Out of the Gull.
The time for war draws near.
Friends come and so do the foes.
Yet, the stance of some is unknown,
for friend and foe is a matter of perspective..
For nature has neither and holds neither..
The undead were relentless. They came at them moaning, howling, and did they come at them shrieking!
And side by side with the dearest man of her life, Alor’Nadien ne Feymist, fought, tooth and nail, and did she deny herself of her heritage, for, at that very moment, she was not the princess of the high elves, but the Queen of Death, herself..
And behind them, her cousin, Anglenna Sunsear, rained her own kind of death and destruction and she was immaculate at it, as she had been in everything she did. Deep down, Alor’Nadien ne had always admired her cousin’s cool and somewhat aloof demeanor as she had, when she had been, but a tiny little thing, yearning to go and knock at her aunt’s door in Bari Na-ammen and beg her to give permission so her cousin would play with her.
The irony in that was lost to all but herself.
Alor’Nadien ne had never yearned to actually play with Anglenna, so much as she wanted to observe her..
..and be awesome like her!
The games had been a mere excuse and sort of a bonus..
..and she had had the chance to make someone eat her cakes, her cookies, and her pies, though, looking back, said cakes, cookies, and pies shouldn’t have had raw onions because she’d thought they made her pies crunchy. Her cookies also shouldn’t have had baby powder because she’d thought cookies ought to have that white thingy on them, nor should her cakes have had her mother’s hand cream because she’d strongly believed all cakes just must have whipped cream on them..
Yet, her cousin Anglenna had eaten them anyway, which, in later years, told her several things;
That her cousin had preferred her, quite horrible, hideous, even, cooking skills, coupled with her highly creative ingredients, than to spending time with her own mother..
That she must have enjoyed her little baby cousin’s presence, even against the prodigious, one hundred and fifty years age disparity..
That deep down, she had, in fact, been fond of her and cared for her, looked out for her, and perhaps most important of all, believed in her, even against all of her own mother’s indoctrinations..
That she would make her the queen she, Alor’Nadien ne, had never yearned to be, whether she wanted it or not..
And that she had, at some point, stopped seeing her as merely her cousin, but started viewing her and ‘that young man’ as one, and had started protecting them both..
Alor’Nadien ne was not sure why all these had crossed her mind at that point, but at some subconscious level, she felt that they all meant something.. something more that changes in characters, or choices, or perspectives, but change..
..in a sense that could only be defined as ‘total’.
And that was when she had come face to face with the Draugr, the undead monstrosity her cousin, Anglenna had warned her about. Unwittingly she’d stared at the soulless creature’s voids, where there were supposed to have been eyes and seen..
Alor’Nadien ne blacked out.
But she did not back down.
With the savagery of a High Woods lynx, she slashed and hacked her way through the undead until there was only the Draugr.
She did not hesitate.
With her near three-yard long glaive and the thirty-inch deathly steel, she stabbed it..
..in the heart.
And for a bare moment, she felt the death throes of that heart carried all the way from the deathly blade, down the long shaft of her glaive, and in her hands.
She thought she felt something familiar about that final tremor in that heart..
And then she came around.
Staring in horror at the fallen and bloody form of her Udoorin.
It all went sideways after that and try as she might, Alor’Nadien ne just couldn’t remember anything.
Only that it had been she, who had slain her love.
And in her post-madness insanity, there had been that howling scream of some churning wind, followed by a brilliant flash of light..
..and that’s it.
She was no longer down in the stinking sewers of the once glorious city of Arashkan.
✱ ✱ ✱
Sheriff Standorin stood silently as he stared down at the rickety bed, and the tall, alluring figure lying in it with a horrible expression on his face.
Much like all the other dormitories in the temple, this small room was also comprised of a single bed, a chair, a nightstand with a washing dish, a lockless box for personal effects, and..
The only variation to these had been the addition of extra beds in most of the other rooms since the arrival of the half-born, making the already small dormitories rather cramped, though the new, otherworldly guests never complained. For them, this was Heaven, as opposed to their previous ‘Hellish’ pits..
The tall, alluring girl, Constance, had tiny beads of sweat on her contorted face, her brows frowning, her bright red lips pressed together and though her eyes were open, there was a glossy shimmer about them; pained and somewhat glassy, as tears ran down and disappeared in her long and disheveled black hair.
She was trying, very hard, to put on a ‘happy’ front, but was failing quite miserably.
As much pain as she was in, she still managed to be quiet and dignified about it and the only other sign that would have given her apparent pain away, was her fisted hands, blessedly hiding under the itchy blanket that covered her up to her chest.
She managed to turn her head to make sure they were alone, then unclenched her lips and tried for a smile.
“There.. really isn’t any cause.. for such ruckus, dear Sheriff.. Standorin.. Shieldheart.. And.. I do not believe.. my actions merit.. such a scowl..”, she whispered.
Sheriff’s face became even more horrible.
“What did you do?”, he growled in his deep rumbling voice.
Constance stared at him, her gaze glassy and a bit off.
“We gave an oath.. Sheriff. To sweat.. to bleed.. and to die, to attain.. our Ascension. I have bled.”, she said with a forced smile.
“And now.. I am sweating..”
“I am not very good with levity, Miss Constance.”, scowled Standorin, as he fumed.
“Then I shall refrain.. from it..”, she smiled even more, though she had closed her eyes tightly and her frown bespoke of much pain.
“Sheriff Standorin..”, said a shy, soft, earnest voice from the door. “You should go. Constance needs rest and time to mend.”
Standorin turned to the door to see the small Inshala standing there. He inadvertently scowled at her as well, causing her to flinch, but she refused to back down. Blushing furiously, she held her ground. “Sir. Please. What she is going through is a delicate matter and requires tender care. If you are willing to give her that, you may stay. If you wish is to intorodate her, you really should leave, because she is hurting and is in much pain.”
“Intorodate?”, the sheriff asked a bit baffled.
“My Aager knows what it means. You may ask him later if you wish.”, she replied, blushing even more.
“I only want to know what is going on here. She was fine two days ago when she suddenly disappeared and this evening she was found, lying unconscious and beat, in the dirt, several miles away from the village. If there is a crime done against her, the felons must be found and face the harshest of punishments!”
“No crime was done here, Sheriff, sir.”, Inshala said, quietly. “What has befallen her, is something she has brought upon herself.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”, the sheriff growled.
“I.. I am very sorry, sir. That is the best I can explain.”, she struggled. “I do not have the right to say any more for.. certain other.. people are involved.. Should she wish it, she may share it with you. But her sacrifice is not mine to reveal. Now, she needs to rest and mend.”
“People? What other people? What sacrifice? What the heck is going on here?!”, Sheriff Standorin very nearly blared.
“Sherif Standorin.”, said a young, sharp voice, and Thomas Dimwood appeared behind Inshala. “You will refrain from such demanding attitudes and you will not raise your voice in my temple. And you will respect the privacy and sanctity of my guests and those under my care. Must I remind you that the Temple of Light is not under your jurisdiction? You, on the other hand, are in mine, now, as you are not even a guest, but a visitor. I do not want to have to remove you from my grounds, but if I must, I shall.”
The room’s temperature suddenly plummeted and an ominous silence spread.
“That was a tad uncalled for, young man.”, Standorin growled.
“So is your attitude towards my guests, the Ritual Guardian, Liaison Constance, and your free reign of my temple.”, replied Thomas cooly.
“Old Demos would never have taken that tone with me—”, the sheriff said scowling fiercely.
“You would never have done what you just did, had our Father, Demos were alive, Sheriff. Perhaps you imagine his absence gives you some leeway?”, Thomas said and his tone had taken a frosty edge now.
“Dear, Thomas..”, came the brittle voice of Constance as more tears came down her closed eyes. “..please. Friends should not fight over such technicalities. I and my brothers and sisters are new, here, in this Mortal coil, but we watch and we learn; I am certain the esteemed sheriff means no disrespect to your, your guests, nor your sanction. He.. he is merely worried.. Which is understandable and was my doing.. I shall.. tell him.. what he wants to know, and what he needs to know, also.”
“I agree.”, came Inshala’s small voice as she stared at her own feet. “I really am sorry, sir. I can say some things, I can not say some other things. There are forces in this world and.. other places.. that are beyond understanding and mustn’t be put to words on a whim for they may hear, and bring their retribution upon us. Please, sir. You must accept what I say, and stop there. I apologize for making this harder for you to understand but I am young and silly and I lack words.”
Standorin stared at Constance, then at the little girl, Inshala, then at Thomas, who was staring back at him, not quite as coldly as before, merely as adamant and immovable as him.
“I apologize for my attitude, Temple Guardian. I overstepped my boundaries in my moment of pique.”, the sheriff rumbled, though it was rather obvious, he was quite furious the way the young man had ‘man-handled’ him the way he had.
He then he walked over to the door, dropped on one knee before Inshala and with a much softer voice, he said, “And I apologize to you as well, again, and twice; once to the Ritual Guardian, and once you, dear Inshala. You have been nothing but good to this town and the refugees and probably doing more than I can see and comprehend. It would seem I am out of my debt here and trying to understand things quite beyond me, much like, it would seem, I am doomed to kneel before you and apologize, time and again, every time I turn around.”
Inshala’s face smoldered.
She was so embarrassed, she seemed like she was looking for some tiny hole to hide in.
So she did the only thing she could think of.
She hugged the huge, kneeling, man and hid her face there!
“Please do not kneel like this again, sir. Not to me, not to anyone. Decent and honorable men should bow to no one. Your son, Udoorin, never did, accept that one time when he was trying to learn me what it meant to love. He was always nice and polite to me. My Aager shows respect to everyone but feels only for very few and you are one of those few.”, she spoke from where she hid her face.
Sheriff Standorin blushed.
“Well, I—”, he faltered.
“—Lost?”, offered Thomas with a grin.
“I suppose I did..”, he sighed.
Then he kindly parted with the little girl, got up to his feet, and looked at the two of them.
“I would like to stay here with our Liaison until she gets better and is able to return to her duties. Lady Inshala, I would be grateful if you would go and inform Master Aager, that until such time as I am able to return to my duties, he will take over my duties as the acting sheriff, effective immediately.”, he said.
“Uhhmm.. Your sheriff is telling me somethings to tell you, but I have no idea what he just said, my Aager.”, Inshala whimpered in her head.
“What did he say, love?”, came Aager’s voice.
“He told me to tell you that you are something something acting something sheriff, escaping immediately!”
“Shit!”, Aager cursed vehemently. “As if I didn’t have enough on my plate..”
“AAGER FOGSTEP!”, gasped Inshala.
“I am sorry, love. Not in a very good mood today. I just can’t seem to teach this lot why we go for the jugular instead of the kidney in an ambush. I guess some people just like the drama of watching a violently struggling victim in an abhorrent amount of pain who is likely to manage a scream while he is kicking around in massive spasms as opposed to silently lowering him down with the least struggle while he quietly bleeds out!”
“Ow.. Tigers always go for the jugular! Nature is the best killer!”, Inshala said enthusiastically. “But I think your sheriff just wants to stay with Liaison Constance until she gets better.”
“Ahh.. that sounds.. familiar..”
“Ow, my.. I suppose it does, doesn’t it? Where are you? He told me to GO AND TELL you, so I think I must go to you, mustn’t I? I mean, I can’t just tell him, I just told you!”
“Yes, that would be hard to explain. Might as well come, love, perhaps we could take an early break and go home?”, Aager offered.
“I’d like that.”
“Alright. I guess I will go now, then?”, Inshala said with an exaggerated and guilty sort of tone and left.
Standorin stared after her, shook his head, then turned back to Thomas.
“Liaison Constance is a member of my office.”, he continued. “I must make sure she stays as part of my office, well and healthy, hence I invoke my right to sanction, Temple Guardian Thomas, and I believe anyone who invokes such sanction must be admitted without question or hindrance.”, he said and grinned at Thomas.
The young senior temple guardian frowned.
“I see you have been reading jurisdictional and temple laws, Sheriff. A bit out of your way, isn’t it?”, he mused.
“The esteemed Liaison has made me aware, I have been lacking in that area. Hence I took the time to remedy it. Now, if you will..”, the sheriff said and let it hanging..
“Very well, sheriff. I shall send some food to both of you soon enough.”, Thomas conceded.
“I would like to pay for them.”, Standorin said.
“We do not charge here, sheriff.”, reminded the young temple guardian.
“No, you don’t. But as small an amount as it may be, I am sure it will go somewhere better than where I’d have spent it. Accept it as a tithe, if you will. Unless you want two of your guests under your care to starve.”, Standorin said sternly.
“What is it about you Shieldhearts and your obstinacy, I wonder.”, he said.
“It’s all about the Heart, really. The Shield, we use to bash out the obstinacy from young men! Now, if you will, I have a young Liaison to care for.”
✱ ✱ ✱
She is waking up.”, whispered a petulant voice.
“She is an early riser. But then, she’s been falling asleep where she kneels, crying all day.”, replied another voice, also in a whisper, though this one was soft and sounded like she laughed a lot in her normal merry voice. “It breaks my heart seeing her like this, day after day and it’s been weeks. I’ll admit, her boy is sort of cute, in a puppy-eye way, but the bushy thing he’s got on his face irks me.”
“Ow, yes, Temessa. It totally creeps me out! Did you bring her something to eat? I brought her my best peaches yesterday, she didn’t touch them.”, the petulant voice said.. petulantly.
“It is possible she might not like peaches, Yamara. Some Mortals do not and it even irks them. It has to do with the hair on the peaches, I think. A bit like how the boy’s bushy face irks us.”, explained Temessa in her hushed voice.
“That was not a nice thing to say, Temessa. My peaches are delicious. She didn’t eat your apples, either, if I recall.”, Yamara said in a hurt voice.
“True. But my apples are always dark and red and sweet and juicy. Just like me! Some Mortals prefer the hard and sour kind.”, shrugged Temessa.
“She didn’t touch Cherriot’s cherries, Shyad’s grapes, Kardenymp’s quinces, nor Veraminks’ berries. She is Mortal. She must be hungry by now. She will suffer scary visions and horrible dreams and die if she doesn’t eat soon.”, Yamara said a bit freaked.
“Maybe that’s why she is so skinny?”, Temmessa mused. “I wish Aremela were here. She’d know a way to make her eat and stop crying. She was the only one among us to very nearly understand Mortals.”
“It has been nearly twenty years since she’s been gone, Temessa.”, Yamara reminded her, though she said it with a very slight tremor in her own voice.
“Yes. But she was my friend and we always had the bestest fun when she was with us.”, Temessa signed.
“That’s true.”, Yamara admitted grudgingly. “Even though she snitched me to Mother, once.”
“She didn’t snitch you, Yamara. She told Mother, yes, you were being rude to everyone and, yes, you did charr Cherriot’s cherries because I snitched you to Mother and Mother asked her if this was true!”, Temessa replied simply.
Yamara made an unhappy noise.
“Did you know Mother was thinking of talking to that Blom Bundlebim Hobim so he would write all his adventures? That way, everyone will remember Aremela Berrybush!”, Temessa said suddenly.
“Ow, wow! Will we be in it, too?”, Yamara asked eagerly.
“Probably. I mean, we were there when they met, weren’t we?”
“Yes, we were. We are going to be so famous!”, Yarama beamed.
“Shhh! She is opening her eyes.. She has lovely eyes. Like dew grass after a spring rain.”, Temessa said with an adoring tone.
“Yes. But she also has dark circles around them and her face is swollen. She must eat.”, Yamara observed critically.
“Good morning, Yamara. Good morning Temessa.”, whispered Lorna..
..because that was the only strength she had left in her;
Temessa and Yamara just stared at her.
“Sweet Alor’Nadien ne. We have brought you new apples, peaches, grapes, cherries, and berries this morning. We give these to you freely and Mother knows this.”, Temessa almost pleaded.
“Yes, she does, even though she told us we could bargain for them if we wanted to. Please accept them. We already lost many of our sisters here some time ago to some villainous dwarves and it has made us very sad. We do not wish a pretty Mortal to die, as well.”, Yamara begged.
“I am sorry for your loss, dear Yamara. But it’s alright. Once my beautiful Udoorin is gone, I shall take my leave and die elsewhere. That way, I shall not ruin the sanctity of your beautiful valley.”, Lorna replied hoarsely.
“Please, pretty Alor’Nadien ne. Eat at least one peach or one apple, or even some grapes and cherries and even some berries. Before Mother comes and asks you again.”, Temessa said, this time actually pleading.
“I thank you both and your sisters. You have been nothing but kind and generous to me. My answer to Mother will be the same as it was yesterday, and the day before that, and I shall carry your kindness to my grave.”, Lorna breathed rapidly..
..and vaguely realized this rapid breathing was a new symptom.
Yes. Her time was coming to a close and.. rapidly..
The fact that she had survived as long as she had, was likely to her connection to the Spirit of High Woods. But like her woods, she too was ending.
At least she would get her moment to say farewell to her Udoorin one last time before she crawled out of Gull’s Perch.
And with that thought, she looked down at the strange, quartz-blue, crystal-like coffin she was leaning where she lay, and where she’d woken, day after day, and fallen asleep, night after night..
..where, under layers of the quartz-blue crystal, lay the young man she had slain in her moment of insanity.
She could see his unmoving face, peaceful, yet oddly faceted and fractured in the crystal and the bloody hole that was his heart.
She remembered that moment they had first met.
In her anger, she had charged at the people that had come bursting into the room, down in the dungeons below the ruins of Themalsar, her dark, smoking glaive raised.
Whether it had been a matter of luck, initiative, skill, destiny, or fate, the young man had reached her before she could swing her blade.
He had reached her with both of his great battle-axes already at the end of their radius, and just about to cut into her slender neck.
But in his moment of madness, he had stopped, both blades nicking at her. He had stopped and opted not to slay her. And furiously blushing, he had grinned at her and said;
“Uhhmm.. Hello. I am Udoorin.”
She hadn’t.. In her madness, she had stabbed him, in the back and in the heart..
Inevitably, her eyes teared.
“I am so, sorry, my Udoorin. Today, I shall beg her again; mine life for yours. Perhaps today she will see reason.”, she whispered. “For if she will not, I am afraid you will be staying here for a while, but I shan’t. I feel the claws of death and I am all but spent. I deserve what is upon me. Should you wake, please think not too unkindly of me, for I loved you..”
“With all my heart..”
And that single word broke her all over again.
“Dear child. How long shall this mourning last?”, asked a rich, throaty, mature voice asked.
“Will you not see reason?”
“Oops. Mother is here!”, hissed Yamara. “Better scram!”
“Right..”, agreed, Temessa and the two girls, one dryad, the other a fire nymph, took off in a haste.
“Your offer is beyond me, Mother Summer. And isn’t a choice I may adopt on my own. It involves him, his life, his future, and his line. Should I make that choice for him, never shall he gaze upon my face again. But at least he shall stay here and.. live.. forever..”, Lorna sobbed.
“My dear child, he may stay here, but not forever. One day, he may rise. Mortals have always been thus unpredictable. Have you given any thought as to what he will do, should that happen? His father, his friends, and you, the spark of his life, all gone and past, centuries over. Perhaps you think this a wise course of action and a mercy on his part. I do not. Mortals do not cope well when their loved ones leave. But in time they learn to live with it, for time prepares them for such losses and fills the gaps they leave. However, they never cope when they are suddenly made aware, all their loved ones are dead and gone and centuries ago. I have witnessed this before. And he was not even a Mortal, but a fey. It drow him mad; a once noble of a Court became the vilest of us all. I believe he haunts this world still.”, replied the rich, mature voice.
“Mother Titania. I beg of you.”, Lorna pleaded, her eyes tear-stricken, her voice already near hysteria. “Take mine life and give it to him. Give my beat so he would live..”
“My dear, girl, you did not do this to him. The madness of Draugr-kin is not a fairy tale. It is as infectious as it is corrosive.”
“But it was I who did this to him.. I stabbed him in the back. I destroyed his beautiful heart. I do not deserve to live when he is dying.. Take my beat. Please. Take it, and give it to him..”, Lorna wept.
“I do not take lives on a whim. And never from a Mortal who has done me no wrong. This is something the Queens may not do. This is the Law of Nature. Much like I may not give, without balance. This is who we are, and this is what we are.. A life for a life was my wont. But not yours for his. Mortals always do rush to give what they do not know. But then, how could they? You have never lived it all!”
“M.. Mother, please.. Just take it.. I give it freely..”, the beautiful princess of High Woods begged.
“You will give your life for him, and expect him to accept that, do you? Perhaps you think too little of him, after all.”, mused Titania.
“Give it to him. He does not have to know..”, Lorna cried.
“You wound want a Queen of the Fey to lie? Will that not destroy my own reputation?”, the Queen of Summer asked mildly.
“You will not take my life for his, but you would take the life of my unborn child?”, Alor’Nadien ne wept. “What will he think of me when I have given away his child?”
“Your child shall live long and happy, dear girl. She shall be the Summer Lady. The time nears when Mortals shall require all the help they can get. I am summer, and I may not mingle among Mortals. The Summer Lady can. She will have her Summer Knight to defend and protect her. And she will be much loved and honored among us. Your daughter will help shape the world and aid Mortals free us of the foul demon infestation. I have seen it. And have I also seen, how the lack of the two Ladies has caused the end of one cycle after another. This, you must know, and this you must understand, for this was why your great ancestors, Terandel Solace, Sinderel Tranquil, and Elorellen Feymist abandoned their homes to come this far and settle where they did; to prepare the Mortals for the day they would grow and gather to fight and end the demon infestation. Know this, young Alor’Nadien ne; the demons are coming. Gullem the Damned is preparing to move against the Humans at Heaven’s Hand and the elves at Tranquil even as we speak. And they will bring the numbers to overrun them.”, Titania said calmly, then paused as if considering, and arriving at some monumental realization herself.
“Know also that your arrival here was not by chance. Of all the Mortals that have ever come to my sacred sanction, only two did appear by the whims of fate. One, to cleanse my valley of uncouth Mortals bent on lustful greed and to make it whole again, for which both he and I paid a terrible and costly price. You, dear child, are the other.”,
“He.. If he must know. He must agree..”, Lorna moaned.
“He must not.”, the Queen of Summer said kindly.
“Why? Why shouldn’t he know?”, cried the princess.
“My dear, dear child, as much as he loves you, cherishes you, cares for you, and honors you, he is still Mortal and can not see beyond his years. Not now, not in his lifetime. Humans are not mentally equipped for such impartial decisions, hence they must not be put to task with such a verdict. Know though, shall he be long gone by the time I come to collect my charge. Willy-nilly, this bargain is between you and I, dear child.”
“And should I fail to make a choice?”
“Then he will rise, one day, and mourn, for the first thing he sees, shall be your remains and thus he shall rage, for there shall be nons he has known left; his home and his town and everyone he has thus loved and cared and cherished shall be long gone and beyond his reach and beyond his comprehension, also. He shall come to realize that he is not mere alone but in a world forever gray for him. He shall roam the lands, never to feel love, nor luster, for what he feels, he feels only for you. Thus shall his rage be without equal, and in his unquenching madness, shall he sin and slay, and thus shall he be hunted, slain over, and thrown in a pit where there shan’t even be a stone to mark his grave..”, Titania said with a certain finality.
Lorna’s vision darkened, her heartbeat hammered harder than she could ever remember, her mind swirled, she was breathing harshly now.
“Dear child. I would ask you to take my offer. Should you prolong it any further, I am afraid, there will not be anything of you left that can regain any health. The things you feel now are the accumulation of your self-imposed hunger, fatigue, irregular slumber, and your heart-felt devastation over the course of weeks. It is time, child. Know, though, I do not make such an offer lightly, nor have I ever made this offer to any Mortal in this cycle and not because I have deemed Mortals unfit, but nons have I found a Mortal worthy.”
Alor’Nadie ne never realized a whole day had passed just in that single conversation.
✱ ✱ ✱
What is wrong, love?”, said Berete Hamna Vir, her voice very worried, as she came and sat next to the little boy. “You have been sitting here in the dark all night. I know it is quiet and serene down here, but you should come and play with us.”
The little boy, Dar Derune didn’t move. He just sat where he was and staring off, somewhere, far, far away, and beyond the cavernous crypt.
“Here. I brought you your favorite sam-wish. And I managed to grab two sugar canes for you.”, the girl with the sharp features said in hopes of raising some kind of response from the boy.
“I am not hungry Hamna Vir.”, mumbled the boy and sniffed.
“You.. Have you been crying, love? Yes, you have. I can see the streaks on your face. Why are you crying, my baby mate? Did someone hurt or upset you?”, asked Hamna Vir and a frown appeared on her face.
The boy sniffed again, then, just like that..
..he climbed into her arms and started to cry with heartbreaking sobs.
“Ow, my dear, dear baby. What is wrong? Please tell me. You know you can. And we two have never had any secrets.”, Hamna Vir pleaded as her own eyes blurred as she fiercely hugged the little boy.
“She.. she..”, sobbed Dar Derune. “She’s gone!”
“Ow, love. She was gone but she’s back. Constance is back. Yes, she is hurt, but she will be alright.”, soothed Hamna Vir.
“No.. Arezme.. She is gone!”
Hamna Vir froze.
“What do you mean, she’s gone?”, she whispered.
“I have been looking in on her every day to make sure she was alright, ever since she entered the Door.”, sobbed the boy.
“But.. why?”, asked Hamna Vir.
“Because.. because I can see, Hamna Vir. And I saw a spark in her heart that day when we walked out of the Door and gave our oaths, and she went in.. The spark all Mortals have, yet none of us do. The spark of a Mortal’s heart! That is how I knew she was the first amongst us! And this evening, when I looked at her again.. I saw her spark.. bloom! Then the bloom spread and spread and became incandescent. It.. its light was so bright, it almost burned me. And just like that, it was gone. I can not see her anymore, Hamna Vir..”
“I can not see Arezme, I can not see our Merisoul.. There is only light.. Brilliant, burning light.. She’s gone!”
..and Dar Derune broke down in her arms and cried, uncontrollably, like the little boy that he was and spluttered.
“What are we going to tell mirima Temez? They were BFF!”
✱ ✱ ✱
Are you feeling any better?”, Sheriff Standorin asked.
“Will you return to your duties if I said I was?”, replied Constance with a weary smile.
“Master Aager is a trustable man. I am sure he is handling things just fine.”, Standorin said, trying for a smile himself, but not quite getting there.
“It has been days, you have been here, dear sir. What ails me will wear off, given enough time.. Just not in my lifetime, I am afraid.”, the tall, alluring girl said. “Apparently, some things end up being much more costly than we ever anticipate. I feel almost Mortal in my folly.”
“You speak in words, I do not really understand, Liaison Constance.”, Standorin said with a frown. “But I will ask you one thing because I am hoping it will be something I shall comprehend.”
“You wish to know why I asked you out.”, Constance said. It wasn’t a question so much as it was a statement, really.
“Well.. Yes..”, the sheriff admitted with a flush. “I mean, I am quite older than you. Shouldn’t you find someone your own age, perhaps? Someone young and.. handsome?”
Constance closed her eyes, drew one of her slim hands out from under the itchy blanket and placed it on her forehead, and sighed.
“What is it about you Mortals and age? It is merely a number that signifies how many years ago you were conceived and absolutely nothing else. It tells me nothing about who you are, about what you have done in those years, nor about what entails you. Tell me, sir, does that number truly encapsulate you? Does it tell me your accomplishments? Or how decent and caring and how honorable you are? Would it matter if I were to tell you it has been five hundred and thirty-two years since I was conceived?”
“I.. wouldn’t have thought you were a day older than twenty-five, ma’am..”, he mumbled. “Are you really—?”
Constance sighed again.
“Years pass differently where I come from, Stan. Yes, by your Mortal years, I guesstimate I am five hundred and thirty-two. By our standards, I am twenty-eight— which still tells you nothing about me. Not of my sins nor my deeds. Nor why I and my kind chose to abandon the only place we were perpetually abused but would never stand out. And it certainly does not tell you why I chose to date with you, does it?”, she asked wearily.
“No. I suppose it doesn’t.”, Standorin conceded.
“I promise, I will tell you. Only if you would but help me get out of this bed and wash up, as I am, very likely, quite unseemly, and perhaps even help me change. And then maybe you could take me out for lunch, or dinner? I honestly do not know what time of the day it is as these rooms have no windows. I must admit, I am quite famished. Perhaps you would go as far as a dare and we could eat at your place? I have studied Mortal cooking some. Maybe I could try my hands on it. Should you honestly like it, we can eat that. If I fail, I suppose we can go someplace where I can embarrass myself less. We can then sit there and talk or perhaps take another long walk, though, as tired as I am, you might end up carrying me back.. I leave the choices to you. In the end, I shall never take what you are unwilling to part. All I would ever want from you is to know I have someone to lean on, and that someone would make me feel mildly wanted. Should you agree, however, I would like you to expect, and accept, similar trust and care from me.”
Standorin gulped again.
“We.. could eat at my place.. though it hasn’t been touched by a woman for many years. But only if I cook while you rest. I.. can’t invite you and make you cook. That would be just wrong.”, he said, both flustered and abashed.
“I am in your care then, Standorin Shieldheart.”
Sheriff Standorin was a man of his word. As embarrassed as he was, and with a very flustered face, he helped the tall, alluring girl out of the rickety bed and sat her on the simple wooden chair, brought the washing dish over and with strong, calloused hands, he washed her slender hands and arms, her very appealing face, her slim neck, ran his wet hands over and through her long, silky black hair, and went as far as washing her proportionate, narrow feet, all without any sensual implications, but with tender care, and Constance silently watched his face with a demur blush but refrained from even the smallest smile.
The tall, alluring girl was a surprisingly perceptive and considerate creature.
Then, he went over and opened the door, and to the red-headed, bewitching little girl who had been silently sitting there with a naughty smirk on her face and an ear on the door, he said, “Young Demelze.. It isn’t nice to eavesdrop. But since you are here, I would consider it kindness on your part if you would bring the esteemed Liaison a brush, a pair of shoes, and a dress appropriate to her station.”
The smirking girl blushed furiously, jumped on her feet, and took off, while she mumbled to herself;
“Blistering Bloody Imps!”, she cursed. “Busted!”
He turned around to see Constance smiling at him.
“Uhhmm.. Is there something amusing?”, he asked a bit gruffly.
“No, no.. Merely admiring how aware you are of your surrounding even under duress.”, she replied. “Demelze won’t be able to decide whether she should be embarrassed for getting caught or feel happy you remembered her name, even though you met her only once.”
“Occupational hazard, I suppose. And I have been a lawman for quite a number of years. And.. I wouldn’t define.. uhh.. washing you a matter of duress, really.”, he replied uncomfortably.
There was a knock and the sheriff turned around and opened the door again to see the same red-headed, bewitching girl holding a long, elegant dress, a pair of high pumps, a hairbrush, and an odd expression stuck somewhere between a flush, a wicked smile, and a pout as if the girl just couldn’t decide on which one she should settle.
“Thank you. I would be happy if you would also compile a detailed progression report on the Pixie Project and have it ready by tomorrow morning.”, he said as he took the dress, the pumps, and the brush, but left her expression where it was.
Demelze squinted at him and the wicked smile on her face disappeared.
“Homework? Really?”, she said in disgust.
“You are a fully grown woman and require no homework, young lady. But Master Aager will need said report as soon as possible, and you seem like a person given to details. Unless I am totally mistaken, of course.”, Standorin said with a straight face.
Demelze’s squint turned into a distinctly deploring pout. With seething vehemence, she spun around and started marching away, all the while stomping her tiny feet!
Constance gave out a refrained, bubbly laugh.
“You have a unique way to deal with people, sir.”, she said.
“Let’s get one thing straight.”, the sheriff frowned a bit. “I would rather you didn’t ‘sir’ me when we are alone.”
“But we are in a temple, and your official standing puts you in a ‘sirly’ disposition, as silly as that sounds.”, she replied with a smile. “Though I am open to suggestions as to what you would rather I call you on a regular basis, other than Stan.. sir.”
Standorin fumed a bit.
Limnia Karya, his beloved deceased wife, had never played these games with him. She had been a ranger, and a decidedly practical, no-nonsense sort of woman, though, in all candor, she did act like a much younger girl when they had been alone. Then he remembered something Aager had told him about never to compare and once Standorin gave it an even cursory thought, he came to the conclusion that the young man had been right; one, they were not some fruit, vegetable, or furniture, but people, both distinct and both unique, and two, comparing was doing them both much disservice.
Silently he put the brush and the pumps on the bed and came near the young woman and just stood there.
It took a bare moment for the tall, alluring girl to comprehend the pause. With a shy blush, she turned around and..
..let her dress fall.
Standorin stared at the rather slender, curving back of the tall woman, gruffly cleared his throat, then, with decidedly clumsy hands, he helped her put on the new dress, from head to feet.
Then, while he was down there, he reached over to the bed, grabbed the pumps, picked her feet, and put the high-heeled shoes on them, each and one at a time, as Constance watched him, silent and still.
“I would like to touch your hair.”, she whispered down at him. “A girl may not be tortured thus thoroughly and not be given even a crump of surcease.”
Sheriff Standorin didn’t say anything.
He just stood kneeling where he was, as he did the tiny clasps on the pumps and long, slender fingers ran through his hair and a sensation he hadn’t felt for nearly twenty years rippled down his spine.
“Stan.. Stan will do, for now, Constance..”, he whispered back.
✱ ✱ ✱
Something woke Sheriff Standorin from a deep slumber. He felt slightly groggy and looked around to see he had fallen asleep on his couch that was facing the fireplace in his two-room home.
The fire had died down to a smoldering kindle, giving a low, red-orange cast and gave the young, beautiful face sleeping peacefully on his chest a whole, different kind of glow, as Constance breathed quietly at his face, her body limply sprawled across his.
Standorin tried to recall at which point he had fallen asleep but failed. He remembered having cooked something that involved diced beef, fried onion rings, and mashed potatoes, along with some chilled apple cider. Then he and the tall, alluring young woman had taken their plates and drinks and sat on the couch and quietly talked, while they stared at the fire dancing in the grate.
The sheriff had been quite surprised and had felt not a small amount of embarrassment coupled with some guilt when he’d found out how much he’d had to say.
Standorin had never really been the talk and laugh, type.
She, on the other hand, had kept silent most of the time and had only spoken to inquire about things she couldn’t quite understand or relate because she would lack the individual reference points.
At some point, though, she had fallen completely silent and with a certain sense of frustration, the sheriff had noticed, she’d dozed off.
He berated himself on a number of levels at that point, foremost for being a boring man to have made a girl literally fall asleep in the middle of a conversation.
Then he came to the ultimate, logical explanation; Constance had gone out of her way, for the past few days, and quite beyond, to put up a ‘good’ front for his sake, making light of her pain and extreme fatigue until they both had come crashing down on her with compounded interest.
Ahh.. that was when he had taken her into his arms, and sort of leaned back..
..and had fallen asleep, with her pillowing her head on his broad, rumbling chest.
Then he remembered something had woken him.
He wasn’t quite sure what it had been, but he thought it sounded like an animal in pain.
He heard a careful knock on his door just then and very carefully, and with no small amount of unexpected revelation and resignation, he slid the young woman off himself and stretched her on the couch and into a more comfortable pose.
For a man his size, he padded over to the door with surprisingly quiet steps and opened it to see Aager Fogstep standing there and behind him, his little mate, Lady Inshala.
Standorin immediately knew something was wrong for the young man lacked his leather hood and half mask, his face was stricken, contorted, even, and the little girl was holding on to him from behind and sobbing into his back.
“What is it Master Aager?”, he asked in his low, rumbling voice.
“You.. you had better come, sir.”, Aager growled through clenched teeth.
Standorin cocked an eyebrow.
“Where are we going?”, he asked.
Aager paused for a moment before speaking again.
“Is.. is the Liaison here, sir?”, he asked.
“Yes. She is.”, Standorin said with a frown.
“We.. we will need her as well, sir.”, Aager replied with a decidedly determined voice.
“Why? If I might ask. She is still recovering from her.. predicament and is sleeping at the moment. I would rather we didn’t wake her.”, the sheriff said, his frown deepening.
“She is the Liaison, sir.”, Aager grinded his teeth. “And we will need her to do her job, right now, and fast.”
“What is going on, young man?”, Standorin asked, fuming a bit now.
Aager paused again. When he spoke this time, Standorin was astonished, for he heard a certain tremor in his voice.
“The leader of the Escape, Perigren Ostlanna Temez, has gone.. feral, sir. She.. and quite a number of them are breaking and burning everything that gets in their way. Thomas, Morel, and the other temple guardians have managed to get as many of the children out as they can but they are fighting amongst themselves now and against Thomas, Morel, and the temple guardians. Thomas has asked you to bring their Liaison to speak in our steed and perhaps find a way to defuse the situation before it goes any further and make sure the remaining children are not injured or worse.”
Standorin stared at him.
“They gave their word. Their oath. Why would they break their oath and risk everything they have forsworn?”, he fumed angrily.
“They.. they didn’t break their oaths, sir. They merely received some quite distressing news and.. they are hurting.. Apparently, they do not know moderation when they are upset.”
“What news? What could possibly have happened to have riled them enough to risk everything they gave up to come here?”, Standorin asked harshly.
“Perigren Ostlanna Temez just found out she lost her BFF, sir.”, Aager replied quietly and Inshala hugged him even tighter and her sobs grew louder.”
“BFF?”, asked the sheriff, a bit baffled.
“Best Fiend Friend, sir. You see, Perigren’s BFF was no other than Merisoul Xyrotwu, and she and Ranger Lieutenant Laila and Master Gnine had all gone to Silent Hills together. I don’t know how, but they just found out that Meriso.. they found out.. that they..”, he said as he tried to gulp down the lump rising earnestly up his throat. “That Merisoul is gone!”
“I.. see..”, said Standorin silently. “I.. did not know her very well. But she was the nicest felon I apprehended in my entire life.”
“She was my friend..”, came Inshala’s sobbing voice. “She was always nice and always alone. She saved me. She helped and saved everyone!”
It was apparent, nothing else intelligible was going to come from her anymore and not any time soon.
Aager turned around and hugged her tightly and held his scourging stance for as long as he could as a low, infuriated scream escaped him.
“WHAT DID YOU DO AGAIN, YOU STUPID, STUPID GIRL! I DIDN’T SEND YOU WITH GNINE AND LAILA TO KEEP THEM SAFE. I SENT THEM WITH YOU TO KEEP YOU SAFE!”
..with rage unseen in Serenity Home,
..he howled at the night sky
..and winter spread in jagged, sharp, spiking icicles
..as cobblestones popped, cracked, and shrapneled
..and brittle-blue, chilling frost covered everything
..a hundred yards
..in every direction.
✱ ✱ ✱
Two figures stumbled into view two days later from the east and up the banks of Arashkan River, both leaning on the other and both with severe, grim, lived, suffered, and ‘paid in full and done’, expressions on their faces.
Liaison Constance Alure Smithen
standing next to Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart..
..and Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane
standing next to Aager Fogstep were waiting for them.
Right behind them, another pair stood,
Anglenna Brightleaf and Armethelius Riverblade..
Bremorel Songsteel and Thomas Dimwood.
AND JUST BEHIND THOSE,
FIFTEEN THOUSAND HIGH ELVES STOOD IN RIGID,
SILENT, SOLEMN MILITARY FORMATION, AND BURNING
WITH RIGHTEOUS EXALTATION, AS THEY WAITED
FOR THEIR KING AND THEIR QUEEN.
And Princess Alor’Nadien ne Feymist came
with Udoorin Shieldheart..
With the unexpected help of the half-born, Anglenna finally finds the possible whereabouts of the missing Udoorin Shieldheart and Princess Alor’Nadien ne;
The Gull’s Perch…
..the home of the Summer Fey
and Queen Titania, herself!
This, however, presents issues on its own,
as Mortals, in general, are banned from the Perch,
and half-borns, being part demon, in particular,
are never allowed to even come near
the sacred valley of the Summer Queen..
A depressed and depleted procession oozed down the dim halls of Serenity Home Temple as Perigren Ostlanna Temez lead her brothers and sisters down the long, spiraling stairs and into the dim cavernous crypt.
With a grim expression on his face, Hal Mali followed her as he dragged a pale and drained-looking Cee Lingerith Demelze by the hand.
And right behind them, Hamna Vir slouched with a stubborn expression on her sharp face, as she fiercely hugged the little, slumbering Dar Derune in her arms.
“I could walk.”, came Dar Derune’s slurred voice as his head bobbed back and forth.
“I know you can, love.”, Hamna Vir said kindly, but the fire in her eyes told otherwise. She was a savage, bitter half-born to begin with, and the fact that no other than Titania, the Summer Queen, had backhanded her little Dar Derune just a few moments ago and from as far away as Gull’s Perch, had been like a slap on their collective faces. Sort of like a wake-up call, that there were things much, much more powerful than they were in this Mortal world after all, and that fact, so casually displayed, had hit them all quite hard, quite literally. And that it had been their little Dar Derune on the receiving end had made Hamna Vir, in particular, quite vexed which was putting it rather lightly, for at that very moment, the girl with the sharp features had nothing but murder in her eyes and that it had been the Summer Queen, a being way out of their league for any kind of retribution or retaliation had merely added to the insult.
“You are pulling too hard..”, whimpered a glazed Demelze.
“Ow. I am sorry, Demelze. My bad.”, said Hal Mali and with a swift scoop, he grabbed her, spun her up with a flip, and landed her in his powerful arms. “How’s that?”
“You are just taking advantage of my moment of weakness Hal Mali.. and I am liking it!”, she said, her words garbled and stumbled over each other as she smiled at him with a sloshed and woozy face.
“Aren’t you a darling?”, Hal Mali smiled back.
“I am, aren’t I?”, Demelze swooned.
“Too bad you are not going to remember any of this when you come around.”, he fumed to himself.
“Why don’t you just ask her out Hal?”, Temez asked from ahead.
“Hal? Why do you call me Hal, Perigren Ostlanna Temez?”, asked Hal Mali, a bit confused and hurt. “Have I ever upset or disappointed you in any way that I am not aware of and warrant such admonishment?”
“Never, love. But I have noted the Mortals refer to one other by shortening each other’s names. Thought perhaps we could also try it so we do not stand out when we finally come out in the open.”, she replied.
Hal Mali mused over that, as he unwittingly hugged the befuddled Demelze closer to his chest.
“Let’s see if I have understood this correctly; they not only butcher one another, they also butcher each other’s names?”
“Yes. But do not ask me why, dear. Apparently, either they do not give much importance to names, or they do not believe names have power, or they are merely ignorant. I have been studying them, but I have yet to uncover the exact reasoning behind them. Take Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel Songsteel for example. Rarely have I heard anyone call her by that name. They summon her by saying only Bremorel. Young Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood, on the other hand, calls her fondly as Morel. I have witnessed on one occasion where someone referred to her as just ‘Bree’. She, herself, never calls her mate by his full name either, and summons him as Thomas.”, Temez tried to explain.
“That is heresy, that is.”, Hal Mali said with an ugly face. Then thought for a moment. “Or maybe not. You, my brothers, and my sisters rarely call me Hal Mali Volent Pierce. Much like we rarely call Demelze or Hamna Vir by their full name, either, and it has nothing to do with the power the name has as a whole, but everything to do with practical efficiency.”
“I think you just answered a rather vexing dilemma, dear. You are indeed as practical as you are efficient.”, smiled Temez wanly.
“If any of you calls me Vir, I will haunt you in your dreams until you wet yourselves!”, hissed Hamna Vir.
“We shall pick up this practice but only those of us who want to, and if they are comfortable with the idea. Henceforth, you may call me only Temez.”
“Well. I would rather everyone called me Hal Mali. But I will try my best not to retaliate should any of you calls me Hal. Is that acceptable?”, Hal Mali said dubiously.
“Perfectly, dear.”, Temez smiled again. “Which brings us back to my previous question; Why don’t you ask her out? It’s quite obvious you like Demelze. Actually, pretty much all of us have noticed your rather transparent interest in her. She’d make a troublesome but fiery mate. You would never get bored of life..”
Hal Mali signed.
“Am I truly that obvious?”
“When it comes to Demelze, yes, dear.”, smiled Temez.
“Yup!”, said Hamna Vir.
“Yea..”, slurred Demezle vaguely but it wasn’t clear as to what she was agreeing for her eyes were closed and her slender, diminutive figure danced limply at each step Hal Mali took down the long flight of stairs.
Hal Mali sighed again.
“No point.”, he said a bit depressed. “Demelze despises me.”
“No she doesn’t.”, objected Temez.
“Yes, she does.”, Hamna Vir inserted from the back.
“Hamna Vir!”, said Temez reprovingly.
“What? She does despise him and you know it!”, she snapped irritably.
Temez sighed this time.
“Girl, you are never going to understand the hearts of Mortals nor men if you just say everything that comes to your mind.”
“I have no interest in Mortals and the only heart that matters to me is sleeping over my shoulder. And I don’t say everything that comes to my mind. If I did, I would have said, Demelze makes fun of Hal Mali whenever he’s not around!”, Hamna Vir said waspishly.
Hal Mali’s face deflated and became mournful as he drew Demelze even closer to himself.
“Hamna Vir, dear.”, Temez said.
“Do shut up—”
“—just about, NOW?“
Hamna Vir scowled and gave Temez her best searing gaze.
