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: (Seledra4)
When we could just move no longer, we made camp. After we all gobbled down a carelessly heated but surprisingly tasty noodle soup that Magnos threw together, I left Dorn in charge and took Ralenthra aside to talk.

"You've been quiet today." I said as we sat side by side at the river's edge.

Ralenthra sighed. "I haven't really felt much like talking, or at least doing it in mixed company."

"And you're still hurting because of Tordrin, right?" I added, cautiously.

Her head jerked sharply away from me. "I don't want to talk about him."

I continued, unabated. "He loves you, Ralenthra. I know it. Here." I struck my chest with my fist. "I'm sure he had his reasons..."

She stared at me, her eyes glistening in the moonlight. "How dare you defend him after what he did to me?"

"You really have to stop assuming that everyone is out to get you. It's not healthy." I said, matter-of-factly.

She was angry now, so much so that her voice was shaking. "It's kept me alive."

"The avoidance of death is not living."

"Save your platitudes for the faithful," she said bitterly.

"Just because you don't believe, it doesn't make it any less true. Rale, it's okay if you still need to talk about it, or even just cry."

Ralenthra shook her head. "I don't need to talk about it, I don't want to talk about it, and I don't care about Tordrin anymore so stop trying to play matchmaker with us."

I sighed. What I did next would either earn me a kidney punch or would help to release some of the pent-up emotions that Ralenthra was experiencing. Maybe both. Cautiously, I reached out to her and poked her in the shoulder. At first, she looked at me like I was crazy, but then she poked me back. I poked her again and she poked me again. We went back and forth at this until she finally started to laugh a little. Then I saw her shoulders start to shake. She turned to me, and a single tear was rolling down her cheeks. It was a start. "It hurts, 'Ledra. It hurts so much."

I wrapped my arms around her. "I know, Rale. I know."

Ralenthra found a comfortable perch in a nearby oak tree while I set up next to the river. I helped the men set up their tent and then took a discreet bath in the deliciously cool water. Finally, I changed into pajamas, wrapped myself in my blanket, sat down on my bedroll and started to go into trance.

And then, it began to rain. It wasn't exactly a soft and gentle summer shower either.

"Oh, damn it!" I quickly rolled up my blanket and bedroll before gathering the rest of my belongings and scurried over to Ralenthra's tree. Despite my emphatic pleas, she refused to come down and seek refuge in the tent.

"You're overdramatizing. I'm fine," she shouted over the storm, "And you've been spoiled by city life."

I only grunted in response. As I marched away towards the men's tent, she called out, "For every time he gropes you, you owe me ten gold pieces!"

~


"Just help me with this, will you? I've got to peel myself out of these wet clothes and I'm not doing it in front of you."

Magnos sighed laboriously as he helped me put up the sheet that would divide the tent in two. Kronk was a heavy sleeper, and sometimes I could barely hear Magnos over the snoring. "I just don't think this wall is necessary."

The sheet being properly attached, I started to undress. "You two have plenty of room on that side. And could I get some light in here? I'd like to be able to see what I'm doing."

"What do you want me to light up?" Magnos asked.

"The tent." I replied.

"The whole thing? I don't think you mean to say what you're saying."

I growled impatiently, "Then tell me what you need me to tell you."

"Look, just give me an object to cast light on and I'll give it back to you. It should be sufficient to light up the whole tent for, oh, about an hour."

I thought for a moment, then lifted the necklace Methrammar gave me over my head and thrust it through to the other side of the sheet.

I heard some clinking noises. Magnos mumbled a bit and soon the tent was filled with a gentle luminosity, adequate for reading. After a few moments filled with more clinking noises, he handed my necklace back to me. I found a secure place to hang my necklace and took the opportunity to get out of the uncomfortably damp pajamas I was wearing. Magnos cleared his throat and said, "It's a little too snug on this side for my comfort."

"Boo Hoo," I replied, as I dumped out my pack in order to search for another pair of pajamas. Just after I pulled them on, Kronk let loose a huge fart. Magnos groaned, gathered his belongings with surprising speed, and barged into my side of the tent. "What do you think you're doing?" I hissed.

"Escaping from certain death." He looked around for a spot to make himself comfortable and continued, "My, but you're the messy sort aren't you?"

"You're not going to be any safer over here, you know. Especially since you let some of the polluted air in. Now my side is contaminated." I had started to hold my nose and the last sentence came out pinched and nasally. Even Selune whined a little and covered her snout with her paws.

Magnos cozied up to me. "Well, if I'm going to die, let it be in the arms of a beautiful woman. Hold me, Seledra!"

Magnos' own pungent odor knocked me backwards and I quickly covered my face with my pillow. "You're not going anywhere near me smelling like that. Get back over to the other side. You smell as bad as Kronk!"

Magnos pointed outside. "Do you want me to jump in the river and run back?"

"You're dirty and smelly and streaked with sweat." I combed through my scattered belongings and found one of my soap stones. After sniffing it and finding the scent sufficiently not-girly-smelling, I handed it to him. "Strip. Go outside and scrub yourself down. Don't come back until you're squeaky clean."

Magnos sighed and rolled his eyes. "Turn around."

"What? You got an eyeful of me this morning!"

Magnos shook his head and twirled his finger. "This show's not for free. Turn around."

