Note: Only Brom Bumblebrim knows and has lived the story “a Bir of a Bite”, Lady Magella is vaguely aware of it, though she already knows who Rumulus “Mad” Ussa is (her elder brother). Cora Sleet, Seressa Wraiven and Arcantonic Palecog (in particular) are clueless about it.
Seressa Wraiven: I see we have some items the dwarves have left for us to pick. I believe these were found on Rumulus “Mad” Ussa..
Lady Magella:(growl) Yes. That armor was certainly his. And his battle axes.. Having seen them up close.. The smarmy bastard!
Seressa Wraiven:(cough) Lady Magella. Willy-nilly, he was your brother, none the less. I think it should be you who makes the first bid, if any..
Arcantonic Palecog:(mumble) Why? He wasn’t much of a fighter, much less a brother. Good riddance, ugly MOFO dwarf!
Lady Magella:(shrug) To be honest, I don’t really care. I do not honor him enough to want to bury his possessions along with his carcass!
Lady Magella: I will take his armor. Mine sort of got busted.
Arcantonic Palecog:(cackle) That’s dwarf thinking for you; take the enemies armor —because it certainly helped him!
Seressa Wraiven: Alright. Then we have these two Battle Axes, each +2 to hit and to damage and each in pristine condition, A Ring of Protection..
Arcantonic Palecog: I..
Brom Bumblebrim: I could use the Ring of Protection.. Almost lost concentration in that fight when I got singed by that fireball.
Lady Magella:(shrug) Don’t really care. I already got the armor.
Arcantonic Palecog: I..
Seressa Wraiven: Here you go then, luv. Then we have this rather beautiful Bracers of Defense..
Arcantonic Palecog: I..
Cora Sleet: I could use those. I am a bit tired of wearing this metal contraption. I need to feel the cool, tundra winds on my skin.. I do better without armor and those bracers will compensate for the loss of AC!
Lady Magella: Good choice, girl.
Arcantonic Palecog: I..
Seressa Wraiven: Excellent. Now we have this pretty little Ring of Invisibility. I am surprised Rumulus “Mad” Ussa forgot to make any use of it.
Arcantonic Palecog: I..
Seressa Wraiven: Perhaps Tonic could use it. She was running around a bit vulnerable back there..
Arcantonic Palecog: I..
Brom Bumblebrim: Seconded.
Arcantonic Palecog: I..
Cora Sleet: Mmmpphhhh..
Arcantonic Palecog: I..
Lady Magella: Sounds fair. She did knock any number of those henchmen down the chasm. My brothers are still climbing down to retrieve their corpses.
Arcantonic Palecog: I.. Ow.. Ok.. I guess..
Seressa Wraiven: Now we have a rather juicy item here; made of genuine Dark Forest Bat fur and leather, sewn by enchanted Misty Forest Spider silk and..
Arcantonic Palecog:(mumble) Really, now, girl? You just need a bloody door, and you’d make an excellent sales man.. girl.. person! WTF and frigging politically correct crap shyt!
Seressa Wraiven: ..clasped at the throat by pure, electrum-silver and studded with platinum hammerings and 0.8 inch black pearl inlaid brooch. I give you: Cloak of Flying!
Arcantonic Palecog: I..
Lady Magella: Can’t imagine my brother with such delicacies.. It looks quite exquisite.
Arcantonic Palecog: I..
Seressa Wraiven: Indeed, luv, indeed..
Arcantonic Palecog: I..
Brom Bumblebrim:(filthy scowl) I remember that cloak.. I remember it very well.. (spits on the floor with a very, very unhobbity vehemence.)
Arcantonic Palecog: I..
Cora Sleet: Mmmpphhhh..
Arcantonic Palecog: I.. WANT!..
Seressa Wraiven: You do?
Brom Bumblebrim: You do?
Lady Magella: What the—!
Cora Sleet: Mmmpphhhh..
Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!..
Lady Magella: Why? If you don’t mind me asking.
Arcantonic Palecog: For the pleasure of wreaking havoc by the simple expedience of bombarding everything from above!
Seressa Wraiven: !
Brom Bumblebrim: Huh..
Lady Magella: Hmm..
Cora Sleet: Mmmpphhhh..
Seressa Wraiven: That.. actually made sense!
Brom Bumblebrim: I believe it did.. in a depraved and creepy way.
Lady Magella: Hear, hear..
Cora Sleet: Mmmpphhhh..
Arcantonic Palecog: Yesshhh.. (rubs the cloak on her face.)
Seressa Wraiven: And finally, we have the winner’s prize of the contest.
Arcantonic Palecog:(mumble) Girl, you are killing me.. I don’t know who you are anymore!
Cora Sleet: Mmmpphhhh..
Seressa Wraiven: The Stick of Destiny, the Arm of Mighty Storms..
Arcantonic Palecog:(mumble) I wonder how much commission she is receiving. Is it per item or is it performance based. I hope it is the later. She fully deserves it.. apparently!
Seressa Wraiven: The Soul Focus of Might and Power..
Arcantonic Palecog:(mumble) I don’t know her, guys. I am disavowing her as of this moment!
Seressa Wraiven: The ULTIMATE ITEM OF DESTRUCTION—
Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!
Lady Magella: What is it, young lady?
Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!
Brom Bumblebrim: Well?
Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!
Cora Sleet: Mmmpphhhh..
Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!
Seressa Wraiven: The Awesome Wand of Lightning Bolts!..
Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!
Brom Bumblebrim: Hmmm..
Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!
Lady Magella: Humm..
Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!
Cora Sleet: Mmmpphhhh..
Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!
Seressa Wraiven: Any bids?
Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!
Lady Magella: You took nothing for yourself, child.
Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!
Seressa Wraiven: My bad luck, there Lady. Nothing much I can use in this bunch.
Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!
Lady Magella: Perhaps you can take the wand and make good use of it.
Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!
Seressa Wraiven: I suppose. But let’s see what the others have to say first, shall we?
Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!
Seressa Wraiven: Let’s not be too hasty, shall we, Tonic? Perhaps dear Brom and Cora might want it too.. I despair every time she shoots an arrow!
Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!
Brom Bumblebrim: I am good for it. I like my own Wand of Magic Missiles. But it lacks some luster and is single target.. But I also have this Staff of Storms, hence that covers my AoE damage need..
Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!
Cora Sleet: That hurt, Seressa. My shooting is acceptable.
Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!
Seressa Wraiven: Yes, luv. It is acceptable.. by my standards, but not yours.
Cora Sleet: !
Arcantonic Palecog: WANT!
Brom Bumblebrim: OMG, girl.. You are like a kid in a candy store..
This is a recollection of certain events taking place from around the Themalsar War to centuries later and ending somewhere amongst the ruined lands of Demon Plains and Arcanton Mordenon’s faulty demon gate..
This is a story on how the letter-scroll Prince Gordigon gave to Arcantonic Palecog traveled through time and space to end up back in the hands of the little gnomic girl after she lost it during their hurried flight from the war zone of Themalsar.
Brom Bumblebrim gets bit, again, by whatever it is that keeps biting him on occasion as he brushes by the Tinker-guy on his way out of the Great Arashkan Library. And on an impulse, he burglarizes him, unwittingly taking back the letter-scroll that Tonic had lost, some 800 years ago, just past Ogre’s Foot during their first prophecy.
As to how the scroll comes by the gnome, Gnine Tinkerdome is an adventure all by itself;
About a week after its loss, the scroll is first discovered by one of the scores of scouts belonging to the Durkahan Paladins and the Koruxan Knights heading towards the battle against Themalsar. The document is handed over to the Keeper of Durkahan Archives who is killed, some two weeks later, along with hundreds of other military personnel during their final push against the Themalsar’s forces when goblin sappers strapped with fused bombs charge out of their hidden trenches and into the ranks of the Durkahan Paladins and Koruxan Knights..
When the war finally ends, the paladins, the knights, the elves, and the dwarves refuse to loot the bloody, stinking, corpse infested battlefield. They collect their dead and wounded, and head home, leaving the Arashkan Military to deal with the mess.
The not-so-happy Arashkan Army loots everything they can find and take them back to their own city, inadvertently raising the economical level and power of the city by tenfold while all documents and writs found are sent to The Great Arashkan Library to be sifted and eliminated; a long and tedious process that unwittingly forms the foundations of ARIS, Arashkan Intelligence Service.
Some of the writs and documents are forwarded to the department of history, and some are handed over to the military, while others are sealed and archived in the royal palace vaults.
Many centuries later, a disreputable and quite a drunkard professor is excommunicated from the University of Arashkan for selling antique books and documents in the black-market, also finds himself on the wrong side of the law for forgery and falsifying official documents.
Afraid of being locked in jail or worse, he seeks sanctuary among the Thieves Guild of the same city. The thieves ‘hire’ him to work for them in their ‘information department’, for a small fee to prove his loyalty; the professor is to bring his whole batch of pilfered antique books and documents.
Unfortunately, the conflict between the thieves guild and the cutters known as Them Friggin Bastards escalate and turn into a bloody, open street warfare after the seemingly unexpected murder of a high standing aristocrat, a Lady Felisia Fremeir, over some stolen ‘royal gifts’. The professor, along with his marketable antiques are ‘shelved’ and put on hold, and shortly after, are totally forgotten when the professor’s liver finally gives in and he dies of over abuse of alcohol.
A few years later, a young half-elf thief named Darly ‘Darlius’ Dor searching for a means to avenge his unspoken lover, the Lady Felisia Fremeir brings his ‘friends’; Aager Fogstep, Laila Wolvesbane, Inshala Frostmane, Merisoul Xyrtowu, and Gnine Tinkerdome to the ‘information department’ of the thieves guild to ‘help’ them in their search to find the whereabouts of the highly wanted and elusive rebellion, Gar Thalot.
During their hours-long excavation among thousands and thousands of documents and bits and pieces of parchments with various information on the city, the city denizens and officials alike, the keen ranger corporal Laila Wolvesbane stumbles on a very old letter-scroll. To the great surprise of everyone in the group, the letter is written by a Prince Gordigon Tinkerdome some 800 years ago to his father, King Drine Tinkerdome of Silent Hills. The letter-scroll is handed over to Gnine Tinkerdome, also a member of the same company.
Historically, when the Demon Fog settles over Silent Hills, some few colonies of gnomes do manage to escape the disaster. The majority of these gnomes travel far south and west, never to be heard of again as they are hunted down and slain by some very large, orc-like creatures, possibly the first-ever sighting of the Greater Orken. Some few, though, secretly settle at Tinker Hills to form their own small and ‘silent’ community. Nearly three hundred years later, a highly intelligent, and dangerously proactive young gnome is born into this community; Gnine Tinkerdome.
Burning with curiosity about his possible heritage, and with the help of his bond, Whimsi Lola, the gnome, Gnine, starts to secretly break into The Great Arashkan Library in hopes of finding more information in the restricted, official archives, where he meets a rather unscrupulous hobbit named Brom Bumblebrim, who, upon a familiar sting, burglarizes the gnome and inadvertently retrieves the letter-scroll and returns it to Tonic..
This, seemingly minor ‘hiccup’, would constitute the basis of the obsession in the little gnomic girl, Tonic, and inadvertently trigger the events that would lead to the story; Left Behind (18+), some 180 years in the future, pushing and urging her to find a way to open an Astral Gate where time and space get distorted, to get back to her one and only love; Prince Gordigon Tinkerdome..
✱ ✱ ✱
In an unprecedented irony, Tonic follows her uncle, Arcanton Mordenon’s researches on ‘gates’ , and after decades of trials and errors, she finally constructs her own functional gate. Not a gate leading to the Abyss to summon demons, however, but something ultimately more destructive; an Astral Gate.. A plane of pseudo-existence where time, space, and matter are torn apart, shredded, and corroded down to their base moments, units and elements..
What becomes of Arcantonic Palecog after she steps through the Astral Gate to get to her prince is never quite clear. Rumors assume her to have been, inevitably torn apart in the Astral Void, as she sought, for relative centuries, to find a counter exit point to reach the moment she met her desire. But rare historical records found after the lifting of the Demon Fog in Silent Hills’ long-forgotten and crumbled vaults, however, mention one of their greatest kings to be a King Gordigon Tinkerdome son of King Drine Tinkerdome son of King Knine Tinkerdome and speak of his fiery little queen.. The identity of the said queen, however, is never discovered as it seems to have been diligently never recorded!..
Interestingly, the name of King Gordigon’s firstborn is recognized in The Silent Archives; a beautiful little gnomic girl named Seressa Ton Wraiven!
Having fulfilled its prophetic purpose, the letter-scroll thus finds its way back, like the song, ‘Time’,
‘..Linking places, spaces, events, and relations by the simple expedience of relating the past to the future..’
to its true owner; Arcantonic Palecog!
✱ ✱ ✱
As for her pair, Seressa Wraiven slowly deteriorates into the madness of hopeless despair at the loss of her pair and is rumored to have last been seen roaming mindlessly, like the broken ghost of her former self around the devastated and rotting lands north of Durkahan City and Kahan Mountains, among the ruins of Demon Plains, ferally seeking a way to get passed the endless sea of undead and fiends, streaming out of Arcanton’s faulty demon gate.. and enter it, in hopes of finding a way, through the Abyss, to her pair or to just end it all..
Late one night, many hundreds of leagues away, a certain hobbit gets bit, perhaps one final time as he dons his lorica, his sword, his cap, and his cloak.
“There really was no need, my friend..”, Brom Bumblebrim mumbled quietly.
“I had already made up my mind.”
He hauls his backpack, grabs a simple, nondescript walking stick, and picks up his antique lyre, gives a final, mournful look at the empty depths of his home..
Once more, he drops a note to his, now quite a bit older friend, Gamwise Samgee. Unlike the note he scrabbled nearly two centuries ago, this one would be a bit longer;
My dear Gamwise Samgee,
Due to quite expected reasons, I will be leaving and I am afraid there will be no coming back this time. You will find the deed for my home and everything I own, all listed and cataloged, in the small chest, in the study; my garden, my lands, my roses, my phloxes, my cherries, my books, my songs, my mother’s tea cups.. have all been transferred to your name and properly notarized. I would greatly appreciate that the aforementioned lands and properties stay in your family and never be sold and the roses, the phloxes, and the cherries are allowed to remain.
I have but two boons to ask of you; a package containing various odds and end, and a staff I had been trying to mend and repair for the past few years.. You will find them both hidden behind the seed sacks, down in the cellar. The package and the staff are to be taken to a certain house at Salt Woods. You will find the exact location marked on the map I left with the package. I am afraid you will personally have to make this trip as you are the only one I can trust for this delivery. You will have to approach the site from the north side and use a password to safely enter as the boundaries of the house is heavily warded.
For my second boon;
Live, my friend.
Live and be happy.
Well, that’s it, then..
I must now part with the acceptance of a curse to find what I should have taken when I had the chance. The time for me to shed my cowardice, my ignominy, and my disgrace has arrived.
I shall take up the mantle of my love and my passion, and wear it, even though I do not deserve it. I go to redeem my self of a sin I did by abandoning my heart for reason.
I leave to seek a lost soul and to right a wrong. A wrong I let happen one hundred and eighty years ago..
Farewell, my dear friend.
Yours truly, Knight Laureate Brom Bumblebrim.
P.S. Be particularly gentle with the staff, if you would, please. I had meant to finish it before this journey, but I am afraid, my time is up.
When people come to call and ask about my grandfather’s rusty old sword collection, they will want to know if they are magic. Never answer that question. Always smirk —silently. The way I did. It will drive them crazy, but the legend must go on!
The password for the wards is;
“The Wonder In Pinks”..
✱ ✱ ✱
For many days and deep into the nights, he traveled north, skirting The Savage Plains and Endless Watch. He passed Tinker Hills, then Silent Hills, and decided to skim by Serenity City, rather than stay. He didn’t want this venture to turn into a parade. And just when he’d passed Gulls Perch, there she was..
Standing at the side of the road was a particularly grim-looking tundra elf barbarian bearing deep, frostbite scars, whirling dark blue storm tattoos, long, snow braids, and wearing the mark of a Riserin —the sign of the Princess of Ironfrost.
“You decided then..”, she said gruffly.
The hobbit nodded mutely.
“Took you bloody long enough.”, she scowled.
“Didn’t want you to come.”, he said quietly.
“Didn’t care what you wanted!”, she said bluntly. “You don’t get to make choices for others, Brom. Made her choice for her that one time, and look where it got you. Where it got her!“
“We both paid the price.”, he replied inaudibly.
“Seems like only she paid any price.. ALL THE PRICE!“, the barbarian girl glowered. “You know, you are a lucky little hobbit, and my friend, because I so want to beat you into the ground, right here, right now!”
“Yea..”, replied the hobbit morosely. “..lucky me.”
“When you made her choice, you abandoned her, Brom. You made us abandon her. Do you think she would be the way she ended up, had you been with her?”, she said mercilessly.
“There really isn’t anything that you can say, that I haven’t already said to myself, Cora.”, Brom replied quietly.
“That is possible. But I shall give it my best!”, she bit savagely.
A few days later, when they were passing Misty Forest, they came out of the filmy haze like a pair of wraiths and joined them; a cold, sinister-looking man in dark, patchy clothes, holding the hand of a very pretty, ‘still needs some filling’ little girl with sad, forlorn eyes, strawberry lips, long, silky hair, and beautiful, curving horns. The man silently nodded at them and they start walking in the same direction.
“Dear, dear Brom.”, said the skinny girl, with misty eyes. “The heart wins when the mind submits. He wanted to beat you. But I said please, don’t. He asked me why he shouldn’t and I reminded him how I had to sneak up to him all those times and whispered into his ear, just to get his attention, the first time we met, and he barely took notice of me..”
“I noticed you. Four years before we ever met. You had my attention. Grilled those two, mule-headed ranger girls, Laila and Morel, for hours, but they refused to give me anything about you.. When we met, you were just too young..”, the sinister-looking man, Aager, growled. “I didn’t want to make choices for you. Nor take away your options..”
“Yet, by doing that, did you not do just that? Take away my choices?”
..she replied, but there was no rancor, nor rebuff in her voice. Inshala turned to Brom and spoke with a conversational, matter of fact voice.
“I had decided I wanted him. He knew I wanted him. He knew he wanted me. Yet he decided it was better for me to wait. He wanted me to stay as a baby, not a girl. And wait we did..” Then softly she added. “And lost years.. Years I wanted him.. Nothing is as sweet as the moment you want something.. One can live with regrets, but never with lost opportunities.
I carry no regrets. But I do miss the lost opportunities.”
“Told him pretty much the same things, all those years ago.. just more bluntly.”, inserted Cora. “But our hobbit here is a bit thick in the skull!”
They passed the ruins of Arashkan and decided not to stop at High Woods, even though Inshala very much wanted to.
They traveled further west, resupplied at Vodgar, and followed the road passed Dark Forest.
They took a boat across Kahan Lake and beached at the dying shores of Demon Plains..
Carefully they traveled towards the dreary lands and there, at the very edge of the Demon Plains, they beheld the slight figure of another tired and desolate soul.
The beautiful heart of High Woods silently rose and told them that she has thus passed her legacy and her heritage to others and that she would accompany them in their sojourn to help find a friend and perhaps, find her twin sister as well.
With a steely determination, she would join them, and perchance her own Dorin..
“Is this what he would have wanted, my Queen?”, asked Brom sadly.
“I am queen, no longer, dear Brom. I shed my burdens ere I came. Nons shall take pride over my death, nor carry my burden as a trophy.”
..replied Alor’Nadien ne with her soft, brushing voice.
“You will always be my Queen and hold the throne of my heart.”, said the hobbit sincerely.
“Methinks your heart’s throne already has her queen, dear Brom, but my King is not here and by his stone, my grief is no longer bearable.
I have been offered many prospects since then; other kings and princes, merchants, and royalty. They never understood; I have never wanted to be queen. Yet I chose to be one for he was there to bear its burden with me. Much like he chose to be king, for that was the only way we would be allowed to be together. And by his hollow seat, day and night, year after year, for a century and more, I sat, appearing like the person I no longer am; strong, alive, and willing.
I no longer hold the strength nor the will to carry on. And I see no point to stay any longer, my friend. Where he is, he awaits. Where I go, will be there.”
“The fight. Who will—”, asked Brom, words failing him now.
“If the fight has come down to a tired, broken soul such as I, then surely we are lost already. New hands with vigor must pick up that mantle now, and bear its burdens. Not these tired hands.”, she replied solemnly.
“What of High Woods, my Queen?”
“My youngest granddaughter, Alor’Derune, the Allure of Dorin, has been chosen and the mantle passed. I shall miss the heart and the breath of my forest. The spirit of High Woods promised I would cherish and prosper. So I have. From the ashes of my forest, I have lived to see my kingdom reborn, and by my King’s love, my children and their children strive. But everything must come to a close. We thought we saved so many but lost so much more. We gave our all, and more until we had none..
I relish my moments in this life. And I cherried my beloved friends. But like my King, most are gone, now. This life no longer offers me favors, nor passions. Thus I yearn for the other and for over a century now, I have counted my days. I have kept him waiting because he asked this one boon of me; that I live and be happy.
I have lived, but he did not know, he had bereft me of all happiness when he left. Nay. I think I have kept my promise. It is time he honors his and accepts me.”
Brom quietly nodded. That was all he could do. When a person talked in a language one could understand, but not relate, one knew, they were on two, very different levels of perception; the Queenof High Woods, Alor’Nadien ne Feymist Shieldheart was already gone. What stood here, was nothing but her shade.
They had given their all.
But such was the required sacrifice of the few, select mortals to save their world from annihilation.
“It’s a bit late to start. We have lost the noon sun. Will make them stronger as the hour’s pass. Might as well make camp early, and start at first light.”, Brom said.
“Did I ever tell you how much I hate ghosts, wraiths, and zombies? Ow, and demons.. Especially the ones with the long, barbed tentacles..”, he added with a voice that was barely audible.
“Yea.”, replied Cora said from somewhere behind him. “They always go for the little, fat ones!”
He squinted at the distant lands, dead and rotting. He took a deep breath and faced his preening destiny.
For a long, long moment, Brom thought of the very tall, very dark girl that had ruined him for everyone else..
He remembered the time when she had whispered into his mind. The time when he and Cora had thought they were going up against a terrible demon, all those years ago, on Ice Wolf Horde’s request. It had also been the time they had first met.. Thinking back, she could have whispered at Cora, yet she had opted to whisper to him.
He remembered the way she had flopped and klutzed, face down into the snow, displaying all her curvy glory in pinks.. After nearly two hundred years, he could still remember that image, and so vividly..
He remembered when she had gone up against Cora in defense of her pair, Tonic, at Mount Dreadmaw, and had so dearly paid the price.
And he remembered the way she had blushed so furiously and had been so embarrassed that time when he had caught her with Tonic’s foot in her mouth.
“This isn’t what it looks like!”, she had blurted in unveiled panic, with Tonic’s foot still in her mouth. “I am not eating her!”
Brom wondered why she had feared that he would think her eating Tonic.
Had she done something silly as she often did, in her past, and someone had said something stupid to her? What kind of a demented idiot would be so cruel, he wondered.
And suddenly he knew he needn’t seek the cruel idiot far away.
That cruel idiot was right here.
Then, just like that, he started to shake.
And silently, Brom Bumblebrim wept..
..he wept while staring at the dead lands where ‘The Wonder in Pinks’ was off, somewhere, not even sure if she were alive. Her beautiful mind gone, as she crept and crawled in the filth of the rotating land towards the demon gate.
“I will not offer comfort by saying it isn’t your fault. Because as sure as it is, it is mine as well, Brom Bumblebrim. When you chose to do what you did, I chose to stand by you. Many things could have been different if I had ignored you and just picked you up and threw you at her! Knowing her, she would have caught you, and kept you.. along with her dignity and sanity..
You are not the first to think less of themselves and feel unworthy, Brom. And Seressa was a great soul..”, Cora said.
“She always was. And like the coward I am, I turned away from her, thinking she deserved better, deserved more.. Never bothered to ask her what she wanted. Just like all the other animals out there who never bothered to ask her what she felt.. I sinned her, Cora..”, Brom shuddered as he wept. “I burned her when I abandoned her.. I did her wrong and now, I dragged you into this.. I deserve everything you want to do to me.”
“Well, when you say it like that, makes me wonder just what kind of a girl you think I am. Shall I fetch my whip? Would you rather pole lashing or have me do it while you are stretched on a rack!”, she said mildly. “As for the dragging, I doubt you could drag me anywhere even if you tried.. That’s what friends are for; being dragged without being told. It was my choice to be your friend, Brom, and so was accepting you as mine. You were there when I was down. You let me lean on you. Yes, I never cried on your shoulder, but I did know that your shoulder was always available should I ever needed it.. Now I am here for you to lean back. Doesn’t mean I am not pissed off at you. This one, though, I am doing for her.”, she said.
She looked down at the shuddering hobbit, removed her heavy fur cloak, and settled it over him.
“Go on. Get some sleep. I will cover the first watch with that Aager-guy. He is worse than I am. I didn’t use to talk because I was so ‘can’t be bothered’ and ‘cool’. He doesn’t even care about cool. The only one I have ever seen him smile is his wispy little wife. Wonder if I should ask him just how old he is.. and why! Pain to get him to talk.. And creepy as hell, the way those two just ogle at one another like newly eloped teens, without ever saying a single word.”
“Tomorrow is going to be one, long day..”, sniffed Brom.
“Yes.”, agreed Cora. “Tomorrow, we enter Demon Plains and retrieve a friend. Two, if we are lucky.”
Then she looked at the shade of the Queen of High Woods, Alor’Nadien ne, lost in her own sorrows; loved ones and friends..
“But I mean to leave no one behind. A girl of her stature and grace needs a proper stone and a decent shrine. Not a ditch in the ground..”
