Tuesday, November 14, 2017
I sat alone in one of Illium’s secluded studies, sipping from my glass and half asleep on the chaise lounge. This week’s deluge of events continued to circle around my head, a mountain of climbing obligations.
“That’s what you're for...” I said fondly to the contents in my cup. I took another healthy swig, allowing my head to grow clouded.
A gentle breeze blew in from the balcony doors, and when I blinked at the rustling curtains, a red-headed halfling was watching me tentatively.
“How drunk are you, Taelim?” Cosmo asked cautiously, taking a step toward me. He wore a peculiar burlap sack that I couldn’t quite place my finger on.
I scooted to the edge of my seat, beckoning the kender close. “That depends on who’s asking,” I continued to examine him, but without the same sense of clarity he held over me.
His bare feet kicked at the floor uncertainly. “I miiiight have gotten in a bit of trouble…” Cosmo admitted at last.
I snorted, drinking deeply. “I’m sure whatever you did to piss Maziel off will be forgotten by morning.”
The kender winced. “See, that’s the thing. Maziel sorta...broke me out of jail with her bat-cloak-thing.”
I stared at the halfling over the rim of my glass, frozen. Suddenly, I recognized the outfit. I slammed my cup down and stood, staggering a bit. “Were you arrested?!”
“I thought you’d be a little more receptive…”
I threw up hands. “Cosmo! You were arrested, probably broke out, and now you show up here?!”
He shrugged. “I figured you could...maybe help me out of this mess.”
“Not if you broke out! I am the law, and I have to do it by the books!”
“Damn,” Cosmo pouted, “not really what I was hoping for…”
“C’mon,” I growled. “Let’s head there so I can sort this out.” I reached for my glass, then thought better of it.
“Back to jail, you mean?”
“No, shit. I have to talk to the guards.”
Cosmo nodded slowly, then without another word, he bolted past me and out of the door. I folded my my arms and watched him go, split with disbelief and frustration. Something primal took hold, and I shifted into a dire wolf and hurtled after him. I chased him down, catching him and pinning him with a snarl.
“All right!” He screamed, likely drawing guards and unwanted attention our way. “Please, Taelim...could we at least bring Maziel?”
Reluctantly, I withdrew, changing back into my half-elf shape. I reached down and lifted him to his feet. “Find the drow who helped you break the law,” I let that linger. It was a difficult notion to fathom. I never thought Maziel would put her hide on the line for the kender she often bickered with. I started to wonder what transpired while they were in the Asimba Mountains.
Cosmo was looking up at me hopefully.
“All right,” I caved, shooing away the guards that had run down the hall. “We’ll get Maziel, and then we do this the proper way.” Whether I liked it or not, I had an obligation to my friends too. They had been my family away from Illium those long years gone, a circus family, but a loving one all the same. Like Maziel might have realized, it wasn’t an easy decision to make.
The drow had refused to say anything as we drew up to the prison. Either Maziel knew she had placed me in a precarious position, or didn’t care. It infuriated me, and by now I had started to sober up, which made matters worse.
I threw open the doors to the prison, cutting off the guards at the front desk halfway through their argument. They stopped and gaped, eyes darting between the three of us.
“P-princess…” stammered what looked to be the warden of this small jail.
“I think you lost something,” I said hotly, turning and gesturing for Cosmo, who came to my side hesitantly.
“Maziel…” Cosmo whined softly.
I should have guessed what came next, but I think at that point everything had already spiraled well out of my hands. The room erupted into a cloud of darkness, obscuring all from sight.
“Run, Cosmo!” Maziel yelled.
Furniture crashed, swords slid from their scabbards and footsteps pounded chaotically about. I stood, swaying furiously in the middle of the blackness as the guards swore.
With a violent swish of my hands, I dispelled the darkness, revealing the clutter and the disoriented guards. I briefly glanced over my shoulder, and saw the door wide open. Maziel and Cosmo were gone. I was breathing heavily, feeling the blood rise to my face.
“Let me get this straight,” I started through clenched teeth. “When the kender was jailed for a crime, one of you thought it best to let the drow gift him with a cloak. A magic cloak. Which he then used to break out of jail.”
