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)
We arrived back in Silverymoon at dawn. I was unaccustomed to the effects of teleportation over long distances while awake and fought to keep my equilibrium so that I wouldn't vomit all over myself.

Methrammar chuckled. "A bit green, my love? Well, green always was a good color for you."

I rolled my eyes and shook my head slowly. "Does that ever get easier?"

He shrugged. "It's hard to say. The first time we went through, you were unconscious. Maybe it's something you will get used to in time." He draped his arm around me and pulled me close. The sudden movement caused me to lose control over my gag reflex and I vomited on him.

My face flushed with embarrassment. "Oh, Methrammar, darling, I'm so sorry!"

He grimaced and drew out a handkerchief. "It's...quite all right, my dear. I'll have a coach take you home. Love you!" After he gingerly kissed me on the cheek, he swept out of the room. Gathering up what was left of my dignity, I walked towards the door of the teleportation room, which was manned by court wizards who barely managed to hide their amused expressions as I wobbled out.

After getting dropped off at my house, I went into my garden and gathered some ginger to sooth my unsettled stomach while the coachman carried my considerably heavy trunk upstairs. I drew some water from the well for some tea and went inside.

"Rale, I'm home!" I called out. My voice rang through the halls of my empty house. I went up to her room and saw that she still had her black leather armor lying out where she had left it...two days ago.

Oh Hells, I thought. That's not good.

I hurriedly cleaned myself up, sliced the ginger, wrapped it in a handkerchief, took a sip of the well water and walked right back outside, bidding the huffing coachman goodbye as I set out on foot. The first place I went was the Hall of Records, where I checked the news for the last of couple days. No dead bodies of drow females discovered. Good. However...oh girl, no. Attempted burglary. Well, she was pretty drunk when she left that night. Not much information beyond that, though. I sucked on a piece of ginger and walked to the Dancing Goat. I had been meaning to meet with Thralia anyway, to run Eaerlraun's name past her and see if she had any helpful information as to Ralentha's whereabouts.

Sunlight streamed through the somewhat dingy windows at my favorite haunt. Jasper was manning the bar and cleaning glasses. I casually slid onto a stool in front of him. "Hey there, Jasper!" I said, my voice a little raspy.

Jasper smiled a greasy, slightly toothless grin. "'Lo, Seledra. How's my favorite city employee? I noticed you're back together with-"

I cut him off with a dismissive but friendly wave and my best attempt at a smile. "I'm a little ill, Jasper, but don't worry, it's nothing you'll catch. Listen, is Thralia in? I need to speak to her." I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Tordrin.

"Feeling a little less feisty today, Miss Nailo?"

I managed a weak smile. "Please, Mr. Windweaver, call me Seledra!"

He chuckled warmly and clapped me gently on the shoulder. "Only if you call me Tordrin."

I stuck out my hand. "I'll drink to that."

He shook my hand and laughed some more. "No, please don't."

We both laughed for a bit. After we composed ourselves and I was about to ask about Thralia, Tordrin ran his fingers through his hair and opened his mouth to speak. "Can I talk to you? About Ralenthra? I need your help. I'm at my wit's end, here!"

I patted the seat next to me and smiled. "Have a seat. I'm sure that if we put our heads together we can come up with something."

Tordrin surprised me. He seems so smooth and confident in front of a crowd or in battle, but in matters of the heart, he was like a lovestruck boy, confused and more than a little scared. He fidgeted a little with the salt and pepper shakers in front of us. It looked like just my head was going to have to do.

"Well," I took a deep breath, "she's still upset with you. She didn't want to talk about you at all while we were out on 'Silverymoon Business'. And the whole mix-up with Erdri just rubbed more salt in the wound," I leaned in towards him conspiratorially, "which just means she's still in love with you. But..."

Jasper leaned over and snapped his fingers in between us. "Are ya gonna be wanting something to eat or drink? I have to go roust some paying customers out of their beds."

I looked at the light pouring through a nearby window. "Is it high noon already?"

Jasper shook his head. "Nah, just a few wake up calls." He thrummed his dirty fingernails on the bar in front of us. He clearly wanted us to order something. I wasn't dumb enough to order breakfast here, but clearly Tordrin hadn't yet learned his lesson. I quickly ordered an orange juice, and while Tordrin blathered on in detail his breakfast order, I felt...a presence. I looked up to the top of the stairs.

It was Magnos, adjusting a new set of blue and purple robes and strutting about like a peacock. Damn him, he looked good. I had to make an effort control my breathing. Leaning on the doorway behind him was a saucy-looking red-haired half-elf I recognized from my rounds, Laerune Brightwing. Why, she was old enough to be his mother! Well, better her than her daughters, I thought. I shuddered, glad that I wasn't eating breakfast as I recalled their examinations. Hoping he wouldn't see me, I turned back to Tordrin, and promptly forgot what I was going to say.

"You were saying that she's still in love with me, but..." repeated Tordrin.

I blinked, then regained my composure with a snap of my fingers. "Oh, right! I shouldn't mention you for a few days, like at all." He frowned and I continued. "You know, to give her a false sense of security. I might even wait for her to bring you up. And then...I strike!" I smacked my palm on the bar in front of me for emphasis.

Laerune called after Magnos in a husky voice, "Thank you so much for the wand!"

Tordrin seemed puzzled. "Strike? With what?"

I turned around to see Magnos bow deeply with a flourish and blow a kiss to Laerune. "My dear, you know that I simply can't bear it when a woman feels unsafe in her own home!" Oh, please.

I tried to suppress a gag by focusing on the task at hand. "Oh, a little misdirection. When she mentions you, and she will, mind you, I will then press the issue until she gets irritated. Which won't take long. Then I promise her never to bring you up again if she'll go out for some fun that night. What I won't tell her is that we'll be coming here and that you will be waiting to ambush her...with...love and stuff."

Magnos was at the bottom of the stairs now. He called after Laerune. "And the side of bacon?"

Tordrin smiled and shook his head. "Seledra, sometimes I think you might have missed your true calling. When do you think the big night will be? I want to make sure I'll be available."

Laerune replied, "I'll have it delivered to your dormitory this afternoon, darling boy!"

Jasper returned to the bar and set down Tordrin's platter of runny eggs, burnt toast and surprisingly well-cooked bacon, as well as my orange juice. He looked from me to Magnos, up to Laerune, then back to me and grumbled with raised eyebrows, "This will be awkward." I shook my head at him briskly before picking up my glass.

Magnos beamed. "Excellent!" Then he mumbled, "I've been craving that stuff for days now."

