So here begins the rewrite of Between. One of my biggest flaws, I'm ashamed to say, is that I tend to half-ass most of my fanfiction. Between is a story I really wanted to be proud of, so until I can get back into Elowayen's head (and I'm almost there again, I promise), I decided to go back and fix the errors and polish up what I already have.
Moonlight illuminated the entire forest, casting an eerie glow on the path. Her skin was prickling; a sense of foreboding and dread had been following her since her arrival only a few days before. One more night in the forest, she had promised herself, before entering the city and finding the cause to its troubles- and perhaps, the cure as well.
A whisper of fear from deep within her soul began to stir, her body reacting to the unknown threat. Her senses were telling her to run, run as far away as she could.
A crash behind her, and she knew then that she had to move, to run.
She exploded from her hiding place in a flurry of moon-stained green and browns. Her booted feet raced down the path, and behind her she heard the near-silent steps of a predator.
With a leap, she cleared a fallen tree and landed hard, pushing off from the ground and disturbing the undergrowth. At her hip rested her sword, and on her back her bow- yet something told her not to draw, but to run.
She continued to run. She ran until the sky was tinged pink and gold, until the moon was a pale shadow and fires licked at the horizon. Waterdeep stood before her, bathed in red and gold from the sun's light. She didn't stop until she reached the shadow of its walls, only then stopping to turn-
And saw a man in black. He stood at the edge of the woods, his eyes burning into her even from such a great distance. She saw the assassin morph into someone else, someone different and dear and painful to see-
And behind her, a cry of battle and the clash of weapons. She felt the heat of a battle, felt the blood splatter as she turned her back on the past, turning to her future with her sword sliding free-
She shot upright, eyes wide and panicked as she fought the last vestiges of reverie. At her feet, her companion rested, a mound of smooth fur and sleek muscles. Her fire had died to embers, and her pack rested nearby. Her weapons lay nearby, waiting and ready for her to once again pick them up and wield them in battle.
Shuddering, she turned her gaze forward, to the walls of Waterdeep itself. They stood, covered in shadows and moonlight, as she studied the path before her. If she listened closely, she could hear the cries and screams of the citizens inside, and the shouts of the city guards.
After the last time she got involved in a town's troubles, she had assumed that it was over and done. That her adventuring life was over- until she received word through one of her allies-turned-friends that something wrong, something unnatural, was brewing in the City of Splendors. Ayala knew that she could not resist such a crisis, and so she found herself on the road once more, exacting promises from her "neighbors" to keep her home safe.
Befriending dryads was one of the best things she could have done, honestly.
Standing, she nudged her companion with her foot until the animal woke- and yawned, showing a large pink mouth with several large teeth.
"It's time, voronwer . We go on."
The animal immediately got to its feet, rubbing against her legs in an attempt to soothe the anxiety it felt reverberating through the bond it had with its friend.
"I'm fine, voronwer. Just... ready for this to be over." she sighed, twisting as she began her morning stretches. "I dreamed of him last night-"
The animal growled.
"And I understand it better now, the dream," she continued as if she didn't have a large, angry companion sitting on her bedroll and glaring, "My past is chasing me, and I keep running so I don't have to face what it means- all the hurt and the anger and the heartbreak. I keep running, but at some point I'll have to face it. I'll have to face it, and only then can I face my future with a clear head and steady heart. You know?"
Her companion yawned again before starting a series of stretches on its own. She laughed, standing up straight and tousling its head. "C'mon on. Time to pack up and move out."
Another growl, another rub against her legs, and the animal was moving, blending into the forest to seek out their breakfast while she broke camp. It would be fifteen minutes before its return; it was their unspoken limit before one went looking for the other. It wouldn't even take her ten to finish packing- she refused to bring anything unnecessary this time, having learned her lesson well years before regarding unnecessary clutter and her pack.
A smile teased her mouth as she remembered the stoic dwarf who was her companion during one of the most trying times of her life. Dorna returned to life at Hilltop with a shrug and a smirk, promising to save her room should she ever tire of living in the wilderness, and she had replied that she'd keep a room open should Dorna ever tire of teaching children and trapping Xanos in wires and frost.
