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I, Inshala. I, Belong.

I, Inshala. I, Belong.

Timeline:

The Tundra Elf; Cora Sleet, The Bowling Hills Hobbit; Brom Bumblebrim and the younger sisters of no other than the dwarven Temple Guardian of Serenity Home, Lady Magella of Scowling Hills; Lillias Absentwhot and Jeina Blond have set forth to find the daughter of the barbarian Bear Claw Tribe’s chieftain, who was kidnapped by the foul and evil creature, ominously named; Red October.

For days and nights, Cora, Brom, Lillias, and her sister, Jeina travel through the snow and ice-covered Lost Mountains and find the layer of the sinister Red October. On the eve of their descent into the deep, cavernous layer, the whole extended family of the two dwarf sisters arrive to take them both back to Scowling Hills. The dwarf sisters, Lillias and Jeina refuse to abandon their elf and halfling companions compelling their family to help. Hence a plan is formed; the dwarves are to lure the foul creature out of its lair and make a run for it down the mountains, and back to Scowling Hills while Cora and Brom are to quietly enter the beast’s lair and save the chieftain’s daughter.

The plan works, more or less..

And Cora Sleet, followed closely by Brom Bumblebrim, runs into the deeps of Red October and finds the barbarian chieftain’s daughter, abused and severely traumatized, among many other women.. all dead and gnawed upon.

In horror, the two search the cages set into the walls of the cave to find more survivors and lo!

Another woman, deep inside one of the further cages, thought horribly abused, malnourished, and bruised, is still alive..

..and pregnant!

 

This story takes place merely a month after;
A Bard’s Tale XIV, “a Bit of a Bite” IX
and
A Bard’s Tale XV, “Wrath of Hydius Dreadmaw”..

 

 

Run, you fools!” 

That was the last thing Cora Sleet and Brom Bumblebrim saw of the dwarves before they stumbled and ran out of the dark, gnawing cave..

 

Then came the wind.

A cold, fetid wind..

A wind that did not belong to the fresh, breezy October mountains.

This was a frigid wind that stank of rot and festering mold..

This was the wind of a Red October!

 

“Run, you fools!”, bellowed the head of the dwarves; an old, very nearly ancient of his kind known all the way from The Great Arashkan City to Endless Sea, and from the heights of Rook Mountains to the ends of Tinker Hills; Argail Smitefast.

And the dwarves ran..

Down the sliding, frozen and misty valley and to the cliffs that would make a harsh and steep climb down the face of Lost Mountains.

 

But then..

..everything was harsh and steep in the Great Northern Tundras..

 

The creature that burst out of the yawning cave was nothing the elf, Cora, nor the hobbit, Brom ever saw.. and neither would wish to ever see again.

For but a very short moment, they caught a glimpse of something large, but not in size as it was large by its frightful speed.

Something large, fast, and dark.. Like a thick draft of smoke, inky at its center. It blurred past the two hiding behind fallen boulders.

Cora clutched her great blade with both her fists like she wanted to make a charge or a ‘run for it’, Brom wasn’t sure. He wouldn’t have blamed her if she did make a run for it. He had seen some horrible things in his long sojourn since that fateful night he’d left the comforts of his warm home and this.. inky black thing that had just hissed out of the cave would likely give him nightmares for the next couple of months..

Brom gritted his teeth and hoped the snow elf would run, should it come to that, though he knew she wouldn’t.. She’d charge the evil, shunned creature while trembling in fear, but not run from it. They hadn’t known each other for that long, but the short few months they had been together had shown him the core of the girl; grim, fierce, loyal, silently angry, and in quiet, desolate mourning.

 

“What are you doing?!”, they heard the below of the old dwarf echo up the frozen valley.

“Arkanian nian fer Ferra!”, squeaked a voice and something boomed in a great, fiery bloom.

“Damit, Lillias..”, growled Cora. “..Run!”

 

More booms followed by some knock knock knock knock rattling sound as if something brittle and heavy was hammering on an anvil.

A few thick bolts, the size of short spears slammed into the walls with a tremendous force near the maw that was the cave of the creature and sharp, crackling shafts of lightning came down from the sky at a sharp angle, crashing into the valley with jarring screeches and frozen ice and broken rocks shrapneled everywhere.

Something roared but it was not the roar of a bear, a lion, nor a dragon. This was like the roar of a waterfall filled with loose rocks, rotting lumber, and debris.

 

“Run!”

“Down the cliffs.. Jump if you must!”

“Jeina, no!”

“Marideth; to the left.. riddle it.. Bruden, Goric hold the rear and ready the rocks. Harakoon, Lamark, take the right.. Distract it with more arbalest. Grandfather; go.. down.. NOW! Mom.. Da.. You two are next.. Britney; grab Lillias. Dritmey; get Jeina down.. Knock her out if you must.. What is Aunt Petunia even doing here? Aunt Yulanda.. are the charges set?”

“Yes, dear. Charges are set. You want a timer or simple, dumb fuse?”

“Timer, please. I want it to go off on its back, not in its face.”

“What? Why?”

“If it blows on its face, it will bring the cliffs down on us as well, knock it back and possibly block its pursuit.”

“Other than the first, the other two aren’t so bad.”

“What will happen if it goes back?”

“Ow.. right.. would make this whole thing sort of moot.”

“On my last quiver..”

“Down, then. Save the quiver. Make sure grandpa makes it.. Do not wait.. Keep everyone running Auntie Marideth..”

“Who is making sure you are going down, Dridges, love?”

“I will be going down last.”

“Hell no, you aren’t”

“Stick to your post uncle! I am the youngest here and the fastest. Once the charges are set and blown, the creature will be knocked down the cliff and its way back will be blocked enough to give the elf and the hobbit time to do what they came to do.. I don’t want a crying Lillias nor a frothing Jeina all the way back to Elder Hills!”

 

“Dremda Limka bim bala poom!”, squeaked the voice of Lillias again and red, angry beams crisscrossed the misty valley and someone else shouted more in ancient dwarvish;

“Morkaban Fal an burnandie!”

..and tall columns of burning light came down in harsh, vertical slaughter..

Another roar echoed up the valley and something slammed against stones.

“What are you doing?”, screamed Lillias.

“Time to go, baby sister!”, said a voice and took off with Lillias.

“No! They need more time!”

“Nope. We just ran out of that.. and Dridges gave the signal for retreat.. Drit?”

“Got her..”

“What happened?”

“She wouldn’t listen, so I knocked her out! Dridges gave the order..”

“Bet you enjoyed that.”

“You bet, I did.. The idiots.. That was a month’s walk from home to here, and another month back —if we survive!” 

“Now you are going to have to carry her.”

“Changed her diapers when she was a babe.. I am sure I can carry her as well!”

✱ ✱ ✱

Leave me, please.. I beg of you..” 

“This is not a safe place for you and you are due soon..”

“I am the daughter of a woodsman. I am used to harsh weather. I can not stay here. He will come back.. Please.. Take the other girl, and leave.. I shall climb down and make my way home..

 

Cora looked at the young human girl. She was horribly battered, pale, dirty, and bulging.. The baby must truly be due soon..

Then she looked down at Brom, but the hobbit was too busy with the chieftains traumatized daughter, who was trashing and moaning in the frigid snow.

 

“Here. There is enough food in this to feed you for some time. And take this as well. I am not sure if you can—”

“—I can. I am no warrior, but I have broken enough logs to know how to swing an ax down.. Thank you..”

“There are no favor here, young girl. Leaving you on your own, and in your condition, is just wrong..”

“I must get out of these mountains and back to my home and my husband. That is where I belong. I thank you for no favors. Only for saving me from that creature, and letting me go.. A woodsman must be free.. This, I am sure you understand.”

“This, I understand..”

 

For another moment she looked at the withered girl, a limping shade of what she once was..

..And she was a small thing to begin with, really. Small and skinny.. Yet, even having suffered the horrors and indignities of her impregnation and the whole time of her captivity and pregnancy, she showed remarkable resilience to the odds stacked so much against her..

Then, Cora looked at her bulging belly..

 

“I am sorry to ask.. but.. do you even know what’s inside you?”

“Yes.”

“I am afraid even to ask—”

“My daughter..”

“Your.. how do you—?”

“She does not kick.. She hugs and she sings..”

 

Cora just stared at the broken young woman, because that’s exactly what she was;

Young..

..and broken.

“I bid you, farewell, then. Be good..”

“Farewell, then.. Stay good..”

✱ ✱ ✱

Mom? Why do you weep? Are you in pain?” 

“My beautiful baby. I am afraid I shall not be here for long. I so wanted to see you grow.. and play.. and be happy..”

“Why is there red in your face, mom? Did you fall?”

“..I wanted you to wear pretty, laced, dresses.. You have such beautiful eyes..”

“Mom.. You are shaking. It must be cold. Hold me closer to you. I will warm you..”

“We must run, my sweet love. I can hear them again..”

“Mom. You look tired. And you are crying.. Why are you crying, mom?”

“Just.. a bit.. further.. I think.. they will stop.. chasing..”

“I hear your heart, mom. You are afraid. Why are you afraid, mom?”

“I.. can’t.. go.. any further.. Too tired..”

“Let’s stop for some. You are shaking. Why are you shaking, mom?”

“This.. this is as far.. as I can go.. my baby..”

“You are crying again, mom. Why are you crying?”

“Too much.. blood.. Lost too much.. blood.. I am afraid I won’t.. make it, my sweet..”

“Don’t be afraid. I am here. I will protect you, mom..”

“I will sit and rest.. for a bit..”

“You are calm now, mom. And warm..”

“I so love you.. my little.. baby.. I am so sorry..”

“Mom? What happened, mom?”

“Farewell, my sweet, sweet baby..”

“Don’t be afraid, mom. I am here.”

“I love you.. Never forget it..”

“Are you sleeping, mom? I will sleep too, then. I will keep you warm and safe.”

 

“You are cold again, Mom..”

 

“Mom?”

 

“Please speak, mom..”

 

“Mom? Mom..?”

 

“Please wake up, mom.”

 

“I am afraid..”

 

“I promise, mom. I will be good. I will always be good..”

 

“Please wake up.”

 

“Mom?”

✱ ✱ ✱

Gotcha, you little demon! Been seeing you festering these woods. Da.. Daaa! I got her!

“Please leave me. I did nothing to you.”

“You’ve been sneaking around our home for days now. Saw you again the other night, crawling into the barn. Trying to steal the goats, are you? Daa, come quick!”

“Nanny goat is sick.”

“Sick goat is it?!”

“Yes. She has a nail in her foot. It is burning her heart..”

“You friggin little liar. A good lashing will do you good.”

“But the nanny goat..”

“What’s going on here, boy?”

“Got her, daa.. Told you I saw a little demon sneaking around our house. Look at her.. She’s got horns, just like a demon.”

“I am not a demon. I am a girl!”

“What are you doing here, demon?”

“Your nanny goat. She’s ill. She has a nai—”

*smack*

“Bring the cane, boy. I will not have this fiend around my house, nor my goats..”

✱ ✱ ✱

Am I a demon? Why am I a demon?”

“You are no demon, my beautiful little chestnut.”

“Then why does everyone say I am a demon? Am I so ugly? Am I so filthy? I must be, because everyone runs from me, or throws rocks at me.”

“Some people are not very bright, my sweet child. Some are superstitious. Some are afraid of what they do not understand. And some are just stupid. Their faults are not your fault, because you are not ugly and you are not filthy.. And certainly, you are not a demon.”

“But I have horns..”

“And I have a hunch back!”

“I healed their nanny goat and they hit me with a cane.”

“People fear the dark because they can’t see what’s in it. Yet they need the dark to rest and to sleep.. Does that make the dark, really a demon? They fear you because they can’t see just what a wonder you truly are..”

*sob*

“I am no wonder. I am just an ugly and dirty thing..”

“What is your name, my sweet chestnut?”

“Inshala..”

“And do you know what that means?”

“No.”

“It means; Heavens Willing.”

“I do not understand, Master.”

“Neither do I. But the Heavens do not make things without a reason.”

“I think they wanted people to know what ‘ugly’ and ‘filthy’ was.”

“I doubt. There is enough ugly and filthy in men without putting it in one, beautiful little girl.”

“Maybe I am broken and I just can’t be fixed.”

“If you are broken. Then I would not want you to be fixed, because you are perfect the way you are.”

“Maybe you are broken too..”

*chuckle*

“I am, broken. And perhaps you were sent here to fix me!”

“I do not understand, Master.”

“My dear child, neither do I. But the Heavens gave you to me and here you are loved, you are safe, and you are cherished.. Now, let’s go find some berries and some of those mushrooms you love so much.”

“And Kumse Beetles?”

*chuckle*

“And Kumse Beetles..”

✱ ✱ ✱

I am sorry, I am sorry, I am sorry! I didn’t mean to.. It just happened!”

“My, my, my.. What have we here? That you, girl?”

*sob*

“I am sorry. I didn’t mean to.. Please don’t send me away!”

“Send you? Please, girl. I wouldn’t send you if the skies came falling down on me..”

“But.. You shouldn’t have the skies falling on you..”

“It’s a metaphor, my sweet chestnut.”

“What’s it for? Are you going to hit me with it?”

“My dear child. When have I ever hit you?”

“Never, Master. And I do not understand why you wouldn’t. Everyone else does.”

“I didn’t think you thought me as silly as everyone else. Now, come on and come out from under the table and let’s have a look at you, shall we?”

“I look horrible.”

“Let me be the judge of that. Let’s see; nice healthy paws, curious ears, brilliant vivid eyes, good strong back, and long balanced tail. Turn around. Let’s make sure everything is where they should be in the tummy.. Yes. very nice, strong muscles. Very nice and strong indeed. This is.. incredible! You have it all in one!”

“You will not hurt me?”

“My dear daughter. Please do not afflict me with the sins of fools. This is your home. Home does not hurt, nor punish. Home only has love and care, though not much of anything else, I must admit.. Woa.. Easy there, tiger! *chuckle* And careful with the claws. This old man will bruise easily.”

“I am sorry, I am sorry, I am sorry..”

“Well, now. Let’s see if you can actually use those claws. Are you up for a good climb?”

“I think so, Father.”

“How would you like to chase an old, skinny squirrel up the old oak just outside?”

“Yesshh!”

“You must give this old man a head start, though.

*giggle*

“It’s only fair, Master.”

✱ ✱ ✱

You are taking a bath again?”

“Yes, Father. I am scrubbing the dirty away.”

“In the middle of winter? In the frozen pond?”

“Yes, Father. I am dirty. And the dirty will just not come off!”

“Did you not take a bath, just yesterday?”

“I did, Father.”

“And the day before that?”

“Yes, Father. I did.”

“And the day even before that?”

“…”

“How are you not freezing?”

“I am filthy. And broken, Father.”

“Hmmm.. Perhaps I can help you with that.”

“You can?”

“I believe so..”

*slop!*

“Uhhmm.. Why did you dump pond mud on me, Father?”

“Now you actually are dirty and have something on you to wash!”

“I do not understand, Master.”

“Wash and see if it comes off..”

“It all came off.”

“There. Now you are all clean!”

“…”

“Come on and out now, my sweet chestnut. Let’s get you inside and by the fire before you catch a cold. And no more bathing in the pond. Not in this weather.”

“But I will be filthy again tomorrow.”

“Then you can bathe in the big barrel we have inside. And with hot water too.”

“Perhaps you should bathe too, Father.”

“Why? Do I stink?”

*giggle*

“Well, now.. That was a bit harsh..”

*giggle*

“Do you know how long it takes to dry all this beard?”

“My hair is longer than your beard, Father.”

*sigh*

“Alright. I will bathe. If you say I stink, I must stink.. Tomorrow then. Or maybe the day after.”

*stare*

“Not the day after, then..”

*stare*

“Not even tomorrow?

*stare*

“Good and Great Heavens, child.. NOW?”

“Now is good.”

“We don’t even have hot water!”

“We have pond.”

“…”

“Why would you do this to me?”

“You won’t mind I bathe every day in the pond, then?”

“What? How did you even come to that conclusion, girl? I said nothing of the sort.”

“If you don’t want me to bathe in the pond, but bathe at home, you should bathe as well. Since you won’t bathe at home, you must bathe in the pond!”

“That is not even close to what I said!”

“That is what you said; No more bathing in the pond. Not in this weather..”

“Which is the opposite of..”

“I do not understand, Father. Your house rules are complicated and many..”

*sigh*

“Yes, yes.. I suppose that is.. what I said.. How do you even remember, that? No child ever listens to their parents! They roll their eyes and ignore us..”

“You are my Father. Why would I roll my eyes at you? That is not nice.”

*sigh*

“Very well. I shall bathe..”

“In the pond?”

“In the pond.. Go get my towel..”

“And your scrubbing stick.. And your soap..”

“..And my scrubbing stick, and my soap..”

“And your comb..

“I.. what? I haven’t used a comb for over three centuries. I don’t even have hair!

“..For your beard.”

“Really, now, girl?”

“I comb my hair. Stands to reason you should comb your beard. I think it would look pretty. You say I look pretty when I comb my hair.”

“…”

“I am going in now.. But only for a moment. There is ice floating in this pond.. Literally..”

“A moment will not even be enough to soak, Father.”

*sigh*

*giggle*

✱ ✱ ✱

That is the last time you fools touch this girl. Do I make my self, clear?”, growled Master Cather as smoke and haze clouded town.

“She is a demon who infests our lands. She must be cleansed—”, screeched the scowling man in fervent zeal.

“Boy, you have got it all wrong.. These are not your lands.. at all! These are the King’s lands, then the elves, then mine..”, replied Cathber with a threatening vibe in his voice.

“She is a demon!”, screamed the man.

“You must have seen many demons to know what to look for.”, Cathber spoke with a deadly whisper.

“She has horns!”, the bigotic man shouted, pointing at the little girl, hanging stripped naked from a thick branch, her tiny back, a bloody, whip-laced mess.

“So does my goat..”, said Cathber and clawed at the air, making a horrible beckoning gesture..

..and a stone spike, the length of a yard suddenly shot out from the ground and rammed right through the bigot’s foreleg!

The man shrieked in pain, tried to double over, but couldn’t.

“This.. is heresy!”, the man screamed in pain.

“No, boy.. This is punishment.. This is my forest.. Here, you do not play your heresy games..”

..and he clawed with his other hand.

Another stone spike shot out of the dirt and nailed his other leg with a wet, sickening tear!

“We.. we did not touch the girl, Master Cathber.”, trembled the other lodgers.

“No.. You did not. You just stood there and watched as he tore into an innocent little girl’s flesh!”

And he rose both his arms..

 

you shall suffer the curse of the innocent”..
Thus shall you suffer the punishment of silently watching the pain of an innocent..

 

..his voice boomed and thorny vines shot out of the ground in all direction, grappling anything and everything in their path..

The woodsmen ran..

The thorny, gnarled vines chased.

The fires already burning several of the homes spread.

 

you shall tremble with the pain of the innocent..
And tremble shall you, with the pain of the innocent..

 

..heralded the old man.

And the ground trembled.

Large chunks of earth and stone tore out and into the sky, just to land some tens of yards away.

A barn collapsed.

A house creaked in terror and fell apart.

Another barn collapsed.

And another log-house bust in flames..

 

“You are.. the hand of the devil, old man.. You can not silence the truth!”, groaned the spiked zealot.

 

“Tell me, boy, how many souls have you saved with your bigotry? Are there two? No? Not even one? But I see you are very free with that whip.. particularly on little girls who will not defend themselves even against fools like you.. You see, she could have slain you many times over. Yet, she chose not to, because she does not like to hurt. She likes to play.. and sing.. and feed the animals.. and heal them when they are sick.. When was the last time you healed anything? Never? Well.. that explains so much. I shall not relieve you of your torment. You may free yourself. That will be at least one person you will have saved in your entire pathetic life. I shall, however return. And should you be in my forest when I do, we shall rinse and repeat this education, until you learn some manners, if not any sense.. But by all means, stay. If not for my daughter, this little girl you so freely whipped, I would beg you to stay, just to repeat this over and over again.. Either way, we shall see just how zealously stuck you really are to those ‘truths’ you seem so fond of..”

 

“You.. are evil!”, the bigot screamed in pain.

“No, boy. I AM BALANCE!“, replied the old man, his voice truly dreadful now.  “Do not force me to summon the ‘Wyld Hunt’ upon you with your name attached to it. The last time I did, was over seven hundred years ago and it very nearly dismantled Themalsar down to rubble.”

 

The old man gently cut the leather thongs binding the skinny arms of the little girl.

 

She fell..

Limply..

 

But the old man held her and carefully took her into his gentle embrace.

“Told you, did I not, my beautiful chestnut? Some people are not very bright. Some are superstitious. Some are afraid of what they do not understand. And some are just stupid.. And you have found the worst of them; the bigots! Now, you have made their fault your own.. No matter, no matter.. I shall fix you..”

 

She opened her eyes and stared at the old man with a vague, groggy stare.

 

“Why did you come here, my dear child? Did I not warn you to stay away from them?”, the old man asked, tears streaking down his crumpled face.

“Their.. nanny dog.. she was in pain.. her heart was burning.. because she stepped on a garden tool.. she has puppies.. and they need their mommy..”

“Yes, my lovely chestnut.. they need their mommy..”

“I.. cured her..”, she whispered, giving him a bloody smile.

“I am sure you did, my beloved.”, smiled the old man.

“No iron cage this time..”, she whimpered..

..and went limp again..

✱ ✱ ✱

She stood at the edge of the cliff, quietly mesmerized, looking down at the waves gently lapping at the shore below, and at the sea that stretched from one horizon to the other like some endless, blue-green blanket. 

And she absolutely loved it!

 

It was the first time she had seen the Endless Sea. It was also the first time she had come this far and alone from her home.

“I just must make sure, Father sees this. It is so beautiful!”, she whispered in awe as she stood, quietly petrified as the late August sun decided to impress her even more..

Like a dancer stretching out her skirts, and with a mighty display of yellow, orange, and red, the sun spread wide and great and settled on the horizon.

The little girl just stood there.

The sun was almost done showing off, but the sea, apparently, was not..

With slick splashes, a family of oddest looking fish sprang out of the sea, glided across the setting sun in some magnificent, graceful arcs, skimmed the surface over the waters, then disappeared into its depths once again..

 

The little girl wept.

 

Because she loved pretty.

And what she had just witnessed was just that.

 

Then she heard the groan..

It was a very ‘huge’ groan..

It echoed wide and reverberated across the sea, the sky, and the shore and the girl slid down the cliffside, her little heart aching with sorrow, for she knew that voice..

..it meant something was in pain.

That is when she saw the great whale, lying on its side, beached on the shore. She ogled at the thing, a creature, once mighty and over two hundred yards, now looked deflated and sad.

The little girl tiptoed near the creature and tenderly touched it, feeling its heart like some giant drum, beating ever so slowly..

“Great and might fish.”, she wailed. “Why do you not swim? The land is not a good place for you to sleep. The sun will scorch you, and the birds will peck at you.. Please return to the sea..”

“Who are you, little thing? And why do you care?”, the creature moaned in more pain.

“I am just a little girl, great fish. And I care because life is nice. It is precious. And you have so much life..”

“No, little girl. I had much life.. Once.. Now, I wither, for my time is near. I shall die soon, scorched by the sun, and pecked by the birds.. though I surmise, I shall make a merry feast..”

“Please.. return back to the sea.. Sea is life.”

“Yes.. Sea is life.. But mine is quite over.. I am sad, but content. I have lived since this sea was young. I have traveled it many times. I have seen its depths and the heavens above it. I have witnessed the corrals grow, new life form, and men do war upon one another upon it.. Yes. My time has long arrived little thing. Long arrived indeed..”

“But so much you have seen and so much to tell.. They will die with you.”

“That is how it is, little girl..”

“Perhaps you can come with me? I am small.. and not very smart.. and know very little.. but I have room for more..”

“Do you? You seem so little..”

“I am.. But wisdom found, should not be lost, dear big fish.”

“Well.. Since you want to insist on calling me ‘fish’, you must have much room to spare..”, the great whale.. chucked!

“What would you have me call you, dear big fish?”

“Shala.. I was called Shala.. A long time ago.. It used to mean, He Who Sails The Deepest Seas. But I am afraid, much like myself, that word is long gone and forgotten.”

“And I am called Inshala; Heaven’s Willing.. and I shall show you my forest and you can learn me your wisdom..”

“Ahhh.. Forest.. That, I have never seen.. This shall be an interesting journey, little Inshala.”

“I shall show you my forest, and more, big Shala.. I shall make you a big pond. Big enough for you to play!”

“I haven’t played since I was but a little babe, and that was quite some eons ago..”

“We shall travel far and wide together and you shall live inside me for as long as I live, small comfort though that may be.”

“Tis alright, little one. Wisdom is; finding life where there is none..”

“Thank you.”

“You thank me, little one?”

“Yes. For accepting me and accepting life.”

“You truly are an amazing one and your passion for life is bested only by your compassion for it. I sense we shall have great and extraordinary days together.”

✱ ✱ ✱

Who are you, and what are you doing here?”

“I am Inshala. And am here because of the call.”

“You shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t have come. How did you even get past the short-mortal post?”

“I do not know, what this ‘short-mortal post’ is.”

“Dwarves. They have guard post here to make sure no mortal enters the valley beyond without permission.”

“I am sorry. I did not see any dwarves. I felt a soft, pulsing call, hence I came.”

“Who is this, Temessa, and why is she here? How did she even get past the short-mortal post?”

*sigh*

“She says her name is Inshala and was telling me why she is here, Yamara. Must you always jump into everything?”

“I did not jump. I walked.”

“I have introduced myself. It is polite to introduce yourselves back..”

“Ow, yes. My apologies, Inshala. I am Temessa. A dryad.”

“A dryad? You are so pretty!”

*blush*

“Ow, wow. You really think so?”

“Yes. I mean so.”

“What about me? I am Yamara and I am a fire nymph!”

“A fire nymph? This extraordinary! You are so, so beautiful!”

*giggle*

“I think I just fell in love!”

“What is this wonderful place? I sense.. something, though I do not know what. It.. it’s calling me..”

“Would you like some of my peaches, sweet Inshala?”

“Or my apples?”

“I would. But I have nothing to trade..”

“You can stay and play with us for a year and a day..”

“Owww.. I would love to. But that might make my Father sad.”

“How about a month and a day?”

“I would really love to. But my father is old. I can’t stay away for that long..”

*sigh*

“A day then? Please? It has been a bore since Mother put a ban on mortals..”

“A day, it is..”

“Done.”

“Done.”

“And done!”

“Do you like swimming?”

“I love swimming and I love ponds”

“Yesshh!”

“How about fire hopping?”

“Fire hopping is awesoooome!”

“Yesshh..”

“You sound like a fey..”

“I do?”

“You look like a fey too.. Are you sure your father is a mortal?”

“I think so. Though he is very very old. Are we going to swim and fire hop?”

“I saw her first, Yamara, so we swim first!”

*sigh*

✱ ✱ ✱

You are in the pond again. Why are you in the pond again?”

“I came across some men in the forest. They threw rocks at me and told me I was a filthy demon.”

“Did they, now..”

“I tried to explain that I was just a little girl and was wandering in the forest. They waved their iron axes at me and told me, I didn’t belong here..”

“Is that so?”

“I am in the pond because I am washing the demon filth off me, but it just won’t come off, Father.. It just won’t come off..”

“It will not come off, my beautiful little chestnut..”

“It won’t? Why?”

“Because you have no demon in you, nor any filth. You can’t scrub what isn’t there, my dear child. You must know this. And you belong.. right here.. You have a home..”

“But how do you know I have no demon in me?”

“Because demons do not care for other life. They CAN NOT care for other life. That is why they are demons. And you know what else demons never have?”

“What?”

“A home.”

“Why?”

“Because ‘Home’ means love, warmth, care, compassion, and belonging. The moment you have those and feel those, you stop being a demon. You simply can not have those and still be a demon.”

“Perhaps it’s because I am small yet. Or because i am only half-demon.. Or just broken!”

“No, my sweet chestnut. I am afraid it doesn’t work that way. If you have four legs, you are not a human. If you are a tree, you are not an animal..”

“I have horns.”

“And I have a hunch back!”

“But your hunch is because you are very old, Master.”

“And you have horns because you are beautiful!”

“I find your logic, quite inconsistent and misplaced, Father.”

“Well, now, really?!”

“Yes, Father.”

“You also have sharp ears, my sweet girl. Do you know who else has ears like yours?”

“Elves!”

“Precisely. Perhaps you should look for ‘similarities’ around you, rather than ‘differences’ elsewhere.

“Perhaps I am a Half-Elf then?’

“That is possible, my sweet chestnut. But whatever you are, you must know that you are loved.”

“Love. I do not understand this thing you call love, Master.”

“You have grown quite a bit since I found you, my sweet chestnut. And because you have, I try not to mind you taking off to wandering around the forest.”

“But you always scold me when I come back, Father.”

“And have you ever wondered why I scolded you so?”

“Because I forget to tell you?”

“That, and because I am worried every time you do not come back. And you are worried about me when you realize you haven’t come back..”

“Yes, Father. I stop what I am doing and cry.”

“That is called, ‘Love’, my beloved daughter. Because we only worry for those we love and we care..”

*sob*

“And you always come back, my sweet chestnut. Why is that?”

*sob*

“Be.. because this is my home..”

“And that is called, ‘Belonging’, my sweet, sweet girl.. and demons have neither, nor will they ever have either; Love and Home. They CAN’T.”

*sob*

“Now come on and out of the pond. You have bled yourself with your scrubbing again.”

*sob*

“I am so, so sorry I made you worry, Father. I will never leave again.”

“Let’s not make promises we can’t keep, my sweet chestnut. Of course, you will leave because you are curious about the world around you. But promise me two things; That you will remember this old man will worry, and to come back home, will you? Please?”

*sob*

“I promise, Father.”

“How would you like to come with me on a long, long trip?”

“Owww.. Where are we going, Master?”

“We shall start doing something I haven’t done and neglected to do for quite some time, my sweet chestnut and it’s called, ‘Storm Hunting!'”.

“Storm Hunting? How can we hunt storms, Master?”

*chuckle*

“Very carefully and by running a lot..”

“What is, storm hunting?”

“Storm Hunting, so colorfully named by an old friend of mine, quite some years ago, before you were born.. and.. well.. when I say, ‘old’, I merely mean it as, someone I met a long time ago. Between the two of us, I think I was the only old one.”

“You are always the old one where ever we go, Father.”

“Well, now.. That hurt, little girl!”

*giggle*

“Come now, my sweet chestnut. Let’s get you dry and warm and put some ointment on those scrub bleeds, and I will tell you all about Storm Hunting..”

“Your ointments smell funny, Father.”

“Funny enough to make you laugh?”

*sigh*

“You are making ‘father jokes’, again, Master.”

*chuckle*

“Is it working?”

*sigh*

“No..”

“Because you are doing it wrong, my little chestnut.”

“I do not understand, Father.”

“You are supposed to roll your eyes, and then say, ‘No..’ —like every other teenager.”

“I am not going to roll my eyes at you, Master. That is very rude!”

✱ ✱ ✱

I am blinded! I can’t see, Father.. I am deaf too.. Help me.. And I hurt everywhere..” 

*sob*

“There, there, my love.. I am here..”

“I can’t see.. I can’t see, Father!”

“It will pass soon, my dear. I did warn you to close your eyes, though, did I not?”

“I.. what? I can barely hear you, Father..”

*sob*

“There, there.. you will be fine soon enough. Storm Hunting is dangerous work and it demands our respect. We must follow her rules, for she has a heavy hand.”

“I just wanted to see, Father.”

“Well. I can’t blame you for your curiosity, but we must have a care, my dear child. Curiosity is a good thing. But we must be sure, which is leading which? You leading your curiosity, or your curiosity leading you, for one will teach you many things, while the other will get you into trouble.”

