Thursday, September 22, 2016

Silent Destiny Interlude: Close Quarters



I knew it, Zeva thought as the condescending voice of Niknik Kuat reached her from further down the Vainglory’s ring corridor. As she snapped her collapsible shock baton into service, though, she heard another, unfamiliar voice – but this one she knew, through the Force.

This isn’t just a trap; this is a TRAP! The blood in her limbs ran icy.

She fished her comlink out of her jacket pocket and backed away from the voices, sidestepping into a darkened crew cabin. Caster was sure to keep them talking long enough for her to send out a quick warning. Tell her to stay away. You can handle this!

“It’s a trap, Kay,” Zeva whispered as soon as the com’s light turned green. “Niknik Kuat is here, with one of the Hounds of Winter. The man we saw on Takodana. The one she told you about on Iridonia: Marius Krath. We’re at Docking Bay 607. Krath doesn’t know I’m here yet, b-”

The hairs on the back of her neck told her of the other in the room before the Force did. Zeva dropped to one knee and spun to face the stranger as he appeared before her, knife outstretched, slicing the back of her hand open and forcing her to drop the comlink. Hidden by an alien mask, the attacker’s face vanished from view in a shimmering haze. Zeva had just enough time to catch a glimpse of the familiar snow-wolf patch on the assassin’s shoulder before it, too, faded from view.

Stealth field generator. Strike while you still know where he is!

Zeva dropped a shoulder and lunged forward to slam the assassin against the wall, but he deftly avoided her charge. He’ll try to stab you in the side now, she thought, moving her arm to deflect the blade at the last moment. She turned again and jabbed the end of her baton into the assassin’s forearm, holding the button down until the coursing current made him drop his weapon.

The Jedi thought about stepping back, but there was nowhere to go; this room was like a glorified closet. Instead, she brought her knee up, hoping to knock the wind out of him – but he brought both hands down to block the kick, then drove both palms into Zeva’s stomach, winding her. Muttering something in a raspy whisper, the assassin wrested the baton from Zeva’s hands and struck her under the chin with it, sending her to the floor and painting her world in hot, painful colors.

She couldn’t pull herself together, couldn’t marshal her wits or her strength. She saw the assassin toss the baton away and pick up his knife. He was too slightly built to be human…

Caster, came a distant thought. He needs you. Caster needs you.

“Can’t,” she wheezed, and the assassin paused for a moment. “Tired. So tired.”

He’s going to kill you!

“Errybody dies.” Her tongue tripped over the words. The assassin rasped something in reply and crouched beside her, clamping one hand around the Jedi’s neck and raising the knife in the other. “S’way o’Force.”

Not here, not like this. Kaylani would never forgive you.

“Kay…”

She laid one hand on the outside of her jacket, knew how cold the metal cylinder was beneath the leather. She lifted it slightly, toward the creature looming over her. Zeva closed her eyes and found the secret switch inside the casing, gave it a gentle push through the Force.

Bright green flooded into every corner of the room as the lightsaber’s blade thrummed to life, piercing the assassin through something vital in his chest. The knife clattered uselessly to the floor, followed by its wielder as Zeva doused her weapon – her TRUE weapon.

Pity that Ilum was off-limits when my time came to build it. I wonder if the Empire knows about the caves…?

Focus. There’s nothing wrong with your lightsaber. As for what’s wrong with you, well, you don’t have time for pain. Get up. There’s work to do.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Silent Destiny Interlude: Housekeeping



Zeva fought to keep her gorge from rising. Even the service corridors on the Gilded Reeksa were strewn with the Vigo’s idea of tasteful trappings. I was brought up to believe, she thought, that nobody truly owns anything. This woman’s arrogance, her insistence on displaying her wealth so… so grandiosely…

“You okay there, Housekeeping?” Bella Nox walked along her right-hand side, the cool green of her eyes darkened with concern as they flicked from her datapad to Zeva and back. Bella’s free hand rested on one blaster pistol’s butt; the Cathar was just as uncomfortable as Zeva.

“What?”

“That is your job on the ship, right? Housekeeping?”

“Yes, but I have a name.”

“Good for you, kid.” Bella paused at a T intersection, then turned toward port. “Should be just up here.”

Zeva quickened her pace to keep up. “Have I offended you in some way, Bella?”

“No. Kind of. Not really. It’s complicated. Hold on.” Stopping at a secured door, Bella ran a short length of cable from her datapad to the access panel. “Keep an eye out while I slice this.”

“Complicated how?” Zeva’s focus on the mission had slipped. “I know I haven’t talked much with you, but I’m… shy around new people.”

