yanahir found the cleft point for your people in something much more subtle than sarthnasikarmanthar, Bahzell. It wasn't something the hradahnahin did; it was something they were, and it explained their strength and size and how rapidly they recovered from injuries. Unlike humans or dwarves-or elves and half-elves, for that matter-your ancestors were directly attuned to the magic field. They were linked to it, drawing upon it for their strength and vitality, and it gave them a sort of harmony which showed in a calm demeanor, an almost deliberate approach to any question or problem.
"But when the Dark Lords needed shock troops, all they saw was your people's strength and toughness. You made ideal soldiers-or would have, if you'd been willing to serve them. And if they'd been able to control you. So they developed the spells to let them do just that."
A memory of ancient anguish-and, perhaps, of shame-twisted the old wizard's face, and he looked away for a long moment while tension crackled in the tunnel.
"We tried to stop them," he said finally, his voice very soft. "The White Council tried, Bahzell. I swear it. But we were too late, and the Carnadosans… They took insane chances with the art. They reached down deep inside your ancestors and they twisted and they ripped and they-"
He broke off, then turned to look Bahzell and Brandark squarely in the eye.
"We shielded as many of the hradahnahin as we could, but we couldn't protect enough of them. And those we couldn't protect, or who fell into Carnadosan hands as the war turned against us, were changed. The Dark Lords inflicted the Rage upon them, and at the same time, they strengthened that link to the energy field so that their slave soldiers would be even harder to kill, would recover even more quickly from their wounds so they could be thrown at the Gryphon Guard again and again. That's why your lives are longer than they were… and the same changes are also the reason your people became so much less fertile than humans."
He stopped speaking, and despite the sound of hooves and wagon wheels echoing in the tunnel, an odd sort of silence enveloped his listeners. Bahzell and Brandark stared at one another, stunned by what they'd just heard, and then Bahzell felt another pair of eyes upon him. He turned and met Kaeritha's dark blue gaze, saw the understanding and sympathy in it, and felt her reach out to rest one hand lightly on his shoulder. He reached up and covered it with his own hand, then looked back at Wencit.
"Well, that's worth knowing," he said, vaguely surprised by how normal his own voice sounded. "And I'm thinking it's yet another reason for my folk to not be trusting any wizards-with one exception, maybe." He grinned crookedly at Wencit and deliberately changed the subject. Or, rather, returned to an earlier one. "But you were saying as how the elves were 'created' after the First Wizard Wars?"
"Hm?" Wencit twitched his shoulders. "Oh. Yes, I was." He rubbed an eyebrow, marshaling his thoughts and obviously grateful for Bahzell's question.
"The main difference between the elves and the races which came before them," he said after a moment, "is that they chose to become a separate race. You see, before Ottovar imposed the Strictures, there was a group of magic-users known as warlocks or witches. The main difference between them and what we call wizards today-or, more properly, wand wizards-was that a warlock didn't spend years in study and didn't evolve elaborate techniques for manipulating the energy about him. His approach to the art was much more… basic than that, because he saw it more clearly. In a sense, he was directly linked to the energy much as your ancestors were, Bahzell, but in a different way. It didn't sustain him; instead, he was able to manipulate and use it much as the stoneherds use sarthnasikarmanthar. The effects they could achieve were far less spectacular than a sarthnasik could produce, but they weren't limited to stone, and they'd been very useful as a sort of magical support troops for the wizard lords Ottovar had vanquished.
"Unfortunately, it was much more difficult to police warlocks than wand wizards, which posed a problem for Ottovar and Gwynytha's Strictures. It wasn't impossible, but it wouldn't have been easy, and, frankly, the use of their abilities came too easily to them. It was highly unlikely that they could have renounced their use even if they'd wanted to, but Ottovar and Gwynytha hadn't spent centuries fighting to impose some sort of restraint on the unbridled use of the art just to see that restraint destroyed within a generation or two. So they made a bargain with the warlocks. They created a spell-according to Yanahir, it was Gwynytha's work, and it must have been an incredible feat-which changed the warlocks' talent into something very like your own people's link to the magic field. The warlocks gave up sorcery… and in return, they received immortality." He smiled-a wry, bitter twist of the lips. "I don't think it was a bargain I would have made. Immortality would give me too long to remember what I'd given up to get it."
