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Forums : Your Characters' Story(s) > Xy's Conversations and Extra Bits
SickleYield (Applicant) 4/25/2011 11:17 PM EST : Xy's Conversations and Extra Bits
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This thread will be for conversations between my own characters when they are alone together, or for shorter pieces when I feel their activities need to be described while "off screen."

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,


    "Mendraerol."


    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.

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SickleYield (Applicant) 4/28/2011 3:44 PM EST : RE: Xy's Conversations and Extra Bits
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II. Low Wages

Weak light floods in through the small window.  Dust motes swirl in the yellow glow.

Xyries Chorster sits at the table in her front room, reading a hymnal.  The seething fury that now subsumes her, behind the white mask that she shows the world, is not appropriate to her vocation.  That must be dealt with before she can proceed to her necessary tasks.

She has often found the psalms to Olladra to be calming.  The present page reads:

Praise be the Lady,
She whose hands have healed our hurts
And whose heart aches with ours.
Praise be the one who raises the fallen,
Restorer of our lives and those we love.
Praise Olladra!


Xyries breathes quietly and deeply.  Then she stands up and goes to the stairs that lead to the narrow house's next story.  Nothing is visible there, but she can hear breathing from the dark space under the stairs.

"Xymorel," she says.  "I am going to the roof.  I may be an hour or so."

"Be c-careful," says a voice from the deep shadow.

"You will be safe," Xyries says.  "Leon is still here."  She gestures up the stairs, toward where the clink and rattle suggests Ormollien Elanesse is making arrows.  There's an occasional soft puff of arcane power leaking down the stairs.  They will not be ordinary projectiles.

"I'm n-not worried about me," says Xymorel's voice impatiently.  "You be careful, Xyries Ch-chorster."

Xyries stares blankly into the dark space, trapped in the sphere of silence that enfolds her whenever she has the need to express some strong emotion.  A wave of pain and nausea rolls through her skull as she tries to formulate a response.  At last she says,

"Thank you, Xymorel.  I will."

Then she goes out the front door, locks it behind her, and walks off.  The house is pressed close between two others.  The roof is only accessible via a ladder on the wall at the end of the block.  She will have to walk across two other roofs to get to her own.

This is no problem, as it happens.  Everyone in this block knows Xyries, and she has obtained careful permission from the house owners to cross their roofs on the way to her own.  Though her manner tends to stall any true warmth from others, courtesy at least is generally welcome to them.

Both buildings have laundry lines set up on their flat roofs.  Xyries passes between blowing sheets in her heavy armor, careful not to touch or tear them.  She has worn armor every waking moment of every day since she was sixteen years old, and she is thirty-two now. She feels the weight no more than she does the weight of her own skin.

Her aunt, the cleric who taught her, is dead these ten years.  So she no longer wears the cilice with its barbed additions on either thigh under her greaves.  By the time of Denora Chorster's death, she was accustomed to it in any case.  The scars are thick and insensitive.

There is an old laundry line on Xyries' roof as well, but it is empty.  The only feature is the chimney.  It casts a long shadow in the light of late afternoon.


Xyries stops and looks at this shadow for a while.  Then she says,

"Good afternoon, Mistress Thelydd."

"Ain't over there, but nice try," says a voice behind her.  Xyries turns to see a wiry halfling leaning on one of the two laundry posts.  She is certain the rogue was not there before.

"Ain't a missuss, either," Thelydd says now.  She smiles briefly, a quick flash of teeth in her weathered face.  Some of them are gold.  "Not even at my age.  Just Thelydd."

"If you wish," says Xyries.  "What have you learned?"

"Not an 'ell of a lot," Thelydd says frankly.  She runs a hand over her hair, a thoughtful gesture.  It is vividly white, lambent in the afternoon sun, and she wears it tied back.  Xyries has wondered since they met how she can avoid the bright reflection in dark dungeons.

"Been takin' a butcher's 'ook around Phiarlan, though.  Seems like the old wizard ain't thought much of there."

"He will not be much thought of anywhere he goes," Xyries says.  "This is not to the purpose, Thelydd."

"Don't get yer knickers in a twist, Cleric," Thelydd says dryly.  "I'm not done yet.  And anyway, you ain't right about that.  Seems like he's made a friend 'ere and there."

Xyries clamps her jaw shut on a retort.  She is thinking of Arachan's words the previous day, his claim that the wizard Palerose willingly allowed his body to be occupied by Arachan's disembodied spirit.  That argues a degree of trust that is at least somewhat unlike what she knows of the Aereni.

"Much as anybody like that can," Thelydd is continuing, still leaning at ease on the wooden post.  "'E's a right bastard, yeah.  Suspicious.  Got a temper.  But 'e don't seem to go around 'urting folks for fun.  Just a little too much on 'is mettle, style of fing."

"I see," Xyries says.  "You have found no evidence of outright evil?"

"Nope," says Thelydd.  "And I talked to one or two what like 'im just fine, 'cause one of 'is major 'obbies seems to be puttin' down the rotters under the city.  Reason they don't like 'im in Phiarlan is a little different."

Xyries folds her hands behind her back.  "And what is that?"

Thelydd explains what she has been able to learn about the wizard's personal history, the interracial marriage of his parents.

"Sense may not be long in Phiarlan, but memories are," Thelydd says finally.

"I see," says Xyries.  "But a difficult relationship with a Great House over a matter of ancient racism does not excuse his present behavior."

"Not sayin' it does, but it explains a lot," Thelydd says.  She shrugs her narrow shoulders.  "'Ard to be flexible when you're old.  I oughta know."

"You are not old," Xyries says.

"Ha," Thelydd says.  She quotes a number.  "Give or take a couple.  That's just about four 'undred in rogue years."

Xyries' lip twitches, the closest to a smile she can currently achieve without actual pain.

"But it is not above the middle age for a halfling," she says.

"Couldn't prove it by me, Cleric.  What you want done now?"

"You have not been able to discover the exact details of this ritual he guards so jealously?" Xyries asks.

"Nah," says Thelydd.  "That elf in Jorasco don't talk about it, and I won't find what you want by walkin' loud 'round any of this.  Get myself lit up, and then you won't 'ave nothing to show for it."

Xyries considers for a long moment.  Then she says,

"What retainer will you require to continue seeking that information?"

"Don't work on retainer," Thelydd says promptly.  "By the job, shinies on delivery.  You pay me what you owe me for what I gave yer today - " She quotes a price - "I go on me way, an' if I find somethin' worth 'avin, I'll bring it to yer."

"That seems low," Xyries says.

"I din't find much," Thelydd says frankly.  "And I got other jobs, Cleric.  I ain't gonna starve." That humorless smile flickers past again.

"Very well," Xyries says.  She opens her purse and counts out the quoted amount, then drops it into a smaller bag and offers it to Thelydd.  The rogue accepts the bag daintily and attaches it to her belt without further counting it.  "Be careful.  I would not have you harmed by this necromancer."

"Me, neither," says Thelydd cheerfully.  "Nor I don't aim to be.  You leave it to me, Cleric."  She casts a measuring glance up and down the human.  "And you oughta go get some sleep.  Yer lookin' about 'alf alive."

Thelydd takes two quick steps and vanishes over the front of the building, where there is no ladder.  Xyries listens, but hears no sound of anything hitting the ground. Finally, she shakes her head and turns to make her way back across the roofs.
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SickleYield (Applicant) 5/1/2011 4:22 AM EST : RE: Xy's Conversations and Extra Bits
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III. A Brief Visit

Xyries Chorster is just finishing the supper dishes.  Xymorel stands beside her with a towel, drying.  A single everbright lantern lights up the entire kitchen with a warm light.  There is another in the front room, casting huge shadows from the table and chairs.

There is very little to do, and they are nearly finished.  Ormollien Elanesse has returned to his own quarters, muttering dire things about the necromancer Arachan.  Neither of the sisters is much of an eater on her own.

There is a soft knock at the door.  Xymorel sets down a plate quickly, standing quiveringly erect.  Arcane power bleeds into the air around her.

"I will answer it," Xyries says.  Every time there is a knock, Xymorel reacts the same way.  Every time, Xyries says the same thing.  Now she turns off the tap (her aunt had the hygienic plumbing laid on before she was even old enough to walk) and dries her hands, then slips on her gauntlets.

---

Ondranar Valaesyri, sometimes called Palerose, stands outside the door to Xyries Chorster's home.  Inside he can hear the soft chime of spells being cast, at sufficient power that magic is leaking through the closed door.  He sighs, steps back slightly, and waits.  The walk from the Phoenix was not very long, but it seemed so.

Presently the door opens. Xyries Chorster stands in the opening, face white and set.  Her hands are empty, but the atmosphere of divine power is almost physical, thickening the air like water.  Ondranar stands with his hands in plain sight, tamping down his own aura as best he can.

"Good evening, Cleric," he says.

The human and the elf stand looking at one another for a moment.  At five feet seven inches, the cleric is a good five inches taller than an Aereni of very average height.  Then Xyries says,

"To whom do I now speak?"

Ondranar bows as low as is physically possible without toppling over forward.  His tail of red hair, sliding over one shoulder, almost brushes the doorstep.

"To your humble servant, Ondranar Palerose."

"It m-must be him," says a familiar stuttering alto from behind Xyries.  "The necromancer would ch-choke."

Even as tired as he presently is, Ondranar's shoulders twitch with sad, silent laughter as he straightens up.  It is true that he cannot imagine Arachan convincingly repeating those words.

"The cleric Nuadia told us you were restored," Xyries says.  "I wished only to confirm it.  Please come in."

"Then I am glad she did so.  Thank you." Ondranar steps across the threshold, closing the door behind him.  The cleric Xyries steps back to allow him space.  The areas under her eyes look red with fatigue, but otherwise she is entirely as he last saw her, straight and stiff and impassive.

Behind her, Xymorel Trannyth stands in the kitchen doorway, a hand on each doorpost.  She looks poised to flee, but that is not unusual with Xymorel.  At least she appears better rested than when he last saw her, and her occasional tremors are limited to her hands.  Ondranar does not regret that he repaired the gap in her memory.  If he has managed one good act in all of this, surely that was it.

"Is Ormollien Elanesse yet with you?" Ondranar asks.  He knows the answer before it is spoken; sharp Aereni ears have picked up no creak of bowstring or harness.

"No, Leon has returned to his own quarters," Xyries says.  "The monster Arachan will be seeking him to retaliate for his discorporation.  He would not stay, when it might draw the necromancer back here again."

"I understand that Arachan came here," Ondranar says.

"Yes," Xyries says.  Ondranar watches her right hand open and close inside its gauntlet.  "He at first pretended to be yourself, urging us to give up relating particulars of the ritual.  When that failed, he threatened Leon with vengeance and made it clear that you were his hostage."

Ondranar bows his head.

"I am sorry," he says.  "I did not realize he intended any impersonation.  I thought only that he wished to make amends as quickly as possible."

"As quickly as p-possible? I do not think he w-wished to make them at all," says Xymorel.  She shivers visibly.  "He dwelt much more on his importance of keeping his s-secret than on any good intentions he m-might have had."

"He is not a charismatic person," Ondranar says apologetically, and sighs.  "But I'm afraid he is quite correct about the ritual. Should the details be published at large, the consequences could be dire." He explains briefly Arachan's concern for the possibility that every evil being in Stormreach might become immortal.

"Then he does wish to prevent an evil greater than his own," Xyries says.

"I think you are too severe upon him," Ondranar says. He meets Xyries' cold, blank stare without flinching.  Then he turns to look at Xymorel.  "Yes, he did you harm.  Yes, he might have avoided it.  I am grieved that he did not, my child.  But I am convinced that the harm was accidental, the act careless rather than malevolent.

