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Surgical Strikes

Surgical Strikes

Timeline:

Lords and ladies, representatives and delegates of all races, and many places gather at Serenity Home to work on strategies against the Orken onslaught.

Yet the once peaceful town is attacked by unknown assassins targeting many of the gathered representatives.

A total disaster is averted but not without cost. Some of the representatives are wounded, some are slain.

Many Arashkan refugees are also killed..

 

This story takes place shortly after
Extreme Planning..
(Part Two)

 

 

Sheriff Standorin sat in the dimness of his home, his face in his hands, fingers spread, and elbows on his knees, staring at the fire. There was a silent, murderous reflection in his eyes, hiding between his calloused fingers, not unlike a man behind his own bars. To say the least, Standorin Shieldheart was angry for he had buried many people in the past two days, some of them he had known for many years, and some hadn’t even lived as many years. 

At that very moment, he wanted to be the young and foolish man that he’d been, many years ago. The age his son, Udoorin had been..

 

..and just kill some things?

 

True, he had been reckless and foolish when he’d run off back then and had done quite a number of jobs, guarding merchant caravans mostly, but he had tried his hands on bounty hunting too. That had had its moments; tracking down the bad guys, apprehending them, dragging them back, turning them over to the local sheriffs, and collecting his share of the bounty..

Accept not all his jobs had gone smoothly.

Sometimes the caravans he guarded got raided, and sometimes the people he’d tracked down just wouldn’t come quietly no matter how polite he’d been or how obvious the outcome of any aggression would end.

It seemed like some people just begged to die!

 

The only problem with that was, Standorin just didn’t like killing.

 

Two days ago, however, that had changed and his deadly gaze pierced down at the small stack of parchments scattered on the floor, some crumbled in wrath, some savagely shredded, and a few lay gazing back at him; the final tally of the attack..

..one thousand six hundred and seventy-eight dead, mostly Arashkan refugees; men, women, children, and elderly, and eight thousand nine hundred and fifty-five wounded..

It had been a good thing they had started doing drills soon after the first batch of refugees had appeared just so everyone would know where they would be and what they would be doing to avoid chaos when the Orken finally arrived.

Standorin remembered one of his bounty hunter partners from back in the day, tell him that no plan ever survived the first encounter.

Apparently, he had been right then, much like he had been right, now; most of the deaths had occurred due to panic-induced trampling.

 

“They were my responsibility.”, he snarled silently.

 

“Yes.”, said a soft, cultured voice in the dim.

Standorin flinched.

He hadn’t heard the voice come.

At all.

“Would you like a whip? Perhaps for self-flagellation..”, offered to soft voice.

“I do not do levity.”, Standorin snarled.

 

The voice paused.

 

“You would chastise your friends, rather than politely accept simple levity? Or the offer of comfort?”, the voice asked, not quite taken aback nor appalled, but very slightly hurt.

Standorin fumed.

“Why are you here, Liaison?”, he growled.

 

The voice paused again, this time for a bit longer.

 

“I would have thought we’d had a semblance of understanding, sir.”, the voice replied, putting the barest of emphasis on ‘sir’. “Perhaps I was mistaken. But then, I merely came here to see how you were, and to offer what comfort I may. It would seem you are fine exactly as you want to be; sad, sorry, and alone and require no comfort, for what is not wanted, can not be given. I shall see you on the morrow, which should be in a few hours.. to hand in my resignation, hence shall I be no longer a distraction for you.”

 

..and as silently as she had come, Liaison Constance was gone.

✱ ✱ ✱

There was a hesitant knock on the door and Thomas rose his head from the parchment he’d been reading in the dim room lit by a single candle and put it on the small stack on his table; the latest death tally..

“Could have been worse.”, the young woman standing right behind him said quietly. “Not even Ranger Master Moorat escaped unscathed. Thanks to you and your guardians, the dwarves, the elves, and the rangers many are alive today.”

“Many are not.”, replied the senior temple guardian in a destitute voice. “I became a temple guardian precisely to avoid this sort of thing ever happening.”

“Please, Thomas. Don’t be like that.”, the young woman said.

“Don’t be like what?”, Thomas asked.

“Don’t be like me..”, the young woman replied seriously. “Bitter and angry. I.. I am trying.. very hard.. and I never want to go back to that girl. You helped me be better.. be more.. If you succumb, what would I do? Yes, I am being selfish, but angry and bitter is me. Never you. I need you to be never bitter and angry, Thomas. I need you to be strong on this front for me.”

Thomas looked up at the young woman who was staring down at him, her long, coarse black hair framing her beautiful face and he saw a slight shimmer in her very serious eyes.

 

Bremorel Songsteel never showed her feelings.

 

Perhaps an amendment was in order there; Bremorel Songsteel always showed her feelings, just never her soft and vulnerable side.. Even Thomas had barely seen that side of her. He’d always known she was kind, gentle, and more, all locked up, tight, and very deep down, and with infinite patience, he had reached in and bit by bit, he’d surfaced the real girl, the real Morel, out..

Tonight, however, and for whatever reason, she had volunteered to bring it all out.

Thomas skimmed through a long list of possible reasons, then with the realization of his own arrogance, he discarded them all.

 

His Morel had volunteered and that was all that mattered and that was all there was to it.

 

He smiled up at her.

“You are so beautiful.”, he said honestly.

“You keep saying that like it’s true..”, frowned Bremorel with a faint blush.

“And I shall keep on saying it until you believe me.”, he replied.

“So you will stop when I believe you?”, she asked with an amused expression.

“No. I will then continue saying it until you believe yourself.”, he said seriously.

 

Bremorel didn’t snark.

Nor did she snort.

One thing she had learned about the man she was looking down on was that he was honest.

 

“That might take a while.”, she said. “I guess you will just have to work on me until then.

“I shall.”, he promised.

Bremorel leaned in and kissed him, then walked over to the door and opened it.

 

Perigren Ostlanna Temez and Hannah Vir were standing in front of the door. While Hamna Vir was staring at her own feet with an ugly shiner and a black eye, fidgeting, Temez was looking at Bremorel, the pair of her antler-like horn broken and missing, with dead, soulless eyes.

“We..”, stammered Hamna Vir. “..we came to apologize, Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel Songsteel. To you and to Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood on behalf of the half-born for the problems we caused..”

Footsteps approached and Thomas appeared behind Bremorel.

“..Meri.. Merisoul Xyrotwu was dear to many of us. We.. we went out of control when we found out about her for she was the best of us.”, she mumbled.

 

Bremorel stared at her, then at Temez, who just stood there.

Then, at the mention of her BFF, large tears appeared in her eyes and silently ran down her beautiful face.

The half-born had never learned moderation. Hence their emotions tended to be on the extreme and the news of Merisoul Xyrotwu had hit them hard;

Their reaction to it had been.. quite, but not quietly, unprecedented!

 

Bremorel reached over and quietly hugged her.

 

“This is life, mirima Temez. Our loved ones die, one by one and we live to suffer their absence. Fools are we Mortals for not making each day worth its weight in love and care. Fools are we all, for forgetting the ones that are still with us, also. You, my dear, are mirima. Merisoul blessed you with that burden for she knew only you could carry it.. Prepare yourself and those under your care, for that, is the only way you may avoid more of the same.”

 

“The ranger lieutenant speaks with much wisdom, Temez.”, Thomas said sternly, but not unkindly. “We are about to go to war. The enemy is brutal and has no choice but to slay us all. For them, there is no retreat. You and your kin, I am thinking, know the Orken better than most. Hence you know when I say, they will not be routed, that I speak the truth. Merisoul Xyrotwu had more than the half-born as her friend. In what small time she had amongst the Mortals, she touched the lives of everyone around her. Where she went, she moved and changed things. Where there were dead hearts before, they became alive and nurtured. What was stagnant, became running and fresh again. And what was angry, became forgiving. Wherever she went, she brought compassion. These are the things with which we must remember her, for Mortal or nons, it is these, that is eternal.”

 

In Bremorel’s arms, Perigren Ostlanna Temez broke down and started crying like a little girl..

 

“Darling Demos taught you well.”, Hamna Vir said. “I shall help remind our mirima Temez and our kin of these when they forget. Come, mirima. Yours can not be allowed to see you like this anymore.”

With tenderness quite unexpected of her, Hannah Vir took the broken and devastated Temez and steered her away.

 

“What you said to her.”, Thomas said after the two half-born girls had gone. “It was brutal.. and it was beautiful.”

Bremorel smiled at him.

“Yours was better.”, she objected.

“Mine was merely the truth, and educational. Yours.. yours was.. wisdom.”, he said with unveiled admiration. “You could have been talking to me and I would have taken every word you spoke, to heart.”

“Every word was said with you at heart.”, she replied with a bright red face.

✱ ✱ ✱

You are up early.”, Aager said when he entered the new kitchen of their new home.

“Oops!”, yelped the skinny young girl, almost dropping the big pan she could barely lift and full of raw eggs she had cracked for a grand omelet. “I am sorry. Did I wake you?”

“You? No. I have no idea how you manage, but you never wake me when you get up, prepare breakfast, then come back to me. I must admit, I.. *cough* love it.. waking up to your beautiful eyes every morning.”, Aager said, his voice trailing off towards the end.

 

Inshala beamed.

And jumped him.

And promptly hit him with the pan!

 

Aager staggered and Inshala went into panic.

“I am sorry, I am sorry, I am sorry!”, she moaned.

Aager stood where he was, his hands holding his head and eggs dripping all over him.

“I am so sorry, my Aager!”, she said with a voice on the verge of crying.

Aager started laughing.

The skinny girl just stared at him.

“You.. you tricked me!”, she fumed.

Aager laughed some more; just two days ago, he had fought scores of assassins and gotten off almost unscathed, just to be hit over the head by a kitchen pan.. full of eggs!

“Are you really alright? I am so sorry.. I just can’t control myself sometimes.”, Inshala said with earnest sincerity.

“Best morning, ever.”, Aager replied grinning.

Inshala pouted.

“I ruined your morning.”, she said unhappily.

“How about you go back to bed and restart your morning, and I clean up myself and the mess here, then we both prepare breakfast.”, he offered.

“Or you could come to bed with me?”, Inshala counter-offered, her face suddenly brightening.

“As much as I would want that, I can’t.”, he said.

“Ow? Why not?”, Inshala asked.

“The bloody midget makes too much noise!”, he growled. “And she keeps waking up at odd hours and starts tinkering things. She thinks she is being quiet about it, but she totally lacks subtlety.”

Inshala made a funny, snorting sound.

“She is very cute, though. But if you will not return to bed with me, there no point in me going back, though I must admit, the new mattress is awesome!”, she said happily.

“Yes. It is.”, Aager admitted grudgingly. “And it would be even better if you wouldn’t insist on putting my old, thread-bear mattress on top of it!”

“But.. that was yours, my Aager. I feel happy and safe when I sleep on that one.”, she objected.

“Love, please. Even I didn’t like my old mattress that much. The only reason I ever truly wanted to sleep on it was when you came. No point in clinging to it. Mother Ganiste did us a grand favor by bringing our old house down, really. Now let’s start with the breakfast. Not only is that bloody midget noisy at odd hours of the night, but she is also noisy when she is hungry. I can’t fathom how her friends can stand her!”

Inshala giggled and picked up the pan and started washing it, thoroughly, in her washing dish.

“She’s so cute, though.”

“So are rabbits. You don’t see rabbits making this much noise. And she has a truly foul mouth, and that’s coming from a Drashan!”, Aager growled and wiped some of the eggs off his face and he also went over to the washing dish.

“Seressa is nice. She has a pretty smile and a beautiful heart.”, said Inshala and took a towel, wet it in the bucket sitting next to the washing dish, reached up, and started cleaning Aager’s egg blotched face.

“And just weird..”, he said sourly. “..And all the pinks! My eyes hurt!”

“She cried when she saw our cherry tree in bloom and kept mumbling something about ‘Grade Nine’, though I have no idea what that was about. She just went up to the tree and hugged it for hours!”, she said with a slight frown.

“Like I said; just weird..”, Aager confirmed.

“And Master Brom?”, she asked while she repeated wiping his face a few more times.

“Something is off about him.”, Aager mused as he stood still and let the skinny little girl do her thing.

“Ow? How so?”, Inshala asked.

“The way he looks at you. Yes he is very polite and I am sure he is honestly sincere about everything he says to you but that look is like he is someone with unhealthy secrets.”

“Do you think he means us some harm?”, she asked, though her voice said she clearly did not believe that.

“I doubt.”, Aager conceded. “Hobbits are notoriously polite people. Whatever his issues are, they are seriously bothering him.”

“What about the white elf? She was awesome in the fight. I saw her cut one of the bad men from head to hip!”, she said and took another towel but this one she did not wet. She dried his face and beamed up at him.

“She looks like she went through a grinder—”, he replied with a slight frown. Then he saw Inshala’s happy smile, and he returned it in kind. More so by leaning down and kissing her.

Inshala blushed.

“—and came out the other end harder.. tougher.”, he said.

“Lady Nadine is nice.”, Inshala thought aloud. “She has much worry, though.”

“Yes. Many dark worries.”, prompted Aager.

“Dark worries? That is so true!”, she exclaimed as if getting the answer to a question she knew was there, but just didn’t know how to formulate. “It’s a good thing Mother Alisia returned back to Durkahan, though I wanted her to stay some more.”

Aager snorted.

“And Moira. But I thought Mother Alisia and Lady Nadine were looking for some excuse to fight. That’s why Moira insisted on sitting out in the garden all day for two days, even though it is freezing outside.”

Aager snorted again, as he went over to a basket and grabbed some eggs, placed them on the counter, went back for some more, and put them on the counter as well for Inshala.

“Would you mind slicing some tomatoes? And clean some onions? About a dozen or so. And wash some potatoes for me? I think I will make mashed potatoes with onions and fried tomatoes with the eggs.”, she asked.

“Of course.”, Aager said as he went for several other baskets, these with tomatoes, onions, and potatoes.

He cleaned and washed them all, thoroughly, to Inshala’s satisfaction, and started cutting them as per need.

“Smile.”, Inshala said.

“Hmm..?”, Aager asked as he eviscerated the tomatoes, kidney-shot the onions, and started strangling the potatoes.

“Smile, my Aager.”, she repeated. “That is what makes food delicious. The salt, the herbs, the spices are a mere excuse.”

Aager stated at her.

“I am serious.”, she said earnestly.

“I am sorry, love.”, Aager replied seriously. “I shall henceforth politely kill these tomatoes, onions, potatoes, and any other fruit or vegetable that comes my way.”

✱ ✱ ✱

There was a polite cough outside the tent and Udoorin woke up groggily, his face marked with odd pillow lines.

Udoorin loved everything about his queen, Lorna. Or Alor’Nadien ne, as he would start calling her when referring to her. At least in public. But some elf-thingies, he just did not understand.. at all.. and some, he outright disliked.. very much.

For example, whenever he so much as poked his head out of his tent, every single elf in sight stopped whatever they were doing, put their right fists on their hearts, and murmured;

 

“Mere Estel Aranië..”

 

He didn’t mind the.. salute.. per se.

What was with the murmur, though?

Perhaps someone was sleeping and they didn’t want to wake them up.

Then there were the low, backless chairs.

Really, now!

