Oct. 26th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~


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

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

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

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

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

I didn’t say it was a good start.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~


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

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

I stared at her. Then I raised my eyebrow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~


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

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

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

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

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

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

~


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rinya cocked an eyebrow at me.

Tomorrow afternoon then. A visit to the Glittersmokes and the salon before a little party at the Blue Bottle...”

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March 2016

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