Xyries Chorster is putting away a feather duster in the alcove cupboard under the stairs when there is a knock at her front door. It is early evening, and everbright lamps fill the front room with a warm glow.
"Ondranar Palerose," says a familiar husky tenor. It is the way of friends and family - and Xyries considers that she has so much family now! - to announce themselves, ruling out strangers, patients, or lurking foes. She straightens up, brushing off her hands idly, and turns to go and undo the bolt.
She still keeps a journal, tucked up in her office instead of the alcove, but the entries are shorter now. The Friend of Opal has her mind less on her own troubles than did the Vassal of the Sovereign Host. In fact, an acquaintance who last saw her looking thin and stiff and seemingly mechanical in her heavy plate could hardly recognize her. She has gained a little weight. It's in her nature to be built like a toast rack, but she is more muscular and no longer emaciated. Her hair is cut short but softer around her face, and her expression has more of real serenity and less of impassive constraint. At home she wears a soft robe with a quilted vest. Today's is pale blue. She always, always wears the iridescent white feather on its chain around her neck.
There's an elf on the doorstep. He bows deeply and with an elaborate flourish, ending up with one hand pointed skyward behind him and one leg well forward to show the tip of an embroidered shoe. He is dressed with his usual attention to color and style, in an immaculately tailored black velvet outer robe just showing the high-necked green silk layer beneath. A tail of crimson hair slides forward over one shoulder.
"Master Palerose," she says. "Come in. Are you hurt?"
"Only my pride, cleric. Young Frodarick was kind enough to heal me earlier." He stalks past her into the house. At 5'4" he is a good four inches shorter than the human. If this bothers him, he has never mentioned it. Xyries' careful scan identifies no visible injuries.
"Have you eaten?"
"Yes, some while ago." He goes over to sit on the new couch, as heavily as his light frame allows. There is a large diagram of a harmonium on the wall, an elegant set of drawings in sepia. He sighs heavily and lays his head against the cushion behind him. The voluminous green comforter on the other end of the sofa seems to stir.
"It sounds as if cocoa is in order," hazards the cleric. "Bearer is still at Issy's helping with the baby, but we've certainly got a great many cookies. What do you say to that?"
The elf gives her a look of heartfelt gratitude. Xyries grins.
"Cocoa it is, and you may tell me all about it. Do let Lettuce say hello. I think it is feeling undersocialized now that Thelydd is better."
"Everything quiet next door?" He raises his voice slightly to be heard in the kitchen as the cleric bustles around. There was a time when she barely made tea and toast here. Now the cupboards overflow with bounty. Partly this is because Bearer, culinary enthusiast that she is, generally does the shopping. Now she heats milk in a saucepan on the everbright stove and sets out the teapot with the cockatrice cozy wrapped around it.
"Yes, I think everyone but the sentries has gone to bed." It is dim through the arch that now connects the two houses.
"Did I wake you?" he sounds belatedly apologetic. "I'd forgotten how late it was. We were a devilish long time talking to that damned wererat."
"No, no. I was dusting, in fact. What wererat?"
"Thereto hangs a tale," he says glumly. He seems to be talking over a low, throbbing vibration now. Xyries' lips twitch as she recognizes the sound.
"Well, give me a moment to finish this and you may tell me the whole." Xyries pours the cocoa into the teapot and sets the pot on a tray with the plate of cookies and a pair of cups and saucers, then carries it out to set it on the simple wooden coffee table. This was not a planned item of furniture, but she has been assured that it is absolutely necessary to accessorize the couch.
Ondranar is now mostly hidden inside a sarcophagus of purring Greater Puffy Blanket. He pushes away a fold of it to politely accept a cup of cocoa, inhaling the glorious rich scent with appreciation.
"Thank you, dear. You are the best of friends."
"Clearly this is a difficult designation to achieve, requiring as it does access to cocoa and small desserts," she says. Her voice is solemn. Her quivering shoulders are not.
"Don't tease. It's been a dreadful evening and I have quite lost my sense of humor."