“It’s alright, Perigren… uhhmm.. Temez.. Really. I wasn’t aware she went as far as punning me but I had my suspicions. Guess we don’t all get what we want and that’s the same whether we are in Hell or in the Mortal coil.”, Hal Mali mourned. “I will just have to be happy with the short few moments while she is nice to me like this and in my arms.”
“Don’t be sad, Hal.”, Temez tried to comfort him. “I learned a saying among Mortals that people change. I am not certain if that includes us, but my guestimation is that it does because we all did change. We were in Hell just last month, learning how to sow dissension among Mortals. Now we are among said Mortals and are actually helping them. Had you said then, I would never have believed Demelze would have done what she did for a Mortal’s son, but here we are, and here she paid her trial in pain.. a lot of it.. Give her the chance to change, Hal. I think she deserves that much.”
“Yea, Hal. What she said!”, inserted Hamna Vir with a scowl.
The long, spiraling stairs ended and the little group came to a large, steel-lined, heavy-looking double door.
Temez pulled at one of the rings on the door and opened it, revealing a deep, cavernous chamber lined with five hundred years of deceased temple guardians lying in their enclosed, unadorned sarcophagi. Silently, they walked up to the far end and stood before the one that had ‘Demos Lightshand’ chipped on a plaque and fit into its side.
Then they all knelt, Hal Mali still holding Demelze in his arms and Hamna Vir hugging Dar Derune in hers, closed their eyes, and prayed.
“Darling Demos.”, Temez whispered. “Again, we have come to thank you, for it was your kind heart that made Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood to also be kind and to accept us at our direst moment of need. Here, he has given us food and shelter, and here, he protects us from unwanted eyes and the ire of sinful men. We have come, today, in hopes of finding wisdom in your presence for we are hurting and we do not know what to do..”
“She means, we are screwed!”, mumbled Hamna Vir from behind, causing Hal Mali to snort.
There was a dormant silence while Temez signed in frustration.
Her BFF —Best Fiend Friend, Merisoul Xyrotwo had given the responsibility of their brothers and sisters to her, but hadn’t told her how it was supposed to be done. True, all of them had had extensive training pertaining to Mortals and their ways but said training had gone as far as the Erinyes, Autie Irine had understood them, which was at best, at a most basic level and ‘targeted’ in its sensual in nature. The ‘real world’, as ironic as that sounded, had turned out to be much, much more complicated than any of them had anticipated. They had been here merely a month or so and under the protection and sanction of a temple guardian and Temez sorely wondered what would happen when the said sanction would end, and she had no doubt that in the end, it would because eventually, everyone would have to go their separate ways. The fact that the young Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood had accepted them in the first place had been a grand gesture of just how much he trusted her BFF, even though he barely knew her and she’d once tried to ‘eat’ him and consequently gotten struck by the temple’s protection and branded because the young man had been sorely in love!
Temez gritted her teeth.
She would hold on!
And hold all her brothers and sisters together and in one piece, safe and sound, just until her Arezme Ara Serraphym, or Merisoul Xyrtwo as Mortals knew her, returned. Then she’d be free to go and find her own young man. The one she had ‘eaten’ many years ago and subsequently had gotten herself burned.
It had come as a colossal surprise to her when she’d found out the ‘boy’ had lived, though damaged.
The ‘eaten’ never survived!
Temez did not understand why that had happened. As far as she knew, it shouldn’t have happened like that at all; the boy to have survived, and her getting burned like that..
Had the boy fallen in love with her, and not just smitten by her rather ravishing countenance and blatantly wanting figure, but truly fallen in love with her in the space of a few, short, heartbeats?
Was that even possible?
As incomprehensible as that sounded to her, apparently, such a senseless infatuation had been, in fact, quite possible.
“Come on, doll.”, she fumed and pleaded with her eyes closed. “Please come back and fast. Your brothers and sisters direly need you..”
✱ ✱ ✱
This is rather impressive, Liaison Constance. I don’t remember the last time this office looked so tidy.”, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart said, though just a tad grudgingly.
Constance tried very hard not to, but failed.. and beamed at him.
“Would you like to see how the new filing system works? Perhaps a demonstration is in order.”, she offered.
“Very well. Master Aager, do get me the drunkard fight involving Franderson vs. Kor’gral, our orc blacksmith apprentice if you will.”, he said.
Aager checked on the relatively short alphabetic list in his hand, got a reference number, cross-referenced it with a second list and got a second reference number from that, then went over to one of the newly crafted ‘drawer shelves’, the one with the second number, pulled it open and ran a quick glance and tugged out a specific scroll and gave it to the sheriff, with a mild grin.
The sheriff cocked an eyebrow at him.
“Alright. Unknown Strangers vs. Udoorin case, then, if you will!”, he said.
Aager repeated the same process but went to a different drawer shelf and pulled out a rather thick roll of many scrolls and brought them over to him.
Standorin gave him a suspicious look.
Constance beamed some more.
“Master Nibletyne Tinkerdome vs. Moorat Maelstrom!”
Aager gave it to him.
“Franderson vs. Demons Lightshand!”
Aager grinned and brought that one over too, in under fifteen seconds.
“Morel and Liala vs. Udoorin, Dervel and Lucious!”
Aager didn’t even bother with the lists nor the drawers for that one. He just pulled it out of his pocket!
“What the..?”, the sheriff said scowling at him.
“Thought you’d ask for that. Had it ready at hand, sir.”, Aager grinned.
“Very well.”, Standorin said, fuming at him. “I will admit this filing system of yours seems to work..”
“..as opposed to looking for a specific case file for more than half an hour at times.. Sir, you really ought to give the Liaison a bit more credit.”, Aager said, meaningfully.
Standorin gave him one of his best scowls, cleared his throat, then turned to the tall, elegant half-born in her long, not quite conservative, but decidedly refrained dress, and said, “Thank you very much for your filing system, Liaison Constance. I… we.. could talk it over lunch, perhaps? I am sure the mayor could also make use of a similar system installed in his offices..”
“But of course, sir. I will have to see their needs and how they segment their files first though.”, Constance said, smiling happily. “In fact, I would like to go see the mayor on this matter at once, If you wouldn’t mind. I shall also drop by the temple to see how things are going with the project you ordered and report its progress to you.”
“Thank you, Liaison Constance. I shall await your findings eagerly.”, Standorin replied with a flushed face.
After the tall half-born girl took her leave, Aager turned to the sheriff and looked at him with amusement etched all over his face.
“I shall await your findings eagerly?— Really, sir? That one was a tad overdone, don’t you think?”
“I am out of practice, young man. I haven’t dated anyone since.. well.. for a good dozen years and more. Not to mention, Limnia and I never did this dating thing. We just took long, eager walks in the woods, went on patrols together, and counter-ambushed bandits! And we both enjoyed it.”
“I went after many fools, myself, with my Inshala, sir. We even fought against a treacherous paladin lord together and I saw the exhilaration in her face. But at the end of the day, it is when we are going home, arm in arm, that I see her skip and hop and glow because with me and home is the only place that she can truly be herself, and with her and home is the only place that I can truly be myself. Don’t get me wrong, sir. Whatever makes people happy. But intimacy beats them all.”
“After this war. And should we win, I am dead set on firing you, young man..”
Aager cocked an eyebrow at him.
“..just so you could become a poet!”, snorted the sheriff.
“Never happen, sir. Ow and, a ‘business lunch’ doesn’t count as a ‘date’, just so you know..”, Aager said with another grin.
“Don’t you have somewhere to be?”, the sheriff growled.
“I do, and I am off. Noon-trainees!”
✱ ✱ ✱
This is the problem we have been having, Lady Inshala ‘le Fey’ Frostmain Bolgrig Hoo—”, Temez was saying, deep down in the crypts under the Serenity Home Temple.
“Please, dear Temez. Just Inshala will do, even though it despairs me as well when Mortals do cut names and words the way they do. When we are alone, please call me Inshala.”, the pretty little half-fey said with a smile.
Temez had taken a liking to Inshala quite immediately when they had first met several days ago and when she, Inshala, and Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel had played a cunning game of catch against Lady Lilly Venom, her ‘hubby’, Largo Summersong, and his son, D.D. Dexter Summersong, who was, somehow not Lady Lilly Venom’s son, which only made sense because he was older than she was! Just that information had made Temez feel concussed all by itself and learned her just how much she and her kin were out of their debt when it came to their pitiful knowledge of the Mortal coil.
“Alright..”, said Temez, trying very hard to suppress a shudder. This name cutting was something they really needed to get over, but their inner, demonic core just refused to accept such blatant use of names.. After all, misuse of names could and often did cause very volatile results.. But at least this girl, Inshala, seemed to understand their plight. Perhaps it was due to the fact that she, too, was a half-something.. a fey..
“..Inshala,”, she continued. “We were able to enchant grinded sand, kibbled light wood, certain cosmetic powders, and even flour with fire, thanks to Demelze, here, to light up under specific conditions, such as coming in contact with magic auras. Magically attained invisibility, to be exact. Our dilemma is, the powders, the sands, and the flour works but for an extremely short duration, as the material immediately settles, and hence, becomes part of the said invisible creature, or area. If we use what we have at the moment during battle, or to sprinkle it in an area where we suspect and Orken army is hidden under the veil of whatever device they are employing, it will hardly be visible during daylight, and barely be discernable during night hours. We need something, a plant or herb that we can grind that can stay afloat long enough to be practical and at the lightest magical ‘fragrance’, so to speak.”
Inshala frowned a bit as she tried to digest the issue at hand, and at a certain level, she felt relieved, for when Aager had told her she was being ‘officially’ invited here to meet with the half-born, she had dreaded that she, herself, might be put to task on some social-thingy, which she knew she was sorely lacking. This, however, was something that had to do with knowledge, something that she was good at, as opposed to something she constantly banged her head against her mental walls to comprehend.
As dire as the problem was, Inshala grinned!
And all the half-born, some one hundred plus of them silently watched her, all so very curious about this ‘very pretty’, ‘also a half-something like us’, and quite famous, Ritual Guardian-girl, as though expecting some sort of miracle to appear at the wave of her slender hands.
At that very moment, Inshala remembered something her Aager had said, though she had vaguely understood.
“The answer to that is quite elementary in its simplicity.”, she said with a well-hidden smile.
Well, perhaps it wasn’t so well-hidden, as she was grinning when she said it. Aager hadn’t grinned at all.
Her Aager was awesome like that, she thought!
A murmur of awe spread amongst the half-born as Hal Mali grinned as well and with open admiration, while Demelze ‘oooow’ed, and Hamna Vir ogled at her.
“She.. she said that so smoothly!”, she exclaimed in a hushed voice.
“Awesome.”, someone whispered.
“Awesome.”, someone else repeated in agreement..
..and the word, ‘awesome’ rippled in low, hushed, and awe-struck whispers among the half-born!
“Tell us!”, Temez asked eagerly, her own face flushed with excitement.
“Here.”, the little half-fey said and produced a tiny little pouch from one of her many tiny pockets hidden in her dress robes.
Temez carefully took the pouch, undid the knots, and looked into it to see some very fine, dark-red powder.
“What is this wonderful thing?”, she asked.
“Kumse Beetle shells, grinded down into a fine powder. I use it to season the food I cook and it tastes delicious!”, Inshala replied happily.
“Hal..”, she said. “..do your thing, please, dear. And Demelze, love. See if you can enchant this powder the way you have been practicing.”
“Sure.”, Hal Mali said..
..and suddenly vanished!
“That is awesome!”, Inshala said looking at where the young, pretty half-born man had just been.
Demelze took the pouch from Temez and carefully dumped its content into a small iron pot scorched with burnt marks, sat on the floor, closed her eyes and her pretty face frowned in concentration. Soon enough, the dark-red powder began to smoke.
“Careful, love.”, whispered Temez. “You are going to burn it.”
Demelze frowned more and the smoke dissipated.
And then, with a sharp flash of light, the iron pot poofed and Demelze opened her eyes, beads of sweat running down her face.
“Done.”, she said with a sniff and wiped her brows.
Temez reached down and took a pinch of the ‘enchanted’ dark-red powder and looked around.
“I am here, Temez. Standing just a foot in front of you.”, came Hal Mali’s voice.
Temez flung the powder in his direction!
The powder clung onto something barely discernable as someone’s arm, as it glowed, once, twice, then died.
Temez felt her shoulders slump.
“It didn’t work?”, Demezle asked, totally flustered.
A low murmur of consternation and despair rippled amongst the half-born.
“It worked.”, Inshala said confidently.
“How?”, Temez asked.
“The powder is still there and is still visible if you look closely.”
Temez, Demelze, and quite a number of others leaned over and stared at where they presumed Hal Mali was.
“She’s right.” Hal Mali’s voice was heard. “The powder is still there and try as I might, I can’t incorporate it with my shadow-aura! This is fascinating!”
“Indeed.”, mused Temez. “But.. it won’t be of any practical use if it isn’t visible from a far-off distance. Perhaps you can pour more power into the powder, Demelze?”
“I can. But it still won’t work. Either the powder will charr, or it will blink a few more times and that’s it. Unless we find a way to preserve the magic I infuse into the powder, we are, again, at a standstill.”, Demelze said somberly, an expression quite unexpected and unprecedented on her otherwise mischievous, naughty, and smirking face.
They all fell silent and mulled over that, and the cavernous crypt was suddenly very still. It was quite a disconcerting sight, really.
“Whimsi Lola!”, Inshala exclaimed suddenly!
The half-born all turned to look at her.
Inshala blushed a bit when she promptly became the focus of attention of so many ‘people’.
“I have never heard of a plant or herb by that name.”, said Temez dubiously. “Has anyone heard of this herb?”, she called to the crowd at large.
The half-born shook their heads and any number of ‘No’s and ‘Nopes’ echoed in the crypt.
“No, no.”, said Inshala hastily. “Whimsi Lola is not a plant or an herb. She is a sprite! A fey! She uses her own pixie dust from her wings to enhance her spells! That’s what we need.”
Temez looked at her curiously.
“And where may we find this Whimsi Lola sprite-fey and what would she want for her pixie dust?”
“Hmm.. That may be a problem. She is not here. But many of her friends are.. However, the fey folk, and the little ones, in particular, will not come here; too many Mortals and too much iron here, nor will they go anywhere near.. uhhmm..”, Inshala said, then faltered in embarrassment.
“Demons?”, Temez offered.
“Uhhmm.. Yes.. I am sorry.”, Inshala apologized immediately.
“Why are you apologizing, Inshala? You didn’t make us. You had no hand in our foul existence whatsoever. Never apologize for the things you didn’t do. Never.”, Temez said sternly.
“I.. was trying to be polite..”, the fey-girl faltered some more.
“This is not something to be polite about, my dear. We are what we are. We are sorry for having been made. But we are not, however, sorry for existing and we shall never apologize to anyone for that, and neither should you. We are our own now, just like you are your own..”, Temez said with harsh defiance. “Now. About this pixie dust thing. How and where may we get some?”, she asked, all business-like!
Inshala was a bit surprised at how strong-willed the Temez girl was and how she was not sorry for what she was, even if she hated being what she was.
And she felt a certain shame, there. Unlike Temez, she had loathed herself very nearly all her life for what she was or what she thought she was and had always believed her existence had been one, colossal mistake. Looking at these half-borns who had braved out of literal Hell, she promised herself to be braver and certainly to never feel guilty for being..
..which had been what her old Father, Cathber, and later, her Aager had been telling her all along.
“Well..”, she thought. “..Apparently I am just a stupid little girl.”
“Umm.. perhaps we could go near the forest just up north and I could call a few of the small fey-folk and bargain for some of their pixie dust?”, she said hopefully. “Then we can mix this powder with the pixie dust and gorgeous Demelze, here, can enchant it and we can test it on Hal Mali, maybe?”
“Ow.. She said I am gorgeous!”, whispered Demelze happily.
“Your offer is sound, Inshala, but not practically possible. We may not leave this temple. Not yet. I have left it a few times but carefully and only to observe the area just around the temple, and that one time when we played catch. Only Constance leaves and that is because she is our designated Liaison with the Mortals. This.. ‘test’.. however, is not her area of expertise. Is there any way you may be able to bring this dust to us?”
“I am afraid not. Pixie dust loses its potential soon after the sprite or the pixie removes it from his or her wings. Otherwise, the forest would be sparkling everywhere they went and all the time.”
“Perhaps there is a way.”, offered Hal Mali quietly as he stepped out of his ‘shadow-aura’ and became visible again.
“Do tell, dear.”, Temez asked him
“I can go out unseen.”
“Yes, dear. But you alone will not be enough. Demelze needs to go with you and Inshala.”
“I.. she can come with me.. I can hide her as well.”, he mumbled.
“I am not going anywhere with you, Hal!“, sneered Demelze. “And you can not hide me and we both know it!”
“I can.”, Hal Mali said quietly. “If I carry you in my arms..”
Demelze just stared at him for a moment.
“Incoming..”, murmured Hamna Vir.
And Demelze burst out laughing.
“Hah. Hah. Hah. Hah. Hah. Hah. Haaa!”
“That’s a very convincing laugh, that is..”, Hamna Vir barbed. “Can you get any more vapid, Demelze?”
“Shut up, Hamna Vir!”, spat the fiery little succubi half-born.
“What did I ever do to you, that you would hate me so much, Demelze?”, Hal Mali asked with a hurt voice.
“I saw the way you look at me, Hal! Even when we were in Hell!”, Demelze scorned at him.
“Yes. Because I find you attractive. Hence the looks.”, the handsome half-born admitted plainly. “How would you rather I look at you?”
“Never?”, scoffed the girl.
“Demelze!”, Temez very nearly snapped. “You will refrain from such attitude at once! We are all we have, here. There’s no one else to look after us but us.”
“You will go with Hal and with Inshala and do this. For us and for yourself. Hal has looked after many of us and took a beating and burning for you at the hands of Autie Irine at least once that I know of. You may not like him, but you will show him the respect he deserves!”, Temez cracked like a whip.
“When? Why?”, she asked.
Hal Mali did not reply for a good while.
“I would really rather you hadn’t told this, Temez.”
“Good done, unknown, must become known sometimes, dear. And we are running out of time. Even if this works, we must find a practical way to make it so Mortals may use them, and we must make many, many of them.”, Temez said, but not unkindly.
“Why? When?”, asked Demelze, her voice somewhat subdued.
“When.. you.. when you failed to turn in your Mortal Studies paper in our first year, I switched mine as yours and deliberately got caught with another paper of my own to avoid suspicions. And that other time when I found out Auntie Irine was going to punish you when she found out you had punned her behind her back and I deliberately tripped and fell and knocked her down. She was so angry with me that she forgot all about you..”
“What? Why? You think I couldn’t have taken a beating from that bitch?”, sneered Demelze.
“She had her fire barb whip with her..”, replied the young Hal Mali quietly..
..and an ‘owww’, chorused among the half-born.
“Fire barb whip hurts a lot because its burn is not only physical but psychic as well, and it leaves permanent marks. I.. didn’t want you to carry such ugly marks on you..”
Hamna Vir approached him and quietly hugged him.
“I will thank you for what you did for her, Hal Mali, even if Demelze is a bitch and too vain to thank you.”
“Demelze is only scared.”, said a small, vague voice, and everyone turned to see Dar Derune sitting a short distance away, playing with some plain wooden blocks, next to a sarcophagus. “What she feels, she feels much more intensely than any of us. That is how beautiful her heart is..”
Hamna Vir parted Hal Mali and came up to him and with blurry eyes, she scooped up the boy and hugged him fiercely.
“Demelze?”, Temez asked, looking at the burning girl.
“I will do this. For Mali..”, she said with a stricken face.
✱ ✱ ✱
You found them?”, Constance gasped. “Why didn’t you tell me, dear?”
“We found about it just today, love.”, Temez replied and there was a tired quality about her.
“What’s the matter, Temez?”, the tall, alluring half-born asked.
“We.. me and Hamna Vir shared what Demelze went through when she cleansed the Anglenna Sunsear elf. It wasn’t fun. Gave me a very unique insight into what our brothers and sisters must go through, each with their unique abilities. I burn. But that is something I did to myself. She.. she burns so much hotter whenever she feels something —anything. Suffice to say, I can remember only one other occasion that hurt this much and that was when my old Master burned me when Merisoul and I first came up with the plan to get away from Hell.”
“I am sorry to hear that, dear. Where is the boy, then? Where is the esteemed sheriff’s son?”, Constance asked.
“East of here, some two or three days travel, there is a place called Gull’s Perch. They are there, though we could not figure out why they landed there and not in this town as the Anglenna Sunsear elf did.. I asked a bit about it to the Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel, and my findings are quite dire.”
“Gull’s Perch. Why do I know that name?”, mused Constance.
“You should. It is one of the places that we were warned never to go near, during our Mortal geography studies. And you can see it from here on a clear day, easy.”
“Titania!”, Constance gasped in horror!
“Hush, dear. Not so loud. We don’t want her to hear us, now do we?”, Temez warned.
“But how? How do you know they are there?”, the tall half-born girl asked slightly panicked.
“Dar Derune. He looked into the elf girl and sifted through her memories and saw our query. Then he did his thing and found them at the Perch. The Mistress of the Perch did not appreciate his intrusion and backhanded him, our Dar Derune, all the way from the Perch!”
Constance just stared at her.
“Is he alright?”
“He will be. Hanna Vir has been hovering over him like a Mortal hen mother!”
“Dear Hamna Vir..”
“Yes, yes she is.”
“Should I go and tell the esteemed sheriff about this?”, Constance asked.
“No. Mortals are not allowed in there, dear. Telling him where his son and the princess will only rile him and he will go there with iron and that will only win him the ire of the Summer Queen. And should he go there to bargain, he will be left out of his debt. He is a good and decent man but woefully unequipped for such a meeting. We must find something to bargain in his stead. Something She would want and only we may provide.”
“I may have something she may want.”, Constance said quietly.
“No, dear. Whatever She may want, we must all give. It must be a collective effort, not individual, for such singular bargains can only end in misery.”, Temez said with a tone that had a certain finality to it.
And that marked the first time a half-born chose to disagree at an individual level.
Constance Alure Smithen nodded..
And changed topic!
“Did the Winter Knight’s mate, Lady Inshala arrive?”
“Yes, she did. And she is a lot more smarted and wiser than she lets on. I suspected a cunning mind in her when she, Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel, and I were playing catch against Lady Lilly Venom, her mate, and her mate’s son. The plans I made were twisted and convoluted and made us win. The ranger lieutenant’s plans depended more on stealth and ambush, and they also made us win. Lady Inshala’s plans were neither. Her plans were rather simple and straightforward but surprisingly efficient. Of all the games we played, the ones she planned ended the quickest and the other team never knew what hit them. Even I didn’t understand we’d won!”, Temez said with some residual surprise.
“Her hubby, the Winter Knight shows similar traits. Neither seems interested in showing off but goes straight for the source of any given problem.”, Constance mused. “Though I suspect what he accomplishes by dread, she does by care!”
“Very astute, love. Very astute, indeed. She, Hal Mali, and Demelze went to the forest just up north to work on the project we have been working on.”
“You sent two of us out? Let alone Delemze with Hal Mali? She.. doesn’t really like him all that much and does tend to make a lot of noise when he’s around.. I hope you know what you are doing, dear.”, the tall girl asked a bit surprised.
“Hal Mali went under his guise. And we.. convinced.. she should be carried by him and take advantage of his special talents..”, Temez said lightly.
Constance made a very strange noise that sound truly unlady-like. Something between a snort and hiccup!
“I am sorry I missed that.”, she said with a brilliant smile. “No, wait.. you didn’t tell Demelze about what Hal Mali did back in Hell and that he got a beating for her, did you?”
“Yes, yes I did, love.”
“Ow..”, Constance said with a bemused expression as her bright red lips made a perfect imprint. “That must have put a dent in her self-esteem.”
“It did. Or maybe not. We are demons, love. And we are humans, as well, and we all react to fear, surprise, excitement, anger, and love in different ways. Demelze being Demelze, merely goes to her usual extremes.”, Temez said thoughtfully. “What will you do for the rest of the day? Did the esteemed sheriff like your new archiving and filing system?”
“I believe he did. Albeit a tad grudgingly. But in time he will get to appreciate it more, when he can find any given file in under ten seconds, as opposed to spending half an hour to find them. And every time he does, he will remember me. And every time his men do, he will feel a certain pride.”, replied Constance with a happy face. “I should head out now. There are so many things I must learn and so many more people I must meet. Just so they learn to see our kind, if for nothing else.. I shall also carefully hint that more of our kind will arrive to help them in their coming battle.”
“Very good, love. You truly were made for PR and would have been wasted in Hell.”, Temez said admiringly.
✱ ✱ ✱
Constance calmly stepped out of Serenity Home Temple and looked up and east. It was a clear day that day, quite unexpected of the season. She could see the storm clouds loaded with sleet, snow, and hail, but they seemed to sort of skim far and around this odd town and its surrounding fields. She had overheard the pretty ranger lieutenant, Bremorel Songsteel, talking in hushed voices with her young husband, the senior temple guardian, Thomas Dimwood, about reports of savage and violent weather, quite unheard of, occurring far to the west, beyond Scowling Hills and the name Inshala had cropped up any number of times, with nothing short of awe, during those conversations.
It seemed everyone was doing everything they could.. and more.. Eventually, whatever these Mortals did, or however they did them, time would come to face their consequences. Quite dire ones. Even a creature of Hell such as herself knew, when one dabbled with certain things, even if for a good cause, there would be consequences.
When she had first arrived to meet the sheriff’s men in the small courtyard, she had ended up ‘demonstrating’ her skills with her three-yard long pike on a young and overly enthusiastic man. There had even been bets.
After the duel, as short as it had been, was over, the bets, owed and owned, were being passed around, she had heard one of the guards snicker, “Payback is a bitch!”, as he took his winnings with a grin.
“Well..”, Constance murmured, still looking east, and the Gull’s Perch, a vertical, single ‘rock’, some half a mile at its base, reaching up and up and fading off among the clouds. It was a beautiful, awe-inspiring sight and the tall, alluring girl admired it.
Truly admired it.
“..as unlady-like, as it may sound, yes, I believe payback is a bitch!”, she said.
And with a sub-sonic boom, she shot up, high and swift!
At several hundred feet, she finally lost velocity, and for a bare, spectacular moment, she stood in the air, still, silent and majestic..
..and plummeted back to the earth!
With a sharp bank, she spread her arms, and a pair of dark, black-brown eagle wings suddenly sprouted out of her slender back, and like her slim arms, they spread out and wide..
..and she speared, not unlike a bird of prey, and with a shrill shriek, towards east, and the Perch!
✱ ✱ ✱
Lady Inshala!”, exclaimed Perigren Ostlanna Temez with surprise. “You are back!”
The little fey-girl face flushed shyly but her face was glowing with an accomplished grin.
“We did it, Temez. I called a few of the little folk and told them what we wanted, but they refused when they saw Hal Mali and Demelze. I told them they were my friends and that they were here to help protect the forest. They mulled over that for a bit then they decided perhaps they were, indeed, ‘maybe-friends’ but wanted something in return for their pixie dust. I asked them what they would want and they told me many things, but we didn’t have any of the things they wanted with us. Then they asked if we had any candy. Demelze said they didn’t have candy, but that she had something even better, and gave them sugar canes. They looked at the sugar canes, took one each, and tasted them. My eats still hurt because they all squealed with glee and just dropped on the ground gnawing on the canes.”, Inshala told her impromptu story with a seamless giggle and Temez just ogled at her, quietly mesmerized.
“When they were done with the sugar canes, they were so out of it, they were slurring and just waved their tiny hands and said, ‘Take.. Take what you want!’, so we took some of their dust and mixed it with the Kumse Beetle powder, Demelze infused it with her fire and enchanted it, then she threw it on Hal Mali and he was all glowing red and sparkly!”, she finished, her eyes alight with accomplishment.
Temez stared at her some more.
Then shook her head to come around.
Wow, the little girl had an encapturing way to tell her stories. She, herself, was a succubi half-born and knew how to enthrall. After all, it was her base thing. But this girl said what she said with some odd, bubbling, earnest, and genuine sincerity!
“Where are Hal and Demelze?”, she asked.
“Well, Hal Mali was still glowing and sparkling and quite unhappy about it, and Demelze couldn’t come back alone because she said she wasn’t wearing her correct Mortal dress for the occasion, though I am not sure what she meant by that. She did laugh at Hal Mali a lot, though, which made him angry so he started chasing her in the woods so she started running and screaming in delight!”, Inshala replied with an ‘out-of-breath’, bubbling voice.
“They are like sugar-loaded kids! Will they be alright?”, she asked, a bit worried.
“They should be. I drew a big circle and laid a camping spell and told them not to leave the circle. As long as they stay in it, not many will notice them. When the pixie-effect fades, Hal Mali can return with Demelze.”
“I hope they behave. This is not a good time for dire mistakes. That said, I am thrilled that our efforts have not been in vain. Thanks to you, we can now mass-produce this ‘pixie-effect’. We now have to find a way to make them practically useful for any Mortal to be able to use them. We also will need a lot more of your Kumse Beetle powder and the pixie dust.”, Temez mused.
“I can get you the Kumse Beetle powder. I could ask my Aager to ask his mayor, Artanboss, to ask the refugees to look for them in the forest. The pixie dust will still be a problem though. Convincing two or three sprites or pixies in one thing. Asking hundreds of them is another. We.. we might have to ask the Summer and Winter Queens..”, Inshala said a bit worried.
Temez looked at her for a moment, then smiled, a tad brittle. She was worried too but was trying very hard to hide it.
“Thank you, Inshala. You have helped us much today. Should you ever need any help, please don’t be shy.. And.. do thank your.. mate on our behalf, if you would?”, she said sincerely.
“I will, dear Temez. Merisoul was my friend. I.. I was afraid of her when we first met. But she was so sweet and pretty. And always answered the questions I asked her. She.. never judged me for what I am, and from her, I learned to accept who I am.. And.. she saved my life, once, very nearly ending her own. Thanks to her greatness, I found the time to know my Aager and be with my Aager. That would never have happened if it weren’t for her.”, Inshala said quietly and hugged Temez, and inadvertently, their horns clashed!
They stood looking at one another, then burst out laughing.
“We will need permission from one of the Queens should we want more of the pixies and the sprites for the amount we require, dear Temez.. Thinking a bit over it, I am now sure of it.. Only they can order them to come to us in such great numbers..”, said Inshala somberly.
And that cut right through their merry moment.
✱ ✱ ✱
Constance swooped down from the cold, moist clouds and noticed the sun had gone lower than she had expected. Soon, it would be gone altogether and she’d be forced to fly in the dark. True, she wasn’t afraid of the dark, and up to a certain point, she could even see in it, even if it were in some odd shades of violet. At the screeching speed she was flying, however, being able to see that ‘certain point’ became somewhat moot, as she would only have a bare second or two before registering she was about to smash into something and die a horrible, total body-shattering death!
The lovely, alluring girl was also an optimistic soul, though. She believed an honest and generous smile could solve more problems than displaying her other, rather.. magnetic features.. as those tended to cause more complications than they seemed to solve. She also believed in being punctual and prompt.
Constance was not an obsessive girl, strictly speaking, but merely well-organized and quite dedicated at whatever she did, and also had the uncanny ability to recognize similar attitudes or patterns in others.
Which was likely why she had noticed the esteemed sheriff of Serenity Home the first time he had come to see them and the young senior temple guardian, Thomas Dimwood, had introduced all the half-borns to him.
Yes, one might argue that all the other half-born girls had also noticed him, since, other than the senior temple guardian himself and his dozen or so junior guardians, who were all ‘off limits’, the sheriff had been the only Mortal male specimen they had been in contact outside of Hell. But the other girls had looked at him with.. well.. either as a curio or simply as something ‘edible’.. The sheriff was, after all, a handsome man, even if he was a bit older than average, as Mortal years went.
Constance, on the other hand, had noticed another quality about him; he had stood before each and every single one of the ‘a hundred and plus something’ number of them as if memorizing their individual faces and names, had politely nodded at them, and bid them a formal welcome to the town and should they require anything, that they were welcome to ask, and that he would do his best to acquire said needs, but to be patient about it, as the town was under the threat of imminent Orken attack. That, for Constance, pointed to the fact that Standorin Shieldheart was indeed a very organized, disciplined, and dedicated man.
The fact that he was also handsome and well into his mature years had been sort of a bonus.
Constance was also a ‘glass half full’ kind of girl..
Suffice to say, none of the above had anything to do with the setting of the sun nor would it help her should she fly into something and end herself quite abruptly, and certainly had nothing to do with the matter at hand.. But Constance liked to go over things in her mind when she flew, which didn’t happen as often as she wanted. An uncharitable person might think she was daydreaming. Constance would, quite strenuously, disagree with such unkind assumption since (a) it was not day, so much as it was evening now, and (b) girls did not daydream but had intricate, multitasking minds, hence they went over things which had happened, things which might happen, and even things that had already happened but how they should have actually happened..
That sure explained why they lived longer than their male counterparts and being Mortal or not made little to no difference.
“Alright.”, she mused as she went over her mental TO-DO list;
Talk to Her.
Get the boy.
Get the girl.
“There. Everyone happy at the cost of a little pain and loss.”
“I doubt, dear.”, said a rich, throaty, and enthralling woman’s voice.
And a long, jagging streak of lightning came down from the clear dusk sky!
Constance yelped and banked right and the lightning very nearly tore through her.
Another jarring streak of lightning lit the dimming sky and the half-born girl did a sharp left turn and escaped with a singe.
“Stop! Please! I come in peace!”, she yelled in panic.
“No, dear girl. You only come. You are a demon, and can not come in peace, nor can you bring it here with you..”, replied the same rich voice.
“No, I am not a demon! I come in good faith and only desire to help the Mortals..”, she screamed and a swirling, columnar hurricane jabbed down from the sky, all the way down to the forest below.
“Did you not come from Hell, my dear?”, asked the throaty voice.
“Yes. Yes, I did, but..”
“There you have it, then. You, dear girl, are clearly a demon, you can not have good faith, and helping Mortals can never be your intention, nor be part of your true agenda..”, said the voice..
..and another shaft of lightning forked downed, and this one zapped the half-born girl quite savagely as more wildly dancing hurricanes came down like some demonic fingers, tearing at everything they grasped..
“My mother was a Mortal!”, shrieked Constance, her face distorted with pain for she felt something hurt dreadfully at her hip.
“I feel sorry for her, but dabbling with the damned is never wise. Every Mortal knows this.”
Constance did another sharp turn and escaped the next strike.
“She.. she was taken.. by Mortals!”, begged the girl.
“Yes. Mortals with sin in their desires, deceit in their minds, and greed in their hearts tend to do that. Which is why I banned them all. But demons were never welcome.”, said the throaty voice.
“T.. Titania?”, Constance gasped.
“Yes, dear child. I have been watching you for some time now. I had hoped you would vier from your course, but apparently, you are not as smart as I had hoped you would be.. And now you are in my domain.. and in my jurisdiction..”
Constance took a dive, the wind shrieking as she attained her combat velocity, then spun, at a whip lashing speed, and flew straight towards the Perch..
..and more hurricanes stabbed down mercilessly, and Constance slammed right into them!
With a shriek lost in the howling, swirling and enraged, dark purple-gray fingers tore into her and shredded her and tossed her!
Constance dropped out of the sky like a moot rock..
..and with a last-minute display of aerial agility, she took a sharp, right-angle turn and shot up again!
“You are a persistent one, aren’t you?”, Titania said, and three more flashes of lightning came jarring down simultaneously.
With a determined expression on her face, Constance banked, right, then left, then left again, barely avoiding the deadly, jarring shafts and the wrathful fingers piercing down everywhere now.
“Mo.. Mother Titania.. Please.. I.. We are not all demon.. We are also human. I beg of you. I truly come in peace..”, she pleaded as tears ran down her face and were whipped away by the savage wind. “I speak the truth..”
“You must see the irony of a demon claiming to speak the truth, child. And a succubus, no less. Truth or lies, it matters little, as willy-nilly, the means to ends matters not to your kind.”
“I am Constance Alure Smithen, Mother.. Thus I have given you my name and claim nothing in return.”, she very nearly blubbered for the jagging streaks of lightnings came seamlessly now and the desperate half-born was zig-zagging mindlessly through them.
“Impressive. Perhaps you hoped, by giving something, you would get something back. Surcease, perhaps? Bargains do not work like that, dear child. I must want something from you for you to offer something else in return.. I do not!”
“I merely come to inquire as to the health of two Mortals, Mother! They are dear to some in the town called Serenity Home, just west of here.”
“Ahh.. Perhaps I may consent to give you that.. for your name, even though I have not asked for it. The princess of the homeless elves is indeed, here. She is healthy, though her health deteriorates as days go by and is quite troubled, for she has dire decisions to make for her mate-to-be, who is dying. I have put him in stasis to buy him time, whilst the princess makes her choice or comes to terms with his dire predicament. It appears, someone put a hole in the boy’s heart with iron.”
“Is.. is there nothing I can do to help? Nothing at all? Her people desperately need their princess and his father and his friends desperately need him.. For them, I am willing to give that which is most precious to me!”, Constance asked as she felt her heart plummet for a hole in the heart with iron only meant one end, and little did it matter if they were Mortal, fey, or demon..
“And what may that be, my dear?”
Constance told her.
There was a pause as Titania seemed to mull over something for the lightnings and the savage hurricanes ceased!
“As intriguing as your offer is, child, the princess of the homeless elves must be the one to make the choice I have offered her as said choice pertains to her own future, the future of her mate-to-be, and their line.. There is, literally, nothing anyone else may do, for she came here, with her mate-to-be, unsummoned and uninvited, though quite unintentional, also.. Should you still want to help the Mortals you claim to want to help, however, perhaps there is some room there for bargains for you have managed to garner my admiration, if not curiosity.. Settle down Constance Alure Smithen, the child of a Mortal woman and a demon father.. I would like to take a closer look at your offer and further test your mettle.. and see if your claim is worth a bargain.”
✱ ✱ ✱
Sheriff Standorin!”, exclaimed the young guard as he burst into the sheriff’s office. “Come. Quick! You.. you had better see this!”
Slowly and calmly, the sheriff of Serenity Home rose from his seat, buckled on his sword over his shoulder as he looked at the young, excited guard.
“What is it young man?”, he rumbled, giving an assessing glance at him.
“I don’t know how to describe it, sir. Lights.. Hundreds and hundreds of them. And they are all coming here!”, the young guard said with an awestruck face.
“Lights? What lights?”
“I don’t know, sir. You must see them yourself!”, the young man said, almost jumping where he stood.
Standorin mumbled something about young and easily excitable kids but waved at the guard to lead the way.
The two walked over and all the way to the north gate of the town while other guards ran back and forth with already lit torches and lanterns as evening slowly settled, just to see the multitudes of refugees, all on the other side of the stone bridge that stretched over the Great Arashkan River, and all of them were standing still and staring north..
..where there were hundreds and thousands of sparkling lights hovered amongst the trees bordering the Ritual Forest and quite luminous in the settling evening.
“What is this?”, Standorin asked, somewhat disturbed.
“We.. I do not know, sir. Ranger Masters Devien and Moorat have gone to check, but they have not returned yet.”, replied the young guard in a hushed voice.
“Where is Master Aager—?”
“—Here, sir.”, replied a growling voice and Aager Fogstep appeared next to him as if summoned by magic!
“What is this?”, the sheriff repeated his question.
“I am not quite sure, sir.”, Aager said in his low voice.
“Are you seeing this, love?”, he silently cast his own question at Inshala.
“I want to. But there is a whole crowd of people standing in front of me and I can’t get past them.”, she replied. Then with a sigh, she added. “And they are pushing at one another.. I don’t want to get trampled.”
Aager turned to the guards standing nearby and growled at them.
“You! Form two lines, one on each side of the road and make a gap. We cant have a crowd plugging the town’s main entrance!”
“Yes, sir!”, the guards replied hastily, saluted the right hand of the sheriff, and guards started pushing the people back and to the side of the road leading in and out of the town.
“That was very smart!”, Aager heard Inshala’s admiring voice.
“People should know better not to mob the town entrances by now.”, he fumed.
“They are only curious, my Aager.”
“A stupid excuse for trampling each other. This could be a diversion for an attack!”
“Very true. Almost there..”, she replied and indeed, she appeared next to him.
They both stared at the odd, sparkling phenomena for some time until Inshala said a bit awed, “Pixies.. and sprites! Many of them.. Thousands!”
Sheriff Standorin turned to her and asked.
“Are you sure, Lady Inshala?”
She just couldn’t help it.
Big, large men scared her!
Standorin must have noticed this as well, for his always-stern face softened a bit and he knelt down before the little girl and spoke in a low, calm voice, though it still rumbled.
“I apologize wholeheartedly, sweet Lady Inshala. I meant neither to upset you nor to abuse your good sensibilities. You are a wonder to us all, beautiful beyond words, and your wisdom leaves us in shame.”
If anything could have sufficed a good blush, this was it!
Inshala turned bright, bright red, and covered her face with her slender hands.
“You.. you have put me to shame with your honest and kind words, sir. The lights you see are fey folk. I would plead your men to not harm them. If they have come here and in such great numbers, there must be a good reason. If you would, please tell your men, and the people all around to make room, for they will not come any near, as things stand now.”
Sheriff Standorin smiled at her, then slowly rose.
“Master Aager, if you will, inform all the guards to put away their iron and clear the way, from all the way here to the fey. No one is to stand near them, get near them, hinder them, or harm them.”
“Yes, sir.”, Aager said with a curt salute and growled orders.
Soon, the town’s northern entrance, the bridge, and the refugees near the woods were all cleared and a historical first occurred; the tiny, sparkling lights, the small fel-folk hovered towards Serenity Home..
It was an inspired possession..
..as each luminous globe carried a tiny, humanoid creature inside, or perhaps, the globes of light were there because of the tiny, humanoid creatures..
..and they bobbed, back and forth, left and right, and up and down with easy leisure and leaving a long trail of sparkling pixie dust from their tiny, barely discernable wings and entered the town and slowly but surely, they gathered before the Serenity Town Temple where the Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood, Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel Songsteel.. and Perigren Ostlanna Temez met them, as Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane, and Aager Fogstep also stood nearby.
A tiny, tooth-pick sized creature came forth, and with demanding attitude, she spoke;
“I am Biberbell and I speak for my kin and the rest of the fey-folk gathered here, and we have come upon the command of Titania, the Summer Queen, and in retaliation, Mab, also, the Winter Queen, in hopes to partake our pixie dust much needed for the defense of this Mortal town.”, she piped.
Thomas, Bremorel, and Temez just ogled at the tiny thing.
“We have been promised satisfactory accommodations and.. CANDY!”, she squeaked.
“Uhhmm.. Candy?”, Thomas blurted a bid dumbfounded.
“Yes. Candy! But we will settle for sugar canes, too.”, she buzzed, paused, then added..
“LOTS AND LOTS OF SUGAR CANES!“
..with a very lustful expression on her tiny face as she rubbed her hands together, barely refraining from a possible;
“Said conditions can be arranged, Biberbell. But we have not made any bargains with either of the Queens.”, Thomas replied with a very much freaked expression on his own face.
The tiny sprite turned to Perigren Ostlanna Temez and said with nothing short of a patronizing tone.
“The bargain has already been struck, and the debt paid in full and done.”
“Who? Who has bargained with the Queens and who has paid in full and done?”, demanded Temez.
“How should I know, demon? I am not privy to the details of what the Queens do!”, Biberbell sniffed at her.
“Ask a Constance Alure Smithen!”
“Ask her what it means; Wings for Wings..”
The once high lady of the destroyed Bari Na-ammen, Anglenna Brightleaf struggles with those around her who mistrust or outright loath her.
As allies gather for the defense of the town, Anglenna confers with the only people who are impartial and unbiased against her as the whereabouts of the young man, Udoorin Shieldheart, and the last princess of Bari Na-ammen, Alor’Nadien ne Feymist, remains a mystery.
The events taking place in this
particular story also involves
A Bard’s Tale XIII – “Searing Perspective”
Anglenna felt miserable. The amount of pain she registered from the numerous cuts and bruises she had attained during her daring sojourn under the ruins of the glorious city of Arashkan had taken its toll on her. Once she had unleashed the Three Dog Curse upon the city, she had tried to get out, only to be lost, for days, under the extended sewer canals of the city. Hungry, thirsty, filthy, bloody, and constantly fighting her way through the Orken who had found their way down into the maze, and always trying to stay a step ahead of the curse she had unleashed. When she had finally found the time to get a decent rest to be able to teleport out of the burning city, she had crash-landed right through four rooms of the Serenity Home Guest House, adding to her already draining pain.
And now she lay, in a rickety bed, in some dormitory under the town’s temple, burning with fever, sweating profusely, and shivering at the same time. It seemed like the Heavens had ganged up against her and all at once.
Her current torment was bested only by the horrendous, jabbing, and jarring pain that kept stabbing up her broken arm, all the way up to the back of her skull, and it just wouldn’t stop.
Anglenna Brightleaf tilted over the side of her bed..
“I feel terrible.”, she moaned miserably, staring into the stinking, half-full bucket, standing next to her rickety bed.
“I don’t.”, said a soft, throaty voice heartlessly, and Bremorel Songsteel turned the page of the book she was reading without so much as a glance at the totally disheveled high lady from the simple chair she was sitting. “I feel good.. seeing you like this!”
