CW: Feelings whump, children whump, sex.
TW: Discussion of miscarriage.
It had been three days since I’d last seen Odiri. Seen properly, in any case. I’d see her around town, but there was always some business to be attended to, or she would be gone before I could catch up. I was beginning to fear she was avoiding me purposefully. Had I truly hurt her so badly our last meeting? I feared the worst, praying my premonitions had not again been true. But the hiatus was broken by a letter, her sending word that I should meet her at the Rose Shell in preparation for a new expedition. So it was under these circumstances I found myself drinking alone at the Rose Shell like some jilted suitor.
I’d never really appreciated the fine art of people watching, but in an essential instant, it became the greatest activity in the world. Albion entered through the great doors, accompanied by a human man. Illyrian, for certain. A scholar, perhaps, by the fine cut of his clothes, but looking absolutely worse for the wear. I know the look of a man with the sole intention to drink, and he got right to business. He was introduced as Biun Odachi as Madam Saru came around to get him settled with all her usual courtesies, ordering over Maiden’s Breath for him to sample. A moment of recognition flashed across his face as he took the drink from her, dismissing her curtly with, “Yeah, you fucked my dad. Get out of my face”.
If pins e’er were dropped, that would’ve been the moment to hear them.
With far, far more patience and composure than was rightly deserved, Saru had him removed from the premises. I’ve never in my entire residency in Shore Blossom seen the Madam so spoken to. Members of our company have quarreled with her, sure, but never with such bold insolence and open disrespect. He clearly knew who she was, to make such an accusation, but to do so to her face! She’s a mightily powerful woman…
The muttering calm that resumed in the teahouse did not last terribly long, as another new face entered. A tall, slender elvish woman. Flame red hair, bright green eyes, wearing the colors of my house (though this fact did not occur to me until I saw those same clothes in a discarded heap on the floor). Stunning girl, and I found my faith wavering more than I care to admit. No, I was waiting for Odiri. She approached with some attempt at grace, but I could tell that something was not quite right. A elven woman of good breeding carries herself like a feather over water. This woman… Not quite. Without invitation, she took a seat beside me, eyes coy. But when she opened her mouth to speak and out came Odiri’s voice, the dots connected and it finally occurred to me what I was seeing.
I cannot say that I reacted with much decorum. No, not much at all.
It took embarrassingly little implication from her to catch on her intentions. Or, rather, what I presumed her intentions were in that moment. And what intentions I still hope they were. I can conceive, of course, the broader reasons why she would take on such a transformation. Curiosity, sure. Avoidance of pains, alright. Jealousy, even. I pray it is one of these and nothing more. I understand very well why she might desire to take the form of an elf and all the benefits of the race it would grant her, but I refuse myself the option of entertaining such thoughts. It would be an elegant solution, but at the cost of what? What then of the halfling I fell in love with? What then of Odiri?
We made to exit, but fate decrees I cannot have my simple pleasures. Bumi, everloving gigolo, left his stage and saddled himself up across the table. He did not recognize Odiri at first in his flirtations, but was quickly clued in by her voice and my palpable annoyance. She played along, citing that she was always welcome to “good company”. Bumi carried on with the most trivial little conversation imaginable, cutting into what limited time I knew Odiri had in this shape. I thought I might murder him. When he and Odiri were satisfied in mocking me, she commanded him away, off to a horribly distracted drum performance, leaving me to whisk her off her shaky legs and up the stairs.
Though Saru gladly gave us a room, I ended up paying up more than a few extra coins for the unfortunate state we left it in. It started when I bit Odiri’s newly elven ear and she put her foot through the footboard in surprise. (Serves her right, for all the times she’d done it to me. Now at least she understood the sensitivity firsthand). It all went downhill from there exceptionally quickly, in that destructive abandon that was so essential an aspect of my typical exploits.
