butterfly_sunrider: (Default)
I stood before the full length mirror in my bedroom, and in my mind, I silently tallied my list of...assets:

Squeaky new leathers. Yes. My faithful lupine companion. Present and accounted for. Holy water? Tucked into a pouch on my belt. Just in case.

It was my first day going back to work after the incident at The Glade. I was supposed to bring Rinya, the sort-of-possessed wild elf druid at the center of this mess, with me on my rounds, and somehow influence her to have the strength and desire to ultimately reject transformation into one of Shar’s Nightbringers. I was being given a lot of leeway in this regard. Saving Rinya was deemed by Tathshandra to be of higher priority than the accomplishment of my typical daily tasks, and I was to succeed by any means necessary.

I strapped my many-pouched work belt around my waist, slid my longsword into its scabbard, smoothed my hair into a flattering but practical updo, and slipped my pack onto my back before taking one last gander at myself in the mirror and heading downstairs to make breakfast.

A very sleepy Ralenthra slumped in her chair at the dining room table, balancing today’s morning edition of The Silverymoon Sentinel in one hand, while she slowly scooped the breakfast I’d made into her mouth. It was an egg, bacon, cheddar and broccoli skillet. The oatmeal with fresh-picked raspberries and cream sat untouched and the orange juice glass was half full. I stopped by and kissed her on the cheek as Selune made her way under the table and sniffed for scraps. I shook my head. “Now Rale, your oatmeal is going to get cold.”

Rale mumbled through a mouthful of egg. “Not tha’ hungry.” I saw her hand snake under the table to feed Selune a few morsels.

I shook my head. “Nonsense. You were out all night last night. You need to replenish yourself, no matter what you were doing.”

My drow friend swallowed, and smirked. “I thought you wanted plausible deniability.”

“Hmph. I meant whether you were out burgling Silverymoon or boffing Tordrin,” I tickled her in the ribs and she squealed as I continued, “you’re going to need your strength later. Tonight’s the night. Nervous?”

“Me? Never!” scoffed Ralenthra as she scooped her first spoonful of oatmeal into her mouth. “I’m more worried about you. Have another day like you did yesterday, and I’ll have to pick you up in a carriage and ferry you home.”

“Oh don’t you worry. I’ve got this.” I smiled brightly, and almost believed my words. Despite my outer confidence, inside I was shaking. Rale knew it, and squeezed my hand gently before I mustered the courage to walk out the door with Selune following close behind.

~


One thing you had to commend Tathshandra and the Glade for; they were stunningly efficient. Not one full day after Shiera’s demise and she had a replacement, albeit a temporary one. The new supervisor, Tania, was a gnome with curly blonde hair, baby blue eyes, cherry lips, and a pleasant, if awkward, demeanor.

The first thing she said to me was “You have to get her out of here, she is making everyone uncomfortable!” Tanya pointed a twitching finger at a kneeling figure just outside and to the left of the door, but still visible from their vantage point. She continued, “She’s like a sentinel of creepiness.”

Selune and I stepped outside and I crouched in front of the similarly posed Rinya, who simply stared forward, past me. She still wore her weathered dark green (almost black) leather tunic but no footwear, kept her matted, coiled locks back from her face with her black, white, red, and grey-beaded headband, and wore her necklace of identically colored beads and feathers with a large, but well-worried carved bone wolverine fetish as a pendant. Her methods of communicating were unorthodox, to say the least.

“Rinya.” I said, tentatively. It was a start.

The wild elf’s eyes flickered from side to side briefly before focusing on me, her pupils dilating. She bared her teeth and snarled at me. Selune’s ears went back and she too bared her teeth as she returned the sentiment.

I didn’t say it was a good start.

Perhaps picking up on my quizzical expression, Rinya narrowed her eyes and spoke in her rather unique blend of elven and sylvan. “Grr...zzhould have tch-tch killed me.”

I paused as I initially struggled to render her rather unique creole, shrugged and replied in Sylvan to her. “It would have been no mercy to you or to anyone else if we’d killed you yesterday. Your soul would have been annihilated and Shar’s taint...” I paused, and looked around surreptitiously, “would have been allowed to spread unabated. The only way to stop its spread then would be to use spellfire, but that would have obliterated Silverymoon.”

Rinya’s dark eyes continued to look through me, past me. She chittered briefly, then said “Sso? Distrutchukshun wai-ye o’ zings. Ebrrerythin endzz. Zis plaisse...” she gestured all around her, “no ezzeption.”

I stood up and put my hands behind my back because I could feel them creeping precariously towards my hips to sit in judgement. “The path of the druid is to serve nature, to serve Life Itself. You didn’t always believe death was the answer or you wouldn’t be a druid yourself.”

Rinya shook her head and then stood. She towered over me by just over two hands. “Not death. Annihilazzion. Oblizzion. Ssometimess preferable t’ pain of losing ebrrerythin. Ssoft ssity druid. Could nezzer undersstand.”

I stood on tiptoe, and angled Rinya’s face down so she would see me and then held her gaze. “Pain is part of what makes us who we are. How we face it helps to define us. And yes, it’s true that life must sometimes be culled if it is to thrive. But there is more to life than pain and death. Every once in a while life will remind you of that.”

Rinya broke eye contact as she scoffed. “zzuppose you zzink you’re zza one to teach me.” She looked at me again, staring hard, as if she was daring me to try to help her.

I crooked my finger at her. “Come follow me.”

She made as if to walk, but I heard the distinctive clinking sound of metal on metal. “My Goddess! Have they been keeping you chained up like a rabid dog all this time?”

Rinya nodded her head, her expression one of acceptance, maybe resignation. “Ai-ye...am...a dai-yenzzhrr.”

I turned on my heel and stormed off towards the office, muttering, “This is not acceptable.”

~


“So, do you know who’s responsible for Rinya being in shackles?” I smiled and asked Tania after striding back through the door, Selune bringing up the rear.

It must have been a scary looking smile. Tania gulped. “Well, you see...she...uh...she...um.”

I stared at her. Then I raised my eyebrow.

Tania looked from right to left and continued, “She’s dangerous! And big! For an elf.”

I raised my eyebrow at her. “You’re afraid of her? Surely you have adequate field experience to-”

Tania held up her hands. “Look, I don’t want to get in any trouble. I’m just trying to take the proper precautions-”

I slammed my fist down on the desk, Selune snapped, and Tania jumped in her seat a little. “This was your call? You have her chained up like she’s some sort of prisoner-”

It was Tania’s turn to give the chastising look. She crossed her arms and smirked. “Isn’t she?”

I narrowed my eyes. “Not while I’m in charge of her, no.”

Tania paused, pouted, and protested, “But what if she...does something? I don’t want to be held liable-”

I pursed my lips. “I will be held responsible, and will make full restitution should she turn...violent.”

Tania appeared to be contemplating. I decided to sweeten the deal. “I will be going to The Blue Bottle tomorrow night for a wine-tasting party. I could pick up a little something for you while I’m there...something...sweet?”

“A pint bottle of their finest whiskey and cream liqueur, and we have a deal.” I nodded in assent, and the gnomish druid tossed me the key to Rinya’s shackles with a sly, mercenary smile.

I turned on my heel and returned to Rinya with Selune and the key to her freedom, of sorts.

~


I took her to the open market. I didn’t know why, but I had to start it somewhere. Merchants from every booth pressed samples into our hands; sweet summer peaches, spicy peppers, stinky cheeses, and succulent squab sausages that Aumador Uldon had just cut down from the smokehouse this morning. Even my lupine companion boggled at the bounty spread out before us, and she begged for morsels every chance she got. By the time we reached the end of the promenade, all three of our bellies were full of splendor.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Rinya search the crevices of her mouth for hidden morsels with her tongue even as she patted her flat stomach with an expression of elated satisfaction. She caught me looking at her, and cocked her head in a serious matter. “Pleazzurable. But ssurrely zzerre is morre t’ life than food.”

I shook my head with a wistful smile. “Normally, this would be the moment I would take you to a pub and get you dancing on the tables. But today is not the day for such things. Maybe tomorrow. I have an invite to a party at the Blue Bottle tomorrow night...”

A touch of amusement entered Rinya’s voice. “Oh? Have ssomezzing zzat rrequirrezz a tesst o’ zzobrriety?”

I should be sober. It’s a religious ritual I am helping a friend perform.”

Ah. Perrhapzz plazze whirr we can still hearrr muuzzic then? Ai-ye underrzztand Ssilverrymoon is famouzz forr herr barrdzz.”

~


We stepped inside The Dancing Goat, side by side while Selune slept off her full belly in the stable adjacent. Jasper smiled a greasy smile upon our arrival and then turned to grab a bottle of elven wine.

I waved my hand in an act of gracious and reluctant refusal and smiled. “Not today, Jasper. I’m on duty.”

