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Kumse Beetles
and
Pixie Dust!

Kumse Beetles
and
Pixie Dust!

Timeline:

With the unexpected help of the half-born, Anglenna finally finds the possible whereabouts of the missing Udoorin Shieldheart and Princess Alor’Nadien ne;

 

The Gull’s Perch…

 

..the home of the Summer Fey
and Queen Titania, herself!

 

This, however, presents issues on its own,
as Mortals, in general, are banned from the Perch,
and half-borns, being part demon, in particular,
are never allowed to even come near
the sacred valley of the Summer Queen..

 

This story takes place shortly after
The Liaison.
and starts at the end of
The Discovery.

 

 

A depressed and depleted procession oozed down the dim halls of Serenity Home Temple as Perigren Ostlanna Temez lead her brothers and sisters down the long, spiraling stairs and into the dim cavernous crypt. 

With a grim expression on his face, Hal Mali followed her as he dragged a pale and drained-looking Cee Lingerith Demelze by the hand.

And right behind them, Hamna Vir slouched with a stubborn expression on her sharp face, as she fiercely hugged the little, slumbering Dar Derune in her arms.

“I could walk.”, came Dar Derune’s slurred voice as his head bobbed back and forth.

“I know you can, love.”, Hamna Vir said kindly, but the fire in her eyes told otherwise. She was a savage, bitter half-born to begin with, and the fact that no other than Titania, the Summer Queen, had backhanded her little Dar Derune just a few moments ago and from as far away as Gull’s Perch, had been like a slap on their collective faces. Sort of like a wake-up call, that there were things much, much more powerful than they were in this Mortal world after all, and that fact, so casually displayed, had hit them all quite hard, quite literally. And that it had been their little Dar Derune on the receiving end had made Hamna Vir, in particular, quite vexed which was putting it rather lightly, for at that very moment, the girl with the sharp features had nothing but murder in her eyes and that it had been the Summer Queen, a being way out of their league for any kind of retribution or retaliation had merely added to the insult.

“You are pulling too hard..”, whimpered a glazed Demelze.

“Ow. I am sorry, Demelze. My bad.”, said Hal Mali and with a swift scoop, he grabbed her, spun her up with a flip, and landed her in his powerful arms. “How’s that?”

“You are just taking advantage of my moment of weakness Hal Mali.. and I am liking it!”, she said, her words garbled and stumbled over each other as she smiled at him with a sloshed and woozy face.

“Aren’t you a darling?”, Hal Mali smiled back.

“I am, aren’t I?”, Demelze swooned.

“Too bad you are not going to remember any of this when you come around.”, he fumed to himself.

“Why don’t you just ask her out Hal?”, Temez asked from ahead.

“Hal? Why do you call me Hal, Perigren Ostlanna Temez?”, asked Hal Mali, a bit confused and hurt. “Have I ever upset or disappointed you in any way that I am not aware of and warrant such admonishment?”

“Never, love. But I have noted the Mortals refer to one other by shortening each other’s names. Thought perhaps we could also try it so we do not stand out when we finally come out in the open.”, she replied.

Hal Mali mused over that, as he unwittingly hugged the befuddled Demelze closer to his chest.

“Let’s see if I have understood this correctly; they not only butcher one another, they also butcher each other’s names?”

“Yes. But do not ask me why, dear. Apparently, either they do not give much importance to names, or they do not believe names have power, or they are merely ignorant. I have been studying them, but I have yet to uncover the exact reasoning behind them. Take Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel Songsteel for example. Rarely have I heard anyone call her by that name. They summon her by saying only Bremorel. Young Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood, on the other hand, calls her fondly as Morel. I have witnessed on one occasion where someone referred to her as just ‘Bree’. She, herself, never calls her mate by his full name either, and summons him as Thomas.”, Temez tried to explain.

“That is heresy, that is.”, Hal Mali said with an ugly face. Then thought for a moment. “Or maybe not. You, my brothers, and my sisters rarely call me Hal Mali Volent Pierce. Much like we rarely call Demelze or Hamna Vir by their full name, either, and it has nothing to do with the power the name has as a whole, but everything to do with practical efficiency.”

“I think you just answered a rather vexing dilemma, dear. You are indeed as practical as you are efficient.”, smiled Temez wanly.

“If any of you calls me Vir, I will haunt you in your dreams until you wet yourselves!”, hissed Hamna Vir.

“We shall pick up this practice but only those of us who want to, and if they are comfortable with the idea. Henceforth, you may call me only Temez.”

“Well. I would rather everyone called me Hal Mali. But I will try my best not to retaliate should any of you calls me Hal. Is that acceptable?”, Hal Mali said dubiously.

“Perfectly, dear.”, Temez smiled again. “Which brings us back to my previous question; Why don’t you ask her out? It’s quite obvious you like Demelze. Actually, pretty much all of us have noticed your rather transparent interest in her. She’d make a troublesome but fiery mate. You would never get bored of life..”

Hal Mali signed.

“Am I truly that obvious?”

“When it comes to Demelze, yes, dear.”, smiled Temez.

“Yup!”, said Hamna Vir.

“Yea..”, slurred Demezle vaguely but it wasn’t clear as to what she was agreeing for her eyes were closed and her slender, diminutive figure danced limply at each step Hal Mali took down the long flight of stairs.

Hal Mali sighed again.

“No point.”, he said a bit depressed. “Demelze despises me.”

“No she doesn’t.”, objected Temez.

“Yes, she does.”, Hamna Vir inserted from the back.

“Hamna Vir!”, said Temez reprovingly.

“What? She does despise him and you know it!”, she snapped irritably.

Temez sighed this time.

“Girl, you are never going to understand the hearts of Mortals nor men if you just say everything that comes to your mind.”

“I have no interest in Mortals and the only heart that matters to me is sleeping over my shoulder. And I don’t say everything that comes to my mind. If I did, I would have said, Demelze makes fun of Hal Mali whenever he’s not around!”, Hamna Vir said waspishly.

Hal Mali’s face deflated and became mournful as he drew Demelze even closer to himself.

“Hamna Vir, dear.”, Temez said.

“What?”

“Do shut up—”

“Why?”

“—just about, NOW?

 

Hamna Vir scowled and gave Temez her best searing gaze.

 

“It’s alright, Perigren… uhhmm.. Temez.. Really. I wasn’t aware she went as far as punning me but I had my suspicions. Guess we don’t all get what we want and that’s the same whether we are in Hell or in the Mortal coil.”, Hal Mali mourned. “I will just have to be happy with the short few moments while she is nice to me like this and in my arms.”

“Don’t be sad, Hal.”, Temez tried to comfort him. “I learned a saying among Mortals that people change. I am not certain if that includes us, but my guestimation is that it does because we all did change. We were in Hell just last month, learning how to sow dissension among Mortals. Now we are among said Mortals and are actually helping them. Had you said then, I would never have believed Demelze would have done what she did for a Mortal’s son, but here we are, and here she paid her trial in pain.. a lot of it.. Give her the chance to change, Hal. I think she deserves that much.”

“Yea, Hal. What she said!”, inserted Hamna Vir with a scowl.

 

The long, spiraling stairs ended and the little group came to a large, steel-lined, heavy-looking double door.

Temez pulled at one of the rings on the door and opened it, revealing a deep, cavernous chamber lined with five hundred years of deceased temple guardians lying in their enclosed, unadorned sarcophagi. Silently, they walked up to the far end and stood before the one that had ‘Demos Lightshand’ chipped on a plaque and fit into its side.

Then they all knelt, Hal Mali still holding Demelze in his arms and Hamna Vir hugging Dar Derune in hers, closed their eyes, and prayed.

 

“Darling Demos.”, Temez whispered. “Again, we have come to thank you, for it was your kind heart that made Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood to also be kind and to accept us at our direst moment of need. Here, he has given us food and shelter, and here, he protects us from unwanted eyes and the ire of sinful men. We have come, today, in hopes of finding wisdom in your presence for we are hurting and we do not know what to do..”

“She means, we are screwed!”, mumbled Hamna Vir from behind, causing Hal Mali to snort.

 

There was a dormant silence while Temez signed in frustration.

Her BFF —Best Fiend Friend, Merisoul Xyrotwo had given the responsibility of their brothers and sisters to her, but hadn’t told her how it was supposed to be done. True, all of them had had extensive training pertaining to Mortals and their ways but said training had gone as far as the Erinyes, Autie Irine had understood them, which was at best, at a most basic level and ‘targeted’ in its sensual in nature. The ‘real world’, as ironic as that sounded, had turned out to be much, much more complicated than any of them had anticipated. They had been here merely a month or so and under the protection and sanction of a temple guardian and Temez sorely wondered what would happen when the said sanction would end, and she had no doubt that in the end, it would because eventually, everyone would have to go their separate ways. The fact that the young Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood had accepted them in the first place had been a grand gesture of just how much he trusted her BFF, even though he barely knew her and she’d once tried to ‘eat’ him and consequently gotten struck by the temple’s protection and branded because the young man had been sorely in love!

 

Temez gritted her teeth.

 

She would hold on!

And hold all her brothers and sisters together and in one piece, safe and sound, just until her Arezme Ara Serraphym, or Merisoul Xyrtwo as Mortals knew her, returned. Then she’d be free to go and find her own young man. The one she had ‘eaten’ many years ago and subsequently had gotten herself burned.

It had come as a colossal surprise to her when she’d found out the ‘boy’ had lived, though damaged.

The ‘eaten’ never survived!

Temez did not understand why that had happened. As far as she knew, it shouldn’t have happened like that at all; the boy to have survived, and her getting burned like that..

Had the boy fallen in love with her, and not just smitten by her rather ravishing countenance and blatantly wanting figure, but truly fallen in love with her in the space of a few, short, heartbeats?

Was that even possible?

As incomprehensible as that sounded to her, apparently, such a senseless infatuation had been, in fact, quite possible.

 

“Come on, doll.”, she fumed and pleaded with her eyes closed. “Please come back and fast. Your brothers and sisters direly need you..”

✱ ✱ ✱

This is rather impressive, Liaison Constance. I don’t remember the last time this office looked so tidy.”, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart said, though just a tad grudgingly.

Constance tried very hard not to, but failed.. and beamed at him.

“Would you like to see how the new filing system works? Perhaps a demonstration is in order.”, she offered.

“Very well. Master Aager, do get me the drunkard fight involving Franderson vs. Kor’gral, our orc blacksmith apprentice if you will.”, he said.

Aager checked on the relatively short alphabetic list in his hand, got a reference number, cross-referenced it with a second list and got a second reference number from that, then went over to one of the newly crafted ‘drawer shelves’, the one with the second number, pulled it open and ran a quick glance and tugged out a specific scroll and gave it to the sheriff, with a mild grin.

The sheriff cocked an eyebrow at him.

“Alright. Unknown Strangers vs. Udoorin case, then, if you will!”, he said.

Aager repeated the same process but went to a different drawer shelf and pulled out a rather thick roll of many scrolls and brought them over to him.

Standorin gave him a suspicious look.

Constance beamed some more.

“Master Nibletyne Tinkerdome vs. Moorat Maelstrom!”

Aager gave it to him.

“Franderson vs. Demons Lightshand!”

Aager grinned and brought that one over too, in under fifteen seconds.

“Morel and Liala vs. Udoorin, Dervel and Lucious!”

Aager didn’t even bother with the lists nor the drawers for that one. He just pulled it out of his pocket!

“What the..?”, the sheriff said scowling at him.

“Thought you’d ask for that. Had it ready at hand, sir.”, Aager grinned.

“Very well.”, Standorin said, fuming at him. “I will admit this filing system of yours seems to work..”

“..as opposed to looking for a specific case file for more than half an hour at times.. Sir, you really ought to give the Liaison a bit more credit.”, Aager said, meaningfully.

Standorin gave him one of his best scowls, cleared his throat, then turned to the tall, elegant half-born in her long, not quite conservative, but decidedly refrained dress, and said, “Thank you very much for your filing system, Liaison Constance. I… we.. could talk it over lunch, perhaps? I am sure the mayor could also make use of a similar system installed in his offices..”

“But of course, sir. I will have to see their needs and how they segment their files first though.”, Constance said, smiling happily. “In fact, I would like to go see the mayor on this matter at once, If you wouldn’t mind. I shall also drop by the temple to see how things are going with the project you ordered and report its progress to you.”

“Thank you, Liaison Constance. I shall await your findings eagerly.”, Standorin replied with a flushed face.

 

After the tall half-born girl took her leave, Aager turned to the sheriff and looked at him with amusement etched all over his face.

I shall await your findings eagerly?— Really, sir? That one was a tad overdone, don’t you think?”

“I am out of practice, young man. I haven’t dated anyone since.. well.. for a good dozen years and more. Not to mention, Limnia and I never did this dating thing. We just took long, eager walks in the woods, went on patrols together, and counter-ambushed bandits! And we both enjoyed it.”

“I went after many fools, myself, with my Inshala, sir. We even fought against a treacherous paladin lord together and I saw the exhilaration in her face. But at the end of the day, it is when we are going home, arm in arm, that I see her skip and hop and glow because with me and home is the only place that she can truly be herself, and with her and home is the only place that I can truly be myself. Don’t get me wrong, sir. Whatever makes people happy. But intimacy beats them all.”

“After this war. And should we win, I am dead set on firing you, young man..”

Aager cocked an eyebrow at him.

“..just so you could become a poet!”, snorted the sheriff.

“Never happen, sir. Ow and, a ‘business lunch’ doesn’t count as a ‘date’, just so you know..”, Aager said with another grin.

“Don’t you have somewhere to be?”, the sheriff growled.

“I do, and I am off. Noon-trainees!”

✱ ✱ ✱

This is the problem we have been having, Lady Inshala ‘le Fey’ Frostmain Bolgrig Hoo—”, Temez was saying, deep down in the crypts under the Serenity Home Temple.

“Please, dear Temez. Just Inshala will do, even though it despairs me as well when Mortals do cut names and words the way they do. When we are alone, please call me Inshala.”, the pretty little half-fey said with a smile.

 

Temez had taken a liking to Inshala quite immediately when they had first met several days ago and when she, Inshala, and Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel had played a cunning game of catch against Lady Lilly Venom, her ‘hubby’, Largo Summersong, and his son, D.D. Dexter Summersong, who was, somehow not Lady Lilly Venom’s son, which only made sense because he was older than she was! Just that information had made Temez feel concussed all by itself and learned her just how much she and her kin were out of their debt when it came to their pitiful knowledge of the Mortal coil.

 

“Alright..”, said Temez, trying very hard to suppress a shudder. This name cutting was something they really needed to get over, but their inner, demonic core just refused to accept such blatant use of names.. After all, misuse of names could and often did cause very volatile results.. But at least this girl, Inshala, seemed to understand their plight. Perhaps it was due to the fact that she, too, was a half-something.. a fey..

“..Inshala,”, she continued. “We were able to enchant grinded sand, kibbled light wood, certain cosmetic powders, and even flour with fire, thanks to Demelze, here, to light up under specific conditions, such as coming in contact with magic auras. Magically attained invisibility, to be exact. Our dilemma is, the powders, the sands, and the flour works but for an extremely short duration, as the material immediately settles, and hence, becomes part of the said invisible creature, or area. If we use what we have at the moment during battle, or to sprinkle it in an area where we suspect and Orken army is hidden under the veil of whatever device they are employing, it will hardly be visible during daylight, and barely be discernable during night hours. We need something, a plant or herb that we can grind that can stay afloat long enough to be practical and at the lightest magical ‘fragrance’, so to speak.”

Inshala frowned a bit as she tried to digest the issue at hand, and at a certain level, she felt relieved, for when Aager had told her she was being ‘officially’ invited here to meet with the half-born, she had dreaded that she, herself, might be put to task on some social-thingy, which she knew she was sorely lacking. This, however, was something that had to do with knowledge, something that she was good at, as opposed to something she constantly banged her head against her mental walls to comprehend.

 

As dire as the problem was, Inshala grinned!

 

And all the half-born, some one hundred plus of them silently watched her, all so very curious about this ‘very pretty’, ‘also a half-something like us’, and quite famous, Ritual Guardian-girl,  as though expecting some sort of miracle to appear at the wave of her slender hands.

At that very moment, Inshala remembered something her Aager had said, though she had vaguely understood.

 

“The answer to that is quite elementary in its simplicity.”, she said with a well-hidden smile.

Well, perhaps it wasn’t so well-hidden, as she was grinning when she said it. Aager hadn’t grinned at all.

Her Aager was awesome like that, she thought!

 

A murmur of awe spread amongst the half-born as Hal Mali grinned as well and with open admiration, while Demelze ‘oooow’ed, and Hamna Vir ogled at her.

“She.. she said that so smoothly!”, she exclaimed in a hushed voice.

“Awesome.”, someone whispered.

“Awesome.”, someone else repeated in agreement..

..and the word, ‘awesome’ rippled in low, hushed, and awe-struck whispers among the half-born!

 

Inshala beamed.

 

“Tell us!”, Temez asked eagerly, her own face flushed with excitement.

“Here.”, the little half-fey said and produced a tiny little pouch from one of her many tiny pockets hidden in her dress robes.

Temez carefully took the pouch, undid the knots, and looked into it to see some very fine, dark-red powder.

“What is this wonderful thing?”, she asked.

“Kumse Beetle shells, grinded down into a fine powder. I use it to season the food I cook and it tastes delicious!”, Inshala replied happily.

“Hal..”, she said. “..do your thing, please, dear. And Demelze, love. See if you can enchant this powder the way you have been practicing.”

“Sure.”, Hal Mali said..

..and suddenly vanished!

“That is awesome!”, Inshala said looking at where the young, pretty half-born man had just been.

Demelze took the pouch from Temez and carefully dumped its content into a small iron pot scorched with burnt marks, sat on the floor, closed her eyes and her pretty face frowned in concentration. Soon enough, the dark-red powder began to smoke.

“Careful, love.”, whispered Temez. “You are going to burn it.”

 

Demelze frowned more and the smoke dissipated.

And then, with a sharp flash of light, the iron pot poofed and Demelze opened her eyes, beads of sweat running down her face.

 

“Done.”, she said with a sniff and wiped her brows.

 

Temez reached down and took a pinch of the ‘enchanted’ dark-red powder and looked around.

“I am here, Temez. Standing just a foot in front of you.”, came Hal Mali’s voice.

Temez flung the powder in his direction!

The powder clung onto something barely discernable as someone’s arm, as it glowed, once, twice, then died.

Temez felt her shoulders slump.

“It didn’t work?”, Demezle asked, totally flustered.

 

A low murmur of consternation and despair rippled amongst the half-born.

 

“It worked.”, Inshala said confidently.

“How?”, Temez asked.

“The powder is still there and is still visible if you look closely.”

Temez, Demelze, and quite a number of others leaned over and stared at where they presumed Hal Mali was.

“She’s right.” Hal Mali’s voice was heard. “The powder is still there and try as I might, I can’t incorporate it with my shadow-aura! This is fascinating!”

“Indeed.”, mused Temez. “But.. it won’t be of any practical use if it isn’t visible from a far-off distance. Perhaps you can pour more power into the powder, Demelze?”

“I can. But it still won’t work. Either the powder will charr, or it will blink a few more times and that’s it. Unless we find a way to preserve the magic I infuse into the powder, we are, again, at a standstill.”, Demelze said somberly, an expression quite unexpected and unprecedented on her otherwise mischievous, naughty, and smirking face.

 

They all fell silent and mulled over that, and the cavernous crypt was suddenly very still. It was quite a disconcerting sight, really.

 

“Whimsi Lola!”, Inshala exclaimed suddenly!

 

The half-born all turned to look at her.

Inshala blushed a bit when she promptly became the focus of attention of so many ‘people’.

 

“I have never heard of a plant or herb by that name.”, said Temez dubiously. “Has anyone heard of this herb?”, she called to the crowd at large.

The half-born shook their heads and any number of ‘No’s and ‘Nopes’ echoed in the crypt.

“No, no.”, said Inshala hastily. “Whimsi Lola is not a plant or an herb. She is a sprite! A fey! She uses her own pixie dust from her wings to enhance her spells! That’s what we need.”

Temez looked at her curiously.

“And where may we find this Whimsi Lola sprite-fey and what would she want for her pixie dust?”

“Hmm.. That may be a problem. She is not here. But many of her friends are.. However, the fey folk, and the little ones, in particular, will not come here; too many Mortals and too much iron here, nor will they go anywhere near.. uhhmm..”, Inshala said, then faltered in embarrassment.

“Demons?”, Temez offered.

“Uhhmm.. Yes.. I am sorry.”, Inshala apologized immediately.

“Why are you apologizing, Inshala? You didn’t make us. You had no hand in our foul existence whatsoever. Never apologize for the things you didn’t do. Never.”, Temez said sternly.

“I.. was trying to be polite..”, the fey-girl faltered some more.

“This is not something to be polite about, my dear. We are what we are. We are sorry for having been made. But we are not, however, sorry for existing and we shall never apologize to anyone for that, and neither should you. We are our own now, just like you are your own..”, Temez said with harsh defiance. “Now. About this pixie dust thing. How and where may we get some?”, she asked, all business-like!

Inshala was a bit surprised at how strong-willed the Temez girl was and how she was not sorry for what she was, even if she hated being what she was.

And she felt a certain shame, there. Unlike Temez, she had loathed herself very nearly all her life for what she was or what she thought she was and had always believed her existence had been one, colossal mistake. Looking at these half-borns who had braved out of literal Hell, she promised herself to be braver and certainly to never feel guilty for being.. 

..which had been what her old Father, Cathber, and later, her Aager had been telling her all along.

 

“Well..”, she thought. “..Apparently I am just a stupid little girl.”

 

“Umm.. perhaps we could go near the forest just up north and I could call a few of the small fey-folk and bargain for some of their pixie dust?”, she said hopefully. “Then we can mix this powder with the pixie dust and gorgeous Demelze, here, can enchant it and we can test it on Hal Mali, maybe?”

“Ow.. She said I am gorgeous!”, whispered Demelze happily.

“Your offer is sound, Inshala, but not practically possible. We may not leave this temple. Not yet. I have left it a few times but carefully and only to observe the area just around the temple, and that one time when we played catch. Only Constance leaves and that is because she is our designated Liaison with the Mortals. This.. ‘test’.. however, is not her area of expertise. Is there any way you may be able to bring this dust to us?”

“I am afraid not. Pixie dust loses its potential soon after the sprite or the pixie removes it from his or her wings. Otherwise, the forest would be sparkling everywhere they went and all the time.”

