Jump to content

Cinders and Rebirth


Noctalys

Recommended Posts

This is my first fanfic....well, actually, this is my first fanfic that has actually been typed down instead of imprisoned within this crazed chaos I call my mind. It has actually gone through about 15 name changes because every single title I came up with apparently had some dastardly funny innuendo that I was not aware of. I have been taught so much... Anyway, yes, this is a Solaufein fanfic, but I hope that I will be able to flesh out the other characters and have them behave believably. I warn anyone who reads this...I tend to go back and rewrite (horrible habit, I know) so do check back in the older chapters every once in a while to see if i've improved something should it strike your fancy. Ok, enough nervous rambling...time to get this creation out there!

Link to comment

Chapter 1: Out of the Underdark

 

 

Fireflies waltzed about the fireside tonight, little flashes of light in the gloaming. A slender, ebon-fleshed hand reached out and one of the strange little insects rested upon it. The owner of said hand carefully drew the firefly nearer his face so as to inspect it more closely. It was a simple creature, really, no more than a speck of bright green encased in a hard black shell; and yet, to him, it was as a fascinating story, a tantalizing spark of the unknown. He had been on the surface for barely a day, and already he had discovered many things to be strange to him.

 

The little firefly having flown off of his hand, Solaufein’s musing eyes wandered instead across this group of newfound allies. He knew precious little about them, but judging from the warm and friendly ambient chatter floating about the group, they would perhaps be inclined to share stories of themselves. At least, this was his hope. There was the serious Jaheira, a blonde half-elf with an abrupt manner and a deep pain behind her eyes; Minsc, the large hulking human with a wound in his head and a hamster in his hand; Imoen, a cheerful cherry-haired human with a mischievous twinkle in her eye; finally, there was Jan, a fascinating little gnome with a penchant for launching into long diatribes about various nuts, leaves, and berries in the branches of his rather extended family tree. In fact, the previously warm chatter that had blanketed the group was now replaced with a loud collective groan as Jan began his fifth rendition of “The story of my aunt Petunia’s brother’s third cousin’s twice removed clandestine lover who cheated on him with a highly educated troll named Mortimer Egdoth the Third, who was actually a giant polymorphed into a troll by a very irate pirate sorcerer named Molly, who got his unfortunate name by….â€Â.

 

Solaufein’s eyes rested on the most intriguing member of the group. She was sitting cross-legged near the fire, chin resting on her hand, and an almost indulgent smile playing across her lips as she regarded Jan. At the moment Solaufein was trying to puzzle out just exactly what she was. She had said she was an elf when she first revealed herself to him in Ust Natha, but she did not match any elven race he had ever encountered or read about in his long life. He decided not to press her for an explanation, however. She would tell him in full if she so desired. Still, her exotic nature begged explanation. She was a head shorter than him, and had a lithe and delicate frame. Her skin was as snowy as his was onyx and her full, rich, wine-colored lips contrasted starkly with her face as a result. Her cascading curly hair, which she allowed to grow down to her waist, was as black as the night around her save for a streak of purple growing over her left eye. She did have the high cheekbones and tilted eyes of an elf, but her ears were of a most fascinating nature. They began as any elven ear should, but instead of tapering off into a point, the tips curled in a few times to make a sort of spiral. It was a very pretty effect to be sure, but he had never seen ears like this on any creature. Her eyes were another source of strangeness; the scleras were literally black with small silvery flecks, and had purple irises with silver pupils. Solaufein could swear he saw Eilistraee’s moon shining in her eyes. He also noticed that when she spoke, her hands narrated her thoughts just as much as her words did. They were fluid and graceful in their movements, each long slender finger articulating her speech masterfully as they glided through the air. Her familiar was an oddity as well; It seemed to be a surfacer bird called a “ravenâ€Â, but instead of the glossy black plumage he had read they had, this particular raven was the color of a moonbeam. Right now said raven was resting peacefully on her shoulder, gazing at him with violet eyes that reflected astute intelligence.

 

She must have sensed his eyes on her, for she turned her head in his direction. Noticing him, she gave him a warm smile, and he noted that her teeth seemed pointed and sharp. At that moment Solaufein realized with chagrin that he had never stopped to ask her true name. His dusky lips curled into a small smile of his own. It was time to learn a bit about “Veldrin.â€Â

 

Solaufein moved a bit closer to her so he could be heard over Jan’s incessant chattering.

 

“So, my dear “Veldrinâ€Â, might I inquire as to your actual name? I should hate to address you incorrectly.â€Â

 

Her smile turned lopsided when she answered. “Ah, no need to sound so formal Solaufein! You are among friends now! As to my name, well, I have always been called Duvheassa by those unfortunate enough to have raised me, but most people I come across just call me Vessa. Apparently the extra syllable is just much too taxing on the mandible.†She finished wryly. “If you are feeling especially lazy, you can even refer to me as Vess, but I warn you that monosyllabic names aren’t all they are cut out to be.â€Â

 

Solaufein’s own smile widened at this. At least this new leader seemed to have a sense of humor! She seemed to be genuinely interested in what he had to say, and he found that his guard lowered slightly despite himself. He had to admit that her friendly demeanor was a welcome relief after the unrelenting cruelty of the Underdark. This thought gave him pause. He recalled her behavior in Ust Natha and laughed to himself. He should have suspected right away that Vessa was no Drow; her concern for him after his “punishment†by the handmaiden and her balking at the task of killing the svirneblin should have made it obvious enough. Even if that were not the case, he should have known she was no ordinary Drow female when she purposefully gave every spider she encountered a wide berth.

 

“Another question, if I may. In Ust Natha, you always took pains to avoid the spiders that crawled freely through the streets. Why was that?â€Â

 

“Heh. Arachnophobia will do that to a girl,†Vessa replied. “I never could get over that fear…honestly, spiders terrify me. Imoen, lovely and considerate little sister that she is, quite enjoyed capitalizing on that fear in our childhood, let me tell you. I am just grateful that I can meet them in battle without soiling myself, panicking, and running in the opposite direction, screaming madly all the while.â€Â

 

“Then how did you manage to stay so calm when surrounded by them?â€Â

 

“The thought that there were even more spiders in the Demonweb pits should I get caught.â€Â

 

“Well, that line of logic is irrefutable,†said Solaufein. “Tell me, how did you come by the name of Veldrin? It was useful in that it served both males and females and was common enough to not draw undue attention. Have you studied Drow culture?â€Â

 

“Actually, while there were books in Candlekeep that outlined the admittedly few known nuances of Drow culture in detail, the monks never would let me read them. They always said something about it being unbecoming for a young girl to read about such scandalous behavior. I always thought they were overreacting. I mean, gods, what do you guys do down there, have wild orgies up in the stalactites or something?†Vessa finished with a laugh.

 

Solaufein blinked. She was closer to the truth than she knew. However, he had no wish to dwell in the shadows of those dark memories at the moment, so he merely smiled at her jest and gazed up at the moon. It seemed so much more beautiful to him now that he could allow his eyes to linger upon it in his newfound freedom instead of snatching furtive glances at it during a raid.

 

“I guess you got to stand beneath the moon of your Eilistraee sooner than you thought, eh Solaufein?†said Vessa as she playfully clipped his shoulder. Solaufein flinched reflexively and saw Vessa quickly move her hand, for she seemed to understand his reaction. Her merry face grew serious. “I am sorry, Solaufein. You must be used to getting horrible treatment at the hands of females. I should have remembered…â€Â

 

“No, do not worry about it, my Lady. You have already shown me that you are not a creature of violence. I just need some time to get acquainted with the ins and outs of surfacer behaviors, it seems.â€Â

 

“Ahhh, do not even worry about it. You are a smart man. You will pick up on things just fine, Solaufein!â€Â

 

“I thank you for the vote of confidence, my Lady.â€Â

 

“Not a problem, Solaufein.†Vessa yawned and stretched languorously. Solaufein noticed by this time that the other members of the group were setting up their bedrolls and Minsc was preparing to take first watch. “Well, I am now officially exhausted. Running through the Underdark and escaping only to find oneself being questioned by a decidedly irate elven officer and his band of mind reading goons can really put a damper on one’s store of energy. I am going to sleep…er,…well reverie, actually.†So she sauntered to her bedroll and did just that. “G’night, Solaufein.â€Â

 

“Goodnight, Vessa.â€Â

 

 

***

 

In an attempt to ignore Jan’s insufferable ramblings, Jaheira had focused her attention on Duvheassa and her new friend, Solaufein. She was glad that Vessa had spared the Drow’s life, though she had come to expect that kind of behavior from the girl. Her observations of Solaufein in the Underdark told her that he was a skilled and valuable party member, and his willingness to put his own life in danger to aid Vessa eased her worry at his presence, somewhat. She was still guarded, however. Memories of Yoshimo’s shameful betrayal were still too fresh on her mind to allow her to slip into complacency. Jaheira noticed to her surprise that Vessa’s easy smile and friendly manner had set Solaufein at ease, somewhat; his muscles were less tense and his eyes were not so guarded while he spoke with her. Although Vessa tended to have that effect on people, she had expected the Drow, who had been treated as nothing more than a tool and a slave by all the females in his life, to be a bit more mistrusting at first. However, Jaheira believed the two could perhaps find some common ground in the near future; Solaufein’s dark skin would make him face the fear-borne racism of many people while on the surface, and Vessa had struggled with the reactions to her unorthodox appearance and dark heritage most of her life. There had been too many battles in the streets that could have been avoided had the ignorant fools not taken Vessa for some kind of monster on the spot. This could not be good for the girl’s self-esteem, but she seemed used to it, and indeed she often joked about it.

 

Jaheira was worried for Vessa, however. She noticed that ever since their escape from Chateau Irenicus, Vessa’s laugh was sometimes a bit forced, that behind those twinkling eyes pain glinted dark and deep. She never told Vessa, but she had seen what that monster Irenicus did to that girl, had heard what he said to her while he was doing it. Jaheira had fought against the bars of her own cage to somehow escape and stop him, but she was powerless. Powerless! It was cruel, it was wrong, it was against all that is good and natural to violate an innocent girl in such a way! At the very least, he never used himself; he told her that she was not good enough for that, but it was poor consolation. He told her how worthless she was, how he was going to make her hideous so no man could ever love her…He carved into her body with those sick twisted knives, carved designs and profanity into her like she was some sort of wooden sculpture. How could he do that to a person?! How could he do any of those horrible things?! There was no trace of humanity in that...that abomination, that slime beyond slime! He had violated Vessa, he had tortured and kidnapped Imoen, he murdered Dynaheir while Minsc was forced to watch, and he murdered Khalid. He murdered Khalid! The love of her life had been torn from her forever! She wanted nothing more than to plunge her weapon deep within his vile, blackened heart!

 

He had cast many spells upon Vessa that Jaheira did not recognize, but one of them seemed to have weakened her body considerably, making her much more fragile. She still had just enough strength to wield her scimitars with injurious results, but her ability to take damage was severely limited and she fatigued faster than she was willing to admit. Jaheira knew that it was much easier to break the girl now, this girl whose body could once absorb all kinds of punishment. Jaheira could tell that this was a serious blow to her because even when she first met Vessa at the Friendly Arm, the girl had a strong and independent personality; she hated the thought of anyone else having to take up her slack because her constitution made her a little weaker physically. She saw that Vessa was still struggling to cope with this and hid her exhaustion out of pride.

 

Due to the brutality of all of these things, Vessa had developed a stutter that rendered her nearly speechless at times, it was so hard for her to get words out. It reminded Jaheira of Khalid after she and Gorion had rescued him from his kidnappers so long ago. Thankfully, Vessa’s stutter was not so permanent, and gradually subsided to the point where it only surfaced when she was highly agitated. Vessa had a will of iron indeed, and while the experience may have broken a lesser being, it had not broken her. However, Jaheira knew that even iron could buckle. She saw how Vessa struggled to maintain balance within herself, how she tried to lock those terrible memories away and hide them from the world and her party. She knew Imoen saw it too, but hoped Imoen did not know the reason for her sister’s hidden pain. She had seen enough as it is. She had seen Khalid……..

 

Jaheira dashed an errant tear away and busied herself with preparing her bedroll. She would not allow memories to overtake her entirely, and she knew she needed to keep focused. She noticed that Vessa had the same idea and was currently curling into the fetal position in her bedroll; this was often how she reveried now. She saw Solaufein take his bedroll from his pack and prepare for his own reverie. She crawled beneath the covers and prayed she would not again dream of Khalid. It seemed strange to her that a mourning wife would dread dreaming of her lost beloved, but every time he came to her in sleep he was, in his own way, asking her to accept his death and build her life anew, asking her to find happiness and move on. She distracted herself by contentedly breathing in the fresh air that was such a welcome relief from the fetid miasma of the Underdark….

 

Jaheira did not want to move on.

 

***

 

The sun was rising, gilding the forest with rich golds and reds. Dymphna had just flown back from some early morning hunting and was once again resting comfortably on Duvheassa’s shoulder. Vessa had the last watch and since it was near to waking time already, she saw no harm in pulling out her battered book of self-written poetry and scribbling a few lines in it before she had to face reality once more. She decided to pour some of the sadness she had been trying to cope with onto the pages in the hopes of easing it for a time.

 

A couple of minutes had passed and she was done. She gave the new poem a long look and sang it softly, trying to find a tune that fit it.

 

“Withered be the flower

that once the faerie grew

blackened as that desperate famine

The eclipsing cat hath mew

Shorn be once silky petals

That had gazed into the sky

Sundered as he who caused it all

Looked on with stony eye

Who can love a flower bleak

Upon this stony bed?

Though it yet remains a flower still

Who loves where scars have tread?â€Â

 

Not one of her better ones, to be sure, but she was having a hard time forging her chaotic thoughts into something halfway coherent.

 

“That was lovely, my friend, but your voice was so full of sorrow as you sang. Tell me, do you often write your own songs? And what is the meaning of this particular one?â€Â

 

Vessa felt a blush color her face. She believed she was no bard and she was too shy to share her creations with others. She shut the book quickly and turned around to see who spoke, though she realized there was really no need to do so. In what little time they had known each other, she had already grown to recognize the deep tenor of Solaufein’s voice.

 

“Oh its….its nothing. Really. It was just a....just a stray thought.†She couldn’t tell him what it was really about, she couldn’t tell anyone. She felt so dirty… She shoved the thought away. “And yes, while I can definitely appreciate the poetry of others, I do write some of my own. It helps me think when I can put my thoughts to prose and song, strangely enough.â€Â

 

“Truly? I myself turn to the prose of others to best express my emotions. It would seem that in this aspect we are nearly alike,†said Solaufein. He reached into his pack and pulled out a large, hand-bound leather book that looked as though it had seen a thousand seasons. He sat next to Vessa and opened it to a random page. She could see it was written in a language she did not recognize, most likely Drow, and she looked at Solaufein quizzically. His graceful ebony fingers danced across the pages, finally stopping at a particular stanza which he read:

 

 

“Last night I wasted hateful hours

Below the city’s eastern towers

I thirsted for the brooks, the showers

I roll’d among the tender flowers

I crushed them on my breast, my mouth

I look’d athwart the burning drouth

Of that long desert to the southâ€Â

 

Solaufein’s eyes smiled at Vessa, who was taken aback by his recital. “Wow, Solaufein, I am impressed, although I must say it is mildly amusing that I have met so few surfacers who appreciate poetry, though they have ample access to the materials, and here a Drow sits beside me reading a stanza written by one of the best loved surfacer poets of the past.†Vessa recognized the poet; Solaufein had read a stanza from one of her favorite poems, though he knew it not. She wondered where he had obtained such a collection, as owning something like that would surely be a crime in Ust Natha. Truly the dark elf was full of surprises, and Vessa looked forward to speaking with him at length about this discovery.

 

Solaufein smiled, a hesitant warmth in his slanted, stormy emerald eyes. “I am glad you appreciate such things yourself. Perhaps we can speak more on this later, but for now I think we should busy ourselves with breaking camp. It would seem as though our companions have awakened.†He gestured towards their now stirring forms.

 

Vessa agreed and breathed a silent sigh of relief that Solaufein was successfully distracted from pressing her further about what her poem/nebulous song meant. She watched him get up and attend to his own things for a moment. Then, as she put her book back into her bag, she decided to distract herself by antagonizing a still sleeping Imoen. She knelt beside the inert form of her sister and began to tickle her awake as Dymphna cackled loudly in order to “speed†the waking process.

 

“Wake up sleepyhead! Do you not know that sloth is a sin?â€Â

 

“Wh-wha? Vsss….Ve….Vessa st-stop! Oh, stop!! Hahahaha!! Oooh, I’m getting you back for this! Hahaha! Ah stop!†Was Imoen’s reply before she devolved into incoherent giggles. Vessa was grateful to see Imoen smile. She could only imagine the hell her sister had been through while the rest of the group scrambled to reach her. Her face was still a bit haggard, but Vessa was sure a week or two of freedom would clear it up marvelously. Until then, however, Vessa felt it was her job to keep Imoen in as high spirits as possible. Fortunately this was not hard as Imoen’s naturally cheerful personality seemed mercifully intact.

 

Vessa allowed nostalgia to take hold of her for a moment….She and Imoen had always been close, had always been partners in crime. They were the merry pranksters that lightened the dark halls of Candlekeep with their laughter….and their faerie fire cantrips. Many a monk had suffered a panic attack under their careful ministrations. Vessa smiled at the memories before allowing Imoen freedom from her merciless tickles. She moved away quickly so as not to fall victim to the same treatment and began packing her own things up.

 

The party had just finished attempting to eat breakfast (this morning they were treated to Minsc’s infamous “Butt Kicking Breakfastâ€Â, a compendium of all that was wrong with last night’s leftovers and today’s hastily unburied tubers.) and Vessa had just decided to ban Minsc from cooking. Forever. She then moved away from the group to inspect a lovely flower that caught her eye. A fierce stab of pain beneath her belly caught her by surprise and brought her to her knees in an instant as a wave of nausea overtook her. Her stomach emptied itself of all its contents and Vessa could do no more than grip the ground and grimace. Her raven, Dymphna, puffed up in distress at what was happening, but Vessa herself refused to cry out at all.

 

These pains had been growing steadily since leaving Irenicus’ dungeon. Her own sorcerous powers could do nothing to bring her comfort. Jaheira had examined her (she was the only person Vessa trusted and felt comfortable enough with to do such a thing) and had prevented any infection or gangrene from entering any of her wounds, even the ones lower down. Vessa was grateful for Jaheira’s presence. She was almost like a mother to her and the fact that Jaheira was willing to treat *all* of her wounds without complaint humbled her, and reminded her of the compassion Jaheira so often hid behind her sharp exterior. She knew that Jaheira had knowledge of what happened. Even if she hadn’t seen it being done, a healer who had seen those wounds could only draw one logical conclusion. Thankfully she did not press Vessa about it. Vessa got the feeling that she understood her desire to keep her own counsel, and she was thankful for the silence.

 

However, she knew that if she told Jaheira about these other pains, she would insist on taking her to a temple to have a more thorough examination there, and Vessa was not about to have the hands of complete strangers touching her even in healing. The thought made her ill, and she refused to become a burden to her party members and friends. Vessa decided with that stubborn will of hers to ride the pain out; if it was indeed an effect of one of those spells, it would have to wear off eventually. This was what she told herself, anyway. She washed her mouth out with a swig from her waterskin and hurried back to her companions before anyone could notice what had happened.

 

*My Lady, perhaps you should get attention for whatever it is that ails you. This is not a good thing.* Dymphna communicated to Vessa.

 

*No. It will go away soon. I cannot be bothered with such trivial things at the moment* Vessa replied.

 

*I hardly feel your physical health can be considered ‘trivial’, My Lady.*

 

*Be that as it may, Dymphna, I know what I’m doing and I don’t want to get checked!*

 

Vessa felt a wave of worry surge from her familiar, but Dymphna communicated nothing else to her. She felt guilty that she caused her familiar so much worry, but she still stubbornly refused to get treated for her mysterious ailment.

 

She had decided that they were going to travel straight to Athkatla, go to the Graveyard, and finish this. Nothing could possibly keep her from annihilating that soul-stealing *whore* Bodhi and sending her to the agonizing hell she deserved. With that thought in mind, Vessa set her jaw and began to march.

Link to comment

Chapter 2: There’s No Way…

 

 

 

“You have *got* to be kidding me.†Vessa said, dismayed and banging her head softly against the wall. Dymphna glared at the Cowled wizard who had just given them the news. She didn’t trust the Cowlies any more than her Lady did.

 

They had made it to Athkatla, rested at the Five Flagons, given Solaufein some weapons and armor (including some nice elvish mail) that would not rot in the sunlight, and made it to the graveyard, where they were met with a smooth stone wall encasing all possible entrances to Bodhi’s domain.

 

“I’m afraid I’m not, my Lady.†said the Cowled Wizard who had met them at the site. Vessa found it slightly amusing that they had become so helpful now that Spellhold was out of commission and they realized Bodhi and Irenicus were trouble. In fact, they were quite willing to spend much time to help her eliminate their now common enemy. “We’ve had some of our best working on it, but these damnable walls are impervious to every spell we cast on them! We’ve hired some mundane laborers to carve a way though and have used copious amounts of blasting powder. Nothing is working, I tell you! Not even stoneshape has an effect and we are barred from teleporting!†He finished this declaration with a well-choreographed stamping of his foot.

 

“However, do not believe you shall have to wait indefinitely, Lady.†An older Cowled Wizard said. “There is no doubt in my mind that this spell is temporary and that great power is required to sustain it. A blood ritual may have been involved, and if this Bodhi is a vampire as you say, I have no doubt she has such stuff in plentiful supply down there. Still, it shall not last forever. You need only wait until she exhausts her supplies and then move in to strike. Judging by the strength of the spell however, it shall be quite a while before that happens. Were I in your position, I would continue to travel around doing whatever it is you adventurers do in order to gain not only more experience to better fight the battle ahead, but also the tools with which the battle may be turned in your favor. We shall alert you immediately should we see any weakening at all of this irksome stumbling block.â€Â

 

Gods, everyone and their great uncle think they know how to run my party better than I do. Bloody pretentious old gits… Vessa thought to herself. Once she got past her annoyance and the full weight of the situation hit her, however, her thoughts quickly changed. Damnit! I know exactly what she is doing! She is buying Irenicus time to do whatever he is planning in Suldenessallar! By all the gods and their mothers, will this never end?! From the sour look on Jaheira’s face Vessa could tell she was thinking the same thing. She glanced quickly at Imoen. Her face did not betray any of the unease she could tell her sister felt. She hoped Imoen did not deteriorate any further and also prayed that she herself could maintain control long enough to get her soul back before the Slayer took over completely. She caught a feeling of unease from Dymphna, who gazed at her with a worried violet eye.

 

Unfortunately, it seemed as though for once the Cowlies were telling the truth. She saw their vain attempts to get through the stone, and Solaufein had used his own dimension door ability to no effect. He was unable to walk through the other side. The Wizard did have a point, she had to admit. There was no use spending gods know how long in this city doing nothing when they could be out hardening themselves for the trials ahead and helping those who need it to boot. She turned to her companions.

 

“Well, I guess we have no choice. Let us see if we cannot make use of what time we have before Bodhi shows her cowardly face.†They all nodded in agreement, even Jan, whose nod was slightly less nod-like due to the presence of a large turnip that he was currently stuffing into his face. Vessa was about to go out and see what they could do, but as she looked at her companions, she realized that perhaps some free time, rest, and relaxation would be an overdue and well-deserved reward. “But for today I think we should all just kick back and, oh, I do not know, party like wild apes or something. We have been running ourselves ragged for gods know how long and now that Imoen is relatively safe with us and we do not have to worry about saving money anymore, I suggest that we dip into the painfully large leather bag we call the party funds and live it up!!! Rich foreign food, enough fine elven wine to make your ancestors drunk in their graves, obscenely overpriced trinkets, and rooms fit for royalty at the Five Flagons to sleep it all off!! What say you?!â€Â

 

A collective cheer from the party, a loud crow from Dymphna, and desperate grabs for various money pouches as they all ran their separate ways told Vessa that her suggestion was indeed highly welcome. Soon it was just Solaufein and she standing in the middle of the graveyard. Vessa she frowned when she noticed that he had absolutely nothing in the way of gold. He had fled with them from the Underdark with nary more than his gear, survival equipment, and a few bits of clothing. He would be needing to replace a few things as well as get clothing more suited to the rigors of surface travel.

 

I cannot believe how inconsiderate I have been. Of course he has no gold! Where is my mind? Vessa procured another pouch from that maelstrom of chaos she called her backpack, poured about half of her gold into the pouch, and handed it to Solaufein with a smile. He looked at her offering and shook his head.

 

“I thank you for the thought, my Lady, but I cannot accept. I have not been traveling with you for very long and have not earned such a share.â€Â

 

“Pfffft. Please. If you have not earned your share, Solaufein, then I am 40 feet tall, weigh two tons, breathe fire, and reek of brimstone. You risked your own neck to help all of us get out of the Underdark and prevented a war between the Drow and the surface elves to boot! I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your help in that dark place. You’ve more than earned your share. Besides, you’re one of *us* now, and as such you are entitled to your own share of the party gold. You might want to think about buying yourself some supplies as well. The clothes you have will not weather the weather of the surface for long. Here, I will take you to some shops that can give you what you need. Perhaps after that we can go to a bookseller and find some books of poetry or the like. Blake and Wilde are two of my personal favorites. There’s this one bookstore in particular I like to visit, the storekeep and I have become pretty good friends and he always gives me discounts….†Vessa chatted amiably with Solaufein, who remained silent but was wearing an unaccustomed small smile on his face, as they walked out of the crypt and made their way towards the Promenade.

Link to comment

Chapter 3: Free Day!

 

 

Imoen flitted about the seamstress’ shop, searching through various tunics and trousers and vainly attempting to describe to the already harried woman the *exact* shade of pink she was looking for. She was extremely choosy about her pinks. In fact, she had nurtured it into an art form. Most of her own clothing was torn beyond repair in Spellhold as Irenicus had “tested†her, and she was in fact wearing a tunic and pants borrowed from Vessa. The clothing was a bit too small for her, but she made minor alterations to them that allowed for more comfort. She couldn’t stand being in them for long however; Vessa was partial to whispering blacks and moody purples in her clothes, and even made it a habit to wear the odd lacy or velvety tunic if she could get away with it, but that just didn’t work for Imoen. She needed PINK, and she needed the kind of clothing that her less practicality-minded sister did not have in ample supply, though Vessa at least had enough sense to wear something resilient while on the road.

 

Imoen sighed and wished not for the first time today that they were back at old Ulmie’s in Beregost. Now that was a woman who knew her pinks! Defeated, she finally selected some clothes that were halfway palatable and was at the counter getting ready to pay when who should come in but Vessa and Solaufein. Imoen smiled to herself, put a finger to her lips to signal to the seamstress to remain quiet, left her things on the table, and hid behind some clothes that were hanging from a thin wooden beam. Vessa said something to Solaufein that Imoen could not make out and he walked a bit away to speculate for male attire as Vessa made her way to where Imoen was hidden and began to examine a black tunic cascaded with white lace thoughtfully. Imoen smirked. Vessa might just fall for this!

 

“Whoooo touches the clothing of Madame Nurush, seducer of men and destroyer of marriages? I demand freedom for my desires! Merely wear my sumptuous shirt and you can free my wanton passions! Make my extreme lustiness your own!!!â€Â

 

Imoen saw Vessa look at the shirt and blink. “Hmm….for a “seducer of menâ€Â, as you style yourself, your voice does sound a bit too childish to resemble anything coming close to “huskyâ€Â. You might want to work on that a bit, else tge only things you’ll be able to seduce are pedophiles.â€Â

 

Imoen jumped up and said indignantly “HEY! I seem to remember my “childish little voice†getting *someone* out of trouble by sweet talking the monks into forgetting her transgressions! I see how it is now. “Let’s make fun of Imoen because her voice never hit puberty!†I’ll remember that!â€Â

 

“Actually, Imoen, I believe that your “sweet talking†voice, as you call it, actually got us into *more* trouble, as every explanation you offered for our behavior only dug the grave deeper and deeper….â€Â

 

“Humph! Ingrate….â€Â

 

“Aren’t I always?†finished Vessa with a smile dripping in sarcastic sweetness. Her smile bordered on the impish as Dymphna flew from her shoulder to peck Imoen’s head.

 

“HEY! No fair! Stupid telepathic familiars…. Tell your flea-bitten featherbag to scram before I feed it to a displacer beast!â€Â

 

Vessa replied by sticking her tongue out at Imoen as Dymphna reluctantly flew back to perch on her shoulder.

 

Imoen browsed with her sister for a while, occasionally making snide comments about her choice of dress as Vessa responded with equal sarcasm on her own choices when finally something occurred to her.

 

“Hey Vessa, um….what are we going to do about Solaufein? I remember how badly Viconia was treated in cities even while she traveled with us…â€Â

 

“Why do you think I am staying near him? It is not just to make sure he does not get lost, you know. I mean, even the seamstress is freaking out over there. Look at her!â€Â

 

Imoen turned to see said seamstress and took note that she was looking at Solaufein with apprehension and mistrust. She saw Vessa move to stand near him in order to possibly smooth things over should they go badly. Imoen decided to break the tension by embarrassing Solaufein, so she picked up the skimpiest article of female clothing she could find (apparently this seamstress dabbled in naughty lingerie) and snuck up behind him, fully intending to trick him into believing this was casual male surfacer attire. Vessa must have realized what she was planning, for she stomped Imoen’s foot, shook her head negatively, and dragged her hand across her neck in the universal “stop it or I will kill you†motion, with Solaufein apparently oblivious to the situation the entire while. Vessa leaned in and whispered: “Imoen, Solaufein has been treated like a sex toy most of his life. As funny as it might be, it would definitely be crossing the line into cruelty if we did that, especially if we allowed him to go out wearing such risqué things. Besides, Solaufein may be new to the surface, but he is no idiot. I would think that after seeing surfacer males in their ill-conceived and painfully unflattering outfits already he would know better than to believe your little tidbits of wardrobe wisdom.â€Â

 

Imoen huffed. Damn Vessa’s considerate nature! It was always spoiling her fun… “Oh alright, fine! I won’t try to trick him…this time. But don’t think he’s off the hook, or you either for that matter!†She put the skivvies away, and then noted the amused smile on Solaufein’s face as he pretended to keep looking through clothing. Apparently he wasn’t as oblivious to the exchange as she thought he was.

 

***

 

The disgruntled knight shifted uncomfortably in his full gear and looked decidedly out of place in the inn full of carousing patrons wearing much more relaxed garb. He quaffed down the contents of yet another tankard of ale and sighed crossly. He had heard tales of a mighty adventuring band that had committed a great many deeds of valor in their short time in Amn, and he wanted to be part of it. According to rumor they frequented the Five Flagons and so he had come here, in full armor to further impress them and convince them of his prowess, only to find the place devoid of their presence. Actually, he was there when said band was at the Copper Coronet but, (he hated to admit to himself) he had been drunk out of his mind and mistook them for a group of rampaging gibberlings, which, thankfully, he did not lift a finger to battle.

 

Sometimes lethargy can be a virtue, despite the dictates of the Order. He thought wryly to himself. The Halfling serving wench stoking the fire near him reminded him of his discomfort, however. Bah! When will the blasted men get here?! I can’t stand to be in this hot armor much longer! I swear, they had better be worth my time…

 

***

 

Jaheira had wandered into a small shop she had never noticed before. Though she knew the city from her and Khalid’s sojourn here so many years ago, many new places had been established and it made Athkatla seem almost alien compared to what was there in the past. The air inside was heavy with the heady smells of various dried herbs and components useful in druidic cures and rites, and she was restocking her depleted stores, buying extra for Vessa as she came across them. She had to admit, Vessa was an attentive pupil when it came to herblore; most likely she wanted to make her travels in the wild as easy and painless as possible by taking advantage of the knowledge. It was a wise decision, of course. She felt eyes upon her as she was selecting some stalks of lavender Vessa was partial to and whirled around, half-tensed to fight. It was the owner of the small store. She recognized him as a druid she saw once at some function or another, and right now he was eyeing her with a teasing smile on his face.

 

Why in the Nine Hells is this man not fighting to preserve balance or tending his grove?! What in the world possessed him to sell such things in a city? She thought. She had half a mind to walk up to him and punch him in the face as much for his shamefully lecherous leering as anything when he walked up to her and said in a voice as teasing as his smile:

“Why my dear lady of the forest! What lucky wind has swept such a lovely druid into this humble shopkeeper’s sight?â€Â

 

Now Jaheira was annoyed. “Your ridiculous attempts at flattery will get you nowhere, boy. I have no patience for fools and will not hesitate to deal with them accordingly. Just ask that moron at the Copper Coronet.â€Â

 

“Oh but if you punish me, dear lady, how can I continue to supply you with my fine ingredients? Surely your need for them in order to preserve the balance far outweighs any less-than-hospitable feelings you harbor toward me?†By this time his eyes were practically shining with pleasant mischief, and Jaheira wondered darkly at his intentions.

 

“Boy, I *am* indeed a druid, and I can get my ingredients from the woods just as well as from your store. You would do well to remember that, lest you lose a customer. And another thing, why are you even working here? This goes against the tenets of a druid! You should be either actively campaigning against defilers of nature or contemplating within a grove, not tarrying here furthering your capitalist desires!â€Â

 

“Ah, but this *is* my grove, beautiful lady! This conglomeration of the bipedal races is what I have chosen to tend, and as for my “capitalist tendenciesâ€Â, how else can I supply the needed care for my grove if I do not have the resources at hand to do so? Surely you agree when I say that it is of paramount importance to garner all that I can to further the success of my grove?â€Â

 

“This is…unorthodox. I feel you are toying with me, boy. Surely you cannot mean what you say, so I demand that you cease this foolery at once and tell me the real reason you whore your druidic talents out to whoever has the coin before I shame you as you have shamed your kin!â€Â

 

The man broke into an amused laugh, which irritated Jaheira even further. “Oh my my my, but aren’t we aggressive? It’s a very charming trait you know. Your eyes light up marvelously when you are angry. I promise you by Shaundakul that this is indeed my grove. To tell you the truth, this whole thing began as a rebellion by yours truly against the stuffed robes of the greater druidic hierarchy. You should have seen the looks on their faces when they found out what my grove was. It was positively delicious to see them go into a tizzy and not be able to do a thing about it, let me tell you. Gods, but they can be so overbearing sometimes, can they not?

 

Jaheira glared at the man even as she tried to suppress an unwanted smile that was threatening to creep into her lips. “Yes, they can indeed be….difficult….to tolerate at times. Although I disapprove of your childish actions, I must admit that I find the situation slightly…humorous.†She took a good look at the man now that she deemed him worthy of slight notice. The first thing that struck her was the merging of elvish and human features, the undeniable mark of a half-elf. He had vivid hazel eyes and shoulder-length scarlet hair, and lacked any sort of facial stubble. That teasing smile had never left his face, which she noticed was weathered by work and wind that his choice of a grove would otherwise belie. He wore a druidic talisman, a simple amulet with a wooden circular carving of a mockingbird on it and a few feathers dangling from it by a leather string. His clothing was modest and homespun. She saw him as not unattractive, though perhaps his personality could use some work. It would do him well to take his life and duty more seriously.