“Well then, are you two ladies feelin’...adventurous mayhaps?”

Rinya and I looked at each other slowly, but Rinya gave the innkeeper a broad smile and pounded her fist on the bar with much enthusiasm and burst out in her best Common, “Yess, good maan. Ai-ye sseek-kuh-kuh...adventya-urre!”

Which is to say, not very good. I fought the impulse to bury my face in my hands and instead concentrated on freezing my expression in something resembling a polite smile.

Jasper stared at her a moment, then shrugged and spoke, as he wiped the bar casually with a not-so-clean rag. “Y’see, my youngest daughter, Canna, she’s been spending a lot of her free time at the Seven Little Fortunes with Mei...Mei Xiang, the Jings’ youngest girl. Calls her “her bosom friend”. Seems she’s become also become sort of a casual apprentice of their oldest son so she’s been trying her hand at tea-making. She’s been going to market, spending her entire allowance on frivolous “delicacies” but she uh, hasn’t had too many takers. You’ll try some, won’t ya, Seledra? It’ll make her tenday.”

Hesitantly, I nodded, which was met with a loud bellow from Jasper. “Canna! Come on out here, girl! Someone wants to try one o’yer mysterious concoctions!”

The young brunette with bouncing curls and big blue eyes came running out, then stopped suddenly, ducked back into the kitchen, and then walked out calmly, smoothing out imaginary wrinkles in her apron. “Lady Nailo! I am honored that you would be willing to sample my humble wares!”

I smiled gently at the nervous girl. “Do you have a menu?”

Canna shook her head vigorously. “Oh, no! I’ve only developed two flavors, however these varieties are of the finest art-artisan’s quality. I stand by my product. I-I hope you don’t mind.”

The girl placed two copper canisters on the bar in front of me, one after the other, using both hands. She opened the one on the right first. “This one is called Lavender Dreams. There are lavender blossoms in there, of course, but also pink rose buds, passion flowers and peaches. Very soothing and pleasant. I created it in honor of the announcement of your courtship with Lord Methrammar, Lady Nailo.” She bowed her head ever so slightly.

I nodded my head politely in return and let her continue.

Canna smiled a little wider, and her eyes danced with delight as she uncovered the second canister. “This one, however, I think is my first masterpiece. Chocolate and Chili powder from Maztica, blended with strawberries and summer apples. Spicy yet refreshing. I call it Maztica Fire.”

Rinya and I looked at each other. She smiled I and spoke up for us. “Fire, please.”

Canna grinned proudly and re-covered her tea canisters. “Excellent. I’ll put the kettle on.”

~


There was a city ordinance forbidding satyrs from going about without humanoid clothing (due to what it would do to the females in the vicinity) and so he wore clothes, but only barely. Strategically tight wine-colored breeches slung low over his hips, and a wine-stained white shirt open at the navel revealed a small golden harp piercing hanging from his left nipple that denoted him as a member of the Harpers.

The Tiefling was the satyr’s opposite; pale-skinned, with tattoos covering much of his unclad torso. He had a mop of straight, white-blonde hair, but black eyebrows. He wore regular boots, so I assumed he was one of the “lucky ones” who didn’t have cloven feet. His luck (at least when it came to his fiendish ancestry physically revealing itself) ran out when it came to the rest of his features, however: he had pointed canines, a prehensile tail, solid gold orbs for eyes, and curved black horns. Despite his somewhat unsettling appearance, he was still...bafflingly alluring.

Meree called out from the balcony, “All right boys, you may begin. And no funny stuff with the pipes, Youngerstar. There are virgins present!”

I sipped my tea, snorted, and mumbled “Where?” under my breath, but then out of the corner of my eyes, noticed Jasper shooing his daughter off with a “not taking any chances” speech.

The satyr spoke up in a seductive bass voice, “Hello everybody. I’m Mal Youngerstar and he’s Fenris T’chort. We’re The Horny Bastards!”, and then launched into a tune that was first melancholy, then sensual, then rollicking, then slowed down to a sizzle. All this done with two voices (Mal’s bass and the Fenris’ baritone), the panpipes, and the djembe. Even Meree was impressed. She fanned herself with whatever stiff paper she could find when she wasn’t muttering Detect Magic incantations. But the Horny Bastards had heeded Meree’s warning. It wasn’t magic that made them alluring. It was just...them. I shifted uncomfortably throughout the entire performance even as I enjoyed it (and tried not to enjoy it quite so much as I was), and when it was over, I was leaning awkwardly against the bar with my legs crossed tightly and my arms firmly crossed over my chest. Rinya had no such so compunction to resist their charms. Her hips undulated in time to the beat, she closed her eyes rapturously, and compulsively licked her lips the whole time. Watching her freely enjoy herself was pure torture for me, but I also knew that this was for her benefit.

I kept repeating that thought in my mind as they approached us after their performance was over (six agonizingly tantalizing songs later), eventually propositioning both of us, and though every nerve in my body screamed at me to join the three of them upstairs I stayed physically true to Methrammar. I was going to have to visit him again. Soon. If I didn’t, I was unsure of what I would do if I found myself in arms reach of Magnos.

No. I waited three hours patiently with the help of only one glass of elven wine to deaden my nerves and a long, haphazard game of fetch outside with Selune from which I’d returned before the three of them came back downstairs because The Horny Bastards had another performance that afternoon. Rinya’s muscular, statuesque form positively floated as she descended the staircase, her skin glistening and glowing, her alto voice taking on a lyrical quality as she crooned a Horny Bastards tune breathlessly, her mouth split into a blissful grin.

I led the way out the door. “Well, that concludes lesson number one.” I half sighed, half grumbled as Selune loped after us.

Rinya stretched like a cat behind me. “Ai-ye feerr li-yekuh new woman arready.”

I frowned. “Well, there’s more to life than sex.” I can’t believe I said that.

Rinya smiled. “Ai-ye know. Zzerre’s wine-tassting at zza Blue Bottle. Ai-ye told Mal et Fenrriss et zzey arr eagrr t’ attend.”

A wine-tasting party at the Blue Bottle, presided over by the leading Priestess of Sune, with a satyr in attendance. That won’t lead to group sex, I thought. I cleared my throat. “We will continue tomorrow eve. Do you have something nice to wear?”

Rinya cocked an eyebrow at me.

Tomorrow afternoon then. A visit to the Glittersmokes and the salon before a little party at the Blue Bottle...”
butterfly_sunrider: (Default)
“Ugh. I’m sorry, but I draw the line with incest. This is not what I had in mind when all I wanted was to just curl up with a good book!” I slammed the tome shut, set it down on the table, and pushed it away from me in disgust before sipping some raspberry herbal tea.

Ralenthra shook her head, rolled her eyes, and gently pushed the book back across the sitting room table at me. “They don’t actually do it, you know!”

I grimaced and gingerly took the volume back. Soon, I was frantically trying to find the page I’d left off on. “Still,” I said with a pout. We soon fell into a comfortable silence as we both got drawn into our respective books.

Ralenthra had finally returned the first volume of Drizzt Do’Urden’s memoirs to me, as she had “acquired” the next two volumes he’d had published so far. Which means that she must have robbed poor unsuspecting Rand’s Books late last night after riffling through the entirety of volume one and then settled in for a pleasant trance for the rest of the night.

Selune’s head popped up from off the floor by my feet and whined a little. Suddenly, there was the sound of boot heels on my front porch, followed by an urgent-sounding knock at the door. I glanced sidelong at Ralenthra, who sighed, walked to the door, stood on tiptoe, looked through the peephole and said, “It’s one of your co-workers. Should I let them in?”

That was an odd occurrence. I nodded. “Don’t forget to disable the trap first.”

“Ohhhh. So that’s why you had me get the door...” Ralenthra got to work. “Still, it would be nice to test it out on someone else before Methrammar starts snooping around again, though. Just to make sure.” She fiddled with a few wires and knobs and opened the door without any more delay, which drew a startled gasp from my visitor.

“Oh! Oh my stars, you scared me! Um...you’re...you’re Mayurra, right? Is Sel-seledra home?” I’d never heard my supervisor sound so nervous. Ralenthra grinned at her, which must have seemed to my guest like a fiend baring its teeth, opened the door wider, and pointed in my direction before turning to retreat up the stairs with her ill-gotten loot.

I waved at the tall, brunette half-elf as she walked past my threshhold. “Hello, Shiera. I didn’t think they let you out of the office.”

“Hmph. I wouldn’t be here unless it was important. Tell me, when was the last time you were at the Glade?”

I raised an eyebrow and got up from my sitting room chair. “I was there on the 22nd. To visit with Tathshandra.” I clasped a hand over my chest. “Is she all right?”