"You must understand," Ondranar says, to one pair of narrow dark eyes and one pair of wide red ones. "Arachan is old.  Almost unimaginably so. He has been without fear and without needs for so very long that he has nearly forgotten what it means to have either."

"And is this not the meaning of evil?" Xyries says. "To have forgotten the needs of others, to disdain and glory in fear rather than seek to remedy it?"

Ondranar Palerose has no answer.

"Then it is true," Xyries says. "True that you let him occupy your body voluntarily."

"I chose not to resist when he made the attempt," Ondranar says. "I was relieved that he suggested that compromise, rather than simply attempting to destroy everyone involved.  There might have been great harm done, to himself as well as others."

"But you were deceived," Xyries says.  "You let him lie by implication, speaking as if he were yourself."

Ondranar flinches inwardly at this imputation.  It is the truth.  And, while he might countenance an inability to communicate clearly, he cannot countenance a lie.  The fact that Arachan has so loudly condemned guile now preys on his mind.

"P-perhaps I understand," Xymorel says suddenly.  Xyries turns sharply to look at her sister.

"What?"

"It was a b-brave thing to do," Xymorel says. "After all, what if he had p-possessed someone else? What if it had been Leon, who hardly ever t-talks? Would we even know?"

"I hoped to make the situation better, and I have made it worse," Ondranar says.  "I will not further inflict on you a countenance that is now surely abhorrent.  I came this evening only to ask your forgiveness."

"There is n-nothing to forgive," Xymorel says immediately.  "I am glad you are b-back in your own body.
"
"Whatever small harm you have done us, I absolve," Xyries says. She never unbends far, but the set of her pauldrons seems less severe suddenly.  "And you will never be unwelcome here.  We do not forget our debt to you."

"You mean my debt," Xymorel says.  Xyries makes a gesture of throwing away, a twitch of one hand.

Ondranar extracts a folded sheet of paper from his belt and offers it to Xyries. She takes it without hesitation.

"If you further require the services of a wizard - either of you - you now know where one may be found."  Ondranar bows deeply to each of the women, then turns toward the door.  "Give you good evening, Cleric.  Mistress Trannyth."

"G-good night, Master Palerose," says Xymorel.

"Good evening, Sir," says Xyries quietly, and closes the door behind him.

---

Xyries shoots the bolt home and turns back to look at her sister.

"What would you like to do now?" she asks.

"I think I will g-go and look for more work tomorrow," Xymorel says, lifting her chin.

Xyries raises her eyebrows. "I am afraid I do not follow your reasoning."

"I am t-tired of being afraid," Xymorel says. "The only way not to be afraid is to g-gain more power to defend myself.  And the only way to do that..." She shrugs.

Xyries nods slowly.  "You are improved since we met, though it may not be evident to you," she says.  "I am convinced you can improve further."

"You n-never seem like you're afraid of anything," Xymorel says.  One eyelid twitches.  "Why is that?"

Xyries shrugs one pauldron.

"I am sometimes afraid," she says.  "That it is not visible is not something you should envy."  She looks at Xymorel for a moment.  Then she says, "You are welcome to stay here for as long as you like."

"Thank you," Xymorel says.  "I th-think I will."
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SickleYield (Applicant) 5/2/2011 1:08 PM EST : RE: Xy's Conversations and Extra Bits
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IV. Not Entirely Expected

Xyries returns from a difficult birth to find her sister pacing up and down the front room, frowning fiercely.

She shuts and locks the front door.  Then she watches for a moment.  Xymorel's hair and robe are free from soot, and she still seems to be shaking only in her hands.  Xyries is quite sure she has not been killed since their last meeting.  There's even a smidgen of normal color in her gray skin.

Xymorel finally stops and folds her arms.

"He apologized," she says.

"I beg your pardon?" Xyries says politely.  It has been a busy day, and fatigue is interfering with her ability to parse what seems to be a nonsense statement.

"Arachan! He c-came up to me at the Phoenix and said he was sorry," Xymorel says.  "I th-think he meant it," she adds grudgingly.  "Otherwise he would have attacked N-nklos for interfering."

Xyries rubs the bridge of her nose with one ungloved hand.  Her hands are raw from scrubbing.

"Master Nklos was present?" Xyries says.

"Oh, yes, I met him by the bar.  We were t-talking and then Arachan came down from the loft." Xymorel laughs, a thin, nervous sound.  "Nklos stepped in between us.  I could s-see right over his head but it wasn't f-funny at the time.  He was deadly serious..."

"Then I am sorry to have missed the occasion," Xyries says dryly.  "I have never seen him deadly serious.  Nor have I seen you voluntarily speaking to a rogue.  Quite a red-letter day."

"Oh, rogues." Xymorel waves a hand irritably.  "I d-don't know.  I seem to be f-finding other things to be mortally inconvenienced by.  J-just about lost a leg to a zombie today."

"Do you require healing?" Xyries asks at once.  Her practiced eye has found no irregularity in Xymorel's usual jerky gait, but the response is automatic.

"No, no, I m-made it to a shrine.  With the wand I earned from that th-thing in the Catacombs, I don't th-think it will even leave a scar."

"Excellent," Xyries says, and nods once.  She hangs up her weapons belt on a nail beside the door.  No terrible visits are expected this evening, and should one arrive, her divine spells will probably be more useful than the mace.

"But I urge you not to consider the matter over," Xyries says.  "The necromancer is not to be trusted.  If he is guileful enough to impersonate Ondranar, he is entirely capable of pretending contrition in order to gain some larger end."

"He asked me about L-leon," Xymorel says slowly. She nibbles a thumbnail.  "He said he had r-revoked his oath of vengeance but L-leon wasn't having any.  I don't know where he's gone."

"Then that is cause for concern regardless of the monster Arachan's behavior," Xyries says.  "Tomorrow I will attempt to locate him."

"N-no, let me," Xymorel says.  "He knows me a l-little more.  We have at least one th-thing in common." She shivers once.

"As you will."  Xyries goes to look at the books on her shelf, prodding one into line where it has slipped out of the symmetrical array.  "But you know that he is capable of being very dangerous, Xymorel.  I would not have you harmed by one you consider a friend."

"Wouldn't be the f-first time," Xymorel says.  She shrugs.  "But I don't think L-leon will hurt me.  It's hard to quit drinking all at once. He's p-probably suffering from that on top of everything else."

"Very likely," agrees Xyries.

"Xyries, are you all right?"

The elder sister shakes herself, awakened from reverie.  She turns to see Xymorel standing quite close, peering at her nervously.

"Yes, of course.  Why would you ask that?"

"You look t-tired," Xymorel says.

"I am," Xyries says.  "It has been a very busy few days."

"I'll m-make supper," Xymorel offers.

It's worth the excruciating pain in her head.  At that moment Xyries knows she must smile, or burst.

"That is a very kind offer, but I prefer my comestibles with a minimum of char," Xyries says.

Xymorel grins back, showing surprisingly white teeth.

"Well, I'll do the d-dishes, then.  Come on."
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SickleYield (Applicant) 5/7/2011 4:54 AM EST : RE: Xy's Conversations and Extra Bits
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V. The New Scar

Xyries Chorster is at home on a gray morning when she hears a familiar soft tap at the door.

She lifts herself tiredly out of the straight-backed wooden chair - it was a long and busy night, and her armor is growing heavy - and carries her prayer book back to the shelf.  Weak light streams in through the one small window of the front room.  She senses no evil intent from whoever is on the other side of her front door.  It is probably all right to leave her gauntlets fastened to her belt.

She undoes the deadbolt and opens the portal.  A familiar slender Aereni stands on her doorstep.  Ondranar Palerose does not seem weary, as he did when last she saw him.  His carriage is, if anything, more alert than usual.  

He bows deeply as Xyries appears.

"Good morning, Cleric," he says, before Xyries can muster the energy to speak.  "I am glad to find you at home."

"Come in, Master Palerose," Xyries says.  She stands aside to let the wizard inside, then shuts the door behind him.

"Do lock it, there's a dear," Ondranar says.  Xyries, not accustomed to being addressed in quite these terms, blinks rapidly and obeys.

"Is Mistress Trannyth here?" Ondranar continues, looking around at the austere furnishings.

"No," says Xyries.

"I suppose that is just as well."  Ondranar smiles slightly, running his hands back over his hair.  "This is rather embarrassing."

"What is wrong?" Xyries asks.  She looks at the Aereni with clinical interest.  He does not appear particularly fatigued, but his long, thin face is more gaunt than when she saw him last.  The ragged scar on his right cheek stands out sharply against his pale skin.

Ondranar sighs, making a gesture eloquent of exasperation.

"I was injured yesterday evening at the Phoenix.  Smudge did her best to heal me with a wand - you do know Smudge? Such a kind person - but I'm afraid I find some discomfort lingering today.  My own wands do not seem to affect it, and it is beginning to prove an inconvenience to my work.  Terribly annoying."

"I am acquainted with Smudge, yes," Xyries says, picking a morsel of sense out of the rapid chatter.  The pitch of Ondranar's voice seems a little off, twanging with strain.  Whatever is wrong, it has not affected his grooming.  He is, if anything, neater than usual, his harness tugged into firm alignment across his narrow chest and the belt set squarely across his hips.

"Show me this injury," Xyries says.  "Perhaps I can treat it."

"I would have to, ahem, partially disrobe," Ondranar says apologetically.

"It does not matter," Xyries says.

The Aereni still hesitates, looking around the room rather than at Xyries.  She sighs as she recognizes a symptom she has seen in many an injured adventurer.

"Do not consider that you speak to a female, but to a cleric," Xyries says.  "I assure you, even if you were entirely naked, it would matter to me no more than it would to a construct."

"Fortunately, entire nudity will not be necessary," Ondranar says.  He bows again, less deeply but with every appearance of sincerity.  "But I assure you, it was not your humble obedient's intention to question your professional competence."

He walks over to the table, lays aside a brilliant blue sash, and begins to unbuckle the harness that supports his potions and wands.  Xyries murmurs a prayer to Olladra as she waits.  Divine power spirals up around her, warming and strengthening.

Ondranar adjusts the belt that holds his purse, wands, and the satchel for his spellbook.  Then he peels the embroidered green robe down to his waist, showing a little lean muscle and a great many visible ribs.  His skin is white and smooth.  He has not spent many hours in the sun.

There are small, irregular scars in the center of his ribs, consistent with bone having pierced the surface, but they are dry and harmless.  Xyries' eye is instead drawn to the angry mark over his heart.  The star-shaped crimson welt stands out sharply, visibly inflamed.  In fact, upon closer inspection, there are two.  One lies so close over the other that they are hardly distinguishable.  Xyries recognizes the type of wound immediately.  She has seen many like it.

"Turn, please," She says impassively.  Ondranar pivots, showing the smaller marks on his back.  Xyries nods once.  "Both arrows went entirely through you," she says.  "That requires a powerful arm to the bow."

"I imagine it does," Ondranar says politely, turning again to face Xyries.

"You were not injured," Xyries says flatly.  "You were killed.  Twice."

Ondranar says nothing.

"Who did this?" Xyries asks.

"Really, dear cleric, does it matter?" Ondranar lifts one shoulder insouciantly.  He does not do anything so dramatic as wince, but Xyries marks how carefully he returns to his previous erect posture.  "But it does pain me.  If you are able to heal it, I would be very grateful."

"I will need to touch it," Xyries says.

"Proceed," Ondranar says, with a flick of his fingers.  Xyries reaches out to place two fingers at the edge of the scar.  It is warmer than the surrounding skin, and by touch she can sense the taint of divine power.

"The second arrow was meant to keep down undead," she says.  "The shaft is gone, but the power remains.  Please hold still.  This will not hurt."

Xyries whispers another prayer.  Power sinks through her fingertips and into Ondranar's body, seeking magic with magic.  She draws her fingers slowly away.  Golden light spirals out after them, then fades like dust dispersing.  Then she places her other hand over the scar, murmuring the words of the cure.  