Bella paused long enough to give Zeva a look. “Nah, I get that. It’s weird, but I get it.”

“How is that weird?”

The slicer paused, glanced up at the Jedi. “You don’t flirt with me.”

“Of course I don’t.”

“What do you mean, ‘Of course I don’t?’ Everybody flirts with me.” Bella flashed her carnivorous smile. “I’m everybody’s type. I’m a delight.”

“I’m spoken for.” Spoken for? There must be a better way to put it than that. It’s not like I’ve had much time to think about it...

“So what? It’s just flirting, Housekeeping. It doesn’t have to mean anything.” Bella turned her attention back to the lock. “Besides, if you practice with me, maybe you can keep up with Kay. She’s one of the best flirts I’ve ever seen.”

Zeva gave this a moment’s thought. “Will you feel less offended if I flirt with you?”

“I don’t know. Maybe? That isn’t what vexes me about you, though.”

“Oh? What is it, then?”

“Complicated. Like I said.” The door slid open, allowing the Cathar to enter the server room two steps in front of the Jedi.

Zeva had seen her share of computer rooms in her day, but never one so vast – rows of machines as far as the eye could see, each one powerful enough to manage an entire planet. This is it, she reminded herself. This is the hub of Black Sun’s entire intelligence network. If we can just -

Bella was on the move again. “Wait up!” Zeva hissed, following the slicer through the twisty maze of machines. “How is it complicated?”

She nearly bumped into Bella, who had stopped inches away from a hulking apelike being from a species Zeva didn’t recognize. “What are you two doing in here?” it – he – bellowed, blaster pistol suddenly at the ready.

All right. Bella’s good at talking to people. Not as good as Kay, but who is? Let’s see what she’s got before we resort to anything secret.

“The music stopped playing over the lounge PA,” Bella said brightly. “The Vigo sent us down here to reset the system.”

The simian leaned down to sniff at Bella, swallowing up what little light fell on her. “You don’t work for the Vigo.”

“No, sir. But she does like my taste in music!” Bella held up the datapad, which now displayed a roster of jatz songs that were ancient when Zeva was still a Padawan. A nostalgic thrill panged the Jedi’s heart as she spotted the song she and Kay had danced to at Corellia’s Winter Palace. “And the party’s dying up there! Just let me kick the flow back on, and we’ll be out of your way in two ticks.” A low purr, nearly inaudible, had crept into Bella’s voice at the end, and Zeva recognized a pulse of attraction for the Cathar somewhere in her belly.

But the simian raised his communicator. Zeva’s shock baton flew like a bullet and discharged as it struck his neck, the comm slipping from his grasp. He shook his head to regain his bearings, but by then Zeva had rolled between Bella’s legs and sprung to her feet, her ready fist rising up to catch the simian under the chin and send him to the deck, unconscious.

The Jedi collected her weapon, tucked her hair back behind her ear, and turned to see the bewilderment on Bella’s face. “See, that’s what vexes me,” the Cathar said before stepping over the fallen guard and parking in front of a terminal. “Keep an eye out, if you will?” She connected her pad to the access point and got to work.

“Bella, I —”

“I know you’re no maid. Well, you aren’t just a maid. Silent Destiny is the cleanest tramp freighter I’ve ever set foot on. Still, I’ve never seen anyone who can fight like you.”

Zeva tried to stretch out with her feelings, to sense if anyone else was nearby, but found it impossible to center herself. “It’s hard to explain,” she managed.

“I should just let it go, I know. But I can’t.” She looked at Zeva and sharply smiled. “Nothing is worse than a question I can’t answer.”

“Or shouldn’t,” Zeva said, hoping it sounded more like a warning than a threat.

“Maybe so, yeah. Zeva Milaska is a well-sliced fiction, don’t get me wrong. I doubt I could do any better, myself. But she doesn’t exist before the Sidori Star Cluster.” Bella’s smile disappeared. “And before that, I can’t find anything about you on the HoloNet. Anywhere.”

“You’ve been trying to find out about me?” A slight tremble started in Zeva’s knees.

Bella nodded. “I vet everybody I work with. I am a professional… except when I’m not.” She gave Zeva a wink, and went back to her work. “The truth is, I’m afraid of you, Housekeeping. The closest thing I can find that maps to you is the Emperor’s Hand... but I can’t come up with a good reason for the Emperor’s secret Force-ly operative to pal around with Kes and her crew.”

Zeva’s thoughts went to Darth Vader, then to Möbius Vyle, the would-be secret Sith apprentice she’d dueled back on Almengotti. “How many ‘Force-ly’ servants does the Emperor have?”

“Including you?”