"Do tell." She pours herself a cup and sits further down the couch, turning to lean one shoulder against the beige upholstery so that she can look at elf and blanket. Lettuce continues to purr.
"Well, it all begin with the regrettable decision to leave behind my Proof Against Poison ring and get a little tipsy - just a little, don't look at me that way. There were any number of people there, including Arachan in his mirror and Nklos and that very polite half-orc who keeps calling himself a Servant of Cyre."
Xyries squints, trying to call forth a memory. "Sesil?"
"Yes, that's the one. And Lillari. You remember her, she came here for healing and we had dinner the one time. Half-elf, glorious hair, never introduces herself by her title, entirely trouble."
"I do remember," Xyries says.
"Well, she went down to get a drink and vanished. There were signs of a struggle, and Bordaer was furious and he clearly could not teleport to her location, which is highly unusual. Arachan and I scried for her and I ended up explaining to Lilly - you remember Lilly, she works with Kerta - "
"Yes. I'm afraid I do not remember a Bordaer, however."
"- What was going on, which I now know I should not have, but my judgment may have at that point been slightly impaired. This is how we ended up trying to follow her down a dark tunnel behind the bar, which is where I stepped on a teleport trap. Oh, pardon me. Bordaer is a construct ferret. Cute little fellow. Reminds me a smidgen of Itaike."
Ondranar rolls his eyes. "Goldshot was there. The half-elf monk," he amplifies at the cleric's blank look. "For two pence he'll tell you all about the demon trapped inside him, which personally one would think he would keep quiet about, but never mind. He tried to give me an injured dog for some reason, then he insisted on preceding me. I never did find out where he ended up initially. He took the other corridor."
"And you stepped on a teleport trap," the cleric prompts, when the wizard seems inclined to brood on this. Any real drama he might have been able to cultivate is spoiled somewhat by the blanket in which he is still enmeshed, its corners waving gently in appreciation of being in contact with a living body.
"Yes, and ended up in a barred cell across a corridor from Lillari, Cog, and Lilly. Did I mention about Cog? He was snatched up at the same time she was, apparently."
"Why in the world would anyone kidnap the bartender at the Phoenix?" Xyries asks.
"Gambling debts, as it turns out, although I had a hard enough time getting that information. Apparently Lilly is violently claustrophobic, and I choose the adjective advisedly, cleric." He gestures with a chocolate pinwheel. "And apparently the anti-magic field we were in was causing her some discomfort, for some reason. That was never explained, and frankly I hope I never need to have it explained."
"There was an anti-magic field?"
"Didn't I - ? No, I didn't mention that either, did I. Tsk." He stops to drink more cocoa. "Anyway, there was an anti-magic field. As you can imagine, this renders me something of a paperweight, and as I am not exactly the best person to successfully talk down an hysterical claustrophobe, we got nowhere either with calming her or with chatting up the guards. At one point she bit one of them and Bordaer followed suit, which damaged him badly, poor little fellow. Cog was no help at all. Just morose. I suppose he was feeling depressed, which I can certainly understand given the circumstances. After ten minutes I was ready to break my head on the wall."
Xyries nods sympathetically. "Have another cookie."
"Thank you, I don't mind if I do. And then what should happen but that Frodarick and Arachan and that very bright construct of Frodarick's - Sparky? - should appear in the cell with me. Arachan sent a small mirror down the corridor with me so that he would not have to remain corporeal, but of course it was useless inside the field. So, being Arachan, he came to see what had happened to me. You have to give him this, he is nothing if not consistent."
"I have never denied it," Xyries says dryly.
"No, I suppose not. The monk was in the cell with the other two, and he managed to waste a few minutes trying to convince Lilly to meditate. Then things got a little messy." Ondranar grimaces, remembering. "Frodarick threw some solution of fiery acid onto the bars, and while I am not ashamed to admit I dove behind Sparky, I was burned by the ensuing explosion. He healed me using his runearm, which I think I alluded to earlier."
"Ah. Yes, I wondered when we would get to that."