She feels rather than hears Ondranar let out a breath.  Xyries takes her hand away and observes with satisfaction that the welt is gone.

"It should cause you no further pain," she says.

"It does not.  Thank you." Ondranar resumes his robe quickly and reaches for his harness.  "What is your normal fee for such a boon, Cleric?"

Xyries shakes her head.  "If I levied fees for healing, I might live somewhere considerably grander than this house," she says.  "What I have is freely given."

"You might, but I very much doubt it," Ondranar says.  "I begin to suspect that it would be entirely unlike you."

Xyries is not easily to be diverted from her current train of thought, however.  She looks at Ondranar with her head on one side.

"You are fortunate that you are untouched by dark power," Xyries says.  "Otherwise you would not have been able to rise again after the second arrow."

Ondranar has been slowly turning away as Xyries speaks.  She is taken aback by the speed with which he turns back to face her.  His eyes are wide and pale in his thin face.

"Yes, Cleric," he says, laying sharp emphasis on the title.  "I am free from the stain of necromantic energies.  That is your implication, is it not?  Or do you require some more definite proof?  Perhaps you would like to use the Infliction of Wounds and see if it instead heals me?"

Xyries frowns slightly.

"No," she says.  "That would be both irrational and unnecessary."

"Are you quite sure?  It is no trouble at all."  Ondranar turns and paces a few steps to one side, then back, hands clasped tight behind his back.  The knuckles are bone-white.  "I would not dream of attempting to defend myself, you know.  Regrettably, I promised Smudge that I would not allow myself to be killed, but I am sure that with sufficient reason she would forgive - "  

"Master Palerose," Xyries says, interrupting the increasingly high and rapid flow of words.  "Are you out of your senses?"

Ondranar stops abruptly.

"Yes.  No.  Possibly."  He runs both hands over his hair again, turning his back to Xyries.  She watches with a concern which she knows is probably not at all visible.

"Let me try another cure," Xyries says.  "Perhaps you yet suffer some effect of the arrows that I do not perceive."

"I very much doubt it," says Ondranar, but he does not attempt to resist as Xyries murmurs another prayer.  His shoulders sag slightly as the power fades.  "But I am grateful for the attempt."

He turns with a better impression of his usual relaxed composure.

"Forgive me, cleric.  I really am grateful for your assistance."

"It is nothing," Xyries says.  "Why did Leon kill you, Master Palerose?"

"Kyr eil eilaerys," murmurs Ondranar.  "I had rather hoped you would not ask me that."

"Yes, I gathered that," Xyries says dryly.  "But I know it was Leon.  I have seen the arrows that inflicted your wounds.  He made some of them while he was staying in this house."

"I provoked him," Ondranar says.  He sniffs haughtily.  "Admittedly, the name by which he first called me would sully my lips in the repetition, but I would not ordinarily choose to quarrel with one whom you and Mistress Trannyth each hold in esteem."

"And why did he insult you?" Xyries asks.

"Because I was speaking publicly with Arachan," Ondranar answers readily enough.

Xyries sighs.  "Was that wise?"

"Perhaps not." Ondranar shrugs impatiently.  "But to refuse to do so would have been discourteous, and I am not discourteous to those I consider friends, Cleric."  He appears to deflate slightly.  "I realize that my words of a moment ago do not, perhaps, provide very positive evidence to that effect, but nevertheless - "

"Forget it," Xyries says.  "I assure you that I will.  I was not, however, aware that you considered the lich a friend."

"Yes," Ondranar says quietly.  "I do.  I did not, admittedly, know he was a lich when we first struck up acquaintance, but I cannot cut off contact for that reason alone."  He looks at Xyries sidelong, through his red eyelashes.  "Are you now sorry that you healed me?"

Xyries stares at Ondranar for a moment, waiting for this to make sense.  Then she says,

"Do not ever ask me that question again, please.  While I serve the Host, I will never regret an act of healing."

"Then forgive your servant the insult, Cleric."  Ondranar raises his head, looking at Xyries fully.  His eyes are wide and anxious.  Xyries Chorster is not a perceptive person when it comes to the thoughts and emotions of her fellow beings.  Nonetheless, she does recognize that attempt at squelching helpless, desperate panic, the fear of what the other will say and the inability to prevent it.

"It is forgiven," she says, suppressing a flash of remembered panic herself.  Denora Chorster is dead. There will never be another moment of waiting for that particular lash of words. "But you are beginning to frighten me, Master Palerose."

"Nonsense," Ondranar says lightly.  His smile is brief but genuine, and Xyries almost sags to see his relief. "I do not believe you are afraid of anything at all."

"Xymorel said something very like that," Xyries says.  "She was wrong also.  Are you still staying at the boarding house in King's Way?"

"Yes," Ondranar says.

"Is it possible I might persuade you to stay the night here?" Xyries asks.  "There is a spare room."

"Oh, I really could not," Ondranar says at once.  "That is, I am truly grateful for your offer of hospitality, but I feel I must retain my present quarters.  Thank you."  He bows deeply and with all of his customary flourish.  Xyries shakes her head.

"And if I - or Xymorel - should require the services of a wizard in one or two days' time, will I yet be able to find one there?" she asks.

"Why, of course."  Ondranar lays a finger on his lips, entirely failing to hide a bitter smile.  "I as much as gave my word to Smudge, you know."

"But what is this about?" Xyries asks.

Ondranar shakes his head again.  "Again I must ask your forgiveness," he says.  "I do not find I am able to go into it again.  Do not worry, Cleric.  I will come and see you here in two days' time at the latest.  How will that be?"

"Adequate," Xyries says.

"Then your humble servant departs.  Give you good day, Cleric."

"Gods speed thee, Master Palerose," Xyries says.  She watches the door open and close behind Ondranar.  A moment after that, the deadbolt appears to slide over on its own.

Xyries shakes her head at it and goes to retrieve her prayer book.  She will probably have to try and sleep some time today, but it is quite impossible at this moment.
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SickleYield (Applicant) 5/30/2011 1:57 PM EST : VI. Phantasmal
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Ondranar Valaesyri, sometimes called Palerose, paces the roof of Xyries Chorster's home.  His spellbook lies open on a cloth nearby, for there are no furnishings up here.  Other than the chimney top and the two laundry posts, it is an entirely featureless stretch of reddish-painted surface.  Taller roofs stretch off toward the city wall in the distance.

The sky overhead is beginning to gray with clouds.  The wind pulls at Ondranar's tail of red hair.  He adjusts it impatiently every so often.

Ondranar has had all he can stand of the inside of the boarding house.  The Phoenix offers considerably more space, but thus far it has been entirely impossible to escape his acquaintances there.  The only tavern more spacious is the Bogwater, and there are reasons why he would rather not go there.

But Xyries' roof is inaccessible except via the roofs around it, and up here it's just the elf and the air and the great dome of sky.  No one seems to hang laundry on their roof.  Or if they have, he has not noticed them.

A knapsack sits in the shadow of the chimney top.  Ondranar has not consumed much of the contents.  He has been too busy poring over everything he knows, every entry in his spellbook.  He has added considerably to the book's contents as well.  His memory is not perfect, but it is good.  

Some potential data, of course, are irretrievably lost, and that is entirely his own fault.  He has let his desire to socialize override the need to study in those hours when he is not pursuing the regrettably but necessarily violent occupations that pay for his board and materials.  It was a mistake to give in.  His apparently complete inability to cope with the possession of a large circle of acquaintance proves this. He views his own recent behavior with distaste.  

Courtesy, yes, one must always be courteous. But it is always better not to involve one's self closely with local concerns. You should not have forgotten this, lesser son of a lesser house.

And now he has caught himself straying toward unproductive topics again. Ondranar stops pacing and stands beside the chimney, forcing himself to concentrate. He has been working for the last day and a half toward something, some greater and more terrible permutation of the illusions he already knows.  It is one thing to make the mind see what is not there.  But to find whatis there, to seize on the most personal and frightening of images and project it to the outside - surely few minds will be able to bear it.  And the most useful part of this is that if the spell works, he will not have to see inside the other's mind.  The spell can do that without his direct intervention.

It is difficult to test an illusion of this nature, of course.  One certainly would not wish to do so first in the field, where its success or failure might harm those who -

Those whom you accompany strictly for business reasons. Remember it.

Outwardly Ondranar shakes his head slightly, as if at a pesky insect.  Then he raises one hand, sketching a gesture in the air, and whispers:

"Valarar colaes."

He is aware of a sensation like feathers tickling the inside of his eyelids, or as if someone has blown a puff of air on his naked brain.  Then he stiffens as an idea rises up from within his own mind and takes possession, an army invading from within its own walls.  Images rise before his eyes, blotting out the spectral image of tentacular arms that rises briefly around him on the rooftop.

Everyone you know is dead.

He can see the bodies, lying broken in postures of horrible suffering: Smudge, and the two sisters, and Arachan, and Quillarianna who calls herself Annie, and the mysterious and threatening figure of Elorick d'Phiarlan, now twisted like a discarded puppet with wide and staring eyes. Leon is there, the bow fallen from his fingers.  The halfling boy whom he once saw at the Phoenix is there, torn nearly in half.  Treycen lies among them, a green robe balled up in one fist as if he was about to proffer it.  Even relative strangers, the bartenders from the Phoenix, the Coin Lord for whom he once performed a task - even these are represented, as gory and inert distortions of themselves.

And now the eye of observation travels a thousand miles in an eyeblink, and he can see the bodies of his family, of his father and mother and two brothers lying among the other members of their clan.  Their gnarled and rotting fingers reach out toward him, milky eyes staring in accusation.

Everyone you know is dead. The blame is yours.

And never mind that he knows all of those depicted to be alive, or that it would be logistically impossible for him even to cause the deaths of half of them.  The illusion is utterly convincing.  Ondranar feels his own heart knocking at his ribs, hears the thundering in his ears as the tide of horror and ultimate despair threatens to drown him -

No. He can hear armored footsteps moving about below him, the vibration rising through the surface of the roof.  Xyries Chorster is alive.

With that certainty the terrible images disperse like morning fog.  Ondranar finds himself on his knees on the roof, clutching at his chest with clammy fingers.  He scrambles upright quickly.  His hands move automatically to straighten his robe and his hair.

Then he moves to the spellbook on the roof and kneels again.  He picks up the quill and waits impatiently for his hand to steady before he begins to write.

I believe I may accurately call the first test of the spell which some call Phantasmal Killer an unqualified success.  It is well known that the ability to survive this spell depends entirely upon the strength of will of the one upon whom it is cast as well as upon that of the caster.  This causes something of a conundrum when these are the same person.  No doubt repeated attempts will be necessary in order to achieve a proper body of information...
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SickleYield (Applicant) 6/8/2011 11:58 AM EST : VII. Digging
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"Right.  Keep yer voice down," Thelydd says. 

A dog barks off in the distance.  It's that awkward time of morning when the night people have gone in, with their hard, bright eyes and their weapons always at hand, and the tired, grungy crowd that serves the area for a true labor force have not yet risen to go about their wearisome work.

The halfling now stands at the edge of the depression that was once the courtyard of the Yellow Well, a miserable little corner of the Tenements.   The well has collapsed.  It is now nothing more than a broken heap of stonework around a hole choked with rubble.  The wall around the courtyard is intact, but it tends to lean inward now.  It casts a long shadow that leaves the yard itself mostly dark.

Beside Thelydd, Keridor the Crooked lifts one thick, gray eyebrow.  He is not a man of many words, which means that around Thelydd he tends to put in about one in twelve. 

Keridor generally passes for a human male of older middle age.  The distinct S-curve to his spine cants his upper body forward and to the right.  The surname he uses has nothing to do with dishonesty.  It was awarded him based on his very distinctive anatomy, and eventually it stuck.

