The once high lady of the destroyed Bari Na-ammen, Anglenna Brightleaf struggles with those around her who mistrust or outright loath her.
As allies gather for the defense of the town, Anglenna confers with the only people who are impartial and unbiased against her as the whereabouts of the young man, Udoorin Shieldheart, and the last princess of Bari Na-ammen, Alor’Nadien ne Feymist, remains a mystery.
The events taking place in this
particular story also involves
A Bard’s Tale XIII – “Searing Perspective”
Anglenna felt miserable. The amount of pain she registered from the numerous cuts and bruises she had attained during her daring sojourn under the ruins of the glorious city of Arashkan had taken its toll on her. Once she had unleashed the Three Dog Curse upon the city, she had tried to get out, only to be lost, for days, under the extended sewer canals of the city. Hungry, thirsty, filthy, bloody, and constantly fighting her way through the Orken who had found their way down into the maze, and always trying to stay a step ahead of the curse she had unleashed. When she had finally found the time to get a decent rest to be able to teleport out of the burning city, she had crash-landed right through four rooms of the Serenity Home Guest House, adding to her already draining pain.
And now she lay, in a rickety bed, in some dormitory under the town’s temple, burning with fever, sweating profusely, and shivering at the same time. It seemed like the Heavens had ganged up against her and all at once.
Her current torment was bested only by the horrendous, jabbing, and jarring pain that kept stabbing up her broken arm, all the way up to the back of her skull, and it just wouldn’t stop.
Anglenna Brightleaf tilted over the side of her bed..
“I feel terrible.”, she moaned miserably, staring into the stinking, half-full bucket, standing next to her rickety bed.
“I don’t.”, said a soft, throaty voice heartlessly, and Bremorel Songsteel turned the page of the book she was reading without so much as a glance at the totally disheveled high lady from the simple chair she was sitting. “I feel good.. seeing you like this!”
“I.. suppose you do..”, gasped Anglenna as the pain from her cast arm jabbed at her again.
“You know, being a bitch at times does have its moments. But you? You are a very special kind of bitch. But then, you are that special snowflake kind of girl so it is somewhat understandable, I guess. “, she said calmly as she continued to read her book.
“It is possible I have been a bitch all my life. But I was brought up by Angrellen the Betrayer. What’s your excuse, little girl?”, the high elf said hoarsely as she continued to sweat.
“Nice one..”, grinned Bremorel.
“Why are you here? Other than to torment me, and take satisfaction in my suffering.”, Anglenna fell back onto her bed, exhausted.
“No reason. Other than to torment you and take satisfaction in your suffering..”, the ranger lieutenant replied, turning another page.
“Didn’t know you could read.”, snarked the high elf, as she pulled her blanket higher.
“Just looking at the bright illustrations. But I can’t seem to find them!”, Bremorel said smugly. Then added, “Girl, you are going to have to try better than that, if you want to insult me. I mean, come on, now. I don’t want to be forced to outright insult you but, really? That one was rather pathetic. When it comes to insults, it’s all about moderation and standards.”
“I wasn’t aware you had any standards.”, she said and turned into a fetal position as she started to shiver again.
“See? That was a tint better, now, wasn’t it?”, the ranger girl replied smiling, as turned the page over again, and threw an indiscernible glance at the shivering high elf.
“I can’t believe they let someone like you become a ranger. Apparently, this whole town lacks standards.”, Anglenna scoffed.
“Now, now. Let’s keep the insults running at a personnel level and not involve others, shall we? Or you might stink up this place. Oh, wait, you already have!”, Bremorel deadpanned.
..and retched again.
“Your mother never told you that drinking sewer water would make you ill, I suppose. But then, I heard she wasn’t much of a mother so your overwhelming ignorance of the world you live in is mildly acceptable, but not sensible nor reasonable since just about any idiot out there would know this.”, Bremorel mused.
“Why are you really here, Ranger Lieutenant? You can’t be as petty as you want me to believe you are.”, Anglenna wheezed exasperatedly and slumped back into the bed.
“‘As petty as you want me to believe you are?’ Wow, girl. You said that so smoothly. I almost lost track of it towards the end there, and I am a ranger and all. Got me a lieutenant’s medal, even..”, the ranger girl said, as she slowly rose from her chair and walked over to the door. She reached up and opened it, took the empty bucket sitting next to the door, and returned to switch it with the half-full one and put it outside.
“You must have better things to do that to change my filth.”, Anglenna said with shame, for she couldn’t remember being this embarrassed in her entire one hundred and seventy-eight years.
“I do. But I thought it’d be fun reducing you as low as I can on behalf of the peoples of Arashkan and High Woods while I had the chance. Turns out.. I am right. This is fun!”, Bremorel replied happily. “The other option was I drag you off into the woods and finish you off there and dump your ass in a pit where no one would ever find you. But Thomas is silly and kind and told me not to, so here we are, you in a sickbed, spewing all over the place, and me having fun.”
“If this is some convoluted plan to make me talk, it isn’t going to work. I was trained by the best of them.”, she said, rolling to her other side, as she pulled up her blanket again.
“If your mother is the measure of, the best of ’em, I shouldn’t have much trouble.”, grinned Bremorel.
“Very good, Lieutenant.”, the high lady said with mild appreciation. “Classy, even. Begs the question, why the bumkin act, though?”
“Dammit.”, Bremorel said merrily. “I just got me exposed.”
“In all candor, young Morel.”, Anglenna said, in pain. “That particular pose truly doesn’t suit you, and not at all convincing. Your eyes.. They are too bright..”
“Ow?”, said Bremorel, looking down at the miserable high lady.
“And young Thomas.. as creepy as his mindless obsession with you is, he does not strike me as a man who regrets his choice in his woman. And I got the impression, Thomas would never be happy with a bumkin. An educated man requires to converse with a woman of at least at his own level of intelligence or she must have some unique aspect or perspective that he can never have.”, the high lady said.
Then, with a green smile, she added, “Or she’s just that good in bed! I am guessing two out of those three, in your case.”
Bremorel’s face turned molten red.
“Why two?”, she blurted hotly.
“I was being polite.”, replied Anglenna. “Checkmate?”
The ranger lieutenant scowled at the sick high lady.
It was a good thing someone knocked at the door just then. Or perhaps not. Try though she might, young Bremorel just couldn’t come up with anything that had enough firepower. The condescending she-elf had nailed her with backhanded compliments she just couldn’t refute.
Not unless she wanted to admit she was stupid, had no perspective of her own, and had a very unsatisfied husband!
“Checkmate..”, she fumed grudgingly.
She scowled some more, then walked over to the door, swung it open, and shouted.
Right into the face of the leader of the High Woods Resistance Movement, Lord Armethelius Riverblade..
..And this day had started so well when she had found out she had been given the assignment of looking after/tormenting/punning the stupid high elf woman, dammit!
“Have I come at a wrong time, perhaps, Ranger Lieutenant Songsteel?”, Armethelius asked politely.
Burning brighter now, Morel just stared at the elf lord.
“What can I do for you Lorn Armethelius? Why have you come here? Don’t you have anything better to do, like running a resistance movement than wasting your time here?”
To give the young high elf lord credit, he didn’t take the ranger lieutenants tone to heart, nor did he take umbrage. He just smiled. Politely.
“I have come, merely to check up on the high lady. I believe I was given this permission, ‘as I saw fit’.. And the resistance is moving on just fine. For what it’s worth, I would be indebted to you, if you could tell the esteemed sheriff that he will be receiving fifty more of our trained elves to his disposal.”
Bremorel frowned at the high lord.
“That’s a hefty bribe just to see the high lady, my Lord. I am sure Tomas would have agreed for far less had you asked him.”
“The Senior Temple Guardian is a good and generous man, working diligently, day and night to keep the wellbeing of all the refugees, and quite impartially, I might add. There is no price we can satisfactorily pay for the service he does. But by giving more of our elves to keep the town, and the outlying lands and fields safe, at least we are able to pay him by proxy.”, Armethelius replied.
“And you get to impress the girl.”, smirked Bremorel.
“I can hear you!”, came Anglenna’s wheezy voice.
Lord Armethelius did a better job of suppressing his fluster than young Morel had ever done. He just looked at her with a very neutral and still expression.
“Very well. Gimme a few. Let me ask her if she’s available.”, Bremorel said..
..and shut the door.
On the high lord’s face.
“No.”, said Anglenna in a half panicked voice. “I look horrible. He doesn’t have to see me like this.”
“Girl, you are horrible. The fact that anyone has come to see you is an event, astounding on its own. That you also look horrible, is a moot point.”, Bremorel said with an amused expression.
“No.”, the high lady repeated stubbornly. “What’s remained of my world, only two people are left that have the slightest care and respect for me, and the other is my cousin.”
“Wow.”, the ranger girl said heartlessly. “That’s just sad. How did that happen? Ow, wait, you did it to yourself, yes, now I remember.”
“Just.. just tell him to go.. and never come back..”, Anglenna said, moaning in sick pain.
“Very well. You may rot in your lonely misery.”, she replied with a shrug, went back to the door, and to the high elf lord, she declared boldly;
“My Lord Armethelius, do please come in!”
✱ ✱ ✱
You are up a bit later than usual, love.”, said Perigren Ostlanna Temez. “I thought you’d be at the esteemed sheriff’s office by now. Is everything alright?”
Constance Alure Smithen sighed.
“I will be heading there now. I just drop in to ask you about the gift but thought I’d give you a few more moments to rest, dear. You have been working hard to find a solution for the lost Orken army.”, she said.
“Thank you, Alure. You were always thoughtful of others, even back in Hell, which I think was why Auntie Irine disliked you so much.”, smiled Temez a bit sadly.
“Irine disliked any number of us.”, Constance shrugged. “You and Merisoul the most. A gros mistake on her part, as things turned out.”
“How very true.”, agreed, Perigren. “Mind I ask, how things went last night? Between you and the esteemed sheriff?”
“I wouldn’t mind at all, though I am surprised the whole lot didn’t come flocking when.. Stan.. dropped me off.
“Stan?”, Temez asked a bit confused.
“Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart insisted I call him that. At least in private.”, replied Constance deploringly.
“Ah. I have noticed this as well. Mortals cut and butcher one another’s names as much as they cut and butcher one another!”, Temez nodded with similar distress.
“Indeed. Though the disinterest of my kin in this matter is as depressing as it is refreshing.”, the tall half-born mused.
“It isn’t disinterest, love, I told them not to plague you.”
“True, we are all brothers and sisters, made by our mutual sufferings, but this involves a Mortal and two hearts, now, which makes it a private matter uniquely confidential and exclusive to you and him. I told them it would be fine only if you brought it up.”, Temez smiled. “After all, I did not send you to the Mortals as a liaison to capture the esteemed sheriff. I sent you there to get to know our allies, and for our allies to get to know us. Your private interest in the esteemed sheriff is a personal matter and we must all learn to respect that, even if some of us are burning with curiously.”
“Demelze hounded you all night, didn’t she?”, Constance said with exasperation.
“Yes. Yes, she did.”, sighed Perigren. “She knocked on my door with clock-work precision; Temez, Temez, Temez, Temez, Temez, Temez! —Suffice to say, it was a dreary and trying night and the Great Heavens tested my patience. I think I passed since she is still alive and I am sane.”
“That must have been.. irritating..”, Constance said lightly, trying very hard not to laugh.
“Painfully so. Hence, I wouldn’t mind if you could give me something to tell them. Nothing specific, mind you. Anything that would give me a breather, and keep her off my back. After all, we don’t want a pouting Demelze seething in an enclosed building, do we?”, Temez said pleadingly.
“No, dear, we don’t. Too many children in here.”, she said and paused for a moment. “We had a nice, quiet dinner together. Then the esteemed sheriff took me for a walk, out in the near woods. It was rather pleasant. I let him do the talking since the living conditions of Hell are quite the conversation killer. He was polite.”
“Polite is nice.”, Temez said, but when she saw her sister-kin’s face, she got suspicious. “How polite was he?”
Constance paused for another moment before she answered..
..with a long, exasperated sigh.
“Ow. That must have been quite annoying.”, replied Temez mirthfully.
“You have no idea, my dear.. In the end, I told him I was pleased to see how careful Mortal men were with their delicate dates and that it was a good thing I hadn’t brought my pike to defend myself to stave off his excessive interest.”
Perigren Ostlanna Temez belly-laughed.
“Priceless, love, priceless.”
“I rather liked it. Though the esteemed sheriff wasn’t very pleased. I suspect he wanted to keep things purely professional. But when I offered him to hold my hand whilst I slip and fall, not with the ground being uneven and frozen, and he be known as the unreliable man who let his brand-new liaison/date be damaged thus soon should I fall and hurt myself, he caved in.”
“You are awesome, love. Demelze could take pointers from you.”
Constance very nearly bloomed.
“It went a bit nicer after that. We talked some more. And I told him a bit about myself, our people, and our oaths, in particular, to put him at ease, which I think is important that he knows. All in all, it was pleasant, I think. I liked it that we only shared words and close proximity rather than anything overt and immediate. It truly is much more fulfilling this way; the exhilarating sense that makes you want to skip and hop like a fool just because the one you want is walking right next to you.. I believe Mortals have a word for this, and it made me.. tingle down to my very soul..”, she said with a very sweet little smile.
“Ow? Do tell!”, Temez asked eagerly.
Perigren’s eyes blurred.
“That is.. beautiful.”
“Much so, dear.”, agreed, Constance. “But I think he was also distracted and not only because of me. Something was bothering him down to his very core.”
“Hmmm.. What could it be?”, mused Temez, frowning a bit.
“I inquired Ranger Lieutenant Morel Songsteel about it ere I came here to you if there was anything that would cause thus consternation for the esteemed sheriff. She said the list for that would be a very long one. But she told me what it would most likely be, as it was something she, herself, was very much worried.”
“What is it?”, Temez asked.
“It appears Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart’s son is missing. Our information on dear Merisoul’s companions and their whereabouts seem quite out of date. As things stand now, Merisoul Xyrotwu, Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel Songsteel’s cousin, Ranger Lieutenant Laila Wolvesbane, and Master Gnine Tinkerdome had gone to Silent Hills, and are still there. The first to arrive of their total company was one Lady Magella, who left for the Scowling Hills just west of here. Lady Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane Bolgrig Hooman Fogstep and Sir Aager Fogstep, the Winter Knight, had gone to the city of paladins, Durkahan and they have just recently returned. A High Lady Anglenna Sunsear, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart’s son, Udoorin Shieldheart, and a Princess Alor’Nadien ne Feymist of Bari Na-ammen had parted for the ruined and besieged city of Arashkan, but of the three, only this High Lady Anglenna Sunsear has thus returned. His son was supposed to have arrived with the princess many days ago, and before the high lady, but hasn’t. Apparently, the two of them were sent here via a teleportation spell but they missed their destination.”
“Mortals and their ignorant use of magic they do not understand.”
“We must find them!”, Constance said urgently, which told Perigren something about the tall, calm, serene young woman; that her care for the esteemed sheriff was quite genuine, for rarely did anything ruffle this beautiful, cool-headed woman’s feathers. She mused for a moment as options and possibilities crisscrossed her intricate mind, while Constance waited in silent anticipation.
“Let me think a bit more on this, for this is quite an important matter. You go and attend to your assignment, love. So far as we know, the esteemed sheriff very much dislikes impunctuality as much as he finds sloth to be distasteful.”
“That is true. Take care of us, dear. And say hi to Dar Derune for me, will you? It makes him happy when we say ‘hi’ by proxy.”
“That it does, love. That it does..”
✱ ✱ ✱
You look spry this morning, sir.”, growled Aager Fogstep, as the sheriff entered the building.
Sheriff Standorin gave the young man in dark leathers a sour look and wordlessly entered his office. He pulled the long blade off his broad back and leaned it on one of the many drawers lining up the small ‘cubicle’, behind his chair and slumped into it, quietly seething.
Aager followed him in and sat across the large sheriff and silently started sifting through the stack of papers on the table. He read every single one of them and thoroughly and split them in separate stacks according to their priority and relevance.
Apparently, his silence won over the sheriff’s fuming.
“This won’t work.”, the sheriff said darkly.
“What’s that, sir?”, asked Aager, not taking his eyes of the report in his hand.
“This, Liaison thing!”
“Ah. She hasn’t even started yet, and you want to dismiss it already?”, Aager replied.
“You know what I mean.”, fumed Standorin.
“I am sorry, sir. I don’t. Did something happen last night? Perhaps she said or did something out of turn? Though I doubt that’d be the case. She seemed like a very foresighted young woman.”
“That’s the point!”, snarled the sheriff.
“Her being foresighted is a problem? I don’t get it, sir. That’s something you have wished all the men and women under your command would have but sorely lack.”
“No, man. Young! Her being young!”
“Ah ha.. I didn’t know you were into older women, sir, though it’d be understandable if you were.”, the dark man said with a straight face.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”, asked Standorin harshly.
“I heard Lady Limnia was quite older than you.”
There was a moment of seething silence and Sheriff Standorin burned the young man with his gaze who just sat there silently grinning at him.
Aager put the paper down and looked at the fuming sheriff.
“Unlike my Inshala, who likes happy, smiling faces around her, I care very little for such facial expressions in others. But out of the debt I owe you for having saved my neck from a horribly painful ‘death-by-blunt-guillotine’, I have always made exceptions for you. Hence I will say my piece, though, at a price.”
Standorin cocked an eyebrow at the young man.
“Should you want to hear my harsh words, you must accept my price as well. Your call, sir.”
“What’s your advice and what will it cost me?”, the sheriff asked suspiciously.
“Ahh, no, sir. You will have to agree on the price before you get to hear the advice. Fear not. My rates are not very steep.”, Aager grinned at the fuming sheriff. “Otherwise you might outright refuse the advice and miss all the wisdom it shall bring you!”
“You are enjoying this, aren’t you?”, the sheriff scowled at him.
“Had it been some six months ago, sir, no, I wouldn’t have been enjoying this, you wouldn’t be sitting here having this conversation with me, I wouldn’t be giving you any advice and things would have been dreary and boring as ever, sans the approaching Orken army out there!”, Aager replied calmly.
“Something tells me I will regret this but go ahead, Master Aager. Do give me your price.”
“You will regret a great many things, sir, just not this.”, smiled the young man..
..And with a polite knock, the door to the sheriff’s office opened, presenting Constance Alure Smithen.
“Good morning, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. And you, Sir Aager Fogstep. I have read through your Criminal Laws and the laws pertaining to commerce and judicial matters, and also the local laws specific to Serenity Home town, in particular. I have noted that your current archives pertaining to said criminal reports are quite extensive, but both time-consuming to find when needed, and it would seem you have also run out of space. I have given it some thought and found a number of ways to optimize and address both problems for you.”
Sheriff Standorin just stared at the beautiful young woman. She was dressed in long, unrevealing dress skirts with little to no adornments. Other than a bright-red application to her pretty lips, she wore no makeup, nor any jewelry.
Aager didn’t say anything. He just sat quietly..
“I.. would very much like to hear your ideas on the matter of documentation and archives, Liaison Constance.”, Standorin stammered a bit as he rose from his chair. “Perhaps after the morning assignments are handed out?”
“But of course, sir.”, Constance replied calmly, then looked down at Aager with careful deliberation.
The sheriff left the office and headed out to the small courtyard where all the guards not currently on duty were already lined up.
“Sir Aager Fogstep.”, Constance began, after the sheriff had left.
“Just Aager will do, Liaison Constance. I do not qualify as a sir.”, he replied in his low growl.
“I believe you do, Sir.”, she said, putting the tiniest bit of implication to her words.
“As you wish.”, Aager shrugged without so much as turning a hair.
“I have brought.. a gift to you, Sir Aager Fogstep.”, she said a bit uncertainly.
“Totally unnecessary, Liaison Constance. Town guards do not take, nor accept gifts as they could constitute and be mistaken for a bribe. Perhaps you missed that in the Criminal Law’s book?”, the young man in dark leathers said quietly.
Constance paused for a breath’s length.
“The gift is to you, Sir. But not for you.”, she amended cooly.
Aager cocked an eyebrow at her.
“Please give these to your loved one. I am sure she will very much appreciate them.”, she said and produced two, heavy-looking, age-old daggers. “These are quite ancient blades, Sir, and are a pair. They are also enchanted in their own way.”
“I thank you for the gift, but I doubt Lady Inshala will have any use for them, as she very much dislikes the touch of iron. Perhaps you could give these to someone who would actually wield them?”, Aager declined, staring, but not touching the very, very sharp blades that appeared more like short swords, really.
“Ah. The confusion is understandable, and possibly due to my misphrasing. These blades would indeed be a bad choice of gifts for the esteemed Lady Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane Bolgrig Hooman Fogstep. These, are for your sister, Lady Lilly Venom as a wedding gift. We had heard of her happy union but were unable to attend as we weren’t sure if we would be welcome. She and Perigren Ostlanna Temez became somewhat acquainted, and Temez noticed her missing vital gear appropriate to her station.”, she replied calmly.
“Why give them to me, then? Wouldn’t it be better for Temez to give them to her?”
“Should Perigren Ostlanna Temez gift them to her in person, Lady Lilly Venom would feel obligated to return a gift of her own, and of equal or at least of similar value. I am afraid, however, she will sorely fail should she try, for these blades are unique and quite priceless. If you gifted them to her on our behalf, yet unbeknownst to her, she would happily accept them and feel no such obligation whatsoever. And since they are not for you, there is little reason for you to feel any similar obligation either.”
Perhaps it was time for Aager to fume.
But he did not.
He just stared at the tall young woman and smiled.
“I don’t do lackey, Liaison Constance. And as convenient as your reasoning for the gift was, these knives are a bribe. The only question is, what do you want in return? Let me warn you and your kin, though. The Winter Knight can not be bribed, bought, or swayed. I am tempted to stay as a neutral party where your kind are concerned because Merisoul Xyrotwu is my friend, and I owe her a debt of honor. She saved my Inshala, and burned for me! Should you test me though, I will bring Mab’s ire upon you. So.. I am very much hoping the answer to my question is a good one.”
Constance Alure Smithen stiffened a fraction.
“We have left Hell in hopes of finding sanction among elves and humans. We gave an oath, Winter Knight. An oath to sweat, to bleed, and to die for our Ascension. We may not break that oath.”, she said cooly, but not without honest fear, though what it was she feared, Aager couldn’t say.
“Admirable as that may be, you still haven’t answered my question, Liaison Constance.”, he replied in a wintery voice.
“We need your mate’s help.”, Constance said simply.
Aager did not say anything. He waited, silently.
“Some not too distant days ago, ere you and your mate’s arrival, the esteemed sheriff received news about one of the Orken armies having disappeared overnight. He and Mayor Arthandos Yuleman suspect they have used the device that they employed to ambush Arashkan. Fearing a possible recurrence, we were sent a note, by the sheriff himself, pertaining to the lost Orken army and possibly a way to counter-act this device, even temporarily, to avoid further, devastating ambushes. Perigren Ostlanna Temez and my brothers and sisters have worked diligently to find a way to reveal their presence, but we are, at the moment, at a standstill, on account of our ignorance of plants and herbs of this Mortal world. Your mate, Lady Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane Bolgrig Hooman Fogstep, on the other hand, has vast knowledge on this matter. We wished her help, and perhaps her friendship as well, as both her and my kin share common social drawbacks.”
Constance paused for a moment as if considering if she would say more. She must have decided to do so, for she did, but with a muted tone.
“And if we had her as a friend, we would worry less, should Mab want his knight to slay any of us, as the Ritual Guardian would intervene on our behalf. I speak this openly and honestly, Sir Knight.”
Again, she paused. But when she spoke this time, her voice was not cold, but it was brittle.
“I play you will not take my words as a threat, nor as eager warning, Sir, but you must understand, should your Queen indeed move against one of us, She will have moved against all of us. We did not escape Hell, just to be hunted here. We wish to live happy and be happy. I beg you will not take this surcease from us.”
“I have no desire to come after anyone, let alone you or your kin, Liaison. I would suggest you inform your kin to refrain using their skills, unique or otherwise, to avoid the notice of my Queen, and that is all the surety I will give you, as little as it may be.”
“Thank you, Sir Knight.”, Constance said, her voice calm again.
“Do not thank me, Liaison. For my surety is no surety!”
“Your unwillingness to come after us, Sir Knight, is our surety, as little as it may be. As for your suggestion, I shall convey it to Perigren Ostlanna Temez. In the meantime, I would officially ask your permission for Lady Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane Bolgrig Hooman Fogstep to join us in the temple.”
“You need not my permission for my Inshala. She is my mate, she is free. Should she wish it, she may come and go as she pleases, anywhere. I am merely the Winter Knight. She is the Ritual Guardian. You could ask my sister, Lilly, and her husband Largo to join in as well. They both have sharp minds and Largo in particular is good with strategy.”
“Very well, Sir. I shall convey this offer to Perigren Ostlanna Temez, as well.”, and she turned to go.
“There’s one thing I must ask, Liaison.”, Aager said and the young, beautiful woman paused.
“Please, do, Sir Knight.”
“What are your intentions in regard to Sheriff Standorin? I ask only because I have seen, first hand, and on any number of occasions, that he is a decent man. A decent, burned, scarred, and lonely man who dearly misses his deceased wife, Limnia Karya. I would hate to see him suffer more.”
Constance did not wait, nor think to reply.
When she did, her voice had changed, very slightly, giving it a certain, scared warmth.
“If he is indeed a decent, lonely man, burned and scarred, Sir Aager Fogstep, then he and I have much more in common than I ever hoped to have. I shall always be honest, kind, and gentle with him, and I shall be patient with him, also. Until he realizes I am not his lost Limnia Karya, I shall never be his lost Limnia Karya, I can never replace his lost Limnia Karya, and neither will my intentions ever be to replace his lost Limnia Karya, for every life is precious, unique, and irreplaceable. This, I think you already know.”
The Winter Knight mused for a moment before he spoke.
“Then, Liaison Constance, I shall not help you, but neither shall I hinder you. I shall, however, extract a price.”
“Whatever price you demand, I shall pay.”, Constance replied with a slight frown.
“You shall suffer a tryst with the sheriff and trice. The offers, however, must come from you. I shall not accept offers should they come from him. You may, or may not accept his offers, should he make them, but those offers shall not count as part of your debt.”
Constance stared at Aager, quite stupefied.
“I.. do not understand.”, she stammered.
“Your understanding is neither required nor is it part of the price, Liaison Constance.”, he growled.
“I.. will submit to this odd but favorable demand, Sir Knight.”, she stammered some more.
“Winter is not always bitter-cold and dreary, Liaison Constance. When summer comes, does it shine and bloom, and Mortals do spread and far across forest and field. Come winter, do they gather ’round their fires and gain strength and vigor from one another’s dear company. Come winter, does it tuck and veil the earth, quite warm under its shroud of white, ending plagues and wars. And does it mute the distractions of summer and her illustrious colors. Hence do Mortals learn to appreciate the world they walk and come summer and bloom again, they are they now wiser..”, Aager said, his growl gone, yet his voice seemed deeper and vast.
“We, Liaison Constance, are now in an agreement.”
✱ ✱ ✱
You can hide under the blanket, but can you at least remove the pillow? You are going to smother yourself, Lenna.”, Armethelius Riverblade said, stifling a smile, for he would never have guessed, the famous Frost Queen of Bari Na-ammen would be this embarrassed.. or even have the heart to be thus flustered.
Something muffled was heard from under the pillow, and the young high elf commander leaned over a bit to hear what the high lady was saying.
“I am sorry, Lenna. I wouldn’t catch that.”, he said with a bemused expression.
“Go away, Thelius.”, came Anglenna’s pleading muffles.
“I shall. As soon as I see how you are doing. Or see that it is actually you under the pillow.”
“You don’t have to see me like this. Or at all. I.. am not at my best, at the moment.”, she wheezed as she burned and shivered at the same time.
“I would like to be the judge of that, Lenna. Since your usual best would have stared me down already. You might say I want to savor the moment, as dishonorable as that sounds. But I am thinking that much of a dent in my honor will be worth it.” Armethelius replied. “I am going to pull this blanket off now. I really hope you have something on.”
“Don’t! Please!”, panicked Anglenna.
Without a second warning, the young high elf commander pulled off the blanket, ignored the horrified and screaming high lady, bent down, scooped her up, and sat her on the plain chair!
“Now, if you will, this bed is a mess and requires a change of sheets and pillow covers, and possibly a new blanket as well, seeing as how all of them are crumbled and wet! Not exactly a healthy environment, is it?”, he said, and with a swift display of elven agility and grace, he pulled off the sick sheets, the pillow covers, and tossed them, and the blanket over to the door, produced a new set of sheets, covers, and blanket and with practiced hands, did the bed with military accuracy as Anglenna, still burning and shivering, watched him with ogling, morose eyes.
When he was done, he turned around and looked down at the shivering girl, and not unkindly, he said, “I am sorry, Lenna, but this will hurt a bit. And on multiple levels..”
..And pulled the wet, burlap-colored, linen gown off her, from feet to head without giving her the time to gasp, or object, and with equal grace, he put another long gown on her, from head to feet..
Then picked her up, set her in the bed, and pulled the blanket all the way up to her chin!
“I apologize for that, Lenna, and you may reprimand me or even go as far as calling me upon it later, but I wasn’t into a long argument just now. I know these are not up to your usual standards, but the sheet, the pillow cover, and the gown are elf silk, and the blanket is elf wool. I have also brought some soap, a brush, and hairnets for you. A woman of your stature should always uphold certain standards. That said, I am afraid I must take my leave, now. I do not want to be missed for too long and be asked as to why I have been visiting the town thus often of late.”, he said and turned to leave.
Anglenna knew she was about to suffer a colossal shock at what had just happened. She felt it roaring her way and surmised she had only a short moment of coherence left to her. So she asked the only relevant question she could think of.
“I am safe, getting better, and should be up, once the fever is passed. You already know all this. So why are you constantly coming here, Thelius?”
Armethelius Riverblade looked back at the feverish and profusely sweating face of the high lady for a moment. Then spoke with his low, quiet voice.
“Of the two of us, I would have thought I would be the one to ever fall short and lacking.”, he said. “But I can’t believe how you can be this dense, Lenna!”
✱ ✱ ✱
Anglenna Brightleaf was smoldering in abject frustration and mortification. How dare he man-handle her thus unscrupulous and shamelessly! Perhaps picking her up was acceptable, she was feverish and not quite herself and the things going on around had been sort of hazy and vague. Even so, he should have at least asked for permission, if only perfunctorily. But no! He had grabbed her. Just like that! And not satisfied with his boorish manners, he had stripped her gown right off her! The nerve, the level of depravity, the.. the..
Anglenna spluttered as her mortified frustration saw no end.
“Is this a bad time?”, said a husky sort of voice from the door, and the high lady flared!
“GO! JUST GO AWAY AND LEAVE ME ALONE! HOW MANY TIMES MUST I GET HARASSED AND DEGRADED IN ONE DAY?!”
“I think it is a bad time.”, said another, a bubbling, cheery voice. “She is seething. I can feel it. And it is delicious!”
“We should go.”, said a third with a low, resonant voice. “Our stance with Mortal demands is unclear.”
“I think we should just hit her over the head until she cools off. Auntie Irine always did that to me and guess what? It worked!”, said a sharp, petulant fourth voice.
“But we need her concession. I do not think it will work otherwise.”, said a small, vague, fifth.
The door got pushed open and five people stumbled in, tripped, and fell flat and face down!
“Who pushed?”, asked one of them.
“I didn’t either.
“I can push. I totally can. Why didn’t I push?”
Anglenna stared at the oddest lot, entangled on the ground.
“Alright.”, she fumed. “I am officially brain-cooked with fever and have started seeing weird hallucinations now.”
“Hold it. Hold it, everyone.”, said the husky voice. “Hal Mali, love. Please take your hand out of my blouse.”
“Ow. Sorry, Temez. I thought that was Demelze!”
“You wish! I got Hamna Vir’s tail though!”, sneered the chirpy voice of Demelze.
“No, you don’t!”, scoffed Hamna Vir sharply.
“Uhhmm.. That’s not a tail, Demelze. But it could be!”, Hal Mali said a bit flustered.
“I like the bosom am I staring at. It’s so soft.”, said the small voice vaguely.
“Dar Derune, love. You are a bit too young to be staring at bosoms. Don’t you think?”, Temez sighed. “And Demelze does not wear a blouse, Hal Mali. She wears a drop waist.”
“It’s not a drop waist! It’s a bouffant.”, objected Demelze.
“A bouffant has a distinct waist, you dolt! That strip of gauzy cloth you call a dress does not.”, Hamna Vir scoffed again. Then her tone changed and she purred. “Like what you see, then, Dar Derune, baby?”
“Come on, Hamna Vir. He is too young to choose a mate. You know this!”, Hal Mali said with a resigned voice.
“I see her heart. It is a nice, warm place..”, the boy, Dar Derune, said dreamily.
Anglenna just stared at the entangled lot with this funny expression on her face.
“What the Hell kind of a temple is this?”, she said in horror.
And just like that, a choked hush fell on the room.
Perigren Ostlanna Temez freed herself out of the jumble and came at the high lady.
“Lady Anglenna Sunsear, please do not utter the name of that evil place thus freely. It is a name that suffers no fools.”
Hal Mali also disentangled himself and approached her.
“What she says is true, Lady Anglenna Sunsear. We must have care when we speak of certain names, be it a person, a being, or a place.”
“What he said.”, Demelze added, stiffly.
“She is much troubled and carries much worry and fear. She is living in her own Hell.”, Dar Derune said with the same dreamy voice.
“Dar Derune, dear. We agreed not to speak out of turn in front of strangers, did we not?”, reprimanded Hamna Vir as she got up and came at the boy’s side, but not unkindly.
“What is this? Who are you? What is going on here? Get me out! I can’t breathe.”, Anglenna flared as the culmination of the events of the last several days finally cracked her as her fever spiked and the dim, candle-lit room began to spin and a sharp, jarring pain stabbed her right up her arm..
“THIS IS YOUR END! THIS IS YOUR JUDGMENT!”
..croaked a voice waspishly.
..and the high lady dropped.. as darkness engulfed her!
“Hamna Vir..”, Hal Mali said in a reproving tone. “That was not funny, girl.”
“What? I thought it was funny. Always wanted to do that!”, Hamna Vir snickered.
“Look what you did. She’s out, now.”, the handsome half-born complained.
“I had nothing to do with that.”, snapped Hamna Vir.
“Demelze, love. Why don’t you take away her fever? You are the best with fire.”, Temez offered.
“I could. I suppose. But her fire is not the cause of her illness. It is the symptom. I must first burn her sick before I smother her fever.”, Demelze replied unhappily.
“What’s the problem, baby girl?”, Hal Mali asked.
“Do not call me that! I am not your baby girl, Hal Mali!”, spat Demelze. “She is Mortal and her mind is in chaos. Her heart is so full of hate, self-loathing, and fear. I can feel them without even touching her. And she has little to no love in her. I must hold her to burn her sick and take her fever away. And she is in an abhorrent amount of pain. I shall gather all of that.. in me!”
Silence settled in the room again.
“I can not ask you to do what you must, love.”, Temez said quietly. “It is you who must decide.”
Dar Derune came up to Demelze and hugged her.
“Is that what happened when Auntie Irine beat and burned me and you took it all away, Demelze?”, he asked with the first display of some coherent acknowledgment.
Demelze did not answer.
She just stood there with flushed tears running down her face.
Hamna Vir came up to her, and also hugged her from behind. “I love you Demelze. For what you did for my beautiful baby mate, Dar Derune. And I remember how much you hurt after that, and it nearly drow you mad. I shall stand by your decision. Whatever it may be.”
For a long moment, everyone stood where they were until Demelze sniffed loudly, and with a fear-stricken but determined face, she spoke.
“I shall do it. Everyone here cashed in their sweat, their blood, and their lives. I may not do less.”
“Then we shall share your pain, and suffer with you.”, Temez said and hugged her as well. Not you, Hal Mali. And you Dar Derune, love.”
“What? Why?”, Hal Mali asked.
“You will look after us, should we be downed. And Dar Derune mustn’t go through this again. Also, it is he, who must look into Lady Anglenna Sunsear to find the esteemed sheriff’s lost boy, and the lost princess.”
Hal Mali did not refuse, but he didn’t look happy either.
“Come, Dar Derune. Apparently, this is a girls-only thing. We must respect that.”
Dar Derune looked up at the stricken Demelze, then at the equally frightened Hamna Vir, and finally at Temez.
“You have a good heart, Perigren Ostlanna Temez. And never should you have been with us in Hell. My Hamna Vir and I followed you because of that. Demelze; a world without you would be a sad, and lonely place. Please hold on for me.”, he said.. then the vague, dreamy expression settled on his tiny face again.
Hal Mali took him by the shoulders and quietly steered him away..
..and Demelze reached down and grabbed the former high lady of Bari Na-ammen and took her into her embrace.
Her bewitching face contorted and she screamed.