“Perhaps there is a way.”, offered Hal Mali quietly as he stepped out of his ‘shadow-aura’ and became visible again.

“Do tell, dear.”, Temez asked him

“I can go out unseen.”

“Yes, dear. But you alone will not be enough. Demelze needs to go with you and Inshala.”

“I.. she can come with me.. I can hide her as well.”, he mumbled.

“I am not going anywhere with you, Hal!“, sneered Demelze. “And you can not hide me and we both know it!”

“I can.”, Hal Mali said quietly. “If I carry you in my arms..”

 

Demelze just stared at him for a moment.

“Incoming..”, murmured Hamna Vir.

 

And Demelze burst out laughing.

“Hah. Hah. Hah. Hah. Hah. Hah. Haaa!”

“That’s a very convincing laugh, that is..”, Hamna Vir barbed. “Can you get any more vapid, Demelze?”

“Shut up, Hamna Vir!”, spat the fiery little succubi half-born.

“What did I ever do to you, that you would hate me so much, Demelze?”, Hal Mali asked with a hurt voice.

“I saw the way you look at me, Hal! Even when we were in Hell!”, Demelze scorned at him.

“Yes. Because I find you attractive. Hence the looks.”, the handsome half-born admitted plainly. “How would you rather I look at you?”

“Never?”, scoffed the girl.

“Demelze!”, Temez very nearly snapped. “You will refrain from such attitude at once! We are all we have, here. There’s no one else to look after us but us.”

“But, Temez—”

“You will go with Hal and with Inshala and do this. For us and for yourself. Hal has looked after many of us and took a beating and burning for you at the hands of Autie Irine at least once that I know of. You may not like him, but you will show him the respect he deserves!”, Temez cracked like a whip.

 

Demelze froze.

 

“When? Why?”, she asked.

Hal Mali did not reply for a good while.

Then murmured.

“I would really rather you hadn’t told this, Temez.”

“Good done, unknown, must become known sometimes, dear. And we are running out of time. Even if this works, we must find a practical way to make it so Mortals may use them, and we must make many, many of them.”, Temez said, but not unkindly.

“Why? When?”, asked Demelze, her voice somewhat subdued.

“When.. you.. when you failed to turn in your Mortal Studies paper in our first year, I switched mine as yours and deliberately got caught with another paper of my own to avoid suspicions. And that other time when I found out Auntie Irine was going to punish you when she found out you had punned her behind her back and I deliberately tripped and fell and knocked her down. She was so angry with me that she forgot all about you..”

“What? Why? You think I couldn’t have taken a beating from that bitch?”, sneered Demelze.

“She had her fire barb whip with her..”, replied the young Hal Mali quietly..

..and an ‘owww’, chorused among the half-born.

“Fire barb whip hurts a lot because its burn is not only physical but psychic as well, and it leaves permanent marks. I.. didn’t want you to carry such ugly marks on you..”

 

Hamna Vir approached him and quietly hugged him.

I will thank you for what you did for her, Hal Mali, even if Demelze is a bitch and too vain to thank you.”

“Demelze is only scared.”, said a small, vague voice, and everyone turned to see Dar Derune sitting a short distance away, playing with some plain wooden blocks, next to a sarcophagus. “What she feels, she feels much more intensely than any of us. That is how beautiful her heart is..”

 

Hamna Vir parted Hal Mali and came up to him and with blurry eyes, she scooped up the boy and hugged him fiercely.

 

“Demelze?”, Temez asked, looking at the burning girl.

 

“I will do this. For Mali..”, she said with a stricken face.

✱ ✱ ✱

You found them?”, Constance gasped. “Why didn’t you tell me, dear?”

“We found about it just today, love.”, Temez replied and there was a tired quality about her.

“What’s the matter, Temez?”, the tall, alluring half-born asked.

“We.. me and Hamna Vir shared what Demelze went through when she cleansed the Anglenna Sunsear elf. It wasn’t fun. Gave me a very unique insight into what our brothers and sisters must go through, each with their unique abilities. I burn. But that is something I did to myself. She.. she burns so much hotter whenever she feels something —anything. Suffice to say, I can remember only one other occasion that hurt this much and that was when my old Master burned me when Merisoul and I first came up with the plan to get away from Hell.”

“I am sorry to hear that, dear. Where is the boy, then? Where is the esteemed sheriff’s son?”, Constance asked.

“East of here, some two or three days travel, there is a place called Gull’s Perch. They are there, though we could not figure out why they landed there and not in this town as the Anglenna Sunsear elf did.. I asked a bit about it to the Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel, and my findings are quite dire.”

“Gull’s Perch. Why do I know that name?”, mused Constance.

“You should. It is one of the places that we were warned never to go near, during our Mortal geography studies. And you can see it from here on a clear day, easy.”

“Titania!”, Constance gasped in horror!

“Hush, dear. Not so loud. We don’t want her to hear us, now do we?”, Temez warned.

“But how? How do you know they are there?”, the tall half-born girl asked slightly panicked.

“Dar Derune. He looked into the elf girl and sifted through her memories and saw our query. Then he did his thing and found them at the Perch. The Mistress of the Perch did not appreciate his intrusion and backhanded him, our Dar Derune, all the way from the Perch!”

Constance just stared at her.

“Is he alright?”

“He will be. Hanna Vir has been hovering over him like a Mortal hen mother!”

“Dear Hamna Vir..”

“Yes, yes she is.”

“Should I go and tell the esteemed sheriff about this?”, Constance asked.

“No. Mortals are not allowed in there, dear. Telling him where his son and the princess will only rile him and he will go there with iron and that will only win him the ire of the Summer Queen. And should he go there to bargain, he will be left out of his debt. He is a good and decent man but woefully unequipped for such a meeting. We must find something to bargain in his stead. Something She would want and only we may provide.”

“I may have something she may want.”, Constance said quietly.

“No, dear. Whatever She may want, we must all give. It must be a collective effort, not individual, for such singular bargains can only end in misery.”, Temez said with a tone that had a certain finality to it.

 

And that marked the first time a half-born chose to disagree at an individual level.

Constance Alure Smithen nodded..

..evasively.

And changed topic!

 

“Did the Winter Knight’s mate, Lady Inshala arrive?”

“Yes, she did. And she is a lot more smarted and wiser than she lets on. I suspected a cunning mind in her when she, Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel, and I were playing catch against Lady Lilly Venom, her mate, and her mate’s son. The plans I made were twisted and convoluted and made us win. The ranger lieutenant’s plans depended more on stealth and ambush, and they also made us win. Lady Inshala’s plans were neither. Her plans were rather simple and straightforward but surprisingly efficient. Of all the games we played, the ones she planned ended the quickest and the other team never knew what hit them. Even I didn’t understand we’d won!”, Temez said with some residual surprise.

“Her hubby, the Winter Knight shows similar traits. Neither seems interested in showing off but goes straight for the source of any given problem.”, Constance mused. “Though I suspect what he accomplishes by dread, she does by care!”

“Very astute, love. Very astute, indeed. She, Hal Mali, and Demelze went to the forest just up north to work on the project we have been working on.”

“You sent two of us out? Let alone Delemze with Hal Mali? She.. doesn’t really like him all that much and does tend to make a lot of noise when he’s around.. I hope you know what you are doing, dear.”, the tall girl asked a bit surprised.

“Hal Mali went under his guise. And we.. convinced.. she should be carried by him and take advantage of his special talents..”, Temez said lightly.

 

Constance made a very strange noise that sound truly unlady-like. Something between a snort and hiccup!

 

“I am sorry I missed that.”, she said with a brilliant smile. “No, wait.. you didn’t tell Demelze about what Hal Mali did back in Hell and that he got a beating for her, did you?”

Temez sighed.

“Yes, yes I did, love.”

“Ow..”, Constance said with a bemused expression as her bright red lips made a perfect imprint. “That must have put a dent in her self-esteem.”

“It did. Or maybe not. We are demons, love. And we are humans, as well, and we all react to fear, surprise, excitement, anger, and love in different ways. Demelze being Demelze, merely goes to her usual extremes.”, Temez said thoughtfully. “What will you do for the rest of the day? Did the esteemed sheriff like your new archiving and filing system?”

“I believe he did. Albeit a tad grudgingly. But in time he will get to appreciate it more, when he can find any given file in under ten seconds, as opposed to spending half an hour to find them. And every time he does, he will remember me. And every time his men do, he will feel a certain pride.”, replied Constance with a happy face. “I should head out now. There are so many things I must learn and so many more people I must meet. Just so they learn to see our kind, if for nothing else.. I shall also carefully hint that more of our kind will arrive to help them in their coming battle.”

“Very good, love. You truly were made for PR and would have been wasted in Hell.”, Temez said admiringly.

✱ ✱ ✱

Constance calmly stepped out of Serenity Home Temple and looked up and east. It was a clear day that day, quite unexpected of the season. She could see the storm clouds loaded with sleet, snow, and hail, but they seemed to sort of skim far and around this odd town and its surrounding fields. She had overheard the pretty ranger lieutenant, Bremorel Songsteel, talking in hushed voices with her young husband, the senior temple guardian, Thomas Dimwood, about reports of savage and violent weather, quite unheard of, occurring far to the west, beyond Scowling Hills and the name Inshala had cropped up any number of times, with nothing short of awe, during those conversations.

It seemed everyone was doing everything they could.. and more.. Eventually, whatever these Mortals did, or however they did them, time would come to face their consequences. Quite dire ones. Even a creature of Hell such as herself knew, when one dabbled with certain things, even if for a good cause, there would be consequences.

When she had first arrived to meet the sheriff’s men in the small courtyard, she had ended up ‘demonstrating’ her skills with her three-yard long pike on a young and overly enthusiastic man. There had even been bets.

After the duel, as short as it had been, was over, the bets, owed and owned, were being passed around, she had heard one of the guards snicker, “Payback is a bitch!”, as he took his winnings with a grin.

“Well..”, Constance murmured, still looking east, and the Gull’s Perch, a vertical, single ‘rock’, some half a mile at its base, reaching up and up and fading off among the clouds. It was a beautiful, awe-inspiring sight and the tall, alluring girl admired it.

 

Truly admired it.

 

“..as unlady-like, as it may sound, yes, I believe payback is a bitch!”, she said.

And with a sub-sonic boom, she shot up, high and swift!

 

At several hundred feet, she finally lost velocity, and for a bare, spectacular moment, she stood in the air, still, silent and majestic..

..and plummeted back to the earth!

 

With a sharp bank, she spread her arms, and a pair of dark, black-brown eagle wings suddenly sprouted out of her slender back, and like her slim arms, they spread out and wide..

..and she speared, not unlike a bird of prey, and with a shrill shriek, towards east, and the Perch!

✱ ✱ ✱

Lady Inshala!”, exclaimed Perigren Ostlanna Temez with surprise. “You are back!”

The little fey-girl face flushed shyly but her face was glowing with an accomplished grin.

“We did it, Temez. I called a few of the little folk and told them what we wanted, but they refused when they saw Hal Mali and Demelze. I told them they were my friends and that they were here to help protect the forest. They mulled over that for a bit then they decided perhaps they were, indeed, ‘maybe-friends’ but wanted something in return for their pixie dust. I asked them what they would want and they told me many things, but we didn’t have any of the things they wanted with us. Then they asked if we had any candy. Demelze said they didn’t have candy, but that she had something even better, and gave them sugar canes. They looked at the sugar canes, took one each, and tasted them. My eats still hurt because they all squealed with glee and just dropped on the ground gnawing on the canes.”, Inshala told her impromptu story with a seamless giggle and Temez just ogled at her, quietly mesmerized.

“When they were done with the sugar canes, they were so out of it, they were slurring and just waved their tiny hands and said, ‘Take.. Take what you want!’, so we took some of their dust and mixed it with the Kumse Beetle powder, Demelze infused it with her fire and enchanted it, then she threw it on Hal Mali and he was all glowing red and sparkly!”, she finished, her eyes alight with accomplishment.

 

Temez stared at her some more.

 

Then shook her head to come around.

Wow, the little girl had an encapturing way to tell her stories. She, herself, was a succubi half-born and knew how to enthrall. After all, it was her base thing. But this girl said what she said with some odd, bubbling, earnest, and genuine sincerity!

“Where are Hal and Demelze?”, she asked.

“Well, Hal Mali was still glowing and sparkling and quite unhappy about it, and Demelze couldn’t come back alone because she said she wasn’t wearing her correct Mortal dress for the occasion, though I am not sure what she meant by that. She did laugh at Hal Mali a lot, though, which made him angry so he started chasing her in the woods so she started running and screaming in delight!”, Inshala replied with an ‘out-of-breath’, bubbling voice.

 

Temez sighed.

 

“They are like sugar-loaded kids! Will they be alright?”, she asked, a bit worried.

“They should be. I drew a big circle and laid a camping spell and told them not to leave the circle. As long as they stay in it, not many will notice them. When the pixie-effect fades, Hal Mali can return with Demelze.”

“I hope they behave. This is not a good time for dire mistakes. That said, I am thrilled that our efforts have not been in vain. Thanks to you, we can now mass-produce this ‘pixie-effect’. We now have to find a way to make them practically useful for any Mortal to be able to use them. We also will need a lot more of your Kumse Beetle powder and the pixie dust.”, Temez mused.

“I can get you the Kumse Beetle powder. I could ask my Aager to ask his mayor, Artanboss, to ask the refugees to look for them in the forest. The pixie dust will still be a problem though. Convincing two or three sprites or pixies in one thing. Asking hundreds of them is another. We.. we might have to ask the Summer and Winter Queens..”, Inshala said a bit worried.

 

Temez looked at her for a moment, then smiled, a tad brittle. She was worried too but was trying very hard to hide it.

 

“Thank you, Inshala. You have helped us much today. Should you ever need any help, please don’t be shy.. And.. do thank your.. mate on our behalf, if you would?”, she said sincerely.

“I will, dear Temez. Merisoul was my friend. I.. I was afraid of her when we first met. But she was so sweet and pretty. And always answered the questions I asked her. She.. never judged me for what I am, and from her, I learned to accept who I am.. And.. she saved my life, once, very nearly ending her own. Thanks to her greatness, I found the time to know my Aager and be with my Aager. That would never have happened if it weren’t for her.”, Inshala said quietly and hugged Temez, and inadvertently, their horns clashed!

 

They stood looking at one another, then burst out laughing.

 

“We will need permission from one of the Queens should we want more of the pixies and the sprites for the amount we require, dear Temez.. Thinking a bit over it, I am now sure of it.. Only they can order them to come to us in such great numbers..”, said Inshala somberly.

 

And that cut right through their merry moment.

✱ ✱ ✱

Constance swooped down from the cold, moist clouds and noticed the sun had gone lower than she had expected. Soon, it would be gone altogether and she’d be forced to fly in the dark. True, she wasn’t afraid of the dark, and up to a certain point, she could even see in it, even if it were in some odd shades of violet. At the screeching speed she was flying, however, being able to see that ‘certain point’ became somewhat moot, as she would only have a bare second or two before registering she was about to smash into something and die a horrible, total body-shattering death!

The lovely, alluring girl was also an optimistic soul, though. She believed an honest and generous smile could solve more problems than displaying her other, rather.. magnetic features.. as those tended to cause more complications than they seemed to solve. She also believed in being punctual and prompt.

Constance was not an obsessive girl, strictly speaking, but merely well-organized and quite dedicated at whatever she did, and also had the uncanny ability to recognize similar attitudes or patterns in others.

Which was likely why she had noticed the esteemed sheriff of Serenity Home the first time he had come to see them and the young senior temple guardian, Thomas Dimwood, had introduced all the half-borns to him.

Yes, one might argue that all the other half-born girls had also noticed him, since, other than the senior temple guardian himself and his dozen or so junior guardians, who were all ‘off limits’, the sheriff had been the only Mortal male specimen they had been in contact outside of Hell. But the other girls had looked at him with.. well.. either as a curio or simply as something ‘edible’.. The sheriff was, after all, a handsome man, even if he was a bit older than average, as Mortal years went.

Constance, on the other hand, had noticed another quality about him; he had stood before each and every single one of the ‘a hundred and plus something’ number of them as if memorizing their individual faces and names, had politely nodded at them, and bid them a formal welcome to the town and should they require anything, that they were welcome to ask, and that he would do his best to acquire said needs, but to be patient about it, as the town was under the threat of imminent Orken attack. That, for Constance, pointed to the fact that Standorin Shieldheart was indeed a very organized, disciplined, and dedicated man.

The fact that he was also handsome and well into his mature years had been sort of a bonus.

 

Constance was also a ‘glass half full’ kind of girl..

 

Suffice to say, none of the above had anything to do with the setting of the sun nor would it help her should she fly into something and end herself quite abruptly, and certainly had nothing to do with the matter at hand.. But Constance liked to go over things in her mind when she flew, which didn’t happen as often as she wanted. An uncharitable person might think she was daydreaming. Constance would, quite strenuously, disagree with such unkind assumption since (a) it was not day, so much as it was evening now, and (b) girls did not daydream but had intricate, multitasking minds, hence they went over things which had happened, things which might happen, and even things that had already happened but how they should have actually happened..

 

That sure explained why they lived longer than their male counterparts and being Mortal or not made little to no difference.

 

“Alright.”, she mused as she went over her mental TO-DO list;

 

Find Her.
Talk to Her.
Give Her.
Get the boy.
Get the girl.
Come back.

 

“There. Everyone happy at the cost of a little pain and loss.”

 

“I doubt, dear.”, said a rich, throaty, and enthralling woman’s voice.

And a long, jagging streak of lightning came down from the clear dusk sky!

 

Constance yelped and banked right and the lightning very nearly tore through her.

Another jarring streak of lightning lit the dimming sky and the half-born girl did a sharp left turn and escaped with a singe.

 

“Stop! Please! I come in peace!”, she yelled in panic.

“No, dear girl. You only come. You are a demon, and can not come in peace, nor can you bring it here with you..”, replied the same rich voice.

“No, I am not a demon! I come in good faith and only desire to help the Mortals..”, she screamed and a swirling, columnar hurricane jabbed down from the sky, all the way down to the forest below.

“Did you not come from Hell, my dear?”, asked the throaty voice.

“Yes. Yes, I did, but..”

“There you have it, then. You, dear girl, are clearly a demon, you can not have good faith, and helping Mortals can never be your intention, nor be part of your true agenda..”, said the voice..

..and another shaft of lightning forked downed, and this one zapped the half-born girl quite savagely as more wildly dancing hurricanes came down like some demonic fingers, tearing at everything they grasped..

“My mother was a Mortal!”, shrieked Constance, her face distorted with pain for she felt something hurt dreadfully at her hip.

“I feel sorry for her, but dabbling with the damned is never wise. Every Mortal knows this.”

Constance did another sharp turn and escaped the next strike.

“She.. she was taken.. by Mortals!”, begged the girl.

“Yes. Mortals with sin in their desires, deceit in their minds, and greed in their hearts tend to do that. Which is why I banned them all. But demons were never welcome.”, said the throaty voice.

“T.. Titania?”, Constance gasped.

“Yes, dear child. I have been watching you for some time now. I had hoped you would vier from your course, but apparently, you are not as smart as I had hoped you would be.. And now you are in my domain.. and in my jurisdiction..”

Constance took a dive, the wind shrieking as she attained her combat velocity, then spun, at a whip lashing speed, and flew straight towards the Perch..

..and more hurricanes stabbed down mercilessly, and Constance slammed right into them!

With a shriek lost in the howling, swirling and enraged, dark purple-gray fingers tore into her and shredded her and tossed her!

Constance dropped out of the sky like a moot rock..

..and with a last-minute display of aerial agility, she took a sharp, right-angle turn and shot up again!

“You are a persistent one, aren’t you?”, Titania said, and three more flashes of lightning came jarring down simultaneously.

 

With a determined expression on her face, Constance banked, right, then left, then left again, barely avoiding the deadly, jarring shafts and the wrathful fingers piercing down everywhere now.

 

“Mo.. Mother Titania.. Please.. I.. We are not all demon.. We are also human. I beg of you. I truly come in peace..”, she pleaded as tears ran down her face and were whipped away by the savage wind. “I speak the truth..”

“You must see the irony of a demon claiming to speak the truth, child. And a succubus, no less. Truth or lies, it matters little, as willy-nilly, the means to ends matters not to your kind.”

“I am Constance Alure Smithen, Mother.. Thus I have given you my name and claim nothing in return.”, she very nearly blubbered for the jagging streaks of lightnings came seamlessly now and the desperate half-born was zig-zagging mindlessly through them.

“Impressive. Perhaps you hoped, by giving something, you would get something back. Surcease, perhaps? Bargains do not work like that, dear child. I must want something from you for you to offer something else in return.. I do not!”

“I merely come to inquire as to the health of two Mortals, Mother! They are dear to some in the town called Serenity Home, just west of here.”

“Ahh.. Perhaps I may consent to give you that.. for your name, even though I have not asked for it. The princess of the homeless elves is indeed, here. She is healthy, though her health deteriorates as days go by and is quite troubled, for she has dire decisions to make for her mate-to-be, who is dying. I have put him in stasis to buy him time, whilst the princess makes her choice or comes to terms with his dire predicament. It appears, someone put a hole in the boy’s heart with iron.”

“Is.. is there nothing I can do to help? Nothing at all? Her people desperately need their princess and his father and his friends desperately need him.. For them, I am willing to give that which is most precious to me!”, Constance asked as she felt her heart plummet for a hole in the heart with iron only meant one end, and little did it matter if they were Mortal, fey, or demon..

“And what may that be, my dear?”

Constance told her.

 

There was a pause as Titania seemed to mull over something for the lightnings and the savage hurricanes ceased!

 

“As intriguing as your offer is, child, the princess of the homeless elves must be the one to make the choice I have offered her as said choice pertains to her own future, the future of her mate-to-be, and their line.. There is, literally, nothing anyone else may do, for she came here, with her mate-to-be, unsummoned and uninvited, though quite unintentional, also.. Should you still want to help the Mortals you claim to want to help, however, perhaps there is some room there for bargains for you have managed to garner my admiration, if not curiosity.. Settle down Constance Alure Smithen, the child of a Mortal woman and a demon father.. I would like to take a closer look at your offer and further test your mettle.. and see if your claim is worth a bargain.”

✱ ✱ ✱

Sheriff Standorin!”, exclaimed the young guard as he burst into the sheriff’s office. “Come. Quick! You.. you had better see this!”

