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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I slid my longsword into its scabbard and headed towards the door with Selune at my heels. “Let’s go. You can tell me the rest on the way there.”
butterfly_sunrider: (Default)
It had been almost twenty years since I last set foot on the Conclave campus grounds, not counting the occasional concert I attended at Fochlucan, which stood on the very eastern edge of campus. I stood in the center square, next to the huge Lurue Fountain, turning in circles while I twirled my parasol in the opposite direction.

Faculty offices...where were they again? Umm. Oh yes. In the opposite direction from Lurue's horn. Aelthas used to say it was on the ass end of the campus. I giggled at the memory and then composed myself again before heading off in that direction. Past the honeysuckle bushes, past the Invocatorium, past the shrine to Oghma in the center of the apple grove and there it stood, covered with more ivy than I remembered.

After checking the directory, I ascended three flights of stairs to his office. I could only hope that he was in. I knocked on the ornately carved mahogany door five times.

Aelthas opened the door.

When he saw me, he yelped and promptly slammed the door in my face. I placed my cheek to the door and spoke softly, "Aelthas, it's me, Seledra. Green eyes, remember?" A few moments passed before Aelthas opened the door again, slowly. He was pointing his wand at me with a trembling hand. I touched the tip with my finger and gently caressed my way down the wand to his gnarled hand. He closed his eyes. "Gods-damned tease! What in the Nine Hells do you want?"

Well, you're as crotchety as you look. No! Bad, Seledra! Be nice! "Aelthas...I...I came here today because I wanted to let you know that I forgive you and that I'm sorry for what my mother did to you and that if there's anything I can do to help you, don't hesitate to ask." I took a much needed breath to recover.

"You? Forgive? Me?" Aelthas said, "You should be asking for my forgiveness! Look at me, Seledra! If I get any more decrepit, I'll dry up and blow away in the breeze!"

Oh dear.

I reached out and touched his cheek. He flinched. "Don't touch me!"

I withdrew my quivering hand and shook my head. "I never meant for this to happen. I didn't even know about the curse until a few months ago. You do believe me, don't you?"

Aelthas pinched the bridge of his nose and sat down in the large, velvety purple chair in front of his expansive desk. He replied, "Your mother... she is a powerful sorceress with a rare gift. She used spellfire on me. I have not yet found a cure for what she has done. My own studies in necromancy have been less than fruitful and my correspondence with the Mage of Shadowdale has been similarly plagued with inconclusive results. I had begun to accept that there was no hope for a cure. And then you show up 'to help', like a bad copper piece."

It stung more than I had anticipated. My chin began to tremble, and a single tear rolled down my cheek. Aelthas used prestidigitation to wipe it away.

"Oh, Sweetheart," Aelthas sighed, "I never could resist your tears."

I grunted. "And all the tears that stained the letters I wrote to you for over a year? You resisted those."

"I never read your letters, Sweetheart. I was too bitter." He opened up a drawer and pulled out a thick stack of envelopes tied together with red string. "But I kept them. That has to count for something."

"You exposed me in front of the whole school. You humiliated me!" I could feel my fist clenching. Consciously, I unclenched it. I was not there for revenge.

Aelthas cocked his head at me. "Do you really think I did that? You know me! Why would I do anything to so obviously incriminate myself?"

I paused. In twenty years I had never considered the possibility that he didn't enchant those mirrors. If that was true, then it had to be..."Duglan! Oh gods, he was your roommate!" Ugh! I can't believe I slept with that guy!

Aelthas nodded his head. "And he was jealous. He was in love with you just as I was. When I was brought in front of the disciplinary board I had to make a choice...Seledra?"

I was staring at him. "What did you say?"

He blinked, and started to repeat himself about the disciplinary board.

"No, before that."

"Duglan was in love with you."

"And?"

Aelthas sat there, frozen. And then it dawned on him. "Oh gods, I never got around to telling you, did I? I'm sorry, Sweetheart. I...loved you. I really did. It's just that when the time came that I had to choose between you or throwing both myself and my best friend under the carriage, I...well, I chose to save myself. So I took responsibility for the mirrors and gave them you and your heist in exchange for a clean record. I thought you were unhappy at the Conclave anyway, and that you'd understand, but I should have known not to cross an elf in such a way. I was too gifted to expel and Duglan would have forgiven me much faster."

