CW: 90% introspection and character development – don’t bother reading
A delightful evening in the Rose Shell was in order to continue the celebration of the defeat of Blood Spatter. I carved the smallest details I could manage on the table along the edge of the Mara with Eucarion sitting beside me plying me with “creative influence” aka Maiden’s Breath. Persephone bless me I needed the alcohol to be faced with the first Halflings I’ve seen since I left home.
The first was Andree. She was plain and quiet but mostly pleasant. I couldn’t help but be on edge though. I watched her weave her way through the tables to join us as I stared helplessly trying to recognize her. Thankfully there was no spark in her eye upon seeing me so she mustn’t be from home. I fear I may have come off belligerent and rude with most of my interactions with her but the fear that overtakes me at the mere thought of my ex-fiance finding me in Shore Blossom is overwhelming and has roiled in my gut since overhearing Tim & Bob comment on Bumi’s Halfling girlfriend. Who I now assume to be Andree even though she has not made mention of it. It turns out she is a monk and holds the same vague aloofness of Kodu including the linguistic challenges.
The second Halfling I did not recognize in person but I definitely recognize by his crest. A Darkfeather of the Darkfeather Rookeries. My mother would be faint with envy to know I met a Lord of the Darkfeather Family. Glyde was his name and he was in town to establish a Rookery. Which came with its own mess of implications. There was always this safety of knowing it took months for written word to travel due to the sea voyage but a direct raven line could cut that time in half which does nothing but make it easier for my parents to enquire around. I’m sure they are looking for me by now and once this rookery is established it just gives them one more place to write to in their search.
“Lord” Glyde is not what I expected as far as Halfling nobility goes. Sure he was blessed with the fine haughty features but his personality was friendly and joking. After his interview and inevitable signature on the charter he joined us for conversation and general revelry. One joke he chirped up with made my heart sink through the floor and my breath catch in my throat. It was an old one for sure. One every Halfling child knows. One that was originally told to me by Orynn. I don’t know how I remember a joke told to me by my brother 13 years ago but the way Glyde told it sounded so much like my brother I probably would have fallen if I was standing.
New folk aside we still had the matter of breaking the news to Soveliss that his plans to raid Blood Spatter’s tower to kill her would be for naught as we had already done her in, or so we thought though I get ahead of myself. Adi took one for the team to explain our success earlier that week but went on to explain we still has the Shadow Wolf to deal with as we believed he had taken up residence in the tower. Soveliss took it much better than we had all expected. Oranssi stopped me before we left for the evening to gift me a delicate black leather mask. Not one for the bandit games of children any longer I stared at him perplexed until he explained, when worn, the mask would grant me the darksight of any elf. It was the first selfless thing I’d experienced from him in some time.
Breakfast that next day was…. odd. It came to my attention that Andree has a similar sweet tooth to mine and there was a mild scuffle over the honey cakes. I used my height advantage over her (while being tall as I was isn’t exactly an attractive quality among Halflings and landed me at the butt of many jokes it was wildly useful in this context) to steal the whole plate of honey cakes and keep them out of her reach. What I wasn’t expecting was Eucarion to sneak up behind me to use his own height advantage to steal a handful of cakes off the plate to give back to Andree. I did everything to quell the overwhelming feelings of jealousy of his kind gesture. I logically know he was just being nice to the newcomer but as rocky as our relationship has been of late I couldn’t help but question his motives in the moment.
As we all stepped forward to claim our preferred gear from the glass case Glyde and I reached for Makiko’s gloves in unison. I of course reached them first as I damn near towered over the Lord but I felt softened by how deeply he reminded me of my brother and handed him the gloves. Instead I took the leather armor and for the first time since we discovered it the bow at Eucarion’s insistence. He was so much more capable with a sword these days than the bow so as the predominant archer in the party he felt it would be best in my hands.
Our trip out to the wall started jovial with such a large party in tow but it soured by the time we hit the farmlands. I noticed a massive building being erected near the wall which Naligor took great pride in. He was so excited about a guild hall for “everyone”. Who the hell does he think “everyone” is? How was it that nearly nobody in the party was aware of the plans for it, if it was for everyone? It’s a disgusting misuse of what precious farmlands this city has access to! It takes a half acre to feed ONE FAMILY for a year and lets not disregard the multitude of newcomers added to the population that is just more mouths to feed. There are PLENTY of homes in the city proper for those that don’t want to live at the Rose Shell or the Temple.
Naligor tried desperately to explain that the farmer’s land that was being used was taken fairly because they were killed by cambian spies. What the fuck does that matter? The farmlands could have been split evenly between the neighboring farmers to continue keeping food on that land. Adi built his Scholar’s Guild in the city. Lady Frivolity has built her shrines and temples in the city and along the coast edge of the farmlands where she continues to grow food to offset the land consumption. Eucarion has his cottage against the marshes unsuited for crops. EVERYONE except the proprietors of this new guild hall have taken the farmlands into consideration. I’ve been working on a spell to accelerate crop growth for a few weeks now with the help of Adi but I believe he assumed it was for my pipe weed garden hidden behind Lady Frivolity’s stables.
I had been planning to fortify the crops of the farmland for some time now. I’ve watched my own tribe outgrow its own farming practices in favor of imported goods and barely survived the famine that resulted that winter when the croft roads were blocked by snow. I never want to watch parents have to choose if they are to feed themselves or their children again and I will continue to work to this goal for the rest of my life.