"Not bloody likely," Dorna snorted. "Torturing that big oaf is one of my few joys in this world. Don't take that from me too, girl."
She came back to the present with a shake. Her companion had sensed her wandering mind and nudged her back to her current task. With a sigh and a self-depreciating laugh, she finished tidying up her campsite and turned to face Waterdeep once more.
"Time to move on, voronwer," she whispered. An eastern wind blew; she smiled, relishing the feel of the cool breeze against her skin. It was almost as if it was pushing her towards Waterdeep, pushing her towards her future. With a secretive smile, she shouldered her pack. With her hand on her weapon, Elowayen began her march towards her fate, her companion trotting faithfully beside her.
Tensions were running high in Lith My'athar. Rumors whispered through the streets; Nathyrra had been dispatched to retrieve the Savior. Some whispered that it was a great warrior, others whispered a powerful mage. All of them mentioned that it was a darthiir come to save them- a rumor that had several preparing their deadliest poisons and stealthiest assassins. Darthiir were not to be trusted, regardless of what the Seer promised, and many were itching for the chance to battle such a creature.
In the temple of Eilistraee, the Seer gathered her generals for yet another conference of war. She was seated in the high cleric's seat, a chair that once served the priestesses of Lloth but now stood, freshly carved and reconstructed to honor the Lady of Light. The Seer, her lavender eyes soft, conferred with two of the priests of the temple regarding their latest mission to recruit more drow from the Valsharess.
Her military commanders took control of the center of the room. Some were seated on velvet cushions borrowed from the clerics quarters, others stood over a table covered in maps and tokens, murmuring and writing on scrolls already heavy with ink. Positioned around the room were yet more soldiers, many with their weapons at the ready. As soon as the Seer had sent Nathyrra away, the attempts on her life had increased. Already three guards and a lieutenant were waiting burial, and no one spoke of how many more would fall before the former Sister returned with their prize.
Angry shouting broke through the priests' murmurs. The two highest commanders were at it again, each standing straight and tensed for combat. Sighing softly to herself, the Seer nodded to the priests
before standing and moving slowly towards her generals. Valen, heads and shoulders above the rest of her troops, had tenuous control over his emotions these days. He took the deaths of the guards personally, as if it was his fault that he had not been present to strike down the assassin before they could do any harm. It did not help that Imloth, already at the end of his rope with their lack of supplies and men, was just as furious at himself for the same reason.
The Seer had rescued most of the drow in Lith My'yathar, and many felt they owed her their lives. Her generals, though different in their pasts, felt this more than most and were in agreement that her life was more precious than theirs.
It was the only thing they agreed upon.
"We have to do something about supplies." Imloth argued, his eyes narrowed and his voice a low hiss. He crossed his arms across his chest with a scowl. "You may be used to going without food, tiefling, but the drow are not. The soldiers cannot survive on tack and watered wine much longer. We need meat, and fresh grains. And let us not forget the more basic items as well- the priests are running out of bandages and herbs, and-"
"What I am or am not used to is not the point, Imloth." Valen growled as his tail lashed the air behind him. "Who would we send, and where? Who would trade with those aligned against the Valsharess? We cannot trust anyone to deliver it safely to us, nor to send any men out to retrieve supplies themselves. We are stretched too thin as it is! The priests must make do with tearing sheets and clothing if they have to until we can manage to smuggle in more supplies, but the food stores are not negotiable! Perhaps it is time that the drow learned about self-sacrifice instead of merely killing-"
"You know nothing about our sacrifices!" Imloth hissed as he drew himself to his full height. His hands reached for his mace, intent on using force to prove his point to the tiefling once and for all.
Valen merely snarled and dropped his hand to his flail. "Watch your step, drow. You may be the Seer's most trusted commander, but I am not afraid to display just who is the stronger warrior in front of your troops." Valen snapped back. "You forget how I fought when I first arrived- even starving and beaten I still-"
The Seer stepped forward, her head held high, her face serene. "We are not enemies here. Imloth, stand down. Valen, control yourself."
"My apologies, Seer." Imloth reluctantly stepped back. He lowered his mace as the Seer moved even closer. He exhaled as one of her hands lightly brushed his, bringing to mind fleeting touches of another kind. The kind that only darkness brought, because she could not show favor as the Seer, no matter how Eilistraee looked upon her chosen and their relationships.