“I will make sure, I lead the way, Master.”

“That makes this old man, so very happy. Now, can you see again?”

“Yes, Master. But there are still some small, tingling lights flying everywhere.”

“That will pass too, soon enough. Now that we have caught our first storm, let’s make camp, shall we? And cook some fish, some potatoes, some eggplants, and some corn..”

*blush*

“I.. I am sorry, Father..”

“You are?”

“Yes, Father, I am..”

“Why are you sorry, my sweet chestnut?”

“I.. I ate all your strawberries!”

*chuckle*

“That’s alright, dear one. I put them there, many years ago, for someone else.. But he refused to touch them..”

“Ow.. Did I eat his strawberries, then?”

“No.. If he’d wanted to eat them, I believe he would have. Time heals many things, my sweet chestnut, but it does take.. time!”

“I am not quite sure I understand, Father.”

“Never mind, never mind.. Let us get the fire started, shall we?”

“Let’s..”

✱ ✱ ✱

Why are we here, Father? This place is not nice. The ogres are cruel creatures and will try to eat us.” 

“So they are and so they might. But they also live in our forest and share its bounties. We must learn to get along.”

“Why, Master?”

“Because we are never alone in a forest, my sweet chestnut. And we never know to whom we might end up turning for help someday.”

“I can not see how the ogres will help anyone. They can not even get along among themselves.”

“The world is big and wide, my dear child. And is not bound by the rules we inflict upon it. Or we shall end up like those ignorant men, who call you names and want to banish you.”

“That is correct, Father. The men in the forest are incompetent.”

“Ow?”

“Yes, Father. Had it been me, I could have caught and banished me years ago, when I was much littler!”

“Now, now.. That is not good thinking.. They couldn’t have banished you even if they had caught you and no matter how hard they tried. And they did catch you any number of times..”

“True. But they are incompetent..”

“They are.. But their failure to banish you wasn’t because of incompetence on their part, but because you can only banish demons. You can not banish pretty little girls.”

“You are just telling me that to make me feel good.”

“I am telling you this to make you feel good and because it is true, my dear child..”

“What will happen if they attack, Father.”

“If they attack, you are free to attack back, my dear. Try to avoid their clubs and axes, though. They hurt.”

“It is alright, Father. I know hurt. I know hurt very well.”

✱ ✱ ✱

And who is this, old man?”

“This, Ganiste, is my dear daughter Inshala.. Inshala, this is an old.. uhhmm.. friend of mine; Grulganiste. She is the chieftain of the ogres of Oger’s Foot.”

“She is pretty, Cathber.”

“Yes. Yes, she is..”

“Hence, she can’t be your daughter, you sour old man!”

“Well, now.. Really? That was a bit harsh, don’t you think, Ganiste?”

“Harsh is when I say; you are an old and sour man!”

“That was indeed, rather harsh..”

“Tell me, little girl, what wrong did you do for your mother to have dumped you on this old man?!”

“Hey..”

“She died.”

“Ow.. I am sorry. My mother died too..”

“Do you miss your mommy?”

“Yes, little one, I miss her every day.”

“I miss mine every day too..”

“Would you like to come inside my tent? I have big, soft pillows you can jump and a little chihuahua.. You two can play while I make some food. Your old man becomes grumpy when he talks while he is hungry.”

“Yes. Yes, he does.”

“Hey, now..”

“What is a chihuahua?”

“It is a small dog.”

“You have a puppy?”

“I have had him since he was a puppy. But he grew up very fast and is still a very small dog. Barks a lot, though. Want to see him?”

“Want!”

 

“She is extraordinary, Cathber.”

“Yes. Yes, she is, Ganiste.”

“What is she?”

“I am not quite sure. And to be honest about it, I don’t really care.”

“You? Master Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig? Have you finally found a soul to have attached yourself to?”

“You are making me sound awfully cold and heartless, Ganiste. I do have a heart, you know.”

“That is up to debate… Yet here you are, with this little thing, and quite attached to her as well.. Not something I would have expected to see from you..”

“Not something I expected to have happened to me, either.. Like, ever. It’s as if.. I have finally paid for some crime I did centuries ago and she is my gift!”

“Or curse.. Children tend to go either way..”

“Yes. Yes, they do, Ganiste. I am sorry you had to exile Cabot.”

“Not more than I am. But it had to be done. We have plenty of room in these hills to grow and flourish many times over and he was fervently trying to gather a following.. I have no desire to have my people killed for false words. Should men, elf or dwarf come to our hills seeking trouble, we shall crush them with our clubs, hack them with our axes, and smash them with our boulders..”

“Now there’s a gruesome image.”

“..but we will not go seeking for trouble. We have learned to grow our own food and animals for a long time now. So much so that we seldom need to even go down into the forest for foraging. When we do, it is mostly to release some of our bloodlust.”

“Accidents happen, though.”

“Unavoidably so.. Are you going to keep her?”

“For as long as she will let me.. I..”

“Say it, old man. For once in your life, say it. I am sure it will hurt, but I am certain you will survive..”

“You truly have a cruel streak in you, do you know that, Ganiste?”

“Telling an ogre she is cruel isn’t much of an insult, old man. Quite foolish, though.”

“Yes. I love her. Dearly, I might add.. And she is growing so fast.. She is full of wonder and an unquenchable curiosity that takes her further and further away from home every time she leaves.. It’s killing me to see her go and I can’t even say, don’t, because I know she must..”

“Well, now.. After three hundred years and some change, I finally get to see Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig in tears. I shall mark this day..”

“You pun me, Ganiste..”

“Owww, I certainly would love to.. But no, my dear Cathber.. I honor you.. You have finally grown..”

“What?!”

“You think living as long as you have or seeing the things you have, you have grown? Old man, you are so much more naive than I thought you could ever be.. Love.. Felt for one other than yourself, and for someone who is still alive, and particularly that for a child, is what makes a man or a woman truly grow.. And being forced to letting them go, is what really kills us.. For that, which you must do, you have my sympathy.”

 

“Do we have to leave so soon, Father?”

“You liked it here?”

“Yes. Mother Chieftain Grulganesti is a wonderful host.. And I want a chihuahua!”

✱ ✱ ✱

This will be dangerous, my sweet chestnut. Quite dangerous indeed.. There will be many woodsmen and they will be armed to kill on sight. There will be elven archers and not a few rangers from Serenity Home town. Their sheriff and their two master rangers will be joining us as well.. If one of them sees you, they might make.. mistakes.. Please stay at home just this once..” 

“I understand your concern, Father. But there has been something in my mind for some time that I do not understand.”

“What is it, my sweet chestnut?”

“That..”

“That? That, what?”

“You have been calling me ‘sweet chestnut’, for as long as I can remember, but I do not understand why you do so.”

“I.. what? All these years I have been calling you by that name and you don’t know?”

“No, Father. I thought it might not be polite to ask, but since this place you are going is very dangerous, I would want to know.”

“I.. I call you that, because.. well.. chestnuts are hard on the outside.. And quite resilient. But can be soft and sweet on the inside.. They are small and pretty to look at.. and..”

“And?”

“And.. well.. because I like chestnuts!”

*blink*

“There, there, child. What do I always tell you, when you do not understand something?”

*sob*

“To.. to always ask..?”

“Yes, my dear child. It is polite not to ask only if you feel it is inappropriate at that moment. But it is always better to ask than not to..”

“Can I ask something else then?”

“Of course, my dear, anything..”

“Are you a boy?”

“Am I a.. what?”

“A boy..”

“Well.. I am.. or rather, I was.. once.. some eight hundred years or so ago.. I am more a man now, than a boy..”

“And I am a girl?”

“Yes, yes you are, my dear child. And a very pretty one at that.

“What is the difference between a boy and a girl?”

*cough* 

“Well..”

“And why are you a man now and not a boy? Is it because of growing up? Will I become a man, when I grow up?”

“No, you will become a woman, when you grow up..”

“What is the difference between a man and a woman too, then?”

*cough*

“I.. perhaps we could talk about this later? After I return? Please?”

“Then I am coming with you, Father..”

“You are?”

“Yes. I must make sure you are alright. Otherwise, who will tell me all this?”

*sigh*

“You can not be seen, though.”

“I would like to see the one person who could see, let alone find and catch me, Father. I can become a much larger tiger now. Larger, yet I am also much better at prowling.. I haven’t been seen, nor caught since then. I brought down a fully grown deer with a single pounce, once!”

“My, my..”

“But I let the deer go.. She had a little baby deer.. And I also apologized after for scaring her..”

*blink*

“You let go of your catch?”

“Well. Yes, Father. I do not like killing. And I do not like sad creatures. There is enough sad, without me adding to it.”

“And to see fools calling you a demon and to hurt you! I carry the shame of all humanity, my dear, dear child..”

“Everyone should learn to carry their own shame, Father. You carry many things already.”

*sigh*

“I will go and meet with the sheriff and the two master rangers of Serenity Home town. They will coordinate with the woodsmen and the elves and hunt the wolves that come down the mountains and attack people.”

“Will you not speak with the wolves? They are smart hunters.”

“Yes, they are. But when I tried, they did not hear me. They have been.. taken by something else.. Now the wolves are like they have gone rabid. They blindly attack.”

“That is not right, Master. Wolves do not behave that way. And they never keep rabid ones near them..”

“My dear child. I would really rather you stayed. Whatever it is that is causing the wolves to behave the way they are, will not be an easy enemy. It is cunning and very, very dangerous. I am not sure even I can fight it and survive.”

“Then you need me more than ever, Master. I will protect you. This vile creature will not touch you.”

“There will be others there to protect me, my sweet chestnut.”

“Who among mortals, love you as I love you? Who among mortals care for you as I care for you? And who among mortals will mourn for you as I shall mourn for you, should something happen to you, Father?”

“…”

“When shall we leave, Father?”

“Tomorrow morning, my child..”

“Good. I will go and bathe in the pond, Father.”

“Again? You took a bath just yesterday.. And the day before that.. And the one before that!”

“Yes, Father. And I am bringing your towel, your scrubbing stick, and your soap as well. If you are going to meet with all these people, you should be clean!”

“I am clean..”

*stare*

“I washed just..”

“..last month, Father.”

“It’s been a month already? Where does the time go?”

“It has been thirty-four days and today, since you last bathed, Father. And time goes only forward!”

“blink*

“Are you keeping a track of my bathing days?”

“Of course, Father. You keep forgetting these important things.”

“I am hurt.”

*giggle*

“I could scrub your back if it is too much work for you, Father.”

“glare*

“Well, now, really?! I can very well scrub my own back, thank you very much, young lady!”

✱ ✱ ✱

Master Cathber never quite heard the silent footsteps that came very near him until the owner of the silent steps decided to be heard. The old man was poor at hearing, true, but to be honest with himself, and old Cathber certainly was, he knew would have been an easy game for the sinister-looking man in dark clothes.. 

The silent man was a bare inch above average and was neither fat nor skinny.. Perhaps a bit on the malnourished side but lean and wore his dark, leathers in tight straps. Like someone who never wanted to be caught, nor grappled.. He had dark, penetrating eyes and seemed like he knew how to make good use of his peripheral vision. The lower end of his face was covered with a thick, leather mask and the whole of his head was hidden in a hood made from a similar material. Old Cathber couldn’t discern what his color was either, for the man had chosen the time of his arrival to coincide with the dusk; the time where visibility was still available but drained everything of all color..

This man, whoever he was, was dangerous not only at an intellectual level but also instinctually wired to sense his surrounding.

 

“Master Cathber..”, he said and there was a distinct growl in his voice.

‘Good and Great Heavens’, the old man thought. ‘He growls and he is not even trying!’

“Good evening, young —?”, trailed off Master Cathber.

“Aager, sir. Aager Fogstep.. The sheriff of Serenity Home sent me to find you, and perhaps to keep you company, seeing as how I am a happy chat.”, he said, and there wasn’t any pun, irony nor any traces of sarcasm in his voice.

“Sheriff Standorin has always been a thoughtful boy.”, grinned Cathber only to see it bounce right off the man in dark leathers.

“Yes, sir.”, the man replied, though he wasn’t looking at the old man, but rather gazing somewhere off in the distance and into the darkening forest.

“Is there a problem, young man?”

“I am not sure..”, replied the young man, Aager.

“I wouldn’t be bothered too much with any feral animals luring in the bush, Master Aager. I lack what they want; meat!”, said the old man and chuckled.

The old man’s pun also bounced right off Aager as a dry pea would from a wall.. He kept his gaze at a specific spot for a bit more and then he looked at the old man.

“Shall we? It is quite a walk to the camp the woodsmen and the elves have set up.”

 

“Get away from him, you evil, evil man!”, growled the giant cat.

 

In all candor, calling this beast a ‘cat’ was a mistake, even when referring to it as ‘giant’.

It was monumentally big. A magnificent feline specimen, very nearly topping six hundred pounds. She had great, skull-crushing paws, strong, powerful hind legs, a vicious glare, and a maw that could probably take a man’s head and whole, right off his shoulders without so much as a bother.. Probably after eviscerating him with its nearly foot-long, saber-like teeth that hung down her maw!

This was a creature that did not belong to this forest, but to the Great Nothern Tundras.

The savage beast wondered what her ‘father’ would say when he figured she had sneaked off into the tundras to actually find and study such a beast to have taken its shape.

 

Well..

Inshala was certainly not going to volunteer for that trashing!

 

She looked around and noticed in panic; the evil man was staring at the forest!

“No way!”, she hissed. “There is no way he heard me! Humans are deaf, blind, and stupid. There is no way you could have heard me.”

She lowered her great mass closer to the ground, making sure where she placed her paws.

“Go away, little boy! And leave my Master alone. I will eat you if you touch him..”

“Ow-My-Heavens! He is staring right at me.. Can he even do that? Humans are not allowed to do that.. That’s not fair..”

“Maybe he is half-demon.. Like me!”

“My Master is gone.. Why is he standing alone?”

 

“Whatever you are, come out!”, the man in dark leathers growled.

 

It was a good growl, Inshala thought.

A very scary growl, even..

And he really had heard her, though he couldn’t see her!

But how?

Deer were the keenest when if came to hearing predators in the forest and she could catch any one of them off guard, at any given time.. And this.. boy? man? wasn’t even a forest dweller… He smelled of.. leather, metal, a bit of sweat, some kind of oil —probably to keep the rust off his iron weapons and.. something else, Inshala couldn’t say. It was a curious smell. Frightful but intriguing at the same time.

 

Ow..

It was his smell..

 

The smell that was uniquely particular to every single creature. The one that made it possible for hunters like herself to track any single man or beast among many..

And his smell was much of death.

Yes. This man in his dark leathers had killed, and many..

He reeked of it..

But he didn’t smell like the rabid did. He smelled like he had been among or surrounded by many rabid men, and had killed many rabid men. And the smell of ‘rabid’ clung to him like the after taste of bad meat.

 

Inshala grimaced.

 

She had been intrigued by him, but now she had to kill him.

She sighed.

She knew, animals who hung around the rabid, always ended up rabid.

 

‘Clink!’

 

The man in the dark clothes dropped something..

..and left, following her Master, and soon fading in the dusk.

 

Inshala very patiently waited for a full ten minutes before rising from her hidden spot. Then she circled around all the way to where the evil man and her master had gone.

She wasn’t satisfied.

She felt uniquely intrigued as if a whole, different side of her had just awaked.. The non-human side of her. Her senses stretched forth and wide as she doubled back and circled the area from the other side.

Still not satisfied, she pounced up to a tree overseeing the area and glared down..

 

There.. something glittered in the ghostly light of the newly appearing moon.

She waited another ten minutes sweeping the area and the surrounding forest.

This was a trap.

She had been caught a few too many times in the past not to recognize one, but she just couldn’t find it.

 

A low, frustrated growl escaped her as she carefully, and silently slinked down the tree, and placing one giant paw over another giant paw, she came to the clearing where the evil man and her Master had been, her ears prickling every which way to catch signs of hidden ambushers.

In her past, she had found out rangers had been extremely hard to catch. But for some reason, none of them had ever hunted her down. Not in her small, diminutive, girl form, and not in her great, saber-tooth tiger form. Why, she had never been sure. Perhaps her father had told them about her and rangers respected her father. Genuinely respected him and by proxy to her Father, Inshala respected rangers in return. This evil man, however sneaky he was, was NOT a ranger. He hadn’t smelled like a ranger, for one. And two; rangers were.. Inshala was not very sure but the word ‘good’ seemed fitting.. This man was not, good. No.. He definitely was not a good man. And should the opportunity present itself, she was going to tell him exactly that!

Carefully, she snuck near the glittering thing she’d seen, watching the ground for possible hidden bear-traps or some such, as she ghosted on. Humans, as she’d learned many times over, were extraordinarily creative when it came to creating devices that killed. The irony, not that the little girl, Inshala, knew what the word ‘irony’ meant, was not lost on her, that the same humans were equally poor and unimaginative when it came to creating anything that actually saved lives!

 

Then she saw it.

The glittering thing on the ground.

 

 

Inshala took a step closer and paused, staring at the long, slim object with unadulterated confusion.

It was nothing but a long dagger, sheathed in its scabbard.

Nothing ornate, nor pretty. Just a long, slick weapon, made for practical accuracy.. and for killing.

Period.

 

Six hundred pounds of feline aggression settled down near the dagger and just stared at it. After a few moments, she pawed it..

..and yowled in total surprise, jumping some massive ten feet into the air and very nearly fifteen back, as the dagger bounced once, then settled again!

Inshala giggled at her own reaction.. which sort of made her look odd, in her giant, saber-tooth tiger form.

Alright. So it wasn’t a trap.

But why then, had the evil man dropped it?

Had it been a careless folly?

No.

Inshala knew, more instinctually than anything else, that the evil man had not dropped it by mistake.

He had left it there with deliberate deliberation.

He had also made sure that she had seen him..

..seeing as how he hadn’t ‘left’, but had ‘carefully dropped’ it there..

The next question was why?

Why had the evil man leave a dagger..

No.. Not just a dagger.. a SHEATHED dagger for her to find.

Had he left just the dagger, it would have meant one of many things.. and perhaps even none of them.

A sheathed dagger meant..

A ‘careful’ peace offering?

He had parted with something he would need while going to battle and knowing its absence might cause him his death. Yet he had taken that risk.

Not to mention the nuance; because the dagger was sheathed, it could safely be carried by the receiving party, without cutting themselves by mistake or foolishly stabbing it under one’s belt!

This.. evil man had offered peace, in his own, perhaps a bit creepy way. He showed respect to the creature he couldn’t see, yet felt was there, hiding in the bush, and he also respected the ‘weapon’, because both, her and the dagger, had the distinct quality to take life.

It had been an intriguingly subtle.. and double-edged message..

 

..and Inshala, both girl and tiger, absolutely LOVED it!

 

It had been, perhaps the first time ever, someone had recognized her as someone who had the means and the skills to slay, but also the conscience to choose not to, and showed her, not hate, nor fear and certainly not love, but respect..

✱ ✱ ✱

The great saber-tooth snuck deep in the woods, carefully under and over heavy bushes and foliage as she watched her master walking between the two young and pretty ranger girls. That had surprised Inshala. She had never seen armed girls —or women, Inshala wasn’t sure which one of them, these rangers were. Her master had been quite evasive when she had asked him about the difference between a girl and a woman, and now she couldn’t decide what these two were. She felt she was a girl. And she also felt she had no idea, whatsoever, what, how, or when she would become a woman. Human language was diverse and its rules were complicated and many, and Inshala felt a headache threatening to inflict her. The two rangers did look all grown up if that is what it took to be a woman, but they also looked.. young too, at the same time. Though they moved with that careful, steady pace all rangers seemed to possess, they also had a ‘fresh’ step to their gait which suggested ‘youth’. Inshala wasn’t sure how she recognized these nuances or subtleties, but it seemed she only did so at an instinctual level than any learned or attained wisdom.

The one leading was a tall human girl. Taller than herself and had pretty green eyes, fair skin, and long, free-falling, coarse black hair. Or perhaps she had braided it at some time but because she kept playing with it, they had drooped and finally gone free of their braids. She had a very long, very heavy bow in one hand and a wicked-looking greatsword strapped across her back.

The other one was an elf, yet also not an elf.. “A half-elf”, exclaimed Inshala. So that’s what a half-elf looked like. She was a tad shorter than the human and leaner. Her dark brown hair was also free but had two, pretty little braids on one, and a single braid on the other side of her otherwise comely face. A face that wanted to laugh, but was trying very hard to appear serious by means of a scowl.

Inshala giggled.

The half-elf also had a very long, very heavy-looking bow in her hand and a pair of swords hanging at her sides.

Yup. These two rangers definitely looked competent.

And she loved them! They looked brave and strong. Perhaps she might not have to show herself at all, after all.

She watched as the two rangers and her master stop, near a very sheer cliff face and the ranger girls rolled some boulders, forming a barely protective half-circle where they placed her master and as the human girl took her place in front of the boulders, the half-elf climbed up a large rock and prepared her bow and her arrows.

 

What the..

What were they doing?

Why were they just standing in the middle of nowhere waiting for the wolves?

 

She sighed.

They were brave alright.

But not very bright!

 

And then the air suddenly got cold.. Very cold and very fast and Inshala saw her master raise his skinny arms and started a very complex incantation. One she had never seen him perform before..

And then she understood.

Not the content, but the implications of what was going on..

The ‘enemy’ had picked up on what was going on, and was trying to use the weather by altering it enough to freeze everyone near its den!

Ow.. this was a cunning and powerful enemy!

Then she heard them.

She heard them even before the rangers..

 

Wolves..

Many wolves..

 

And they came down, very nearly hurling themselves off the cliffside.

Their enemy had sensed her master and had sent his pet wolves to eliminate him.

Well..

Inshala was not going to let that happen.

But she waited. As big as she was in her saber-tooth tiger form, going up against a pack of some forty-odd wolves was a losing fight.

Inshala had never had any battle training. Hers was all about instincts.. The same instincts that told her to wait..

..and hit where it would have the greatest effect.

She had no illusions about her abilities nor that she could best a pack of wolves that size. What she did know was, when struck with overwhelming brute strength and suddenly, it would break the wolves will and scare them off.. And once a few of them started to run, the rest would follow. That was how a pack worked. And so long as she made sure the wolves couldn’t go for her throat or hamstring her hind legs, she could best them with ease.. One paw from her strong arms could shatter a wolf’s skull, without even the need to use her claws. That was the one distinct advantage felines had over canines; the ability to use their paws in a lateral direction. A swipe or a swing, per se. Dogs, or wolves, could only move their paws vertically, effectively removing the option of using their claws. The ‘batting’ or ‘swatting’ of a cat would be ‘playful’. The same action used by a six hundred pounds tiger was altogether a different proposition. Hence the skull-cracking.. Or the snapping of a spine, which was easier than the skull, but harder to reach when they were all facing her. Which is why, Inshala thought, she had to either strike from the rear, which was unlikely to succeed since there was no cover there or charge in from the flank, where she would have the opportunity to break many spines!

 

And that’s when the half-elf girl started ‘loosing’ her arrows..

 

Inshala just stood there, quietly dumbstruck as the ranger-girl started killing wolves at six hundred yards!

That.. was not fair!

The human also started shooting but she missed some. Then she drew her awesome big sword and charged!

 

“Alright.”, thought Inshala. “That one is pretty and stupid.. and pretty stupid!”

 

What was she doing?!

You don’t charge a whole pack of wolves..

But there she was, suddenly in the middle of the ravaging wolves and.. she was laughing, and Inshala seriously thought she was a bit ‘wrong in the head’, and dancing among the wolves, and where she swung, she laid waste a wolf.

 

That’s when Inshala noticed the alpha.

 

It had circled around, taking advantage of the chaos —a something far too cunning for a wolf, and was now rushing..

..at the half-elf girl from behind her.

The half-elf girl screamed.

“Bree..!”

And Inshala saw the human girl disappear under a whole lot of wolves.

Inshala charged.

A tad too late, for she had positioned herself for the pack, not the half-elf.

The alpha struck the half-elf from behind, sending her off the rock she was standing. Inshala heard a meaty crack when the half-elf fell on the ground and hit her head.

Then alpha went for her master!

 

“Not going to happen..”, hissed Inshala.

 

And six hundred pounds of feline aggression pounced the alpha, and with a sharp, unsettling crack, broke its spine. Inshala did not bother with subtleties. No one was ever going to touch her Father and Master; with a mighty swing of her awesome paw, she sent the alpha’s head, clean off its shoulders, and rolling some fifteen yards away!

Then she was among the remaining wolves.

Yes, she fought with the instincts of a killer predator, but she still had the mind of a human and.. something else guiding those instincts.. She never, for any given instance, stayed in one spot to allow the wolves to crowd her, nor hamstring her. She crushed the skull of one wolf, smashed the muzzle of another, gracefully arched over a third, broke the spine of a fourth, hopped over a charging fifth, raked open an unsuspecting sixth.. It was a mesmerizing scene, to see such a magnificent, but equally large animal dance and so nimbly among the wolves. It looked like a sand-colored smoke whifting among black and white fur..

 

It didn’t take too long.

 

The half-elf girl with her insane accuracy and the human girl with her insanity had killed much more than half their numbers to make a decent feast for the saber-tooth.

The last few tried to make a yelping run for it.

Inshala did not let that happen.

What she did do, however, was not vengeance, nor punishment.

It was a simple matter of ‘balance’.

Whatever had inflicted these wolves, had done it at a terminal level and they had all tasted human and elf flesh and many times. Enough to make a habit of it and certainly enough to lust for more. The imbalance here was very well defined; willy-nilly, these wolves had gone over the edge and crossed the line.

A line where there was no sanity.

And there were no cures here.

Only amputation.

Which is exactly what she’d did.

She left none!

 

“You were extraordinary, my sweet chestnut.”

“I was?”

“Ow my child. If only we had Master Brom Bumblebrim here, he would have sung an epic, just for you..”

*blush*

“Ow.. who is Master Blom Bundlebim Hobim?”

“An acquaintance of mine. A bard. Met him many years ago.. Wait. How did you know he is a hobbit?”

“I am not sure, Father. It just came to me.”

“Well, I must say, you truly were magnificent. And your new form. It really is much bigger than your first tiger. I wasn’t aware there were any saber-tooth tigers in Ritual Forest.”

*blush*

“I..”

“It’s alright, my dear child. I do not mind you quenching your curiosity. But I would like to be informed. I am an old man, yes. But I have traveled far and wide.. And know my forest well. If you feel you have to keep certain things from me, I am fine with it. But never fear me. That would truly hurt.”

“I am sorry I kept this from you. Father. You are the only one that has scolded me honestly. I can’t bear to see you worry any more than you already do for me.”

“That is what fathers do, my dearest. We worry over our daughters.. But now, help me with these young and over-enthusiastic rangers.”

“They were good, Father.”

“They were exceptionally good, my sweet chestnut. This one shoots like no one I have ever seen. And this one.. scared me more than she scared the wolves, I think.”

“I think she is angry.”

“Ow?”

“Yes, Father. She was laughing while she was fighting. But she was also crying. But not out of fear. In fact, the moment she drew her big sword, she left all her fear behind. I do not think she was laughing because she was happy. That would be.. scary.. I think she was laughing to hide her anger.”

“You have a gift, my dear; an astute level of perception and insight.”

“She is also bitten. Many, many times.”

“Yes, she is. I believe I can heal most of it. I am sure she will truly cry when she wakes up, but from pain. At least there will be little scaring. This one however has a cracked skull.”

“I tried to reach her, but I was positioned wrong. Can you fix her? I think she’s cute. Just look at her pretty eyelashes.”

“Come, my dear, help me with this one first. It is not healthy for her to lie in all that wolf blood and.. insides..”

“She is pretty too. But she smells of woodsmen. I do not like woodsmen, Father.”

“Come now, my dear, they very nearly gave their lives trying to protect this old fool.”

“Speaking of fools. Was there a particular reason you all just stood there, right out in the open? Is there a significance to incanting at such an indefensible spot just so all the wolves could see you, that I am not aware of? I mean, there are so many trees, after all.. You could have cast your spell, sitting comfortably on a branch while these two pretty rangers could have shot at the wolves while they piled at the bottom of the trees!”

*blink*

“Well, now, I.. never really thought about it..”

“You all did look awesome though..”

“Well, really, now. You are just making fun of this old man.”

*giggle*

“People are coming, Master. Time for me to go, I think.”

“Yes, my sweet chestnut. I believe it is..”

“Take these, Master, and have the humans make pretty earrings for these two. I think they deserve them.”

“Ow?”

“Yes, Father. These are the alphas fangs. I do not like looting animals, other than what I honestly need.. But I sense.. a certain balance here now..”

 

The old man stared at the little girl and suddenly the dawn of a realization brightened his astonished face. Slowly, and carefully he looked at the unconscious girls, then studied the half-elf a bit more closely.

Good and Great Heavens..

The little girl, his little girl, was right!

Informed by her, he recognized who the half-elf was; Laila.. The daughter of Darien Darkmaine and his beloved Seraphim Silverdûne, both long deceased. And in a chain reaction, he also recognized who the other, the human girl was too; the daughter of dear Seleina Sunstrider and Aramsis Darkmaine, both also long gone..

 

“You are so much more astute than I could have imagined, my dear, dear child.. Your ability to sense balance around you is astonishing. And certainly much more finely tuned than mine.. You truly are a wonder..”

Inshala blushed furiously and glowed with genuine pride.. then took off..

 

Master Cathber stared after his ‘gift’, then back at the unconscious girls.

“Well. I believe some well-earned titles are in order, here.. ‘Wolvesbane’ for you and ‘Songsteel’ for you, I think sounds fair and quite fitting.”

“And perhaps ‘Frostmane’ for you..”, he added with a whisper, glancing after his saber-tooth daughter..

✱ ✱ ✱

The great saber-tooth wept silently.

She crouched behind the trees and thick bushes, staring at the large camp full of elves, woodsmen, and rangers laughing and drinking merrily in celebration of having finally gotten rid of the mad wolves infesting Dim Woods and Nurturing Heaven for over two decades. Inshala wasn’t among the merry lot and she wept. Not for having to miss the party, but for the two, pretty ranger girls moaning in pain, in their tent.

Inshala knew pain. She knew it intimately. She had been born with it. Hence, when she saw pain and suffering, she did not offer sentiments because she felt the pain. And those two had fought so bravely, so valant.. varrant.. so.. virulent? What was the word?

Valiant!

Yes, they had fought so bravely and valiantly, and they were now paying the price for it.. cashed in pain.

 

Then she saw the dark, evil man skulk..

No.

Not skulk..

Skulk had a.. Inshala was not sure exactly what, but the word ‘skulk’ didn’t fit the evil man.

Skulk had a certain ‘cowardice’ attached to it.

Sneak, then, perhaps?

But he wasn’t exactly sneaking either, per se.

Walked silently?

Well, that certainly fit, but Inshala didn’t think it did the evil man justice nor give it the dramatic touch she felt it needed.

Walking silently seemed more like a ‘side effect’ to his gait, rather than the cause.

And why was she so hung up on how the evil man walked anyway?

It was just a walk!

Inshala, however, loved correctly defining things. It seemed to satisfy her at a fundamental level.

Or perhaps it was because she had been misunderstood or misinterpreted a few too many times in her past.

Being thought you were a demon all your childhood, and consequently being chased, stoned, caged, and whipped would do that.

An ungrateful, or perhaps, an uncharitable person would probably call her ‘obsessive’.

However she was looked upon, Inshala did not mind, so long as there were no name-calling, chasing, stoning, caging, or whipping in the end.

She still did obsess on correctly defining things, though.

The only, and major issue with that was, the little girl was quite and quietly isolated and had only one old man to talk to. The man she loved and adored.. and didn’t want to perpetually pester him. Hence she lacked ‘words’..