Why in the Great Heavens would someone even invent a chair that was that close to the ground?

And young King Udoorin didn’t even want to contemplate on the kind of demented mind where anyone would make a chair, and not put a back on it. How hard could it be?

He had tripped and fallen over those silly chairs so many times, he’d ended up kicking several of them across his tent.

Turns out, those chairs were bloody hard on toes when you kicked them!

He had given up trying to remember just how many times he had forgotten there were no backs on the chairs, and he had leaned back to topple over in what was likely going to end up as some hilarious elve’s gossip;

“Saw our king the other day. Fell off his chair again and his ass was staring at us..”

“Me too! Then he tripped and stubbed his toes! Bit of a lummox, isn’t he? The Queen could have done better. Oh, well..”

 

Udoorin growled.

If anyone talked about him that way, he was going to break some heads!

 

But the most annoying was the bed they had given him.

For Udoorin, a bed should comprise of a mattress with clean sheets of linen or possibly cotton, a blanket or two, depending on the season, and a feather-stuffed pillow. And when someone said, king’s bed, it should refer to its size and not how elaborate it was, dammit!

His current bed did not have a nice, itchy blanket. It did not have cotton sheets, nor did it have feather-stuffed pillows.

Lady Lenna had told him what they were, though which was which, he’d have to remember to write them down next time. Only that somethings were silk, some were velvet, and the bloody pillows were stuffed with something he’d never heard of before and they were all embroidered with silver threads—

 

—explaining the odd pillow lines on his face!

 

“My King?”, said a baritone, handsome voice from behind the tent’s partition.

“Lord Armathelius.”, Udoorin said with a slightly irritated tone. “You don’t really have ‘king’ me every time you come in here, you know. Just call me Udoorin. I have been called by it enough many times that I am bound to recognize it.”

“I am afraid that is never going to happen, my King. Should someone overhear me referring to you otherwise, they might get the wrong idea about your well-earned credentials and mayhap test their boundaries, a something that should never be trespassed nor ventured, forcing me to skewer them to prove just how mistaken they were. Seeing as how short we already are on men as it is, wasting said men on such pointless and very much avoidable end seems wiser.”, Lord Armathelius said in a seamless, single breath.

“Bet you gave serious effort to memorize that just to annoy me.”, grumbled Udoorin.

“As a matter of fact, I merely repeated Lady Anglenna verbatim, when she said it to Queen Alor’Nadien ne when her Highness asked her cousin to call her by her name.”, the voice said with an amused tint.

Udoorin grunted and got out of his odd, and distinctly uncomfortable bed, splashed some of the scented water from the ornate washing dish sitting on the stand next to his bed on his face, put on his clothes that had been tossed everywhere, a habit he knew would probably drive Lorna crazy when they finally did get to share the same tent.

Then he put on his boots, and piece by piece, his armor, picked up his numerous axes and swords and knives and the shield he’d been carrying around for nearly a year now, though he’d never used, and finally his helmet.

He stomped his feet a few times to make sure everything settled in and drew the flaps of the partition aside to see Lord Armathelius Riverblade and his awesome armor standing in a ‘polite’, ready stance.

 

Udoorin did not understand Armathelius.

 

He always seemed polite. But the elf had a truly unreadable face. He never rose his voice, he never showed any form of excitement, he never seemed irritated or angry, and he certainly never laughed.

Udoorin was never sure if his choice of words or the way he phrased them were some kind of dry sense of humor or he was punning him.

The only time he saw any life on his otherwise totally expressionless face was whenever Lady Lenna, Lorna’s cousin, walked in. And even then, he would show absolutely no apparent reaction nor overt recognition whatsoever.

Only two things Udoorin had noticed that told him something was going on between the two;

One, he would become even more still, silent, and expressionless, if that was even possible, and two, he would take a quick glance, without turning his head, first to his right, then his left, and then his eyes would follow her for the duration of eight or ten breaths before everything about him would return back to his ‘normal’ expressionless self.

 

Udoorin wasn’t sure if the elf dude didn’t trust Lady Lenna and was merely making sure the area was secure and the former High Lady wasn’t up to something..

..or he was checking her out!

 

Lady Lenna, on the other hand, outright refused to acknowledge even his existence, let alone engage in any civilized conversation with him. And the look she gave him could only constitute; 

“I shall see you burn in Hell, and even carry the wood for it!”

Udoorin wondered just what the poor elf dude had done to draw Lenna’s ire so furiously.

And when it came to ire, Lenna just didn’t do halves. 

Apparently, Udoorin figured, Armathelius was a good commander, a great swordsman, an excellent archer, though not on Laila’s scale, and probably had many other excelling qualities, but not very smart where Anglenna was concerned.

 

“On a side note, you really should consider moving into your Queen’s tent. It would make things much more convenient for all of us, if not for the two of you. You are, after all, husband and wife for these past three days, now.”, Lord Armathelius said.

“Yes, Alor’Nadien ne and I are husband and wife, but I want a public wedding where everyone sees us getting married. I do not want any snark remarks haunting her.. ever! We wed, and both you and Lady Lenna have witnessed, but that was a promise made to one another. I shall not abuse her trust.”, Udoorin said sternly.

 

Lord Armathelius mused over that for a moment.

 

“I admire your stance to protect not only the Queen’s person but also her honor.. I do, however, feel the need to remind you that our ways are not human ways. Your promise to our Queen and her promise to you are indeed, truly binding in every possible way, on every possible level and no one can say otherwise nor gainsay it.”, Armathelius said.

“Both she and I agreed on this, Lord Armathelius.”, Udoorin grated.

“Since you have both agreed on it, I am sure everything will be fine, my King. Though also I feel the need to point out, have you considered what people might say or think as to why a king, newlywed, is not sleeping with his queen but prefers to sleep alone, in another tent?”

“What’s that supposed to mo mean?”, the young man growled.

Lord Armathelius stared at his very young human king for a moment before answering.

“You, my King, are a decent man. And your feelings for our Queen are.. artlessly genuine. This I know upon at least three occasions; the first was when Queen Alor’Nadien ne summoned the ghost of the accursed Themalsar as a gift to her father, you drew your weapons, in the presence of a Ri and challenged him, and his whole retinue, should they try their hands against her. Two; many elves of Bari Na-ammen never approved of a human as our Rise, yet some of us admired her and saw all the things she tried to do for us. Hence the elves here honor and rever enRise Nadine Graciousward and she has approved your claim to our Queen. And three; when you and our Queen returned to us hurt and weary, both of you were leaning on one another and even in your moment of delirium, you would not give her up.”

Udoorin scowled.

“Yes, so?”

“Many have seen your dedication to our Queen, my King. But many more have not and in truth, very few know the true extent of your care for our Queen. When you spend your days, and nights, apart from your legally wedded wife, it tells them you went after a young and naive girl, taking advantage of her infatuations to have access to the throne!”, Lord Armathelius explained calmly.

 

A dreadful silence settled in the tent and Udoorin’s face went totally black.

 

“The Hell with the throne!”, he snarled something awful. “And the Hell with anyone who thinks I ever wanted it. You can have it. I know for a fact neither did my Lorna ever wanted it! And seeing as none of you truly understand what is at hand, it’s no wonder the Orken stomped right over Bari Na-ammen. It was full of fools!”

 

In retro respect, it was possible Udoorin should not have said that last bit. If Lord Armathelius’s face could have shown any expression, this was it. His brows crossed, his deep-set eyes blazed, his lips pressed tightly and his whole stance became cold.. almost frigid.

 

“That.. was uncalled for, my King..”, he hissed through tightly clenched teeth.

“And attacking me, and by my proxy, attacking my Lorna, was? At which point did you, or any of your elves think I was a soft, fluffy gentleman, Lord Armathelius? At which point did you think I, or my Lorna, ought to ‘bend’ for your collective conformity? None of you did anything when she was forced to abandon her only home, even though she was the Chosen Heart of your High Woods. Every day since then, she has fought tooth and nail, and with sweat and blood as her witness, to prove her mettle. And she has thus saved the lives of countless, yet unborn, when she brought down Themalsar —the mad priest his father couldn’t be bothered to slay even with his whole army behind him. The Orken has suffered countless of their numbers because of her and because of Lady Lenna when we made sure Arashkan couldn’t be used as a base by them, and you want to judge her and me? I do not have any personal ill feelings for you, Lord Armathelius, but I abhor what you elves did to her. And please remember that the only contribution the elves have thus provided was running away and letting their kingdom burn!”

 

Lord Armathelius stood there thunderstruck..

..and totally crushed.

 

“And while at it..”, Udoorin growled. “..you might want to remind your elves that the only reason you have a Queen from the line of Feymist, is because I have agreed I would be by her side for as long as I was alive and because my Lorna is a kind and forgiving girl. Know also that should you, any of you, mistreat her again the way you did, you can kiss your Aranië goodbye because that is how much I care for her, and how little I care for your elves!”

✱ ✱ ✱

How are you feeling?”, Hamna Vir asked as she gently shifted the sleeping Dar Derune in her arms to a more comfortable position.

“You know how I feel.”, Perigren Ostlanna Temez said sitting in her bed in one of the tiny dormitory rooms in the Serenity Home Temple. Her face was drawn, pale, lost, and listless as she idly played with her broken antler-horn.

“Yes. I do. All half-born do. But I suppose it is the Mortal thing to ask.”, Hamna Vir shrugged.

“How is he?”, Temez asked her, looking up at the limp form of Dar Derune.

“He.. can’t sleep.. Not since.. Merisoul..”, Hamna Vir replied quietly and her sharp feature softened. “He drops asleep because he can no longer stay awake.”

“How are the others?”, Temez asked.

“Wounded and hurting. This was our first test and we all utterly failed it..”, Hamna Vir mumbled as she gently brushed the little boy’s hair with one, slender hand.

“I am sorry. They were all so happy to be here. Happy and very, very fragile. Had I shown them any leadership..”, murmured Temez.

“Enough!”, hissed a voice and the door to her dormitory opened to reveal a very blotchy-faced Demelze. “I can’t stand this. I.. I can feel all of you! And all of your hearts are screaming! It is driving me insane!”

“Demelze. Please. Leave them alone.”, said another voice, this one resonant and charismatic, and Hal Mali appeared behind her.

Demelze’s eyes flared and she turned around and blazed up at him.

“You don’t get to tell me what to do, Hall!”, she very nearly spat.

“I believe I do.”, Hal Mali said.

“When did you decide on that?”, the diminutive, fiery, redhead sneered at him.

“When I carried you around, in my arms, twice, I might add, out and back into this town..”, he replied with a straight face.

“I had no say in that!”, spat Demelze.

“..and when we ran around the forest chasing one another. I believe you had a say in that..”, Hal said cooly.

Demelze glared at him.

“..and when you said you enjoyed it.”

“Of course I enjoyed it. We ran in the forest free and not stuck in this temple for weeks and weeks!”, she blazed.

“I do recall offering to carry you out, in secret, so we could play some more, and you said you would very much like that and that you could do that forever and that it was so much fun.”

“Yeah, so?”

“I said I would need your consent for that and you said, ‘Sure, why not!'”

“Yeah, so?”

Hamna Vir snorted.

“You, Demelze, are an idiot and you just got served!”, she said with a waspish snicker.

“What? Why?”, the flaring girl asked, suddenly looking much less sure of herself.

 

Hal Mali cleared his throat and smiled and it was a brilliant, very handsome smile.

 

“That, my dear Demelze, was my claim. You gave your consent, freely, and forever!”

 

Demelze just ogled at him as Hamna Vir snorted again.

Even Temez hiccuped a stifle.

 

“Well, bugger!”, Demelze said as her shoulders slumped. “I am stuck with a buffoon!”

“You don’t even know what a buffoon is.”, Hamna Vir snarked.

“Yes I do!”, she glared at her. “It’s a four-legged Mortal-whatsit!”

“Perhaps you are referring to a baboon?”, Hal Mali offered gently.

Hamna Vir snickered some more.

“Whatever. Same difference!”, Demelze spat.

“No, my dear Demelze. A buffoon is a ridiculous Mortal. A baboon is the four-legged Mortal-whatsit.”, Hal Mali explained.

“And you are both!”, Demelze said with extreme prejudice. “And I am not going down without a fight!”

“But of course. I wouldn’t want a mate who couldn’t fight.”, Hal Mali replied with a smile.

 

Temez sighed.

Hamna Vir snickered.

 

“Nice! A mating fight!”, she said happily.

“Really? You want to do this now?”, Temez asked with resignation.

“Yes!”, flared Demelze, without taking her seething eyes off Hal Mali. “You are the leader of Escape. You must officiate as a witness, and judge the outcome.”

“You will never see me coming, Demelze. You know that right?”, Hal Mali warned.

“Hah. Hah. Hah. Hah. Haa..”, she laughed at his face and sneered at him. “I don’t need to see you coming, boi. I can feel you wherever you are.”

“Very well. Down to the crypts, then. And no using Pixie Dust.”, Hal Mali said.

“Afraid?”, Demelze grinned viscously at him.

“Of course. I wanted my mate to be strong, smart, cunning, willful, dangerous, and better than me. And you are it.”, he replied honestly.

“Just for that, I shall not burn you down to cinders.”, Demelze said with a flushed face.

“No, no. I want you to give your all because I want your all. Agreed?”, the handsome half-born said.

“Ow, I like this.”, laughed Hamna Vir with delight. “If you don’t want him, there are plenty others who do, Demelze. I mean, I would, had I not had my heart set on someone else.”

“Shut up, Hamna Vir.”, Demelze glared at her balefully. Then she turned to the leader of the Escape. “Coming, Temez?”

 

Temez sighed again, got up and out of her rickety dormitory bed, took her broken antler-horn, and followed the fiery Demelze, the calm Hal Mali, and an eager Hamna Vir, who was still clutching at her Dar Derune, down to the crypts under Serenity Home Temple to judge the outcome of the first ‘Mating Duel’ —a ritual to see if the intended mates were worthy of one another.

 

What would Darling Demos think, she wondered.

What would her BFF, Merisoul Xyrotwu, think?

 

Bet she would have loved it..

✱ ✱ ✱

This is the best breakfasts I have had since I left Bowling Hills, Lady Inshala.”, said Brom admitted as he wiped his hands on the clean towels she had brought with the large platter full of fruits.

Aager had wordlessly grabbed the platter from her. It wasn’t hard to see she was having a hard time carrying it with her skinny arms.

 

It would seem, whatever she had parted and sacrificed at Themalsar to bury it, wasn’t coming back and it was these little things that Aager noted and consequently broke his heart to see.

 

“It’s alright.”, she had whispered. “They shouldn’t see you doing house chores.”

“I shall be accused of doing the chores in my own home and helping my mate?”, he’d whispered back. “I wasn’t aware there were such fools.”

“Dim Woods men expect so.. from their women.”, she had mumbled.

“Fools are they should they think they are beneath such chores and see them fit only for the women who share their lives and their bed, and bear their burdens and their children. I am a bloody Drashan and we cut men who mistreat their women and we do not feel remorse afterward.”, he had growled back.

 

“Tell me, Miss Cinotnacra Gocelap.”, Nadine Graciousward was saying. “How did the Academy treat you? Did you like it there?”

“I.. uhhmm.. It was alright.. I guess..”, mumbled. “A bit constricting though.”