I swirled my juice around in my hand as I thought. Finally, I said, "Well, depending on what condition she's in when I find her, I think the tenth would be good. What say you?"

Magnos whispered, "Ooh, speaking of tasty morsels...Seledra! May I?" He grabbed a piece of bacon off of Tordrin's plate and stuffed it in his mouth. Tordrin was too busy wrapping his head around the fact that Ralenthra was missing to notice or at least care. I wasn't, so I grabbed Tordrin's spoon and rapped Magnos on the knuckles with it.

Magnos rubbed his hand indignantly and pouted. "Ow! Hey, I asked, didn't I? Am I supposed to wait for an engraved invitation? It'll get cold!"

Tordrin stammered. "She's...she's missing, you say?"

I sipped my juice calmly and nodded slowly at Tordrin. "She never came home the night of the fifth. Her new leathers were in the same place she'd left them."

Tordrin stood up, pushed his platter towards Magnos and shook his head. "Why didn't you tell me this earlier?"

Magnos shrugged, grabbed a spoon, and dug in.

I sighed. "I didn't want you to worry. Besides, I came here to talk to Thralia about it only after checking the obituaries and the crime logs. She's locked up somewhere for burglary, but I couldn't find out where."

Tordrin closed his eyes and clasped a hand over his heart. "You're sure?"

I smiled reassuringly at Tordrin. "Of course. I was just hoping Thralia had more information so I could go bail her out. I swear."

"I'll go get her for you." Tordrin said, clearly relieved. He headed upstairs and I called after him. "Tordrin, we're still on for the tenth!" He nodded and turned to walk down the hall. I turned to Magnos, who had inhaled Tordrin's breakfast and was now pouring the remainder of my juice down his throat. "You're a pig. No wonder why you're so drawn to Laerune Brightwing."

He finished gulping down my orange juice and licked his lips lustily. I felt my skin flush. He grinned cheekily, pushed at his nose with his finger and made a snorting sound.

I replied, "Well, you'd better stay away from her daughters or she'll turn you into bacon next."

Magnos shuddered. "Please, Seledra. I just ate. One of the first things I learned as an incoming student was to keep my wand away from the Brightwing girls. Of course, we wizarding students like to keep the sorcerers in the dark about that. Heh." He smiled wickedly. "But Laerune on the other hand, she can teach a man a lot of things, and I'm all about expanding my vast store of knowledge."

I grunted and stared at my glass rather than look at him. "I talked to Methrammar, you know. He says I'm not a blanket hog. So there."

Magnos rolled his eyes. "You expect me to take anything that Momma's boy says seriously about you? He doesn't know you! Not like I do." He smiled and winked at me.

I gasped in indignation. "He's my lover! How could you know me better than he?"

He drew in close. Too close for my comfort. I gulped. He whispered. "He doesn't get you all riled up like I do, does he? He's never seen you in the heat of battle like I have, the way you look with your cheeks flushed and your eyes flashing and your hair all wild. He's never seen you bored or demanding or wrong-headed or foul-tempered like I have! I doubt he could handle the real you. That's why you're getting some on the side, am I right?"

I blinked. "I beg your pardon?"

He smiled again. "You know, from that Tordrin guy, right? Well, since Ralenthra's not interested in him anymore, I guess he's fair game."

That bastard. I should throw that amulet I got for him in the river. I sneered at him. "I really don't think you're in any position to critique my love life. At least I don't give it up for a side of bacon!"

Magnos smacked his hand on the table and laughed heartily till tears streamed down his cheeks. And then he laughed some more. Finally, after wiping the tears from his face, he said, "You think she paid me for sex...with bacon? Oh no, no, no, no, no! She's been having trouble with people trying to break into her home. She needed a little extra security, so I supplied her with a wand and a few scrolls. She's low on cash this week, so I had her pay me in trade and her trade happens to be of the porcine persuasion." Then he grinned and pointed in my face. "The sex was just a bonus! And you're avoiding the question."

I guffawed, and spoke before I thought. "You think...Tordrin and I...ew, no! If I was going to be unfaithful to Methrammar, it certainly wouldn't be with another elf."

His eyes widened. "Really. That's Very. Interesting."

Thralia's laughter rang out behind us like tinkling silver bells. "Lies!"

I smiled. "This isn't college, Thralia. I'm talking about present day. By the way, since we both know elves don't snore, perhaps you could answer me this: am I a blanket hog?"

Thralia's response first consisted of more peals of laughter. "Oh yes, if my memory serves me correctly!" Magnos grinned smugly. Thralia continued with a throaty whisper. "But if you're looking to refresh me on that matter we could have another go..."

She was teasing, but Magnos almost fell out of his chair. I shook my head and grinned. "No, it was just the one time, Thralia."

She crossed her arms in front of her chest and pretended to be jealous. "Oh, I see how it is. You're still hung up on human wizards, then?"

I turned bright red. This time Magnos did fall out of his chair. I replied, not looking at either of them, my voice coming out thick, like honey mixed with sawdust. "That was also, Thralia, just the one time."

Thralia's smile faded, just slightly. "Yes. Of course." Magnos pulled himself up, dusted himself off, and excused himself as he "had a delivery coming". He walked away stiffly.

When he was out of earshot, I hissed through my teeth. "Thralia! Magnos. Is. A. Wizard!"

"He certainly has a magical effect on you. Your face matches your hair, my dear! Though I must say, he is striking." She looked after his retreating form appraisingly.

I shook my head. "No, Thralia. Not this one."

Thralia pouted and tilted her head to the side. "Oh come on, Seledra. You have the prince of the city wrapped around your little finger. Don't be greedy!"

She was teasing me, I know that now. But I took the bait. I threw up my arms and squeaked, "I'm not! I'm not even interested in him! He's arrogant, and vain, and selfish, and a gluttonous, wanton pervert. I'm just trying to save you the trouble."

Thralia grinned. "Sounds like you like him."

I blushed, frowned and took my turn to cross my arms over my chest. "I don't wish to talk about him any further."

She rolled her eyes dramatically. "Now there's a shock. So. You wanted to know about our wee rogue friend? She's in the common prison in Southbank. That's where they lock up the petty criminals. Only those with serious offenses go to the dungeon in the palace. I guess Alustriel believes in keeping her friends close, but her enemies closer."

I smiled, stood up and gave her a kiss on the cheek. "Anything else I need to know?"

Thralia sighed. "Only that she's feeling really sorry for herself."