 

“Ghosted.”

 

She exclaimed.. Yes, the evil man ‘ghosted’ towards the tent where the two, pretty ranger girls moaned and groaned in pain!

Or rather, he had already ‘ghosted’ there by the time Inshala found the correct word and she’d totally missed it!

That bothered the little girl.

It bothered her a lot.

She knew she could obsess over words, her bathing schedule, certainly her Father’s bathing calendar, her hair, her clothes, her nails, and her.. horns.. But over a boy? a man? She wasn’t quite sure what this one was, but sending a ‘boy’ to fight a whole pack of wolves sounded genuinely wrong to Inshala.. though, when she thought about it, she was here and she’d fought the wolves and she was a girl. So were the two, pretty ranger girls!

This particular, boy/girl, man/woman dilemma was really getting out of hand!

What’s more, why had the evil man gone to a tent where two, pretty ranger girls lay resting?

That thought..

.. Inshala found it extremely disturbing for some reason and she was totally clueless as to why!

Perhaps the evil man liked one of the girls. They were both pretty, after all..

Perhaps the evil man liked BOTH the girls! They were BOTH pretty, after all!

A low and savage growl escaped the saber-tooth.. She wasn’t sure which of those she found more disturbing, but both made her want to pounce the tent and shred things.. in a rather bloody way.. Starting with the evil man!

 

On a side note, Aager Fogstep never knew just how close he’d come to getting shredded that evening!

 

And just like that, Inshala calmed down.

Because she remembered something—

 

The massive, six hundred pounds of feral egression molded down..

There was no smoke, no crunching of bones, no disgusting body fluids gushing out of any orifice, nor any spectacular, sparkling effects.. at all..

One moment a giant of a cat with a great maw, foot-long sabers for teeth, spine snapping massive paws and man-height shoulders, the next, a skinny little girl.

 

The lack of drama was a bit disappointing perhaps, but the beauty of the change was in fact, in its quiet subtlety.

 

—the sheathed dagger.

 

The two, pretty ranger girls did not possess anything that belonged to the evil man. But she did.

And the evil man did not have the smell of either of the two, pretty ranger girls on him.

 

Funny how ‘relative reason’ found its way through impossible odds at times. Particularly when you desperately wanted it to!

 

The little girl, Inshala, did not ‘ghost’ in the night. She didn’t think she would ever be able to do that. Not in her ‘girl form’, anyway. She felt that seemed something unique to the evil man for some reason and that thought made her frown.. and put a tiny little smile on her small mouth at the same time.

Hence she snuck.

Inshala did not do skulking, either!

Quietly, she placed the sheathed dagger near the entrance of the tent.

 

To this day, she was never really sure why she’d returned the dagger. Perhaps it was because she thought he might need it and its lack might cause him harm. Or perhaps it was a matter of simple ‘balance’; take something, give something. Maybe it was about returning the ‘careful peace’ offering in-kind.. though, in all candor, she might have thought it was something of a game. A bit like hide-and-seek..

Whatever her reasons or reasonings were, it felt ‘right’ and ‘appropriate’ to have returned the sheathed dagger because when she snuck back into the woods, the frown on her diminutive face was gone.

And only the little smile was there.

✱ ✱ ✱

Let me get this straight, old man. You want me to teach your daughter the differences between boys and girls, and men and women? Am I correct?”

*sigh*

“Yes, Ganiste. That is exactly what I am asking you to do..”

*heartless laughter*

“This is incredible. The great Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig blushes and can’t talk about men and women to a little girl?”

*glare*

“You are enjoying this, aren’t you?”

“more heartless laughter*

“Very, very much. But what I don’t understand is, you told me all this when I was a girl. Why can’t you tell her?”

*sigh*

“She is my daughter, Ganiste. I.. can’t, alright. A father should never have to tell these things to his daughter. To a son, perhaps, but not his daughter. That is the mother’s prerogative, if not her job. Yes, it doesn’t sound nice when I say it like that, but to be honest, I don’t care. When it comes to fathers and daughters, there should be some sort of unspoken privacy between them. The same privacy that creates the incomprehensible but special bond that is called father and daughter. Yes, I have washed her, bathed her, clothed her, looked after her, fed her, taught her, and comforted her the best I can. And whenever she does these by herself and in the future, she will remember me and smile. This.. ‘topic’, however, relates to a possible third person by its nature I am hoping she will find in time.. Someone who loves her, cares for her, attends to her needs in all aspects, comforts her, and keeps her safe. And I should never be part of that equation. Only her and that person, whoever he may be.. If I told her about these, I will ruin the mystic of the whole thing..”

“And embarrass yourself..”

“And embarrass myself..”

“You never cease to amaze me, old man.”

“I honestly am not trying.. But I can not go to the woodsmen for their support on this, seeing as how they treated her all these years. Elves.. well.. I am NOT going to the elves with this.. Dwarves are not even aware of her existence and I’d like to keep it that way. They make horrible gossip! You are the only woman I know and trust.. Ironic as that may seem..”

“Yes.. rather ironic, indeed. An ogress teaching the ways of boys and girls, men and women to an old codger’s little, non-human daughter. What could possibly go wrong there?”

“Old codger? Really, now, Ganiste..”

“Old geezer..?”

“I resent that!”

“Bodach?”

“Well, now, you are just being mean, Ganiste. I never called you any names.”

*cruel laughter*

“By all means, do. You are so out of your debt here that I can pluck you clean and you will just sit there and take it all!”

“Do it, then. For her, I will sit still and ‘take it all’..”

*blink*

“You are serious..”

“Ganiste.. When have you ever seen me otherwise?”

“Very well, old man. This is quite unprecedented, but I will do this for you. And for her.. I hear certain ‘talks’ form special bonds between girls. Never really had the chance here. Ogres aren’t much when it comes to intimacy. At least I and the future Ritual Guardian will have such a special bond..”

“Are you done talking privately with my Father, Ganiste? Chihuahua is hungry, and so am I..”

“Yes, I am done talking with your father. But not quite done talking privately with you..”

“You want.. to talk privately with me?”

“Yes, child. I am afraid this will be one of ‘those talks’..”

“What talks?”

Those talks..

“What talks?”

*blink*

“Cathber! You never had any of ‘those talks’ with her?”

*blush*

“Uhhmm.. Nope! Thought I’d leave it all to you and in your tender care..”

“You are incredible, you are.. How is she even alive?”

“That was a bit harsh, now, Ganiste. I did the best I could..”

*sigh*

“Come, little one. Help me prepare dinner and I will tell you all about boys and girls..”

“You.. you will?”

“Yes, little one, I will..”

“Yessh! It has been in my mind for some time now. But I do not understand why my Father isn’t telling me this and you are..”

“Because he is a wuss!”

“Well, now, really, Ganiste?!”

✱ ✱ ✱

Tell me little one. What do you know about boys?” 

“They are mean. They try to catch me, they pull my hair, my ears, and my horns. They hit me with sticks, they throw stones at me and call their parents who beat me more, put me into cages, and whip me. I do not like them, mother Ganiste.”

*blink*

“And.. why did you not hit them back, child?”

“Because I do not like hurting. I am used to pain, but they are not. If I threw a rock at them, they will die. If I hit them with sticks, they will die. If I whip them, they will die. I only kill to eat. And when an animal has become sick in the head..”

“Hmmm.. Alright. Perhaps one day you will meet a boy who will not do any of those to you.”

“I do not look forward to it, mother Ganiste. Humans are all same. They are ignorant, stupid, they only want to kill things and they do not smell nice. Why would I want any of them.”

“But you are human too, child.”

“No, mother Ganiste. I am not. Father says I am. And at first, I wanted to be as well. If being human will make me do all the evil things they do, I do not want to be human. Perhaps an elf. They at least never throw stones at me, or call me names or hit me with sticks. But they do avoid me and that hurts. I have done nothing to them.. I just watch them play and dance from far away. They will not mind that. But they will not let me come any closer. They are a closed-minded people.”

*sigh*

“Life hasn’t offered you any favors, has it, child? And this coming from an ogre makes it all the more sad.”

“I did not even want to be, mother Ganiste. At all.. But no one asked me, so I am here. Only my Father has been good to me.. And you, mother Ganiste. But he is old. I can see him wither away, every day now and I do not know what to do? If only I could find a way to give him my days, I would. No one wants a dirty little demon like me. But everyone needs him.”

*blink*

“No child. We do not get to give our days to others. And even if you had the chance, you shouldn’t be doing that.”

“Why? I have no future. There are no happy days for me other than what my Father gives me..”

“Child. I am an ogre and even I haven’t given up thus thoroughly. And I lost everyone I know to humans, because of humans.. Yet there are some that can be spoken to, bargained with, and expect some respect. Your father is one such human. Should have seen me when I first saw him. I literally tried to catch and eat him! But he bested me and still did not slay me. Instead, he offered to take me along and show me the world beyond our hills and our ways. Now he is your father and still doing the same. In time, you will find someone, perhaps a human, or an elf, or someone or something else, who will be like your father but who will not be your father. To him, you will tell all your secrets, all your worries, all your fears, all your bad habits and it will still be alright. You will open your heart to him and he will love you for it. And he will do the same to you and it will be alright with you and you will love him for it, as well..”

“I find your confidence in humans enthralling, but misplaced, mother Ganiste..”

“That is for time to show you, child. But either way, you must know what boys are and what men are. You must also know what being a girl means and how they become women.”

“Tell me about the girl and the woman, mother Ganiste. I have no interest in boys nor men. They have brought me nothing but suffering, and given me nothing but pain..”

“Let’s not be too hasty, child. For there can be no men without women and only empty and desolate women without men..”

“I do not understand, mother Ganiste. What do women have that men want, and what do men have that women need?”

*sigh*

“Living in the wild, have you never noticed how there are always two, to make more?”

“I have, mother Ganiste. Animals are kind, for they hunt only what they need. And are bonded to their mates. The mate fights and savagely, so the mother can run and take its cubs, puppies, and babies to safety.”

“Yes. But why does it take two, to birth the cubs, puppies, and babies?”

“I do not know, mother Ganiste. It just does, I guess.”

“It doesn’t ‘just does’, child. It is needed. The girl needs the boy, for the girl to make more. And the boy needs the girl, for the whole of their kind to grow. Neither is better than the other, and neither is the stronger. To think so is folly and an elementary mistake.”

“But why?”

“Because there can be no men without women and only empty and desolate women without men, dear child.”

“…”

“When boys grow, they become men. When girls grow, they stay a girl. For a girl to become a woman, she needs to mate.”

“What is to mate, mother Ganiste?”

“The details of that is something you will learn in time, I imagine. Suffice to say, the boy gives his seeds to the girl, and the girl turns those seeds into new life! What you are here for is, when boys grow, they grow also in size and muscle, though not particularly in their mental capacity. This is also true for women, really, but that’s beside the point. When a girl starts to grow, her body changes much more profoundly than boys. Our hips grow wider, and our breasts grow larger.”

*blush*

“But.. why?”

“For many reasons. One is to attract the attention of men, I suppose, the other is for both to carry and deliver our babies, and to feed our young ones..”

“I.. do not understand, mother Genista.. You mean to tell me I will look like you?”

“In essence, yes. Do you remember how flat you were just a few short years ago?”

“gawk*

“You certainly were, the last time you came here. Now you have ‘hips’, and ‘breasts..”

*furious blush*

“Will they not stop growing?”

“They might. But I doubt. Not yet anyway. You are different from humans and different from ogres. But I believe you are not quite done with your growing just yet.”

*blush some more*

“But.. I do not want them to grow anymore. Can I not stop them?”

“No. And neither should you want to. Never, and I mean, never interfere with your natural growth. That is not just wrong, you will ruin your body. There is no going back once it’s done, child.. Besides, no girl ever wants them to stop growing. The larger they are, the more men like them.. boys too, for that matter, and I don’t expect that particular aspect in males to be any different in humans.”

“I do not understand, mother Ganiste. I do not want to grow anymore. If I grow more, so will my horns..”

“Child.. What am I?”

“An ogress, mother Ganiste.”

“I have the face of a bull that’s smashed into a wall running at full speed. I have a flat nose, thick, uneven horns, and canines that stick out of my jaw..”

“Yes. You look awesome, mother Ganiste.”

*blink*

“What?”

“You look awesome!”

“I.. I do?”

“And very impressive. I was enthralled the first time we met.”

“Girl.. You are ruining my speech and my point!”

*giggle*

“I am sorry, mother Ganiste. But I speak my truth.”

“Your truth is pretty. But my face is not. Which is, or was, my point.”

“I feel lost, mother Ganiste.”

“As much as I dislike many of my aspects, this is me. This is who and what I am. In time, I will become more, and I will become less, yet, whatever and however I turn out to be, I will accept that, and so must you.”

“You belong, mother Ganiste. Here, and among yours.”

“Yes.”

“Where do I belong?”

*blink*”

“I have no place among humans and I have no place among elves. You belong to your people, and your hills, mother Ganiste, because you have people.. I have no hills and no people.. I have no place in this world, mother. I do not belong!”

“You belong, where you feel you belong, child. To your father and to your home.. And as long as I am here, you belong to these hills as well.”

 

“I thank you, mother Ganiste. You are kind and wise. But you and I know, in the end, I will live alone, and die alone. I will always be shunned, stoned, caged, and whipped for as long as I live and my best chance is to run.. Always run.. Should I settle and be found, I will be driven and my home burned. The running can not belong, mother Ganiste..”

 

 

“Did you learn the answers to your questions, my sweet chestnut?”

“Yes, Father. Thank you for bringing me here to mother Ganiste. She is wise as she is pretty. I would like to visit her again in the future if it’s alright.”

“I am sure Ganiste wouldn’t mind. I believe she truly adores you.”

“She adores many things, Father. The smaller they are, the more she adores..”

“And have you any further questions to ask on the matter you talked?”

“No, Father. I found it was a matter that was not significant, nor pertinent and quite unrelated to my life.”

“Ow?”

“Boys and men will always stay and far away. And I will always stay, here and a girl. I am alone, Father, for I have no kind. I belong nowhere and there will be no mate waiting for me..”

✱ ✱ ✱

You have been rather quiet of late, my daughter. What’s ails you? Are you unwell?”

“I am well, Father. I am merely thinking.”

“Thinking. Thinking is good, my sweet chestnut. But too much, however, could befuddle —unless shared.”

“The Wyld Hunt, Master. That is what I have been thinking.”

*blink*

“Now, why would a pretty little girl such as yourself ever think of a dreadful thing such as the Wyld Hunt, my daughter. It is not a wise matter to dwell upon. Not for an old man such as myself, let alone a pretty little girl..”

“You do not have to say I am pretty all the time, Master. That elk has escaped.. I no longer find interest in being pretty. I have accepted my lot..”

“Perhaps you should look into all your options before you call upon your lot, my daughter.”

“It is alright, Father. It really is.”

“My dear fair girl.. Ever since we met, have I ever mislead, muddied the truth, or lied to you?”

“Never, Father.”

“There you have it, then. If I say you are loved, it is because you are loved. When I say you are pretty, it is because you are pretty.. Unless you want to call this old man a fool for a pretty face.. which would sort of make my point!”

“I thank you for your love and your care, Father. It has meant a lot for me and sustained me all these years. It is time, however, I stand on my own feet, then on your shoulders.”

“My shoulders are fine, my sweet chestnut. You weigh little!”

“I weigh more than my little. This I think you already know, Father.”

*sigh*

“Why don’t we both go to the pond and take a dip? It is a beautiful day..”

“I took a dip last week, Father. I will take another if I need.”

*blink*

“Soo.. why were you thinking about the Wyld Hunt? If I may be so bold as to ask..”

“You are bold, Father.”

“Well, really, now? That’s just being nasty.”

*giggle*

“I am sorry, Father.”

“We shall see how sorry you are then, shall we, young lady? The Wyld Hunt..”

“Perhaps I could call it and join it.”

“You.. What?!”

“Call it and join it, Father. That way, I will belong.”

*blink*

“First of all, young lady, no one ‘just calls’ the Wyld Hunt. Second, the Wyld Hunt is not something you can ‘belong’ to.. like ever! The Wyld Hunt is not a nice thing, my daughter. It is very, very, VERY dangerous to call it.. Once, and only once did I call it and that was over 750 years ago during Themalsar War, and it took a full circle of druids to barely steer it towards that mad old priest’s temple! They destroyed the temple and brought it down to a stunted rubble.”

“But I heard he still lives, Father. Themalsar still lives.”

“Yes. He does. As far as I know. The fool made pacts with unimaginable things we could not even put names to. The best we could do was to lock him up in his stinking dungeons and put the strongest wards we could muster.. All of us; what remained of the druids, any Temple Guardian we could get our hands on, any elf wizard or sorcerer, and even Angels from the High Heavens and powerful Fey from either Courts..”

“So you called the Wyld Hunt and they were unable to destroy this Themalsar?”

“Yes.”

“There you have it then, Father.”

“There we have what, child?”

“You sent them to do a task and they were unable to finish it.. The Wyld Hunt ‘owes’ you, Father!”

“They, what?”

“Now you could call them and ask them if I could join them as a payment to their debt! That way, they will be happy for having finally paid off their debt, I will have gone and joined them and ‘belonged’, and you will be free of me and will no longer be forced to endure my weight!”

*blink*

*gawk*

*stunned silence*

“No..”

“No? But why, Father? Seems like a good solution.”

“Solutions are for problems.”

“Yes, Father. And I am the problem.”

“No, my daughter. The problem is you questioning my love for you. The problem is where you do me the disservice of questioning my love, my care, and my fondness of you.”

*blink*

“I.. I thought..”

“Go.”

“Go? Where shall I go, Father?”

“Go.. and take a bath..”

“I do not need a bath, Father. The dirty does not come off.”

“Go, Inshala. NOW! AND NEVER TALK ABOUT THE WYLD HUNT AGAIN!!”

*sob*

“You shouted at me, Father..”

✱ ✱ ✱

Ganiste! I need your help!”

“Cathber? That you, old man?”

“Yes, yes.. How many others do you see in your dreams, girl?”

“Do you really want me to answer that question, old man?”

*blink*

“You really shouldn’t ask questions you do not want the answers for, old man. But, I wasn’t really sleeping. Just staring at something dreamily.”

*heavy, fuming breaths*

“Are you done?”

“How could I be? You are the one with the problem. But let me guess; it’s about your little one, isn’t it?”

“How could you even know that?”

*smirk*

“Only two things that I can think of could have riled up a sour old man like you; one would be a whole village of bigots to have finally banded together and come down to that howell you call home with torches and pitchforks, or it’s a daughter.. But I doubt you would have called me for the bigots. I hear you take particular delight when it comes to entertaining yourself with them.”

* smolder*

“You are having fun, aren’t you, Ganiste?”

*heartless laugh*

“Every time you call, old man. But that is beside the point. Now, what seems to be the issue?”

“Inshala!”

“Yeees, old man, seeing as she is your daughter. But what is the problem?”

“She said she wanted to call the Wyld Hunt!”

“She can do that?”

“I don’t know. She surprises me at every turn. She is destroying everything I thought I knew about the fey and the wild fey!”

“Daughters can do that. Destroy everything we thought we knew. Why does she want to call the Wyld Hunt? Perhaps she is finally tired of your precious woodsmen. I certainly am.”

“No. She said she wants to join them and finally ‘belong’..”

“Ahhh..”

“Ahhh? Ahh, what?”

“It is of no importance, old man. It is a girl thing. You wouldn’t understand. Besides, joining the Wyld Hunt isn’t so bad. My great-great-grandfather joined it.. during Themalsar War. Wasn’t it you and your doddering old friends that called it, then?”

“It was a desperate play, Ganiste. You of all people should know this.”

“Perhaps.. But I wouldn’t worry too much about it..”

“You are not being of any help, Ganiste.”

*snicker*

“Was that a requirement of me? Why doesn’t anyone tell me these things?”

*glare*

“Please, Ganiste..”

“Well.. ‘Please’ always helps.. But like I said, I wouldn’t worry too much about it if I were you.”

“And why is that?”

“Told you. It’s a girl thing. You wouldn’t understand.”

*fume*

“By all means, try me, Ganiste!”

“No point. You have to be a girl to understand. But if you feel you are that desperate, by all means, turn into one. I know you can.. with one of your polymorph spells..”

*shocked silence*

“I have done many foolish things in my time, Ganiste. But I am NOT going to turn myself into a girl. Not now, not ever.. I am what I am and people should accept what they got, then try to be something else.. Particularly when it comes to things such as this —a something that is certain to end in depravity.”

*shrug*

“Time will come when your point of view might be questioned, old man.”

“And what gave you the idea that I would ever care, Ganiste! I am not a public figure that needs a popular vote for some foolish election. I do not require to appear ‘cute’, nor be politically correct. By all means, girl, you know what I do, what I fight, and what I defend.. But I see none of those idiots out there lending a hand, let alone bleed for humanity!”

“Alright. I will help you try and understand.”

“Please, do!”

“Inshala is how old now?”

“Should be close to her fifteenth. I am not quite sure of her exact day of birth. I estimated about a month or two before her mother was driven out of her village and into the woods then stoned to death.. The fools thought she’d died and left but she picked herself up, and her baby and ran.. She was overcome by fatigue and blood loss, however, and finally died. I found them a few days later quite by chance really. Buried the mother and adopted the baby.”

“And you let those animals get away with this?”

*growl*

“No, Ganiste, I did not. I.. someone let slip the news of what happened to the authorities in Serenity Home.. and the good sheriff, along with his guards and a platoon of rangers came down on them like an avalanche.. I don’t think they ever forgot what they did to that poor young girl since then..”

“How very you, old man. But if we are to return to the essence of your problem, your beloved daughter, Inshala, is a teenager now, and has been for quite some time. I am surprised she hasn’t done anything odd and creepy at all..”

“So what if she is a teenager?”

“Do you even know what girls go through during their teenage years, old man?”

“Of course. They grow!”

*stare*

“You are incredible, you are, old man.. How is that poor girl even alive with you?”

*blush*

“That was a tad harsh, Ganiste. I did my best.”

*sigh*

“It is not your fault you are such a dork, Cathber.”

“Well, now, really?”

“Don’t misunderstand me, old man. All men are.. when it comes to truly understand girls.. or women, for that matter.. and what we go through while we are growing and what we suffer in life.”

“I am sorry, Ganiste. I have been running around this forest for over eight hundred years dealing with the sins of men, the fouls of monsters, and the fel of demons to make life livable and safe for others. I was bound to miss a thing or two.”

“You are a good man, Cathber. A foolish man, but still a good man.”

“Well, thank you very much for seeing fit to give me that much credit, Ganiste.”

“Don’t be like that, Cathber. It does not become you.. Look, I am a tad busy with a poacher at hand so I will try to make this simple; men do not understand what we go through while we are growing. You literally can’t because you never go through it.. You can nod your heads and claim to understand but never truly comprehend.. We are awash with all sorts of wild chemicals as our bodies change and become ‘birth ready’. This is what she is going through.. just like any other teenage girl does, resulting in odd behavior changes, mood swings, laughing and crying for no particular reason, falling in love with foolish, older men..”

“I resent that.”

*chuckle*

“It will last for some time and will call her to do all sorts of odd drama, though I must admit, the idea of joining the Wyld Hunt is a bit of an overkill..”

“How long? How long will this last?”

“For however long it takes for her to adjust to these changes and until she adapts to her new self..”

“New self?

“Yes, old man.. Larger breasts, wider hips, swaying walks.. you know..”

“No, I don’t.. Not really..”

“Apparently not.”

“Hey, I met my beautiful Tamara when she was done with her growing up, alright.”

“In short, she must go through with this and there is nothing you really can do about it.”

*sigh*

“Nothing? There is absolutely nothing I can do about it?”

“Absolutely nothing, old man. The only thing you can try is to offer understanding, patience, and kindness..”

“She has those and more, Ganiste. She can have all my understanding, patience, and kindness.. ALL OF IT!

“No, old man. You thought you gave her those. What she needs now are the real ones.. What’s worse, for you is, she might not even be in the mood to accept any of them!”

“This is.. unprecedented..”

“You have a daughter and you think this as unprecedented? You truly are naive, Cathber.”

“You are punning me again, Ganiste.

*chuckle*

“Yes. Yes, I am, old man. But what you need now is a hug. I could give you a hug.”

“Uhhmm.. I apricate your offer, dear Ganiste. But the last time you hugged, it took me nearly three months to recover.”

“Such is love, old man.. Always painful!”

✱ ✱ ✱

I see you are in the pond again.”

“Yes, Father. You told me to go and bathe in the pond.”

“Yes. Yes, I did tell you that, didn’t I..”

*awkward silence*

“Inshala.. My dearest daughter—”

“—I am sorry Father. For making you shout at me..”

“I am sorry, my sweet chestnut, to have shouted at you..”

*sob*

“You have been nothing but good to me..”

“And you have been nothing but a sweet daughter to me..”

“I will do my best not to put my weight on you.”

“And I will try to carry more of you.. My only wish of you is that you would accept what I give and never question it.”

“I will never question it, Father.”

“Now, where is my towel, my scrubbing stick and my soap? I think I smell a bit too.”

“Are you saying, I smell?”

“No. I am saying, you smell. A whole week without a dip in the pond? Really, now, girl? Who are you? And where’s my daughter?”

*blink*

“But.. but I am your daughter and I am right here!”

“Well, we shall see about that. My daughter always cooks a wonderful dinner. And will take another bath tomorrow as well..”

*splash*

“Where are you going, girl? And do put your towel on!”

“Towel can wait! I am going to cook a wonderful dinner and prove that I am your daughter, Father!”

 

 

✱ ✱ ✱

 

 

And how have you been of late, young one? You certainly gave my ogres a fright, when you came the way you did. Your cat is indeed quite impressive. “

“I am sorry mother Ganiste. It was not my intention to scare your people. I was on my way to Gulls Perch to play with some of my friends there and I was in a bit of a rush. But I didn’t want to be impolite so I decided to come here and visit you first.”

“That was very thoughtful of you, dear child. Come, let’s get into my tent and while I make you some cookies, you can play with chihuahua and tell me all about what you have been doing.”

“Cookie and chihuahua! How can I say, no, mother Ganiste?”

“I didn’t know the fey let outsiders into their valley at Gull’s Perch. They were all banned quite some years ago.”

“They still are, mother Ganiste. But they don’t mind me and let me in.”

“Interesting..”

“We swim and play in their big ponds for hours and hours. And when the sun sets, we fire hop and we play hide and seek in the woods. But I think the dryads are cheating.”

“Ow? Why do you think so?”

“Playing hide and seek in the woods with dryads is a game you are never going to win, mother Ganiste. Every dryad is paired with one tree or another. When they hide behind a tree, they just ask the tree and the tree opens up, and hides them!”

“Well, that’s a bummer.”

“Not anymore, mother. I have been studying and working hard and I can speak with trees now.”

“You can?”

“Yes, mother Ganiste. So this time I will just ask the trees.”

“Will they give away their own dryads, though?”

*giggle*

“But I will not be asking them about their dryads..”

“Ow?”

“I will be asking them why are they so fat, and were they always this fat!”

*blink*

“They will think it’s the dryads that are making them look fat and try to explain it to me!”

*happy, thunderous laughter*

“You are an incredible little girl, you are..”

*smirk*

“Thank you, mother Ganiste..”

“And you look amazing too!”

“I.. I do?”

“Yes, girl. Barely a year has passed since your last visit and look at you..”

“Why, mother? What’s wrong with me?”

“Wrong? There is nothing wrong with you girl, but Good Heavens you’ve grown..”

“I.. I have?”

“Yes.. I don’t think I should call you ‘child’ any more.”

“But what will you call me then?”

“You have grown and are no longer a child, but a ‘young lady’ now. You were pretty before, but now your breasts are larger, your hips are wider and your walk has a sway..”

*furious blush*

“M.. mother, please, stop!”

“Now, now, young lady.. This is girl talk. When we are alone, in this tent, we have less rules.”

“I.. I don’t really feel any different now, then I did before, though.. Just a bit strange.. and akwak.. arward.. awkard..”

“Awkward?”

“Yes, that..”

“That is to be expected. You body has grown and flourished, but your mind hasn’t caught up to that fact yet.”

“I do not understand, mother Ganiste.”

“Before, you were a pretty little girl. Now, you are a beautiful young lady..”

“I am?”

“Ow, yes..”

“But.. how can you be sure?”

“Your fey friends..”

“What about them?”

“The fey-folk like ‘pretty’. This is something they can not help, nor avoid. But they absolutely adore ‘beauty’..”

*beam*

✱ ✱ ✱

Is this true? Did you see it with your own eyes?”, growled Ganiste and there was murder is her burning eyes.

The large ogre standing some three yards tall shuffled his feet uncomfortably and took an undiscernible step back.

“Yes, Chieftain Grulganesti. His door and windows were smashed in and he was lying in his bed with many stabs in his chest. Too small to be our swords or axes. They were done by human knives.. They hid their steps well, but I sought much and found some. Large for elf, soft for dwarf. But they moved carefully and swiftly. His house was much ransacked, Chieftain. They were looking for something.”

Ganiste went pale. She could barely keep her composure. She did a harsh swallow of the bitter taste that came to her clenched jaws.

“Send the signal.”, she said in a growl. “I want triple sentries on watch. Anything that is of suspect is to be reported to me. Send also one fast runner to the elves, one to the dwarves and one to the human town to inform them of what has befallen.”

“Chieftain..”, replied the ogre dubiously. “The elves barely tolerate us at the best of times and will likely shoot us. The dwarves will shoot us. The humans.. if we chance upon one of their sensible rangers, they may listen. Otherwise they will also shoot us.”

“Do tell me something I do not know! All couriers will carry white flags-poles on their backs at all times. Should they still shoot at them, I will personally go there, break their bows and shiv it up their intestines for display!”, she replied with a horrible hiss..

“An educational riposte, Chieftain.”, nodded the ogre thoughtfully.

“Also.. send another courier to Gull’s Perch.. His daughter must know of this.. Prepare a full platoon. We shall leave within the hour. We must get to his home before anyone else comes to ransack it. I.. we must also make him ready for burial. She must not see him ravaged. There is a limit to what a girl could tolerate..”, she said, though it wasn’t quite clear as to which girl she was referring to. With a wave of her hand, she sent the ogre with her orders..

For a long moment, Ganiste just stood there staring at her empty tent. And then, the Chieftain of the all the ogres of Ogre’s Foot and Ritual Forest, Grulganesti Grimtooth Bolgrig dropped on her knees and cried like a little girl..

 

“You old fool..”, she moaned. “Who shall slay me now?”

✱ ✱ ✱

Inshala, stop! They did not do this. They are here only to make sure no one else comes and to prepare him for his funeral”, screamed Ganiste, but the giant, near six-hundred-pound saber-tooth tiger standing over the fallen, bloodied ogre didn’t care. Her great maw open, her two, foot-long sabers for teeth shown with mindless wrath!

Chieftain Grulganiste did not wait for another warning.

With an unexpected agility from the near fourteen-foot ‘woman’, she rammed the saber-tooth tiger and flung her off the bleeding ogre on the ground. The saber-tooth spun in mid-air, bounced off a near-by tree, shot herself using her powerful hind-legs and came at the ogress, her skull-crushing paws extended.

Grulganiste ducked just enough to let the tiger sail over her, then jumped her from behind, grabbed her and with a mighty heave she locked her in her awesome grip. A roar of surprise and madness escaped the saber-tooth as she trashed, leaving long, ugly, and bloody scars on the chieftain, but Ganiste ignored them..

She just squeezed more.

The other ogres picked up their great axes, clubs and swords and moved in.

“NO!”, screeched Ganiste. “STAY YOUR GROUND! NO ONE TOUCHES THE RITUAL GUARDIAN!”