 

“Oh come now, my dear! You tease me with your words and do not even divulge your name! Could the enchanting princess of the meadows deign to share her lovely moniker to one as low as I, the humble Uilsyth?â€Â

 

“You are a silly boy for slathering such large amounts of flattery on every sentence that slithers out of your mouth. No woman is ever going to take you seriously if you keep up that ridiculous behavior. However, I shall give you my name if only to silence you, boy. I am Jaheira. Please do not create any moronic pet names out of it using an anagram or somesuch nonsense, or you will find a quarterstaff firmly lodged up your nethers. Now, kindly allow me to make my purchase and be on my way, I have much to do already without listening to some foppish merchant-druid all day.â€Â

 

“Oh but of course, of course my darling woodbine! I would not dream of keeping you from your noble cause! Do smile more though, my dear. Your face would light up marvelously with such a joyous display.†Jaheira’s scowl deepened considerably, which didn’t seem to have any affect on the fool, much to her chagrin. He winked and bowed with a flourish, then proceeded to count up the price of the various things she had decided to purchase, giving her a substantial discount in the process.

 

Moronic boy. Jaheira thought as she exited the shop. It requires much more than silly flattery for me to be taken in! However intriguing the fellow was, she was not about to spend any more time in his presence than absolutely necessary and resolved to find another purveyor of ingredients somewhere else.

 

She was glowering as she left.

 

***

 

Oh my, but won’t mother be cross with me when I visit her at home. Jan thought to himself. She always got a bit flustered during his many prolonged absences. Minsc had been traveling with him to, as he put it, “make sure the naughty gnome does not try to pull any tricks to steal Minsc’s Boo while Minsc is not seeing him.†Jan chuckled to himself at the thought and then remembered his mother. Hopefully she will be more sympathetic to me once she had heard where I have been and what I have done. He opened the door and stepped quietly inside.

 

“JAN JANSEN!!! WHERE IN ALL THE CATACOMBS OF GREAT UNCLE PAULY AND HIS OVERGROWN TWIN SONS HAVE YOU BEEN, BOY?! YOU’RE WORSE THAN YOUR NO-GOOD-TURNIP-STEALING COUSIN BLENG AFTER FIVE TANKARDS OF TURNIP ALE! I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU WERE AWAY THIS LONG WITHOUT EVEN A LETTER! WHY IF YOUR UNCLE SCRATCHY HEARD ABOUT THIS I SWEAR HE’D…..â€Â

 

….Then again, maybe not.

 

***

 

Bloody hell on a stick! Duvheassa thought to herself as she strained to reach a scroll that was just tantalizingly out of her reach on a shelf above her. She was going out of her way to get it because she had seen the title and recognized it as something sentimental from her past. I swear, I must be the shortest Bhaalspawn in the whole of Faerun! She was jumping up in her attempt to reach it now. I cannot even reach a blasted scroll on a blasted shelf!! I feel like a blasted three year-old! And I need to find a blasted thesaurus to look up some synonyms for blasted! Hells…

 

*My lady, will you please quit jumping now?! Just let me fly up there and get it for you!* Was Dymphna’s reply to the situation. She was getting quite irritated from being tossed repeatedly from her perch.

 

*Actually, that’s a great idea! Glad you’re around, Dymphna. You shall forever be the common sense to my genius.* Vessa thought back.

 

Just as Dymphna was going to take flight, however, she was thwarted in the attempt.

 

“Having some difficulty, My lady?†She heard Solaufein ask from behind her. She was about to turn around and tell him that no, she wasn’t reaching for the scroll, it was just national jump up for no reason day when he drew close, reached up, and plucked the scroll down for her with no difficulty. He turned and handed it to her. Normally Vessa would have expected a snide “haha, you’re short and I am noooot!†comment at this time, but he did not say a word. She had to admit she was grateful for that.

 

“Thank you, Solaufein. Now I will not make a complete fool of myself with my ridiculous ‘jump to get something from above me’ tactic.â€Â

 

“Might I see what is on the scroll that made you endeavor to reach it so, Vessa?â€Â

 

Vessa grinned mischievously and turned her back to him, clutching the scroll to her breast. “Nope! I am not going to let you see it!! You’ll never get it from me!!†She turned her head and stuck her tongue out at him in a playful gesture as Dymphna cawed teasingly. In her opinion, Solaufein was entirely too serious for his own good, but perhaps this would help him lighten up a little.

 

“Vessa? What is the meaning of this gesture? If you didn’t want me to see the scroll, you could have just told me.†Vessa noticed he was frowning slightly. Drat! Her plan failed!

 

“No, Solaufein, you misunderstand me. I do not mind at all if you see the scroll, I was just teasing you!â€Â

 

“Teasing, Vessa?â€Â

 

“Yeah, you know, teasing. Like…oh hells…†Said Vessa. Solaufein inclined his head and arched a snowy eyebrow at her. Blast! How is it that a person can be exposed to something her entire life, know it intimately, and still not be able to explain it to others?! “Sorry, I guess it is just a little hard to explain it to someone who is not used to such behavior. Hmm… Well, perhaps you could take Imoen and I for example. We tease each other constantly. I guess it is almost like you are mocking someone without cruel intent, just being playful or to elicit a playful and teasing response in return, you know? Like when Imoen teases me about being short. She is not doing it to hurt my feelings, but she knows it annoys me and says it to provoke a reaction, which is usually me cursing her in some elaborately silly way or teasing her in return about her garish color choices in clothing. Or I could tease you by saying something that is completely untrue, something like ‘Oh, that Solaufein is such a moron.’ This is not true. However, you could respond with something like ‘Yeah, I heard he cannot even read.’ or somesuch and play along. Clear as mud?â€Â

 

“I…see. It would seem that I still have much to learn. I thank you for the explanation however. It makes the things Imoen has been saying about me getting sunburned with my pale skin make sense now.â€Â

 

“No problem. Here is that scroll, by the way. It is a poem that is currently not part of my collection and one that I have spent ages searching for. It was one of Gorion’s favorites, though I admit I cannot remember the entire thing without this refresher. I am actually surprised they have it here. This means a lot to me.â€Â

 

She saw Solaufein smile at her and hoist the rather large amounts of books and scrolls he himself was planning to purchase onto the counter. The shopkeeper glared at him suspiciously. “I don’t know what you’re about, Drow, but I’ll not be serving your filthy kind here. Your gold is as likely to vanish in my hand as it is to explode in my purse, methinks.â€Â

 

Vessa glanced at Solaufein and noticed a strange look behind his guarded eyes. She knew how it felt to be treated like that, and it made her very angry that he was being treated the same way. This stupid scroll be damned, she was not about to fund a man who talked to *her* friend in such a manner!

 

“I understand sir. It is what I should expect, I suppose.†Solaufein said with no trace of emotion in his voice. Dymphna puffed up irately and glared at the shopkeeper with all her raven fury. Vessa crossed her arms, drew herself up to her full (if unimpressive) height, looked up at the man with burning eyes, and took an indignant posture that would have made Jaheira proud.

 

“Excuse me, but I do not think so. I will have *you* know, Mr. Pompous-ass-racist-pig-fornicator, that I am PROUD to call this Drow here my good friend,†at this she raised her chin defiantly, “and if you are going to treat him in such a poor manner you can just take this scroll and shove it up your nethers, you anal-retentive clod! You have just lost two valuable customers this day!†With this she threw down the scroll she had been so excited to find just a minute before, turned smartly on her heel, and marched straight out that door, Solaufein following behind her and Dypmphna hissing angrily. She heard the shopkeeper yell something from inside. “Oh, go kiss an orc!†She shouted behind her as she stalked off. She slowed to a stop a few yards away from the store. What a jerk, treating Solaufein like he was some sort of freak! How dare he make such an assumption?! Though her easygoing nature was averse to anger when she herself was insulted, she always lost her temper when the same happened to any of her friends. It was this fierce protectiveness that often made her look foolish, as she tended to blow things completely out of proportion.

 

She felt a hand on her shoulder and jumped reflexively.

 

“My lady?†It was Solaufein.

 

“Yeah? I am sorry about the theatrics back there, Solaufein. I seem to have made a spectacle of myself yet again. I hope I did not embarrass you too badly. However, I do not regret what I said or did. That man had absolutely no right to treat you that way!†She finished with a shake of her head and an incensed snort.

 

“It is not a problem, Vessa. I find myself relieved that at least one person on the surface considers me an equal, but did that scroll you threw down in anger not have something written on it that was special to you?â€Â

 

“Oh, to hells with that blasted scroll. Having the thing was not worth standing idly by while some gutless troll presumed to judge my friend. Even Gorion himself would have been displeased with me had I chosen that scroll over you.†She noticed that Solaufein had not removed his hand. She did not shrug it off, however. The instinct to fight it had passed.

 

“So you defended me out of respect for your foster-father’s wishes?â€Â

 

“No, Solaufein, I defended you out of respect for my friend. That’s all that matters. Besides, I…I know how it feels to be treated like that. Bhaalspawn are not the most beloved creatures in Faerun, and a bizarre looking one such as myself is subject to all sorts of mockery, even though I have gone out of my way to prove I am no monster.†She smiled sweetly up at him and, while reaching up to give his own shoulder a short and reassuring squeeze, noticed he was surveying her with astute interest. He is probably just not used to having people speak up for him, is all. She thought to herself as an explanation for his gaze. “I am not much in the mood for browsing through shops any more right now. How about we go to the Five Flagons and meet up with the others, eh? I bet you haven’t tasted any surfacer drink yet. In fact, If I know old Samuel, he’ll have some elven wines hidden waaaaay back in his cellars. He is a sweet guy, Solaufein, and I know he will not get ignorant with you just because of your skin, so at least our stay there will be relatively peaceful.â€Â

 

“I believe I would enjoy that, Vessa. Let us go.†With that he removed his hand and walked beside her, and together they made their way to the Bridge District in the fading sunlight.

 

***

 

Minsc was the first to be back at the Five Flagons. That tricky gnome was not going to fool him again! He saw naughty Jan reach for his Boo even as his mother yelled all sorts of strange things at him, so he turned and left after threatening Jan with a mighty reckoning should he ever try that again. He sat down at a table to wait for his friends and noticed a man in full armor huddled over a tankard. He looked to have had a bit too much ale, in Minsc’s opinion. What kind of silly man stays at an inn in full armor? Not even Minsc would do such a strange thing! The armor would chafe very uncomfortably…

 

***

 

When Imoen got back to the Five Flagons, she noticed that everyone was there except for Vessa and Solaufein. She refused to sit down with the others, for she was worried that maybe they had been attacked while on their way here. Both of them seemed to attract unwanted attention wherever they went. She found her worries were unfounded when they appeared in the door behind her, Solaufein looking much less dour than he had just a day ago and Vessa smiling pleasantly.

 

“I hope you haven’t started the party without us!†Said Vessa. “I still have plenty of gold to waste!†She sat down at the table, and Imoen and Solaufein took a seat on either side of her.

 

“You certainly took your sweet time in getting here, Vessa.†Imoen heard Jaheira say. “I assume you got lost in some bookstore or another?â€Â

 

“Er, well you could say that.†Vessa replied. Imoen noticed Solaufein smile. She was intrigued and felt she would have to grill Vessa on whatever happened after she left the seamstress’ shop, it seemed. She grinned at the thought.

 

Thalia, Halfling wife of Samuel Thunderburp and resident chief serving girl, walked up to their table carrying so many steaming plates of venison and baked potato that it seemed to defy the laws of physics. They took the plates from her as the table they sat at was nearly as tall as she was, and it was more considerate than making her strain to put the plates in front of them. “Hello again, dears. Samuel and I were beginning to worry when our most frequent patrons stopped showing up, but here you are, safe and sound.†Thalia surveyed the group appraisingly. “Who are these new faces? Is that girl the Imoen you were telling Samuel about? And who is this dark boy? He looks new.â€Â

 

“Yep, I’m Imoen all right. Has Vessa been talking bad about me again? It’s just like her to gossip about me when my back is turned!†Imoen glanced at Vessa and saw her roll her eyes in mock annoyance.

 

“Yes, Imoen, the entire time you were gone I spent my days telling everyone who would listen about the monstrous evil that is my sister.†Vessa said with evident sarcasm as she fed Dymphna a scrap of meat.

 

“Well, you two certainly talk like sisters, in any case. But that still doesn’t tell me who this new boy is.†Thalia said.

 

“Him? Why he’s-†Imoen started to answer, but Thalia cut her off. “Now now, girl, let the boy speak for himself. I’m sure he’s got a tongue to wag just like the rest of us. So what about it, newcomer? What should Thalia call you?â€Â

 

“Madame, my name is Solaufein, and I met Vessa and her friends in the Underdark after they had rescued Imoen. They helped me and I helped them in turn, and now I hope to find my way on the surface.â€Â

 

“Well, you seem like a nice boy to me, and so long as you don’t cause any trouble in our inn you are most certainly welcome here. Now, who wants a drink?†Thalia said.

 

“HUZZAH!!†was the deafening shout that rose at Thalia’s question as a large band of dwarfs who until that moment had been sitting quietly jumped up and slammed their fists to their respective tables.

 

“Well, I guess they do…†Was all Thalia mumbled as she went to go get their orders.

 

Imoen saw Vessa lean over to Solaufein and say “See, I told you! They are nice people, the Thunderburps are.†Ooooh, but she was going to have fun teasing Vessa tonight!!

 

“Oh, by the way,†Thalia said after she had taken the drink orders “There’s been a young man in here looking for you guys. Silly boy has been sitting here for hours in full armor waiting for you to get here. Very ignorant too. Apparently he doesn’t like Halflings much, but that might have been the ale talking.â€Â

 

“He did not get rude with you, did he Thalia? Just say the word and I will sort him out in a heartbeat!†Vessa said with the typical defensive nature that Imoen was used to seeing. She listened in with interest.

 

“Oh, don’t worry about it, dearie, I can take care of myself. He did seem anxious to speak to you though. Do you want me to send him over?â€Â

 

“All right, Thalia. Thank you.â€Â

 

“No trouble at all, sweetie. I’ll tell him you’re here and then I’ll be just a minute with the drinks.â€Â

 

Imoen had just begun to enjoy her meal when the man she had suspected Thalia was referring to walked up to the table. If he was drunk, his carriage did not show it, though he was sweating profusely.

 

“What’s with all that armor, tinhead? You forget how to take it off or something?†Imoen said. She was thoroughly entertained by the look of momentary indignity on his face.

 

*Ahem* “I shall let that comment slide, young lady, for you have the look of one who has not been properly raised with manners and decorum. I came here to speak with your leader.†The man said as he turned to Minsc. “You there! I prithee, good sir, for what do you quest on your travels?â€Â

 

“Minsc is not the leader, silly armor man. Minsc follows the directions of Vessa, who helps him put the boot to the smelly backside of evil!†Minsc pointed to Vessa as he spoke.

 

“Truly? A lady leads the party? My lady, are you sure there is not some other, less demanding profession to suit such a delicate flower as yourself?â€Â

 

Imoen could barely control her laughter after hearing this comment. The man had hit a sore spot. Calling a strong and independent woman like Vessa a “delicate flower†was not a good way to endear oneself to her. Her laughter exploded out of her when she saw Vessa’s face, for she was giving the man a venomous glare that she was certain would make his head burst into flames at any moment and her raven was giving him the epitome of a baleful glower. She heard Jaheira snicker and Jan giggle with ill-hidden glee at the spectacle. Minsc was too oblivious to care as he was feeding Boo table scraps, and Solaufein just looked confused. Imoen guessed that he had never heard a female being spoken to like that by a male in all his life. She settled back and decided to remain quiet and watch the show, perhaps stirring the pot when needed but otherwise staying out of it.

 

***

 

Vessa tried to smother the glare she knew she was giving the man and successfully replaced it with an arched eyebrow. She understood that in his own patronizing way he was trying to give her a compliment, but she did not appreciate being treated like some helpless and simpering doe-eyed debutante.

 

*Not very tactful is he, My lady?* Dymphna communicated, the thoughts sounding quite sardonic.

 

*Nope. Not at all.* Vessa replied with equal dryness.

 

*Shall I pull some hair from his head and use it as nesting material?*

 

*Nah…It would probably smell funky.*

 

Delicate flower, my ass. Vessa thought. “I assure you, good sir, that I am quite capable of surviving and even thriving on whatever rigors the adventuring life throws at me. I even know what I am doing and everything.†She knew the sarcasm in her voice sounded harsh, but at this point she couldn’t help it. He did not seem to notice it, however, blustering about as he was.

 

“’Tis surely the truth, my Lady. I was merely taken aback at the thought of such a fair lady reducing herself to adventuring. Surely one such as you can find a man to take care of you properly, can you not?†The blusterer spoke. Where in the world did he get that moronic accent, anyway? Did he read those ridiculous romance novels that Imoen had a penchant for or something?

 

He was *really* pushing it now. Vessa knew this was probably how the man was raised and tried to be more understanding, but the way he spoke to her made her set her jaw and clench her fists. “Excuse me, but I have taken care of myself quite nicely all my life. I do not see the point of depending on someone else to live my life for me now, thank you very much.†She bit off a cutting remark that was about to launch itself from her tongue and instead distracted herself with a question. “Why did you wait so long for us to get here anyway? And why wait in full armor? That has to be uncomfortable.â€Â

 

“Ah, that is the dilemma, my Lady. I had hoped to make a good impression on you and your party with a shining display of my discipline in the hopes that you would let me join you, but it would seem as if I have made myself seem foolish instead.†Vessa felt her annoyance with him lessen slightly out of pity. He looked to be at least competent in battle, but his people skills most definitely needed improvement. He seemed almost childish in his manner.

 

“And why do you wish to join us, sir?â€Â

 

“Please, my Lady, call me Anomen. I was hoping I could join with you in order to commit great deeds under your command and achieve my knighthood into the Order by proving my worth. I have been training my whole life for this, and I am on the brink of attaining my dream, if only I could find some worthy companions that had the honor and valor required for such an endeavor. Please my Lady, allow me to swing my mace in your name and together we shall fight injustice and corruption where’re it tread!â€Â

 

“Well….I’ve never lead a group of seven before, but…if knighthood means that much to you and adventuring with us will further your dream, then you may join us if you wish. However, I hope you realize that I do not enjoy being babied or patronized and will not be happy with such behavior. Do not treat me like I am helpless and we’ll get along just fine, alright Anomen?â€Â

 

“Aye, my Lady, duly noted! But you have not yet told me your name…â€Â

 

“Eh…My name is Duvheassa, Anomen. Just Duvheassa.â€Â

 

Imoen locked eyes with Jaheira, who was trying just as hard as she was to suppress the derisive laughter threatening to spew out of her. They immediately began to make wagers as to how long Anomen’s enormous ego would last while traveling with Duvheassa, and Jan joined in, offering to play pranks on the hapless man as a means of agitating the situation further. None of them thought it would take long at all, for while Duvheassa may be easygoing and patient, she had no love for those who felt themselves superior or made snap judgments and her sarcasm could cripple when she deigned use it.

Link to comment

Chapter 4: Begin The Adventuring!...I Hope…

 

 

Solaufein rested comfortably on the sumptuous bed in his room in the Five Flagons. He found himself thankful that Vessa was generous to those who traveled with her, not begrudging a copper to their comfort and gladly renting for them the nicest rooms she could find. However…His mind flitted back to the events of today, and the experiences that came with it sobered him. He had expected the reaction of the surfacers to be more welcoming than what he encountered. Perhaps in this area he had been naïve. However, he supposed he could hardly blame them, as the Drow had done much to earn the stigma awarded them. All of the surfacers he encountered looked upon him with mistrust and even hate once they had glimpsed his darkened skin.

 

…Perhaps not all. He thought of Vessa and smiled. She had realized even before he did that he would not be treated with kindness, and so she traveled with him for reasons other than the pretense of making sure he did not get lost in an unfamiliar city. He saw now that she was actively looking out for him, watching his back, trying to make his transition to the surface go as smoothly as possible. At first he had wondered at her motives, for he was unused to any such selfless kindness. After observing her behavior with her other companions however, these suspicions were soon dispelled. She treated him with the same kindness and respect she gave to the others, which made him realize that this was truly in her nature.

 

Her friend….She had said she was proud to call him her good friend. Well she didn’t *say* it so much as shout it, really. He never had the luxury of friendship in Ust Natha. Anyone who called you abbil was likely to betray you as soon as you faltered. And yet here she was, this young exotic looking elf girl with barely twenty years to her name already trusting a hardened Drow warrior mage with over a century under his belt. This friendly trust, freely given, sweet though it was, would have meant her death were she Drow; she would have been murdered in a second. He was glad she trusted him, however. It was safe for her to do so because he knew he would not betray her, and she also made him feel like his escape to the surface had not been a lost cause. He had to admit to himself that he trusted her also, which surprised him greatly, for the brutal life he once led allowed little room for such a thing. He supposed the combination of the mercy she showed him in Ust Natha and the decency and equality with which she treated him on the surface accounted for that.

 

Perhaps also it was how she handled the quest at hand. While journeying to Amn, Vessa told him that she would keep no secrets from him and outlined in full her heritage, the quest that had trapped her in the Underdark in the first place, her connection to Irenicus, and what she planned to do when they got to Amn. She said it was only fair to tell him beforehand so he could leave should he feel uncomfortable or in extreme danger around her. She said other would-be companions had left before, but she refused to lead anyone into anything without them knowing all she did about the situation. Again, this was a courtesy never given in Ust Natha. You did what you were told, or you were punished. Brutally.

 

His mind wandered farther afield and stumbled upon a more recent memory. He recalled Vessa’s anger at his treatment the day before, and remembered also how she had fiercely defended him and even foregone something she had desired out of principal. Her behavior was so strange to him, but he felt very grateful. It made him feel glad he was traveling with her. It…it was nice to have a friend.

 

***

 

Anomen woke early and rose from the bed of his inn room and strode across the floor with a purpose. He used the mirror in the room to begin plucking errant whiskers from his beard, frowning as he did so. He wanted to make a better impression today then he had the night before. Something in the back of his mind told him that Lady Duvheassa was perhaps cross with him, though he could not understand why. He had indeed heard that the leader of this mighty band was a woman of exotic beauty, but he refused to believe the rumormongers. After all, while there were women in the Order, in Anomen’s opinion they were all a bit…well….manly. He felt his surprise was justified, although she did not seem to agree with that.

 

*Pluck* *pluck* Anomen did not realize it, but in his musings he was tweaking a rather large bald spot into his beard.

 

And what about her companions? A lady of stature and poise such as she could find more suitable traveling members, surely? That Minsc fellow seemed decent enough, as did that Jaheira woman, but she also had in her party a….a gnome. Anomen hated gnomes. Filthy, mean little buggers they were! There was also the matter of that girl, the one who had called him a “tinhead†and had laughed at him as he tried to talk to Duvheassa. Who raised such a heathen child? The one person that was the most obscured from him was the one who had introduced himself as Solaufein. In the shadowy ambience of the inn, the man looked almost to be a Drow. He must have been mistaken though, he told himself. A lady like Duvheassa would never stoop so low as to travel with filth, unless it was perhaps a slave?

 

A sudden small pain on his chin brought him out of his thoughts with a start. Anomen looked into the mirror and saw the disaster he had plucked his beard into. With a moan and a soft curse, he decided there was no help for it and walked downstairs to the common room to eat breakfast and speak with Duvheassa, hopefully charming her with tales of his daring deeds and awesome bravery.

 

As soon as he reached the foot of the stairs and saw Duvheassa, Imoen, and that Solaufein sitting together eating breakfast and waiting for Jaheira, Minsc, and Jan, he realized that his earlier suspicions had been correct. In this light it was obvious. Solaufein *was* a Drow. Hmm……perhaps he could use his confusion to his advantage by finding out about Solaufein and giving Duvheassa a compliment in the process. He knew the ladies loved compliments.

 

He strode over to Duvheassa and began his pitch. “A good morn to you, Lady Duvheassa. I trust you are enjoying your breakfast? Good. I did not have a chance to ask you about this last night, My Lady, but I am curious about your Drow. It seems to be a capable enough servant; from where did you acquire it? Or did you perhaps pull it out of its damnable Underdark abode and are teaching it to repent its heathen ways and worship a true god by keeping it as a slave? If that is the case, My lady, then your mercy truly has no bounds!â€Â

 

Anomen was dismayed, however, when he saw the cold stare his comment awarded him with. What had he said wrong now? He saw Vessa’s silvery raven flap its wings in an irritated gesture and it cawed loudly.

 

“Anomen, that idea is absolutely disgusting! Slavery in any form is wrong! Solaufein is not mine, nor is *he* anyone else’s! Solaufein joined this party of *his* own will, and *he* is free to come and go anytime *he* pleases! I will have you know that while in my party, you will treat *him* with the respect and deference any party member deserves, else you will have to latch onto some other adventuring party to prove your worth to the Order. Am I clear, Anomen?†Duvheassa retorted with a rising voice. Anomen was taken aback. Where had this temper come from?

 

“But My Lady! Surely you know that a free Drow is a dangerous creature?! He should be enslaved or put to the torch, not allowed to run free! He will betray you to a fate worse than death given half a chance!â€Â

 

Anomen turned to glare at Solaufein as he finished his sentence and saw a glint of anger in the Drow’s eyes. He had offended him, it seemed.

 

“I would never betray Duvheassa, and I am highly offended by what you say aloud and by what you imply.†Solaufein began before Duvheassa could speak. “ Despite what you may believe, she is a capable and intelligent leader and knows what she is doing by keeping me in the party. Do you mean to tell me that you doubt your newfound leader already? I am admittedly new to the surface, but from what I have read such behavior is unseemly for a knight.â€Â

 

Damn it all! That blasted Drow had boxed him into a corner! He tried to exit gracefully by biting his tongue and eating the breakfast that the Halfling serving wench gave to him, but the angry glare of Duvheassa haunted him still.

 

...So much for good first impressions…

 

***

 

The party had just walked out of the Five Flagons when a strangely familiar little boy approached them. Well, approached Minsc, anyway.

 

“H-hey sir! Re-remember me?â€Â

 

Minsc stopped and looked down at the small child. “Minsc and Boo remember you, oh yes! You are the little boy Delon who asked us to put the boot to the villains attacking your village! But Minsc also remembers taking little Delon home. Why is little Delon back?â€Â

 

“It’s a dragon, sir! A scary black dragon has been flying out of the old temple and eating all of our cows and sheep! We’re scared it’s going to eat us next! Can you help us again?â€Â

 

“Of course we will, little Delon! Duvheassa was looking for adventure for us mighty adventurers to perform anyway! She would never say no to righteous buttkicking of dragons!â€Â

 

 

Duvheassa looked the boy over closely and saw that Delon was dirty and hungry. His clothing was torn and ragged and his slit money pouch was hanging limply off a tattered string around his shoulder. Once again, the village had sent him, a small child raised in a backwoods village, to a big city to find help, where he had obviously been robbed of all the gold they sent with him. She looked at his haggard little face and wondered when his last decent meal was. The poor child was probably scared half out of his wits! Moved, she knelt down and held her arms out to the boy, who immediately rushed into them. She hugged him tightly, picking him up as she did so, though she was dismayed to realize that this was a bit harder to do than it would have been long before.

 

“We’ll go straight to Umar Hills and take care of that dragon right after you get a bath, put on some clean clothes, and get a warm meal in you, Delon.†Duvheassa said. “I cannot *believe* they did that again! What were they thinking?! Poor child…†She trailed off while still muttering soothing talk into his hair and walking back into the Five Flagons. Dymphna made a strange yet oddly comforting whirring noise at the back of her throat and flapped over to roost on the child’s shoulder.

 

Duvheassa thought back to the reason the dragon was still alive as she got an attendant to draw a bath for the boy in the bathouse. The Umar Hills had been the first venture she had undertaken, and she had not felt the group was capable of fighting a dragon just yet. With that in mind, they had marched straight to the Shade Lord with the intention of coming back later once they were more powerful to finish the dragon off. However, things had gotten a little out of control since that time and, well...Vessa was ashamed to admit that the dragon was forgotten about in face of what seemed to be more urgent tasks. The fact that it was rampaging throughout the countryside now was directly her fault, and she knew she would have to remedy the situation. After making sure Delon was all set and making him promise to come back to the inn when he was done, Duvheassa left the bathouse and immediately began strategizing for the encounter.

Link to comment

Chapter 5: Oh Dear...

 

 

For the fifth time today, Duvheassa called out that it was time for a break. Everyone slouched against a handy tree or rock and relaxed. Most of the party members enjoyed the slower and much more relaxed pace, but Jaheira found she was growing restless. She was not used to such…idleness. Normally it would not have taken the party long to get to Imnesvale, but with the added responsibility of caring for Delon (Duvheassa wouldn’t trust another traveling group to see him home safely) , they were forced to travel much more slowly and indeed had been in the wilderness for around five days now. She was just thankful that Duvheassa had the presence of mind to stock up on extra provisions after taking Delon in.

 

Delon himself didn’t seem to mind the slow pace at all. He was having fun traveling with the brave adventurers that had already saved his town once. Jaheira looked at the boy and smiled to herself. Right now he was chasing both leaves blown across the sweet-scented grass by Duvheassa’s magic and her familiar, and both were giggling loudly. To see a child at play was a refreshing change of pace, she had to admit. To see Duvheassa at play was nothing new, however. Though Vessa was prone to sitting in a corner, lost in thought, her spirit was naturally quite playful when she let her guard down. That side of her was a treat not often witnessed by the public.

 

 

Jaheira wasn’t the only one observing Duvheassa’s and Delon’s antics, however. Anomen looked on their capering with some annoyance. If she wasn’t having some deep philosophical debate with that Drow, she was playing with that child, or teasing Imoen, or harassing Jaheira, or pampering that spoiled familiar, or scheming something with Jan. He felt rather ignored.

 

She did listen to his stories, of course, and she offered him council whenever he wished it, but… he didn’t get as much attention from her as she gave the others, especially that Drow. She was more interested in talking for hours on end with Solaufein than she was in listening to his battle tales. Hmph! Women! Still…. He would lure her from Solaufein’s clutches yet! He just had to find the right way to go about it. Hmm….

 

At that moment, however, Anomen’s plans were disrupted by the death scream of a cow and a booming roar above his head. Everyone in the party instinctively fell to the ground as a giant black mass soared over the tree-tops. Thankfully the creature was too preoccupied with its now-dead quarry to pay them any heed and so flew off in the direction of the old temple without a second glance in their direction. Once the threat had passed, they all got up and assessed the situation.

 

“See?! See?! That’s the dragon! He’s been eating all of our animals! You guys have to stop him!†Shouted an excited Delon.

 

“Do not worry, sweety. We will, we will.†Duvheassa replied soothingly.

 

So, this is the dragon. Thought Solaufein to himself. Impressive perhaps, but more impressive yet are the skills of our group. He approached Duvheassa. “My Lady, may I speak with you? I would like to discuss possible battle strategies against this creature with you.â€Â

 

“Of course, Solaufein. I already have a plan in store, but extra planning and preparation often saves lives and equipment in the end.†They both walked off a little away from the group to discuss, and only the occasional whisper of magics to cast or weapons to equip was heard from them by the party.

 

Anomen watched this go on with disgust. Battle strategy. Pfeh! That’s no way to win a lady’s heart! However, he was not entirely convinced by this. He saw how Duvheassa’s face lit up when she spoke with the Drow, and he saw how Solaufein himself smiled and was curiously lacking the brooding face he had come to be known for when he was with her as well. Damnable Drow! He’s out to spoil her, I just know it! There can be no good intentions from a creature so evil. I must convince her to make him leave the party somehow! And so Anomen Delryn began to formulate a plan that would eliminate the rivalry he felt he was developing with the Drow permanently.

 

***

 

After six long days of traveling through the wilderness, they had finally reached Imnesvale. The first thing Duvheassa did upon arriving was deliver Delon into the hands of his parents and storm the once-peaceful home of Minister Lloyd.

 

“And just *what* in the name of Corellon did you think you were doing, sending Delon *back* to the city knowing full well what happened to him the first time?! Do you have some personal vendetta against the poor child? What in Faerun did he do to you? Raid your larders and eat all of your goat cheese?!â€Â

 

“Erm…well….†began Minister Lloyd, his fingers drumming nervously against his prodigious girth. In truth, he had been hoping that Delon would end up looking such a sad sight that someone was bound to take pity on him and help his town out, as he had secretly hoped for the first time he sent Delon out. However, the dangerous glint in Lady Duvheassa’s eyes told him that he should perhaps seriously consider fudging the truth slightly if he wanted to retain further use of his limbs. Unfortunately for him, his mind wasn’t conditioned for such sprinting. “Eh, well, that is…you see….â€Â

 

As Minister Lloyd tried desperately to formulate some kind of halfway acceptable excuse for his behavior while facing the threat of evisceration under Duvheassa’s withering glare and her raven’s very sharp beak, Solaufein could not help but laugh to himself. Duvheassa played with and fussed over that little boy as if he were her own blood, and it seems that this mother henly aspect of her personality was intent on pecking the eyes out of the man that had endangered her chick. He had never seen a female care so much about a child before. In Drow culture, a child was nothing more than an expendable resource, easy to lose, easy to replace. He had to admit to himself that Vessa’s behavior warmed his heart. In fact, quite a few things about her warmed his heart. She was intelligent to the extreme, she could see things from many different sides, she was compassionate, she was eloquent, she radiated inner strength, she was brave, and the way her hair cascaded about her neck…

 

“Hey Sola, what’cha makin’ moony eyes at my sister for?†This whisper was punctuated with an elbow poke to his ribs, immediately informing Solaufein that Imoen was the one posing the question.

 

“’Moony Eyes’, Imoen?†He hoped he could feign ignorance of the term to avoid explaining himself, but he found, much to his dismay, that Imoen was far too astute to be tricked so easily.

 

“Yup! Moony Eyes. Don’t play dumb with me, Solaufein. You and I both know full well you know what I’m talking about. I saw what you were reading earlier!†With this she leaned in and said with a conspiratorial gleam in her eye, “So…what are you planning, Romeo? Are you going to recite more obscure poetry? Perhaps pull some other improbable moral quandary out of thin air to have a deep, meaningful conversation with her over? Or are you just going to start singing again in the hopes that she will once more be entranced by your smooth, low, velvety voice?â€Â

 

*Ahem* Am I truly that transparent? “I have no idea what you are inferring, Imoen. Vessa is indeed an everlasting fount of stimulating discussion, to be sure-“

 

“Oh yes, Sola, I’m pretty sure her conversation isn’t all you find ‘stimulating’ about her, judging by the way you were eyeing her neck. You sure you’re not a vampire or something? Anyway, you do know that you don’t have to make up all sorts of obtuse excuses to speak with her, right? Duvheassa is a laid-back and friendly sort, and she’ll talk to you about pretty much anything, or just sit around and enjoy your company in companionable silence if you don’t have much to say. You are allowed to be close to her without having some matter of huge import to discuss. Why, you can even flirt with her and everything! Of course, she *is* kind of dense when it comes to stuff like that, but if she actually realizes you’re flirting, it’ll probably make her blush profusely! Hee hee! Oh, and her blush is quite a magnificent sight, let me tell you!â€Â

 

Now Solaufein was honestly puzzled. “I have come across some oblique references to this ‘flirting’ in my readings before, but the term was never clearly defined. What exactly is the meaning behind it and how does one perform it?â€Â

 

“OOOOH! You mean you don’t know what flirting is?!†Imoen’s eyes threatened to explode out of her skull with glee. “Well, let me explain it ALL to you!†She leaned in and whispered into his ear: “Now, when a boy and a girl like each other very much…â€Â

 

 

***

 

“I heard every single word of what you just whispered to Solaufein, Imoen.†Noting the surprised look on the young woman’s face, Jaheira continued. “I may be only half-elven, but their astounding audio capabilities were not lost on me. You, young child, are a little conniver, you know that?†Jaheira tried to hide the slight grin creeping up on her face and failed utterly.

 

Imoen beamed a smile back at Jaheira. “Heh. Oh! And look at Anomen! He’s trying to listen in on every word we’re saying!†She whispered. Jaheira felt her dismay grow, for Imoen’s grin now bordered on the frankly disturbing.

 

“Imoen…†Jaheira began.