No, here I must give pause. Typical? With Allaya, yes, but that… That is a time long past now. Even my most feverish of courtings with Odiri could never compare to what violent hells Allaya and I took out on each other’s bodies. But her new elven body bid me bold, free to handle without self-imposed restrictions of safety and care. That old savagery, mingling with that newfound hum beneath my skin. I am not that man any longer, but I fear I am becoming him again…
By the time the spell ended and Odiri was restored, we were madly satisfied. We bathed together, sloughing the wicked stench of sex from ourselves and relaxing a moment before returning to “good company”. As Odiri rested against my chest, small form perfect in the nest of my limbs, I saw clearly her arm and the litter of blue flowers that graced it. Genuinely, I had not noticed it before. Too much blood run out of my head, I suppose. I have never found myself approving of tattoos. Unnecessary stains on the body, marks on flesh that should be pure of indignities. But, this…these, were not so. It was not a matter of inessential distinction, not of shame. It existed there as an acknowledgement of suffered pain, but gratitude for having lived it at all. I knew what our child meant to her. What she had meant to us. I raised her arm out of the water, cradled it gently in my hand, running my fingers over where the ink had raised the skin. Asters. Aster. She would guide every arrow that arm ever pulled. Odiri leaned her head back against me, casting her eyes up in expectation of my response. The weight of permanence sat heavy on my throat. What was there to say in the wake of loss? “It’s beautiful” was all that I could manage, the sentiment unspeakable. From how she relaxed into my arms, I knew that it was understood.
Returning to the lobby of the Rose Shell at last, we were greeted by Albion, Frondel, Z’embre, and a hooded figure who had joined our table, introducing himself as “Rennwick”. Bullshit was called almost immediately, attention drawn to the fact that, in our absence, he had been allowed to sign the charter. Without reading it, without any sort of interview, and with his false name. I was absolutely livid. Biun attempted to escape, but Madam Saru conjured servants to barr the door out. He attempted to explain himself, citing some troubled past, until he was rightfully shut up by Madam Saru. “Oh my god, nobody cares.” She laid into him with deadly composure, decreeing that not only would he re-sign the charter with his real name, but he would go on every single possible charter outing that he could until he was dead. The power in her voice put a chill down my spine. Goddess’ mercy, what a woman.
Order somewhat restored, Odiri briefed the party. Blood Spatter may no longer occupy her tower, but many other sorts of evil do. Our task would be to go through it and clear it of all that we had bypassed in our initial combat. Bizarre group assembled, we retired for the night.
At dawn, we breakfasted as usual. As we prepared to open the case, R’Kanna came jaunting down the stairs, accompanied by a small white cat she introduced as Dewdrop. Everyone seems to be acquiring pets these days. I crouched down to speak to it, but was greeted with a series of literal “meows” and nothing more. Odiri seemed similarly confused, so, from what I could tell at that moment, it was somehow enchanted. When I inquired the source of her strange new companion, R’Kanna admitted that she and Tempest had gone beyond the wall themselves. I couldn’t believe her! To go out there in the dangerous wilds! Tempest is a perfectly capable guardian, I’m sure, but there are things out there that neither of them would know how to handle. I scolded her at length and demanded that if she wanted to come on this adventure, without her designated guardian (Where was she anyway? Huh! Some guardian!), she would take the invincible scabbard. It’s a little silly now, I realize, to hand such an item to one of the more physically hardy members of the charter, but I cannot help but be protective. She is just so very young.
We finished distributing weapons and headed out to The Wall. If it were up to me, Biun would have gotten nothing, but I digress. As we passed by Tim and Bob, they gave their greetings, Odiri retorting as usual that “Timothy” and “Robert” made no passes at her. This time, Tim shouted back that “It’s generally not a good idea to hit on the Commander’s woman!”. I couldn’t help but sit a little taller in my saddle at the comment. That’s absolutely fucking right she is. About damn time that it was acknowledged.
As we passed to the other side of The Wall, Biun received his mark as all newcomers did, but the event was overshadowed by the suddenness with which Dewdrop transformed from a cat into a pixie. Ah, I knew something wasn’t quite right. She was terribly sweet, in the way most pixies are before they play tricks. I wasn’t a fan at first, but I saw with what sincerity she complemented Odiri, and that turned my opinion. If she is something to give Odiri enough pause to smile, then I suppose I can accept her. In any case, I’m glad that R’Kanna is finding friends, however odd.
The journey of six days went quickly and mostly without incident. The mood was light and merry, a sort of peaceful stasis accompanying travel into the wilds. Ironic, I think, that the most grievous misfortunes to befall us have all occurred within the city’s walls rather than outside it.
