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Order of the Sword & Rose
I: Briefly Forgotten
Ondranar Valaesyri, sometimes called Palerose, sits alone at a table in the Phoenix's busy front room. Two empty glasses, still fizzing slightly with the remnants of magical liquor, stand lined up beyond the edge of the leather-bound volume in front of him. Occasionally, he pauses to sip from a third. Tonight is a three-glass night, no special occasion.
Presently he is writing in his spellbook with a quill that uses no ink. Pale mauve letters trail along behind the point. To any passing observer, it will appear that he writes in a common elven script, but even fluent speakers will see the words rearrange themselves into gibberish a second after they are written down. Most people take no notice of another berobed Aereni here. Such are not uncommon, and those with red hair are only slightly less so.
The fresh ribbon with which his hair is tied and the ornately embroidered green of his robe bespeak a certain fussiness with his appearance that is not entirely usual, but folk at the Phoenix generally have other things on their minds.
Perhaps, Ondranar thinks, this is not entirely accurate. He feels the aura first, the very edge of the envelope of power that surrounds another practitioner of the arcane. A sorcerer, he thinks, not another wizard. There is nothing subtle or structured about it. It radiates elemental chaos, fire and ice and acid.
There's a young woman standing near his table, well out of arm's reach. His sensitive ears hear her rapid, shallow breathing before he picks up the tremulous movement from the corner of one eye. Ondranar lays aside the quill as he looks up, smiling invitingly.
The red eye that meets his is over-large for the long, thin bones of the face. The effect is not childlike, but alien. Her skin is ashy gray, and her hair is a tight-cropped black frizz, ragged as if the ends have been burnt rather than cut. The way she stands, arms folded tight around herself and shoulders hunched up, speaks fear and vibrating tension. No, the vibration is literal. Her hands are visibly shaking, even with the fingers tucked close. One eyelid twitches occasionally.
He doesn't recognize her at first. The last time he saw her, after all, part of her face had been burnt by acid. It seems to have healed with nary a scar, unlike the jagged keloids that lie in layers across her throat. He knows the scars before he knows the face. The return of life has imparted a furious, nervous energy totally unlike the slack non-personhood of the corpse he found down under the city.
"Why, hello," he says, rising gracefully from his chair. The girl twitches backward as if he has offered to strike her. Ondranar stops, blinking, and thinks better of his planned greeting. He bows very slowly, without his usual flourishes.
"You are looking rather better than when last I saw you, my dear," says Ondranar. "Though you will have to forgive me. I would have to consult my journal in order to recall your name." He gestures at the spellbook. The girl does not look away from his face as she nods, not quite a bow.
"Xymorel Trannyth," she says. "And you are Ondranar P-palerose."
The stutter isn't really a surprise. It's more of a surprise that she can keep her teeth from chattering constantly.
"At your service, Mistress Trannyth," Ondranar says. "But what can your humble servant do for you this evening? Do you care to sit?" He gestures at the chair across from his. He is sure she won't choose the nearer one. And indeed she does not, pulling out the opposite chair with a sharp jerk and sitting down abruptly.
"You were the wizard who f-found me," Xymorel says. "My sister Xyries t-told me." As she speaks she unslings a worn knapsack from her shoulders and plunks it down on the table, well to one side so that it does not hide Ondranar's hands from her.
"Indeed I was," Ondranar says. He resumes his seat and tucks away his spellbook with gentle caution. Xymorel is staring at the weapons at his belt, the nicked blade and its frost-tinged companion. "Do you yet suffer from resurrection sickness, my child?" he asks. "You appear unwell."
"I always d-do," Xymorel says, waving a dismissive hand. "That is n-not what I want to talk to you about, M-master Palerose."
"Then by all means, proceed," Ondranar says. "Do you require refreshment first?"
"No, I'm f-fine," Xymorel says. "D-don't let me -" She stops, looking at the two empty glasses and the third that is yet half-full. "Are you drunk?"
