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What do you see in the mirror?

Timeline:

Arcantonic and Brom have returned from their ‘humble’ side trip into the Great Arashkan City, back to the inn and Brom has given the small, gnomic girl the letter-scroll he picked from Gnine Tinkerdome. The letter that was given to Arcantonic by no other than Gnine’s great, great, great-something ancestor, Prince Gordigon Tinkerdome.

 

This story takes place around noon,
on the same day as, and a few hours after
Quiet In The Library.

 

 

SOMETIME LATER, IN THE ROOM FACING THE STREET..

The sun had risen, traveled through a beautiful, bright blue sky, and settled somewhere at noon, casting the smallest of shadows, but the Tundra Walkers were still slumbering in an inn, in the Richarc District of the Great Arashkan City.

Cora Sleet slept soundly among the wreckage of her room, on top of a heap of feathers; the remains of what had just last night been, a rich, soft bed.

The softness was still there, but the bed was not.

She drooled and snored a bit, giving her an adorable cast, quite in contrast with her otherwise savage appearance.

Her long, white hair was unbraided too, which was a novelty on her part. Cora loved her long, white hair, but being the practical girl she was, she never wanted it getting in the way. Particularly when the bloodletting started. Besides, she’d been threatened by a large, cruel pair of scissors a few too many times in the past by her mother unless she braided them and kept them out of the stew and those threats had stuck.

Now, however, her hair was ‘down’, so to speak, and she was having a rather pleasant dream.

Whatever she was dreaming, she watched it with a content smile on her face.

Too bad it would be cut short as she would be rudely awakened by the innkeeper —probably a mistake on his part.

She, with the help of Seressa, the very tall, very dark girl sleeping a few rooms down the hall, had ruined his inn, after all.

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

 

TWO ROOMS AWAY..

Seressa was also sleeping with a content smile on her face.

Whether her smile was due to a pretty dream she was having, the engaging evening she’d had with the pretty barbarian girl, breaking the proverbial ice, and the rest of the room, or for the fact that she had snuggled up to her pair, was unclear. From a totally neutral perspective, the very tall, very dark girl looked like someone who hadn’t quite outgrown sleeping with her dolls, because that’s exactly how it seemed; the giant girl had hugged her little, gnomic pair, into her bosom, and both were breathing softly into one another’s face.

 

The whole scene was endearing..

..and a bit alarming!

 

Arcantonic Palecog slipped out of the ginormous feather bed as silently as she could. She didn’t want Seressa to wake up.

Tonic had been equally shocked, surprised, and quite unexpectedly happy when she’d woken up to find her pair not only sleeping with her in the same bed but snuggled up, the way they had.. And she’d been hugging her because she was so warm.

And she felt much softer, and nicer than the feather bed!

She also smelled of phloxes, cherry blooms, and her unique self. A combination Tonic had resisted for as long as she had but had caved horrible at the end.

It had been hard for the little gnomic girl to admit she liked her pair and that she smelled simply awesome!

Seressa’s face was at peace when she slept. More now than for these past few days. In fact, she seemed happier than she had ever seen her before.

Arcantonic Palecog felt no rancor, nor resentful at having finally been ‘coin pursed’ by her pair.

The unscrupulous little weasel of a hobbit had been right about at least one thing; her pair, Seressa Wraiven, had a beautiful smile..

Hence, she slipped out of the bed, shivered a bit, and quietly hoped down and softly landed on the cold wooden floor.

She considered bothering with her boots but decided against it.

Trying to slip her left boot seemed like too much trouble, just now.

She hamstered to her artificer’s satchel, dug her hand in it, and pulled out a small, palm-sized mirror and a brush, scurried to the window, cracked open a sliver between the curtains, and with the help of the mirror, she hastily brushed her hair and bunned it up.

It was noon outside.

That was to be expected. She and Brom had returned quite late that evening.

She dumped the mirror and brush back into the satchel, shouldered it and silently walked to the door, and slipped out.

The hallway was clear.

Good, she thought. No need for random encounters.

She silently crept up to the room, furthest from the stair. Her quarry was there.

Tonic thought of the brush and the mirror.

Had it been just a month ago, she would be laughing at herself.

Tonic very nearly never brushed her hair. She would just pull them back, then bind them haphazardly with anything that was readily available; a bit of string, a broken piece of twig, a stand of vine, or a piece of cut wire.. Now it was adorned with one of Seressa’s many scrunchies, and she felt no shame nor guilt what so ever at having burglarized into her pairs’ collection either! Apparently, this burglarizing things from her pair was becoming a habit for her.

 

This brush and mirror were a late habit, though. An acquired, or self-enforced habit, to be more precise..

A habit since the Gordigon boy!

 

There!

Happily admitted!

The sky was still standing.

There were no sudden earthquakes.

And no blaring brasses of doomsday was heard!

That hadn’t been so hard now, had it?

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

THE FURTHEST ROOM DOWN THE HALL..

Tonic knocked on the door of her quarry and politely waited.

But there came no reply.

She tried again to no avail.

“Alright then.”, she said. “We go, Plan B!”

Tonic loved Plan B as it was pretty much always back to back with Plan A;

Knock twice.

No answer?

Barge in! —was Plan B!

Tonic had many bad habits, or rather, shortcomings, true, but she always prided on her Plan B. It was easy, practical, and more or less, always produced a solution.

 

“Brom?”, she whispered.

No answer.

The room’s curtains were pulled and it was somewhat dim. Much like her room had been.

“Brom?!”, she hissed.

Still no answer.

Damit. Was she going to have to go for Plan B, again? She’d always done Plan B, back to back with Plan A, but never a Plan B, back to back with another Plan B! This was going to get awkward real fast.

Then she heard a sniffling, shuffling noise from the far corner of the room.

She slinked in that direction to find Brom sitting on a stool, facing the corner!

“What the—”, she began.

“What is it, Miss Tonic?”, she heard him say.

“Umm.. I.. I thought we had agreed on you not needing to ‘Miss’ me all the time..”, she said hesitantly.

 

Tonic was not a good mood reader. When it came to moods, that was Seressa’s department and Tonic had rather strong opinions about poaching. Some deep instinct, however, told her that something was wrong.. with Brom.

 

“No.”, said the hobbit. “We had agreed that me calling you ‘Miss Tonic’ sounded a lot like I was saying ‘I MISS TONIC‘, to you and that it was weird and just creepy.”

“Well.. When you say it like that, it does sort of sound weird.. and creepy.”, stumbled Tonic.

“What can I do for you, Miss Tonic?”, repeated Brom, “I would have thought you’d have had enough adventuring, and certainly enough of me, for one day.”

 

Tonic noted the weary in the hobbit’s voice. She couldn’t discern the reason for it. Only notice it.

Well.. At least that was something. She was getting better at this.

“Baby steps, Tonic, baby steps..”, she told herself.

 

“No, no.. No more adventuring for today..”, said Tonic, a bit hesitantly. “I just wanted to thank you.. For last night. Never got the chance to say it properly.”

“It’s alright Miss Tonic. No need for thanks. We both.. enjoyed it.. in our own way, I suppose. Feeling any better?”, came the hobbit’s voice.

“Much.”, she said promptly.

“Mission accomplished, then.”

“Perhaps.”, said Tonic, a bit perplexed.

Something was going on here. With the hobbit. But she wasn’t sure if she should push.

 

“PLAN B.. PLAN B.. PLAN B..”, choired inner Tonic suddenly!

 

“Alright. Plan B, it is.”, murmured the gnomic girl.

“Hmmm..?”, asked Brom.

“You.. You brought back Gordigon’s letter for me..”, she said. “How did you..?”

“No mystery there. Miss Tonic.. I picked that Tinker-guy’s pocket on the way out of the library..”

“You.. You did what? But why?”, she asked incredulously.

“For reasons, I don’t really want to fathom, the boy seemed important to you, since you went into all the trouble to want to warn him but refused to meet him face to face yourself. I have some ideas as to why, but I just don’t want to entertain them because none of them are good, per se, and all of them are creepy as hell! But I thought, perhaps you’d want something of him. A memento, maybe. Something personnel.. Suffice to say, the letter came as much of a surprise to me, as it did to you. As to how it came by the Tinker-guy, I have no idea..”, said the hobbit in the dim.

 

There was a moment of silence as the gnomic girl tried to digest that.

 

“I.. I don’t know what to say.. Thank you.”, she said with a small voice. “I can not phrase how happy it made me. It broke my heart when I’d found out I’d lost it, back at Ritual Forest. I.. I hope you didn’t get in trouble because of our.. little adventure last night.”

 

“Miss Tonic.” Brom’s voice said and there was a district steely quality to it. “Our venture last night, was not a little adventure, no matter how we stretch the words. It was possibly one of the greatest events of this time. It was monumental and its echoes will reverberate back and forth between history and years, no, centuries to come. Willy-nilly, you have changed the past, present, and the future of not only Silent Hills but you have also changed that of High Woods, Bari Na-ammen, and all the lands and civilizations in the kingdom that will get affected by both. Whatever the celestials are playing at, Miss Tonic, it is subtle and it is huge!”

 

“Well.. When you say it like that..”, Tonic stammered.

 

“Trust me when I say, I am putting it ‘lightly’, Miss Tonic. Many, many people will live because of our little adventure last night. And many, many people will also die, because of it.”

 

Tonic gulped.

 

“I.. never really thought about it like that.”, she admitted with a flushed face.

“Don’t fret, Miss Tonic, neither did I. Not until much later. But the deed is done.”, Brom said.

“You didn’t tell Cora..”, she said.

“No.”, replied the hobbit shortly.

“Why? She must have been.. angry..”, Tonic said carefully.

“She was. And she tried to grill me. Though I must give her credit; she didn’t really try very hard.”

“I don’t understand..”, said the gnomic girl with a baffled voice.

The hobbit sighed and turned around. But because of the poor light, his face was still not quite visible.

“Because Miss Tonic, both Cora and I know, she is not my mother, my elder sister, my aunt nor my grandmother. We are friends and we are equals. She doesn’t get to squeeze information out of me. This, she knows and this, she respects.”

“Would have made it easier.. and convenient had you just told her though.”

“Easier, convenient.. and totally wrong. It wasn’t my secret to give, Miss Tonic, it was yours. But even if it had been mine, caving in just because she glared down at me, would have made her lose the only thing we much care and have in common.”, the hobbit said.

“Which is?”

“Mutual respect, Miss Tonic. Mutual respect.”

 

Another pause ensued.

 

“You are.. You seem out of sorts.. Out of your self, Brom. What is it? What is wrong?”, Tonic asked.

“Something that has little to do with you, Miss Tonic.”, said the hobbit’s voice, and this time, Tonic did catch the nuance.

Slowly and carefully, she approached the corner where the hobbit sat.

Slowly and carefully, she reached down at him, took his face in her small hands, and raised it.

 

Broms’s face was a blotchy mess.

 

And with a very unexpected but equally tender insight, Tonic refused to describe what she beheld.

Very quietly, she spoke.

“‘We suffer. We mourn. We sing and we celebrate.. We do. And what we do, we share!‘”, she quoted Brom’s own words.

 

“Did every single one of those, and then some, just this very evening, Miss Tonic.”, said Brom with brimming eyes.

“We did. And we did not.. A fool, I am. This, I have learned. And this, I know. But I would not have expected a fool out of you, Master Bard.”, she whispered.

 

Brom stared at the diminutive cute face holding his. He didn’t shy his eyes from her but stubbornly held them.

“We bards make the best of fools, Miss Tonic.”, whispered Brom.

 

Tonic produced the little mirror from her artificer’s satchel again and held it before the hobbit’s face.

“Tell me, then, Master Bard.. What do you see in the mirror?”

“A blotchy face.”

“No snarks, Mr. Brom.. What do you see in the mirror?”

“A funny!”

“No snarks!”

“A bushy hedgehog!”

“No snarks! What do you see?”

“A face in dire need for sleep!”

“I said no snarks, damit!”

“A hobbit about to lose his temper!”

“Wow. I ask one simple question of you, and you can’t even give me a straight answer.”, she said. Then her voice steeled. “Even if you were much, much taller, much more muscular, and prettier, you don’t deserve my pair, Mr. Brom. You don’t deserve Seressa Wraiven!”

 

Brom froze. His face lost what remained of its color and hardened.

 

“That was a bit harsh, don’t you think?”, he said with an angry voice.

“Harsh is when I produce Mechaber, right here and now, and beat some sense into you!”, she replied savagely.

 

And the hobbit lost all his will.

His shoulders slumped.

He lowered his face.

He passed one hand through his bushy, brown hair and absently scratched his head.

 

“It doesn’t matter what I see, Miss Tonic..”, he said in a defeated voice. “It all amounts to the same thing; a little hobbit!”

“Would you like to know what I used to see in the same mirror?”, she blazed.

“Not particularly, no.”, Brom mumbled.

Tonic ignored him.

“I saw the same things you did, Mr. Brom; A lot of snark—”

“Your point being?”, asked Brom tiredly.

“—until I met Gordigon. Now I see a girl in that mirror. A girl that could use a brush, and possibly an eyeliner every once in a while..”

“Must be some neat, magic mirror!”, mumbled Brom.

Tonic glared down at the hobbit.

“Would you like to know what I see when I look at you?”

“Not particularly, no.”, repeated Brom.

Tonic ignored him again.

“When I look at you, I see a ‘guy'”, she hissed angrily.

“Umm.. Your point being?”, Brom repeated that too.

 

Apparently, this conversation was heading straight into a ‘broken record repetitions’ for Brom..

 

“Stop looking at misery and start looking at hearts, you dolt!”

“Eh?”

“Has it ever occurred to you why I kept shouting ‘Eyes Front’, at you, Mr. Hobbit?”

“Because you are an insufferable little—?”, started Brom.

But the gnomic girl cut in..

“Because you are a threat!”,

“Eh?”

“I feared you would steal my pair from me because you are a guy! That’s why I didn’t want you staring at her. Don’t you see?”

“…”

“The free staring was alright but it all became a case of morality for you because you saw and deciphered that she was even greater on the inside and you actually felt something for her.. And all of a sudden, you decided you are not ‘guy enough’? Wow. I have seen some arrogance and high drama in my time, but you, sir, just landed on my top ten, and I was graced by the best of them; my uncle Arcanton Mordenon.. Should’ve seen him lording over his demons, the way he did.. A three-foot midget looking down on demons eight times his height!”

Brom just stared at the gnomic girl.

“The hardest thing in life, Mr. Hobbit, is not besting our foes. It is besting ourselves, our fears, our shortcomings, our insufficiencies, and our own stupidities.. This, I figured too late, and now my chance for the love of my life is gone, and I will have to suffer that loss for the rest of my days, Master Brom.”, she said and her own eyes were brimming too now.

“I implore you. No. I am begging you. Please don’t make my mistakes. One idiot is far more than what our odd little family can handle..”

She wiped her brimming eyes, reached over to the hobbit and held his face once more, and gently kissed him.

“You are a good man, Brom Bumblebrim, and Seressa Wraiven does not require tall, muscular, or pretty. She’s already tried those.. Not a lot of good they did her! They all saw pinks, but never got past it. What she needs, what she wants is love. And care. And sentient intuition. And the ability to put those into honest words.. You have all those, and then some..”

Tonic took a deep, shuddering breath and considered something. Then she sighed, dipped her hand into her satchel once more, and drew out a rather large, but slim book.

“Here.”, she said. “This.. uhhh.. belongs to Seressa. It is everything about her. You will find anything and everything you need to know about her in this, including which shades of pink she likes, all color-coded.. Some of the things in here are.. quiet private and.. sensitive.. One could say, it’s Wraiven’s User Manuel. She.. she doesn’t know I have it, even though she had originally prepared it specifically for me. I would much appreciate it stayed that way. Skim through it, find out all you want to know about her, then return it to me, discreetly, please. It would truly break her heart if she found out I.. liberated it from her, and gave it to you..”

Brom silently reached out and took the book.

As it turned out, it wasn’t really a book, but a hand prepared dossier. It had the arrogant symbol of the Academy of Melshieve embossed on its dark blue-green cover.

Brom gently opened the cover to see Seressa’s handwriting. It was a recursive, delicate script, very tenderly inked, like it reflected the inside, the very soul of the owner of the hand that had written it;

 

To my bestest and awesomest pair:

Days will always be better because we will have you..

 

“See.. And find out, Brom, exactly what you are missing.. And if it’s her size that still worries you, use a bloody stool!”, she scowled.

 

Brom stared at the sentiment written by Seressa Wraiven for a long moment. Then, slowly but firmly, he closed its cover.

 

“No.”, he said. “I shall not break into her privacy. From Wraiven, I shall never take what she does not impart freely.. Taking is all everyone has ever done to her.. Take, but never give..”

 

“What?”, said Tonic with a shocked expression. “I just gave you Seressa on a silver platter!”

 

“Wraiven is not a cuisine to be served on a silver platter, Miss Tonic, delicious as she might be.. For what I want, I must give the effort, and suffer her trials. For everything she gives, she must divulge knowingly, willingly, and with the intention of giving them to me.. I shall not use shortcuts, nor cheat my way into her good graces. Otherwise, all credit will go to the bloody stool!”, he replied harshly.

 

He looked down at the embossed dossier in his hands with honest longing.

 

“Reading this might get me a Wraiven, but it will not be my Wraiven. And it sure as hell will make me worse than all the other animals out there, Miss Tonic.”

 

And handed the dossier that beheld everything about Seressa Wraiven, back to the gnomic girl.

 

Tonic stared incredulously at the hobbit before her.

Then, slowly, she smiled.

“Now, I know you truly care..”, she said softly. “Thank you, Mister Brom, for your honesty, your insight, and your care for my Seressa. Should something ever happen to me one day, to you, and only you will I freely entrust her wellbeing..”

For a very short moment, she paused, then signed.

“I will not, however, help you in this matter, Master Bard, because I am a selfish girl who just recently realized the kind of awesome person my pair truly is.. But I shall not hinder, nor undermine your efforts, which, I am sure will intrigue her to no end.”

With that, Arcantonic Palecog turned around and left..

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Brom awoke.

He wasn’t sure what had awakened him but it sounded vaguely like someone was pleading for help..

After the pestering little gnomic girl had left, Brom had sat in that stool for only a short more while. With a tired sigh, he’d risen, taken off his coat, his shirt, and pants, and jumped into the feather-soft bed.

He hadn’t bothered with the boots.

He was a hobbit.

And hobbits wore no shoes.

Everyone knew that.

 

“Please. I meant no disrespect nor was I intruding.. I certainly wasn’t trying to peek, miss!”

 

Brom opened his eyes and looked around blearily. Yep. Someone was pleading and it didn’t sound good.

The shortlist of his friends ran through his head.

Seressa wouldn’t be threatening anyone. She was too cultured. She would instead put them to shame, and send them crying in confused humiliation. Unless someone had been dumb enough to have threatened her pair, in which case, they probably deserved the kind of hell that was coming their way and there wouldn’t have been anyone left to plead anyway.

Tonic, then?

Naa.. The little midget could be insufferable at times and a bother all the time, but she was not big on human interactions and would have left it to her pair to have handled whatever that required interacting.. And by some misfortunate chance that she was forced to act on her own initiative, she would go for ‘the big guns and grenades’.. Since the room he was sleeping in was still intact, however, it was probable that the rest of the inn was too.

Tonic could be quite destructive..

But not very surgical in her precision.

 

Brom sat up.

Cora!

“Damit!”, he spluttered. “Damit. Damit. Damit. Damit. Can’t a hobbit have a moment of peace?”

He jumped out of his bed, swiftly put his shirt and pants on, ran to the door, and yanked it open..

..to behold a scene he had dreaded.

 

Cora Sleet was holding up a man —the innkeeper— with one strong arm and had her ginormous sword pressed against his throat with the other!

“Then what were you doing in my room?”, she hissed at the poor man.

“I.. the rooms were rented for one day by Master Bard and I had merely come to ask if you would be continuing your stay. When I knocked, no one answered so I entered to make sure everything was alright and to pick up the plates, bowls, and mugs for the food and drinks you had ordered.. and when I saw the room in a wreck and you lying there, I thought someone had done a crime in my inn!”, the innkeeper spluttered.

“So you thought it’d be a good idea to grope a sleeping girl?”, Cora blazed.

“Miss, please. I wasn’ groping you. I am a happily married man. I have daughters your age!”, he cried.

“I doubt you have daughters one hundred years old!”, snarled Cora.

The innkeeper shrank and stared at the savage girl with the long, white hair.

“I.. am sorry I offended you.. uhh.. young.. miss.. But you look barely old enough to drink! And I was bent over you to make sure you were still breathing! Please!”

 

“Damit!”, cursed Brom as he jogged up to Cora before she did, whatever she was planning on doing at the devastated innkeeper.

 

“I thought it was rude to talk about a girl’s age in these civilized places you call cities!”, hissed the barbarian girl.

The poor innkeeper just gaped at her.

“Cora.”, said Brom as he came up to her. “Please put the honorable innkeeper down and your sword away.”

“This little minks tried to—”, started Cora.

CORA SLEET!“, Brom barked. “PUT THE SWORD AWAY. NOW!

 

Cora froze.

She slowly turned and looked down at the little hobbit, her eyes ablaze.

And a whole slew of expressions crossed her face until she settled on one.. or maybe two; shock, and surprise.. followed by a third; hurt!

Slowly, she removed her sword from the innkeeper’s throat, and with restrained fury, rammed it into its scabbard.

Then she lowered the innkeeper, her eyes still burning and still on the hobbit.

 

“Thank you.”, Brom said. “Now. I am not sure if we will be staying another night, honorable innkeeper. But we will pay for the rooms for another day. If we are not here, you may keep the pay, and rent them out at your convenience.”

“Tha.. Thank you, Master Bard.”, stammered the innkeeper. “But.. the room.. This room.. it’s destroyed! Who shall pay for the damages done?”

“We shall cover the damages done, honorable innkeeper. The room’s condition is due to some unexpected altercations late last night. Nothing important.. Merely unexpected.”, Brom said meaningfully. Then, with a great show of regret, he sighed, “Girls!”

Whatever the innkeeper thought the hobbit implied, he did not comment. He did cock an eyebrow though.

“How much do you surmise the repairs for the rooms will cost, honorable innkeeper?”, he asked amiably.

The innkeeper stared into the room, with a haggard expression. It was quite apparent he cared for his inn.

He did a quick estimation in his mind, turned around, and told the sum to the hobbit.

 

Brom gulped.

It wasn’t a small sum but this was Arashkan and they were also on the richer district of the city.

 

“We shall pay for the damages done, sir, and then some, for the loss you will likely suffer during the time of your repairs. Does that sound agreeable for you?”, he asked politely.

“Of course, Master Bard, of course. You are a fine example of your kind, sir, and an excellence at your art. My wife and daughters wept at your performance.”, said the innkeeper genuinely.

“Thank you, honorable innkeeper. I do but try.”, replied Brom happily. “Now, if you please, I would like to have a word with my colleagues and listen to what they have to say about shaming a bard at the inn he has performed.”

“Please..”, said the innkeeper, gave a quick glance at the still simmering girl with the long, white hair and the ginormous sword, “..they are all fine, beautiful and honorable ladies. Don’t be too harsh on them. I will have dinner sent to your rooms. I noted.. uhh.. the lady here, preferred our kababs and midgetoes.. Would.. would she like another treat of them?”

“Yes, yes she would. Very much.. Thank you honorable innkeeper.”, replied Brom.

The innkeeper bowed at Brom, carefully nodded at Cora, turned around, and went down the stairs..

 

“You.. you shouted at me.”, fumed Cora. And there was a shimmer in her eyes now.

“You dishonored me Cora. At an inn I performed and stayed.”, he said, but not too harshly. “And you never, and I mean NEVER, attack or threaten an innkeeper.”

“I was not aware these.. innkeepers were holy men!”, Cora said and all the heat in her stance was gone.

“They are not holy men, Cora. Not in the sense you mean. But they are hosts. They house strangers of all races and colors. And they respect their privacy and keep their secrets.. Yes, we pay for their services, but not for the kind of crap they have to take from every guest under their roof. Innkeepers, my dear Cora, are the core of what we call, ‘guest and host’ relation. It is easy to guest someone you know. Not so fun when you have to put up with strangers, and then clean up after them, day and night, while risking their own lives, the lives of their families, and their other guests. Consider yourself in his place, then think what it would be like if everyone acted as you did.”, he said.

 

Cora was silent for a moment.

 

“I do not understand your civilized rules, Brom. But I know the responsibilities of a host to his guests and the responsibilities of guests to their host. It is different in my land, but then, my land is not civilized and it is a harsh land.”, she said mutely.

“Your land is a beautiful land, Cora. Your land is ‘The Endless White’.”, he said with a smile.

“Loved that song.”, she said quietly.

Cora was.. She felt hurt that Brom had shouted at her. More so because the last time anyone had shouted at her, had been her mother.. just before she’d gone off to her watch. The day her Ironfrost, and all her people had died..

Her eyes shimmered some more.

“One day..”, she said with her soft, throaty voice. “..if you would write a saga for me, I would want that song to play.”

“Deal.”, replied Brom. “Now.. How in the blazes did you two destroy this room, girl? We are going to lose very nearly everything we earned thus far, because of your little, fun night!”

“We had a girl’s night. I told you already.”, Cora replied seriously.

“Cora. I do not think either you nor.. Tonic’s pair knows what a girl’s night really is.. When people say, let’s party and wreck a room, they don’t mean… THIS!”, he said pointing at the devastation.

“I do not understand. This is wrecking. Did we miss something?”, she asked and peered curiously into the room.

Brom sighed.

“When they say wreck a room, they mean.. Ow.. never mind. Would take too long to explain. One of these days, though, I am going to have to set both you and her down and explain how to not understand somethings so literally.”, he said, signed again and added, “That is going to be one, very long day!”

“I am sorry I dishonored you in an inn you performed.”, said Cora. “I was not aware there was such a rule. There are so many rules in these civilized places you call cities.”

