Tales of Shore Blossom

Odiri's Journal Pt. 24
Adventure 41 - Three Hour Tour

CW: Language, Gore, Passive Aggressive Halfling Angst

TW: This episode is just one big anxiety attack for her

He fucking named them by numbers. I do not know if I should laugh or be angry. How could Eucarion be so…unimaginative. Charka’s puppies, aside from Lulu who I named, were named one through 7 in Elvish. I had stopped by the cottage to pick up a parcel of spare quills I had accidentally left behind when I moved back to the manor when I was stopped dead in my tracks hearing him shout out numbers. My instinct was something had gone horribly wrong as it came to my attention in my time with him that he takes to counting things when he is recovering from a nightmare or trying to bring himself down from the rush of battle.

I opened the front door to see him chasing after Enque and Otso who had held between them his favorite cooking spoon. Again the absurdity of it all brought me to laughter. I had steeled myself for my partner to be undone over some sleeping fit about the Goblin Wars, not undone from the attentions of his companion’s brood. I helped him corner the boys and retrieve his prized utensil.  Before I handed the spoon over I brandished it at him mimicking the best grandmotherly threat and called for him to explain himself regarding naming them numbers.

Watching his mouth gape and the water wheels in his mind coming to a screeching halt when I revealed my knowledge of the Elvish language was well worth the wait. I found it very handy in this town to keep my fluency in Elvish concealed. I was privy to many a conversation that may have happened over my head under the assumption I could not understand. I never really tried to hide it from Eucarion but I definitely did not call attention to it though I am shocked he didn’t realize sooner. I have calmed him in his own language while he slept through his nightmares. Everything in his home is labeled in Elvish. I would have accidentally poisoned him with my cooking if I did not know the language, as the fool has quicksilver and mustard seeds in the same shelf in the same amber bottle.

Time will tell if his knowledge of my linguistic advantage will benefit me or put even more distance between us. At least it will stop the jokes between he and Adi about my height.

New Entry

After acquiring the dinghy, then the river boat it was only a natural step of progression my Lady Frivolity would find herself in possession of a small sea galleon. She goaded me into coming on a quick tour of the “bay” citing very emphatically that as her lead of security I would be remiss to let her go without me. Like that has ever stopped her before?

Eucarion caught me in the stables as I was saddling Dusty. I don’t think he meant to startle me but his steps are so damn quiet without even trying. My awareness is usually so sharp, the thought of being sea bound even just for a day trip had me rattled. The others we met at the Rose Shell were miles more eager about this “adventure” than I. My tension regarding this trip was obvious and my inability to swim was very callously brought to the attention of the group by Eucarion who chided me for not letting him teach me to swim sooner. At the mention of my risk for drowning, Albion, in all his sweetness, set to designing some sort of float to keep me safe, describing some horror show of beeswaxed intestines filled with air which I promptly turned down. I’d rather drown than be garlanded in offal.

Soveliss insisted repeatedly for me to let him teach me to swim but I cannot help but feel his intentions are…less than professional. Eucarion was expectedly riled at the other man’s offer. Not that I doubt his skill in teaching me, nor is he an unfair sight garbed for swimming but were I to relent to anyone teaching me to swim, Soveliss Brightwood would not be my first choice. In retribution for my rebuff Soveliss transmuted not only my own flask but every other cask in the cabins and below deck to water so I couldn’t even sooth my worries without being on deck with the rest of them.

Despite the lack of my preferred beverage I stayed in the interior cabins at the front of the ship keeping my eyes away from the waters. I could hear every creak and groan of the wood as it passed through the water relatively smoothly. I would peek out onto the deck from time to time to observe my contracted duties of “security”. Albion was at the wheel, Eucarion was in the crow’s-nest (much to his discomfort) and Frivolity found herself SUNBATHING. Of all things. She could sunbathe at home why did she insist on doing it on a ship in the middle of the bay!? She luxuriated in a tasseled woven hammock looking feathered and resplendent as always using that hinky mirror we discovered in the last outing to reflect the sun onto her face and bosom. Will her eccentricities ever let up?

About just over an hour into this ill-fated trip while Z’embre rattled on about her love of cheese being a byproduct of maternal angst Eucarion shouted from the crow’s nest loud enough for me to come out on deck to find out what he was on about. Though the words “There’s some fucking crates” should have clued me in that, there was indeed some fucking crates floating in the water aside the ship. While Soveliss used his magicks to fly ropes out to haul them in I could see about 2000 yards off there actually was an island as we had heard from the pirate we resurrected on the last expedition out beyond the wall. It was large enough that it definitely would have been seen when I arrived by sea a better half of a year ago. Islands don’t just appear. Unless they actually do? I don’t know actually know how islands are made.

Eucarion made his way down the mast to inspect the 3 crates as they were opened one by one. The first seemed to be standard issue supplies like wheat and molasses. (The only exception being a mess of water logged wigs) The next crate was a massive jumble of a disassembled piano among other things but Soveliss took it upon himself to start to conjure it back together with magick. Not like we needed a gods damned piano on this madhouse of a boat anyways.  The third crate had the oddest variety of things out of the three. The last item recovered from it was a delicate snow globe with a picturesque scene of a tiny cabin and forest. I tiptoed up to inspect it in Eucarion’s hands when he gave it a gentle shake.

In an instant I was not watching the snow through the glass of the globe but through the glass of a window inside a cabin. Panic set in. All of us but Frivolity had been transported through some spell into a cabin. The snow out the window was piled 6 feet high and beyond that was the thickest of dark forest. I let out a high keen of panic and looked around to take in the scene of confusion. I never thought I would miss the ocean until I was trapped in this cabin dusty with disuse. I clenched my fingernails into my palm to see if I was in a dream only to be met with the pain indicating reality. Despite the abandoned feeling of the place there was a roaring fire, a spell of sorts keeping the cabin warm. My panic grew and grew until found myself pacing in small circles, eyes darting from window to window. We were trapped. You don’t survive in the kind of snow that was outside of this place. Eucarion tried to calm me by stopping my circles but it just put me on further edge.

Z’embre chuckled to the group that they would eat me first. Like FUCK they would. I think she meant it as a joke but this is also coming from the minotaur that admitted to eating her own pet. I tried to respond in anger but she had wandered off to explore the cabin’s side room. I clutched at Eucarion’s side and buried my face in it as if a child hiding in its mother’s skirts. I am so embarrassed that my fear would get the best of me but I don’t know if the rest of these people knew how cruel winters, like the one that raged outside, could be to people. Eucarion’s face was stoic and controlled but I know that to be a historically war-perfected mask. Underneath it all I could feel his frantic pulse thrum in his touch.

We followed the party hesitantly into the side room to find it covered in even more dust with lumps and hangings covered with tarp in the gloom. I assumed simple things like furniture but there was a frantic panic in me that pushed me to reveal every covered surface. The paranoia of the unknown was maddening. I was not ready for the grimy spinning wheel uncovered. Upon further inspection of it and its surroundings, namely a fine sheet of cloth, we discovered the spinning wheels’ purpose was to turn MEAT into thread.  The cloth beside the wheel was comprised of rabbit meat. I don’t even want to think further on why this delicate machine of barbarity exists. Someone just woke up and said “yes I need to make my clothes out of meat” Who does that???

I jumped slightly after I turned tear the last remaining sheet uncovering a painting on the wall comprised of tieflings in ancient garb posing successfully with the spoils of a hunt. The spoils being a disgusting bull-headed demon. I was under the assumption tieflings revered a bull-headed god so why would they kill something of its likeness, evermore why would they paint such a subject?

“Why?” continued to be the question as we made our way through the house investigating every corner.  When the attic door was unlatched a large femur tumbled down and BLED. A bone BLED. I shrieked and scattered back from it waiting for more evils to fall on us but none were to follow. The attic was home to a featureless statue of sorts dressed in not but a poncho and boots. That’s a look. Soveliss was able to deduce these fashions were magickal. The poncho apparently seemed to have the ability to snatch errant projectiles out of the air and deposit them into an interior pocket. Handy, but odd. The boots were much less… useful. Their sole (hah get it? That’s a shoe joke) magical purpose was to give the wearer the power to dance in any manor they choose. Unless it gave me long enough legs to dance with him without him lifting me I had no interest.

In a blink Z’embre was off again chasing her whims down to the basement that seemed to be filled with food all radiating a wild mix of magicks. Z’embre started piling her bag full of cheeses and wines much to my distress that she would even touch this food that we have no idea what properties it has. Before I could protest in a flash we were back on the deck of the ship like the cabin never existed. Eucarion still held the snowglobe in his hands but his face held a vague distance to it. Z’embre suggested to let her take the offending artifact to Adi to investigate further. I had no complaints in regards to this course of action but Eucarion, apparently coming back to his senses, scoffed at her suggestion and retorted sarcastically “Because Adi has been such a help lately.”

I didn’t want to believe his words as I stepped away from his side to look up at him offended. Was he really so unhappy about Adi’s attempts to help our particular situation? I don’t understand how someone who claims to love me so much is so resistant to such a foolproof plan to give us what we wanted. Or am I foolish to assume he wanted this too? I already knew he was not entirely keen on having a family with me but is he also so disengaged from it all that he wouldn’t even take this chance for me to live longer with him? It seems I may have been willingly ignorant of his reaction to all this. His wilted response to that leggy body. Maybe the fact that I am a halfling and will only live for a short while comparatively is exactly what he’s looking for. Just waiting for me to die so he can move on from the mess he’s already committed himself to out of honor.

Wow, a little off topic there. Anyways, I didn’t get much time to react before the ship crashed ashore to the island we had spotted in the distance. As we were all jolted hard enough that many of us toppled off our feet (myself included) I realized how long we had been trapped in that cabin. It had to be easily an hour to have crossed this distance. When we disembarked to inspect the damage Albion found a message in a bottle. How cliché. Not that this entire day hadn’t already been one weirdness after another the message was a warning from a band of pirate explaining their captain had gone mad. I think we were assuming at this point the pirates that penned the letter were of the same crew that we had found the corpses of beyond the wall.

I felt a creaky feeling of madness settle in my bones. I was sure in that moment that we were to die on this island. I had no time to sink into this dementia because within moments of being on the shore we were attacked by 12 lobster-like monsters. I couldn’t help but laugh, bitter and hysteric before laying into them with lightning arrows. Everyone contributed their own brand of violence to this defense but ultimately Soveliss finished the lot of them with a massive fireball, essentially cooking them all to perfection. I have never been much for seafood but the rest of the crew decided that lunch was served by way of Soveliss’s fireball. Z’embre cracked off a lobstery appendage approximate to my height and tossed it to me catching me off balance and seating me squarely in the sand. I picked halfheartedly at the questionably cannibalistic meal presented to me when Eucarion returned to sit beside me brandishing coconuts. My mind was entirely overwhelmed with just how ridiculous this all was. All noise but the constant hum of the ocean started to drain away from my ears leaving me with uninterrupted din of water slamming against the land. I don’t know how long I sat there staring at the water nor do I know how long Eucarion had been talking at me but the noise of the rest of the world only came flooding back once I caught the movement of his lips from the corner of my eye.  I nodded vaguely trying to show I was paying attention hoping to hell or high water that I was not agreeing to anything particularly foolish. Like a proposal. Hah. Wouldn’t that be funny.

When I slid my magicks out through the thick jungle that laid out before us I was returned with a cacophony of lizards. Large ones at that. That was the start of the twitch in my left eye. Soveliss used his magicks to fly once more to survey the territory we were about to tromp into. I was told this island is vaster that we could imagine with miles of jungle untouched and ragged mountains. That fizzling hum of the ocean gave way to the organic buzz of the jungle around me drowning out all noise of footsteps or conversation. I found myself glassy eyed and distant with a strangled smile on my face at the absurdity of the whole thing. The one time I don’t have Xiao by my side to leave Charka with some help for the puppies I am faced with virgin jungle and an inability to focus. My distraction found me stumbling over and slamming sidelong into every root and branch that was even vaguely in my path. Eucarion vainly tried to steer my adrift sensibilities with a hand on my shoulder until we came to a clearing causing the party to stop in their tracks. The space held an entire schooner, “The Painted Lady” trapped above us in the tree canopy in a cradle of vines.

I don’t know what struck me. I don’t know what dark little voice eked its way through the deafening buzz. I tore away from Eucarion’s side, bounded up to Albion and shouted “Throw me!” pointing to the suspended deck of the Painted Lady. Throw me he did. His aim was, less than spectacular.

I slammed bodily into the side of the ship and dug every finger I could into the wood to keep myself from falling. I had no time to worry about the shredding of my fingernails as my impact had set the ship into movement and my hold was in jeopardy. I scrambled for any purchase I could find finally footing my way up a slipping oar and tumbling over the railing and onto the deck. The sight that greeted me was horrific. I have seen more dead bodies in my short life than I care to count but nothing compares to the rot and disgust of bodies left to putrefy in the steam of the jungle. Bloated to bursting, infested and rotten like fruit long forgotten in the cellar. I couldn’t help but scream. Before my mind could turn cold and morph them into that long forgotten produce they so reminded me of, the ship’s precarious perch let loose and began to crash through the boughs below it. In a blink I was scooped up by Soveliss (having taken flight for the 3rd time this trip) and brought safely to the ground away from the now shattered hull of The Painted Lady.

In an instant Eucarion ripped me out of Soveliss’s protective grasp and carried me a good 30 paces away from the party before he set me down with a wordless glare. I didn’t need words to read his look of “How fucking dare you?”. I have seen this look too many times.

My mother was the first taste of this look. “How dare you ruin your dress with mud?” “How dare you scoff at his proposal?” “How dare you even talk about leaving us?”

Garrick perfected this look “How dare you stay out past dark?” “How dare you talk back to me?” “How dare you even look at another man?”

Now it comes from him. “How dare you even think of keeping it?” “How dare you speak of our shame?” “How dare you risk your life so foolishly?”

I dare. I fucking dare.

And then the rain.