I was overwhelmed and frustrated by Naligor’s thoughtless behavior and spent the rest of my trip to the Gaia Shrine Waystation quietly riding beside Eucarion distracting myself with his polite conversation with Glyde’s Raven, Orchard. The normal tending to the waystation’s upkeep was taken up upon arrival. I was pleased that my stash of Maiden’s Breath was still secure under the floor boards which I promptly restocked before Eucarion and I went out to hunt for dinner.
I miss these hunting excursions. We used to go out fur hunting almost weekly just the two of us. Playing off each other’s strengths and skill. Sniping each other’s kill playfully the way we did when we met. Just thinking of that challenging smile over his shoulder warms my heart then makes it ache, for that smile just isn’t there anymore. Too much has happened. Too much has changed. I want so desperately to go back to flower crowns and sunset strolls but I know it cannot be.
The evening came and went without incidence. In the dark before sunrise after finishing my watch, I joined Eucarion at the small shrine in the clearing to pray. With black candles lit kneeling side by side we intoned our prayers to Persephone. Religion was still a foreign concept for me. My religion had always been the earth. It had been hard work and responsibility for one’s own actions. I’ve never prayed to a single deity until now, but with everything that has transpired I felt Persephone’s guiding hand with every action I took. But, while I felt her presence and trusted her guidance the physical action of praying still seemed forced, stiff and awkward. I cannot wrap my mind around why lighting a candle does anything. Why saying these long ago decided words proves my commitment to her and more or less than my own organic thoughts. I trust Serena and V.Gates to put my mind at ease the next we met but in that moment I had Eucarion to lean upon. If my hand faltered when I lit those candles, he steadied it with his own. If my voice tripped over the committing words his voice was close behind to pick up where I fell. This may not be the boisterous romance we started with but it is a love that extends beyond that of lust and desire to trust and compassion and…survival.
There was an unexpected reaction by our companions to Eucarion and I’s shift in faith. I expected aggression and condemnation for following a goddess of death but instead was met with a pleasant cheer. Oranssi seemed pleased that I had found religion at all and accepted Eucarion’s reconsecration with a cleansing rain shower that seemed lit from within with divine light. Yet another selfless act. Maybe dying did him well.
We traveled on for six straight days with no interruptions till we made it to Blood Spatter Snow Tiger’s tower. The tower soared four stories tall with a single unguarded door. It was decided as a group to scale the side to go straight to the top rather than fighting our way through 4 floors of hateful hellions. Everyone worked out their own queer ways to get to the top between magic and magical creatures while Adi used a spell to link us all telepathically. I decided to use Xiao’s innate strength to bring us up the side of the wall together but before we reached the top a loud rumbling shook us all.
At the top we were greeted by the sight of Naligor’s father, The Shadow Wolf completing a summoning spell. From a column of black smoke spilled the oh so familiar visage of Blood Spatter. I was angry I could have screamed. She was surrounded by another five weretigers that Adi warned the rest of the party not to kill as we had learned from our previous encounter with her. I brought up my magick to assail her with a well-aimed arrow only to feel her lash out through that energy and shatter the magick I was building. Our magicks were useless against her.
Out of the corner of my eye I witnessed a struggle of power between Naligor and his father as The Shadow Wolf attempted to wipe him from this plane. After Naligor brought his moonbeam down on his father reverting him back to the pathetic visage of an elf, he flickered in and out of existence for a moment then solidified with a determined grimace.
This was enough of a distraction to prevent me from fully dodging the spell unleashed by Blood Spatter hitting me hard enough to daze me. Through my haze I watched Adi slap a weretiger through the window we entered then watched Eucarion…snap. He threw himself into this battle with more intensity than I have ever seen. His aura was a violent thing, broken shards of pottery rattling in an iron barrel of bees. I feared him in this moment.
I snapped my focus to Blood Spatter’s throne which appeared to be the source of the magick quelling energies. I tried to let off a shot to shatter the stone set into the throne containing this power but upon meeting the surface my arrow shattered like glass. But for the first time since I slung that quiver on my back I witnessed the awesome power of these arrows as the pieces jumped up and knitted themselves back together to reform a solid arrow. Distracted again I was struck by a purple bolt of lightning stealing the life from my deepest core.
In the fray I apparently missed The Shadow Wolf leaping from the window in escape. No matter how hard we fought in the end it was for nothing. With a taunting screech for Soveliss to come find her in hell, Blood Spatter was gone in the same column of smoke that brought her. Her voice rang out the direction to “Kill them all” as we were confronted by the damning noise of a hoard of feet running up the stairs of the tower.
All I could think of was, did I kiss him goodbye before we came up this tower? Because in that moment I was sure we were all dead. I had finally steeled myself to fight to the death when the keys glowed hot and angry landing us back in the farmlands in one of the most violent transportations home the wall has ever given us. The party was a mess. Soveliss was letting loose volleys of violent magicks into the sky. Eucarion had fallen to his knees completely unhinged with a dark look in his eyes that shakes me even now. I couldn’t help but scream and kick at the dirt. So much work for nothing. I mounted Dusty and glared challengingly at Eucarion who mounted Collien and we raced at breakneck speed back to his cottage trying desperately to burn out this fever of battle that boiled within both of us.
The next morning, we plied the horses with apologetic grooming and sweet treats of apples and barley mash. They were subjected to much more than a hard ride through the fields. I still have no idea how Eucarion’s boot made it into the rafters.