“‘Tis alright. There are rules wherever there are people. The more people, the more rules, I guess..”, he said absently as he did a quick calculation in his mind.

“Damn..”, he swore. “I don’t think we have enough coin to cover the repairs.”

“What are we going to do? Want me to go down and bargain with your innkeeper to lower the prices a bit?”, she asked hopefully.

“What? NO. PLEASE NO!“, replied Brom immediately. Then he frowned. Seemed he was going to have to do something he really dreaded doing.

“Look. You stay here and clean up your room..”, began Brom.

“That was the last thing my mother had said to me that morning.. the day Ironfrost was destroyed. ‘Cora, clean up your room!’.. And we’d argued about it.. Now I am back to cleaning my room? Again?”, mumbled Cora.

“I am sorry about Ironfrost, Cora. But this is quite unavoidable. While you do that, I am going to see if I can borrow some money from Tonic.. or.. her pair..”, Brom said.

“First I am expected to wreck this room, and now I have to clean it.. These rules you have to stay civilized are complicated and many!”, Cora signed. Then she looked down at the hobbit.

“You are avoiding saying her name.”, she said.

“What? No..”, Brom tried to deny.. and a bit too hastily.

“Before, you were all excited talking about her. Then you started having these funny and concussed faces every time you said her name. Now you are avoiding it altogether. Is there anything I should know, Brom?”, she asked with both her brows up.

“Wow.”, thought Brom. It seemed like it would be a really, really bad idea to ever underestimate this barbarian girl. She might not know civilized rules nor understand the implications of certain things, but she seemed to miss very little.

Brom sighed again.

“Noting to worry about. If and when it becomes an issue, I’ll be sure to tell you about it.”, he said.

“You like her.”, she stated bluntly.

 

Brom froze.

 

“I.. What?..How in the.. Why would you..”, he spluttered.

“Good.”, said Cora with the same blunt voice. “Alteast you take me seriously enough not to lie, and care for her enough not to totally deny it. She is a good girl. A bit silly for my taste but, hey, who am I to judge. I mean, I just wrecked a room with her, ate truly awful food, had loads of fun, and stupidly laughed when we both threw up, talked about the silliest things.. and it turns out ‘wrecking a room‘, doesn’t even mean, wrecking a room!.. So, yea.. Who am I to judge.”

“What? Ow. My. Gosh, girl..”, Brom spluttered some more.

Cora shrugged.

“I mean, you wouldn’t believe some of the things she’s done at that academy of hers. Had I done but a tint of what she’s done, mother would have taken a kukri at my braids and sawed them off down to my scalp! Together, we sang like a pair of sore crows while holding hands and danced like the Ice Wolves! Then we beat at each other with pillows.. Should have seen her face when I impaled my pillow on her horns by mistake when I hit her head while she was ducking! She was so beautifully abashed and then I impaled the other pillow with my sword, just to get even! There we were; her, with this big, white pillow stuck on her head, brushing the ceiling, me, with a pillow dying on my sword and feathers flying everywhere.. We laughed so hard, my side hurt! And then she said, “Shall we?”, and I was like “Let’s!”, and we destroyed everything in sight..

She paused for a moment with a thoughtful expression on her face.

“She was ashamed because of something she couldn’t help, Brom. I was ashamed of everything I did last night, all of which I could have stopped at any moment. Yet, she made sure I did not stop and for that, I am grateful to her. That girl lives for silly.. and makes you enjoy it so thoroughly as well.. I have never had that much fun in my entire life.

Consider the hell I went through just a few months ago, Brom. And not a few days ago, I had to relive it, and in greater detail, because apparently, the first time wasn’t enough.. Yet, she made me happy in manic, silly pinks! If that is not ‘special’, I do not know what is. And you want to know what truly got to me? All that while, I could see the sad in her eyes.. She wasn’t trying to have fun, Brom. She was trying to make sure I had fun, all the while holding back because she thinks she is so tall and silly, she imagines herself to be some clumsy juvenile axebeak, and fears that she can hurt me! Not to mention she foolishly believes I am so ‘cool’..

I never had a girl’s night before, Brom. Not because I didn’t want to or didn’t care for such things, but because I never heard of them before. We just didn’t have such things in Ironforst because we never had the luxury to drop our guard.. We had celebrations, sure, but there was always a contingency of our storm heralds and zerkers on guard, and snow rangers hiding all around the village. That girl has never had a girl’s night in her entire life, even though she knew there was such a thing, had other girls all around her at that academy, and yearned to have them all along.. Yet she lived last night for me! That, Brom, is a whole different kind of ‘special’..”

Cora stared at Brom and there was both loss and mirth in the shimmer of her eyes.

“I have never had the privilege of falling in love, my friend.. And now my people are destroyed. I have seen, first hand, just how short every life can be.. Hell, so have you, for that matter.. Don’t waste your time. Either do something about it or put it behind you, which I doubt is even possible.”, she said briskly. Then she lowered her voice, and she spoke sympathetically this time. “I do not envy your disposition though. I hear love hurts.. A lot..”

Brom blushed.. Then blushed even more.

“And the fact that she is like twice my height has gone unnoticed?”, he asked with an angry voice.

Cora looked down at her friend.

Then, with an unexpected display of feline dexterity, and Ursidaen strength, she picked up the hobbit and brought him up to an inch of her face.

“There..”, she said to the stunned hobbit. “..we are now at the same height. What are you going to do about it..?”

 

Brom struggled for words.

Just nothing was coming out!

 

“My point, exactly!”, said Cora with brutal bluntness. “If you had planned on doing something —anything, you would have done it from down there, and never needed to be up here —yet, even up here, you still got nothing!”

Then she slowly lowered Brom.

“Your problem is not your height, my friend.”, she said briskly. “You just don’t have a plan! You do not know what to do.. You are a sensible hobbit, ‘a fine example of your kind’, as your honorable innkeeper so nicely put, and she is a silly, unpredictable girl.. She is every bit a mystery to you and everything you are afraid of; exactly the way any girl should be to any man who cares, and matters.. It isn’t what we appear on the outside that makes us who we truly are. Otherwise, what are we but a pair of.. well.. you know.. and a pretty face, really?”

She squinted at the hobbit for a bit, then barked a short, capturing laugh.

“Back at Ironforge, guys thought I was all cool and stuff and they honestly thought they were all just too beneath my cool for me to bother with them, the way I was with my cold and expressionless face.. Like I knew things they didn’t.. The matter of fact was, I had nothing to say.. I mean, I truly had nothing to say. So instead of spluttering crap, I just shut up. And you know what the hardest part was? Keeping a straight face.. Should have seen me when I got home in the evenings when my watch was over. I used to go to my room, then laugh my face off until it hurt, very nearly every night!”

“You.. you are a cruel, cruel girl, Cora Sleet..”, whispered Brom, staring at the barbarian with amazement.

 

What truly amazed him was how much the barbarian girl had to say.

He’d thought he’d known this snow elf for so long as they had been together, all quiet and cool yet to see how much she had kept bottled up inside. Wraiven must have done some wonders last night to have this girl open up as she just had.. He also felt a slight pang of shame to have not been the one to have done the same, but then, Wraiven was something else..

He was bard, with bardic skills, and he knew the intricacies of the heart.. Or he’d thought he knew. And yet, the very tall, very dark girl had done to Cora in one night, what he hadn’t been able to do in months.

That just had to be something special, alright..

 

“Yea, well..”, said Cora. “That’s all over now, isn’t it? Ironfrost is gone, my cool is gone, now I actually do have things to say, just none of my friends left to say it..”

“You are still ‘cool’ for me, Cora.. And you can say whatever you like to me. ‘Bone and Cleave’, I am your friend..”, Brom mumbled.

“Bone and Cleave, huh? Rather poetic.. in a barbaric way.. I like!”, she said with a whimsical smile.

Then, her eyes softened as she looked down at him.

“Brom..”, she said with a quiet but serious voice. “..just when have we ever faced anything that is smaller than us? And don’t say, goblin sappers! They had numbers and those bloody grenades.. Yet, we are here, they are not. We have bested everything that is always bigger than us.. Go.. And best her.. Again!.. Shouldn’t be too hard for you, since you already bested her once before. Must I also remind you that it was because of you that she held her punches then.. And that it was your victory against her that made her our friend.. and ruined you for her..”

Then she gave the hobbit one of her rare, crooked smiles, patted him on one shoulder, and before turning to leave for her wrecked room to start clearing the bits and pieces of the debris, she said..

“If that isn’t karma, I do not know what is..!”

Brom heard her talking from inside as she tossed large, broken furniture around.

“You have so much more in common than you think, my bushy little friend. She loves flowers, you love gardens. You can make her whole gardens full of those silly, pink flowers and she will love it.. She is an insoluble mystery, you are forever intrigued by mystery. You can spend the rest of your life trying to solve her, and it will not be a life wasted.. She is pretty, you appreciate and honor that pretty. You can stare and stare at her and never be bored.. She adores cute, you are adorable.. She can put you in her coin purse and carry you around all day and be happy – though I have no idea how you are going to fit in a little pouch. Must be some magic pouch, I think.. To remember my father and mother had nothing in common, yet loved each other like eloped teenagers, was ever awkward for me to watch..”

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

You look happy today.”, said Seressa, peering closely at her little pair.

“I am happy today. I am sorry I made such a ruckus yesterday, Seressa. Things just.. sort of piled on top of each other in one me and.. this isn’t.. this is all very new to me.”, Tonic admitted quietly.

“All is fine, all is fine, luv. Long as you’re are happy.”, her very tall, very dark pair smiled. “Your Gordigon’s letter seems to have found it’s way back home, I see..”

“Thanks to Brom. He is very smart, crafty, and caring, you know.”, she replied glibly.

Seressa looked down at her pair, one eyebrow cocked.

“You said nice about him.”, she said a bit surprised.

“Well, yes, I suppose I did.. He did endure me all last night and somehow got me my lost letter, did he not? He was very patient with me. Patient and understanding. I’d say he’s a great guy!”, Tonic mumbled, as she blushed slightly.

“That he is, luv. That he is.. But how did he do it? I gave it my all, and came up with nothing. I just can’t imagine how that letter traveled eight hundred years, all the way from there, to here!“, she said in a marveled tone.

“I am guessing maybe it’s a bard thing. You know, bards have magic we will never have. You said it yourself!”, she replied elusively. “He is sleeping, anyway. The poor hobbit had a rough night. All the gnomes he had to put up with.”

“Casting yourself in the plural now, are we?”, smiled Seressa.

“Yea.. uhh.. there is just so many of me!”, Tonic blushed some more at her blunder.

“I am sure he will forgive us.”, said Seressa. “Boots?”

“Boots..”, replied Tonic, hopped on the bed and wiggled her feet.

“Tonic, luv..”, said Seressa. “What did you do last night?”

“Eh?”, froze Tonic.

“Look at your feet, girl.. We had a bath just last night and you got your feet all dirtied up again. You can’t wear your boots in such a state. You’ll stink them!”, Seressa said with a disconcerted voice.

“You just want to wash them cuz you like playing with them.”, replied Tonic, wiggling her tiny feet again.

“Yea..”, said Seressa with a smile. “They are soooo cute.”

“They are just feet, girl.”, Tonic frowned

“But very cute and very little feet. I could put them in my mouth and still have room to talk.”, she snickered.

“Ewww, girl.. That’s just gross.”, Tonic pinched her face.

Seressa laughed as she got up and went for the washing pan.

“There’s no water in this!”, she said.

“Ummm…”, said the gnomic girl and she suddenly went red. “I.. might have dumbed its content on Brom, last night..”

Seressa stared at Tonic.

“Why?!”, she wailed. “Why? All the nice things he’s done, and you dumped the content of a washing pan on him? That’s not nice, luv..”

“Look, I am sorry. It wasn’t one of my proudest moments, alright! I was a wreck, looking for a beach to crash and.. he just seemed to be so.. dunno.. convenient?”, she mumbled.

“Tonic..”, despaired Seressa. “Luv.. You can’t keep doing this.. to me.. to yourself.. to OTHERS! Please!”

“I know, I know.. we sort of talked and apologized to one another. Here. give me my satchel, will you?”, she said.

Seressa handed Tonic her artificer’s satchel and Tonic started rummaging it.

After a while, she pulled a round, pot belly jug out of it.

“Bring the pan here, please.”, she said.

Seressa brought the empty washing pan and Tonic tilted the jug. More water than the jug could have possibly contained poured out until the pan was full.

“That’s neat.”, said Seressa. “Is it finite?”

“Yea. Too bad really, otherwise we could have drowned Dreadmaw using just this. Provided he stood still and didn’t get out of his cave!”, sais Tonic with a sad voice.

“Indeed.. would have taken only about a century or ten to fill his cave, I surmise.”, she smiled.. “Come, luv.. Let’s get on with the feet. We should be leaving soon..”

 

Tonic giggled as her pair vigorously washed her feet, any number of times until she was satisfied.

Then she went for her own pack, produced a medium-sized towel, and started robustly rubbing the gnomic girl’s tiny little feet.

Then, while holding her left foot by the ankle, she froze.

“Whot?”, squeaked Tonic, staring at her pair and she noted her long, slender tail. All through the washing and drying, Seressa’s fascinating tail had been dancing back and forth in a lazy, content, and hypnotizing pattern. Now it stood up very still. Its pink, fluffy end, however, was twitching with an erratic irritation —always a bad sign. It meant her master was feeling provoked.. or was seeking mischief!

Tonic looked up to her pair to see Seressa smirking, her white, beautiful canines fully on display.

“No..”, said Tonic seriously. “Seressa no.. no, no, no, NOOO!”

Seressa smirked some more.

“I have you now.”, she hissed..

..and poped it!

 

Arcantonic’s foot..

..into her mouth!

 

Tonic held her breath, then squealed, laughing in manic despair.

“Eww, girl, get it out. Get it out!”, she shrieked, still squealing and giggling.

“Told you I could do it, and still have room to talk!”, Seressa mumbled, her own tummy hopping with bubbles of laughter!

Tonic threw herself back and started banging her fists while she shrieked and squealed as she convulsed with the electrifying jolts of tickle running up her tiny foot in Seressa’s mouth!

“Enough.. Se..Seressa.. Enough.. Pwahahahahaa! Ahahahahaaa.. Seres.. Hahahahaa! Ow. My.. Gwahahahahahaa..!”

“Ehem..”, said a voice from the door.

“Perhaps I came at a wrong time?”, said Brom.. with a professionally straight face, as he beheld the mad? creepy? insane? funny? hilarious? sight before him.

 

A Tonic, squealing like a hyped little squirrel, and a Seressa, with her pairs foot in her mouth..

It was a very nearly surreal sight.

Perhaps I am not quite awake yet, and this is just a weird dream with a lot of metaphors, thought Brom.

 

“This isn’t what it looks like!”, blurted Wraiven in unveiled panic, the foot still in her mouth.

“I am not eating her!”

 

And she blushed.

Brom hadn’t seen the very tall, very dark girl blush before.. Not really.. Probably because she was a cultured and classy girl, she had maturely accepted herself as who and what she was, or never truly put herself in situations where she would end up blushing.. even at her moments of klutz, and as silly as she always seemed.

Or perhaps he was overthinking or overanalyzing it and the girl was just so dark, a blush merely camouflaged itself.. A bit like her bruises.

Whatever the reasons may be, it told something about the girl to Brom. As to what it was, he put it aside for the moment. The current situation had precedence and was likely one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ things..

Hence it came quite as a surprise when he saw the very tall, very dark girl truly, and actually blush.

Her face, her whole demeanor, really.. just changed. The whole of Seressa Wraiven started to glow with a searing, simmering, red-orange inner fire one would only see in pitched coal at the very bottom and center of a hearth where the fickle fire had died, and what remained was the core ember that gave off a calm, but steady heat.

 

It was ‘awesome’, at a whole new level..

“Ow. My. Gosh!”, he barely heard Tonic squeak in destroyed embarrassment.

Brom could only gawk at Wraiven.

 

She walks in beauty, like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies,

And all that’s best of dark and bright

Meets in her aspect and her eyes..

 

He murmured silently.

Then, a whisper escaped him..

“Or perhaps my timing was of the best.”

 

Slowly, and deliberately, Brom Bumblebrim turned around, took a deep breath, and left.

Perhaps Cora could use some help. There had been a lot of debris in that wreck.

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

You bested her already?”, asked Cora as she picked up what was perhaps once a wardrobe like it was made of straws than hardwood. “That was quick. Way to go hobbit! Hope you didn’t comment about the size of her.. well, you know.. She is a bit touchy on that subject, though I can’t understand why considering your initial assumptions and accusations were totally wrong..”

 

Brom scratched his head dubiously.

“Never accuse a girl about the size of their..”, continued Cora.

He wasn’t quite sure who had, perhaps unwittingly, bested whom there, just then, or if there had been any besting at all. He certainly felt bested, though.. He also felt something smolder at the pit of his stomach!

“Did you tell her she’s pretty? Seressa likes pretty.”

Seressa Wraiven was not just pretty..

 

She was something..

..awesome.

 

Something..

..remarkable.

 

Something.. 

..extraordinary.

 

Something.. 

..exceptional.

 

Something.. 

..awe-inspiring.

 

Something.. 

..outstanding.

 

Something.. 

..elusive, certainly.

 

But something..

..amazing too.

 

And he saw something new in her, every time she turned around.. and thus Brom Bumblebrim wondered..

“But it’s always nice hearing it from others..”

Why had she blushed so..?

 

 


The poem Brom recites;

She Walks in Beauty
by Lord Byron (George Gordon Byron, 1788 – 1824)

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

 

Seressa: “I have you now.”

 

 

 
 

The Returning of
Shal -ah Galad

Timeline:

Shal ah Galad, the Spear of Light, the Vengeance of Priceptine the Archangel of Wrath has been recovered.

It must now be given back to its owner..

Or perhaps.. just the right person.

 

This story takes place a few days after
Giving the Thief

 

 

Damit! Not again!..”, blustered a voice in the darkness.

There was a rather dismaying sense in the silence that followed the bluster..

“Umm.. C.. Cora.. That.. that was my line!”, said Tonic’s feeble sound..

Brom cackled.

Seressa snorted.

Cora smirked in the darkness as she slowly rose. They had landed hard this time. More so than usual.. On.. cobblestones?

Cora had never really seen a road or a street ever be paved with cobblestones before. They made poor surfaces for any given village or settlement in the tundras. One rain and it would turn to slippery ice. One duffle of snow and you were certain to trip and fall every other pave!

 

Some enterprising guy with nothing better to do had given it a shot once, back at Shakehands but after laying about a score or so of the stones, he had given up. Particularly after he’d found out, the said score or so of the chiseled stones weren’t going to cut it and he’d have to actually buy more, an idea he had found offensive to being with. Who expected to actually be paid for stones! Stones were everywhere.. If there were two things ever-present in abundance in The Great Northern Tundras, it was snow and stones.. like mountains and mountains of stones!

Cora very nearly agreed with the anonymous guy. Cobblestones were HARD to land on, and the only thing she found nice about them was they looked pretty! Particularly when set in patterns using alternating colors.

 

And while Cora was contemplating on cobblestones, Tonic’s inner voice was rampaging in a fit of rage!

 

“She.. She’s stolen our line, my precious!.. She’s poaching in our woods! This is an outrage!!” roared inner Tonic.

“Well, yes, it wasn’t nice of her but she’s our friend now..”, Tonic tried to calm her inner rage.

“Friend? FRIEND? WHAT KIND OF A FRIEND STEALS TRADEMARKED CURSES? DROP THE ‘R’ AND SHE’S A ‘FIEND’!”, snarled inner Tonic.

“Please, let’s not make a fuss here. She’s had a rough time lately. We must make allowances.. And let’s not drop any ‘R’s, shall we? If we start dropping letters, an ‘O’ here and an ‘N’ there and I might end up with nothing but a ‘Tic’.. Which I am sure neither of us would want!”, pleaded Tonic.

“Yea..”, said inner Tonic with a tone that reeked with sarcasm. “..it’s not like we had to clean up HER mess and what she did to our PAIR! Look at her. She’s still limping, I can hear her lungs rattle every time she breaths and she still can’t hold a stick with that arm!”

“True.. true.. But it was because of our own stupidity that set the whole thing off.. Aren’t you taking this a bit too zealously? It isn’t like you ever said anything nice about our pair. You are just making her an accessory to your argument!”, Tonic said.

“…So, that’s how it’s going to be now, is it?”, sniffed inner Tonic with disgust. “After all these years, you are going to take their side..”

“If I must.. and if you push me, I will.”, said Tonic quietly. “For the first time in my life, I feel happy and I feel relieved of a burden I didn’t have to carry anyway.. and I feel I belong.. Something you made sure I never felt, made sure I carried and sure as hell made sure I never had.. You got two choices here. Either you fix your attitude and change or I ignore you from now on..”

“Change? CHANGE?.. WE DON’T DO CHANGE!”, snarled inner Tonic.

“I did.. There no reason why you can’t either.. We have always been together. And thus far I have followed your lead because I had no destination. Now I do. A very, very long destination.. Either we still stick together for it, or I go alone and you disappear!”, replied Tonic coolly!

 

There was a moment of ‘silence before the storm’ kind of pause.

Then inner Tonic’s whispering voice came echoing.

 

“We shall see.. Weee shall seeeeee…”

 

“What’s the matter with you, girl?”, whispered Brom. “Why are you ignoring me now? Are you still pissed off about the.. uhh.. ‘grabbing you’ thing?”

“Eh? Whot?”, baffled Tonic.. and she returned back to the real world!

 

“I hope we don’t have to search the whole city..”, Seressa was saying.

Apparently, Tonic had missed a couple of minutes, and in a sense, ‘sleepwalked’ behind her friends.

“Are you alright?”, whispered Brom again.

“Whot? Why shouldn’t I be?”, said Tonic diffidently.

Brom stared at the little gnomic girl from the side. Something was going on with her ever since Seressa had been injured and it wasn’t just about her pairs’ broken arm, fractured ribs, and dislocated knee.

“Shhhh..”, came Cora’s sharp voice. “I think we have company..”

“Yes.. Yes you do..”, said a slithering voice in the dark. “We’ll take it from here, ladies and midgets!”

“Well, now..”, Tonic said indignantly. “..And just when I thought we’d gone passed the name-calling!”

“Yea..”, said Brom. “..and that took a bit of a bleeding too, you know.”

“I don’t suppose you will tell us who you are, even if we asked nicely?”, said Seressa coldly.

“Afraid not. Even if you ask nicely.. But I guess it’s alright for you to know, they belong to us..”, smirked the voice. “Shall we skip the pleasantries?”

“Yes. Let’s!”, Cora said with a stony expression and drew her greatsword!

“Big sword for a little girl..”, remarked the voice.

“Big mouth for a little man!”, deadpanned Cora and then she quit with the words. She didn’t like words in combat anyway..

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Tonic..”, said Cora with a steady voice.

“Whot?”, asked the gnomic girl, from somewhere behind her, slightly to the left.

“You are going to have to do something about your acid vials..”, Tonic heard the barbarian elf. She also heard her breathing angrily from her nose.

There was a squeaky sound, followed by something flinty and the darkness backed away as Tonic lit her lantern. With a sharp snap, she closed the lid of the lantern and came padding next to the barbarian.

“Whot? Why?”, she asked.

“What’s this?”, Cora asked, pointing at something on the ground.

“A diminished face.. I think. I suppose the correct word would be ‘disintegrated’, but same difference.. Looks a bit gruesome, I must admit. But he did deserve it.. He called you and Seressa a ‘midget’, which I took offense!”

Brom snorted.

Seressa hiccupped.

Cora, though, did neither..

She sternly looked down at the gnomic girl while trying very hard not to grind her teeth.

“And this..?”, she asked coldly, pointing at something else.

“Your.. legs and your panties— ow.. ow my..”, gulp Tonic.

“What?”, asked Seressa, limped over and she looked down.

“Ow.. my my my.. This is a bit awkward!”, she said like she was trying very hard not to laugh.

“What? What is it?”, asked Brom and walked over..

 

..and got bombarded by a barrage of indignant protests.

 

“Not you, Brom..”, snarled Cora.

“A.. a.. aaa.. Can’t have you visiting this, Master Brom!”, said Seressa sternly.

“Not you, hobbit!”, barked Tonic..

 

..Brom sulked in a corner!

 

“You could use one of my skirt-dresses.. Got a spare.. I always have a clean, pressed spare. You’d look magnificent in it!”, offered Seressa.

 

Cora Sleet (click to see)

“Ow. My. Gosh!”, ogled Tonic!

“Ow, my..”, whispered Brom, enthralled.

“What the..”, scowled Cora. “Are guys imagining me in a mini pink? I swear, I will hurt you guys if you are!”

“Noooo..”, she heard Brom’s dreamy voice!

“And what’s with the look on her face? Have any of you ever seen that kind of a look on my face? Like, ever?”, she flared.

“Damit, guys I don’t even have brown hair..”

“Great Northern Skies! You guys edited out all my beautiful storm tattoos! Those tattoos are there for a reason!”

“And what kind of an idiot wears shoes like that? You will lose your feet to frostbite before you even get the chance to twist and break your ankles on ice!”

“You lot are a riot..”

“..and have some serious issues!”

 

Try as she might, the barbarian girl got no response from the lot as they gazed dreamily at the image of a Cora Sleet in pinks..

Apparently, just the mention of Seressa’s dress and the possibility of a Cora in it, had been enough nail them all down..

Yes. There really was some suppressed issues going on here!

 

“I am not wearing any of your skirt-dresses, Seressa!”, snarled Cora indignantly!

“What? Why? Not modest enough for you?”, she asked a bit taken.

“I don’t do pink!”, replied Cora harshly.

Tonic snorted.

“Yea.. I hear pink is an acquired taste..”, said Seressa with a conclusory voice. “I suppose we could try one of their pants?”, she added, pointing at the dead men scattered around.

“If the little maniac left any intact..”, growled Cora.

“..I resent that.”, Tonic said.

“My apologies.”, said Cora sarcastically.