Across from the pair of drow, Valen ducked his head. He began to breathe deeply, his eyes closed as he tried to silence the demon in his blood. The call for battle, the desire to smash rend kill Imloth into pieces roared through him, burned like the fires of the Abyss-
"Do not allow yourself to dwell, my friend. Our salvation is at hand." The Seer smiled enigmatically at the tiefling before she returned to her seat. Head raised and gaze steady, she turned her attention to Imloth. "Imloth, report. How much time do we have before-"
"Protect the Seer!"
He charged past the drow in a blur, his only thought to prevent another death, another failure-
Beside him, Imloth stood with his mace ready. Valen did not need to look to see that Imloth's eyes burned with the battle fever, he knew, just as he knew his own burned as well-
A portal split the air in the temple, a blinding white light that softened to a steady glow. He could feel the thrum of the magic, deep arcane magic, that connected the portal's origin to the temple- magic that could possibly be traced back to the mage who dared threaten the Seer-
A shadow moved in the portal, a shape that became gradually more defined-
He crouched in front of the dais with a snarl, his flail at the ready. Around him, drow warriors readied their weapons as the shadow moved and a woman's shape appeared. He raised his flail; around him the sounds of bowstrings tight and ready to release-
"Hold!" the Seer commanded as Nathyrra exited the portal's glow. "Do you not recognize one of our own!" She stood and moved towards the assassin, her passage marked only by the whisper of her robes on the stone floor. "Nathyrra, you have returned to us. Did you succeed?"
"Mother Seer." the assassin bowed, white head low and near the ground before she straightened, eyes bright. "I bring good tidings; Halaster has been freed, and-"
With a roar, a panther sprung forth from the portal and landed on the floor with a growl. Its tail lashed back and forth as it locked eyes with Valen, fur raised along its back ridge as it challenged him.
"Oh, and who's this?" The Seer queried, amusement light in her voice. "I do not recall our Savior being covered in fur."
Nathyrra merely grinned as she moved forward and knelt to pat the animal on the head. "One of our allies, Mother Seer. The other two should-"
"YIPE!" A tumbled mass of cloth and scales rolled out of the portal and crashed to a stop next to the panther. It shook itself upright, its cloak flung wide to reveal a kobold, a kobold with a lute and wings, of all things to be teleported into Lith My'yathar-
And then it opened its mouth. "Oooh, Deekin no like teleports, boss. Boss? Hey drow lady, where's Boss?"
Behind the new arrivals, the portal sparked and hissed. Streaks of lightening licked the stones in the floor, leaving a scent of ozone and magic. Slowly, it faded away, and around the room the drow lowered their weapons when it finally disappeared back into the ether.
A third figure crouched on the ground where the portal once stood, gloved hands pressed to the cold stone as they tried to regulate their breathing.
"There, little kobold," Nathyrra announced proudly as she gave the cat one more pat. She clapped the little lizard on the shoulder before she stood straight, pride bright in her eyes. "She's there."
The Seer moved forward, past the her generals who hissed and growled warnings; the serene look on her face drove them mad with anger as she disregarded her own safety. She knelt in front of the almost prone figure, her robes spread like white wings. "Easy, jalil, you are safe here."
"Forgive me, my lady, if I don't exactly take you at your word right now." The woman's voice was dryly amused from under her hood. "But I was just sent through a portal by an insane archmage who cursed me with his own twisted version of a geas, and I've never been a particular fan of portals to begin with. For all I know, he's sent me straight to the Valsharess's camp."
"Elowayen!" Nathyrra scolded as she moved forward to crouch in front to the figure as well. "You're being rude."
"You're still being evasive." Elowayen sat back on her haunches and finally pushed back her hood-
Valen sucked in his breath. She was an elf. He had heard the rumors of a darthiir warrior, true, but he had dismissed them as merely that- rumors. Here in front of him, however, was the living proof that perhaps he should have paid more attention to the whispers.