I excused myself, but paused before turning away, trying to recall something I had been meaning to ask her, about something Magnos had said, but I couldn't recall what it was, and besides, Ralenthra had been in jail for almost 3 whole days and I was in a hurry.

Ralenthra looked and smelled terrible. Her hand was badly infected and she had broken ribs and bruises all over her back. I decided then that I would have to talk to Tathshandra about setting up rounds for the druids and clerics to visit the jails so that the prisoners could receive adequate health care, because this was just shameful. We walked in silence to Seven Little Wonders so that I could pick up some takeaway. I had not yet a chance to replenish my pantry and I wasn't in the mood to cook.

As we walked home, I felt her looking at me expectantly, like she was expecting a lecture or for me to start crying. I opened my mouth to speak, but...

...truth was, I didn't know what to say to her. I was relieved that she was all right, but scared that she could be so careless, and disappointed that she got in trouble the very night we got pardoned for treason. So, rather than say the wrong thing, I shut my mouth. I smiled, and she smiled back, as best she could, under the circumstances. We walked side by side and picked up a few things from the markets that dotted our path home. Every so often I made sure to make eye contact with her and share a smile.

In the end, I chose to remain silent and only allowed myself to communicate to her through my actions and expressions. Ralenthra didn't seem offended by this; when we got home, I ran a bath for her, carried her upstairs, and helped her bathe since her injuries hampered her every movement. She looked at me like I was crazy, but I just ignored her incredulity and started going to work. I knew that Ralenthra's mother left early on, and I wondered to myself, who did this for her? My own mother did this for me, right until I left for university, although with less frequency by that point. The very idea of going without such motherly attention seemed positively foreign to me.

Ralenthra was...a bit stiff, so I started with her hair. It was uncharacteristically messy and more than a little greasy. It was like she just didn't care. I pulled out the some pins and stuck them in my teeth, grabbed a comb and gently combed out the knots and tangles. Despite the care taken, I still heard her grunt a little at times, but she didn't stop me. I grabbed a nearby cup and filled it with bathwater, leaned her head back slightly, and went to work on washing her hair, massaging her scalp. She sighed and stretched out her legs like a cat. Shampoo, rinse, comb-out, towel-dry, pin-up.

In order to be less intrusive than simply going to work at her with a washcloth or Seldarine forfend, my hand, I pulled out a bath mitt I'd picked up at the market and lathered it up. Ralenthra's eyebrows shot up in surprise. I started at the back of her neck, washing with one hand and gently working out kinks with the other. The work I did to relax her neck and shoulders was countered when I grabbed her arm a little too quickly or forcefully and she flinched. Sometimes I don't know my own strength. I grimaced and bowed my head apologetically, then resumed my work in a more mindful fashion. After I helped her to lean forward so I could wash her back, I noticed a random patchwork of scars scattered about there. I wondered to myself about where she had gotten them; were these from her comparatively privileged albeit not-so-great life as the daughter of a Priest of Vhaeraun or from her rough and tumble existence in Menzo? With elves, it's so hard to tell, much like one's age, how old scars are. Everything feels like it happened a lifetime ago. I was extra careful when moving over these mystery marks, but if it bothered her, she never showed it.

Washing the front was, even for me, a little awkward. It was nothing I hadn't seen before, so there was no gawking a la Magnos going on, it was just...so intimate. I chose the more comfortable option, which was to look at her face as I lathered and rinsed her torso with the bathing mitt. It seemed less clinical that way. I wasn't going to pretend that this wasn't an almost achingly personal act. She certainly didn't. She made a few attempts to snatch the mitt from my hand, but each time, she moved a little quickly than she was ready to, and she'd yelp a little before reluctantly dropping her hand back to her side. But as much as I tried to communicate with my eyes to her, I love you and will always be your friend throughout, it wasn't until I had moved on to her legs that she stopped averting her eyes from mine or attempting to take over herself.

After I helped her out of the tub, while she finally closed her eyes and relaxed, I healed her and applied salves, poultices and dressings to what wounds I had not the energy to heal. I was getting better at this. My connection to the Goddess was strengthened by our little group's excursion to the monastery. But it was still fortunate for her that I had not gone to work today.

Selune joined us, and we ate our still-warm dinner on the porch and read until it got dark. I devoured the tales about Mao Sai Fung while Ralenthra took her turn with A Banquet of Flesh. We watched fireflies dance in the summer night's soft breeze. Ralenthra's body gradually un-kinked and relaxed over the course of the evening. I even caught her smiling a few times, and it wasn't just while she was reading. She was probably glad, maybe even surprised, that I never lectured her or grilled her about what she'd done. I didn't have to. She'd tell me about it when she was ready.

At twilight, she stood at the bottom of the stair and hesitated, shuffling her feet and staring at the floor a bit before finally heading up. When she reached the top of the stairs, she slowly turned and looked over her shoulder at me with a quizzical expression, then shook her head dismissively as she entered her room. I waited a while, then followed her up the stairs and knocked on the side of her open door. She was sitting on her bed, legs drawn up to her chest, staring out the window opposite, her mind elsewhere. I knocked again and she nodded silently, so I came in and tucked her into bed. I sat beside her a while, just smiling at her as she stared at me wide-eyed, like I was quite mad. For a just a moment, I thought that she was going to cry, but finally, she closed her eyes, took a deep breath and exhaled, "Seledra...I'm...I'm so sorry."

I smiled and kissed her on the forehead. "You don't have to apologize to me. Just don't get caught again, all right?"

She laughed and we embraced, staying that way for a long time.

She drew back and rested her head upon her pillow, pausing before she spoke again. "How could She let this happen?" she asked.

I shrugged. "I don't know, but maybe you should talk to Her."

"Talk to Her. That's rich." Ralenthra rolled her eyes and shook her head.

I pondered for a moment and then replied, "Make it special. Isn't there some sort of ritual dance that drow do when they want to worship Eilistraee? I could help if you want."

Ralenthra gave me a cockeyed look. "Well...yeah. But it's...naked...and you're, you know, not a follower."

I took a deep breath. "Before I was a druid, I was a divinity student. I am not so foolish as to believe that my Goddess is the only goddess and that She alone can meet all needs. Different problems require different approaches and sometimes different deities. You think all those sailors worship only the Bitch Queen? You are my bosom friend. Again, if you don't wish to petition your Goddess alone, I will be with you."

Ralenthra's eyes widened for a moment. "I'd have to teach you the dance. It's a little...complex. And it's...been a long time."

