Thursday, February 11, 2016

Silent Destiny Interlude: Princess

Zeva’s ballet flats slapped the marble floor as she walked around the perimeter of the Winter Palace, stun baton in hand, scanning for anything that demanded her attention. The opponents she knew about had been subdued – all but one of them killed, to be more accurate – but Master Tulu had always taught her that hidden dangers were bigger threats than any she could see.

She made her way past the fallen sniper, his head at an unnatural angle relative to the rest of his body. She spared a glance for the one at the garden entrance, impaled by the huge sheet of glass that Zeva had shattered with the Force. He was going to kill Kay, Zeva told herself again. I didn’t have a blaster… I didn’t have a choice.

Fear and anger, Padawan. Fear and anger.

She paused as Vigo Shal’mak led her friends out into the winter garden, nodding at Kaylani with a little smile. The garden would have been the perfect place to kiss her; with that song playing, the moment would have been so perfect…

Something clanged under the stage. Zeva readied her weapon once more and circled around the room to peer under the skirt that surrounded the stage, revealing the little girl she’d seen before – the one dancing with the Ithorian. “Hello there,” the Jedi called, her voice calm and gentle. Soothing, as Monda’s had been with the younglings of her clan. “It’s safe, now. You can come out.”

“Are you sure?” The girl was scared, or had been, but she hadn’t cried. Even with the Force as her ally, Zeva doubted she would have been as brave when she’d been that age.

“Yes. What’s your name?”

“Leia. I’m Leia.”

“That’s a lovely name. I’m Zeva Milaska.” The pseudonym was almost second nature to her now. “I think your father is outside looking for you, Leia.”

Leia nodded. “Can I – can I just have one more minute? I… I’m not in any hurry to get back to being a princess.”

“Really?” Zeva folded her baton back into her clutch and crawled under the stage on her hands and knees toward Leia, stopping at a respectful distance to sit cross-legged. “I’ve never known any princesses, Your… Highness?”

“You shouldn’t make fun,” Leia said, scowling.

Zeva raised her palms in protest. “I’m not, I swear.”

“Okay. Still, I get enough of that out there. Please, just call me Leia.”

“All right.” If you just talk to her, maybe you can get her to come out. “So, being a princess is hard?”

Leia nodded. “Everybody wants me to grow up to be so perfect. I have to learn so much, and I have to know the right people, and watch what I say, and never let anybody know how I feel…” She squinted at Zeva. “You know, I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”

“Because it feels good to tell somebody. And, as it happens, I know how you feel.”

“You do?” Leia crawled a little closer.

“Sure. I was raised to… to do a job, too. I wanted to do it… wanted it more than anything. But it wasn’t what I thought it would be. Not at all.”

“Right? All I’m supposed to do is keep my mouth shut and do my duty and find a suitable husband.” Leia’s brown eyes rolled deeply in the dark. “I don’t need one of those.”

“I suppose not. Me, I wasn’t allowed to marry, and I turned out okay.”

“You’re in love, though,” the princess said knowingly.

Zeva stifled a laugh. “Am I?”

“I saw you daaancing with the pretty girl.” Leia’s face lit up with a smile. “You’re in looove with her. Aren’t you?”

“Not that it’s any of your business,” Zeva said in a tone that she hoped came across as playful, “but, yes. Yes, I am.”

“That’s nice. I guess. If you weren’t allowed to get married before, can you get married now?”

“I suppose? Seems a bit quick, though; we just started… courting, I guess you’d call it.”

Leia nodded. “I think the Royal Family of Alderaan would die if I married a girl. Not that I want to do that either. I… Did you? ... No.” She looked into Zeva’s eyes, but just for a moment.

“What? Leia, what is it?”

“I know that you broke the glass that killed that man. I wasn’t looking when it happened, but I still know that you did. Even if I don’t know how.”

“Leia, I–”

“But it doesn’t matter how, because I know why you did it. It’s like…” Her little hands made fists over her heart. “I felt it, you see? Whatever it is that you felt that made you do it, I felt it too.” Her voice fell very quiet: “How did that happen?”