The twin sister referred to here, is the recorded kinship of Arcantonic Palecog as a Feymist, on the day Alor’Nadien ne is born, by Nadine Graciousward. Both of their names are entered into the royal archives of Bari Na-ammen on the same day, making them, ‘technically’, sisters and twins..
The staff Brom refers to, is the Staff of Blooms that belonged to Seressa Wraiven since shortly after her graduation from the Academy of Melshieve.
During the story, Left Behind (18+), Seressa breaks the staff in wroth and despair, never wanting to see the beautiful, pink cherry blooms that it would sprout. During one of his visits to check in on her, Brom finds the broken pieces of the staff and takes them, in the hopes that he could fix it, and return it to Wraiven, proving to her that the broken can be made whole again and that nothing is beyond repair.
And that is the summed up story behind the mystery of how in the blazes did that letter even get here.. Good luck discerning any sense out of that paradoxical loop! This is where an unforeseen variable is introduced into a perfectly linear equation, turning it into an infinite loop, causing it to either freeze or crash your processor.
Arcantonic and Brom have returned from their ‘humble’ side trip into the Great Arashkan City, back to the inn and Brom has given the small, gnomic girl the letter-scroll he picked from Gnine Tinkerdome. The letter that was given to Arcantonic by no other than Gnine’s great, great, great-something ancestor, Prince Gordigon Tinkerdome.
The sun had risen, traveled through a beautiful, bright blue sky, and settled somewhere at noon, casting the smallest of shadows, but the Tundra Walkers were still slumbering in an inn, in the Richarc District of the Great Arashkan City.
Cora Sleet slept soundly among the wreckage of her room, on top of a heap of feathers; the remains of what had just last night been, a rich, soft bed.
The softness was still there, but the bed was not.
She drooled and snored a bit, giving her an adorable cast, quite in contrast with her otherwise savage appearance.
Her long, white hair was unbraided too, which was a novelty on her part. Cora loved her long, white hair, but being the practical girl she was, she never wanted it getting in the way. Particularly when the bloodletting started. Besides, she’d been threatened by a large, cruel pair of scissors a few too many times in the past by her mother unless she braided them and kept them out of the stew and those threats had stuck.
Now, however, her hair was ‘down’, so to speak, and she was having a rather pleasant dream.
Whatever she was dreaming, she watched it with a content smile on her face.
Too bad it would be cut short as she would be rudely awakened by the innkeeper —probably a mistake on his part.
She, with the help of Seressa, the very tall, very dark girl sleeping a few rooms down the hall, had ruined his inn, after all.
✱ ✱ ✱
TWO ROOMS AWAY..
Seressa was also sleeping with a content smile on her face.
Whether her smile was due to a pretty dream she was having, the engaging evening she’d had with the pretty barbarian girl, breaking the proverbial ice, and the rest of the room, or for the fact that she had snuggled up to her pair, was unclear. From a totally neutral perspective, the very tall, very dark girl looked like someone who hadn’t quite outgrown sleeping with her dolls, because that’s exactly how it seemed; the giant girl had hugged her little, gnomic pair, into her bosom, and both were breathing softly into one another’s face.
The whole scene was endearing..
..and a bit alarming!
Arcantonic Palecog slipped out of the ginormous feather bed as silently as she could. She didn’t want Seressa to wake up.
Tonic had been equally shocked, surprised, and quite unexpectedly happy when she’d woken up to find her pair not only sleeping with her in the same bed but snuggled up, the way they had.. And she’d been hugging her because she was so warm.
And she felt much softer, and nicer than the feather bed!
She also smelled of phloxes, cherry blooms, and her unique self. A combination Tonic had resisted for as long as she had but had caved horrible at the end.
It had been hard for the little gnomic girl to admit she liked her pair and that she smelled simply awesome!
Seressa’s face was at peace when she slept. More now than for these past few days. In fact, she seemed happier than she had ever seen her before.
Arcantonic Palecog felt no rancor, nor resentful at having finally been ‘coin pursed’ by her pair.
The unscrupulous little weasel of a hobbit had been right about at least one thing; her pair, Seressa Wraiven, had a beautiful smile..
Hence, she slipped out of the bed, shivered a bit, and quietly hoped down and softly landed on the cold wooden floor.
She considered bothering with her boots but decided against it.
Trying to slip her left boot seemed like too much trouble, just now.
She hamstered to her artificer’s satchel, dug her hand in it, and pulled out a small, palm-sized mirror and a brush, scurried to the window, cracked open a sliver between the curtains, and with the help of the mirror, she hastily brushed her hair and bunned it up.
It was noon outside.
That was to be expected. She and Brom had returned quite late that evening.
She dumped the mirror and brush back into the satchel, shouldered it and silently walked to the door, and slipped out.
The hallway was clear.
Good, she thought. No need for random encounters.
She silently crept up to the room, furthest from the stair. Her quarry was there.
Tonic thought of the brush and the mirror.
Had it been just a month ago, she would be laughing at herself.
Tonic very nearly never brushed her hair. She would just pull them back, then bind them haphazardly with anything that was readily available; a bit of string, a broken piece of twig, a stand of vine, or a piece of cut wire.. Now it was adorned with one of Seressa’s many scrunchies, and she felt no shame nor guilt what so ever at having burglarized into her pairs’ collection either! Apparently, this burglarizing things from her pair was becoming a habit for her.
This brush and mirror were a late habit, though. An acquired, or self-enforced habit, to be more precise..
A habit since the Gordigon boy!
The sky was still standing.
There were no sudden earthquakes.
And no blaring brasses of doomsday was heard!
That hadn’t been so hard now, had it?
✱ ✱ ✱
THE FURTHEST ROOM DOWN THE HALL..
Tonic knocked on the door of her quarry and politely waited.
But there came no reply.
She tried again to no avail.
“Alright then.”, she said. “We go, Plan B!”
Tonic loved Plan B as it was pretty much always back to back with Plan A;
Barge in! —was Plan B!
Tonic had many bad habits, or rather, shortcomings, true, but she always prided on her Plan B. It was easy, practical, and more or less, always produced a solution.
“Brom?”, she whispered.
The room’s curtains were pulled and it was somewhat dim. Much like her room had been.
“Brom?!”, she hissed.
Still no answer.
Damit. Was she going to have to go for Plan B, again? She’d always done Plan B, back to back with Plan A, but never a Plan B, back to back with another Plan B! This was going to get awkward real fast.
Then she heard a sniffling, shuffling noise from the far corner of the room.
She slinked in that direction to find Brom sitting on a stool, facing the corner!
“What the—”, she began.
“What is it, Miss Tonic?”, she heard him say.
“Umm.. I.. I thought we had agreed on you not needing to ‘Miss’ me all the time..”, she said hesitantly.
Tonic was not a good mood reader. When it came to moods, that was Seressa’s department and Tonic had rather strong opinions about poaching. Some deep instinct, however, told her that something was wrong.. with Brom.
“No.”, said the hobbit. “We had agreed that me calling you ‘Miss Tonic’ sounded a lot like I was saying ‘I MISS TONIC‘, to you and that it was weird and just creepy.”
“Well.. When you say it like that, it does sort of sound weird.. and creepy.”, stumbled Tonic.
“What can I do for you, Miss Tonic?”, repeated Brom, “I would have thought you’d have had enough adventuring, and certainly enough of me, for one day.”
Tonic noted the weary in the hobbit’s voice. She couldn’t discern the reason for it. Only notice it.
Well.. At least that was something. She was getting better at this.
“Baby steps, Tonic, baby steps..”, she told herself.
“No, no.. No more adventuring for today..”, said Tonic, a bit hesitantly. “I just wanted to thank you.. For last night. Never got the chance to say it properly.”
“It’s alright Miss Tonic. No need for thanks. We both.. enjoyed it.. in our own way, I suppose. Feeling any better?”, came the hobbit’s voice.
“Much.”, she said promptly.
“Mission accomplished, then.”
“Perhaps.”, said Tonic, a bit perplexed.
Something was going on here. With the hobbit. But she wasn’t sure if she should push.
“PLAN B.. PLAN B.. PLAN B..”, choired inner Tonic suddenly!
“Alright. Plan B, it is.”, murmured the gnomic girl.
“Hmmm..?”, asked Brom.
“You.. You brought back Gordigon’s letter for me..”, she said. “How did you..?”
“No mystery there. Miss Tonic.. I picked that Tinker-guy’s pocket on the way out of the library..”
“You.. You did what? But why?”, she asked incredulously.
“For reasons, I don’t really want to fathom, the boy seemed important to you, since you went into all the trouble to want to warn him but refused to meet him face to face yourself. I have some ideas as to why, but I just don’t want to entertain them because none of them are good, per se, and all of them are creepy as hell! But I thought, perhaps you’d want something of him. A memento, maybe. Something personnel.. Suffice to say, the letter came as much of a surprise to me, as it did to you. As to how it came by the Tinker-guy, I have no idea..”, said the hobbit in the dim.
There was a moment of silence as the gnomic girl tried to digest that.
“I.. I don’t know what to say.. Thank you.”, she said with a small voice. “I can not phrase how happy it made me. It broke my heart when I’d found out I’d lost it, back at Ritual Forest. I.. I hope you didn’t get in trouble because of our.. little adventure last night.”
“Miss Tonic.” Brom’s voice said and there was a district steely quality to it. “Our venture last night, was not a little adventure, no matter how we stretch the words. It was possibly one of the greatest events of this time. It was monumental and its echoes will reverberate back and forth between history and years, no, centuries to come. Willy-nilly, you have changed the past, present, and the future of not only Silent Hills but you have also changed that of High Woods, Bari Na-ammen, and all the lands and civilizations in the kingdom that will get affected by both. Whatever the celestials are playing at, Miss Tonic, it is subtle and it is huge!”
“Well.. When you say it like that..”, Tonic stammered.
“Trust me when I say, I am putting it ‘lightly’, Miss Tonic. Many, many people will live because of our little adventure last night. And many, many people will also die, because of it.”
“I.. never really thought about it like that.”, she admitted with a flushed face.
“Don’t fret, Miss Tonic, neither did I. Not until much later. But the deed is done.”, Brom said.
“You didn’t tell Cora..”, she said.
“No.”, replied the hobbit shortly.
“Why? She must have been.. angry..”, Tonic said carefully.
“She was. And she tried to grill me. Though I must give her credit; she didn’t really try very hard.”
“I don’t understand..”, said the gnomic girl with a baffled voice.
The hobbit sighed and turned around. But because of the poor light, his face was still not quite visible.
“Because Miss Tonic, both Cora and I know, she is not my mother, my elder sister, my aunt nor my grandmother. We are friends and we are equals. She doesn’t get to squeeze information out of me. This, she knows and this, she respects.”
“Would have made it easier.. and convenient had you just told her though.”
“Easier, convenient.. and totally wrong. It wasn’t my secret to give, Miss Tonic, it was yours. But even if it had been mine, caving in just because she glared down at me, would have made her lose the only thing we much care and have in common.”, the hobbit said.
“Mutual respect, Miss Tonic. Mutual respect.”
Another pause ensued.
“You are.. You seem out of sorts.. Out of your self, Brom. What is it? What is wrong?”, Tonic asked.
“Something that has little to do with you, Miss Tonic.”, said the hobbit’s voice, and this time, Tonic did catch the nuance.
Slowly and carefully, she approached the corner where the hobbit sat.
Slowly and carefully, she reached down at him, took his face in her small hands, and raised it.
Broms’s face was a blotchy mess.
And with a very unexpected but equally tender insight, Tonic refused to describe what she beheld.
Very quietly, she spoke.
“‘We suffer. We mourn. We sing and we celebrate.. We do. And what we do, we share!‘”, she quoted Brom’s own words.
“Did every single one of those, and then some, just this very evening, Miss Tonic.”, said Brom with brimming eyes.
“We did. And we did not.. A fool, I am. This, I have learned. And this, I know. But I would not have expected a fool out of you, Master Bard.”, she whispered.
Brom stared at the diminutive cute face holding his. He didn’t shy his eyes from her but stubbornly held them.
“We bards make the best of fools, Miss Tonic.”, whispered Brom.
Tonic produced the little mirror from her artificer’s satchel again and held it before the hobbit’s face.
“Tell me, then, Master Bard.. What do you see in the mirror?”
“A blotchy face.”
“No snarks, Mr. Brom.. What do you see in the mirror?”
“A bushy hedgehog!”
“No snarks! What do you see?”
“A face in dire need for sleep!”
“I said no snarks, damit!”
“A hobbit about to lose his temper!”
“Wow. I ask one simple question of you, and you can’t even give me a straight answer.”, she said. Then her voice steeled. “Even if you were much, much taller, much more muscular, and prettier, you don’t deserve my pair, Mr. Brom. You don’t deserve Seressa Wraiven!”
Brom froze. His face lost what remained of its color and hardened.
“That was a bit harsh, don’t you think?”, he said with an angry voice.
“Harsh is when I produce Mechaber, right here and now, and beat some sense into you!”, she replied savagely.
And the hobbit lost all his will.
His shoulders slumped.
He lowered his face.
He passed one hand through his bushy, brown hair and absently scratched his head.
“It doesn’t matter what I see, Miss Tonic..”, he said in a defeated voice. “It all amounts to the same thing; a little hobbit!”
“Would you like to know what I used to see in the same mirror?”, she blazed.
“Not particularly, no.”, Brom mumbled.
Tonic ignored him.
“I saw the same things you did, Mr. Brom; A lot of snark—”
“Your point being?”, asked Brom tiredly.
“—until I met Gordigon. Now I see a girl in that mirror. A girl that could use a brush, and possibly an eyeliner every once in a while..”
“Must be some neat, magic mirror!”, mumbled Brom.
Tonic glared down at the hobbit.
“Would you like to know what I see when I look at you?”
“Not particularly, no.”, repeated Brom.
Tonic ignored him again.
“When I look at you, I see a ‘guy'”, she hissed angrily.
“Umm.. Your point being?”, Brom repeated that too.
Apparently, this conversation was heading straight into a ‘broken record repetitions’ for Brom..
“Stop looking at misery and start looking at hearts, you dolt!”
“Has it ever occurred to you why I kept shouting ‘Eyes Front’, at you, Mr. Hobbit?”
“Because you are an insufferable little—?”, started Brom.
But the gnomic girl cut in..
“Because you are a threat!”,
“I feared you would steal my pair from me because you are a guy! That’s why I didn’t want you staring at her. Don’t you see?”
“The free staring was alright but it all became a case of morality for you because you saw and deciphered that she was even greater on the inside and you actually felt something for her.. And all of a sudden, you decided you are not ‘guy enough’? Wow. I have seen some arrogance and high drama in my time, but you, sir, just landed on my top ten, and I was graced by the best of them; my uncle Arcanton Mordenon.. Should’ve seen him lording over his demons, the way he did.. A three-foot midget looking down on demons eight times his height!”
Brom just stared at the gnomic girl.
“The hardest thing in life, Mr. Hobbit, is not besting our foes. It is besting ourselves, our fears, our shortcomings, our insufficiencies, and our own stupidities.. This, I figured too late, and now my chance for the love of my life is gone, and I will have to suffer that loss for the rest of my days, Master Brom.”, she said and her own eyes were brimming too now.
“I implore you. No. I am begging you. Please don’t make my mistakes. One idiot is far more than what our odd little family can handle..”
She wiped her brimming eyes, reached over to the hobbit and held his face once more, and gently kissed him.
“You are a good man, Brom Bumblebrim, and Seressa Wraiven does not require tall, muscular, or pretty. She’s already tried those.. Not a lot of good they did her! They all saw pinks, but never got past it. What she needs, what she wants is love. And care. And sentient intuition. And the ability to put those into honest words.. You have all those, and then some..”
Tonic took a deep, shuddering breath and considered something. Then she sighed, dipped her hand into her satchel once more, and drew out a rather large, but slim book.
“Here.”, she said. “This.. uhhh.. belongs to Seressa. It is everything about her. You will find anything and everything you need to know about her in this, including which shades of pink she likes, all color-coded.. Some of the things in here are.. quiet private and.. sensitive.. One could say, it’s Wraiven’s User Manuel. She.. she doesn’t know I have it, even though she had originally prepared it specifically for me. I would much appreciate it stayed that way. Skim through it, find out all you want to know about her, then return it to me, discreetly, please. It would truly break her heart if she found out I.. liberated it from her, and gave it to you..”
Brom silently reached out and took the book.
As it turned out, it wasn’t really a book, but a hand prepared dossier. It had the arrogant symbol of the Academy of Melshieve embossed on its dark blue-green cover.
Brom gently opened the cover to see Seressa’s handwriting. It was a recursive, delicate script, very tenderly inked, like it reflected the inside, the very soul of the owner of the hand that had written it;
To my bestest and awesomest pair:
Days will always be better because we will have you..
“See.. And find out, Brom, exactly what you are missing.. And if it’s her size that still worries you, use a bloody stool!”, she scowled.
Brom stared at the sentiment written by Seressa Wraiven for a long moment. Then, slowly but firmly, he closed its cover.
“No.”, he said. “I shall not break into her privacy. From Wraiven, I shall never take what she does not impart freely.. Taking is all everyone has ever done to her.. Take, but never give..”
“What?”, said Tonic with a shocked expression. “I just gave you Seressa on a silver platter!”
“Wraiven is not a cuisine to be served on a silver platter, Miss Tonic, delicious as she might be.. For what I want, I must give the effort, and suffer her trials. For everything she gives, she must divulge knowingly, willingly, and with the intention of giving them to me.. I shall not use shortcuts, nor cheat my way into her good graces. Otherwise, all credit will go to the bloody stool!”, he replied harshly.
He looked down at the embossed dossier in his hands with honest longing.
“Reading this might get me a Wraiven, but it will not be my Wraiven. And it sure as hell will make me worse than all the other animals out there, Miss Tonic.”
And handed the dossier that beheld everything about Seressa Wraiven, back to the gnomic girl.
Tonic stared incredulously at the hobbit before her.
Then, slowly, she smiled.
“Now, I know you truly care..”, she said softly. “Thank you, Mister Brom, for your honesty, your insight, and your care for my Seressa. Should something ever happen to me one day, to you, and only you will I freely entrust her wellbeing..”
For a very short moment, she paused, then signed.
“I will not, however, help you in this matter, Master Bard, because I am a selfish girl who just recently realized the kind of awesome person my pair truly is.. But I shall not hinder, nor undermine your efforts, which, I am sure will intrigue her to no end.”
With that, Arcantonic Palecog turned around and left..
✱ ✱ ✱
He wasn’t sure what had awakened him but it sounded vaguely like someone was pleading for help..
After the pestering little gnomic girl had left, Brom had sat in that stool for only a short more while. With a tired sigh, he’d risen, taken off his coat, his shirt, and pants, and jumped into the feather-soft bed.
He hadn’t bothered with the boots.
He was a hobbit.
And hobbits wore no shoes.
Everyone knew that.
“Please. I meant no disrespect nor was I intruding.. I certainly wasn’t trying to peek, miss!”
Brom opened his eyes and looked around blearily. Yep. Someone was pleading and it didn’t sound good.
The shortlist of his friends ran through his head.
Seressa wouldn’t be threatening anyone. She was too cultured. She would instead put them to shame, and send them crying in confused humiliation. Unless someone had been dumb enough to have threatened her pair, in which case, they probably deserved the kind of hell that was coming their way and there wouldn’t have been anyone left to plead anyway.
Naa.. The little midget could be insufferable at times and a bother all the time, but she was not big on human interactions and would have left it to her pair to have handled whatever that required interacting.. And by some misfortunate chance that she was forced to act on her own initiative, she would go for ‘the big guns and grenades’.. Since the room he was sleeping in was still intact, however, it was probable that the rest of the inn was too.
Tonic could be quite destructive..
But not very surgical in her precision.
Brom sat up.
“Damit!”, he spluttered. “Damit. Damit. Damit. Damit. Can’t a hobbit have a moment of peace?”
He jumped out of his bed, swiftly put his shirt and pants on, ran to the door, and yanked it open..
..to behold a scene he had dreaded.
Cora Sleet was holding up a man —the innkeeper— with one strong arm and had her ginormous sword pressed against his throat with the other!
“Then what were you doing in my room?”, she hissed at the poor man.
“I.. the rooms were rented for one day by Master Bard and I had merely come to ask if you would be continuing your stay. When I knocked, no one answered so I entered to make sure everything was alright and to pick up the plates, bowls, and mugs for the food and drinks you had ordered.. and when I saw the room in a wreck and you lying there, I thought someone had done a crime in my inn!”, the innkeeper spluttered.
“So you thought it’d be a good idea to grope a sleeping girl?”, Cora blazed.
“Miss, please. I wasn’ groping you. I am a happily married man. I have daughters your age!”, he cried.
“I doubt you have daughters one hundred years old!”, snarled Cora.
The innkeeper shrank and stared at the savage girl with the long, white hair.
“I.. am sorry I offended you.. uhh.. young.. miss.. But you look barely old enough to drink! And I was bent over you to make sure you were still breathing! Please!”
“Damit!”, cursed Brom as he jogged up to Cora before she did, whatever she was planning on doing at the devastated innkeeper.
“I thought it was rude to talk about a girl’s age in these civilized places you call cities!”, hissed the barbarian girl.
The poor innkeeper just gaped at her.
“Cora.”, said Brom as he came up to her. “Please put the honorable innkeeper down and your sword away.”
“This little minks tried to—”, started Cora.
“CORA SLEET!“, Brom barked. “PUT THE SWORD AWAY. NOW!“
She slowly turned and looked down at the little hobbit, her eyes ablaze.
And a whole slew of expressions crossed her face until she settled on one.. or maybe two; shock, and surprise.. followed by a third; hurt!
Slowly, she removed her sword from the innkeeper’s throat, and with restrained fury, rammed it into its scabbard.
Then she lowered the innkeeper, her eyes still burning and still on the hobbit.
“Thank you.”, Brom said. “Now. I am not sure if we will be staying another night, honorable innkeeper. But we will pay for the rooms for another day. If we are not here, you may keep the pay, and rent them out at your convenience.”
“Tha.. Thank you, Master Bard.”, stammered the innkeeper. “But.. the room.. This room.. it’s destroyed! Who shall pay for the damages done?”
“We shall cover the damages done, honorable innkeeper. The room’s condition is due to some unexpected altercations late last night. Nothing important.. Merely unexpected.”, Brom said meaningfully. Then, with a great show of regret, he sighed, “Girls!”
Whatever the innkeeper thought the hobbit implied, he did not comment. He did cock an eyebrow though.
“How much do you surmise the repairs for the rooms will cost, honorable innkeeper?”, he asked amiably.
The innkeeper stared into the room, with a haggard expression. It was quite apparent he cared for his inn.
He did a quick estimation in his mind, turned around, and told the sum to the hobbit.
It wasn’t a small sum but this was Arashkan and they were also on the richer district of the city.
“We shall pay for the damages done, sir, and then some, for the loss you will likely suffer during the time of your repairs. Does that sound agreeable for you?”, he asked politely.
“Of course, Master Bard, of course. You are a fine example of your kind, sir, and an excellence at your art. My wife and daughters wept at your performance.”, said the innkeeper genuinely.
“Thank you, honorable innkeeper. I do but try.”, replied Brom happily. “Now, if you please, I would like to have a word with my colleagues and listen to what they have to say about shaming a bard at the inn he has performed.”
“Please..”, said the innkeeper, gave a quick glance at the still simmering girl with the long, white hair and the ginormous sword, “..they are all fine, beautiful and honorable ladies. Don’t be too harsh on them. I will have dinner sent to your rooms. I noted.. uhh.. the lady here, preferred our kababs and midgetoes.. Would.. would she like another treat of them?”
“Yes, yes she would. Very much.. Thank you honorable innkeeper.”, replied Brom.
The innkeeper bowed at Brom, carefully nodded at Cora, turned around, and went down the stairs..
“You.. you shouted at me.”, fumed Cora. And there was a shimmer in her eyes now.
“You dishonored me Cora. At an inn I performed and stayed.”, he said, but not too harshly. “And you never, and I mean NEVER, attack or threaten an innkeeper.”
“I was not aware these.. innkeepers were holy men!”, Cora said and all the heat in her stance was gone.
“They are not holy men, Cora. Not in the sense you mean. But they are hosts. They house strangers of all races and colors. And they respect their privacy and keep their secrets.. Yes, we pay for their services, but not for the kind of crap they have to take from every guest under their roof. Innkeepers, my dear Cora, are the core of what we call, ‘guest and host’ relation. It is easy to guest someone you know. Not so fun when you have to put up with strangers, and then clean up after them, day and night, while risking their own lives, the lives of their families, and their other guests. Consider yourself in his place, then think what it would be like if everyone acted as you did.”, he said.
Cora was silent for a moment.
“I do not understand your civilized rules, Brom. But I know the responsibilities of a host to his guests and the responsibilities of guests to their host. It is different in my land, but then, my land is not civilized and it is a harsh land.”, she said mutely.
“Your land is a beautiful land, Cora. Your land is ‘The Endless White’.”, he said with a smile.
“Loved that song.”, she said quietly.
Cora was.. She felt hurt that Brom had shouted at her. More so because the last time anyone had shouted at her, had been her mother.. just before she’d gone off to her watch. The day her Ironfrost, and all her people had died..
Her eyes shimmered some more.
“One day..”, she said with her soft, throaty voice. “..if you would write a saga for me, I would want that song to play.”
“Deal.”, replied Brom. “Now.. How in the blazes did you two destroy this room, girl? We are going to lose very nearly everything we earned thus far, because of your little, fun night!”
“We had a girl’s night. I told you already.”, Cora replied seriously.
“Cora. I do not think either you nor.. Tonic’s pair knows what a girl’s night really is.. When people say, let’s party and wreck a room, they don’t mean… THIS!”, he said pointing at the devastation.
“I do not understand. This is wrecking. Did we miss something?”, she asked and peered curiously into the room.