“P-princess, we...um...never thought…”
I held up my hand, cutting him off. I pinched the bridge of my nose and took a deep breath. “Is there a bail fee before his court date?”
“I’ll pay it, to cover all our hides.”
The guards looked at each other, then nodded, clearly relieved we were somehow salvaging the situation. That and I wasn’t here to fire them. Yet.
“Is the kender’s gear here?”
The warden nodded.
“Give me all of it, it belongs to me now.”
They handed it over without hesitating, and I slung the pack over my shoulder.
“Good night, Princess…” one of the guards tried, but I had already slammed the door shut.
The next day I half-expected the furious caller who forced his way into my schedule. He was a gnome by the name of Ilya Bleeve, and Cosmo had been caught stealing his magic wares. Which had never been recovered.
“You!” Ilya pointed his stubby finger at me, sitting on the chair across from me before I could offer it.
I dropped down in the seat across the desk, trying to collect myself.
“You helped him escape! That wretched, thieving halfling.” Ilya shrieked.
As calmly as I could, I tried to address the gnome in a civilized manner. “Now, what gave that impression?”
“You were seen with him, at the jail where he escaped!”
“Bringing him back,” I said sharply. “Because I was the one who caught him in the first escape.”
Ilya furrowed his brow. “You’re all friends!”
“True,” I said, leaning into my chair. “But that doesn’t mean Cosmo is above the law.”
“Then turn him in!”
“His bail is posted, and he has a court date, Mr. Bleeve. What more do you want from me?” I asked dryly, hoping someone would run in with an emergency excuse of some sort. I really needed to plan such things with Feeps in the future.
Ilya was beet red, and visibly shaking. “Is there no retribution I can seek? All my wares, gone!”
I sighed softly, then leaned over the desk. “Perhaps we can work something out, Mr. Bleeve. I understand what Cosmo is accused of, but maybe we can resolve this another way.”
Ilya’s eyes narrowed, black beads in his ruddy face. “Are you trying to bribe me?”
I chewed on my lip, realizing how it sounded aloud. I merely shrugged, too late to withdraw my statement.
At once Ilya leapt off his seat. “How dare you? Unbelievable! There is no justice in this system! None!” He turned and stormed out of the room. “No justice!” His voice echoed down the hall.
Quietly, I collected the papers in front of me and moved them to one side. I pressed my forehead against the desk and succeeded in not bagging my head.
An attendant walked into the room shortly after. “Princess, your next appointment is here to see you.”
Later that day I found myself at Klotonk’s house, because there I knew I'd find the kender hiding. I hadn't wanted to confront him, to argue and fight and make matters worse. I was already exhausted and done with the matter.
The succubus Minerva answered the door with a wide, welcoming smile. I shuffled into the living room, and she was already extending me a drink, which to my surprise, I declined.
“Where's the kender?” I asked, glancing around the cluttered space. Though I couldn't spot him, I knew he could hear me.
Minerva shrugged coyly. “What's the matter, dear? You look upset.”
I threw Cosmo's gear on the floor, scattering the contents. “Upset? Yeah, I'm upset. My friends took advantage of me, put me in a shitty position, and I get held responsible. That's not what friends do!” My eyes scanned the room, but by now I could feel my anger fading to fatigue. “He didn't even say sorry…”
I turned and headed for the door, and Minerva rushed after me, hand on my shoulder. She leaned in close. “Is this about Ilya, darling? Cosmo is sorry, even Klotonk reprimanded him...”
I nodded, “It doesn't matter. I can't help those who won't help themselves.” Then I left, walking down the street and leaving the succubus pondering after me.
The next morning I received word from the warden handling the case. Bleeve’s charges had been dropped, but now he was nowhere to be found. Cosmo was a free kender. I crumbled the missive and threw it into the fire, but the circumstances haunted me regardless.