I smiled. "For you? I'll have it down before the next crescent moon. That's a promise!"
butterfly_sunrider: (Seledra4)
Clack! Clack! Clack!

The cool, smooth ivory tiles clicked against each other as I and three others shuffled for my third mahjong game of the night. I was on a roll. My last game had finished before it had even begun with a "heavenly win" and the less serious players had either retreated to other, less competitive tables, back to their tea to lick their wounds, or if female, hovered around me like honeybees, buzzing with appreciation for every crafty move I made. They especially liked it when I flipped my chips downward along the knuckles of my hand. I was so buried in the part that I had started to wink back at them and let them pour my tea, peel my lychees, and pop the fruit's sweet white flesh into my mouth for me.

Magnos, I think, would have been pleased.

Eighteen stacks, two tiles high...

The dealer threw three dice. Next game, it would be my turn to deal, if I didn't clean everyone out first. I tented my fingers and took a moment to notice my current opponents.

The Dowager was one of my most stubborn opponents, an ancient but clearly wealthy woman that no one wanted to make eye contact with who sat across from me. She had kept changing in her jewelry for more chips and plum wine and was now almost completely bereft of any ornamentation beyond her sumptuous silken robes, tiny slippers and the little lion-faced dog that perched on her lap. The diminutive pooch looked vaguely familiar to me at the time, but I could not place where I'd seen him.

The Doctor sat to my left. The current dealer, she was a soft-spoken blind woman in what I guessed to be her early 30s. She wore a plum colored cap and matching robes. Despite her condition, her fingers were nimble and precise, and whispers I'd overheard led me to believe that she was a doctor!

The Thief, on my right, was a man said to be the leader of the Guild, a semi-criminal organization operating out of the Imperial City. Semi-criminal, as this new leader was weeding out the slave traders from his employ, but certainly had no problem with poisoners, thieves, or loan-sharks working under him. His personal bodyguard, a huge, bearded bear of a man wielding twin axes, drank heavily with a much shorter, skinnier and harried-looking man by his side at a table near to us. The Guild Leader didn't look like he needed the protection. His muscles rippled under his open, sky-blue vest. Strapped to his back were twin sabers, still sharp. His wits were as keen as his blades and his fingers were so quick, that I consciously kept my chips near so that he didn't surreptitiously make off with them.

The Doctor took four tiles to the the left of the divide. The rest of us followed suit until we each had twelve tiles. The Doctor slid a fingertip across her tiles and frowned. The Dowager looked at her tiles, looked at the board, looked at the tiles again and sighed wearily before pouring herself another drink. I looked at my tiles, did not smile, but sipped my tea and smacked my lips. I may have been cleaning up, but it was soon apparent that I still had a lot to learn about playing mahjong in Shou Lung.

The Thief watched me closely, smiled to himself, and then called over his shoulder, "Hou, you'd better fetch my wife. It looks like this game and the next will be brief."

Surprisingly, it was the small, hen-pecked looking man who answered. "Are you sure that's necessary?"

The Thief smiled. "Yes, tell her I want her to blow on my dice when it's my turn to deal. For good luck." The short, harried man took off into the night.

The Doctor started first. "Discarding nine wan."

I chuckled at the Thief and scooped up the desired tile. "You think your wife can save you from the sound thrashing I'm giving to your wallet? Discarding one suo."

The Thief smirked at me. "Not my wallet, no. Discarding xi wind."

It took six turns, but I had my desired hand by the end. I spread out my hand proudly. "Baiban pung (three of-a-kind). Nine wan kong (four of-a-kind). Seven suo sheung (straight of three). Dong eyes (pair)."

The crowd that had gathered to watch our game gasped as the Dowager pulled a small headpiece from from her hair, causing it to fall around her face in grey tangles. She slapped it on the table and demanded more chips. The Thief mumbled under his breath, "Any moment now, Ling!"

Everything came to a stop as an imposing-looking young woman walked through the door. It was odd, the respect commanded by one so young and so informally dressed. She dressed in an elegant dark blue and gold pantsuit and wore her hair in a practical style that was parted down the middle in the front and drawn into a conservative bun in the back. The circular jade pendant she wore matched the one the Thief also wore around his neck.

Ah, I thought, she's his wife.

And then she turned and stared at me, narrowing her eyes. A not unfriendly smile crept across her face. She crossed the room, whispered in the Thief's ear, whereupon he got up and she sat down in his place. It was my turn to deal, so I threw the dice, and we began to shuffle the tiles again.

I turned to her and said, "So, you've come to rescue your husband from the slaughter?"

You can imagine my shock when she answered me in Elvish. "No, I'm here to rescue the Princess." She gestured towards the Dowager. And then I remembered that I'd seen a portrait of the old woman and her little dog in one of my books. My eyes popped, but I said nothing. I was in way over my head and I could only hope at that point to get back to Silverymoon alive.

She let that sink in for a while, until we started to take our four tiles at a time, and continued with "and I'm here to make you a deal, as I can see that you mean no malice."

Crap.

She must be able to see through the disguise other spell. I looked at my hands to see if the spell had worn off. Still Magnos' hands. True seeing, then. Must be a powerful mage.

Tentatively, I spoke in Elvish back to her. It sounded lovely uttered by Magnos' voice. "What do you want?"

The woman chuckled heartily and then pinned me down with her eyes. "I want you to lose, little creature. You did not come in here to drain the royal coffers. You came in here because you want something."

I gulped, and ransacked my mind for information. If this woman was here to keep me from bankrupting the Princess Dowager, then who was she? And then I remembered. Out loud. "Scholar Ling. A Wu Jen. Rose from an obscure fishing village to become the chief adviser to the new Empress, Sun Lian. Some say you disposed of her father yourself."

"That's part of the story, yes. But what is it that you want, curious little creature?"

I sighed and looked at my tiles. Another "heavenly win" sat in front of me, mocking me. What did I want more? To win everything or to get what I came in for? I drew a deep breath and exhaled as I pushed all my chips in. "There is an amulet in the market. Ruby, surrounded by pearls on a gold chain. I want it."

Ling sat back and thought a moment while I drew a worthless tile and discarded a valuable one. "Ah, I know the one. It once belonged to a Wu Jen of the previous dynasty. It is an artifact of some arcane power, now being peddled for some collector to snatch it up. But why would you want that, little druid?" She smiled playfully. Like a cat about to devour a mouse.

I smiled back. "I never said I wanted it for myself."

Ling's face softened, as she looked from the Thief, who was now chatting it up with his bodyguard, back to me. "I cannot give you what your heart wants, but the amulet will be yours, I promise you."

