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 past 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.
“Bigmouth 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.
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 to nail them all down..
Yes. There really were 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.
“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 maniacleft 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 for 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 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 Societymembers? 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, but 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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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..
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..
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.
“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 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 the 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;
✱ ✱ ✱
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.
“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 to 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 Galadwas 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!”
In case 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 though 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.
“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 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 are.. 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!“
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..?”
“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 myself 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..”
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.
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..
“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!”
“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 DragonHydius 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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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!
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.
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 to me?”, she said and Tonic sank even deeper into the snow.
“Yea..”, said Brom from the side. “..why is she apologizing to 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.
“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..”
“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..
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.
“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 aren’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!”
“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..
In the end, however, whoever has planned the furthest and deepest, shall win.
And evil plans are seldom simple.
In this cycle, the mind behind everything is cunning, far-sighted, and encompassing. If the mortals and their allies can not undo the knots binding them with these plans, they shall perish. And when they perish, so shall this world and it will become another feeding ground for the demons where mortals will be bred for the sole purpose of being food for a very horrific banquet!
They shall be born, slaughtered, and be fed upon, in an endless, gruesome cycle.
How is the gate going? Are our engineers making any progress?”, the uncanny voice asked.
The uncanny, beautiful and masculine voice..
The voice was followed only by a short pause that could barely hide the fear of retribution.
“I am afraid not, my Liege. Whatever that fool Arcanton did with his colossal miscalculations, our mortal engineers have yet been unable to find..”, replied a thick, sultry, comely woman’s voice. “..The numbers are extremely delicate and hard to read.. Not to mention, coded! The paranoid midget coded everything he did. Deciphering them all is both time and life-consuming..”
Another pause was heard, followed by a deep, deadly sign.
The illustrious, very woman-like demon flinched.
“We must get that demon gate up and running. At current rate, we can only push so many minions through it at once, and all they provide is entertainment for the mortals..”, the beautiful, masculine voice said.
“Yes, my Liege.”, agreed the thick, feminine voice.
“But then, they are also keeping the said mortals pinned at the Demon Plains.. Otherwise, they would all coalesce at the Demon Wall and push The Damned Legion all the way through the Demons End, Fiend Pits, and on to the Citadel of Gullem —does the old fool still live, by the way?”
“Yes, my Liege, he still lives..”, signed the thick, luster, feminine voice.
“Bother..”, breathed the masculine one with unhidden contempt. “I was really hoping he’d croak. Rather irksome when mortals stay past their grave time, is it not?”
“Perhaps we can arrange a decent send-off for him, my Liege?”, the feminine voice asked hopefully and more than eagerly.
“Ow no, my dear Irine. When I want him offed, I certainly do not wish any decency in his demise. In fact, I have a special cage prepared just for his soul, down in my guest quarters. But until then, he is performing an excellent service by petrifying where he sits while terrifying the mortals and keeping them busy at Demon Wall..”
The masculine voice gave an unearthly chuckle.
“Demon Plains, Demon Wall, The Damned Legion, Demons End, Fiend Pits.. Mortals can be so unimaginative. You would think they would avoid naming their world with things that which they avoid!”
“They are fools, my Liege. That they name what they fear, with what they fear, makes us stronger..”, smiled the very feminine demon.
“Indeed, they are.. Irine.. Indeed, they are..”, the beautiful, masculine voice said lazily. “What of our ‘Seeds of Dissension’ project coming along?”
Irine, the illustrious, comely demon clapped her hands in delight.
“We are making excellent progress on that front, my Liege. This batch of ‘seeds’ has produced an exceptionally beautiful and promising progeny. She is filled with hate and spite and despite her young age, she loathes mortals and is incapable of comprehending mortal love.”, she gloated..
“Soon, she will be ready to be pulled out of her pit. She will then be put to conditioning. Then her real training will begin; on seduction, magic, and combat. We shall than unleash her upon her former tormentors. And once she has shed their blood, there will be no turning back for her.
“Her former tormentors..”, said the masculine voice. “It’s a pity they must die..”
“They are mortals, my Liege. Fools and easy to replace. They shall have fully performed their part only by dying at the hands of our ‘seeds'”, Irine sneered.
“Fools, yes… but devout fools. Wasting them seems like.. wasting them.. It appears mortals do not lack for fools, and neither do we..”, said the beautiful voice with little effort to veil the menace in it.
“You have great expectations from this seed, then?”, asked the handsome voice, skimming over his unveiled threat.
“Yes.. yes, my Liege. She will become a great asset to your plans..”, agreed Irine, her voice unable to hide the tremor that clutched it.
“Hmm.. and perhaps my BRIDE.. If she performs as you have promised..”, smiled the masculine voice.
Irine froze again, but not of fear this time.
She froze and her face darkened with lust and black hatred..
“Come now, Irine.. I am well aware of your desires.. and your appetites.. But I am afraid you would make a poor bride..”