And with her..
..and Temez also screamed!
✱ ✱ ✱
Well. That’s done.”, Sheriff Standorin said as he returned to the office from the small courtyard. “All the assignments have been passed out. I shall be happy when this war is over and we can return back to our scheduled assignments rather than delegating them randomly.”
“The idea of random assignments is a sound one, particularly during times of war. Adds one more level of security against bribed infiltrations.”, Aager mused approvingly. “By the way. We just received fifty more trained high elves from Lord Armethelius Riverblade. I split them into five groups and sent two of up north and northeast of Ritual Forest, one along the southern banks of Arashkan river, another down to the hills surrounding Tinker Hills, and the last one all the way to the edge of Silent Hills to search for possible Orken incursions and to find lost survivors.”
Standorin paused for a moment. Then rumbled, his face slightly flushed.
“Thank you. I know you are going out of your way to help find my son and my daughter-in-law. As I am aware this isn’t the first party you have sent in random directions ‘seeking possible Orken incursions and to find lost survivors.'”
“I have no idea what you are talking about, sir.”, grinned the young man in dark leathers. “Just making sure we don’t get any surprises from the Orken, and who wouldn’t help lost survivors?”
Standorin fumed with frustration.
“Where are they, dammit?”
“We will find them, sir. Which brings up an interesting point, the way Lord Armethelius has been so generous of late. Wonder why that is!”, Aager said blandly.
Standorin fumed again.
“He wants to take Lady Anglenna into their custody. Good luck with that. She is under high suspect and a person of interest. There are a lot of crimes listed against her including espionage, treachery, war crimes and high treason!”
“People change, sir. I wouldn’t know about her past felonies, but I am certain she is not part of any treason, nor is she in cahoots with her mother. Not since some months before the Orken attack on Arashkan and Bari Na-ammen. Much like I do not believe Lord Armethelius wants the esteemed high lady just to place her under elf custody.”
The sheriff stared at him.
“You can’t be serious!”
“I am always serious, sir. I think I have had that established quite firmly. As for Lord Armethelius’s interest in our esteemed high lady, I asked around a bit and found out, he and Lady Anglenna were childhood friends back in the day.. about a hundred and seventy years ago, that is. But when Lady Anglenna’s father, Selvius Brightleaf, died, or was murdered, things changed and the two went their separate ways; Armethelius went military and Anglenna went scheming! But things have changed again. And apparently, as much as Anglenna’s heart seems to have gone cold over the years, Armethelius’s interest in her has never quite dulled. Funny how that turned out!”
Standorin frowned a bit.
“Why don’t you go and visit her? She knows you. Or even Lady Inshala?”
“I will. Once she gets better. And coherent. I don’t want her current, feverish self to get the better of her. You might have noticed, sir, I am not exactly a very lovable person. And I do not want to expose my Inshala to her either. Until then, I am afraid there is nothing else we can do but to milk Lord Armethelius for more of his well-trained elves! Funny how that turned out too”
Standorin barked out a laugh.
“You are a devious man, Master Aager.”
“Thank you, sir. I rather liked it myself.”
“Uhhmm.. Where is Liaison Constance?”, the sheriff asked, looking around.
“She said she wanted to visit the carpenter’s workshop to put in some orders for new shelves, cabinets, drawers, and something called portable containers.. for our archives and filing system.”
“Dammit!”, Standorin said with frustration. “I said I would look into it. I never said I agreed to it!”
“Guess you are going to have to be more careful as to what you say to her, sir.”, Aager said blandly.
“She is a Liaison, for Heavens’ sake! She can’t do that kind of modification in our office!”, the sheriff said with a deploring voice.
“Apparently, she can. Don’t fret, sir. I asked her about her new filing system and it sounded quite plausible. She seems to have an extremely organized frame of mind.. among other things. I’d say just let her do it. She is going to do it anyway. This way, you get to be the agreeable man who sees reason. It will give her something to do and get her out of your hair for a bit. Thought you’d like that as well.”
“You said you had some good advice. Let’s hear it!”, he growled.
“Ahh.. that was then, sir. Now, my price has gone up!”
The sheriff just stared at him, and a vein started throbbing on his temple.
“You are blackmailing me, by doubling the price?”
“Tripling, sir. I am afraid double just won’t cut it.”, Aager replied with a sinister grin. “The price rises over time, sir. Further delays will only cost you more.”
Standorin Shieldheart gave him one of his, silence before the storm, gazes.
And with a wrathful snarl, he said, “Agreed, Master Aager. Know that I shall not forget this. Name your price!”
“You never forget anything, sir. That is why you are so good at what you do.”
“Flattery will not save you..”, seethed the sheriff.
“Very well, sir. I shall now name your price and you will agree to pay it upfront before you hear my advice. Agreed?”
“Agreed..”, Standorin growled grudgingly. “This had better be some very good advice, young man.”
“It is a deal-closer advice, sir. And destined to work! The price then; you, Standorin Shieldheart, shall go out for three more dates with the Liaison Constance!”
Standorin just stared at him.
“Furthermore, the offers to go out on said three dates must come from you. If she makes the proposal, it shall not be counted as part of the price, pain and done. When you have fulfilled all your dates, you shall have paid your debt in full and I shall hence disclose my advice. Now, I have some places to be, and some people to train.”
And just like that, Aager took off, leaving an extremely frustrated sheriff in his wake!
“That was awesome, my Aager.”, the young man heard the soft, whispering voice of Inshala in the depths of his mind.
“I liked it.”
“What do you think will happen in three dates, though?”
“Not three, love. Six. I am all but certain Liaison Constance will ask him out at least three times before our esteemed sheriff can muster the courage to ask her out once!”
“But what will six dates do?”
“Love. We danced just that one time and I savored every single moment of it. I absolutely fell in love with you then and there, and not only because of how pretty I thought you were, or how nice you smelled, or how long and soft your hair was, but because of how kind, caring, scared, and yet brave you were.. Just what do you think will happen when they have gone out on six dates?”
“The good sheriff saved the life of a young and foolish Drashan convict that he didn’t even know. He gave that stupid boy respect, a job, and a home. He trusted his only child with that Drashan and in no Hell or Heaven would I have done those for me! Yet he lived alone and suffered alone. True that half-born may be young, but their understanding of time is unlike ours. This, I learned from you, my Inshala. And you learned me just how lonely and dead my own heart was. By the end of those dates, he will come to me and demand his advice, for he shall think he as earned it, not knowing what he earned was better than my advice, which is going to be, ‘Sir, I advise you date her again before making any final or premature decisions, for life is harder alone..’ Funny how that’ll turn out!”
✱ ✱ ✱
A shrill chorus of screams ricocheted in the small dormitory under the temple and Demelze flared in fire! She shrieked and shrieked but held on tightly at the high elf girl lying unconsciously in her rickety bed as she sucked her burning fever and everything that ailed her..
..and with her, Hamna Vir and Perigren Ostlanna Temez burned as Hal Mali and Dar Derune watched with stricken faces.
Then Demezle stumbled back, and fell, as smoke lazily drifted out from her. Hamna Vir and Temez fell with her, one staring blankly and with glazed eyes, the other bleeding from her nose and ears!
Hal Mali jumped at the girls and scooped them all up into his powerful embrace, rocking back and forth.
Dar Derune gave them a sad, mournful look and turned to the, now peacefully, sleeping elf girl.
“Pretty elf lady. Please wake up!”, he said solemnly.
Anglenna did not budge.
After days of draining, fevered pain, she was just done in.
“Pretty elf lady. Please.. Do wake up!”, the boy implored. “We seek what you seek. We seek the boy and the pretty princess. We seek that which ails you.”
Perhaps it was the word ‘princess’, or maybe it was the desperate tone in the little boy’s voice, but something must have gotten through the haze of sweet clouds and blissful abandon, for Anglenna opened her pale green eyes and stared at the little boy with amber eyes and tiny little horns.
“Who.. who are you?”, she whispered.
“We are the free ones. The ones with choice, pretty elf lady. We are the half-born. The ones who escaped and we are here to help find that which is lost.. But I need access to your memories and see whom to seek. And for that, I must have your consent, whilst it be treachery and a violation of our oath.”
“You will find young Udoorin Shieldheart and my cousin, Princess Alor’Nadien ne Feymist?”, Anglenna stared up at the little boy with the first glimmer of painfully brittle hope.
“If possible and if they are on this side of Oblivion, I shall, pretty elf lady.”, the boy said in a small voice.
Then he paused for a moment and his face became sad and unhappy.
“I must warn you though. It might hurt, sifting through your memories. And confusing. It might leave you catatonic, unable to even feed yourself. I am sorry, but I am broken and unable to refine my skills.”
“It is alright, little one, for I have understood little of what you just said, but I am content, and I consent.”
The little boy, Dar Derune, reached down to the pretty elf girl and held her face with his small, kid-hands.
Anglenna Brightleaf yelped, and was lost in a whirling storm of painful memories!
✱ ✱ ✱
“I told you, should you go ahead with this ‘plan’, you would get yourself killed at the very least. Well, look at that; you are dying!”, says High Lady Anglenna, and stares down at the dying man coldly and with very much dislike.
The man on the ground has an arrow sticking out of his chest. He gurgles in excruciating pain as bloody bubbles spurt out of his mouth. He is drowning in his own blood for the arrow has punctured his lungs and torn deep into them at an odd angle.
Yet, he defies death and a wet, rattling sound escapes him.
“I don’t think so.”, says the high lady. “For your hare-brained and reckless plan has gotten our healer killed as well.”, and looks down at the three other men lying dead and nods at the one with the long, splintered spear in his belly.
Then she looks up at the horde of bandits running in her direction, swinging old, rusty swords. True, her face is cold, but she stares at the bandits with clinical detachment and calculates something that involves their current distance, their speed, a certain spherical radius, and the number Pi..
And quietly, she points somewhere in the center of the bandits and murmurs.
“And four, and three, and two, and one..”
A tiny mote of fire appears among the bandits, and Anglenna turns her pointing hand into a fist..
..and with a savage bloom, the mote explodes; a low, rumbling expansion.
Within the blink of an eye, the fire engulfs the bandits, and with a chorus of short-lived screams, incinerates them all!
With her dispassionate, dissatisfied, and cold stare, she looks down at the gurgling man and speaks, barely refraining a sneer.
“A plan should never be thus complicated. But I guess you shall never learn that.”
“Your.. healing potion.. give it to me.. please..”, the man begs with a wet, bloody whisper.
“Why? So you can live and afflict your stupidity upon others and get them killed as well?”, she very nearly hisses with contempt..
..and walks away.
“Not this one.”
• • •
“For four days, I have been watching this crystal ball without food, water, or rest, mother.”, Anglenna says, as her voice rattles like a rusty saw.
“And you believe this is a good reason for your total failure, do you? You were unable to scry upon my dear brother, Grandaleren, four days ago. Four days later, you are still unable to see him in the crystal ball. Seems to me like neither your hunger, your thirst nor your fatigue is part of the equation, but merely your bad excuse for your failure. One day, you shall be the Rise of Bari Na-ammen, my daughter. You must thus be better prepared for it.”, says the High Lady Angrellen.
“Bari Na-ammen already has a riserin, mother. A princess. It is she, who will become a Rise. Not I..”, replies Anglenna with a parched voice.
A sharp, sudden, and shocking clap is heard.
Anglenna hears a ringing sound in her ears and she sees tiny, yellow motes fly haphazardly as a smoldering pain spreads from one side of her face.
And she wakes up to the fact that her mother has just slapped her across her face.
“Never shall you bring that mongrel’s name, nor her presence, under my roof. Do you understand me, Lenna?”, hisses her mother with absolute loathing.
“Yes.. mother..”, says Anglenna in mortification.
The door to their room is knocked and someone, an elf woman with a blurry face, lost in time, enters, and with fear-induced accuracy, she bows before the mistress of the house.
“I apologize, my lady. Your niece, Princess Alor’Nadien ne has arrived and begs to see her cousin, High Lady Anglenna, and asks if she is available to play with her.”
High Lady Angrellen does not at all reflect her fel and seething feelings on her face. With cool detachment, she regards the shivering maid. What she truly feels upon the liberal use of the name of the princes under her roof, however, is etched quite clearly in her frigid eyes.
“Go, my daughter, go and game with the wee princess. It is apparent you are better at little else.”
“This one is sad.”
• • •
“I apologize, my Lady, the princess, Alor’Nedien ne has arrived and begs to speak with you.”, says the elf maid and bows deeply before the mistress of the house.
“Let her in.”, orders High Lady Angrellen and crows feet appear at the edge of her pale green eyes.
The elf maid retreats and returns with the princess, and lo..
Princess Alor’Nadien ne has grown to be everything she was blessed and promised and High Lady Angrellen very nearly chews on her own liver for the little wee ‘mongrel’ has matured into a beautiful, graceful, elegant, and extraordinary creature and Anglenna sees how her mother seethes with unmitigated spite, for she knows, try as she might, the princess has attained the kind of shining demeanor her mother has never had, and would never have.
True, the girl approaching them has gotten some of her beauty both from her mother and her father, but the air of maturity, the sincerity, the love, and the calming aura about her are all hers.
Her charcoal-black hair thickly woven and braided in a complex pattern climbs down her slim waist. There is a gleam of hidden mischief in her deep, fresh grass-green eyes, and barely discernable freckles pepper her elegant nose, and a small, cherry-red mouth adorns her face. With her not-yet-fully-grown breasts and her slender figure, Princess Alor’Nadien ne Feymist presents the very essence of life..
The princess smiles at the elf maid and thanks her kindly, then very politely she curtsies at the lady of the house, and with sincere gratitude, her soft, soothing voice echoes in the rooms.
“My dearest Auntie Angrellen..”
“This one is nice, but out of date.”
• • •
You leave again, Lenna.”, says the handsome, solemn high elf with deep-set eyes, long blonde hair, angular chin, and a distinct, outlined mouth.
“I very much doubt this is any of your business, Armethelius Riverblade. And whatever gave you the impression that we were friends enough for you to get familiar with my name. As I recall, we are not even friends..”, says the High Lady, Anglenna, gazing coldly at the young, high elf commander.
“No, no.. Not this one, either. Too much self-loathing. Too much hate. I can feel them all, and it hurts!”
• • •
High Lady Anglenna, sits alone on her side of the long table. It is evening somewhere and there is a festive air about, for others sit around other tables and they talk, eat, drink, and they laugh.. they share!
Children run around in shrill, chirping screams of joy as they chase one another around the tables loaded with delicious and happy food and a slow, enthralling music is playing somewhere nearby; a young, handsome half-elf is singing with his equally handsome baritone voice and another half-elf, this one she knows but hasn’t met yet, a boldly beautiful girl sings with him in her contralto voice.
The high lady ignores it all for she has found her query.
Princess Alor’Nadien ne, sitting across the town sheriff and looking down into her hands, her beautiful face burning with disgraced shame.. in this happy evening.
“And it is not dear cousin Lenna to you, Nadien ne, it is High Lady Anglenna!”, she hisses at the little princess.
With barely audible voice, and without looking up, the princess whispers..
“Would not that make me, Princess Alor’Nadien ne for you, then?”
“I like her. She is nice. And she has a quiet, unimposing will. The lighting here is low, though. I can’t see her face and she looks down with shame.”
• • •
A sound High Lady Anglenna knows she will never forget in her life. Even as her memories tumble and slash her to her very core like hundreds and thousands of paper cuts, this particular memory escapes her with a moan full of shame and self-loathing. It is the sound of the love her little princess feels for her, for it is also the sound of her ultimate sacrifice..
..it is the sound of sharp steel parting flesh, and scraping bone!
High Lady Anglenna spins around as Princess Alor’Nadien ne is hurled at her and collapses in her arms.
Anglenna tries to pick the foolish little princes, but she drifts down and down, until she is on the ground, still in her cousin’s arms, but with a long, ugly-looking dagger in her slender back.
And Anglenna watches in horror as the blood draining from the face of her little princess..
..is spilling and ebbing into the dirt.
Yet her cousin tries to smile at her as more blood trickles from her small lips. She clings to Anglenna and whispers, as the light of life fades from her beautiful grass-green eyes..
I.. am so sorry, Lenna.
I tried my best.. but I could not save you..
Please.. forgive me..
With another moan, Anglenna gasped, her face distorted and she trashed in her sickbed like a wild animal.
“NO. NO, BABY GIRL.. YOU SAVED ME! YOU SAVED ME FROM ME! YOU SAVED ME FROM MY OWN, ABOMINABLE AND WRETCHED SELF.. DON’T DIE.. PLEASE.. DON’T LEAVE ME. I AM SORRY! I AM SO SORRY FOR ALL THE THINGS I DID TO YOU.. FORGIVE ME.. PLEASE FORGIVE ME..”
“This one is not very recent, but it is as fresh and vivid as today! It burns.. And I see her very clearly. Yes. This one will do..”
✱ ✱ ✱
The small boy let go of the flailing high elf woman and Anglenna reeled back down on her bed and the memory of her cousin’s sacrifice came crashing in on her, all over again. At the time, she had thought her cousin was trying to save her from the dagger. Looking back, it had never been the dagger she had thought she had failed to save her from. It had been her mother, Angrellen, whom she had tried to save her from.. That was why she was pleading her forgiveness because she knew had just run out of time, and Anglenna would have to return back to her mother, and back to her life-long, depleting, and ousted captivity..
High Lady Anglenna broke..
..and cried like a heart-wrenched little girl, and with total lack of self-control, moderation, or decorum.
The boy left the traumatized elf women and looked down at his small hands to see they were red and blistered.
So.. the pretty elf lady had love in her after all.. and it was powerful enough to burn him even though he hadn’t tried to eat her soul.
Anglenna’s love for her sister-cousin was strong enough to burn a half-born bound by his own blood-oath!
He closed his eyes, frowned a bit, then opened them again and there was a deep, abyssal cast to them now.
He took a deep breath and slowly, he started to turn..
“Gotcha!”, he said suddenly and pointed east.
“Demons are not allowed here, little one..”, said a deep, rich, throaty voice — ⊗
“Oops!”, was all the little boy could say.
⊗ —and backhanded him.
Right across the room!
Dar Derune flew right over the rickety bed and slammed into the wall and slid down, his little face contorted with pain.
The girls gave out a collective of shrieks, abandoned their own seething pain, and jumped after the boy, followed closely by Hal Mali.
“Who? Who did this to you?”, cried Hamna Vir as she dropped on her knees and pulled the boy tightly into her arms.
“Tis alright Hamna Vir.”, said the boy groggily. “I should have been mindful of my manners.”
“Who did this?”, hissed Demelze. “I shall burn it to the ground!”
“And I shall dice and slice him open and wide.”, growled Hal Mali.
“Tell us, love. No one harms our Dar Derune!”, Perigren Ostlanna Temez said fiercely.
“Please don’t be mad.”, the boy pleaded. “It was my fault, really. I shouldn’t have barged in, the way I did.”
“TELL US!”, they all chorused.
Dar Derune signed, took a step back, and stared at his brother and sisters, and spoke..
..in a tiny voice..
The people of Serenity Home work hard and diligently as war approaches. Though winter has settled severe, frigid, and deep, somewhat harsher than usual, the lands around the town live a milder cold. In groups and individuals, the peoples of the town work day and night.
The people of Serenity Home must know her allies, though, and respect them..
The tall, slim figure walked with quiet, serene dignity and very much ignored the people staring and ogling at her, for she was a creature of long, slender arms and legs in elegant dress skirts that reached down to her high pumps and swept behind her. It wasn’t that she didn’t care, nor did she think they were beneath her. She merely chose not to partake, or blush, for she knew precisely what she was, and how striking a figure she posed. And she chose to be quiet, and quietly, dignified about it, rather than flaunt her beauty; a beauty that comprised of rather alluring soft-eyes with flowing, silky black hair, and long, not-too-overtly curving figure, rather appealing breasts, and long, smooth, beautiful horns..
Of all the possible ways she could have gone, she had opted for ‘demure’..
“Yes”, she had thought. “Demure and dignified feels ‘right’ for me.”
Among all her kind, even Perigren Ostlanna Temez had bowed to her cool, silent, and serene aura, for where Temez had been beautiful and ravishing in a quite exhilarating way, she had been.. well.. cool, silent, and serene!
Or demure and dignified, as she herself preferred to correctly and accurately define herself.
Hence, she walked through the overcrowded town, and ignored the stares, even though it was the first time she had come out of the town’s temple since their arrival.. One would have expected anyone else to have looked around and perhaps gone sight seeing after having been stuck in a temple for weeks on end, but no. She had come out of the temple and as if on a mission, she had started for a very specific place in the town with slow, measured steps, as her high pumps click-clacked to her steady pace..
Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart opened the door of the sheriff’s office upon hearing the polite knock.
One would also think some underling or guard would have reached for the door. But the sheriff did not have any ‘underlings’ and would likely have scoffed at anyone who would ask him why he didn’t. As for the guards, they were either at their appointed posts, out patrolling, or at lunch —a timing picked with care, and precise deliberation on the alluring young woman’s part.
“Good day, Lady Constance.”, the sheriff said politely and stepped aside for the alluring young women to enter. “Please. Take a seat, if you will.”
“You know my name.”, the young woman, Constance, said, not taken aback, precisely, but pleasantly surprised.. and pleased.. as she came in and sat in the rather blocky chair right across the small table where the sheriff himself took his seat.
“The young Senior Temple Guardian Thomas had introduced you and your kin, upon your arrival.”, politely reminded Sheriff Standorin. “I remember all your names.”
“Ah. I see.”, Constance said, with the slightest disappointment, though the fact that said introduction had been very brief and that there had been over a hundred of her kind there at the time, did not escape the alluring young woman.
“How may I be of assistance? I hope your stay here will be as comfortable as possible, though I must admit, Serenity Home Temple was never build to guest such a crowd over an extended period of time. If there is anything I could do, however, please feel free to inform us. I shall pass them up to the mayor.”
“Thank you for your sincere concern, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. I shall convey this to my brothers and sisters, though I suspect their first and greatest demand will be..”, she said with a barely discernable, resigned blush and finished. “.. candy.”
“Ma’am?”, Standorin asked, a bit baffled.
“We.. never lived a childhood, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. And now, my kin are like children when it comes to games and food. They refuse to eat their broccoli but want only candy. Something that was never given to us in Hell.”, replied Constance, looking very slightly embarrassed.
“I see.”, said the sheriff, with a professionally straight face, and not because he was trying to avoid a snort, but because he was being professional. Sheriff Standorin never laughed at people who came to his office. Period.
“But this is not the reason why I have come, as busy as you are, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. I have been assigned to you by Perigren Ostlanna Temez, the leader of the Escape, as a liaison between your office and my kin, to better know our Mortal neighbors and to help assist them in any way possible. In the light of the coming war, I believe a certain acquaintance might be in order. Getting to know one another would surely help better coordinate strategies, both in theory and application, and certainly help to get to know and understand one another. Capabilities and capacities unknown, after all, are quite useless, if they are unknown to our Mortal neighbors, wouldn’t you agree?”, she said in her demure and serene voice.
Sheriff Standorin frowned just a bit.
“Such coordination would indeed be beneficial.”, he agreed carefully.
“Very well. I shall arrive here at dawns, henceforth, and leave one hour before midnights to join my brothers and sisters for our daily prayers.”
The sheriff’s frown deepened.
“I would gladly guest you here. However, we do not really have the appropriate facilities to entertain a lady such as yourself.”, he said.
“I shall not be here for entertainment, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. I shall be here to liaison and to observe. And should my advice be inquired, to offer, in the best of my capacity.”, replied Constance.
Standorin sought, very hard, to find a polite way to reject, or at the very least, to dissuade the alluring young women, but he just couldn’t come up with anything plausible.
“Do not despair, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. I shall not distract your men. We, all of us, have taken a blood oath upon our lives; to fight and to bleed, and should it be necessary, to die to attain our Ascension. Tried though I have, I just can’t seem to find another practical way to know our Mortal neighbors. If it will make you feel slightly at ease, if at all, what I see, hear, and learn shall go only to Perigren Ostlanna Temez. It is she, who will decide what to relay to the rest of my kin, as to what is important and relevant, and what they must know about you and yours and what they are protecting, Also, methinks, for the people of this town to attain a certain familiarity to seeing our kind to defuse any future misunderstandings, particularly under the stress of war, when it arrives. We shall keep our numbers a secret, however, for obvious reasons. Only Serenity Home Temple Guardians, Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel Songsteel, your mayor, Arthandos Yuleman, and you, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, shall know this.”, she explained calmly.
Standorin fumed a bit.
“Oh. I was also told to give you this.”, she said and produced a rather heavy pouch and placed it on the sheriff’s desk.
The pouch clinked.
The sheriff looked down at the pouch but did not touch it.
“What is this?”, he asked.
“A debt paid in full.”, Constance replied.
Standorin cocked an eyebrow.
“Some months ago, you chastised one of my kin, a Merisoul Xyrotwu, in this town. I was told the incident happened during a celebration but she was unable to settle her debt. She asked me if I would be kind enough to cover for her, thus I have..”, she said with a very small, demure smile.
Unbeknownst to the sheriff, and as small and brief as it had been, this was, in fact, the first smile Constance had displayed in a very, very long time.
“I.. see..”, the sheriff said, then pulled a thick notepad out of his shirt, flipped through its pages, found the one he was looking for, then wrote; PAID IN FULL.
He then pulled open the drawer of his desk and took out an old, brass stamp, and punched it twice on the page, ripped the bottom half, and placed it next to the heavy pouch.
“The receipt.”, he said shortly.
Constance stared at the torn piece of paper, then looked up at the sheriff a bit confused.
“What shall I do with it?”, she asked.
“Keep it.”, he said, still silently fuming.
“Yes. But what shall do with it?”, the alluring young woman repeated.
“It is the thing that proves Miss Merisoul’s debt has been paid in full, should anyone demand to know.”, the sheriff explained.
Constance stared at the big man, very much confounded, now.
“Word is not enough, among Mortals?”
“Sometimes it is. But words are not always definitive nor may they always be binding among mortals. And words unknown to others can not bind, particularly where laws are concerned. Laws, Lady Constance, deal with what is substantial. A receipt, such as this one, can be shown to any law enforcement officer who is unaware of your word, and be accepted.”, Standorin replied, a tad curtly.
“I see.”, Constance said. “Perhaps your laws are a good place for me, as a liaison, to start. Is there more of such laws and if so, where may I learn them?”
To give the sheriff credit, he did not sigh nor fume anymore. Slowly, he moved his chair back, got up and walked over to one of the many shelves, and pulled out a heavy, worn, and battered book that also had some long-dried and faded bloodstains on its spine. Apparently, one town sheriff in the past had made good, alternate use of the thick, heavy book by means of applying the law in a very literal sense.
Again, he did not give the book, but placed it on the table, next to the pouch, and the receipt.
“This book contains the King’s Laws pertaining only to my office; the Criminal Law. You may find similar books that deal with commerce and judicial matters in both the temple library or the town’s public library. For laws that are specific to Serenity Home, you may find in the mayor’s office.”, he explained.
Constance’s brows frowned very slightly.
“Very well.”, she said. “I shall study this book, and further study the other books that deal with your laws. After all, I may not liaison what I do not know.”
Gracefully, she rose from her chair and bent, very slightly, and without any implications or flaunting, reached down and took the small receipt and the heavy book, and started towards the door.
Standorin followed her and opened the door for her.
Constance paused at the door, just for a moment, and very slightly turned to the large man.
Standorin also paused.
“I can sense your distraught feelings, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. Have I perhaps done you wrong that I am not aware of?”
The sheriff stared at the very alluring young woman for a long moment as if trying to read her, or perhaps comprehend her. To give him further credit, never had he stared at the beautiful woman’s long, even horns, nor had he.. checked her out. With professional diligence, he had looked at her face, and only at her face..
“I apologize if I have given you any offense, Lady Constance Alure Smithen. It was never my intention. I am the sheriff of this town and for quite many years. Unlike the temple, this office rarely deals with the good in men. I might go as far as saying, I have seen every kind of foolish things mankind has had to offer, and rarely do people willingly come here, to my office, without some sort of private agendas. I feel a certain compulsion to remind you, and yours, that in this office, I don’t play games..”, he said, though not harshly.
Constance calmly looked at the sheriff.
“..and I do not like being ambushed.”, he finished.
Whatever crossed the alluring young woman’s head, she never showed it.
With her usual calm, cool, and dignified serenity, she gave the sheriff a very brief nod.
“I see you are a man of integrity, burned and scarred. I apologize if I have given you the impression of deception or possible subterfuge. Much like your kind have common traits, so do we. But much like your kind are also individually unique, so are we. As for me, I am precisely how I seem and have little use for deceptions, less so for lies. A mind cluttered with lies is a distracted mind.”
She paused for a brief moment, perhaps unsure whether to say more or not. She must have decided to go for the former because a decisive frown appeared on her beautiful face.
“About the ambush, it was done with deliberation on my part, but not with ill intent. I had to see if you truly were as intelligent as I surmised you were. Some of my kind told me to just reveal my.. certain aspects.. as men are often fooled and enthralled by them. I argued against it because I thought it to be too demeaning on your part.. and mine. I am the elected liaison, yes. But I would rather there be some mutual respect, than be seen as a mere, succubi half-born, for that is precisely why we were made, and also the precise reason why we escaped and what we left behind. I shall take my leave, now, and study the laws of Mortal crimes and the measures taken to prevent them and come morning, I shall be here to liaison.”
With that, she left, click-clacking calmly and demurely through the crowd of staring and ogling townsmen.
✱ ✱ ✱
Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart stared after the tall, beautifully alluring woman as she swayed, gracefully, through the crowd like she had an invisible bubble around her. Where she went, people parted!
He shut the door with deliberate calmness.. then blew from his nose.
“Interesting.”, said a growling voice, and Aager Fogstep came down the stairs leading up to the roof of the sheriff’s office.
Standorin didn’t say anything for a full minute. Then he fumed again and growled in his own deep, rumbling voice.
“You would think so..”
Aager snorted. A something he would never have done before.. Inshala!
“She wants something.”, he said.
“Yes. I have been at this job long enough to recognize that.”, Standorin said.
“So she’s the new liaison, then?”, Aager stated, more than asked.
“A liaison is a good thing. Inshala performs a similar role among the druids of both Ritual Forest and among what remains of High Woods. They argued who would lead until they heard we’d arrived. Or rather, until they heard she’d arrived. They flocked around her, causing her to shy and causing me to very nearly killing them.. The idiots!”, Aager continued. “I suppose she will also be a liaison between us and the ogres, should they accept our offer to join us..”
“..As opposed to taking this opportunity for some long awaited payback!”, the sheriff finished.
“Well. We certainly didn’t treat them with courtesy. Not that they always behaved themselves. Though I must admit, the way my Inshala speaks about their chieftain, or Mother Ganiste, as she calls her, I would think she is exceptionally intelligent and..”, Aager said.
Then saw the young man in his black leathers was actually serious.
“Her words, sir. Not mine. Though I have yet to see her be mistaken when she looks into the souls of people.”, without any implications.
“Interesting.”, Standorin mused, giving the young man a side-long glance. “I wonder what she saw in you?”
“Never asked.”, Aager said simply.
The sheriff turned and stared at him, both eyebrows cocked!
“I was afraid, I might not like what she had to say about me.”, admitted Aager.
“No.”, said Standorin said sternly. “I think you were afraid you might like, what she would say about you.”
“Or that.”, Aager shrugged again. “I shall be at her side and keep her safe.. and happy.. for as long as she’ll have me. I am content with that.”
“You seem more than content, Master Aager. And from the way she appears now, as opposed to what she was, some months ago, I’d say she is more than content as well.”, Standorin said with light amusement. Then he paused for a short moment, then asked. “Perhaps she is expecting?”
“Great Heavens, man, a child!”, the sheriff said with an exasperated tone.
Aager did not reply for a long while.
When he did, his voice was muted.
“We.. haven’t gone there yet..”
Standorin just stared at him.
“We just.. cuddle.. I mean, she curls into this little ball when she sleeps and asks me to hug her, so I do. She wakes up with the best and happiest face I have ever seen, so I keep on doing that and likely keep on doing that because that happy face is worth the world to me. It’s a face to live, to fight, and to die for..”, Aager explained quietly.
“My man. You have missed your calling. You should have been a poet!”, Standorin said seriously.
“But.. why have you not explained.. things to her? She deserves to know the truth, man.”, the sheriff said with a somewhat fuming tone.
“What she deserves, is more than me, sir. Willy-nilly, she chose me. At the moment, she wakes up very happy. At the moment, that happy face fills me with joy I have seen in no other, and certainly never in my life. I feel drunk every morning! When she figures she wants more, I shall submit to her wishes, as I have before.”, the young man in dark leathers replied gruffly.
“You are killing me, young man!”, he said, totally exasperated now.
“Well. I would say that’s a good way to go, wouldn’t you agree?”, Aager grinned at him.
The sheriff sighed again, then returned back to the matter at hand.
“We have got to find a way to keep her out of our hair.”, he said with a scowl.
“Why? If you don’t mind me asking.”, Aager said looking at the sheriff.
“Master Aager.”, the sheriff said suddenly fuming again. “Perhaps you have lost all your senses, on account of your merry disposition..”
“..But did you see her? Honestly see her?”
“Yes. I did, sir. More so than you, I believe, from my inevitable vantage point!”, Aager replied with a straight face.
“Just exactly what do you think will happen when she comes in here? We don’t really have a shortage of young bachelors, you know, and seeing as how busy as we are, we don’t need distractions, either!”, the sheriff blazed.
“I doubt Constance has that sort of entertainment in mind, sir.”, Aager mused quietly. “She seemed much like an alpha lioness who would ignore the unproven cubs. Not when there’s an alpha lion in the den!”
Standorin gave him a very sour look.
“That would be Lady Constance, if you will, please, and I don’t need that sort of distraction either, young man!”, he said, gritting his teeth. “Not now. Not ever.”
“No sir. I am afraid it’s just Constance. ‘Lady’ means absolutely nothing for her or her kind. Not until you sit down and carefully explain it to them. As a matter of fact, they might even take it as an insult for denying them of who they are or refusing them their right to exist as they are by quantifying them into something acceptable in your mind, rather than theirs, no matter how polite you thing you are.. Also, ‘never’ and ‘ever’ are a long time in Mortal time, sheriff, but mean very little to them. This I learned the hard way, and it almost broke me. I wouldn’t advise you the same kind of landing, sir. It hurts!”, replied Aager, and a bare tint of something wintery appeared in his voice.
Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart stared at Aager for the young man had just confirmed something he had suspected for some time.. Ever since he had returned from the Ruins of Themalsar. More distinct with the appearance of the little girl, Inshala. But there was something else going on here.
True, the young lady had a way with people, and apparently, more so with Master Aager, here, as she had not quite attached herself to him, so much as given herself, truly, unequivocally, and selflessly to the young man, and in her unique, incomprehensible way. And she had done so not by bewitching, nor enthralling, but.. blooming? Sheriff Standorin couldn’t quite understand. Suffice to say, the chance in the young man was.. more!
As to what that ‘more’ was, or what it entailed, he didn’t know. But there it was..
“What do you advise then? Let her just flaunt herself here?”, Standorin asked steadily.
“I do not think she’s got ‘flaunting’ in mind, sir. She wants something, flaunting just isn’t it. One thing she said in particular, caught my attention, though.”
“The thing she said about all her kind having common traits, but also being individually unique..”, Aager said thoughtfully.
Aager stared at the sheriff for a moment before speaking.
“She wasn’t just quoting a cliché when she said that, sir. You were the sole recipient of the part about being individually unique.. while telling us something about her kind. I strongly believe, in her own way, she was complimenting you, sir..”
Standorin breathed from his nose.
“Just what I needed.”, he growled. “Being the subject of some young girl with an infatuation! Just which part of my behavior did she think was ‘nice’?”
“You are missing the higher point here, sir.”, Aager said with a slightly amused tone.
“Do tell, Master Aager. Seeing as how much you are enjoying this!”, the sheriff scowled.
The scowl bounced right off the young man like dry peas off a wall.
“I believe she was indeed the perfect choice among her kind to serve as a liaison, yes. And is likely very patient, observant, and intelligent. But she came here at a time where she would most likely have found you alone. Coincidence? Perhaps? But no one comes here willingly, to begin with, and certainly not during lunch hours as they will be told to go and come back during hours.. politely.. You thought she ambushed you on a political matter. True, that certainly was an ambush, but it wasn’t her ambush. I suspect that was Perigren’s idea. Constance, on the other hand, could have come here at any other time, but she chose to do it when you’d be alone, because everyone else tends to go home or to the inn for lunch, leaving you to guard your own office! Had I and Inshala been a regular couple with regular hours, not even I would have been here.”
Standorin thought about what the young man had just said for a few minutes before nodding in acquiescence.
“I felt something similar.. long ago..”, he said quietly. “When I was a young and foolish boy.”