 

She was too late, of course. Imoen raised her voice slightly “And you should have seen what he did to her then, Jaheira! She was practically swooning into his arms by the time the last word left his lips!â€Â

 

Jaheira saw Anomen’s face darken as he hurried quickly off in the direction of the inn, where she knew Minsc, Jan, Solaufein, and Duvheassa had gathered. She, however, decided to stay outside in order to stop Imoen from going inside and causing more chaos. She could not help but look at the girl with a strange mixture of disapproval and just a hint of amusement. Why do I get the feeling that we shall soon be awash in a sea of hormones?

 

***

 

Anomen rushed through the door of Vincenzo’s inn, hoping to catch the Drow in whatever malicious plan he was enacting. He had not trusted Solaufein from the start, but had tolerated his presence by Duvheassa’s demands. This, however, was too much. From Imoen’s own lips came the fact that he was seducing the innocent girl into his bed of heathen sin. That foolish woman was far too trusting for her own good! His eyes whirled about the room and caught a flash of light on ebony as a hand reached for a pale body…

 

He did not even allow his eyes to focus completely; he just ran over and yanked Duvheassa away from the lecherous hand of the Drow before anyone else had a chance to react. He smashed her up against himself and riveted her in place with one burly arm, the other held protectively over her. In his blind panic, he had not noticed the strangled yelp of pain, the struggling against him, or the soft sound of cartilage crunching against platemail. The only thing going through his mind was his desire to protect her.

 

Dymphna started cawing loudly and began pecking Anomen’s head with all her might in an attempt to get Duvheassa free. Anomen barely noticed, however; was too busy taking care of Vessa to worry about some raven.

 

Solaufein jumped from his seat and took a step toward him, the hood of his cloak slipping from his head in the process; Anomen responded by crushing the struggling Duvheassa closer to him and forcing her to walk back with him a step. Her continued writhing and protests were completely unheard by the cleric.

 

“Come not a step closer, Drow! I overheard what Imoen said! You have known the lady for barely a fortnight and already you try to lure her to your bed! Do you Drow have no shame? She is too good for the likes of you to even think about, much less touch! I shall not allow you to harm her!†His agitation had caused his hand to reach reflexively for his mace, fingers twitching just above the handle.

 

 

By this time Minsc was thoroughly outraged by this behavior and got up to pound some serious humility into Anomen, only to be frozen by a Hold Person spell cast by the quick-thinking Jan. Thankfully Jan had the presence of mind to realize that any outward interference would only cause more danger for both Duvheassa and Solaufein in the end. However, he regretted not being able to help Vessa right now; she had done him quite a few good turns in the past, especially by healing Jaella, and he hated his inability to aid her in turn.

 

 

The other patrons had sensed a fight was imminent, and so had either left the building, backed away enough from the three to watch, or began cheering Anomen on for his ‘heroics’ against the evil Drow. Vincenzo had barricaded himself and the stableboy behind the bar. He had experience with such fights before, and he knew it would be better to stay out of any fight involving adventuring types. They tended to be the ugliest. The excitement of the crowd was egged on by both the dusky face of the now de-hooded Solaufein and Vessa’s continued struggles.

 

***

 

“L..l-let go!†Duvheassa screamed again, and again it was in vain. Solaufein could hear pain in her screams, and could see the blood smeared down Anomen’s armor. Now he was furious. It was one thing for Anomen to be painfully suspicious and even threatening towards him, but to harm Vessa because of some petty racism?! This was unacceptable. She did not deserve this treatment.

 

He lifted both hands, palms outward, towards Anomen. He allowed the scroll he had been trying to give to Vessa fall from his hand in the process. It was merely a poem Vessa had loaned him earlier for him to scribe into his book of poetry, unenchanted and harmless. He was trying to suppress the anger welling up inside of him, as he realized that one wrong word would end up getting Vessa smashed into Anomen’s armor again. When he spoke, his words came tight and measured, but his anger still showed through in the growl his voice became.

 

“You *hurt* her.â€Â

 

“I hurt her? I hurt her?! I’m not the Drow here! I’m trying to protect her!†Anomen shouted in reply, putting one hand over Vessa’s head in what he thought was a comforting gesture, but actually grinding her nose into his armor in the process. Solaufein winced at the action, but he saw that Vessa had gotten an arm free from against his chest. Now if only he could distract Anomen long enough for the rest of her to get away…

 

“LET GO!†Vessa cried out once more. With all the strength left with her, she pulled her arm back and let her fist scream through the air with a blow that blackened Anomen’s eye. Vessa’s familiar screeched and bit him in the nose with its powerful beak. The powerful push he gave Vessa that resulted from his surprise sprawled her across the ground, nose bleeding and head aching from its dizzying introduction to the wonders of gravity and a hardwood floor. There she lie stunned for a long, frightening minute. Thankfully, her eyes opened and she tried to get up, but Solaufein could see that she could not get her balance. He helped her up, steadying her, and led her to the door to find Jaheira. He threw one last angry glance back at Anomen.

 

“You need to calm down before you speak with Vessa. In fact, you should probably wipe her blood off of your armor if you even plan to speak to her at all.†With that, he led his dizzied leader out the door.

 

***

 

The crowd, seeing that their petty bloodlust was not to be slaked this night, had dispersed, leaving Anomen sitting alone at a table with his face buried in his hands. After seeing Duvheassa’s face and hearing what Solaufein had said about his armor, he had looked down and found to his horror a smear of blood. He could not believe what he had inadvertently done. He cared about Duvheassa, and all he had wanted to do was protect her. Not this. Never this. His face burned with shame at his behavior. Once again, he had let his temper get away with him and gave in too easily to the more violent impulses that always lurked within. Duvheassa had told him that he was better than he gave himself credit for, that he was selling himself short by worrying about losing control. How he wished he had not just proved her wrong!

 

There was no real excuse for his actions; his behavior was based on a single overheard conversation and he had attacked the problem with all the maturity of a young, angry child. He felt he deserved the black eye she had given him as well as the bleeding nose her familiar inflicted him with, and felt also that she deserved no less than him groveling for forgiveness at her feet. He could not believe how things had escalated so quickly. He had always heard stories whispered in the halls of the Order of the vicious cruelty of the Drow, of their motives upon duplicity upon deceit. He just wanted to keep her safe from all of that! He just wanted…

 

***

 

For Vessa, the world had become a painful kaleidoscope of burning light and sickening color. Her nose was throbbing in aching waves and she could no longer tell the difference in the blood and tears that had conglomerated into a single substance on her face. Through all of this she became vaguely aware of strong arms supporting her and guiding her through this agonizing world of light. She leaned on this source of unknown comfort and trusted it to take her where it would, doing her best to correct her lurching gait in the process. Soon she realized that they had stopped and that she was hearing voices. However, she could not make out what they were saying through the red miasma clouding her mind. She now rested most of her weight into the supporting arms in an effort to try and ease the flood of nausea threatening to overwhelm her. She touched the back of her head and looked at her hand, registering the blood on her fingers. This was not going to end well.

 

Or so she feared. Soon the pain left her nose as Jaheira’s healing magic did its work. She was quickly turned around and the back of her head was mended as well. The fog that had slurred her mind began to slowly lessen, though she was still cursed with an enormous headache. In fact, she believed that if headaches were monsters, this one would be a kraken or some other obscenely large marine creature.

 

Curious as to who had been holding and helping her the entire time, she looked up and met the worried eyes of Solaufein, whose arms still supported her lest she stumble. Surprised and still a bit muddled from her recent skull bashing, it took her a moment to form a coherent sentence.

 

“Ow.†Ok, not the most articulate of sentences to be sure, but at least she could say something. Dymphna began preening Vessa’s hair in a comforting gesture, sending her feelings of empathy and concern through their telepathic bond.

 

 

“Perhaps you should sit down, my Lady.†Said Solaufein. “You still do not seem completely well.â€Â

 

Her pride was deeply injured by the fact that she was so affected by a single blow, but she had no desire to snap at the man who had just helped her get her face healed. It was not his fault she was weak. Besides, her mind told her that it would indeed be in her best interests to swallow her pride and listen to Solaufein, lest the contents of her last meal end up displayed about his tunic in perhaps the most disgusting exhibition of digested food known to man or elf. She allowed him to sit her carefully down against a tree, but just as she got her thoughts in order the now familiar knife of pain sliced deep within her belly again, the condition probably having been agitated by the stress the current situation had put her body through. Instinctively she gritted her teeth and her hands flew to her abdomen, but she remembered that she was being watched and so moved her hand smoothly to the back of her head, stubbornly refusing to give any indication that something was amiss within her. In her wincing she became aware of the uncomfortable pull of dried and drying blood on her face.

“Um, does anyone have a wet cloth or something I could borrow? I would rather like to remove this blood from my face.†She was happy to find that her ability to speak was returning quickly.

 

Jaheira pulled a cloth from her nearby pack and wet it with her waterskin. Vessa took it gratefully and began to wash the blood away, being careful not to tilt or turn her head too quickly in order to avoid getting sick again. As she washed, she noticed Solaufein next to her, resting on the balls of his feet and looking at her with honest concern etched on his dark face. She gave him a slow, grateful smile for both his help and his continued worry for her, then discarded the cloth when the last clot of blood came away.

 

“Aw, no need to look at me like that, Solaufein. I am not made of glass, you know. It takes worse than that to break the mighty Vessa!†She saw Solaufein’s lips twitch into a tiny smile, but the worry seemed a permanent fixture for now. This was upsetting, as she had not wanted to appear less than able to hold her own at any time. A thousand alternate scenarios of the little bar event played out in her mind, each ending without her being completely, shamefully helpless, even for a short moment. Much as it bothered her, what was done was done, and there was no point in dwelling on it right now when she had more important matters to attend.

 

“Well then, miss Mighty Vessa, perhaps you could tell us just what happened in there. Solaufein seemed too concerned for your well-being to divulge any pertinent information.†Jaheira said impatiently.

 

At the mention of the word ‘us’, Vessa looked for whoever was accompanying Jaheira and saw a sheepish looking Imoen staring at her with guilty eyes. This made Vessa remember with sharp clarity what Anomen had said about ‘overhearing Imoen’. Hmmm….

 

“Well, it would seem that Anomen came running into the inn to er…how did he put it? Oh yes, I believe he was rescuing me from Solaufein’s ‘bed of heathen sin’ as he succinctly described it.†Vessa began wryly. “Apparently an overheard conversation led him to jump to this conclusion and believe he had to save me. Neither of you would happen to know how that came about would you?†At this she noticed Imoen wince. It would appear that her suspicions were indeed correct, and this was further reinforced by what Jaheira said next.

 

“Well, I believe a certain young girl might know how that came about, although I do admit that I was not completely blameless. I perhaps did not do all that I could to prevent this from happening, but I assure you that I did not think such violence would result from this childish behavior.â€Â

 

 

Both Vessa and Solaufein looked expectantly at Imoen for her explanation, while Dymphna merely rolled her eyes in annoyance.

 

“Eh….heh heh. I’m, er….sorry, guys. I was talking to Jaheira about something and I saw Anomen trying to listen in so I, er…. I kinda migh’ve said something that wasn’t exactly completely canon truth. Possibly.†Imoen began.

 

Vessa rolled her eyes in exasperation. “What exactly did you say to him, Imoen?†Vessa was sure her brain was running out of her ears by this point. This was just not a good day!

 

“I, er….I kinda maybe said that you were swooning into Solaufein’s arms after something he said…heh. I had no idea Anomen would go all crazy on you like that! I’m so sorry Vessa!â€Â

 

Vessa rubbed her temples and leaned back against the tree. This was well past ridiculous and surging rapidly into the downright unbelievable.

“Well, all childishness aside, you still haven’t told us how your nose and skull came to be broken, or what has become of Anomen throughout this entire fiasco. Do I need to memorize a raise dead spell?†Jaheira said.

 

“Jeez Jaheira, there was just a little scuffle, we did not bean the guy to death or anything! See, when Anomen ran inside the bar, he saw Solaufein reaching to give me a scroll and must have thought he was trying to do something terrible to me. He jerked me away from Solaufein and broke my nose against his armor. Luckily for me, I got my arm free and punched him in the eye, but I surprised him so he shoved me to the ground, where my skull made unfortunate contact with the floor. Then Solaufein led me out here and you know the rest of the story. I guess Anomen is still back at the inn.†Vessa was still very angry at Anomen for both breaking her nose and once again exercising his incredible racism against Solaufein. When she calmed herself and thought about the events that led up to Anomen’s behavior, however, things became clearer to her. It was no secret to her that the Order in which Anomen had trained under and so venerated was indeed characterized at least in part for their zealous hatred of such races as the Drow, whom they considered irredeemably evil. In Vessa’s opinion they saw the world entirely in black and white and ignored all the what-ifs and maybes that made the world so fascinating, which could easily account for Anomen’s harsh, judgmental behavior, as the cruel and humiliating abuse from his father could account for his hasty reactions and his inability to squelch his anger. Another thing occurred to her… He had tolerated Solaufein’s presence in the group thus far, and had only openly attacked when he believed her to be threatened by him. So if one took this intense anger and learned racism and coupled it with concern for a friend….

 

Though it was by no means a viable excuse for his abhorrent behavior, at least now Vessa could see why the man reacted as he did. She could see that it was not just Anomen himself, but a variety of people and factors that had led up to this problem. If she reacted with outrage she knew it would only exacerbate the situation and it would not end well. She decided instead to try to settle things like a mature adult should and talk the problem out in order to come to a peaceful resolution, or at the very least negotiate a truce.

 

“Imoen, later on you and I need to have a very long talk. For now though, I need to speak with Anomen. Alone. I believe that if anyone else in the group listened in it would upset his pride and any hopes of cooperation would instantly vanish.†Vessa said. Solaufein, Jaheira, and Imoen agreed to stay outside and Vessa went to the inn to speak with the cleric.

 

***

 

Jan had stayed behind instead of following Vessa in order to babysit the now immobile Minsc, as he knew that once the ranger was free, he would throttle Anomen until he was bluer than a Calimshite dark turnip of explosive thundering bowels at high noon. Seeing Vessa come back in the door made him grateful that he memorized many hold person spells, as he felt he would need them very, very quickly if things progressed the way he believed they would. He readied his hands for casting just in case…

 

***

 

Vessa walked in and saw Anomen sitting at the table in his undertunic, strangely enough, and his doffed armor lie neatly in a pile beneath his table. She briefly wondered why he did this but decided not to ask for both their sakes. When he noticed her walking towards him, he got up and to Vessa it seemed like he was tensed to receive a blow.

 

“My Lady, I-†Anomen began, but was cut off by Vessa.

 

“You heard what Imoen said and inferred that Solaufein was going to harm me in some way, correct?â€Â

 

“Well yes, Vessa, but when I pulled you away from him I swear I didn’t mean toâ€â€Ã¢â‚¬Â

 

“And when you saw Solaufein reaching toward me, you feared that the thoughts going through your mind were coming true and so you pulled me away….in order to protect me?â€Â

 

“Y-yes. I know you said you trust him, but I just can’t-â€Â

 

“And even though you were making a complete and total ass of yourself in public and quite possibly tarnishing your reputation, all you were concerned about was my safety?â€Â

 

Anomen seemed thoroughly surprised by this point. It seemed he was not expecting the conversation to go quite like this. Vessa smiled sardonically.

 

“Anomen, believe it or not, I do have a little bit of wisdom rattling around inside of my head. Look, I know you think that I am not very experienced in the ‘ways of the world’ and that I am allowing a viper to nest in our group, but I am a grown woman and I have gained quiet a bit of knowledge on how the world works as I made my way towards Sarevok along the Sword Coast, thank you very much. I know you were worried about me and were only trying to protect me from something you perceive as dangerous, but you need to realize that I am a capable, experienced adult who knows what she is doing. You’ll just have to trust me on the Solaufein issue, alright?â€Â

 

“My Lady, I know you are an adult, but I do believe you are unwise in some ways. For example, every day I see you struggle with your pack, which is obviously too overloaded for you to handle, and yet you fight every attempt others make at helping you, only to collapse exhausted by the end of the day and barely able to lift yourself up. Now tell me, Lady, where is the sense in that? You are only leaving yourself open and vulnerable to attack by stubbornly refusing to lighten your load.â€Â

Vessa did not appreciate this sudden change in the conversation. What she did with her pack was her business, and why was Anomen watching her in the first place?

 

“What I do with my pack and my load has nothing to do with this conversation, Anomen. I will have you know that I have no trouble carrying it and that I am perfectly capable of defending myself under any circumstance.†Vessa was disgusted at the defensive note in her voice that she feared would give her away. She carried the same amount as before, but it had indeed become much heavier after Chateau Irenicus…

 

“Truly, My Lady? Then why are you so taxed by the end of the day?†It was Anomen’s turn to be calm, it seemed.

 

“Of course I am taxed by the end of the day! Each of us is, and as a warrior you should know this!†She paused a moment to think of something that sounded less avoidant. “It is just….some days can just get more tiresome than others. Look, this is not what our discussion is supposed to be about. Please, Anomen, just start treating me like the capable adult that I am instead of a greenhorn on her first mission. You are the one who has taken me as your leader, and that implies a certain amount of trust. You trust me enough to follow my orders in battles that could easily cost you your life, and yet you still have no faith in my choice of companions. Anomen, I am asking you for the sake of both our group harmony and my nose that you at the very least treat Solaufein with a modicum of respect and not suspect him of trying to betray me in some way every waking moment. Can you do that?â€Â

 

“My Lady, I still will and always shall perceive Drow as a threat, and that Drow in particular, but I am truly sorry about what I have done. Trust me, the absolute last thing I wanted to do was harm you in any way. Please, please accept my heartfelt apologies and my promise to rein in my temper with more skill in the future.†Anomen said with such humbleness in his voice that it shocked Vessa.

 

“I am still angry with you and will stay angry with you for a long while yet, Anomen, but I accept your apology, much against my better judgment as it is. However, I believe you still owe Solaufein an apology for your behavior. He did not deserve his treatment at your hands any more than I did.â€Â

 

“I will do no such thing. I will be rotting in my grave before I apologize to that *Drow*!†His eyes hardened and his jaw set, letting Vessa know that his stance was not going to change any time soon. She felt she had to try, however.

 

“Anomen, please.†The pleading gesture her slender hands made articulated her point.

 

“I said I would do no such thing! I will not apologize to him! Ask me anything you like to pay penance for what I have done, but do not ask me to apologize!†The bloom of red on his face told her that it would not be wise to push the issue right now, for his pride was being pushed to his limits as it was. She sighed and spoke again.

 

“Alright, Anomen. Have it your way. But please, actually make an effort to be civil to him. He already has enough hatred thrown at him every day without more from the party to deal with.â€Â

 

A real man would have apologized. Vessa thought to herself. She kept that little comment inside though, as she knew that would not have been received well by Anomen otherwise. As she turned to get her things ready to march to the lair of the dragon, headache still in full swing, she thought she caught a glimpse of deep shame in his eyes. Weird. She thought to herself. He was puffed up with indignant pride a moment ago…

 

***

 

Anomen watched Duvheassa leave and assumed she was gathering the group up for the battle ahead. It seemed not even the recent trauma of having her nose broken and her head smashed was going to stop her stubborn drive to push herself despite her body’s protests. What was she trying to prove by doing this to herself? Obstinate woman!

 

Things had transpired much differently than he had expected them to, that much was certain. When Solaufein had led Vessa out that door, Anomen had assumed that she would rain punches on him the moment she returned and so had doffed his armor so she would not bruise those delicate little hands. He was most definitely prepared for that, but apparently he did not know Vessa as well as he thought he did. When she walked in and spoke to him so calmly and with all of the self-discipline he himself lacked, when she tried to see things from his point of view and understood why he had behaved the way he did, he found it much easier to beg her forgiveness. Why then, after she accepted his apology, did he feel even more terrible then when he expected her to hit him?

 

He could sense her disappointment when he refused to apologize to Solaufein. How could she possibly expect that of him, knowing how he felt about the Drow? And another thing, *why* should he apologize? If Solaufein was any kind of man, he should be able to take whatever is thrown at him and then some with no problem! Hmmph.

 

However he might have felt about these things, Anomen’s musings were cut short by a bellow of “RRRRAAAAAGH!!†And before he knew it he was pinned under gods know how many pounds of pure Rashemaar ranger fury. He could hear the scuffling of footsteps and the knocking over of chairs as the patrons scrambled to get out of the way should Minsc decide to beat Anomen about the face and neck with impunity.

 

“You shall pay for what you have done to little Vessa!†Minsc shouted angrily into Anomen’s face, which now wore understandably shocked expression. “Boo agrees with me when I say that this is no way to treat your leader!â€Â

 

Right before Minsc’s fist made contact with Anomen’s unfortunate face, both men were frozen in their spot with a well-aimed hold person spell.

 

Gotta work on my reflexes there. Minsc can be such a fast one when he wants to be! Jan thought to himself as he clapped his hands together. He couldn’t suppress a chuckle at seeing the two locked in this awkward position. This reminded him of the time Cousin Villiney and Cousin Villiney got into a fight to the death over the rights to the name Villiney…of course their weapons of choice were stuffed dolls and small frilly underthings and so neither one died and in fact had only suffered a mild case of diaper rash due to an unfortunate restriction placed on both of them and in the end had decided that Villiney was really a silly name to begin with and so renamed themselves Vladmark and Putskin but that was beside the point... Anyway, Jan wondered how much longer Vessa could keep Anomen in the party before everybody tried to kill him. This would make an interesting documentary…. He could call it “A Day No Knights Would Dieâ€Â, or perhaps “Catcher In The Orderâ€Â, or even “The Pompous Overbearing Knight In His Natural Habitat…This had possibilities…

Link to comment

Chapter 6: Dislocations and Dragons

 

Vast. That was the only word to describe this cavern the shadow dragon had chosen as a home. Vessa marveled at it, gazing upon the beautiful and intricate designs carved into the walls, dedicated to a god long since gone. Dedicated to Amaunator, the Sun God. Dedicated to the god who had fought so hard against the shadows that overran his very sanctuary… Scrutinizing the carvings more closely showed the depressing reality of things, however. The carvings were worn and uncared for; some were even completely melted by the corrosive, acidic breath of the dragon. The once brilliant frescoes were now cracked and faded beyond deciphering, and the marble flooring was fractured and puckered in a sad mockery of what it once was. This then, truly, was a faded monument to a god who once burned so brightly, only to wither slowly into death.

 

This was no time for poetic thoughts, however, and Vessa turned her mind to the task that needed doing. The shadowy wardstone given to them by Amauna, the child-prophetess whose bones had been defiled by the shade wolves, granted them complete safety from the dragon so long as they did nothing to provoke it and Vessa was determined to use this to the best tactical advantage. She laid her pack in an out of the way place and made Dymphna promise to stay as far away from the battle as possible. She saw Anomen and Jaheira casting Negative Plane Protection on all party members who did not wear an item that protected from the life-sapping energy drain she knew this beast’s breath was capable of. A quick protection from acid spell on both Minsc and Anomen, the two who would be front-lining for most of this battle, finished off the light protection. Solaufein prepared a defensive chain contingency to activate should things go awry, but if things went as Vessa had planned, this particular battle would be unfairly easy…

 

Now this was his time to shine! He had to admit that Vessa’s plan was ingenious, if heavily reliant on the wizardly arts. He could only hope his actions would win him his fair share of the glory they would surely earn after defeating such a magnificent beast. Its very scales seemed to devour what little light reached it. It looked as a creature already dead, with a skull-like head, great weathered horns and frayed, rotted looking scales. Anomen offered a quick prayer to Helm that they would all make it through this battle unscathed and began to cast Holy Smite, the spell that would begin this momentous battle…

 

Of course, being provoked with a spell that burned with the powers of holiness goaded the black one, and so it retaliated with a spell trigger of its own, immediately protecting itself with Stoneskin and Protection from Normal Weapons. They were all prepared for this, however. A quick casting of Remove Magic and Khelban’s Warding Whip by Imoen and Jan, respectively, was all that was needed to strip away the meager defense, nullify any future defenses it might cast, and leave it vulnerable to attack once more. Vessa fired off a quick Greater Malison as Solaufein hit it with a Lower Resistance while the creature was distracted with hitting Minsc. Things were going well so far.

 

Minsc was doing his best to distract the dragon, hopping about the best he could to avoid the massive claws threatening to pummel Boo and he where they stood. Well, he stood anyway. Boo was hiding in his backpack at the moment.

 

Minsc barely avoided another swipe but managed to retaliate with a vicious slash to a single talon, nearly cutting the digit in twain. This only served to enrage the dragon further and Minsc was suddenly under the full effect of the shadow dragon’s breath, which was not only dangerous but also offensive to the nostrils. Protected from both acid and energy drain as he was, however, Minsc was unfazed by this and continued to hack away at anything that was unfortunate enough to get near him, allowing Solaufein time to fire off another Lower Resistance and Jaheira to cast Insect Plague. His luck ran out quickly, unfortunately, as the massive wings of the beast quickly buffeted him to the wall where he was then pinned by a wicked talon. The beast pressed hard against Minsc and laughed darkly at his squirming, and Minsc himself was beginning to suffocate under the pressure. It felt as though his head would explode from the crushing pain, and his thick armor had become more a curse than a boon. This had not been part of Vessa’s plan!

 

Quick thinking on Anomen’s part is what saved him; a Bolt of Glory to the back of the head seared the scales there and annoyed the dragon to the point of forgetting about Minsc and turning on Anomen. Jaheira’s slow moving Insect Plague spell finally latched onto the shadowy creature and it began to thrash about in agony as millions of tiny, biting, stinging, sucking insects found and filled every single little niche of its scaly hide, maddening it with irritation and pain.

 

 

Imoen slid against the shadowy alcoves of the vast cavern and from this relative safety fired both ice arrows and magic missiles at the beast to confuse it further. Now it was too distracted to successfully focus on any one target, thus giving them the advantage of safety by scattering. Imoen smiled to herself as one of her arrows lodged itself into the dragon’s tongue just as it went to use its breath, the pain making it abandon that plan in favor of removing the ice now forming on its lower jaw.

 

 

Jan took that as his cue and fired a Swarmer Mate™ straight into the beast’s mouth as well, giving it even more insects to worry about. He was feeling a little bit smug right about now as the dragon was choking on gods know how many insects; How was Uncle Spanky going to top this one?

 

 

Vessa was just about to shout the final word to her last Lower Resistance spell when a gigantic tail hurtled toward her with all the force of an impossibly thick stone wall.

 

“Damnit!†She shouted in frustration. The blasted thing was moving far too fast for her to jump to the side and so she had no choice but to jump on top and hope for the best. This did not prove to be a good idea because right as she landed the tail flicked upwards and she was sent careening frighteningly high through the air well above the dragon’s head. She knew without a doubt that if she landed after flying this high at this rate she would be no more than an unidentifiable splat on her return to terra firma. She heard an explosion that marked a spell interrupted and someone screaming her name. All sounds turned into a cacophony of chaos for her and she knew then that her painfully unfair plan had been spoiled by this unfortunate turn of events. Spells were flying, blades were swinging, nothing made sense to her anymore. However, being the chronic procrastinator that she was, Vessa had become a natural at flying by the seat of her pants over the years. She could most definitely handle this. She searched the rapidly approaching head of the dragon and saw the now obvious (albeit insect filled) chinks between the scales there that exposed the soft and vulnerable underflesh. She drew her one of her scimitars, aimed her body as best she could, and hoped for the best…

 

She was knocked breathless by the jarring jerk of her body as her scimitar plunged into flesh and gifted her with the precious lifeline she needed to survive. For a moment she briefly wondered how the others were faring, but this business of “staying alive†soon took precedence over any worries she may have had. She used every ounce of strength to hold on while the massive head swung wildly and found the insects that swarmed the dragon were now swarming her as well. She heard something and turned her head just in time to see a poorly aimed ice arrow flying towards her. She swung her whole body to one side and it barely missed her even then, but she thanked all of her lucky stars that the icy effect did not reach her weapon and make the grip slick. The ice did, however, slow the insects around her just enough for her to be able to concentrate without masses of stings and bites distracting her.

 

Her right arm and shoulder became a long, white-hot line of agony as her muscles were wrenched to and fro. Ignoring the unbelievable pain and quickly assessing the situation, she saw she was hanging from the beast’s cheekbone and that its colossal onyx eye was tantalizingly close, but just far enough away to be out of the reach of an average scimitar. She, however, had her poisonous liquid blade, Water’s Talon, and it wasn’t just the average scimitar. She drew the powerful weapon with her left hand and whipped her arm back just as the dragon swung its great head once more. Using the momentum generated, she swung her now whip-like watery blade straight around and into the great eye, completely gouging it out as what was not sliced was quickly dissolved by the viscous poison of the blade.

 

Unfortunately, she now had to worry about the blinding splashes of blood caused by the exsanguinating socket as the dragon threw its head about. She couldn’t dodge the dragon-sized drop of blood hurtling her way, so she ducked her head and was covered in the warm crimson liquid, which made the hilt of the scimitar she was using as a lifeline very slick. As she felt her hand slipping, she knew she had to act fast if she did not want to lose her grip completely and become Bhaalspawn puree on her return to the floor. As the dragon threw its head back and roared in agony at the loss of an eye, Vessa swiftly resheathed Water’s Talon, aimed her hand to point directly into the socket once the dragon whipped its head back again, and began to speak the command words to activate the Ring of the Ram.

 

The massive concussive power manifested by the ring pummeled straight through the now conveniently opened eye socket and literally crushed the frontal lobe of its brain, and if that wasn’t what killed it, the shock of what had just happened surely did. Unfortunately for Vessa, the pop she heard at the final jerk of the beast’s immense head seemed to be her shoulder, as the screaming anguish careening through her body could most certainly attest to. She lost her grip completely on the scimitar but quickly grabbed it again with her other hand and kept herself as flat against the head as she could as the whole body came shuddering downwards in the final dirtnap. As the head finally made contact with the ground and absorbed most of the shock, leaving Vessa relatively unhurt, she leapt from the head, scimitar still firmly implanted in the skull, and used her good arm try and wipe off the insect and blood marinade she seemed to be slathered in. The fact that she was covered in various random insects did not bother her in the least until she saw…until she saw…. SPIDERS! SHE WAS COVERED IN SPIDERS!!

 

Vessa froze completely and tried to suppress the panic welling up inside of her. She…was….covered….with….spiders! They were touching her!! They were all over her!!! SPIDERS! Dymphna was affected by Vessa’s overwhelming terror and flew in hysterical circles around her head.

 

Suddenly she found herself doused in water and watched as the blood and the insects (and spiders) caught within it oozed off of her. When she turned and saw it was Imoen who saved her from the evil spiders, she felt she could have kissed her and made her queen of the world, and she was much too distracted by her thankfulness at being spiderless to even care where Immy got the water from. However, a certain very soggy familiar was glaring daggers at the young woman as she landed on the floor with a wet plop.

 

“Hey sis, it was the least I could do for ya. You handed that dragon its arse on a silver platter and made it wear it as a festive party hat! Holy Hells that was awesome!†Imoen’s grin faded, however, when she saw Vessa’s arm. “Oh gods Vessa! What happened up there?!â€Â

 

The shock of the events that transpired having worn off, Vessa once more felt the pain in her arm and shoulder, which was increased by Jaheira prodding and manipulating the unfortunate extremity. Vessa clenched her jaw and subjected herself to Jaheira’s ministrations without even a grunt of pain but oh, was she feeling it.

 

“It’s dislocated.†Was all that Jaheira said.

 

Thank you, Mistress State-the-Obvious. Vessa thought to herself. Thanks to the medical books she pored over in Candlekeep, she knew what came next and felt the dread rise deep within her stomach. She looked down and saw Dymphna wince in a way only a raven can, agreeing with her completely when she thought This is not going to be fun.

 

***

 

Solaufein too knew what came next and was not looking forward to seeing Vessa in pain. He also knew, however, that there was no other way to heal the injury and so searched in vain for something distracting to say. He watched Imoen take Vessa’s good hand and hold it, giving Vessa an empathetic smile and bracing with her.

 

What is she doing? Solaufein thought to himself.

 

“…Thanks, Immy.†Was all that Vessa said. As Jaheira took Vessa’s arm, pulled it forward and up, and braced her foot against the young woman, Anomen spoke up.

 

“Lady Jaheira, isn’t there some other way to do this? I think Vessa’s been through enough pain as it is!â€Â

 

“Anomen, you are a priest and as such are no stranger to the healing arts. Tell me, in all of your clerical training, have *you* found an alternate method of doing this?†Was Jaheira’s annoyed reply.

 

“Well, no, but I don’t think Vessa can-â€Â

 

“Anomen, this method is the only way available to fix my shoulder. I can handle a little bit of hurt. I am not made of glass, blast it!†Vessa said. Solaufein could see that she was squeezing Imoen’s hand slightly in pain.

 

Ah, I see what it means now. It is meant as a comforting gesture. Solaufein found himself wishing he had known that earlier.

 

“My Lady, I did not mean to imply you were fragile, I was merely concerned-†before Anomen could finish his reply, however, Jaheira had yanked Vessa’s arm up and out and an audible pop could be heard by all the party.

 

“Hngh!†Was Vessa’s only audible reaction as she squeezed Imoen’s hand tightly. Just as quickly as it had begun, the healing was over. Solaufein knew she would be sore for a long while, but at least she could use her arm again. He did know a way to ease the pain, but his lack of knowledge of surfacer customs made him hesitant to try it. What if he somehow committed a hideous gaffe?

 

“Minsc believes that Vessa has done well! You defeated that dragon with all the fury of a maiden of Rasheman and did not even cry when your arm got fixed! Hamsters and rangers everywhere are proud!!†An overenthusiastic Minsc cried. Solaufein wondered how he could still breathe, what with his armor being smashed as it was.

 

“My Lady, that quick thinking you did under such pressure was highly impressive as well as effective. My congratulations on your victory.†Solaufein said. Once again, her actions had earned his respect.

 

“Hey, stop talking like I was the only one doing anything! We all defeated the dragon together! To tell you the truth, I was more concerned with ‘staying alive’ than I was with actually defeating that thing. The fact that I slew it while trying to survive is just a perk!†was Vessa’s reply

 

“Ooooh! I could use some of these scales!! Oh, and good job, Vessa.†Was Jan’s response to the entire situation. “I wonder if the serrated edges of this one could peel turnips well…â€Â

 

“Yeah, I think that those scales might make a fine suit of armor. Could someone else start gathering some? I am going outside to start making camp. Then hopefully I can find a stream nearby that will wash this disgusting blood off of me.â€Â

 

“Vessa, your bravery in the face of danger would have made even seasoned veterans of the Order proud!†Anomen said

 

Now it was Jaheira’s turn to speak. “You have done well today, Vessa. Gorion would have been proud of your quick thinking. And then he would have smacked you in the head for being so foolhardy. But he would have been proud first.â€Â

 

“Thanks, Jaheira. You know, I need to write a poem about this. What rhymes with ‘lobotomized’?â€Â

 

“Circumcised!†Was Imoen’s immediate reply.

 

“Yeah, that could work but, well… we do not know what gender the dragon was. Unless of course you want to lift that massive leg and find out…â€Â

 

“Um, eeew. No thanks, I think I’ll leave that a mystery.â€Â

 

“Hey, that reminds me of Ano the Lobotomized Orc! Hey Ano, tell me, do *you* think the dragon is a boy? After all, you both already share one characteristic…†Jan said with a devilish glint in his eye.

 

“Silence yourself, impudent gnome!†Anomen said irritably. He had had enough of that gnome’s incessant lobotomized orc stories.

 

“Hee hee! Oh you should see the look on your face now, Ano-boy! It’s priceless!†*snicker*

 

“Damn you, gnome! Hold your tongue I say!â€Â

 

“…I *really* need a bath.†Vessa muttered to herself.