The saber-tooth struggled more, but something snapped and suddenly, Ganiste was no longer grappling a giant tiger, but hugging a little girl!

“Stop, girl.. Please, stop..”

“He trusted you, mother!”, screamed Inshala.

“As should you, girl. If you do not cease this, by the Great Heavens I will beat you until there’s some semblance of sense in that thick skull of yours.”, grated Ganiste.

“You hurt him! And now you hurt me! Why did you do this, mother?”

“I did not do this to him. You must understand this. And neither did my ogres. We revered your father. We do not know who did this, but it was not us..”, scowled the chieftain of the ogres.

“Who? Who did this then?”, screamed the little girl.

“Men. Some men came at him while he slept. They killed him with knives and low honor, ransacked his home and ran east..”


Running foot steps came and two ogres appeared in front of the battered home of old Cathber.

One of ogres was heavily wounded and the other was limping.

“Chieftain..”, grunted the limping one as he slowly lowered his wounded comrade.

“Who did this?”, hissed Grulganiste.

“We are not sure, Chieftain. They were swift and strong. They killed six of us and we didn’t even see them. Only the two of us made it and barely. They looked like orcs. But much bigger. Much stronger. Much.. something.. And there was many of them. Over thirty strong, at least.”

“Where are they headed?”

“East, Chieftain. They were all heading east. They also burned the elf village, Nurturing Heaven, down to the ground.. And they didn’t even bother to ransack it.. Dead elves.. Dead elves every where. They tried to put up a fight, but these.. things, attacked them in the middle of the night, either last night or the one before that, and slaughtered all they could find.”

“Are there any survivors?”

“We do not know, Chieftain. We tried to get near and that is when we got attacked. There were signs of possible survivors though, heading towards Dim Wood.”

Chieftain Grulganiste’s face was black. And with unveiled anger, she turned to one of her other ogres.

“Go to base. Alert everyone. Then bring two platoons here, and six platoons to the elf village to find possible survivors. If there are any, they are to be escorted to the woodsmen villages. The platoons are to station outside their villages to make sure these beasts do them no harm. I detest the woodsmen, but I shall not bring my people blame for their deaths.”

“Yes, Chieftain.”

“Also, send more couriers to the dwarves and the human town to carry this news and what we are doing about it. We do not need any misunderstanding. Let all my ogres carry white flags on their arms and on poles on their backs.”

“What shall we do about the humans that slew the old Ritual Guardian?”

“Nothing. This is a human matter and we can not interfere. Anything we do other than what we have already done will only complicate things. As for the beasts—”

“—I shall hunt them down. I shall hunt them down and rip them apart.. Then I shall go after these humans as well.. and gnaw their bones!”, hissed Inshala.

“Your anger is understandable, but misplaced, girl. You cannot do either of those, because you are not ready. Actions done in wrath, never ends well..”, replied Ganiste quite sternly.

“You will either move, mother Ganiste, or I shall move over you.”, hissed Inshala and there was none of the sweet little girl that the ogress chieftain new. There, standing before her was something else. Certainly human. But not all the way and Ganiste knew not what and she was suddenly..

..afraid!

Yes, it was possible if she stood her ground and tried her brute force, her shamanistic skills, along with what ogre guards she had here, she could stop her.. but that was just it.

She wasn’t sure and she was not keen on finding out.

She had her own people to care, and a funeral to burry.

“At least bid your farewell and say your goodbyes to your father, girl. He deserved that much of you, for truly, he loved you.”, she whispered sharply at the little girl.

“I shall bid him farewell, mother, but i shall never say goodbye to him. He shall live with me, always..”, she replied hoarsely, turned around and went to the, now quite shriveled body, wrapped tightly in white, funeral cloth, placed upon a flimsily and hastily prepared pier. 

Inshala knelt down next to the pier, reached out and tenderly touched her father’s wrapped face. And with blurry eyes, she spoke.

“I should have been here, with you, Father. You were, when I needed you and I was not. I shall carry this blame until the day I perish and join you. There, I shall ask your forgiveness. Now, I must go. I know you would have me stay. But I can’t. Not anymore. I could be a little girl as long as you were here. Now the little girl is over. I have showed kindness and got only hurt in return. I shall no longer show, what is not given freely. I shall only reap what is sown.. I shall no longer be the little girl, but be the harvester.. For this, I shall beg your forgiveness as well.. I shall bid you farewell, Father, but no goodbyes, for I shall not keep you waiting for long.”, Inshala said, softly kissed the old man’s forehead and sobbed.

For long moments, she wept, lost and broken.

When she rose, her face was wet and pinched, but the little girl was indeed gone.

What stood there was only inhuman determination and wrath.

She raised her head, faced the ogress and looked her in the eyes..

“Call upon the woodsmen. And the elves. Call the dwarves and the humans, mother Ganiste. My father deserves a proper funeral. He helped those who lived in his forest. Should they have honor, they shall come. Tell them also, I shall not turn a blind eye to those who do not..

Chieftain Grulganiste just stared at the skinny little girl.. No.. the ‘something’, standing like some cold, unreachable being trapped inside the body of the little girl and she felt her own heart tremble.

“I shall send word to all, and more, Ritual Guardian.”, she promised solemnly. “Please.. do not make decisions with anger. Your father—”, she began.

“—is dead.”, finished the little girl, harshly.

“But I am not.”, said Ganiste and for a moment, a kind and tender shadow cast upon her face. “Your father was a dear, dear man for me. And he was not the only one who loved and cared for you. Please, remember that. Remember, also, do not do things which you will regret.”

“Worry not for me, mother Ganiste. I go where I belong now.. As for regret..”, she said, then looked down at the sad form of her father. “I am regret!.. And I bid you, goodbye.”

“What are your intensions, Inshala?”

“I intend to wash the green off this forest with red..”, she hissed.

And just like that, she was gone.

In the form of her majestic saber-tooth, and a groaning roar, she disappeared into the trees.

✱ ✱ ✱

In the depths of Ritual Forest, the little girl raised her hands into the air. And called upon the old and the ancient, and called she upon a debt.. 

The sky darkened as dreary grays gathered. A long streak of lightning arced from one horizon to the other as though heralding the doom of the living.

In deep soft tenor, she sang, a long lost ritual, calling one horror, to judge another..

 

line-sdw-04up

Who rides there so late through the night dark and drear?
The father it is, with his infant so dear;
He holdeth the boy tightly clasp’d in his arm,
He holdeth him safely, he keepeth him warm.

”My son, wherefore seek’s thou thy face thus to hide?”
”Look, father, the Erl-King is close by our side!
Dost see not the Erl-King, with crown and with train?”
”My son, ‘tis the mist rising over the plain.”

”Oh come, thou dear infant! oh come thou with me!
Full many a game I will play there with thee;
On my strand, lovely flowers their blossoms unfold,
My mother shall grace thee with garments of gold.”

”My father, my father, and dost thou not hear
The words that the Erl-King now breathes in mine ear?”
”Be calm, dearest child, ‘tis thy fancy deceives;
’Tis the sad wind that sighs through the withering leaves.”

”Wilt go, then, dear infant, wilt go with me there?
My daughters shall tend thee with sisterly care;
My daughters by night their glad festival keep,
They’ll dance thee, and rock thee, and sing thee to sleep.”

”My father, my father, and dost thou not see,
How the Erl-King his daughters has brought here for me?”
”My darling, my darling, I see it aright,
’Tis the agèd gray willows deceiving thy sight.”

”I love thee, I’m charm’d by thy beauty, dear boy!
And if thou’rt unwilling, then force I’ll employ.”
”My father, my father, he seizes me fast,
Full sorely the Erl-King has hurt me at last.”

The father now gallops, with terror half wild,
He grasps in his arms the poor shuddering child;
He reaches his court-yard with toil and with dread,—
The child in his arms finds he motionless, dead.

line-sdw-04up

 

“Erl-King, I summon thee!”, she shouted and the skies thundered in reply.

“A depth you owe, from Father to daughter, passed..”, and the dirty clouds churned.

“Once upon a task were you called..”, she hissed, and the trees of Ritual Forest shuddered.

“To slay, to burn and to smother..”, she cried and the peoples of Dim Woods suddenly ran in unadulterated fear.

“To crack, to crush and to grind..”, she whispered and the ogres of Ogre’s Foot fell on their knees and howled.

“To chase, to drive and to hunt..”, she screamed and the dwarves of Elder Hills and Scowling Hills froze, as dread washed over thirty thousand souls.

“To cut, to stab and to maim..”, she cried and the denizens of Serenity Home fell flat, their faces pale, their eyes as ovals..

“For a depth you owe, from Father to daughter, passed..”, she cast and the lightnings crashed, splitting trees, tearing the earth, and the fey creatures of Gull’s Perch turned north, their faces drawn in horror.

“Erl-King, I summon thee!”

“And Erl-King, thrice said and done..”

 

“Thus I have been summoned.. by a mortal. Bold. And foolish.. I knew, should I wait but a millennia, some naïve would eventually call, and pit his will against mine. I must admit, crushing the dim-witted is a tad demeaning but, I shall be set free on the mortal coil, and unrestrained..”

..said the giant of a man in deep, melodious, echoing voice.

 

“It is I, who has summoned you, Erl-King, to call you upon a task left unfulfilled.”, very nearly moaned Inshala, for the great figure’s presence was not immense in terms of physics, but his spiritual presence was vast and beyond!

Tears filled her eyes and she shut them tightly, focused on one thing, and one thing alone; her Father, and how small he lay on his pier.

 

“This truly is a sad day.”, mused the Erl-King. “I have thus been called to task by a.. little girl! No matter, no matter.. Crush fast and be done, I suppose.”

“I am Inshala Frostmane Bolgrig, and I am the daughter of Master Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig, whom you owe a debt of honor for the failure of a task given!”, said Inshala, through her clenched teeth.

“Owe a debt of honor.. Failure of a task given.”, murmured the Erl-King. “Very big words for a very little girl. And what task is this, you dare claim the Erl-King has failed?”

“Many centuries ago, he and his, summoned you to lay down waste Themalsar. YOU FAILED! For Themalsar endures..”, said Inshala harshly.

“You dare afflict a failure upon me? You? A sniveling little—”, thundered the Erl-King and suddenly fell silent, staring at the little girl with an incredulous expression on his face. “—fey? How is this possible? Only the Queens of the fey may call me, the Erl-King, to task.. or their greatest of vassals. How is it that you could summon me, little fey girl?”

“I.. I am fey?”, faltered Inshala and opened her eyes.. a something she probably shouldn’t have done.. and saw the Erl-King!

 

The figure standing before her was some eighteen, or possibly twenty feet tall and had massive arms and shoulders. He wore a hideous, masked helmet with great, horned antlers, shoulder pads, some kind of strange plate armor that seemed like it was forged from blue-brown metal down to his waist and wore dark, blue-black leather trousers and heavy high boots. An old, patchy fur cloak hung over one shoulder, revealing the two-foot-long pommel of a cruel-looking, slightly curved and jagged-edged great sword that could probably cut an ogre in two with a mere nudge.

The little girl just ogled at him, her eyes wide open.

 

“Like what you see, then?”, smirked the Erl-King as he pulled off his helmet, letting loose a main of long, slightly curling, dark hair and displaying a, not-quiet symmetrical face that was both ugly and somehow handsome.. in a rugged way.

“You look awesome, sir!”, spluttered the little girl.

“Well, now. I can’t remember the last time anyone, or anything for that matter, ever complemented me. This is rather unprecedented.. in a pleasant way.”, smiled down the hideous king.

“I can not imagine why they wouldn’t, sir. You are pretty!”, said Inshala in an awed voice.

“Pretty, am I?”, replied the Erl-King, quite surprised. “You truly must be young and alone.”

“I am alone, but I am sixteen years of age!”, replied the little girl like she was saying sixteen hundred!

“Aaahh..”, smiled the Erl-King. “The burden of all those sixteen years must be weighing heavily upon you, then.”

“They are.”, said Inshala solemnly. “But not relevant to your debt, Erl-King. Will you not honor it?”

“Careful, girl.”, growled the massive figure. “I have come to liking you. Let’s not besmirch that. Monsters like myself do not take matters of honor lightly.”

“Then you accept your debt?”, pushed the little girl.

“You are a persistent one, aren’t you? Not easily distracted, nor swayed.”, mused the Erl-King.

“I have lost the only thing precious to me, sir. There is nothing left to sway.”, replied Inshala and there was an unexpected quality of savagery in her voice.

“Ahhh.. Wrath! That is something I know. Something I know very well.”, replied the Erl-King. “Very well. What would you have me do to quench your lust for vengeance, little one? Who must die, to ease your pain?”

“Nothing can ease my pain, Erl-King. For nothing can bring back what was taken from me..”, she replied and tears swelled down her small face.

“Nothing, is something you can do on your own, little one. You do not need me for that. And I fear I would make poor company for consolation.”

“I do not want, nor require consolation. I must suffer my folly day and night, and for a lone life.”, she said, her voice trembling.

“A sad way to spend a life, me thinks. But again, you may do that on your own.”

“No, Erl-King. I need you to call upon the Wyld Hunt and avenge your debt!”

 

The Erl-King just stared at the little girl weeping before him.

 

“The Wyld Hunt is not some small favor anyone to just call upon, little girl.”, replied the Erl-King, and a bit harshly.

“Such was your debt to my Father. Eight hundred years and your debt has endured, Erl-King.”

 

For a long moment the massive figure looked at the little girl, Inshala. And when he spoke again, there was no trace of ‘merry’ in his voice.

 

“No, little girl, I owe nothing to your Father. But I do owe a debt unfulfilled, to the mortal who adopted you! And should you truly want me to call the Wyld Hunt, a price must be paid; Join, Hide or Die.. those are the rules of the Wyld Hunt!”

Whether Inshala understood the implications of what the Erl-King said, was not clear. She stood silently, her face tear stricken and on her knees.. But when she spoke, her voice was low and it smoldered.

“I will ‘Join’, then.”

The Erl-King cocked one bushy eye brow at her and said, “No. You may not. Should it come to that, it is possible I could best Yours. But I have no desire to waste my hounds to His slaughter.”

“I do not understand.”, cried Inshala.

“And that is not my prerogative, little one.”, replied the Erl-King, but strangely, not unkindly.

“Then slay me!”, shrieked Inshala. “I choose to ‘Die’..”

“Also, not my prerogative, little one.”, replied the Erl-King.

“I shall not run and ‘Hide’, while the killers of my Father live!”

“And I thought ‘tigers’ always ran and ‘hid’.. before they pounced their prey, little one.”, smiled the Erl-King hideously.

 

A tiny..

“Ow..”

..escaped the small mouth of the little girl.

 

“Now. To the task at hand, then?”, laughed the Erl-King and the trees around them shuddered.

“Creatures. Large and uncouth. Some thirty or more, travel East. They slew the elves of my Father’s forest. They must be punished. And the slayers of my Father, men with knives and low honor, also running East. They must be hunted down and slain. And what they stole from my Father must be returned..”, said Inshala with a vicious voice.

“Recovery expeditions aren’t quite my forte, little one. My hounds may track and run down the uncouth and the men, but recover what was stolen, me thinks this is something you must do.”, replied the Erl-King.

“Very well, sir. Should You and Yours avenge my Sire by slaying the uncouth and these sinful men, I shall relieve You and Yours from the debt and done.”, said Inshala.

“You drive a harsh bargain, little one. Stay close. This shall be a merry chase and mayhap will quench your luster for blood.”

“My lust for blood shall never quench. For the one I cared most and only, is dead. Mortals saw a monster when they came at me. I shall give them monster, hence!”

✱ ✱ ✱

A long, dreadful howl echoed through Ritual Forest. Lightning flickered and streaked down, gorging spades of earth. Trees shuddered and splintered. Beast and buck ran or fell. And men, elf, dwarf or ogre.. far and wide, it did not matter.. felt terror like they had felt only ages and eons ago. Before iron, and before tools.. Before the domestication of land and ox.. This was the kind of fear at its most primitive and primordial level where thought got smothered and left only primal, reptilian instincts..

A fear that left them only two options;

Hide or Die!

And ahead of that howl, was a viscous, giant of a man, some eighteen feet tall, wearing a horned helmet and swinging a massive, jagged-edged great sword, riding a mind-boggling stead that had red, glowing cinders for eyes, a massive rump and powerful legs that ended in long, brutal claws..

 

The Erl-King led.

And the Wyld Hunt followed..

..a dark, gray-black smoke with barely discernable ghosts that resembled horse-sized hounds and the reaped souls of long-forgotten, primordial warriors..

 

And Inshala ran..

..at the center of that inky fog!

 

The savage, uncouth beasts never new what hit them. They were great and strong beasts that resembled orcs. But orcs were to infants, what these creatures were to men. They were powerful in arms and swift in legs and they wielded sharp, brutal implements of war..

..and yet, they died in two’s and four’s!

But never did they flinch nor ran. With inhuman savagery, they attacked the Wyld Hunt even as they died; their flesh torn and gnawed, their bones snapped and shattered, their skulls crushed like shells, and their tendons ripped and shredded..

It was a gruesome sight.

But then..

..thus was the Wyld Hunt!

 

The bloody saber-tooth ravaged the last of the beasts, her furry face red and dripping with blood and Inshala rose to her full height and coughed an echoing roar into the night.

 

“What a merry hunt!”, laughed the Erl-King. “Though a tad short for my taste.”

“These were the beasts.. But not the men!”, growled the saber-tooth.

“No. The men you seek are no more. These beasts have already hunted them down and slain them. I sense foul-play at hand, here.”, replied the Erl-King with distaste.

“NO! MY VENGEANCE HAS NOT BEEN QUENCHED!”, shrieked Inshala.

“You vengeance is not part of the debt, little one.”, reminded the giant figure.

“No. It isn’t. But the death of the men, were!”

 

The Erl-King stared down at the vicious tiger.

 

“That.. is true..”, he finally conceded, but there was the threat of a storm in his voice. “There is, however, nothing I can do to repay that.”

“THIS WAS NOT OUR AGREEMENT, ERL-KING”, shrieked the saber-tooth. “YOU WERE TO SLAY THESE MEN. NOT TO LET OTHERS DO IT FOR YOU!”

“Your mind is muddled, little girl. I do not let others pay my debts, nor do my killings for me. I would have a care, where it came to accusing me..”, spoke the Erl-King in a low and dreadful tone. “Non the less. The men are dead, and the debt remains unfulfilled.. again!”

“Then I shall call upon you one more time, Erl-King when I have found the true culdips!”

“Culdips?”, asked the Erl King, a bit baffled.

“Culpits.. Cultrips.. Cudrils”, stammered Inshala.

“Culprits, perhaps?”, offered the Erl-King.

“Culprits!”, snarled the saber-tooth.

The Erl-King gave a long, suffering sigh. This millennia had turned out to be not only stale and boring, but with pestering, debt-demanding mortals.. and now, a not-quite-mortal-but-fey girl!

He gave the savage saber-tooth girl a long, steady look.

“Very well, little fey-girl. I shall come, once more, when you call and upon having unearthed the true culprits. I shall need a full name to bind this deal..”, he said, breathing from his nostrils.

“Inshala Frostmane Bolgrig.”

“No, girl. That is not your name.. That can not be your name..”, replied the Erl-King, staring into the tigers eyes. “Bolgrig was your attender.. of sorts.. But was he was not your Father, and certainly not your Sire!”

“I do not understand.”, replied Inshala, afraid now.

“No.. No you don’t. In time, perhaps, you shall. It is not my place, however, to learn you that information.”

“Whose place is it, then?”, asked the little girl.

“Again, not my place to learn you that, either. But I believe my work here is quite done. Unless you want me to slaughter the humans to the south, the ogres to the east, dwarves to the west or the.. woodsmen to the north. I sense a great hate you have for them.”

“I desire much misfortune for them, Erl-King. But I shall not spill their blood. Not today. Today, the elves need them..”, whispered Inshala.

“Very well. For the said task we have set, and the afore mentioned conditions, I, the Erl-King and my Wyld Hunt shall come, once more when called by you, Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane..”, declared the Erl-King, turned around, and with one, swift motion, mounted his great beast.

“I fare thee well, young ‘la Fey’. Which by itself is quite unique, for the Wyld Hunt never fares well..”, laughed the gigantic form of the Erl-King, dug his heels into his mount and rode off, the inky black fog of his hounds and lost souls chasing after him.

And in a short, hoarse breath, he was gone.

 

The saber-tooth stared as the ghosts of the Wyld Hunt screeched and faded into the night. She licked her long, foot-long teeth edging down the sides of her maw. Her savage face pinched into a ugly glare and a low, thundering rumble escaped her throat.

“My Father..”, she hissed. “..will always be my Master, Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig. Not the beast that sired me..”

✱ ✱ ✱

Broken and bloodied, Inshala prowled the night, seeking something, anything that could curb her blood lust. It seemed the loss of her father had forever killed the former, young, pretty, innocent and frail little girl and left behind a wretched wreck that just couldn’t rid herself off the searing fire boiling her insides.. She ran this way and that, jumped over bush and boulder to no avail.. Her blood just wouldn’t cool off.. 

Which is when she stumbled upon the corpse of a human, lying face down in the dirt.

Inshala slid into a halt.

The man, whoever he was, was a corpse indeed. Dead for possibly half a day over. He wore dark leathers and similarly colored clothes. His head and face were also covered..

..and he was missing an arm.

There were other cuts and gashes on him. Inshala didn’t think the man would have lived, even had he kept his arm..

She also noted a long, bloody trail leading up to the corpse. Apparently, someone had dragged him all the way here, then left him to die, or left him because he had died.

Inshala came to the two natural conclusions; this was one of the lowly men who had slain her father for he smelled, no, he reeked of her father’s blood.. and someone had dragged him. Someone still alive.

A low rumble escaped the saber-tooth and she sniffed the ground.

Yes. There were others —two others. The scents told her that.

Slowly she took a step in their direction. Then another. And soon enough, she was running —dashing, really, at an unprecedented speed.. What would change would not be that they would die.. Only how.

And Inshala did not intent to show any mercy whatsoever, for they had shown none to her father. For her, killing one old man in his sleep, was as low as it got..

✱ ✱ ✱

The saber-tooth ghosted through the forest. The trails were getting cold and she did not want them to be lost. Day and night, she ran until she faltered and could go no further. She didn’t push. It would make a poor hunt if she caught her prey, but failed to kill. That’s how the hunt was; you crouched, you hid, you snuck, and you waited, patiently, and watched. And when the moment was ripe, you struck! For her, stupidity was also a poor excuse for letting the prey escape. And certainly not the way of a true predator. Inshala might be little in size and shape, and perhaps frail in soul, but the saber-tooth was not. And she’d always loved it. The strength, the freedom, the innate savagery and the feeling of being the supreme huntress.. there just was no substitute for it.

She rested and licked the caked blood of the big, uncouth beasts off her face and her great paws. And when she felt ready, she dashed again.. Today promised a good hunt because there was a storm gathering to the east and it looked like a good pour was due.. Rain always made it easier for her on the hunt. It hid her own scent and her steps even more. It did not help her prey, though.

A snarling grin stretch across her maw and her rumble matched that of the incoming storm.

Yes.. a good hunt indeed..

 

Inshala found them.

Huddled around a poor fire were a small crowd.

The fools had actually lit a fire!

Their number was more than she could readily dismiss, but they were cold, wet and blind under the stormy night. The more, the merrier.. They would make a great feast, but she was not here for food. If there was one thing she had learned from her Master, it was eating human flesh drew you insane.. No.. She was not here for food. She was here to kill. And she’d have to act fast. They had horses and sooner or later, the horses would pick up on her scent and panic, warning their masters.. Horses always panicked.. Quite the inconvenience they were. She had to act quickly and decisively. Dash in, kill one, dash out, and circle.. Rinse and repeat.. By the time she’d killed three or four, they would panic and run, because that’s what prey did.. They panicked and they ran, making them easy pickings.

Now only if she could devise a diversion..

Inshala stared up at the pouring storm..

..and her a new smile stretched across her maw.

Yes.. why not turn a simple rain, into a devastating lightning storm?

Inshala shifted and molded down to her little, pretty form. No, she thought. Not pretty.. Her ‘frail’ form!

She raised her arms into the night and chanted;

 

line-sdw-04up

oh, storm, ye great in form
harken me in this maidenform
ye weep and moan when you can be
much greater in sky and sea
bring down your rain and your wrath
upon the fool and the folly rath

line-sdw-04up

 

And as if on cue, the night exploded!

A long, brilliant streak of lightning flickered, followed by a mind jarring boom, and landed very nearly on top of the huddled group..

And the group scattered!

 

“Ow, no..”, whispered Inshala. “..my sweets, no fleeing, no running.. Not yet. You are going to burn and char before you flee..”

 

Another streak of lightning flickered down, sending one of them, a huge, bull of a man, crashing into a tree.

Then another flicker, sending a girl, Inshala thought, panicking into the bush.

And another..

And another..

And another..

 

A midgety little gnome went running into the night, followed by another girl —an elf!

A man in dark cloths was still standing his ground, a sharp, short iron sword in one hand and a knife in the other.. A KNIFE!

This was definitely her query.

And there was a tall one, in plate armor.

“Who wears plate armor in a lightning storm?”, mused Inshala merrily.

She watched as the plate armored one heave and push a dwarf, up on a horse..

What was this? Humans, gnomes, elves, and dwarves? Was the attack on her Master a byzantine plan among the elves, humans, dwarves and gnomes all along? A collective effort?

Perhaps she had acted in haste when she had sent the Erl-King and the Wyld Hunt away.. He had offered to slaughter them all..

No matter, no matter..

She would start the slaughter right here.

But first, she had to kill the dark one. The one with the knives. He still had his wits about him and given enough time, he would rally the others..

She pointed at him..

..and the night raged and sent down another brilliant lightning.

And missed!

Inshala just stared at the smoking patch of earth, where the dark man had just been, then at the man running in another direction.

So she called down lighting upon him once again..

..but the man took a sharp turn and rolled on the ground, and the lightning struck the tree behind him, sending it down in a mess of splinters.

Inshala heard a grunt followed by a low moan.

Yes! The dark, evil man had evaded the lighting, again, but apparently the tree had fallen on him.

Good enough for now.

The one in plates had butt-slapped the horse, and sent the dwarf to safety. Then he stood where he was and called into the night.

“We are not enemy. We are not foe. Ye who brings the lighting and storm, know, we mean no harm..”

“Mean no harm?”, fumed and hissed Inshala. “You can’t do any harm, and begging will not help you. You came into my forest for ill, and ill you shall receive!”

“Nay.”, replied the man.

And fell on his knees.

Then he raised his arms into the night as if in supplication and called;

“Ye, who hast called thus storm upon us, shall look and see into our souls. Should you still see dark and foul, bring more and char us all..”

Inshala gawked at the man..

..and a single beam of light lazily came down from the night sky and pushed the darkness away. It was a bright, golden light. A beautiful light. A light that bespoke of High Heavens and Angels beyond..

And she noted.

The man in plate armor, down on his knees, was no man, but a tall, broad at the shoulders, slim at the waist, long, rust-red-haired young woman.

Inshala’s eyes teared.

She was.. boldly beautiful.

And she was a paladin!

Sent here to end her..

 

“Finally..”, she whispered. “The Heavens have sent their fires to cleanse the demons out of me! I shall be free. I shall belong.. Father, I come..”

 

And just like that, the storm ceased, the rain stopped, and silence settled into the night.

 

The young paladin girl stood rigid, as if petrified, on her knees.

And Inshala curled up into a ball, lay prostrated before her, moaning and crying like a little girl.

 

“Burn me. Please burn me. I want to be free of my demons.. Burn me..”

✱ ✱ ✱

Aager? You alright?”, the huge man asked as he picked up the broken bits of the tree. “You seem peevish.” 

“Peevish?”, rasped the evil man in the dark clothes from under a whole pile of thick branches and a large, splintered tree trunk. “Just how many years did you wait to use that on me, Udoorin Shieldheart?”

“Many.”, smirked the big man and with a mighty heave, he lifted the trunk, giving enough room for the evil one to slip out.

“We have a visitor.”, the big man said with a slightly exaggerated voice.

“I am concussed, Udoorin. Not deaf.. Report!”, the dark man said.

“Bree, Laila, and the midget are back. Still waiting for Lady. I expect she will either get control of that big war horse and turn it around, or hold on to it until she reaches Arashkan, or decide she’s had just about enough and throw herself off the horse and limp all the way back here and make us all suffer for it. As for Lady Moira, I don’t know. She is just sitting there.. well, kneeling actually, with her hands in the air and.. that’s it! She isn’t moving or responding. She’s in a.. I dunno.. ‘catatonic’ state, I suppose, you could say.”, replied the Udoorin guy, pointing somewhere in the night.

“Who is the merry visitor? I suspect he’s responsible for the mess..”, the dark man asked, holding a hand at a tender spot on his forehead.

“She..”, corrected Udoorin.

“What?”

“He is a she.. A pretty one too.. With funny hair..”

“Like we didn’t already have an overabundance of women in this group..”, growled Aager.

“And they all are pretty..”, smirked the big one. Then he lowered his voice. “Please don’t tell Bree, I said that. I still carry her bite mark!”

“Guess I’ll just have to save it until I need a favor.”, replied Aager without even a smile.

“That’s not funny.”, scowled Udoorin.

“What’s the ‘visitor’ doing? Who is watching her?”, asked Aager, totally ignoring the big man’s plea.

“No one, really. She seems as catatonic as Moira. She has prostrated herself at the paladin’s feet and begging her to burn her!”

“What?”

“I know, right? We have all the prettiest girls and all of them are off in the head.”

“And now you owe me two favors.”, said Aager, and this time, he did snort.

Udoorin scowled at him, some more.

“Why’s your armor off?”, Aager asked him as they walked towards the paladin and the newcomer.

“Figured, lightning and metal armor.. You know.. Bad combination.. A bit too late thought.. Got singed pretty good.. It’ll leave a mark.. I hope it doesn’t leave a mark..”, said the big man with a worried expression.

“I am sure all the marks you have already, along with the ones you will get won’t add to your beauty.”

“That was not nice, Aager. I know I am not pretty, but you didn’t really have to hit me in the face with it.”, grumbled Udoorin.

“You never cease to amaze me, Udoorin.. Your priorities are truly mind-staggering.”, replied Aager blandly.

Udoorin’s face darkened even more.

 

Aager gave a perfunctory check on everyone in the group. Bremorel, the human girl, seemed a tad wild-eyed. She had rekindled the fire and was now holding her big bow in her hand. The bow was cocked and almost half drawn and she stood with her back to a tree, facing the newcomer. She also entertained an ugly shiner on her left upper cheek.

Gnine, the troublesome little gnome was whispering something while gesticulating rapidly at the half-elf girl standing next to him, who was also holding her bow in one hand with an arrow ready on the string.

“Well.. At least two people here are paying attention.”, scowled Aager.

Then he called to the half-elf girl.

“Ranger Laila. Go and track down the horse, and bring the Temple Guardian back, if you will, please.”

“Why me?”, Laila asked.

Aager did not reply. He just stared at her.

Laila also scowled at him, then took off into the night.

It seemed Aager wanted to make sure everyone around him was somehow scowling at him.. Or at least a few of them should be, at any given time..

He silently approached the paladin girl, Lady Moira, who stood unmoving on her knees and with her hands in the air, just as Udoorin had described.

And then he saw the ‘visitor’.. The person responsible for very nearly dismantling the whole lot of them, in under a few short moments.

To be honest about it, she could have, had she not stopped, and that made the man in the dark clothes wonder.. They certainly hadn’t been able to do anything to her. She had literally played with them like a cat would game with a mouse.

Why had she attacked them in the first place, and then stopped her assault when she was almost winning? And who was she?

All pertinent questions.