Every turn was a small blow to my ego as I threw away strategically vital pieces and kept useless ones. As my hot streak ended, people returned to their tables and their homes. My attendants dissolved one by one into the background. It was not enough for me to simply give back what I had won, indeed, the Scholar refused me on that. I had to lose. I feel as though Ling was trying to teach me something in my voluntary defeat, about pride, about temperance, about sacrifice. I hoped that I had learned enough so I'd never have to go through something so humiliating again. At least I was allowed to lose everything in one game.

When the game ended, the Doctor bid us all goodbye, and she patted the arms of the Scholar and the Thief as she left. The Princess Dowager sat pliantly as her finery was returned to her person by the Scholar and the Thief together.

The Scholar, slipping earrings back on to the Dowager's ears, whispered to the Thief, "You don't have to stay. I've got this under control."

The Thief, slipping rings back onto the Dowager's fingers, whispered back, "You have everything under control. Always. I'm still here because I want to be near you." He took her hand gently and kissed her fingertips.

"Always." Ling replied. Then she shook her head as she began to re-arrange the Dowager's hair. "Sky, we've talked about this."

Sky smiled wistfully and handed the Dowager's headpiece to Ling. "And we'll talk about it again, I'm sure. I realize that Lian needs you daily for guidance and counsel so that she will become a more wise and compassionate leader, but she doesn't need you to tuck her into bed at night! What I want to know is, will I see you later?"

Ling scowled at Sky, her mouth a tight, forbidding line. But when he smiled and waggled his eyebrows at her, her eyes began to dance and she snorted out a laugh. Ah, we are all fools for love, I thought with a smile. "Tomorrow," she said. Sky nodded and turned to leave but she told him to follow us.

As we walked out, I walked past Methrammar, who was watching me with a bewildered expression. I shrugged, mouthed for him to follow us and continued out into the cooling night air with the Scholar and the Dowager. A handful of the Imperial Guard was waiting. Ling instructed them to take the Dowager back to the Palace.

"Shall we wait for you, Scholar?" asked one of the guards.

Ling considered. "No."

The guards all smiled.

Ling rolled her eyes and waved them off. "Oh, stop it. You're like a bunch of old women!"

After the royal carriage pulled away, Ling took me by the hand and returned to speaking elvish. "Come."

The Scholar kept her word, and where it would have taken a life's savings from one such as me, the amulet was given to Ling with just the mere pointing of her finger. She tucked it away in a pocket over my heart and said, "Do not be afraid to let your heart lead you, little creature."

She smiled at me one last time and ran to Sky, taking his hand, and stealing away with him into the night.

Methrammar was waiting for me. I ran to him. We walked back to our inn in silence. Finally, when we reached the bottom of the stairs, he asked, "Did you win big?"

I smiled, and answered, "I got what I came for."

We mounted the last flight of the stairs together. Methrammar laughed and said, "Good. Now, let's get that silly man-suit off of you!"
butterfly_sunrider: (Seledra4)
The market would be open late into the evening. Methrammar was adequately softened up. It was time to spring into action.

I sidled up to my lover and batted my eyelids coquettishly as we exited our suite together. “Methrammar darling, are you practiced at transmutation spells?”

The tall half-elf at my side bowed his head in thought. “Well,” he spoke hesitantly, “my mother enchanted a wand with a few spells of the transmutation school. The great thing about it is that it has unlimited uses.” He pulled the wand out of a pocket on the inside of his cape and pointed it at me dramatically. “I call it...the Transmogrifyer!”

I giggled and Methrammar smiled gently. “Yes, it's a rather silly name, isn't it? Tyresia was actually the one to call it that. Mother meant it for me to use for diplomatic purposes only, but Tyresia was always thinking of more amusing things to do with it.”

I took it out of his open hand gently and felt it crackle with Alustriel's magical aura. The Transmogrifyer was indeed a powerful artifact. I winked at Methrammar and and swished the wand at him playfully. “So, what's it loaded with?”

As we continued down the stairs to the exit, he listed off the stored spells of the wand I now held in my hot little hand:

Disguise self
Polymorph other
Translate languages


Perfect. I frowned slightly and tried to sound unimpressed. “Doesn't sound like much. I mean, only three spells?”

Methrammar stared at me, mouth agape. “Remember Seledra, this wand has unlimited uses per day!”

I bustled ahead of him and out the door. He strode to catch up. I called over my shoulder, “And it can be used anywhere, even here?”

“Oh, yes!” my companion exclaimed.

I chortled to myself and stopped suddenly after we reached the tea house from the day before. “I want to play a game.”

Methrammar frowned gently. “Darling, the locals are uncomfortable with your presence as it is. Best not to force yourself on them. I know you think you can change the world by the sheer force of your will...” he stroked my cheek affectionately,”and sometimes even I believe that you can, but, well, we're on vacation!”

I pouted. “I believe this little excursion was your idea of showing me a good time, yes? You said I could do whatever my heart desires! I want to play. I want to win. There's something I want to buy in the market...”

My lover wrapped his arm around my shoulder placatingly, “Whatever it is that you want, darling, I'll buy it. No price is too high-”

I couldn't make him pay for the amulet. The very idea made my skin crawl with guilt. I held my hand up. “No. You've already been more than generous. This is something I have to do for myself. However...”

Methrammar raised a hopeful eyebrow.

I continued, “I need you to cast a few spells on me. I know that they will never let an elf beat them, even if I am a better mahjong player.”

Methrammar gazed past me at the people swarming in and around the tea house and nodded. “You need to be beyond reproach. You need to look like one of them, and not one of the locals. No one wants to walk inside their favorite tea house only to spot their doppelganger. And I'm sure you don't want someone getting too familiar with you if they recognize you either. That leaves someone who can't possibly be in the vicinity.” He grimaced sheepishly. “I'm afraid I'm not familiar with too many individuals of the Shou persuasion."

I cocked my head to the side. "You should do something about that sometime."

He nodded. "I know."

"Well, who do you know? An ambassador? A diplomat? A traveling monk on a mission to right wrongs where he sees them?" I poked.

Methrammar shook his head. "No country from Kara-Tur has any ambassadorial relationship with any country in Faerun, and that's been making trade with them rather...slippery."

"Well, maybe you should take another trip here, make some contacts, see about building an embassy back in Silverymoon. Your mother would be proud." I said.