Zeva realized she’d been holding her breath. “It’s complicated,” she finally said. “I… have you experienced these sorts of things before?”

“Sometimes. I told Father about it, once, and he said that I should never tell anyone about it.” She looked into Zeva’s eyes again. “But I know I can tell you, because it happens to you, too.”

“Sometimes.” Zeva put on a smile until Leia shared it, then dropped her voice to a whisper. “I’ll have to tell you all about it, in time, but for now, we have to keep it a secret. You can keep a secret, right?”

Leia nodded. “I know all kinds of gov-ern-ment secrets.” Zeva expected it came out gummint if she didn’t slow down to say it properly.

“Then this will be just between us. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Are you ready?” Zeva asked, and started moving to the edge of the stage before Leia’s hand stopped her.

“You were afraid,” Leia said. “Afraid for… Kay.”

“Yes.” She IS strong with the Force. There’s so much I could teach her if I only could…

“Was it the most afraid you’ve ever been?”

“No.” Master Windu had been the one to tell Zeva, when she’d practically been Leia’s age, that Master Qui-Gon had fallen in battle with a Sith warrior – the Sith, who’d been extinct for a thousand years! Zeva’s hopes of becoming Qui-Gon’s Padawan crumbled. Talk of war with an invisible Sith army came to dominate the Jedi Council. Life as she’d always known it simply ceased.

And, though the Sith warrior was declared to be dead, Zeva saw his burning yellow eyes in every shadow until she became Master Tulu’s Padawan…

“Oh.” Realizing she’d hit a nerve, Leia let go of Zeva and crawled out from under the stage. The Jedi followed her out and into a sudden, squeezing hug. “Thanks, Zeva,” Leia said. “I feel better now.”

“So do I.”

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Greyhawk Origins Interlude: Pretty


an interlude for Greyhawk Origins

written with Matt

Besilana hadn’t even closed the door behind her before Felicity was bouncing on the bed. Besi could tell that the mattress was stuffed with something other than the straw they’d slept on in Myhalas – cotton batting, perhaps. She took a moment to lock the door before taking in the rest of the little room.

Felicity had set her candle on a simple desk and chair which sat across from the bed, next to the fireplace; the far wall held a single shuttered window. Ostler Gundigoot had mentioned that the room key would also unlock the chest at the foot of the bed. Hommlet seemed safe enough, but one could never be too cautious in unfamiliar surroundings…

“Oh my gosh oh my gosh!” Felicity cried, spinning around as she bounced on the bed. “This new place is so funandsofulloffriendlypeopleIcan'tbelieveIT!”

“It’s… nice,” Besilana agreed, setting her pack on the floor before carefully propping her shield against it. Spotting a series of hooks on the wall beside the door, next to a small mirror, she unbuckled and hung her sword belt there, her fingers tracing the starry carvings on the empty wooden scabbard that dangled beside the full one.  You’ll find her,  Besi told herself.  Starsong cannot be so lost that you cannot find her.

“Furnok called us pretty! That priest liked my ears! Everyone was so nice! Except for the druid, he was crotchety but that's probably what happens when you spend all your time in a tree.”

That made Besi laugh. Felicity always knew how to do that; the halfling’s love of life had lifted her own spirits as far back as either of them could remember.

But Felicity contined before Besi could say anything: “That barmaiden was really nice too and she kept looking at you and she looked like the sign, maybe she was the person they drew on the sign or do you think the owner hired her because she looks like the sign and did you see how she walked away after we talked about being birds and she said she was a cat she has so many curves and she wiggled when she walked and it was nice!”

It was nice, at that. Darla  had  seem unusually interested in her, in a way that Besi found somewhat exciting and very confusing. Even if there were no non-humans living in the village, she must have seen many travelers pass through Hommlet…

Besi backtracked through the tangled skein of Felicity’s ramblings. “That’s right; Furnok said we were  both  pretty. I'm a little relieved to hear it from someone else's mouth. I mean, you and Mother always said I'm pretty, but best friends and mothers have to say those things.”