He looked at Aager and pointedly said, “I would rather what I tell you stayed with you.”
Aager didn’t dawdle.
He simply nodded.
“Had a spat with my father. He wanted me to become something I didn’t want, so I ran. I wanted to see the world. I wanted to be an adventurer. So I became exactly that; a young and foolish boy with no destiny, only young and foolish daydreams. I did a lot of jobs during that time. Caravan guarding mostly, and even bounty hunting. A job not as fun and exciting as those hotheads in Palantine make it sound. Apprehended many felons and fugitives. Most came quietly. When ambushed or disarmed. Some didn’t though. The level of stupidity in men is truly astonishing —something I learned early in that job. In the end, I found out that I was fine with apprehending, not so much with being forced to kill an idiot.. Then, one day, some of my co-hunters warned me about some people who were looking for me, and that they didn’t seem to have good intentions. Suffice to say, I ran. Not really something I am proud of, really, but as I said, I was young and foolish back then. But my pursuers just wouldn’t give up! I don’t really know for how long I ran, really. I believe it was closer to four months. I must have been through every hill or forest from the north of Ritual Forest, all the way down to the south of Palantine City. I was so bloody scared because I was always just barely keeping a day or two ahead of them. It was like they enjoyed the chase more than to actually wanting to catch me. Finally, I decided to confront them and die on my own terms. So that final day, I carefully traveled one way, then doubled back and traveled in another, in the hopes of splitting their numbers. I remember, how proud I was of that plan. More so because the silly plan had actually worked! So I ambushed one. Again, not something I am proud of. We fought, and that day I learned the value of starting at a young age. After nearly two hours of swinging blades at one another, I finally downed him. Disarmed him, to be more precise. As much as I hated these people, I hated killing more. Yet, there he was, on the ground, weaponless, and just grinning at me. And let me tell you, he was one of the ugliest man I had ever seen and that grin of his.. was just evil! Then I heard a bow twang and an arrow very nearly caught me on the hip. And for your information, being shot in the arse is as degrading as it sounds. I was so disappointed because the ugly man had played me all along. He’d just taken his time until his partner had arrived and I’d fell for it. Then, to my greatest surprise, I heard a woman’s voice. ‘Had your fun, did you Moorat? Grow up, already!’ —her exact words. Turns out, they were the Senior Rangers of Serenity Home and had come looking for me to inform me that my father had passed away some six or eight months ago and that he had paid the rangers to find me in the hopes that I might come back home.. Ironic, isn’t it? Yes. One of those rangers was Moorat himself, Bremorel Songsteel’s ranger master and the other was no other than his elder sister, Limnia Karya.. my Limnia Karya; Udoorin’s mother and the most beautiful, cool-headed, luminous woman I had ever met..”
Standorin didn’t say anything else for a long time, again.
Then he sighed.
“The feeling I spoke of. The one I said I felt only once before.. It was something I felt during those four months.. the dire sense of being hunted!”
✱ ✱ ✱
How did the esteemed sheriff take the news?”, Perigren Ostlanna Temez asked when Constance Alure Smithen walked in, with her cool, serene pace..
..into one of the dormitory rooms in the Serenity Home Temple.
“I told you he was a capable man. Smart and scarred. Knew it the moment I saw him, dear Temez. He saw right through your ambush and did not appreciate it. But he agreed to it, I believe, though he will want to resist it for some time. Deep down, he knows this liaison job is a good offer, if not a good idea, particularly in the long run. It was the ambush part that he found quite distasteful. We should have asked the Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood to have proposed the idea.”, Constance said calmly.
“No, dear Constance. that young man has done more than enough for us by providing a secure sanction, as it is and has many, many Mortals to look after, not to mention, he has to care, show affection, and spare time for his own woman. We must pick up and carry our own weight now, hence the ambush was inevitable. We couldn’t have opened it to a debate. He is a sturdy, reliable man who also sees us as a security risk, however, and possibility a potential threat. We do not need him to like us. But we do need him to respect us. If he does, so will the town and the elves, because they respect him and do not question his honor. When the war starts, that is when we must not be a distraction to the Mortals. Nor should they mistake us for foe and fire upon us. That would end quite horribly.. for them, and for us. And we need to find homes. And real jobs. We gave an oath and that oath is binding.”, Perigren Ostlanna Temez said quietly.
“You already have a home, dear girl. Why don’t you take your leave and go to your boy?”, asked Constance kindly.
Temez didn’t reply immediately.
When she did, her beautiful face was flushed with self-loathing and shame.
“I.. must earn my place in this Mortal world. And I must make sure my brothers and sisters are safe. That is what my oath entailed. That is the promise I gave to my sister and my BFF, Arezme Ara Serraphyn, and I will keep to my promise.”, she said, her words seething. “The Mortals must acknowledge us and include us in their fight. We must be part of their survival. That is how we will earn our place among them.”
“I do not question your reasons, dear. This path we walk will end with the loss of many of our kin.”, Constance reminded her.
“We are already dead, Constance. All of us are. That was decided before we were conceived. Now, some of us have the chance to die of old age and pass our heritage, without the shame, to our children, should we have them..”, Temez replied, still burning. “I.. wish to return to my boy so much, it is killing me alive, Constance. What I did to him.. was evil.. I must cleanse myself of this sin.. I must..”
“Yes, dear. All of us must. Why don’t you go down to the crypts and pray for Darling Demos, a bit? Praying always seems to help and it is nice and quiet there. Of all the half-borns, you can not break, dear. Not now, not ever.”, Constance said, as she bent down and embraced her sister-kin and whispered. “They all are playing like children now, and like children, they only want candy. Should you break, all that is gone, and we are left as broken demon-borns, again.”
The door to their dormitory opened and an extraordinarily handsome young man, a half-born, with pale hair and impressive, curving horns stepped in and spoke with a cool, rusty voice.
“Hey, Temez. Constance. How did it go at the esteemed sheriff’s office? Did we time it right for you?”, he asked with a brilliant grin.
Constance gave him one of her rare smiles —a very small one.
“You did excellent work Hal Mali Volent. Your ability to guestimate time was excelling, as always. No one was there.”, replied Constance.
“No. She was observed by another.”, said a small, somewhat vague voice from behind Hal Mali Volent, and a boy that seemed no more than six or eight, dragging what appeared to be a stuffed imp, walked into the dormitory.
“Dar Derune, sweetheart? What are you doing here?”, asked Temez leaving the embrace of Constance to kneel down before the boy, and gave her own hug to him. “Where’s Berete Hamna Vir?”
“Here..”, sighed a depressed voice followed by a girl with sharp features; sharp red lips, high cheekbones, a bold nose, a sharp, pointy chin, sharp amber-like eyes, and even sharper horns and a slim, curling tail. “..I told him to wait while I prepared some food Mortals call sam-wishes! Derune, love, you mustn’t wander off like that. We agreed on this.”
“Yes. We agreed and I apologize, Hamna Vir. But they had to know. The Winter Knight was there, up on the roof. He saw our serene Constance, and came down the roof and warned the esteemed sheriff. Then they talked about you, Constance. They still are and the Winter Knight is telling the esteemed sheriff about your private ambush, as we speak.”, the boy said with a similar vague tone.
A hush settled in the room as several whispers passed back and forth.
“The Winter Knight.”
“The Winter Queen’s hatchet man!”
“Will he interfere?”, asked Constance with consternation.
“Unknown.”, the boy replied quietly, as though he had been caught in the act by his tutor, and was admitting his to misdemeanors.. “But doubtful. We have done nothing to rile Her and both of our goals coincide at the moment. She might send Her knight against some of our kind, or She might not. The Queen of Air and Darkness does not like some of us for our unique skills.”
“Are you among those, she does not like?”, hissed the sharp girl, Hamna Vir.
“Yes.”, the boy replied vaguely.
Hanma Vir’s sharp features turned shaper and her hiss became vicious.
“If the Queen of Air and Darkness sends Her hatchet man on my Derune, I will summons demons, right here, right now, and right in the middle of this town. They will rampage wild and vile and slaughter the lot of them!”
“Vir. Please.”, said the handsome young man, Hal Mali. “We gave our oaths to the Senior Temple Guardian, Thomas Dimwoon. We may not break that oath.”
“We have the right to defend ourselves and our loved ones. Our oath does not take that right away from us!”, hissed Haman Vir, again.
“Chill, girl!”, they heard a voice, and yet another half-born quietly walked in, this one, a particularly bewitching girl with glowing red hair, mesmerizing eyes, pretty little horns and distinctly curving figure wearing expressly fashionable.. almost see-throughs and a credit to her name; Cee Lingerith Demelze!
“Ow, Constance is back! Nice..”, said the girl brightly. “Did you get you, your esteemed sheriff, yet? That was quick. Way to go, girl!
“No, Demelze.”, she said with a resigned voice. “I just got the job and will start tomorrow.”
“Did you show him your breasts? You have lovely breasts!”, Demelze said with a mischievous grin.
“Things don’t work like that here in the Mortal world.”, Constance tried to explain.
“I think it does. There are a lot of children in this temple that Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood looks after. I have been staring out the windows of the temple and I see many more children there. Tells me these Mortals do appreciate pretty breasts.. among other things..”, Demelze objected, smirking all the while.
Constance sighed again.
“Trying to explain things to you is like trying to teach an imp to jump hoops; pointless, and equally hazardous.”
“That’s vile, Constance. Take that back, right now!”
“You are a bit hyped today, Demelze.”, Temez said. “Would you like to come with me down to the crypts? It’s nice and serene down there. Should help cool your bosom. It does mine. We need to think about how we want to find the lost Orken army that the esteemed sheriff asked us to find. I believe I have an idea, but I will need your abilities.”
“Oww.. do I finally get to burn something?”, Demelze said happily.
“Not quite. Hal Mali, dear. I will need your expertise also.”, the leader of the Escape asked the handsome young half-born.
“Of course, Temez. Anything to help.”, replied Hal Mali.
Perigren Ostlanna Temez turned to the sharp girl, Hamna Vir, and the little boy. “You mustn’t look and listen to private conversations, dear. As much as I appreciate the help and the information, we do not want to raise the ire of the Queens. If the Winter Knight is here, there must be a Summer Knight too, now. Or will be soon. Alright, love?”
“Alright, Temez. But only because you asked nicely.”, replied the boy softly.
“I always ask you nicely, Derune.”, smiled Temez.
“You ask everyone nicely, Temez. But when you ask me nicely, that nice becomes my nice. I like to think my nice is a special nice.”, said the boy, Derune, and a shy smile appeared on his vague face.
“Your nice is always special, darling.”, Temez replied with blurry eyes.
Everyone stared down at the broken boy.
Perigren Ostlanna Temez, Constance Alure Smithen, and Cee Lingerith Demelze with tear-stricken faces.
Hal Mali Volent’s lips were tightly pressed together.
Berete Hamna Vir’s sharp features melted, and a lost expression appeared on her face. She stared at the boy with the kind of love only an elder sister could show to her little baby brother, though they shared no blood. But deep inside her eyes, demons, live and hungry, appeared.
Too bad the Erinyes, Auntie Irine, their defacto maker, was dead because, at that very moment, there was enough emotional rage to have killed her trice over for the things she had done to the little half-born boy, Dar Derune..
✱ ✱ ✱
INCOMING!”, one of the younger guards yelled gleefully as they all lined up in the small courtyard behind the sheriff’s office..
“..and she is one, buxom, chick!—”
“—Do show us exactly how educated and civilized you are, by referring to a young lady as you have, Guard Anderson..”, rumbled Sheriff Standorin as he too, stepped into the courtyard. “I am sure it will make us all look high and smart in front of one of our deadliest allies!”
The young guard, Anderson, shut up.. abruptly.
“Gentleman.. and ladies.. Today we are going to be meeting with one of the half-borns, assigned here as a liaison between our department and their people. Must I remind you that as ‘buxom’ as she may appear, kindly put by young Anderson, here, she is not here for entertainment, and seeing her as such will end in one of three ways; you making a further fool of yourself, running laps around the town until dusk, and/or your demise. Do I make myself clear? And do wipe that grin off your face, Mr. Harian. Must I also remind you all that there’s a war coming our way and that there is no ‘them’ and ‘us’ anymore? Elves, humans, dwarves, gnomes, half-borns, townsmen, or refugees.. are all of ‘us’, and the only ‘them’ is the true enemy coming our way. Our job is to sustain, coordinate and show said people exactly that.”
“Admirably put.”, said a cool, calm, and serene female voice, and Constance Alure Smithen entered the small courtyard with her tall, barely swaying walk. She was wearing another long dress skirt today, though it was closed at the throat, less revealing at the bosom, and did not sweep behind her. It did have a long cut on either side of her skirts, though her long legs were hidden under layers of filmy, semi-transparent fabric. And she held a three-yard-long polearm ending in two, fork-like blades, one slightly longer than the other; a pike!
Sheriff Standorin mused at the beautiful young woman and her pike, then at his guards.
“Lady Constance Alure Smithen.”, he said in a declarative and somewhat stiff tone. “Our liaison between her people and the Sheriff’s Office. She is here to observe and if need be, advise us in varying matters to the best of her capacity.”
“Thank you, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, for your warm welcome.”, Constance said in her demure voice and nodded at the secretary fuming sheriff then at the town’s guardsmen and women, sending a slight ripple down her long, black, silky hair.
“Perhaps the liaison can demonstrate her skills in her pike!”, came a voice from the guards; the young Mr. Anderson!
To give Sheriff Standorin credit, he did not scowl, nor did his eyes blaze at the misbehavior of his guardsman.
“By all means, let’s.”, he said cooly. “Make room for Mr. Anderson, here, and our liaison, Lady Constance.”
Guard Anderson stepped out of the line as the rest of the guardsmen and women spread in a wide circle.
Constance stared at the scene with a very slight frown and a confused expression on her face.
“Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart?”, she inquired politely.
“A challenge has been offered, Lady Constance. You against Mr. Anderson, here.”, he said in his very neutral voice.
“A fight? Is this perhaps part of being a liaison? If so, I was not made aware of it.”, she said, and her frown deepened just a fraction more and the cool, calm look she gave the sheriff was of.. disappointment, perhaps?
“It is not. But I suspect they want to see what you are capable of. Had you come here unarmed, such a challenge would not have been offered. But willy-nilly you did come here and with a deadly weapon. Town guards do not openly carry such weapons, Lady Constance. The ones we do carry are to help us subdue and apprehend felons. The only reason we all are carrying swords at the moment is due to the upcoming war.”, Standorin explained, again in his neutral voice.
“I.. see..”, Constance said cooly. “An appt explanation saying I brought this upon myself.”
The sheriff did not reply and the half-born did not wait for one. With the same cool, serene demeanor, she stepped into the circle and took her place before the young guard, Anderson.
“I have studied your customs carefully, ere I came.”, she said in her calm voice as she carefully sized down the young man holding a thick club in his hand. “Shouldn’t there be some betting afore we begin?”
An awkward silence settled in the courtyard.
“Can we?”, asked one of the sturdy women.
Standorin’s face went red.
“By all means do. Miss Daniella!”, Constance replied. “But a pike versus a stick, methinks, would make a poor bid.”
And with an incredible swing of her pike, she lopped the thick club Guard Anderson was holding, right off the middle!
A general gasp rippled through the guardsmen and women.
And bets started passing hands!
“As I said. A pike versus a stick is not a challenge. Do draw your sword, young bantam. I believe you wanted to see a ‘buxom chick’, ere I came. Well, this is your moment, though I find your metaphor quite inaccurate, faulty, and improper; I will not grow to become an egg-laying, flightless bird. Our kind does not lay eggs. We conceive and give birth very much like yours, though exponentially more painfully.
Guard Anderson turned to look at the sheriff as if to get his consent to draw his sword. But when he saw his stony face, he understood, he was on his own and he’d made one wisecrack too many. His face turned green as it dawned on him; he had offended a political office by offering physical violence.. and as a town’s guardsman, he was now drawing his sword at an unoffending, but highly offended, guest!
He gulped and stepped forward, his sword at the ready.
‘Die by your dignity.’, was all he had left for himself, possibly not at all in a metaphorical sense.
“Lady Constance.”, he said with a barely audible voice. “I whole-heartedly apologize for my misdemeanor. I am an Arashkan refugee and have a younger sister I must look after.”
And swung down his blade.
“Foolish enough to speak out of turn, wise enough to recognize his mistake and apologize.”, Constance replied..
..and caught the blade between the fork of her pike, twisted sharply and against grasping direction, and send the sword stabbing into the dirt, some twenty feet away! Seamlessly, and with feline agility, she spun her pike, quite unlike a martial artists quarterstaff and jabbed the butt end into Guard Anderson’s midriff, drawing a loud ‘Ohmff!’ out of the young man, hooked him high using her dashing momentum, and with a wide, graceful arc, slammed him down, flat on his back, and with a terrifying aerial screech, landed on top of him, her long, shapely legs sticking out of the sides of the slits of her skirt, and held the young man down as if kneeling for a prayer!
She wasn’t rushed, she wasn’t breathing with exertion, nor had she even broken a sweat.
She just knelt there, carefully jabbing the young man’s chin and throat with her knee, and keeping a steady pressure.
The guards stared at the scene, quite dumbfounded and thunderstruck.
“I believe the show’s over.”, Sheriff Standorin rumbled. “Everyone to their posts. Miss Daniella, do slap Mr. Anderson awake and send him in the general direction of the town’s gate. I believe he has a long day’s run waiting for him to get his stupidity out of his system.”
The guards quickly dismissed themselves and the young, sturdy woman walked up to the tall, kneeling half-born woman and the unconscious Mr. Anderson.
“My Lady. If you will?”, she asked politely.
Constance slowly rose from the unconscious young man and cooly nodded at her.
Daniella smirked at her and whispered, “Lady, I don’t know what just happened, but it was awesome!”
Constance arched her brows with mild surprise.
“You think so? I tried very hard to subdue than to kill. Your Criminal Laws in regard to your office seemed to prefer it.”, she said, carefully studying the young man.
“I apologize on behalf of Mr. Anderson. I too am an Arashkan refugee, but my family and I were able to escape by ship before the docks were overrun. Anderson, here, wasn’t so fortunate. He ended up watching his parents and his elderly grandmother getting slaughtered by the Orken. All he could do was to grab his twelve-year-old sister and run, which is why he does stupid things without thinking; he feels shame and thinks he has something to prove..”
“I understand, Miss Daniella, for shame is something I feel and know quite intimately.”, Constance said thoughtfully. “Please tell Mr. Anderson when he wakes, that I shall hold no rancor against him and that perhaps he could bring his sister to the town’s temple. My kin and I are stationed there and play games, have a lot of fun, and we have candy.”
Daniella grinned wider.
“What girl could refuse such offer, Lady Constance; fun games and candy!”
Constance walked over to the sheriff, who was stiffly holding his ground, though he very well knew, he had just messed up, by proxy.
“I believe an apology is in order, Lady Constance.”, he said gruffly.
“You may save your apology, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, for I came here in peace but was offered violence. I carry a pike because it is a weapon I am trained in, and very much for the same reason your guards carry swords. Now, I believe my work as a liaison here is done for today, and already. I shall be in the temple, and down in the crypts praying for the soul of Darling Demos and shall further contemplate on the sins of foolish men.”, replied Constance cooly and breezed away.
Standorin just stood there.
Verbally slapped and stupefied.
For he hadn’t just messed up, he had dropped the ‘political ball’..
..and felt very much like his young and foolish days.
He seethed and fumed certainly, but not for a moment did he try to justify his own stupidity.
Standorin Shieldheart was like that.
Harsh but fair.
He ran up to the cool and dignified young woman and stood before her.
Constance also stopped and stared at the flustered sheriff. She did not arch her eyebrows, she did not size him, up or down, nor did she give him the silent cold stare.
Quietly, she waited for him to speak.
“I.. “, Standorin stammered. “..mishandled this whole situation because I was frustrated. I very much agree a liaison between the two people is an excellent idea. I.. just didn’t appreciate the way it was slapped into my face. My reasons for my frustration may have been acceptable had I handled this a bit more maturely.”
“The idea of a liaison was not mine, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. I was chosen for this job for my abilities to calmly assess any given situation and help defuse unnecessary aggressions. I tried to imply this to you less than twenty hours ago. I also told you, quite clearly, that I do not do lies. Yet, you chose to punish me, specifically and individually, by putting me in a situation where I was forced to display aggression, and still, I have thus defused it to the best of my abilities, and without bloodshed; I could have countered that boy and cut him forty-eight different ways, yet I chose to merely disarm and subdue him, something I would have had the flesh flogged off my back, had my old mentor seen this! I am trained to recognize the emotional nuances of Mortals, but it is possible I am missing some local customs here, hence I am tempted to ask; do you treat all your women like this, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, or is your unreasonable and quite injudicious behavior limited to allies who were not forced out of their destroyed homes, but came to help you willingly at the cost of being hunted down and killed by their former masters?”
Standorin felt sick.
“I.. am..”, he began again, less with guilt about his political blunder, but more with shame because what the young woman had said was precisely what he had done. He had tried to take out his frustration on her. “Look. I am not a man of grace. You must have noticed that. But perhaps I can offer you an apology by some means you may find acceptable. Something that may be appropriate to your station and your, individually unique, person? Everything you said was true. Except the part about how I treated women or my allies.. I.. would very much appreciate it if I was given the chance to fix my blunder.”
Constance Alure Smithen stared at the sheriff for the duration of consideration. Then, a very small smile appeared on her pretty lips.
“Pick me up at eight!”, she said.
“Umm.. What?”, Standorin stammered.
“And do wear something that isn’t armor or work-related.”, she added with another smile and walked away, leaving a totally destroyed sheriff behind..
✱ ✱ ✱
I can’t believe you!”, exclaimed the ravishing half-born, Demelze. “You went there dressed up all pretty, and ended up beating some stupid bantam? Did you at least show him your—?”, she began, awfully frustrated.
“—No.”, finished Constance. “And I shall not. Not until the time is ripe, and not until he decides to be the only one to want them. That will be the ripe time!”
“What is wrong with you, girl?”, Demelze asked, with a freaked-out tone.
“Did you, Hal Mali, and Temez work out a solution for the lost Orken army?”
“Yes and no. Don’t change the subject Constance!”, Demelze said fiercely, causing the tall, serene woman to sigh again.
“Cee Lingerith Demelze. You must understand, we are no longer Hell’s sluts. We no longer live to attain that end, because that end was never ours. That was Auntie Irine’s wish and look what that bought her; to never be more than her own Master’s favored whore and to buy her own death at the hands of her own creation; Merisoul Xyrotwu, her Mortal friends, and getting mashed under a bug. Willy-nilly, we are free now, my dear Demelze.. We have a chance to be more than the price and the role that was placed upon our existence. And more is better than less because being just that always made us less. Perhaps you believe I do not enjoy what you very much do. But you could only be so wrong. What I am, however, is not my only trait and I shouldn’t be defined solely by being the scion of an incubus; always and only seeking flesh pleasures.. Thus we were looked upon in Hell, were we not? Remember how many times those vile demons pushed their wills and their bodies against ours, and without so much as a bother? I remember you enjoying the moment in wild abandon. I also remember your face once they were done with you. I know because it was the same face I had when they were done with me, my dear. I never want to be seen as such again. Not in this Mortal world, and not ever, do I want to see your beautiful face, marred and mutilated by absolute, abhorrent, and loathsome shame. Just like I never want my sisters and brothers to witness that face etched on me ever again. Hence, I do not want the Mortals to see me, or you, as a mere flesh toy; never to ask or wonder what you or I feel, or what you or I think, but to only want, want, want, and want only what our flesh and skin has to offer. Yes, that is pleasurable. But what I want, I want from only one person now and not from two, or five, or a hundred faceless men who will never ask nor remember my name but merely use and discard me, and the knowledge that the only thing they will remember about me was how soft and succulent I was, hurts! For once, we have a chance where we shall be asked whether we hurt, as opposed to, ‘did it hurt?’ No, baby girl, I now want that one person to be uniquely mine, and I want to be uniquely his. That is who I will show and give freely what I have and so should you, because as fiery as you are, you, my dear sister-kin, are also the most passionate amongst us and I envy you for it. Do you understand this?”
A long, painful silence ensued after that.
“Yes. I understand this.”, said Demelze mutely. “But.. my flesh burns with wont. I.. need..”
“As do I. Let’s go down to the crypts and pray for Darling Demos. Praying always helps. Then I need to prepare for a date.”, said Constance kindly.
“You have a date?”, Cee Lingerith Demelze blurted.
“I have a date.”, nodded Constance calmly.
“Well, why didn’t you say this from the get-go, girl! Tell me. Tell me all about it!”, Demelze fried with delight.
“You must.”, whispered Temez sternly, down in the depts of the Serenity Town Temple’s crypts. It was cold, and there was slushy snow outside. Here, it was merely cool, calm and a certain serenity spread from a particular tomb. The one at the very end of a long line of nearly five hundred years of past Senior Temple Guardians.
It was odd.
That being ‘great’ had little to do with wars and warriors but with life and those that cared for it.
“No. I do not want to.”, Constance replied, very nearly losing her cool, serene demeanor.
“Please, Constance. We must do this for them and he is the key to the Ritual Guardian!”, Perigren frowned.
“You already know her. Even played games with her, did you not? You, her, and Ranger Lieutenant Morel Songsteel, a mere few days ago.”, Constance objected with a frown.
“Yes. I did. But that was games. We have not been formally introduced. And this is the way to get to know him and mayhap get him to know us, love us, care for us, and respect us..”, Temez replied earnestly.
Constance looked down at Temez.
“That is scheming, that is!”, she said disapprovingly.
“No, my dear. This is forming connections with the Mortals. If he likes us, it will make him that much harder to come after us, should the Queen of Air and Darkness send him upon us.”
“Should Mab sends him upon us, what he feels will mean very little, love. That is what being Mab’s hatchet man, means.”, Constance said, her frown deepening.
“True. However, he is also a Mortal and willy-nilly, he has a heart. He might not refuse or refute the call of his Mistress, but he will at least feel uneager to raise his hand against us. And being the Mortal that he is, it is possible he might use his cunning to wiggle his way out of a possible execution order!”, Temez replied even more earnestly.
“You think the cold-hearted Winter Knight will ‘like’ us and go up against his own Mistress at the expense of his own possible demise for the sake of some half-freak such as us? Temez, dear, you are holding on straws.”, Constance said to her sister-kin, but not unkindly.
“Straws are all I have, Alure. Please. Do this for us. You are The Liaison!”, Temez said with muted desperation.
She paused for a depressing moment. Then said, even more quietly.
“I wish my merry soul were here. She was always so much better at this than I ever was.”
“That is true, dear. And I will not gainsay you. But as much as we followed you to the Door because of how much we loved and respected her, we followed you.”, Constance replied as she reached down at the beautiful antler girl, Temez, and caressed her soft, tanned hair. “She was the spark. You are the flood, Perigren Ostlanna Temez. And you can not despair.”
Then she took a deep breath, making her bosom even more distinct and appealing.
“I shall do this for you. And for my kin. But I shall need a gift.”
“Yes. A gift to be given to the Winter Knight.”
“I doubt he will accept gifts from us, dear Constance.”
“The gift is to him, but not for him.”, the tall, serene girl replied.
“Ow? Oww..”, Temez said and her beautiful features lit with a happy cast. “That is cunning, that is.”
“I sort of liked it. Now, I would like to go and wash. I have a date.”
“So I heard. Well done, love.”, Temez said with brittle elation.
“Soon, dear. This war will be over soon, one way or another. Then you too can go to your boy.”, Constance said kindly and hugged her.
“I will send Hamna Vir and Dar Derune to do your hair. Hamna is the best with hair and horns, and Dar loves yours.”, Temez said with a better smile, once they parted.
“Would you?”, Constance asked a bit girlishly.
Temez smiled again and nodded.
Constance did not go immediately though. She looked, carefully, at the leader of the Escape.
“Dar Darune loves my hair. This is true. But he loves you whole, dear.”, she said softly.
“And I, he. But Dar has to grow yet. And in time, he will get over me and discover who truly loves him, and will eternally live, and mindlessly die for him.”, she said quietly.
“Yes. Hamna Vir..”
Temez nodded again.
“Come on, love. Go on and get cleaned up. And send your dress to Hal Mali so he makes sure it is clean and pressed.”
“Will do, will do.”, agreed, Constance, and left the cool, soothing darkness of the crypts under the temple.
Temez frowned with fear.
A date with the Sheriff of Serenity Home Town. This would either go very well or end quite horribly.
But Perigren Ostlanna Temez trusted Constance because.. well.. Constance Alure Smithen always lived up to her name. And she had seen how she’d looked at the esteemed sheriff when the Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood had introduced them all to him.
True. Many of the other girls had looked at the good sheriff. But they had done so as they would have checked out any strong, healthy, male specimen. Constance, however, had looked at him with another kind of wont. The kind that she could not readily definite, but was right at the tip of her tongue, and it seemed somewhat akin to her own longing. And a bit like how the young Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood and his Ranger Lieutenant Morel Songsteel looked at one another when they thought they were alone.. Which was possibly one of the reasons all the half-borns felt.. happily sedated here in this temple; the existence of a living, breathing, and ongoing love between those two —as creepy as that sounded! But that look had been closer to someone else’s look. The wonting, and happily exhilarated eyes of the little girl, Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane, the Ritual Guardian, had given when they had been playing that game of catch against the obsessively competitive girl, Lilly Venom and her succulent man, and when the game had ended and the little girl’s ‘hubby’ had arrived; the Winter Knight himself.
The convoluted and intermixed irony in that hurt her brain!
Perigren Ostlanna Temez sighed.
They needed that same little girl now. And her wast knowledge of herbs and plants.
And she wondered, what her merry soul, her BFF, was doing at that very moment.
Temez thought she’d give anything to have her here now so she would tell her she was doing good and right for her kin.
✱ ✱ ✱
Standorin Shieldheart had just returned to his office for some final orders and to make sure everything was as it should be and that the town was faring well and not on fire.
He noticed the notes left on his desk and bent down to skim through them.
“A note on the standard confirmation of logistics moved up the river for the Arashkan militia stationed there from the ferriers. A note from Ranger Master Davien asking me what to do about the bandits camped east of Stinking Shacks. Dammit, man, just tell those idiots, they can either join us and fight the Orken and take whatever they can loot off the enemy at the end of the war, or kill them already. We don’t have such leisurely time for some lowly bandits who milk people at a time as dire as this! Hmm.. a note from the mayor demanding to know about the quarter of a harvest of sugar canes sent to the temple on my request —what the.. I made no such request and what is the heck is Thomas going to do with all that sugar cane, anyway?”
Then it dawned on him.
“Candy!”, he fumed. “But why did he put such a request on behalf of my office? He could have asked the mayor himself.”
Then it dawned on him. Again.
“Lady Constance!”, he said fuming some more. “Why would you not ask me and do this on my behalf so arbitrarily?”
“She didn’t. I did, sir.”, came a growling voice and Aager Fogstep came down the stairs from the roof. “By the way, the watchtower erected up on the roof is almost finished. At least that is what the carpenters and the construction crew are diligently assuring me. It should give us a good view of the town and with the use of flags, we should be able to direct the guards and the militia on the ground without needing to shout across town.”
“That’s good news. Now tell me about this order.”, said the sheriff.
“Ranger Lieutenant Morel Songsteel came in earlier with the order, sir. For reasons I can not fathom, she seemed rather pleased with herself. Perhaps she expected me to object. I said I would give the order, which sort of disappointed her, only if she told me why the order was being addressed from this office, as opposed to being sent from the temple! She scowled at me and said, the need for the sugar canes was not directly related to the temple but with the newly appointed Liaison and the allies she represents. I told her I would put in the order when the said ‘newly appointed Liaison’ came here and asked for it herself, in her official capacity, rather than sending temple lackeys!”, Aager replied with a straight face.
Sheriff Standorin snorted.
“That was not nice, Master Aager. The ranger lieutenant is a good person and has high standing with the temple.”
“Well, it’s a good thing I am not a good person and don’t really care nor need any standing with the temple. I couldn’t speak for Lady Inshala, though, who is a good person and has extremely high standing with the temple.”, Aager smirked, then added. “You look dashing, sir. Never seen you out of armor before. Is that a new shirt?”
The sheriff glared at him.
“I… am… *muffled noises*..!”
“I am sorry, sir. Didn’t quite catch that.
The sheriff glared and him some more.
“I am going out.. on a *more muffed noises*..!”
“Come again, sir?”
“Dammit, man, a date! I am going out on a date!”, the sheriff very nearly spat.
“Ahh. I see. With whom, if you don’t mind me asking.”
He was going to be seen with his date in public soon enough and the word would spread like wildfire.
“Lady Constance Alure Smithen.”
“Ow? I got the impression you didn’t want her around. My bad.”, Aager said, his eyes quite mirthful.
“I didn’t ask her out.. But I’d messed up so horribly this morning and was trying to defuse a possible political fallout and she ambushed me, again, with a date, no less! I am so out of my debt, here.”, he admitted dejectedly.
“Want a stab of advice, sir?”, Aager asked honestly.
The sheriff grunted.
“Do you find her appealing, sir?”
“How do you mean?”, Standorin frowned.
“It isn’t a very complicated question, sir. Do you find her appealing?”
“Of course I find her appealing. She is a very cool-headed, calm, and immaculate young woman, and not in a dispassionate way. She is also very smart and always thinks before she speaks. A quality I find admirable in any man, let alone any woman.”
Standorin frowned a bit more.
“She’s.. pretty..”, he admitted grudgingly.
“You are a bit stingy on words, sir.. You can’t be thus miserly when it comes to women, you know..”
“My Limnia never—”, he began.
“—was and never will be Constance, sir. And neither could Constance ever cast a shadow over Lady Limnia. You can not, however, bring the past into play in this matter. And neither should you ever compare. That’s not only unfair to the deceased but unwarranted to the living. I never knew Lady Limnia, but I have watched you many nights, here, lost and alone in thoughts over her. And I watched Udoorin as well, and what that cost him. Leave her where she is, and treasure her as she is. And if you and Constance are agreeable, treasure Constance, now. You have lived the past long enough. Perhaps it’s time you lived the moment. And maybe even the future.. You, being seen with her kind, is a good step towards a steady, peaceful and harmonious town. Consider it as a sacrifice on your part, if you must. But I doubt it will stay a sacrifice because they have taken a blood oath. She will give her all, at all times for that oath. You are a decent man, sir. You made a decent man out of a Drashan cut-throat who actually cares for the people of a town he wasn’t even born into. She is a girl who escaped from somewhere far worse. She knows ‘bad’ in a sense where we need to use words like ‘intimately’, ‘infinitely’, and ‘ultimately’. Hence, she also knows what she must avoid. Take her out to dinner, then take her on a walk around town. Should be safe enough. You made it safe enough! That way, you won’t constantly be under public scrutiny, at least. Ow, and, give her this..”, he said, just as there was a small knock on the office door.
Aager didn’t pause but was at the door before the knock had ended. He opened the door and someone the sheriff couldn’t see was whispering softly at him. The man in dark leathers nodded once at the person standing outside and a pair of very skinny arms entangled themselves around the scary man’s neck for a long, passionate moment, then she was gone.
Aager stood at the door for a moment, staring after the little girl.
‘The wonderful, Lady Inshala!’, thought Standorin, as Aager quietly closed the door and returned back to where the sheriff was standing and gave him a bouquet of very lively-looking roses!
“What’s this?”, Standorin asked with one cocked eyebrow.
“A gift from my Inshala. She brought them for you but felt too shy to enter and face you, so she gave them to me. She told me to tell you that you are supposed to give them to Constance when you went to pick her.”, Aager smirked at the sheriff.
“How did she know about it? Who else knows? Does everyone know? And where in the blazes did she even get roses in the middle of winter?”, Standorin asked confounded.
“Didn’t ask, sir. You just can’t ask some things to girls. It is their prerogative. Not ours. Suffice to say, she knows, but I doubt anyone else does, and she will not repeat it. My Inshala has never quite grasped the concept of gossip.”
“I shall be a laughing stock and a merry source of amusement for the town.”, growled Standorin darkly.
Aager Fogstep looked at the sheriff for a moment.
Then went brutal on him..
..right for the jugular!
“Would you have cared, had she been Limnia, sir?”
Standorin stiffened as red, ugly blotches appeared on his face.
“That.. was uncalled for, Master Aager.”, he snarled.
“Yes. It was.”, agreed, Aager. “But so is the fact that you think being seen with Constance will somehow degrade your standing with the town, without giving it a moment’s thought on what she might think on this matter. Considering she is the Liaison, now, and must come here, be here, and work here, day and night, making her seem as your mistress, and consequently destroying her own standing with the town, and her station as a Liaison!”
Standorin fell silent.
“She is a woman, sir. And a quality one. Treat her like one. Share the big things in your life. And share the little ones. And let her treat you like the man she thinks you are, because, sir, she was assigned as a Liaison, certainly, but she was not assigned to you in person. That is a choice she made herself. Like I said yesterday. She is the alpha lioness. And an alpha lioness will only go for the alpha lion. That is base attraction. To her delight, the person she chose just happened to be the alpha lion.”