“I.. suppose you do..”, gasped Anglenna as the pain from her cast arm jabbed at her again.
“You know, being a bitch at times does have its moments. But you? You are a very special kind of bitch. But then, you are that special snowflake kind of girl so it is somewhat understandable, I guess. “, she said calmly as she continued to read her book.
“It is possible I have been a bitch all my life. But I was brought up by Angrellen the Betrayer. What’s your excuse, little girl?”, the high elf said hoarsely as she continued to sweat.
“Nice one..”, grinned Bremorel.
“Why are you here? Other than to torment me, and take satisfaction in my suffering.”, Anglenna fell back onto her bed, exhausted.
“No reason. Other than to torment you and take satisfaction in your suffering..”, the ranger lieutenant replied, turning another page.
“Didn’t know you could read.”, snarked the high elf, as she pulled her blanket higher.
“Just looking at the bright illustrations. But I can’t seem to find them!”, Bremorel said smugly. Then added, “Girl, you are going to have to try better than that, if you want to insult me. I mean, come on, now. I don’t want to be forced to outright insult you but, really? That one was rather pathetic. When it comes to insults, it’s all about moderation and standards.”
“I wasn’t aware you had any standards.”, she said and turned into a fetal position as she started to shiver again.
“See? That was a tint better, now, wasn’t it?”, the ranger girl replied smiling, as turned the page over again, and threw an indiscernible glance at the shivering high elf.
“I can’t believe they let someone like you become a ranger. Apparently, this whole town lacks standards.”, Anglenna scoffed.
“Now, now. Let’s keep the insults running at a personnel level and not involve others, shall we? Or you might stink up this place. Oh, wait, you already have!”, Bremorel deadpanned.
..and retched again.
“Your mother never told you that drinking sewer water would make you ill, I suppose. But then, I heard she wasn’t much of a mother so your overwhelming ignorance of the world you live in is mildly acceptable, but not sensible nor reasonable since just about any idiot out there would know this.”, Bremorel mused.
“Why are you really here, Ranger Lieutenant? You can’t be as petty as you want me to believe you are.”, Anglenna wheezed exasperatedly and slumped back into the bed.
“‘As petty as you want me to believe you are?’ Wow, girl. You said that so smoothly. I almost lost track of it towards the end there, and I am a ranger and all. Got me a lieutenant’s medal, even..”, the ranger girl said, as she slowly rose from her chair and walked over to the door. She reached up and opened it, took the empty bucket sitting next to the door, and returned to switch it with the half-full one and put it outside.
“You must have better things to do that to change my filth.”, Anglenna said with shame, for she couldn’t remember being this embarrassed in her entire one hundred and seventy-eight years.
“I do. But I thought it’d be fun reducing you as low as I can on behalf of the peoples of Arashkan and High Woods while I had the chance. Turns out.. I am right. This is fun!”, Bremorel replied happily. “The other option was I drag you off into the woods and finish you off there and dump your ass in a pit where no one would ever find you. But Thomas is silly and kind and told me not to, so here we are, you in a sickbed, spewing all over the place, and me having fun.”
“If this is some convoluted plan to make me talk, it isn’t going to work. I was trained by the best of them.”, she said, rolling to her other side, as she pulled up her blanket again.
“If your mother is the measure of, the best of ’em, I shouldn’t have much trouble.”, grinned Bremorel.
“Very good, Lieutenant.”, the high lady said with mild appreciation. “Classy, even. Begs the question, why the bumkin act, though?”
“Dammit.”, Bremorel said merrily. “I just got me exposed.”
“In all candor, young Morel.”, Anglenna said, in pain. “That particular pose truly doesn’t suit you, and not at all convincing. Your eyes.. They are too bright..”
“Ow?”, said Bremorel, looking down at the miserable high lady.
“And young Thomas.. as creepy as his mindless obsession with you is, he does not strike me as a man who regrets his choice in his woman. And I got the impression, Thomas would never be happy with a bumkin. An educated man requires to converse with a woman of at least at his own level of intelligence or she must have some unique aspect or perspective that he can never have.”, the high lady said.
Then, with a green smile, she added, “Or she’s just that good in bed! I am guessing two out of those three, in your case.”
Bremorel’s face turned molten red.
“Why two?”, she blurted hotly.
“I was being polite.”, replied Anglenna. “Checkmate?”
The ranger lieutenant scowled at the sick high lady.
It was a good thing someone knocked at the door just then. Or perhaps not. Try though she might, young Bremorel just couldn’t come up with anything that had enough firepower. The condescending she-elf had nailed her with backhanded compliments she just couldn’t refute.
Not unless she wanted to admit she was stupid, had no perspective of her own, and had a very unsatisfied husband!
“Checkmate..”, she fumed grudgingly.
She scowled some more, then walked over to the door, swung it open, and shouted.
Right into the face of the leader of the High Woods Resistance Movement, Lord Armethelius Riverblade..
..And this day had started so well when she had found out she had been given the assignment of looking after/tormenting/punning the stupid high elf woman, dammit!
“Have I come at a wrong time, perhaps, Ranger Lieutenant Songsteel?”, Armethelius asked politely.
Burning brighter now, Morel just stared at the elf lord.
“What can I do for you Lorn Armethelius? Why have you come here? Don’t you have anything better to do, like running a resistance movement than wasting your time here?”
To give the young high elf lord credit, he didn’t take the ranger lieutenants tone to heart, nor did he take umbrage. He just smiled. Politely.
“I have come, merely to check up on the high lady. I believe I was given this permission, ‘as I saw fit’.. And the resistance is moving on just fine. For what it’s worth, I would be indebted to you, if you could tell the esteemed sheriff that he will be receiving fifty more of our trained elves to his disposal.”
Bremorel frowned at the high lord.
“That’s a hefty bribe just to see the high lady, my Lord. I am sure Tomas would have agreed for far less had you asked him.”
“The Senior Temple Guardian is a good and generous man, working diligently, day and night to keep the wellbeing of all the refugees, and quite impartially, I might add. There is no price we can satisfactorily pay for the service he does. But by giving more of our elves to keep the town, and the outlying lands and fields safe, at least we are able to pay him by proxy.”, Armethelius replied.
“And you get to impress the girl.”, smirked Bremorel.
“I can hear you!”, came Anglenna’s wheezy voice.
Lord Armethelius did a better job of suppressing his fluster than young Morel had ever done. He just looked at her with a very neutral and still expression.
“Very well. Gimme a few. Let me ask her if she’s available.”, Bremorel said..
..and shut the door.
On the high lord’s face.
“No.”, said Anglenna in a half panicked voice. “I look horrible. He doesn’t have to see me like this.”
“Girl, you are horrible. The fact that anyone has come to see you is an event, astounding on its own. That you also look horrible, is a moot point.”, Bremorel said with an amused expression.
“No.”, the high lady repeated stubbornly. “What’s remained of my world, only two people are left that have the slightest care and respect for me, and the other is my cousin.”
“Wow.”, the ranger girl said heartlessly. “That’s just sad. How did that happen? Ow, wait, you did it to yourself, yes, now I remember.”
“Just.. just tell him to go.. and never come back..”, Anglenna said, moaning in sick pain.
“Very well. You may rot in your lonely misery.”, she replied with a shrug, went back to the door, and to the high elf lord, she declared boldly;
“My Lord Armethelius, do please come in!”
✱ ✱ ✱
You are up a bit later than usual, love.”, said Perigren Ostlanna Temez. “I thought you’d be at the esteemed sheriff’s office by now. Is everything alright?”
Constance Alure Smithen sighed.
“I will be heading there now. I just drop in to ask you about the gift but thought I’d give you a few more moments to rest, dear. You have been working hard to find a solution for the lost Orken army.”, she said.
“Thank you, Alure. You were always thoughtful of others, even back in Hell, which I think was why Auntie Irine disliked you so much.”, smiled Temez a bit sadly.
“Irine disliked any number of us.”, Constance shrugged. “You and Merisoul the most. A gros mistake on her part, as things turned out.”
“How very true.”, agreed, Perigren. “Mind I ask, how things went last night? Between you and the esteemed sheriff?”
“I wouldn’t mind at all, though I am surprised the whole lot didn’t come flocking when.. Stan.. dropped me off.
“Stan?”, Temez asked a bit confused.
“Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart insisted I call him that. At least in private.”, replied Constance deploringly.
“Ah. I have noticed this as well. Mortals cut and butcher one another’s names as much as they cut and butcher one another!”, Temez nodded with similar distress.
“Indeed. Though the disinterest of my kin in this matter is as depressing as it is refreshing.”, the tall half-born mused.
“It isn’t disinterest, love, I told them not to plague you.”
“True, we are all brothers and sisters, made by our mutual sufferings, but this involves a Mortal and two hearts, now, which makes it a private matter uniquely confidential and exclusive to you and him. I told them it would be fine only if you brought it up.”, Temez smiled. “After all, I did not send you to the Mortals as a liaison to capture the esteemed sheriff. I sent you there to get to know our allies, and for our allies to get to know us. Your private interest in the esteemed sheriff is a personal matter and we must all learn to respect that, even if some of us are burning with curiously.”
“Demelze hounded you all night, didn’t she?”, Constance said with exasperation.
“Yes. Yes, she did.”, sighed Perigren. “She knocked on my door with clock-work precision; Temez, Temez, Temez, Temez, Temez, Temez! —Suffice to say, it was a dreary and trying night and the Great Heavens tested my patience. I think I passed since she is still alive and I am sane.”
“That must have been.. irritating..”, Constance said lightly, trying very hard not to laugh.
“Painfully so. Hence, I wouldn’t mind if you could give me something to tell them. Nothing specific, mind you. Anything that would give me a breather, and keep her off my back. After all, we don’t want a pouting Demelze seething in an enclosed building, do we?”, Temez said pleadingly.
“No, dear, we don’t. Too many children in here.”, she said and paused for a moment. “We had a nice, quiet dinner together. Then the esteemed sheriff took me for a walk, out in the near woods. It was rather pleasant. I let him do the talking since the living conditions of Hell are quite the conversation killer. He was polite.”
“Polite is nice.”, Temez said, but when she saw her sister-kin’s face, she got suspicious. “How polite was he?”
Constance paused for another moment before she answered..
..with a long, exasperated sigh.
“Ow. That must have been quite annoying.”, replied Temez mirthfully.
“You have no idea, my dear.. In the end, I told him I was pleased to see how careful Mortal men were with their delicate dates and that it was a good thing I hadn’t brought my pike to defend myself to stave off his excessive interest.”
Perigren Ostlanna Temez belly-laughed.
“Priceless, love, priceless.”
“I rather liked it. Though the esteemed sheriff wasn’t very pleased. I suspect he wanted to keep things purely professional. But when I offered him to hold my hand whilst I slip and fall, not with the ground being uneven and frozen, and he be known as the unreliable man who let his brand-new liaison/date be damaged thus soon should I fall and hurt myself, he caved in.”
“You are awesome, love. Demelze could take pointers from you.”
Constance very nearly bloomed.
“It went a bit nicer after that. We talked some more. And I told him a bit about myself, our people, and our oaths, in particular, to put him at ease, which I think is important that he knows. All in all, it was pleasant, I think. I liked it that we only shared words and close proximity rather than anything overt and immediate. It truly is much more fulfilling this way; the exhilarating sense that makes you want to skip and hop like a fool just because the one you want is walking right next to you.. I believe Mortals have a word for this, and it made me.. tingle down to my very soul..”, she said with a very sweet little smile.
“Ow? Do tell!”, Temez asked eagerly.
Perigren’s eyes blurred.
“That is.. beautiful.”
“Much so, dear.”, agreed, Constance. “But I think he was also distracted and not only because of me. Something was bothering him down to his very core.”
“Hmmm.. What could it be?”, mused Temez, frowning a bit.
“I inquired Ranger Lieutenant Morel Songsteel about it ere I came here to you if there was anything that would cause thus consternation for the esteemed sheriff. She said the list for that would be a very long one. But she told me what it would most likely be, as it was something she, herself, was very much worried.”
“What is it?”, Temez asked.
“It appears Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart’s son is missing. Our information on dear Merisoul’s companions and their whereabouts seem quite out of date. As things stand now, Merisoul Xyrotwu, Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel Songsteel’s cousin, Ranger Lieutenant Laila Wolvesbane, and Master Gnine Tinkerdome had gone to Silent Hills, and are still there. The first to arrive of their total company was one Lady Magella, who left for the Scowling Hills just west of here. Lady Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane Bolgrig Hooman Fogstep and Sir Aager Fogstep, the Winter Knight, had gone to the city of paladins, Durkahan and they have just recently returned. A High Lady Anglenna Sunsear, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart’s son, Udoorin Shieldheart, and a Princess Alor’Nadien ne Feymist of Bari Na-ammen had parted for the ruined and besieged city of Arashkan, but of the three, only this High Lady Anglenna Sunsear has thus returned. His son was supposed to have arrived with the princess many days ago, and before the high lady, but hasn’t. Apparently, the two of them were sent here via a teleportation spell but they missed their destination.”
“Mortals and their ignorant use of magic they do not understand.”
“We must find them!”, Constance said urgently, which told Perigren something about the tall, calm, serene young woman; that her care for the esteemed sheriff was quite genuine, for rarely did anything ruffle this beautiful, cool-headed woman’s feathers. She mused for a moment as options and possibilities crisscrossed her intricate mind, while Constance waited in silent anticipation.
“Let me think a bit more on this, for this is quite an important matter. You go and attend to your assignment, love. So far as we know, the esteemed sheriff very much dislikes impunctuality as much as he finds sloth to be distasteful.”
“That is true. Take care of us, dear. And say hi to Dar Derune for me, will you? It makes him happy when we say ‘hi’ by proxy.”
“That it does, love. That it does..”
✱ ✱ ✱
You look spry this morning, sir.”, growled Aager Fogstep, as the sheriff entered the building.
Sheriff Standorin gave the young man in dark leathers a sour look and wordlessly entered his office. He pulled the long blade off his broad back and leaned it on one of the many drawers lining up the small ‘cubicle’, behind his chair and slumped into it, quietly seething.
Aager followed him in and sat across the large sheriff and silently started sifting through the stack of papers on the table. He read every single one of them and thoroughly and split them in separate stacks according to their priority and relevance.
Apparently, his silence won over the sheriff’s fuming.
“This won’t work.”, the sheriff said darkly.
“What’s that, sir?”, asked Aager, not taking his eyes of the report in his hand.
“This, Liaison thing!”
“Ah. She hasn’t even started yet, and you want to dismiss it already?”, Aager replied.
“You know what I mean.”, fumed Standorin.
“I am sorry, sir. I don’t. Did something happen last night? Perhaps she said or did something out of turn? Though I doubt that’d be the case. She seemed like a very foresighted young woman.”
“That’s the point!”, snarled the sheriff.
“Her being foresighted is a problem? I don’t get it, sir. That’s something you have wished all the men and women under your command would have but sorely lack.”
“No, man. Young! Her being young!”
“Ah ha.. I didn’t know you were into older women, sir, though it’d be understandable if you were.”, the dark man said with a straight face.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”, asked Standorin harshly.
“I heard Lady Limnia was quite older than you.”
There was a moment of seething silence and Sheriff Standorin burned the young man with his gaze who just sat there silently grinning at him.
Aager put the paper down and looked at the fuming sheriff.
“Unlike my Inshala, who likes happy, smiling faces around her, I care very little for such facial expressions in others. But out of the debt I owe you for having saved my neck from a horribly painful ‘death-by-blunt-guillotine’, I have always made exceptions for you. Hence I will say my piece, though, at a price.”
Standorin cocked an eyebrow at the young man.
“Should you want to hear my harsh words, you must accept my price as well. Your call, sir.”
“What’s your advice and what will it cost me?”, the sheriff asked suspiciously.
“Ahh, no, sir. You will have to agree on the price before you get to hear the advice. Fear not. My rates are not very steep.”, Aager grinned at the fuming sheriff. “Otherwise you might outright refuse the advice and miss all the wisdom it shall bring you!”
“You are enjoying this, aren’t you?”, the sheriff scowled at him.
“Had it been some six months ago, sir, no, I wouldn’t have been enjoying this, you wouldn’t be sitting here having this conversation with me, I wouldn’t be giving you any advice and things would have been dreary and boring as ever, sans the approaching Orken army out there!”, Aager replied calmly.
“Something tells me I will regret this but go ahead, Master Aager. Do give me your price.”
“You will regret a great many things, sir, just not this.”, smiled the young man..
..And with a polite knock, the door to the sheriff’s office opened, presenting Constance Alure Smithen.
“Good morning, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. And you, Sir Aager Fogstep. I have read through your Criminal Laws and the laws pertaining to commerce and judicial matters, and also the local laws specific to Serenity Home town, in particular. I have noted that your current archives pertaining to said criminal reports are quite extensive, but both time-consuming to find when needed, and it would seem you have also run out of space. I have given it some thought and found a number of ways to optimize and address both problems for you.”
Sheriff Standorin just stared at the beautiful young woman. She was dressed in long, unrevealing dress skirts with little to no adornments. Other than a bright-red application to her pretty lips, she wore no makeup, nor any jewelry.
Aager didn’t say anything. He just sat quietly..
“I.. would very much like to hear your ideas on the matter of documentation and archives, Liaison Constance.”, Standorin stammered a bit as he rose from his chair. “Perhaps after the morning assignments are handed out?”
“But of course, sir.”, Constance replied calmly, then looked down at Aager with careful deliberation.
The sheriff left the office and headed out to the small courtyard where all the guards not currently on duty were already lined up.
“Sir Aager Fogstep.”, Constance began, after the sheriff had left.
“Just Aager will do, Liaison Constance. I do not qualify as a sir.”, he replied in his low growl.
“I believe you do, Sir.”, she said, putting the tiniest bit of implication to her words.
“As you wish.”, Aager shrugged without so much as turning a hair.
“I have brought.. a gift to you, Sir Aager Fogstep.”, she said a bit uncertainly.
“Totally unnecessary, Liaison Constance. Town guards do not take, nor accept gifts as they could constitute and be mistaken for a bribe. Perhaps you missed that in the Criminal Law’s book?”, the young man in dark leathers said quietly.
Constance paused for a breath’s length.
“The gift is to you, Sir. But not for you.”, she amended cooly.
Aager cocked an eyebrow at her.
“Please give these to your loved one. I am sure she will very much appreciate them.”, she said and produced two, heavy-looking, age-old daggers. “These are quite ancient blades, Sir, and are a pair. They are also enchanted in their own way.”
“I thank you for the gift, but I doubt Lady Inshala will have any use for them, as she very much dislikes the touch of iron. Perhaps you could give these to someone who would actually wield them?”, Aager declined, staring, but not touching the very, very sharp blades that appeared more like short swords, really.
“Ah. The confusion is understandable, and possibly due to my misphrasing. These blades would indeed be a bad choice of gifts for the esteemed Lady Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane Bolgrig Hooman Fogstep. These, are for your sister, Lady Lilly Venom as a wedding gift. We had heard of her happy union but were unable to attend as we weren’t sure if we would be welcome. She and Perigren Ostlanna Temez became somewhat acquainted, and Temez noticed her missing vital gear appropriate to her station.”, she replied calmly.
“Why give them to me, then? Wouldn’t it be better for Temez to give them to her?”
“Should Perigren Ostlanna Temez gift them to her in person, Lady Lilly Venom would feel obligated to return a gift of her own, and of equal or at least of similar value. I am afraid, however, she will sorely fail should she try, for these blades are unique and quite priceless. If you gifted them to her on our behalf, yet unbeknownst to her, she would happily accept them and feel no such obligation whatsoever. And since they are not for you, there is little reason for you to feel any similar obligation either.”
Perhaps it was time for Aager to fume.
But he did not.
He just stared at the tall young woman and smiled.
“I don’t do lackey, Liaison Constance. And as convenient as your reasoning for the gift was, these knives are a bribe. The only question is, what do you want in return? Let me warn you and your kin, though. The Winter Knight can not be bribed, bought, or swayed. I am tempted to stay as a neutral party where your kind are concerned because Merisoul Xyrotwu is my friend, and I owe her a debt of honor. She saved my Inshala, and burned for me! Should you test me though, I will bring Mab’s ire upon you. So.. I am very much hoping the answer to my question is a good one.”
Constance Alure Smithen stiffened a fraction.
“We have left Hell in hopes of finding sanction among elves and humans. We gave an oath, Winter Knight. An oath to sweat, to bleed, and to die for our Ascension. We may not break that oath.”, she said cooly, but not without honest fear, though what it was she feared, Aager couldn’t say.
“Admirable as that may be, you still haven’t answered my question, Liaison Constance.”, he replied in a wintery voice.
“We need your mate’s help.”, Constance said simply.
Aager did not say anything. He waited, silently.
“Some not too distant days ago, ere you and your mate’s arrival, the esteemed sheriff received news about one of the Orken armies having disappeared overnight. He and Mayor Arthandos Yuleman suspect they have used the device that they employed to ambush Arashkan. Fearing a possible recurrence, we were sent a note, by the sheriff himself, pertaining to the lost Orken army and possibly a way to counter-act this device, even temporarily, to avoid further, devastating ambushes. Perigren Ostlanna Temez and my brothers and sisters have worked diligently to find a way to reveal their presence, but we are, at the moment, at a standstill, on account of our ignorance of plants and herbs of this Mortal world. Your mate, Lady Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane Bolgrig Hooman Fogstep, on the other hand, has vast knowledge on this matter. We wished her help, and perhaps her friendship as well, as both her and my kin share common social drawbacks.”
Constance paused for a moment as if considering if she would say more. She must have decided to do so, for she did, but with a muted tone.
“And if we had her as a friend, we would worry less, should Mab want his knight to slay any of us, as the Ritual Guardian would intervene on our behalf. I speak this openly and honestly, Sir Knight.”
Again, she paused. But when she spoke this time, her voice was not cold, but it was brittle.
“I play you will not take my words as a threat, nor as eager warning, Sir, but you must understand, should your Queen indeed move against one of us, She will have moved against all of us. We did not escape Hell, just to be hunted here. We wish to live happy and be happy. I beg you will not take this surcease from us.”
“I have no desire to come after anyone, let alone you or your kin, Liaison. I would suggest you inform your kin to refrain using their skills, unique or otherwise, to avoid the notice of my Queen, and that is all the surety I will give you, as little as it may be.”
“Thank you, Sir Knight.”, Constance said, her voice calm again.
“Do not thank me, Liaison. For my surety is no surety!”
“Your unwillingness to come after us, Sir Knight, is our surety, as little as it may be. As for your suggestion, I shall convey it to Perigren Ostlanna Temez. In the meantime, I would officially ask your permission for Lady Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane Bolgrig Hooman Fogstep to join us in the temple.”
“You need not my permission for my Inshala. She is my mate, she is free. Should she wish it, she may come and go as she pleases, anywhere. I am merely the Winter Knight. She is the Ritual Guardian. You could ask my sister, Lilly, and her husband Largo to join in as well. They both have sharp minds and Largo in particular is good with strategy.”
“Very well, Sir. I shall convey this offer to Perigren Ostlanna Temez, as well.”, and she turned to go.
“There’s one thing I must ask, Liaison.”, Aager said and the young, beautiful woman paused.
“Please, do, Sir Knight.”
“What are your intentions in regard to Sheriff Standorin? I ask only because I have seen, first hand, and on any number of occasions, that he is a decent man. A decent, burned, scarred, and lonely man who dearly misses his deceased wife, Limnia Karya. I would hate to see him suffer more.”
Constance did not wait, nor think to reply.
When she did, her voice had changed, very slightly, giving it a certain, scared warmth.
“If he is indeed a decent, lonely man, burned and scarred, Sir Aager Fogstep, then he and I have much more in common than I ever hoped to have. I shall always be honest, kind, and gentle with him, and I shall be patient with him, also. Until he realizes I am not his lost Limnia Karya, I shall never be his lost Limnia Karya, I can never replace his lost Limnia Karya, and neither will my intentions ever be to replace his lost Limnia Karya, for every life is precious, unique, and irreplaceable. This, I think you already know.”
The Winter Knight mused for a moment before he spoke.
“Then, Liaison Constance, I shall not help you, but neither shall I hinder you. I shall, however, extract a price.”
“Whatever price you demand, I shall pay.”, Constance replied with a slight frown.
“You shall suffer a tryst with the sheriff and trice. The offers, however, must come from you. I shall not accept offers should they come from him. You may, or may not accept his offers, should he make them, but those offers shall not count as part of your debt.”
Constance stared at Aager, quite stupefied.
“I.. do not understand.”, she stammered.
“Your understanding is neither required nor is it part of the price, Liaison Constance.”, he growled.
“I.. will submit to this odd but favorable demand, Sir Knight.”, she stammered some more.
“Winter is not always bitter-cold and dreary, Liaison Constance. When summer comes, does it shine and bloom, and Mortals do spread and far across forest and field. Come winter, do they gather ’round their fires and gain strength and vigor from one another’s dear company. Come winter, does it tuck and veil the earth, quite warm under its shroud of white, ending plagues and wars. And does it mute the distractions of summer and her illustrious colors. Hence do Mortals learn to appreciate the world they walk and come summer and bloom again, they are they now wiser..”, Aager said, his growl gone, yet his voice seemed deeper and vast.
“We, Liaison Constance, are now in an agreement.”
✱ ✱ ✱
You can hide under the blanket, but can you at least remove the pillow? You are going to smother yourself, Lenna.”, Armethelius Riverblade said, stifling a smile, for he would never have guessed, the famous Frost Queen of Bari Na-ammen would be this embarrassed.. or even have the heart to be thus flustered.
Something muffled was heard from under the pillow, and the young high elf commander leaned over a bit to hear what the high lady was saying.
“I am sorry, Lenna. I wouldn’t catch that.”, he said with a bemused expression.
“Go away, Thelius.”, came Anglenna’s pleading muffles.
“I shall. As soon as I see how you are doing. Or see that it is actually you under the pillow.”
“You don’t have to see me like this. Or at all. I.. am not at my best, at the moment.”, she wheezed as she burned and shivered at the same time.
“I would like to be the judge of that, Lenna. Since your usual best would have stared me down already. You might say I want to savor the moment, as dishonorable as that sounds. But I am thinking that much of a dent in my honor will be worth it.” Armethelius replied. “I am going to pull this blanket off now. I really hope you have something on.”
“Don’t! Please!”, panicked Anglenna.
Without a second warning, the young high elf commander pulled off the blanket, ignored the horrified and screaming high lady, bent down, scooped her up, and sat her on the plain chair!
“Now, if you will, this bed is a mess and requires a change of sheets and pillow covers, and possibly a new blanket as well, seeing as how all of them are crumbled and wet! Not exactly a healthy environment, is it?”, he said, and with a swift display of elven agility and grace, he pulled off the sick sheets, the pillow covers, and tossed them, and the blanket over to the door, produced a new set of sheets, covers, and blanket and with practiced hands, did the bed with military accuracy as Anglenna, still burning and shivering, watched him with ogling, morose eyes.
When he was done, he turned around and looked down at the shivering girl, and not unkindly, he said, “I am sorry, Lenna, but this will hurt a bit. And on multiple levels..”
..And pulled the wet, burlap-colored, linen gown off her, from feet to head without giving her the time to gasp, or object, and with equal grace, he put another long gown on her, from head to feet..
Then picked her up, set her in the bed, and pulled the blanket all the way up to her chin!
“I apologize for that, Lenna, and you may reprimand me or even go as far as calling me upon it later, but I wasn’t into a long argument just now. I know these are not up to your usual standards, but the sheet, the pillow cover, and the gown are elf silk, and the blanket is elf wool. I have also brought some soap, a brush, and hairnets for you. A woman of your stature should always uphold certain standards. That said, I am afraid I must take my leave, now. I do not want to be missed for too long and be asked as to why I have been visiting the town thus often of late.”, he said and turned to leave.
Anglenna knew she was about to suffer a colossal shock at what had just happened. She felt it roaring her way and surmised she had only a short moment of coherence left to her. So she asked the only relevant question she could think of.
“I am safe, getting better, and should be up, once the fever is passed. You already know all this. So why are you constantly coming here, Thelius?”
Armethelius Riverblade looked back at the feverish and profusely sweating face of the high lady for a moment. Then spoke with his low, quiet voice.
“Of the two of us, I would have thought I would be the one to ever fall short and lacking.”, he said. “But I can’t believe how you can be this dense, Lenna!”
✱ ✱ ✱
Anglenna Brightleaf was smoldering in abject frustration and mortification. How dare he man-handle her thus unscrupulous and shamelessly! Perhaps picking her up was acceptable, she was feverish and not quite herself and the things going on around had been sort of hazy and vague. Even so, he should have at least asked for permission, if only perfunctorily. But no! He had grabbed her. Just like that! And not satisfied with his boorish manners, he had stripped her gown right off her! The nerve, the level of depravity, the.. the..
Anglenna spluttered as her mortified frustration saw no end.
“Is this a bad time?”, said a husky sort of voice from the door, and the high lady flared!
“GO! JUST GO AWAY AND LEAVE ME ALONE! HOW MANY TIMES MUST I GET HARASSED AND DEGRADED IN ONE DAY?!”
“I think it is a bad time.”, said another, a bubbling, cheery voice. “She is seething. I can feel it. And it is delicious!”
“We should go.”, said a third with a low, resonant voice. “Our stance with Mortal demands is unclear.”
“I think we should just hit her over the head until she cools off. Auntie Irine always did that to me and guess what? It worked!”, said a sharp, petulant fourth voice.
“But we need her concession. I do not think it will work otherwise.”, said a small, vague, fifth.
The door got pushed open and five people stumbled in, tripped, and fell flat and face down!
“Who pushed?”, asked one of them.
“I didn’t either.
“I can push. I totally can. Why didn’t I push?”
Anglenna stared at the oddest lot, entangled on the ground.
“Alright.”, she fumed. “I am officially brain-cooked with fever and have started seeing weird hallucinations now.”
“Hold it. Hold it, everyone.”, said the husky voice. “Hal Mali, love. Please take your hand out of my blouse.”
“Ow. Sorry, Temez. I thought that was Demelze!”
“You wish! I got Hamna Vir’s tail though!”, sneered the chirpy voice of Demelze.
“No, you don’t!”, scoffed Hamna Vir sharply.
“Uhhmm.. That’s not a tail, Demelze. But it could be!”, Hal Mali said a bit flustered.
“I like the bosom am I staring at. It’s so soft.”, said the small voice vaguely.
“Dar Derune, love. You are a bit too young to be staring at bosoms. Don’t you think?”, Temez sighed. “And Demelze does not wear a blouse, Hal Mali. She wears a drop waist.”
“It’s not a drop waist! It’s a bouffant.”, objected Demelze.
“A bouffant has a distinct waist, you dolt! That strip of gauzy cloth you call a dress does not.”, Hamna Vir scoffed again. Then her tone changed and she purred. “Like what you see, then, Dar Derune, baby?”
“Come on, Hamna Vir. He is too young to choose a mate. You know this!”, Hal Mali said with a resigned voice.
“I see her heart. It is a nice, warm place..”, the boy, Dar Derune, said dreamily.
Anglenna just stared at the entangled lot with this funny expression on her face.
“What the Hell kind of a temple is this?”, she said in horror.
And just like that, a choked hush fell on the room.
Perigren Ostlanna Temez freed herself out of the jumble and came at the high lady.
“Lady Anglenna Sunsear, please do not utter the name of that evil place thus freely. It is a name that suffers no fools.”
Hal Mali also disentangled himself and approached her.
“What she says is true, Lady Anglenna Sunsear. We must have care when we speak of certain names, be it a person, a being, or a place.”
“What he said.”, Demelze added, stiffly.
“She is much troubled and carries much worry and fear. She is living in her own Hell.”, Dar Derune said with the same dreamy voice.
“Dar Derune, dear. We agreed not to speak out of turn in front of strangers, did we not?”, reprimanded Hamna Vir as she got up and came at the boy’s side, but not unkindly.
“What is this? Who are you? What is going on here? Get me out! I can’t breathe.”, Anglenna flared as the culmination of the events of the last several days finally cracked her as her fever spiked and the dim, candle-lit room began to spin and a sharp, jarring pain stabbed her right up her arm..
“THIS IS YOUR END! THIS IS YOUR JUDGMENT!”
..croaked a voice waspishly.
..and the high lady dropped.. as darkness engulfed her!
“Hamna Vir..”, Hal Mali said in a reproving tone. “That was not funny, girl.”
“What? I thought it was funny. Always wanted to do that!”, Hamna Vir snickered.
“Look what you did. She’s out, now.”, the handsome half-born complained.
“I had nothing to do with that.”, snapped Hamna Vir.
“Demelze, love. Why don’t you take away her fever? You are the best with fire.”, Temez offered.
“I could. I suppose. But her fire is not the cause of her illness. It is the symptom. I must first burn her sick before I smother her fever.”, Demelze replied unhappily.
“What’s the problem, baby girl?”, Hal Mali asked.
“Do not call me that! I am not your baby girl, Hal Mali!”, spat Demelze. “She is Mortal and her mind is in chaos. Her heart is so full of hate, self-loathing, and fear. I can feel them without even touching her. And she has little to no love in her. I must hold her to burn her sick and take her fever away. And she is in an abhorrent amount of pain. I shall gather all of that.. in me!”
Silence settled in the room again.
“I can not ask you to do what you must, love.”, Temez said quietly. “It is you who must decide.”
Dar Derune came up to Demelze and hugged her.
“Is that what happened when Auntie Irine beat and burned me and you took it all away, Demelze?”, he asked with the first display of some coherent acknowledgment.
Demelze did not answer.
She just stood there with flushed tears running down her face.
Hamna Vir came up to her, and also hugged her from behind. “I love you Demelze. For what you did for my beautiful baby mate, Dar Derune. And I remember how much you hurt after that, and it nearly drow you mad. I shall stand by your decision. Whatever it may be.”
For a long moment, everyone stood where they were until Demelze sniffed loudly, and with a fear-stricken but determined face, she spoke.
“I shall do it. Everyone here cashed in their sweat, their blood, and their lives. I may not do less.”
“Then we shall share your pain, and suffer with you.”, Temez said and hugged her as well. Not you, Hal Mali. And you Dar Derune, love.”
“What? Why?”, Hal Mali asked.
“You will look after us, should we be downed. And Dar Derune mustn’t go through this again. Also, it is he, who must look into Lady Anglenna Sunsear to find the esteemed sheriff’s lost boy, and the lost princess.”
Hal Mali did not refuse, but he didn’t look happy either.
“Come, Dar Derune. Apparently, this is a girls-only thing. We must respect that.”
Dar Derune looked up at the stricken Demelze, then at the equally frightened Hamna Vir, and finally at Temez.
“You have a good heart, Perigren Ostlanna Temez. And never should you have been with us in Hell. My Hamna Vir and I followed you because of that. Demelze; a world without you would be a sad, and lonely place. Please hold on for me.”, he said.. then the vague, dreamy expression settled on his tiny face again.
Hal Mali took him by the shoulders and quietly steered him away..
..and Demelze reached down and grabbed the former high lady of Bari Na-ammen and took her into her embrace.
Her bewitching face contorted and she screamed.
And with her..
..and Temez also screamed!
✱ ✱ ✱
Well. That’s done.”, Sheriff Standorin said as he returned to the office from the small courtyard. “All the assignments have been passed out. I shall be happy when this war is over and we can return back to our scheduled assignments rather than delegating them randomly.”
“The idea of random assignments is a sound one, particularly during times of war. Adds one more level of security against bribed infiltrations.”, Aager mused approvingly. “By the way. We just received fifty more trained high elves from Lord Armethelius Riverblade. I split them into five groups and sent two of up north and northeast of Ritual Forest, one along the southern banks of Arashkan river, another down to the hills surrounding Tinker Hills, and the last one all the way to the edge of Silent Hills to search for possible Orken incursions and to find lost survivors.”
Standorin paused for a moment. Then rumbled, his face slightly flushed.
“Thank you. I know you are going out of your way to help find my son and my daughter-in-law. As I am aware this isn’t the first party you have sent in random directions ‘seeking possible Orken incursions and to find lost survivors.'”
“I have no idea what you are talking about, sir.”, grinned the young man in dark leathers. “Just making sure we don’t get any surprises from the Orken, and who wouldn’t help lost survivors?”
Standorin fumed with frustration.
“Where are they, dammit?”
“We will find them, sir. Which brings up an interesting point, the way Lord Armethelius has been so generous of late. Wonder why that is!”, Aager said blandly.
Standorin fumed again.
“He wants to take Lady Anglenna into their custody. Good luck with that. She is under high suspect and a person of interest. There are a lot of crimes listed against her including espionage, treachery, war crimes and high treason!”
“People change, sir. I wouldn’t know about her past felonies, but I am certain she is not part of any treason, nor is she in cahoots with her mother. Not since some months before the Orken attack on Arashkan and Bari Na-ammen. Much like I do not believe Lord Armethelius wants the esteemed high lady just to place her under elf custody.”
The sheriff stared at him.
“You can’t be serious!”
“I am always serious, sir. I think I have had that established quite firmly. As for Lord Armethelius’s interest in our esteemed high lady, I asked around a bit and found out, he and Lady Anglenna were childhood friends back in the day.. about a hundred and seventy years ago, that is. But when Lady Anglenna’s father, Selvius Brightleaf, died, or was murdered, things changed and the two went their separate ways; Armethelius went military and Anglenna went scheming! But things have changed again. And apparently, as much as Anglenna’s heart seems to have gone cold over the years, Armethelius’s interest in her has never quite dulled. Funny how that turned out!”
Standorin frowned a bit.
“Why don’t you go and visit her? She knows you. Or even Lady Inshala?”
“I will. Once she gets better. And coherent. I don’t want her current, feverish self to get the better of her. You might have noticed, sir, I am not exactly a very lovable person. And I do not want to expose my Inshala to her either. Until then, I am afraid there is nothing else we can do but to milk Lord Armethelius for more of his well-trained elves! Funny how that turned out too”
Standorin barked out a laugh.
“You are a devious man, Master Aager.”
“Thank you, sir. I rather liked it myself.”
“Uhhmm.. Where is Liaison Constance?”, the sheriff asked, looking around.
“She said she wanted to visit the carpenter’s workshop to put in some orders for new shelves, cabinets, drawers, and something called portable containers.. for our archives and filing system.”
“Dammit!”, Standorin said with frustration. “I said I would look into it. I never said I agreed to it!”
“Guess you are going to have to be more careful as to what you say to her, sir.”, Aager said blandly.
“She is a Liaison, for Heavens’ sake! She can’t do that kind of modification in our office!”, the sheriff said with a deploring voice.
“Apparently, she can. Don’t fret, sir. I asked her about her new filing system and it sounded quite plausible. She seems to have an extremely organized frame of mind.. among other things. I’d say just let her do it. She is going to do it anyway. This way, you get to be the agreeable man who sees reason. It will give her something to do and get her out of your hair for a bit. Thought you’d like that as well.”
“You said you had some good advice. Let’s hear it!”, he growled.
“Ahh.. that was then, sir. Now, my price has gone up!”
The sheriff just stared at him, and a vein started throbbing on his temple.
“You are blackmailing me, by doubling the price?”
“Tripling, sir. I am afraid double just won’t cut it.”, Aager replied with a sinister grin. “The price rises over time, sir. Further delays will only cost you more.”
Standorin Shieldheart gave him one of his, silence before the storm, gazes.
And with a wrathful snarl, he said, “Agreed, Master Aager. Know that I shall not forget this. Name your price!”
“You never forget anything, sir. That is why you are so good at what you do.”
“Flattery will not save you..”, seethed the sheriff.
“Very well, sir. I shall now name your price and you will agree to pay it upfront before you hear my advice. Agreed?”
“Agreed..”, Standorin growled grudgingly. “This had better be some very good advice, young man.”
“It is a deal-closer advice, sir. And destined to work! The price then; you, Standorin Shieldheart, shall go out for three more dates with the Liaison Constance!”
Standorin just stared at him.
“Furthermore, the offers to go out on said three dates must come from you. If she makes the proposal, it shall not be counted as part of the price, pain and done. When you have fulfilled all your dates, you shall have paid your debt in full and I shall hence disclose my advice. Now, I have some places to be, and some people to train.”
And just like that, Aager took off, leaving an extremely frustrated sheriff in his wake!
“That was awesome, my Aager.”, the young man heard the soft, whispering voice of Inshala in the depths of his mind.
“I liked it.”
“What do you think will happen in three dates, though?”
“Not three, love. Six. I am all but certain Liaison Constance will ask him out at least three times before our esteemed sheriff can muster the courage to ask her out once!”
“But what will six dates do?”
“Love. We danced just that one time and I savored every single moment of it. I absolutely fell in love with you then and there, and not only because of how pretty I thought you were, or how nice you smelled, or how long and soft your hair was, but because of how kind, caring, scared, and yet brave you were.. Just what do you think will happen when they have gone out on six dates?”
“The good sheriff saved the life of a young and foolish Drashan convict that he didn’t even know. He gave that stupid boy respect, a job, and a home. He trusted his only child with that Drashan and in no Hell or Heaven would I have done those for me! Yet he lived alone and suffered alone. True that half-born may be young, but their understanding of time is unlike ours. This, I learned from you, my Inshala. And you learned me just how lonely and dead my own heart was. By the end of those dates, he will come to me and demand his advice, for he shall think he as earned it, not knowing what he earned was better than my advice, which is going to be, ‘Sir, I advise you date her again before making any final or premature decisions, for life is harder alone..’ Funny how that’ll turn out!”
✱ ✱ ✱
A shrill chorus of screams ricocheted in the small dormitory under the temple and Demelze flared in fire! She shrieked and shrieked but held on tightly at the high elf girl lying unconsciously in her rickety bed as she sucked her burning fever and everything that ailed her..
..and with her, Hamna Vir and Perigren Ostlanna Temez burned as Hal Mali and Dar Derune watched with stricken faces.
Then Demezle stumbled back, and fell, as smoke lazily drifted out from her. Hamna Vir and Temez fell with her, one staring blankly and with glazed eyes, the other bleeding from her nose and ears!
Hal Mali jumped at the girls and scooped them all up into his powerful embrace, rocking back and forth.
Dar Derune gave them a sad, mournful look and turned to the, now peacefully, sleeping elf girl.
“Pretty elf lady. Please wake up!”, he said solemnly.
Anglenna did not budge.
After days of draining, fevered pain, she was just done in.
“Pretty elf lady. Please.. Do wake up!”, the boy implored. “We seek what you seek. We seek the boy and the pretty princess. We seek that which ails you.”
Perhaps it was the word ‘princess’, or maybe it was the desperate tone in the little boy’s voice, but something must have gotten through the haze of sweet clouds and blissful abandon, for Anglenna opened her pale green eyes and stared at the little boy with amber eyes and tiny little horns.
“Who.. who are you?”, she whispered.
“We are the free ones. The ones with choice, pretty elf lady. We are the half-born. The ones who escaped and we are here to help find that which is lost.. But I need access to your memories and see whom to seek. And for that, I must have your consent, whilst it be treachery and a violation of our oath.”
“You will find young Udoorin Shieldheart and my cousin, Princess Alor’Nadien ne Feymist?”, Anglenna stared up at the little boy with the first glimmer of painfully brittle hope.
“If possible and if they are on this side of Oblivion, I shall, pretty elf lady.”, the boy said in a small voice.
Then he paused for a moment and his face became sad and unhappy.
“I must warn you though. It might hurt, sifting through your memories. And confusing. It might leave you catatonic, unable to even feed yourself. I am sorry, but I am broken and unable to refine my skills.”
“It is alright, little one, for I have understood little of what you just said, but I am content, and I consent.”
The little boy, Dar Derune, reached down to the pretty elf girl and held her face with his small, kid-hands.
Anglenna Brightleaf yelped, and was lost in a whirling storm of painful memories!
✱ ✱ ✱
“I told you, should you go ahead with this ‘plan’, you would get yourself killed at the very least. Well, look at that; you are dying!”, says High Lady Anglenna, and stares down at the dying man coldly and with very much dislike.
The man on the ground has an arrow sticking out of his chest. He gurgles in excruciating pain as bloody bubbles spurt out of his mouth. He is drowning in his own blood for the arrow has punctured his lungs and torn deep into them at an odd angle.
Yet, he defies death and a wet, rattling sound escapes him.
“I don’t think so.”, says the high lady. “For your hare-brained and reckless plan has gotten our healer killed as well.”, and looks down at the three other men lying dead and nods at the one with the long, splintered spear in his belly.
Then she looks up at the horde of bandits running in her direction, swinging old, rusty swords. True, her face is cold, but she stares at the bandits with clinical detachment and calculates something that involves their current distance, their speed, a certain spherical radius, and the number Pi..
And quietly, she points somewhere in the center of the bandits and murmurs.
“And four, and three, and two, and one..”
A tiny mote of fire appears among the bandits, and Anglenna turns her pointing hand into a fist..
..and with a savage bloom, the mote explodes; a low, rumbling expansion.
Within the blink of an eye, the fire engulfs the bandits, and with a chorus of short-lived screams, incinerates them all!
With her dispassionate, dissatisfied, and cold stare, she looks down at the gurgling man and speaks, barely refraining a sneer.
“A plan should never be thus complicated. But I guess you shall never learn that.”
