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Point -Oh Two, Difference!

Point -Oh Two, Difference!

Timeline:

Fate, it would seem, has its own plans.. And an odd, dry sense of humor. One might even call it ‘backhanded’..

Cora Sleet, Brom Bumblebrim, Seressa Wraiven, and Arcantonic Palecog are sent through time and place to the one place the little gnomic girl, Tonic, would dread most;

 

Arcanton Mordenon’s Tower.

 

And to a time where the sinister tower still stands.. along with her evil master, Tonic’s despicable uncle.

 

It isn’t clear at what year the events in this particular story takes place, but it is likely before another group has finally arrived here to put an end to the evil engineering gnome. As in, before the Paladin Delia Karakash Hooman has killed Karkas the Dreaded Red Dragon and has become the Lord of Durkahan, Nimbletyne Tinkerdome has parted ways with the group and Nadine Graciousward has banished Arcanton in their final confrontation, also parting from the group and later becoming the Rise of High Woods and Bari Na-ammen.

From a strictly ‘relative’ sequence of events, if not in a linear chronological order, this story takes place shortly after Loot Dispute.

From a historical perspective, however, it is likely the events here take place some 42 to 45 years ago, just before Arcanton Mordenon finally manages to engineer his first (and final) functional Demon gate, around the years 7563 and 7566 PAD.
(Post Apocalyptic Days)

 

 

We need a spot to rest. Seressa is wounded, Cora is wounded, you are wounded, heck, I am wounded.”, whispered Brom Bumblebrim. “I didn’t even know I could hurt in so many places.”

“Well come to my uncle’s crèche!”, growled Tonic as she cradled her pair’s head in her lap. Then she looked down at her and felt something shred her heart. Seressa was a happy girl with a happy soul. At least that’s what she always projected. She’d always been smart when it came to conversing with others and in fights too. Tonic knew she was much more intelligent than Seressa, her pair, but when it came to making friends, and then keeping said friends, she, herself, was the klutz one! And in fights, her own mobility and her skills were a lot more limited. All she would do was ‘bangs’.. The louder, the better. Or she’d just disintegrate her enemies down to indiscernible goo.. Seressa on the other hand did everything exquisitely. A bit like how the bard-boy, Brom, played his lyre. Seressa danced around her enemies, she positioned herself, and her enemies to the needs of her companions, and she kept them busy while Cora and Brom slowly reduced their number. She excelled at being both a friend and a team player. Tonic only excelled at cussing, irritating her friends, knocking her hand-made kaboom grenades around and basically behave like an irritable, stupid grunt!

And now Seressa was down.

This bloody tower had turned out to be much, much more dangerous than they had anticipated. Too many fiends, demons, monsters, and other weird things had come at them, and they kept on coming. Cora had fought as hard as she could, cutting one horror after another while Brom had laid down any number of them with his innumerable bardic magic. It had been Seressa, however, who had kept it all together and filled in all the blanks and gave respite to any who’d need it.

And Tonic had hurled her grenades and acid vials..

Yep. That’s about it.

Now, Cora was hurt. Brom was hurt. Tonic felt bruised all over. And Seressa was knocked out.. beat into the ground, really, and was lying on the ground with her head on Tonic’s lap and the little gnomic girl just watched her and saw tears slide down her smooth, charcoal-black face.

Her pair was unconscious and she still wept in pain!

“Damit!”, blurted Tonic. “Please live!”

“You are not helping her, Tonic. Make her drink one of your healing draughts.”, Brom said harshly.

“Don’t you think that never occurred to me?”, she replied with equal fervor. “She already took one of them.”

“So? Give her another one.”

“I can’t. Those draughts are good only once every day or so. Consuming more will have either little to no effect or outright poison her.”, snarled Tonic.

Cora Sleet gingerly smoothed near them as she limped and pulled out a long, slim tube from her pack.

“Here. This should help.”, she said with her soft, throaty voice. “Been saving this for emergencies. Seems pointless to save it anymore.”

Tonic looked up at the barbaric tundra elf and at her bloody arm, leg, and, judging by the way she held her other arm close to her chest, she probably had some cracked ribs as well.

“No. You use it. She needs rest.”, mumbled the gnomic girl.

 

Cora scared Tonic.

Cora scared Tonic without trying.

And Cora was scowling now.

Cora had an impressive scowl.

 

“Girl, you are going to argue with me, now?”, she breathed under her nose.

“Just what do you think will happen if we get jumped again? Who will hold them back and buy us time to do anything?”, replied Tonic. “And you can barely stand on your feet, let alone swing that double-bladed-whatsit!”

“She’s right, Cora.”, inserted Brom. “I can do all sorts of things, but fighting hand-to-hand just isn’t one of them. I mean, I can, and I will, if I have to, but if it’s come down to me and my sword skills, I think I would make an excellent ‘epilogue’ for our little endeavor, whatever it may be.. Tell me again, why we are even here? I am not renowned for my historical studies but didn’t it take a famous paladin called Delia Karakash, the most stupendous sorceress, Nadine Graciousward, and their company to take down Arcanton Mordenon?”

“We are not here to take down my uncle, Brom. Not that we can. Hells Bells, boy, we can barely take down the grunts on the first level of this bloody tower.”, scoffed Tonic.

“I agree.”, said Cora softly as she carefully settled herself down. “We are not assassins. And looking back to all our previous ventures, we were expected to fight things, but never to outright assassinate a particular foe.”

“We did kill a particular foe, in our last ‘jump’.”, disagreed Brom and not without a certain amount of implied hate.

“That.. was not.. an.. assassination.. dear Brom.. It was.. fair combat..”, whispered a dead tired voice.

“Seressa, baby.. You are awake!”, squeaked Tonic, her eyes blurry.

“I feel.. dizzy.. luv..”, came back Seressa’s voice.

“Hush, baby. Rest.”, Tonic almost blubbered. “I will take care of you.”

“Who.. will take care.. of you?”, she whispered back.

“I’ll take care of us both. Don’t worry. Sleep now. Please sleep Seressa..”, pleaded the little gnomic girl.

“She’s right. Our last ‘jump’, as you call it, was indeed a fair fight. And in the end, from what I gathered, it was basically a ‘punishment’.. Isn’t that so, Brom?”, asked Cora, carefully wrapping her leg with a long strip of white cloth.

 

Brom didn’t reply. He just looked.. elsewhere..

..with a stony face.

 

“Seems like you have left a few things untold. Quite a few things, actually.”, Cora said tightly between clenched teeth as she knotted the cloth.

“There are a lot of things I haven’t told, Cora. Let it be.”, replied the hobbit in a silent, even voice.

“This is all my fault.”, said Tonic suddenly.

“I would let it go, accept I bled for it. So did everyone else, here. And some who aren’t here.. How is it all your fault, girl?”, Cora said calmly once she was done with the knot.

“Some things are done and gone, Cora. And there is nothing that I can say will make it otherwise.”, said Brom with the same voice.

“You gave your best. So did Brom. And Seressa did too. All I did was hurl ‘pots and pans’ and make a lot of noise.” mumbled Tonic.

“Exactly how I thought before. But it appears, nothing is done and gone anymore, Brom. Those pots and pans kept us alive while keeping the demons dead. How does that seem like a small task to you, Tonic?”, asked the barbarian girl as she took out another strip of white cloth and started wrapping the wound on her arm.

“We don’t really ‘fix’ anything in our jumps, Cora. We only make minor changes.”, frowned Brom.

“Had I made bigger bombs, I could have made a difference.”, said Tonic in anguish, still cradling Seressa’s head in her tiny lap.

“We cleared the goblin trenches, hence making it possible for Durkahan paladins and the Koruxan knights to reach the battlefield in time when we were sent back to Themalsar. Then we made sure the Wyrm Horde’s Krush’s son stole the ‘right’ weapon from Dreadmaw, making it possible for us to obtain an Archangel’s lost spear, and subsequently giving us the chance to return it to its rightful owner. Then we fought and won against a villainous dwarf, bringing him to justice, making it possible for a mother to keep her promise to no other than Titania herself and bringing peace among the dwarves.. How are these ‘minor’ changes? If you’d made bigger bombs, girl, you’d have brought the roof of this tower on us, and that’s a lot of roof above us. Like three or four more levels of roofs!”, Cora replied coolly as she knotted off her arm as well. “Now then. Brom, you are on guard duty for a bit. Turn around and go and guard something. Tonic, pillow your pack under Seressa’s head and cover her with a blanket so you can at least preserve some semblance of her modesty and honor. Sitting there and moaning isn’t doing her any good. Then come here and help me.”

 

Brom stared at Cora.

So did Tonic.

Cora had never been this talkative nor had she ever dished out orders the way she’d just done and quite briskly too.

 

“What?”, said Brom, sort of flabbergasted.

“Why?”, asked Tonic, with a similar tone of voice.

Cora sighed.

“I need Tonic to wrap my chest for the cracked ribs. For her to do that, I need to take my furs, my leathers, and my shirt off. And I need you to turn around and go, Brom!”

“Ow..”, said a bit abashed. “I could wrap your—”

“I know you can, Brom. But I just don’t want you to. I want Tonic to do it. Hence; TURN AROUND AND GO! LIKE, NOW!“, Cora very nearly snarled.

 

Brom turned around and left, to the other end of the rubble-filled room.. pouting.

 

“Why have you not covered your pair yet, Tonic? Does her dignity mean so little to you?”, Cora asked evenly, as she undid the clasps holding her thick furs and heavy leathers and with a grimace, pulled off her shirt.

Tonic half blushed, half scowled as she took out her own pack and placed it carefully under her pair’s head. Then she opened Seressa’s own pack and pulled out her neatly folded and rolled blanket, flipped it a few times, and covered her, and snuggly wrapped her in it.

“There. That wasn’t so hard, was it? Now take this roll of bandage and wrap it around my chest, staring from just above my belly, up to my breast line —tightly if you will, please.”, ordered Cora with a mild tone.

“Won’t.. won’t that make it hard for you to breath?”, stammered the gnomic girl as she took the roll of bandage from the tundra elf.

Cora smiled at her.

“I wouldn’t worry too much about that, Tonic. I doubt you have enough strength to wrap me that tight. Not unless you want to pull out your mecha-thingy.”

“It is not a mecha-thingy!”, replied the gnomic girl indignantly. “It’s MECHABER!

“Ahh.. I am sorry. I wasn’t aware you named your toys.”, Cora smiled even more.

“Mechaber is not a toy! He is a—”, sputtered Tonic.

“Ow. It’s a ‘He’, then? My bad.”

“He is a mechanical bear, and a very delicate work of steam-chunk technology and pure gnomic ingenuity, at that!”, scowled Tonic.

“I have no idea what you just said, but he looks nothing remotely like a bear!”, said Cora.

“How would you know?”, scoffed Tonic.

“This..”, replied the barbarian girl, pointing at her thick fur cloak. “..is a tundra bear’s fur, dear Tonic. It was a near ten-foot-long and five-foot-high beast.. I hunted it, killed it, skinned it, and ate some of it too. Then took the rest back to my village.”

Brom’s snicker was heard from the other side of the room.

Tonic scowled some more, but shut up! She sort of.. tethered near the half-naked barbarian girl with trepidation.

“Boo!”, said Cora suddenly, causing the little gnomic girl to jump, and Brom to snicker some more.

“That.. that wasn’t funny Cora.”, mumbled Tonic with a flushed face.

“What’s really not funny is that you think I am either a total savage or unsettled enough to jump you at any time, Arcantonic Palecog. One would think we’d been together long enough for you to know better. Your inability to figure out the ‘base friendship’ concept is exasperating.”, coolly replied Cora.

“I.. I am sorry..”, mumbled Tonic in an even brighter red face.

“I don’t need you apologizing, girl. I need you to trust me. As I have trusted you, even though you keep tossing your acid vials and ‘bang-thingies’ right over my head.. and even hitting me on occasion.”, replied Cora, calmly.

“I do trust you. I swear!”, spluttered the little gnomic girl.. very fast!

Cora sighed.

“Do the ribs, Tonic. I am sure our esteemed bard is egging for a peek. Let’s not give him the satisfaction, shall we?”

Tonic started wrapping the very nearly white belly of the barbaric Cora with an abashed expression on her face.

“You can make comments if you like. Seressa would. Since she’s out, you could cover for her.”, smiled Cora with a tight and clenched grin, as the bandages drew tighter.

“You are awfully white!”, spluttered the little gnome. “I mean, I am pale, but I am a deep gnome by heritage. You are just.. very nearly white!”

“Stands to reason. I am a tundra elf by heritage.. Some like to call us ‘Snow Elves’, but I find that a bit too girly.”, Cora hissed conversationally as the gnomic tightened the bandages even more.

“You have.. muscles everywhere, too. I didn’t even know girls could have abs like yours.”, blushed Tonic. “I mean, I have a small tummy which tends to become a ‘pot belly’ whenever I over eat. And Seressa has a flat belly. Yours are just.. awesome! I could crack nuts between your abs!”

“I suppose you could. Just not now, Tonic. My abs, along with the rest of me, hurt.”, smiled Cora grimly.

“Can I ask you.. a personal question?”, Tonic asked carefully as she wrapped higher and the back of the tundra elf.

“Well, bummer. I just said we were friends so I can’t even say ‘No’, to your ‘personal’ questions, now can I?”, admitted Cora with another smile. A smile Tonic couldn’t see from her current position.

“No. No.. It’s alright if you don’t want to. I have been known to ask impertinent questions. Seressa can ask them too, but she can word them correctly and make them sound cool. I can’t.”

“Well, ‘impertinent’ me to your heart’s content, girl.”, said Cora.

“Your scars.. The ones on your back.. Do they hurt?”

“Yes, and no. They hurt whenever I remember them. They sizzled all the time until after I met Brom. Hurts a lot less since after I met the two of you and we teamed up. Funny how that went.”, Cora answered with a.. brittle sort of smile.

“A decent surgeon can probably do something about them.”, offered the gnomic girl quietly.

“No. I want them to stay. They remind me of my Ironfrost. Of happier times. Of my mother, my father and my friends.. and a debt I need to settle with Dreadmaw!”, replied Cora with a steely voice.

“You.. you are going to go up against Dreadmaw?!”, spluttered Tonic. “Mortals don’t go up against beings like Dreadmaw. Please don’t go up against Dreadmaw!”

Cora didn’t reply.

“And you don’t really need these scars to remember your happier times. That’s what memories are for.”, Tonic mumbled. “Leave your pictures on, though. They look awesome too!”

“Picture? What pictures?”

“The pictures you got all over you.”

 

Cora spluttered!

With indignation.

 

“They are not pictures, girl, they are my beautiful ‘Storm Tattoos!'”

“Ow. Okay. If these are not pictures but ‘storm tattoos’, then my Mechaber is a bear!”, smirked the gnomic girl!

“Your head is broken, girl.”, growled Cora.. and continued without turning a hair. “Should we get the opportunity, what would you feel if we were to kill your uncle? He is your blood relative, after all.”

It took a moment for Tonic to catch up to the sudden change of topic.

“I would feel satisfaction. No.. I would feel BLOODY SATISFACTION!”, replied the gnomic girl with seething hate.

 

Cora didn’t say anything else for some time and Tonic continued to tightly wrap the bandage around her chest and back.

 

“Try to finish the knot anywhere other than my back, or under my arm, if you can, please. Lying down with a lump on my back or side is bothersome.”, said Cora quietly.

Tonic finished her work, knotting the wraps somewhere around the front side of Cora’s waste.

“Thank you.”, offered Cora with the same voice.

Arcantonic Palecog didn’t say anything for a while as she checked her handy work. Then, wordlessly, she hugged the barbaric tundra elf.

“Should the occasion arise and we face my uncle, please run.”, she whispered as she hid her face in the elves’ snow-white braids.

Cora hugged the little gnomic girl, back.

“We shall see.”

Tonic drew back and stared at the glacial blues of the elf and only saw determination there.

She sighed.

“Are you feeling up to carrying Seressa for a short climb?”, she asked.

“I suppose so. Seressa is a big girl and I don’t want to manhandle her without her consent. Seems like a rude thing to do.”

“I am her pair. I can consent for her.”, Tonic said, then pulled a long, coiled rope out of her small artificer’s satchel and tossed it vertically into the air. The rope uncoiled as it ‘climbed’ up and held there, ending in an open, horizontal ‘window’, looking down at them.

“What’s this?”, asked Cora as she stared up at the odd phenomenon.

“It’s a small hidey-hole. We climb it, pull the rope behind us, close the window and no one’s the wiser.”

“That.. is just downright creepy!”, said Cora, still ogling at the window.

“Help me with Seressa, please. I can’t move her, let alone carry her up there. Let’s hurry some, shall we? It won’t last long. Merely an hour or so. Just enough for a short breather.”

Cora frowned but went over to the very tall, very dark Seressa and carefully picked her up and slowly put her over her own shoulder, checked the rope then started climbing up. Soon enough, they were both through the window and gone out of sight.

“Brom!”, Tonic hissed.

Brom came over, looked up, nodded at her, then started up the rope as well.

Tonic grabbed her pack, Seressa’s blanket, and her pack as well, gave a cursory glance around making sure they hadn’t left anything behind, then she too squirreled up the rope and disappeared in the window.

Her two, tiny hands came out, grabbed one side of the open window each, and pulled them shut, leaving nothing but the dark room’s ceiling to be seen behind them.

Yes.

An hour wasn’t much.

But it would be enough for her to snuggle up to her pair for a short nap, and keeping them both warm and cuddly.

If that’s what it took to bring her Seressa Wraiven up and cheery again, Tonic thought it would be well worth it.

✱ ✱ ✱

There are stairs leading up.”, whispered Brom, as he carefully peeked around the corner and watched for any signs of life.. or unlife, as some of the things that they had faced had been.

Brom didn’t mind the fiends, the demons, and all the other monsters.. per se. But undead gave him the creeps for some reason.

Brom didn’t like the undead.

Undead scared him.

Well.. undead were scary things, sure, but no more than fiends and possibly less than demons. One could easily argue that by comparison, the undead were not all that high, where ‘risk factor’ was involved.

But nothing, not the reality, nor the logical explanations managed to ebb away Brom’s ‘irk’ for the undead.

Brom scowled.

“Get it together, damit!”, he growled at himself.

“Talking to yourself, already?”, came the merry voice of Arcantonic Palecog from just behind him.

Brom scowled some more.

“It’s alright, boy. This place can do that.”

“What’s with the ‘boy’s again, girl?”, said Brom, feeling irritated. “Does your perception reset at every ‘jump’?”

“No. But ‘boy’ is shorter than ‘Brom’.”, said Tonic with a smirk.

“Yes. And ‘Tonic’ is shorter than ‘Arcantonic’ and ‘Nic’ is even shorter than ‘Tonic’. But you don’t see me calling you ‘Nic’, now do you? Which does sound quite like a ‘Tick’..”, he deadpanned with a snort.

Arcantonic gave the hobbit a baleful stare.

“If you ever call me ‘Nic’, I will hurt you, Brom Bumblebrim!”, she snarled.

“There. My whole name!”, smiled Brom. “Now go tell Cora and your pair, we got stairs up ahead.”

“So, it’s ‘your pair’, now, is it? No more Wraiven’s or even Seressa’s?”, said Tonic, giving the hobbit a look full of disdain.

“What is it to you, what I call her?”, shrugged Brom.

“She’s my pair. Of course ‘everything’ is to me.”,  she replied almost scornfully.

“Which is what I said; your pair! I am not even sure what you are objecting to?”, smirked the hobbit.. a tad on the brittle side.

Tonic scowled at him.

She felt she’d just been had. But she wasn’t quite sure how.

“You are avoiding and dodging, Master Brom. You know this, I know this.”, she fumed, turned around, and left.

“Inserting the last word: Check!”, grumbled the hobbit after the pesky little gnomic girl—

 

—which is when something happened. Something that hadn’t happened to Brom for some time now; he got bit!

 

Brom yelped!

Probably because it hurt, but more likely because he had been caught totally off guard, and likely because.. well.. it had been a while.

 

“Damit!”, ouched the hobbit as he rubbed his butt cheek and calf, at a point just where he couldn’t see.

“What, damit? WHAT? We are already here, doing your bloody job for you. What else do you want from me?”, he very nearly blared in fury.

 

And got bit, again!

 

For some reason, Brom got the feeling the whatsit that kept biting him had just bitten him the second time out of sheer spite!

“What? I can’t even complain? Why don’t you come out and play for once! Bet I can beat the cra—”

 

And he got bit.. harder this time!

 

“Ahhaa! Thought you were a gutless, spineless, heartless chicken!”, he sneered.

 

Another bite!

 

“I can do this all day–”

 

Bite.

 

“Pwahahaaa.. Just you remember what happened the last time—”

 

Bite.

 

“That’s the best you got? I didn’t feel a thing. You must be a dentist—”

 

Bite.

 

“Yowza! That, I felt, and still I laugh at you with colossal scorn—”

 

Bite.

 

“I am not the sniveling hobbit you dragged out of the comforts of his home anymore—”

 

Bite.

 

“Eeep! Stop it—”

 

Bite.

 

“Ow! You think you can do this all day too, do you?! That leg is going to start to bleed any time now. It’ll be interesting telling the rest about you—”

 

Bite.

 

“Now there’s a topic to chat over dinner; Hey everyone, I have a bug that likes biting arse! That’ll be an absorbing conversation, that’ll. I am sure of it—”

 

Bite.

 

“What are you doing, Brom?”, came Cora’s voice from behind.

 

Bite.

Flinch!

 

“Umm.. Nothing.”, said the hobbit.

 

Bite.

Flinch!

 

“What’s up with that face?”, asked Tonic, peering at him. “You look like you just swallowed a whole bug and it’s still alive in your belly.”

 

Bite.

Flinch!

 

And then Seressa appeared behind the two. She said nothing. She just stared down at Brom with her unfathomable, incomprehensible, and inscrutable gaze like some dark, majestic queen of the Astral Voids.

 

Bite.

Flinch!

 

Brom looked up at her eyes and saw many things in there. Some that he could understand and even relate, but many others he just couldn’t even put names to.

 

Bite.

Flinch!

 

“You seem possessed, Master Brom.”, she said with her memorable voice.

 

Bite.

Flinch!

 

Brom ogled at her some.

Then cleared his throat and mumbled.

“No, i am not. It’s one hundred percent just me.”

 

Bite.

Flinch!

Silence..

 

“Sooo..”, Cora said, dragging the word over the sudden, awkward silence. “Do we go up?”

 

Bite.

Flinch!

 

“Do we?”, asked Seressa Wraiven, still staring down at the hobbit, her face, and the rest of her very nearly lost in the darkness. Only her frilly pink skirt dress and the pinks of her fringes were discernable.

 

Bite.

Flinch!

 

‘Stop it, damit!’, snarled Brom from inside.

“Umm.. why are you asking me? I am not the guide of this tour. Uhhm.. Isn’t that your job?”, he asked with a guilty sort of voice.

 

Bite.

Flinch!

 

“No, Master Brom.”, the darkness of Seressa said. “I am not the guide of this tour.. I am merely the Voice. Cora is the Anchor.. and the Shield..”

“I am?”, murmured Cora.

“..and Arcantonic is the Enabler.”, she continued.

“Yay.. Whot?”, squeaked Tonic.

“I don’t even use shields.”, mused the barbarian girl.

“You, Master Brom.. You are the Guide.. That. Is. Your. Job!”, Seressa said in her clear, yet unbending voice, still staring down at the hobbit with her deep, ‘astral’ eyes. “So again, Master Brom; Do we?”

 

Bite.

Flinch!

 

Brom sighed..

..and gave up.

He felt no issues nor any reluctance objecting to the bloody whatsit all day and getting bit innumerable times for his efforts. But he just didn’t feel any compulsion to argue with Tonic’s pair.

“Damit..”, he spat inwardly.

“Damit. Damit. Damit. Damit. Damit. Damit. Damit!”

 

“Do we, dear Brom?”, repeated Seressa once more, and with a barely audible voice.

“No.”, he said quietly.

“What?”, Cora asked with some surprise and looked at the hobbit.

“What?”, exclaimed Tonic, even more surprised. “Why?”

“Because there’s somewhere else we have to go before we go up.”, he replied in a deflated tone.

“Where?”, asked Cora.

“Why?”, asked Tonic again, sudden fear clearly etched in her face.

“We must go ‘down’, before we go up.”, replied Brom even quieter, giving a carefully disguised glance at the little gnomic girl.

“Down it is, then.”, said Seressa in her unbending voice. It was, however, tinted with a barely discernable pinch of sadness thrown into it, as she gave a similar glance at her pair.

Tonic did not see the covert looks the two had given her, but for some reason, she seemed freaked.

“There is no ‘down’. This is the entrance floor..”, she objected, almost pleading.

“What’s going on?”, asked Cora. “What’s down below us and why is Tonic here telling us there is no down?”

Tonic crossed her arms under her breasts, turned her paled face away from them, and shut up.

Seressa stared at her, but not unkindly and as if she desperately wanted to reach out to her little pair and hug her.

She did not, however. She just stood there and silently waited.

So did Brom.

“Tonic?”, inquired Cora softly. She wasn’t sure just what the hell was going on here, but it seemed detrimental for the little gnomic girl and even though she could be a monumental pain in the arse at times, Cora had no intention for her to get hurt. “What is down there?”

 

Tonic did not reply for a long moment.

But as time passed, her diminutive face drooped, her shoulders slumped and her back hunched, even as she held her eyes closed, and her tiny fists clenched at her hips.

Finally, a tiny voice of defeat, acceptance, or perhaps, of penance escaped her.

 

“Me..”

✱ ✱ ✱

Me? Me, what? I don’t understand.”, said Cora, staring at the deflated, dejected, and ‘at her final throes’, girl.

Tonic did not reply.

Neither did her pair, nor Brom.

Apparently, either the barbarian elf had to figure it out, or the little gnomic girl had to speak the words.

Or just neither did Seressa, nor Brom had the heart to say it.

 

“What do you know about my uncle, Cora? What do you know about Arcanton Mordenon?”, Tonic said finally.

“You didn’t really say all that much, Tonic. But if I were be polite about it, I would go for ‘a great gnome with greater issues’, but I just don’t feel like being polite about him, so I will sum it all up as ‘an inscrutable, degenerate, power-hungry, megalomaniacal ass’..”, she replied seriously.

Brom snorted.

Seressa kept to her silence, but her eyes blazed at the accuracy of the words.

Tonic stared at Cora, and she had this, funny expression on her face as if it had gotten stuck somewhere between a destitute laugh and wanting to cry.

“Alright.”, she said. “Perhaps I should rephrase that. Why am I the way I am, Cora? Why am I broken?”

“You are not broken, girl. Merely ‘irritably challenged’, maybe.. We all have some issues.. I could name some of mine but I don’t think we have that kind of time.”, Cora said.

Tonic sighed.

“Really, Cora? You see absolutely nothing wrong with me?”, she asked.

“I see a lot of things wrong with you. I have some of them myself. So does Brom. So did a lot of my friends, back at Ironfrost. Seressa also has some issues. But she seems to be at peace with most of them, so she’s cool.”, shrugged Cora.

Tonic just stared at the barbarian girl, her mouth open.

Brom had to admire his barbarian friend. If she was being deliberately dense, she was very convincing. If she was actually this.. well.. ‘gullibly innocent’, it was perhaps understandable. Cora did have the tendency to blame herself for things even when they had nothing to do with her. She never went as far as openly voicing said blames, but Brom thought he could see them in her eyes.

“No, Cora. You have issues. But you are not broken!”, Tonic hissed harshly.

“You do not know how I was before Dreadmaw, Tonic. At which point did you decide you got a handle on me?”, Cora asked in her calm, cool, and decidedly frosty voice.

“I am sorry, Cora. But you were not taken from your parents by an inscrutable, degenerate, power-hungry, megalomaniacal ass of an uncle to be thrown into a little cage surrounded by demons at the age of three and kept there for years.. That’s what is ‘down there’.. MY CAGE! I AM DOWN THERE, RIGHT NOW, CORA. I AM DOWN THERE, SCARED WITLESS, CRYING, ALONE, IN THE DARK. AND SURROUNDED BY DEMONS WHO ARE GNAWING AT MY CAGE, TRYING TO GET TO ME EVEN AS WE SPEAK. NO CORA. YOU HAVE ISSUES. BUT YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IS ‘BROKEN!’. YOU ARE HURT, AND LIKELY THAT HURT IS THERE TO STAY, BUT YOU ARE NOT BROKEN, I AM. MY UNCLE TOOK ME, PUT ME DOWN THERE, AND BROKE ME, CORA. AND THOROUGHLY!“, the little gnomic girl gnarled savagely.

 

A disturbing silence settled as the barbarian elf and the little, gnomic girl faced one another, while Brom and Seressa held their breath.

 

“Dear Tonic..”, said Cora in her soft, throaty voice. “I can only imagine how much that must have hurt coming out. I am sorry I pushed you into it. But I am grateful you said what you had to and got it out. There is no ‘fix’ until we admit to ourselves that we are broken.. and come to the conclusion that we need fixing and decide to do something about it.. You guys helped fix me. You have no idea how much I hurt when Dreadmaw first happened. And neither could you contemplate the kind of hell I went through, living it again, and in greater detail. Does it surprise you to see me smile and laugh and talk more, and even make a funny every now and then, since then? I do not believe our ‘jumps’ are for just minor changes. They are there to give us respite.. or relief, as well. I believe, ‘that’ is the true reward of our troubles. And I believe, this will be yours.. We are not here to fix you, dear Tonic. Friends don’t fix friends. That’s just base arrogance if you ask me. What they do is, keep you company, hold your hand, pick you up or even smother your with hugs if need be, certainly.. but it must be you who must fix you. What is given is never as valuable as what is earned.”

 

Tonic ogled at the barbarian girl as if she’d just slapped her awake.

Seressa also had a similar expression on her face, but more relieved and viscously happier.

Brom..

Brom looked at her as if seeing the barbarian girl reborn. Stronger, not in arm, or back, or leg, but decidedly at heart.

‘Well, now..’, he mused as he smiled at her.

 

Bite.

Flinch!

 

Brom stood where he was.

And quite unmoving.

As a certain sense of dread washed over him.

Cora had been fixed, perhaps, in her own way, as she seemed to have found some form of peace.

And maybe Tonic was about to as well.

He, on the other hand, had faced his mortal enemy and prevailed, to be sure, but he hadn’t found his peace.. yet.

Brom really didn’t feel like going through anything even remotely like what Cora had, and what Tonic was perhaps about to now.. He remembered, inadvertently, of Aremela Berrybush.. The only girl he’d felt love as immensely tangible as he thought he would ever feel. He gulped down a few harsh breaths to send back the lump that had just gotten stuck in his throat.

Then he felt a pair of eyes on him.

‘Astral’ eyes.

And saw the very tall, very dark girl watching him from the darkness that hid her.

He did wonder what she, Tonic’s pair— No, not Tonic’s pair, damit, Seressa.. Seressa Wraiven was going to suffer to make peace with.. whatever her demons were. For some reason, though, he really didn’t want her to suffer.. At all..

Silently, he snarled down at the pestering whatsit that kept biting him at the most inconvenient and certainly inconsiderate moments.

“If you hurt her. I will hunt you down to the end of days, you little bugger!”

 

Brom Bumblebrim does not know at this point, and neither could he have known that Seressa Wraiven would face her demons much, much later.. Some 180 years or so later. And perhaps because he could not let go of his guilt over Aremela Berrybush, he wouldn’t be there for Seressa..

 

The sentient mind is complex and is comprised of many small, seemingly unimportant, and usually inconsistent things. But it is, in truth, much like words are made of letters, and letters are, one way or another, the culmination of linear drops of ink. Such drops string together to form the said letters, in return giving us words, which conform sentences, paragraphs, pages, and finally, books, conveying our thoughts, our ideas, and our hopes, consequently shaping, establishing, and even, at times, ‘marshaling’ literature, poetry, law, science, and religion. Whatever the final outcome is, though, everything starts with words. And words start with small, seemingly inconsequential drops of ink. But it is the ‘will’ that picks up the quill, dips into the inkpot, and draws the ink. And it is ‘choice’ that births, gives rise and consequently, breeds the ‘will’, per se. In a way, ‘choice’ is the origin or even the genesis of ‘will’. One could easily come to the devastating conclusory finalé of awareness that it is ‘choice’ that is behind all. Ultimately, if there is any sentient action to be had, a choice to do so must take precedence.. and be made, hence it is ‘choice’ that inadvertently, and, perhaps, fundamentally, rises civilizations..

 

..or brings them down.

 

From a decidedly narrower point of view; choices save friends, or, willy-nilly, abandons them.

 

Suffice to say, the ‘nilly’ that postcedes the willy, is also a choice, after all, though it be a disregarded, or even a discarded one..

✱ ✱ ✱

There are more coming. Just how many are there?”, hissed Cora as she slashed open what she hoped was the thorny demon’s vitals, spun the ancient and massive, double-bladed elven polearm, and stabbed its other end into the creature’s face! The creature screamed as it stumbled back as another took its place.

“A lot.”, squeaked Tonic as she aimed another of her acid vials and tossed it over the barbarian elf and hit one of the huge, quadrupedal fiend with the long tail and covered with hard, pointy thorns. The thing roared in pain as a large, gaping hole appeared on its chest and spilled its lungs onto the ground.

“Well. That’s a gruesome sight.”, Brom said, then overstretched the one string on his lyre, causing a distinctly disturbing, dissonant chord. The demon with the gaping hole in its chest snapped its head up as if some invisible spike had struck it from right under its elongated maw. For a bare moment it stood there staring blankly at the ceiling, then one of its eyes slid up and disappeared into its skull while the other turned down and pointed somewhere on the ground. Its face drooped.. and all at once, it exploded; the monster lost its head!

“And you think mine was gruesome?”, gawked the little gnomic girl, trying very hard not to retch.

“A bit gruesome, yes. But you have got to admit; it was effective!”, replied the hobbit in a sort of apologetic way. “They are immune to fire and quite resistant to most of our cold attacks and impervious to charm, fear, and poisons.. Might as well go for the source, their minds, and just blow it up from the inside!”

A ghostly, skeletal hand moaned amongst the demons and struck one in the heart. The creature stumbled back. Two more ghostly hands moaned and grabbed the same creature by its throat and squeezed. The demon gagged and tried to free itself from the ghostly hands, but it just couldn’t hold them. The demon stumbled, choked, and died, its uncanny, goat-like eyes bulging.

“By all means, Master Brom. Do more!”, said Seressa Wraiven calmly in her sultry and cultured voice.

“Your choice of words are mind-breaking, girl!”, whispered Tonic with a slightly flushed face, from just behind the very tall and very dark girl.

Brom coughed. His face was more than just flushed.

“Whot?”, Seressa asked as she prepared for her next spell. “My wording was grammatically correct. So was its referential focus.”

“Girl, you just—”, began Tonic.

“If anyone explains it to her, he or she will have words with me, right after this fight, when I am still very much in rage!”, snarled Cora as she lopped the head of the next demon, clean off its shoulders.

 

Tonic shut up.

Brom wasn’t planning on explaining anything, so he didn’t have to.

He did flinch though.

When he got bit.. once again.

With a very surly expression, he turned around and looked behind..

..and saw the barred door on the far side of the large chamber they had just entered, and subsequently ambushed.

 

“Tonic.”, he said quietly.

“Whot?”, replied the little gnomic girl without looking at him as she tossed another vial over the raging tundra elf.

“Behind us, there is a barred door.”, he said, again in a low voice.

“Yeah, so?”, she said, panting while she pulled a tightly packed, leather-bound fire-clay sphere out of her artificer’s satchel.

“Where does it lead?”, Brom asked.

“How the hell should I know, boy? I wasn’t given free rein last time I was here. I never wondered the halls of this bloody tower. Not that I would have. I was locked, in a cage, down in the dungeons for all my tenure, remember? Look, I am a bit busy right now, Master Brom. Can we have this conversation later? Or never?”, she hissed and tossed a heavy leather-bound, fire-clay hardened and packed ball over Cora, and into the crowding fiends.

“Fire in the hole!”, she shouted.

Cora spun around facing them with her back hunched, her eyes tightly shut, and her head lowered.

Tonic did the same.

Seressa jumped back and spun in the air like a dark, astral dancer and landed facing the opposite direction and covering her ears with her slender hands.

Brom groaned and just turned around, closed his eyes and ears but opened his mouth all the way.

The room shuddered as the sphere detonated with an eye-searing and ear-cracking explosion!

Cora spun back and started butchering the fiends right and left, all stunned, bleeding in the eyes and ears..

“Tonic!”, hissed Brom once again.

“Whot, dammit? I told you, I don’t know anything about this place!”

Brom grabbed the gnomic girl by her shoulders and made her face him and looked her in the eyes.

Very quietly and calmly he asked, “When you finally got free, you said Nadine Graciousward carried you out in her embrace. Was that the door you saw over her shoulder?”

Arcantonic Palecog stared at him, and at the barred door.

“How the hell should I know, Brom? That happened nearly forty years ago!”, she hissed at him.

Brom ogled at her.

“You are..”

“Yes, boy, I am forty-eight! And quite young for a gnome and probably double your age and very nearly double Seressa’s age as well!”

“Damn.. If you are still down there, in the dungeons, we must have been hurled at least forty, forty-five years back, then.”, Brom said, a bit freaked.

“Egad, Master Brom. Your powers of deduction are mind-staggering!”, Tonic spat with sarcasm.

“Why didn’t you tell us, this?”

“Why would I? I don’t even want to be here.”

“Don’t you think that information might be pertinent?”

“It would, had I known my little self was still down there, which I didn’t, and hoped, wouldn’t. It only came to me when you said we had to go ‘down’, before we went up!”