Currently his lean and twisted frame is burdened with digging implements: two shovels, a pick and a bucket.  He has somehow managed to lump all these objects onto one shoulder and arm so that the other is free. 

Keridor sidles down into the depression, testing his footing at each step.  One leg is a little shorter than the other, giving him a distinct tilt as he moves.  His footsteps are surprisingly quiet, but he seems to crawl even when walking, like a house spider on a cold day.  Thelydd, smaller and lighter, pads silently after him. 

She pauses beside the dirt-choked well, lean arms folded.  A flick of her head moves a tail of white hair back over her shoulder.  In a bright light, where all the little lines are sharply visible, it's clear that middle age has not been kind to Thelydd.  In a bad one like the present, she could pass for a much younger halfling.  She moves with a sort of spry energy. 

Keridor, who has been in Thelydd's company often over the last couple of months, finds it makes him tired.  But then, Keridor is often tired.  Possibly it's the infrequency with which he gives in to his fundamental urges.  Perhaps it's some odd relic of the days when he used to need to sleep, the mind disbelieving what the body tells it.  Except when he absolutely must be quick, he drags along as if the air above his uneven shoulders weighs on him like stone.

"'S gonna be about sixty feet down," Thelydd says.  "An' then another 'undred or so that way."  She nods toward the adjacent row of apartments and warehouses.  All seem to stand much lower than their neighbors.  A certain number of locals woke up one morning not too far past to find their second stories had become their first and their first had become basements.

"You just look for the throne," Thelydd says.  "'Ave to clear around it in front but that's the spot.  Might be mud if you get down that deep.  That ain't going to be today, mind."

"How big you want the tunnel?" Keridor asks.


Thelydd cocks her head, pale eyes narrow.  They're a sort of indeterminate gray color.

"Wide enough for a 'uman bigger'n you.  That ought to let you and me and an elf down it, right enough.  Timber it up 'owever you can."

Keridor nods.

"Any idea 'ow long it'll take yer?" Thelydd asks.

"Few weeks, probably," Keridor says.  "Won't be able to work straight through.  Still have to rest once in a while."

"Still 'ave to 'unt, you mean," Thelydd says, pitching her sharp mezzo very low.  Her tone is neutral, even benign.  But then, that's how Thelydd says almost everything.  Keridor has heard her use the same tone to a man from whose eye socket she was removing her throwing dagger five seconds later.

Keridor shrugs.

"Further I have to go, longer it'll take to get back," he says.  He unslings the collection of objects from his shoulder and begins laying them out on the carpet of dead weeds.

"Shouldn't 'ave to go far," Thelydd says.  She grins.  It's a brief, even startling expression, showing a good number of white teeth and a few gold ones.  "Take a walk down any damn alley after midnight in this neighbor'ood and you'll 'ave somebody try to shiv yer in 'alf a minute.  Just don't pick the same corner every night and nobody'll think twice about a few of the worst gone missing."

"Every night? Ha," Keridor says.

"Just sayin,'" Thelydd says.

Keridor watches from the corner of one eye as the halfling removes a bundle of wands from a belt pouch.  He trusts her, to the extent that he trusts anyone at all, but it's an unusual thing for her to carry so many together.

"These'll make it go a deal faster," she says.  She taps the dab of colored paint on the bottom of each one as she talks.  "Fireball.  Acid Blast.  Cone of Cold, in case things ain't cooled down fast enough from the others.  An' 'ere's an Inflict Minor and an Inflict Critical, 'case something falls on you or you get burnt.  If you get trapped - "

"Got a scroll for that," Keridor says.  He taps his chest with a blunt, calloused finger, producing a soft rustle from behind his homespun shirt.  He has no armor on today.  It would slow him down and make the work harder, and the day he can't fight off the scum of the Tenements without it is the day he really will be ready to be put to bed with a shovel.

He does still wear the polymorph amulet, of course.  The only people who see him without it are the ones who will never get a chance to tell.  There is the very rare undead who has both managed to elevate itself from evil to neutral and is steady enough to be trusted, but Keridor has almost lost hope in that possibility.

"Good man," Thelydd says.  "Be a bonus if you can get it all done in a week."  She grins again at Keridor's derisive snort.  "I know yer can do it, 'cause I know 'ow long it takes you to run out of steam.  Just don't start in on the sparkles 'til you're low enough to be out of sight after dark, get me?"

"Yes," Keridor says.  He accepts the proffered wands.  "Thanks."

"Don't thank me, old son," Thelydd says.  "You ain't got paid yet."

Keridor picks up a shovel.

"You think you and me and Palerose will be enough?" he asks.

"Naw," Thelydd says.  "But you an' me an' 'im an' the Trannyth girl will.  Banelord's weak now, and 'e ain't got no army no more.  The old man never come back all the way from this, y'know."

Keridor knows who is meant by the old man.  Thelydd seldom refers to the age of those older than herself, and when she does they are a great deal older indeed.  She treats Keridor as if they were the same age.  In literal chronology, perhaps they are.  Halflings age a little slower than humans do.

"I know," he says.  "Cleric know about this?"

"'Course not," Thelydd says.  "Nor I don't mean for her to find out, not 'til it's all over.  'Sides, I don't want you down at the Phoenix for a few days," Thelydd says, apparently apropos of nothing.  "I'd just as soon you stay out of Starach's way.  'E's been up an' down a bit since the funeral.  They all 'ave.  You see the drow girl, be polite."

"Always am," Keridor grunts, digging the end of the shovel into the earth.  It's going to be a long day, and he sees no reason not to get started.

"Yeah, I know."  Keridor catches the gleam of the rising sun on Thelydd's teeth without raising his head.  "I'll be back to check on yer when I can.  You need anything else?"

"No," Keridor says.  He shifts a load of earth and stone methodically and dips the shovel for another.  He is not sweating.  Even polymorphed, he never does.  Breathing and drinking are about what he has mastered to this point.  He generally remembers to blink, too.

"Right, then," Thelydd says.  "S'long, Keridor."

"So long, Thelydd," Keridor says.  He does not look up, but a sideways glance tracks the halfling's silent progress up the slope and through the broken gate.

Then she is gone, and the morning's silence is unbroken except for the steady sound of one man digging.
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SickleYield (Applicant) 6/11/2011 4:02 AM EST : VIII.A. Traps
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Xymorel Trannyth walks down the cracked and broken paving, arms folded tight around herself.  She cannot clearly see the other two through the Displacement field which now surrounds each of them.  That is not her greatest concern.  Most of her attention is absorbed in either watching her surroundings or trying to stay close to the wizard Palerose and the rogue Thelydd while remaining far away enough to avoid any possibility of accidental touch.

They now proceed down one of the broader avenues of the Tenements.  Tall buildings with many broken windows loom to either side, casting long shadows.  There's a smell of dust and poor sanitation.  The Grimwine Mews is oddly quiet for this time of day.  A few hard young men loiter here and there on the corners, watching with hungry eyes.  There are women, too, similarly armed and no less vicious-looking.  No one attempts to accost the three passersby.  Even through Displacement they can probably identify the purses, weapons and accoutrements of the travelers, but enough of them possess primitive mage abilities to identify the powerful auras of the two arcane casters.  

Xymorel hopes this is the case, at least.  She has been into this district of Stormreach exactly once.  Her visit was not lengthy, because she was stabbed and her throat cut before she could reach her intended destination.  That was a long time ago as Xymorel counts it.  Months have passed.  She is no better able to detect sneaking footsteps - she cannot improve upon nature where her hearing is concerned - but her reflexes have grown much faster.  It's a bad week indeed when she finds herself passing through the Gray these days.

Last week was one such, unfortunately.  She is shakier than she would like for an errand like this one, hands trembling where they rest on her upper arms.  But she has been much worse, and she slept last night and ate this morning.  It's about the best she can do at present.

Beside her, Ondranar Palerose stalks along with his hand on the hilt of a rapier.  Like herself, the elf walks in a cloud of arcane power, prepared to cast at a moment's notice.  Xymorel is uncomfortable in some degree around nearly everyone, but wizards in particular have bothered her of late.  The resonance of spells in potentia that ripples out from Ondranar is complex and subtle.  It is difficult to pin down, to extract a clear impression from the revolving haze.  Xymorel, on the other hand, will give any other mage in proximity an immediate presentiment of burning.  Every moment she can feel fire at her fingertips, waiting for release.  It makes her predictable where the Aereni is not.  She doesn't care for that, considering Ondranar's recent behavior.  His manner has been oddly distant, the old dramatic flourishes coming and going almost at random.  An older and colder persona seems to be trying to emerge from behind the succession of cheerful masks.  Today his robe is dark green and almost plain, without sashes or extra belts.

Thelydd walks softly in front of them, white hair gleaming through the Displacement haze.  Xymorel is a little easier with this, because it's exactly where she prefers rogues to be.  She is aware that her sister Xyries trusts the halfling.  Otherwise she would not be here.  She has marked the easy spring in Thelydd's step, the quick little hands, and with an eye now obsessively keen at detecting hidden weapons, she is entirely aware of how many different sharp things the older woman carries.

There's a broken gate in a leaning wall up ahead on the left.  Thelydd turns straight toward it.  There are two humans and a halfling near the opening, slouched against the wall as if they have all the time in the world to do nothing.  One of the humans is female.  Her tight leathers leave no possibility of doubt.  The others wear a mishmash of durable fabrics common to this area, whatever they've been able to scrounge together.  Xymorel scanning them hurriedly before she turns to look for an ambush, is certain they carry no weapons beyond the shortswords and knives hung openly on their belts.

Thelydd slows as she approaches them.

"'Ello, Dory," she says to the human man.  Despite his youth, there are old, ragged scars down one side of his face.  Xymorel recognizes them as the marks of a broken bottle.  There are few types of scar she cannot now identify at a glance.  She has most of her own body for reference behind her frayed maroon robe.

"Thelydd," the man says, and nods once.  "The hunchback works for you?"  As he speaks, the other two size up the group with idle interest, like reptiles watching a beetle crawl past.  There is not much life or interest in their eyes.  It's a purely atavistic reaction.  Xymorel shivers.  The woman sees it, and smiles.  Ondranar Palerose seems to be idly inspecting his fingernails.

"Why?" asks Thelydd.  

"I'm short a knife hand since last night," Dory says.  "One of my boys said he'd try and roll the old man when he laid off digging.  Ain't seen him since."

"So what you doing out 'ere?" she asks.  "Waitin' for permission?"

"Wanna know if he's one of yours," Dory says.  "Want to know how long he'll be here."

"Yeah, 'e is," Thelydd says.  "And 'e won't be there past today.  You want blood for your blood, you can try after that.  I wouldn't, I was you.  You're gonna lose a few more knife 'ands if you do, and ain't you still trying to chase the Sharn off your mews?"

"Oh, they'll be off," Dory says, jerking his chin up.  "But we won't bother with the old man, long as he's out of here today."

"S'long, then," Thelydd says.  

"So long," says Dory.  He jerks his head at the other two.  The three toughs amble away, slowly enough to indicate to that they are not in any way intimidated.  The halfling spits past Ondranar.  Apparently he isn't quite so suicidally brave to actually spit on a wizard.

"You know these p-people?" Xymorel asks when the others are out of sight.  She follows Thelydd into the courtyard with relief.  A gray and crooked man in light chainmail stands beside a sizable hole in the ground.  There's a pile of dirt and debris taller than he is beside him, casting a lumpy shadow.  Xymorel inventories his weapons at a glance.  There are two khopeshes on his hips and a pair of hammers on his back.  She does not miss the throwing knife strapped to the underside of one arm.  That hand hangs a little higher than the other.