“Your.. healing potion.. give it to me.. please..”, the man begs with a wet, bloody whisper.
“Why? So you can live and afflict your stupidity upon others and get them killed as well?”, she very nearly hisses with contempt..
..and walks away.
“Not this one.”
• • •
“For four days, I have been watching this crystal ball without food, water, or rest, mother.”, Anglenna says, as her voice rattles like a rusty saw.
“And you believe this is a good reason for your total failure, do you? You were unable to scry upon my dear brother, Grandaleren, four days ago. Four days later, you are still unable to see him in the crystal ball. Seems to me like neither your hunger, your thirst nor your fatigue is part of the equation, but merely your bad excuse for your failure. One day, you shall be the Rise of Bari Na-ammen, my daughter. You must thus be better prepared for it.”, says the High Lady Angrellen.
“Bari Na-ammen already has a riserin, mother. A princess. It is she, who will become a Rise. Not I..”, replies Anglenna with a parched voice.
A sharp, sudden, and shocking clap is heard.
Anglenna hears a ringing sound in her ears and she sees tiny, yellow motes fly haphazardly as a smoldering pain spreads from one side of her face.
And she wakes up to the fact that her mother has just slapped her across her face.
“Never shall you bring that mongrel’s name, nor her presence, under my roof. Do you understand me, Lenna?”, hisses her mother with absolute loathing.
“Yes.. mother..”, says Anglenna in mortification.
The door to their room is knocked and someone, an elf woman with a blurry face, lost in time, enters, and with fear-induced accuracy, she bows before the mistress of the house.
“I apologize, my lady. Your niece, Princess Alor’Nadien ne has arrived and begs to see her cousin, High Lady Anglenna, and asks if she is available to play with her.”
High Lady Angrellen does not at all reflect her fel and seething feelings on her face. With cool detachment, she regards the shivering maid. What she truly feels upon the liberal use of the name of the princes under her roof, however, is etched quite clearly in her frigid eyes.
“Go, my daughter, go and game with the wee princess. It is apparent you are better at little else.”
“This one is sad.”
• • •
“I apologize, my Lady, the princess, Alor’Nedien ne has arrived and begs to speak with you.”, says the elf maid and bows deeply before the mistress of the house.
“Let her in.”, orders High Lady Angrellen and crows feet appear at the edge of her pale green eyes.
The elf maid retreats and returns with the princess, and lo..
Princess Alor’Nadien ne has grown to be everything she was blessed and promised and High Lady Angrellen very nearly chews on her own liver for the little wee ‘mongrel’ has matured into a beautiful, graceful, elegant, and extraordinary creature and Anglenna sees how her mother seethes with unmitigated spite, for she knows, try as she might, the princess has attained the kind of shining demeanor her mother has never had, and would never have.
True, the girl approaching them has gotten some of her beauty both from her mother and her father, but the air of maturity, the sincerity, the love, and the calming aura about her are all hers.
Her charcoal-black hair thickly woven and braided in a complex pattern climbs down her slim waist. There is a gleam of hidden mischief in her deep, fresh grass-green eyes, and barely discernable freckles pepper her elegant nose, and a small, cherry-red mouth adorns her face. With her not-yet-fully-grown breasts and her slender figure, Princess Alor’Nadien ne Feymist presents the very essence of life..
The princess smiles at the elf maid and thanks her kindly, then very politely she curtsies at the lady of the house, and with sincere gratitude, her soft, soothing voice echoes in the rooms.
“My dearest Auntie Angrellen..”
“This one is nice, but out of date.”
• • •
You leave again, Lenna.”, says the handsome, solemn high elf with deep-set eyes, long blonde hair, angular chin, and a distinct, outlined mouth.
“I very much doubt this is any of your business, Armethelius Riverblade. And whatever gave you the impression that we were friends enough for you to get familiar with my name. As I recall, we are not even friends..”, says the High Lady, Anglenna, gazing coldly at the young, high elf commander.
“No, no.. Not this one, either. Too much self-loathing. Too much hate. I can feel them all, and it hurts!”
• • •
High Lady Anglenna, sits alone on her side of the long table. It is evening somewhere and there is a festive air about, for others sit around other tables and they talk, eat, drink, and they laugh.. they share!
Children run around in shrill, chirping screams of joy as they chase one another around the tables loaded with delicious and happy food and a slow, enthralling music is playing somewhere nearby; a young, handsome half-elf is singing with his equally handsome baritone voice and another half-elf, this one she knows but hasn’t met yet, a boldly beautiful girl sings with him in her contralto voice.
The high lady ignores it all for she has found her query.
Princess Alor’Nadien ne, sitting across the town sheriff and looking down into her hands, her beautiful face burning with disgraced shame.. in this happy evening.
“And it is not dear cousin Lenna to you, Nadien ne, it is High Lady Anglenna!”, she hisses at the little princess.
With barely audible voice, and without looking up, the princess whispers..
“Would not that make me, Princess Alor’Nadien ne for you, then?”
“I like her. She is nice. And she has a quiet, unimposing will. The lighting here is low, though. I can’t see her face and she looks down with shame.”
• • •
A sound High Lady Anglenna knows she will never forget in her life. Even as her memories tumble and slash her to her very core like hundreds and thousands of paper cuts, this particular memory escapes her with a moan full of shame and self-loathing. It is the sound of the love her little princess feels for her, for it is also the sound of her ultimate sacrifice..
..it is the sound of sharp steel parting flesh, and scraping bone!
High Lady Anglenna spins around as Princess Alor’Nadien ne is hurled at her and collapses in her arms.
Anglenna tries to pick the foolish little princes, but she drifts down and down, until she is on the ground, still in her cousin’s arms, but with a long, ugly-looking dagger in her slender back.
And Anglenna watches in horror as the blood draining from the face of her little princess..
..is spilling and ebbing into the dirt.
Yet her cousin tries to smile at her as more blood trickles from her small lips. She clings to Anglenna and whispers, as the light of life fades from her beautiful grass-green eyes..
I.. am so sorry, Lenna.
I tried my best.. but I could not save you..
Please.. forgive me..
With another moan, Anglenna gasped, her face distorted and she trashed in her sickbed like a wild animal.
“NO. NO, BABY GIRL.. YOU SAVED ME! YOU SAVED ME FROM ME! YOU SAVED ME FROM MY OWN, ABOMINABLE AND WRETCHED SELF.. DON’T DIE.. PLEASE.. DON’T LEAVE ME. I AM SORRY! I AM SO SORRY FOR ALL THE THINGS I DID TO YOU.. FORGIVE ME.. PLEASE FORGIVE ME..”
“This one is not very recent, but it is as fresh and vivid as today! It burns.. And I see her very clearly. Yes. This one will do..”
✱ ✱ ✱
The small boy let go of the flailing high elf woman and Anglenna reeled back down on her bed and the memory of her cousin’s sacrifice came crashing in on her, all over again. At the time, she had thought her cousin was trying to save her from the dagger. Looking back, it had never been the dagger she had thought she had failed to save her from. It had been her mother, Angrellen, whom she had tried to save her from.. That was why she was pleading her forgiveness because she knew had just run out of time, and Anglenna would have to return back to her mother, and back to her life-long, depleting, and ousted captivity..
High Lady Anglenna broke..
..and cried like a heart-wrenched little girl, and with total lack of self-control, moderation, or decorum.
The boy left the traumatized elf women and looked down at his small hands to see they were red and blistered.
So.. the pretty elf lady had love in her after all.. and it was powerful enough to burn him even though he hadn’t tried to eat her soul.
Anglenna’s love for her sister-cousin was strong enough to burn a half-born bound by his own blood-oath!
He closed his eyes, frowned a bit, then opened them again and there was a deep, abyssal cast to them now.
He took a deep breath and slowly, he started to turn..
“Gotcha!”, he said suddenly and pointed east.
“Demons are not allowed here, little one..”, said a deep, rich, throaty voice — ⊗
“Oops!”, was all the little boy could say.
⊗ —and backhanded him.
Right across the room!
Dar Derune flew right over the rickety bed and slammed into the wall and slid down, his little face contorted with pain.
The girls gave out a collective of shrieks, abandoned their own seething pain, and jumped after the boy, followed closely by Hal Mali.
“Who? Who did this to you?”, cried Hamna Vir as she dropped on her knees and pulled the boy tightly into her arms.
“Tis alright Hamna Vir.”, said the boy groggily. “I should have been mindful of my manners.”
“Who did this?”, hissed Demelze. “I shall burn it to the ground!”
“And I shall dice and slice him open and wide.”, growled Hal Mali.
“Tell us, love. No one harms our Dar Derune!”, Perigren Ostlanna Temez said fiercely.
“Please don’t be mad.”, the boy pleaded. “It was my fault, really. I shouldn’t have barged in, the way I did.”
“TELL US!”, they all chorused.
Dar Derune signed, took a step back, and stared at his brother and sisters, and spoke..
..in a tiny voice..
The people of Serenity Home work hard and diligently as war approaches. Though winter has settled severe, frigid, and deep, somewhat harsher than usual, the lands around the town live a milder cold. In groups and individuals, the peoples of the town work day and night.
The people of Serenity Home must know her allies, though, and respect them..
The tall, slim figure walked with quiet, serene dignity and very much ignored the people staring and ogling at her, for she was a creature of long, slender arms and legs in elegant dress skirts that reached down to her high pumps and swept behind her. It wasn’t that she didn’t care, nor did she think they were beneath her. She merely chose not to partake, or blush, for she knew precisely what she was, and how striking a figure she posed. And she chose to be quiet, and quietly, dignified about it, rather than flaunt her beauty; a beauty that comprised of rather alluring soft-eyes with flowing, silky black hair, and long, not-too-overtly curving figure, rather appealing breasts, and long, smooth, beautiful horns..
Of all the possible ways she could have gone, she had opted for ‘demure’..
“Yes”, she had thought. “Demure and dignified feels ‘right’ for me.”
Among all her kind, even Perigren Ostlanna Temez had bowed to her cool, silent, and serene aura, for where Temez had been beautiful and ravishing in a quite exhilarating way, she had been.. well.. cool, silent, and serene!
Or demure and dignified, as she herself preferred to correctly and accurately define herself.
Hence, she walked through the overcrowded town, and ignored the stares, even though it was the first time she had come out of the town’s temple since their arrival.. One would have expected anyone else to have looked around and perhaps gone sight seeing after having been stuck in a temple for weeks on end, but no. She had come out of the temple and as if on a mission, she had started for a very specific place in the town with slow, measured steps, as her high pumps click-clacked to her steady pace..
Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart opened the door of the sheriff’s office upon hearing the polite knock.
One would also think some underling or guard would have reached for the door. But the sheriff did not have any ‘underlings’ and would likely have scoffed at anyone who would ask him why he didn’t. As for the guards, they were either at their appointed posts, out patrolling, or at lunch —a timing picked with care, and precise deliberation on the alluring young woman’s part.
“Good day, Lady Constance.”, the sheriff said politely and stepped aside for the alluring young women to enter. “Please. Take a seat, if you will.”
“You know my name.”, the young woman, Constance, said, not taken aback, precisely, but pleasantly surprised.. and pleased.. as she came in and sat in the rather blocky chair right across the small table where the sheriff himself took his seat.
“The young Senior Temple Guardian Thomas had introduced you and your kin, upon your arrival.”, politely reminded Sheriff Standorin. “I remember all your names.”
“Ah. I see.”, Constance said, with the slightest disappointment, though the fact that said introduction had been very brief and that there had been over a hundred of her kind there at the time, did not escape the alluring young woman.
“How may I be of assistance? I hope your stay here will be as comfortable as possible, though I must admit, Serenity Home Temple was never build to guest such a crowd over an extended period of time. If there is anything I could do, however, please feel free to inform us. I shall pass them up to the mayor.”
“Thank you for your sincere concern, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. I shall convey this to my brothers and sisters, though I suspect their first and greatest demand will be..”, she said with a barely discernable, resigned blush and finished. “.. candy.”
“Ma’am?”, Standorin asked, a bit baffled.
“We.. never lived a childhood, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. And now, my kin are like children when it comes to games and food. They refuse to eat their broccoli but want only candy. Something that was never given to us in Hell.”, replied Constance, looking very slightly embarrassed.
“I see.”, said the sheriff, with a professionally straight face, and not because he was trying to avoid a snort, but because he was being professional. Sheriff Standorin never laughed at people who came to his office. Period.
“But this is not the reason why I have come, as busy as you are, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. I have been assigned to you by Perigren Ostlanna Temez, the leader of the Escape, as a liaison between your office and my kin, to better know our Mortal neighbors and to help assist them in any way possible. In the light of the coming war, I believe a certain acquaintance might be in order. Getting to know one another would surely help better coordinate strategies, both in theory and application, and certainly help to get to know and understand one another. Capabilities and capacities unknown, after all, are quite useless, if they are unknown to our Mortal neighbors, wouldn’t you agree?”, she said in her demure and serene voice.
Sheriff Standorin frowned just a bit.
“Such coordination would indeed be beneficial.”, he agreed carefully.
“Very well. I shall arrive here at dawns, henceforth, and leave one hour before midnights to join my brothers and sisters for our daily prayers.”
The sheriff’s frown deepened.
“I would gladly guest you here. However, we do not really have the appropriate facilities to entertain a lady such as yourself.”, he said.
“I shall not be here for entertainment, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. I shall be here to liaison and to observe. And should my advice be inquired, to offer, in the best of my capacity.”, replied Constance.
Standorin sought, very hard, to find a polite way to reject, or at the very least, to dissuade the alluring young women, but he just couldn’t come up with anything plausible.
“Do not despair, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. I shall not distract your men. We, all of us, have taken a blood oath upon our lives; to fight and to bleed, and should it be necessary, to die to attain our Ascension. Tried though I have, I just can’t seem to find another practical way to know our Mortal neighbors. If it will make you feel slightly at ease, if at all, what I see, hear, and learn shall go only to Perigren Ostlanna Temez. It is she, who will decide what to relay to the rest of my kin, as to what is important and relevant, and what they must know about you and yours and what they are protecting, Also, methinks, for the people of this town to attain a certain familiarity to seeing our kind to defuse any future misunderstandings, particularly under the stress of war, when it arrives. We shall keep our numbers a secret, however, for obvious reasons. Only Serenity Home Temple Guardians, Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel Songsteel, your mayor, Arthandos Yuleman, and you, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, shall know this.”, she explained calmly.
Standorin fumed a bit.
“Oh. I was also told to give you this.”, she said and produced a rather heavy pouch and placed it on the sheriff’s desk.
The pouch clinked.
The sheriff looked down at the pouch but did not touch it.
“What is this?”, he asked.
“A debt paid in full.”, Constance replied.
Standorin cocked an eyebrow.
“Some months ago, you chastised one of my kin, a Merisoul Xyrotwu, in this town. I was told the incident happened during a celebration but she was unable to settle her debt. She asked me if I would be kind enough to cover for her, thus I have..”, she said with a very small, demure smile.
Unbeknownst to the sheriff, and as small and brief as it had been, this was, in fact, the first smile Constance had displayed in a very, very long time.
“I.. see..”, the sheriff said, then pulled a thick notepad out of his shirt, flipped through its pages, found the one he was looking for, then wrote; PAID IN FULL.
He then pulled open the drawer of his desk and took out an old, brass stamp, and punched it twice on the page, ripped the bottom half, and placed it next to the heavy pouch.
“The receipt.”, he said shortly.
Constance stared at the torn piece of paper, then looked up at the sheriff a bit confused.
“What shall I do with it?”, she asked.
“Keep it.”, he said, still silently fuming.
“Yes. But what shall do with it?”, the alluring young woman repeated.
“It is the thing that proves Miss Merisoul’s debt has been paid in full, should anyone demand to know.”, the sheriff explained.
Constance stared at the big man, very much confounded, now.
“Word is not enough, among Mortals?”
“Sometimes it is. But words are not always definitive nor may they always be binding among mortals. And words unknown to others can not bind, particularly where laws are concerned. Laws, Lady Constance, deal with what is substantial. A receipt, such as this one, can be shown to any law enforcement officer who is unaware of your word, and be accepted.”, Standorin replied, a tad curtly.
“I see.”, Constance said. “Perhaps your laws are a good place for me, as a liaison, to start. Is there more of such laws and if so, where may I learn them?”
To give the sheriff credit, he did not sigh nor fume anymore. Slowly, he moved his chair back, got up and walked over to one of the many shelves, and pulled out a heavy, worn, and battered book that also had some long-dried and faded bloodstains on its spine. Apparently, one town sheriff in the past had made good, alternate use of the thick, heavy book by means of applying the law in a very literal sense.
Again, he did not give the book, but placed it on the table, next to the pouch, and the receipt.
“This book contains the King’s Laws pertaining only to my office; the Criminal Law. You may find similar books that deal with commerce and judicial matters in both the temple library or the town’s public library. For laws that are specific to Serenity Home, you may find in the mayor’s office.”, he explained.
Constance’s brows frowned very slightly.
“Very well.”, she said. “I shall study this book, and further study the other books that deal with your laws. After all, I may not liaison what I do not know.”
Gracefully, she rose from her chair and bent, very slightly, and without any implications or flaunting, reached down and took the small receipt and the heavy book, and started towards the door.
Standorin followed her and opened the door for her.
Constance paused at the door, just for a moment, and very slightly turned to the large man.
Standorin also paused.
“I can sense your distraught feelings, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. Have I perhaps done you wrong that I am not aware of?”
The sheriff stared at the very alluring young woman for a long moment as if trying to read her, or perhaps comprehend her. To give him further credit, never had he stared at the beautiful woman’s long, even horns, nor had he.. checked her out. With professional diligence, he had looked at her face, and only at her face..
“I apologize if I have given you any offense, Lady Constance Alure Smithen. It was never my intention. I am the sheriff of this town and for quite many years. Unlike the temple, this office rarely deals with the good in men. I might go as far as saying, I have seen every kind of foolish things mankind has had to offer, and rarely do people willingly come here, to my office, without some sort of private agendas. I feel a certain compulsion to remind you, and yours, that in this office, I don’t play games..”, he said, though not harshly.
Constance calmly looked at the sheriff.
“..and I do not like being ambushed.”, he finished.
Whatever crossed the alluring young woman’s head, she never showed it.
With her usual calm, cool, and dignified serenity, she gave the sheriff a very brief nod.
“I see you are a man of integrity, burned and scarred. I apologize if I have given you the impression of deception or possible subterfuge. Much like your kind have common traits, so do we. But much like your kind are also individually unique, so are we. As for me, I am precisely how I seem and have little use for deceptions, less so for lies. A mind cluttered with lies is a distracted mind.”
She paused for a brief moment, perhaps unsure whether to say more or not. She must have decided to go for the former because a decisive frown appeared on her beautiful face.
“About the ambush, it was done with deliberation on my part, but not with ill intent. I had to see if you truly were as intelligent as I surmised you were. Some of my kind told me to just reveal my.. certain aspects.. as men are often fooled and enthralled by them. I argued against it because I thought it to be too demeaning on your part.. and mine. I am the elected liaison, yes. But I would rather there be some mutual respect, than be seen as a mere, succubi half-born, for that is precisely why we were made, and also the precise reason why we escaped and what we left behind. I shall take my leave, now, and study the laws of Mortal crimes and the measures taken to prevent them and come morning, I shall be here to liaison.”
With that, she left, click-clacking calmly and demurely through the crowd of staring and ogling townsmen.
✱ ✱ ✱
Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart stared after the tall, beautifully alluring woman as she swayed, gracefully, through the crowd like she had an invisible bubble around her. Where she went, people parted!
He shut the door with deliberate calmness.. then blew from his nose.
“Interesting.”, said a growling voice, and Aager Fogstep came down the stairs leading up to the roof of the sheriff’s office.
Standorin didn’t say anything for a full minute. Then he fumed again and growled in his own deep, rumbling voice.
“You would think so..”
Aager snorted. A something he would never have done before.. Inshala!
“She wants something.”, he said.
“Yes. I have been at this job long enough to recognize that.”, Standorin said.
“So she’s the new liaison, then?”, Aager stated, more than asked.
“A liaison is a good thing. Inshala performs a similar role among the druids of both Ritual Forest and among what remains of High Woods. They argued who would lead until they heard we’d arrived. Or rather, until they heard she’d arrived. They flocked around her, causing her to shy and causing me to very nearly killing them.. The idiots!”, Aager continued. “I suppose she will also be a liaison between us and the ogres, should they accept our offer to join us..”
“..As opposed to taking this opportunity for some long awaited payback!”, the sheriff finished.
“Well. We certainly didn’t treat them with courtesy. Not that they always behaved themselves. Though I must admit, the way my Inshala speaks about their chieftain, or Mother Ganiste, as she calls her, I would think she is exceptionally intelligent and..”, Aager said.
Then saw the young man in his black leathers was actually serious.
“Her words, sir. Not mine. Though I have yet to see her be mistaken when she looks into the souls of people.”, without any implications.
“Interesting.”, Standorin mused, giving the young man a side-long glance. “I wonder what she saw in you?”
“Never asked.”, Aager said simply.
The sheriff turned and stared at him, both eyebrows cocked!
“I was afraid, I might not like what she had to say about me.”, admitted Aager.
“No.”, said Standorin said sternly. “I think you were afraid you might like, what she would say about you.”
“Or that.”, Aager shrugged again. “I shall be at her side and keep her safe.. and happy.. for as long as she’ll have me. I am content with that.”
“You seem more than content, Master Aager. And from the way she appears now, as opposed to what she was, some months ago, I’d say she is more than content as well.”, Standorin said with light amusement. Then he paused for a short moment, then asked. “Perhaps she is expecting?”
“Great Heavens, man, a child!”, the sheriff said with an exasperated tone.
Aager did not reply for a long while.
When he did, his voice was muted.
“We.. haven’t gone there yet..”
Standorin just stared at him.
“We just.. cuddle.. I mean, she curls into this little ball when she sleeps and asks me to hug her, so I do. She wakes up with the best and happiest face I have ever seen, so I keep on doing that and likely keep on doing that because that happy face is worth the world to me. It’s a face to live, to fight, and to die for..”, Aager explained quietly.
“My man. You have missed your calling. You should have been a poet!”, Standorin said seriously.
“But.. why have you not explained.. things to her? She deserves to know the truth, man.”, the sheriff said with a somewhat fuming tone.
“What she deserves, is more than me, sir. Willy-nilly, she chose me. At the moment, she wakes up very happy. At the moment, that happy face fills me with joy I have seen in no other, and certainly never in my life. I feel drunk every morning! When she figures she wants more, I shall submit to her wishes, as I have before.”, the young man in dark leathers replied gruffly.
“You are killing me, young man!”, he said, totally exasperated now.
“Well. I would say that’s a good way to go, wouldn’t you agree?”, Aager grinned at him.
The sheriff sighed again, then returned back to the matter at hand.
“We have got to find a way to keep her out of our hair.”, he said with a scowl.
“Why? If you don’t mind me asking.”, Aager said looking at the sheriff.
“Master Aager.”, the sheriff said suddenly fuming again. “Perhaps you have lost all your senses, on account of your merry disposition..”
“..But did you see her? Honestly see her?”
“Yes. I did, sir. More so than you, I believe, from my inevitable vantage point!”, Aager replied with a straight face.
“Just exactly what do you think will happen when she comes in here? We don’t really have a shortage of young bachelors, you know, and seeing as how busy as we are, we don’t need distractions, either!”, the sheriff blazed.
“I doubt Constance has that sort of entertainment in mind, sir.”, Aager mused quietly. “She seemed much like an alpha lioness who would ignore the unproven cubs. Not when there’s an alpha lion in the den!”
Standorin gave him a very sour look.
“That would be Lady Constance, if you will, please, and I don’t need that sort of distraction either, young man!”, he said, gritting his teeth. “Not now. Not ever.”
“No sir. I am afraid it’s just Constance. ‘Lady’ means absolutely nothing for her or her kind. Not until you sit down and carefully explain it to them. As a matter of fact, they might even take it as an insult for denying them of who they are or refusing them their right to exist as they are by quantifying them into something acceptable in your mind, rather than theirs, no matter how polite you thing you are.. Also, ‘never’ and ‘ever’ are a long time in Mortal time, sheriff, but mean very little to them. This I learned the hard way, and it almost broke me. I wouldn’t advise you the same kind of landing, sir. It hurts!”, replied Aager, and a bare tint of something wintery appeared in his voice.
Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart stared at Aager for the young man had just confirmed something he had suspected for some time.. Ever since he had returned from the Ruins of Themalsar. More distinct with the appearance of the little girl, Inshala. But there was something else going on here.
True, the young lady had a way with people, and apparently, more so with Master Aager, here, as she had not quite attached herself to him, so much as given herself, truly, unequivocally, and selflessly to the young man, and in her unique, incomprehensible way. And she had done so not by bewitching, nor enthralling, but.. blooming? Sheriff Standorin couldn’t quite understand. Suffice to say, the chance in the young man was.. more!
As to what that ‘more’ was, or what it entailed, he didn’t know. But there it was..
“What do you advise then? Let her just flaunt herself here?”, Standorin asked steadily.
“I do not think she’s got ‘flaunting’ in mind, sir. She wants something, flaunting just isn’t it. One thing she said in particular, caught my attention, though.”
“The thing she said about all her kind having common traits, but also being individually unique..”, Aager said thoughtfully.
Aager stared at the sheriff for a moment before speaking.
“She wasn’t just quoting a cliché when she said that, sir. You were the sole recipient of the part about being individually unique.. while telling us something about her kind. I strongly believe, in her own way, she was complimenting you, sir..”
Standorin breathed from his nose.
“Just what I needed.”, he growled. “Being the subject of some young girl with an infatuation! Just which part of my behavior did she think was ‘nice’?”
“You are missing the higher point here, sir.”, Aager said with a slightly amused tone.
“Do tell, Master Aager. Seeing as how much you are enjoying this!”, the sheriff scowled.
The scowl bounced right off the young man like dry peas off a wall.
“I believe she was indeed the perfect choice among her kind to serve as a liaison, yes. And is likely very patient, observant, and intelligent. But she came here at a time where she would most likely have found you alone. Coincidence? Perhaps? But no one comes here willingly, to begin with, and certainly not during lunch hours as they will be told to go and come back during hours.. politely.. You thought she ambushed you on a political matter. True, that certainly was an ambush, but it wasn’t her ambush. I suspect that was Perigren’s idea. Constance, on the other hand, could have come here at any other time, but she chose to do it when you’d be alone, because everyone else tends to go home or to the inn for lunch, leaving you to guard your own office! Had I and Inshala been a regular couple with regular hours, not even I would have been here.”
Standorin thought about what the young man had just said for a few minutes before nodding in acquiescence.
“I felt something similar.. long ago..”, he said quietly. “When I was a young and foolish boy.”
He looked at Aager and pointedly said, “I would rather what I tell you stayed with you.”
Aager didn’t dawdle.
He simply nodded.
“Had a spat with my father. He wanted me to become something I didn’t want, so I ran. I wanted to see the world. I wanted to be an adventurer. So I became exactly that; a young and foolish boy with no destiny, only young and foolish daydreams. I did a lot of jobs during that time. Caravan guarding mostly, and even bounty hunting. A job not as fun and exciting as those hotheads in Palantine make it sound. Apprehended many felons and fugitives. Most came quietly. When ambushed or disarmed. Some didn’t though. The level of stupidity in men is truly astonishing —something I learned early in that job. In the end, I found out that I was fine with apprehending, not so much with being forced to kill an idiot.. Then, one day, some of my co-hunters warned me about some people who were looking for me, and that they didn’t seem to have good intentions. Suffice to say, I ran. Not really something I am proud of, really, but as I said, I was young and foolish back then. But my pursuers just wouldn’t give up! I don’t really know for how long I ran, really. I believe it was closer to four months. I must have been through every hill or forest from the north of Ritual Forest, all the way down to the south of Palantine City. I was so bloody scared because I was always just barely keeping a day or two ahead of them. It was like they enjoyed the chase more than to actually wanting to catch me. Finally, I decided to confront them and die on my own terms. So that final day, I carefully traveled one way, then doubled back and traveled in another, in the hopes of splitting their numbers. I remember, how proud I was of that plan. More so because the silly plan had actually worked! So I ambushed one. Again, not something I am proud of. We fought, and that day I learned the value of starting at a young age. After nearly two hours of swinging blades at one another, I finally downed him. Disarmed him, to be more precise. As much as I hated these people, I hated killing more. Yet, there he was, on the ground, weaponless, and just grinning at me. And let me tell you, he was one of the ugliest man I had ever seen and that grin of his.. was just evil! Then I heard a bow twang and an arrow very nearly caught me on the hip. And for your information, being shot in the arse is as degrading as it sounds. I was so disappointed because the ugly man had played me all along. He’d just taken his time until his partner had arrived and I’d fell for it. Then, to my greatest surprise, I heard a woman’s voice. ‘Had your fun, did you Moorat? Grow up, already!’ —her exact words. Turns out, they were the Senior Rangers of Serenity Home and had come looking for me to inform me that my father had passed away some six or eight months ago and that he had paid the rangers to find me in the hopes that I might come back home.. Ironic, isn’t it? Yes. One of those rangers was Moorat himself, Bremorel Songsteel’s ranger master and the other was no other than his elder sister, Limnia Karya.. my Limnia Karya; Udoorin’s mother and the most beautiful, cool-headed, luminous woman I had ever met..”
Standorin didn’t say anything else for a long time, again.
Then he sighed.
“The feeling I spoke of. The one I said I felt only once before.. It was something I felt during those four months.. the dire sense of being hunted!”
✱ ✱ ✱
How did the esteemed sheriff take the news?”, Perigren Ostlanna Temez asked when Constance Alure Smithen walked in, with her cool, serene pace..
..into one of the dormitory rooms in the Serenity Home Temple.
“I told you he was a capable man. Smart and scarred. Knew it the moment I saw him, dear Temez. He saw right through your ambush and did not appreciate it. But he agreed to it, I believe, though he will want to resist it for some time. Deep down, he knows this liaison job is a good offer, if not a good idea, particularly in the long run. It was the ambush part that he found quite distasteful. We should have asked the Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood to have proposed the idea.”, Constance said calmly.
“No, dear Constance. that young man has done more than enough for us by providing a secure sanction, as it is and has many, many Mortals to look after, not to mention, he has to care, show affection, and spare time for his own woman. We must pick up and carry our own weight now, hence the ambush was inevitable. We couldn’t have opened it to a debate. He is a sturdy, reliable man who also sees us as a security risk, however, and possibility a potential threat. We do not need him to like us. But we do need him to respect us. If he does, so will the town and the elves, because they respect him and do not question his honor. When the war starts, that is when we must not be a distraction to the Mortals. Nor should they mistake us for foe and fire upon us. That would end quite horribly.. for them, and for us. And we need to find homes. And real jobs. We gave an oath and that oath is binding.”, Perigren Ostlanna Temez said quietly.
“You already have a home, dear girl. Why don’t you take your leave and go to your boy?”, asked Constance kindly.
Temez didn’t reply immediately.
When she did, her beautiful face was flushed with self-loathing and shame.
“I.. must earn my place in this Mortal world. And I must make sure my brothers and sisters are safe. That is what my oath entailed. That is the promise I gave to my sister and my BFF, Arezme Ara Serraphyn, and I will keep to my promise.”, she said, her words seething. “The Mortals must acknowledge us and include us in their fight. We must be part of their survival. That is how we will earn our place among them.”
“I do not question your reasons, dear. This path we walk will end with the loss of many of our kin.”, Constance reminded her.
“We are already dead, Constance. All of us are. That was decided before we were conceived. Now, some of us have the chance to die of old age and pass our heritage, without the shame, to our children, should we have them..”, Temez replied, still burning. “I.. wish to return to my boy so much, it is killing me alive, Constance. What I did to him.. was evil.. I must cleanse myself of this sin.. I must..”
“Yes, dear. All of us must. Why don’t you go down to the crypts and pray for Darling Demos, a bit? Praying always seems to help and it is nice and quiet there. Of all the half-borns, you can not break, dear. Not now, not ever.”, Constance said, as she bent down and embraced her sister-kin and whispered. “They all are playing like children now, and like children, they only want candy. Should you break, all that is gone, and we are left as broken demon-borns, again.”
The door to their dormitory opened and an extraordinarily handsome young man, a half-born, with pale hair and impressive, curving horns stepped in and spoke with a cool, rusty voice.
“Hey, Temez. Constance. How did it go at the esteemed sheriff’s office? Did we time it right for you?”, he asked with a brilliant grin.
Constance gave him one of her rare smiles —a very small one.
“You did excellent work Hal Mali Volent. Your ability to guestimate time was excelling, as always. No one was there.”, replied Constance.
“No. She was observed by another.”, said a small, somewhat vague voice from behind Hal Mali Volent, and a boy that seemed no more than six or eight, dragging what appeared to be a stuffed imp, walked into the dormitory.
“Dar Derune, sweetheart? What are you doing here?”, asked Temez leaving the embrace of Constance to kneel down before the boy, and gave her own hug to him. “Where’s Berete Hamna Vir?”
“Here..”, sighed a depressed voice followed by a girl with sharp features; sharp red lips, high cheekbones, a bold nose, a sharp, pointy chin, sharp amber-like eyes, and even sharper horns and a slim, curling tail. “..I told him to wait while I prepared some food Mortals call sam-wishes! Derune, love, you mustn’t wander off like that. We agreed on this.”
“Yes. We agreed and I apologize, Hamna Vir. But they had to know. The Winter Knight was there, up on the roof. He saw our serene Constance, and came down the roof and warned the esteemed sheriff. Then they talked about you, Constance. They still are and the Winter Knight is telling the esteemed sheriff about your private ambush, as we speak.”, the boy said with a similar vague tone.
A hush settled in the room as several whispers passed back and forth.
“The Winter Knight.”
“The Winter Queen’s hatchet man!”
“Will he interfere?”, asked Constance with consternation.
“Unknown.”, the boy replied quietly, as though he had been caught in the act by his tutor, and was admitting his to misdemeanors.. “But doubtful. We have done nothing to rile Her and both of our goals coincide at the moment. She might send Her knight against some of our kind, or She might not. The Queen of Air and Darkness does not like some of us for our unique skills.”
“Are you among those, she does not like?”, hissed the sharp girl, Hamna Vir.
“Yes.”, the boy replied vaguely.
Hanma Vir’s sharp features turned shaper and her hiss became vicious.
“If the Queen of Air and Darkness sends Her hatchet man on my Derune, I will summons demons, right here, right now, and right in the middle of this town. They will rampage wild and vile and slaughter the lot of them!”
“Vir. Please.”, said the handsome young man, Hal Mali. “We gave our oaths to the Senior Temple Guardian, Thomas Dimwoon. We may not break that oath.”
“We have the right to defend ourselves and our loved ones. Our oath does not take that right away from us!”, hissed Haman Vir, again.
“Chill, girl!”, they heard a voice, and yet another half-born quietly walked in, this one, a particularly bewitching girl with glowing red hair, mesmerizing eyes, pretty little horns and distinctly curving figure wearing expressly fashionable.. almost see-throughs and a credit to her name; Cee Lingerith Demelze!
“Ow, Constance is back! Nice..”, said the girl brightly. “Did you get you, your esteemed sheriff, yet? That was quick. Way to go, girl!
“No, Demelze.”, she said with a resigned voice. “I just got the job and will start tomorrow.”
“Did you show him your breasts? You have lovely breasts!”, Demelze said with a mischievous grin.
“Things don’t work like that here in the Mortal world.”, Constance tried to explain.
“I think it does. There are a lot of children in this temple that Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood looks after. I have been staring out the windows of the temple and I see many more children there. Tells me these Mortals do appreciate pretty breasts.. among other things..”, Demelze objected, smirking all the while.
Constance sighed again.
“Trying to explain things to you is like trying to teach an imp to jump hoops; pointless, and equally hazardous.”
“That’s vile, Constance. Take that back, right now!”
“You are a bit hyped today, Demelze.”, Temez said. “Would you like to come with me down to the crypts? It’s nice and serene down there. Should help cool your bosom. It does mine. We need to think about how we want to find the lost Orken army that the esteemed sheriff asked us to find. I believe I have an idea, but I will need your abilities.”
“Oww.. do I finally get to burn something?”, Demelze said happily.
“Not quite. Hal Mali, dear. I will need your expertise also.”, the leader of the Escape asked the handsome young half-born.
“Of course, Temez. Anything to help.”, replied Hal Mali.
Perigren Ostlanna Temez turned to the sharp girl, Hamna Vir, and the little boy. “You mustn’t look and listen to private conversations, dear. As much as I appreciate the help and the information, we do not want to raise the ire of the Queens. If the Winter Knight is here, there must be a Summer Knight too, now. Or will be soon. Alright, love?”
“Alright, Temez. But only because you asked nicely.”, replied the boy softly.
“I always ask you nicely, Derune.”, smiled Temez.
“You ask everyone nicely, Temez. But when you ask me nicely, that nice becomes my nice. I like to think my nice is a special nice.”, said the boy, Derune, and a shy smile appeared on his vague face.
“Your nice is always special, darling.”, Temez replied with blurry eyes.
Everyone stared down at the broken boy.
Perigren Ostlanna Temez, Constance Alure Smithen, and Cee Lingerith Demelze with tear-stricken faces.
Hal Mali Volent’s lips were tightly pressed together.
Berete Hamna Vir’s sharp features melted, and a lost expression appeared on her face. She stared at the boy with the kind of love only an elder sister could show to her little baby brother, though they shared no blood. But deep inside her eyes, demons, live and hungry, appeared.
Too bad the Erinyes, Auntie Irine, their defacto maker, was dead because, at that very moment, there was enough emotional rage to have killed her trice over for the things she had done to the little half-born boy, Dar Derune..
✱ ✱ ✱
INCOMING!”, one of the younger guards yelled gleefully as they all lined up in the small courtyard behind the sheriff’s office..
“..and she is one, buxom, chick!—”
“—Do show us exactly how educated and civilized you are, by referring to a young lady as you have, Guard Anderson..”, rumbled Sheriff Standorin as he too, stepped into the courtyard. “I am sure it will make us all look high and smart in front of one of our deadliest allies!”
The young guard, Anderson, shut up.. abruptly.
“Gentleman.. and ladies.. Today we are going to be meeting with one of the half-borns, assigned here as a liaison between our department and their people. Must I remind you that as ‘buxom’ as she may appear, kindly put by young Anderson, here, she is not here for entertainment, and seeing her as such will end in one of three ways; you making a further fool of yourself, running laps around the town until dusk, and/or your demise. Do I make myself clear? And do wipe that grin off your face, Mr. Harian. Must I also remind you all that there’s a war coming our way and that there is no ‘them’ and ‘us’ anymore? Elves, humans, dwarves, gnomes, half-borns, townsmen, or refugees.. are all of ‘us’, and the only ‘them’ is the true enemy coming our way. Our job is to sustain, coordinate and show said people exactly that.”
“Admirably put.”, said a cool, calm, and serene female voice, and Constance Alure Smithen entered the small courtyard with her tall, barely swaying walk. She was wearing another long dress skirt today, though it was closed at the throat, less revealing at the bosom, and did not sweep behind her. It did have a long cut on either side of her skirts, though her long legs were hidden under layers of filmy, semi-transparent fabric. And she held a three-yard-long polearm ending in two, fork-like blades, one slightly longer than the other; a pike!
Sheriff Standorin mused at the beautiful young woman and her pike, then at his guards.
“Lady Constance Alure Smithen.”, he said in a declarative and somewhat stiff tone. “Our liaison between her people and the Sheriff’s Office. She is here to observe and if need be, advise us in varying matters to the best of her capacity.”
“Thank you, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, for your warm welcome.”, Constance said in her demure voice and nodded at the secretary fuming sheriff then at the town’s guardsmen and women, sending a slight ripple down her long, black, silky hair.
“Perhaps the liaison can demonstrate her skills in her pike!”, came a voice from the guards; the young Mr. Anderson!
To give Sheriff Standorin credit, he did not scowl, nor did his eyes blaze at the misbehavior of his guardsman.
“By all means, let’s.”, he said cooly. “Make room for Mr. Anderson, here, and our liaison, Lady Constance.”
Guard Anderson stepped out of the line as the rest of the guardsmen and women spread in a wide circle.
Constance stared at the scene with a very slight frown and a confused expression on her face.
“Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart?”, she inquired politely.
“A challenge has been offered, Lady Constance. You against Mr. Anderson, here.”, he said in his very neutral voice.
“A fight? Is this perhaps part of being a liaison? If so, I was not made aware of it.”, she said, and her frown deepened just a fraction more and the cool, calm look she gave the sheriff was of.. disappointment, perhaps?
“It is not. But I suspect they want to see what you are capable of. Had you come here unarmed, such a challenge would not have been offered. But willy-nilly you did come here and with a deadly weapon. Town guards do not openly carry such weapons, Lady Constance. The ones we do carry are to help us subdue and apprehend felons. The only reason we all are carrying swords at the moment is due to the upcoming war.”, Standorin explained, again in his neutral voice.
“I.. see..”, Constance said cooly. “An appt explanation saying I brought this upon myself.”
The sheriff did not reply and the half-born did not wait for one. With the same cool, serene demeanor, she stepped into the circle and took her place before the young guard, Anderson.
“I have studied your customs carefully, ere I came.”, she said in her calm voice as she carefully sized down the young man holding a thick club in his hand. “Shouldn’t there be some betting afore we begin?”
An awkward silence settled in the courtyard.
“Can we?”, asked one of the sturdy women.
Standorin’s face went red.
“By all means do. Miss Daniella!”, Constance replied. “But a pike versus a stick, methinks, would make a poor bid.”
And with an incredible swing of her pike, she lopped the thick club Guard Anderson was holding, right off the middle!
A general gasp rippled through the guardsmen and women.
And bets started passing hands!
“As I said. A pike versus a stick is not a challenge. Do draw your sword, young bantam. I believe you wanted to see a ‘buxom chick’, ere I came. Well, this is your moment, though I find your metaphor quite inaccurate, faulty, and improper; I will not grow to become an egg-laying, flightless bird. Our kind does not lay eggs. We conceive and give birth very much like yours, though exponentially more painfully.
Guard Anderson turned to look at the sheriff as if to get his consent to draw his sword. But when he saw his stony face, he understood, he was on his own and he’d made one wisecrack too many. His face turned green as it dawned on him; he had offended a political office by offering physical violence.. and as a town’s guardsman, he was now drawing his sword at an unoffending, but highly offended, guest!
He gulped and stepped forward, his sword at the ready.
‘Die by your dignity.’, was all he had left for himself, possibly not at all in a metaphorical sense.
“Lady Constance.”, he said with a barely audible voice. “I whole-heartedly apologize for my misdemeanor. I am an Arashkan refugee and have a younger sister I must look after.”
And swung down his blade.
“Foolish enough to speak out of turn, wise enough to recognize his mistake and apologize.”, Constance replied..
..and caught the blade between the fork of her pike, twisted sharply and against grasping direction, and send the sword stabbing into the dirt, some twenty feet away! Seamlessly, and with feline agility, she spun her pike, quite unlike a martial artists quarterstaff and jabbed the butt end into Guard Anderson’s midriff, drawing a loud ‘Ohmff!’ out of the young man, hooked him high using her dashing momentum, and with a wide, graceful arc, slammed him down, flat on his back, and with a terrifying aerial screech, landed on top of him, her long, shapely legs sticking out of the sides of the slits of her skirt, and held the young man down as if kneeling for a prayer!
She wasn’t rushed, she wasn’t breathing with exertion, nor had she even broken a sweat.
She just knelt there, carefully jabbing the young man’s chin and throat with her knee, and keeping a steady pressure.
The guards stared at the scene, quite dumbfounded and thunderstruck.
“I believe the show’s over.”, Sheriff Standorin rumbled. “Everyone to their posts. Miss Daniella, do slap Mr. Anderson awake and send him in the general direction of the town’s gate. I believe he has a long day’s run waiting for him to get his stupidity out of his system.”
The guards quickly dismissed themselves and the young, sturdy woman walked up to the tall, kneeling half-born woman and the unconscious Mr. Anderson.
“My Lady. If you will?”, she asked politely.
Constance slowly rose from the unconscious young man and cooly nodded at her.
Daniella smirked at her and whispered, “Lady, I don’t know what just happened, but it was awesome!”
Constance arched her brows with mild surprise.
“You think so? I tried very hard to subdue than to kill. Your Criminal Laws in regard to your office seemed to prefer it.”, she said, carefully studying the young man.
“I apologize on behalf of Mr. Anderson. I too am an Arashkan refugee, but my family and I were able to escape by ship before the docks were overrun. Anderson, here, wasn’t so fortunate. He ended up watching his parents and his elderly grandmother getting slaughtered by the Orken. All he could do was to grab his twelve-year-old sister and run, which is why he does stupid things without thinking; he feels shame and thinks he has something to prove..”
“I understand, Miss Daniella, for shame is something I feel and know quite intimately.”, Constance said thoughtfully. “Please tell Mr. Anderson when he wakes, that I shall hold no rancor against him and that perhaps he could bring his sister to the town’s temple. My kin and I are stationed there and play games, have a lot of fun, and we have candy.”
Daniella grinned wider.
“What girl could refuse such offer, Lady Constance; fun games and candy!”
Constance walked over to the sheriff, who was stiffly holding his ground, though he very well knew, he had just messed up, by proxy.