Shiera held up a calming hand. “Tathshandra is fine, because she doesn’t know what has happened, and...I’d like it to stay that way.” A shadow passed over her heart-shaped face. “Seledra, there is a...dark presence...in the Glade.”

I was already walking towards the wardrobe that held the armor and weapons owned by Ralenthra and myself. “A...dark...presence. Why did you come to see me? Why not ask a cleric?”

Shiera’s large brown eyes occupied themselves with examining my sitting room rug, a gift from Methrammar, imported from Calimshan. “There are several reasons. One: you are on call for today, two: you don’t have enough seniority to refuse, three: you may not be a cleric, but you do have some expertise in this area.”

I had stepped behind the changing shade I’d gotten in Shou Lung and was starting to slip into my leather armor. “I’m not sure I understand what you mean.”

Shiera sighed. “Your religious scholarship may come in handy in diagnosing the...source of the corruption, and in how to dispel it.” She cleared her throat, and by the tone of her voice when she spoke, I knew the next words were difficult for her to speak. “Also...you’re an adventurer now! You live with a drow rogue, you whack at nasty things with swords, you’ve braved haunted monasteries...you’re fearless...aren’t you?”

Puzzled, I turned and gave Shiera a side-long glance. “Look, I never said I wouldn’t do it. You don’t have to convince me. However...” I pondered the weapon collection before me. “There’s something you’re not telling me, Shiera. What I actually need to know.”

Puzzled, I turned and gave Shiera a side-long glance. “Look, I never said I wouldn’t do it. You don’t have to convince me. However...” I pondered the weapon collection before me. “There’s something you’re not telling me, Shiera. What I actually need to know.”

Shiera stared at me a moment, blinked, and replied, “It’s all my fault! I let her in, yesterday afternoon. I knew there was something off about her, but I thought the Glade would give her peace! If Tathshandra should find out...and...and I don’t want to be known as the druid whose oversight led to the corruption of Mielikki’s Glade.”

Well, that’s a start. I laid a finger on my familiar longsword. “Her?”

Shiera nodded solemnly. “Yes, a wild elf druid. Name of Rinya.”

I slid my longsword into its scabbard and headed towards the door with Selune at my heels. “Let’s go. You can tell me the rest on the way there.”
butterfly_sunrider: (Default)
“Seledra. You are Tel'Quessir, and you are my A’Sum. Nothing else matters.” It was winter, 1262. I had begun to notice that I was different from the other elven children. My mother sat at her writing desk poring over menus by wandlight, trying to decide what meal she would try to pass off as her own cooking this night.

“But O’Si, the others call me a mongrel. When we play Sun versus Moon, both sides push me away, say I’m not one of them.”

My mother’s violet eyes flickered cold for a moment before she returned to her menus. “Seledra, you are better than those common chaff moon elves and those snot-nosed sun elves...”

“But O’Si...isn’t O’Su a moon elf?”

Mother’s mouth spread into a chilly smile. I shuddered. “Why yes. He is. And perhaps it is something that your father should remember more often about his people. If a hundred, a thousand of them were to die, it would be of little concern to anyone but themselves. Like vermin they are. Common. And unremarkable.”

My face fell. No matter how much I hoped for the contrary, I knew I was my father’s daughter and not the product of my mother’s forbidden passions with someone who had warm blood in their veins. What must she think of me then? “But O’Si, doesn’t that make me...”

“No! Your father may be common, but you are MINE. MINE, MINE, MINE!!!” With a great flourish of my mother’s arm, the menus flew to the floor. Mother was standing now, breathing heavily, teeth gritted and tugging her hair for a few moments until finally, after seemingly having regained her composure, she began to use Prestidigitation to move the scattered menus back onto her desk. My mother was not, after all, one for manual labor if she could possibly help it.

I thought the danger had passed. “So...if O’Su is common and unremarkable, and I, as your daughter, am not, then what are you?”

“I don’t wish to talk about it, Seledra. It doesn’t matter anyway.” She sounded resigned, perhaps a little sad or wistful. But if I had listened just a little closer...

My curiosity got the better of me. “What are we, O’Si? I want to know!” But I was young. I didn’t know any better. The look on my mother’s face made me run towards the stairs that led to my bedroom. But I was unable to outrun my mother’s rage, or her Ray of Frost spell.


~


“Aren’t you going to visit your Mother today?” Ralenthra was gazing at the calendar I had hanging up on my kitchen wall. I was sitting at the dining room table examining the various takeaway menus in my possession, stopping every once in a while to scour my Druid handbook for information about curses and how they can be reversed for Aelthas. “It’s her birthday,” she continued. “Isn’t that what you...er...people who know where their mothers are do?”

“I sent her a gift.” I said nonchalantly.

I didn’t have to look up to know that Ralenthra raised an eyebrow at me.

“It’s a nice gift.” I countered to her silence. “I can’t visit her. I’m busy. I’m sure she understands.”

Ralenthra hoisted herself up on to the counter, plucked an apple from the fruit bowl beside her and took a generous bite. “You have the day off.”

I slowly looked up from my papers. “I’m planning our meals for the week, trying to find a way to reverse Mother’s curse on Aelthas, and I have to practice the dance for your upcoming ritual. Also? I just don’t...want to deal with her madness today.”

Ralenthra crunched her apple thoughtfully. “Understood,” she said, after swallowing. But something caught her eye. “Is that...is that Drizzt Do’Urden’s memoirs I see hidden under the Seven Little Fortunes menu?”

I grimaced in embarrassment but confessed, all the same. “It’s the first volume, yes.”

“And?”

“He’s a bit of an odd sort. He talks about events he could not have possibly witnessed and of course, everyone else being evil but him makes any information that came from anyone else instantly unreliable. He’s narcissistic, vain, whiny, self-absorbed-”

“Wait, shouldn’t you like him then?” Ralenthra grinned.

I rolled my eyes and continued.“Shut up. He’s a got a creepy idea that his sisters all want to sleep with him...”

Ralenthra took another bite of her apple. “Typical.”

I made a face. “Really?”

“Really.”

“Ew. Anyway, I want to like him. Because he’s good and all, you know, fighting the good fight. But...he makes it rather difficult. In fact, he’s kind of insufferable.”

“And yet?”

I cover my face in my hands. “And yet I can’t put it down for long.”

Ralenthra finished her apple. She hopped down off the counter, opened the window that was over our sink and tossed it outside that window into the compost bin below. “Let’s see it then.”

~


I excitedly rolled out the large parchment detailing my grand plans for breaking into the Hall of Records. Aelthas and Duglan, my constant companions, took a gander.

“You’re going to do WHAT to WHO?” Aelthas stared at me, eyes wide.

My beau had obviously gotten to the part where I seduce a priest of Deneir (or as many as I have to) in order to get access to the ‘Forbidden’ Spellbook section at the Vault of the Sages. Why have the books around at all if they’re not going to be read? “Oh, that. Don’t worry about me. I’m still a virgin, after all.”

“You are??!” both the boys exclaimed.

I thought of Thralia, and blushed. “Well, technically, yes.” I answered, and then I clarified, “Anyway, I’m not using anything south of my waist for this job. I don’t have to.”

“You sound pretty confident.” intoned Duglan with a wink and a smile. “Want to give us a demonstration?”

“Shut up, Duglan.” Aelthas said with a scowl. He turned to me, and brushed a stray lock of hair behind my ear. “Seledra, why? Why are you doing this?”

“I need to sow the seeds of chaos. After you cast the spells to bend the wards around the university and open up all those portals, most of the mages will be too busy trying to shut them down to detect what’s going on at Everdusk Hall.” It made perfect sense to me at the time...

Aelthas held me, not ungently, but with some urgency, about my shoulders. “But that’s the thing with chaos. It’s unpredictable. You could get burned. And then all of us will suffer. Is it worth it?”

I sighed. “Aelthas, what are you?”

He raised an eyebrow, as if he wasn’t sure where I was going with this. But he humored me. “I’m a human. But my mother is a half-elf.”

“What kind of elf?”

He shook his head in irritation. “Why does it matter?”

I answered calmly. “Answer the question. Surely you must know.”

Aelthas sighed and rolled his eyes even as he concentrated. “My mother was raised by her human mother. My elven grandfather died young. Some sort of accident. He was...a moon elf. From Evereska.”

“See? You know what you are. And I bet you could tell me where your human ancestors hail from as well.”

“Seledra, I don’t see-”

“I DON’T KNOW WHAT I AM, Aelthas! Don’t you know how unsettling that is? And don’t you think that if I had any other options at my disposal, that I’d use them? Whatever my mother is hiding from me, she’s hiding it very, very well. And father is no help at all.”

Aelthas gulped and stared at me a while. Duglan had already retired to a nearby chaise and draped a book over his face to escape the awkwardness. My beau sighed and kissed me on the forehead. “Very well, sweet heart. It’s your choice. Just...don’t get caught, all right?”