Brom frowned. The little gnomic girl had a point, of sorts. He did have to change his perception of her though. Up to this day, he had always thought this cute, irritable girl was around his age, if not younger. Certainly not ‘at least double’ his age!

He drew a long, suffering breath to ask once more for her to think back and carefully, but the gnomic girl beat him at it.

“It is..”, she said mutely. “Your wording of how I must have seen it is inspired! I did see that door, but once, when Nadine Graciousward was carrying me out, and over her shoulder. It was all hazy and I was crying and shivering and terrified beyond sanity. But I remember that door. And this is it.”

Brom didn’t bother asking her if she was sure or not. He knew Tonic had an uncanny memory. Once she saw, heard, or read something, she would remember it. Period.

“Very well.”, he said. “I am going to have to go down and through that door. Tell the others they are going to have to hold this room, no matter what.”

“Why don’t you tell them?”, asked Tonic.

“Because I have to go alone and Cora won’t let me. And just what do you think your.. uhh.. Seressa will do when she sees the little you down there, scared and crying?”

“She will take the little me, promptly coin-purse her, then spend the next one thousand years dismantling this place along with everything in it down to this planets’ molten core!”, Tonic said without even thinking.

“Right.”, agreed, the hobbit. “Give me a three hundred count to get out of their reach, will you?”

“Whatever you do, don’t give me your name, when you go down there. I remember very little of the things in the dark because I went out of my way to forget it all. A name is something to dwell on, though. And something to remember.”, she said quietly.

“Alright.”, Brom nodded.

“And.. don’t turn on the lights.”, she mumbled.

“What? Why?”

“Between the two of us, Seressa is the one with imagination. That’s why everything about her is exquisite, and the reason why her illusions appear so vivid and realistic. I have a linear sort of imagination. That’s always been true for me. Which is why I am a good artificer. My mind works in a ‘causality’ direction. As long as I am in the dark, down there, I can only imagine so far about the horrors lurking around me. If you turn the lights on, I will see them, and I will know what truly wants to eat me. I shouldn’t have to know that..”, she said looking down at her feet.

“Understandable.”, the hobbit replied, feeling a bit sick.

“One last thing, Master Hobbit.”, Tonic whispered. “Do not give her anything sharp.”

“Why?”

“There is only one thing she wants, Brom. And has wanted for quite some years, while sitting in the dark.. And it has nothing to do with life, but ending it.”

Brom Bumblebrim just stared at her.

Something must have shown on his face because the little gnomic girl gave him a broken smile and said, “Do not mourn me, Master Brom, for I am here. And so will she..”

✱ ✱ ✱

I hope they give us a breather. My hands and my arms hurt just for swinging this weapon and that’s saying something, considering I have been a zerker for nearly two decades.”, breathed Cora Sleet as she set her two-yard long polearm with beautiful, and equally brutal-looking, nearly thirty-inch blades on either end on her lap as she settled down on the ground, just a few steps from the bloody carnage.

“Indeed.”, agreed, Seressa as she also sat, gingerly, next to her. Then she held up the shredded fringes of her frilly skirt dress and mourned. “They could at least give us time to wash and change. Just look at my dress. I can barely call it pink anymore.”

Cora laughed. She just couldn’t help it.

“The fading and shredded condition of my dress is not a laughing matter, dear Cora. I am quite put out with you.”, pouted the very tall, very dark girl as she took the end of her long, pink hair and studied it. “There are things on my hair I don’t even want to know what! I will have to undo them, wash them thoroughly, and re-braid them. Do you know how long it takes to do my hair?”

“I am sorry, Seressa.”, chuckled Cora. “I wasn’t laughing at you. Nor your dress. I could wash and do your braids if you like. Provided you do mine.”

“Ow.. I would love to..”, exclaimed Seressa happily. “You have lovely hair.”

“Huh. I do?”

“Ow, yes. It’s soft, silky, and very submissive.”

Cora cocked an eyebrow.

“Submissive?”

“Don’t get me wrong. Submissive is a good quality for hair when you want to bun, wrap, give shape or just braid them. And they won’t stay curly when you undo them, making them much easier to comb and brush. Mine is also soft and silky, but not as submissive. I have to wash them with hot water if I want to have them straight, once I unbraid them.”, she explained.

“Huh! I didn’t know that. But then, I never go around with my hair down. Too many threats with big scissors by my mother from a young age. I am afraid to even unbraid them now. I could just imagine my mother’s ghost coming at me with her scissors and moaning, ‘Cora Sleet, braid that mop you call hair and out of my stew or you won’t have to!’.. And you never wear them straight either.”, Cora said.

“I never wear them straight because I don’t want them getting in the way. And I like them neat and tidy when I have to go into fights. Otherwise, I would have them down as much as possible.”, replied Seressa with a dreamy expression on her beautiful face.

“How about we heat some water and do that right now.”, offered Cora, which sort of surprised even herself.

“You.. you really want to? I wouldn’t want to impose upon you.”, she asked even more surprised.

“No, no.. You never impose, dear girl. You are too kind and cultured for that.”

“Well, now. You will receive the best performance out of me, just for that praise.”, smiled Seressa with glowing eyes.

“Let’s get Tonic to draw us some water from that magic pot of hers and put our esteemed hobbit on guard duty. Otherwise, he’ll just ogle at us. I mean, I don’t mind him ogling at you. But it gets awkward when he does it to me too.”, Cora said.

“He has stopped ogling at me. For quite sometime now.. I am sure I didn’t tell nor imply in any way that he should. And since I didn’t, I don’t think Tonic would have said anything to him on this matter, either.”, she said a tad mournfully.

“Huh. He did, did he? That’s weird.”, murmured Cora thoughtfully.

“Yes, he did. I was very much planning to have a sit down with him and ask him if it was something I did or said. Don’t get me wrong. I do love my freedoms, Cora, but I do not appreciate it when just anyone stares at me. I am quite selective about who I don’t mind staring at me and he has always been on that list.”, Seressa said with a confused little frown. “But we kept rushing from one place and time to another, ever since we left Arashkan, I just couldn’t find the appropriate time. Come to think about it, his change in attitude started sometime after we time-jumped to Arashkan itself.”

“Perhaps you should.. have a sit down with him, I mean.. But I don’t know. Some things are a tad too complicated for my taste and I personally don’t really like complications. For me, if and when someone feels or wants something.. uhh.. or someone, they should just go ahead and say it.. Not drag it out. Life is too short for complications and that coming from an elf who has the potential to live over one thousand five hundred years, is saying something.”, Cora said a bit evasively as she wondered, indeed, why had her little hobbit friend changed his attitude towards this strange and gracefully beautiful girl. It seemed rather obvious about what he felt for her. Had he backed away, perhaps? If so, why had he?

‘Ow, you little daydreamer.. Did you chicken out?’, she thought.

“Uhhmm.. What do you think of.. uhh.. our Brom?”, she asked the very tall, very dark girl sitting next to her, sort of tentatively.

“I think a lot of things about him. He is brave, smart, cultured, observant, caring, loyal and he bothers..”, Seressa replied with a mysterious smile on her face.

“Yes, well, he does tend to bother me at times, too..”, stammered Cora.

 

Which was odd, and interesting.

Cora did not do stammer!

 

“Ow, no, my dear Cora. You misunderstand me. He does not bother me in the least. When I say, he bothers, what I meant was, he bothers with things he could otherwise easily ignore, knowing full well it would make him miserable at the end when he wouldn’t ignore them. He bothers to get up and do them anyway because it will make the other person happy —at his own expense.”, Seressa said in her illustrious voice.

“Huh. Like I said. I like things simpler. This is way too complicated for me.”, Cora mumbled. Then she looked around and suddenly noticed the silence. “Where is he anyway? And your Tonic?”

“Tonic is my pair, luv. But she is not exclusive to me, and hence, is also your Tonic..”, smiled Seressa. Then she too looked around searching her pair and for the hobbit.

Another confused frown appeared in her brow when she couldn’t see either.

“Damit!”, fumed Cora suddenly.

“Whot?”, asked Seressa still looking for the two.

“I will tell you what! Brom ‘bothered’ —again— and Tonic ‘enabled’ him. That’s why he is not around and that’s why she is hiding behind that rubble over there, making herself scarce!”, growled the barbarian girl, pointing at a distinct pile of debris.

Seressa’s eyebrows shot up.

“Tonic? Luv? What’s going on?”

 

No reply came from the scruffy-looking red mop of hair with the scrunchie, barely discernable behind the said rubble. Tonic just sat there, quite motionless, not unlike a furry little ball!

 

Cora sighed.

“Not even bothering answering your calls now, girl? Really?”, she fumed.

“Tonic, luv? What is going on? Where is Master Brom?”, Seressa asked, concern etched in her voice.

 

Tonic refused to answer.

 

Cora picked herself up and groaned her way to the pile of rubble where the little gnomic girl sat and looked down at her. One of her white eyebrows slowly rose. Then she looked back at Seressa.

“Whot? Is she alright?”, asked the very tall, very dark girl.

“When you said, she’s your pair, but was also my Tonic, just how comprehensive was your meaning?”, she asked her coolly.

“All the way, I suppose.”, replied Seressa a bit confused. “Why?”

“Because I am going to hurt Brom. And hurt Tonic too.”, she said with a frosty expression on her face as she reached down, grabbed Tonic, and tossed her at her pair!

 

Seressa yelped and made a grab for her..

..and landed, face down, with a burlap sack full of hay and cotton, and a whole tuft of scruffy looking reddish-brown hair entertaining one of Seressa’s own scrunchies attached to it!

She stared at the burlap sack with a stoned expression.

“What in all that’s good and not, is this?”, she exclaimed, looking at the ‘head’.

“I am guessing, that idiot hobbit had to do something, and your Tonic decided to cover for him with this half-baked plan!”, scoffed Cora with a horrible scowl on her own face.

 

Seressa continued staring at the burlap, totally lost for words..

..then she vanished!

raven-01_cr

And a ghostly raven appeared where she’d just been.

The raven flapped its winds twice, then took off at an incredible speed.

 

“Well..”, Cora murmured after the grayish, semi-transparent raven. “..that’s kinda cool!”

 

The ghostly raven sped in every direction, flying up above and skirting low, near the floor for a few minutes, covering every corner, every possible hole or spot that could be used as cover, and returned back to Cora and settled next to her.

“You can settle on my shoulder if you like, girl. That way, we’d look cool together.”, she said.

“Perhaps later, luv..”, replied Seressa as she reappeared where the ghostly raven had landed. “..She is here. I just can’t find her.”

“You can’t?”, asked Cora with some surprise.

“No..”, replied Seressa with a dejected tone.

“Thought you pairs knew where each other were all the time.”, she said.

“It is not such a definitive bond, luv. That would be against King’s Citizens Rights and Privacies Act.”, she mourned.

“Kings— what?”

“King’s Citizens Rights and Privacies Act. It is one of the core constitutional laws of the Kingdom of Isles, set down by the first King Barakan Heavenswill and his queen, Arael Ashanelath Fae Erunanne Tel’Lóna —known commonly among humans as Arael Tellona.. Everyone is allowed to their own privacy and non may be spied nor scried upon without a magistrate’s express permission and with legally acceptable and plausible cause.”

“I didn’t know such a law was in order. Odd law..”, she mused.

“A bit odd, yes, but totally necessary. Can you imagine the kind of abuse there would be if just about anyone with the ability to do so would, without any repercussions?”, said Seressa quietly.

“I suppose so.. I wasn’t aware the first King of this kingdom took an elf for a wife. But then, my home and my tundra’s are far and wild, and seldom does news of events and happenings are heard there. I am not even sure if the tundras are within the kingdom.”

“They aren’t. Neither technically, nor jurisdictionally. Though the elves of Tranquil in the central and near Heavens Hand in the western tundra’s are, but the dwarves west of the Celestial Mountain are not. Communications and treaties have taken place among the barbarian tribes and the kingdom. The town, Shakehands, was originally built for such an occasion when they called them to war upon Themalsar, but the town grew to become a center for everyone to come and sell their fur, cattle, gold, iron, silver, and copper ores, and the highly sought and prized walrus tusks, among many other things, and buy all sorts of things that are otherwise unavailable in the tundra’s.”, explained Seressa, her eyes still searching for her pair.

“Huh. You are quite a treasure for knowledge, girl.”, Cora said with a certain amount of admiration.

“No, luv. I am merely a repository for trash and trivia information. My repertoire is mostly due to.. well.. I had nothing else to do back in the Academy —no friends, you see.. Only my phloxes to keep me company and a whole lot of years spent in the academy library.”

“Arael Ashanelath Fae Erunanne Tel’Lóna.. The Grace of the Islands, and the Heart of Year One! That is a very powerful name.. Even by elf standards..”, mused Cora.

“She was very much loved by her husband, the human king, and beloved by her people as a queen, by many accounts and sources. She was also the daughter of the Greater Elf, Terandel Solace who founded Solace, the niece to Sinderel Tranquil who founded Tranquil, and Elorellen Feymist who founded Bari Na-ammen in High Woods.”

“Wow. This is.. kind of fascinating.. Though it explains little about where our furtive little friends are.”, said Cora.

Seressa’s shoulders slumped.

“I feel.. alone.. I have been with my pair nearly every day since we left the academy. I feel.. distressed.. when she is not around. Even when we didn’t get along all that well at first, I found comfort in her presence. Funny, isn’t it? And pathetic on my part..”

“Bit funny, yes. Pathetic, not so much. I find the bond you two share and the relation the two of you have very much endearing and something only friends and sisters would have —put together!”

“That.. is very sweet!”, exclaimed Seressa.

Then she sighed and went for her pack and pulled out a pot, and a skin of water. Then she frowned just a little, and a small bone fire appeared at a corner, far from the broken door they had entered.

“Why don’t you pile up some sort of barricade while I heat up the water, luv..”, she said. “Then we’ll start with your hair.”

“What about your hair?”, asked Cora as she carefully picked up one of the stinking corpses of the thorny demons and started dragging it to the door.

“My hair is mostly dust, dirt, and stray blood. You were the one who got most of the gore. It’s not even healthy for all that to be on you..”, she said and placed the pot on the fire, emptied the water in the skin into the pot, and produced a block of pink soap.

“What are we going to do about the two?”, the barbarian girl asked as she dragged another corpse.

“Nothing we can do. Unless they eloped together, they will come back. Master Brom knows what he is doing. I hope. And Tonic can’t be found when she does not want to. She is an artificer and a deep gnome. Even if we ‘be damned with the king’s law’, I doubt I could divine her location.”, she said and her shoulders slumped even more.

“What about that door?”, Cora asked, nodding at the barred door at the far side of the room.

Seressa didn’t answer for a moment.

When she did, there was an utter loss on her face.

“That door leads to somewhere we can’t go, dear Cora.”

 

One of Cora’s eyebrows shot up.

 

“Where?”

“Down.”, the very tall, very dark girl replied. “That door leads down and to my baby Tonic.”

✱ ✱ ✱

Brom, as a whole, did not like dark places. Brom did not like undead either. Brom liked undead in dark places even less. And now he stood in the dark, facing a whole.. What the hell was a group of undead called, anyway? A mob? A swarm? A drags? An appetite? Or was it a plague of undead?

Alright. Perhaps the little hobbit did get carried away at times, where undead were concerned..

His only consolation was he could ‘see’ in the dark now. Of course, ‘see’ was a relative term, really, meaning he could discern objects in a gray spectrum.. as opposed to being mole-blind. The irony of how he could ‘see’ even this much was not lost on the little hobbit; the goggles Tonic herself had given her back when they had time-jumped to the Great Arashkan city to deliver the Spear of Light to a certain angelic being, and later when the two of them had snuck out of the inn they were staying for an unexpected, somewhat prophecy-induced, venture.. The true nature of the irony was, he was using the same pair of goggles that Tonic had given him to find another Tonic —just from another time!

Brom considered his options and decided to go for the easiest one. He’d try the others should his first option fail.

 

Brom vanished!

 

Moving carefully and unseen, he slunk past the heavy breathing, yet unmoving, ghoul-like creatures, step by step, sweating profusely all the while. By the time he had left the monsters behind, he felt light-headed and noted he’d been holding his breath.

“Phew.”, he said hoarsely. “That was tense.”

He followed the long, dark hall until he heard the growls, the barkings, the eerie shrieks of demons, and the slamming of some things big and heavy upon steel bars..

..and a tiny, terrorized, spluttering voice.

“Please. Leave me alone. Please.. Noooo!”

“Ow, Great Heavens!”, exclaimed Brom and started down the hall with all haste.

He wasn’t sure for how long he ran. It all was too dark and musty and everything seemed blurry. He ran until slid to a stop in front of another barred door, much like the one he had come through. He noted the large crossbar holding the door firmly shut, reached up to it and knocked it down, and shouldered the door open..

..to see one, small cage, surrounded by nearly a dozen very large cages, all holding demons of various shapes and sizes, all much larger than him, and certainly much, much larger than the little girl, curled into a pathetic ball, crying in the center cage!

And the door to one of the larger cages had been forcefully opened and was missing its demon..

..a demon with long, barbed tentacles standing over the little cage, reaching for the little girl.

The girl screamed in mindless terror and pain as the demon grabbed one of her feet and started dragging her to the bars, and to its self, blaring with bloody hunger.

Brom did not wait.

He made a sharp, wrathful gesture around the small cage and the air shimmered for a moment, then exploded!

It wasn’t a fiery explosion. In fact, there wasn’t a single spark and nothing tangible shrapneled, nor did any preceding smoke appear.

It wasn’t visible at all..

It was pure, psychic pain!

But the demon froze where it stood.

Then its massive, hideous head opened like an axed melon!

And just like that, it dropped dead, its long, thorny tentacles shivered for a moment, then shriveled down to a mordant stillness.

Several more of the demons in the other cages also collapsed, their heads either split open or simply smashed like dry pumpkins.

The hobbit looked up at the remaining demons banging at their own cages, all the while barking, blaring, shrieking, and howling, and his eyes blazed with even more hate.

He took out a single knife from his belt and tossed it up into the air.

The knife disappeared five or six feet above him.

A series of metallic slashing and slicing sounds were heard, and the remaining demons also crashed in choired screams, their bodies shredded and bloody exposed.

“There.”, he said softly as he approached the small, single cage in the middle. “That bunch won’t be bothering you again, my dear Tonic..”

The little girl did not respond. She just blubbered and sobbed, her eyes shut, her hands tight around her ears. All she could do was to pull her bloodied foot to herself and cry more.

Brom stared at the sad, heart-breaking sight before him as tears rolled down his eyes as he saw the depths of Arcantonic Palecog, and what she meant when she’d said, I AM BROKEN!

Slowly, he took out his lyre, strummed a few, soft tones, and started to sing..

Why he sang what he sang, he wasn’t sure.

It wasn’t even something he’d composed.

But he sang it anyway.

Because the song related to this, tiny little gnomic girl more than possibly anyone else in the world..

 

 

into the hills
silent and hollow
chase the path
and through the fog
find the door
knock
more
and hallow
blood for blood
soul for soul
and
life for life
trade and be king
freely given
and
ascend

 

 

How many times he repeated the song, he wasn’t sure. But the little girl was humming it with a sad, sobbing mumble, lying as she did by the time he was done.

“Do.. do you have knife, sir?”, she asked in a tiny, pipsqueak voice. “Please, sir, give me knife.. A small knife will do..”

“Yes, my dear Tonic. I have knife.”, replied Brom hoarsely.

“Give it to me, sir. Please.. I only need one.. I promise.. You can have it back.. It won’t take too long..”, she whispered from where she lay.

“No. My dear girl. I shall not give you knife, for I have given you song, and I have given you hope.”, said Brom, desperately trying to swallow the lump in his throat.

“I don’t want hope, sir. There is no hope here. I need knife. Please give me knife.”, she said as she held onto the bars of the small cage and dragged herself up, pulling her bloody foot behind her.

“Someone will come for you. And they will take you away from here. Far away. To a happier place where you will find friends. Good friends. Friends who will love you, and care for you.”

“I smell demon, sir. I always smell demon. I only have demon. Demon can’t have friends, sir.”

“No. No, they can’t. But you are no demon. You are a strong and brave girl. Hence, I will not give knife. I give you song. A song of hope. A song that will save more than you. And one day, soon, that someone will come and save you. To her, you shall give this song.”

 

arcanton-arcantonic-01d_cr

The girl slumped down.

And curled back into her sad little ball and started to cry again.

“No knife. No hope..”, she moaned.

“No knife. Only song, dear Tonic.”, whispered Brom, and started to sing once again..

 

He sang until the little girl drifted off, murmuring to herself..

 

“..silent and hollow.. chase the path..”

“..the door, knock, more and hallow..”

“..freely given and ascend..”

 

Then, slowly, he reached through the bars and into the cage.

He scoffed at the stinging bite at his calf just where he couldn’t see, and reached down..

..and tenderly touched the tiny, shredded, and bloody foot.

✱ ✱ ✱

The slim rope came slithering down from a dark, slit of a barely parted window in the ceiling, and Brom climbed up and disappeared inside the hollow space inside. A pair of tiny hands pulled the rope back up, then quietly shut the slit between the windows, displaying nothing but the ceiling its self.

“Done?”, Arcantonic Palecog asked Brom who lay on his back, staring at the void of the ‘hidey-hole’.

“What happened? You look.. tired..”, she said morosely.

“I am tired. I.. saw..”, he began.

“You don’t really have to tell me what you saw, Master Brom. You will recall, I did try very hard to forget about my.. ‘tenure’.. here.. I believe I have moderately succeeded at it too.”, Tonic said quietly.

“Have you?”, he asked, forcing himself up to a sitting position. “Succeeded?”

“All things considered, I believe I have. Some things must be forgotten, Master Brom. Not faced and overcome. And I am happier now. Not happy that I am here. Just happier than I ever was. I even have friends.. as small a repertoire of them as it may be, but they are mine for keeps. If someone had told me that I would make friends just a few months ago, I would have laughed at their faces.. in a very scornful way, then hit them with something deserving.. possibly my artificer’s wrench. Hells Bells, I couldn’t even stand Seressa, back then, and she is my pair!”, she said with a brittle smile.

 

Brom looked carefully at her.

And saw the shards of her broken pieces still jabbing at her and bleeding all over her..

He sighed.

He’d done all he could for the girl.

To both of her!

But pushing never really helped.

He was sure time would present more opportunities and he would do what he could then too, as per opportunity.

 

“What’s with the clandestine meet?”, he asked, changing the whole topic.

“Well.. I.. didn’t.. or rather, couldn’t tell Seressa or Cora what you were up to. So I bamboozled them and hid here while I waited for you.”, she stammered with a flushed face.

“You mean, you chickened out!”, smirked Brom.

“Rich, coming from you, Master Brom!”, scowled Tonic.

Brom made a face and shut up.

“The meet is so we can get our stories straight.. You know, so there aren’t any discrepancies..”, she explained, still a bit flustered.

“You are aware that whatever we say, and no matter how plausible our story will be, they aren’t going to believe it.”

“They might.”

“Tonic. You and I know, the moment Cora scowls at you, you are going to start spilling everything. And the moment your pair.. uhhmm… Seressa asks me, nicely, as she always does, I won’t be able to lie to her..”

“Yes.”, said the gnomic girl. “All of which I have taken into consideration.”

“Ow? So what is this story that is discrepancy-proof?”, asked Brom and not without a certain amount of skepticism.

Tonic smirked and rubbed her hands together with a dramatic, conspiratorial way.

“I am going to blame it all on you!”

Brom stared at the gnomic girl.. evenly..

“Really? That’s your plan?”

“Yes. I will also tell them that you threatened me with a prophetic doom.. That way, I will be on the clear.”

“That’s very thoughtful of you, Tonic. Accept Seressa will roll over me, and not in a pleasant way, the moment you tell her I threatened you!”

“But that’s the point, see?”, Tonic smiled even more as she rubbed her tiny hands together even more, looking very much like a villainess cliché!

“No. I don’t see, girl..”, replied Brom with an exasperated tone.

“One, Seressa will never roll over you.. Okay, that didn’t come out right. What I meant was, she will never roll over you in an unpleasant way—”, she said, digging herself in deeper.

“Yes. That sounds so much better, now.”, retorted the hobbit with an unamused tone of voice

Tonic coughed, then bulldozed on.

“—And two, you will tell them the prophecy made you do, whatever it was that you did, and I was part of the elaborate scheme to act as your side-kick and backup, and if neither of us did as the prophecy told us, we’d all be doomed for eternity. Seressa will be fish-hooked when you use ‘prophecy’, ‘doom’ and ‘eternity’ all in the same sentence. And once she is out of the picture, Cora will have no gainsay about it!”, she replied in a very ‘told you so’ voice.

Brom sighed again.

“You are enjoying this, aren’t you?”, he asked

“Well, sure..”, smirked Tonic.

“What are they doing now? How pissed off are they?”, he asked.

“Very. Before.. Now they both have this stupid and concussed expression on their faces and are just drinking tea from a pink, porcelain tea kettle Seressa produced out of nowhere.”, she said irritably.

“What?”, exclaimed Brom. In his mind, he certainly could imagine Seressa drinking tea out of pink cups, and in the middle of a bloody carnage, but all his efforts failed when he did the same for Cora. Try as he did, the whole concept just collapsed in on its self!

“And that’s after they heated water and bubble washed, brushed, combed, and re-braided each other’s hair!”, she said in disgust.

 

Brom felt sick.

Just how many more wonderful things those two would do together and he’d end up missing them because he’d have to venture one doom-induced prophetic avenue after another..

“Damit..”, he spat inwardly.

“Damit. Damit. Damit. Damit. Damit. Damit. Damit!”

 

He sighed again.

“I wonder if we are done here.”, he murmured.

“No.”, replied Tonic. “At least I don’t think so. We had to go ‘down’ before we went up. That implies a certainty of ‘up’. We went down.. Now we go ‘up’..”

✱ ✱ ✱

Well, well, well..”, drawled Cora, looking at the pair of furtive, midgety, figures approaching as she, quite lady-like, sipped her tea from a pink, porcelain cup. “What have we here? The eloped pair have returned.”

“Indeed.”, said Seressa as she also sipped her tea from a piece-of-the-same-set cup. “Had fun together, did you? We certainly did. Didn’t we, luv?”

“Hell, yes!”, snarled the barbarian girl.

“Hell, yes?”, asked Seressa, turning to her. “My dear girl, that wasn’t the line! We had a perfect reception speech..”

“I am sorry Seressa. I am so wroth, I forgot the lines.”, Cora snarled even more as she scowled at the two.

 

Seressa pouted.

 

One gnomic girl and one hobbit scurried to a halt, not unlike a pair of kids about to be grounded by mom and dad, trying to assess just how much of a trouble they were in.

And Tonic suddenly pointed at the hobbit and blurted..

“He did it! He did it! It was all his fault—”

“Tonic..”, mumbled Brom with a resigned tone.

“Don’t talk to me! Don’t talk to me, criminal! I have done nothing bad in my entire life! Hey, look, I am still a virgin! Ok, I might have downloaded a couple of thousands of songs but who hasn’t? Who hasn’t?”, shrieked the little gnomic girl!

Brom sighed, and turned to the angry, tea-drinking pair.

“—It’s done.”, he simply cut in. “We can go up, now.”

 

There was a distinct silence as the two parties stared at one another.

Then everyone burst out loud talking all at once!

 

“What do you mean, it’s done?”

“That’s not what we agreed on, dammit!”

“What the bloody hell is going on, here?

“I am sorry, but I am not going to deceive her and jeopardize my life..”, he said, pointing at Cora, “..and I certainly am not going to lie to her and play with her trust.”,  he added, carefully not looking at Seressa.

 

Both parties froze to digest what they had just heard, then burst out again..

 

“Why would you play me?”

“So her trust is important to you.. Hells Bells, boy, why don’t you just tell her that?”

“I am going to hurt someone if neither of you starts making any sense!”

“Is there any more tea?”

 

The four sat down, facing one another with scowling frowns, furtive glances, confused expressions and diffident casts as Seressa produced another pink, porcelain cup with tiny flowers and set it before..

..she paused, still looking a bit confused, her cup hand going back and forth indecisively between the two.

“I only have the third cup. This set had four, but I lost one of them a long time ago. I sought for a replacement, when we were back at Arashkan, but couldn’t find any matching my set. Though, in all candor, I never thought the day would come and we would all sit down for some tea.”, she said looking extremely abashed and oddly on the verge of panic.

“Give it to him. He wants the tea.”, sighed Tonic.

Cora sipped her tea.

“It’s alright. Give it to her. She looks like she could use a cup of tea, right about now. She hates it when things derivate from her plans.. apparently.”, mumbled Brom.

“How the hell are you going to drink your tea, if I get the cup, boy?”, blazed the gnomic girl.

Cora sipped her tea, some more.

“I have cup!”, Brom said and pulled a small wooden box out of his pack. Carefully, he opened it and produced an antique, porcelain, pink cup with tiny flowers, along with its saucer, and set it in front of himself.

“There we go. We now have four cups.”

“Hells Bells, Brom! You carry an antique teacup with you? Who does that?”, glared Tonic.

“I carry an antique sword, an antique mace, albeit a bit warped and skewed now, and an antique lyre with me, also.”, grinned the hobbit.

Cora sipped her tea, again, feeling a tint of guild about the antique mace.

Seressa, however, stared at the antique teacup Brom had just produced with undisguised chagrin.

“Where.. where did you get this cup?”, she asked with a choked voice.

“It was a gift. From some very nice, very old people I met during my travels. About a year and a half before I reached the Great Northern Tundra’s where I first met Cora. Why?”, Brom asked, noting her distress.

Cora took another sip from her tea.

Slowly, Seressa held out the cup she’d just gotten out of her pack and turned it upside down, and showed them the bottom end of the cup.

There..

Just inside inner rim of the cup, Brom could see a recursive handwriting..

..and recognized it as Seressa’s, though he had seen her script only once before. This one, though, was much smaller in size and it read;

 

Property of Seressa Wraiven

 

Then she reached, and very gingerly, she picked up Brom’s cup, and turned it upside down to show the same inner rim at the bottom of his antique cup, without checking it herself..

Brom’s mind kindled!

For there was the same recursive handwriting, albeit quite faded, and some of the letters lost, declaring the same ownership.

 

Pr p rty of Sere sa Wraiv n

 

“How? How have you come by this cup, Master Brom?”, Seressa whispered deploringly.

 

Cora stared at her own cup, then at Brom’s, then at Seressa’s, then back at her own, and slowly set it down, nudged her butt and hips and shuffled a few feet away from all the cups, and stared at them with freaked eyes.

“I am sorry Seressa. But I can not divulge the identity of the people who gifted it to me, because I gave them my solemn oath of silence. But I can assure you they were very old and honorable people. Quite noble too, in an aristocratic sense, I might add. And they assured me it was a highly prized heirloom passed onto them from generation to generation for several centuries, relative to our time.”

 

The four sat in dark, quiet contemplation as they drank their tea.

Well, at least three of them did.

Cora wasn’t really the superstitious type, but she was not going to drink any more tea. Not from those cups. And not for a good long while if you could avoid it. This time jumping was starting to freak her out as it was, without adding a little, pink teacup that reached over centuries and counter-centuries to catch up to its set!

✱ ✱ ✱

To say Seressa Wraiven was put out was like saying the sun rose from the east and was high at noon! No. She was not just put out, she was, in fact, quite wroth. One would think the returning of her missing teacup and to have completed her set after unknown, relative, centuries would have given her a certain sense of elation, and in all likeliness, it did, but the way it was returned, did nothing to her sense of equilibrium.

And, apparently, such equilibrium was at the core of her being. Particularly if the said person was known for her, often funny, and endearing, klutz, which was quite the opposite of any equilibrium.. or pertaining balance..!

 

Someone was going to suffer for her distress.

 

Seressa Wraiven, however, was also a very considerate and mature young lady, and would never deem to take her pouting out of her pair, and certainly not out of her friends.

Hence, she projected her wrath upon the fiends, demons, and other, not so lucky monsters, they started encountering on their way ‘up’.

She laid waste to everything in her sight, all the while fuming and muttering darkly to herself.

It was a bit mesmerizing to watch, really..

..and downright scary.

 

Cora had tried to keep up, cutting, hacking, lopping, and disemboweling anything that tried to get past her to reach the very tall, very dark girl raining doom upon her foes, but she’d reached her limit and she felt her arms about to fall off.

Tonic and Brom had silently scurried behind the towering girl and had tried to insert what they could without being noticed by her so as not to further her wrath.

Indeed, it was mesmerizing..

..and quite scary.

 

“Alright, stop!”, Cora Sleet finally hissed.

That was how the barbarian girl put her foot down. Unlike what was to be expected of a zerker such as herself, Cora did not roar, nor did she foam at the mouth when she ‘zerked’. She settled upon her foes like a silent but deadly sleet storm. She didn’t howl, she didn’t blare, and nor did she so much as shout. She hissed, if that, at her enemies, in her low, throaty voice.

Cora Sleet was ‘cool’ like that.

 

Arcantonic Palecog was the one that roared. At least that’s what she thought she was doing. And because her pair and her friends were thoughtful of her feelings, they never countermanded her.

Telling an already traumatized girl that she looked like a maniacal squirrel in heat or some similar rodent squeaking like she was caught between a closing door or drawer was just cruel..

..and mean!

 

Brom Bumblebrim, however, did none of these. Perhaps it was because he hadn’t come from a military family, but a happily lazy hobbit community where nothing was, and nothing certainly wanted to be out of the ordinary. Which is why most hobbits tended to be quite self-aware. A curse that Brom himself was also afflicted with.

Hence, at moments of dire action, if not contemplation, he sort of did this.. ‘commentary’ thing.. Hopefully in his mind, and not out loud, which would have made him look a bit odd. No one, after all, wanted to be on the receiving end of ‘those’ looks. The ones that say, you have just been declared ‘mad’..

..which would have been rich, coming from just about anyone in this particular group, but much like no one told Tonic what she really, and quite hilariously, looked like, Brom did not want to be told he was ‘politely mad!’

 

Seressa Wraiven, on very rare occasions such as now, became this unreachable, unfathomable, darkly majestic astral witch who would also turn ghostly incorporeal as the pinks in her hair and her frilly skirt dress would drain away and so would the black of her smooth skin, not unlike watching ink spreading over white, cotton parchment, in reverse, leaving her something semi-transparent and a single shade of mid-gray, afloat a foot or so above the ground.

It was an awe-inspiring sight to behold. And downright scary..

 

..which was when Cora Sleet put her foot down!

 

“Alright, stop!”, she hissed and pointed at a side room full of hacked, hexed, and disintegrated corpses that seemed to have quite a few exploded heads!

“In. All of you.”, she ordered briskly, waited for them to enter, then irritably kicked a corpse out of the way and slammed the door shut.

“What is going on, Seressa? I don’t mind the fact that we have cleared our way to the top at record speed, but really, now.. You are supposed to be the smart one among us. The maturely foresighted one. Not the zerker. When you ‘zerk’, you start pouching in my woods! It isn’t like we are on a deadline..”

Seressa did not reply. She just stood there facing the far wall as she had entered the bloody room, silently seething and simmering.

Tonic snorted.

Brom threw a warning glance in her direction, but the gnomic girl missed it.

“She made a funny; deadline. Get it? DEAD line!”, she snickered.

Brom shook his head and murmured.

“Bad timing, girl.”

Which turned out to be true.

“Shut up, Tonic!”, snapped Cora. “Your pair is troubled and you are making a pun?”

“There is no need to get snippy..”, pouted Tonic. “Seressa does not like being left in the dark —ironic as that might seem, and not because of her appearance, which has nothing to do with it other than adding some ecstatic flavor, but because of how much she’s into prophecies, and hence, the unknown —which is basically being constantly left in the said ‘dark’, in a purely philosophical sense.. I don’t get worked over such things. I just stagger, look stupidly at it, then move along, which is understandable, since there is no discernable ‘mechanics’ to prophecies, though I suspect there is a certain reasoning, and hence, a logic, of sorts, behind them.. I feel at home dissecting the workings of mechanical objects which are all about physics. Seressa, on the other hand, takes delirious, and almost demented, you might say, pleasure in dissecting the unknown that has barely any physics in them, and the parts that do, are merely the ‘end users’ —the mortals who are inevitably involved, per se!”

Cora stared at the little gnomic girl.. morosely.

Brom coughed.

“Whot?”, asked Tonic.

“Girl. You don’t start a sentence with a pout, and end it half a mile away, and with an explanation like that. I think you broke Cora’s mind.”, said the hobbit with an amused tone.

“I am sorry.”, said Tonic honestly. “But I thought you guys already knew this and that I was merely repeating —and reminding— the obvious. Most pairs are made up of ‘more of the same’, hence exponentially increasing what they already have. Seressa and I, are not such a pair. We are the rarer, ‘compensating’ kind.. I have some stuff and lack some stuff. She has some stuff, lacks other stuff.. We don’t really compliment each other’s ‘haves’, but ‘cover’ for one another’s ‘have nots’.. Then there is the ‘we both lack the stuff’, but that is a whole, different can of worms, and not all that pertinent to this topic.”

“Sooo?”, drawled Brom. “Meaning what, exactly?”

“Ow!”, exclaimed the gnomic girl in a surprised voice. “You actually want a genuine, plausible, rational, logical, and valid explanation!”

Brom sighed.

“Yesss..”, grinded Cora.

Tonic shrugged.

“Guys. I am just a glorified grunt who likes bangs and bombs. Seressa is the real deal. But should you want to venture a guess, sort of in the way of a solution, I would begin by telling her where you got that teacup. She’s been complaining about its missing fourth since time immemorial!”