"Sure," Thelydd says.  "Dory is one of the better kinds o' scum you find out 'ere.  Don't run 'ores and 'e don't 'urt kids, less they're kids from one of the other packs, 'o course.  Long as the Sharn got no real interest 'ere, I'd as soon 'e was in charge as anybody else.  'Ello, Keridor.  I see you been back to get your gear."

The man nods.  Xymorel, peering closely at him over the top of Thelydd's head, thinks he must be in his mid to late fifties.  His face is lined and scarred, and his close-cropped hair is iron gray.  There are a couple of patches of scar on his skull where no hair grows.  Still, he has not the look of a local.  His eyes inside their nest of crow's feet are tired and a little sad, showing the yellow whites and broken blood vessels of a long and hard life.  He does not have the dead stare of those who have grown up in an atmosphere of inescapable violence and hopeless poverty.

But now Thelydd is performing introductions, in the offhand way she usually does.  Xymorel shakes herself.  

"H-hello, Sir," she says.  Beside her, Ondranar bows deeply.  There's a little spiral of one hand as he sweeps it behind his back, one of his usual embellishments.  At a time like this, Xymorel thinks, it's almost a relief to see the ridiculous but familiar gesture.

"How do you do," he says pleasantly.

"Fine," says Keridor.  His voice is a gravel bass, and it seems a little strained, as if speaking is an effort for him.  Xymorel gathers from his crinkling eyes that he is amused by Ondranar.  She smiles tentatively at him.  He nods back.

"Might as well get to it," Thelydd says.  "I don't want to leave the 'ole open any longer'n we got to."

"I will descend first," Ondranar says.  His light tenor has taken on that colder harmonic that Xymorel is beginning to greatly dislike.  "There may be arcane traps."

Keridor shrugs, almost bringing one shoulder level with the other.

"Didn't find any while I was digging," he said.  "But there may be some that are triggered differently.  Traps around the site, for sure.  Wouldn't use Feather Fall, I was you."

"Noted, thank you," Ondranar says.  As they approach the hole Xymorel sees that there is a rope ladder affixed to a pair of stakes hammered deep into the stony ground.  The Aereni manages to whisk himself over the edge without dragging the hem of his robe through the dirt and begins to climb lightly and rapidly down.

"I'll go next, girl," Thelydd says.  "We want a mage in front an' one in back, if we can.  Keridor, you're after me."

"Understood," Keridor says.  He turns, somehow managing to limp even in place, and prepares to follow the halfling down the hole.  Xymorel looks around one last time.  The courtyard seems entirely deserted.  There is no sound of feet or rustling cloth from any hidden observer.

She turns back to see Keridor climbing down with surprising agility, like some great fleshy arachnid.  Xymorel shivers again at that mental image.  She downs one of the Calm Emotions vials from her belt before she sinks to all fours and climbs awkwardly over the edge of the hole.  One questing foot finds a rung of the ladder, then the other.  The flexible support bumps and sways with the movement of the others below her, and she cannot see into the darkness.

"How f-far down is it?" she asks.  There seems almost to be an echo from below.  This is not reassuring.

"'Bout sixty feet," Thelydd's voice calls up from below.  "I got a restore wand if you run out of steam.  Don't be afraid to ask."

"All r-right," Xymorel says.  She is grateful that first, she is wearing long hose under her robe, and second, that the others cannot see her furious blush in the dark.  She is well aware that she is the least athletic person present, the worst equipped to be ascending and descending long ladders.   Well, at least it's actually got rungs and handholds.  She's had to shin up and down her fair share of plain old ropes since her arrival in Stormreach.  By rights, she ought to be well accustomed to hanging on with her hands and legs.  At least there is no incipient panic in the thought of climbing.  Many things frighten her, but heights are not among them.  She's only been killed by a fall once.  The scars it left, both figurative and literal, were much less than any given stabbing or exsanguination.

The climb down seems almost interminable.  Here and there she catches glints of light from the tunnel walls.  There are patches of new glass where a fire spell was used to aid excavation.  Xymorel's arms and thighs ache by the time she hears the soft tap of Ondranar's foot touching the bottom.  Then the others climb off one by one, and at last she plants a soft boot on solid ground.  She feels the cold earth through the thin soles.  The tunnel ahead, lit up by a glow from Ondranar's upraised hand, is big enough for her to stand up straight, but only just.  A warforged or a half-orc would be crowded.

"About a hundred feet that way," Keridor rumbles from up ahead.  "You'll see it."

The tunnel floor is surprisingly solid and even.  Gravel or bits of stone crunch underfoot from time to time, but it's not hard to navigate.  Cool air blows past Xymorel's face, a draft strangely more obvious down here than in the vertical shaft.  There's a stench of ancient death.

"This was a 'uge room," Thelydd says over her shoulder.  Xymorel can't see much of her past Keridor.  Between his bent carriage and the weapons sheathed on his back, he forms a very complicated silhouette between her and the light.  "Arachan brought it all down right before 'e ported us out."

"You dug all this way, S-sir?" Xymorel asks Keridor.

Keridor grunts a negative.  "Thelydd gave me wands for a lot of it.  Faster."

Xymorel blinks.  

"Even with wands, you m-must have not slept for a week," Xymorel says.  No wonder the man looks tired.  She is not blind to the noted fact that he can use wands, however.  It is not usual in a man who looks very much like an aging fighter.  It is at this point that she also realizes she can barely hear his footsteps.  

"Not much of a sleeper anyway," Keridor says.  Xymorel shivers.  

"I s-sympathize."  In a good week, she sleeps about every other night, and this is an improvement over her old habits.

"Ah," Ondranar says from up front.  "Here we are.  Palol."

At the word of power, light as bright as day springs up ahead of them.  Xymorel blinks and squints, waiting for her eyes to adjust.  The tunnel opens out into a larger space.  The room is perhaps fifteen feet on each side, walled and roofed and floored with glassed-in rubble.  Much of that space is taken up by what appears to be a pyramid of some metal that has already gone black.  Hairs rise along Xymorel's spine.  The atmosphere of negative energy grows as they approach.

"Conjoined walls of iron," Ondranar says.  "I imagine there is another structure made of stone inside it."

"Can y'get through it, or not?" Thelydd asks.

"Of course," Ondranar says.  "But I sense active wards inside.  If you wish me to be effectual in assisting you to destroy the necromancer after I Free him, I will require a rest in order to recruit my arcane abilities again."

He uses no honorific, no Madam or Dear Lady or even Thelydd's name.  He has gone into that cold, strange place where he seems to live so often now.  Xymorel gnaws the big knuckle on her thumb.  Her sister Xyries is usually the one to talk to people about things like that, but it is clear that Xyries has not done so.  No doubt she is preoccupied with her own troubles.  Keeping Reuken Kjersti and Ondranar out of one another's sight seems like a good idea, Xymorel has to admit.

"Should 'ave plenty of time," Thelydd says.  "Keridor ain't seen the drow, an' the locals know better'n to bother this place.  What you want us to do meantime?"

"You and Master Keridor should stand back," Ondranar says.  "Mistress Trannyth, do you possess any acid spells?"

"One," Xymorel says.  "It's n-not very powerful."

"Then reserve it," Ondranar says.  He turns to the pyramid and lifts a finger to point at the nearest surface.  "Eilor shar."
Soon the tunnel reeks with the fumes of acid and melting metal.  In a couple of minutes Ondranar has burnt a great panel out of the wall of the pyramid, revealing a smooth, rounded gray surface underneath.  From behind, Xymorel watches him cock his head at it, as if measuring.  Then he raises his hand again and whispers another group of syllables, the words echoing with hidden power:
"Porolaedrari."

A thin, green ray springs from his fingertip.  For a moment it forms a straight line between Ondranar and the surface. Then the stone surface and the remainder of the iron disintegrate all at once, turning into a settling cloud of heavy, glittering dust.  Ondranar brushes it impatiently from the dark fabric of his green robe.

What is left seems to be a fairly ordinary section of stone floor, isolated in the midst of the dirt-packed tunnel around it.  It's not very easy to tell, however.  A hemisphere of magical power covers it, flickering through different colors.  Xymorel can feel each elemental flavor as it flickers through them, each bright color so vivid with power that it's almost a taste.

Ondranar sighs.  For a moment his voice is familiar again.

"Arachan was ever fond of prismatic spheres," he says.  Then he resumes casting.  Several different spells in a row are required to break the sphere.  The thickness of power in the air is almost worse than the acid fumes.  Xymorel tightly clenches her fists to hold the fire in, quelling the urge to burn.  Keridor seems completely unaffected, standing in the tunnel doorway without moving.  Thelydd just moves back a little further and leans against the tunnel wall.  Xymorel, seeking some other focus for her attention, watches the halfling's pale gray eyes move between Ondranar and Keridor and herself.  The older woman flashes her a quick grin.  

"Easy, girl," she says quietly.  "Be needing them flames soon enough.  I got resists, but I'd as soon save 'em for when we got the old monster up again, wouldn't you?"

"Yes, of c-course," Xymorel murmurs back.  It occurs to her that she has no reason to appreciate either words or smiles from a rogue - very much the opposite, in fact - but at least proximity to Xyries has taught her to recognize good sense when she hears it.  It's too soon to take another Calm Emotions, and she's been trying to limit her intake of the philtre in any case.  She tries to concentrate on her breathing for a while instead.

This proves a frustrating exercise, but it gives her something to do.  Apparently the prismatic sphere contains another identical prismatic sphere inside it.  Ondranar stands for a moment, hands on hips, then shakes his head once and goes back to casting further spells.

"M-mistress Thelydd," Xymorel says after a while.

"Just Thelydd," says the halfling.  "Yeah?"

"Why are you d-doing this for Xyries?"  Xymorel moves over to stand nearer to the halfling, still well out of arm's reach.  "She c-can't be paying you if she doesn't know w-what we're doing."

"Owe 'er a favor," Thelydd says promptly.

"You've s-said that before," Xymorel says.  "It d-doesn't seem very likely."

"'A course it is," says the halfling.  "Lots of people owe a cleric a favor, don't they?  She found me down a dark 'ole one time not so far back.  Patched me up.  Never asked for nothing back."

"She never does," Xymorel says.  "Not for healing."

"Right.  I am in what you might call a 'azardous business."  Thelydd grins, and it's a sharper and harder expression than her earlier one to Xymorel.  "You find somebody like that, you latch right on.  If you're smart, that is.  And she's about 'arfway round the bend worrying 'bout this thing with Reuken, any fool can see it.  That don't do a thing for nobody.  'Cluding the 'alf-elf."

Xymorel shivers again.  She is never quite sure what to think of Reuken.  She is afraid of him, of course.  She's afraid of nearly everyone at first, and he's not an easy man to warm to.  She can't escape the feeling that he is a destroyer rather than a protector.  If it weren't for one particular night, when she watched him help the exhausted cleric into bed, she would be entirely sure of it.

"I wonder what he'll d-do when he leaves us," she says.

"Run straight to the devils, far as I care."  Thelydd shrugs.  "Long as yer sister goes back to getting sleep and looking, well, as 'appy as she gen'rally does, I don't much care what 'appens to the Lion."

"If I might draw your attention back to the immediate present," says Ondranar coldly.  Xymorel turns to see the prismatic sphere gone.  There's still a sort of shimmer in the air above the patch of stone, felt with the arcane senses rather than seen with eyes.

"What's that?" she asks.

"A teleportation circle," Ondranar says.  "I can disrupt it temporarily, but it will reform in approximately ten minutes after I dispel it."  His voice warms briefly.  "Given Arachan's sense of humor, I very much do not intend to be inside it when that happens.  I suggest that you three avoid it as well."

"Got it," Thelydd says.  Keridor grunts an affirmative.  Xymorel just nods.

Ondranar turns back to the circle of stone floor in the center of the packed dirt.  "Poraer Tandros."