“I believe an apology is in order, Lady Constance.”, he said gruffly.
“You may save your apology, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, for I came here in peace but was offered violence. I carry a pike because it is a weapon I am trained in, and very much for the same reason your guards carry swords. Now, I believe my work as a liaison here is done for today, and already. I shall be in the temple, and down in the crypts praying for the soul of Darling Demos and shall further contemplate on the sins of foolish men.”, replied Constance cooly and breezed away.
Standorin just stood there.
Verbally slapped and stupefied.
For he hadn’t just messed up, he had dropped the ‘political ball’..
..and felt very much like his young and foolish days.
He seethed and fumed certainly, but not for a moment did he try to justify his own stupidity.
Standorin Shieldheart was like that.
Harsh but fair.
He ran up to the cool and dignified young woman and stood before her.
Constance also stopped and stared at the flustered sheriff. She did not arch her eyebrows, she did not size him, up or down, nor did she give him the silent cold stare.
Quietly, she waited for him to speak.
“I.. “, Standorin stammered. “..mishandled this whole situation because I was frustrated. I very much agree a liaison between the two people is an excellent idea. I.. just didn’t appreciate the way it was slapped into my face. My reasons for my frustration may have been acceptable had I handled this a bit more maturely.”
“The idea of a liaison was not mine, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. I was chosen for this job for my abilities to calmly assess any given situation and help defuse unnecessary aggressions. I tried to imply this to you less than twenty hours ago. I also told you, quite clearly, that I do not do lies. Yet, you chose to punish me, specifically and individually, by putting me in a situation where I was forced to display aggression, and still, I have thus defused it to the best of my abilities, and without bloodshed; I could have countered that boy and cut him forty-eight different ways, yet I chose to merely disarm and subdue him, something I would have had the flesh flogged off my back, had my old mentor seen this! I am trained to recognize the emotional nuances of Mortals, but it is possible I am missing some local customs here, hence I am tempted to ask; do you treat all your women like this, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, or is your unreasonable and quite injudicious behavior limited to allies who were not forced out of their destroyed homes, but came to help you willingly at the cost of being hunted down and killed by their former masters?”
Standorin felt sick.
“I.. am..”, he began again, less with guilt about his political blunder, but more with shame because what the young woman had said was precisely what he had done. He had tried to take out his frustration on her. “Look. I am not a man of grace. You must have noticed that. But perhaps I can offer you an apology by some means you may find acceptable. Something that may be appropriate to your station and your, individually unique, person? Everything you said was true. Except the part about how I treated women or my allies.. I.. would very much appreciate it if I was given the chance to fix my blunder.”
Constance Alure Smithen stared at the sheriff for the duration of consideration. Then, a very small smile appeared on her pretty lips.
“Pick me up at eight!”, she said.
“Umm.. What?”, Standorin stammered.
“And do wear something that isn’t armor or work-related.”, she added with another smile and walked away, leaving a totally destroyed sheriff behind..
✱ ✱ ✱
I can’t believe you!”, exclaimed the ravishing half-born, Demelze. “You went there dressed up all pretty, and ended up beating some stupid bantam? Did you at least show him your—?”, she began, awfully frustrated.
“—No.”, finished Constance. “And I shall not. Not until the time is ripe, and not until he decides to be the only one to want them. That will be the ripe time!”
“What is wrong with you, girl?”, Demelze asked, with a freaked-out tone.
“Did you, Hal Mali, and Temez work out a solution for the lost Orken army?”
“Yes and no. Don’t change the subject Constance!”, Demelze said fiercely, causing the tall, serene woman to sigh again.
“Cee Lingerith Demelze. You must understand, we are no longer Hell’s sluts. We no longer live to attain that end, because that end was never ours. That was Auntie Irine’s wish and look what that bought her; to never be more than her own Master’s favored whore and to buy her own death at the hands of her own creation; Merisoul Xyrotwu, her Mortal friends, and getting mashed under a bug. Willy-nilly, we are free now, my dear Demelze.. We have a chance to be more than the price and the role that was placed upon our existence. And more is better than less because being just that always made us less. Perhaps you believe I do not enjoy what you very much do. But you could only be so wrong. What I am, however, is not my only trait and I shouldn’t be defined solely by being the scion of an incubus; always and only seeking flesh pleasures.. Thus we were looked upon in Hell, were we not? Remember how many times those vile demons pushed their wills and their bodies against ours, and without so much as a bother? I remember you enjoying the moment in wild abandon. I also remember your face once they were done with you. I know because it was the same face I had when they were done with me, my dear. I never want to be seen as such again. Not in this Mortal world, and not ever, do I want to see your beautiful face, marred and mutilated by absolute, abhorrent, and loathsome shame. Just like I never want my sisters and brothers to witness that face etched on me ever again. Hence, I do not want the Mortals to see me, or you, as a mere flesh toy; never to ask or wonder what you or I feel, or what you or I think, but to only want, want, want, and want only what our flesh and skin has to offer. Yes, that is pleasurable. But what I want, I want from only one person now and not from two, or five, or a hundred faceless men who will never ask nor remember my name but merely use and discard me, and the knowledge that the only thing they will remember about me was how soft and succulent I was, hurts! For once, we have a chance where we shall be asked whether we hurt, as opposed to, ‘did it hurt?’ No, baby girl, I now want that one person to be uniquely mine, and I want to be uniquely his. That is who I will show and give freely what I have and so should you, because as fiery as you are, you, my dear sister-kin, are also the most passionate amongst us and I envy you for it. Do you understand this?”
A long, painful silence ensued after that.
“Yes. I understand this.”, said Demelze mutely. “But.. my flesh burns with wont. I.. need..”
“As do I. Let’s go down to the crypts and pray for Darling Demos. Praying always helps. Then I need to prepare for a date.”, said Constance kindly.
“You have a date?”, Cee Lingerith Demelze blurted.
“I have a date.”, nodded Constance calmly.
“Well, why didn’t you say this from the get-go, girl! Tell me. Tell me all about it!”, Demelze fried with delight.
“You must.”, whispered Temez sternly, down in the depts of the Serenity Town Temple’s crypts. It was cold, and there was slushy snow outside. Here, it was merely cool, calm and a certain serenity spread from a particular tomb. The one at the very end of a long line of nearly five hundred years of past Senior Temple Guardians.
It was odd.
That being ‘great’ had little to do with wars and warriors but with life and those that cared for it.
“No. I do not want to.”, Constance replied, very nearly losing her cool, serene demeanor.
“Please, Constance. We must do this for them and he is the key to the Ritual Guardian!”, Perigren frowned.
“You already know her. Even played games with her, did you not? You, her, and Ranger Lieutenant Morel Songsteel, a mere few days ago.”, Constance objected with a frown.
“Yes. I did. But that was games. We have not been formally introduced. And this is the way to get to know him and mayhap get him to know us, love us, care for us, and respect us..”, Temez replied earnestly.
Constance looked down at Temez.
“That is scheming, that is!”, she said disapprovingly.
“No, my dear. This is forming connections with the Mortals. If he likes us, it will make him that much harder to come after us, should the Queen of Air and Darkness send him upon us.”
“Should Mab sends him upon us, what he feels will mean very little, love. That is what being Mab’s hatchet man, means.”, Constance said, her frown deepening.
“True. However, he is also a Mortal and willy-nilly, he has a heart. He might not refuse or refute the call of his Mistress, but he will at least feel uneager to raise his hand against us. And being the Mortal that he is, it is possible he might use his cunning to wiggle his way out of a possible execution order!”, Temez replied even more earnestly.
“You think the cold-hearted Winter Knight will ‘like’ us and go up against his own Mistress at the expense of his own possible demise for the sake of some half-freak such as us? Temez, dear, you are holding on straws.”, Constance said to her sister-kin, but not unkindly.
“Straws are all I have, Alure. Please. Do this for us. You are The Liaison!”, Temez said with muted desperation.
She paused for a depressing moment. Then said, even more quietly.
“I wish my merry soul were here. She was always so much better at this than I ever was.”
“That is true, dear. And I will not gainsay you. But as much as we followed you to the Door because of how much we loved and respected her, we followed you.”, Constance replied as she reached down at the beautiful antler girl, Temez, and caressed her soft, tanned hair. “She was the spark. You are the flood, Perigren Ostlanna Temez. And you can not despair.”
Then she took a deep breath, making her bosom even more distinct and appealing.
“I shall do this for you. And for my kin. But I shall need a gift.”
“Yes. A gift to be given to the Winter Knight.”
“I doubt he will accept gifts from us, dear Constance.”
“The gift is to him, but not for him.”, the tall, serene girl replied.
“Ow? Oww..”, Temez said and her beautiful features lit with a happy cast. “That is cunning, that is.”
“I sort of liked it. Now, I would like to go and wash. I have a date.”
“So I heard. Well done, love.”, Temez said with brittle elation.
“Soon, dear. This war will be over soon, one way or another. Then you too can go to your boy.”, Constance said kindly and hugged her.
“I will send Hamna Vir and Dar Derune to do your hair. Hamna is the best with hair and horns, and Dar loves yours.”, Temez said with a better smile, once they parted.
“Would you?”, Constance asked a bit girlishly.
Temez smiled again and nodded.
Constance did not go immediately though. She looked, carefully, at the leader of the Escape.
“Dar Darune loves my hair. This is true. But he loves you whole, dear.”, she said softly.
“And I, he. But Dar has to grow yet. And in time, he will get over me and discover who truly loves him, and will eternally live, and mindlessly die for him.”, she said quietly.
“Yes. Hamna Vir..”
Temez nodded again.
“Come on, love. Go on and get cleaned up. And send your dress to Hal Mali so he makes sure it is clean and pressed.”
“Will do, will do.”, agreed, Constance, and left the cool, soothing darkness of the crypts under the temple.
Temez frowned with fear.
A date with the Sheriff of Serenity Home Town. This would either go very well or end quite horribly.
But Perigren Ostlanna Temez trusted Constance because.. well.. Constance Alure Smithen always lived up to her name. And she had seen how she’d looked at the esteemed sheriff when the Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood had introduced them all to him.
True. Many of the other girls had looked at the good sheriff. But they had done so as they would have checked out any strong, healthy, male specimen. Constance, however, had looked at him with another kind of wont. The kind that she could not readily definite, but was right at the tip of her tongue, and it seemed somewhat akin to her own longing. And a bit like how the young Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood and his Ranger Lieutenant Morel Songsteel looked at one another when they thought they were alone.. Which was possibly one of the reasons all the half-borns felt.. happily sedated here in this temple; the existence of a living, breathing, and ongoing love between those two —as creepy as that sounded! But that look had been closer to someone else’s look. The wonting, and happily exhilarated eyes of the little girl, Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane, the Ritual Guardian, had given when they had been playing that game of catch against the obsessively competitive girl, Lilly Venom and her succulent man, and when the game had ended and the little girl’s ‘hubby’ had arrived; the Winter Knight himself.
The convoluted and intermixed irony in that hurt her brain!
Perigren Ostlanna Temez sighed.
They needed that same little girl now. And her wast knowledge of herbs and plants.
And she wondered, what her merry soul, her BFF, was doing at that very moment.
Temez thought she’d give anything to have her here now so she would tell her she was doing good and right for her kin.
✱ ✱ ✱
Standorin Shieldheart had just returned to his office for some final orders and to make sure everything was as it should be and that the town was faring well and not on fire.
He noticed the notes left on his desk and bent down to skim through them.
“A note on the standard confirmation of logistics moved up the river for the Arashkan militia stationed there from the ferriers. A note from Ranger Master Davien asking me what to do about the bandits camped east of Stinking Shacks. Dammit, man, just tell those idiots, they can either join us and fight the Orken and take whatever they can loot off the enemy at the end of the war, or kill them already. We don’t have such leisurely time for some lowly bandits who milk people at a time as dire as this! Hmm.. a note from the mayor demanding to know about the quarter of a harvest of sugar canes sent to the temple on my request —what the.. I made no such request and what is the heck is Thomas going to do with all that sugar cane, anyway?”
Then it dawned on him.
“Candy!”, he fumed. “But why did he put such a request on behalf of my office? He could have asked the mayor himself.”
Then it dawned on him. Again.
“Lady Constance!”, he said fuming some more. “Why would you not ask me and do this on my behalf so arbitrarily?”
“She didn’t. I did, sir.”, came a growling voice and Aager Fogstep came down the stairs from the roof. “By the way, the watchtower erected up on the roof is almost finished. At least that is what the carpenters and the construction crew are diligently assuring me. It should give us a good view of the town and with the use of flags, we should be able to direct the guards and the militia on the ground without needing to shout across town.”
“That’s good news. Now tell me about this order.”, said the sheriff.
“Ranger Lieutenant Morel Songsteel came in earlier with the order, sir. For reasons I can not fathom, she seemed rather pleased with herself. Perhaps she expected me to object. I said I would give the order, which sort of disappointed her, only if she told me why the order was being addressed from this office, as opposed to being sent from the temple! She scowled at me and said, the need for the sugar canes was not directly related to the temple but with the newly appointed Liaison and the allies she represents. I told her I would put in the order when the said ‘newly appointed Liaison’ came here and asked for it herself, in her official capacity, rather than sending temple lackeys!”, Aager replied with a straight face.
Sheriff Standorin snorted.
“That was not nice, Master Aager. The ranger lieutenant is a good person and has high standing with the temple.”
“Well, it’s a good thing I am not a good person and don’t really care nor need any standing with the temple. I couldn’t speak for Lady Inshala, though, who is a good person and has extremely high standing with the temple.”, Aager smirked, then added. “You look dashing, sir. Never seen you out of armor before. Is that a new shirt?”
The sheriff glared at him.
“I… am… *muffled noises*..!”
“I am sorry, sir. Didn’t quite catch that.
The sheriff glared and him some more.
“I am going out.. on a *more muffed noises*..!”
“Come again, sir?”
“Dammit, man, a date! I am going out on a date!”, the sheriff very nearly spat.
“Ahh. I see. With whom, if you don’t mind me asking.”
He was going to be seen with his date in public soon enough and the word would spread like wildfire.
“Lady Constance Alure Smithen.”
“Ow? I got the impression you didn’t want her around. My bad.”, Aager said, his eyes quite mirthful.
“I didn’t ask her out.. But I’d messed up so horribly this morning and was trying to defuse a possible political fallout and she ambushed me, again, with a date, no less! I am so out of my debt, here.”, he admitted dejectedly.
“Want a stab of advice, sir?”, Aager asked honestly.
The sheriff grunted.
“Do you find her appealing, sir?”
“How do you mean?”, Standorin frowned.
“It isn’t a very complicated question, sir. Do you find her appealing?”
“Of course I find her appealing. She is a very cool-headed, calm, and immaculate young woman, and not in a dispassionate way. She is also very smart and always thinks before she speaks. A quality I find admirable in any man, let alone any woman.”
Standorin frowned a bit more.
“She’s.. pretty..”, he admitted grudgingly.
“You are a bit stingy on words, sir.. You can’t be thus miserly when it comes to women, you know..”
“My Limnia never—”, he began.
“—was and never will be Constance, sir. And neither could Constance ever cast a shadow over Lady Limnia. You can not, however, bring the past into play in this matter. And neither should you ever compare. That’s not only unfair to the deceased but unwarranted to the living. I never knew Lady Limnia, but I have watched you many nights, here, lost and alone in thoughts over her. And I watched Udoorin as well, and what that cost him. Leave her where she is, and treasure her as she is. And if you and Constance are agreeable, treasure Constance, now. You have lived the past long enough. Perhaps it’s time you lived the moment. And maybe even the future.. You, being seen with her kind, is a good step towards a steady, peaceful and harmonious town. Consider it as a sacrifice on your part, if you must. But I doubt it will stay a sacrifice because they have taken a blood oath. She will give her all, at all times for that oath. You are a decent man, sir. You made a decent man out of a Drashan cut-throat who actually cares for the people of a town he wasn’t even born into. She is a girl who escaped from somewhere far worse. She knows ‘bad’ in a sense where we need to use words like ‘intimately’, ‘infinitely’, and ‘ultimately’. Hence, she also knows what she must avoid. Take her out to dinner, then take her on a walk around town. Should be safe enough. You made it safe enough! That way, you won’t constantly be under public scrutiny, at least. Ow, and, give her this..”, he said, just as there was a small knock on the office door.
Aager didn’t pause but was at the door before the knock had ended. He opened the door and someone the sheriff couldn’t see was whispering softly at him. The man in dark leathers nodded once at the person standing outside and a pair of very skinny arms entangled themselves around the scary man’s neck for a long, passionate moment, then she was gone.
Aager stood at the door for a moment, staring after the little girl.
‘The wonderful, Lady Inshala!’, thought Standorin, as Aager quietly closed the door and returned back to where the sheriff was standing and gave him a bouquet of very lively-looking roses!
“What’s this?”, Standorin asked with one cocked eyebrow.
“A gift from my Inshala. She brought them for you but felt too shy to enter and face you, so she gave them to me. She told me to tell you that you are supposed to give them to Constance when you went to pick her.”, Aager smirked at the sheriff.
“How did she know about it? Who else knows? Does everyone know? And where in the blazes did she even get roses in the middle of winter?”, Standorin asked confounded.
“Didn’t ask, sir. You just can’t ask some things to girls. It is their prerogative. Not ours. Suffice to say, she knows, but I doubt anyone else does, and she will not repeat it. My Inshala has never quite grasped the concept of gossip.”
“I shall be a laughing stock and a merry source of amusement for the town.”, growled Standorin darkly.
Aager Fogstep looked at the sheriff for a moment.
Then went brutal on him..
..right for the jugular!
“Would you have cared, had she been Limnia, sir?”
Standorin stiffened as red, ugly blotches appeared on his face.
“That.. was uncalled for, Master Aager.”, he snarled.
“Yes. It was.”, agreed, Aager. “But so is the fact that you think being seen with Constance will somehow degrade your standing with the town, without giving it a moment’s thought on what she might think on this matter. Considering she is the Liaison, now, and must come here, be here, and work here, day and night, making her seem as your mistress, and consequently destroying her own standing with the town, and her station as a Liaison!”
Standorin fell silent.
“She is a woman, sir. And a quality one. Treat her like one. Share the big things in your life. And share the little ones. And let her treat you like the man she thinks you are, because, sir, she was assigned as a Liaison, certainly, but she was not assigned to you in person. That is a choice she made herself. Like I said yesterday. She is the alpha lioness. And an alpha lioness will only go for the alpha lion. That is base attraction. To her delight, the person she chose just happened to be the alpha lion.”
Aager grinned at the sheriff.
“That said, I am off. Inshala and I start for Oger’s Foot in a few days and have some preparation to make. Hopefully, and soon, I will finally get to meet this Mother Ganiste she speaks so fondly of.”
✱ ✱ ✱
Good evening sheriff.”, said the Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood, from where he stood, atop the stairs and right in front of his temple.
“Good evening, Thomas.”, replied Standorin amiably, though with a slightly flustered face.
“That’s Senior Temple Guardian Thomas for you, sheriff.”, smirked a soft, feminine voice; Bremorel Songteel, from where she stood, arms crossed and leaning against the temple’s double doors.
“The robes are still on!”, Bremorel explained, still smirking.
“So, it is.”, the sheriff said slightly fuming.
“You can’t take what’s ours, sheriff.”, said Thomas solemnly. “Everyone under my roof gets to stay under my roof.”
“Yes. What he said.”, Bremorel smiled broadly.
“Eh? What?”, asked the sheriff with a confused expression on his face. “I was only going to ask for—”
“No means, no, sir.”, Thomas said. “If you want her so desperately, you are just going to have to get a writ from the mayor himself, and with the consent of at least three other council members.. Or a popular vote cast among all the council members.”
Standorin just stared at Thomas.
Bremorel snorted, but only because she was trying very hard not to laugh out loud.
“Is this some sort of a prank?”, the sheriff asked, his face flushing even more, though with anger now.
“This is the Temple of Light, sheriff. We don’t do pranks here.”, Thomas replied sternly.
For a moment, a very short and savage moment, Standorin became the young and foolish man of his youth and was just about to barge into the temple, right over Thomas, senior guardian or not!
“That was not nice, dear Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood.”, a cool, serene voice was heard and Constance came gliding out of the temple. “You knew he came for me.”
“Dammit.”, scowled Bremorel. “And we had just started having fun!”
“Ahh. Constance. You are glowing this evening.”, smiled Thomas.
“You think so?”, she asked with a surprisingly girlish voice and spun around showing off her new skirt dress.
“It is lovely, my dear, and it compliments you.”, replied the young temple guardian. “You can ask Morel for confirmation if you like. She is much better at accuracy than I am.”
“Very true, on both accounts, Constance. You look awesome, girl.”, smiled Bremorel.
Sheriff Standorin, on the other hand, had kept his silence, possibly because he was dumbstruck.
He just stood there, not quite ogling, but unavoidably staring, at the tall half-born, as the words, dignified, regal, and very lady-like, skimmed past his mind, for many young women tended to reveal their.. uhh.. attributes.. Constance had gone quite the opposite direction and done her revealing by hiding said attributes; her dress skirts were long and down to the floor, even though, from the click-clacks, she was wearing high pumps. It was a very dark maroon-colored dress and seemed to be tailored from velvet that wrapped tightly around her slender throat, her long arms, her appealing bosom, slim waist, and long, shapely legs, and was carefully and not-so-overtly embroidered with gold threads. Much like her earlier dress, there were two slits running down the skirts, though there was no gauzy fabric this time. Instead, she had worn stockings a tone or two darker than her own pale skin. Her charcoal-black hair was also running long and straight, shading her face, and down her breasts and back, revealing her small, elf-like ears, though there was a single, thread-like, very carefully braided strand of her hair, not unlike a cat ladder, climbing down the right side of her very slightly blushing face, as her very soft, very alluring eyes seemed to glow with happiness and the only cosmetics seemed like the bright red application on her lightly smiling lips.
Constance looked memorably beautiful, and she had done nothing to hide, nor cover her long, slender horns.
“Good evening Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart.”, she said politely and started down the stairs.
“Good.. evening, uhhmm, Liaison Constance..”, Standorin stammered.
“We will be leaving now, dear Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood, and thank you Ranger Lieutenant Morel Songsteel for the sugar canes, though I suspect a pandemic of sugar sick boys and girls will infest your temple soon enough.”, Constance said demurely.
“We’ll make sure they chew on the sugar canes only after they have finished their cabbages and their broccoli.”, chuckled Bremorel.
Constance gave her one of her rare, brilliant smiles.
“I shall expect you to return our girl before midnight, sheriff.”, Thomas said firmly, though the crack at the side of his mouth said otherwise as he took Bremorel by the hand and disappeared into the temple.
“Yes!”, Standorin heard Bremorel say. “The kids are out! We have a whole night free to ourselves!”
There was a moment of awkward silence as Standorin stood, not knowing what to do.
“Shall we?”, asked Constance.
“I suppose so, but I must admit I didn’t—”, began Standorin.
“You look quite dashing tonight, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart.”, said Constance.
“I.. Do you think so?”, the sheriff asked a bit flabbergasted.
“I see, so.”, replied the tall, young woman. “And where shall you take me?”
“Uhhmm..”, Standorin began again, then paused before continuing and his frown had returned. “Look. I am just going to have to ask if it is alright with you.”
“I wouldn’t know if it’s alright with me, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. You haven’t asked your question yet.”, replied the girl calmly.
“Very true.”, Standorin agreed. Then he took a deep breath. “Just what is this?”, he asked honestly.
“What is what?”
“This. What are we doing, Liaison Constance.”
“It could be one of two things, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. One is, where you take me out to a nice dinner that involves a dim setting with candle lights followed by a slow-paced stroll around the town, or the woods, where we can have a few private moments to talk about you and your responsibilities, and myself and my responsibilities and how to better improve our relation regarding each other’s department and you pay-off for your morning’s blunder. The other option is where this is not a pay-off nor is it a task and you take me out to a nice dinner that involves a dim setting with candle lights followed by a slow-paced stroll around the town, or the woods, where we can have a few private moments to talk about you and your life, and myself and my life and how to better improve a mutual relation, together.”, she replied serenely, though Standorin sensed a bare trepidation in that calm voice and he was surprised for it.
And then it all came to him.
This young and beautiful woman was exactly that; a young and beautiful woman.. going out with a total stranger in the hopes that it would turn into a nice, memorable, and perhaps even a fruitful date and that was as far as her calm went. The rest was just as unknown to her as it was to him and she was terrified of it. More so than he was, because he was a ‘Mortal’ and dating was a natural, and even expected thing among Mortals.. as opposed to her kind, who had never lived a single date in their lives nor did they quite know what it even was. True that she was here in her Liaison capacity, or rather, it had been because of that capacity they were here now, but at that very moment, she wanted to be only herself, as Constance Alure Smithen and dearly hoped he would ignore the fact that she wasn’t quite human but a succubi half-born that possessed horns, treat her gently, kindly, perhaps even affectionately, and that he be just himself as a man and as Standorin Shieldheart only..
“It..”, he began. Then paused to clear his throat, and began again. “It could be a date. But I must warn you. I haven’t been on a date for a very, very long time.”
“It is alright, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. I haven’t been on a date at all. If this will be a date, it will also be my first and I have no idea what to expect, nor what to do. I was told many things I should do, or be doing, from both my brothers and sisters and Ranger Lieutenant Morel Songsteel, though when she said I should ‘make you sweat’, I do not believe she meant in a sensual way. Apparently, there is some sort of history between the two of you. Suffice to say, I am in your tender care, sir.”, she said with hopeful serenity.
“There is no history between young Morel and me, other than me having thrown her to jail for aggravated assault some six or seven years back.”, fumed Standorin.
“Aggravated assault. I know what this is. It was in the Criminal Law book you gave me.”, Constance said.
“You.. you actually read it?”, the sheriff asked somewhat surprised.
“Of course I read it. If I am expected to know about what you do, I should come armed with knowledge, and not just a pike.”
“That is a very long, and very boring read! I am not sure if I myself read the whole thing..”, exclaimed Standorin.
“It was rather entertaining, I think. The mind of Mortal criminals is amusing. I cited some of the laws pertaining to robbery and the use of drugs to my kin —because of our fondness for candy. It caused quite a bit of hilarious outbursts. The ones pertaining to rape and assault, however, did leave us in dismay, as we found the consequent reprimands and punishments rather petit and diminutive.”
Standorin frowned a bit.
“Perhaps we can start with names, then?”, he offered.
“Names? Am I perhaps not pronouncing yours correctly? Is this perhaps the reason for your dissatisfaction with my assignment?”, she asked a bit perturbed.
“Eh? What? No!”, Standorin stammered a bit more. “What I meant was, since we agreed this could be a date, you should call me Standorin.”
“Mortals cut and dissect names right and left, a matter that leaves us perpetually dismayed, for names hold power.”, she said a bit distressed.
“Maybe. I don’t know.”, Standorin said. “But Mortals, as you like to call us, do not refer to one another by their full names at all times. You may look upon it as a personal favor if you will and call me Standorin. Or just Stan. That’s what the few friends I have, call me.”
“I.. see..”, said the young woman. “I suppose you should call me Constance. Or Alure. But I would very much appreciate it if you didn’t cut my names in half. That is.. quite disorienting for my kind.”
“Perfectly acceptable, Lady Constance. I had arranged for the dining room prepared for us in the town’s guest house. Or rather, some busy boy and his happy little wife had it prepared for me. He certainly seemed mirthful when he told me about it. And.. uhhmm.. I believe these are for you..”, Standorin said a bit flushed and handed the bouquet of roses to the young woman.
“Ow! Mortal Roses! How very exquisitely beautiful and lovely, Sheri— Standorin Shield— Standorin—”, she stammered, confused and glowing with a beautifully bright blush and paused..
..for a long, deplorable sigh.
“Thank you.. Stan..”
Place; Serenity Home
Aager Fogstep and Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane have left Durkahan city and returned to Serenity Home where each has their own harsh responsibilities waiting for them.
46 Days After The Fall Of Arashkan.
The lithe figure in long, brown, leather trenchcoat skulked near the wall, taking advantage of the shadows and the bush, happily growing in the garden of the house. She had her target insight, perched and hidden amongst the branches of a brittle, snow-covered tree, and she had no intentions of letting it get away this time. She dearly hoped the other two were in place. Then her thin lips pressed together and she growled in her low, throaty voice. “They had better be. Or there is going to be murder!”
Carefully, and with exaggerated motions, she took another step forward.
Her target didn’t seem to notice and was looking, not quite in the other direction, but she knew she wasn’t in her target’s peripheral vision either. A drop of sweat trickled down her brow and itched its way down the side of her boldly drawn nose, around the curve of her tightly pressed lips, and disappeared around and under her somewhat angular chin. The lithe girl did not flinch, nor moved to wipe it off. She’d done that once, before, and that was why her query had gotten away.
“Not this time. Not this time.”, she hissed. “This time, you are going down!”
Not far, another figure was ghosting. This one in dark, sinister-looking leathers. He wore a low hood and a mask, made from the same material, covering the bottom half of his otherwise slightly pale face. A short, dirty-black, and tattered cloak hung from his back, all the way down to his hips and just a bit more, hiding the daggers attached to his leather belt, and his short, but deadly swords strapped across his back. He was a stab above average in height and had shoulders an edge under broad. He was neither skinny nor gaunt, but lean, though he gave the slight impression that perhaps he’d suffered from malnutrition in his youth, and now, his form refused to take any access body fat. There was a cold, wintery air about him as he moved even closer to the lithe girl in her long, brown, leather trenchcoat.
“What are you doing, girl?”, he growled quietly.
His voice actually did sound like a growl.
“You are not supposed to be here. I distinctly remember warning you not to bring your murder into my town. Was I not clear? Must I kill you to remind you of that?”
The lithe figure took another oozing step.
And her target prickled and looked directly in her direction!
The girl in the long, brown trenchcoat froze..
Her target’s eyes scanned and raked the area in her direction without mercy, but the lithe figure was good and her target couldn’t see her.
“Yes. Turn around and look the other way now. Come on. You know you must.”, she murmured to herself.
As if her words were some kind of prophecy or perhaps some mental geas, her target slowly turned around and started scouring in the other way —the opposite direction.
“Right.”, whispered the lithe figure triumphantly. “Now or never.”
The man in the dark, sinister-looking leathers also froze, for he saw someone else who had just come into play. Another lithe figure. This one had a long-sleeved, white, silk shirt, of all colors, open at her slender throat, a dark, gold-trimmed, tight bodice that fit her like a glove and complimented her hips, her waist, and her cup-sized breasts, a pair of black, belly dancers low-cut, loose trousers, and soft healed boots reaching up to her knees. Unlike the first, this girl did not skulk, but moved like.. water! The lean man in dark leathers had never seen anyone move with such natural grace, and that was a word he used to describe the lithe figure’s flowing motion which was exactly what she had done. She hadn’t moved silently, she had flowed from one spot to another! Her whole body language bespoke of elasticity, suppleness, and fluidity.. and precision! The man in the dark, sinister-looking leathers didn’t know who she was but guessed at what she might be, for she also had antler-like horns, and she was upon the girl in the long, brown trenchcoat before she knew it!
Aager Fogstep heard a very soft, bold voice.
“You are dead, love.”
“What the hell?”, he exclaimed as Lilly Venom slumped down and on her knees, screeching as she pummeled the dirt..
..and Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostman Bolgrig Hooman Fogstep jumped down from her perch on the tree as she punched the air with a small fist, a happy grin on her face, as she gloried a victorious, “YESSHHH! I THINK WE WON AGAIN!”
“NO DAMIT! NO. BLOODY EF’ING NO! I ALMOST HAD IT! I ALMOST HAD HER! EF! EF! EF! EF! EF! EF! EF! EF!”, screamed Lilly Venom!
“Now now, dear girl.”, said the one with the antlers, also grinning. “There are children around that might overhear you. I believe that word is considered bad among mortals, though the reason escapes me. After all, there are children around because of deed that word implies and entails!”
“HOW, DAMIT! HOW DID YOU EVEN..!”, Lilly screamed at her. “I ALMOST HAD HER THIS TIME!”
“I am sorry, dear girl, but you never had her. This round, she played the possum, per se. Or bait, if you will.”
“WHERE ARE MY TEAMMATES, DAMIT? THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO HAVE COVERED ME!”
“Totally owned ’em!”, came a soft, merry voice.
“Uhhmm.. I am sorry Lilly..”, said a very embarrassed Agent Largo, followed closely by his son, D.D. Dexter Summersong who also bore a similarly embarrassed and flushed expression, guarded by a very pleased-looking Bremorel Songsteel, miming holding a sword in her hand. “The two ladies here jumped us before we could even get into place..”
“Totally what dad said. I mean, I even went as far as warding our location, but the Ranger Leuitenant Bremorel had downed my father already, and Lady Mirima Temez, here, came at me from above! I was like, ‘Isn’t that against the rules?’, but she just smiled at me and said, ‘Darling, there are no rules in love, and certainly not in war..’, so I.. gracefully gave in.”, Dexter mumbled in a dejected tone.
“Darling, you gave in because you lost. But I will not otherwise gainsay you. You were quite graceful about it.”, smiled Perigren Ostlanna Temez.
Inshala came running at them with an elated expression etched all over her face and she was jumping and skipping all the while.
“Whoop! We won! So you three are cooking tonight?”, she said happily, all the while beaming at Temez and Bremorel.
Lilly Venom scowled furiously at her.
Lilly Venom scowled even more furiously at Agent Largo.
Lilly Venom scowled and almost incinerated D.D. Dexter!
Then Inshala spotted Aager and beamed at him as well, and started waving in his direction!
Lilly Venom noticed her brother too..
“Well, crap! Now he saw it as well!”, she spat, her face darkened and her scowl deepened.
Then with a poisonous glare, she turned to her husband and her son-in-law.
“YOU.. BOTH OF YOU..”, she snarled pointing at the two who squirmed like two schoolboys caught in the act. “..TOTALLY SUCK!”
Then with a destitute flare, she turned around and stormed off towards Serenity Home Temple..
..to do that evening’s cooking.
Perigren Ostlanna Temez and Bremorel Songsteel ran after her, while the extraordinarily beautiful Temez tried her best to comfort the very much irritated Lilly Venom, the ranger lieutenant only laughed harder as Inshala almost threw herself at Aager.
The two hugged and drifted off towards their own home.
“Well..”, Agent Largo said when he was alone with his son.
“Yup!”, D.D. Dexter said.
“..that went well.”, his father finished.
“Yea..”, agreed, Dexter. “..we suck!”
“Yes. Yes, we do.. Six times in a row, though? I mean, from three young and pretty girls, you’d think they’d show us some mercy and let us win once! You know, just so we’d save face..”
“Yea..”, said Dexter. “..could have been worse, I suppose. Your young wife does seem to have admirable temper.”
“That she has. But she curbs it most of the time, which in itself is the truly admirable part. It’s just, she doesn’t like losing.”
“Who does? But I wouldn’t really call losing to a Ranger Lieutenant, the Ritual Guardian, and the head of Escape, a loss, father.”
“There’s that. But like I said. Lilly doesn’t like losing, and she doesn’t really like cooking either. Lucky for us, I don’t mind cooking at all. I have been doing my own cooking since I lost your mother. Lilly.. she really is trying to learn, you know, if only for my sake, and cooking for the refugees is good for her, but after seeing her slice a loaf of bread, I got scared and told her I totally wouldn’t mind doing the cooking at home.. at all!“, Largo said.
“Why?”, asked Dexter.
“She cut the bread like she was slicing open a man’s throat. It was the creepiest thing I have ever seen! I mean, you should have seen her face, then. She had this strange, dreamy expression no woman should have while slicing bread!”
Then, as if remembering something else, he laughed again.
“What?”, asked his father.
“Just remembered something; I can actually go home and sleep merrily after we are done cooking at the temple.”
“Yes, so?”, asked his father.
“A night with a very pissed-off Lilly should be interesting for you, though!”, Dexter laughed again.
“That was not nice, Dex.”, mumbled Agent Largo.
✱ ✱ ✱
I see you are having fun.”, smiled Aager Fogstep, though only the little girl in his arm knew it.
“YEZZ!”, smirked Inshala viciously, reminding the man next to her, a bit like her old self. From the time they had first met. There was, however, a gaping difference between the two;
This Inshala was not hiding her horns under layers of hair, conically braided around them, she wasn’t the hissing surly girl anymore, but had a distinct skip to her pace, and she was..
..and woke up to another difference;
He, Aager Fogstep, was not the same man the girl had first met, either. Because he had a lighter step to his gait that had appeared the moment the little girl had ran up to him and threw herself at him for a hug, and..
..he too was smiling.
“Well, now..”, he said.
“Well now.”, she agreed happily.
He laughed again and held her closer and tighter, and the girl literally purred.
“I take it you were playing some game?”, he asked.
“I think so. I had fun. Lilly was telling us just how boring it was teaching noobs how to sneak and ambush, and that her trainees were a bunch of klutzes, though I have no idea what a ‘noob’ is.. nor a ‘klutz’.. She said there was no challenge here at all, so I asked her what would be a challenge for her, and she said she hadn’t gone up against any pros since Endless Watch. I totally agreed with her, since I now know what ‘pros’ is! It’s so nice to know social things.”, she said with another skip. “Then I offered her perhaps we could play a game and she could try and catch me. But she suddenly went cold and her face did this red thing and said to me, I am never going to hurt you again. And I was very sorry for reminding her about the arena thing and hugged her and apologized to her, and she was like, ‘Why are you apologizing me, girl? If anyone is to apologize, it’s me.’ But I told her that, she didn’t know me then and she didn’t know you were her brother and so there wasn’t anything for her to apologize. I think that broke her mind a little because she just stared at me and seemed like she was about to cry. Well, I wasn’t going to have any of that, so I quickly said, ‘It’s only catching.’ And that if she could, she won, if I caught her first, though, I would win. That got her attention, I think. Lilly loves winning. Then she said, ‘How about we bring in others. That way, we can also improve our teamwork skills.’ I had no idea there was a skill called Tea Murk but learning new things is nice so I agreed and she called her new hubby, Sir Agent Largo, though I don’t think that’s his real name because every time I say it, he does this funny face like he wants to cry, but it makes Lilly happy, so I keep saying it. Then she also called Sir Agent Largo’s son, De De Dexter, and told them about what we wanted to do. But De De Dexter said it wasn’t fair that the three of them should go up against one little girl and that I should also go and bring two others. So I went to the town temple and found Laila’s cousin, Bremorel, there, because, you know, she’s my friend, and asked if she would like to play with us. She asked me who was on the other team. When I told her, she said, ‘Your Aager’s sister? Nice. I am in..’. Then she called for Perigren Ostlanna Temez, one of Merisoul’s sisters, and told her about what we wanted to play, and asked her if she would like to join. She said, ‘Sure, sounds fun. But we must return before midnight because she and all her other brothers and sisters had to go down and pray for their Demos Lightshand. She was very pretty and always smiling so I didn’t get too scared of her and she has antlers which I thought were awesome, so I told her I didn’t think it would take that long and that I had to go home to my Aager before midnight anyway. So we started playing. Lilly plays very well. Hides very well too. And she is very patient. I don’t think I can be as patient as her and I am a patient girl. Sir Agent Largo is very smart. He almost caught me once because he had changed coats with Lilly and De De Dexter was I think using magic to hide them. But I don’t think any of them use their noses. They use their minds, their eyes, their hands, their ears, but never their noses. I smelled Sir Agent Largo and got away before I fell into their trap. So we started making traps too. In this last one, Perigren Ostlanna Temez told me to be bait, which I think is just another for ‘wait’, while she and Bremorel hunted them down because she thought Lilly had some sad feelings about coming after me and that distracted her, and that De De Dexter was an unmarried boy who would want to be polite against three, very pretty girls so he would lack courage. Only Sir Agent Largo would be the real problem, so they would first get him, then De De Dexter, while Lilly would end up waiting for them and wouldn’t be able to do anything, and they would get her last.”, Inshala said with a ‘phew, I talked too much!’, blush.
Aager was laughed, once more, but was astounded by the level of sophistication in the way her mind worked when it came to ‘hunting’. The Temez girl displayed a similar trait, but hers was based on gender psychology. She had used each and every single one of their opponent’s most innate and base weaknesses against them. That was.. a dangerous area to exploit.
Then it occurred to him. Of course! She was a succubi half-born. Using such tactics was their ‘thing’. That’s how they ‘got’ to their enemies and that’s how they brought them down on their knees. While a mortal would think such methods quite unorthodox, vile, even, it was their natural element. Much like you just didn’t blame a snake or a scorpion for using their poison, you just couldn’t blame Temez and her kind for using their flavor of skills.
“You liked it here, then? This town?”, Aager asked tentatively. It was something he’d been meaning to ask her, but had thought perhaps she hadn’t seen or known the town long enough. And it had been quite hectic since their arrival. He had been forced to his sheriff’s-right-hand duty, raised exponentially since the arrival of the thousands of refugees, not to mention the three groups of specialized trainees; morning, afternoon, and midnight.. Inshala had taken over her duties quite immediately as the Ritual Guardian and worked day and night to warm the earth, and the weather, so as to avoid further deaths among the miserable refugees. Both Aager and Inshala would end up, for the few moments to walk, arm-in-arm to his single-room house and just slump down onto the hard mattress, cuddle, and pass out —quite literally.
The only consolidation he felt he had in all this was the fact that the little girl was extraordinarily warm to hold in his arms. Deep down, he didn’t think it was merely her body heat, but something else.. It was like she radiated a kind of warmth totally unrelated, and had nothing to do with her skinny figure, but everything to do with her heart.
And he’d always wake up when he felt a soft, deliberate breathing into his face..
Inshala, it appeared, had her own way of waking him up. She never poked him. Never called his name. And never squirmed in his arms. Very carefully, and patiently, she’d turn around to face him.. and quietly watch him sleep —interestingly, not very unlike cats sometimes did to their owners!
And when Aager came around and opened his eyes, she would smile. A flushed, accomplished smile. It was like;
‘This weary and tired man has slept soundly and peacefully.. I did that!’
Aager recalled, how she had been so very shy and had very nearly panicked, that first night of their wedding, back at Durkahan. She’s just yelped, and hid in a corner, behind the wardrobe when they had finally entered Aager’s cave/den/lair of a room after the festivities were finally done.
Against all Aager’s thoughts, Inshala hadn’t turned herself into a little ball because she feared him, but she was just so over-excited and didn’t know what to do or what was going to happen next, she’s just shut herself down!
Aager had sat before her, in the darkroom, and silently waited for her to raise her head. He hadn’t tried to soothe her, nor comfort her, for Inshala didn’t need comforting, then. What she needed was to brave up to the ‘unknown’, and Aager had refused to take that away from her..
..until he noticed she’d fallen asleep, curled in the corner between the wardrobe and wall.
Aager had just picked her up, carried her over to the single bed next to his, and lay her there, pulled off the blanket from his own bed, and covered her with it. Then, as he’d done so many other times, he’d grabbed the spare from the wardrobe and, just before he’d slumped into his own bed, he had whispered in her direction;
“I am yours now. We may sleep together whenever you wish, my Inshala.”
He’d woken up the next morning with Inshala cuddled in his arms, silently breathing into his face with the best smile he had ever seen on anything alive..
..wearing one of her pretty little nightgowns, much like the ones she’d worn before.
It had been a wonderful experience for Aager. More so, when he’d found out something he never knew about himself; he’d liked to cuddle!
And now, they could do it as often as they wanted.
It was rare for Aager to be eager for anything. As a matter of fact, he’d never been eager to do anything in his life. True, whatever he did, he did them with surgical accuracy and pragmatic efficiency, always seeing things through.
Just not eagerly..
“It’s nice, here, yes. I.. I was very scared when you said we would come here and asked me what I would think about settling here. I am sorry I am scared of humans all the time. They.. weren’t very nice to me when I was a little girl. I feel shame when I admit to my fears because it makes me seem like a crybaby. I don’t always cry. I just don’t know when I am allowed to and when I shouldn’t because no one ever told me. My Father let me laugh and cry whenever I wanted. And now I am here, in this town, and there are so many humans here.. Some of them seem to be nice. Your sheriff, Udoorin’s father, is nice, though I feel a bit shy when he is around even though he is always very polite to me. Your mayor, Artanboss—”
“—Arthandos, love..”, Aager said with a smile.