Ondranar's laugh might uncharitably be called a giggle.
"Certainly not," he says. "Rare is the occasion when I can afford enough of these to achieve inebriety, I assure you." He gently flicks one glass with a finger, producing a soft bell tone.
"All r-right, then," Xymorel says. She rubs one hand up and down the other arm. Ondranar can't help observing that she tends to sit well forward on the edge of the seat, as if she might have to bolt away at any moment. "I have a - a gap in my m-memory. I want to know what happened."
Ondranar raises crimson brows. "Should you not then speak to a cleric first?"
"I have," she says. "To M-molin Caskenflagon. Neither healing nor r-removing of curses f-fixes the problem."
"Ah. Yes, I have retained Master Caskenflagon's services myself, from time to time. Well, then." Ondranar inspects his fingernails, then looks sidelong at Xymorel. "If you are speaking to a wizard about it, I assume this loss of recollection was not caused by, for example, drink."
"I do n-not consume alcohol," Xymorel says. "It m-makes me quite ill very k-quickly. A f-family trouble." Her eyes narrow in a challenging, direct stare as she says, "But it d-did occur in a tavern."
Ondranar does not make the obvious retort. He is beginning to be intrigued by the problem Xymorel represents, whether or not loss of memory has anything to do with it. Something clearly is very wrong. Xymorel's eyes are deeply shadowed and red around the rims, a symptom separate from her others.
"And how long has it been since you rested?" Ondranar asks gently. "Perception of time is apt to be distorted among humans deprived of sleep."
"Three days," Xymorel says. "B-but it had not been two when this happened. It is ordinary for me to s-sleep seldom. It is not ordinary to suddenly wake up without any m-memory of how I came to be where I am." Her eyes widen again as she looks at Ondranar. "I n-need to know what happened. I cannot r-rest, not knowing if it m-might happen again."
"Very well, my child," Ondranar says. "Tell me precisely what happened. All that you remember."
Xymorel Trannyth relates, with many stammers and pauses, that she went to House Jorasco looking for work. Knowing herself to possess no marketable skills other than her elemental proficiencies, she had hoped to find employment there destroying undead. She accomplished one relatively brief task involving the annihilation of certain wights. Then she returned to the Open Palm Inn to look for other prospective employers. Finding nothing of the sort, she began to look about the Inn for a quiet place to sit and reconsider her options.
"I was on my way to the f-first of their side rooms," she says to Ondranar now. "And then I w-woke up in a different one, lying on the floor in the c-corner. There was n-no one else there. From the sundial outside I could t-tell I had lost less than ten m-minutes, but I don't know how."
"You were not robbed?" Ondranar asks.
"No. N-nothing was stolen. I had no new m-marks or wounds. No one had, had pulled my c-clothes about." A small shudder of revulsion indicates what is actually meant by this; Ondranar nods understanding.
"It is not possible that you simply fainted from exhaustion?" he asks.
"No," Xymorel says with finality. "I have had that happen only once, and the experience was entirely d-different. You m-must understand." The human's eyelid twitches again, an ugly not-quite-wink. "I could n-not now fall asleep in a public place even if I w-wished. I was k - Was k- k- Had my throat c-cut that way one t-time."
"I believe I understand," Ondranar says. He is an elf readily moved to the appearance of sympathy, seldom to the reality, but the terrible history that this recital suggests inspires a kind of fascinated horror. His face does not show this, of course. It shows the same languorous pleasantry that he shows everyone on first acquaintance.
"C-can you make me remember?" Xymorel asks.
"You must understand, child." Ondranar spreads his hands. "I cannot be certain, from this, what is the exact cause of the loss. If, for instance, a head injury was inflicted on you and subsequently healed, nothing I can do is likely to be of use."
"But what if it was m-magic?" Xymorel asks impatiently.