It rained so hard and so fast within an hour I was up to my waist in mud. Where was his possessive protection then? It was Z’embre that lifted me from the mud to a place in a tree while they tried to plan a way to get through this mess. It was decided I would be safer in Albion's horns than risk the inglorious death of being swallowed by the monsoon’s mud. Only then did Eucarion see fit to put his arms around me and see me safely to my perch.

When the rains finally subsided we happened upon group of over a dozen pirates working at some failed attempt at digging a grave. I stared, distant and detached as they continued to scoop the same sliding mud from a pathetically shallow pit. Why were they even trying? It would take days for the ground to dry enough to dig a proper grave they might as well just give up and let the heinous wildlife of this forsaken island take the body. The pirates were in a terrible state, riddled with sores and fly-bite. I could smell the stench of rot on their skin from our cover in the brush.

We let charming Soveliss get a headstart on us to greet the pirates and insure no hostility. He was able to glean that these were the pirates of both the crew we learned about on our last trip and the authors of the message in the bottle. Their captain apparently went mad after discovering a temple of sorts deep in the forest filled with treasure. Soveliss encouraged us out of the brush to meet with the pirates and discuss a deal of sorts. We help them get past their daft captain and to the treasure and we would earn a split. Why we even agreed to this farce is beyond me still but luckily the group decided we needed reinforcements for this. Frivolity produced that unholy mirror and provided it as collateral of sorts as supposedly it was a way for us to return home to Shore Blossom and then again back to the pirates if they kept the mirror with them.

I was so far gone with this anxiety fueled delirium that I was blind to the horror of the magick passage that opened from this mirror to its partner in Elder Yen’s shop. Eucarion tells me the hall between mirrors was a mess of death and gore but all I could see was the exit. I needed to be home.

The harvest festival is this weekend. I can’t help but think of the spring festival. The memories of his shy gentlemanly arm as we walked amongst the vendors, his playful remarks as we played the games, his careful attention after the tournament, it all makes my chest ache. So much has happened since then.

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Log I : Day 41
Eucarion's Journal

A previous entry:

I am utterly mortified.

Enque and Otso have figured out how to get onto the kitchen counter. I must commend the team effort, but the object of their endeavors was to steal a spoon right out of my hands. The little shits! I can hardly wait until they are done weaning so I can be rid of them and my household can return to some manner of peace. Odiri must have entered at some point during my charging about chasing after them, or so I was informed by her riotous laughter suddenly reverberating through my cottage. Only when she was through having a fit at my expense did she come to my aid.

Spoon retrieved, her face twisted up in some idea of displeasure as she waved and wielded it in my direction, questioning what in heaven’s mercy had compelled me to name the pups numbers. Well, yes, of course I had numbered them. They were not my pups to name. But how could she possibly know that that’s what their names means? Unless… Any humor I may have found in her farcical display of authority was instantaneously mitigated by the halting realization that she, in fact, could understand elvish. Oh good mercies, Odiri could understand elvish all this time. She laughed at me again, bolder now. “How thick are you? I grew up in the Vanyr.”

I’m…. not the brightest. I don’t really have any shame about that. No great stake was ever really placed in my mastery of anything auspiciously academic. I was destined for the battlefield from square one. I never took great interest in education beyond what I found pertinent. Having lived a long life among nobility of culture is its own form of an education, really. I am by no means wise. I will not be uncovering any great secrets of the universe in my lifetime. Even magic, save for what is practical, is beyond me for the most part. To be honest, the only reason Tannion even got into upper academia is because he got Allaya’s head and not mine. I’m not an idiot by any means. I can admit more credit than that. I’m practical. I’m a good strategist. I’ve survived this long through all I have by my wits; that speaks for something. I’m smart where it counts. But in the minutia, yes, I suppose I am a bit thick.

I underestimate Odiri far too often, I think. The elvish, for one thing. I should have guessed as much, had I really put an ounce of thought into it. I know she’s from the Vanyr. Of course she would at least have a basic knowledge of elvish! That, and I do not think I have a single note or label in the house that /isn’t/ elvish. She hasn’t poisoned me yet. And now I can only think as to how many conversations I have had over her head with the thought that she would have no understanding of them. Harmless, much of it. But other things, I’m certain they would hurt her to hear. I cannot now recall the words of every conversation I have ever had beside her in my mother tongue, but my sweet goddess, I wish I could. Just how much has she overheard?

I must be more careful about her now.

The following entry:

TW: Disassociation

For better or for worse, the hellish racket my household has become forced me out to the business of adventuring for the second time in a week. I woke one afternoon to Atta and Nelde attacking Otso, Canta having dragged my dishes off the kitchen table, Enque and Lempe playing in the hearth ashes, and Mine, bless her heart, trying to clamber into the loft to wake me. Charka was dead asleep in her nest, of course, and whined at me to deal with the mess myself when I tried to wake her. Some mother she is! After a barking spat with her, I grabbed my gear and walked out of my own home, riding to the Ramshackle Manor to call on my love. I caught her just as she was saddling up to head into town. She informed me with the deepest of chagrin that her Lady was planning an expedition. Fantastic. I would tolerate even Frivolity’s antics for a chance to get out of the house.

As we made our way to the Rose Shell, already, I could sense that Odiri was on edge. She explained that Frivolity had purchased a ship and intended to take it out the next day. This was perhaps the least attractive sort of business to her. I know very well by now why it is that water so upsets her. She says it is an old pain to her, but how old can it really be to someone as young? I marvel that she is so strong as to not be completely undone by it, only suffer it in the most delicate of melancholies. A fear of water is only the lightest of possible consequences…

But of course, as her Lady’s servant, she would be obligated to accompany her on whatever high seas adventures she whimmed to fruition. I certainly wasn’t going to let Odiri go alone, so I too was conscripted into the business.

We joined Frivolity, Albion, Z’embre, and Soveliss at the teahouse, cramming ourselves with festive drink as we discussed the specifics of the venture. Frivolity wished to investigate the strange island that had supposedly beached The Lulubelle and her crew. Or, rather, that was the excuse she gave. I suspect that her real intentions were to have a bit of a pleasure cruise and drag the rest of us unfortunate fellows along for the ride. Not that it would have changed much; even on a totally benign outing, I am certain the company would find itself in some sort of spectacular bullshit. What is it about signing the charter that turns everyone into a beacon for danger?  

I don’t entirely recall what I’d said, as I was more than a few drinks deep by that point in the conversation, but I had spoken a little too loudly with Odiri, reminding her chidingly that I’d offered to teach her how to swim before she was forced into something like this. Soveliss scoffed and sputtered, practically laughing at the idea that she couldn’t swim. He immediately changed his tune, however, to offer his own “help” in the matter. Though she laughed bitterly and spat back at him with her displeasure, I caught the disappointment in her eyes that I’d dare say such a thing.  Goddess, I’d rather she be angry with me. I felt like a right prick. I knew better, yet still I said it! I don’t mean to be such an ass, and this isn’t the first time. I have always practiced the most minute control over all my faculties, but lately I am entirely out of line with myself. I’m violent. I’m crude. I’m some version of myself I didn’t know I could be. And whatever self-righteous pleasure I did derive from this state of personhood before, I don’t want it anymore. I don’t know what’s happening, but I’ve got to get it together.

Albion attempted to lighten the mood, intentionally or not, with the proposition that perhaps a life jacket of some sort could be constructed out of inflated intestines. The whole table roused up in cries of disgust and laughter, suggestions for improvements on the construction thrown about. The initial point of the matter was lost to conversation (for the best), and the rest of the evening went smoothly.

The following morning, we met at the Rose Shell once more, geared up, and headed down to the water. Avoiding thoughts of what had occurred the last time we were at the docks, I did my best to placate Odiri with frivolous conversation. I cannot say it helped her much. She visibly shook with the force of her nerves as she crossed over onto the ship’s deck. Before I could even make the suggestion that perhaps getting away from the sight of water would ease the journey for her, she dove into the quarters below and did not come up again for hours. Soveliss attempted to coax her out by turning all the drink below deck to water, but not even the sweet lure of alcohol could drag her up.  

The rest of us took our positions for the journey, Albion squarely at the ship’s helm. I know only a vague history of his people, but it still strikes me with surprise every time I am reminded that, yes, in fact, minotaurs are seafaring. Z’embre, too, seemed to have a decent handle on things, taking to the rigging immediately. When it came time for someone to go up to the crow's nest, I was summarily volunteered. As much as I do truly value the gifts I am granted by nature of my race, I sorely hate being used for them. Soveliss’ snide remarks to what he perceived as a fear of heights /encouraged/ me to climb up, just to show his smug ass that he was most certainly wrong. I convinced myself to stay up there with the thought that I was fulfilling something of a duty (really, how many times in my life…).

It is not that I am exactly afraid of the sea. That’s not it at all. Frankly, it is my lack of experience that bothers me. Sure, I am a fair swimmer. It was a requirement that I learn in academy. I know some basics of sailing, if only because Allaya’s father had a passion for the stuff and took some bizarre joy in teaching me whenever we visited Lake Orphea. Beyond that, not a thing. Before I came to Shore Blossom, I had seen the sea exactly twice in my life. The first time when my mother sailed West into eternity, the second when I boarded the vessel that brought me to this place. Even having resided in this town the better part of a year, having made more than a few journeys to the shore beyond the wall, having come to port multiples times in a week to call on Master Heng, I still have not quite gotten used to the sight of open water. It makes me think of death. That really strikes it on the heart of the matter. I cannot see the sea for anything but an omen of the unknown. Beautiful, but undeniably unnerving.

From my high perch, I really should have been more carefully watching the water. But hours passed of us clipping along steadily with nothing but the empty vastness of the ocean and the easy breeze licking at my cheek. The ongoings on deck below offered a bit more sensory stimulation by comparison. Everyone else seemed to be doing more or less something useful, chatting away to pass the travel time. Of course, with the anticipated exception of Frivolity, who had taken to sunbathing, using some bizarre mirror to aid her. Pleasure cruise.

I hate that I’ve become such a snoop, but I haven’t the will nor the desire lately to actively block out what I am certain to hear anyway. I overheard Z’embre dig into her rations at one point, mooing (is that racist? Is that still racist if it’s accurate?) with great pleasure over how much she loved cheese. It reminder her of her mother. Oh goddess. Soveliss must have heard my inadvertent yip of disgust, as came up to join me and confer that, yes, indeed, Z’embre had some mommy issues to work out.

We passed the time arguing over what exactly the difference between a gulf and a bay was, until the shape of an island broke the line of the horizon. It would be at least another hour before we might reach it. As we conferred whether or not this was indeed the island we sought, I spotted a few large wooden crates floating out in the water just out of our path. Soveliss flew out over the water to inspect them, finding them hideously waterlogged but otherwise seemingly harmless. Even Odiri had come up from below to see the commotion for herself. Roping the crates up and dragging them onto the deck, we found the contents of them to be essentially benign, if a little bizarre. Supplies, for the most part, that one would expect to find on a ship making a long journey. Sacks of wheat, a cask of vinegar, molasses, boxes of powdered lead. And some stranger items as well: a chest of wigs, an entire piano, 8 pan flutes, 11 glass rods, a magic wand, and a snowglobe.

I don't quite know what came over me when I saw it. Snow is another of those ancient experiences that seems to me almost a constructed memory. Winters, bitter as they might've been, were never cold. Always, warmth. Her rosy cheeks. His tender hands. Was that really my own life, or something I'd once read in another man's memoirs? Perhaps it was the loss of situational awareness that seemingly goes hand in hand with deep nostalgia that compelled me to shake the globe so carelessly, if only to see that silly artificial hail of flakes and try, just try, to remember what the real thing felt like.

Suddenly, the world titled. Bright, blinding light. The sensation of my diaphragm being pulled out through my throat and turning over. Then, the familiar finger-nipping cold of frost. Floorboards. Walls. Dim, white-filtered light. We were inside a cottage that, for all the glance I got of it, seemed identical to the one inside the globe I had been holding not even a second before. Heaven's mercy, what had I done?

The tight darkness of the room immediately unsettled me and, the more and more I took in of what it was that surrounded me, the less and less real it felt. The hum began to sizzle beneath my skin, rising with every creak and groan of the wood in conflation and confusion of my senses. I felt almost as though I were vibrating as I stepped—were these my feet?— towards the window, flattened my palms against the cool— solid— glass. Unmarked sheets of snow cut up by broad, coniferous firs, like dark and jagged streaks of paint against an open canvas. We were trapped. The snow was too high. The door would not open. The firs were too dark, too streaky. We shouldn’t open the door. The others were talking, yawping in disorientation with their tempers. I was responding with words—apparently words. The more people spoke, the harder and harder it was to hear. Everything was coming to me like through thick glass bowl clapped over my head, muffled and spread thin. Oh hell, not this, not now.

My mind sought out Odiri. Even in my own extraordinary subjective state, I could see that she was distressed. Snow, the snow, she didn’t like the snow. Her people starved. She told me her people starved once. The snow was starving. Shit, she was moving, fast, frantic. Circles, pacing circles. Shit. I wanted so desperately to reach out and grab hold of her hand and clench it in mine and not let go until the epidermal shaking subsided and I could think again with any clarity and help her stop and help me stop. But I could not move, eyes flittering, scanning silently and catching every single stimulus. The slightest motion out of place, the faintest noise, threatened to set me off, that the hum would take me and I would cease to think. Carefully, forcefully, I clenched my teeth and willed myself to step, calculating circumferences, into her path. She freighted into me, stopped by my body, seeping into the space under my arm against my side and ceasing the vibrations where she breathed into my clothes. It was just enough, just enough a guide, for me to count the ribs that she pressed her cheek to. Okay. That’s something. That’s enough to think.