 

Brom was silently wiping his hands and was neither looking at Tonic nor the ‘the most beautiful woman in the kingdom’, as he had referred to her once. Seressa and Cora were both staring at them, though. Seressa with a questioning expression as she ate one, single grape after careful inspection, for some reason, then another, while Cora bit savagely into an apple as she inspected the former human queen of the elves with interest as to how she dressed, how she behaved, how she mimed her hands so gracefully, and how she phrased her words. It was an educational experience for her on whole many levels and was, in fact, part of her plans on rebuilding her New Ironfrost. Much like she had very carefully studied Arashkan as a city, its structure, its workings, its people as a whole, she was now studying Nadine Graciousward.

In all candor, the mother of Queen Alor’Nadien ne Feymist was an excellent study when it came to learning everything one would need to know about nobility, grace, elegance, commanding presence, and being a powerful woman without ever swinging a sword, which sort of baffled Cora a bit. True, Seressa never swung a sword either, but she at least did carry one; a beautiful and ornate rapier.. which Cora had thought was some sort of a knitting needle when they had first met!

Aager was showing no interest in the matter as he pealed the apple he had gotten from the fruit platter, and at some level, he didn’t really want to know. Inshala, on the other hand, was staring at the cute gnomic girl with endearing and enthralled, baby owl eyes.

 

“Constricting? That is a bit odd. And peculiar. Of all the places in the kingdom, I would have thought Melshieve would have provided the most freedom to her students.”, Nadine said, carefully studying the scruffy-looking gnomic girl who was, for some reason, squirming before her.

“They didn’t let me take the classes I wanted.”, Tonic said quietly, staring at her own lap.

“That wasn’t the order I gave them.”, mused Nadine with a slight frown.

“I.. What?”, spluttered Tonic.

“Come now, my dear. I know who you are.”, the former queen of Bari Na-ammen said with an amused expression playing around her perfectly shaped lips.

“I.. have no idea what you are talking about!”, spluttered the gnomic girl.

“For Heaven’s sake, girl!”, Brom said with an exasperated tone.

“Cinotnacra Gocelap? Is that the best you could do? Say your name backward? Your demented uncle was much better at deceit than you are. Which is expected, and a good thing, really.”, Nadine said with a beautiful smile. A smile that, among those gathered around the low table, only Aager and Inshala had seen before; on the face of Alor’Nadien ne Feymist, her daughter.

 

Tonic mumbled some things unintelligible as she blushed furiously.

 

“Your name is not Cinotnacra Gocelap?”, blurted Inshala with fascination while Aager stared down at the little gnomic girl with rare amusement.

“No, my dear child.”, Nadine said smiling at her. “This pretty young gnome lady is Arcantonic Palecog. Or rather, Arcantonic Mordanon, to be more precise. The very niece of Arcanton Mordenon himself.”

Inshala stared at her then at Tonic with a totally baffled expression.

 

“Who is that?”, Inshala asked Aager hastily as if not wanting to miss the next line in a soap opera.

“Arcanton Mordanon. We saw his wanted posts when we were in Sim Town, on our way to Arashkan, remember? Worth five hundred thousand gold.”, he replied back.

“That is many gold?”, she said a bit unsure.

“That is many, many gold, love.”

 

“Any particular reason you would reveal her identity like this?”, Cora said suddenly, and a bit coldly.

“Only because we are among friends, my dear. No need to get riled up.”, Nadine said with a stern, motherly smile. “I had strict orders her true identity would never be revealed at the Academy, so no one would harass her due to her uncle. I had gone so far as threatening to send anyone that did, right next to her uncle!”

“I.. didn’t know that.”, mumbled Tonic.

“Did you know they placed a ‘Watchful Eye’ on her? Do you know just how dangerous that spell is? And illegal?”, Seressa said staring at Nadine with a very piercing glare.

“Of course, my dear Seressa. It was placed on my orders.”, Nadine replied calmly.

“Why? Why would you place such an erratic and violent spell on a little gnomic girl?”, Seressa blazed in a very un-Seressa-like way.

“The Watchful Eye I had placed on Arcantonic, here, was not the cheap kind, my dear girl. It was the high-end version. Not so erratic, but exponentially more violent.”, Nadine said smiling at the very tall, very dark girl in pinks, though her eyes said otherwise.

“But.. why? Why put in on a little girl in the first place?”, asked Seressa, quite angry now.

“Seressa. Please..”, blubbered Tonic.

“No, girl. I want to know why she had placed such a demented and deadly spell on you.”, Seressa blazed. “What would have happened had she stepped out of line, or done anything stupid, as young kids often do?”

“To my dear Arcantonic? Nothing.”, said Nadine, still smiling.

 

Seressa stared at her.

So did Tonic.

Brom had no idea what the bloody hell a Watchful Eye was, but it sounded dangerous, so he was kind of curious.

Cora was much on the same boat as Brom, just with less idea than him.

Aager seemed like he wanted to be anywhere but here, possibly taking Inshala along, just so they wouldn’t be part of this ‘family’ drama.

Inshala, on the other hand, was enthralled by the verbal and emotional duel going back and forth, probably because she had never really witnessed a family drama before.

 

“I don’t understand.”, Seressa said confused.

“What is there not to understand. Ahh.. Perhaps you thought I placed the Watchful Eye to keep tabs on dear Arcantonic. My dear girl, that is not only wrong, it is also abhorrent. You watch over your children. You do not watch them. And you certainly do not zap them every time they do something foolish, which they are going to do, and are expected to do.”, she replied.

“Then.. why did you had it placed?”, Seressa asked, now totally dumbfounded.

“To make sure no one came after her because of her uncle, dear Seressa. I would have thought a smart, inspired, and extremely imaginative girl such as yourself would have figured that out by now.”, Nadine said.

“But.. what would have happened had anyone did come after her?”, Seressa asked in a distinctly diffident tone.

“They would have gotten three warnings to back off, and if they didn’t, they would have promptly gotten disintegrated.”, Nadine Graciousward replied calmly as she reached over and nipped herself a tiny tree of grapes from the fruit platter.

 

Seressa just ogled at her.

“Holy crap!”, Tonic blurted.

“Bit of an overkill, perhaps.”, murmured Brom. “No pun intended.”

Cora didn’t say anything.

Aager hadn’t planned on being part of this conversation in the first place, so he didn’t say anything either.

Inshala, however, was looking at Nadine with this funny expression.

 

Nadine looked down at Brom and without smiling, she spoke.

 

“When someone threatens your loved ones, dear Master Brom, you warn them to back off, if at all. Should they persist, you destroy them —utterly! That way, you do not have to worry about them ever again, and you have just told any and everyone else who might have similar ideas exactly what to expect.”

“I concur.”, Aager said quietly and inadvertently, remembering what Lady Granma, Grana Maarva, Lady Alisia’s mother, and Moira’s grandmother had said to him when he had gone to her to speak about his intentions to marry Inshala.

“YESS!”, hissed Inshala savagely, to everyone’s surprise.

Nadine looked at those around the table for a moment. Then to Cora, she said, “I heard rumors about your people, my dear Cora. Tell me. What would you do, if you had the chance to save them?”

“Anything.”, Cora said simply.

“And you, my dear Seressa? What would you do, if someone came after your pair?”

“I would destroy them.”, Seressa said viciously. “Like, unload EVERYTHING I had!”

“And you, Master Hobbit?”, Nadine asked.

“I already destroyed them.”, Brom replied, looking down at his own hands.

“There you have it.”, she said. “I made the mistake of not destroying those that came after my daughter and look where that brought us; the total annihilation and destruction of Bari Na-ammen, and causing me to almost lose my beloved child.”

 

Nadine Graciousward looked at all the youthful faces before her with the satisfaction of having learned them a valuable lesson. Then slowly she rose.

 

“My dear, dear Inshala. The winds and seasons, the eagle and the crow, and the leaves and the blossoms have spoken your name. You are, truly a treasure to be had. I have enjoyed my stay here and look forward to visiting you, should you have me in your beautiful home again, which is exactly what this place is; a home.”, she said with a beautiful smile.

Inshala beamed at her with blurry eyes and promptly hugged her.

Then she looked down at the scruffy little gnomic girl who was staring guiltily at her.

“It isn’t all that hard to see you have something to say, my dear Arcantonic. Perhaps you would say it before I left, which must happen in a short few minutes. I do have some people to see and summoning circles to arrange for fast transportation between other cities and this town. A dreary job and a true drudgery, to be sure, but it must be done.”

“I am sorry I called you all those names, Lady Nadine!”, Tonic blurted. “When you got me out of that place, I wanted so much to stay with you, but you took me back to my parents, who had sold me out to my uncle in the first place. I felt so betrayed and abandoned.. again!”

“My dear, dear girl. I did not give you back to your parents because I thought you belonged there. I gave you back to them because I had no home. I still don’t. What I did have, was many, many enemies and that was the only place where you would be safe until you were old enough to attend the Academy where I had granted you with a full scholarship and the one place where my enemies would never seek me out, as our connection was unknown to any but you.. You had already suffered much, and with me, you would have never returned from that dark place I had gotten you out of. This I say with all the candor of my heart.”, she replied as she knelt down and hugged the scruffy-looking little gnomic girl. “And I doubt you could have said anything more than I have already said to myself over the years, my dear.”

“But.. why didn’t you tell me these things? Why keep it all a secret? Why not tell me the scholarship came from you?”, Tonic asked with shame.

“For the same reasons I mentioned above, my dear. You were already going to be black-sheeped for your blood relation to your uncle. But it would likely be limited to slander. If your connection to me were known, many would have come after you, just to hurt me, if nothing else. When I said I had many enemies, I did not exaggerate in the slightest. As for your scholarship, I wanted you to grow up and be something on your own. Or make something out of yourself, whatever you wanted to be.. without being in the shadow of anybody else nor feel any obligations. Nor even to me.. You already were going to suffer for the sins of your uncle. The least I could do was to prepare the conditions where you would make a name of your own and be free.”

“That.. is beautiful..”, Inshala whispered.

Seressa approached the former queen of Bari Na-ammen and did an exquisite curtsy.

“I apologize for my abrasive manner, Lady Nadine. I.. lose control when anyone threatens my pair.”, she said with her illustrious and cultured voice.

“And that is what a good pair should do, my dear. You are smart, beautiful, and kind. Three things seldom found in one person. Yet you are smart, beautiful, kind, loyal, and strong. Five things found in only a unique person. I wish Master Brom, dear Cora, and you were there when I, Delia Karakash, and diverse others had gone after that demented little midget. Your presence would have made a world of difference.”

 

Seressa looked down and at her bare feet, possible to hide her face.

Brom stared somewhere off to the north and east.

Cora started chewing at one of her fingers showing a sudden interest in the tribal designs and patterns on the hand-woven rugs.

 

“My uncle..”, Tonic mumbled. “..is he still alive?”

“I suspect he still is, my dear..”, Nadine said brightly. “..and burning quite comfortably in Hell..”

✱ ✱ ✱

Hamna Vir did not like this town. Hamna Vir did not like Mortals. Hamna Vir did not like the half-born either. In all candor, Hamna Vir did not like anything or anyone.. except her beloved and beautiful little Dar Derune. So when she was told she would be replacing the tall, alluring, kind-hearted Constance as the new liaison, she had taken a leaf out of her sister-kin, Demelze’s book, and laughed at Perigren Ostlanna Temez with glaringly exaggerated laugh and with scornful abandon. She had, at least, been more believable with her laugh than Demelze had ever been.

Finding out Temez hadn’t been joking about the idea, which hadn’t really been an idea in the first place but a command, had not helped either.. at which point Hamna Vir had become vocal.

 

Very, very vocal!

 

It had been, to everyone’s collective amusement, that Temez had sternly told her that it was about time she too did something for the upcoming war, as opposed to sitting around all day playing games and cuddling Dar Derune. After all, monopolizing the boy was not nice and there were many other sisters who also wanted to cuddle him!

Hence, with a very infuriated, surly, and sullen expression clearly etched all over her face and attitude, she had come out of the Serenity Home Temple and was now walking over to the sheriff’s office, hissing and cussing at everyone looking in her direction. To make things worse, if that was possible, her inflammatory words were not some primitive Mortal swear words, but actual ‘curses’..

Not to anyone’s surprise, Thomas would likely be called upon to patiently remove any number of unexpected and quite cantankerous curses, hexes, and jinxes from various town citizens!

When Hamna Vir came to the sheriff’s office, she hadn’t bothered to knock on the door and politely ask to be let in, but had knocked the door down in her, very creepy way; the thick, steel enforced door that had been there for generations had literally rotted away and crumbled down, it’s steel frames bent and caked with reddish-green clumps of rust.

It had been, perhaps, quite unfortunate that Guard Anderson has been the one closest to the door at the time, who had learned his lesson from the former liaison, Constance, and the sprite, Biberbell, to be polite. Neither of his previous encounters, however, had prepared him for a Hamna Vir.

Seeing the door suddenly come crumbling down on him, the young Arashkan recruit had thought the worst, particularly after the bloody attack that had occurred merely three days ago, and had gone for his sword.. and had promptly gotten himself cursed, hexed, and jinxed, dropping his sword and poking himself in the foot, stumbling back in pain, crashing into the spear racks and collapsing the whole rack, along with the score or so spears on top of him!

The remaining guards had backed off, though they’d kept their hands on their clubs.

 

Hamna Vir hadn’t even given the young man, moaning under heavy rack and score or so of spears, a second glance when she had sullenly glided over to the sheriff and introduced herself;

 

“Berete Hamna Vir, reporting for duty as the replacement liaison.”, she hissed!

“Welcome, Liaison Berete Hamna Vir.”, Sheriff Standorin said calmly to the sullen girl with the sharp features and black and somewhat shredded clothes.

“Tell me what I must do Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, so I may do it and go back!”, the new liaison scowled in a surly and abrasive manner.

“Do you have somewhere to be, Liaison Hamna Vir?”, Standorin asked politely.

“I was happy where I was, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. But because of you, I am forced to be here and against my will.”, she further hissed.

“I.. see..”, the sheriff said.

“No. You don’t!”, Hamna Vir snapped. “You were supposed to have been nice to our Constance Alure Smithen. Yet you broke her heart. Do you know how hard it is for my kind to have a heart? Seeing as you don’t have one yourself, I doubt you do.”

“It isn’t that simple, young lady.”, Standorin said as calmly as he could manage.

“Do tell, which part wasn’t simple?”, Hamna Vir glared. “Constance is, indeed, one of the best of us. She had a spark in her heart! And for the sake of that spark, she sacrificed what was most precious to her. And you, sir, smothered that spark. Well done! In one stroke of Mortal stupidity, you have destroyed her, ruined my day, and you still have the audacity to claim, it isn’t your fault?”

“Liaison Hamna Vir. I do not think this is any of your business. You are here to act as a liaison between my department and the half-born.”, Sheriff Standorin fumed.

“Which is precisely what I am doing; liaisoning between this silly place and my kin!”, flared the sullen girl.

Stadorin smoldered where he sat. But in a demented way, he knew the surly girl glaring at him was right. Technically, she was ‘liaisoning’ right this very moment!

 

He sighed.

 

“Everyone. Take a five up at the watchtower. Someone help Mr. Anderson and see to his foot. He is bleeding all over the office.”