“I’m not an Imperial agent.” Zeva stepped around the fallen guard and moved within reach of the slicer.

“What are you, then?”

“To you? An ally.” She placed a hand on Bella’s shoulder. “And a friend, if I can trust you.”

Smirking, Bella said, “That sounds pretty dangerous. I barely trust me.”

“I’ve seen how you look at the Captain,” Zeva said before she could stop herself. “If you stick around after this business is behind us, I want to… make an effort.”

She felt Bella relax beneath her fingers, if only slightly. “All right. Making an effort. I can do that, too. And, maybe someday, you’ll trust me enough to tell me who you are.”

“The truth is pretty unbelievable.”

“Isn’t it always?” Bella’s smile always gave Zeva the impression that she was dwelling on a secret that only she knew. “I know you wouldn’t believe me if I told you about the last time I was on Nar Shaddaa. You see, Savit and I were—”

“How much longer will it take you to upload the virus?”

“Oh, that? I finished five minutes ago.” That damnable smirk, again. “But, here we are getting to know each other. I didn’t want to put that off any longer. But I know you don’t want to keep your girlfriend waiting. Come on, Zeva; let’s get back upstairs.”

Silent Destiny Interlude: Rain

“Wait.”

Maz Kanata’s voice, clearly meant for Zeva, caused her to stop in her tracks, leaving Kes to make her way across the main hall and out of earshot. Zeva turned back to the bar and looked into the little alien’s magnified eyes. Something akin to vertigo tugged at her brain stem as she saw a thousand years of life there – a deep well of feeling, of wisdom, of…

Wow, Zeva thought, reaching for the bar to steady herself. I’ve never met anyone like this before. And she’s just seen everything about me… EVERYTHING.

“Your secret’s safe with me,” Maz said quietly. “As I trust mine is safe with you.”

She needed a moment to answer: “Of course! Though, to be honest, I don’t understand what that secret is.”

“I know. Just think of me as a child of the light, the same as you.”

“Maz, I -”

“I know you have a thousand questions,” Maz said, “but our time is short.” She pointed past Zeva’s shoulder, where Kes, Caster, Bella, and J16 were half-shouting at each other.

“Are there any others?” The words tumbled from Zeva’s mouth before she could stop herself. “Any other Je- any like me? Or like you?”

Maz made a short, annoyed grunt that made Zeva think she’d asked the wrong question – but the moment passed, and the little alien spoke again in hushed tones. “There are. At least, there were. I helped a few find places to hide – and they need to stay hidden. A gathering of Jedi is a target for the Sith Lord and his servants.”

The shadow of Darth Vader passed over Zeva’s mind before she pushed him back down into her subconscious. “But… how can they stay hidden when the Empire is strangling the galaxy?”

“Because it’s not yet time.” Maz adjusted the lenses over her eyes to bring Zeva into sharper focus. “A Jedi once told me that she was tasked with making a trade agreement with a tribal chieftain. But, when she arrived, she found that he’d taken a vow of silence, which would only end when the drought that plagued his lands ended.” Seeing a hint of recognition, Maz added: “You know this story.”

“I knew this Jedi.” Master Tulu had told her this story whenever she felt taxed by her Padawan’s impatience. “She couldn’t make it rain, so she waited for it to rain. For three months.”

“A rain will fall, sooner or later.” Max glanced over at Kes and Caster before returning her attention to Zeva. “It always does.”

“So, what should I do? Find a cave and wait for it to rain?”

“You’d like me to tell you what to do.” Maz chuckled, a bit ruefully, as Zeva took offense. “I don’t blame you. Your Order always told you what to do. Even once you became a Knight – which was not so long ago, for you – the missions always came from them.”

“I have felt lost, ever since I… came back.”

She felt Maz’s tiny hand on her arm. “I know. You must become your own Jedi Council.”

Zeva remembered something she’d said to Kes back in the Sidori Star Cluster: that Silent Destiny was her new Jedi Order, and that the Captain was her one-woman High Council. But I’m the last Jedi, Zeva thought, or I might as well be. That makes me the High Council, our ship is the Republic, and Kes is the Supreme Chancellor…

“I still don’t know your name,” Maz said, recapturing Zeva’s attention.

“Zeva Milaska.”

“Mmm. I don’t envy the burden you carry, Zeva. But you’ve found yourself a good ship. A good crew. And you need each other – in the long term and the short.” Maz nodded at a trio of humans, surrounding the massive bulk of a Mantellian Savrip with some sort of little reptile riding his shoulders. They all wore matching jumpsuits, with the unmistakable patch of the Hounds of Winter on their arms.

“I see what you mean,” Zeva said.

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.