“Yes, him.. He is nice. I met his daughters, and they really wanted to make me more dresses. I told them I’d loved the one they made for me, the one I wore on our way to Arashkan. But only if they would let me give something in return. They said they would not accept gold from the Ritual Guardian, so I showed them the soap blocks and the rose oil I’d made and they loved them but told me the rose oil was too pure and that they would have to make at least seven dresses for it. We argued and finally settled on four. Then I heard our Bremorel was here and that she and this Thomas boy had married. I was so happy, so I went to visit her. She was very surprised to see me and hugged me. She wanted to sit and talk but said the temple was a bit too crowded so we didn’t go in there then. Instead, she took me to this place called bakery where they make these awesome breads and cookies and things called doughnuts, cakes, pies, and many other things that I forgot their names, and they let you have things to drink called melonades and berry juice and honeydew. I think she knows everyone in this town. Or perhaps everyone knows her, I am not sure, but she waved at this young boy working in the bakery whose name is Dervel. Did you know he is the childhood friend of our Udoorin and is married to this very small and young wood elf girl? Bremorel said he, Udoorin and this other boy once made fun of our Laila for having pointy elf ears and the two of them had a fight with the three of them over it and now Udoorin is going to marry our Lorna who also has elf ears and this Dervel married a wood elf girl who has even pointier elf ears! Well. I didn’t think any of that was funny, since I also have elf-like ears, just much smaller but Bremorel was laughing about it all, though they all seem to be friends now, accept the third boy who went missing some months ago and was never heard of again. Bremorel ordered some of everything and a big jar of melonade, and we walked over to someone’s garden and she just barged into the house and came back with a blanket and some plates and some cups. She lay the blanket in the garden and told me to sit and eat. I was a bit frightened because I didn’t know whose garden we were in and humans were always angry with me when I came near their gardens when I was little. Then this man poked his head out of the window of the house and I was almost about to run away when he waved at us and said, ‘Hey, Morel. Having an outing, are you? And right in front of my open window where I can smell all those wonderful pastries. You are a cruel girl, you are.” I just sat there, frighted like a rabbit, but Bremorel just laughed and told him to come over and that there was more than enough, and the man did come over and sat with us. He.. he smiled at me and said, “Who is your pretty friend?..” I was so scared and he was just smiling at me and calling me ‘pretty!’.. “Uncle Darien, this is one of my dearest friends, Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane, the new Ritual Guardian who is also the daughter of the late Master Cathber. She was with us when we fought and brought down Themalsar. She is as awesome and wise as she is pretty.”, and I was now blushing so much, I had to drink half of my melonade to cool down. Then we ate all the wonderful cakes and cookies and doughnuts and the other things I can’t remember the names of. While we ate, we also talked. Uncle Darien is a nice man, and I learned he is Laila’s father! Bremorel seems to have changed. She was always angry before. And arguing. Now.. she is.. shining? She is smiling a lot. And laughing a lot. Then we said goodbye to Uncle Darien and he told me I could come and visit him any time I wanted to. Bremorel showed me the town and she met me many other people before she left to train her new rangers. Did you know there is an orc here who works at your iron shop? When he saw me, he slowly came and dropped on his knees and said, “Ritual Guardian. Many years ago, I was wild and with my marauding band, we attacked villages for their food and their gold. When the rangers came after us, they hit us hard and they killed my band. Your father, Master Cathber found me, days later, wounded and dying. He chose to save me instead of ending me. He tended to my wounds and brought me here to work hard to atone for my sins. Thus I have. I was bound to your father. And now, I am bound to you.” Later, I met more people, and today I met the half-born and we played a game of catch.. Of all the people I met, from this village and amongst the refugees, elf, human, or half-born, I learned that ‘nice’ is a choice. Some chose to be and some do not, and that my fear was misplaced. What I feared were people. What I should have feared was, ‘bad choices’..”
Inshala fell silent after that, a bit breathless.
Arm in arm, the two walked in silent harmony for a while. Aager sensed his young wife wanted to say more but whatever it was, she was clearing feeling very shy about it and was trying to brave herself up.
He opted to give her the chance.
“I..”, said Inshala a bit hesitantly. “..want to show you something tonight.”
“Ow?”, said Aager.
“I saw some little girls do it and I thought it looked awesome. So I was brave and went and asked them what they were doing. They were a bit scared of me too, I think. But after we talked a bit, none of us was afraid anymore. I let them touch my horns and they all laugh with delight and asked me if I had any more and begged if they could borrow them to show off to their other friends. I told them I was sorry and that I only had these. Then we talked some more and they told me what they were doing. I tried it too and asked them if I was doing it right? They corrected me and I tried some more until I think I learned it correctly now. I asked them if they would mind I showed it to my hubby, and they were like, ‘You have a hubby?’, and I was like, ‘Yes, I have a hubby because he decided to be my hubby and asked me if I would want him to be my hubby, so I told them I didn’t know what hubby was but that it sounded awesome, and if it made him near me and made me near him, then I wanted him to be my hubby!'”
“What did they learn you?”, he asked.
“Not here.”, Inshala said blushing brightly. “I.. liked it.. very much.. and want to do it while you watch..”
“Alright.”, he said.. and without noticing, he had picked up his pace.
Stop this, video and start the next one to see
what Inshala has unintentionally learned, and
wanted to show Aager..
The End of Sunsears
Place; Serenity Home
The events in this story take place after
“I believe this belongs to you..”,
28 Days After The Fall Of Arashkan.
Something crashed right through the Guest House of Serenity Home with incredible force causing everyone nearby to go for their weapons!
The wooden inner walls of the modest Guest House splintered and the windows shattered sending shards everywhere. The clanking of alarm bells rang through the town as everyone apart from a burly group comprised of harsh-looking men and women led by Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart ran to their designated posts. Apparently, the town took its defense quite seriously and all the training of the past months had paid off; in under ten minutes, the great wall built just west of the town was maned with thousands of elves, dwarves, and humans, their swords, axes, shields, and long pikes at the ready. Down below, hundreds of bows were drawn, waiting for the command to ‘LOOSE!’ while two dozen catapults were already being loaded with various destructive projectiles..
..but the expected Orken attack never came.
Sheriff Standorin ran up the flight of stairs, followed closely by the hardened town guards holding heavy clubs in their hands. Town security did not draw swords on a whim. Their job was to secure, not kill. Standorin pointed at one of the doors and two men stood before it, each facing the door. He then pointed at the remaining five doors and the men and women ran for each door in pairs. Then he pointed at the door he was facing, nodded at the large, burly man, some thirty years younger than him. The young, burly town guard nodded back than shouldered the door, smashing it down. Standorin and the rest of the guards barged in.
“MEDIC!”, shouted the sheriff the moment he took a quick stock of what lay before him. “GO GET SENIOR TEMPLE GUARDIAN THOMAS DIMWOOD HERE AT ONCE!”
Then he paused for a tad moment.
“No.”, he said. “Tell him to prepare to receive. We will bring the wounded to him.”
“Yes, sir!”, barked one of the younger women and dashed out of the room and down the stairs, and with the opening and slamming of the Guest House door, she was gone.
Standorin walked over to the remains of the broken single bed, with his powerful arms, pushed it aside, walked through the gaping hole in the wall, and stepped into the adjacent room and very carefully, he picked up the very tall, rather willowy figure, her robes shredded, her long, once elegant dress-skirts torn and ripped, her platinum-blonde braids loose and disheveled, her somewhat angular face bloodied and one of her arms hung at an odd angle.
The sheriff motioned at one of the guards who had followed him through the hole. The guard ran ahead and opened the room’s door for him.
Standorin carried the broken form of High Lady Anglenna Sunsear out of the room, and down the stairs.
“Bring a bedsheet. No one needs to see her like this.”, he rumbled quietly, then paused again and added. “No one needs to see her.”
He looked at the town guards and his face hardened.
“We do not know how the elves of Bari Na-ammen will react to her. She will get her opportunity to explain herself. I will not have a riot, nor a witch-hunt in my town. Do I make myself clear?”, he asked, looking at the men and women staring at the high lady.
The guards all nodded silently. The sheriff gently put the high lady on the wooden floor while the dust and splinter-riddled bedsheet was pulled off the broken bed and brought down.
“Couldn’t have brought a clean one?”, asked Standorin to the guard, a high elf and a recent addition to the town security.
“Sorry, sir. But we already broke one door down. And I don’t think this.. woman.. is worth a clean sheet to begin with.”, he very nearly spat.
Standorin stared at the young elf with his, calm-before-the-storm, gaze.
“Young man. I can not imagine your losses. However, you are a guard of Serenity Home now and represent the honor of this town. People from all over the kingdom come and settle here. Much like you, everyone is welcome, provided they do not drag their prejudices and their personal issues along with them. This is not Arashkan. This is not Endless Watch. This is not High Woods or Scowling Hills or Koruxan. This is Serenity Home, and the lady is the cousin of Princess Alor’Nadien ne and to the best of my knowledge, the princess adores her cousin. I am not privy to the reasons, but I am guessing she must have them, wouldn’t you say? You may not care, nor have any respect for this woman, but you will care and respect the Princess of Bari Na-ammen.”
The young high elf gulped.
“I apologize, sir. I acted and spoke out of turn and before I thought things through. I hate this woman with all my heart and wish nothing but ill will for her. I will, however, show her all the courtesy required of a high elf and a town guardsman.”
Standorin gave him a nod of approval and the young elf ran back up, and returned with another sheet —a clean and neatly folded one.
With the help of two female guards, Standorin carefully wrapped the high lady, covered her face, then gently picked her up again and nodded at the Guest House door.
The young elf ran ahead and opened the door for him.
The sheriff of Serenity Home rumbled.
“Form a quiet line. We do not need spectators. And inform the watch, they can turn the alarm bells off. Everyone is to remain at their posts for another hour then return to their daily routine.”
✱ ✱ ✱
High Lady Anglenna Sunsear woke up, quite dizzy and groggy, to a dimly lit, single-bed dormitory. The room was plainly furnished. Spars, even, consisting of the bed itself, a small table, a chair, a box, possibly to hold personnel possessions, two shelves nailed to the walls, and.. that’s it! No carpets, no ornaments, no framed pictures, no doilies, no curios, no vase with flowers, no tapestries and no curtains, though that was understandable since there were no windows, giving the overall impression that this was a cell, rather than a dormitory..
Anglenna looked down.
At least the room was clean and so was the blankets and the sheets, and she was wearing a long, ankle-length, burlap-colored linen nightgown of some sort. Apparently, someone had gotten her out of her shredded, sewer-smelling, soot-smudged clothes, cleaned her up, washed her hair, even, applied ointments and bandaged the dozen or so cuts and bruises, and cast her arm.
Hmm, she thought, why was her arm cast? She didn’t remember fracturing her arm. True, it’d just looked.. odd.. and had quit working properly, back when she’d been in the sewers, but the pain had died down, eventually, in the days, or perhaps it was weeks, or likely four or five days, maybe, ten at most, where she’d barely been able to find an hour or two, time enough for a breather, but never quite enough for full meditation. Anglenna had depressingly admitted she had no sense of direction whatsoever underground and that she was unequivocally lost. Exhausted, constantly on the run, hungry, thirsty, and hunted, by the Orken, and by the horror-inducing, pitch-black, sentient smoke; The Three Dog Curse she had unleashed, constantly growing and always spreading, and where she had dashed back and forth in those tunnels, very nearly losing her mind. It was during her desperate running in the sewers of Arashkan that she’d carelessly slipped and fallen into a crack in a wall caused by an Orken mangonel rock that had landed on the house above ground and caved it in all the way down to the sewers and then some.
Anglenna had very nearly screamed in abandoned panic when she had found out that she couldn’t even climb out of the narrow crack. The irony of having found the calm of being a Sunsear under the very harsh tutorage of her mother that had saved her from ultimate madness had not been lost on her. She had used her, quite secluded, predicament to her advantage; she had meditated for the duration of a full rest and was able to finally teleport out of the dark, stinking sewers, out of the burning, ruined, dead and dying Arashkan, and all the way to Serenity Home Guests House, where she had stayed once, when she’d first gone there, looking for the princess.
There had been three major problems to be able to cast the teleportation spell for Anglenna, however. The first was, she’d already used it on her cousin, Princess Alor’Nadien ne, and the young man, Udoorin. The second was, she wasn’t yet powerful enough to cast a second before making a full, meditative rest, which she hadn’t had the opportunity until now. And the third was, the person casting said teleportation had to know the destination.. thoroughly. That had always been a major drawback and problem with teleportation spells. The caster had to have familiarized the landing point, otherwise, the outcome(s) —plural, could be unpredictable or unprecedented at best, deadly at worst, obviously. The better he or she knew it, the more accurate their landing would be.. which in itself had produced its own issues. Before the events in the Arashkan Arena, Anglenna had been everything she seemed like; cold, distant, uncaring, looking down on everyone, and.. somewhat intentionally unobservant.. because everything was pretty much beneath her —just the kind of daughter her mother had always wanted! True, she had stayed at the Serenity Home Guest House for a few days while waiting for the possible arrival of her cousin so she could drag her, by the hair if need be, back to her father. But she hadn’t given a second glance to the Guest House, the town itself, and certainly not the little room she had been offered, which she had taken offense, but hadn’t been able to take umbrage due to the fact that (a) the alternative was to stay in the town’s common inn, which was just too beneath her, (b) all the rooms in the Guest House were the same!
In all candor, the only thing of note had been the spectacular view of Gull’s Perch, visible through the Guest House windows, for even though it was a few days travel east of the town, it was still, quite the magnificent sight; a single ‘rock’, some half a mile wide at its base, reaching up and up until its cap was lost in the clouds..
Hence, when she focused on her destination as she cast her spell, she had only a vague picture of the room she had stayed, which in turn had presented its own, distinctly ironic problem; all the rooms in the Guest House were indeed, identical!
Anglenna wasn’t sure if she was even at Serenity Home, at this very moment and this.. little howel.. or perhaps it was a cell.. certainly didn’t look like one of the rooms in the Guest House.
There was a polite knock and the door of her cell opened presenting a young, sturdy-looking man in a long, white robe that had contouring, embroidered colars and sleeves in dark red, and the only thing he wore that seemed unassuming was a holy symbol of some sort hanging from his neck.
The man nodded politely at her as he came in, carrying a tray in one hand covered with a clean cloth, a tankard in the other, and a genuine smile on his face.
Anglenna ogled at him.
She wasn’t ogling at him because he was a young, good-looking man, nor that he was smiling at her. She was ogling at him because the smile was genuine!
Alright, she thought, he must not know who I am and he is smiling because he is looking at an elf girl.
“Human males and their ‘elf maiden’ fetishes.”, she fumed to herself in disgust. “Guess I’ll just have to disillusion your elf fetishes by showing you, bitchery is not a registered trademark of human females.”
“High Lady Anglenna Sunsear. It is a distinct honor to have finally met you in person.”, the young man beamed.
“What the—”, thought Anglenna. “The boy knows who I am and is still smiling at me. No, he is beaming at me!”
“Are you sure you are talking to the right High Lady Anglenna?”, she asked, her voice patched and dry, and sounded more like a croak. “Perhaps you are confusing me with someone else.”
“I doubt, my Lady. There is but one of you.”, he replied, still beaming at her.
“Do I know you, young man?”, she asked a bit irritably. People did NOT smile at her. And if they did, it was more of a sneer, than a smile, really. Perhaps this boy was merely an idiot!
“I doubt, my Lady.”, repeated the young man. “Though we did meet once, albeit briefly. Several months ago, at the celebrations on the evening of the return of our people from the Ruins of Themalsar. You were staying here, waiting for your cousin to arrive, I believe. Then I saw you again, the day after. You were in the meeting where the same group members met with the mayor, the sheriff, and the town council members, deciding on the course of action in relation to what they had learned.”
“I am at Serenity Town, then?”, she asked somewhat relieved.
“But of course, my Lady. You are at Serenity Town Temple, to be more precise.”, the man answered politely.
“You know who I am, then?”, asked Anglenna.
“Indeed.”, replied the young man.
“You know who my mother is too?”, she asked.
“As much, yes.”, said the man.
“And what she did?”
“Not definitively, but I dare say, the rumors are likely true, considering the wide variety of different, independent, and quite reliable sources.”, smiled the man.
“Is something wrong with your head, boy?”, asked the high elf woman, unable to refrain herself.
“Yes. He’s an idiot!”, came a soft, irritable, feminine voice from outside the room.
The young man looked at the owner of the soft, irritable voice, grinned at her, and made room for a young, tall, beautiful girl with a lithe, striking figure, deep green eyes, fair skin, and long, free-flowing black hair. Anglenna thought she’d seen her before, but couldn’t quite remember when and where.
Unlike the young man, however, the girl was glaring at her.
The girl was glaring at her balefully and Anglenna got the distinct impression that this girl had glared at people all her life, and had dismantled any number of them to prove just exactly what her glare entailed!
“Why are you down here, talking to this psychopath, Thomas?”, she almost snarled.
“There.”, thought Anglenna. “Someone who does know me!”
“Perhaps introductions are in order?”, asked the high lady.
“SHUT UP, BITCH!”, snarled the young woman. “YOU DON’T GET TO MAKE ANY DEMANDS, HERE! IF I WANT YOUR BLOODY OPINION, I’LL BE SURE TO BEAT IT OUT OF YOU!”
That.. had been the first time someone —anyone— had ever talked to her in that tone, let alone tell her to shut up so viciously. She felt her cheeks blaze with embarrassment.
“Morel..”, said the young man reprovingly. “Please, love. She’s my guest, in my temple. We agreed, I would follow your lead in the woods, and you’d follow mine in my temple.”
“It’s alright. I’ll just drag her off to the woods, by the hair, or ankle, or throat, or nose, doesn’t matter which, and finish her off there!”, she spat, as she stared at the high lady with impressive hate.
“How do you even drag someone by the nose?”, the young man, Thomas, asked.
“You stick two fingers into the holes and drag. Either they come or they loose the nose! Quite painfully, I might add.”, the young woman replied with an indifferent shrug.
The young man stared at her.
“You will do no such thing, love, nor will you harm her. You are not a cutter.”, he said with a decisive tone.
“She is, though. Her mother’s precious little cutter!”
“I don’t think that is true, love. And I don’t believe you think so, either.”
The young woman, Morel, turned to Thomas and hissed at him.
“Do you know what this elf skank and her bitch of a mother did?”
“Yes, love. I do. A bit more so than you, actually. I have been caring for the refugees of Arashkan and Bari Na-ammen for the past few weeks now, remember?”, Thomas said quietly. “Had to burry quite as many, pray over their souls, and comfort their loved ones, too.”
“If she wants to drag me off and cut me, perhaps she should.”, Anglenna said in a subdued voice of her own. “I certainly deserve it. But only after I see my cousin and young Udoorin.”
The young man and the girl turned to her, staring with baffled expressions.
“Neither the princess nor young Udoorin is here, Lady Anglenna. Which is why Ranger Lieutenant Morel, here, is a bit edgy. Of those who went for Arashkan, only Lady Magella has returned thus far, and she had to leave again to speak with the dwarves about the upcoming war and smooth over some family issues at Scowling Hills. No one else has come back yet. Other than her, you are the first to arrive.”
“Before leaving for Scowling Hills, however, the esteemed Senior Temple Guardian, Lady Magella, informed us that the deputy sheriff, Master Aager, and the young lady, Inshala, had gone off to Durkahan to inform them of the events culminating with the fall of Arashkan and Bari Na-ammen and look into the possibilities of arranging some form of military relief, while Ranger Lieutenant Laila, Master Gnine, and Lady Merisoul had gone to.. Silent Hills for.. well.. we are not quite sure why they went there, and you, Lady Anglenna, along with Princess Lorna, and young Udoorin had set out for a secret mission at Arashkan. The princess and Udoorin aren’t here, but you are, which does raise some questions. More so, considering your distinct affiliations with.. your mother.”
“How is this possible? I sent my cousin and young Udoorin here days ago.. Weeks, maybe. I lost track of time when we were at Arashkan. The young man was severely wounded, so I sent him and the princess here to make sure he received proper medical attention. But we hadn’t completed our mission yet, hence I had to stay behind.”
“So you say! For all I know, you are in it with the Orken, just like your mother. But I am warning you, girl, if something happens to Udoorin or Lorna, you are a dead meat!”, sneered Morel.
“Morel, please.. Why don’t you go and— Wait. What are you doing?”, Thomas asked when he saw the high lady throw off her blankets and try to rise.
“I need to go find my cousin.. and that foolish boy!”, she hissed.
“Lady, please. You need rest. You have been unconscious for weeks.. Your wounds were quite extensive, you have a fever, and.. we still need to break your arm!”
“You need to— What?!”, exclaimed Anglenna staring at the young man.
“I am sorry, Lady. But your arm was fractured, mangled, really, and I am afraid you didn’t set it right before you let it bind on its own —incorrectly.”, Thomas said with a strained voice.
Anglenna stared at the young man with a distinctly horrified expression.
The young woman, Morel, however, grinned.. quite viciously!
“I can do it.”, she offered, still grinning. “Please let me do it, Thomas! I could make you very happy if you let me do this one thing!”
To give the young man credit, he only blushed a little.
He coughed once, then turned to the grinning young woman.
“Why don’t you go and find the sheriff, love. He will want to ask questions before I do.. what I have to do. I doubt Lady Anglenna, here, will be in any condition to speak coherently after that. Not for a day or two.”
“Spoilsport!”, scowled Morel and turned around to leave.
“Here.”, the young man said and gave the tray and the tankard to her.
Morel stared at him.
“Perhaps the high lady should eat after what has to be done. Less of a mess that way. And.. I thought you were over breaking arms, Morel.”, he said to her.
“Ow, Thomas.”, said Morel, smiling fondly at him. “If I don’t break an arm or two every once in a while, I’ll have to break yours. And if I did that, you would be so useless at nights, and mornings, and in the woods, and in the afternoons, and—”
Young Thomas blushed furiously.
Hell, so did Anglenna!
The young woman’s heartless laughter trailed off as she left..
“I.. am sorry about that. Morel and I are—”, Thomas coughed.
“—Just weird?”, finished the high lady.
“..newlywed. I mean, it’s only been a month or so.”, Thomas stammered.
“Why are you apologizing me for?”, asked Anglenna.
“You.. didn’t have to hear some of the things she said, that’s all. Morel is kinder than she lets on, really.”, mumbled the young man., paused, then added. “And quite the robust girl..”
“Apparently, so are you, young man.”, said Anglenna with a straight face.
Young Thomas deflated as his own face went even brighter red.
“Ah, I remember the two of you, now. Back from that celebration night. Didn’t that girl punch you in, then slam you on the ground and dislocate your shoulder?”
“Well.. yes.. I suppose she did..”, admitted, Thomas blushing some more.
“And you married her!”
“Well.. yes..”, mumbled the young man. “I.. love her.. always have.. since I was six and she was four..”
“I am tempted to ask, just how stupid are you, young man? But I shall politely settle for, just creepy and weird.”, said the high lady with an amused tone.
Thomas ogled at the high lady.
“Go get your hammer, and your anvil.”, she gave Thomas a brittle smile. “Might as well get it over with.. Before your woman decides to come back and do it herself. Something tells me she doesn’t like me very much and might feel obligated to break more than just my arm.”
“It will hurt.. a lot, Lady Anglenna.”
“You are the Senior Temple Guardian now, then? A bit young for that kind of responsibility, aren’t you?”, Anglenna asked.
“Lady Magella is the senior, really. But she has other responsibilities, making me the fill-in for her. Not a position I wanted at my current age, as I lack the temperament, the wisdom, and the experience, but the other guardians are even younger than I am.”
“You over underestimate yourself, young man. I am not as good a read of character as my cousin, Alor’Nadien ne, is, but you seem to have the temperament and the wisdom. The experience will come in time. It always does. And since you are a temple guardian, just Anglenna will do. Or Lenna. Bari Na-ammen is no more and I am no longer a high lady.”
“You don’t need a piece of land to be a lady, nor to have a noble soul, you know. Much like I don’t need this temple to be a guardian, nor do I need it to be my Morel’s husband.”
“But you do have your temple, and your woman.”, informed the high lady.
“There are over a hundred and fifty thousand Orken that we know of, are marching this way, Lady. The fact that I have a temple or my wonderful Morel is a moot point.”, Thomas replied with solemn realism.
“Young man.”, Anglenna replied with a resigned voice. “It is obvious you are as polite as you seem. And honest as well. You don’t have to try so hard, though. Considering the things I did in my past, and my many sins..”
“I am not trying anything Lady Anglenna. This is the only me, my Morel gets, and the only me you will get.”, Thomas smiled.
“I see. Well, do politely break my arm then, if you will, please?”, Anglenna smiled back at him.
“Shouldn’t we wait for the sheriff?”, he asked.
“I’ll be alright. My mother never had a tender hand when it came to teaching pain. Which is probably why I wasn’t even aware it was broken in the first place. The sooner we get it done, the sooner I can start looking for my cousin and young Udoorin, who needs medical care much more than I do now.”
✱ ✱ ✱
Young Thomas removed the cast from Lady Anglenna’s arm with practiced efficiency.
“Been cracking arms a lot?”, grinned Anglenna with frightened anticipation.
“Many times, my Lady. People tend to shrug off their injuries and end up here. It isn’t like I charge for my services or anything. In the end, they suffer more than they should, had they come to me in the first place.”, Thomas explained as he took the high lady’s slender arm and tightly bound it to the small table.
For a moment, he looked at the elf girl, then her arm then took out a piece of arm’s-length, wooden board and placed it on her arm.
“I don’t suppose it’ll help if I said you should eat more. I probably lack the years to advise a high elf.”
Which was when the young temple guardian drew out a heavy hammer with a broad head and smashed it, just right, on the high lady’s slender arm.
Anglenna gave a sharp, savage scream, and dropped limply on the floor!
“For that, I very much, and sincerely apologize, my Lady.”, he said quietly.
“You sure have a way with people, young Thomas. I hope you are not treating your young ranger lieutenant the same way.”, came a burly, rumbling voice.
“Sheriff Standorin..”, Thomas said, without looking back, as he unbound the ropes, pulled out several long, flat sticks and a thick roll of bandages from his robes. “..no one treats Morel Songsteel the same way..”
“Good answer.”, grinned Standorin.
“Dammit, Thomas!”, hissed Morel also from the door. “I told you I wanted to do it!”
“Language, love. We also agreed about confining it outside our home and the temple, in particular. And Yes. You did. But this needed tender accuracy.”
“I could do tender.. and be accurate.. You of all people should know that by now..”, she scowled.
“That I do, love. But your ‘tender’ is rather selective and probably doesn’t include the esteemed high lady. And you are horrible with hammers and maces!”, Thomas replied seriously.
“True, I suppose.. on both accounts.. I would have just hit her on the head with the hammer and be done with..”, she admitted freely.
“It is amazing, the things people admit to what might constitute as a crime.. right in front of the town sheriff..”, he grinned.
“I am sorry, sir.”, replied Morel that clearly said she wasn’t sorry in the least. “But the things spoken between a man and his wife in the privacy of their home, or a temple, can not be used against them in a court of law, and this temple is our home! We even eat and sleep here and Thomas makes me pray sometimes, too!”
Standorin cocked an eyebrow.
“I wasn’t aware you were into the finer details of the law, Ranger Lieutenant Morel. I am.. pleasantly surprised.”
“Nothing to be surprised, there, sheriff. The first thing my Ranger Master Moorat taught me years ago, even before showing me how to track or forage, was, ‘If you are going to persist in being a delinquent, at least be smart enough to know the law so you don’t end up in jail like you did, should you be stupid enough to get caught again!’ —pretty much his exact words!”, Morel said with a shameless smirk.
Standorin blew a fuming breath out of his nose.
“I knew it was a bad idea handing you over to that old, no-good bandit. Like master, like novice.”
“Come, love.”, Thomas said. “Straighten her to a sitting position, if you will. As much as you may dislike her, she is a noblewoman and the cousin of Princess Alor’Nadien ne, and shouldn’t be left lying on the floor. Then hold her shoulder up and straight while I pull from this end so we set the bones right before I recast the arm.”
“Nice.”, smiled Morel with an evil grin. “I get to watch her squirm in pain up close.”
High Lady Angrellen woke when they pulled her arm to set the bones.
She did not squirm, nor his she cry out again.
She just stared, somewhere off and at some unseen distance with blazing eyes.
And there was no satisfaction in Morel’s eyes, as she held and pulled, quite tenderly, at the high lady’s shoulder.
..though the sheriff, looking down at the two women.
Apparently, one had changed, quite a bit of late and the other had suffered, quite a lot, for quite some time..
“Ranger Lieutenant Morel.”, he said, after Thomas set and recast the high lady’s arm, and carefully put her back into bed. “If you would, please, go to the leader of the HWRM —the High Wood’s Resistance Movement and inform him, discreetly, if he would be kind enough to come here, preferably alone, on a matter of some urgency. We need to make sure this actually is the High Lady Anglenna, and not something else. We have had a few too many surprises sprung on us as it is, lately. Do not tell him anything. Just bring him here.”
“Why?”, asked Morel, looking down at the high lady. “This is the bitchy high lady from back then, she still is the bitchy high lady now. She has the same height and the same foot size, though she does not smell of her perfumes but that of sewer, even after we cleaned her up, and she weighs less, which is expected, considering she looks like she’s been through some rough, and has been comatose for three weeks or so.”
Sheriff Standorin frowned a bit.
“I do not question your assessment, Lieutenant. But she seems.. different.”
“Perhaps she is concussed?”, she offered. “I certainly want to concuss her. There are bound to be others!”
“No, love.”, inserted Thomas. “The esteemed sheriff is right. True that she has suffered quite a lot recently, both physically and emotionally, but I do not think she is concussed. She was coherent and fully awake. However, nothing she said nor her behavior as a whole, matches our first encounter with her. I saw genuine emotions in her; shame, regret, a sense of urgency, and the need to punish herself.”
Morel scowled at them both.
“You just want to run me off so you can talk in private!”
“The sheriff can say anything he wants to say right here and now.”, Thomas grinned at her.
“Very well.”, she fumed. “I am going to do this only because the esteemed sheriff asked nicely.”
Sheriff Standorin cocked both his eyebrows.
“I always ask nicely, Lieutenant. And not because this is your home.”
“I don’t recall you asking me nicely before you clubbed my lights out then dragged me off to jail when I was twelve, sir!”, she said hotly.
Apparently, aside from many other things, Morel was a good grudge bearer.
“I did ask you nicely. Several times. And warned you even, that should you continue, I would detain you. Your cousin, Ranger Lieutenant Laila was there, though she was a ranger novice at the time. You can ask her. She stopped after the second warning but you didn’t. I wasn’t aware my son tasted so good! He must have. Since you just wouldn’t stop chewing on his arm!”, Sheriff Standorin said with a straight face.
Morel’s face, however, turned dark red, as she blushed furiously.. and in mortification. She turned and ran out of the room.
“Well..”, said the sheriff. “That went well..”
“Yup!”, said Thomas.
“I hope this little incident doesn’t come back at you.”, Standorin said.
“It is possible that it may but unlikely. However the people of Serenity Home want to remember her, she is dedicated not to return to that angry, bitter girl. And that is ‘wisdom’ in my book.”, the young temple guardian said proudly.
✱ ✱ ✱
So she won’t talk?”, asked Arthandos Yuleman, the Mayor of Serenity Home Town, and the person responsible for the wellbeing of nearly eighty thousand Arahkan and fifteen thousand Bari Na-ammen refugees and he was as tired as he seemed.
Tired, weary, and older.
“She talks.”, replied Sheriff Standorin with his low, rumbling voice.. “Just nothing of significance. She is excellent at dodging questions, excels at debating her point, and too refined for us to take offense at anything she says for us to openly force her to tell us the things she is hiding.”
“So she is a politician.”, grunted Arthandos.
“No, Arty. She is a very good politician. Besides being a powerful sorceress, which I suppose, is to be expected of her. She was trained by The Betrayer, after all, and on both accounts..”
“So we know nothing. Other than her claim about having ‘sent’ both the princess and your son here, by our calculation, at least four weeks ago.”, said Arthandos unhappily.
“Yes. About that.. I wanted to.. ask you a personnel favor..”, said the sheriff, looking down at his hands.
“You want us to send some of our very limited number of rangers and trackers out looking for them, without knowing where to look for.. in every direction!”, frowned the mayor.
“Something like that.”, replied Standorin quietly.
“Stan.. You are killing me!”, sighed Arthandos.
“Eh? Why?”, asked the sheriff, looking up at the mayor with a baffled expression.
“We are not talking about anyone here, man. We are talking about your son. Of course, you can send off some of the rangers and trackers. Any we can spare. You don’t have to ask my permission for that.” said Arthandos.
“It is a personal favor, Arty. Everyone out there has someone they care missing..”, mumbled the sheriff.
“You are missing the higher point here, man. He is your son, yes. But he is also the fiancee of the princess of Bari Na-ammen. He now represents more than you, me, this town, or the elves. He represents HOPE. The boy who came from a simple town, fought against all odds, and rose to become a king. And not just any king, mind you. He became the king of ELVES. His line will also be of KINGS and QUEENS!”, smiled the mayor expansively.
“You just had to turn it into a political parade, didn’t you?”, he scowled.
“But of course, my dear Stan. That’s how I got away with all the irregular expenses you and Master Aager caused all these past years!”, he laughed.
“Whether he becomes a king or not is his prerogative. I just want my son back. Safe and sound. And I want his happiness. He.. when they were here, he was looking at young Lorna like I used to look at my Limnia. My boy found happiness and the will to do great deeds because of that girl. Just that is enough to make her special in my book.”, Standorin said seething silently as he fisted his hands. “He must come back. He is the only thing that is left to me from my Limnia, Arty. Do you understand that?”
“No, Stan. I don’t. I was never blessed by someone as special and luminous as Limnia. I was only cursed by having to put up with her brother Moorat!”, he replied sympathetically.
“Is there anything we could do to make her talk? With her consensual cooperation, I mean. And what do you propose we do with her?”, he asked.
“We can’t let her go, not that she wants to leave, other than to get better as soon as possible so she could go and seek for her cousin and my son, which came as a surprise for me, from the way she phrases it. Or perhaps, the way she sees them. For some reason, she will not say her cousin’s name alone, but she speaks of them as one. Like they were a single entity. I can’t say I understand what that means, but that’s the impression I got. She did offer to help train anyone with a glimpse of innate affinity to magic, as a contribution to our war efforts. She will not talk about any of the group members we sent to Arashkan nor about anything that occurred there because, ironically, she does not trust anyone here, which is understandable, since she doesn’t know anyone here and considering what her mother did, she has no reason to. But I do believe her feelings for her mother are quite genuine. She does a good job not showing it, but I have been a sheriff for a good thirty, thirty-five years now. She burns with shame whenever the issue of her mother is brought up, down to her very core. Add her elfish heritage into that stew, you get a young, high elf noblewoman who will burn her enemies down to cinders. And not metaphorically in her case.”, Standorin said, trying to put as many words into as few sentences as he could.
“Yes. Elves can be like that. Good haters. When they hate, they won’t confine it with you, but they will take it up to generations to come, in human terms. Not surprising to hear an elf say, your great-great-great-great-something-great grandfather did this to us!”, snorted Arthandos.
“You are going to have to decide on what to do with her, I am afraid. She is way above my pay grade and to be honest, we don’t have the manpower to neither guard her against her own people, let alone her mother, nor anyone to spare to keep a track of her, considering she is a sorceress who has the skills to teleport!”, grimaced the sheriff.
“How about she stays where she is now. In the temple.”, Arthandos asked?
“No. The temple is crowded as it is, what with all the.. new guests.. young Thomas took under his protection. Yes, those succubi half-borns are all adults, but they are very much like children who just ran away from school! They keep to their rooms and play quietly during day hours and when Thomas is performing his sermons, but come evening, they board up all the temple windows and run around wildly, playing games, all the while screaming like sugar-loaded, over-hyped kids! We just can’t let them loose, either. Some of those girls are extraordinarily pretty. Hell, so are the boys! When Thomas first told me about them, I went to make sure they were as safe as he claimed they were. Thomas called them and they all fell in line happily, then he introduced them to me. But let me tell you, some of the girls were looking at me like I was food. I haven’t been that freaked in my life. It is interesting, though. They won’t harm nor try to seduce our young Thomas, and Bremorel hasn’t shown any form of jealously nor animosity against them. Those two must really trust and believe in one another. Then there is the fact that every night before they go to their dormitories, they all file down into than cavernous chamber where all the temple guardians are entombed and pray for Demos Lightshand!”
Arthandos stared at him.
“What? Why?”, he asked in astonishment.
“Because Thomas told them it was he, Demos, who trained and taught him to be kind, understanding, and to accept everyone who came to his temple. Hence they all go down and pray for his soul —every single night!”
Arthandos stared at him.. some more..
“Half-demons.. praying for the soul of a Temple Guardian of Light! The irony in that hurts my mind!”, he said, putting his face in his hands.
“I know, right?”, grinned Standorin. “Let me tell you this, though. Willy-nilly, the Orken changed everything. The Orken and that strange girl I fined the night of the celebration. The one with the raven wings, Miss Merisoul Xyrotwu.. Thomas refused to go into the details, ‘for otherworldly security reason’, he said, but all those half-borns were freed from Hell, and I mean actual, literal Hell, by that Merisoul girl, and are all willing to ‘sweat, bleed, and die for their Ascension’ —their exact words! Should we win the day when the Orken finally arrive, a great many things will have to keep on changing because we just can’t go back to what we were.”
“I feel too old for this. Maybe I should start looking for some replacement as well. I hear you are.”
“There are many candidates who could replace me. I don’t have to dance around politics. If and when I see someone breaking the law, I tell them to come quietly. If they don’t, I club them quietly—”, Standorin said with a broad smile.
The mayor snorted.
“—then politely take them in. Being a mayor, however, requires too much political dancing for my taste where everything and everyone wants to complicate things like they were getting paid for it!”, the sheriff finished.
“Who do you have in mind, Stan? Not young Udoorin, that’s for sure, now.”, wondered Arthandos.
“Had it been before, I would have said Master Aager.”, admitted, Sheriff Standorin. “But things have changed. One sheriff was good and well for a town, even one as large and connected as ours. But that will not be enough. Most of the elves might return home to rebuild their lives. Though it will take centuries for High Woods to come anywhere near what it once was. And they will have all the support they can get from us. But Arashkan is beyond repair. Lady Anglenna didn’t say anything nor imply, but she had this, ‘smirking’ look in her eyes when I asked her what they were doing there, which gave me the impression that it will stay beyond repair for quite some time. All she said about it was, ‘We had to make sure the Orken could never use Arashkan as a base, nor fix the walls to stand a siege, so that is exactly what we did.'”
“That sounds.. ominous.”, said Arthandos.
“Yes, it does. And we still don’t know what we are going to do about the Orken that was camped west of Ritual Forest. The rangers, the dwarves, and the elves stationed there as lookouts all reported that one evening they were there, come morning they were.. gone! I am thinking they employed the same device they used to ‘ambush’ Arashkan.”, said the sheriff with a worried expression. “They could be anywhere by now..”
“Perhaps. But we are not without a wide variety of options, you know. We have the Arashkan military here, and Bari Na-ammen veterans, wizards, sorcerers, and rangers, and dwarves from Scowling Hills and Elder Hills, and gnomes from Tinker Hills. Not to mention the half-born. Why don’t we throw the problem at them, all separately, and see what they come up with?”, Arthandos offered.
Standorin mulled over that for some time. But not for long. His troubled face brightened and he grinned.
“You are a cunning man, Arty. And a man of the people. I shall draft separate papers with the problems we have in relation to the war and pass them out to each group’s representatives.”, he said.
“Only after you sent out people looking for your boy and the princess. And they don’t all have to be rangers or trackers. We have a lot of people here, most of them not doing anything. Pick from the lot that isn’t in training. Put one elven ranger per group. Try to mix them with dwarves and humans and impresses upon them the importance of cooperation. That should break the ice between the races.”, grinned the mayor.
“A man of the people, indeed.”, agreed, Standorin.
✱ ✱ ✱
High Lady Anglenna woke up to a hot, tingling sensation in her left arm. Something deep in her awareness told her that she should be under a long siege of grilling pain, but for whatever reason, said pain just wasn’t there. Only the hot, tingling sensation.
“You have been given certain medicinal drugs to ease your suffering, my Lady.”, said a quiet, handsome voice.
The high lady stared around dazedly, with groggy, blurred eyes, and barely noted that she was in a small, unadorned room and that she had seen, or perhaps been in before.
She tried to speak but whoever had drugged her, had apparently glued her lips as well because nothing came out except a wheezing breath. She gave up and closed her eyes again.
She did hear a soft pair of feet in armor come near, then heard the tingling of glass, and something was poured from one container to another.
“Water?”, the quiet, handsome voice offered.
The high lady tried for a nod, but she wants sure if she’d done it right.
She felt a strong but gentle hand under her head and neck and the hand carefully nudged her up to a slightly sitting position, and a glass touched her lips.
“Slowly, my Lady.”, said the voice.
Anglenna couldn’t quite place where, but she thought she knew that voice.
The voice helped her drink from the glass; cold, clear water, with forced small sips. Whoever this person was, Anglenna thought, knew exactly where his jurisdiction began and where it ended.
She opened her eyes again and looked up to see a familiar face.
Familiar and too close!
“Armathelius.. Riverblade..?”, she gasped.
The young-looking high elf had angular features much like the rest of his kind; a sharp nose, sharp eyes, sharp, arching brows, a sharp chin, and a distinct mouth. His hazel eyes were set somewhat deeper than usual and something in those eyes read; relief.
Armathelius didn’t say anything for some time. He just stared down at the high lady, carefully taking in all the details of her face. It was long enough that it made Anglenna uncomfortable.
“Sir Armathelius?”, she began..
..but the young elf carefully and gently lay her back down and removed his hand, got up, walked over to the door, opened it, and to someone outside he said, “Yes. This is High Lady Anglenna Sunsear of Bari Na-ammen. I can vouch for her identity and shall take any and all responsibility for her future actions within Serenity Home limits. I will personally see to her safety as well, should she deem it necessary.”
Anglenna heard some muffled voices from outside the door.
“Perhaps.”, said the young high elf. “But she is our people, and hence, within our defacto-jurisdiction, sir. I thank you for having informed me, even though you did not have to. We would never have known had you not. Please convey my personal gratitude to the esteemed and honorable mayor, Arthandos Yuleman, if you would, and tell him we shall address his concerns on this matter as soon as the high lady is back to her health and is able to present herself.”
The muffled voice said something short and curt and left.
Armathelius closed the door and turned to the high lady, and Anglenna noticed, through the hot, tingling sensation, and the groggy, blurry haze, there was something else in those deep hazel eyes; smoldering, boiling wrath.
“Are you well, my Lady?”, he asked, not coldly, but distantly.
Anglenna did not reply for a long moment.
When she did, her face was pale, drawn, and lost, and her voice was parched, wheezy, tired, and weary.
“You.. you misidentified me..”, she said.
The young Armathelius Riverblade stared at her.
“The line of Sunsear’s is dead.”, she continued, looking down into her hands..
“I am Anglenna Brightleaf.”
Voice Recognition: Verified!
Deep down the rabbit hole,
one gnome, one half-elf, and one..
..move in silence,
as though honoring what was,
..and what might!
This story is the continuation of;
The Fog, The Path, And The Door.
Knock, More, And Ascend.
Deep in Silence..
The girl in her strapless skirt dress flew fast and straight overhead. With her raven-black wings feathered lightly, her skinny arms spread out and wide, hear long, honey-brown hair rippling, ruffling, scattered and wildly and around her dark purple crowning horns, her naked, slender legs, smooth and lustrous, moved subtly as though swimming, and her tiny, darling feet tickling under the wind of her flight, she was an otherworldly beautiful creature. She carried herself over the long, endless, soundless, and muted halls carved deep under Silent Hills with her small, cherry-red mouth, just a tad pouting, and with sad, solemn, and mournful eyes.
Eyes that bespoke;
I have seen the end of times.
It is dark, it is bleak and it is lonely.
Merisoul Xyrotwu landed gracefully next to the gnome, Master Gnine Tinkerdome, and the Ranger Lieutenant, Laila Wolvesbane.
“Another great hall. Not as great as the one we left behind, but quite cavernous, and occupied.”, she said in her calm, remote, soft, and somewhat breathy voice.
“Occupied?”, asked the gnome. “What’s occupying it?”
“A demon.”, the otherworldly girl replied.
“Dammit.”, hissed the boldly pretty half-elf, Laila. “At least give us a variety. I mean, other than fiends, demons, and undead.”
“The undead are the variety, dear Laila.”, said Merisoul, in her hushed, soft, breathy voice. “I am guessing they are the collateral side effect of having too many demons pend up in one place for thus long, though I’ll admit, the ‘one place’ in question is quite large, deep, and lengthy. Tell me again, Master Gnine, why do gnomes need this much space?”
“Give a gnome enough time, buoyance, and rock, and we can dig forever.”
“So can dwarves.”
“True. But we do it neatly!”, he said with a smirk.
“I see. Well, your kin has had rock and said buoyance, but seem to have run short on time, to our relative consolation, as doleful as that sounds. Otherwise, we would be here for your ‘forever’.”, replied the raven-winged girl.
“You said one demon.”, Laila said, staring at Merisoul questioningly for she had learned, the otherworldly girl had an odd, unintentional habit of, not quite disregarding, but.. dismissing? absenting? abstracting? Laila wasn’t sure which, but the raven-winged succubi half-born girl did it anyway and you had to ask her for details or you were likely in for unexpected and unprecedented surprises where she would just look at you and say, “I did tell you there was one demon, did I not? Must I use your imagination for you?”
“Yes.”, Merisoul said with a small smile.
“What is it? Is it big? Is it dangerous? Why one? Why here?”, Laila asked.
“What’s in there?”, added Gnine.
“Ow.”, said Merisoul with a surprised expression on her diminutive face. “You actually want details! Of course! And understandable.”
And paused! Long enough to for the gnome, Gnine, and the half-elf ranger girl, Laila, to look at one other, then back at the succubi half-born.
“If you are waiting for dramatic effect, you are just about due, I believe.”, said Gnine.
“Almost.”, said Merisoul vaguely.
“Almost? Almost for what?”