The guards helped poor Mr. Anderson up and dragged him up the stairs leading to the roof and to the newly finished watchtower.

Soon enough, the sheriff’s office was empty except for the sheriff himself and the new liaison.

 

“There are many things I do not know, nor understand, Liaison Hamna Vir. I would be grateful if you would be kind enough to explain them to me?”, Standorin asked politely.

“You are Mortal, hence doomed to die ignorant. I do not know what ‘kind’ is, seeing as I came from Hell, and having seen just how you have thus treated our Constance, I do not think you would be as grateful as you say you would, and I double-doubt you even know what it means!”, she replied unmercifully.

 

Standorin fumed some more.

 

“Perhaps.”, he said agreeably. “Tell me what this spark is.”

“You, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, must understand, we, the half-born, were made, for the sole purpose of sowing dissension among Mortals. To that end, Mortal men and women were taken from their homes and against their will. The men were forcibly mated to lustful succubus and eaten once the deed was done. The women were raped, repeatedly, over and over, and consequently impregnated by the vilest incubus, many times.. to make my kind. We, all of us, were thrown into very deep, very narrow pits that we could sit or stand, but never stretch and lie when we were born and fed with the feces of Mortals. Most of us did not survive. Perhaps one in a few hundred did.. Those of us that did were never let out of those pits until we were at the edge of our puberty. Then we were taken to dark, horrible places where we were given extensive education and training as to how to deceive, manipulate, seduce, and effectively slay Mortals. Those of us that couldn’t, were fed to demons, alive, and right before our eyes, their remains burned and put into the very ink we used, as an ingredient. Every time we dipped a feather into an inkpot to take a note, we knew, in every drop, one of our brothers or sisters was in it! We were treated in the vilest ways imaginable to make sure all semblance of good and empathy was dried out of us.. So when I say, the ones that are here are the elite of the Seeds of Dissension, I mean that in the most literal, and horrible sense possible..”, Hamna Vir said with dead, morose eyes.

 

Standorin stared at her, a sick expression etched on his face.

 

“We were made so we may never have or feel, not only empathy, compassion, love, or any form of attachment, but to simply never have or feel anything. In the great scheme of things, however, something happened and one of us got free. You met her; a Merisoul Xyrotwu. You did fine her, after all. She made a daring plan and she got us all out. She made us free, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. And paid for it with her life.. She gave us the chance to live, and to choose, and in time, hope to feel. We, the half-born, can ‘sense’, ‘hear’, and ‘read’ emotions around us. All of us, all the time. But we can not feel them ourselves. When we show anger, it is not your Mortal understanding of anger. It is the wrath of Hell, in the most literal sense. When we show love and care, it is, in actuality, a mere emulation of the real thing learned via our extensive training. What you Mortals take for granted, is a matter of miracle for us, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. Do you understand that?”, she asked in a cold, void of all emotions kind of voice.

“I.. think so.”, Standorin said quietly.

“No. You do not. Because you can not. The moment of your birth.. it marks an event of happiness by its very nature, for lo.. a new life has come to be.. You start attaining emotional satisfaction in your mother’s womb. We have not and we never did. Our birth was marked as a curse about to be let loose upon Mortals for the sole purpose of ending you Mortals in the name of our demon masters. This very day, we had a mating ritual. Two of our kind fought for the right to bond for life; Demelze and Hal Mali. They fought to kill one another to reach the height of their Hell’s wrath in hopes of holding just short of slaying each other in order to get a glimpse of compassion and, perchance, understand and feel love that would bind them for life. Hal Mali was burnt down to crisp and Demelze was bleeding from so many stab wounds that my kin was still washing the place off the bloodstains and the cinders when I left the temple to come here!”

 

Standorin just stared at her.

 

“Merisoul Xyrotwu spent years and years to understand her heart. She did everything to attain that one, single purpose. And when she finally did, a spark gave birth in her heart. It was when she had sacrificed her very existence to save a Mortal. The very moment of her comprehension, however, also marked the moment of her end as well. As sad as it may be to have lost our beloved savior, she depicted the true symbol of our freedom; the half-demon who escaped all her masters and, among all the half-born, became the first to Ascend, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart..

..With her help, Perigren Ostlanna Temez became the first to be mirima —free!..

..And amongst the Escape, Constance Alure Smithen was the fist to have attained a spark. You must understand, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, when you look at Mortals, you see potential, whatever flavor that potential may be or entail. Would you like to know what we see when we look at Mortals? Food! We see food! Even though we all forswore our most basic needs and desires when we decided to abandon our sinful ways and our demon masters and opted to come and help you in your war, many of my kin still looked upon you as food, when you first came to meet us. She didn’t. She looked upon you with only wanting.. as a mate, and willy-nilly, she bloomed a spark.. in her heart. She did everything to attain your good graces and you, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, smothered her spark. Good job! I am so tempted to ask; dude, what is wrong with you?!”

“Perhaps all these should have been explained to me before..”, mumbled the sheriff, feeling decidedly ashamed.

“Yes. Because we escape from Hell on a regular basis and know perfectly well what is going on and what is happening to us, as opposed to it being our first time!”, snarked Hamna Vir with heavy sarcasm. “We just came to your Mortal coil several weeks ago, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. Do expect everything we see, we do, we feel, we observe, and we think we comprehend to be uniquely new for us. That is our excuse. What is yours?”

 

Standorin knew he was on his last few feet. He didn’t back down, but he certainly did not give excuses either.

 

“Sacrifice. I heard talk about this before. When we found Constance, half-dead, near the shores of Arashkan River, several hours to the east, last week..”

“And you never bothered to find out what it was? Duuude! Really.. What is wrong with you? Is this how you Mortals treat your women? Is this why we escaped? Is this why we took the real risk of being hunted down by our demon masters?”, Hamna Vir spat viscously.

“I did ask. She wouldn’t tell me. She is very good at dodging when she wants to..”, mumbled Standorin with frustration.

“No. She is very good at being considerate, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. Something you clearly lack. Sacrifice, by its nature, is giving up something you truly care about and that is truly yours, in order to attain a greater goal. All of us half-born have common traits. But we also have unique skills. Hers.. hers was negotiation and the ability to bring people together and make the impossible, possible. So when I say, you, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, must be monumentally obtuse to have rebuked her thus thoroughly, I am being very, very polite about it..”

Standorin scowled.

“She is exceptional with her martial skills when it comes to close-quarter combat and with her pike, in particular. All of us have horns, of one variety or another..”, she said, then grabbed hold of her tail and showed it to the sheriff. “I also have this tail. Some few others of my kind have it also. She has wings.. And she could fly, with exceptional speed and grace..”

The sheriff stared at her.

“I never saw her wings.”

“Very, very few of us have wings and can fly. Merisoul did. Though hers were broken when they threw her down into her pit when she could barely crawl. Of those that do, even fewer could actually hide theirs and sprout them at will..”, Hamna Vir said with great vehemence.

“I do not understand.. What does any of this have to do with sacrifice?”, Standorin asked, baffled and somewhat taken aback.

“You asked us to find your lost Orken army, we felt compelled to go out of our way to find them. That, however, was a group effort. But because you were also seeking your lost son, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, she felt compelled to find and bring him back, safe and sound.. We had found an alchemical way to unveil the Orken army, but we needed many, many pixies and sprites to give us their dust, as part of the main ingredient. And we had found where your son and his pretty mate were. The answer to both, to our dismay, was at Gull’s Perch, and the Lady who owns it!”

 

To say Sheriff Standorin was a pragmatic man, was a bit like saying water was, ‘somewhat’ wet. True, he would always keep his options open, and never really engrave them on stone, it’s just that, said options were quite limited, and not so much as readily discardable, per se, but neither were they readily available. Considering the events of the past six months or so, however, that gap in his ‘options’ had ‘somewhat’ widened. Hence when the name Gull’s Perch popped up, he did feel a certain sense of dread wash over himself.

 

“What did she sacrifice to the Lady of the Perch?”, he blurted.

“The thing that was most precious to her, and what made her unique among us, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart..”, Hamna Vir said quietly. “..Her wings.”

 

Standorin stared at her, and a terrible pang of guilt grabbed hold of his heart.

 

“To get back your son, she chose to sacrifice her wings. When Titania refused, she sacrificed them anyway, to bargain for all the sprites and pixies in Gull’s Perch and Ritual Forest to come here, a something that would never have happened, and has never been heard of before, just so she could help us, and you, in particular, to find your lost Orken army.”

✱ ✱ ✱

I blew it.”, Sheriff Standorin said with glum frustration. “She did everything to get a smile out of me, just a smile, mind you, and I blew it. Indeed, what is wrong with me?”

Standorin Shieldheart was sitting on his couch, late that night, staring at the fire once again. He looked around and noted his home was a mess, with unwashed dishes everywhere, clothes crumbled and tossed here and there with torn or dog-eared parchments with various reports stacked on all available surfaces and the house itself seemed like it could use a good airing.

Strictly speaking, Standorin was a very organized and disciplined man. His sense of perfection, coupled with his need to impose ‘do it right, or just don’t do it at all’, had driven his deceased wife, Limnia Karya, quite perplexed at times, and the only reason she hadn’t made a scene over his exasperating tendency for arbitrary ‘neatness’ was due her being a stoic-hearted woman.. and because of her fondness and love for him.

This.. mess.. however, was something new and very unlike him. It was as if the culmination of all his losses, all his disappointments, and all his heartaches had finally ganged up on him and were taking their vengeance upon him —with compounded interest.

 

“Maybe I should just march up at the temple and demand to see her.”, he mused, then killed that thought when he contemplated how Thomas would react to that; something about jurisdictions and ‘No, means, no!’

 

Deep in his dark thoughts, Standorin contemplated the past few days.. then weeks.. and finally, his life, going as far back as his younger days, particularly after being ‘brought back’, if worded politely, ‘dragged back’, if phrased more accurately, by the rangers Moorat and Limnia to Serenity Home.

After his many experiences during his guarding duties on merchant caravans and as a bounty hunter, he had inevitably learned many of the King’s Laws. Particularly those pertaining to crime and civil order. Hence, he had applied to the position of ‘sheriff’ of the town and in a mere year or two, the job had been his.

The fact that he had worked day and night, quite tirelessly, and in his very orderly and disciplined way, along with his good knowledge of the King’s Laws, had played a great role in getting the job.

In secret, though, Standorin knew, his knowledge of the law had been due to his stints as a bounty hunter and his sense of order and discipline had been part of his ‘character’ all along. The only true reason he had worked day and night, and quite relentlessly, was to capture the affection of that ugly guy’s, Moorat’s, beautiful elder sister, Limnia; the woman who had ultimately captured him on any number of levels.

For nearly a year, Limnia had ignored ‘the boy’, as she referred to Standorin, being some years older than him. But Standorin had been ‘politely’ relentless in his approaches to her as well and finally, and quite miraculously, Limnia had caved in and they had married. Limnia had always been a very bold, outspoken, and strong woman. When they had been alone, however, and only when she’d been with her ‘young’ husband, she would revert to a much girlish persona, and that particular aspect of her had been at the very core of their love and happy marriage as much as her, otherwise ‘known’ attitudes. Standorin would do everything in his power to make her safe and happy because he had loved her that much, and she would be her soft side for him in all regards because her young husband made her feel loved and safe so much so that she could leave her ranger and elder sister ‘skin’ outside her home.

It was quite possible, even her brother Moorat had never known that side of her. After all, he had wondered what Standorin had found in his brisk, rather abrasive, and ofttimes heavy-handed elder sister! True, Moorat had never out right told him just how stupid he thought he was. Not to his face anyway. But he had left no doubt about just exactly what he thought about the young sheriff either. That had changed, however, when the young sheriff showed his skills once they had started tracking down various bandits that had plagued the south of Serenity Home.

All that, and all his happiness, however, had been crushed and quite abruptly, when she had taken ill, and after months of struggling, had died. And with her death, so had somethings.. many things.. in Standorin’s life had passed away and been buried with his wife.

Years later, he would meet a strange, tall, beautiful, alluring, calm, demure, and dignified woman with two, slender horns knock on his door and call upon him; Liaison Constance.

 

As if on queue, the door to his two-room house knocked.

 

Within the space of three weeks, and merely by her classy demeanor, her considerate attitude, and her moderated smile, she had managed to start a fire in his heart. A fire he hadn’t felt for the past sixteen years. And that fire had downright scared Standorin. And filled him with guilt, shame, and not a small sense of betrayal for his Limnia.

And all that had culminated to a breaking point when the bloody assassins had attacked his town, the refugees, the representatives, and the delegation, resulting in the death of nearly two thousand people and leaving almost nine thousand wounded in its wake.

Standorin had, quite unreasonably, blamed his emotional storming state with Liaison Constance as a distraction and hence, the cause of his inability to prevent the attack.

Deep down, though, he knew he was wrong on both accounts. The attack had been very well planned like it was, quite literally, ‘doomed to succeed’, and Liaison Constance had certainly not been a distraction for him. The only reason most of the delegation had survived had been due to the diversity of the people among the delegation who had earned their place by sweat and blood in the first place.. As for the liaison, she had shown exceptional professionalism during her work hours in the sheriff’s office and when they were out on a date, she would always have her demure smile and be a warm and confident listener. She would never speak out of turn and certainly never say foolish things, and when she spoke her mind, she would say it with considerate deliberation.

And considering how beautiful and appealing Constance had been in her curving physique, she had never once used that aspect of her arsenal to ‘capture’ him.

The truth, as Standorin understood it, was that the Liaison had wanted him. But as much as she would want to have him admire her for her appealing beauty, she wanted his honest love and certainly his respect, more. Particularly for her working mind, her calm and demure character, and her tender and caring heart..

 

..the heart that had a spark, as the new and rather surly Liaison Hamna Vir had explained.

 

“And I snuffed that right out of her.”, he seethed quietly.

 

The door knocked again.

 

Standorin contemplated whether he should open it or not. His men knew never to come knocking when he was home, unless something dire was at hand, even so, at that very moment, he just didn’t think he could take any more bad news.

He sighed, got up, and grabbed his heavy club, in case there was a dire situation at hand, or even if there wasn’t and he would use it on the idiot who had come to pester him during his private moments of misery.

 

“Uhhmm.. Hello, father.”, Udoorin mumbled.

“Boy, what are you doing here this late at night?”, he asked with a frown.

“Really? Dad? You are asking me why I am up late at night?”, Udoorin said in an exasperated voice.

“Good evening, father.”, said another, quiet, soft voice, and Queen Alor’Nadien ne Feymist appeared from behind Udoorin.

“My Queen.”, Standorin said with a slight bow.

“Please.”, Lorna very nearly begged with a furious blush. “The father of my King bows to no one. And for you, I shall always be just Lorna.”

“That is.. very kind of you to say..”, Standorin admitted with a flushed face.

“I.. We.. just came to visit you before we left.”, Lorna said quietly.

“Left? Are you going somewhere?”, Udoorin’s father asked, with one eyebrow cocked.

“Yes. May we enter? This will be better if we sat and talked.”, Lorna said carefully.

“By all means, do. But.. I have been a bit behind on my house chores of late. The house.. is a bit of a mess at the moment..”, he mumbled.