She was tall but slender, delicate and ethereal with bright green eyes and curling brown hair. She looked more a highborn lady than a warrior; completely the opposite of what the rebels needed. Her armor was leather, bright green leather with a darker green cloak. On her hands were brown leather gloves, worn and practically humming with magic. His eyes narrowed as he took in the bow string on her back, the quiver at her side, and a sword buckled to her hip. An amulet glittered at her throat, and he could hear the clank of bottles as she removed her pack and set it on the floor next to her. She at least had weapons and potions for this journey, he gave her that, but he was still in disbelief that this slip of a woman could be the aid they so desperately needed.
The kobold didn't help matters, either.
"BOSS!" the kobold scrabbled over to the elf, words dispersed with yips and growls in its excitement. "We is in the Underdark!"
"So it appears, Deeks." she chuckled as she sat down on the floor. "Easy, now. Remember, teleports."
"Oooh yeah, Boss never liked teleports. Even back when-"
"No stories, Deeks." The elf- Elowayen- interrupted tiredly. "Not right now." She rubbed her face with a gloved hand before she cast a look at the temple around her. "Well, this is... an interesting choice to send us. Lolth?" She questioned, looking at the Seer with slight apprehension.
The Seer chuckled lightly before she stood. "No, not anymore. Not for a long time." She shook her head before she offered her hand to Elowayen. "Come, there is much to discuss."
"I'd rather remain sitting, if you don't mind." The elf shook her head- and only then realized that her panther was still on guard. She turned to her companion to see what had caused all the growls and snarls-
And realized that her beloved cat had challenged a tiefling who had responded with an equal number of growls and snarls- and a very large, deadly looking flail.
He crouched in front of an empty chair, an equally as-armed drow by his side. She inwardly cringed; trust her companion to pick out the most deadly of those present and outright threaten them. With a mental sigh, Elowayen sent out a tendril of calm command to her companion, instructions for her to back up until she was by her side.
The cat ignored her.
Elowayen sighed again, this time outwardly, and ignored Nathyrra's poorly-hidden delight at the spectacle in front of them. Instead she repeated her command, this time with more force and an added push of disapproval.
A deep, rumbling growl sounded from the companion. Elowayen swore mentally; Deekin hated it when she acted "coarse" but this was beyond ridiculous.
Finally, she raised her gaze to the tiefling to study him more fully. She started low, a habit drilled into her head by Drogan all those years ago. She noted how his armored feet were placed on the stones, how he crouched in his plate mail. She marked how he held his flail, with familiarity and with the grip of a warrior who has fought long and hard with a weapon, and both loved and hated it for all that it has done. It was a disquieting revelation, as she once held her beloved sword the same way. The same sword that had been stolen by the drow assassin, the sword that her master had given her before she ever set foot towards Neverwinter. She studied how broad he was, how he had to be strong, insanely strong, to be in such a position in such heavy armor and not waver. Finally, she raised her eyes to his face-
And realized exactly why her companion was so intent to challenge him.
Oh, he's a handsome one, she thought dazedly before she shook her head in dismay. "Shery! Attend!" she ordered, voice firm and full of command. Her hand was raised and stretched towards the animal; while it added a bit of style to the whole demonstration, it also allowed Elowayen to add more power to her unspoken thoughts and commands. It usually worked, and the panther would usually obey and come back with a purr and a nudge for a bit of dried meat-
The panther ignored her.
Elowayen lost her patience. "Shery. Now."
Valen watched as the beast began to stalk backwards. The entire time, it held its body low to the ground and never took its eyes off of his. Inwardly, he approved- even her companions, as odd as they were, had some sense about them.
The cat continued to back up until it reached Elowayen's side, only to turn and rub against her like it had done nothing wrong. It even purred slightly, as if to beg forgiveness. Elowayen, for her part, wrapped her arms around the beast and began to whisper in its fur. Valen strained to hear what she whispered, but only caught snatches of Common and what must be the surface elf language. Something she said must have aggravated the animal, because it backed away and gave her a very expressive look, one that clearly communicated disbelief and mild disgust.
"Tampa tanya!" the elf snapped, her eyes full of emerald fire. "I know what I am doing, voronwer. You do not need to worry, and you will stop thinking of that!"
The cat hissed angrily and bowed its head.
"Amin hiraetha, mellonamin." the elf sighed, and reached out a hand that trembled. "I'm still off kilter from things, and I do not mean to snap at you."