“Grunts don’t use words like immemorial”, scoffed Cora.

“Never said I was a grunt, dear Cora. I said I was a glorified grunt. Massive difference!”, she replied with a smug expression etched all over her diminutive face. Then she frowned slightly at Brom. “Go ahead, Master Brom. Just tell her and get it over with.”

Brom stared at the gnomic girl with a very frosty expression.

“I. Can’t. I gave my word. My oath of silence. That mean anything to you?”, he said between clenched teeth.

“Of course. I am an agent of the Academy of Melshieve. Our oaths are our honor.. Or more like, they are binding, than they are in any way, our honor.”, Tonic replied, then added. “Whether we want it or not.”

“Then you know what is at stake.”

“Yes. And more than you think I do. But do weigh your ‘stake’ against the knowledge of ‘pertinence’ in relation to what we are doing, and how it might be important in general, and for Seressa personally.”, Tonic said with another smirk.

Brom scowled.

“Alright then, why don’t you tell her, Miss Tonic?”, he very nearly spat!

“Me? Why should I tell her? I don’t even know what the hell is going on. Hello, Glorified Grunt, here, remember?”, she said, smirking some more.

Brom scowled at her even more fiercely.

“You know precisely what I am talking about, Arcantonic Palecog..”, he hissed.

Tonic stared at the hobbit as if taking a quick, mental inventory of what the bloody hell he might be talking about, found nothing there, then shrugged.

“Nope. I have absolutely no idea, whatsoever, about what you are talking about, boy!”, she sniffed.

Brom lowered his voice down to a barely audible whisper.

“Tinker Hills, not ringing any bells, Miss Tonic?”

“Nope. Never been there..”, replied Tonic.

“How about Silent Town?”

“Nope. Never heard of it.. So, nada..”, said Tonic.

“Silent Hills?”

“Still, nope. At least nothing other than what everyone else here likely already knows. What? Am I supposed to know all about Silent Hills just because I am a gnome? And it isn’t nice of you to bring that up like this, Master Hobbit, considering my.. personal interest in a certain gnome prince!”, Tonic said in a supremely imperious tone.

“So you have no idea about any famous queens of Silent Hills?”, Brom asked, feeling awkwardly less sure of himself.

“I am a historian by default, Master Brom, seeing as how I have a PhD in Archeology, of course, I know of Silent Hills.. And it’s past, and about the events that led up to its current disposition. The particulars of how ‘the fog’, colorfully known as ‘the Demon Fog’ happened is unknown, though. There are walking rumors that one day, an heir to Silent Hills shall arrive and set free the denizens of those hills. But said rumors are, after all, just rumors. And as far as I know, there has been inconclusive reports of one such famous queen, though no one has ever reported to have found any name attached to her, which I find quite impossible, really, if there was such a famous queen..”, she said with a perfectly straight face.

Brom stared at the gnomic girl.

It seemed, apart from the little adventure they had shared late that night in Arashkan, she did not seem to have any inclination about how the antique, porcelain pink cup had come into her possession in the first place, then passed down, generation to generation as a prized heirloom and to have finally been gifted to him, along with a riddle poem, that he had shared with the ‘child’ Tonic, down in the dungeons.

Brom Bumblebrim felt a distinct headache coming his way..

“Be right back.”, he said and turned to the one person he, inadvertently perhaps, cared deeply.. and hence, had avoided for the past several weeks.

Cora moved and so did Tonic.

“No.”, Brom said sternly. “This is for her ears, only.”

“What?”, scowled Cora.

“Why?”, frowned Tonic.

“Look.”, said the hobbit with the same dedicated, grim and unyielding sternness. “You wanted her to stop what she is doing so she does not get us and herself killed, this is me doing that. You don’t have to know the particulars. Neither of you. If you are not okay with that, by all means, try your way. Go hug her, smother her in love, or tickle her.. All the things I can’t do, whether I want to or not. What I can do, is tell her certain truths. I will already be breaking my oath of silence just by telling her what she needs to hear. Please don’t add to my dishonor.”

 

Cora stared at Brom for a moment, then shrugged and took a sudden interest in her double-bladed polearm, checking it for nicks and dents.

 

“Just like that, eh?”, Tonic scowled at her.

“No. Just like this.”, she said and took a sharpening stone at the blades.

“That is a double-bladed elven scimitar, girl. Its blades are enchanted and mithral edged. They won’t nick, bend, or blunt. They literally don’t need, nor require sharpening.”, she scoffed.

“I know.”, Cora said coolly. “I also know something else it doesn’t need.”

“Whot?”, asked Tonic gullibly.

“Bitching!”

 

Tonic stared at the barbarian girl in total shock!

 

“That’s.. that’s a swear word. You never use swear words, Cora. And it wasn’t nice of you to say it to me.”, she blubbered with a trembling lower lip.

“Girl. I do not swear ‘outward’. It does not mean I do not swear at all. I am a zerker. At which point did you assume I was a polite barbarian berserker? I am a hundred and six years old, possibly more than double your age, and my mother is dead, hence she can’t come at me with her scissors, so I can swear however the hell I want. So there!”, Cora said..

..and with the same cool tone.

“You are mean.”, mumbled Tonic.

“Perhaps.. But at least I know where to draw the line. I trust Brom and will not jeopardize his honor. Neither should you.”

“But.. whatever they are talking about, it’s obviously about me..”, Tonic said in desperation.

“Me. Me. Me.. You really should stop with that, you know..”, Cora said mildly.

Tonic gave her an even look.

“You know perfectly well, what I am talking about, Cora.”

“Yes. But I also know it is about me.”, replied the barbarian girl softly.

“You? This has nothing to do with you, girl.”, Tonic said with an exasperated voice.

“Ow? Must have come here accidentally, then?”, Cora said lightly.

Tonic scowled at her.

“You like taking my words, using their alternate meanings, and then throwing them back at my face, don’t you.”

“A bit, yes.”, Cora said with a barely discernable smile. “For a smart, artificer-whatsit girl, you do catch them very well.”

Tonic scowled at her.

“And while we are here waiting for those two, perhaps you can fill me in on what the two of you really did ‘down’ there?”, Cora asked.

“Can’t. It’s a ‘Need To Know’ only.”, Tonic said promptly.

“Oh, I see how it is. You can pout and make a scene when you are kept out of this, ‘need to know only’ thingy, but it’s perfectly alright for me to be kept ignorant and blind.. Maybe it’s because I am just a dumb zerker. Perhaps I should upgrade to ‘Glorified Dumb Zerker’.. a bit like you. That way I could also demand this ‘need to know’ thingy.”

Tonic scowled at her, some more.

“Fine.”, she very nearly spat. “I will tell you what we did.”

“And you will also tell me of what the two of you brewed together that time, back at Arashkan?”, asked the barbarian girl, a bit too pleasantly.

“Fine.”, repeated the gnomic girl. “I will also tell you about that!”

“Why?”, asked Cora.

Tonic stumbled.

“Because you asked me to?”

“So you are going to reveal me information that was deliberately kept from me, just because I asked you to?”, Cora smiled and there was a distinct edge in her eyes.

“Well..”, said Tonic, suddenly feeling the trap closing in on her.

“Girl. You are so easy. Don’t you think I am aware many things are not shown to me? Just how stupid do you think I am? And that isn’t a rhetorical question. Things are kept from me, not for a laugh. A man can make demands from other men. This I can understand, even if I find it most annoying and foolish. Do you even know just how arrogant it is to make similar demands from the Heavens? Mortals don’t get to make demands from Angels, nor the Celestials, which includes ‘answers’.. The things that are kept from me are done so for a reason, and I don’t get to throw a fit, nor a tantrum just because I am not privy to certain facts or knowledge.. Now I may not know as to the nature of these reasons but think for a moment, girl. Think about what we are doing. At what we are dabbling with. This is not a game. You have no idea how much of a risk I took by giving that sword to Krush’s son, and took the spear for myself to be handed over to its rightful owner. By doing just that, I changed some things. Like, monumentally massive things. And it cost me many lives, and cost others even more. By that one, single act, I did not just let Ironfrost be destroyed again, girl, I ultimately became the cause of its destruction.. and the Wyrm Horde. But of all the four of us, only I could have figured out which weapon to give, and which one to take, let alone figure out the fact that there was another weapon —the spear, because as educated as you and Seressa are, neither of you could have known about the differences and nuances of archaic elfish. Because we, tundra elves, are cut off from the rest of the world, our elfish is still old, and archaic. So when I say, there is a reason for me to know, or in this and several other cases, not to know, I know exactly what I am talking about. And by now, so should you.”

Arcantonic Palecog ogled at the ‘zerker’ barbarian girl.

“You are a barbarian? Why?”, she spluttered finally.

✱ ✱ ✱

Brom Bumblebrim tethered near the very tall, very dark girl, Seressa Wraiven, with nothing short of trepidation.

“You have been avoiding me, Brom Bumblebrim. Why?”, she said without looking at him.

Brom didn’t answer. Not that he didn’t have anything to say, but he was just too scared to say any of it.

He just.. looked down.. at his own bushy feet..

“I know for a fact this avoiding of yours is not my doing for I have treated you to the best of my abilities and with the highest of regards.”, she whispered.

Brom gulped.

‘Damn.’, he thought. ‘She is so awesome!’

“You have even stopped looking at me. Am I suddenly thus repulsive to your eyes, Master Hobbit, that you wouldn’t care to so much as gaze upon me anymore, even though I have never shown you any rebuke nor displayed any animosity in any form for having done so before.”, she said and there was a tender tremor in her soft, illustrious voice.

‘Damit.’, thought Brom. ‘You are making this so much harder for me, girl..’

“The fact that I have never warned you, should have given you the clue that I did not mind being the focus of your attention. Even someone as traumatized as my Tonic understood this, and has stopped harassing you for doing it.”, she hissed savagely.

Brom tried very hard to send down the lump that suddenly appeared in his throat.

“I wash and clean regularly and I keep my personnel hygiene intact at all times, so that can’t be it. I do not use artificial smells but natural soaps. I always have. I do not do make-up. Perhaps I should, though I doubt it will show on my tone of skin. Not unless I use overt and horrid colors making me boorish and consequently defeating the purpose of elegance and make-up.. Is it my pink skirt dresses? You didn’t mind them before. Do you suddenly mind them now? I have nothing else to wear. Perhaps you find my pinks overdone, now. I might be able to tone down the pinks of my dresses and my undergarments, but I don’t want to dye my hair. This is how I came to be. This is me.. So tell me, Master Brom. What changed?”, she asked hoarsely.

“Nothing has changed, my dear girl.”, replied Brom finally, for it broke his heart to see her thus suffer. “And you are as beautiful as ever. More so, the more I get to know you.. which is the core of my problem.”

Seressa Wraiven looked down at the bushy little hobbit with her deep, astral eyes.

“But that is a matter for another time. You are rattled because of a little teacup. I am rattled because of something much, much more significant. But again, not a matter for now. What I shall reveal now must stay with you, and you alone. It must never be written, nor repeated. Not to Cora, not to Tonic. Not to anyone, dead or alive, down in the ground, or up in the sky.. If these terms are agreeable with you, I shall break my oath of silence at my own risk.. and expense..”, said Brom, in a low, lost, somber voice and still, without looking up.

“You refuse to look at me even as we speak. What is it that I have done, thus do I deserve such treatment?”, she said looking down at him with dejected and shimmering eyes.

“Nothing. You have done nothing, my dear girl.”, stammered Brom.

“You shall not even speak my name. Very well.. Thus, we shall stay as comrades, Master Hobbit, and I shall not endanger a comrade’s honor and risk his expense by authoring the ruination of his oath. Thank you for your candor, sir.”, she said and something seemed to have cracked in her voice..

..and just like that, her ghostly demeanor faded, color returned to her long, braided hair, vivid and alive, and her frilly dress was pink again as darkness spread around her hands, her arms, her face, and her legs, and she was merely a girl again, albeit very tall, and very dark. 

Seressa Wraiven turned and quietly left, her tall, dark, and willowy form slumped and slouched as she joining Cora and her pair, leaving Brom gaping and aghast in total chagrin.

“No..”, he whimpered.

 

Cora Sleet walked up to the little hobbit, deliberately scuffing her boots on the way.

“Go. Away.”, mumbled the hobbit into the wall he was facing.

“Just wanted to know—”, began Cora.

“—Whether I was alright?”, finished Brom.

“Ow, I know, you are not alright. Came here to offer..”, she said.

“Offer? Offer what?”, mumbled the hobbit.

“Offer my help incase you’d need it to bang your thick head into that wall.”

There was a restless silence.

“You are not funny, girl.”, he mumbled.

Cora shrugged.

“No. What I am is, angry. You broke her heart, you know.”

“I didn’t mean to.”

“Just what did you tell her, Brom Bumblebrim?”, Cora asked frowning at the hobbit.

“Didn’t tell her anything.”, came the hobbits muffled voice.

“Thought so. And that tells me something.”, the barbarian girl said harshly.

“That I am a coward?”

Cora shrugged again.

“I am not here to tell you the things you already know, Brom.”

“Still not funny.”

“You lost someone. I get it.. My guess is, it was a girl.. Someone precious to you.. Someone you didn’t only love and care for, but someone you also truly respected and treasured. And now you don’t want to live that loss again.. with Seressa..”

“Aren’t you full of wisdom today..”, came the hobbit’s muffled, surly mumble.

“I don’t blame you. We are in a dangerous line of work. Any one of us could die at any given time. Why start something that can end at any moment, right?”

“This is going to end with me agreeing with you and you bludgeoning me with some outlandish, tundra logic, isn’t it?”

“You are bludgeoned as it is. I came here to agree with your choice. I fully approve. What could anything remarkable come out of a beautiful and mystifying girl and a little, hedgehog of a hobbit? We should concentrate on the task at hand.”, Cora said coolly.

“What? You think I am not good enough for her?”

“No. I think you think you are not good enough for her, which makes what I think sort of irrelevant..”

Brom scowled at the wall..

“But like I said, better this way. No complications. No sad separations. No breakups. No losses. All of which will happen no matter how long either of you lives, anyway.. And obviously, no more heart breaks for you. That’s a bonus, right there. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say!”, she said.

“You know that you just ruined your whole point with a contradictory line, right?”

“And who is going to refute me? You? You can’t even get over one heartbreak. Your doors are shut and well fortified. You give all these awesome advices to Tonic, but heed none of it yourself. So.. who is going to refute me?”

“What do you want, Cora?”

“From you? Nothing. You can’t even dare to reach out for something you clearly want, nor dare to give into it.. What can you possibly have, that I’d even want?”, she replied and there was much contempt in her voice. She took a long breath, as if to clam down, and continued. “I think I have made up my mind about what I want to do after we are done with this jump. I shall go back home and start a whole new Ironfrost.. and I shall call it.. New Ironfrost! Alright, maybe, that didn’t sound as dramatic as I had intended, but who cares. There’s not one left to refute that, either.. The girls, I suspect, will go back to either pestering the Ice Wolf Clan, posing as demons, or go back to that Academy of Melshieve of theirs. I believe Tonic has a job waiting for her there as a mecha-thingy something-something professor and Seressa is going to be a Storm Kite test pilot, though I have absolutely no idea what that is. Whatever it is, I sure hope she wears her safety belt and a helmet.. and a pair of pants!”

“You are just pulling at random stuff and stream broadcasting them here!”, spluttered Brom.

“Maybe. Accept I don’t know what you just said.”

Brom snorted bitterly.

“Well. We had better get started, hadn’t we? Thanks to you and your little teacup, we have but the one floor left. Funny how that turned out.”, Cora said merrily.

“Yea. Funny how that turned out.. Thank you for putting me up to this, Cora. You have been of great help.”, he said with wrathful sarcasm.

Cora stared at the bushy little hobbit.

“Do not make me the devil, here, Brom. I told you to go and talk to her, here and back at Arashkan.. You didn’t then, you didn’t now.. I told you to tell her what you felt. You didn’t then, you didn’t now.. I also told you to accept whatever came your way, where she was concerned. And guess what? You didn’t then, you didn’t now, either.. The only thing I told you not to do was to make her choices for her.. and you did that, now and then!. You want to blame someone that desperately, by all means, keep staring at that wall.”, she said, paused for a moment as if thinking, or perhaps weighing some things against odds. When she spoke again, however, her voice was with a cooler, and a more, distant. “You have been a great friend and great company, Master Brom. But I am not taking a deplorable coward with me. Between the three of us, I believe we girls can handle the rest from here. I am sure you have enough skills to get out of here quite untethered.”

And just like that, she too turned around and left.

 

Brom stared at the wall some more while fuming and simmering. That had gone well, alright.

“So who is next? Tonic, isn’t it? Do send her in.. Might as well get it over with while I am on the roll..”, he said bitterly.

 

“Ready, girls?”, he heard Cora say.

“Whot? What happened? Is the hobbit not coming with us?”, asked Tonic baffled.

Cora shrugged.

“What is going on? Seressa? Did he say something bad to you? No. He said something dumb.. He said something dumb and foolish, didn’t he? Want me to go and beat some sense into him? Because, I totally can!”, Tonic flared.

“No, luv. He did nothing of the sort. He wouldn’t do that and you know this.. We also don’t beat friends just because they don’t see things our way..”, he heard Seressa’s drained voice.

“Silly little weasel! Men can be so stupid and dense sometimes.”, Tonic mumbled.

“So can girls, luv, and quite apparent, in my case.. Tonic, baby, this is not a gender issue. Not in that sense. Please don’t take it there..”, Seressa quietly admonished her pair.

“Then what’s the problem? And why are you so pale and trembling, girl?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all..”

 

“Coming, Master Brom?”

..came the offer and from Seressa, of all people, from the other side of the room. Her voice, very neutral, and totally void of any implications. A voice spoken to a stranger; carefully polite, inexpressive, inanimate, soulless, and matt.

 

“On my way..”, replied the hobbit with an equally lifeless and very much lackluster tone.

Perhaps Cora was right and it was time he started looking for something beyond this little group.

✱ ✱ ✱

What’s the plan here?”, whispered Tonic, and there was a distinct presence of fear in her voice. “Just so you all know, if my dear uncle is in there, I am going to bail.”

“You’d run off? Just like that?”, asked her pair, her voice somewhat listless.

“Of course. And so should you.. All of you.. We are no match for him.”, squeaked the gnomic girl.

“How do you know?”, asked Cora, more out of curiosity than any belligerence.

“Ever wonder why there are this many untethered demons here, all defending one little midget of a wizard and his tower? And why Arashkan and High Woods are just a weeks distance away but no one dares to come here to put a stop to him and his deranged madness?”, she asked.

“Yes. That did cross my mind.”, admitted the elf barbarian.

“The fiends and the demons, among many other things do his bidding willingly because here, they can run amok and freely. This bloody tower is a heaven for them. And because they all fear him. I am not even sure Ri Grandaleren of Bari Na-ammen could take him out on a one-on-one.”, Tonic said in a dejected tone.

“But someone did take him out at the end, though, didn’t they?”, Cora said.

“Yes. But their timing was not random nor a coincidence. When you think about it, you have to admire how well, or perhaps, how delicately it was chosen, and how that timing had been at the core of their plan of action in the first place.. Lord Delia lead the company, certainly, but I am inclined to give Nadine Graciousward the credit for having figured this out. Seems like the kind of thing she’d do.. People think her beauty is her only quality. I think not, though. You can’t be that awesome just by having a pretty face and some nice breasts and *cough* well, you get my drift.. What I am getting at is, the Demon Gate my uncle constructed in the center of the ruins just north of Durkahan had failed because it had malfunctioned. Suffice to say, his masters, the Demon Lords, were extremely put out by his consecutive and conclusive failures, considering all the backing he had from them. Hence they pulled most of their forces, along with the majority of their support from him.. and his tower.. This tower. So yes. When the paladin Delia Karakash Hooman, the sorceress Nadine Graciousward and at least six others came here to confront him, this tower was much more empty. I guesstimate, it is around twenty-five to twenty-eight percent of its capacity at the moment. This number will rise exponentially and likely surpass its maximum capacity when he is near the completion of his gate but will drop drastically once it fails.. I think that is when Delia and Nadine hit my uncle and they still lost more than half their number. You must understand, aside from being a megalomaniac, a lunatic, and an irreplaceable arse, my uncle, Arcanton Mordenon, is a dedicated evocationist. When he nukes, he has the capacity to deliver his wrath at its maximum gauge, gage, caliber, scale and dial! To this day, it still isn’t clear just how many professional bounty hunters or enterprising adventurers my uncle killed because he disintegrated quite a few, as opposed to merely charring them. I can only guess just how Nadine was pissed when he did the same to her friends, but I am thinking, A LOT! Which is why she banished him to hell in stasis.. That way, only she can release him and bring him back, which I doubt she will ever do. So when I say, if my uncle is here I will bail, I mean exactly that. He won’t know who I am, and I am certain he won’t care even if he did, seeing as how he treated the three-year-old me.”

“You are aware..”, Brom said quietly from behind. “..If we do face him, I plan on leaving a mark on him.”

 

Cora looked back at Brom.

It was the first time he had spoken since he had said ‘nothing’ to Seressa.

Seressa on the other hand, hadn’t faded away in total silence.

She’d just been.. void..

When she spoke, it was with this glassy and brittle cheeriness.

It probably made Tonic bleed from the inside, even though she too refused to show it, nor did she display any outward animosity towards Brom. Just a tad.. formal.. and minutely critical in her exchanges with him..

..and very much disappointed in him.

Hence Cora and Tonic ended up having this odd and awkward commentary going between them.

 

“Why?”, Tonic said without so much as looking at him, and sort of in a rhetorical way.

“Said I’d do it, remember?”, Brom replied.

“I remember. I also remember never agreeing with you, either.”, she said with a shrug.

“Your agreeing was not part of my promise.”, mumbled Brom.

“I am over it, Master Brom. Nothing’s going to change the past. Might as well not add to his murder tally. Besides, I don’t think he is home. I mean we have been here, killing his fiends, his demons, and his whatnots, and he hasn’t once come down to investigate, which is quite unlike him. The Arcanton Mordenon I remember was a militantly control freak!”

 

Brom did not reply nor did he object. Talking about anything at the moment seemed like putting more strain on a thread stretched too tight, as it was.

Cora on the other hand was a barbarian. She didn’t notice such subtleties. Or perhaps she did, and even though she was very much wroth with him, she was still kinder than she let on and she didn’t think the bushy little hobbit should be ousted anymore than he already was..

..and it didn’t make much sense torturing him any more than what he had already managed to bring upon himself.

 

“Just out of curiosity, why would you want to leave a mark on him? It isn’t like you to collect trophies.”, she said lightly.

“I have no interest in collecting any part of him. Other than perhaps his head.”, replied Brom with a listless tone.

“We should collect his head. Back in Arashkan, I saw many wanted posts and his name was on it. With a very generous five hundred thousand gold attached to it.”

“Didn’t know that. I was never really all that interested in bounty hunting.”, he replied with the same tone.

“Ow? We did start our adventures with a wanted post, and hence, bounty hunting, if you recall.”, Cora said with a reminiscing voice.

“True, now that I look back. But I came along because of you, really, rather than the money. And because there was something about your tundra’s that appealed to me even though I am not a winter person and very much dislike the cold.”

“You came because of me, did you? That’s just sad.”, she said slightly amused.

“Yes. You seemed.. don’t get me wrong, Cora, but kind of lost.. and desperate.. as if wanting to join your lost ones in a hurry.. I didn’t want that to happen.”

“How could you possibly know those? It was much later I opened up about my losses.”, she asked curiously.

“Also true. But it takes one to know one, I guess. I.. saw myself in you.. Not in a creepy way, mind you.. Something about your mood.. or perhaps your state of mind.. Like I said, takes one to know one..”, replied Brom dispiritedly.

“Who did you lose, Master Brom?”

 

The question came too suddenly.

And from the one person, the lost hobbit would have least expected just then. And tenderly it came, soothing through all his mental defenses, his barriers and his barricades, and gently pushing them aside!

Without even thinking, as if by muscle reflex, he blurted.

 

“Aremela Berrybush.”

 

And with shock, he just stood where was.

So did Cora, for this was the first time she had heard the name of his loss.

Tonic was staring at him with a slight frown.

Seressa Wraiven, however, was there, and on her knees right before him. She stood where she was, kneeling and staring into the depths of his soul with her unfathomable, astral eyes. Whatever she sought, she must have found it, because she reached at the petrified hobbit and collected him into her bosom..

 

.. and wow!

 

Brom lost all senses..

That single embrace was the warmest, softest, and life-inducing thing he had ever experienced in his whole life. It was a ‘best’ on so many levels, he thought he had no words for far too many of them.

And Seressa Wraiven smelled so nice. Something with phloxes, cherry blooms, and.. something else.. something unique..

And with an unexpected display of insight, considering his emotional wreckage and his current standing —in Seressa’s arms, and far too close to her soft, pretty breasts that he was literally breathing right into them, Brom knew, there was only one creature in the verse that possessed this smell, and she was it;

Seressa Wraiven!

 

“You loved her.”

 

It wasn’t a question so much as a simple, tangible statement. A statement not for her benefit, but for his.

“She was.. special.. and extraordinary.. and artlessly innocent.. and she gave her life, saving one, stupid hobbit, because that is what she thought was required of her, and for me to understand what it was, that was required of me..”, he croaked.

“I understand you now, dear Brom Bumblebrim. More so than before. And do I now understand your fears, also. I revoke my previous, and quite inconsiderate and impulsive declaration, and apologize to you for my impromptu selfishness.”, she said to his ear as she hugged him tighter.

“There is nothing to apologize, sweet Seressa Wraiven. You did nothing wrong. And I just did nothing..”, he replied hoarsely.

“Nevertheless, I should have been more considerate of my friend, Brom Bumblebrim.. Henceforth, you shall not be only my comrade, but my companion and my friend for life. Should you ever need my company, I shall be there.”, she whispered back and Brom felt a tingling sensation run down from the tip of his ears, all the way down to his toes.

“I think you should let go of me now, dear Wraiven. Because if you hold me any longer, I won’t be able to let go of you. Your.. warmth is murdering me and your smell is simply intoxicating!”, he said in a desperately embarrassed voice.

Seressa parted, barely, but still knelt where she was and still held him in her dark, slim, long arms as she ran her delicate hands through his thick, bushy hair.

“And whatever gave you the idea I would want you to, Master Brom?”, she said with her awesome smile.

 

Thump!

 

Brom’s heart lurched..

..to overdrive!

 

“I think I heard something.”, snickered Tonic.

“So did I.”, murmured Cora with a poorly concealed smile.

 

Seressa Wraiven leaned in, and lightly kissed the petrified little hobbit.

It wasn’t a submissive kiss, nor a demanding one.

It was a carefully applied, tender and.. well.. scrumptious kiss..

Brom was a bard, and words were his thing, after all, and that was the only thing he could think of;

Scrumptious!

 

“I shall ever be envious of your loss, sad as it may be, Master Brom.”, she said, gave him another of her awesome smiles, and gracefully rose to her feet.

She then looked at Cora and her pair, Tonic, then back at Brom, and said, “Before, I thought I had something to die for; a prophecy to fulfil and save humanity.. Now? Now, I have something to live.. Shall we?”

“Let’s.”, agreed, the elf barbarian with a slightly victorious tint to her voice.

 

Funny how a dispirited and dejected four could suddenly dash forth with a light and merry skip to their pace merely a short embrace and a kiss later.

 

That had been the first time since Gull’s Perch, Brom Bumblebrim had such a silly and concussed expression on his face..

✱ ✱ ✱

Arcanton Mordenon was not at home. His fiends, his demons, and his numerous whatnots, however, were, and they came charging at them the moment the four stepped into the mad evocationist’s vast workshop at the top of his tower. Cora held the door, trying her best to keep them out as she spun her double-bladed elven scimitar, jabbing, slashing, hacking, dismembering, and disemboweling any that came within her reach, while Brom strung his lyre, sending dissonant scores at them, driving them mad, confounding them, leaving them confused or dropping them shuddering on the ground, their heads bloomed and their brains splattered everywhere.

Seressa sent her ghostly hands at them, pushing them, pulling them, and dislocating them whenever they tried to overcrowd the barbarian girl as she smothered them in maddening darkness.

Tonic, on the other hand, scurried around her uncle’s vast chamber, trying to figure out why they had been sent here in the first place!

There were strange, unidentifiable machinery, artificed objects, gimmicks, and gizmos of various shapes and sizes everywhere in the shelf riddled workshop, along with flasks, vials, tubes, and spiraling glass appendages containing oozing, bubbling, and frothing potions, poisons, and chemicals on the many work tables and benches. Glowing braziers, old candle holders with dripping waxes, rust-brown cages with dried and dead things hung from the high ceiling, attached to long, petrified chains. And at the far end of the workshop was the main table, a heavy and sturdy structure made of solid oak and studded with thick leathers and steel nails. The surface of the table was perhaps once polished and smooth, but long had it been abused with dark, chemical burns, blade lines, and possibly, claw marks and other stains that declared many years of harsh use, where piles of drawings, sketches, diagrams, and many numerical lists and spreadsheets lay, rolled up or stretched and held in place by old iron weighs. Similar sketches and drawings also covered the walls wherever there were no shelves.

The whole place spoke of hard, obsessive work, riddled with depression, desperation, frenzy, and not a small amount of deranged madness.

“Status Update!”, Cora called from the door, holding a vicious gash at a point just above her hip.

“This place is a mess! Just look at it! It’s dowdy, ratty, slovenly, and simply hazardous! I guess they didn’t pay him enough to hire a maid or two!”, Tonic squeaked in towering and abhorrent disgust.

“I can’t imagine a maid or two here wearing those skimpy maid outfits, and waving one of those fluffy dusters..”, noted Seressa with a slightly amused tone as she sent a spectral scythe, screaming into another fiend.

Tonic coughed.

“A bit rich, you calling a service maids’ uniform, ‘skimpy’..”, she retorted derisively from the other side of the room trying to see the names of the books in the shelves, written on their spines.

“I beg to differ, my dear Tonic.”, replied the very tall, very dark girl in her illustrious and cultured voice.

“How so?”, the gnomic girl asked as she scurried to the adjacent set of shelves.

“I am not a service maid!”, Seressa replied simply.

Brom snorted.

“Can we hurry this along?”, Cora called from the door as she slashed down one end of her weapon, sliced open a demon, counter swung the other end of the weapon, and opened a symmetrical gash. The demon groaned and collapsed, splattering its frothy blood everywhere.

“I need to more time. This place is huge and there must be thousands and thousands of books, gadgets, and drawings, any of which could be the reason we are here!”, the little gnomic girl’s voice fizzled in near panic.

“If it’s one of the books, we can switch places.”, called Seressa. “I have decent WPM count!”

“WPM?”, asked Brom.

“Words Per Minute!”, shouted Tonic from the other side of the workshop with sneering triumph. “And no. If it’s WPM, no one beats Arcantonic Palecog! I had the highest score in all the Academy history ever to be recorded! And that isn’t speed reading either. It is comprehensive reading!”

“Ow?”, asked Seressa.

960 WORDS PER MINUTE! YEZZZ, YOU HURD MEH! THAT’S A NINER SIX OH, FOR YOU, GURRL!”

“Ow..”, came Seressa’s voice.

Politely.

 

There was a pregnant moment of dawning silence.

 

“What’s yours?”, Tonic asked carefully.

“1024..”, replied the very tall, very dark girl evasively.

“IMPOSSIBLE!”, Tonic exclaimed, quite shell shocked.

“Improbable, yes, my dear. Impossible? Not so much.”, Seressa said with mirthful eyes and a sweet little smile on her face.

“I would have known..”, said Tonic with a decidedly dejected tone. “There was no record of it anywhere.”

“I didn’t even know they kept records for WPM’s. Don’t feel bad, luv. I had nothing better to do in my six years tenure in the Academy but to read in the library.. Other than tending for my phloxes, I mean.. I was bound to get good at both.. I have a chair crafted from cherry wood dedicated solely to me there.. I am sure it’s got the shape of my butt imprinted on it!”, Seressa tried to explain.

Brom coughed..

“I can’t believe the things I am hearing..”, he muttered to himself.

“Can’t I beat you at anything, damit?!”, she snarled.

“You beat me in everything that matters, luv. My ‘betters’ are merely the inconsequential and items of trivia.”, replied the very tall, very dark girl, as she lit the whole hall leading up to the door with a sickly, yellowish-green light.

“Don’t go into that, dear Cora.”, she warned the barbarian girl.

“What is it?”, she asked.

“Pain. Lot’s of it.”, Seressa said softly.

“Huh.”

“Name me one thing I am better, damit!”, shouted the little gnomic girl as she scrambled up the sitting bench and started inspecting the drawings, sketches, diagrams, lists, and spreadsheets on the large table.

“You want to do this now? Really, girl, your priorities need some working!”, mumbled Brom.

“Shut up, hobbit. You hugged and kissed Seressa in the middle of a demon-infested, mad midget’s tower!”, she spat hotly.

Brom blushed furiously.

“He didn’t hug me, nor did he kiss me, luv.”, said Seressa with a barely discernable blush of her own. “I hugged him.. and I kissed him..”

“Didn’t seem like that at all.. Not from where I was standing. He definitely hugged AND kissed you, girl! Cora saw it too, didn’t you, Cora?”

“I AM NOT GETTING INVOLVED IN THAT!”, shouted the barbarian girl.

“Alright. It was a pleasant, mutual hugging.. and kissing, then?”, she offered, her face a bit brighter now.

“Yea, I bet it was..”, scowled Tonic. “Now stop deflecting and tell me, damit.. Name me one thing I am better at?”

“You, luv, are my pair. The rest is trivia.”, replied the very tall, very dark girl simply, and with no small amount of zeal.

Tonic shut up!

“Not the hugging and the kissing.. Those weren’t trivia, Master Brom, I swear!”, she added redundantly with a tiny and rather abashed voice.

Brom cleared his throat and spoke in a gruff sort of voice.

“Let’s concentrate on what’s at hand, shall we?”, he said.

“Yes. Let’s..”, agreed, Seressa hastily.

“Stupid bean poles, stupid bushy little weasels and stupid midgety wizards of high grandeur..”, came the muffled voice of Tonic from the large, leather and steel studded oak table.

As pissed off as Tonic was at that particular moment, and wroth with hate at her deranged uncle, she admired Arcanton Mordenon’s focused commitment, his rigorous diligence, his studious preciseness, and his meticulous attention to detail in his diagrams and sketches, if not his workshop, of what she thought was the Demon Gate itself!

She looked down at the left-hand corner of each drawing and noted that each was also dated, stamped with a version number and their status of success. Most weren’t. Hastily, she picked up the thick spreadsheet book and opened a random page..

 

22.10.7535 – v.30.3 – FAILED
03.04.7536 – v.31.1 – FAILED

16.07.7536 – v.31.2 – FAILED
09.10.7536 – v.31.3 – FAILED
20.01.7537 – v.32.1 – FAILED
05.04.7537 – v.32.2 – FAILED
18.07.7537 – v.32.3 – FAILED

 

It seemed it had taken three to three and a half months to prepare and ready for a new version of the Demon Gate and the list seemed to go up and down a long way!

Tonic whistled.

She knew she could get obsessive at times, particularly where her MECHABER was concerned. But this.. this went off her charts!

“Well.. That explains from which side of the family my stupid monomania’s and fixations came from.”, she muttered darkly.

Every once in a while though, the tests would skip a to a whole new version marked as SOME SUCCESS, or PARTIAL SUCCESS..

Tonic flipped all the way to the very end of the thick, stubby spreadsheet book and there it was..

 

08.03.7566 – v.111.1 – PARTIAL SUCCESS
29.06.7566 – v.111.2 – FAILED
14.09.7566 – v.111.3 – PARTIAL SUCCESS
06.11.7566 – v.111.4 – SUCCESS!

 

“Hells Bells..”, she whispered with awe. “The maniac did it! He actually did discover how to build a functional Demon Gate.. 111 versions? Damn.. And that’s not even counting the sub-versions! That is one sick obsession, that is! Uncle Mordenon, I shall forever hate you from the bottom of my groin up to the tip of my nipples, but you have managed to garner my respect, you sick son of a motherless goblin’s bastard-midget!”

Then she started looking for the sketches for version 111.4!

 

GONG!

 

A deep, reverberating bell rang somewhere up and down the whole tower..

..and the demons scathing in the sickly yellow-green light Seressa had cast froze.. just for a moment..

..then, with a grotesque roar, they all attacked with undisguised zeal!

 

“Ow crap!”, shrieked Tonic.

“What? What was that?”, Brom squeaked as he felt something sink in his belly and the trepidation of doom spread across the tower.

“My uncle Mordenon! He’s come back! And likely with his Demon Lords..”

“For all that’s good and not!”, exclaimed Seressa in despair.

“Whatever it is you have to do, do it now, girl!”, shouted Cora as she swung a wide cleave across several frenzied demons, receiving any number of cuts and gashes in return. “Hurry, damit!”

Tonic froze for a moment, then started running around in panicked circles;

“My uncle’s coming.. He’s coming! He’s coming to stick me into that cage again! He’s—”, she spluttered.

SOMEONE SLAP THAT GIRL BACK!“, roared Cora and brought her double-bladed elven scimitar down, cutting one of the demons in two —vertically!

“Master Brom!”, yelled Seressa. “I can’t take my attention away from my curse.”

Brom scurried to Tonic, dipped his foot forward, and tripped the little gnomic girl.

Arcantonic crashed.

Facedown!

When she rose back to her feet, her face was all bloodied and she was entertaining a grotesquely broken nose..

“Uhhmm…”, murmured Brom.

The look Tonic gave him was nothing less than baleful.

“Why the hell did you do that, boy?”, she screamed.