"Then our chances are, hm, somewhat better. Let me see." Ondranar leans back in his chair, tapping a slim finger against his lips. Then he reaches for his satchel and pulls the spellbook out again. Xymorel Trannyth watches as he flips pages, looking at this spell and that. At last his finger lights on an entry that says, in his own tongue, Mendraerol. Xymorel, looking at the page upside-down, probably sees the word Suggestion flicker off and on in the Common script.
Ondranar reads the page twice, committing the different components of the spell to memory. It is not one he often has cause to use. He ordinarily does not care for meddling with the minds of fellow creatures, be they good or evil. It engenders a fastidious distaste that he find difficult to shed.
"All right, Mistress Trannyth," says Ondranar, shutting the volume and putting it away again. "I have something that may work. If it does not, it will do you no harm. Rather less than if it does work, I'm afraid."
"What d-does that mean?" Xymorel asks sharply.
"I mean that what you experience if the spell succeeds will depend entirely upon what it is that you have forgotten. If the experience was particularly dreadful, the memory will be dreadful as well. Would you not rather pursue this somewhere a little more private?" He gestures at the busy taproom. No one is paying them any mind, but people pass near the table relatively often. Xymorel has placed her chair at such an angle that any drunk stumbling toward them will hit the table edge before reaching her. Ondranar is not sure if she even knows she has done it.
Xymorel begins shaking her head before he has even finished speaking.
"Here is f-fine," she says.
"I would not harm you," Ondranar says gently.
"P-probably not," Xymorel says. Her lips twist unhappily. "But I c-cannot be alone with you. F-forgive me."
"There is nothing to forgive. I'm sure I must appear a desperate sort of ruffian." Ondranar flutters his crimson lashes.
Xymorel flushes brightly for an instant, but she does not apologize further.
"Will you do it or n-not?" She flicks open the catch of her knapsack where it sits on the table. A moment's rummage inside produces a worn leather purse and a clear glass bottle. Ondranar looks at this latter object curiously as Xymorel unscrews the lid and takes a swallow of the contents. He can sense a very faint tinge of magic from the liquid, though it is clear as water.
"Of course I will," he says. "I confess I am growing quite curious as to what happened myself. If you will tell me what it is, I will entirely forgo any customary charge."
This seems to give her pause. She puts bottle and purse away and sits looking at Ondranar for a moment, trying to read a face well accustomed to remaining unreadable. Unsurprisingly, she gives this up after a moment.
"I th-think I would rather pay you," she says.
"A desperate ruffian indeed," purrs Ondranar. Xymorel glares at him. He smiles back.
"Oh, very well. C-cast your spell, Master Wizard."
"Suit yourself, Mistress Trannyth," says Ondranar. "Try not to resist. It will make the spell less likely to fail."
He sketches a character in the air between them with one finger, letting power flow from himself toward Xymorel's suspicious face. He can feel it gather shape and form as he says quietly,
Xymorel twitches in her seat as the invisible spell hits.
"Remember what you forgot at the Open Palm Inn," Ondranar says.
The human's eyes snap even wider, so that he can see white above and below the iris. The pupils dilate, then shrink to pinpoints. Then the connection breaks. Ondranar lets out a slow breath as Xymorel covers her face with her hands. He does not speak until her shivering has mostly stopped.
"Have we succeeded?" he asks.
"Yes, d-damn you," says Xymorel, and lowers her hands. He is not surprised to see fear in her eyes - he is sure that she is often fearful - but the glint of anger surprises him. He is more than ever aware of fire and ice revolving inside the human in front of him, destructive power barely reined in by the flesh.
Ondranar waits patiently, returning that furious stare with placid calm. At last Xymorel looks away.
"I apologize," she says stiffly. "Th-thank you for your help."
"Think nothing of it. I do my poor best." Ondranar reaches for his last glass and sips the increasingly flat liquor within. "May I ask what did occur without risk of being burned to death?"
"I am sure you th-think you are very amusing," Xymorel says coldly. Ondranar shrugs.