"Hmph." I turned around, but grabbed my hand-mirror and pretended to try to put my hair up with one hand while gazing rather appreciatively at Magnos' reflection. He took off everything but his breeches and walked outside.

~


I was busy reading my copy of A Banquet of Flesh when Magnos burst in unceremoniously. He was dripping wet, holding his breeches in front of him, and his teeth were chattering. My heart, and everything south of it, melted. A little. I got up and wrapped my blanket around him in an effort to dry him off.

Holding one finger out, I dragged it down the center of his chest, making a squeaking noise. Suddenly, Magnos took my hand, drew my finger into his mouth and sucked. I moaned and bit my lip. He wrapped his trembling arms around me and said, "Seledra, I need your warmth. I want you, Seledra."

"Seledra? "

"Seledra?!"


"Hey, Princess!"

I was shocked out of my stupor to see Magnos bobbing up and down on the balls of his feet impatiently. "Are you going to just stand there or are you going to let me dry off and change with a little privacy?"

I sat down with a pout as he pushed past the sheet to where Kronk was sleeping. I picked up my book again, opened to a random page and stared in shock.

Our clothes lay strewn carelessly across the room and were soon joined by the vase of flowers and complimentary bowl of fruit from the table as I replaced them. “Now,” I moaned. But as if distracted, he instead bent down and picked up the daisies from the floor, quickly weaving them into a crown and placing it on my head. “Look in the mirror,” he said. Turning my head to the left, I sat up and drew my knees to my chest while he wrapped his arms around my shoulders and sweetly kissed my cheek. I smiled at our reflection and he whispered softly in my ear, “You look like a Faerie Queen.”

"Again? That's impossible!" I sputtered.

"What's impossible?" Magnos popped his head in on my side of the sheet.

I juggled the book in my hands in a failed attempt to conceal it, but this only stirred up his curiosity. Soon, the rest of him, with nothing but his breeches on, was by my side. Oh, Sune. Why do you hate me so?

Magnos plucked the book out of my hands. "A Banquet of Flesh, eh? Reading about cannibals?" Then he looked closer at the cover. "Oh. Ohhhhhhhhh. You insatiable little minx, it's one of those Heartwarder-enchanted books, isn't it? A fascinating bit of magic these things are. Pulling from your memories to dramatize the best sex of your life in book form. Amazing." He clucked his tongue at me and handed the book back. "Read it."

"No."

"Are you embarrassed?"

"Yes, and it's none of your business."

"C'mon, we're both adults here." He lowered his voice to a sultry whisper. "I'll show you mine, if you show me yours."

I sighed, but deep down, my curiosity gnawed at me. "Oh, all right. But you have to promise not to laugh."

Blushing furiously and my voice reduced to a husky whisper, I read the passage to him. He stared at me a while, blinked, and then grinned devilishly. "It isn't Methy, is it?"

I shook my head. "No."

"Ha, I knew it. Too smooth to be that Mama's boy."

I rolled my eyes. "So glad you approve." I said. "Now it's your turn." I handed the book back to him.

Magnos took the book in his hands and flipped through the pages. "Huh." He scratched his head. "That's weird."

"Are you holding out on me, Magnos?"

"No, it's just that...the pages are blank."

I guffawed.

"I'll thank you not to laugh, it's a sensitive subject," he sniffed.

"You want to tell me about it?" I said, laying a hand gently on his arm.

Magnos shook his arm away. "No."

I looked down, a little embarrassed at my behavior. I mean, he hardly knew me. There was no reason I should have assumed any trust from him. "I see. Well, we should probably go to sleep anyway. We have a big day ahead of us tomorrow."

"Yeah. Here's your blanket back, by the way. Thanks," he said with a little smile.

It was damp and completely unsuitable for keeping me warm. "It's wet," I said.

"No worries," he said, "we can share."

And so it was, after I put my personal items back into my backpack, that Magnos and I laid our bedrolls side-by-side, laid down next to each other, and shared his blanket. Just before I drifted off to sleep, he spoke.

"There was a girl I was with recently, but she must have drugged me because I have no memory of her. That's why the book doesn't work. Or, why it does, but it's blank. Because my memory of her is a blank. But she must have been really something, Seledra. She must have been something."
butterfly_sunrider: (Seledra4)
We were able to stock up on more food at Rauvinwatch Keep. While we were there, I slipped my boots off and soaked my sore feet in the cool water of the Rauvin river. It felt so good that I drifted off to sleep with Selune draped across my lap. Luckily it was Ralenthra who came to wake me, as Magnos was still stocking up on food with the 10 gold pieces I'd given him. She stood over me, hands on her hips, shaking her head."You've created a monster. The soldiers are going to go without supper tonight."

"Poppycock, " I replied, squinting in the early afternoon sun, "He's to buy only as much as he's willing to carry."

Ralenthra pulled me to a seated position and helped me get my boots back on. "Hopefully he won't con Kronk into carrying the brunt of it behind your back, then."

Finally, I stood up. After taking a deep breath to center myself I said, "Kronk doesn't like Magnos enough to let himself be conned by him."

As I wobbled on my legs like a newborn filly, Ralenthra clapped me on the shoulder. "Speaking of Kronk, we should make sure he hasn't gotten himself into trouble, eh?"