But the girl.. Aager couldn’t really make out if she was pretty or not, as young Udoorin had claimed.. Not that it mattered, nor that he cared. She did have ‘funny’ hair though. Tightly wrapped and braided on both sides of her head like some kind of cones.. Aager did not question the demented mentality in that. Girls did all sorts of strange things with their hair.. among other things.. He just nodded, when the occasion arouse and moved along..

The girl had knelt face in the dirt, covering and moaning in unmitigated terror;

“Burn me..”

“Please burn me..”

“Free of my demons..”

“Please burn me..

 

Aager wasn’t one for emotions, let alone for the subtler ones like ‘sympathy’ or ‘compassion’.. If someone asked him what they were, he’d probably just stare at him blankly.

But something about this girl nudged at him.

Without knowing why he took a few steps back.

“Udoorin.”, he called.

“What?”, replied the big man.

“Put your armor back on.”

“Why?”, asked Udoorin.

“Because I said so?”, growled Aager.

Udoorin grumbled some, looked up at the night sky as if checking for signs of new lightnings, then put his armor back on.

“Now what?”, he said as he approached Aager.

“Now go and pick the girl up.”

“Why?”

“We need to question her and we can’t do that while she is doing.. whatever it is she is doing now..”, replied Aager.

“I am not touching her.”, said Udoorin hastily.

Aager stared at him.

“You know what she did, man. Not to mention, you don’t just go and touch a girl. That is just rude.. and not right..”, Udoorin defended himself.

“When did I ever give you the impression I cared for any of that, young Udoorin?”, fumed the dark man. “You can either do what needs to be done, or go back to town and explain yourself to your father.”

“That’s way out of line, Aager.”, growled Udoorin.

“We are not out here for a polite stroll, young man. We are here to do the ‘dirty work’, so the rest of the people can sleep without a care. You volunteered to come. You wanted to come.. This is the part of the job that needs to be done; we interrogate prisoners and that is exactly what she is now. She is Lady Moira’s prisoner. And since she is otherwise busy —or incapacitated, that duty falls on us!”, replied Aager and he seemed to bite each word before he spat them out.

Young Udoorin’s back stiffened. But he still gave Aager a very nasty stare.

Then slowly, he came at the girl still prostrating before Moira.

“Umm.. ‘cuse me.. lady.. But we need to ask you some questions. Are you unwell? Perhaps you need some help. You really should get off the ground.. It’s wet, cold, and probably muddy..”, he stammered, then reached down and tried to pick the girl up.

“Don’t touch me!”, hissed the girl and bit his hand!

And with unexpected haste, she skipped once, twice and was very nearly a dozen feet away, crouched on the ground, showing all her teeth at the big man.

“Crap!”, swore the big man. “Why do girls keep biting me, dammit.. I can’t be that tasty!”

Then he turned and slowly approached her again with his hands open while making soothing sounds.

The girl hissed at him, some more..

“I think that will do, young man. You should be ashamed of yourself, touching a girl without her permission. You have shamed your father..”, snarled a voice in the dark, and heavy footsteps was heard. Then, a heavy set she-dwarf appeared, and there no mistaking about the scowl she had on her face.

“Lady Magella..”, stammered Udoorin. “I.. was merely..”

“You were merely what, Udoorin Shieldheart? Abusing an already traumatized little girl? Look at her.. It’s clear she’s had some rough time.”, she snarled again.

“I.. You got me all wrong.. I was just..”, spluttered the big man, trying to explain himself.

“Go. Just go.. Boil some water, cut some wood, peal some potatoes.. Just go and make yourself scarce but useful!”

Udoorin stormed away, fuming..

“This is all your fault, Aager.”, he very nearly spat, as he walked past the dark man.

“No. It’s all yours.. ‘Own’ your folies, young man. But I learned what I needed to, anyway.. For the time being..”, replied Aager calmly.

“You. Girl!”, ordered Lady Magella. “What’s your name and what are you doing here?”

The girl hissed at her as well.

“I am the Temple Guardian of Serenity Home and you will NOT hiss at me like some wild beast.”, spoke Lady and there was a distinct no-nonsense quality to her voice.

And the girl lost all her ferocity.

“You.. you are.. a Temple Guardian?”, she asked with her eyes wide open.

“Yes, I am. And I have twenty some odd years under my belt to prove it!”, Lady replied sternly.

“Have.. have you come to burn me?”, the girl asked.

“Burn you? Now why would you ask such a silly question?”, replied Lady in disgust and a totally offended tone.

“Burn me.. Please..”, the girl said and suddenly prostrated herself, once again..

..and wept..

“Burn me.. Burn me and free this world off me!..”

 

Udoorin, Bremorel, Gnine, and Laila stared at the wretched site before them.

Lady Magella’s eyes teared, for her first assessment of the girl had been correct.. Too correct. The girl was unbelievably traumatized.

Aager only looked at the girl with an unfathomable and barely-contained expression.

He remembered Drashan and his own childhood, not that he’d had much of it. He remembered his mother, whose name he couldn’t even place anymore. Having remembered her, he inevitably recalled his sister. The sister that had been entrusted to him. And then taken from him, sold to some brothel, and burned alive in a horrible, unquenchable fire. He remembered all the vile people he’d cut there. Every single one of them. And he remembered the beatings and the whippings.. and the guillotine..

..and how he came to Serenity Home; secretly broken, hiding in his own traumas, untrusting, very nearly and murderously hateful.

Serenity Home had helped..

..somewhat.

Enough to have suppressed his base hate to everything that had to do with life..

..at least.

It hadn’t been enough that all these children, sans the dwarf, had been entrusted to him..

And now this?

He was never one to truly believe the greatness of the Heavens, but this.. This had been a step gone too far..

He felt like someone was having a great time punning him from the high above!

Then he looked down at the girl.

She seemed young and small, but her form, although somewhat battered, looked quite mature with ‘pleasant to look at’ sized breasts, a slim waist, ‘could use a pound or two more’ body, very dark, ‘funny’ hair (who would bun up their hair like that, anyway?) and a diminutive face, printed with slightly sharp and angular features..

Young Udoorin had been right on one point though; the girl was, indeed, quite pretty.. More so, Aager suspected, if she’d not been in the condition that she was now.

Many questions inevitably crossed his mind. Who was this girl? Again, why had she attacked them and why had she stopped? Why was she hissing and spitting like some pissed-off, feral cat? And why the bloody hell did she beg to be burned?

Then it dawned on him.

Why he had so unexpectedly felt some semblance of sympathy to the girl..

For he had, unwittingly perhaps, found the one person who was worse off than he was.

✱ ✱ ✱

The jarring, panicked whisper of Inshala spiked Aager in the middle of the night.

“Aager Fogstep! I need your help! Quick!”

Aager went from zero to full battle-mode in under two seconds; a shimmering, ghostly blade appeared in one hand and another, an excruciatingly sharp one in the other, to see Inshala missing..

“Where are you? What’s wrong?”, he sent his thoughts back tinted with his own panic.

“I am in Madina’s room. We.. uhhmm.. she said we could hang out together, talk trash and eat bad food and get scolded for doing it in the morning by mom. She said all teens do this but I don’t know why, and neither does she.. Apparently, it’s a ‘thing’!”

Aager frowned and breathed out slowly.

“Okay.”, he said evenly. “What’s the problem?”

“She says there’s this boy and she says she sort of likes him. But she is asking me if she is too much of an ’emo’ and that perhaps if she ‘toned it down a little’, the boy might notice him. I don’t even know what the buggery bum an ’emo’ is!”

Aager cocked an eyebrow even though he was alone and in the dark.

“Buggery bum?”

“Yes. Madina says that’s the new word around here. Would you like to know what the old word was?”

“Uhhmm.. Not really, no..”, replied Aager carefully.

“Good. Because I don’t think I can repeat that to you. But it starts with an ‘F’! Madina said, there’s this Academy of Melshieve, far away, and that they have the best words there.. I am confused. The rules to being an elder sister are complicated and many..”

 

“Huh!”, snorted Aager as he let go of the ghostly blade, causing it to just vanish, and sheathed the other.

 

“What is the urgency?”

“She.. she says she has been watching you and me and thinks I know love and wants me to help her compose a.. uhhmm.. love letter to that boy..”

“Okay.. What seems to be the problem?”

“I can’t think of another single thing that could totally go wrong than this.. I can’t even think why anyone would put love in a letter! You don’t put love in letters. You just give it and dearly hope that person gives it back! Besides, I do not know this boy. All the boys I have known have tried to catch me, called me crooked names, or thrown stones at me. Boys are bad for girls! I don’t know if she really wants this boy as I want you, either. And I don’t even know how to draw words.. This is a buggery bum of a nightmare for me.. Help me? Please?”

 

The cold, sinister-looking man, Aager Fogstep, the Winter Knight, stared blankly at his, now empty bed and at Inshala’s empty bed..

 

“Well, buggery bum, indeed..”, he whispered..

 

Sleep just wasn’t going to happen any time soon that night..

 

 

 

Later.

Much later.

Back in the dark, quite room..

 

Aager lay on his back in hopes of catching a bit of sleep before dawn. Tomorrow, or rather, a few hours later, was going to be a very trying day.

The rot-hearted Tarakadahan had decided to turn the whole thing into a show. Aager would have much preferred the dispute between the old fool and Moira be settled in some quiet, back alley setting.. He wouldn’t have minded even open fighting in the castle corridors. But no.. The idiot had decided to turn it into a parade. In front of the whole Durkahan nobility, no less.

The stupidity of people, baffled and confounded him.

“Very well..”, thought Aager darkly. “You want a show? I shall give you a show.. And I shall remind the whole lot of you just how archaic and foolish you all really are. And that no one really gives a ‘buggery bum’, about your honors, your prides, and your foolish ways.. The world is going down and this is what you still desire? To watch a drama queen in the arena?”

Tomorrow was going to be a harsh awakening for them all. Aager was a pragmatic man. He never went as low as being heinous, but otherwise, he cared little about the way things got done.

And he fully intended to show Durkahan, how things ‘rolled’ in Drashan..

 

“Are you still awake, Aager Fogstep?”, came a whisper from the other bed in the room.

“Yes.. no.. maybe?”, replied Aager.

“You are wroth with me?”, she whimpered.

“Wroth? Why would I be wroth with you?”, he asked.

“I scared you when I woke you the way I did. And I kept you up very nearly all night. Now you are tired and angry.”, she said in a small voice.

 

Aager loved Inshala.

He loved her more than anything he’d loved. Or perhaps, to put it into correct perspective, he loved her more than anything he could have wished to have loved anything, or anyone..

On occasion, though, he loved her more..

Particularly when she became.. ‘smaller’, yet ‘greater’, when she thought she’d hurt him.

Great Heavens, no one cared whether they hurt Aager Fogstep.

Like.. never!

And this girl, his Inshala, cared.. Enough to actually worry and to get worked up about it.

 

“You surprised me, love. That’s all.. Besides, Madina seems to have gotten a certain liking to you. I can’t say, nor do I claim to be knowledgeable about these things, having never truly experienced it, but I heard teens can be insufferable.”

“I am a teen.. I think..”, mumbled Inshala.

“You and I, love, do not qualify for many ‘norms’. We either missed them, or they never applied to our lives..”, shrugged Aager. “When I was a teen, I was too busy trying just to stay alive in the freezing streets of Drashan. Never really had the luxury to throw tantrums, nor write love letters. I am guessing yours wasn’t any better..”

“My poor Aager.”, came the girl’s unhappy voice.

“No, Inshala. I am the richest man in the world. I have the one thing no man, dead or alive, has ever had, nor will ever have.. For, I. Have. You!”, he whispered and he did it without any particular implications nor innuendos. He said it with the voice he used when he was stating the facts. And nothing but the facts..

“You think.. too highly of me..”, came the small, blushed voice of the girl, lying in the next bed.

“No. I think only of you.”, he replied, and he meant it.

Inshala was silent. Aager did not nudge her, nor check her through their bond. If she’d gone to sleep, apparently she needed it.

But just in case she hadn’t, he kept up the conversation, though toned down to just above a whisper.

“Besides, between the two of us, I think we managed a rather decent love letter back there.. It had everything a growing boy needs; Madina’s feelings, the threat of evisceration and defenestration, quite unveiled implications of ‘you better behave yourself’ and a decent description of just what would happen if he ever broke the girl’s heart. I can practically see the boy brimming with happiness. I mean, what could possibly go wrong, there?”

The silence persisted and Aager knew now, she wasn’t asleep. Furthermore, she was worried about something. Something important for her not to have gotten a ‘snort’ out of her with that retelling of the letter they had sat down and written all night long.

Yes, thought Aager, that had definitely merited a snort!

Aager liked Inshala ‘snort’.

His Inshala snorted ‘cute’.

It was so unladylike.

Totally uncontrolled.

Aager couldn’t put his finger on it, but the phrase, ‘freely given’, sounded just about right.

And it always left her face adorably, maturely, and, rather unexpectedly sensually pink and abashed.

 

Funny how it was always the little things in others we cared about that made us adore them even more.

Aager secretly wondered what were his little things that the girl lying in the next bed found ‘adorable’, but he just couldn’t imagine anything. Then he remembered the time they were back in Arashkan, still seeking the infamous rebellion, Gar Thalot in the Tempest Temple where they had all found out how the princess, Lorna, ‘adored’ young Udoorin’s beard.. Really? That scruffy patch of.. Aager stopped there. It didn’t matter what he thought about the boy’s beard, even if it was a scruffy patch. It was what the girl, Lorna, thought that mattered. End of story..

 

“Aager..”, he heard her say, bringing him back from Udoorin and his scruffy beard —of all things!

“I am here..”, he replied.

Then he heard a soft, shuffling noise, and suddenly, her beautiful face was a bare inch away from his and he was very much awake now.

 

“Do.. do I belong?”, she asked tentatively, tenderly, even, as she looked deep into his dark eyes. And in those eyes, Aager saw, everything she had been, everything she was, and everything she would be.. was there. All of it. With all her eternal losses, all her crummy gains, all her vast strengths and her suffered weakness’s in pure, unadulterated nakedness..

Aager looked back at the girl reflecting hers with his, stare for stare.. Inshala, he thought, had truly beautiful eyes..

“You belong.”, replied simply.

Slowly, carefully and tenderly she reaches up and held his face with two, warm and slender hands. For a silent moment, she studied his face, as though looking for something. Aager dearly and desperately hoped she found it.

Quietly, in her soft melodious voice, she spoke. A voice that carried all her losses, her pains, and her desperations, yet her determination and her tenacious will, also.

 

“Then, I am Inshala. And I belong.”

 

 

 

 

line-sdw-04up

i was born
but no one told me why

when i was gone
no one told me where

always chased
always caged
then i learned
the running cannot belong
i rose up
to fall back down
up among the clouds
and back on the ground
and there i found
among the lost and found
dead among
the living
living
among the dead
too lost
to care
careful
not to lose
i held up my
pocket watch
time’s to stop
the times
lost in time
found this time
what i gave freely
cost me drearily
did not know
it would demand so much more
i burned and smoldered
in the depths of fire
buried and frozen
deep in snow
just had to go lower
to rise higher
and just like that
i figured
i am inshala
and i belong

line-sdw-04up


The original Erl-King poem was written in German, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and later composed into a musical by Schubert.

The English version (the one used here) was translated and adapted by Edgar Alfred Bowring..

 

The elfish spell Inshala chants to summon the lightnings down the storm was written by myself. It translates to English as:

 

oh, storm, ye great in form,
harken me in this maidenform.
ye weep and moan when ye can be,
much greater in sky and sea.
bring down your rain and your wrath,
upon the fool and the folly rath.

 

Rath: a strong circular earthen wall forming an enclosure and serving as a fort and residence for a tribal chief.

 

When Inshala says; “But it starts with an ‘F’!”, she is referring to ‘Funked’, as in ‘creeped out’ or ‘frightened’ —a popular phrase used in the Academy at some era and picked up by Seressa Wraiven, who used in on several occasions: Somewhere Bitter In the Darkness (18+), A Shift in Perspective (18+), and Kocakarı Hikayesi (18+). Unfortunately, she (Inshala) is clueless as to what ‘Funked’ means..

 

The elfish song at the end was also written by myself and translates as;

 

i was born
but no one told me why
 
when i was gone
no one told me where
 
always chased
always caged
 
then i learned
the running cannot belong
 
i rose up
to fall back down
 
up among the clouds
and back on the ground
 
and there i found
among the lost & found
 
a heart, dead among
the living
 
to a heart, living
to die
 
too lost
to care
 
but careful
never to lose
 
i held up my
pocket watch
 
time’s to stop
the times
 
lost in time
found this time
 
what i gave freely
cost me dearly
 
yet it would want
so much wont
 
i burned and smoldered
in depths of fire
 
buried and frozen
in debts of my ire
 
had to go lower
to rise higher
 
and just like that
i figured
 
i am inshala
and i belong

dungeons and dragons duygusal groups karakter analizi komedi modül role play serenity the plot thickens tundra walkers Whispers; A Cabal

The Returning of
Shal -ah Galad

The Returning of
Shal -ah Galad

Timeline:

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

It must now be given back to its owner..

Or perhaps.. just the right person.

 

This story takes place a few days after
Giving the Thief

 

 

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

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

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

Brom cackled.

Seressa snorted.

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Then inner Tonic’s whispering voice came echoing.

 

“We shall see.. Weee shall seeeeee…”

 

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

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

 

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

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

“Are you alright?”, whispered Brom again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

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

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

“Whot? Why?”, she asked.

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

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

Brom snorted.

Seressa hiccupped.

Cora, though, did neither..

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

“Not you, Brom..”, snarled Cora.

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

“Not you, hobbit!”, barked Tonic..

 

..Brom sulked in a corner!

 

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

 

Cora Sleet (click to see)

“Ow. My. Gosh!”, ogled Tonic!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You lot are a riot..”

“..and have some serious issues!”

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Tonic snorted.

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

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

“..I resent that.”, Tonic said.

“My apologies.”, said Cora sarcastically.

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

Seressa snorted.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

“Shut up, Tonic!”, shot back Tonic.

 

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

“DAMN YOU, LILLY!”

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

“Shit!”

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

“Yea.. Pretty too..”, Cora agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

“You have a tail!”, blurted Tonic!

 

Cora didn’t say anything.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Brom coughed!

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

LOVE!..

 

..she cried in pain.

 

I FEEL THE LOVE YOU HAVE FOR HER..

IT BURNS..

AND THE HATE YOU FEEL FOR YOURSELF..

IT PAINS!

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

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

 

And just like that, the girl caught fire!

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

 

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

 

“Ow. My. Heavens!, croaked Seressa.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

The four watched the little girl with awed fascination..

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

She cleared her throat and asked.

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

“No!”, Brom said suddenly.

The others all turned to look at him with amazement.

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

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

“Meaning..?”

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

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

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

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

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

Brom snorted.

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

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

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

 

There was a moment of mordent silence..

 

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

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

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

 

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

Brom sighed and trotted after the barbarian.

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

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

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

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

..and lo!

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

The two just stood there ogling and petrified.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

And to that, Cora found a kin..

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

..recognition?

 

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

 

The angelic girl looked up at the odd pair.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

With a solemn, muted voice, she spoke.

 

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

 

Cora stared at the beautiful creature.

She lowered her head and knelt before her..

“I shall..”, she said simply.

 

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

 

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

 

“I shall..”, she repeated.

 

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

 

“You know my name..”, Cora said.

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

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

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

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

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

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

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

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

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

And by at least one account, he already had!

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

For a moment she struggled for words but failed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just the fact!

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

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

..endearing?

 

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

The girl, Inshala, giggled.

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

 

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

..intoxicated?

Yes. Intoxicated. That sounded like an important word!

 

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

“What is it?”, he asked immediately.

 

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

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

 

The man, Aager Fogstep, froze.

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

He’d felt terrified then.

He felt terrified now!

 

Aager Fogstep did not clear his throat.

He did not fidget.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

YOU ARE THE WORDS..

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

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

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

“You first..!”, Seressa smirked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tonic did a squeaky little manic cackle.

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

Seressa produced a rather bedraggled, second-quality craft parchment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Eww, girl!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Seressa snorted..

..and so did Cora.

 

Tonic relit her lantern and read the parchment;

 

✱ ✱ ✱

Later.. Much, much later..

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

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


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

dungeons and dragons duygusal groups karakter analizi komedi modül role play the plot thickens tundra walkers Whispers; A Cabal

Giving the Thief

Giving the Thief

Timeline:

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brom shrugged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

✱ ✱ ✱

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

 

Brom’s imagination got carried away sometimes..

 

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

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

Cora stared down at the halfling with a steady gaze.

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

Brom smirked.

“Anything to help my friend.”

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

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

Cora snorted.

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

“Cora..”, whispered Brom, after her.

“What?”, hissed Cora back.

“You have an adorable pout!”

There was a moment of bewildered silence..

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

“Really..”, said Brom.

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

 

Then the voice was gone.

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes. Brom had stayed.

Brom always stayed.

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Shal ah Galad..

The Sword of Light..

Shal ah Galad..

The Sword of Light..

Shal ah..

Shal..

 

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

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

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

..ve kısılır.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

✱ ✱ ✱

Cora ran.

Cora ran as she’d never run before.

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

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

 

Apparently, small didn’t always equivocate to lightweight.

Just, compact!

 

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

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

“Just— What?”, Brom baffled.

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

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

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

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

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

“Ahh, yes. That would be inconvenient.”

 

The ground rumbled under them.

The snow all around them jumped, then settled.

 

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

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

“You saw him?”

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

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Only Cora did not shiver.

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

There was only a barely hidden satisfaction in her eyes.

Satisfaction about something only she knew.

 

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

“DREADMAW.. DREADMAW..!”

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

Cora felt a small hand reach up to hers.

Brom..

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

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

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

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

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

 

She paused for a moment.

 

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

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

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

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

 

Cora Sleet turned around and faced her companions.

There was something breathtaking in her face just that moment.

Something beautiful.. and savage..

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Brom was the first to respond.

He snorted!

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

✱ ✱ ✱

Some sixteen to seventeen years later..

 

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

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

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

 

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

He sat silently on his throne and waited..

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

 

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

 

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

The demoness never saw her master coming!

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

The beautiful, masculine voice smiled.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


dungeons and dragons duygusal groups karakter analizi komedi modül role play the plot thickens tundra walkers Whispers; A Cabal

Sending Stone;  
The One That Matters

Sending Stone;
The One That Matters

Timeline:

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Seems a bit too posh for you..”

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

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

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

Then she snorted in mirth.

“What?”, asked her pair.

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

Seressa laughed with pain.

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

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

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

“Whot?”

“Your Sending Stones..”

 

There was a brief, strained pause.

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Ow? How come? Did you lose it?”

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

 

There was another pause..

 

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

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

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

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

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

Then her voice softened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A very hot pause filled the storm pit.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know so, luv. I know so..”

“How do you mean?”, asked Tonic.

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

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

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

 

Tonic told her.


dungeons and dragons duygusal groups karakter analizi komedi modül role play the plot thickens tundra walkers Whispers; A Cabal

Secrets of the Raven Queen

Secrets of the Raven Queen

Timeline:

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

And she was also limping horribly.

 

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

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

 

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

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

Brom felt tired and worried.

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

..and driven.

 

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

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

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

 

Brom just stared at the two.

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

 

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

“—my own deeds.”, finished Seressa.

“Seressa!”, protested Tonic.

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

 

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

 

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

 

She paused for a moment.

 

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

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

With that, Cora Sleet appeared out of nowhere!

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

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

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

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

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

..and silently hugged her.

 

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

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

 

PLEASE BE MY FRIEND!

 

A little sniffy sob escaped Seressa.

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

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

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

A little sniffy sob escaped Tonic, this time..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Funny how broken bones always healed stronger..

..and perhaps, friendships too.

 

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

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, but—”

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

 

Tonic gulped.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Seressa shut up.

So did Tonic.

 

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

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

 

..and Brom shut up, as well!

 

Cora dug deep into the snow, a soft, diagonal pit for easy access both ways. Then she carefully lowered the stretcher and Seressa in it, then helped Tonic as well.

Just as she started covering the small gap, Seressa called to her.

“Cora.. Dreadmaw is dangerous. But you already know this. What you may not know is, he.. he has certain.. ties and connections.. with otherworldly beings..”

Cora looked down into the pit and the bottomless eyes of the tall, dark tiefling.

“Is there anything you want to tell me that I should know?”, she said with a neutral voice.

 

Seressa closed her eyes as pain bit her once more. Stretching at such an angle to see the tundra elf was straining her fractured ribs.

 

“I.. I do not know..”, she said. “..There are many.. secrets.. Secrets that I know due to my bond with my Mistress. But I do not know if I have the right to divulge them.”

 

Cora did not say anything.

She did not push.

She only waited.

 

“The Sword of..”, began Seressa finally. “..The Sword of Priceptine, the Archangel of Wrath.. ‘Priceptine’s Light’.. ‘Shal ah Galad’.. That is what’s likely the thief must steal..”

 

Brom whistled low and long, from behind Cora.

Tonic stared at her pair with wide, shocked eyes right in the face, as she was huddled up right next to her in the pit.

 

“I.. can’t believe you kept this from me!”, squeaked Tonic.

“I am sorry, luv. I didn’t keep it from you, because it wasn’t my secret to give!”

“Your Mistress—”, breathed Cora slowly from her nose.

“—The Raven Queen!”, inserted Seressa.

“The Raven Queen.. what does she have to do with this?”

“My Mistress, The Raven Queen, is the keeper of mysteries, prophecies, secrets, lost knowledge, and lost souls..”, whispered Seressa, no longer able to look up. “She.. When we left Grandaleren in our last mission, Archangel Priceptine attacked the temple of Themalsar with his Wrath Angels to buy time for the elves. There.. there he was ambushed by something, and slain.. or entrapped, I do not know which.. No one does.. Or if anyone does know, they are not saying.. But that’s the last anyone has ever heard from the Archangel. When Priceptine was gone, His sword, ‘Shal ah Galad’ became vulnerable. To avoid it from falling into wrong hands or the hands of the demons, my Mistress, The Raven Queen picked it up and paid the price for it.

While my Mistress is not precisely ‘good’ in a conventional sense, She isn’t evil either. The Light of Priceptine, however, can not be touched without being burned, by anything that is not ‘pure’, in an angelic sense.”

“Why? Why would your Mistress pick it up in the first place?”, asked Brom from behind Cora. “I mean, if she isn’t exactly ‘good’.. why bother?”

“Because my Mistress is the keeper of mysteries, prophecies, secrets, lost knowledge, and lost souls.. And demons are the cause to many, many knowledge, and the reason for many more souls to be lost.”, tried to explain Seressa. “Whatever else She may be, my Mistress absolutely abhors demons and she will spike their wheel, just out of spite.. Hence, she took the blade, but she couldn’t keep it. Not that she wanted to. But what she did want, was that it be kept away, far away, from demon hands.. And so, she gave it to an ancient creature that she knew could, and would keep it safe, no matter what; Hydius Dreadmaw..”

 

“Your Mistress gave the Sword of Priceptine to Dreadmaw? Hells bells, girl, Dreadmaw? DREADMAW?.. Dreadmaw is evil!”, said Tonic, with a horrified expression.

“Whether she gave it to him out of convenience of proximity or some other reason, I do not know. But the one fact remains clear; that Dreadmaw is also a dragon.. An ancient dragon, no less..”, whispered Seressa back. “And if there is one creature that jealously guards its hoard, it’s a dragon! And no demon would get anywhere near him because Dreadmaw is a lone creature. He does not make pacts. He will not join alliances. And he certainly will NOT be a tool for anyone!”

 

There was a long, sentient silence as the others tried to digest what they had just heard.

 

“Sooo… what now?”, asked Brom, with a defeated voice.

“No..”, said Cora with a very, very serious tone. “..that’s not all, is it? Why are we to help that butcher, Son of Krash even steal the sword? He already stole something and it destroyed my home! We could just stop him from stealing anything and perhaps save my home..”

“My dear, dear Cora..”, said Seressa softly. “..we are not here to save your Ironfrost. We are here to save the Sword of Light. I am so, so sorry my beloved friend. But there is nothing that we can do for Ironfrost.”

 

Cora just stood there, like she was petrified.

 

“What I don’t understand is, why are we to let Son of Krash take it?”, asked Brom tentatively from behind Cora.

“I am not privy to all my Mistress’s secrets, dear Brom, nor the reasons behind them.”, said Seressa quietly. “But I suspect, it is perhaps time, or near the time when the Sword of Light should reemerge. And my Mistress can not take it back from Dreadmaw. For the same reason as to why she couldn’t keep it, even for safekeeping. AND, once something enters a dragon’s hoard, it BECOMES the dragon’s hoard. Unless we want my Mistress, The Raven Queen to come down here to take it back from Dreadmaw himself by force, causing the possible destruction of this part of the continent, I am afraid it is up to us mortals to sneak in and steal it.. Or have it stolen, in this case.. As to why WE can’t keep it, I do now know. I can only surmise, the ‘higher-ups’ have a plan. I would love to know their reasoning, myself. But I don’t even know whom to ask..”

 

For one last time, Seressa struggled to turn her head and shrieked in pain.

“Seressa, please dear!”, Tonic whispered in tears.

“‘Tis.. alright.. luv..”, Seressa gasped. Teeth clenched, she reached up to hold Cora’s hand. And when their hands touched, it was like fire beholding glacial ice..

“I.. I am so, so sorry you must the one to bear this burden Cora. If.. if it will bring you any consolation.. any solace, we are laying the ground for.. GOOD to prevail.. I.. I am a tiefling.. half of me was born from, and caused by EVIL. I have less to lose if you fail.. yet more.. SO MUCH MORE to gain if you succeed; my humanity, my sanity, my identity, my pair and my friends.. You must prevail beloved, Cora. You MUST! My ancestry does not define me.. My choices do.. And all my choices have brought me here.. to a dear friend like you..”, she pleaded..

 

Seressa squeezed shut her eyes.

 

“The Sword.. the Sword of Light.. it’s rumored to be a longsword with.. with gold inlaid into its blade’s fuller and supposedly has.. golden wings for a cross-guard. There are many other.. rumors.. but these are the two definitive ones.. Shouldn’t be hard to spot.. A.. a bit ostentatious for an archangel, I think.. but.. I shall not argue.. about His tastes..”

 

Her voice grew shallow and down to an unbearable whisper.

 

“P.. please Cora.. forgive me.. and do this for me..”

✱ ✱ ✱

Cora looked down at the long, dark, exhausted hand and at the drained girl in the storm pit.

Her glacial blues softened.

“Choices..”, she murmured quietly.

Then she squeezed the languid hand of the beautiful, black girl in silly pinks.

“I do.. And I shall..”, she said with a steely determination and rose to her feet.

 

“Master Bard! I will require your services.. Will you escort me to this Dreadmaw, whilst we unleash our wrath?”, she grunted with deliberate bravado.

“Just for that, you will get an Epic”, smirked Brom, and fell in beside her.

CORA SLEET STEEL
THE STORM HERALD

✱ ✱ ✱

“You made a funny.”, whispered Brom as they snuck up to the mouth of Dreadmaw.

“Why, Master Brom..”, Cora whispered back. “I always make a funny.”

“Ow?”

“Never seen my face when I rage? Saw it on the reflection of a pot once.. Why a pot, don’t ask.. Almost fell over and lost the rage!”


Cora Sleet: “Saw it on the reflection of a pot once.. Why a pot, don’t ask..”, was referring to a time when she raged once at home when she was much younger, in her mom’s kitchen, and got her head clubbed by a shiny metal pot! —never rage against your pissed-off mom; particularly if she is a barbarian!

dungeons and dragons duygusal groups karakter analizi komedi modül role play the plot thickens tundra walkers Whispers; A Cabal

Suffering;
Cruelly and All Over Again.

Suffering;
Cruelly and All Over Again.

Timeline:

One prophecy has been fulfilled.