No, the week didn’t get easier. It grew tedious and more painful with every passing moment, all the while I holed myself up at the castle in the service of my kingdom. Obeying. Until the copper dragon came, one of Illium’s allies, apparently to a summons I had made not long ago. The dragon took the shape of halfling, and when I called my party together to heed his words, at least Cosmo had the sense not to show up. The kender was “cooling off,” as Maziel put it, but the drow kept clear of my sour disposition all the same. I was still hurt by her betrayal, no matter how many times she explained it was in order to repay Cosmo’s “life favor.”
The Astral Plane. The copper dragon had recollected the best way to seal Primus up, back when dragons and giants tried to fight off the god of this world’s making. It went beyond our time spell which temporarily that bound him. We needed a blessing from Bahumut, to find the god’s temple, and earn a resistance to Primus’s mind control. Only then could we face him, and seal him back in the Ziggurat for eternity. Or until someone else set him free again.
“When do we leave?” Klotonk piped up excitedly.
“We can plane-shift tomorrow, charter a ship in Hestavar…” Maziel began making plans.
The goliath twins glanced at each other, evidently eager to be back on track for avenging their past.
Quietly, I got to my feet and walked toward the door.
“Taelim?” Maziel said aloud.
I peered over my shoulder. “You know I can’t go,” I replied, trying and failing to hide my disappointment. I turned and looked over the group. “You can handle whatever challenge they throw at you.”
“Are you sure?” Klotonk asked, a hint of a plea in his voice.
I smiled humorlessly. “Don’t get killed.”
“We’ll leave at dawn,” Maziel called after me. “At the teleportation hub if you change your mind.”
I waved back without meeting their eyes, then moved toward my next appointment.
I have a tendency to allow my feelings to fester inside me. I hide them from the world, and face everything else with a fearless grin and reckless abandon. The results vary, if they don’t outright end in terrible mistakes. Often, I convince myself they were right, if only to dismiss my own chagrin. I had reached a boiling point of late, and instead of trying to address the situation, I did what I do best, and took it out on the one person who had become my solace.
Lysandra was waiting for me when I made my way to the study that night. She was all smiles, two glasses in hand, as I faced her with a furrowed brow and quiet reluctance.
“Long day?” She asked undeterred, sitting at the edge of the desk.
I didn’t respond at first, I was too busy thinking of tomorrow’s schedule. Of Killian and Feeps, of Tylda’s continual beratement. Of Illium, and my self-inflicted burden here. Slowly, I raised my face and studied Lysandra, she had one hand on mine. I pulled away sharply.
I got to my feet, and crossed the room, taking a deep breath. This won’t get easier...I’m making all of this harder. For everyone. I faced Lysandra, who was watching me with a frown. In that moment, I hated myself, because I was about to make a choice. One I didn’t want, but chose all the same.
I stepped up to her, inches away, but she didn’t retreat. She waited, patient and attentive, if fearful. I could feel my own desperate urge to run and forget what I was thinking, to ignore it all and do what I wanted, the life I deserved. I disregarded that too.
“The more I surround myself with you the more I find myself falling for you,” I started softly, my eyes unable to meet hers. “The problem with that is, I've already promised myself to another. For the sake of something bigger than me.” I shrugged, halfheartedly gesturing all around me. “I’m bound to this life now, to Illium and Killian.” I faltered, and somehow mustered the rest of my courage. It was too late to stop anyway. “The truth is, I'm scared about him, and you. I don't what to be my mother. To create another mess that's me and almost bring Illium to its knees.” I could feel my body trembling now. “Lys, I don't want this to be goodbye, because I don't want to lose you, but...whatever this is, I can't do it anymore...I-I'm sorry."
As if my words weren’t selfish enough, that didn’t stop me from kissing her. She didn’t resist, but when I turned and walked out of the room, she didn’t come after me either.
I couldn’t sleep that night, lying awake and trying to defend myself, but failing. I gave up, and crept out the castle when the first rays of light filled my room. My friends were waiting at the teleportation circle, even though it was already past dawn.
Maziel raised an eyebrow at my approach, examining me more critically than normal. She didn’t say a word, and draped an arm around my shoulder.
“Let’s go,” I said hoarsely, and we plane-shifted far and away from the city.