Kronk had purchased some barbequed venison and was carrying a plate of it and a large tankard over to the riverside. He found a bench carved from a felled oak tree, sat, and had started to eat when I stopped, and grabbed Ralenthra's arm while mentally telling Selune to sit by Kronk.

Selune obediently approached Kronk with a wagging tail.

Kronk turned, saw my wolf approach him, and smiled. "Hello, Wolf. Want deermeat?"

Selune licked her chops and barked.

"Sit, Wolf!"

Selune sat, and Kronk rewarded her with a slice of venison.

The half-orc continued to give Selune simple commands and reward her for following them until he had given her half his venison. "That's all, Wolf. Kronk eat lunch now."

Selune rolled over on to her back and got a belly rub while Kronk finished eating and drinking. Ralenthra smiled and said to me, "I think Kronk is doing just fine on his own. Let's make sure Magnos hasn't gotten himself arrested yet."

And with that, the two of us went looking for our mage. My legs felt like jelly, but we had to keep going for at least four more hours.

~


Ralenthra and I passed the time during the early afternoon doldrums with lessons in drow sign language. It was becoming more and more apparent how useful this skill would be to share, especially now that we had so much talking behind others' backs to their faces to do. We figured that the safest bet was to conduct our conversation in elvish. For example:

"Eir vol. Sai shaendrol, sor air 'sael ci sestal'," explained Ralenthra (All right. To begin, this is "flank the human").

I nodded and repeated her gestures. She smiled. "Byrn sor air 'lair air shor thosi'" (Now this is "Kill it with fire").

Again, I mimicked her movements. She nodded enthusiastically. I asked "Shar eidyr, 'rial cos ail si vor'?" (How about, "punch him in the ribs?")

Ralenthra started to gesture and then shook her head. "Ei pyrn shyr baelaes ber vel mystaeli ail si vor. Mar tardi. Ai ker mysti tylyzelor kaer jhyr ail salarol" (A drow would never just punch someone in the ribs. Stab maybe. I guess some colloquialisms get lost in translation).

Magnos snickered to himself. He was probably thinking of something dirty, that pervert.

~


We took a brief respite about an hour later as Selune was acquiring herself a meal of freshly killed rabbit. Magnos sidled up to me and whispered, "Not that I didn't appreciate the lunar display this morning, and not that I don't like seeing that big lug doing all the heavy lifting, but it really isn't necessary."

I turned and raised an eyebrow at him, incredulous. "Can it be, Magnos, that you are volunteering for something? Someone get me some smelling salts! I might faint."

He smirked. "Your sarcasm is but the least of your charms, your holiness. But I'm still willing to sacrifice one of my spells for the greater good."

"And which spell have you decided to sacrifice?" I asked.

"Why, Tenser's Floating Disc, of course! It's one of the most useful of all my spells. Every time my friend Jonah has a little too much elven wine at the Goat, we use it to carry him back to the dormitories."

I smirked. "Has anyone ever had to use it to taxi you around?"

He puffed out his chest, "Oh no. I can hold my liquor."

I snorted.

Magnos smiled. "Oh, you doubt my talents? Maybe I should take you to the Goat sometime and show you how skilled I am."

I gulped and was afraid that I was starting to blush, so I turned and pretended to look off into the horizon for Selune. In truth, she had communicated to me that she was on her way back, but was currently being distracted by a squirrel.

When I turned back around, he was still smiling. "Have you ever been to the Dancing Goat? There's a great variety of beverages to get drunk on, cheap, if otherwise unappealing chow, and the music! They always have great live music."

I nodded. "I hear the inn is a ripoff, though."

Magnos grimaced, "Tell me about it."

Selune came loping back into view and I called an end to our rest stop. Ralenthra beckoned me to her and as we walked along, she whispered, "Did he just ask you out on a date?"

I whispered back, "I didn't agree to anything." After pausing for a moment, I added, "Of course, we could all go together when this is done. That way, nothing will go wrong!"

Ralenthra shook her head. "The last time all four of us were in the same place in Silverymoon, the city was attacked by trolls."

I sighed, "Oh, don't be so negative."

She looked sideways at me, suspiciously.

I whispered emphatically. "It's not a date."
butterfly_sunrider: (Seledra4)
I awoke to Selune's cold nose nuzzling my hand. It was still dark, but we have to be at the Moorgate at the crack of dawn. Gingerly, I pulled myself out of my warm, soft, comfortable bed and sauntered over to Ralenthra's room. She was already awake and dressed.

"Did you remember the talcum powder first?" I asked.

"Damn it." said Ralenthra.

A short time later, we both stood in front of the full-length mirror in her room, powdering ourselves down.

"Do you think I look ashy?" asked Ralenthra.

"I'm more concerned about how hot you're going to be. One, it's summer. Two, you're wearing all black. Three, you are black. Four, you're wearing a catsuit under your five studded leather armor." I listed the problems off on the fingers of one hand.

"I'll be fine. Drow are cold-blooded creatures, after all." she said with a sardonic chuckle.

"Well, our route follows the Rauvin river. Don't be too proud to take a dip in the water to cool off."

"I'll be fine."

I sighed, then pulled on my leather corset and battle skirt. Buyer's remorse was starting to set in.