Slowly and calmly, the sheriff of Serenity Home rose from his seat, buckled on his sword over his shoulder as he looked at the young, excited guard.

“What is it young man?”, he rumbled, giving an assessing glance at him.

“I don’t know how to describe it, sir. Lights.. Hundreds and hundreds of them. And they are all coming here!”, the young guard said with an awestruck face.

“Lights? What lights?”

“I don’t know, sir. You must see them yourself!”, the young man said, almost jumping where he stood.

Standorin mumbled something about young and easily excitable kids but waved at the guard to lead the way.

 

The two walked over and all the way to the north gate of the town while other guards ran back and forth with already lit torches and lanterns as evening slowly settled, just to see the multitudes of refugees, all on the other side of the stone bridge that stretched over the Great Arashkan River, and all of them were standing still and staring north..

..where there were hundreds and thousands of sparkling lights hovered amongst the trees bordering the Ritual Forest and quite luminous in the settling evening.

 

“What is this?”, Standorin asked, somewhat disturbed.

“We.. I do not know, sir. Ranger Masters Devien and Moorat have gone to check, but they have not returned yet.”, replied the young guard in a hushed voice.

“Where is  Master Aager—?”

“—Here, sir.”, replied a growling voice and Aager Fogstep appeared next to him as if summoned by magic!

“What is this?”, the sheriff repeated his question.

“I am not quite sure, sir.”, Aager said in his low voice.

 

“Are you seeing this, love?”, he silently cast his own question at Inshala.

“I want to. But there is a whole crowd of people standing in front of me and I can’t get past them.”, she replied. Then with a sigh, she added. “And they are pushing at one another.. I don’t want to get trampled.”

 

Aager turned to the guards standing nearby and growled at them.

“You! Form two lines, one on each side of the road and make a gap. We cant have a crowd plugging the town’s main entrance!”

“Yes, sir!”, the guards replied hastily, saluted the right hand of the sheriff, and guards started pushing the people back and to the side of the road leading in and out of the town.

 

“That was very smart!”, Aager heard Inshala’s admiring voice.

“People should know better not to mob the town entrances by now.”, he fumed.

“They are only curious, my Aager.”

“A stupid excuse for trampling each other. This could be a diversion for an attack!”

“Very true. Almost there..”, she replied and indeed, she appeared next to him.

 

They both stared at the odd, sparkling phenomena for some time until Inshala said a bit awed, “Pixies.. and sprites! Many of them.. Thousands!”

Sheriff Standorin turned to her and asked.

“Are you sure, Lady Inshala?”

 

Inshala flinched.

She just couldn’t help it.

Big, large men scared her!

 

Standorin must have noticed this as well, for his always-stern face softened a bit and he knelt down before the little girl and spoke in a low, calm voice, though it still rumbled.

“I apologize wholeheartedly, sweet Lady Inshala. I meant neither to upset you nor to abuse your good sensibilities. You are a wonder to us all, beautiful beyond words, and your wisdom leaves us in shame.”

 

If anything could have sufficed a good blush, this was it!

 

Inshala turned bright, bright red, and covered her face with her slender hands.

“You.. you have put me to shame with your honest and kind words, sir. The lights you see are fey folk. I would plead your men to not harm them. If they have come here and in such great numbers, there must be a good reason. If you would, please tell your men, and the people all around to make room, for they will not come any near, as things stand now.”

Sheriff Standorin smiled at her, then slowly rose.

“Master Aager, if you will, inform all the guards to put away their iron and clear the way, from all the way here to the fey. No one is to stand near them, get near them, hinder them, or harm them.”

“Yes, sir.”, Aager said with a curt salute and growled orders.

 

Soon, the town’s northern entrance, the bridge, and the refugees near the woods were all cleared and a historical first occurred; the tiny, sparkling lights, the small fel-folk hovered towards Serenity Home..

 

It was an inspired possession..

..as each luminous globe carried a tiny, humanoid creature inside, or perhaps, the globes of light were there because of the tiny, humanoid creatures..

..and they bobbed, back and forth, left and right, and up and down with easy leisure and leaving a long trail of sparkling pixie dust from their tiny, barely discernable wings and entered the town and slowly but surely, they gathered before the Serenity Town Temple where the Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood, Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel Songsteel.. and Perigren Ostlanna Temez met them, as Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane, and Aager Fogstep also stood nearby.

 

A tiny, tooth-pick sized creature came forth, and with demanding attitude, she spoke;

“I am Biberbell and I speak for my kin and the rest of the fey-folk gathered here, and we have come upon the command of Titania, the Summer Queen, and in retaliation, Mab, also, the Winter Queen, in hopes to partake our pixie dust much needed for the defense of this Mortal town.”, she piped.

 

Thomas, Bremorel, and Temez just ogled at the tiny thing.

 

“We have been promised satisfactory accommodations and.. CANDY!”, she squeaked.

“Uhhmm.. Candy?”, Thomas blurted a bid dumbfounded.

“Yes. Candy! But we will settle for sugar canes, too.”, she buzzed, paused, then added..

“LOTS AND LOTS OF SUGAR CANES!

..with a very lustful expression on her tiny face as she rubbed her hands together, barely refraining from a possible;

 

“GIMME!”

 

“Said conditions can be arranged, Biberbell. But we have not made any bargains with either of the Queens.”, Thomas replied with a very much freaked expression on his own face.

The tiny sprite turned to Perigren Ostlanna Temez and said with nothing short of a patronizing tone.

“The bargain has already been struck, and the debt paid in full and done.”

“Who? Who has bargained with the Queens and who has paid in full and done?”, demanded Temez.

“How should I know, demon? I am not privy to the details of what the Queens do!”, Biberbell sniffed at her.

“Ask a Constance Alure Smithen!”

“Ask her what it means; Wings for Wings..”

 


 

arashkan şehri book 06 books dungeons and dragons duygusal groups karakter analizi komedi modül savaş serenity the plot thickens Whispers; A Cabal

Voice Recognition: Verified!

Voice Recognition: Verified!

Timeline:

Deep down the rabbit hole,
one gnome, one half-elf, and one..

 

..something else,

 

..move in silence,
as though honoring what was,
what is..

 

..and what might!

 

This story is the continuation of;
The Fog, The Path, And The Door.
Knock, More, And Ascend.

and
Deep in Silence..

 

 

The girl in her strapless skirt dress flew fast and straight overhead. With her raven-black wings feathered lightly, her skinny arms spread out and wide, hear long, honey-brown hair rippling, ruffling, scattered and wildly and around her dark purple crowning horns, her naked, slender legs, smooth and lustrous, moved subtly as though swimming, and her tiny, darling feet tickling under the wind of her flight, she was an otherworldly beautiful creature. She carried herself over the long, endless, soundless, and muted halls carved deep under Silent Hills with her small, cherry-red mouth, just a tad pouting, and with sad, solemn, and mournful eyes.

 

Eyes that bespoke;

I have seen the end of times.

It is dark, it is bleak and it is lonely.

 

Damn..

 

Merisoul Xyrotwu landed gracefully next to the gnome, Master Gnine Tinkerdome, and the Ranger Lieutenant, Laila Wolvesbane.

 

“Another great hall. Not as great as the one we left behind, but quite cavernous, and occupied.”, she said in her calm, remote, soft, and somewhat breathy voice.

“Occupied?”, asked the gnome. “What’s occupying it?”

“A demon.”, the otherworldly girl replied.

“Dammit.”, hissed the boldly pretty half-elf, Laila. “At least give us a variety. I mean, other than fiends, demons, and undead.”

“The undead are the variety, dear Laila.”, said Merisoul, in her hushed, soft, breathy voice. “I am guessing they are the collateral side effect of having too many demons pend up in one place for thus long, though I’ll admit, the ‘one place’ in question is quite large, deep, and lengthy. Tell me again, Master Gnine, why do gnomes need this much space?”

Gnine shrugged.

“Give a gnome enough time, buoyance, and rock, and we can dig forever.”

“So can dwarves.”

“True. But we do it neatly!”, he said with a smirk.

“I see. Well, your kin has had rock and said buoyance, but seem to have run short on time, to our relative consolation, as doleful as that sounds. Otherwise, we would be here for your ‘forever’.”, replied the raven-winged girl.

“You said one demon.”, Laila said, staring at Merisoul questioningly for she had learned, the otherworldly girl had an odd, unintentional habit of, not quite disregarding, but.. dismissing? absenting? abstracting? Laila wasn’t sure which, but the raven-winged succubi half-born girl did it anyway and you had to ask her for details or you were likely in for unexpected and unprecedented surprises where she would just look at you and say, “I did tell you there was one demon, did I not? Must I use your imagination for you?”

“Yes.”, Merisoul said with a small smile.

“What is it? Is it big? Is it dangerous? Why one? Why here?”, Laila asked.

“What’s in there?”, added Gnine.

“Ow.”, said Merisoul with a surprised expression on her diminutive face. “You actually want details! Of course! And understandable.”

 

And paused! Long enough to for the gnome, Gnine, and the half-elf ranger girl, Laila, to look at one other, then back at the succubi half-born.

 

“If you are waiting for dramatic effect, you are just about due, I believe.”, said Gnine.

“Almost.”, said Merisoul vaguely.

“Almost? Almost for what?”

“Almost ready. I was preparing a visual pamphlet; a presentation, if you will! I am just about done with the texts, the spreadsheets, the tables, and the 3D pie-charts and running it all through the spell-checker. If you would give me but a minute, I will have imported the images and linked the videos. Thought I might add in a gloomy sort of background music as well.”, she replied happily.

Laila ogled at her while Gnine looked up at the unseen sky and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“And done!”, she said, smiling at them. “I apologize for the delay, but I haven’t prepared a corporate presentation for quite some time now. My last was about two years ago, and as part of my graduation thesis, though that was strictly PG18+ and not quite for mortal eyes!”

And with a wave of her hand, the image of a red, barren land appeared, right then and there! The land seemed to go forever in every direction and comprised only of sharp, edgy rocks sticking out of the dry and dead land like shark’s teeth. The sky appeared as though it was some hazy, diaphanous, gauzy, scarlet tulle and no clouds nor any birds flavored it. Other than the spurting of bubbling, molting lava, yes, this land was barren, in the most literal and infernal sense.

Gnine just stared at the causal display of enhanced and vivid imagination with despair.

Laila looked at it with mild interest, coupled with a certain amount of skepticism. Then she bent down and whispered at Gnine.

 

“Can you do that?”

“I might..”, replied Gnine deploringly.

 

The image rumbled and the jagged rocks tumbled and tossed and with a sharp, brittle clap, a crack zigzagged across the barren wasteland. As the endless, red landscape quaked, the crack widened and a halo of deep, infernal fire spewed out of the crack as the rocks and dirt crumbled into the gaping fissure.. And a hand, big, broad and mighty came out of the fiery depths of Hell, and with tremendous force, it slammed onto the sides of the lava spurting fissure and gauged the dirt.

 

“Wow. It’s animated too.”, whispered Laila. “Can you do that?”

“I might..”, Gnine replied with a deflated tone.

 

Great and charred, bat-like wings spread out of the infernal crack as another arm came out and slammed down, slowly pulling and dragging something magnanimous, out of the abyss below. A pair of heavy, curved, at-least-six-feet-each bull’s horns appeared, followed by a face, hideous and cruel, shoulders like ox carts, a grotesquely enlarged torso that defied physics, and legs, thick and mighty, and ending in with black, burning hooves.

 

“I like!”, whispered Laila. “Can you do that?”

“I am being chastised and tormented for something I don’t know what!”, Gnine replied with a destitute voice.

 

The nearly twenty-foot monstrosity took a step forward, rose its mighty arms, holding a long, burning scimitar in one titanic fist, and a crackling, thorny whip in the other. The demon took another earth-shaking step and bellowed as the first notes of a violin were heard in the background, followed by a depressing piano!

 

“Ow.. It’s got audio too! Eno Moricane! I love that.”, whispered Laila, cracking one of her rare grins. “Can you do that?”

“Maybe. I can mathematically calculate the notes!”, replied Gnine resentfully.

 

The demon raised its powerful arms into the hazy, red sky and bellowed with hot, furnacing fire jetting out of its maw. It brought its great, burning scimitar down, sending a blast of fire. Then with a mighty heave, it cracked its whip, and long, slithering tendrils of jagged lightning crashed from the sky. And the image froze!

There, in big blocky fonts, a title appeared over the demon followed by an explanatory subtitle in smaller relief;

 
 
Regnalog
BALOR
Class X Demon.

 

 

And a whole string of spreadsheets started running, punctuated with comparative charts and diagrams, comprising of size, relative hit points, resistances, and immunities, to hit and damage stats, and special abilities.

 

“Damn..”, whispered Laila in a concerned voice. “That’s going to be hard to kill. We’ll need like four of me, three of you, and at least another one of Soul. Should it spot us, and it can, it’s got Truesight, we can’t even run away from it, even if we wanted to. It can run faster than any of us. I mean, I might be able to stay just ahead of it if I used my Longstrider, but it can also fly, making how fast I run, sort of a moot point.”

“No, we can’t. If’s down to our running skills, we are done for.”, Gnine replied, carefully inspecting the demon’s stats.

“Well? How did you like my presentation?”, Merisoul asked, displaying something she almost never did, a pretty, and vague grin.

“I loved it!”, Laila admitted. “Didn’t know you were Moricane fan.”

“He’s a bit depressing for my taste, really, but he does do justice to his craft, per se. His tunes are quite famous in Hell!”, she said happily.

Gnine coughed at the implications of that!

“Why is this Balor named Regnalog?”, he asked.

“Well, he’s a rare specimen even among the Balor. ‘Grumpy’, if you will. Hence, they usually give him guarding assignments, if any. He doesn’t mind sitting in a lonely cave for centuries and cracking his whip. No one really knows why, or what goes through his mind, for that matter, but he is quite strong, resilient, and cunning. Many young and foolish demons tried their hands against him. —for bragging rights.. He is here but they are not, so I guess that answers the question of, who won, I guess.”, she replied.

“Can we take him? If we unloaded everything we got, I mean.”, asked Laila.

“I doubt.”, said Gnine glumly. “The old cuss is quite buff. More so than what’s written here, I think, if he is sort of unique among the Balor.”

“Dammit.”, hissed Laila. “What now, then? We have to move forward.”

“There isn’t much we can do, really. Regnalog will be immune to all my fire-based spells, resistant to pretty much everything else I got, and will see right through my illusions and likely any of my mental assaults as well.. Doesn’t seem like we got many options left. We can’t even get near him without catching fire!”, said the gnome, still frowning at the frozen image.

“Can’t you use that invisible hand-thing? The one you used in Tempest Temple when we were still back at Arashkan. You did pummel a stone golem with it.”

“Laila.”, Gnine fumed. “That golem, as tough as it was, was still subject to many elemental attacks. And had a limited amount of life force. This.. thing.. is HUGE! I mean, boxing it with that hand will be like a love tap. IF we had about a score of people casting as many hands, then yes, we’d bring the demon down.. eventually. Provided he stands still and does not retaliate.”

“Ow.. It did seem impressive when you had smashed the golem, the way you had. Perhaps you need a bigger fist?”, she offered.

Gnine glared at her.

Laila grinned.

“Not my fault you have small fists, my friend.”

Gnine glared at her some more.

“Is there anything else there?”, asked Laila.

“Maybe we should all go and see.”, Merisoul said. “I am certain I missed things. I have noticed, I don’t always see what might or might not be relevant for you two. I perceive people, creatures, and objects by their possible level of interaction, and whether they may present themselves as an obstacle, or help achieve a certain objective, which might or might not always be conclusive, as what may be insignificant for me, might be quite significant to you.”

“Alright.”, agreed, Gnine, taking a last look at the odd, otherworldly girl’s presentation, and the technical readings of Regnalog.

“Quietly.”, inserted Laila. “Maybe I should go ahead. Follow me at thirty feet distance and be ready to run.”

That said, she picked up her long, elven bow, drew an arrow out of her quiver, and with her bow now half-drawn, she silently ranged out. By the time she got near the end of the long, quiet hall, it had already become almost unbearably hot and she was sweating profusely. She edges her way to the exit and gave a quick peek and went absolutely still.

The chamber ahead wasn’t huge as she’d expected. Or perhaps it was. She estimated a stretch of at least five to six hundred feet across, making the chamber cavernous, just like Merisoul had said. But the main ‘walking’ area was perhaps merely fifty feet in radius. The rest was all empty, pitch-black darkness as if the walking area were some center platform that stood in the middle of a very large, very deep fissure or a bottomless chasm. And in the middle of the center platform, the was a ring of furnacing flames, reaching up to forty feet.

 

And in that column of flame was something.. BIG!

 

Laila had always known, heights, widths, and depths given in numbers and units could be misleading, as they were, after all, just numbers and hence, could be quite abstract. Thus, even in her early years as a ranger novice, she had been specifically trained to recognize what numbers in inches, feet, miles or individual objects meant. How far and how many were probably the most important aspect of being a ranger, really, as they ran for miles, or were expected to guestimate how far something was; i.e. a pack of fifteen wolves, a family of three bears, a single dear, a roaming band of twenty-four goblins, or an ambush of eight Orken, since she was going to have to adjust the angle of her bow depending on said distance, preferably before the ‘how many’ enemies reached her.

Staring at the forty-foot reach of flames, and something twenty-foot high charring in it was.. a hair-raising experience.

She gulped down her very parched sense of fear, withdrew, and motioned the two to come —quietly.

 

Gnine also stared at the flames and the more he stared at it, the more he seemed to deflate.

Laila touched his shoulder. When that didn’t help, she put her hand on it and slightly squeezed.

Gnine stared at her and the ranger lieutenant gave him an encouraging smile and whispered. “We came this far, didn’t we?”

Gnine returned her smile with his depressed one.

Then he pulled them aside and spoke with a hushed, serious tone.

“Alright. What do we have here, then? Tell us what you can see, other than the obvious.”

“The central platform where the demon, Balor, is, is perfectly circular, meaning it was likely—”, Laila began.

“—Gnome crafted.”, inserted Gnine.

“Yes, maybe, I don’t know. It is, however, surrounded by a chasm that goes down as far as—”, she continued.

“—the very molten core of the earth.”, prompted Merisoul.

“Perhaps. I wouldn’t know. Wait! Really?”, asked the ranger lieutenant in astonishment.

“Likely. Which is why Regnalog has been here for so many centuries without getting bored. He must be feeding off the very core of the world!”, replied the succubi half-born with some consternation.

“Okay.”, Laila said. “Is that in any way significant?”

“Yes.”, mused Gnine. “Not immediately, but in the long run. The more he stays perched here, the more powerful he will become. And, I am guessing, because he will have devoured too much of the world’s essence, he will be as if he is part of this world, hence become unbanishable! He will be able to return to Hell and back, here, at will, without the need to be summoned. He will also act like a conduit, an anchor, if you will, for other demons to be summoned as well. Much like Themalsar was. Accept Themalsar was an old man when we faced him. I doubt this guy has any sense of time, in a Mortal sense..”

“Very astute, Master Gnine.”, said Merisoul admiringly. “Which is also why there are half-borns like me. We were made for this very reason. The variety in our kind is merely due to necessity of ‘as per need.'”

“Made?”, asked Laila with some bafflement.

Gnine, however, understood the whole implication of that simple statement, and suddenly, a great many things about this strange, otherworldly beautiful girl clicked in his mind.

“Damn..”, he said hoarsely.

“I am.”, replied Merisoul with a brittle, cheery voice.

“What?”, asked Laila. Then, it dawned on her as well. Not the whole picture, and certainly not as broadly as Master Gnine had, but the fringes of it. For Laila, however, that was more than enough.

Quietly, and boldly, she stepped up to her and took her into her embrace.

“We are who we are, my dear Merisoul Xyrotwu. But we can be who we choose to be. I love my father, but I can’t even remember my mother’s face anymore. Of her, I only have the memory of her beautiful, sad voice, and nothing else. I do remember how they loved one another and how they loved me. Or rather, I remember that warm feeling.. But unwittingly and certainly without ill intent, they made me; a girl who is a human, and an elf, yet neither a human nor an elf. Accepted among humans, tolerated, at best, among elves. My best friends are Gnine, a mischievous, all-ways-in-trouble, gnome, Bree, who is human, who is my cousin and also a troubled, social outcast, Udoorin, who I became friends, but only after beating at each other, Lorna, another half-elf, and also an outcast, Inshala, another weird girl, who is also an outcast.. and you! I do not make enemies out of whim, Soul, but I choose very, very carefully who my friends are because as much as I love and care for my friends, I do not want too many of them in fear of losing them. That is how much I care and love them!”, she said, drew back to stare at the succubi half-born in the eyes, just to see her face blotched.

“Do you understand me?”, Laila asked and for some reason, her voice had steel in it.

“I do not.”, Merisoul said. But she had started shaking like she was suddenly cold, which was odd, considering the oven heat coming from the cavernous chamber ahead.

“Do you understand me?”, Laila repeated, her voice even harder.

“I do not know!”, whispered Merisoul, trembling uncontrollably, now.

“Uhhmm.. Laila? I think she’s losing it!”, warned Gnine.

“We can be who we choose to be, Soul. That is ours, and no one can take that away from us. Do you understand me?”, she hissed at the half-born.

“I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. I understand the words and what the words mean, but I do not understand what they are supposed to make me feel!”, she said, as she quaked and with large tears coming down her beautiful, sad face, and fading in the heat of the hall.

Laila was not a book philosopher. She was a ranger, and like all rangers, she was a practical girl with practical solutions because if something was not practical, it wasn’t a solution, but a bad excuse for sloppiness and a lazy mind.

She grabbed Merisoul’s right hand with her left..

..and placed it on her own left breast, right over her heart, as she raised her right hand and placed it right over the half-born girl’s left breast.. and over her heart, and looked her in the eye.

“You, of all the people, should feel what I feel. And through me, what you feel. Now tell me if you still don’t understand me!”, she said harshly.

“Uhhmm, Laila?”, asked Gnine a bit flustered.

“Shut up, Gnine. And don’t interfere. This is a girl thing!”, she hissed, never taking her eyes off the savagely shaking girl.

 

 

Merisoul..

..crumbled!

 

 

Gnine stared at her, then jumped to help her.

“No!”, Laila hissed again. “She has felt love, friendship, care, anxiety, fear, loss, happiness, victory, failure, and the Great Heavens know what else in me, and through me, she has felt herself and everything she carried but never felt for all her years! She has genuinely and truly felt them. Now, she knows, and now she can relate!”