 

So the various members of Vessa’s band busied themselves with their chosen tasks. Jaheira and Vessa left the temple to make camp, Solaufein volunteered to gather wood for the fire, Anomen pulled scales from the beast and put them in his pack, Jan began furiously scribbling down new plans for a shadow dragon scale powered turnip peeler, and Imoen let out a delighted little squeal at finding the dragon’s hoard of lovely, lovely gems. Today was a good day.

Link to comment

Chapter 7: At Camp

 

 

Once again, Solaufein found his gaze wandering about their twilit campsite. It was the little things he marveled at this eve, such as the small gestures of kindness that most surfacers seemed to take for granted. Things like Imoen plaiting Vessa’s lovely, slightly damp locks into long braids for her, or Vessa’s hands petting her familiar soothingly as it nestled in her lap, or Jaheira preparing a salve for both Minsc and Anomen to heal and ward off future cases of armor chafe, or Jan deciding to spend time on his latest invention instead of regaling them with yet another painfully meandering story affected him much more than it seemed to affect them; things like this were *never* done in the tightly circumscribed culture of the Drow. It was either no contact at all or contact performed on orders, and no Drow had the freedom to express simple things such as these. He wondered if the surface would forever be so strange and new to him.

 

As he finished up a filling meal of warm partridge caught earlier by a rather distracted Jan, he saw Vessa wince and rub her arms as Imoen finished braiding her hair. Vessa thanked Imoen, got up to move a bit from the others to sit against a tree for privacy, and began attempting to manipulate the aching muscles herself. Solaufein knew her arms and shoulders must be miserable after all of that yanking they were subjected to, especially the arm attached to the formerly dislocated shoulder. He knew the skills he had been forced to learn in Ust Natha would serve well here and unlike many he had to service in the past, he was more than willing to do Vessa some ease. After all, she had been nothing but friendship and kindness to him since his escape to the surface and he would like to return the favor somehow.

 

He was still unsure of how his attempt at aid would be received though; in Ust Natha such things were demanded at the end of a whip, and he did not have enough knowledge of surface culture to judge if such contact was considered offensive or appropriate. However, seeing the little signs of friendly affection shared by other members of the group during their travels such as a mussing up of hair, a quick clasping of hands, or a clap on the back encouraged him to make an attempt.

 

He rose from his own seat and padded over to Vessa in his soft-soled boots, tentatively laying a hand on her shoulder as he did so. She jumped at the contact, but once she looked up and recognized him, she smiled warmly and scooted over, giving him a place to sit. He took her acceptance of his hand on her shoulder as a sign that his company was not unwanted

 

“Hello Solaufein. Glad you could sit here, I was getting bored, and you are usually pretty interesting. By the way, I never did get to ask you how you were doing after the battle, as I was distracted by the removal of insects and blood. And spiders. Which are evil. So anyway, did you get hurt at all? Or did your fabled Drow reflexes keep you safe the entire battle?â€Â

 

He chuckled lightly at this comment. “Truth be told, my ‘fabled Drow reflexes’ weren’t actually used much at all. The dragon was too busy being lobotomized to attack me, it seems.†He finished with a smile. “However, I can see you did not come out of the battle quite so unscathed. If…if you would like, I know a way to ease the aches your muscles are feeling. Unless such a thing is considered offensive…I don’t know enough of your culture to be sure.â€Â

 

“Solaufein, I highly doubt that offering a person comfort can be considered offensive in any culture! It is very sweet of you to offer, but I am sure you have better things to do than troubling yourself over me.â€Â

 

“It is hardly a trouble, my Lady. I would be glad to do you ease.†With that, he cautiously began exploring the muscles of her shoulders, trying to find the worst of the knots and strains with gentle fingers. He noticed that she tensed up considerably and seemed highly uncomfortable with the situation. Now he was worried he had overstepped his bounds.

 

“My Lady? Does this upset you?†She turned to look at him and he saw a flash of something very familiar to him in her eyes; they spoke of memories desperately buried by those who wish to forget. She seemed to hesitate before she spoke.

 

“No Solaufein, it has absolutely nothing to do with you in the least, I promise you. It is merely a weakness on my part. I need to try harder to put some things behind me. Anyway, you…what you are doing is helping immensely, thank you very much.†Her lips twitched into a smile and she leaned into his hands slightly. Solaufein decided not to press her about the allusion she inadvertently made. Wisdom gained from years upon years of experience let him know that she would tell him about it when she was ready.

 

He once again began to knead at her muscles, feeling her discomfort slowly flow away like water off a leaf after a rain as he continued. He worked from her shoulders down to her biceps down to her wrists, expertly easing away the pain with deft hands. As he finished, he could see her head nodding and she leaned back into him sleepily, cheek resting against his chest, eyelids fluttering, long lashes making it impossible to tell whether her eyes were open or closed. Her breathing slowed to a drowsy stupor as her lips parted in a sleepy sigh. Now it was his turn to be uncomfortable; what should he do now? Should he wake her? Should he hold her? Should he merely be still?

 

He decided to just sit for a few moments with his hands at his sides and take the opportunity to study her. He had never been this close to her while she was sans armor before. His eyes traveled from her lovely face down her arms, and the dancing of the firelight against her pale skin revealed young, pink scars. They crisscrossed down her arms all the way to her wrists, which had thick, obvious ligature marks much like his own. He noticed the same marks on her ankles, which were exposed by her lack of boots.

 

Are these scars part of the reason she was so uncomfortable with touch? Did Irenicus do this? He wondered. He felt black fury rise in his heart at the thought of what he already knew Irenicus did. That monster stole her very soul! He *will* make Irenicus pay, that much was certain. That man’s dark soul should be plunged in the lowest pits of every layer of the Nine Hells!

 

As his eyes traveled back up to Vessa’s face, he could see that she was now awake and gazing up at him with an unfathomable look in her eyes. He was embarrassed at being caught in his scrutiny and quickly looked away.

 

Vessa yawned sleepily and spoke. “Do not worry about it, Solaufein. You have done nothing wrong. These are merely little souvenirs from my time in Irenicus’ dungeon, that is all.â€Â

 

Vessa spoke of them with such nonchalance that it surprised Solaufein. He himself still struggled silently with the nightmares of Phaere’s torture as well as nightmares brought on by the abuse he suffered in Ust Natha since childhood, and the scars on her made him think that she would be similarly affected. “Are you able to rid yourself of the ill effects of such treatment so easily?â€Â

 

“It happened in the past, and there is nothing I can do about it now. Why dwell on what cannot be changed?†She shrugged her shoulders. “I know well that some memories….†Here she hesitated before continuing. “some of them cannot be pushed away so easily and leave deeper scars than what is on the flesh. Those are harder to fight away, but also the most strengthening should you be able to conquer them. It is a long, arduous process, however. Some never truly heal, do they?†Those beautiful eyes peeking out at him from beneath long lashes seemed to ask a deeper question.

 

This made him think for a moment. “hmm...this reminds me of a poem I read recently:

 

I see the hands of the generations

That owned each shiny familiar thing

In play on its knobs and indentations

And with its ancient fashioning

still dallying;

 

Hands behind hands, growing paler and paler,

As in a mirror a candle-flame

Shows images of itself, each frailer

As it recedes, though the eye may frame

Its shape the same.â€Â

 

“So you mean to say that you are prepared to follow those frail images, those memories of the past, for their own sake, but also as a means of defining the present? I do not agree. If we constantly dwell on what happened in the past and use it to color our view of now, which slips all too quickly into the past, then we never look to the new growth of which the future gives birth.†Vessa replied thoughtfully.

 

“So you believe that we must deny the past and look only to the future? How then do we learn from our mistakes? How then do we gain the wisdom needed to forge a stronger future?â€Â

 

“I do not believe we should shut our past away, no. Our past is a part of us, yes, but it is not all of us. We should not allow the sorrows of what has come before to consume us so completely that all we become is an echo of our own memories. The beauty and bane of all things is the chance for the most depraved individual to become something better or for the greatest of saints to become the most iniquitous of monsters. This is a world of endless possibility, with thousands upon thousands of branches for us to walk our lives across. We may rot slowly away in our own sorrow, or we may allow our spirits to burn brightly in spite of the pain, even if we char to ash in the end. After all, while corpses putrefy in their fetid tombs, ash can fly always free in the sun and the wind. I guess all I am trying to say is… it still hurts no matter what choice you make, but that hurt does not have to imprison you. It does not have to enslave you, for there is always renewal.â€Â

 

These words caused Solaufein to think deeply at their meaning. He had not seen things in this light before, and it seemed that entire worlds of avenues had been opened to him. “My Lady, your musings give me pause. I shall have to think on your words. I thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.â€Â

 

“I thank you for both easing the pain in my arms and increasing my mental collection of poetry, Solaufein.†Vessa looked away for a moment. “Aw, Imoen is calling me over, so I had better go see what she wants before she throws a fit. Thank you for talking with me though. It is nice to have someone else to discuss such things as this with.â€Â

 

As she walked away, Solaufein could not help but look after her with something akin to awe in his eyes. How could a woman such as this possibly be the spawn of murder? Another thought struck him with such clarity it nearly knocked him over:

 

Could Vessa be the future?

 

 

***

 

 

Imoen had been watching the little episode playing out over by Duvheassa and Solaufein, and was thoroughly amused by what transpired. Maybe now Vessa will realize that she is a girl instead of being completely oblivious to how men reacted to her! A soft snort to her right distracted her from formulating ways to tease Vessa, however, and she looked to see Anomen glaring at the pair. Much to her surprise, he made no move to stop what was going on, and indeed his snort had turned to a sigh of frustration.

 

“I feel your eyes, Imoen.†Was all he said. “Don’t worry, I’m not about to go storming over there and cause some more needless injuries. I’ll keep my watch on that Drow, but that is all. Besides…there are more graceful ways to defeat a rival…â€Â

 

“A rival, Anomen? Could it be that you are sweet on Vessa?!†Imoen replied with feigned shock. She put the back of her hand to her head and fell back dramatically for effect. It was quite well-choreographed, by any standards.

 

“Hmph. Whether I say so or not, you are bound to construe it as such. Say what you will, Imoen, your teasing shall come regardless.†His eyes returned to the flames of the campfire.

 

That comment took all the wind out of her sails. He was no fun to goad unless he actually took the bait! Damn… But maybe…. Imoen grinned devilishly.

 

“Hey Jan, you think you could tell your Ano the Lobotomized Orc story again? That one was always a real ripper, let me tell you!â€Â

 

Jan grinned back with an intensity that put Imoen’s smile to shame. “Oh but of course, Immy! I do so love reiterating the finer points of that story!†And so he began to launch into his diatribe once again.

 

Imoen looked at Anomen to see if this provoked any reaction whatsoever, but his face was still stoic as he sat cross-legged, hands supporting his head, staring contemplatively into the fire, and completely unaware of Jan or his fevered storytelling. This wasn’t like him at all! What was the matter? Imoen moved closer to him and saw once again his blackened right eye, still swollen and puffy. He had not healed it himself and had not allowed Jaheira to heal it either. Why?

 

She got his attention by tapping his shoulder, and noticed in his eyes a careful introspective gaze that seemed new to his features. “Yes, Imoen?â€Â

 

“What’s the matter, Anomen? Ya look lost!â€Â

 

“Do I? Lost…is that what it is? To tell the truth, I…I worry for my sister. Moira, sweet Moira… I received a letter from her only a little before I joined with this group… She told me that everything was okay, that Lord Cor was behaving himself better and that she was happier than she had been in a while…â€Â

 

“Well if she’s okay, why are you worried about her? And another thing, why in all of Faerun would seeing Vessa and Solaufein together like that remind you of her?†Imoen was puzzled now.

 

Anomen looked genuinely surprised at her concern, and Imoen felt a pang of guilt. She and Jan had been rather rough on him lately, and the fact that he was so amazed at her worry for him was because her jibes often teetered on the meaner side of the fence.

 

“Hmmm… Vessa very much reminds me of my sister, Imoen. It is part of the reason I want to protect her so badly. I wish I could do the same for Moira… and as to your first question, even from a young age I could tell how Moira felt through how she wrote. When she is relaxed, her script is flowing and languorous across the paper, but when she is upset…†at this, he pulled out a worn-looking paper that seemed to have been read and reread times uncounted and handed it to Imoen sadly.

 

Imoen carefully unrolled the wrinkled scroll and looked at what was written. The script was elegant enough, but the very letters seemed on edge, seemed spiky and agitated, and almost looked to be glancing in a paranoid frenzy all across the page. This was not the script of a woman who felt safe. She read the words softly to herself:

My Dear Brother Anomen,

 

I received the last letter you sent to me. I always love to hear from you and I’m so glad you’re doing well in the Order! I’m sorry Jakin stole Sir Ryan’s pauldrons and framed you for it. I always thought he was an unlikable sort. What an immature thing to do! Good thing for you that Sir Ryan was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, eh?

Things are going well here at home. Daddy has been behaving himself lately. I’ve been able to leave the house for hours at a time now, and he won’t even yell at me for it! He’s been quieter than usual, and he drinks alone in the kitchen. Daddy dismissed the last of the guards, but that’s okay because we are very safe and I sleep well every night now that they are gone anyway. They always made me so nervous!

Sometimes I can see a shadow outside my window when I try to sleep at night, though it is clearest when the moon is full. I think it’s a cat…maybe I’ll let it in and feed it the next time I see it. I wouldn’t mind a pet, and daddy has been so lucid lately he probably won’t even try to kill it like he killed little Boots. It was just because he was drunk at the time, I’m sure; daddy loved that kitten when he was sober. Well, I’m pretty sure you’re very busy doing Knightly-type things, so I will cut this letter short.

 

From your sister who loves you,

 

Moira.

 

P.S. I always thought that your beard suited you. Don’t let daddy talk you into shaving it!

Anomen looked at her and spoke gravely. “I haven’t received a letter from her since then.â€Â

 

Imoen was quite surprised; she could easily see the vast difference between the calm tone of the letter and the agitation of the script. “Wow, Anomen. I think I see what you mean. You know, if you’re that worried about her, I’m sure Vessa wouldn’t mind you going back to Athkatla to check on her. In fact, if you really wanted her to, she would probably have us all travel with you.â€Â

 

“No, Imoen. I don’t want to be a liability for the party. I’m sure Moira is safe enough…I just wish she would write back more often. She is probably just distracted with caring for my drunk of a father. She refuses to allow me to just pawn him off at a temple and make him someone else’s problem.â€Â

 

“Oh…Hey, that still doesn’t explain why seeing Vessa and Solaufein together reminded you of your sister. You just said why Vessa herself reminded you.â€Â

 

“Well, seeing them together doesn’t remind me so much of my sister as it does….well….â€Â

 

“Well what, Anomen?â€Â

 

Anomen leveled his gaze upon her and in his eyes she could see a deep pain. “My…my mother often talked about how my father behaved in the earlier years of their relationship, while they were still courting. My father…behaved to her in much the same manner as Solaufein behaves with Lady Duvheassa now.â€Â

 

With that, Anomen got up and walked into the woods, presumably to be left alone for a time. Imoen looked in his direction long after he was out of sight in the thicket. This explained so much! Though she regretted interrupting Vessa just when she was starting to get all comfortable with Solaufein, she felt Vessa had to know now, so she called her over. Though Vessa was relatively far off, Imoen saw a quick spark of regret flash through Vessa’s eyes as she left Solaufein’s presence and walked over, sighing quietly.

 

“Yes, Immy? It was not like I was having a conversation or anything, so I am *so* glad you called me over.†Vessa said petulantly as she sat down.

 

“Hey, now. You can always just attach yourself to him like a barnacle on a whale later. What I’m about to tell you is important.†Imoen replied.

 

“Like a barna---Imoen! I was doing no such thing! He merely eased the pain in my muscles and we talked. That was it!†However, Vessa was blushing, and the fact that her face was so strangely pale did nothing to hide that fact. Imoen briefly felt annoyed that Vessa never got sunburned; it just wasn’t fair! She quickly reminded herself that she had information to share, however.

 

“Yeah yeah, whatever. Now listen! I think I know why Anomen gets so angry whenever he sees you two together.â€Â

 

“Oh really? Do tell, Immy.†Now she was interested, as the lack of any sort of petulant expression revealed.

 

Imoen explained to Vessa all that Anomen had told her, and showed her the letter he had left in her hand as proof. Vessa’s eyes grew wider at each new revelation Imoen spoke, and the letter clinched her surprise. Vessa slowly lowered the letter into her lap after she read it.

 

“Wow.†Was all she said.

 

“Yeah, tell me about it. He’s going to go mad with worry!â€Â

 

“You know…he is much nicer than he lets on, is he not? I mean, I have heard tales of many brothers who cared not a whit as to their sister’s fates, and here he is tearing his hair out over Moira. This explains why he has been so agitated ever since we met him. Maybe the Anomen we know now is just the uptight, over-stressed version of the real Anomen.â€Â

 

“Yeah, maybe… You know, I kinda feel bad for giving him such a hard time now. Maybe I should lay off a bit.â€Â

 

“Yeah, that would be a good idea for now. Just until he sees his sister is safe, you understand. Then we can play a showstopper of a prank on him, yes? It will involve feathers!â€Â

 

“And cheese!â€Â

 

“And an angry, rabid weasel!â€Â

 

Both of them laughed at the insane plot they were hatching, never noticing that Jan hadn’t joined in as he was wont to do in such situations. Vessa got up to harass Dymphna, as said familiar was now resting on her backpack, and Imoen left to go nibble furtively on some choclatl she managed to nick from Vessa’s pack.

 

 

***

 

The two girls seemed not to notice him, but he knew Jaheira had; He had felt her eyes on him as he eavesdropped on both their conversation, and the one between Imoen and Anomen. Jaheira had listened in on the first conversation, but then she merely nodded at Jan, the wink she had given him suggesting that she wanted to hear all the information he had gleaned from the girls later. She then got up to follow Anomen as he left.

 

Jan had realized something was up when he did not elicit the usual enraged response from Anomen at the telling of his story, and so he just *had* to know what was going on. Hearing the reasons Anomen gave for his behavior made him stop and think for a moment, and he found he was not proud of how he had been treating Anomen since he had joined the party. How was *he* to know such weighty matters bowed Anomen’s shoulders? It reminded him of his own worry over Lissa and Jaella; their faces had not left his mind since last they parted, and he wondered darkly at Vaelag’s intentions for them. The only thing that had stopped him from lodging a bolt in his rotten skull was Lissa’s fervent wish that the lowlife wife-and-child-beater remained unharmed. How he wished he had not listened!

 

He tended to antagonize the others more than usual after the whole fiasco, especially Minsc and Anomen; it took his mind off of the two in Vaelag’s clutches, even if just for a moment. He knew he would not enjoy it if somebody did the same to him while he was in this miserable state, however. He decided to agree with Immy and give old Ano a break for a little while until things got cleared up, but after that, oh what a reckoning there would be!

 

***

 

Jaheira was always in the habit of quietly listening, watching, and absorbing what occurred around her; one of her earliest tutors had taught her as a child that “you are born with two ears, two eyes, and one mouth: therefore, you should watch and listen twice as much as you speak.†Even in her youth she had taken that lesson to heart, and it had served her well over the years. She found that the wisdom she gained from such behavior served others well over the years also, should they be receptive to such help. She hoped that, at least temporarily, Anomen was one of these people.

 

She had experienced such things as his dilemma before, and knew what came of such situations based on how they were handled. Though many believed druids to be too cold and uncaring to understand the pains and worries that plagued any heart, their lifestyle actually lends them to both the wisdom and the empathy needed to soothe such aches; after all, even humans are part of Nature’s fold, though they may perhaps deny it. Jaheira smiled wryly at her own musings. To her own mind it sounded like she was trying to justify herself to herself. A foolish reflection. I have found my balance, and I have no need of self-doubt.

 

She found Anomen sitting alone in the center of a ring of trees, shadows crawling over him as if drawn to feast upon the discordant thoughts within. Perhaps now, at this point, he would be receptive to the words of one who had walked Faerun longer than he had been alive.

 

She placed her hand on his shoulder and was rewarded by a slow turn of his head and a gaze that showed his heart was not in balance.

 

“I must apologize, Lady Jaheira, but I wish to be alone right now.†Anomen said, his voice heavy with thought.

 

“I have been watching you since you have joined this group, Anomen. Unconsciously you seek to find balance, but your coherent thought disagrees. You are divided within yourself, and have not the experience to handle it.†Was Jaheira’s reply.

 

“Lady Jaheira, I know well enough that you desire to give me some kind of lecture, but I’ve no wish to be flayed by your barbs tonight.â€Â

 

“Listen, Anomen. I speak the truth, but with the brashness of youth you discredit it. Open your ears for once and earn some wisdom. Now, as I said, I have been watching you. I have seen you read that note when we camp, when we travel, and sometimes even before we enter a battle. I have also seen you look from that note to Duvheassa and draw the invisible lines that you use to bind the two together. Admittedly, I am not overly familiar with the training and tenets of the Order, but it would seem that your mind has been trained to be always focused on one thing, always seeing one bit and drawing conclusions from one thread instead of from the entire tapestry. You have not allowed your mind time to process the information that has flowed into it, and instead have made assumptions based on a half-conceived notion. I would suggest that you slow down and actually take some time to think to yourself, not only on either Vessa or your sister or your problems at home, but all these things and how they relate to each other. To borrow a cliché, perhaps you will learn a thing or two about yourself in the process. I shall leave you alone now.†She turned to leave, but she chanced to see the bruise he would allow no one to heal.

 

“Oh, and by the way…you consider that bruise a sign of your guilt, do you not? You wish to keep it so that you may learn from it and not repeat the same mistakes. That is an admirable thing to do, and is a strong first step to becoming a true man in spirit.†With that, she left him sitting there, not knowing with certainty if he was going to heed her or not. However, she had a feeling that perhaps, just this once, he would listen to an elder. She smiled grimly to herself and walked back to camp. It would seem the things binding this group together were not only camaraderie and loyalty, but also the burgeoning empathy that that stemmed from shared experience. Nature’s cycle remained unbroken, and Her children improved and grew well and strong through supporting each other.

 

***

 

 

As he was deep in his contemplations at the time, Anomen had been surprised when Jaheira revealed her presence to him. When he first heard what she had to say, his foremost reaction was to immediately toss it aside as the self-righteous blather of an old hat. However, he was astonished by the approval in her tone at the mention of his blackened eye, and the pain in said organ reminded him of his earlier folly. He decided to heed her.

 

Hmm….To slow down and seen the bigger tapestry. That is what she had been trying to say. He was angry at his father for how he treated Moira, that was plain and obvious, no mystery there. Vessa reminded him of his sister, yes. Solaufein reminded him of the stories his mother told of a young Lord Cor before he became a useless, abusive inebriate, and he hated that Vessa spent so much time with him.

 

There must be more to it than that, though. He thought on Vessa, now focusing not only on the singular aspect of his feelings for her, but also the thought behind those feelings. Yes, he did love her, he admitted it to himself, but…how did he love her? She reminded him of his sister and he desperately wanted to protect her. Solaufein was acting so much like Anomen’s mother said his father acted before they were wed…he was afraid Solaufein would hurt Vessa like his mother was hurt and his sister was currently being hurt by Lord Cor.

 

He thought further still into his conversations with Vessa. Now that he actually focused on them and brought Vessa’s views and opinions into clearer focus, he found that, perhaps, he had been overlooking a few things. He often spoke to Vessa about the Order, and it became obvious enough that she had absolutely no love for it. It should have been evident to him much earlier, but he had always simply ignored the little hints she gave him that she did not agree with the organization to which he was bound. Her opinions of the Order were low at best, diametrically opposed at worst. She saw many of the Order’s faithful as arrogant, prideful, narrow-minded, genocidal inquisitors who shoved their beliefs down the throats of others, although her words were not quite so pointed when she spoke with him. The only reason Anomen even knew this opinion was through conversations he overheard between Imoen and Vessa.

 

Vessa also believed that novitiates are led as sheep, lured in by stories of purity and virtue, and bound to unquestioning obedience to a set of laws that, in her opinion, were flawed, cared less about the individual, and cared more about the punishments inflicted and dishonor suffered. A good example would be when he had discussed thievery with her; In Anomen’s eyes it was absolutely unacceptable by the tenets of the order, but Vessa saw thievery as acceptable to feed a family or oneself if one is in desperate straits, and even thievery to gain medicines or money needed to aid a loved one was suitable enough for her. The fact that the Order held trials and did not blindly execute earned her grudging respect, but the fact that thieves were condemned without regard to the reason for stealing vexed her completely. In short, she believed that the Order was rigid and unfair.

 

Hmm…though she supported him as he quested, understood his reasons for wanting to stay in the Order, and made no attempt to change his mind on becoming a full knight, Anomen found that her attitude toward that which he venerated most was an undesirable quality. How could he get along living with a woman who disrespected all he was raised to believe? How could they be together if she secretly thought him foolish for joining an organization she disapproved of so heartily? Well, she *was* a child of Murder…perhaps this black background stopped her from seeing the shining justice of the Order properly. Perhaps she just couldn’t appreciate the goodness of the Order.

 

Another thing that irked him was her prideful foolishness, though he had realized, in his short time with the party, that he had the same trait. It merely manifested itself differently through him. He didn’t listen to his elders and allowed his temper to explode; she punished herself needlessly by working to exhaustion, refusing help, and bottling whatever it was she was feeling within instead of talking to someone about it. He remembered the defensive note in her voice after he had called attention to her behavior. What was she trying to prove?

 

Hmm…he loved Duvheassa…but did he love her as a man loves a woman? No, he realized he did not. He merely thought he did through the emotions she elicited in him when he saw her. Her determination, strength, and good heart reminded him of Moira, and were indeed good qualities, but her very personality seemed to grate against that which he was struggling to achieve. He realized now that he saw her as perhaps more of a wayward friend, perhaps even sibling, than he did a potential lover. A pity that. She was beautiful, yes, and intelligent…but there were many other beautiful, intelligent women out there who were far better suited for him than Vessa could ever be.

 

Now he understood why he went so crazy when he saw Vessa with Solaufein. It was not stemmed from jealousy, but a desire to keep her safe...the same desire that drove him to madness worrying about Moira. Now that he understood himself better when it came to Vessa, and he felt as though some of his worries had alighted from him. It still did not, however, take away the burning pain in his heart that the thought of Moira slaving away to take care of their father had caused. With a heavy sigh, he got up and strode back to camp. He hoped they would be traveling back to Amn soon. He needed to have a long talk with his sister, and then he needed to have words with his drunk of a father.

Link to comment
Guest Guest

Chapter 8: Living Nightmares and Dying Dreams

 

WARNING: The following scene can be considered disturbing. Read with care.

 

 

 

‘So…you refuse to scream? You are a stubborn, prideful thing….but I can still break you.’

 

Knocked off the grimy table smelling of death and futile screams …hurts to land, hurting deep inside, blood flowing down my thighs. Small dirty hands grab, dragging me across the floor. Head aching, no more tears to weep, throat unwilling to scream. His footfalls echo and make my brain bleed. Metal scrapes my head.

 

Am lifted up roughly. I look to the side. A coffin lies beneath…the insides crawl. Why? Try to struggle, too weak to fight, my body betrays me. Am completely helpless. Look closer, what’s inside?

 

no, NO, NO!

 

‘Ah, I see you have noticed your new bedmates. Perhaps, after sharing yourself with them for a time, you shall come to know fear intimately.’

 

I feel sick.

 

I cannot fight.

 

He throws me down, down… down… down….

 

Little bodies crumble wetly beneath my tiny weight…more bodies skitter to cover mine, bodies tinier than my own… legs legs…everywhere legs. Am too horrified to scream, can’t open my mouth, they’ll get in….struggling makes them bite.

 

His face is above, cold eyes, no emotion. They freeze me. Still, my eyes fight back, but I am losing. You cannot fight those eyes. He lifts the lid, tiny holes carved for air, too tiny for light…

 

All light dies away. The locks are snapped. Loud, so loud. They are everywhere, there is no escape.

 

I cannot fight.

 

The spiders consume me.

***

 

Vessa struggled against her own body and finally jerked awake, every muscle rigid and aching. She was slick with cold sweat and she could see her own breath in her terrified panting, though the night was warm and mild. Deep within her the familiar icy pain burned with the intensity of Irenicus’ cruelty. It hurt too much to scream.

 

Vessa lie curled in a tiny knot at the center of her bedroll, trying desperately to ignore the pain, to shut the memories away. She refused to let herself cry. After an eternity of remembered torments, the pain subsided and her muscles relaxed, though her small frame still shook violently with fear.

 

By this time Dymphna was at her side, whirring with undisguised worry. Dymphna knew better than to try to communicate with her Lady while she was in this state, as it only agitated the condition further.

 

Vessa allowed herself to sit up, still gulping every breath as though it would be ripped from her in the next second. Everybody was peacefully asleep in their bedrolls. Her struggles against the nightmare were silent, it seemed. She looked around camp and noticed Anomen’s bedroll was empty. She was briefly worried until she saw him a little away from camp, his sentinel eyes keeping watch for the night.

 

She began to calm down and her breathing came easier, but as her own fear and pain subsided, she could sense the agony of another. She got up and checked every bedroll to make sure the occupant was soundly resting. Jaheira, Imoen, Jan, Minsc…they were safe and sleeping well. The last bedroll, then, was the source of her unease.

 

Solaufein was cocooned in his own blanket, struggling mightily against it, his mouth gasping spasmodically like a fish thrown on land. Vessa knelt immediately near his side, moving aside his pack, a stick, a rock, anything that could possibly harm him in his thrashing. Though she wished she could free him from the blankets, she worried that he would cause himself more harm should his arms lash freely. She was unsure of what to do and thought that shaking him would not be a good idea; a violent awakening was not a good way to end a violent nightmare. She merely sat near him, wringing her hands and despising her inability to help the suffering Drow.

 

Soon his fighting had stopped, but this was not the calm of a mind given peacefully over to good dreams. His body went rigid and his mouth hung slack like that of a dead man. Had he died in his dreams?

 

Vessa tried to soothe him, running her palm over his forehead, murmuring comforting words to him until they melted into a kind of mantra. She pulled a cloth from her pack and wet it with her waterskin. Then, after gently untangling him from his blankets, she carefully lifted his head with one hand and began to slowly blot the rag against his face.

 

His eyes flew open without warning and locked with hers, glazed, terrified, and uncomprehending in their gaze. His hands shot out and gripped at her shirt reflexively, holding her as though clutching to his very life. Vessa was frightened by this action, but she was too stunned to pull away.

 

Soon his crimson eyes slid into recognition, and he immediately let go of her shirt. She had left her hand resting on his forehead, and she watched as he slowly covered it with a larger ebony hand of his own as he sat up.

 

“Vessa.†Was all he could say.

 

“Yes, Solaufein. I am here. I am here. You are among friends, and you are safe.†She cooed softly in his ear. In her desire to comfort him she wrapped her free arm around him and began rocking him slowly back and forth, for once not even worrying whether her actions would offend him or not. She felt him relax slightly, very slightly, and his hand tightened over her own.

 

“By Eilistraee, what a fiendish nightmare! Vessa, I fear that Llolth has neither forgotten, nor forgiven me… In my nightmare I saw that we had been surrounded by the foulest of spiders, physical manifestations of her vengeance, and they were strong. We fought valiantly, but for every one we slew, the others seemed renewed and increased their attack twofold. I became utterly entangled in their webs and I could not cry out to any of you. Finally one of them…one of them gave me Llolth’s black kiss and I felt my very soul being sucked back to her…†He cut himself off and shivered. Vessa slipped her hand out from under his and held him tightly, wishing she could will away those awful dreams.

 

“It is alright now, you are safe. Llolth is probably just tormenting you in your dreams. There are no spiders here.â€Â

 

“I wish I could believe you, Vessa, but this particular nightmare had a feeling of imminence. I fear we are all in danger…No! Come, we must wake the others!†Vessa let go of him and obeyed instantly, running to alert Anomen as Solaufein went to shake Jaheira awake. Vessa had learned that Solaufein was not one to make rash decisions, and his reaction told her that they were indeed truly in danger. She trusted his judgment.

 

Finally she reached Anomen, who had been glaring suspiciously at some shadows near a copse of trees.

 

“Anomen, come on, I think we are going to be attacked.â€Â

 

“Attacked?! From where? How do you know?!†Was his surprised reply.

 

“I will explain later, just get your butt over here now!â€Â

 

The entire party was gathered, and they were hastily donning their armor as Solaufein finished his hurried explanation. Vessa detected a tremor that marked a disturbance in the Weave and warned the others that something approached. She had Dymphna fly high and away from battle as she readied her defenses. Solaufein quickly activated his Belt of Fortitude and Minsc immediately changed into his boots of speed, but that was all that could be done before the attack began.

 

They seemed to spawn from corruption itself, huge abominations oozing out of some forsaken black pit, radiating evil and malice as they came from all sides. Vessa was immediately relieved that she was wearing her ring of free action, for the first thing every single one of them did was web the entire group. Jan and Imoen had managed to haste themselves and were busily running around, distracting the monsters as Anomen and Jaheira cast free action on anyone nearby once they were outside of the webbing effect. Minsc slipped easily into his berserker side and rushed headlong into battle, hacking away at the spider that had just trapped Imoen against a tree as Jan began casting Fireball at two more that were coming at him fast. The battle had quickly been carried to beyond the area where webs would be a problem.

 

As she dealt with yet another spider in an attempt to distract it from harming anyone else, Vessa remembered what Solaufein had said about one spider falling only to fuel the rest. If they did not concentrate their efforts, they would be lost. She broke free from her melee with the creature and ran towards the others.

 

“Hey! Focus on one at a time! That is the only way we will win!†She shouted above the sound of a fireball roaring into two of the arachnids.

 

Thankfully they had all heard her, and the first spider to receive their attentions was the one that was tormenting Imoen. She was not helpless, however, and while she could not cast spells in this position, she was currently rearranging the spider’s mandibles, courtesy of her Stiletto of the Demarchess. The creature managed to impale her leg with its own arachnoid appendage, striking through the flesh and crunching through bone, and Imoen screamed in agony.

 

“IMOEN!!†Minsc roared in fury. He redoubled his already momentous efforts to annihilate the creature after the blood from her leg had spattered his armor. Unfortunately, its exoskeleton seemed resistant to physical blows.

 

Imoen used the fury that came with pain to fuel her flurry of slashes at the thing’s “faceâ€Â, knowing that she had to keep its poisoned maw as far away from herself as possible. Though the arachnid was resistant to magic, the paralytic qualities of the blade eventually shone through, rooting the spider to the spot as Minsc managed to hack it to pieces with all of his berserker fury.

 

The spider went down before anyone else could focus on it, and, though in agony, a smug smile showed through the grimace of pain on Imoen’s face as she cast skulltrap near the spider that was hasted and now quickly gaining on a fleeing Jan. It burst just in time and the beast flew sideways at the impact, giving Jan just enough time to leap forward and roll as the leg of the second spider that was chasing him slashed at his back, leaving a bloody trail in its wake. They seemed to all be focusing on him, for some reason, and he didn’t have time to do much more than run. However, he quickly activated and flung a Bruiser Mate™ behind him, effectively stunning them just long enough to get near Anomen, who quickly healed the wound. Solaufein was busily eviscerating the spider recently harmed by Imoen’s skulltrap spell, and the creature fell quickly.

 

The two stunned spiders had recovered during this time, regenerated by the death of their kin, and one had pinned Vessa to the ground. The other spider had gone after Jaheira, only to be distracted by a bear she had summoned quickly.