"I'm not sure about this whole 'going drow' thing," I said as I began to weave my hair into two long braids.

Ralenthra was also braiding her hair. "Well you were the one who was so concerned about being too hot."

I looped the two braids into a halo style and tugged at the skirt fretfully. "It barely covers my bottom. What if I have to jump? I'll expose myself!"

"It's nothing Magnos hasn't already seen before," she replied. As my face flushed, she quickly added, "I kid, I kid! Besides, he'll probably be too busy staring at his own reflection in the river to notice. You'll be fine. Really."

~


We gathered at the Moorgate at dawn, some of us more rested than others. Dorn was silent and stone-faced as I handed out supplies, Kronk receiving his sundries with a surprised smile and Magnos accepting his with bemusement. Selune took an alert stance as she was getting a read on our little party. She seemed to recognize Kronk and licked his hand. Magnos and his snowy owl Hedwig she acknowledged with a friendly bark of approval. However, she kept growling at Dorn until I gave her specific instructions not to. She whined in protest but obeyed. I took a deep breath, surveyed our fellowship, and smiled.

"I got us a tent." I proclaimed, proudly.

"A tent?" said Magnos, as he dug into his bag of jerky. "How generous and thoughtful of you. I hope you don't mind sleeping outside, Kronk. The ladies and I...need our space."

Ralenthra spoke up. "Actually, the tent is for you males. I am quite comfortable sleeping outside and for druids, sleeping outside is practically standard."

As Magnos turned to stare at me whilst in mid-chew, I cleared my throat and nodded enthusiastically. He was incredulous. Pointing at Kronk, he said, "You mean I have to share a tent with that guy? He smells like a meat locker and it will only get worse in close quarters!" Then he popped more jerky into his mouth.

Kronk growled. "Kronk right here you know."

"Enough fighting, all right?" I shouted. I took the folded up tent from the guard that accompanied us from my house. "Someone give me a boost." Kronk offered his arms to me, but I shook my head.

"Actually, Kronk, I was thinking you could carry the tent. It's quite light, if a little cumbersome."

Kronk pouted. "Kronk not pack mule."

I smiled and patted his arm. "But Kronk, you're so big and strong, it will be like nothing at all! Ralenthra can't carry it as it would almost drag on the ground. I'm not much taller than she is." Here I whispered to him conspiratorially, "And you know the scrawny magic person is too weak to carry even a light tent like this."

Kronk, adequately mollified, chuckled and offered his back. I looked at Magnos, who was emptying the remainder of his bag of jerky into his mouth. "How about that boost, then?" I asked.

Magnos crouched.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

His mouth slightly full, he explained, "Get on my shoulders. I'll give you a boost that way."

I thought about my lack of knickers and shuddered. "I am not wrapping my legs around your head."

"Such a pervert! Here then." Magnos cast Tenser's Floating Disc. "Ride my disc."

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Ralenthra smack her forehead. "Excuse me?" I asked.

Magnos swallowed and enunciated his words more clearly. "Ride. My. Disc. Here, I can see you're intimidated by its size. I'll help you up."

I found myself getting hoisted up by the waist and seated on the floating silver disc. I skittered to my feet and the tentpack was handed to me. It took a few moments to make sense of the various
buckles and ties and the situation was not made any easier with Magnos standing almost directly underneath me.

As I was putting on the finishing touches, Magnos chuckled."Looks like a full moon."

I sighed, exasperated. "She shouldn't be visible at this time of day."

"I can only state what I see with my own eyes. From here, she is round and full and so close I could take a bite out of her."

I wheeled around to see Magnos and his lasciviously grinning face. Before I could draw my sword and strike him with it, Ralenthra elbowed Magnos in the ribs, not hard enough to bruise anything but perhaps his ego, with a "That's enough sky-gazing for you, Rel Astra. We've got a job to do."

Kronk turned to me. "You want Kronk to flatten magic person for you?"

I thought of my bet with Ralenthra. Apparently she had heard the offer too, and it set her eyes gleaming. I replied, "No, Kronk. That won't be necessary. He's good for something. Probably."

And we set out west, following the river. Just after passing through the gate, Magnos paused and sniffed the air. "Does anyone else smell brimstone?"

Dorn raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

~


I had shopped for a five day journey. Why had Magnos gone through all his food before midday? Why? Also before midday, I was starting to realize the wisdom of "breaking in" a pair of boots before you go walking long distances in them. But I wasn't the only one suffering it seems.

"Are we there yet?" groaned Magnos one hour into our journey.

"No." said Ralenthra.

"This is a travesty of justice, I tell you. The trip alone is going to kill me," Magnos intoned bitterly. Hedwig hooted sympathetically. "Thanks, girl. It's nice to know someone cares."

I sighed laboriously as I hobbled along, "You're not the only one with aching feet, you know. But some of us know how to suffer with some dignity."

"Oh yes! You're very dignified, Moonmaiden. I'd cast Tenser's Floating Disc for you, but I had to use that up so you could give us all a show. Not that it's not appreciated, but I'm afraid that you owe me 7 silver." Magnos piped up matter-of-factly.

"I don't owe you anything, Magnos." I groaned and rubbed the heel of my hand into my forehead as I recalled this morning's blunder.

Dorn spoke for quite possibly the first time since we met him. "Will you two just shut yer traps?"