Z’embre shuffled ahead though a door to the side and the company followed. I do not know if she tugged me, or I tugged her, or if the force of fear of left behindedness tugged I or her or us both, but we followed after, crossing behind everyone into a room where everything was swathed in dusty black silks. Odiri melted from my side, zipping away like a clap of manic energy as her heat remained on me lingering, sucked dry slowly away by the brittle, artificial air inhabiting the magic house. She flashed around the room, her lightning hands tossing the silks into the air before her thunder footsteps even reached me. Beneath one, a spinning wheel, threaded with sinew. Sinew? That was definitely sinew. That’s what sinew looks like. On the wall, limp hung behind it, a woven blanket of pink flesh. The sinew. Meat. It was fucking meat. The last of Odiri’s warmth dissipated and in the sacred place that it had been, the vibration started up again. It was a blanket of fucking meat. My eyes traced the lines— a mistake— and they thickened into guts and the humming rose again and I hadn’t realized I was grinding my teeth but I was grinding my teeth and then grinding the bones of those poor boys, my men, stripped of their intestines and hung like garlands on black banners and fuck, I needed to stop looking. I needed to stop looking right now. My eyes caught on the motion of Odiri shredding another silk into the air and jolted over in desperation on that point in space beneath it, meeting the beady eyes of Tiefling hunters, standing proud over their great horned demonic catch. Their beheaded prey did not seem dead to me. He could be blinking. I was not blinking. No, please, no more of this, what the fuck. Z’embre lumbered out, slats creaking beneath her hooves, overwhelming to my muted senses enough that it registered through the haze of hearing and reminded me that, yes, okay, I could walk places. I could walk out of places. I could leave the room. I left the room, stepping in the echoes of her hoof-falls and letting the weight of her forward motion move me along behind her.

Her hooves led my feet to a ladder, and in an instant of repeated clicks and clips, she was somewhere in the atmosphere above me. No sooner did I raise my boot to set it up after her that I heard a bovine yowl and a massive bone— a femur, a femur is part of the leg, a femur is part of the leg is part of r e m o v i n g   t h e   l e g— come clattering down from the open, creaking attic door. It must have bounced. It must have bounced because the laws of motion say it must have bounced, but it hit the floor and stuck to it as though glued the first moment of contact. The possibility of letting go of the ladder seemed like death, but I managed to convince myself to step back enough that Z’embre could come down, keeping myself perfectly perpendicular with the ground because if I titled, it all would tilt with me. The bone began to ooze viscous, burgundy blood, sweating it like a mechanism of defense. Demon bone. They had skinned down demons and taken their bones. Okay, charming, I told the hum that it’s not any different from what I do, even if my bones don’t bleed. I was trying to reason with the vibrations simmering beneath my skin, the promise of logic tethering me down. Ridiculous. Odiri’s voice piped in from somewhere, I couldn’t tell where. her words bumping up against my legs, lost on their path to my head. There were three fiends in the woods. The slats come in threes. The long dark slats of umber wood come in threes. We shouldn’t open the door. We need to get out. Soveliss pressed past me and moved up the ladder. We weren’t going to be getting out.

I counted the slats and then counted the people and shit, Z’embre had disappeared. Odiri was pacing again, but not circles this time. I couldn’t figure out her path. There was no sense to it, or was it me that wasn’t making any sense? The slats come in three dark slats, three light slats, then three dark again. The pattern is off in one corner. Knocking steps and rustling as Soveliss came back down the ladder, reporting that there had been a clay mannequin clothed with the bright splats of color in his arms. A far, far too iridescent crush of fabric, and green boots of snakes— see, the hunters make clothes. They make boots, perhaps. They make thread. They make meat thread. They make meat blankets. Meat blankets. Intestine banners. No, no, okay, key in, key in, Soveliss was saying something. He rattled off the magical properties of the things, the knowledge, the  facts would give me something to grip. The glittering poncho could catch any ammunition that whizzed past it. The shoes would grant the wearer mastery of any dance. Odiri seemed… upset by them? She tsk’d lightly, but it pierced me through the haze like a well slung arrow. I couldn’t place the look in her eyes. But everyone moved and her eyes left my eyes and my feet followed.

Clattering in fellowed march of steps, we went into the basement, full of glowing— were they really glowing?— foods, preserves, cheeses, bottles. Z’embre groped her way along the walls, dumping cheeses— dumping mommy issues— into her satchel. Everything sang with magic. Everything I touched my hand to put a different frequency into my fingertips, warbled with a different color.

And then all the colors ceased. All at once. And then brightness. And the full length of my diaphragm being shoved back into my body by means of my esophagus. The sting of salt in my eyes. The wind. Churning, splishing water against wood. Solid wood. The ship. Oh sweet goddess, we were back. We were back on the ship. In my hands, the snowglobe.

I’d never hummed like that before. The glass bowl sensation— I knew that. Excessive violence, overstimulation, shocks to the system, that would put me there. A sort of instinctual state in duplicity with total removal. Myself, at an arm’s length. Numbness of judgement. It concerned me once, but after seeing the use of such a mental state in the hot slush of battle, I learned some control of it, as much control as could be had of such a thing. A method of the brain to protect itself, I think. I never spoke of it to anyone on the vague suspicion that it somehow wasn’t right. I once had known how to navigate it. Swim in the fog until it was the right moment to come up again from the heady water and breathe, engage. But the vibrations, the overwhelming buzzing of my skin, left me limp, unhinged. It pushed me away and loosened my grip so that reeling back, pulling on that arm on my own shoulder and coming back to myself, became impossible. I… am unsure how to proceed. What if there comes a time that I cannot pull myself back? That I am lost to the hum? What then?

My jaw sizzled with the force of grit finally releasing me. The hum was subsiding. I felt the snowglobe being taken from my hand, Soveliss inspecting it. The winding mechanism on the bottom would change the time spent inside the globe when it shook. A person could be trapped there for a month or more. We had been gone only an hour. An hour? If we had been gone an hour, we should’ve hit land already. The coherency of sound was coming back to me, and I gathered that Soveliss was suggesting to give the snowglobe to Adi for him to study. Sure, Adi. Let him get his hands on it. If something ever were wrong in the world and needed fixing, Adi was the man. I might’ve spoken my thoughts aloud, because I saw in my periphery Odiri’s offended, pointed glare. She stepped back from me, and in some act of instinct, I went to step towards her.

I did not get the chance to even question it as the whole ship suddenly shook with a ferocious lurch as the hull was scratched by our ear-splitting collision with the sandbar, throwing us off balance and off our feet. The whole deck tilted up and rolled us into a heap against the starboard railing. When things came to a dead halt, our fabulous cruise vessel having run totally aground, I got to my feet and helped Odiri to hers. We clambered off the ship onto shore, inspecting the damage done. It could be repaired, but it would have to wait. There was the matter of our ~island adventure~ to attend to…

Albion, who’d wandered off from the group, called out that he found a message in a bottle. A cry for help that obviously didn’t get far. Something from the stranded pirates, saying they were trapped and their captain had gone mad. I didn’t get much of a look at it before we were ambushed by a troupe of giant, black-bodied crustaceans.

I felt the hum rise again for a split second and just, fizzle out in confusion? Lobsters? Really? I couldn’t take it seriously and laid into the task of dispatching them with a page ripped from Albion’s gleeful approach. The whole thing was over in minutes as legs and antennae went flying, and Soveliss unleashed a storm of fire onto them, effectively flash frying them. Upon further inspection, they were indeed cooked to perfection. Z’embre ripped a claw off and tossed it to Odiri, who struggled to catch the thing as it was almost the entire size of her. Some coconuts were easily located, and we all sat down a moment for a bizarre feast.

I don’t know quite what came over me. Perhaps it was just the absurdity of the whole thing. But I began to laugh wildly. Perhaps it was the total emotional whiplash of the past few hours of my long existence coming full circle. First like a bubble in my throat, then like a torrential rain that I could not control. What had even happened just there? What was still even happening? Why was it that I, a man who began his life in the cradle of dignity and civilization, who witnessed in brutal color the fragile death of said dignity, was now standing here, on this unmarked island halfway around the world, cannibalizing lobster men? The laughter only subsided because the sheer ridiculous force of it began to tug at my scars and cause my chest and sides to ache. I cracked open another coconut and walked it over to Odiri, who picked at her cache of lobster with absolute bewilderment. The absurdity of it all could not be explained, and trying to put rhyme or reason to the course of the matter was as irrational as the matter itself. Perhaps it was then the best course to not try and explain anything at all. Perhaps life would be a little easier to bear without the grand illusion of control. I tried to put into words what I had just come to understand, but her quiet nodding left me wondering if she had really heard me at all.

As we gathered our bearings and prepared to scout the island, I reached out to sense what sort of fauna inhabited it. The answer came back lizards. A lot of fucking lizards. And a lot bigger than they should be. I informed the party as much, to mixed responses of confusion and concern. Soveliss flew ahead of us as we trekked into the jungle, scouting from the skies. Upon his return, he described to us the massive scale of the place, hundreds of miles across with more than one volcano rising up from it. Curiously, the mountains seemed to be fresh, as did everything else. The patterns of weather seemed not to exist; nothing was eroded, not even by the sea. It was as though the whole island simply came into existence in an instant. It was truly virgin territory. The deeper we went into the jungle, the more evident this became. It was young, seemingly untouched by man or beast for the most part. I could only guess as to what some of these plants were. Odiri was having something of a meltdown, so I kept close to her side, keeping as much a keen eye on her as to our supernatural surroundings.

After some time, we came to the incredible sight of an entire ship, wrecked among the trees. Tall palms had pierced the hull of it, as though they had suddenly grown beneath the vessel with such speed and force that the whole construction was lifted up with them. On the side, it touted itself as “The Painted Lady”. Oh, so this was not The Lulubelle? What had happened to that ship then? There couldn’t possibly be another of these islands, could there? Ah, there I go again, trying to inject reason into perfectly unreasonable circumstances.

Odiri quite suddenly left my side, ripping out from under my protective hand, running towards Albion with the last words I wanted to hear come out of her, “Throw me!” Albion exuberantly obliged her, hoisting her up and chucking her full force in the direction of the ship. My heart leapt into my mouth as she hit the side and scrabbled for purchase, the ship already shifting from the initial impact. She clambered up onto the deck and immediately began to scream, the ship beginning to move in earnest. Soveliss flew up and pulled her off the thing as it came down screeching, cracking through the treeline with a hideous breaking of vines, and crashing into the brush, wood snapping and sailing off in all directions. The moment Soveliss floated them both back to the forest floor, I scooped Odiri up into my arms and carried her far enough away that I felt safe letting her down again. I said nothing, but shot her a withering look. I can’t believe she’d do something so goddamnedly reckless. Soveliss is not the person she should be relying on. When the group caught up with us, Albion and Z’embre were laden with gold and jewels from the ship’s split open belly. I have yet to decide the moral character of using the bovines as pack mules, but I won’t deny the usefulness of them in that regard…

We pressed onward, though we did not make it far before again being stopped. Z’embre found a shrunken head. I think I may have been more unsettled by it had it been found earlier in the day. But by that point, I think I was just burnt out. Yes, okay, it’s a shrunken head. Upon further inspection, one eye was plugged with a cork and liquid seemed to slosh inside its skull, which… was smaller than even a halfling’s… curious… Albion took it from Z’embre’s hands and swigged it heavily, to seemingly no adverse affect.  At first, anyway. After a tense moment, his gut rumbled threateningly and he belched with an impressive force, expelling a puff of thick black smoke in the vague image of a face, not entirely dissimilar to the face of the shrunken head itself. But still, no adverse effect. In fact, he seemed a bit more impossibly invigorated.

Another hour of travel brought with it the rain, in a heavy tropical torrent that did not relent for nearly three more hours. The warm, fat droplets soaked me through, weighing me down and plastering my hair against my neck. The floor of the jungle quickly turned into a thick mixture of mud, and when the dirt could absorb no more, it began to flood. The longer we went, the higher rose the water. So much so, that Odiri found herself waist deep at one point. I stopped our travel for a moment so we could strategize this better. Z’embre hoisted Odiri out of the water and stuck her onto the trunk of a tree, which did rather successfully keep her from drowning. If the monsoon kept roaring on, the water was certain to keep rising. We might have had to get into the trees and wait it out. As we spoke, however, I could tell we were being watched. In the distance, one of the lizardfolk I had sensed before had stopped moving, observing us from its perch upon tall stilts. No, we would need to keep moving. I delicately removed Odiri from the tree and hoisted her up into Albion’s horns. As much as I would have happily carried her myself, she’d be safer up there.

Eventually, as the monsoon dripped to an end and the water began to subside, we came to the edge of a clearing. In it, a group of fifteen or so pirates, having a funeral of a sort. Attempting to have a funeral, in any case. A few of them stood about a headless corpse, barely shin deep in what was more of a divet than a true grave. They tried to dig it deeper, but the soil was so soaked with water that the moment a heap was shoveled out, grey sludgy mud slithered into the space and closed it up again. My tongue felt heavy in my mouth at the familiarity of the sight. When our battalion had passed through the valley between the high mountains, the thin silt of the soil slipped so easy against itself that it had taken hours to put a hole deep enough to bury our fallen. When my men tired from the exertion in the parched summer air, I climbed in myself to dig until my bones gave out beneath me. They were my dead. They deserved what I could give them. Everyone deserved their rites. Everyone. Even Aster, whose tiny grave I put out of the marshes because the marshes would drown her in the peat.

The pirates themselves looked to be in terrible shape, as though each could easily replace the corpse. Their skin was ridden with pus-filled lumps, open sores, holes made by burrowing bot flies. A truly pitiful, ghastly sight. We had not really discussed in detail what we would do once we located the pirates, but doing anything now but try and help them seemed wrong, even if they were pirates.

The rest of us hiding in the moist brush, Soveliss went ahead to try and talk to them. They were hostile, at first, but warmed up to us once they understood that he did not mean any harm. They were, in fact, the crew of The Lulubelle, and had been on the island for nearly a month. As the bottled message had read, yes, their captain had gone quite insane. Their prize had been a golden ziggurat full of untold riches, which the captain has purportedly found and now “guarded”. At this point, Soveliss explained that he was not alone and motioned us all over. After they got over their initial shock, the pirates welcomed us over and continued to explain that the temple was of a tentacle faced god. Soveliss whipped out his chain of multitudinous holy symbols for them to point out what they had seen, only for them to indicate the sigil of Cthuotonos. Oh boy.