“Wow, girl. You.. you fixed her!”, stammered Gnine.

“No, Gnine. Fixing a broken soul is not like fixing a broken arrow. I only showed her what it is she felt. I pointed at the door. The rest is up to her. It is she, who must decide what to do with the door. Now she has something to start and something to build on.”, Laila replied, looking down at the unconscious girl with compassion. “And it’s going to hurt.. a lot.”

“Did you feel what she feels, as well?”, asked Gnine in wonder.

Laila didn’t say anything for some time, still looking down at the succubi half-born, and there was a slight frown on her face.

“Yes.”, she said finally. “I did.”

“What did she feel?”

“That’s none of your business, gnome! Suffice to say, her kind of intense is insane!”, replied Laila, scowling down at him.

“Ow, I am suddenly a gnome, now, am I?”, grinned Gnine.

“Gnome was kinder than ‘midget’!”, smirked the half-elf girl.

“Harsh.”, Gnine said, shaking his head. “Very harsh..”

Laila snorted, then turned back to the big, cavernous chamber.

“Didn’t know you felt all those things, girl. Not to mention, what you just did was very, very risky and dangerous.”, Gnine said.

“We all feel such things, Gnine. One way or another.. I just don’t feel the need to make a spectacle of myself in public. As for the risk, becoming your friend was a risk too. Don’t think for a moment I didn’t know about your pranking reputation when we first met. But I took the risk and I did become your friend.”, she said, still gazing ahead.

“Yes. And look where that got you..”, scowled Gnine.

“..to the Halls of the King of Silent Hills!”, she finished and gave him a smirk.

Gnine snorted.

“I see burnt.. or charred.. corpses.”, Laila said and pointed at some, rubble seeming things at the far side of the center platform. See?”

“Are you sure?”, Gnine asked in a sick voice.

“I have excelling eye vision. Those are charred corpses, and likely belonged to some gnomes.”

“Gnomes?”, Gnine exclaimed.

“Or perhaps kobolds. But I have not seen any tracks nor traces of kobolds ever since we came here. And kobolds have tails. Those don’t seem to have any.”

“Nice of you to notice our primary difference relied on the lack of a tail!”, scowled Gnine.

“Yes..”, replied Laila merrily. “As opposed to both races being mischievous, having the potential for great trouble and catastrophe, and dig deep underground and live there.”

Gnine scowled some more.

“See that?”, she said pointing at something.

Gnine squinted.

“Nope. What am I supposed to be seeing?”, he asked.

“Hmm..”, mused Laila. “Perhaps it has to do with elevation.”

 

There was a distinct moment of smoldering silence.

 

“That.. was truly uncalled for, girl!”, Gnine fumed.

Laila snorted.

“I am sorry, Gnine.”, she said.

“No you are not!”, Gnine replied, still fuming at the ranger lieutenant.

“No, I am not.”, agreed, Laila with another snort. “But I was being literal when I said it might have something to do with elevation. There is a very long, very slim, bridge-like path leading away from the central platform. Just like the one we have here. And maybe there is a third one on the far side, to our left. Sort of like a triangle, though I can’t see it through the flames. Maybe we can make a run for it? I mean, if the Balor doesn’t take flight, I can make it to the other end of where the charred corpses are and over that bridge. I am guessing, if there are any live gnomes, that’s where we’d find them.”

“That’s a big pair of ifs, Laila.”

“She.. she is right..”, came a small, devastated voice, and both Gnine and Laila turned to see Merisoul sitting, her legs pulled up to her chest, her slender arms loose limply at her sides. Her face wasn’t quite a blotchy mess, but something told Laila that had she been a ‘mortal’ girl, it would have been. Or perhaps not, because Merisoul seemed like one of those naturally classy, elegant, and delicate girls that didn’t make a blotchy mess when they cried or ‘lost it’ in public. A bit like the princess, Lorna.. and linearly opposite of her cousin, Bremorel!

“Are you alright?”, Gnine asked with consternation.

“I do not know. I have never.. felt.. before!”, she replied with the first facial expression, other than her usual sad, solemn one; awe!

“How.. how do you even coup.. with all this?”, she asked Laila in a desperate, frightened voice.

“We don’t, Merisoul. Not always. That is why we break down at times. And why our friends hold our hands and pick us back on our feet, or offer a shoulder to cry..”, replied Laila kindly. “I have no idea what you went through in your youth, or if you were even allowed to live, or even have, a youth, but I suspect you had a lot of pent-up emotions. Mortals live them by the day and carry them along with them. In time, we either choose to let some of them go or seeth with them.. very seldomly, we choose to nurture them. The ones that ought to be nurtured, which is what forms good friends.. and sometimes.. new life..”

Then, as if remembering, or perhaps, awakening to something, she turned the little, pint-sized sprite, hovering around the gnome; Whimsi Lola.

“You! Pint-Size!”, she said, pointing at the sprite.

Whimsi Lola turned to her, very slowly, and gave the ranger lieutenant a glare that could only have been baleful!

“How dare you?!”, the tiny sprite hissed. “Unlike YOU, I am NOT pint-size!”

“What?”, said Laila, a bit baffled.

Gnine grinned.

“YOU..”, the tiny sprite girl spluttered. “..ARE NOT EVEN A FULL ELF! I, ON THE OTHER HAND, AM A FULL SPRITE!”

“What?”, asked Laila, even more confused. “What are you talking about, girl?”

“I AND ALL MY ANCESTORS WERE SPRITES! I AM NOT A PINT-WHATSIT!”, the sprite girl hissed.

Gnine started to cackle.

“Pint-whatsit?”, Laila asked totally confounded. Then it dawned on her. “Girl..”, she fumed. “I was referring to your size. NOT your origin!”

“Ow!”, froze Whimsi Lola. “Is that what pint-size, means?”

Gnine’s cackle turned into a silent, vindictive laugh.

Laila glared at both of them.

“Well..”, said Lola. “In that case, I apologize for my outburst about your origin. I spoke out of turn, hence I owe you now, and must complete a task to even the scales and attain balance!”

Gnine stopped laughing and sighed.

“There is no need for that, Lola.”, he said. “We are all friends, here.”

“No.”, she objected. “We are not. I am your indentured cooperative auxiliary. That’s all. They are nothing to me, and I am nothing to them. We owe nothing to each other.”

“True. But we have shared food. You have also looked out for me, and by proxy, you have looked out for them. You have sat on Jay, and together you had fun. And both Merisoul and Laila have fought for me, and by proxy, they have fought for you and your safety.”, Gnine explained.

Whimsi Lola scowled at him.

“Let me put it this way, then.”, said Gnine. “You are not my pet, or my servant, my slave, serf, vassal, attendant, retainer, or maid, and certainly not my familiar, yes?”

Whimsi mulled over that a bit.

“No. I am not.”, she consented, though dubiously.

“I suppose that makes you, my friend. Other than an indentured cooperative auxiliary. And by my proxy, that makes them your friend as well.”

Whimsi signed.

“Why do you mortals always want to complicate things, and not leave them as they are? Alright. I will concede that the ranger lieutenant and the soul bearer are my friends because thinking about this is giving me a headache and I don’t want to ask Mab if your logic is sound or fallacious and end up owing her again!”

Laila just stared at pint-size!

“Well? What do you want, Friend Ranger Leuitenant Laila Wolvesbane?”, the little sprite sniffed, a tad disdainfully.

Laila shook her head, then asked her. “You said you knew what had happened to my cousin, Bremorel Songsteel, and how she was made a lieutenant, and why..”

“Not personally, no. I overheard it mention in the Fey RSS!”, Whimsi said.

“Fey RS-what?”, Laila asked.

“Fey RSS —Rather Simple Snitching! Don’t you mortals know anything?”, she said exasperatedly.

Gnine snorted again.

“Apparently not.”, said Laila, looking up and pinching the bridge of her nose.

“Can you tell us more about what they are doing? Or how my cousin is? Do you know who she is?”

“Of course I know who she is. All fey in Ritual Forest knows all the rangers and the druids and the witches so we do not get in trouble with them.”, Whimsi Lola scoffed.

“What is she doing, then? How is my cousin?”, Laila asked excitably.

“How should I know?”, Lola asked irritably.

“But you said you knew her.”, Laila said a bit deflated.

“I know her, I don’t know what she is doing. We do not go into that place you have named Serenity Home because it is surrounded by dead trees, it has nothing but stones and iron in it and it is full of very boring mortals. Now that everyone wants to make war with everyone and kill one another, there is even more stone and iron there! And I am cut off from the Fey World ever since we entered the evil Demon Fog. I thought I told you that already. My Fey RSS is offline and I can’t even check my fe-mails!”, Whimsi explained exasperatedly.

Laila’s shoulders drooped. Just for a moment there, she had thought she could get a glimpse of her cousin’s and what she was doing and how she was..

Gnine came up to her and patted her on her hand.

“They’ll be alright, Laila. I am sure of it.”, he said kindly.

“How do you know? We are running out of time and literally stuck here.”, she seethed, her hands balling into fists.

“I know..”, said Gnine very, very seriously. “..because they had better be alright.. and because I don’t know what I’d do if they aren’t.”

✱ ✱ ✱

Perhaps Merisoul can carry you?”, Laila offered, looking down at Gnine. “I mean, even if I cast a Longstrider on you, it still won’t be enough.”

“I can’t carry him.”, Merisoul said with a confused and subdued voice. “I have managed to attain my ability to fly just recently. My wings were broken when I.. was at a very young age.. I started to work on them when I was on the roof of that inn we were staying.”

“Is that why you were always up there?”, asked Gnine.

“The rooms were crowded already. Princess Alor’Nadien ne, Laila, Lady Magella, Inshala, Sunsear.. When I entered the room, they started bumping into each other because of my wings, so as not to bump into me. So I spent most of my time up there and only came down when necessary. I did a lot of things up there. One of them was constantly moving my wings so as to strengthen them.”, she explained. “But I can dive into the chasm and come out from the other side, though if Regnalog sees me and decides to come after me, he will overtake me, and the feathers on my wings will catch fire and I will drop right into that bottomless chasm.”

“Sounds too risky, then.”, Laila said.

“Tis alright..”, she said wanly, “..and an acceptable risk. I will be only visible for but a moment as I jump down from this end. I will be totally in his line of sight when I come out on the other side though. But then, all of you will.”

“Don’t worry about me.”, said Gnine.

“Ow?”, asked Laila, staring down at the gnome with a frown and wondering just what kind of a convoluted plan he’d just come up with.

“I can simply teleport myself there.”, he said with a smirking shrug.

“You can do that?”

“Well, yes. I just said I can, didn’t I?”, he smirked some more.

“That leaves only you, dear Laila.”, Merisoul said softly.

“Whimsi can make you fly!”, offered Gnine and grinned happily.

“Thanks, but no thanks. No offense Lola, but I have seen the two of you dabble in that and how you land people. I’d rather not entertain broken arms or legs.”, she said in clear rejection.

“I wasn’t my fault!”, exclaimed Whimsi. “I told Master Gnine not to clench, but he just wouldn’t listen.”

“Clench?”, Laila asked with one arching brow.

“His butt!”, scoffed Whimsi with an exasperated voice.

 

Laila hurt herself.

Merisoul just stared at the tiny pint size, then at the furiously blushing gnome.

 

“Okay. Perhaps we can act like neither of you heard that?”, he pleaded.

“Ow, Hell no!”, smirked Laila triumphantly. “I now know all the dirty little secrets of a King!

“Damit!”, Gnine scowled. “I am not even a king yet, and I already have blackmailers! At least let Whimsi put invisibility on you, girl!”

“What for? Balor can see invisible creatures.”, Lorna pointed.

“Yes, but he has to be near enough, you know. His Truesight skill isn’t horizon to horizon!”

“It’s alright. I can make that run in under thirty seconds!”,  she smiled.

Gnine ogled at her then made a quick calculation in his mind and ended up with a claim of twenty-five feet per second on her part! Over seventeen miles an hour!

“Wow, girl. That’s around four miles more than an average human or elf!”

“Yea. I knew I was faster than the average elf, but it feels good to know just how much.”, she said happily. Then she looked at Whimsi Lola. “Can you make me invisible?”

The pint-size stared down at her with silent disdain.

“I suppose you can, then. I saw an archway at the end of the bridge. That’s where we must get it, though I do not know what will happen if Balor sees us, and decides to come after us. He might try and bring down the wall and enter, or the bridge.”, the ranger lieutenant said.

Gnine frowned a bit.

“We can’t let Balor on the bridge, no matter what. If a fight occurs and he is on that bridge, he will bring it down and that is our only sure way out, and likely the only exit for any gnomes that might still be alive. If we end up facing him, be sure to fight in that central platform.”, he said intently.

One half-born, the other half-elf, nodded at him.

“Merisoul, you are at go. I am thinking you will have to dive deep to arc back up there without Balor hearing your wing flaps, so go, now! Then it’s you, Laila. I’ll be last.”

Merrisoul walked up to the edge of the hall, turned around, and faced them. With a weak smile, she said, “I will meet you on the other side, then.”

 

And let herself go..

..arms spread..

..and vanished in the pitch-black chasm.

 

“Damn. That is just so beautiful, scary, and awesome.”, whispered Gnine.

“Yea. Some people can do clichés and still make it look awesome.”, admitted, Laila.

“Whimsi. Are you ready?”, Gnine asked.

“Wait.”, Whimsi said. “We are NOT fighting that demon?”

“No. We are not. He is way above our pay grade. And I am not wasting the lives of my friends on a field.”, Gnine said grimly.

“Ow poo!”, pouted the pint-sized sprite. “Why don’t you just smack him with that fist of yours?”

“Again with the fist. I can’t just smack this guy, Whimsi. He won’t even feel it!”

“Well, perhaps you need bigger fists, then!”, she said disdainfully.

Gnine scowled at her.

“Whimsi, please. Do your thing and let’s get a move on, shall we? Merisoul will be out of that chasm soon.”

“Ow, alright.”, she said and flung a tiny hand full of her own pixie dust on Laila..

..and Laila vanished.

 

Gnine didn’t even hear her go.

“Laila? You still here?”, he asked just to be sure, but got no reply. “Right. Whimsi. On my shoulder, if you will?”

Whimsi landed on the little gnome’s shoulder and held on tight.

Gnine mimed drawing a tall, vertical rectangle, chanted a few words, reach out, and pushed the ‘door’ he had just drawn.

The ‘door’ opened, Gnine stepped through, and the door closed.

Another identical door opened, some five hundred feet away, about fifty feet before the archway, and Gnine stepped out.

He didn’t look back.

He just cast another spell and disappeared from his spot, to reappear thirty more feet away.

And ran the last twenty feet as Merisoul piked out of the chasm, her slender arms stretched and her wings flapping and thrashing furiously..

 

The two slid past the archway when a deep rumble, followed by the sharp cracking of a giant whip echoed..

..from behind!

 

Laila appeared, some one hundred feet away and still on the bridge, fear etched on her face. She turned around and saw the furnacing flames rise higher..

..and Balor, Regnalog, stepped out of the flames.

 

For an infinite second, she looked back at Gnine and Merisoul.

And whispered;

“RUN, YOU FOOLS!”

 

Then.

Laila ran.

Her elven bow, Gracious Warning, drawn.

At the demon!

✱ ✱ ✱

WHAT IS SHE DOING?!”, shrieked Gnine!

“What a ranger should; To be the first to face evil, and the last to face evil!”, replied Merisoul. “We have been had, Master Gnine..”

Gnine started back at the bridge, quite mindlessly, and without a moment’s thought of self-preservation.

Merisoul jumped after him and toppled him over, face down, her black, raven wings beating hard to keep him down.

“Let me go, Soul! She is my friend! She needs my help!”, Gnine snarled.

“She is my friend. And she needs your mind!”, Merisoul replied hoarsely as she tried to bring some semblance of thought to the little gnome struggling to escape from under her as she pleaded desperately. “Your spells will not help against Regnalog! Please, Master Gnine. You must go! Go and find your gnomes. Find help! Make her sacrifice worth the cause!”

 

Gnine lost it!

He snarled and kicked and almost squirmed from under the otherworldly girl.

Leaving but little choice for the succubi half-born..

 

“YOU MUST NOT!”

..she heard a thundering voice crack, sharply in her head.

 

“I shall do what I must to save my friends!”, she replied, quite calmly, though her heart seethed, a something that had never happened before.

 

Merisoul Xyrotwu recognized it for what it was.

After years and years of wondering and toiling,

scheming, failing, and crying, she finally..

..felt!

 

“..AND SUFFER THE SAME RETRIBUTION AS BEFORE!”

 

“Suffer me your best! I shall not abandon my friends..”, she smoldered..

 

..and did something she hadn’t done for a good, long while. Against all warnings, she used her heritage;

 

She bit the squirming and struggling gnome.. by the ear.. drew the tiniest bit of blood.. and whispered in her soft, sad, and quaking, yet mesmerizing, throbbing, and enthralling true voice..

 

“Go, Master Gnine. Find your gnomes. Or find help. Go and never come back without either.

 

..and let go of the gnome.

 

Gnine jumped on his feet and spun around in circles, his eyes white and wide.

 

He spun once..

..twice..

..trice..

..and darted off into the only hall leading out.

 

Merisoul looked up and at the unseen sky and spoke harshly and in defiance.

 

“I am ready. Bring me down your retribution and smite me.. I only ask for the brief duration of a delay to save my friends. This, I am sure, I have thus earned. This I ask, in the name of Compassion!”

“WHO ARE YOU TO SPEAK OF COMPASSION?”

“Someone who was born with it, lost it, then found it again.”

 

The Voice of Wrath fell silent.

 

“STILL TRYING TO ATTAIN YOUR ASCENSION THROUGH FOLLY?”

 

Merisoul Xyrotwu..

No.

Arezme Ara Serraphyn spoke.

 

“Have your precious Ascension, Priceptine. I care little anymore. Judge or Speak, but either way, I will save my friends, for they have given me something you never bothered; a heart!”

✱ ✱ ✱

Regnalog rose out the incinerating flames, and with a thunderous boom, he stepped forth, a monstrosity, some twenty-five feet high with thirty-foot wingspan wielding a fifteen-foot, burning scimitar in one, great, scaly and clawed hand, and a long, barbed, and crackling whip in the other, and all of him reeking in his own sheets of flames.

With a powerful beat of his enormous, bat-like wings he launched himself..

..and with a thunderclap, he landed before the tiny-looking mortal girl, defiantly running at him!

Ranger Lieutenant Laila Wolvesbane did not wait nor pause for any dramatic effects, nor for any challenges or counter verbal spat, no thundering, righteous demands of ‘yield or die’s.. She was a ranger and rangers had little use for stupid!

She had but a single mission in her mind;

Keep the demon off the bridge, keep it busy and stay alive.

The last part was important. And not in just a self-preservation sense, but dead people were dead and could not help their friends.

Laila was a practical girl like that.

She drew her long, elven bow as she ran. The legendary bow of Silendenien Sunlight, Princess Lorna’s long-deceased aunt, murdered during the first Themalsar War some eight hundred years ago by the mad priest himself, and the youngest of the three siblings; High Lady Angrellen Sunsear and Ri Grandaleren Feymist; Gracious Warning, started to glow and radiate. It was not burning with fire, but that of brilliant golden light.

“The ‘Warning’ is over..”, she whispered in exhilarated fear. “Time to be ‘Gracious!'”

Laila loosed the arrow as she ran and cocked a second, almost seamlessly, and loosed that one as well.

The arrows, burning bright and gold, streaked through the air and struck home..

The monstrosity barely noticed them as they hit, one on its massive chest, one on the shoulder.

But then they bloomed!

With a searing, radiant light, the arrows bloomed and burned the demon.

 

Regnalog roared..

..and brought its smoldering sword down.

 

Laila dashed..

..and she never stopped.

 

The fiery, molten scimitar sliced and the whole platform quaked as large rocks and boulders came crashing from above with choking dust and debris.

Laila stumbled, for a mere brief moment, regained her balance, and once more, she was on the run as she sent two more arrows; one burned and winked out in cinders, but the second struck.. and also bloomed with brilliant, radiant light before it too burned and turned to ash.

 

“Those arrows cost money, dammit!”, hissed the half-elf girl, and loosed two more.

 

Again and again, her Gracious Warning sent blooming arrows and sparked on the Balor, each causing the great demon to howl and roar, bringing more rubble and rocks down.

 

Regnalog roared..

..and with a thunderclap, brought his whip.

 

The whip cracked like nothing Laila had experienced before as long, jagged streaks of lightning jabbed at her and the barbs of the whip crashed, opening a sharp fissure in the platform that crawled and branched, sending bits and piece of rock, shrapneling in every direction.

Laila crumbed on her knees in pain, bloodied and bruised, and smoke boiled out of her scarred leathers. “No, dammit.”, she snarled and rolled on broken, jagged rocks as the thundered whip and came down again, followed by the screeching wind of the burning scimitar!

✱ ✱ ✱

Gnine Tinkerdome ran as he’d never ran before. It was like he was under some mindless compulsion or even a geas. Deep down, something told him it was the touch of the succubi half-born that had driven him into such dire straights, but the voice was subdued, and for some unknown reason, seemed to agree with her.

So he ran, for how long, he couldn’t discern, but the stabbing pain at his side told him he was tethering at the end of his endurance. Still, he ran because the voice, the other one, the soft, sad, and beautifully enthralling voice had told him to go and to never come back. Not without his gnomes, or help!

It was then, he stumbled into the large, circular chamber at the end of the hall. The room was perhaps one hundred feet across and eighty feet deep and for a bare moment, he did wonder why gnomes built rooms, chambers, and halls always so much larger than they would possibly need. Even the hall he’d just ran through had been at least thirty feet wide and possibly sixty feet high.

With haste born of desperation, he looked around and noted the room was not empty. There was strange machinery of one kind of another scattered everywhere, consisting mostly of consoles with odd, blocky buttons, arms, levers, and knobs, and many, many small screens and displays, though they were all dead, blank, or just cracked or smashed.

The main display, the one in the center, however, was huge, perhaps sixteen feet wide and nine feet high. Though it too was somewhat cracked at one corner and chipped on its dusty surface, it had somehow remained intact.

And there, right under it, was an elegantly molded, brushed steel, double-handled circuit breaker. And right under that was a label embossed on a brass plaque in some strange, cryptic letters, and in elder gnomish;

 

 

“if you are”

 

 

Gnine had no idea what that meant. But he grabbed at the circuit breaker and pulled it down.