“It’s alright —ow my!”, Lorna exclaimed when she entered.

Udoorin, however, was more than utterly shocked. He had never seen this house this messy. To phrase that correctly, he had never seen this house messy!

“Udoorin, love, do call Lady Anglenna and Lord Armathelius. I am sure they have been tailing us and think we do not know.”, Lorna asked her husband kindly.

“Of course.”, Udoorin grinned and dashed back out.

“Uhhmm.. What do you have on your mind, Lorna?”, the sheriff asked but before she could answer, Udoorin returned with the Lady Anglenna, Lord Armathelius, and his awesome armor.

“Father, if you would, please, do sit down. Perhaps you would be kind enough to liven up the fire? It is, rather chilly this night.”, Lorna said with an encouraging smile.

“Cousin, Lord Armathelius, shall we get started?”, Lorna said with a merry expression.

Anglenna looked at her, then at the messy house, and sighed in total defeat.

Lord Armathelius just stared at his Queen, then at Anglenna with a very much confused expression, then with an “Ahh, of course, my Queen.”, he said as comprehension dawned on his face and he started towards the cups and plates and parchments scattered everywhere as Lorna bent down and started picking up the crumbled and tossed clothes.

“What? What are you doing?”, Standorin asked with a terribly embarrassed face.

“Helping our father out.”, Lorna said with an even more beautiful smile. “Udoorin, dear. I am sure there is a bucket here somewhere. We will need some water.”

“Of course.”, Udoorin grinned again, grabbed the two wooden buckets sitting next to the door, and ran out, once more, to draw some water from the water pump in the small garden.

“This is highly irregular.”, Standorin said quite mortified.

“No, Sheriff Standorin.”, Anglenna replied happily. “This is payback for all those long hours of grueling questions you afflicted upon me when I was ill.”

“I was very polite to you about it, Lady Anglenna. I am sure you understand that.”

“Yes. I do. I also understand you need some help.”, she said, then turned to her cousin and, very sternly, she added, “Lorna dear, please leave the cooking to me, if you will.”

“What? I thought father would enjoy a hot soup. Or perhaps even a stew!”, exclaimed Lorna.

“Not made by you, dear. I will do the soup, the stew, and the laundry, you do the dishes, and young Udoorin and Lord Armathelius can clean the fireplace and the rest of the house. I am sure we can find some suitable cleaning amenities here.”, she said cooly.

“This is truly unprecedented.”, Standorin fumed.

“My Lord Sheriff, your efforts on behalf of all the refugees, Arashkan and Bari Na-ammen have not gone unnoticed. True, we all suffered in this last attack. But had it not been for your enforced training programs, I surmise our total losses would have been catastrophic by proportion.”, said Lord Armathelius.

“Those training programs were the mayor’s idea.”, objected Standorin.

“Perhaps.”, agreed, Armathelius. “But Arthandos Yuleman had you to rely on, and he was right to do so.”

“Lord Armathelius. If you plan on giving long-winded and quite pompous speeches, please do so outside. Otherwise, grab a bucket and one of these cloths and start scrubbing!”, Anglenna burned the elf lord!

 

It was perhaps two hours later, and a bit past midnight when they had all settled down in front of the newly cleaned out fireplace; a sour-faced Anglenna sitting on the couch next to Armathelius, Sheriff Standorin sitting in a chair, King Udoorin sitting on the floor and on a threadbare rug with Queen Alor’Nadien ne sitting, also on the floor, with her back resting in his arms, and all with numb, shriveled hands.

“First of all, I thank you all for what you did and I dearly hope this does not go out and become public. Otherwise we will have quite a scandal in our hands and be a laughing stock for the next few generations.”

“It’s alright, dad. Really. After all the things you did for me..”, Udoorin said as he held his wife and queen tighter in his arms.

“Very well. Now, then. Where are you going on the eve of the war?”, Standorin asked.

 

For a moment, nobody said anything and of the four, only Lord Armathelius had a very disapproving expression. Lady Anglenna’s face was, not quite as disapproving, so much as it was of defeat and exasperation. Udoorin had a grid, and with a soft blush, so did Lorna.

 

“Lorna, love. Perhaps you should say it. Less likely he will trash us if he heard it coming from you.”, Udoorin offered.

“Sheriff Standorin. My Dorin and I have been studying the area extensively in the past few days and have put together all the intel gathered over the past several months and a bit more. The sources of said intel are; the rangers of Serenity Home and Bari Na-ammen, and thanks to the contributions of Agent Largo Summersong, ARIS, along with what information Tactical General Dridges Motherswolfie sent us and the lingering gossip of the ogres, the fey, and nature, courtesy Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane and her team of druids, shamans, and witches, and the distilled efforts of the half-born on this matter. You have already seen most of these reports yourself, sans what the ogres, the fey, and nature had to say about the matter. However, you have had your hands full as it is, so we marked out several locations and our suspicions, and forwarded them to the tactical general, Dridges Motherswolfie, and she concurs with us. We believe we have narrowed down the location of several of their key Grunt Generals, along with their Blood Shamans.”

 

Standorin gave her daughter-in-law a very steady gaze, for it was quite apparent what she and his son had in mind.

 

“We have sketched out several of these locations and the safest possible routes leading to them. We have also put together several surgical strike teams that will head out on search and destroy missions.”, she said softly. “Should we succeed, we will have broken the Orken army’s backbone, and come spring, they will be sorely disoriented, even if they are able to replace all their losses.”

“How many teams are there and who are on these teams, Lorna?”, Standorin asked calmly. “I take it you and my son are in one?”

“Yes, father. There are five teams. Ours will be the second team and will comprise my Udoorin, I, and my cousin, Lady Anglenna. The other teams shall be as follows; The first team shall have Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood, Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel Songsteel, and Perigren Ostlanna Temez of the Escape. The third team will be made up of Master Aager Fogstep, dear Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane, and Lady Lilly Venom. Team five will compass, to our surprise, Lady Seressa Wraiven and Miss Cinotnacra Gocelap of the Academy of Melshieve, along with Cora Sleet from the Great Northern Tundras, and Brom Bumblebrim of Bowling Hills.”, Lorna listed.

 

Standorin frowned. He knew most of the people involved, personally or by reputation. The last four, he knew only because they had been at the meeting three days ago. Something was going on here but he wasn’t quite sure what.

 

“You are missing team four.”, he said staring at his beautiful and graceful daughter-in-law.

Alor’Nadien ne Feymist smiled up at him.

“Team four is comprised of Liaison Berete Hamna Vir and another of the half-born. But we thought they could use an experienced and well-rounded leader, and very much hoped you would volunteer, father; Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart.”

 


 

book 07 books dungeons and dragons duygusal groups karakter analizi modül savaş serenity serenity home the plot thickens Whispers; A Cabal

Grulganesti Grimtooth Bolgrig;
“A Debt Father to Daughter Passed..”

Grulganesti Grimtooth Bolgrig;
“A Debt Father to Daughter Passed..”

Timeline:

Sometime in the near future..

..and distant time to come.

 

This story takes place
about a month after
The Oathbreaker (Part Four)
and several days after
The Liaison.
The Discovery.
Kumse Beetles and Pixie Dust!
and
Out of the Gull.

 

 

It has been some time, little one. Many a things have I heard since you left. Of big happenings.. Of things moving; beast and man, elf and dwarf.. I hear the voices of the long-lost, waiting to be heard again.. Waiting in anticipation. Yet I hear another voice. Stronger now.. Louder. The one I warned Yours —the former Ritual Guardian.. It calls to us.. And it is not the voice of a mortal.. It is a dark voice.. Dark like untended, besmirching smoke.. I hear, also, whispers among the trees.. and the leaves.. and the winds.. and they say a new Ritual Guardian is among us.. And I sense the tender touch of a little girl in many of these big happenings. There is also a new grove, to the far north and east, where the mad mortal’s temple once was.. My ogres went there only to find.. peace! They lost all their bloodlust and all their hunger for hurt when they wandered it. They said the grove has an owner, little one..”, growled the nearly fourteen-foot tall giant of a woman, an ogress, with a harsh, vicious face, wild hair thickly braided many times, with arms and legs and body untoned and bearing awesome muscles and many scars; Chieftain Grulganiste Grimtooth Bolgrig stared down, a looming monstrosity, over the little girl with an adorable face, and beautiful, even horns.. and at the cold, silent man in his dark harness, emanating a certain, ‘wintery’ death..

“I have returned, mother Ganiste.”, very nearly whispered the little girl —her voice abashed and barely audible.

“If you will have me..”

 

One would never expect such frightening agility from Chieftain Grulganiste, and certainly not from a monster of her size..

Aager Fogstep almost dished out everything he had, when she moved.

One moment, she was standing and glowering, the next, she had the little girl, Inshala, in her massive arms and pressed against her impressively large breasts.

 

“No, my little one.. I will never have you because you never left. And my heart has ached since that unfair day.. This, you must understand.. This, your father tried so hard to learn you..”, she said with tears running down her brutish face.

“This, I understand now, mother Ganiste. I am so, so sorry.. I am not wise, but a foolish little girl..”, Inshala hugged the ogress back with a sob. “And.. I am so, so sorry for having hurt you and blamed you for my father’s demise..”

“Ow, no, my little daughter. You will not get away with one apology. Come.. I have food, and Chihuahua has missed you.”, smiled the giant ogress, leaned down, and carefully put the girl back on the ground.

“That was an awesome speech, by the way.”, said the little girl, somberly.

“It had better be. Been revising and revisiting it for quite some weeks, now..”, growled the massive figure.

She thundered a few great steps and opened the flaps of her tent and bid her, and the cold, dark man in.. the one she’d kept in her peripheral vision at all times and learned what she sought, the moment she’d grabbed for her little Inshala!

 

‘So. My daughter has found something that cares and savagely.. Yet.. in control.. barely..’, she mused as the two entered her tent, followed them in, and closed the flaps after her.

 

“Chihuahua!”, shrieked Inshala and grabbed a rather tinny dog with short legs and a pointy little muzzle, as it jumped on her, its butt waggling crazy.

This was followed by a lot of giggles and happy laughter as the tinny dog nuzzled and licked at her hands, her face, and her small feet.

Aager Fogstep stood watching the giant ogress, his Inshala, and the hyped little dog while he stood at one side of the tent flaps, the side that would likely be pushed open first.

Chieftain Grulganiste turned to her pots and pans, and started slicing some potatoes, onions, carrots and dumped them into a large pot, then dropped large chunks of meat, followed by various spices, then hung the pot over the large fire pit, close to the center of the great, hut-like tent.

It took a moment for Aager to realize the ogress was staring at him. Watching her preparing food with fluent, hypnotic motions as he stared at the fire in the pit, he’d drifted off.. He was standing and awake, but his awareness had gone, leaving his body on total auto-motion..

The ogress had also addressed him something and he’d missed that too!

 

That.. had never happened to Aager.

And the more interesting part was..

..realizing it hadn’t even bothered him.

At all..

 

What else he’d realized was, albeit, and yes, this was an uncivilized, barbaric tent, its interior was..

Aager Fogstep failed to come up with a word.

For he’d never really had it.

And it was the realization of this fact, that had come to him in shrapneled.. hurt?

 

“Home..”

..he heard Inshala’s small, breathy voice in his mind.

“This is home, my Aager. Not mine. Not yours. But a home. Her home. Mother Ganistes’ home. Here, she cooked. Here, she gave birth. Here, she laughed, and here, she mourned.. Here, she has fire, and here, she has Chihuahua..”

 

“The boy seems distracted.”, noted Grulganiste.

“I think so too.”, replied Inshala. “It is good that he is, mother Ganiste.”

“Ow?”

“Yes. He is always alert. Always watching. Always fighting, and always bleeding. He needs respite.”, replied the little girl softly.

“And found it here, has he? In my tent. The tent of an ogress.. My my.. He must truly need this respite, you speak of.”, smiled the ogress. “Well, bring him back from wherever he’s gone to. I wouldn’t want the sheriff to accuse me for letting his man go hungry nor for inhospitality.”

“You know the sheriff of Serenity Home?”, suddenly asked Aager.

“Yes, boy. And for quite sometime now. Has an itchy hand with his blade when it comes to my ogres, though I can’t say I blame him. Everyone’s got to protect their own and my sons and daughters can get out of hand at times.”, replied Grulganiste, without breaking a smile.

Aager stared at the giant woman with reassessing eyes. This.. ogress was a lot more than what she appeared to be, and that was saying something.

“Come, boy.”, repeated the giant woman as she brought huge, ogre-sized bowls and spoons and settled near the fire pit where the tiny Chihuahua and the little girl, Inshala waited with equal anticipation.

Aager Fogstep stared at the scene.

A giant monstrosity of a woman sitting cross-legged; their host, a girl that could barely reach up to her caft if she were standing on her toes, sitting across her; her guest, and a dog that was ‘small’ even by Inshala’s standards, let alone the great ogre!

It looked so unreal.. And hilarious.. But he kept his mouth shut and settled himself next to the little girl.

The chihuahua have him a warning growl, made sure the man in the dark leathers would behave himself, then promptly dismissed him when Chieftain Grulganiste put a cup the size of a respectable-sized bowl with some potatoes and a large chunk of meat in front of him. The chihuahua started to ‘wolf’ it all down with a mindless fervor!

 

*chomp* *chomp* *chomp*

 

Aager took a careful spoon of the food and only after he’d smelled it first.

 

Funny how that went.

Aager Fogstep, the cold, sinister man. The Winter Knight, a peer to the Winter Court, had a sensitive nose and bad food churned his stomach!

 

“You are a guest in my home, boy. It is polite to just eat it, you know. It is vegetables, potatoes, and cow!”, rumbled the ogress with an impressive scowl.

 

*chomp* *chomp* 

 

Inshala giggled as she ate hers with delight.

“He is a sensitive soul, mother Ganiste. Happily, I cook well and have had much practice.”

“Sensitive, is he?”, snorted the ogress. It seemed at first, she was about to make a pun remark, but for whatever reason, she must have changed her mind. “Sensitive can be good. My daughter is also sensitive. Will you smell her carefully, before you taste her too?”

 

Aager..

Aager’s food came out of his nose!

 

“Mother!”, gasped Inshala, suddenly burning bright red.

“What?”, asked Grulganiste seriously. “It’s a valid question. Or perhaps he already has and that is why you are so skinny now!”

“M.. Mother.. Please.. Stop!”, begged Inshala with steam rising from her ears.

 

*chomp* *chomp* *chomp* 

 

“This is what mothers do, little one. Ask impertinent questions. I am sure your father would have approved.. and snickered.. though not obviously. He was a thoughtful old man, particularly where you were concerned, after all.. Sour though he was.”, said mother Ganiste briskly.

“She smells like something wonderful. I lack words. And the ones I have, fall short.”, Aager said quietly, after wiping the food off his face.

“Does she, now?”, asked Chieftain Grulganiste with an awesome scowl.

“Yes.”, replied Aager simply.

“A.. Aager.. Please.. Stop!”, begged Inshala burning even brighter if that was even possible.

Apparently, it was!

 

“And she tastes like ‘Life’.”