"A regrettably flippant disposition, Mistress Trannyth, the bane of all my acquaintance."
"No d-doubt," Xymorel says. Ondranar waits patiently. Eventually she says, "It was a wizard I have s-seen here before. He g-gives the name Arachan."
Ondranar raises his eyebrows. "Is that so? What a curious coincidence. I believe I am acquainted with rather an elderly drow of that name." Arachan is, in fact, probably older than Xymorel will ever guess, but Ondranar sees no reason to raise that point.
"The v-very same," Xymorel says. "I heard him t-talking to an elf - I think the name was Rikalv. They were speaking about the p-possibility of resurrecting a living s-soul in a prepared b-body."
"Oh, really," murmurs Ondranar, to whom this refrain is not entirely new. He cannot help wondering what is so very catastrophic in this knowledge when possessed by Xymorel. Arachan suggested it to him readily enough.
"I walked away as s-soon as I realized the room was occupied, but I c-couldn't help hearing some of it." She frowns. "I t-tried to hide in another room. Arachan found me. He asked what I had heard, and then he t-told me to go to sleep for five m-minutes and forget it all." Xymorel's eye twitches. "The other one d-didn't say much, but his eyes..." The eyelid twitches again. Xymorel rummages in her knapsack for her water bottle.
"He will realize that you have regained what you lost," Ondranar says. "I am a little acquainted with him. He is a keen observer."
"Yes, gods d-damn the man." Xymorel shivers again and tucks the bottle away. "Well, if I am n-never alone with him perhaps he will l-leave me alone. I don't care what he d-does with his spare time. They didn't say anything about c-coercing anyone."
"Other than yourself, it appears," says Ondranar.
"He was inside my head," hisses Xymorel. "Have you any idea? I wish he had k-killed me instead. It's not as if that d-doesn't happen all the time anyway." She shivers again. "How shall I s-sleep now? He could be invisible, or t-teleport into my room - "
"I really do not see that you have anything to fear from Arachan, whatever his motives," Ondranar says. "Are you not the sister of a Vassal of the Sovereign Host? The mind of a cleric is nearly impregnable to spells that affect the will." He does not add that the powerful positive energy exuded by the cleric will also prove particularly unpleasant to Arachan. Whatever he now thinks of what the other wizard has done, he gave his word not to betray a secret, and betray it he will not.
"Surely, while you are in her home you will be entirely safe," Ondranar says now.
"I have b-been staying elsewhere since - since you f-found me," Xymorel says.
"Then perhaps that is a practice you should discontinue," Ondranar says patiently. "You cannot now do better than to disclose all of this to your sister at the first opportunity. In fact, I will accompany you back to her residence now, if you wish to do so. I remember the way, so you will not be revealing anything that I do not already know."
"How do I know I can t-trust you?" Xymorel demands, pushing her chair back. She pulls on the knapsack, adjusting the weight across her bony shoulders.
"Objectively, you do not," he says. "And I am well aware that the facts that I am both a wizard and acquainted with Master Arachan are not in my favor. But it is yet broad daylight, and we may travel by occupied roads, and you are in full possession of what I judge to be considerable elemental powers. I think you will be safe from me for that long, child."
Xymorel looks at Ondranar for a long moment, gnawing a fingernail.
"All r-right," she says. "But if there is the s-slightest sign you are t-trying to cast a spell, I will burn you."
"I would expect nothing less," says Ondranar. "I'll lead the way, then, shall I?" He rises easily from his seat, tucking his tail of red hair back over his shoulder.
"Yes," Xymorel says grimly. "You will."
Ondranar smiles to himself as he precedes Xymorel out of the Phoenix. He has the feeling that interesting times are ahead, and Ondranar Valaesyri is nothing if not a slave to his curiosity.
Well, well. I wonder who it is that Master Arachan's taciturn friend wishes to resurrect so badly.
I think, perhaps, that I may know how to find out.