Conferring that we would bring reinforcements and aid them, Frivolity presented them with her mirror, saying that their safekeeping of it would be their freedom. We waited out the rest of the evening until the midnight hour, when the mirror opened up into a doorway. A portal to take us home! Brilliant! But, entering the mirror, we were met with the unsettling sight of a hallway. The walls were splattered with thick brushstrokes of blood, dried and crumbling off the many shadowy windows. Corpses and broken things lay against the jambs, in such a quantity that Frivolity had to push them aside to clear a walkable path. She seemed entirely unfazed as she navigated us to the other side of the hall, through an identical door, and out into Elder Yen’s shop parlor. After all of us came through, the doorway closed up and returned to its mirror state. I could breathe again.

I don’t want to adventure with Frivolity anymore.

Log I : Day 40
Eucarion's Journal

CW: Sex, Emotions, Food Angst, Graphic Horse Death

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TW: Miscarriage

Two weeks ago, I awoke in the night to Charka keening. Oh sweet goddess, so it was time.

I am embarrassed to say that my first response was a state of panic essentially equal to hers. Charka has never in her odd long life had pups, and I could be of no particular assistance. There were plenty of animals on the family estate, but it was of course not the business of a noble son to be dealing with any of them, especially not so far as to assist in whelping. I scrambled down from the loft to find her waddling around the cottage, cursing wildly, attempting to put a nest together, which quickly turned into her indicating between whines the various soft bits of furnishings she wanted me to drag to her corner. Odiri arrived in the middle of all this, laughing at the general distress of the situation. She took my hand and guided me to my chair by the fire, promising with a kiss that she would handle things from here. My pride might’ve been wounded if not for my overwhelming gratitude for her coming to Charka’s aid. I had no doubt in my mind that she was more experienced in this than I could ever be. I suppose there are some rather unusual benefits to cohabiting with a country sort of girl….

I watched intent with worry as she tended to Charka, easing her and handling her children as they arrived. The birth lasted most of the night and well into the morning. Eight healthy pups, though the last of them came out a little smaller than the rest. Gold, of course, every single one of them. I was too relieved by the aversion of tragedy to be particularly upset about that. When all was over with, Charka drifted into sleep, puppies noisily suckling with the first whimpers of life. I could not help but follow suit into slumber, my nerves torn to shreds by the ordeal. When I awoke again, it was to the smell of fresh bread wafting through the cottage and the sight of Odiri sitting on the floor in resplendent domesticity, cradling a pup in her arms as the rest slept all around her. The warmth, the love in her eyes as she looked at them… She would have been an excellent mother.

For those two weeks, I tended to Charka as I could, watched after her pups. I did not leave the cottage much, not even to hunt. But there was only so much stagnation I could handle, only so much solitude with my thoughts and the constant presence of children bearing down on my conflicted heart. I needed no more reminders of the miracles I had all my life been denied, and now I was surrounded with them. I needed to get out of there, if only for a few days. When I set off for the Rose Shell, it was with no little grief in leaving Charka behind. It would be selfish of me to take her. Outright dangerous, for the pups. No child should have to lose a parent so young. I had to practice reason, but with heavy heart did I set out alone for the first time in so many, many years.

At the Rose Shell, the company collected at our table over Oranssi and Naligor excitedly discussing guild hall plans. Construction of the second story was well underway, infuriatingly tainting the view from my porch. As much as I initially found the project to be considerate for the many members of the charter, it’s grown into something of a sore. Odiri had nearly drunk herself into the table with frustration over it. I knew her efforts in the farmlands, her long days spent enchanting the earth, willing it to grow. The existence of the guild hall on land of better use is an affront to nature and to the continuance of life itself. I fully understand her despair on the matter.

I couldn’t believe my own ears that I would be the one to speak up, but I suggested— really— another addendum to the charter. Before signing, it needed to be read. And if you couldn’t read it, someone would read it to you, in its entirety. It seemed common sense, but after the debacle, it was absolutely necessary to put in writing to prevent further such incidents. I thought it was perfectly reasonable, and the only real objections seemed to be the logistics of the matter, which spiralled into a rather silly discussion to the matter of further enchanting the charter into a sentient creature. The practice of magic is one thing, but playing god is another.

Amidst the commotion, Lady Frivolity entered with her own usual excesses of character, prompting Odiri to ask across the table to Adi about putting a spell of silence on her lady’s bedchamber. Naligor was apparently not aware of Frivolity and Albion’s copulation, which seemed impossible considering the lack of subtlety. Oranssi thought it right to chime in and say that their mythic banging should be considered a “celebration of life”, though Odiri immediately took offense to it, firing back that no life could possibly come of their union. “Been there, done that”.

It was obvious, of course, to what she referred, and the entire table was rendered silent by it. My knee-jerk reaction was anger (which itself concerns me). Not anger that she would speak such a thing, but that she would speak it so boldly in company. Too many people knew as it was what had happened between us. The last thing I wanted was this failure to progress into collective knowledge any further. Neither of us deserve to be subjected to the judgement of our shame, not her especially. But my senses came back to me, and I settled back into my seat, quietly sequestering off with my drink. It may have been my right, but it was by no means my place to have done anything in that moment. I know there is nothing I can say to make things right between us, so it is best not to speak at all. I have sinned so heavily against her already that every misstep is another point of distance, and still I am afraid there is more I can do to lose her.

Frivolity boisterously changed the subject, putting forth the motion that we should seek a path to the Tower of a Thousand Devils. Odiri questioned if her ladyship’s desire to travel there had anything to do with the celestial who had come by the manor, to which Frivolity replied “no” with exactly zero believability. Madam Saru, who had been drinking with us the better part of the evening, rejoined the table to explain that it was a prison created for devils by the Priests of Stars, to bind them to our plane for punishment. Exactly the sort of mind-wiping violence I needed.

To the collective surprise, Madam Saru herself signed the charter with a flourish, commenting snidely that Soveliss couldn’t bitch and moan about her input now that she was an official member. “Madam Celeste Saru”. I wouldn’t dream of calling her by first name. Seems terribly out of line, somehow. Though we may not always see eye to eye, I respect her far too much. I couldn’t help but be concerned that she would be joining us, thought it was more than known she was a capable bard of great magic. I genuinely hoped to be surprised by her, more than I already had.

As we settled plans for the next day’s journey out, Odiri quite adamantly requested Adi to transform her into an elf as he had before, shouting at me to get the horses. I could not help but be less enthused this time around. I wasn’t about to deny her, as the whole thing was a rare treat that the less thinking parts of myself were not about to pass up, but it’s become more difficult to deny what she is up to.

It’s her motion, her brand of aggression. The way she fights to gain purchase over me, to best me, to take, greedy, the only thing I’m sure she has ever wanted of me, the only thing I cannot soil her with. That is the cause of much our violence, I am certain. I could deny her for sense and safety of us both, and yet my will is weak and I cannot. Yes, of course, how can I bury temptation, that old want of thoughtless savagery, that hedonist pursuit of what is long dead and dormant? It’s the tossing and gripping and pressing down until I am on top, until I am there, over her, holding her thin wrists in my broad fist, hum rippling beneath my taut-stretched flesh, engaged by insurmountable control. My head clouds over with what I am no longer sure is lust, and the rush, that rush, is perfect.

I am sickened by it.

In the morning, weary and bruised, we gathered up at the Rose Shell. Madam Saru had stripped down of all her typical fineries to practical clothes. If I had any doubts as to her marital experience, the deft and practiced way she donned her armor convinced me well enough on its own. It did seem a little odd at first that she would even know how to correctly equip armor (unless she had perhaps been playing dress-up with the contents of the case when the company was not around), but a second further of observation revealed the symbol that she wore around her neck. A holy sigil of Faunos, but belonging to an order of paladins in service as temple guardians to theaters. It is only natural that the Madam would have old secrets, but this exact thing seemed terribly contrary to her current person.

When all were geared up, we departed for the wall. As Saru passed through the gates, Tim and Bob gave her their full deferent respects. Good. I would expect nothing less of them. Pausing just off the path, a bit of near-customary scrapping was done over the best path to the Tower. Saru mentioned that we should take the path that R’Kanna and Tempest had blazed the previous week. Oh, so not only had they gone beyond the wall, but they had gone into entirely uncharted territory. Seven hells!! Odiri seemed just as upset about our dragonborn’s safety as I was. R’Kanna’s adventurous spirit is one thing, but would Tempest have not known better?! I intend to have a few words with her about the quality of her guardianship… We did come to an agreement, eventually, on the best possible route and so set off upon it.

Our first day of travel passed smoothly, but the second was plagued by all sorts of nuisances. Gryphon Bait put his foot through a half-buried chest in the road. I held him calm as Odiri inspected his hoof, which would need some tending to when we returned to town. No serious injury, thankfully. From what I overheard of the chest’s inspection, the contents were mostly children’s treasures. Very odd.

We pressed on, only for Gryphon Bait to come free of his reigns later in the day. Odiri and I chased after him and managed to reel him in. Collien and I talked him down as we hooked him back into the cart, calming him enough but gathering nothing beyond the obvious: something had frightened him. (I sincerely wish I’d had this ability with animals sooner in life. I might’ve been more sympathetic to my warhorses. Not to say that I was cruel with them. I took as much care of them as I did of my men. But more than a few saw ugly deaths at my command. The unavoidably brutal nature of war.) Madam Saru, much more aware of what had transpired than any of us, pulled an ornately cased, saffron-scented ointment from her satchel and spread it over her eyelids as she touched herself ritualistically on the shoulders. Sighing, having found the unfortunate answer to our dilemma, she next produced a pipe flute, conjuring into visible existence the little green pixies that had laid their trickeries on us. They bantered back and forth in voices like bells, before Saru explained to us that they wanted Adi to come up with a riddle for them. Naligor was quicker to the punch, delivering one that stumped them. The answer had been a present, so the pixies offered to give us one. Pixie gifts are often as bad as any other prank, so Saru quickly convinced them to gift us safe passage instead. They flitted away, satisfied of us.

Night approached, necessitating us to stop and make camp. Shortly after we began to get things set up, the unmistakable croaking of bullywugs echoed in the woods around us. They were not there for us. Rather, they were dressed in rather silly facsimiles of warrior’s garb, engaged in the hunting of a boar. Their presence in the vicinity was just uncomfortable enough to warrant Adi suggesting a spell that would negate the problem entirely.

A portal appeared beside our meager fire, transforming from a small speck of light into a set of double doors, no different or less real than on a brick and mortar home. As we entered through them, the party stepped into a the foyer of a mansion. An actual fucking mansion. I can’t say I wasn’t impressed. Semi-transparent servants in full livery of green and gold came to attend to our belongings, leading us into the grand parlor. It was all tremendously lavish in all the extravagance I expected of Adi’s fantastic wealth. That is to say, a bit garish. The work of nouveau riche, or at the very least someone with the taste of one. Real money doesn’t need to tack claw-feet on every bit of furniture to establish their status. I mean, seriously, who the hell uses pile on pile velvet for curtains? Expensive, sure, but too damn bulky. How bourgeois.

Dinner was a sumptuous affair. Drink flowed freely as courses were ferried in by a fleet of servants. The air jubilant with the joy of excess, I felt a bit transported, relaxed into a feeling so ancient that it frightened me with the familiarity. It seems like another life that I lived this well. I’d nearly forgotten how it felt. It felt as though I were playing pretend, to slip into that old self again. To laugh over fine wine in the company of gilded things. I existed at an arm’s distance from myself.

In the commotion, I hardly noticed Odiri’s mounting discomfort until it was much too late for me to do anything about it. She did not stay long to participate in the night’s exuberances, quietly absconding to bed. Of course. I am a fool for not understanding it sooner. The mansion, the feast, everything. It is by no means a fault of her person, but it is difficult to believe that she would have known anything like it before. Even Frivolity is not so ridiculous in her displays of wealth. Odiri hardly leaves her quarters there anyhow. Her home is with me, and I live well beneath my means. It is unsurprising then that she would feel so uncomfortable in the presence of such excess. She is a country girl, after all, and that bears its own set of experiences to consider.

I took for granted so much of what I grew up with. Dinners always had 8 courses. The banquet at my wedding had 22. I only knew where the kitchen was as a child because one of the maids would always leave me sweetmeats on the counter. That was my daily truth until I entered the academy. Until I received my commission. Until I went to war, met men who had not owned a thing in their life but the clothes they traded for the uniform. I shared stews of our own sacrificed horses alongside them when supplies could not break the lines. I went without at times, so my officers might eat a little better and sit a little taller in their saddles as they lead charges into death’s gaping maw. I learned humility by hardship, a foreign word in a house of wealth. The longer I was away, the less and less I could stand it all when I returned. It was a fight to get me to accept invitations to any company. “It’s an honor to have you join us, High Commander.” “You’re doing the work of the nation, High Commander.” “High Commander, please, grace us with a tale of your victories.” Yes, I’m certain you would like me to describe in detail the most genuine victory of killing a wounded boar that chanced across our camp, or the orgastic pleasure with which we consumed its half-raw flesh with impatience because the risk of disease and shitting for three days straight was a willing one in the face of actual starvation. When Allaya attempted to upkeep her social graces with dinners of our own, I was hardly a person. Goodness, the excuses she had to make for me. “My sincerest apologies for my husband’s behavior, Lady Tiresias. He did not mean to compare your daughter to a hamhock.” How could anyone chitter about the most eligible bachelor of House this Duchy that when only some 50 kilometers away, men were being strung up by their guts on enemy banners? I don’t know how it was my father ever kept it together so well.

Suddenly, nothing seemed palatable anymore.