Aager grinned at the sheriff.
“That said, I am off. Inshala and I start for Oger’s Foot in a few days and have some preparation to make. Hopefully, and soon, I will finally get to meet this Mother Ganiste she speaks so fondly of.”
✱ ✱ ✱
Good evening sheriff.”, said the Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood, from where he stood, atop the stairs and right in front of his temple.
“Good evening, Thomas.”, replied Standorin amiably, though with a slightly flustered face.
“That’s Senior Temple Guardian Thomas for you, sheriff.”, smirked a soft, feminine voice; Bremorel Songteel, from where she stood, arms crossed and leaning against the temple’s double doors.
“The robes are still on!”, Bremorel explained, still smirking.
“So, it is.”, the sheriff said slightly fuming.
“You can’t take what’s ours, sheriff.”, said Thomas solemnly. “Everyone under my roof gets to stay under my roof.”
“Yes. What he said.”, Bremorel smiled broadly.
“Eh? What?”, asked the sheriff with a confused expression on his face. “I was only going to ask for—”
“No means, no, sir.”, Thomas said. “If you want her so desperately, you are just going to have to get a writ from the mayor himself, and with the consent of at least three other council members.. Or a popular vote cast among all the council members.”
Standorin just stared at Thomas.
Bremorel snorted, but only because she was trying very hard not to laugh out loud.
“Is this some sort of a prank?”, the sheriff asked, his face flushing even more, though with anger now.
“This is the Temple of Light, sheriff. We don’t do pranks here.”, Thomas replied sternly.
For a moment, a very short and savage moment, Standorin became the young and foolish man of his youth and was just about to barge into the temple, right over Thomas, senior guardian or not!
“That was not nice, dear Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood.”, a cool, serene voice was heard and Constance came gliding out of the temple. “You knew he came for me.”
“Dammit.”, scowled Bremorel. “And we had just started having fun!”
“Ahh. Constance. You are glowing this evening.”, smiled Thomas.
“You think so?”, she asked with a surprisingly girlish voice and spun around showing off her new skirt dress.
“It is lovely, my dear, and it compliments you.”, replied the young temple guardian. “You can ask Morel for confirmation if you like. She is much better at accuracy than I am.”
“Very true, on both accounts, Constance. You look awesome, girl.”, smiled Bremorel.
Sheriff Standorin, on the other hand, had kept his silence, possibly because he was dumbstruck.
He just stood there, not quite ogling, but unavoidably staring, at the tall half-born, as the words, dignified, regal, and very lady-like, skimmed past his mind, for many young women tended to reveal their.. uhh.. attributes.. Constance had gone quite the opposite direction and done her revealing by hiding said attributes; her dress skirts were long and down to the floor, even though, from the click-clacks, she was wearing high pumps. It was a very dark maroon-colored dress and seemed to be tailored from velvet that wrapped tightly around her slender throat, her long arms, her appealing bosom, slim waist, and long, shapely legs, and was carefully and not-so-overtly embroidered with gold threads. Much like her earlier dress, there were two slits running down the skirts, though there was no gauzy fabric this time. Instead, she had worn stockings a tone or two darker than her own pale skin. Her charcoal-black hair was also running long and straight, shading her face, and down her breasts and back, revealing her small, elf-like ears, though there was a single, thread-like, very carefully braided strand of her hair, not unlike a cat ladder, climbing down the right side of her very slightly blushing face, as her very soft, very alluring eyes seemed to glow with happiness and the only cosmetics seemed like the bright red application on her lightly smiling lips.
Constance looked memorably beautiful, and she had done nothing to hide, nor cover her long, slender horns.
“Good evening Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart.”, she said politely and started down the stairs.
“Good.. evening, uhhmm, Liaison Constance..”, Standorin stammered.
“We will be leaving now, dear Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood, and thank you Ranger Lieutenant Morel Songsteel for the sugar canes, though I suspect a pandemic of sugar sick boys and girls will infest your temple soon enough.”, Constance said demurely.
“We’ll make sure they chew on the sugar canes only after they have finished their cabbages and their broccoli.”, chuckled Bremorel.
Constance gave her one of her rare, brilliant smiles.
“I shall expect you to return our girl before midnight, sheriff.”, Thomas said firmly, though the crack at the side of his mouth said otherwise as he took Bremorel by the hand and disappeared into the temple.
“Yes!”, Standorin heard Bremorel say. “The kids are out! We have a whole night free to ourselves!”
There was a moment of awkward silence as Standorin stood, not knowing what to do.
“Shall we?”, asked Constance.
“I suppose so, but I must admit I didn’t—”, began Standorin.
“You look quite dashing tonight, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart.”, said Constance.
“I.. Do you think so?”, the sheriff asked a bit flabbergasted.
“I see, so.”, replied the tall, young woman. “And where shall you take me?”
“Uhhmm..”, Standorin began again, then paused before continuing and his frown had returned. “Look. I am just going to have to ask if it is alright with you.”
“I wouldn’t know if it’s alright with me, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. You haven’t asked your question yet.”, replied the girl calmly.
“Very true.”, Standorin agreed. Then he took a deep breath. “Just what is this?”, he asked honestly.
“What is what?”
“This. What are we doing, Liaison Constance.”
“It could be one of two things, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. One is, where you take me out to a nice dinner that involves a dim setting with candle lights followed by a slow-paced stroll around the town, or the woods, where we can have a few private moments to talk about you and your responsibilities, and myself and my responsibilities and how to better improve our relation regarding each other’s department and you pay-off for your morning’s blunder. The other option is where this is not a pay-off nor is it a task and you take me out to a nice dinner that involves a dim setting with candle lights followed by a slow-paced stroll around the town, or the woods, where we can have a few private moments to talk about you and your life, and myself and my life and how to better improve a mutual relation, together.”, she replied serenely, though Standorin sensed a bare trepidation in that calm voice and he was surprised for it.
And then it all came to him.
This young and beautiful woman was exactly that; a young and beautiful woman.. going out with a total stranger in the hopes that it would turn into a nice, memorable, and perhaps even a fruitful date and that was as far as her calm went. The rest was just as unknown to her as it was to him and she was terrified of it. More so than he was, because he was a ‘Mortal’ and dating was a natural, and even expected thing among Mortals.. as opposed to her kind, who had never lived a single date in their lives nor did they quite know what it even was. True that she was here in her Liaison capacity, or rather, it had been because of that capacity they were here now, but at that very moment, she wanted to be only herself, as Constance Alure Smithen and dearly hoped he would ignore the fact that she wasn’t quite human but a succubi half-born that possessed horns, treat her gently, kindly, perhaps even affectionately, and that he be just himself as a man and as Standorin Shieldheart only..
“It..”, he began. Then paused to clear his throat, and began again. “It could be a date. But I must warn you. I haven’t been on a date for a very, very long time.”
“It is alright, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. I haven’t been on a date at all. If this will be a date, it will also be my first and I have no idea what to expect, nor what to do. I was told many things I should do, or be doing, from both my brothers and sisters and Ranger Lieutenant Morel Songsteel, though when she said I should ‘make you sweat’, I do not believe she meant in a sensual way. Apparently, there is some sort of history between the two of you. Suffice to say, I am in your tender care, sir.”, she said with hopeful serenity.
“There is no history between young Morel and me, other than me having thrown her to jail for aggravated assault some six or seven years back.”, fumed Standorin.
“Aggravated assault. I know what this is. It was in the Criminal Law book you gave me.”, Constance said.
“You.. you actually read it?”, the sheriff asked somewhat surprised.
“Of course I read it. If I am expected to know about what you do, I should come armed with knowledge, and not just a pike.”
“That is a very long, and very boring read! I am not sure if I myself read the whole thing..”, exclaimed Standorin.
“It was rather entertaining, I think. The mind of Mortal criminals is amusing. I cited some of the laws pertaining to robbery and the use of drugs to my kin —because of our fondness for candy. It caused quite a bit of hilarious outbursts. The ones pertaining to rape and assault, however, did leave us in dismay, as we found the consequent reprimands and punishments rather petit and diminutive.”
Standorin frowned a bit.
“Perhaps we can start with names, then?”, he offered.
“Names? Am I perhaps not pronouncing yours correctly? Is this perhaps the reason for your dissatisfaction with my assignment?”, she asked a bit perturbed.
“Eh? What? No!”, Standorin stammered a bit more. “What I meant was, since we agreed this could be a date, you should call me Standorin.”
“Mortals cut and dissect names right and left, a matter that leaves us perpetually dismayed, for names hold power.”, she said a bit distressed.
“Maybe. I don’t know.”, Standorin said. “But Mortals, as you like to call us, do not refer to one another by their full names at all times. You may look upon it as a personal favor if you will and call me Standorin. Or just Stan. That’s what the few friends I have, call me.”
“I.. see..”, said the young woman. “I suppose you should call me Constance. Or Alure. But I would very much appreciate it if you didn’t cut my names in half. That is.. quite disorienting for my kind.”
“Perfectly acceptable, Lady Constance. I had arranged for the dining room prepared for us in the town’s guest house. Or rather, some busy boy and his happy little wife had it prepared for me. He certainly seemed mirthful when he told me about it. And.. uhhmm.. I believe these are for you..”, Standorin said a bit flushed and handed the bouquet of roses to the young woman.
“Ow! Mortal Roses! How very exquisitely beautiful and lovely, Sheri— Standorin Shield— Standorin—”, she stammered, confused and glowing with a beautifully bright blush and paused..
..for a long, deplorable sigh.
“Thank you.. Stan..”
“I believe this belonged to you..”
Whatever it may be.
Wherever it may be.
However, it may be.
It is the beginning of
Whether the deed is something
as earth-shaking, and likely damning as
hitting a ‘Red Button’ that will culminate
with the possible incineration of millions,
as dramatic as that may sound,
or something as mundane as picking up
a stray bit of trash and putting it in a bin,
it begins with a Choice, yes?
What makes a choice
Worthy, so the speak, however, is the Why!
The Why, in many cases, may very well end up
being irrelevant, from the size and depth
of the deed, or for the people involved.
But there always is a Why, because Why gives
us the ultimate answer to the reason,
or the excuse, for the Deed.
Now, from a ‘High Heavens’ point of view,
the relation between Why and Deed
becomes much more relevant.
Whether one believes there might,
or might not be a High Heaven(s),
is one’s personal flavor..
..or a matter of hubris.
At this distinct and isolated moment,
it doesn’t really matter what we refer to Heavens as;
be it the fields of Elysium,
the infinite gardens of Jannah,
the lush of Eden, Paradise, Pearly Gates, Shamayim,
Nirvana, the Halls of Valhalla, or simply,
Heaven, in singular or plural,
and in one form or another,
mankind has believed it since time immemorial,
and discarding the concept as a whole
out of tangible and rational wont of science
sounds a lot like arrogance, obstinacy..
..or sheer spite..
A something, methinks, is also hubris..
..however, that, in itself,
might be a matter of debate..
Much like ignoring it for the lack of proof, is.
Particularly when one expects tangibility
where ‘belief’ is concerned, since, what is tangible
can no longer be subjected to belief, for it is now
a concrete, doomed to petrify, ‘fact’, and an act
quite proportionally irrational in itself.
The point that is relevant to the
matter at hand is, much like there is
a relation, and perhaps,
a correlation between
Deed and Why
there is one between
Deed and Consequence.
“Choice” and “Consequence”..
This story is the continuation of the series;
The Malediction of ‘Rellen.. (Part 3/3)
“Three Dog Curse”.
It takes place on the same night as
We Are Not Your Dogs.
We Are Not Your Servants.
We Are Your Masters!
and soon after
“Mother, why?”, Vivid Visions
It must be noted that this story is also, in a way,
the ultimate conclusory ending of another story;
Neye bulaştın, Felishia? (18+)
(continued from the story; Temporal Insanity)
And this is why we don’t intermix spells, dear.”, Anglenna heard her mother’s voice in her head.
“Mother..”, she said with a resigned tone as she picked herself up, and careful not to step on her own retch, moved towards the sandbag barricade and the still-burning hall beyond it. “..don’t you have anything better to do?”
“Such as?”, asked the former high lady of Bari Na-ammen.
“I don’t know, cities to burn, atrocities to overwatch, clandestine meetings to attend, corners to skulk, conspiracies to orchestrate, schemes to deliberate, .. You know, people to betray?”, she replied with weary sarcasm.
“My dear daughter, I resent the fact that you would cast me as the evil boss cliché, though designating me as THE BOSS has a nice ring to it, which is what I am; YOUR BOSS, aside from being your mother..”, Angrellen replied happily.
Anglenna snorted as she peered into the furnacing fire, still burning savagely in the hall.
“You? Boss?”, she said. “This is bad even for a merry jester. No, mother, you are no boss. You are a TOOL!”
Her mother, however, did not reply.
“You.. you are actually serious!”, Anglenna exclaimed as let go of her hold on her fire spell, and the flames dimmed, diminished, and died, leaving a long, blackened, and smoking hall, leading somewhere off and away from the original sewers. “You actually believe in what you just said!”
“I don’t do jesters, my daughter. You MUST have noticed that in the past near-two-centuries you have been under my roof.“, her mother said, without any trace of merry in it.
“So I have, mother. The sick, psychotic woman that you are, you lack the inhibitions for any form of ‘merry’, which begs the question; why do all the things you did in hopes of living forever? If you can’t and won’t be happy, nor feel any merry in the end?”, her daughter asked, actually wondering just what kind of demented reply she would get, as she took a quick, mental inventory of all the spells she had left available to her, along with the items she had on her.
“Happy? Are you for real, girl? Have I taught you nothing at all? And here I thought I had learned you some realities of life.. We don’t live for ‘happy’, my daughter. We live for the satisfaction of destroying our enemies. This, you will understand in time.”, Angrellen said in a low, whispering hiss.
“Mother, you had no enemies.. You created them in your sick mind. Then you worked, day and night, and made them real. No, mother. People like you create enemies by way of your simple existence.”, Anglenna said, with her lips pressed together and checked her quarterstaff. She liked the old piece of oak. It didn’t really help her in any way when it came to casting her spells, nor infuse them with power. It certainly wasn’t much of a focusing item either.. and got in her way when she needed both hands where she would end up just letting it drop on the ground, much to her clattering dismay. But it had saved her life.. Once.. Nearly a century ago, when she’d gone out on her first ‘suffer the toils of real experience’, as her mother had called it.
Angrellen had always been like that; toss the chick off the nest. If it’s smart, it would fly. If it isn’t, well, there just wasn’t place for the stupid, the dull-witted, and the fool..
Not under Angrellen’s roof!
Her first encounter ever had been against one such dull-witted goblin, not that Anglenna herself had been any better; she had freaked and ran, with the goblin chasing after her. As slim and tall as she had always been, Anglenna had never done much in the way of physical exercise.
The goblin, who likely had hunted for a living all its life, apparently had had better endurance, catching up to the very young high lady of Bari Na-ammen. The too young, high elf girl had given one look behind, screamed in terror, tossed everything she had, and ran faster!
To her somewhat disgusted consternation and dismay, the staff she had tossed, had bounced off the ground with a sharp clap and landed in a mole hole, then tilted down to a low angle..
..catching the goblin in the groin!
Two things had happened that day;
One; the young, forty-two-year-old ‘teen’ Anglenna carried the, otherwise useless staff, around all the time after that, because, apparently, you never knew when a long, sturdy stick would come in handy,
Two; the goblin had returned to his tribe, limping and in pain, telling all his clan-mates about the new and evil weapon the pointy-eared elves had invented; The Groin Catcher!
“—then I asked him, ‘What is it you want from me?’ He just stared at me and said in his usual, calm, low, resonating voice, ‘Want? I have everything I want, Lady Angrellen. What I don’t have is you!’. The idiot. He just blurted it out like that!”, the high lady was saying.
“Eh? What?”, spluttered Anglenna.
“Told you, you weren’t listening. Men have always been your weak spot, my little darling. One mention of your father and you freeze in your place.”, said Angrellen with a light laugh.
“No, what? What are you talking about? And no, they are not!”, said Anglenna heatedly. “And you are not talking about any man, you are talking about my father.”
“Yes and no, daughter mine.”, laughed her mother.
“Did my father really say that to you?”, blurted Anglenna.
“Your father was a charming man, dear. And yes. He did say that to me, even after all my rebuffings and refusals.. The sentimental fool! Selvius never entered a battle he would lose, and never lost a battle he engaged.”, she heard her mother say in a dreamy, reminiscing tone.
“Accept you.”, Anglenna said bitterly.
“My dear girl, you were always good at ruining a good day.”, her mother signed.
“No, mother, nothing beats you at ruining everyone’s good day, and everything that’s good.”, sneered the younger Sunsear as she pulled out her other two items worth any significance. One was also an old friend of hers, a rod of sorts made from rare Fernian Ash Wood that helped her fire-based spells burn hotter, and the latest addition to her limited repertoire; a wand crafted by a half-elf artificer named Rimel Auburn, Philius Silveroak’s wife and that strange boy, Darly Dor’s mother. She wasn’t quite used to it yet but it did have a comfortable grip and helped her better focus her spells; A War Mage’s Wand, though Anglenna found that name a bit on the ostentatious side. She considered her options for a moment, then decided to take a leaf out of the big, burly boy, Udoorin’s book, as ironic as that sounded, and on any number of levels. She pulled a bit of rope out of her small backpack, and tied it to both ends of the staff, and flung it across her back, just to find out its upper end kept hitting her head!
“How in the blazes does that boy carry a kazillion axes on his back and still keep his head?”, she fumed as she nudged the staff into a more comfortable position, not that it helped. Then, with both the wand and the rod, one in either hand, she stepped into the still smoldering hall.
“You seem distracted, my daughter. Are you busy? Perhaps I should go and come back another time. You never did learn to multi-task!”, she heard her mother say.
“By all means, mother, do go.. Just never come back!”, seethed Anglenna as she moved forward with quick-step haste. For some reason, she felt a sense of dread coming her way and just didn’t want to wait for it to arrive.
“Now, now, my flower. Let’s not get nasty. We are merely talking like a pair of adults, here.”, her mother said.
“Mother..”, Anglenna said. “..what are you doing?”
“Doing?”, Angrellen asked a bit perturbed. “Whatever do you mean?”
“Really, mother, what are you doing? Why are you talking to me? What do you hope to gain? Perhaps you think, if you spammed me enough many times, I might fold and come to you?”, Anglenna asked.
“Ahh.. No, dear. As little as you like to think of me, I do care about your well-being. And with nothing to do at the moment, I merely wanted to have a civilized conversation.”, her mother said.
“The Orken are not giving you the courtesy you expected of them?”, asked Anglenna with a smile on her face.
“The beasts..”, scoffed Angrellen heatedly. “They are nothing but animals. They were strictly warned to leave certain areas in Bari Na-ammen untouched.”
“Ow, mother.. Did they bring down your precious ‘roof’ as well?”, laughed Anglenna.
“Yes. They did. They leveled the whole city and burned everything they could get their hands on. There were a lot of personal belongings I had and wanted to get out of there before I left the city for good.”, seethed her mother’s voice.
“Poor Angrellen the Betrayer. Her personal belongings were so much more important than the lives of over two hundred thousand high elves.. It must truly hurt to be you!”, snickered Anglenna coldly as she turned around the corner at the end of the hall, where she saw the corridor split, one heading to her left, the other heading right for about thirty yards then ending in another heavily barricaded door.
“I had a painting of your father among those personal belongings, dear.”, Angrellen said with quiet wrath. “I ended up burning two platoons of the beasts, just to make my point!”
“Mother. You killed my father. You SACRIFICED HIM to your demon lords. The fact that you kept a picture of him, is an insult to his memory!”, spat Anglenna hotly. Then she turned and started down the left corridor. Had young Udoorin been here, she would have preferred to have checked what was behind the barricaded door, but there was a small chance she could move all those very heavy sandbags and be able to hack the door. As seldom as she did, she looked on the bright side; at least nothing was going to be coming up from behind her.
“Just out of mild curiosity, dear, who told you this? No one was supposed to know about that. I understood the necessity, but I wasn’t happy about it. Your father, Selvius, was, after all, a fool, but a charming, sentimental and caring fool. Never got without giving first and always treated me like the high lady that I was. Those qualities in him, I do miss.”, sighed the former high lady.
“Why, then? Why did you kill him? He was the only man, or anyone for that matter, to have given love and respect to you, and would have been the only one that ever would!”, asked Anglenna with smoldering desperation.
“That was the price, my flower. You sacrifice what you love, or the innocent, for power. Much like you sacrifice your enemies for revenge.. That is how it works.”, said Angrellen in a clinical, tutorial voice. “Could have been you, but I chose him. Your father never hovered, and he let me be when I was in my study, but as sentimental as he was, he was also a brilliant tactician and Grandaleren’s childhood friend. Had I chosen you, he would have asked me.. certain uncomfortable questions.. eventually.. Or perhaps not.. But he would never have stopped pursuing an answer for the death of his little ‘princess’, and given enough time, he would have suspected me, if not found out.”
“Guess I will have to thank your scheming plans to be alive, then? And here I thought it was out of some motherly love.”, said Anglenna, though not bitterly, but sort of with a shrug. It was interesting for her to have recognized the lack of her mother’s love no longer bothered her.
“Don’t be obtuse, dear, of course I loved you. I still do. In my way. It is hard to give something you never had. But I gave mine anyway.”, her mother replied absently.
“I don’t think you know what love means, mother. You consider it as something expected of others to give to you as per their existence, then once they have, they can move aside, or preferably just die.. And I doubt my grandfather was a man without love, mother. I did have many long talks with my uncle, Grandaleren, when I was younger and from all his accounts, his father loved all his children. More so after his wife left for her journey to the Undying Strands.. Considering how you were his firstborn, you must have gotten the best of what he and my grandmother had.”, she said as she stepped up her pace. The corridor she was following had many twists and turns, and many other doors, all similarly barricaded. It was when she turned yet another corner they came at her. A whole murder of ghouls, wraiths and.. some other things.. came at her, either moaning or screeching.. or in total, dead silence.
“Well now.”, she said, smiling at death, right in the face. “Would be such a waste, the way you all are pretty much lined up as you have, in a narrow corridor..”
Her eyes blazed, but not with fire.
This time, she opted for something else. Something she hadn’t tried before, both because she had only recently gained this spell, and because she just hadn’t had the opportunity.
“Yes, I am sure he loved me.”, sneered her mother. “So much so that he ripped away what was rightfully mine, and gave it to his son!”
“I would never have given you the throne either, mother, had it been up to me. No one in their right mind would have. You would have made every good, bad, and every bad, worse, no matter what. But if it were truly up to me, I would have had you thoroughly executed, and your body burned down to unrecognizable and unredeemable soot, scattered it a pinch at a time, and salted the lands, ten miles in every direction!”, Anglenna said with heat.
Then, in her low, calm voice, she chanted..
Selvius, Father, though I carry your name
A leaf, bright, light and forgotten
For that, I know I am to blame
Father, beg, help me thwart this blight
For it cometh, an evil I must task
Dire in need on her moments plight
Soon shall I avenge and save your soul
Though it takes me mine life
Thus I pledge and make you whole
Selvius, Father, though I carry your name,
A leaf, bright, light and forgotten,
For that, I know I am to blame.
Father, I beg, help me thwart this blight,
For it cometh, an evil I must task
Dire in need on her moments plight.
Soon shall I avenge and save your soul,
Though it takes me mine life,
Thus I pledge and make you whole.
And pointed her wand at the oncoming slaughter.
One moment there was only moaning and shrieking darkness, the next, the whole corridor lit as if summer itself had been summoned there and a sixty-foot-long shaft of excruciatingly bright sunlight lit the dark, putrid corridor..
..and incinerated everything in its way!
The blinding shaft of light burned the oncoming horde of undead like hot iron would butter, and cremated every single one it touched.
✱ ✱ ✱
WHAT ARE YOU DOING, GIRL?”, she heard her mother’s voice scream with horrified chagrin. “Why have you summoned your father’s name? WHAT ARE YOU DOING, LENNA? DO NOT DABBLE IN THINGS YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND!”
“None of your business, mother. You no longer get to tell me what to do, or what NOT to do. You lost your rights to me the moment you rose your hand against your people.”, Anglenna spat, and sent another sixty-foot-long shaft of sunlight, pulverizing another crowd of undead running at her.
“YOU WILL STOP THIS NONSENSE AT ONCE!”, shrieked her mother. “YOU WILL NOT NAME YOUR FATHER EVER AGAIN!”
“No, mother, it is you who will never name my father ever again. You lost all your rights, all your claims to him the moment you slew him!”, Anglenna barked at her mother..
..and drilled another batch of undead with a third shaft of incinerating sunlight as she took a step forward, then another.
Soon, she was disintegrating her way through the dead as she smote and belly-danced between them.
Yet, the deeper she moved into the depts of the old Thieves Guild’s hideout, the more dead heaped upon her, and though she burned and withered them, she didn’t escape unscathed. Soon, her long robes and her elegant dress-skirts were torn, ripped, and shredded, her hair was a chaotic mess, she was bleeding from any number of wounds, and something was wrong with her left arm because it looked odd when she held up her Fernian Ash Wood rod. The rod seemed to persist at pointing down when she held her arm straight! Still, she gritted her teeth and charged on until she came to a door that was not barricaded but had many glowing runes on it.
Anglenna held her pace and looked back.
She thought she’d heard the echo of clacking footsteps, but there was no one there except heaps of black dust, skeletal things missing their upper bodies, or with gaping holes in their chest.
The sense of dread she had felt earlier, however, had come again. With haste born of desperation, she turned back to the door, and the runes.
When she’d said wards weren’t her forte to her sister-cousin, she’d been very honest about it. But as far as she could tell, they were meant specifically for undead creatures and possibly demons; to keep them out, or perhaps, to keep them in.. Wards had a tendency to go both ways, depending on how you laid them. After a few more desperate moments of inspection, she concluded there were two different sets of runes in play here, possibly laid by two different people. One was likely a priest or a temple guardian, and the other was possibly a druid of some sort. The only thing that tiny glimpse information told her was, the priest or temple guardian had placed his or her wards in hopes of keeping undead and/or demons in or out, as she had first suspected, and hoped, and the ones laid by the druid was ward against anything likely to cause ‘imbalance’. She’d heard, from that strange, skinny little girl, Inshala, speaking about the preservation of balance enough many times to assume that much.
“Time to cough up!”, she whispered with huffed strands of her unbraided and disheveled strands platinum-blonde hair, pulled a small knife out of her pack, and stabbed it into one of the wards.
The ward ‘buzzed’ for a moment, then died as its already faded glow winked, then that too died.
One by one, Anglenna stabbed, scratched, or carved long, gaping lines over every single ward she could find, took a deep breath, then slowly opened the door.
✱ ✱ ✱
Anglenna had expected a lot of things, mostly along the lines of, ‘more of the same’. Just not what she beheld.
The room beyond the door was not a very large one. Perhaps thirty feet wide and forty feet deep, but it was blotted with very old, black stains of what the young high elf girl could only assume, to her revolted horror, was blood, and the remains of a dried and mummified carnage splattered all across the room, including the walls and the ceiling.
Anglenna did not wait.
She burned the room, from wall to wall, floor to ceiling, the black bloodstains and the dried and the mummified carnage.. all of it.. with the last remaining power of her sun spell. Not quite satisfied, she stuck her wand into what remained of her robe, pushed out her hand, palm facing the floor and fingers spread, she also burned the room with good old normal fire.
By the time she was done, the room was still black, but from soot only, and both the bloodstains and the carnage were gone.
Then she walked into the room, and over to the heap of gifts, carefully prepared by no other than High Lady Angrellen, and sent to the Master of High Spires, Philius Silveroak, who had handed them to the Keeper of Antiquities and Gifts, Lady Felishia Fremeir, as per protocol, who would have presented them to the First Lord of Arashkan, Princeps Kaladin, under the impression that they had been sent by Ri Grandaleren of High Woods, but quite unintentionally been burglarized from her home that very night by Philius’s estranged son, Darly “Darlius” Dor and brought here.. all some five or six years ago..
The gifts had comprised of a number of very expensive items; an exquisitely crafted jewelry box containing a beautiful, yet ‘manly’ ring for the First Lord’s son, and two, bejeweled, elf-craft silver necklaces, one for each of his daughters, a very large and heavy, delicately embroidered tapestry, and a fragile-looking, ‘true work of art’ vase..
..or perhaps it was an urn.
Anglenna felt slightly bad about the tapestry, which would have covered the expenses of at least a score or so quivers of three-spark arrows, which she was sure would have closed the gaping distance between her and the esteemed Ranger Corporal Laila Wolvesbane, and still have enough to buy a decent wedding gift for her cousin, should and when the time came. The jewelry box had also been charred, but the contents had survived.
“A kingly ring for our future Ri.”, she said, deliberately ignoring the young man’s current condition. “An exquisite necklace for my sister-cousin, and the other, for the skinny little one, I think. I hope that sinister man is looking after her. That girl truly likes him, though I can’t figure as to why, so I’d hate to dismantle him.”
Without the slightest bit of shame, Anglenna pocketed the ring and the two necklaces, and the irony that the gifts her mother had prepared to start a war, would go to a ‘human’ who would become a Rise, and her much-hated ‘half breed’ niece.. and another ‘half something’.. She would make sure to have them all checked for possible curses and/or ill enchantments by some reputable wizard, or possibly a temple guardian first, though.
Then there was the urn..
Anglenna did not immediately open or even touch the cursed container. She circled around it, inspected it, quite meticulously, then carefully, she picked it up, wrapped it with what remained of her robes..
✱ ✱ ✱
And heard the echo of the clacking footstep again, much closer this time.
“Found me, have you?”, Anglenna said. “Took you long enough.. mother!”
There was a moment of resigned silence, then High Lady Angrellen appeared at the door of the room.
Her mother seemed about the same, though tired. She had deep, dark circles around her eyes, her skin was paler and her platinum-white hair was slightly disheveled. She had always been a slender figure before, but she seemed somewhat gaunt now. She was also wearing the same dress she had worn that day, when they had last seen her in the palace, back in Bari Na-ammen, about a week or two ago..
“How did you figure it out, darling?”, she asked, slightly perturbed.
“I had my suspicions for quite some time now, mother. All those years pushing me into trying to scry on my uncle, Grandaleren, was sort of a giveaway. A control freak such as yourself would always want to keep an eye on her own daughter, even against her knowledge or wishes, going as far as ignoring the ‘King’s Citizens Rights and Privacies Act’. But I suppose no life or law is sacred for you. And your high heels.. I could hear them from half a mile away. Only you would wear high heels in a war. Your demented choice of wardrobe aside, I am surprised you haven’t come to fetch me sooner, the way you have been perversing around me..”, Anglenna said calmly.
“I suppose I could have, though, in all candor, I was blocked by something.. or someone.. You have made uncommon friends in these past few months dear. I couldn’t scry on your cousin, the silly little half-breed, since she was no older than six. I suspect it had something to do with her being chosen as the Heart of High Woods. But she couldn’t keep me from watching you. All the information my informants brought to me about your little friends was quite extensive. Of all of them, only one man gave some trouble identifying. Turns out he’s a Drashan convict. Good choice of ensemble there, daughter. Not even I stooped that low. A Drashan convict? Really, now.. Sunsear’s do have standards, you know. Then there were the two odd girls. Other than a general description, they were able to find nothing about them. What they were, where they came from, who were they.. Nothing.. I am not sure which, but it must have been either of them. Yes, my daughter, one of them was strong enough to block all my attempts to scry on any of you. Otherwise, I could watch you any time I wanted. Up until late tonight, or perhaps I should say, early this morning. Since then, I couldn’t see you anymore, either. Begs the question, just who did you bind yourself to, girl?”, her mother asked, as she carefully scanned the room.
“I don’t do bondage, mother. That’s more like your thing.”, smiled Anglenna, though she too wondered who it was, that had protected the whole group without them knowing? The two girls her mother had been talking about were likely the skinny little girl, Inshala Frostmane, and the odd, mad girl, Merisoul Xyrotwu. She had heard, though not quite sure when and where, that Inshala was now the Ritual Guardian, a title not bestowed by mortal officials, but the Ritual Forest itself. Could that have been it? A side effect of being chosen by the spirit of something as vast as the Ritual Forest? A bit like how her cousin was chosen as the Heart of High Woods? As for Merisoul, all she had compiled about her was, though not all that willingly, she was bonded to some powerful celestial being —likely something that shouldn’t be messed with..
“Tell me, darling, what is this hideous place that you have brought me? And where are your little friends? Where’s the princess?”
“My friends are where they are supposed to be, and my sister is not here. She is far away, quite safe, and well out of your reach. I made sure of that. As for this place, it’s the old Arashkan Thieves Guild’s headquarters.”, Anglenna said with a shrug.
“The old Arashkan Thieves Guild’s HQ, is it?”, she said, still scanning the room, and it seemed like she was also listening for any sounds she might hear coming from behind her. “If you came here in hopes of hiding from me, my darling, it hasn’t seemed to have worked, obviously. If you came here to hide from the Orken, well, you seem to have run deep enough, though I suspect not for too long. Either they would have discovered these stinking sewers, eventually, or you’d run out of rations. If it was your intention to ambush me, daughter, you are outnumbered and now lack the element of surprise. And if you are telling the truth about your friends being elsewhere, and not hiding nearby, you truly are alone..
Perhaps you have that skulking Drashan cut-throat hiding to stab me in the back. One such idiot already tried that tonight. Didn’t really go his way. Of all those in your company, though, only the Drashanian,..
..the ranger girl and my niece would have had the skills to sneak up on me. Having had the opportunity to look at the mess you left behind, however, it’s all and only you, which begs the question, again, why are you here, my flower? What do you hope to gain by bringing me all the way down here?”
Anglenna snorted, though she did admire how well her mother had dissected, labeled, and shelved the situation.
“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to see your line of thought. You truly must think, nothing of significance can happen unless it revolves around you, mother. You really must think yourself to be the center of everything and everything just must be about you, doesn’t it? That may have been relatively true before, but you lost your grip on me the moment you made me betray my sister and divulge her secrets to you. Yes, Grandaleren was not a good Ri, and likely a fool. But he beat you at your game by sending me to find his daughter. It gave me the opportunity to escape from under your thumb and finally be free, mother. While you did everything to ruin and discredit his daughter, he made you lose yours. Too bad you killed him. I really owned him a thanks of gratitude.”
“Ow, I did more than just kill him, darling. Now, then.. Shall we start dancing, or would you like to come home quietly? Do come quietly, dear. I really do not wish to break you. You are my darling flower, after all. We can even assume none of these happened and give it a fresh start. You have so much potential and a whole life ahead of you. Together, mother and daughter, we can rule this world!”
Anglenna just stared at her mother.
And the phrase, ‘Mad as a Feynox’, sprang to her mind.
“I have no intentions of coming with you, mother, quietly or otherwise. I have made my choices, and I plan on sticking with them. But to answer your earlier question; I came here for this.”, she said..
..and produced the small urn from under her tattered and shredded robes.
“How did you come by that thing, Lenna?”, she asked and Anglenna got the fleeting satisfaction to see her mother freak out.
“How I came by it is quite irrelevant, mother. I am here. You are here. And your precious little curse is here.. The one you prepared to be gifted to First Lord, Princeps Kaladin, under the false impression that it had been sent here by Grandaleren, just to discredit him.. and to start a war between us and Arashkan. Your lust for power and blood never ceases to amaze me, mother.”
“Don’t you toy with that, Lenna.”, her mother hissed. “You are centuries away from understanding the workings of that curse. Put it down and carefully! NOW!”
Anglenna smiled at her.
“Why, mother, I have no desire to toy with it, but I do believe it belongs to you..”, she said pleasantly..
..and hurled the little urn..
..at her mother!
Angrellen gave a gasping shriek and moved to catch the arcing urn.
And her daughter was impressed.
A thousand and five hundred years old, and her mother, Angrellen, moved with the grace of a sea serpent.
Anglenna also moved but as tired and exhausted as she was, she didn’t bother with seas nor serpents, or perhaps because she just didn’t care..
The urn spun up..
..Anglenna hurled a fist-sized bolt of fire.
The urn reached the apex of its arc..
..Angrellen stared at her daughter, and at the fist of scorching fire coming at her and flinched again.
The urn came down..
..Anglenna mimed to cast another bolt of fire and her mother reacted.
For a bare instant, Angrellen was entombed in a thick, nearly impenetrable block of ice!
The fire bolt struck the ice and winked out without so much as marring it.
The urn smashed into the ice as well..
..and shattered into small, crumbling pieces.