The cat sniffed disdainfully and leveled another look at the elf. With a sigh and a nod, the elf looked away- only to be butted by the cat once more. Elowayen laughed before she wrapped her arms around the animal once more and nuzzled its neck.
"I'll be alright in a little bit, mellonamin." she murmured into the beast's coat. "I just need more time. You know how I am with teleports. Even the clerics of Tyr couldn't help with that."
The beast rumbled deep in its chest before it flopped to the ground next to its master. With a rusty purr, it laid its head in her lap and gave her a hopeful glance.
"Sorry about that." Elowayen flashed the room a sheepish grin. "She's... protective of me and worries I might do something foolish." She caught his eye and flushed slightly, her cheeks a light pink. Beside her, Nathyrra snickered into her hand before she looked away, lips pressed tight to contain her amusement.
Valen merely nodded before straightening up, not quite trusting himself to speak with the girl-
For that's all she is, a girl, he thought to himself as he watched the Seer and Nathyrra explain the situation. A mere slip of a girl with no chance against the Underdark itself, let alone the Valsharess-
"Seer, I really must protest this." The elf's tired voice broke into his thoughts. He looked, and saw that she appeared drained and worn, like she had been going at her full strength for far too long. She probably had, he concluded as he remembered that Halaster had been mentioned. Undermountain was no child's play, so she is at least capable, but I still don't quite trust her.
"Protest?" Nathyrra looked ready to hit the girl, still seated on the floor with a panther and kobold curled against her. "Protest what the Seer has seen and decre-"
"No, not that." Elowayen shook her head. "I'm much too tired to even think about all that right now, and as it is... I've seen and done enough that I wouldn't try to question the gods, or their servants." She gave Nathyrra a slight smirk before she continued. "However, I have just spent the past month and a half running around a dungeon invested with puzzles, traps, trolls, evil fairies, rakshasas, dragons, drow- no offense," she shot another smirk Nathyrra's way, and to his surprise Nathyrra returned it- "and frankly, I'm exhausted, I'm hungry, and I would really like a bath so my loyal and dedicated bard would stop mentioning the state of my clothing and hair."
"Boss is an epic hero and must look like one. Not look or smell like a bum." the kobold announced. Loudly. Imloth coughed into his hand as the Seer hid her smile. Nathyrra, however, openly grinned as the elf shot the reptile a poisonous look.
"So what are you protesting then, exactly?" Nathyrra crouched down to the surfacer's level.
"Honestly?" the elf shook her head with a slight smile. "I want a bath and a meal before I become a prophetical savior again."
"Again?" Valen couldn't help the snort of disbelief that followed his question. "You hardly look able to survive a hard day's labor, my lady, so forgive me if I disbelieve your claim."
"Disbelieve all you want, it doesn't change the fact that I'm sore, I'm tired, and I stink." she shrugged carelessly and moved the panther's head off her lap with a gentle nudge. "Give me a day's rest and I'll listen to everything you have to say, go off to do whatever I need to, but until then, please kindly just let my head stop spinning."
"I think we may be able to accommodate you, my friend." The Seer smiled gently. "The temple baths are located downstairs; I can have Nathyrra escort you there if you like."
"That would be lovely." Elowayen smiled in relief as she stood. "If you could show me a bit of soft earth to lay my head after that, I would be in your debt."
"We will make up a room for you while you bathe," the Seer promised. She inclined her head to Nathyrra.
"Oh no, please don't bother with that." Elowayen shook her head in protest. "I am a taur'amandil- a druid. There is no need for me to sleep indoors, and no reason for someone to be out a bed when I'll only be here for a night."
"Only a night?" Valen snarled angrily, stepping forward. "Only a night?"
Elowayen blinked at him, surprised. "Well, yes. If I'm supposed to go cavorting around the Underdark to try and kill the Valsharess, there's really no point in me staying in this temple, is there?"
Valen opened his mouth to reply, only to clamp his jaw shut as Nathyrra swept the elf away with panther and kobold in tow. She explained that the surfacer- the druid- was in for a treat, as the drow had some of the finest soaps in all the lands. The surfacer's laugh bounced back to him as she commented about the musky scent of drow. It was a light musical sound, one that was suited to fields of green and light, not the halls of a temple in the Underdark. It also served to display just how tired she was, the strain obvious in her voice as she walked away.