Because at that moment, a deep, thunderous roar and the crack of lightning echoed down the hall and he was just that desperate.

He heard a sudden, whining sound coming from somewhere under his feet followed by numerous large, clanking, metallic noises, the lights on many of the panels burst alive making odd, jarring sounds, and most of the unbroken smaller screens and displays lit, scrolling some green, mono-space texts with a lot of alpha-numerical jibberish..

..and that’s it.

 

Nothing else happened!

 

“Are you kidding me?”, Gnine cried deploringly. “We came all the way, and bleeding along, here, and that’s it? Some weird whining and clanking and some creepy light show in retro, steamchunk theme?”

Then he heard, quite clearly, a matronly voice, though a bit on the squeaky side;

 

> Voice Activation: Verified!

> Welcome, Gnine Tinkerdome.

> You are now in the HQ of Silent Vaults.

> Please select from the choices presented on the main display using the GID – Gnomic Interaction Device and press the [ENTER] key!

> You will receive a verification code for confirmation which you must also enter, using the GID.

> Should you wish to listen to the instruction again, please press 1..

> Thank you and have a nice day.

 

And with ogling fascination, Gnine stared as blocky gnomish texts that came scrolling down the big, main display.

 

> [1] Listen to the Instructions.

> [2] Security Cameras and Alarms.
> Current Status: OFFLINE.

> [3] Cryo-Sleep/Hydration Chamber.
> Current Status: ACTIVE.

> [4] Sentinel Turrets (Caution).
> Current Status: OFFLINE.

> [5] Power Lines and Ventilation.
> Current Status: OFFLINE.

> [6] Water Lines and Aqueducts.
> Current Status: OFFLINE.

> [7] Sewers and Recycling.
> Current Status: OFFLINE.

> [8] System Updates (Admin Status Required)
> Current Status: 2,793 Pending Updates.

> [9] ULTRABER! (Extreme Caution).
> Current Status: OFFLINE.

 

As dumbfounded as he was, Gnine’s mind worked at an incredible pace as he ran down the list and promptly hit the number [2], on the GID —Gnomic Interaction Device!

Whatever this all was, it wasn’t just magic and gnomic engineering at its best, it was base, mad, ingenuity. Something only someone like him would have admired and found genuinely appealing.

 

A tiny, pipsqueak voice buzzed in his head.

 

> Verification Code for Security Cameras and Alarms

 > 4-8-2-1

 

Gnine quickly entered the four digits into the GID and while many of the smaller screens stayed dark or had random dots and lines of static, some did show live images in black and white. And in one of them, he could see the great, very nearly endless vault of tombs they had seen. And in the image, he saw dark, clawing figures creeping in their direction. In another display, he saw Laila crash into the ground, bloodied and bruised as something huge raised its seething sword!

“Regnalog!”, hissed Gnine and hit [5], [6], [7], and then [4]!

 

He was suddenly spammed by a number of tiny, buzzing squeaks!

 

> Verification Code for Power Lines and Ventilation

> 3-8-7-5

 

> Verification Code for Water Lines and Aqueducts

> 1-2-1-5

 

> Verification Code for Sewers and Recycling

> 5-6-8-3

 

> Verification Code for Sentinel Turrets (Caution)

> 0-9-1-1

 

He entered all the codes, one by one, through the GID and the whole room lit by some sourceless-seeming ambient light. Through the security screens, he could see more tunnels, halls, and chambers light up. He wasn’t sure what Water Lines and Aqueducts, and Sewers and Recycling had done, but the list had refreshed and they now showed their current status as; ONLINE!

The effect of the cautioned Sentinel Turrets turned out to be quite a bit more distinct..

On the tiny screen, displaying the tomb room, many contraptions sprung from the floor and walls, and in a bloody rain of deadly projectiles, the demons there were all nothing but indiscernible heaps!

“Alright.. that was a bit gruesome..”, he said in a sick voice. “Effective though!”

Then he slammed the console and screamed with despair.

“All of this is nice and cool but they aren’t helping Laila!”

 

Then he saw it.

He didn’t pause, he didn’t hesitate.

 

He hit his own number: [9] —ULTRABER!

 

> Verification Code for ULTRABER! (Extreme Caution)

> 0-9-9-9

 

Another loud clanking noise came and this one just to his right. A section of the wall dropped down and disappeared into the ground, revealing something.. HUGE!

It was perhaps eighteen feet high, made out of steel and perhaps some kind of carbon alloy with an elongated, egg-like head, a round, tubular torso, long, segmented arms that very nearly reached down to the floor and ended with three-fingered, pincer-like hands. It seemed old because it was covered in dust and rust all over.

With a sharp hiss, the front of the tubular torso opened, not unlike a window shutter, revealing a tiny, compact room with many buttons, arms, levers, and knobs, and a small, gnome-sized armchair.

 

Gnine cackled with glee.

“Larger fists, did you say? Larger fists, INCOMING!”

 

And as if on cue, a rope ladder rolled down and all fell silent again, waiting..

 

Gnine slithered up the rope ladder and hopped into the seat and noted the inside of the.. whatever this thing was.. was quite clean and dust-free. He poked his head out and looked a bit more closely at the paint job and noticed..

“Damn. It’s retro-paint! Someone’s gone to some serious trouble to give this a steamchunk-look. Obsession, much?”

Then he looked around him and noticed all the buttons, arms, levers, and knobs were neatly labeled. There was even a bundled user manual!

“I’d say, someone really wants me to use this!”, he cackled some more.

 

He grabbed the user manual and skimmed through it. By the time he was done, in under two, short minutes, he was amazed.. and somewhat scared..

This.. thing.. ominously named ULTRABER, was not a toy. It was a weapon of potential mass destruction!

 

“Looks like someone was preparing for a rainy day!”, he murmured, then turned to the little sprite, Whimsi Lola, who had been silently hovering just over his head with a frightened expression on her tiny face and said in a low, growly voice.

“You will wait here, my little friend. Balor is not something you can fight. This, I think you already know. I am aware that you don’t owe Laila Wolvesbane anything, but should I not come back, I would like you to stay with her and keep her safe and happy, just like you did with me. And should.. neither of us comes back, you can stick with Miss Merisoul, or you may return to your forest and unindentured. You owe nothing to anyone anymore, my little friend. Savvy?”

Whimsi Lola stared at him.. with a running nose!

“I have no idea what savvy means, but I will honor this last bequest of yours, Master Gnine.. I shall wait here, a year and a day. And should you or Friend Ranger Lieutenant Laila Wolvesbane have not returned by then, I shall take my leave and return to.. Mab.. Dammit! I was this close to having escaped her!”, she sniffed and drifted off and perched herself in front of one of the security displays and started slurping something out of a tiny little can!

“Right.”, said Gnine grimly and slapped the big HATCH button, shutting the doors of the DOCKPIT, oddly named as it was, and pulled at the STARTUP lever, and smashed down the foot paddles..

ULTRABER lurched forward, taking a giant step, followed by another as Gnine paddled the mechanical monstrosity using his feet and spun the torso and the arms using the two, steel, circuit breaker levers.

Then he punched another button labeled;

 

T.O.N.I.C
Terminal Output Neuro
Interface Coefficient!

 

“Hold on, girl.”, he hissed through gritted teeth. “Never just ended! I am coming..”

✱ ✱ ✱

Laila tumbled and rolled, barely keeping a step ahead of the lightning whip and the molten blade but Regnalog never gave her the chance. He roared and bellowed and smashed his fiery scimitar with the fury of Hell and sent streaks of lightning each time he clapped his whip.

Laila felt her strength drain as she bled from numerous cuts, burns, and wounds as exhaustion settled in.

“Not gonna give in! My friends depend on me, dammit. My father doesn’t even know where I am! I can’t let him suffer the same thing he did after my mother died. Not again..”, she squeezed the words and sent another blooming arrow.

Then, just for a moment, Balor stumbled.

And Merisoul appeared, high and above, and a long streak of brilliant golden light streaked out of her hands and struck the monstrous demon. Then she sent another beam of the same golden, radiant light.. and another!

Laila had seen the odd, otherworldly girl mime that same way before. Many, many times. It has been her go-to spell! Much like shooting arrows was hers. But always before, it had been a dark, purplish, lightning-like thing. Now it was this brilliant, golden, radiant, streaking beam.. The change was significant, Laila was sure of it. She just couldn’t figure out what.. or why? Or perhaps she was just so hurt, bloodied, and tired. Nevertheless, she didn’t waste the opportunity. She held her breath, carefully aimed, and loosed two more arrows.

One struck Regnalog on the temple, causing it to howl and roar, and inevitably turn her way, a something Laila had anticipated. Her second arrow struck him..

..in the eye!

 

Balor froze, for just a moment, and the arrow bloomed!

With a searing golden explosion, Regnalog’s eye turned into a gaping, cavernous, empty hole!

 

The wrath of Balor knew no bounds after that. A wave of molten flames burst out of him, burning everything in its path. The fire spread along the platform leaving nowhere to hide.

Laila’s last thought was, “Totally worth it, bitch!”

Then the flames washed over her, and swept her away, not unlike a tsunami.

With one short cry of pain, Laila Wolvesbane was gone and over the edge.

Her whites visible with fear and terror, she disappeared in the bottomless chasm..

✱ ✱ ✱

Good afternoon, Gnine Tinkerdome.”, said a raspy, tenoric voice.

“Gimme all the specs of this ULTRABER thingy!”, he barked.

“ULTRABER; The Ultimate Mechanical Bear—”, started T.O.N.I.C.

“Bear? This thing looks nothing even remotely like a bear!”, scowled Gnine.

“—is totally corrosion-proof and can stay up to five hours underwater and is airtight, effectively making you immune to viral, bacterial, and/or fungal infections and diseases and poisons in gaseous forms for the duration. It can stay functional in arctic conditions and can stay in pressurized lava for up to thirty minutes before the DOCKPIT is ruptured. It has a wide variety of weapons; one AEARFGL —Area Effect Air Propelled Fire Grenade Launcher on the right and one STAGL —Single Target Acid Grenade Launcher on the left shoulder, one ASGL —Area Stun Grenade Launcher on the lower turret, one stationary FRBC —Focused Radiance Beam Condenser right above the DOCKPIT, and two HVPARGs —High-Velocity Projectile Auto Reloading Guns, one on each arm! The ULTRABER can punch through an average enforced siege wall at a rate of one foot of seamless stone per ten minutes. Its pincers can eviscerate a dragon’s hide with little trouble, and has ALG —Auto Leveling Gyro to move its legs automatically to avoid tumbling or falling. And of course, the built-in USDS —Ultimate Self Destruct System that can level a half-mile radius and an EEM —Emergency Ejection Mechanism!”

“Girl, whoever you are, you sure like your acronyms, don’t you? Lost a lot of sleep over them, I am sure!”, mumbled Gnine, and stepped on it.. figuratively..

 

ULTRABER moved at an impressive speed and agility and Gnine figured out why the halls, the tunnels, the corridors, and the rooms of Silent Hills were so big, wide, and high..

 

“Damn. They must have thought of making multiple numbers of these monstrosities!”, he frowned as he carefully inspected all the other labels under each button, arm, lever, switch, and knob, and there were a lot of them!

Most of them were self-explanatory, others were left without any explanations but sounded more like names.

One punch-button read; [CORA] and Gnine’s fingers itched to hit it.

The itch won and he yelped when the DOCKPIT was suddenly filled with cool, arctic air and the temperature inside dropped drastically.

Another such button read; [BROM] and Gnine stared at it suspiciously but punched it anyway and a strange tune began to play in the DOCKPIT..

It was a savage tune. A beastly, intriguing, itching, rapid, and very nearly asynchronous tune.

It was a tune that reached Gnine at his most, basic level. It was a tune that had been created by someone who had suffered the toils of the Great Northern Tundras and it was a tune that was the culmination of that frozen land as he’d seen it, beheld it, and understood it; wild, free, endless, and tormentingly beautiful!

And it seized Gnine, hit him over the head, concussed him, and left him stunned and bewildered..

“Damn, girl!”, Gnine said, a bit awed. “This is one good song to go to war!”

 

Then he noted the third button with another name; [SERESSA]!

Somewhat elated by the previous two buttons, he mindlessly hit this one as well.

Gnine thought he heard a very faint hiss, but nothing else happened.

“Perhaps this one is broken.”, he mused as ULTRABER clanked arduously down the hall.

Then he picked up the scent!

It was a beautiful, brushing scent, perhaps of ripe strawberries, or cherry blooms, or.. phloxes?.. and something else.. something intimate.. and tender.. and feminine.. and soft.. and..

Gnine blushed furiously.

“Alright.. Apparently, someone had some interesting fetishes! Better mark this one off as ‘off limits’..”, he coughed.

Whatever this SERESSA was, it definitely was an.. exhilarating.. yes.. honestly exhilarating.. chemical!

 

Then there was the [DIE BIACH!] button and Gnine had no intentions of ever touching that one!

 

Red lights suddenly lit inside the DOCKPIT and the raspy, tenoric voice of T.O.N.I.C was heard again.

 

“Warning! Warning! High-temperature heatwave signature detected! UEA —Unknown Extraterrestrial Anomaly sighted! Analysis Reports: Balor; Class X Demon. Extremely Dangerous.. Arming STAGL, ASGL, FRBC, and the HVPARGs.. Distance: 700 ft. and closing.. Route: Civilian Bridge..  Status: Damaged Infrastructure.. Suggested Exit Strategy: Full Thrusters!”

“Full Thrusters!”, barked Gnine and ULTRABER bursts forward and Gnine felt himself flatten against the DOCKPIT armchair! At an accelerated speed, the hall suddenly ended and ULTRABER rammed right through the wall, and over the bottomless chasm!

✱ ✱ ✱

Merisoul watched her friend get flung over the edge and disappear in the chasm with unadulterated horror as she heard her tiny yelp over the roaring fire.

She wasn’t quite sure which hurt more, that her friend, Laila had just vanished into the bottomless chasm, or that her wings had caught fire and she was slowly but ultimately burning.

“So be it.”, she murmured.

 

Slowly she tilted..

..and piked down and after the ranger lieutenant!

 

She felt every single one of her feathers simmer, shrivel, and disintegrate by the fire of Balor, and tears of pain streaked out the side of her sad, solemn eyes. Her slender arms stretched before her, she made herself as small as possible and beat her wings savagely to attain a speed faster than terminal velocity, otherwise, there would be no catching up to her friend no matter how far down they fell. The gaping distance between them just would never close..

With a burst of sparkling cinders, her wings burned out and she saw Laila, her eyes closed, her boldly beautiful face pinched in pain and horror, her long, soft, brown hair lashing wildly and her beloved elven bow clutched tightly to her chest, she portrayed a figure who knew she had done all she could but it just hadn’t been enough.

 

“Your eyes.. Open them, my friend..”, Merisoul sent her thought at her.

“Mm.. Merisoul?“, Laila mumbled with fright.

“Yes. I am coming.. Open your eyes, for they are pretty and I must see!”, Merisoul whispered.

“Don’t come. There’s no coming back! Help Gnine. At least he should get to be king and save my home..”, she whispered back.

“Together. We agreed on this. When we first went into the Fog, did we not?”

“Yes. We did. But I am done and you can’t carry me out.”

“No. I can’t. Regnalog burned my wings.”, Merisoul said sadly.

“Then, why come?”, Laila asked and opened her eyes to see the odd, otherworldly girl rushing at her.

“Because no one should die alone..”

“Go back, girl. I am sure you can save yourself. You excel at everything you do.”

“I have never used a bow like you. And never had a heart like yours.”

“Take the bow. Gracious Warning shouldn’t be lost in the debts of some bottomless pit. As for the heart, I believe yours is the greatest one there is. No one has suffered what you have, and still did the things you did for any mortal. Yet you have.. Take the bow and go back.. Tell Gnine.. and my father.. and my cousin.. I am sorry..”, Laila said and closed her eyes again as pain engulfed her.

 

 

“Sacrifice..“, Merisoul whispered..

“..Should not be wasted thus gratis!”

 

Soul Bearer closed her eyes and mind..

And she turned off the world.

The wind rushed fiercely.

Tears ran and free.

And her heart..

Stopped.

.

 

 

I submit.


I am not a taker, my dear girl.
I do not take.
I give.

 

You gave.
Now, is my turn to give back.
Please. I must save my friend.

 

You plead a bargain with me
to save a mortal, at the expense
of your own life?

 

My whole life, I sought a heart.
This moral learned me mine.
And for the first time, I ‘felt’.
It is beautiful!

 

Thus, you are..
Rejoice!

 

I have attained my merry soul, at last.
Nothing more have I wanted.
The purpose I set for myself,
and my existence is done and done.

 

Nay, dear girl.
Your existence has just begun.

 

She has love and loved ones. I do not.
Few will shed tears after me
and forgotten shall I be soon enough.
Her father and her friends shall mourn
for many long years, and many mortals
shall die because she has..

 

You undervalue your existence.
You have friends and a BFF, do you not?

 

My mirima Temez is strong.
Unlike me.

 

No, dear child.
She is strong, because of you.

 

Please..
Please, just do it!

 

You are bonded.
I must but ask Priceptine.

 

No.. He does not understand..
A silly and foolish girl is all I am to Him.

 

Perhaps you think Him silly and foolish,
missing the point where He isn’t?

 

He has been nothing but cruel to me.

 

He has been everything but cruel to you.

 

He will never consent to my Ascension!

 

It was never up to Him,
nor was His concession ever required
for your Ascension.

 

He hurt me and pummeled me,
like a drunkard upon his woman!

 

He was trapped in that locket,
because of your former master!

 

He.. he knew?

 

Of course, dear.
How could he not?
Did I not know who you were,
when we first met?

 

He—

 

—Saved you!

 

Can’t you just do it?
Before He comes?
I gave you my hand when you asked.
You owe me..

 

You have me your hand
because you are kind.
Yet you want to bargain your existence
for the sins of your former master?

 

Yes!

 

Why?

 

Because she is my friend.
She learned me my heart..
I feel now. It is beautiful.
And I am scared..

 

My dear Merisoul..
Live up to your name and live a merry soul.
Offer yourself the time to attain that, at least,
before giving up. Do not deny this of yourself.

 

I have attained all I wanted.
I am free of Hell.
My BFF is free of Hell.
All my kind are free of Hell
and thus
we have ‘life’, we have ‘heart’,
and we have ‘choice’ now.
And this is mine.
Please.. Honor it..

 

For one thousand six hundred years
have I suffered the vilest sins at the hands
of your former master.
Gladly would I suffer more and a like amount
for the single beat of your heart.

 

My heart has beat enough.
Her’s must more!
Please.
Ad Ara.

 

Very well.
Priceptine, if you will..

 

 

AHHH, AD ARA..

IT HAS BEEN TOO LONG AND THE MORTAL COIL
HAS SUFFERED YOUR ABSENCE.

 

This merry soul would wish to trade her
existence for mine to save her friend.
You must agree on this, and free her
of your bond.

 

HOW MANY MORE TIMES
MUST SHE BARGAIN FOR HER FRIENDS?

*SIGH*

SHE CAN DO AS SHE PLEASES.
FOR SHE IS MORTAL NOW!
SHE HAS HEART!

 

I.. I am?

 

YOU TRULY ARE
A FOOLISH AND SILLY GIRL!

DO YOU NOT HEAR
THE MORTAL BEAT OF YOUR OWN HEART, NOW?

CRUEL, THOUGH, YOU HAVE THOUGHT I BE,
YOU MUST KNOW, A HEART MAY NOT BE GIVEN.
IT MUST BE REALIZED. FOR WHAT IS GIVEN
CAN NEVER BE AS PRECIOUS AS WHAT IS EARNED.
AND A HEART THAT DOES NOT BEAT, IS BUT A DEAD HEART.
OF ALL MORTALS, I WOULD HAVE THOUGHT
A FOOLISH AND SILLY LITTLE GIRL SUCH AS YOURSELF
WOULD HAVE NOTICED THIS,
FOR IT WAS YOU, WHO STOPPED YOUR OWN,
TO START ANOTHER’S, ONCE, DID YOU NOT?

AND SHOULD THE SAID HEART WANT TO BEAT, IT MUST BEAT ON ITS OWN, AND WILLINGLY, AND MUSTN’T EXPECT OTHERS TO SQUEEZE IT TO KEEP IT ALIVE! THAT WOULD BE A RATHER SLOTH EXPECTATION, WOULDN’T YOU AGREE?

YES, I AM THE ARCHANGEL OF WRATH AND THAT IS MY PRIMARY ASPECT, AND TIME AND AGAIN, I HAVE WATCHED THE FRUITLESS EFFORTS OF MORTALS SIN ONE ANOTHER OVER AND OVER, OVER THE CYCLES,
HENCE I HAVE GROWN WEARY OF THEM
AND MY WRATH UPON THEM IS JUSTIFIED.
BUT I DO NOT LACK COMPASSION.
IT IS TRUE, COMPASSION IS NOT MY PRIMARY ASPECT,
BUT ONE CAN NOT BE AN ANGEL AND LACK IT!
THIS TOO, I THINK A GIRL AS FOOLISH AND SILLY
AND AS DEAR AS YOU WOULD HAVE RECOGNIZED, YES?
CONSIDERING THE CARE AND COMPASSION YOU HAVE THUS SHOWN, NOT ONLY TO YOUR MORTAL FRIENDS
BUT SAVING YOUR BEST FIEND FRIENDS AS WELL.
I AM WRATH, TRUE, BUT MY CLOSEST AND DEAREST FRIEND
HAS ALWAYS BEEN COMPASSION!

SUFFICE TO SAY, AREZME ARA SERRAPHYN
(INSERT ALL YOUR OTHER SILLY NAMES),
THE CHOICE IS YOURS.
IT ALWAYS WAS..

 

Then..
..I choose her life,
over my existence..
Hoist her from this bottomless pit.
For she belongs not here..
Here, it is dark, it is bleak
and it is lonely..

 

✱ ✱ ✱

The walls shattered like eggshells and ULTRABER burst out! And with a great, graceful arc, it arched over the bottomless chasm, and slammed into Regnalog!

The monstrous Balor roared and grabbed at the giant mechaber and struck, hurling ULTRABER back.

ULTRABER’s ALG —Auto Leveling Gyro kicked in and it landed on its legs and a shaft of brilliant, searing light burst from its chest and struck Balor, leaving a gaping hole on his giant torso.