“I meant, ‘If the maniac left any intact’..”

Seressa snorted.

 

“Where are we anyway?”, scowled Cora as she put on her questionably new pants. It was the only one they could find undamaged and it was too short for Cora, tight at the hips and biting her at certain places. She kept needing to shift it every once in a while.

“Arashkan City, I think.”, Brom said from the side.

“Been here before, then?”, Tonic asked.

“Not really. Heard a lot about it though.”

“It’s night, Brom. How would you know?”

“The street lights..”, he said and pointed far down the back ally. “As far as I know, other than Kronor itself, the capital of Kingdom of the Isles, only Arashkan City has, and can afford all-night street lamps. And I smell no sea..”

“Nice deduction, Brom”, said Cora, shifting the pants again..

“Thank you. What’s more, I think our query is near.. very near in fact.. like, right over there!”, he said pointing.

“How do you know?”, Tonic asked again, scowling this time. If the hobbit got any more right, he’d be unbearable!

“The dead people here. They said, ‘They’d take it from here’, and that ‘They belonged to them!’.. I am guessing they thought we were hired cutters to pouch in on their kill..”, Brom explained. “..and most of their friends were heading THAT way!”

 

“See what I mean about pouching?”, hissed inner Tonic.

“Shut up, Tonic!”, shot back Tonic.

 

And around that point, from down the ally, they heard a snarl..

“DAMN YOU, LILLY!”

 

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

 

DAMN YOU, LILLY!”, snarled a man in dark clothes as he clenched his fists. There was a vicious, polar quality about him that couldn’t be easily replicated. Cora would do frosty when she was angry. And go savage.. But not vicious. Cora wouldn’t kill for the sake of killing. The man in the dark ally, in all likeliness, had.

The four had crept near the man in dark clothes as close as they’d dared and settled behind barrels heaped with garbage and leftovers. The ally stank, the garbage stank, and now, the four stank!

 

“Now there’s a man you don’t was to piss..”, whispered Tonic. “I know angry. And this guy wants to seeth his with blood and not in a poetic way.”

 

Just then, they heard a soft, beautifully musical voice.

“She’s right you know. You should tell her..”

The man in dark clothes tensed, then cursed with recognition.

“Shit!”

“A bit obscene, but essentially accurate..”, replied the soft, beautiful voice.

 

And out of the darkness, an angelic girl glided down and gently settled in front of the seething man..

She had flowing, honey-brown hair, baby pink skin, black, raven-like wings, a small, pouting mouth, and a pair of dark, possible black or dark purple horns that looked more like an elegant crown. She wore a dark, strapless dress that looked as if it were trimmed with soft, black feathers. Her slender feet, however, were naked, yet unstained as though dirt shied from them..

The four just ogled at the girl with the raven wings..

 

“That.. is one of the most beautiful, magnificent, remarkable, extraordinary, exclusive, and arresting creature I have ever beheld..”, whispered Brom with awe.

“Yea.. Pretty too..”, Cora agreed.

“She.. she’s a tiefling.. just like me.. I haven’t seen one of my kind for such a long time.. She’s everything I would have hoped to be!”, Seressa’s eyes teared.

“You are beautiful too, dear.”, said Tonic quietly.

“No, luv. I AM beautiful.. That creature there is.. EXCEPTIONAL!”, she whimpered. “I mean, look at her horns.. They look so majestic! Compared to hers, mine looks like a pair of antennas!”

“I like your horns..”, disagreed Tonic.

“And.. her wings.. She has wings! Every tiefling I have known in my whole life craves for wings and none that I have met, ever had it..”, Seressa sobbed. “And they are RAVEN WINGS!..”

“You have a tail!”, blurted Tonic!

 

Cora didn’t say anything.

She had seen Seressa’s tail any number of times. It was a remarkable tail. Much like that of hunting cats; long, elegant, and quirky. A bit like her mistress..

She had secretly watched that tail follow her mistress around for a long time when they’d first met and she had been enthralled by it.

Seressa’s tail had had a hypnotizing quality about it. It also told everyone around what her mistress’s mood was, given any particular moment. If the tail was dancing lazily, her mistress was feeling content. If it was twitching at the tip, Seressa was feeling edgy. If it slashed around, you were sure she was about to go mental on somebody. And if it suddenly went stiff, that meant you stepped on it, and you deserved all the hell that was about to come raining down on you!

Yep. Seressa’s tail was enthralling to watch..

 

Brom on the other hand was already and shamelessly ‘raved’ about the very tall and very dark girl with her long, voluminous pink hair, her voluptuous, cultured voice, her intense gaze, her individualistic attitudes, her very buxom curves, her long, elegant hands, her towering stance, her kindness, her deep, insightful nature, her mature but somehow still girlish demeanor, her at times ‘clutz’ and her pink mini dress-skirt. The tail had merely served as the cream, whipped on top of the forbidden cake! Which was probably why he had riled up her pair’s ire so much.

It was possible that Tonic had some well-hidden good qualities about her, but sharing her pair was clearly not one of them..

 

“There’s nothing special about my tail, luv”, sniffled Seressa. “It isn’t all that uncommon. Wings.. and not the bat-like demonic wings, but magnificent raven wings like the ones she has are unique! I wonder if she’d give me an autograph!”

 

They fell quiet after that and tried to listen to what the angelic girl and the man in the dark were saying.

 

“I doubt this is any of your concern, Merisoul Xyrotwu..”, gnarled the man.

 

“Ow my.. Her name is so ostentatious too!”, whimpered Seressa again.

 

“..don’t you have a Darly you should be concerned with?”, the man continued with contempt, though it wasn’t clear to whom the distaste was directed at; the beautiful girl, or this, Darly person..

“My poor Darly..”, said the girl sadly. “..He has attached himself to a fairy dream where there are no faeries. He has idealized the woman he once loved so much, her death has beset him on a path he can not abandon.. And no other woman can match such blind and purified ideal, I am afraid. But we are not here to talk about my beautiful Darly are we? Now tell me, when have I ever given you a reason for you to hold me in such contempt, Aager Fogstep?

I am not some cuisine you can eat the parts you favor and discard the parts you find distasteful. I find it quite unjust that you would thank me when it suits you, but try and banish me when it doesn’t..”

The face of the man, Aager Fogstep, turned ugly. He bit into the words as he snarled at the girl. “And when have I ever given you the impression that I was a ‘just’ person?!”

 

The majestic creature paused for a moment and gazed sadly upon the boiling man before her.

 

“What an ass!”, blurted Tonic suddenly. “I mean, I could be mean sometimes, but that man there is deeply bitter, self-loathing and cruel..”

Brom coughed!

“Yes. Please hit me over the head with my faults, Brom Bumblebrim, because that’ll help!”

“Brom.. Please..”, reproved Seressa carefully. “Tonic is not mean. She has never been mean.. Not intentionally, anyway. Please give her the chance she needs.”

“I am sorry, Miss Tonic. I shall show you the patience of the great, blue whales!”

 

Tonic had no idea what the hobbit meant by his analogy, but it sure sounded big!

 

And then, the beautiful girl stepped directly in front of the man, reached up to him with one, small hand, and touched his face as if to caress him..

..and the moment she did, wisps of smoke started from her. The feathers on her black, raven wings curled, her hair danced as if hit by a vertical gust and her dress saged..

 

LOVE!..

 

..she cried in pain.

 

I FEEL THE LOVE YOU HAVE FOR HER..

IT BURNS..

AND THE HATE YOU FEEL FOR YOURSELF..

IT PAINS!

SHE.. SHE IS SO MUCH STRONGER AND RESILIENT THAN YOU THINK, AAGER FOGSTEP!

DO NOT DENY YOURSELF, YOUR LOVE, NOR YOUR PAIN FROM HER, FOR SHE HAS NOT..

 

And just like that, the girl caught fire!

The man in dark clothes, and the four, just stood there, shocked and petrified as the girl in blazing fire crumbled into the ground..

 

YOU FOOL! YOU DAMN FOOL!.. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!, cried the man with fear and panic.

 

“Ow. My. Heavens!, croaked Seressa.

 

And the man opened his arms into the night sky as if in prayer!

 

“I am damned.. and a fool.. But I have made my choice.. Now go..”, a shriek in terrible agony came from the figure, ablaze and crumbled. “Go to her, please.. for she needs your love now more than ever.. Do not make my sacrifice go in vain!”

 

“Did she.. Did she just sacrifice herself for that ungrateful bastard?”, snarled Tonic.

“I have seen some weird and creepy things in my life, and that includes a real World Ender.. But this.. This just clocked all my charts!”, whispered Brom with shocked amazement.

 

And to the further amazement of the four, something tiny darted up to the man and landed next to him. It was a small, baby owl..

The owl spun in on itself and suddenly turned into the sweetest looking little girl they had ever seen..

She had very long, soft hair that swept down to her knees, two beautiful, curving horns, deep, forlorn eyes, a small, cherry red mouth, and slightly elfish looking ears. She was also dangerously skinny.

The little girl summoned gallons and gallons of water that came gushing out of the cobblestones and drowned the blazing girl’s fire.

Then she raised one hand in a graceful arc and tiny little sparkling golden motes rained down upon the severely burned girl and the burnt crisps started falling off her, displaying fresh, baby pink, tender skin under them..

 

The four watched the little girl with awed fascination..

“Wow.. She’s a druid. A strong one too.. At that age? She can’t be over twelve!”, whispered Brom.. “A member of the Circle of Dreams, I surmise. Very rare and very deep. You have to be exceptional in certain skills and abilities to attain that circle.

“And she is also a tiefling.. Though not of demonic ancestry.. Possibly fey. Not unheard of but quite, quite rare. There’s something going on here.. And I don’t think that little girl is twelve. No twelve year old could look at a man like that.. I sense the love, the care, the devotion, and the yearning she feels to that man. And it’s so pure, so unadulterated..”, said Seressa quietly. “Never have I seen or felt emotions as intense as what those two feel for each other.. It’s a wonder to behold! It must be her. She must be our query!”

 

Everyone fell silent as they watched the man stare at the little, skinny girl like she was his last breath on earth.

And they gazed upon yet, another wonder to behold; the girl embraced the man in dark clothes like she had only one more breath left to take, and she wanted him to have it!

 

“That..”, gulped Tonic. “..is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen..”

“I am bereft of speech. Is such love even possible in this world?”

Cora had been silent the whole while. From start to end, she had watched wonder upon wonder and silently thanked whoever had granted them to witness what they just had.

She cleared her throat and asked.

“Is it her, then? The one that we must yield Shal ah Galad? The Spear of Light?”

“No!”, Brom said suddenly.

The others all turned to look at him with amazement.

“Why do you think it’s not her?”, ask Cora.

“Because she’s a druid.”, replied Brom with consternation.

“Meaning..?”

“Meaning, she’s all about ‘balance’.. Druids don’t do ‘good’ nor ‘evil’. It’s balance or no balance for them.. Sure, they may have personal preferences, and usually towards good, but at the end of the day, it’s all about balancing the scales for them.”

“Very good, Master Bard..”, smiled Seressa. “You hit the nail right on the head.. It seems my choices can be biased at times..”

“No, dear Seressa. Not biased. Merely guided by your heart.”, Brom smiled.

“Wow..”, the very tall, very dark girl said, with genuine elation. “..that’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me!”

“So who then?”, asked Tonic, a bit uncomfortably. “We are running out of people to give.. It’s the pretty, ‘smoking’ hot one on the stones, or the cutter —which I hope is not the one, or the rest of the city, which, if I remember correctly, was nearly one million people by the last census.. and that was three years before our original time, making it nineteen years! Who do we give it to?”

Brom snorted.

“We give it to her..”, he said, and pointed at the coughing, feeble looking angelic form, slowly rising from the ground. “Besides, if it isn’t her and the spear decides to burn her, at least she has company to put her out again!”

 

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Cora rose from behind the garbage-filled barrels, brushed and dusted herself off, pulled out a long, pointy seeming object out of her pack, and started walking towards the beautiful, lithe girl with the raven wings as the man in the dark clothes left, holding the sweet little girl by her hand..

“What are you doing?”, hissed Tonic from behind her. “She will see us!”

“Tonic.. How are we to give her the spear if we don’t walk up to her? Toss it at her and expect her to say, ‘Oooo.. The Spear of the Archangel of Wrath got dropped in on me out of nowhere.. Niiiice!’, and expect her just pick it up? “, asked Brom.

 

There was a moment of mordent silence..

 

“I could be mean sometimes, but it’s hardly deliberate and mostly involuntary. Your sense of humor is outright murder!”, the little gnomic girl said, with her lower lip pouting and her arms crossed.

“I am sorry, Miss Tonic. It wasn’t really a targeted comment.. Are you coming?”, asked Brom.

“No. I will stay here with my pretty tiefling, and leave that one to you!”, she said with the same putout voice, effectively nailing her devastated pair as well.

 

“Brom?..”, called Cora from ahead. “..Coming?”

Brom sighed and trotted after the barbarian.

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Deliberately making enough noise to have been noticed, Cora approached the angelic figure, now alone, with Brom tagging along behind her.

“Umm.. Good evening..?”, Cora said with her soft, somewhat throaty voice, as she neared the strange, extraordinarily beautiful, yet very innocent-looking young woman with black, raven wings.

Cora had never been the poetic type, but the girl with the wings could only be described as ‘majestic’.

“I doubt..”, came the soft voice of the angelic girl..

The black, raven wings shifted and the girl moved her hands to her face and did a wiping motion. Then slowly turned around..

..and lo!

Up close, the young girl wasn’t just beautiful. She was ‘otherworldly’ beautiful!

The two just stood there ogling and petrified.

 

“Beauty..”, said the girl, with a broken, feather-soft voice. “..means so little, if it can’t relate, nor find love. It is mere torment to have, and a curse to want.”

 

She looked up at the two with lost, haunted eyes..

 

“What are we, if we are not slaves to this torment? What joy is there in this curse?”

 

What the girl had just said, fell somewhere between ‘can’t make heads or tails’ and ‘yes, I think I understand’, in Cora’s mind, and suddenly, she felt sad.

‘I am so, so alone’, kind of sad. The kind that said it in a literal and unique sense..

And to that, Cora found a kin..

 

Funny how we could not relate to our contemporary, but find ourselves a kin to things out of our times.. It is a wonder, really. Does the fault lie in the people around us, or in ourselves?

 

“What can I do for the messengers of the Seers of Star Watchers?”, the tear stricken girl, said mutely. “Is it my time? Are you finally here to take me away? I feel.. so very tired.. I could use some eternal rest about now..!”

 

Cora’s eyes teared. She tried to speak, but something seemed to choke her.

So she let go of the speech. There really was no need anyway..

Silently, she introduced the long, pointy thing, Shal ah Galad, The Spear of Light, with its new keeper..

 

“And thus, with pain and joy —suffered and lived, we have delivered our burden onto you..”, whispered Brom from behind Cora.

 

The angelic figure stared at the spear and her face became poorer for it.. There was no joy in it, no victory, no happiness. Only a confused sense of more burden..

 

“It seems, like palt without honey, destiny has little taste!”, sniffed the beautiful, angelic girl and more tears came running down the smooth, flawless of her face.

 

Slowly, she reached out, and with bare hands, she took up the spear.

The spear, a bit dull before, suddenly shown with an inner fire as it brightened and simmered, and dimmed again as if with..

..recognition?

 

Well, done!, Cora heard the harsh voice that she’d heard once before.

 

The angelic girl looked up at the odd pair.

 

“First Him, then Priceptine and Mab, now Her? What interest does the Raven Queen have with my friends? I have suffered, but that is my lot. This, I have accepted.. They, on the other hand,  have burned enough..”

 

“We are mere messengers..”, whispered Cora.

 

“Then I shall give you the advice I have given to only one other; Do not be the tool that tussles with the peons.. Be, at least, the ‘spear’ that slays the bishop.

 

She looked down at the long, simmering shaft in her hands for a long moment, then at the two who had entrusted her with it.

With a solemn, muted voice, she spoke.

 

“You have thus burdened me with which I wanted not. In return, I would but ask a boon of recognition of thee.. Wilt thou honor it?”

 

Cora stared at the beautiful creature.

She lowered her head, and knelt before her..

“I shall..”, she said simply.

 

“I am not as pure as to be genuflected, my dear girl. I have the blood of mine enemies in my hands and the sins of my past to bare on my shoulders.. Neither are you bound to me nor would you want to. You are free..

 

The boon I ask of you shall not be small, yet only you, and uniquely you, will have the power to wield it.. Will you consent?”

 

“I shall..”, she repeated.

 

“Had the world of mortals only been as honest and dedicated as you; one, young, scarred, and orphaned snow elf, it would have been a merrier place..”, she sighed softly. “Will you, Cora Sleet, come to the aid of my friends, should they ever need it of you.. and yours?”

 

“You know my name..”, Cora said.

 

“I was privileged by it. Your deeds, your losses, and your place among the vast plains of the Great Northern Tundra’s have not gone unnoticed.”, replied the angelic being.

 

“I have no family. I have no people. There’s no one for me to call upon if you ever require my assistance. Alone, though I am, should you but summon, I shall come.”, she promised.

 

 

“You have lost one family, and one people. You have thus gained another family and other people; the hordes and the tribes of your lands.

 

You have saved theirs, brought them together, and brokered peace among them, and you carry the weight of the Seers of the Star Watchers with you, young Cora Sleet. Thus, they trust you and they honor you. Should you call, they will answer..”

 

Then she turned, opened her great, raven wings, and faded into the night..

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Go”, hissed Tonic. “Or you’ll miss your only chance!”

“Are.. Are you sure?”, hesitated the tall, dark girl. “You won’t be offended?”

“Why would I be offended? You are my pair.. That’s the only thing that matters. Besides, you are not the only fan-girl out there, you know.. I have a whole slew of fan cards, all signed..”, Tonic replied with smug shame.

“Ow? Last Man Standing Society members? You regulated there a lot.. That much I know.”, smirked Seressa.

“Hells bells, girl, you are like an invisible stalker! But by all means, do stay with me and guess all the possibilities while she takes off, will you! GO! LIKE, NOW!”, snarled the gnomic girl.

Seressa smiled down at her, reached out and squeezed her pair’s hands in gratitude, and dashed after the elf and the hobbit..

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

What do you make of that, baby?”, asked the man in dark clothes from where he lay, on a nearby rooftop as he stared down at the exchange between the incomprehensible, the inscrutable, and the elusive creature that was Merisoul Xyrotwu and the strange white elf with the long, braided snow hair and the bushy, tanned halfling standing right behind her.

Aager Fogstep could also see a pale little gnome girl hiding behind the trash and it was only because she was talking to someone that clued him to look closer.. It was still pure luck that he had seen the fourth figure,  a very tall, very black girl, and even though she had vivid pink hair and a lavishly exposive, silly little pink dress!

Aager doubted he would have spotted her if she’d actually been trying!

But giving him some credit was due. He was an emotional wreck for the past few days, a something he was totally new at; he’d never had any feelings worth mentioning for anyone, or anything for the majority of his life, after all..

..and he was a bit distracted by the little existence, that was the girl he would die for.

And by at least one account, he already had!

 

The irony was not lost to him that the reason for his distraction was also the reason he was holding on to any semblance of sanity as well.

 

“Baby..”, repeated the skinny little girl, where she languidly lay face down on the broad of the man’s back.

 

The man in blacks had nearly choked when the little girl had chosen his back to lie down.

And his reaction had nothing to do with her weight; she hardly had any!

 

“..I like that you think I am a baby.”, she smiled happily. “It feels so..”

For a moment she struggled for words but failed.

“I am sorry..”, she blurted, her face blushing furiously. “I am just a stupid, ignorant girl. And I lack words.”

“Inshala..”, growled the man. “I thought we had already covered you calling yourself names.. You have the feelings, don’t you?”

“Y.. yes..”, she said, with a small voice.

“Then you need not the words because words can’t describe yours. They will always fall short.”

And the man in blacks said that without any elaboration or implication, and only with the simplest of emotions; the sense to be nothing but brutally honest with this little girl he so cared..

It was his pragmatism at its peak. He had merely stated a fact..

Just the fact!

The little, skinny girl shifted a bit on his back and relaxed more.

It was this scary man’s brutal honesty and state-of-facts attitude, she’d always found..

..endearing?

 

“You are looking for words again, baby..”, the man growled.

The girl, Inshala, giggled.

“Well, yes, I was… I am..”, she said, still hiccupping.

 

It seemed the close proximity of this dark, scary man always made this skinny girl feel a bit..

..intoxicated?

Yes. Intoxicated. That sounded like an important word!

 

But then she tensed and the man, Aager Fogstep, felt it.

“What is it?”, he asked immediately.

 

“I.. I love that you think me as a baby. It’s.. ‘intoxicating?’.. But.. But I was wondering when you would see me as.. a girl.. Like a real girl, I mean.. A woman. The way Sir Udoorin sees our beloved Alor’Nadien ne..

Am.. am I to stay a baby for you, then?”

 

The man, Aager Fogstep, froze.

He felt exactly like he’d felt when she had asked him she wanted to dance with him, even though neither knew how, and at least one of them didn’t even know why people danced while the other hadn’t ever wondered why they would.

He’d felt terrified then.

He felt terrified now!

 

Aager Fogstep did not clear his throat.

He did not fidget.

He certainly did not try to evade, dodge, or duck under the question.

 

“I know exactly what you are to me, and what you are for me, Frostmane. I have wanted to call you ‘baby’ because I find you pure and I find that I am unable to do anything else but to safeguard and love that purity. A purity of heart that is somehow mine.

And I call you, what I call you because it is the only way I can cope with that fact..

One day, the time will come and when it does, I shall not shy from you. I promise.”

 

Inshala put her face into the crook of the man’s shoulder. Whether she was crying with joy or with disappointment, the man, Aager, wasn’t sure. But he certainly wished for the former than the latter. The girl had, had suffered enough.

 

“I want words like that too..”, she mumbled, her face hidden.

“Inshala, you must know..”, said the man quietly.

YOU ARE THE WORDS..

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Seressa, Cora, and Brom had returned. Of the three, only the tall, dark girl seemed happy. She limped up to her pair with the silliest of expressions. A combination of awe, adoration, accomplishment, excitement, and elation.

“You got it, then?”, asked Tonic eagerly.

“Well, duh!”, Seressa said smugly as she carefully settled down next to her pair in the reeking garbage, stretching her tender leg.

“Gimme..”, Tonic said waving her hands..

“You first..!”, Seressa smirked.

“You never play fair, girl.”, sighed the gnome and produced a heavy pouch from the inside of her artificer’s satchel.

From inside the pouch, she carefully pulled out a 12 by 6 by 8 inch wooden lockbox. She produced a key from under and inside her belt and unlocked the box.

And there, were bundles and bundles of cards, stacked neatly in their own, individual slips inside the lockbox!

“Ow. My. Heavens.. You had them boxed?”, Seressa gasped.

“Well, sure. Do you know how much their worth will be in a century or two? More if they are in pristine condition.. Now let’s see.. Last Man Standing Society, the whole lot of them, including that weird Fearghas Fionnghal the girls in the academy were raving about..”

“You have Fearghas Fionnghal’s signed card?”, Seressa asked incredulously.

“Of course! Not that the stringy bastard wanted to give it.. You really don’t want to know what I had to do to get it!”, Tonic replied with disgust.

“Can I lick it?!”, asked Seressa hopefully!

“Whot? Ewww, girl.. No!”, replied Tonic as she pinched her face. Then she continued. “The Hide ‘n Seekers, The Iron Fist, Aerial Winds Kite Club, Beauty and Care Society, Brawlers Club, Copper Pipes and Steamchunk Society, Random Encounters Society, Secret Handshake Society, and The Last Club..

“How did you even.. Wow, girl.. I am impressed. Some of those societies are members-only, not to mention, supposedly ‘secret’!..”, whispered Seressa with a tone that said she truly was impressed.

“Nothing stops a determined artificer..”, Tonic replied with a well-earned smugness. “Some of the hate people had for me at school had nothing to do with my dump uncle, nor my grades..

“And here I thought I had gotten one over you!”, said Seressa glumly.

Tonic did a squeaky little manic cackle.

“And no one gets one over the geekdom of an artificer, either.. Now, gimme.. I held up my end of the bargain. Time for you to cough up!”

Seressa produced a rather bedraggled, second quality craft parchment.

“You had an angelic being sign her autograph on a ratty old, second-grade parchment?”, said Tonic that left no doubt as to what exactly she thought about that!

“Sorry.. But we’d run out of first-class papers a long time ago.. My bad, there..”, replied Seressa shamefully.

“Wow.. That is one long name..”, said Tonic as she stared at the long, list like parchment.

“I know, right. And she didn’t just scrabble on it. She took her time. You’d think she’d have some pomp. I couldn’t help it and said, ‘Your wings are AWESOME!‘, and she was so astonished and she said, ‘You like?’, and she twirled around for me to see, and I was like ‘OW.. MY.. HEAVENS!.. CAN I PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE TOUCH THEM?!‘, and she not only let me, she also gave me this!”, Seressa said with shameless adoration and produced an emptied out scroll case, popped it open and very carefully took out a single, charcoal black raven feather as long as her forearm and fluffed her face with it!

Tonic just stared at her pair and said, “You are such a dork!”, with a snort.

“Yea..”, said her pair happily. “She was soooo pleased.. Look, see? She even doodled a heart on her autograph!”

“And you made her sign for me too!”, said Tonic, a bit astonished.

“Well, sure.. It has you, me, and an angelic name on it! I think I will carry this in my bodice!”, she said happily.

“Eww, girl!”

“Yea..”, said Seressa dreamily. “And have it inked on my back.. You know, like a tattoo!”

“Don’t mess with your body, girl.. It’s beautiful exactly the way it is..”

“You think so? Thought you found it abhorrent. Or irritating at the very least..”

“Irritating, yes. Abhorrent, never. People always find what they don’t have, but want, and see that others have it, irritating. You have a very nice figure Seressa, don’t disfigure it.”, Tonic said seriously.