Thursday, November 9, 2017
For the next few weeks I was bound to the castle. My life revolved around politics and social calls while my friends were killing a fungus god. Of late, I think my resentment had spread. Feeps had tried and failed to support my clearly torn lifestyle, and Killian had entirely given up on the prospect of our marriage, which I still continued to put off. I was simply going through the motions.
“You’re miserable,” Lysandra pointed out to me one night as we drank wine on my balcony.
“You’re miserable,” Lysandra pointed out to me one night as we drank wine on my balcony.
I didn’t respond, but I knew this to be true. I should have been out there with my friends, fending off evil. That was how I could better serve Illium. Becoming a Magi was the wish Viceak had in mind, not reluctantly ruling. Yet, here I was.
I reached for the bottle and filled my glass. Lysandra watched reproachfully, but didn’t stop me. With a sigh, she quietly brushed Little Oddie, who observed the city diligently from the railing.
“I heard they will be back by tomorrow,” she tried to cheer me up.
I grunted in acknowledgement as I tipped my glass back. She attempted a few times to distract me from Illium. It didn’t matter, I drank until I forgot the night anyway.
I awoke to banging on my door.
I fell out of bed, then scrambled to my feet, throwing on a set of clothes. My head ached with every movement, and I almost jumped again when someone moved in my bed.
Lysandra. I sighed. I can’t keep this doing this.
The knock was more forceful this time. I swallowed, then hurried to answer.
“What?” I said, slipping outside to confront my callers. It was Dagon, with Maziel at his heels.
The dwarf chuckled. “You look flustered. Had a good night?”
He tried to peek behind me, but I shut the door and faced him. “Welcome back,” I snapped, “Now what do you want?”
“It’s noon, Taelim.” Maziel said calmly.
I pursed my lips. Gods dammit. “All right, but you’re here for a reason.”
“We killed Zuggtmoy!” Dagon blurted excitedly.
Maziel shoved him aside. “I need a favor.”
I cocked my head, folding my arms over my chest. “What kind?”
“We found Gnasha on our trip. She and a band of orcs have gathered in Asimba.” Maziel paused as if verifying I was comprehending her despite my questionable state. Tentatively, she continued. “I told her you could heal her hand if she went back to Stilt Town...”
“Do you know how much shit I get everytime I leave Illium?” I retorted.
“You could be there and back in a day with your magic.”
“Not the point.”
“Please, Taelim.” Maziel said quietly. “For me. I want no hard feelings between our parties.”
My shoulders fell. “Fine, I’ll take care of it.”
Maziel bowed her head. “Let me know when you get back. We’re planning another trip.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but the two had already turned to leave. A thought for a later time.
“You shirt is on backwards!” Dagon shouted before turning a corner.
I looked down and cursed, then stormed back into my room to change.
My tasks tended to come in waves, one after the other. I had hardly stepped foot in court before an attendant called for me in a panic.
“Princess!” The nervous man began, repeatedly peering over his shoulder. “There are, um, diplomats here to see you.”
“That wasn’t on the schedule,” I replied dryly, walking by. “Let Killian deal with it.”
The attendant squeaked and hurried to keep up. “They specifically requested you. Drow from Lowfort.”
I stopped in my tracks to face him, and the attendant only nodded his head vigorously. I could see the sweat beading on his forehead.
“I’ll deal with them,” I said at once.
The attendant wilted in relief. He bowed deeply, praised my name then scuttled off before I could change my mind.
As I made my way to the drawing room where the drow waited, I wondered and feared what they could possibly want from me. Or worse, from Illium. When I stepped inside, I faltered for a moment. Two women were waiting patiently at the table.
Outfitted in intricate black robes, a dark face with iris-less eyes looked up at me. She was beautiful. The woman beside her was outfitted in soft leathers, with a short sword at her side.
The first woman stood, drawing back her veil. “You’ve come at last.” She didn’t seem the least bit pleased.
“Sorry, I wasn’t expecting your arrival…”
The woman seemed to stand straighter. “You may call me L’triel, I come on behalf of my people.”