On the final night before reaching the tower, watches were something of a disaster. Frondel insisted on taking the first watch with R’Kanna. It is one thing to understand nefarious intentions in a man, but the lack of subtlety in boys! Good god, what it is to be young and insatiable. I wouldn’t let him near her and scolded him away, to which he responded by sassing me and calling me “dad”. The comment left me with enough of an uncomfortable feeling that I stepped off the issue, though Odiri rallied up right behind me and give him an earful of her own in my moment of stunned silence, threatening to stuff his testicles in his mouth if he so much as put a hand to our dragonborn. Heavens help me, at least my actual son is an upstanding lad. If Frondel were any child of mine, I’d have long ago put him out of his misery and spared the filial shame.
Bumi took the middle watch with me, a terrible fate I secured for myself for Odiri’s sake. He’d made more than a bit of a suggestion that perhaps all three of us should take the watch together. I promptly sent Odiri to bed. Though… I’d… consider him. He’s not unattractive, by any means. Exotic, for certain. Talented with his hands…. But for the sake of fidelity that I’ve already tarnished once too many in my lifetime, I’ll practice self-control. Besides, I imagine he’s about as insufferable in bed as he is in life. He spent most of the evening rattling on about the possibility of chipmunk companions and attempting to befriend Charka. Attempting! Succeeding! Charka, in her delicate hormonal state, was all over him. One would think she would be satisfied in getting hers (getting 8 weeks of hers…). I regretted bringing her along, in some ways. So heavily pregnant, she couldn’t do too much. Must be quite a few pups. She’s never been pregnant before, and I must admit that I have little experience in animal husbandry. Selfishly, I drug her out because I couldn’t be without her. So many years of loyal companionship tend to breed attachment. And, well, if something were to happen, wouldn’t that be unfortunate for V. Gates… Sweet mercy, that’s awful. I must be better than that, especially with what has all happened. Too much darkness already clouds my mind these days.
In the morning, we gathered ourselves. Odiri seemed particularly displeased with Biun. He never had my trust to begin with, but if Odiri didn’t trust him either, that certainly solidified it. We hunted and, returning with good catch, were greeted by the sight of R’Kanna, Dewdrop, and Albion all weaving flower crowns for one another. My heart stirred with the force of memory merging with present vision, blending the two into a sweet mess of warmth. I spent the rest of the morning feeling unusually tender with the thought. I long for that simple happiness. I truly do. But even if the cracks in the pottery are sealed up with gold, the cracks remain all the same.
Entering the tower from the ground level, we found the first floor clear, already handled by a previous outing of others of our company. We traversed our way through, surrounded by scuttling of creatures in the walls around us. Rising carefully up the stairs, we were met by a long stone hallway of pitch darkness. Odiri illuminated a lamp and hooked it onto Albion’s horns, putting him in the middle of the party, then took the lead. I knew she was best among us to sweep for traps, but it still unnerved me that she was at the front. A terrible sense overcame me that could not be shaken. I kept close behind, at the ready. The path became so narrow that we were forced to march single file through the rest of the black and white tiled floor.
At the end of the passage, an iron door. Odiri pressed her ear against the door, listening and sensing for what might be inside. No fiends inside, but there was something afoot among us. She attempted to explain what she had sensed, the danger not necessarily immediate, but the shuffle of bodies inside the closed room put us on guard. Bumi donned the spider slippers to maneuver his way up to the ceiling, Frondel cloaked himself invisible, and the rest of us readied to rush. Odiri forcefully kicked open the door,
And from there it all went downhill. She was thrown back with an immense force, hitting the cold tile with the unmistakable crunch of tiny bones succumbing to pressure and unnatural angles. The sound resonated like a struck drum on my ears and on my heart, thrumming wildly at the sight of her injured form. Bumi, knocked unconscious by the blast, fell from the ceiling into a heap of death, narrowly missing her. I made my choice. Someone else would have to deal with him. I lunged forward, taking Odiri in my arms and flooding healing coolness into her until she was brought back to awareness. I set her on Xiao and was about to send him off to the back of the line with her, until her arm reached out in an unconscious gesture, brushing me off and affirming her position. My love is a fighter.