It would be much more enjoyable to hear when she is rested, he thought, only to flush slightly at the thought.
"Valen, there you are." Nathyrra made her way down the corridor towards him, her movement sinuous and smooth. "Have you seen Elowayen? It's been about an hour since I took her to the temple baths. The kobold's already up and bouncing about- he claims he has so much inspiration that he can't sit still."
"No, I haven't." he growled out. "I have been discussing certain things with Imloth while you were out playing with our guest." He began to move towards his room, a signal of the end of the conversation.
"Oh. She must still be downstairs." Nathyrra shrugged, and to his annoyance began to walk with him. "I wanted to speak with her."
"As do I." Valen muttered. He ignored the look Nathyrra sent him.
"So, Valen... what do you think of her?" the assassin asked him with a sideways glance, her tone light and teasing. "You were certainly caught up in how soft she was- thinking about how she would survive a night of hard lovemaking and-"
A flash of pale, delicate skin. Brown hair and hazy green eyes against the black sheets of his bed. Rasping, throaty gasps. The feel of her skin under his teeth, the taste of her-
Valen spun around, his cheeks bright with a blush that had absolutely nothing to do with the druid. "Nathyrra, the Seer respects you, and for that, I tolerate you, but I will not have you making such- such lurid accusations towards me." he snarled, face twisted in anger. "She is a compatriot in this, nothing more, and I will not have you substitute your actions for mine. Understood?"
Nathyrra laughed. Laughed. At him, Valen Shadowbreath, for defending his honor against her baseless and disgusting ideas-
"Relax, General." She mock-saluted him, but did not still her giggles as she turned to go back the way she came. "If you entertain such fantasies, they are yours to entertain, not mine. I'm sure she would agree."
"Nathyrra." Valen snarled- but the assassin was gone, hidden in the shadows as her laughter bounced down the stone halls.
Valen stalked down the steps that led to the temple baths. His tail twitched angrily behind him, an outward sign of his displeasure. It had been an hour since Nathyrra had taunted him about the newcomer, and the only reason he was going down here was because the Seer required him to do so.
"Could you find Elowayen?" her brow furrowed, the Seer gazed off into the shadows of his room. She had appeared like a wraith, her knocks on his door as gentle as her voice. "I would send Nathyrra, but she's made herself scarce- I imagine she's finding herself company for the night, as it has been a while since she's been in Lith My'athar."
"Seer?" Valen prompted. "Why do you seek the surfacer?"
"Oh." The Seer shook her head with a small smile. "Her room is ready, and I know you are not above dragging her there if she protests sleeping in a bed."
It was Nathyrra's fault, he told himself, her fault and her taunts that caused him to flush a bright red at the Seer's words. The Seer had said nothing, merely notched a silver brow at his reaction as he stuttered out a promise to find the elusive newcomer.
A promise that led him to the temple baths, as none had seen her since she had gone down to clean up. When he asked her kobold about it, the creature had shrugged and said that she enjoyed long baths, as she so rarely had the chance to indulge herself with warm water.
It's still Nathyrra's fault, he told himself desperately as he neared the doors to the bathing chambers. It's her fault I'm thinking of the surfacer like this-
He quietly opened the doors, cautious as he looked around to see if there were any females that would screech at him for this intrusion- or worse, proposition him- before he entered. His boots rang out as he moved through the chambers, listening for any sign of Elowayen.
The final bathing chamber was dedicated for Eilistraee's clerics, but it would be like Nathyrra to put Elowayen there. He rubbed his face, annoyed at the precociousness of the assassin, before he pushed open the door.
There, seated on the underwater ledge, was Elowayen. She leaned against the opposite edge of the pool, her hair wet and curled around her face. The water lapped at her chest, barely covering her as she tranced. Her eyes were closed, her breathing deep and even in her reverie. Mentally, he groaned; waking an elf, any elf, from reverie before they were ready was damn near impossible. He really had no choice, however, and so moved to wake her. His footsteps were relatively light-
With a roar, the panther was in front of him, full of challenge once again. It snarled and swiped at him with its claws, ears flattened close to its head as it guarded its mistress.