I was trembling, but I nodded my head and smiled weakly. He loved me. Once. But not enough. My mind wandered to other subjects. I smiled. "Do you have a student named Magnos?"

~


My meeting with Aelthas ended with a friendly embrace and a promise that I would scour my brain for a divine answer to his conundrum. I took a last look in the mirror above his chair to make sure I was presentable and left.

As I walked into the early afternoon sun, I hesitated. Was I ready for this next part? Or would it be a disaster?

Through the apple grove, past the shrine to Oghma, past the Invocatorium, due west I moved through the campus towards the Farm.

He may not even be at home, Seledra. You should just leave. I entered the huge dormitory and gazed at the mailboxes in the wall. Goodman/Rel Astra. 3rd Floor. Ugh. More damned stairs. I trudged upwards and wandered into a student recreational room where a halfling student had just lit a pint on fire and was preparing to down it. I stood there, fidgeting and clearing my throat until I got his attention. After he'd had a few droughts, he looked up, saw me, scurried to my side and offered his hand in greeting. "Terro Antkiller, of Antkiller's Emporium of Exotic Herbs at your service, milady. How may I be of service to you?"

I bent down, shook his hand and smiled. "Pleased to meet you, Mr. Antkiller. Would you be so kind as to direct me to the residence of Misters Goodman and Rel Astra?"

He cocked his head at me while looking much lower than my eyeline. "Another one for Magnos, eh? Ah, well. Down the hall, 3rd door on the left."

I smiled again, thanked him and continued on my journey. I thought I heard a whistle after I turned my back and walked further down the hall, but I can't be sure.

After knocking on the door it was promptly opened by a rather angular-looking boy with sandy brown hair and soft brown eyes that widened a little when he saw me. A silver ferret climbed up his body and perched on his shoulder.

I cleared my throat and stuck out my hand in greeting. "Mr. Goodman, I presume?"
He smiled at me and shook my hand. "I'm sorry, but Magnos isn't here. You should come back later." Hedwig hooted softly in the background.

I ignored the strange greeting, smiled warmly at him and winked. "Sweet boy, why do you assume that I'm here for Magnos?"

He blushed, smiled and looked away. "Because beautiful women are always here for Magnos. Speaking of which-"

At first I was flattered and I smiled, but then I fully digested the implications of what he'd said and my eyebrows shot up before I interrupted him. "Oh is that so?"

Jonah grimaced. "Now I know that you're here for Magnos...Seledra, right? Did I mention that Magnos isn't here? Because he isn't...here."

I whirled on him. "How do you know who I am? Did Magnos tell you about me? What did he say? It wasn't crude, was it? Because there was no crudeness going on between us. At all."

Jonah's eyes flitted over my body for a moment longer than was comfortable to me. He blushed again and said, "Let's just say you fit the physical description."

I rolled my eyes. "Wonderful."

Jonah shook his head. "Look, I'm sure you're a lovely person and all, but you really have to get going. Like now."

I thrust my hand into my purse and yanked out the ruby amulet. "No, you look! I went all the way to Shou Lung and gambled in mahjong against the Dowager Princess herself to get this-" I waggled the amulet in Jonah's face "-for Magnos. I've been putting this off for almost two whole tendays and I'm not letting anything else stop me if I can possibly help it!"

Hedwig started to make excited chittering noises. I knew exactly what she was saying.

Magnos was near, and approaching fast.

Well, my rattling the shiny ruby amulet in Jonah's face probably wasn't a good idea, because his ferret snatched it in his teeth and ran all around the room with it, disturbing Hedwig from her perch, overturning piles of books, clothes and various sundry other items onto the floor. Following closely on his heels was Jonah, who knocked over everything his ferret was too small and light to upend. Hedwig flew to and fro, and in her efforts to avoid crashing into Jonah, she swooped onto my head, sending my hair cascading down from its updo. Perhaps attracted by the flash of color, the ferret leapt from the top of a nearby bookcase right down the front of my dress. Jonah, forgetting himself in his urgency to retrieve his familiar and the amulet, reached in to scruff him...

Just then, Magnos opened the door, and I discovered why Jonah had been trying to get rid of me. Magnos had not come alone. On his arm was a breathtaking blonde wearing the same exact outfit I was wearing, sans the ferret in the décolletage and the owl headpiece.