R’Kanna grabbed Bumi’s near-corpse and dragged him back, prying open his jaw and forcing a healing potion into him, returning him to life with a sputter. Albion ran in to strike first at our foes four large ogre zombies, reeking and furious. Odiri, senses regained but body still broken, slid off Xiao, sending him in with a flurry of claws to take one of the orcs down as she tossed Bumi her last potion. Foolish, but charitable.
Z’embre was next into the fray, unleashing an arcane spell of fire through her maul. Had she used magic before? I cannot recall. I was not aware that minotaurs could, much less something so ancient in form. Biun, to his credit, did a bit of good, casting a charm on one of the ogres and commanding him to stay put, opening up a window for attack. Bumi, healing himself with Odiri’s potion, took his chance. Furious with lightning-clad rage, he rose up on a nimbus of wind, shooting upside down through the door, cloak fluttering behind him. Reaching into the kimono of stars, he cast down a comet into the room, nailing an ogre down enough for my arrow to shoot in and fell it from a distance. I knew there was no way for me to enter the room, it being so small, but more than that, I could feel the hum rising beneath my skin. I wanted nothing more than to be in there, cleaving my sword into flesh until it was split from bone. But I caught R’Kanna in my periphery, just standing in that moment from having aided Bumi, and all the soft worry of her, the care. There is something in that brand of my violence that I cannot help but want to shield her from. I know there is something monstrous it in.
Whatever benign illusions preoccupied me in the moment enough to halt the humming were shocked apart by R’Kanna deftly chucking a hatchet into the room, slamming it into the skull of one of the ogres, doing enough damage to it that Z’embre could finish the thing off with another whiff of fire. Things settling down, R’Kanna raised her voice to timidly ask Z’embre to retrieve the axe. “It’s gross.” If I were not so occupied by a whirl of other thoughts, I might’ve laughed. Ah, there’s that gentle girl.
The company herded into the room and almost immediately began to argue. Odiri was severely injured enough to need rest if we wished to proceed through the tower, and I fought her case. I was surprised that Bumi did not want to rest as well, considering he’d damn nearly died. But the matter was put to a vote and it was settled that we would remain a few hours. Odiri slammed shut the door, re-arming the trap to protect us inside the room from whatever still might remain beyond. When she moved to work on the other door, our exit further into the tower, she found a set of lockpicks in her hands. I knew factually that she had no such thing in her possession, and questioning the matter earned a wry look at R’Kanna, who turned meek and tried to hide behind herself. Where in the world could she have gotten such a thing? Odiri and I exchanged knowing looks, agreeing to investigate the matter later. She finished the door, leaving a single pin unturned for the “morning”.
I did not need to rest much, drifting in and out of consciousness as my body needed, monitoring the corners others were not watching when awake, deaf to their conversations. Odiri rested against Xiao, myself beside her, healing her in her sleep as the energy came to me. It’s something of a terrible thing to have attachments. They make you unreasonable in battle, forgoe strategy and reason. It’s done me wrong before, more than once. But, gently running my calloused hands through her soft curls, I cannot learn. Some part of me, no matter how beaten the rest of my body becomes, will remain as soft.
I left Odiri’s side only for my turn on the watch, spent mostly poking around holes in the wall, discovering little caches of treasure nestled away by unknown monsters. R’Kanna— perhaps my shuffling woke her— timidly inquired for the platinum I had found. She promised it would be returned. She only wished to sleep on it, build her little hoard for the evening. I chuckled with amusement when I handed it all over. The coupling of ferociously ancient draconic instincts and the meek politeness with which she’d asked was so delightfully incongruous that I found my heart warmed. I remarked that it was odd that she would prefer platinum over something closer to the native color of her scales, but she explained that she liked the way it caught the light more. Every shift of a coin, like lighting, her eyes bright with wonder as she spoke. Vibrant. Innocent.
I… am aware, of what I am doing. I know fully well the shape of the hole that was punched into my chest, and it is an emptiness that this dragon child satisfies in the simplemost of measures. It’s one thing to understand that losses must be coped with by some means. That is fact. Its another thing entirely to put the truth of the matter into words. It becomes more real that way, gives it power in acknowledgement, meaning in admittance. I have yet to come clean with myself. Odiri, too. We both do it, and not a word between us. I do not think it need ever be spoken, what exact business we have occupied our placeless feelings with. The space between us would again turn miserable after we so delicately found some peace. This way, at least, we can subsist on scraps of what affection might’ve been. I know that we can never really be satisfied.