I excused myself, inquiring with a transparent servant where my belongings had been taken. They led me down the hall, to a finely furnished room. In the gargantuan bed lay the unmistakable form of my tiny, fussy halfing, rolled up indiscriminately in both the decorative sheets and the real ones. A glance to the floor confirmed that indeed, there were her belongings beside mine. It’s charming, in a way, that the servants would have enough sense to place us together. Good. As it should be. The moment I crawled in beside her, delicately detangling her from the excessive embroidered bedspread to leave only the soft and simple sheets, she relaxed into the curve of my body against hers, finding true sleep. Satisfied, I soon followed.

We awoke lazily the next morning, reluctant to leave the warm bed and my love beside me. But the mansion was only temporary, so we dressed, chatting benignly on the day’s expectations as we gathered our things. We joined the others at breakfast, nearly as lavish as the dinner. I kept to simple things, keeping my plate unintimidating in awareness of Odiri beside me. The peace was short-lived as a servant came to announce that a package had arrived. How it was possible for anything to be delivered to a pocket dimension was beyond me, but we all rose to investigate.

In the foyer sat a fairly large velvet box wrapped delicately in blue foil ribbon. Something was absolutely certainly alive inside of it, though neither Odiri nor I could get a sense of what it was. A servant was sent to open the box, revealing a mass of wadded padding and a strange iridescent egg. Madam Saru I do not know what could have possibly possessed her in that moment, but Odiri reached to touch the egg. The moment she had put both her hands on it, it cracked open, hatching forth a bizarre moth-like creature that immediately crawled its way onto Odiri’s back. She looked to me, panic in her eyes, for help, but before I could even move, it audibly bit into her with the elastic snapping of flesh, sinking its teeth into her spine. Great wings burst forth from her back! I was too shocked to really know what to make of it. Of all the great and terrible things I’d ever seen in my life, nothing quite like this. I approached cautiously, giving a gentle tug on a wing to affirm both to her and I that they were real. Her pained yelp at my eagerness confirmed that yes, they were in fact real and very much attached to her. That pinch of pain was enough for her to assume control of them, or so I assume it was, because she took off in flight, flitting with endless delight about the circumference of the room. The gift of flight for someone as small as she is must be one hell of a change in perspective.

There she floated while the rest of us discussed what to do about it. Saru performed her ritual of saffron ointment again, attempting to identify the exact nature of the thing. When she came back to her own senses, her expression was grave. The creature was a parasite crafted by priests of a certain order, one of many other forms of parasites, that bonded symbiotically with other creatures in order to use them as hosts for breeding for the purpose of spreading across the dimensional void. Saru bid me to fetch Odiri down, which I did with a tug of her foot, and the circumstances were explained to her as evenly as they could be. She panicked, understandably, and demanded that it be removed. Saru obliged and, in a brief ceremony, the thing disconnected from her and fell to the ground, Oranssi reducing it to ash.

It all would have been well and good, had Oranssi left it at that. But he simpered and commented snidely that the whole situation was a shame. That was finally her chance to be a mother. I couldn’t believe him. Odiri immediately went for her belt knife, but I placed my hand on her shoulder, warning her back. She need not endanger herself over this. The hum roiled under my skin. As much as I so grievously wished to in that moment, It was only my respect for him as a fellow soldier, as a man who knew many of the same pains as I, that kept me from drawing my sword on Oranssi. I did fire off more than a few threats on his life that I absolutely intend to keep should he step out of line again. Murder is nothing to me if it is for Odiri’s sake.  

The next day of travel was spent in uncomfortable silence. The thought haunted me that in some bizarre, sick way, Oranssi had not been entirely wrong. I tried my best to put my mind off it, but the repeating words kept nagging at me until merciful distraction came in the form of a second night in the mansion. When we entered through the portal, however, we were greeted by a servant scrubbing blood off one of the walls. It once read some sort of message, but the servant could not recall what it had said before the text was cleaned off to the point of indiscernibility. In the same instant, curiosity bid Naligor to open the front door, presenting us with the sight of infinite blackness. Feeling the onset of an existential crisis, I did not look at it long. Even Saru seemed visibly disturbed. The whole multitude of stimuli was unsettling enough that the mansion was shut for the night and we slept more conventionally by firelight. In the morning, we awoke to a severed boar’s head. Ah. An offering from the bullywugs. I suppose they consider us great warriors now. (Aren’t we?)

On the fourth day, we passed through Lady Hana’s Grove. Sweet memories flooded back to me of the last journey Odiri and I had made here. Our pace was leisurely, so I dismounted and walked alongside Collien, picking flowers and stringing them together, for old time’s sake. My thoughts wandered aimlessly. Too aimlessly, perhaps, because they again hit upon the proverbial rock in the road of Oranssi’s words. The implications of them. Of course, there would be no feasible way that I would ever give Odiri the joys of motherhood that she so desperately wanted. Her options were limited, to say the least, and nearly all of them involved leaving my side, whether literally or by metaphysical means, though neither was ideal. All options stood to be miserable in one way or another. The chain of flowers fell loosely from my grasp. It was all just falling apart.

I got back on Collien as we came to the beginning of R’Kanna and Tempest’s path. As upset as I still was about their going out in the first place, they’d done an excellent job of blazing the trail and the going was easy. At least, until we came upon a dead body in the road, caught among spider webs and poisoned by a dart of imp venom. By his clothes, he clearly was not from Shore Blossom, not that a native would have any reason to be out here in the first place. Oranssi revived him, casting through the man’s body a radiant energy that knit his wounds and restored his breath with an exhaled glimmer of light. He came to with a miraculous sputter, shrieking about demons cutting him apart. When we calmed him and assured him that, no, we were not demons, he explained that he had been felled by bullywugs. He was a pirate of the Lulu Belle, sent to shore to retrieve some personal effects for the captain. Namely, a chest of children’s items. We said nothing of our posession of it, though Saru did call him out for his ridiculous story. None of it matched up. How could he possibly be so far inland? And wasn’t the Lulu Belle the vessel that had been pilfering all the merchants in the bay? The man foolishly attempted to run, but Oranssi quickly recaptured him, questioning if we should torture him. Saru vetoed the suggestion, promising that we would not stoop so low. As I bound the man to a tree, I eagerly retorted back that I made no such promises of my own. Saru shot me a deadly look, and in an instant, my own words occurred to me. Had I really just said that? Torture is a nasty business. Though I knew the art of it, it never came with any joy to me before. I stepped away and said nothing more in the interrogation. Albion stepped to the side, claiming that ethical dilemmas made his head fuzzy, and I joined him for some distance.

After gleaning though some lies about the whereabouts of his captain, the pirate admitted that the chest was to be delivered to the “Queen”. Did he mean the Goblin Queen? Why in heaven’s name would she be involved in something so petty? Madam Saru insisted that the pirate be given a second chance, so Oranssi cast truth over him, which only served to confirm what we already knew: he really didn’t want to get his limbs chopped off in hell. Saru cast a spell over him with a glowing sigil burning on his forehead, binding him for a year and a day to follow all of Shore Blossom’s laws. She then penned a brief explanatory note, sticking it to his chest and off he was sent with a spell of teleportation, back to Elder Yen’s.

That night, we camped again. In fireside conversation, as others bickered about the pirate, Saru stated that using spells like that command she had laid onto the pirate made her uncomfortable. Compulsions and things that manipulated free will were particularly frightening for non-magical folk. An understandable concern. Free will is the most preciously coveted thing any person has. My own will, for one thing, has been manipulated enough in a single lifetime even without the involvement of magic.

Our conversation was interrupted by the rumbling of the ground beneath our feet. In the forest around us, animals fled in fear, shouting with alarm, “The earth! It hungers!”. Then, beneath the feet of a straggling rabbit, the ground opened up like a shark’s maw and swallowed it with the sickening crunch of bone buried under dirt. Shit. A bulette. Saru screamed. I grabbed my sword and went to Odiri’s side. If this thing was indeed a bulette, she was in the keenest of danger. The flesh of a halfling was the greatest delicacy of all for such a terrible beast. In the some moment as we realized that the protective bubble Adi had cast around us was only a dome, the bulette drilled up from beneath, catching Odiri in its vice-like jaws. The hum took over me as I struck into it with my sword. Like fucking hell it was going to take Odiri away from me. Saru joined in with her rapier, putting an explosion of leaf-green light and vines through the foul creature. A few more quick strikes from us both and the beast was felled.

Still coming down from even that brief moment of violent fury, I pulled Odiri from its maw and took her into my arms. My body shook with strain as I struggled to keep a grip on myself, to focus myself down from that height of skin-pricking hum enough to heal her. There was nothing to count but the wounds on her legs when my fingers ran over each of them as I tried to run through my mental exercises, reeling my careening mind. Anything, to come back to a place of sanity. She moved so carefully in my arms as I worked over her, aware of the danger in my hands, the buzzing beneath my flesh, careful, I am certain, not to set me off somehow. It’s getting more and more difficult to come back every time I let myself go.

When her skin was mended and I could stand on my feet without swaying deliriously, the rest of the party filled us in on their findings from excavating the bulette. Inside its gullet, there had been a man’s corpse bound in shackles and a brilliant golden cutlass. The captain of the Lulu Belle, seemed like. Oranssi and Adi chittered about the possibility of resurrecting him, but Saru shut them both down quickly. There was no need for “casual necromancy”, as she put it. I couldn’t help but notice as Frivolity giddily squirreled the shackles away in her pouch. Albion’s got a thing coming, poor lad…

Morning dawned on what would be our final day. We managed some distance further along R’Kanna’s path before we heard the screeching of a giant bird above us, followed by a neigh. Looking up, we were met with a roc, ferrying in its talons a horse. With another screech, it released the horse, sending it plummeting down in our direction. I cannot honestly say that I have ever in my life witnessed a horse achieve terminal velocity, but the results upon impact are absolutely horrific. The individual snapping of bones could not be discerned in the sickening splash of flesh liquefying against the ground. The force of an entire fucking horse landing on his head did absolutely nothing to Albion, who stood dumbfounded by what I am certain he saw as an unexpected turn of events, his white fur matted down with viscera and blood. The scent was gag worthy.

Saru took the lead, commanding Odiri and I to fire volleys up at the roc. Frankly, with how rousingly she spoke, I did not mind one bit being ordered around for a change. We struck it, again and again, until it came down close enough for me to reach it with an arrow of vines. Tangled and unable to fly, it plummeted towards the earth. As it fell, Saru cast a bolt from her rapier, smiting it with a great whiff of energy. By the time the roc hit the ground, it was already dead. Saru’s prowess in battle continues to dazzle me. I’d quite like to spar with her one of these days, if she would grant me the honor. Before we could make any congratulations or even examine the corpse of the roc, the wall decided we had been through quite enough. In a flash of our keys, we were returned to the rest. Odiri and I saddled up on our steeds and headed home, sorely in need of warmth and rest after such an ordeal of an outing.

And yet I am unable to find rest. In no way. Not in any place. Even here, now, smothered in warmth by puppies and quilts and my halfling at my side, true sleep had evaded me for days. I know that Odiri has noticed. She has not asked. In a way, I hope that she never does. There is a consumptive guilt that this should be plaguing me at all.  

I’ve been dreaming about her. About Allaya.  

It’s… never quite the same each time.

We are together in her father’s borrowed Whitehall boat. The water is still on Lake Orphea, the afternoon listless of wind. There is an absence of birds. I row. She sits across, the fabric of her dress billowing around her, filling her seat, the space between us. Her head is draped on her arm, and her arm is draped over the side, skimming the water, disturbing the fish that kiss the surface. She stares at me, her celestine eyes upturned, anticipating.

We are in the drawing room. She sits on the window casement, legs tucked delicately beneath her. Beyond the open glass, the wooded mountains of the east, crowned with mist. This is as close as she will ever come to them. I have turned around from the harpsichord. The breeze picks up the curtains and fills the room with silk like sails, swallowing her behind them. She is laughing, mirthlessly.

We are in the garden. She is at the bench, face turned away from me. I take a knee beside her, my helm tucked under my arm. Her hair is loose. I am leaving. Her cheeks have turned so sallow. This will be the last time I see her. Her gloved hands share attentions of her sunken belly and a rose. Allaya, please. I am leaving. She pricks her finger purposefully on a thorn.

In the boat, I speak and her brow is marble, expression perfectly unchanging.

In the room, I am screaming and the din of wind is too much, she cannot hear me.

In the garden, I am weeping, begging on my knees, and still she will not look me in the eye.

If my hand drops an oar to reach her, the lake is gone. If I stand from the bench to take a single step, the room is gone. If rise from my knees, the garden is gone. I am awake. She, is gone.

She is beneath the canopy of our bed. Afternoon light is waning, leaving long scars of light along the floor through the shut window. She will not face it. The maids rush out heads bowed when they hear my heavy boots come up the stairs. Our condolences, Master Crowsley. We are sorry, Master Crowsley. The crib is covered with a sheet. It is full. It is empty. I stand at the door.

This aches deeper than any nightmare. I’d rather dream of war than suffer this. I would sooner wake with all my scars again seared open than this. Anything than this. She will not hear me. She will not know me. She will never answer the only question I would ask of her, or any question I would ever ask of her. And yet,

I stand at the door.

This is all I have left of her.

Laying here now, awake with exhaustion, surrounded by goods of breeding, I cannot help but dwell on the significance of numbers. Charka bore eight pups, the last of them the smallest. After seven graves under our garden blackthorn, Tannion was not even a quarter stone when he was born. The sensation of irony pricks my eyes with stinging ash of a fire long extinguished. Perhaps this is the recompense I prayed for.

Lulu has sensed my distress, I think. She’s whining, squirming against my ribs, climbing her way up to my face. Warm tongue. Soft fur. Familiar, though she is so new to this world. Intuitive child… Odiri, too, has stirred. Asleep still, her journal splayed against her chest, but inching closer to me, curling against my ribs. All eleven of us in this bed, still my heart is hollow, counting slats in the ceiling, breathing deep.