The shimmer fades.  Xymorel squints at the stone section of floor.  Was there something else there, or is her mind now playing tricks with her twanging nerves?

"Ha," Ondranar says.  "And yet another trap."  He is now half-turned toward them, so that Xymorel can see the little smile on his thin lips.  His face has always been narrow and pale.  In the uncompromising glare of the Daylight spell he looks almost translucent.  Blue veins are visible in his eyelids and the swollen areas under his eyes.

"You're n-nearly out," Xymorel says.  She has been increasingly aware of the dwindling pressure of the other aura.

"Yes, my child," Ondranar says.  "This, I'm afraid, will probably be very time-consuming, and the teleportation circle will certainly re-form before I have finished.  Do not on any account touch the area until I return."

"Return from where?" Thelydd asks sharply.

"From the Phoenix," Ondranar says quite calmly.  Then he steps onto the circle of stone.  The instant his other foot touches the stone, his body is engulfed in blue flames.  He has time to scream, a high, terrible sound, and then every atom of the elf's body is consumed.  Not even ash remains behind.

"Could've let me do it," Keridor says into the silence that follows.  "Wouldn't have minded."  It has not the tone of a boast.  His tone is matter-of-fact.

"Yeah," Thelydd says.  "I know you wouldn't.  But Ondranar was the old man's friend.  That means 'e spent 'alf is time tryin' to protect Arachan from other people, and the other 'alf trying to protect other people from Arachan.  It's an 'abit dies 'ard."

"What about you?" Xymorel asks.

"I'm an old rogue, girl.  Old rogues don't 'ave friends."

(To Be Continued in VIII.B.)

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SickleYield (Applicant) 6/12/2011 5:46 AM EST : VIII.B. Buried
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"Cari! Aeiloror!"

Ondranar Valaesyri, sometimes called Palerose, fades into invisibility as the green circle of the Haste spell fades around him.  Then he begins to run, soft-soled boots flying over the stones of the great dais in front of the Kundarak bank.  A long tail of crimson hair flies out behind him.  The inside of his mouth and throat still tingles from the hastily-purchased ghallanda distillate, provoking an irritating urge to cough.  He does not attempt to teleport for a couple of reasons.  He will need his arcane abilities at full when he reaches his destination.  Worse, his mastery of the Teleportation spell is incomplete, and at the moment he does not trust himself to reach the site accurately.  

He runs with his hands balled into fists to stop them from trembling.  Death and resurrection has not been a frequent experience for the Aereni.  None of the previous occasions involved complete and near-instant immolation.  He finds he is still shaken by it, fighting the fear that parts of himself will turn to dust and blow away.  Manicured fingernails biting into the palms of his hands at least remind him that he is solid.

Things have gone better than they might have.  He has prevented Xymorel Trannyth, for instance, from suffering another death for which her sister would have every right to blame him.

Now that is a strange thought.  Obviously he has not achieved quite the level of detachment he is presently striving for.  The image of a younger mage weeping into the front of his robe rises unbidden to his mind, that terribly awkward day earlier in the week.  He really should find somewhere more remote to practice his casting, says the new and colder part of his mind; but the older and warmer part rebels.  Besides, he promised the boy Terry that he would keep himself available, and suppose Xyries Chorster should again need a consultation on some sort of psychic injury?  Suppose Smudge, maker of the clever toy he still keeps in a padded belt pouch, should need him and not be able to find him?  Suppose, for that matter, that one of the d'Arachani should come seeking a friend of their father's?  

To be involved is painful.  To be faithless is worse.

Ondranar feels water spring to his eyes.  He shakes his head quickly as he sprints on, passing through the middle income districts with their shopkeepers staring at the sound of invisibly running feet.  Clearly he is suffering from resurrection sickness, preying on nerves that he has barely managed to steady of late.  There are moments, when he is concentrated fully on his studies or on a spell, when there is nothing but himself and the power and the crystalline invisible structure of the universe.  There is no pain.  There is no fear.  There is no consideration of mortality, his own or anyone else's, because life and death are irrelevant before that great astounding reality.  It is in those moments that he is coldest and furthest from himself, from everyone he knows.  Sometimes he is afraid for himself when the need to speak, to recognize the presence of others, draws him out of it.  Sometimes he is merely impatient to resume what has been interrupted.

The buildings around him are in worse condition now, pressed nearer together.  There are not many yards or gardens in the Marketplace, but there are potted plants and climbing vines in many windowboxes.  There are none of those things here, only the weeds that grow between the flagstones.  Ondranar spends another dram of power on the Displacement spell, in case someone decides to take a long shot at a running elf.  He knows exactly where he is.  The Yellow Well is less than a mile away.  He's breathing hard, sweating a little under his layers of thin fabric, but he feels no desire to slow down.

Then he is running down the Grimwine Mews, past the puzzled glares of the members of Dory's pack.  If he slowed down long enough they might take a threatening interest, but a very fast-moving invisible person is too brief a curiosity to really attract their attention.  Ondranar slows down as he approaches the broken gateway, climbs as fast as he can down into the courtyard, and then takes two steps and one jump off the edge into the great pit.  He feels the spell of invisibility drop away, like a snake shedding scales.

There is a long moment of perfect stillness as he drifts downward into the darkness, gripped by the Feather Falling effect that is a permanent part of the fabric of his boots.  He is quite composed long before he reaches the bottom.  When he feels he has full control over his voice he calls down,

"It is Ondranar Palerose."

There is a sound of light footsteps below, someone moving out of the way, and then Ondranar's feet touch the cold floor of the tunnel.  

"Got back pretty fast," says the gravel voice of the man Keridor.  "Other two are still in by the circle.  Daylight's run out."

" I will cast it again when we reach the room," Ondranar says.  He is unaware that his voice has gone cold and flat again.  He is concentrating fully on the problem of the Banelord.  It's probably too much to hope for that Daylight will harm a creature more like a wraith than any other sort of revenant, but with luck the necromancer will be momentarily disoriented by the brightness.

It's full day up above, and there is enough light even down in the tunnel that his keen eyes can make out the shapes of walls and floor and the hunchback moving with eerie quiet ahead of him.  As they move down the tunnel he realizes he can actually see Keridor's silhouette fairly clearly, limned with a faint orange-red glow.  An odor of smoke drifts to his sensitive nostrils as they move closer.

Xymorel Trannyth is sitting wedged into a corner of the room, one hand upheld.  A fire about the size of an apple sits in her palm, sourceless but consistent as the tongues of flame dance and intertwine.  Thelydd stands leaning against the packed wall nearby.  Both turn to look as Keridor enters the room, then Ondranar.

"Palol," Ondranar says.  He squints for a second, until his eyes adjust to the brilliant light again.

"Are you all right, M-master Palerose?" Xymorel Trannyth is asking.

"Certainly," Ondranar says.  He moves purposefully toward the section of stone floor, already raising a hand to dispel the teleportation circle.  It flickers and dies at the word of power.  "I assume you are prepared for me to free him now."

"Lemme set the resists," Thelydd says behind him.

Ondranar halts without speaking, waiting impatiently for Thelydd to apply the effects of a wand to all of them.  He does not particularly care for the sensation of a ward rising up around him that he has not cast, but to cavil at it would be trivial and unnecessary.  He does not have to listen to the words she says to recognize the types: Fire. Lightning. Sonic. Death.  When she has finished, Ondranar casts Displacement on himself once more.  He will need the greater part of his powers for what is coming.

"I assume all of us are alive," Ondranar says, as he begins to draw up power for his next spell.  There's a surprised sound from Keridor, and Thelydd says,

"Now, why'd  you ask a thing like that?"

"Because the radius of this spell will include most of the room," Ondranar says distantly.  "Meistyr os val."  He is entirely heedless of the scuffle of feet as the Symbol of Pain forms in the air in front of him at eye level.  

"B-but why are you - ?" Xymorel says, and then Ondranar steps up onto the stone circle and casts the spell Freedom.

At first there seems to be no result.  Ondranar steps back off the stone, never taking his eyes from the air above it.  Then a thing like a soap bubble appears, either very small or approaching from very far off; the perspective gives no clear ruling as it grows larger and larger.  The form of a hairless, earless being in a dark and tattered robe becomes visible inside, frozen in a moment of furious gesticulation.  The figure is partly transparent, as if it is not fully corporeal.

"That's 'im," says Thelydd, and then the bubble bursts and the reek of negative energy washes over the room like a breath from a charnel house.  The Banelord shrieks as the Symbol of Pain is triggered, and then, oddly, one of his legs seems to give out, dropping the shifting form to one knee.  Ondranar is aware of Thelydd's laughter as he reaches out to cast Disintegrate.  The halfling becomes visible as she does a rapid backward roll away from the undead.

The room seems to catch fire.  Walls of flame roar up out of nowhere, surrounding the Banelord and dividing him from Ondranar.  The Aereni's spell passes through the necromancer seemingly without effect, but the flames are already doing their work.  The Banelord hisses his own word of power, and a globe of green energy springs up around him, the death aura that Ondranar has seen once before.  He has felt the sickening lurch in the pit of his stomach as life begins to drain from his body, healing the undead in front of him.  

"Porolaedrari!" snaps Ondranar, extending a hand again.  The ray of Disintegration again springs forth.  This time it seems to connect. The Banelord's form wavers, and he lowers the hand with which he was about to cast at Xymorel and turns toward Ondranar Palerose.

"Fools!" hisses a breathy voice in the Common tongue.  "I will annihilate you and everything you have ever loved.  I will hunt you down through every plane of existence, and when I find - "

Xymorel's fireball effectively puts an end to the diatribe.  Ondranar feels the ends of his brows and lashes singe as the massive sphere of flame passes, ploughing into the undead as if it has solid force.  The Banelord is driven back a step, and then Keridor steps calmly past Ondranar and swings a greatsword at the creature's head.  It passes through the bony neck without leaving a visible mark, but the Banelord Ghur'juran explodes into a cloud of drifting ashes.  The green aura flickers and vanishes.

Ondranar is aware of something warm running down his face, a metallic taste on his lips.  He has the presence of mind to reach for a handkerchief before pressing it against his bloody nose.  He shakes off the sensation of sick faintness with some irritation.

Thelydd stands back against the opposite wall.  She has a rag pressed against her own nose from proximity to the death aura.  Keridor the Crooked, oddly enough, seems unaffected.  Ondranar marks the insubstantial quality of the greatsword's blade as he sheathes it.   

Xymorel Trannyth stands back in the doorway of the tunnel, hands at her sides.  As Ondranar watches, she opens her clenched fists.  The crackle and hiss of the firewalls dies down as they shrink and go out.

"Din't know you 'ad a ghost touch, Keridor," Thelydd says.

"Spend a lot of time putting down undead," Keridor says.  Xymorel Trannyth turns to stare at him.

"You d-do?" she says.  The man nods.

"Or whatever else.  Got a weapon for most things."

"Prepared.  I like that, me," Thelydd says.  She frees a potion from her belt and swallows the contents.  "You need an 'eal, Wizard?"

"No, thank you," Ondranar says.  He detaches a Cure Moderate wand from his belt.  "Mistress Trannyth?"

"N-no, I'm fine," Xymorel says.  She looks a little surprised to be saying it.  "I was back here out of range of the aura, and you d-distracted him before he could try and hurt me.  Th-thank you."

Detachment cracks and splits again.  Ondranar bows deeply, gesturing deliberately with the bloody handkerchief in one hand and the wand in the other.  

"It is my honor to serve, Madam," Ondranar says.  

"Will he s-stay gone?" Xymorel asks.  One corner of her mouth quivers as she tries not to laugh.