Felicity looked her friend over, almost seeming to linger here and there. “I guess, but I stand by the fact that you are really pretty. Not just saying it because we're friends but you really are pretty. You got the luck of having the prettiest parts from two worlds, it's amazing and beautiful. Awesome even! I'm glad someone told me I was pretty, especially in a place full of people who are so... big. I mean I'm used to being around bigger people but in the temple people don't talk about who is pretty.”

Besilana could feel herself blushing, all the way to the soft points of her ears. If Felicity  had  to say such things, she clearly took great pleasure and pride in it. Whenever Besi feared that she would never belong to either the elven world or the human one, Felicity was there to remind her that she still belonged to someone. She unfastened her bracers and moved to lay them on the desk.

She heard the halfling mutter: “I wonder if any of the priestesses thought they were pretty themselves? Wouldn't that be an exercise in hubris? Is that bad? Ehlonna is beautiful, so naturally her followers should strive, not only for inner beauty, but also for outer beauty as well?”

“Those are.... all very good questions.” Besilana herself had only striven for strength, both physical and spiritual. Half-elven blood had made her muscles wiry and lean, a far cry from the hulking thews of must human warriors. But she was hardly beautiful, not within or without. Not like Darla… “We're in agreement that Darla was pretty? Or, at least, that a man would find her, um, appealing?”

“Who? The serving girl? Oh yes-yes-yes. She was very...” The halfling made an odd throat-clearing-nervous noise. “Appealing. Although by the looks of her and the smile she gave and the expression toward being a cat when we are all birds made me get the feeling she would want to… eat us up...” She tittered nervously.

Besi laughed and shrugged out of her tabard, folding it onto the desk.

Felicity’s voice dropped to a near-whisper: “She certainly looked at you very hungrily.” But then she piped up again. “She was very pretty though! She had all those pretty human curves and fullness that makes one of them pretty. I'm afraid my abundance makes me look frumpy. But on her they look nice, so yes, to answer, she is very... appealing...” The last part trailed off.

“Oh, stop. You haven't an ounce of frump on your bones.” That was the gods’ truth; Felicity was half her size, but no one would ever mistake her for a human child. In fact, the curves of  her  hips and breasts put Darla to shame. She’d seen hourglasses that were less hourglass-shaped. “And I think Furnok would agree with me,” she said with a wink.

“Huuuuuuuuuuuuhhhhh??? Furnok? Yeah, he's said I'm pretty, said you were pretty too, so he's obviously not dumb! I think he's okay too; he has a good sense of humor but seems to have a flair for the dramatic. I'm glad he has decided to come with us, always could use an extra set of eyes to help watch our backs! I mean your cousin is nice too but he can be so stodgy and Furnok likes to have fun...” She paused. “Wait, you winked at me didn't you? Why?”

Besilana gathered her long blond hair to keep it from getting tangled in her holy symbol’s chain as she removed it. “I think he might like you. I mean,  like you  like you.”

“WHAAAT?” Felicity squealed. “Nooooonono... WHAAAAAT? I mean he seems nice enough but I just met him and he's all tall and stuff and I mean I like him too but I like him like he's fun and funny but I haven't thought about him like  like  like him I haven't really thought about any...” She sputtered to a stop, then resumed. “Uh... haven't thought... about... hrm. I mean. My heart didn't do the thing... Like...” She coughed. Her pale cheeks blushed mildly as a flustered look came over her face. Quietly, looking up at Besi, she said: “Like they say it does.”

Besilana started squeezing out of her chain shirt. Desperate to pick Felicity’s mood back up, she said, “I could be wrong! It's lot like I'm an expert or anything. It doesn't always go both ways, I think.”

Felicity looked down. “Yeah. I guess not.”

“Hey.” Besi touched her friend on the shoulder, reclaiming her attention. “Are you planning to sleep in your vestments? You know how mad Mother Eiravain would be.”