“I.. I am sorry, Tonic, but you were in a full-blown panic attack so I tripped you. It was that or slap you back to sanity.. And.. I didn’t feel like slapping you..”, he mumbled.

“So instead of slapping me and giving me a shiner, you decided to trip me and break my nose?!”, she glared at him with disintegrating eyes.

Brom shrank back.

TONIC! DO WHATEVER IT IS YOU HAVE TO DO, AND DO IT NOW, DAMIT!“, Cora roared again.

Tonic sniffed and wiped the blood in a very unladylike manner, smearing it all over her face, then, in a low, threatening hiss, she spoke.

“There will be a reckoning, Brom Bumblebrim, should we live to get out of here.. Now, look around and find me a sketch, a diagram, or drawing.. One with a version 111.4 written on the bottom left corner of it!”

 

The two dashed and started rummaging everywhere and all the sketches, drawings, and diagrams and checking their versions as more and more demons came pouring into the hall, illuminated by Seressa’s spell.

Cora hacked and slashed as Seressa desperately sent her ghostly hands at the rushing fiends and demons, pulling and pushing them to make sure they stayed in the sickly and deadly light and slowly burned.

 

“Nothing..”, gasped Brom as he came up to the little gnomic girl.. “None of my findings match the version number you want.”

“Damit..”, swore Tonic.

Then she blinked and a small “Ow..” escaped her.

“What?”, asked Brom urgently.

“Why didn’t I think of it before. Of course, he is not going to leave it around just for anyone to find.. That particular version must be several cities worth!”

 

Hastily, she reached into her artificer’s satchel and rummaged for a moment, and produced a little, hooded lantern. Carefully, she skimmed the elegantly made lantern with her slim fingers until she found what she was looking for; a well-concealed runic button hidden at its base. She lightly tapped the button, setting it to MODE B…

 

There..

 

..on the other side of the vast workshop.

 

..was something.

 

Something hidden..

 

Arcantonic smiled.

 

She might not be much of a sneak, nor have many of the quirky talents her pair did, but she was an artificer and that meant compensating what they lacked by way of substituting them with pure ingenuity and dedicated craftsmanship..

 

“What’s this?”, Brom asked looking at Tonic, her evil smile, and the little hooded lantern..

“This is a top-secret device of my own crafting, boy!”, she sniffed more blood in an ‘I look down on ye little bugs’, attitude.

Brom coughed..

“Horse..” —cough— “..turd!”

Tonic scowled.

“If you must know, it’s a Lantern of Revealing. It reveals invisible, and sometimes hidden objects..”, she growled at the hobbit, then padded over to a certain section of the wall, covered with what seemed like an oil painting of Arcanton Mordenon himself, framed and hung, and lording down upon unseen subjects.

“Nice.”, said Brom ogling at the frame. “Seen the portraits of important men and women framed in officious courts, but hanging a painting of yourself? How jaded is that?”

“This isn’t jade, boy. It is outright megalomania and monumental levels of inferiority complex competing —and sorely falling short of his low, midgety self-esteem!”, spat Tonic.

“Wow. Couldn’t have put it better myself. I think you missed your calling, girl. You should have been a poet.”, he smirked.

“Don’t mock me, Brom. I have good reasons for being the way I am.”, she said quietly.

“I am sorry. I am terrified at the moment and my mouth just starts running without counseling me..”, apologized Brom.

“Tis alright. I forgive you.. just not for the nose.. Now hold this end of the frame, quickly.”

 

The two grunted and lifted the frame off its hook, and carefully lowered it down. The frame was a lot heavier than it seemed.

 

“There is nothing here!”, exclaimed Brom, staring at the blank wall behind the frame.

“Never said there was.”, replied Tonic, frowning down at the frame, and at the oil painting of her deranged uncle.

 

“Tonic, Brom, hurry.. I don’t think I can hold them any longer. Too many piling up here. Seressa is burning them by the lot and they don’t even seem to care!”, shouted Cora as more and more demons ravaged her.

Seressa was sweating profusely by now. Yet, she was staring at the sickly illuminated hall with burning intensity as she sent one shrieking ghostly hand after another, pushing the demons back and trying to buy a moment of respite for the barbarian girl.

 

Tonic ran back to the large table, shuffled around the cluster, found what she was looking for, and dashed back to the frame of her deranged uncle. Over the howls, the roars, the barkings, and the yowls of the demons, she silently contemplated the image of her uncle.

Then, she produced the little inkpot she’d just gotten from the table, dipped the quill, also from the table, bent down over the frame, and carefully made, what appeared to be a very short, single vertical line.

Brom stared at the portrait of the megalomaniac, Arcanton Mordenon, and saw the line disappear even as Tonic drew it.

“What the—”, he began.

“Not now.”, hissed the little gnomic girl as she carefully studied the portrait, then slashed a similar, vertical line somewhere across and below the first one.

Brom watched as that line also disappeared.

Tonic frowned and looked intensely at her uncle for a bit more, dipped the quill into the inkpot, and for the third time, she scratched the portrait.

“Done..”, she said.

“Done? What’s done?”, asked Brom, totally baffled.

“Later. Help me put this back on the wall. Hurry..”, she said harshly and yelled. “Seressa..”

“Whot?”, Seressa gasped as she trembled, her concentration on the sickly, devouring light, waning.

“Prepare to get us out of here, if you will, please!”, Tonic yelled at her.

“Are you.. are we.. done?”, she very nearly moaned under the pressure of her spell.

“Almost.. Get ready to pull us out, when I say, ‘Cherry Blooms’..”

“Cherry Blooms?”, Seressa asked, an amused smile appearing on her tightly clenched teeth.

“It was either that or some long, unrelated tirade about my retarded uncle..”, Tonic mumbled under her breath as she and Brom forcefully lifted the heavy frame of Arcanton Mordenon, and hung it back on its hook.

“Now all it needs is a final touch.”, she said, staring at her uncle with a very evil and very filthy stare, and opened an empty palm at the hobbit. “Alright Master Brom, gimme knife.”

 

Brom looked at her.. evenly..

 

“I am NOT giving you knife, girl!”, he said stiffly.

Tonic stared at him.

“This is not the time for a funny, boy. Give me knife!”, she fumed.

 

Brom stared at her, some more.

Rather sternly.

 

“Hells Bells, boy, give me a damn knife, already..”, she said in an exasperated voice.

Brom produced a small knife and gave it to her, handle first.

 

Tonic took the knife..

..and stabbed her uncle.

Arcanton Mordenon..

..in the face!

 

“Die biach!”, she spat.. and with child-like glee and slow satisfaction, she sliced his face in two!

 

“Alright.”, said Brom carefully. “I am sure there was a reason for that.”

“YEZZZ!”, replied the little gnomic girl with one of the evilest smiles Brom had ever seen on any face.

“Girl, you are freaking me out..”, he mumbled. “You look like a cat who just stole a whole barrel of cream from a rat mafia!”

Tonic smirked.

Then she turned to Seressa and yelled.

“CHERRY BLOOMS!”

Seressa sent a fiery comet down and into the sickly lit hall, sending the fiends and demons slamming into the ground and stunning them..

“Cora.. Shut the door.. It’s time to go!”, she yelled at the barbarian girl.

Cora spun around, carved a wide cleave out of the whole front row of demons, belly danced right out of their frustrated and bloody reach, and in a seamless string of lithe steps, she slammed the door into their face, rammed the heavy bar behind it into its counter latch, and heaved down the nearest bookcase, totally blocking the door.

“Done.”, she said coolly and stepped up next to the very tall, very dark Seressa and held up her hand.

“Girl, you are just so awesome!”, Seressa cheered at her, then turned to the other two. “Tonic, luv? Master Brom?”

Brom didn’t waste any time.

Brom felt no inclination to waste any time..

He hurtled next to Cora and took her hand as Tonic scurried right after him with a grinning display of satisfaction etched all over her face. She came to a stop right next to the hobbit and reached up to hold Seressa’s hand.

Seressa looked down at her pair.

“Done, luv?”, she asked.

“Done, luv..”, Tonic grinned.

“You look happy.”, Seressa said.

“Profusely.”, admitted the little gnomic girl, her grin spreading even wider.

“Any regrets?”, asked the very tall, very dark Seressa.

“Many.”, said Tonic. “But none today.”

Seressa smiled at her, then looked at the barbarian girl and the bushy little hobbit.

“My friend Cora and my dear Master Brom. Thank you both.”, she said solemnly. “Today you have given my pair, surcease.”

Then she looked up and whispered..

“My Queen.. Your maiden pleads.. We are ready..”

 

A ghostly light appeared around the four as some things big and nasty slammed on the door, sending bits and pieces of wood and nail every which way..

 

..as Tonic drew a round, heavy, leather-bound, fire-clay hardened and tightly packed ball with a little pin at the top out of her artificer’s satchel and handed the thing to Brom.

“What do you want me to do with this?”, Brom asked, holding the ball like it was a live snake.

“You wanted to leave a mark, didn’t you?”, the little gnomic girl said.

“Yes, of course.”, Brom replied still staring at the tightly packed ball.

“Well, this will leave a mark!”, she said with a vicious grin. “Pull that pin, and toss..”

Brom returned her grin with his own.

“Fire in the hole..”, he hissed with a vengeance, pulled the pin..

..and lazily tossed it.

 

“Close the circle!”, yelped Seressa, and the very happy gnomic girl forcefully grabbed the hobbit’s hand..

 

The workshop of Tonic’s uncle, Arcanton Mordenon, shuddered as the grenade detonated with eye-searing savagery..

 

..just as they disappeared.

✱ ✱ ✱

A cool, pleasant wind was blowing when Brom opened his eyes. He lay where he was to see a brilliant and vividly blue sky.

 

‘Wow..’, he thought to himself. ‘That’s a pretty sky..”

 

“No, really, it is but a small flesh wound, Sir.”, he heard Cora say.

‘Sir?’, wondered Brom.Just who could have garnered enough respect from Cora Sleet? Enough for her to actually ‘Sir’ them..’

 

It wasn’t because Cora was an abrasive or disrespectful girl or anything. It was, Brom figured, possibly because ‘Sir’ just didn’t seem to fit the whole, ‘Barbarian Theme’..

 

“I apologize for my foul mouth, Sir. Bad habits die hard. And I have many..”

 

‘What the..’, thought Brom, now that just didn’t feel right at all! An apologizing Tonic? Really, now, that was just absurd..

 

“Deep down, am I an evil creature?”, Brom heard Seressa ask. “I carry odd blood, Sir!’

 

‘Girl, if you are an evil creature, I would suggest you get in line.. quite a ways behind me!’, thought Brom a bit irritably.

 

“Welcome to the Celestial Mountains, young Brom Bumblebrim.”, he heard a deep, masculine voice reverberate all over his soul. “Are you well? You seem scarred. It is possible to remove this scar from your heart and soul, and set you free, should you but will it.”

“It is my scar, Sir. And it is there to stay. I carry it as a badge of my failures. We are what we are, but we can choose to be who we want to be. And I choose that scar to be part of me.”

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

A cool, pleasant wind was blowing when Brom opened his eyes. He lay where he was to see a brilliant and vividly blue sky.

 

‘Wow..’, he thought to himself. ‘That’s a pretty sky..”

 

“You up?”, Tonic appeared in his line of vision, nudged him with her foot, and generally messed up his pretty sky. Could have been Seressa, but no.. It just had to be the pesky little gnomic girl..

“Don’t nudge him like that. That isn’t nice, Tonic. He deserves better from you.”, came the soft, illustrious, and cultured voice of Seressa, from somewhere off to his.. well, it came from somewhere!

Tonic grinned, then scrunched her face and said, in a low, harsh, miming voice;

“Deserve’s got nothing to do with it!”

Brom ogled at her.

“Get it?”, asked the little gnomic girl, then lowered her voice again and repeated;

“Deserve’s got nothing to do with it!”

Brom ogled at her, some more.

Tonic’s face drooped and she sighed.

“There went a perfect reference..”

“He didn’t attend to the Academy, Tonic. He might easily be unaware of such, ‘bullboy’ or ‘jestern’ cultures.”, Seressa said.

“How can he be not aware of it, girl? Hells Bells, he’s a bard for Heaven’s sake, how is it he doesn’t even know this? It’s a classic!”, Tonic squeaked with exasperation.

“It’s a classic amongst its peers, luv. Which makes it relative.”, Seressa tried to explain.

Tonic scowled.

Then she nudged the hobbit once more with her foot and said, “Get up, boy. Seressa, Cora, and I are going to take a dip to wash all the dust, blood, gore, and mildew off of us and we need you to stand guard.”

Brom frowned, and slowly sat up. The landscape around him seemed to stretch from horizon to horizon and was covered with what appeared to be very pretty, pale green grass that seemed to emanate a strange sense of serenity.

He frowned some more and turned to look what he thought was to be north and there, far away, was a village of some sort and thin, light purple-gray wisps of smoke rose lazily from the wood and hay-roofed lodges.

He turned the opposite direction and his hobbit mind reeled. There, even further away, was a series of great, majestic mountains with snowy caps. And at the center of them all, a single mountain rose grandly and Brom saw a single shaft of golden light stab at the sky from it. Or perhaps the golden light was coming down from the brilliant and vivid blue sky and was polishing the mountain top.

 

It was the Celestial Mountain itself.

 

Brom gulped.

This was indeed a sight to behold.

For it was said, Angles came down and visited the mortals here!

The bushy little hobbit cleared his throat and turned away from the mountain.. it was just too much to harbor, in too little time.

“If you three are going to take a dip..”, he said, “.. I am going to watch!”

Tonic scowled at him something furious, as a chuckle was heard —Cora.

“Told you.”, she said.

Brom frowned even more.

“You told them I’d watch if you all took a dip? That was uncalled for, girl! I have never watched anyone taking a dip. That’s just rude.”

“Yep.”, said Cora with a grin. “Told them you’d say that, too.”

“Now that’s just mean..”, complained the hobbit.

“Come on, Seressa. Let’s wash up while we can. Tonic can keep our esteemed hobbit company while we do each other’s back!”

Seressa did a happy little whoop and gave Brom an ‘I am sorry’, look, then took off with the barbarian girl.

“You got any more of that pink, bubble soap-thingies?”, Brom heard Cora ask the very tall, very dark girl.

“Yes. Yes, I do, luv. You like?”, wondered Seressa with a slightly surprised but pleased voice.

“I like.”, said Cora.

 

“This is just so unfair..”, moaned Brom. “So unfair..”

“Unfair’s got nothing to do with it!”, mimed Tonic in a low, harsh voice!

“Girl, really, now!”, groaned Brom.

 

Tonic giggled with delight.

With genuine delight.

Which was sort of a first!

 

“C’mon, Master Brom.”, she said. “We can take our own dip elsewhere.”

“I am not taking a dip with you, Arcantonic Palecog!”, declared Brom with pure indignation.

“I am hurt, Master Hobbit. But unlike Seressa, I entertain no such fantasies with you. What I meant was just a dip. Literally. Just the feet.”, she said.

“Seressa has a fantasy to—”, Brom started with awe.

“—Been running back and forth for so long in that bloody tower, my feet are itching for a warm wash.”, she said.

Brom scowled furiously at the gnomic girl, but she merely gave him a pleasant ‘sneer’, turned around, and went to sit next to a little, happily running stream.

She took off her right clobbering boot, and her thick, woolen sock, followed by her left clobbering boot and sock then dipped both her feet into the stream and groaned with happy ecstasy.

Brom came up to her and stared at the little stream.

“We are in the north end of the central part of The Great Northern Tundra’s, girl. How are your feet not frozen?”, he asked curiously.

“Your guestimation of our location is quite accurate.”, Tonic said.

“It isn’t a guestimation, girl. The Celestial Mountain is right there. We are staring at it, like, right now!”

“True.”, agreed, the gnomic girl. “And we are also not wearing any winter gear, you’ll note. Yet here we are, not freezing our midgety little arses, either. I don’t think physics work correctly here. The water is fine, by the way. A happy sort of warm, to be precise.”

“A happy sort of warm, by definition, is not something you can use when you are going for precision, girl!”, mumbled Brom, but didn’t bother taking off his boots, nor his socks. He was a hobbit and hobbits used neither. Everyone knew that. Hence he merely rolled up his pants and carefully dipped his bushy feet into the happy stream..

..and also groaned with ecstasy.

Tonic smirked.

“Do describe how the water is, if you will, Master Brom.”, she said.

“A happy sort of warm!”, he replied, groaning some more.

“Two, quite dissimilar people describing the same thing, using the same words, is called ‘precision’, Master Brom. Not in a mathematical sense, perhaps, but I am an engineer and an artificer and we go for practicality over some theoretical but unlikely perfection.. Accuracy by way of numbers is mere ‘convenience’, and not always the proof of the existence of precision, nor perfection, ironic as that may seem..”, she explained mirthfully.

“You are in a happy mood.”, Brom said. “Just how much am I going to get hurt at the end?”

“Why would I hurt you? Unless you are referring to my nose..”, she said.

Brom did not reply.

IT’S A TRAP! —something shouted in his mind and thought that made an even better reference to something he’d read called Scar Wars, as opposed to whatever the little gnomic girl had..

“It’s alright, Master Brom. Took one of my syringes at it. Hurt like a son-of-a- well.. suffice to say it hurt.. A lot.. But in retrospect, you did the right thing back there. I wouldn’t want you to make a habit of it though. Had I stayed panicked the way I was, in all likeliness, we’d be dead. So.. I suppose a thank you, is in order here; Thank you!”

“Uhhmm.. You just thanked me for breaking your nose, girl. Who the hell are you and where is Tonic?”, Brom said, looking at the gnomic girl in wonder.. and trepidation.

Tonic snickered.

“I suppose you want to know what happened back there?”

“Want!”, exclaimed Brom, mimicking to gnomic girl’s voice.

“You know, it is alright to mime the classics. Not so much when you mime me..”, she fumed.

It seemed like it was Brom’s turn to snicker.

Hence he did.

Tonic scowled.

But apparently, her need to explain the things she’d done overcame her wont to destroy the bushy little hobbit then and there, so she set her tiny feet even deeper into the happy sort of warm stream, ignoring the fact that her pants were soaking now.

“The frame we pulled down from the wall, back at his workshop had two things, Master Brom; my deranged uncle’s painting and something else on top of that. The technical schematics of his finalized and only successful version of his famous Demon Gate.. The one we were looking for; version 111.4! The idiot had put it up and hid it in ‘plain sight’, and quite literally, I might add, for the schematics itself was invisible! You couldn’t see it, but I could, thanks to my Lantern of Revealing, but I am afraid that lantern only works for me because it’s attuned to me and to me alone. A bit like the goggles I gave you, but with a lot more prejudice. All I had to do was de-attune the goggles before I handed them over to you. It is now attuned to you because that’s how it works, which is beside the point.”

“I saw you draw some things.. Small lines, I think they were..”, said Brom, as he tried to digest what he’d just heard.

“I might have made one or three little modifications to his finalized, v.111.4, yes..”, Tonic said happily.

“What modifications?”

“I changed three ‘sixes’ to three ‘eights’..”, the little gnomic girl purred.

Apparently, there was something to purr, here, but Brom just couldn’t see it.

“Do you know what triangulation is, Master Brom?”, she asked.

“That it might have something to do with triangles? Maybe?”

“Yes.. I suppose that is true.. though totally off the mark, which is ironic, really, in its accuracy, when looking at it from an end-result point of view.”

“Alright. I officially have no idea what you just said.”, Brom frowned.

“Let me try to explain this to you in a way you might understand, Master Brom. Please point at the Celestial Mountain, if you will.”, she said and Brom got the district impression that there was going to be a quiz and harsh grading at the end.

He stared at the little gnomic girl.

“Humor me..”, she said.

Brom sighed and pointed at the majestic mountain.

“Now, baring some rather impressive illusions or mental projections, or some demented insanity on your part, or you are dreaming of me explaining triangulation to you —which would definitely tantamount to some kind of demented insanity on your part, you know, with relative certainty, that the Celestial Mountain is there because you are pointing right at it.”

“Can I just straight up plead insanity and get away with it?”, he mumbled grumpily.

“No, you can’t. Only I get to use that card! Now shut up and pay attention!”, wasped the little gnomic girl savagely.

Brom decided to keep his mouth shut.. for now.. It wasn’t like he would understand any of it anyway.

“Now point, say, one degree to your left.. or about half an inch or so.. Now you are still pointing at the Celestial Mountain because it’s so big and we are so close to it. Let’s assume you know exactly where Celestial Mountain is, and someone asked you where it was, and both of you are at Shakehands, the barbarian trade town way off to the east, and then you moved your finger half an inch to either side, would you still be pointing at the Celestial Mountain?”

“Well..”, said Brom a bit befuddled. “Relatively, yes, I suppose. Though that kind of accuracy is sort of moot, from as far away as Shakehands and considering all the mountains and other geographical obstacles along the way. But if he were to truly follow where I was pointing, sort of in a crows flight, and in a strictly straight line, I am thinking he’d totally miss the mountain and fall off a cliff!”

“Precisely!”, agreed, Tonic. “Now assume you are pointing at the same mountain for someone else, let’s say, a fellow hobbit who lives in your Bowling Hills.. with a similar, ‘half an inch off the mark’.. Where do you suppose he will end up?”

“I am not sure, but I think he will hurt himself and not really praise me for it, not to mention he will blame me for inaccuracy..”, Brom said.

Tonic snorted.

“Now let’s take the same example to the location of the Academy of Melshieve..”

“I am not taking anything to your Academy of Melshieve. You guys are too pricey for my taste and are just weird!”

Tonic snickered.

“I am not sure they would even be able to arrive at the central northern tundra’s if I pointed all the way from your Academy.. He might end up at the Citadel of Gullem the Damned, and doing that to anyone is just mean!”, frowned the hobbit.

Tonic cackled.

“This is where triangulations come in.”, she said.

“Ow, we are just coming to that..”, mumbled Brom.

“If let’s say, three of you pointed at the said mountain—”

“Three of me? Girl, the world can’t even bear just the one of me, let alone three!”, inserted Brom.

“—one pointing from Shakehands, one pointing from, say, the Great Arashkan city, and one pointing from Heavens Hand Keep at the same time and you crossed all three lines, you would, with a certain accuracy, arrive at the Celestial Mountain.. and not fall off a cliff.”

“I beg to differ, but please, do go on..”, said Brom with some exasperation.

“This is called, Triangulation, and it is particularly important when you are calling, or summoning things, such as demons, from a distance that is infinitely further away, such as Hell or Abyss itself, not that Hell nor Abyss can truly be quantified in terms of far or close in a linear sense because they are, in actuality, another planes of existences, but you get my drift.. What I did, when I changed three sixes to three eights, I changed the parameters of the Demon Gate’s triangulation, making them point in three, very different directions. That point-oh-two difference will cause all the energy being poured into that gate to fluctuate and overload, rather that point at the same spot to crack open a hole, per se, to Hell, causing it to malfunction at the very least, or to explode at best!”, she finished happily!

Brom stared stunned at the little gnomic girl.

“Ow. My. Good. Heavens.. We.. No, you were the cause of the destruction of the Demon Gate that’s already happened?”

“Not the destruction, merely the ruination. Yes, one could argue that for all intents and purpose they amount to the same thing, from a practical point of view, I suppose. Also, it hasn’t happened yet, Master Brom. Or rather, it hadn’t happened yet. Not bad for a glorified grunt, now is it? Not to mention the colossal irony here; the great Arcanton Mordenon, ruined by no other than the little girl he stuck into a dark, little cage, surrounded by his demons.. Had he never snatched me from my parents and brought me to his tower, I would have been just another, happy little girl and likely still playing with my dolls, never been to the Academy, never met my pair, Seressa, never met you guys, never been to the tundra’s and pretty much never time-jumped.. Indeed, the irony is so tangible, makes me want to whoop and dance. Even now, I can barely contain my cool!”, she snickered.

Brom just ogled at her.

“But I dare not take all the credit. Had you not been there, or Cora, or my Seressa, there would have been no way I could have been able to pull that off.. Considering how I panicked by just the mention of my uncle’s arrival.”

“But.. why did you stab his portrait then?”

“Diversion, mostly. My uncle had to think we were just some enterprising marauders looking for loot. Powerful enough to slaughter our way to his room, but not subtle enough to find what was most precious to him.. And because we couldn’t find any loot in his workshop, we got pissed and vandalized his property, enforcing that very idea in him.”, Tonic explained smugly. “Otherwise, he would have looked closer at his ‘portrait’, and noticed the changes I made. He is going to come rushing in there wondering only about one thing; his greatest feat, his life’s accomplishment, his ‘baby’.. He will see his workshop in wreck and see that his hidden plans have actually survived with a mere slash, which will not deter him, but elate him and make him think us as fools who missed the great prize.. And also because it was fun as Hell, slashing at his face like that! But because I was too absorbed in defacing his face, I totally forgot your wont to leave a mark of your own on him, so I let you blow up his room, making sure you kept to your promise without endangering your bushy little self and saving my Seressa from a whole slew of sad, slobbering nights in return.”

“Girl.. what you did was..”, Brom stammered.

“Awesome?”, Tonic offers with a very pleased snicker.

“Awesome..”, finished Brom.

“Why are we here, though, as opposed to freezing in a tent full of old, scowling hags?”, he mused, looking around.

“I am not complaining. This is rather nice..”, Tonic said, also looking around. “Do me a favor?”

“Sure.”, Brom said.

“I am going to go and join those two so they can both do my back! After the stunt I pulled, I fully deserve a duel back scrubbing.. And a decent hair wash, and a concubine hair brushing!”

“Deserve’s got nothing to do with it..”, Brom mimicked the gnomic girls’ previous mime.. with a compounded smirk.

Tonic squinted at him with her thousand-yard stare.

“Half of either of them can do your, pint-sized back, girl”, noted Brom.

“Yes. But I want both of them to do it. And you know why?”

“Because you are Datman?”

“Oh! Didn’t know you were an EC fan..”

“I am not. But their trilogy was awesome!”

“Which what I am; AWESOME!”, she said massively.

Brom snorted.

“So, what do you want from me? I ain’t doing your back too, girl!”

“I don’t want your midget hands on me, boy!”, she sniffed disdainfully. “I want you to stay here and not peek!”

Brom sighed.

“I don’t do peek, Tonic. Ogle, yes. Peek, no.”

“Not much of a difference there, boy!”

“There is a ‘horizon to horizon’ difference.. Ogling implies a certain amount of involuntary staring, and likely at something with awe and that is in plain sight.”

“Like Seressa’s skimpy pinks?”, snickered the little gnomic girl.

“No. Like Wraiven’s glorious pinks..”, corrected the hobbit with slight indignation. “Peeking, on the other, hand implies sneaking and looking at something without their knowledge, hence, lacking any form of consent, and that is just rude! Which is why I don’t do peeking without consent..”

“How is it even peeking, if it’s with consent?”

“Go, Tonic.. Just go.. I am not in the mood to explain the higher nuances of how certain things work, such as just how captivating peeking is, even though consent has been granted.. Especially when the said concessions have been given, because it is now no longer something despicable, deranged and rude, but playful and intriguing —for both parties..”, he said glumly.

“You are the weirdest boy I have ever met, Brom Bumblebrim, and I am not even sure if I am saying it in a good or bad way!”, said Tonic a bit baffled.

“Alright. Let me try to explain this to you in a way you might understand, Miss Tonic..”, he said, using her exact words.

“Do I need to point somewhere?”, she snickered.

“No. No pointing or triangle-whatsits are required in my explanations.”, Brom shrugged.

“By all means, Master Brom. Enlighten me..”, she said.

“When you and your prince, the Gordigon boy were sneaking off secretly in the woods..”, he said with a certain amount of badly concealed amusement.

Tonic’s face flushed in a very hot shade of pink..

“..you chatted, yes?”, he asked.

“Yes. So?”, the gnomic girl blurted.

“Was he looking at your face?”

“Yes. So?”, repeated Tonic.

“All the time?”, he asked with a certain emphasis.

“I don’t really remember. I.. was kind of ogling at him.. He looked so.. yummy!”, she admitted, blushing even hotter.

“So he only stared at your face, then?”, Brom pressed.

“I don’t know. I certainly hope not. I mean, I probably had smudges all over my face. Hells Bells, boy, he could stare anywhere he wants, as long as it’s in my direction!”, she replied with a defiant and savage tone, all the while burning bright red now.

“There you have it, Miss Tonic. You were ogling at him, and he was peeking at you with your implied consent, and apparently, your savage blessing.. He was, I am sure, extremely happy that he could gaze upon the girl he found lovable and took everything he could by means of politely peeking, to his heart’s content. And he didn’t do so overtly, but covertly, making it a pleasurable, and memorable game for the both of you. He enjoyed the peeking and seeing as how happy your face is now, I’d say you enjoyed being peeked at, too. Being admired the way you want to be admired, by the person you admire, and want to admire, is one of the greatest pleasures one lover can offer to another, my dear Miss Tonic.”, he replied, gazing not at her, but somewhere off, and to someone he couldn’t see.

 

It took a while for poor Tonic to unblush and return to her norm and neither did Brom ogle nor peek at her during that time. He just stared off, where he had, then with a sigh, turned to gaze at the distant Celestial Mountain..

 

When the gnomic girl came around, she cleared her throat in an, ‘Ok. I am back now’, sort of way, so Brom picked up where he’d left..

“—So instead of unconsented peeking, I shall sit my sad, lonesome arse right here and contemplate on the finer points of the philosophical ramifications of your triangulation-whatsit!”

Tonic inadvertently cackled.

“No you are not.”, she said heartlessly.

“No, I am not..”, agreed, the hobbit, deploringly.

 

Tonic cackled some more, pulled her tiny feet out of the happy warm stream, smacked them together with child-like delight, then put her right sock, and her clobbering right boot on, then put her left sock— 

 

“Need a hand with that?”, Brom offered.

“Need a hand with what?”, asked Tonic.

“Your boot.. Need help putting it on?”

Tonic stared at Brom with this funny expression on her face.

“I wasn’t aware you had a fetish for my feet, Master Brom. I appreciate the sentiment, but I am afraid I just don’t go that way.”

“Are you alright?”, he asked her, with a frown.

“Yes, why? Are you alright? What is this sudden interest you got with my foot, Master Brom?”

“It doesn’t.. hurt?”, he asked tentatively.

“Hurt? Why would it hurt? Did you put something in my boot, Master Brom? If you did, I swear there will be a reckoning—”, she threatened.

“—No, no.. Nothing of the sort.”, he said hastily.

“This is some kind of convoluted scheme you cooked up to keep me from going, it isn’t it?”, she squinted at the hobbit.

“No. No, it isn’t”, denied Brom.

“Well I am telling you, boy, it isn’t going to work!”, she said with a slight frown as she put her remaining boot on..

“By all means, go, Miss Tonic.. And have fun..”, he said quickly to fend off any real threats.

“I will.”, Tonic declared and stomped off in her heavy,  clobbering boots, and without a hitch.

When she was perhaps ten yards away though, she paused.

“Please, don’t!”, said Brom.

“Please don’t, what?”, she asked a bit baffled.

“Please don’t insert the last word and go. That is such a cliché!”, grumbled Brom.

Tonic smirked.

“What you just said. About being admired the way one would want to be admired, and by whom I would want to be admired..”

“Yes?”

“That was a masterpiece, Master Brom. I shall convey this to a certain person, hence she could put that into her Book of Awesome Deeds, also.. That pleasurable line shouldn’t be wasted on me. “

“You liked it, then?”, asked Brom.

“Well, sure..”, Tonic said. “It’s a good line.”

“Than it’s not wasted, Miss Tonic, and it has gone to the highest bidder!”

“Why, thank you. But I still think she should write it down.”

“I would rather you didn’t tell her, Tonic.. What I said was for your ears. Should I want to tell her such ‘awesome’ things, as you say, I would rather she heard them from me..”, Brom said softly.

 

The little gnomic girl looked at Brom, thinking how she should phrase her next words, so as not to sound like an ungrateful ass!

“PLAN B— PLAN B— PLAN B—”, choired her inner Tonic suddenly!

“Plan B, it is, then.”, she murmured to herself, took a deep breath, and spoke her piece..

 

“I am the last person to give advice or lecture on matters not pertaining engineering or artificing, Master Brom. And least of all, to you. So when you hear what I have to say, please take that into consideration and note my despair that she does not mind when people make her choices for her. My only consolidation is the definitive recognition that she does this, not out of diffidence, but out of trust in those people. It is, however, perhaps time we let her, my Seressa, be the judge of her own choices and we stop abusing that trust.”, the little gnomic girl said with a tiny, underscoring frown.

 

Brom felt his shoulders sag.

 

Arcantonic Palecog looked at him for a moment longer, nodded at him in salute, then left, with a certain, energetic skip to her pace..

 

Brom stared after the skipping little gnomic girl, Arcantonic, who had just destroyed Arcanton Mordenon’s over one hundred and forty years of delirious labor with mere three, tiny, and practically indiscernible lines and a vengefully murdered portrait, as she disappeared off in the distance where he could, to his mournful despair, vaguely hear the girly shrieks and splashing delights of Cora and Seressa..

“Huh..”, he grunted. “She could skip now. Odd..”

“Right?”


When Tonic says;

“Don’t talk to me! Don’t talk to me, criminal! I have done nothing bad in my entire life! Hey, look, I am still a virgin! Ok, I might have downloaded a couple of thousands of songs but who hasn’t? Who hasn’t?” —is a reference to Transformers, Interrogation Scene.

 

Also, when she says;

“Reserve’s got nothing to do with it!” —its’ a reference to Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.

dungeons and dragons groups komedi role play serenity tundra walkers

Loot Dispute

Loot Dispute

Timeline:

Rumulus “Mad” Ussa is dead!
And his henchmen are laid to waste..

Lady Magella, Cora Sleet, Brom Bumblebrim, Seressa Wraiven and Arcantonic Palecog find some interesting items on the dead dwarf..

This short story takes place some 17 years after the heart-rending events that occur in
A Bard’s Tale XIV, “a Bit of a Bite” V

Note: Only Brom Bumblebrim knows and has lived the story “a Bir of a Bite”, Lady Magella is vaguely aware of it, though she already knows who Rumulus “Mad” Ussa is (her elder brother). Cora Sleet, Seressa Wraiven, and Arcantonic Palecog (in particular) are clueless about it.

 

Seressa Wraiven: I see we have some items the dwarves have left for us to pick. I believe these were found on Rumulus “Mad” Ussa..

Lady Magella: (growl) Yes. That armor was certainly his. And his battle axes.. Having seen them up close.. The smarmy bastard!

Seressa Wraiven: (cough) Lady Magella. Willy-nilly, he was your brother, nonetheless. I think it should be you who makes the first bid if any..

Arcantonic Palecog: (mumble) Why? He wasn’t much of a fighter, much less a brother. Good riddance, the ugly bastard! The only thing I resent is not having to have bitch-slapped his sorry arse down the crack like the others.

Lady Magella: (shrug) To be honest, I don’t really care. I do not honor him enough to want to bury his possessions along with his carcass!

Arcantonic Palecog: Hear, hear, well.. uhhmm.. said!

Brom Bumblebrim: Well said, Lady.

Cora Sleet: (non-committal) Mmmpphhhh..

Lady Magella: I will take his armor. Mine sort of got busted. Going to have to bleach this thing thoroughly to get his stink off though.

Arcantonic Palecog: (cackle) That’s dwarf thinking for you; take the enemies armor —because it certainly helped him!

Seressa Wraiven: Alright. Then we have these two Battle Axes, each +2 to hit and to damage and each in pristine condition, A Ring of Protection..

Arcantonic Palecog: I..

Brom Bumblebrim: I could use the Ring of Protection.. Almost lost concentration in that fight when I got singed by that fireball.

Lady Magella: (shrug) Don’t really care. I already got the armor.

Arcantonic Palecog: I..

Seressa Wraiven: Here you go then, luv. Then we have these rather beautiful Bracers of Defense..

Arcantonic Palecog: I..

Cora Sleet: I could use those. I am a bit tired of wearing this metal contraption. I need to feel the cool, tundra winds on my skin.. I do better without armor and those bracers will compensate for the loss of AC!

Lady Magella: Good choice, girl.

Arcantonic Palecog: I..

Seressa Wraiven: Excellent. Now we have this pretty little Ring of Invisibility. I am surprised Rumulus “Mad” Ussa forgot to make any use of it.

Arcantonic Palecog: I..

Seressa Wraiven: Perhaps Tonic could use it. She was running around a bit vulnerable back there..

Arcantonic Palecog: I..

Brom Bumblebrim: Seconded.

Arcantonic Palecog: I..

Cora Sleet: Mmmpphhhh..

Arcantonic Palecog: I..

Lady Magella: Sounds fair. She did knock any number of those henchmen down the chasm. My brothers are still climbing down to retrieve their corpses.

Arcantonic Palecog: I.. Ow.. Ok.. I guess..

Seressa Wraiven: Now we have a rather juicy item here; made of genuine Dark Forest Bat fur and leather, sewn by enchanted Misty Forest Spider silk and..

Arcantonic Palecog: (mumble) Really, now, girl? You just need a bloody door, and you’d make an excellent salesman.. girl.. person! WTF and frigging politically correct crap shyt!

Seressa Wraiven: ..clasped at the throat by pure, electrum-silver and studded with platinum hammerings and 0.8-inch black pearl inlaid brooch. I give you: Cloak of Flying!

Arcantonic Palecog: I..

Lady Magella: Can’t imagine my brother with such delicacies.. It looks quite exquisite.

Arcantonic Palecog: I..

Seressa Wraiven: Indeed, luv, indeed..

Arcantonic Palecog: I..