I nodded slowly as I took a seat across from them. L’triel’s bodyguard remained standing, hands behind her back. “I heard you’ve come all the way from Lowfort. For what reason?” I asked, actually striving to be polite despite knowing they had no right to call that place home.
L’triel smiled, we both saw through the other’s bullshit. “I’ve come to arrange an alliance.”
I was glad I hadn’t started drinking. I might have spit it out. “Is that so? Did you make the same offer to Stilt Town or Lowfort?”
“Guard your tongue, illegitimate one.” The bodyguard snarled.
L’triel raised a hand to silence the other drow.
I grinned darkly. “Bastard I may be, yet still in charge here. Remember that.”
L’triel leaned forward, folding her hands on the table. “We know the upheaval our presence has brought. As your friend, Maizel, might have once expressed, the drow don’t have a place to call home. Now, for once in alignment as a people, we seek that home.”
I sat back in my chair. By trying to take it from others. “You’re making enemies,” I said bluntly. “If you will stop your attacks by aquiring a home, then take Solstice. It’s an abandoned city we recently reclaimed.”
L’triel features scrunched in distaste. “That won’t do….We don’t have a fondness for the oppressive sunlight there.”
I drummed the table. I’m being baited. “And Lowfort won’t do? Your people secured that nicely, though I can’t imagine taking the orcs there as slaves has gone over well.”
L’triel watched me calmly. “That is not the home we originally sought.”
“Then you still want the Sump,” I said abruptly. “But you know they’ll kick you right back out.” I threw up my hands. “I can’t have an alliance with those who want to take their home by force.”
“Which is why we were hoping you could convince the locals to relocate.”
For a heartbeat I forgot to breathe. I just blinked at the diplomat, replaying her statement in my head, verifying I heard correctly.
“You want me to move the orcs and bullywugs out of their home, so you can have it?”
L’triel nodded, but her features had grown serious. There was a deadliness in it, and I briefly wondered who was protecting who of the two present.
“We are tired of warring, young princess. We genuinely wish to stop, to call the Sump home and live at peace with those of this realm.”
“And you can’t live in peace with those already there?”
She shook her head once, decisive.
I sighed, sitting up in my chair. “Suppose I can convince the others to move, to give you the Sump and call a truce. What do we get out of it?”
L’triel spread her arms, welcoming suggestions. “What do you wish of us?”
I chewed on my lips, contemplating the question. I already knew any bargaining with them was a risk. I should have brought Maziel. “Leave Lowfort, and free your slaves. If I can get the drow the Sump, you’re done. Don’t even think of taking over another territory, because you’ll shatter this precious truce you want.”
L’triel shifted in her seat, but I couldn’t tell if she was getting comfortable or just the opposite. After a few moments, she responded. “If you can secure the Sump for the drow, then I’ll do as you ask. You have an accord.”
I rubbed my temple, the pounding in my head had only grown worse. “I’ll see to the paper work.” Slowly I rose to my feet. “But that’s if I can convince the Sump tribes at all.”
I stepped out of the tree’s portal and into Stilt Town later that day. This was a solo trip, and one I desperately needed. A large patchwork tent was thrown up just outside the buildings under construction. Two burly orcs stood guard outside.
I approached the entrance, but crossed pikes barred my way.
“Really? I’m here to see Gnasha.” I told the orcs, who grunted something back in their own tongue. Hands on my hips, I briefly contemplated shifting into an elemental and tossing them aside. Before I could, the flaps were thrown open and a female orc, a head taller than her guards, stood in the doorway.
“Taelim. You’ve come,” she said in her deep voice, surprised I was actually here.
She gave the guards a single look, and they immediately drew back their pikes. She beckoned for me to follow inside the tent.
Gnasha plopped down on the mats and hides piled on one side of the space, gesturing for me to follow. I obliged, trying and failing not to stare at the stump on her otherwise intimidating figure.
She waved it in front of me, bearing her short tusk teeth. “A gift from your friend.”
“I heard,” I responded weakly, scratching my ear idly.
“Did she also tell you how her people took my village by force!” She growled.