What and where a wrong was undone, is unclear.

The Tundra Walkers return to the Star Watchers village and back to the old seers, baffled and frustrated. Yet shall they volunteer to right another wrong?

 

This story starts 16 years ago, in some tattered tent full of wispy old hags, at a place far, far north of the Great Northern Tundra’s, in a small village called Star Watchers and ends in scourging suffering both cruel and to be lived all over again. It seems the final cycle of mortals must be set upon a harsh ground.

This story is the (relative) continuation of
Birthright (18+), part one..

 

 

Damit! Not again.. Is there a particular law against soft landings during prophecy flights?!”, spat Tonic very much indignantly and very much wet!

“Well, it was a soft landing.. Ow look! It’s all snow around us. I’d sort of hoped we’d end up somewhere warmer.”, said the very tall, very black girl in pinks.

“The two of you..”, started Cora, barring her teeth as she rose from the wet, slushy snow.

“..should make a stand-up show!”, finished Brom, his mumbling nearly lost as he’d landed face down and somewhat head down as well.

 

There was a smoldering moment of silence, then Tonic scowled, “Hey look! It talks!”

“That will do Arcantonic!”, growled Cora silently. “You just went over the top.. The hobbit is my friend and you will show him the respect even if that is too much for you.”

“I am sorry!”, said Tonic immediately as she gave the frosty barbarian girl an appraising look. “That bit was indeed over the top.”

Seressa suddenly appeared behind Tonic, looming over her like a giant. She stared cooly at Cora and silently said, “Please do not threaten my pair, Cora..”

 

Cora stared back at the tall, black figure in pinks as a cold aura appeared around her.

Tonic’s face went red as she suddenly figured out what she had just triggered. Her pair was a kind, cheery, optimistic girl, certainly, but she went wild and possible feral when anyone so much as looked at Tonic the wrong way.. It was uncannily flattering to have such a friend, but if things went down now, it would never get fixed.

 

“Ummm.. Seressa.. there’s no need.. It isn’t necessary.. Look, it was my fault, alright. Don’t dump it on the elf..”, she stammered.

Seressa appeared not to have heard her pair.

Brom rose out of the snow, his face also red, but mostly due to the snow it had landed.

“I sense impending stupid incoming!”, he muttered..

 

..and that didn’t help things at all.

 

Seressa’s eyes started to glow with an eerie inner fire.

“You are on the wrong and defending your friend point-blank just because you are her friend isn’t being a friend.”, Cora said coldly.

“She is my pair. Period!”, snarled Seressa.

“And that makes it alright for her to insult everyone as she pleases?”

“Umm.. Seressa.. really.. I already said I was sorry.. Please stop!”, nearly whimpered Tonic.

 

Brom took a few steps back and silently stood there. He believed he had taken the measure of his barbarian friend. Now was perhaps the time to take the measure of the other two.

The wind picked up and blew the slushy snow around but no one seemed to care.

 

“Do something!”, came Tonic up to Brom, wriggling her hands.

“It isn’t smart for a man to get in between two women. It is abysmal to get in between three. You caused the avalanche, I suppose if you really want to stop it, you are just going to have to stand in front of it! And to be honest, I don’t really have the inclination to help you out, girl. As I have been on the receiving end of your insults ever since we met.

“I have never cursed at you, hobbit!”, snarled Tonic.

“Your standards do not define what is an insult and what is not, I am afraid, mine does..”, shrugged Brom.

“What did I say to suddenly set things off, damit!”, said Tonic, flailing her arms.

“And that is the core of your fault. You do not think, like at all, before you talk. You don’t even remember what you said to set this off, and you are still mouthing off? You couldn’t have found better two friends for yourself than those two and they are about throw down because of you. That’s not just wrong and total misuse of friendship, it’s evil..”, Brom said sternly.

 

Arcantonic Palecog just stared at Brom.

Perhaps she wanted to cry because a strange expression appeared on her face, but the freezing wind just wouldn’t let her.

Finally, she turned and went up to her pair, slushing through the deep snow.

“Seressa Wraiven!”, she shouted over the wind.

Seressa looked down at her.

“Please stop this. NOW!”

Then she turned to Cora.

“I am sorry Cora. I really am..”, she said softly.

 

Cora did not move nor did her frosty face soften.

 

“No..”, she said finally. “..you are not!”

“Yes.. yes I am..”, Tonic baffled a bit.

“If you are, why are you apologizing to me?”, she said and Tonic sank even deeper into the snow.

“Yea..”, said Brom from the side. “..why is she apologizing to you, Cora?”

“That’s enough..”, Seressa said coldly. “..she already said she was sorry. What you are doing now is just cruel!”

“I am an illiterate barbarian who never went to any academy..”, Cora said softly. “..what’s your excuse?”

“She did not have a kind childhood.”, Seressa defended her pair.

 

“I wasn’t referring to her. I was referring to you, Seressa. You think you are doing her kindness by letting her as she pleases even at the cost of your own dignity? Or perhaps you think it’s alright for you to insult others because that’s exactly what you are doing by seemingly closing your eyes whenever she mouths off.. Now I am not knowledgeable about the kind of bond pairs enjoy, but what it appears is it’s making both of you look rather conceited where others are concerned. Your little pair is so self observed, she can’t even recognize what she did wrong and she’s apologizing to me because she thinks I will go berserk on her like I am some unstable tundra hog, which I take offense but let slide, while she should be apologizing to the ‘hobbit’.. Speaking of which, the ‘hobbit’, has a name; ‘Brom’. Easy enough, even for an ‘unstable’ savage such as myself to remember..

Me and Brom.. We are not mated. We are not a ‘pair’. I am not the alpha and he is not any beta. What we are, is ‘friends’.. ‘companions’.. We rely on one another to survive and to overcome what evil we face and endangering that deathly relation by calling him names seems like a rather stupid idea.

We four have been through some hardship together. Making it harder than it already is, also sounds like a stupid idea.

If you think it is not acceptable for me to berate your pair for acting like a spoilt child, but perfectly alright for her to sully others, I am out!”

 

Both Seressa and Tonic froze where they were and just stared at the frosty face of the tundra elf.

 

Brom also looked at Cora too and understood a few facts. One, that this savage girl was deeply wounded, and was still mourning over the loss of her loved ones, her people, and her Ironfrost. Two, that she had accepted him as her friend and that was something she took very seriously. Three, he felt privileged that she had chosen, and accepted him as her friend. Four, that she did not think of him as a secondary role character, nor a sidekick, and last but not least, she was not to be messed with.. Not any time soon, anyway.

 

“You.. you can’t be out! This isn’t a ‘Ring and Iron’ match! It’s a prophecy..”, stuttered Seressa.

Cora shrugged.

“I do not know what your ring or iron match is, but it sounds like some sort of a game.. We don’t really ever have time for games in the tundras. And it’s your prophecy. Not mine. All I need to do is sit here and wait until one of the old women gets frustrated enough and calls us back!”

“It.. Prophecies don’t work like that..”, shook Seressa in a near panic. “We.. we could be crushed inside a time paradox or just disappear altogether..”

Cora shrugged again, undid her heavy, leather-hide fur cloak, tossed on the wet snow..

..and settled down!

✱ ✱ ✱

Do something..”, hissed Tonic at Brom. “Nothing I tell her at this point will change her mind.”

“You think anything I say will change her mind?”, Brom looked at Tonic amused.

“You are her friend!”, she exclaimed.

“And that is what you don’t get, Arcantonic; so are you! The added fact that you think her feeble-minded enough to cave in just because I go and ask her is insulting on her part, altogether. Besides, this is your mess.”, he said, took off his cloak, and prepared to settled down.

“You know full well I never meant to insult you, hobbit!”, snarled Tonic.

“Brom.. The name’s Brom. She just told you that.”

“You know what I mean!”

“No. I don’t. You have never once said anything nice or kind to me ever since we met. All I have heard from you are lots an’ lots of cussing, insults, and your ‘Eyes-Front’ patronizing attitude.”

“I only say ‘eyes front’ so you wouldn’t peek.. at her..”, Tonic drifted off with an untimely blush.

“Peak? Are you kidding me? Even when she’s merely in my peripheral vision, she covers at least a third of my line of sight. And when she’s actually right in front of me the way she is when we are on the move or when she’s talking to me, I can’t see anything else but her! I do not NEED to peek to see any part of her!

You must understand, Arcantonic, that I am not your brother, your father, your uncle, your childhood friend, nor your pair. To you, I am a stranger that you have met just last month. A stranger that you ended up traveling and bleeding, out of sheer convenience of circumstantial proximity. We literally are not friends enough for you to get so cavalierly familiar with me out of hand.

Take Cora for instance.. We two have been together for quite a number of months now and I still have not done anything to offend her. Why? Because it would be rude, if not outright stupid, and possibly crippling on my part.. See, this is being civilized.

As for me, I am a moderately easy-going person. And all things considered, so is she. It’s been a month and she’s finally pissed off at you and your pair.

Congratulations, Arcantonic, you have managed to raise the ire from the calmest and the most cool-headed girl in the Great Northern Tundras. You may note that down into your CV of accomplishments..

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some serious sitting downings to do..”, said Brom, and resolutely shut up!

Halfway settling down, he looked at his flimsy cloak and at Cora’s thick, leather hide wrap. He sloshed over to her and said, “Make room.”

Cora squinted at the hobbit. “Not in the mood..”, she said with her pouty lips.

“Make mood!”, grinned Brom.

Cora grunted and shifted a bit; a surprisingly feminine little dance that made good use of her belly, hips, and butt, and she moved over.

Brom settled down on the animal fur hide and the barbarian girl and the hobbit sat back to back.

✱ ✱ ✱

Seressa.. Please.. Let this one on me.. It’s my mess. Let me clear it up.. I appreciate you standing up for me, but as much as I hate to say this, it is my fault.”, whispered Tonic at her pair.

“No one threatens my pair!”, growled the very tall, very dark Seressa and it made her look quite scary.

“But she didn’t threaten me at all, Seressa. That girl has never threatened anyone ever since we met. I am sorry I have such a bad temper and such a foul mouth. And I am so, so sorry I put you into a position like this too.. But please, please, please don’t do anything I would do..”, Tonic desperately pleaded.

“What’s that?”, ask Seressa.

“What I always do; say stupid things..”, said Tonic with self frustration.

“No, I mean what’s that?“, Seressa said as she pointed at something distant behind her pair.

Then she hissed.

“Go get the elf and the hobbit here at once!”

Tonic looked behind her but saw nothing; the glorious advantage of being such a midgety little gnome, she thought glumly and ran off to get the elf and the hobbi— Brom.. To get Cora and Brom!

✱ ✱ ✱

That didn’t take long..”, Brom said as he watched the little gnome perform an unsteady marathon through the deep, wet snow.

“Don’t gloat Brom. It is not nice to gloat.”, scowled Cora.

“No… no.. not gloating.. Merely observing..”, Brom said. “..But that was one, awesome speech you did back there, though. Worthy of a song..”

“You like?”, Cora asked a bit girlishly.

“I like..”, Brom grinned. “..You totally owned it.”

“Cora.. Hobb— Brom.. Something’s happening.. Please come!”, Tonic gasped and breathed as she reached the two.

Cora didn’t miss a beat. Using just her legs, she was up and running —literally skimming— over the wet snow.

Brom sighed and he grabbed the fur and hide cloak, did a quick wrapping motion, and bundled it up and he also started towards Seressa with Tonic at his side.

✱ ✱ ✱

There..’, Seressa said, pointing somewhere in the distance. “I can see two people and they are trying very hard to kill one another!”

Cora shaded her eyes and squinted in the direction the tall girl was pointing. Perhaps a minute drifted by until she saw it as well.

‘Damn, the girl has good eyes..’, she thought. ‘If she hadn’t caught it, we would have missed it altogether.’

“Shall we move closer?”, asked Seressa.

Cora thought for a moment.

“We don’t know where we are. We don’t know ‘when’ we are. We don’t know who they are and we don’t know why they are fighting.. I am not sure if we should get involved.”

She paused for a moment.

“All I know is we are quite high up in some mountains. Looking at the slushy snow and the bitter wind, it must be late August or early September. There’s an exceptional amount of humidity, which means we must be near a very large body of water; a great lake or perhaps a sea. The only great lake that I have heard of is on the west side of the Holy Celestial Mountains but it feels like a sea and..”, she said and a gasp of recognition escaped her..

“..HOME!”

With that, she dashed towards the two, fighting in the distance..

 

Seressa skipped a beat, then started after the barbarian.

 

“They are running again..”, observed Tonic as she sloshed after her pair. “..Why are they always running?”

“Probably because of the long legs.. Gives them the right, I suppose..”, replied Brom, also struggling in the deep, wet snow. “Our legs are there just to keep our arses off the ground.. And to make sure we can get to the kitchen to make cranberry tea.”

“You like cranberry tea?”, asked Tonic, somewhat astonished.

“It’s an acquired taste, but yes, I do enjoy it.. With ginger cookies, cinnamon rolls, and a good book, there’s nothing more heavenly.”

“You are a sloth, sir hobbit!”, sniffed Tonic.

“Egad! What gave it away, Miss Arcan—?”, he replied.

“Just ‘Tonic’ will do. I despair every time you say my full name.. And I don’t see why you persistently try.”

“Nothing too mysterious, there. Was merely being polite. Polite is the core of being a hobbit.. and being a sloth! Ever seen a rude sloth?”, smirked Brom.

Tonic half gasped, haft snorted as they ran after the two, tall figures.

“I like cranberry tea!”, she blurted suddenly.

“Ow?”

“Yes..”, she said yearningly. “The bitter after taste is awesome!”

“Hot damn, yes!”, agreed, Brom.

“Seressa can’t even stand the smell of it.”, she said glumly. “It’s Rosemint tea or no tea, for her.”

“Aaah.. Rosemint tea.. Hard to get around Bowling Hills and not quite a hobbits taste.”, Brom said and shuddered at a ‘tried it once and screamed’ memory.

“I know, right!”, grinned Tonic.

“What are they doing?”, Brom said as he picked up his pace.

“Yea.. What are they doing?”

“Looks like your girl’s tackling my girl!”, said Brom somewhat astonished. “Why is your girl tackling my girl?”

 

..and just like that, he jumped Tonic!

 

WHAT ARE YOU DOING, BOY?!“, blazed Tonic in full, indignant shock!

“Just making sure things don’t get out of hand.”, said Brom carefully.

“The way you are grabbing, everything’s in your hands!”, gasped Tonic with furry.

 

Brom went still.

Then went almost as crimson as the girl he’d grappled.. and immediately let go of the gnomic girl.

 

“I.. I apologize for that, Miss Tonic.”, he stuttered.

“If you ever make mention of this or comment about my breasts, I swear..”, Tonic spluttered.

“No.. No, I won’t and no I would never!”, he wholeheartedly promised.

“I really hope you won’t hold this against me.. Or tell Seressa about it..”, Brom said with a very abashed face. “I merely wanted us both not being present when they go at one another.. Witnesses always seem to complicate things.”

“And tell her what? That you jumped and grabbed my breasts so that she’d destroy you? Because that’s exactly what she would do.. Hells bells, boy, you saw her when Cora had merely warned me!”, hissed Tonic.

“Seressa is a lovely, delightful, funny, full of life, and a dear to have around. But she goes.. she becomes dangerous when anyone tries to intimidate or make fun of me.

Once, and only once did she ever get a disciplinary action back in the academy and it was at the graduation ceremony when some idiot made an off-color remark about me.. She beat him like you have never seen. She looks so skinny, but she’s huge! I mean, she totally destroyed the boy and it wasn’t just bumps and bruises..

She bitch slapped him nonstop from one end of the academy courtyard to the other, right there, and in front of the whole graduation ceremony, the dean, all the professors, the teachers, and the staff!

Last I heard, the martial classes actually amended their education programs to add in that particular slap..

And you know what she did after that? She just stood there, hand on her hips, all cool if you please, and said, “Next, please!”

Luckily we had ‘technically’ already graduated, hence the disciplinary action couldn’t even be applied. Sure pissed someone’s rich parents off!

She.. she has an incredible sense of loyalty to her friends and her pair in particular. I do not know what I have done to earn or deserve a friend like her.. But I have her, and she has me..

I.. I know, I can be mean. The effects of years and years and years of mistreatment is not easy to wipe in under a month or two.. But, please show me some tolerance, if not understanding even though I deserve neither and you certainly don’t owe them to me. But I am trying.. I really am..

You and Cora.. I want both of you to be my friends. And I need both of you to be her friend.. I need Seressa to know, the people in her life aren’t limited to just her pair..”, said the gnome girl, and Brom felt the sincerity in her voice, and saw an altogether different depth to her.

 

CORA STOP!“, came the shrieking voice of Seressa.

 

“If you jump me again, boy, I will hurt you!”, Tonic hissed.

✱ ✱ ✱

Cora.. Stop.. We can’t get involved.. Not to this!”, she hissed into the ear of the girl she’d just tackled and held wrapped in her long arms and legs but she felt the strain hurt her. The barbaric elf was not just strong. She was savagely strong and if she didn’t make her stop, she would not only break free but also break her limbs..

THAT IS MY RIVE’S SON.. HE’S STILL ALIVE.. I CAN SAVE HIM.. I CAN SAVE IRON.. FROST!..“, snarled Cora as she struggled to get the long-limbed girl off of herself.

“No Cora.. You can’t.. you can’t save him.. you can’t save Ironfrost.. That’s already happened.. Please..”, Seressa begged and pleaded as tears of stretching pain registered from every joint of her slim body.

 

The two men struggling some one hundred yards away were rolling in the snow and bleeding with infernal savagery like there was no tomorrow. One was a lithe young man with long, braided white hair, now scattered while the other was a brutish, cold beast with coarse black hair with few braids, and a body made for primal accuracy then bulk. While one wore light, leather-hide armor with delicate designs, the other wore nothing but a grim loincloth and heavy leather-and-fur boots.

The young man with the white braids was a tundra elf. The only one Seressa had ever seen, other than the young girl she was desperately trying to hold down. The other was unknown, yet, there was the single dark tattoo of a dragon with its wings stretched, inked on the broad of his back.

 

LET ME GO! OR I WILL BREAK FREE BY BREAKING YOU!“, nearly shrieked Cora savagely as her own tears scattered, froze, and bit back into her eyes..

PLEASE CORA.. I AM BEGGING YOU.. PLEASE.. I.. AM.. BEGGING.. YOU..!

 

The two men tore at one another with primal savagely as the elf slashed and stabbed his larger opponent. The larger one just wasn’t fast enough and with a pained grunt, he finally fell to his knees..

Breathing heavily, the elf strode next to his enemy with his long, jagged knife, grabbed hold of his dark, clumpy hair, and pulled his head back..

..and with an irritating buzz, an arrow caught the elf on the neck with a chunky noise!

The elf stood there looking down at the brutish barbarian grinning up at him.

 

And then, with a grateful sigh, the elf collapsed.

 

“Close one, Son of Krash.”, said a coarse voice, and another brutish barbarian slowly rose from the snow.

“We could have just shot him and be done with..”, he said as he came near his kneeling comrade.

His ‘comrade’, the Son of Krash, slowly got up, grabbed a hand full of snow, and wiped the bloody scars and gashes off himself.

“In case of witnesses, we needed to have one of them kill one of ours to have justified our own kill to avoid a war..”, said the first barbarian.

“But he didn’t kill anyone!”, said the second one.

“No.. he didn’t.. not yet!”, growled Son of Krash, and slashed his comrade’s throat open!

 

With an astonished look on his face, his comrade collapsed on the snow, trashed a bit, then fell still.

 

“And I don’t like witnesses..”, said the Son of Krash with primal disgust, grabbed both his comrade and the elf, one by the ankle, the other by the scruff of his neck, and dragged them off..

..Soon enough, they were all gone and whatever had transpired here, was also lost under the moaning wind.

✱ ✱ ✱

Cora simply stood there as the big, savage barbarian faded in the oncoming blizzard. She had just watched the murder of her Rive’s son. Not listened to hearsay, but had actually witnessed it this time. The son of her Rive had been a young, beautiful man. He had also been a symbol for the future of her people. The news of his death had hit Ironfrost like an avalanche then, and watching it actually happen, hit Cora even more.

“Are you alright?”, Tonic was whispering at her pair as the tall, dark girl was the only one not standing, but lying in the snow in agony..

..the tundra elf had broken free.. and broken some things of her as well.

“I.. am.. will be alright, luv..”, she whispered in between gasps and spasms of pain.

“Not our best day, is it dear?”, Tonic said, as she pulled her pair close to herself and held her head on her lap.

“Brom.. a blanket.. a cloak.. anything please.. she’s hurt and hurting..”, the little gnome pleaded in tears.

“That.. that’s the first time.. you have said ‘dear’ to me.. Broken bones will.. heal.. but that dear will stay.. with me..”, whispered Seressa as she tried to brave a smile. “..I think.. that was a fair trade..”

“Of course. Should have thought of that before, my bad.”, shuffled the hobbit as he dug his blanket out of his pack.

“My bad, your bad.. We all did bad today..”, said Tonic glumly.

“It.. it’s alright.. luv.. don’t fret.. friends.. do fight, you know..”, Seressa whispered as she tried to sit up, but failed..

Her eyes rolled back and she collapsed..

“Let’s put up a tent over her. There’s a blizzard coming this way and it doesn’t appear like it’s going blow over anytime soon..”, Brom said and dug his tent out of his pack as well.

 

“Why..?”, came the harsh, brittle whisper of Cora Sleet. “Why did she try to stop me? I just witnessed the murder of my own future Rive..”

 

The cold in the elves’ voice was like nothing Brom had ever heard from her before.

He felt the hair on his bushy head tingle!

 

“Did your Rive’s son die in the past?”, asked Tonic quietly.

Cora’s reply came with the primal savagery of her soul..

“Yes.. We always suspected by who, but we never had the chance, nor the time to do anything about it.. BECAUSE IRONFROST WAS DESTROYED!“, she screamed!

Having made sure her pair was properly covered, Arcantonic Palecog got up and slowly walked up to the raging tundra elf.

She slowly knelt before her, pulled out something folded out of her belt, flipped it open, and showed it to Cora.

 

Cora just stared at the little gnomic girl.

 

“What the hell is this?”, she snarled.

“This, Tundra Elf Cora Sleet, is the Badge of The Academy of Melshieve.”, she said quietly.

“Why are you showing this to me?”

“Because once the badge is out, no one hits an agent of the academy!”, she whispered even more quietly.

 

Cora stared at the little gnomic figure with hot fumes rising from her.

 

“Just what kind of a savage do you think I am?”, she snarled again, at Tonic.

“Everyone is a savage when they have seen what you have seen, dear Cora. You have just been forced to watch your elders’ son get butchered and relived it all. But I need me to be in one piece to be able to look after my pair. She’s hurt. Her arm is broken, her knee is dislocated, she has at least three cracked ribs and some very ugly bruises where a girl should never have..”, she said with the same, silent voice.

“You must know and understand that your elders’ son was already dead and long before we ever met. You must also know, that the ‘thief’ the seers spoke of at the Star Watchers village was that barbarian; the Son of Krash.. It is HIM, that we must help make sure he steels the ‘right’ object..”

✱ ✱ ✱

The blizzard had settled in, and harshly. It howled and shrieked all around them and it took everything Brom and Tonic to keep the tent from being ripped off its pegs. Brom had to get out every once in a while to hammer them back in, while Tonic splinted her pairs arm, wrapped her fractured ribs, and with a heart devastating scream of pain from the tall, dark Seressa, she had pulled then punched her pairs’ dislocated knee back into its place.

Tonic had cried like a little girl while doing all this.

 

“How are you holding up?”, Brom asked her but Tonic could only shake her pale, drawn face.

“This is all my fault.”, she sobbed suddenly.

“What?”, asked the hobbit, a bit baffled.

“I should never have listened to her and let her come to the tundras. All I wanted was to get away from everyone and everything and thought The Great Northern Tundras would be far enough for that. I never believed in any of her nonsense about ‘seeking unearthed prophesies’.. I selfishly let her silly ideas and ideals get to her head. I knew, if I just nodded at her, it would be enough to get her to start her on her path.”

“Wow..”, whispered Brom. “..this academy of yours really does make you conceited!”

Tonic scowled.

“Nothing is alright unless it’s all about you people, is it?”, he said. “Gosh, I can see now why even that Grandaleren disliked the two of you..”

“That’s not funny, and you are not helping hobbi— Brom!”, she scowled.

“It’s alright for you to call me a hobbit. I am one, after all. I don’t mind it. Though I couldn’t give any promises about Cora.”, he smirked. “But what I said stands. You say you never believed in prophecies, and yet, here you are. It may or it may not require your believing in them, I do not know. But apparently, it does require your deeds —your actions..

Although I myself am clueless as to what we accomplished in the last one, we HAVE been in one prophecy already. At least you had a reason, as selfish a reason as you want to claim. I did not have ANY reasons to be here.. like, NONE.. AT ALL!

I was quite happy at home, drinking my cranberry tea, eating my ginger cookies and cinnamon rolls, and reading a good book —and I mean, I was literally doing all those and living in my own private heaven, when I suddenly got up one day and walked out..

After nearly two years of traveling, I ended up at Handshake, and not soon after my arrival, Cora Sleet stumbled in.. I claim not to be knowledgeable about such things as deep and uncanny as prophecies, but I certainly am not going to discard them. I am not the central part of them, but willy-nilly, I am part of them..”

Brom Bumblebrim smiled kindly at the still scowling gnome girl.

“Go on.. get some sleep. I will watch over our very tall, very dark friend. And I promise I shall have my ‘Eyes Front’..”

 

The little gnomic girl snuggled under Seressa’s blanket to make sure she’d stay warm and be damned if she woke up to find out she’d ended up inside her coin purse.

She’d trade that indignity any time if it would but help ease her pairs’ pain..

 

The night howled and the dusty specks of flinty snow swirled around the little tent.

It was not clear though, whether it was actually the night that was howling, or the lithe figure with tossing white braids, some one hundred yards away..


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Kamp Ateşi V, Moments I

Kamp Ateşi V
Moments I

Timeline:

This short story takes place far north of
the Great Northern Tundras,
some two weeks after
Kocakarı Hikayesi (18+)

 

 

Told you so..”, Seressa said smugly.

The very tall, very dark figure of Seressa Wraiven wasn’t so much dark as she was blue at that very moment and the smug on for face was excruciatingly painful to attain due to the dreary, ‘six feet under’ kind of freezing, arctic cold — and totally worth it!

 

They had finally made it.

 

The Tundra Walkers gazed ahead at the barely visible change in the endless white of the horizon; a faint, grayish blot — and the slim, wispy tendrils of smoke that rose from it.

“Ye..a..”, shattered the small gnomic girl from the back. “Do.. freeze.. while.. gloa.. ting..!”

“I’ll admit.”, said Seressa. “It is a bit cold out here.. more so than usual. Figures why the Ice Wolf Horde won’t come this way for raids!”

“Thought.. they didn’t come.. here.. because they thought.. it was sacred for them.”, Brom the hobbit stuttered in the cold, right behind the tall, blueish tiefling. His bushy hair tossed this way and that in the harsh wind and he balled himself even smaller than he already was.

“Right.. sacred to save.. face! That explains.. everything..”, butt in Arcantonic, with cold sarcasm that would have put the freezing snow all around them to shame.

 

Too bad the snow had the numbers on their side!

 

“You’re a.. skeptic one.. aren’t you..”, scowled Brom. “I would have thought.. a great.. archeologist.. such as yourself.. would have.. been.. a bit more open.. minded.”

“Ye..a.. I was very open.. minded.. until they tried to.. pot me.. and cage ‘all pinks’, here!.. Then raided.. us for seven.. months.. They did.. supply endless.. entertainment for Seressa, though!”, spat back Arcantonic..

..but it froze and got stuck on her purpling lips!

 

“You shouldn’t spit.”, growled a voice and a lithe figure in fur and skin appeared.

She was a striking, barbaric girl. More so by the dark blue, swirling tattoos on her face, arms and shoulders, and the glowing white hair braided down the small of her back. Her name was Cora Sleet and she was also a rare specimen of her kind; a Tundra Elf.

More so because she was, in all likeliness, the last one of her kind as well.

 

“Whot? Like, in the.. cold?”, asked the gnomic girl, a bit tentatively.

 

For any number of reasons, the tall barbaric girl scared her. She was always too serious and too silent for her taste and Arcantonic was unable to discern whether or not it was because this was her norm, she was unstable or just mad, ready to explode without any kind of forewarning and the gnomic girl did not want to be on the receiving end if and when that happened.

 

“No. Like, ever!”, said the girl with her throaty voice.

“It is rude to spit.”

 

Brom snickered in cold pain.

✱ ✱ ✱

Cora led the other three down the slushy path and to the miserable-looking village. There were less than twenty huts and tents in all and the ground was tiled with flat rocks and wooden boards but someone had done a rather blotchy job out of it. One had to either time their step to a pre memorized tune to actually step on them or miss them altogether and likely trip and fall.

“Looks hazardous.”, commented Brom as he shivered and shuffled behind Seressa.

“Likely.”, grunted Arcantonic in a voice of agreement that surprised even her.

“But at least our feet will land on dry.. Well, mine will anyway.”, Seressa said, pointing at her bare feet.

“Hush.”, came from Cora as they approached the relative entrance to the village.

 

The village of Star Watchers didn’t have any walls. It had a large number of sticks and poles of unequal sizes and lengths, bunched, then beaded together to form what could barely be called a fence. With the exception of a moderate-sized tent sewn together with thick, leather thongs from many animal skins in the center, most of the huts were made of straw mixed baked mud. A pair of tall, burly, and very bored-looking barbarians stood at the entrance of the village. Otherwise, there were no watchtowers, no perches, no stakes, or moats.

“An army of pigeons could probably raid this place.”, whispered Arcantonic.

“Tonic, luv. Why on earth would an army of pigeons ever raid this place? For everything that’s good and not, that doesn’t even make sense!”, said Seressa, her face somewhat baffled.

“Neither does this place..”, scowled Tonic.

“Actually, it makes sense.. in a way.. I think.”, said Brom.

“Ow yea?”, scowled Tonic, some more.

“Sure. There’s nothing to raid, hence, there’s no reason to raid. Considering the effort it takes to actually get here..”

 

Tonic shut up!

 

The smarmy little hobbit actually made sense!

The two, burly guards straightened as the four came closer but neither of them bothered to raise their large axes, nor make any threatening gestures. Their faces were lost under their steel, half helmets, and what escaped that, was buried under thick, braided hair and beard.

Just as one of them raised his hand for a ‘halt’, the pattering of feet on stone, wood, and mud was heard.

A small, hunched figure had come out from behind the huts and was running at them, her skinny legs apparent under the raggy old skirts she’d pulled up.

Panting and wheezing, she ran at them breathlessly, tripped on one of the wooden planks..

..and promptly fell, face down into the slushy mud!

 

The burly guards stiffened.

That was the only indication they gave, and before the woman in the mud could raise, they turned their backs to her and steadfastly starred at the horizon.

✱ ✱ ✱

The woman was old. Very old. But the spry on her feet had been a surprise for all four of them. While Cora stood where she was, with the cold discipline her father had drilled into her, the others’ were not so lucky.

Seressa just stared down at the old woman, who was barely taller than the hobbit, with a mildly confused expression on her face, Brom heard Tonic’s snort from behind and deftly bit his knuckles.

 

“Alright.”, the old woman in muddy rags croaked.

“Who stumbled?” —

 

Seressa flushed.

She really hadn’t meant to stumble and fall all over this old woman’s tablets back at the cave, just north of the Ice Wolf Horde and she opened her mouth to apologize but a gagging wheeze escaped Brom.

Followed by a choke..

..a snort,

..a cackle,

..and a blurt;

— “You?”