“When they say wreck a room, they mean.. Ow.. never mind. Would take too long to explain. One of these days, though, I am going to have to set both you and her down and explain how to not understand somethings so literally.”, he said, signed again and added, “That is going to be one, very long day!”
“I am sorry I dishonored you in an inn you performed.”, said Cora. “I was not aware there was such a rule. There are so many rules in these civilized places you call cities.”
“‘Tis alright. There are rules wherever there are people. The more people, the more rules, I guess..”, he said absently as he did a quick calculation in his mind.
“Damn..”, he swore. “I don’t think we have enough coin to cover the repairs.”
“What are we going to do? Want me to go down and bargain with your innkeeper to lower the prices a bit?”, she asked hopefully.
“What? NO. PLEASE NO!“, replied Brom immediately. Then he frowned. Seemed he was going to have to do something he really dreaded doing.
“Look. You stay here and clean up your room..”, began Brom.
“That was the last thing my mother had said to me that morning.. the day Ironfrost was destroyed. ‘Cora, clean up your room!’.. And we’d argued about it.. Now I am back to cleaning my room? Again?”, mumbled Cora.
“I am sorry about Ironfrost, Cora. But this is quite unavoidable. While you do that, I am going to see if I can borrow some money from Tonic.. or.. her pair..”, Brom said.
“First I am expected to wreck this room, and now I have to clean it.. These rules you have to stay civilized are complicated and many!”, Cora signed. Then she looked down at the hobbit.
“You are avoiding saying her name.”, she said.
“What? No..”, Brom tried to deny.. and a bit too hastily.
“Before, you were all excited talking about her. Then you started having these funny and concussed faces every time you said her name. Now you are avoiding it altogether. Is there anything I should know, Brom?”, she asked with both her brows up.
“Wow.”, thought Brom. It seemed like it would be a really, really bad idea to ever underestimate this barbarian girl. She might not know civilized rules nor understand the implications of certain things, but she seemed to miss very little.
Brom sighed again.
“Noting to worry about. If and when it becomes an issue, I’ll be sure to tell you about it.”, he said.
“You like her.”, she stated bluntly.
“I.. What?..How in the.. Why would you..”, he spluttered.
“Good.”, said Cora with the same blunt voice. “Alteast you take me seriously enough not to lie, and care for her enough not to totally deny it. She is a good girl. A bit silly for my taste but, hey, who am I to judge. I mean, I just wrecked a room with her, ate truly awful food, had loads of fun, and stupidly laughed when we both threw up, talked about the silliest things.. and it turns out ‘wrecking a room‘, doesn’t even mean, wrecking a room!.. So, yea.. Who am I to judge.”
“What? Ow. My. Gosh, girl..”, Brom spluttered some more.
“I mean, you wouldn’t believe some of the things she’s done at that academy of hers. Had I done but a tint of what she’s done, mother would have taken a kukri at my braids and sawed them off down to my scalp! Together, we sang like a pair of sore crows while holding hands and danced like the Ice Wolves! Then we beat at each other with pillows.. Should have seen her face when I impaled my pillow on her horns by mistake when I hit her head while she was ducking! She was so beautifully abashed and then I impaled the other pillow with my sword, just to get even! There we were; her, with this big, white pillow stuck on her head, brushing the ceiling, me, with a pillow dying on my sword and feathers flying everywhere.. We laughed so hard, my side hurt! And then she said, “Shall we?”, and I was like “Let’s!”, and we destroyed everything in sight..
She paused for a moment with a thoughtful expression on her face.
“She was ashamed because of something she couldn’t help, Brom. I was ashamed of everything I did last night, all of which I could have stopped at any moment. Yet, she made sure I did not stop and for that, I am grateful to her. That girl lives for silly.. and makes you enjoy it so thoroughly as well.. I have never had that much fun in my entire life.
Consider the hell I went through just a few months ago, Brom. And not a few days ago, I had to relive it, and in greater detail, because apparently, the first time wasn’t enough.. Yet, she made me happy in manic, silly pinks! If that is not ‘special’, I do not know what is. And you want to know what truly got to me? All that while, I could see the sad in her eyes.. She wasn’t trying to have fun, Brom. She was trying to make sure I had fun, all the while holding back because she thinks she is so tall and silly, she imagines herself to be some clumsy juvenile axebeak, and fears that she can hurt me! Not to mention she foolishly believes I am so ‘cool’..
I never had a girl’s night before, Brom. Not because I didn’t want to or didn’t care for such things, but because I never heard of them before. We just didn’t have such things in Ironforst because we never had the luxury to drop our guard.. We had celebrations, sure, but there was always a contingency of our storm heralds and zerkers on guard, and snow rangers hiding all around the village. That girl has never had a girl’s night in her entire life, even though she knew there was such a thing, had other girls all around her at that academy, and yearned to have them all along.. Yet she lived last night for me! That, Brom, is a whole different kind of ‘special’..”
Cora stared at Brom and there was both loss and mirth in the shimmer of her eyes.
“I have never had the privilege of falling in love, my friend.. And now my people are destroyed. I have seen, first hand, just how short every life can be.. Hell, so have you, for that matter.. Don’t waste your time. Either do something about it or put it behind you, which I doubt is even possible.”, she said briskly. Then she lowered her voice, and she spoke sympathetically this time. “I do not envy your disposition though. I hear love hurts.. A lot..”
Brom blushed.. Then blushed even more.
“And the fact that she is like twice my height has gone unnoticed?”, he asked with an angry voice.
Cora looked down at her friend.
Then, with an unexpected display of feline dexterity, and Ursidaen strength, she picked up the hobbit and brought him up to an inch of her face.
“There..”, she said to the stunned hobbit. “..we are now at the same height. What are you going to do about it..?”
Brom struggled for words.
Just nothing was coming out!
“My point, exactly!”, said Cora with brutal bluntness. “If you had planned on doing something —anything, you would have done it from down there, and never needed to be up here —yet, even up here, you still got nothing!”
Then she slowly lowered Brom.
“Your problem is not your height, my friend.”, she said briskly. “You just don’t have a plan! You do not know what to do.. You are a sensible hobbit, ‘a fine example of your kind’, as your honorable innkeeper so nicely put, and she is a silly, unpredictable girl.. She is every bit a mystery to you and everything you are afraid of; exactly the way any girl should be to any man who cares, and matters.. It isn’t what we appear on the outside that makes us who we truly are. Otherwise, what are we but a pair of.. well.. you know.. and a pretty face, really?”
She squinted at the hobbit for a bit, then barked a short, capturing laugh.
“Back at Ironforge, guys thought I was all cool and stuff and they honestly thought they were all just too beneath my cool for me to bother with them, the way I was with my cold and expressionless face.. Like I knew things they didn’t.. The matter of fact was, I had nothing to say.. I mean, I truly had nothingto say. So instead of spluttering crap, I just shut up. And you know what the hardest part was? Keeping a straight face.. Should have seen me when I got home in the evenings when my watch was over. I used to go to my room, then laugh my face off until it hurt, very nearly every night!”
“You.. you are a cruel, cruel girl, Cora Sleet..”, whispered Brom, staring at the barbarian with amazement.
What truly amazed him was how much the barbarian girl had to say.
He’d thought he’d known this snow elf for so long as they had been together, all quiet and cool yet to see how much she had kept bottled up inside. Wraiven must have done some wonders last night to have this girl open up as she just had.. He also felt a slight pang of shame to have not been the one to have done the same, but then, Wraiven was something else..
He was bard, with bardic skills, and he knew the intricacies of the heart.. Or he’d thought he knew. And yet, the very tall, very dark girl had done to Cora in one night, what he hadn’t been able to do in months.
That just had to be something special, alright..
“Yea, well..”, said Cora. “That’s all over now, isn’t it? Ironfrost is gone, my cool is gone, now I actually do have things to say, just none of my friends left to say it..”
“You are still ‘cool’ for me, Cora.. And you can say whatever you like to me. ‘Bone and Cleave’, I am your friend..”, Brom mumbled.
“Bone and Cleave, huh? Rather poetic.. in a barbaric way.. I like!”, she said with a whimsical smile.
Then, her eyes softened as she looked down at him.
“Brom..”, she said with a quiet but serious voice. “..just when have we ever faced anything that is smaller than us? And don’t say, goblin sappers! They had numbers and those bloody grenades.. Yet, we are here, they are not. We have bested everything that is always bigger than us.. Go.. And best her.. Again!.. Shouldn’t be too hard for you, since you already bested her once before. Must I also remind you that it was because of you that she held her punches then.. And that it was your victory against her that made her our friend.. and ruined you for her..”
Then she gave the hobbit one of her rare, crooked smiles, patted him on one shoulder, and before turning to leave for her wrecked room to start clearing the bits and pieces of the debris, she said..
“If that isn’t karma, I do not know what is..!”
Brom heard her talking from inside as she tossed large, broken furniture around.
“You have so much more in common than you think, my bushy little friend. She loves flowers, you love gardens. You can make her whole gardens full of those silly, pink flowers and she will love it.. She is an insoluble mystery, you are forever intrigued by mystery. You can spend the rest of your life trying to solve her, and it will not be a life wasted.. She is pretty, you appreciate and honor that pretty. You can stare and stare at her and never be bored.. She adores cute, you are adorable.. She can put you in her coin purse and carry you around all day and be happy – though I have no idea how you are going to fit in a little pouch. Must be some magic pouch, I think.. To remember my father and mother had nothing in common, yet loved each other like eloped teenagers, was ever awkward for me to watch..”
✱ ✱ ✱
You look happy today.”, said Seressa, peering closely at her little pair.
“I am happy today. I am sorry I made such a ruckus yesterday, Seressa. Things just.. sort of piled on top of each other in one me and.. this isn’t.. this is all very new to me.”, Tonic admitted quietly.
“All is fine, all is fine, luv. Long as you’re are happy.”, her very tall, very dark pair smiled. “Your Gordigon’s letter seems to have found it’s way back home, I see..”
“Thanks to Brom. He is very smart, crafty, and caring, you know.”, she replied glibly.
Seressa looked down at her pair, one eyebrow cocked.
“You said nice about him.”, she said a bit surprised.
“Well, yes, I suppose I did.. He did endure me all last night and somehow got me my lost letter, did he not? He was very patient with me. Patient and understanding. I’d say he’s a great guy!”, Tonic mumbled, as she blushed slightly.
“That he is, luv. That he is.. But how did he do it? I gave it my all, and came up with nothing. I just can’t imagine how that letter traveled eight hundred years, all the way from there, to here!“, she said in a marveled tone.
“I am guessing maybe it’s a bard thing. You know, bards have magic we will never have. You said it yourself!”, she replied elusively. “He is sleeping, anyway. The poor hobbit had a rough night. All the gnomes he had to put up with.”
“Casting yourself in the plural now, are we?”, smiled Seressa.
“Yea.. uhh.. there is just so many of me!”, Tonic blushed some more at her blunder.
“I am sure he will forgive us.”, said Seressa. “Boots?”
“Boots..”, replied Tonic, hopped on the bed and wiggled her feet.
“Tonic, luv..”, said Seressa. “What did you do last night?”
“Eh?”, froze Tonic.
“Look at your feet, girl.. We had a bath just last night and you got your feet all dirtied up again. You can’t wear your boots in such a state. You’ll stink them!”, Seressa said with a disconcerted voice.
“You just want to wash them cuz you like playing with them.”, replied Tonic, wiggling her tiny feet again.
“Yea..”, said Seressa with a smile. “They are soooo cute.”
“They are just feet, girl.”, Tonic frowned
“But very cute and very little feet. I could put them in my mouth and still have room to talk.”, she snickered.
“Ewww, girl.. That’s just gross.”, Tonic pinched her face.
Seressa laughed as she got up and went for the washing pan.
“There’s no water in this!”, she said.
“Ummm…”, said the gnomic girl and she suddenly went red. “I.. might have dumbed its content on Brom, last night..”
Seressa stared at Tonic.
“Why?!”, she wailed. “Why? All the nice things he’s done, and you dumped the content of a washing pan on him? That’s not nice, luv..”
“Look, I am sorry. It wasn’t one of my proudest moments, alright! I was a wreck, looking for a beach to crash and.. he just seemed to be so.. dunno.. convenient?”, she mumbled.
“Tonic..”, despaired Seressa. “Luv.. You can’t keep doing this.. to me.. to yourself.. to OTHERS! Please!”
“I know, I know.. we sort of talked and apologized to one another. Here. give me my satchel, will you?”, she said.
Seressa handed Tonic her artificer’s satchel and Tonic started rummaging it.
After a while, she pulled a round, pot belly jug out of it.
“Bring the pan here, please.”, she said.
Seressa brought the empty washing pan and Tonic tilted the jug. More water than the jug could have possibly contained poured out until the pan was full.
“That’s neat.”, said Seressa. “Is it finite?”
“Yea. Too bad really, otherwise we could have drowned Dreadmaw using just this. Provided he stood still and didn’t get out of his cave!”, sais Tonic with a sad voice.
“Indeed.. would have taken only about a century or ten to fill his cave, I surmise.”, she smiled.. “Come, luv.. Let’s get on with the feet. We should be leaving soon..”
Tonic giggled as her pair vigorously washed her feet, any number of times until she was satisfied.
Then she went for her own pack, produced a medium-sized towel, and started robustly rubbing the gnomic girl’s tiny little feet.
Then, while holding her left foot by the ankle, she froze.
“Whot?”, squeaked Tonic, staring at her pair and she noted her long, slender tail. All through the washing and drying, Seressa’s fascinating tail had been dancing back and forth in a lazy, content, and hypnotizing pattern. Now it stood up very still. Its pink, fluffy end, however, was twitching with an erratic irritation —always a bad sign. It meant her master was feeling provoked.. or was seeking mischief!
Tonic looked up to her pair to see Seressa smirking, her white, beautiful canines fully on display.
“No..”, said Tonic seriously. “Seressa no.. no, no, no, NOOO!”
Seressa smirked some more.
“I have you now.”, she hissed..
..and poped it!
..into her mouth!
Tonic held her breath, then squealed, laughing in manic despair.
“Eww, girl, get it out. Get it out!”, she shrieked, still squealing and giggling.
“Told you I could do it, and still have room to talk!”, Seressa mumbled, her own tummy hopping with bubbles of laughter!
Tonic threw herself back and started banging her fists while she shrieked and squealed as she convulsed with the electrifying jolts of tickle running up her tiny foot in Seressa’s mouth!
“Perhaps I came at a wrong time?”, said Brom.. with a professionally straight face, as he beheld the mad? creepy? insane? funny? hilarious? sight before him.
A Tonic, squealing like a hyped little squirrel, and a Seressa, with her pairs foot in her mouth..
It was a very nearly surreal sight.
Perhaps I am not quite awake yet, and this is just a weird dream with a lot of metaphors, thought Brom.
“This isn’t what it looks like!”, blurted Wraiven in unveiled panic, the foot still in her mouth.
“I am not eating her!”
And she blushed.
Brom hadn’t seen the very tall, very dark girl blush before.. Not really.. Probably because she was a cultured and classy girl, she had maturely accepted herself as who and what she was, or never truly put herself in situations where she would end up blushing.. even at her moments of klutz, and as silly as she always seemed.
Or perhaps he was overthinking or overanalyzing it and the girl was just so dark, a blush merely camouflaged itself.. A bit like her bruises.
Whatever the reasons may be, it told something about the girl to Brom. As to what it was, he put it aside for the moment. The current situation had precedence and was likely one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ things..
Hence it came quite as a surprise when he saw the very tall, very dark girl truly, and actually blush.
Her face, her whole demeanor, really.. just changed. The whole of Seressa Wraiven started to glow with a searing, simmering, red-orange inner fire one would only see in pitched coal at the very bottom and center of a hearth where the fickle fire had died, and what remained was the core ember that gave off a calm, but steady heat.
It was ‘awesome’, at a whole new level..
“Ow. My. Gosh!”, he barely heard Tonic squeak in destroyed embarrassment.
Brom could only gawk at Wraiven.
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meets in her aspect and her eyes..
He murmured silently.
Then, a whisper escaped him..
“Or perhaps my timing was of the best.”
Slowly, and deliberately, Brom Bumblebrim turned around, took a deep breath, and left.
Perhaps Cora could use some help. There had been a lot of debris in that wreck.
✱ ✱ ✱
You bested her already?”, asked Cora as she picked up what was perhaps once a wardrobe like it was made of straws than hardwood. “That was quick. Way to go hobbit! Hope you didn’t comment about the size of her.. well, you know.. She is a bit touchy on that subject, though I can’t understand why considering your initial assumptions and accusations were totally wrong..”
Brom scratched his head dubiously.
“Never accuse a girl about the size of their..”, continued Cora.
He wasn’t quite sure who had, perhaps unwittingly, bested whom there, just then, or if there had been any besting at all. He certainly felt bested, though.. He also felt something smolder at the pit of his stomach!
“Did you tell her she’s pretty? Seressa likes pretty.”
Seressa Wraiven was not just pretty..
She was something..
And he saw something new in her, every time she turned around.. and thus Brom Bumblebrim wondered..
“But it’s always nice hearing it from others..”
Why had she blushed so..?
The poem Brom recites;
She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron (George Gordon Byron, 1788 – 1824)
She walks in beauty, like the night Of cloudless climes and starry skies; And all that’s best of dark and bright Meet in her aspect and her eyes; Thus mellowed to that tender light Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less, Had half impaired the nameless grace Which waves in every raven tress, Or softly lightens o’er her face; Where thoughts serenely sweet express, How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow, So soft, so calm, yet eloquent, The smiles that win, the tints that glow, But tell of days in goodness spent, A mind at peace with all below, A heart whose love is innocent!
THAT. WAS. AWSOOOOOME!“, Tonic half shrieked, half cackled with manic fervent and triumphant hysteria. “I can’t believe she held me.. No!.. She hugged me! The Riverin of High Woods, The Princess of Bari Na-ammen, the daughter of Ri Grandaleren and Rise Nadine Graciousward.. THE FUTURE QUEEN OF THE HIGH ELVES, Alor’Nadien ne Feymist herself, my twin sister by adoption, no less, and she hugged me! Oww my Gosh, she smelled so nice.. So warm.. And you know what? I think I will go visit her again, once this is all over. Just for more of that!”
“Girl.. She offered you the throne of Bari Na-Ammen, literally, and all you can think of is her hugs? I’ll be the first one to admit, she is a beauty, par to Wraiven, but really, now.. Your priorities are a tad eschewed.”, Brom said with a bemused tone.
“Look here, you little hobbit!”, she said pointing a tiny finger at him. “This here is the hair of a Princess. And not just any princes, but that of Alor’Nadien ne, herself! And not just a snippet, either. She gave me a whooooole strand!”
Her tiny finger, the one she was pointing at Brom, was nearly all black! Because her fingers were so small, and the Princess truly had had very long hair, flowing nearly all the way down to her feet. She had enlaced the hair around and around her finger until it had all but covered it.
And now, the little gnomic girl was skipping and hopping like she was the proud owner of one of the rarest wonders in the kingdom..
..which, she was!
“You are such a dork, Tonic.”, Brom smiled. “..And a fangirl!”
The two had left the huge Dorin guy and the beautiful, graceful, and pretty princess behind and were heading to their next, and hopefully, last stop for the evening; to the Great Arashkan Library.
Why was every officious building in the city named ‘Great’, Brom had wondered.
The Great Arashkan Courthouse, The Great Arashkan Library, The Great Arashkan Arena, The Great Spires, The Great First Lord Princeps Palace.. It wasn’t like there was another city just over the hill with a courthouse, a library, an arena, some spires nor another first lord that one would confuse, now, was there?
Or perhaps there were some ‘baby’ Arashkan courthouses, libraries, arenas, spires, and first lord palaces and hence, the ‘great’ ones had real and practical significance.
Brom couldn’t imagine a conversation where some stranger would ask; “Excuse me, mate, where’s the First Lord’s Palace?”, and get a reply, “Which one? I mean, we have so many!”.
Brom suspected, that conversation would devolve into something like;
“The ‘great’ one..”
“Yea, okay, but which one? We have a lot of ‘great’ first lords in Arashkan. You’ll have to be a bit more specific, mate!”
“How many First Lord’s do you have, in this city?”
“19,876 by the last count. We had a new First Lord spawn just the other day!”
Apparently, Brom’s live-imagination was at play again!
But there was, however, some truth in his creative perception. All these ‘greats’ didn’t make the city anymore endearing.. Only pompous! No one, it seemed, was near-honestly humble like hobbits in this world. Hobbits lived in nice, quiet, rolling hills. They didn’t build giant monuments, nor put awesome statues to impress others. Seemed a little like too much work for no gain at all. Hobbits made their homes in the hills and.. well.. they lived in them.. Happily too!
The near-honestly was because hobbits were just unenthusiastically lazy to be bothered by such frivolities!
Elves, humans, gnomes, dwarves.. none of them ever seemed satisfied with what they already had. Always they would thrive for more..
..and still, be unhappy.
Just how stupid was that?
“Brom.”, Tonic said sternly. “I know what she offered. Think of my history. I know what power is. I lived with my uncle for years. And I know what power can do to you. My uncle.. He had power. Lots and lots of it. Even his demons feared him and it really is hard to instill fear in a demon. And look what it brought him. Banishment to the depths of hell he is never coming back from. It is possible he is still alive. And burning perpetually there.. And Heavens willing, he should burn for more, and then some.”
“I.. can’t say I admire his disposition. But why? Why did Nadine banish him and not just kill him and be done with? Death seems kinda more permanent, don’t you think?”, asked Brom a bit taken aback by the little gnomic girl’s savage tone.
“No. Death is not always thus permanent. Not for guys like my uncle..”, she replied, her tone much more subdued now than just a moment before.
“Ow? How do you mean?”
“My uncle, Arcanton.. He made many deals with many beings.. Outsiders.. Creatures that do not belong to our plane of existence. Planes where time and space get distorted. You literally can’t kill those creatures, Brom. You can only banish them from your own reality and hope some fool will not summon them back.. At least not in your lifetime!”, Tonic said quietly.
“Hmm.. So Arcanton made deals with things out of our plane of existence. But so did Wraiven, come to think of it, did she not? I mean, The Raven Queen doesn’t exactly belong to our plane of existence either, you know.”, Brom said carefully.
“Seressa did not make deals with the Raven Queen, Brom. Not in the sense that my uncle did. My pairs soul is her own. And belongs only to her. I doubt under any circumstance would she give up her soul to anyone.. or anything! Seressa is bonded with the Raven Queen via a pact. She does her bidding in return for her queen sharing a part of her power and knowledge with her. It is sort of a mutually beneficial agreement between two parties. She can, if she wanted, dissolve that bond. Yes, she will lose the Raven Queen’s favor and the power she imparts to her, but the fact remains; she can end the bond..”, Tonic tried to explain.
“So she can.. But I still don’t see the difference.”, said Brom as he squinted into the night.
“The difference is, unless you got more balls than brains, you literally can’t break the deals you make with Outsiders. Once the deal is done, your soul is on the market! It’s ‘Going.. Going.. Going.. Gone!’“, she said seriously.
“Well, that sucks.. I suppose. I like it that Seressa is free. I like her free. And she should always be free. Social rhetorics do her enough injustice and chain her as it is. She doesn’t need any more constraints.”, Brom said quietly.
The two walked on for some time in companionable silence. As it turned out, they ended up going the longest possible way around, taking the streets between the Officers District and Heaven Park, behind the Archery Military Camp, and by the Lights Temple. For some reason, the First Lords Palace and the streets surrounding it seemed to be teaming with burly, scowling patrols and neither Brom nor Tonic needed any complications or altercations with the city’s law enforcement’s that late, that night.
“Don’t.”, Brom said finally.
“Don’t what?”, asked Tonic, a bit surprised.
“Don’t ask the question you have been meaning to ask all night, Miss Tonic.”, he said with a destitute voice.
“Actually, I wasn’t going to ask anything.. And you really don’t need to ‘Miss’ me you know. Every time you say ‘Miss Tonic’, it sounds like ‘I miss Tonic!’ in my head, and that’s just weird.. and creepy!”, she said.
“Well, now. That is weird.. And creepy..”, mused Brom, but it seemed his mind was elsewhere.
“I did wonder though..”, Tonic began.
“And that.. is what I meant when I said, ‘don’t’!”, Brom frowned.
“You know. It isn’t fair you get to do all these psychoanalysis on me and then fend me off when I want to ask you some personal questions.”, she sniffed.
“I am not the one with the accumulated issues, Miss— Tonic.”, replied Brom, but there was no heat nor beration in his voice.
“So only people with decent backgrounds get to analyze others, then?”, asked Tonic mildly.
“No.. There just isn’t anything there to analyze.”, Brom replied allusively.
“Ahh.. I see.. So it’s perfectly alright if I did ask you a few personal questions, then?”, said Tonic with a victorious smirk.
“What? No.. How did you even get to that conclusion, girl?”, replied the hobbit feeling exasperated.
“Using awesome logic!”, smirked Tonic again.
“Using logic..”, snorted Brom. “You are not going to let this go, are you, girl?”
“Nope.”, replied Tonic happily. “So.. What do you see in Seressa?”
“Thought I already told you that. Just this evening. At least twice.”, frowned Brom.
“Yes, and no. Your description of her was a bit.. too intimate and heartfelt.. One could argue it’d make an excellent book cover, let’s say.”, said Tonic tentatively.
“I don’t know what kind of books you are into, girl, but I would suggest you read something that has actual literature in them.”, Brom scowled now.
“So you don’t like her, then?”, she blurted.
“Now why wouldn’t I like her? I mean, what is there not to like?”, replied Brom honestly.
“So you do like her..”
“Ow. My. Gosh, girl. You are going to push this in your direction whatever I say!”, exclaimed Brom, waving his hands.
“I just want you to give me an honest, and straight answer. Is that too much to ask? I mean, we are friends, right?”, persisted the gnomic girl.
“Just because we are friends, that doesn’t mean we share everything..”, said Brom exasperated.