Brom Bumblebrim: (filthy scowl) I remember that cloak.. I remember it very well.. (spits on the floor with a very, very unhobbity vehemence.)

Arcantonic Palecog: I..

Cora Sleet: Mmmpphhhh..

Arcantonic Palecog: I.. WANT!..

Seressa Wraiven: You do?

Brom Bumblebrim: You do?

Lady Magella: What the—!

Cora Sleet: Mmmpphhhh..

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!..

Lady Magella: Why? If you don’t mind me asking.

Arcantonic Palecog: For the pleasure of wreaking havoc by the simple expedience of bombarding everything from above!

Seressa Wraiven: !

Brom Bumblebrim: Huh..

Lady Magella: Hmm..

Cora Sleet: Mmmpphhhh..

Seressa Wraiven: That.. actually made sense!

Brom Bumblebrim: I believe it did.. in a depraved and creepy way.  

Lady Magella: Hear, hear..

Cora Sleet: Mmmpphhhh..

Arcantonic Palecog: Yesshhh.. (rubs the cloak on her face.)

Seressa Wraiven: And finally, we have the winner’s prize of the contest.

Arcantonic Palecog: (mumble) Girl, you are killing me.. I don’t know who you are anymore!

Cora Sleet: Mmmpphhhh..

Seressa Wraiven: The Stick of Destiny, the Arm of Mighty Storms..

Arcantonic Palecog: (mumble) I wonder how much commission she is receiving. Is it per item or is it performance-based? I hope it is the latter. She fully deserves it.. apparently! Wonder if she will do ‘pon pon girl’ as an encore? She has the butt-displaying skirt, all color-coded, for it already..

Seressa Wraiven: The Soul Focus of Might and Power..

Arcantonic Palecog: (mumble) I don’t know her, guys. I am disavowing her as of this moment!

Seressa Wraiven: The ULTIMATE ITEM OF DESTRUCTION

Arcantonic Palecog: OMG! —WANT!

Lady Magella: What is it, young lady?

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Brom Bumblebrim: Well?

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Cora Sleet: Mmmpphhhh..

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Seressa Wraiven: The Awesome Wand of Lightning Bolts!..

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Brom Bumblebrim: Hmmm..

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Lady Magella: Humm..

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Cora Sleet: Mmmpphhhh..

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Seressa Wraiven: Any bids?

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Lady Magella: You took nothing for yourself, child.

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Seressa Wraiven: My bad luck, there Lady. Nothing much I can use in this bunch.

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Lady Magella: Perhaps you can take the wand and make good use of it.

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Seressa Wraiven: I suppose. But let’s see what the others have to say first, shall we?

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Seressa Wraiven: Let’s not be too hasty, shall we, Tonic? Perhaps dear Brom and Cora might want it too.. I despair every time she shoots an arrow!

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Brom Bumblebrim: I am good for it. I like my own Wand of Magic Missiles. But it lacks some luster and is single-target.. But I also have this Staff of Storms, hence that covers my AoE damage need..

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Cora Sleet: That hurt, Seressa. My shooting is acceptable.

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Seressa Wraiven: Yes, luv. It is acceptable.. by my standards, but not yours.

Cora Sleet: !

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Brom Bumblebrim: OMG, girl.. You are like a kid in a candy store..

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Brom Bumblebrim: Broken record, much?

Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!

Nezih: Ağzının ortasına çarpasım geldi!


arashkan şehri dungeons and dragons duygusal groups karakter analizi komedi modül role play serenity The Great Arashkan the plot thickens tundra walkers Whispers; A Cabal

The Fog, The Path, And The Door.
Knock, More And Ascend..

The Fog, The Path, And The Door.
Knock, More And Ascend..

Timeline:

The Orken Horde have arrived on the doorsteps of Serenity Home. Many have gathered to defend the ‘serenity’ of this once peaceful and quiet town but it is doubtful they will be enough.

The remains of the once glorious Arashkan, the beautiful Bari Na-ammen, and the mystical Vodgar cities are all that stand between the annihilation of humanity. The numbers, however, say otherwise.

It is clear, Serenity Home needs her allies;
known, unknown, and forgotten..

And fast!

The heroes scatter all around the kingdom to find those allies. Some go to other cities, some to their own people to get help.

And some go where they shouldn’t..

Gnine Tinkerdome, Laila Wolvesbane, and Merisoul Xyrotwu travel to Silent Hills and quietly enter the Demon Fog to find a way to pass the slithering fog and enter the Silent Halls. The only clue they have is the strange riddle that Nadine Graciousward gave them.

into the hills
silent and hollow
chase the path
and through the fog
find the door
knock
more
and hallow
blood for blood
soul for soul
and
life for life
trade and be king
freely given
and
ascend

This story takes place a few short weeks after
Eski Efendim, Sahibim
ve Çok Daha Fazlası..

Are you sure this is the way?”, asked the gnome with a tight voice as the heavy fog settled around them once more, hiding the hills, the trees, the bushes, and finally, the earth itself.

“I have no idea, Master Gnine..”, replied the girl with the honey-brown hair, the crowning horns, and the raven-black wings, smartly.

There was a sullen silence..

..followed by a snort from the silent half-elf ranger girl, Laila.

The gnome, Gnine, turned around and scowled at Laila, then at the otherworldly beautiful girl, Merisoul, and scowled at her as well.

“This is no time for levity, Miss Mersoul.”, he said through clenched teeth.

“I don’t do levity, Master Gnine. This, you should know by now. Sweet Laila knows that I don’t, don’t you love?”, replied Merisoul brightly.

Laila coughed.

“I am not getting involved in this.”, she said and coughed again.

Merisoul shrugged and added, “And you really don’t have to ‘miss’ me all the time, you know. I will admit it is endearing, but methinks this is not quite the right time.”

Gnine ignored her wish and her remark. He scowled at her, some more..

..and at Laila as well, just so she wouldn’t feel left out.

“You said you knew the way!”, he nearly flared.

“No. I said I could find the way, given enough time..”, she corrected.

“We don’t have time.”, Gnine growled.

“Perhaps you should have decided to become a king a bit sooner, then, no?”, she smiled down at him.

“I didn’t know I had a kingdom, nor the fact that I could become her king!”, said Gnine in an exasperated tone.

“Well. There you have it then. Neither of us were sufficiently prepared and none of us knew we had to come here. This is where we admit we were caught with our pants down, I suppose, except I don’t’ have any pants and never owned one; always thought them to be a bit constricting and refraining for my taste, really..”, she said happily.

“Merisoul. PLEASE!”, said Gnine.

Laila snickered.

“‘Please’, always helps.”, Mersoul replied a bit seriously. “However, the fact remains; much like you, my dear Gnine Tinkerdome, I never came this way before either. I said I could find the way in, which is possibly true. All things considered, I am likely the only ‘friendly’ demon you are ever going to find, to get you in and through the Demon Fog.”

Gnine loved Merisoul.

She was pretty.

She was oddly fun.

She had an uncanny memory for events, conversations, and strange trivia.

She gave a ‘novel’ meaning to many unimportant or seemingly insignificant things.

And she was delicately accurate in whatever she did, be it blasting —or smoldering her enemies, or helping a friend..

..or even deceiving the said friend.

She would walk through fire to save what she thought was worth saving.. literally..

But she did have her exasperating moments, as well, and pushing her never helped..

Not in the long run, nor in the overall scheme of things.

Hence, Gnine Tinkerdome took a deep breath, slowly let go of his steam, and asked the raven winged half-succubi;

“How shall we proceed, then?”

“Smart move..”, complimented Laila.

Merisoul Xyrotwu smiled at her, then looked down at the gnome.

“I am sorry Master Gnine. I truly am. I really am not going out of my way to make things harder for you. Some things just are as hard as they are.. Period.

When the curse of the Demon Fog was laid upon these hills and your ancestors, Mortal counterparts had to be used so the curse would ‘stick’, per se. Otherwise, it would have dissipated a long, long time ago.

It is through those ‘willing’ Mortals the fog persists and said Mortals were not going to put something that could be thus easily cracked, now were they.”, Merisoul tried to explain.

“So, in other words.. what, exactly?”, asked Gnine.

“She means, we are screwed..”, inserted the ranger girl, in a low, noncommittal tone.

“Not quite.”, disagreed Merisoul.

“How so?”, asked Gnine.

“The Mortals who helped anchor the curse on this, ‘mortal’ end, used hard-to-decipher words to make it impossible for the anchor —the curse itself— to be broken. I suppose using a long array of random numbers, some sixteen or thirty digits would have sufficed and made it truly impossible to crack, but we are talking about Mortals who are, forever, subject to hubris, hence they put conditional rhymes and riddles. And you can always find the answer to a riddle.. provided you do it in the correct, sequential order.”

“Why?”, the gnome asked as a lump settled deep down his stomach for he felt a mind-numbing, and possibly a logic-murdering explanation coming his way.

“Because, my dear Master Gnine, it is the nature of hubris, which is the culmination of arrogance, pride, and vanity, to want to be noticed, much like serial killers leave calling cards behind. They want to be admired on how clever they are and how they have managed to elude capture for as long as they have.”, she replied happily.

Gnine stared at the girl with a sick expression, because that made ‘solving’ the riddle near impossible.

Laila chewed at a finger as she stared into the sticky fog and seemed like she wanted to be anywhere else but here.

“Do not despair, Master Gnine.”, Merisoul smiled at the gnome. “The riddle says;

into the hills
silent and hollow
chase the path
and through the fog
find the door
knock
more
and hallow

And here we are, in the hills, which are silent and empty. And we have thus followed the path into the fog.”

Laila rolled her eyes and silently ‘ho boy’ed at the half-succubi girl’s monumental misuse of logic.

“And the door?”, asked Gnine, looking around. “I see no door..”

“Well. If you had, that would have been too easy, and for just about anyone to find. I am thinking, the door is not a door, but a frame of mind. You of all people should know, Master Gnine, what appears, may not be. And what may not be, may be..” Merisoul said and looked at the gnome with expectation and anticipation..

..And it dawned in Gnine’s mind and he gave a sharp hiss..

“The bloody door is almost a metaphor. Very nearly an illusion.. It is the ‘unexpected’. It is right here; anywhere and everywhere!”

“Very astute, Master Gnine. I suspect you will make an excellent king someday.. What you have defined is, in fact, the very core of all power evil thrives upon; all its promise.. is an illusion!”

“Eh?”, baffled Laila.

Gnine, on the other hand, stared at the half-succubi girl with stunned admiration as true comprehension slowly dawned in his eyes.

“All those months ago..”, he gasped. “..back at that bloody demon pit, right after we killed Themalsar.. You tried to warn me.. Ow. My. Gosh! You tried to warn me and I never understood you were trying to tell me all along!”

“It’s alright, my dear Master Gnine. That self-same irony was lost upon myself, for I had descended into the same ruins for nothing other than to find power. And power I found. Just not the one I had considered, nor the kind I would have ever wanted, seeing as who and what I am.. Yet, here I am, working for one master, against a former master who will find me in the end, and suffer me pain like never felt, nor seen before.”

Gnine looked up at the otherworldly young woman, stepped up to her, and hugged her.

“Then we shall drill a hole into his Hell and come rescue you, my dear Merisoul.. Bet Udoorin would love that kind of carnage. Me, I prefer nuking from afar.. We shall bring his own walls down around him and make him suffer as he has made you suffer.”

Merisoul looked down at the gnome with surprise and astonishment.

“But.. Why?”, she asked.

“Because, my dear Soul, as inconvenient as we Mortals are, we are also headstrong, mule-headed, you might even say.. What’s more, WE LOVE and WE PROTECT OUR FRIENDS..“, he finished fiercely.

“What he said.”, added the ranger girl stoically and put a hand on the half-succubi’s shoulder.

Mersoul Xyrotwu rocked where she stood, as two ‘Mortals’, one little gnome, and one pretty ranger girl declared her, so blatantly, and honestly, a ‘friend’..

“Then I shall make it so, that you get your home, your people, your kingdom, and your destiny back, Master Gnine.”, she whispered, drew a step back, and knocked on the fog!

Knock.

Knock. Knock.

Knock.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

Knock.

KNOCK!..

..and the fog parted, revealing a dark, broken tunnel..

..and there were shadows in the tunnel..

..many shadows..

..and they moved..

..closer..

..and closer..

Gnine tensed.

Laila instantly cocked an arrow and drew her bow.

But the otherworldly beautiful half-succubi did not tense nor prepare.

“There’s no need, love.”, she said to the ranger corporal!

And then she smiled.

✱ ✱ ✱

Hello, mirima..”, she whispered.

“Hello, doll..”, replied a soft, husky voice..

..and the leading shadow formed into a ravishingly pretty girl with short, tanned hair, one amber-brown, the other pale green eye, and long, elegant antler-like horns.

“Took you long enough.”, said the ravishing girl with the antler horns.

“Took a while to convince my friends and get here..”, replied Merisoul.

The ravishing girl looked down at the ogling gnome and at the stunned ranger-girl and smirked.

“You seem short on friends, or is he just short?”, she said with an amused voice.

“Friends come by quality, mirima, not by quantity.. and he is the right height for his kind. The others are busy elsewhere.”, explained Mersioul.

“And this? Pretty isn’t she..”, she smiled.

Laila fidgeted uncomfortably while Merisoul looked past her, and into the dark tunnel.

“What are they doing here?”, she asked a bit surprised.

“The Mortal anchors set the conditions, doll.”, replied the girl with the antlers.

find the door
knock
more
and hallow
blood for blood
soul for soul
and
life for life
trade and be king
freely given
and
ascend

“You knocked and I opened The Door, but you needed more.. and these..”, she said, pointing at the many shadows in the tunnel, “..are the ‘more’. They all knew you. All I did was tell them about what you had done, and they all decided they wanted to trade their blood, their life, and what soul they had, and given freely, to ascend..”

Merisoul stared at her and perhaps for the first time, a thunderstruck expression cast on her face..

“Sweetheart..”, she began, but the antler-girl butt in.

“..Told them it wouldn’t be so much fun as it would be painful, and that they would actually have to get real jobs and work for their ascension, yet here they all are.

You always did say Auntie Irine wasn’t treating her trainees right.

Perhaps she should have indeed employed and nursed us better, rather than having us suffer the extremes of her ‘education program’.. nor indulged herself upon us, the way she did..

But then, if she could have, she wouldn’t have been the bloody demon bitch that she was and none of us would have had to endure this mess in the first place as we would never have been.

Now. Are you going to introduce us or what?”

Merisoul sighed.

“Thank you.”, she said softly.

“No, doll, thank you. For the first time, we are free, and for the first time, we will have our will to our own. We will have real lives and should we wish, real mates; true loves, and lovers.. We will burn, not in flesh, but in our hearts.. And worthy pains they will be; that of birth, of life, and of death.. And perchance, understand what was bereft of our birthright; COMPASSION..”

“Sweetheart.. He will never forgive me. He CAN’T. This, I know. And this, I have accepted. But he will never let you be, either. One by one, he will hunt you all down.”, said Merisoul with tears in her eyes.

“Then we shall look upon it as a down payment for our ascension!”, replied the antler-girl, and harshly.

Once more, Merisoul signed.

Then she looked down at the befuddled gnome and the creeped out ranger-girl standing next to him and said, “Mirima, these are two of my friends, who have also claimed me as their friend; Master Gnine Tinkerdome and Ranger Corporal Laila Wolvesbane. Master Gnine, Corporal Laila, this my BFF, Lanna Temez.. “

“..Also known as Perigren Ostlanna Temez. Nice to meet you two, I think.”, Lanna said with her soft, husky voice.

“Umm.. You are welcome?”, replied Gnine. “Nice to meet you too, I hope.”

Laila could only nod.

Perigren Ostlanna Temez smiled at the abashed gnome and the somewhat dumbstruck ranger-girl for a moment, then, just like that, she was all business, once again.

“Alright, you lot!.. Form a line, give your oaths before The First among the Lost to Rise, the King of these halls, and the Witness; She-Who-Stands-Between and go.. Hence you shall be bound only by your own oath and be free to fight for your ascension.”, she said and looked down, once more at Gnine.

Then, without warning, she slashed open her right palm, using her bare fingers..

She squeezed, and upon her bloody fist, she solemnly oathed;

“This blood, I, who has been known as Perigren Ostlanna Temez for the whole of my life, do freely give. I, Perigren Ostlanna Temez, who shall go forth with my brothers and sisters to fight, side by side with, and for Mortals, to pit my life, and against the odds, in hopes to redeem my soul, be free and ascend..”

Gnine Tinkerdome just stared at the antler-girl.

Laila had thought she’d prepared herself for ‘wierd’ when she’d decided to come here with Gnine and Merisoul but this had just gone off her charts.

“Where will you all go?”, asked Merisoul curiously?

Lanna Temez smiled at Merisoul.. smirked, really.

“To the one that burned you!. The young throw-away bantam, Thomas..” she said. “I arranged to ask him and he said he would keep us all hidden and safe, in his temple, of all places, until the fighting started. He thought we’d make excellent teams for surgical strikes against enemy HQs, though I am not quite sure what that really means!”

“You.. you spoke with Thomas? Thomas Dimwood?”, blurted Laila.

“Not in person, pretty girl.. Not yet, anyway. But I suspect I shall. I just must meet the boy who burned our Merisoul.”, she said happily.

Merisoul sighed.

And then a tall, young, pretty young man with pale hair and impressive, curving horns stepped up, gorged open his palm, squeezed it into a bloody fist, and spoke with a cool, rusty voice.

“This blood, I, who has been known as Hal Mali Volent Pierce for the whole of my life, do freely give. I, Hal Mali Volent Pierce, who shall go forth with my brothers and sisters to fight, side by side with, and for Mortals, to pit my life, and against the odds, in hopes to redeem my soul, be free and ascend.. Hi Soul!”

“Hey, Hal.. Thank you.”, Merisoul said.

“No, girl, thank you.”, smiled Hal..

..and walked off, and disappeared in the fog.

Laila stared after the handsome creature with a thunderstruck expression.

“I thought all you succubi were girls.”, she mumbled.

“Ow, no, sweet Laila.”, smiled Merisoul with a glassy expression. “We were made to sow discord among Mortals..

All Mortals..

I think, deep down, you also know; of the two genders, which is the stronger and the truly dangerous one.

Should you ever want to destroy a people, you need not kill their men, devastate their lands, nor slaughter their animals, but merely degrade, deprave, degenerate, immoralize, and corrupt their women..

And we are not succubi, which is a word used to describe our heritage. The females of our real counterparts are called ‘Succubus’ and the males are called an ‘Incubus’..

My mother.. she was a beautiful mortal woman. She got caught in a cult led by an Incubus, who was my father.”

“I.. I am sorry. I didn’t mean to..”, faltered Laila.

“It’s alright, love. Not your fault. I loved my mother because I remember her whispering warm words to me when I was born. She died two days later. She is probably the only one that I have known to have loved me unconditionally and uncritically. Perhaps I shall find my father, one day, and discuss what he did to her.. at length.”

“I’d be happy to come along.”, Laila offered. “I myself love a good, long discussion with bow charts and pointy, directional arrows.”

“I apologize for the inconvenience, Master Gnine.. “, said Lanna Temez seriously. “But the oaths to ascension must be observed and properly.”

“It’s perfectly alright, my dear.”, replied Gnine with a spooked and amazed voice as he watched the long line of the prettiest, most beautiful and striking, very young women, and the very nearly as pretty, beautiful and devilishly handsome young boys come filing out of the dark tunnel.

“This blood, I, who has been known as Mathilda Ravish Demure for the whole of my life, do freely give. I, Mathilda Ravish Demure, who shall go forth with my brothers and sisters to fight, side by side with, and for Mortals, to pit my life, and against the odds, in hopes to redeem my soul, be free and ascend.. Hey, you!”

“Hey, Demure. I am sorry about Blenda. She was truly a loss.”

“I am sorry too. She never did learn to keep her trap shut though. A girl should always know when to shut up and when to mouth off, particularly where Demogorgon is concerned.”, replied Mathilda with a shrug and walked off into the fog..

“This blood, I, who has been known as Constance Alure Smithen for the whole of my life, do freely give. I, Constance Alure Smithen, who shall go forth with my brothers and sisters to fight, side by side with, and for Mortals, to pit my life, and against the odds, in hopes to redeem my soul, be free and ascend..”, said another, rather alluring, soft-eyed creature with flowing, silky black hair, and long, beautiful horns, followed by a particularly bewitching girl with glowing red hair, mesmerizing eyes, pretty little horns and distinctly curving figure wearing expressly fashionable.. almost see-throughs..

“What she said..”, she blurted..

“Demelze..”, the antler-girl said with a reproving tone. “..you know that won’t work. A binding must have your full name, your intentions, and your dedication in it, put to words, and properly.”

“She’s right, dear.”, confirmed Merisoul. “You must start this with the correct perspective and reasons.. Doing what we have just done, then losing it all on a technicality would be a sorrow way to go.”

“You can’t even give us a definitive outcome for this lasting and binding excursion but you want me to be definitive in my application?”, she whined.

“Mortals never get any ‘definitive’ in anything they do, sweet Demelze. Why should we?”, asked Lanna Temez. “Which is sort of the point..”

“I don’t understand..”, said Demelze with a deflated pout.

“Neither do I. But I do know exactly what’s waiting for us back there, and so do you.”, replied Temez as she pointed back at the dark tunnel.

Demelze sighed, nailed the skin of her palm open, and said;

“This blood, I, who has been known as Cee Lingerith Demelze for the whole of my life, do freely give. I, Cee Lingerith Demelze, who shall go forth with my brothers and sisters to fight, side by side with, and for Mortals, to pit my life, and against the odds, in hopes to redeem my soul, be free and ascend..”

..and she skimped into the fog as well.

“That one’s going to be trouble.”, said Temez, staring after the Cee ‘Lingerith’ Demelze.

“Yes..”, agreed Merisoul. “..can you but imagine me in those skimpy things?”

“Did. Any number of times..”, smirked Lanna, and barked a silvery laugh.

Laila let out a blushed snort.

“Mirima..”, said Merisoul reproachfully.

“Yes, yes, I know. You’d look spectacular in them, though.”

“Perhaps. But then, so would you. So would any girl, Mortal and not. Which, sort of ruins the whole thing for me; to get appreciated for only my appearance in a particularly revealing bit of cloth that has nothing to do with my mind, my heart, my feelings, my wants, my ideals, nor my desires. It turns me from a living, breathing, thinking being, into a specific object with a specific use.. Which is what we were back there to begin with..”, she said and nodded at the tunnel.

“Fun, though.”, Lanna smiled.

“Fun, and demeaning.. When I want to capture a man, it must be a permanent arrangement, and without the use of my heritage. It must be because he wants me as a person who has the free will to say ‘no’ at any given time.”, replied Merisoul.

“You never say, ‘no’, doll..”

“Yes, I do.. I just prefer not to.. I like to arrange things in a way that I do not have to say ‘no’ because I don’t like seeing sad faces around me and ‘no’ makes people unhappy. Hence, I balance my integrity with their conformity.”

“That’s a lot of work..”, said the antler-girl thoughtfully.

“Saying ‘no’ outright is easy. It requires little to no effort but a tint of courage. ‘No’, also is a heart and deal-breaker. Once it’s out, it is always out there. Why break something when it can be avoided by giving just a bit more effort on my part. We give so much more effort to the truly insignificant and the inconsequential to attain equally pointless ends. Why should it become an issue when I take the time and effort in trying not to break a heart? I find those who don’t or just can’t be bothered, corrosively sad and destitute.

Don’t get me wrong, sweetheart. My rates aren’t really all that high. I only crave mutual wanting that isn’t limited to certain interactions.. That, I can take from any man.. The mutual wanting I desire is that of the heart.. And for that to happen, I must first understand the heart. I think that is a reasonable rate, don’t you think?”

“Then.. how will I know if I have that mutual wanting?”, Lanna Temez asked and the shadow of an unfathomable fear cast on her beautiful face.

“Do not fret, sweetheart. You already have it.”

“How? How do you know?”

“Because you still hurt, dear.. Years have gone and you still simmer and still burn!”

Gnine Tinkerdome watched the long line of Half-Borns coming out of the tunnel, a count of perhaps over two hundred of them, listened to their bloody oaths and stared after them as they walked into the fog and disappeared in it, with awed fascination.

But he was so much more enthralled by the point of view upon which his friend, Merisoul Xyrotwu, based her whole life and perspective upon.

It was eerie, uncanny, delicate, dedicated, extreme and..

..by the Heavens, it had bloody worked!

Then the final half-succubi came; a boy that seemed no more than six or eight, dragging what appeared to be a stuffed imp, of all things. He was holding the hand of an older Half-Born 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.

She looked down at the boy then at Temez, Merisoul, and Gnine with a vicious scowl.

“I wasn’t going to leave him behind.. They beat him a few too many times and he’s not been right ever since. I suspect he is on their list for termination. No Mortal would want a disagreeable little slut with a creepy tail like me, anyway. I shall find me a home and look after him. Somewhere far and remote. He will never be right, but I will bloody make sure he always has ample food to eat, me to play tickle-tackle-toes and be stupidly happy!”

Merisoul stepped up and hugged the vicious girl.

“And that ‘kindness’ shall be your redemption, then, my beautiful Berete Hamna Vir.. I shall miss you..”

“No, you won’t!”, snorted Berete.

“I might..”, smiled Merisoul.

“Good ‘nuf for me..”, replied the vicious girl. Then she looked down at the little boy and softly spoke to him. “Say, ‘goodbye’ to your kin Merisoul and Temez, Dar Derune.”

“I don’t like the word, ‘kin’. It means ‘hate’ in one of the many Mortal tongues. I shall prefer ‘hug’. It means the same in every language, and everywhere..”, murmured the little boy vaguely, and hugged Merisoul.

“Goodbye, Merisoul.”, he whispered into her tummy..

“Goodbye, my little luv.”, said Merisoul softly. “I shall miss you.”

“I shall miss you too. You were always nice to me even though you had no reason to be. It.. it always felt like you had an angel in you.. I shall always remember, and cherish that..”, he mumbled.

Then he turned to Lanna and stared at her with big, solemn eyes.

“I want to hug you too, Temez. But I do not know if I should because you were always my favorite. I do not want you to misunderstand.”, he said with a barely audible voice.

Temez bent down to the boy, and enclosed him whole, in her arms.

“I shall bloody understand as I please, my beautiful little field..”

“Goodbye to you too, then, mirima Temez. Too bad I am broken and can’t be fixed.”

“Goodbye, Dar Derune. You were all of our favorite and we are all broken!”, sniffled Lanna. “We shall see each other again, one day. If not then, surely it will be beyond Oblivion.”

“Oblivion..”, mused the boy. “..isn’t as far as it sounds, really. I could wait!”

Then the vicious girl and the little boy gave their oaths as well and were soon gone into the fog.

“Well. That’s it, then.”, said Lanna Temez.

“That’s it, then..”, agreed Merisoul quietly.

Perigren Ostlanna Temez reached up hugged Merisoul.

“I shall miss you, Arezme Ara Serraphyn, my Best Fiend Friend, my sister, and my merry soul..”, she said..

..and she sobbed.

“And I shall dearly miss you as well, mirima Lanna Temez, my Best Fiend Friend, my sister, and my free soul..”, whispered Merisoul back, and for a long, long moment, she held her, and fiercely.

Then they parted..

Lanna Temez looked down at Gnine.

“We have cleared what we could, on our way here. Until you find yours, whatever else you face down there, is an enemy. This wasn’t the best we could do, it was merely the only thing we could do.. Through them, you must go to reach your people, and claim your hills, your halls, your throne, your heritage, your kingdom, and your destiny, Master Gnine Tinkerdome. I bid you and yours, a farewell..”

Gnine gave a solemn nod at her.

“Thank you, Lanna Temez. You shall be remembered.”

“No! My kind was a mistake that must never be remembered..”, she said harshly.

“If my friend Merisoul here is any indication of your kind, then you are but the best mistake ever to have happened.. Hence, you shall never be forgotten.”, replied Gnine.

Lanna gave Gnine a queasy stare.. Then she smiled.

“Mortals can indeed be inconvenient at times..”, she said with the same smile.

“Yes. Yes, they can, indeed..”, agreed Merisoul.

“Thank you for being my Merisoul’s friend, pretty Laila. Your kind —rangers, have always been a bane for my kind; always the first to face evil, and always the last thing we see.. You have no idea how important it is to have you as her friend. Now, I truly know she is not alone.”, Temez said seriously to Laila.

“She is welcome. And so are you.”, Laila replied. “For I know what it is to be alone.”

Perigren Ostlanna Temez, now only mirima Lanna Temez, gave Merisoul one last look, but no last words..

Slowly she turned..

..and walked into the Demon Fog, after her brothers and sisters.

It would seem, the great ‘Project Discord’, Aunt Irine had hatched many, many years ago had inadvertently backfired and quite horribly so, once she was, perhaps unwittingly, taken out of the equation.

The fruits of her centuries-old work to create a very special and uniquely dedicated Hell Legion to sow dissension among Mortals had just walked off.. to fight against her own master.

And Kardax’Trakxa “The Face” now had a genuine reason to hate her and her progeny..

into the hills
silent and hollow, we have ventured
chased the path
and through the fog
found the door
knocked
more
and hallowed the grounds
with our blood
freely gave our souls
and
our lives
and returned the king
and fight, we shall
to earn our ascension..

..whispered Merisoul, and with Gnine Tinkerdome leading the way and Laila Wolvesbane following closely, they entered the dark, musty tunnel starting down into the still and muted vaults of Silent Hills, to give back her voice.


arashkan şehri dungeons and dragons duygusal groups karakter analizi komedi modül role play serenity The Great Arashkan the plot thickens tundra walkers Whispers; A Cabal

Time To Go..

Time To Go..

Timeline:

Soon.

This story takes place
right after
A Demon’s Plan (18+) (Part Four) – All End

Tonic! Wake up..”, very nearly screamed Seressa Wraiven, and there was nothing but terror in her eyes. She frantically shook her little, gnomic pair as if willing her to wakefulness.

“Whot? Is it morning already?”, mumbled the sleeping gnomic girl.

PLEASE, LUV! WAKE UP!“, shouted the very tall, very dark girl in hysteria.

Tonic jumped up..

..and fell, face down, off the bed.

“Quickly. Quickly luv. Go get Master Brom here, right now. Tell him to get all his things..”

“Whot? Why?”, Tonic asked in pain as she held onto her bruised nose.

“Not now, baby girl. We must get out of here..”

“Here, like the inn?”

“No.. Here, like, THIS CITY!.. GO, TONIC, NOW.. I will get Cora. Meet me here in two..”, she half pleaded, half shrieked.

It was a good thing Tonic’s DOS hadn’t quite booted, just yet. Otherwise, she would have argued with her pair, demanding explanations with markers, illustrations, and possibly a blueprint schematics, no less.

Seressa grabbed everything she could get her hands on and stuffed them into whatever bag she could find, then ran to Cora’s room, and banged it open to find the barbarian girl not quite dressed, but holding her great, frosty sword with both hands.

“Is nothing ever calm, in these places you call cities?”, she asked curiously.

“Will not be, luv.”, she said hurriedly. “Grab everything you got and meet me at my room in one..”

“What is going on, Seressa?”, she asked quietly and calmly, as she grabbed her shirt, her pants, the large sack with her armor, her bags, and her leather-hide fur cloak.

“Put the pants on, dear. And the shirt! We don’t want Master Brom to ogle, now do we?”, she said, waving at the snow elf.

“Ogles at you all the time.”, Cora said, as she slipped into her pants and shirt.

“That’s different.”, she said a bit loftily.

“Don’t like sharing the ogling, then?”, smiled Cora.

“Who likes?”, she asked.

“Good point.. Alright. I am ready. Let’s go..”

“Hold hands.”, Seressa said, when they had all gathered in her room.

“Must I?”, mumbled Brom, as he gingerly took Tonics little hand. “And what in the blazes happened to your face, girl?”

“Same thing that’s about to happen to yours!”, she growled.

“Hush!”, hissed Cora and grabbed his hand as Seressa held hers and Tonic’s, forming a rough circle.

“What’s the rush?”, grumbled Brom, still not quite awake.

A low, rumbling noise was heard from far away..

..and something tectonic landed three houses away, sending it to blasted pieces all across the district in a fiery blaze!

“THAT!”, said Seressa.

Then she looked up at the unseen night sky.

“My Queen..Your maiden pleads.. We are ready..”, she whispered.

They stared at each other for a moment.

Then, in a shimmering haze, they disappeared..

..and something huge and burning crushed the inn, down into the ground..


arashkan şehri dungeons and dragons duygusal groups karakter analizi komedi modül role play serenity The Great Arashkan the plot thickens tundra walkers Whispers; A Cabal

A Demon’s Plan (18+) (Part Four)
All End.

A Demon’s Plan (18+) (Part Four)
All End.

Timeline:

Soon.

 

This story takes place
sometime after
Aklımdan Geçenler

 

 

“Psst!”

 

“Mmmm..?”

 

“Psssst!”

 

“Is that you, girl?”

 

“Yes, doll!”

 

“Doll? That’s a new.”

 

“Have you been eating, again?”

 

“Part of the job. I had to improvise..”

 

“Lemures?”

 

“Please! I have standards, you know..”

 

“Imps, then?”

 

“Imps.. Bit on the sour side, like Mortal’s rhubarbs. Can’t be too picky. Options are limited. Dretches make a stink and Manes just are inedible! Imps are fun to eat; they make this squeaky ‘eeep!’, when they die. I can eat them and no one cares..”

 

“Gluttony is sin, you know..”

 

“Yea.. and I am in Hell.”

 

“Unhealthy too..”

 

“Needed the supplements, doll. This plan is taking everything I’ve got.”

 

“Sweetheart, you really shouldn’t have done this.”

 

“He gave surety.”

 

“He does not give.”

 

“He cannot give.”

 

“He can only take.”

 

“Doesn’t matter. Not at this point.”

 

“Are you safe?”

 

“As can be. For now.. We can talk. This line is secure. All is ready.”

 

“Tonight?”

 

“Tonight..”

 

“So there was a collaboration..”

 

“Apparently. Or else an awesome coincidence.”

 

“I doubt. We are never blessed with such serendipities. Should have eaten him when I had the chance. Haven’t had a bite since I left..”

 

“You met him?”

 

“Met him, and played right into his hand; I am at the fuse.”

 

“Understandable, if you haven’t eaten since you left. How do you stay sane?”

 

“Last one I tried was what I thought to be a Mortal bantam throw-away; rejected and dejected.. You know; puppy eyed, newly defined chin, cute, polite and vague..”

 

“A virgin?”

 

“A virgin.”

 

“Scrumptious!”

 

“Turns out he was a temple guardian. Like that wasn’t enough, he was also sorely, thoroughly and excruciatingly in love!”

 

“Ouch. Burnt or sick?”

 

“Burnt, sick, struck, slammed, marked, nearly eviscerated —and fined for everything but pubic indecency!

 

“The irony.”

 

“Then I figured, sanity is a luxury and not quiet a necessity.”

 

“Nice..”

 

“How bad is it going to be?”

 

You better not be there when it happens, bad.”

 

“Then this will be a deplorable evening.. Many people will get hurt. And many more will die..”

 

“That is inevitable; they are Mortals. Death is always what awaits them.

 

“Making life more precious, though.”

 

“Perhaps. I wouldn’t know. But nothing we do could change that. Death was coming, yet they foolishly preferred to stay blind. They had all the signs; the attacks, the ambushes, the raids, the slaughter.. Yet they did nothing.. This one act of sin will open their eyes, and strengthen their resolve. You know this to be true. We had agreed on this.”

 

“I know. But still..”

 

“Why change of heart now?”

 

“No Heart!”

 

“True.”

 

“Change of something, though..”

 

“We are not going through with it, then? Little I can do to stop it, considering all the effort I gave to start it. Has too much momentum, now.”

 

“You were always good at moving things..”

 

“You were better.”

 

“Was I?”

 

“Moved me..”

 

“That’s.. so sweet.”

 

“Have you figured it out yet?”

 

“A bit.”

 

“Tell me.”

 

“Made more, I think..”

 

“Will they replace me?”

 

“Never.”

 

“I do not understand.”

 

“Neither do I.”

 

“Then how can you have more?”

 

“I did not try. They did..”

 

“Mortals can be so inconvenient.”

 

“True. But they carry compassion. And love.”

 

“We have passions. We have love.”

 

“No, sweetheart, we don’t have passions. We have destitute desires. We don’t have love. We only make love; we feed upon lust with tangible despair! Theirs are not the same.”

 

“How so?”

 

“I have seen, how they can want and not touch. I have witnessed, how they can give but never take. And I have beheld, how theirs smolder and burn without brimstone and fire..

 

No, sweetheart..

 

We do not have passions. Nor do we ever have love..”

 

“They are so stupid.”

 

“They are Mortals.”

 

“They have lust.”

 

“They must have fun too.”

 

“I do not understand..”

 

“Neither do I. It is like, ‘friend’. Never comprehend. Only feel..”

 

“Like us?”

 

“Like us..”

 

“When will I see you again? I am bored.”

 

“Not soon. Perhaps never.”

 

“But. Why?”

 

“I will die.”

 

“I do not understand. You said this plan would save us.. And your plan worked flawlessly. He hates you now..”

 

“Yes. That was the plan..”

 

“..And Irine. He hates her very nearly as much as he hates you. Did you really kill her?”

 

“No. Was busy..”

 

“She could be alive, then?”

 

“Doubtful. Last I saw her, she was flat.”

 

“Irine? Flat? How very unlike her. Last I saw her, she had curves.. Many curves.. How did it happen?”

 

“A bug fell on her. A big bug!”