 

Normally Vessa would have been able to battle a large spider despite her phobia, but the memory of the nightmare was too fresh on her mind and she was quite literally rendered immobile with fear. She saw her doom in those many eyes, and in her fog of terror she thought she could actually see a cruel black face, laughing maliciously at her weakness and impending death. That laughter goaded her into action, and she rolled out of the way as a killing bite nearly decapitated her. She knew that if she didn’t get help quickly, she would become nothing more than a pile of Bhaalspawn dust. Just as the creature made to bite her once more, Minsc threw himself at the spider, actually knocking it over, landing on top of it, and stabbing through the thing’s tough carapace with Lilarcor. Of course, the moronic sword was shouting some meaningless and highly annoying quips the entire time.

 

Jaheira could not help Minsc, Vessa, or Imoen; she was too busy dealing with the spider nearest her. It had taken out the bear she had summoned without making any effort, so she quickly cast cause critical wounds. As she felt the vengeful side of Nature filling her heart and hands, she skillfully ran to the beast as it tried to pry its legs from the impaled bear. She courageously planted her hand right at the center of its bulbous head, the spell working powerfully and causing the spider to cry out with a chilling, unnatural scream. She bent backwards and her head grazed the grass in order to dodge as the spider pulled its legs out and almost chopped off her head. She kicked it right under the mandible as she allowed herself to fall back.

 

Anomen quickly cast Holy Smite at the creature, knowing Jaheira would not be harmed by the spell, and this gave her time to get away. Now the spider looked to be roughly the arachnid adaptation of royally pissed, and its carapace veritably sizzled with the holy retribution of Anomen’s god. This weakened its unholy exoskeleton to the point that Solaufein’s blades and Jan’s crossbow bolts quickly sent the creature back to Llolth.

 

 

Imoen had to fumble through her pack to search for a potion of healing, as she had forgotten to place one on her belt for easy access. What a fool she was! Her progress was unfortunately hampered by the disorienting effects that marked the end of a Haste spell. Her leg was pinned to the tree by the leg of the spider, and she did not have the strength to free it. She had no desire to do so, however, as she knew the only thing staunching further bleeding was the huge spider leg effectively plugging the wound. She felt herself grow cold as her body slowly slipped into shock, and she was pulled to the ground in her weakness. Dizzy from blood loss, her hazy mind nonetheless directed her through the motions of searching through her backpack, though even if she found a potion her mind would not have registered it.

 

Anomen had caught sight of Imoen’s predicament and bounded towards her, praying to Helm that she was not as badly injured as he first feared. As he saw Imoen fumbling weakly through her backpack, fully under the effects of shock, he felt violently ill. Even though he had indeed been in many battles before under the banner of the Order, seeing a young girl so maimed and desperately fighting for life was different than seeing a grown man fall to a quick sword strike on the battlefield. He pulled the pack away from her, gently pushed her against the tree, and screamed for Jaheira to come over.

 

Jaheira heard him just after she threw Sol’s Searing Orb at the spider menacing Vessa and Minsc and rushed over. Jan had also heard Anomen’s call and hurried over as well, standing guard over Anomen, Jaheira, and Imoen as he realized what the situation was. This did not stop him from peppering the remaining spider with bolts, however.

 

“Jaheira, I’ll pull the spider leg from her own leg right when you finish casting your most powerful healing spell. We can’t afford for her to lose anymore blood.†Anomen spoke quickly, obvious anxiety in his voice. They couldn’t mess this up.

 

Jaheira nodded her agreement and quickly began whispering the incantation needed to heal, and just as the last word left her lips, Anomen ripped the spider leg out of both the tree and Imoen, who was too deep in shock to react. Jahiera quickly placed her hands over the free-flowing wound, pouring all of Nature’s healing into the girl. Jaheira’s body relaxed as she felt the familiar mending energies flow through her and she could hear Anomen’s audible sigh of relief as he saw the bone restoring and the flesh molding itself together once more. It took a few more spells before Imoen was completely healed, but she was once more well and sound in the end.

 

Fully healed but now with a limp, Imoen gave both Anomen and Jaheira a quick glance of thanks before turning back to the battle. She saw Minsc grappling a spider and Vessa quickly casting Lower Resistance on the creature. Jaheira began to use her sling to pelt the creature with bullets, trying to hit it in the eyes, and Anomen rushed into the fray, whirling the Mace of Disruption over his head. As the beast reared up in order to smash Minsc with its legs, Vessa cast acid arrow at the exposed underbelly to soften its exoskeleton and make it more vulnerable to attack. Soon enough, Imoen saw Minsc stab Lilarcor through the spider’s immense belly.

 

“HEY! I am not a glorified pig-sticker!†The moronic blade yelled.

 

The spider rolled backwards as it was pushed back by the thrust of the blade, and Imoen quickly cast Disintegrate at the abomination before any more damage could be done. The final spider had been defeated.

 

 

The group gathered up their things and prepared to find another, less spider-filled clearing to rest in. They commended each other on their respective brave deeds and skill in battle, but Solaufein remained silent and worried. These good, brave people had been attacked merely because they associated with him. His continued presence in their group was a danger. He wondered if he should perhaps leave them and draw all the misfortune he caused away. Perhaps his grim countenance set off a warning, for Vessa was immediately by his side the moment that thought finished formulating itself in his mind.

 

“Solaufein.†She said. Her glowing eyes asked him what her worried mouth did not. He felt he had to tell her of his decision; at the very least, he owed her that much.

 

“Vessa, I have come to realize that my continued presence puts all of you at significant risk. Any one of you could have been murdered by one of these beasts, and I will not allow any of you to be harmed further by those that hate me.â€Â

 

“No, Solaufein.†Here she shook her head. “Do not say such things. Think you not that we knew of the dangers when we first took you in?†Here Solaufein’s face registered surprise. How could they possibly have known when he himself did not?

 

Vessa smiled weakly at his response. “When Viconia traveled with us, she not only drew the attention of the usual racist bigots, but was also attacked by the slaves of Llolth. Even after she was attacked and we knew of the danger, we stood by her, and in the end the attacks stopped. You, Solaufein, are much more companionable than Viconia was, so what makes you think that we would not do for you what we have already done for her?â€Â

 

Without either of them realizing it, the rest of the party had been listening in on their conversation with interest. Solaufein suddenly found himself being clapped on the back (and lower back, in Jan’s case) from many different sources.

 

“Don’t ya dare leave us, Uncle Sola! I’m not going to stay up all night worrying about ya! We’ve got your back any time, don’t you ever forget it!†said Imoen with her usual charming flair.

 

“Yes, Solaufein. We are not people to abandon a friend. You have proven yourself as both a capable fighter and a worthwhile companion to know. Besides, if you ever did leave, Vessa would probably travel the length and breadth of Faerun in search of you. She never was one to leave a friend to fate.†Jaheira said wryly as she patted his shoulder.

 

“Yeah Sola, and besides, things would get rather boring around us without you to spice things up!†Jan grinned up at him.

 

“Minsc would never leave a warrior behind! There is no honor in turning your back on a friend, no matter how dangerous they are! So says Boo!†Minsc clapped Solaufein on the back so hard that the Drow was propelled forward a step.

 

Solaufein turned to look at Anomen, who had been regarding him intently. Finally, the man spoke, his words coming measured and slow.

 

“I do not enjoy your company, Droâ€â€Solaufein, and that is no secret. However, there is nothing lower than a man who would desert a comrade that has done nothing to harm him. You are harried by enemies, this is true, but….So is Vessa. I have not forsaken her to her fate, and neither shall I forsake you, unless you give me just cause to do so. Do not leave this party.†He inclined his head gravely toward Solaufein and walked off, leaving in his wake an entire party stunned by his behavior. Solaufein’s own eyes widened in shock; perhaps there was more to this man than he had given him credit for. Anomen had earned his respect.

 

Vessa tapped him on the arm, and smiled hesitantly up at him when he looked down at her. “Even if the whole of Faerun turns its back on you, Solaufein, remember: I will not. I know you are good, I will not desert my friends. Please do not leave, because I do not want to go through the bother of finding your butt and convincing you to come back.â€Â

 

Solaufein was astonished at the obvious show of support by these Surfacers who had already been through so much. He saw honesty, and perhaps even loyalty etched into every face that gazed at him. he felt his throat constrict as the full weight of what they had said sank into is brain. They truly meant what they had said. They truly valued him. He blinked rapidly for a few moments, and finally managed a quiet “thank you†in response to their candor.

 

Thusly the group walked on, finally setting camp near a meadow of wildflowers, the scent of which was at once both comforting and exhilarating. The breeze that blew this blessing toward them the rest of the night covered them in this spicy reminder of both life and renewal.

Link to comment

Chapter 9: Like Hell You Say!

*Author's note: Ok, I seriously revamped chapter 9 to be less ridiculous and more in-character. Hope it worked.

 

Anomen had arisen early from his slumber, the ‘early waking’ mentality gained through years of drilling in the Order goading him to action as the others slept late. He made his rounds about the campsite for about the ninth time now, though he did this more out of boredom than from any fear of attack.

 

He had grown bored with staring at rocks, and had moved on to counting leaves, when he saw Vessa and Imoen walking towards camp from the direction of a nearby stream. Vessa was drying her long hair with a towel, Imoen allowed her wet hair to flow freely, and both were giggling loudly about some immensely funny thing, apparently.

 

After speaking with Jaheira last night, Anomen realized that he had no feelings for Vessa. He was unsure if Vessa had feelings for him, however. Honestly enough, the thought would never have even crossed his mind were it not for the behavior of the debutantes back in Amn. Those ladies would often subtly use one man in order to gain the affections of another. The fact that Vessa did not fly into hysterics at the very real threat of Solaufein leaving left that open to the realm of possibility. If this were the case, he would have to speak with her about it in order to avoid any later misunderstandings.

 

***

 

“You cannot possibly be serious?!†Vessa said, laughing loudly at Imoen’s story about catching Vincenzo mixing horse feces in with the food of one of his rowdier patrons back in Imnesvale.

 

“I swear he did! And he giggled the whole time the guy ate it! The moron didn’t even realize he was literally eating shi-â€Â

 

“Lady Duvheassa,†Anomen said as he approached them, “I would like to speak with you of something,†he turned his head toward Imoen, “in private, if you would be so kind.â€Â

 

Vessa looked at Imoen, her face reading confusion like that of a puppy which had recently attacked its own reflection in a mirror. Imoen raised an eyebrow and shrugged back at her, having no idea what Anomen was going to say next. She was unhappy that Anomen didn’t want her listening in. Thankfully, she could get around that if necessary. “Aw, come on, Anomen! You’re no fun at all! Fine, I’m goin, I’m goin….†Imoen walked away, and once Anomen’s eyes were no longer upon her, she stealthily slinked into a thicket, the leafy growth perfect covering for an eavesdropper such as herself.

 

Anomen looked to Vessa, “Now, my Lady. I am not exactly sure how to approach this situation with proper tact, so I suppose I shall just have to say it outright. I do not want anything to be misconstrued. I have no romantic intentions towards you. You may very well not feel that way about me, either. I just wanted to get this out in the open before any awkwardness develops.â€Â

Vessa looked surprised by this statement. “Oh. Well, um, ok. That is all right, because I felt only friendship towards you as well. So, is that all you wanted to talk about?â€Â

 

“Well, yes, that’s about it.â€Â

 

“Oh, ok then. I am glad we got that cleared up, then.â€Â

 

“So am I.â€Â

 

“So, that’s it then?â€Â

 

“Yes, I guess so.â€Â

 

“Ok, then.â€Â

 

“Right.†With that, Anomen turned to leave. As he walked away, Imoen ran up to Vessa, who turned to her and asked:

 

“What brought that on?â€Â

 

“Well, it would seem that Anomen has broken things off with you,†Imoen replied, amused by the situation.

 

“Er…I am not too sure about that, Immy. After all, we never had a relationship to break off. Besides, he said he expected me to not have feelings for him, either.â€Â

 

“Oh, pish. He mentally broke things off with you, Vessa. He just hid it well.â€Â

 

Vessa rolled her eyes Imoen. “Ok, Immy. Right. I am just going to ponder your infinite wisdom as I go to the field of flowers over there. That’s where I’ll be if you need me,†Vessa went to her pack, pulled something out of it, and walked in the direction of the field.

 

***

 

Jan was just putting the finishing touches on his Shadow-Dragon-Scale-Powered Turnip Peeler of the Futureâ„¢, when he heard some boring conversation or another. A little while afterwards, Anomen strode by him, a thoughtful look in his eyes. After another pause, in which Jaheira had approached him to ask him to stop grinding the scales so loudly, Imoen scurried up to them, giggling madly all the while.

 

“Jan! Jaheira! You will *never* guess what just happened!â€Â

 

Jan noticed that Minsc had rolled over in his bedroll and was currently focusing on every word Imoen was saying, though the ranger was attempting to feign sleep whenever he thought he was being watched. Subtlety, thy name is not Minsc. That may be the name of subtlety’s uncharacteristically loud and tactless red-headed stepchild, however. He would have to look that up.

 

“Well, girl? Spit it out already!†Jaheira very nearly shouted. Jan found her impatience to be highly amusing.

 

“Well, you see, Vessa and I were talking, and Anomen walked up to her…â€Â

 

***

 

Hello again, Journal.

 

It would seem as though I have had my first failed relationship today! To tell the truth, I never saw the end coming, as I had no prior knowledge that a relationship had even begun that required such voiding. However, Imoen believes that one must have existed somewhere, as she said that Anomen has ‘mentally ended things’. I think that Imoen is just being silly again. I thought that to be somebody’s companion, you had to, well, you know, court each other. Which we were not doing, I assure you. Unless you count beheading random goblins and such ‘courting’.

 

Vessa closed her journal after scribing in this little tidbit. In all actuality, her journal was not so much a coherent biography of her life and times as it was a chaotic amalgamation of whatever thought happened to be in her head at the time. It was not that Vessa was a lackwit; in fact, the opposite was true. It was just that she never did find writing in her journal an incredibly interesting thing to do, and so only wrote down the ‘actiony bits’ as Imoen had once referred to them. If a playwright had read this particular journal in order to write a biography, said playwright’s head would probably combust from the sheer confusion the quotes would present him with.

 

She sighed and slipped the small journal into a large pouch in her belt. Vessa wasn’t exactly sure what gave Anomen the idea that she might fancy him. She could not remember flirting with him or any such thing. Imoen was far better at such things than she was, anyway.

 

Imoen always had a way with the boys. While they lived in Candlekeep, the sons of those who visited would always follow her around, plying her with flowers and little treats as Vessa sat hidden in a tree, reading some book or another, as she often got teased by those same boys for looking so bizarre. In fact, Vessa had become quite used to fading into the background as Imoen got all the attention; besides, when others were paying attention to Imoen, they tended to overlook Vessa’s strangeness, thereby not teasing her. Even after they left Candlekeep and went out into the outside world, Imoen always got the attention, which didn’t bother Vessa much. Imoen was a beautiful girl, and Vessa felt she deserved it.

 

Vessa spent a few minutes attempting to puzzle out this most recent sudden change in behavior, but quickly gave up and chalked it up to the fact that she would never be able to fully comprehend the minds of men.

 

With that latest worry out of her mind, Vessa stopped to admire the flowers, each one unique and lovely in her eyes. As she stood gazing at an attractive violet flower, thinking on which angle would be best to sketch it from, she felt something rub against her leg. Her first reaction was to jump, but when she looked down, she saw the most endearing creature she had ever laid eyes upon.

 

It was a tiny, delicate, roguish-looking, raven-colored kitten brindled with orange flecks, and right now it was looking up at her with the largest orange-green eyes, entreating her to play with it. Vessa could never resist kittens, and no amount of teasing by Imoen in Candlekeep could stop her from attempting to keep one as a pet, much to Gorion’s dismay. He had always frowned on housecats. Or housedogs. Or houselizards. Or housegibberlings. Although she had to agree with that last one in the end. They tended to break things, and were very hard to housetrain.

 

Vessa furtively scanned the area around her, and once she realized that it was satisfactorily devoid of people who could possibly see her with said kitten, she immediately lied down on her stomach and proceeded to pet and play with the infant feline. A tufted grass-stem served as a play-toy for Vessa and the kitten to play “kill the fluffyâ€Â.

 

***

 

Solaufein yawned and stretched languidly, his book of poetry falling from his lap as he stretched his muscles, loosening the tightness that forms over a long period of stillness. He had slept late today, as he had stayed up most of the night mulling over what everybody had said to him after the battle. He was still taken aback by their desire for his continued presence, and Anomen’s in particular. The man had grown up a bit in the short time he had joined the party, it seemed. At least now he did not jump to ridiculous conclusions anymore. At least, not to his knowledge anyway.

 

Another thought then danced across his mind. How long had Vessa watched over him as he thrashed about in the icy grip of his nightmare? He could swear he saw true empathy in her eyes as her gaze with worry was fixed upon him, and in her ministrations she had shown him a gentleness that he had never known before. By Eilistraee, but she was so different from the females he had known in Ust Natha! Then again, they all were. Well, all the women in this particular group, at least. Imoen was obviously nothing like the vicious priestesses of Llolth, what with her mischievous nature and grinning countenance, and even Jaheira, whose barbed tongue flayed alive all those that would cross her, still had a heart of softness beneath that layer of thorny wit. It seemed that the Surface held not only beauties and wonders in nature, but in its people as well.

 

Unfortunately for Solaufein, his musings were cut short by a giggling Imoen literally tripping over his inert, sitting form in her haste. Luckily, he leaned over and managed to catch her in his muscular arms before her face made contact with an ill-placed rock near him. He lowered her slowly down, and noticed that her face was bright red with undisguised mirth.

 

“Imoen?†Solaufein began. Her laughter seemed to be choking her, and he now worried for her health. “What causes you to laugh so?â€Â

 

In a flurry of amused giggles, Imoen made an attempt to explain. “Aw, Sola, ya should’ve seen it! Or, heard it, actually,†A sudden sly gleam in her eyes made Solaufein wonder what was coming next, “Anomen broke it off with Vessa! It was so horrible!! I still can’t stop laughing!â€Â

 

 

“Well, that much is obvious by your ill-contained giggles. But tell me…what do you mean by ‘broke it off’? Some Surfacer terminology still remains unknown to me, it seems.â€Â

 

“Ahh, I keep forgetting ya don’t know our slang. Ok, um…. When somebody ‘breaks it off’, it pretty much means that they are ending a romantic relationship with the person they ‘break it off’ with.â€Â

 

“Anomen and Vessa were in a romantic relationship?! And the fool boy actually rebuffed her?! Where is his mind?! How could he do such a thing?!â€Â

 

Imoen snorted. “Will anyone ever comprehend the insanity that is ol’ Ano’s mind?†Suddenly a wily grin curled upon her face. “You know,….Vessa is over in the wildflower field, if you want to talk to her. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind some company right now, what with her poor little heart being crushed as it is. Anomen really hurt her, Solaufein. She needs somebody now.â€Â

 

Solaufein raised an eyebrow at her. The tone of her words did not match the tone of her voice, and he very much doubted that she would truly be so mirthful if Vessa was really hurting.

 

“Imoen, if your sister is truly so sorrowed, why do you laugh? You do not seem the type to take delight in the torments of one so close to you.â€Â

 

Here her face slipped into the ultimate expression of seriousness. Her mossy eyes were watered with tears as she spoke. “But…but Solaufein, I thought you knew,…I thought you’d b-be more sensitive to…to the way I am. I--,†and here she sniffed dramatically, “I always laugh like this when I am deeply troubled. It…it helps make the pain go away, at least for a little while.†Her lips trembled as she looked at him, sorrow writ large across her features.

 

Solaufein found himself swayed against his better judgment, though he was still suspicious of her motives. “Hmm…If what you say is truly the case, then, I shall go to her. I hate the thought of her being bowed by sorrow.†He could have sworn he saw her lips twitch at his last sentence.

 

“Yeah, Sola, please, go to her. I have to go and tell the others of what has happened. Maybe they can help her feel better as well,†with that, she got up and ran with a swiftness and grace that belied her earlier clumsiness.

 

Solaufein then rose himself, unconsciously stalking silently through the undergrowth as he headed towards the field of flowers Imoen referred to. When he reached said field, however, he was greeted with a sight that was decidedly unbroken-hearted.

 

“Whoooo is a vicious kitty? Whooo is a vicious little baby? Kill the fluffy! Kill that bad fluffy!†Vessa was lying on her stomach, surrounded by the drowsing flowers, and using a fluffy grass blade to tease a small bundle of what looked to be black and orange fur, all tiny teeth and miniscule claw. Vessa was giggling unrestrainedly, her sun-caressed raven locks tumbling wildly about her, and her smile lit up the flowers already dripping with sunlight as their heady scent surrounded her small form.

 

Now she was teasing the miniscule thing with her hands, completely ignoring the little scratches the creature’s swipes left behind. “Awww, so cute! You are the cutest little kitty!â€Â

 

Solaufein’s face broke into a wide grin as he crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against a large, leafy tree, the expression so foreign to his features that surely thunder must have clapped in the distance, such a rare event this was.

 

He had never caught her in such an unguarded, vulnerable moment as this. This was, without a doubt, the most adorable thing he had ever witnessed in his entire life. He couldn’t help but laugh at her antics, and he could only hope that she did not hear him, as he did not want her to stop just yet.

 

Now Vessa was lying on her back, and the small animal jumped on her stomach, making a strange little noise as it did so. Vessa responded by scratching it behind the ear, cooing nonsense to it all the while. She looked so sweet and carefree in this moment, so smiling and joyful…

 

***

 

Vessa was having so much fun playing with the kitten that she had not noticed the Drow now observing her affectionately from where the forest touched the field; however, he was so quiet anyway that she probably would not have noticed him even if she were on her guard. She was patting the kitten’s soft, warm fur when she chanced to lean her head back, and caught the dark brown of boots in her field of vision. Her face grew hot and she immediately jumped up, catching the unfortunate kitten before it fell too far, and cradling it in her arms as she did so.

 

“AH! Uh…S-Solaufein, I-I did not…I did not s-see you there. He-heh. So, u-uh…what are you d-doing here in this…this field, of, uh…flowers, y-yes, flowers, on this lovely d-day?†She finished this surprised sentence with a fit of coughing. Oh, how Vessa wished she had Imoen’s smooth-talking charm to cover her embarrassment and her stutter!

 

She felt her face grow even hotter as she found herself thinking about how handsome he was as he leaned against the tree. His long silvery hair played over his chiseled physique and danced in the breeze, the pose he struck was quite becoming, and the huge grin on his face gave it quite a comely cast. Vessa darted her eyes away from the Drow, hoping her blush went unnoticed, and cursing her shyness all the while.

 

“I was watching you play with that little creature, it would seem.†Solaufein replied, and the amusement in his voice was not lost on Vessa.

 

“H-hey! It i-is not a little creature. Sh-she is a kitten. And I was n-not ‘playing’ with her. I w-was merely er…t-testing her reflexes. Yes, that is it. Her reflexes. That was all, nothing more. There was absolutely no playing whatsoever. At all.†Vessa was glad to find she could now suppress the stutter.

 

Solaufein’s grin grew wider, if such a miracle were possible, and he chuckled affably. “So you say… You looked quite cute when you were playing with the kitten, by the way.â€Â

 

He thinks I am cute?! “Er, I am *not* cute! Puppies are cute, kittens are cute, but the great Duvheassa is not cute! Hmph. Come here and pet this kitten. You will see what I mean.â€Â

 

Solaufein merely rolled his eyes as he walked over to her. She carefully laid the kitten in his arms, and he began to softly pet the feline. “She is quite an endearing little creature. Hmm…What shall we do with her now?â€Â

 

“Well, I think she must not have lived in the wilderness long, as wild animals are unlikely to approach people with such friendliness as the kitten did me. She must have been raised domestically, but I guess we can keep her. Hey, she can be your familiar!†Well, it would be a good excuse to keep the kitten around, and Solaufein had no familiar that she had seen. Just as Vessa was thinking that, Dymphna landed on her shoulder, as she had returned from her early-morning hunting. The raven glared at the kitten balefully.

 

*You are not seriously considering keeping that…that abomination around, are you, my Lady?!* Dymphna communicated to Vessa after seeing the kitten.

 

*Of course we are! Look at her. Is she not cute? Besides, she is much too small to be much of a threat to you, Dymphna. She is just a baby!* Vessa replied fondly.

 

*That little runt will chase me and steal my feathers, I know it!*

*That is why you have wings, my dear raven.*

 

Dymphna ruffled her feathers and glared irefully at the now-sleeping kitten. Vessa laughed at her familiar’s reaction. She supposed it was the fact that Dymphna was a bird, but she got the feeling that Dymphna didn’t like cats much. Not that it was obvious or anything.

 

“Hmm….perhaps I will indeed keep this little kitten. It would certainly cause no harm. Speaking of familiars, Vessa, what exactly *is* Dymphna?†said Solaufein as he looked up from petting the infant feline.

 

“Dymphna? Oh, I guess you would not know. Dymphna is a celestial raven. I was pretty surprised when I cast the calling spell and got her, let me tell you. A creature such as her is certainly unusual to obtain as a familiar, but I can’t say I am disappointed. Dymphna and I have grown close in our adventures. Plus, it is very funny to see people having to take a second look at her. See, everybody immediately assumes all ravens are black, and it really surprises them to see such a contradiction to their long-held belief. Perhaps Dymphna was summoned to me in order to aid me in messing with people’s psyches,†replied Vessa wryly.

 

“Does her name have any special meaning behind it?â€Â

 

“Actually, yes it does,†Vessa said. Her eyes deepened as she allowed nostalgia to take over. “There was an aged man who often visited Candlekeep, one of Gorion’s friends. He was a great warrior-poet from a faraway place, and his voice still boomed with awesome power, though his frame was bowed with age. Whenever he came to visit, he always saw me either writing or reading poetry, whether it was outside in a tree, perched precariously on the ramparts, or inside, buried in the musty tomes of the great library. He nicknamed me the ‘little poet’, or dymphna, as it is known in his ancient tongue. When I first summoned Dymphna and she asked for a name, it somehow just seemed appropriate for me to name her that. My hunch was right, because the name immediately fit.†Vessa smiled at the memories as she stroked Dymphna’s feathers.

 

She saw Solaufein smile gently at her. “My Lady, may I…may I be so bold as to refer to you as such from now on?â€Â

 

“You…you want to call me Dymphna? Well, that would be kind of confusing, as I would never know if you were referring to either me or her, but I wouldn’t--â€Â

 

“No, my Lady. I do not want to call you Dymphna. I would rather use the translation. I would like to call you Little Poet.â€Â

 

Vessa felt her blush return with frightening swiftness. He…He wants to give me a nickname? He wants to give me a nickname!! “Oh! Uh…s-sure, Solaufein. Y-you may call me that whenever you like. I would not…would not mind at all.†She didn’t realize it, but her hand was rubbing the back of her neck, as it always did when she was embarrassed or shy.

 

Solaufein’s smile brightened at her acceptance. “My little poet… You know, I originally sought you out because Imoen said that Anomen “broke things off†with you. She said you were quite distraught over it, and that my presence would help you feel better, somewhat. However, it would seem as though Imoen was mistaken in her assessment of the situation. Either that, or she orchestrated this entire thing…â€Â

 

“Hah ha! That sounds like Imoen, all right! As to Anomen, well, he just wanted to clarify that he didn’t have feelings for me, and wanted to be sure I felt the same. Nothing more than that. I am not heartbroken, there was nothing earth-shatteringly spectacular about it. I guess it was just business as usual. Imoen is likely trying to cause trouble again.â€Â

 

Solaufein looked surprised by this, “So, I…I take it that you did not ‘fancy’ him in that manner?â€Â

 

“Nope. I have no feelings for Anomen other than the affection awarded with friendship, nothing more. I believe he is a good person, but his personality leaves something to be desired. That is just my opinion, though. I am sure there are many ladies that appreciate a man like Anomen. I am just not one of them, and apparently, the feeling is mutual.â€Â

 

“He is more the fool for his folly.†Solaufein said, looking her straight in the eye as he spoke. Vessa was astounded at what he just said. Was she hearing things?

 

“Wh…what did you say?â€Â

 

“I said that he is more the fool for his folly. It is the truth. Any man who would turn *you* away is indeed a fool who has not a whit of sense in his mind.â€Â

 

Before the flabbergasted Vessa could properly process this huge compliment she had just been given, Imoen ran into the field. Imoen had an uncanny knack for interrupting things, it seemed.

 

“You guys! We cooked up a hilarious trick to play on Anomen! You gotta help out!â€Â

 

“But Immy, I thought you said you were not going to play pranks on Anomen until he had those worries of his sister cleared up.†Vessa replied. How quickly Imoen changed her mind!

 

“Sister? Of what is it you speak, Vessa?†Solaufein asked.

 

“We’ll explain later,†Imoen said. “and yeah, Vessa, I did *say* that, but….he broke up with my sister! And besides, a little prank would loosen him up a little. Come on, whaddya say? Eh? Eh?†Imoen poked Vessa in the ribs with her elbow at each ‘eh’.

 

“Well, if it is not needlessly cruel, I do not see why we cannot do it. So, what is your plan, Immy?†said Vessa.

 

“Well, I’m not exactly sure what Solaufein could do, but I’m sure he could come up with something,†Imoen winked conspiratorially at Solaufein, who arched a brow at her in response. “Anyway, Vessa, what I want you to do is simple….â€Â

 

***

 

Anomen had been gazing at his reflection in a stream for a while. He felt much better now that things had been cleared up between Vessa and he. He also hoped that they would be returning to Amn soon, as he had some business to settle before he could be truly relaxed and focused on the road ahead.

 

His reflections were interrupted by the sound of soft footfalls behind him. In one fluid motion, he leapt up, drew his mace, and whirled around, tensed to fight. His stance was immediately dropped when he recognized that it was only Jaheira who approached.

 

“Anomen, I believe there is something you should know. You do realize that Imoen listened in to your conversation, correct?â€Â

 

Anomen sighed, “I wouldn’t put it past her, the little troublemaker. Why? What is she planning this time?â€Â

 

“Well, Vessa believes you’ll realize it’s a joke, but they are all planning to put on quite the little drama for you when they hear you approaching. This makes me very glad that we are not part of a theatre troupe.â€Â

 

“If that is the case, Jaheira, how do I know you are not part of this little charade?â€Â

 

“Excuse me, Anomen? For as long as you have traveled with us, you should know by now that I have no time for such idle foolery. I merely told you about this childish prank because I wish to avoid it if at all possible.â€Â

 

“Hmm…yes, your personality does seem averse to such things. I, however…â€Â

 

“Anomen, you do not mean to tell me that you are actually going to participate in this little farce?â€Â

 

“Oh, I believe I will…I feel I shall be quite amused at whatever Imoen and the others have concocted for me.â€Â

 

Anomen saw Jaheira shake her head and snort as she walked away. As much as she might not enjoy this, Anomen thought the silliness inherent with such foolery would be quite a boost for his mood.

 

***

 

Minsc had been quite confused when he had first heard Imoen’s plan. If Anomen really did not do anything to harm little Vessa, why must they act like he had?

 

“Awww, come on, Minsc! It’s just a harmless joke!†Imoen told him.

 

“But Minsc wants to know why we play such a joke on Anomen. I see nothing funny about play-acting that he hurt Vessa’s feelings. Would that not be cruel?â€Â

 

“No, no, Minsc. Not at all! He’s not stupid, he’ll know we’re just teasing him when he sees it happen!â€Â

 

Boo was telling Minsc that it was indeed ok to play the joke on Anomen for it is just harmless teasing.

 

“Ok, Minsc will play the trick with you. Now, what must Minsc do?â€Â

 

“Ok, well, it’s really simple. All I want ya to say is…â€Â

 

***

 

Anomen made his way toward camp, and when he drew close, he heard the unmistakable sound of a woman wailing in distress. He snuck closer and saw Vessa, her tear-stained face showing grief as she ran towards Imoen. Vessa tried to speak through the sobs threatening to choke her.

 

“I…I am so crushed!! What shall I ever do without Anomen’s love? Oh Anooooooooooooooomeeeeeeeen!!! I’m carrying his chiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiild!!!! OUR BABY WILL BE FATHERLESS!! WWWWHHHYYYYYYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEEE?!†Her sobs grew louder with each stretched vowel, and she cried on Imoen’s shoulder as her sister hugged her comfortingly.

 

Carrying my child? I should like the details on the conception! Highly amusing, I must admit. She’s got quite a wail on her, that Vessa.

 

“Oh Vessa, that reminds me of the time my ninth-aunt’s cousin’s brother’s niece Myallia ran off with that knight back in Calimshan. Rather silly fellow he was, wearing all of those hair shirts under his platemail as a sign of suffering for the sins of others in the heat of that desert, which caused an unfortunate case of hair chafe that lasted the rest of his life, but that’s not including the case of hair chafe he gave her after he and she spent a long night of passion under the sand dunes, which was unfortunate because he met his end by an unlucky case of sand in his-†Jan began.

 

“Minsc will CRUSH THE SKULL of the bad man that hurt little Vessa’s heart! There will be horrible vengeance wreaked upon his head with impunity! Minsc will make sure he can never make other children! I shall slap him about the face, neck, and nethers until he sees the grievous errors of his ways!â€Â

 

“My my, Minscy, but your vocabulary has improved of late, hasn’t it?â€Â

 

“Minsc often listens to Solaufein talk now. He puts flowers in everything!â€Â

Gods, I hope Minsc is in on the joke! If not, then I should probably add some extra protection to the codpiece of my armor…

 

“WAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!!! This is supposed to be about me being sad, remember? My heart is hurting here! My baby is fatherless here! Oh Anoooooooooooooooomen!†Her sobbing increased with a worrisome rapidity.

 

“There there, Vessa. It’ll be ok. I’m an archmage, remember? I can do all *sorts* of horrible things to him! Remember that time I turned that guy who insulted my hair into a small, eyeless, anal-dwelling dodo bird?â€Â

 

Anomen found that he was feeling rather grateful that this was all just a joke.

 

“Oh Immy…How could I forget? It was so funny to see him squirm around, just looking for an anus to dwell in. I remember, that orc just never was the same after that incident…â€Â

 

Ok, extremely grateful. He thanked Helm that this was just a prank.

 

“Oh, do not fret, dear Vessa, for I am here to comfort you!†Solaufein said. Anomen had not seen him before then; It was like the Drow had appeared out of nowhere!

 

Vessa removed her head from Imoen’s soggy shoulder and turned to look up at the dark elf. “You…you can? You can make my poor little heart stop hurting after what that cruel, horrible Anomen did to me?â€Â

 

Solaufein smiled with a charisma that would put a priest of Sune to shame, “Oh but of course, Vessa. I have had much experience with…comforting women in the past. I know just what to say. Now come, run off with me into the thicket! I can take you away from all these bad thoughts!†Here he grabbed her hand, and both of them ran speedily into the woods.

 

Anomen grinned to himself. They expected him to give chase, no doubt. As a fledgling knight, what more could he do than be chivalrous and oblige? Thankfully he had not yet donned his armor, as this would be quite an exhausting endeavor otherwise. As he jumped up to leave, he nearly ran over Jaheira, who had been waiting in the bushes for the entire thing to be over. After he helped the disgruntled druid up, he ran after Vessa and Solaufein, laughing to himself all the while.

 

***

 

Vessa could not contain her giggles at what was happening. Solaufein had not had a part in this horrible, melodramatic sap, but he had the heart of an actor, it seemed. He insinuated himself into this little play flawlessly, and even now the devilish twinkle in his eye told her that his plans were not quite done. They flew through the forest, the wildness of the melding greens dizzying her eyes as they sped above the grass blades. Finally he stopped, whirled her around dramatically, and caught her up in his arms. He was pressing her against him, and his lips were just a precious hair’s breadth from her ear.

 

“Anomen has been following us this whole time,†he whispered slowly into her ear, which was tickled by his breath. “What say you to truly mortifying him, my Little Poet?â€Â

 

Vessa could feel her heart beating through her breast at the close proximity of Solaufein, and her shyness was threatening to take over once again, but at the same time she was drunk on her own giddy laughter. This was fun! She leaned up to breathe a whisper in his ear.