I must try to sleep.

Odiri's Journal Pt. 23
Adventure 40 - Saru Signs

CW – Sex, emotions, graphic horse death

TW – Discussion of miscarriage


I have found myself in possession of or rather possessed by a tiny whining monster that has stolen my heart. Charka’s runt. About two weeks ago I was woken with a start on a crisp night by the overwhelming urge to check on Charka. I saddled Dusty in the dark and made my way to the cottage. I could hear her mutterings and cursing rattle in my head and knew I had arrived at the right time. Upon entering his home I was witness to a very frazzled slightly panicked elf trying vainly to comfort his lifelong companion who was in a right state herself as it appears this was a new experience for both of them. I might have laughed a little at Eucarion’s flustered glance when I arrived but I know that animals know what they are doing when it comes to birth much more than people do. I led him away to his favorite chair by the fire and told him to leave it to me. Charka’s whelping went smoothly but long through the night into the morning. Eight puppies take quite some time to come into the world. All eight were the stunning golden of a field of wheat at sunrise. There was no question of their draconic parentage. Charka and Eucarion both slept exhausted, though for different reasons, as I stayed to keep an eye on the pups. I drifted aimlessly about the cottage biding my time till Eucarion was awake again and I could return back to the Manor and my work. I left him that morning with a fresh loaf of bread baked with idle hands.

Charka seemed astoundingly happy to see both of us when we came <s>home</s> back to his cottage from the first adventure he’s ever left her behind on. But her puppies needed her more than Eucarion did so he made the hard decision to leave her home. I find myself now sitting in his bed trying to balance Lulu, the runt, sleeping on my chest and my journal on my lap. Eucarion is fast asleep next to me with Charka at our feet and the rest of the litter nested between us. How the 11 of us fit on this bed is a miracle but one I will continue to secretly enjoy as some imitation of a family while it lasts as I know he intends to sell the pups as soon as they are weened.

Our adventure started as nearly every other, with an argument in the Rose Shell. I don’t know how many times we will argue over this monstrosity of the guild hall that Oranssi and Naligor have undertaken in the farmlands, but now even Eucarion is in on my frustration as now that they have decided to add a second story and its visible from the back porch of his cottage. Which up until now was one of our favorite places to unwind after a long adventure. It pains me that one of the last few places we had to ourselves now has this eyesore as a constant reminder of the charter.

The arguments continued on through the night as the necessity of revising the charter was brought back to light in the aftermath of Buin’s illiteracy.  The charter members present in this argument were all those present at its inception so there was little disagreement it needed further protection with the addition of the clause it needed to be read to be signed. Where the argument came in was some cockeyed concept of enchanting the charter paper itself to nearly the point of sentience. That nearly started a riot at the table.

Somewhere in all of this the booming acoustics of my Lady Frivolity was introduced to the din and I about had my limits. I asked Adi very pointedly across the table if he had perfected the spell to ward my room of all noise from the rest of the house. As much as I adore my ladyship, her extra-curricular activities with Albion produce an almighty racket. Oranssi decided to invite himself into this conversation with an infuriating comment about their lovemaking being a “celebration of life”. I couldn’t help but turn bitter and cold. I retorted that there would be no “life” out of that union. Been there. Tried that. Crossing the borders of species was foolish and a useless try as I had already discovered. I was fuming and heated I wanted to slap Oranssi across the face for such a callous comment in my presence. Eucarion immediately bristled and moved away from me at my comments. I don’t blame him for his reaction. I was just a reminder to him of why I was such a mistake. There was an awkward quiet across the whole table. It wasn’t entirely wide known that I had failed thoroughly in giving Eucarion a child but I think enough of them knew to make the silence uncomfortable.

He’s pulling away from me more and more each time we see each other. I think he’s realized that perhaps we can’t come back from this. The cracks in our foundation may be irreparable. It’s like watching the wildlife flee from a forest fire you can’t even smell burning.

Bless Frivolity for her raucous interjection proposing we strike out to the “Tower of 1000 Devils” the next day. None of us were opposed to some adventure but our curiosity about this place was slaked when Madam Saru explained the rumor was this was a prison created by the Priests of Stars for devils of all sorts. Sounded like a place to sharpen my aim like fish in a very dangerous barrel.

What I did not expect was Madam Saru herself to volunteer to join us on this outing by grandiloquently penning her name to the charter. Madam Celeste Saru. We were all in a bit of shock but, I at least was wildly excited to have her as a travel companion. She and I have made a habit of a weekly tea. She is a rare friend in this town that I am honored to have. That, and her gossip is incomparable.

When it seemed the evening was coming to an end I, very intoxicated, convinced Adi to bespell my body into its elven form again with an excited rush. More steady on my legs now with this second try Eucarion and I rode to his cottage as quickly as we could to enjoy my temporary towering form despite his initial lukewarm reaction.

There is a violence in the dance that borders on disquieting when I am in that form. I thought it was just excitement the first time but with a second taste there is a predatory possessiveness that reminds me much too much of Garrick. All attempts at delicacy smashed in the throes of it. While these temporary romps are purely carnal in nature they were ultimately there as a way to convince Eucarion the body magic gave me was much more resilient than the one I was born with. I only wish his reaction to it all was more… considerate.

At breakfast the next morning we were greeted with the sight of Saru garbed for adventure. It was a shock to see her devoid of her hair trinkets and lavish cloth replaced with well-made trousers and a hapi coat and a unique holy symbol round her neck that appeared to be some derivation of Thanos. Of course though, she could not resist her painted face undeterred by the “roughing it” of adventure.

Rather than leer and flirt, Bob and Tim, treated Saru with the utmost deference and respect. Hmm so maybe they do have manners. Saru, astride a dignified white stallion, received the walls key as a small part of her holy symbol in its typical small flash. There we paused to, you guessed it, argue again, over how to get to the tower. Saru let it slip that Tempest and our R’kanna had ventured beyond the wall alone. I could see Eucarion stiffen in his saddle at that comment and I felt equally concerned that Tempest, her “guardian”, would even THINK it was safe for them to go beyond the wall alone.

After a comparison of a few maps including my copy of Ellura’s map we came to a consensus on our travel route. Out through First road to Hana’s Grove to the trail blazed by R’kanna and Tempest to the west bypassing Dark Mire. The goal was lofty but the company was ready and able. It had been quite some time since we had traveled that far.

The first day passed without excitement. The second day was a mess for Gryphon Bait. That poor horse. First we were brought to a screeching halt when his hoof fell through a poorly buried chest of goods. They seemed to be worth a fair amount but I let the rest of the party tend to the findings as I checked for damage to the beast himself. He lost a shoe in the incident but did not do any damage to the hoofwall. I will have to remind my Lady to have that tended to. While I could make play at a farrier it is not my specialty when it comes to my skills with animalkind.

Not too much after the incident with the crate Gryphon Bait came free from the cart. Eucarion and I bolted after him to bring him to heel between us. Upon returning to the cart with the spooked horse we discovered Saru “conversing” with the air. I only found out much later that evening a pixie had been the cause of the loosed horse. Makes me anxious about R’kanna’s new friend even more than I already am.

As the evening came, shortly before making camp, I could hear those disgusting grunts and croaks of bullywugs nearby so I snuck off through the woods to find the source. They seemed distracted by the hunt but there was a number of them enough to make me wish for something a little more secure than my bedroll. When I relayed to the party of our neighboring “friends” Adi suggested that we spend the night in his Mansion. I chuckled thinking he’d finally gone of the magick users deep-end but sure as the dirt under my nails that man had a damned traveling mansion. He conjured a small door that grew in a matter of moments. Once entered we found ourselves in a lavish palatial mansion.

I know I technically live in a mansion but I really don’t. I use the servants entrance at the back of the house and the small stairwell that leads to my room is directly across from the kitchen. I see the rest of Ramshackle Manor on my rounds but it’s not home to me. Home’s don’t have ceilings so high you need magic to sweep the cobwebs.

Adi’s Mansion was unsurprisingly well appointed for this man’s wealth there were even spectral servants in green and gold livery there to take our packs and guide us to a grand dining room where we were all fed ridiculously well. Most of them seemed at home enough in this mansion to be relaxed. Even Eucarion who seemed tense at first relaxed over the course of the evening. He looked like he belonged. And it made me remember that he did belong. This was the life he was used to. Rich foods and expensive fabrics. This was not for me, I felt like I was an imposter in this space. My simple clothes and unadorned face. I excused myself from the dinner table and found myself wandering through dark wood hallways trying to find which room my belongings had been brought to. Well… our belongs. It seems even without telling these invisible servants, Eucarion and I were given a room together. I climbed into the laughably large bed and drifted off into a restless sort of sleep. I did not find true sleep until I felt Eucarion join me in the sea of pillows and blankets.

The next morning is one that I will never forget. During a breakfast as fanciful as dinner one of the misty servants comes to tell Adi a package had arrived for him overnight. Odd. From my understanding this mansion does not exist on the material plane so…how? How did a package arrive? It put us all on edge. Curious, but on edge.  We gathered in the foyer and stared at this delicate velvet box wrapped in a blue foil ribbon, ominously beautiful. There was a sense that something living was inside. Eucarion and I reached out our magicks to see if we could discern what was in the box but it was neither a beast, fiend nor dragon. Adi sent the servant to open the box in case it was a trap and we were surprised by a hard-shelled iridescent egg. Saru used a spell to see into the egg to discover a small moth-like aberration. Out of curiosity or compulsion, who knows, I lifted the egg from the box to inspect it further. Upon lifting it into my cupped hands it hatched immediately and unfurled its chitinous body complete with iridescent mothlike wings matching its shell. My awe struck by its beauty was short lived as it crawled up my arm into my garb and to my back quicker than I could catch it. I squeaked and giggled ticklish from this creature’s invasion of my privacy. I was staring pleadingly up at Eucarion to help me coax the creature from his hiding place in the center on my back when it bit down. I shouted as I could feel its teeth? press into my spine latching securely down. I couldn’t help but let out a panicked whine as I felt it settle its body down the length of my spine becoming fully attached. In a shiver I could feel the creature’s wings unfurl behind me as tall as I. Curiously I could feel the wings now as if they were my own as easily as I could feel the presence of my own hand on my arm. Eucarion slid up behind me and asked if I had feeling in them as he gave the wings a gentle tug which caused the creature to tighten its grip on my spine. I yelped in affirmation and he backed away. With a short bit of concentration, I discovered I could manipulate the wings within a moment I was airborne. What a rush! Creepy spine munching creature be damned I was ready to accept my fate if I had the power to fly. I tested my maneuverability, by circling the foyer a few times ending in front of Eucarion.

I was so distracted by it all I did not notice the heated conversation of the rest of the group was having about my new “condition”. Saru, in a careful voice called to me and Eucarion reached up to snatch me by my ankle and bring me down to the ground. The madam explained to me in quiet controlled voice what the creature really was. Its intentions were to use me as a host to produce more of its kind like a parasite. As much as she tried to keep her voice calming and level I felt the anxiety built in my chest. She told me she could remove it and without hesitation I agreed she set to a quick grave looking ritual involving what looked like crushed diamonds. I grit my teeth as I felt it disconnect from me bodily and fall. Oranssi’s voice broke the silence of this terrifying moment with the utterance “But that was your chance to be a mother…” I could fill the rage build under my skin like lightning and let out a guttural scream. How fucking dare he belittle my loss. Our loss. Yes, hosting some extraplanar insect spawn’s parasitical offspring is JUST like having my own child with the man I have chosen to commit my life to. I stepped forward with my hand at the dagger on my hip but was quickly bypassed by Eucarion who stormed forward after pausing to squeeze my shoulder to give Oranssi a piece of his mind echoing every furious thought in my mind.

This event rattled both of us to the core but instead of finding comfort in each other’s company everything felt disjointed. The company traveled for several more days forgoing the mansion for the protective bubble when we came in to the invisible butler scrubbing a message written in blood off the walls. As we passed through the flower fields of Lady Hana’s Grove in search of the trailhead blazed by R’Kanna and Tempest I watched Eucarion pluck a few flowers here and there to start weaving a flower crown. I was flooded with the warmth of the happy memories. The smile on my face was wiped clean off when I watched him lose interest after a few chains and toss the flowers to the ground. I know logically, they were just flowers. But there was an undeniable symbolism in it all.

Not far into R’Kanna’s Trail we came upon a human corpse. After some inspection we discovered the source of his death was a dart laced with imp venom. What a foul way to go. I was ready to keep moving but Oranssi insisted we bring the poor corpse back to life to question it. Why?! Leave the dead, dead. But no, we had to be waylaid with this nonsense. The poor man came gruesomely shrieking back to life accusing us of being demons asking if we were there to cut him limb from limb. How did ANYONE think this was a good idea? In time he was calmed but then callously questioned on the nature of his death. (apparently by bullywugs) After extensive questioning we came to know that he was in fact a pirate of the ship Lulu Belle whom had been stealing shipments from merchant vessels coming into the bay. He tried to run but was detained by Oranssi for continued questioning resulting in some half truths about his captain hiding and/or retrieving chest of treasure for a “queen”. I can only imagine these foolish men had aligned themselves with the Goblin Queen. I was ready to slit this villian’s throat and move on but Saru insisted he be given another chance. She muttered some spell over him, bid that he follows all laws and regulations as an upstanding citizen of Shore Blossom and had him teleported back to Elder Yen’s Shop with a note pinned to his chest like a wee child traveling by coach alone.

That evening was particularly tense because it seems everyone had an opinion about how the pirate should have been dealt with and not quite everyone agreed. The tension was shifted when I could suddenly sense a wave of small forest creatures pouring through the forest out into the clearing we were camped in. My head was ringing with panicked cries describing the “earth swallowing them”.  In the moment it took me to rack my brain of what they could be talking about I felt the earth shudder below us. At the edge of the clearing I watched the earth open below a poor rabbit and swallow it whole. Naligor shouted it out before I could. It was a bulette. Natures scourge against halflings. No halfling child has grown up without their mother or aunt threatening them with the idea that a bulette would come eat them if they did not do their chores. I had hoped the predominant percentage of elves in the party would deter its attack as they are not fond of elf meat but I was so wrong. It honed in on my scent and came up through the earth directly below me. Its snapping maw came down on my legs and I was trapped there in its ever tightening jaws until in a group effort the creature was demolished.

