The clouds were gathering into thick rolling masses. Lightning crackled forebodingly across the face of the dark thunderhead, warning the coastal town of the coming storm. Great waves already lapped at the ancient dikes, and the townspeople prayed that the embankments would hold. Already abandoned, only the shop owners remained to frantically nail storm boards over their windows. A light breeze gently washed over the town. The warm draft sent the final merchants from the streets, leaving the cobblestone roads in an eerie quiet.

A stray dog lay flaccidly in the streets. It whimpered, its gaze fixed on the enormous tempest that loomed over the town. Its ears suddenly perked up as a boy emerged from the shadows. The dog watched the boy for several moments, before deeming him unworthy of its attention.

The boy looked around nervously. His bright green eyes scanned the area, searching for any authority. Don’t be paranoid, he told himself. His hands were shaking, and his heart beat rapidly. He took several deep breathes, but his nerves refused to be calmed. After this, it will all be over, he assured himself, though he didn't quite believe it.

The boy began to walk quickly through the open streets.

He quickened his step as a clap of thunder split the air, and the wind began to spray small droplets of water into his face. In the distance, he heard waves thunder onto the coast. He could imagine the dikes crumbling, the water swelling through the broken fortifications, destroying everything in its path. Should the dikes fail, the black water would devour the town in minutes.

The boy pulled a hood over his head as the rain intensified. The wind began to pick up, and shingles, bottles, and other debris began to skip across the streets. With no small relief, the boy spotted the meeting place through the rain. The metal shack was far more intimidating than it should be.

He rapped on the door twice. A moment of silence followed, before the rickety wooden door swung open to reveal several boys playing on a Runesquare table. Grateful for shelter, he entered.

“Nathan, it’s about time you showed up," said the tallest boy upon his arrival. “We were about ready to call the meeting off.”

“I was held up.” The boy, Nathan, took a seat, across from the others.

“Sure you were. Now, let’s see what you have today,” said the tall boy. Nathan removed a small leather bag from his cloak, dumping the contents. Multicolored rocks scattered across the table. The tall boy leaned forward, silently counting in his head.

“Three mithril rocks, and about a dozen iron and copper rocks,” he observed, frowning over the ores. “Not exactly the king’s treasury.” Nathan took a deep breath. Time to make the pitch.

“That’s not all, Ramon,” said Nathan, feigning composure. In reality, his heart felt like it was ready to explode. He reached into his pocket, withdrawing a turquoise stone. Nathan heard a sharp intake of breath. Ramon’s eyes grew larger than the moon as the trader beheld the bluish stone that sat so close to him.

“Is that—”

“Runite ore,” Nathan finished, a slight smile playing across his features. Ramon leaned closer. The priceless pebble reflected light from the small candle that hung from the ceiling, adding to the majesty the stone demanded. As if in a trance, Ramon sat back, mumbling incoherently.

“Congratulations,” he breathed. “You have an item of value.”

“How much for it all?” Nathan asked impatiently, eager to close the deal. Ramon stroked the sparse whiskers that grew on his cheeks thoughtfully. His eyes danced from ore to ore, swiftly calculating the amount with a practiced mind.

“Five thousand, for it all,” said Ramon.

Nathan gaped, no words coming to his mouth. He had known he would never receive what the ore’s real value was. Anyone who dealt with Ramon and his black market operation knew that the thug worked only to make profit. But five thousand? That was an incredible scam, even by Ramon’s standards.

“You know full well the rune ore alone is worth at least fifteen,” Nathan managed to choke out. Ramon chuckled, shaking his head amusedly.

“As you can see, I’m not exactly the Duke of Chalcis. Money may grow on trees for our illustrious leader, but here in the slums, we gotta make dough the old fashioned way.”

“Do you realize how much trouble I had to go through to get this thing?” Nathan exploded. “I had to break into my own father’s warehouse. I stole one of only three runite rocks in the city. The police have been swarming the entire city.” he began gathering the ores furiously. As he reached for the rune rock, Ramon’s hand shot out, grabbing Nathan’s wrist.

“Seven thousand,” he said, not yet willing to see the valuable ore go. Nathan laughed.

“You’re not the only dealer in Chalcis. And you sure as hell aren’t the best one,” snarled Nathan.

Ramon sighed, settling back into his chair. With an eerily pleasant smile, he took a sip from a glass of bourbon. Nathan spat at the dealer’s feet, before snatching the rock and heading for the door.