Sune's tits!

Magnos stared for a moment, then recovered. "Seledra! What a...surprise. Susan, this is Seledra, my..."

"Business partner," I finished. The ferret leapt out from my cleavage with the amulet still in his mouth and clambered up Magnos till he was able to curl up comfortably around his neck.

"I thought I was your business partner!" said a flustered Jonah, who finally removed his hand.

"She's my other business partner," clarified Magnos. "Hey, Scamp! What have you got there?" The ferret named Scamp deposited the amulet into Magnos' grasp and returned to his master as if nothing had happened. Jonah started picking up the scattered mess that his familiar had made and Hedwig calmly returned to her perch.

I was about to start fixing my hair when Susan extended a delicate alabaster hand in my direction. I moved to give my usual firm handshake, and she gave me one of those limp things that so many girls with noble breeding give for fear of breaking a nail. "You have quite a grip there, for a girl!" she said.

Yes, well I suppose I picked up some extra muscle swinging my longsword about, keeping Magnos from getting eaten alive by zombie kobolds, I did not say. "Oh, I'm so sorry! Sometimes I don't know my own strength! I should...do something...about that." I managed a lame giggle and an apologetic bob of the head even as I gritted my teeth in a forced smile.

"I'm not sure you should do anything about your strength, Seledra. Susan, she can do pull-ups with one arm at a time! Only Kronk is tougher than she is, and she smells better." Magnos said.

Susan's eyebrows came together in a tiny frown and her lower lip jutted out ever so slightly. I quickly changed the subject from me to something hopefully less polarizing: "I see you have the amulet."

"Yes," Magnos said. "Is it yours? I mean it was in your-"

"No. It's not mine. It's, um, yours...now. I was...out of town and...picking up gifts for everyone and it just...called to me. I..I knew when I saw it that...it should be yours." I stammered nervously.

Magnos held the amulet up to the sun streaming in through a nearby window in order to better examine it. "You got me costume jewelry?"

I felt my cheeks flush. "No, you fool! It's...magical. It has magical properties. I-"

Jonah chimed in, "She defeated the Princess Dowager of Shou Lung in a battle of Mahjong to win it!"

I covered my face with my palm and shook my head, embarrassed. "Look, if you don't believe me, you can get it appraised. Just don't take it to a pawn shop!"

"But it costs 100 gold to get things like this appraised!" Magnos groaned and rubbed his forehead.

This wasn't going at all the way that I'd imagined. My hand slid slowly down my face, and I was beginning to feel a tightness in my chest.

Susan opened up her purse.

Oh no you don't.

I beat her to the punch. "Well, you didn't think I was going to make you pay to appraise your own gift, would you? You're so silly sometimes." I laid the 100 gold onto Magnos' hand and felt that lovely, warm spark emanating from him.

Magnos looked at the coins in his hand, then looked at me and shook his head. "I can't take this from you, Seledra. You've already gotten me this...thing, which I'm sure is of great sentimental value-"

I reached out to his open palm and closed it over the small bag of coins and said, "Please, I insist."

Magnos pushed his hand back towards me. "No really, I don't need it. I still have plenty of money left over from what Captain Tagen paid us! You know how...thrifty I am!"

Hmph. You probably spent it all on new robes and lunch with Susan already, you liar. I gritted my teeth and spoke stiffly."Magnos, the money either stays in your hand or gets stuffed down your gullet, but I am not taking it back!"

Magnos paused and seemed to consider the scenario for a moment, then pocketed the money. "Thank you," he said.

I smoothed out imaginary wrinkles in my dress. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Susan. Jonah." I looked at Magnos. He was looking at Susan again and it occurred to me that the whole time our little interlude there had gone on, he'd been lit up like a firefly. Of course he's smitten with her, and she's beautiful...and...human. I guessed then I had been foolish to think that he had been in any way seriously attracted to me. And of course, I told myself that this was a good thing. Good for my relationship with Methhrammar and good for business. Good. Yes.

I smiled. "I'll...see you later, Magnos." And then I turned and walked out the door. When I was sure that I was clear from view, I ran as fast as I could out of the Farm and off of the campus grounds. The bell tolls told me that I had enough time to go home, change, and shred this damned dress before I had to head out to work for the evening.
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
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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)
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."

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Butterfly Sunrider

March 2016

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