Methrammar smiled broadly. "You're right, that's a wonderful idea. I shall let her know as soon as I see her again."

here was a lull in the conversation. We weren't moving forward. So I poked again. "I'm not sure you answered my question, darling."

"Mm?"

I repeated my question from earlier. "Who do you know?"

Methrammar heaved a sigh and mumbled something I couldn't hear.

"What?"

Methrammar said a little sharply, "Magnos."

I must have been visibly taken aback, for my lover softened his expression and continued. "Yes, it's terrible, isn't it? I wish I had someone more...appropriate for you, but there it is."

I stammered. "B-but there's got to be someone else. Anyone else. Not him." The temptation would be too great.

"He is of the Shou persuasion, is he not? He's male, which will give you a bonus in this society. And finally, there is absolutely no chance that he'll come walking through this door. You're not...uncomfortable with the idea, are you?" He raised an eyebrow at me and gazed a little penetratingly into my eyes.

I blinked. "No, should I be? Sure, I could use the swagger and the confidence, but...well, I mean, it's just-"

"Yes?" He stretched out the word for an inordinate amount of time.

I flailed my arms about. "He's got man parts! I mean, how-how do you walk around with those bits dangling between your legs? Don't they get in the way?"

Methrammar threw back his head and laughed. "I guess you'll find out soon enough, my love." He grew quiet and caressed my cheek. "Are you sure you want to do this, darling? This will be...quite awkward for me, but I'm willing to do it because I don't believe they'll be fair to you otherwise. And because...I love you so."

I had come too far to stop now, and I'd make it up to him later. I stood on tiptoe, kissed him in the corner of his lips, and emphatically nodded.

Methrammar shook his head gently with a wistful smile, "Willful girl. Come on round back here. We'll need a little privacy for this."

I followed my handsome half-elf around the back of the tea house and braced myself. I half expected it to hurt, but it actually tickled a little. I took advantage of a nearby pond to see the results.

And was promptly transfixed by my reflection. I gazed from all angles. I walked back and forth. Methrammar fell over laughing.

"What are you snickering about?" came Magnos' voice rumbling out of my mouth, which I covered quickly with my hand.

"I never thought I'd see Magnos swish and sashay like that. I daresay it's worth the price of admission!"

I stole another glance at my reflection. "You were...quite accurate." again came Magnos' voice.

Methrammar bowed with a flourish. But then a shadow passed over him as he said, "I never forget a face."

I was beginning to wonder if this charade was going to be worth it. I adjusted my stance, remembering how Magnos carries himself, and walked towards the door. My mimickry must have been convincing because I saw the smile fade from Methrammar's face out of the corner of my eye as he watched me. "I'm going to use the water closet first, then I'm heading to the mahjong table.

"What, you have to relieve yourself?"

I stuck out my tongue at him and turned on my heel, saying "Wouldn't you like to know? Stay close!"

***


Methrammar was kind enough to give me locals' garb so I wouldn't pass out in the sweltering heat, but it took some time finding my way around in it. He had been, now that I could see everything, scarily accurate. I wondered briefly, as I put my clothes back on, whether he'd been spying on me. The thought sent a chill down my spine before I pulled myself together and strode out the door.
butterfly_sunrider: (Seledra4)
I...miss them.

It had only been two days spent in Shou Lung's capital city, never leaving my lover's sight when that thought crossed my mind.

I missed the constant bickering. Whether it was between Magnos and Kronk, Magnos and Ralenthra or Magnos and myself, our lively arguments kept the long journey to the shrine honoring Berronar Truesilver from becoming tedious or frightening. It was...oddly comforting, like being part of a family. Almost.

I missed the energy of battle. Dorn had been right about one thing; the four of us, when working together towards a common goal, were a force to be reckoned with. Kronk could be a whirlwind of destruction, efficient if you know how to play him. Treat him with the respect befitting the warrior he is, return his kindness, give credence to his sometimes deeply hidden gems of wisdom; these were the keys to leading a man such as Kronk. Magnos shocked me with his sheer capableness, his cool head in the heat of battle made one believe that mentally, he was at least 10 steps ahead of everyone else around him. Arrogant he may be, but even I could not deny that he was perhaps the most naturally gifted spellcaster I'd ever met, including my parents...and Aelthas. Ralenthra, my best friend, my confidante; even she had surprises for me. It was fascinating to watch her nimble fingers disable a deadly trap or take down a distracted enemy with a calculated shot from her crossbow; finally I had images to go with the scant stories she had told me about her work.

But no one surprised me so much as I had surprised myself. Already, the battle against Ugurth's men at Olostin's Hold seemed decades away. Sure, I had a few nicks and bruises to show for my relative lack of experience, but I loved the pulse of blood in my veins as I fought our enemies, loved the clanging sound of metal on metal, loved the completely palpable feeling of victory as I had never felt it before in my life; four working as one living, breathing entity...and Dorn, whatever he was.

I missed the discomfort of traveling long distances by foot, the sleeping on the ground in tents under the stars, the hunting and foraging for food after Magnos ate all of our rations, the wilderness between the towns and settlements of Luruar where danger lurks behind every bush, inside every cave, and even in the skies above.

It had been two days since I had returned from Berronar's Monastery and he still remarked about the new scar on my right shoulder. He traced the raised flesh absentmindedly when I dressed, when we bathed, when we made love, as if to remind me of the consequences of the adventuring life. "I would hate to see a scar like that on your pretty face, Seledra. I am glad that your...obligation to Silverymoon is at an end."

Ah, but I did have a scar on my face. I had neglected to take a potion to mend my split lip that I received courtesy of Nim Tagen. Odd that he hadn't noticed. Needless to say, I hadn't felt compelled to bring up my feelings to him on the subject of the adventuring life...until now.

We sat across each other in the dining room of our suite, partaking of a soup called Liuwei tang, said to help counter the sweltering summer heat. Gently, I dabbed my mouth with a starched white napkin.

Methrammar spoke first. "This is delicious."

I smiled. "Yes it's quite lovely, darling. Perhaps we could finish it off with some ice cream. Although, you'll have to have a hand in the last stage of making it as Ray of Frost is a little out of my area of expertise."

Methrammar smiled, "I could teach you if you like."

I demurred, "No, I'll have to make do with Entangle for now. You know that as a druid, the arcane is forbidden to me."

Methrammar chuckled. "How could I forget? Selune's shared your bed more than I have! "

I countered, "I guess you're not the only one that doesn't want to let me out of their sight!"

My lover reached out and caressed my cheek. "Do you chafe, my love?"

I shook my head demurely. After a pause, I continued. "Darling...do I snore?"