And with a series of plunk, plunk, plunk, plunk sounds, a volley of Acid Grenades launched from one shoulder, leaving marred, molten, fleshless scars on the bellowing Balor.

“You.. you son of a.. You killed Laila.. my best friend.. the only person who was always with me! And you killed Merisoul.. the only person who never judged me.. You.. They.. They were my friends you bastard!”, spluttered Gnine, in the DOCKPIT, his eyes ablaze and burning with hate..

“DIE BIACH!”, he screamed..

 

..and hit the [DIE BIACH!] button!

 

The tenoric voice of T.O.N.I.C screeched in the tubular DOCKPIT;

 

“DIE BIACH Protocol initiated!”

“Warning! System Overload in 3.. 2.. 1..”

 

ULTRABER..

UNLOADED!

EVERYTHING..

ALL AT ONCE!

 

The STAGs (Single Target Acid Grenades) hissed wildly with mad, chaotic, arching fumes as every single acid grenade volleyed forth, and all at once.. The ASGs (Area Stun Grenade) plunged —all of them— and with ear-bleeding and eye-searing thunderclaps, detonated around Balor. The FRB (Focused Radiance Beam), stabbed and speared right through him like the wrath of Shal -ah Galad, the Spear of Light, itself! And with a roaring Ratta Ta Ta Ta Ta Ta Ta staccato, the two HVPARGs (High-Velocity Projectile Auto Reloading Guns) zapped and zigzagged like thousands of fist-sized angry hornets buzzing with red-orange trail-lines, and left bloody cloud puffs wherever they hit, and ULTRABER emptied the whole content of its destructive payload!..

 

Not satisfied, Gnine spun the ULTRABER at a wide, ultra-speed velocity, and struck with one eviscerating pincer followed immediately by the other..

Over and over and over again, like some crazed desert dervish..

 

And with a tremendous and resounding crash, Regnalog’s massive head smashed into the burning platform, right next to its shredded, molten, seared, riddled, and ravaged body!

✱ ✱ ✱

Gnine slammed at the [CORA] button and flushed the overheated DOCKPIT, then hit the HATCH button and ULTRABER’s tubular torso split open. He tossed the rope ladder and scrambled down and ran to the side of the platform, tears running shamelessly down his pinched and distorted face.

“LAILA! LAILA?”, he shouted down the bottomless chasm and his tenoric voice echoed through the Silent Vaults, perhaps the only live gnome’s voice to have been heard since the Demon Fog.

“No, girl..”, he wept and fell on his back fisting his hands. “It was supposed to be me! Not her! Why? Why, dammit? She was nothing but a good, brave girl, and the only person to have bothered to be my friend! No kingdom is worth this.. No kingdom can replace her.”

 

It took him a while to notice the screaming wind.

 

When he did, he noticed the brilliant golden light rising out of the bottomless chasm.

He stared at it with hopeless abandon and with incredible speed, the golden radiance came out of the chasm, and lo..

 

Gnine Tinkerdome beheld the most beautiful and awe-inspiring sight he had ever seen.

A tall, slim figure in some ancient but delicate golden plate armor, her face luminous and serene, her eyes lost in the far distances of eternity, her majestic, snowy-white wings stretched far and wide, an Angel rose!

 

No..

 

Ad Ara rose..

 

And in her arms, she held Laila Wolvesbane.

 

“Behold, young Master Gnine Tinkerdome, for I gift you, your friend back. Love her, care for her, and cherish her, for she has fought bravely and valiantly and against a foe much disproportionate to herself for you, your people, your Silent Vaults, and the cause of decent men. Had there been but a few more of her brave and arduous kind, this world would have been a merrier place..”, Ad Ara said, her gentle voice echoing and reverberating in vast halls of Silent Hills, and gently, she settled the depleted form of Laila on the platform.

 

Gnine just ogled at her.

 

“Merisoul?”, Gnine chocked in a hushed voice.

“Dear Merisoul Xyrotwu has parted. Her last wish was of sacrifice; the life of her friends for her existence. Cherish that, also, for methinks that is the greatest of sacrifices and par to Ascension.”

“No..”, mumbled Gnine and saw Laila too was awake and silently crying where she lay. “She.. she is one of us! She belongs to us.. She is our friend!”

“Thus you are, and thus you, Gnine Tinkerdome, and you, Laila Wolvesbane have fought, time and again against the sins of men and that of foul fiends and demons, risking your lives in return, did you not? At any time, could either of you, or your beloved company could have perished. Knew you this risk, and still took it, did you not? And willingly did you still sweat, and bleed and oft times, endangered your very lives for such noble a task.. Thus has she.. Mourn not, for her sacrifice was not in vain nor was it a folly loss; she saw the merit of her friends, because of her friends.. She weighed the value of your friendship and the worth of your lives, so much dear to her, as she saw it, understood it, and felt it, and against her very existence and deemed it a worthy exchange. Know though, her choice was well informed and done willingly. Her last and only bequest was that you, Laila Wolvesbane, keep her ever-loyal familiar, Jay, and comfort him, for he will not understand sacrifice, but only live its consequences.. Farewell and rejoice, for she and I are now, Xyrone..”

 

And with that, and with a brilliant, golden, radiance, Ad Ara, the Archangel of Compassion streaked up, and up, and was gone!

 

And the only thing that remained was the sound of smoldering flames of what was once Balor, Regnalog..

..and the croaking whimpers of a tiny dragon.

✱ ✱ ✱

Are you ready?”, Gnine asked with a subdued voice and hiccuped, when he heard little Jay’s whimpering croak again..

..and broke down, once more.

Laila sniffed loudly as she came up to him and held him tightly in her scarred embrace.

“I don’t even..”, she began and faltered. “I don’t even know what to tell the others..”

“I don’t even know what to tell myself!”, mumbled Gnine as he sobbed. “She was so nice. Always there for me, for you, for the others.. She was nice even to Aager and Anglenna and no one is nice to those two!”

“Accept Inshala.”, Laila said and sniffed again.

Ow. My. Good. Heavens! Inshala! What are we going to tell her? She will be devastated!”, Gnine’s muffled and broken voice came from Laila’s embrace.

The Ranger Lieutenant did not reply.

Silently, she wiped her eyes and reached over to the GID-thingy, Gnine had shown her.. and finished what they had come for; quietly, she pressed [3], then looked at the gnome, with tears running down her eyes again.

 

> Verification Code for Cryo-Sleep/Hydration Chamber

> 2-8-0-8

 

..buzzed the tiny, tenoric voice in Gnine’s mind.

“You do it..”, he mumbled.. “2-8-0-8.. It’s the day when the bloody Demon Fog first settled on Silent Hills.. 28.08.7316!”

..and cried some more.

 

The war hadn’t even begun yet and they had already started losing friends!

 

Her face pale, soot smudged, bloody, tear blotched, and drawn, Laila Wolvesbane tapped in the numbers and hit [ENTER]..

 


 

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Deep in Silence..

Deep in Silence..

Timeline:

The Orken Horde have arrived on the doorsteps of Serenity Home. Many have gathered to defend the ‘serenity’ of this once peaceful and quiet town but it is doubtful they will be enough.

The heroes scatter all around the kingdom to find those allies. Some go to other cities, some to their own people to get help.

And some go where they shouldn’t..

Gnine Tinkerdome, Laila Wolvesbane, and Merisoul Xyrotwu travel to Silent Hills and quietly enter the Demon Fog to find a way to pass the slithering fog and enter the Silent Halls. The only clue they have is the strange riddle that Nadine Graciousward gave them.

With the help of unexpected allies from Hell itself, the three have gained access into the long-forgotten, dusty and silent vaults under Silent Hills.

 

This story takes place a few days after
The Fog, The Path, And The Door.
Knock, More And Ascend..

 

 

And, here they come again!”, swore Gnine Tinkerdome as he took a step back and to the left, making room for Laila Wovesbane and her great bow.

“Persistent, aren’t they?”, replied Laila cooly as she huffed her bangs out of her eyes and drew a pair of long shafts from the quiver buckled to her back. “Don’t they know, these arrows cost money!”, she added mournfully.

“Perhaps these will pay..”, scowled the gnome as he started weaving his fingers into some strange, cross-over knot and started incanting.

“Persistence is the herald of victory. This they know. This they will use, always..”, came the soft, alluring, and vague voice of the unearthly beautiful girl with the raven black wings, and the dark, crowning horns, Merisoul Xyrotwu, from behind them. “..and they are likely bored!”

“I hate being the butt-end of relieving the boredom in demons!”, grimaced Gnine, and released his spell..

..and a faint, barely visible giant hand appeared in front of the half dozen fiends howling and charging in their direction. The fiends, barely humanoid in shape and size, otherwise black, spike riddled and bearing long, ugly-looking claws, smashed into the hand and stumbled back.

Laila ‘loosed’ her arrow, cocked the second, and sent that one as well, as she drew more arrows from her quiver and sent them one after the other —all in seamless, fluid motions.

Looking at the pretty ranger corporal, one would think she was knitting, rather than raining arrows into demons!

In all candor, it was quite rare for any talented bowyer to shoot half a dozen arrows in under a few seconds. What made the Ranger Corporal Laila Wolvesbane particularly unique, was the ‘cool’ in her deliberation, anticipation, and application.

“Want me to nuke them?”, asked the alluring voice from behind. “Or save it for later?”

“Save it for later..”, growled Gnine as he gritted his teeth. Holding back the demons with the very nearly invisible hand was a tasking chore and beads of sweat had started gathering on heated his face. “I believe Laila’s got these.. You got these, right?”

“I got these..”, confirmed Laila as she riddled more and more arrows into the dark, and angry fiends pushing the giant hand, step by step closer to them.

“Now, I am bored..”, said Merisoul with an unhappy voice and released a pair of erratic, brilliant purple shafts of force sending two of the fiends smashing into the ones coming from the rear.

“Three down. Three to go..”, reported Laila, and hung her bow, drew her two long blades, and dashed into the remaining fiends.

“What. Are. You. Doing?!”, half shrieked Gnine.

“Arrows are expensive.. Thought I told you that..”, replied Laila as she rammed into one of the fiends, slashed it open with one sword, and stabbed it with the other. The fiend let loose a horrific scream, then fell back dead.

 

The remaining two rushed the ranger corporal!

 

Another pair of sizzling, erratic shafts of bright purple lightning-like beams cracked in the dark tunnel and struck one of the fiends, pushing it some twenty feet away, and buying just enough time for Laila to get into a defensive stance as Gnine sent a flaming bolt of fire, hitting the third and causing it to yowl like something that could barely be called feline.

Laila didn’t give the third one time to recover.

She lept forward, slid under the creature’s claws, blew her bangs out of her face, sliced open its belly with one sword, and half gashed open the demon’s scaly leg with the other.

The demon shrieked in pain, stubbled, and fell facedown onto the ground.

Laila stabbed it in the back of its neck, severing its spine.

The ranger corporal did not like half-dead enemies.

She liked them dead.. all the way!

Another pair of jagged shafts of purple lightnings jazzed right past her and the last demon crumbled, its chest caved in.

“Well..”, said Merisoul, merrily. “That went well!”

“Damit.”, spat Laila when she bent down to inspect the corpses. “Two more arrows, broken beyond repair and are now totally unsalvageable. I really hope I get paid. Or I am never going to be able to replace these.”

“You will get all the arrows you need.”, said Gnine, looking down at the dead fiends. “I will personally pay for them. Or have them crafted for you.. If and when I get my throne..”

“Ow? That’s generous of you.”, smiled Laila —a something she rarely did.

“Of course, my dear girl. You are risking your all, coming here with me.”, replied Gnine.

“Actually, I am here just to make sure you come back and in one piece.. As for your promise, I would like the same deal for ‘Bree’ as well!”, she smirked.

“Why? She’s not here..”, scowled the gnome.

“She’s my cousin. She gets what I get.. Unless you want to explain why she’s not getting the same generosity from the prince of the gnomes.. To her face!”

Gnine Tinkerdome sighed.

“And something for Merisoul as well. If anyone is risking anything, it’s her.”, she added.

“It’s alright, love. I don’t really need gifts. What I need has long been forfeit from me and can not be procured. Only comprehended, earned and merited.. Something neither my old master can give, nor my new shall ever deign to bless upon me..”, said Merisoul, with her own sigh.

 

The hour was early.

And it had been four days since they had entered the silent vaults under Silent Hills.

Early or late, it didn’t matter. Fiends, demons, and.. other ‘things’ came at them constantly, relentlessly, and mindlessly..

Yes.

Mindlessly..

And always insane!

As if the Demon Fog had driven everything in it, fiend, beast, and even the occasional walking corpse, insane..

They would come at them and just charge them.

Like some endless stream of rotting debris being carried off in some nightmarish, swift-running river.

Other than what they had offered thus far, the vaults themselves were barren, silent, and bereft of cognatious life. Gnine hadn’t minded it at first. As a matter of fact, he’d marveled at the geometry of it all. In a very non-human, defiantly gnomish way, the structural design of the vaults under the hills was.. beautiful! After four days —and nights, however, he’d started having doubts, for they hadn’t seen or met a single other soul.. The unearthly beautiful half-born, Merisoul, had inspected everything she could with mild interest, pointing at this or that —things she thought were… well… interesting. Laila had found the lifeless halls depressing at best. ‘Spooky’, was the word she thought was more fitting. Perhaps, if and when ‘life’ came back to these halls, vaults, and vast chambers, it might make these hills ‘spectacular’, though, even then, she thought, she wouldn’t have stayed here even if she were being paid for it.. Laila loved nature. And trees, and the sun.. None of which, she would ever find here. She looked down at her little friend, Gnine, with sympathy as she huffed her bangs out of her eyes. From her point of view, he was genetically predestined to like such depressing and dreary places.

There was something about this place that Laila truly found.. intimidating?

She was not really sure.

These vaults, great as they were, were also silent. Too silent. Much like the tombs under Serenity Home temple. Laila had been down there, but only once. Sort of as a private ‘dare’. It was cool, dark, not musty or moldy, nor did the place stank of death or anything.. just.. ‘still’.. and unmoving. And this place, these halls, and the vast, empty chambers they had left behind, were just like how those tombs had been. But with much, much more dread and certainly at a larger magnitude.

Monumentally so. 

It made her feel diminished, sparse, scared..

..And alone.

 

Laila inadvertently shivered.

 

Yep, her forest, her trees, and her sun, out there, was much, much more preferable than here and now.

What truly hit her was the thing she secretly feared most. That she was likely going to lose one of her oldest friends; Gnine Tinkerdome, to these halls, even should they survive and succeed in their endeavor, for here would be his home and his kingdom, and not Serenity Home anymore, and just the thought of that, brought a knotted lump up to her throat she found trouble sending back down..

She sighed and tried to remember their happier times. It was something she often did, for she knew it was important to keep one’s spirits up. If they fell to despair, likely the next encounter would be their last.

“Now there’s a gloomy thought!”, murmured Laila.

“Happy thoughts, girl, happy thoughts.”

Then she thought of ‘Bree’ Bremorel, her cousin and wondered what she was doing right now. She remembered the voice call they had received from her some months ago and inadvertently smiled.

So.. Thomas, that skinny boy, had finally garnered enough courage to be able to speak with her cousin, let alone go on some mission with her. Who would send that kid on any mission? The boy was a bookworm! And suddenly he was sent all the way to Dim Woods on some dangerous mission? With her ravishing and equally raving cousin, Bremorel Songsteel?

Laila liked Thomas.

Yes, they had never really had much in the way of interaction, other than the rare times she’d visit the town temple and he would greet her with his serious but generous smile.. And when they’d see him scurrying behind them like someone’s lost puppy whenever they returned to town in hopes of finding some desperate opportunity to speak, or at least get a glimpse of Bree.

Laila thought he was a good boy even if she found his quite mindless and very nearly melancholic obsession with her cousin a bit creepy..

Then, perhaps because they hadn’t seen each other for some time, Laila felt she should amend her perspective.

Thomas was not just a good boy, he was a good young man. Good, decent, calm, well-mannered, and well educated, but never condescending the way most ‘well educated’ tended to become. And both the orphans and the other children of the town loved him, as he’d somehow find the time, among his overcrowded temple duties and his studies to engage in all sorts of games with them, particularly the one called hog-ball even though he would end up losing in most.

Laila smiled.

Hog-ball; a game that involved a rough, ragged ball wrapped and knotted with strips of leather thongs, and lots of pulling, pushing, kicking, and tripping. Laila had played it a few times before, but only after she’d become a ranger novice. It was too rough a game and seemed to have one basic rule; if you ended up with lots of scratches, scrapes, a black eye, preferably two, and likely a bloody nose, you won —in a personal achievement sense.

Gnine had played it too. Gnine played everything that would get him hurt, for some reason. And when he played hog-ball, he chose to be the goalkeeper; the sole person where EVERYONE pulled, pushed, kicked, and tripped! Kids on their teams wanted larger boys to stand in front of their goal. Someone who could take the heat, AND block the big barrel; the goal. And Gnine would defiantly be their team’s goalkeeper and take all the heat.. just not block the goal. Once, the opposing team had simply picked him up and stuffed him, head first, into the barrel, along with the leather ball!

Her cousin, Bree, had participated in them since she was six and always came back with black eyes, a bloody nose, split lips, skinned knees, ankles, and knuckles. But she would also return triumphant and likely laid waste the whole playground!

The children of Serenity Home had heaved in collective and popular relief when she’d been drafted off to be trained as a ranger!

Another time, some years back, when they had come to town after a particularly long patrol, they had chanced upon one such game. Bree had elbowed her and both had entered the fray where they had ended up in opposing teams. Thinking back, Laila conceded that her cousin had deliberately joined the side where Thomas had been.

Poor boy.

He had run in front of her cousin the whole time, screaming like a lunatic and literally throwing himself on anyone who would try to tackle her! It had been a mindless, selfless, totally unnecessary, and endearing brevity on the boy’s part, leaving him massively scraped, thoroughly grilled, heart-breakingly bleeding, and outright concussed, but had given Bree the opportunity to score an epic goal!

Her cousin, however, had NOT found his ‘protective’ approach amusing..

At all.

She’d raged down upon him, hissing and screaming at his witless attitude all the while, until she’d found him lying knocked unconscious—

—with a stupid smile on his face!

Bremorel hadn’t talked for two days after that. She’d just steamed with confused furry and equally puzzled and somewhat scared expression on her face. Laila had kept her company with badly concealed amusement, triggering further frustration from Bree.

 

Funny how the stupid things people did in life had such devastating effects on others.. More so than the smarter choices they made.

Thinking back, she could still remember what Thomas had said, when she’d asked him why he’d acted so.. ‘rashly’.. rather than be the smart person that he was..

The boy had said, in his calm, serious voice;

“The smart choice was the stupid choice; no one is going to hurt Morel so long as I am around.”

 

Laila chuckled.

The stupid things people did, indeed!

But then, Laila wasn’t one to complain either.

She entertained bangs!

The girls back in Serenity called them ‘fringes’ but Laila liked to call them ‘bangs’. Sounded more.. well.. ‘rangery!’

Rangery? Was that even a word?

Rangerish, then..

Laila snorted. Like that made a better word!

She deliberately dismissed both words and returned her attention to the issue at hand;

Bangs!

Bangs were bad in fights..

Bang kept getting in her eyes..

Bangs made seeing near impossible when swinging swords while dancing among fiends, demons, and crazed corpses..

Bangs made aiming a problem too..

But there she was.. persistent with her bangs perpetually biting into her eyes..

 

The things people did to impress others.. Even when they weren’t there to be impressed!

 

Laila huffed her bangs out of her eyes and plucked another arrow out of one of the dead fiends.

The arrow splintered.

“Damit!”, she murmured in frustration.

That was the third arrow now, totally destroyed!

✱ ✱ ✱

It’s a big room.”, whispered Whimsi Lola.

“Big? How big?”, asked Gnine, to his sprite familiar in hushed voices.

“Big..”, replied the tiny, ‘less-than-six-inch’ girl as she hovered next to Gnine’s head.

“Big like.. a farmhouse?”, asked Gnine.

“Big..”, repeated Whimsi Lola.

“The farmhouse and the barn?”

“Big..”

“Ok.. the farm itself, then?”

“Big..”

“Two farms?”

“Big..”

“Hmm.. Three?”

 

Laila just stared at the two as they ‘haggled’ about the size of the room with the eerie light, at the end of the hall, some two hundred yards away.

Merisoul though seemed much amused and caressed and stroked her own familiar, Jay the little pseudodragon. Jay purred and made happy croaking noises as he sent his pretty mistress mental images of the room ahead and indeed, it was..

 

“Big..”

 

“Four farms? Geez, how big is that room?, Gnine asked in an exasperated voice.

Whimsi Lola shrugged.

“Big..”

“Great Heavens, girl. Don’t you have a word to describe just how big it is?”, fumed Laila finally.

“No.”, replied Whimsi simply.

“Well, is it ten farms big?”, she asked.

“Dunno..”, said the sprite vaguely. “How big is ‘ten farms big?'”

“And this is why I never have pets!”, she glared at the minute girl.

“I am not a pet.”, replied Whimsi Lola with pure indignation and added with a disparaged huff, “I am an indentured cooperative auxiliary! I would have thought a big girl like you would know the difference. Apparently, I was mistaken!”

Laila glared at the minute creature buzzing in the air.

“I don’t think you even know what you just said, means.”, she growled back.

“Of course I do. All fey know about debts and what they entail, and we very much stick to them, once owed, Ranger Lieutenant Laila Wolvesbane!”, replied Whimsi Lola, buzzing higher and staring down at the ranger corporal with a distinctly superior tone.

“Don’t you look down on me, young lady! And it’s ‘Ranger Corporal’. Not lieutenant.”, scowled Laila.

“Not from what I heard, you aren’t!”, sniffed the ‘not-even-six-inch’ fey girl with admirable disdain.

“What?”, stared Laila up at the tiny, buzzing girl.

“We fey always correctly define things so we are not called upon our mistakes that would lead us to more debt. Don’t you know anything? You had Mistress Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane, the Ritual Guardian, for months with you to learn you all this!”, piped down Whimsi Lola in disgust. Then she turned to Gnine and gave him a look of pure exasperation. “How do you mortals even manage to live as long as you do, not knowing anything that goes around you?”

Gnine coughed.

Laila just ogled at her.

The little creature turned to Merisoul and scolded her as well.

“You are not fey, ‘Soul Keeper’, but you are aware of the things I speak. Why have you not learned them these things?”