“But you said, ‘We suffer. We mourn. We sing and we celebrate.. We do. And what we do, we share!‘. Your words, not mine.”
Brom ‘hoo boy’ed.
The little demon was persistent.. and she stuck on him..
..like a tick!
“That is possibly the worst misuse of a friendly conversation, Miss Tonic!”, Brom said angrily. “But I will tell you, just to get you off my back!”
“Yeshh!”, Tonic fisted her hand into the air. “Victory!”
“When I see your pair.. No.. When I see Wraiven, I sometimes wish I was a taller man. And better looking, perhaps. ‘Cooler’, so to speak. Maybe a bit more muscular.. You know, the type girls like to ogle at.
I love everything about her and she sees me only as something that she can, perhaps, cute into her coin purse. Not that I would mind being pursed by her, but that will still not make her see me in the light that I would rather have her see me.. If that makes any kind of sense to you.
We are so impossibly different, yet she makes me simply not care. Which is the core of the problem. She doesn’t see me that way, period. I mean, what am I to her, really, but a bushy little hobbit?”, said Brom then fell silent. This night had offered him many wonders. Just not the ones he would have wished for.
Tonic stared at the back of the hobbit as they once more fell silent.
She had been surprised by this unscrupulous hobbit a few too many times this evening. But this last bit gave her a whole new insight about him because he hadn’t been staring at her pair for the simple visual pleasure of having ogled at a very beautiful, proportionately curvy, comely buxom, life inducingly vibrant, deservingly exhilarating, darkly mysterious, and honestly alluring figure, counter-underlined by some macho male animal instinct, but for something more. Something that was intimate. Something that had real depth.
Tonic suddenly felt angry and jealous.
For all her pretense otherwise, she didn’t feel like sharing her pair with anyone, even though she had taken her pair a bit too much for granted.
Then she felt shame.
The hobbit —No! Not the hobbit.. ‘Brom’, had done nothing but give his best to help a cranky, cantankerous, contrary, grumpy and surly little girl his all, and not just that evening, but carefully, every day, ever since they had met. And for some reason, Tonic didn’t think he’d done any of it to gain favor with her pair, by proxy. For all his seeming indifference towards everything, lack of base enthusiasm, exasperation level of sloth, and blatantly unscrupulous attitudes, he was smart, cunning, always seemed to show unsolicited kindness, and he was loyal, educated, and well-spoken, even though he hadn’t been to an academy such as Melshieve and thus far, he’d more than pulled his weight in fights.
Much better than she had!
Hells bells, he’d also played that lyre like a siren! She remembered all the times she’d thought he was just staring at her pair’s butt, while he had persistently claimed he was composing a song.. in his mind!
And he had been telling the truth all along.
‘The Endless White’.
The tune he had played, back at the inn that very evening was something that was simply ‘mad’..
..and Tonic had loved it!
And now she didn’t want to share her pair with him?
Like her pair was hers to give or not..
Just how arrogant was that?
“Yes.”, inner Tonic said. “You really are selfish, you know.”
“Whose side are you anyway?”, blazed Tonic but her heart hadn’t really been in it. She’d flared more out of ‘muscle reflex’ than true intent.
“Does it matter? It was you, who wanted to try ‘this way for some..’, wasn’t it? Now you want to quit? I wasn’t aware it would be this short. Must have missed the memo. Had I known you’d be this fickle, I wouldn’t have fought against it so hard, knowing you’d come around on the morrow..”, inner Tonic said, and she didn’t even bother with the sarcasm.
Tonic shut up.
From the inside!
No. The hobbit was not just ogling at a very beautiful, proportionately curvy, comely buxom, life inducingly vibrant, deservingly exhilarating, darkly mysterious, and honestly alluring figure.
Brom was staring at the heart of all that and desolately knew, he could never have it.
The ogling was just his way of fooling those around him..
“You could tell her.”, she braved mutely.
“To what end? There’s nothing neither of us can do about it, particularly if she doesn’t see me that way. If I tell her, all I will get is either the basic ‘You are my friend’, talk or the infamous ‘But I love you like a brother’, talk, which I would rather forgo and Heavens forbid, will never happen. However Seressa sees me, I never want her to love me like a ‘brother’..”, replied Brom, and not without a good dose of bitter disgust.
“So you are going to do nothing?”, asked Tonic incredulously.
“I never claimed to be a brave man, Tonic. As a matter of fact, I did say I was a coward, this very evening, I might add. Being refused by someone as awesome as Wraiven is not something I ever want to experience. I’d rather just ogle and make sure she sees me doing it.”, he said quietly.
“Make sure she sees you? Why? That doesn’t make sense.”, said Tonic befuddled.
“I don’t like sneak-peaking at her. Feels wrong. Feels like cheating.. Feels immoral —and yes, I am fully aware of the monumentally depraved irony there. That doesn’t change the way I feel, though.”, said Brom, frowning a bit.
“But.. but you are suffering and she doesn’t even know!”, bewailed Tonic.
“What’s got you so riled. It’s my problem. I’d rather look at that beautiful and wonderful, and beautifully wonderfulgirl with the impossible dream of a ‘chance’, than never to be able to look at her again when I get refused or be declared as ‘loved like a brother’!”, said Brom, gruffly.
Tonic ran up to Brom and stopped right in front of him and looked him in the eyes.
“That’s.. That’s just wrong, Brom.. and sad..”, she said with brimming eyes.
“Well. I am a sad sort of man. I got a problem, and I am using the cowardly way out. Nobody is feeling bad and no one is getting hurt..”, he said flatly.
“Accept you.”, she said quietly.
“Yea, well. There you have it. Chew on that psychoanalysis if you will, Miss Tonic.”, said Brom, brushed past the gnomic girl and with determined steps, started towards The Great Arashkan Library..
✱ ✱ ✱
Tell me again.”, said Brom with a mute, stoic voice. “What do I say to this Tinker-guy, again? And how in the blazes am I even going to get up to that window anyway? It must be at least fifty-five feet up there. Probably more, since this is a library. They would require higher ceilings to store all the books.”
Brom didn’t feel well. He had never wanted to divulge his feelings about the very tall, very dark girl to anyone. And certainly not to Tonic. Not because he thought she couldn’t keep the knowledge to herself, but perhaps, and because, he thought, she would keep it to herself.
“Damit.”, he thought. “Why now? Why tonight, of all nights?”
Had it been the tune he’d played to the audience that evening?
The one he’d named a tad grandly as; ‘The Endless White.‘
He knew he should have named it just ‘The White.‘.. or even ‘White.‘.. but white was just too generic.
Or perhaps it was the song he’d sang after that; Time.
In all honesty, Brom Bumblebrim knew, he just knew, it wasn’t him, who’d written that song. Unlike any other song he had written, this one had ‘come’ to him.. and in the most literal sense possible. Word by word, the song had written itself in his mind and heart during his two-year sojourn from Bowling Hills, all the way to Shakehands.. Which is when he’d met Cora. But tonight had been the first time he had actually put it on display, so to speak. And now, the song was out..
..and out of its ‘time’, Brom thought with a sardonic inner snort.
Or perhaps it was because of having met an angelic being.. or seen that dark, very sinister-looking man he’d ended up feeling ‘distaste’ at best, then getting all his emotions totally eroded when he saw the same, sinister man looking at the sweet little skinny girl the way he had. And the look she had given him had been emotionally ruinous all by itself for Brom.
He was a bard, damit, and love was the bread and butter for all bards.. But the thing between those two.. he found he couldn’t define it..
..because he could not comprehend it.
It had been so.. nubile in its beauty..
So primevally intense.
There had been no decorum to it. Only base, raw, savage, and somehow, awe-inspiringly tender and desperately lonely longing in the look the two, very unlikely man and girl, were giving one another.
And they were giving it in a sense that was singularly unique! It made other people’s love seem like they were merely and briefly lending their hearts to others, while those two had already and literally given theirs.
So much so that what beat in one, was actually the heart of the other..
What man, woman —or bard— could truly comprehend that?
The intermixed irony that was put under the broad beam of a bright spotlight was not lost on Brom at all;
One, inhumane human, and one, infinitely humane, inhuman!
It was likely that very destitution the two had, that’d sparked the fire that had previously been a mere and happy little kindle..
..into searing pain.
Tonic gave Brom an even look.
Whether she surmised what was really going through the hobbit’s mind, she kept it to herself.
For now, at least.
Which was a grace, all by itself.
“I have seen you climb walls before, Brom. That cloak of yours will more than suffice. If you want, though, I can give you a potion that will make you climb pretty much any surface. Another for you to pass through any gap, or to safely float down. I can send a rope all the way up there.. The window is in range.”, she listed methodically. “I suppose, if you want, I can bring out Mechaber. He can give you a fifteen feet head-start sort of a jump. But I haven’t really had the opportunity to field test that. And I can’t promise a quiet landing. Likely, it will bring a lot of patrols upon us. I am guessing you’d rather avoid that.”
“I am guessing, you would rather avoid that!”, scowled Brom.
“Yes. Yes, I would.. Very much.. The technology behind Mechaber is not out yet, and I would rather it didn’t. Not yet, and not until it’s perfected and certainly not until I install the self-destruct unit in it.”, she said seriously.
“The self— what?”, asked Brom incredulously.
“Self-destruct unit.. You didn’t think I would artifice something as dangerous and deadly as Mechaber and then hand it over to the irresponsible humankind, or have it stolen, now did you? I designed it. I must make sure it never falls into wrong hands..”, Tonic said like she was paraphrasing from a blood-signed doctrine!
“Ooookay.. Good, we got that cleared, then.”, Brom said.
“Mechaber is serious business, Brom. Nothing to joke about. The fact that you have seen it, let alone know about it is a sign of how much Seressa trusts you because if it were up to me, you’d have never seen, nor heard mention of it.. Well.. not for some time, anyway.”
“Ooookay.. Good to know where we stand too, then.”, Brom said with the same tone.
“Look, just because you like someone, doesn’t mean you hand over the nuclear launch codes to them, alright!”, she said with an exasperated voice.
“The what lunch codes?”
“Never mind.”, said Tonic. “Read it in some silly futuristic sci-fi book.”
“Psychic-what? What are you talking about, girl? Just what the hell kind of books are you reading?”, Brom asked.
“Look, the story begins when a pretty Erossian spy falls in love with a mad and delusional Camerican nuclear scientist—”, the gnomic girl promptly began..
“Tonic!.. It’s late. I am tired and in all sorts of ways.. Let’s just get this over with, shall we? I am sure Cora and your pair have noticed we have been too quiet by now and gone to your room to check and see as to why! I think the story about some mad psychic-whatsit can wait, don’t you?”
“Right..”, said Tonic and blushed a bit. “Just tell him what I told you. Don’t loiter. Don’t chit chat. Get in. Tell him. Get out. And..”
Brom cocked one eyebrow.
“..And, thank you. I made you do things tonight you would rather not have done.. At least not with me, nor for me.. So.. Thank you..”, she said with a small voice.
“You are welcome, Miss Tonic. And no, I wouldn’t have done any of this, not tonight, not ever, but not because of you. I just wouldn’t have done them because I would rather have taken a light snack, cleaned and tuned my lyre, and then went to sleep. Thanks to you, it is unlikely I will find any light snacks nor find the time to neither clean nor tune my lyre. And because it’s nearly the end of the night, I will not be getting any sleep either..”, Brom said.
Tonic frowned.. and felt a bit.. hurt..
“But I did do all the things I would rather have not, and I am now a better man for it.. All because of you.. So.. Thank you!”, he added with a smile.
Tonic’s eyes teared.
“Go.. Now.. Or I shall call you an ass and totally ruin the moment, Brom Bumblebrim!”, she sniffled.
Brom smirked, turned around, pulled his magic cloak around him..
..and started climbing up the side of The Great Arashkan Library like some odd lizard or possibly, an arachnid!
✱ ✱ ✱
Who is there?”, a slightly tenoric male voice whispered harshly in the darkness.
“It is I, The Ghost of Silent Hills Past, Present, and Future!”, spoke Brom, with a hoarse, hollow voice as he produced a very high, very eerie, screaming tune from his lyre.
The poor antic instrument wept at her misuse.
Brom had found the ‘Tinker-guy’ with relative ease. The gnome was taller than Tonic but while the gnomic girl was proportionally slim, this gnome, the possible great, great, great-something grandson of Prince Gordigon was a bit on the stocky side. Though he looked quite young and robust and had keen, intelligent, and pursuing eyes.
Brom had thought of a dozen different ways of approaching the gnome, including stepping up to him and saying, “Hallo there, matie. Got somin te tell yer! Go there them Silent ‘ills an’ grab what’s there fer yer self and be quik ’bout tit! And while at tit, quit mawnin’ ’bout things ‘cuz non wuz yer falt! But I’d suggis yer watch yer arse cuz sum fellers wantsit!”
And now he was gnawing his knuckles, hiding a few rows, behind and above him, stuck on the ceiling!
“Whot?”, the gnome, Tinker-guy, said in a baffled and spooked voice.. And one of his hands formed claws as a huge ball of fire appeared in it!
“Ow crap!”, thought Brom. “A trigger happy fireballer!.. We are in a bloody library, damit! Who uses a fire hall in a library? That is a universal reason for contempt, almost akin to speaking aloud in a theater! Doesn’t he know there’s a special kind of hell for people like that? And this idiot is the heir to Silent Hills?”
He produced his own Wand of Ice, just in case the fool actually did fire his ball and he had to put out the fires!
And just then, they heard a monotonous, matronly voice echo.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, OR YOU WILL BE FINED! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“What the..”, said the gnome, Tinker-guy.
Brom snickered. Ow, this was going to be fun!
“It is I, The Ghost of Silent Hills Past, Present, and Future!”, he repeated, with the same hoarse, hollow voice.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 50 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“And I have come to give you tidings from the beyond, young Tinker-guy!”, hallowed Brom.
The gnome, Tinker-guy, cocked an eyebrow, his face puzzled.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 100 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“What the hell?”, the Tinker-guy said.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 150 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
Brom snickered, some more. If Tonic caught him doing this, she’d have his hide, and then some!
“You shall go to Silent Hills.. There you will find your kin..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 200 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“You must reclaim your heritage..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 250 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Ow. My. Gosh!”, exclaimed the Tinker-guy. “Can you please stop?!”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 300 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“No. I can’t!”, moaned Brom.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 350 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 400 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“..am the Ghost of Silent..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 450 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 500 CREDITS! YOU ARE NOW BARRED FROM THE LIBRARY FOR A WEEK. PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“..Present and Future!”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 550 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Stop!”, cried the gnome!
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 600 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“And you shall do my bidding..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 650 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Stop. Just stop!”, shrieked the Tinker-guy in desperation.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 700 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“No. I can’t..”, repeated Brom, his eyes shut, his face flushed and he had started doing strange, snorting, bubbling noises.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 750 CREDITS! YOU ARE NOW BARRED FROM THE LIBRARY FOR A MONTH. PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“You shall go to Silent Hills, and into the Demon Fog to reclaim your birthright..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 800 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“You must also know, young Tinker-guy..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 850 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Stop! You are going to get me permanently..”, cried the gnome.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 900 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
Brom could hardly breathe by now.
“..what befell you in the past..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 950 CREDITS! PLEASE BE ADVISED; YOU ARE NOW APPROACHING CONDEMN LIMIT. PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“..was not of your doing!”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 1000 CREDITS! YOU ARE NOW BANNED FROM THE GREAT ARASHKAN LIBRARY. PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Whot?”, exclaimed the gnome and there appeared a haunted expression on his face. A face that bespoke of shame, self-loathing, relief, pain lived, and pain endured..
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 1100 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Those who put your heritage into desolation sent their minions to slay ye and yer line..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 1200 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
The gnome’s face paled. He tried to speak, but words utterly failed him.
“..to ensure, none would ever bring ‘voice’ to Silent Hills..”
And now, Brom wasn’t snickering anymore.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 1300 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Hence an evil plan they hatched.. A heinous plan.. And they brought down your home and buried you, and yours..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 1400 CREDITS! PLEASE PLEASE BE ADVISED; YOU ARE NOW APPROACHING CIVIL RIGHTS LIMIT. STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
Tears appeared in the Tinkey-guy’s eyes and ran down shamelessly.
“My mother? My father? My brothers and sisters by the dozen? Terrah Doodlebellz? All my friends? My neighbors? —They all died because of me?”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 1500 CREDITS! THE CIVIC GUARDS ARE ON THEIR WAY. PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT AND WAIT FOR DETENTION! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Nay, young Tinkerdome. They all died because someone slew them. They all died to kill your line. Make their sacrifice worth the world, young Tinkerdome..
Reclaim your Heritage.
Reclaim your Hills.
Reclaim your Kingdom.
Reclaim your Throne.
Reclaim your Destiny.
Reclaim your People.
And be a King!“
And with a job well done, Brom Bumblebrim silently climbed down the ceiling.
Quite as a mouse, he brushed past the devastated Prince Gnine Tinkerdome, the great, great, great-something grandson of Prince Gordigon, got out the window, and skimmed down the walls of The Great Arashkan Library..
✱ ✱ ✱
WHAT DID YOU DO?!“, nearly shrieked Tonic in panic as she grabbed the hobbit and started running back the way they came. “The place is suddenly crawling with civic law enforcement!”
They ran past the Lights Temple, along the Archery Military Camp, and cut through the street between Heaven Park and Officers District.
“I said, just talk to him, say the things, and get out!”, spluttered the gnomic girl.
“Which is pretty much what I did, girl!”, panted Brom, his face flushed and he truly felt tired, both physically and emotionally. And he was scratching the upper end of one leg, near the buttock, just where he couldn’t see.
“What is the matter with you?”, Tonic asked, her eyes wild now.
“I got bit.. Again!..”, spat Brom, and mumbled to himself, “This is the last time I fall for a cute face!”, as they heard someone shout “HALT!“, from behind them.
“Never.. mind.. Not a story.. for now..”, Brom said with a harsh scowl.
Aaaand the gnomic girl was about to get hit with a full-blown panic now!
Something neither of them needed at that very moment.
“Calm.. down.. girl!”, said Brom harshly, as he huffed, and puffed.
The marching footsteps were getting closer.
“HALT! HALT I SAY! HALT IN THE NAME OF THE FIRST LORD!“, repeated the same voice from behind, but much closer now, than before.
“Can.. you.. disappear?”, Tonic gasped as she ran next to Brom.
“Umm.. Yes.. But only myself!”, breathed Brom heavily.
“Ok, then.. Go.. Shoo! Vanish! Scram!”, she said.
“NO! Not.. leaving you.. Not happening..!”, Brom breathed.
“I can.. take care of.. myself.. damit!”, snarled Tonic.
“Together.. or not.. happening.. I.. never want to.. face a Wraiven.. with you.. missing!”, he gasped.
“Damit!”, she said, produced two vials with green, vaporish something in them, and a tightly packed clay sphere out of her artificer’s satchel. “Here, drink this in ten!”, she said and handed one of the vials to Brom, as she tossed the clay sphere behind her.
“You know, disintegrating civic guards is not a good idea, Tonic..”, Brom said lightly.
There was a stunning bang, and the civic guards on their heels dropped to their knees and slumbered face down.
“Neat..”, admired Brom.
“Won’t keep them down for long. Now shut up and drink! The effects of this potion should last about an hour, possibly more. I am usually generous —or heavy-handed— with ingredients, depending on your point of view.. Meet you at the inn.”, she said and topped her own vial.. and suddenly, Tonic fell apart!
“I like you, Brom Bumblebrim.”, she said in a warbling, escaping, gaseous, and fading voice. “If you are so bent on martyring alone, I shall abide by your wishes. But you shouldn’t decide for Wraiven without bothering to ask her. That truly is cowardly. And not really any different than all the other animals out there who only see the pinks and never wonder what’s in it.. I made that mistake and it cost me—”
Whatever it had cost Arcantonic, she couldn’t say.
Her form drifted away in a hazy wisp of smoke!
Brom scowled after the now gone gnomic girl.
“Inserting a last word right before the disappearing act.. Cheap, Miss Tonic. Very cheap! Well, I am warning you now, girl, there’s a whole slew of pain coming your way..”, he said darkly and drank his own vial..
It was the strangest sensation he had ever felt.
It was like his whole body was flying apart into tiny, dust-sized bits! He felt the hair on his bushy head rise on their ends, accept he had no hair left either. Every part of him just.. puffed into smoke, and he got carried off with the slightest wind.
Now all he had to do was somehow steer himself in the general direction of the inn, preferably away from the scores of civic guards.
✱ ✱ ✱
Had a good evening, did you?” asked Cora as she stood in the hallway up the stairs to their rooms in the inn.
Her arms were crossed.
She was scowling at the little hobbit.
And her lips had that pout again.
Brom was smart enough not to comment on how cute Cora looked when she pouted.
Or rather, when she pouted while she was angry!
“Ummm.. Had a good evening yourself, did you?”, replied Brom, as he peered into their room.
The room was a wreck!
Everything, including bits of the floorboards, the windows, the window sills, the curtains, the flower pots, the walls, the feather bed, the nightstand, the lamps.. were either broken to bits or were cracked beyond repair. Feathers from the bed matres and the former pillows floated about and covered everywhere while food crumbs, empty and broken plates, bowls, and further cracked mugs and bottles were tossed and scattered haphazardly.
“This is not mere destruction.”, thought Brom in awe. “This is very nearly art! I could literally write an epic on this!”
“What did you do, Brom Bumblebrim?”, she fumed from her nose as she loomed over the hobbit, glaring down at him with her glacial blue eyes.
“Again with the ultimatum name use! What is it with my name and ultimatums, girl?”, asked Brom, frowning a bit. “And, I could ask you the same thing, Cora Sleet!.. What did you two do here?”
“We had a girls night. What does it look like? Seressa said we had to wreck the room at the end, so we did.. Was fun like I never had in my life!”, she replied seriously.
“And did you wear pinks too? I know for a fact, neither of you had pajamas!”, smirked Brom.
Cora’s eyes blazed and her face pinked.. just a little.. Barely visible, really, and if Brom hadn’t known the barbarian girl for as long as he had, he would have totally missed it.
“So.. how did you like it? The pinks, I mean..”, he asked blandly, and secretly kicked himself for having missed perhaps the only chance he would have ever gotten to see a Cora Sleet in Seressa’s mini pinks!
“It was a bit drafty but otherwise comfy!”, she replied with a straight face.
“Any chance for me to—?”, he asked.
“Never happen!”, Cora replied and now she really was scowling. “WHAT. DID. YOU. DO. BROM? We left you so you can calm Tonic. Not make her cry more!”
Brom sighed. He’d really wanted this to be kept between himself and the gnomic girl. Just to preserve her dignity, if nothing else. He didn’t want the cute little demon, as she at times became, to be seen as a ‘break down’ or a ‘cry baby’ and hence, an unreliable ‘loose end’, but there was no going around Cora when she got stubborn as she did now.
“Best way is to pull at it fast and sharp, and get it over with.”, he thought, took a deep breath, and spoke his piece.
“Before, she was crying for dubious and barely justifiable reasons.. I, on the other hand, gave her a genuine reason, so now, she is crying for real!”, said Brom and sure as he was a short, bushy-haired hobbit, his voice was now quite low, unsophisticated, and kind. “I am sorry Cora, but the current storm is inevitable. Once it blows, however, she will be done. She will then thank me because she will be feeling much, much better, and be stronger for it!”
Cora looked down at the hobbit. But the ice in her glacials were gone and she was looking at him, not with her looming glare, but with the one that said..
‘You and I..’
‘We are equals.’
“Something happened.”, she murmured softly.
“No.. Maybe..”, Brom replied evasively.
“Must I drag it out of you, my friend?”, she said with part annoyance, part amusement, and part.. wonder, perhaps?
“I’d rather you didn’t. This one isn’t about me, Cora.. Please.. Let this one go..”, he said without looking up at her.
“Grilled you, did she? Alright, then, go.. You look beat. Missed me in pinks, though.”, she smirked.
“Yea. Missed a lot in pinks tonight.”, he mumbled quietly and left for his room.
✱ ✱ ✱
Tonic, luv..”, said Seressa softly. “Do tell me what’s wrong. It pains me to see you thus.”
Seressa had silently entered the room they had planned on staying that evening like a whisper. She had skimmed the wooden floor, went over to the large, feather bed, scooped up her pair, and cuddled her in her arms.
And like a broken little girl, Tonic had clung onto her very tall, very dark pair and shook violently as she’d wept.
“Tell me, luv. I am your pair. We share.. Share me your hurt.. Please..”, she’d said into her ear.
Arcantonic Palecog clung to pair, spluttering with uncontrollable manic and desperate tears, unable to form words.
“He saved him.. He brought him back!”, was the only thing Seressa could discern out of her.
As to who had saved whom, or brought who back, Tonic’s comprehensibility had ended there.
Clutching something in one hand, she’d wept and wept until she’d slumbered right there in her pairs arms like a cotton doll, as the exhausting venture of the night, unbeknownst to her pair, had finally caught up to her.
Seressa had hugged her pair to her heart’s content, long, long past her slumber with all the love and compassion she could muster, then sighed, “My little luv. You mean the world to me. Please understand that.. And never cry. Be happy!“.
She got up, and lightly limped as she carried her pair, and slowly put her into her bed.
“Hmm..”, she frowned. “I could have sworn I had taken her shoes off before..”
Being careful with the left one, she unlaced her little, cup-sized boots, took them off, and put them down near the bed.
Then she went to the wardrobe and pulled down a heavy quilt and covered her pair with it. Tonic looked more like a sad little kitten, curled up the way she had. Even smaller, the way she slept in a feather bed six times her size and eight times her length.
Seressa walked up to the window and pulled the curtains and closed them. The sun would dawn soon and her pair needed sleep. So did she, for that matter.
The very tall, very dark girl wondered if her pair would mind if she curled right next to her. The feather bed was certainly big enough and the idea appealed to her.