Methrammar nearly spit out his soup. "Of course not, dearest! Whatever gave you that notion?"

I wrinkled my nose. "One of my traveling companions claimed that not only do I snore, but that I am a blanket hog! Me!"

Methrammar paused, as if he was listening to the wind chimes outside our window, then spoke. "Oh Seledra, don't be silly! Of course you don't snore. Everyone knows elves don't snore, even when they elect to sleep."

I sipped some of my plum wine and then continued. "And the blanket hog thing, that's not true either, right?"

Methrammar blinked and looked down at his soup, as if to examine it. "Don't. Be. Ridiculous, darling! You are the very model of graciousness even in your sleep!" He slurped some more of his soup and looked at me again. "But...just out of curiosity...which one of your companions accused you of these things?"

I spoke before I thought. "Magnos, that ungrateful bastard! His blanket got all wet, so I let him share my dry one. My blanket! I didn't have to share it with him! I could have let him tremble, half naked and damp all night long!" The vision of Magnos half naked, wet and trembling entered my mind's eye suddenly, and with my voice suddenly feeling thick, I cleared my throat. "Nothing happened, darling. I assure you!"

Methrammar looked a little suspicious, so I endeavored to change the subject. I returned to slurping my soup, and after a while, I leaned in conspiratorially. "Do you want to know a secret?"

Distraction success! He took my hand in his. "If it's from you, of course."

I looked right into his eyes. "I loved it. Adventuring, you know? It wasn't a punishment at all! I felt..."

I was about to say alive, free, purpose-filled, but the look of disappointment spreading across Methrammar's face stopped me. He sighed. "Seledra, mercenary work is a dangerous business."

"I can handle it..."

"It changes people."

"My faith will keep me centered..."

Methrammar paused and gently laid his spoon down onto the table. "I don't like the company you'll be keeping."

"Darling, we've talked about this. Ralenthra..."

"Oh, so you're calling her by her real name now, are you?"

"That's not fair. I was only trying to protect her."

The color was rising in his face. "Protect her from me?"

"Protect her from the whole world, if I could. But I...failed, so I don't see what the point is in going over this yet again."

"Well, for your information, I wasn't referring to your drow friend."

"There's a shock."

"I was referring to the mage."

I froze.

Methrammar smirked knowingly and sipped at his soup. "Touched a nerve, have I?"

"What? I don't even-"

"I'm not a fool, Seledra. Nor am I blind. He's handsome, charming and intelligent; I've seen the way he looks at you... and every other female in the room."

"I guess you could say he thinks of all women the same way..."

"That's not what I meant. I saw the way he looked at you...and I saw the way he looked at every other woman in the room. It's different."

He likes me? Oh Sweet Sune, he likes me? I cleared my throat and tried desperately to curb the flush to my cheeks by fanning myself. "So he thinks me pretty. Aren't I? Who cares if he finds me attractive! He's young, he turns his attention to a different girl each week, I'm sure! Besides, I could drop him like a sack of potatoes." I picked up my spoon in the most decisive way possible, and resumed eating my soup.

We sat in silence for a while. Methrammar picked up his spoon and began to eat as well. After a while, he spoke. "So it's settled, then."

I sipped at some ice water and crunched some ice between my teeth before answering. "Yes."

My handsome half-elf grunted and stirred his soup briefly before looking up in confusion. "Wait. What did we just decide?"

I picked up my glass of chilled plum wine as if to toast and exclaimed, "We decided that I can take care of myself and that I am to resume my new career as an adventurer. So, I am to gather my
companions to me when such a time arises as I see fit." Then, I heartily drank down the whole glass and grinned.

Methrammar blinked. "How did you...I don't even..."

I laughed as I flicked at the now-empty crystal goblet with my fingertip, but when I spoke, I distinctly heard a slight edge to my voice that instantly recalled my mother to mind. "Don't argue with me, darling. You will always lose."

Methrammar stood up abruptly, fiercely grabbed me by the wrist, upset the table and pulled me to him. I felt my skin flush with excitement. He whispered low. "You may have won the battle, my dear Seledra, but the war is still anyone's game."

And with that he kissed me hard and carried me to bed.
butterfly_sunrider: (Seledra4)
We stepped outside into the Imperial City. Nothing I'd seen in books could have prepared me for the majestic beauty of this place.

Nor even my dreams.

The inn stood on a hill and to the south of us, we could see the Forbidden City. Like the Imperial City itself, the Forbidden City was entirely contained by a wall (comparatively opulent, which featured dragons in a colorful mosaic). The home of the Imperial Family was not just a single palace, but a palatial complex. As outsiders, we weren't allowed to set foot inside the palace, but the view from where I stood was enough to last a lifetime; in each corner stood a tower that was a pavilion onto itself, in the center of each side of the wall loomed a massive and imposing gate . Immediately bursting into view were the bold red walls and yellow roof tiles that ruled the schemes of all buildings of the complex. But if you looked closer, you could see the splashes of aqua and green, of purple and white. And there wasn't just one palace alone. There was the The Palace of Earthly Purity (where the Empress lived) and the Palace of Heavenly Purity (where the Emperor lived). Further dotting the royal campus were the "minor palaces": The Hall of Mental Cultivation and the Hall of Union. Off in the distance I caught a glimpse of the Tombs of the Emperors.

To the north, spread at my feet was the city itself. Though not as epic in splendor as the Forbidden City, it was nothing to sneeze at. It was different, but somehow the approach was the same. There was that same meticulous effort of living in harmony with the elements and the surrounding flora, but with such delicate-looking architecture - buildings made of mostly wood and paper and sometimes decorated with the most intricate rosewood carvings - and with such beauty! Strung on wires and dotted throughout the city like multicolored gems were lanterns of all colors (mostly red). It being summer, many of the surrounding trees were heavy with fruits, among them plum, cherry and orange trees that leant a light, sweet scent that somehow managed to hold its own with the smell of spices, of cooking, of life surrounding them. Far, far to the east was the great Temple of Heaven, gleaming white, red and blue in the midday sun.

Tears stung my eyes as I gasped in something like wonder. Methrammar wrapped his arms around me from behind and whispered into my ear. "Is it everything you thought it would be?" Wordlessly, I kissed his cheek and sobbed. He chuckled. "Today the city is yours, my love! You may do whatever your heart desires."

I scanned the surrounding area. It appeared that the market district was straight ahead. And where there was a market, there would be food stalls. Yum! Never mind that I just ate. How often does one get to come to Shou Lung?