“It is a mortal thing, dear Whimsi Lola.”, replied Merisoul. “It takes time for them to be adequately equipped with the necessary wisdom to start to notice such things. And by the time they do.. well.. they run out of time!”

The tiny Whimsi Lola glared down balefully at Gnine.

“You had better not run out of time soon, Master Gnine Tinkerdome! We just started having some decent fun!”

“I.. will make a point not to..”, replied Gnine a bit deflated.

“So.. I am a Ranger Lieutenant now? When did this happen?”, asked Laila a bit shaken.

“One month, twenty-four days, and the time since we entered this horrible Demon Fog! The Fey do not come here so I do not know exactly. It happened after your mothers’ oath-sisters’ daughter, a Bremorel Songsteel and the Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood returned back to the mortal town you know as Serenity Home. They had both you and your cousin change ranks!”

Laila ogled at the tiny creature, some more..

“Wow.”, said Gnine. “That must have been some mission those two went to. I wonder what happened?”

“They fought many very big creatures there, with the elves and some dwarves. Creatures that have no respect, called Greater Orken. The elves warned us not to come near, so the details of what happened are a bit sketchy.”, shrugged Whimsi Lola.

“The Orken attacked the elves, again?”, Laila asked feeling a bit sick.

“Yes. But the elves were ready this time. And were backed up by your cousin and the Temple Guardian. Many elves still died, but then the dwarves from Elder Hills came, and together, they defeated these Greater Orken.”

“But.. why would the Orken attack the elves again?”, frowned Laila. “..unless they wanted the north of Ritual Forest cleared to move in their main forces without hindrance when the time came.. And I think the time finally did come! Dammit. We had better get moving and fast.”

“So we are back to the room ahead, then.”, said Gnine, staring down the two hundred-yard, tunnel-like hall.

“Big!”, prompted Whimsi!

Laila sighed.

“She is right, you know.”, said Merisoul from behind them. “The room is rather big. Possibly bigger than your Serenity Home itself, though its purpose escapes me. Why do the little races want to always build things so much bigger than they are? And certainly bigger than they need?”

“Well.. we like to..”, stammered Gnine.

“..compensate for something, perhaps?”, smiled Merisoul.

“We just like to emphasize things, that’s all.”, replied the gnome sternly then shut up.

The unearthly girl smiled at him again then started down the long tunnel.

“I think you just got served.”, snickered Laila.

“Yes. Yes, I did..”, agreed, Gnine, then he smirked at the ranger lieutenant. “But at least I got served by something otherworldly..”

Laila scowled at him, then up at the little, buzzing ‘indentured cooperative auxiliary’..

✱ ✱ ✱

Gnine Tinkerdome gazed down the eerily lit room. But to call this place a ‘room’, was like calling the gigantic monstrosity of a T-Rex they had fought months ago in the Arashkan Arena, a rock lizard! It seemed to go on and on and on forever and it was not empty. Rows and rows of tall, stone boxes were laid out and aligned both vertically and horizontally in military precision so much so that it was downright creepy.

“Wow..”, said the Ranger Lieutenant Laila Wolvesbane from behind in hushed awe. “What is this place?”

Gnine looked up to see the succubi half-born, Merisoul Xyrotwu flap her wings overhead, with unveiled envy as she glided past them again, doing a wide circle in the great hall. It seemed like she was having a lot of fun while doing it. Fun, Gnine thought, that he would never hope to achieve. The gnome had many weak spots in his life. His unquenchable desire to be the things he saw, pretty faces, and to be able to fly, at will, and free of constraints. He secretly gave a side-long glance at his closest friend, Laila, and saw similar envy in her eyes. But there was a distinct nuance in how they viewed the half-born’s flight. Laila viewed it as something unique and perhaps wanted to try it out of thrill, and because it would make travel much easier on her feet.. Quite a practical wont, really. Gnine, on the other hand, much preferred the immense pleasure he could only imagine it would give him. The kind of pleasure only ‘total freedom’ would give. He watched Merisoul, a magnificent creature; her raven black wings stretched, her arms wide open, her honey-brown hair whipping among her dark, crowning horns, her very nearly black-purple strapless dress fluttering, and her tiny, baby pink feet tickling and who had a distinct dreamy expression on her face, disappear in the distance.

“Wow..”, repeated the Ranger Lieutenant Laila Wolvesbane from behind in hushed awe. “I feel jealous, now. I mean, you have got to admit, that’s just awesome!”

“Yes. Yes, it is.. It is almost a sin, watching her like this and know how hard she tries to be a mortal. She must truly want honest love and compassion.”

“She’s an idiot!”, fumed Laila.

“What? That’s a bit harsh, now, don’t you think?”, asked the gnome, taken aback with her sudden vehemence.

“That girl already feels love. And she certainly feels both passion and compassion..”, replied the ranger girl, frowning after the succubi half-born.

“How do you know?”, asked Gnine, a bit surprised because Laila wasn’t one to open up easily, nor give her opinion about ‘feelings’ and ’emotions’. On this score, he thought she was more catatonic than her cousin, Bremorel had ever been. As a matter of fact, he knew Bree displayed her emotions, like, all the time. Yes, it was mostly limited to anger, but Gnine knew it was to hide her real feelings. Laila, on the other hand, was always.. well.. ‘cool’.. Which is how she hid her emotions..

“Gnine.”, she said sternly, looking down at the gnome. “You do not sacrifice your own blood the way she keeps doing to ‘heal’ others, without some sort of genuine feelings. No one can be that ‘chore-oriented’. I mean, look at Lady Magella. She healed us so many times, I can’t even come up with a number, and she still snapped at the end and she doesn’t even have to bleed to heal us.”

“Huh..”, grunted Gnine.

“That girl..”, Laila said, pointing at the general direction of the succubi half-born, “..does that every time she thinks any of us are in danger. I have yet to see her flinch when she is being attacked. I mean, she’s all like, ‘meh’, when a demon trice her size incoming at her, yet she very nearly panics when we are. That just can’t be ‘chore’!”

“Hmmm..”, mused the gnome, also looking in the direction where Merisoul had disappeared.

“Yes, she has issues. Issues I could only define using words like, monumental and otherworldly.. But she feels love, passion, and compassion. I can not imagine a girl who does not have those and do the things she does.. Have you seen her face? Actually seen it, when Princess Lorna said, ‘I thought you were my friend..’, back when we had just ran away from High Woods and were hiding in that cave? And the time when the two of us declared her as our friend when we were stumbling in that bloody Demon Fog? She very nearly broke down and cried. Had we been just a bit less nonchalant, or a bit more formal in our impromptu declaration of friendship, I fully believe she would have fallen apart.. Like, really fallen apart.. I was half afraid we had, inadvertently dismantled her! That girl lives for things we have and take for granted.. The things every ‘mortal’ has. Her problem isn’t the total lack of the things she wants. It’s connecting what she has, to her heart.. and mind.. She can’t relate.”, she said, and not without a certain amount of rage.

“Damn..”, Gnine whispered. “That’s.. that’s just sad..”

“When she says, she is broken, she actually means it. And until WE, her FRIENDS, find a way to make her relate to things she already has, she will STAY broken.”

“That’s going to be one, hard task, that is.. And I must admit, I am impressed AND pleased you opened up, the way you just did. Thank you.”, said Gnine happily.

Laila just stared down at the gnome.

“Just which part of anything I said, gave you the impression I was talking about me, let alone opening up, little man?!”

“Ahhaa..”, smirked Gnine. “..Anger! You always get angry when I am right.”

“No, I don’t.”, scoffed Laila.

“Yes, you do.”

“No. I. Don’t!”

“Then what’s with the name-calling?”, snickered the gnome.

“It’s the pre-warning you get before I knock you out of your socks!”, Laila fumed.

Gnine snickered, some more.

“You know, you really should go and have a long sit-down with that pretty boy, D.D. Dexter!”

Laila’s eyes blazed!

“That. Is. Non. Of. Your. Business. Dead. Man!”, she hissed at him.

“The well-being of my oldest and closest friend is non of my business? Just what world are you living in, girl?”, asked Gnine, still smirking. “If you are going to smack me, by all means, do, but my stance in this matter isn’t going to change.”

Laila glared down at him even more. Lucky for her though, or perhaps for the still smirking gnome, Merisoul appeared and did a stunning dive in their direction, swung up at the last moment, then gently settled down next to them!

“Wow, girl. That was truly spectacular, amazing, mind-boggling, and simply awesome.”, admitted Gnine.

 

Merisoul blushed!

And both Laila and Gnine noticed it.

 

That.. had never happened before.. Merisoul never showed any emotion other than perpetual sadness in her otherworldly beautiful face. Yet, here she was blushing..

Gnine ogled at her.

Because a blushing Merisoul was a whole new definition of ‘otherworldly beauty’!

Laila cleared her throat as a certain heat washed over her.

Damn!..

The half-born was unprecedentedly beautiful and Laila just now understood what would have happened had the girl actually used her succubi heritage over them the whole time she had been with them.

She also got a glimpse of what the girl truly meant, when she’d said, she was ‘hungry’ and hadn’t ‘eaten’ since she’d been forced to switch masters!

‘She must be starving!”, she thought, more than unnerved. ‘How does she even stay sane?’

 

“Tha.. thank you, Master Gnine.”, stammered Merisoul, still blushing in a baby pink-red color.

Gnine tried to clear his mind but failed.

Laila stepped on his foot and asked with a somewhat hoarse voice, “Uhh.. What have you seen?”

“Tombs..”, Merisoul replied. “These stone boxes are tombs.. All of them.. Thousands upon thousands of them.. It goes on for as far as I dared to fly..”

Gnine reeled back in desolate horror.

“Tombs? What the..? Why?..”, he spluttered.

“Relevant questions.”, Merisoul replied, all business again. “I suspect they all contain someone in them.”

“How do you..?”, the Gnine shuddered.

“They all have similar-dissimilar names, carved on brass plaques at one end of each box.”, she said.

“How do you mean, ‘similar-dissimilar’?”

“The names are all unique, but have a similar phonetic function, meaning they are likely all kin or of the same race and familial clan, Master Gnine. I believe we found your Silent Gnomes. I am, however, afraid it might be a bit too late for them.”

 

Laila suddenly felt sympathy for her little friend when she saw the sick expression on his face..

✱ ✱ ✱

Gnine, Laila, and Merisoul examined the ‘tombs’ for hours only to find very little more than they had expected to find. And now, Gnine was sitting on the cold, smooth floor of the immense hall of tombs with his back on one of the stone boxes and seemed very much on the verge of breaking down when the succubi half-born silently came and sat next to him.

Quietly, she put one arm over his other shoulder and hugged him closer to herself, and spoke in whispers. “I am sorry Master Gnine. I did the best I could to bring you here.”

“Tis alright, dear Soul. None of this was your fault, nor your doing. We were a couple of centuries too late.”, sniffed the little gnome.

“I know all seems lost, but I am not certain, nor do I know if they are actually dead or in some kind of suspended animation or cryo-sleep. If so, then there must be some way to deactivate it. Otherwise, It doesn’t make sense, preparing all these stone boxes, just to lie down in them and die.. Besides, the logistics behind it all doesn’t add up, either.”

“How do you mean?”, asked Gnine with a hoarse voice, stifling another sniff.

“There must have been a considerable number of gnomes left behind who were not put to ‘sleep’. Gnomes that had to ‘activate’ these ‘sleep-stones’, to care for them, and to make sure they were left unscathed.. Basic logistics and maintenance.”, she explained.

“She’s right.”, Laila said as she appeared between the stone boxes, further down the hall. “Other than the wear and tear of ‘time’, I noticed pretty much all the containers, or coffins, are still in pristine condition. So I checked for tracks. The floor is not marble, but very smooth and tightly fit stone, much like the walls. There is, however, quite a bit of dust. I found many tracks. Most of them belong to the demons we have slain on the way here. I found some small bootprints too. Seeing as you are one of my oldest friends, I could easily say, these prints also belonged to gnomes, though they are old. Very old. I happened upon many dead demons as well. Having looked closer, they all seem to have been ambushed. I suspect that Temez girl and her friends came through here. She did say they cleared all they could on their way to the Door.. The ones we met thus far were likely wandering around, rather than stationary sentries. We should move on.”

“We could be just wasting our time, you know..”, Gnine said in a depressed tone.

Laila looked down at the little gnome.

She felt a fluttering pang in her heart, for him.

But she refused to show any sympathy.

Her brows crossed and her gaze turned hard.

“Get up.”, she said with an unmerciful hiss.

“Wha—?”, gapped the gnome at her.

“I said, get up. Or I will hurt you. This is no time for your sorry feelings. We didn’t come all the way here, and through Hell, just to go back empty-handed. My town.. Your town needs you.. And I have no desire to see it go to waste by the Hell-Spawn Orken. I have seen firsthand what they did to Arashkan. I have seen what they did to High Woods as well, and so have you. Will you give up now and let our town, our homes burn because you are feeling sorry?”

Merisoul tried a poor attempt of a cough.

“Well, now. That was a bit harsh, girl, don’t you think?”, Gnine said taken aback. “‘Get up’ was more than enough. You didn’t have to beat me into the ground.”

“I don’t do ‘half ways’, little man.”, said Laila sternly. “Nor do I like doing repeats, re-do’s, begs, or pleads.”

“Apparently you don’t!”, mumbled the gnome. “I think you have hung around Bree for a bit too long.. All her bad habits seem to have rubbed off on you.”

Laila scowled even harder.

“Okay, okay..”, said the gnome in defeat. “There.. I am up! Geez, girl, you can be harsh at times..”

“Quit whining, Gnine!”, scoffed the ranger lieutenant.

“I think she’s right.”, smiled Merisoul.

“By all means, chose her side..”, grumbled Gnine.

“Well, yes. You are cute. But she’s prettier, and she has bangs!”

“…”

✱ ✱ ✱

Finally.. That was one, big, room.. We must have walked for.. How many hours?”, wondered Gnine Tinkerdome.

“More than five, closer to six.”, came Laila Wolvesbane’s voice, off to his left.

“How do you know, girl? There’s no sun here to determine—”, wondered the gnome.

“She’s been counting her steps.”, said Merisoul Xyrotwu simply, from his other side.

“What?”

“Easier than counting steady heartbeats, I must admit. But I have wings and skip a step or three, now and then..”, the succubi half-born replied a bit abashed.

“You have been counting your heartbeats?”, asked Laila, with a surprised tone. “Won’t that be a bit.. inaccurate? Considering it changes when sleeping or in exertion such as running or even prolonged walking, as we have been doing.”

“Yours does. So does Master Gnine’s. Mine?.. Mine only changes under particular conditions? Otherwise, it’s much like a metronome swinging on even surface.”, replied Merisoul, with a reluctant voice.

“That is ..remarkable; a truly metronomic heart!”, admired Laila.

“Not as much as you make it sound.”, Merisoul answered with the same tone.

“How so? And how do you do it?”

“I don’t do it, dear Laila. It has to do with emotions. More like the lack of them in my case. Hard to have a hyped heartbeat when you can’t feel love, fear, anger —or any other form of excitement.”, she said in a monotonous voice.

“But you said, yours does, under particular—”

“—When I feed, dear Laila.. My heart rate changes only when I ‘feed’..”, came the half-born’s defeated voice.

“When you feed?”, asked the ranger lieutenant a bit confused. Then it dawned on her. “Ow.. when you ‘feed!'”

 

Gnine coughed.

Laila blushed furiously and shut up.

 

Gnine cleared his throat after several silent moments.

“Ahem.. Back to the issue at hand, then..”, he offered.

“The thing you are actually wondering..”, said Laila in a subdued and flushed voice. “We came just over 30,000 yards. Each stone box/coffin/crate/or whatever you want to call them is two yards long and one yard apart. There were twelve rows, each row has four lines of crates grouped together. You do the math. I did the steps!”

“Fair enough.”, Gnine said and did a quick calculation in his mind but voiced it for the benefit of the girls. “That’s 10,000 crates per row..”

“How did you come up with that number? I said 30,000 yards..”

“Well..”, said the gnome. “..Each box is two yards long so we can reduce 10,000 yards off right there and another for the length of each crate.. Then we have twelve rows, each row with four crates, making the lot 48 actual rows in total. Now we time that with the 10,000 crates and we’ll get 480,000 crates in total!”

Laila whistled..

“That.. is a lot of crates!”

“It is indeed..”

“You reduced 10,000 yards, twice, right at the start. Why?”, she asked.

“Because, my dear girl, 10,000 yards of it is just empty space between each sequential crate, and the second was because 20,000 is in ‘yards’. It is not the number of crates per column.. Each crate is two yards long, so that’s 20,000 divided by two..”

“Ow.. right..” *cough* “Well.. Let’s just get moving, shall we?”

Gnine did not laugh. He did not even snicker. A friend never laughed at his friend, and certainly not at a girls’ blindside or folly. But that wasn’t really the reason.

The Heir to all the gnomes of Silent Hills had just come to a stunning realization.

These.. were not crates..

These.. were tombs containing his gnomes, his people!

 

Damn..

 

The adventures of the Wizard Prince Gnine Tinkerdome, the Ranger Lieutenant Laila Wolvesbane, and the sad, otherworldly creature, Merisoul Xyrotwu will continue as they travel deeper into the demon-infested vaults of Silent Hills, desperately seeking answers and allies, and the original denizens of the hills..


 

book 01 books dungeons and dragons duygusal karakter analizi role play serenity home

Ritüel

Ritüel

Timeline:

Grup, yirmi günlük bir yolculuktan sonra Serenity Home’a gelmiştir. Kasabanın büyüklüğü ve kalabalık oluşu, Inshala’da istemsiz bir panik oluşturmuş ve gruptan kendisini ormanda bırakmalarını rica eder. Kimse onu yalnız başına ormanda bırakmak  istemese de kasabaya gidilmesi gerekmektedir. Merisoul da görsel farklılığını bahane ederek arkada, Inshala ile birlikte kalmayı tercih eder. Bu kısa hikaye Inshala’nın, Gnine’a  verdiği bir sözü tutmak amacıyla ormanda beklerken yaptığı sekiz saatlik ritüel bir “çağırma” büyüsü ve sonrasını anlatmaktadır.

 

 

 

Grup isteksizce dağılır ve uzaklaşır. Grubun içerisinden bir çift kısık ve acımasız göz ona son bir defa daha bakar, sonra diğerleriyle beraber o da gözden kaybolur.

Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane derin bir nefes alır.

Son bir kaç ay ona pek de nazik davranmamıştır. Geri dönüp baktığında, geceleri ormanda kedi gibi.. durur ve kendi kendisini düzeltir; ‘kedi olarak’ oynamayı o kadar sevmemiş olsa, muhtemelen o haşhaşiler geldiğinde onları duyar, bir şekilde onlara engel olabilir ve yaşlı efendisi de şimdi hayatta olurdu.

İçindeki ses ise ısrarla ona kendisiyle dürüst olmasını, o gece efendisiyle olmuş olsaydı şu anda da efendisiyle olacağını söylemektedir; “Ölü olarak”.

Inshala’nın içindeki ses, Inshala’ya mütemadiyen kıt biriyle konuşuyormuş muamelesi yapan, acımasız ve ona karşı hicvetmeyi seven bir sestir!

Inshala gökyüzüne bakar ve bir süre onun masmavi güzelliğinde kaybeder kendisini.

Themalsar Tapınağı’nın beş yüz yıl birikmiş cinayetleri ve umarsız katliamları sonucu önce kokuşmuş, sonra çürümüş ve en nihayetinde de ölmüş topraklarına tertemiz, yeni bir hayat getirmek için yaptığı büyü kendisinden büyük bir bedel tahsil etmişti. Nelerinden fedakarlık etmesi gerektiğini biliyor olmuş olsa da bunun sonuçları beklentilerinden çok daha fazla, çok daha ağır olmuştu. Kendisini bildi bileli beraber olduğu ve delicesine sevdiği kedisini bir daha göremeyecek, onunla asla bir daha beraber olamayacak olması gözlerinin dolmasına sebep olur.

Bedeni de en az kendisini hissettiği kadar yorgun, bitmiş ve eriyip gitmiş gibidir. Onu her zaman olduğundan çok daha yetişkin gösteren dolgun feyzası kurumuş, gerisinde gözleri ve yanakları çökmüş, küçük sıska bir kız bırakmıştır.

Artık her şey kendisine olduğundan daha büyük, daha gürültülü ve anlaşılmaz, dolayısıyla da çok daha ürkütücü gelmektedir..

Inshala, bir şeyi bilmek, onu tecrübe etmek ve sonuçlarıyla yüzleşmek zorunda kalmanın üç, birbiriyle hiç alakası olmayan, apayrı şeyler olduğunu en acı ve yaralayıcı bir şekilde öğrenmiştir.

Inshala, iri  göz yaşlarını siler ve tekrar derin bir nefes alır ve aldığı nefesin bedelini, göğsüne saplanan bir sancıyla öder. Yüzü buruşmuş, titreyen elleriyle olduğu yerde bir süre öylece durur.

Arkasından hafif bir kanat sesi duyulur.

Merisoul Xyrotwu, Inshala’ya yaklaşır, düşerse onu tutacakmış gibi ona doğru tetikte bekler ama iyi olup olmadığını sormaz. Bu soru ikisine de can sıkacak kadar sıklıkla sorulmuştur zaten. ‘Kız kardeşim Inshala iyi değilse bunu bana mutlaka söyler zaten!’, diye geçirir içinden.

Inshala, Merisoul’un varlığını fark eder ancak onunla ne yapması gerektiğini bilemez. Aylar önce grubun diğer üyeleri ile ilk karşılaşmasını hatırlar. İçi kin ve nefret dolu, hareket eden her şeyi efendisinin ölümünden sorumlu tutup vahşice saldırmasını ve neredeyse onları da çağırdığı yıldırımlarla yakıp kül edecekken Lady Moira’nın olduğu yerde durup, kutsal bir ışık halesi içerisinde duruşunu hatırlar. O sahne asla hafızasından çıkmamıştır. Hayatında hep onun gibi güçlü, azimli, inançlı ve muhteşem olmak istemiştir ama bu sıfatların hiçbiri kendisi gibi bir ucubeye bahşedilmemiştir. Niye edilsin ki? Daha bir bebekken etrafındaki herkesi varlığı ile korkutmuş ve ormana, vahşi hayvanlara yem edilmek üzere bırakılmamış mıydı?