Valen snarled back as he avoided the beast's attacks. He spared only a glance to see that Elowayen had not woken at her beast's cry-
The animal attacked in his distraction. He failed to move out of the way in time and landed hard on his back. The panther was a mass of muscle and fur on his chest, full of claws and snarls. It moved, quick and lethal, and Valen felt claws slice his cheek open.
With a roar, Valen let go, and the the world went red.
The beast snapped its jaws close to his throat. It snarled as he blocked it with a bracer, grateful he had not stripped from his armor. He freed his hand and rammed his fist into the beast's side. It roared again in pain before it turned and sank its fangs into his forearm. Valen snarled as he rolled to the side, an attempt to shake it loose- only to have it release him to swipe at his face again with claws as sharp as knives. Valen dodged away and began to circle; the panther mocked him and began to follow his steps.
Something caught the beast's attention; it turned its head and he wasted no time. He rushed in with brute strength and fury. With a bellow, he charged the creature and caught it with his shoulders. The points on his armor dug into flesh as he caught and lifted the animal. With a snarling, he flung it away from him and watched with a sort of maniacal glee as the panther flew across the room. It crashed into the wall, and he wasted no time to move in, his flail ready to crash into its skull-
Valen turned at the sound of the cry. He froze in place as something small and wet threw itself on him, voice loud and plaintive.
Elowayen clutched at his arms, her body wet and flushed from the water and the last vestiges of Shery's emotions. Her hair clung wetly to her curves; water dripped from her to the floor. She stood, completely unashamed of her nudity, fear and anguish written on her face as she forced his attention from her companion.
"Please don't!" She begged him. Her eyes searched his, looking for anything but the anger that twisted his features. "Don't hurt her anymore, please!"
Yes, hurt this one, the demon in his blood cried gleefully. Hurt this one instead. She teases you, taunts you. Can you not smell her? She is ripe, ripe for you to take! Take her. TAKE HER. Plant your seed in her and make her scream!
Valen shook his head slowly. The images his blood showed him were nauseating and grotesque in their violence. He closed his eyes as he fought to beat back the demon in his blood, fighting to control his breathing and racing heart. He tried his best to ignore the flush of heat coming from the slight elf pressed against him, but eventually he gripped her arms and pushed her away. He heard her stumble on the wet tiles but did not open his eyes; to open his eyes this soon would mean a loss of all control. Slowly, he regained control of himself and opened his eyes. Elowayen stared at him from a few feet away, still nude and wet and uncaring. Her eyes searched his again, for what he didn't know.
"Are-" her voice cracked slightly, and she nervously licked her lips before she tried again. "Are you... you, again?"
Valen nodded, his gaze trained on her lips as she spoke. "I... apologize. I am not usually so... out of control."
She shook her head. "It's my fault. I asked Shery to stand guard for me while I bathed. I may be a surfacer, but I know how the drow are, especially with outsiders. I didn't trust them to not come and- well, that's not important."
"I am... sorry, for the pain I have caused you." He inclined his head slightly, before he stiffly moved back. It was about then he realized that she was still naked, and wet, and now he was wet too-
He flushed red from the roots of his hair to his feet. He spun around and refused to look at her, a long forgotten sense of propriety rearing its head. "I apologize for my brazenness, my lady. I will leave and let you become decent before-"
"What? Oh!" Elowayen laughed behind him. "Truthfully, you are far less brazen than most, heru en amin . I often forget that not all are as comfortable as I am."
"Heru en amin?" he questioned, his head tilted slightly to hear her answer.
"It means my lord in my native tongue; a non-familiar lord, of course," she replied, her voice somewhat muffled as she dried her face. "I wouldn't address you familiarly until we were better acquainted."
"I am no lord."
"I am no lady." she shot back with a smirk. She dropped the towel on the chair before she picked up the robe Nathyrra had left for her use.
Her bare feet padded on stone as she walked to the tiefling. The silken cloth swished, and gently she touched his arm. "I am as decent as I can possibly get now, so why don't you tell me why you've come here while I heal Shery?"
He turned, his jaw tight as he watched her move towards the injured companion. She was clad only in a short, dark silk robe. Her hair, darkened by water and low light, soaked the robe to the point she may as well have been nude again for all the cover it offered as it clung to her form.