“Don’t worry. If I get caught, I won’t say who helped me. I love you, Aelthas. And I will never betray you.”


~


Late into the night, I could still hear Ralenthra howling with laughter as she read Drizzt Do’Urden’s memoirs. I peered over my covers at the next two books from the drow’s autobiographical series as they sat, waiting for my perusal, on my nightstand. There was to be even more to follow, I had heard. I scowled.

I turned my back on the tomes to stretch. Ralenthra had really put me through a workout today. After the dance practice, she still had energy to burn, and decided that she also wanted to draft me into becoming her sparring practice partner. I must have broken three wooden swords today because I wasn’t fast enough to hit her. I comforted myself with the fact that when I do hit, I hit hard. And no, I don’t mean her.

Wielding the sword today made me think more on my goals of embarking on an adventuring side-career. My hands would tingle with anticipation every time I went to the mailbox, as I hoped that each day will be the day a summons comes from Captain Tagen, or whoever Tagen is working for, telling us to pack our bags and head out somewhere kind of dangerous.

It didn’t come today, but hopefully something will come soon. I just know that something good is going to happen...

~


I dreamed...

I saw a short, red-haired human girl fitted into finery worthy of a lady-in-waiting; watching the Glittersmokes buzz about the girl was Thralia, who looked like she was giving detailed instructions, either to the gnomish seamstresses or to the human girl...

I saw Ralenthra, poring over what looked to be this very diary. Looking over her shoulder was Tordrin, who was pointing out something of note to my friend. Ralenthra’s eyes widened...

I saw a drow male reclining on my mother’s bed. He seemed to be arguing with a striking-looking female sun elf who was attempting to use my mother’s scrying mirror. A soft grey cat hopped on the bed beside the drow and swatted him in the face. The sun elf laughed. The drow fell off the bed unsuccessfully trying to swat back at the cat. The sun elf laughed even harder...

I saw Kronk, flanked by Selune and a half-elf Heartwarder as he carried a human girl child on his shoulders. The snow was falling softly. Cardinals and Blue Jays circled about the girl as she laughed. Kronk and the Heartwarder seemed to be looking for something, and they finally stopped at Joon’s Curry Stand in the Market District. Everyone ate heartily.

I saw Silverymoon Palace. A bolt of lightning struck nearby.

I saw Magnos and Jonah, with Scamp wrapped around his master’s shoulders like an old woman’s fur collar, outside the Map House. They were discussing something rather animatedly, with Jonah’s expression going from dubious to more dubious to annoyed to resigned...


~


I awoke with a start. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the vignettes I bore witness to were connected somehow. And I wondered why I wasn’t there.
butterfly_sunrider: (Seledra4)
As we re-entered Silverymoon's Moorgate I felt a sensation not unlike large, cold riverbed stones lodged in my gut. Here we were, returning to Tagen with no scepter and no one but a twitchy duergar in our custody.

Surely we are going to prison, I thought. And then we will all die. Well, maybe not Ralenthra. She could survive anything.

But I tried to maintain an outwardly sunny demeanor. We had alerted a contingent of Knights in Silver at Rauvinwatch Keep as to the presence of the nobleman's body and it's precise location. Magnos had been grumbling about the matter ever since, asserting that it was likely that in order for the city to avoid embarrassment, the murder would simply be covered up or whatever. I'd been too busy trying to ignore him since our adventure at Berronar's Monastery to recall exactly what it is he said. Really.

We had done everything asked of us, save bring back the scepter and apprehend the nobles behind the attempted coup. Personally, I was still shaken by Dorn's sudden disappearance. What were we supposed to tell Tagen?

Shortly before our rendezvous with Tagen's men, I turned to Ralenthra and asked, "Rale, do I snore?"

My friend looked sideways at Magnos before answering. "Did that idiot try to make you think that you snore? Elves don't snore! He's just mad because he didn't get lucky with you!" and with that, she smacked him upside the back of his head and walked on ahead of us.

"Ow!" exclaimed Magnos. He rubbed his offended area and called after her. "What in the Nine Hells did you do that for, Menzo?"

I shoved him in the chest. "I don't snore, you fool! Elves don't snore, everyone knows that!"

Magnos grinned roguishly. "Well of course she's going to say that! She's biased against me! Besides, even if she were right about the snoring bit, that does nothing to prove that you're not a blanket hog!"

Damn it all, I'd forgotten about the blankets. Before I could ask, Ralenthra turned around and replied to me in elvish. "Don't even bother to ask me about that one. First of all, we've never shared a bed. Secondly, I don't want to give him any ideas that we have by lying about it for you. We'd never hear the end of it."

I pouted. Magnos chuckled. "No luck, huh? I guess you'll have to poll some of your lovers to vouch for you!"

Such a disgusting man!

~


Our arrival was expected. Guards escorted us to a private room at Hammer and the Helm, a well known meeting place for off-duty Knights in Silver. This made everyone sweat just a lilttle bit more. A few discreet raps at the door were answered by a jovial "Come in!" and before we knew it, we were facing a beaming Nim Tagen, clad in casual black leather so fresh it groaned when he moved. In front of him, on the small round table he beckoned us to was a pastry and a cup of steaming black tea. As my mouth began to water in appreciation, Tagen spoke.

"Ah, it is good to see you all so well! Miss Nailo?" he crooked a finger at me and then pointed downwards to the seat next to him on his right. "Everyone else, please take a seat where you like." I took my place next to Tagen with Ralenthra on my right, Kronk on her right and Magnos squeezed in between Kronk and Tagen. "Oh, and guards? Send some pastries and milk up for my road-weary companions, I am sure they'd appreciate it." Magnos grinned from ear to ear.

Tagen continued. "Your associate, Dorn, arrived last night and gave me his report, along with the scepter. Capital thinking, Rel Astra. He said that with your idea for him to go ahead first in the dead of night with the scepter he was able to avoid detection with ease."

Magnos' eyes grew wide for a moment, but then he smiled, drew his arms behind his head and reclined in his chair. "Mmm, yes. It was on-the-fly, but I have my moments."

I cleared my throat. "I see. Captain Tagen, I wonder if we could peruse that report so that-"

Tagen waved his hand dismissively. "I'm sorry, Miss Nailo. The report is classified. My summary at this meeting will have to suffice."

Ralenthra's eyebrows shot up. "Classified? Why?"

A knock on the door revealed a barmaid, bearing four pastries, four glasses of milk, a small bowl of cold whipped cream and a spoon on a silver tray. Tagen placed his finger to his lips as if to hush Ralenthra and then looked appreciatively at the barmaid as she laid the dishes down on the table. He passed the bowl of cream to me first, so I spooned some on my pastry before passing it to Ralenthra. Oh, the pastry was delicious; flaky and sweet and filled with apples.

Ralenthra looked annoyed, but shut her mouth and scooped out some cream for herself before passing it to an oblivious Kronk. Magnos' hand began to hover over the place where the cream would soon be, if Kronk were actually paying attention. Ralenthra and I happily dug into our pastries and Kronk drank his milk while Magnos whimpered a little. I think I even heard his stomach rumble. I stifled a giggle as I slowly savored the only meal I'd yet had that day.

After the barmaid left the room and a guard closed the door behind her, Tagen did not rush to continue. Instead, he spooned sugar into his tea, stirred it and took a sip before speaking again. "The report is classified just as your criminal records are now classified. Does this not satisfy you? Only officials with the very highest rank can peruse your criminal records, which will state that you have paid your debt to the City. To anyone else, it will be as if they are looking at a clean slate. Does that not please you adequately, Miss...Aerynae?" Tagen winked at Ralenthra. Looking at no one in particular, he asked, "Shall I continue with the summary of the report?"

Ralenthra and I nodded our heads, Magnos was too busy alternately staring at his pastry and Kronk to notice the question, and Kronk just grunted. Tagen took this as his cue to continue. "Your on-the-job skills have some promise. Seledra seems to have the makings of a natural leader and a healer, but needs to work on her offensive spell-casting and swordsmanship. Ralenthra was quite handy with traps and locks, but she needs further practice on her ranged attacks. Magnos appears to be able to back up the chip on his shoulder with his impressive grasp of the arcane but he needs to spend more time paying attention to his surroundings rather than the swaying hips of his female companions."

"Hey, I'm versatile!" cried Magnos, indignantly. Slyly, he reached for the cream bowl, drew a huge scoop of cream out, and deposited it upon his pastry before surreptitiously sliding the bowl back in front of Kronk.

It was at this point that Kronk finally realized the bowl was in front of him; he picked it up and peered inside. "Aw, no cream for Kronk!"

I kicked Magnos under the table.

"Ow! What did I do?"