“I can’t believe the things the two of you talk when you are huddled up like that.”, Brom said from somewhere behind them. “Is that a ‘pair thing’, or a ‘girl thing’?”

“It’s a ‘non of your business’ thing.”, growled Tonic.

 

Seressa snorted..

..and so did Cora.

 

Tonic relit her lantern and read the parchment;

 

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Later.. Much, much later..

Seressa bent all the way down to her pair, and whispered breathily into her tiny, cute ear;

“Sooo.. What is it that I have, and you think that you don’t, but want?!”

 

 


“What are we, if we are not slaves to this torment? What joy is there in this curse?”, is a reference to Sylvannas Windrunner in World of Warcraft. She said this about the ‘undeath’ curse she and her kin was afflicted by Arthas, the Lich King. Though the phrases are the same, they refer to very, very different things. 

 

 

 
 

Giving the Thief

Timeline:

Broken, deeply wounded and suffering, Cora Sleet leads her companions to the lair of the Ancient Dragon Hydius Dreadmaw to help make sure her greatest enemy, Son of Krash steals the ‘right’ object, that would possibly cause the destruction of her beloved village; Ironfrost.

 

This story is the continuation of
Secrets of the Raven Queen.

 

 

Careful!”, hissed the lithe barbarian girl as she grabbed the little hobbit. “That’s the second time you slipped.”

“I can’t even feel my feet anymore, and that’s a neat trick for a hobbit.”, mumbled Brom. “Wish Seressa were here..”

“You just want her here because she falls great!”, scowled the barbarian girl, Cora Sleet, her face showing signs of shame.

 

Seressa wasn’t here because of her, after all. And neither was Tonic because Seressa wasn’t here.

 

“That, and she makes an even greater scene AFTER she falls!”, smirked the hobbit with mirthful enthusiasm.

BROM BUMBLEBRIM!“, said Cora sternly. “Have you been staring at that girl’s butt?”

“Hey. I am a guy, right? And she’s got a great butt.. An unavoidably great butt, in fact!”, smirked Brom, some more..

“I am very much put out with you, hobbit! Very much put out..”, scolded Cora.

“What? Why? She said it herself, ‘Every part of me likes their freedom individually!’.. Her words, not mine. And I have always believed in individual freedoms.. Which do require an audience of appreciation, don’t you think?”, he replied loftily.

“And you think that justifies you taking advantage of that poor girl?”, berated the barbarian.

Brom shrugged.

“There’s nothing poor about that girl, my dear Cora.. And I am not taking advantage of her. What I am doing is, taking advantage of the scenery..“, smiled Brom a bit evilly.

“No wonder Tonic patronizes you. You deserve her!”

“Bite your tongue, elf!”, said Brom with distaste.

“I think we should change our moving order by placing Tonic behind her pair and putting you at the very back!”, sniffed Cora.

“Well.. Tonic’s butt is nice too, I suppose.. But it’s a bit too small for my taste, as in, she has none!”, said the hobbit dubiously.

“I can’t believe I am hearing all this from you!”, exclaimed the elf girl in total shock. “Have you been checking us all out, all this time? Have you checked me out as well?”

“I am NOT answering THAT question. It’s not only a trick catechism that will hurt me at the end no matter what I say, it’s also clearly a loaded one.. I refuse to entertain it!”, replied the hobbit glibly.

“How cunning of you..”, snorted Cora..

“But since you asked, yes, I did. When we first met, back at Shakehands. You had a very pretty pout and a very pretty.. well.. then we became friends.. so I quit.”

“You have a very distorted sense of friendship and what it entails.. It seems no matter their size, race or origin, men are pigs!”, scolded Cora.

“And pretty much the same could be said about women.. Accept the pig part. That would be just rude.. You all want to be admired, one way or another, but get pissy when you are. Sounds like a cliché to you?”, asked Brom, then paused for a moment.

“Look.. I am a mere halfling, Cora. One of many.. You, on the other hand, are unique.. in more sense now than most.. Please don’t be ‘that’ cliché. It would be such as waste on your part. We are, who we are..”, he said quietly.

 

They both fell silent and snuck down the glacial tunnel that led deeper and deeper into the dragon’s lair.

After a long, long time, however, Brom’s smirking whisper was heard..

 

“But I must say; as sure as there is a dragon at the end of this maw, Seressa Wraiven has a great ass!”

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Cora took off her pack and handed it over to Brom. The halfling wordlessly took it then looked up at his barbaric friend. Damn, he thought, she was pretty when she pouted and she was pouting now. Cora pouted all the time. Not because she was a moper or anything. Moody at times, yes, but not a moper. It was the shape of her lips that gave the impression that she was pouting and Brom wondered if he should tell her how adorable it made her took. Then he saw her raging on that comment and breaking him in two, awakening the possibly slumbering dragon, who came and gulped them both down with a single snap of his awesome maw..

 

Brom’s imagination got carried away sometimes..

 

“Well..”, she said silently. “This is as far as you come, hobbit.”

“Yes. I suppose so.. Though I could put some of your clothes on to cover my scent!”

Cora stared down at the halfling with a steady gaze.

“First you stare at girls’ butts. Then you shamelessly admit it. And now you want to put girl’s clothes on.. You are not making a good, last impression Brom Bumblebrim..”, she said.

Brom smirked.

“Anything to help my friend.”

“Keep these and be ready to run. Whatever happens, don’t get et!”, Cora said seriously.

“I hate getting et. It totally destroys the rest of the day!”, nodded the halfling.

Cora snorted.

“Keep your head down and make sure Son of Krash doesn’t see you, either.”, she warned her friend, turned around, and dashed into the darkness.

“Cora..”, whispered Brom, after her.

“What?”, hissed Cora back.

“You have an adorable pout!”

There was a moment of bewildered silence..

“Really?”, came the girl’s surprised but happy voice.

“Really..”, said Brom.

“Just for that, Master Hobbit, I shall give extra effort to make sure you don’t get et!”

 

Then the voice was gone.

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Something was nagging at Cora. It started when Seressa had told her about Dreadmaw, The Raven Queen, what She’d done with the Sword of Light, ‘Shal ah Galad’, the mysterious disappearance of Priceptine, and the possibility of the arrival of the time for the reemergence of the sword..

It seemed unimportant before. But even while she and Brom bantered down into Dreadmaw’s lair, the nag grew, and became ‘bothersome’, or perhaps ‘worrisome’.

To be honest with herself, she’d enjoyed her banter with the hobbit. Of all the things she’d missed from her days back at Ironfrost, other than the loss of her loved ones, it was the candor chats and silly banters she’d have with her friends they’d have when there was nothing much to do. True, Cora never had many friends, but the ones she’d had, had been good ones.

Cora had always been a believer in quality over quantity. Which was sort of convenient for her anyway!

Just when she thought she’d lost everyone and everything, she’d met the two, unlikely dwarf sisters, Lillas and her overprotective sister Jeina. And she’d met Brom.

Then Lillas and Jeina’s family.. or more like their extended family had come and taken them away, leaving her alone once more. She’d thought Brom would leave too. What was a hobbit to do in the wilds of The Great Northern Tundras anyway? To her great surprise, the hobbit had stayed.

Yes. Brom had stayed.

Brom always stayed.

In time, they’d met the silly girl in pinks, Seressa, and the catatonic Arcantonic.

She didn’t know if they would stay or leave.. Cora hoped they would stay. Seressa was unlike anyone, or rather, anything she’d met. She was well educated, knowledgeable, always offered comfort, and always sincere. Frightfully sincere at times, even. As for Tonic.. Tonic had issues.. Tonic had a foul mouth.. Tonic disagreed with everything. Tonic scowled at everything. Tonic fought everything. Tonic raged at everything..

“Damn.”, muttered Cora silently. “Sans the foul mouth, she’s is practically me.. Accept she is much cuter!”

 

What had started as a nag, was now a full-blown worry!

Why would the celestials give, or let have, something as important as the Sword of Light, ‘Shal ah Galad’, to fall into the hands of a butcher? The man was practically responsible for the cause of her people’s genocide..

 

Shal ah Galad..

The Sword of Light..

Shal ah Galad..

The Sword of Light..

Shal ah..

Shal..

 

Cora froze and she gasped as an incredible and unbelievable sense of comprehension washed over her.

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Bir koku alıyorum.”, der hırıltılı, derin bir ses ve içinde bulunduğu devasa mağarayı titretir.

“Nice zamandır uyuyordum.. Uykumda güzel Raven Queen’i ve bana verdiği ‘Priceptine’in Işığını’ düşlüyordum.. Aaaah, Raven! Yanıma sadece bir kere geldin ve bir daha da uğramadın. Sanırım tundraları çok da ilgi çekici bulmadın. Bu da senin gerçekte ne kadar kör olduğunu gösteriyor..”, diye iç titreten bir kahkaha yankılanır uçsuz mağarada.

Neden sonra, kahkahanın sahibi gözünü açar. Üç ayrı göz kapağının altında, dik, daha çok buzuldan yapılmış bir kılıcı andıran, insan boyunda bir göz bebeği belirir..

..ve kısılır.

Muazzam gözün sahibi kendisini mağaranın karanlığında gizlemeyi tercih edermişcesine uzandığı yerde derin bir nefes alır..

“Eveeet.. Bir koku alıyorum..”, diye tekrarlar. Ama bu sefer devasa yaratık tamamen ayıktır ve “Çok uzun zamandır duymadığım bir koku.. ELF KOKUSU!”, diye düşünceli bir sesle söylenirken koca mağara tekrar sallanır.

“Küçük kar elfleri.. İnimde ne işiniz var? Irkınızla dile getirilmemiş bir anlaşmamız vardı. Sizler topraklarımdan uzak duracak, ben de sizlere dokunmayacaktım.. Fikrinizi mi değiştirdiniz yoksa? Hem de bana sormadan..”, diye içinde pek de gizli olmayan bir tehditle kıkırdar ses, ve mağaranın tavanından kayalar dökülür.

Dev yaratık, parıldayan buzlu mavi gözünü mağaranın karanlığında gezdirir. Parıldayan gözden silik, mavi bir ışık halesi, yığma altın sikkelerin olduğu tepecikleri aydınlatır. Hale ile altınların arasına serpilmiş gibi duran sayısız, rengarenk mücevher ve değerli taşlar da canlanır. Ve altınların içinde gömülü duran antika zırhlar, kalkanlar, miğferler, mızrak, balta ve kılıçla—

Göz, kılıçlarda durur zira bir tanesi eksiktir.. Göz, andırdığı, ancak bulamadığı kılıcın kendisi gibi incelir.. Sessiz, kati bir ölümün haberciliğini yapan bir tıslamayla, “Sadece buraya gelmediniz.. Benden çaldınız. Benden Priceptine’in Işığını mı çaldınız?!”

Muazzam yaratığın sesi, ‘ışığa’ geldiğinde artık bir tıslama değil, yer sarsan, intikamcı bir kükreyişe dönüşmüştür.

 

(From: A Bard’s Tale XIV, “Wrath of Hydius Dreadmaw”)

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Cora ran.

Cora ran as she’d never run before.

“Wha.. what’s going on?”, stuttered Brom as the barbarian girl grabbed him by the scuff of his coat and ran.. up the glacial tunnel and out the maw of the cave.

“We have to get out of here.. Like, YESTERDAY!”, gasped Cora. The hobbit seemed small enough, and she hadn’t expected him to weigh any more than a quarter of what she did. And Cora was a lithe sort of girl, tall, lean, all flesh and muscle.

 

Apparently, small didn’t always equivocate to lightweight.

Just, compact!

 

“Just saw your boy run out!”, said Brom as he half skipped, half hoped as Cora dragged him on.

“Just.. compact! Nothing to worry!”, grunted Cora!

“Just— What?”, Brom baffled.

“What?”, Cora skid to a halt as they dashed out of the maw and slid to one side.

“The bastard snuck right past me and I didn’t even notice him! Lucky I was hiding too. Can’t believe a brute like him could be that quiet!”

“Size has little to do with it. Otherwise, all tundra bears or saber-tooth tigers would have long died of hunger! Saw him enter the layer and search the hoard. Good thing, some helpful elf had already put the sword at the top of a pile of gold. He went in, saw the sword, grabbed it, and ran back out..”, panted Cora. Then she picked Brom up again and started down the mountainside.

“That was very conveniently helpful of the elf. She must be a dear!”, smirked Brom. “Ow, by the way, if you just toss me down this side, I am sure I can tumble down much faster than you can carry me.”

“No, Brom. You do NOT want to tumble down this mountain. You will end up all the way at the Glacial Wall. And I don’t want to have to fish you out of the sea!”

“Ahh, yes. That would be inconvenient.”

 

The ground rumbled under them.

The snow all around them jumped, then settled.

 

“Wha.. what was that?”, Brom asked, his eyes a bit wild.

“That.. is Dreadmaw..”, Cora replied under heavy breaths.

“You saw him?”

“No. He was under all his piles of gold and tons and tons of ice and snow. I could live without ever having to see him..”

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

You did it!”, Seressa nearly whooped. Tossing Brom into the snow, Cora had just slid down next to the storm pit and hastily dug open the pits entrance.

“Yes. And no.. Later. This side of the mountain is about to avalanche down.”

“What do you mean ‘No..’?”, gasped the tall, dark girl laying on the stretcher.

“I mean ‘No’ AND ‘Later’.. as in, much, much later. Tonic, grab my hand. We better get going, NOW!”

Cora pulled the little gnomic girl out and nearly didn’t feel her at all.

‘So only Brom is compact, then?’, wondered some weird voice in her head, and in all of this!

Then Cora leaned down, grabbed the two poles of the stretcher, and pulled it out with a distinct snarl.

“Stick close to me. Step where I step.. If I jump, you jump. If I curve, you curve.. Anything I do, you do same!”, she barked orders and without waiting for any response, she started down the mountain..

 

The mountain shook this time and the hollow roar of something big.. something very, very big belched out of the entrance of the cave..

..and Hydius Dreamdaw exploded out with thunder, sleet, and lightning!

Dragons were huge creatures and they filled legends of all lands and times.

Dreadmaw was.. a legend that deserved an epic to describe.

An epic that would have words like horizon, dreadful, ginormous, deadly, cunning, savage, evil, bloodthirsty, avenging, destruction, devastation, desolation, fear, hopelessness, pain, bone-cracking, and flesh burning cold.

 

With a massive shriek that started several avalanches down the great mountain, Dreadmaw beat its wings once, twice, thrice and was off south.. and west!

 

Seressa, her face reflecting both physical and emotional agony, had leaned over the stretcher, Brom, his face drawn and pale, and Tonic, mute, shivering in fear, stood by a sharp cliffside, and watched Dreadmaw as he disappeared in the distance.

Only Cora did not shiver.

Sure, her face was drawn and paler than usual, but she did not shiver.

There was only a barely hidden satisfaction in her eyes.

Satisfaction about something only she knew.

 

Far, far to the south, and west. She could imagine seeing a lone, elf girl running, her snowy braids and locks chasing her.. A young and beautiful girl, yet unmarred by the devastation of Dreadmaw, running towards her village in hopes of warning them in time, albeit in vain;

“DREADMAW.. DREADMAW..!”

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

I am so, so sorry Cora..”, whispered Seressa with pain, from behind her. There was the cry of gasping as the very tall, very dark girl tried to rise.

“Seressa, please!”, Cora heard Tonic’s pleading voice.

Cora felt a small hand reach up to hers.

Brom..

“I am sorry.. Now, more than ever. One could only imagine a pain as you have felt, but never truly see, nor feel it. I dare say, I share yours now..”, he whispered.

“It’s alright my friend. What’s done is done. ‘We are who we are..’, remember?”, she smiled down at the halfling.

“We are who we choose to be..”, replied the hobbit softly.

“Do you.. do you wish to go down and see if there are any survivors?”, Tonic asked kindly, coming up to her.

“No.”, said Cora with a determined voice. “I did that already. Months ago. The lone survivor is me down there. And she’s in a lot of rage right now.. It wouldn’t be wise if my former self saw any of you..”

 

She paused for a moment.

 

“I think we are done here..”, she said softly, as if she was talking to someone not quite there.

“Cora, luv..”, pleaded Seressa from the stretcher. “You did something. Please. It is important that you tell me.. The prophecies are not to be meddled with..”

“The prophecy said we must give a thief what he MUST steal. We surmised it be the Sword of Light. So I gave the thief a sword of light!”, said Cora, with a vengeful satisfaction in her cold, glacial eyes..

“Ow. My. Heavens!”, gasped Seressa.WHAT DID YOU DO?

 

Cora Sleet turned around and faced her companions.

There was something breathtaking in her face just that moment.

Something beautiful.. and savage..

 

“I give you, Shal ah Galad..“, she said and pulled out something long, and sharp, wrapped in one of her unadorned shirts.

“I do not know why, but it appears The Raven Queen fooled everyone; mortals and demons alike, that Shal ah Galad was The Sword of Light. Galad, means ‘Light’ in old elvish, I suspect. We don’t use it anymore. We use ‘Galit’, now.. But Shal’ does not mean ‘Sword’. It means, ‘long, pointy thing’ with more style and poetry, true, but that’s what it essentially means, though the conventional use of it is Shali‘, now.

Shal ah Galad; literally means, The Long, Pointy Thing of Light! —also known as a Spear!

Yes, I suppose one can argue that a sword is a long, pointy thing, as well. But the word Shal’ has never been used for a sword.

Found it seemingly tossed among a pile of broken, rusty old swords and shields. Wasn’t hard to find when I figured out what I was really there for.

The other sword was indeed, exactly as you described it, and was pretty much in plain sight. All it needed was a sign over it saying; “Here, please steal me. I look important!”

Incase the murdering bastard was a thick twit, I picked it up, and stuck it on top of a pile of gold, the closest to the maw..

It did not burn me. I even swung it a few times. I must say, it was the prettiest sword I ever saw. It was also, a bait!

This, on the other hand, is a weapon and I can clearly feel it chewing at my hand, even through the shirt!

It appears, your Mistress fooled even you, dear Seressa!”, smiled Cora.

 

A long, pregnant silence settled down among the rest of the group.

 

Brom was the first to respond.

He snorted!

“I.. can’t believe this!”, exclaimed Tonic. “Seressa? Can this be true?”

“Dunno, luv. I am very much in pain and more now than I was a few minutes ago.”, said Seressa clearly put out.

 

“Well, done..”, a silent, seething voice said in Cora’s mind and she shuddered. “Time to return Shal ah Galad to someone who will make good use of it..”

 

“Mistress..”, whispered Seressa, and tried to rise again.

 

“Stay, my beloved maiden. This journey has been trying for you and your companions. Do not be dismayed for failing to see the obvious. But remember; you are not in the academy anymore, and we are not playing for credits..

Success and failure are for keeps and defined by the totals at the end: if the mortal world still thrives, we have won. Return now, and receive further instructions, for you are my voice. You are the Chosen Voice of Prophecies and your companions have all been chosen with pain and with care..”, said the seething voice and then, it was gone..

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Some sixteen to seventeen years later..

 

My Liege.. Themalsar has finally made use of his existence!”, said a thick, sultry, comely woman’s voice as she dared to approach her master’s rather bland looking throne.

“Ow? I find that unlikely..”, replied an uncanny, beautiful and masculine voice.

“Indeed, my Liege. Though he still can not escape the wards set by the mortals and their allies placed upon his chamber, he has, by his agents, heard of some disturbing news. He sent more agents to verify these rumors and they have returned with good news..”

 

The master of the uncanny, beautiful voice didn’t say anything to nudge nor indulge the comely demoness to continue.

He sat silently on his throne and waited..

The comely demoness shivered in fear-induced ecstasy and continued.

 

“He has discovered the location of the Sword of Light, My Liege. Priceptine’s Sword!”

 

The master was sitting lazily on his throne one moment, and holding up the comely demoness by the throat where she’d been, in the next!

The demoness never saw her master coming!

 

“This is not a matter I take lightly, dear Irine.. Should these rumors be false, I would be very displeased to lose my favored concubine.”, he said calmly.

“No.. No, My Liege. With your leave, I would personally attend to this excursion. I have enough mortal blood in me to enter their precious world.”, she croaked through her master’s vise-like grasp.

“Indeed you do, my dear Irine.. Indeed you do..”, he said, and let go of the comely demoness.

 

The demoness rubbed at her sore neck for a moment as she secretly marveled at her master’s awesome strength.

 

“My, Liege, I shall depart immediately with a battalion of my personal Orken..”

“Where is the sword now?”, said the uncanny voice, as he returned back to his throne.

“At the hands of some barbarians who pompously call themselves ‘The Wyrm Horde’, My Liege. They live some distance north of the Ruins of Themalsar, at the Great Northern Tundras. We are not sure how the sword got there, but there were quite a number of those barbarian tribesmen back at the first Themalsar War. It is possible one of their warriors picked it during the final hours of the Alliance assault and took it back home, to be passed from generation to generation as an heirloom. Such practices are common among the more primitive mortal cultures.”, said the comely demoness in her thick, sultry voice.

“Hmm..”, the masculine voice said. “I had plans for those hordes. Pity they got in our way thus prematurely..”

“My Liege..”, the demoness hesitated, not with fear of retribution, but limitation. “How far shall I go?”

 

The beautiful, masculine voice smiled.

 

“Indulge yourself, my beautiful Irine, indulge yourself..”

 

“Thank you, My Liege.”, Irine said and an evil, smoldering fire lit deep behind her eyes.

“Ow, before you gore yourself in mortal blood, how is my future bride to be, coming along?”

“She.. She has completed all her current trainings and has acquired not only top grades, but excelled in them. She will make an excellent bride for My Liege.”

“Very good, Irine. What has she chosen for her specialty?”

“Necromancy, My Liege, which did come as a surprise for us all.. Seeing as how extraordinarily beautiful your bride to be is, one would think she would have played to her strengths and gone for enchantments and charms.. Yet, for some bewildering reasons, she has garnered great curiosity and interest in death.. The things she can do with mortals, corpses, and their souls is.. fascinating..”

“Interesting.. But no matter. Veracity is always a sign of high intellect and more important; of foresight; she is playing against the expected! I am sure her foes will be prepared for enchantments and charms, seeing as how extraordinarily beautiful my bride to be is.. She will destroy them with what they will least expect of her.”, said her master thoughtfully. “Where’s she? Perhaps it is time she and I started having dinners together..”

“She’s in the field at the moment, My Liege, to gain real experience, as part of all our S.I.T. — Seeds In Training program.. Heading for the ruins of Themalsar, of all places. She should be there soon..”, replied the comely Irine.

“She would do me great service if she debased that old fool, even if she did it by mistake.. Alright. Go now, my dear. Grind down this ‘Wyrm Horde’ into the ground. I want them clipped, branch and limp, trunk and root. Leave no one and nothing alive. Bring me Shal ah Galad!

 

 


 

 

 
 

Sending Stone;  
The One That Matters

Timeline:

Due to her severe injuries, Seressa Wraiven is left behind, hiding in a storm pit with her pair Arcantonic Palecog, also left behind to watch over her.

 

This story is the continuation of
Secrets of the Raven Queen
and takes place around the same time as
Giving the Thief

 

 

What will happen if that Son of Krash comes?”, Tonic whispered as she lay on her belly, next to her pair in the stretcher in the snow illuminated storm pit.

“That.. never occurred to me..”, admitted Seressa with a pained and tired voice.

“I mean, he could come right now and crash into those two. He could blow the whole thing.. He doesn’t look exactly like the cordial type to me. And I doubt Cora will say ‘Morning..’ and move along like they were some old acquaintances who bumped into each other in a Sparducks line!”, said Tonic.

“Can’t imagine you waiting in a Sparducks line, girl!”, said Seressa, going for a smile but failing.

“Why not?”, asked Tonic, as she started drawing doodles in the snow.

“Seems a bit too posh for you..”

“Hah!”, barked the gnomic girl. “Shows how little you know of me. Didn’t read that in my files you burglarized?”

“Ow, my dear, I know every place you went on a regular basis.”

“Well, miss know-it-all, as a matter of fact, I did go to Sparducks.. Just not regularly. And yes, I did find it a bit too posh for my taste. But I did indulge myself with their cranberry tea and cinnamon rolls.. every once in a while.”, said Tonic wistfully. “Pretty much the only thing I missed about the academy, really.”

Then she snorted in mirth.

“What?”, asked her pair.

“Just imagined Cora standing in a Sparducks line waiting to give her order with her scowling face and her ginormous sword; ‘A latte with extra chill, please!’

Seressa laughed with pain.

“My dear, if Cora went into a Sparducks, I don’t think there’d be a line..”

Tonic squeaked a laugh of her own as she drew more doodles into the snow while waving her legs.

“Oww..”, said Seressa after a while. “Owww, why didn’t I think of that before..?”

“Whot?”

“Your Sending Stones..”

 

There was a brief, strained pause.

 

“Umm.. What about them?”, Tonic asked carefully.

“We could have given one of them to Cora.. or Brom.. So if Son of Krash came, we could have sent them a warning via the Sending Stones.. Damn.. Why didn’t we think of that?”, berated Seressa.

“Ummm.. That wouldn’t have worked Seressa.”, said Tonic, her voice a bit tight.

“What? Why not? Seems like a perfect solution.”, said Seressa a bit confused.

“I.. I don’t have its pair anymore..”, Tonic admitted in a whisper.

“Ow? How come? Did you lose it?”

“No.. Not really..”, said Tonic, her voice sort of trailed off.

 

There was another pause..

 

“I am confused, luv..”, said Seressa, with a totally baffled voice.

“I.. I gave it to someone..”, whispered Tonic a bit shamefully.

“I don’t understand.. I am hurting in too many places, luv. Help me out here.”

“If you must know..”, blazed Tonic quietly, “I gave it to that Gordigon boy..”

“Ooookay..”, said Seressa. “But I still don’t understand..”

Then her voice softened.

“Luv.. Sending Stones work over distance only.. We are centuries apart from him.. Why would you give it to him?”