Ama onlarla tanışıp, beraber beklenmedik bir maceraya atıldığında aslında kendisiyle de yeniden tanışma fırsatı elde etmişti. ‘Belki de efendimi daha iyi dinlemiş olmalıydım..’, diye geçirir içinden, zira onun elinde büyüdüğü on altı yıl boyunca yaşlı efendisi kendisine asla bir ucube muamelesi yapmamıştı. Belli ki bir ucube olmadığını anlaması yıllar sürecekti. Ama anlasa da muhtemelen buna asla gerçekten inanmayacaktı.

İşin can alıcı yanı ise, bu gerçeği onun anlamasını sağlayan kişi de aslında grubu ilk gördüğünde, daha o zaman bile varlığını ilk fark ettiği, ortalıkta bir hayalet gibi sessiz, bir kedi gibi sinsi ve bir tilki kadar kurnaz olan o karalar içinde dolaşan kişinin ta kendisi olacaktı.

Inshala hayatında hiç bu kadar kötü bir şekilde tökezlediğini hatırlamıyordu..

‘O’nun iyi birisi olmadığını, daha ilk varlığını sezdiğinde anlamıştı. Ama nedense, karşılaştığı birçok kötüye yaptığı gibi onu da kocaman pençeleri ve birer hançeri andıran dişleriyle parçalayıp öldürmek istememişti ve anlayamadığı şeyin özeti de buydu işte.

Kavgalarda kendisi hep önden saldırırken ‘o’ arkadan, kendisi arkadan saldırmak istediğinde ise, o yandan saldırmıştı.. Onun aklından geçenleri bir türlü kestiremiyordu ve bu durum kendisini çileden çıkarıyordu.

Inshala, etrafında olup biten olayların elbisesi gibi derli toplu ve güzelce katlanmış, saçları ve elleri gibi tertemiz ve bakımlı olmasını seven biriydi.

Themalsar’la yaptıkları son savaşta yediği büyü onu hiçliğin içinde, kapana kısılmış bir fare gibi kitleyince hissettiği korku neredeyse onun aklını kaçırmasına sebep olmuştu. Düşünebildiği tek şey, yeni tanıştığı bu insanların kendisini o karanlığa terk etmeyeceklerine bağladığı umuttu, çünkü o umudu kendisine bir şekilde yine onlar vermişlerdi. Onun iyi birisi olmadığını düşünmesi bile nedense o umuda delicesine sarılmasına engel oluşturamamıştı..

Kendisinin sosyal bir varlık olmadığını anlaması çok sürmemişti. Sosyal olmanın ne anlama geldiğini de tam olarak anlamasa da, en azından bunun kendisinde olmadığını biliyordu artık ve ‘o’nun zihninden geçenleri kestiremeyişini de, bu durumun kendisini deli ediyor olmasını da sosyal olmayışına bağlıyordu. Ve haliylede onunla nasıl ‘sosyal’ olabileceğini de bir türlü çözemiyordu. ‘Merisoul gibi olmaya çalışsam’, diye geçirmişti içinden. ‘O herkesle sosyal!’ Ama Merisoul’un yaptıklarını kendisinin de yapması düşüncesi bile onu dehşet içerisinde bırakmıştı. Belki Laila ve Bremorel gibi olabilirdi ama onlar kuzenlerdi ve kendisi de onlarla kuzen olmayı delicesine çok istesede ‘kuzen’ olmak için kendisinde gerekli bir şeyler eksikti sanki.

Inshala, ne yaparsa yapsın her halükarda bir noktada eksik kalıp durduğunu düşünüyordu. İşte bu yüzden ‘o’nunla en baştan oluşturmuş olduğu dört kelimelik bağı sürdürmek için çaba sarf etmişti; “Sen iyi biri değilsin.”

Gerçekte ise bunu değil, başka şeyler söylemek ve sormak istiyordu ama nedense bu cümlede kitlenip kalmıştı. Bu cümle kendisi ile onun arasında sanki bir ‘merhaba’ köprüsü oluşturduğuna fena halde inanmak istiyordu.

Inshala, “Merisoul”, diye yorgun bir sesle yarı iblis’e seslenir ve bir an durur. Onu ‘yarı iblis’ diye tanımlamayı bırakması gerektiğini düşünür. Deli, kaçık, çatlak belki.. ama kesinlikle yarı ya da tam, Merisoul bir iblis değildi onun için artık.

“Buyur sevgili kız kardeşim!”, diye Merisoul’un mutlu sesini duyar. ‘Evet, kesinlikle kaçık’, diye geçirir içinden Inshala ve yaptığı hangi hareketin ya da ettiği hangi lafın bu kızda bir ‘kız kardeş’ bağını oluşturduğunu merak eder – düşünür ama aklına bir türlü açıklayıcı bir anı gelmez.

Belki benimle ‘o’nun durumu da budur. Birimizin yaptığı ya da söylediği bir şey, diğeri üzerinde bir bağın olduğu izlenimi oluşturmuş ve olay aslında bundan ibarettir.

‘Hayır’, diye başını sallar. ‘Bu kadar basit bir şey, benim gibi aptal bir kızı sürükleyip götürebilir ama ‘o’nun gibi birisi için bu mümkün değil.’, diye geçirir içinden. O kendisi gibi duygularıyla hareket eden şapşal biri değildi. Kendisi gibi kıt da değildi. Bilakis o kesinlikle çok daha zekiydi. O çok.. neydi kullandığı o kelime? plamnatik? prapnanik? Her neyse, ondandı işte.

“Benim birazdan Efendi Gnine’a verdiğim sözü yerine getirebilmem için bir ritüele başlamam gerekiyor. Bu en az sekiz saat sürecek bir ritüel. Efendi Gnine, bu süre sonlarına doğru gelecek ama ritüel boyunca benim rahatsız edilmemem ve dikkatimin dağılmaması gerekiyor. Bunun için sana güvenebilir miyim?”

Mutlu bir sesle Merisoul, “Tabii. Benim de kanatlarımı açmam için iyi bir fırsat bu. Gruplayken pek mümkün olmuyor. Alışamadılar bir türlü ve sanırım en az birisinin tüye alerjisi var.”

Inshala içinden gülümser. Merisoul biraz deli olabilir ama kesinlikle ve tamamen kendisine özel bir perspektifi olduğundan emindir. Bazen onun kadar vurdumduymaz olmak nasıl birşey acaba diye merak eder. Kendisi Merisoul’u anlamaz. Ama ona korku dolu gözlerle de bakmaz artık. Her nasılsa, bugüne kadar en az beklentisi olduğu iki kişidir onu tamamen şaşırtan; biri onu kurtardığını sanarak ellerini parçalamış ve on gün boyunca ona ağabeylik..? babalık..? bakıcılık..? doğru ismi koyamıyordur bir türlü ve bunların hiçbiri de tam oturmuyordu yerine. Dahası, ‘onun’ kendisine ağabeylik, babalık ya da bakıcılık yapması için bir sebep de göremiyordu. Lady’nin yapması en doğal olanıydı. Ya da her ne kadar kendisinden hala biraz çekiniyor olsa da, Lady Moira’nın.. Laila olabilirdi. Hep onun gibi anlayışlı ve akıllı, anlamadığı her şeyi ona tane tane anlatan, ismi gibi kendisi de güzel bir ablası olsun istemişti. Ama nedense adını kendi zihninde bile söylemeyemediği ‘o’?

Belki de gerçek, ‘o’nun dediği gibiydi ve olay sadece ‘Lady’nin emriydi’. Off yaa! Hayatında, bu kadar az kelime kullanıp yine de bu kadar çok kafasını karıştıran bir başkasıyla karşılaşmamıştı hiç. Bunun kendisini ne kadar çileden çıkardığını biliyor muydu acaba, diye Inshala ellerini pes etmişçesine havaya savurur.

Aslında dışarıdan bakıldığında ‘o’ bunların hepsi olmuştu onun için; bir ağabey, bir baba, bir bakıcı. Ama başka bir şey daha vardı orda sanki. Bundan emindi çünkü, hiçbir şey olmasa, Inshala sezgilerine güvenebileceğini biliyordu. Sezgileri onu bugüne kadar hiç yanıltmamıştı. Nihayetinde sezgileri değil miydi onunla ‘merhaba’ köprüsünü kurduran? Ne var ki sezgileri genelde yanında açıklayıcı bir not ya da bir çeşit kullanım kılavuzuyla gelmiyordu, dolayısıyla da Inshala o başka şeyin ne olduğunu tam olarak kestiremiyordu. Seziyordu ama sezdiği şeye bir isim koyamıyordu.

Ve artık ‘o’nu çözebilmek için çalıların arkasında gizlenip onu seyredebileceği bir kedisi de yoktu..

Yaşlı efendisi bu konuda ona herhangi bir şey söylememişti. Ya da belki de söylemişti ama o, içindeki sesin ona ima ettiği gibi kıt zekalı kızın tekiydi ve aradaki bağı kuramıyordu. Muhtemelen bu da o ‘sosyal’ şeysilerden biriydi kesinlikle. Belki de bunu anlayacak kadar pragdakik.. plappatik.. off yaa, neydi o kelime, işte ondan değildi.

Kendisiyle dürüst olması gerekirse muhtemelen Lady Magella ablanın ona kızdığında dediği gibi belki de sadece kuş beyinlinin tekiydi! Hem içindeki ses, hem de Lady Magella aynı anda hatalı olamazdı ya.. Ama o on günün sonunda, ‘o’ndan kendisini ayağa kaldırmasını rica ettiğinde neden yüzünün kızardığını, ya da onun gözlerine daha önce kafa tutarcasına bakabilirken, neden artık bunu yapamadığına bir cevap bulamaması ona ısrarla kafa karıştırıcı geliyordu.

Merisoul ise apayrı bir olaydı.. Kalbi durduğunda, Merisoul kendi kalbini durdurma pahasına onunkini yeniden başlatmıştı.. ‘Kim böyle bir takas yapar ki?’, diye geçirdi içinden.

O on gün kendi hayatı için debelenirken, aslında başkaları da onun hayatı için debelenmişti. Acaba aile dedikleri şey böyle bir şey miydi? Ya da sevgi sadece efendimin bana, benim de ona hissettiğim şeyden ibaret değil ve başkaları için de var olabilir miydi?

Inshala için o on gün belki de hayatının en karmaşık duygularını yığma halinde yaşadığı, neredeyse bütün ‘değişmez’lerinin, bütün ‘kesin’lerinin ve bütün ‘asla’larının bedeni ve sağlığı gibi eridiği on gün olmuştu.

Inshala kendisinden bir çok konuda, çok daha az emindi artık. Ama bir şekilde, hayatı boyunca hiç hissetmediği kadar da bir iç huzura kavuşmuştu çünkü hayatı boyunca içinde sakladığı sırları artık saklaması gerekmeyebileceği ihtimali vardı artık. Ne kendisinin bir ucube oluşu, ne Merisoul’un bir iblis oluşu, ne de ‘o’nun iyi biri olmayışı onu eskisi gibi huzursuz etmiyordu. Nihayetinde biri kalbine karşı kalbini takas etmiş, diğeri ise ucube oluşuna verilebilecek en sade, en dürüst ve en kestirme cevabı vermişti; omuz silkmişti!

Inshala bu derin düşüncelerle, Lady’nin arkada onun için bıraktığı battaniyelerden kendisine, deyim yerindeyse bir kuş yuvası yapıp içine yerleşti. Aradan neredeyse bir ay geçmiş olmasına rağmen kendisini hala zayıf, devamlı yorgun ve bitkin hissetmekteydi. Omuzları çökmüş ve omur iliği boyunca bir ağrı vardı. Ayakları da devamlı üşüyordu.

Inshala bütün yorgunluğunu bir kenara atıp, önce melodik bir sesle mırıldanmaya başlar. Sonra mırıltısı yavaşça kendisini esen rüzgarın esintisine, sonra da esintinin içinden gelen bir şarkıya bırakır.

Şarkı kendisinden dalgalar halinde etrafındaki ormana yayılır.

Themalsar da olduğu gibi, Inshala büyülü bir şarkı söylemeye başlar.

 

Merisoul bir ağacın yüksek dallarından birine konmuş, hem esen rüzgarda kanatlarını havalandırmakta, hem de etrafını seyretmektedir. Bugüne kadar doğa, orman, yeşillik gibi şeylerden zevk alabileceği hiç aklına gelmemişti. Bunları nedense can sıkıcı bulmuş, dolayısıyla da dikkatini fazla vermemişti ama yeni edindiği kız kardeşi Inshala ona yepyeni bir yanını göstermişti doğanın; dayanılmaz güzelliğini..

Doğa ve orman gibi, güzellik de onun için pek bir anlam ifade etmemişti bugüne kadar. Söz gelimi, kendisinin güzel olduğunu biliyordu. Ama bugüne kadar kimse onu güzel hissettirmemişti. Güzelliği bugüne kadar hep, on gümüşe bir altın babında bir takastan ibaret kalmıştı. Nihayetinde güzellik onun taifesi için sadece erkeklerin gözlerini kamaştırmak, dikkatlerini dağıtmak, etki altına almak ve temelde ya onları istediğin şekilde yönetmek ve yönlendirmek ya da onlardan istediğini alabilmek için bir araçtan ibaretti.

İki ay önce karşılaştığı ve tüm hayatını değiştiren o gök varlıkla yüzleşmesi gerçekten onun için bir fırsat mıydı acaba? O sivri zekâsıyla başkaları için mütemadiyen birbirinden aykırı fırsatlar oluşturmaya çalışırken gerçekte bir başkası da onun için bir fırsat mı yaratmıştı? Acaba ‘doğayı’, ‘yeşillikleri’ ve ‘güzellikleri’ bu yüzden mi fark etmeye başlamıştı?

Merisoul küçük omuzlarını silker ve üzerinde fazla düşünmek istemediği her konuya uyguladığı tekniği buna da uygular; konuyu itina ile paketler, üzerini ‘Arşiv No. ARZME-1011921’ diye kodlar ve turşuları koyduğu zihinsel kilerine kapatır!

Merisoul, sayılı günlerini artık bakması gereken bir kız kardeşi varken, böyle çok da önemli olmadığını düşündüğü şeylerle geçirmek niyetinde değildir.

Arezme Xiriso Nu Lei Karexy Rotxin Gwue, oturduğu koca dalın üstüne yüzükoyun uzanır, kanatlarını aşağı sarkıtır ve Inshala’nın şarkısını dinlemeye dalar.

 

Inshala, sekiz saat süren ritüelden sonra bitkin bir şekilde, “Merhaba”, der ‘çağırı’sına cevap veren küçük fey’e. Bitirdiği büyülü şarkı hala ormanda yankılanmaktadır.

Hemen ilerideki bir ağacın yaprakları arasından, avuç kadar küçük bir fey belirir. Fey, uzun süre bakıldığında hipnotize edecek kadar hızla çırptığı yusufçuk kanatlarıyla ağacın yaprakları arasından sıyrılır ve Inshala’nın olduğu yere yaklaşır.

Fey, Inshala’ya yaklaştıkça, ayrıntıları da belirginleşir; fey’in sadece ormana ait bir peride görüldüğünde hayatı çağrıştırabilecek çok açık, yeşilimsi-sarımsı bir rengi vardır ve uzun, neredeyse siyah denecek kadar koyu kumral saçlarını, biraz meraklı ama daha çok kızmış gibi görünen cam yeşili çekik gözlerine girmesin diye tepesinden arkaya doğru örmüştür. Minik omuzlarında ve çöp gibi ince kol ve bacaklarında silik mavi savaş dövmeleri mevcuttur. Fey yaklaşırken, elinde tuttuğu çuvaldız boyundaki mızrağını Inshala’ya doğrultmaz ama yine de hazırdaymış gibi bir izlenim verir.

Inshala, küçük fey konsun diye bir elini açmış, ona doğru uzatır.

Fey’den, boyuna göre biraz fazla efe bi ses çıkar; “Hop! Dur bakalım. Seni tanımıyorum bile ve sen oturmam için bana avucunu açıyorsun!” — ve Inshala’nın ormanda yankılanan mistik şarkısı ani bir gıcırtıyla durur!

“Her sana elini uzatanın avucuna mı oturursun sen?”, diye tersler.

Yukardan Merisoul’un kıkırdama sesleri duyulur.

“Saatlerdir burda oturmuş şarkı söylüyorsun. Başta kulağa hoş geldiğini düşündüm, merak ettim ve geldim. Sonra da ne zaman susacak diye merak ettim ve bekledim.”, diye aynı terslikle ekler.

Inshala, bu küçük perinin ters üslubuna alındıysa da bunu yüzüne yansıtmaz. Ona sadece gülümser ve “Haklısın”, der.

Küçük fey onu azarlamak için birşeyler daha söylemek ister ama Inshala’nın alttan alır havası karşısında üsteleyecek başka birşey bulamaz.

“Ne var? Neden beni koca insanların yaşadığı taşlar ve ölü ağaçlarla çevrili bu yere çağırdın?”, diye kaşlarını çatmış, asabi üslubuyla devam eder.

Inshala, “Ben Rüyalar Diyarından Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane. Seni buraya ‘muhteşem, destanlara layık ve muhtemelen hepimizin öleceği son derece tehlikeli bir maceraya davet etmek için çağırdım”, der.

Küçük fey olduğu yerde donup kalır! Gözleri fal taşı gibi açılmış ona bakar, “Sahi mi? Tehlikeli ve ölümcül olacağından emin misin?”, diye bir anda üslubu tamamen değişmiş ve heyecanlanmış bir şekilde sorar. “Buralarda ölümcül olan tek şey can sıkıntısıdır! İnsanlar buna nasıl tahammül edebiliyor?”, diye merak eder ve ekler, “Herhalde bu kadar kısa yaşamalarının sebebi de budur.”

“Ama biz burada fazla durmayacağız.”, der Inshala yumuşak bir sesle. “Buradaki işimiz bitince muhtemelen uzun bir süre, çok tehlikeli yerlere gideceğiz. Senin de bize eşlik etmeni isteriz – tabii sen de istersen..”

“Hmmm.. sana bağlı olarak mı? Yanlış anlama çok şirinsin ve sesin de çok güzel ama Rüya Diyarı pek de benim olayım değil. İki üçüz kız kardeşim ve bir de aptal erkek kardeşim var ve onların hepsi Rüya Diyarına gittiler. Hala uyuyorlar! Devamlı uyku, uyku, uyku.. ve sıfır ekşın!”, diye burnunu çekip ‘hıf’lar.

Inshala yorgun bir şekilde gülümseyerek, “Her ne kadar senin gibi cesur yürekli bir savaşçının beni koruyup kollamasını istesem de, benim bir tane koruyucum var.. sanırım.. galiba..”

“Pek emin değil gibisin.”, der küçük fey.

“Pek emin değilim zaten.”, der Inshala ve ileride merak ve ilgiyle olup biteni seyreden Gnine’a ‘gel’ işareti yaparak, “Bu Efendi Gnine Ninehundredandninetynine Tinkerdome. Kendisi buralarda oldukça tanınmış güçlü bir büyücüdür ve şer ile yapacağımız ölümcül savaşlarda kendisine göz kulak olacak, güvenilir bir arkadaş arıyor. Anlaşmanı ve bağını onunla yapacaksın.”

Gnine, iki ‘fey’e yaklaşır.

Küçük fey kuşku dolu gözlerle Gnine’ı şööööyle bir yukarıdan aşağı süzer. “Bu mu çok güçlü bir büyücü?”, der minik burnunu havaya dikerek.

“Görünüşler aldatıcı olabilir”, der Inshala, “Tıpkı sende olduğu gibi..”

Peri bunu çok makul bulmuş gibi “Bu doğru.”, der.

Inshala bir eliyle Gnine’ı işaret ederek “Kendisi, bir tek büyü ile neredeyse iki düzine mel’un yaratığı yok etmiş, zeki, düşünceli, merhametli, sadık ve grubunda çok sevilen ve çok güvenilen, önemli biridir.”, diye ekler.

“YAAAAAAAA!”, diye alık alık Gnine a bakar küçük fey, “İKİ DÜZİNE HAAA?!“. Biraz düşünür, “Maceranız tehlikeli, ölümcül ve epik olacak dedinizdi, di mi?”

“Kesinlikle”, diye söz verir Inshala.

Küçük fey gözlerini kısmış, Gnine’a daha bi alıcı gözüyle bakar. Sonra bir karara varmış gibi yüzü aydınlanır.

Gnine’a minnacık avucunu açar ve “Ön ödeme! Bin altın değerinde elmas ve yakutlar. Ayrıca ‘dilek’ bahşetmem ve bulaşık da yıkamam! Yiyecek ve olası masraflar da sana ait..”, der otoriter bir sesle..

Gnine ona bir kese dolusu mücevher uzatır.

Küçük peri keseye dokunmaz. Arkasındaki bir ağaç kovuğunu gösterir. “Para benim için değil. Mab’in birikmiş haracı o.. Şurdaki kovuğa koy, birileri gelip onu alacaktır.”, der.

Gnine, bin altın ederindeki mücevherle dolu keseyi kendisine gösterilen ağaçtaki deliğe bırakır. Onay almak için periye bakıp tekrar keseye döndüğünde kese gitmiştir!

Küçük fey mutlu bir şekilde ellerini çırpar, “Evvvvet! Haraç kabul edildi, borç kapandı, bakiye sıfırlandı ve anlaşma mühürlendi. Artık Mab’den özgürüm!”, der ve havada mutlu bir takla atar!

Sonra Gnine’a döner “Ben Whimsi Lola. Ne zaman başlıyoruz?”


Whimsi Lola, Pixie
Tiny Fey, Neutral Good

Armor Class: 15
Hit Points: (1d4 + 1 hp / owner level) 11
Speed: 10 ft., fly 30 ft.

STR 4 (-2)  DEX 20 (+5)  CON 9 (0)  INT 12 (0)  WIS 14 (+2)  CHA 15 (+2)

Skills: Perception +4, Stealth +7
Languages: Sylvan, Gnome, Common
Challenge: 1/4 (50 XP)

Magic Resistance: The pixie has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.

Innate Spellcasting: The pixie’s innate spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 12). It can innately cast the following spells, requiring only its pixie dust as a component:

At will: Druidcraft

Once per Day: Confusion, Dancing Lights, Detect Evil and Good, Detect Thoughts, Dispel Magic, Entangle, Fly, Phantasmal Force, Polymorph, Sleep

Actions: Superior Invisibility: The pixie magically turns invisible until its concentration ends (as if concentrating on a spell). Any equipment the pixie wears or carries is invisible with it.