CW: Sex, wife angst.
The company was convened by Soveliss' request, his intention being to tackle Blood Spatter's tower and rid it of her once and for all. Nobody had told him beforehand, of course, that she had already been dispatched. So, riddled with anxieties at the anticipation of a shitshow, I met up with Odiri and together we went.
It had really all been going rather pleasantly at first. Many had answered the call, and the air was lively with conversations playing catch-up for weeks of parting. Naligor was back, for one, and Odiri's spirits seemed to be lifted immensely by him. It was good, to see her smiling again. I kept glancing back to check on her, keeping her cup full, but engrossed in other conversations for much of the afternoon. Genuinely, I think she needs some sort of male influence in her life that isn't all me. I love her to death, but I cannot help but feel I'm smothering her.
There was not just one new halfling in town, but two. The first to arrive at our table was Andree, Bumi's girlfriend who I'd heard mentioned. Interesting, that he might have a monk in such intimacy, but I suppose different orders have different limitations. She was quiet and as plain as expected, though especially so in comparison the second arrival. The smallest man I have ever laid eyes on, Glyde Darkfeather. Lord Glyde Darkfeather, of the renwowned Darkfeather house of raven-raising. There wasn't anything in particular that annoyed me about him, save for his generally haughty air and characteristically snotty noble attitude, but I was indignant at the any interaction with him. I had very purposefully removed as many of my noble distinguishments as I could, and I damn nearly regretted it right then. An elven house of honors would always trump a halfling one. Besides, what self-respecting person orders water when the rest of the table drinks? Unbelievable. My only gratitude is that he gave Odiri and I something to chitter and laugh about like we used to. I had hoped perhaps that the arrival of halflings would bring her some comfort, but she seemed none too pleased by either of them, except in that she was taller than them both. At least Andree seemed tolerable, though it was explained to me that she was of a similar countenance to Kodu in regards to his endless misunderstandings of semantics. One linguistically challenged monk was enough!
When the subject of the potential excursion came up, Adi did the dubious honors of breaking the news. Pretty understandably, Soveliss was none too pleased. He had quite the personal vendetta to settle with that bitch, and I feel more than a little personally responsible for stealing that from him. He went to throw a cup in a fit of rage, but Madam Saru delicately replaced it on the table with a bit of scolding.
Adi, for his part, had his own scolding to do to Oranssi regarding their spat after the library raid. I was a little surprised that he would still care so deeply about the offense so long after it had happened, but I suppose even Adi is allowed to have hangups. Oranssi took it surprisingly well, but it honestly seemed like he hadn't the energy to argue. He looked downright terrible.
The entire evening, come to think of it, seemed to actually have been convened for the purpose of everyone starting some shit with each other.
Soveliss and Madam Saru got particularly into it over the contents of the glass case. I didn't quite hear the inciting incident, but Soveliss kept insisting that she not be allowed to make decisions affecting the charter or the company while she herself was not part of either. It was that carefully crafted mess that only two equally silver-tongued people could get themselves embroiled into. Some of us took up pleading the case that perhaps Soveliss shouldn't be arguing with the gracious proprietress who so mercifully allows our shenanigans to continue in her establishment, but it was of no use. The argument was only concluded when it abided itself.
Even the most benign discussions turned sour. While Adi and Odiri chatted away on solutions for the problem of Frivolity's exceptionally loud bed games, she rather squarely called me out in the thick of it. We hadn't need for such spells of silence because there'd been silence in the bed enough as it is. Of course we hadn't been, after everything! I responded that it was something we could certainly change, if it so pleased her, and that definitely seemed to pique her senses.
Andree had already signed the charter, but Glyde was entirely new and therefore had to be interviewed. Oh, so we were doing interviews now? Good. Too many newcomers had been joining up lately, so there really was a need for stricter guidelines rather than any willing body. Even the military has entrance requirements. Soveliess did most of the questioning, and I almost hate to say it, but it improved my opinion of the man. For one thing, he insisted that we forgoe his title. Most nobles of high enough birth would not stoop so low. He had a bit of humor in him too, cracking jokes here and there, until he said something in particular and Odiri just… sunk. I did not want to ask in the moment what the cause might've been, but I offered a comforting shoulder and stayed close to her the rest of our time there. Heavy drinking naturally ensued.