“Look we.. we chatted a bit, alright? I mean, after I brained him with my wrench, I felt sorry. So on the way to that Ogre’s Foot, I.. we.. sort of snuck out into woods and talked.. Just talked, that’s all! And then, because it was likely we’d separate eventually, I gave him the pair of my Sending Stone. And yes, I am aware we are centuries apart but it made sense, then..”

YOU DATED PRINCE GORDIGON TINKERDOME BEHIND MY BACK? I AM VERY, VERY WROTH WITH YOU ARCANTONIC PALECOG!“, hissed Seressa.

“You.. you are?”, Tonic asked, her voice truly strained now.

“Ow, my dear, dear Tonic..”, smiled the very tall, very dark Seressa as tears of joy appeared in her luminous eyes. “I am so, so happy for you.”

“You.. you are?”, said Tonic, quite astonished.

“Of course, luv. Now tell me.. Did you kiss?”

 

A very hot pause filled the storm pit.

Tonic looked down and noticed there were a few too many heart-shaped doodles drawn in the snow!

 

“Wow, girl.. He was that good, eh?”, whooped Seressa while her pair blushed furiously.

“I liked it.”, she mumbled in a small voice. “Made me tingle at.. Well, I didn’t even know I could tingle there.. Or anywhere!”

“Tell me..”, Seressa said happily. “But only if it’s alright with you. If you feel comfortable about it..”

“There’s nothing comfortable about any of this..”, Tonic blushed, some more. “But who else am I going to share it with but you, girl!”

She paused for a moment as if favoring, or perhaps, savoring a particular memory..

“We were talking. Well, I was talking really, about non-combustion engines, of all things.. I feel like an idiot now.. And he just stood there like a concussed fool, just staring at me. As it turns out, he was, actually listening to everything I was saying too because I tested him then and there and he recited everything I said verbatim! I was like, ‘Wow, even I couldn’t repeat my self like that.’

Then he reached out and.. sort of touched my bangs and brushed them behind my ears, one at a time, and said I had very pretty ears!”

“Seems like he was as stupefied as you were..”, said Seressa with glee. “I am impressed, girl. You destroyed a prince with an artificers wrench, then burned him with non-combustion engines and a pair of bunny ears.. You are a natural zinger!”

“I don’t have bunny ears!”, protested Tonic.

“You have lovely ears with the same difference, luv. Back to your story, then?”

“Well.. Then this.. this tingling thing came over me and..”, she said and stopped.

“And..?”, asked Seressa with eager happiness.

“I don’t really remember. I think I might have jumped him!”, she mumbled.

“Yessss!”, hissed Seressa. “That’s my girl!”

“Did I do right? I mean, he is a prince, after all. I am sure he has dozens of girls who’d want to throw themselves on him. I feel so stupid.”

“What did he do, when you jumped him?”, asked Seressa.

“He held my hands.. My dirty hands and asked me if I was sure, and if this was something I wanted.. I.. I don’t know what came over me, Seressa. I just couldn’t stop.. He looked so.. pretty.. and yummy!”, Tonic said with a small, ashamed voice.

“Baby girl, the fact that he asked you that very question, proved he respected you.. Not just as a girl, but as a person. Men seldom care for the feelings of women, nor care enough to ask what we want, luv. They just want what they want. Which is pretty base, in a primal sense.. Come to think of it, so are women, but that’s another matter.. Girl, I believe the boy genuinely cared for you and truly wanted you..”

“You.. you really think so?”, asked Tonic a bit dubiously.

“I know so, luv. I know so..”

“How do you mean?”, asked Tonic.

“Because NOBODY has ever asked me that question.. I am beautiful. This I know. And this, they see.. And all they want is that beautiful. Never once, however, did anyone wonder what was underneath the beautiful nor did anyone bother to ask what I felt, liked or wanted..”, she answered calmly.

“Oww.. I am sorry, Seressa.. Hells bells, I feel like a gloating idiot now..”

“No, girl, this is your moment, not mine. Tell me how it felt.. Tell me everything..”

 

Tonic told her.

 

 


 

 

 
 

Secrets of the Raven Queen

Timeline:

Broken, deeply wounded and suffering, Cora Sleet leads her companions to the lair of the Ancient Dragon Hydius Dreadmaw to help make sure her greatest enemy, Son of Krash steal the ‘right’ object, that would possibly cause the destruction of her of the beloved village; Ironfrost.

 

This story is the continuation of
Suffering; Cruelly and All Over Again.

 

 

Are we there yet?”, a near blue Tonic asked with a shriveling, squeaky voice.

“No, luv, we aren’t. Not yet.”, replied Seressa with a morose sort of voice. She was holding one, splintered arm close to her chest while trying to balance her very tall figure with the other in the deep snow. Her wheezing, hoarse breathing could clearly be heard as her fractured ribs bit into her lungs and her face was crumpled up in pain.

And she was also limping horribly.

 

Brom stood just behind her in case she fell, though he was very much dubious just exactly what he would accomplish if she did. The dark, limping figure in front of him was just so tall..

‘Perhaps I could provide her a soft landing..’, he’d thought. ‘..At the cost of being crushed —but hey, what are friends for, other than hurting one another on multiple levels and then sacrificing one’s self as a cushion under a pretty butt!’

 

They sloshed through the snow for another hour but didn’t make much way, as the very tall Seressa wasn’t leading her pair, opening a canyon-like path for the midgety gnome Arcantonic and the hobbit, Brom. That role was now braved by the little gnome and she made little difference. It was like she was moving the small pebbles, where great boulders were blocking their way! But that certainly didn’t deter her as she sniffed, struggled, whimpered, and stumbled before her pair.

Cora was nowhere in sight. She’d been missing since they’d made camp the previous night. And in the morning, they’d only seen directional markings left behind on the snow by her. The three had been following the markings since morning and it was getting near afternoon now.

Brom felt tired and worried.

Cora had been a silent girl ever since he’d met her, back at Shakehands. But she seemed catatonic now..

..and driven.

 

“Alright. Stop. This is getting ridiculous..”, he said finally as he gasped and held his side.

“No.. We can’t.. stop now.. Must catch up.. with Cora..”, the very tall Seressa breathed heavily.

“Yes..”, Tonic said, barely able to speak. “..We can hold.. our own..”

 

Brom just stared at the two.

“You know, when I said ‘I sense impending stupid incoming’, yesterday, I didn’t mean it this literally!”

 

“That isn’t nice, Brom.. “, growled Tonic. “She’s hurt because of—”

“—my own deeds.”, finished Seressa.

“Seressa!”, protested Tonic.

“But it’s true, luv. What happened yesterday was the culmination of my dysfunctional and unproportional reaction when it comes to my pair.. My mind went white with fury and embarked on a near all attack on Cora like I was on a holy war.”, Seressa said with pain, as she slowly settled herself on to the snow. “I am sorry Tonic. But that’s happened to me before and we both know it. I should have had better control over myself and trusted you to clear something that you could have been avoided but with little effort. I.. I hated the way people treated you back in the academy, even before we were paired. After we were paired, I had all the excuse I needed to retaliate, that’s all..”

 

“Any pair would have done what you had done, Seressa.”, said Tonic, quietly.

 

“No, luv. They would have eluded the confrontation altogether. That’s the base rule they taught us at the academy. Confrontations are acceptable but only as a last resort. What we’ve done thus far is, we have been using it as our opening move!“, Seressa explained with a defeated voice. “Had we resolved one silly banter like adults, dear Cora wouldn’t have been so riled, and wouldn’t have been that vicious on me..”

 

She paused for a moment.

 

“I wish she were here right now. She should hear and know that I am sorry..”

“She’s here..”, said a soft, somewhat throaty voice. “..And your apology is accepted, though unnecessary.”

With that, Cora Sleet appeared out of nowhere!

“Woa, Cora..!”, said Brom. “..didn’t know you could do magic like that.”

“It isn’t magic. These mountains are my home. I know how to hide in my own home!”

She looked down at Seressa, and shame appeared on her face. In her own fury, she had broken something.. a friend.

“I.. I am more sorry than I can say, dear Seressa. You have been nothing but good to me and Brom ever since we met. And I acted exactly as a stupid barbarian would. We..we tundra elves are barbarians by definition. But not by our nature. I have no excuse for what I did to you..”

Then she turned to the little gnome and knelt before her..

..and silently hugged her.

 

Deep inside the little, midgety gnome, the inner Tonic started screaming and running around in a full-blown panic, “We are being hugged! What are we to do? We are being hugged.. We have no pre-written protocol for this! TONIC! DO SOMETHING.. NOT STUPID PLEASE!

Tonic stood before the barbarian girl, quiet petrified for a moment, then blurted.

 

PLEASE BE MY FRIEND!

 

A little sniffy sob escaped Seressa.

Cora looked into Tonic’s eyes and asked, “Have you ever seen me turn my back on you, Tonic?”

“If.. If this is some kind of a quiz, I am about to fail it, aren’t I?”, she said with a baffled tone. “But yes, you have.. I mean, I have. Any number of times.. All the time, in fact!”

“That is because you are my friend. A barbarian never turns her back to an enemy nor someone she does not trust..”, Cora said with a smile.

A little sniffy sob escaped Tonic, this time..

“Now, however, we must keep going..”, Cora said softly and rose back to her feet.

“Cora.. Seressa can’t go on.. In fact, she shouldn’t be going on.”, Brom interjected.

“Yes. I agree with you. But she must. If we lag more then we already have, Son of Krash will get ahead of us. We can’t let that happen.”, Cora replied with a desperate voice.

“No.. No, we can’t. What we can’t also do is try and move Seressa like this..”, Brom said seriously.

“But we can move her with this.”, she replied and produced two, long poles bound together and apart with a net of leather thongs.

“This why I was running ahead all morning. We keep.. We kept.. stashes of weapons, food, stretches such as this one, and medical supplies for emergencies, scattered all over these mountains. Took me a while to find this one because this location is not on one of our standard patrol routes.

She leaned over Seressa, dug her hands under the very tall girl, ignored her whimpering protests, and carried her over to the stretcher, and laid her on it, without even breaking a sweat.

Then she took off her heavy, leather hide fur cloak and wrapped the tall girl with it.

While doing that, just for a moment, she came eye to eye with Seressa, who whispered, “You.. you held back yesterday! You could have broken free much sooner..”

Cora Sleet’s eyes teared. “It does not appear like I held back, dear Seressa. I acted like an animal, and I broke you.. I am so, so sorry.. You have been a friend and acted like a friend. I have not. Shows exactly who is the better person..”

And without waiting for an answer, she got up, went over to the head of the stretcher, picked it up, and they all stared on their trek once more..

 

Funny how broken bones always healed stronger..

..and perhaps, friendships too.

 

“Are we there yet?”, squeaked Tonic from the rear!

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

We have to be very careful and very quiet now.”, said Cora as they approached the gaping mouth of the cave they suspected to belong to the Ancient Dragon Hydius Dreadmaw. It had gotten much colder as they neared the cave, which confirmed that this was, indeed, the Great Whites lair.

“So.. What do you think?”, asked Brom with a voice of concern, but not only about the dragon.

Cora scratched her pouting lower lip with her thumb as she scowled at the dark, iced, maw-like cave..

“I do not know..”, she said finally. “Dreadmaw.. Dreadmaw has been a nightmare legend in our lore for so long.. No one.. We don’t come here.. We are not allowed to come here, and with good reason. In the legends, it is said it was Dreadmaw who turned these, once green lands into the Great Northern Tundra’s, as they are called now, just by flying over it.”

“That doesn’t make sense! How could one dragon—”, squeaked Tonic.

“Legends are not about ‘sense’, luv..”, whispered Seressa from the stretcher she lay. “They are there to give a certain ‘scope’ to things..”

“I suppose.. but still..”, said Tonic dubiously.

“Have you seen an Ancient White before?”, Cora asked silently.

“No, but—”

“I have..”, whispered Cora. “..Dreadmaw flew over Ironfrost only three times. And there was nothing left of it but a great heap of glacial ice. My scars. I got them from his final pass and I was yet, half an hours run from my village.”

 

Tonic gulped.

 

“And we are going up against that?”, she said horrified.

“No one is going up against that, dear Tonic.”, said Cora. “No one can..”

“Hydius Dreadmaw is said to be the next best thing to an Elder Dragon, luv.. A World Ender!”, explained Seressa mutely.

“Alright.. Stop!”, said Arcantonic. “Stop right there.. I am an archeologist, not a history major. My classes didn’t cover such things as ‘Elder Dragons’ or some ‘World Enders’..”

Seressa smiled, or rather, she tried. But a spasm of pain must have stabbed her because her face paled and crunched as she tightly shut her eyes.

“I think that pretty much covers our options.”, said Cora. “Tonic. You are going to have to stay here with Seressa. Brom and I will have to brave this one.. Just as soon as I dig a storm hole for the two of you to hide.”

“There’s.. no need..”, gasped Seressa as she held her splintered arm closer to her wrapped chest.

“Tonic. Please help explain Seressa why she should stay.. Feel free to give my stupidity as a reason!”, said Cora brutally.

 

Seressa shut up.

So did Tonic.

 

“Girl, you can be harsh sometimes..”, whispered Brom.

“Shut up, BROM BUMBLEBRIM!“, snarled Cora..

 

..and Brom shut up, as well!

 

Cora dug deep into the snow, a soft, diagonal pit for easy access both ways. Then she carefully lowered the stretcher and Seressa in it, then helped Tonic as well.

Just as she started covering the small gap, Seressa called to her.

“Cora.. Dreadmaw is dangerous. But you already know this. What you may not know is, he.. he has certain.. ties and connections.. with otherworldly beings..”

Cora looked down into the pit and the bottomless eyes of the tall, dark tiefling.

“Is there anything you want to tell me that I should know?”, she said with a neutral voice.

 

Seressa closed her eyes as pain bit her once more. Stretching at such an angle to see the tundra elf was straining her fractured ribs.

 

“I.. I do not know..”, she said. “..There are many.. secrets.. Secrets that I know due to my bond with my Mistress. But I do not know if I have the right to divulge them.”

 

Cora did not say anything.

She did not push.

She only waited.

 

“The Sword of..”, began Seressa finally. “..The Sword of Priceptine, the Archangel of Wrath.. ‘Priceptine’s Light’.. ‘Shal ah Galad’.. That is what’s likely the thief must steal..”

 

Brom whistled low and long, from behind Cora.

Tonic stared at her pair with wide, shocked eyes right in the face, as she was huddled up right next to her in the pit.

 

“I.. can’t believe you kept this from me!”, squeaked Tonic.

“I am sorry, luv. I didn’t keep it from you, because it wasn’t my secret to give!”

“Your Mistress—”, breathed Cora slowly from her nose.

“—The Raven Queen!”, inserted Seressa.

“The Raven Queen.. what does she have to do with this?”

“My Mistress, The Raven Queen, is the keeper of mysteries, prophecies, secrets, lost knowledge, and lost souls..”, whispered Seressa, no longer able to look up. “She.. When we left Grandaleren in our last mission, Archangel Priceptine attacked the temple of Themalsar with his Wrath Angels to buy time for the elves. There.. there he was ambushed by something, and slain.. or entrapped, I do not know which.. No one does.. Or if anyone does know, they are not saying.. But that’s the last anyone has ever heard from the Archangel. When Priceptine was gone, His sword, ‘Shal ah Galad’ became vulnerable. To avoid it from falling into wrong hands or the hands of the demons, my Mistress, The Raven Queen picked it up and paid the price for it.

While my Mistress is not precisely ‘good’ in a conventional sense, She isn’t evil either. The Light of Priceptine, however, can not be touched without being burned, by anything that is not ‘pure’, in an angelic sense.”

“Why? Why would your Mistress pick it up in the first place?”, asked Brom from behind Cora. “I mean, if she isn’t exactly ‘good’.. why bother?”

“Because my Mistress is the keeper of mysteries, prophecies, secrets, lost knowledge, and lost souls.. And demons are the cause to many, many knowledge, and the reason for many more souls to be lost.”, tried to explain Seressa. “Whatever else She may be, my Mistress absolutely abhors demons and she will spike their wheel, just out of spite.. Hence, she took the blade, but she couldn’t keep it. Not that she wanted to. But what she did want, was that it be kept away, far away, from demon hands.. And so, she gave it to an ancient creature that she knew could, and would keep it safe, no matter what; Hydius Dreadmaw..”

 

“Your Mistress gave the Sword of Priceptine to Dreadmaw? Hells bells, girl, Dreadmaw? DREADMAW?.. Dreadmaw is evil!”, said Tonic, with a horrified expression.

“Whether she gave it to him out of convenience of proximity or some other reason, I do not know. But the one fact remains clear; that Dreadmaw is also a dragon.. An ancient dragon, no less..”, whispered Seressa back. “And if there is one creature that jealously guards its hoard, it’s a dragon! And no demon would get anywhere near him because Dreadmaw is a lone creature. He does not make pacts. He will not join alliances. And he certainly will NOT be a tool for anyone!”

 

There was a long, sentient silence as the others tried to digest what they had just heard.

 

“Sooo… what now?”, asked Brom, with a defeated voice.

“No..”, said Cora with a very, very serious tone. “..that’s not all, is it? Why are we to help that butcher, Son of Krash even steal the sword? He already stole something and it destroyed my home! We could just stop him from stealing anything and perhaps save my home..”

“My dear, dear Cora..”, said Seressa softly. “..we are not here to save your Ironfrost. We are here to save the Sword of Light. I am so, so sorry my beloved friend. But there is nothing that we can do for Ironfrost.”

 

Cora just stood there, like she was petrified.

 

“What I don’t understand is, why are we to let Son of Krash take it?”, asked Brom tentatively from behind Cora.

“I am not privy to all my Mistress’s secrets, dear Brom, nor the reasons behind them.”, said Seressa quietly. “But I suspect, it is perhaps time, or near the time when the Sword of Light should reemerge. And my Mistress can not take it back from Dreadmaw. For the same reason as to why she couldn’t keep it, even for safekeeping. AND, once something enters a dragon’s hoard, it BECOMES the dragon’s hoard. Unless we want my Mistress, The Raven Queen to come down here to take it back from Dreadmaw himself by force, causing the possible destruction of this part of the continent, I am afraid it is up to us mortals to sneak in and steal it.. Or have it stolen, in this case.. As to why WE can’t keep it, I do now know. I can only surmise, the ‘higher-ups’ have a plan. I would love to know their reasoning, myself. But I don’t even know whom to ask..”

 

For one last time, Seressa struggled to turn her head and shrieked in pain.

“Seressa, please dear!”, Tonic whispered in tears.

“‘Tis.. alright.. luv..”, Seressa gasped. Teeth clenched, she reached up to hold Cora’s hand. And when their hands touched, it was like fire beholding glacial ice..

“I.. I am so, so sorry you must the one to bear this burden Cora. If.. if it will bring you any consolation.. any solace, we are laying the ground for.. GOOD to prevail.. I.. I am a tiefling.. half of me was born from, and caused by EVIL. I have less to lose if you fail.. yet more.. SO MUCH MORE to gain if you succeed; my humanity, my sanity, my identity, my pair and my friends.. You must prevail beloved, Cora. You MUST! My ancestry does not define me.. My choices do.. And all my choices have brought me here.. to a dear friend like you..”, she pleaded..

 

Seressa squeezed shut her eyes.

 

“The Sword.. the Sword of Light.. it’s rumored to be a longsword with.. with gold inlaid into its blade’s fuller and supposedly has.. golden wings for a cross-guard. There are many other.. rumors.. but these are the two definitive ones.. Shouldn’t be hard to spot.. A.. a bit ostentatious for an archangel, I think.. but.. I shall not argue.. about His tastes..”

 

Her voice grew shallow and down to an unbearable whisper.

 

“P.. please Cora.. forgive me.. and do this for me..”

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Cora looked down at the long, dark, exhausted hand and at the drained girl in the storm pit.

Her glacial blues softened.

“Choices..”, she murmured quietly.

Then she squeezed the languid hand of the beautiful, black girl in silly pinks.

“I do.. And I shall..”, she said with a steely determination and rose to her feet.

 

“Master Bard! I will require your services.. Will you escort me to this Dreadmaw, whilst we unleash our wrath?”, she grunted with deliberate bravado.

“Just for that, you will get an Epic”, smirked Brom, and fell in beside her.

CORA SLEET STEEL
THE STORM HERALD

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

“You made a funny.”, whispered Brom as they snuck up to the mouth of Dreadmaw.

“Why, Master Brom..”, Cora whispered back. “I always make a funny.”

“Ow?”

“Never seen my face when I rage? Saw it on the reflection of a pot once.. Why a pot, don’t ask.. Almost fell over and lost the rage!”

 

 


Cora Sleet: “Saw it on the reflection of a pot once.. Why a pot, don’t ask..”, was referring to a time when she raged once at home when she was much younger, in her mom’s kitchen, and got her head clubbed by a shiny metal pot! —never rage against your pissed-off mom; particularly if she is a barbarian!

 

 

 
 

Suffering;
Cruelly and All Over Again.

Timeline:

One prophecy has been fulfilled.

What and where a wrong was undone, is unclear.

The Tundra Walkers return to the Star Watchers village and back to the old seers, baffled and frustrated. Yet shall they volunteer to right another wrong?

 

This story starts 16 years ago, in some tattered tent full of wispy old hags, at a place far, far north of the Great Northern Tundra’s, in a small village called Star Watchers and ends in scourging suffering both cruel and to be lived all over again. It seems the final cycle of mortals must be set upon a harsh ground.

This story is the (relative) continuation of
Birthright (18+), part one..

 

 

Damit! Not again.. Is there a particular law against soft landings during prophecy flights?!”, spat Tonic very much indignantly and very much wet!

“Well, it was a soft landing.. Ow look! It’s all snow around us. I’d sort of hoped we’d end up somewhere warmer.”, said the very tall, very black girl in pinks.

“The two of you..”, started Cora, barring her teeth as she rose from the wet, slushy snow.

“..should make a stand-up show!”, finished Brom, his mumbling nearly lost as he’d landed face down and somewhat head down as well.

 

There was a smoldering moment of silence, then Tonic scowled, “Hey look! It talks!”

“That will do Arcantonic!”, growled Cora silently. “You just went over the top.. The hobbit is my friend and you will show him the respect even if that is too much for you.”

“I am sorry!”, said Tonic immediately as she gave the frosty barbarian girl an appraising look. “That bit was indeed over the top.”

Seressa suddenly appeared behind Tonic, looming over her like a giant. She stared cooly at Cora and silently said, “Please do not threaten my pair, Cora..”

 

Cora stared back at the tall, black figure in pinks as a cold aura appeared around her.

Tonic’s face went red as she suddenly figured out what she had just triggered. Her pair was a kind, cheery, optimistic girl, certainly, but she went wild and possible feral when anyone so much as looked at Tonic the wrong way.. It was uncannily flattering to have such a friend, but if things went down now, it would never get fixed.

 

“Ummm.. Seressa.. there’s no need.. It isn’t necessary.. Look, it was my fault, alright. Don’t dump it on the elf..”, she stammered.

Seressa appeared not to have heard her pair.

Brom rose out of the snow, his face also red, but mostly due to the snow it had landed.

“I sense impending stupid incoming!”, he muttered..

 

..and that didn’t help things at all.

 

Seressa’s eyes started to glow with an eerie inner fire.

“You are on the wrong and defending your friend point-blank just because you are her friend isn’t being a friend.”, Cora said coldly.

“She is my pair. Period!”, snarled Seressa.

“And that makes it alright for her to insult everyone as she pleases?”

“Umm.. Seressa.. really.. I already said I was sorry.. Please stop!”, nearly whimpered Tonic.

 

Brom took a few steps back and silently stood there. He believed he had taken the measure of his barbarian friend. Now was perhaps the time to take the measure of the other two.

The wind picked up and blew the slushy snow around but no one seemed to care.

 

“Do something!”, came Tonic up to Brom, wriggling her hands.

“It isn’t smart for a man to get in between two women. It is abysmal to get in between three. You caused the avalanche, I suppose if you really want to stop it, you are just going to have to stand in front of it! And to be honest, I don’t really have the inclination to help you out, girl. As I have been on the receiving end of your insults ever since we met.

“I have never cursed at you, hobbit!”, snarled Tonic.

“Your standards do not define what is an insult and what is not, I am afraid, mine does..”, shrugged Brom.

“What did I say to suddenly set things off, damit!”, said Tonic, flailing her arms.

“And that is the core of your fault. You do not think, like at all, before you talk. You don’t even remember what you said to set this off, and you are still mouthing off? You couldn’t have found better two friends for yourself than those two and they are about throw down because of you. That’s not just wrong and total misuse of friendship, it’s evil..”, Brom said sternly.

 

Arcantonic Palecog just stared at Brom.

Perhaps she wanted to cry because a strange expression appeared on her face, but the freezing wind just wouldn’t let her.

Finally, she turned and went up to her pair, slushing through the deep snow.

“Seressa Wraiven!”, she shouted over the wind.

Seressa looked down at her.

“Please stop this. NOW!”

Then she turned to Cora.

“I am sorry Cora. I really am..”, she said softly.

 

Cora did not move nor did her frosty face soften.

 

“No..”, she said finally. “..you are not!”

“Yes.. yes I am..”, Tonic baffled a bit.

“If you are, why are you apologizing me?”, she said and Tonic sank even deeper into the snow.

“Yea..”, said Brom from the side. “..why is she apologizing you, Cora?”

“That’s enough..”, Seressa said coldly. “..she already said she was sorry. What you are doing now is just cruel!”

“I am an illiterate barbarian who never went to any academy..”, Cora said softly. “..what’s your excuse?”

“She did not have a kind childhood.”, Seressa defended her pair.

 

“I wasn’t referring to her. I was referring to you, Seressa. You think you are doing her kindness by letting her as she pleases even at the cost of your own dignity? Or perhaps you think it’s alright for you to insult others because that’s exactly what you are doing by seemingly closing your eyes whenever she mouths off.. Now I am not knowledgeable about the kind of bond pairs enjoy, but what it appears is it’s making both of you look rather conceited where others are concerned. Your little pair is so self observed, she can’t even recognize what she did wrong and she’s apologizing to me because she thinks I will go berserk on her like I am some unstable tundra hog, which I take offense but let slide, while she should be apologizing to the ‘hobbit’.. Speaking of which, the ‘hobbit’, has a name; ‘Brom’. Easy enough, even for an ‘unstable’ savage such as myself to remember..