 

*chomp*

 

“Not ‘beautiful’, not ‘delightful’, not ‘passionate’, not even ‘enjoyable’, but ‘life’.. Your choice of word is intriguing, if not impressive. And correct, for life has the potential of encompassing all.. You do not speak the words of a young fool, as fools are often young, much like their base wonts and shallow understandings. You will keep her safe, content, and desired, always, then? Or shall we break spoons, now?”, said the giant woman with a certain, implied menace.

 

*chomp* *chomp*

 

“Your food smells and tastes good, Chieftain Grulganiste. I see no reason to break spoons.”, replied Aager formally.

Grulganiste cocked an eyebrow at the man in dark leathers.

“You wish not to talk about this, then?”, she asked.

“You may, as you would, Chieftain. This is your home and I am a mere guest. My Inshala is where I belong. I desire nothing more from her. But by the Great Heavens, nothing less, either.”, he replied calmly and succinctly.

 

Grulganiste, though, recognized that ‘calm’.. For it was the calm she felt only after she’d let her bloodlust have its way. Accept, this.. man’s ‘calm’ was before the bloodlust and there seemed no respite from it anywhere in his near future.

 

And then it hit her.

 

This man.. ‘danced’.. and perpetually, at the edge of insanity.. always.. He was as a feral wolf; savage, hungry, cunning, and bloody mad!

And her little Inshala was the lamb to that wolf..

‘Ow, my dear, dear girl. What have you done? To whom have given your beautiful heart?’, wondered the chieftain of all the ogres of Oger’s Foot in dread and hopeless fascination.

She stared fiercely at the cold man in dark leathers for a bit more.

“Very well.”, mother Ganiste said finally. “We shall put this issue and the breaking of spoons aside for the anon. Now, we shall take part the merry wisdom of my chihuahua to heart and eat.”

*chomp* *chomp*

✱ ✱ ✱

Now, then.  You came here at quite a critical time. Your enemies gather and in great numbers. The dwarven forges have been smoking non-stop for months, the foolish woodsmen carve spear shafts and great wooden stakes by the thousands, the elves enforce their woods with pits and traps as they fill quivers with arrows by the numbers I shudder to even assume. The humans to the south build walls and dig trenches day and night like their very lives depended on it, and by all accounts, it does!”, briefed the ogre chieftain in a low, rumbling growl that would have made any cave bear with a shred of sense to back off.

Aager Fogstep was, yet again, astounded at the accuracy of this giant woman’s astute perception. He had, and only once before, come to Oger’s Foot, some years ago, when a savage ogre called Cabot had come down from these hills and had started ravaging the lands. Serenity Home ranger masters Davien and Moorat had gone after him, but the ogre had been fast on his feet. He had gathered his followers and had made a run for it.. to the ruins of Themalsar, forcing the ranger masters to retreat. Then young Udoorin’s father, Sheriff Standorin, along with Davien, Moorat, Aager, more than half the guards of the town and no other that Lady Magella herself had come here, to these hills to give a harsh lesson to the ogres to behave themselves. They hadn’t met, nor seen Chieftain Grulganiste then. Looking back, now, Aager woke up to the fact that they really hadn’t seen all that many ogres at all!

‘Damn..’, he silently fumed. ‘We were played.. by ogres!’

 

Once again, he was harshly reminded that ‘the stupider’ something seemed, the more they ‘fooled’ the human’s ‘higher’ intellect!

Aager had never assumed, in any given time, that he was smarter than those around him. He prepared to stay silent and observe, hence at least give some semblance of ‘smart’. But being conned by one ogress?

Really, now..

That did nudge his self-esteem a notch or two down!

 

“If you are here to warn us not to join your foes, I have no desire to. Some of my more foolish sons and daughters might.. It is hard to curb the bloodlust when it comes. Particularly when their air stinks of it.. I shall resist ‘the call’, for as best as I can, for as long as I can., and will have nothing to do with this conflict. Should you see me and mine on the field, and waring against you, you may, by all means, slay me and mine, for it shall mean that I have fallen to ‘the call’. I would rather die with some semblance of honor on my own, than to rampage mindlessly for another..”, she rumbled calmly.

“We have not come to warn you, Chieftain Grulganiste.. Nor have we come to threaten you. Certainly not in your home.”, replied Aager carefully.

“Smart of you, not to.”, smiled Grulganiste terribly.

Aager paused for a moment before he spoke again, for whether this would be an official offer by Serenity Home, or a personal favor would be determined by what he would say next. Then he thought about the oncoming slaughter, and his pragmatism kicked in. He didn’t care how something got done, provided it wasn’t downright heinous. He cared that it did get done, and at this point, that was all that mattered.

Hence he looked at the little girl, Inshala..

..and realized.

He wasn’t looking at her like she was a little girl anymore, even if her mind worked and prompted her, at times, to do things that would make her seem like one.

He was looking at not just the ‘person’ he belonged but at the daughter of Lady Alisia and the late Delia Karakash Hooman, the surrogate daughter of the departed Master Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig, the daughter of the chieftain of all the ogres of Oger’s Hill, Grulganesti Grimtooth Bolgrig, the mistress of The Grove, The Ritual Guardian and by defacto, a citizen of Serenity Home and Gull’s Perch, the wont of both Mab, the Winter Queen and Titania, the Summer Queen..

..he was looking at the young woman he loved and cherished by her mere existence.

Just when had that shift in his perspective occurred, Aager Fogstep couldn’t say.

The fact that it had, told him some things..

 

Carefully, he kept his composure and nodded at the young woman.

“Ritual Guardian..”, he spoke. “If you would.”

 

Chieftain Grulganiste cocked an eyebrow at him, then at the young woman.

“Respect..”, she said. “Good. For it’s there, only if it’s there.”

“Mother Ganiste.”, Inshala said softly. “We shall not confine you with demands. We come as beggars.”

“Ow?”, said Grulganiste.

“Yours can not stand, while the blood of the innocent spills by the thousands. Your own blood shall boil in wont and willy-nilly, the madness of its lust will drive you to war. We only beg, you choose when and where to release your blood and your lust for it..”, said the young woman, her eyes wide and pleading.

“What are you asking of me, girl?”, demanded Grulganiste.

“Join us, mother. Your daughter, and your forest of whom you have shared her bounties for centuries.. we need you.. Now, more than ever..”

“You are asking me to join with the elves and the dwarves and the humans who have hunted us for the said centuries and in our forest? You have gone mad!”, she roared and the hut-like tent tremored.

“Mother.. Chieftain Grulganiste..”, she said solemnly. “We go to this war with the intent of not coming back because we will not retreat, nor run, or hide.. These are choices, just not ours.. If your choice is to stay here as we bleed and die, then this shall be the last you shall see of your Father’s daughter.”

 

Chieftain Grulganiste Grimtooth Bolgrig just sat there, cross-legged and quietly petrified.

 

“You come here, to my hills and to my home, you eat my food and dare to threaten me? With your demise?”, she thundered with a horrible, torturous voice.

“No, mother Ganiste. I only speak my truth, as I always have.”, replied Inshala, bowing her head.

Grulganiste turned and with burning eyes, she very nearly burned Aager where he sat with her glare.

“Has this one put these foolish thoughts into your head, girl?”, she snarled.

“Mother, please. He spoke so I would go away, far away, when the slaughter began.”, replied the young woman quietly again.

“Then why will you not listen to him?”, snarled the ogress with much fury.

 

For a moment Inshala paused. Then, slowly she lifted her head, then herself. Step by step, she came at the giant woman and hugged her. One sitting, the other on her toes, and the young woman still looked so very diminished as she clung to the ogress.

 

“Because the running cannot belong, my beloved mother Ganiste.. You must know, for the first time, I belong.. Will you deny this one wealth, from me?”, she replied Inshala desperately, as she sobbed.

“You belong to this man?”, Grulganiste asked in some surprise.

“I belong to this man, mother Ganiste.”, she whispered again. “He is my hills. My trees. My garden. My day. And my night, mother. He is my land and my forest.. And my home..”, said Inshala in a voice that sounded so lost, yet so happy.

“And what has he promised you? What does he give you in return?”, asked the ogress, somewhat freaked! 

“His life, mother. This, he has already given..”

 

Chieftain Grulganiste pushed Inshala away at arm’s length and just stared at her, then at Aager like a mother was looking at her foolish children whose excuses were worse than their deeds..

 

“But know, mother, the Orken shall not leave you at peace, should they trample over our corpses. You know this to be true, for you recall what they did when they first came.”, Inshala said softly. “They shall come in number and trample over yours as well.. And take your hills, and your sons and daughters away from you, and push them into service of nothing less than darkness!”

✱ ✱ ✱

Chieftain Grulganiste Grimtooth Bolgrig stood up. With tangible wrath visible and plainly etched on her face, she stormed out of the tent, though not too far, for both Aager and Inshala could hear her great strides trample back and forth as if trying desperately to blow some steam, but failing horribly. 

“What now?”, asked Aager quietly.

“Now we wait, my Aager Fogstep. We have told her our wont and given her choices. It is up to her now. She must do what she thinks would best serve her and hers because she is the chieftain of her people.”, replied the young woman.

“She must love you much, my Inshala. I saw fear once, and only once in her eyes. And that was when you said you would not go away, but join the slaughter.”, noted Aager in a hushed voice. “I would have a word to say about your decision to stay, love. My inner voice says, send her away, even should it break her heart. There are many Aager’s in the world.. There’s but one of her! Please, my Inshala.. If I have one wish, I would wish you to go.. and live.”

 

The young woman stared at Aager with a broken expression.

Then, large, shimmering tears swelled in her eyes and slid down her small face.

 

“You.. wish to break our bond?”, she asked in a voice that could only be called; ‘desperation’.

“I would wish, that you lived.”, replied Aager and bowed his head, unable to look at her.

“And did you live.. before?”

“No. I did not, my heart.”

“And you think I lived? You wish me gone, knowing I shall die some, every day? You hope to preserve me while you die, knowing I shall not? Why? Why would you do this to me? We.. we promised to be stupid together. Does this promise falter at our first trial?”

“No, Inshala. We have had many trials together. You know this to be true.”

“Yes. I do know this to be true. But you fail to reason; distance will keep me safe, and perhaps assure my survival. But it will not keep me alive.. Not really.. If you truly want me gone, however, I shall.”

 

Aager cursed himself.

He had never wanted her hurt. But he had.. What else he had done, was to have made her choices for her. Did he really have the right to that? Yes, they belonged. But was he, perhaps unwittingly, abusing the ‘trust’ of their bond? And a tad too casually?

Then he figured..

..the monumental arrogance he was displaying without even knowing because he thought he knew things, and life better..

Keeping her away was just as selfish as telling her to stay.

It wasn’t up to him in the first place.

At all!

His Inshala had desperately wanted his love, certainly, but she wanted his respect more.

Yes, she looked so little, but she was not all human.

She was little.. and yet she was more..

Aager finally figured out what it was, his shift in perspective was telling him; that he should quit treating her by his stupid, narrow, quite conventional, and mortal standards, but by hers..

 

“No. To stay, or to go, is a choice you must make. I.. I do not want you to go.. I never wanted it.. I want you to stay, always.. Will you? Please?”, he asked silently.. and desperately..

 

..and she was in his arms.

 

“I never left.”, she whispered. “And stay, I shall. We.. we promised, my Aager, we PROMISED..”

 

The tent’s flaps pushed open and Grulganiste stood there, glaring down at the two.

“You..”, she said. “..truly love this man?”

“I do.”, replied Inshala, still in Aager’s arms.

“You..”, she said, glaring down at the man in dark leathers. “..truly love my daughter?”

“I do.”, replied Aager simply.

“And should something happen to either of you..?”, she asked and there was nothing but a baleful storm in her face.

“The other shall die.”, Inshala quietly.

“Why? Why would you make such a pact? To what purpose would you make this pact, girl?”, she thundered.

“Purpose? None, mother. Only to belong. It is a feeling like no other. It transcends.. This, you must accept, mother Ganiste.”, Inshala replied tenderly.

“Very well, Inshala.. I shall join you and yours in this slaughter.”, she said very, very harshly.

“Thank you—”, began the young woman.

“—In return..”, cut in the vastly angry ogress. “..you will uphold your father’s promise to me.”

 

Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane stared at Chieftain Grulganiste Grimtooth Bolgrig with a horrified expression.

 

“No, mother Ganiste. I beg of you. Do not ask this of me.. Anything but this..”, she pleaded.

“It is not a choice I am giving you, Inshala. It is a debt; Father to Daughter Passed..”, she replied with a frosty expression. “Will you honor it?”

“Mother..”

“Will you honor it?”

“..Ganiste..”

“Will you not honor your father’s debt? His promise?”

“…p..please..”

“WILL YOU HONOR IT, INSHALA?”, roared the giant ogress.

“..I will..”, replied Inshala in a small voice.. and Aager held her fast as she burst into uncontrolled, unhinged tears and wept..

She wept with a terrible loss..

Aager held her and stared at the giant ogress.

“What debt have you tasked her to honor, Chieftain?”, he very nearly snarled.

“Her father, Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig, promised to slay me when my time came, young man.. He failed to do so, for he was slain ere he could.”

“I shall honor this task for her.”, he spat, without even thinking.

“No.”

“No?”

“No, boy.. You are not part of the debt, nor the honor. I do not know you and you are neither my respected enemy nor my loved one. This is not something that is covered in whatever pact, bond, or accord you have made with one another.”, she replied harshly.

“Will you not respect the Winter Knight, then? And spare my Inshala —your daughter, the pain?”, he asked, suddenly desperate.

“I respect Mab, and I respect the Winter Mantle. A heavy and dreary burden it is, and will likely drive you mad in the end and get my daughter killed as well.. But I do not know you.. Again, this is not your trial, nor your debt..”, replied and her voice was calm again.

Aager inadvertently staggered.

This ogre not only knew of Mab and of her Winter Knight she also knew of the Winter Mantle!

“Why? Why would you do this to her? She is your ‘daughter’.. She loves you..”

“Because, the bonded of my daughter, love is beautiful. And it is harsh. It is not a word to be spent with ease. It demands.. always demands.. And is tested upon death.. Hence we ask this only from the enemy we respect.. or from the ones we love..”

 

Chieftain Grulganiste stared down at the two of them and something shimmered in her eyes, but for a mere moment.

 

“Now go.. I have many preparations to make. We must all make a pilgrim to The Grove to cleanse our souls.. Then gather.. For humans with false words, I lost my mother, my father, my greats, and many kin.. This time, I shall go to slaughter on my own accord. We shall make these Orken scream in pain, for they shall receive nothing less from us. Do not mourn your debt, my daughter. Perhaps I shall fall in the coming slaughter, for I shall do my best.. and free you of it..”


 

arashkan şehri book 07 books dungeons and dragons duygusal groups komedi modül savaş serenity the plot thickens Whispers; A Cabal

Out of the Gull.

Out of the Gull.

Timeline:

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..

..and side.

 

For nature has neither and holds neither..

 

 

The beginning of this story
goes as far back as
Vivid Visions,
Temporal Insanity,
“I believe this belongs to you..”
and ends after
Kumse Beetles and Pixie Dust!

 

 

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..

..Abyss.

 

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..

..that’s it.

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.

Thomas frowned.

“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;

A whisper.

 

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..”

 

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?”

 

Standorin gulped.

 

“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!

 

 

Then..

..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
with a happy, serene face standing next to a grim
and relieved Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart..