Anglenna released her spell, but it wasn’t another bolt of her fisting fire. She had never intended to repeat the first, just as her first one had never been intended to do any harm to her mother, not that she would have minded, but she knew she was not ready to face her just yet, particularly as tired and juiced out as she was. The thing was, her mother didn’t know that. As a matter of fact, her mother only knew that her daughter had grown in strength and power, and quite exponentially during these last few months and away from her and because she had also been shielded from being scried, and hence, gone unobserved, leaving her mother ignorant of her daughter’s latest developments. Angrellen had expected a kaboom and reacted against a kaboom, but gotten a love tap instead, do to speak.
Always know your enemies, discern their weaknesses, and use them against them!
That was what Angrellen had taught her daughter, and that’s exactly what her daughter had done.
Hence, when Anglenna resealed her second spell, her mother was trapped in her own, defensive tomb of ice, and effectively incapacitated, unable to act or react!
Anglenna didn’t wait to see if her spell worked or not. Just like she had done when the princess had come at her during her moment of temporary madness, she twinned her spell..
..and Angrellen, her mother, all entombed in her own protective ice, vanished!
A black, sentient smoke slowly formed where the shattered pieces of the urn were scattered.
“Job done. Time to go.”, said Anglenna with grim satisfaction. “Nice chat, mother, but you really are a cliché villainess. Just need a witch’s hat on your head and a black cat sitting on your lap, and you’d be all set!”
With a spell she had taken from her sister-cousin’s own book, per se, she vanished herself and reappeared immediately on the other side of the black, seething smoke and in the corridor.
She didn’t wait to watch nor inspect the smoke.
As hard, as fast, and as far as she could, for what she had done to her mother was not a permanent banishment, but would last only a short minute or two.
“Thank you for learning me all your dirty trade secrets, mother..”, she gasped as she ran. “..to be professionally honest about it, I doubt I could have done it without you!”
Anglenna reached the first barricade without facing anything. Which made sense. She had cleared everything on her way in.
She did encounter a platoon of Orken by the time she reached the sewer juncture where they had faced the members of The Whispers, all the while trembling in exhaustion and something about her left arm was just wrong and kept stabbing her with excruciating pain. She dropped a furnacing ball of fire on them without so much as a ‘hello’, and kept on running.
She didn’t retract her steps back to the secret entrance where they had entered the sewers. That would be suicide now. She opted to take the tunnel where the members of The Whispers had come and dearly hoped it would lead to somewhere near High Spires, or the docks.. or at least to a secluded place where she could go into hiding for the duration of a few bites, check what was wrong with her arm, and a four-hour meditation. After that, she wouldn’t need the High Spires nor the docks.
Sunsear Brightleaf, the daughter of the former high lady of Bari Na-ammen, Angrellen the Betrayer, the Protector and the Guardian of the Heart of High Woods, Princess Alor’Nadien ne, her big, burly man, Sir Udoorin Shieldheart and their line to come, disappeared in the dark, stinking maze of sewers, under the burning ruins of the once glorious city of Arashkan..
..and from the shards of the small, ‘work-of-art’ urn, the pitch-black, sentient smoke spread. Slow at first, as if waking from unknown and forgotten cycles of slumber, then faster, yearning to own and consume everything and everyone in its path until nothing remaining..
The state of being temporarily
seriously mentally ill, a.k.a Temporal Madness,
possibly causing a loss in the ability to differentiate
absolute reality from the apparent..
The stink down in the Arashkan sewers has grown oppressive and barely breathable now and no longer carries the scent of feces, but that of something else. Something that reminds of moldering, stale sweat, and putrid meat..
..or perhaps half-cooked meat gone bad! Young Udoorin gags and coughs in discomfort as Princess Lorna sways at each step, her face sagging morosely while Lady Angrellen tries desperately to keep herself from topping over all the while keeping a steady hand on her cousin.
Death has been to this part of the city sewers and for quite some time. Long, long before the Orken and seems to spread on its own uncanny, sentient accord.
This story is the continuation of the series;
The Malediction of ‘Rellen.. (Part 3/3)
“Three Dog Curse”.
It takes place on the same night as
We Are Not Your Dogs.
We Are Not Your Servants.
We Are Your Masters!
and soon after
Careful..”, said the young, burly man gruffly. “And watch your step. We don’t want to fall into that.”, he added pointing at the black, oozing water sleazing down the tunnel.
“This place..”, gasped Anglenna. “..is evil!”
Princess Lorna refrained from saying anything. She just held her long, three-yard glaive in one hand and covered her nose and mouth with the other.
Young Udoorin looked back to check on her, grimaced, and held up his fist, signaling for a half.
“Alright. This isn’t working.”, he said, watching the love of his life wither under the awfully stink.
“Please. I will be.. fine..”, chocked the princess.
“My Life, I would hate to contradict you in public, but Lady Anglenna is family, so I suppose neither of you should mind that I do.. contradict you in public, I mean.”, he said. “You are not alright. I can barely stand up straight and apparently neither can either of you. I can see why Master Aager always wears that mask of his, now.”
“But we can’t stop here.”, Lorna chocked again.
“No, we can’t. And we won’t. Just.. gimme a second.”, he wheezed, then took off his very heavy backpack, put it on the ground, and started rummaging through it. Soon enough, he produced several thick rolls of white bandages and a tiny, elegant bottle with some rose-red liquid in it.
“Is that Rose Oil, young man?”, Anglenna asked with a muffled but amused voice.
“It is, and it is not!”, Udoorin replied with a red face.
“Ow?”, asked the tall high elf noblewoman.
“It has Rose Oil, yes. But also Lavender Oil, a very, very small amount of Clove Essence and triple amount of that in Cherry Blooms, a pinch of fresh earth gathered right after a November rain, a tiny sliver of new-mown grass, a needle from a Pine and a bit of bark chipped from an Oak —both powdered and..”, he said and stopped, blushing even more.
Anglenna arched her platinum brows.
“By all means, Master Udoorin. Let’s not stop now. Do give the rest of the recipe. We are dying in anticipation!”, she said, her lips pursed with mirth.
“And.. uhh.. a tear from a certain.. uhhmm.. Faerie!”
There was an astonishing moment of silence as both Lorna and Anglenna stared at the huge man.
“That is.. quite a potent potion you have there, young man.”, said the high lady, her brows arching even more. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say it’s a Love Potion! What is a man like you doing with a Love Potion?”
“It isn’t a Love Potion!”, Udoorin said hastily as he blushed furiously. “Well, it is.. I suppose.. when you think about it, but not for someone else. It’s for me!”
The two women stared at him again.
“Okay, that.. didn’t come out right.. It.. it’s the closest thing I found, well, ‘brewed’ actually, that comes anywhere near.. uhh.. umm..”, he said and faltered.
“Ow, let’s definitely not stop now, young man. Do go on..”, Anglenna said. “The suspense is killing us.”
“Lorna..”, finished the big, burly man, in a deflated voice.
“Me?”, asked the princess, totally confused.
“Lorna?”, asked the high lady in a similar tone.
“Look..”, said Udoorin in a voice that said he was about to die, and he knew it. “When I was going out during our stay here, in Arashkan, before the Orken attack, I mean, when we were still looking for that Gar Thalot, I had to visit many inns and taverns listening for various gossips and trying to overhear little bits and pieces of conversations, I needed something —sort of a pick-me-up because some of those places really stank. I made a remark about it once and apparently, our Merisoul overheard me. She asked me if I would want something that would help with ‘The stink of mortals’ —her exact words, and I said, yes, please. So she gave me a list of things I would need. I stared at the list and it made me think, ‘I am never going to be able to find these. I don’t even know what most of them are!’. Then I thought of Inshala. You know, her being a druid and all, she’d know, right? And I was right. She sent me to some apothecaries and herbalists to buy some of the items, which I must say, did cost me an arm and a leg, while she got me the others herself since they needed to be fresh. As for the.. uhh.. faerie tear, Merisoul got that. I asked from which faerie she got the tear because, well, we wouldn’t want to mess with the wrong faerie, now do we? Or end up owing to them, but she assured me said faerie was the best of her kind and that I should be more mindful of her and perhaps take her out for a dinner or two, or even a midnight stroll, every once in a while, if I didn’t want her to shed more tears! Then she went back up to her roof and brewed it all night and come morning, she gave me this little bottle and said, ‘This belongs to you, and only to you. Never let another man touch it. Open it in dire need and take one whiff and all your troubles will ease.’ Turns out, she was right. Though I have never needed it since we engaged because I get to smell the real faerie!”
Lady Anglenna stared at the young, burly man, and his earnest face.
Princess Alor’Nadien ne just.. burned!
“Is.. is that me? In a bottle?”, she stammered.
“Of course not.”, Udoorin said with a grin. “Only the closest thing to your scent!”
“This.. ‘smell thing’ the two of you got going..”, said Anglenna in despair, looking at the two. “..needs some serious addressing!”
“It’s already been addressed and, thanks to Lady Lorna, chalked off as a misunderstanding.”, Udoorin said happily.
“Dorin..”, said the princess in a small, waning voice. “Stop. Please. I don’t remember the last time I have been this.. embarrassed..”
“I am sorry, Lorna. It wasn’t intended to embarrass you. But she asked and put me under.. I don’t know, scrutiny? I never want you to have any doubts about me where you are concerned.. in any form..”, Udoorin said honestly.
“Don’t fret, cousin. Your man.. as brawny as he is, which I suppose, is a polite way to phrase it, is honest and sincere.”
“I never questioned your honesty, nor your sincerity, Dorin. It still is embarrassing though, don’t you think? Carrying a bottle of my scent around with you all the time.”, Lorna mumbled.
“Never felt happier, and never felt any embarrassment about it. You have no idea, the kind of power your presence gives me, my Lorna. It’s the only thing that’s kept me going ever since we met. I mean, people look at me and only see ‘brawny’ and possibly a dumb country oaf. It’s like I have no feelings or emotions. I do, you know. I just don’t have the face to project it, I think.”, he replied as he walked over to his princess, unrolled one of the thick bandages, uncorked the tiny bottle, carefully dripped a single drop of the rose-red liquid, corked it again, then said, “If you will, my Life?”
Lorna blushed even more as she turned around and the big, burly man tenderly wrapped the bandage around her cute, perky nose, her small, cherry-red mouth, her long, slender neck, and back again, several times over, then carefully knotted it off.
“Now, if you will too, Lady Anglenna? Or would you rather do it yourself?”, he asked.
“By all means, do, young man.”, smiled the high elf girl.
“Uhhmm.. Okay..”, said Udoorin a bit gruffly and repeated the process for the high lady, though with a certain sense of trepidation.
“You really should relax around women, you know. Considering what we have lived and suffered through, we aren’t as tender and fragile as you think we are.”, Anglenna said after her ‘bandages’ were done, and with a muffled voice.
“I am careful with the women around me, precisely because of what you have lived and suffered through, Lady Anglenna. And.. we all are tender and fragile, really.. I suspect life is..”, he mumbled as he wrapped his own face with the third roll of bandages.
“My..”, muffled the high lady. “That was quite poetic, young man. And I feel I must apologize for defining you as ‘brawny’. The careful indoctrination of my dear mother will take time to wash off. On this matter, I only ask for your patience, if not understanding.”
“Tis alright, really. I mean, how else are you going to define me? Udoorin the Delicate?”
A snort escaped from the ladies, though muffled.
“This.. scent.. truly smells like my cousin.”, Anglenna said while Udoorin carefully put the tiny bottle back it to his heavy backpack and did its buckles. “We should name it!”
“It already has a name.”, Udoorin’s muffled voice came as he picked up his pack and threw it over his shoulder.
✱ ✱ ✱
Alor’Na’s Bequest?”, Lorna asked, her deep green eyes elated, and what was visible of her face, bright red and muffled under her bandage mask!
Anglenna did not comment.
Her sharp, elven eyes did wrinkle at the corners too, though.
“What?”, asked Udoorin, a bit taken aback, and with some indignity and child-like stubbornness. “I liked it. Sounded perfectly fitting then, when I told Merisoul what I would call it. Sounds perfect and fitting now! Though she laughed at it too. Might have been laughing at me, I am not sure which. Asked her why she was laughing and whether it was overkill or something. Said it was fine, and that I overkilled everything anyway.. Then she laughed some more.. I didn’t say anything after that. She never laughs so I thought laughing was good for her. Makes her more like us ‘mortals’, as she likes to call us.”
“It is overdone, Dorin.. just a bit, mind you. And I am glad you made Merisoul laugh. She very much needs it.”, Lorna said, still smiling exuberantly with her eyes. “Take away the princess.. and the Heart of High Woods, though, I am just another girl; stubborn, impulsive, temperamentally impatient, and, at times, display frivolous behaviors and desires. You really shouldn’t see me more than what I am.”
“Take away the axes, the abs, the big burly chest, and the broad shoulders, but leave the scruffy beard, and I am just another midget!”
Anglenna hurt herself.
And so did Lorna.
“Well. How about that? I have managed to make both the ladies laugh at me. Am I good or what?”, Udoorin grinned.
Then he turned serious.
“As a side note, though, I would very much appreciate leaving how I see you, to me, Lorna. Please? It surprises me every morning since we.. opened up to one another.. that you find something you like.. in me.. But I do not question it, nor deny you your ‘likes’. I do this, not because I think I have anything lovable, but because you see something lovable. And, please let’s not take away your temperaments, nor your frivolous behaviors and desires. They are part of what makes you. Agreed?”
Lorna smiled again, at the big, burly man, but it was a different smile this time.
“Agreed.”, she said amiably.
“Alright.”, Udoorin said all business. “Shall we move on, then? If that fancy Darly-Kid was accurate in his description of the location of where they barricaded the curse, I believe we are close. Considering the change in the water, if we could call it that, and the smell, we must be very close.”
“I believe we are.”, she agreed again. “And thank you for the.. bandages.. They helped a lot. I can actually breathe fresh pine and oak.. among other things..”
Udoorin decided not to comment on that.
One day, perhaps he would.
When they were alone.
✱ ✱ ✱
Are you sure?”, Udoorin asked.
“No, not really. But we must get through these heaped sandbags and that barricaded door. Only then can I do something about the wards. I am not even sure how many of them there are —if any. To be professionally honest about it, wards are not my forte. Rise Nadina Graciousward would know, obviously. She is, after all, famed for them.” Anglenna whispered as she looked around cautiously. “And.. possibly that unwholesome little weasel!”, she added grudgingly.
“You mean Gnine?”, Udoorin said as he cracked a grin.
“And I didn’t even have to name him.”, Anglenna said in an amused tone.
“I can’t imagine he would know something that you wouldn’t.”, he said a bit surprised. “I mean, it’s Gnine we are talking about!”
“As irritating, annoying, irresponsible, and disrespectful as I find him, he is a study wizard. I am not. I am a sorceress. My magic is innate. It comes from within me. I was born with it. My studies were to learn more about how to better harness it and how versatile I could use it because our repertoire of spells is rather limited. Wizards are not born with magic. They are a bunch of delinquents with high IQs. They could be warriors, they could be temple guardians, they could be bards, or they could just be regular, honest, hard-working citizens, but no. They prefer to read books and formulate ways to work as little as possible. And basically cause problems, and eventually, become a problem for everyone else.”, she said with extreme distaste.. and disdain.
“You really must dislike the gnome.”, he said trying not to laugh.
“I think he is rather cute. And he has always been polite to me.”, smiled Lorna.
“Everyone is polite to you, love. You are just that nice.”, the young man said honestly. Then he grinned again and rumbled happily. “This is incredible! I actually have something genuinely in common with Lady Anglenna!”
“He is irritating, annoying, irresponsible, and disrespectful. What is there to not like! Do keep your voice down, by the way, would you, dear? I would rather we didn’t wake up anything that’s been dead in there since this place was cordoned off.”
“Uhhmm.. You are aware that I am going to have to heave all these petrified sandbags, then hack that door down, right? With my axes..”, he said carefully.
Anglenna gave the young burly man a long, thousand-yard glare and fumed.
“It isn’t nice when you become smart with me, and have something in common with the annoying gnome, Sir Udoorin.”, she said.
“I am sorry.”, Udoorin grinned. “I wasn’t trying to be smart. Merely stating a fact.”
It wasn’t clear what the princess was doing with her own face, but the wrinkles at the corners of her eyes did give the impression that she, too, was grinning.
“Ganging up against me, are you?”, Anglenna glared at her as well.
“No, no, dear Lenna. We would never!”, she replied hastily, with a bubbling, muffled voice.
“The sandbags, Sir Udoorin. And the door..”, Anglenna said, almost growling.
Udoorin coughed, then started heaving the heavy, nearly-forty-pound-each bags, carefully building a new wall two feet or so in front of the door.
“Why are you heaping them in front of the door?”, Anglenna asked a bit baffled when she noticed the sandbags were actually forming a real, structural wall, barely two feet away from the door.
“In case we have to make a hurried getaway.”, he replied in a muffled, heavily breathing voice.
“That doesn’t tell me much.”, she said with a slight frown.
Udoorin stopped what he was doing and whipped his sweat off his forehead.
“In case we face more than we can handle, I want a place we can fall back.. Something like a barricade that works in our favor. This way, Lady Lorna and I can stand between the door and the sandbags, each holding one side. Won’t be much for wider swings, what with the two feet and all, but plenty enough room for vertical strikes, hacks, and jabs, particularly when each of us is standing on either side of the door. Also, you can stand behind the barricade and nuke them head-on while informing us of whatever it is that’s coming.. If we are still overwhelmed, I can always run around the barricade and push the whole thing down and block the door altogether.”
Anglenna stared at the big, burly man for a moment.
“That.. is actually a sound plan!”, she admitted finally.
“Thought so, myself.”, grinned Udoorin and continued to work until all the sandbags were stacked two feet from the door and in a wall-like barricade. Then he took one of his great battle-axes and started on the door. Soon enough, large chunks of wood and splinter started flying every which way and the door was hacked down into rubble.
Then he took a step back, drew his other axe as well, and stared at the darkness beyond the door as Lorna took her place to his left and Anglenna stood behind the barricade drawing upon her sorcerous power.
It didn’t take too long for things to come pouring out!
The young man slammed the skeletal, ghoulish thing right back into the darkness, took a step to his right, and with methodical workmanship, both he and the princess started hacking and jabbing and basically dismantling anything that came through the door.
They were not all skeletal, however. Some were just gaunt and seemed like they had been slow-cooked in tar, while others had stringy, green-brown or petrified gray or sickly yellowish skins. The bloated ones were the worst, though, for they spewed forth horrible, retch-like, putrid whenever they were struck and spilled black, oozing blood. Udoorin had a strong stomach, but the smell of the vomit-blood nearly brought him down to his knees, penetrating right through their bandage masks.
“More are coming..”, said Anglenna, focused for a moment and sent fist-sized bolts of fire into the darkness, not so much as to do great damage, but to light up the hall behind the door and to buy the time her cousin and Udoorin would need to prepare for the undead that was about to come through.
“What are they?”, growled Udoorin as he rammed the full length of one axe right into the face of the thing that came out of the door. “They are persistent, resilient and some of them refuse to die!”
“Ghouls. Many of them. We downed a few Wraiths as well. The ones that shrieked like nails scratching porcelain plates.”, gasped Lorna as she stabbed her three-yard glaive into the side of the one Udoorin had struck, and together they pushed the undead back into the hall. “And Draugrs, I think.”
“If there are Draugrs, we might have a problem.”, Anglenna hissed. “Don’t let them catch a clear glimpse of you and don’t stare them in the eye.. They might.. do things to your mind.. Also, they will enrage and grow larger and become much, much stronger. Kill them as fast as you can!”
“Was doing that anyway. I don’t play with my food..”, rumbled Udoorin. Then added, “..in a manner of speaking!”, as he lopped the head of another that tried to enter the room.
“This is taking too long. And there is no end to them.”, Lorna said with the slightest worry tinting her otherwise cool voice. “I am going to blast them. Cover me please, Dorin.”
“Of course.”, said Udoorin and tackled a particularly large undead, blocking the door, and giving enough room for the princess.
“Lorna, no!”, shouted Anglenn from behind the barricade.
Things didn’t go quite as planned.
The large Draugr, Udoorin had tried to tackle, grabbed hold of his upper arm, swung him around, and with an incredible force, slammed him to the wall.
The young, burly man saw stars, then his vision started to darken as the Draugr roared with a mad, hallow, and brassy voice and..
..started to grow!
“NO!”, cried Lorna and stabbed at the, now huge creature drawing black, stinking blood from a long, deep gash.
The creatures roared again and turned towards the princes, and tiny, manic, greenish lights appeared in the hallows of its eye sockets.
The princess froze in her place, staring into the depths of those eyes as waves of malevolent madness washed over her.
“Nooo..”, groaned Udoorin as he picked himself and his axes and dove, straight at the Draugr, which had become nearly twice its former size, its bloated head scraping the ceiling of the hall. The burly man swung once and struck the undead on the hip, heard a satisfying crack, swung again, and the creature’s blobby chest caved in and more oozing black blood gushed out.
Then Lorna stabbed the point glaive, pushing half of the thirty-inch blade into the undead’s guts, and she..
“Lorna!”, shouted Udoorin and hacked at the nearly fifteen-foot creature. “Fall back! FALL BACK! I’LL COVER YOU!“
The creature dropped on one knee, its shattered hip unable to support it any longer giving the burly man the opportunity he’d been looking for. He spun around, taking full advantage of the length of his axes and used them as leverage, and slammed them both into the kneeling creature; one hitting right between its shoulder blades, the other chopping right into the base of its skull. The hall echoed with a sharp crack, and the top half of the creature’s head broke off, and landed six feet away, spraying everywhere with black, stinking blood.
Udoorin didn’t waste time.
He turned to the other undead, to buy time for his princess.
And felt pain.
A sharp, savage pain.
And suddenly, he felt his legs give away.
The big, burly man looked down and saw a bit of bloody steel sticking right out of his chest.
“Huh!”, he grunted. “I know this blade.”
Blood hushed out of his mouth and choked his words.
There were no stars this time.
Just the darkness.
Udoorin Shieldheart crashed, face down..
✱ ✱ ✱
Cousin. What did you do?”, whispered Anglenna in horror as she watched the young man stumble and fall, face down, onto the ground. Lorna drew her glaive out of the young man’s back and charged right into the oncoming undead, savagely swinging the deadly weapon and mowing them down.
Anglenna abandoned the barricade.
She ran around the wall of stacked sandbags and into the hall. The stench of death and rot here was overwhelming, but the former high lady snarled in defiance, pushed herself forward, and very nearly threw herself on young Udoorin.
“Good Heavens!”, she exclaimed, looking down at the still form of the young, burly man. “So much blood!”
“Get up, young man.”, she hissed at him, but Udoorin did not move. She looked up at where her cousin was and saw her, quite mindlessly hacking at the undead.
“I told them not to let the Draugrs get to them.”, she moaned then tried to pick the young man up, in hopes of moving him behind the barricade, at least. The man didn’t even nudge. “Why are you so heavy, boy? I can’t even move you an inch.”
Tendrils of panic started at her.
She had been at dire moments before, in her life. But she’d always planned for an escape. It was something her mother had taught her at a very early age.
“If things are overwhelming, leave. Sunsears do not die for fools!”
That’s what she had told her, over and over, until it had stuck.
She had abandoned others —many fools, before. A Sunsear didn’t do heroics, either. Heroes were dead people who just didn’t know it yet. But this..
This, she just couldn’t abandon.
And with a badly timed awakening, it dawned on her;
This was her first test.
It was she, who had given her oath to protect and to guard her cousin, this young man, and their line to come, hadn’t she?
With a sardonic smile, she murmured to herself.
“How did the humans say it? Ah, yes; Time to cough up!“
And with that, she calmed down and the tendrils of panic withdrew.
She focused for a moment, then touched the big, burly man..
..and picked him up!
Now, light as a feather, he carried the young man back into the room, behind the barricade, and lay him there. Hastily, she opened her own small pack, and pulled out her rolls of bandages, and pressured them into the young man’s gaping wounds. She knew it wouldn’t help much, for she wasn’t a healer and had no skills in that area. Her mother had never cared for the sufferings of others, and hence, had never bothered to teach her any healing beyond basic first aid.
“This is all I can do now. I’m sorry, young man, but I must go and get Lorna out of there.”, she said softly and got up.
Perhaps it was good timing, chance, or destiny, Anglenna never knew. Whatever it had been, one of them had worked in her favor, because the moment she got up, Lorna was there.
With black, oozing blood splattered all over her, and staring at her with mad, unrecognizing eyes, she brought down her three-yard-long glaive down..
Anglenna acted out of reflex.
Had she but a moment of contemplation, in all likeliness, she would have been dead.
She cast out her one hand, her fingers apart, and released a spell, didn’t wait to see the results, using skills unique to sorcerers, she twinned the same spell, and just like that..
✱ ✱ ✱
Where.. is.. the.. princess..”, gasped Udoorin as bright red blood trickled from his mouth.
“Not here, young man.”, replied Anglenna as she looked at the pale face of the man, then at the blood-soaked bandages she had pressed on his chest. “She’ll come around, soon enough. We have to change these and we don’t have much time. The undead will start pouring this way again and soon.”
“Is.. she.. safe?”, he whispered with a wet, gurgling voice.
“Boy, you are badly wounded and bleeding out as we speak, and you are worried about..”, fumed the high lady.
“..There is.. nothing.. else.. to worry, Lady.. Lenna.. I am.. fine.. Is she.. safe?”, wheezed Udoorin again.
“Lady Lenna? That’s a first. I like it.. And yes. Your princess is safe —as can be. Sir Udoorin, you must help me. We must get you out of this armor. As long as you are this contraption, I can’t properly apply any bandages on you. We must stop your bleeding or Lorna will only mourn your death when she returns.”
The big, burly man tried to move his arms, but they stayed, listlessly, at his sides. He coughed and more blood splattered out of his mouth and seeped from his wounds and then his eyes rolled back and he lay still.
Anglenna felt panic coming her way again.
She pressed her lips together and started unbuckling the tightly strapped armor, breaking her fingernails. She was halfway through when Lorna suddenly reappeared exactly where she’d vanished, stumbled, and collapsed on the ground, crying hysterically.
“It’s alright, dear. You’ll be fine. The Draugr carry the sins of their past lives and tend to project them upon those around them. You were struck by it, causing some kind of temporary madness. It will fade, given a bit of time.”, Anglenna said, as she continued to unbuckle to heavy plate armor.
“What.. what happened to him? What happened to Dorin?”, came Lorna’s shivering voice.
“Ahh, good. Your mind is back. As for him; he got too brave!”, replied Anglenna evasively. “Come help me. We must get him out of his armor and stop his bleeding.”
Lorna scurried near her cousin and started at the big, burly man’s armor, her hands still shaking and jabbing this way or that with uncontrolled spasms.
Finally, the armor was off.
And the two women saw the extent of the young man’s wounds.
A four-inch-long, razor gash spat blood from both his back and his chest, with a wet, disturbing spurt.
“This.. this is not a claw wound. The undead did not do this, cousin! This.. this is a direct, blade jab.. From behind!”, Lorna said with a horrified expression on her face. “WHAT DID I DO, COUSIN? WHAT DID I DO?“
“Not now, Lorna. You can do hysteria later. Give me all your bandages, along with what he has in his backpack.”, said Anglenna as she pressed down the bloodied bandage.
“I KILLED MY DORIN! I KILLED HIM! MY GREAT HEAVENS AND WOODS, COUSIN! WHAT DID I DO?“, shrieked Lorna and there was nothing but horror and loss in her voice. “WHAT DID I DO? WHAT DID I DO? WHAT DID I DO? I HAVE STRUCK HIM IN THE HEART! I KILLED HIS BEAUTIFUL HEART!“
“ALOR’NADIEN NE!“, barked Anglenna. “STOP IT! NOW! YOU HIT HIM IN THE HEART LONG BEFORE THIS!“
Lorna lost it!
With child-like despair, she howled the young man’s name and threw herself at him, beating her slender fists on his massive, unmoving chest, snaking him by the broad of his shoulders, or pulling and shredding at her own hair.
Anglenna screamed her name again and again but got no sentient reaction.
“Right.”, she said, both in panic and anger.
Never in all her life had she seen her solemn, calm, serious, and vigilant cousin in such a state of total breakdown. The Alor’Nadien ne Feymist she knew just didn’t do breakdowns. During the past several months they had been together, she had seen her go into a kind of silent rage, but those had merely been an extension of her iron will —or very stubborn temperament.
When someone or something went out of its way to anger the princess, she didn’t go into an emotional rampage but did this, barely discernable frown-thing as she pressed her small, cherry-red lips together. Then her bright, grass-green eyes would turn a few shades darker and seem like they were emanating their own light, as her slender shoulders would rise and draw back just a fraction while she would stand up straight and draw herself to her full height. If observed with care, one would also notice her slender figure tighten, much like that of a lynx and her elegant hands would make these little fists, though she would hide them behind her narrow hips out of base courtesy and so as not to display any provoking animosity, and then she would become silent and still.. all dictating any mildly observant person that they had not just made her angry, they had all but made her more, much more, determined.
On this, she and her cousin were quite alike, really.
But where she, Anglenna, became cold, or should she want to be honest with herself, frosty, even, as she was known back in Bari Na-ammen; The Frost Lady, before its destruction and she would also become distinctly distant if that was even possible..
Alor’Nadien ne, however, became cool and determined.
Apparently, though, her beloved princess did have a breaking point, after all, and after a long line of successive losses starting, or perhaps, staring, with the abandoning of the palace and her home to avoid friction and open conflict with her father, then witnessing the destruction of Arashkan, the burning of High Woods, followed by the total annihilation of Bari Na-ammen, the death of her father, Ri Grandaleren, without having made peace or at the very least, come to some form of resolution, and at the hands of no other than High Lady Angrellen, the murder of her people, and now, her love, young Udoorin, she’d just reached it!
Anglenna looked down at the bloody bandages discarded everywhere, and the ones she had pressed against the young man’s chest. She looks at the still form of the big, burly, young man, his face pale and listless, who had somehow given, not only love but a whole new ‘life’ to her cousin. Then she looked at Alor’Nadien ne, all in gore and covered with black, oozing blood, and who was now broken and sobbing in manic loss. It dawned on the young high lady that this one final blow to her cousin had been one blow too many and if there was going to be a new Bari Na-ammen ever again, at that very moment, it depended, not upon Princess Alor’Nadien ne, her future Rise and Queen, but whether the young, burly man lived or not because Anglenna knew, the broken could not rule. Alor’Nadiene’s father, Ri Grandaleren had been an excellent example for that. There had never been definitive proofs to it, but rumors had it that the much younger Grandaleren had never returned from the first Themalsar War as a whole. Something, or likely, many somethings had happened there, during the four-year, bloody battle, and the culmination of those events had permanently ‘broken’ the young elf.
It was then Anglenna heard the trampling of unsteady, undead feet coming their way, down the hall, just beyond the broken door.
“Right..”, she repeated. “..time to cough up, indeed. First things first!”
High Lady Anglenna rose to her very tall height, with a mere glance at the darkness beyond the broken and splintered door, she hurled her wrath. The one her mother had claimed was her doing!
The whole length of the long, putrid-stinking hall exploded!
A streak of charring wall of fire burst, as high as the ceiling, and stretched from the door, on and down the hall, as far as the eye could see..
Anglenna spared no expense!
The mindless shrieks of ‘things’ were all drowned in the roaring fire, along with the cracking of wood and stone!
The high lady did not let go of the fire.
With the clawing of her long, slender fingers, she gave it more fuel!
Then she looked down at her cousin and the young, unmoving man.
“Time’s up.”, she whispered to herself.
To her cousin, she said, “It is time, dear. Time for you to take your man and go. Find him one of three things; a surgeon, a temple guardian.. or a funeral conductor. Do try and remember some good things about me, dear, even though I can’t think any.. But the things I did, the ones that truly were my choices, I did them for you and in good faith, for I love you, my sister-cousin, my princess, my Rise, and my Queen, and have loved you from the day you were born.. You deserve more than what the fools of Bari Na-ammen offered you..”
Then, in the smoldering, angry, furnace-like, orange-red light of her burning fire, she looked up at the ceiling of the room they were in, and as if talking to someone up there, she snarled bitterly.
“I DID ALL I COULD FOR HER.. SHE IS YOUR HEART AND HE IS HERS! YOU PROMISED A LINE FOR HER! TIME FOR YOUR TO COUGH UP AS WELL; PROTECT HER! PROTECT YOUR HEART, AND PROTECT HER HEART!”
She didn’t wait for a reply but cast a spell on herself.
This would be tricky.
The ability to teleport herself and a limited number of people around her was something she had recently attained but never had had the opportunity to use. The spell itself was not a fault-proof spell, to begin with, but as long as the caster knew and had a good familiarity of the destination point of their intended location, the changes of.. mishaps were minimal..
The real problem was, the caster had to go with those he or she was teleporting!
The caster, Anglenna in this case, just couldn’t go.. Yet!
The job wasn’t done!
Arashkan was still under Orken occupation..
“Well, mother, you always did tell me to never leave a job unfinished. I couldn’t agree more. And I truly hope this one bites you in your tenders!”
And she cast her second spell.
Anglenna felt her body stretch as she started ‘fading’..
..just as her first spell kicked in.
And it kicked HARD!
With a wrenching pull, she was ripped away from her own teleportation spell and sent to a totally gray, filmy, semi-transparent place that stretched in every direction, as far as she could see.
To the Ethereal Plane!
Brief though it may be, Anglenna Sunsear gazed upon the unfathomable and the endless landscape of Ethereal Plane..
It was beautifully lonely, heart-breakingly silent, and obsessively desolate. So much so that she almost felt at home, here.
However the young high elf woman looked at it, the Ethereal Plane was much like her inner soul and seemed to reflect it quite perfectly..
“If that tiny little bottle is Alor’Na’s Bequest, this would be mine..”, she murmured..
And with another neck-wrenching pull, she reappeared back where she was..
Anglenna collapsed on her hands and knees.. and retched.
“Note.. to self..”, she said as she retched again.. then again.. Once she was sure there was nothing left to hurl, she wiped her mouth and croaked. “..never do that again.”
“And this is why we don’t intermix spells, dear.”
A long, stinking network of sewers stretches under the ruins of the once glorious city of Arashkan, now smoking in smoldering ruins. Though it is winter with cold, dirty-gray snow on the ground outside, down in these sewers, the temperature is mild. Less water than usual drains from the sewer tunnels now, as there is no populace left in the city. What’s there is mostly melted snow blotched with sticky and sickly reddish-brown color due to the seeping blood from the streets above and the settled soot, carrying away with lazy indifference, burnt and charred bits of wood, and every once in a while, a bloated corpse..
Through these tunnels, young Udoorin Shieldheart, Princess Lorna, and her cousin, Anglenna Sunsear, slink and sneak, and at times, fight their way to the magically cordoned and entombed area where years ago, the younger thief, Darly Dor, had stolen from Lady Felishia Fremeir, the prized gifts allegedly sent by Ri Grandaleren of Bari Na-ammen to the First Lord Kaladin of Arashkan;
THREE DOG CURSE..
This story is the continuation of the series;
The Malediction of ‘Rellen.. (Part 3/3)
“Three Dog Curse”.
It takes place on the same night as
We Are Not Your Dogs.
We Are Not Your Servants.
We Are Your Masters!
and shortly after
The young, burly man pulled the bloated Orken floating face down and slowly down the sewer with one of his long-shafted great axes, using its curving edge as a hook. With a low grunt, he grappled the huge creature ‘ashore’ and poked it to make sure it really was as dead as it seemed. Then, carefully, he turned it over and peered at it.
“A little light, please, Auntie Lenna?”, he rumbled.
“I would very much appreciate it if you would make up your mind, young Udoorin.”, said Anglenna mildly.
“Uhhmm.. I am not quite sure what you mean, ma’am?”, he said.
“Auntie H., Auntie Lenna, Ma’am? Make up your mind. I despair every time you call me something I was never called in all my one hundred and seventy-eight years on this earth! And why am I even your ‘Auntie’, anyway? There is no blood relation between us whatsoever, and although the age disparity between us is mild at best, I certainly am not old enough to be your aunt! And might I add that I am quite young by elf standards.”, she replied.
Princess Lorna snorted!
But perhaps because she was a girl of natural grace and ‘polite’ palace training, she had never had the opportunity to ‘snort’ enough to know how it was supposed to be ‘properly’ done. Hence, what came out a bit like a.. well.. it came out like something, just not how a snort should be..
..out of her cute, elegant nose.
Udoorin, on the other hand, coughed.
“I wouldn’t have called, one hundred and sixty years difference, ‘mild at best’.. Wouldn’t ‘mild at best’ be like three or five years? Ten at most?”, he thought. Then he shrugged. Obviously, the numbers were different where elves were concerned and because his Lady Lorna might also be involved in said elf numbers, he decided not to even bring it up.
For men, age was just a number that marked the time passed between one’s birth and the current date —in terms of linear years. For women, maybe it meant other things.. Something along the lines of; ‘the time left until one died’, perhaps?