 

The old woman froze.

Seressa froze.

Tonic froze.

The two, big, burly barbarian guards froze..

Cora did not freeze. Instead, she slapped her hands on her mouth..

..as her cold discipline breezed away;

..and a single bark of a laugh got away from her!

 

Seressa crumbled into the mud, clutching at her bubbling belly.

Tonic fell on her back, legs kicking the air and squealing like a squirrel.

Brom, his face red, bit into his knuckles even more.

The two, big, burly men were leaning on the long handles of their axes, gasping for breath.

And Cora hoped stiffly, her hands still slapped tight on her mouth.

 

The old woman’s face darkened.

“Well now.. I shall see if I could find a remedy for your mirth!”, she scowled, turned around limped back at the village..

“Bloody buffoons..!”


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Birthright (18+) (Doğum Hakkı)

Birthright (18+)
(Doğum Hakkı)

Timeline:

 

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!

 

Time.

 

You cannot fight it,
you cannot resist it,
beat it, wound it nor slay it.

You can only yield to it..

 

Time.

 

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..

 

Time.

 

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..

 

Time.

 

It is the link between places, spaces, events, and relations by the simple expedience of
relating the past to the future..

It gives meaning..

 

Time.

 

This story.

 

The events in this particular story take place over a vast stretch of time —relatively speaking. It starts shortly after
And Just Beyond That (18+)“,
and ends some eight hundred and fifty years later, in the dark, hidden, rundown, moldy basement of the local thieves’ guild of The Great Arashkan City, where all sorts of stolen goods, documents, and officious papers are kept for bribe and blackmail..

 

 

 

Ow damn..”, someone spat, followed by a string of black, blistering curses.

‘Tonic’, thought Cora. It was never hard to guess who was saying what, even in the pitch dark, as they were now.

When Brom spoke, he always seemed to need to precede what he wanted to say by underlining it with a note or two of his lyre.

When Seressa spoke, she said it with this wide-eyed, ‘always surprised’ tone. And if she was really surprised —or exasperated, she would start with, ‘Ow, for all that’s good and not..’

As for Tonic..

 

Tonic cursed!

At everything.

Every time.

 

If she wasn’t some midgety little gnome and wasn’t so cute, she would have made a great witch, Cora thought, what with all the cursing and all!

Then she wondered what her traits were. Or more to the point, what her friends thought her traits were.

It seemed people could, with quite ease, catch, kill, and skin the traits in others, but never themselves.

Funny how that went.

 

Cora Sleet blew out some steam and harshly whispered, “What is it now, girl?”

‘Girl..?’, she thought. She couldn’t remember any time she referred to anyone using that word, or tone in Ironfrost. Guess Seressa’s habits —and traits were rubbing on to her and Cora didn’t know if that was really a good thing..

“Girl..?”, snorted Brom, from off the other side. “I can’t remember you referring to anyone like that before.”

Cora scowled.

Then stopped.

‘Great, now I am scowling like the midgety gnome!’..

..and scowled some more.

For scowling!

✱ ✱ ✱

 

My pack..”, Tonic groaned. “It’s gone!”

“It’s only a pack.”, said Seressa. “Don’t worry. We’ll get you a new one.. Once we get anywhere that is remotely civilized.”

“No, damit. That pack was where I kept the lot of all my good stuff!”, she groaned again.

In fact, it was more of a moan than a groan.

So much so that her voice trembled like she was about to cry.

 

That got Cora’s attention.

She couldn’t imagine the little gnome crying. Lots and lots of non-stop cussing and swearing, yes, but a crying Tonic?

Crying was so.. out of sorts for Tonic.

‘Out of sorts?’, she thought. Damit, I did it again. I used Seressa’s words..

‘Damit?!’, I just used Tonic’s word. Bloody hell—

Cora decided this was a good time to shut up!

 

“The good stuff? That sounds ominously like some sort of contraband..”, noted Brom.

 

Thank you, Brom. Go on, ask her all the relevant questions..

‘Relevant?’, —damit!.. Ow hell!.. Just did it again..!

 

“What? No, damit. Some of my very important gadgets and hardware were in it. Like my duo-meter, pseudo-emissioner and..”, she stumbled.

“And..?”, asked Brom, as if he knew what a duo-meter or a pseudo-emissioner was. Though he could proudly tell the difference between a hammer and a wrench as one was good for pinning nails while the other was not.

“A letter..”, said Tonic, her voice strained.

“A letter? Who was it from? Didn’t know you received letters. I never do..”, signed Seressa’s voice.

“It wasn’t a letter for me. It was someone else’s letter.”, blushed Tonic’s voice.

 

There was a collective, pregnant silence.

 

“Oookay..”, said Seressa, stretching the word.

“Damit, girl.. If you must know, that silly boy gave it to me so I could give it to his father.. There.. Happy now?”, blazed Tonic.

“Boy? What boy?”, asked Seressa, sounding totally baffled.

“That Gordigon boy..”

“Ahhh.. Prince Gordigon.. had a chat with him in private, did we?”, asked Seressa with an insincerely innocent voice.

“Casting yourself in the third person now, are you? The boy was going to go all out and fight for us against half a hundred ogres just so we could get away. The least I could do was to take his bloody letter to his father.”, admitted Tonic, but not as vehemently as she made it sound like she wanted to.

 

Seressa paused.

So did Brom.

Cora had shut up, so she didn’t even bother to pause.

 

“Ahh.. Well if you did have a private moment with him, luv, I wouldn’t have blamed you. He was a rather handsome devil, he was. And want him to be as you might, he certainly was not a boy. I know boys. That gnome was giving you the kind of looks no boy can imitate. That comes with time, hardship, and on a ‘first sight’ basis.”

“It was not a ‘first sight’ thing, alright? There were no ‘first sights’, no private moments, and no ‘just one kisses’.. or anything else whatsoever going on.. He gave me the letter, and I nearly brained him for it!”, blustered Tonic.

“No, dear luv, you didn’t nearly brain him, you fully brained him! But even if you did any or all of the ‘whatsoever’s, I would’ve said the same; Why not? For all that’s good and not, girl, really, why not? I would have been happy for you if you did. I mean, I can see you blush from where you are, right now. You are literally glowing in the dark! It’s so cute, I could pounce you right now!”, said Seressa with a supremely smug voice.

“I am not blushing. It’s just hot! And there will be no pouncing, thank you very much!”, replied Tonic indignantly, trying very hard to suppress a growl.

“I totally agree. You certainly are hot.. for that ‘boy’!”, said the very tall, very dark girl with a very happy tone.

“The hell I was..”, said Tonic and this time, she did growl.

“Alright..”, butt in Brom, knowing full well he would be very sorry about it in the end, but he just couldn’t help it. “..so it was just a letter from some guy to his father and it got lost. Nothing to worry about, then?”

“Nice..”, he heard Seressa’s voice in triumph.

 

Tonic shut up. A bit like Cora.

 

She was a smart girl with an artificer’s degree. But she knew when it came to mouthing off, she had no chance against Seressa. Her pair was just too good at it and had, had an ‘early start’..

And now, she’d teamed up with the bloody hobbit!

“Taking sides with the unscrupulous little weasel now, are you?”, she croaked.

“Heey..!”, objected Brom, but Tonic ignored him.

Her heart plummeted for she felt betrayed.

But not for long..

Very long, very dark arms came at her from nowhere and she never saw them coming. They came, they wrapped and they held her like clamps.

For the first time, Tonic felt the touch of her pair.. and her smell.. and damit, she smelled so nice! Very much like those pink flowers, whatever they were called —she’d hated herbology at the academy and it had merely been one of those classes she’d been burdened with, just to have filled up her ‘total hours’.

In fact, Tonic thought, her pair smelled exactly like those flowers, but innately, intimately, and infinitely warmer.

As for her touch, Tonic refused to comment on it, not even mentally..

 

“Tonic, luv..”, Seressa said quietly to the little gnome caught in her vast, mind-numbingly warm, enthralling embrace, “..right or wrong, I am and will always be on your side. If ever a side is to be taken, without any doubt or reservation, I will be on the side of my pair, gales and gallows.. But if you felt something for the boy, do not deny this to yourself. Do not deprive yourself of the beautiful feeling that you felt, nor demean his sacrifice by defying his.. As short-lived as it was, he came to you openly and honestly, without deceit or trickery.. Do yourself the same courtesy, if not to him..”

 

Seressa’s voice was kind, tinted with the beckoning hand of tenderness..

Tonic swallowed.. hard.

Her pair was getting near one of those subjects she’d sworn off years ago, after her stupid uncle Arcanton did what he did and was cast out and banished, lepering his whole, extended family in the eyes of the world.

Since then she’d disliked and eventually, hated everything and everyone. She hadn’t even wanted to have anything to do with the silly pairing ritual, the academy had foisted on her.

And here was her pair, literally smoldering that hate and drugging her with her pinks and flowery fragrance —what was the bloody thing called, damit? Creeping Loks? Creeping Flocks? Well, it certainly was creeping her out.. Creeping Phlox.. Yes, that’s what it was called; Creeping Pink Phlox!

 

While she was struggling with pinkses and phloxes, something dawned in Seressa’s mind and she finally got it.

And so did Brom..

..the true significance at the core of Tonic’s ire and grief.

Brom did not say anything, but Seressa did.

 

Tenderly she whispered.

“Oh, my dear girl, you read the letter..”

Tonic did not answer.

Tonic could not answer..

Only a bitter sob escaped her.

“Yes.. Stupid of me, reading someone else’s letter like that.. Stupid, inconsiderate, rude and.. stupid..”, she finally said when she could, with a broken voice.

‘Wow..’, thought Cora, ‘..for Tonic to declare herself ‘inconsiderate’, ‘rude’ and ‘stupid’ so seamlessly and find a fault in her own, she really must be hurting.’

 

“No, my dear, the letter was barely for his father.”, Seressa disagreed softly. “Why else would he have given it to you? He could have handed it over to anyone in his company. They were all trained military. Any number of them could have carried it to his father and we were going nowhere even remotely near Silent Hills. Considering the importance and the time constraints of our mission, he had to have known that you would never have had the chance to take the letter to his father.

No, baby girl, the letter really only had one intended recipient, and she got it. Hence, it was, in fact, for you..”

 

Tonic sobbed again.

“I am so, so happy for you..”, Seressa said with genuine elation.

“Then why? Why would he do this to me.. or to himself?”, she asked, her voice lost in Seressa’s embrace.

 

“Because the moment of our birth, is not who we really are. That is a mere chance. It is the moment of our death, we see who we really are. For the great few, that is choice.. When it comes, it comes at the moment and time, that which is the culmination of our actions and our deeds.. And all the choices we have made thus far..

Gordigon sought a fine, honorable, and beautiful death by carrying out an impossible mission given to him by the Heavens to help us break through the hordes of Themalsar.

He hoped to find a fine, honorable, and beautiful girl to share what life he had was left remaining to him, be it a day or a century..

Wished them both, he did.. and was granted both.

At the same time!

He must have been the luckiest man if there ever was one!”, Seressa breathed to her pair.

 

Tonic sobbed some more..

..with an uncharacteristically broken heart while her pair held her as if to shield her from whatever the world might throw at her, with a steely determination that only bespoke the fact that what her pair felt, she felt as well..

 

Later..

Quite a bit later, really, the little Tonic girl sniffed loudly.

 

“If.. if you pick me up or try and coin purse me, I will hurt you, girl..”, she threatened. She knew she couldn’t, or rather, wouldn’t hurt her pair, and be damned if anyone tried.. No, she would never hurt her, not any more than she’d already done in the past two years, but she was not going to get into a coin purse, damit!

“No, luv. I shan’t. Not that I wouldn’t want to, mind you. In fact, there’s nothing I’d love more, but pairs just don’t rob each other off their dignity.”, whispered Seressa with a smile and unlocked her pink, flowery fragranced embrace, and let go of her little gnome.

 

“Sooo..”, Brom said, trying to skip over the awkward moment, “..about the letter.”

“There’s nothing that can be done.”, Cora finally spoke and felt she had once more found her own voice. “We move on. I can feel we are being hunted. They are moving fast and they are impressively light on their feet, but the wind is on our side. The orken are upon us!”

They started moving again and picked up the pace as much as Brom and Arcantonic could endure.

They made late camp that night, putting as much distance between their pursuers and themselves. They ate cold rations and snuggled under the harsh, military-grade blankets they were given. Soon, everything went quiet and fell asleep.

✱ ✱ ✱

“That was an awesome speech..”, said Arcantonic quietly into the night.

Seressa did not say anything.

“When do you even think of these speeches, girl?”, the gnome asked in a whisper.

“I never do, luv.”, replied Seressa after awhile. “I say them as I feel them. Preparing such a speech precludes a certain amount of pre-intent and interest, hence, ‘falsehood’ and ‘hypocrisy’, neither of which have I ever entertained where you were concerned. I don’t want anything from you, but everything. Because that is how I define friendship.. You give your all for them, becoming whole and more than what you were..

And, you can never burn with the passion of a prewritten speech, because it’s never just the words, luv. It is the honesty, the sincerity, and the.. fire..

It is very much like the vast difference between simple irritation and.. WRATH!“, said the very tall, very dark Seressa, with a voice that burned.

Tonic blinked.. and fell silent.

 

There was a long absence of any sentient voice as Tonic thought of her pair.. and a certain boy. And perhaps for the first time in her life, she felt genuinely wanted. She, who had been a top case for ‘undesirable’ all her life, felt an indescribable, fervor elation..

And she felt brokenly happy as a wet smile appeared on her small, diminutive face.

Happy for having the former by her side, with all the encompassing meaning of the word, and happy for having had the later, as short-lived as it had been.

She listened to the hooting of an owl nearby, the chirping of countless nightcrawlers, and quietly stared at the only part of the starry sky that she could see through the small gap in the thick canopy of the Rituel Forest.

 

Gales and Gallows..?“, whispered Arcantonic into the night.

“Thought you might like it..”, whispered Seressa back, her illustrious voice somewhat drowsy and slurred, now.

“I loved it. It was so.. beautifully said. Did you make that up too?”

“It came to me, then and there.. and I meant every word of it..”

“Gales and Gallows, huh?”

“Gales and Gallows, luv, Gales and Gallows..”

 

Arcantonic silently cursed and raged at her well damned and idiotic uncle, her family, the community at large that she’d been forced to endure, the leperdom at the bloody academy while she mentally throttled the unscrupulous little weasel of a hobbit as well, just so he wouldn’t feel left out, but not the boy she’d barely known, but felt something.. something throbbing.. and aching.. love, perhaps?, nor the very tall, very dark girl that was her pair..

..then bagged them all; her rage, her stubborn little rain cloud, her mental punching bags, her happy moments of incinerating the academy, and more. They wouldn’t be gone. A lifetime of traumatic mistreatment does not just go away. It could, however, be bagged, and that is exactly what she did. Yes, she would certainly let them out for some fresh air and to blow some steam. That kind of pressure couldn’t be ‘just bagged’, either and Tonic had no intention of fooling herself about it. But this prophecy of theirs seemed to promise a lot, by way of ‘depressurizing’ her pend up wrath. And if it helped clear their path off some unwanted obstacles in the form of orcs, goblins, and possibly an ogre or three, it was a win-win, wasn’t it?

“Alright..”

..spoke Arcantonic with a voice that said a lot, and a bit more.

“Gales and Gallows, it is..”

✱ ✱ ✱

 

Bu taraftan.”

Darly Dor, yanında Aager, Inshala, Gnine, Laila ve Merisoul olmak üzere, Büyük Arashkan Şehri’nin bilinmeyen yeraltı dehlizlerine gelmişler, oradan da saklı Hırsızlar Lonca’sının sadece yüksek mertebeli olanlarının bildiği, pis, küf kokulu, karanlık bir mahzenine inmişlerdi.

Darly, Lonca dışı kişilerin buraya gelmeleri için gerekli izinleri üstlerinden alabilmek için, elinde olan ve olmayan ne kadar mal varlığı ve kişisel statüsü varsa kullanmıştı. Ama sonunda buna değecekti. Anglenna yılanı arenada elinden kurtulmayı başarmıştı, ama bu sefer değil.

“Bu sefer değil, Felishia, bu sefer onu yakaladık!”, diye geçirir içinden.

Yanlarında Anglenna’nın olmamasının sebebi de buydu. Udoorin’in bir şerifin oğlu, Lady’nin bir tapınak muhafızı ve prensesin de, eh, bir prenses olması, dolayısıyla da ‘onlar için uygun olmayan bir yer’ bahanesi, gerçekte Anglenna’nın gelmesini engellemek içindi..

Darly, grubu birçok kilitli ve tuzaklı kapıdan geçirmiş ve en sonunda onları, kaynağı belirsiz loş bir ışıkla aydınlatılan oldukça büyük, küf kokulu, havasız bir odaya getirmişti.

Oda, yerden tavana, duvardan duvara raflarla diziliydi ve rafların hepsi de tıka basa eskimiş parşömenler, dokümanlar, ağızları bağlı bohçalar ve farklı boylarda, ama taşınabilir sandıklar, kutular ve tahta kasalarla doluydu.

“Dur tahmin edeyim..”, der Laila, hicveder bir sesle, “..bunlar çalınmış yemek tarifleri değiller, öyle değil mi?”

Darly sırıtır.

“Çalınmış yemek tarifleri gibi bir fantazin olduğunu bilmiyordum, İzci Onbaşı.”

Laila kaşlarını çatar ve Darly’ye pis bir bakış atar.

“Ama merakını giderecek ise, evet, burada çalınmış gizli yemek tarifleri de var..”, diye daha da sırıtır Darly.

“Buraya neden geldik? Bizi Arashkan Hırsızlar Lonca’sının şantaj odasına getirmek için sarf ettiğin çabayı göz önünde bulundurursak, bu senin için kişisel olmalı..”, der Aager sessizce.

“Şantaj..”, der Darly, “..çok çirkin bir kelime. Biz ‘ikna’ ifadesini tercih ediyoruz.”

Aager cevap vermez. Sadece Darly’ye bakar.

“Sizi buraya getirdim çünkü bu odada olan her şey gerçek. Bu oda yalan konuşmaz. Siz, Gar Thalot’u bulmak istiyordunuz, onun nerede olduğu da buralarda bir yerlerde yazılı. Ne yazık ki ilgili belgeyi bulmak için onu biraz aramamız gerekebilir.”, der Darly biraz utanarak.

Aager, Gnine’a, Laila’ya ve Merisoul’a bakar.

Laila kaşlarını çatık bir şekilde binlerce doküman, sandık ve bohçadan oluşan yüzlerce rafa bakar, sonra, ‘yapacak bir şey yok’, der gibi omuzlarını silker.

Merisoul biraz şaşkın bir ifadeyle muazzam odayı süzer. “Ölümlülerin birbirlerini kazıklamak için gösterdikleri çaba gerçekten hayret verici!”, der ve o da omuzlarını silker.

Gnine’da omuzlarını silker ama yüzünde analitik bir ifade vardır.

“Saatler, sürebilir. Ama bu sadece de iyimser bir tahmin. Günler bile alabilir.”, diye makul bir tahminde bulunur. Sonra Darly’ye döner. “Bütün bunların listesini tutan, bunların bakımını yapan biri yok mu?”, diye sorar ona.

Madem herkes omuzlarını silkiyor, ben de eksik kalmayayım der gibi, Darly de omuzlarını silker.

“Buranın eski bakıcısı, Arashkan Üniversitesinden atılmış eski bir profesördü. Neden atıldığı meselesine girmeyeceğim. Kendisi bir kaç yıl önce öldü — tamamen doğal sebeplerden dolayı.. Yani, aşırı ucuz alkol tüketimini ne kadar doğal kabul edebilirsek, o kadar doğaldı. Ondan sonra ise burası için gerekli vasıflara.. ve güvenilirliğe sahip birisini bulamadık açıkçası. Takdir edersiniz ki, çalınmış gizli yemek tariflerinin yanı sıra, burada Arashkan’ı, ve başka bazı şehirleri daha yerle bir edecek kadar çok bilgi ve belge var.”, diye sırıtır..

✱ ✱ ✱

 

Aradan saatler geçmiştir ve Darly kendi istediği ‘belgeyi’ çoktan bulmuş ve ceplemiştir zira onu oraya yıllar önce kendisi koymuştur.

Ama sözünde durarak ve yaptığı şey fark edilmesin diye, diğerlerine Gar Thalot’un yeri hakkında gerekli bilgiyi bulmalarına yardım eder.

Aager, Gnine, Darly ve Laila, Gar Thalot hakkında birçok bilgi kırıntısına rastlar. Ne var ki bilgiler ya eskidir, ya da fazla muallaktır. Inshala ise bütün çabalarına rağmen yazıları anlaşılmaz bulmuş, en sonunda da küçük bir topak halinde bir köşede sızıp kalmıştı. Bunun gören Aager hiç sektirmeden omzundaki pelerini çıkarır ve kızın üstüne serer. Gnine’dan onunkini de rica eder ve topak ettiği ikinci pelerini ise kızın başının altına yastık yapar.

Darly ise bu olanları çaktırmadan, hayret ve hayranlıkla izlemiş, içinden ‘Bu küçük kız ve bu adi herif.. Hala inanılır gibi değil!”, diye geçirmişti.

 

Merisoul, içi krema dolu bir fıçının içine düşmüş kedi gibi, çılgınca bir heyecanla eline geçirdiği bütün belgeleri okur, değerlendirir ve hatta bazılarını, zihnindeki gizli bölmelere;

 

Arşiv No. ARZME-1012237 – 2nd_lord_correspondence.zip
Arşiv No. ARZME-1012238 – cutter_contract_for_ff.docx
Arşiv No. ARZME-1012239 – angrlln_cursed_gift.jpg
Arşiv No. ARZME-1012241 – secret_recipies.txt
Arşiv No. ARZME-1012242 – stoln_artifact.zip
Arşiv No. ARZME-1012243 – new_orkn_sightings.avi

 

..şeklinde kodlayarak yerleştirir.

 

Aradan yine saatler geçer ve Inshala esneyerek uyanır. Üstüne serilmiş battaniyeyi kaldırdığında, karnının olduğu yere yumulmuş bir fare ailesinin, onun sıcaklığı ile uyumakta olduğunu görür.

Inshala gülümser ve onları uyandırmadan sessizce ayağa kalkar. Sonra bir yavru kedi gibi, kayıtsızca tekrar gerinir ve Aager’e hafif mayhoş, kayık ve utanmış bir bakış atar.

“Dalmışım.. Arena tahmin ettiğimden fazla yormuş beni.. Snare çok şeker bi dal, ama çok büyük. Çağırılması biraz yoruyor..”, diye bir fısıltı duyar Aager zihninde.

“Sevgili Inshala, arenada hepimiz iyi iş çıkardık ve yorulduk. Ama aramızda muhteşem olan bi sen vardın..”, diye içten cevabını geri yollar Aager.

Inshala’nın yüzü pembenin harika bir tonuna bürünür..

“..uykuyu ve çok daha fazlasını hak ettin. Gelmene gerçekten gerek yoktu ama. Handaki yerinde daha rahat ederdin.”

“Taş üstünde uyumaya alışkınım ki! Ayrıca kız kardeşinin benden pek de hoşlandığını sanmıyorum. Sanırım kendisine sormadan saçlarını örmemden alındı biraz..”

“Lilly.. Lilly’nin biraz zamana ihtiyacı var. Onun için bazı şeyler yerli yerine oturuncaya kadar, sanırım hepimizin göreceği tek şey onun çatık kaşları olacak.”

“Ama öyle yapınca bütün güzelliği mahvoluyor!”, diye hayret içerisinde ünler Inshala. “Ayrıca çok pasaklı.. Bremorel abla bile bu kadar pasaklı değildi. Ve elbiselerinin hepsini yanlış giyiyor!.. Kim elbiselerinin hepsini yanlış giyebilir ki? Temiz ve düzgün giyebilsin diye, dün akşam hepsini alıp yıkayıp tamir etmek istedim, bana öyle fena bi bakış attı ki, odadan kaçmak zorunda kaldım..”

Aager istemsizce, ve hafif acı bir şekilde ‘fırk’lar.

Drashan, mutlu, ‘doğru giyinen’ insanların doğduğu, ve öldüğü bir şehir değildir. Ve Aager, yeni bulduğu kız kardeşinin geçmişinin de kendisininkinden daha mutlu olabilmiş olduğunu düşünemez. Drashan, erkek çocukları öldüren, kız çocuklarını ise.. ‘değerlendiren’ bir şehirdir..

 

Odanın diğer yanından Gnine sırıtarak sessiz bir zafer hoplayışı yapar.

Tam o an da Laila’dan da benzer bir ses gelir ama onunkisi zafer değil, mutlak bir şoku ifade eden ‘Ohaa!’dır.

“Sanırım buldum.”, der Gnine.

“Sa.. sanırım ben de bi şey buldum..”, der Laila, zorlukla.

Aager, Gnine’ın ona uzattığı belgeyi inceler.

Neden sonra, “Evet.. Tarihler ve yerler tutarlı gibi. Sanırım onu bulduk. İyi iş çıkardın Efendi Büyücü.”, der Aager.

Suratında garip bir ifade olan Laila, sanki küçük dilini yutmuş ve dikkat çekmek ister gibi elindeki oldukça eski gibi görünen belgeyi Aager’e doğru şiddetle sallamaktadır.

Aager, Laila’ya bakar ve bir kaşı kalkar. Uzanıp Laila’nın salladığı parşömeni alır ve okumaya başlar.

Aager elindeki kağıdı okudukça, diğer kaşı da yükselir.

Neden sonra, “Huh!”, diye bir ses çıkar Aager’den.

✱ ✱ ✱

 


 

Sevgili Kralım Drine,

Korkarım bu mektubu benim geri dönmemden önce aldıysanız, sarıldık, iyi bir mücadele verdik ve toprağımızı da, atalarımızı da hak ettik, demek oluyor.

Gök Varlıkların bize verdikleri kutsal bir görev için yola çıkmıştık. Lanetli Themalsar’ın güçlerini yararak geçtik ve iblislerin ruhu bile duymadı. Askerlerinizle övünmelisiniz zira elflerin prensi Grandarelen bugün hala ayakta ise, bunu tamamen sizin askerlerinize borçlu. Ne var ki Ogre’s Foot bölgesine yetiştiğimizde büyük bir baskına uğradık ve bu mektubu aceleyle yazmak zorunda kaldım.

Sevgili Kralım ve Babam, biliyorum ki benim için hep iyi şeyler istediniz. Bunu şu anda çok daha iyi görebiliyorum. Bana her zaman rahmetli annemle sizinkisi gibi bir aile kurmamı telkin etmiştiniz ama bu güne kadar sizin annemde bulduğunuz vasıfları taşıyan birisini bulamadım.

Şunu bilesiniz ki arayışım bugün, bu savaş alanında sonra erdi.

Siz bunu okuduğunuzda, ben çoktan ölmüş olacağım. Ama beni ölümümle hatırlamayın. Beni, hayatını vermeye değecek bir kızı bulmuş birisinin sevinciyle hatırlayın ve teselli olun, çünkü ben bu teselliyi kendimde buldum.

Sizi seven oğlunuz,

Prens Gordigon Tinkerdome
4. Gnowitzer İstihkam Alayı Komutanı
Silent Hills Tahtının Varisi

29.11.6853 B.Y.S.

 

 

 

Prens Gordigon Tinkerdome’un veda mektubu
(Dokümanın aslı)


I

Tik tak
Hırsız zaman
Kat kat
Örtünün altından Çaldı gitti çocukluğumu.
Bir melek
Masumiyet
Örnek Büyüyüverdi anlamadan
Emekleyerek, yürüyerek, koşarak

II

Tik tak
Hırsız zaman
Kat kat
Yorganın altından
Çekip aldı gençliğimi
Bir aşk Heyecan
Deli kan
Bıyıkları terlerken
Hevesle, hovarda, coşkuyla

III

Tik tak
Hırsız zaman
Kat kat
Anıların arasından
Silip geçti olgunluğumu.
Bir hırs
Çaba
Koşturmaca
Hayatta kalmaya çalışırken
Ev, eş, evlat, baba, anne, can

IV

Tik tak
Hırsız zaman
Kat kat
Toprağın altından
Ne çalacak geride kalandan?
Bir ömür
Ölüm
Son nefes
Secdeden kaçacağın son an
Secdesiz namazın kılındığı
Zaman…

 

—Nezih Dolmacı

dungeons and dragons duygusal groups karakter analizi komedi modül role play the plot thickens tundra walkers Whispers; A Cabal

And Just Beyond That (18+)

And Just Beyond That (18+)

Timeline:

The prophecy has been heralded.

The choice has been made.

The die has been cast and fates, sealed.

The ‘Chosen Four’ have been sent, through place and time by the proxies of the Celestials to right the wrongs of the unholy Outsiders.

In a wild cacophony of tumbling and painful sliding through the jagged and jarring madness of time, the Tundra Walkers find themselves disoriented, in a place and time quite out of their own..

..by a gross number of centuries.

 

This story starts 16 years ago, in some tattered tent full of wispy old hags, at a place far, far north of the Great Northern Tundras, in a small village called Star Watchers and ends in the misty haze of the forgotten past, some 820 years further in the line of history.

This story is the (relative) continuation of
Kocakarı Hikayesi (18+)..

 

 

What the bloody hell is this?”, the sour voice of the little, pale gnome grudged as she lay flat on her back. “No one said anything about this much hazard! Hells bells, has the term ‘precaution’ or even ‘risk assessment’ ever occur to those stupid old farts? No wonder people seldom return from the past!”

“Old farts?”, snorted a boxy, feminine voice in the dark, from somewhere behind her, also lying on her back.

“Yea, picked it up at the academy. Some of the ghouls used to use that kinda slang. You wouldn’t know..”, she said with a groan.

“I know, what an ‘old fart’ is”, sniffed the voice in the dark, “what surprises me is the fact that you’d be into such vulgar slang. And the proper word is ‘nerd’, not ‘ghoul’..”

“Nerd, ghoul, same difference. Boys who have zero social lives who live underground, play weird games with imaginary characters and cooked up monsters and carry rule books with more reverence than they would carry their holy writs..”, bit back the pale gnome.

“Yea?”

“Yea..”

“Sounds fun. What was your character?”

Arcantonic Palecog scowled.

“If you must know, I had a very tall, very pretty barbarian girl with thick, white braids and jugs, that smashed everything in her path with a mindless rage..”, she said and hastily added, “..no offense intended!”, giving a sidelong gaze at Cora’s direction.

The squeaky snort of a hobbit came from off, the other side.

“Some taken..”, replied the tall barbarian girl with thick, white braids.

There was a bothersome pause.

“Umm.. Which part?”, asked Arcantonic, tentatively.

“Will let you know when I want something —in mindless rage!”

“Well, shit!”, grumbled the gnome.

“You truly surprise me at times, girl..”, snickered Seressa Wraiven as her dark face appeared over the gnome. “Are you hurt? Other than your head, you seem all in one piece.. Could carry you if you like..”

“You wish..”, said Arcantonic sourly.

“Very much.”

✱ ✱ ✱

Someone’s coming”, Cora Sleet whispered harshly as she sprang up and helped the little hobbit to his feet.

Brom Bumblebrim dusted off his pants and coat and mumbled a silent thanks while the very tall, very dark figure of Seressa pulled up her pair.

Arcantonic did not thank.

She just scowled..

..some more!

 

The slow, irking hiss of a blade was heard as  Cora drew her long, great blade off her back and spread her legs, ready to fight whatever it was that was coming.

Out in the darkness, the marching of many boots in perfect order drew closer and a platoon of tall figures appeared.

Without a pause, the platoon split in two and surrounded the Walkers and than held their ground. They gave no sign of aggression, only that of determination.