Me and Brom.. We are not mated. We are not a ‘pair’. I am not the alpha and he is not any beta. What we are, is ‘friends’.. ‘companions’.. We rely on one another to survive and to overcome what evil we face and endangering that deathly relation by calling him names seems like a rather stupid idea.

We four have been through some hardship together. Making it harder than it already is, also sounds like a stupid idea.

If you think it is not acceptable for me to berate your pair for acting like a spoilt child, but perfectly alright for her to sully others, I am out!”

 

Both Seressa and Tonic froze where they were and just stared at the frosty face of the tundra elf.

 

Brom also looked at Cora too and understood a few facts. One, that this savage girl was deeply wounded, and was still mourning over the loss of her loved ones, her people, and her Ironfrost. Two, that she had accepted him as her friend and that was something she took very seriously. Three, he felt privileged that she had chosen, and accepted him as her friend. Four, that she did not think of him as a secondary role character, nor a sidekick, and last but not least, she was not to be messed with.. Not any time soon, anyway.

 

“You.. you can’t be out! This isn’t a ‘Ring and Iron’ match! It’s a prophecy..”, stuttered Seressa.

Cora shrugged.

“I do not know what your ring or iron match is, but it sounds like some sort of a game.. We don’t really ever have time for games in the tundras. And it’s your prophecy. Not mine. All I need to do is sit here and wait until one of the old women gets frustrated enough and calls us back!”

“It.. Prophecies don’t work like that..”, shook Seressa in a near panic. “We.. we could be crushed inside a time paradox or just disappear altogether..”

Cora shrugged again, undid her heavy, leather-hide fur cloak, tossed on the wet snow..

..and settled down!

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Do something..”, hissed Tonic at Brom. “Nothing I tell her at this point will change her mind.”

“You think anything I say will change her mind?”, Brom looked at Tonic amused.

“You are her friend!”, she exclaimed.

“And that is what you don’t get, Arcantonic; so are you! The added fact that you think her feeble-minded enough to cave in just because I go and ask her is insulting on her part, altogether. Besides, this is your mess.”, he said, took off his cloak and prepared to settled down.

“You know full well I never meant to insult you, hobbit!”, snarled Tonic.

“Brom.. The name’s Brom. She just told you that.”

“You know what I mean!”

“No. I don’t. You have never once said anything nice or kind to me ever since we met. All I have heard from you are lots an’ lots of cussing, insults, and your ‘Eyes-Front’ patronizing attitude.”

“I only say ‘eyes front’ so you wouldn’t peek.. at her..”, Tonic drifted off with an untimely blush.

“Peak? Are you kidding me? Even when she’s merely in my peripheral vision, she covers at least a third of my line of sight. And when she’s actually right in front of me the way she is when we are on the move or when she’s talking to me, I can’t see anything else but her! I do not NEED to peek to see any part of her!

You must understand, Arcantonic, that I am not your brother, your father, your uncle, your childhood friend, nor your pair. To you, I am a stranger that you have met just last month. A stranger that you ended up traveling and bleeding, out of sheer convenience of circumstantial proximity. We literally are not friends enough for you to get so cavalierly familiar with me out of hand.

Take Cora for instance.. We two have been together for quite a number of months now and I still have not done anything to offend her. Why? Because it would be rude, if not outright stupid, and possibly crippling on my part.. See, this is being civilized.

As for me, I am a moderately easy going person. And all things considered, so is she. It’s been a month and she’s finally pissed off at you and your pair.

Congratulations, Arcantonic, you have managed to raise the ire from the calmest and the most cool-headed girl in the Great Northern Tundras. You may note that down into your CV of accomplishments..

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some serious sitting downings to do..”, said Brom, and resolutely shut up!

Halfway settling down, he looked at his flimsy cloak and at Cora’s thick, leather hide wrap. He sloshed over to her and said, “Make room.”

Cora squinted at the hobbit. “Not in the mood..”, she said with her pouty lips.

“Make mood!”, grinned Brom.

Cora grunted and shifted a bit; a surprisingly feminine little dance that made good use of her belly, hips, and butt, and she moved over.

Brom settled down on the animal fur hide and the barbarian girl and the hobbit sat back to back.

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Seressa.. Please.. Let this one on me.. It’s my mess. Let me clear it up.. I appreciate you standing up for me, but as much as I hate to say this, it is my fault.”, whispered Tonic at her pair.

“No one threatens my pair!”, growled the very tall, very dark Seressa and it made her look quite scary.

“But she didn’t threaten me at all, Seressa. That girl has never threatened anyone ever since we met. I am sorry I have such a bad temper and such a foul mouth. And I am so, so sorry I put you into a position like this too.. But please, please, please don’t do anything I would do..”, Tonic desperately pleaded.

“What’s that?”, ask Seressa.

“What I always do; say stupid things..”, said Tonic with self frustration.

“No, I mean what’s that?“, Seressa said as she pointed at something distant behind her pair.

Then she hissed.

“Go get the elf and the hobbit here at once!”

Tonic looked behind her but saw nothing; the glorious advantage of being such a midgety little gnome, she thought glumly and ran off to get the elf and the hobbi— Brom.. To get Cora and Brom!

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

That didn’t take long..”, Brom said as he watched the little gnome perform an unsteady marathon through the deep, wet snow.

“Don’t gloat Brom. It is not nice to gloat.”, scowled Cora.

“No… no.. not gloating.. Merely observing..”, Brom said. “..But that was one, awesome speech you did back there, though. Worthy of a song..”

“You like?”, Cora asked a bit girlishly.

“I like..”, Brom grinned. “..You totally owned it.”

“Cora.. Hobb— Brom.. Something’s happening.. Please come!”, Tonic gasped and breathed as she reached the two.

Cora didn’t miss a beat. Using just her legs, she was up and running —literally skimming— over the wet snow.

Brom sighed and he grabbed the fur and hide cloak, did a quick wrapping motion, and bundled it up and he also started towards Seressa with Tonic at his side.

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

There..’, Seressa said, pointing somewhere in the distance. “I can see two people and they are trying very hard to kill one another!”

Cora shaded her eyes and squinted in the direction the tall girl was pointing. Perhaps a minute drifted by until she saw it as well.

‘Damn, the girl has good eyes..’, she thought. ‘If she hadn’t caught it, we would have missed it altogether.’

“Shall we move closer?”, asked Seressa.

Cora thought for a moment.

“We don’t know where we are. We don’t know ‘when’ we are. We don’t know who they are and we don’t know why they are fighting.. I am not sure if we should get involved.”

She paused for a moment.

“All I know is we are quite high up in some mountains. Looking at the slushy snow and the bitter wind, it must be late August or early September. There’s an exceptional amount of humidity, which means we must be near a very large body of water; a great lake or perhaps a sea. The only great lake that I have heard of is on the west side of the Holy Celestial Mountains but it feels like a sea and..”, she said and a gasp of recognition escaped her..

“..HOME!”

With that, she dashed towards the two, fighting in the distance..

 

Seressa skipped a beat, then started after the barbarian.

 

“They are running again..”, observed Tonic as she sloshed after her pair. “..Why are they always running?”

“Probably because of the long legs.. Gives them the right, I suppose..”, replied Brom, also struggling in the deep, wet snow. “Our legs are there just to keep our arses off the ground.. And to make sure we can get to the kitchen to make cranberry tea.”

“You like cranberry tea?”, asked Tonic, somewhat astonished.

“It’s an acquired taste, but yes, I do enjoy it.. With ginger cookies, cinnamon rolls, and a good book, there’s nothing more heavenly.”

“You are a sloth, sir hobbit!”, sniffed Tonic.

“Egad! What gave it away, Miss Arcan—?”, he replied.

“Just ‘Tonic’ will do. I despair every time you say my full name.. And I don’t see why you persistently try.”

“Nothing too mysterious, there. Was merely being polite. Polite is the core of being a hobbit.. and being a sloth! Ever seen a rude sloth?”, smirked Brom.

Tonic half gasped, haft snorted as they ran after the two, tall figures.

“I like cranberry tea!”, she blurted suddenly.

“Ow?”

“Yes..”, she said yearningly. “The bitter after taste is awesome!”

“Hot damn, yes!”, agreed Brom.

“Seressa can’t even stand the smell of it.”, she said glumly. “It’s rosemint tea or no tea, for her.”

“Aaah.. Rosemint tea.. Hard to get around Bowling Hills and not quite a hobbits taste.”, Brom said and shuddered at a ‘tried it once and screamed’ memory.

“I know, right!”, grinned Tonic.

“What are they doing?”, Brom said as he picked up his pace.

“Yea.. What are they doing?”

“Looks like your girl’s tackling my girl!”, said Brom somewhat astonished. “Why is your girl tackling my girl?”

 

..and just like that, he jumped Tonic!

 

WHAT ARE YOU DOING, BOY?!“, blazed Tonic in full, indignant shock!

“Just making sure things don’t get out of hand.”, said Brom carefully.

“The way you are grabbing, everything’s in your hands!”, gasped Tonic with furry.

 

Brom went still.

Then went almost as crimson as the girl he’d grappled.. and immediately let go of the gnomic girl.

 

“I.. I apologize for that, Miss Tonic.”, he stuttered.

“If you ever make mention of this or comment about my breasts, I swear..”, Tonic spluttered.

“No.. No, I won’t and no I would never!”, he wholeheartedly promised.

“I really hope you won’t hold this against me.. Or tell Seressa about it..”, Brom said with a very abashed face. “I merely wanted us both not being present when they go at one another.. Witnesses always seem to complicate things.”

“And tell her what? That you jumped and grabbed my breasts so that she’d destroy you? Because that’s exactly what she would do.. Hells bells, boy, you saw her when Cora had merely warned me!”, hissed Tonic.

“Seressa is a lovely, delightful, funny, full of life, and a dear to have around. But she goes.. she becomes dangerous when anyone tries to intimidate or make fun of me.

Once, and only once did she ever get a disciplinary action back in the academy and it was at the graduation ceremony when some idiot made an off-color remark about me.. She beat him like you have never seen. She looks so skinny, but she’s huge! I mean, she totally destroyed the boy and it wasn’t just bumps and bruises..

She bitch slapped him nonstop from one end of the academy courtyard to the other, right there, and in front of the whole graduation ceremony, the dean, all the professors, the teachers, and the staff!

Last I heard, the martial classes actually amended their education programs to add in that particular slap..

And you know what she did after that? She just stood there, hand on her hips, all cool if you please, and said, “Next, please!”

Luckily we had ‘technically’ already graduated, hence the disciplinary action couldn’t even be applied. Sure pissed someone’s rich parents off!

She.. she has an incredible sense of loyalty to her friends and her pair in particular. I do not know what I have done to earn or deserve a friend like her.. But I have her, and she has me..

I.. I know, I can be mean. The effects of years and years and years of mistreatment is not easy to wipe in under a month or two.. But, please show me some tolerance, if not understanding even though I deserve neither and you certainly don’t owe them to me. But I am trying.. I really am..

You and Cora.. I want both of you to be my friends. And I need both of you to be her friend.. I need Seressa to know, the people in her life isn’t limited to just her pair..”, said the gnome girl, and Brom felt the sincerity in her voice, and saw an altogether different depth to her.

 

CORA STOP!“, came the shrieking voice of Seressa.

 

“If you jump me again, boy, I will hurt you!”, Tonic hissed.

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Cora.. Stop.. We can’t get involved.. Not to this!”, she hissed into the ear of the girl she’d just tackled and held wrapped in her long arms and legs but she felt the strain hurt her. The barbaric elf was not just strong. She was savagely strong and if she didn’t make her stop, she would not only break free but also break her limbs..

THAT IS MY RIVE’S SON.. HE’S STILL ALIVE.. I CAN SAVE HIM.. I CAN SAVE IRON.. FROST!..“, snarled Cora as she struggled to get the long-limbed girl off of herself.

“No Cora.. You can’t.. you can’t save him.. you can’t save Ironfrost.. That’s already happened.. Please..”, Seressa begged and pleaded as tears of stretching pain registered from every joint of her slim body.

 

The two men struggling some one hundred yards away were rolling in the snow and bleeding with infernal savagery like there was no tomorrow. One was a lithe young man with long, braided white hair, now scattered while the other was a brutish, cold beast with coarse black hair with few braids, and a body made for primal accuracy then bulk. While one wore light, leather-hide armor with delicate designs, the other wore nothing but a grim loincloth and heavy leather-and-fur boots.

The young man with the white braids was a tundra elf. The only one Seressa had ever seen, other than the young girl she was desperately trying to hold down. The other was unknown, yet, there was the single dark tattoo of a dragon with its wings stretched, inked on the broad of his back.

 

LET ME GO! OR I WILL BREAK FREE BY BREAKING YOU!“, nearly shrieked Cora savagely as her own tears scattered, froze, and bit back into her eyes..

PLEASE CORA.. I AM BEGGING YOU.. PLEASE.. I.. AM.. BEGGING.. YOU..!

 

The two men tore at one another with primal savagely as the elf slashed and stabbed his larger opponent. The larger one just wasn’t fast enough and with a pained grunt, he finally fell to his knees..

Breathing heavily, the elf strode next to his enemy with his long, jagged knife, grabbed hold of his dark, clumpy hair, and pulled his head back..

..and with an irritating buzz, an arrow caught the elf on the neck with a chunky noise!

The elf stood there looking down at the brutish barbarian grinning up at him.

 

And then, with a grateful sigh, the elf collapsed.

 

“Close one, Son of Krash.”, said a coarse voice, and another brutish barbarian slowly rose from the snow.

“We could have just shot him and be done with..”, he said as he came near his kneeling comrade.

His ‘comrade’, the Son of Krash, slowly got up, grabbed a hand full of snow, and wiped the bloody scars and gashes off himself.

“In case of witnesses, we needed to have one of them kill one of ours to have justified our own kill to avoid a war..”, said the first barbarian.

“But he didn’t kill anyone!”, said the second one.

“No.. he didn’t.. not yet!”, growled Son of Krash, and slashed his comrade’s throat open!

 

With an astonished look on his face, his comrade collapsed on the snow, trashed a bit, then fell still.

 

“And I don’t like witnesses..”, said the Son of Krash with primal disgust, grabbed both his comrade and the elf, one by the ankle, the other by the scruff of his neck, and dragged them off..

..Soon enough, they were all gone and whatever had transpired here, was also lost under the moaning wind.

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Cora simply stood there as the big, savage barbarian faded in the oncoming blizzard. She had just watched the murder of her Rive’s son. Not listened to hearsay, but had actually witnessed it this time. The son of her Rive had been a young, beautiful man. He had also been a symbol for the future of her people. The news of his death had hit Ironfrost like an avalanche then, and watching it actually happen, hit Cora even more.

“Are you alright?”, Tonic was whispering at her pair as the tall, dark girl was the only one not standing, but lying in the snow in agony..

..the tundra elf had broken free.. and broken some things of her as well.

“I.. am.. will be alright, luv..”, she whispered in between gasps and spasms of pain.

“Not our best day, is it dear?”, Tonic said, as she pulled her pair close to herself and held her head on her lap.

“Brom.. a blanket.. a cloak.. anything please.. she’s hurt and hurting..”, the little gnome pleaded in tears.

“That.. that’s the first time.. you have said ‘dear’ to me.. Broken bones will.. heal.. but that dear will stay.. with me..”, whispered Seressa as she tried to brave a smile. “..I think.. that was a fair trade..”

“Of course. Should have thought of that before, my bad.”, shuffled the hobbit as he dug his blanket out of his pack.

“My bad, your bad.. We all did bad today..”, said Tonic glumly.

“It.. it’s alright.. luv.. don’t fret.. friends.. do fight, you know..”, Seressa whispered as she tried to sit up, but failed..

Her eyes rolled back and she collapsed..

“Let’s put up a tent over her. There’s a blizzard coming this way and it doesn’t appear like it’s going blow over anytime soon..”, Brom said and dug his tent out of his pack as well.

 

“Why..?”, came the harsh, brittle whisper of Cora Sleet. “Why did she try to stop me? I just witnessed the murder of my own future Rive..”

 

The cold in the elves’ voice was like nothing Brom had ever heard from her before.

He felt the hair on his bushy head tingle!

 

“Did your Rive’s son die in the past?”, asked Tonic quietly.

Cora’s reply came with the primal savagery of her soul..

“Yes.. We always suspected by who, but we never had the chance, nor the time to do anything about it.. BECAUSE IRONFROST WAS DESTROYED!“, she screamed!

Having made sure her pair was properly covered, Arcantonic Palecog got up and slowly walked up to the raging tundra elf.

She slowly knelt before her, pulled out something folded out of her belt, flipped it open, and showed it to Cora.

 

Cora just stared at the little gnomic girl.

 

“What the hell is this?”, she snarled.

“This, Tundra Elf Cora Sleet, is the Badge of The Academy of Melshieve.”, she said quietly.

“Why are you showing this to me?”

“Because once the badge is out, no one hits an agent of the academy!”, she whispered even more quietly.

 

Cora stared at the little gnomic figure with hot fumes rising from her.

 

“Just what kind of a savage do you think I am?”, she snarled again, at Tonic.

“Everyone is a savage when they have seen what you have seen, dear Cora. You have just been forced to watch your elders’ son get butchered and relived it all. But I need me to be in one piece to be able to look after my pair. She’s hurt. Her arm is broken, her knee is dislocated, she has at least three cracked ribs and some very ugly bruises where a girl should never have..”, she said with the same, silent voice.

“You must know and understand that your elders’ son was already dead and long before we ever met. You must also know, that the ‘thief’ the seers spoke of at the Star Watchers village was that barbarian; the Son of Krash.. It is HIM, that we must help make sure he steels the ‘right’ object..”

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

The blizzard had settled in, and harshly. It howled and shrieked all around them and it took everything Brom and Tonic to keep the tent from being ripped off its pegs. Brom had to get out every once in a while to hammer them back in, while Tonic splinted her pairs arm, wrapped her fractured ribs, and with a heart devastating scream of pain from the tall, dark Seressa, she had pulled then punched her pairs’ dislocated knee back into its place.

Tonic had cried like a little girl while doing all this.

 

“How are you holding up?”, Brom asked her but Tonic could only shake her pale, drawn face.

“This is all my fault.”, she sobbed suddenly.

“What?”, asked the hobbit, a bit baffled.

“I should never have listened to her and let her come to the tundras. All I wanted was to get away from everyone and everything and thought The Great Northern Tundras would be far enough for that. I never believed in any of her nonsense about ‘seeking unearthed prophesies’.. I selfishly let her silly ideas and ideals get to her head. I knew, if I just nodded at her, it would be enough to get her to start her on her path.”

“Wow..”, whispered Brom. “..this academy of yours really does make you conceited!”

Tonic scowled.

“Nothing is alright unless it’s all about you people, is it?”, he said. “Gosh, I can see now why even that Grandaleren disliked the two of you..”

“That’s not funny, and you are not helping hobbi— Brom!”, she scowled.

“It’s alright for you to call me a hobbit. I am one, after all. I don’t mind it. Though I couldn’t give any promises about Cora.”, he smirked. “But what I said stands. You say you never believed in prophecies, and yet, here you are. It may or it may not require your believing in them, I do not know. But apparently, it does require your deeds —your actions..

Although I myself am clueless as to what we accomplished in the last one, we HAVE been in one prophecy already. At least you had a reason, as selfish a reason as you want to claim. I did not have ANY reasons to be here.. like, NONE.. AT ALL!

I was quite happy at home, drinking my cranberry tea, eating my ginger cookies and cinnamon rolls, and reading a good book —and I mean, I was literally doing all those and living in my own private heaven, when I suddenly got up one day and walked out..

After nearly two years of traveling, I ended up at Handshake, and not soon after my arrival, Cora Sleet stumbled in.. I claim not to be knowledgeable about such things as deep and uncanny as prophecies, but I certainly am not going to discard them. I am not the central part of them, but willy-nilly, I am part of them..”

Brom Bumblebrim smiled kindly at the still scowling gnome girl.

“Go on.. get some sleep. I will watch over our very tall, very dark friend. And I promise I shall have my ‘Eyes Front’..”

 

The little gnomic girl snuggled under Seressa’s blanket to make sure she’d stay warm and be damned if she woke up to find out she’d ended up inside her coin purse.

She’d trade that indignity any time if it would but help ease her pairs’ pain..

 

The night howled and the dusty specks of flinty snow swirled around the little tent.

It was not clear though, whether it was actually the night that was howling, or the lithe figure with tossing white braids, some one hundred yards away..

 

 


 

 

 
 

Kamp Ateşi V, Moments I

Timeline:

This short story takes place far north of
the Great Northern Tundras,
some two weeks after
Kocakarı Hikayesi (18+)

 

 

Told you so..”, Seressa said smugly.

The very tall, very dark figure of Seressa Wraiven wasn’t so much dark as she was blue at that very moment and the smug on for face was excruciatingly painful to attain due to the dreary, ‘six feet under’ kind of freezing, arctic cold — and totally worth it!

 

They had finally made it.

 

The Tundra Walkers gazed ahead at the barely visible change in the endless white of the horizon; a faint, grayish blot — and the slim, wispy tendrils of smoke that rose from it.

“Ye..a..”, shattered the small gnomic girl from the back. “Do.. freeze.. while.. gloa.. ting..!”

“I’ll admit.”, said Seressa. “It is a bit cold out here.. more so than usual. Figures why the Ice Wolf Horde won’t come this way for raids!”

“Thought.. they didn’t come.. here.. because they thought.. it was sacred for them.”, Brom the hobbit stuttered in the cold, right behind the tall, blueish tiefling. His bushy hair tossed this way and that in the harsh wind and he balled himself even smaller than he already was.

“Right.. sacred to save.. face! That explains.. everything..”, butt in Arcantonic, with cold sarcasm that would have put the freezing snow all around them to shame.

 

Too bad the snow had the numbers on their side!

 

“You’re a.. skeptic one.. aren’t you..”, scowled Brom. “I would have thought.. a great.. archeologist.. such as yourself.. would have.. been.. a bit more open.. minded.”

“Ye..a.. I was very open.. minded.. until they tried to.. pot me.. and cage ‘all pinks’, here!.. Then raided.. us for seven.. months.. They did.. supply endless.. entertainment for Seressa, though!”, spat back Arcantonic..

..but it froze and got stuck on her purpling lips!

 

“You shouldn’t spit.”, growled a voice and a lithe figure in fur and skin appeared.

She was a striking, barbaric girl. More so by the dark blue, swirling tattoos on her face, arms and shoulders, and the glowing white hair braided down the small of her back. Her name was Cora Sleet and she was also a rare specimen of her kind; a Tundra Elf.

More so because she was, in all likeliness, the last one of her kind as well.

 

“Whot? Like, in the.. cold?”, asked the gnomic girl, a bit tentatively.

 

For any number of reasons, the tall barbaric girl scared her. She was always too serious and too silent for her taste and Arcantonic was unable to discern whether or not it was because this was her norm, she was unstable or just mad, ready to explode without any kind of forewarning and the gnomic girl did not want to be on the receiving end if and when that happened.

 

“No. Like, ever!”, said the girl with her throaty voice.

“It is rude to spit.”

 

Brom snickered in cold pain.

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Cora led the other three down the slushy path and to the miserable-looking village. There were less than twenty huts and tents in all and the ground was tiled with flat rocks and wooden boards but someone had done a rather blotchy job out of it. One had to either time their step to a pre memorized tune to actually step on them or miss them altogether and likely trip and fall.

“Looks hazardous.”, commented Brom as he shivered and shuffled behind Seressa.

“Likely.”, grunted Arcantonic in a voice of agreement that surprised even her.

“But at least our feet will land on dry.. Well, mine will anyway.”, Seressa said, pointing at her bare feet.

“Hush.”, came from Cora as they approached the relative entrance to the village.

 

The village of Star Watchers didn’t have any walls. It had a large number of sticks and poles of unequal sizes and lengths, bunched, then beaded together to form what could barely be called a fence. With the exception of a moderate-sized tent sewn together with thick, leather thongs from many animal skins in the center, most of the huts were made of straw mixed baked mud. A pair of tall, burly, and very bored looking barbarians stood at the entrance of the village. Otherwise, there were no watchtowers, no perches, no stakes, or moats.

“An army of pigeons could probably raid this place.”, whispered Arcantonic.

“Tonic, luv. Why on earth would an army of pigeons ever raid this place? For everything that’s good and not, that doesn’t even make sense!”, said Seressa, her face somewhat baffled.

“Neither does this place..”, scowled Tonic.

“Actually, it makes sense.. in a way.. I think.”, said Brom.

“Ow yea?”, scowled Tonic, some more.

“Sure. There’s nothing to raid, hence, there’s no reason to raid. Considering the effort it takes to actually get here..”

 

Tonic shut up!

 

The smarmy little hobbit actually made sense!

The two, burly guards straightened as the four came closer but neither of them bothered to raise their large axes, nor make any threatening gestures. Their faces were lost under their steel, half helmets, and what escaped that, was buried under thick, braided hair and beard.

Just as one of them raised his hand for a ‘halt’, the pattering of feet on stone, wood, and mud was heard.

A small, hunched figure had come out from behind the huts and was running at them, her skinny legs apparent under the raggy old skirts she’d pulled up.

Panting and wheezing, she ran at them breathlessly, tripped on one of the wooden planks..

..and promptly fell, face down into the slushy mud!

 

The burly guards stiffened.

That was the only indication they gave, and before the woman in the mud could raise, they turned their backs to her and steadfastly starred at the horizon.

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

The woman was old. Very old. But the spry on her feet had been a surprise for all four of them. While Cora stood where she was, with the cold discipline her father had drilled into her, the others’ were not so lucky.