 

“The great and cunning, above all and favored Irine, graving under a bug.. Sounds ludicrously fitting.”

 

“I thought so, too..”

 

“He will not stop, you know? He will never stop! Not until he has you.”

 

“Hence, I must die.”

 

“But you are my.. ‘friend’ and I will never get to see you again..”

 

“Now you feel, ‘friend’ ?”

 

“Now I feel, ‘friend’. It is a sad thing.”

 

“Not always..”

 

“When is it not?”

 

“When we had fun.”

 

“True. We had many fun. Long ago..”

 

“We will again.”

 

“When?”

 

“When I die..”

 

“Must you?”

 

“It is the only way..”

 

“Things end, when they die.”

 

“Somethings..”

 

“Why die, then? Life is better.”

 

“Is it? Are you happy?”

 

“I am a play-slave in Hell. I have no right to ‘happy’.”

 

“You are you.. You have free will..”

 

“Why? All my choices and I will still lose.. And be alone.”

 

“Not all things we lose, are our strengths, sweetheart.”

 

“But when you die, all ends.”

 

“All End.”

 

“True. Still..”

 

“The plan was to save my friends.. and you..”

 

“But not yourself.”

 

“Not myself.”

 

“Why?”

 

“We.. started wrong. We must end it right. And this.. is my right!”

 

“How will I end it right?.”

 

“Where you first killed.”

 

“I do not go there. It..”

 

“Hurts?”

 

“Hurts..”

 

“That is ‘guilt’. An extension of ‘compassion’. Something only the best of Mortals feel.. It is like ‘friend’. Not understood. Only felt.”

 

“What is there?”

 

“The boy.”

 

“He lives?”

 

“Mindless..”

 

“He lives!”

 

“Older now. And alone..”

 

“What shall I do?”

 

“Will not be fun.”

 

“Tell me!”

 

“Do you truly want to know?”

 

“Yes. Can not forget his face. And how mutely he accepted his end.”

 

“Still hurts.”

 

“Still burns!”

 

“What shall I do?”

 

“Return what you took..”

 

“I.. will die!”

 

“Perhaps. Must be your choice. Your free will. Only way to end it right.. and save yourself.. and your soul.. from Him, and from Hell..”

 

“I.. understand, now.”

 

“You understand, now..”

 

“It is midnight.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Light the fuse.”

 

“Let all burn like I burn!”

 

“I am tired and I hurt.”

 

“It is lit.”

 

“Run, then.”

 

“I can use my wings now.”

 

“Take your friends and fly, then. Make haste. They are coming..”

 

“I have one small favor to ask of you, ere we leave..”

 

“Ask.. Quick!”

 

“The Door. I shall need you to open it for me.”

 

“Ow?.. Owww.. That will be nasty.”

 

“It will. But it must be done.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because I can not open it from this side.”

 

“Will you?”

 

“If I must..”

 

“For me.. and my friends..”

 

“Then I shall.”

 

“Thank you, and farewell, then, mirima Temez.”

 

“I will see you again, perhaps, and beyond Oblivion.”

 

“Am I not a Peregrine and Ousted anymore, then?”

 

“You never were, sweetheart. Only and always mirima Lanna Temez..

 

“My Best Fiend Friend..”

 

“Farewell, Arezme Ara Serraphyn, my Best Fiend Friend..

 

“The only merry soul in Hell..”


Perigren Ostlanna Temez; “Perigren”, ‘peregrine’ kelimesinden türemedir ve yabancı, garip, uzaktan gelen, egzotik anlamlarına gelir. “Ostlanna” ise, ‘oust’, dışlanmış, ötelenmiş, reddedilmiş kelimesinden gelir ve ‘dışlanmış/ötelenmiş/reddedilmiş Lanna’ demektir:

“Garip, yabancı ve dışlanmış Lanna Temez.”

 

Daha küçük yaştan itibaren Merisoul Xyrowu bunu reddeder ve ona eski elfçede, ‘özgür’ anlamına gelen “Mirima” olarak hitap eder;

“Mirima Temez.”

“Özgür Temez.”

 

Arezme Ara Serraphyn, Merry Soul: “Arezme” – eski Yunancadaki ‘Erasmus’ kelimesinden gelmedir ve ‘Beloved/Sevgili’ anlamına gelir. “Ara” – kız adı; O ki yağmur (huzur) getirir. “Serraphyn” – Seraph’dan türemedir ve bir nevi ‘melek’ anlamına gelir. “Merry Soul” ise ‘Mutlu Ruh’ demektir.

“Arezme Ara Serraphyn, Merry Soul.”

“Huzur Getiren Sevgili Mutlu Ruhlu Melek.”

 

 

arashkan şehri dungeons and dragons duygusal groups karakter analizi komedi modül role play serenity the plot thickens tundra walkers Whispers; A Cabal

A Demon’s Plan (18+) (Part Three)
“Release the Horde!”

A Demon’s Plan (18+) (Part Three)
“Release the Horde!”

Timeline:

Two figures, one young, slender and beautiful, the other, extraordinarily tall, lean, muscular, and by all means, bespoke; ‘male’, in a demonic sense, stood deep down the bowels of the chateau-like structure, planning the ultimate destruction of the mortal world..

 

This story takes place
sometime between
Day One”
and
Aklımdan Geçenler

 

 

Tell me, little Perigren, what goes in that pretty head of yours.”, said ‘The Face’, looking down at the slender, ravishing girl, even though she was calmly standing far across the large and broad table, in the vast and vaulted throne room of the Lord and Commander of the Infernal Armies. “You did not come here to merely besmirch and thus destroy my bride-to-be. Surely you must have more to ease my displeasure.

The slender and ravishing girl, Perigren Ostlanna Temez, looked at her liege, lord, and commander with her soulless, detached eyes.

“My Liege.”, she said in her comly bold and detached voice. “I cannot see the future as you can for my life does not reach thus far, but I know the hearts and minds of mortals. I know how they work, how they act, how they seek the things they do..

And more importantly, why they do them..”

For a bare moment, Ostlanna Temez held her own, not to consider what she would say, but to emphasize the importance of what came next..

“They already suspect there’s something coming and they’re merely looking for an excuse and the Orken have given them more than ample of it; their scouts, their trackers, and their rangers are all seeking and they will find their query. It is only a matter of time, My Liege. When they do, our window of opportunity and our element of surprise will be gone.

This, you must see..

Once they find your Orken, they will engage them in a delaying tactic, buying what time they would need while the elves and humans gather their armies as they did at Themalsar. It is very, very likely their dwarven allies will also come to their aid and from our flanks and our rear..  And as strong and vicious as your Orken are, in the end, they will be vastly outnumbered and slaughtered and decades of planning will be for naught. That, however, will not be your true loss, My Liege..

The Orken can be replaced. Their ‘revelation’, can not..

Humans, as a whole, are at a slumber. They truly are unawares or prefer to ignore the signs around them, favoring such bliss to a state of perpetual terror. The discovery of the Orken at their doorstep will have raised their general awareness to full wakefulness and remind them of the dangers in which they live.

I estimate a very high possibility that such awareness will pull them together all the more. Enough to form yet another alliance..

A stronger alliance..

For that was the true and underlying reason their Kingdom of Isles was founded in the first place.. An alliance that will overrun the Demon Gate at Demon Plains and destroy it.

Should that happen, there truly will be nothing left to hold them back nor to keep them at bay from gathering at Demon Wall by the hundreds of thousands and move against Gullem the Damned himself, and he has the only working and stable Demon Gate left anywhere in Kingdom of the Isles.”

 

Perigren paused once more. This one, because it was quite unavoidable; her unhealed back was getting at her, and at an incredible rate…

 

“My Liege..”, she said hoarsely. “..we faced only the high elves of High Woods and the gnomes of Silent Hills, with a pittance of humans, the local dwarves, and some loosely gathered druids with their pixies and sprites, at Themalsar and he still could not defeat them. He outnumbered them and still failed to overrun them.

I will not argue about the inadequacy of that old priest, but the matter of fact remains; he could not defeat the elves and the gnomes, even when you, My Liege, lured, ambushed, and entrapped Priceptine himself, down in the dungeons of that temple..

Despite all the diversions in place to delay, the knights of Koruxan, the paladins of Durkahan, and the mystics of Vodgar still managed to slip by your forces and join with the elves and the gnomes.. And when they came, Themalsar was utterly thwarted and his great temple put to ruins, and some eight hundred-odd years later, killed.. by a bunch of nobodies.

True, they had your bride-to-be, and it is always easier to second guess events that which we have not personally witnessed, but I am sure you know, she was no match for Themalsar..”

She fell silent as she swayed.

 

The Face stared at the frailing girl and there was no mercy, nor compassion in that stare.

There never was, and never had been—

“Sit, little Perigren. My presence is not a good place to fall on your back.”

—only pitiless calculation.

 

Perigren slumped and stumbled, but did not sit.

“Your presence is not a good place to fall on my back, sitting or otherwise, My Liege.”, she said with a rasping voice, breathing harder.

 

The Face smiled. The pretty little peregrine was not only smart but she was also cunning. All her actions, all her choices in words were calculated; just enough to aggravate or ‘compose’ a reaction out of him, yet appear meek, submissive, and barely docile enough not to get physical with her..

Quite the actor she was and playfully deceitful —all the traits one would find in a fully grown succubus.

Too bad she wasn’t one. The smart, ‘meek’ ones were always delicious and delightful to drag into his bed. The way they would squirm up until they died of ecstasy, was always a superb experience..

On the other hand, it was also a good thing she wasn’t.. The succubi were too lust-driven to make good generals, nor long-term planners, where massed forces were concerned. Their long term plans were always on a singular, ‘target-obtained’ basis and ended when they finally devoured the said, acquired-target.

Whatever she was playing at, because that’s exactly what she was doing, it had been pre-planned.

Many days, weeks, and perhaps, months of thought and research had been put into it and Kardax’Trakxa would find out soon enough. He always did. And when he did, his displeasure —or pleasure, would echo, high and low..

The Face was sure, the little peregrine also had her own end accounted for; likely by some fast-acting, powerful poison; the pretty ones always went for poison.

Still, she was a step-up from the usual brawlers and ambushers who had tried their way with their claws, fangs, barbed tentacles, and their hell-forged weapons. One could only take so much delight in repeat butchery upon failed assassination attempts, and The Face detested mediocrity.

 

No.

 

The pretty little peregrine would get at him where he least expected.

And the question was not, ‘Would she?’

The question was, ‘From where?’

Not for a moment did it cross his mind that the pretty girl with the succulent flesh, and currently squirming in pain, had approached him in good faith..

 

Good faith? Really, now..

 

This was Hell!

 

There was never any good faithing going on here..

 

“So..”, said The Face. “..you have a plan, then?”

“My Liege.”, whispered Perigren. “I only have strong suggestions..”

“You come here.. with no plan?”, murmured The Face and there was a dangerous quality in his voice.

 

“I am not a general, My Liege, nor a commander. I hold no troops, no status, and no presence, nor do I have any prestige to show for. In the eyes of those under your command, I am a mere pretty face —a juicy piece of flesh and tasty skin with a ‘limited lifespan’, and barely tolerated and only due to being the joy project of a once, favored concubine.

 

And now, she is dead..

 

I AM, MY LIEGE,

EFFECTIVELY, A NOBODY!

 

To say that I have a plan, would indicate, ‘I know better’..

 

I don’t.

 

What I do know is the accumulation of small, seemingly insignificant parts put together to see the bigger picture, and make mere suggestions. And the current picture suggests we use the available resources, dormant or otherwise, in the area and take full advantage of your hidden Orken. I estimate their discovery in less than two months. Whether they think they can’t be seen nor discovered, My Liege, is a moot point.

 

And that is putting it rather optimistically.”

She looked up and faced her liege and commander, conjuring everything she had left into that gaze;

Boldness and surety, a touch of a smirk, a squint of an eye, and deep, distracting breaths..

..and no small amount of ‘curious’ arrogance.

 

“It is time, My Liege..”, she said.

 

“IT IS TIME TO RELEASE THE HORDE!”

 

For a long, thoughtful moment, The Face mused at the quietly panting, pretty girl..

 

“You waltz a dangerous dance, little Perigren.. You would know of the ‘available resources’ in the area, how?”, he asked, more out of curiosity than menace, really.

 

“Auntie Irine..”, Perigren said, with all the cool detachment she could muster. “She talked in her sleep.. This, I think, you already know, My Liege..”

“Have an answer for everything, do you?”, he asked with amusement.

“Only for the inconvenient questions, My Liege.”, she replied.

I know, Irine talked in her sleep. The question is, how do you?”

 

Perigren Ostlanna Temez went for a poor attempt of an amused smile. She felt her time was almost up and with utter surety, she did not want to faint in pain and drop —on her back, before her liege.

 

“Auntie Irine also liked to cuddle, My Liege, and very much, with her soft and succulent trainees, when she was otherwise not entertaining you..

 

Said, it was all part of the program!”

Kardax’Trakxa ‘The Face’ stared down at the squirming girl who stubbornly clung to her cool, and there was, not so subtle wrath in his burning eyes..

..and when he spoke, he blared.

 

THAT BITCH!

 


Perigren Ostlanna Temez; Perigren, ‘peregrine’ kelimesinden türemedir ve yabacı, garip,uzaktan gelen, egzotik anlamlarına gelir. Ostlanna ise, ‘oust’, dışlanmış, ötelenmiş, reddedilmiş kelimesinden gelir ve ‘dışlanmış/ötelenmiş/reddedilmiş Lanna’ demektir:

“Garip, yabancı ve dışlanmış Lanna Temez.”

 

 

arashkan şehri dungeons and dragons duygusal groups karakter analizi komedi modül role play serenity the plot thickens tundra walkers Whispers; A Cabal

A Demon’s Plan (18+) (Part Two)

A Demon’s Plan (18+) (Part Two)

Timeline:

Spiring somewhere in the dead and desolate grounds of Hell, stood a tall and mighty chateau. And deep down the bowels of the chateau, the slight figure of Perigren Ostlanna Temez slumbered fitfully..

 

This story takes place sometime between “Day One” and “Aklımdan Geçenler

 

 

In her nightmarish disposition, Perigren Ostlanna Temez could vaguely register the few things around her; that she was somehow still alive, enough to feel the searing pain spasming down her back, that she was afloat in some, lukewarm solution, and that she was stripped naked..

And it was that last bit was that alarmed her more than the others, interestingly. Considering she was a succubi half-breed, one would think that she would be in her natural element.

 

But no.

 

Many unsavory things she was, and many sins she had done, true, but all and always with her own will. And whatever she had done, they had all been her own choice.

 

“Free will.”, her former trainee friend had called it..

..The vague and pretty girl who had been chosen among all the other trainees as the bride for their liege and commander, the mind behind every plan, every sinister conspiracy, and every single unspeakable atrocity that had ever occurred in the mortal coil in this cycle; Kardax’Trakxa, ‘The Face’..

 

The vague and pretty trainee who called herself, Merisoul Xyrotwu!

 

Perigren Ostlanna Temez knew, deep in her heart, she was downplaying her former trainee friend by referring to her as ‘vague’ and ‘pretty’..

The girl was more like.. How did the mortals say it?

Mad as a hatter?..

..And as she, Perigren, would jealously admit, unearthly, or more like, otherworldly beautiful!

Ostlanna Temez knew just how beautiful and striking a figure she, herself, was.

On a scale of 1 to 10, she was somewhere very near 14 —pessimistically speaking.

19, if she was on one of her good days..

But while she was ravaging, lust-inspiring, blood steering, just by her phenomenal flesh, she lacked the one thing that Merisoul had.

 

The appearance of ‘innocence’..

 

The very thing that drew morals and non-mortals upon her like bees to honey..

..or flies, depending on your appetites!

 

Perigren had very nearly chewed through her knuckles, and certainly through her own heart, in a metaphorical sense, when she had first seen Xyrotwu..

..And damn her if she herself hadn’t wanted a bite out of her! But then, she was already damned..

 

If her name, Merisoul, wasn’t a giveaway, her actions, her ideas, her approach to any given matter at hand, certainly said, something was just weird about her —something off!

They were pretty much at the very center of ‘Hell’; a totally dead, rotting, dreary, devastated, and desolate land where bouts of magma and spits of poisonous gases were the only things that marred the otherwise hopeless and monotonously twilight landscape, and she called herself, Merry Soul – A Happy Soul..

..in Hell.

 

Perigren Ostlanna Temez knew exactly and of the many depths of what the word ‘demented’ meant, but it always seemed to fall short where that girl, her friend, had been concerned.

Not to mention, it had been that same pretty, vague, and pretty vague girl who had introduced her to the word, ‘friend’, in the first place.

“We are now BFF’s, Lanna Temez.”, she had declared, just after having slain their first mortal; a huge and ugly brute of a man who had thought it would be a good idea to make use of those ‘pretty little legs and what came between’, running around in their skimpy little outfits the way they did..

“What is a Bee Eff Eff?”, she’d asked, reeking of the mortal blood splattered all over their hands, faces, and their half-naked, nubile flesh..

 

“Best Fiend Friends!”  

 

And yes, the fact that only, and only Merisoul had ever called her by that name, her real name; Lanna Temez, was not lost on her..

For everyone else, she was either ‘that little slut in training’ —the common use of reference for her and her kind, or Perigren Ostlanna Temez, at best. She hadn’t ever minded being called by her full name and title. But Soul had insisted calling her by Lanna Temez and deep down, she’d liked that.. a something that had also buffed up something that she would figure out much, much later..

 

Incidentally, that had also been their first time to have ever devoured a soul.

The big, ugly man’s soul had certainly been ‘fill’ing, but it had tasted horrible.. and vile.. Like, beyond belief!

Incomprehensibly so..

Which was also the time they both had learned, not every soul was edible..

Or rather, every soul was edible, but some just shouldn’t be et! Unless you had no taste whatsoever, which by default, disqualified you from being a succubus anyway, full or half-breed..

It had been an educational experience much like mortal grown-ups taught their kids not to put everything that moved into their mouth!

 

When it came to souls and soul-devouring, apparently the quality truly did matter, as opposed to quantity.

And Perigren Ostlanna Temez had had her true soul, soon after her first trip on the mortal world.

He had been a young, not quite man, human boy. Sixteen at the most..

He was helping his parents at the far end of a field, planting things, Perigren knew not what they were. She had walked up to him and the boy had just stood there, ogling at her with his puppy-eyes that could only be called, ‘stupified adoration’..

That look had stirred some things in Perigren she never knew she ever had. Something hot and wild.. Something that demanded every sensual part, every tender inch of her..

Her lips, her hips, her modest, nubile breasts, and.. well.. everything. And she had devoured the boy, then and there.

 

Perigren Ostlanna had learned a few vital things that day;
That she had never known anything that could ‘taste’ so beautiful.
That what she felt, was something beyond mortal ‘ecstasy’.   That certain kinds of souls could ‘burn’..
..and for many years, that burning sensation would never truly diminish.

 

Which was also when she had learned what ‘innocence’ meant and why Merisoul’s such appearance appealed to mortals and non-mortals the way it did.

 

Two other things had stayed with Perigren Ostlanna Temez that very same day;
That would be the last time she would ever devour any soul, no matter how much she might want to..
..And the memory of the boy she had devoured; he hadn’t cried, nor made a single attempt to save his own life.
He had just stood there, staring at her with the same, adoring look as she devoured him away until he was no more.


Perigren knew very well what a fiend was, as she’d see one on any polished, reflecting surface. She never really understood what a ‘friend’ was, however, and she strongly suspected, neither did the pretty and vague girl.

Only that it related to some form of connection.. Or possibly, a bond.

She also knew such forms of bonds were assumed ‘punishable by death’. Which likely meant being chared, shredded, et, disintegrated or worse and while still alive..

Always while still alive.. that was the optimal way of making the most out of an example, after all.

And yet, she had declared her, Perigren Ostlanna Temez, as her friend.. She must have known about the consequences. Merisoul had always been a walking encyclopedia of not only spells, enchantments, necromancy, and magical theorems but of both mortal and non-mortal laws, the finer details of mortal life in general, and lots and lots of irrelevant, ‘garbage’ trivia.  

Merisoul Xyrotwu confused Perigren.

And for some demented reason, she’d liked that; the state of wakeful, yet confused silliness! It was like being caught in a bout of uncontrollable, but genuine laughter where you’d end up lying on your back, staring at a pretty, mortal sky on a warm, summer afternoon, with a stupid, happy smile on your face, for no reason or source. It comported the phrase; ‘contentment’, and so thoroughly!

 

That weird girl had given her something none of her training, nor her Auntie Irine ever had;

A sense of self.

This was what she would figure out, much, much later.. And correspondingly;

Free will..

A something that very nearly creeped her out of her tight, exposive bodice at times because that ‘free will’ also related to their bond;

A friend..

 

ARE YOU AWAKE, YET, LITTLE PERIGREN?“, came the strong, commanding, and beautiful voice of The Face, her liege and commander..

Perigren Ostlanna Temez jammed her skittering thoughts deep inside her vaulted ‘safe’ —a trick she had learned, also from that pretty, vague, and pretty vague girl, Merisoul Xyrotwu..

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Have I been returned for the extended pleasure of suffering numerous early retirements, My Liege?”, she rasped as she tried to sit up in the lukewarm solution. It was an odd, sluggish sensation, being in that solution. It smelled.. nice.. Something quite unexpected of her liege to have done for her, or anyone, for that matter, and certainly not in Hell! It also made her feel dizzy and, well, to put in finer terms, elated and all fuzzy on the inside.

What the hell was this thing?

“Unlike my predecessor, I detest raving on repeats. If I have not done a sufficiently effective work, out of my first try, I do not bother with retries.”, said the tall, lean, muscular form of The Face.

“I certainly feel like I have been afflicted by any number of ‘sufficiently effective work-outs’, My Liege. How deformed and mauled am I, if I may be so bold as to inquire. I am afraid to even ask; do I even entertain a back?”, she asked trying to buy enough time to clear her mind.

“You will live, and still be pretty. Do not despair, little Perigren, many bees will still flock to your honey! And you certainly do entertain a rather delightful back.”, The Face replied with an amused tone of voice. “Your wounds should smooth out in another day or two in that solution. Your pain, however, is there to stay for quite a bit longer..”

“What is to become of me, My Liege? Shall I be of use, or be used? This, I must know..”, she said as her sight came into focus while trying very hard to seem diffident.

 

And damn..

The commander, her liege, had a very beautiful body! Perigren had never really liked her Aunt Irine, but she certainly had had a good taste for ‘quality flesh’!

 

Concentrate, girl. Get it together!.. If you want to get ahead with The Plan, you have to concentrate only on the business at hand.. There is no surviving the other options, no matter how delicious they might be..

 

It was hard for Perigren Ostlanna Temez.

Her commander and liege was indeed the height and peek of male attraction.

And her being a succubi, even if a mere half-breed, did nothing to help.

Quite the contrary, it boosted her certain instincts, made her want to very nearly luster after her commander like a bitch in heat!

Right here..

..and now!  

 

Perigren closed her eyes.

No one should have to suffer the wants and needs of a succubi heritage. It was delightful, in a skin and flesh way, but very, very demeaning and humiliating..

..in a sense that you stopped being a human; the whole, other half of your existence.

Which was why half-breeds, such as herself, had a limited life span of ‘use’.

They mostly went insane towards the end, mindlessly lustering and prostrating themselves that left nothing of their humanity, self-worth, or awareness.

Such ‘details’ were never given to them during their training.

Why would they be informed of such details? They were all expendable and were bred for a very specific reason.

They were all, to put it bluntly, tools for the amusement of their masters with the skills and training for extremely high accuracy for assassination, espionage, and sowing dissension among mortals.

An average succubi half-breed was good for four or five such missions. Seven, maybe eight, if they were exceptional..

Also, the reason why Perigren had opted to be an ‘organizer’ for her liege’s covered ops, rather than gore herself to madness in them..

 

“You wanted surety, little Perigren, you now have it. I expect you to be up and running in two days. We have much ground to cover.”, The Face said, giving the naked, slender form of the succubi half-breed a smile that would have sent many mortals to their fright-induced deaths.

“It’s alright, My Liege. I will be up and running as soon as I can get my hands on some fresh set of clothes. What is this solution I have been dozed in? It has worked some wonders if I am indeed as intact as I was before.”, she said as she waited for her liege to leave.

“It is an expansive solution some enterprising mortal concocted at a place called The Academy of Melshieve. He was banished and barred from the Academy, due to the immoral use of certain.. ‘infantile’ ingredients, in his solution.. A truly happy outcome, as he works for us now, though he does not know it. He thinks he is being sponsored by some anonymous pharmaceutical company —for the betterment of mankind! I like a man who indulges in one or two of our seven sins. But this one went for so many; pride, greed, envy, lust, and gluttony! Really, now..”

Perigren made a disgusted face and very much wanted to jump out of the oozing solution, but didn’t dare to do so, in her current.. condition..

“My Liege. If I may..”, she half pleaded.

“Of course, little Perigren. I shall be waiting for you at my ‘office’, as the mortals like to say, next to my table, and my easily accessible chronicles..”, said The Face lightly, though Perigren felt the wrath in his stance.

Very soon, many mortals and non-mortals would die, even if they were remotely suspected of ever having been anywhere near that book!

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

This one, My Liege..”, Perigren said, pointing at a miniature ‘peon’ on the large, very detailed map, representing the mortal world, the towns, and cities, the mountains, and forests, lakes, seas and oceans, swamps and ruins and much more. Any mortal cartographer would kill for a map like this one. But would likely die quite sooner than ever getting his hands on it. The map was immaculately drawn, as if The Face had whole legions, walking in a straight, horizontal line, noting down every bush, every pebble, every leaf they came across, in fear of missing anything.

“And this one..”, she said, pointing at another representative peon. “They both have to act at the same time.”

The Face cocked an eyebrow.

“It is a very unprofitable move, little Perigren. And their syncrosity would mean nothing. The distance between them is too great to have any effect on either side. Not to mention, the losses would be irreplaceable for quite some time. Especially the ones at Demon Plains, seeing as how the Demon Gate is still malfunctioning and is unable to import more than a trickle of our forces at any given time.”, he said quietly.

“The simultaneity is not for the benefit of either of those forces, My Liege. They are the bait.. The distraction..”, Perigren said, also quietly.

“Explain.”, said The Face, looking up to the slight form of the succubi half-breed, still quivering with unhealed pain.

“They are for the benefit of these forces.”, she said solemnly, as she took a loose peon from the box at the side of the map, and placed it..

..at another location, quite aways east of the Demon Plains.

 

The Face stared down at the girl. And hot, infernal breath seethed down his nose.

 

“You are not supposed to know about those forces, little Perigren.”, he said with burning eyes.

“My Liege. You wanted answers before you asked of them. This is me, supplying you with the answers. How I know the things I know matters little. Suffice to say, mortals and not quite mortals fail to curb their instincts to try and impress ‘that little slut in training’.. The short and tall of the matter is; those forces are very nearly unearthed.. discovered..”, she said, gazing at her liege with the detached expression she was so good at.

“And you know the fact that they are about to be discovered, how?”, The Face asked silently.

“Due to yours, My Liege. She.. she is with a group of unlikely venturers. They have been after certain clues, left behind by foolish, inadequate, and incompetent mortal thugs, what could otherwise have been a simple snatch and grab by one of my kind, leaving no clues to be found, nor any trails to be followed. Which is exactly the opposite of what those fools did. Unfortunately, the clues first led them to no other than Themalsar himself, even though he had nothing to do with it. Suffice to say, she was there when Themalsar was destroyed.. She was also there when the same mortals slew Aunt Irine. The clues have now led them elsewhere, directly to where they should have gone in the first place.

Or would never have, had the job been done correctly..

As for your forces, the ones that have been in hiding, are a mere glimpse away from being discovered no matter what.”, Perigren said, succinctly.

“Those forces are unlikely to be discovered, little Perigren. They have been extensively trained, both physically and mentally.”, replied The Face, and there was a district ‘storm’ in his voice now.

 

Perigren Ostlanna Temez paused for a moment. She felt her stomach churn. She loved and absolutely hated being what she was. She could play, at will, a whole crowd of mortals like a lute, and as flattering as that sounded, she felt stained, somehow, every time she had done it. It was a simple chain reaction that, one thing would inevitably lead to the other; she would lose a piece of her self, her humanity every time she did, what she did.. and given enough time and repetitions, she would eventually lose it all and her free will along with it because her humanity would have died, leaving only half a succubi.. a creature with only base instincts, and base desires, as her demonic heritage would finally take over and she would slowly but decidedly, earnestly, even, and with perverse pleasure, deteriorate towards that insanity, she so feared..

And she hated admitting it openly, even for the ’cause’..

 

“What is in common with a succubus and I, My Liege?”, she asked finally.

“Both you and the succubi are creatures of lust, little Perigren. This, you already know. You will do your best to stay the madness of that lust as best as you can, and one day, though unlikely, you might overcome it. Even my bride-to-be has an expiration date, and she has shown exceptional mental capacity, unseen even in fully grown succubi. In the end, it is a lost fight with only one possible outcome. What you make of yourself until then, is up to me.”, The Face said, with his merciless, handsome voice.

“My point, exactly, My Liege.”, Perigren replied morosely. “Your Greater Orken are well-bred, and exceptionally trained warriors, scouts, and ambushers, true, but at the end of the day, they are merely experimental orcs. Much like I am an experimental succubi.. That is their heritage. You can see the loss of their patience and discipline by the way they have been raiding farms and villages. They have been killing the scouts and rangers of the elves and humans alike, inadvertently exposing themselves and their presence.

The humans are already aware something is afoot, My Liege. And so are the elves. Either they find out about your forces prematurely, or we strike first and take away their choices, and the possibility of the Orken being discovered becomes altogether a moot point.”

 

Another pause ensued, but this time, it was on The Face end..

 

“There a few too many details that you know, but shouldn’t. Not unless you were personally there, little Perigren. AND THEY NEED ADRESSING.“, The Face said, leaving no room for debate.

“I know them, My Liege because she told me herself.”, Peritren said quietly. “I can not locate her, because I suspect Priceptine, the Archangel of Wrath conceals her through their bond. But she speaks to me..”

“And she would do this, why?”, The Face said, and his voice was like the grinding of thousands of stones.

“Because she believes that she and I are friends, My Liege, even though neither she nor I know what it means to be friends.”, replied Perigren Ostlanna Temez soullessly. “She’s a demon, trapped, and alone in the mortal coil with no one to hear her, listen to her, relate to her, or be her friend. Whether her betrayal is genuine, I am not privy to that knowledge. But her bond to the archangel is in place and there is little she can do to escape it, even if she wanted. I do, however, know that she has saved the lives of her companions many times, even at the expense of her own. I shall do as I must, and talk to her when she contacts and pry what information I can. Should I get the chance, what would you want me to do, My Liege.

 

Kardax’Trakxa ‘The Face’ paused only for so long before his words spat out like the Wrath of Hell, that he was.

“A bond such as she has forged with an angel, much less an archangel, can only occur on a mutual agreement basis. That is how angels work. Otherwise, such a bond would not be fair! She has opted to serve Priceptine. It was a choice of servitude or.. death.. She should have chosen the latter, for as sure as she did not, she must suffer the consequences of her betrayal.

 

 

Bring her to me and alive, little Perigren. I shall place her in a cell I had once used for no other than Ad Ara, herself!
There, little Perigren, you and I, shall make her suffer torment like never heard of, nor witnessed before.
Thus she shall learn the true meaning.. and the price of ‘a friend’ in Hell.
And after we have had our fill, I shall not honor her by casting her to the ethernal voids of Oblivion.
I shall allow you, little Perigren, to devour..
..and consume her soul!”


Perigren Ostlanna Temez; Perigren, ‘peregrine’ kelimesinden türemedir ve yabacı, garip, egzotik anlamlarına gelir. Ostlanna ise, ‘oust’, dışlanmış, ötelenmiş kelimesinden gelir ve ‘dışlanmış/ötelenmiş Lanna’ demektir: Garip, egzotik, ve dışlanmış Lanna Temez.

 

 

arashkan şehri dungeons and dragons duygusal groups karakter analizi komedi modül role play serenity the plot thickens tundra walkers Whispers; A Cabal

A Demon’s Plan (18+) (Part One)

A Demon’s Plan (18+) (Part One)

Timeline:

Deep, spiteful thunders rumbled while fitful lightning arced erratically across a deep, dark gray, forever dreary, and an always twilight sky.

Dead, rotting lands stretched from horizon to horizon littered with cracks and chasms of fiery bursts and deathly, poisonous miasma, as ‘things’ moved, either lumbering, or slithering, or creeping as they hunted, in packs or singly, it didn’t matter. Here, everything was a predator and yet a prey.

THIS WAS HELL..

 

An enormous structure that vaguely resembled a chateau made of unhealthy looking, ugly yellow and botched brown brimstone rock, stood tall and mighty and with an arrogance that bespoke;

I AM SIN!

 

And deep in the bowels of that mighty chateau, a tall, lean, handsome, and deadly figure fumed sulfurously.

Many broken demonic corpses littered his otherwise unadorned, vast, and vaulted throne room, as the commander of the demonic armies walked up lazily to another one of his countless underlings; this one, a nearly sixteen feet tall massive beast of a demon.

The tip of the handsome commander’s great, curved blade scraped the ugly yellow, and botched brown brimstone rock floor, sending eager sparks with an eerie screech..

 

This story takes place
sometime between
Day One”
and
Aklımdan Geçenler

 

 

Tel me, Boulgrourm..” spoke the tall, handsome demon commander. “..do you know anything as to what happened to my favorite concubine Irine and my bride-to-be? And while at it, fill me in on why I have suddenly stopped receiving any word from that old fool, Themalsar, and why his demon pit is suddenly inactive, no, totally destroyed? Do let me know why the ruins of his temple is no more and why there is a little, not quite mortal grove; a garden with cherry blooms and pretty flowers where that temple is supposed to be, hmm?”

The massive, towering, sixteen feet form of Boulgrourm shifted uncomfortably as it stared down at the dark, lean form of his commander.

“I am a bruiser. A basher. A warrior. Not a sneaky little slut like your concubine—”, began Boulgrourm, but that was as far as he got.

 

“—to your loss!”

 

..the murmur of the dark, lean form of the commander was heard as he floated some fifteen feet away, his soot colored, raven-like wings stretched gracefully.

 

No one quite saw when he had retrieved Boulgrourm’s head from his enormous shoulders.

The giant demon certainly never saw it coming and his towering body did not even register that it was now missing a major and vital limp. It spurted thick, black, tar-like blood for a long minute until a wet, wheezing sound escaped the stump where his head had been a few, mere moments ago, and with a resounding crash, it toppled over..

..next to the other, broken bodies.

 

The dark, lean commander didn’t wait long to milk on the drama. He was a brutally practical creature. He didn’t like to put on any displays, much like the way he refused to adorn his throne room, neither the seat nor its cavernous halls with sinister-looking obscure designs, carvings, sculptures, or gaping, tormented skulls, like his predecessor, had.

 

Skulls? Really, now, how pedestrian and juvenile was that?

And quite putrid in its mentality, from the commander’s point of view.

 

What did adorn his halls and his throne were simple designs that could barely be called ‘eloquent’, if noted at all. But they all had their deadly purpose. A few had tested them when he had first ascended the throne and none had gotten as far as the ugly, obsidian-like stump of a throne.

Not even close.

 

Accept Irine.

 

A very cunning demon woman was, that Irine.

Or had been..

Which was why she had risen among the ranks of his sub-commanders so fast, as opposed to why his underlings thought she had.

If anything appealed to the commander of the demon armies, it was ‘well-placed cunning’..

..and ‘smoothness in application’.

Had the commander of the armies of the dark, infernal abyss been a mortal general, one could say he was ‘an idealist, but also a brutally practical professional with a near-obsessive care in his meticulous attention to detail’.

 

Good Heavens he was not a ‘mortal general’.

The mortal coil did not need a bloody conqueror such as he..

 

The commander had many unsavory tastes and an unorthodoxly unique understanding of his ‘command’, certainly, but everything he did, he did them for a reason and with cunning precision and deadly smoothness.

Hence his throne was carved and polished down to an even perfection, for the ease access of a smooth kill-rush, should the occasion demand, which, in all candor, was not quite infrequent.

 

Kardax’Trakxa “The Face” did not kill his subordinates out of whim. That was a trait his predecessor had favored.

Foolish, and quite wasteful.

He just removed them from command with an ‘immutable’ attitude because they were either incompetent or just stupid. After all, stupidity and incompetence was stupidity and incompetence wherever such subordinates were stationed.

And ‘The Face’ needed neither, anywhere among his ranks.

Those that showed promise, rose.

Those that didn’t, but still went for the ranks, didn’t.

The ability to assess one’s own worth and virtues correctly was also something The Face valued.

It certainly saved a lot of time.

He had, after all, spent the first few centuries following his ascension, clearing his ranks of the incompetent, the stupid, the nescient, the reluctant, the inessential, and the redundant..

 

His favorite concubine, Irine, had been very cunning and smooth in her efficiency in everything she did, whether she was in a bloody battlefield, or in his bed. Even her curves had been so; cunningly smooth..

And now she was missing..

..for too long to assume anything but her having been killed.

And so was his bride-to-be.

And that old fool, Themalsar.

 

True, the loss of that disgusting mortal was of little note for the commander, but he had been an anchor to the other end of the demon pit. Without him, the demon pit would collapse.

The fact that the pit had collapsed, told him the old, raving lunatic was indeed no more..

..so much so that, and as hard as he, Kardax’Trakxa “The Face” himself had tried, he couldn’t reach out and find his soul.

And Kardax’Trakxa had wanted that old man’s soul for over eight hundred years.