“My.. my Liege.. I would wish nothing less, and nothing more; to be at your side as your bride has been my only, deepest, darkest desire.. This too, I am sure you are aware..”, she said with such lusty longing, that her breasts heaved with hoarse, heavy expirations and tremors of unbidden delights zagged and throbbed through her whole body as her dark, penetrating eyes bore into her master.
“Yes. Your deepest, darkest desires have been long noted. But I am afraid you have too many ideas and ideals petrified in you. So much so that I would have to break you, for you can no longer be bent. It would be a shame to do that; to break you.. Then I would have to burn you down to the core to remold you to my liking.. Too much effort for too little gain.. Not to mention, the loss of one of my greatest and most illustrious concubines..”, the handsome voice smiled.
Irine slumped as her life long wish was crushed, quiet cruelly before her eyes as she awakened to the one, ‘unbending’ fact that forever she would be her masters ‘greatest and most illustrious’ whore..
“Do not despair, my lovely Irine..”, said the masculine voice. “For you are more than a mere concubine. You have nearly a great and cunning mind as your great and cunning curves!”
“Now, you shall take this ‘exceptional progeny’ you so seem to pride upon, under your wings, and personally see to her training. I want her educated in all mortal and non-mortal aspects.. I want her to know what drives us, and what drives mortals. I want her to see into us and into mortal hearts. When she speaks, her voice must be heard by our kind and followed by mortals with mindless lust. And because she will also be half-mortal, she will be unbanishable.. She will roam the mortal earth like a plague. Where she goes, death, destruction, and dissension shall follow..”
The beautiful, masculine voice paused.
And when he spoke again, there was power in his reverberating words..
“Make it so, Irine. For this is a task I shall trust no one but you. When she is ready, you shall bring her to me. Know this also, Irine, that her accomplishments and successes shall be yours to claim. This then, shall be your solace.. But so shall her failures..”, and this time, the beautiful, masculine voice did not bother veiling his threat.
Irine started shivering with true fear.
“And see if our greatest failure, Themalsar has been able to find Pricentines’ Light..”
“If we can get that weapon, Pricentine himself would be vulnerable. And as long as he lacks his precious sword, he is nothing! Nothing but a shame to his own kind; an angel who has let his soul blade go missing.. Do inform our dear Themalsar that his time is long overdue and if he is not successful in this, one endeavor, remind him I have his blood, his hair, and quite a few parts of his skin.. Remind him that I could do to him, what I let him do to that elf whore he was so riled about..
We have their Ad Ara here.. We must rid of Priceptine as well.. Speaking of which, I believe I have another 12 o’clock appointment with my dear ‘Dara.. I adore ruining an Archangel’s lunch hours, though I doubt she has any appetite left in her.”
And with that, the great throne room shivered as one of the greatest minds of the demonic horde, Kardax’Trakxa “The Face”, gave a chuckle..
..not the maniacal evil boss cackle, just a chuckle.
“I believe that will be all for today, Irine.”, said “The Face”.
“Yes, my Liege..”, bowed Irine and departed, a smolder of a look on her face..
✱ ✱ ✱
The Face” sighed, rose from his massive, scarcely adorned thrown, and glided to the great table nearby. Unlike his predecessor, “The Face”, found little taste in flamboyance and grandeur. He had destroyed so many of his competitors and enemies alike by his ‘nondescript’ glamour. For him, everything he showed, was something they learned.. A ‘something’ they would certainly use against him.
The irony that he would be known as “The Face” was not lost.. or perhaps lost that he still, with mechanical precision and determination, had grinded down every enemy, every obstacle, and every challenge he’d faced..
He sat down and took the notes of the day into the black-bound, rather unostentatious book lying open on the great table.
The book was old, shredded at the sides, and very nearly as old as he’d been a mere demon squad leader. Into that book, he’d written down his ideas, his plans —long term or short, it didn’t matter, certain critical rituals, the details to his trademark spells, small, minute details he’d noticed about anyone or anything, and even little drawings morals called ‘doodles’. It was the one object, mortals or otherwise, would probably give their souls to get their hands on.
“The Face” smiled.
Too bad mortals gave their soul anyway, and for so much less..
Too bad mortals and quite a number of immortals would lose their souls if they even set eyes on the old book..
Before rising for his daily routine of going down into the dungeons to feed upon the agonies of a certain Archangel, he noted down a few more notes about what he would do, and accomplish, and the advantages of actually taking a half-mortal for a bride. For “The Face”, the mortality aspect of a potential bride was not really an issue but a matter of practical inconvenience. What mattered was the quality of devastation they could accomplish, rather than the quantity of years they would spend together.
Irine was many things and had more than her share of faults. But she was always accurate on her assessments and if this ‘seed’ was anything she’d hoped for, a pure and molded succubus half-blood would make an excellent bride, indeed..
“The Face” smiled once more as he caressed his book, the KARDAX CHRONICLES, rose from the table and departed to tear what little flesh was left on the Archangel, locked down in the dungeons..