Seressa just stared down at the old woman, who was barely taller than the hobbit, with a mildly confused expression on her face, Brom heard Tonic’s snort from behind and deftly bit his knuckles.

 

“Alright.”, the old woman in muddy rags croaked.

“Who stumbled?” —

 

Seressa flushed.

She really hadn’t meant to stumble and fall all over this old woman’s tablets back at the cave, just north of the Ice Wolf Horde and she opened her mouth to apologize but a gagging wheeze escaped Brom.

Followed by a choke..

..a snort,

..a cackle,

..and a blurt;

— “You?”

 

The old woman froze.

Seressa froze.

Tonic froze.

The two, big, burly barbarian guards froze..

Cora did not freeze. Instead, she slapped her hands on her mouth..

..as her cold discipline breezed away;

..and a single bark of a laugh got away from her!

 

Seressa crumbled into the mud, clutching at her bubbling belly.

Tonic fell on her back, legs kicking the air and squealing like a squirrel.

Brom, his face red, bit into his knuckles even more.

The two, big, burly men were leaning on the long handles of their axes, gasping for breath.

And Cora hoped stiffly, her hands still slapped tight on her mouth.

 

The old woman’s face darkened.

“Well now.. I shall see if I could find a remedy for your mirth!”, she scowled, turned around limped back at the village..

“Bloody buffoons..!”

 

 


 

 

 
 

And Just Beyond That (18+)

Timeline:

The prophecy has been heralded.

The choice has been made.

The die has been cast and fates, sealed.

The ‘Chosen Four’ have been sent, through place and time by the proxies of the Celestials to right the wrongs of the unholy Outsiders.

In a wild cacophony of tumbling and painful sliding through the jagged and jarring madness of time, the Tundra Walkers find themselves disoriented, in a place and time quite out of their own..

..by a gross number of centuries.

 

This story starts 16 years ago, in some tattered tent full of wispy old hags, at a place far, far north of the Great Northern Tundras, in a small village called Star Watchers and ends in the misty haze of the forgotten past, some 820 years further in the line of history.

This story is the (relative) continuation of
Kocakarı Hikayesi (18+)..

 

 

What the bloody hell is this?”, the sour voice of the little, pale gnome grudged as she lay flat on her back. “No one said anything about this much hazard! Hells bells, has the term ‘precaution’ or even ‘risk assessment’ ever occur to those stupid old farts? No wonder people seldom return from the past!”

“Old farts?”, snorted a boxy, feminine voice in the dark, from somewhere behind her, also lying on her back.

“Yea, picked it up at the academy. Some of the ghouls used to use that kinda slang. You wouldn’t know..”, she said with a groan.

“I know, what an ‘old fart’ is”, sniffed the voice in the dark, “what surprises me is the fact that you’d be into such vulgar slang. And the proper word is ‘nerd’, not ‘ghoul’..”

“Nerd, ghoul, same difference. Boys who have zero social lives who live underground, play weird games with imaginary characters and cooked up monsters and carry rule books with more reverence than they would carry their holy writs..”, bit back the pale gnome.

“Yea?”

“Yea..”

“Sounds fun. What was your character?”

Arcantonic Palecog scowled.

“If you must know, I had a very tall, very pretty barbarian girl with thick, white braids and jugs, that smashed everything in her path with a mindless rage..”, she said and hastily added, “..no offense intended!”, giving a sidelong gaze at Cora’s direction.

The squeaky snort of a hobbit came from off, the other side.

“Some taken..”, replied the tall barbarian girl with thick, white braids.

There was a bothersome pause.

“Umm.. Which part?”, asked Arcantonic, tentatively.

“Will let you know when I want something —in mindless rage!”

“Well, shit!”, grumbled the gnome.

“You truly surprise me at times, girl..”, snickered Seressa Wraiven as her dark face appeared over the gnome. “Are you hurt? Other than your head, you seem all in one piece.. Could carry you if you like..”

“You wish..”, said Arcantonic sourly.

“Very much.”

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

Someone’s coming”, Cora Sleet whispered harshly as she sprang up and helped the little hobbit to his feet.

Brom Bumblebrim dusted off his pants and coat and mumbled a silent thanks while the very tall, very dark figure of Seressa pulled up her pair.

Arcantonic did not thank.

She just scowled..

..some more!

 

The slow, irking hiss of a blade was heard as  Cora drew her long, great blade off her back and spread her legs, ready to fight whatever it was that was coming.

Out in the darkness, the marching of many boots in perfect order drew closer and a platoon of tall figures appeared.

Without a pause, the platoon split in two and surrounded the Walkers and than held their ground. They gave no sign of aggression, only that of determination.

They all wore similar, very elaborate and very beautiful plate armors, high winged helmets and carried a quiver of arrows, a short bow, a half size kite shield, and a long, slender, almost fragile-looking sword..

 

High Elves, thought Cora for a moment.

High Elves?, she baffled in the next.

‘Great Heavens, where are we?’

 

“Greetings, Messengers of the Celestials..”, said the leading elf with a curt, formal nod. “If you would be so kind, I pray, follow me and we shall take you to our lord. It is he, with whom you shall speak.”

Cora nodded back, more out of reverence than a formality, for these were High Elves, the highest and noblest of elves.

Without waiting for a reply, the leader of the high elf platoon turned did a quick hand motion, and walked off, back into the darkness..

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

The sight was ghastly. That was the only word Cora could think of.

Ghastly!

They had traveled with the high elf platoon for the better part of sixteen hours, trooping, running, hiding, sneaking and.. fighting..

..and there was less than half of the platoon left.

Cora thought she knew how to fight. But what she knew was nothing like what she saw with these elves in their shiny, beautiful armor. One particular young elf had caught her eyes. He had had an angular face, a straight, noble sort of nose, a dedicated, rich mouth, prominent high brows, and long, braided, pale gold hair.

Cora was never the type of girl to lust over boys, even before the destruction of her village. But the look he had given her with his beautiful, soft, pale green eyes had been solemn, honest and.. flattering.

 

The young man had died in the next encounter with what she thought were mountain trolls. The brutish monsters had rushed right into the platoon and one of them had crushed the elf with his eight-foot club that had been thicker than Cora’s waist..

Cora had never seen a mountain troll before.

Cora would never see the young, beautiful elf again after that..

 

Tired and bloodied, they were met by more elven platoons and soon ushered to the top of a hill where stood a tall, deep maroon colored tent surrounded by more high elf guards in even greater looking armors, carrying long, curved, two-handed elven scimitars in silver embroidered purple mantles. Up at that hill, Cora and her friends saw the extent of their prophecy.. and the extent of the devastation taking place down below..

Row upon row of elven warriors in tens of thousands stood before and around the hill.

There, far across a very bloody field was another army of row upon row of orcs, goblins, ogres, giants, trolls, and what Cora surmised to be shambling ghouls, broken skeletons, moaning zombies, and barking demons and their numbers seemed to stretch as far as she could see.

And between the two armies was a field of death, all burned, scorched, even, and pitch-black smoke rose from broken and mutilated bodies scattered everywhere.

The sight she looked was nothing less than ghastly..

..and the more she looked, the more her face paled;

The hill they were standing on, was very much surrounded!

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

On the hilltop, Cora and her companions beheld the bloody battlefield below as thousands of arrows formed an arching bridge over them and fell into the ranks of the enemy horde while elfish wizards and sorcerers launched their deadly spells, raining fire, fist-sized hails, and swirling multi-colored arcane missiles. Batches of temple guardians walked among the wounded, doing their best to keep them alive as groves of druids of many races sent bolts of lightning and hurricanes into the demon ranks.

Something very large groaned and with an earth-shaking thud, a hut sized rock landed in the middle of a platoon and instantly killed and buried the elves caught under it.

More boulders landed haphazardly into the elfish ranks. The crushed didn’t even have the time to scream.

Orders ran up and down the elf ranks and the first half of a dozen line of elves drew their swords, pulled up their shields, and started out as the following ranks crouched close behind them, bearing long halberds and glaives.

The demon horde charged..

“This way, if you would please.”, said the platoon leader and led Cora and her friends into the tent at the top of the hill.

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

The tall elf guard in purple mantle opened the tent’s flaps for the company, then, without a word, turned and left for his post.

Although the inside of the tent was dimly lit, it appeared to be surprisingly comfortable and richly decorated. The ground was covered with a thick, red carpet that had elegant designs inlaid in it, barely a shade or two darker, or lighter than the base red. Many embroidered tapestries hung on the inside of the tent. There were two comfortable looking divans, many stools, and a large, portable table placed at the far end, covered with parchments, maps, markers, quills, and writing feathers.

A young, beautiful young elf girl slept peacefully on one of the divans. She had a striking figure, full and healthy. Her face had soft features; smooth skin, rich, vibrant, inviting lips, long eyelashes and brush free, slightly wavy, honey-colored hair and she was sleeping in her tight, elf woven lorica.

Cora heard a stifling sound from the other end of the tent, and for the first time, she saw the elf lord, sitting behind the portable table.

Cora did a double-take and silently ‘woa’ed for this was the most beautiful face in a living being that she had ever seen. She just stared at the elf lord..

 

“So, the Celestials have sent another batch of messengers.”, said the elf lord, in a barely hidden contempt. He had a beckoning voice, rather masculine and resonant but somehow musical in nature. If Cora heard this voice in any other male, she would likely have snorted. With this elf, however, it felt ‘just right’.

“A tundra elf barbarian, a hobbit from Bowling Hills by the looks of it, a half-demon and a deep gnome..”, he said.

“It seems the greats above shall not even bother to hide their pun!”

Cora and Brom bowed before the elf lord.

“We have been sent to right a wrong by the Seers of the Star Watchers, my lord.”, Cora said, in her soft, somewhat throaty voice.

And right then, Seressa and Arcantonic both produced something made from fine leather and folded from their belts, flipped them open, and showed the elf lord, a strange, arrogantly carved badge.

The elf lords eyebrows shot up.

“And what business interests does the Academy of Melshieve have here, in this blasted, forsaken battlefield?”, he said in a voice that sounded more tired than of any particular interest.

“Academy business.”, Seressa replied curtly, which was very much unlike her.

“We two are here to observe and preserve.“, added Arcantonic, in a similar curt tone.

“Of course you are..”, replied the elven lord bitterly. “Couldn’t have sent a few of your airships..”

“We are here only to observe and preserve.”, Seressa repeated her pair, speaking with a kindlier voice this time.

“I see.. You are free to observe. There will be no preserving done here today, or anytime soon, I am afraid. The situation stands thus; we are surrounded and outnumbered at a critical level. We can barely open small gaps in the enemy lines at the cost of too many lives that I’d care to count. A few months ago, we sent word to Koruxan, Vodgar, Palantine, and Durkahan pleading for their support. So far, we only have a quarter half of Arashkan forces here, dwarven armored platoons from Scowling and Elder Hills, wood elf support from Dim Woods, druids from Ritual Forest, and gnome sappers from Tinker Hills and Silent Hills.”, said the elven lord quietly.

He paused for a bit as if to gather his thoughts, took a deep breath, and continued.

“We had a great start. Our.. our own rangers kept on harassing the enemy lines from the sides and managed to get to their rear as well. We held the enemy at bay for three years and made them pay a good price for every step they took in any direction. But that was up until some two months ago. Our gnome sappers discovered something we never expected. Turns out, while we were entertaining ourselves up here, they were diligently digging miles and miles of tunnels right under and around us..

We destroyed all the tunnels we found, but not soon enough. And now, they are all around us and their numbers have been growing steadily every day.

For weeks we send messengers to the other cities and yet, no one has responded. I am afraid, we will not last the month. Enemy warlocks have warded the area, making it impossible for us to open portals for new troops to teleport in or take our wounded out, not to mention near to non of our summoning spells work, hence we can get the support of neither the elementals nor the fey.

I will be honest with you. You are not the first Celestial messengers that have arrived here. There were six other groups, though never this many at once. You are the seventh group and they all said it was their destiny to right a wrong. I hope your prophecy was better than theirs.”, he said in the same tired voice and Cora finally recognized the nuance.

The elven lord wasn’t just tired. His was the voice of a man who had lost all hope. It was a defeated man’s voice.

Cora felt a lump at the pit of her stomach.

And she felt a vast sympathy for this beautiful elf.

“If it is possible to reach these people, we shall..”, she said in fierce determination.

The elf lord looked up at Cora and for the briefest of moments, a smile appeared in his handsome face.

“I had heard our long lost brothers and sisters up in The Great Northern Tundra’s never gave their word for simple tasks. They gave them only for the worthy ones.. and always kept them. Had I, but a thousand like you..”

Cora tried very hard not to, but failed.. and blushed.

 

Just then, the tent flaps opened and an elf runner dashed inside and in a rushed, terror-stricken voice he said, “My Riverin Grandaleren. Themalsar approaches from the south..”

“What?”, said the elf lord in a shocked voice. “How?”

“By ships. He landed troops to the south by ships!..”, said the runner, his face even more drawn now.

“My Lord, they come!”, he whispered.

 

Riverin Grandaleren’s shoulders slumped. He turned to the four standing before him.

Cora’s mind reeled..

‘Riverin?’

That was a very old elven name for ‘prince’. It had never really been used by her people, only ‘Rive’ which meant something along the lines of ‘king’ or, more like, ‘chieftain’..

‘Good Heavens..’, she though. This was no mere elf lord. This was ‘her times’ Ri Grandaleren Feymist of the legendary Bari Na-ammen himself..

..and since he was warring this Themalsar, it had to mean, they had been sent back some 820 years, to the first Battle of Themalsar, as the humans called it..

It was better known among elves as;

“Maeth -o Nev Evan escence”

BATTLE OF NEAR EXTINCTION..

 

Some innate instinct also prompted Cora that they were at the very northeast edge of the Ritual Forest and that meant; just to their north was the Trapped Mountains.

Her mountains..

And just beyond that, her Ironfrost..

It was still there, ‘now’..

Her mother hadn’t been born yet, but her father had. He would be younger than she was now.. but alive..

None of her friends would be around for at least seven hundred years yet, but her home, her Ironfrost would be there.. Now..

For the first time since the death of her beloved father, her beautiful mother, her friends, and her people, the true impact of her loss hit her.

Cora Sleet’s eyes teared and silently, she mourned for Ironfrost and everything that it meant and encompassed for her.

It was so damned close. It was ‘this’ close.. Within her grasp to go, and to see.. And perhaps even to..

..reclaim.

 

If she could just go there, and perhaps warn them of their coming annihilation, even at the cost of being branded as a mad woman..

A hard two weeks trek right now would get her there —much less if she left alone! Yes, these strange ‘soft’ people had fought alongside her, but she owed them nothing..

Certainly not her Ironfrost..

 

And that is when it hit Cora; she was not with them because of some untold, unnamed or unpaid debt. She was with them because this was her future. This was her now and there really was no going back. These strange, soft, very much unbarbaric people were her new friends..

Her new family.

Her new.. Ironfrost!

And as if on cue, a small, warm, delicate hand reached up to her and held hers.

She looked down to see Brom Bumblebrim looking up to her, his eyes also glistening. He smiled at her and kindly patted her hand, squeezed it once, and let it go..

Yep..

This was her new Ironfrost, alright..

 

Brom, her talkative little brother who never shut up. Tonic, her grumpy little baby sister who hadn’t yet gotten passed her ‘NO’ phase, and Seressa, her other sister.. the odd one in the family. Every family had one of those, right? She had been the odd one in her family, hadn’t she? Many people had said so.. Yes, she certainly hadn’t been odd at Seressa’s level, nor had she ever worn laced, pink, almost see-through.. things! But there really was no scale for odity, was there? The moment you stepped out of the boundaries of common, you were odd.

And now she was given the new position as the eldest sister. Seressa had merely swooped down and happily claimed her abandoned seat!

Here, some eight hundred years in the murky mists of a forgotten time, in one of the bloodiest battlefields in known history, up against impossible odds, Cora Sleet had found her new family, and in doing so, she found herself.

 

GO.. NOW.. Our time is up. If Themalsar gets here, we will lose any chance to break any openings for you.”, said the prince harshly. He turned to the runner. “Get Selvius Brightleaf, my general, and Aramlerien, my master wizard here immediately. Then go and ask Master Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig, the head of the druid groves and General Drills, the gnome sappers’ general, if they would be so kind as to join us. Send for Decona Dwarwic, the dwarven dreadnaught leader as well. We will need her ‘meatgrinders’ sooner than planned.”

The prince paused for a notable breath.

“Please inform Archangel Priceptine of the situation and ask him if he would grace us with his presence and wisdom..”, he added somewhat grudgingly.

“At once, my Riverin..”, the runner bowed and dashed back out of the tent.

“Well, I suppose this was a short-lived encounter.”, Grandaleren said, with an ironic and bitter voice. “I would know your names if you would honor me.”

“No!”, jumped in Seressa. “No names.. I am sorry Riverin of Bari Na-ammen. But those are the rules; under no circumstance may our names be revealed nor recorded!”

“It appears the academy has an answer for everything. Just no solution. So be it. You will be noted as ‘a tundra elf’, ‘a hobbit’, and ‘an academy pair’ who were here to observe and preserve! Now, go..”

Cora and Brom bowed once more to the Prince of Bari Na-ammen and turned to leave.

 

And that is when Cora realized something else;

The beautiful elf girl sleeping on the divan in her linen-like lorica had not moved, at all..

In fact, she was not breathing.

 

The hoarse voice of the prince of the high elves came from behind them.

“Selendenien Sindarin.. My sister. She.. she was killed late last night by Themalsar himself. Her life ebbed away by Malocchio, an entropy death curse, particular to his master.. She was the heart of High Woods and the jewel of Bari Na-ammen. The Sunlight of Selendenien shall never bless this world again..”

Riverin Grandaleren choked.

“Now please.. Go.. Give this man a few moments of peace to grieve over a beloved one..”

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

The company moved silently and swiftly, hidden among burly dwarves and nibble gnomes.. That had been the plan; if they were to escape through the encircling army, they would have a better chance with the dwarves and gnomes, in particular, since the enemy was seeking high elves..

..And they had to use the tunnels dug by the gnome sappers.

Seressa had given one look at the small, tight, gnome size tunnels and groaned.

“Ow bugger..”, she’d said, “..not again!”

That had cheered Tonic a bit.

 

For three days, they ran, hid, slid, rolled, and tumbles through dark, musty, stuffy tunnels, and then over and under heavy brush and mud and reached somewhere near a cluster of rolling hills known as Ogre’s Foot, at which point they got ambush by half the ogre population living in the hills.

 

“Here..”, said a young, handsome gnome; the captain, of the gnomic company and the de facto leader of the dwarven contingency, as he handed a sealed, rolled-up parchment to Arcantonic. “..if you ever manage to get the chance, give this to my father please.”

Arcantonic just stared at the gnome boy.

“Who the hell are you and why are you giving this to me? You don’t even know me..”, she inadvertently blurted out.

Seressa smacked her forehead with her hand.

If the handsome gnome was taken aback by Tonic’s language or her brute attitude, he showed it with a dazzling, infectious smile.

“I, the hell, am Prince Gordigon Tinkerdome. Son of King Drine Tinkerdome and the apparent heir to the throne of Silent Hills.”, he said.

 

Arcantonic ogled at the gnome.

All things considered, he was a rather handsome devil. Pretty, even.

If the gnomes smile was dazzling, however, it certainly flew right past the gnomic girl standing before him.. and the infection failed all efforts on her as well.

 

“It is likely this is where you and your friends will depart, as we are surrounded, outnumbered and outsized, but not quite bested. We need to make enough of a ruckus here, so they won’t go looking for your, there!“, he said pointing at the general direction of Dim Woods.

“Hence, it is unlikely any of us shall survive. You, on the other hand, must, my lady!”

Arcantonic ogled at the gnome..

..some more!

Somewhere deep inside her mind, a squeaky, irritated voice said, “Did you.. Did he just ‘lady’ us?”

“Thought I’d give you this letter to be handed to my father, in case of an unexpected demise on my part, and if you would, I would also like to have your name, my lady, and your hand, of which, I promise, I shall keep only one, though I would very much like to keep both..”

“Yep..”, the squeaky voice in her mind confirmed. “..the idiot just ‘lady’ed us —again! And he wants our hand. Why does he want our hand?”

“I.. I can’t give you my name. That.. that is forbidden. And what do you want my hand for? Are they dirty?”, stammered Tonic as she blushed with a tone of pink that would have made her pair proud.

“Oh, for everything that’s good and not..!”, exclaimed Seressa with an exasperated voice, and smacked her forehead with her other hand..

Brom snickered from the side and Cora just stared at Tonic like she was some kind of strange contraption and she just couldn’t figure out what its purpose was.

“I do not know.”, smiled the gnome prince. “Hard to see from here. Must look at it from a closer angle.”

Whatever was going through Tonics mind at that very moment, it was hard to say.

Her face, however, said ‘What the hell kind of an idiot is this?’

Or perhaps, ‘Why is it always the weird ones?’

 

The prince reached out, took the little gnome girl’s hand, gracefully bent over and..

Seressa held her breath.

 

Brom bit his knuckles.

 

Cora cocked an eyebrow and eagled down on them..

 

..And Tonic smacked the prince of the gnomes..

..over the head..

..with her wrench!

 

WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?!“, she blared. “MY HANDS ARE DIRTY AND YOU WANT TO SNIFF THEM? WHAT KIND OF AN IDIOT ARE YOU?

With that, she stomped off..

 

The combined company of gnomes and dwarves burst out in gleeful laughter as the prince picked himself off the ground, very much dazed, obviously in pain and thoroughly embarrassed, he said “I suppose, I had that coming.. But wow, that there is one blazing girl and very hard to get; the best kind there is.. Too bad my times up. I would have loved to have stolen a kiss of ‘farewell to life’ from a girl as beautiful and fiery as her..”

The laughter died and every dwarf and gnome picked up their weapons and shields.

“Dwarves at the center. Sappers cover the flanks.. and careful with the mortars and the gnowitzers.. I want carpet-bombing thirty paces in front of the dwarves at all times. No need to be shy with the ammo.. Artificers, with me.. Boomsticks at the ready..”, he barked his orders.

Prince Gordigon Tinkerdome, son of King Drine and apparent heir to the throne of Silent Hills gave the still scowling Tonic one last, toothy glance than shrieked like a hawk.

“CHARGE!”

 

 



Ri:
elvish for king.

Rise: elvish for queen.

Riverin: elvish for prince (usually used for the likely future Ri).

Riserin: elvish for princess (usually used for the likely future Rise).

Selendenien Sindarin: one of the three children of the current king of the high elves of Bari Na-ammen, Ri Lienierre Moonlight. The eldest of the three is High Lady Angrellen Sunsear, followed by Riverin Grandarelen and the youngest, Ranger Marshal Selendenien Sindarin (Sunlight).

Malocchio: ‘Evil Eye’, in Italian. In-game terminology, an evil, forbidden, very destructive, and an almost always deadly spell. Anyone caught casting or possessing the spell is instantly executed in the Kingdom. Requires a complicated ritual to cast. The end result can vary depending on how it was cast, the intensity of the intent of the caster, and how badly the caster wants the intended to die. The end results can change from something as simple as a heart attack to causing the heart to physically explode, ripping open the rib cage of the person..

 

 

 
 

A Shift in Perspective (18+)

Timeline:

This story takes place some time shortly after the story; “Somewhere Bitter in the Darkness” where the conversation between the little gnome and her strange and curiously dauntless friend reveal more about certain unexpected and controversial realities about the ‘competent counterpart of the pair’..

 

 

There was a strained, sentient silence in the large, ancient, bitter cold cave as one small figure banged and clanked with her numerous tools as she worked on her mechanical monstrosity, while another, a very tall, very dark figure watched her with mute curiosity and somewhat a determined, ‘will pay off’ expression.

The two unlikely pairs continued like this for quite some time until the small figure blew out an exasperated and infuriated hiss, stopped what she was doing, and irritably asked.

“So how did you do it?”

 

The tall figure smiled.

It seemed her mother had been right; determination, along with a good dose of mute patience, always won in the end..

It’d worked just fine on her father hadn’t it? And he’d been one deuce of a man..

 

“How did you learn about my classes? Hells bells, girl, how did you learn about my grades? And don’t tell me you charmed the academy staff. Those guys all have anti-student-charm wards.”, the little gnome asked.

“Yea.. Sadly, that’s true. Would have made my job so much easier if they didn’t..”, the tall figure signed.

“How did you do it? You couldn’t have found more than two people who’d want to talk about me or about my classes. And certainly not about my grades. Many of the kids detested me more for my high grades than they did for being a demon summoners’ kin! Seeing as how I was a social leper, I must also be mentally defective.”

“Actually, I beat you in survival class.”, the tall girl said smugly.

“The hell you did! No one beats an artificer in survival class”, in total disbelief.

“I sure did.. Though I didn’t brag about it. Not after seeing you sulk when you saw the grades posted on the students’ notice wall.”

“That was you?”

“Yup, that was me..”

“It was the one time, damit..”

“True.. I didn’t bother to do better after that. You seemed so upset.. sulking like a kitten caught in the rain.. Shattered my heart, it did..”

“I did not sulk!”

“The hunched shoulders, the crossed arms, the scowling red face, and the blistering curses.. Yep, you were sulking. And doing it so cute, I might add. I mean, even then, way before we were paired, I was like, ‘Awww, isn’t she so darn cute, sulking like that. Oww, I just must have her. I could put her into my coin purse and carry her around all day!'”, the tall figure said with a happy smile.

The little gnome scowled but bit back a savage retort..

 

Barely.

 

The smile on the tall figure stayed, but the happiness faded.

“So.. How did you do it?”, she asked again, after a while.

“You don’t want to know..”, said the tall figure with a long, sensual yawn. “I am going back to sleep.. Can’t keep my eyes open any longer.”

“How did you do it?”, persisted the gnome, but the tall figure had left the scene.

The sound of soft, naked feet grew quieter and finally dissipated all together.

TELL ME, DAMIT!“, hissed the gnome with burning frustration.

From the other side of the cave, a very faint rustling sound was heard.