Udoorin shut the door to that particular thought and decided to never bring it up!
Young as he may be, Udoorin was wise like that.
“I.. don’t know the proper.. uhhmm.. protocol?.. To be perfectly honest.. Since you are somewhat elder to Lady Lorna, it seemed like, dunno, the polite way to refer to you was to call you ‘Auntie’..”, he mumbled.
“That’s what you figured, huh? To call a young elf girl, Auntie? And thought that was the polite thing to do, did you?”, asked Anglenna staring at him with one arched eyebrow.
“Can we.. sort of do this some other time, perhaps? Or you could just tell me what you would like me to call you? Please?”, Udoorin asked plainly.
“‘Anglenna’ will do. It is my name, after all, hence, I am bound to recognize it..”, said the elf girl, her tone amused.
“Impossible!”, said Udoorin, shaking his head.
The princess inadvertently smiled but hid it behind one of her slender and elegant hands.
“What? Why?”, Anglenna asked, a bit perplexed.
“Bad manners to call people who are older than me by their first name.”, the young, burly man said stiffly. “And also just rude!”
Lady Anglenna just stared at him.
“Young man, you are killing me!”, she said with despair.
“I certainly am not!”, Udoorin said indignantly.
“Did you ‘Auntie’ Lorna, here, too? When you first met? She is older than you as well, after all!”, Anglenna said, having a go at logic.
“I certainly did not!”, the young man said, even more hotly. “It is extremely rude to ask a girl or a lady, her age.. Which is why I never asked!”
“You mean to tell me, you did not even know the age of the girl you had decided to spend your life with?”, Anglenna stared at the young man astounded!
“It is a girl’s prerogative to reveal her age, along with any other things she feels she honestly has to mention. It is not nice to spring surprises on a man who loves you with unexpected and out-of-the-ordinary things, after all. I told Lady Lorna all my bad habits on the get-go and she told me all hers, along with her age before we decided to engage. Didn’t care then, don’t care now. Her beauty, her grace, her elegance, and her wisdom make what she thinks she lacks, very much irrelevant..”, mumbled Udoorin with a scowling face that said, he would argue this to the end of days!
“You have no idea how to talk to girls.. or women, do you?”, Anglenna asked, totally astonished now, but not unkindly, which was a bit, unlike her old self.
“I haven’t had many opportunities.”, admitted the young man. “Only had Laila and Bremorel as friends when it came to girls, but they were more like sisters. I mean, they never looked at me that way, and I knew Laila was interested in someone else and for Bree, it was always Thomas, though she never went and said it out loud.. Not that it mattered, since I just never saw them that way, either. After my mother died, it was just my father and myself, all of which is beside to point at this very moment, isn’t it?”
“I am at dire straights with you, young man. Call me Lady Anglenna, if that will make you feel any better. But should you want to make me happy, drop the ‘Lady’, and certainly the ‘ma’am’, and just call me by my name.. Bari Na-ammen is gone and I am a Lady no more. And every time you ‘Lady’ me, you remind me of my blood-relation to my mother. Something I would very much not be afflicted more than I already am.”
“Fair enough, ma’am.. uhhmm.. Auntie.. uhh.. Lady.. Anglenna..”, replied Udoorin a bit flustered. “Though I have never believed being a lady is in any way related to the existence of a certain place, as important to you and my Lady Lorna as it may be.. Now, if we could have some light, perhaps?”
Anglenna signed again. The boy was incredibly.. she refrained from saying, ‘dense’, possibly for her cousin’s sake.
She didn’t feel any animosity for him or anything. Quite the contrary, and contrary to her mother’s indoctrinated upbringing.. And he had made her cousin genuinely happy, and safe, and.. content.. and she seemed much more relaxed as opposed to her usual serious aura. But he did need to get over some of his habits if he was going to be a king someday. And the boy was just too.. plainly honest? A something she was sure her cousin, the princess, had found adorable, sure, but that kind of honesty just wouldn’t survive palace politics and she didn’t want him to suffer a ‘rude awakening’. It seemed, not only did she have to look out for the well-being of her future Rise, but she also had to train her future Ri/King from the ground up!
But, she thought, that could all wait for a little while longer.
Hence, with a small wave of her hand, the dark, stinking sewers lit, as a glowing orb of golden light appeared in long, slender fingers.
Udoorin squinted at the bright light and mumbled.
“I feel like a blind dwarf that’s just come out of his hole.”
“We don’t have to repeat I said that to Lady Magella, do we?”, he asked carefully. Then bent down and carefully inspected the bloated Orken.
“Hmmm..”, he mused. “Doesn’t seem to be one of our kills. No hack or cleave wounds, nor any burn marks. Only a little gash at the base of its skull, just where the spine ends —probably paralyzed it instantly. Then there is the puncture mark in its kidney. Only one person I know of would have done this kind of precision strikes and he is not here..”
“Who?”, asked Lorna, coming near the dead creature and looking at the wounds.
“Aager Fogstep.”, Udoorin said.
“Master Darly Dor, too, perhaps?”, she offered. “Or maybe even Lady Lilly? They both are still here, in the city, after all. And they both have the skills for this kind of precision.”
“Possible, I suppose. Though Darly tends to be a bit too flamboyant and showy for this kind of delicacy. His would be a full thrust, through the ribs and into the heart, and all the way to the hilt, like he had something to prove.”
He paused again, though this time as if to gather his recollections.
“As for Lady Lilly, I do not know. I haven’t seen her in action enough to make any educated guesses, though I suspect her’s would be less like Dary’s and more like her brother’s, which stands to reason. They were both born and raised in Drashan and under constant threat of death. One tends to abandon theatrics when they know it will get them killed!”, he replied clinically.
“So, what does it all mean?”, asked Anglenna.
“It means, one; we are not alone down here, two; some of the Orken have managed to find alternative ways to enter the sewers, and three; someone down here is making sure the sewers stay off-limits of the Orken army above!”, he said as he slowly rose and took out his other great axe.
He paused for a third time, then added.
“Isn’t that true?”
There was a choked silence and for a moment, only the slow, sluggish sound of the draining sewer and the dripping of water was heard.
“Surprisingly astute.. for a country oaf..”, came a muffled, gravelly voice from the darkness.
“Awesome timing, I’d say..”, said the young, burly man grinning. “Made me look good!”
Princess Lorna also rose, turned in the opposite direction, and with a swift, beckoning gesture, summoned a pitch-black ‘darkness’ before her, and out of the darkness, she drew a nearly three-yard glaive with thirty-inch sharp steel.
Anglenna took a few, short steps back, giving herself and the two, some room to maneuver as she tossed the glowing globe of light into the air and started to draw energy. In a matter of seconds, she was almost glowing with an eerie, red, smoldering, and wroth fire.
“Well. Now that the ‘theatrics’ is out of the way.. “, rumbled Udoorin with a gruffness that would have made his father proud. “..show yourself if your intentions are honorable!”
“Odd choice of words, young Master.”, replied the muffled, gravelly voice. “Shall we hide, if our intentions are not honorable? How does that work, exactly? What happens if we are men of questionable honor?”
“I am not here to pass judgment on your honor. That isn’t really my problem. It is yours.. I am here on a specific mission. If you—”, he said.
“There are seven of them.”, whispered Lorna. “The one that’s speaking, two behind him, two to the far left and three to our far right, blocking our way.”
“—and yours have business elsewhere, by all means, we wouldn’t want to keep you waiting.”, continued the young man seamlessly. “It’s either that, or I swing my axes, the lady standing behind me cleaves with her glaive, and seeing as we have plenty of room, she will do so quite freely. And let me tell you, gentlemen, I just hack things and am not very particular as to where I really hit. Should she have a go at you though, you will lose everything you have between your legs, all the way up to your eyebrows. If that won’t be to your satisfaction, the other lady can incinerate what’s left of you down to pretty, sparkling cinders.”
“Your bargaining technics need some refining, but it does seem to save time.” replied the muffled voice. “We are not here for you, or yours. We were hired, as a guild, for a job far to the east of here, quite some months ago. We were, however, betrayed. The Whispers have a reputation to uphold. Hence we have come to this dead city, seeking for the one who betrayed us and caused the death of many of our brethren. He was last sighted near the great Orken pavilion propped at the north end of The Rundown. We have been using these sewers to get a closer glimpse at him. Close enough for a dagger or seven!”
Udoorin’s thick brows shot up.
“The Whispers?“, he asked tentatively.
“Our guild..”, the gravelly voice said shortly as if that explained everything.
Udoorin tried from another angle.
“This.. job.. you mentioned.. The one you were hired for.. Was it perhaps in a town called Serenity Home?”
It seemed like the dark, stinking tunnel ‘stiffened’ for a moment.
“And you would know of this, how?”, asked the muffled voice, though it sounded like it had been asked through clenched teeth.
“Quite by chance, really.”, lied the young man glibly, possibly making Aager proud as well, had he been here. “Met a charming young man in an inn who claimed he was from that town. He’d gone too deep into his drink and didn’t know how to shut up! But if what he was telling me was actually true, didn’t that job end with nearly burning half the town and occur like, six months ago? You guys seem a tad lax on your pursuit and quite unprofessional at what you do. Burning half the town? Really, now.. Seems a tad accessive, don’t you think?”
“The burning of the town was not part of the job. We were misinformed about.. quite a number of things.. As for time, it is irrelevant and only gives the prey the false impression of ‘having gotten away’.. But since you seem so.. informed.. perhaps you may also know about the one we seek.”
“I doubt.”, replied Udoorin as he clenched his axes a bit more tightly. “Seeing as I am not really the ‘clandestine’ type. I mean, just look at me.. I have ‘country oaf’, written all over me!”
The man hidden in the dark was silent for another moment and this time, he seemed to juggle his options. For whatever the reasons were, however, he opted to take a risk and spoke, giving young Udoorin the impression that maybe the ‘muffled’ man in the dark was desperate for information.
“He is a man of slightly above average height, lean built, wears a heavy, deep brown robe, and always has his hood up.”
“That’s not much of a description, is it? Slightly above average is pretty much everyone who is not average. Brown robes are quite common, and I am not a historian for fashion, mind you, but I am guessing hoods have been around since Year One! The fact that his hood’s always up, makes him impossible to identify and makes him easier to blend as nobody will know who he is when the hood and robes are off, yes?”, he rumbled, not relaxing his hold on his axes.
“You three are not an ordinary lot, are you?”, the man’s muffled voice came.
“I doubt anyone ordinary is left in this city.”, Udoorin replied with an easy grin.
“Saw a pickney just yesterday. Wouldn’t have placed him more than six, down in these sewers..”
“Bet he was extraordinary, having survived what’s outside for all this time.”, said Udoorin carefully.
“Gave him some food and sent him off..”
“Guess that makes you extraordinary too..”, the young man said blandly.
“Is this verbal duel going to take any longer?”, fumed Lady Anglenna. “We do have a job to do ourselves, after all.”
“That we do, lady.”, agreed, Udoorin without taking his attention from the muffled voice. “This.. large pavilion.. you mentioned. I have seen it. Surrounded by, I suspect, at least two, maybe three thousand of the Orken. What is it? Do you know?”
“Yes. It’s the Head Quarters of no other than the Orken Mother, herself, which makes her the very top dog, or bitch, among the Orken. It is she, who rules the Orken with her bloody fists and tells them which city to raze and which forest to burn! She also has her head Orken Blood-Shaman with her in there. And the infamous rebellion, the seeker of justice, and the backer of the poor, Gar Thalot, though he isn’t seeking any justice, nor backing the poor, now. Guess he’s done with his rebellion.. The lady here can’t nuke that tent from far enough, can she? Would save the kingdom a lot of trouble, and avenge about a million or so people along the way, I think.”
“The nuking is not the problem.”, smiled Anglenna, giving the muffled voice a thousand-yard-stare. “The Orken, however, have rather thick hides. And I do not believe such a ‘prestigious’ tent would be left unwarded.”
“You are a perceptive lady.”, the muffled, gravelly voice said, returning the smile. “The Blood-Shaman knows his trade, I’ll give him that. Slaughtered scores of men, women, and children to put up said wards..”
“I did see..”, inserted Udoorin. “..a tall, skinny woman, skulking near the pavilion, though. Had white braids for hair. She was accompanying someone. It was dark and the torchlights of the Orken play games and cast false shadows, but it is possible the man you are looking for was the same man the tall woman was escorting. I couldn’t hazard a guess about the color of his robe, but he did wear a hood. A tall, deep hood. I mean, who wears his hood up at night? It’s not raining, nor snowing outside.. not at that moment, anyway. Perhaps his ears were cold. Or he had a face to hide..”
The seven men seemed to prick their ears like some old Basset Hounds at the mention of the tall, deep hood, as that was a detail they hadn’t revealed.
“I see.. Perhaps you have some ill feelings for the tall, skinny woman with the white braids and wish to use us against her?”, growled the muffled voice.
But his reply burned..
“I have ill feelings for many who sided with the Orken and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of civilians, brought devastation to a peaceful city, desecrated their lands, and mutilated what remained.. The Orken, I can understand, to a point. They want the land. Just the land, mind you.. Any elf, human, dwarf, or gnome who made it possible for them to attain their bloody slaughter, however, shall never suffer a moment’s peace.”
“Now I see.. better..”, said the muffled, gravelly voice and fell in silent contemplation. Then as if waking from a long, droning sleep, he spoke again and there was some, barely discernable heat in his voice as well. “Men such as we are beyond peace. But perhaps we may be of some use to you after all.. We have thus cleared most of the sewers as far as we have come. I suspect you have done the same from your end.”
A careful, metallic tingling echoed in the sewer tunnels and something glittered next to Udoorin’s feet.
“Take this, young Master. It is a token of our.. appreciation, per se.. I gather both of our time is short, but perhaps we can make better acquaintances at a lengthier time and atone for our end of the sins..”
That said, Udoorin heard a swift shuffling of silent feet and..
“They are gone..”, said Princess Lorna quietly.
“You.. handled that exceptionally well, young Udoorin.”, complimented Anglenna as she stared at the big, burly man with a slightly puzzled expression.
“I did?”, asked Udoorin, with a similarly puzzled face. Then his face lightened. “Yes. I suppose I did.. “
Then he bent down and carefully picked up the curiously glittering object thrown at his feet.
It was a round, coin-like object, though almost palm-sized and quite heavier as if molded by lead. It certainly looked like lead. And its edges were chiseled and while one side of the coin was flat and bare, the other side had a strange, almost symmetrical, rune-like shape on it. Udoorin had never seen a rune like this before, though that didn’t mean much. The young man had never been the scholarly type, to begin with. But he got the impression that it wasn’t dwarfish, and certainly not elvish.
“Anyone seen one of these before?”, he asked.
Princess Lorna stared at it for a long time. Then, with her browns slightly frowned, she said, “I may have.. once.. though years ago..”
“I did as well.. Any number of times.. Mother had one of these..”, said Anglenna quietly.
“She did?”, asked both Udoorin and the princess.
“Yes. Carried it with her at all times. I am surprised you saw it too. She was careful never to reveal it to anyone, let alone share a ‘look-at’ with you, of all people, Alor’Na..”, she replied.
“But I didn’t see it from your mother, and neither did she show hers to me —if she had one.”, said Lorna, frowning even more. “Auntie Angrellen was never.. very sharing with me.. I don’t suppose that has changed over the years.”
“No, dear. It hasn’t.”, replied Anglenna mutely. “Where did you see yours?”
“Inside a jewelry box.. My mother’s jewelry box!”
Udoorin stared at the princess with astonishment.
So did Anglenna.
“Huh!”, she said. “Seems Auntie Nadina Graciousward had her own share of secrets as well.. What would she be doing with one of these tokens, I wonder?”
“I don’t know, Lenna. Nothing is as it seems anymore. Too many secrets. Dark ones too.”, Lorna replied.
“I am sure your mother had a good reason to have one of these. Hey, look, we got one as well, and we have a good reason too, though I have no idea as to what it may be..”, said Udoorin brightly. “Much like we do not know why Lady Nadina had hers, we also don’t know what these tokens are, really. For all we know, it could be a membership to some secret cheese tasting club!”
“Secret cheese tasting club?”, asked Anglenna, staring totally confused at the young, burly man.
“You have no idea about the kind of weird things one can overhear while undercover in various inns and taverns! I have a whole months’ worth of city gossip!”, replied Udoorin cheerily.
“That’s very kind of you to say, Dorin. But if you recall, when the Orken came and we were all running out of Bari Na-ammen, my mother took us through many secret passages. Passages I was never even aware of. How did she know them?”, said Lorna, her eyes filled with doubt and.. tears.
Udoorin looked down at the woman of his life.. and felt despair.. He then looked up at Anglenna, beseeching for her help.
Anglenna came up to her cousin, held her by her slender, narrow shoulders, and turned her around to look directly into her eyes.
“Princess Alor’Nadien ne. You will cease this line of thought, and you will do it now. I suspected the existence of possible secret passages leading in and out of the palace, but I was never told where they were, nor did I find any myself. It is quite possible, only the Ri and the Rise were to know of their existence and their whereabouts. Doesn’t make much sense if just anyone knows about them, does it? Yes, you are a princess, a Riserin, but from a strictly official point of view, that title does not hold any ruling power and is only a name in protocol. Much like many government intelligence and military secrets, only the Ri and the Rise would be made aware of said secrets or may have had access to them. Do not second guess things you do not know. You are the Rise now, as unofficial as that may be. You do not have the luxury to be so chivalrous with the lives and the deeds of others, nor to mope about it. Now gather yourself. I am sure we will have plenty of time to ask Auntie Nadina, just like I am sure she will have a good explanation for having one of these tokens. Then again, she might not. Either way, it might not even be our business to know. People have the right to their own privacy, and to be professionally honest about it, I doubt your mother had anything up her sleeves.”
“But.. how do you know?”, Lorna asked in despair.
“My dear sister-cousin.. I understand that the events of this past year, particularly those that led to your leaving the palace and your home, the horrible things you have seen thus far, and the destruction of Arashkan, then your own home and your people at such a young age, and with your.. delicate upbringing, has made you weary and worn out. Hence now you feel hard-pressed in trusting even those around you. I wouldn’t either.. But trust me when I say, had your mother truly did have some sinister schemes of her own brewing behind the scenes, my mother would have found out about it and delightfully used it to besmirch her. She spent a considerable amount of her fortune, and her last thirty years seeking damning information about her. And when that failed, she did the same for you!”
“She did?”, asked Lorna even more downed.
“Yes, she did.”, said Anglenna. “Seeing as how I helped her get it!”
“I.. knew..”, Lorna whispered quietly. “All along.”
“Yet you chose to put your trust in me. And at first, I thought you were just as foolish as my mother perpetually said you were. But as time went by and you grew, I thought your trust in me would diminish. But it didn’t. Your trust grew with you. You opened up to me. You told me things that you shouldn’t have. And like the fool that I was, I passed all those secrets you divulged upon me in confidence, on to my mother, leading to the events that caused you to abandon your home and your rightful throne, just to avoid a conflict with your father, Ri Grandaleren.
I.. am sorry, Alor’Na.. There is nothing I can possibly say to encapsulate just how truly sorry I am for the things I did to you.”, Anglenna said, her beautiful face burning with shame. “And the bitter irony of it all is; I wanted to say all these to you, but in a better setting. Yet here we are, under a burning city, and in some stinking sewers.. Speaks quite loudly just exactly where I belong. But then, here you are as well, trying to fix what my mother did and still trusting me.. Know, though, I shall stay with you and your man for the rest of my life.
I shall be Arael Tel’Lóna to your line and shall advise them, guide them, and protect them for centuries to come, thus shall I atone my sins to you and my only consolidation shall be that one day, you will truly understand my transgressions against you and still forgive me for them. Because, at the end of the day, it wasn’t my mother who destroyed you, Alor’Nadien ne, it was I.”
Lorna looked up at her very tall, regal cousin..
..and simply hugged her.
“It is so much easier to hate, my dear Lenna. I chose not to. Because you were always smart. And you would always play with me even though no one else would because I was a ‘half-breed’. And you always ate the horrible things I cooked. You were ‘blood’ and you were always my elder sister. And.. when you were with me, I noticed your grim face wasn’t grim. You laughed when we were together. I never saw you laugh any other time. The short few weeks we spent together on our way to High Spires and back, years ago, was one of my merrier days. I am happy you are with us, sister cousin, even though I can see you are sad, and how things turned out between you and your mother. I.. truly wished we could have made peace with her. But I am afraid she has her own agenda, and that agenda does not involve me, nor my people. As for you, my sister cousin, only two people in this world I would wish to always be with me, and both already are.”
“Do not fret about my mother, princess. I don’t. Not since I understood the extent of her ‘agenda’, which didn’t include me either. I was merely a backup plan for her. Nothing more. Part of her, ‘grand plan’, per se. And that plan was set before either of us even came to be. Like, by seven or eight hundred years.. It will take years, decades, possibly, for me to get over my mother and what she did to me. And likely centuries before I am not called to task any more because of her machinations and her betrayal.”, said Anglenna and hugged her cousin even tighter.
Udoorin coughed a bit uncomfortably.
“Uhhmm.. Ladies? Perhaps we should move on? We still have a bit of stinking ground to cover. And I don’t even know what we’ll do when we get there, or how we will get out of this city, once the deed is done. We have already used one of the two days that ARIS guy, Largo, gave us before they abandoned High Spires and the city.”
“Let’s get a move on indeed, then, young Udoorin.”, smiled Anglenna, and she seemed very much..
Such as she had never felt before.
That the once High Lady of Bari Na-ammen, Anglenna, had made her choice and faced her princess with her past sins. Also true that the details of said sins were not covered as yet, but where there had been uncertainty, there was now a steady, beating surety. And where there had been ominous doubt, there was now feather-light and elating trust.
She no longer saw only a dark, smothering future for herself.
She saw a dark future that failed to smother and was worth fighting for..
For she saw the bright existence of her Rise Alor’Nadien ne there.
And she would be sure to guard her and hers, no matter the cost.
✱ ✱ ✱
Still here, my darling?”, came the insinuating voice of the former High Lady Angrellen. “Makes one wonder, just what are you doing here, my little dove?”
“What do you want, mother? I would have thought our last conversation had covered pretty much everything I wanted to say to you.”, she finally replied after a fuming moment.
“Want? Nothing, my sweet baby girl. I am merely inquiring about your health, that’s all. This place is, under siege, after all. Well, it was, under siege. But the details of its current condition are a tad moot, don’t you think?”
“You really want to push this as far as it will go, don’t you, mother?”, grinded Anglenna.
“Why, whatever do you mean, daughter?”
“My darling? My little dove? My sweet baby girl? You have never called me any of those in the past one hundred and seventy-eight years, mother. Never once! And suddenly I am your darling? Your little dove? Your sweet baby girl? Your choice of pet names for me are not just believable, they are also grossly fake, crook, and fictitious, and just gross. The only thing you have been sincere thus far is how you truly perceive the world around you; moot!”, she said and did something she never wished to have done, ever since what she had seen in the dream of what had really happened in the Arena and had, conclusively, chosen her side, and chosen to change..
..at her mother.
“I am sorry you had to endure some minor hardships, my dear. You must understand, however, everything I did, I did for you..”, said Angrellen’s voice, a bit desperately.
“Minor? You call what you did to me, to Bar Na-ammen and to Arashkan, minor? You, mother, are walking over the corpses of people who were alive merely two weeks ago, and you call that minor? Mother, I am tempted to call you mad, but what truly is moot is me calling you that.. And no, mother, nothing you did was for me. Everything you did, you did for yourself. I was merely a part of your great scheme. A tool, an accessory, and no more. And you know what? No more, indeed. This day forth, you are my mother no more. You are a traitor and no more. You are the greatest unholy calamity this world has seen and no more. You, mother, are a butcher and no more.. This, you will understand in time, during your endless millennia of lonely and miserable immortality!”
“Darling. The road to greatness is always paved with ‘minor’ people. You must understand this. And given enough time, you will —when you have reached the end of your own one thousand five hundred years of life.”, Angrellen said with a relaxed tone.
“And what will you accomplish in your immortality, now, mother? What will you do with it that you haven’t been able to do in your last one thousand five hundred years?”, her daughter asked acidly.
“Ow, I’ll think of something. I am totally free now. I can do anything I want. I am now in a position to do whatever I want.”, Angrellen replied merrily.
“You will always be you, mother. And ‘Betrayer’ will follow you wherever you go.”, Anglenna said cooly.
“No, my daughter darling. Come next millennia or two, no one will remember Angrellen as a betrayer, for any and everyone who thinks so, shall long be dead!”, laughed her mother.
“No, mother. That particular aspect of you is there to stay and no amount of centuries or millennia will wash that off you.” Anglenna said quietly.
“Ow?”, her mother asked.
“Yes, mother. Because everyone and everything around you may change, but you are you, and that is also there to stay.”, Anglenna said and felt sad for the truth her words held.
“People do change, daughter mine.”, Angrellen said somewhat diffidently.
“You had a millennium and a half for that. Tell me, mother, how did that go for you?”, Anglenna asked with bitter shame.
There was a moment of silence and she felt, for the barest of moments, the tiniest flutter of regret in her mother.
“I wasn’t always like this, you know.. I was young too, once, and happy. I was the Riserin of my people. I was going to be their Rise. Then my father, the great and wise Lienierre Moonlight, saw fit to take that away from me. And gave it to my idiot and incompetent brother. What did my brother possess that I didn’t? Look what he did to our Bari Na-ammen? None of this would have happened had I been the Rise..”, she replied bitterly.
Anglenna didn’t wait to slap in her reply for she had no wish to reminisce with her mother..
“Grandaleren held nothing above you, mother. Whether he was an incompetent fool or not was irrelevant for he was never going to be the Ri, either. Selendenien Sindarin, your sister, the youngest of the three.. She was going to be the Rise, had she not been slain in the Themalsar War, leaving my grandfather to make a choice between a mad, psychotic, power-hungry daughter, and an incompetent fool of a son.
But you, mother, you wouldn’t have accepted her either, even though we both know, you would never have made a ruler as beloved and great as her. Just like you would never have bowed to Selendenien’s rule, you never had any intentions to submit to Alor’Nadien ne, who is so much like her youngest aunt..
You used her ‘half-breed’ status as an excuse and milked it for all you were worth.. The outcome of your leadership would have been the same no matter how things turned out, for you would have ruled with a nefarious and bloody iron fist, and you would have used fear, terror, and carnage to your cause. In this aspect, you are the linear opposite of both your sister and your niece, which is why High Woods chose your sister, and after a thousand years, She chose your niece as its heart and never you, which is also why you let the Orken burn our forest. You couldn’t even bear the ‘soul-sight’ of an as sacred a being as High Woods.
You, mother, let those unholy beasts destroy the very being that defined who we were, out of spite!
Had you been in reign, you would have attacked Arashkan and consequently, and conclusively, brought the destruction of Bari Na-ammen, no matter what, because all the other cities; Vodgar, Durkahan, Koruxan, Palantine, Endless Watch, and even armies from as far as Malis, Kronor, and Devien would have banded against us, causing Solace and Tranquil elves to start a war against them in return, bringing the fatal destruction of weakened Demon Wall and Heavens Hand at the hands of the hording demons they are guarding against, all of which would have started the end of our world, and we both know this to be true..
You, mother, made pacts with the demons for the sake of your pathetic immortality!
You, mother, are a blight, and right there is the problem, sitting in plain sight and you never saw it, which is why my grandfather denied you your right to rule and the reason why High Woods never chose you as Her heart; neither High Woods, nor Her people are yours, mother. They are not your property or your possession nor are they your servants. Their existence is not for the benefit of your sufferance. They never were. Yet, you saw them as such even when you were a ‘happy’ little Riserin. You thought they were there for you to do as you pleased and that their lives belonged to you like they owed you their very existence.
Well, guess what, mother. They aren’t, and they don’t. Barely fifteen and Alor’Nadien ne saw this, knew this. And when she grew up to the mature, solemn woman that she is, she abandoned her title and her heritage for the sake of her people, hence there would never be a rift between them, should she dish out with her father. She knew, should she become the Rise of a divided people, she would be so for a mere century or two and believed her people deserved a better, longer, steadier, and a united reign.
But you, mother, you destroyed them all. You let our sacred forest be burned to the ground. You let our holiest place, our Bari Na-ammen be leveled to the ground because you thought you had such a right.
You, mother, were despicable then, you are despicable now. You did not change. Your follies, your arrogance, your murderous appetites, and your betrayals are indeed, there to stay, and no amount of millennia are going to wash those off you.
You, mother, killed your husband —my father, because you thought he had done his job and provided you with a toy you could mold as you pleased, then discarded him, selling his soul to the highest bidder!
You, mother, brainwashed me for one hundred and seventy years and made me help you as you destroyed our homes and our lands.
You, mother, have people no longer.. You have no home, you have no lands, you have no family, you have no children and no love.
You, mother, are all alone and will stay alone.
You, mother, are damned and will stay damned.
Back then, at least you were a High Lady, respected and honored, if not loved. Now you have neither, and will have neither. And by the Heavens, I shall make sure you are remembered as the mad, traitorous bitch that you are, always, even if I have write it down on every single bit of parchment, scratch it on every available stone, rock or pebble, or mark it on every tree from Rollins Woods to Tranquil Woods, just like I shall make sure the centuries and the millennia to come also remember you for what you are —and elves, as you very well know, mother, are excellent haters..
The only thing I wish for you, mother, is that you live a thousand abandoned and desolate years, marred only by your mad and silent screams for every single life you caused to perish!”
Anglenna pulled just this side of total and hysterical raving.
But it sure felt good!
To have laid it all out, and without any reservation, nor having to tiptoe around her deranged mother anymore. True, it hurt her, and deeply. So much so that she felt her heart burn. But nothing she had said had missed their mark.
She knew, even as she’d spoken, that her mother, Angrellen, was now her mortal enemy, and one day, and in the not-too-distant-future, she knew she would have to face her..
..if she expected any form of peace for her cousin; Rise Alor’Nadien ne, her burly, young husband-to-be, Sir Udoorin, and their possible line, if not for herself.
And just like that, she heard her voice.
Not her mother’s.
But that of someone else..
Someone.. big —at an existential level.
thus I accept your oath
you are the protector of mine heart now
and thus are you
the guardian of her line also
Thus I accept your Oath,
You are The Protector of mine Heart, now.
And thus are you
The Guardian of Her line, also.
Anglenna Brightleaf heard the voice of Quarlani Ath Tel’Ora, the Spirit of High Woods, accepting her pledge as the protector and the guardian of Her Heart, Alor’Nadien ne, and her line to come..
And then, a vision She showed her..
Not of the past.
Not of the present.
But that of a fertile and pregnant future..
A vision, where Anglenna saw the image of her blushing cousin, looking demurely at her big, grumpy husband, who rampaged with mock wrath after a tiny, giggling boy and three squealing little girls pitter-pattering in the great halls of a new and bright Bari Na-ammen.
And that vision rocked Anglenna to the very foundations of her existence. Because right behind the princess, she saw herself, quite vividly, smiling at the sight of her cousin, blessed and content. She saw her bearish husband, older now, grinning foolishly. And she witnessed their son and three daughters —her nieces, as they stared at her, all happy, and all safe, as beautiful autumn leaves; green, orange, and yellow swept freely around them..
Büyük Arashkan şehri alevler içerisinde yanmaktadır. Onun hemen dibindeki High Woods ve elflerin 7500 yıllık kadim Bari Na-ammen şehri de benzer bir kaderi paylaşmaktadır..
Serenity Home kahramanları bu vahim sahne ve Orken orduları karşısında krallığın birçok yerine dağılıp yardım ve müttefik bulmaya çalışacaklardır.
Bu küçük gruplardan bir diğeri de
Anglenna Sunsear, Alor’Nadien ne Feymist
ve Udoorin Shieldheart’dır..
The Malediction of ‘Rellen.. (Part One)
“All Out!” dan
sonra yer alır..
High Lady Agnlenna Sunsear! Sizi burada görmek gerçekten pek şaşırtıcı. Bir grup ‘insanın’ hayatını kurtarmak için kendinizi tehlikeye atıyor oluşunuz bir yana, burada, bu yanan şehirde hala bulunduğunuzu görmek ayrıca hayret verici. Sizi Bari Na-ammen’de, kendi şehrinizi müdafaa ederken bile düşünemiyorum..”, der on-on iki kişi kalmış küçük muhafız birliğinden biri.
Anglenna sesi tanır ve yüzü buz gibi bir ifadeye bürünür..
..buz gibi ve bıkkın.
“Bir bu eksikti..”, diye sessiz bir hışımla burnundan solur.
Muhafızlar tedirgin bir şekilde bir birlerine, aralarında kendisine ‘bir bu eksikti’ diye hitap edilen adama, ve az evvel —ve muhtemelen sonları olacak iki Orken mangasından birisini vahşi bir kıyımla doğrayan iri adam ve ince, ‘zarif’ kıza, diğerini ise harlayan bir ateş halkasında kül eden, uzun boylu, platin-sarısı saçlı high elf kadına bakarlar.. ve ivedilikle kenara çekilirler.
“Abla?”, diye meraklı bir ifadeyle sorar Lorna.
“Abla.. Size ‘abla’ diye hitap edip samimi saygı ve gerçek sevgi gösterebilecek sadece bir kişi düşünebiliyorum, ‘saygıdeğer’ High Lady Anglenna.. O da Prenses Alor’Nadien ne’dir.”, der sesin sahibi ve muhafızların açtığı aralıktan, hafif dalgalı altın saçlı, derin mavi gözleri, biçimli geometrik hatları ve kalın kaşları ile muhtemelen pek çok kadının kalbini kırmış bir adam öne çıkar.
Anglenna ise öne çıkan bu yakışıklı, yakıcı ve çarpıcı adamı şuracıkta kül etsem da uzun, anlamsız, vakit kaybı ve bıktırıcı bir konuşmayı, hiç başlamadan bitirsem mi acaba, der gibi süzer.
Ancak, “Efendi Largo..”, diye tekrar burnundan solumayı tercih eder.
“Haş Teyze?”, diye bu sefer de Udoorin sorar. “Kimdir bu adam?”
Anglenna’nın kendisine ‘Efendi Largo’ diye hitap ettiği adam, ‘Haş Teyze’ ifadesini duyunca yüzü mutlu bir şekil alır ve ‘fırk’lar.
“‘Haş Teyze’.. Bunun sizi ne denli çileden çıkardığını ancak tahmin edebiliyorum, Anglenna.. Görmek için para bile verirdim ve eminim her kuruşuna da değerdi.”, der Largo sırıtarak.
Udoorin ellerindeki baltaları daha sıkı kavrar ve çok hafif bir şekilde Anglenna ve Lorna’ya doğru meyleder ve onun bu hareketi, Largo denen adamın gözünden kaçmaz.
“Buna gerek olduğunu sanmıyorum, Efendi Udoorin. Yada size ‘Prens’ Udoorin diye mi hitap etmeliyim?”, diye bu sefer de genç adama sırıtır.
Udoorin’in bir kaşı kalkar.
“Prens olduğumun farkında değildim..”, der sessiz bir tehditle.
“Prenses Alor’Nadien ne’nin müstakbel nişanlısının, nihai olarak bir prens olacağı sonucuna varmak çok da zor bir çıkarım değil, genç Udoorin Shieldheart.. Baban nasıl? Sağlığı yerindedir, umarım..”, diye sakin bir üslupla konuşur Largo.
“Kimsin sen?”, diye sessizce gürler Udoorin.
“Bu adam..”, der Anglenna, “..Ajan Largo. Kendisi ARİS’ten.”
“Aaa.. Bu ayrıntıyı sizinle paylaştığımı hiç hatırlamıyorum saygıdeğer hanımefendi.”, der Largo alınmış bir sesle.
Anglenna adama uzun bir an bakar.
“Silah kaçakçısı?.. SİLAH KAÇAKÇISI?! Kendini bana bir silah kaçakçısı olarak tanıttığında buna gerçekten inanacağımı düşünecek kadar aptal olamazsın, Ajan Largo.”, diye gözlerini kısmış bir şekilde adamı süzer.
“Kişi umut edebilir, öyle değil mi?”, diye sırıtır Largo.
“Umut, sadece senin gibi ahmaklar içindir.”, diye tiksintisini hiç saklamadan ifade eder high elf kadın.
“Buna alındım.”, der Largo. “Nevarki, Arashkan’ın bu halini göz önünde bulundurursak, bir ahmak olduğum, sanıyorum isabetli bir tespit. Şimdi.. İsterseniz Orken manga ve timlerinin cirit attığı burada değil, daha makul ve tercihen kapalı bir yerde konuşalım isterseniz..”
“Ya istemezsek?”, diye kaşları çatılı bir şekilde hırlar Udoorin ve Anglenna’nın önüne geçer. “Bizim yapacak işlerimiz var ve gereksiz konuşmalarla harcayacak vaktimiz yok.”
Anglenna’nın iki kaşı da kalkar ve arkasında durduğu genç adamın kendisini sahiplenişi hayretle seyreder.