✱ ✱ ✱
Kısılmış gözleri ve sıkılmış dişleri arasından, zorlukla zaptedebildiği duygularının oynaştığı solgun yüzü gerilir ve kısık bir sesle sorar Anglenna.
“Nereden biliyorsun bunları?”
Succubi melezi bir süre ona bakar ve sonra, ancak duyulur bir sesle cevap verir.
Irine the Erinyes Concubine; (pronounced as ‘Ai Rie Né’, a word that derives from ‘irin’, meaning ‘fester/pus’) a more powerful version of the succubi demons. She was also ‘Auntie’ Irine for Merisoul Xyrotwu, the same demon whom the Serenity Group encountered during their final fight against Themalsar. She was a vicious and cunning adversary who nearly slaughtered through the companions and broke Moria Alicia Jean Hooman’s arm by sheer strength.
She was finally slain with the combined power of the group and a half-ton Inshala Frostmane when she inadvertently dropped on her in her gigantic scorpion form!
The ‘elf whore’ referred to, is the Ranger Marshal Selendenien Sindarin of Bari Na-ammen, who caused the first Themalsar War to stretch over four years. She was slain by Themalsar himself when he used a little known spell called Malocchio, a trademark death curse of Kardax’Trakxa “The Face”. She was the youngest sister of High Lady Angrellen and Ri Grandaleren.
Lyrics to the song; “Devil, Devil” by MILCK
Devil, devil Clever Devil, Devil How quickly they do sell their souls For the feast and the promise of gold But devil that won’t be me
Devil, Devil Bones of metal, metal You torture saints with a single glance Make them think, they ever stood a chance
Do not try me Devil, Devil Cannot buy me Devil, Devil You won’t make a fool of me, oh no What makes you so special, special To think I would ever settle For that devious dance between you and me, Devil, Devil
Rebel, rebel call me rebel, rebel I walk the plank, not a tear in my eye I won’t go down your blushing bride Under the water I’ll be sharpening my knife
Do not try me Devil, Devil Cannot buy me Devil, Devil You won’t make a fool of me, oh no What makes you so special, special To think I would ever settle For that devious dance between you and me, Devil, Devil
You take the shape of Everything that I’m drawn to You take the shape of Everything that I’m drawn to But your eyes Are dead and red Red as rust
Do not try me Devil, Devil Cannot buy me Devil, Devil You won’t make a fool of me, oh no What makes you so special, special To think I would ever settle For that devious dance between you and me, Devil, Devil
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.
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..
..and a blurt;
⊗ — “You?”
The old woman 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..
You cannot see it, you cannot feel it, taste it, smell it, or hear it.
And yet, it wears the hand, takes the sight and the sound and bends the spine!
You cannot fight it, you cannot resist it, beat it, wound it nor slay it.
You can only yield to it..
It is cunning, it is stingy, ruthless, pitiless and sparse.
It turns a spark into a fire, and fire into ash. It grinds mountains to dust. It gathers trickles into oceans.
It gives birth to rebellions and liberties and brings down empires..
It gives meaning to patience, diligence, and vigilance.
It is the key to mortality and the lock to eternity.
It precedes and postcedes..
One day we are, one day we are not.
It is hope and it is despair..
Never gentle, and never kind.
It is what tells us that the moment we are born, we have started dying..
It is there, it is inevitable, it is unyielding and unforgiving.
Tic by toc, it graves away, leaving less than what we were.
Whatever we have built, it shall down. Whatever we have done, it shall sow..
One would think we’d give life the meaning it deserves..
It is the link between places, spaces, events, and relations by the simple expedience of relating the past to the future..
It gives meaning..
The events in this particular story take place over a vast stretch of time —relatively speaking. It starts shortly after “And Just Beyond That (18+)“, and ends some eight hundred and fifty years later, in the dark, hidden, rundown, moldy basement of the local thieves’ guild of The Great Arashkan City, where all sorts of stolen goods, documents, and officious papers are kept for bribe and blackmail..
Ow damn..”, someone spat, followed by a string of black, blistering curses.
‘Tonic’, thought Cora. It was never hard to guess who was saying what, even in the pitch dark, as they were now.
When Brom spoke, he always seemed to need to precede what he wanted to say by underlining it with a note or two of his lyre.
When Seressa spoke, she said it with this wide-eyed, ‘always surprised’ tone. And if she was really surprised —or exasperated, she would start with, ‘Ow, for all that’s good and not..’
As for Tonic..
If she wasn’t some midgety little gnome and wasn’t so cute, she would have made a great witch, Cora thought, what with all the cursing and all!
Then she wondered what hertraits were. Or more to the point, what her friends thought her traits were.
It seemed people could, with quite ease, catch, kill, and skin the traits in others, but never themselves.
Funny how that went.
Cora Sleet blew out some steam and harshly whispered, “What is it now, girl?”