It had been one hell of a night. If she’d known girls nights was this much fun, she’d have patronized Tonic into one, years ago. She did feel a bit guilty though. Her pair had been stuck here and crying all night while she and Cora had partied like there was no tomorrow. Seressa felt like she’d abandoned her pair at a moment of her dire need.
Then she inevitably smiled.
Damn, that barbarian girl knew how to party, though!
She thought she would also have to find a proper way to thank the hobbit, Brom, as well, for keeping Tonic company while she and Cora had dismantled a goodly part of the inn. Seressa loved her pair, but she was not totally blind to her shortcomings, either. She didn’t need to bet to guess her pair had probably made the hobbit’s life miserable during his stay with her.
Tonic sighed in her sleep and lost grip of the thing in her clutch. It rolled off the bed and dropped on the floor.
Seressa looked down and frowned.
It was a very, very old, tattered, and crumbled scroll now.
And it looked vaguely.. familiar somehow.
Seressa had a very good memory for things; what people said, their faces, and objects she’d seen, which was why she’d rarely bothered taking any notes back at the academy. She could recite the things her tutors and professors had said almost verbatim, and identify an innumerable variety of objects and readily label them.
It sure had drawn the envy of many of the other students to no end. Seressa had given them a good lesson on ‘humanity’ that being pretty and somewhat ‘silly’ and ‘honestly vain’, didn’t equivalate to ‘stupid’.
Seressa liked feeling ‘pretty’ and ‘beautiful’, and ‘pretty beautiful’, damit..
Deep down, though, she knew her appearance was mere ointment for the blunt void she felt at never to have felt the love she desperately wanted. The love she wanted had to emanate from a man like the heat from the core of an oven. Like it had to be something that was tangible.
The only problem with that was, the oven was there, men just weren’t emanating the fire.
Only.. temperamental and ephemeral sparks..
Men, it seemed, were definitely into her. And that’s about it. They were never interested in what went through her mind, nor her heart. And none of them wanted a dark, lumbering klutz of a girl with horns, a tail, and a fetish for pinks looming over them for a mate. Only as a plaything, at best..
Might as well be an obsidian doll!
Which is what she was now.
She didn’t mind the ‘play’ part. She was very nearly sure it’d be fun. But it was the ‘thing’ that turned the whole idea stale. She just refused to be a ‘thing’ for anyone.
And no one worthy should be seeing her as a thing anyway, right?
She’d gone after the pretty ones. When that failed, she’d gone after the smart ones.. Apparently, whether they were pretty or smart, neither equivalated to ‘heart’, where men were concerned.
But then, what did? What did really equivalate to a heart?
Seressa felt bitterly cheated in life.
And sorely confused.
She was given all these amenities.
They just weren’t of any use..
She perpetually felt like she was a beautiful flower who only attracted pests and wasps, but never the bumblebee..
She sighed, and silently she reached down and picked up the rather worn scroll and carefully, tenderly, even, she unrolled it, and with a shocked expression, she read the very old and tattered scroll that had somehow been preserved through centuries, persevered against impossible odds, and had traveled all the way from the depths of Ritual Forest, through a bloody, demon-infested war zone, to here, to find its way back to her pair..
“Dear, dear Bumblebrim..”, Seressa said softly with brimming eyes, and a curvy little smile, as she finally figured the ‘who’ in ‘whom’, and remembered too, when and where she had seen the old scroll before; some relative eight hundred years ago, when they were waiting for Tonic, and the Prince Gordigon had given this letter, rolled into a scroll, carelessly laced, but not cased, in the hopes that the ‘courier’ herself would read it!
“I have no idea how you did it, but you have given back my pair a life, and a world of joy.. Thank you, for you are truly, and inexplicably amazing, luv.”
BY ALL MEANS, PLEASE READ FURTHER AND TOTALLY RUIN A PERFECTLY AWESOME MYSTERY
Alright. What’s the plan?”, asked Brom when he returned back to Arcantonic’s room with weapons, his lyre, and cloak. “I really hope there is a plan..”
Tonic was just putting her cup sized boots on, her own gear and her artificer’s satchel placed at her feet. “We go, we find the princess, hopefully alone, talk to her, then go and find.. uhh.. the Tinkerdome boy, talk to him as well, then get back before anyone’s the wiser!”, she said scowling at her boots. She’d already put her right one, but apparently, she was having trouble with the other.
“Get.. in.. the.. stupid.. damn.. boot..”, she finally snarled, but either her foot or the boot was resisting. Some kind of a footish mutiny was going on there that Brom could not see.
He put his stuff down, walked up to her, mutely grabbed the little boot and her ankle, and carefully inserted the tiny little foot into the boot, and did the laces.
And Tonic just watched him with a flushed, embarrassed, scowling but broken red face.
“I didn’t ask you to—”, she began angrily.
“—Don’t have time, luv!”, finished Brom, doing a rather impressive imitation of Seressa. Then grabbed the gnomic girls pack and her satchel, handed them to her, and went for his own, without waiting for her response.
There was a moment of dormant silence, then Brom heard her mumble..
..in a very tiny voice.
“Shall we?”, Brom said and went for the door.
Careful not to make any noise, he opened the door and took a sneak peek, and beckoned the girl with a tight, “All clear”, whisper.
“Why are we sneaking and whispering? Why are we even skulking at all? We haven’t left the inn yet.”, Tonic asked from behind the hobbit.
Brom pointed at the far end of the hallway, to a door near the stairs.
“That is where Cora and Wraiven are..”, he said.
“Just what do you think will happen when they catch us, going out in the middle of the night, to do some highly illegal, prophecy compromising venture?”, asked Brom with an amused whisper.
“Ahh.. Point taken.”, came Tonic’s voice from behind him.
“I feel like I am sneaking out in the middle of the night to see a girl and afraid to be caught by my mom!”, he whispered, then paused, and added, “Damn.. That’s exactly what we are doing!”
“Does Cora know you refer to her as your ‘mom’?”, she asked.
“Never happen! And I shall deny any allegations made on this matter.. Though I must admit, she and mom are likely the same difference in terms of ‘backhand’ punishments!”, he said lightly as they snuck down the hallway, towards the stair.
“You called Seressa as ‘Wraiven’..”, Tonic whispered.
“Yea..”, replied Brom, dreamily. “It’s such an awesome name, don’t you think? It sounds so much like ‘raven’, yet isn’t. The phonetic illusion there is hypnotic.. in a bardic sense!”
Tonic was about to ask something else, possibly an intimate follow-up question, but they both froze in their steps as they heard a squeal from the aforementioned room!
“Ummm..”, began Brom.
“Ow. My. Gosh.. Was.. Was that.. Cora?”, Tonic said with total shock in her voice.
“I.. don’t.. maybe..”, replied Brom, unable to refute the gnomic girl’s claim.
A giggle was heard then.. A very girly giggle!
“What the..!”, said Tonic.
“Well now..”, smirked Brom. “Looks like they are having fun.. Damn, I can’t believe I am missing all that.”
“Cora offered Seressa a ‘girls night’ so your pair would leave me with you. And the best part is, I don’t think either of them knows what a girls night actually is!”, Brom said with glee. Then he added with a dejected tone; “Seressa was captivated by the idea. Apparently, no one has ever asked her any such thing, though I can’t imagine why. I mean, she has a pair, and the fact that the two of you have never had a girls night, is sort of sad, really..”
“It.. it never occurred to me that she’d want something like that.”, she said mutely.
“I hate to say this, Tonic, but had someone as awesome as Wraiven been my pair, I would have done everything in my power to make her day, every day.”, said Brom, but not unkindly.
“You are a boy. Of course, you would—”, Tonic began hotly.
“—Must everything have an ‘agenda’ for you, Miss Tonic?”, Brom cut in. “And no, that wasn’t a rhetorical question. The fact that I am a ‘boy’ would have just made me do it more willingly because she has the most beautiful smile I have ever seen. Note that I have been a traveling bard for the past few years and have seen some truly amazing and beautiful things. And yet, none of it compares to seeing that smile.
As much as you may have suffered in your past, so has she. While yours has likely been brutally direct, traumatic, and brutish, her punishment has been much more existential in its nature..
Think for a moment, girl; assume you are one of the prettiest things there is to behold, but because you are not ‘human’ but a ‘creature’, however, your thoughts, your wants nor your wishes about not wanting to amuse any given male, is of no consequence because the moment you have been denied of your ‘humanity’, you are now a mere ‘object’ with little to no rights!
I am just guessing here, but I bet she’s had many admirers in her past, but never any friends. Now put all these together and try to figure out just exactly how lonely your pair truly is.. And understand, why she does as she does, and wants the kind of genuine love and care that she wants..
I may, or may not be an unscrupulous guy, Miss Tonic, but I sure as hell am honest to her about every thing I say to her, and every way I look at her, and I certainly am not indifferent about her, nor shrug her off as an oddity. Because that’s not just cruel, it is also cheap!”
And with that, he snuck down the stairs.
✱ ✱ ✱
They traveled silently in the night. The Great Arashkan City was exceptionally quiet that evening as if holding her breath as some rather important events were taking place in her bosom. Brom led the gnomic girl like he knew where he was going.. Just like he had when they had gone for the bathhouse and the inn they were to have stayed.
“I am a selfish person, aren’t I?”, asked Arcantonic, in a small voice. “I feel ashamed that all these years, never once have I ever thought of what my pair ever felt, or wanted..”
“Perhaps you are, perhaps you are not. I am not in any position to judge, really. I have tried to help ease Cora at some of her worst moments. But never have I really asked her about her feelings either. To be honest, I am not as brave as you think, when it comes to girls’ feelings. Men don’t speak such things. Which makes it near impossible to even ask, even though I have wanted to, for all the time I have been with her. I fool myself by saying I respect her privacy. But the matter of fact is, I am a coward. She is so much more sensitive than she ever lets on and I just can’t bear to see her get hurt. Flesh wounds heal.. Her heart and what she has been through at Ironfrost.. and to have lived it all over again.. It must be slaying her over and over, every day!”, Brom said quietly.
“You.. you really care for her!”, Tonic said, a bit surprised.
“Egad, Miss Tonic. What gave it away?”, smiled Brom, somewhat sardonically. “You truly must think so little of me..”
“I.. Look, I am sorry, alright. I keep catching you staring at Seressa. What the hell do you think I am supposed to think?”, scowled the gnomic girl.
“You know..”, said Brom. “Wraiven is a big girl.. in all sorts of awesome ways! I am sure if she finds my staring offensive, or annoying, she will make sure to tell me so.”
“She is a kind girl. She might not want to hurt your feelings..”, disagreed Tonic.
“Miss Tonic.”, said Brom seriously. “As far as I have seen, known, and observed, there are a few things your pair stands true for; one is that she truly is kind where it matters, two, if she likes something, she either compliments about it or says nothing and lets it continue being something she likes, and three, she brings down hell upon those who offend her!”
“And besides..”, he added. “There literally isn’t anything I can do to avoid staring at her.. Really. She is smart. She is kind. She is intuitive. She is fun. She is a sad soul who desperately wants and needs to feel happy. She is beautiful, in all sorts of ways I can’t even describe, short of writing a dedicated epic about her..
Come to think about it, I love everything about her and I find her very much enthralling, from the top of her slender, elegant horns, down to the tip of her fluffy tail. The fact that she is also a klutz just makes her all the more endearing..
So when you say, ‘I keep catching you staring at Seressa’, you, Miss Tonic, are missing the whole point!”
Tonic held her step and just stared at the halfling sneaking before her.
“I.. I can’t believe I am hearing all this from you..”, she stammered.
“I can’t believe you haven’t noticed any of your pairs awesome qualities.”, replied Brom. “Hell, girl, had she asked me if I would be willing to demean myself by being carried around all day in her coin-purse, I would have said, yes. And not because of any of the reasons you might think, but for the sole reason of being next to her warmth, which is her heart. I mean, I still can’t bring myself to believe there is such a wonder in this world and all anyone ever sees is her pinks!”
“You are creeping me out, boy!”, mumbled Tonic.
“Ahh.. we are back to ‘boy’, already?”, said the hobbit.
“I am sorry. I didn’t mean to offend. I just.. All I see is a guy staring and staring and staring at my pair with this stupid expression of his face and it pisses me off!”, she said.
“Like the expression, you had when you were talking to your Gordigon boy?”, smirked Brom.
That shut Tonic up real fast!
It took a while for her to find her voice again.
“That.. That was not nice, Brom..”, flushed Tonic.
“As a matter of fact, it was.. Watching the two of you blubber at one another saying things that made little to no sense while speaking volumes with your eyes was.. beautiful, I must say.”, said Brom with a genuine smile.
“When I said, ‘Sir Gordigon missed so much of you’, and that I felt sorry for him, back at that filthy alley, I wholeheartedly meant it.”
“You really think so? I feel so stupid.”, mumbled the gnomic girl from behind.
“I may be an unscrupulous guy, as you like to repeat so often, I do not, however, lie about matters of the heart. That goes against my whole bardic ethics. And I certainly never lie to my friends..”
“But.. you said you lied to Seressa to let you talk to me instead of her.”, said Tonic a bit befuddled.
“Did I? Must have made you feel better.”, smirked Brom.
Another pause followed.
“You really are an unscrupulous guy!”, sniffed Tonic.
“You haven’t asked me about my foot.”, she said a bit later in a quiet voice.
“No. I did not. And I shall not.”, said Brom sternly.
“Because I do not hurt girls. Certainly not those who already are. That would be just cruel.”, replied Brom. “If there is anything you think is alright for you to tell me, I am willing to be part of your pain. Other than that, I have no desire to be the cause of more.”
“You.. you are weird.”, said Tonic, but not with spite. More with, amazement, perhaps?
“A bit of eccentricity is expected of bards, Miss Tonic.”, said Brom blandly.
“My uncle. The great Arcanton Mordenon thought it would be a great idea to train a progeny from a very young age. He convinced my parents to hand me over to him. Then he took me to his tower and locked me up down at his dungeons where he kept his pet demons.. Sort of so we could get to be acquainted..”
“I never heard anything nice ever to be told about your uncle. I can see why..”, said Brom quietly, and there was an ugly expression on his face. Demons, as he had known of them, were vile, cruel, savage, evil creatures, and putting them in the same room with a little girl went beyond any and all his scales. He shuddered and just couldn’t imagine the kind of traumatic fear one, little, gnomic girl must have gone through, day and night after day and night for years!
Just how abysmally stupid and inhumane did someone had to be to actually have been that cruel to do such a thing to a little girl?
“One day, one of them got loose and attacked me. The demon couldn’t enter my cage, but he could slash at me with its long, barbed tentacles. Managed to grab my ankle and tore right through my ligements. Never healed properly and I have had trouble putting my boot on ever since. I.. We didn’t make a fuss about it and Seressa has been helping since we started getting along properly, so you probably wouldn’t have noticed it before. But every time she does, I can see the irrational anger and madness that appears in her eyes.. I.. I suspect that was the main reason she sort of went ballistic on Cora the way she did, back at Dreadmaw’s mountain.”, she mumbled.
Brom stopped walking.
Slowly, he turned around and looked right into her eyes.
For the first time since they met, Tonic saw burning hate in those eyes and she flinched.
“I am your friend, Tonic. If it is your socks you need me to put on you, I will. If it is your boots, your vest, your cloak, or whatever you need help with and are comfortable enough to ask of me, I will.. Hell, I’ll even bun up your hair! And since I am a lot shorter than your pair, I don’t even have to bend all the way down to do any of those either.”, he said harshly and there was non of the nonchalance she had seen in him for all the times she thought she had known him.
“We are a team. Willy-nilly, we have set forth to do some extraordinary things together. Your wounds are my wounds. Your pains are my pains. We suffer. We mourn. We sing and we celebrate.. We do. And what we do, we share!
I do not keep score of my deeds, Miss Tonic. When you need it, call my name and I will put your boots on. But should the day come and somehow we face your uncle, I will hurt him, and hurt him where it will leave a grand mark!”
“You.. you really mean it!”, Tonic said with bewilderment.
“Yes. I mean it. And I mean more!”, replied Brom, even more harshly.
“You won’t survive my uncle..”, she said in a small voice.
“Miss Tonic.. When I look around me, at my friends, I see no survivors. I only see broken pieces of what was once people. You, Wraiven, Cora.. I am happy that you all are here. However, I have no desire of living in such a state of perpetual mental and emotional torment. When I go, I want to make sure I leave a song and a mark behind me.”, Brom said, turned around, and started down the dimly lit street.
They walked silently towards Arashkan Courthouse, crossing the very large street that they had, earlier that evening.
“Please don’t go up against my uncle!”, whimpered Tonic, from behind Brom.
“Ow. My. Gosh. Girl! Are you still there? We left your uncle all the way back at that street!”, replied Brom exasperated.
“Just saying, that’s all.”, said Tonic stubbornly.
“Duly noted and very much ignored, Miss Tonic.”, said Brom and there was no trace of pun in his voice.
“But why? You don’t even like me!”, she said quietly.
“Like has nothing to do with it, Miss Tonic. Some things, you just don’t do. And when done, some kind of hell should come raining down on them, telling them that they crossed the line! Besides, whatever gave you the idea that I don’t like you?”, Brom asked.
“You always swat me down with your words.”, she said.
“No, girl. I only reply in kind. I never claimed to be a nice guy, Tonic. We are who we are. But we can be who we chose to be. I don’t like being berated, nor humiliated. We were coworkers before. Now we are friends. We have a clean slate. And I protect my friends..”, replied Brom seriously.
“Seressa likes you, by the way..”, Tonic blurted after a while.
“Ow?”, Brom asked carefully.
“Yea. As much as she claims she likes her freedoms, she does not tolerate the kind of ogling you have been giving her. And yet, she hasn’t said anything against you..”, she said with a small voice.
“Well, what can I say. She fully deserves ogling. But I want her to appreciate life for more than what it appears to offer her. She should have more kindness, empathy, and love in her life, for she truly is a flower that needs the sun to bloom.”, Brom said thoughtfully and knew he was right.
It was one of the rare times he wished he was, perhaps not a hobbit, but a much, much taller man.
Tonic wanted to say more.
This weird hobbit had tumbled all her preconceptions with, not quite brutal, but some strange and unique kind of honesty and then blatantly claimed her as his friend and made sure she understood that fact. But then, so had her pair, Seressa. Just more kindly.
‘Apparently, I am so stupid, kind words don’t filter through and I must be bashed and clubbed over the head for me to understand..’, she thought.
But at least she had thought.
And in the generally right direction.
‘Perhaps I should make a formal sort of apology to him. Bards liked that kind of formal tone, right?’, she wondered.
‘Don’t look at me. You aren’t listening to anything I say anymore.’, said her inner Tonic bitterly.
‘I don’t listen to you, because you are vile. You want me alone and you want me to suffer..’, she bit harshly at her inner self.
‘Yea. Like they don’t. Whatever I told you, I told you so we could be stronger alone. To rid us of our weaknesses.. But you are just a stupid little girl.’, inner Tonic said in a voice that reeked of sarcasm.
‘And that is what you do not understand.. Your way has made us exactly that;ALONE!’, she said to herself, mutely. ‘I am tired of being alone. It has made me nothing but miserable and made me a poorer girl for it. I never want to be that girl again. Please. Please help me..’, she pleaded desperately.
‘Hah! First, you refuse me. Then you ignore me. And now, you want my help?’, asked inner Tonic incredulously.
‘We have always been together, have we not? This conflict is not helping either of us.. Please.PLEASE! Let’s try this way for some.’, she begged.
‘You will get hurt. Many times and inevitably brought down in the end, no matter what..’, inner Tonic said with a surprisingly hoarse voice. ‘It is possible, we shall not survive that..’
‘No. We shall not. But until then, we will be happy, and together. We are already broken. Can we not enjoy friendship and care, just for a little bit? Together, we have always been strong.. and stoic. When the end comes, we shall face that as well.. Together!’, Tonic said.
There was a long moment of inner silence. And then, with an exasperated voice, the other Tonic spoke.
‘What the hell.. We are stupid either way. Alright. We will try this way of yours, even if it’s for the novelty of it. Our current way was getting stale and boring anyway..’
‘Thank you!’, said Tonic with great relief.
‘You are aware that you are talking with yourself, beg pardon, arguing with yourself, then thanking yourself for agreeing with yourself!’, said inner Tonic mirthfully.
‘Yep.’, said inner Tonic in a confirmatory voice. ‘We are stupid already!’
Tonic waited, unconsciously holding her breath.
‘Go up to him, tap him on the shoulder, and when he turns around, hug and thank him. He will like that. And creep the hell out of him too!’, snarked inner Tonic.
‘Whot?’, Tonic said with a totally shocked voice.
‘Are you going to make me repeat myself, repeat myself, repeat myself, repeat myself ..?!’, snickered inner Tonic.
‘Ow, you are a riot.’, scowled Tonic.
Tonic walked up to Brom with a shameful, flushed red face, tapped him on one shoulder, and hugged the unscrupulous hobbit when he turned around!
“Thank you, Brom Bumblebrim, for suffering my stupidity. And thank you for caring for my pair. You are unscrupulous, but you are also a good man. You have treated me like I was a good person when I deserved little of it. Ogle at my pair for as long as she permits and as long as she is happy. Just do it a bit more discreetly. I have a very trigger happy mouth, and Seressa likes subtlety and finds it a lot more intriguing.”, she said, then let go of the hobbit, and shuffled off like a little, very much embarrassed, hamster.
Brom stood where he was..
..for quite some time.
He had no idea what so ever, at what had just happened.
When he finally found his voice, all that escaped him was,
“Girls confuse me!”
✱ ✱ ✱
Here..”, said Tonic suddenly.
“Here, what?”, asked Brom.
“We wait here. This is where we will find her.”, the gnomic girl said.
Brom looked around. They were on the other side of the Great Arashkan Courthouse, not too far from the filthy alley where they had been assaulted by the assassins.
“Girl. We are in the middle of the street, in the middle of the night and the princess of Great High Woods is just going to drop in on us?”, asked Brom, not really trying to hide his disbelief.
“Pretty much, yes.. I think.”, replied Tonic mutely.
“How in the blazes do you know, girl. And I really mean it. How do you know?”
“I don’t know, how I know, Brom. I just know. This isn’t arithmetics, artificing, or logic. I. Just. Know..”, said Tonic helplessly. “If I am wrong, you can make fun of me all the way back to the inn..”
“I have no desire to make fun of you, girl. I just.. Well, non of this makes sense. I think I will just shut up now!”, Brom finally said smartly, though, deep down he really did wish the girl would be right, then wrong..
..and that is when they heard a pair of heavy footsteps.
From far up the street, a man was coming their way. He was a huge man and there was a bulky quality about his walk. A bulk made of muscles, flesh, and bones rather than fat. One could argue, Seressa was taller than the man coming their way, but while the very tall, very dark girl always loomed above them, this man was ‘huge’ in a sense that bespoke of the broadness of massive shoulders and depth of great physical strength.
And he wasn’t alone.
Next to him was a very slender figure and it made no noise at all. It seemed like a bad theater where some of the vocals and sound effects were missing. It was quite disconcerting watching the two approach, yet hear only one pair of footsteps. Who or whatever the slender figure was, it was clear she was a woman and a delicate one at that. Her sway was careful and seemed controlled, but definitely there. Or perhaps she was just naturally graceful and it wasn’t really controlled at all.. Whatever the reason was, there seemed a decided decorum in that sway.
Tonic grabbed Brom and pulled him closer into a side alley where it was darker.
“What is it? Is she a wraith? I can’t hear her steps.. at all!”, asked Brom astounded and a bit spooked. “I really hope it isn’t a wraith. Or a ghost. I hate ghosts!”
“Don’t tell me you are afraid of ghosts, Brom Bumblebrim..”, whispered Tonic.
“Well.. As fear goes, I would say ghosts are a good choice.”, replied Brom sincerely.
“She is not a ghost. That is our quarry.. That is Princess Alor’Nadien ne.”, said the gnomic girl triumphantly.
“How come she has no steps?”, asked Brom.
“Because she is a Feymist!”, replied Tonic. “Like her father, Grandaleren Feymist.. Feymists have a very light foot. They barely make any noise when they walk and they can disappear from one spot, and appear in another.”
“Like a spell?”, asked Brom a bit awed.
“No. Feymist is not a spell. It is something they are born with. It is innate..”
“Wow.. That’s awesome. Wish I could see her better. These street lights are all good and nice, but just not enough.”
“Here, then. Take this.”, said Tonic and pulled her goggles off her head, and handed them over to the hobbit.
“Ooookay.. I can barely see and you are giving me a pair of goggles with dark, tainted glasses? I am sure there is some kind of significance here, but I can’t seem to see it!”
“Just put them on.”, said Tonic exasperated.
Brom put on the goggles.
“Now I can’t see anything..At all!“, he said.
Tonic reached up to Brom and lightly twirled the very small knob at the side of the goggle.
“Ow.. Wow.. WOW.. You guys see like this all the time?!”
“Well, duh!”, smirked Tonic.
“This is awesome!”, mirthed Brom.
“You like?”, asked the gnomic girl happily.
“I like.. Where do I sign to hand over my soul?!”, he nearly laughed with delight.
“You need your soul intact Mr. Brom. But the goggles are yours.. If you want them.”, smiled Tonic.
Brom looked at Tonic.
“You sure? These are probably expensive..”
“They are.. If I sold them. But since I crafted them myself, I can give them over to whoever the hell I want!”, she smirked.
“This really is a neat gadget, Miss Tonic. Are you sure? Once you give this, I will not give it back!”, said Brom seriously.
“‘Tis alright. I don’t really need it. And neither does Seressa nor Cora. You are the only blind mole in the party. But I’d be happy if you didn’t break it, or lose it. That was my first invention. My first work. I crafted it for the novelty of it. Fitting I give it to a friend..”, she said.
“Thank you.”, Brom said and meant it.