The mention of Myhalas’s missing high priest could have struck a nerve with Felicity; luckily, the halfling grinned instead. “Can’t have that, nope!” She pulled one boot off and sent it crashing into the rest of her gear under the desk, chasing it with its twin. “Race ya!”

“Oh, that’s not fair!” Besilana kidded. “I have so much more equipment than you, and you don’t take care of yours…”

“That’s not true.” Felicity leaped from the bed and thumped next to her pack, drawing a sheer nightgown out of it as she pulled herself free from her robe.  That  she folded and set on the desk. But then her little hands were already working the buckles of her studded leather armor. “You just take  excellent  care of yours.”

Finally free of her chain shirt, Besilana draped it on the back of the chair. “It’s how I was raised.” She stuck her tongue out and began unlacing her breeches.

“That’s why you lose!” Felicity had somehow discarded all of her armor and smallclothes, shoving everything under the desk. Besilana glimpsed the pale, round globes of the halfling’s backside before they vanished under the falling nightgown. When Besi had mentioned that the white gown with green floral embroidery was her favorite, Felicity announced that it would be the one she brought on this trip. “Ha ha! You lose, you lose!” Felicity performed a brief victory dance before hopping back into the bed.

Besilana clasped her chest and fell to the floor, pressing the back of her hand to her forehead. “The shame… it’s too great.”

“Yep.” Felicity leaned over her like a tiny, adorable gargoyle. Something about the way the halfling’s arms pressed her pendulous breasts together beneath the nightgown caused the half-elf to swallow… “Something wrong, Besi?”

“Maybe. No. I’m fine. Just let me finish.” Without getting up, she slid off her boots, breeches, and smallclothes, carefully arranging them before slipping into her forest green nightgown. She thought she felt Felicity’s eyes on her while she worked, but the light of a single candle raises more questions than answers.

“Ready?” Felicity called.

“Ready.”

“Then get over here, loser.”

She sat on the bed beside the halfling. “Will I have to perform a forfeit?” Besilana asked.

“Maybe later. You’re a loser  and  you’re wrong about Furnok.” Her tone was playful, but the message was serious.

“Probably. Clearly, my judgment can’t be trusted. I mean, I thought that Darla was looking at me like Furnok was looking at you.”

This seemed to startle Felicity out of her brief melancholy. “Oh yes she was if it's the way you were talking!”

“Wait, you thought the same thing?”

“Yeah, maybe. She seemed very interested in you!” Felicity enthusiastically hopped next to Besi, causing more jiggling under the halfling’s gown. She elbowed Besi lightly in the thigh and grinned up at her. “She gave you those cat eyes!” She paused as though thinking something through. “Wait! She  likes  likes ladies?”

The nightgown’s neckline showed more of Felicity’s creamy flesh than Besi remembered, ample breasts pressed together. She forced herself to meet the halfling’s gaze. “Is... is that something that ladies do?” With Ehlonna’s priesthood almost entirely female, rumors of such trysts were not unknown at Myhalas, but Besi was too removed from that little society to know if those rumors were true.

Besi sensed hesitation in Felicity’s eyes. “I mean, not that that's anything bad, I like ladies too but I don't know about liking them in the way she seemed to... I mean ladies are nice. Definitely prettier than men although I'm not really experienced with either. But Darla looked like she was liking what she saw on you and that was...” She looked down at her chest. “I don't think it would be wrong... right?” She looked back at Besilana with soft blue eyes.

 “I'm glad to hear you say that.” She let out a long-held breath. “When Darla was leaning over me, with her…  titties  in my face (and Felicity gave the slightest gasp at the word she’d never heard her friend use before), some part of me wanted to... i don't know, GET IN there.” She mimed pawing at an invisible bosom. “But why? I mean, I  have  breasts. Kind of.  You   definitely  have breasts.”