I quivered with anticipation. "First, I'll need a trunk. For everything I'm going to buy!" My voice grew from a whisper to an excited squeal towards the end that turned more than a few heads. Methrammar hired a man with something called a rickshaw to hold my trunk while I shopped. I fet sad and guilty to see a human being hitched to a wagon like a beast to carry my things, and even though I knew it was an accepted custom, I made Methrammar promise to see that he was compensated as well as any denizen of Silverymoon.

Of course I bought things for myself. Paintings to put up in my bedroom, small stoneware representations of the local deities, jade jewelry, an ivory mahjongg game set, spices for cooking, a few bottles of plum wine, an antique feather fan, incense, and of course clothes. I even was able to buy some lacquered masks and sake from Wa, and crafts from Wa, well, they are simply unavailable in Faerun, period.

I took a break inside a bustling teahouse where I was able to win a considerable amount of money playing mahjongg (I learned the game as a child from my mother, who in turn had picked up the game during her honeymoon in Thesk; I went on to be Lady's College champion two years in a row) with the rather loud and pushy locals, that is, until someone took notice of my pointed ears and accused me of using elven sorcery to cheat. Methrammar was able to glean as much via a translate spell. I had to give all my winnings back, but at least they didn't make me leave before I could finish my tea and zhájiàngmiàn, or wheat noodles with fried bean and meat sauce. As I slurped up the greasy but delicious nest before me, I pondered what I should get my new companions.

Ralenthra likes delicate, beautiful things with fine craftsmanship. A gold and jade necklace perhaps? Kronk, well, I'd have to get him something he couldn't lose too easily. Hmm. I think I noticed a piercing in his left ear. Maybe I could get him a nice ivory earring with gold inlay...

Magnos was a problem. I knew what he'd like. Something flashy and gaudy that he could show off. I saw a gorgeous ruby amulet with the stone the size of my thumb and surrounded by pearls that I was sure he would have gushed over. But was it too personal? I mean, that kind of jewelry for a man I hardly know? He might think I was in love with him, and then I'd never hear the end of it. On the opposite end of the spectrum...I could get him a pen. There were some lovely pens that were pieces of art unto themselves! But who gives a pen as a gift to anybody but their father? It's absurd! A musical instrument? Hmm. I wonder how Magnos feels about the bardic arts. Clothes? He's not your personal paper doll, Seledra. I was uncomfortably conscious of the fact that Magnos had Shou heritage and didn't want to insult him, even though he was as far from that part of himself as a hawk from the moon.

As hard as I tried to come up with a more genteel alternative, the image of the amulet danced through my brain long after night fell and I grew sleepy and content in Methrammar's arms. It occurred to me that Methrammar might not want to pay that much for it if he knew who it was for. But I had a plan.
butterfly_sunrider: (Seledra2)
Evening falls.

At Ralenthra's insistence, we left Silverymoon early in the evening. She seemed so surprised that I was able to play along with her con but she didn't know me before I became a druid.It took more than one expellable offense to expell a Silverymoon Nailo. It took three. My parents gave a lot of money to the University in their efforts to turn me into their picutre of the perfect elven girl and I failed them miserably, on purpose. True, I was not planning for my last indiscretion to be the one that would finally get me expelled; I had, in fact, planned to go out in a much more grand fashion.

My first offense was the re-opening of the portals between the dormitories during curfew hours. This sounds like a smaller offense than it really was. I suppose a small part of me thought I was playing Sune but most of me just thought the ensuing chaos was fun. As part of the deal, I kept my partner's identity a secret; only a gifted mage could have broken the spell wards on the portals and kept them open, confounding even the staff. Of course, only a gifted seductress with a flawless memory could have gotten the necessary "nonexistent" spells right out from under the noses of the supposedly celibate priests of Deneir at the Vault of the Sages without being able to write them down. I was put on probabtion.

My second offense was the theft of a map I had sweet-talked out of Esklindrar the Sage, the man who runs the Map House. It was a complete map of the entire university and could be used to track any object or person with a command and the touch of a wand. I hadn't really stolen it. I had borrowed it, had my partner make a faulty counterfeit copy of it and returned the counterfeit to Esklindrar instead. This time, it seems, I was put on "double secret probation".

My third offense was to be the theft of the genealogical record of my father's family, held in Everdusk Hall, which would have required the assistance of nine more classmates. I was convinced that secrets were being kept from me by my parents, but unfortunately my greatest plan never came to fruition.

My partner, the gifted young human mage betrayed me by convincing me that we should "consummate" our bond of petty crime and elaborate pranks - in front of a mirror. Too bad all the mirrors in the entire University had been enchanted as scrying mirrors and I wound up putting on a free show for everyone - students and faculty alike. Aelthas Vihuel got away scot free, by testifying against me in front of the school board. I hear he's an instructor now...and he hasn't aged well, the old bastard.

Change comes slowly for an elf, but I like to think that I have changed these eighteen years. I try to do good by others without being too preachy. I try to trust people, even though many have betrayed my trust. Finally, I try not to cause trouble just to get a rise out of others. Unfortunately, it seems that trouble follows me now instead of the other way around.

Speaking of which, I may have been too hard on Ralenthra. Even if she was taking advantage of those peoples' kindness, doesn't she deserve some kindness? We've all made mistakes - I'm a living example of that. She's been through more than I could probably imagine. If she were really a bad person, she could have stabbed me in my bed numerous times or robbed me blind. Maybe it's because I'm more useful to her alive and loyal but maybe she just needs a friend. She may have thought she could hide it from me, but even after we were a few miles away from Old City, she was quiet and I think I saw her dab her eyes a few times. Of course, if I ask her, she'll probably just tell me that she's reacting to the eyedrops. Bah. I'll apologize in the morning, as it looks like she's deep in trance.

It's not going to be the most restful of nights. It's hard to enter trance in a bumpy coach, but not impossible. Tomorrow morning we will be in Everlund, the closest "big city" to Amalith. After that, it's a day trip to the village of Olostin's Hold. We'll spend the night there and leave the following morning for Amalith, getting there on the following morning. We'll probably spend three whole days in Everlund then. Plenty of time to get to Amalith and meet up with family and friends. I just hope Ralenthra doesn't get too bored or feel left out. She'd probably like the Loriens, if she gave them a chance.

I gazed at my new green dress from Mistress Nalari, made with more care than the other green dress spun by Mother on an all-night weaving marathon. Decisions, decisions. Decisions that can wait till tomorrow.

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Butterfly Sunrider

March 2016

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