 

“I doubt that we could mortify him now, but I say that it would be indeed a worthwhile past-time to peruse, Solaufein.†She could tell that he smiled at her response.

 

“As you wish then, My Lady,†his lips curled into a devilish grin as he spoke. Solaufein raised his voice so as to be clearly audible to any who might be eavesdropping. “Vessa, I think we’re alone now.â€Â

 

Vessa caught on and raised her voice in kind, although she couldn’t suppress her giggling, “Yes, Solaufein. There does not seem to be anyone around.â€Â

 

“Hmmm…then perhaps it is time to show you my own unique brand of comfort.†With that, the world became a breathless, wild swirl for Vessa as Solaufein dipped her in a way that would make women daydream and men’s knuckles white with rage. He lowered his face within an inch of her own, locking his stormy emerald eyes, now ablaze with roguish mischief, with hers. Vessa’s own eyes widened with undisguised shock as his actions. What happened to brooding, aloof Solaufein?!

 

AAAAH! What do I do now?! Vessa thought to herself in a panic. Once again, she felt the blush bloom on her face. If this kept up, Vessa wouldn’t have enough blood to fuel the blush!

 

“Come now, my dear, no need to act the blushing maiden,†Solaufein purred lowly, “I will make you forget his traitorous touch...." Solaufein’s face hovered slowly closer…closer..….closer……

 

“NAY, DROW! YOU SHALL NOT TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS LADY TODAY, NOT WHILE I’M AROUND TO STOP IT, YOU BLACKGUARD!†Anomen came crashing out of the undergrowth, running towards them with suspiciously embellished fury. Vessa could swear she heard a laugh in Anomen’s voice as he made his “attackâ€Â.

 

Solaufein quickly pulled a thunderstruck Vessa up and, with a wink and a waggle of an arched, snowy brow, he grabbed her hand and ran into the forest once again. Swiftly and without a sound, he led her through enough obstacles so as to render their trail untraceable by the hoodwinked knight and returned them safely to camp.

 

As they tumbled, breathless and laughing hysterically back into camp, Vessa and Solaufein were immediately accosted by the other members of the group as they pointed to a grinning Anomen. He had returned to camp much earlier than they had, and was not covered with quite as much foliage as they were.. As everyone’s laughter rose with each passing syllable uttered by the two, Vessa was distracted by one nagging, excited thought.

 

Was Solaufein really going to kiss me back there?

Link to comment

Chapter 10: Madness In the Moonlight

 

Jan’s feet were uncomfortably sore by the time they reached Imnesvale, but that petty annoyance was soon assuaged by the fat sack of gourmet turnips dumped on the table he was sitting at.

 

“From Vincenzo,†Vessa stated, “That is just his little way of saying thanks. Apparently, your cousin Kylie is extremely persuasive in convincing people to buy things that they will never use,†she finished with a wink and a flourish of her hands.

 

Jan made a mental note to himself that, should Kylie be back at home when they returned to Amn, he would share his new turnip peeler plans with her out of thanks for the gift she had inadvertently given him. However, once that note was out of the way, his mind stopped concentrating on thinking in order to make room for enjoying the taste of every delectable bite he took out of these delicious turnips.

 

After spending the better part of his time eating, Jan decided to save the rest for annihilation at a later date. He cast his gaze about Vincenzo’s inn, his sharp eyes taking in every minute detail as he searched for potential threats. In his time traveling with Duvheassa, Jan had found that even the most innocuous of places held secret dangers when a Bhaalspawn was involved.

 

The hum of conversation in this particular in was more muted and dull than in the inns they frequented back in Amn. The common area was cozily lit in the lazy scarlet and ginger glow of the fire, and the smoke blurred everything slightly as its thin fog filled the room. Whatever tree it was these logs came from, most likely cedar, the pungent smell wafted through the entire space, cleverly masking the scent of spilled ale and the more…unsavory odors such places normally suffered.

 

The chairs and flooring planks were of aged, worn wood; good stout stuff that he assumed held up many a drunkard over the years. The grain of table he was sitting at was splintered with age, but for the most part it seemed well-kept. Jan could make out some words carved into the wood: “Hyram and Yanna love forever†in a heart, “KC & EL†in a cross, and some more shallow words, too faded into the wood to decipher.

 

The patrons were, for the most part, a quiet bunch, minding their own business or occasionally casting admiring glances in his group’s direction. Jan smiled, as once again, he saw that Jaheira pretended to be oblivious to all the male attention she was receiving. Most likely she did this because she did not want to be bothered by their petty proposals. Vessa was completely oblivious of the attention as well, but he thought it was more honest unawareness than grave annoyance that attributed to her ignorance of their stares.

People were mostly impressed by the great show of strength and bravery that was Minsc.

 

Jan knew most people didn’t know what exactly to make of he himself. That’s just one of the perks of being enigmatic. Jan caught some uncomfortable shifting in the various people as their eyes chanced upon Solaufein, whose hood was still up lest he frighten the patrons fully. Not even seeing a tiny kitten curled in the mighty warrior-mage’s lap could quell their bone-deep fear of Drow. Even Jan was having hard time getting used to the idea of the mighty, jaded Drow caring for a kitten.

 

Hhhmm….Minsc was, once again, sitting at the table with Jaheira and feeding Boo crackers. It looked as though the grateful accolades of the town were not just limited to turnip-giving, as Boo was getting some pretty fancy looking crackers, there. Jaheira was scowling about something or another once again. Perhaps a practical joke or the like would surprise the frown right off her face…he would have to think on that. Anomen was fidgeting impatiently at his own table. Jan suspected that something was bothering him, but he doubted Anomen would speak of it to anyone.

 

Vessa herself, her familiar loyally sitting on her shoulder, was currently ordering something or other from Vincenzo. Occasionally Jan caught her furtively peeking at Solaufein and blushing brightly. Jan chuckled to himself. It would seem we have quite a distracted leader on our hands…

 

Looking at Solaufein revealed still more. Solaufein had his usual brooding countenance, to be sure, but the gaze of said Drow seemed to be directed thoughtfully in the area of Vessa’s visage when he thought she wasn’t looking. Whatever happened in those woods, it sure proved to have some interesting consequences…

There was a kind of awkwardness between the two that made Jan laugh to himself. He knew well those first little brushes of love. They reminded him of his earlier, happier days with Lissa…those blissful days when they were engaged to be wed…those perfect days before Vaelag came along.

 

Jan turned away; He could not stand looking at them anymore. Even after all these years, it was still too painful to be reminded of Lissa and the accompanying pain her loss gave him. He felt doubly so after he lost Lissa a second time not so long ago…

 

He began to feel the familiar anger and melancholy rise up in his breast again. He cursed the impotence he felt at being unable to stop Vaelag from the first. It was horrible enough that Lissa was crazy enough to go back that bastard after what he had done, but to bring the child back as well?! It was especially maddening because they had already healed the little girl once, and she knew full well it was Vaelag that caused the injury! How could she put her own child at risk like that?! How could she…how could she go back to him? How could she go back to the man who mistreated her and saw her as dirt, when she could have a man who would give her the world? How could she…abandon him like that? They were going to be married. They were going to be married! They were going to…

 

Vessa startled him out of his own brooding by slamming a tankard of turnip ale in front of him. How she managed to secure the turnip ale remained to be seen, but he had a suspicion that perhaps Kylie tricked Vincenzo into buying more than just a sack of turnips.

 

“Hey, Jan. You look unhappy. Is there anything you would like to talk about? Or would you rather I just leave you alone for now?â€Â

 

Jan shook his head negatively. Vessa was a sweet girl who meant well, but…some things are meant to be borne alone. His pain was one of them.

 

He saw her face soften into a look of empathy. “I will not presume to say that I know what you are going through. I probably have absolutely no idea whatsoever. I know this is not much of a consolation, but…if you ever need someone to talk to, you have my ear.â€Â

 

Thanks for the offer, Vessa, but…I’d rather be alone right now. Thanks for the ale.†Jan said in reply.

 

Vessa merely nodded at him and took a seat next to Jaheira, and across from Solaufein. She swirled a small glass of violet wine in her hands. Jan noticed that Vessa didn’t drink much. Probably doesn’t have the liver for it. He thought to himself.

 

Jan had a suspicion that he was missing something…or someone. Wait just a minute here… where was Imoen?

 

He didn’t have to wait long for that particular answer, however, as loud footsteps followed by an opening of the inn door told him that something large this way comes. There, of course, was Imoen, entering the room in her typical climactic fashion after jumping down from the shoulder of a large ogre-mage. Surprisingly enough, the patrons of the inn barely stirred at the ogre’s presence. They had grown used to the large visitor, and indeed some even nodded to him as he followed Imoen towards Vessa. Jan shook his head. The little pink troublemaker had arrived.

 

***

 

“What did you do now, Immy?†Vessa asked after a sip of wine. Imoen was prone to pulling little stunts like this, but riding in on Madulf’s shoulder like that? He was an ogre, not a pack horse!

 

“Little girl ask Madulf for ride. Was going this way anyway, so picked her up.†Madulf said, his puffy lips smiling pleasantly as his great black eyes twinkled.

 

Vessa just sighed as Imoen tousled her hair and laughed. “See? No harm done!†the cherry-haired troublemaker replied. “Besides, Madulf wanted to talk to ya anyways.â€Â

 

“Is that so?†Vessa replied with a smile. “Well then, Madulf, pull up a chair and sit with us! Bartender, bring our good friend here an ale! So, what is the problem, Madulf?â€Â

 

Madulf lowered his considerable girth into two of the chairs at the table. He was not an overweight ogre by any means; he was just a large creature. He folded a great, battle-scarred hand over the tankard set in front of him by Vincenzo, and spoke. “Thanks to yous, Madulf and others is living peacefully in hills now. We do much scouting to protect human village, and we finds another village nearby. Is full of humans too, but they can put wolf-skins on. Are good people even with furry skins, very kind, and nice to us,†here his sallow face sagged, “not so much now. They used to avoid humans here, knew humans didn’t like skin-changers, but now at night on full moon they go crazy, attack and kill, attack and kill some more. They used to not go crazy when put on skins. Very, very bad. Madulf no want fight his friends, but Madulf also promise to protect village from hurt. Madulf know his friends not do this because they want to. Madulf thinks something is making them be angry and kill. Can you help them?â€Â

 

“Well, of course we will help your friends, Madulf. Do you have a map or something we can use to find this village?†Vessa said as her familiar cawed at Madulf. .

 

Madulf’s face brightened with joy at hearing this. “Madulf friend can help. He’sa ranger named Kruth, see? He orc, he knows woods good. Can take you to village faster than any of us can.â€Â

 

Vessa cast her gaze over her companions. “Well, guys? It is not like we have anything better we could be doing. Let us go.†As she got up to gather her things, Vessa heard Madulf speak again.

 

“Hey, Drow.â€Â

 

“I assume you are speaking to me. What is it, Madulf?†Solaufein spoke from under his hood as he pet the sleeping kitten in his lap. Vessa could not help but smile at the bizarre sight of a fully grown Drow warrior caring for a tiny kitten.

 

“You’se a drow, so many not be liking you either, yes?â€Â

 

“I have learned as much from my life on the surface, yes.â€Â

 

“Well, you’se in good company,†Madulf smiled amiably, “lady elf was nice to us an’ helped us, even though most elves think us monsters. They be nice to yous, too.â€Â

 

Solaufein smiled warmly at Vessa, though his words were addressed to Madulf, “Yes, I have recently been shown that, at least with these good people, I am treated as an equal in all respects,†his eyes then flicked to Madulf’s face, “oh, and, Madulf? Remember, you are only a monster if you perceive yourself as one. Don’t allow others to mistreat you because you are an ogre. You are still a person, same as everyone in this room.â€Â

 

Vessa smiled to herself after hearing this. Even though he was raised in a society that valued anger and hate, Solaufein was kind to anyone who showed him the same courtesy. That character trait impressed her deeply, and she couldn’t deny that it was an attractive one.

 

***

 

Kruth, the orc of whom Madulf spoke, guided the party through the wilderness with surprising ease. Solaufein had to admit that this orc knew what he was doing. He found the quickest routes through the underbrush, and they were making good time.

 

Solaufein found his eyes resting on Vessa’s lithe form far more often than usual as they traveled. He just couldn’t get his mind off of the events that spawned from the prank they had played on Anomen in the woods. Where had his mind gone? Over a century of learned caution, of careful, minute planning, of methodical processing and deliberate thought, all swept away in the untamed emotion of an instant like so many used spell components. All in a moment. One single, precious moment of blissful abandon, one breathless moment where, suddenly, all his many years of cruel indoctrination and forced subservience melted away, and he was free to embrace his own desires.

 

What am I thinking? Surely I went too far. How can I possibly presume to think she would accept such a forward display? There is no way my behavior could have been considered acceptable. I must have crossed a line. I must have broken some sort of Surfacer taboo.

 

He began to third-guess himself. Vessa had looked to be enjoying herself as they ran through the woods. Certainly there was a nova of laughter in her great, dark eyes. Her very smile seemed to radiate happiness as they had run together. When he twirled her around and caught her up in his arms, she was closer to him than she had ever been before. He had caught a fleeting wisp of her scent then, and he found it enthralling. Lavender, jasmine, patchouli…who knew he would have to learn the names of so many Surfacer plants just to describe Vessa’s fragrance!

 

When he held her so close to himself, she had not pushed him away. She did not seem offended by his actions…and in that precious half-second their lips nearly touched, she made no move to leave his arms. Would she…would she have returned my kiss? Would she have shown me how she felt about me? Would she have…

 

Solaufein felt the hair on the back of his neck rise, a sure sign that he was being watched. At first he thought it was the as-yet-nameless kitten hitching a ride on his shoulders, but he remembered then that the creature was resting in his pack. He whirled his head around just in time to see Vessa’s cheeks color as she looked hurriedly downwards, examining a particularly fascinating blade of grass that had caught her eye.

 

Such shyness…I am unused to females exhibiting this emotion. He grinned secretly to himself, pleased with her blush. Perhaps he was over-thinking the situation. Perhaps he just needed to worry less and let things be.

 

It was getting late, and the sun was preparing to lay itself to rest on the rim of the horizon. Madulf had not lied about Kruth getting them there quickly, however, for soon enough, they came upon a seemingly benign settlement of humans. They were all busily going about their daily chores, and nary was a glance thrown in the direction of Vessa and her party. Solaufein noticed that all of the villagers were crowned by extremely shaggy hair. As he saw no wolf skins lying around, Solaufein assumed Madulf was speaking of werewolves when he mentioned that they ‘put on wolf-skins’.

 

Kruth motioned them to follow with a wave of his burly, chartreuse arm. He led them to a deer-fur hut that was only marginally larger than the other huts in the area. Upon ducking under the fur-flap door, the first thing noticeable was the smell of the place: a warm scent, like that of aged leather. For Solaufein, the interior was pleasantly dim, with just enough light filtering through to keep his natural infravision from working. In the fading sunlight, the entire inside glowed with a pleasant brown color.

 

Within was a swarthy giant of a man, whose long, unkempt hair matched his grizzled, shaggy beard. Though he was aged, his muscles still rippled with power, embraced by the scars of battles long since passed. His vermillion eyes burned fierce and proud, the eyes of a warrior who would do much to protect hearth and kin. At his side stood a clever-looking woman with warm, golden eyes, and long, gleaming, windswept grey hair, wildly decorated with a myriad of leaves. Her hands were curled around a staff, and they were well-formed and dexterous, and if Solaufein had to guess, he would have to say that she was a healer of some sort. She radiated calm and focus where her mate exuded wild, untamed energy. Even at this first glance, Solaufein thought that they seemed to suit each other perfectly.

 

Kruth bowed to the two and motioned for the party to do the same. However, as Solaufein was dropping to one knee, the aged male spoke.

 

“Kruth, I have said before, do not bow,†he motioned for them all to sit on the surprisingly clean furs that covered the floor, “the traitor-wolf bows to hide the lies in his eyes. You will respect us with actions here, not empty gestures. Kruth nodded his head and left, leaving the party to their own devices.

 

The giant man’s appraising eyes swept over the group, “I am Heirkefs, the alpha, the clan chieftain, here. This beautiful woman here is my mate, Teinlarra. So, now. Why have you come to our clan? I think Madulf sent you, because Kruth is a close packmate of his. But…why?â€Â

 

***

 

Jaheira recognized the woman at Heirkef’s side. She was an old friend, and a druid as well. She did tend to be a bit more tribal than most, but being the leader of a werewolf pack tended to have that effect on a person. However, she was very wise in her twilight years, and her word was highly respected among the druids. Jaheira’s swift eyes were quick to catch Teinlarra’s appraising gaze on her.

 

“Heirkefs, this one recognizes that woman. She is this one’s friend, and a druid as well. But, Jaheira, the tang of sorrow-scent is heavy over you. Where is your mate? He never strays from your side. This one does not smell him anywhere.†Teinlarra did some extra sniffing about the room to be sure.

 

So, even his scent is gone…Khalid truly is disappearing from me forever now… Jaheira had hoped she would at least still be able to catch lingering snatches of Khalid’s unique scent in the clothing she wore. Even that, it would seem, was now rendered nonexistent to even the perceptive nostrils of a werewolf. Her heart was once again full of the painful emotions that she nailed behind a trap-door deep within herself. Jaheira’s heart still ached to be reminded of Khalid. She still longed for his presence, and every morning she awoke to the cold emptiness of the bedroll they once shared was another morning lost to grief.

 

She felt a hand on her shoulder, but did not turn to see who it was; Vessa was sensitive to the feelings of others, and this wasn’t the first time she had caught on to Jaheira’s still-frequent bouts of loneliness and heartache. Dymphna roosted on her shoulder, comforting the druid as only a raven can.

 

“Khalid is…Khalid is no longer with us. He was murdered by the foulest of evil, a cold man whom we are going to destroy!†Jaheira felt hot tears in her eyes, but she managed to keep them in check. These memories still hit her so hard…

 

“This one then asks: Why then, are you here? Why are not you hunting he who has slain your kin?â€Â

 

Vessa squeezed Jaheira’s shoulder and spoke before the proud woman was forced to reveal the tremble of sadness in her voice, “We cannot fight him yet. He lies, as a coward, behind his sister and a vanished kingdom. A wall bars our way, and we can do nothing but become stronger and destroy his protection, should it not crash in on its own gluttony.â€Â

 

“This sounds a great tale to weave, child of a god. Yes, this one can smell it on you. There is the black of murder-scent on your flesh. You are welcome here, though, you who are friends of my sister-druid. As she trusts you, so does this one,†replied Teinlarra, “but that is a tale for later. Why, now, have you come here?â€Â

 

“Madulf asked us to help you. He says that you are a peaceful people who merely want to be left alone, but that lately, during the full moon, you are no longer able to control your actions and kill anything nearby in a feral rage.â€Â

 

“Such a thing makes Boo’s little toes curl under with rage! Why would these wolf-people want to kill?†Minsc said.

 

“We have no want to kill, forest-warrior,†Heirkefs intoned in his deep growl of a voice, “we have no choice. There is an angry fire in the moon had not been there before. It blinds our minds, makes us kill and kill and kill again. I don’t think the humans have fallen to our claws yet, but there is danger, bad danger. Hmm….Teinlarra trusts you, or at least her sister-druid. I give you free permission to roam our territory, but fight without being attacked first and you shall all fall to our fangs. Now go. Speak to the shaman. He knows the magic of the moon far better than I. His hut is the one with bright paints on the furs.†With finality, he gestured to the door, signaling them to leave.

 

Jaheira felt strangely comfortable as they walked through this simple village. It was surprising to see an entire community of natural lycanthropes, because they kept their villages a secret out of a strong need for the safety that comes with ignorance. Not even druids were made aware of such villages unless necessity dictated it, and they were defenders of nature! In the fading light the sunset used to paint the land, the people here seemed ancient, earthy, and proud. All were possessed of a quiet strength gifted them by their nature. The children that gamboled happily about reminded her strongly of puppies first allowed out of a den. These people were truly different than the lycanthropes encountered in the Windspear Hills.

 

The shaman’s tent was obvious due to its bright coloration. Jaheira recognized the natural dyes on the pale furs, dyes made from flowers and roots. The tent was decorated with various symbols of nature: nuts, twigs, berries, leaves, and small, polished animal bones. They ducked under the tent-flap and were greeted by the sight of a ruddy-haired, slightly-muscled, middle-aged man grinding something reddish with a mortar and pestle. After a cough from Vessa, he looked up and smiled broadly. “Oh my, but I have visitors in my tent! And outsiders, as well! Such an odd sight you are! Now, what can I do for you today? Need you some potions, perhaps?â€Â

 

Jaheira immediately disliked the man. There was something false and hollow in his voice, and there seemed almost to be a predatory gleam in his eye as he surveyed the group. It reminded her of…but no. That was a preposterous thought. One such as that would not remain comfortable among werewolves for long.

 

“No, we have not come for potions. Your chieftain said that we should talk to you about the recent odd behavior occurring at the time of the full moon.†Vessa said, showing no signs of suspecting the man of anything.

 

The shaman’s face immediately slid on a mask of concern. “Ah, yes. Well, I myself have fallen prey to whatever influence it is that has us in its thrall. I believe that whatever is causing this is a strong, outside force. Most of us wake from our bloody trances near the northern mountains, the ones we call the Wychallarn. I have explored as much of the area as I could, but there is one particular path, the only path through that part of the mountains, that I cannot pass. It is as if it has been warded against my kind. Here, allow me to scribe out a map for you to follow.†Using some rich, black ink and a crude quill pen, he drew out a rough map on the hide of some small creature and handed it to Vessa.

 

‘there is one particular path, the only path through that part of the mountains, that I cannot pass’ Good excuse. I wonder… why is it that we are somehow always the ones to go and do the menial labor for others? I swear, all of Faerun would fall apart if it weren’t for those such as us to run all the petty errands for those perfectly capable of doing it themselves. Jaheira thought wryly to herself. She was truly disliking this shaman. Maybe it was simply his shifty personality but…something tugged at her.

 

She cast her gaze about the room once more to get a better feel for the shaman’s personality. Things such as what a room looked like could tell much about a person. Hmm…there was various alchemical paraphernalia, and small skins with notes and potion recipes written on them thrown haphazardly about the room…the various gaudy treasures that decorated the room showed a certain bit of vanity, to be sure. The bedroll was frayed, but otherwise well-cared for. However, Jaheira caught the edge of something peeking out from beneath the skins… It looked to be a trapdoor. She tucked that little note into the back of her mind, and began to pay attention to what was being said once more.

 

“…and another thing, my lady. I worry for your safety, as the night is blanketing our land once more. The wilderness at the foot of the Wychallarn is both ancient and dark, and many old evils lurk there. Also, we have no idea what is beyond that path…it could mean doom for the unprepared. The moon is not full, so you shall be safe with us for tonight. We have no inns, as we are a secretive people, but a large tent could easily be pitched for you near the hot springs. I am sure the Chieftain would not mind you spending the night here.â€Â

 

Jaheira was not all too sure about this. “Excuse me, but what I have gathered since being here, your people are extremely suspicious of outsiders. Why do you treat us with such deference and concern?â€Â

 

Here the shaman’s face twisted into a look of gravity. “The health of my pack is all in all to me. If that means I must see to the comfort of outsiders, then so be it. I would rather humble myself serving you and having my pack safe, than throw you out on your ear and have you get killed and your equipment used against us.â€Â

 

Vessa nodded. “We accept your offer, then. We shall do all we can to aid your pack.†The shaman nodded, walked outside, and called one of the villagers. With a whisper and a not the villager was sent running, and soon a large tent was being erected nearby.

 

Jaheira felt an elbow poke her ribs as they walked out of the tent. Imoen was becoming quite annoying with that habit. “Say, Jaheira,†she whispered slyly, “I saw ya casing the joint. Find anything interesting?â€Â

 

Jaheira rolled her eyes as she looked over to Imoen. “Perhaps, although it may mean nothing…â€Â

 

“Aw, come on, Jaheira! Ya could elaborate, you know!â€Â

 

“And give you the satisfaction of winning? Never. Now come, I would like to sample these hot springs. Being slathered in the grime of the road is not conducive to maintaining the balance.â€Â

 

“Oh yeah, the hot springs! This is gonna be great!†Imoen ran ahead, hurriedly throwing her things into the large tent and preparing to jump in. Jaheira smiled at her retreating form. Her childish exuberance could indeed be refreshing.

 

***

 

Vessa sighed happily and relaxed beneath a bounteous canopy of stars. She smiled blissfully, allowing the soothing heat of the water to flood into her muscles, relaxing away the cares of many a too-worn road. She had waited until well after sunset to go out to the hot springs, as she was guaranteed to be alone. The rickety wooden privacy fence, overgrown with ivy and currently inhabited by a sleepy Dymphna, made her feel completely shielded from the outside world.

 

She simply savored the experience for a while, but soon felt her eyes grow heavy. Wisdom dictated that she should finish bathing before she fell asleep in the water. A mixture of potent herbs served as a useful cleansing concoction for her hair, and she ran it through each curly strand. Once done, she flipped the entire mass over her head and bent over into the water. As she was scrubbing out the last of the mixture, she heard a masculine gasp of surprise and a slide of feet against rock. Vessa tensed up, realizing instantly what had caused the gasp, and felt a sickness slowly root into her stomach at the thought of what she might have to explain.

 

***

 

Solaufein had waited until late at night to go bathe, as his previous attempts to use public bathing areas were met with ignorance and abuse once he stepped inside. At least now, in the velvety darkness, none of the inhabitants of this village would be reposing in the waters.

 

He had been startled, to say the least, when he saw none other than Vessa, her silhouette made warm and soft through the steam, rinsing her hair out in the water. His surprise had quickly frozen into shocked horror after he saw what was carved into her back.

 

Vessa turned herself around to see who it was, then blushed crimson and moved to cover herself from his gaze. She realized her back was still to him, so she obscured the brutal scars by flipping her hair over. Dymphna squawked loudly and flew around, attempting to distract Solaufein for her mistress.

 

“I-I am sorry, S-s Solaufein. I did- di-did not know you w-were c-coming out h-here. I…I will l-leave.†She moved to get up, still trying to maintain her decency in the process.

 

“No, My Lady. It is I who should allow you some privacy to finish bathing. But Vessa…who did that to you? Who hurt you? Did that happen in Ust Natha?†Solaufein hoped that she was not hurt by the upset tone of his voice. How could somebody do that to her?!

 

“N-nn-no, not Ust Natha,†Solaufein saw her curl up into an even tighter ball as she spoke. She took a deep breath, and seemed to be summoning forth her powerful will to steady her voice. “This…this I-is part of what Irenicus…what he d-did to me.â€Â

 

“Irenicus? That vile beast?! There are not enough torments in all the hells for that monster!†Here he stopped and wondered if the full weight of the phrase was known to her, “Vessa…do you know what it says?â€Â

 

“Xa’huuli ssindossa. I-I s-saw it through Dymphna’s eyes ss-soon after leaving Irenicus’…I-Irenicus’ dungeon. T-there are other words on me too, s-some in Elvish, some in Common.â€Â

 

“Do you…do you know what it means?â€Â

 

“W-well, I’m pre-pretty sure it d-does not mean ‘ravishing angel’, knowing Irenicus,. Ss-so, what d-does it mean, Solaufein? Do n-not worry, I can handle it, what-whatever it is.â€Â

 

Solaufein shook his head, though Vessa’s back was still to him and she could not see the action. “No, I shall not tell you. Suffice it to say that the words are both cruel and untrue in every way. Is this…is this the reason you bathe alone?â€Â

 

Vessa shook her head, her watered locks rippling beautifully with the action. “No, Solaufein. I do not hide from my past. I p-promised myself long ago that I wou-would not allow these scars to r-rule me, that I would not allow these scars t-to define me or become an important part of my life. It is n-no problem bathing with Imoen or Jaheira, b-because they understand, and they don’t ma-make a fuss over it. I used to go to the bath houses and ignore the stares… I-I expected them, but I did not care. B-but then…but then it started to spiral. The looks eventually changed from shock and horror to pity. People began approaching me, sometimes even as I was bathing in privacy, to offer me their pity-money. Overheard whispering soon showed me that the general consensus was that I was poorly-used prostitute from rough country. Sometimes people would ask me about my scars, and they made all of the nightmares escape from their prison in my mind. I was accosted by many clerics of Illmatar with promises of safety and healing should I ever wish to turn from my ‘lifestyle’.â€Â

 

Vessa laughed quietly, but there was only bitterness in the sound. Solaufein was shocked at the harsh vehemence in her voice as she continued, “sometimes men even told me that they could ‘treat me better than that’, and that they would ‘take me in.’ I…I just could not stand it anymore. I couldn’t stand the pitying glances, the patronizing speech….they all treated me like I was a beaten dog! They acted like it was the ultimate reward to pat me on the head or whisper some empty words of comfort to me, when all I wanted was to bathe in peace! It…it got to be ridiculous! They were more concerned with my scars than I was! I am not an animal, and I am not these scars! I am an elf, and I have a name! I am Vessa, and I deserve to be treated like a person!†Here she tried to calm herself down, “ Finally, I just got sick of it all, and I decided not to be bothered with it anymore. I got disgusted with the looks, disgusted with the pity-coins, disgusted with the preaching to reform my ways…Now I wait until everybody has left before I emerge to bathe. They do not see Vessa when they look at me…they see my Vessa’s scars. No…no matter how hard I try to remain free from these scars, it seems the world is bent on binding me to them.â€Â

 

Vessa trailed into silence, looked over her shoulder, and locked eyes with Solaufein, “but listen to me, I sound like a whining child. You must find me terribly selfish to groan about the petty reactions of a few people in the bathing chambers when no one can see the noble, good soul that resides in your dark flesh.â€Â

 

Solaufein shook his head at hearing this. “*You* see me, Vessa. It is all I could ever ask for,†he responded gently, “now, I shall leave you to finish your bath. Fear not, my Little Poet, I shall stand guard that you will not be interrupted again.â€Â

 

“…thank you,†Vessa whispered. She was so quiet as she said this that even Solaufein’s keen ears could barely detect the words.

 

“Vessa?†he asked as he turned away, “do not confuse compassion with pity. I am ever at your service, and shall always listen should you wish to talk.†With that, he walked through the old gate that lead out of the bathing area, set his things to he ground, and stood guard over Vessa.

***

 

Vessa looked after Solaufein as he walked away, surprised by his words. She quickly finished bathing, but had to pause as her strange streak of purple hair got tangled in her ring. As she untangled the odd lock, she mused over the thin band of enchanted metal.

 

She no longer recalled where she had obtained the ring; perhaps in some forsaken dungeon or another? In any case, she did remember the feeling of profound relief when she first slipped it on, and it had not left her finger since.

 

She had been pondering a change in that situation, however. Ever since that battle with the spiders, Vessa had been thinking about giving the ring to somebody who could benefit from its effects even more than she could.

 

Vessa heard Dymphna land on the fence nearby; apparently, the over-protective familiar wanted to make absolutely sure that Solaufein wasn’t peeking, as she had been circling over his head to make sure he stayed put.

 

*You ponder the ring, my Lady?* the raven communicated to her mistress.

 

*Yes, Dymphna, I have finally made up my mind.*

 

*You are going to make a gift of it?*

 

*Yes, I am. Given the nature of his enemies, I believe that this ring shall serve and protect him quite well.*

*Are you sure this is a wise course of action, my Lady? What of you? What of your protection?*

 

Vessa twisted the ring around her finger thoughtfully, *What of me? He needs it much more than I do. After all, it is not I who had demonic spiders teleporting out of nowhere to contend with.*

*You never know, my Lady. You are a Bhaalspawn, never forget that. Spiders may very well be summoned after you next.*

 

Vessa shuddered at the image that statement conjured. *Er…well, regardless, he needs it more than I do. I can always obtain another such item from somewhere, anyway.*

 

Vessa felt a wave of skepticism from Dymphna as she finished her last thought, but the familiar dropped the conversation. Vessa got dressed and headed out of the bathing area, finding Solaufein just beyond the gate.

 

Wow…he really*did* stand guard over me. She thought to herself.

 

Vessa approached Solaufein, nervously twisting her ring in the process.

 

***

 

“…Solaufein?â€Â

 

Solaufein turned to his side and looked down into Vessa’s face, now shimmering with the heat his infravision always detected in the darkness. Her striking eyes, however, glowed brightly for him even without such as skill.

 

“Um…,†she continued after some uncertainty, “I-I would just like to say…thank you. For e-everything. I, um…I have s-ss-something for y-you. It…it will p-protect y-you against wha-whatever your n-nightmares conjure. I was…er, I w-was going to gi-give this to y-you earlier, but… I didn’t…didn’t get a chance. Here.†Her small hand reached for his own, turned it over, and opened his fingers. She placed something small, warm, and circular into the center of his palm, covering his fingers over it.

 

Vessa hesitated once more, and Solaufein’s infravision showed a bloom of heat growing in her cheeks. Quickly, she stood on tiptoe and brushed a butterfly-light kiss on his cheek. She then rushed away, leaving Solaufein stunned, and more than a little touched.

 

Solaufein laid his fingers over the spot her lips caressed wonderingly, and then opened his hand to see what she had given him. It was a small band, thankfully enchanted, as otherwise a ring that fit Vessa’s tiny finger would likely be too small for his own.

 

He could not see any runes on the ring with infravision, so he summoned up a small globe of light to aid him. The little globe hovered over the ring, making the markings clearly visible. He recognized the band as a ring of free action, useful against all forms of paralyzing attacks, such as hold person, entanglement, or…webbing.

 

Solaufein smiled to himself as he slipped the ring around his finger. His sweet, shy Little Poet wished to protect him from his hunters, it seemed. Her gesture was not one he would forget.

 

He thought on the kiss still tingling on his cheek as he watched the heat-trail left by Vessa dissipate into the cool night air. Why had she kissed him? Why did she blush so as she did it? Was this the ‘flirting’ that Imoen was referring to, or was this just as Surfacer way of saying thank you? For that matter, why had Vessa thanked him? He could not think of anything he had done for her that would merit such thanks.

 

Solaufein sighed over the questions as he slipped into the hot springs and allowed the soothing water to play over his sculpted physique. As he began to aid the water in working out the kinks in his muscles, he decided that, perhaps, he shouldn’t question things quite so much. What was that Surfacer phrase Vessa had taught him? ###### “Never look a gift horse in the mouth.â€Â

Link to comment

Ok, for starters...HUGE apologies all around for taking sooooo long to add something new to my fic, and even bigger apologies that I am essentially just adding in the rewritten chapter 11. It's been split into 2 chapters and does indeed have a sizeable chunk of new material in it, so please do read it over.

 

Secondly, the next chapter is mostly written, I was going to post it but found I had some continuity problems....there are pieces of it I have to rewrite, so please bear with me and hopefully I will have a shiny new chapter worthy of you all to read. Thank you, and here we go!

 

Chapter 11: The Consequences of Playing Hooky

 

Anomen sighed irritably as the party trudged once again through some insect infested, itch-causing, sweat-inducing, gods-forsaken wilderness or another. *He* mistrusted the werewolves and thought they were a threat, but of course nobody listened to *him*. Vessa had said the he should try not to see them as beasts to be killed, but as equals. Hmph. It was easy enough for her to say, but had she ever seen an entire village massacred by these abominations, or watched children murdered by their claws? No, she had not. He had, and he was forever scarred by the experience. She was still far too trusting and unwise, even though she had proven herself seasoned enough in battle. In fact, Anomen heartily believed that map given to Vessa by that crazed shaman was leading them straight into the maw of some horrible trap.