Felicity giggled and looked down at her own breasts. “Yes I do. I mean I guess I understand, they were very soft looking, like pillows.” She bunched them together and bounced them a little between her arms, unaware of the hypnotic effect she had on her friend. “Very soft... I mean I don't know about getting in there, I would probably get lost in them. I mean, but is it just that? I dunno...” She looked up at Besi for a moment, eyed her up and down a little, faltered for a second. “I mean I don't think there is anything wrong with liking things that are... worth liking. I mean MEN like them, so why can't I...” The ‘I’ tripped her up for a long second. “Other women?”

“Oh, Felicity.” She put an arm around the halfling’s shoulder, pulling her tightly under her wing. “I wouldn't think any less of you if you did. Maybe I feel the same way?” It  was  a question. She sat up a little straighter, feeling the tension of her nightgown against her stiffening nipples.  It’s low summer,  she thought.  Why is that happening?  

“And that would be fine if you did! I mean... assuming that's what I mean, I mean if I knew what I mean, if I meant, because what’s wrong with liking things like that?”

“Nothing. I’m sure there’s nothing wrong with that. Still, it’s all very new to me, being… I've hardly been around anyone who wasn't convinced by Mother Eiravain that I'm some sort of circus freak.”

Felicity took Besi's free hand in hers and looked into her eyes lovingly. “You, my... beautiful, darling, lovely” – she swallowed a little – “friend, are no circus freak. You are beautiful and lovely and wonderful and kind and I love you.” She tried to smile a bit, even with a hint of sadness in her eyes.

 “I... thank you, Felicity.” What else could she say? A lone tear rolled down her cheek. “I love you, too. Your friendship has meant the world and moons and stars to me.”

Felicity brightened a little. “Oh, and yours mine!”

Besilana brought Felicity’s hands to her lips and gently kissed them. “You know, it seems to me that, with Myhalas behind us, you and I are free to become who we're meant to be.”

“You’re right! And I'm glad to be whomever I am as long as you're with me!” Felicity climbed onto Besi’s lap and put her arms around her, burying her face in Besi's chest and squishing her own soft body against Besi, almost knocking them back down onto the bed.

Besi needed a moment before she wrapped her arms around Felicity, squeezing her tightly, stroking her lovely black hair with delicate half-elven fingers. “I would hate to be here, or anywhere, without you.” She realized that Felicity was straddling her hips, was sure she felt a pair of full pouty lips briefly pressed to her chest. Then she heard a whisper:

“I'm so glad.”

Besi felt a moment of embarrassment, realizing that Felicity must feel the hardness of her nipples. Yet the halfling only leaned against them more, and the half-elf realized the same thing had happened to Felicity’s breasts.

“That feels... can I ask you something, Felicity?”

“Anything.” Spoken into Besilana’s chest, the word was more felt than heard.

She continued to stroke Felicity’s hair. “Did you ever... lie with anybody, back in Myhalas? You know, like sex?”

Felicity took a moment to answer. Besi knew that moments of quiet like this were rare for her, and tried not to spoil it. “No. The only couple of times I even thought about... IT... I remembered how unlike everyone I am and so who would lie with me? How would I even manage it? No use in dwelling on it after that...” She let out a sigh and went a little limp under Besi’s ministrations.

“I'm sure you'll figure it out when the time comes.” Besi sighed. “I just... feelings are confusing, you know?”

Felicity seemed to shrink down a little more in Besi’s arms. “Yeah... confusing.” Her voice, her body, seemed a little shaky: “What about you? Did you ever lie with anyone on your excursions outside or inside Myhalas?”

“No.” Besi's fingertips grazed across Felicity's forehead. “There was a boy, once... a ranger who seemed quite taken with me, but. If I lie with someone, I want it to mean something.” She gently lifted Felicity's chin so they’d be eye to eye. “Does that make any sense?”

Felicity stopped shaking and gazed deep into Besi's hazel eyes. “I... Yes, that makes sense. I want the same thing.” She reached her hand up slowly and traced the half-elf’s jawline, then pulled her fingers away swiftly as they began to flutter across Besi's lips. As Besi leaned onto the caress, Felicity broke her gaze away suddenly, slightly embarrassed, but then looked back to Besi, her breath caught in her chest. Softly she whispered: “I.. I want it to be someone special, someone...” She trailed off a little as she kept her eyes on Besi's.