“Yapacak ‘işiniz’.. her ne ise bunu yardım olmaksızın yapma ihtimaliniz nedir, genç Udoorin. Siz bu adamları kurtardınız. Bundan dolayı müteşekkirim. Vakitli gelişiniz olmasaydı, muhtemelen hepsi şu anda ölmüş olurdu. Bizden size bir zarar gelmez. Ancak şehirden ivedilikle ayrılmanızdan sonra, sayınız azalmış olarak tekrar geri dönmüş olmanız, merak uyandırmıyor değil.”, der Largo. Sonra da, “Hele buradaki saygıdeğer Anglenna hanımefendiyle geri dönmüş olmanız.. bazı soruları da beraberinde getiriyor..”
Anglenna sesini çıkarmaz..
..ve Lorna’ya küçük bir bakış atar.
Largo’nun gözünden bu da kaçmaz ve ‘enteresan’ bulduğu bir cihaza, yada ‘zamazingo’ya bakar gibi, tek kaşı kalkmış bir şekilde Anglenna’ya bakar.
“İlginiz ve koşullar altındaki misafirperverliğinizden ötürü müteşekkiriz, Efendi Largo. Sizden tek dileğim, işimizin çok uzun sürmemesi, zira vakit hususunda kaçınılmaz bazı kısıtlamamız var.”, der Lorna samimi bir üslupla.
“Leydim. Anlayışınız ve zarafetiniz, hakkınızdaki söylentileri fakir bırakıyor. Eşsiz güzelliğiniz ise kelimelere sığmaz. Lütfen, bu taraftan..”, der Largo ve nazikçe onları ve muhafızlarla birlikte seri adımlarla yanan şehrin doğu yakasına doğru yönlendirir.
Giderlerken toz ve dumandan zorlukla seçilen, Arashkan şehrinin merkezindeki koca sarayı görürler.
Görebildikleri kısmı itibariyle sarayın duvarlarında ciddi hasar ve yarıklar mevcuttur ve kulelerinden bazıları da kapkara duman eşliğinde harlanarak yanmaktadır.
“Birinci Lord, Princeps Kaladin?”, diye sorar Lorna yüzünde samimi merak ve korkuyla.
“Kendisinden haber alamadık ancak öldürüldüğüne dair dedikodular var. Sizinle karşılaşmadan önce bizler saraya sızmaya çalışıyorduk ancak Orken’ler bölgeyi fena halde sarmış durumdalar ve içeriden gelen çatışma sesleri ve patlamalara bakılırsa, mücadele hala devam ediyor. Princeps Kaladin’in kendisi olmasa da, en azından ve hayatta kalan küçük yeğenini kurtarmayı umut ediyorduk.”, diye ciddi bir ifadeyle cevap verir Largo.
“Princeps Kaladin’in oğlu ve kızlarına ne oldu?”, diye solgun bir ifadeyle sorar prenses.
“Oğlu, babası Kaladin’den önce, saldırının başladığı gece öldürüldü. Kızları ise zehirlenerek öldürüldüler.. Gar Thalot’un kendisi tarafından. Bu da Arashkan tahtına varis olabilecek sadece iki isim bıraktı bize..”, der Largo ve gizleyemediği bir hiddetle Anglenna’ya bakar. “Biri pek hürmetkar, sevgi dolu bir hanımefendi olan Felisia Fremeir adındaki yeğeni ve Korodin adındaki diğer yeğeni.. Ne yazık ki Leydi Felishia Fremeir, bir kaç yıl önce evinde öldürülmüş olarak bulundu. Dolayısıyla Korodin tek varis ve kendisi daha sekiz yaşında..”
“Çok üzgünüm Efendi Largo. Princeps Kaladin’i şahsen tanımasamda, babam kendisi hakkında her zaman iyi şeyler söylerdi. Oğlu Haradith ile bir sefer karşılaşmışlığım oldu. Saygımı cezbeden, zeki ve umut vadeden bir gençti. Kendisi, kız kardeşleri Ariles ve Ylara ile beni, High Spires’a geçen gelişimde ziyaret etmişlerdi. Genç ve toy bir prensese, bu alicenap davranışlarıyla büyük nezaket göstermişlerdi.”, der Lorna esefle.
Largo sesini çıkarmaz.
Uzun ve sessiz bir yürüyüşten sonra Largo, yanındaki şehir muhafızlarıyla durur.
“High Spires?”, diye hayretle sorar Anglenna.
“Evet. An itibariyle şehirde en güvenli yer burası. High Spires’ın efendisi Philius’un burada bildiğimiz, üç bine yakın askeri var. İki bin dokuz yüz doksan sekiz, kesin konuşmak gerekirse. Kanunen kendisine izin verilen asker sayısı bu. Ancak içeride bunun en az iki katı askeri olduğunu biliyorum. Princeps Kaladin bu konuda sesini çıkarmamayı tercih etmişti, çünkü Ri Grandaleren’e, dolayısıyla da Philius’a güvendi. Dahası, High Spires büyülü korumalarla çevrili.”, diye cevap verir Largo mekanik bir şekilde.
“Efendi Largo..”, der Anglenna, çekimser bir sesle. “Ben..”
“Sizin High Spires’dan, Philius’un kararı üzerine men edildiğinizi biliyoruz, saygıdeğer Anglenna.. Nevarki koşullar değişmiş durumda ve Philius’un, eşi ve halkıyla Arashkan’dan sağ salim çıkarabilmesi için bizimle iş birliği yapması gerekliydi ve kendisi bu konuda onurlu bir şekilde de sözünü tuttu. Buraya kaçak olarak sızdırdığı asker ve okçuların büyük bir kısmı şu anda şehrin kuzeyindeki muhafız birliği kampına yardım için gönderdi. Oradaki sekiz bine yakın muhafızı ve o bölgede hayatta kalmış halkın rıhtıma kaçabilmeleri için bir güvenlik koridoru oluşturmayı umut ediyor.”, diye açıklar Largo, sonra dişlerini gıcırdatarak ekler, “İçiniz rahat etsin, hanımefendi. Hayatta sizin için en önemli şeye herhangi bir zarar gelmemesi için elimizden geleni yapacağız..”
“Hayatta benim için neyin en önemli olduğunu bildiğinizi pek sanmıyorum, Efendi Largo.”, diye serin bir şekilde cevap verir Anglenna.
“Aaaa.. sizi tanıyan herkes, hayatta sizin için en önemli şeyin ne olduğunu bilir, hanımefendi.”, der Largo ve high elf kadına nahoş bir şekilde sırıtır.
“Neymiş, bildiğinizi sandığınız şey?”, diye tek kaşı kalkmış bir şekilde sorar Anglenna.
Largo bir omzunu silker.
“Kendiniz, hanımefendi. Kendiniz..”, diye cevap verir.
“Bu da beni gerçekte ne kadar az tanıdığınızı gösteriyor, Efendi Largo..”, diye soğuk bir sesle hışmeder Anglenna.
Largo tekrar omzunu silker.
“Sizi ne kadar tanımış olmamın artık bir önemi yok, hanımefendi, ve açıkçası umrumda da değil. Arashkan varken bu önemliydi ve eğlenceliydi.. Ama Arashkan artık yok ve oyun da bitti.!”
✱ ✱ ✱
Udoorin hiçbir tereddüt göstermez.
Dev balatasını kaptığı gibi fırlatır ve balta ölümcül bir ark çizer..
..ve elf muhafızın göğsünü, omurgasına kadar açar..
Anglenna ise ondan sadece iki saniye kadar gecikir ve bir şeye uyanmış gibi aksi istikamete döner..
..ve silik yeşil gözlerinde vahşi bir kıvılcım çakar.
Kendi tarafından saldıran diğer elf hedefine iki adım kala birden çıra gibi alev alır, elindeki uzun, eğimli kılıcı düşürür ve kulak çınlatan bir çığlıkla yere yıkılır. Elf, bir dakika boyunca ağzından, gözlerinden, burnundan ve kulaklarından ateş kusar ve söndüğünde yerde sadece sıcaktan kuruyup çatırdamış kara kemikler ve bir yığın halinde kül kalmıştır!
Largo eşliğinde Prenses Lorna, Udoorin ve Anglenna, High Spires’ın girişine vardıklarında onları üç bine yakın tam teşkilatlı high elf asker karşılamış ve anında prenseslerini tanımışlardı.
Üç bine yakın elf asker, bir anda dizlerinin üstüne çökmüş ve sessiz bir saygı ile selama geçmişlerdi.
İlk ayağa kalkan, neredeyse bir ay önce karşılaştıkları manga komutanı Hariadin’den başkası değildi.
Hariadin, Prensesini saygıyla selamlamış ve kısa, keskin bir emirle askerleri, High Spires’a açılan bir ‘koridor’ oluşturmuşlardı.
Prenses, Udoorin, Anglenna, Largo ve şehir muhafızları High Spires’a girerken saldırı gerçekleşmişti..
Birliğinin içinden üç elf bir anda Prenses Lorna’ya saldırmıştı!
Sonuncusunu ise Largo, geçmiş yaşından beklenmedik bir çeviklik örneği göstererek elfin kılıcını, kolunu boydan boya yarması pahasına saptırır ve muhatabının adem elmasına yumruğunu indirir..
Elf yerinde bir and tökezler, sonra nefesi kesilmiş bir şekilde yere devrilir.
“HAYIR!“, diye kati bir sesle emreder Largo ve suikastçıya inmekte olan kılıçlar bir anda dururlar.
“Canlı.. Onu canlı istiyorum!”, der ajan, sıkılmış dişleri arasından.
“Manga komutanı Hariadin! Elflerinizin neden kutsal prensinizi hedef aldığını bana açıklamak ister misiniz?”, diye kapkara bir suratla hırlar Udoorin.
Kaşla göz arasında gerçekleşen saldırı ve karşıt saldırı karşısında bir an dona kalan Hariadin, olayın gerçek tekabülüne uyanıverir.
“Hanımım..”, diye zorlukla hiddetine hakim olur bir sesle konuşur. “Olanlardan dolayı sizden şahsen özür dilerim. Bu.. bu kabul edilemez bir durum.. Bu askerleri yıllardır tanıyorum. Üçü de fevkalade çalışkan, aklı başında, bu güne kadar hiçbir taşkınlıkları olmayan, emir komuta zincirine sadık adamlardı!”
“—Ve annemin de köstebekleriydiler..”, diye sessiz bir nefretle ekler Anglenna. “Prenses Alor’Nadien ne.. Sizin ivedilikle ana binaya girmeniz gerekiyor. Annemin verdiği son emri hatırlıyorsunuz, değil mi?”
Bütün olup bitenleri hayret ve sonrasını da kahrolmuş bir ifadeyle seyreden Lorna sesini çıkarmadan, bir elini Udoorin’in koluna yaslar ve High Spires’a girerler.
Onları şehir muhafızları, acı ve kan kaybından zorlukla ayakta duran Largo’nun diğer koluna girip destek olan Anglenna takip eder.
“Bu benim için biraz utanç verici bir durum.”, diye inler Efendi Largo.
“Neden? Eminim sarhoş halini taşıyan ilk kadın ben değilim.”, diye soğuk bir ifadeyle tıslar Anglenna.
“Sorun da orda. Ben hayatta asla sarhoş olmadım.”, der Largo sıkılmış dişleri arasından.
“Sorun nedir o zaman?”, diye sorar Anglenna, ama bir yandan da soluk gözleriyle etrafı süzer.
“Utanç verici olan, sizin beni taşıyor olmanız..”, der adam mutsuz bir ifadeyle.
“Kes sesini Largo. Bilmelisin ki senden hiç hoşlanmıyorum. Ve her Arashkan’a geldiğimde peşime köpeklerini takmandan da hiç hoşlanmamıştım.”, diye hışmeder elf kadın.
“O ‘köpekler’ sadece sadakatlerinin gereğini yapıyorlardı. Tıpkı senin gibi. Aradaki farkı açıklamama gerek var mı?”, der Largo sessizce ama sesinde pek az kin vardır artık.
Belli ki bilinçli bir şekilde yaptığı seçim, dolayısıyla da seçtiği ‘taraf’, o kadar kolay kabul görmeyecektir.
Açıkçası high elf asilzade bunu beklemiyor değildi, zira Anglenna Sunsear pratik, zeki ve hayata dair pek az hayalperest düşleri olan bir kızdır. Babası Selvius Brightleaf’in ani ve beklenmedik ölümü, ona bütün ‘mutlu’, ‘güzel’ ve ‘umut’ içeren düşünceleride yok etmişti ve annesi Angrellen’de bunun böyle kalması için elinden geleni ardına koymamıştı.
Yinede.. etrafındakilerin kendisine gösterdikleri kuşku, itibarsızlık ve neredeyse açık nefret, kızın canını yakıyordu.
Ve işin en ironik yanı ise, halen annesinin kuklası olduğu zamanlar da dahil, her zaman kendisine güvenen.. hayır, güvenmeyi seçen.. ve seven tek kişi, annesinin bütün husumetinin odağı olan kişinin kendisiydi;
Prenses Alor’Nadien ne..
..ve onun yanından ayrılmayan, daha bir ay öncesine kadar ‘aptal’ ve ‘hödük’ olarak gördüğü genç Udoorin.. Dorin.. Rin.. denen çocuktu!
‘Tencere-Kapak!’, diye mırıldanır Anglenna. ‘İkisi de ya kaçık, ya aptal, ya saf yada enayi..’
Sonra platin sarısı kaşları çatılır.
Kaçık? Belki.. Biraz.. Muhtemelen..
Özellikle de ikisinin mütemadiyen, ‘kol kola’ ve ürkütücü bir cesaretle en önden düşmanlarının arasına dalmaları göz önünde bulundurulduğunda..
Ama aptal, saf yada enayi değil.
Dürüst ve.. samimi..
..ve Anglenna birden High Woods’un neden bir yarı elfi ‘kalbi’ olarak seçtiğine ‘gerçekten’ anlayıverir..
..ve zincirleme kaza gibi Anglenna bir şeye daha ayılır..
High Woods’un, Prenses Alor’Nadien ne’yi ‘kalbi’ olarak seçmesiyle prensesin de Udoorin denen çocuğu ‘kalbi’ olarak seçmesinin altında yatan sebepler gerçekte aynıdır!
“İnanılır gibi değil!”, diye ünler Anglenna acı bir hayretle. “Bunca zamandır hep gözümün önündeydi ve ben göremedim bile..”
“Efendim?”, diye sorar Largo.
“Hiç hayatınızda, gözünüzün önünde olup da fark edemediğiniz muhteşem bir şey oldu mu, Efendi Largo?”, diye sorar Anglenna.
“Evet..”, der Largo kayıp bir ifadeyle.
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.
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.
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..
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.
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.
They had given their all.
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!”
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.
Quiet In The Library
Arcantonic and Brom slip silently into the night to do somethings that might very well break the prophecy they were sent for.
Adamant that she must do what she set out to do, Brom has little choice but to help accompany the ‘cute little demon’ of a gnomic girl.
THAT. WAS. AWSOOOOOME!“, Tonic half shrieked, half cackled with manic fervent and triumphant hysteria. “I can’t believe she held me.. No!.. She hugged me! The Riverin of High Woods, The Princess of Bari Na-ammen, the daughter of Ri Grandaleren and Rise Nadine Graciousward.. THE FUTURE QUEEN OF THE HIGH ELVES, Alor’Nadien ne Feymist herself, my twin sister by adoption, no less, and she hugged me! Oww my Gosh, she smelled so nice.. So warm.. And you know what? I think I will go visit her again, once this is all over. Just for more of that!”
“Girl.. She offered you the throne of Bari Na-Ammen, literally, and all you can think of is her hugs? I’ll be the first one to admit, she is a beauty, par to Wraiven, but really, now.. Your priorities are a tad eschewed.”, Brom said with a bemused tone.
“Look here, you little hobbit!”, she said pointing a tiny finger at him. “This here is the hair of a Princess. And not just any princes, but that of Alor’Nadien ne, herself! And not just a snippet, either. She gave me a whooooole strand!”
Her tiny finger, the one she was pointing at Brom, was nearly all black! Because her fingers were so small, and the Princess truly had had very long hair, flowing nearly all the way down to her feet. She had enlaced the hair around and around her finger until it had all but covered it.
And now, the little gnomic girl was skipping and hopping like she was the proud owner of one of the rarest wonders in the kingdom..
..which, she was!
“You are such a dork, Tonic.”, Brom smiled. “..And a fangirl!”
The two had left the huge Dorin guy and the beautiful, graceful, and pretty princess behind and were heading to their next, and hopefully, last stop for the evening; to the Great Arashkan Library.
Why was every officious building in the city named ‘Great’, Brom had wondered.
The Great Arashkan Courthouse, The Great Arashkan Library, The Great Arashkan Arena, The Great Spires, The Great First Lord Princeps Palace.. It wasn’t like there was another city just over the hill with a courthouse, a library, an arena, some spires nor another first lord that one would confuse, now, was there?
Or perhaps there was some ‘baby’ Arashkan courthouses, libraries, arenas, spires, and first lord palaces and hence, the ‘great’ ones had real and practical significance.
Brom couldn’t imagine a conversation where some stranger would ask; “Excuse me, mate, where’s the First Lord’s Palace?”, and get a reply, “Which one? I mean, we have so many!”.
Brom suspected, that conversation would devolve into something like;
“The ‘great’ one..”
“Yea, okay, but which one? We have a lot of ‘great’ first lords in Arashkan. You’ll have to be a bit more specific, mate!”
“How many First Lord’s do you have, in this city?”
“19,876 by the last count. We had a new First Lord spawn just the other day!”
Apparently, Brom’s live imagination was at play again!
But there was, however, some truth in his creative perception. All these ‘greats’ didn’t make the city anymore endearing.. Only pompous! No one, it seemed, was near-honestly humble like hobbits in this world. Hobbits lived in nice, quiet, rolling hills. They didn’t build giant monuments, nor put awesome statues to impress others. Seemed a little like too much work for no gain at all. Hobbits made their homes in the hills and.. well.. they lived in them.. Happily too!
The near-honestly was because hobbits were just unenthusiastically lazy to be bothered by such frivolities!
Elves, humans, gnomes, dwarves.. none of them ever seemed satisfied with what they already had. Always they would thrive for more..
..and still, be unhappy.
Just how stupid was that?
“Brom.”, Tonic said sternly. “I know what she offered. Think of my history. I know what power is. I lived with my uncle for years. And I know what power can do to you. My uncle.. He had power. Lots and lots of it. Even his demons feared him and it really is hard to instill fear in a demon. And look what it brought him. Banishment to the depths of hell he is never coming back from. It is possible he is still alive. And burning perpetually there.. And Heavens willing, he should burn for more, and then some.”
“I.. can’t say I admire his disposition. But why? Why did Nadine banish him and not just kill him and be done with? Death seems kinda more permanent, don’t you think?”, asked Brom a bit taken aback by the little gnomic girl’s savage tone.
“No. Death is not always thus permanent. Not for guys like my uncle..”, she replied, her tone much more subdued now than just a moment before.
“Ow? How do you mean?”
“My uncle, Arcanton.. He made many deals with many beings.. Outsiders.. Creatures that do not belong to our plane of existence. Planes where time and space get distorted. You literally can’t kill those creatures, Brom. You can only banish them from your own reality and hope some fool will not summon them back.. At least not in your lifetime!”, Tonic said quietly.
“Hmm.. So Arcanton made deals with things out of our plane of existence. But so did Wraiven, come to think of it, did she not? I mean, The Raven Queen doesn’t exactly belong to our plane of existence either, you know.”, Brom said carefully.
“Seressa did not make deals with the Raven Queen, Brom. Not in the sense that my uncle did. My pairs soul is her own. And belongs only to her. I doubt under any circumstance would she give up her soul to anyone.. or anything! Seressa is bonded with the Raven Queen via a pact. She does her bidding in return for her queen sharing a part of her power and knowledge with her. It is sort of a mutually beneficial agreement between two parties. She can, if she wanted, dissolve that bond. Yes, she will lose the Raven Queen’s favor and the power she imparts to her, but the fact remains; she can end the bond..”, Tonic tried to explain.
“So she can.. But I still don’t see the difference.”, said Brom as he squinted into the night.
“The difference is, unless you got more balls than brains, you literally can’t break the deals you make with Outsiders. Once the deal is done, your soul is on the market! It’s ‘Going.. Going.. Going.. Gone!’“, she said seriously.
“Well, that sucks.. I suppose. I like it that Seressa is free. I like her free. And she should always be free. Social rhetorics do her enough injustice and chain her as it is. She doesn’t need any more constraints.”, Brom said quietly.
The two walked on for some time in companionable silence. As it turned out, they ended up going the longest possible way around, taking the streets between the Officers District and Heaven Park, behind the Archery Military Camp, and by the Lights Temple. For some reason, the First Lords Palace and the streets surrounding it seemed to be teaming with burly, scowling patrols and neither Brom nor Tonic needed any complications or altercations with the city’s law enforcement’s that late, that night.
“Don’t.”, Brom said finally.
“Don’t what?”, asked Tonic, a bit surprised.
“Don’t ask the question you have been meaning to ask all night, Miss Tonic.”, he said with a destitute voice.
“Actually, I wasn’t going to ask anything.. And you really don’t need to ‘Miss’ me you know. Every time you say ‘Miss Tonic’, it sounds like ‘I miss Tonic!’ in my head, and that’s just weird.. and creepy!”, she said.
“Well, now. That is weird.. And creepy..”, mused Brom, but it seemed his mind was elsewhere.
“I did wonder though..”, Tonic began.
“And that.. is what I meant when I said, ‘don’t’!”, Brom frowned.
“You know. It isn’t fair you get to do all these psychoanalysis on me and then fend me off when I want to ask you some personal questions.”, she sniffed.
“I am not the one with the accumulated issues, Miss— Tonic.”, replied Brom, but there was no heat nor beration in his voice.
“So only people with decent backgrounds get to analyze others, then?”, asked Tonic mildly.
“No.. There just isn’t anything there to analyze.”, Brom replied allusively.
“Ahh.. I see.. So it’s perfectly alright if I did ask you a few personal questions, then?”, said Tonic with a victorious smirk.
“What? No.. How did you even get to that conclusion, girl?”, replied the hobbit feeling exasperated.
“Using awesome logic!”, smirked Tonic again.
“Using logic..”, snorted Brom. “You are not going to let this go, are you, girl?”
“Nope.”, replied Tonic happily. “So.. What do you see in Seressa?”
“Thought I already told you that. Just this evening. At least twice.”, frowned Brom.
“Yes, and no. Your description of her was a bit.. too intimate and heartfelt.. One could argue it’d make an excellent book cover, let’s say.”, said Tonic tentatively.
“I don’t know what kind of books you are into, girl, but I would suggest you read something that has actual literature in them.”, Brom scowled now.
“So you don’t like her, then?”, she blurted.
“Now why wouldn’t I like her? I mean, what is there not to like?”, replied Brom honestly.
“So you do like her..”
“Ow. My. Gosh, girl. You are going to push this in your direction whatever I say!”, exclaimed Brom, waving his hands.
“I just want you to give me an honest, and straight answer. Is that too much to ask? I mean, we are friends, right?”, persisted the gnomic girl.
“Just because we are friends, that doesn’t mean we share everything..”, said Brom exasperated.
“But you said, ‘We suffer. We mourn. We sing and we celebrate.. We do. And what we do, we share!‘. Your words, not mine.”
Brom ‘hoo boy’ed.
The little demon was persistent.. and she stuck on him..
..like a tick!
“That is possibly the worst misuse of a friendly conversation, Miss Tonic!”, Brom said angrily. “But I will tell you, just to get you off my back!”
“Yeshh!”, Tonic fisted her hand into the air. “Victory!”
“When I see your pair.. No.. When I see Wraiven, I sometimes wish I was a taller man. And better looking, perhaps. ‘Cooler’, so to speak. Maybe a bit more muscular.. You know, the type girls like to ogle at.
I love everything about her and she sees me only as something that she can, perhaps, cute into her coin purse. Not that I would mind being pursed by her, but that will still not make her see me in the light that I would rather have her see me.. If that makes any kind of sense to you.
We are so impossibly different, yet she makes me simply not care. Which is the core of the problem. She doesn’t see me that way, period. I mean, what am I to her, really, but a bushy little hobbit?”, said Brom then fell silent. This night had offered him many wonders. Just not the ones he would have wished for.
Tonic stared at the back of the hobbit as they once more fell silent.
She had been surprised by this unscrupulous hobbit a few too many times this evening. But this last bit gave her a whole new insight about him because he hadn’t been staring at her pair for the simple visual pleasure of having ogled at a very beautiful, proportionately curvy, comely buxom, life inducingly vibrant, deservingly exhilarating, darkly mysterious, and honestly alluring figure, counter-underlined by some macho male animal instinct, but for something more. Something that was intimate. Something that had real depth.
Tonic suddenly felt angry and jealous.
For all her pretense otherwise, she didn’t feel like sharing her pair with anyone, even though she had taken her pair a bit too much for granted.
Then she felt shame.
The hobbit —No! Not the hobbit.. ‘Brom’, had done nothing but give his best to help a cranky, cantankerous, contrary, grumpy and surly little girl his all, and not just that evening, but carefully, every day, ever since they had met. And for some reason, Tonic didn’t think he’d done any of it to gain favor with her pair, by proxy. For all his seeming indifference towards everything, lack of base enthusiasm, exasperation level of sloth, and blatantly unscrupulous attitudes, he was smart, cunning, always seemed to show unsolicited kindness, and he was loyal, educated, and well-spoken, even though he hadn’t been to an academy such as Melshieve and thus far, he’d more than pulled his weight in fights.
Much better than she had!
Hells bells, he’d also played that lyre like a siren! She remembered all the times she’d thought he was just staring at her pair’s butt, while he had persistently claimed he was composing a song.. in his mind!
And he had been telling the truth all along.
‘The Endless White’.
The tune he had played, back at the inn that very evening was something that was simply ‘mad’..
..and Tonic had loved it!
And now she didn’t want to share her pair with him?
Like her pair was hers to give or not..
Just how arrogant was that?
“Yes.”, inner Tonic said. “You really are selfish, you know.”
“Whose side are you anyway?”, blazed Tonic but her heart hadn’t really been in it. She’d flared more out of ‘muscle reflex’ than true intent.
“Does it matter? It was you, who wanted to try ‘this way for some..’, wasn’t it? Now you want to quit? I wasn’t aware it would be this short. Must have missed the memo. Had I known you’d be this fickle, I wouldn’t have fought against it so hard, knowing you’d come around on the morrow..”, inner Tonic said, and she didn’t even bother with the sarcasm.
Tonic shut up.
From the inside!
No. The hobbit was not just ogling at a very beautiful, proportionately curvy, comely buxom, life-inducingly vibrant, deservingly exhilarating, darkly mysterious, and honestly alluring figure.
Brom was staring at the heart of all that and desolately knew, he could never have it.
The ogling was just his way of fooling those around him..
“You could tell her.”, she braved mutely.
“To what end? There’s nothing neither of us can do about it, particularly if she doesn’t see me that way. If I tell her, all I will get is either the basic ‘You are my friend’, talk or the infamous ‘But I love you like a brother’, talk, which I would rather forgo and Heavens forbid, will never happen. However Seressa sees me, I never want her to love me like a ‘brother’..”, replied Brom, and not without a good dose of bitter disgust.
“So you are going to do nothing?”, asked Tonic incredulously.
“I never claimed to be a brave man, Tonic. As a matter of fact, I did say I was a coward, this very evening, I might add. Being refused by someone as awesome as Wraiven is not something I ever want to experience. I’d rather just ogle and make sure she sees me doing it.”, he said quietly.
“Make sure she sees you? Why? That doesn’t make sense.”, said Tonic befuddled.
“I don’t like sneak-peaking at her. Feels wrong. Feels like cheating.. Feels immoral —and yes, I am fully aware of the monumentally depraved irony there. That doesn’t change the way I feel, though.”, said Brom, frowning a bit.
“But.. but you are suffering and she doesn’t even know!”, bewailed Tonic.
“What’s got you so riled. It’s my problem. I’d rather look at that beautiful and wonderful, and beautifully wonderful girl with the impossible dream of a ‘chance’, than never to be able to look at her again when I get refused or be declared as ‘loved like a brother’!“, said Brom, gruffly.
Tonic ran up to Brom and stopped right in front of him and looked him in the eyes.
“That’s.. That’s just wrong, Brom.. and sad..”, she said with brimming eyes.
“Well. I am a sad sort of man. I got a problem, and I am using the cowardly way out. Nobody is feeling bad and no one is getting hurt..”, he said flatly.
“Accept you.”, she said quietly.
“Yea, well. There you have it. Chew on that psychoanalysis if you will, Miss Tonic.”, said Brom, brushed past the gnomic girl and with determined steps, started towards The Great Arashkan Library..
✱ ✱ ✱
Tell me again.”, said Brom with a mute, stoic voice. “What do I say to this Tinker-guy, again? And how in the blazes am I even going to get up to that window anyway? It must be at least fifty-five feet up there. Probably more, since this is a library. They would require higher ceilings to store all the books.”
Brom didn’t feel well. He had never wanted to divulge his feelings about the very tall, very dark girl to anyone. And certainly not to Tonic. Not because he thought she couldn’t keep the knowledge to herself, but perhaps, and because, he thought, she would keep it to herself.
“Damit.”, he thought. “Why now? Why tonight, of all nights?”
Had it been the tune he’d played to the audience that evening?
The one he’d named a tad grandly as; ‘The Endless White.’
He knew he should have named it just ‘The White.’.. or even ‘White.’.. but white was just too generic.
Or perhaps it was the song he’d sang after that; Time.
In all honesty, Brom Bumblebrim knew, he just knew, it wasn’t him, who’d written that song. Unlike any other song he had written, this one had ‘come’ to him.. and in the most literal sense possible. Word by word, the song had written itself in his mind and heart during his two-year sojourn from Bowling Hills, all the way to Shakehands.. Which is when he’d met Cora. But tonight had been the first time he had actually put it on display, so to speak. And now, the song was out..
..and out of its ‘time’, Brom thought with a sardonic inner snort.
Or perhaps it was because of having met an angelic being.. or seen that dark, the very sinister-looking man he’d ended up feeling ‘distaste’ at best, then getting all his emotions totally eroded when he saw the same, sinister man looking at the sweet little skinny girl the way he had. And the look she had given him had been emotionally ruinous all by itself for Brom.
He was a bard, damit, and love was the bread and butter for all bards.. But the thing between those two.. he found he couldn’t define it..
..because he could not comprehend it.
It had been so.. nubile in its beauty..
So primevally intense.
There had been no decorum to it. Only base, raw, savage, and somehow, awe-inspiringly tender and desperately lonely longing in the look the two, very unlikely man and girl, were giving one another.
And they were giving it in a sense that was singularly unique! It made other people’s love seem like they were merely and briefly lending their hearts to others, while those two had already and literally given theirs.
So much so that what beat in one, was actually the heart of the other..
What man, woman —or bard— could truly comprehend that?
The intermixed irony that was put under the broad beam of a bright spotlight was not lost on Brom at all;
One, inhumane human, and one, infinitely humane, inhuman!
It was likely that very destitution the two had, that’d sparked the fire that had previously been a mere and happy little kindle..
..into searing pain.
Tonic gave Brom an even look.
Whether she surmised what was really going through the hobbit’s mind, she kept it to herself.
For now, at least.
Which was a grace, all by itself.
“I have seen you climb walls before, Brom. That cloak of yours will more than suffice. If you want, though, I can give you a potion that will make you climb pretty much any surface. Another for you to pass through any gap, or to safely float down. I can send a rope all the way up there.. The window is in range.”, she listed methodically. “I suppose, if you want, I can bring out Mechaber. He can give you a fifteen feet head-start sort of a jump. But I haven’t really had the opportunity to field test that. And I can’t promise a quiet landing. Likely, it will bring a lot of patrols upon us. I am guessing you’d rather avoid that.”
“I am guessing, you would rather avoid that!”, scowled Brom.
“Yes. Yes, I would.. Very much.. The technology behind Mechaber is not out yet, and I would rather it didn’t. Not yet, and not until it’s perfected and certainly not until I install the self-destruct unit in it.”, she said seriously.
“The self— what?”, asked Brom incredulously.
“Self-destruct unit.. You didn’t think I would artifice something as dangerous and deadly as Mechaber and then hand it over to the irresponsible humankind, or have it stolen, now did you? I designed it. I must make sure it never falls into wrong hands..”, Tonic said like she was paraphrasing from a blood-signed doctrine!
“Ooookay.. Good, we got that cleared, then.”, Brom said.
“Mechaber is serious business, Brom. Nothing to joke about. The fact that you have seen it, let alone know about it is a sign of how much Seressa trusts you because if it were up to me, you’d have never seen, nor heard mention of it.. Well.. not for some time, anyway.”
“Ooookay.. Good to know where we stand too, then.”, Brom said with the same tone.
“Look, just because you like someone, doesn’t mean you hand over the nuclear launch codes to them, alright!”, she said with an exasperated voice.
“The what lunch codes?”
“Never mind.”, said Tonic. “Read it in some silly futuristic sci-fi book.”
“Psychic-what? What are you talking about, girl? Just what the hell kind of books are you reading?”, Brom asked.
“Look, the story begins when a pretty Erossian spy falls in love with a mad and delusional Camerican nuclear scientist—”, the gnomic girl promptly began..
“Tonic!.. It’s late. I am tired and in all sorts of ways.. Let’s just get this over with, shall we? I am sure Cora and your pair have noticed we have been too quiet by now and gone to your room to check and see as to why! I think the story about some mad psychic-whatsit can wait, don’t you?”
“Right..”, said Tonic and blushed a bit. “Just tell him what I told you. Don’t loiter. Don’t chit-chat. Get in. Tell him. Get out. And..”
Brom cocked one eyebrow.
“..And, thank you. I made you do things tonight you would rather not have done.. At least not with me, nor for me.. So.. Thank you..”, she said with a small voice.
“You are welcome, Miss Tonic. And no, I wouldn’t have done any of this, not tonight, not ever, but not because of you. I just wouldn’t have done them because I would rather have taken a light snack, cleaned and tuned my lyre, and then went to sleep. Thanks to you, it is unlikely I will find any light snacks nor find the time to neither clean nor tune my lyre. And because it’s nearly the end of the night, I will not be getting any sleep either..”, Brom said.
Tonic frowned.. and felt a bit.. hurt..
“But I did do all the things I would rather have not, and I am now a better man for it.. All because of you.. So.. Thank you!”, he added with a smile.
Tonic’s eyes teared.
“Go.. Now.. Or I shall call you an ass and totally ruin the moment, Brom Bumblebrim!”, she sniffled.
Brom smirked, turned around, pulled his magic cloak around him..
..and started climbing up the side of The Great Arashkan Library like some odd lizard or possibly, an arachnid!
✱ ✱ ✱
Who is there?”, a slightly tenoric male voice whispered harshly in the darkness.
“It is I, The Ghost of Silent Hills Past, Present, and Future!”, spoke Brom, with a hoarse, hollow voice as he produced a very high, very eerie, screaming tune from his lyre.
The poor antic instrument wept at her misuse.
Brom had found the ‘Tinker-guy’ with relative ease. The gnome was taller than Tonic but while the gnomic girl was proportionally slim, this gnome, the possible great, great, great-something grandson of Prince Gordigon was a bit on the stocky side. Though he looked quite young and robust and had keen, intelligent, and pursuing eyes.
Brom had thought of a dozen different ways of approaching the gnome, including stepping up to him and saying, “Hallo there, matie. Got somin te tell yer! Go there them Silent ‘ills an’ grab what’s there fer yer self and be quik ’bout tit! And while at tit, quit mawnin’ ’bout things ‘cuz non wuz yer falt! But I’d suggis yer watch yer arse cuz sum fellers wantsit!”
And now he was gnawing his knuckles, hiding a few rows, behind and above him, stuck on the ceiling!
“Whot?”, the gnome, Tinker-guy, said in a baffled and spooked voice.. And one of his hands formed claws as a huge ball of fire appeared in it!
“Ow crap!”, thought Brom. “A trigger happy fireballer!.. We are in a bloody library, damit! Who uses a fire hall in a library? That is a universal reason for contempt, almost akin to speaking aloud in a theater! Doesn’t he know there’s a special kind of hell for people like that? And this idiot is the heir to Silent Hills?”
He produced his own Wand of Ice, just in case the fool actually did fire his ball and he had to put out the fires!
And just then, they heard a monotonous, matronly voice echo.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, OR YOU WILL BE FINED! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“What the..”, said the gnome, Tinker-guy.
Brom snickered. Ow, this was going to be fun!
“It is I, The Ghost of Silent Hills Past, Present, and Future!”, he repeated, with the same hoarse, hollow voice.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 50 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“And I have come to give you tidings from the beyond, young Tinker-guy!”, hallowed Brom.