"I called to Lillari to collect up a potion she had dropped and get back from the bars, and she did. She had burns, too, she was close to the bars. Then the guard started to transform into a wererat. He and Sparky were at it tooth and nail when Frodarick threw a container of acid over to Goldshot for him to use on the other set of bars. Arachan was, of course, not much more useful than I was, but he did manage not to get himself badly burned."
"I see. Did you get out of the cell?"
"As fast as I could," the elf confirms. He peers mournfully into his empty cup. The cleric pours him more cocoa from the teapot. "Thanks ever so. I'd found a hairline crack that probably was involved with the actual door mechanism, but it was utterly moot at that point, of course. I slipped out of the cell and ran like a rabbit down the hall until I made it out of the field, then I called for Arachan. It didn't take long for Sparky and the monk to finish off the wererat. I repaired Cog and Boraer as best I could from there, Knocked the door, and then we were more or less off. Lilly apparently is some sort of bardic healer. She was singing when we got out, at least."
"You said something about talking to a wererat," Xyries says.
"Mmf." The elf sighs again. "Arachan teleported everyone who wanted to go back to the Phoenix, and I'd have been glad enough to go home right then, but Lillari would go on and see what was ahead of us. Frodarick stuck by us, and Arachan came back, and we left another wererat Lilly had Fascinated in the next chamber. When we hit a grate that led to the ordinary sewers there was a bit of a discussion, and since the others wanted to interrogate the poor fool we had to go back for him, of course."
"Down in the sewers?"
"No, we brought him to Lillari's laboratory." The elf rubs between his eyes. "And when that bit of nastiness was over I made sure she was healed and I came away. She and the ferret between them made me promise to go back and visit, damn it."
"I would think you'd be in favor," Xyries says gently. "You seemed somewhat struck when she was here before."
"Well, she's a stunning female, m'dear, but as safe as a sack of pins. She blew up a guard on the way out with things she had in her evening kit - "
"You forgot to mention that."
"Yes, I did, didn't I? And she's frightfully clever and, given this evening's events, possessed of some decent common sense when she isn't a slave to curiosity."
"This is starting to sound familiar."
"Thank you kindly, but that's the trouble, isn't it? I'm sure you're aware that casual relationships are not unusual for me - "
"I have made note of this, yes," Xyries says. Sexuality remains as academic a subject to her as it has ever been. She still does not consider it a loss. The permutations she has seen her friends go through may have something to do with this.
"But not usually with women I find attractive personally. Only physically. Does that make sense? Every time I've tried to find something real it has..." the elf falters, looking away.
"We are talking about Quillariana now, and Enedsseth," Xyries says gently. Ondranar flinches at the names. "But you do this woman a disservice to assume she is either impulsively destructive or calculatedly cruel. From your account, she does not sound either of those things."
"I have no real reason to think that she is. I rather suspect she is the kind who poked at everbright lamp sockets as a child." He sighs again. "All kinds of trouble, just not the same as the others." Then he snorts. "Well, at least she should be cured of finding me enigmatic and mysterious. I think the only time I've appeared less heroic was when all of you had to rescue me from my own demiplane."
"The whole thing has a certain air of farce to it," Xyries says.
"Everything I do does, doesn't it," he says. "Here I am talking of deeply emotional subjects with a green blanket around my head."
"There, there," Xyries says, reaching over to pat the elf on the knee. He bursts out laughing. She smiles back. The blanket purrs.
"All right, you win," says Ondranar Palerose. "I do feel better."
"Good. You should rest here tonight. Tomorrow we can do something stimulating but unemotional. I need to make another trip into the Orchard soon in any case. Are you comfortable being hugged just now?"
"Of course, dear." He gets up, struggling free of the comforter with some difficulty, and hugs the tall woman. She presses her cheek briefly against his forehead.
"Check for Thelydd before you settle in the alcove," she advises him cheerfully, and gathers up the empty cups and plates.
The elf stands bemused for a moment, thinking. Then he turns and follows Xyries determinedly into the kitchen. Bruised egos are temporary, but dishes are forever.