“That's exactly what I mean,” Besilana heard herself say.

Felicity traced her hand down Besi's cheek, brushing a strand of hair back and along the slightly pointed ear, her eyes moving down to Besi's lips and back up. The halfling bit her lower lip briefly in a moment of indecision. Her eyes fluttered closed slowly and Besi beheld the sight of Felicity’s lips pouted, almost expecting. Her eyes closed for a moment, her breathing shallow. The small hand along her ear almost imperceptibly pulling.

Besi breathed in deeply through her nose, inhaling Felicity's scent. She closed her eyes as she leaned an inch closer to the halfling. “Exactly what I want...”

She felt Felicity lean up a bit, felt the halfling’s lips brush her own. A shock went up her spine and she involuntarily pressed her lips to Felicity's. She felt the halfling shiver in her arms, her mouth open slightly, the tip of her tongue slowly tracing the edge of Besi's lip, her breath once again caught.

Besi moaned a breath into Felicity's mouth as she kissed the halfling back and moved her hands to frame Felicity's face. She felt the halfling’s arms circle loosely around her neck, felt her body pulled in close, felt the two of them lost in each other’s lips.

She lost track of the world until Felicity broke away to breathe in the air she forgot she needed. She pulled her head back from Besi and beamed at her, flushed. “Well... I...” She kept her body pressed to Besi, her breathing ragged.

Besi opened her eyes to find her own lips still in mid-purse. She laughed, nervously. “Yeah. That was weird. I think I’ve had this dream before.”

“I... I'm glad it wasn't just me.” Felicity shyly looked down and fidgeted nervously.

“You're my heart, Felicity. You're my sister. Closer than a sister. There's no one I'd rather be with.” She gently tilted Felicity's head back up to face her. “But we really should get some sleep. Big day tomorrow and all that.”

“And you are mine Besilana, and I wouldn't have it any other way.” Felicity looked down again and sighs. “You're right... But...” She paused for a long moment. “Dibs on the big spoon!”

They both broke out in peals of laughter. Besi felt the tension between them dissolve, and could see that Felicity was also relieved. She stretched out on the bed with her back to the wall, holding her arm up so that Felicity could press her back against her stomach.

“Spoons! Spoons! Spoons!” the halfling nearly squealed, wiggling herself into place for maximum contact. Besi draped her arm over Felicity, gently rubbing her tummy and causing her to make the contented sound they both called the halfling purr. This had been their way since their earliest childhood days – in a community comprised almost entirely of elves, the need to sleep was one thing that Felicity and Besilana had always shared.

But things were different now. Besilana knew there was a damp patch on Felicity’s nightgown, somewhere south of her hand. She thought about reaching for it – reaching for her own – but not tonight. Enough had happened tonight.

“I love you,” Felicity said. As many times as she’d said it to Besilana before, this time felt different from all the others.

“I love you, too,” she replied, placing the lightest kiss on Felicity’s head and sparking off another chain of wiggles.

Besilana slept, but did not dream.

Monday, March 23, 2015

III Epilogue / 3 Prologue: Nevermore

[With the D&D 4th Edition campaign I I I over, and a Fate Core-based continuation called 3 in the works, this serves as connective tissue between them.]



24 March, 103 CY

Aramis stared at his folded hands while he kept watch, chanting dirges in a low voice to regain his exhausted spells. Most of his healing magic had gone to Azal, so the tiefling rogue slept more soundly than Bhavik Devanta did. The rest of the warden’s mending would have to wait until dawn, when Aramis’s prayers were answered.

The three adventurers had fled the Black Lake, back up to the foundry’s abandoned library. The room reeked of moldy paper, but its single entrance made it the most defensible position they could reach. Though the dragon was likely licking her own wounds, many other threats still dwelled in the halls of Khundrukar…

Distracted once more by the shame of their retreat, Aramis halted his prayer. We threw everything we had at her, he thought again, and it still wasn’t enough. How can we slay the dragon?