"Yes," Ondranar says firmly, and gives the wand a flick.  "Cure Moderate Wounds.  - This was no lich.  I do not say he could not be resurrected by another of sufficient power, but once the site is buried his ashes will be so intermixed with the surrounding soil that they cannot be regathered."  He turns to look at the round section of stone as the sick feeling clears away.  "I will be glad to leave the teleportation circle covered, however.  I would not wish some innocent local to wander into it."

"Not many innocents 'round 'ere, but I takes yer point," Thelydd says.  "You got enough sparkles left to bring the tunnel down once we're out?"

"I believe I can sufficiently destabilize it that it will collapse again, yes," Ondranar says.  He bows again.  "After you."
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SickleYield (Applicant) 6/13/2011 8:44 PM EST : IX. Coda
SickleYield
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(Note: This does contain posts by Slawler and SaneDitto.  The storyline bits they're involved in so closely follow the preceding post that this seemed the best place to put them.)


XY:
Ondranar turns as the others begin to file out and casts Gust of Wind.  The remaining gray ashes are blown about the room, mixing with the dust from the earlier disintegration of the walls of stone and iron.

SLAWLER:
The tomb of Arachan is silent, and still. Then, in the middle of the room, there is a sudden swirl of air, and a shape begins to form. After a few seconds, it takes the form of Arachan.

"Where am I?" is the first conscious thought that passes through the Necromancer's mind. "The tomb... Yes, the tomb. What am I doing here?" Then he remembers everything comes back in a flash, the sundering of his phylactery, the creation of his spell to protect the Banelord's tomb, his destruction, the gates of death... The spirit shudders as it reaches this point. "The Keeper awaited me there. He shut the way for me." Then there is the remembrance of the pain, the losing of self, the slipping away of his very personality. Then the voice, his own voice, calling him, telling him he must return...  The gate, the path through the dark, the escape from the cold clutch of the Keeper. "Why? Why have I been called back?" Another remembrance, the twenty days of incantations, his masterwork, his greatest accomplishment. "Someone has freed the Banelord!" The spirit becomes more corporeal, made strong with purpose. There is a burst of arcane magic as he casts spells of protection, then a flash of light, as the spirit disappears.

He reappears at the very place he Imprisoned the Banelord, prepared to fight the Banelord, his liberator, or both. He is dazed by the light, a stark contrast to the darkness in the tomb. No sooner than he appears does a prismatic sphere appear around him. As his vision returns, he floats out of the sphere, his ghostly fingertips crackling with energy. He sees Ondranar, and, not recognizing him at first, lifts a hand, power creating a haze around it.

XY:
Ondranar is turning to follow the others when there is a surge of dark energy behind him.  The elf whirls, raising another set of wards around himself with the last dregs of his power.  He watches the prismatic sphere crackle into place around -

"Arachan?" he whispers.

Dumbfounded, Ondranar lowers his hands.  The form that now glides out of the sphere seems to be wavering, not entirely corporeal, but the austere features of the drow are entirely recognizable.  The Aereni takes in the newly twisted frame, a body almost as bent as Keridor's.  Horror and pity flicker in his eyes.  Behind him, he can hear the others turning to come back again, responding to the discharge of power.  There is a responsive surge in the arcane atmosphere from Xymorel.  

Arachan does not seem to recognize him, and since his magical power is now exhausted, that means he may very well be about to die again.  Ondranar remains in the doorway, prepared to stand between the others and the necromancer for as long as it is physically possible.

SLAWLER:
"I know that voice." A strange sensation washes over the Necromancer, the confusion showing briefly on his face before fading into Arachan's normal, passive look. As he remembers the times spent talking with the green-robed elf, he recognizes one whom he would have called a friend. "I know you. You are... Ondranar." Arachan appears to notice the others for the first time, recogizing each in turn. "Xymorel... Thelydd... Keridor..." He sets these thoughts aside for the time, until he can make better sense of them. As he does, a more pressing thought comes to mind. "It is I. The Banelord is not here. To what place has he gone to recuperate his strength?"

XY:
Ondranar relaxes slightly as his name is spoken.  Thelydd and Keridor move to left and right of him, the steps of each barely audible.  He can very definitely hear Xymorel shuffling behind him.  He has no doubt whatsoever that she is now peering around him at Arachan.  An elf's keen hearing has no trouble detecting her rapid breathing.

"G-gods," she says.  "It is Arachan."

Thelydd nods at her own name, pale eyes looking the necromancer up and down.  If she shares Ondranar's sensations, there is no sign of it.  Keridor does not respond at all.  He stands leaning on the hilt of the ghost touch greatsword, its point grounded in the dirt floor.  Ondranar does not remember seeing him draw it.

"He has not gone," Ondranar says, trying to impose on his tone a composure he does not feel.  "He is destroyed.  The dust of his form now mixes with the ashes of the barriers you created."

SLAWLER:
Arachan's eyebrows raise. "You are certain?" Without waiting for a reply, he speaks several words, and appears not to be aware of his surroundings. A mere instant later, a smile graces his features. "It is true, then." Arachan appears to think for a moment, then says, "You are not properly destroyed. How is it that you avoided my trap?"

XY:
"I did not," Ondranar  says.  He quells a visible shudder as soon as he realizes it is happening.  His hands still want to shake.  "I was annihilated.  It took me some minutes to return here from the spirit binder.  Arachan, what has happened to you?  How is it that you return?"  

SLAWLER:
The spirit of Arachan laughs, the sound hollow, as if from far off, but not cold. "I know not what other things I be to you, but surely you remember that  I am a Necromancer? I have given my spirit the power to return to this plane, for a time. I had to be sure that if the Banelord was brought back, he could be destroyed. I had not expected the deed to be accomplished so expediently. Now that he is gone, I shall... No, I shan't. I cannot return to that place! Ondranar, you must hide me from him! Surely he will be furious that I have escaped his grasp yet again!" His first sentences are slightly teasing. When he remembers the fate that awaits him, his voice becomes hysterical, then pleading.

XY:
"Return to what place? I thought you had gone into Dolurrh," Ondranar says.  His crimson brows draw upward and together, resisting the horror suggested by Arachan's increasingly desperate plea.  He has never heard the necromancer use that tone, never.  "From whom shall I hide you, and how?  You know that I will do for you whatever is within my power."

And that is a terribly, terribly dangerous thing to say.  But never mind the search for detachment, never mind the deliberate isolation from those he knows, Ondranar Palerose knows one thing for certain.  He cannot refuse a friend.  He has never been able to do so.

SLAWLER:
Arachan speaks quietly, almost a whisper: "The Keeper." Arachan's form contorts further as he says the word, as if the very utterance torments him. Then his eyes flash suddenly, and he becomes hysterical again. "Where is my family?! Has he found them?! I must save them from his grasp!"

XY:
Ondranar shuts his eyes for a moment at the mention of the Keeper's name.  Had he realized, that day at the funeral, that a friend of his was going from undeath into a place of eternal torment -

But he did not know.  Arachan himself could not have known, or he would not have chosen to go.  The Aereni's eyes fly open at Arachan's increasingly wild speech.

"Arachan," he says, as forcefully as he can manage.  "The Keeper has not taken them, at least - "

"Aeole's dead," Thelydd says, taking up the thread as Ondranar's voice fails him.  "A vampire killed 'im.  Ali and Starach and Daisliv been around the Phoenix since.  They're mostly fine."

SLAWLER:
Arachan freezes upon hearing of Aeole's death. Then, he twists back into his normal posture, and his voice is stronger. "Woe to he who stands between me and my son. I shall bring him back. The vampire shall be sent to Dolurrh with myself at his heels. Not the Keeper himself may attack my family without consequence. I shall deal with him later, for what he has done to me. Farewell. I doubt we shall meet again, in this lifetime, or the next." Arachan's form begins to swirl and fade, as he begins to release his hold on the power that keeps his form manifest.

XY:
No one speaks until Arachan is gone.  Then Keridor sheathes the ghost touch greatsword in its harness on his back.  The metallic slide breaks the silence.

Thelydd speaks eventually.  "Going to deal with the Keeper, is 'e?"

"That was Arachan," sighs Ondranar.  He turns to see Xymorel Trannyth still standing in the passage, shivering.  She draws back the arcane aura as he looks at her.

"L-let's go," she says, avoiding Ondranar's eyes.  "I'll n-need to tell Xyries."

"Yes, of course," says Ondranar.  "Go on, all of you.  I will wait here until I have recovered sufficient power to collapse the tunnel."

"Then I'll wait with yer," Thelydd says.  "Keridor,  you see Xymorel gets 'ome all right."

"I really d-don't - " Xymorel starts to say, and then she sees the halfling's face.  "Yes.  Th-thank you.  If you'd l-like to go first, Sir?"

"Don't have to call me Sir," Keridor says, but he edges politely past Xymorel, careful not to accidentally touch her, and limps off up the passage toward the rope ladder.

"I do not require a bodyguard, Madam," Ondranar says to Thelydd.

"Naw," Thelydd agrees, when the sound of footsteps has retreated.  "You need a keeper.  An' I ain't got the time.  But I can make sure nobody climbs down 'ere and shivs you while you're looking at somefing else.  Cleric'd want me to."

"Thank you for that ringing endorsement." Ondranar turns to look at the prismatic sphere.  There is no reason to remove it.  It is just as well that there be something surrounding the teleportation circle that still remains.

"I told him he should have stayed," he says.

"I know," says Thelydd.

---

XY:

Xymorel Trannyth walks as fast as she can without running through the quiet streets of King's Way.  Soft boots kick at the hem of her ragged maroon robe.  Beside her, Keridor the Crooked seems to have no trouble keeping up.  Apparently his uneven legs don't impair his movement speed much.  He has not attempted to start a conversation with her, which is just as well.  Between the Banelord and the pit and the terrible appearance of Arachan's ghost, she really has no idea what she would say.


They're well out of the Tenements now, away from all those frightening people in the ragged clothes with the daggers at their belts.  Now she just has to worry about the undead Thelydd has inexplicably sent her home with.


Xymorel looks around carefully, making sure no one is listening.  Then she says,


"S-so what sort are you?"


"Afraid I don't follow you," Keridor says.  He slows down as Xymorel does.  He gives one questioning glance to the smoke rising from her right fist as she clenches and unclenches it.  Otherwise there is no reaction.  He does not fidget.  He does not finger his weapons or pop his knuckles or stretch his old joints.  Keridor seems to be one of the most inert people Xymorel has ever met.  That should have been a clue, really.


"I s-suppose you're not a zombie, because you can t-talk," Xymorel says.  "Are you a v-vampire?"


Keridor sighs heavily.  "No," he says.  "I'm not a vampire.  Nor a wight.  Nor a lich."


"I can t-tell you're not a lich," Xymorel says impatiently, then shivers.  "But I know you're not alive, because you were in s-such a hurry to get out of the range of that S-symbol of Pain when Ondranar cast it, and the Banelord's death aura d-didn't hurt you.  What I c-can't figure out is why Thelydd t-told you to take me home."


"Thelydd knows I won't hurt you," Keridor says.


Xymorel shivers again, but keeps her eyes open so that she can keep one on Keridor.  "How can she p-possibly know that?"


"You're sick," he says.  "You haven't tried to hurt me.  And Thelydd wants you safe.  All of those things."  It's a long speech for him.  His gravel bass voice grinds over the syllables laboriously.  It's obvious there's a thinking brain behind the tired brown eyes, but speaking seems difficult for Keridor the Crooked.  He sighs again as they walk along.  "Look.  Don't have to like me.  Just let me get you home.  I'll go.  Never have to see each other again, probably."


"B-but you'll know where I live," Xymorel says.


"Already know that," Keridor says.  He recites the address.


"How d-dare that halfling," hisses Xymorel.  She folds her arms tightly.  Keridor doesn't seem about to attack now that he knows she's onto him.  Maybe he's not such an evil person.  Or maybe he's just biding his time.  Xymorel shivers again, partly with fear but partly indignant.