“Maybe you should have gone to the other dealers in the first place,” Ramon said coolly. Nathan turned. His two cronies stood up, smiling as they cracked their oversized knuckles. A chill ran down Nathan’s spine.

“What are you going to do, kill me and dump me in the streets?”

“Well, I don’t want to,” said Ramon. The black marketer stood. “Here’s the deal. There is no take it or leave it, there will be no negotiations. My final offer is eight thousand. If you take it, you get to leave with your insides still intact, and I get the stones. If you don’t, I will kick you out and take the stones anyway.”

The lack of foresight by himself appalled Nathan. The ramifications of putting such a valuable item in the eyes of a street thug had never occurred to him. His father, a successful entrepreneur, would have scolded him for walking into such a crooked deal in the first place.

“You’ll sell it for at least twenty thousand,” accused Nathan. Ramon shrugged. Now that negotiation was out of the picture, appealing to the customer was no longer necessary. Nathan stared dolefully at the ground, seeing no way out of the hook, line, and sinker than had caught him.

Except one.

Nathan bolted, smashing through the wooden door. The decaying wood broke easily. Suddenly, Nathan was free. The wind that greeted him roared with unfathomable fury, tossing debris freely through the air. The rain came down in torrents, soaking the fleeing boy.

Though by now, hypothermia was the least of his worries.

He rounded a corner, sliding several feet on the slick stone before his boots managed to gain traction. A rock flew through the air, thwacking into the wall ahead of him. It looked like a dead end.

His legs ached, and his lungs burned, but the sound of footsteps behind him forced Nathan to continue. He leaped onto a steel ladder. Risking a look down, he breathed a sigh of relief when he saw his pursuers were not following him up the ladder.

Pulling himself over the top of the building, Nathan collapsed, letting the cool rain wash over him. He turned the slick runite stone over in his hand. So much trouble for such a small rock. Despair overtook Nathan, as he realized he had fallen for another trap. He spotted Ramon standing several paces away, flanked by several of his soldiers.

How had he gotten here so fast?

Ramon smiled sadistically, his eyes shining through the rain like a beacon. The cold stone in Nathan’s hand now seemed evil, a harbinger of sadness and anger. If only Father could see me now, Nathan thought through gritted teeth.

“I’m surprised you got this far,” Ramon said dryly. “My friend here thought you would trip on the way out.” Nathan noted the daggers held in each of their hands. They were held threateningly out in front of their bodies, as if expecting Nathan to try and escape again. Fat chance, Nathan thought despondently.

His assailants approaching, Nathan desperately scanned the area for some means of escape. His choices were diminishing rapidly. Nathan began to retreat as his attackers drew nearer and nearer.

“Give me the stone,” said Ramon. The mocking tone had left his voice, replaced by a harsh snarl that sent shivers up Nathan’s spine. Nathan took one more step back. His feet found no purchase on solid ground, and before he knew it, he was hurtling toward the ground at terrifying speeds.

He hit the ground with a blood-chilling thud. His vision went black, and a wave of nausea washed over Nathan. He could feel warm blood running over his face, and a piercing pain tearing into the back of his neck. He tried to draw a breath, but his lungs refused to expand. An odd numbing sensation covered any feeling in his legs. He no longer felt the cold texture of the runite ore in his hand, though at this point the odd numbing sensation had spread up his arms and chest, and into his head, sweeping away all worries.

I’m going to die, Nathan thought cheerfully. For the first time in his troubled youth, he felt genuinely at peace. It was all over. He need not deal with the gangs, the money, or the parents anymore. He was safe, and he was happy. The bruises made by his father’s sweeping hand no longer seemed important. For he was protected by the open hands of death.

Then, an incredibly bright light perforated the blackness in Nathan’s eyes. The deadening sensation retreated, replaced by a million pins and needles poking his sensitive skin. He gasped as his lungs suddenly opened, allowing air to pour into the broken body. Nathan opened his eyes.

A strange figure stood in front of him, features hidden by an impenetrable veil of light. The sounds of the storm gradually died away, replaced by the peaceful sound of a light wind. Nathan smiled at the figure. An angel, he thought, come to take me to the land of paradise. He smiled again at the thought of his coming rapture.

The figure walked forward, ever so slowly, as if walking through a thick liquid. Nathan could not help but marvel at the grace with which it moved. It reached out, the hand shrouded in light as it offered its grip.

As their hands touched, an electrifying feeling raced through Nathan. He cried out, and suddenly he was falling. The light was receded as darkness encroached, and with a final cry, Nathan was tossed beneath the churning waves of oblivion.