They all wore similar, very elaborate, and very beautiful plate armors, high winged helmets and carried a quiver of arrows, a short bow, a half size kite shield, and a long, slender, almost fragile-looking sword..

 

High Elves, thought Cora for a moment.

High Elves?, she baffled in the next.

‘Great Heavens, where are we?’

 

“Greetings, Messengers of the Celestials..”, said the leading elf with a curt, formal nod. “If you would be so kind, I pray, follow me and we shall take you to our lord. It is he, with whom you shall speak.”

Cora nodded back, more out of reverence than a formality, for these were High Elves, the highest and noblest of elves.

Without waiting for a reply, the leader of the high elf platoon turned did a quick hand motion, and walked off, back into the darkness..

✱ ✱ ✱

The sight was ghastly. That was the only word Cora could think of.

Ghastly!

They had traveled with the high elf platoon for the better part of sixteen hours, trooping, running, hiding, sneaking, and.. fighting..

..and there was less than half of the platoon left.

Cora thought she knew how to fight. But what she knew was nothing like what she saw with these elves in their shiny, beautiful armor. One particular young elf had caught her eyes. He had had an angular face, a straight, noble sort of nose, a dedicated, rich mouth, prominent high brows, and long, braided, pale gold hair.

Cora was never the type of girl to lust over boys, even before the destruction of her village. But the look he had given her with his beautiful, soft, pale green eyes had been solemn, honest, and.. flattering.

 

The young man had died in the next encounter with what she thought were mountain trolls. The brutish monsters had rushed right into the platoon and one of them had crushed the elf with his eight-foot club that had been thicker than Cora’s waist..

Cora had never seen a mountain troll before.

Cora would never see the young, beautiful elf again after that..

 

Tired and bloodied, they were met by more elven platoons and soon ushered to the top of a hill where stood a tall, deep maroon-colored tent surrounded by more high elf guards in even greater looking armors, carrying long, curved, two-handed elven scimitars in silver embroidered purple mantles. Up at that hill, Cora and her friends saw the extent of their prophecy.. and the extent of the devastation taking place down below..

Row upon row of elven warriors in tens of thousands stood before and around the hill.

There, far across a very bloody field was another army of row upon row of orcs, goblins, ogres, giants, trolls, and what Cora surmised to be shambling ghouls, broken skeletons, moaning zombies, and barking demons, and their numbers seemed to stretch as far as she could see.

And between the two armies was a field of death, all burned, scorched, even, and pitch-black smoke rose from broken and mutilated bodies scattered everywhere.

The sight she looked at was nothing less than ghastly..

..and the more she looked, the more her face paled;

The hill they were standing on, was very much surrounded!

✱ ✱ ✱

On the hilltop, Cora and her companions beheld the bloody battlefield below as thousands of arrows formed an arching bridge over them and fell into the ranks of the enemy horde while elfish wizards and sorcerers launched their deadly spells, raining fire, fist-sized hails, and swirling multi-colored arcane missiles. Batches of temple guardians walked among the wounded, doing their best to keep them alive as groves of druids of many races sent bolts of lightning and hurricanes into the demon ranks.

Something very large groaned and with an earth-shaking thud, a hut-sized rock landed in the middle of a platoon and instantly killed and buried the elves caught under it.

More boulders landed haphazardly into the elfish ranks. The crushed didn’t even have the time to scream.

Orders ran up and down the elf ranks and the first half of a dozen line of elves drew their swords, pulled up their shields, and started out as the following ranks crouched close behind them, bearing long halberds and glaives.

The demon horde charged..

“This way, if you would please.”, said the platoon leader and led Cora and her friends into the tent at the top of the hill.

✱ ✱ ✱

The tall elf guard in purple mantle opened the tent’s flaps for the company, then, without a word, turned and left for his post.

Although the inside of the tent was dimly lit, it appeared to be surprisingly comfortable and richly decorated. The ground was covered with a thick, red carpet that had elegant designs inlaid in it, barely a shade or two darker, or lighter than the base red. Many embroidered tapestries hung on the inside of the tent. There were two comfortable-looking divans, many stools, and a large, portable table placed at the far end, covered with parchments, maps, markers, quills, and writing feathers.

A young, beautiful young elf girl slept peacefully on one of the divans. She had a striking figure, full and healthy. Her face had soft features; smooth skin, rich, vibrant, inviting lips, long eyelashes, and brush-free, slightly wavy, honey-colored hair and she was sleeping in her tight, elf woven lorica.

Cora heard a stifling sound from the other end of the tent, and for the first time, she saw the elf lord, sitting behind the portable table.

Cora did a double-take and silently ‘woa’ed for this was the most beautiful face in a living being that she had ever seen. She just stared at the elf lord..

 

“So, the Celestials have sent another batch of messengers.”, said the elf lord, in a barely hidden contempt. He had a beckoning voice, rather masculine and resonant but somehow musical in nature. If Cora heard this voice in any other male, she would likely have snorted. With this elf, however, it felt ‘just right’.

“A tundra elf barbarian, a hobbit from Bowling Hills by the looks of it, a half-demon and a deep gnome..”, he said.

“It seems the greats above shall not even bother to hide their pun!”

Cora and Brom bowed before the elf lord.

“We have been sent to right a wrong by the Seers of the Star Watchers, my lord.”, Cora said, in her soft, somewhat throaty voice.

And right then, Seressa and Arcantonic both produced something made from fine leather and folded from their belts, flipped them open, and showed the elf lord, a strange, arrogantly carved badge.

The elf lord’s eyebrows shot up.

“And what business interests does the Academy of Melshieve have here, in this blasted, forsaken battlefield?”, he said in a voice that sounded more tired than of any particular interest.

“Academy business.”, Seressa replied curtly, which was very much unlike her.

“We two are here to observe and preserve.“, added Arcantonic, in a similar curt tone.

“Of course you are..”, replied the elven lord bitterly. “Couldn’t have sent a few of your airships..”

“We are here only to observe and preserve.”, Seressa repeated her pair, speaking with a kindlier voice this time.

“I see.. You are free to observe. There will be no preserving done here today, or anytime soon, I am afraid. The situation stands thus; we are surrounded and outnumbered at a critical level. We can barely open small gaps in the enemy lines at the cost of too many lives that I’d care to count. A few months ago, we sent word to Koruxan, Vodgar, Palantine, and Durkahan pleading for their support. So far, we only have a quarter half of Arashkan forces here, dwarven armored platoons from Scowling and Elder Hills, wood elf support from Dim Woods, druids from Ritual Forest, and gnome sappers from Tinker Hills and Silent Hills.”, said the elven lord quietly.

He paused for a bit as if to gather his thoughts, took a deep breath, and continued.

“We had a great start. Our.. our own rangers kept on harassing the enemy lines from the sides and managed to get to their rear as well. We held the enemy at bay for three years and made them pay a good price for every step they took in any direction. But that was up until some two months ago. Our gnome sappers discovered something we never expected. Turns out, while we were entertaining ourselves up here, they were diligently digging miles and miles of tunnels right under and around us..

We destroyed all the tunnels we found, but not soon enough. And now, they are all around us and their numbers have been growing steadily every day.

For weeks we send messengers to the other cities and yet, no one has responded. I am afraid, we will not last the month. Enemy warlocks have warded the area, making it impossible for us to open portals for new troops to teleport in or take our wounded out, not to mention near to non of our summoning spells work, hence we can get the support of neither the elementals nor the fey.

I will be honest with you. You are not the first Celestial messengers that have arrived here. There were six other groups, though never this many at once. You are the seventh group and they all said it was their destiny to right a wrong. I hope your prophecy was better than theirs.”, he said in the same tired voice and Cora finally recognized the nuance.

The elven lord wasn’t just tired. His was the voice of a man who had lost all hope. It was a defeated man’s voice.

Cora felt a lump at the pit of her stomach.

And she felt a vast sympathy for this beautiful elf.

“If it is possible to reach these people, we shall..”, she said in fierce determination.

The elf lord looked up at Cora and for the briefest of moments, a smile appeared in his handsome face.

“I had heard our long-lost brothers and sisters up in The Great Northern Tundra’s never gave their word for simple tasks. They gave them only for the worthy ones.. and always kept them. Had I, but a thousand like you..”

Cora tried very hard not to, but failed.. and blushed.

 

Just then, the tent flaps opened and an elf runner dashed inside and in a rushed, terror-stricken voice he said, “My Riverin Grandaleren. Themalsar approaches from the south..”

“What?”, said the elf lord in a shocked voice. “How?”

“By ships. He landed troops to the south by ships!..”, said the runner, his face even more drawn now.

“My Lord, they come!”, he whispered.

 

Riverin Grandaleren’s shoulders slumped. He turned to the four standing before him.

Cora’s mind reeled..

‘Riverin?’

That was a very old elven name for ‘prince’. It had never really been used by her people, only ‘Rive’ which meant something along the lines of ‘king’ or, more like, ‘chieftain’..

‘Good Heavens..’, she thought. This was no mere elf lord. This was ‘her times’ Ri Grandaleren Feymist of the legendary Bari Na-ammen himself..

..and since he was warring this Themalsar, it had to mean, they had been sent back some 820 years, to the first Battle of Themalsar, as the humans called it..

It was better known among elves as;

“Maeth -o Nev Evan escence”

BATTLE OF NEAR EXTINCTION..

 

Some innate instinct also prompted Cora that they were at the very northeast edge of the Ritual Forest and that meant; just to their north was the Trapped Mountains.

Her mountains..

And just beyond that, her Ironfrost..

It was still there, ‘now’..

Her mother hadn’t been born yet, but her father had. He would be younger than she was now.. but alive..

None of her friends would be around for at least seven hundred years yet, but her home, her Ironfrost would be there.. Now..

For the first time since the death of her beloved father, her beautiful mother, her friends, and her people, the true impact of her loss hit her.

Cora Sleet’s eyes teared and silently, she mourned for Ironfrost and everything that it meant and encompassed for her.

It was so damned close. It was ‘this’ close.. Within her grasp to go, and to see.. And perhaps even to..

..reclaim.

 

If she could just go there, and perhaps warn them of their coming annihilation, even at the cost of being branded as a mad woman..

A hard two weeks trek right now would get her there —much less if she left alone! Yes, these strange ‘soft’ people had fought alongside her, but she owed them nothing..

Certainly not her Ironfrost..

 

And that is when it hit Cora; she was not with them because of some untold, unnamed or unpaid debt. She was with them because this was her future. This was her now and there really was no going back. These strange, soft, very much unbarbaric people were her new friends..

Her new family.

Her new.. Ironfrost!

And as if on cue, a small, warm, delicate hand reached up to her and held hers.

She looked down to see Brom Bumblebrim looking up to her, his eyes also glistening. He smiled at her and kindly patted her hand, squeezed it once, and let it go..

Yep..

This was her new Ironfrost, alright..

 

Brom, her talkative little brother who never shut up. Tonic, her grumpy little baby sister who hadn’t yet gotten passed her ‘NO’ phase, and Seressa, her other sister.. the odd one in the family. Every family had one of those, right? She had been the odd one in her family, hadn’t she? Many people had said so.. Yes, she certainly hadn’t been odd at Seressa’s level, nor had she ever worn laced, pink, almost see-through.. things! But there really was no scale for odity, was there? The moment you stepped out of the boundaries of common, you were odd.

And now she was given the new position as the eldest sister. Seressa had merely swooped down and happily claimed her abandoned seat!

Here, some eight hundred years in the murky mists of a forgotten time, in one of the bloodiest battlefields in known history, up against impossible odds, Cora Sleet had found her new family, and in doing so, she found herself.

 

GO.. NOW.. Our time is up. If Themalsar gets here, we will lose any chance to break any openings for you.”, said the prince harshly. He turned to the runner. “Get Selvius Brightleaf, my general, and Aramlerien, my master wizard here immediately. Then go and ask Master Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig, the head of the druid groves and General Drills, the gnome sappers’ general, if they would be so kind as to join us. Send for Decona Dwarwic, the dwarven dreadnaught leader as well. We will need her ‘meatgrinders’ sooner than planned.”

The prince paused for a notable breath.

“Please inform Archangel Priceptine of the situation and ask him if he would grace us with his presence and wisdom..”, he added somewhat grudgingly.

“At once, my Riverin..”, the runner bowed and dashed back out of the tent.

“Well, I suppose this was a short-lived encounter.”, Grandaleren said, with an ironic and bitter voice. “I would know your names if you would honor me.”

“No!”, jumped in Seressa. “No names.. I am sorry Riverin of Bari Na-ammen. But those are the rules; under no circumstance may our names be revealed nor recorded!”

“It appears the academy has an answer for everything. Just no solution. So be it. You will be noted as ‘a tundra elf’, ‘a hobbit’, and ‘an academy pair’ who were here to observe and preserve! Now, go..”

Cora and Brom bowed once more to the Prince of Bari Na-ammen and turned to leave.

 

And that is when Cora realized something else;

The beautiful elf girl sleeping on the divan in her linen-like lorica had not moved, at all..

In fact, she was not breathing.

 

The hoarse voice of the prince of the high elves came from behind them.

“Selendenien Sindarin.. My sister. She.. she was killed late last night by Themalsar himself. Her life ebbed away by Malocchio, an entropy death curse, particular to his master.. She was the heart of High Woods and the jewel of Bari Na-ammen. The Sunlight of Selendenien shall never bless this world again..”

Riverin Grandaleren choked.

“Now please.. Go.. Give this man a few moments of peace to grieve over a beloved one..”

✱ ✱ ✱

The company moved silently and swiftly, hidden among burly dwarves and nibble gnomes.. That had been the plan; if they were to escape through the encircling army, they would have a better chance with the dwarves and gnomes, in particular, since the enemy was seeking high elves..

..And they had to use the tunnels dug by the gnome sappers.

Seressa had given one look at the small, tight, gnome size tunnels and groaned.

“Ow bugger..”, she’d said, “..not again!”

That had cheered Tonic a bit.

 

For three days, they ran, hid, slid, rolled, and tumbles through dark, musty, stuffy tunnels, and then over and under heavy brush and mud and reached somewhere near a cluster of rolling hills known as Ogre’s Foot, at which point they got ambush by half the ogre population living in the hills.

 

“Here..”, said a young, handsome gnome; the captain, of the gnomic company and the de facto leader of the dwarven contingency, as he handed a sealed, rolled-up parchment to Arcantonic. “..if you ever manage to get the chance, give this to my father please.”

Arcantonic just stared at the gnome boy.

“Who the hell are you and why are you giving this to me? You don’t even know me..”, she inadvertently blurted out.

Seressa smacked her forehead with her hand.

If the handsome gnome was taken aback by Tonic’s language or her brute attitude, he showed it with a dazzling, infectious smile.

“I, the hell, am Prince Gordigon Tinkerdome. Son of King Drine Tinkerdome and the apparent heir to the throne of Silent Hills.”, he said.

 

Arcantonic ogled at the gnome.

All things considered, he was a rather handsome devil. Pretty, even.

If the gnomes smile was dazzling, however, it certainly flew right past the gnomic girl standing before him.. and the infection failed all efforts on her as well.

 

“It is likely this is where you and your friends will depart, as we are surrounded, outnumbered, and outsized, but not quite bested. We need to make enough of a ruckus here, so they won’t go looking for your, there!“, he said pointing in the general direction of Dim Woods.

“Hence, it is unlikely any of us shall survive. You, on the other hand, must, my lady!”

Arcantonic ogled at the gnome..

..some more!

Somewhere deep inside her mind, a squeaky, irritated voice said, “Did you.. Did he just ‘lady’ us?”

“Thought I’d give you this letter to be handed to my father, in case of an unexpected demise on my part, and if you would, I would also like to have your name, my lady, and your hand, of which, I promise, I shall keep only one, though I would very much like to keep both..”

“Yep..”, the squeaky voice in her mind confirmed. “..the idiot just ‘lady’ed us —again! And he wants our hand. Why does he want our hand?”

“I.. I can’t give you my name. That.. that is forbidden. And what do you want my hand for? Are they dirty?”, stammered Tonic as she blushed with a tone of pink that would have made her pair proud.

“Oh, for everything that’s good and not..!”, exclaimed Seressa with an exasperated voice, and smacked her forehead with her other hand..

Brom snickered from the side and Cora just stared at Tonic like she was some kind of strange contraption and she just couldn’t figure out what its purpose was.

“I do not know.”, smiled the gnome prince. “Hard to see from here. Must look at it from a closer angle.”

Whatever was going through Tonics mind at that very moment, it was hard to say.

Her face, however, said ‘What the hell kind of an idiot is this?’

Or perhaps, ‘Why is it always the weird ones?’

 

The prince reached out, took the little gnome girl’s hand, gracefully bent over and..

Seressa held her breath.

 

Brom bit his knuckles.

 

Cora cocked an eyebrow and eagled down on them..

 

..And Tonic smacked the prince of the gnomes..

..over the head..

..with her wrench!

 

WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?!“, she blared. “MY HANDS ARE DIRTY AND YOU WANT TO SNIFF THEM? WHAT KIND OF AN IDIOT ARE YOU?

With that, she stomped off..

 

The combined company of gnomes and dwarves burst out in gleeful laughter as the prince picked himself off the ground, very much dazed, obviously in pain and thoroughly embarrassed, he said “I suppose, I had that coming.. But wow, that there is one blazing girl and very hard to get; the best kind there is.. Too bad my times up. I would have loved to have stolen a kiss of ‘farewell to life’ from a girl as beautiful and fiery as her..”

The laughter died and every dwarf and gnome picked up their weapons and shields.

“Dwarves at the center. Sappers cover the flanks.. and careful with the mortars and the gnowitzers.. I want carpet-bombing thirty paces in front of the dwarves at all times. No need to be shy with the ammo.. Artificers, with me.. Boomsticks at the ready..”, he barked his orders.

Prince Gordigon Tinkerdome, son of King Drine and apparent heir to the throne of Silent Hills gave the still scowling Tonic one last, toothy glance, than shrieked like a hawk.

“CHARGE!”

 



Ri:
elvish for a king.

Rise: elvish for a queen.

Riverin: elvish for the prince (usually used for the likely future Ri).

Riserin: elvish for a princess (usually used for the likely future Rise).

Selendenien Sindarin: one of the three children of the current king of the high elves of Bari Na-ammen, Ri Lienierre Moonlight. The eldest of the three is High Lady Angrellen Sunsear, followed by Riverin Grandarelen, and the youngest, Ranger Marshal Selendenien Sindarin (Sunlight).

Malocchio: ‘Evil Eye’, in Italian. In-game terminology, an evil, forbidden, very destructive, and an almost always deadly spell. Anyone caught casting or possessing the spell is instantly executed in the Kingdom. Requires a complicated ritual to cast. The end result can vary depending on how it was cast, the intensity of the intent of the caster, and how badly the caster wants the intended to die. The end results can change from something as simple as a heart attack to causing the heart to physically explode, ripping open the rib cage of the person..

dungeons and dragons groups komedi modül role play the plot thickens tundra walkers Whispers; A Cabal

Kocakarı Hikayesi (18+)

Kocakarı Hikayesi (18+)

Timeline:

After the savage fight between the Tundra Walkers and the vicious ‘demon’ plaguing the Ice Wolf Horde, our two heroes, Cora Sleet and Brom Bumblebrim make some new, albeit, dubious friends; Seressa Wraiven (an anthropologist) and Arcantonic Palecorg (an archeologist).

During their final days in search of the Eldars, Seressa finally manages to ‘crack’ the meanings in the ancient, runic tablets that she and her pair had been digging for the past seven months.

The runic tablets reveal an unexpected communique from an elder of the strange Star Watchers village..

Hence, the newly expanded Tundra Watchers start their cold trek to find the old mystics who watch the stars for signs and portents from the past, the future, and sometimes even about their neighbors..

This story takes place about a week after
A Shift in Perspective ..

..give or take a day or three!

 

 

Wow, this place is a tad chilly, wouldn’t you say?”, the very tall, very dark Seressa Wraiven said as she blatantly floundered about in the hip-deep snow in her laced, pink mini dress that looked more like a skimpy, filmy nightgown than a dress, really.

A mumble of agreement came from somewhere behind her that almost got lost in the shrieking wind. Seeing as how the snow was hip-deep for the towering girl in pinks, this pretty much meant total loss of sunlight for the drudging halfling..

 

His head was certainly lost under the arctic snow.

 

“Aww, aren’t you a darling, Brom!”, Seressa cuted out as she stared down at the only part of the halfling she could see; the bushy head that looked more like a hedgehog shuffling in the white, looking for berries..

 

..or something!

 

“Yea.. I bet he is..”, scowled the red rashed little gnome girl from behind the halfling.

“Oi! Hobbit! Eyes front!”, she barked.

“My eyes ARE front..”, mumbled Brom the hobbit. “AND very much CENTER, thank you very much!”, he said indignantly while his teeth shattered in a frustrated shiver. “I am trying to finish my new song on the Ice Wolf Horde and the events that happened there..”

“Yea.. I bet you are..”, Arcantonic Palecorg growled again.

“What is the matter with you, girl? Have I done you wrong in some past life, that I am not aware of? Is that why you are constantly chewing me out?!”, asked Brom with an exasperated voice.

“Has anyone got a cloak, perhaps?”, Seressa jarred in. “I could really use a cloak. I can’t feel my butt!”

“I am surprised they haven’t shattered and powdered off in the wind, the way you go floundering around..”, scoffed the gnome.

“There, there now Tonic. Let’s not get snippy. It wasn’t really my fault we got into this mess.”, the very tall, very dark figure said.

“Yes. It was! You just couldn’t stand still, could you? You just HAD to fiddle with those bloody tablets.”, said Arcantonic acidly.

“You are using mixed terminology again, luv! You can’t really fiddle with stone tablets as they have no buttons, knobs, arms or levers..”

“…”

“..but then, yes, perhaps I should not have read them out loud, the way I did.”, added Seressa hastily.

“But, hey! If I hadn’t, we’d still be sitting in that cave for Goodness knows how long.. Because I did, we are finally on the move once more.. Cheer up, girl, we are going on an adventure!”, she said with a happy whoop.

Arcantonic spluttered something in blistering incomprehension!

“You three are making enough noise for an avalanche.”, came a soft, somewhat throaty voice from ahead and a fourth person quietly approached the bickering three.

She had a slim, shapely figure that breached the upper end of average. Her hair was white as the snow all around them, a whiteness by quality rather than age and she seemed to skim, rather than walk on the hip-deep snow.. She certainly was a study in contrast with the very tall, very dark tiefling in a laced, pink, skimpy dress, for her skin was nearly as pale as her sleet hair.

There were elegant, deep blue tattoos marking her face, her neck, and arms. The rest of her was hidden deep under thick hide and fur. She seemed to move with the grace of a cat on the hunt; very much untamed and..

..feral!

And if that didn’t give her the appearance of a savage, her glacial blue eyes certainly did.

The one other thing that was very distinct about her was; Cora Sleet had a beautiful, dark, snowberry red mouth that seemed to scowl slightly.. or pout.

It was surprising how that one, single touch of detail could so devastatingly change the appearance of a face!

 

“What’s the fuss?”, she asked cooly.

“No fuss. Just chilly.. a bit.”, Seressa chirped!

Cora Sleet gazed at the very tall, very dark girl who stood out like a marked black blot in the snow.

A marked black blot in pinks!..

CAN something get any sillier than that?’, she wondered.

Cora was never the kind of girl that used words like ‘silly’, ‘foolish’ or.. ‘giddy’.

Such soft words would never survive the savage colds of the Great Northern Tundras.

But pink on black in white..?

Nothing else seemed satisfactorily define this very tall, very dark figure standing before her, other than ‘silly’.

She shrugged – mentally.

Everyone was different and civilizations rose from such differences, as her father used to say whenever she tried to be like everyone else, back in Ironfrost.

But her father was gone. And her mom. All her friends and her people, along with her beautiful village..

 

..were all gone.

 

In her mind, Cora shrugged again. But this time, the shrug was less convincing.. A bit like forced cheer.

She was never sure if she had ever believed in destiny. But the events that led her here, to have met these strange, very much non-barbaric people, sounded too much like providence than coincidence.

Even for a girl as brutally practical as Cora Sleet.

To that dubious end, she undid the leather cords holding her heavy fur cloak and tossed it at the dark figure in pinks..

..and the howling arctic winds thought this was just about the right time for a good sneeze and haled the cloak.. and Cora’s cool away!

“Well..”, Seressa said. “..wasn’t that just awkward!”

Cora just stood there.

She squinted at the flaking skies and said, “Really?”

“No worries, no worries, I’ll catch it. It’s bound to land eventually..”, she said cheerily and started after the fur cloak, slipped, lost her balance, and promptly toppled over and crashed, face down, into the snow displaying all her curvy glory!

“Oi! Hobbit! Eyes front!”, Arcantonic barked again.

“My eyes ARE front, damit!”

 

“Well, isn’t that just warm and fuzzy. This fur’s so soft! No wonder the elf likes it so much. I just must get me one of these..”, Seressa said happily.

“Just look at that —NOT YOU HOBBİT!— she’s wearing a cloak that would cover me trice over and she’s still on display..”, scowled the gnome.

“What can I say, Tonic. Every part of me likes their freedom individually!”

✱ ✱ ✱

Alright. Once again. What exactly did the voice say?”, asked Arcantonic. The sun had set and the four of them had huddled around a miserable little fire in a tight crevice that Cora had found. “We don’t want to go after something you misread, misheard or misinterpreted and find out there’s nothing there.”

Seressa Wraiven frowned.

“I AM a miss, but I never misread, misheard, or misinterpreted anything!”, Seressa sniffed. “For all that’s good and not, when have you ever seen me ‘miss’ anything? I have always had a very good memory for such things and you know it!”

“I can name one right now if you like..”, said Arcantonic.

“By all means, girl, name two..”

“ME, for one and this ‘communique’, for two!”, the little gnome smirked —but not really in a fun way.

“Hah!”, deadpanned Seressa, “I GOT you, didn’t I? As for the other, the prophecy said the four of us are to go there, and here we are, GOING THERE! How about that..”

Brom silently ‘Hoo booy’ed at the monumentally crooked logic in that!

“WHAT?!”, both Seressa and Arcantonic said at the same time.

‘Shit!’, thought Brom. ‘I am NOT getting caught between this!’

“Nothing, nothing and unequivocally nothing..”, he said promptly.

✱ ✱ ✱

The simple matter of the fact was, Seressa Wraiven was bored! She’d been stuck in this blasted cave for seven months and all she had done was to dig up these ancient, undecipherable stone tablets, fight off the unrelenting Ice Wolf barbarians, and, by way of distraction, chatted with her pair, who had been just about equally indecipherable.

Seressa was not sure on which account she had failed more miserably.. All she knew was that she had.

The only thing she had been successful was to be able to fend off the savages, which in itself was a failure, from a totally scholarly point of view; she was, after all, an anthropologist, damit!

Well.. that was depressing no matter how she looked at it.

Though she had had a decent talk with her pair the previous week and since then, Tonic’s attitude towards her had..

..changed a little bit?

Now that she’d thought about it, it had, in fact, changed and more than a little bit.

Tonic hadn’t chewed at her, nor burned her since then..

She wasn’t really expecting her pair to come and hug her every once in a while anytime soon, if ever, but even the idea of her not getting burned by Tonic was drug inducing all by itself.

Or maybe she was looking at this from the wrong end of the scope..

Perhaps she’d given up on her and was just ignoring her altogether.

Noooo.., Seressa thought. Whatever her little pair had been, she’d never been THAT cruel to her..

“I mean, it did seem like there had been some slight connection at the end of our conversation, hadn’t there?”

Well, it had been, not quite a monologue, but more like a one-sided dialogue than a conversation..

 

Perhaps she was imagining things..

..or overthinking it.

..or just bored and was talking to herself now!

 

It had been two days since her pair had gone with the barbarian girl and the cute, fluffy little hobbit and it had been the first time since her graduation from the academy that she’d actually been alone..

..so alone, even.

“Guess you just suck at what you do, girl..”, she said to herself. “I mean, I been trying to coin-purse my pair for two years now and here comes this total stranger and you were all ok with jumping into HER purse!”

“I suppose this is a good time to say, ‘bugger’..!”

She kicked one of the tablets out of pure, infuriated frustration..

..which turned out to be a rather bad idea, since she had never really gotten around to wearing shoes. Seressa disliked shoes. They were stuffy, constricting and they smelled bad.

Besides, every part of her liked their freedom individually, after all.. But apparently, freedoms came with a high price at times; she ‘ompfh’ed in silent pain as she hopped around, stumbled, tripped, and clutzed all over the ancient tablets..

There was a sharp crack as half a dozen of the tablets just split into large, asymmetric parts!

By the time she came around, the whole issue of ‘pain’ had become a bit moot.

Seven months of digging, seven months of fighting off savages on a daily basis.. all for nothing..

 

Tonic was so going to kill her!

 

And out of nowhere..

 

..and thou shalt cometh to the watch’rs who is’t gazeth the stars.

by thine hands the rememb’r’d shalt beest f’rgotten and the the f’rgotten shalt beest rememb’red,

f’r the future shalt vade if ‘t be true the past hath not been mend’d..

 

..came a deep, creepy, hollow voice.

 

“Wha.. what?!”, Seressa baffled as she stared at the broken tablets.

“What?!”, said the creepy, hallow voice..

 

There was a long moment of silence.

 

“Hello? Who is this?”, the hollow voice asked.

“Umm.. hello.. who is this?”, asked Seressa for she was truly flabbergasted.

“Who are you? Ow, bugger, I warned them this would happen. I told them over and over that some bloody idiot would eventually stumble over them, but did they listen? Nooo.. There goes my prophecy!”

“Are we talking about a literal stumbling or a metaphorical one?”, asked Seressa a bit shamefully.

 

There was another moment of silence..

 

“The fact that you have just asked that question, makes me despair. Have I just wasted a prophecy on a mentally deficient idiot?!”

“That was a bit harsh. What happened to the creepy, hollow voice?”

“That’s for the real Chosen One’s. The real deals.. I don’t perform for idiots!”

“If took me seven months digging up your tablets.. That ought to have earned me some credits..”

“And never wondered WHY someone would have put them there in the first place?”

“…”

“Ow, crap! Here come my sisters. Whatever you do, just say ‘I shall’ at the end, in a somber, awed voice..”

“Ummmkay..”

 

“..and thou shalt cometh to the watch’rs who is’t gazeth the stars.—”

 

“That’ll be four of us..”

“…”

 

Although the pause this time was quite short, there was something quite mordant in it. With a long, wheezing sound of an exasperated sigh, the deep, hollow voice came again;

 

Ye shalt cede yourself, thy trials and thy family f’r thou hast a new ‘rrand at handeth.

f’reseen wast the chosen ensemble ‘mongst many, liketh the speck on snoweth

..and four shalt cometh to the watch’rs who is’t gazeth the stars.

by thine hands the rememb’r’d shalt beest f’rgotten and the the f’rgotten shalt beest rememb’red,

f’r the future shalt vade if ‘t be true the past hath not been mend’d..

✱ ✱ ✱

Well, as I said, it was all in this hallow, creepy voice.” Seressa Wraiven said. “Never been that funked in my life. Then a ghostly hand beckoned and told me we MUST go to these, uhh, Star Watcher people, for further instructions.. That we were prophesied to change the course of history..

Arcantonic frowned.

“Last time you said there was some gnomic prince involved!”

“Did I? Well, if there is a pretty gnomic girl, stands to reason there ought to be a pretty gnomic prince, now shouldn’t there?”

Brom ‘Hoo booy’ed again!

Arcantonic frowned some more..

 

“Well, I am off to sleep. Can’t keep my eyes open any longer and we have a long trek ahead of us..”

..and with that hasty conclusion, the very tall, very dark Seressa curled up into a ball and promptly fell asleep.

 

“Oi! Hobbit! Eyes front!”, hissed the gnome.