Ultimately, it was decided that we would proceed to Snow Tiger's tower anyway to meet whatever foe dare take residence, and the rest of the evening proceeded rather free of incident. Before Odiri and I departed, Oranssi presented her with a gift. A leather mask that, when worn, would give her sight in the dark as we elves had. He seemed utterly exhausted, perhaps from expending so much of himself in the crafting of such a thing, but just as possibly from whatever still ailed him enough to remain masked. In the mess of the past months, we have yet to speak heart to heart.
In the morning, we gathered as usual. Naligor seemed damnedly trashed, half-gone into his plate of sausage and eggs. Odiri helped him out with a brew of Elura's special tea (so, so not the intended usage), and Adi finished the job with a sprinkle of some rejuvenating powder over Naligor's food. Restored, he and I bantered a bit, coming to the subject of Charka. Her pregnancy had not gone unnoticed. She's more than a few weeks along now. Is there really so little decency left in this world that I specifically have to ask druids not to fuck my dog for them to, oh, I don't know, not fuck my dog?? I'd rather it have been Naligor, if it had to have been anyone at all. The drinking began rather early that morning…
As we geared up and packed for rations, I watched closely Odiri's interactions with the halflings. When the honeycakes were brought out, Odiri snatched the whole tray off the table, stuffing half into her mouth and the other into her bag, glaring at Andree the whole time. Making no serious effort to conceal what I was doing, I snagged some cakes back and handed them to the poor girl. There was no need for this sot of thing. Andree was probably one of the most wholly amicable newcomers we'd had in a while. Something like that I expected out of my spiteful little love, but not her behavior with Glyde. They had both gone to grab Makiko's gloves, Odiri reaching them first for her good foot of height over the man, but she visibly reconsidered and handed them over to him instead. I cannot pinpoint why that has left me feeling… strange, in that same way as watching her take off the cloak I'd given her had.
Massive party in tow, we headed through the farmlands, stopping by the beginnings of Naligor's construction project. I could see it from my property, but I'd had no idea what it was until now. He was building the charter a guild hall. The idea was considerate, but Odiri's reaction was visceral. I'd never seen her so cross with Naligor before. She raged that the land had been purchased out from under the farmers. What need of we for a guild hall when there was so much greater need for viable food? He explained in response that the land had belonged to the farmers killed and replaced by cambion spies, that it had been fairly repartitioned as a result of that. She would not be appeased and stewed angrily on the issue until we had gotten past the gate, her mood only brightened in anticipation of Andree and Glyde receiving their keys. Seeing the reactions of newcomers was her favorite part of any excursion.
Our travel to the Gaea Shrine went without incident. I spent most of it chatting away with Orchard, Glyde's raven, who was delighted by the fact that he could genuinely be understood by anyone other than his master. I've always had a soft spot for corvids. House birds, and all that. Coming to the shrine, we were pleased to find our waystation there unmolested. Even Odiri's stash of Maiden's Breath had been untouched. Odiri and I hunted well that night, she catching and putting out an extra rabbit for our friendly neighborhood panther.
In the morning, Odiri and I set up and made our prayers to Persephone. I cannot entirely express what quiet happiness it brings me to see Odiri brought to faith. It is a deep and simple comfort much needed to us both in these dire times, and I feel closer to her for it. It hadn't occurred to me that none of the company was aware of our change of faith aside from Serena and V. Gates, but the surprised series of questions from Naligor and others certainly were enough of a reminder. I was half expecting Oranssi to lose it, considering I had been the only other follower of Artimestia in our company and he had been trying for so long to convert Odiri, but he was surprisingly accepting of the whole thing, summoning up a beautiful illuminated rain as we went through our respective rituals. "The family's all here". There was something so warm in the thought of that.