"Important that I know," Keridor says.  "Anything happens to Thelydd, I'm to tell the Cleric.  Then make sure you're both all right.  Then go find whoever did it."


"Is something likely to happen?" Xymorel asks, momentarily distracted from the original topic.


Keridor shrugs, bringing his shoulders almost level.  "Don't know.  Like she said, in a dangerous business."


"She t-trusts you," Xymorel says.


"Doubt it," grunts Keridor.  "Knows enough about me to know what I'll do.  'Bout the closest Thelydd ever comes.  Here we are."


They have come to a narrow house-front between two others very much like it.  There is a single window on the ground floor, and a single door.  Xymorel fumbles through her belt pouch for the key.  Xyries offered it to her shortly after they met, but it's only in the last month that she has trusted herself not to lose it.  She does not turn her back to Keridor as she searches.  He waits, crooked and immobile and imperturbable.


At last her fingers close around the familiar object of cool metal.  Xymorel manages to get it into the top lock that controls the deadbolt.  She doesn't hear movement from inside, but Reuken is capable of moving quietly.  Just in case, she leans close to the door and calls through the solid wood,


"It's Xymorel."


Then she finishes unlocking the door and pushes it open.  A frantic thought has her looking around for Keridor the Crooked, but he has already gone.


SANEDITTO:
Inside the house, the sound of a footfall, barely audible, alerts Xymorel to Reuken's entry. Upon a glance, it seems that sleep had been fairly elusive to him as of late; the shadows of fatigue under his eyes were visible even amongst the scars. His posture seems a little different; the deliberation in which he carries himself seems more forced than usual, and his amber eyes are no longer clear, burning with his conviction. The fire had gone out, replaced with a dull, lusterless haze.

Upon seeing the sorcerer, the half-elf steps aside slightly, allowing her to enter. He does not say a word, instead focusing his gaze above and past her, scoping the streets beyond.

XY:
Xymorel shrinks back slightly as she sees the half-elf, but she's a little more used to him now.  She is able to stop the instinctive rise of arcane power, hold back the smell of smoke.  But something is wrong.  She scans Reuken's face as she edges past him.  The terrible threat is gone from his eyes, and he looks as if he hasn't slept in some time.  More oddly, Xymorel thinks, he either hasn't been offered a restorative or it hasn't done him much good.  That doesn't sound very much like her sister the Cleric.

"Where is Xyries?" Xymorel asks.  "She'll n-need to hear this."

SANEDITTO:
"The cleric sleeps." Even Reuken's voice is different. It is hoarse and flat, as if the effort to inject some inflection is too much for him. "She is exhausted, and I do not suggest you disturb her unless the need is great."

He closes the door and latches the deadbolt back in place with one hand. He stands there, staring at the door for a few moments, before slowly turning to look at Xymorel with those dull eyes.

XY:
Xymorel listens with a frown, not for the content but for the tone.

"I know she hasn't been s-sleeping well lately," Xymorel says.  "But it r-really is important, and you n-need to know it too."

She shoots Reuken another disturbed look before she turns to go quickly up the stairs.

SANEDITTO:
Reuken does not reply, but his shoulders shift in a resigned, it's-your-problem-now shrug. As Xymorel ascends the stairs, he follows, his steps slow but quiet, barely making any noise in comparison to the sorcerer's.

He is barely halfway up the stairs by the time Xymorel reaches the top, but his pace never changes.

XY:
Xymorel goes directly to Xyries' room and pauses for a moment, staring at the closed door.  It's not very usual for her sister to close the door all the way.  Suppose it's locked?  Well, then she'll wait, because obviously Xyries really doesn't want to be disturbed.  But surely for something like this -

The knob yields under her hand.  Xymorel sighs with relief.  Light from the hallway everbrights lights the windowless bedroom with a warm yellow-white glow.  Xyries is lying on her side under the old quilt, facing the door.  Her armor is laid out with her usual obsessive neatness atop a wooden chest at the end of the bed.  Apparently she's gone to sleep in her linens.

Xymorel hesitates again when she sees Xyries' face.  The cleric's features are utterly slack, almost dead in their white immobility; her sister looks anxiously for the faint rise and fall of her shoulders that indicates she is still alive.  Without the lines of care that are normally etched in around her eyes and mouth, they might almost be the same age.  She does not react to the light from the hallway.

"Xyries?" she says softly, then again and louder when there is no answer.  On the third repetition, the other woman stirs.  Xymorel goes to sit on the very end of the bed, one hip not quite touching Xyries' legs.  She is only just aware of Reuken moving into the doorway, partly blocking the light.

---

Xyries emerges from a great and dreamless darkness at the sound of a familiar voice.  It's hard, so very hard to remember why the sound is important, and she is so very tired.

Xymorel.  Xymorel needs me.  With that recognition she manages it.  Xyries stirs, blinking into the unexpected lights from the hallway.

"Xymorel?" she says muzzily.  Bleary eyes find her sister at the other end of the bed, watching with a wide, anxious stare.  Xymorel is biting her lip, obviously unsure of her reception, but there is determination in the set of her bony shoulders.

The room seems a little darker.  She looks up to see Reuken standing there, and recent events land with all their tremendous weight.  Xyries pushes herself up onto one elbow, running a hand over her eyes.  Her voice is clearer as she says:

"What is it?  What's happened?"

SANEDITTO:
A corner of the half-elf's mouth twitches; the closest to a smile touching that ravaged face. He shrugs, arms folded across his chest as he leans against the doorway.

"Ask the little mouse yourself, cleric." A thread of amusement snakes into the otherwise toneless, rasping voice. "She opens the door and demands to see you even though I had warned her." He stops to yawn, covering his mouth with one hand, before nodding at Xymorel. "I have a feeling you will want to listen to the mouse before returning to your dreams, cleric."

XY:
Xyries nods once and sits up, crossing her legs under the blanket.  In a moment she is entirely composed, never mind that she is presently half under a quilt and wearing a linen shirt instead of her armor.

"I'm s-sorry," Xymorel says.  

"Never mind, Xymorel," Xyries says patiently.  "You know that you are always welcome here.  What did you wish to tell me?"

Xymorel takes a deep breath, obviously trying to muster the calm to say the following words clearly:

"The Banelord is destroyed."

Xyries just stares at her for a moment, willing her tired brain to process what she has just heard.

SANEDITTO:
The deadly silence stretches towards Reuken's end as well. If it were not for the slightly lifted eyebrow, it would look as if he had not heard at all. The face is still, as if it belonged to a statue, and his eyes are flat chips of amber, defying access within.

Finally, the half-elf slowly moves himself off the wall. His look towards Xymorel is not quite disbelieving or angry, but it is definitely a far cry from dull indifference.

"You do not seem like the kind to lie, little mouse." The words come slowly, as if each were carefully weighed, and his eyes seem to intensify, regaining some of their fire as he stares intently at Xymorel. "Yet I am curious of this sudden turn of events. Explain yourself."

XY:
Xymorel looks from Reuken to Xyries, but her sister is still looking at her with apparent incomprehension.  She looks back at Reuken.  Something hot and bright flickers at the back of each brown eye.  She doesn't like that close yellow gaze, not at all, but Reuken has never hurt her, and now is not the time to panic.  Not inside this place of safety, where there are so many things that could burn.  Xymorel takes a couple of rapid, shallow breaths, trying again to calm herself.  Then she says,

"Thelydd asked us to come.  Me and M-master Palerose and this other m-man I never saw before, K-keridor the Crooked.  Apparently he w-works for Thelydd.  He's been d-digging for a week to uncover the place so Ondranar could c-cast the Freedom spell there."

Carefully, trying to stutter as little as possible, Xymorel relates the events of the morning, not omitting Ondranar's death and return or the appearance of Arachan's ghost.  Xyries blinks a minute or so into the recital.  At the mention of the elf's disintegration she blinks again, sitting up a little straighter.  There is a spot of color high on each cheekbone by the time Xymorel says:

"And Thelydd s-said she'd stay with Ondranar 'til he'd g-got enough power back to bring the tunnel down.  So I c-came home.  Keridor walked with me, but he l-left as soon as I opened the door.  He knew the way.  S-said Thelydd told him."

SANEDITTO:
There is another long moment of silence as Reuken scopes Xymorel's face, the gaze searching, penetrating, taking her apart piece by piece. Finally, the amber eyes drift away and land on Xyries, the fire in the look once more extinguished and replaced with that lifeless, dull film.

"Cleric." His voice matches his eyes. "Were you aware of this?"

XY:
Xymorel endures Reuken's scrutiny without moving.  Occasionally she shivers, but it's something she always does.  There is no sign in face or body that she is lying, and she does not look away until he does.  Then she reaches for one of the vials at her belt and downs it as the half-elf is speaking.

Reuken's voice seems to shake Xyries out of her paralysis.  She stiffens slightly as she turns to look up at him.  Her eyes are blank and flat, but the revulsion in her voice is entirely genuine.

"Absolutely not.  I gave Arachan my word that I would not attempt to raise and destroy the creature myself.  To send others in my place would be to be foresworn by proxy.  Unacceptable.  And even were I willing to do so, I would never send my sister."  She turns to look narrowly at the other woman.  Then she sighs minutely, shoulders rising and falling, and the stiffness of cold anger gives way to the tired droop again.  "I would have words with Thelydd, did I suppose it would make any difference whatsoever.  But you should not have gone with them, Xymorel."

The sorcerer folds her skinny arms.

"I didn't make any promises, and yours are n-not binding on me," she says firmly.  "Besides, I w-wasn't even marked.  The others didn't l-let him hurt me, and they needed me there for the f-fire.  Ondranar isn't as good at that, you know.  P-practically no one is."

"Yes, Xymorel.  I know," says Xyries slowly.  She turns to look at Reuken again, passively waiting.

SANEDITTO:
The half-elf's gaze drifts upwards above Xyries' head, staring there for a moment before he closes his eyes and lets out a sound; not quite a snort, not quite a laugh.

"Consider yourself fortunate that there are those willing to risk life and limb for your happiness. I almost envy you." Despite the lifeless voice, a corner of his mouth quirks slightly, and he steps from the doorway into the hall beyond. He half-turns towards the stairs, stopping to look at Xymorel with those filmed eyes.

"Know, little mouse, that those who consider themselves weak and cowardly may very well have the greatest courage of all." Despite the content, his voice has not changed. He may as well be quoting a dry lecture. "The courage to do many things others take for granted--it is there, and it will be there when it is needed for a greater cause and you are ready."

His mouth twists briefly, as if what he said left a bad taste, before finally turning to Xyries. He dips his head slightly, almost a bow.

"Vassal," he intones, a hint of formality creeping into the dead monotone. "Live well, bear your privilege, and may we never meet again."

With that said, the half-elf turns and strides towards the stairs, his purposeful steps in stark contrast from the lethargic gait scant moments earlier.

XY:
Reuken Kjersti has gone before either woman is able to answer.  Xyries listen to the sound of the front door opening and shutting through a thickening fog.  She is aware that she should feel something - angry, relieved, guilty - but at the moment all she feels is tired again.

"Thank you," she says to Xymorel.  "I wish you had not taken the risk - I wish it of all of you - but I will not forget."

"What was all that about m-mice and courage?" Xymorel says, still staring at the doorway.

"I find I am unable to enlighten you," Xyries says.  "I - do you mind terribly if I go back to sleep?"

"N-no, of course not."  Xymorel stands up as she turns to look with genuine concern at Xyries, who is already lying back down on her side.  She risks a tug at the covers, pulling them back up and letting go an inch from her sister's shoulder.  One of Xyries' hands curls limply above the line of quilt and sheet, then is still.  Her eyes are already shut again.

"S-sometime you'll have to tell me what exactly happened while I was gone," Xymorel says quietly.  Then she goes out and closes the door behind her.
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