 

Besides that, when exactly was Vessa planning to return to Athkatla? He knew that she would in a heartbeat if he merely asked her, but his pride would not permit him to ask such a favor. He would rather they just go so he could conduct his business in private, with no one else’s knowledge of his endeavors. He didn’t need anyone else getting into his business; it was touchy enough as it was.

 

I can still remember his hands…his hands after he beat me. His hands after he hurt me. They would be just as bruised and bloodied as I was, and he had broken many a bone in those hands after a bout of ‘loving ministrations’ to my benefit. I pray he has not plagued Moira in the same manner since I left. Sometimes I fear it was only mother and I keeping her safe.

 

But…but Moira is no fool. She is strong, clever, and brave. Certainly she would be intelligent enough to get out of there should things escalate to outright abuse. Perhaps. Yet her loyalty, aye, that indeed is the rub. She would never abandon that bastard, no matter how cruel he may become. I can only pray to Helm that he has not auctioned her off to some filthy, perverted ‘noble’ to help pay off some of his drinking debts.

 

Anomen shook his head roughly and clenched his fists, willing the paranoid thoughts to tumble out of his mind. However, the horrendous images kept swirling about, whispering terrible fates for his sister if he kept dallying. Something is wrong. Something *must* be wrong. I…I can feel it! Oh gods, may we return to Athkatla soon!

 

Anomen was startled out of his thoughts at the sound of fast footfalls gaining on them. He turned to see that it was one of the village women, red-headed, tanned, and dressed in the simple, rough animal skins of her tribe. She ran immediately to Vessa, who stopped the party in order to listen to the woman speak.

 

“Lady, please! I must speak to you!†said the peasant woman.

 

“Of course. What is it that you need? Are you in trouble?†Vessa replied.

 

“No, Lady. Not me, I am not in trouble. It is my child who is in danger! She, along with the children of many other mothers, went missing about when the moon started driving us mad, and I cannot smell her anywhere. I worry for her. Please, tell me you will look for her as you travel.â€Â

 

Anomen saw Vessa’s eyes widen at hearing the woman, “Oh, really? The Shaman said nothing of this.â€Â

 

The woman nodded her head at this, “no, the Shaman did not. He thought it would be best for one of the women to tell you. He said you might be more willing to help that way.â€Â

 

“Excuse me? I told him that we would do all in our power to aid your people. Why would he think he would need a plea from another to sway us?â€Â

 

“Most people do not like our kind, Lady. The Shaman is unsure as to why you wish to help, but he truly wishes the best for our people. He thought that this was the best way to do so.â€Â

 

“Well, I assure you that we shall do all in our power to aid your child, and the children of others, should we encounter them.â€Â

 

“Oh thank you, thank you, good Lady!†After vigorously shaking Vessa’s hand, the wolf-peasant left.

 

Anomen now mistrusted the villagers even more. It truly seemed like they were trying to manipulate Vessa, whose good heart tended to make her a tad gullible, in his opinion. He knew that talking to her about it would be wasting his breath, as had learned that Vessa was obstinate when it came to helping others. This reminded him of the time she reprimanded him in Athkatla after he scolded her for giving money to a beggar who was obviously conning her. When will she realize that he was far more knowledgeable in these areas than she was? Bah! Ah, well….

 

Vessa looked to be checking her map as they approached a pass at the rocky base of a mountain. Good. Now maybe they could go through the pass, kill whatever needed killing, and be done with this fiasco.

 

***

 

Vessa scanned the pathway through the mountains, but was once again caught up in the beauty of the area. They had been wandering about, as the map they Shaman gave them was less-than-clear, and already the sun was kissing the horizon. The beautiful forest they were in erupted in a flaming cascade of dripping gold and molten vermillion as the sun slowly drifted to its bed of rest. Vessa marveled at the beautiful tapestry her familiar’s silvery feathers became as she was gilded in the blazing sunlight while she flew overhead.

 

Enjoying the view? Her familiar asked in her mind as she began showing off her feathers even more, sounding at once both amused and, well, slightly conceited. That bird had an ego the size of Anomen’s sometimes, in Vessa’s opinion. Always going about, preening all the time, fixing every single feather if it so much as looked to be coming out of place….

 

Well I was until you had to go and spoil it with your antics. Now I just feel dizzy. Vessa replied wryly.

 

Hmph! You just don’t appreciate good showmanship when you see it. It’s not like the ravens around here are any better. Pfeh! Not a one is suitable for a mate, can you believe it? They can’t even strip a corpse correctly. I mean, even day-old hatchlings know to spear the eye straight through and pull it out in one clean motion, not to try to excavate around it like all these younglings are so keen on doing these days.

 

Er…I’m sure I could have lived *without* that particular bit of imagery, thanks.

 

But you know…I *do* rather like their glossy black plumage. Not like the celestial ravens back home, oh no. Just imagine…little beads of water slowly rippling down their feathers, only to be shaken off in a perfect, shiny motion by ebony feathers…oh yes. And it would seem that I’m not the only one who fancies black, now, am I?

 

I am quite sure I have no idea what you could possibly be referring to, Dymphna.

 

Oh, don’t you? You must remember, Vessa, our minds are inextricably linked. I know your thoughts, and I can honestly say the ones you keep buried the most are a source of endless entertainment…

 

GAH! This is worse than Immy stealing my diary! You had better stop plundering my mind, bird, before I pluck your feathers out and enjoy your drumsticks with some salt!

 

Vessa caught a wave of amusement crashing forth from her familiar, and was under the distinct impression that she was being laughed at.

 

Vessa forced herself to ignore her familiar and focus on the road. They had approached a craggy road that led into the mouth of a path through the ever-ascending rocks leading to the mountains. She believed that this road was the correct one, but they had already dead-ended several times in the forest. Vessa, by this time, seriously doubted the sanity of this Shaman.

 

Another thing bothered her; the Shaman had said that this was a forest filled with ancient evils, and yet it lacked any aura of foreboding. They hadn’t been attacked once since entering the wood.

 

Vessa cautiously walked the perimeter of the pathway, trying to get a sense of any enchantment or any alteration of the weave. She asked Imoen, Solaufein, and Jan to check as well, just to be sure, and they came to the same conclusion. There was nothing here. Once this was verified, Vessa used her own magic to detect the magic of others. Once her eyes adjusted to seeing magic, and she could see the auras of the enchanted equipment her companions wore. She also knew what protections they had cast upon themselves, but she could sense nothing untoward about the pathway. Strange, indeed.

 

“Well, I can find no evidence of a barrier of any sort. Can anyone else?â€Â

 

At the negative responses of her comrades, Vessa warily approached the opening of the path, and then walked through it and on a few steps. She encountered no resistance. She walked back to her friends, and her exit remained unbarred as well.

 

“It’s too bad we don’t have old Cernd with us, what with him being infected with lycanthropy and all,†Jan began, “He could tell us if there was a barrier or not! Why, this reminds me of the time uncle Turblebottom accidentally erected an impenetrable magical shield around the room when he was sick with diarrhea in the privy. He liked to use old magic as curse words, you see. Anyway, trapped in there for a week, he was, before it was finally dispelled. I remember the stench, oh, the horrible stench. There just aren’t enough leaves in the world….â€Â

 

By this time, Dymphna had begun to peck at Jan’s head in an attempt to shut him up. By the intense waves of annoyance she was picking up from her familiar, Vessa knew all too well what Dymphna felt about Jan’s stories. He may wish to check his head later, as a large white splat was soon going to be upon it…

 

“GAH! Minsc demands that somebody make the gnome shut up! Boo cannot take such verbal meandering! Although, verbal and meandering were both Boo’s words…

 

“Er, hey, you know, Jan,†Vessa said in a desperate attempt to get Jan to shut up before poor Minsc was driven to the edge and finally broke him, “Cernd is not a natural lycanthrope, so I am not exactly sure just how useful he would be here. I mean, the villagers *are* all natural lycanthropes, correct?â€Â

 

Jan continued on, having ignored her completely. “Well, I was just trying to say that he got out of it in the end. Apparently not even the barrier could stand the stench. Quite an explosion of magical energy, let me tell you!â€Â

 

Vessa sighed in exasperation as she motioned for everyone to continue on the path. Imoen and Jan immediately ran ahead of the others, working their own unique brand of magic and blending in with the shadows quite well as they skillfully scouted ahead. Dymphna flew with Imoen under the pretense that Immy might need a guide in case it became too dark outside. In reality, Dymphna was Vessa’s little way of keeping an eye on Immy in case she was planning to do anything stupid. A smart familiar, Dymphna was, though she could be *quite* trying if she wished. Made Vessa proud.

 

As Vessa was keeping her wandering mind in check by scanning for danger, she sensed a presence next to her. She turned to see Solaufein, smiling empathetically down at her.

 

“It was a commendable effort, my Little Poet, but alas, I fear that Jan’s stories are not so easily deferred. I shall have to find a way to distract the gnome, it would seem.â€Â

 

They continued to walk together in a kind of comfortable silence, with Solaufein’s eyes drinking in the surroundings as Vessa’s own had been doing just moments before. As she looked at his content visage, Vessa couldn’t help but wonder about some things she had purposely avoided thinking about.

 

Normally, Vessa was a confident woman with great faith in her skills and abilities. She knew, for the most part, both what her limits were, and just how far she could push them. When it came to men, however, she was not nearly so secure with herself.

 

As she snuck another peek at Solaufein, she felt the familiar self-doubt begin to plague her. In the time following Sola joining with them, Vessa had resigned herself to the fact that he would begin to fancy Imoen, if he fancied any of the ladies in her party at all. After all, it is how it had always been with boys and men in the past; why should anything be different now?

 

However, Solaufein did not show any such interest towards Imoen, and if Vessa had more confidence in herself, she would have realized that he was directing such attentions towards her.

 

Be that as it was, Vessa doubted herself to the point of being completely blind to the true meaning of his affections.

 

The almost-kiss, the nickname, the fact that he came to comfort me after Imoen had tricked him, his kindness once he found out about my scars…No. How could he have feelings for me? Irenicus said…over and over… no man could possibly love me now. It is simply not feasible. Besides, even if I escaped unharmed from Irenicus, what redeeming qualities do I have that could *possibly* make up for the fact that I am a Bhaalspawn? I am more trouble than I am worth. I am undesirable, and there is just no way…

 

She was brooding so deeply that Solaufein’s title as top brooder looked to be seriously threatened. Then why…Why is he treating me the way he is? It just does not make sense.

 

No, it did make sense. Vessa understood now. She knew that Solaufein had been treated abysmally by nearly all of the people in his life, but by females, especially. Since escaping to the surface, Vessa had taken pains to ensure that Solaufein would be treated well. He was probably unused to such deference being shown to him. It all made sense now. Solaufein was grateful, and he was showing it to her in the only way he knew how. That was it -- that must be it. She would have to reassure him that there was no need for such a display. She desired no such treatment if it was given out of a sense of duty or obligation. That was no better than paying for it, in her opinion.

 

Her heart felt like a heavy pendulum head swinging on the thinnest thread, ready to snap off the string and shatter, as she looked at Solaufein again. She had been trying to accept the cold consequences of Irenicus’ cruelty, had been trying her hardest to suck it up and move on with her life, but… it really, really hurt her inside sometimes. She wished he felt the same way she di---No. She was a dreamer at heart, but she would deny herself pointless wishing.

 

Vessa gasped sharply as pain once more sliced through her abdomen. She stumbled forward a few steps before Solaufein’s strong arms caught her.

 

“My Lady! Are you well? You seem to be in great pain. What is the matter?†Solaufein said, concern obvious in his gaze.

 

Vessa found herself enjoying the contact much more than she felt she should, given her dark thoughts from before. “It is n-nothing, Solaufein. I g-guess my last meal didn’t…didn’t agree with me.†Vessa could see by the worry in his eyes that Solaufein was not entirely convinced. It warmed her heart to see that he was at least concerned for her health.

 

She looked away from Solaufein for now; it was too painful for her to imagine joys that would never be hers to hold within her heart.

 

Vessa distracted herself from her increasingly melancholy thoughts by scrutinizing the area with uncharacteristic focus. There was nothing untoward about the craggy pathway, nothing to suggest any sort of foulness afoot. The sun was lying ever lower upon the horizon, and Vessa worried that their meanderings would render fruitless their efforts.

 

 

***

 

Nothin’. There’s absolutely nothing’ here. Imoen thought to herself as she and Jan scouted. Its getting dark, as well. Good thing Vessa’s mangy bird is with me…If I get lost, I could always cook it…

 

A sharp rap to her head indicated that perhaps Dymphna wasn’t quite as oblivious to her inner thoughts as she had assumed. Damned bird…why couldn’t Vessa have gotten a cuddlier familiar, like…like a beholder. Yes, ugly as Jan after too much turnip beer, but far more preferable to a mean old raven, that’s for sure.

 

“Ya see anything, Jan?†Imoen finally whispered in exasperation to the gnomish tinker at her side.

 

“No, but-shh… I hear something. Tell those noisy armor-heads to quit making such a racket.â€Â

 

Imoen craftily snuck back to the path proper, where Vessa and the others were marching.

 

“Hey, quiet, willya? Jan’s heard something! Stay right here, we’ll come and get you if it’s something important.â€Â

 

An immediate silence, followed by an abrupt cessation of movement, greeted Imoen’s command.

 

They’re like trained dogs or something! Imoen thought cheerfully to herself as she crept back to Jan.

 

Though Imoen’s eyesight would soon be rendered useless by the drapes of nightfall, she snuck beside Jan anyway, readying a scroll of infravision should the need arise.

 

They made their way silently through the trees now, and as they parted the last leafy boughs, now softly glowing a faded vermillion as the light fast vanished, saw that a glade had been nestled among the woods. At the end of the glade opposite them, beyond a circle of mismatched stones, stood a decent-sized wooden hut. Imoen could tell that it was occupied, as sinuous tendrils of smoke danced lazily from the chimney before dissolving into the twilight air.

 

A woman walked out of the hut then, a woman dressed in sensible, homespun, dark clothing that allowed a good degree of mobility. She had quite a bundle in her hands as she walked toward the circle of stones.

 

Imoen looked down to Jan, who nodded to her. Taking this as his signal, Imoen went to the others, finger over her lips, motioning for them to follow. As they all crept as quietly as they could (Minsc and Anomen having considerable trouble with this, clad in enchanted plate-mail as they were) they gave Imoen questioning glances. She shook her head and said nothing, merely motioning for them to keep following.

 

They made it once again to the edge of the glade, and Imoen thanked her lucky stars that the woman seemed unaware of the clanking of the two heavily armored men.

 

Imoen could not make out much of the woman due to the encroaching darkness obscuring her vision. However, she could tell that the woman had dark, straight, long hair. Her clothing was dark, possibly black, and her body seemed fit beneath the fabric. Her eyes seemed bright within the darkness, and she exuded an eerie aura.

 

Imoen watched in fascination as items pulled from the once nondescript bundle were fashioned into a simple, yet beautiful and elegant, totem of some sort. A pair of deft hands skillfully fit the pieces, resembling various animals of the forest, together, binding them with a thick substance. Once the strange, colorful totem was completely assembled, the woman began chanting over it in an unknown tongue.

 

Imoen did not recognize this as something from any of the accepted schools of magic; this was something far older, something primal, but very powerful. The hair stood up on the back of Imoen’s neck as the woman’s voice became more commanding, as it gained more fire and steel without raising a decibel in volume.

 

The woman began swaying side-to-side as she chanted, her eyes open and unseeing, her hands flowing like a glassy liquid as the magic caught her up in its wild throes.

 

Finally, her body shuddered, and then seemed to almost snap in twain as her upper body arched back in an inhumanly precise motion.

 

The air around the totem exploded with an electric blue light, coating the area in some sort of shimmering shield, which seemed to burst into an infinite number of stars before evaporating into the darkness.

 

Imoen could indeed feel the unmistakable crackle and buzz of magical energies in the air now. These energies felt defensive in nature, and she had no feeling of unease as she sensed the spell strengthening around her.

 

The woman looked breathless after the bizarre ritual was competed, and she staggered tiredly in the direction of her cabin. Imoen looked to Vessa, who motioned for the group to walk down the path.

 

They remained cautiously silent until well after they had quit the entrance to the mountains, and Imoen was getting impatient. Why the secrecy all of a sudden? Why couldn’t they just interrogate the woman and be done with it? Now would be the perfect time…

 

“You all saw what transpired in the glade a moment ago, correct?†Vessa began. Imoen nodded her head anxiously. When was Vessa going to spit it out?

 

“Well, I believe that we should inform the Shaman of what exactly was done, and see if he knows what it is. For all we know, that spell could very well be connected to the woman in some way. If we alarm her and she is able to retaliate somehow, it might cause harm to the people of the village as well. After all, if it already affects their minds so roundly…â€Â

 

“You are wise to show such caution, Vessa. I would also like to add in my own opinion, here,†Jaheira said. Imoen did love it when Jaheira got all lecture-y on Vessa. It could get quite amusing. “I would suggest showing vigilance with the Shaman as well. We have all learned that he is not the best cartographer in Faerun; who is to say that he does not have an ulterior motive of some sort?â€Â

 

Darn. She’s not going to scold Vessa this time. Oh well…

 

“You have a point, Jaheira. I shall exercise proper caution while dealing with the Shaman. Now, I have a question for all of you. Would you like to wait until we reach the village to rest, or would you prefer we set camp out here? Game is plentiful around here, so there is no need for us to suffer through any more iron rations. I can hear flowing water of some sort, but we would be sadly lacking in hot springs to bathe in…â€Â

 

Imoen did want to go back to the hot springs, but she was also exhausted. They had been tromping about ALL DAY, and she was sweaty, hungry, weary and cranky. She was one of the five party members that raised their hands simultaneously. Vessa had, once again, stayed out of the party vote, leaving her own preference a mystery.

 

“Camping out here it is, then. Imoen, would you mind hunting some game for us? Looks like Jan has already set about gathering firewood…†Vessa said that last bit because, well… a rotting tree branch seemed to have fallen onto the spine of the unfortunate gnome. On top of the decaying wood clung a very stunned looking raccoon, which immediately fled at the sight of so many people.

 

After checking that Jan was ok, then laughing loudly at his misfortune when she found that he was sound, Imoen turned to look at Vessa. There was a look on her big sister’s face that she had seen before; it was the same look Vessa used to get back in Candlekeep before she started avoiding the attention of boys. Imoen knew the guys teased her, but she never realized how badly the introverted Vessa took it until after she began to withdraw from people and bury herself in the vast library within the keep walls. Why, after all they had been through, was Vessa wearing that look now?

 

“Hey, Vessa. What’samattah? You look really down about something.â€Â

 

“Hmm? Oh. It is….nothing. Nothing at all,†Vessa replied, using her ‘I’m-not-going-to-let-you-know-how-I-feel-so-I-am-going-to-speak-in-a-monotone voice’.

 

“Oh, come on, Vessa. I know when something’s buggin’ you. What’s up?â€Â

 

“Look, I want to handle it on my own, ok? You know I love you, Imoen, but please, just this once, do not interfere.â€Â

 

Imoen was taken aback by that answer; Vessa never truly minded her interference before! She stayed silent as Vessa walked towards the woods. It seemed as though Vessa was searching for someone.

 

I won’t follow you this time, Vessa. If I find out that this is what I think it is, though, somebody is going to be in for a world of hurt when I catch them. Imoen thought darkly to herself as she let Vessa go.

***

 

Vessa had gone into the woods, knowing that Solaufein would be sitting somewhere nearby, marveling at the beauty of the waxing moon and the stunning gauzy cloak of silver it threw over the land when it rose. When she saw him lying on the ground, his head resting in his folded arms as he gazed at the sky, she felt her heart catch in her throat. Not even the ever-faithful presence of Dymphna on her shoulder could make her feel any better. She did not want to say what she had to say, but it would be selfish and stupid of her to allow these affections to continue when they didn’t have the proper meaning behind them. She felt Dymphna preen a lock of her hair in her strong beak.

 

Vessa, I can feel your heart wringing itself into knots within you. Perhaps not all is as bleak as you paint it. Remember, you *are* painfully pessimistic. Besides, all of those little signs must certainly mean more than you give them credit for.

 

The blessing of a pessimist, Vessa communicated back wryly, Is that they are always either right, or pleasantly surprised. In this case, I fervently hope for the latter, though I doubt it is to be.

 

Oh, stop it. You sound like a heroine from one of Imoen’s tawdry romance novels.

 

I most certainly do not!

 

Of course not, her familiar replied in a patronizing voice that made Vessa temporarily forget her worries and fears in a wave of annoyance. Now, however, she had no more time to talk. Her feet drew her ever nearer to the poet, and she knew she needed to speak. She approached him slowly, surprised as stood up to greet her.

 

“You are a quiet walker, my Little Poet, but I have trained for many years to detect the subtle nuance of every tiny shift in the environment,†Solaufein said in answer to her startled look.

 

“Oh. Right. I guess you would have to be,†Vessa fidgeted nervously with her fingers as she spoke, her eyes riveted to her hands, “U-um, Solaufein? May I-I speak w-with you?â€Â

 

“It appears to me that you are already doing so, Vessa. What is it? What is troubling you?†The concern in his voice only made Vessa feel worse.

 

“S-Solaufein, you have….h-have been very k-kind to me as we ha-have traveled together. Y-you have sh-shown me a-affection and e-even a sort of tenderness,†Vessa quickly looked up into his eyes, and saw puzzlement in his ruby gaze, “I-I know that y-you are grateful for m-me helping you ad-adjust to the s-surface, but p-please do n…do not feel like y-you need to-â€Â

 

She saw a quick rise of heat on Solaufein’s cheeks, and an unaccustomed hesitation in his eyes, but nonetheless was silenced by his finger on her lips.

 

“Ah, I believe I understand what concerns you now,†He shook his head and smiled gently down at her, his eyes intense as they locked with hers, “No, my Little Poet. I am Drow, yes, but do not search for hidden motives in my actions. I…care for you…And I mean you, for your heart, your mind, and your beauty.â€Â

 

Vessa knew her eyes widened at his comment. She was used to being commended for her intellect by the monks of Candlekeep, and her heart was praised by those she aided in the past, but her beauty? Never. Well, unless you counted drunks at the bars who would probably say the same to a half-decayed ass’s head if it looked vaguely feminine after all that swill, or people who were just trying to con something out of her.

 

“Th…thank you, Solaufein,†was all she could manage to stammer. He cares for me! He said he cares for me! What do I say now?! Oh, blast, what in all the planes do I say now?!

 

The familiar on Vessa’s shoulder radiated smugness by this point. However, Vessa was too flabbergasted by what Solaufein had just assured her to be chagrined by Dymphna.

 

Solaufein must have realized how awkward Vessa was beginning to feel, for he spoke before Vessa felt pressured to converse once more.

 

“Little Poet, would you care to watch the stars with me? I have read about ‘constellations’ in the surfacer-books before, but I do not recognize any of them in this twinkling canopy. Perhaps you can introduce me to some?â€Â

 

“Oh! Uh, sure, Solaufein,†Vessa said as she stretched out on her back beside Solaufein, her heart still racing in her chest, “I have read about some, and Gorion used to sometimes take me out at night and point his favorites out to me. Now, do you see that cluster of stars right there, headed by a brighter star?†Vessa gestured to a specific bunch in the sky, “Humans say that the bright star is the pommel gem of…â€Â

 

She and Solaufein stayed up for a long while, sharing stories on constellations and prose. They were so absorbed in their conversation that both completely forgot about the evetide feast, and neither thought to alert the others as to where they were. Vessa’s familiar was still burning with smugness as she flew up to the trees. Solaufein was an engaging speaker, and at first Vessa found it simple to fend off reverie while listening to him. However, rest would not be so easily deterred, and it quickly swept her up when she faltered for merely an instant. She began to feel drowsily detached, listening to her own slowing speech with a kind of hazy amusement. It was not long before she finally surrendered to the blissful embrace of sleep.

 

In the silken bonds of her somnolence, a cold wind blew over Vessa, causing here tired mind to search for a means of comfort. Soon enough, she discovered something warm and burrowed against it.

 

***

 

Solaufein had watched with smiling eyes as Vessa’s speech trailed off and she drifted into sleep. It seemed a stark change from the persona she presented to others while awake. While she led the group, she came across as strong, confident, and capable; but now, as she slept, she looked soft, vulnerable, and trusting.

 

Cautiously, he allowed his fingers to play in her hair, marveling at its cool, velvety feel. He laughed to himself: It was markedly difficult to brood when a beautiful woman was slumbering peacefully beside him.

 

However, he still managed to find occasion to brood as he looked upon her lovely face. Why had she thought his actions towards her were merely the product of gratitude? What he felt towards her had long since transcended that emotion. Was it because he was a Drow that she believed this? Solaufein doubted that was the case. Vessa had never made a distinction like that about him before, either consciously or subconsciously. In fact, she was one of the few that granted him such a treasured luxury.

 

He decided not to wonder about such things any more, and just enjoyed the rare time with Vessa that he had been given.

 

 

***

 

Nothin’. There’s absolutely nothing’ here. Imoen thought to herself as she and Jan scouted. Its getting dark, as well. Good thing Vessa’s mangy bird is with me…If I get lost, I could always cook it…

 

A sharp rap to her head indicated that perhaps Dymphna wasn’t quite as oblivious to her inner thoughts as she had assumed. Damned bird…why couldn’t Vessa have gotten a cuddlier familiar, like…like a beholder. Yes, ugly as Jan after too much turnip beer, but far more preferable to a mean old raven, that’s for sure.

 

“Ya see anything, Jan?†Imoen finally whispered in exasperation to the gnomish tinker at her side.

 

“No, but-shh… I hear something. Tell those noisy armor-heads to quit making such a racket.â€Â

 

Imoen craftily snuck back to the path proper, where Vessa and the others were marching.

 

“Hey, quiet, willya? Jan’s heard something! Stay right here, we’ll come and get you if it’s something important.â€Â

 

An immediate silence, followed by an abrupt cessation of movement, greeted Imoen’s command.

 

They’re like trained dogs or something! Imoen thought cheerfully to herself as she crept back to Jan.

 

Though Imoen’s eyesight would soon be rendered useless by the drapes of nightfall, she snuck beside Jan anyway, readying a scroll of infravision should the need arise.

 

They made their way silently through the trees now, and as they parted the last leafy boughs, now softly glowing a faded vermillion as the light fast vanished, saw that a glade had been nestled among the woods. At the end of the glade opposite them, beyond a circle of mismatched stones, stood a decent-sized wooden hut. Imoen could tell that it was occupied, as sinuous tendrils of smoke danced lazily from the chimney before dissolving into the twilight air.

 

A woman walked out of the hut then, a woman dressed in sensible, homespun, dark clothing that allowed a good degree of mobility. She had quite a bundle in her hands as she walked toward the circle of stones.

 

Imoen looked down to Jan, who nodded to her. Taking this as his signal, Imoen went to the others, finger over her lips, motioning for them to follow. As they all crept as quietly as they could (Minsc and Anomen having considerable trouble with this, clad in enchanted plate-mail as they were) they gave Imoen questioning glances. She shook her head and said nothing, merely motioning for them to keep following.

 

They made it once again to the edge of the glade, and Imoen thanked her lucky stars that the woman seemed unaware of the clanking of the two heavily armored men.

 

Imoen could not make out much of the woman due to the encroaching darkness obscuring her vision. However, she could tell that the woman had dark, straight, long hair. Her clothing was dark, possibly black, and her body seemed fit beneath the fabric. Her eyes seemed bright within the darkness, and she exuded an eerie aura.

 

Imoen watched in fascination as items pulled from the once nondescript bundle were fashioned into a simple, yet beautiful and elegant, totem of some sort. A pair of deft hands skillfully fit the pieces, resembling various animals of the forest, together, binding them with a thick substance. Once the strange, colorful totem was completely assembled, the woman began chanting over it in an unknown tongue.

 

Imoen did not recognize this as something from any of the accepted schools of magic; this was something far older, something primal, but very powerful. The hair stood up on the back of Imoen’s neck as the woman’s voice became more commanding, as it gained more fire and steel without raising a decibel in volume.

 

The woman began swaying side-to-side as she chanted, her eyes open and unseeing, her hands flowing like a glassy liquid as the magic caught her up in its wild throes.

 

Finally, her body shuddered, and then seemed to almost snap in twain as her upper body arched back in an inhumanly precise motion.

 

The air around the totem exploded with an electric blue light, coating the area in some sort of shimmering shield, which seemed to burst into an infinite number of stars before evaporating into the darkness.

 

Imoen could indeed feel the unmistakable crackle and buzz of magical energies in the air now. These energies felt defensive in nature, and she had no feeling of unease as she sensed the spell strengthening around her.

 

The woman looked breathless after the bizarre ritual was competed, and she staggered tiredly in the direction of her cabin. Imoen looked to Vessa, who motioned for the group to walk down the path.

 

They remained cautiously silent until well after they had quit the entrance to the mountains, and Imoen was getting impatient. Why the secrecy all of a sudden? Why couldn’t they just interrogate the woman and be done with it? Now would be the perfect time…

 

“You all saw what transpired in the glade a moment ago, correct?†Vessa began. Imoen nodded her head anxiously. When was Vessa going to spit it out?

 

“Well, I believe that we should inform the Shaman of what exactly was done, and see if he knows what it is. For all we know, that spell could very well be connected to the woman in some way. If we alarm her and she is able to retaliate somehow, it might cause harm to the people of the village as well. After all, if it already affects their minds so roundly…â€Â

 

“You are wise to show such caution, Vessa. I would also like to add in my own opinion, here,†Jaheira said. Imoen did love it when Jaheira got all lecture-y on Vessa. It could get quite amusing. “I would suggest showing vigilance with the Shaman as well. We have all learned that he is not the best cartographer in Faerun; who is to say that he does not have an ulterior motive of some sort?â€Â

 

Darn. She’s not going to scold Vessa this time. Oh well…

 

“You have a point, Jaheira. I shall exercise proper caution while dealing with the Shaman. Now, I have a question for all of you. Would you like to wait until we reach the village to rest, or would you prefer we set camp out here? Game is plentiful around here, so there is no need for us to suffer through any more iron rations. I can hear flowing water of some sort, but we would be sadly lacking in hot springs to bathe in…â€Â

 

Imoen did want to go back to the hot springs, but she was also exhausted. They had been tromping about ALL DAY, and she was sweaty, hungry, weary and cranky. She was one of the five party members that raised their hands simultaneously. Vessa had, once again, stayed out of the party vote, leaving her own preference a mystery.

 

“Camping out here it is, then. Imoen, would you mind hunting some game for us? Looks like Jan has already set about gathering firewood…†Vessa said that last bit because, well… a rotting tree branch seemed to have fallen onto the spine of the unfortunate gnome. On top of the decaying wood clung a very stunned looking raccoon, which immediately fled at the sight of so many people.

 

After checking that Jan was ok, then laughing loudly at his misfortune when she found that he was sound, Imoen turned to look at Vessa. There was a look on her big sister’s face that she had seen before; it was the same look Vessa used to get back in Candlekeep before she started avoiding the attention of boys. Imoen knew the guys teased her, but she never realized how badly the introverted Vessa took it until after she began to withdraw from people and bury herself in the vast library within the keep walls. Why, after all they had been through, was Vessa wearing that look now?

 

“Hey, Vessa. What’samattah? You look really down about something.â€Â

 

“Hmm? Oh. It is….nothing. Nothing at all,†Vessa replied, using her ‘I’m-not-going-to-let-you-know-how-I-feel-so-I-am-going-to-speak-in-a-monotone voice’.

 

“Oh, come on, Vessa. I know when something’s buggin’ you. What’s up?â€Â

 

“Look, I want to handle it on my own, ok? You know I love you, Imoen, but please, just this once, do not interfere.â€Â

 

Imoen was taken aback by that answer; Vessa never truly minded her interference before! She stayed silent as Vessa walked towards the woods. It seemed as though Vessa was searching for someone.

 

I won’t follow you this time, Vessa. If I find out that this is what I think it is, though, somebody is going to be in for a world of hurt when I catch them. Imoen thought darkly to herself as she let Vessa go.

***

 

Vessa had gone into the woods, knowing that Solaufein would be sitting somewhere nearby, marveling at the beauty of the waxing moon and the stunning gauzy cloak of silver it threw over the land when it rose. When she saw him lying on the ground, his head resting in his folded arms as he gazed at the sky, she felt her heart catch in her throat. Not even the ever-faithful presence of Dymphna on her shoulder could make her feel any better. She did not want to say what she had to say, but it would be selfish and stupid of her to allow these affections to continue when they didn’t have the proper meaning behind them. She felt Dymphna preen a lock of her hair in her strong beak.

 

Vessa, I can feel your heart wringing itself into knots within you. Perhaps not all is as bleak as you paint it. Remember, you *are* painfully pessimistic. Besides, all of those little signs must certainly mean more than you give them credit for.

 

The blessing of a pessimist, Vessa communicated back wryly, Is that they are always either right, or pleasantly surprised. In this case, I fervently hope for the latter, though I doubt it is to be.

 

Oh, stop it. You sound like a heroine from one of Imoen’s tawdry romance novels.

 

I most certainly do not!

 

Of course not, her familiar replied in a patronizing voice that made Vessa temporarily forget her worries and fears in a wave of annoyance. Now, however, she had no more time to talk. Her feet drew her ever nearer to the poet, and she knew she needed to speak. She approached him slowly, surprised as stood up to greet her.

 

“You are a quiet walker, my Little Poet, but I have trained for many years to detect the subtle nuance of every tiny shift in the environment,†Solaufein said in answer to her startled look.

 

“Oh. Right. I guess you would have to be,†Vessa fidgeted nervously with her fingers as she spoke, her eyes riveted to her hands, “U-um, Solaufein? May I-I speak w-with you?â€Â

 

“It appears to me that you are already doing so, Vessa. What is it? What is troubling you?†The concern in his voice only made Vessa feel worse.

 

“S-Solaufein, you have….h-have been very k-kind to me as we ha-have traveled together. Y-you have sh-shown me a-affection and e-even a sort of tenderness,†Vessa quickly looked up into his eyes, and saw puzzlement in his ruby gaze, “I-I know that y-you are grateful for m-me helping you ad-adjust to the s-surface, but p-please do n…do not feel like y-you need to-â€Â

 

She saw a quick rise of heat on Solaufein’s cheeks, and an unaccustomed hesitation in his eyes, but nonetheless was silenced by his finger on her lips.

 

“Ah, I believe I understand what concerns you now,†He shook his head and smiled gently down at her, his eyes intense as they locked with hers, “No, my Little Poet. I am Drow, yes, but do not search for hidden motives in my actions. I…care for you…And I mean you, for your heart, your mind, and your beauty.â€Â

 

Vessa knew her eyes widened at his comment. She was used to being commended for her intellect by the monks of Candlekeep, and her heart was praised by those she aided in the past, but her beauty? Never. Well, unless you counted drunks at the bars who would probably say the same to a half-decayed ass’s head if it looked vaguely feminine after all that swill, or people who were just trying to con something out of her.

 

“Th…thank you, Solaufein,†was all she could manage to stammer. He cares for me! He said he cares for me! What do I say now?! Oh, blast, what in all the planes do I say now?!

 

The familiar on Vessa’s shoulder radiated smugness by this point. However, Vessa was too flabbergasted by what Solaufein had just assured her to be chagrined by Dymphna.

 

Solaufein must have realized how awkward Vessa was beginning to feel, for he spoke before Vessa felt pressured to converse once more.

