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..
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!”
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.
“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.
“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’..”
“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.
“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..”
“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..
..she cried in pain.
I FEEL THE LOVE YOU HAVE FOR HER..
AND THE HATE YOU FEEL FOR YOURSELF..
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, 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?”
“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..
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..
“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..
“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..
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.
“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.
..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.