“Just don’t brag about it in front of Seressa. She’s had her eyes on it for a long time.”
“Then you should give it to her.”, said Brom.
“No. She only wants it because I crafted it. And she thinks it’s ‘cool’.. All these years and I still can’t believe she’s into ‘Steamchunk’ thing.”
“This really is cool, though, Miss Tonic. I will finally see where I am shooting!”
“Alright. Here they come. I do not know who the guy is. He looks big. Proly her bodyguard. Though I can’t imagine what she is doing this late at night, wondering outside here, instead of High Spires, which I heard was a prettier part of the city, and with a human guard!”, said Tonic frowning.
“Perhaps it’s because she’s a half-elf?”, Brom mused.
“That.. never occurred to me.”, admitted Tonic.
“Her mother is human, after all.. Might be a political choice..”
“Perhaps. But her father is a high elf and I can’t imagine Grandaleren trusting her only child and daughter with a human. You saw how he reacted to even you, let alone Seressa and me.”
“Hmm.. That’s true. Guess we’ll find out soon enough. I’ll stay here as your backup. You do all the talking since this is your thing. No need to complicate the prophecy more than we already have.”
The huge man and the slight figure came closer.
Brom and Tonic heard the human’s voice rumble and there was an elated quality in that voice. For whatever the huge man was thanking the slight figure of the Princess, he was feeling very happy. An irrepressible kind of contentedness. He seemed like he had just won a war against impossible odds while a battle orchestra was playing in the background!
“No, dear Dorin. Thank you. Of all the people in my life, you have been the only one who has not politely skimmed the surface of my soul, but dared and bothered to look closer. You have seen me at my best. But you have also witnessed my worst and you are still here.
Still with me.
No sane man would have stayed..”, the two hiding in the shadows heard and were charmed.
Princess Alor’Nadien ne had a soft, kind, silky voice. Her words were not chosen with deliberation, nor reflection. They were intimate, honest, instinctual, and pure of intent, plan, or malice.
The Princess had said her mind, exactly as she’d felt them.
“Always thought sanity was a bit of a luxury.”, said the man. “But the fact remains, my dear Lady; Thank You!”
“This will rock many boats, I am afraid.”, said the Princess thoughtfully.
“I certainly hope so.”, rumbled the large man. “They cared little when you had to bear the burdens of their inconsiderate stupidity. I feel so little for them when they end up having to own up to their future queen because her wants and needs inconvenience them..”
“Such is the fate of rulers, dear Dorin.”, murmured the Princess.
“No, my Lady. Loyalty goes both ways.. They want their safety and their luxuries, they should be mindful of yours.”, replied the big man and there was a district scowl in his voice.
“Wow!”, whispered Brom. “That there is one, purebred princess worthy of an epic!”
“For once, I must agree with you, Master Bard. She is not only beautiful, but she is also pretty and so cute.. Just look at her hair..!”, gulped Tonic.
The two watched as the huge man and the slender form of the Princess walked by.
Tonic took a deep breath, “Wish me luck.”, she said and stepped out of the dark alley.
“Luck.”, called Brom from behind her.
“Umm.. P.. Princess Alor’Nadien ne?”
He heard the little gnomic girl stammer.
“Tonic, baby girl..”, said Brom with an amused voice. “..you are such a dork, and a fangirl!”
✱ ✱ ✱
Princess Alor’Nadien ne spun around as dark, smoky shadows gathered around her while the huge man beside her also spun, but in the opposite direction as he drew a long blade from the scabbard hanging on his belt, and another, the one hanging on the princess’s elegant chains wrapped around her waist, and he did it with unannounced smoothness.
The huge, burly man spun like a dervish and the lithe princess belly danced in near-perfect sync!
By the time Tonic had gotten less than two steps towards them, The huge man and the Princess were standing back to back, one with two longswords and the other with a seven-foot-long pole arm that supported a near twenty-inch blade —a beautiful and deadly glaive that seemed to have appeared in her hands like it was magic.
The night lit as one of the blades in the huge man’s hand burst with savage, incinerating flames while the glaive lit with an eerie, very uncanny green light, and moaned like there were countless souls trapped in it!
The whole preparation, from a relaxed and intimate conversation to full battle formation of the two had taken less than three seconds!
So did Brom.
“What just happened?”, squeaked Tonic.
“You shall not have him.”, said the Princess. Her voice was still soft, still a whisper, but there was a very stubborn, very steely quality in it. A kind of determination one saw rarely and only in the darkest depths of feral nature!
And her eyes.
The Princess had very alluring, dew grass-green eyes. But at that moment, they seemed to burn akin with the great, smoking glaive’s green fire.
“If she wants me destroyed thus, she should at least show the honor and the courage to face me herself. She should also know better not to involve beloved ones. She may have at me, but she shall leave him out of this. This beautiful man is mine!”
“Umm.. Lady Lorna?”, asked the huge man as he blushed and was somewhat surprised by the lethal possessiveness she had related him to herself.. It was.. beautiful.. and a bit scary!
And he loved it!
“Is there something I should know about? I don’t mind a good fight, but if this is a dedicated ambush, then there are likely to be more than one little bunny. More to the point, would your aunt be this vile and heinous?”
There was a moment of silence.
“Dear and beloved Dorin. How did you—?”, stammered the Princess.
“Please, Lorna.. I am the son of a renowned and respected sheriff and I was trained by one of the worst Drashan had to offer. Quite painfully, I might add.. I was bound to learn a thing or two.. I know a family feud when I see one. And a royal family feud, no less!
It was clear how things stood between you and your cousin the moment she appeared in Serenity Home. But I have been polite to her because you love her.. And because her hate for you lacked conviction. Like it was enforced or pushed upon her. It is also clear she has some good sentiments for you, deep inside, and she is in conflict, which makes her very unstable, and equally dangerous for she must, sooner or later make a choice. One between you, and her mother. A choice that will keep her loyal to you, effectively signing her own death sentence, or to try and destroy you, to stay alive.”, said the big, burly man called Dorin.
PrincessAlor’Nadien ne turned around to look at the huge man with amazement.
“You are amazing!”, she said with a bright pink face.
“No, love. I am just a simple county boy. But let’s not get distracted here. The bunny..”, he said, also with a flushed face.
“Bunny?”, sputtered Tonic.
Brom cackled from behind.
“I am not a bunny!”, said the little gnomic girl. “And I certainly have not come to assassinate the Princess of Bari Na-Ammen!”
Brom couldn’t help it.
He crumbled down on the ground laughing and banging his fists on the cobblestones.
“There’s another.”, whispered the Princess.
“Not very good assassins, are they?”, said the burly man with mirth.
“Very sweet though.. You, Sir Dorin, never cease to amaze me.”, Princess Alor’Nadien ne said, her face still pink.
“I am sorry. I try very hard to just keep my mouth shut and stay unnoticed. Found out years ago that put me in a lot less trouble.”, smiled the huge man shyly.
“Let’s see what this is all about, then, shall we?”, he said, nodding at the little gnomic girl.
“Let’s..”, she agreed and turned once more to face the little gnomic girl. “Perhaps we acted with haste and some introductions are in order, Mistress Gnome.”
“I can’t remember the last time anyone Mistressed me!”, mumbled Tonic with a flush.
“Good evening.”, Brom came forth, since he had already been spotted, it didn’t make much sense to stay in the back. “We are mere travelers and messengers. My companion and I mean you no harm nor discourtesy. We are, however, short on time and our duty brought us to the presence of your grace.”
“Half-truths but no lies.”, said the Princess. “If your wish is not to deceive, why the half-truths?”
Brom cocked one eyebrow.
The Princess, it appeared, was not just a pretty face.
“Only the truths we can divulge, your grace. We.. are not from around here, nor around this time.. Hard to explain..”, stammered Brom.
“You are ‘faded’!”, said Princes Alor’Nadien ne, solemnly.
“Faded?”, asked Brom baffled.
“Faded..”, repeated the Princess. “..You do not belong here, nor now. You are faded. Very slightly incorporeal.”
“We.. we are?”, asked Tonic.
“We are?, asked Brom.
“Quiet so.”, said the Princess calmly. “Like someone who’s running out of time..”
And she clawed one, slim hand and made a beckoning motion.
A dark, smoking.. thing.. rose from the cobblestones..
“Like this..”, she said pointing at the wraith-like creature she’d just summoned.
So did Brom..
The implications of what they had heard and just seen was not something either of them could simply shrug off. It appeared, dawdling was not a good idea in a prophecy.
“Tonic..”, said Brom, sort of to get her started.
“Umm.. First, I feel must apologize for having startled you, and perhaps ruining your evening.. and to have given you the wrong impression. I.. would like to introduce myself but I must know if your man-at-arms can be trusted.”
The huge man standing behind the Princess and still facing the opposite direction snorted.
“That is the most unique description of a ‘man-at-arms’ I have ever heard, don’t you think, Lady Lorna?”, he said happily.
Princes Alor’Nadien ne smiled and her face pinked again. “I must say, I totally agree, dear Dorin.”
“I don’t understand..”, stammered Tonic.
“He is not my man-at-arms, Mistress Gnome. He is my fiancée.”, she said happily.
“Love it when you say it.”, rumbled the huge man.
“Love it for the truth it is.”, smiled the Princess again.
“Ow.. I.. I am sorry if I offended the Prince! I was not aware the Princess was engaged. Our historical records seem out of date..”, blushed Tonic.
The huge man chuckled.
“Prince? That was quick!”, he said mirthfully.
“He is not any prince, Mistress Gnome. Only the man I want. No prince can hope to cope with that. And there is nothing wrong with your historical records. We just got engaged, this very evening!”, said the Princess, also with a happy voice.
“Congratulations, I think?”, stammered the gnomic girl.
“Thank you. Now to the issue at hand, then?”, the Princess said kindly.
“I.. I am Arcantonic Palecog.”, blurted Tonic.
“Arcantonic..”, mused the Princess. Then her eyes noted with recognition. “You are a relative to Arcanton Mordenon..”
It had been a statement, not a question. And when she said the name, her brows did not scowl. Her eyes did not change. Her lips did not thin out. The serene face of the Princess of High Woods stayed exactly the same.
Without a single word, Princess Alor’Nadien ne of Bari Na-ammen, the daughter of Nadine Graciousward, the sorceress who had destroyed Arcanton Mordenon had given the little, gnomic girl standing before her, the benefit of the doubt.
“He.. he was my uncle.”, said Tonic mutely.
The Princess chose to stay silent.
“When.. when your mother, Rise Nadine, destroyed him, I was there..”, she said looking down.
“Miss Palecog.”, the Princess called with challenge. “Please look at me when you are speaking to me.”
Tonic’s eyes blazed and she looked up at the Princess.
“I am not your superior. Nor am I your better. You owe me nothing. You will not stare at stones with shame while addressing me. You will look at my eyes whilst you speak, and you shall do so as an equal.”, she said boldly.
Tonic just stared at the Princess.. with awe.
“I.. I came merely to meet you, your grace. And to apologize to your mother, Nadine Graciousward.”
“We shall meet. But that can wait. The matter of an apology must take precedence. How do you know my mother that you would need to apologize to her?”, and for the first time, there was a hint of steel in the Princess’s voice.
“Y.. Years ago.. when she beat the crap out of my retarded and degenerate uncle..”, she started.
So did the Dorin guy!
“..she.. she found me there. In the dungeons of Arcanton’s tower. I was perhaps six, or eight, then. My parents had given me away to him so he could train me from a very young age. I think I was two.. maybe three when I was put into those dungeons. The next time I saw the sunlight, I was in Nadine’s arms, being carried away from that awful place.”, Tonic mumbled.
Princess Alor’Nadien ne just stared at the little gnomic girl and her eyes teared.
“Your mother.. she could have destroyed me as well.. Or just left me there.. I would have preferred she’d destroyed me. I stank of demon stench. But she chose to take me, clean me, feed me, she sang to me, she hugged me and she let me sleep in her embrace.. Then she gave me away.. back to my parents, who had given me up to my uncle in the first place!
I was angry.. I was so furious.. I felt betrayed. More so than when my parents had sold me out to Arcanton! I.. I might have called her many names.. Not good ones. For years I hated her and spited her, yet all she had shown me was kindness.. Thanks to my uncle, kindness was something I never understood.
It took me years to remotely grasp what it means. We came here, to this city, for another matter. But I felt your presence. And I felt your mother’s kindness walking the streets of this city. And.. and I knew I must make amends.”, she said, and once more, she was staring at the cobblestones.
The next time she looked up, she was in the arms of the daughter of the woman, who had saved her out of the demon-infested dungeons of her vile uncle.
Princess Alor’Nadien ne, embraced her and wept.
“My dear, dear little sister.”, she said. “I had heard rumors that my mother had taken the only survivor of Arcanton and given her back to her people. Always, I waited, for the day to arrive to take her and treat her as I would my own, and so I have.. Thank you..”
“You.. you are thanking me?”, stammered Tonic as she blushed furiously.
The Princess of Bari Na-ammen smelled so nice.. and warm.. and she had her mothers kind embrace.. The embrace she had never forgotten..
“I am sorry I called your mother names, Princess.. I am so sorry.. Please tell her I said that..”, she blurted.
“When and if I get the chance, I shall, dear Arcantonic Palecog Feymist.”, she whispered.
“Whot?”, she stammered.
“What?”, Brom baffled!
“What?”, the Dorin guy exclaimed.
“Years ago, the day I was born, my mother insisted two names were to be placed into Bari Na-ammen’s royal records. One, Alor’Nadien ne Tel’Ariel Ath Selora Feymist, and one, Arcantonic Ama Ath Tel’Dun Feymist.. She made us sisters, though she never told about the reasons nor who you were to anyone but myself. Not even my father, Ri Grandaleren knows. Father can be a bit mule-headed at times..”, she smiled.
“From a royal family point of view, we are not only sisters, we are also twins!”
Arcantonic.. Ama Ath Tel’Dun Feymist.. Palecog, just stared at the Princess of Bari Na-ammen.
“And finally we meet.”, she said happily.
“Ow, your father is going to love it when he sees the next heir to the throne!”, chucked the Dorin guy with delight.
Then he froze in his place as a very large smile.. a very large and evil smile stretched across his face.
“My dear Lorna. The Heavens have smiled upon you once more. She really should go and claim her right to the throne! Would get both you and me off the hook, set your father on flames and totally destroy all your aunt’s evil plans!”
Princess Alor’Nadien ne laughed with mirth, while she knelt and held the little gnomic girl.
“That.. would be so cruel, dear Dorin. I would much rather we settled things between myself and my aunt Angrellen peacefully. She is a power, on her own right and we will need someone like her in the coming confrontations ahead.”, she said.
“I so wish you are right, dear Lorna. But let’s be honest. Petty is petty, no matter if one is a peasant or of royalty. The only difference is, one would grab a rake or a sickle to do his sin, while the other will bring armies to do their deed and get thousands of others killed.. I hope things will go for the better. But I shall prepare and defend you like I was facing your mortal enemy.”
“She’s still too powerful for us, dear.”, the Princess said.
“So was Themalsar. So was pretty much everyone else we faced, come to think of it.. I don’t mean to sound overconfident, here, love. But we do have some rather skilled friends.. She is strong and powerful, but we are much more versatile. And more importantly, we are on the right and we have you. In the end, your people will have to decide how they want to be recognized among the other peoples of the kingdom. As honorable elves, or petty usurpers.. And trust me when I say, NO ONE RESPECTS USURPERS!
And if, by some remote chance, she claims the throne, it will inevitably incite rebellions which, in turn, will trigger counter suppressions..”, said the Dorin guy and shuddered. “Never ends well.”
Princess Alor’Nadien ne, the Heart of High Woods, the jewel and the apparent heir to the throne of Bari Na-ammen gave one last hug to the little gnomic girl, gently kissed her on the cheeks, and rose, took a step back and with her head bowed she knelt before her with great grace and reverence.
“I shall abide by my elder twins’ wishes.”, she said softly.
Brom Bumblebrim ‘ho booy’ed at the monumental, yet the oddest turn of events. He looked up at the night sky with a defeated expression.
Alor’Nadien ne Tel’Ariel Ath Selora: Elvish for “The Allure of Nadine, The Heart of High Woods” / Elfçe, “High Woods’un Kalbi, Nadine’nin Cazibesi”
Arcantonic Ama Ath Tel’Dun: Elvish for Arcantonic, “The Beauty of the Hills” / Elfçe, Arcantonic, “Tepelerin Güzelliği”
That’s it, then?”, said Cora and there was a tired quality in her voice.. Tired and relieved. There really had been little in the way of fighting in this particular venture of the prophecy, but it had been intense.. Emotionally intense and she felt all the pain and joy, ‘suffered and lived’, as Brom had so eloquently put and it weighed down in on her as she sat between Seressa and the hobbit..
..in the filthy, stinking trash, and she wondered;
How did the heroes in the great sagas do things?
Cora was a barbarian and sagas held a major part of her culture, after all..
How would they have handled it all?
Would they be sitting in some foul-smelling city waste after having accomplished such a noble deed as returning the weapon of a great archangel?
TheArchangel of Wrath, no less!
Shouldn’t there be some sort of a joyous celebration post such deliverance? That’s what heroes did in the sagas, right?
Instead, they were sitting in the stink..
Perhaps she could ask the hobbit, Brom, to write a saga about this? Someone wrote all the others, after all.
No, no..! She then thought. Brom would add the ‘stink’ as well because Brom was.. Brom, and that would totally destroy her cool!
Being ‘cool’ was in the first chapter of ‘How To Be A Tundra Elf Barbarian’manual..
Though, it is possible Cora was taking the whole ‘cool’ thing quite literally.
Cora wasn’t fame-hungry or anything, but she did believe good deeds ought to leave a mark. Bad things certainly did as she thought of the frostbitten scars on her back.
A small saga, then?
What was a small saga called anyway? Sagie? Sagatie? Saggy? No. That sounded suspiciously like something that sagged and for no self-respect girl was anything sagging, good!
Alright. Cora, though. Perhaps she was not just emotionally concussed, but fully concussed!
“How about we hire a room or three and enjoy a night of the great city life? I haven’t held an audience for ages!”, Brom offered. “I do feel we could indulge ourselves a bit.”
“You’d love that, wouldn’t you? Lack of attention must be eating at you..”, grumbled Tonic.
“It isn’t like you wouldn’t.. like to indulge yourself, I mean..”, he replied expansively. “You are a bit fragrant, after all.”
“Are you telling me that I stink?”, scowled the gnomic girl darkly.
“No, I am telling you, we all stink!”, smirked Brom.
“You are going to live a long, but lonely life if you persist on this line of thought, young Brom.. Telling a girl that she stinks, is not smart. Telling all the girls in range that they stink, is abysmal!”, said Seressa lightly.
Brom coughed as he gave the towering girl a sidelong glance. Lucky he had Cora sitting between them.
“All I am saying is that we could all use a nice, hot bath, while we have our clothes laundered, then have a nice hot meal, perhaps followed by a visit to the taproom —a classy one, mind you, then get some sleep in a warm bed for a change. Cora could use a new pair of pants too.. I despair every time she scratches herself in those filthy man pants!”, he mumbled.
Cora didn’t say anything. Brom, it seemed, liked to talk.. too much sometimes..
Seressa tried to get up, hissed in pain, and sat back down.
Cora got up, her face graced with shame, and helped the very tall, very dark girl to her feet while Seressa gasped and hopped on one leg as she held on to the barbarian girl with one hand and pressed at her ribs with her other, splintered arm..
“I am sorry Seressa.”, mumbled Cora as the tall girl held on to her.
“No, luv. I am sorry. Your shame is heartfelt but misplaced.”, replied the tall, dark girl with a choked voice.
Cora Sleet stared at Seressa’s dark, unfathomable, and beautiful face.
“Had I been smarter, and more considerate of my friend than blindly follow my animal instincts, I could have saved us all a lot of pain.. and the shame you shouldn’t be feeling in the first place.
I am.. I become stupid when I see Tonic getting pounded. Happened too many times and too often in the past. She learned to ignore most of it, but that didn’t really help her. It just kept hoarding and it festered..”, she said with a hoarse voice. “I wish.. I wish I was there when her parents gave her away to her uncle..”, she added. But this time, there was a fierce, vicious, and a murdering quality in that voice.
“And I, dear Seressa, should have been mindful of my manners.”, replied Cora, her own voice soft and throaty. “I shamed my father, my mother, and my ancestors with what I did to you.. You are my friend. And will be my friend and I will be indebted to you for the sins I have done to a friend.”
And she did something she hadn’t done for a long, long time.
She reached up and kindly embraced the very tall and very dark Seressa, pinks, and all..
And made sure Seressa got just as much; pale braids, whirling tattoos, and furs..
Brom got up and went to Tonic and held up his hands.
Tonic scowled up at him.
“I am not hugging you, boy!”, she scoffed.
“Well, I’d thought I’d give it a try anyway.”, he smirked.
“I think you got all you wanted from your last groping!”, she snapped.
“You are never going to let that go are you, girl?”, mourned the hobbit.
“Not until I have leeched you dry.. And you will let me do it too.. AND WILLINGLY!”, she gave Brom a very evil smirk.
“Actually, I merely wanted to help you up. You haven’t moved an inch ever since you sat on that slimy whatsit!”, said Brom lightly. “You seem stuck!”
Tonic scowled up at him. Again.
“Seressa can help me up.”, she sniffed.
“Dear Seressa can’t even stand up by herself, let alone help you..”, smiled the hobbit and held up his hands again.
“I promise..”, he said, “..I won’t bite.”
“I promise..”, deadpanned the gnomic girl. “..that I will if you try to grapple me again!”
“No, no.. Done that once. And found out everything I wanted to..”, he said shamelessly.
Arcantonic Palecog’s face went red as she blushed furiously.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”, she hissed. “You think mine are too small?”
“I just know, I will suffer for what I will say next. Yet I must. Because that is what friends are for; to tell us our shortcomings with brutal honesty!”, smiled Brom.. quite pleasantly actually.
“Do enlighten me and suffer!”, bit the gnomic girl.
“Sir Gordigon missed so much of you, miss Tonic. I heartily feel sorry for him!”, said Brom with an honest, straight face and without waiting for her furiously blushing response, grabbed her hands and with a ‘slop’, pulled her little ass out of the oozing muck!
✱ ✱ ✱
Yep..”, Tonic said quietly. “..as much as hate to agree with the unscrupulous little weasel, we could all use a bath, right about now!”
“I totally agree, luv.”, said Seressa as she sniffed herself.
“We do indeed. Perhaps my timing was off, there..?”, admitted Cora, with a deflated face.
“Ow, no, luv. I got your hugs and it’s for keeps!”, said the tall, dark girl brightly.
“So it’s alright when you girls say you stink, and not alright when I do?”, grumbled Brom.
“Very astute, Master Bard. But a tad too late.”, Seressa smiled. “You, sir, are in my BLACK BOOK for the second time.”
Cora waved her hands in his direction in a ‘No, don’t..” sort of gesture, but the hobbit totally missed it.
“Ow? When was the first?”, he asked gullibly.
And ended up getting scowled by three sets of angry eyes glaring down at him.
Cora, for his stupidity.
Tonic, for his stupidity.
And Seressa, for his stupidity..
“The time you taunted me about the size of my breasts!”, she hissed spitefully at Brom.
“Well.. that was stupid of me.. and.. uhh.. very misinformed!”
Cora smacked the hobbit across the back of his head..
..just so he’d shut up and perhaps save what was left of his pride!
“I yield to the injustice of numbers stacked against me!”, mumbled Brom and started walking.
“Where do you think you are going?”, scowled Tonic.
“To earn back my pride..”, Brom shot back and continued without pausing.
“I think we hurt his little feelings.”, said Tonic heartlessly.
“Yes.. yes we did..”, agreed Seressa, but not as heartlessly as her pair. “..I believe we must make amends.”
“We must?”, asked Tonic. “But why?”, she added desperately.
“Because my BLACK BOOK also has a twin;
THE BOOK OF AWESOME DEEDS!
And what he said about my actions being guided by my heart, was a masterpiece..”, she replied fairly and started after the hobbit, limping as she did.
“Yea.. I am sure he said that with all the good intentions..”, mumbled her pair.
“Tonic, luv. I do not judge people upon second guesses. That never helps.”, said Seressa with a suppressed grimace as she continued to limp. “He has nothing to gain from me but what he sees.. Which really isn’t anything he can help. I know my pinks are outrageous. I weigh my desires against convention; I shall keep wearing as I please until I lose!
He chose to honor this, in his own way, even though I left him with little choice in the matter. It only took you two years to feel remotely comfy with me.. and you are my pair.”
Tonic scowled at the cold truth and shut up!
Cora was astounded —amazed, really— at the twisted logic of the very tall, very dark girl.
It made little to no sense.. From a logical point of view.
But apparently, for Seressa, what mattered was what others chose to do, then why they chose to do them.
The ‘why’ was merely the missing words in a fill in the blanks sentence;
Sure, it would be more fulfilling if they were filled, but weren’t essentially needed to make sense.
Provided you had just a bit of imagination.
It was a brutal way to ‘like’ somebody.
But she ‘chose’ to do it, anyway..
For Seressa, it was easy making enemies. Making friends, not so much.. Keeping said friends, however, required effort and sacrifices, and she was willing to make those sacrifices, no matter how great or costly they might be. For Cora; a broken arm, half a half of a dozen shattered ribs, a dislocated knee, any number of dark, ugly bruises hiding all over her dark body and a whole slew of unmerciful pain..
All for the sake of making one, singularly prominent and fundamental point; that she, Cora, was her friend and friends cared..
In a sense that required only a twisted kind of logic, Seressa was a good, kind-hearted girl that deserved a bit of that sacrificing too..
Cora picked up her pace and carefully shouldered the tall, dark girl, relieving her off her limping leg, but as a silent agreement of saving one another’s face, she did not offer to carry her.