I stared at Magnos, raised an eyebrow, and then tilted my head in Kronk's direction. Pouting, Magnos scooped half his cream onto Kronk's pastry. Kronk beamed and dug in happily. Magnos only slightly less so.

Tagen cleared his throat. "Kronk needs to balance his admittedly very effective barbarian rage with some caution or he will meet his end via a deadly fire trap."

Ralenthra guffawed out loud with her mouth full. "Wha?" she asked when all eyes turned to her.

Tagen finished his pastry and his tea. "In closing, they have proven themselves to be a promising team. I have also concluded that the four of them, when working together towards a common goal, are a force to be reckoned with. I recommend further supervision before their full potential can be assessed."

"Wait, what?" cried Ralenthra.

I swallowed and asked, "You mean this isn't over?"

Magnos tapped his fists on the table triumphantly. "I knew it."

Kronk looked like he was still trying to process what just happened. Then he finished, and he was mad. He stood up and clasped the back of his chair firmly, his muscles flexing like he was about the lift and throw it, but I stopped him by resting a gentle hand on his arm. "Everybody calm down. Congratulations, Magnos. You were right." He smirked. I added, "Don't get used to hearing it." He pouted.

Tagen looked around at the lot of us staring daggers at him. "I-I am sorry, but this is out of my hands. Someone very powerful is interested in recruiting you for mercenary work and with a report like this, the City will probably want to continue working with you as well. Besides, you have too much promise to go back to your old lives. You could...do some good."

Ralenthra shook her head. "I don't know..."

Tagen got up and walked to the door. Standing in the doorway, he turned and faced us once more. "Think about it, but don't take too long. You'll be contacted soon." And with that, he swept out of the room.

I stood up and called after him questioningly. "By whom?"

Magnos laughed softly and whispered, "Eaerlraun."
butterfly_sunrider: (Default)
In the dead of night, still having been confined to our cells, the four of us were rousted from whatever sleep we'd had, gathered into a room and seated at a round table. Ralenthra and I, refreshed somewhat after a four hour trance, sat on one side, Magnos and Kronk, the former sleep-deprived and the latter rather hung-over, on the other, and Captain Nim Tagen sat between us. Magnos' fingers were tied together. As this was happening, Tagen took a big damn pipe out of his pocket and lit it. Unfortunately, he wasn't smoking halfling leaf, which would have gone a long way in soothing my jangled nerves. I coughed.

Tagen look a long puff on his pipe and spoke. "You may be relieved to know that after your interrogations, it has been decided that the City of Silverymoon will be lenient with you..."

He waited for us all to sigh in relief, which we all did, albeit involuntarily, then he smiled and continued. "And by lenient, I am saying that it has been decided that you will be granted...clemency...if you agree to do something for us. After all, we are not fools. If you choose not to help us, you can expect a long and uncomfortable stay in the palace dungeon."

Ralenthra was rubbing her temples. Kronk scratched his chin. Magnos shifted in his seat. I spoke. "What's the job, Tagen?"

"So blunt, Miss Nailo..."

"I don't think any one of us is going to choose a long prison sentence over performing a service for the city, so I gather that it's best not to waste anyone's time, any more than it already has been."

Captain Tagen frowned. "Perhaps you did not learn your lesson earlier for your impertinence..."

Magnos cleared his throat. "I agree with the lady, Nimmy. I know I don't want to spend any more time here than I have to."

Before Tagen could physically react to Magnos, Ralenthra spoke up. "What my more hotheaded associates are trying to say is that we would be fools to turn down your generous offer, Captain Tagen."

Tagen smiled at Ralenthra and then looked at Kronk. Kronk said, "Kronk glad he not be dead, but like Sel-Sel..."

I helped. "It's Seledra, Kronk."

Kronk nodded, then looked confused. "Now Kronk forget what Kronk was going to say...oh!" He pounded his giant fist down on the table, which shook violently. "Kronk want to know what special favor be."

Magnos piped up, sounding cranky. "Yes, are there rats in the royal cellar that need killing?"

Captain Tagen folded his hands in front of him and began. "A few miles west of town, there is a monastery, well, an abandoned monastery that once housed dwarven monks devoted to Berronar Truesilver."

My ears pricked up at this. Finally! My religious studies would pay off!

Tagen continued, "The current use of the place seems to be a base of operations for some nobles that are seeking to stage a coup and overthrow Lady Alustriel. The scepter that was found in your possession, Kronk, was a fake. The real one is believed to be at the monastery, where enchantments meant to harm Alustriel are to be placed upon it."

Magnos grunted. "You want us to capture a bunch of disgruntled nobles and retrieve a trinket for you? Isn't that a job for the Knights in Silver? Why send us?"

Tagen's eyes darted in Magnos' direction. "Silverymoon is a well-oiled machine. I can't just grab a few parts out of that machine and throw them about at will! Besides, this little mission will prove to us whether you are worthy of mercy or not."

Ralenthra was cracking her knuckles. She spoke again. "So what are we looking at? I doubt those nobles are alone."

Tagen smiled warmly at Ralenthra. "You would be correct. Early intelligence indicates that the nobles have hired goblin and duergar mercenaries as guards. You'll have to get through them, plus the usual traps and other nasty things you might find in an abandoned facility of that size."

I raised an eyebrow. "Such as...?"

Tagen examined his fingernails absentmindedly. "Nothing you can't handle."

I leaned forward and looked into his face."Humor me. I like to be prepared."

Tagen looked up and smirked. "Why don't you ask your diviner?"

I shot back. "Maybe I will."

Magnos objected. "Hey, leave me out of this!"

We both turned and stared at him.

Magnos suddenly became very interested in a spot of grime on the table. "Or not."

Captain Tagen took a few puffs off of his pipe and spoke."Well, you have the necessary information. Do we have a deal?"

As Tagen awaited our replies, the four of us sat in silence. I looked from face to face, and impatient to get this all over with, I offered, "Let's have a vote, shall we? All in favor?"

I rose my hand. Ralenthra rose her hand. Magnos rose his hand slowly. The three of us turned and looked at Kronk.

Magnos pinched the bridge of his nose and squinted. "Kronk?"

Kronk turned to Magnos."What?"

Magnos spoke slowly. "Do you want to do this?"

Kronk nodded his head. "Yeah."

Magnos was gritting his teeth. "Then...raise...your...hand."

Kronk grinned. "Oh. Yeah." Then he raised his hand.

I stood up. "So it's unanimous. Can we go now?"

Tagen grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me back down into my seat. Magnos snorted.

Tagen spoke. "No, you will spend the rest of the night in...slightly more comfortable quarters. You will return to your homes in the morning, where you will be accompanied by armed escort at all times. You have one day to prepare for your journey. At the crack of dawn, you will gather at the west gates of Silverymoon. It should take you no more than a day and a half's march to get to the monastery."

I scoffed. "What, will no horses be provided for us?"

Tagen rolled his eyes. "No, your highness. You will walk. Oh, one more thing."

Magnos, Ralenthra and I collectively groaned.

Tagen continued. "You will be accompanied by Dorn Strabelin, a dwarven mercenary. He's worked for the city several times, enough that I trust him to nanny you lot. Keep you from killing each other or from running off."

Ralenthra cursed under her breath.

~


And so it was that a few hours before dawn, contracts were signed, and we were given rooms for the night. They didn’t lock us up in the rooms, but the windows were barred and there were guards at the end of the hallway, to make sure we didn’t leave. I stood at the barred window in our chamber and stared at the huge bonfire and fireworks that streaked the sky, pretty sure that the step up in accommodations were due to Methrammar’s behind-the-scenes wrangling. Ralenthra stepped out of the chamber she and I shared and walked towards the end of the corridor. I wouldn’t blame her if she didn’t want to speak to me ever again. Indeed, she hadn’t spoken to me since she came back from her interrogation. I heard a familiar voice.

“I'm sorry; I had no choice.” It was Tordrin, coming down the hallway. Then that means…“There are worse things to be wanted for, you know.”

“Than something I didn’t do?” She snapped. The first words I’d heard her say since we got here.

“Than espousing the cause of a good goddess. Look…“ Tordrin tried to counter.

“You betrayed me!” she cried out. Oh no. No, no, no.

“Listen,” he said, “I don’t know what happened at the festival. I’m already working on that. I know you and I know Seledra, and I know Kronk, sort of. I’m sure someone planted those tokens on you, but it’ll take time to find out whom, time the Knights in Silver won’t give. In the meantime, I couldn’t withhold the information they wanted, not this time.”

“This time?”

“You know very well that Thralia and I knew about your other . . . identities . . . since Everlund, and I suspected more, even if I didn't know all of it. The guards here ask questions when there are drow around, even when they've been vouched for. Especially when their activities in the city are slightly suspicious. We’ve been questioned since we came back into the city and our recent association with you became known, and we've covered for you. I've covered for you. A lot."