‘Girl..?’, she thought. She couldn’t remember any time she referred to anyone using that word, or tone in Ironfrost. Guess Seressa’s habits —and traits were rubbing on to her and Cora didn’t know if that was really a good thing..
“Girl..?”, snorted Brom, from off the other side. “I can’t remember you referring to anyone like that before.”
‘Great, now I am scowling like the midgety gnome!’..
..and scowled some more.
✱ ✱ ✱
My pack..”, Tonic groaned. “It’s gone!”
“It’s only a pack.”, said Seressa. “Don’t worry. We’ll get you a new one.. Once we get anywhere that is remotely civilized.”
“No, damit. That pack was where I kept the lot of all my good stuff!”, she groaned again.
In fact, it was more of a moan than a groan.
So much so that her voice trembled like she was about to cry.
Thatgot Cora’s attention.
She couldn’t imagine the little gnome crying. Lots and lots of non-stop cussing and swearing, yes, but a crying Tonic?
Crying was so.. out of sorts for Tonic.
‘Out of sorts?’, she thought. Damit, I did it again. I used Seressa’s words..
‘Damit?!’, I just used Tonic’s word. Bloody hell—
Cora decided this was a good time to shut up!
“The good stuff? That sounds ominously like some sort of contraband..”, noted Brom.
Thank you, Brom. Go on, ask her all the relevant questions..
‘Relevant?’, —damit!.. Ow hell!.. Just did it again..!
“What? No, damit. Some of my very important gadgets and hardware were in it. Like my duo-meter, pseudo-emissioner and..”, she stumbled.
“And..?”, asked Brom, as if he knew what a duo-meter or a pseudo-emissioner was. Though he could proudly tell the difference between a hammer and a wrench as one was good for pinning nails while the other was not.
“A letter..”, said Tonic, her voice strained.
“A letter? Who was it from? Didn’t know you received letters. I never do..”, signed Seressa’s voice.
“It wasn’t a letter for me. It was someone else’s letter.”, blushed Tonic’s voice.
There was a collective, pregnant silence.
“Oookay..”, said Seressa, stretching the word.
“Damit, girl.. If you must know, that silly boy gave it to me so I could give it to his father.. There.. Happy now?”, blazed Tonic.
“Boy? What boy?”, asked Seressa, sounding totally baffled.
“That Gordigon boy..”
“Ahhh.. PrinceGordigon.. had a chat with him in private, did we?”, asked Seressa with an insincerely innocent voice.
“Casting yourself in the third person now, are you? The boy was going to go all out and fight for us against half a hundred ogres just so we could get away. The least I could do was to take his bloody letter to his father.”, admitted Tonic, but not as vehemently as she made it sound like she wanted to.
So did Brom.
Cora had shut up, so she didn’t even bother to pause.
“Ahh.. Well if you did have a private moment with him, luv, I wouldn’t have blamed you. He was a rather handsome devil, hewas. And want him to be as youmight, he certainly was nota boy. I know boys. That gnome was giving you the kind of looks no boy can imitate. That comes with time, hardship, and on a ‘first sight’ basis.”
“It was not a ‘first sight’ thing, alright? There were no ‘first sights’, no private moments, and no ‘just one kisses’.. or anything else whatsoever going on.. He gave me the letter, and I nearly brained him for it!”, blustered Tonic.
“No, dear luv, you didn’t nearly brain him, you fully brained him! But even if you did any or all of the ‘whatsoever’s, I would’ve said the same; Why not? For all that’s good and not, girl, really, why not? I would have been happy for you if you did. I mean, I can see you blush from where you are, right now. You are literally glowing in the dark! It’s so cute, I could pounce you right now!”, said Seressa with a supremely smug voice.
“I am not blushing. It’s just hot! And there will be no pouncing, thank you very much!”, replied Tonic indignantly, trying very hard to suppress a growl.
“I totally agree. You certainly are hot.. for that ‘boy’!”, said the very tall, very dark girl with a very happy tone.
“The hell I was..”, said Tonic and this time, she did growl.
“Alright..”, butt in Brom, knowing full well he would be very sorry about it in the end, but he just couldn’t help it. “..so it was just a letter from some guy to his father and it got lost. Nothing to worry about, then?”
“Nice..”, he heard Seressa’s voice in triumph.
Tonic shut up. A bit like Cora.
She was a smart girl with an artificer’s degree. But she knew when it came to mouthing off, she had no chance against Seressa. Her pair was just too good at it and had, had an ‘early start’..
And now, she’d teamed up with the bloody hobbit!
“Taking sides with the unscrupulous little weasel now, are you?”, she croaked.
“Heey..!”, objected Brom, but Tonic ignored him.
Her heart plummeted for she felt betrayed.
But not for long..
Very long, very dark arms came at her from nowhere and she never saw them coming. They came, they wrapped and they held her like clamps.
For the first time, Tonic felt the touch of her pair.. and her smell.. and damit, she smelled so nice! Very much like those pink flowers, whatever they were called —she’d hated herbology at the academy and it had merely been one of those classes she’d been burdened with, just to have filled up her ‘total hours’.