The gnome, Tinker-guy, cocked an eyebrow, his face puzzled.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 100 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“What the hell?”, the Tinker-guy said.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 150 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
Brom snickered, some more. If Tonic caught him doing this, she’d have his hide, and then some!
“You shall go to Silent Hills.. There you will find your kin..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 200 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“You must reclaim your heritage..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 250 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Ow. My. Gosh!”, exclaimed the Tinker-guy. “Can you please stop?!”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 300 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“No. I can’t!”, moaned Brom.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 350 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 400 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“..am the Ghost of Silent..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 450 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 500 CREDITS! YOU ARE NOW BARRED FROM THE LIBRARY FOR A WEEK. PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“..Present and Future!”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 550 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Stop!”, cried the gnome!
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 600 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“And you shall do my bidding..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 650 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Stop. Just stop!”, shrieked the Tinker-guy in desperation.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 700 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“No. I can’t..”, repeated Brom, his eyes shut, his face flushed and he had started doing strange, snorting, bubbling noises.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 750 CREDITS! YOU ARE NOW BARRED FROM THE LIBRARY FOR A MONTH. PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“You shall go to Silent Hills, and into the Demon Fog to reclaim your birthright..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 800 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“You must also know, young Tinker-guy..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 850 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Stop! You are going to get me permanently..”, cried the gnome.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 900 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
Brom could hardly breathe by now.
“..what befell you in the past..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 950 CREDITS! PLEASE BE ADVISED; YOU ARE NOW APPROACHING CONDEMN LIMIT. PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“..was not of your doing!”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 1000 CREDITS! YOU ARE NOW BANNED FROM THE GREAT ARASHKAN LIBRARY. PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Whot?”, exclaimed the gnome and there appeared a haunted expression on his face. A face that bespoke of shame, self-loathing, relief, pain lived, and pain endured..
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 1100 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Those who put your heritage into desolation sent their minions to slay ye and yer line..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 1200 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
The gnome’s face paled. He tried to speak, but words utterly failed him.
“..to ensure, none would ever bring ‘voice’ to Silent Hills..”
And now, Brom wasn’t snickering anymore.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 1300 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Hence an evil plan they hatched.. A heinous plan.. And they brought down your home and buried you, and yours..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 1400 CREDITS! PLEASE PLEASE BE ADVISED; YOU ARE NOW APPROACHING THE CIVIL RIGHTS LIMIT. STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
Tears appeared in the Tinkey-guy’s eyes and ran down shamelessly.
“My mother? My father? My brothers and sisters by the dozen? Terrah Doodlebellz? All my friends? My neighbors? —They all died because of me?”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 1500 CREDITS! THE CIVIC GUARDS ARE ON THEIR WAY. PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT AND WAIT FOR DETENTION! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Nay, young Tinkerdome. They all died because someone slew them. They all died to kill your line. Make their sacrifice worth the world, young Tinkerdome..
Reclaim your Heritage.
Reclaim your Hills.
Reclaim your Kingdom.
Reclaim your Throne.
Reclaim your Destiny.
Reclaim your People.
And be a King!”
And with a job well done, Brom Bumblebrim silently climbed down the ceiling.
Quite as a mouse, he brushed past the devastated Prince Gnine Tinkerdome, the great, great, great-something grandson of Prince Gordigon, got out the window, and skimmed down the walls of The Great Arashkan Library..
✱ ✱ ✱
WHAT DID YOU DO?!“, nearly shrieked Tonic in panic as she grabbed the hobbit and started running back the way they came. “The place is suddenly crawling with civic law enforcement!”
They ran past the Lights Temple, along the Archery Military Camp, and cut through the street between Heaven Park and Officers District.
“I said, just talk to him, say the things, and get out!”, spluttered the gnomic girl.
“Which is pretty much what I did, girl!”, panted Brom, his face flushed and he truly felt tired, both physically and emotionally. And he was scratching the upper end of one leg, near the buttock, just where he couldn’t see.
“What is the matter with you?”, Tonic asked, her eyes wild now.
“I got bit.. Again!..”, spat Brom, and mumbled to himself, “This is the last time I fall for a cute face!”, as they heard someone shout “HALT!“, from behind them.
“Never.. mind.. Not a story.. for now..”, Brom said with a harsh scowl.
“RUN, THEN!”, hissed Tonic. “WE CAN’T GET CAUGHT DAMIT! OW. MY. GOSH!”
Aaaand the gnomic girl was about to get hit with a full-blown panic now!
Something neither of them needed at that very moment.
“Calm.. down.. girl!”, said Brom harshly, as he huffed, and puffed.
The marching footsteps were getting closer.
“HALT! HALT I SAY! HALT IN THE NAME OF THE FIRST LORD!”, repeated the same voice from behind, but much closer now, than before.
“Can.. you.. disappear?”, Tonic gasped as she ran next to Brom.
“Umm.. Yes.. But only myself!”, breathed Brom heavily.
“Ok, then.. Go.. Shoo! Vanish! Scram!”, she said.
“NO! Not.. leaving you.. Not happening..!”, Brom breathed.
“I can.. take care of.. myself.. damit!”, snarled Tonic.
“Together.. or not.. happening.. I.. never want to.. face a Wraiven.. with you.. missing!”, he gasped.
“Damit!”, she said, produced two vials with green, vaporish something in them, and a tightly packed clay sphere out of her artificer’s satchel. “Here, drink this in ten!”, she said and handed one of the vials to Brom, as she tossed the clay sphere behind her.
“You know, disintegrating civic guards is not a good idea, Tonic..”, Brom said lightly.
There was a stunning bang, and the civic guards on their heels dropped to their knees and slumbered face down.
“Neat..”, admired Brom.
“Won’t keep them down for long. Now shut up and drink! The effects of this potion should last about an hour, possibly more. I am usually generous —or heavy-handed— with ingredients, depending on your point of view.. Meet you at the inn.”, she said and topped her own vial.. and suddenly, Tonic fell apart!
“I like you, Brom Bumblebrim.”, she said in a warbling, escaping, gaseous, and fading voice. “If you are so bent on martyring alone, I shall abide by your wishes. But you shouldn’t decide for Wraiven without bothering to ask her. That truly is cowardly. And not really any different than all the other animals out there who only see the pinks and never wonder what’s in it.. I made that mistake and it cost me—”
Whatever it had cost Arcantonic, she couldn’t say.
Her form drifted away in a hazy wisp of smoke!
Brom scowled after the now gone gnomic girl.
“Inserting the last word right before the disappearing act.. Cheap, Miss Tonic. Very cheap! Well, I am warning you now, girl, there’s a whole slew of pain coming your way..”, he said darkly and drank his own vial..
It was the strangest sensation he had ever felt.
It was like his whole body was flying apart into tiny, dust-sized bits! He felt the hair on his bushy head rise on their ends, accept he had no hair left either. Every part of him just.. puffed into smoke, and he got carried off with the slightest wind.
Now all he had to do was somehow steer himself in the general direction of the inn, preferably away from the scores of civic guards.
✱ ✱ ✱
Had a good evening, did you?” asked Cora as she stood in the hallway up the stairs to their rooms in the inn.
Her arms were crossed.
She was scowling at the little hobbit.
And her lips had that pout again.
Brom was smart enough not to comment on how cute Cora looked when she pouted.
Or rather, when she pouted while she was angry!
“Ummm.. Had a good evening yourself, did you?”, replied Brom, as he peered into their room.
The room was a wreck!
Everything, including bits of the floorboards, the windows, the window sills, the curtains, the flower pots, the walls, the feather bed, the nightstand, the lamps.. were either broken to bits or were cracked beyond repair. Feathers from the bed matres and the former pillows floated about and covered everywhere while food crumbs, empty and broken plates, bowls, and further cracked mugs and bottles were tossed and scattered haphazardly.
“This is not mere destruction.”, thought Brom in awe. “This is very nearly art! I could literally write an epic on this!”
“What did you do, Brom Bumblebrim?”, she fumed from her nose as she loomed over the hobbit, glaring down at him with her glacial blue eyes.
“Again with the ultimatum name use! What is it with my name and ultimatums, girl?”, asked Brom, frowning a bit. “And, I could ask you the same thing, Cora Sleet!.. What did you two do here?”
“We had a girl’s night. What does it look like? Seressa said we had to wreck the room at the end, so we did.. Was fun like I never had in my life!”, she replied seriously.
“And did you wear pinks too? I know for a fact, neither of you had pajamas!”, smirked Brom.
Cora’s eyes blazed and her face pinked.. just a little.. Barely visible, really, and if Brom hadn’t known the barbarian girl for as long as he had, he would have totally missed it.
“So.. how did you like it? The pinks, I mean..”, he asked blandly, and secretly kicked himself for having missed perhaps the only chance he would have ever gotten to see a Cora Sleet in Seressa’s mini pinks!
“It was a bit drafty but otherwise comfy!”, she replied with a straight face.
“Any chance for me to—?”, he asked.
“Never happen!”, Cora replied and now she really was scowling. “WHAT. DID. YOU. DO. BROM? We left you so you can calm Tonic. Not make her cry more!”
Brom sighed. He’d really wanted this to be kept between himself and the gnomic girl. Just to preserve her dignity, if nothing else. He didn’t want the cute little demon, as she at times became, to be seen as a ‘break down’ or a ‘cry baby’ and hence, an unreliable ‘loose end’, but there was no going around Cora when she got stubborn as she did now.
“Best way is to pull at it fast and sharp, and get it over with.”, he thought, took a deep breath, and spoke his piece.
“Before, she was crying for dubious and barely justifiable reasons.. I, on the other hand, gave her a genuine reason, so now, she is crying for real!”, said Brom and sure as he was a short, bushy-haired hobbit, his voice was now quite low, unsophisticated, and kind. “I am sorry Cora, but the current storm is inevitable. Once it blows, however, she will be done. She will then thank me because she will be feeling much, much better, and be stronger for it!”
Cora looked down at the hobbit. But the ice in her glacials were gone and she was looking at him, not with her looming glare, but with the one that said..
‘You and I..’
‘We are equals.’
“Something happened.”, she murmured softly.
“No.. Maybe..”, Brom replied evasively.
“Must I drag it out of you, my friend?”, she said with part annoyance, part amusement, and part.. wonder, perhaps?
“I’d rather you didn’t. This one isn’t about me, Cora.. Please.. Let this one go..”, he said without looking up at her.
“Grilled you, did she? Alright, then, go.. You look beat. Missed me in pinks, though.”, she smirked.
“Yea. Missed a lot in pinks tonight.”, he mumbled quietly and left for his room.
✱ ✱ ✱
Tonic, luv..”, said Seressa softly. “Do tell me what’s wrong. It pains me to see you thus.”
Seressa had silently entered the room they had planned on staying that evening like a whisper. She had skimmed the wooden floor, went over to the large, feather bed, scooped up her pair, and cuddled her in her arms.
And like a broken little girl, Tonic had clung onto her very tall, very dark pair and shook violently as she’d wept.
“Tell me, luv. I am your pair. We share.. Share me your hurt.. Please..”, she’d said into her ear.
Arcantonic Palecog clung to pair, spluttering with uncontrollable manic and desperate tears, unable to form words.
“He saved him.. He brought him back!”, was the only thing Seressa could discern out of her.
As to who had saved whom, or brought who back, Tonic’s comprehensibility had ended there.
Clutching something in one hand, she’d wept and wept until she’d slumbered right there in her pairs arms like a cotton doll, as the exhausting venture of the night, unbeknownst to her pair, had finally caught up to her.
Seressa had hugged her pair to her heart’s content, long, long past her slumber with all the love and compassion she could muster, then sighed, “My little luv. You mean the world to me. Please understand that.. And never cry. Be happy!”.
She got up, and lightly limped as she carried her pair, and slowly put her into her bed.
“Hmm..”, she frowned. “I could have sworn I had taken her shoes off before..”
Being careful with the left one, she unlaced her little, cup-sized boots, took them off, and put them down near the bed.
Then she went to the wardrobe and pulled down a heavy quilt and covered her pair with it. Tonic looked more like a sad little kitten, curled up the way she had. Even smaller, the way she slept in a feather bed six times her size and eight times her length.
Seressa walked up to the window and pulled the curtains and closed them. The sun would dawn soon and her pair needed sleep. So did she, for that matter.
The very tall, very dark girl wondered if her pair would mind if she curled right next to her. The feather bed was certainly big enough and the idea appealed to her.
It had been one hell of a night. If she’d known girls nights was this much fun, she’d have patronized Tonic into one, years ago. She did feel a bit guilty though. Her pair had been stuck here and crying all night while she and Cora had partied like there was no tomorrow. Seressa felt like she’d abandoned her pair at a moment of her dire need.
Then she inevitably smiled.
Damn, that barbarian girl knew how to party, though!
She thought she would also have to find a proper way to thank the hobbit, Brom, as well, for keeping Tonic company while she and Cora had dismantled a goodly part of the inn. Seressa loved her pair, but she was not totally blind to her shortcomings, either. She didn’t need to bet to guess her pair had probably made the hobbit’s life miserable during his stay with her.
Tonic sighed in her sleep and lost grip of the thing in her clutch. It rolled off the bed and dropped on the floor.
Seressa looked down and frowned.
It was a very, very old, tattered, and crumbled scroll now.
And it looked vaguely.. familiar somehow.
Seressa had a very good memory for things; what people said, their faces, and objects she’d seen, which was why she’d rarely bothered taking any notes back at the academy. She could recite the things her tutors and professors had said almost verbatim, and identify an innumerable variety of objects and readily label them.
It sure had drawn the envy of many of the other students to no end. Seressa had given them a good lesson on ‘humanity’ that being pretty and somewhat ‘silly’ and ‘honestly vain’, didn’t equivalate to ‘stupid’.
Seressa liked feeling ‘pretty’ and ‘beautiful’, and ‘pretty beautiful’, damit..
Deep down, though, she knew her appearance was mere ointment for the blunt void she felt at never to have felt the love she desperately wanted. The love she wanted had to emanate from a man like the heat from the core of an oven. Like it had to be something that was tangible.
The only problem with that was, the oven was there, men just weren’t emanating the fire.
Only.. temperamental and ephemeral sparks..
Men, it seemed, were definitely into her. And that’s about it. They were never interested in what went through her mind, nor her heart. And none of them wanted a dark, lumbering klutz of a girl with horns, a tail, and a fetish for pinks looming over them for a mate. Only as a plaything, at best..
Might as well be an obsidian doll!
Which is what she was now.
She didn’t mind the ‘play’ part. She was very nearly sure it’d be fun. But it was the ‘thing’ that turned the whole idea stale. She just refused to be a ‘thing’ for anyone.
And no one worthy should be seeing her as a thing anyway, right?
She’d gone after the pretty ones. When that failed, she’d gone after the smart ones.. Apparently, whether they were pretty or smart, neither equivalated to ‘heart’, where men were concerned.
But then, what did? What did really equivalate to a heart?
Seressa felt bitterly cheated in life.
And sorely confused.
She was given all these amenities.
They just weren’t of any use..
She perpetually felt like she was a beautiful flower who only attracted pests and wasps, but never the bumblebee..
She sighed, and silently she reached down and picked up the rather worn scroll and carefully, tenderly, even, she unrolled it, and with a shocked expression, she read the very old and tattered scroll that had somehow been preserved through centuries, persevered against impossible odds, and had traveled all the way from the depths of Ritual Forest, through a bloody, demon-infested war zone, to here, to find its way back to her pair..
“Dear, dear Bumblebrim..”, Seressa said softly with brimming eyes, and a curvy little smile, as she finally figured the ‘who’ in ‘whom’, and remembered too, when and where she had seen the old scroll before; some relative eight hundred years ago, when they were waiting for Tonic, and the Prince Gordigon had given this letter, rolled into a scroll, carelessly laced, but not cased, in the hopes that the ‘courier’ herself would read it!
“I have no idea how you did it, but you have given back my pair a life, and a world of joy.. Thank you, for you are truly, and inexplicably amazing, luv.”
Neye bulaştın, Felishia? (18+)
Bu hikaye, Anglenna Sunsear’ın Arashkan şehrine, annesi High Lady Angrellen’in First Lord, Princeps Kaladin’e verilmek üzere gönderdiği hediyenin takibi için, High Spires efendisi Philius Silveroak’u ziyaretinden sadece birkaç gün önce gerçekleşir.
Anglenna Sunsear’ın o dönemdeki Arashkan ziyareti ve Efendi Philius ile aralarında geçenler için
bkz. Hikaye: A Bard’s Tale XIII, “Searing Perspective”
Seni tekrar görecek miyim, Darling?”, diye kedi gibi mırlar orta yaşlarındaki uzun bukleli sarışın kadın.
Daha tam olarak uyku uyuşukluğundan silkinememiş olan alımlı kadının gözleri hoş bir şekilde kayıktır ve üstünde, dağılmış, ince bir gecelik dışında pek de bir şey yoktur..
“Tabii ki, en güzelim!”, diye gülümseyerek karşılık verir, önündeki kadından en az on beş yaş daha genç olan yakışıklı çocuk.
“Eminim bunu beraber olduğun bütün kadınlara söylüyorsundur.”, der kadın, sesinde çok hafif bir hayıflanmayla.
“Sadece en güzellere..”, der genç adam.
Kadın, önünde sırıtarak duran yakışıklı gencin gözlerindeki samimiyeti görünce içi biraz olsun rahatlar..
Gerçekte Felishia Fremier, Arashkan zenginleri ya da aristokratları arasında ne en genç olanıdır, ne de en güzeli. Yaşı otuzun üstündedir ve hayatı tam anlamıyla ve tamir edilemez bir şekilde kırıktır. Ama en azından ve bir geceliğine de olsa, şu anda olduğu gibi— girdiği pencereden çıkmakta olan genç onu, kendi kategorisinde bile ‘en’ güzel olarak görmüş, görmese de, bir yalan olarak bunu söyleme nezaketini göstermiştir.
Bu bile, yaşadıkları geceden daha kıymetlidir Felishia Fremier için.
Darly Dor, pencerenin diğer tarafındaki hanımefendinin elini, tam bir centilmene yakışır şekilde öper.. ve kendisini üç katlı malikanenin camından yer çekimine bırakır ve gözden kaybolur.
✱ ✱ ✱
O kadına aşık olduğunu söylemeyeceksin, değil mi evlat?”
Darly, az önceki dramatik ayrılışından beri, yanındaki yaşlı hırsızla beraber sessizce yürümektedir.
Gün daha tam olarak doğmamıştır, dolayısıyla bölge şerifi, adamları ve daha da önemlisi diğer hırsızlardan emin bir şekilde loncaya, sırtlarındaki ‘kaldırılmış’ malları içeren çuvallarla yürümektedirler.
“Hayır”, der Darly. “Sadece..”
“O cümleyi bitirme istersen, evlat. Aslına bakılırsa hiç başlama bile.. O bir hedefti. Başka bir şey değil. Yaptığımız basit bir ticaretti, o kadar. O ‘bi şeyler’ aldı, bizde karşılığını tahsil ettik. Nokta.”, der yaşlı hırsız, genç adama.
“Biliyorum, efendim. Sadece, o kadını tanıyordum.. Eskiden. Eski hayatımda. İyi biriydi ama çok yanlış kişiye aşık oldu ve bu onu bitirdi. Kırdı!.. O zamandan beri yalnız. Hep yalnız ve acı içinde. Ve benim ona yaptığım, yıllar önce onu kıran, o şerefsiz piç kurusundan hiç de farklı olmadı.
Felishia hiçbir zaman çok da zeki bir kadın olmadı. Ama gündüzleri oturup beraber keyifle yemek yiyip muhabbet edebileceğin, yüzünde salak bir gülümseme, kolunda o kız, gezip tozabileceğin, geceleri usulca fısıldaşıp onun sıcacık kalbine sevgiyle sarılabileceğin ve mutlu, güzel bir gün yaşamış olarak yanında uyuyabileceğin, dürüst, samimi, içten, her şeye rağmen başkalarına karşı iyimser, kendisine uzanıp dokunmak için can attırtan ve buna da müsaade eden cinsten bir kadındı. Felishia Fremeir’in her zaman ve tamamen kendisine özel bir yer çekimini vardı. En güzeli de, asla senden o muhteşem gülümseyişini esirgemezdi.
Hayatımda, etrafı onunki kadar kalabalık olup da gerçekte onun kadar yalnız bir başkasıyla karşılaşmadım. O kız, o hergelenin ona yaptığını da, benim ona yaptığımı da hak etmiyordu..”, diye, sessizce ve kararmış bir yüzle yürümeye devam eder Darly.
“Bu yüzden sana o cümleye hiç başlama, demiştim.”, der yaşlı hırsız. “Ama içini rahat ettirecekse, o kadın hakkında yaptığın tarife bakılırsa gerçek bir hergele olman dışında, seninle o herif arasında çok büyük iki fark var.”
“Varsa da bunları ben göremiyorum, efendim.”, der Darly.
“Birincisi, senin menşeyin belli, dolayısıyla bir piçin kurusu değilsin..”, der yaşlı hırsız, sırtındaki ağır bohçadan dolayı yorulmuş ve nefes nefese kalmış bir şekilde.
Darly acı bir şekilde ‘fırk’lar.
“O kadına hiç bir vaatte bulunmadın —bir gecelik eğlenti dışında.. Onu da yaptın.”, der adam. Sonra, “..Yaptın di mi? Bana çok mutlu gibi görünüyordu!”, diye sırıtır ihtiyar hırsız.
Darly’nin yüzü kızarır ama bir şey demez.
“Aferin sana. Bir erkek her zaman verdiği sözü tutmalı. Özellikle de kadınlara verdiği sözleri.”
✱ ✱ ✱
Felishia Fremier, dağıtılmış odaya öylece bakar.
Solmuş, kerpiç gibi bembeyaz olmuş yüzünde daha herhangi bir ifade oluşmamıştır. Gözleri, ne kadar dolap, ne kadar çekmece varsa açık.. ve boş duran oda da gezer. Neden sonra bulduğu ilk koltuğa, ruhu çekilmişçesine çöker..
Yüzünü ellerine gömer ve hüngür hüngür ağlamaya başlar.
“Neden? Neden bunu bana yaptın, Darling?”, diye inler.
“Çünkü ben basit bir hırsızım, yaşadığımız şey bir yalandı ve sende sadece aptal bir kızsın!”, diye bir monolog cevap verir kızın zihninde..
“Onlar High Woods’dan gelmeydi.. Princeps Kaladin’e verilmek üzere Ri’si adına High Lady Angrellen’in gönderdiği şahsi hediyelerdi!”, diye korku içinde titreyerek ağlar Felishia.
“Bunu bilmiyordum Felishia. Seni iyi hissettirecekse, özür dilerim.”, diye cevap verir, zihnindeki monolog.
“Beni öldürdün, Darling.”
“Bunu asla istemedim, Felishia.”
✱ ✱ ✱
Lanet olasıca kesiciler”, diye, yüzünde çirkin bir ifadeyle küfreder Darly Dor. “Ne zamandan beri Hırsızlar Loncasının kaldırması olduğunu bilmelerine rağmen bizden çalmaya kalkılıyor?! Bilmiyorlar mı, bu aradaki tüm anlaşmalara aykırı. Bir loncanın işine bir başka lonca karışmaz, müdahale etmez, musallat olmaz, onlardan çalmaya kalkmaz.. Eski, sokak çatışmalı günlere mi dönmek istiyorlar? Onlar iyi olabilir ama bizden çok daha fazla var!”
“Boşuna nefes tüketiyorsun, evlat.”, der yaşlı hırsız, yüzünde göstermemeye çalıştığı acı ifadesiyle.
Yaşlı hırsız kalçasına tuttuğu kanlı ve kirli bir bez parçasını, bir yandan üstüne ucuz rom dökerek sabitlemeye çalışmaktadır.
“Neden?”, diye huysuzca sorar Darly.
“Seni duyamazlar..”, diye acıyla buruşmuş bir sırıtışla cevap verir yaşlı hırsız.
Darly yaşlı hırsıza bakar. Neden sonra ‘hıf’layıp yaşlı adamın yanına gelir.
“Ver şunu!”, der ve yaşlı hırsızın elinden kanlı, pis paçavrayı alır.
“Senden çok şey öğrendim, yaşlı sansar. Ama yaralara nasıl müdahale edilir, asla bilmediğin bir şeydi.”, diye söylenir Darly.
“Bu sansar, yaşlı olacak kadar uzun yaşamayı başardı, evlat.”, diye cevabı yapıştırır, ihtiyar hırsız.
“Gel benimle. Seni revire götürelim. Şu pis romu da döküp durma yaranın üstüne. Bi bok işe yaramadığı gibi, yaranın iz bırakmasına sebep olacak.”, der Darly ve yaşlı hırsızı nazikçe kolundan tutup kapıya yönlendirir.
“Eminim kırışık kalçamdaki bir yara izini kimsenin fark edeceğini sanmıyorum.”, diye büzüşük bir şekilde kıkırdar.
“Öyle deme. Yaranın kendisini ‘Büyük Anne’ye’ nasıl açıklayacaksın, asıl sen onu düşün.”, diye sırıtır Darly.
“Bu çok acımsızcaydı, Darly.”, diye çelimsiz, cılız bir sesle cevap verir yaşlı hırsız.
Darly, yaşlı adamı götürmeden önce, manalı bir şekilde odadaki diğer hırsızlara bakar.
“Mallara dokunmayın. Bunlarda bir şey var. Ederleri Felishia’nın sahip olabileceğinden biraz fazla.. Çok daha fazla.”, diye kati bir şekilde talimat verir ve yaşlı efendisini revire götürmek üzere odadan ayrılır.
Aradan bir saat kadar geçmiştir.
Darly, yaşlı hırsızı revirdeki lonca hekiminin kirli ellerine bırakmış, o gece kaldırdıkları malları incelemek için geri dönmektedir.
Kapının önüne geldiğinde odanın biraz fazla sessiz olduğuna ayılır. Fark ettiği diğer şey ise, burnuna gelen pis, lağım kokusuna karışmış yarı pişmiş et kokusudur.
Genç hırsız, temkinli bir şekilde kapıyı aralar ve bir anda daha önce aldığı koku, muazzam bir katla ona çarpar.
Kokudan Darly’nin gözleri yaşarır ve içeride gördüğü şeyin ne olduğunu ilk anda algılayamaz. Algıladığında ise çok geç kalmıştır ve gördüğü şeyi hayatı boyunca asla zihninden silemeyecektir.
Odanın her yerine —yere, duvarlara, tavana— her yerine kanlı, yanmış, yolunmuş ve kopmuş kızıl insan parçaları yapışmıştır. Sanki odanın ortasında bir şey, muazzam bir şiddetle bir anda patlamış ve odadaki herkesi parçalamıştır. Ne var ki, odada bir patlama olduğuna dair hiçbir iz ya da yanık yoktur. Dahası, çaldıkları mallar tertemiz bir şekilde odanın ortasında durmaktadır.
Üzerinden sadece çok hafif bir şekilde tüten koyu bordo, mel’un duman olmasa bile bu katliamın mümessilini tahmin etmek çok da zor değildir.
Darly, arkasından gelen koşturmalara aldırmaksızın öylece odaya, parçalanmış cesetlere ve hepsinin ortasında sessizce duran ‘suçluya’ bakar.
Neden sonra, koşup gelen diğer hırsızların dehşet ve korku dolu çığlıklarıyla kendisine gelir. İstemsizce boğazına kadar gelen ekşi suyu yutkunur ve fısıldar.
“Neye bulaştın, Felishia?”
✱ ✱ ✱
Nereye gidiyorsun, evlat?”, diye tıslar yaşlı hırsız, Darly’nin kolunu tutarak.
“Onu uyarmalıyım!”, diye fısıldar Darly.
“Bu senin sorunun değil, evlat. Bırak peşini.. Burada ‘büyüklerin’ bir oyunu var ve bizim gibi küçük insanları ilgilendirmez!”, diye harlar yaşlı adam.
Odada olanları ve geride kalanları Hırsızlar Loncasındaki bütün hırsızlar görmüş ve dehşet içerisinde kalakalmışlardır.
“Felishia saraydaki sanat eserlerinden, antikalardan ve asilzadelere gelen hediyelerden sorumluydu. Sence o mel’un şey nereye gidiyordu sanıyorsun?”, diye kaşları çatılı bir şekilde sorar Darly.
“Bu bizleri ilgilendirmez, evlat. Bırak gitsin..”, diye ısrarını yineler yaşlı sansar.
“Sence o şey sarayda.. her ne yaptıysa, orada yapmış olsaydı bu bizi etkilemez miydi? Düşün ki bu Princeps’e gönderilmiş olsun ve içerde gördüğün, dokunmamaları söylenmiş olmalarına rağmen kurcalayan bir avuç salak değil de Princeps’in kendisi olsun.. Bunun için suçlu aramayacaklar mı? Sence, “Bu sizin yapacağınız türden bir iş değil, rahat olun!”, deyip bize dokunmayacaklarını mı sanıyorsun. Emin ol bir günah keçisi arayacaklar. Onu buluncaya kadar da bizden yüzlercesini asarlardı..”, diye haşin bir şekilde fısıldar genç adam.
Yaşlı hırsız bir süre sessizce durur.
Neden sonra, “Bazen çok düşündüğünü sana hiç söylemiş miydim?”, der ve Darly’nin kolunu bırakır.
“Müteaddit defa..”, der Darly.
“Git.. Git ve kurtar sevgilini.. Kimsenin seni görmediğinden de emin ol.”, der yaşlı hırsız, yılmış bir şekilde.
“O sevgilim değil..”, der Darly hafif alınmış bir şekilde. “Sadece sevdiğim birisi, o kadar.”
“Ben yaşlı bir ahmak olabilirim ama halk arasında ‘sevdiğin’ bir kadına ‘sevgili’ dendiğini unutmuş olacak kadar da yaşlı bir ahmak değilim.”, der ihtiyar hırsız.
Darly çok kısa bir an sırıtır. Sonra kaşlarını çatar ve kararlı bir şekilde Hırsızlar Loncasının en az bilinen ‘arka kapı’larından birinden, sevgili Felishia Fremier’i uyarmak için sıvışır..
✱ ✱ ✱
Kapı aralanır ve ardında yaşı biraz geçkin, hizmetli kıyafetleri içinde bir adam belirir. Adamın saçları kırlaşmış ve kısa kesimlidir. Koyu mavi gözlerinin kenarları, geride bırakılmış yılların etkisiyle kırışmış ve çatallanmıştır.
Hizmetli, anca araladığı kapının arkasından, Darly’ye, Darly’nin kıyafetlerine ve.. gençliğine bakar!
“Buyrun?”, der hafif soğuk bir şekilde.
“Ben..”, der Darly ve durur. Kendi içinden, ‘Ben ne?!’, diye geçirir..
‘Ben dün gece evin hanımını ayartıp sonra da evini soyan hayvanım!’
“Ben evin hanımının bir tanıdığıyım ve kendisiyle görüşmem gereken önemli bir husus var.”, der.
“Evin hanımı şu anda müsait değil ve kimseyi görmek istemiyor.”, diye soğuk bir şekilde cevap verir hizmetli.
“Lütfen. Konu önemli olmasaydı ısrar etmezdim.”, diye rica eder Darly
Kapının arkasındaki hizmetli tereddüte kalır ve kısa bir anlığına gözleri seyirir gibi olur.
“Bu mümkün de—”, diyerek kapıyı Darly’nin yüzüne kapatmaya kalkar ama genç hırsız keskin çevikliğini ortaya koyar;
Bir ayağını kapının arasına sıkıştırır, sonra da kapıyı aşırı güçle omuzlar ve bunu beklemeyen hizmetli geri düşer..
..ve düşerken Darly çizmesinden çektiği ince, uzun hançerini hizmetlinin gözüne sokar!
Hizmetlinin ağzından hayretle karışık bir acı çığlığı kaçar ama Darly işini yarım bırakmaktan hoşlanan biri değildir; hançeri hizmetlinin gözünden çıkartır ve üç hızlı hareketle adamın boğazına, kalbine ve karnına sokup çıkartır.
Hizmetli yere düşmeden ölmüştür!
..ve kapının arkasında sakladığı diğer elinde tuttuğu geniş ağızlı hançeri de, onunla beraber yere yuvarlanır.
“Seni adi kesici.. Bir hizmetli asla kapıyı yarım açmaz. Kapıya geleni de ya kovar, ya da efendisine bildirir. Kendisi düşünüp karar vermeye kalkmaz zira zenginler ve aristokratlar, kendi kafalarına göre davranan hizmetlilerden nefret ederler. Ayrıca bir aristokrat hizmetlisi saçlarını berberde kestirir, kavgada tutulup çekilemesin diye seninkisi gibi satırla kendisi kesmez.. Ve kapıyı açan hiçbir hizmetli ‘Buyrun.’ demez. ‘Buyrun efendim.’, der. Öğrenin bu ayrıntıları artık!”, der Darly kindar bir şekilde ölü kesiciye.
Sonra kapıyı kapatır ve yukarda karşılaşacağı şeyi bilmesine rağmen, malikanenin geniş merdivenlerine yönelir.
✱ ✱ ✱
Darly, yerde yatan, uzun bukleli sarı saçları her bir yana dağılmış kadına bakar.
Kadının göğsünde kesicinin geniş ağızlı hançeri ebadında bir yarık mevcuttur ve kadının kanı yarıktan hala sızmaktadır.
Darly yavaşça kadının yanına çömelir ve onu yerden kaldırıp kucağına çeker ve onun yüzüne bakar.
Kadının simasını seyrederken, dağılmış, uzun bukleli saçlarını düzeltir sonra da yanağına dokunur.
Kadının yanağı hala yumuşak ve..
Darly’nin içinde bir şeyler kırılır.
Kadının siması bulanıklaşır ve Darly’nin gırtlağından bir hıçkırık kaçar.
“Özür dilerim, Felishia.. Çok, çok özür dilerim..”, der kırık bir sesle.
“Üzülme, güzel Darling. En nihayetinde ben sadece basit, aptal bir kızdım ve yaşadığımız da bir yalandı ..”, diye bir monolog cevap verir Darly’nin zihninde..
“Senden çaldıklarımızın ne olduklarını ve kimin için olduklarını bilmiyordum. Seni uyarmak istedim ama geç kaldım..”, diye inler genç hırsız.
“Bunu bilemezdin ki, Darling.. Seni iyi hissettirecekse, iyi ki de çalmışsın. Farkında olmadan bir savaşı engellemiş oldun.. Bunun için aptal bir kızı kimse özlemez.”, diye cevap verir, zihnindeki monolog.
“Seni öldürttüm, sevgili Felishia..”
“Bunu asla istemedin, Darling.”
Darling; Sevgili/Sevgilim. Felishia Fremeir’in, adını bile bilmediği Darly’ye verdiği isim.
I have died and nones shalt miss mine hand nor shall I be wont f’r mine tender embrace. But shall I miss thine wh’re I go, mine beautiful Darling, f’r I have lived but a mere night in this world.”
— from the letter Darly found, clutched in Felishia Fremeirs’ hand.
Bu olaydan sonra, ‘kaldırılmış’ malların imhası için odaya giren hırsızlar da feci bir şekilde can verince, büyük paralar karşılığına lonca bir büyücü tutar ancak o ve ondan sonra çağrılan papaz, işi kesin yapabileceğini iddia eden bir druid ve son olarak da işi yapması halinde serbest bırakılacağı garanti edilen bir paladin kanlı et yığınına dönüşünce, hırsızlar odayı mühürler. Odanın civarındaki koridorlar ve odalar boşaltılır ve bulabildikleri her tuzak, büyü, yığma kum torbası, tahta ve çiviyle onları da mühürlerler. Zamanla mühürlü yerler terk edilir ve unutulur.. Uzun aralıklarla mühürlü koridor ve odalardan ürpertici inlemeler, nahoş kokular eşliğinde sürünme sesleri ve mel’un, kahır dolu çığlıklar duyulur.
Bu duruma daha fazla dayanamayan hırsızlar yer değiştirmeye karar verir ve Darly Dor’un, kesicilerin iyi olduklarına, ancak hırsızların sayı olarak çok daha fazla oluşlarıyla ilgili söylemi bir kehanet kabilinde gerçekleşir; arkasında üç yüze yakın ceset bırakan büyük bir sokak, ardından da yer altında gerçekleşen kanlı, uzun çatışmalardan sonra Hırsızlar Loncası, Lanet Piçler olarak bilinen kesiciler loncasını yok eder ve onların merkezine taşınır. Arashkan’da yeni bir kesiciler loncasının ortaya çıkması neredeyse beş yıl alacaktır. Bu süre, Arashkan şehri tarihinde herhangi bir kasıtlı cinayet ya da suikastın gerçekleşmediği tek dönem olacaktır.
Hikayeye, hikayenin konusuna ve içeriğine uygun bulduğum için bu şarkıyı seçtim:
Indila, Dernière Danse