The rest of our journey to the tower went similarly without incident, until we came upon the place. Three stories of stone containing all sorts of fiendish hells, baying for blood. At the top, as Soveliss scryed, sat The Wolf of a Thousand Deaths, in Blood Spatter's throne. Naligor bristled in anticipation. This was his chance.
We bypassed going up the tower from the inside and elected instead to scale the sides and surprise from above. Adi linked up our minds so we could speak to one another with our thoughts, to prevent the enemy from hearing our planning. And in such a battle, there would be planning. Soveliss cast a spell and flew himself, Andree, and Glyde up. Oranssi summoned his griffin, carrying Adi on it and Albion, Charka, and myself in Tenser's Disk behind. Odiri scaled the side on Xiao's back. And leading us all in spider slippers, walking up the side of the tower perpendicular to the ground, was Naligor, bold and ablaze with determination.
As we reached the top, a loud rumble came from the topmost level. Landing inside, we saw the tattered, black-robed figure of The Wolf of a Thousand Death transform into smoke as on the throne appeared none other than Blood Spattered Snow Tiger herself, returned from the dead for vengeance. Around her, five weretigers, ready to strike.
Odiri lined up to shoot first, but found that her magic could do nothing to harm the bitch herself. We would have to attack her without it. Glyde jumped into Albion's horns as he went in to attack the tigers, slapping them with the flat of his axe. We learned our lesson the last time around that killing them would only do us harm. In the same moment, Blood Spatter unleashed a spell of death on us and Adi could not save us from it this time, though he got his revenge by backhanding a weretiger out a window.
Naligor cast a moonbeam down onto The Wolf of a Thousand Deaths, returning him from the shadows to the form of an elf. He surged forward at Naligor, pounding him in the chest with massive magical energy. For a moment, Naligor flicked out of existence, and in the next, he was back, shaken and even angrier now. Naligor said to us by way of the mind to stay back from his father. Closest to him, I called his claim and bid my own. That bitch was mine.
I wish, in a way, that I could say that I was in a haze. That I remember nothing of the combat. But that would be a lie. I remember everything with as much clarity as I do the basic-most actions of my life. That hum again, that sizzling hum under my skin, overtook my body and bid me for blood. I rushed in and struck her, lightning erupting from my blade. Immediately, she commanded her tigers on me. I was surrounded and could not escape their blades, but the sensation of my own warm blood seeping down my arms emboldened me, and one of the tigers found itself struck back.
Soveliss attempted to cast out a ripple of magic, but Blood Spatter stopped it. Her throne was amplifying her magic. It would have to be destroyed. The griffin swooped in to attack, but the moment he touched it, purple lightning struck him. Odiri gave it a second attempt with a well-placed arrow, but the moment it struck, it shattered, pieces raining onto the ground like glass. As each piece bounced back up again, it founds its break mate and reconstituted together into a complete arrow. The same purple lightning as before arced out and shocked Odiri. My rage was renewed, and Blood Spatter found herself on the receiving end of another strike of my blade. Following suit, Albion charged into her with his axe as Andree gave a second go at the tigers, smashing into one of them with a bone-shaking crack of her staff.
Locked in combat with his father, Naligor transformed into a great beast of fire, the whole room glowing with his furious light. Instantly, The Wolf was set on fire, though he seemed only stoically miffed. Saying back to Blood Spatter, "My debt to you is paid," he fled out a window, swan diving out and down. Blood Spatter, laughing maniacally, took this as her cue to leave, calling out to Soveliss, "If you truly wish to fight me, meet me in hell!" as she plane shifted and was gone. Only the tigers remained.
Soveliss, absolutely enraged, cast a blight on them, as Oranssi unleashed a hoard of golden locusts from his mouth. Their deaths would surely return them to Blood Spatter's domain and give her yet another life, but it didn't matter at that point. There was the need for blood. Around us, the building shook, an army of feet violently ascending the stairs. All the powers of hell come up to meet us in battle. The boon of slaying Blood Spatter a second time stolen for me, I was deep in the swing of madness. Steeling myself and gathering up energy to launch a barrage of lightning at whatever came up that door, I was ready to fight or die. The army approached. Yes. Yes, this.