How can we save Talgen?

A shadow crossed his face as a small black form fluttered past the everburning torch that illuminated the room. The intruder flapped to the top of a bookshelf, where it perched upon the cracked remnant of a white marble bust and turned to regard the cleric with one beady black eye, then the other.

“A raven,” Aramis found himself saying aloud. He stole a guilty glimpse at his companions, but neither stirred at the sound of his voice. A sign! It must be a sign… no bird could have possibly found its way down here – not unless it was sent by the hand of fate herself.

“Greetings, Shepherd,” the raven croaked, dismissing Aramis’s last vestige of doubt.

“Hail, raven,” Aramis replied. He didn’t care to be called Shepherd anymore – not after his last disastrous visit to his home in Oakhurst – but he wasn’t about to correct a divine herald on the matter. His exhaustion dragged down every syllable he spoke: “Has my Queen sent you to talk me out of what I must do?”

The bird tilted its head to a different angle. “What makes you say that?”

“I know that, when I go to face the dragon again, I’ll die. We will all die. And my Queen knows that I must face the dragon again. I cannot abandon the only hope my friend has.” Unless Aramis recovered the golden apple that the duergar stole for the dragon below, Talgen Hucrele would forever remain a monster, twisted by the Gulthias Tree into its supplicant…

“Yes. Our Queen knows.” The raven shifted from one foot to another. “Yet she also knows that there is another way.”

“What?” Aramis got to his knees. “Tell me. Please.”

The bird paused to fluff its feathers out, sounding like an opening parasol. “Nightscale may be a dragon, but even a dragon is a living thing. And every living thing owes a death to the Queen. Fate would have her, and not you, in this hour.”

So that’s the dragon’s name. A dozen questions poured into his mind, but he only dared ask one: “But how?”

“Nightscale has a weakness. She has many weaknesses, Shepherd, but this one may be of use to you.”

“But this wisdom comes at a cost.”

“Of course.” The raven flitted down from the bust to land on the top of Aramis’s backpack, within the cleric’s reach. “It is not our Queen’s way to make her designs plain, even to her servants. But these are trying times.”

“I will pay whatever price she asks.” As she well knows.

“She wants your eye. And she wants your companions.”

A river of ice flowed through Aramis’s veins. “They’ll die? Down here?” Losing an eye to save his friend was nothing. Losing Bhavik and Azal was unthinkable.

“That is not for me to say. But, should they live, you will be called to a place where the tiefling and the shifter will not follow.”

“Will I ever see them again?”

“Not for me to say. Fate wills what it will. But, were I you, I wouldn’t pin my hope upon it.”

The cleric considered this. “I have become the Raven Queen’s avenger,” he said, closing his eyes. “I am Death’s reaper sworn, bringing those who would challenge the natural order of life, death, and rebirth into her embrace, by her grace and my will.” But I’m nothing in battle without my friends. And I’m sure there will be many battles beyond this one… if my Queen wants me to survive this day, what plans could she possibly have for me?

The raven squawked, once, the normal sound seeming abnormal. Bhavik moaned, once, then turned over in his sleep. “The choice is yours, Shepherd,” the bird croaked.

Guilt panged Aramis’s heart as his thoughts turned to Sharwyn, the girl who’d fallen in love with him when he was only a shepherd. She’d confessed her love only nine days ago, after keeping it a secret for six years or more. She still loved him, though he could scarcely remember being that shepherd boy, could see no resemblance when he looked in the mirror. How much more could he change before it cost him this newfound love? Fate was cruel enough to tear them apart so quickly after bringing them together; fleeting love had brought him into the Queen’s service in the first place…

You vowed to save her brother, Aramis reminded himself. Sharwyn would give an eye, at least, to save Talgen. So would their mother! This is the only way. You must pay this price, but don’t count the cost…

“Fate wills what it will,” Aramis said. “I accept.”