My mock paternal joy came to a grinding end when R’Kanna asked what I fully expected she might. Of course, sweet babe, she would ask. Why Odiri was suddenly looking so thin again, why we had become so quiet of each other, so careful in company. Had the baby come so soon? Had we found another way? A surrogate? My heart seized up at the thought. Nobody knew, of course. We'd be the last to speak of it. And, until then, nobody had asked. Why should they, for such a delicate subject? R’Kanna’s admirable innocence is the very thing that would not stop her from inquiring so openly. A cruel irony. I stammered over my explanation, but the dam of my emotions held as I told her, avoiding the cleanest words, directing thought through implication. She understood, and immediately her expression fell into confronted despair. I wished I had not told her at all, kept her in blissful ignorance if to avoid seeing any sadness come across her bright face. That was not possible, of course. She would eventually have come to know, by means less kind.
The pixie was the last I expected to intervene, but she flitted over to us, soothed R’Kanna as I retreated into my thoughts, fighting off further darkness. She offered kind words of encouragement, speaking to our dragon girl but looking at me as she said them. Perhaps there was another way. After all, there were great fey capable of granting wishes. The persistent swells of honesty overcame my hard-built barriers of thought in that moment, and I let slip that it was not a matter of a wish or not, but the lack of one there entirely.
It is a second-time admittance to write this, but that was the bare truth. I will not bring more children into this world. I’ve accepted that this vile body cannot sire goodness. Something is broken within it. How many times had I tried with Allaya? How many children unborn did we bury in ornate little graves of glass so small that they could be held in a hand? Tannion was a miracle of a suffering century, granted by fate’s mercies only to quit Allaya’s existential weeping and not for any sake of mine. And still, I cast them both aside. It killed her. And he, blessed boy, went on better without me than with me in his life at all. I knew this all when Odiri came into my life. Only for her sake did I concede a second chance, knowing it would end in misery. And for that mislaid trust in my goodness, my ability, we again were punished. There, again, a hand-sized grave in my marshes, a bundle of my sins, an affirmation of my foul heart. I know that no amount of prayer or penance can save my soul or grant to me the only gift my love desires, but Odiri… She can be still be spared of me.
I tried to put us off the subject, asking what R’Kanna might wish of a fey, but here too my attempts fell short. She replied that she would wish a solution for her friend (Tempest she meant, perhaps), who has found love in a place of disparate lifespans and bodies. It hurts me to have cut her off, and the guilt still shames me now, but I could hear no more of it. The matter rang far too close in pitch to my own dilemmas. Dewdrop, seeing my distress, offered mercy in the form of a prank on the sleeping company. Instantly. R’Kanna brightened. There, that childlike joy. I shakily accepted, forcing my thoughts aside, and we set to frivolous work. As Odiri rose for her watch, hair hilariously teal, I feel into a sleep so dreamless that I would have preferred a nightmare.
As the party all woke, examining one another’s bizarrely colored hair with amusement and surprise, R’Kanna and I took some silly pleasure in observing everyone’s reactions, mood lightened just enough to function. Biun gave an excitable remark to the matter of the novel experience of breakfasting in a dungeon, only to be met with collective sighing and erratic scraps of knowing laughter. Get used to it, buddy.
Odiri cracked open the exit door, and in the next room, we came upon a kiln. The place had obviously been used for the crafting of weapons, as was confirmed by the discovery of parchment plans for a truly wicked looking sword. We collectively agreed that Adi would understand these best. Biun, however, protested wildly, arguing with no sparing of uncharacteristic eloquence that he should have a look. His tongue was silvered, Z’embre pointed out, as he’d tangled his mistruths and proved himself to stand against his own word more than once. Even called out so openly, he would not back down and admit to his lies, challenging our accusations. R’Kanna piped in, inquiring if we were having a witch hunt, and suggesting that the witch hunt should take place at home. The Wall must have heard her, because, in an instant, we were transported back to the gate. Still mistrusting, the plans were handed to Z’embre and Frondel for delivery as we all parted ways, bodies homebound and minds roiling with suspicion.
I cannot help but worry that this company will end in catastrophe.