I felt a little chastened being scolded by a stranger, especially one who had been assigned to keep an eye on us. Kronk laughed a little and pumped his fist in the air. Ralenthra sighed in relief. Magnos, as usual, couldn't care less about making a good impression on our creepy little warden.

"Mercury doesn't grow on trees you know. Do you have any idea what a risk to my well-being I am taking by carrying it on my person? It could make me go mad!" Magnos exclaimed with a grand flourish.

"Pity," said Ralenthra, flatly. "You are truly a great hero. We should all bow in your presence."

"Exactly," said Magnos, seemingly oblivious to her sarcasm.

Ralenthra made an obscene gesture at Magnos in drow sign and walked quickly ahead. I strained to join her despite my aching feet.

I could hear the sullenness in Magnos' voice as he loudly added, "And damn it, I'm hungry. Kronk, can you spare any of that jerky?"
butterfly_sunrider: (Seledra3)
Last night I dreamed.

A beautiful, golden-haired half-elf gave birth to a full elven baby boy in Evermeet, surrounded by sun elf relatives, and died soon after, but not before she named him Khiiral.

A temple to Chauntea in a faraway land was burnt to the ground; the only escapee a 14 year old girl who fled west, first on foot, then by boat and finally on horseback, for thousands of miles. After 5 years of crossing many lands alone, she came to a place where yet again she saw others who looked more like herself and understood her speech. The land told her she had not circumnavigated Toril, so she stayed, married a woodcutter and had a son.

Aelthas Vihuel, in his customary blue and green robes, crossed a field and approached a hooded female figure in green.

“Seledra?”

The woman turned and pulled back her hood.

“Who…who are you?” he stuttered.

A familiar voice spoke. “Do you not see the resemblance? The only things Seledra shares with her father are his name, his eyes and his unfortunate lack in stature. The rest belongs to me.”

Aelthas raised his wand, but the woman continued to speak. “I am Evindra Starwind, not that the name means anything to you, ignorant wretch that you are.” She cocked an eyebrow and smirked at the nervous young human. “Lower your wand, Aelthas. If I had wanted to kill you, you would be dead already.”

Aelthas did not move from his defensive position and the wand was summarily knocked from his hand. She sighed, annoyed, but not threatened. “No, I will not kill you. Instead, you shall suffer.” A bolt of lightning was shot from my mother’s hands, but even without his wand at his disposal, Aelthas blocked it.

“Asomatic Spellcasting, clever boy! Good to see you didn’t spend all your time at university getting drunk and deflowering maidens.” A gust of wind knocked Aelthas to the ground and my mother stood over him.

“Why are you doing this?”

She narrowed her eyes. “I do this because you have broken my daughter’s spirit. That I do not forgive."

Aelthas interrupted, crying out “Seledra would have done the same if I hadn’t first.” A crackle of electricity hit him, stunning him.

“Silence! My daughter has cried herself to sleep every night for the last week. She is inconsolable. My husband and I are sending her to the High Forest in hopes of settling her nerves. But you, you shall have no…such…respite.”

With that, a blast of silver light flew from my mother’s hands and hit Aelthas square in the face. Where a handsome young human male of twenty once lay, there was a man who looked closer to seventy in his stead. “Did you love her?” she asked.

He replied feebly, “Yes.”

My mother turned on her heel and walked away. “But not enough. Congratulations on your graduation, Aelthas.”


I sat at the vanity in my room, wearing my high-collared green silk dress from Shou, green silk slippers and my necklace from Methrammar and was pulling the last tendrils down from an elaborate hairstyle for the big occasion. I’d had plenty of time to work on my hair due to the strange dream I’d had. Was it real? If so, what did those first two women have to do with me? If my mother had confronted Aelthas, why did she never tell me? Is that reason for the “sickness” I’d heard he was stricken with before he began teaching at the Conclave? Was there a reason why this dream was filled less with symbols and more with complete events? After waking with a start, I couldn’t go back to sleep, and I became so obsessed with taming my hair that midmorning flew by without me eating even a morsel for breakfast. Today was the day I was to be presented to the City of Silverymoon as the object of Methrammar Aerasumé’s affections; it was to be announced that we were courting, which was the step before betrothal, which was the step before marriage. My father and mother had said that they might be in attendance which raised the stakes even more. Nine Hells, the whole of Silverymoon would be there. Even…

“How do I look?” Ralenthra came into the room in a lovely lavender gown. Not very stealthy, but if she went around in her usual thieves’ leathers, she’d stick out like a sore thumb (more than she already does, I guess). I noticed that she kept smoothing her dress over and over but said nothing. Maybe she was just a little nervous going out like this in a crowd.

I smiled. “Gorgeous. Do you want me to do up your hair?”

She grinned back. “Nah, I prefer to leave on time. How long have you been sitting here, an hour?” She whipped out some hairpins and started styling her hair into little round balls, one on each side of the top of her head.

I stood and took one last turn in the mirror, grimacing. “Two, actually. I just can’t leave it alone.” We fell silent, but for the growling in our respective stomachs. I turned away from the mirror and looked at Ralenthra. She was fidgeting with various compartments in her dress and mumbling off a checklist to herself. I folded my arms and raised an eyebrow at her. “So…are you going to tell me about your secret compartments?”