Only after a long, infuriating pause, did a sleepy, voluptuous voice say, “I burglarized the academy staff offices!”

The little gnome just stared at the darkness and at the girl lost in it.

Unknowingly, she dropped her hammer.

“You.. You broke into the academy staff offices? Just to get to my grades?”

“Well..”, the sleepy voice said, “I wanted to get to know you, and your interests, and how competent you were at them. We had, after all, just been paired, so yes, I broke into the academy staff offices. And what I found wasn’t limited to your grades. I read every single remark, note, warning, possible disciplinary action, and everything anyone had to say about you. You wouldn’t believe how many complaints were filed against you out of petty spite! I also found all your research papers and read them as well.. I must say, your studies on steam-propelled engines was quite inspiring and I strongly suspect your professor plans on stealing it. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he’s published a paper on your steam thing with his own name on it by now..

Altogether, it was a very long read. Much, much longer than mine. What they had to say about me was quite colorful, but they were all basically the repetition of the first. They only got wilder and wilder towards the end. I honestly felt flattered at how talented my mentor thought I was in my persuasion classes. That old stick had left a rather long explanatory note for the dean, trying to explain himself, why he had me repeat my finals seven times —alone with him— just to make sure I wasn’t cheating..

As if..!

I did admire the old fool’s passion for pink, though. It rivaled my own! I am sure he wanted to see more, but his heart finally gave in..”

A sensual, throaty and somewhat cruel laughter echoed in the darkness..

“I ended up giving him CPR and he ended up trying to explain himself to the dean..

Your file, on the other hand, was thicker than my thigh, which isn’t saying much, I know, but it was all written in this small, clandestine-like print. It took me the better part of the night to get to the end.

Some of the notes and cautionary warnings I read came from some very high people and very far places like Arashkan, Bari Na-ammen, and Durkhahan! Did you know they had a permanent ‘Watchful Eye’ spell cast on you during your whole tenancy at the academy? That sort of pissed me off because I knew for a fact that it is a highly dangerous and very much an illegal spell, not to mention, extremely expensive to maintain, totally pointless and cruel to place on a young student.

What truly struck me came at the very end, though; that none of it had changed anything I felt or thought about you. I got out feeling exactly the same as I got in. Just more excited and determined..

When they first paired us, I thought I had gotten me a cute, somewhat dorky but smart, and a highly organized little overachiever. Would you like to know the only thing that changed after I read all those ill things about you?”

“What?”, the little gnome’s voice fizzled, feeling totally crushed by now.

“Nothing..”, came the sultry voice softly from the darkness, stifling another yawn.

“It did, however, change my perspective of those paranoid fools at the academy though because I had, in fact, gotten me a girl, still very cute, still dorky, but with a very sharp, singularly unique and sensitive mind and no one was going to hurt her ever again!

With you, I thought of all the impossible things we could accomplish together. And all the crazy fun trouble we could get in and out of.

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

I could almost imagine myself..”, the voice said with a tingling, yearning, happy little chuckle, “..with you tucked under one arm, running in terror with my pinks on fire while you screamed, ‘RUN, GIRL.. FASTER! FASTER!..‘ as some massive explosion bloomed behind us.. Ahhh, it was such a beautiful, exhilarating, and vivid dream. All the more so, because we would have just witnessed the total and catastrophic failure of yet another plan we had concocted together.. But every once in awhile, we’d succeed too. We’d have this silly, smug expression on our faces as we sat in some out of the way inn with large, filthy mugs in our hands because we’d just found out that we’d been banned from yet, another town! All because I thought you would be my sturdy, unwavering, and unbending pair.. That you would be the light in my shed..

I knew, of course, that this would never happen. You were just too sensible, too smart for total, catastrophic failures. It’d be a lot more boring in real life but that didn’t really matter either because, at the end of the day, I’d still get to have my pair to joke about it..”, the voice sighed.

“As for my burglarizing, it never came up, so I never mentioned it. But I was also the best in my stealth class as well. At least in camo and night stalking and I could squeeze through any given crack as long as my head would fit in it. I could also stand still and go unnoticed for hours, if you can believe that, because I’ve always had a very good inner metronome, I’ve always been very patient, inhumanly so —which is to be expected— and I never fidgeted. Probably the end result of a combination of listening to too much beat music, my mother and never feeling ashamed of who or what I am, nor the things I did, no matter how silly or foolish they were, because once I did it, I’d own it.. I couldn’t say the same when it came to the actual creeping and sneaking, though. On that score, I am afraid, I was a bit of a clutz. I mean, I am so tall and somethings just can’t be helped..

I still had to do quite a bit of crawling and slithering to get in through the ventilation shafts leading in and out of the academy staff offices and nearly got stuck and suffocated. I spent two days in those shafts, stranded and unable to move, waiting to lose just enough weight untangle myself, and get through. I probably couldn’t do it at all now, even if I fasted for a week. I was so skinny when we were at the academy. I am a lot taller and have much more flesh on me now, then I did back then.”

THE TWO DAYS YOU WENT MISSING AT THE ACADEMY! A WEEK TO GRADUATION!“, gasped the little gnome in sudden awakening.

“I.. I thought you’d run off to avoid pairing with me..”

 

My dear girl, if I hadn’t wanted you, I would have used my ‘right to refuse’ at the pairing and gone solo.. Besides, we’d already been paired. Once paired, always paired. It’s not a matter of mere honor and integrity. Pairing is also a magical binding. That is why pairs function so much better than solo graduates.

No, girl, quite the contrary. Nothing ever excited me more than having been paired to you..

 

By the time I came down the shafts, I looked more like a ghoul than myself.. Then came the issue of the wards.. Turns out most of them rely on light sensories. I just breezed right past them and none was the wiser. They barely gave me a suspicious buzz, then totally shrugged me off. Though, all things considered, that shouldn’t really be a surprise for you. I mean, just look at me!”

“I did not know..”, said the little gnome, drowned in the things she had just learned.

“Well, you never took that class so you couldn’t have known that I did.”

“I didn’t take that class because I had a ban on stealth, practical magic and sorcery, deception, and medicine.. They really didn’t want me taking arcana either, but you can’t be an artificer without arcana, so they gave in, provided I take history as a mandatory prerequisite for it, just in case I missed the reasons why I’d been banned from all the other classes!

After what my uncle did, all Arcantons were..”, the gnome said bitterly. “..but that’s not what I meant.”

“I know..”, came the voluptuous voice softly.

“Then, why? Why do it at all? Why take such a risk? You would have been banned and excommunicated from the academy if you’d been caught. Your name would have been black-marked and black-listed! Hells bells, girl, you could have died and no one would have even found your body until the start of the new scholar year!..”

There was a moment of silence as if the voice in the darkness was considering whether to tell or not.

When she finally spoke, there was a wretched and desolate pain in her voice.

“Because I detest small talk. I have always found it to be demeaning, prosaic, and artificial. I wanted to skip all the silly ‘weather’ talk and get to the real, honest part of our conversations. Not like we’d just met, but like two people carrying out a heated discussion they’d started days before.. I wanted an honest relationship where neither you nor I had to tiptoe around each other because we were strangers. I wanted us to start without the delays and the setbacks of the shallow, superficial stuff..

 

..and because no one is ever honest around me. People just look at me and suddenly start lying about the most immaterial things about themselves, just to get to impress me and by doing so, they unwittingly cast me as the pretty, stupid girl and miss the ironic significance in that; when you lie about the insignificant, you are unable, to be honest about the significant! They fail to grasp one of the most basic and fundamental truths in life; that which is insignificant for you might be dearly significant for me..

 

For all that’s good and not, I’d even prepared a like dossier for you, with all the classes I’d taken, my grades, my favorite professors, to whom I had a secret crush, a covering selection of my likes and dislikes, and things that I felt to be particularly dear to me..

I put anything and everything that I could possibly think of into that dossier.. Everything you would have found out about me in the course of a long and honest friendship; my past, which I thought to be rather boring compared to my sojourn at the academy, the things I admired about you, including the first time I saw you and my preferred shades of pink, all color-coded. I’d even added a FAQ section and indexed the whole thing for easy access.. Just so we’d start on an equal footing. Still got the silly thing here somewhere, though I could see no point for it now..

A shame really. After two years of trying, I have nothing to show for it.. I guess no matter how hard you try, apparently somethings you never get to have.”, said the voice with a sigh.

“You know what truly depresses me? This insignificant seeming little banter that we just had, has been the only honest and significant conversation that we ever shared. Many pairs get to babysit each others’ kids after two years from graduation and here I am, actually happy for a mild banter.. Isn’t that just sad, Arcantonic?

 

In the end, I did have you. Just never got you.. I suppose I am never going to be putting you in my coin purse and carrying you around to my heart’s content..”

 

..the voice slurred in the darkness and finally drifted into sleep.

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

No, I guess not..”, the little gnome silently agreed.

“I.. I don’t know what to say.. I really don’t. The things you have done.. and for what? To get to know some social reject? A nobody, if not for my degenerate uncle! I am.. funked!”, she said in quite bewilderment, but should she ever be asked, the word she would honestly have preferred would have been; Awe!

It was all just too much to compute, let alone, digest.

 

Arcantonic felt disoriented.

Concussed, even..

 

From a point-blank perspective, all her pair had done was to break into some offices to take a peek at her grades out of sheer, stupid curiosity. But then, whenever she’d looked at her pair from that same point-blank perspective, all she’d seen was.. pink!

No..

This time she knew, she just knew, she could not explain away the actions, nor the reasons of her pair with her usual, unmuted sarcasm..

Hells bells, the girl had spent two days, stuck in some draft pipes, unable to move and gasping for breaths, in hopes of losing enough weight to get through.. Just to get to know, to understand, and to relate to an ‘undesirable’ girl she’d barely known!

 

“I am not sure about the total, catastrophic failures,” said the little gnome finally, with the same subdued voice, “..but I think I can help with the big, blooming explosions. Provided, you run faster!”

“And..”, she said, “..that’ll be ‘Tonic’ for you, girl.”

The little gnome felt something shift inside her.

A point in perspective, perhaps?

 

Or something..

 

Whatever it was, it would come to her in due time. But she had this pinching feeling that it seemed like it was high time she got off her high horses and stepped up to her end of the pair.

To that end, she turned and hastily gathered all her tools; her hammer, her wrench, her drivers, pliers, nippers and cutters, the numerous gadgets, spare bolts, and coiled wires and put them to their proper places inside her large, portable toolbox. She sat down and took off her clobbering boots, ignoring the freezing cold biting at the soles of her naked feet as she opened the little hood of the lantern and pinched the life out of the candle in it. Cast in darkness, she skimmed the elegantly made lantern with her slim fingers until she found what she was looking for; a well-concealed runic button hidden at its base. She lightly tapped the button, setting it to MODE B…

There..

..on the other side of the ancient, bitter cold cave, where the curvy form of a very tall, pitch-black figure —her pair— slumbered..

..was something.

Something hidden..

 

Arcantonic smiled.

 

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

There was still time, and she was going to make things right with the only person who had bothered to get to know her, damit!

 

She reached up and twirled a small knob on her goggles, turning the black darkness into shades of blue and gray as everything became oddly distinct for her..

Arcantonic Palecog quietly faded in the darkness to do some burglarizing of her own; it was going to be a long night and hopefully, an even longer, FAQed and color-coded, read..

 

 


 

 

 
 

Somewhere Bitter
In the Darkness (18+)

Timeline:

This story takes place sometime between the birth of Bremorel Songsteel and the birth of Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane, in a bitterly cold cave, somewhere up very north of any known civilization.

 

 

I hate this shit..!”

A somewhat raspy and tenoric voice echoed in the darkness of a very large, bitter cold cave. It was, however, a bit unclear whether the bitterness was in the voice or the arctic cave. A number of glacial stalactites did shatter and crumble down though.

A single candle danced and fluttered inside an elegant, copper framed lantern in one corner of the cave where a small figure wearing goggles with thick, darkened lenses banged and fiddled with a very large, rusty, mechanical..

..monstrosity?

It was hard to say what this thing really was. It vaguely resembled a bear.. perhaps.

 

Or something..

 

Many cogs, gears, clockwork springs, moving arms, and levers shifted and shuffled inside it with a great amount of vertical noise as sharp columns of steam hissed out of areas where they probably shouldn’t.

“What are you doing..”, another, sleepy and voluptuous voice said, out of the reach of the stuttering candlelight.

“I am working on my project. What does it look like I am doing?”, the raspy voice replied in a grouchy tone.

“Come on, girl. It’s the dead hour of the night. Come back and sleep..”, the sultry voice said with a yawn.

 

I remember once when some dolt with nothing better to do asked me what my ideals were.

When everyone despises you for your family, you have no future and ideals become overrated..

Thanks, uncle, for buggering my life!

And thank you too, Nadine Graciousward.. for, so graciously kicking my retarded uncle’s gnomic arse six ways to hell and milking it for all you are worth..

..stupid bitch!

 

“You may have time to sleep, but some of us have actual work to do and don’t rely on the size of our breasts to get them done!”, the raspy voice cracked.

There was a surly moment of silence followed by a rustling sound and then, a pair of soft, naked feet approached the dim candlelight.

“That was a tad uncalled for, Tonic, even for you.. Besides, there is nothing wrong with the size of my breasts. Neither with yours, for that matter, proportionally speaking, of course.. Only if you could be bothered to sulk less and wiggle them some —the way I showed you. And speaking of work, nothing you have done actually did work, you know. Might as well sleep.. or wiggle, at the very least!”, said the voluptuous voice as an impossibly tall and very much dark figure entered the dimly glowing light.

“My goggles work. So does my lantern..!”, the little figure snapped indignantly. “..And don’t call me ‘Tonic’. We are not friends enough for you to get familiar with my name.”

“This is quite a big leap from a pair of goggles and a lantern.”, said the tall figure, pointing dubiously at the mechanical ‘whatsit’. “And I have been calling you ‘Tonic’ since the day we were introduced for the scholar pairing, back in the academy. And that was nearly two years ago.. What just changed?”

“I just got around to it..”

 

I have no bonds, only chains.. and this idiot with a pink fetish, shamelessly running around in a retarded mini skirt-dress that defies gravity, i am paired to..

Pink skirt.. Really? What kind of a demented and abysmally stupid girl goes to the dig site of some ancient ruin in a mini skirt!

“Hey boys, I am going to bend over here to brush the dust off these skeletal remains, don’t be shy..”

I mean, it’s not even sending mixed messages!

Hells bells, girl, you are slim as willow and tall as the Raven Queen’s hallowed spire. I can see your laced, pink panties under that piece of laced, pink swab you call a dress, just by looking at your face, and I am not even trying.. I have seen things there, I am never going to scrub out of my mind!

 

The owner of the raspy voice turned to look at the tall figure with compounded irritation and quickly averted her eyes.

“Can you at least put something on? Anything. Even that sham of a dress I wouldn’t use for a cloak will do!”

“For all that’s good and not, why? We are alone, in a cave, in the middle of nowhere.. literally.. for all three cases!”, the tall figure replied.

“Besides, it’s quite warm in here. Hot even, I dare say.”, she added..

..and shrugged her slim shoulders, causing some other things to bounce as well.

 

Some people ask me what my flaws are.

Don’t need any. I have this stupid girl to look after and the deeds of a retard uncle that follow me wherever I go..

Nobody can be this unlucky, yet here I am..

It’s like the sky’s wanted a laugh and said; here, let’s make a particularly midgety gnome.

And while at it, let’s make her as pale and skinny as a hundred-year-old ghoul.

Then let’s make her a relative to someone famous.. Famous for engineering something as abysmally stupid as a demon gate, just so she gets the special treatment of a leper.

..And then make him get owned by a little girl that just turns out to be the most beautiful minx in the king’s land. So beautiful in fact, that she destroys the legendary Arcanton with her pretty, rather than brains and gets to marry a friggin elf ri!

Really?..AN ELF Rİ!

What?, “Marry the handsome prince and live happily ever after’ routine wasn’t good ‘nuf for you? I am certain there was any number of them around, just waiting to be grabbed by you!

I mean, can you even get any brasher then that?

But that’s not all.. Let’s kick the midget some more while she’s down and pair her off with another beautiful girl. Preferably with ‘the most popular girl of the academy’ made of two long legs, a little ass..

..and pretty much nothing else.

You know, just to underline the difference in size, color, and.. everything else. I don’t even qualify to reach her waist. When I look straight at her, I just see.. pink!.

Look at her; my little gnomic arse is frozen numb and she dares says ‘it’s hot, even’!..

It makes me and ‘irony’ bleed!

 

A sharp clanking sound came from the mechanical monstrosity.

“Is it supposed to do that?”, the tall figure asked.

“Possibly..”, the raspy, small figure replied evasively.

An arm shot out from the mechanical ‘thing’ and grabbed at the tall figure!

“Umm.. is he really supposed to do that? Grab my ass the way he has, I mean..”, the tall figure said, more with surprise than any kind trepidation.

“No.. maybe..”, the raspy-voiced little figure replied, somewhat dismayed. “But it’s no wonder he would, the way you keep running around the way you do..”

“What’s wrong with the way I run? Although, now that you mentioned it, I do feel funked!”, the tall figure said, looking down at the mechanical arm. “If he squeezes, and leaves a mark, I will have to demolish him. You know that, right?”

“Funked?!”, the small figure said.

“Yea, funked. That was the popular word in the academy when we left.. Probably dropped out of use, though. Nothing lasts in the academy for long.”, the tall figure signed.

The little gnome snorted as she kept fidgeting and tuning the cogs, wheels, and gears inside the mechanical monstrosity.. but with a hint of desperation now.

“Where did you get all these parts anyway. We are in the middle of an arctic desert!”, the tall, dark figure asked.

“Magic, duh!”, said the small figure.

“Ahh, right.. I suppose all is okay if there is a ‘duh’ in it.”, sniffed the tall figure. “You know, I never really liked that word. It’s not even a real word. It’s impolite, patronizing, very unscholarly, and sounds so silly.”

The small figure ignored her.

“And why in all that’s good and not, do all your clockworks have a sad, worried expression on their faces?”

“Because I find that hilarious..”

“You find sad faces hilarious.. There is something seriously wrong with you girl. I mean, who finds sad faces, funny?”

“Me..?”

 

The tall figure reached out to touch something that looked like the single antenna of a sawyer bug, sticking out of the rusty, elongated egg-like head of the monstrosity.

“STOP!”, the little figure shouted.

“DO NOT TOUCH THAT!”

“What? Why?”, the tall one asked.

“Because it will disintegrate you!”

“No, it won’t!”

“It might.”

Multi-tasking a conversation with this tall figure and trying to tune the mechanical thing was starting to get to her. All she wanted was to be left alone, all to herself.

“You are just cranky because it just doesn’t work. Like, at all.. Now tell me, why?”, the tall figure asked softly, with an unexpected change from her voluptuous voice.

“Why, what?”

“Why are you always chewing me out? I am not the real reason for the disposition of your ire. Merely your happy excuse.”

“The disposition of my ire?”, snorted the gnome. “Using the big words now, are we?”

“Casting yourself in the third person now, are you? I am simply your G.T.B.G.”

The little gnome stared at the very tall, very dark figure through her thick goggles in blank incomprehension.

“My what?”

“Your G-T-B-G.. Your Go-To Burn Girl!.. To be used for the amusement of your cumulative anger; hey look, Tonic is feeling irritated, just dump it on the tall, pretty girl. Tonic is feeling angry, just burn the tall, pretty strumpet. And now, Tonic is feeling waspish, go right ahead and claw, bite, sting, and stab the tall, stupid girl.

It must be all right to hurt the Go-To Burn Girl since you think so little of me. In your mind, I am just a stupid, pretty idiot that I can not help but be. You have no regard whether the things you say may really hurt because some of them might actually be true, but nevertheless, things I can not change nor do anything about, save taking a knife and carving myself with it..

I can’t change what I am. My height, my color, my face.. and hey, my incomprehensible, mindlessly obsessive passion for pink! And you are accusing me, punishing me and pushing me away for them.. and your family. None of which I had nothing to do..

Other than the inevitable, I have never once looked down on you. Never have I judged you by your size, your appearance, your past, nor your family.. When I look at you, I see a lovely, smart girl who is angry and feels that anger justifies burning her pair.

Has it ever occurred to you that they might not have paired you to me to get rid of you, but paired me to you so we could help fix each other?

For everything that’s good and not, have you ever wondered why I call you ‘Tonic’ and never once by your full name? Or why I never asked you about your uncle?”

 

There was a long moment of silence as a stubborn minute snailed by..

..followed by another.

 

The little gnome tried very hard not to say anything but failed, and finally gave in.

“No.. Yes.. Why?”

 

“Because I saw the hurt in your eyes every time some idiot did.. and asking about it one more time just to have satisfied a passing show of interest at the cost of more pain to you, was not acceptable for me. You don’t do that to your pair. And to be totally honest about it, I only felt indifferent to your uncle. He meant absolutely little to nothing for me. Neither did your kinship to him.

I acknowledged that kinship, it’s unavoidable existence and how it related to you, not because of him or his deeds, but because of what those deeds cost you and did to you. I never saw him as a great researcher, nor a loser. I saw him as a reckless megalomaniac who gave no regard to the possible outcome of his actions and what those actions might entail.. It is possible, though not acceptable, for someone to be careless with the lives of some far, faceless strangers. But knowing you have a family and still doing what he did it is simple baseline lunacy! If I so desperately wanted to know about him, I still wouldn’t have tormented you, I would have just gone to the academy library, seeing as how there is a whole section dedicated to his idiocy..

Just like the things you despise me for having but I could do nothing about, you could do nothing about your connection to him either.. But you know what hurts me as much as you being kin to Arcanton do you? Your deliberate indifference to the things you say to your pair!

 

You don’t get to be snippy with me all the time. Nor to burn me because you think I supply you with an outlet of convenience. You don’t do that to a pair. I am sorry I fall short of your standards or your expectations all the time. I try very hard not to. I really do.. But your expectations are not some high standards for perfection. They are a mere excuse for your private misery. I can’t meet those standards because deep down, you and I both know, they are not there to overcome, but they are there to stay. It is your inner, impregnable castle where people around you must bash their heads to get through, but never will. You know why? Because you can’t break a wall by bashing it with heads, no matter how many of them you throw at it. And by some remarkable off chance that you did, the wall is now ‘broken’ and the castle has likely been raided.. and left behind. Abandoned without its dignity or soul.

You have to lower your bridge and let me in..

 

‘Wow..’, thought Tonic, grudgingly. There was no way in hell she could ever make a speech like that and on the spot. Her best would have had nothing but lots of cussing and grunting!

And here was her idiot of a pair, one-half naked, the other half in pinks, had just given her the analytic run down of all her base issues..

 

“And I am also sorry your.. whatever this thing is, doesn’t work. “

“It works..”, said the little gnome in a surly tone, trying very, very hard to ignore all the things the tall, dark figure just said.

 

To be totally honest with herself, the little gnome was expecting a speech of this sort for quite some time now and thought it was long overdue.

By one and a half years..

The silly girl standing in the dim candlelight in front of her had a remarkable resilience for her plaguing misery and patience to rival the arctic night winds howling outside; it took hundreds of years for those winds to wear down an inch of a mountain..

Yet, they did it anyway..

A bit like this very tall, very dark figure.

But what hit the little gnome harder than a six-horse cart was the deep, mind wracking content of the speech.

And how it had been served.

What she expected was lots of yelling and moaning, along with some arm-waving, possibly some tears and hopefully, an extended duel of ‘you did, I did’s..

But not this.

 

This, she did not expect..

..at all.

 

“Ow?”, the tall figure asked, her face drawn and strained.

“It grabbed your butt..!”, the gnome said grudgingly.

“Nothing new there. Everyone wants to grab it. This one just happened to be the lucky catcher.”, the tall figure said with the hint of a smile.

“What is this thing supposed to be anyway?”

“Mechaber.”

“Mecha- whot?”

“Mechaber. Short for Mechanical Bear.”

“It doesn’t look anything like a bear.”

“How would you know?”

“Animology class at the academy zoo..”

“You took animology?”, the little figure scoffed in total disbelief.

“Among many other things, yes.. Why? Is that so hard to believe?”

“What’s hard to believe is that you went to animology for the class and not for the pretty face that gave it..”

“Why do one, when you could do both? I am surprised you noticed the pretty face, though —any pretty face, really, considering you never took the class and you can’t even stand mine.. The fact, however, remains; I took animology at the academy zoo and this thing looks nothing even remotely like a bear.. Not even a Grudran bear, which technically isn’t a bear, but an acceptable sub specie of the bugbear. I also know all the classes you took.. and your grades!”

The little figure’s face darkened.

Alright, it did, in fact, look nothing ‘even remotely’ like a bear, but she was going to call him ‘Mechaber‘ anyway, damit!

And she silently conceded that perhaps she should quit blaming and chewing out her pair for everything.. or anything, for that matter.

Hells bells, the silly idiot had taken the time and effort to get to know her, going as far as asking around to find out about the classes she took along with her grades. Especially the grades.. Those were confidential information. The academy staff wouldn’t have just handed those to her.

Considering how no one wanted to talk about ‘that demon summoning fool’s niece’, it must have taken her quite some effort, and no small amount of charm on her part to get people to want to talk about her..

What kind of a demented sort of person does that?

 

The competent counterpart of the ‘pair’..

Apparently!..

 

Whatever else her very tall, very dark pair might be, one thing was clear; she was no fool, and she was no one’s fool.

And she certainly had an unexpected amount of steel in her..

The little gnome felt like she was one of those jerks who took the frustrations of work out of their wives and kids..

 

..and quite suddenly, and in spite of herself, a hint of shame appeared in her eyes, hidden behind the thick goggles.

 

Nope.

You literally can’t add any more flaws on top of what’s already there, that’s worth worrying over.

 

Perhaps you think I am bitter.

WELL, AREN’T YOU A BOSSY ONE?!

 

*Sigh*  I hate this shit..

 

(continued in the next story: “A Shift in Perspective“)