"Well, of course you did. You hadn't gotten everything you wanted from me, yet." Oh, this is not going well.

Tordrin sounded stricken. “You can't really think that. . . . You must know how much I care about--"

"If you truly cared, you wouldn't have told them everything," she said coldly. "You would have kept your promise. Why couldn't you just tell them that I'm a thief and mercenary from Menzo? Why, if not because exposing me was your plan all along?"

"I had no intention of exposing you. You have to believe me!"

"Then why?"

"Because it was better for you that they know the whole truth."

"How? So they can extradite me back to my own people, as punishment for my crimes here? At least if they just imprisoned me as a thief, I would've had a chance of escaping!"

Tordrin let out a deep breath. "Ralenthra, can't you see that I'm only trying to protect you?”

“Protect me?” she shouted. “I was doing just fine protecting myself, you know!”

“Were you? Your elaborate misdirection a few weeks ago may have thrown people off your scent for a while, but not forever. What are you going to do when they find you again? Because they will. You can’t pull the same trick again. Will you just slip away and move to a new city? How many times can you do that?”

“As many times as it takes.”

“What about the friends you’ve made here? There are people who actually care about you, you know.”

“I’d have been able to hide here longer than I will now that you’ve let everybody know who I am! You may as well have sent a letter to all my enemies inviting them to Silverymoon to kill me! Drow don’t just throw you in a cell and give you bread and water every morning. For all I know, by the time I get back from this—this suicide mission—if I get back—they’ll all be here waiting for me. And it’s your fault! You’ve probably been planning this all this time; you’re just as bad as those people from Olostin’s Hold! I wish I’d never met you!”

I heard Magnos shout from his room, “There are people trying to sleep around here, you know!”

A gruff voice called out “What’s going on out there? Tordrin, d’ya need some help?” I could stand it no longer. I walked out of our chamber and stood in the doorway. Tordrin turned to respond to the guard, “I’ve got it covered, thanks.” His momentary lapse of attention allowed Ralenthra to wriggle out of his grip, and she ran toward me.

“If you want to protect me, leave me the hell alone!” she shouted as she flung her arms around my neck. My arms went around her instinctively. I gazed over Ralenthra’s head at Tordrin and locked eyes with him for a moment. He looked at me pleadingly, almost helplessly, appealing to me as only one fair elf can to another. But she was too raw now for me to make the peace between them. I shook my head and watched his heart break before my eyes. Quietly, I drew Ralenthra into the room and locked the door behind us. I sat her down on a bed and held her as she sobbed for what felt like hours.

Finally, it seemed right to speak. I gently smoothed her hair out of her face with my hand. “Why does it matter, that anyone knows your real name? The people from Menzo are after Corael, aren’t they? They won’t keep coming after you just because you’re involved with Eilestraeeans, will they?”

“Them? Probably not for that. But they’ll find out that Corael and I are the same person, and Corael made them lose favor with Llolth. It’s a big deal. They may stop looking for me eventually, if I can keep away from them. It’s a waste of resources. Besides, I’ve heard the House regained favor recently, so they may not care about me so much. But they won’t hesitate to kill me if I run into any of them”

But as things stood right now, with Ralenthra in Silverymoon she would be untouchable by the Menzo drow. Any drow trying to enter the city requires a vouching for his or her character from a reputable citizen. They are the only race to have to go through this screening process. “Then what are you so worried about?”

“My father. You think your family is messed up? My mother wanted to kill me when I was a small child, because I was too small and weak.” I couldn’t hide my shock. How could a mother want to kill her own child? Ralenthra shrugged. “It’s the drow way. Someone, I don’t even remember who, convinced my father not to, that he should wait until I grew some more, to see if I had other talents that made up for it.

“My mother was furious, but my father forbade her to harm me. He’s a high priest of Vhaeraun, so he had enough authority in the clan to make that decision. My mother left soon after; she had never fully bought into the idea of equality, and she rankled under the authority of a male. She went back to the Underdark, I’m not sure where, to serve Llolth.

“But my father let me live, at a time when the Auskovyn were struggling to carve out a home on the surface. He gave me precious resources that could have gone to someone who would’ve better benefited the clan. He invested in me. When I was training to be a ranger, he knew I cheated, but he let it go on, because I’d finally proven I had a skill that could be valuable. When he caught me with the Eilestraeeans, it was more than a crime; it was personal. He will never stop hunting me, because he invested in me, and I proved to be a waste. Maybe he was right.” She paused. "I told him, you know."

She didn’t have to say it, in fact, I wish she hadn’t. I tensed, despite myself. "I told Tordrin everything. And he used it against me, the first chance he got. He told me he'd never tell anyone, and I believed him. I'm such a fool, Seledra. Such a fool." It was unfortunate, the timing of this whole matter, to say the least. By the look in Tordrin’s eyes, he was living in a terrible nightmare come to life, forced to choose between keeping his word and doing what he believed to be in everyone’s best interests, only to lose what he cared about most. But I knew it took a lot for Ralenthra to put her heart out there after so long, perhaps for the first time ever. She took a chance and it cost her. It wasn’t right that fate itself seemed to be conspiring against the both of them and their happiness. And I couldn’t help feeling somewhat responsible. After all, I’d introduced her to Thralia.

It was fortunate for me that she again leaned into my shoulder for comfort, so she could not see my face. What could I say in the face of her despair? How could I restore her faith in her own self-worth when I knew so much of what she’d done to survive for so long might now be rendered as only merely delaying the inevitable? Even if I had the perfect words, she was so raw, so heartbroken that I wasn’t sure they would have any effect.

“Maybe this mission is a…blessing in disguise for you. If you stay moving with the rest of us there to all watch each others backs…okay, Magnos will probably only be looking to save his own skin, but still…on the run or in Silverymoon, you will be safe with us. Maybe you’ll be able to keep using ‘Mayurra’ as your identity here. Maybe the Captain will keep his word and ‘Ralenthra’ will remain a secret.”

The rising sun outside our window hit Ralenthra’s hair, giving her a pinkish-orange halo. She sighed. “That’s a lot of maybes, Seledra.”
butterfly_sunrider: (Default)
The blindfold was taken off and someone was pointing a lit wand in my face.

“Care to explain why a city employee vouched for the character of and has been harboring a known criminal since Greengrass of this year?”

My life, as I knew it, was over. So, I decided to adopt an air of defiance. “I’m sorry. Didn’t you bring me in for having that Lauthaul token in my purse? Why don’t you stick to that topic instead and leave May out of this?” As far as I knew at this point, Ralenthra had been caught stealing, and that her identity was still a secret.

I was wrong. He lifted his hand as if he was going to strike me. “There are penalties when a woman lies, Miss Nailo. Even the spoiled daughter of a hardened mercenary and a renegade sorceress is not above Silverymoon justice.”

“Excuse me? My father was an adventurer and my mother…my mother is…”

“Under house arrest for the last 20 years for her attack on a young man you were once involved with, Miss Nailo. Of course, we look the other way from time to time, like when you two went out to lunch recently. It seems that your father and her penchant for drink have…broken her spirit enough to keep her in line.”

So my dream was true. “And my father?”

“Mystra’s tits, girl, I am not here to answer your queries about family secrets! Suffice it to say that MANY have been kept from you. You have no small amount of intuition about you. That’s why you were expelled for attempting to break into the Hall of Records!”

I got a good look at his badge and smirked. “Be careful, Captain. I’m not sure the High Lady would appreciate you blaspheming her mother like that.”

He smirked. “You don’t deny conspiring to break into the Hall of Records?”

“I thought that I was expelled for…”

“…your public fling with Aelthas? Oh, you poor little fool. It was Aelthas who told the deans about your plan when he was taken in for questioning. Your public deflowering was only a minor prank which would have yielded a small slap on the wrist, shall we say.”

My head was spinning. Smelling blood in the water, he continued.

“The Alchemy department at the Conclave reported the theft of a vial of an experimental concoction called Potion of Forgetfulness at around the time of your expulsion. Can you tell me anything about this?”

“What?”

“’What’ is no kind of answer, Miss Nailo. Yes or no, can you tell me about the current whereabouts of this potion?” I remained silent. He continued. “Because the concoction made that year was highly unstable. It, er…leaks.”

I said nothing.

“It breaks down over time, Miss Nailo. After a while, it only takes a trigger for the victim to regain his or her memory. It would be…unfortunate…if it were to be used. It would only delay the inevitable.”

At this point, I tried to block him out. I meditated on the elements:

May the powers of earth sustain me…

“So you see, Miss Nailo, we have enough on you to not only take your job away, but to put you in the dungeon for quite a while.” I felt Captain Tagen caress my cheek mockingly. “Too bad that pretty girls like you don’t do too well in prison.”

He got up and began to pace the floor confidently.