In fact, Tonic thought, her pair smelled exactly like those flowers, but innately, intimately, and infinitely warmer.
As for her touch, Tonic refused to comment on it, not even mentally..
“Tonic, luv..”, Seressa said quietly to the little gnome caught in her vast, mind-numbingly warm, enthralling embrace, “..right or wrong, I am and will always be on your side. If ever a side is to be taken, without any doubt or reservation, I will be on the side of my pair, gales and gallows.. But if you felt something for the boy, do not deny this to yourself. Do not deprive yourself of the beautiful feeling that you felt, nor demean his sacrifice by defying his.. As short-lived as it was, he came to you openly and honestly, without deceit or trickery.. Do yourself the same courtesy, if not to him..”
Seressa’s voice was kind, tinted with the beckoning hand of tenderness..
Tonic swallowed.. hard.
Her pair was getting near one of those subjects she’d sworn off years ago, after her stupid uncle Arcanton did what he did and was cast out and banished, lepering his whole, extended family in the eyes of the world.
Since then she’d disliked and eventually, hated everything and everyone. She hadn’t even wanted to have anything to do with the silly pairing ritual, the academy had foisted on her.
And here was her pair, literally smoldering that hate and drugging her with her pinks and flowery fragrance —what was the bloody thing called, damit? Creeping Loks? Creeping Flocks? Well, it certainly was creeping her out.. Creeping Phlox.. Yes, that’s what it was called; Creeping Pink Phlox!
While she was struggling with pinkses and phloxes, something dawned in Seressa’s mind and she finally got it.
And so did Brom..
..the true significance at the core of Tonic’s ire and grief.
Brom did not say anything, but Seressa did.
Tenderly she whispered.
“Oh, my dear girl, you read the letter..”
Tonic did not answer.
Tonic could not answer..
Only a bitter sob escaped her.
“Yes.. Stupid of me, reading someone else’s letter like that.. Stupid, inconsiderate, rude and.. stupid..”, she finally said when she could, with a broken voice.
‘Wow..’, thought Cora, ‘..for Tonic to declare herself ‘inconsiderate’, ‘rude’ and ‘stupid’ so seamlessly andfind a fault in her own, she really must be hurting.’
“No, my dear, the letter was barely for his father.”, Seressa disagreed softly. “Why else would he have given it to you? He could have handed it over to anyone in his company. They were all trained military. Any number of them could have carried it to his father and we were going nowhere even remotely near Silent Hills. Considering the importance and the time constraints of our mission, he had to have known that you would never have had the chance to take the letter to his father.
No, baby girl, the letter really only had one intended recipient, and she got it. Hence, it was, in fact, for you..”
Tonic sobbed again.
“I am so, so happy for you..”, Seressa said with genuine elation.
“Then why? Why would he do this to me.. or to himself?”, she asked, her voice lost in Seressa’s embrace.
“Because the moment of our birth, is not who we really are. That is a mere chance. It is the moment of our death, we see who we really are. For the great few, that is choice.. When it comes, it comes at the moment and time, that which is the culmination of our actions and our deeds.. And all the choices we have made thus far..
Gordigon sought a fine, honorable, and beautiful death by carrying out an impossible mission given to him by the Heavens to help us break through the hordes of Themalsar.
He hoped to find a fine, honorable, and beautiful girl to share what life he had was left remaining to him, be it a day or a century..
Wished them both, he did.. and was granted both.
At the same time!
He must have been the luckiest man if there ever was one!”, Seressa breathed to her pair.
Tonic sobbed some more..
..with an uncharacteristically broken heart while her pair held her as if to shield her from whatever the world might throw at her, with a steely determination that only bespoke the fact that what her pair felt, she felt as well..
Quite a bit later, really, the little Tonic girl sniffed loudly.
“If.. if you pick me up or try and coin purse me, I will hurt you, girl..”, she threatened. She knew she couldn’t, or rather, wouldn’t hurt her pair, and be damned if anyone tried.. No, she would never hurt her, not any more than she’d already done in the past two years, but she was notgoing to get into a coin purse, damit!
“No, luv. I shan’t. Not that I wouldn’t want to, mind you. In fact, there’s nothing I’d love more, but pairs just don’t rob each other off their dignity.”, whispered Seressa with a smile and unlocked her pink, flowery fragranced embrace, and let go of her little gnome.
“Sooo..”, Brom said, trying to skip over the awkward moment, “..about the letter.”
“There’s nothing that can be done.”, Cora finally spoke and felt she had once more found her own voice. “We move on. I can feel we are being hunted. They are moving fast and they are impressively light on their feet, but the wind is on our side. The orken are upon us!”
They started moving again and picked up the pace as much as Brom and Arcantonic could endure.
They made late camp that night, putting as much distance between their pursuers and themselves. They ate cold rations and snuggled under the harsh, military-grade blankets they were given. Soon, everything went quiet and fell asleep.