Glowing with pride, she showed off the deep pockets that looked like mere fabric folds on either side of her hips, a small bustle of fabric in the back that doubled as a compartment for some of her thieves’ tools and the re-attachable fabric just behind the hip pockets that made accessing the hip scabbard for her dagger that much more convenient. That thing has got to be gnome-manufactured. I nodded, impressed, “It also looks like you’re a little bit…more endowed. Is that a modification as well?”

Ralenthra smiled. “Good eye. It’s a push-up mechanism that not only works as a distraction, but storage as well.”

As she concluded with her own finishing touches, a knock came at the door. Dear Mielikki, was it midday already? I peered through a curtained window and sure enough, it was the coachman Methrammar sent to take us to the Festival. I gave Selune a hug and kiss and told her only to hunt for creatures that were throwing Silverymoon out of balance. And with that, Ralenthra and I boarded the carriage that would take us to the heart of the Festival. As we sat there in jittery silence, I felt the flask full of raspberry liqueur in my little silk purse. Damn, I should have left that at home. I worried that the temptation to drink my nerves away might be too strong.

The two of us made quite the entrance in the gleaming silver carriage drawn by six Calishite stallions and even more so as we stepped out in all our finery, aided by the footmen. I can’t say I was overly concerned about it at the time, as I was starving and there were food stalls all about. What I craved most of all was a cream horn, and the best place in all of Silverymoon to get one was from Aradia, the woman who was the current proprietress of the Heavenly Queen Bakery, a business run by humans that had been passed from mother to daughter for centuries, almost since the founding of Silverymoon itself. Luckily, Aradia had set up a food stall for the festival.

It was packed, but the wait would be worth it, or so I thought. My stomach gnawed on itself as I pulled Ralenthra into line with me. She glanced up at the sign above the stall. “What is that supposed to be?” she asked. Could it be she’d never had this before? With an almost evangelical fervor even the Helmites would balk at, I smiled wide, and Ralenthra took a little step back. “A cream horn! It’s a Silverymoon specialty, especially at Midsummer. A pastry filled with sweetened, whipped cream!” Soon I was first in line. I looked back at her and she shook her head, so I only bought one for myself. She lowered her parasol slightly, looked at the sign again, and said, “Huh. Couldn’t they get a better artist?”

As I pulled the recently purchased treasure to my face, I said to Ralenthra, “You’ve simply got to try one of these. They are divine.” Ralenthra shook her head firmly. “I’m really not interested in making a spectacle of myself.” I raised an eyebrow at her, completely stumped until Ralenthra started making obscene gestures with her hands. I giggled and then lustfully took a greedy bite from my cream horn, licking my lips clean from the excess cream that had spilled out of the flaky pastry. Suddenly, I felt like I was being watched and looked up. To my horror, it was HIM.

Oh, Hells, no!

Ralenthra must have seen my frozen expression. “What is it?” My face remaining frozen except for the attempt I made to point using only my eyebrows, I managed to squeak out, “Look. Over. There.” She looked, and an expression of recognition passed across her features. She snapped her fingers. “Oh, Jonah. I bought my eye drops from him. Nice guy, you’d like him. He doesn’t test on animals, just…his…friends. Seledra? Hello!” I had turned away as quickly as I could, with Ralenthra having to run a little to keep up until I was satisfied that we had ducked out his line of sight. “It’s him. The boy. It’s him.” I kept repeating to her, as I felt my skin beginning to flush like I was a Lathanderite cleric at tonight’s bonfire. What had I been thinking? Silverymoon is a big city, but did I really think I was never going to run into him again? Ralenthra still seemed confused. “Jonah? Really?”

I shook my head, and it was at that point that I uttered the name that I had not dared to speak or write anywhere since that night at the Dancing Goat, not to Isioleth, not even to Ralenthra. I said, “His name is Magnos.” Ralenthra turned around scanned the crowd again. “Which one is he?” she asked. I groaned, “The one with the dark hair and dark eyes and wearing the ostentatious red and purple robes. You can’t miss him.” Then I put my head in my hands. Ralenthra chuckled. “Boy? The way you’re acting, I was expecting something more criminal. That, my dear, is a man. Well, sort of. I mean…he’s probably no less mature than you. Us. You know, the whole aging…slow…thing. Yes.” Still in a state of shock, I remained silent, but started walking again while she followed. Ralenthra continued, changing her tack, “You’re so like Tordrin in that way. You like men from Kara-Tur, Hells, anything from Kara-Tur, like he likes drow. Huh. So he’s the one that helped you practically demolish that room! We had to pay through the nose for that, remember?” She guffawed. I’m glad she thought it was funny.

Ralenthra and I kept moving through the crowd with her teasing me all the way. “Did you ever find your underwear?” I shook my head and she continued, “How about that bodice? Did you get that back from the shop yet?” I told her about my entanglement with the Glittersmoke girls. “I’m surprised the thing was salvageable. How would you explain it to your boss if it …" Her eyes grew wide for a moment and she froze. Looking ahead, I saw Tordrin and as I turned to her, she turned to me and grinned. I rolled my eyes. "Oh go on you silly goose, I'll be fine. See you later!” And with that, she ran off to join him, though something told me that she may have gone somewhat reluctantly. I decided at that point to start looking for something to calm me down for my engagement with Methrammar.