“That is, unless you think your knight in shining armor will save you. You’d be wrong of course. Methrammar may fancy you, but in his heart of hearts, the Lady named Silverymoon will always come first. We’ve established already that you have run through whatever influence your parents once had in bailing you out, so you have little choice but to cooperate.”

I said nothing and kept my eyes tight shut.

“So…tell me about your accomplices. Ralenthra Ilphukiir, for instance. Were you aware that while working as a mercenary in Menzoberranzan, she led raids on the surface to capture slaves? She helped separate families, destabilize settlements. At least one small village was burned to the ground to cover their trail. There was…no sign of survivors. We have documentation.”

She had never told me, but in the beginning, our relationship had been based on ‘plausible deniability’. It hurt me that there may be some truth in what Tagen was saying, but I wasn’t going to sell her out over something she’d done years ago. She was a different person now, I knew it. I spoke. “I met her earlier this year, at the Greengrass Festival outside town. I was in a bar, getting drunk, when I saw a bunch of drunken human males picking on someone much smaller than them. I got cocky, started a fight with them to stop them. By hook or by crook, we took out the whole bar together. She got me out of there, healed me up. I saw no reason not to trust her after she could so easily have disposed of me then. She. Is. My. Friend.”

Captain Tagen nodded. “You just keep adding to your laundry list of crimes, Miss Nailo. Drunk and Disorderly. Multiple Assault charges. Tut, tut, my dear. Such a scandal!” He drew close to me and tucked a stray lock of my hair behind my ear. “Why can’t you just admit to yourself that you were played? She easily could have killed you, yes, but she needed you to get into Silverymoon. And you played right into her hands! Typical of Mielikki followers, I’m afraid. Too soft, far too trusting. Testify that your drow ‘friend’ Ralenthra bewitched you and that she masterminded this whole affair with the tokens to take Silverymoon down from within, to allow her filthy people a way inside the most vulnerable places in our fair city. If you don’t turn on her first, she’ll turn on you. Say it.”

I said nothing, but shook my head and looked away.

May the powers of air inspire me…

“Fair enough, how about the muscle of the operation? Kronk, is it? He has a criminal record as long as my arm, keeps questionable companions, and that’s not even including you or your drow ‘friend’, members of Silverymoon’s Thieves Guild, as well as a renegade and disgraced former Harper. Arson, drunk and disorderly and murder are only some of the crimes he’s accused of. The scarbearer is a menace to society, and you’d be doing Silverymoon a service if you testify against him. Tell me about Kronk.”

“Kronk?” I burst into giggles. “Kronk? You think he had something to do with this? Ha!”

Captain Tagen slammed his fist down on the table. “You will take these proceedings seriously, Miss Nailo. You could face the hangman’s noose tomorrow, for treason.”

“You seriously think Kronk is capable of grand larceny?” Okay, he could be, but he’s not exactly the subtle type. As for the other crimes, I don’t think Kronk would kill anyone who didn’t have it coming. He’s got a good heart, the big lug. “He’s not an example of what we like to call stealthy.”

Tagen growled. “No, but you need someone in case Plan A fails. You need a one-man cavalry.”

I folded my hands in front of me. “Let me tell you what I know of Kronk. Mayurra and I met him in Everlund. He was working as security for Sun & Moon. Perhaps you’ve heard of them? They like to play the harp. He also took down several orcs in Olostin’s Hold single-handedly. Kronk helped save the town.”

“And he let his half-brother escape with a particularly valuable artifact once in the safekeeping of the Harpers that could destabilize the region and put peace talks with…certain parties…at risk.”

Well, that was a rare slip-up on the Captain’s part. If a minor orc chieftain like Urgurth got a hold of a ‘peace-destabilizing artifact’, the only peace that could be sought would be a truce with Obould. I’m not sure the dwarven citadels would like that, but at least they wouldn’t be losing so many to a war on two fronts, one with Obould’s orcs and one with the denizens of the Underdark. It was a smart move, in the long run. That’s why Alustriel rules the Marches.

“This is quite a impressive little plan, Miss Nailo. A two-pronged attack from the Underdark and the Orcs not yet united under King Obould’s banner. Give us Kronk, at least. You’d be doing Luruar a service.”

Again, I shook my head.

May the powers of fire illuminate me…

“Now, what I don’t understand is your connection to Jonah Goodman.”

I was genuinely shocked. “Who?”

“Don’t play stupid. You were still in his arms when we opened the door to your prison wagon upon your arrival here. Surely you are familiar with him.”

I had to fight the urge to laugh. They had the wrong man. All I knew about Jonah was that he was a friend of Magnos’. “Well, he’s much bigger than I am; it was hard to wriggle free.” I grinned nervously.

“My dear girl, he is a wizard, you are a druid. You could have easily taken him down physically; especially since he no longer had his components pack with him.” Oh. Crap. “So, why were you in his arms?”

“Uh…I don’t know a Jonah Goodman. I never met him before in my whole life.” It was still the truth.

“Liar!” The Captain slapped me across the face. No one, not even my father when he was at his most angry had ever struck me before. I was more shocked than hurt, though. I am no delicate flower. I scowled defiantly, despite my swelling lips.

“It would be easier for you if there were an angle here, but there isn’t. Bring your ‘experts’ in here and they’ll find I’m telling you the truth. I. Don’t. Know. Jonah. Goodman.”

“Don’t mock me girl, I am the expert here! I have 100 years experience with the Knights in Silver. You are just a hot little number who lucked into a cushy job as a city druid. Jonah is your firepower. As a member of the Spellguard, he also has access to spell ward tokens. But he doesn’t have any political reasons to bring down Silverymoon. He’s not doing it for money, either. He’s your lover.”

Oh, hell.

It was then that I realized that he had me. It was quite brilliant really, even if it wasn’t (well at least most of it) true. There was just enough truth to make it stick. Physical evidence, motives, and if I didn’t crack under the pressure someone else would. Captain Tagen must have sensed my panic. He smiled, most unpleasantly. “And the last piece clicks into place. It’s all connected. You used that young mage like you used Aelthas Vihuel, like you’re using Methrammar. Have you information on Silverymoon’s vulnerable spots through him as well? You seduced them and got them to do your bidding. But you don’t even care about them; all you care about is that drow whore.”

The intensity in his eyes was nearly manic. He got right in my face and I closed my eyes tight. “All I need from you is a guarantee…that you will testify that your drow ‘friend’ Ralenthra bewitched you and that she masterminded this whole affair with the tokens to take Silverymoon down from within in congress with an alliance of rebel orcs, to allow their filthy peoples a way inside the most vulnerable places in our fair city. Implicate her, the scarbearer and the traitor and you go free. You keep your job, you can go back to your old life, and you can even marry Methrammar if you choose with no more legal interference. Do it. If you don’t, you will lose everything. You may not even be spared the hangman’s noose as a traitor.”

May the powers of water nourish me.

I opened my eyes and a single tear rolled down my cheek. “No.”

Furious, Captain Tagen banged on the steel door behind me three times and called out. “Get this one out of my sight!” He then looked at me in disgust. “You are a disgrace to the elven race. May Corellon have mercy upon you.” And with that, I was seized upon by two guards and led outside towards the holding cells they were keeping Ralenthra, Kronk, Magnos and I in. To my surprise, I was greeted by quite a commotion: Methrammar was here, struggling with five other men trying to hold him back.

“I order you to let me through! I must see her! Seledra! Seledra!”

Tears stung my eyes. “Methrammar,” I whispered softly. I didn’t think he’d come for me.

Captain Tagen coolly strode out of the interrogation room and with a single nod, the wall of men hemming Methrammar in broke apart. He rushed to me and gathered me close to him, kissing me more intensely than he’d ever done before. My already tender bottom lip split into an orchid of blood. Methrammar drew back, horrified. “What did they do to you?”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw them men lead Ralenthra away towards the interrogation room. Captain Tagen looked at Ralenthra and then glared at me as a warning before closing the door behind them.

“Nothing. A troll hit me in the face with his club during the raid. I’m lucky I didn’t lose a few teeth.” I said, almost light-heartedly.

He looked around furtively, as he gently wiped my mouth clean with his handkerchief. “Come with me, Seledra. This is no place for you. We can go back to your house…”

“No. I’m not going anywhere without Mayurra.”

Methrammar nodded, with a sad smile. “I was afraid you’d say that. Mystra knows I can’t make you do something you don’t want to do.” He took his cloak off and wrapped it around my shoulders, then kissed me softly on the forehead. “Just stay safe, my love. I’ll come for you again in the morning.” Tagen’s men then put me back in my cell, right across from the one Magnos and Kronk shared. Kronk was asleep and was probably going to wake up with a nasty headache. Still, I feel as though he’d done this before. I got the impression that Magnos had been watching me since I stepped out of the interrogation room. He smirked and clapped sarcastically.