✱ ✱ ✱
“That was an awesome speech..”, said Arcantonic quietly into the night.
Seressa did not say anything.
“When do you even think of these speeches, girl?”, the gnome asked in a whisper.
“I never do, luv.”, replied Seressa after awhile. “I say them as I feel them. Preparing such a speech precludes a certain amount of pre-intent and interest, hence, ‘falsehood’ and ‘hypocrisy’, neither of which have I ever entertained where you were concerned. I don’t want anything from you, but everything. Because that is how I define friendship.. You give your all for them, becoming whole and more than what you were..
And, you can never burn with the passion of a prewritten speech, because it’s never just the words, luv. It is the honesty, the sincerity, and the.. fire..
It is very much like the vast difference between simple irritation and.. WRATH!“, said the very tall, very dark Seressa, with a voice that burned.
Tonic blinked.. and fell silent.
There was a long absence of any sentient voice as Tonic thought of her pair.. and a certain boy. And perhaps for the first time in her life, she felt genuinely wanted. She, who had been a top case for ‘undesirable’ all her life, felt an indescribable, fervor elation..
And she felt brokenly happy as a wet smile appeared on her small, diminutive face.
Happy for having the former by her side, with all the encompassing meaning of the word, and happy for having had the later, as short-lived as it had been.
She listened to the hooting of an owl nearby, the chirping of countless nightcrawlers, and quietly stared at the only part of the starry sky that she could see through the small gap in the thick canopy of the Rituel Forest.
“Gales and Gallows..?“, whispered Arcantonic into the night.
“Thought you might like it..”, whispered Seressa back, her illustrious voice somewhat drowsy and slurred, now.
“I loved it. It was so.. beautifullysaid. Did you make that up too?”
“It came to me, then and there.. and I meant every word of it..”
“Gales and Gallows, huh?”
“Gales and Gallows, luv, Gales and Gallows..”
Arcantonic silently cursed and raged at her well damned and idiotic uncle, her family, the community at large that she’d been forced to endure, the leperdom at the bloody academy while she mentally throttled the unscrupulous little weasel of a hobbit as well, just so he wouldn’t feel left out, but not the boy she’d barely known, but felt something.. something throbbing.. and aching.. love, perhaps?, nor the very tall, very dark girl that was her pair..
..then bagged them all; her rage, her stubborn little rain cloud, her mental punching bags, her happy moments of incinerating the academy, and more. They wouldn’t be gone. A lifetime of traumatic mistreatment does not just go away. It could, however, be bagged, and that is exactly what she did. Yes, she would certainly let them out for some fresh air and to blow some steam. That kind of pressure couldn’t be ‘just bagged’, either and Tonic had no intention of fooling herself about it. But this prophecy of theirs seemed to promise a lot, by way of ‘depressurizing’ her pend up wrath. And if it helped clear their path off some unwanted obstacles in the form of orcs, goblins, and possibly an ogre or three, it was a win-win, wasn’t it?
..spoke Arcantonic with a voice that said a lot, and a bit more.
“Gales and Gallows, it is..”
✱ ✱ ✱
Darly Dor, yanında Aager, Inshala,Gnine, Laila ve Merisoul olmak üzere, Büyük Arashkan Şehri’nin bilinmeyen yeraltı dehlizlerine gelmişler, oradan da saklı Hırsızlar Lonca’sının sadece yüksek mertebeli olanlarının bildiği, pis, küf kokulu, karanlık bir mahzenine inmişlerdi.
Darly, Lonca dışı kişilerin buraya gelmeleri için gerekli izinleri üstlerinden alabilmek için, elinde olan ve olmayan ne kadar mal varlığı ve kişisel statüsü varsa kullanmıştı. Ama sonunda buna değecekti. Anglenna yılanı arenada elinden kurtulmayı başarmıştı, ama bu sefer değil.
“Bu sefer değil, Felishia, bu sefer onu yakaladık!”, diye geçirir içinden.
Yanlarında Anglenna’nın olmamasının sebebi de buydu. Udoorin’in bir şerifin oğlu, Lady’nin bir tapınak muhafızı ve prensesin de, eh, bir prenses olması, dolayısıyla da ‘onlar için uygun olmayan bir yer’ bahanesi, gerçekte Anglenna’nın gelmesini engellemek içindi..
Darly, grubu birçok kilitli ve tuzaklı kapıdan geçirmiş ve en sonunda onları, kaynağı belirsiz loş bir ışıkla aydınlatılan oldukça büyük, küf kokulu, havasız bir odaya getirmişti.
Oda, yerden tavana, duvardan duvara raflarla diziliydi ve rafların hepsi de tıka basa eskimiş parşömenler, dokümanlar, ağızları bağlı bohçalar ve farklı boylarda, ama taşınabilir sandıklar, kutular ve tahta kasalarla doluydu.