Eucarion immediately knelt and lifted me into his lap still shaky and buzzing with energy from the fight as he tended to the deep cuts across my thighs. I could feel the struggle under his skin to stay calm under his dutiful ministrations. I dared not make a noise or move too fast under his trembling hands as I fear he would be undone. Originally, I was elated that he rediscovered his confidence with a sword after what he went through in the war. I can see how the detachment from death a bow affords could be comforting after being subjected to the horrors of the Wicker’s Ree massacre. Death at a comfortable distance, not the gore infused intimacy of melee. But, rather than confidence, the sword in his hand bred an undeniable frantic darkness in him.

While he tended to my wounds the rest of the party recovered a stunning gold-plated cutlass and another body bound by shackles from the belly of the beast. We made assumptions this corpse was the pirate captain we were told about earlier. Oranssi made to revive this corpse too and was met with negativity for his views on “casual necromancy” so he moved on grumbling the whole way.

As if this adventure was not bizarre and horrifying enough the morning of the fifth day met us with one last challenge before our white jade keys decided we’d have enough of this nonsense. The sun was bright and the air was invitingly warm. From above we heard a distant neigh. I immediately had the pleasant expectation of seeing a pegasus but was disturbed to see it was in fact a giant roc carrying a horse in its talons. Definitely not a pegasus. With a shriek the roc dropped its prey from such a great height. Albion was SURE he could save the horse by catching it. I don’t think he will ever look at horses the same after the falling steed hit him with such force it burst like a stewed tomato. The poor minotaur was soaked head to foot in offal. I shot off an arrow of lightning into the roc before running off to calm Albion’s hysterics. I watched as Eucarion tangled the bird in vines and pull it down to the ground for the rest of the party to finish it off. Saru landed the killing blow with her rapier. She is quite the talented fighter I would have her in my party any time. I did not think I could have more respect for her but I was wrong. She is as strong and smart as she is sensual and coy. The keys started to glow and I had only the briefest moment to hurriedly explain to Saru what was about to happen before we were transported back to the field by the gate and that was that.

Eucarion fusses in his sleep more and more lately. It’s not the violent nightmares he has had in the past. He’s not kicking and screaming and bolting upright. He sighs and frowns and his brows knit together in the deepest sadness. I haven’t asked what he dreams of because the moment he wakes he leaves the bed rarely to return to it. He will tell me when he’s ready just as I will tell him mine when I am ready.

Log I : Day 38
Eucarion's Journal

CW: Feelings whump, children whump, sex.

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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.

Odiri's Journal Pt. 22
Adventure 38 - Blasted Tower

CW: moar super emotional character development + implied sex

TW: mention of miscarriage


While enjoying a morning of tea and continued talk of magick theory for my farmland project, Adi and I got onto the subject of Eucarion and I. The uncomfortable topic of my mortality came up. Adi is pragmatic in these things and suggested, of course, magical means of prolonging my life. I can’t lie that I have often thought about the disparate lifespans between he and I and what that ultimately means. I will die. He will not. He will watch me age and ultimately lose me to time. Until Adi mentioned a spell he had been working on to transform one being into another. In short he had the ability to turn me into an elf. While only temporary for now, Adi was sure in time he could perfect the spell to make it permanent.

This opened a whole world of possibilities to us. Time. Another try at a family.

Adi gave me a taste of this magick that afternoon and it was phenomenal. Strangely there was no pain as I watched my body stretch and fill out. My clothes seemed to morph with me as if the image I had in my head dictated the bloom of garments unfurling a navy skirt and a steel grey shirt laced and cuffed in a matching navy. I looked down at myself to see the same curves and dips of my body. The same freckles on every inch of skin. The only major shift was my hair. Before I cut it on the voyage here it was long and full and now it was back. The end result was just overwhelming. My sight was unbelievably sharp. What my slender pointed ears could hear was almost deafening the first few moments. I can’t imagine what it’s like being able to hear every little thing from the spider building its web in the window sill to the blood rushing through my own veins. Not to mention being nearly 3 feet taller. My first few steps were as wobbly as a newborn colt. Elven grace, my ass. I felt like could fall over at any moment at that height but very luckily kept my feet under me.

Adi warned me that the magic would only last for an hour so if I wanted Eucarion to see it I had to hurry. I slipped through the streets as fast and my new long legs could take me. When I faced the front door of the Rose Shell I paused smoothed my skirt and entered cool and composed. The reaction was priceless. No one recognized me at first. Everyone just seemed to wonder why Xiao had come to the Tea House alone. It was only Madam Saru that saw right through Adi’s magick. She greeted me with a smirk but did not give me away. It wasn’t until I spoke finding my voice unchanged that Eucarion who had been sitting at the carved table waiting for me looked up from his wine. He was expectedly flustered.

Bumi, on the stage, eyed me appreciatively as if I were a stranger and shifted to a sultry beat with his drums upon my entry. I find delightfully laughable even after I spoke and found my seat beside Eucarion he did not seem to realize it was me. Eucarion continued to stare at me mouth agape and I could hear his heart thud in his chest. I couldn’t help but laugh and kiss his cheek. That seemed to free him from his stunned stupor but his next words stung a bit. “But, why?” he asked. Why? I thought it would be obvious but I didn’t feel like addressing that question after spending a significant portion of my morning discussing my own comparatively imminent death so I distracted him a flirtatious wink and suggestive whispers of a limited window of “activities”

After completely puzzling Albion, sweet dim soul, and jokingly flirting with an oblivious Bumi who had joined us at the table, Eucarion stood from the table insisting we not waste any of the time I had left in this form. Saru very generously offered us a room for the afternoon, and we enjoyed some very unique advantages to my temporary dimensions.

It wasn’t until after I had transformed back to myself and we shared a private bath that Eucarion spoke up about my new tattoo. After our loss I needed something to remind me. Something to fill that empty place in my heart. I know ink on my skin will not change what happened and will not magically bring our first attempt at being a family back but seeing the flowers of her namesake permanently on my bow arm reminds me to stay strong despite it all. He held my arm above the water delicately and stroked his thumb over the delicate blue asters littering my forearm and said simply “It’s beautiful”. I know I am not the only one feeling the loss. He tries not to show it but I know he grieves as much as I do.

We gathered our discarded clothes and rebottled emotions before returning downstairs to the company of others. There was quite a scuffle over yet another new face. I say face but he had it mostly concealed. My mind was mostly elsewhere so I missed a majority of the scuffle apparently this new fellow that was eventually identified as Buin Odachi had signed the charter under a false name while Eucarion and I were otherwise occupied. We were rightly angered and demand that he re-signs the charter with his true name or forfeit the benefits. The little shit had the gall to make a snide comment about my height. I almost didn’t want him to re-sign so when the prat inevitably died beyond the wall for some foolish act we could leave him there to rot.

His crude commentary made me ache for that tall leggy body to be mine permanently even faster. I was whipped from my self-pity induced daydream when voices started to rise around me. Saru was verbally attacking Buin for his transgressions. Never have I seen Saru so cutting in her words. She has always been the voice of reason among us. She continues to surprise me in the best of ways. With Buin cowering with his tail between his legs and tasked by Saru with going on every adventure he can with us as retribution for his transgressions and false intentions until he dies, we retired for the evening with plans to continue to clear Blood Spatter’s tower at first light.

While filling my packs for the upcoming journey with honey cakes I was wildly delighted to see our precious R’Kanna sneak down the stairs with a lovely white cat following behind her. I’ve never been fond of cats myself but I thought I would greet the cat as it seemed to be her pet. Eucarion and I went up to greet her and she introduces the cat to us as “Dewdrop” but something was not right. When he and I turned our attentions to the cat rather than the common we heard in our head when speaking to animals we were greeted with “meow” by Dewdrop. I thought in the moment that maybe R’Kanna had found herself a little pet that had been a touch…simple.

R’Kanna had a mischievous smile on her face which Eucarion dug out of her was due to the fact that she had SNUCK OUT! Tempest was apparently still snoring away in their room. What a guardian she is that she sleeps hard enough to let a dragonborn sneak out. Eucarion chided her in a very paternal fashion for sneaking out behind Tempest’s back again and insisted she take the sword and sheath from the glass case to keep her safe. Though she is merely 5 years my younger I feel as protective of her as he does. She sparked a maternal cord in me from the moment I met her. I don’t know if it was because we met her shortly after I had discovered I was pregnant but it’s both heartwarming and breaking to watch him with her. I can’t help but wonder if he would have been like this with our own child.

Our ride to the gate was pleasant if not a little chilly as the weather has slowly shifted from the heat of late summer to the breezes of fall. I had no choice but to continue to give Tim and Bob shit because it was a ritual at this point. What I wasn’t expecting was for them to retort back “It’s generally not a good idea to hit on the Commander’s woman!” I had no witty comeback to sling because I was stunned into silence. No one has ever really openly acknowledged our relationship like that. We’ve never been discreet about our affections but somehow hearing these inconsequential people say it outloud (and shout it at that) startled me.

As we traveled I pulled up to ride beside the cart to catch up with R’Kanna only to see her Dewdrop transform into a fucking Pixie. I knew something was off with that damn cat. I was hesitant with this creature as their folk are tricksters of the grandest kind. What I didn’t expect was the exclamation from this wee thing of how “tall” I am! I was ready to be upset with more taunts about my size until I realized Dewdrop was being sincerely complimentary. I suppose I could put up with that pixie for a bit if she is going to be sweet like that but I still worry about her influence on R’Kanna. She’s so susceptible to suggestion I don't want her to be led astray. The 6 days of travel was littered with Buin muttering to himself in the most infuriating way. My gut told me I cannot trust him and when my instinct speaks I know to listen.

The last night of camping before we tackled the task of the tower had me unsettled because Frondel was doing his damnedest to flirt with our R’Kanna. I wanted to strangle his scrawny neck. I may have been fairly intoxicated before bed but I vaguely recall giving him a stern talking to. I was regrettably saddled with Buin for my morning watch. I sat by the fire drinking my coffee listening to him muttering to himself at the edge of camp. He tried to cordial when he saw that I was awake but I wanted nothing to do with him. He is the first person I truly regret allowing to sign the charter. I made it clear that I didn’t trust him and went back to my watch.

Thanks to the last raid on the tower the 1st floor was clear and afforded us a quick entry the following morning. When we hit the second floor of the tower we were greeted by darkness. Never a good sign. Luckily I had the mask that Oranssi had crafted me and the magic lantern from the case. I lit the lantern and beckoned Albion to lean down and I hooked it to his horn to light the way for R’Kanna and the other who could not see in the dark. Much to Eucarion’s dismay I took the lead to check for traps in the dark. After a few dark halways we came to a door. It wasn’t locked in any way so I leaned my ear to it check for nasties on the other side. I stretched my magick out to search for fiends only to have it find Buin. It was just the tiniest spark in him but what was more disturbing was this spectral image of an anchor chain connecting him beyond. I had no time to focus on it as my ears were greeted by the noise of 4 massive shuffling bodies beyond the door. I alerted the rest of the party and quietly as possible before kicking in the door.

That was a mistake. I was so distracted by Buin that I had missed the pin trigger for an explosive trap. The moment the door was open I was hit with a blast of force. I hadn’t realized Bumi was wearing the the spider climbing slippers and standing nearly above me until that blast knocked his unconscious body onto me. I’ve never felt such intense pain all at once. I could feel several my own ribs break simultaneously. Each breath I took became increasingly harder until it felt like a stab every time i even attempted the smallest gasp. A cough brought blood to my lips. Dizziness overtook me. I had a moment to think ‘this will be a good death. I protected my people. I can accept this’ before Eucarion rushed to my side to heal me. I watched him come to focus as he held my face between his hands and flooded my body with that rush of ice water unique to our Persephone.

I grit my teeth as he lifted me to rest me on Xiao’s back until I could come fully to my senses.

I watched R’kanna burst into action and shove a healing potion down the throat of Bumi’s limp body. He came gasping back to this world and the guilt set in. My own distraction almost caused him his life. I slid down off Xiao stiffly to make my way back to the task at hand. Broken ribs or not there was still a room filled with what looked to be undead ogres shambling mindlessly towards the noise the explosion caused. Z’embre boldly dashed into the room to defend us while we tried to get Bumi to his feet. I tossed him my last potion before entering the fray at Xiao’s side. In a singular move between the two of us we downed the first of 4 zombies. The remaining three were downed with ease with killing blows by Eucarion, R’kanna and Z’embre respectively.

I fought as hard as I could despite every breath still feeling like fire. When all was said and done all I could do was ask politely if we could take a rest.

As they all argued about the safety of the room I reexamined the door that almost killed me and saw the pin would automatically reset when closed. Disregarding the parties squabbling I slammed the door shut knowing the other door to this room was locked and this was the safest place we could be. R’kanna slipped me a set of lockpicks she seems to have acquired with a quick pleading look and a request that I not tell Tempest. I flashed them at Eucarion with a disapproving look and nodded my head toward R’kanna. There was that paternal twist in his face again as we wordlessly agreed that we need to talk to her about where she had “acquired” these tools another time. Completely spent I took to the furthest corner of the room and curled up against Xiao before half of them even realized I had already shut the door. I curled my face against Xiao trying to hide my tears. I was in so much pain and riddled with guilt for missing such an obvious trap. Eucarion came to my side as soon as he mitigated watches and stroked my hair until I finally slept. He must have healed me further in my sleep as my breathing was much easier when I woke for my usual morning watch. I was stiff and sore but it wasn’t the overwhelming pain I was in when I slept. I tucked Eucarion’s hair away from his face while he was in his trance to kiss his forehead before setting my hand and R’Kanna’s lockpicks to the door at the far side of the room. It took me much too long to realize in the sleepy dark that my hair had been transformed to a brilliant teal. I shook it off as some sort of pixie prank and spent my entire watch trapped with Buin again completely ignoring him while I worked on the lock.