"But you're already-" Vaijon blurted, then clamped his jaw shut. Wencit looked at him, then smiled more naturally.
"Immortal, Vaijon?" He laughed. "Oh, no. Wild wizards live a long, long time, but we're not immortal. And the elves truly are, you know. They can be killed, and they do die, but unless they're murdered or die in battle or of a disease or in an accident they truly can live forever. Not that they do. In time, even immortality can become a curse, and eventually most of them choose to die.
"But-" he shook himself "-that's how the elves became the fourth Race of Man. I don't suppose-" his smile became a grin "-that I have to explain where the half-elves came from, do I?"
"No, I'm thinking we've all a fair enough grasp of how that's after working," Bahzell assured him dryly.
"Good. As for the halflings, they're obviously a true fifth race, but I have to admit that I'm not entirely certain what constitutes their 'cleft point.' I'm inclined to think it was simply the amount of raw wizardry their ancestors were exposed to. People too close to unshielded workings of the art can be… changed, and the Carnadosans often ignored their responsibility to shield others from the emanations of their spells. My best guess is that the halflings are descended from the servants and slaves of dark wizards who were sloppy about shielding… and I'd also guess that's where the magi come from, as well."
"Um." Brandark nodded slowly, eyes half closed as he considered all he'd just learned. "That's quite a lump of information, Wencit," he said finally, "not all of it exactly pleasant. But it does explain a few things I've wondered about in the past."
"But not the Purple Lords," Kaeritha put in. The others looked at her, and she shrugged. "Half-elves breed true, and they've existed almost as long as the elves themselves. Why aren't they considered the fifth race instead of the halflings? And why don't any other crossings between the races breed true?"
"Actually, half-elves only 'breed true' with elves or other half-elves," Wencit told her. "I sometimes think that's one reason the Purple Lords are so arrogant. Their ancestors deliberately chose to breed a new Race of Man, but none of the others have ever acknowledged them as such. They certainly think they should have been known as the 'fifth Race of Man,' but if they truly constitute a race at all, it's an artificial one. If they were to interbreed with humans or dwarves, they'd quickly disappear once more."
"They would?" Kaeritha sounded surprised, and he nodded.
"Certainly. Any of the Races of Man can interbreed with any of the others, Kerry. It happens more in Norfressa than it did in Kontovar-the Empire of the Axe is proof of that-but it happened even there upon occasion. Of course, there could be problems. For example, crosses between dwarves and elves tend to be very short-lived, and the offspring of human and hradani parents are sterile. For that matter, so are the children of elvish and hradani or elvish and dwarvish parents."
"Sterile, is it?" Bahzell rumbled.
"I'm afraid so," Wencit confirmed. "And where the human-hradani crossing is concerned, it may be just as well for the rest of the Races of Man!" Bahzell glanced at him quizzically, and Wencit laughed. "If they weren't sterile, Bahzell, they'd probably end up ruling the world."
"What?" Brandark pricked up his ears. "And why would that happen?"
"Just for starters, they live even longer than half-elves," Wencit said dryly, "and they normally inherit the best of both their parent stocks."
" 'The best'?" Kaeritha repeated.
"Well, I think so," Wencit said. "They get the strength and toughness of their hradani parent, along with the hradani link to the magic field, but some of them also get the one thing which sets humans apart from all the other Races of Man."
"Which is?" Brandark asked.
"Wizardry, Brandark," Wencit said softly. "Ever since the days of Ottovar the Great, there hasn't been a single dwarvish, elvish, or hradani wizard. Every single one of us has been human… or at least half-human." He smiled again, sadly. "So you see, we're the ones to blame for the Fall, aren't we?"