Hundreds of distractions awaited me. It seemed there was a busking bard for every fifth stall. On my left was the stall representing Kamala's Fine Herbs and Hookah Shop. Kamala is a halfling woman hailing from Calimport. She opened her shop in Northbank about five years ago and sells the best halfling weed in the city. Students from the Conclave and young artistic types crowd her place in the evenings and smoke halfling weed from the hookahs she imported from Calimport. She also sells mushrooms that were previously limited to use by druids and shamans in vision quests, which is a bit less ethical, but if people want to expand their spiritual horizons, I'm not averse to looking the other way when I see her selling some. Of course, both the halfling weed and special mushrooms make said seekers hungry, and Kamala's slightly unhinged but culinarily talented brother Sammy obliges them by keeping late hours at his Calishite restaurant, The Djinn’s Delight (the same one my mother and I went to on the 28th of Flamerule). He ran the stall next to Kamala's today and unnervingly asked every customer with a Neverwinter accent if they knew a halfling named Tomi Undergallows. On my right, carnies competed with each other for the silvers of passerby, but with all these sights, sounds and smells, I still couldn’t get Magnos out of my mind.

Up ahead, there was the stall for Rand's Rare Books. Jaq Rand, the proprietor, has a wide variety of books and scrolls, including the erotica that Ralenthra and I devour. Discreetly, I picked up Memoirs of a Heartwarder. Those saucy Sunites!

As the glasses of wine increased, so our inhibitions decreased. He took my hand and led me to the dance floor, where I danced with him as I hadn’t danced with anyone in far too long. The band played ecstatically and we matched our movements to them for song after song, until finally, breathless, he locked his brown eyes on my green ones, tangled his hand in my auburn hair and drew me to him, drinking deeply from my lips. As he sucked on my bottom lip, I managed to growl, “You. Me. Upstairs. Now.”

Flushed, I slammed the leather bound volume shut. I must be losing my mind or something. At random, I selected another book with the delicious-sounding title of A Banquet of Flesh. I remembered that Ralenthra had recently picked this book up for us and that it was waiting for my perusal on my nightstand at home. My hope that it wasn’t about cannibals encouraged by the cover image of a handsome young man biting lasciviously into a peach.

Our clothes lay strewn carelessly across the room and were soon joined by the vase of flowers and complimentary bowl of fruit from the table as I replaced them. “Now,” I moaned. But as if distracted, he instead bent down and picked up the daisies from the floor, quickly weaving them into a crown and placing it on my head. “Look in the mirror,” he said. Turning my head to the left, I sat up and drew my knees to my chest while he wrapped his arms around my shoulders and sweetly kissed my cheek. I smiled at our reflection and he whispered softly in my ear, “You look like a Faerie Queen.”

My eyes blurred suddenly, and I gently put the book back in its place. I rubbed my eyes frantically, and groping almost blindly, I grabbed The Wail of the Banshee.

After slamming me against the door, he buried his face in my neck and my legs went around him instinctively. Then he moaned softly, but clearly enough, a name that was not mine. I froze. “Excuse me?” Slowly, he lifted his head and met my hardened gaze with a bashful grin. “Oops.” I untangled myself from his embrace and gently pushed him in the chest. “Who is Susan?” He raised his eyebrows sharply. “Susan? Who is Susan?” He was repeating my words back at me, using a typical male stalling technique. “Yeah. Not my name. Who in the Nine Hells is Susan?” He scratched his head, and if he were less drunk, he probably could have come up with a better explanation. “Ah, does it matter? You’re here and I’m here. Would you rather I was with Susan calling her by your name?” I slapped him and walked past him to start picking up my clothes, but he grabbed me by the wrist. “Let go of me,” I growled, and slapped him again. He smiled and dropped my hand. “Fine,” he said. “Fine,” I said. “Good,” he said. “Good,” I said. “Bint,” he said. “Bastard,” I said. And I went to slap him yet again, but his time he caught me. The heat between us was undeniable. He continued to smile. “You like it rough, do you?” I drew closer to him and whispered huskily, “Shut up and kiss me.” Soon the table had been knocked over, and we were on the floor.

Furious, I threw the book back on the shelf. Jaq called out and ran towards me. “Hey, are you going to pay for that?” My eyes bloodshot, I screamed. “No!” He backed off. “All right then. No need to get snippy.” I sighed and headed to the section where the translations of the newest martial arts serials written by Mao Jiao Long that have also been catching my eye were. I flipped through the first volume, The Way of Jun Fan and was so piqued that I bought it and the second volume, The Nine Golden Swords of Telflamm. Breathing a sigh of relief, I was free.

Soon I heard the familiar strains of Sun & Moon wafting through the air. I followed the sounds to the edge of their stage and listened with rapt attention to Tordrin as he sang:

My young love said to me, my mother won’t mind
And my father won’t slight you for your lack of kind,
And she stepped away from me and this she did say,
It will not be long love ´til our wedding day.

She stepped away from me and she moved through the fair,
And fondly I watched her move here and move there,
Then she went her way homeward with one star awake,
As the swans in the evening move over the lake.

The people were saying no two were e´er wed,
But one has a sorrow that never was said,
And I smiled as she passed me with her goods and her gear,
And that was the last that I saw of my dear.