When everyone was finally up and awake I saw the rainbow of hair colors the Dewdrop had wrought. Fucking pixies. I popped the lock when everyone had finished their fill of what rations were left. The next room was a smiths workshop of sorts. Z’embre came across what appear to be plans of some sort for a magical weapon and insisted she take it back to the Scholar’s guild for Adi to appraise. I was fully behind this plan but Buin pushed to see the plans for himself. It seems I am not the only one who doesn’t trust him as in all his arguing and cajoling to see the plans he outed himself as a liar once more stumbling back and forth over his own half truths. At the peak of the argument The Wall decided it was time to go home.  

Exhausted and trusting Z’embre to keep the plans away from Buin I left the group standing there arguing. Two days straight of nature assisted sleep has righted me physically but my mind still just feels drained and tired. Maybe another hour in that elven form will lift my spirits.

Odiri's Journal Pt. 21
Adventure 35 - Towering Defeat

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.

Odiri's Journal Pt. 20
Adventure 34 - Blood Spatter's splatter

In some facade of peace and attempts at returning to the way things were before the last few weeks…months, Eucarion and I had decided upon losing ourselves in the distract of labor. We had just finished tanning the giant boar hides and planned to used them to build a new waystation at the mouth of the Mara against the west end of The Wall.

Adi was a delightful help in making plans for this waystation. He, Eucarion and I spent the afternoon discussing options for design and protection over a bottle of wine at the Rose Shell. I almost felt normal again. I think I even laughed. I mean, really laughed. Not the fake smile and chuckle I wear like a theater costume. I have to keep up the act. No one likes a gloomy Halfling. The wine helped. Shaking that poppy daze in the company of others is harder than I imagined.

The afternoon show was a talented drummer. Obviously a coast dwelling fellow from the wind beaten salt soaked nature of his whole person. Turns out this fellow was a newly accepted charter member according to Adi, by the name of Bumi. I look forward to Elura’s reaction to yet another performer stealing her stage. I adore the woman so and miss her deeply. She had done so much to help Eucarion and I. It’s a shame the plan did not come to fruition.

Albion brought us the company of his cousin. Z’embre was slight for a minotaur Eucarion tells me. She must be young. The first words at me struck me like a slap. “I’ve seen babies bigger than you” She had no way of knowing how much that statement stung which was ultimately the only reason I let Eucarion keep me from launching clear across the table. I am truly over new folks in this town.

I distracted myself with wine and Bumi’s drumming while Z’embre was “inducted”. One more child to attempt to keep from dying from some misguided romp beyond the wall. I sound like some jaded old crone but at this point all attempts at enjoying what youth I had left in me drowned in the seas that brought me here. It’s foolish to look back now and think I left home to “enjoy” my fresh years away from the placid drawl of village living, away from the coddling of my parents and away from the violent hand of my fiancé. To come to this? Death at every turn, tension and mistrust amongst everyone even the charter, and this broken cup of a love affair that I attempt to keep pouring tea into only to find my hands scalded with my mistakes. 

I digress, this pipe makes my words wander so.

Albion and I spent the evening sharing some Maiden’s Breath and a few “laughs” before I had to return back here to the manor. As much as I love my job as Lady Frivolity’s head of security and relish in the feeling of usefulness I have come to resent this room in its cold colors and rich fabrics. I do my duty. I walk the perimeter. I lock each window and door. I check on my Lady’s wellbeing before she retires. I walk the perimeter. I check the lock on each window and door. Over and over. I feel like a mill horse walking in circles to the benefit of its master. It was all muscle memory at this point I could probably walk this whole thing blindfolded. If I can do it under the influence of this flowery smoke, I could do it blindfolded.

Eucarion knows about the opium but has kept his disapproval vague and indirect. I suppose it’s because I keep only to my pipe weed in his presence because he seems significantly less distraught over that than the poppies. For a man who suffers as many nightmares as he does I am surprised he has such a distaste for such a natural cure. As much as Soveliss warned me not get involved with the stuff I can’t see why people are so resistant to such a natural thing. It’s not like some those mysterious alchemic powders from Asoka.

I think the curtains here are Asokan Silk. I hate these curtains. I miss the plain cotton that flutters in the evening breeze above our bed. Is it still “our” bed? I don’t live there anymore. Am I allowed to lay claim to anything in that house anymore?

* a spill of ink obliterates the remainder of the journal entry the next entry is dated several days later*

We finally killed that bitch! Blood Spatter Snow Tiger is DEAD. Struck down with might of my love’s blade. I can’t believe we have finally defeated that fiendish mess of a woman.

We left bright an early as always with a beautiful breakfast courtesy of Madam Saru as always. I loaded up on the honey cakes as always and fetched a few apples for the horses and away we went. Tim and Bob were repulsively sweet on our newest female to the party as usual. I cannot wait to beat them within an inch of their lives at the Harvest Festival tournament for their callous treatment. Am I so unattractive to them that they favor a cow to me? My bubbling anger was quelled and replaced with fear when I overheard them inquire after Bumi’s halfling girlfriend. While I know the chances of her being from my village are slim, any chance of Garrick finding me here are terrifying. The last thing I need to deal with is Eucarion being tried for murdering my ex-fiancé.

I am glad our travels to the camp at the Mara where we planned to make the waystation were unfettered as my mind was entirely distracted the entire day’s trip with the thoughts of my homeland. The guilt of leaving my parents without word of my existence for the better half of a year ate at my heart. I’ve tried to write to them a hundred times but I cannot risk them trying to find me or worse yet sending Garrick to fetch me back.

The evening was a pleasant distraction of bickering between Bumi and Eucarion in a contest of height. A game I know I have no edge on doomed to always be the shortest in the party. Pained with the occasional elbow to the head or knee to the back it was my lot in life in this place.

I settled in for the night in the protection of Adi’s magicks able to sleep unaided by the pipe thanks to Eucarion’s absent minded soothing strokes of my hair and back. But, as always it seems a full night’s rest is a rare commodity beyond the wall. Adi’s protective sphere came crashing down around us as we were ambushed by five of Blood Spatter’s weretigers.

Adi, with the aid of Makiko’s cloak, disappeared into the dark. As much as it panicked me at first I trust his actions as he has never acted out of cowardice like that twerp Frondel. After a sharp blow to each of us we returned the pain in kind with a flurry of action. That drum playing islander is definitely not what he leads on to be. He has a devastating magic in him. He crackled with lighting as the ferocity of storms filled his eyes.

After a solid volley of attacks Adi was able to slay the first of the five with fire but it came with a staunch warning to not slay any more. Their deaths were apparently linked to a summoning spell. The summoning spell of her. Much to our surprise after a second weretiger took its own life, in its place via a column of black smoke, she stood. My blood instantly boiled. I was furious. She had threatened me and mine too many times and it was time to end it.

Z’embre got in a ragged stab causing Blood Spatter to shriek out in pain. Good. Hurt. You deserve it. Xiao and I took down the weretiger that launched itself at us thinking we were in the clear now that she was summoned but upon its death an orb of red light appeared and flung itself to orbit the Yomi Prince. We watched as she clapped her hands in attempts at a spell that was quickly deflected by Adi still under cover of the cloak. After work by Eucarion and Bumi she was a column of ash blowing away in the wind. But before we could even let out a victory shout the red orb poured her back into being.

She mocked us once her form solidified but her confidence was short lived when Xiao brought her to a standstill and Eucarion finished her with a storm of thunder and lightning filled violence. She Is finally gone. 

But once more our victory was halted by the appearance of a smoke vision of The Wolf of a Thousand Deaths. He chided us for our efforts and laid claim to the dead one’s territory and left with an ominous message for our dear Naligor. The smoke transformed into blue fairy fire and shot off through the night’s sky towards Blood Spatter’s tower. That would be a challenge for another day.

I don’t know how Eucarion managed to sleep the rest of that night but he was out cold like the dead, latched onto me like a child holding its favorite doll. It was nearly suffocating and kept me from sleep myself. I couldn’t help but worry for him. He seems…different. His energy is restless and buzzing. Gone was the gentle lap of lake water to the shore his energy used to remind me of.

The next day before the keys returned us was spent in revelry and joyful labor. The waystation was built as a monument of the death of Blood Spatter Snow Tiger. One more carving to add to the table.

Log I : Day 35
Eucarion's Journal

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.

Stalking the Tiger Lady
Whispers from Hell

"If you want to kill me, Soveliss, you have to find me in Hell…"

Those words echo in my head every night as I close my eyes now.  All I can see is the City of Dis, the frozen wastes of Cania, any of the other legendary nightmarish landscapes of the Nine Hells.  This new line of work has been getting to me.  Or maybe the cards are making me more inherently hard-edged than I am used to.  And the cloak, that wondrous cloak I have come to adore so much… it quite literally feeds on my very life essence to function.  And the chaos in my blood responds to them both so readily.  

The Charter has been inundated with a bevy of new members of late, people from across the sea coming to Port Shore Blossom, and seeking us so they can seek out grand adventure and find their fortunes.  I can't say I blame them.  I'm rolling in money now from all of the trouble I've been getting into.  And it has all been such great fun.  

But that is changing.  Of late it has felt less like fun and more like obsession, mixed with aggravation.  Just the other day, when I had called a large group of the charter together to discuss returning to the tower of Blood-Spattered Snow Tiger, Adi and Oranssi had words over some beef involving that city of Shandao that I never seem to get to explore, and in the retelling of their issues, I had a moment of feeling overwhelmed, and tried to back out of the topic.  But then Madam Saru tried needling me about my choice, and not in her usual friendly way.  And I almost lost my temper.  My words were somewhat restrained, but it was clear to everyone that my reply was much harsher than usual, and Madam Saru replied in kind.  

I've become increasingly fed up with her. Whatever interest I once had in her her has completely dissolved at this point.  So when Naligor mentioned he and others had already started construction of a guild hall for us from a piece of purchased farmland, I jumped at the chance to invest.  Getting away from the omnipresent personages of the city's ruling council is just what I need.  There is much going on in Port Shore Blossom that they seem content to let us resolve.  

I screwed up.  More than once.  That no one has realized it yet makes no difference.  We had found the spies.  The Cambions infiltrating the city had been identified.  We were stalking them to their rendezvous, split into two parties to track them separately.  Kodu and Syd had lost theirs just beyond the wall, but Elura and I had kept hidden with magic and quietly followed ours.  His thoughts… set me on edge, if I'm being honest.  I put the cart before the horse, and moved on him before hecould meet with his counterpart.  Elura and I interrogated him, learned of their plans for sabotaging the city, but it did no good in finding his partner.  I was kicking myself, though for once I didn't get any recrimination.  The one time I had earned it…

Naligor was disturbed to learn that he had been manipulated by the Cambions into slowly becoming less and less supportive of the City Council.  Not sure how he's been dealing with that.  But I can't say they were far off the mark.  There are certainly things to dislike about them, and I didn't need any Cambions whispering lies in my ear to come to that conclusion.  

That wasn't my only screw-up.  Some weeks back I had led an expedition to raid the tower of Blood-Spattered Snow Tiger.  We skipped the other levels, all of which I am certain contained fascinating monsters and fabulous wealth, and went straight to the top.  We found her on a throne of skulls, surrounded by a horde of undead minions.  One of them turned out to be Olma, a childhood friend of Syd, who now howled for her death as a revenant.  One of two revenants present.  A pitched battle ensued, and we all learned many things.

Blood-Spattered Snow Tiger is not a weretiger, as we had all suspected, but a far more dangerous fiend of the Nine Hells known as a Rakshasa.  And she demonstrated more power than any Rakshasa I have ever read about.  And though we claimed from her another of Kosu's holy artifacts, she escaped before we could strike her down.  Most of her minions were dispatched, but not before Oranssi had been struck down and slain.  It was only with the magic of a powerful Rod of Resurrection that he was later restored.  I think the experience has changed him.  I don't know if it is for the better or not.

In dealing with the revenants, a horrific revelation came about.  I am responsible for both of their deaths.  Not directly, but they were both killed by agents of that filthy drug lord Blackstone in his efforts to find me.  I was horrified.  I knew his people were after me, but I had no idea they were murdering innocent folk to do so.  

Syd was understandably angry with me.  I couldn't entirely blame her.  I have pledged to her my aid in finding those murdering fucks and seeing justice done to them.  They have since fled the city, but I have no doubt that they will return, and in greater force.

But I digress.  Back onto this latest excursion.  After Madam Saru and I had finished sniping at one another, and we had interviewed yet another newcomer to the charter, a halfling nobleman from the Darkfeather Family, I orchestrated those present to the task of returning to Snow Tiger's tower.  Several of those present regaled me withe tale of having been assaulted by her just hte other night, and them managing to slay her.  She was a fiend who hadn't been killed in her home plane, so she wasn't truly dead, but it didn't matter.  I was livid, but they did indicate that one of the other Yomi princes, Naligor's cursed father, may have taken up residence in her home.  So the end-goal was the same; go to the tower and slay a Yomi Prince.  

The plan was the same as before: fly to the top of the tower and crash the party.  And we were surprised to find that Shadow Wolf (or whatever his name is) was completing a summoning ritual that returned Snow Tiger to her home.  I was impressed, and more than a little excited.  The cards demanded she be punished, and the cloak hungered for my life in exchange for its power.  The others were all ready.  And so our second battle on the top of the tower ensued. The results were much the same.  All Yomi Princes escaped, and minions present were slain, and then that damnable wall called us back again. But not before Blood-Spattered Snow Tiger spoke that damnably-insidious phrase: "If you want to kill me, Soveliss, you have to find me in Hell…"

I'm coming for you, dearest Snow Tiger.  And Hell will not stop me.      


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