 

..and an eager and joyous
Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane
standing next to an also grim, but relieved
Aager Fogstep was waiting for them.

 

Right behind them, another pair stood,
Anglenna Brightleaf, her face drawn
and on the very verge of an emotional breakdown and
an awed Armethelius Riverblade..

 

..and another;
Bremorel Songsteel, relieved, smiling,
and wanting to scream with elation and
Thomas Dimwood, calm and adamite.

 

 

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..

 


 

arashkan şehri book 07 books dungeons and dragons duygusal groups komedi role play savaş serenity the plot thickens

Kumse Beetles
and
Pixie Dust!

Kumse Beetles
and
Pixie Dust!

Timeline:

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..

 

This story takes place shortly after
The Liaison.
and starts at the end of
The Discovery.

 

 

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.

“What?”

“Do shut up—”

“Why?”

“—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!

 

Inshala beamed.

 

“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.”

“But, Temez—”

“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.

 

Demelze froze.

 

“When? Why?”, she asked.

Hal Mali did not reply for a good while.

Then murmured.

“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..

..evasively.

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 Demelze 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 sounded 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?”

Temez sighed.

“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 and they would have 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 nearly twenty-feet 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 ears 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.

 

Temez sighed.

 

“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;

 

Find Her.
Talk to Her.
Give Her.
Get the boy.
Get the girl.
Come back.

 

“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 down, 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 veer 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?”

 

Inshala flinched.

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 progression..

..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;

 

“GIMME!”

 

“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..”

 


 

arashkan şehri book 07 books dungeons and dragons groups modül savaş serenity The Great Arashkan the plot thickens Whispers; A Cabal

The Discovery.

The Discovery.

Timeline:

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.

 

This story takes place shortly after
Unintentional Adaptation.
a witness or two..
and is the continuation of
The Liaison.

 

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..

..and retched!

Again..

 

“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.

 

Anglenna snorted..

..tilted over..

..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.”

 

Anglenna sighed.

 

“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!

The bitch!

 

“Checkmate..”, she fumed grudgingly.

 

She scowled some more, then walked over to the door, swung it open, and shouted.

“WHAT?!”

 

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.”

“Ow?”

“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.

 

“Excruciatingly polite.”

“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.

“Intimacy.”

 

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.”

Temez sighed.

“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.”

Aager snorted.

“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”

“I didn’t either.

“I can push. I totally can. Why didn’t I push?”

“Someone pushed?”

 

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!”

Someone snorted.

“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..

..Hamna Vir..

..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.”

Standorin smoldered.

“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?”

“Ow? Oooow..”

“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!

✱ ✱ ✱

Fool!”

“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.

“Help.. me..”

“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.”

 

..Memories shuffle!

 

• • •

 

“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.”

 

..Memories shuffle!

 

• • •

 

“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.”

 

..Memories shuffle!

 

• • •

 

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!”

 

..Memories shuffle!

 

• • •

 

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.”

 

..Memories shuffle!

 

• • •

 

CHIINNNK!

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..

..and looked!

 

“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..

 

“Titania.”


 

arashkan şehri book 07 books dungeons and dragons groups modül savaş serenity The Great Arashkan the plot thickens Whispers; A Cabal

The Liaison.

The Liaison.

Timeline:

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..

 

This story takes place after
Unintentional Adaptation.
and
a witness or two..

 

 

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.

Standorin grunted.

“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.

“And?”

“Kind!”

 

Standorin snorted.

Then saw the young man in his black leathers was actually serious.

Aager shrugged.

 

“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?”

“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.

Aager snorted.

“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.

Standorin sighed.

“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.”

“Ow?”

“The thing she said about all her kind having common traits, but also being individually unique..”, Aager said thoughtfully.

“Yes, so?”

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.”

“Mab..”

“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!

Constance sighed.

“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 near twenty-feet 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 your females, 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 with increadible speed, considering how long the polearm was, 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.

 

Constance sighed.

 

“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.”

“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.

Temez sighed.

“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.

Then sighed.

 

“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.”

 

Standorin sighed.

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.”

“And physically?”

 

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.

Standorin frowned.

“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..”


 

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a witness or two..

a witness or two..

Timeline:

A long stream of refugees disembark from the damaged Arashkan ships to the shores of Serenity Home town, adding to the already unmercifully overcrowded town and the lands surrounding it. From the last ship, a pair; one handsome but tired-looking blond half-elf, the other, a boldly beautiful young woman walk down the ship’s plank and follow the last remains of what was once The Great and Glorious Arashkan, towards the town that’s offering more than it has.

 

This story takes place about a month or so after
The Stab In The Back
and a bit before
Grulganesti Grimtooth Bolgrig;
“A Debt Father to Daughter Passed..”

 

 

Agent Largo: This is a bad idea. My guestimation is one of three outcomes..

Lilly Venom: That so?

Agent Largo: Yes. (a) He will suffer a traumatic shock and runoff, shouting how much he hates me. (b) He will undergo some form of angst, followed by an episode of a not so unexpected breakdown, accuse me of letting his mother get killed, and very likely result in him punching me. (c) He will outright defy me, saying I wasn’t there when he was growing up and when he needed me, and that he’s all grown up now, doesn’t need me at all, and will refuse to see or talk to me..

Lilly Venom: Angst, huh? Never thought you a man for high drama, Agent Largo. But here you are, proving me wrong.

Agent Largo: You pun me.

Lilly Venom: (shrug) I pun a lot of people, Agent Largo, and you still owe me a dinner. I hope this town has a decent inn.

Agent Largo: You came here before, Lady Lilly. You should know.

Lilly Venom: The key to being a good assassin, Agent Largo, isn’t the kill, no matter how effective or efficient you are at it.. It is knowing your target.. and their habits.. And of course, never being noticed. The Temple Guardian, Demos, never visited the inn, hence neither did I. Thinking back, good thing I never did visit the inn.

Agent Largo: Ow?

Lilly Venom: Inns are a good source for local gossip, news, and information.. and finding out who is who. Had I visited the inn, I definitely would have left this town with at least one corpse.

Agent Largo: You know someone in this town, then? On a personal level?

Lilly Venom: (slight frown) That’s none of your business, Agent Largo.

Agent Largo: You really enjoy calling me ‘Agent’, all the time, don’t you, Lady Lilly?

Lilly Venom: More than you like ‘Lady’ing me.

Agent Largo: (side glance) You are in a mood, today.

Lilly Venom: I am in a mood, every day, Agent Largo. Have you decided on what to do? About your Dexter, and about your job? At the moment, you have neither.

Agent Largo: That was a tad harsh, Lady Lilly..

Lilly Venom: I have never fallen head-over-heels for any man, Agent Largo. But I am willing to give you a shot—

Agent Largo: Coming from you, that sounds ominous. I am not sure if I should feel elated, or I should start wearing full body armor.

Lilly Venom: —And I don’t like distractions.

Agent Largo: You are quite the target-oriented girl aren’t you, Lady Lilly?

Lilly Venom: I am a Drashan girl, Agent Largo. Everyone is someone’s target there. And if you are a girl, that number rises exponentially. But I have always believed in celibacy. It removes the option of undesired attractions, and hence, unwanted distractions and complications.

Agent Largo: That’s a bit.. lonesome..

Lilly Venom: Any self-respecting Drashan marries only once, Agent Largo. That being said, there is no such thing as a ‘self-respecting Drashan’, and the only thing we truly marry is ‘death!’

Agent Largo: You make it sound like it’s a proverb.

Lilly Venom: (shrug) It is.. Have you decided what to do?

Agent Largo: I was hoping to get killed in the upcoming battle and save everyone the hassle.

Lilly Venom: No.

Agent Largo: No?

Lilly Venom: No, Agent Largo. You owe me dinner and I refuse to dine with a coward.

Agent Largo: Now, that really was harsh, Lady Lilly. And totally uncalled for.

Lilly Venom: Then go to the boy, knock on his door, or knock it down and say ‘Hi..’, sit down, and explain all your reasons for having done what you did. He might get angry, he might pout, or he might be happy. I would be happy if my mother rose from her grave and came to visit me.. though I doubt she has a grave.. Unclaimed bodies are usually just dumped into the sea with the rest of the derelict, in Drashan..

Agent Largo: That’s.. sad..

Lilly Venom: You don’t really have to act the ‘understanding type’, Agent Largo.

Agent Largo: I am not the ‘acting’ type of spy, Lady Lilly. I am the ‘orchestrating’ kind of agent. Though I see nothing to orchestrate, here. Well, actually there is.. with a lot of potential.. but I just don’t want to..

Lilly Venom: By all means, Agent Largo, do!

Agent Largo: No.

Lilly Venom: Why?

Agent Largo: You are a girl with a very special and specific set of skills, Lady Lilly. But you have honor and, diverse as it may seem, you also have integrity. I am afraid, I just don’t feel like playing with and consequently destroying either. Whatever sins I may have done, I have done for my Arashkan. I never wanted you to be part of that even before we met for the same reasons I mentioned above. The only reason I called upon you was because High Lady Angrellen left me little to no choice and I needed help.. desperately..

Lilly Venom: Do I sense ‘tender care’ in all of that?

Agent Largo: (replies with silence)

Lilly Venom: (after an extended, counter-silence, and a sigh) Neither my honor nor my integrity will save me should I ever be subjected to the law, Agent Largo.

Agent Largo: Arashkan is destroyed, Lady Lilly, therefore I am no longer the law.. And hence, I feel no obligation whatsoever to turn you in. Funny how that turned out.

Lilly Venom: (more silence) You will likely end up an outlaw too..

Agent Largo: I have been in and out of said law for longer than I can remember but never for personal gain. If for once, I end up doing that, I don’t mind doing it for you.. At all! I will do whatever job I can find, once this war is over and provided I am still alive. As for my son.. He will accept me, perhaps in time, or he will not. I did what I did, to preserve his life. He will either understand this too or not. But if you are willing to be with a fool like me, I am willing to do what it takes, Lady Lilly..

Lilly Venom: My contract with you was—

Agent Largo: —Your contract with me got voided at least twice.. back in Arashkan.. when you saved my life in the tunnel and then again after High Lady Angrellen trampled over us.. And possibly any number of other times I am not even aware of, when you watched my back on our deadly plight to get the civilians and the remaining guards out to the docks, and aboard the ships, Lady Lilly.. So when I say, you have my gratitude, I mean it at its maximum capacity. Many people who are alive now owe their lives to me. Funny how they fail to see, they actually owe it to you..

Lilly Venom: (stares ahead and does not say anything)

Agent Largo: ..We will have to take Prince Korodin in with us, though. Quite unavoidable, really. I did, after all, give my word of honor to Lady Ferrara, and the boy needs training from the best..

Lilly Venom: (snort) A wanted assassin and a former ARIS Agent..

Agent Largo: Like I said; The best..

Lilly Venom: (back to serious) Someone’s bound to notice me eventually, you know.

Agent Largo: I thought all you assassins were good with disguises.

Lilly Venom: We usually are. It’s part of our basic training program.

Agent Largo: There you have it then.. A good handlebar mustache or a chevron, along with a brett, and no one will ever recognize you.

Lilly Venom: (snort) Yes. I am sure no one will recognize me, but everyone will notice you, constantly arm in arm with a guy!

Agent Largo: So you want it to be ‘arm in arm’ and constantly, then?

Lilly Venom: (slight frown) Depends on the dinner, Agent Largo.

Agent Largo: You really have your mindset on that dinner, Lady Lilly.

Lilly Venom: Yes. I do.

Agent Largo: Why? I don’t mind a dinner.. many dinners with you, Lady Lilly, but why indeed?

Lilly Venom: Because it will be a first, for me.

Agent Largo: (blink) You mean to tell me, you have never had dinner with anyone in your life?

Lilly Venom: Agent Largo.. Just who would dine with a wanted fugitive such as myself, let alone an unaffiliated, freelancing assassin?

Agent Largo: Apparently, me..

Lilly Venom: That is yet to be seen.. and I think we are here..

Agent Largo: I suppose we are.

Lilly Venom: There are guards at the town gates and they seem to be questioning everyone before they let them in.

Agent Largo: Let me handle the guards, if you will, Lady Lilly.

Lilly Venom: Handle away, Agent Largo. I have no issues with a capable man. I have nothing to prove, and neither do you.

Agent Largo: I must disagree. Every man has something to prove, where a pretty girl is involved. If you can accept that, we can move forward.

Lilly Venom: I suppose I must. Since you think me ‘pretty’.. So, yes, I am willing to take that risk.

Agent Largo: (smile) Forward it is, then..

✱ ✱ ✱

Serenity Home Gate Guard: Good afternoon, sir.

Agent Largo: Good afternoon.

Serenity Home Gate Guard: What can I do for you, sir?

Agent Largo: We are Arashkan refugees, to see Dexter Summersong.

Serenity Home Gate Guard: And what business do you have with the town bard? He has a full schedule, training the platoon assigned to him.

Agent Largo: He.. he has?

Serenity Home Gate Guard: Yes, sir. Anyone with any skill sets is expected to train others for the upcoming battle. Any kind of training is of use. You can fill in this form over here, take a number and you will be assigned somewhere, or be assigned to someone..

Agent Largo: I see. I will fill in the forms, but after I see Sir Dexter..

Serenity Home Gate Guard: Very well, sir?

Agent Largo: Largo.. Largo Summersong.. And this is Lady Ferra and the young boy is my distant relative, Rodin.

Serenity Home Gate Guard: Alright, sir Largo. I shall send a runner and see if our bard, Dexter, is available. I apologize for the inconvenience, but I can not let you in until there is some sort of vouch —security protocols, you understand..

Agent Largo: Of course..

Serenity Home Gate Guard: Perhaps you can take the time to fill in your forms in the meantime, sir? It may take a while for Sir Dexter to get here..

Agent Largo: (sigh) Very well..

✱ ✱ ✱

Lilly Venom: ARIS Agent? Really? You are actually going to write that?!

Agent Largo: Well, why not? For once in my life, I actually don’t have to lie about my job!

Lilly Venom: Then I guess I will just have to write ‘Assassin For Hire’, in my form, then.

Agent Largo: You.. might not want to do that, Lady Lilly.. For my sake, if not yours..

Lilly Venom: I don’t do lies, Agent Largo. Perhaps you might have noticed that.

Agent Largo: I have.. And it’s made me wonder..

Lilly Venom: A good assassin does not do lies, Agent Largo. Lies constantly require attention to keep track and that clusters the mind. And because I study my contracts very well and plan my exit strategies accordingly so I never have to lie. O.P.G.G.. Observe. Plan. Get in. Get out..

Agent Largo: You really never cease to amaze me, Lady Lilly.

Lilly Venom: Also, it is immoral to lie!

Agent Largo: (stares at Lilly)

Lilly Venom: What? Just because I am an assassin, doesn’t mean I lack moral codes, Agent Largo. I kill because it’s my job, not because I enjoy doing it. That is what was available for me to learn to stay afloat at Drashan, so I learned it well. Had I enjoyed it, we wouldn’t be having this conversation because you would have been dead and I would have been elsewhere busy cutting throats.

Agent Largo: Touché.

Lilly Venom: (shrug) It’s the truth.

Agent Largo: Write, ‘Security Advisor’, then. I am guessing you can do that very well.