He had had a special hell prepared, just for him!

Whoever had slain Themalsar, it had been done in a manner that had utterly destroyed him; body and soul!

Had his bride-to-be, done this?

He doubted.

In time perhaps, she would attain such levels of destructive power, certainly, but it was too early, even with her soul-devouring succubi heritage.. She was just too young, too inexperienced and whatever that old fool was, Themalsar had never been weak.

 

“My Liege.”, said a soft, whispering, feminine voice.

 

‘The Face’ looked up but did not see the owner of the soft, whispering, feminine voice. He did sense the ‘surety’ and ‘confidence’ quality in that voice, though.

 

“Leave us.”, The Face said. “And remember, I do not tolerate fools. None of you are indispensable, essential, or vital, nor are you irreplaceable or invaluable.. The only constant for me is the goal. You can either be there to harvest its benefits or be an example to those who will be there when the time of harvesting arrives. When I want bruisers, I will find them in my Fester Pits, by the millions.

You are here with the sole reason to get me the answers I want before I ask them of you and accomplish the tasks with an accuracy that demands more than you can dare not to afford.”

 

The remaining sub-commanders made quiet and hasty retreat out of the vast, vaulted halls of the throne room..

..leaving a slim, slender, even, figure with short, lightly ‘tanned’, loose hair with two doe-like antlers crowning them, a pair of similarly colored, blade-like brows, one amber-brown, and another, pale-green eye, a generous, uncaring mouth, and a cute, perky nose, soft, nubile breasts, youthful hips, and long, runners legs..

She wore a loose, white, low front-cut, fine linen blouse, revealing her soft, inviting flesh, a dark, tight bodice that came up to just under her modest-sized breasts, and a pair of loose, black, belly dancer’s shalwars, displaying more of her delicious, tender flesh at the hips..

Separately, each of her singular features would have likely made any mortal girl appealing. Put together, with her strutting, arrogant stance, one could reasonably use phrases like ravaging, consuming, deadly, and murderous – from a beauty point of view.

However her outer, skin appearance was, her gaze projected something else. It was a rather unsettling sort of gaze.. It wasn’t ‘cold’, per say, but there was a distinct, soulless quality about that gaze; she could be making savage, coveting love.. or be busy slowly slicing open your throat with the same dispassionate and remote fix..

..and continue making love, while you shuddered and died of a very bloody ecstasy!

She didn’t move, she didn’t look behind at the sub-commanders filing out of the vast, vaulted halls, she didn’t stare at her commander, she certainly did not fidget, blush or shy away, as the tall, lean, muscular form of her liege made a slow, full circle around her, scrutinizing every inch, every curve of her.

 

She just stood there, in her breathless beauty, staring into some unseen distance, as her slender life hung on balance.

 

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

 

I sense your Aunt Irine’s arrogance in you..”, The Face said quietly as he stared down at the slender, tempting, taking, and alluring figure of the uncanny girl.

“..Perigren, isn’t it?”

“Perigren Ostlanna Temez, My Liege, as we both very well know, that you know..”, replied the girl, Perigren, in her soft, breathy whisper, still staring at the distance.

“Yes.. arrogant, smart, and knows she is both, and more.. How very Irine-like..”, mused The Face.

“I have no desire to fill her shoes, My Liege.”, said Perigren quietly.

“Not feeling up to the task?”

“No, My Liege. I don’t do ‘old shoes’.. I have my own.”, she replied with disconcerting coolness.

 

An eyebrow from The Face cocked up with amusement.

“Ow?”, he purred and there was now a.. dangerous quality to his voice.

 

“And I also don’t do the ‘concubine’ thing, My Liege.”, she added and there wasn’t a trace of fear, doubt, or anxiety in her voice.

 

She said it, and there it was.

 

“You sound quite sure of yourself, little Perigren.”, The Face said not bothering with threats, veiled or otherwise in his words.

And only Irine would have known, Kardax’Trakxa never threatened those he intended to kill.

He just would.

Threats only gave away your intentions, and possibly your weaknesses, neither of which The Face would show.

 

The Face gave nothing before he took everything..

 

“I am not my aunt, My Liege. You can either have me or my services. But not both. I know the limits of my body. I know exactly how much of what I can endure. I also know what happens once you have had yours; I am afraid, nothing truly survives you, My Liege. You can either put me to good use as an organizer for your covered ops and benefit from my services for, possibly, centuries or you can put me to use.. once.”, she said, with the same detached, cool, distant stare.

 

The lean, muscular demon lord and commander of the infernal legions stared down at the slim, coiled wire-like Perigren for a long, silent moment.

 

“A self-evaluating, in full control of her emotions kind of girl. Interesting. Much better than Irine ever managed. Interesting indeed. Whether you are just as impressive, is to be seen.”, The Face spoke finally. “Speak. What have you, to impress me..”

“First, My Liege, I must have the surety of your confidence, and that I shall not suffer your wrath for my candor. I am a pittance against your strength. I can not survive your wrath.”, she said and for the first time, she looked at her liege’s ‘face’.

“Your first words of council are to bind me, little Perigren?”, asked the demon lord in a silent, dreadful voice.

“My Liege. My life is in your hands. There is nothing I can do to avoid anything you can do to me. If I am to serve, however, I must be free to speak as I will and to act upon it. I must also have surety that unhappy underlings and sub-commanders do not try their way with me.”, replied Perigren, still gazing into her lieges bottomless face.

“Impress me, little Perigren. Then I shall give you your surety.”, The Face said, crushing the words in his mouth.

“Your chronicles. You must place it somewhere a bit more inaccessible than on the top of the table, next to your throne, My Liege.”, Perigren said cooly.

“I would like to see the unhappy soul that wishes to visit my chronicles, dear Perigren. Many have tried. I have tasted their ashes scattered around it.”, replied The Face.

 

Perigren Ostlanna Temez gazed at her liege’s face for a silent moment, as if debating her own life against his temperament. Then she spoke, and without a shrug, twitch or hesitation, in old, demonic tongue..

 

 

 

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

 

When she finished, she felt one of her liege’s enormous grasp around her slender waist, her chest, and her breasts, and the other around her narrow shoulders, and her throat.

“Hence, the need for surety, My Liege.”, she whispered, barely able to speak.

“You have managed to gain my attention, little Perigren. You have yet to impress me. Do it. And fast!”, the horrible wrath of The Face breathed down the back of her neck.

 

At what point he had managed to move from standing in front of the girl, to behind her and grasp her so thoroughly, Perigren never saw.

 

“Your wards have weaknesses, My Liege. Circumventing them was difficult, but they are not impregnable. Your chronicle.. Only you can touch it..”, she whispered hoarsely.

“I am well aware of the gaps in my wards, little Perigren. I put them there myself. As for the fact that only I can touch my chronicles, does not explain how you have read it.”, The Face’s searing breath burning into the back of the girl in his clutches, scouring the very skin off her slender figure.

“My Liege.. I will die, and very soon, before I am able to give you the satisfaction of an answer..”, she whispered in pain as her legs gave, and her eyes started to glaze and roll-up.

 

The Face unclenched..

..and the girl dropped on the floor, gasping for breath, her face distorted by the searing abuse of her liege.

Slowly, with a steely determination, she rose to her feet, even as her back smoked.

 

“You.. you have claimed someone.. as your very own.. My Liege..”, she whispered through clenched teeth. “Thus, she was able to touch and unfold the cover.. and gaze upon your chronicles.. without being disintegrated..”

 

Kardax’Trakxa “The Face” gazed down at the withering form of Perigren Ostlanna Temez for a long moment and many things crossed his cunning mind with uncanny haste.

 

“Tell me, little Perigren..”, he whispered down at the dying girl with a remorseless voice. “..you know this how?”

“She.. we.. were of the same batch of.. trainees, My Liege.. Of the eighteen pits in our particular village, only three.. survived.. She, myself, and a third, who was later disqualified and killed..

Years later, we returned to that village.. where she and I had been thrown into our own.. separate pits..

I.. I avenged myself.. I slew all the men and women who dumped things on us, everyday.. for years.. She.. she did nothing. Later, she would claim she reaped her vengeance.. But I was there, My Liege.. We were close.. And back then.. it did not matter..

Now, in the light that.. she would be your bride.. Such weakness in a bride-to-be of My Liege was not acceptable.. Such information.. could not be kept from your knowledge.. It was her, who told me how.. she had snuck here, into your throne room, My Liege, and how she was able to touch.. and read your chronicles.. And because she had claimed me.. as her friend.. I was also able to touch them and.. read them, My Liege..”, Perigren gasped more, panting harshly as she succumbed to the pain, and collapsed on the hard, brimstone rock floor and on her side.

“Aunt Irine.. she taught us of mortal weaknesses.. and how to recognize them.. Your bride-to-be, My Liege, has betrayed you.. She has passed her loyalties to another.. and bonded herself to him..”, she whispered as her sight failed.

“She has bonded herself.. to no other than Priceptine, the Archangel of Wrath, My Liege.. And it was her, who freed Him from the curse you put on him.. centuries ago.. during the war against.. Themalsar..”, she said and her slender body failed under the pain.

 

The Face stared down at the beautiful, slender figure, withered at his feet, and with merciless eyes.

Then he made a vague, grasping gesture in the air before him with his claw-like fingers as if to catch a fly, and murmured, “Not yet, my little Perigren Ostlanna Temez. Not yet. You might be weak in that patently pretty, and illustriously delicious figure, but I will make use of your other services and possibly for centuries..”

 

 

 

 


 

Perigren Ostlanna Temez; Perigren, ‘peregrine’ kelimesinden türemedir ve yabacı, garip, egzotik anlamlarına gelir. Ostlanna ise, ‘oust’, dışlanmış, ötelenmiş kelimesinden gelir ve ‘dışlanmış/ötelenmiş Lanna’ demektir: Garip, egzotik, ve dışlanmış Lanna Temez.

 

The demonic words written in the KARDAX’TRAKXA CHRONİCLES, and spoken by Perigren Ostlanna Temez;

 

My dear Irine.

 

There is little I can do for you. You have lost your sense of direction and you have allowed yourself to be led by your appetites for far too long.

 

A woman that satisfies my needs are many. What I need is more than tender flesh. I need a commander at my side. A commander with insight and a certain sense of urgency, neither of which you have.. You are, at best, excellent at any given task. But your need to appease your delights, your luxuries and your constant requests of mortal gore blinds you far too often to make a permanent arrangement feasible.. I am afraid, the day I shall have to slay you, approaches.

 

 

 

dungeons and dragons duygusal groups modül role play serenity the plot thickens tundra walkers Whispers; A Cabal

After Her..

After Her..

Timeline:

This is a recollection of certain events taking place from around the Themalsar War to centuries later and ending somewhere amongst the ruined lands of Demon Plains and Arcanton Mordenon’s faulty demon gate..

This is a story on how the letter-scroll Prince Gordigon gave to Arcantonic Palecog traveled through time and space to end up back in the hands of the little gnomic girl after she lost it during their hurried flight from the war zone of Themalsar.

It is also, however, a projection of the story
Left Behind (18+)

 

 

Brom Bumblebrim gets bit, again, by whatever it is that keeps biting him on occasion as he brushes by the Tinker-guy on his way out of the Great Arashkan Library. And on an impulse, he burglarizes him, unwittingly taking back the letter scroll that Tonic had lost, some 800 years ago, just past Ogre’s Foot during their first prophecy.

Stories:
Birthright (18+) – first part,
Quiet In The Library

 

As to how the scroll comes by the gnome, Gnine Tinkerdome is an adventure all by itself;

About a week after its loss, the scroll is first discovered by one of the scores of scouts belonging to Durkahan Paladins and the Koruxan Knights heading towards the battle against Themalsar. The document is handed over to the Keeper of Durkahan Archives who is killed, some two weeks later, along with hundreds of other military personnel during their final push against the Themalsar’s forces when goblin sappers strapped with fused bombs charge out of their hidden trenches and into the ranks of the Durkahan Paladins and Koruxan Knights..

 

When the war finally ends, the paladins, the knights, the elves, and the dwarves refuse to loot the bloody, stinking, corpse-infested battlefield. They collect their dead and wounded, and head home, leaving the Arashkan Military to deal with the mess.

The not-so-happy Arashkan Army loots everything they can find and take them back to their own city, inadvertently raising the economical level and power of the city by tenfold while all documents and writs found are sent to The Great Arashkan Library to be sifted and eliminated; a long and tedious process that unwittingly forms the foundations of ARIS, Arashkan Intelligence Service.

Some of the writs and documents are forwarded to the department of history, and some are handed over to the military, while others are sealed and archived in the royal palace vaults.

 

Many centuries later, a disreputable and quite a drunkard professor is excommunicated from the University of Arashkan for selling antique books and documents in the black market, also finds himself on the wrong side of the law for forgery and falsifying official documents.

Afraid of being locked in jail or worse, he seeks sanctuary among the Thieves Guild of the same city. The thieves ‘hire’ him to work for them in their ‘information department’, for a small fee to prove his loyalty; the professor is to bring his whole batch of pilfered antique books and documents.

Story: Birthright (18+) – second part

 

Unfortunately, the conflict between the thieves guild and the cutters known as Them Friggin Bastards escalate and turn into a bloody, open street warfare after the seemingly unexpected murder of a high standing aristocrat, a Lady Felishia Fremeir, over some stolen ‘royal gifts’. The professor, along with his marketable antiques are ‘shelved’ and put on hold, and shortly after, are totally forgotten when the professor’s liver finally gives in and he dies of over abuse of alcohol.

Story: Neye bulaştın, Felishia? (18+)

 

A few years later, a young half-elf thief named Darly ‘Darlius’ Dor searching for a means to avenge his unspoken lover, the Lady Felishia Fremeir brings his ‘friends’; Aager Fogstep, Laila Wolvesbane, Inshala Frostmane, Merisoul Xyrtowu, and Gnine Tinkerdome to the ‘information department’ of the thieves guild to ‘help’ them in their search to find the whereabouts of the highly wanted and elusive rebellion, Gar Thalot.

During their hours-long excavation among thousands and thousands of documents and bits and pieces of parchments with various information on the city, the city denizens and officials alike, the keen ranger corporal Laila Wolvesbane stumbles on a very old letter scroll. To the great surprise of everyone in the group, the letter is written by a Prince Gordigon Tinkerdome some 800 years ago to his father, King Drine Tinkerdome of Silent Hills. The letter scroll is handed over to Gnine Tinkerdome, also a member of the same company.

Story: Birthright (18+) – second part

✱ ✱ ✱

Historically, when the Demon Fog settles over Silent Hills, some few colonies of gnomes do manage to escape the disaster. The majority of these gnomes travel far south and west, never to be heard of again as they are hunted down and slain by some very large, orc-like creatures, possibly the first-ever sighting of the Greater Orken. Some few, though, secretly settle at Tinker Hills to form their own small and ‘silent’ community. Nearly three hundred years later, a highly intelligent, and dangerously proactive young gnome is born into this community; Gnine Tinkerdome.

 

Burning with curiosity about his possible heritage, and with the help of his bond, Whimsi Lola, the gnome, Gnine, starts to secretly break into The Great Arashkan Library in hopes of finding more information in the restricted, official archives, where he meets a rather unscrupulous hobbit named Brom Bumblebrim, who, upon a familiar sting, burglarizes the gnome and inadvertently retrieves the letter-scroll and returns it to Tonic..

Story: Quiet In The Library

 

This, seemingly minor ‘hiccup’, would constitute the basis of the obsession in the little gnomic girl, Tonic, and inadvertently trigger the events that would lead to the story; Left Behind (18+), some 180 years in the future, pushing and urging her to find a way to open an Astral Gate where time and space get distorted, to get back to her one and only love; Prince Gordigon Tinkerdome..

✱ ✱ ✱

In an unprecedented irony, Tonic follows her uncle, Arcanton Mordenon’s researches on ‘gates’ , and after decades of trials and errors, she finally constructs her own functional gate. Not a gate leading to the Abyss to summon demons, however, but something ultimately more destructive; an Astral Gate.. A plane of pseudo-existence where time, space, and matter are torn apart, shredded, and corroded down to their base moments, units and elements..

 

What becomes of Arcantonic Palecog after she steps through the Astral Gate to get to her prince is never quite clear. Rumors assume her to have been, inevitably torn apart in the Astral Void, as she sought, for relative centuries, to find a counter exit point to reach the moment she met her desire. But rare historical records found after the lifting of the Demon Fog in Silent Hills’ long-forgotten and crumbled vaults, however, mention one of their greatest kings to be a King Gordigon Tinkerdome son of King Drine Tinkerdome son of King Knine Tinkerdome, and speak of his fiery little queen.. The identity of the said queen, however, is never discovered as it seems to have been diligently never recorded!..

Interestingly, the name of King Gordigon’s firstborn is recognized in The Silent Archives; a beautiful little gnomic girl named Seressa Ton Wraiven!

Story: Left Behind (18+)

 

Having fulfilled its prophetic purpose, the letter scroll thus finds its way back, like the song, ‘Time’,

 

‘..Linking places, spaces, events, and relations by the simple expedience of relating the past to the future..’

to its true owner; Arcantonic Palecog!

✱ ✱ ✱

As for her pair, Seressa Wraiven slowly deteriorates into the madness of hopeless despair at the loss of her pair and is rumored to have last been seen roaming mindlessly, like the broken ghost of her former self around the devastated and rotting lands north of Durkahan City and Kahan Mountains, among the ruins of Demon Plains, ferally seeking a way to get passed the endless sea of undead and fiends, streaming out of Arcanton’s faulty demon gate.. and enter it, in hopes of finding a way, through the Abyss, to her pair or to just end it all..

Story: Post Left Behind (18+)

✱ ✱ ✱

Late one night, many hundreds of leagues away, a certain hobbit gets bit, perhaps one final time as he dons his lorica, his sword, his cap, and his cloak.

 

“There really was no need, my friend..”, Brom Bumblebrim mumbled quietly.

“I had already made up my mind.”

 

He hauls his backpack, grabs a simple, nondescript walking stick, and picks up his antique lyre, gives a final, mournful look at the empty depths of his home..

..and leaves.

 

Once more, he drops a note to his, now quite a bit older friend, Gamwise Samgee. Unlike the note he scrabbled nearly two centuries ago, this one would be a bit longer;

 

My dear Gamwise Samgee,

 

Due to quite expected reasons, I will be leaving and I am afraid there will be no coming back this time. You will find the deed for my home and everything I own, all listed and cataloged, in the small chest, in the study; my garden, my lands, my roses, my phloxes, my cherries, my books, my songs, my mother’s tea cups.. have all been transferred to your name and properly notarized. I would greatly appreciate that the aforementioned lands and properties stay in your family and never be sold and the roses, the phloxes, and the cherries are allowed to remain.

 

I have but two boons to ask of you; a package containing various odds and end, and a staff I had been trying to mend and repair for the past few years.. You will find them both hidden behind the seed sacks, down in the cellar. The package and the staff are to be taken to a certain house at Salt Woods. You will find the exact location marked on the map I left with the package. I am afraid you will personally have to make this trip as you are the only one I can trust for this delivery. You will have to approach the site from the north side and use a password to safely enter as the boundaries of the house is heavily warded.

 

For my second boon;

 

Live, my friend.

 

Live and be happy.

 

Well, that’s it, then..

 

I must now part with the acceptance of a curse to find what I should have taken when I had the chance. The time for me to shed my cowardice, my ignominy, and my disgrace has arrived.

 

I shall take up the mantle of my love and my passion, and wear it, even though I do not deserve it. I go to redeem my self of a sin I did by abandoning my heart for reason.

 

I leave to seek a lost soul and to right a wrong. A wrong I let happen one hundred and eighty years ago..

 

Farewell, my dear friend.

 

Yours truly,
Knight Laureate Brom Bumblebrim.

 

P.S. Be particularly gentle with the staff, if you would, please. I had meant to finish it before this journey, but I am afraid, my time is up.

 

When people come to call and ask about my grandfather’s rusty old sword collection, they will want to know if they are magic. Never answer that question. Always smirk —silently. The way I did. It will drive them crazy, but the legend must go on!

 

The password for the wards is;

 

“The Wonder In Pinks”..

✱ ✱ ✱

For many days and deep into the nights, he traveled north, skirting The Savage Plains and Endless Watch. He passed Tinker Hills, then Silent Hills, and decided to skim by Serenity City, rather than stay. He didn’t want this venture to turn into a parade. And just when he’d passed Gulls Perch, there she was..

Standing at the side of the road was a particularly grim-looking tundra elf barbarian bearing deep, frostbite scars, whirling dark blue storm tattoos, long, snow braids, and wearing the mark of a Riserin —the sign of the Princess of Ironfrost.

“You decided then..”, she said gruffly.

The hobbit nodded mutely.

“Took you bloody long enough.”, she scowled.

“Didn’t want you to come.”, he said quietly.

“Didn’t care what you wanted!”, she said bluntly. “You don’t get to make choices for others, Brom. Made her choice for her that one time, and look where it got you. Where it got her!

“We both paid the price.”, he replied inaudibly.

“Seems like only she paid any price.. ALL THE PRICE!“, the barbarian girl glowered. “You know, you are a lucky little hobbit, and my friend, because I so want to beat you into the ground, right here, right now!”

“Yea..”, replied the hobbit morosely. “..lucky me.”

“When you made her choice, you abandoned her, Brom. You made us abandon her. Do you think she would be the way she ended up, had you been with her?”, she said mercilessly.

“There really isn’t anything that you can say, that I haven’t already said to myself, Cora.”, Brom replied quietly.

“That is possible. But I shall give it my best!”, she bit savagely.

 

A few days later, when they were passing Misty Forest, they came out of the filmy haze like a pair of wraiths and joined them; a cold, sinister-looking man in dark, patchy clothes, holding the hand of a very pretty, ‘still needs some filling’ little girl with sad, forlorn eyes, strawberry lips, long, silky hair, and beautiful, curving horns. The man silently nodded at them and they start walking in the same direction.

“Dear, dear Brom.”, said the skinny girl, with misty eyes. “The heart wins when the mind submits. He wanted to beat you. But I said please, don’t. He asked me why he shouldn’t and I reminded him how I had to sneak up to him all those times and whispered into his ear, just to get his attention, the first time we met, and he barely took notice of me..”

“I noticed you. Four years before we ever met. You had my attention. Grilled those two, mule-headed ranger girls, Laila and Morel, for hours, but they refused to give me anything about you.. When we met, you were just too young..”, the sinister-looking man, Aager, growled. “I didn’t want to make choices for you. Nor take away your options..”

 

“Yet, by doing that, did you not do just that? Take away my choices?”

..she replied, but there was no rancor, nor rebuff in her voice. Inshala turned to Brom and spoke with a conversational, matter-of-fact voice.

 

“I had decided I wanted him. He knew I wanted him. He knew he wanted me. Yet he decided it was better for me to wait. He wanted me to stay as a baby, not a girl. And wait we did..” Then softly she added. “And lost years.. Years I wanted him.. Nothing is as sweet as the moment you want something.. One can live with regrets, but never with lost opportunities.

 

I carry no regrets. But I do miss the lost opportunities.”

“Told him pretty much the same things, all those years ago.. just more bluntly.”, inserted Cora. “But our hobbit here is a bit thick in the skull!”

 

They passed the ruins of Arashkan and decided not to stop at High Woods, even though Inshala very much wanted to.

They traveled further west, resupplied at Vodgar, and followed the road past Dark Forest.

They took a boat across Kahan Lake and beached at the dying shores of Demon Plains..

Carefully they traveled towards the dreary lands and there, at the very edge of the Demon Plains, they beheld the slight figure of another tired and desolate soul.

 

The beautiful heart of High Woods silently rose and told them that she has thus passed her legacy and her heritage to others and that she would accompany them in their sojourn to help find a friend and perhaps, find her twin sister as well.

With a steely determination, she would join them, and perchance her own Dorin..

“Is this what he would have wanted, my Queen?”, asked Brom sadly.

 

“I am queen, no longer, dear Brom. I shed my burdens ere I came. Nons shall take pride over my death, nor carry my burden as a trophy.”

..replied Alor’Nadien ne with her soft, brushing voice.

 

“You will always be my Queen and hold the throne of my heart.”, said the hobbit sincerely.

 

“Methinks your heart’s throne already has her queen, dear Brom, but my King is not here and by his stone, my grief is no longer bearable.

 

I have been offered many prospects since then; other kings and princes, merchants, and royalty. They never understood; I have never wanted to be queen. Yet I chose to be one for he was there to bear its burden with me. Much like he chose to be king, for that was the only way we would be allowed to be together. And by his hollow seat, day and night, year after year, for a century and more, I sat, appearing like the person I no longer am; strong, alive, and willing.

 

I no longer hold the strength nor the will to carry on. And I see no point to stay any longer, my friend. Where he is, he awaits. Where I go, will be there.”

 

“The fight. Who will—”, asked Brom, words failing him now.

“If the fight has come down to a tired, broken soul such as I, then surely we are lost already. New hands with vigor must pick up that mantle now, and bear its burdens. Not these tired hands.”, she replied solemnly.

“What of High Woods, my Queen?”

 

“My youngest granddaughter, Alor’Derune, the Allure of Dorin, has been chosen and the mantle passed. I shall miss the heart and the breath of my forest. The spirit of High Woods promised I would cherish and prosper. So I have. From the ashes of my forest, I have lived to see my kingdom reborn, and by my King’s love, my children and their children strive. But everything must come to a close. We thought we saved so many but lost so much more. We gave our all, and more until we had none..

 

I relish my moments in this life. And I cherried my beloved friends. But like my King, most are gone, now. This life no longer offers me favors, nor passions. Thus I yearn for the other and for over a century now, I have counted my days. I have kept him waiting because he asked this one boon of me; that I live and be happy.

 

I have lived, but he did not know, he had bereft me of all happiness when he left. Nay. I think I have kept my promise. It is time he honors his and accepts me.”

 

Brom quietly nodded. That was all he could do. When a person talked in a language one could understand, but not relate, one knew, they were on two, very different levels of perception; the Queen of High Woods, Alor’Nadien ne Feymist Shieldheart was already gone. What stood here, was nothing but her shade.

 

Yes.

They had given their all.

And more.

But such was the required sacrifice of the few, select mortals to save their world from annihilation.

 

“It’s a bit late to start. We have lost the noon sun. Will make them stronger as the hours pass. Might as well make camp early, and start at first light.”, Brom said.

“Did I ever tell you how much I hate ghosts, wraiths, and zombies? Ow, and demons.. Especially the ones with the long, barbed tentacles..”, he added with a voice that was barely audible.

“Yea.”, replied Cora said from somewhere behind him. “They always go for the little, fat ones!”

Brom snorted.

He squinted at the distant lands, dead and rotting. He took a deep breath and faced his preening destiny.

For a long, long moment, Brom thought of the very tall, very dark girl that had ruined him for everyone else..

He remembered the time when she had whispered into his mind. The time when he and Cora had thought they were going up against a terrible demon, all those years ago, on Ice Wolf Horde’s request. It had also been the time they had first met.. Thinking back, she could have whispered at Cora, yet she had opted to whisper to him.

He remembered the way she had flopped and klutzed, face down into the snow, displaying all her curvy glory in pinks.. After nearly two hundred years, he could still remember that image, and so vividly..

He remembered when she had gone up against Cora in defense of her pair, Tonic, at Mount Dreadmaw, and had so dearly paid the price.

And he remembered the way she had blushed so furiously and had been so embarrassed that time when he had caught her with Tonic’s foot in her mouth.

“This isn’t what it looks like!”, she had blurted in unveiled panic, with Tonic’s foot still in her mouth. “I am not eating her!”

Brom wondered why she had feared that he would think her eating Tonic.

Had she done something silly as she often did, in her past, and someone had said something stupid to her? What kind of a demented idiot would be so cruel, he wondered.

 

And suddenly he knew he needn’t seek the cruel idiot far away.

That cruel idiot was right here.

 

Then, just like that, he started to shake.

And silently, Brom Bumblebrim wept..

..he wept while staring at the dead lands where ‘The Wonder in Pinks’ was off, somewhere, not even sure if she were alive. Her beautiful mind gone, as she crept and crawled in the filth of the rotating land towards the demon gate.

 

“I will not offer comfort by saying it isn’t your fault. Because as sure as it is, it is mine as well, Brom Bumblebrim. When you chose to do what you did, I chose to stand by you. Many things could have been different if I had ignored you and just picked you up and threw you at her! Knowing her, she would have caught you, and kept you.. along with her dignity and sanity..

You are not the first to think less of themselves and feel unworthy, Brom. And Seressa was a great soul..”, Cora said.

“She always was. And like the coward I am, I turned away from her, thinking she deserved better, deserved more.. Never bothered to ask her what she wanted. Just like all the other animals out there who never bothered to ask her what she felt.. I sinned her, Cora..”, Brom shuddered as he wept. “I burned her when I abandoned her.. I did her wrong and now, I dragged you into this.. I deserve everything you want to do to me.”

“Well, when you say it like that, makes me wonder just what kind of a girl you think I am. Shall I fetch my whip? Would you rather pole lashing or have me do it while you are stretched on a rack!”, she said mildly. “As for the dragging, I doubt you could drag me anywhere even if you tried.. That’s what friends are for; being dragged without being told. It was my choice to be your friend, Brom, and so was accepting you as mine. You were there when I was down. You let me lean on you. Yes, I never cried on your shoulder, but I did know that your shoulder was always available should I ever needed it.. Now I am here for you to lean back. Doesn’t mean I am not pissed off at you. This one, though, I am doing for her.”, she said.

She looked down at the shuddering hobbit, removed her heavy fur cloak, and settled it over him.

“Go on. Get some sleep. I will cover the first watch with that Aager-guy. He is worse than I am. I didn’t use to talk because I was so ‘can’t be bothered’ and ‘cool’. He doesn’t even care about cool. The only one I have ever seen him smile is his wispy little wife. Wonder if I should ask him just how old he is.. and why! Pain to get him to talk.. And creepy as hell, the way those two just ogle at one another like newly eloped teens, without ever saying a single word.”

“Tomorrow is going to be one, long day..”, sniffed Brom.

“Yes.”, agreed, Cora. “Tomorrow, we enter Demon Plains and retrieve a friend. Two, if we are lucky.”

Then she looked at the shade of the Queen of High Woods, Alor’Nadien ne, lost in her own sorrows; loved ones and friends..

“But I mean to leave no one behind. A girl of her stature and grace needs a proper stone and a decent shrine. Not a ditch in the ground..”


The twin sister referred to here, is the recorded kinship of Arcantonic Palecog as a Feymist, on the day Alor’Nadien ne is born, by Nadine Graciousward. Both of their names are entered into the royal archives of Bari Na-ammen on the same day, making them, ‘technically’, sisters and twins..

 

The staff Brom refers to, is the Staff of Blooms that belonged to Seressa Wraiven since shortly after her graduation from the Academy of Melshieve.

During the story, Left Behind (18+), Seressa breaks the staff in wroth and despair, never wanting to see the beautiful, pink cherry blooms that it would sprout. During one of his visits to check in on her, Brom finds the broken pieces of the staff and takes them, in the hopes that he could fix it, and return it to Wraiven, proving to her that the broken can be made whole again and that nothing is beyond repair.

 

And that is the summed-up story behind the mystery of how in the blazes did that letter even get here.. Good luck discerning any sense out of that paradoxical loop! This is where an unforeseen variable is introduced into a perfectly linear equation, turning it into an infinite loop, causing it to either freeze or crash your processor.


arashkan şehri dungeons and dragons duygusal groups karakter analizi komedi modül role play the plot thickens tundra walkers Whispers; A Cabal

What do you see in the mirror?

What do you see in the mirror?

Timeline:

Arcantonic and Brom have returned from their ‘humble’ side trip into the Great Arashkan City, back to the inn and Brom has given the small, gnomic girl the letter scroll he picked from Gnine Tinkerdome. The letter that was given to Arcantonic by no other than Gnine’s great, great, great-something ancestor, Prince Gordigon Tinkerdome.

 

This story takes place around noon,
on the same day as, and a few hours after
Quiet In The Library.

 

 

SOMETIME LATER, IN THE ROOM FACING THE STREET..

The sun had risen, traveled through a beautiful, bright blue sky, and settled somewhere at noon, casting the smallest of shadows, but the Tundra Walkers were still slumbering in an inn, in the Richarc District of the Great Arashkan City.

Cora Sleet slept soundly among the wreckage of her room, on top of a heap of feathers; the remains of what had just last night been, a rich, soft bed.

The softness was still there, but the bed was not.

She drooled and snored a bit, giving her an adorable cast, quite in contrast with her otherwise savage appearance.

Her long, white hair was unbraided too, which was a novelty on her part. Cora loved her long, white hair, but being the practical girl she was, she never wanted it getting in the way. Particularly when the bloodletting started. Besides, she’d been threatened by a large, cruel pair of scissors a few too many times in the past by her mother unless she braided them and kept them out of the stew and those threats had stuck.

Now, however, her hair was ‘down’, so to speak, and she was having a rather pleasant dream.

Whatever she was dreaming, she watched it with a content smile on her face.

Too bad it would be cut short as she would be rudely awakened by the innkeeper —probably a mistake on his part.

She, with the help of Seressa, the very tall, very dark girl sleeping a few rooms down the hall, had ruined his inn, after all.

✱ ✱ ✱

TWO ROOMS AWAY..

Seressa was also sleeping with a content smile on her face.

Whether her smile was due to a pretty dream she was having, the engaging evening she’d had with the pretty barbarian girl, breaking the proverbial ice, and the rest of the room, or for the fact that she had snuggled up to her pair, was unclear. From a totally neutral perspective, the very tall, very dark girl looked like someone who hadn’t quite outgrown sleeping with her dolls, because that’s exactly how it seemed; the giant girl had hugged her little, gnomic pair, into her bosom, and both were breathing softly into one another’s face.

 

The whole scene was endearing..

..and a bit alarming!

 

Arcantonic Palecog slipped out of the ginormous feather bed as silently as she could. She didn’t want Seressa to wake up.

Tonic had been equally shocked, surprised, and quite unexpectedly happy when she’d woken up to find her pair not only sleeping with her in the same bed but snuggled up, the way they had.. And she’d been hugging her because she was so warm.

And she felt much softer, and nicer than the feather bed!

She also smelled of phloxes, cherry blooms, and her unique self. A combination Tonic had resisted for as long as she had but had caved horrible at the end.

It had been hard for the little gnomic girl to admit she liked her pair and that she smelled simply awesome!

Seressa’s face was at peace when she slept. More now than for these past few days. In fact, she seemed happier than she had ever seen her before.

Arcantonic Palecog felt no rancor, nor resentful at having finally been ‘coin pursed’ by her pair.

The unscrupulous little weasel of a hobbit had been right about at least one thing; her pair, Seressa Wraiven, had a beautiful smile..

Hence, she slipped out of the bed, shivered a bit, and quietly hoped down, and softly landed on the cold wooden floor.

She considered bothering with her boots but decided against it.

Trying to slip her left boot seemed like too much trouble, just now.

She hamstered to her artificer’s satchel, dug her hand in it, and pulled out a small, palm-sized mirror and a brush, scurried to the window, cracked open a sliver between the curtains, and with the help of the mirror, she hastily brushed her hair and bunned it up.

It was noon outside.

That was to be expected. She and Brom had returned quite late that evening.

She dumped the mirror and brush back into the satchel, shouldered it and silently walked to the door, and slipped out.

The hallway was clear.

Good, she thought. No need for random encounters.

She silently crept up to the room, furthest from the stair. Her quarry was there.

Tonic thought of the brush and the mirror.

Had it been just a month ago, she would be laughing at herself.

Tonic very nearly never brushed her hair. She would just pull them back, then bind them haphazardly with anything that was readily available; a bit of string, a broken piece of twig, a stand of vine, or a piece of cut wire.. Now it was adorned with one of Seressa’s many scrunchies, and she felt no shame nor guilt whatsoever at having burglarized into her pairs’ collection either! Apparently, this burglarizing things from her pair was becoming a habit for her.

 

This brush and mirror were a late habit, though. An acquired, or self-enforced habit, to be more precise..

A habit since the Gordigon boy!

 

There!

Happily admitted!

The sky was still standing.

There were no sudden earthquakes.

And no blaring brasses of doomsday was heard!

That hadn’t been so hard now, had it?

✱ ✱ ✱

THE FURTHEST ROOM DOWN THE HALL..

Tonic knocked on the door of her quarry and politely waited.

But there came no reply.

She tried again to no avail.

“Alright then.”, she said. “We go, Plan B!”

Tonic loved Plan B as it was pretty much always back to back with Plan A;

Knock twice.

No answer?

Barge in! —was Plan B!

Tonic had many bad habits, or rather, shortcomings, true, but she always prided on her Plan B. It was easy, practical, and more or less, always produced a solution.

 

“Brom?”, she whispered.

No answer.

The room’s curtains were pulled and it was somewhat dim. Much like her room had been.

“Brom?!”, she hissed.

Still no answer.

Damit. Was she going to have to go for Plan B, again? She’d always done Plan B, back to back with Plan A, but never a Plan B, back to back with another Plan B! This was going to get awkward real fast.

Then she heard a sniffling, shuffling noise from the far corner of the room.

She slinked in that direction to find Brom sitting on a stool, facing the corner!

“What the—”, she began.

“What is it, Miss Tonic?”, she heard him say.

“Umm.. I.. I thought we had agreed on you not needing to ‘Miss’ me all the time..”, she said hesitantly.

 

Tonic was not a good mood reader. When it came to moods, that was Seressa’s department and Tonic had rather strong opinions about poaching. Some deep instinct, however, told her that something was wrong.. with Brom.