I dreamt it last night that my true love came in,
So softly she entered her feet made no din,
She came close beside me and this she did say,
It will not be long love ´til our wedding day.


It was mid-afternoon, and after some more absent-minded browsing of the stalls, a meal of steamed pork buns at the 7 Little Wonders Inn's stall, and just a little sampling of the local brews at the dwarven-run Ale Gardens, I found Methrammar easily, as tall as he is. He took me in his arms and kissed me so deeply and tenderly that I was almost woozy from it. He smiled broadly and pressed his forehead to mine. “I apologize, my darling. I know that was slightly against social convention, but oh, what you do to me.” He lifted my chin with his finger, smiled warmly and continued, “You are devastatingly beautiful today, my love. I pity the other men who gaze upon you and know that they can never have you. Come, let’s present you.”

This was it, my crowning moment of glory, the most important day of my life thus far. Time seemed to slow down as we moved through the crowd and I passed by my parents, offering a little smile. My father looked slightly less stern and maybe a little proud, or was it prideful? My mother smiled a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. Her thoughts seemed elsewhere, and when I tried to follow them, I felt as if I were falling into a deep whirlpool. Methrammar gently tugged on my arm, as I had forgotten myself.

And with a flourish of horns and drums, as Methrammar and I were about to take the stage, a sight I was quite unprepared for confronted us. First, I almost fell over when, with a snap, all my pleasure centers fired at once. Normally, I would see that as good, but at the time, it could only mean one thing: the wards were down. Then, I had to remind myself that I had not sampled Kamala's hallucinogenic wares because my eyes and ears told me that a horde of trolls were off in the distance, about a mile away and getting closer. Methrammar quickly ran off to join the Knights in Silver in repelling the monsters but not before telling me to get somewhere safe. I turned and saw my parents; my father standing ramrod straight, holding my restless mother’s arm like an anchor. I ran to them, but was repelled by some sort of force field that my father must have cast. “Why aren’t you helping?” My father responded curtly, “My days of getting involved in the affairs of others are over.” He turned to my mother with a stern look. “And so are hers.”

I ran for cover and started to wish that I hadn’t left my sword, or my wolf, for that matter, at home. Something positively itched at my fingers, and rather than being scared, I was actually a bit excited, if a bit worried about Ralenthra. I couldn’t just crouch there and wait for rescue, so I looked around for a weapon. I saw a bucket of water not two feet away from me and looked down in defeat. “This is hopeless,” I moaned. Then I looked again. I ripped the skirt of my dress off at the middle of my thigh and tore it into three long strips. I dunked those strips of silk into the bucket of water and proceeded to braid them together, all the while stealing glances at the troll’s hunting party as they drew nearer and nearer. Finally, I tied knots at both ends so the silk braid wouldn’t fall apart, slung my purse across my torso, climbed up on top of a stand and waited. When a huge troll broke away from the thick of the battle, I leapt on top of him and wrapped the silk cord around his neck and twisted it tightly. He grabbed at his throat, but couldn’t get his big hands underneath the braid. Just then, another troll grabbed me around my waist and held me up in the air, roaring. The first troll didn’t like that and threw a punch at the troll holding me, sending me flying. I hit the ground with a thud and started to feel a little triumphant when a third troll came by and hoisted me into a cage along with a couple of total strangers. I looked around and saw that there were, in fact, dozens of these cages about the festival grounds. There is usually only one use for a troll cage: storage for future troll meals.

After a while, the wards went back up, the sounds of battle dissipated, and I saw Methrammar returning to the area with an expression of triumph mixed with confusion. For a moment, I thought he had seen me. I freely admit that at that moment I was in no condition to be presented to the people of Silverymoon; dress torn, skin flushed, hair I had worked so hard to tame disheveled. I may have even broken a nail. My last moments in the cage were spent fruitlessly scanning the crowd for Ralenthra and in prayers to Lady Mielikki for her safety. It was at that moment that my cage was opened by a Silverymoon High Guardsman, who started patting me down.

“Excuse me, just what do you think you’re doing?” I put my hands on my hips and raised an eyebrow at the young officer.

The guardsman tipped his helm to me. “This is just a routine search, Miss. To make sure you’re unharmed.”

“Well, officer, I am employed by the city as a druid. I can assure you that I am totally uninjured.”

The officer looked me up and down. “You look like you must have put up quite the fight back there. Are you sure you didn’t hit your head?”

It was possible. I had a small mirror in my purse, so I slung it back around and opened it up. Seeing a small silvery glint, I snatched out its source. Unfortunately, it wasn’t my mirror. It was, however, a damn Lauthaul token, a big no-no for low-level city employees like me, to say the least. I’m not sure what grew wider upon seeing it, my eyes or the Guardsman’s smile.

I was arrested before I could catch Methrammar’s eye.

As long as there were people watching, the Guardsman handled me gently, but when we got to the prisoner’s wagon, I was shoved unceremoniously inside, where I landed right in someone else’s lap. Someone familiar. It was when he touched my face that I knew who he was, that unmistakable spark. Soon I was looking straight into the eyes of Magnos. He winked, grinned and said, “Haven’t we met before?”

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Butterfly Sunrider

March 2016

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