Lilly Venom: I suppose..

Agent Largo: It won’t be a lie..

Lilly Venom: (sigh) It had better be a very good dinner, Agent Largo..

✱ ✱ ✱

Agent Largo: Here you go, sir. Two forms.. One for me, and one for the lady..

Serenity Home Gate Guard: Thank you, sir Largo. Sir Dexter should be here soon.. Ow.. and here he is.. Sir Dexter. These are the two who wished to see you; Sir Largo and his lady, Ferra..

D.D. Dexter: (stunned) Dad?

Agent Largo: (flustered) Uhhmm.. Hello, son..

D.D. Dexter: (still stunned) You.. You are not dead!

Agent Largo: (still flustered) I.. can explain..

Lilly Venom: (snort)

D.D. Dexter: Who are you?

Lilly Venom: I am the girl your father owes a dinner to!

D.D. Dexter: (stunned and shocked) You have a girlfriend? She is younger than I am, dad!

Agent Largo: (flustered and blushing now) I.. can explain that too..

Lilly Venom: (snort) Your father is alive and well, and you are worried about my age?

D.D. Dexter: (splutter) What the heck, dad?!

Agent Largo: (going down in flames) I…

Lilly Venom: (briskly) Your priorities are mind staggering, boy.

Agent Largo: (dead because of fighting in two fronts now) Uhmm.. Lilly..

Lilly Venom: (mildly agitated) What? After some twenty-odd years, he sees his father, ALIVE, and he is making an issue of my age? Really, now.. I thought bards were a polite bunch, if not smart!

 

(many footsteps approach)

 

Sheriff Standorin: (Udoorin’s father) (stern officious voice) Lilly Venom. You are under arrest and wanted for the murder of Lord Trimdel Kandara of Endless Watch. Please do not resist. Master Aager, please arrest this felon, if you will..

D.D. Dexter: What the..

Agent Largo: Ow crap!

Aager Fogstep: (approaches Lilly with cuffs and hisses at her with an extremely angry, tight voice ) You idiot!

Lilly Venom: (sigh) Well, bugger..

Agent Largo: (more than flustered) Sheriff Standorin—

Sheriff Standorin: (with a heavy club in one hand) And you, former Agent Largo.. You are also under arrest for aiding and abetting a known fugitive. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. I suggest you keep to your silence!

Agent Largo: Sheriff Standorin. You know who I am. You know what I do—

*wham*

Sheriff Standorin: —There.. I appreciate it when criminals heed a good advice when it’s given to them and do stay silent. How about you, Venom, how would you like your reception? The same, perhaps? Or would you rather exercise your right to silence?

Lilly Venom: (shrug) No, I’m good..

✱ ✱ ✱

Lilly Venom: How are you?

Agent Largo: I hurt. The good sheriff has a heavy hand with that club of his..

Lilly Venom: (heartlessly) I wouldn’t know, Agent Largo. I did not resist.

Agent Largo: (sigh) Well.. That certainly went well!

Lilly Venom: This is sort of embarrassing for me, to be honest. The first time I come to a town with no contracts nor clients, and I am detained and put to jail. Remind me again why we are here?

Agent Largo: The boy.. Where’s he?

Lilly Venom: Which one?

Agent Largo: Both, I guess?

Lilly Venom: Your Dexter was with the Sheriff the time I saw him, though he did come in to check in on you once. You were still out so he just stared at you.. and me as well, I guess, since your head was on my lap.. He was furious and was looking somewhere to lash out. I told him if he tried that in my direction, he would lose everything he thought was dear to him. I might have threatened him with evisceration and death by choking on poisonous darts as well.. We had a small chat after that, though only I spoke. Told him everything you did for him and why.. He didn’t say anything, but he listened, then he left..

Agent Largo: I should have been the one to tell him those.. Not the evisceration and death by poison darts part, obviously.. The other things..

Lilly Venom: Probably. But you were making such a lousy job out of it.. And the boy needed to know.. Hearing it from a third person is sometimes better. Gave him something to think about besides pouting, at least.. He might come around, or he might not. It’s on him now.

Agent Largo: (sighs) Thank you.. Lilly.. What about the prince?

Lilly Venom: They took him elsewhere. I suppose they will question him first for some kind of leverage.

Agent Largo: Korodin won’t tell them anything except that his name is ‘Rodin’ and that I am his distant uncle. And he will keep repeating that.. unless they hurt the boy.. And if they do that, I will get out of here and really murder someone!

Lilly Venom: (a bit surprised) You care for the boy!

Agent Largo: Well, sure.. He is my prince.

Lilly Venom: True. But you personally care for him..

Agent Largo: (sigh) Yes, Lilly.. I personally care for him. He’s young but I suspect he understands what’s going on around him a lot more than he lets on, making him quite brave. He didn’t cry once during our plight from Arashkan, nor on our way to here on the ships.. And we read The Amazing Adventures of Blom Bundlebim Hobim. Anyone who reads that book together, are bro’s for life!

Lilly Venom: (snort) Boys!

Agent Largo: Don’t pun the ‘bros bond’, Lilly. It’s a real thing!

Lilly Venom: (slight frown) I am no longer a Lady, then, Agent Largo? Why am I suddenly not a lady anymore?

Agent Largo: (sigh) We share a cell and that’s as close to any woman I have been since my wife was murdered, and that was more than two decades ago. I believe that calls for a bit of honest sincerity. I don’t think this was the dinner you had in mind but here we are, in a quiet and dim setting.. just like you wanted. We even have candlelight. I am in your hands.. and your lap, quite literally, I might add.

Lilly Venom: (stares down at the face in her lap, studying it, perhaps to finalize a decision)

We have no dinner, Agent Largo..

Agent Largo: Jail food is never really all that good, but it’s always on time. Should arrive soon enough..

Lilly Venom: Very well, Agent Largo.. Will you propose now?

Agent Largo: I was really hoping for better conditions, Lilly.. You deserve better conditions..

Lilly Venom: I think I will be receiving ‘what I deserve’ on the morrow, Agent Largo. I wouldn’t fret about it too much if I were you.

Agent Largo: You could get away, you know.. I am sure these bars can’t keep you..

Lilly Venom: Could say the same thing for you, Agent Largo, but you won’t.. Because of your son and because of the damage it might do to his reputation.. For similar reasons, I won’t either. Just.. not for a son or daughter.. (pauses for a moment, then sighs) And I gave the good sheriff my word that I wouldn’t try to escape, provided he let me stay in the same cell with you.

Agent Largo: Huh! A wasted bargain, if you ask me, though I can’t complain about my current disposition; your lap is surprisingly.. intriguing. Enough to want to know what’s on either end.

Lilly Venom: (amused) A foot on one end, and a hip on the other, Agent Largo, among other things, and you don’t have rights to any of them —at the moment. Not unless you want to embarrass yourself anymore than you already have.

Agent Largo: (snort) Fair enough. I am guessing the other reason you stayed has to do with the person you know in this town?

Lilly Venom: (silence)

Agent Largo: Very well, then.. If I will have more of your breath.. and perhaps get clubbed every once in a while knowing I shall wake up to your lap, then I would very much like to propose. Would you like to spend the rest of your life with me, Ferra Ferrea? To be my wife, my companion, my partner, possibly in crime, and my friend?

Lilly Venom: Yes. I would, Largo Summersong. The rest of my life, short as that maybe, I would like to spend it with you.. Same conditions!

Agent Largo: The name is Lauca, actually.

Lilly Venom: Lauca?

Agent Largo: Means, ‘warm’, in Elvish, though I have no idea what my mother was thinking when she gave me that name. It is supposed to relate to ‘A Warm Summer Song’.. But I have been using Largo since a bit before I joined ARIS because they sound similar and Largo was easier to pronounce. This, however, is a definitive occasion, so I thought at least you should know.

Lilly Venom: Lauca.. Sounds intriguing.. Means, warm?

Agent Largo: Please don’t make too much pun of it. Half-elves tend to get touchy when it comes to certain things.

Lilly Venom: La-yu-ka.. Law-ka.. Am I pronouncing it right?

Agent Largo: Do you want to pronounce it right?

Lilly Venom: I would, yes.

Agent Largo: Why bother?

Lilly Venom: Why bother with Ferra Ferrea?

Agent Largo: Touché.. and point taken, I suppose.

Lilly Venom: I shall call you by this name, from time to time, so we remember a warm summer song!

Agent Largo: That.. actually sounded poetic. Much better than I ever thought it would.

Lilly Venom: I think, I like it..

Agent Largo: Alright. Now we’ll need a witness or two..

Lilly Venom: I believe we have.. a witness or two..

Agent Largo: We do?

Lilly Venom: Yes, we do.. Don’t we, Aager?

Aager Fogstep: (sighs and comes out of the shadows) You really are an idiot, Lilly.. What possessed you to come here? This place is going to burn, and very soon.. and you came here?

Lilly Venom: Hello, Fogstep. Good to see you too.. Less than I wanted to, but here I am..

Aager Fogstep: This isn’t a game, Lilly. I have no authority over the sheriff, and certainly not over the mayor. I thought you were a survivor.

Lilly Venom: I am tired of just surviving, Aager. I have done it all my life. Took a page from your book and I have decided I want to ‘live’ now..

Aager Fogstep: And you came here.. For that.. Just how stupid are you?

Inshala Frostmane: (comes out from behind Aager) That is not nice, my Aager. I do not think Lilly is stupid. I think her to be extremely smart. Certainly smart enough to make all the correct choices, when we were back at Arashkan.

Lilly Venom: And, here is our inseparable second witness..

Inshala Frostmane: Hello, Ferra.

Lilly Venom: Hello, girl.. You have grown some. And you glow more..

Inshala Frostmane: (blush) I.. I do?

Lilly Venom: Yes. You were scared all the time, the last time I saw you. Now you look.. free!

Agent Largo: Don’t mind me. I’ll just lie down here and nurse the bump on my head.

Lilly Venom: (to Aager) Do you want to introduce yourself, or should I?

Aager Fogstep: (shrug)

Agent Largo: I know who he is. He is SIS —Serenity Intelligence Service; pseudo-named, Aager Fogstep. Single. Real name; unknown. Mother; unknown. Father; unknown. Siblings; rumored to have one, though his or her gender is unknown and presumed dead. He is also a former Drashan convict.. His ‘apparent’ job is being the right hand of Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. He was one among others to have brought down Themalsar. There are any number of murders attributed to him, though none of them have been proven, nor verified.. The girl, I do not know. None of the spies I sent could get any information about her, back when she, sir Aager here, and their diverse other companions first came to Arashkan and started asking questions about Gar Thalot.. We found out who all her friends were.. Just not her and the one other girl who slept on the roof of the inn they were staying. It’s like neither of them ever existed before. We couldn’t even put a name to them. Heck, we couldn’t even scry them! It was like.. they both were off limits!

Lilly Venom: I am inclined to be impressed, Agent Largo, though I don’t think Aager here qualifies as single and his sibling’s name is ‘me’.

Agent Largo: (confused) Me?

Lilly Venom: (silent smile)

Agent Largo: (somewhat horrified expression) YOU?

Lilly Venom: (sumgly) Yup!

Agent Largo: (stunned silence)

Lilly Venom: Yes, Agent Largo, he is my elder brother.. I am not at liberty to divulge who or what the other one is, but this cute little girl, here, is Inshala Frostmane. Aager’s girl, woman, mate.. I have thus failed to put a name to what they are, to one another. Nothing seems to sufficiently cover their relation.. In all candor, though, it is likely she is the best thing that’s happened to me in my life and I am happy to call her my sister.. Other than that, I am not aware if she has any other title.

Inshala Frostmane: (beam) I am here in my ‘Ritual Guardian’ capacity, dear Ferra..

Lilly Venom: I do not know what that means.

Agent Largo: I do, and it is an immense ‘capacity’.. I thought the good Master Cathber was killed in his sleep. I wasn’t aware he had any students in training.

Inshala Frostmane: (quietly) He had me. And I had him. He was my Father and my Master since I was a month old.

Agent Largo: I am sorry, young lady. I knew Master Cathber personally and deeply revered him. Now.. Master Aager, and Ritual Guardian, if you would be kind enough to put in a good word for Lady Lilly here, I would be grateful. I shall suffer my punishment, whatever it may be.

Lilly Venom: How very noble of you, Sir Agent Largo! I wasn’t aware I was getting a knight in shining armor when I asked for that dinner.

Agent Largo: I apologize, Lilly. But it comes as part of the package!

Inshala Frostmane: (beaming) I have no idea what you just said, but it sounded so sweet. And I didn’t know you were a knight, Sir Largo. I will ask them to release both you and my elder sister Ferra and also to kindly return your shiny armor.

Agent Largo: !

Lilly Venom: (snort)

Aager Fogstep: (snort)

✱ ✱ ✱

Sheriff Standorin: You seem to have left out quite a bit of your personal life, Master Aager. I thought you said your sister was dead.

Aager Fogstep: I thought she was dead, too. Her unexpected appearance in Arashkan did take me off guard.

Sheriff Standorin: I see no mention of this in your reports. Are we making private exemptions, then?

Aager Fogstep: (cooly) Yes and no, Sheriff. Some of the things that happened at Arashkan never got mentioned for obvious and not-so-obvious reasons. Suffice to say, putting them in writing would have been too damning for the people involved, which includes our esteemed Ranger Lieutenant Laila Wolvesbane, and by proxy, Ranger Master Davien Hart. Master Nimbletyne Tinkerdome’s niece, Master Gnine, and by his proxy, back to his uncle. Princess Alor’Nadien ne Feymist and High Lady Anglenna Sunsear of High Woods and Bari Na-ammen, damning Ri Grandaleren Feymist and Rise Nadine Graciousward, again, by proxy.. Our Senior Temple Guardian Lady Magella, and by her proxy, Master Argail Smitefast and pretty much all her extended family at Scowling Hills, and the deceased Demos Lightshand. Then we have Udoorin Shieldheart, your son, who also happens to be the betrothal of Princess Alor’Nadien ne Feymist, hence damning her again. And since he’s your son, that would be damning you, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart of Serenity Home town, by a similar proxy. Last but not least, myself, and by my proxy, damning you again! The Ritual Guardian, Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane, here, and ‘The Celestial’ girl, Merisoul Xyrotwu, never got mentioned as neither of them are within our kingdoms’ jurisdictions.. The title of ‘Ritual Guardian’ is not bestowed by the king nor his vassals, but by the Ritual Forest itself and I shudder to even contemplate just who has any jurisdiction over Merisoul Xyrotwu, other than ‘The Great Heavens’.. What was put into writing, however, was done so from a distinctly ‘relevance’ point of view.

Sheriff Standorin: (amused) Nicely done, Master Aager. You have threatened damning everyone of note in this town and people of the highest status among our neighbors. Not to mention damning my own son, my future daughter in law and myself —twice, I might add..

Aager Fogstep: (coldly) You didn’t bring me here from Drashan to play ball, Sheriff. You brought me here to be the solution!

Agent Largo: (snicker) I did offer to take him off your hands years ago, Sheriff..

Sheriff Standorin: (ignores Agent Largo and glares at Aager) Just how damning are we talking about, here?

Aager Fogstep: (total silence)

Sheriff Standorin: (sigh and turns to Lilly Venom) Says here, in your form,<