“How touching.”

“Excuse me?”

He raised an eyebrow at me. “Was that…Methrammar?”

“Not that it’s any of your business, but yes.”

“You two are lovers?”

“What do you think, genius?”

Magnos held out one hand, made a fist, jutted out his thumb and pointed downwards with it sharply. At the same time, he stuck out his tongue. “Pbthbththths”

“That’s lovely, Magnos. Maybe when you graduate from kindergarten, we can discuss it further.”

“I. Don’t. Like. Him.”

My mouth fell agape. “Uh…you don’t have to. Who I take to my bed is none of your concern.”

“Not yet, it isn’t.”

“More like not EVER.”

“Your holiness,” He pointed to his head with both hands. “I see myself in your…future.”

“You’re delusional.”

“No, he is. The man is either blind or he’s just stupid. Either way, I would have hit that Captain in the face for roughing you up like that if you were…if I were him. I can’t believe he swallowed that line you gave him.” He mimicked my voice. “’Oh, a big nasty troll hit me!’ I’m surprised you didn’t say that you walked into a wall or something.” For a moment, I was a little flattered at his concern, fake or not. I almost wanted to give him a little heads up about the identity problem they had, but…

I shrugged off Methrammar’s cloak to reveal my well-muscled arms, lifted my right hand high above my head and jumped up, grabbing the bars above my head and began to pull myself up repetitively. “And just what were you going to hit him with? Magic Missile? I can take care of myself, thank you very much. I don’t need a man to do it for me.”

He snorted and leaned back with his arms behind his head, crossing his legs languorously. “I can see that.” He paused, as if for effect. “So, are drow women as insatiably hot in bed as they say?”

“Is that all you think about? You disgust me.” I can’t believe I slept with this man. Almost.

“I’ll take that as a yes.” He smirked.

I must have been drunker than I thought that night. “You're the most contemptible person I've ever met in all my life!”

He raised an eyebrow at me. “Confidentially, I think you're a bit of a stinker. I’m getting some sleep, your grace!” And with that, he rolled over on his cot, turning his back on me. How dare he!

I stamped my foot, turned by back to him and finished my repetitions with my left arm before meditating again. That bastard. How I hate him!

~


Ralenthra returned from her interrogation apparently unscathed. She re-entered our cell with no resistance, but when I dropped from doing my pull-ups and moved to embrace her, she held up her hand to halt me. Out of the vision of the guards, she quickly signed that we would speak later. Dejected, I nodded, and looked past her to see Magnos being led out of his cell. He turned his head towards me and managed a wink and a grin before getting hustled down the corridor to the interrogation room. With him gone, Ralenthra wanting silence and Kronk still sleeping, I felt...isolation. Wrapping Methrammar's cloak around me, I sat on the cold stone floor and meditated in an attempt to shut out my surroundings...

...which worked fine until I started hearing and feeling a commotion coming from the interrogation room.

Blast.

Blast.

Creak.

Blast.

Creak.

Blast.

My eyes flew open. What in Mielikki's name was going on in there? Probably something he already had coming, the cheeky bastard. I shook my head vigorously in an effort to shed such pettiness and refocus my thoughts. The blasting and creaking continued and it took all the inner serenity I had to keep from grinding my teeth in response. Finally, there was a great crashing noise, followed by silence. My stomach dipped. Forest Queen, am I actually worried about that obnoxious man? Well, of course I was worried! In my gut I knew he was as innocent as I was, in a manner of speaking of course, and he was getting worked over just like I had.

It was silent for what seemed like ages. I finally turned around to look at Ralenthra, who seemed to have noticed the unusually long silence as well. She raised an eyebrow then shrugged and looked away as she took her hair down and started to braid it. Finally, a gruff and authoritative voice broke the silence.

"That won't be necessary."

I heard Magnos, his breathing a little shaky. "Are you going to help me get out of here?"

The gruff voice responded in a tone that sounded like the owner was just about to dig into a rich and decadent dessert. "You could say that. You're clearly not Jonah Goodman. That must make you Magnos."

Way to go, genius.

"You could say that," responded Magnos. I could picture his smirk as if he were right in front of me.

Their voices, soon joined by those of Tagen and one of the guards, dropped into murmurs too quiet for me to make out until I heard Tagen speak in a deferential tone, "Yes, Eaerlraun."

Magnos was back to his usual routine of insulting people who could turn him into a grease spot, presumably Tagen. "Does that mean we're still on for tomorrow night?"

In spite of myself, I chortled. Ralenthra gave an exasperated sigh. He was shoved along the corridor by the guard Vasher and accompanied by Captain Tagen. Seeing Magnos get manhandled amused Kronk enough to elicit a snort of laughter.

Tagen had his back to me at this point and said to Kronk, "You're next."

Kronk looked at Magnos, "They hurt magic man?"

Magnos, still being held up by the shoulders, shook his head, if a little weakly.

"They save that for women and furniture." I flushed a little and was glad that his back was turned so he couldn't see the tiny smile on my face. Vasher then shoved him to the ground of their cell and grabbed Kronk's arm, leading the half-orc out of the cell. The cell door was still open, and Tagen was still in earshot, so I took a chance.

"Captain Tagen?"

"Yes, Miss Nailo?"

"I am still considered a city druid in the employ of Silverymoon, am I not?"

"For now. Yes."

"Then I de...humbly request that you allow me to examine the mage. He seems to be hurt."

"Yes. I know." Oh, I bet you do.

"Let me do my job."

"Are conjugal visits part of your job description, Miss Nailo?"

My face flushed in embarrassment and anger. "Captain Tagen, continue to interfere in my work and I will see to it that Lord Methrammar interferes in yours."

It was my trump card. I was only going to be able to play it once. Tagen froze for a moment, as if considering, then he gestured to the guard known to us as Griggs. "Let her...service the mage. When she's done, put her back in her cell."

Magnos still lying on the floor, snickered. "She's going to service me. Heh."

"Oh, do shut up," I said as I was led from one cell to another. The doors slammed behind me. I knelt down and felt his forehead. It was warmer than it should be. They'd hit him pretty hard, whatever it was. From his initial symptoms, I guessed that it was a low-level evocation spell, but when one is a young human wizard "blessed" with a wizard's stamina, it wouldn't take much to do some serious damage. Still, I needed to get a closer look. I scooped an arm behind his shoulders and drew him to a seated position. He leaned into me and his lips brushed my ear. I shuddered.

He whispered, "They're testing us, you know."

That was better than thinking that Tagen actually believed the yarn he'd spun in his efforts to get me to pin the blame on the others. I nodded and got us to our feet before walking him to his bunk and leaning him against it as I started to remove his cloak and robe. He chuckled, "Why, you little minx..."

I groaned as I pulled his robe off of him. "This isn't what you think, Magnos." I cringed. He'd never gotten around to introducing himself in the carriage. Maybe in all the hustle and bustle since then, he'd forgotten, though. Remembering how meticulous he was about his clothes and how I'd teased him mercilessly at the Dancing Goat about this trait, I started folding his robe neatly and placed it at the head of the mattress where a pillow would normally be.

Still weak in the knees, he fell into me again. Again, his mouth and his hot breath found my ear. "I don't remember telling you my name, Seledra."

I grunted a little and turned my head so my lips could reach his ear. "I heard voices down the hall. And you're the only person I've seen since who looks like a Magnos. Lucky guess, huh? Hail Tymora!" I cut my babbling off with a giggle and hoped that I hadn't called him by name earlier. Gently, I moved him to a seated position on his bunk and started undoing the laces of his shirt. After I pulled it over his head, I laid him down and assessed the damage. Just as I'd suspected, a low-level evocation spell delivered point blank to the chest. The skin of his chest looked red and irritated, a large, purple bruise was spreading over the direct area of impact and he was having some difficulty breathing. Probably magic missile. I placed my hand on his chest, smiled and said jokingly, "Oh, Magnos. You didn't have to go defending my honor like that."

He chuckled again. "Anything for a lady."

I closed my eyes and began to chant softly to Mielikki.. I felt my hand grow warm and tingly with healing energy that transferred from my goddess to me to Magnos. The bruise turned from purple, to green to yellow and finally faded completely; the surrounding redness dissipated and his breathing returned to normal, so I started to move my hand away, but he'd caught me by the wrist and drew me close to him. "Don't go yet. Feels good." He softly brushed my swollen lip with his left thumb and opened his eyes. "Why didn't you heal yourself first? Now you'll have a scar." Magnos gave me a disapproving look that made the dimples in his cheeks pop.

Struggling valiantly not to laugh, I broke eye contact with him, shrugged and gently freed myself from his grip. "Ah, I'll be okay. When I get home I'll take a potion." I then got up and faced the door. "Guard?"

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