 

“Little Poet, would you care to watch the stars with me? I have read about ‘constellations’ in the surfacer-books before, but I do not recognize any of them in this twinkling canopy. Perhaps you can introduce me to some?â€Â

 

“Oh! Uh, sure, Solaufein,†Vessa said as she stretched out on her back beside Solaufein, her heart still racing in her chest, “I have read about some, and Gorion used to sometimes take me out at night and point his favorites out to me. Now, do you see that cluster of stars right there, headed by a brighter star?†Vessa gestured to a specific bunch in the sky, “Humans say that the bright star is the pommel gem of…â€Â

 

She and Solaufein stayed up for a long while, sharing stories on constellations and prose. They were so absorbed in their conversation that both completely forgot about the evetide feast, and neither thought to alert the others as to where they were. Vessa’s familiar was still burning with smugness as she flew up to the trees. Solaufein was an engaging speaker, and at first Vessa found it simple to fend off reverie while listening to him. However, rest would not be so easily deterred, and it quickly swept her up when she faltered for merely an instant. She began to feel drowsily detached, listening to her own slowing speech with a kind of hazy amusement. It was not long before she finally surrendered to the blissful embrace of sleep.

 

In the silken bonds of her somnolence, a cold wind blew over Vessa, causing here tired mind to search for a means of comfort. Soon enough, she discovered something warm and burrowed against it.

 

***

 

Solaufein had watched with smiling eyes as Vessa’s speech trailed off and she drifted into sleep. It seemed a stark change from the persona she presented to others while awake. While she led the group, she came across as strong, confident, and capable; but now, as she slept, she looked soft, vulnerable, and trusting.

 

Cautiously, he allowed his fingers to play in her hair, marveling at its cool, velvety feel. He laughed to himself: It was markedly difficult to brood when a beautiful woman was slumbering peacefully beside him.

 

However, he still managed to find occasion to brood as he looked upon her lovely face. Why had she thought his actions towards her were merely the product of gratitude? What he felt towards her had long since transcended that emotion. Was it because he was a Drow that she believed this? Solaufein doubted that was the case. Vessa had never made a distinction like that about him before, either consciously or subconsciously. In fact, she was one of the few that granted him such a treasured luxury.

 

He decided not to wonder about such things any more, and just enjoyed the rare time with Vessa that he had been given.

Link to comment

A cool wind picked up, and he could see her shiver as the gooseflesh rose on her arms. He did not have a chance to do anything about this predicament, however, as he found the young woman snuggling up against him right after the breeze rose. Her face was in his side, and her arm was draped across his stomach.

 

This was…unexpected, but very sweet. He had considered himself jaded compared to the surfacers he encountered, and yet his heart fluttered wildly at her mere closeness to him. He marveled at the trust the Vessa showed him, even in her sleep. He thought of all the horrible things that would have been done to her had she been sleeping near one of his peers in Ust Natha when this happened. Actually, she would never have had the chance to fall asleep next to one… It would not have ended well. He was honored that she trusted him enough to allow herself to sleep by his side.

 

He had no desire whatsoever to awaken his tired friend, but some adjustments had to be made. For one thing, her face was firmly implanted in his armpit, and he was more than a bit convinced that waking up in that position would be less than pleasant. Though the Drow were not known for smelling foul, he decided to be on the safe side with this. He slowly lifted her head, placed it on his chest, over his heart, and froze when he saw her stir.

 

“Sssollaaauufeiinn,†Vessa murmured dreamily, rubbing her cheek against his chest. Solaufein’s heart lit up at hearing his name being whispered like that by her.

 

There. This is a much more preferable position. Solaufein thought to himself as he resumed stroking her lovely hair, threading that odd amethyst lock through his fingers. He was quite sure the smile that was on his face right now would easily be mocked by Imoen, but at this point, he didn’t care.

 

Solaufein allowed his eyes to wander languorously over Vessa’s exquisite face. It was amazing…Even after all of the time he had spent on the surface, some customs were still alien to him, perhaps even overwhelmingly so. In Drow culture, the only forms of closeness permitted between two people were massage, and such things as could be conducted in the bedchambers. That was it. Yet, here he was, doing neither of those things, yet feeling closer to Vessa than he had ever felt with one of the many cruel, nameless lovers with which he had been forced to share a bed.

 

Truly, he did desire to be with Vessa, but… for her, he wanted it to be perfect. He did not desire perfection out of fear of reprisal; he wanted it to be perfect because of how deeply he cared for her. He wished to wait. He had to know that she felt the same way for him that he did for her. Otherwise, it would mean nothing, and he didn’t think he could take being used like that again, especially after he had so much emotion invested in her already. Plus, he knew that she had been brutally tortured in the dungeon of that bastard of a man, Irenicus. He had seen her shy away from touch, much as she tried to hide it. Whatever happened to her in that pit of hell, it had left her scarred in more ways than one. He wanted to be sure she was ready for such an embrace before he did anything that might frighten her away. This was too important, and as tempting and beautiful as she was, he knew that her trust was a hard won treasure, and he vowed not to let it slip through his fingers.

 

…Her hair smelled exotic, and her fingers caressed him as she twitched in her sleep. He would by lying if he said he was not enjoying every moment of this, but he wondered if this was considered inappropriate behavior on the Surface. Then again, if it was, why would Vessa have allowed herself to drift off? She looked so innocent and carefree as she slept...

 

His hand lingered in her hair a while more before Solaufein himself began to feel drowsy. He did not even hear the squawk of Vessa’s familiar as his eyes fluttered. His hand drifted to her shoulder, and he gently tightened the embrace as Vessa murmured softly and hugged him in her sleep. He now slowly slipped into a reverie of his own, for once feeling blissfully at peace with the surface world.

 

***

 

The night was young, the campfire was warm, and the scent of fresh game roasting in the flames reminded everyone about how hungry they were.

 

“When are they gonna get back here? I’m starvin’!†Imoen moaned in dismay, “Come on, Jaheira! They’re probably just out kissing in the woods! Let us eat!â€Â

 

“We will do no such thing until *all* of our group is accounted for. If you are hungry enough, you will look for them yourself,†Jaheira replied tartly.

 

“UGH!â€Â

 

“Fear not, Imoen. I shall go in search of the lady and the Drow. Of course, for his sake, I hope I do not catch him doing anything untoward to Vessa. He will not enjoy the consequences.â€Â

 

Boo advised Minsc that it was not a good idea for Anomen to go looking for his friends, as the glint in the cleric’s eyes looked menacing indeed. Boo thought it would be better if Minsc went to look himself.

 

“Minsc will go search for them, Anomen, do not worry! Boo can sniff Vessa out anywhere!â€Â

 

Anomen still did not look entirely convinced. Astonishingly enough, Jan came to Minsc’s aid.

 

“Oh, hey, Ano. If you go to search for them, I should go with, seeing as how I have infravision and all…â€Â

 

“NO! Ah…I believe Minsc shall go. Yes, ah….go with Minsc, my good gnome,†Anomen said hastily.

 

“Aww, why Ano, I’m crushed! If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were avoiding harmless little old me.â€Â

 

“Perish the thought,†Anomen said wryly.

 

Jan giggled as he ran up to Minsc, who most definitely did not trust his intentions. Minsc held Boo close to him as Jan looked up.

 

“Ohohohoh, but I wonder what we’ll catch them at, eh, Minscy? I’m sure it will be hilarious to see the looks on their faces when we find them!â€Â

 

Minsc was not sure what Jan was getting at, but he was certain it was something offensive.

 

“I do not like what you are hinting at, gnome. Vessa and Solaufein are maybe looking at flowers! Yes, or talking about the poetry he likes so much. Nothing naughty like your bad mind dreams up.â€Â

 

“Hmmm…shows how much you know, Minscy.â€Â

 

They wandered through the woods for a while, Minsc holding Boo up to sniff them out. He followed Boo’s little twitchy nose, and found Vessa’s familiar flying towards them. The silvery raven called once and began to fly off. Boo told Minsc that they should follow, and they soon came upon Vessa, lying with her head on Solaufein’s chest. Minsc did not have a chance to sneak up on them, however, as Solaufein’s head snapped up at the first sound of movement. Before Minsc could even react, Solaufein had moved to shield Vessa, seemingly undisturbed by the motion, swiftly drew a wicked-looking dagger from his boot, and was aiming it at his direction. Once Solaufein recognized who it was that approached, he resheathed the dagger and put his finger over his lips, signaling Minsc to be quiet. The familiar landed on a branch above Vessa and began calmly preening her feathers. Minsc got the feeling that Dymphna was feeling quite pleased with herself.

 

Minsc’s hands went to Lilarcor, whose muffled battle cries could still be heard through the scabbard. He had half-drawn the sword, and was prepared to rush at Solaufein to defend Vessa’s honor, when Boo told him that it would be unnecessary. Boo said that they were still wearing clothes, and that they had both been sleeping. They just fell asleep while they were talking!

 

Yes, Boo. That makes sense. I am so glad to have you around to stop me from hurting my friends with my silly ideas!

 

Minsc turned to see Jan’s eyes widen, and he clamped a hand over the gnome’s mouth to stifle the laughter he knew was coming. Of course, Jan immediately tried to steal Boo while Minsc was distracted, so he had to settle with hitting him on the head. Lightly….Jan didn’t pass out, at least.

 

“Come, Jan,†Minsc whispered so loudly that he might as well have said it out loud, “we should go tell the others where these two are. That way, Jaheira will let us eat!â€Â

 

Jan just gave Minsc a look that clearly said ‘I wish you hadn’t hit my head, you large ogre’ but went along anyway.

 

Minsc made it back to the camp and relayed what he saw. Imoen began sniggering, Jaheira rolled her eyes and chuckled knowingly, and Anomen appeared incensed.

 

“They are what?! That behavior is scandalous! I demand that we go back over there and talk some sense into them right this instant!†Anomen said, an edge of anger in his voice.

 

“Scandalous, Anomen? Vessa is a grown woman who can make her own choices, and Solaufein is a grown man who treats her well. Besides, all they are doing is sleeping. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, so don’t get overwrought about it. We shall simply finish our meal here, save some for them, and move our camp over to them, if it offends you so much,†Jaheira said patiently.

 

“Overwrought?! I am not overwrought! Vessa may be a grown woman, but you have to admit that she isn’t the most brilliant gem in the bag where men are concerned! Sure, we all *think* he is treating her well, but how do we know? He is a Drow, and is therefore no stranger to lies and deceit. He could be making fools of us all, and Vessa will be the one to suffer most from our lack of vigilance,†Anomen spluttered.

 

"Anomen, I know that you miss your sister, but Vessa is not Moira, and can make her own decisions. She is a capable adult, and honestly, you have no right to interfere with her personal life,†Jaheira replied.

 

Anomen glared and clenched his teeth, but otherwise said nothing. Minsc was not sure why what Jaheira said had calmed him, but he was relieved. When Anomen got angry, it could put the fury of a Rashemi warrior to shame!

 

They quietly snuck back to where Solaufein and Vessa were resting, with Solaufein still awake and Vessa sleeping soundly. Minsc noticed that it was getting rather cold out, and both of them were starting to look uncomfortable. Vessa tried to snuggle even closer to Solaufein’s side to avoid the cold, though she already looked as if she were welded to him like melted armor. Minsc smiled, pulled a blanket from his pack, and draped it over the two. He winked conspiratorially at Solaufein and went to his own bedroll, his heart joyous at seeing how happy his two friends looked together.

 

***

 

Ba-dum. Ba-dum. The powerful thrumming of a steady heart beneath her cheek soothed her as she slowly awoke. It reminded her of life, of strong, beautiful life, and instinctively she nestled closer to it. She felt an answering embrace around her waist, and fingers curled in her hair. She smiled contently as she welcomed these lovely feelings, her eyes still closed, and murmured something nonsensical sleepily. She had not felt so safe since those happier times before Irenicus, and she savored the experience.

 

She flexed her fingers, and felt hard muscle beneath them; this surprised her so that she was fully awake. She opened her eyes and saw that she was resting her head atop a chest. Not only that, but half of her body was lying atop this one!

 

Uh-oh. Whoever this is, I hope they are not awake. Maybe I can just move and pretend like this never happened… Vessa thought to herself nervously.

 

She looked up to see Solaufein’s smoky jade eyes gazing at her fondly, and a tender smile played across his features. She realized that it was his arm embracing her waist, and those were his fingers threaded through her hair.

 

Oh no…

 

“Good morning, my Little Poet,†Solaufein whispered into her hair.

 

Vessa blushed so brightly that a rainbow would have been envious of the hue. She had practically thrown herself at the dark elf in her sleep!! He must think I am some sort of wanton trollop! What am I going to do?! Oh gods, but what will Immy say when she sees this?! What will any of them say when they see this?! What are they going to think we…OH NO!

 

“Whâ€â€what? Where…where are the others? How long were we here? Have I been here all night?†She blurted out, frozen in place by indecision. As she moved to look around, she realized that a blanket was covering them both. Please tell me they did not…

 

“The others? They all came over once Minsc found us, and set up camp here so as not to wake you. We have indeed been here all night, and though you may have shifted a few times, you are in relatively the same position you were since you fell asleep,†Solaufein looked at Vessa’s face to see the mortification writ large across her features, “Vessa? Why do you look so flustered? Have I offended in some way?â€Â

 

“Offended? No! Not at all. You have not offended me at all.†fact, quite the opposite. It is truly a shame that this has to end. I am rather enjoying it. a hoped he couldn’t notice the now red color of her cheeks. Blast! Why must I always blush like a fool around him?! “I was worried that I may have offended you by my actions. I did not mean to fall asleep on you like this. Er…I should probably get off of you now. I must be squishing you,†Her unwillingness to leave the haven of his arms made her hesitant to move, and she was treated to a small earthquake as Solaufein laughed. The kitten she just now noticed was on her back gave a delicate snort and jumped off, sauntering away haughtily.

 

“ ‘Squishing’ me, Vessa? Hardly. You are far too light to ‘squish’ a Drow,†he shook his head in amusement as she hurriedly removed herself from his chest, his arm still around her waist, “and you have not offended me in any way by your actions. In truth, I found the entire experience rather… pleasant. Do Surfacers oft engage in such displays as this?â€Â

 

“Er…ask Imoen. I would not know.†Vessa said self-deprecatingly. “Oh, dear. You realize that our friends are going to jump to conclusions about all of this, do you not?†Vessa said as she sat up, his arm still not moved from her waist.

 

“What do you mean, ‘jump to conclusions’? What conclusions are there to jump to?†Solaufein said in confusion. Just then, Vessa saw Imoen run up to them with a grin so large it threatened to devour her face. Solaufein removed his arm as Immy approached. Is he embarrassed by public shows of affection?

 

Perhaps, Dymphna communicated as she perched on her mistress’ shoulder, but I doubt he’d be so shy in private. Oh no, not shy at all. In fact, I’d say he is the type to be *quite* demonstrative of his emotions…

 

Dymphna!! The images her familiar was sending to her made her entire face feel like it was on fire. It wasn’t that she disapproved, of course. She just didn’t need such…distracting thoughts now.

 

What? Dymphna replied in a voice dripping with false innocence.

 

“Hey, Uncle Sola! Are ya taking liberties with my sister?†Immy shouted gleefully.

 

“…Conclusions like that,†Vessa muttered in defeat.

 

“Cuz’ it’s about darned time! Gods, you two were moving so slow before now that it was like watching a snail try to outrun a tortoise!â€Â

 

“Eh?!†Vessa practically shouted.

 

“Aww, come on now, you know what I’m talkin’ about!†Imoen winked at her.

 

Vessa was shocked by what her sister had said, but was quickly distracted by the leftovers Immy shoved into her hands. Glorious food! was her only thought as she thoroughly enjoyed each bite.

***

 

Jaheira had been watching Vessa and Solaufein as they slept. It was wonderful to see Vessa looking so peaceful for once; that expression had been absent from her face for far too long. Still, it was strange for her to see, because Jaheira had grown used to viewing Vessa as a young child. Right now, however, Vessa looked to be the young woman Jaheira knew she was, though this image was dulled somewhat by the kitten curled up on her back.

 

It was already painfully obvious how those two felt about each other. Jaheira herself did not look down on a union between a surface elf and a Drow; she considered it natural, as such a coupling could produce healthy offspring.

 

She also knew of the social stigma that they would suffer as a result. She realized it would be extremely hard for them to be accepted no matter where they went. However, she understood that Vessa was made of stern stuff, and already she faced a societal prejudice of her own. Even a kind-hearted Bhaalspawn such as she was treated cruelly in most places. Vessa would willingly take all the mistreatment in stride if it meant staying with the one she loved. That was simply Vessa’s way.

 

 

“Sssollaaauufeiinn,†Vessa murmured dreamily, rubbing her cheek against his chest. Solaufein’s heart lit up at hearing his name being whispered like that by her.

 

There. This is a much more preferable position. Solaufein thought to himself as he resumed stroking her lovely hair, threading that odd amethyst lock through his fingers. He was quite sure the smile that was on his face right now would easily be mocked by Imoen, but at this point, he didn’t care.

 

Solaufein allowed his eyes to wander languorously over Vessa’s exquisite face. It was amazing…Even after all of the time he had spent on the surface, some customs were still alien to him, perhaps even overwhelmingly so. In Drow culture, the only forms of closeness permitted between two people were massage, and such things as could be conducted in the bedchambers. That was it. Yet, here he was, doing neither of those things, yet feeling closer to Vessa than he had ever felt with one of the many cruel, nameless lovers with which he had been forced to share a bed.

 

Truly, he did desire to be with Vessa, but… for her, he wanted it to be perfect. He did not desire perfection out of fear of reprisal; he wanted it to be perfect because of how deeply he cared for her. He wished to wait. He had to know that she felt the same way for him that he did for her. Otherwise, it would mean nothing, and he didn’t think he could take being used like that again, especially after he had so much emotion invested in her already. Plus, he knew that she had been brutally tortured in the dungeon of that bastard of a man, Irenicus. He had seen her shy away from touch, much as she tried to hide it. Whatever happened to her in that pit of hell, it had left her scarred in more ways than one. He wanted to be sure she was ready for such an embrace before he did anything that might frighten her away. This was too important, and as tempting and beautiful as she was, he knew that her trust was a hard won treasure, and he vowed not to let it slip through his fingers.

 

…Her hair smelled exotic, and her fingers caressed him as she twitched in her sleep. He would by lying if he said he was not enjoying every moment of this, but he wondered if this was considered inappropriate behavior on the Surface. Then again, if it was, why would Vessa have allowed herself to drift off? She looked so innocent and carefree as she slept...

 

His hand lingered in her hair a while more before Solaufein himself began to feel drowsy. He did not even hear the squawk of Vessa’s familiar as his eyes fluttered. His hand drifted to her shoulder, and he gently tightened the embrace as Vessa murmured softly and hugged him in her sleep. He now slowly slipped into a reverie of his own, for once feeling blissfully at peace with the surface world.

 

***

 

The night was young, the campfire was warm, and the scent of fresh game roasting in the flames reminded everyone about how hungry they were.

 

“When are they gonna get back here? I’m starvin’!†Imoen moaned in dismay, “Come on, Jaheira! They’re probably just out kissing in the woods! Let us eat!â€Â

 

“We will do no such thing until *all* of our group is accounted for. If you are hungry enough, you will look for them yourself,†Jaheira replied tartly.

 

“UGH!â€Â

 

“Fear not, Imoen. I shall go in search of the lady and the Drow. Of course, for his sake, I hope I do not catch him doing anything untoward to Vessa. He will not enjoy the consequences.â€Â

 

Boo advised Minsc that it was not a good idea for Anomen to go looking for his friends, as the glint in the cleric’s eyes looked menacing indeed. Boo thought it would be better if Minsc went to look himself.

 

“Minsc will go search for them, Anomen, do not worry! Boo can sniff Vessa out anywhere!â€Â

 

Anomen still did not look entirely convinced. Astonishingly enough, Jan came to Minsc’s aid.

 

“Oh, hey, Ano. If you go to search for them, I should go with, seeing as how I have infravision and all…â€Â

 

“NO! Ah…I believe Minsc shall go. Yes, ah….go with Minsc, my good gnome,†Anomen said hastily.

 

“Aww, why Ano, I’m crushed! If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were avoiding harmless little old me.â€Â

 

“Perish the thought,†Anomen said wryly.

 

Jan giggled as he ran up to Minsc, who most definitely did not trust his intentions. Minsc held Boo close to him as Jan looked up.

 

“Ohohohoh, but I wonder what we’ll catch them at, eh, Minscy? I’m sure it will be hilarious to see the looks on their faces when we find them!â€Â

 

Minsc was not sure what Jan was getting at, but he was certain it was something offensive.

 

“I do not like what you are hinting at, gnome. Vessa and Solaufein are maybe looking at flowers! Yes, or talking about the poetry he likes so much. Nothing naughty like your bad mind dreams up.â€Â

 

“Hmmm…shows how much you know, Minscy.â€Â

 

They wandered through the woods for a while, Minsc holding Boo up to sniff them out. He followed Boo’s little twitchy nose, and found Vessa’s familiar flying towards them. The silvery raven called once and began to fly off. Boo told Minsc that they should follow, and they soon came upon Vessa, lying with her head on Solaufein’s chest. Minsc did not have a chance to sneak up on them, however, as Solaufein’s head snapped up at the first sound of movement. Before Minsc could even react, Solaufein had moved to shield Vessa, seemingly undisturbed by the motion, swiftly drew a wicked-looking dagger from his boot, and was aiming it at his direction. Once Solaufein recognized who it was that approached, he resheathed the dagger and put his finger over his lips, signaling Minsc to be quiet. The familiar landed on a branch above Vessa and began calmly preening her feathers. Minsc got the feeling that Dymphna was feeling quite pleased with herself.

 

Minsc’s hands went to Lilarcor, whose muffled battle cries could still be heard through the scabbard. He had half-drawn the sword, and was prepared to rush at Solaufein to defend Vessa’s honor, when Boo told him that it would be unnecessary. Boo said that they were still wearing clothes, and that they had both been sleeping. They just fell asleep while they were talking!

 

Yes, Boo. That makes sense. I am so glad to have you around to stop me from hurting my friends with my silly ideas!

 

Minsc turned to see Jan’s eyes widen, and he clamped a hand over the gnome’s mouth to stifle the laughter he knew was coming. Of course, Jan immediately tried to steal Boo while Minsc was distracted, so he had to settle with hitting him on the head. Lightly….Jan didn’t pass out, at least.

 

“Come, Jan,†Minsc whispered so loudly that he might as well have said it out loud, “we should go tell the others where these two are. That way, Jaheira will let us eat!â€Â

 

Jan just gave Minsc a look that clearly said ‘I wish you hadn’t hit my head, you large ogre’ but went along anyway.

 

Minsc made it back to the camp and relayed what he saw. Imoen began sniggering, Jaheira rolled her eyes and chuckled knowingly, and Anomen appeared incensed.

 

“They are what?! That behavior is scandalous! I demand that we go back over there and talk some sense into them right this instant!†Anomen said, an edge of anger in his voice.

 

“Scandalous, Anomen? Vessa is a grown woman who can make her own choices, and Solaufein is a grown man who treats her well. Besides, all they are doing is sleeping. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, so don’t get overwrought about it. We shall simply finish our meal here, save some for them, and move our camp over to them, if it offends you so much,†Jaheira said patiently.

 

“Overwrought?! I am not overwrought! Vessa may be a grown woman, but you have to admit that she isn’t the most brilliant gem in the bag where men are concerned! Sure, we all *think* he is treating her well, but how do we know? He is a Drow, and is therefore no stranger to lies and deceit. He could be making fools of us all, and Vessa will be the one to suffer most from our lack of vigilance,†Anomen spluttered.

 

"Anomen, I know that you miss your sister, but Vessa is not Moira, and can make her own decisions. She is a capable adult, and honestly, you have no right to interfere with her personal life,†Jaheira replied.

 

Anomen glared and clenched his teeth, but otherwise said nothing. Minsc was not sure why what Jaheira said had calmed him, but he was relieved. When Anomen got angry, it could put the fury of a Rashemi warrior to shame!

 

They quietly snuck back to where Solaufein and Vessa were resting, with Solaufein still awake and Vessa sleeping soundly. Minsc noticed that it was getting rather cold out, and both of them were starting to look uncomfortable. Vessa tried to snuggle even closer to Solaufein’s side to avoid the cold, though she already looked as if she were welded to him like melted armor. Minsc smiled, pulled a blanket from his pack, and draped it over the two. He winked conspiratorially at Solaufein and went to his own bedroll, his heart joyous at seeing how happy his two friends looked together.

 

***

 

Ba-dum. Ba-dum. The powerful thrumming of a steady heart beneath her cheek soothed her as she slowly awoke. It reminded her of life, of strong, beautiful life, and instinctively she nestled closer to it. She felt an answering embrace around her waist, and fingers curled in her hair. She smiled contently as she welcomed these lovely feelings, her eyes still closed, and murmured something nonsensical sleepily. She had not felt so safe since those happier times before Irenicus, and she savored the experience.

 

She flexed her fingers, and felt hard muscle beneath them; this surprised her so that she was fully awake. She opened her eyes and saw that she was resting her head atop a chest. Not only that, but half of her body was lying atop this one!

 

Uh-oh. Whoever this is, I hope they are not awake. Maybe I can just move and pretend like this never happened… Vessa thought to herself nervously.

 

She looked up to see Solaufein’s smoky jade eyes gazing at her fondly, and a tender smile played across his features. She realized that it was his arm embracing her waist, and those were his fingers threaded through her hair.

 

Oh no…

 

“Good morning, my Little Poet,†Solaufein whispered into her hair.

 

Vessa blushed so brightly that a rainbow would have been envious of the hue. She had practically thrown herself at the dark elf in her sleep!! He must think I am some sort of wanton trollop! What am I going to do?! Oh gods, but what will Immy say when she sees this?! What will any of them say when they see this?! What are they going to think we…OH NO!

 

“Whâ€â€what? Where…where are the others? How long were we here? Have I been here all night?†She blurted out, frozen in place by indecision. As she moved to look around, she realized that a blanket was covering them both. Please tell me they did not…

 

“The others? They all came over once Minsc found us, and set up camp here so as not to wake you. We have indeed been here all night, and though you may have shifted a few times, you are in relatively the same position you were since you fell asleep,†Solaufein looked at Vessa’s face to see the mortification writ large across her features, “Vessa? Why do you look so flustered? Have I offended in some way?â€Â

 

“Offended? No! Not at all. You have not offended me at all.†fact, quite the opposite. It is truly a shame that this has to end. I am rather enjoying it. a hoped he couldn’t notice the now red color of her cheeks. Blast! Why must I always blush like a fool around him?! “I was worried that I may have offended you by my actions. I did not mean to fall asleep on you like this. Er…I should probably get off of you now. I must be squishing you,†Her unwillingness to leave the haven of his arms made her hesitant to move, and she was treated to a small earthquake as Solaufein laughed. The kitten she just now noticed was on her back gave a delicate snort and jumped off, sauntering away haughtily.

 

“ ‘Squishing’ me, Vessa? Hardly. You are far too light to ‘squish’ a Drow,†he shook his head in amusement as she hurriedly removed herself from his chest, his arm still around her waist, “and you have not offended me in any way by your actions. In truth, I found the entire experience rather… pleasant. Do Surfacers oft engage in such displays as this?â€Â

 

“Er…ask Imoen. I would not know.†Vessa said self-deprecatingly. “Oh, dear. You realize that our friends are going to jump to conclusions about all of this, do you not?†Vessa said as she sat up, his arm still not moved from her waist.

 

“What do you mean, ‘jump to conclusions’? What conclusions are there to jump to?†Solaufein said in confusion. Just then, Vessa saw Imoen run up to them with a grin so large it threatened to devour her face. Solaufein removed his arm as Immy approached. Is he embarrassed by public shows of affection?

 

Perhaps, Dymphna communicated as she perched on her mistress’ shoulder, but I doubt he’d be so shy in private. Oh no, not shy at all. In fact, I’d say he is the type to be *quite* demonstrative of his emotions…

 

Dymphna!! The images her familiar was sending to her made her entire face feel like it was on fire. It wasn’t that she disapproved, of course. She just didn’t need such…distracting thoughts now.

 

What? Dymphna replied in a voice dripping with false innocence.

 

“Hey, Uncle Sola! Are ya taking liberties with my sister?†Immy shouted gleefully.

 

“…Conclusions like that,†Vessa muttered in defeat.

 

“Cuz’ it’s about darned time! Gods, you two were moving so slow before now that it was like watching a snail try to outrun a tortoise!â€Â

 

“Eh?!†Vessa practically shouted.

 

“Aww, come on now, you know what I’m talkin’ about!†Imoen winked at her.

 

Vessa was shocked by what her sister had said, but was quickly distracted by the leftovers Immy shoved into her hands. Glorious food! was her only thought as she thoroughly enjoyed each bite.

***

 

Jaheira had been watching Vessa and Solaufein as they slept. It was wonderful to see Vessa looking so peaceful for once; that expression had been absent from her face for far too long. Still, it was strange for her to see, because Jaheira had grown used to viewing Vessa as a young child. Right now, however, Vessa looked to be the young woman Jaheira knew she was, though this image was dulled somewhat by the kitten curled up on her back.

 

It was already painfully obvious how those two felt about each other. Jaheira herself did not look down on a union between a surface elf and a Drow; she considered it natural, as such a coupling could produce healthy offspring.

 

She also knew of the social stigma that they would suffer as a result. She realized it would be extremely hard for them to be accepted no matter where they went. However, she understood that Vessa was made of stern stuff, and already she faced a societal prejudice of her own. Even a kind-hearted Bhaalspawn such as she was treated cruelly in most places. Vessa would willingly take all the mistreatment in stride if it meant staying with the one she loved. That was simply Vessa’s way.

 

 

That was not what Jaheira was concerned about at the moment. What Anomen had said about Vessa being unfamiliar with the ways of men struck a chord within her. Jaheira knew that Gorion would have sense enough to teach her much of the wiles of men, but from the letters he would send to her regarding Vessa, he did not like the thought of her growing up, and had kept certain information from her. Just how much *did* Vessa know, exactly? Jaheira would soon find out.

 

The sight of Imoen antagonizing a very mortified looking Vessa made Jaheira laugh. She waited patiently until Vessa hungrily devoured the leftovers from last night’s evetide feast. It was her opinion that Vessa was small enough without skipping meals as well. Once that was done, Jaheira wordlessly drew Vessa aside.

 

“What is it, Jaheira?†Vessa said, curiosity in her voice as Jaheira checked to see that they were relatively alone. Once that was verified, Jaheira spoke:

 

“Child, Gorion taught you the ways of men, I trust?.â€Â

 

Vessa looked at Jaheira as if the druid were addled as she answered, “Well, yes, Jaheira. Gorion warned me that men would say whatever they felt necessary to achieve their desires, and then move on to new women once they slaked their needs. Why?†her eyes became suspicious as realization dawned in them. “Is this about Solaufein? I swear to you, we did nothing! We were simply stargazing and fell asleep! Well, I fell asleep. I think he fell asleep after I did. And no, he has not asked me anything inappropriate, if that is what you are hinting at.â€Â

 

Jaheira smiled slightly, though it was tempered with sadness as she remembered when Khalid and she first courted, “I trust Solaufein enough to believe he would not do anything potentially hurtful to you if he knew it would do so, but you must remember that ways of the Underdark, the ways he was raised under, are not our own. Something that may seem perfectly natural to him might very well be considered lewd and offensive to us. Remember, child, in their own society Drow think nothing about lying with one, only to toss them away once the pleasure is over.

 

Vessa looked taken aback by Jaheira’s response, but her eyes grew thoughtful, “I believe I had taught him most of the pertinent information about surfacer culture, but I suppose I seem to have…neglected…those particular little details.â€Â

 

Jaheira chuckled out loud, “I realize the subject would feel awkward to broach, although you do seem to be…comfortable in his presence otherwise. I would just like you to tread carefully when it comes to him, that is all. Perhaps you could further explain to him the surfacer customs that he is still unacquainted with? I can tell that he trusts you, and he enjoys conversing with you quite a bit. Though I do not moralize quite so much as he does, I have learned to view situations…differently, since our fateful encounter with the order I once served.†Jaheira’s slender fingers caressed the pin given to her by Elminster after she left the Harpers. That had been a hard lesson for her, but she felt she made the right decision. Right now said decision was currently in the process of formulating the correct way to bring up the topic to Solaufein, no doubt.

 

“Well, I….†Vessa cut herself off quickly and clutched at her stomach, her eyes closing tightly in pain.

 

“Vessa? What is the matter? Are you feeling quite all right?†Jaheira said with concern.

 

“Whâ€â€Oh, yes, I am fine. I guess I just ate breakfast a bit too quickly. That is all. I am sorry if I--â€Â

 

“Never mind that for now, Vessa,†Jaheira said dismissively, “Perhaps I shall have that talk with him myself, instead. In the meantime, child, we need to have a talk and dispel some of your naïveté. I remember Gorion, and while he was a mature, easygoing man, he was not exactly comfortable with talking to girls about men. We'll start with the basics. What do you know about the anatomical differences between a man and a woman, and what do you know about how men think?â€Â

 

Vessa raised a brow as she spoke, “Well, hmm…I do not know, Jaheira. I know that ‘boys do it standing up’. Is that the anatomical knowledge you require?â€Â

 

Jaheira rolled her eyes, “No need to take that tone with me, Vessa. I am merely trying to educate you. Now, did Gorion teach you nothing of such things?â€Â

 

“Gorion did not teach me of such things, no. But Jaheira, listen to yourself. I have *Imoen* for a sister. Do you think with a sister like Imoen I could possibly escape that knowledge? She saw such talks as vital to my education,†Vessa finished wryly.

 

“Hmmm…that may well be the case, but perhaps some pictorial evidence is in order,†Jaheira picked up a stick and proceeded to sketch the aforementioned anatomy into the dirt.

 

Jaheira could hear the sarcasm in her voice as Vessa spoke, “Oh is that what they look like? OH GODS!! I LOOKED!! Will I get pregnant now?!†Vessa’s voice grew more serious. “Jaheira, I know of these things already. Let us just go. We have a long day of marching to and fro ahead of us already, and these silly talks are merely taking up time.†Jaheira noticed Vessa shifted uncomfortably, however.

 

“You certainly are on the defensive now, aren’t you, Vessa? There is no need to be embarrassed, child, it is a perfectly natural thing to be curious about. Besides, you need to know of such things for when you decide to--â€Â

 

“Decide to what, Jaheira? I am not planning to do anything untoward with anyone for quite a time yet to come, and I doubt anyone in their right mind would have a Bhaalspawn anyway. This is a moot point, let us leave.â€Â

 

“Do not speak of yourself in such a negative tone, Vessa,†Jaheira’s voice softened in understanding, “You are a Bhaalspawn, yes, but do not allow that to become the be-all and end-all of your life. And as for the former, you have not done anything yet, this is true. However, I know that eventually it will happen. After all, not even your tremendously strong and stubborn will can allow you to fight off natural instinct forever. Sooner or later, you two shall indeed--â€Â

 

“Jaheira!!†Vessa shouted, blushing brightly with shock clearly written across her face, “you do make bold assumptions! Why do you speak as if it is guaranteed to happen? If I have learned anything in my travels, it is that nothing is ever guaranteed. I mean, it is not as if he--â€Â

 

“Loves you? Please. Child, the elf stares at you when he thinks you are not looking, he searches for any excuse to speak with you, and you passed the entire night crushing his ribcage without him uttering a word of protest. Not only that, but he puts up with your excruciatingly evident naïveté! If that isn’t love, then I don't know what is! Just because he is not throwing himself at you, or pulling all manner of foolish stunt to impress you, or has a life outside of you, does not mean that he does not care for you.â€Â

 

“I never said that it did, Jaheira. I just do not see anything about me that could possibly draw his fancy-â€Â

 

“Then you are blind. Come, now, let us gather the others. We have much to do today.†Jaheira finished the conversation quickly. She had no desire to listen to Vessa’s self-doubt at this time. Perhaps, one day, the girl will see for herself how foolish and untrue such negative thoughts were.

 

***