Brom led them out of the back alleys and passed a moderate-sized temple with an old, cracked marble tablet that read; Alls Temple, and they came to a wide, well-lit street. It was so wide, in fact, one could march whole platoons back and forth without having to bump into one another, which was probably the idea.
It was early in night hours and the streets were neither empty nor deserted. This was The Great Arashkan City and she never truly slept. The shops and bazaars were closed, but the night was teeming with life as couples, families, gangs of youngsters, troops of city guards were seen everywhere and other than a few curious eyes, seldom did anyone take notice of a small group of odd four.
Halflings and gnomes were common here and their closest neighbors were elves, to begin with. As for Seressa, her natural, dark skin gave her all the cover she needed, despite her pink hair and pink dress. She looked more like some weird pink apparition with a long, pink ribbon floating in the air amidst the three.
“Does he even know where he is going?”, whispered Tonic skeptically.
“Yes, I am sure he does, luv.”, replied Seressa.
“How? He already admitted he’s never been here before!”, harshed the gnomic girl.
“It’s a bard thing, dear. It’s their own kind of magic. Something neither of us have..”
Cora didn’t say or question Brom one way or another. Sure, the hobbit had his quirks, but who was she to question that? Besides, she knew absolutely nothing about this city.. Nor any other city for that matter!
And Brom led them across the wide street and into a much more cultured section of the city; The Richarc District. It seemed he was moving with the surety of someone who had come here many times before. So much so that he managed to impress even Tonic when he led them into a luxurious looking bathhouse.
With a short exchange of coins, he pointed to one side of the bathhouse to the ladies and silently left for the other side, reserved for men.
Fearing more embarrassment from the ladies, he didn’t loiter, but when he came out, he felt totally refreshed, much, much lighter, and in his newly laundered and pressed clothes..
..and ended up waiting for nearly two hours for the girls!
“All that mouth they gave me—”, he started..
“—was worth it!”, finished a soft, throaty voice.
Brom turned around..
For he came face to face with the dreamiest eyes he’d ever seen; Cora Sleet!
Her face was even whiter than he’d ever remembered. And her full lips were so dark red that the contrast to her skin made them even more pronounced.
Her hair glowed like snow in a full moon and her tattoos seemed to move in some mystical pattern as she approached him. There was a glitter in her deep, glacial eyes; brief as it might be, Cora was happy.
The barbarian girl might not be conventional in her singular beauty, but as a whole, and all cleaned up, she made a devastatingly striking figure leaving Brom to ogle like a boy!
“Well, now..”, she said. “..since I merit such a stare, I think a show of gratitude is in order.”
With that, she hugged the hobbit!
“Your idea of this bathhouse thing was the best thing I have experienced in my entire life.. We never get to have such luxuries in the tundras.”
“Uhhh.. Will I merit perhaps a kiss when I show you the feather beds, then?”, he blurted.
“From me, yes!”, came a voluptuous voice behind Cora, and a very dark hand tapped her on the shoulder.
“My turn, girl, make room!”
Brom beheld Seressa Wraiven and truly for the first time for what she was; a creature so dark, Brom was not sure whether it was the night that swallowed her, or it was night because of her!
Curling and vining all the way down the small of her back, her pink hair seemed so vivid and ablaze, that it seemed like her dark face was the hearth and her hair was the smoldering fire in it!
With her, in her clean pinks, Seressa looked nothing short of some majestic queen of the Astral Voids.
And out of the voids, the queen came and kissed the hobbit, her long, hypnotic tail coiling lazily.
“The bath was awesome..”, she said simply. “..I can breath without the rattle, and my knee feels like a good run.”
“Well,”, coughed Brom, blushing bright red. “that’s good to hear. Yes, good to hear indeed.. But let’s not make that ‘good run’ just yet. Standing still and.. uhh..”
“Gawking?”, Seressa inserted helpfully.
“Staring.. I was going to say staring, but gawking is fine too!”
“I am still not hugging you!”, said Tonic from behind Seressa.
“Never crossed my mind, really.”, replied the hobbit, eyes still fixed on the very tall, very dark girl.
“But I appreciate your efforts.. BROM BUMBLEBRIM!“, she said stiffly.
Seressa turned and looked at her pair.
Brom did not see the face Seressa gave to Tonic, but it must have given the gnomic girl quite a fright.
“Whot? I thanked him didn’t?”, she tried.
“No, luv. You did not. You patted him on the head and that was not a nice thing to do. He is not a manservant and certainly not a puppy! He is a friend.. He is my friend!”, Seressa said softly, but with a steely determination that told her pair, she was not going budge an inch on this matter.
Her shoulders sagged, her pale pink face drooped, her eyebrows arched down and she pouted!
‘A girl that evil shouldn’t be this cute, damit’, though Brom. ‘Just look at that pout. It’s an evil pout. Pout of Evil Cuteness!’
“It’s alright Seressa.”, said Brom. “When she believes I am worth it, I am sure she will choose to be my friend as well. My side of the door is open. Until then, she and I can stay.. coworkers, then?”
Arcantonic Palecog scowled at Brom.
But there appeared the slightest presence of gratitude in that scowl..
And surprise, perhaps?
Brom was a hobbit.
And hobbits loved a few things that made them a hobbit; their homes, their gardens, her numerous meals, brunches, tea times and lunches, their deep sense of lazy accomplishments, their merry songs.. and their love for their freedoms.
And hence, he understood two related and rather important things about the scowling gnomic girl; that she didn’t like being told what to do, and she didn’t like being forced into things, even though she might actually want the said things.
It didn’t make sense, but then, the whole thing had nothing to do with sense but a nice hot bath, after all..
There was just no need to turn it into an agenda..
“A meal, then?”, he offered. “I can smell freshly baked bread and potatoes, roast fowl, kababs over coal, charred midgetoes and possibly some soft clams and warm-buttered shrimps with chilled cider!”
“You can smell all that, all the way from here?”, Tonic asked mutely.
“All that, all the way from here, miss Tonic, all the way from here.”
Cora covered a dark, cherry-red smile with her pale hand.
Seressa never had to.
No one could see the darkness that was her!
✱ ✱ ✱
I am sooo full, I can’t take another bite!”, groaned Tonic as she happily rubbed her brand new potbelly. Whatever kind of magic that Brom drew upon that night, he had made sure he shared it with his friends; the fresh-baked bread, the hot potatoes, the roast fowls, the kebabs, the charred midgetoes, the cuisined clams, and the warm, buttered shrimps in spiced sauce were consumed with dreamy eyes and mindless appetite.
Seressa had eaten some of everything, while Tonic went for the fowls and the potatoes. Brom himself went for the clams and the shrimps as they were slightly harder to get at BowlingHills. Cora had gnarled down the kebabs and fell in love with the charred midgetoes!
“What are these little red magic things?”, she’d said and bitten into another midgetoe.
Brom had to admit. Watching the tundra elf bite savagely into the little, charred tomatoes was better than actually eating them!
“They are called ‘tomatoes’, my dear Cora. This variety is known as ‘Midget Tomatoes’ because it is much smaller, and sweeter than its original size, but that’s a bit of a mouthful to pronounce, so it is more commonly known as ‘Midgetoes’. You like them, then?”
“I could marry you for the night, just for these!”, she said, blushed, and then laughed.
It was good seeing her laugh. It certainly was unique, in the sense that it was a ‘first’.
“Time for some entertainment, I suppose. The owner of this establishment offered a rather substantial discount if I would be kind enough to perform in his humble home.”, he said, reaching for his old lyre.
“Guess I’ll have to earn it, now!”
Brom got up, grabbed his stool as well, slowly walked up to the moderate-sized stage, set the stool down, made sure it was stable, sat down, closed his eyes for a moment as the inn patrons quietened, took a deep breath, opened his eyes..
..and started doing real magic with his lyre!
The kind that would never come out of a spellbook.
✱ ✱ ✱
Holy crap!”, exclaimed Arcantonic. “Is he.. Can he do that? I didn’t even know it was physically possible for a lyre to produce sounds like that!”
The moment Brom had fingered the strings of his lyre, a wild, zapping, zigzagging, and zinging tune had started.. And in an instant, it had consumed the inn!
(Stop this video yo listen to the other)
It was a savage tune. A beastly, intriguing, itching, rapid, and a very nearly asynchronous tune.
It was a tune that reached each individual at their most, basic level. It was a tune he had been working on during his sojourn in the Great Northern Tundras and it was a tune that was the culmination of that frozen land as he saw it, beheld it, and understood it; wild, free, endless, and tormentingly beautiful!
And it seized everyone, hit them over the head, concussed them, and left them stunned and bewildered..
In the space of a few minutes, the hobbit owned the inn and her patrons alike. And yet, for the next half hour, he rode the tunes until the lyre wept and Brom, once again fell in love with the old relic, left to him by his long-gone lost ones..
By the time he finished, the inn was dead silent.
“Well, I see that I have garnered all your attention!”
The patrons, the innkeeper, the serving girls, the cooks, Cora, Seressa, and Tonic all jumped up screaming with an incomprehensible inner fire!
“Thank you. Thank you very much.”, said Brom as he got up and bowed with a professional blush.
“That composition is still a work in progress and it is possible I will call it, ‘The Endless White.’ When done, it will still have no words, I am afraid, for I have traveled far and deep into the Great Northern Tundras and I have all but failed to find the words to do her justice.”
Cora’s eyes teared.
She didn’t know why, really, but Brom’s words touched her somewhere deep..
..very deep and very tender.
And suddenly, Cora felt she was already in her own saga..
..and she wanted thissong to play should it ever be told..
“But before I leave, I would like to sing one song withwords —a work also in progress because it is still being lived, in the most literal sense!”, said Brom and settled back onto his stool.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I give you ‘Time!‘”
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..
✱ ✱ ✱
Is she alright?”, asked Cora as she stood in the hall way, up the stairs to their rooms in the inn. “I have seen her sad.. but crying like that?”
“I do not know what’s come over her. This is quite a first for me too.”, replied Seressa and look down thoughtfully at Brom.
By the time Brom had finished his song, everyone in the inn had been enthralled and silently awed by it. Though not an exception, Tonic had displayed the least expected of reactions from her; she had suddenly burst into manic and desperate tears and was just unable to stop! She kept blubbering and slobbering and crying like there was no tomorrow!
In the end, Seressa, her pair, hand simply scooped her up and carried her upstairs to their room like she was her little baby girl.
That was nearly an hour ago and the little gnomic girl was still weeping and hiccupping uncontrollably!
“What? I swear I didn’t do anything. You know me that much, Seressa. Yes, me and her, we bicker all the time, but I wouldn’t go as far as to break her down like that! I mean, that would be just mean.”, exclaimed the hobbit.
“Hmm..”, Seressa said. “..must have been something about the song that set her off, then.”
“Perhaps. I’ll admit, I wrote that song during my two-year travels.. Sometime between Bowling Hills and Shakehands. Many deep thoughts come to mind when traveling alone, under the vast emptiness of stars, or shivering in a ditch in the dead of winter while hiding from bandits, or watching beautiful dryads bathing in a summer lake. Bit by bit, with time, that song wrote itself in my mind.”
“Watching dryads bathing in a lake, huh?”, asked Cora with one eyebrow raised.
“It wasn’t something I had planned, Cora. I was just passing through Gulls Perch, a place very close to a cute town called Serenity Home and I heard the splash of water and the sweet laughter of maidens.”, Brom tried to explain.
“And because they were girls, you went to investigate.. I see.”, said Cora with mild amusement.
“Look, you don’t encounter dryads and just shrug it off, alright. They have a natural charm and attraction, quite unavoidable, really..”, he said.
“The hobbit is correct.”, Seressa mused. “It’s a fey thing. They use it both for defense and to attract mortal males for mating purposes.”
“For what?”, said Cora shocked. Then she slowly turned to Brom, her eyes blazing. “BROM BUMBLEBRIM! You didn’t!“
“Why is everyone always saying my full name like it’s an ultimatum!”, scowled Brom.
“Look.. It isn’t like everyone else does it any differently, you know.. Elves, gnomes, hobbits, humans, dwarves, tieflings, orcs.. We all comb our hair, brush our teeth, put our pretty dresses on, be it bone or stone, we bejewel ourselves, use eyeliners, paint our faces, or draw pictures on our bodies, wear rings on as many places as we can put or hang them, and groom our beards.. to look better, stronger, or prettier to attract the attention of those we find endearing to us. It does not matter what culture we come from, nor into which one we are born. The matter of fact is, we all do it! We try to be the honey for the bee! Why is it a problem when a fey, a very pretty fey at that, does it? But to answer your question, Cora, and as a matter of fact, no, I did not! Not that I wouldn’t have minded.. Dryad girls are extraordinarily pretty and alluring, to begin with.. And they can be single-mindedly persistent and persuasive if they want you! Add the magic whammy effect they have on it, and you got yourself an awesome date! But I got.. uhh.. bit!”
“You got what?”, Cora asked, her eyes still burning.
“Bit!.. As in, bitten!“, replied Brom, his face a bit confused. “Happened before. During my travels, I mean.. Every time I got distracted or sidetracked, I got bitten.. Like I had a destination to reach within a certain time gap, And no, I don’t know by what. Never managed to catch the little critter. Was annoying as hell, though!”
“You defied the charm of a dryad?”, asked Seressa, bewildered. And surprised.
“Well. I suppose I did. Though I can’t claim full credit. They weren’t aiming specifically at me..”, he admitted.
“There needs be no aiming when it comes to pretty fey like the dryadkin, Master Brom. Any mortal would have sat there and watched them, entranced in fascination until they ebbed, and the forest claimed their bones..”, she said thoughtfully as she watched the hobbit. Then she hit him with one of her awesome smiles and said. “I.. I am happily impressed. You, sir, never cease to amaze me..”
Then he coughed and to Seressa he said, with no less than a determined expression on his face, “Seressa, my dear, let me go in there and talk to her..”
Seressa cocked an eyebrow.
“I am her pair, luv. I should—”, she started.
“—not be the one she breaks when she comes around..”, finished Brom. “I don’t know your pair half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of her half as well as she deserves, but it seems to me like she’s someone who does not appreciate being the center of attention nor be embarrassed by way of humiliation. Which is something that she pretty much just did. Let me talk to her and anything she says to me, won’t break me. We hobbits are a resilient bunch, you know!”
“I am already impressed, Master Brom. You don’t really have to try so hard..”, she replied with an inscrutable expression on her unfathomably beautiful, dark face.
“He might be right, Seressa. And we blurt things when we are angry. Things that might clue us in as to what it is that is troubling her.”, said Cora. Then she smiled and held Seressa by the hand. “Why don’t you and I share a room tonight and have a heart-to-heart girls night. Or at least you can try and explain to me what that actually means, and we let the hobbit brave this one..”
And she dragged the very tall, very dark, and very worried Seressa to another room down the hall.
“You.. You want a heart-to-heart girls night.. with me? No one’s ever asked me for a heart-to-heart girls night, before..”, asked Seressa a bit surprised.
“Sure, why not? So long as you tell me what it is.”, Cora tried for a smile.
“There are some rules though. Core rules to any and every girl’s night.”, said the tall, dark girl seriously.
“Ow? What kind of rules?”
“We must both wear sloppy pajamas or pretty skirt dresses!”
“What’s a paja— thingy?”
“It’s a pair of very unladylike but very soft and comfy pants that show the top half of your butt for no particular reason. We put them on, then we talk trash and eat bad food all night long, then hit each other with pillows and wreck the room!”
“But don’t worry. We don’t have any pajamas to air our butts, so cute mini dresses will do.”
“You are just making things up to make me wear your skimpy little pinks!”, accused Cora.
“Would you?”, asked Seressa sincerely.
“But those are the rules!”, she pleaded.
“Let’s ask Brom. I am sure he would know if there are such rules!”
“I AM NOT GETTING INVOLVED INTO THAT CONVERSATION.. SERESSA, PLEASE STOP YANKING MY FRIEND. AND CORA, JUST WEAR THE DAMN THING!”, barked Brom from the other side of the hall.
“See?..”, said Seressa happily as they entered their room and firmly closed the door behind them, leaving Brom alone in the hall..
“Well, crap!”, said Brom, once they were gone. “I thought I’d get slapped down with that stupid idea! What the hell am I even going to talk with that mouthy little demon! Bloody hell! I could have been in THAT room with two pretty girls in skimpy little pinks, yet I get to be in this one!”
For a long moment, he stood in the hallway, glaring darkly at the door to a night of misery and abuse.
“Indeed, sir Brom. Your stupidity truly amazes me as well..”, he said to himself, and went for the little demon’s lair!
✱ ✱ ✱
Brom had decided that the best way to handle an unhandlable situation was to handle it by not handling it! Which turned out to be a rather smart idea, really, as the foul-mouthed little gnomic girl spent the next hour still bawling face down in a feather bed. Looking at her, one could safely bet, she could roll in one direction all night and still never fall! The bed was practically six times her size and eight times her length and there she was, beating her pillow with those tiny fists of hers and kicking the mattress with her feet.. As opposed to jumping up and down on it with glee! She was like the mosquito that woke you in the middle of the night. Tiny, but irritating as hell! And when she’d finally come around, she’d noticed the hobbit..
And gone ballistic on him!
As Cora had so finely put it, Brom stoutly ‘braved’ all the verbal abuse and some not so verbal abuse. But he finally put his foot down when she’d dumped the full content of the washing pan on his head!
He had grabbed the large flower pot near the window, and dumped its content on the gnomic girl!
“Alright, miss Tonic..”, he said sternly. “Unless you want to start breaking objects over my head, in which case I will return fire with equal fervor, stop!”
“You.. you would hit me? A girl? With hard objects? You are a cruel, cruel little man, Brom!”, she said spitefully.
“Wouldn’t make much sense using soft ones, now, would it? And if you want to be treated like a lady, or even a girl, you better start behaving like one.. Or at least fool us like you are one..”, he said sternly.
“I thought bards and hobbits were a genteel lot!”, pouted Tonic.
“Miss Tonic. I think you are confusing ‘genteel’ with ‘idiot’. If we bards.. and hobbits, didn’t give as much as we took, our race would have gone extinct ages ago.. and there wouldn’t be a single bard left to sing a fart!”, Brom said harshly.
“So is your behavior..”
“Where’s my pair? Where’s Seressa..”, said Tonic, crossing her arms under her chest.
“She said ‘I have a headache, not tonight!”, replied Brom, blandly!
“She said… ow never mind.. She and Cora decided they wanted a night off.. Exempt of both of us! Apparently, moms and dads need a break once in a while too..”
“Are you alright? I can understand you are doing sarcasm on me, but I have no idea what you are talking about..”, said Tonic a bit baffled.
“I am saying, they are blaming me for your disposition and expect me to clean up the mess!”
“Well.. It was your fault.. You and your stupid song!”
“That song took two years in the writing. Please show some respect to the effort, if not to me. And I know, you didn’t find that song stupid at all. I had a unique point of view to observe everyone’s faces while singing it.. Including yours!”
“The ‘so’ is, it was at the very end you broke down.. just when I sang the final verse!”
It is the link between places, spaces, events, and relations by the simple expedience of relating the past to the future..
It gives meaning..
“Something in that.. What? Ow. My. Gosh! Are you going to start again?”
Tonic had started again..
But not the bawling, slobbering kind like before..
A silent, tears-only kind of crying.
A heartbreaking sight to behold and Brom felt like slapping himself..
‘Damn. Evil. Little. Cute. Demon!’, he thought.
“I want him!”
And just like that, she blurted it out!
“Ow kay!”, said Brom, carefully. “You want.. who?”
“Gordigon. I want him!”
“Ahhh.. the prince boy..”
“I don’t want no prince, nor a boy.. I want Gordigon!”
“Alright..”, said Brom though he had no idea what to do with it. Consolidating and moving whole crowds was his thing. Blaming the heart of an annoying little gnomic girl for an impossible love, was something else.
“This is sooo a Seressa thing!”, he silently muttered.
“Perhaps you should give it some time, miss Tonic. I am sure it will all be.. fine?”, he said but even he knew how lame that sounded. He really felt he was off his game here.
“He is missing me!”, cried Tonic.. “Right now, he is missing me?”
“My dear Tonic, you can’t know that!”, said Brom a bit perplexed.
“Yes.. yes I can! Here. Look!”, she said and of her artificer’s satchel, she pulled a hard scroll case, slapped off its cap and drew out a tattered scroll, and shoved it in front of the hobbit’s nose!
“What am I looking at here?”
And she pointed at a specific verse on the scroll.
It read; “Those who love us, will miss us..”
“Ow kay..”, said Brom again. “It’s a nice sentiment. Beautiful, even..”
Arcantonic gave the hobbit an incinerating look that made him flinch.
“This was written by an angelic being. The one that we gave that spear to.”, she said as if stating the obvious.
“You really can be daft, Brom!”, replied Tonic with scorn.
“That was a bit harsh, don’t you think? I am here, willingly and by my own choice, trying to help.. and understand.”, said Brom in an offended tone.
“I am sorry.”, mumbled Tonic quietly. “But my point stands..”
“Which is?”, said Brom, still not understanding.
“Do you think, an angelic being would scrabble just some random nice words? This is clearly a message for me, telling me he is missing me!”, she said and started crying again!
It took quite some time for Tonic to settle down.
Against all his wishes, and feeling like he was about to grab a live eel, Brom silently, and very carefully embraced the little gnomic girl as the two of them sat on the floor.
“If.. If you mention this to anyone—”, began Tonic, with swollen eyes..
“Never happen!”, Brom said promptly. “Feeling any better?”
“I feel.. I feel diagonal!”, she said.
Brom had no idea what she meant except that diagonal was something between standing still and lying down.
“Uhh.. wasn’t that scroll given to Seressa and was in her possession?”, asked Brom, sort of to steer the topic off to somewhere else.
“It.. It was..”, blushed Tonic.
“YOU STOLE HER ANGELIC AUTOGRAPH?”, blurted Brom.
“No I didn’t..”, replied the gnomic girl, indignantly.
“Then how come it’s here, with you, as opposed to not being here, and with Seressa?”
“I only took it for safekeeping. She.. she was going to keep it in her bodice, damit!”, Tonic said in a tone that found that whole idea very much scandalous.
“Ahhh..”, said Brom with a dreamy voice. “I wish I was a scroll now, and not in your possession!”
“You, sir, are an unscrupulous ass!”, sniffed Tonic.
“But a good, unscrupulous ass.. You got to admit. You are not crying and you are feeling better now.”, smirked Brom.
“Yes.. I suppose I am. How did you even convince Seressa to go and let you stay with me?”, she sniffled.
“I lied to her..”, Brom smirked again.
“I lied to her.”, repeated Brom. “I told her you’d be upset after making a scene downstairs and start saying stupid things and hurt her feelings but that you couldn’t hurt mine.. since, you know, we are not friends and all.. Just.. coworkers!”
Tonic leaned away from the hobbit and just stared at him.
“You.. you are weird!”
“And you are one to talk..”, deadpanned Brom. “C’mon. Get some sleep. You will feel much better in the morning and then we can leave and go back to our miserable, freezing cold tundras where a bunch of naggy old hags awaits us.”
“I.. We can’t leave just yet..”, Tonic mumbled.
“Why not? We did everything we came here to do, haven’t we?”
“Not yet. We.. I have two more things to do..”
“I have to meet two people..”
“Arcantonic.. Please.. That was not part of the prophecy. It’s really dangerous to meddle—”, said Brom but got cut off..
“Don’t you think I know?”, replied Tonic harshly. “Seressa might be an anthropologist, but I am an archeologist. I am not at all like her. She.. She gets people. Understands them.. Ironic really. The way she can understand human nature so much better than they understand themselves yet isn’t even one!
I, on the other hand, just dig their remains and pompously assume to know what they were like!”
“So you are basically a glorified grave robber, then? Or a gravedigger, to put it in more acceptable terms..”, snickered Brom.
But decided to ignore that remark.
“All my diggings and research and studies of past cultures and civilizations told me things.. Many things.. But one of the most important things I learned was that at some point, they failed. And miscommunication was the base reason for all their failures!”, she said mutely.
There was a mordent silence as Brom struggled very, very hard not to say exactly what crossed his mind!
Yes, if he said it, it would be the truth.
But it would also hurt the girl.
And possibly be lethal on his part.
Brom chose not to speak.
Not all truths were meant to be said.
“So you want to change prophecy protocol based on some educated guess?”, he asked tentatively.
“Just like that? I would have thought, I don’t know, threaten you or something..”, Tonic said both relieved, and astonished.
“Miss Tonic. As frightening as you think you are, your face is just too cute to instill the necessary fear to move a lazy hobbit in the dead of night.”, he replied seriously. “So who are these people that you feel you must meet?”
“One.. One is the daughter of that Ri Grandaleren dude we met in our first prophecy.. Princess Alor’Nadien ne. Don’t ask me how, I don’t know, but she is here, in the city..”
“I.. am not sure.. I just feel I must meet her and.. and make amends. I knew her mother, Nadine Graciousward.”, she said quietly.
“You know Rise Nadine Graciousward? The human queen of the high elves of High Woods? Wow, girl. I am impressed. That lady is supposedly the most beautiful woman in the world!”, said Brom astounded.
“Yea.. Go straight for the pretty face!”, said Tonic acidly!
Tonic, however, did not.
“I feel like I must meet her.”, she said with a lost voice. “And apologize to her for all the.. not so nice things I said about her mother, Nadine, even though she’d saved me from my uncle’s dungeons and chose to spare me even though I reeked with the stench of his pet demons.. She showed kindness to a little, broken creature she never knew..”
“You don’t really have to go into the details if you feel uncomfortable talking about them, you know.”, Brom said, amazed at the gnomic girl’s broken past.
“No, I don’t want to go into any of the details and yes, I do feel uncomfortable, but I will.. Just not now.. Not tonight..”, she replied mutely.
“Alright, who is the other?”