“Dur tahmin edeyim..”, der Laila, hicveder bir sesle, “..bunlar çalınmış yemek tarifleri değiller, öyle değil mi?”
“Çalınmış yemek tarifleri gibi bir fantazin olduğunu bilmiyordum, İzci Onbaşı.”
Laila kaşlarını çatar ve Darly’ye pis bir bakış atar.
“Ama merakını giderecek ise, evet, burada çalınmış gizli yemek tarifleri de var..”, diye daha da sırıtır Darly.
“Buraya neden geldik? Bizi Arashkan Hırsızlar Lonca’sının şantaj odasına getirmek için sarf ettiğin çabayı göz önünde bulundurursak, bu senin için kişisel olmalı..”, der Aager sessizce.
“Şantaj..”, der Darly, “..çok çirkin bir kelime. Biz ‘ikna’ ifadesini tercih ediyoruz.”
Aager cevap vermez. Sadece Darly’ye bakar.
“Sizi buraya getirdim çünkü bu odada olan her şey gerçek. Bu oda yalan konuşmaz. Siz, Gar Thalot’u bulmak istiyordunuz, onun nerede olduğu da buralarda bir yerlerde yazılı. Ne yazık ki ilgili belgeyi bulmak için onu biraz aramamız gerekebilir.”, der Darly biraz utanarak.
Aager, Gnine’a, Laila’ya ve Merisoul’a bakar.
Laila kaşlarını çatık bir şekilde binlerce doküman, sandık ve bohçadan oluşan yüzlerce rafa bakar, sonra, ‘yapacak bir şey yok’, der gibi omuzlarını silker.
Merisoul biraz şaşkın bir ifadeyle muazzam odayı süzer. “Ölümlülerin birbirlerini kazıklamak için gösterdikleri çaba gerçekten hayret verici!”, der ve o da omuzlarını silker.
Gnine’da omuzlarını silker ama yüzünde analitik bir ifade vardır.
“Saatler, sürebilir. Ama bu sadece de iyimser bir tahmin. Günler bile alabilir.”, diye makul bir tahminde bulunur. Sonra Darly’ye döner. “Bütün bunların listesini tutan, bunların bakımını yapan biri yok mu?”, diye sorar ona.
Madem herkes omuzlarını silkiyor, ben de eksik kalmayayım der gibi, Darly de omuzlarını silker.
“Buranın eski bakıcısı, Arashkan Üniversitesinden atılmış eski bir profesördü. Neden atıldığı meselesine girmeyeceğim. Kendisi bir kaç yıl önce öldü — tamamen doğal sebeplerden dolayı.. Yani, aşırı ucuz alkol tüketimini ne kadar doğal kabul edebilirsek, o kadar doğaldı. Ondan sonra ise burası için gerekli vasıflara.. ve güvenilirliğe sahip birisini bulamadık açıkçası. Takdir edersiniz ki, çalınmış gizli yemek tariflerinin yanı sıra, burada Arashkan’ı, ve başka bazı şehirleri daha yerle bir edecek kadar çok bilgi ve belge var.”, diye sırıtır..
✱ ✱ ✱
Aradan saatler geçmiştir ve Darly kendi istediği ‘belgeyi’ çoktan bulmuş ve ceplemiştir zira onu oraya yıllar önce kendisi koymuştur.
Ama sözünde durarak ve yaptığı şey fark edilmesin diye, diğerlerine Gar Thalot’un yeri hakkında gerekli bilgiyi bulmalarına yardım eder.
Aager, Gnine, Darly ve Laila, Gar Thalot hakkında birçok bilgi kırıntısına rastlar. Ne var ki bilgiler ya eskidir, ya da fazla muallaktır. Inshala ise bütün çabalarına rağmen yazıları anlaşılmaz bulmuş, en sonunda da küçük bir topak halinde bir köşede sızıp kalmıştı. Bunun gören Aager hiç sektirmeden omzundaki pelerini çıkarır ve kızın üstüne serer. Gnine’dan onunkini de rica eder ve topak ettiği ikinci pelerini ise kızın başının altına yastık yapar.
Darly ise bu olanları çaktırmadan, hayret ve hayranlıkla izlemiş, içinden ‘Bu küçük kız ve bu adi herif.. Hala inanılır gibi değil!”, diye geçirmişti.
Merisoul, içi krema dolu bir fıçının içine düşmüş kedi gibi, çılgınca bir heyecanla eline geçirdiği bütün belgeleri okur, değerlendirir ve hatta bazılarını, zihnindeki gizli bölmelere;
Aradan yine saatler geçer ve Inshala esneyerek uyanır. Üstüne serilmiş battaniyeyi kaldırdığında, karnının olduğu yere yumulmuş bir fare ailesinin, onun sıcaklığı ile uyumakta olduğunu görür.
Inshala gülümser ve onları uyandırmadan sessizce ayağa kalkar. Sonra bir yavru kedi gibi, kayıtsızca tekrar gerinir ve Aager’e hafif mayhoş, kayık ve utanmış bir bakış atar.