“Come then,” the raven said, fluttering up to land on his shoulder. “Let us begin.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Fate of Tamriel Prelude: Martine - The Family Business

(A prelude for our Elder Scrolls campaign, Fate of Tamriel, powered by Fate, and starring my Breton nightblade, Martine.)

Second Seed, 4E 164

He found her on the short run of steps leading down from the door of the alchemist’s shop, foiling her escape with the gentle insistence of a hand on the girl’s stomach. “Good day, Martine,” he said with mock friendliness. “Been awhile, hasn’t it? I do hope you’re well.”

“I am, Theo; thank you,” Martine replied. She hadn’t seen him since just before her thirteenth birthday, three months ago. Longer than I expected to avoid him, she thought, but still not long enough. She stopped herself from swatting his hand away. “Did you have business with Marie-Helene?” she asked, easing to the side and aiming a thumb at the alchemist’s door, though she already knew what he’d say.

Theo shook his head. “No. I was looking for you.”

“Well, here I am.” She managed some false friendliness of her own. “What can I do for you?”

“You can put my mind at ease,” Theo said. Barely three years older than Martine, Theo acted like he’d never been a child. She’d never found anything to like about him. “How are you getting by, without your father?”

“Well enough. Marie-Helene pays for exotic ingredients, and I bring her nirnroot from up the coast now and then. It’s not much, but it’s bread on the table.” Martine's father had taught her that a partial truth was easier to swallow than a whole lie…

“The coast? By yourself? Isn’t that dangerous?”

She shrugged, perhaps a bit too theatrically. “Mudcrabs don’t scare me. I’m learning swordplay. I’ve gotten pretty good, too.” She held up the slender longsword that hung from her belt. Please don’t ask who’s teaching me; I’d hate to drag Tralen into this.

Theo looked past her to the shop, before focusing his attention back on her. “You haven’t gone into the family business, then?”

“No.” She closed her eyes and turned away from him to sell the drama. “Father was one of the best, and all it got him was hanged. I – that isn’t the life for me.”

Theo’s fingers left Martine’s stomach, found her chin, turned her head back until her eyes found his. She fought down the urge to shudder. “We know he trained you, though. He told us you were very gifted. The Guild Master believes – and I agree – that it’s a waste of your talent to sneak roots out from under the noses of some bloody crabs.”

“Believe whatever helps you sleep.” Now she removed Theo’s hand from her person. “But I won’t steal for you. Good day, Theo.”

She managed three steps before he called after her, forcing her to stop again. “I only mention it because our friends in the Watch received a burglary complaint from Marcel du Foret. Three articles of jewelry were stolen, including a gold ring set with diamonds worth nearly a thousand septims. As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, the Guild didn’t authorize this heist. And we certainly didn’t receive a tribute.”

Martine put her bravest face on before turning back to face him. “I don’t know anything about that, Theo.”

“Are you certain?”

“I only know one fence, and he’s loyal to the Guild. What would I do, sell it to him?”

“You are just a child,” Theo said. “Perhaps you kept the shiny pretties for yourself.”

Or maybe I’m gonna give that ring to Tralen so he can see how I feel, and then sell the other two when we get to Skyrim. “Theo, I know how the Guild responds when they don’t get a cut.” I also know that the Guild Master could have pulled some strings and saved Father, and he didn’t. “I’d have to be stupid or crazy to fly in the face of that.” But that won’t stop me from hurting you every chance I get. “Do I strike you as stupid? Or crazy?”

Theo considered Martine, as if for the first time. “No,” he said. “No, you do not. I’ve been wasting your time. Forgive me.”

“Of course.”

“If you do hear anything about freelance thieves in Jehanna, you’ll let me know.” It was not a request.

“I will. Good day, Theo.”

He isn’t dumb enough to trust me, Martine thought as she headed for home… but he also knows that he can’t accuse me of anything without proof. He won’t rest until he gets that proof.

She could never work for the Guild, not after they let Father hang. She couldn’t ply her trade under their nose in Jehanna… indeed, to hear the Guild Master tell it, no settlement in High Rock escaped their shadow.

Then I have to leave High Rock, and sooner rather than later.