“Maziel swore she wasn’t a part of that,” I said, defending my companion.
Gnasha snorted, then looked away. “It doesn’t matter now. Most of my people have been taken, I failed them.”
I considered holding back details of my encounter earlier today, but she had a right to know. “A drow diplomat visited me in Illium today…”
Gnasha’s head swung back around, her eyes locking with mine. “Illium? Why there?”
I shrugged, “Asking for our help, my help.”
“With you? In Illium?” She repeated,uncertainly.
“You do know I run that kingdom, right?”
Gnasha’s eyes widened. “You, little savior of Stilt Town?” She grinned, amused at the prospect.
I swallowed and ignored the reference to my past actions. “Yeah, well, I was the bastard of the king’s wife, but no one knew until the attacks there. For some reason they want me to stay.” I shook my head and the facts with it. “Give me your arm, that is, if you want your hand grown back.”
Gnasha examined me carefully, then tentatively extended her stump. “Tell me more about the drow in Illium.”
So, as I invoked the regenerative properties to restore her hand, I told her everything that happened. When I was done, she only gaped at me, entirely ignoring her fully regrown hand.
“You can’t trust them!” She snarled.
“Who said I did?” We held eyes for a moment, but I caved in first. “I’m trying to get the drow to stop, Gnasha. If they will actually be content with the Sump, then maybe they won't invade every place they come across.”
“They won’t stop,” Gnasha said.
“Then we go to war!” I responded, voice strained. I sighed, shaking my head. “I don’t have any other way to get them out of Lowfort, free their slaves, and leave this plane alone. They want a place to call their own, and while I don’t agree with their methods, I want it wrapped up.” I faced her squarely. “Do you want to help me or not?”
Gnasha gazed down as her new hand, flexing her fingers for a few moments in silence. When she spoke, she didn’t meet my gaze. “What are you asking of me?”
“With the help of some other druids, I think we can shape some of the southern lands in Illium for the orcs and bullywugs to inhabit. Happily and safely under Illium’s banner. The problem is convincing them to go. That’s where I need you, they’ll listen to you. Trust you even.”
Gnasha folded her meaty arms across her chest. “They’re going to betray you, Taelim.”
“Maybe,” I replied. “But once the drow leave Lowfort, I’m placing a garrison there to support the locals, orcs you know and who I need you to lead. If they decide to cross us, that’s war on Illium. Maybe that’ll make them think twice. Who knows?”
Gnasha remained quiet for a long time, and I had all but given up on her assistance. Finally, she spoke up. “Fine, I’ll convince the tribes. If the drow break the agreement…”
“I know…” was all I said.
She extended her new hand, and I took it, glad to be done with the matter. Now I had to find my father, Elroar, because there was no way I could terraform a region by myself. More problems for a later time.
I was actually happy to go home. I looked forward to sleeping in my bed and having the day be over with. Naturally, nothing was that simple. Feeps had been waiting for me to return to the castle, surrounded by guards.
“Taelim,” he rushed to my side. “Come with me!” The centaur warforged grabbed my hand, and led me briskly down the halls and into one of the cellars. The guards kept a respectable distance, keeping an eye out for whatever danger I failed to see.
Feeps led me to a wooden table where a body was lying on top, covered with a cloth. He pulled back the sheet, and I gaped down at the familiar face of Timony, the wizard who kidnapped me not long ago. Feeps handed me a small note which read: “You’re welcome! -- OC”
I moved to a barrel, dropped down on the lid and laughed, my body shaking with amusement and fatigue. Feeps waited, mouth slightly ajar, as I wiped a tear from my eye.
“That was the son of a bitch who kidnapped me,” I explained. “But he’s good and dead, so one less problem I have to deal with.”
“Taelim, why do you get involved with these situations?”
I shrugged, “Doesn't matter now. I’d burn the body. He belongs to the Unseelie, and if they learned we had him...well, I bet Ornamental Chaos already has a target on their head for this.”
I turned and headed for the exit.
“Where are you going?” Feeps called after me.
“To drink myself stupid. Goodnight!”