“Dalmışım.. Arena tahmin ettiğimden fazla yormuş beni.. Snare çok şeker bi dal, ama çok büyük. Çağırılması biraz yoruyor..”, diye bir fısıltı duyar Aager zihninde.
“Sevgili Inshala, arenada hepimiz iyi iş çıkardık ve yorulduk. Ama aramızda muhteşem olan bi sen vardın..”, diye içten cevabını geri yollar Aager.
Inshala’nın yüzü pembenin harika bir tonuna bürünür..
“..uykuyu ve çok daha fazlasını hak ettin. Gelmene gerçekten gerek yoktu ama. Handaki yerinde daha rahat ederdin.”
“Taş üstünde uyumaya alışkınım ki! Ayrıca kız kardeşinin benden pek de hoşlandığını sanmıyorum. Sanırım kendisine sormadan saçlarını örmemden alındı biraz..”
“Lilly.. Lilly’nin biraz zamana ihtiyacı var. Onun için bazı şeyler yerli yerine oturuncaya kadar, sanırım hepimizin göreceği tek şey onun çatık kaşları olacak.”
“Ama öyle yapınca bütün güzelliği mahvoluyor!”, diye hayret içerisinde ünler Inshala.“Ayrıca çok pasaklı.. Bremorel abla bile bu kadar pasaklı değildi. Ve elbiselerinin hepsini yanlış giyiyor!.. Kim elbiselerinin hepsini yanlış giyebilir ki? Temiz ve düzgün giyebilsin diye, dün akşam hepsini alıp yıkayıp tamir etmek istedim, bana öyle fena bi bakış attı ki, odadan kaçmak zorunda kaldım..”
Aager istemsizce, ve hafif acı bir şekilde ‘fırk’lar.
Drashan, mutlu, ‘doğru giyinen’ insanların doğduğu, ve öldüğü bir şehir değildir. Ve Aager, yeni bulduğu kız kardeşinin geçmişinin de kendisininkinden daha mutlu olabilmiş olduğunu düşünemez. Drashan, erkek çocukları öldüren, kız çocuklarını ise.. ‘değerlendiren’ bir şehirdir..
Odanın diğer yanından Gnine sırıtarak sessiz bir zafer hoplayışı yapar.
Tam o an da Laila’dan da benzer bir ses gelir ama onunkisi zafer değil, mutlak bir şoku ifade eden ‘Ohaa!’dır.
“Sanırım buldum.”, der Gnine.
“Sa.. sanırım ben de bi şey buldum..”, der Laila, zorlukla.
Aager, Gnine’ın ona uzattığı belgeyi inceler.
Neden sonra, “Evet.. Tarihler ve yerler tutarlı gibi. Sanırım onu bulduk. İyi iş çıkardın Efendi Büyücü.”, der Aager.
Suratında garip bir ifade olan Laila, sanki küçük dilini yutmuş ve dikkat çekmek ister gibi elindeki oldukça eski gibi görünen belgeyi Aager’e doğru şiddetle sallamaktadır.
Aager, Laila’ya bakar ve bir kaşı kalkar. Uzanıp Laila’nın salladığı parşömeni alır ve okumaya başlar.
Aager elindeki kağıdı okudukça, diğer kaşı da yükselir.
Neden sonra, “Huh!”, diye bir ses çıkar Aager’den.
✱ ✱ ✱
Sevgili Kralım Drine,
Korkarım bu mektubu benim geri dönmemden önce aldıysanız, sarıldık, iyi bir mücadele verdik ve toprağımızı da, atalarımızı da hak ettik, demek oluyor.
Gök Varlıkların bize verdikleri kutsal bir görev için yola çıkmıştık. Lanetli Themalsar’ın güçlerini yararak geçtik ve iblislerin ruhu bile duymadı. Askerlerinizle övünmelisiniz zira elflerin prensi Grandarelen bugün hala ayakta ise, bunu tamamen sizin askerlerinize borçlu. Ne var ki Ogre’s Foot bölgesine yetiştiğimizde büyük bir baskına uğradık ve bu mektubu aceleyle yazmak zorunda kaldım.
Sevgili Kralım ve Babam, biliyorum ki benim için hep iyi şeyler istediniz. Bunu şu anda çok daha iyi görebiliyorum. Bana her zaman rahmetli annemle sizinkisi gibi bir aile kurmamı telkin etmiştiniz ama bu güne kadar sizin annemde bulduğunuz vasıfları taşıyan birisini bulamadım.
Şunu bilesiniz ki arayışım bugün, bu savaş alanında sonra erdi.
Siz bunu okuduğunuzda, ben çoktan ölmüş olacağım. Ama beni ölümümle hatırlamayın. Beni, hayatını vermeye değecek bir kızı bulmuş birisinin sevinciyle hatırlayın ve teselli olun, çünkü ben bu teselliyi kendimde buldum.