“Umm.. the other is a gnome.. His name is.. uhh.. Gnine Tinkerdome..”, she mumbled.
“Tinkerdome.. why does that name ring a bell— Ow. My. Gosh, girl.. Is he?”, said Brom nearly choking on the thought.
“Please, Brom. He must be told to get back what is his by birthright! And do it fast. And more importantly, I can’t be the one telling him this. He mustnotsee me.. Like, at all!
You must be the one to tell him this and you must be very convincing!”, pleaded the gnomic girl.
“You must also tell him, it wasn’t his fault. That it was an attempt to end his line and had he not survived, they would have succeeded..”
“What? What wasn’t his fault? What attempt?! You aren’t making any sense, girl!”, said Brom.
“Brom.. Please! Just tell him what I said.. when we find him. He will understand. I can’t tell you more. Some, because I don’t know myself, some because I shouldn’t.. Hells bells, I don’t even know how I know most of the things I know.. Please. You.. You must trust me!”, pleaded the little gnomic girl desperately.
Brom ‘hmmed’ a bit as his sloth nature frantically sought a good excuse to weasel out of this, quite ridiculous venture!
And then, he felt it.
A sharp, stinging bite at the upper end of his leg, just where he couldn’t see..
‘Damit! Not again!’, he silently cursed.
But as opposed to the many other times before, this bite had been..
It certainly lacked the sense of compulsion that it always gave in the previously bites.
‘Why bite at all, then?’, he thought.
And then he understood.
This time, the little critter was merely telling him that it would be up to him.. That it would be his choice to make, but also warning him that the choice would be an important one.
Tonic’s heart seemed in her pale face as she clenched her tiny fists at her chest and held her breath, while she waited for the hobbit to make his decision.
“Gimme a moment to go and grab my stuff.”, he grumbled finally.
He rose and silently went to the door.
As he reached for the knob, he heard Tonic from behind.
“Brom.. I.. I know I can be an ass.. But you must know, I don’t do ‘coworker’!”
“Eh?”, said Brom.
“I said, I don’t do ‘coworker’. I do pair,enemy or friend.. Already got a pair. Already got enemies..”, she said quietly.
“Friends, then?”, said Brom with a solemn face.
“Friends, then..”, she replied.
“Just so you know, Tonic..”, said Brom, looking directly into her eyes.
“Whot?”, asked Tonic, mutely.
“As unscrupulous as you may think I am, I don’t do ‘one-nighters’. I do strangers,neighbors,and life-timers! Already got all the strangers out there and the neighbors back at home..”
Tonic stared at the hobbit, trying to discern the possible meanings behind his words.
Then she remembered what her limping pair had said that very night;
“Tonic, luv. I do not judge people upon second guesses. That never helps..”
And Seressaknew people didn’t she?.. She understood them!
It wasn’t like anyof the second-guessing, she’d done in her life had ever gotten her anywhere..
‘Why should it start now?’, she thought.
Though there was a tiny blaze in her eyes, Tonic silently nodded in assent.
Brom Bumblebrim smiled and opened ‘Tonic’s side of the door’..
Damit! Not again!..”, blustered a voice in the darkness.
There was a rather dismaying sense in the silence that followed the bluster..
“Umm.. C.. Cora.. That.. that was my line!”, said Tonic’s feeble sound..
Cora smirked in the darkness as she slowly rose. They had landed hard this time. More so than usual.. On.. cobblestones?
Cora had never really seen a road or a street ever be paved with cobblestones before. They made poor surfaces for any given village or settlement in the tundras. One rain and it would turn to slippery ice. One duffle of snow and you were certain to trip and fall every other pave!
Some enterprising guy with nothing better to do had given it a shot once, back at Shakehands but after laying about a score or so of the stones, he had given up. Particularly after he’d found out, the said score or so of the chiseled stones weren’t going to cut it and he’d have to actually buy more, an idea he had found offensive to being with. Who expected to actually be paid for stones! Stones were everywhere.. If there were two things ever-present in abundance in The Great Northern Tundras, it was snow and stones.. like mountains and mountains of stones!
Cora very nearly agreed with the anonymous guy. Cobblestones were HARD to land on, and the only thing she found nice about them was they looked pretty! Particularly when set in patterns using alternating colors.
And while Cora was contemplating on cobblestones, Tonic’s inner voice was rampaging in a fit of rage!
“She.. She’s stolen our line, my precious!.. She’s poaching in our woods! This is an outrage!!” roared inner Tonic.
“Well, yes, it wasn’t nice of her but she’s our friend now..”, Tonic tried to calm her inner rage.
“Friend? FRIEND? WHAT KIND OF A FRIEND STEALS TRADEMARKED CURSES? DROP THE ‘R’ AND SHE’S A ‘FIEND’!”, snarled inner Tonic.
“Please, let’s not make a fuss here. She’s had a rough time lately. We must make allowances.. And let’s not drop any ‘R’s, shall we? If we start dropping letters, an ‘O’ here and an ‘N’ there and I might end up with nothing but a ‘Tic’.. Which I am sure neither of us would want!”, pleaded Tonic.
“Yea..”, said inner Tonic with a tone that reeked with sarcasm. “..it’s not like we had to clean up HER mess and what she did to our PAIR! Look at her. She’s still limping, I can hear her lungs rattle every time she breaths and she still can’t hold a stick with that arm!”
“True.. true.. But it was because of our own stupidity that set the whole thing off.. Aren’t you taking this a bit too zealously? It isn’t like you ever said anything nice about our pair. You are just making her an accessory to your argument!”, Tonic said.
“…So, that’s how it’s going to be now, is it?”, sniffed inner Tonic with disgust. “After all these years, you are going to take their side..”
“If I must.. and if you push me, I will.”, said Tonic quietly. “For the first time in my life, I feel happy and I feel relieved of a burden I didn’t have to carry anyway.. and I feel I belong.. Something you made sure I never felt, made sure I carried and sure as hell made sure I never had.. You got two choices here. Either you fix your attitude and change or I ignore you from now on..”
“Change? CHANGE?.. WE DON’T DO CHANGE!”, snarled inner Tonic.
“I did.. There no reason why you can’t either.. We have always been together. And thus far I have followed your lead because I had no destination. Now I do. A very, very long destination.. Either we still stick together for it, or I go alone and you disappear!”, replied Tonic coolly!
There was a moment of ‘silence before the storm’ kind of pause.
Then inner Tonic’s whispering voice came echoing.
“We shall see.. Weee shall seeeeee…”
“What’s the matter with you, girl?”, whispered Brom.“Why are you ignoring me now? Are you still pissed off about the.. uhh.. ‘grabbing you’ thing?”
“Eh? Whot?”, baffled Tonic.. and she returned back to the real world!
“I hope we don’t have to search the whole city..”, Seressa was saying.
Apparently, Tonic had missed a couple of minutes, and in a sense, ‘sleepwalked’ behind her friends.
“Are you alright?”, whispered Brom again.
“Whot? Why shouldn’t I be?”, said Tonic diffidently.
Brom stared at the little gnomic girl from the side. Something was going on with her ever since Seressa had been injured and it wasn’t just about her pairs’ broken arm, fractured ribs, and dislocated knee.
“Shhhh..”, came Cora’s sharp voice. “I think we have company..”
“Yes.. Yes you do..”, said a slithering voice in the dark. “We’ll take it from here, ladies and midgets!”
“Well, now..”, Tonic said indignantly. “..And just when I thought we’d gone passed the name-calling!”
“Yea..”, said Brom. “..and that took a bit of a bleeding too, you know.”
“I don’t suppose you will tell us who you are, even if we asked nicely?”, said Seressa coldly.
“Afraid not. Even if you ask nicely.. But I guess it’s alright for you to know, they belong to us..”, smirked the voice. “Shall we skip the pleasantries?”
“Yes. Let’s!”, Cora said with a stony expression and drew her greatsword!
“Big sword for a little girl..”, remarked the voice.
“Big mouth for a little man!”, deadpanned Cora and then she quit with the words. She didn’t like words in combat anyway..
✱ ✱ ✱
Tonic..”, said Cora with a steady voice.
“Whot?”, asked the gnomic girl, from somewhere behind her, slightly to the left.
“You are going to have to do something about your acid vials..”, Tonic heard the barbarian elf. She also heard her breathing angrily from her nose.
There was a squeaky sound, followed by something flinty and the darkness backed away as Tonic lit her lantern. With a sharp snap, she closed the lid of the lantern and came padding next to the barbarian.
“Whot? Why?”, she asked.
“What’s this?”, Cora asked, pointing at something on the ground.
“A diminished face.. I think. I suppose the correct word would be ‘disintegrated’, but same difference.. Looks a bit gruesome, I must admit. But he did deserve it.. He called you and Seressa a ‘midget’, which I took offense!”
Cora, though, did neither..
She sternly looked down at the gnomic girl while trying very hard not to grind her teeth.
“And this..?”, she asked coldly, pointing at something else.
“Your.. legs and your panties— ow.. ow my..”, gulp Tonic.
“What?”, asked Seressa, limped over and she looked down.
“Ow.. my my my.. This is a bit awkward!”, she said like she was trying very hard not to laugh.
“What? What is it?”, asked Brom and walked over..
..and got bombarded by a barrage of indignant protests.
“Not you, Brom..”, snarled Cora.
“A.. a.. aaa.. Can’t have you visiting this, Master Brom!”, said Seressa sternly.
“Not you, hobbit!”, barked Tonic..
..Brom sulked in a corner!
“You could use one of my skirt-dresses.. Got a spare.. I always have a clean, pressed spare. You’d look magnificent in it!”, offered Seressa.
Cora Sleet (click to see)
“Ow. My. Gosh!”, ogled Tonic!
“Ow, my..”, whispered Brom, enthralled.
“What the..”, scowled Cora. “Are guys imagining me in a mini pink? I swear, I will hurt you guys if you are!”
“Noooo..”, she heard Brom’s dreamy voice!
“And what’s with the look on her face? Have any of you ever seen that kind of a look on my face? Like, ever?”,she flared.
“Damit, guys I don’t even have brown hair..”
“Great Northern Skies! You guys edited out all my beautiful storm tattoos! Those tattoos are there for a reason!”
“And what kind of an idiot wears shoes like that? You will lose your feet to frostbite before you even get the chance to twist and break your ankles on ice!”
“You lot are a riot..”
“..and have some serious issues!”
Try as she might, the barbarian girl got no response from the lot as they gazed dreamily at the image of a Cora Sleet in pinks..
Apparently, just the mention of Seressa’s dress and the possibility of a Cora in it, had been enough nail them all down..
Yes. There really was some suppressed issues going on here!
“I am not wearing any of your skirt-dresses, Seressa!”, snarled Cora indignantly!
“What? Why? Not modest enough for you?”, she asked a bit taken.
“I don’t do pink!”, replied Cora harshly.
“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 to that man. And it’s so pure, so unadulterated..”, said Seressa quietly. “Never have I seen or felt emotions as intense as what those two feel for each other.. It’s a wonder to behold! It must be her.She must be our query!”
Everyone fell silent as they watched the man stare at the little, skinny girl like she was his last breath on earth.
And they gazed upon yet, another wonder to behold; the girl embraced the man in dark clothes like she had only one more breath left to take, and she wanted him to have it!
“That..”, gulped Tonic. “..is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen..”
“I am bereft of speech. Is such love even possible in this world?”
Cora had been silent the whole while. From start to end, she had watched wonder upon wonder and silently thanked whoever had granted them to witness what they just had.
She cleared her throat and asked.
“Is it her, then? The one that we must yield Shal ah Galad? The Spear of Light?”
“No!”, Brom said suddenly.
The others all turned to look at him with amazement.
“Why do you think it’s not her?”, ask Cora.
“Because she’s a druid.”, replied Brom with consternation.
“Meaning, she’s all about ‘balance’.. Druids don’t do ‘good’ nor ‘evil’. It’s balance or no balance for them.. Sure, they may have personal preferences, and usually towards good, but at the end of the day, it’s all about balancing the scales for them.”
“Very good, Master Bard..”, smiled Seressa. “You hit the nail right on the head.. It seems my choices can be biased at times..”
“No, dear Seressa. Not biased. Merely guided by your heart.”, Brom smiled.
“Wow..”, the very tall, very dark girl said, with genuine elation. “..that’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me!”
“So who then?”, asked Tonic, a bit uncomfortably. “We are running out of people to give.. It’s the pretty, ‘smoking’ hot one on the stones, or the cutter —which I hope is not the one, or the rest of the city, which, if I remember correctly, was nearly one million people by the last census.. and that was three years before our original time, making it nineteen years! Who do we give it to?”
“We give it to her..”, he said, and pointed at the coughing, feeble looking angelic form, slowly rising from the ground. “Besides, if it isn’t her and the spear decides to burn her, at least she has company to put her out again!”
✱ ✱ ✱
Cora rose from behind the garbage-filled barrels, brushed and dusted herself off, pulled out a long, pointy seeming object out of her pack, and started walking towards the beautiful, lithe girl with the raven wings as the man in the dark clothes left, holding the sweet little girl by her hand..
“What are you doing?”, hissed Tonic from behind her. “She will see us!”
“Tonic.. How are we to give her the spear if we don’t walk up to her? Toss it at her and expect her to say, ‘Oooo.. The Spear of the Archangel of Wrath got dropped in on me out of nowhere.. Niiiice!’, and expect her just pick it up? “, asked Brom.
There was a moment of mordent silence..
“I could be mean sometimes, but it’s hardly deliberate and mostly involuntary. Your sense of humor is outright murder!”, the little gnomic girl said, with her lower lip pouting and her arms crossed.
“I am sorry, Miss Tonic. It wasn’t really a targeted comment.. Are you coming?”, asked Brom.
“No. I will stay here with my pretty tiefling, and leave that one to you!”, she said with the same putout voice, effectively nailing her devastated pair as well.
“Brom?..”, called Cora from ahead. “..Coming?”
Brom sighed and trotted after the barbarian.
✱ ✱ ✱
Deliberately making enough noise to have been noticed, Cora approached the angelic figure, now alone, with Brom tagging along behind her.
“Umm.. Good evening..?”, Cora said with her soft, somewhat throaty voice, as she neared the strange, extraordinarily beautiful, yet very innocent-looking young woman with black, raven wings.
Cora had never been the poetic type, but the girl with the wings could only be described as ‘majestic’.
“I doubt..”, came the soft voice of the angelic girl..
The black, raven wings shifted and the girl moved her hands to her face and did a wiping motion. Then slowly turned around..
Up close, the young girl wasn’t just beautiful. She was ‘otherworldly’ beautiful!
The two just stood there ogling and petrified.
“Beauty..”, said the girl, with a broken, feather-soft voice. “..means so little, if it can’t relate, nor find love. It is mere torment to have, and a curse to want.”
She looked up at the two with lost, haunted eyes..
“What are we, if we are not slaves to this torment? What joy is there in this curse?”
What the girl had just said, fell somewhere between ‘can’t make heads or tails’ and ‘yes, I think I understand’, in Cora’s mind, and suddenly, she felt sad.
‘I am so, so alone’, kind of sad. The kind that said it in a literal and unique sense..
And to that, Cora found a kin..
Funny how we could not relate to our contemporary, but find ourselves a kin to things out of our times.. It is a wonder, really. Does the fault lie in the people around us, or in ourselves?
“What can I do for the messengers of the Seers of Star Watchers?”, the tear stricken girl, said mutely. “Is it my time? Are you finally here to take me away? I feel.. so very tired.. I could use some eternal rest about now..!”
Cora’s eyes teared. She tried to speak, but something seemed to choke her.
So she let go of the speech. There really was no need anyway..
Silently, she introduced the long, pointy thing, Shal ah Galad, The Spear of Light, with its new keeper..
“And thus, with pain and joy —suffered and lived, we have delivered our burden onto you..”, whispered Brom from behind Cora.
The angelic figure stared at the spear and her face became poorer for it.. There was no joy in it, no victory, no happiness. Only a confused sense of more burden..
“It seems, like palt without honey, destiny has little taste!”, sniffed the beautiful, angelic girl and more tears came running down the smooth, flawless of her face.
Slowly, she reached out, and with bare hands, she took up the spear.
The spear, a bit dull before, suddenly shown with an inner fire as it brightened and simmered, and dimmed again as if with..
“Well, done!“, Cora heard the harsh voice that she’d heard once before.
The angelic girl looked up at the odd pair.
“First Him, then Priceptine and Mab, now Her? What interest does the Raven Queen have with my friends? I have suffered, but that is my lot. This, I have accepted.. They, on the other hand, have burned enough..”
“We are mere messengers..”, whispered Cora.
“Then I shall give you the advice I have given to only one other; Do not be the tool that tussles with the peons.. Be, at least, the ‘spear’ that slays the bishop.“
She looked down at the long, simmering shaft in her hands for a long moment, then at the two who had entrusted her with it.
With a solemn, muted voice, she spoke.
“You have thus burdened me with which I wanted not. In return, I would but ask a boon of recognition of thee.. Wilt thou honor it?”
Cora stared at the beautiful creature.
She lowered her head, and knelt before her..
“I shall..”, she said simply.
“I am not as pure as to be genuflected, my dear girl. I have the blood of mine enemies in my hands and the sins of my past to bare on my shoulders.. Neither are you bound to me nor would you want to. You are free..
The boon I ask of you shall not be small, yet only you, and uniquely you, will have the power to wield it.. Will you consent?”
“I shall..”, she repeated.
“Had the world of mortals only been as honest and dedicated as you; one, young, scarred, and orphaned snow elf, it would have been a merrier place..”, she sighed softly. “Will you, Cora Sleet, come to the aid of my friends, should they ever need it of you.. and yours?”
“You know my name..”, Cora said.
“I was privileged by it. Your deeds, your losses, and your place among the vast plains of the Great Northern Tundra’s have not gone unnoticed.”, replied the angelic being.
“I have no family. I have no people. There’s no one for me to call upon if you ever require my assistance. Alone, though I am, should you but summon, I shall come.”, she promised.
“You have lost one family, and one people. You have thus gained another family and other people; the hordes and the tribes of your lands.
You have saved theirs, brought them together, and brokered peace among them, and you carry the weight of the Seers of the Star Watchers with you, young Cora Sleet. Thus, they trust you and they honor you. Should you call, they will answer..”
Then she turned, opened her great, raven wings, and faded into the night..
✱ ✱ ✱
Go”, hissed Tonic. “Or you’ll miss your only chance!”
“Are.. Are you sure?”, hesitated the tall, dark girl. “You won’t be offended?”
“Why would I be offended? You are my pair.. That’s the only thing that matters. Besides, you are not the only fan-girl out there, you know.. I have a whole slew of fan cards, all signed..”, Tonic replied with smug shame.
“Ow? Last Man Standing 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, 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 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 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!”
Incase the murdering bastard was a thick twit, I picked it up, and stuck it on top of a pile of gold, the closest to the maw..
It did not burn me. I even swung it a few times. I must say, it was the prettiest sword I ever saw. It was also, a bait!
This, on the other hand, is a weapon and I can clearly feel it chewing at my hand, even through the shirt!
It appears, your Mistress fooled even you, dear Seressa!”, smiled Cora.
A long, pregnant silence settled down among the rest of the group.
Brom was the first to respond.
“I.. can’t believe this!”, exclaimed Tonic. “Seressa? Can this be true?”
“Dunno, luv. I am very much in pain and more now than I was a few minutes ago.”, said Seressa clearly put out.
“Well, done..”, a silent, seething voice said in Cora’s mind and she shuddered. “Time to return Shal ah Galad to someone who will make good use of it..”
“Mistress..”, whispered Seressa, and tried to rise again.
“Stay, my beloved maiden. This journey has been trying for you and your companions. Do not be dismayed for failing to see the obvious. But remember; you are not in the academy anymore, and we are not playing for credits..
Success and failure are for keeps and defined by the totals at the end: if the mortal world still thrives, we have won. Return now, and receive further instructions, for you are my voice. You are the Chosen Voice of Prophecies and your companions have all been chosen with pain and with care..”, said the seething voice and then, it was gone..
✱ ✱ ✱
Some sixteen to seventeen years later..
My Liege.. Themalsar has finally made use of his existence!”, said a thick, sultry, comely woman’s voice as she dared to approach her master’s rather bland looking throne.
“Ow? I find that unlikely..”, replied an uncanny, beautiful and masculine voice.
“Indeed, my Liege. Though he still can not escape the wards set by the mortals and their allies placed upon his chamber, he has, by his agents, heard of some disturbing news. He sent more agents to verify these rumors and they have returned with good news..”
The master of the uncanny, beautiful voice didn’t say anything to nudge nor indulge the comely demoness to continue.
He sat silently on his throne and waited..
The comely demoness shivered in fear-induced ecstasy and continued.
“He has discovered the location of the Sword of Light, My Liege. Priceptine’s Sword!”
The master was sitting lazily on his throne one moment, and holding up the comely demoness by the throat where she’d been, in the next!
The demoness never saw her master coming!
“This is not a matter I take lightly, dear Irine.. Should these rumors be false, I would be very displeased to lose my favored concubine.”, he said calmly.
“No.. No, My Liege. With your leave, I would personally attend to this excursion. I have enough mortal blood in me to enter their precious world.”, she croaked through her master’s vise-like grasp.
“Indeed you do, my dear Irine.. Indeed you do..”, he said, and let go of the comely demoness.
The demoness rubbed at her sore neck for a moment as she secretly marveled at her master’s awesome strength.
“My, Liege, I shall depart immediately with a battalion of my personal Orken..”
“Where is the sword now?”, said the uncanny voice, as he returned back to his throne.
“At the hands of some barbarians who pompously call themselves ‘The Wyrm Horde’, My Liege. They live some distance north of the Ruins of Themalsar, at the Great Northern Tundras. We are not sure how the sword got there, but there were quite a number of those barbarian tribesmen back at the first Themalsar War. It is possible one of their warriors picked it during the final hours of the Alliance assault and took it back home, to be passed from generation to generation as an heirloom. Such practices are common among the more primitive mortal cultures.”, said the comely demoness in her thick, sultry voice.
“Hmm..”, the masculine voice said. “I had plans for those hordes. Pity they got in our way thus prematurely..”
“My Liege..”, the demoness hesitated, not with fear of retribution, but limitation. “How far shall I go?”
The beautiful, masculine voice smiled.
“Indulge yourself, my beautiful Irine, indulge yourself..”
“Thank you, My Liege.”, Irine said and an evil, smoldering fire lit deep behind her eyes.
“Ow, before you gore yourself in mortal blood, how is my future bride to be, coming along?”
“She.. She has completed all her current trainings and has acquired not only top grades, but excelled in them. She will make an excellent bride for My Liege.”
“Very good, Irine. What has she chosen for her specialty?”
“Necromancy, My Liege, which did come as a surprise for us all.. Seeing as how extraordinarily beautiful your bride to be is, one would think she would have played to her strengths and gone for enchantments and charms.. Yet, for some bewildering reasons, she has garnered great curiosity and interest in death.. The things she can do with mortals, corpses, and their souls is.. fascinating..”
“Interesting.. But no matter. Veracity is always a sign of high intellect and more important; of foresight; she is playing against the expected! I am sure her foes will be prepared for enchantments and charms, seeing as how extraordinarily beautiful my bride to be is.. She will destroy them with what they will least expect of her.”, said her master thoughtfully. “Where’s she? Perhaps it is time she and I started having dinners together..”
“She’s in the field at the moment, My Liege, to gain real experience, as part of all our S.I.T. — Seeds In Training program.. Heading for the ruins of Themalsar, of all places. She should be there soon..”, replied the comely Irine.
“She would do me great service if she debased that old fool, even if she did it by mistake.. Alright. Go now, my dear. Grind down this ‘Wyrm Horde’ into the ground. I want them clipped, branch and limp, trunk and root. Leave no one and nothing alive. Bring me Shal ah Galad!“
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 my self like that.’
Then he reached out and.. sort of touched my bangs and brushed them behind my ears, one at a time, and said I had very pretty ears!”
“Seems like he was as stupefied as you were..”, said Seressa with glee. “I am impressed, girl. You destroyed a prince with an artificers wrench, then burned him with non-combustion engines and a pair of bunny ears.. You are a natural zinger!”
“I don’t have bunny ears!”, protested Tonic.
“You have lovely ears with the same difference, luv. Back to your story, then?”
“Well.. Then this.. this tingling thing came over me and..”, she said and stopped.
“And..?”, asked Seressa with eager happiness.
“I don’t really remember. I think I might have jumped him!”, she mumbled.
“Yessss!”, hissed Seressa. “That’s my girl!”
“Did I do right? I mean, he is a prince, after all. I am sure he has dozens of girls who’d want to throw themselves on him. I feel so stupid.”
“What did he do, when you jumped him?”, asked Seressa.
“He held my hands.. My dirty hands and asked me if I was sure, and if this was something I wanted.. I.. I don’t know what came over me, Seressa. I just couldn’t stop.. He looked so.. pretty.. and yummy!”, Tonic said with a small, ashamed voice.
“Baby girl, the fact that he asked you that very question, proved he respected you.. Not just as a girl, but as a person. Men seldom care for the feelings of women, nor care enough to ask what we want, luv. They just want what they want. Which is pretty base, in a primal sense.. Come to think of it, so are women, but that’s another matter.. Girl, I believe the boy genuinely cared for you and truly wanted you..”
“You.. you really think so?”, asked Tonic a bit dubiously.
“I know so, luv. I know so..”
“How do you mean?”, asked Tonic.
“Because NOBODY has ever asked me that question.. I am beautiful. This I know. And this, they see.. And all they want is that beautiful. Never once, however, did anyone wonder what was underneath the beautiful nor did anyone bother to ask what I felt, liked or wanted..”, she answered calmly.
“Oww.. I am sorry, Seressa.. Hells bells, I feel like a gloating idiot now..”
“No, girl, this is your moment, not mine. Tell me how it felt.. Tell me everything..”
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!