 

“No.”, said the hobbit. “We had agreed that me calling you ‘Miss Tonic’ sounded a lot like I was saying ‘I MISS TONIC‘, to you and that it was weird and just creepy.”

“Well.. When you say it like that, it does sort of sound weird.. and creepy.”, stumbled Tonic.

“What can I do for you, Miss Tonic?”, repeated Brom, “I would have thought you’d have had enough adventuring, and certainly enough of me, for one day.”

 

Tonic noted the weary in the hobbit’s voice. She couldn’t discern the reason for it. Only notice it.

Well.. At least that was something. She was getting better at this.

“Baby steps, Tonic, baby steps..”, she told herself.

 

“No, no.. No more adventuring for today..”, said Tonic, a bit hesitantly. “I just wanted to thank you.. For last night. Never got the chance to say it properly.”

“It’s alright Miss Tonic. No need for thanks. We both.. enjoyed it.. in our own way, I suppose. Feeling any better?”, came the hobbit’s voice.

“Much.”, she said promptly.

“Mission accomplished, then.”

“Perhaps.”, said Tonic, a bit perplexed.

Something was going on here. With the hobbit. But she wasn’t sure if she should push.

 

“PLAN B.. PLAN B.. PLAN B..”, choired inner Tonic suddenly!

 

“Alright. Plan B, it is.”, murmured the gnomic girl.

“Hmmm..?”, asked Brom.

“You.. You brought back Gordigon’s letter for me..”, she said. “How did you..?”

“No mystery there. Miss Tonic.. I picked that Tinker-guy’s pocket on the way out of the library..”

“You.. You did what? But why?”, she asked incredulously.

“For reasons, I don’t really want to fathom, the boy seemed important to you, since you went into all the trouble to want to warn him but refused to meet him face to face yourself. I have some ideas as to why, but I just don’t want to entertain them because none of them are good, per se, and all of them are creepy as hell! But I thought, perhaps you’d want something of him. A memento, maybe. Something personnel.. Suffice to say, the letter came as much of a surprise to me, as it did to you. As to how it came by the Tinker-guy, I have no idea..”, said the hobbit in the dim.

 

There was a moment of silence as the gnomic girl tried to digest that.

 

“I.. I don’t know what to say.. Thank you.”, she said with a small voice. “I can not phrase how happy it made me. It broke my heart when I’d found out I’d lost it, back at Ritual Forest. I.. I hope you didn’t get in trouble because of our.. little adventure last night.”

 

“Miss Tonic.” Brom’s voice said and there was a district steely quality to it. “Our venture last night, was not a little adventure, no matter how we stretch the words. It was possibly one of the greatest events of this time. It was monumental and its echoes will reverberate back and forth between history and years, no, centuries to come. Willy-nilly, you have changed the past, present, and the future of not only Silent Hills but you have also changed that of High Woods, Bari Na-ammen, and all the lands and civilizations in the kingdom that will get affected by both. Whatever the celestials are playing at, Miss Tonic, it is subtle and it is huge!”

 

“Well.. When you say it like that..”, Tonic stammered.

 

“Trust me when I say, I am putting it ‘lightly’, Miss Tonic. Many, many people will live because of our little adventure last night. And many, many people will also die, because of it.”

 

Tonic gulped.

 

“I.. never really thought about it like that.”, she admitted with a flushed face.

“Don’t fret, Miss Tonic, neither did I. Not until much later. But the deed is done.”, Brom said.

“You didn’t tell Cora..”, she said.

“No.”, replied the hobbit shortly.

“Why? She must have been.. angry..”, Tonic said carefully.

“She was. And she tried to grill me. Though I must give her credit; she didn’t really try very hard.”

“I don’t understand..”, said the gnomic girl with a baffled voice.

The hobbit sighed and turned around. But because of the poor light, his face was still not quite visible.

“Because Miss Tonic, both Cora and I know, she is not my mother, my elder sister, my aunt nor my grandmother. We are friends and we are equals. She doesn’t get to squeeze information out of me. This, she knows and this, she respects.”

“Would have made it easier.. and convenient had you just told her though.”

“Easier, convenient.. and totally wrong. It wasn’t my secret to give, Miss Tonic, it was yours. But even if it had been mine, caving in just because she glared down at me, would have made her lose the only thing we much care and have in common.”, the hobbit said.

“Which is?”

“Mutual respect, Miss Tonic. Mutual respect.”

 

Another pause ensued.

 

“You are.. You seem out of sorts.. Out of your self, Brom. What is it? What is wrong?”, Tonic asked.

“Something that has little to do with you, Miss Tonic.”, said the hobbit’s voice, and this time, Tonic did catch the nuance.

Slowly and carefully, she approached the corner where the hobbit sat.

Slowly and carefully, she reached down at him, took his face in her small hands, and raised it.

 

Broms’s face was a blotchy mess.

 

And with a very unexpected but equally tender insight, Tonic refused to describe what she beheld.

Very quietly, she spoke.

“‘We suffer. We mourn. We sing and we celebrate.. We do. And what we do, we share!‘”, she quoted Brom’s own words.

 

“Did every single one of those, and then some, just this very evening, Miss Tonic.”, said Brom with brimming eyes.

“We did. And we did not.. A fool, I am. This, I have learned. And this, I know. But I would not have expected a fool out of you, Master Bard.”, she whispered.

 

Brom stared at the diminutive cute face holding his. He didn’t shy his eyes from her but stubbornly held them.

“We bards make the best of fools, Miss Tonic.”, whispered Brom.

 

Tonic produced the little mirror from her artificer’s satchel again and held it before the hobbit’s face.

“Tell me, then, Master Bard.. What do you see in the mirror?”

“A blotchy face.”

“No snarks, Mr. Brom.. What do you see in the mirror?”

“A funny!”

“No snarks!”

“A bushy hedgehog!”

“No snarks! What do you see?”

“A face in dire need for sleep!”

“I said no snarks, damit!”

“A hobbit about to lose his temper!”

“Wow. I ask one simple question of you, and you can’t even give me a straight answer.”, she said. Then her voice steeled. “Even if you were much, much taller, much more muscular, and prettier, you don’t deserve my pair, Mr. Brom. You don’t deserve Seressa Wraiven!”

 

Brom froze. His face lost what remained of its color and hardened.

 

“That was a bit harsh, don’t you think?”, he said with an angry voice.

“Harsh is when I produce Mechaber, right here and now, and beat some sense into you!”, she replied savagely.

 

And the hobbit lost all his will.

His shoulders slumped.

He lowered his face.

He passed one hand through his bushy, brown hair and absently scratched his head.

 

“It doesn’t matter what I see, Miss Tonic..”, he said in a defeated voice. “It all amounts to the same thing; a little hobbit!”

“Would you like to know what I used to see in the same mirror?”, she blazed.

“Not particularly, no.”, Brom mumbled.

Tonic ignored him.

“I saw the same things you did, Mr. Brom; A lot of snark—”

“Your point being?”, asked Brom tiredly.

“—until I met Gordigon. Now I see a girl in that mirror. A girl that could use a brush, and possibly an eyeliner every once in a while..”

“Must be some neat, magic mirror!”, mumbled Brom.

Tonic glared down at the hobbit.

“Would you like to know what I see when I look at you?”

“Not particularly, no.”, repeated Brom.

Tonic ignored him again.

“When I look at you, I see a ‘guy'”, she hissed angrily.

“Umm.. Your point being?”, Brom repeated that too.

 

Apparently, this conversation was heading straight into a ‘broken record repetitions’ for Brom..

 

“Stop looking at misery and start looking at hearts, you dolt!”

“Eh?”

“Has it ever occurred to you why I kept shouting ‘Eyes Front’, at you, Mr. Hobbit?”

“Because you are an insufferable little—?”, started Brom.

But the gnomic girl cut in..

“Because you are a threat!”,

“Eh?”

“I feared you would steal my pair from me because you are a guy! That’s why I didn’t want you staring at her. Don’t you see?”

“…”

“The free staring was alright but it all became a case of morality for you because you saw and deciphered that she was even greater on the inside and you actually felt something for her.. And all of a sudden, you decided you are not ‘guy enough’? Wow. I have seen some arrogance and high drama in my time, but you, sir, just landed on my top ten, and I was graced by the best of them; my uncle Arcanton Mordenon.. Should’ve seen him lording over his demons, the way he did.. A three-foot midget looking down on demons eight times his height!”

Brom just stared at the gnomic girl.

“The hardest thing in life, Mr. Hobbit, is not besting our foes. It is besting ourselves, our fears, our shortcomings, our insufficiencies, and our own stupidities.. This, I figured too late, and now my chance for the love of my life is gone, and I will have to suffer that loss for the rest of my days, Master Brom.”, she said and her own eyes were brimming too now.

“I implore you. No. I am begging you. Please don’t make my mistakes. One idiot is far more than what our odd little family can handle..”

She wiped her brimming eyes, reached over to the hobbit and held his face once more, and gently kissed him.

“You are a good man, Brom Bumblebrim, and Seressa Wraiven does not require tall, muscular, or pretty. She’s already tried those.. Not a lot of good they did her! They all saw pinks, but never got past it. What she needs, what she wants is love. And care. And sentient intuition. And the ability to put those into honest words.. You have all those, and then some..”

Tonic took a deep, shuddering breath and considered something. Then she sighed, dipped her hand into her satchel once more, and drew out a rather large, but slim book.

“Here.”, she said. “This.. uhhh.. belongs to Seressa. It is everything about her. You will find anything and everything you need to know about her in this, including which shades of pink she likes, all color-coded.. Some of the things in here are.. quiet private and.. sensitive.. One could say, it’s Wraiven’s User Manuel. She.. she doesn’t know I have it, even though she had originally prepared it specifically for me. I would much appreciate it stayed that way. Skim through it, find out all you want to know about her, then return it to me, discreetly, please. It would truly break her heart if she found out I.. liberated it from her, and gave it to you..”

Brom silently reached out and took the book.

As it turned out, it wasn’t really a book, but a hand prepared dossier. It had the arrogant symbol of the Academy of Melshieve embossed on its dark blue-green cover.

Brom gently opened the cover to see Seressa’s handwriting. It was a recursive, delicate script, very tenderly inked, like it reflected the inside, the very soul of the owner of the hand that had written it;

 

To my bestest and awesomest pair:

Days will always be better because we will have you..

 

“See.. And find out, Brom, exactly what you are missing.. And if it’s her size that still worries you, use a bloody stool!”, she scowled.

 

Brom stared at the sentiment written by Seressa Wraiven for a long moment. Then, slowly but firmly, he closed its cover.

 

“No.”, he said. “I shall not break into her privacy. From Wraiven, I shall never take what she does not impart freely.. Taking is all everyone has ever done to her.. Take, but never give..”

 

“What?”, said Tonic with a shocked expression. “I just gave you Seressa on a silver platter!”

 

“Wraiven is not a cuisine to be served on a silver platter, Miss Tonic, delicious as she might be.. For what I want, I must give the effort, and suffer her trials. For everything she gives, she must divulge knowingly, willingly, and with the intention of giving them to me.. I shall not use shortcuts, nor cheat my way into her good graces. Otherwise, all credit will go to the bloody stool!”, he replied harshly.

 

He looked down at the embossed dossier in his hands with honest longing.

 

“Reading this might get me a Wraiven, but it will not be my Wraiven. And it sure as hell will make me worse than all the other animals out there, Miss Tonic.”

 

And handed the dossier that beheld everything about Seressa Wraiven, back to the gnomic girl.

 

Tonic stared incredulously at the hobbit before her.

Then, slowly, she smiled.

“Now, I know you truly care..”, she said softly. “Thank you, Mister Brom, for your honesty, your insight, and your care for my Seressa. Should something ever happen to me one day, to you, and only you will I freely entrust her wellbeing..”

For a very short moment, she paused, then signed.

“I will not, however, help you in this matter, Master Bard, because I am a selfish girl who just recently realized the kind of awesome person my pair truly is.. But I shall not hinder, nor undermine your efforts, which, I am sure will intrigue her to no end.”

With that, Arcantonic Palecog turned around and left..

✱ ✱ ✱

Brom awoke.

He wasn’t sure what had awakened him but it sounded vaguely like someone was pleading for help..

After the pestering little gnomic girl had left, Brom had sat in that stool for only a short more while. With a tired sigh, he’d risen, taken off his coat, his shirt, and pants, and jumped into the feather-soft bed.

He hadn’t bothered with the boots.

He was a hobbit.

And hobbits wore no shoes.

Everyone knew that.

 

“Please. I meant no disrespect nor was I intruding.. I certainly wasn’t trying to peek, miss!”

 

Brom opened his eyes and looked around blearily. Yep. Someone was pleading and it didn’t sound good.

The shortlist of his friends ran through his head.

Seressa wouldn’t be threatening anyone. She was too cultured. She would instead put them to shame, and send them crying in confused humiliation. Unless someone had been dumb enough to have threatened her pair, in which case, they probably deserved the kind of hell that was coming their way and there wouldn’t have been anyone left to plead anyway.

Tonic, then?

Naa.. The little midget could be insufferable at times and a bother all the time, but she was not big on human interactions and would have left it to her pair to have handled whatever that required interacting.. And by some misfortunate chance that she was forced to act on her own initiative, she would go for ‘the big guns and grenades’.. Since the room he was sleeping in was still intact, however, it was probable that the rest of the inn was too.

Tonic could be quite destructive..

But not very surgical in her precision.

 

Brom sat up.

Cora!

“Damit!”, he spluttered. “Damit. Damit. Damit. Damit. Can’t a hobbit have a moment of peace?”

He jumped out of his bed, swiftly put his shirt and pants on, ran to the door, and yanked it open..

..to behold a scene he had dreaded.

 

Cora Sleet was holding up a man —the innkeeper— with one strong arm and had her ginormous sword pressed against his throat with the other!

“Then what were you doing in my room?”, she hissed at the poor man.

“I.. the rooms were rented for one day by Master Bard and I had merely come to ask if you would be continuing your stay. When I knocked, no one answered so I entered to make sure everything was alright and to pick up the plates, bowls, and mugs for the food and drinks you had ordered.. and when I saw the room in a wreck and you lying there, I thought someone had done a crime in my inn!”, the innkeeper spluttered.

“So you thought it’d be a good idea to grope a sleeping girl?”, Cora blazed.

“Miss, please. I wasn’ groping you. I am a happily married man. I have daughters your age!”, he cried.

“I doubt you have daughters one hundred years old!”, snarled Cora.

The innkeeper shrank and stared at the savage girl with the long, white hair.

“I.. am sorry I offended you.. uhh.. young.. miss.. But you look barely old enough to drink! And I was bent over you to make sure you were still breathing! Please!”

 

“Damit!”, cursed Brom as he jogged up to Cora before she did, whatever she was planning on doing at the devastated innkeeper.

 

“I thought it was rude to talk about a girl’s age in these civilized places you call cities!”, hissed the barbarian girl.

The poor innkeeper just gaped at her.

“Cora.”, said Brom as he came up to her. “Please put the honorable innkeeper down and your sword away.”

“This little minks tried to—”, started Cora.

CORA SLEET!“, Brom barked. “PUT THE SWORD AWAY. NOW!

 

Cora froze.

She slowly turned and looked down at the little hobbit, her eyes ablaze.

And a whole slew of expressions crossed her face until she settled on one.. or maybe two; shock, and surprise.. followed by a third; hurt!

Slowly, she removed her sword from the innkeeper’s throat, and with restrained fury, rammed it into its scabbard.

Then she lowered the innkeeper, her eyes still burning and still on the hobbit.

 

“Thank you.”, Brom said. “Now. I am not sure if we will be staying another night, honorable innkeeper. But we will pay for the rooms for another day. If we are not here, you may keep the pay, and rent them out at your convenience.”

“Tha.. Thank you, Master Bard.”, stammered the innkeeper. “But.. the room.. This room.. it’s destroyed! Who shall pay for the damages done?”

“We shall cover the damages done, honorable innkeeper. The room’s condition is due to some unexpected altercations late last night. Nothing important.. Merely unexpected.”, Brom said meaningfully. Then, with a great show of regret, he sighed, “Girls!”

Whatever the innkeeper thought the hobbit implied, he did not comment. He did cock an eyebrow though.

“How much do you surmise the repairs for the rooms will cost, honorable innkeeper?”, he asked amiably.

The innkeeper stared into the room, with a haggard expression. It was quite apparent he cared for his inn.

He did a quick estimation in his mind, turned around, and told the sum to the hobbit.

 

Brom gulped.

It wasn’t a small sum but this was Arashkan and they were also on the richer district of the city.

 

“We shall pay for the damages done, sir, and then some, for the loss you will likely suffer during the time of your repairs. Does that sound agreeable for you?”, he asked politely.

“Of course, Master Bard, of course. You are a fine example of your kind, sir, and an excellence at your art. My wife and daughters wept at your performance.”, said the innkeeper genuinely.

“Thank you, honorable innkeeper. I do but try.”, replied Brom happily. “Now, if you please, I would like to have a word with my colleagues and listen to what they have to say about shaming a bard at the inn he has performed.”

“Please..”, said the innkeeper, gave a quick glance at the still simmering girl with the long, white hair and the ginormous sword, “..they are all fine, beautiful, and honorable ladies. Don’t be too harsh on them. I will have dinner sent to your rooms. I noted.. uhh.. the lady here, preferred our kababs and midgetoes.. Would.. would she like another treat of them?”

“Yes, yes she would. Very much.. Thank you honorable innkeeper.”, replied Brom.

The innkeeper bowed at Brom, carefully nodded at Cora, turned around, and went down the stairs..

 

“You.. you shouted at me.”, fumed Cora. And there was a shimmer in her eyes now.

“You dishonored me Cora. At an inn I performed and stayed.”, he said, but not too harshly. “And you never, and I mean NEVER, attack or threaten an innkeeper.”

“I was not aware these.. innkeepers were holy men!”, Cora said and all the heat in her stance was gone.

“They are not holy men, Cora. Not in the sense you mean. But they are hosts. They house strangers of all races and colors. And they respect their privacy and keep their secrets.. Yes, we pay for their services, but not for the kind of crap they have to take from every guest under their roof. Innkeepers, my dear Cora, are the core of what we call, ‘guest and host’ relation. It is easy to guest someone you know. Not so fun when you have to put up with strangers, and then clean up after them, day and night, while risking their own lives, the lives of their families, and their other guests. Consider yourself in his place, then think what it would be like if everyone acted as you did.”, he said.

 

Cora was silent for a moment.

 

“I do not understand your civilized rules, Brom. But I know the responsibilities of a host to his guests and the responsibilities of guests to their host. It is different in my land, but then, my land is not civilized and it is a harsh land.”, she said mutely.

“Your land is a beautiful land, Cora. Your land is ‘The Endless White’.”, he said with a smile.

“Loved that song.”, she said quietly.

Cora was.. She felt hurt that Brom had shouted at her. More so because the last time anyone had shouted at her, had been her mother.. just before she’d gone off to her watch. The day her Ironfrost, and all her people had died..

Her eyes shimmered some more.

“One day..”, she said with her soft, throaty voice. “..if you would write a saga for me, I would want that song to play.”

“Deal.”, replied Brom. “Now.. How in the blazes did you two destroy this room, girl? We are going to lose very nearly everything we earned thus far, because of your little, fun night!”

“We had a girl’s night. I told you already.”, Cora replied seriously.

“Cora. I do not think either you nor.. Tonic’s pair knows what a girl’s night really is.. When people say, let’s party and wreck a room, they don’t mean… THIS!”, he said pointing at the devastation.

“I do not understand. This is wrecking. Did we miss something?”, she asked and peered curiously into the room.

Brom sighed.

“When they say wreck a room, they mean.. Ow.. never mind. Would take too long to explain. One of these days, though, I am going to have to set both you and her down and explain how to not understand some things so literally.”, he said, signed again, and added, “That is going to be one, very long day!”

“I am sorry I dishonored you in an inn you performed.”, said Cora. “I was not aware there was such a rule. There are so many rules in these civilized places you call cities.”

“‘Tis alright. There are rules wherever there are people. The more people, the more rules, I guess..”, he said absently as he did a quick calculation in his mind.

“Damn..”, he swore. “I don’t think we have enough coin to cover the repairs.”

“What are we going to do? Want me to go down and bargain with your innkeeper to lower the prices a bit?”, she asked hopefully.

“What? NO. PLEASE NO!“, replied Brom immediately. Then he frowned. Seemed he was going to have to do something he really dreaded doing.

“Look. You stay here and clean up your room..”, began Brom.

“That was the last thing my mother had said to me that morning.. the day Ironfrost was destroyed. ‘Cora, clean up your room!’.. And we’d argued about it.. Now I am back to cleaning my room? Again?”, mumbled Cora.

“I am sorry about Ironfrost, Cora. But this is quite unavoidable. While you do that, I am going to see if I can borrow some money from Tonic.. or.. her pair..”, Brom said.

“First I am expected to wreck this room, and now I have to clean it.. These rules you have to stay civilized are complicated and many!”, Cora signed. Then she looked down at the hobbit.

“You are avoiding saying her name.”, she said.

“What? No..”, Brom tried to deny.. and a bit too hastily.

“Before, you were all excited talking about her. Then you started having these funny and concussed faces every time you said her name. Now you are avoiding it altogether. Is there anything I should know, Brom?”, she asked with both her brows up.

“Wow.”, thought Brom. It seemed like it would be a really, really bad idea to ever underestimate this barbarian girl. She might not know civilized rules nor understand the implications of certain things, but she seemed to miss very little.

Brom sighed again.

“Noting to worry about. If and when it becomes an issue, I’ll be sure to tell you about it.”, he said.

“You like her.”, she stated bluntly.

 

Brom froze.

 

“I.. What?..How in the.. Why would you..”, he spluttered.

“Good.”, said Cora with the same blunt voice. “At least you take me seriously enough not to lie, and care for her enough not to totally deny it. She is a good girl. A bit silly for my taste but, hey, who am I to judge. I mean, I just wrecked a room with her, ate truly awful food, had loads of fun, and stupidly laughed when we both threw up, talked about the silliest things.. and it turns out ‘wrecking a room‘, doesn’t even mean, wrecking a room! And we striped ’cause she dared me to put her silly pink undies and I certainly wasn’t going to fall short on a dare. We skimped around, then destroyed the room in nothing but skin and pinks! I am not going to deny the fact that I loved it. But I am never putting those on again. I can’t run around with that kind of ‘draft’ around there. It’s distracting as hell! So, yea.. Who am I to judge!”

“What? Ow. My. Gosh, girl..”, Brom spluttered some more.

Cora shrugged.

“I mean, you wouldn’t believe some of the things she’s done at that academy of hers. Had I done but a tint of what she’s done, mother would have taken a kukri at my braids and sawed them off down to my scalp! Together, we sang like a pair of sore crows while holding hands and danced like the Ice Wolves! Then we beat at each other with pillows.. Should have seen her face when I impaled my pillow on her horns by mistake when I hit her head while she was ducking! She was so beautifully abashed and then I impaled the other pillow with my sword, just to get even! There we were; her, with this big, white pillow stuck on her head, brushing the ceiling, me, with a pillow dying on my sword and feathers flying everywhere.. We laughed so hard, my side hurt! And then she said, “Shall we?”, and I was like “Let’s!”, and we destroyed everything in sight..

She paused for a moment with a thoughtful expression on her face.

“She was ashamed because of something she couldn’t help, Brom. I was ashamed of everything I did last night, all of which I could have stopped at any moment. Yet, she made sure I did not stop and for that, I am grateful to her. That girl lives for silly.. and makes you enjoy it so thoroughly as well.. I have never had that much fun in my entire life.

Consider the hell I went through just a few months ago, Brom. And not a few days ago, I had to relive it, and in greater detail, because apparently, the first time wasn’t enough.. Yet, she made me happy in manic, silly pinks! If that is not ‘special’, I do not know what is. And you want to know what truly got to me? All that while, I could see the sad in her eyes.. She wasn’t trying to have fun, Brom. She was trying to make sure I had fun, all the while holding back because she thinks she is so tall and silly, she imagines herself to be some clumsy juvenile axebeak, and fears that she can hurt me! Not to mention she foolishly believes I am so ‘cool’..

I never had a girl’s night before, Brom. Not because I didn’t want to or didn’t care for such things, but because I never heard of them before. We just didn’t have such things in Ironfrost because we never had the luxury to drop our guard.. We had celebrations, sure, but there was always a contingency of our storm heralds and zerkers on guard, and snow rangers hiding all around the village. That girl has never had a girl’s night in her entire life, even though she knew there was such a thing, had other girls all around her at that academy, and yearned to have them all along.. Yet she lived last night for me! That, Brom, is a whole different kind of ‘special’..”

Cora stared at Brom and there was both loss and mirth in the shimmer of her eyes.

“I have never had the privilege of falling in love, my friend.. And now my people are destroyed. I have seen, first hand, just how short every life can be.. Hell, so have you, for that matter.. Don’t waste your time. Either do something about it or put it behind you, which I doubt is even possible.”, she said briskly. Then she lowered her voice, and she spoke sympathetically this time. “I do not envy your disposition though. I hear love hurts.. A lot..”

Brom blushed.. Then blushed even more.

“And the fact that she is like twice my height has gone unnoticed?”, he asked with an angry voice.

Cora looked down at her friend.

Then, with an unexpected display of feline dexterity, and Ursidaen strength, she picked up the hobbit and brought him up to an inch of her face.

“There..”, she said to the stunned hobbit. “..we are now at the same height. What are you going to do about it..?”

 

Brom struggled for words.

Just nothing was coming out!

 

“My point, exactly!”, said Cora with brutal bluntness. “If you had planned on doing something —anything, you would have done it from down there, and never needed to be up here —yet, even up here, you still got nothing!”

Then she slowly lowered Brom.

“Your problem is not your height, my friend.”, she said briskly. “You just don’t have a plan! You do not know what to do.. You are a sensible hobbit, ‘a fine example of your kind’, as your honorable innkeeper so nicely put, and she is a silly, unpredictable girl.. She is every bit a mystery to you and everything you are afraid of; exactly the way any girl should be to any man who cares, and matters.. It isn’t what we appear on the outside that makes us who we truly are. Otherwise, what are we but a pair of.. well.. you know.. and a pretty face, really?”

She squinted at the hobbit for a bit, then barked a short, capturing laugh.

“Back at Ironfrost, guys thought I was all cool and stuff and they honestly thought they were all just too beneath my cool for me to bother with them, the way I was with my cold and expressionless face.. Like I knew things they didn’t.. The matter of fact was, I had nothing to say.. I mean, I truly had nothing to say. So instead of spluttering crap, I just shut up. And you know what the hardest part was? Keeping a straight face.. Should have seen me when I got home in the evenings when my watch was over. I used to go to my room, then laugh my face off until it hurt, very nearly every night!”

“You.. you are a cruel, cruel girl, Cora Sleet..”, whispered Brom, staring at the barbarian with amazement.

 

What truly amazed him was how much the barbarian girl had to say.

He’d thought he’d known this snow elf for so long as they had been together, all quiet and cool yet to see how much she had kept bottled up inside. Wraiven must have done some wonders last night to have this girl open up as she just had.. He also felt a slight pang of shame to have not been the one to have done the same, but then, Wraiven was something else..

He was bard, with bardic skills, and he knew the intricacies of the heart.. Or he’d thought he knew. And yet, the very tall, very dark girl had done to Cora in one night, what he hadn’t been able to do in months.

That just had to be something special, alright..

 

“Yea, well..”, said Cora. “That’s all over now, isn’t it? Ironfrost is gone, my cool is gone, now I actually do have things to say, just none of my friends left to say it..”

“You are still ‘cool’ for me, Cora.. And you can say whatever you like to me. ‘Bone and Cleave’, I am your friend..”, Brom mumbled.

“Bone and Cleave, huh? Rather poetic.. in a barbaric way.. I like!”, she said with a whimsical smile.

Then, her eyes softened as she looked down at him.

“Brom..”, she said with a quiet but serious voice. “..just when have we ever faced anything that is smaller than us? And don’t say, goblin sappers! They had numbers and those bloody grenades.. Yet, we are here, they are not. We have bested everything that is always bigger than us.. Go.. And best her.. Again!.. Shouldn’t be too hard for you, since you already bested her once before. Must I also remind you that it was because of you that she held her punches then.. And that it was your victory against her that made her our friend.. and ruined you for her..”

Then she gave the hobbit one of her rare, crooked smiles, patted him on one shoulder, and before turning to leave for her wrecked room to start clearing the bits and pieces of the debris, she said..

“If that isn’t karma, I do not know what is..!”

Brom heard her talking from inside as she tossed large, broken furniture around.

“You have so much more in common than you think, my bushy little friend. She loves flowers, you love gardens. You can make her whole gardens full of those silly, pink flowers and she will love it.. She is an insoluble mystery, you are forever intrigued by mystery. You can spend the rest of your life trying to solve her, and it will not be a life wasted.. She is pretty, you appreciate and honor that pretty. You can stare and stare at her and never be bored.. She adores cute, you are adorable.. She can put you in her coin purse and carry you around all day and be happy – though I have no idea how you are going to fit in a little pouch. Must be some magic pouch, I think.. To remember my father and mother had nothing in common, yet loved each other like eloped teenagers, was ever awkward for me to watch..”

✱ ✱ ✱

You look happy today.”, said Seressa, peering closely at her little pair.

“I am happy today. I am sorry I made such a ruckus yesterday, Seressa. Things just.. sort of piled on top of each other in one me and.. this isn’t.. this is all very new to me.”, Tonic admitted quietly.

“All is fine, all is fine, luv. Long as you’re are happy.”, her very tall, very dark pair smiled. “Your Gordigon’s letter seems to have found its way back home, I see..”

“Thanks to Brom. He is very smart, crafty, and caring, you know.”, she replied glibly.

Seressa looked down at her pair, one eyebrow cocked.

“You said nice about him.”, she said a bit surprised.

“Well, yes, I suppose I did.. He did endure me all last night and somehow got me my lost letter, did he not? He was very patient with me. Patient and understanding. I’d say he’s a great guy!”, Tonic mumbled, as she blushed slightly.

“That he is, luv. That he is.. But how did he do it? I gave it my all and came up with nothing. I just can’t imagine how that letter traveled eight hundred years, all the way from there, to here!“, she said in a marveled tone.

“I am guessing maybe it’s a bard thing. You know, bards have magic we will never have. You said it yourself!”, she replied elusively. “He is sleeping, anyway. The poor hobbit had a rough night. All the gnomes he had to put up with.”

“Casting yourself in the plural now, are we?”, smiled Seressa.

“Yea.. uhh.. there is just so many of me!”, Tonic blushed some more at her blunder.

“I am sure he will forgive us.”, said Seressa. “Boots?”

“Boots..”, replied Tonic, hopped on the bed and wiggled her feet.

“Tonic, luv..”, said Seressa. “What did you do last night?”

“Eh?”, froze Tonic.

“Look at your feet, girl.. We had a bath just last night and you got your feet all dirtied up again. You can’t wear your boots in such a state. You’ll stink them!”, Seressa said with a disconcerted voice.

“You just want to wash them cuz you like playing with them.”, replied Tonic, wiggling her tiny feet again.

“Yea..”, said Seressa with a smile. “They are soooo cute.”

“They are just feet, girl.”, Tonic frowned

“But very cute and very little feet. I could put them in my mouth and still have room to talk.”, she snickered.

“Ewww, girl.. That’s just gross.”, Tonic pinched her face.

Seressa laughed as she got up and went for the washing pan.

“There’s no water in this!”, she said.

“Ummm…”, said the gnomic girl and she suddenly went red. “I.. might have dumbed its content on Brom, last night..”

Seressa stared at Tonic.

“Why?!”, she wailed. “Why? All the nice things he’s done, and you dumped the content of a washing pan on him? That’s not nice, luv..”

“Look, I am sorry. It wasn’t one of my proudest moments, alright! I was a wreck, looking for a beach to crash and.. he just seemed to be so.. dunno.. convenient?”, she mumbled.

“Tonic..”, despaired Seressa. “Luv.. You can’t keep doing this.. to me.. to yourself.. to OTHERS! Please!”

“I know, I know.. we sort of talked and apologized to one another. Here. give me my satchel, will you?”, she said.

Seressa handed Tonic her artificer’s satchel and Tonic started rummaging it.

After a while, she pulled a round, potbelly jug out of it.

“Bring the pan here, please.”, she said.

Seressa brought the empty washing pan and Tonic tilted the jug. More water than the jug could have possibly contained poured out until the pan was full.

“That’s neat.”, said Seressa. “Is it finite?”

“Yea. Too bad really, otherwise we could have drowned Dreadmaw using just this. Provided he stood still and didn’t get out of his cave!”, said Tonic with a sad voice.

“Indeed.. would have taken only about a century or ten to fill his cave, I surmise.”, she smiled.. “Come, luv.. Let’s get on with the feet. We should be leaving soon..”

 

Tonic giggled as her pair vigorously washed her feet, any number of times until she was satisfied.

Then she went for her own pack, produced a medium-sized towel, and started robustly rubbing the gnomic girl’s tiny little feet.

Then, while holding her left foot by the ankle, she froze.

“Whot?”, squeaked Tonic, staring at her pair and she noted her long, slender tail. All through the washing and drying, Seressa’s fascinating tail had been dancing back and forth in a lazy, content, and hypnotizing pattern. Now it stood up very still. Its pink, fluffy end, however, was twitching with an erratic irritation —always a bad sign. It meant her master was feeling provoked.. or was seeking mischief!

Tonic looked up to her pair to see Seressa smirking, her white, beautiful canines fully on display.

“No..”, said Tonic seriously. “Seressa no.. no, no, no, NOOO!”

Seressa smirked some more.

“I have you now.”, she hissed..

..and poped it!

 

Arcantonic’s foot..

..into her mouth!

 

Tonic held her breath, then squealed, laughing in manic despair.

“Eww, girl, get it out. Get it out!”, she shrieked, still squealing and giggling.

“Told you I could do it, and still have room to talk!”, Seressa mumbled, her own tummy hopping with bubbles of laughter!

Tonic threw herself back and started banging her fists while she shrieked and squealed as she convulsed with the electrifying jolts of tickle running up her tiny foot in Seressa’s mouth!

“Enough.. Se..Seressa.. Enough.. Pwahahahahaa! Ahahahahaaa.. Seres.. Hahahahaa! Ow. My.. Gwahahahahahaa..!”

“Ehem..”, said a voice from the door.

“Perhaps I came at a wrong time?”, said Brom.. with a professionally straight face, as he beheld the mad? creepy? insane? funny? hilarious? sight before him.

 

A Tonic, squealing like a hyped little squirrel, and a Seressa, with her pairs foot in her mouth..

It was a very nearly surreal sight.

Perhaps I am not quite awake yet, and this is just a weird dream with a lot of metaphors, thought Brom.

 

“This isn’t what it looks like!”, blurted Wraiven in unveiled panic, the foot still in her mouth.

“I am not eating her!”

 

And she blushed.

Brom hadn’t seen the very tall, very dark girl blush before.. Not really.. Probably because she was a cultured and classy girl, she had maturely accepted herself as who and what she was, or never truly put herself in situations where she would end up blushing.. even at her moments of klutz, and as silly as she always seemed.

Or perhaps he was overthinking or overanalyzing it and the girl was just so dark, a blush merely camouflaged itself.. A bit like her bruises.

Whatever the reasons may be, it told something about the girl to Brom. As to what it was, he put it aside for the moment. The current situation had precedence and was likely one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ things..

Hence it came quite as a surprise when he saw the very tall, very dark girl truly, and actually blush.

Her face, her whole demeanor, really.. just changed. The whole of Seressa Wraiven started to glow with a searing, simmering, red-orange inner fire one would only see in pitched coal at the very bottom and center of a hearth where the fickle fire had died, and what remained was the core ember that gave off a calm, but steady heat.

 

It was ‘awesome’, at a whole new level..

“Ow. My. Gosh!”, he barely heard Tonic squeak in destroyed embarrassment.

Brom could only gawk at Wraiven.

 

She walks in beauty, like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies,

And all that’s best of dark and bright

Meets in her aspect and her eyes..

 

He murmured silently.

Then, a whisper escaped him..

“Or perhaps my timing was of the best.”

 

Slowly, and deliberately, Brom Bumblebrim turned around, took a deep breath, and left.

Perhaps Cora could use some help. There had been a lot of debris in that wreck.

✱ ✱ ✱

You bested her already?”, asked Cora as she picked up what was perhaps once a wardrobe like it was made of straws than hardwood. “That was quick. Way to go hobbit! Hope you didn’t comment about the size of her.. well, you know.. She is a bit touchy on that subject, though I can’t understand why considering your initial assumptions and accusations were totally wrong..”

 

Brom scratched his head dubiously.

“Never accuse a girl about the size of their..”, continued Cora.

He wasn’t quite sure who had, perhaps unwittingly, bested whom there, just then, or if there had been any besting at all. He certainly felt bested, though.. He also felt something smolder at the pit of his stomach!

“Did you tell her she’s pretty? Seressa likes pretty.”

Seressa Wraiven was not just pretty..

 

She was something..

..awesome.

 

Something..

..remarkable.

 

Something.. 

..extraordinary.

 

Something.. 

..exceptional.

 

Something.. 

..awe-inspiring.

 

Something.. 

..outstanding.

 

Something.. 

..elusive, certainly.

 

But something..

..amazing too.

 

And he saw something new in her, every time she turned around.. and thus Brom Bumblebrim wondered..

“But it’s always nice hearing it from others..”

Why had she blushed so..?


The poem Brom recites;

She Walks in Beauty
by Lord Byron (George Gordon Byron, 1788 – 1824)

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

 

Seressa: “I have you now.”