Suddenly, white light. The gate. We were home.
Sword clattering angrily out of my grip, I fell to my hands and knees, thrown entirely out of alignment by the full-stop of being transported, seeking stability in solid earth. Around, nonsensical commotion. Odiri cursing, Soveliss throwing fire into the sky, and from the others, crackling layers of murmurs, confusion and outrage colliding again and again. Noise. So much noise. I ran my mental exercises, though there were no slats of ceiling or stars to count in abatement of nightmares, until my faculties ceased to be tangled and I could again read the clarity of my thinking on the walls of my mind. The hum remained. I can feel it even now, some lurking thing below the water's surface.
I do not think that I understood the essential gravity of what I had done that first time around with Snow Tiger. The mindless pride of victory beat too loudly against my ears for me to truly listen. I have never, never in my many years of life, taken joy in the act of killing. It was simply a necessity, an action to be done without the consideration of emotions, in pursuit of the achievement of greater ends. And the rationalizations were endless, of course. "Goblins are hardly people". "It is all in the name of king and country." "The Gods smile on the deaths of Fallen Stars and their ilk". There is no place for such excuses now, and without their shielding power, I cannot truthfully deny my pleasure in the infliction of death, or the reckless chase of it. In my hands, I held mortal force, the capacity for choice and choosing death. That's real power, the kind that cannot be granted by title, or rank, or whatever shitty thing is given to appease the ego and maintain the grand illusions of authority. No. I wielded death.
And I liked it.
Hot from combat, needy with frustration, Odiri and I raced each other to the cottage. I think the presence of the halfling must have spurred something in Odiri, or perhaps it was my snide remarks, or something else entirely. Of course, every man has his organic needs, but I wasn't about to rush her back into bed after something so traumatic. The body is a resilient thing, but the mind is not nearly. This was her first child lost, after all (First! Goddess help me! Her only child, if I can help it).
But the stars aligned that we should have our carnal dreams fulfilled. We hardly made it to the cover of the stables before laces were being torn out of grommets and boots found themselves carelessly shucked. (Later, I had to fish her bracers out of the marshes). She stayed the night, and we slept well in our bed for the feat of total exhaustion.
In the morning, the late sun woke us with the warmth of its rays skittering in through the window. Still humming some, I felt bold, Odiri's form against mine rousing affairs to be tended to. She obliged me, but, even slow as we took it, it was just too much. She endured for the sake of love's innate pleasures, but I could see how glassy her eyes shone. I'd seen her cry too many times not to know by now the look of the matter. I was in no state of great comfort either and regretted initiating at all; all the adrenaline of the day before seeped out my wounds in the night and left behind only aches.
She becomes Allaya to me, again.
Homecomings were a matter of violence between us. Allaya's boredom left in keep of the estate, my malcontent of war. A perfect storm. Of course, the exertion was good. The release of frustrations in abusing each other's bodies was unlike anything else. In it, a necessary function: rendering the fat of broad suffering to the tallow of the sublime, a conversion of pain into a form more tolerable for bearing, for both of us. Catharsis type one.
But not always so. Not by far. Especially as the familial record began to fill with names, and names, and names, and all our children who never saw the light of day. Sometimes, it was not the door smashing fire of long-parted desires that governed us. Instead, my cloak sweeping ashes in our cold halls, dragging weariness into her gentle bed, and her, the soldier's dutiful wife, complying bare comforts of utility. Catharsis type two. And the pain of it all is worse than anything. Not so much the creaking of bones forcing their last in pursuit of physical release, but the breeding of the worst sort of suffering, if only to have something to share between us.
I've got to stop doing this to Odiri. It can't go on like this. This cycle is doomed. I'm going to hurt her, more than I already have. She swore to bear my pains, but how can she when I am the sole inflictor?
I cannot say if I am doing the right thing anymore.