“Almost ready. I was preparing a visual pamphlet; a presentation, if you will! I am just about done with the texts, the spreadsheets, the tables, and the 3D pie-charts and running it all through the spell-checker. If you would give me but a minute, I will have imported the images and linked the videos. Thought I might add in a gloomy sort of background music as well.”, she replied happily.
Laila ogled at her while Gnine looked up at the unseen sky and pinched the bridge of his nose.
“And done!”, she said, smiling at them. “I apologize for the delay, but I haven’t prepared a corporate presentation for quite some time now. My last was about two years ago, and as part of my graduation thesis, though that was strictly PG18+ and not quite for mortal eyes!”
And with a wave of her hand, the image of a red, barren land appeared, right then and there! The land seemed to go forever in every direction and comprised only of sharp, edgy rocks sticking out of the dry and dead land like shark’s teeth. The sky appeared as though it was some hazy, diaphanous, gauzy, scarlet tulle and no clouds nor any birds flavored it. Other than the spurting of bubbling, molting lava, yes, this land was barren, in the most literal and infernal sense.
Gnine just stared at the causal display of enhanced and vivid imagination with despair.
Laila looked at it with mild interest, coupled with a certain amount of skepticism. Then she bent down and whispered at Gnine.
“Can you do that?”
“I might..”, replied Gnine deploringly.
The image rumbled and the jagged rocks tumbled and tossed and with a sharp, brittle clap, a crack zigzagged across the barren wasteland. As the endless, red landscape quaked, the crack widened and a halo of deep, infernal fire spewed out of the crack as the rocks and dirt crumbled into the gaping fissure.. And a hand, big, broad and mighty came out of the fiery depths of Hell, and with tremendous force, it slammed onto the sides of the lava spurting fissure and gauged the dirt.
“Wow. It’s animated too.”, whispered Laila. “Can you do that?”
“I might..”, Gnine replied with a deflated tone.
Great and charred, bat-like wings spread out of the infernal crack as another arm came out and slammed down, slowly pulling and dragging something magnanimous, out of the abyss below. A pair of heavy, curved, at-least-six-feet-each bull’s horns appeared, followed by a face, hideous and cruel, shoulders like ox carts, a grotesquely enlarged torso that defied physics, and legs, thick and mighty, and ending in with black, burning hooves.
“I like!”, whispered Laila. “Can you do that?”
“I am being chastised and tormented for something I don’t know what!”, Gnine replied with a destitute voice.
The nearly twenty-foot monstrosity took a step forward, rose its mighty arms, holding a long, burning scimitar in one titanic fist, and a crackling, thorny whip in the other. The demon took another earth-shaking step and bellowed as the first notes of a violin were heard in the background, followed by a depressing piano!
“Ow.. It’s got audio too! Eno Moricane! I love that.”, whispered Laila, cracking one of her rare grins. “Can you do that?”
“Maybe. I can mathematically calculate the notes!”, replied Gnine resentfully.
The demon raised its powerful arms into the hazy, red sky and bellowed with hot, furnacing fire jetting out of its maw. It brought its great, burning scimitar down, sending a blast of fire. Then with a mighty heave, it cracked its whip, and long, slithering tendrils of jagged lightning crashed from the sky. And the image froze!
There, in big blocky fonts, a title appeared over the demon followed by an explanatory subtitle in smaller relief;
Class X Demon.
And a whole string of spreadsheets started running, punctuated with comparative charts and diagrams, comprising of size, relative hit points, resistances, and immunities, to hit and damage stats, and special abilities.
“Damn..”, whispered Laila in a concerned voice. “That’s going to be hard to kill. We’ll need like four of me, three of you, and at least another one of Soul. Should it spot us, and it can, it’s got Truesight, we can’t even run away from it, even if we wanted to. It can run faster than any of us. I mean, I might be able to stay just ahead of it if I used my Longstrider, but it can also fly, making how fast I run, sort of a moot point.”
“No, we can’t. If’s down to our running skills, we are done for.”, Gnine replied, carefully inspecting the demon’s stats.
“Well? How did you like my presentation?”, Merisoul asked, displaying something she almost never did, a pretty, and vague grin.
“I loved it!”, Laila admitted. “Didn’t know you were Moricane fan.”
“He’s a bit depressing for my taste, really, but he does do justice to his craft, per se. His tunes are quite famous in Hell!”, she said happily.
Gnine coughed at the implications of that!
“Why is this Balor named Regnalog?”, he asked.
“Well, he’s a rare specimen even among the Balor. ‘Grumpy’, if you will. Hence, they usually give him guarding assignments, if any. He doesn’t mind sitting in a lonely cave for centuries and cracking his whip. No one really knows why, or what goes through his mind, for that matter, but he is quite strong, resilient, and cunning. Many young and foolish demons tried their hands against him. —for bragging rights.. He is here but they are not, so I guess that answers the question of, who won, I guess.”, she replied.
“Can we take him? If we unloaded everything we got, I mean.”, asked Laila.
“I doubt.”, said Gnine glumly. “The old cuss is quite buff. More so than what’s written here, I think, if he is sort of unique among the Balor.”
“Dammit.”, hissed Laila. “What now, then? We have to move forward.”
“There isn’t much we can do, really. Regnalog will be immune to all my fire-based spells, resistant to pretty much everything else I got, and will see right through my illusions and likely any of my mental assaults as well.. Doesn’t seem like we got many options left. We can’t even get near him without catching fire!”, said the gnome, still frowning at the frozen image.
“Can’t you use that invisible hand-thing? The one you used in Tempest Temple when we were still back at Arashkan. You did pummel a stone golem with it.”
“Laila.”, Gnine fumed. “That golem, as tough as it was, was still subject to many elemental attacks. And had a limited amount of life force. This.. thing.. is HUGE! I mean, boxing it with that hand will be like a love tap. IF we had about a score of people casting as many hands, then yes, we’d bring the demon down.. eventually. Provided he stands still and does not retaliate.”
“Ow.. It did seem impressive when you had smashed the golem, the way you had. Perhaps you need a bigger fist?”, she offered.
Gnine glared at her.
“Not my fault you have small fists, my friend.”
Gnine glared at her some more.
“Is there anything else there?”, asked Laila.
“Maybe we should all go and see.”, Merisoul said. “I am certain I missed things. I have noticed, I don’t always see what might or might not be relevant for you two. I perceive people, creatures, and objects by their possible level of interaction, and whether they may present themselves as an obstacle, or help achieve a certain objective, which might or might not always be conclusive, as what may be insignificant for me, might be quite significant to you.”
“Alright.”, agreed, Gnine, taking a last look at the odd, otherworldly girl’s presentation, and the technical readings of Regnalog.
“Quietly.”, inserted Laila. “Maybe I should go ahead. Follow me at thirty feet distance and be ready to run.”
That said, she picked up her long, elven bow, drew an arrow out of her quiver, and with her bow now half-drawn, she silently ranged out. By the time she got near the end of the long, quiet hall, it had already become almost unbearably hot and she was sweating profusely. She edges her way to the exit and gave a quick peek and went absolutely still.
The chamber ahead wasn’t huge as she’d expected. Or perhaps it was. She estimated a stretch of at least five to six hundred feet across, making the chamber cavernous, just like Merisoul had said. But the main ‘walking’ area was perhaps merely fifty feet in radius. The rest was all empty, pitch-black darkness as if the walking area were some center platform that stood in the middle of a very large, very deep fissure or a bottomless chasm. And in the middle of the center platform, the was a ring of furnacing flames, reaching up to forty feet.
And in that column of flame was something.. BIG!
Laila had always known, heights, widths, and depths given in numbers and units could be misleading, as they were, after all, just numbers and hence, could be quite abstract. Thus, even in her early years as a ranger novice, she had been specifically trained to recognize what numbers in inches, feet, miles or individual objects meant. How far and how many were probably the most important aspect of being a ranger, really, as they ran for miles, or were expected to guestimate how far something was; i.e. a pack of fifteen wolves, a family of three bears, a single dear, a roaming band of twenty-four goblins, or an ambush of eight Orken, since she was going to have to adjust the angle of her bow depending on said distance, preferably before the ‘how many’ enemies reached her.
Staring at the forty-foot reach of flames, and something twenty-foot high charring in it was.. a hair-raising experience.
She gulped down her very parched sense of fear, withdrew, and motioned the two to come —quietly.
Gnine also stared at the flames and the more he stared at it, the more he seemed to deflate.
Laila touched his shoulder. When that didn’t help, she put her hand on it and slightly squeezed.
Gnine stared at her and the ranger lieutenant gave him an encouraging smile and whispered. “We came this far, didn’t we?”
Gnine returned her smile with his depressed one.
Then he pulled them aside and spoke with a hushed, serious tone.
“Alright. What do we have here, then? Tell us what you can see, other than the obvious.”
“The central platform where the demon, Balor, is, is perfectly circular, meaning it was likely—”, Laila began.
“—Gnome crafted.”, inserted Gnine.
“Yes, maybe, I don’t know. It is, however, surrounded by a chasm that goes down as far as—”, she continued.
“—the very molten core of the earth.”, prompted Merisoul.
“Perhaps. I wouldn’t know. Wait! Really?”, asked the ranger lieutenant in astonishment.
“Likely. Which is why Regnalog has been here for so many centuries without getting bored. He must be feeding off the very core of the world!”, replied the succubi half-born with some consternation.
“Okay.”, Laila said. “Is that in any way significant?”
“Yes.”, mused Gnine. “Not immediately, but in the long run. The more he stays perched here, the more powerful he will become. And, I am guessing, because he will have devoured too much of the world’s essence, he will be as if he is part of this world, hence become unbanishable! He will be able to return to Hell and back, here, at will, without the need to be summoned. He will also act like a conduit, an anchor, if you will, for other demons to be summoned as well. Much like Themalsar was. Accept Themalsar was an old man when we faced him. I doubt this guy has any sense of time, in a Mortal sense..”
“Very astute, Master Gnine.”, said Merisoul admiringly. “Which is also why there are half-borns like me. We were made for this very reason. The variety in our kind is merely due to necessity of ‘as per need.'”
“Made?”, asked Laila with some bafflement.
Gnine, however, understood the whole implication of that simple statement, and suddenly, a great many things about this strange, otherworldly beautiful girl clicked in his mind.
“Damn..”, he said hoarsely.
“I am.”, replied Merisoul with a brittle, cheery voice.
“What?”, asked Laila. Then, it dawned on her as well. Not the whole picture, and certainly not as broadly as Master Gnine had, but the fringes of it. For Laila, however, that was more than enough.
Quietly, and boldly, she stepped up to her and took her into her embrace.
“We are who we are, my dear Merisoul Xyrotwu. But we can be who we choose to be. I love my father, but I can’t even remember my mother’s face anymore. Of her, I only have the memory of her beautiful, sad voice, and nothing else. I do remember how they loved one another and how they loved me. Or rather, I remember that warm feeling.. But unwittingly and certainly without ill intent, they made me; a girl who is a human, and an elf, yet neither a human nor an elf. Accepted among humans, tolerated, at best, among elves. My best friends are Gnine, a mischievous, all-ways-in-trouble, gnome, Bree, who is human, who is my cousin and also a troubled, social outcast, Udoorin, who I became friends, but only after beating at each other, Lorna, another half-elf, and also an outcast, Inshala, another weird girl, who is also an outcast.. and you! I do not make enemies out of whim, Soul, but I choose very, very carefully who my friends are because as much as I love and care for my friends, I do not want too many of them in fear of losing them. That is how much I care and love them!”, she said, drew back to stare at the succubi half-born in the eyes, just to see her face blotched.
“Do you understand me?”, Laila asked and for some reason, her voice had steel in it.
“I do not.”, Merisoul said. But she had started shaking like she was suddenly cold, which was odd, considering the oven heat coming from the cavernous chamber ahead.
“Do you understand me?”, Laila repeated, her voice even harder.
“I do not know!”, whispered Merisoul, trembling uncontrollably, now.
“Uhhmm.. Laila? I think she’s losing it!”, warned Gnine.
“We can be who we choose to be, Soul. That is ours, and no one can take that away from us. Do you understand me?”, she hissed at the half-born.
“I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. I understand the words and what the words mean, but I do not understand what they are supposed to make me feel!”, she said, as she quaked and with large tears coming down her beautiful, sad face, and fading in the heat of the hall.
Laila was not a book philosopher. She was a ranger, and like all rangers, she was a practical girl with practical solutions because if something was not practical, it wasn’t a solution, but a bad excuse for sloppiness and a lazy mind.
She grabbed Merisoul’s right hand with her left..
..and placed it on her own left breast, right over her heart, as she raised her right hand and placed it right over the half-born girl’s left breast.. and over her heart, and looked her in the eye.
“You, of all the people, should feel what I feel. And through me, what you feel. Now tell me if you still don’t understand me!”, she said harshly.
“Uhhmm, Laila?”, asked Gnine a bit flustered.
“Shut up, Gnine. And don’t interfere. This is a girl thing!”, she hissed, never taking her eyes off the savagely shaking girl.
Gnine stared at her, then jumped to help her.
“No!”, Laila hissed again. “She has felt love, friendship, care, anxiety, fear, loss, happiness, victory, failure, and the Great Heavens know what else in me, and through me, she has felt herself and everything she carried but never felt for all her years! She has genuinely and truly felt them. Now, she knows, and now she can relate!”
“Wow, girl. You.. you fixed her!”, stammered Gnine.
“No, Gnine. Fixing a broken soul is not like fixing a broken arrow. I only showed her what it is she felt. I pointed at the door. The rest is up to her. It is she, who must decide what to do with the door. Now she has something to start and something to build on.”, Laila replied, looking down at the unconscious girl with compassion. “And it’s going to hurt.. a lot.”
“Did you feel what she feels, as well?”, asked Gnine in wonder.
Laila didn’t say anything for some time, still looking down at the succubi half-born, and there was a slight frown on her face.
“Yes.”, she said finally. “I did.”
“What did she feel?”
“That’s none of your business, gnome! Suffice to say, her kind of intense is insane!”, replied Laila, scowling down at him.
“Ow, I am suddenly a gnome, now, am I?”, grinned Gnine.
“Gnome was kinder than ‘midget’!”, smirked the half-elf girl.
“Harsh.”, Gnine said, shaking his head. “Very harsh..”
Laila snorted, then turned back to the big, cavernous chamber.
“Didn’t know you felt all those things, girl. Not to mention, what you just did was very, very risky and dangerous.”, Gnine said.
“We all feel such things, Gnine. One way or another.. I just don’t feel the need to make a spectacle of myself in public. As for the risk, becoming your friend was a risk too. Don’t think for a moment I didn’t know about your pranking reputation when we first met. But I took the risk and I did become your friend.”, she said, still gazing ahead.
“Yes. And look where that got you..”, scowled Gnine.
“..to the Halls of the King of Silent Hills!”, she finished and gave him a smirk.
“I see burnt.. or charred.. corpses.”, Laila said and pointed at some, rubble seeming things at the far side of the center platform. See?”
“Are you sure?”, Gnine asked in a sick voice.
“I have excelling eye vision. Those are charred corpses, and likely belonged to some gnomes.”
“Gnomes?”, Gnine exclaimed.
“Or perhaps kobolds. But I have not seen any tracks nor traces of kobolds ever since we came here. And kobolds have tails. Those don’t seem to have any.”
“Nice of you to notice our primary difference relied on the lack of a tail!”, scowled Gnine.
“Yes..”, replied Laila merrily. “As opposed to both races being mischievous, having the potential for great trouble and catastrophe, and dig deep underground and live there.”
Gnine scowled some more.
“See that?”, she said pointing at something.
“Nope. What am I supposed to be seeing?”, he asked.
“Hmm..”, mused Laila. “Perhaps it has to do with elevation.”
There was a distinct moment of smoldering silence.
“That.. was truly uncalled for, girl!”, Gnine fumed.
“I am sorry, Gnine.”, she said.
“No you are not!”, Gnine replied, still fuming at the ranger lieutenant.
“No, I am not.”, agreed, Laila with another snort. “But I was being literal when I said it might have something to do with elevation. There is a very long, very slim, bridge-like path leading away from the central platform. Just like the one we have here. And maybe there is a third one on the far side, to our left. Sort of like a triangle, though I can’t see it through the flames. Maybe we can make a run for it? I mean, if the Balor doesn’t take flight, I can make it to the other end of where the charred corpses are and over that bridge. I am guessing, if there are any live gnomes, that’s where we’d find them.”
“That’s a big pair of ifs, Laila.”
“She.. she is right..”, came a small, devastated voice, and both Gnine and Laila turned to see Merisoul sitting, her legs pulled up to her chest, her slender arms loose limply at her sides. Her face wasn’t quite a blotchy mess, but something told Laila that had she been a ‘mortal’ girl, it would have been. Or perhaps not, because Merisoul seemed like one of those naturally classy, elegant, and delicate girls that didn’t make a blotchy mess when they cried or ‘lost it’ in public. A bit like the princess, Lorna.. and linearly opposite of her cousin, Bremorel!
“Are you alright?”, Gnine asked with consternation.
“I do not know. I have never.. felt.. before!”, she replied with the first facial expression, other than her usual sad, solemn one; awe!
“How.. how do you even coup.. with all this?”, she asked Laila in a desperate, frightened voice.
“We don’t, Merisoul. Not always. That is why we break down at times. And why our friends hold our hands and pick us back on our feet, or offer a shoulder to cry..”, replied Laila kindly. “I have no idea what you went through in your youth, or if you were even allowed to live, or even have, a youth, but I suspect you had a lot of pent-up emotions. Mortals live them by the day and carry them along with them. In time, we either choose to let some of them go or seeth with them.. very seldomly, we choose to nurture them. The ones that ought to be nurtured, which is what forms good friends.. and sometimes.. new life..”
Then, as if remembering, or perhaps, awakening to something, she turned the little, pint-sized sprite, hovering around the gnome; Whimsi Lola.
“You! Pint-Size!”, she said, pointing at the sprite.
Whimsi Lola turned to her, very slowly, and gave the ranger lieutenant a glare that could only have been baleful!
“How dare you?!”, the tiny sprite hissed. “Unlike YOU, I am NOT pint-size!”
“What?”, said Laila, a bit baffled.
“YOU..”, the tiny sprite girl spluttered. “..ARE NOT EVEN A FULL ELF! I, ON THE OTHER HAND, AM A FULL SPRITE!”
“What?”, asked Laila, even more confused. “What are you talking about, girl?”
“I AND ALL MY ANCESTORS WERE SPRITES! I AM NOT A PINT-WHATSIT!”, the sprite girl hissed.
Gnine started to cackle.
“Pint-whatsit?”, Laila asked totally confounded. Then it dawned on her. “Girl..”, she fumed. “I was referring to your size. NOT your origin!”
“Ow!”, froze Whimsi Lola. “Is that what pint-size, means?”
Gnine’s cackle turned into a silent, vindictive laugh.
Laila glared at both of them.
“Well..”, said Lola. “In that case, I apologize for my outburst about your origin. I spoke out of turn, hence I owe you now, and must complete a task to even the scales and attain balance!”
Gnine stopped laughing and sighed.
“There is no need for that, Lola.”, he said. “We are all friends, here.”
“No.”, she objected. “We are not. I am your indentured cooperative auxiliary. That’s all. They are nothing to me, and I am nothing to them. We owe nothing to each other.”
“True. But we have shared food. You have also looked out for me, and by proxy, you have looked out for them. You have sat on Jay, and together you had fun. And both Merisoul and Laila have fought for me, and by proxy, they have fought for you and your safety.”, Gnine explained.
Whimsi Lola scowled at him.
“Let me put it this way, then.”, said Gnine. “You are not my pet, or my servant, my slave, serf, vassal, attendant, retainer, or maid, and certainly not my familiar, yes?”
Whimsi mulled over that a bit.
“No. I am not.”, she consented, though dubiously.
“I suppose that makes you, my friend. Other than an indentured cooperative auxiliary. And by my proxy, that makes them your friend as well.”
“Why do you mortals always want to complicate things, and not leave them as they are? Alright. I will concede that the ranger lieutenant and the soul bearer are my friends because thinking about this is giving me a headache and I don’t want to ask Mab if your logic is sound or fallacious and end up owing her again!”
Laila just stared at pint-size!
“Well? What do you want, Friend Ranger Leuitenant Laila Wolvesbane?”, the little sprite sniffed, a tad disdainfully.
Laila shook her head, then asked her. “You said you knew what had happened to my cousin, Bremorel Songsteel, and how she was made a lieutenant, and why..”
“Not personally, no. I overheard it mention in the Fey RSS!”, Whimsi said.
“Fey RS-what?”, Laila asked.
“Fey RSS —Rather Simple Snitching! Don’t you mortals know anything?”, she said exasperatedly.
Gnine snorted again.
“Apparently not.”, said Laila, looking up and pinching the bridge of her nose.
“Can you tell us more about what they are doing? Or how my cousin is? Do you know who she is?”
“Of course I know who she is. All fey in Ritual Forest knows all the rangers and the druids and the witches so we do not get in trouble with them.”, Whimsi Lola scoffed.
“What is she doing, then? How is my cousin?”, Laila asked excitably.
“How should I know?”, Lola asked irritably.
“But you said you knew her.”, Laila said a bit deflated.
“I know her, I don’t know what she is doing. We do not go into that place you have named Serenity Home because it is surrounded by dead trees, it has nothing but stones and iron in it and it is full of very boring mortals. Now that everyone wants to make war with everyone and kill one another, there is even more stone and iron there! And I am cut off from the Fey World ever since we entered the evil Demon Fog. I thought I told you that already. My Fey RSS is offline and I can’t even check my fe-mails!”, Whimsi explained exasperatedly.
Laila’s shoulders drooped. Just for a moment there, she had thought she could get a glimpse of her cousin’s and what she was doing and how she was..
Gnine came up to her and patted her on her hand.
“They’ll be alright, Laila. I am sure of it.”, he said kindly.
“How do you know? We are running out of time and literally stuck here.”, she seethed, her hands balling into fists.
“I know..”, said Gnine very, very seriously. “..because they had better be alright.. and because I don’t know what I’d do if they aren’t.”
✱ ✱ ✱
Perhaps Merisoul can carry you?”, Laila offered, looking down at Gnine. “I mean, even if I cast a Longstrider on you, it still won’t be enough.”
“I can’t carry him.”, Merisoul said with a confused and subdued voice. “I have managed to attain my ability to fly just recently. My wings were broken when I.. was at a very young age.. I started to work on them when I was on the roof of that inn we were staying.”
“Is that why you were always up there?”, asked Gnine.
“The rooms were crowded already. Princess Alor’Nadien ne, Laila, Lady Magella, Inshala, Sunsear.. When I entered the room, they started bumping into each other because of my wings, so as not to bump into me. So I spent most of my time up there and only came down when necessary. I did a lot of things up there. One of them was constantly moving my wings so as to strengthen them.”, she explained. “But I can dive into the chasm and come out from the other side, though if Regnalog sees me and decides to come after me, he will overtake me, and the feathers on my wings will catch fire and I will drop right into that bottomless chasm.”
“Sounds too risky, then.”, Laila said.
“Tis alright..”, she said wanly, “..and an acceptable risk. I will be only visible for but a moment as I jump down from this end. I will be totally in his line of sight when I come out on the other side though. But then, all of you will.”
“Don’t worry about me.”, said Gnine.
“Ow?”, asked Laila, staring down at the gnome with a frown and wondering just what kind of a convoluted plan he’d just come up with.
“I can simply teleport myself there.”, he said with a smirking shrug.
“You can do that?”
“Well, yes. I just said I can, didn’t I?”, he smirked some more.
“That leaves only you, dear Laila.”, Merisoul said softly.
“Whimsi can make you fly!”, offered Gnine and grinned happily.
“Thanks, but no thanks. No offense Lola, but I have seen the two of you dabble in that and how you land people. I’d rather not entertain broken arms or legs.”, she said in clear rejection.
“I wasn’t my fault!”, exclaimed Whimsi. “I told Master Gnine not to clench, but he just wouldn’t listen.”
“Clench?”, Laila asked with one arching brow.
“His butt!”, scoffed Whimsi with an exasperated voice.
Laila hurt herself.
Merisoul just stared at the tiny pint size, then at the furiously blushing gnome.
“Okay. Perhaps we can act like neither of you heard that?”, he pleaded.
“Ow, Hell no!”, smirked Laila triumphantly. “I now know all the dirty little secrets of a King!“
“Damit!”, Gnine scowled. “I am not even a king yet, and I already have blackmailers! At least let Whimsi put invisibility on you, girl!”
“What for? Balor can see invisible creatures.”, Lorna pointed.
“Yes, but he has to be near enough, you know. His Truesight skill isn’t horizon to horizon!”
“It’s alright. I can make that run in under thirty seconds!”, she smiled.
Gnine ogled at her then made a quick calculation in his mind and ended up with a claim of twenty-five feet per second on her part! Over seventeen miles an hour!
“Wow, girl. That’s around four miles more than an average human or elf!”
“Yea. I knew I was faster than the average elf, but it feels good to know just how much.”, she said happily. Then she looked at Whimsi Lola. “Can you make me invisible?”
The pint-size stared down at her with silent disdain.
“I suppose you can, then. I saw an archway at the end of the bridge. That’s where we must get it, though I do not know what will happen if Balor sees us, and decides to come after us. He might try and bring down the wall and enter, or the bridge.”, the ranger lieutenant said.
Gnine frowned a bit.
“We can’t let Balor on the bridge, no matter what. If a fight occurs and he is on that bridge, he will bring it down and that is our only sure way out, and likely the only exit for any gnomes that might still be alive. If we end up facing him, be sure to fight in that central platform.”, he said intently.
One half-born, the other half-elf, nodded at him.
“Merisoul, you are at go. I am thinking you will have to dive deep to arc back up there without Balor hearing your wing flaps, so go, now! Then it’s you, Laila. I’ll be last.”
Merrisoul walked up to the edge of the hall, turned around, and faced them. With a weak smile, she said, “I will meet you on the other side, then.”
And let herself go..
..and vanished in the pitch-black chasm.
“Damn. That is just so beautiful, scary, and awesome.”, whispered Gnine.
“Yea. Some people can do clichés and still make it look awesome.”, admitted, Laila.
“Whimsi. Are you ready?”, Gnine asked.
“Wait.”, Whimsi said. “We are NOT fighting that demon?”
“No. We are not. He is way above our pay grade. And I am not wasting the lives of my friends on a field.”, Gnine said grimly.
“Ow poo!”, pouted the pint-sized sprite. “Why don’t you just smack him with that fist of yours?”
“Again with the fist. I can’t just smack this guy, Whimsi. He won’t even feel it!”
“Well, perhaps you need bigger fists, then!”, she said disdainfully.
Gnine scowled at her.
“Whimsi, please. Do your thing and let’s get a move on, shall we? Merisoul will be out of that chasm soon.”
“Ow, alright.”, she said and flung a tiny hand full of her own pixie dust on Laila..
..and Laila vanished.
Gnine didn’t even hear her go.
“Laila? You still here?”, he asked just to be sure, but got no reply. “Right. Whimsi. On my shoulder, if you will?”
Whimsi landed on the little gnome’s shoulder and held on tight.
Gnine mimed drawing a tall, vertical rectangle, chanted a few words, reach out, and pushed the ‘door’ he had just drawn.
The ‘door’ opened, Gnine stepped through, and the door closed.
Another identical door opened, some five hundred feet away, about fifty feet before the archway, and Gnine stepped out.
He didn’t look back.
He just cast another spell and disappeared from his spot, to reappear thirty more feet away.
And ran the last twenty feet as Merisoul piked out of the chasm, her slender arms stretched and her wings flapping and thrashing furiously..
The two slid past the archway when a deep rumble, followed by the sharp cracking of a giant whip echoed..
Laila appeared, some one hundred feet away and still on the bridge, fear etched on her face. She turned around and saw the furnacing flames rise higher..
..and Balor, Regnalog, stepped out of the flames.
For an infinite second, she looked back at Gnine and Merisoul.
“RUN, YOU FOOLS!”
Her elven bow, Gracious Warning, drawn.
At the demon!
✱ ✱ ✱
WHAT IS SHE DOING?!”, shrieked Gnine!
“What a ranger should; To be the first to face evil, and the last to face evil!”, replied Merisoul. “We have been had, Master Gnine..”
Gnine started back at the bridge, quite mindlessly, and without a moment’s thought of self-preservation.
Merisoul jumped after him and toppled him over, face down, her black, raven wings beating hard to keep him down.
“Let me go, Soul! She is my friend! She needs my help!”, Gnine snarled.
“She is my friend. And she needs your mind!”, Merisoul replied hoarsely as she tried to bring some semblance of thought to the little gnome struggling to escape from under her as she pleaded desperately. “Your spells will not help against Regnalog! Please, Master Gnine. You must go! Go and find your gnomes. Find help! Make her sacrifice worth the cause!”
Gnine lost it!
He snarled and kicked and almost squirmed from under the otherworldly girl.
Leaving but little choice for the succubi half-born..
“YOU MUST NOT!”
..she heard a thundering voice crack, sharply in her head.
“I shall do what I must to save my friends!”, she replied, quite calmly, though her heart seethed, a something that had never happened before.
Merisoul Xyrotwu recognized it for what it was.
After years and years of wondering and toiling,
scheming, failing, and crying, she finally..
“..AND SUFFER THE SAME RETRIBUTION AS BEFORE!”
“Suffer me your best! I shall not abandon my friends..”, she smoldered..
..and did something she hadn’t done for a good, long while. Against all warnings, she used her heritage;
She bit the squirming and struggling gnome.. by the ear.. drew the tiniest bit of blood.. and whispered in her soft, sad, and quaking, yet mesmerizing, throbbing, and enthralling true voice..
“Go, Master Gnine. Find your gnomes. Or find help. Go and never come back without either.“
..and let go of the gnome.
Gnine jumped on his feet and spun around in circles, his eyes white and wide.
He spun once..
..and darted off into the only hall leading out.
Merisoul looked up and at the unseen sky and spoke harshly and in defiance.
“I am ready. Bring me down your retribution and smite me.. I only ask for the brief duration of a delay to save my friends. This, I am sure, I have thus earned. This I ask, in the name of Compassion!”
“WHO ARE YOU TO SPEAK OF COMPASSION?”
“Someone who was born with it, lost it, then found it again.”
The Voice of Wrath fell silent.
“STILL TRYING TO ATTAIN YOUR ASCENSION THROUGH FOLLY?”
Arezme Ara Serraphyn spoke.
“Have your precious Ascension, Priceptine. I care little anymore. Judge or Speak, but either way, I will save my friends, for they have given me something you never bothered; a heart!”
✱ ✱ ✱
Regnalog rose out the incinerating flames, and with a thunderous boom, he stepped forth, a monstrosity, some twenty-five feet high with thirty-foot wingspan wielding a fifteen-foot, burning scimitar in one, great, scaly and clawed hand, and a long, barbed, and crackling whip in the other, and all of him reeking in his own sheets of flames.
With a powerful beat of his enormous, bat-like wings he launched himself..
..and with a thunderclap, he landed before the tiny-looking mortal girl, defiantly running at him!
Ranger Lieutenant Laila Wolvesbane did not wait nor pause for any dramatic effects, nor for any challenges or counter verbal spat, no thundering, righteous demands of ‘yield or die’s.. She was a ranger and rangers had little use for stupid!
She had but a single mission in her mind;
Keep the demon off the bridge, keep it busy and stay alive.
The last part was important. And not in just a self-preservation sense, but dead people were dead and could not help their friends.
Laila was a practical girl like that.
She drew her long, elven bow as she ran. The legendary bow of Silendenien Sunlight, Princess Lorna’s long-deceased aunt, murdered during the first Themalsar War some eight hundred years ago by the mad priest himself, and the youngest of the three siblings; High Lady Angrellen Sunsear and Ri Grandaleren Feymist; Gracious Warning, started to glow and radiate. It was not burning with fire, but that of brilliant golden light.
“The ‘Warning’ is over..”, she whispered in exhilarated fear. “Time to be ‘Gracious!'”
Laila loosed the arrow as she ran and cocked a second, almost seamlessly, and loosed that one as well.
The arrows, burning bright and gold, streaked through the air and struck home..
The monstrosity barely noticed them as they hit, one on its massive chest, one on the shoulder.
But then they bloomed!
With a searing, radiant light, the arrows bloomed and burned the demon.
..and brought its smoldering sword down.
..and she never stopped.
The fiery, molten scimitar sliced and the whole platform quaked as large rocks and boulders came crashing from above with choking dust and debris.
Laila stumbled, for a mere brief moment, regained her balance, and once more, she was on the run as she sent two more arrows; one burned and winked out in cinders, but the second struck.. and also bloomed with brilliant, radiant light before it too burned and turned to ash.
“Those arrows cost money, dammit!”, hissed the half-elf girl, and loosed two more.
Again and again, her Gracious Warning sent blooming arrows and sparked on the Balor, each causing the great demon to howl and roar, bringing more rubble and rocks down.
..and with a thunderclap, brought his whip.
The whip cracked like nothing Laila had experienced before as long, jagged streaks of lightning jabbed at her and the barbs of the whip crashed, opening a sharp fissure in the platform that crawled and branched, sending bits and piece of rock, shrapneling in every direction.
Laila crumbed on her knees in pain, bloodied and bruised, and smoke boiled out of her scarred leathers. “No, dammit.”, she snarled and rolled on broken, jagged rocks as the thundered whip and came down again, followed by the screeching wind of the burning scimitar!
✱ ✱ ✱
Gnine Tinkerdome ran as he’d never ran before. It was like he was under some mindless compulsion or even a geas. Deep down, something told him it was the touch of the succubi half-born that had driven him into such dire straights, but the voice was subdued, and for some unknown reason, seemed to agree with her.
So he ran, for how long, he couldn’t discern, but the stabbing pain at his side told him he was tethering at the end of his endurance. Still, he ran because the voice, the other one, the soft, sad, and beautifully enthralling voice had told him to go and to never come back. Not without his gnomes, or help!
It was then, he stumbled into the large, circular chamber at the end of the hall. The room was perhaps one hundred feet across and eighty feet deep and for a bare moment, he did wonder why gnomes built rooms, chambers, and halls always so much larger than they would possibly need. Even the hall he’d just ran through had been at least thirty feet wide and possibly sixty feet high.
With haste born of desperation, he looked around and noted the room was not empty. There was strange machinery of one kind of another scattered everywhere, consisting mostly of consoles with odd, blocky buttons, arms, levers, and knobs, and many, many small screens and displays, though they were all dead, blank, or just cracked or smashed.
The main display, the one in the center, however, was huge, perhaps sixteen feet wide and nine feet high. Though it too was somewhat cracked at one corner and chipped on its dusty surface, it had somehow remained intact.
And there, right under it, was an elegantly molded, brushed steel, double-handled circuit breaker. And right under that was a label embossed on a brass plaque in some strange, cryptic letters, and in elder gnomish;
“if you are”
Gnine had no idea what that meant. But he grabbed at the circuit breaker and pulled it down.
Because at that moment, a deep, thunderous roar and the crack of lightning echoed down the hall and he was just that desperate.
He heard a sudden, whining sound coming from somewhere under his feet followed by numerous large, clanking, metallic noises, the lights on many of the panels burst alive making odd, jarring sounds, and most of the unbroken smaller screens and displays lit, scrolling some green, mono-space texts with a lot of alpha-numerical jibberish..
..and that’s it.
Nothing else happened!
“Are you kidding me?”, Gnine cried deploringly. “We came all the way, and bleeding along, here, and that’s it? Some weird whining and clanking and some creepy light show in retro, steamchunk theme?”
Then he heard, quite clearly, a matronly voice, though a bit on the squeaky side;
> Voice Activation: Verified!
> Welcome, Gnine Tinkerdome.
> You are now in the HQ of Silent Vaults.
> Please select from the choices presented on the main display using the GID – Gnomic Interaction Device and press the [ENTER] key!
> You will receive a verification code for confirmation which you must also enter, using the GID.
> Should you wish to listen to the instruction again, please press 1..
> Thank you and have a nice day.
And with ogling fascination, Gnine stared as blocky gnomish texts that came scrolling down the big, main display.
>  Listen to the Instructions.
>  Security Cameras and Alarms.
> Current Status: OFFLINE.
>  Cryo-Sleep/Hydration Chamber.
> Current Status: ACTIVE.
>  Sentinel Turrets (Caution).
> Current Status: OFFLINE.
>  Power Lines and Ventilation.
> Current Status: OFFLINE.
>  Water Lines and Aqueducts.
> Current Status: OFFLINE.
>  Sewers and Recycling.
> Current Status: OFFLINE.
>  System Updates (Admin Status Required)
> Current Status: 2,793 Pending Updates.
>  ULTRABER! (Extreme Caution).
> Current Status: OFFLINE.
As dumbfounded as he was, Gnine’s mind worked at an incredible pace as he ran down the list and promptly hit the number , on the GID —Gnomic Interaction Device!
Whatever this all was, it wasn’t just magic and gnomic engineering at its best, it was base, mad, ingenuity. Something only someone like him would have admired and found genuinely appealing.
A tiny, pipsqueak voice buzzed in his head.
> Verification Code for Security Cameras and Alarms
Gnine quickly entered the four digits into the GID and while many of the smaller screens stayed dark or had random dots and lines of static, some did show live images in black and white. And in one of them, he could see the great, very nearly endless vault of tombs they had seen. And in the image, he saw dark, clawing figures creeping in their direction. In another display, he saw Laila crash into the ground, bloodied and bruised as something huge raised its seething sword!
“Regnalog!”, hissed Gnine and hit , , , and then !
He was suddenly spammed by a number of tiny, buzzing squeaks!
> Verification Code for Power Lines and Ventilation
> Verification Code for Water Lines and Aqueducts
> Verification Code for Sewers and Recycling
> Verification Code for Sentinel Turrets (Caution)
He entered all the codes, one by one, through the GID and the whole room lit by some sourceless-seeming ambient light. Through the security screens, he could see more tunnels, halls, and chambers light up. He wasn’t sure what Water Lines and Aqueducts, and Sewers and Recycling had done, but the list had refreshed and they now showed their current status as; ONLINE!
The effect of the cautioned Sentinel Turrets turned out to be quite a bit more distinct..
On the tiny screen, displaying the tomb room, many contraptions sprung from the floor and walls, and in a bloody rain of deadly projectiles, the demons there were all nothing but indiscernible heaps!
“Alright.. that was a bit gruesome..”, he said in a sick voice. “Effective though!”
Then he slammed the console and screamed with despair.
“All of this is nice and cool but they aren’t helping Laila!”
Then he saw it.
He didn’t pause, he didn’t hesitate.
He hit his own number:  —ULTRABER!
> Verification Code for ULTRABER! (Extreme Caution)
Another loud clanking noise came and this one just to his right. A section of the wall dropped down and disappeared into the ground, revealing something.. HUGE!
It was perhaps eighteen feet high, made out of steel and perhaps some kind of carbon alloy with an elongated, egg-like head, a round, tubular torso, long, segmented arms that very nearly reached down to the floor and ended with three-fingered, pincer-like hands. It seemed old because it was covered in dust and rust all over.
With a sharp hiss, the front of the tubular torso opened, not unlike a window shutter, revealing a tiny, compact room with many buttons, arms, levers, and knobs, and a small, gnome-sized armchair.
Gnine cackled with glee.
“Larger fists, did you say? Larger fists, INCOMING!”
And as if on cue, a rope ladder rolled down and all fell silent again, waiting..
Gnine slithered up the rope ladder and hopped into the seat and noted the inside of the.. whatever this thing was.. was quite clean and dust-free. He poked his head out and looked a bit more closely at the paint job and noticed..
“Damn. It’s retro-paint! Someone’s gone to some serious trouble to give this a steamchunk-look. Obsession, much?”
Then he looked around him and noticed all the buttons, arms, levers, and knobs were neatly labeled. There was even a bundled user manual!
“I’d say, someone really wants me to use this!”, he cackled some more.
He grabbed the user manual and skimmed through it. By the time he was done, in under two, short minutes, he was amazed.. and somewhat scared..
This.. thing.. ominously named ULTRABER, was not a toy. It was a weapon of potential mass destruction!
“Looks like someone was preparing for a rainy day!”, he murmured, then turned to the little sprite, Whimsi Lola, who had been silently hovering just over his head with a frightened expression on her tiny face and said in a low, growly voice.
“You will wait here, my little friend. Balor is not something you can fight. This, I think you already know. I am aware that you don’t owe Laila Wolvesbane anything, but should I not come back, I would like you to stay with her and keep her safe and happy, just like you did with me. And should.. neither of us comes back, you can stick with Miss Merisoul, or you may return to your forest and unindentured. You owe nothing to anyone anymore, my little friend. Savvy?”
Whimsi Lola stared at him.. with a running nose!
“I have no idea what savvy means, but I will honor this last bequest of yours, Master Gnine.. I shall wait here, a year and a day. And should you or Friend Ranger Lieutenant Laila Wolvesbane have not returned by then, I shall take my leave and return to.. Mab.. Dammit! I was this close to having escaped her!”, she sniffed and drifted off and perched herself in front of one of the security displays and started slurping something out of a tiny little can!
“Right.”, said Gnine grimly and slapped the big HATCH button, shutting the doors of the DOCKPIT, oddly named as it was, and pulled at the STARTUP lever, and smashed down the foot paddles..
ULTRABER lurched forward, taking a giant step, followed by another as Gnine paddled the mechanical monstrosity using his feet and spun the torso and the arms using the two, steel, circuit breaker levers.
Then he punched another button labeled;
Terminal Output Neuro
“Hold on, girl.”, he hissed through gritted teeth. “Never just ended! I am coming..”
✱ ✱ ✱
Laila tumbled and rolled, barely keeping a step ahead of the lightning whip and the molten blade but Regnalog never gave her the chance. He roared and bellowed and smashed his fiery scimitar with the fury of Hell and sent streaks of lightning each time he clapped his whip.
Laila felt her strength drain as she bled from numerous cuts, burns, and wounds as exhaustion settled in.
“Not gonna give in! My friends depend on me, dammit. My father doesn’t even know where I am! I can’t let him suffer the same thing he did after my mother died. Not again..”, she squeezed the words and sent another blooming arrow.
Then, just for a moment, Balor stumbled.
And Merisoul appeared, high and above, and a long streak of brilliant golden light streaked out of her hands and struck the monstrous demon. Then she sent another beam of the same golden, radiant light.. and another!
Laila had seen the odd, otherworldly girl mime that same way before. Many, many times. It has been her go-to spell! Much like shooting arrows was hers. But always before, it had been a dark, purplish, lightning-like thing. Now it was this brilliant, golden, radiant, streaking beam.. The change was significant, Laila was sure of it. She just couldn’t figure out what.. or why? Or perhaps she was just so hurt, bloodied, and tired. Nevertheless, she didn’t waste the opportunity. She held her breath, carefully aimed, and loosed two more arrows.
One struck Regnalog on the temple, causing it to howl and roar, and inevitably turn her way, a something Laila had anticipated. Her second arrow struck him..
..in the eye!
Balor froze, for just a moment, and the arrow bloomed!
With a searing golden explosion, Regnalog’s eye turned into a gaping, cavernous, empty hole!
The wrath of Balor knew no bounds after that. A wave of molten flames burst out of him, burning everything in its path. The fire spread along the platform leaving nowhere to hide.
Laila’s last thought was, “Totally worth it, bitch!”
Then the flames washed over her, and swept her away, not unlike a tsunami.
With one short cry of pain, Laila Wolvesbane was gone and over the edge.
Her whites visible with fear and terror, she disappeared in the bottomless chasm..
✱ ✱ ✱
Good afternoon, Gnine Tinkerdome.”, said a raspy, tenoric voice.
“Gimme all the specs of this ULTRABER thingy!”, he barked.
“ULTRABER; The Ultimate Mechanical Bear—”, started T.O.N.I.C.
“Bear? This thing looks nothing even remotely like a bear!”, scowled Gnine.
“—is totally corrosion-proof and can stay up to five hours underwater and is airtight, effectively making you immune to viral, bacterial, and/or fungal infections and diseases and poisons in gaseous forms for the duration. It can stay functional in arctic conditions and can stay in pressurized lava for up to thirty minutes before the DOCKPIT is ruptured. It has a wide variety of weapons; one AEARFGL —Area Effect Air Propelled Fire Grenade Launcher on the right and one STAGL —Single Target Acid Grenade Launcher on the left shoulder, one ASGL —Area Stun Grenade Launcher on the lower turret, one stationary FRBC —Focused Radiance Beam Condenser right above the DOCKPIT, and two HVPARGs —High-Velocity Projectile Auto Reloading Guns, one on each arm! The ULTRABER can punch through an average enforced siege wall at a rate of one foot of seamless stone per ten minutes. Its pincers can eviscerate a dragon’s hide with little trouble, and has ALG —Auto Leveling Gyro to move its legs automatically to avoid tumbling or falling. And of course, the built-in USDS —Ultimate Self Destruct System that can level a half-mile radius and an EEM —Emergency Ejection Mechanism!”
“Girl, whoever you are, you sure like your acronyms, don’t you? Lost a lot of sleep over them, I am sure!”, mumbled Gnine, and stepped on it.. figuratively..
ULTRABER moved at an impressive speed and agility and Gnine figured out why the halls, the tunnels, the corridors, and the rooms of Silent Hills were so big, wide, and high..
“Damn. They must have thought of making multiple numbers of these monstrosities!”, he frowned as he carefully inspected all the other labels under each button, arm, lever, switch, and knob, and there were a lot of them!
Most of them were self-explanatory, others were left without any explanations but sounded more like names.
One punch-button read; [CORA] and Gnine’s fingers itched to hit it.
The itch won and he yelped when the DOCKPIT was suddenly filled with cool, arctic air and the temperature inside dropped drastically.
Another such button read; [BROM] and Gnine stared at it suspiciously but punched it anyway and a strange tune began to play in the DOCKPIT..
It was a savage tune. A beastly, intriguing, itching, rapid, and very nearly asynchronous tune.
It was a tune that reached Gnine at his most, basic level. It was a tune that had been created by someone who had suffered the toils of the Great Northern Tundras and it was a tune that was the culmination of that frozen land as he’d seen it, beheld it, and understood it; wild, free, endless, and tormentingly beautiful!
And it seized Gnine, hit him over the head, concussed him, and left him stunned and bewildered..
“Damn, girl!”, Gnine said, a bit awed. “This is one good song to go to war!”
Then he noted the third button with another name; [SERESSA]!
Somewhat elated by the previous two buttons, he mindlessly hit this one as well.
Gnine thought he heard a very faint hiss, but nothing else happened.
“Perhaps this one is broken.”, he mused as ULTRABER clanked arduously down the hall.
Then he picked up the scent!
It was a beautiful, brushing scent, perhaps of ripe strawberries, or cherry blooms, or.. phloxes?.. and something else.. something intimate.. and tender.. and feminine.. and soft.. and..
Gnine blushed furiously.
“Alright.. Apparently, someone had some interesting fetishes! Better mark this one off as ‘off limits’..”, he coughed.
Whatever this SERESSA was, it definitely was an.. exhilarating.. yes.. honestly exhilarating.. chemical!
Then there was the [DIE BIACH!] button and Gnine had no intentions of ever touching that one!
Red lights suddenly lit inside the DOCKPIT and the raspy, tenoric voice of T.O.N.I.C was heard again.
“Warning! Warning! High-temperature heatwave signature detected! UEA —Unknown Extraterrestrial Anomaly sighted! Analysis Reports: Balor; Class X Demon. Extremely Dangerous.. Arming STAGL, ASGL, FRBC, and the HVPARGs.. Distance: 700 ft. and closing.. Route: Civilian Bridge.. Status: Damaged Infrastructure.. Suggested Exit Strategy: Full Thrusters!”
“Full Thrusters!”, barked Gnine and ULTRABER bursts forward and Gnine felt himself flatten against the DOCKPIT armchair! At an accelerated speed, the hall suddenly ended and ULTRABER rammed right through the wall, and over the bottomless chasm!
✱ ✱ ✱
Merisoul watched her friend get flung over the edge and disappear in the chasm with unadulterated horror as she heard her tiny yelp over the roaring fire.
She wasn’t quite sure which hurt more, that her friend, Laila had just vanished into the bottomless chasm, or that her wings had caught fire and she was slowly but ultimately burning.
“So be it.”, she murmured.
Slowly she tilted..
..and piked down and after the ranger lieutenant!
She felt every single one of her feathers simmer, shrivel, and disintegrate by the fire of Balor, and tears of pain streaked out the side of her sad, solemn eyes. Her slender arms stretched before her, she made herself as small as possible and beat her wings savagely to attain a speed faster than terminal velocity, otherwise, there would be no catching up to her friend no matter how far down they fell. The gaping distance between them just would never close..
With a burst of sparkling cinders, her wings burned out and she saw Laila, her eyes closed, her boldly beautiful face pinched in pain and horror, her long, soft, brown hair lashing wildly and her beloved elven bow clutched tightly to her chest, she portrayed a figure who knew she had done all she could but it just hadn’t been enough.
“Your eyes.. Open them, my friend..”, Merisoul sent her thought at her.
“Mm.. Merisoul?“, Laila mumbled with fright.
“Yes. I am coming.. Open your eyes, for they are pretty and I must see!”, Merisoul whispered.
“Don’t come. There’s no coming back! Help Gnine. At least he should get to be king and save my home..”, she whispered back.
“Together. We agreed on this. When we first went into the Fog, did we not?”
“Yes. We did. But I am done and you can’t carry me out.”
“No. I can’t. Regnalog burned my wings.”, Merisoul said sadly.
“Then, why come?”, Laila asked and opened her eyes to see the odd, otherworldly girl rushing at her.
“Because no one should die alone..”
“Go back, girl. I am sure you can save yourself. You excel at everything you do.”
“I have never used a bow like you. And never had a heart like yours.”
“Take the bow. Gracious Warning shouldn’t be lost in the debts of some bottomless pit. As for the heart, I believe yours is the greatest one there is. No one has suffered what you have, and still did the things you did for any mortal. Yet you have.. Take the bow and go back.. Tell Gnine.. and my father.. and my cousin.. I am sorry..”, Laila said and closed her eyes again as pain engulfed her.
“Sacrifice..“, Merisoul whispered..
“..Should not be wasted thus gratis!”
Soul Bearer closed her eyes and mind..
And she turned off the world.
The wind rushed fiercely.
Tears ran and free.
And her heart..
I am not a taker, my dear girl.
I do not take.
Now, is my turn to give back.
Please. I must save my friend.
You plead a bargain with me
to save a mortal, at the expense
of your own life?
My whole life, I sought a heart.
This moral learned me mine.
And for the first time, I ‘felt’.
It is beautiful!
Thus, you are..
I have attained my merry soul, at last.
Nothing more have I wanted.
The purpose I set for myself,
and my existence is done and done.
Nay, dear girl.
Your existence has just begun.
She has love and loved ones. I do not.
Few will shed tears after me
and forgotten shall I be soon enough.
Her father and her friends shall mourn
for many long years, and many mortals
shall die because she has..
You undervalue your existence.
You have friends and a BFF, do you not?
My mirima Temez is strong.
No, dear child.
She is strong, because of you.
Please, just do it!
You are bonded.
I must but ask Priceptine.
No.. He does not understand..
A silly and foolish girl is all I am to Him.
Perhaps you think Him silly and foolish,
missing the point where He isn’t?
He has been nothing but cruel to me.
He has been everything but cruel to you.
He will never consent to my Ascension!
It was never up to Him,
nor was His concession ever required
for your Ascension.
He hurt me and pummeled me,
like a drunkard upon his woman!
He was trapped in that locket,
because of your former master!
He.. he knew?
Of course, dear.
How could he not?
Did I not know who you were,
when we first met?
Can’t you just do it?
Before He comes?
I gave you my hand when you asked.
You owe me..
You have me your hand
because you are kind.
Yet you want to bargain your existence
for the sins of your former master?
Because she is my friend.
She learned me my heart..
I feel now. It is beautiful.
And I am scared..
My dear Merisoul..
Live up to your name and live a merry soul.
Offer yourself the time to attain that, at least,
before giving up. Do not deny this of yourself.
I have attained all I wanted.
I am free of Hell.
My BFF is free of Hell.
All my kind are free of Hell
we have ‘life’, we have ‘heart’,
and we have ‘choice’ now.
And this is mine.
Please.. Honor it..
For one thousand six hundred years
have I suffered the vilest sins at the hands
of your former master.
Gladly would I suffer more and a like amount
for the single beat of your heart.
My heart has beat enough.
Her’s must more!
Priceptine, if you will..
AHHH, AD ARA..
IT HAS BEEN TOO LONG AND THE MORTAL COIL
HAS SUFFERED YOUR ABSENCE.
This merry soul would wish to trade her
existence for mine to save her friend.
You must agree on this, and free her
of your bond.
HOW MANY MORE TIMES
MUST SHE BARGAIN FOR HER FRIENDS?
SHE CAN DO AS SHE PLEASES.
FOR SHE IS MORTAL NOW!
SHE HAS HEART!
I.. I am?
YOU TRULY ARE
A FOOLISH AND SILLY GIRL!
DO YOU NOT HEAR
THE MORTAL BEAT OF YOUR OWN HEART, NOW?
CRUEL, THOUGH, YOU HAVE THOUGHT I BE,
YOU MUST KNOW, A HEART MAY NOT BE GIVEN.
IT MUST BE REALIZED. FOR WHAT IS GIVEN
CAN NEVER BE AS PRECIOUS AS WHAT IS EARNED.
AND A HEART THAT DOES NOT BEAT, IS BUT A DEAD HEART.
OF ALL MORTALS, I WOULD HAVE THOUGHT
A FOOLISH AND SILLY LITTLE GIRL SUCH AS YOURSELF
WOULD HAVE NOTICED THIS,
FOR IT WAS YOU, WHO STOPPED YOUR OWN,
TO START ANOTHER’S, ONCE, DID YOU NOT?
AND SHOULD THE SAID HEART WANT TO BEAT, IT MUST BEAT ON ITS OWN, AND WILLINGLY, AND MUSTN’T EXPECT OTHERS TO SQUEEZE IT TO KEEP IT ALIVE! THAT WOULD BE A RATHER SLOTH EXPECTATION, WOULDN’T YOU AGREE?
YES, I AM THE ARCHANGEL OF WRATH AND THAT IS MY PRIMARY ASPECT, AND TIME AND AGAIN, I HAVE WATCHED THE FRUITLESS EFFORTS OF MORTALS SIN ONE ANOTHER OVER AND OVER, OVER THE CYCLES,
HENCE I HAVE GROWN WEARY OF THEM
AND MY WRATH UPON THEM IS JUSTIFIED.
BUT I DO NOT LACK COMPASSION.
IT IS TRUE, COMPASSION IS NOT MY PRIMARY ASPECT,
BUT ONE CAN NOT BE AN ANGEL AND LACK IT!
THIS TOO, I THINK A GIRL AS FOOLISH AND SILLY
AND AS DEAR AS YOU WOULD HAVE RECOGNIZED, YES?
CONSIDERING THE CARE AND COMPASSION YOU HAVE THUS SHOWN, NOT ONLY TO YOUR MORTAL FRIENDS
BUT SAVING YOUR BEST FIEND FRIENDS AS WELL.
I AM WRATH, TRUE, BUT MY CLOSEST AND DEAREST FRIEND
HAS ALWAYS BEEN COMPASSION!
SUFFICE TO SAY, AREZME ARA SERRAPHYN
(INSERT ALL YOUR OTHER SILLY NAMES),
THE CHOICE IS YOURS.
IT ALWAYS WAS..
..I choose her life,
over my existence..
Hoist her from this bottomless pit.
For she belongs not here..
Here, it is dark, it is bleak
and it is lonely..
✱ ✱ ✱
The walls shattered like eggshells and ULTRABER burst out! And with a great, graceful arc, it arched over the bottomless chasm, and slammed into Regnalog!
The monstrous Balor roared and grabbed at the giant mechaber and struck, hurling ULTRABER back.
ULTRABER’s ALG —Auto Leveling Gyro kicked in and it landed on its legs and a shaft of brilliant, searing light burst from its chest and struck Balor, leaving a gaping hole on his giant torso.
And with a series of plunk, plunk, plunk, plunk sounds, a volley of Acid Grenades launched from one shoulder, leaving marred, molten, fleshless scars on the bellowing Balor.
“You.. you son of a.. You killed Laila.. my best friend.. the only person who was always with me! And you killed Merisoul.. the only person who never judged me.. You.. They.. They were my friends you bastard!”, spluttered Gnine, in the DOCKPIT, his eyes ablaze and burning with hate..
“DIE BIACH!”, he screamed..
..and hit the [DIE BIACH!] button!
The tenoric voice of T.O.N.I.C screeched in the tubular DOCKPIT;
“DIE BIACH Protocol initiated!”
“Warning! System Overload in 3.. 2.. 1..”
ALL AT ONCE!
The STAGs (Single Target Acid Grenades) hissed wildly with mad, chaotic, arching fumes as every single acid grenade volleyed forth, and all at once.. The ASGs (Area Stun Grenade) plunged —all of them— and with ear-bleeding and eye-searing thunderclaps, detonated around Balor. The FRB (Focused Radiance Beam), stabbed and speared right through him like the wrath of Shal -ah Galad, the Spear of Light, itself! And with a roaring Ratta Ta Ta Ta Ta Ta Ta staccato, the two HVPARGs (High-Velocity Projectile Auto Reloading Guns) zapped and zigzagged like thousands of fist-sized angry hornets buzzing with red-orange trail-lines, and left bloody cloud puffs wherever they hit, and ULTRABER emptied the whole content of its destructive payload!..
Not satisfied, Gnine spun the ULTRABER at a wide, ultra-speed velocity, and struck with one eviscerating pincer followed immediately by the other..
Over and over and over again, like some crazed desert dervish..
And with a tremendous and resounding crash, Regnalog’s massive head smashed into the burning platform, right next to its shredded, molten, seared, riddled, and ravaged body!
✱ ✱ ✱
Gnine slammed at the [CORA] button and flushed the overheated DOCKPIT, then hit the HATCH button and ULTRABER’s tubular torso split open. He tossed the rope ladder and scrambled down and ran to the side of the platform, tears running shamelessly down his pinched and distorted face.
“LAILA! LAILA?”, he shouted down the bottomless chasm and his tenoric voice echoed through the Silent Vaults, perhaps the only live gnome’s voice to have been heard since the Demon Fog.
“No, girl..”, he wept and fell on his back fisting his hands. “It was supposed to be me! Not her! Why? Why, dammit? She was nothing but a good, brave girl, and the only person to have bothered to be my friend! No kingdom is worth this.. No kingdom can replace her.”
It took him a while to notice the screaming wind.
When he did, he noticed the brilliant golden light rising out of the bottomless chasm.
He stared at it with hopeless abandon and with incredible speed, the golden radiance came out of the chasm, and lo..
Gnine Tinkerdome beheld the most beautiful and awe-inspiring sight he had ever seen.
A tall, slim figure in some ancient but delicate golden plate armor, her face luminous and serene, her eyes lost in the far distances of eternity, her majestic, snowy-white wings stretched far and wide, an Angel rose!
Ad Ara rose..
And in her arms, she held Laila Wolvesbane.
“Behold, young Master Gnine Tinkerdome, for I gift you, your friend back. Love her, care for her, and cherish her, for she has fought bravely and valiantly and against a foe much disproportionate to herself for you, your people, your Silent Vaults, and the cause of decent men. Had there been but a few more of her brave and arduous kind, this world would have been a merrier place..”, Ad Ara said, her gentle voice echoing and reverberating in vast halls of Silent Hills, and gently, she settled the depleted form of Laila on the platform.
Gnine just ogled at her.
“Merisoul?”, Gnine chocked in a hushed voice.
“Dear Merisoul Xyrotwu has parted. Her last wish was of sacrifice; the life of her friends for her existence. Cherish that, also, for methinks that is the greatest of sacrifices and par to Ascension.”
“No..”, mumbled Gnine and saw Laila too was awake and silently crying where she lay. “She.. she is one of us! She belongs to us.. She is our friend!”
“Thus you are, and thus you, Gnine Tinkerdome, and you, Laila Wolvesbane have fought, time and again against the sins of men and that of foul fiends and demons, risking your lives in return, did you not? At any time, could either of you, or your beloved company could have perished. Knew you this risk, and still took it, did you not? And willingly did you still sweat, and bleed and oft times, endangered your very lives for such noble a task.. Thus has she.. Mourn not, for her sacrifice was not in vain nor was it a folly loss; she saw the merit of her friends, because of her friends.. She weighed the value of your friendship and the worth of your lives, so much dear to her, as she saw it, understood it, and felt it, and against her very existence and deemed it a worthy exchange. Know though, her choice was well informed and done willingly. Her last and only bequest was that you, Laila Wolvesbane, keep her ever-loyal familiar, Jay, and comfort him, for he will not understand sacrifice, but only live its consequences.. Farewell and rejoice, for she and I are now, Xyrone..”
And with that, and with a brilliant, golden, radiance, Ad Ara, the Archangel of Compassion streaked up, and up, and was gone!
And the only thing that remained was the sound of smoldering flames of what was once Balor, Regnalog..
..and the croaking whimpers of a tiny dragon.
✱ ✱ ✱
Are you ready?”, Gnine asked with a subdued voice and hiccuped, when he heard little Jay’s whimpering croak again..
..and broke down, once more.
Laila sniffed loudly as she came up to him and held him tightly in her scarred embrace.
“I don’t even..”, she began and faltered. “I don’t even know what to tell the others..”
“I don’t even know what to tell myself!”, mumbled Gnine as he sobbed. “She was so nice. Always there for me, for you, for the others.. She was nice even to Aager and Anglenna and no one is nice to those two!”
“Accept Inshala.”, Laila said and sniffed again.
“Ow. My. Good. Heavens! Inshala! What are we going to tell her? She will be devastated!”, Gnine’s muffled and broken voice came from Laila’s embrace.
The Ranger Lieutenant did not reply.
Silently, she wiped her eyes and reached over to the GID-thingy, Gnine had shown her.. and finished what they had come for; quietly, she pressed , then looked at the gnome, with tears running down her eyes again.
> Verification Code for Cryo-Sleep/Hydration Chamber
..buzzed the tiny, tenoric voice in Gnine’s mind.
“You do it..”, he mumbled.. “2-8-0-8.. It’s the day when the bloody Demon Fog first settled on Silent Hills.. 28.08.7316!”
..and cried some more.
The war hadn’t even begun yet and they had already started losing friends!
Her face pale, soot smudged, bloody, tear blotched, and drawn, Laila Wolvesbane tapped in the numbers and hit [ENTER]..
“I believe this belonged to you..”
Whatever it may be.
Wherever it may be.
However, it may be.
It is the beginning of
Whether the deed is something
as earth-shaking, and likely damning as
hitting a ‘Red Button’ that will culminate
with the possible incineration of millions,
as dramatic as that may sound,
or something as mundane as picking up
a stray bit of trash and putting it in a bin,
it begins with a Choice, yes?
What makes a choice
Worthy, so the speak, however, is the Why!
The Why, in many cases, may very well end up
being irrelevant, from the size and depth
of the deed, or for the people involved.
But there always is a Why, because Why gives
us the ultimate answer to the reason,
or the excuse, for the Deed.
Now, from a ‘High Heavens’ point of view,
the relation between Why and Deed
becomes much more relevant.
Whether one believes there might,
or might not be a High Heaven(s),
is one’s personal flavor..
..or a matter of hubris.
At this distinct and isolated moment,
it doesn’t really matter what we refer to Heavens as;
be it the fields of Elysium,
the infinite gardens of Jannah,
the lush of Eden, Paradise, Pearly Gates, Shamayim,
Nirvana, the Halls of Valhalla, or simply,
Heaven, in singular or plural,
and in one form or another,
mankind has believed it since time immemorial,
and discarding the concept as a whole
out of tangible and rational wont of science
sounds a lot like arrogance, obstinacy..
..or sheer spite..
A something, methinks, is also hubris..
..however, that, in itself,
might be a matter of debate..
Much like ignoring it for the lack of proof, is.
Particularly when one expects tangibility
where ‘belief’ is concerned, since, what is tangible
can no longer be subjected to belief, for it is now
a concrete, doomed to petrify, ‘fact’, and an act
quite proportionally irrational in itself.
The point that is relevant to the
matter at hand is, much like there is
a relation, and perhaps,
a correlation between
Deed and Why
there is one between
Deed and Consequence.
“Choice” and “Consequence”..
This story is the continuation of the series;
The Malediction of ‘Rellen.. (Part 3/3)
“Three Dog Curse”.
It takes place on the same night as
We Are Not Your Dogs.
We Are Not Your Servants.
We Are Your Masters!
and soon after
“Mother, why?”, Vivid Visions
It must be noted that this story is also, in a way,
the ultimate conclusory ending of another story;
Neye bulaştın, Felishia? (18+)
(continued from the story; Temporal Insanity)
And this is why we don’t intermix spells, dear.”, Anglenna heard her mother’s voice in her head.
“Mother..”, she said with a resigned tone as she picked herself up, and careful not to step on her own retch, moved towards the sandbag barricade and the still-burning hall beyond it. “..don’t you have anything better to do?”
“Such as?”, asked the former high lady of Bari Na-ammen.
“I don’t know, cities to burn, atrocities to overwatch, clandestine meetings to attend, corners to skulk, conspiracies to orchestrate, schemes to deliberate, .. You know, people to betray?”, she replied with weary sarcasm.
“My dear daughter, I resent the fact that you would cast me as the evil boss cliché, though designating me as THE BOSS has a nice ring to it, which is what I am; YOUR BOSS, aside from being your mother..”, Angrellen replied happily.
Anglenna snorted as she peered into the furnacing fire, still burning savagely in the hall.
“You? Boss?”, she said. “This is bad even for a merry jester. No, mother, you are no boss. You are a TOOL!”
Her mother, however, did not reply.
“You.. you are actually serious!”, Anglenna exclaimed as let go of her hold on her fire spell, and the flames dimmed, diminished, and died, leaving a long, blackened, and smoking hall, leading somewhere off and away from the original sewers. “You actually believe in what you just said!”
“I don’t do jesters, my daughter. You MUST have noticed that in the past near-two-centuries you have been under my roof.“, her mother said, without any trace of merry in it.
“So I have, mother. The sick, psychotic woman that you are, you lack the inhibitions for any form of ‘merry’, which begs the question; why do all the things you did in hopes of living forever? If you can’t and won’t be happy, nor feel any merry in the end?”, her daughter asked, actually wondering just what kind of demented reply she would get, as she took a quick, mental inventory of all the spells she had left available to her, along with the items she had on her.
“Happy? Are you for real, girl? Have I taught you nothing at all? And here I thought I had learned you some realities of life.. We don’t live for ‘happy’, my daughter. We live for the satisfaction of destroying our enemies. This, you will understand in time.”, Angrellen said in a low, whispering hiss.
“Mother, you had no enemies.. You created them in your sick mind. Then you worked, day and night, and made them real. No, mother. People like you create enemies by way of your simple existence.”, Anglenna said, with her lips pressed together and checked her quarterstaff. She liked the old piece of oak. It didn’t really help her in any way when it came to casting her spells, nor infuse them with power. It certainly wasn’t much of a focusing item either.. and got in her way when she needed both hands where she would end up just letting it drop on the ground, much to her clattering dismay. But it had saved her life.. Once.. Nearly a century ago, when she’d gone out on her first ‘suffer the toils of real experience’, as her mother had called it.
Angrellen had always been like that; toss the chick off the nest. If it’s smart, it would fly. If it isn’t, well, there just wasn’t place for the stupid, the dull-witted, and the fool..
Not under Angrellen’s roof!
Her first encounter ever had been against one such dull-witted goblin, not that Anglenna herself had been any better; she had freaked and ran, with the goblin chasing after her. As slim and tall as she had always been, Anglenna had never done much in the way of physical exercise.
The goblin, who likely had hunted for a living all its life, apparently had had better endurance, catching up to the very young high lady of Bari Na-ammen. The too young, high elf girl had given one look behind, screamed in terror, tossed everything she had, and ran faster!
To her somewhat disgusted consternation and dismay, the staff she had tossed, had bounced off the ground with a sharp clap and landed in a mole hole, then tilted down to a low angle..
..catching the goblin in the groin!
Two things had happened that day;
One; the young, forty-two-year-old ‘teen’ Anglenna carried the, otherwise useless staff, around all the time after that, because, apparently, you never knew when a long, sturdy stick would come in handy,
Two; the goblin had returned to his tribe, limping and in pain, telling all his clan-mates about the new and evil weapon the pointy-eared elves had invented; The Groin Catcher!
“—then I asked him, ‘What is it you want from me?’ He just stared at me and said in his usual, calm, low, resonating voice, ‘Want? I have everything I want, Lady Angrellen. What I don’t have is you!’. The idiot. He just blurted it out like that!”, the high lady was saying.
“Eh? What?”, spluttered Anglenna.
“Told you, you weren’t listening. Men have always been your weak spot, my little darling. One mention of your father and you freeze in your place.”, said Angrellen with a light laugh.
“No, what? What are you talking about? And no, they are not!”, said Anglenna heatedly. “And you are not talking about any man, you are talking about my father.”
“Yes and no, daughter mine.”, laughed her mother.
“Did my father really say that to you?”, blurted Anglenna.
“Your father was a charming man, dear. And yes. He did say that to me, even after all my rebuffings and refusals.. The sentimental fool! Selvius never entered a battle he would lose, and never lost a battle he engaged.”, she heard her mother say in a dreamy, reminiscing tone.
“Accept you.”, Anglenna said bitterly.
“My dear girl, you were always good at ruining a good day.”, her mother signed.
“No, mother, nothing beats you at ruining everyone’s good day, and everything that’s good.”, sneered the younger Sunsear as she pulled out her other two items worth any significance. One was also an old friend of hers, a rod of sorts made from rare Fernian Ash Wood that helped her fire-based spells burn hotter, and the latest addition to her limited repertoire; a wand crafted by a half-elf artificer named Rimel Auburn, Philius Silveroak’s wife and that strange boy, Darly Dor’s mother. She wasn’t quite used to it yet but it did have a comfortable grip and helped her better focus her spells; A War Mage’s Wand, though Anglenna found that name a bit on the ostentatious side. She considered her options for a moment, then decided to take a leaf out of the big, burly boy, Udoorin’s book, as ironic as that sounded, and on any number of levels. She pulled a bit of rope out of her small backpack, and tied it to both ends of the staff, and flung it across her back, just to find out its upper end kept hitting her head!
“How in the blazes does that boy carry a kazillion axes on his back and still keep his head?”, she fumed as she nudged the staff into a more comfortable position, not that it helped. Then, with both the wand and the rod, one in either hand, she stepped into the still smoldering hall.
“You seem distracted, my daughter. Are you busy? Perhaps I should go and come back another time. You never did learn to multi-task!”, she heard her mother say.
“By all means, mother, do go.. Just never come back!”, seethed Anglenna as she moved forward with quick-step haste. For some reason, she felt a sense of dread coming her way and just didn’t want to wait for it to arrive.
“Now, now, my flower. Let’s not get nasty. We are merely talking like a pair of adults, here.”, her mother said.
“Mother..”, Anglenna said. “..what are you doing?”
“Doing?”, Angrellen asked a bit perturbed. “Whatever do you mean?”
“Really, mother, what are you doing? Why are you talking to me? What do you hope to gain? Perhaps you think, if you spammed me enough many times, I might fold and come to you?”, Anglenna asked.
“Ahh.. No, dear. As little as you like to think of me, I do care about your well-being. And with nothing to do at the moment, I merely wanted to have a civilized conversation.”, her mother said.
“The Orken are not giving you the courtesy you expected of them?”, asked Anglenna with a smile on her face.
“The beasts..”, scoffed Angrellen heatedly. “They are nothing but animals. They were strictly warned to leave certain areas in Bari Na-ammen untouched.”
“Ow, mother.. Did they bring down your precious ‘roof’ as well?”, laughed Anglenna.
“Yes. They did. They leveled the whole city and burned everything they could get their hands on. There were a lot of personal belongings I had and wanted to get out of there before I left the city for good.”, seethed her mother’s voice.
“Poor Angrellen the Betrayer. Her personal belongings were so much more important than the lives of over two hundred thousand high elves.. It must truly hurt to be you!”, snickered Anglenna coldly as she turned around the corner at the end of the hall, where she saw the corridor split, one heading to her left, the other heading right for about thirty yards then ending in another heavily barricaded door.
“I had a painting of your father among those personal belongings, dear.”, Angrellen said with quiet wrath. “I ended up burning two platoons of the beasts, just to make my point!”
“Mother. You killed my father. You SACRIFICED HIM to your demon lords. The fact that you kept a picture of him, is an insult to his memory!”, spat Anglenna hotly. Then she turned and started down the left corridor. Had young Udoorin been here, she would have preferred to have checked what was behind the barricaded door, but there was a small chance she could move all those very heavy sandbags and be able to hack the door. As seldom as she did, she looked on the bright side; at least nothing was going to be coming up from behind her.
“Just out of mild curiosity, dear, who told you this? No one was supposed to know about that. I understood the necessity, but I wasn’t happy about it. Your father, Selvius, was, after all, a fool, but a charming, sentimental and caring fool. Never got without giving first and always treated me like the high lady that I was. Those qualities in him, I do miss.”, sighed the former high lady.
“Why, then? Why did you kill him? He was the only man, or anyone for that matter, to have given love and respect to you, and would have been the only one that ever would!”, asked Anglenna with smoldering desperation.
“That was the price, my flower. You sacrifice what you love, or the innocent, for power. Much like you sacrifice your enemies for revenge.. That is how it works.”, said Angrellen in a clinical, tutorial voice. “Could have been you, but I chose him. Your father never hovered, and he let me be when I was in my study, but as sentimental as he was, he was also a brilliant tactician and Grandaleren’s childhood friend. Had I chosen you, he would have asked me.. certain uncomfortable questions.. eventually.. Or perhaps not.. But he would never have stopped pursuing an answer for the death of his little ‘princess’, and given enough time, he would have suspected me, if not found out.”
“Guess I will have to thank your scheming plans to be alive, then? And here I thought it was out of some motherly love.”, said Anglenna, though not bitterly, but sort of with a shrug. It was interesting for her to have recognized the lack of her mother’s love no longer bothered her.
“Don’t be obtuse, dear, of course I loved you. I still do. In my way. It is hard to give something you never had. But I gave mine anyway.”, her mother replied absently.
“I don’t think you know what love means, mother. You consider it as something expected of others to give to you as per their existence, then once they have, they can move aside, or preferably just die.. And I doubt my grandfather was a man without love, mother. I did have many long talks with my uncle, Grandaleren, when I was younger and from all his accounts, his father loved all his children. More so after his wife left for her journey to the Undying Strands.. Considering how you were his firstborn, you must have gotten the best of what he and my grandmother had.”, she said as she stepped up her pace. The corridor she was following had many twists and turns, and many other doors, all similarly barricaded. It was when she turned yet another corner they came at her. A whole murder of ghouls, wraiths and.. some other things.. came at her, either moaning or screeching.. or in total, dead silence.
“Well now.”, she said, smiling at death, right in the face. “Would be such a waste, the way you all are pretty much lined up as you have, in a narrow corridor..”
Her eyes blazed, but not with fire.
This time, she opted for something else. Something she hadn’t tried before, both because she had only recently gained this spell, and because she just hadn’t had the opportunity.
“Yes, I am sure he loved me.”, sneered her mother. “So much so that he ripped away what was rightfully mine, and gave it to his son!”
“I would never have given you the throne either, mother, had it been up to me. No one in their right mind would have. You would have made every good, bad, and every bad, worse, no matter what. But if it were truly up to me, I would have had you thoroughly executed, and your body burned down to unrecognizable and unredeemable soot, scattered it a pinch at a time, and salted the lands, ten miles in every direction!”, Anglenna said with heat.
Then, in her low, calm voice, she chanted..
Selvius, Father, though I carry your name
A leaf, bright, light and forgotten
For that, I know I am to blame
Father, beg, help me thwart this blight
For it cometh, an evil I must task
Dire in need on her moments plight
Soon shall I avenge and save your soul
Though it takes me mine life
Thus I pledge and make you whole
Selvius, Father, though I carry your name,
A leaf, bright, light and forgotten,
For that, I know I am to blame.
Father, I beg, help me thwart this blight,
For it cometh, an evil I must task
Dire in need on her moments plight.
Soon shall I avenge and save your soul,
Though it takes me mine life,
Thus I pledge and make you whole.
And pointed her wand at the oncoming slaughter.
One moment there was only moaning and shrieking darkness, the next, the whole corridor lit as if summer itself had been summoned there and a sixty-foot-long shaft of excruciatingly bright sunlight lit the dark, putrid corridor..
..and incinerated everything in its way!
The blinding shaft of light burned the oncoming horde of undead like hot iron would butter, and cremated every single one it touched.
✱ ✱ ✱
WHAT ARE YOU DOING, GIRL?”, she heard her mother’s voice scream with horrified chagrin. “Why have you summoned your father’s name? WHAT ARE YOU DOING, LENNA? DO NOT DABBLE IN THINGS YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND!”
“None of your business, mother. You no longer get to tell me what to do, or what NOT to do. You lost your rights to me the moment you rose your hand against your people.”, Anglenna spat, and sent another sixty-foot-long shaft of sunlight, pulverizing another crowd of undead running at her.
“YOU WILL STOP THIS NONSENSE AT ONCE!”, shrieked her mother. “YOU WILL NOT NAME YOUR FATHER EVER AGAIN!”
“No, mother, it is you who will never name my father ever again. You lost all your rights, all your claims to him the moment you slew him!”, Anglenna barked at her mother..
..and drilled another batch of undead with a third shaft of incinerating sunlight as she took a step forward, then another.
Soon, she was disintegrating her way through the dead as she smote and belly-danced between them.
Yet, the deeper she moved into the depts of the old Thieves Guild’s hideout, the more dead heaped upon her, and though she burned and withered them, she didn’t escape unscathed. Soon, her long robes and her elegant dress-skirts were torn, ripped, and shredded, her hair was a chaotic mess, she was bleeding from any number of wounds, and something was wrong with her left arm because it looked odd when she held up her Fernian Ash Wood rod. The rod seemed to persist at pointing down when she held her arm straight! Still, she gritted her teeth and charged on until she came to a door that was not barricaded but had many glowing runes on it.
Anglenna held her pace and looked back.
She thought she’d heard the echo of clacking footsteps, but there was no one there except heaps of black dust, skeletal things missing their upper bodies, or with gaping holes in their chest.
The sense of dread she had felt earlier, however, had come again. With haste born of desperation, she turned back to the door, and the runes.
When she’d said wards weren’t her forte to her sister-cousin, she’d been very honest about it. But as far as she could tell, they were meant specifically for undead creatures and possibly demons; to keep them out, or perhaps, to keep them in.. Wards had a tendency to go both ways, depending on how you laid them. After a few more desperate moments of inspection, she concluded there were two different sets of runes in play here, possibly laid by two different people. One was likely a priest or a temple guardian, and the other was possibly a druid of some sort. The only thing that tiny glimpse information told her was, the priest or temple guardian had placed his or her wards in hopes of keeping undead and/or demons in or out, as she had first suspected, and hoped, and the ones laid by the druid was ward against anything likely to cause ‘imbalance’. She’d heard, from that strange, skinny little girl, Inshala, speaking about the preservation of balance enough many times to assume that much.
“Time to cough up!”, she whispered with huffed strands of her unbraided and disheveled strands platinum-blonde hair, pulled a small knife out of her pack, and stabbed it into one of the wards.
The ward ‘buzzed’ for a moment, then died as its already faded glow winked, then that too died.
One by one, Anglenna stabbed, scratched, or carved long, gaping lines over every single ward she could find, took a deep breath, then slowly opened the door.
✱ ✱ ✱
Anglenna had expected a lot of things, mostly along the lines of, ‘more of the same’. Just not what she beheld.
The room beyond the door was not a very large one. Perhaps thirty feet wide and forty feet deep, but it was blotted with very old, black stains of what the young high elf girl could only assume, to her revolted horror, was blood, and the remains of a dried and mummified carnage splattered all across the room, including the walls and the ceiling.
Anglenna did not wait.
She burned the room, from wall to wall, floor to ceiling, the black bloodstains and the dried and the mummified carnage.. all of it.. with the last remaining power of her sun spell. Not quite satisfied, she stuck her wand into what remained of her robe, pushed out her hand, palm facing the floor and fingers spread, she also burned the room with good old normal fire.
By the time she was done, the room was still black, but from soot only, and both the bloodstains and the carnage were gone.
Then she walked into the room, and over to the heap of gifts, carefully prepared by no other than High Lady Angrellen, and sent to the Master of High Spires, Philius Silveroak, who had handed them to the Keeper of Antiquities and Gifts, Lady Felishia Fremeir, as per protocol, who would have presented them to the First Lord of Arashkan, Princeps Kaladin, under the impression that they had been sent by Ri Grandaleren of High Woods, but quite unintentionally been burglarized from her home that very night by Philius’s estranged son, Darly “Darlius” Dor and brought here.. all some five or six years ago..
The gifts had comprised of a number of very expensive items; an exquisitely crafted jewelry box containing a beautiful, yet ‘manly’ ring for the First Lord’s son, and two, bejeweled, elf-craft silver necklaces, one for each of his daughters, a very large and heavy, delicately embroidered tapestry, and a fragile-looking, ‘true work of art’ vase..
..or perhaps it was an urn.
Anglenna felt slightly bad about the tapestry, which would have covered the expenses of at least a score or so quivers of three-spark arrows, which she was sure would have closed the gaping distance between her and the esteemed Ranger Corporal Laila Wolvesbane, and still have enough to buy a decent wedding gift for her cousin, should and when the time came. The jewelry box had also been charred, but the contents had survived.
“A kingly ring for our future Ri.”, she said, deliberately ignoring the young man’s current condition. “An exquisite necklace for my sister-cousin, and the other, for the skinny little one, I think. I hope that sinister man is looking after her. That girl truly likes him, though I can’t figure as to why, so I’d hate to dismantle him.”
Without the slightest bit of shame, Anglenna pocketed the ring and the two necklaces, and the irony that the gifts her mother had prepared to start a war, would go to a ‘human’ who would become a Rise, and her much-hated ‘half breed’ niece.. and another ‘half something’.. She would make sure to have them all checked for possible curses and/or ill enchantments by some reputable wizard, or possibly a temple guardian first, though.
Then there was the urn..
Anglenna did not immediately open or even touch the cursed container. She circled around it, inspected it, quite meticulously, then carefully, she picked it up, wrapped it with what remained of her robes..
✱ ✱ ✱
And heard the echo of the clacking footstep again, much closer this time.
“Found me, have you?”, Anglenna said. “Took you long enough.. mother!”
There was a moment of resigned silence, then High Lady Angrellen appeared at the door of the room.
Her mother seemed about the same, though tired. She had deep, dark circles around her eyes, her skin was paler and her platinum-white hair was slightly disheveled. She had always been a slender figure before, but she seemed somewhat gaunt now. She was also wearing the same dress she had worn that day, when they had last seen her in the palace, back in Bari Na-ammen, about a week or two ago..
“How did you figure it out, darling?”, she asked, slightly perturbed.
“I had my suspicions for quite some time now, mother. All those years pushing me into trying to scry on my uncle, Grandaleren, was sort of a giveaway. A control freak such as yourself would always want to keep an eye on her own daughter, even against her knowledge or wishes, going as far as ignoring the ‘King’s Citizens Rights and Privacies Act’. But I suppose no life or law is sacred for you. And your high heels.. I could hear them from half a mile away. Only you would wear high heels in a war. Your demented choice of wardrobe aside, I am surprised you haven’t come to fetch me sooner, the way you have been perversing around me..”, Anglenna said calmly.
“I suppose I could have, though, in all candor, I was blocked by something.. or someone.. You have made uncommon friends in these past few months dear. I couldn’t scry on your cousin, the silly little half-breed, since she was no older than six. I suspect it had something to do with her being chosen as the Heart of High Woods. But she couldn’t keep me from watching you. All the information my informants brought to me about your little friends was quite extensive. Of all of them, only one man gave some trouble identifying. Turns out he’s a Drashan convict. Good choice of ensemble there, daughter. Not even I stooped that low. A Drashan convict? Really, now.. Sunsear’s do have standards, you know. Then there were the two odd girls. Other than a general description, they were able to find nothing about them. What they were, where they came from, who were they.. Nothing.. I am not sure which, but it must have been either of them. Yes, my daughter, one of them was strong enough to block all my attempts to scry on any of you. Otherwise, I could watch you any time I wanted. Up until late tonight, or perhaps I should say, early this morning. Since then, I couldn’t see you anymore, either. Begs the question, just who did you bind yourself to, girl?”, her mother asked, as she carefully scanned the room.
“I don’t do bondage, mother. That’s more like your thing.”, smiled Anglenna, though she too wondered who it was, that had protected the whole group without them knowing? The two girls her mother had been talking about were likely the skinny little girl, Inshala Frostmane, and the odd, mad girl, Merisoul Xyrotwu. She had heard, though not quite sure when and where, that Inshala was now the Ritual Guardian, a title not bestowed by mortal officials, but the Ritual Forest itself. Could that have been it? A side effect of being chosen by the spirit of something as vast as the Ritual Forest? A bit like how her cousin was chosen as the Heart of High Woods? As for Merisoul, all she had compiled about her was, though not all that willingly, she was bonded to some powerful celestial being —likely something that shouldn’t be messed with..
“Tell me, darling, what is this hideous place that you have brought me? And where are your little friends? Where’s the princess?”
“My friends are where they are supposed to be, and my sister is not here. She is far away, quite safe, and well out of your reach. I made sure of that. As for this place, it’s the old Arashkan Thieves Guild’s headquarters.”, Anglenna said with a shrug.
“The old Arashkan Thieves Guild’s HQ, is it?”, she said, still scanning the room, and it seemed like she was also listening for any sounds she might hear coming from behind her. “If you came here in hopes of hiding from me, my darling, it hasn’t seemed to have worked, obviously. If you came here to hide from the Orken, well, you seem to have run deep enough, though I suspect not for too long. Either they would have discovered these stinking sewers, eventually, or you’d run out of rations. If it was your intention to ambush me, daughter, you are outnumbered and now lack the element of surprise. And if you are telling the truth about your friends being elsewhere, and not hiding nearby, you truly are alone..
Perhaps you have that skulking Drashan cut-throat hiding to stab me in the back. One such idiot already tried that tonight. Didn’t really go his way. Of all those in your company, though, only the Drashanian,..
..the ranger girl and my niece would have had the skills to sneak up on me. Having had the opportunity to look at the mess you left behind, however, it’s all and only you, which begs the question, again, why are you here, my flower? What do you hope to gain by bringing me all the way down here?”
Anglenna snorted, though she did admire how well her mother had dissected, labeled, and shelved the situation.
“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to see your line of thought. You truly must think, nothing of significance can happen unless it revolves around you, mother. You really must think yourself to be the center of everything and everything just must be about you, doesn’t it? That may have been relatively true before, but you lost your grip on me the moment you made me betray my sister and divulge her secrets to you. Yes, Grandaleren was not a good Ri, and likely a fool. But he beat you at your game by sending me to find his daughter. It gave me the opportunity to escape from under your thumb and finally be free, mother. While you did everything to ruin and discredit his daughter, he made you lose yours. Too bad you killed him. I really owned him a thanks of gratitude.”
“Ow, I did more than just kill him, darling. Now, then.. Shall we start dancing, or would you like to come home quietly? Do come quietly, dear. I really do not wish to break you. You are my darling flower, after all. We can even assume none of these happened and give it a fresh start. You have so much potential and a whole life ahead of you. Together, mother and daughter, we can rule this world!”
Anglenna just stared at her mother.
And the phrase, ‘Mad as a Feynox’, sprang to her mind.
“I have no intentions of coming with you, mother, quietly or otherwise. I have made my choices, and I plan on sticking with them. But to answer your earlier question; I came here for this.”, she said..
..and produced the small urn from under her tattered and shredded robes.
“How did you come by that thing, Lenna?”, she asked and Anglenna got the fleeting satisfaction to see her mother freak out.
“How I came by it is quite irrelevant, mother. I am here. You are here. And your precious little curse is here.. The one you prepared to be gifted to First Lord, Princeps Kaladin, under the false impression that it had been sent here by Grandaleren, just to discredit him.. and to start a war between us and Arashkan. Your lust for power and blood never ceases to amaze me, mother.”
“Don’t you toy with that, Lenna.”, her mother hissed. “You are centuries away from understanding the workings of that curse. Put it down and carefully! NOW!”
Anglenna smiled at her.
“Why, mother, I have no desire to toy with it, but I do believe it belongs to you..”, she said pleasantly..
..and hurled the little urn..
..at her mother!
Angrellen gave a gasping shriek and moved to catch the arcing urn.
And her daughter was impressed.
A thousand and five hundred years old, and her mother, Angrellen, moved with the grace of a sea serpent.
Anglenna also moved but as tired and exhausted as she was, she didn’t bother with seas nor serpents, or perhaps because she just didn’t care..
The urn spun up..
..Anglenna hurled a fist-sized bolt of fire.
The urn reached the apex of its arc..
..Angrellen stared at her daughter, and at the fist of scorching fire coming at her and flinched again.
The urn came down..
..Anglenna mimed to cast another bolt of fire and her mother reacted.
For a bare instant, Angrellen was entombed in a thick, nearly impenetrable block of ice!
The fire bolt struck the ice and winked out without so much as marring it.
The urn smashed into the ice as well..
..and shattered into small, crumbling pieces.
Anglenna released her spell, but it wasn’t another bolt of her fisting fire. She had never intended to repeat the first, just as her first one had never been intended to do any harm to her mother, not that she would have minded, but she knew she was not ready to face her just yet, particularly as tired and juiced out as she was. The thing was, her mother didn’t know that. As a matter of fact, her mother only knew that her daughter had grown in strength and power, and quite exponentially during these last few months and away from her and because she had also been shielded from being scried, and hence, gone unobserved, leaving her mother ignorant of her daughter’s latest developments. Angrellen had expected a kaboom and reacted against a kaboom, but gotten a love tap instead, do to speak.
Always know your enemies, discern their weaknesses, and use them against them!