Elowayen ignored the surly tiefling as she knelt in front Shery and murmured words of endearment and praise to her companion. Her hands shook slightly as they passed over the wounds left by Valen's armor; deep gouges that oozed blood, and there she sported broken ribs from the impact of meeting the wall. Elowayen blinked back tears as she started to heal but still whispered to the injured cat, a tradition they had shared since they had first met.
"I'm so sorry, voronwer, I never thought you would get this hurt. Shhh, don't move. I'll take care of you, yes, and you'll be strong and whole again."
Shery whuffed and nuzzled her hand. Elowayen gave a watery laugh and shook her head at the unspoken query. "I'm not blaming you, mellonmin, I'm blaming me. I thought the drow would be our biggest concern here, not this. I'm sorry, voronwer, I'm so sorry."
So engrossed in her task, Elowayen did not register Valen's appearance at her side until Shery growled a warning. Elowayen was startled by the noise and turned to regard the tiefling with wide eyes.
"Is there... anything I can do?" he asked softly, his gaze on the panther's wounds. "I have slight knowledge of healing, and this... this is my fault."
Elowayen smiled gently as she shook her head. "No, Shery will be fine in no time. The most you could do at this point is to gather my hair out of my eyes."
"I am yours to command." he murmured in her ear, reaching forward and catching the still-wet strands.
Oh, Elowayen blushed slightly as the tip of a callused finger brushed her cheek. He's a charmer. I can see why Shery was so wary of him.
Valen did not speak as he began to plait her hair. Her hair slid through his fingers like wet silk and smelled of something light and clean and herbal, something unknown to the Underdark. He unknowingly breathed deep; a trick to catch the scent and memorize it as hers.
It was a mistake to have him do this, Elowayen realized. She felt the heat radiating off of him on her back, heard his intake of breath as he braided her hair. This is far too intimate, too close!
She cleared her throat with a slight blush, desperate to break the spell of intimacy that was around them. "I would have never guessed that you could braid a lady's hair." she spoke softly, her focus on the task at hand. She never forced healing if she could help it, preferring instead to heal over a longer period of time to minimize the damage and the pain caused by rapid heals. It was something her old companions were grateful for, as they were often on the receiving end of it. It was also the reason why she hated potions, however necessary they were; rapid healing hurt, no matter who or what was doing it.
The tiefling chuckled darkly. "It is not a lady's braid that I weave, but a warrior's. It is a wise skill to learn when at war."
Elowayen merely nodded, her throat tight as she felt his fingers comb through her hair. She turned her attention back to her companion, relentlessly focusing on healing every scratch, every injury she could find, and easing the pain of wounds too old to remember while she was at it.
She lost track of time as she knelt with a tiefling at her side and her oldest friend wounded in front of her. All she could remember later was the smell of blood and sweat, of water and animal and wet silk, and the pulse of magic steady beneath her hands.
When Shery was fully healed, the first thing she did was climb to her feet and lick Elowayen's cheek with a rough tongue. She purred as the elf laughed, heads pressed together in comfort.
"Yes, voronwer, I'm grateful too." She wrapped her arms around the beast and buried her face in the blood-stained fur. "And I'm far too cautious now. You're going home."
The beast growled in reply.
"No, no arguments! I almost lost you, Shery, before we even set foot into the Underdark! I won't lose you out there!" Elowayen scolded. She reached and gripped the animal's face in her hands. She stared into the cat's luminous gold eyes, her own slightly wild and bright. "I will not lose you, Shery. Not you. Not after Linu, not after Dorna and Drogan, not after Aarin." she whispered. Her voice broke on the last name, but the cat merely purred louder.
She released the panther's face, only to have it burrow into her side. It purred even louder, the sound a deep soothing rumble that even Valen felt in his bones.
Elowayen gripped the beast tightly, tears in her eyes. "You will go home. You will go home and you will wait for me there, you understand? You'll only come when I call you, and you'll keep our home safe. You'll keep it safe and wait for me. Understand?" Elowayen murmured. "I will come home, Shery, but I will not lose you here."
With a sob, Elowayen released the panther and stood back. Tears and blood streaked her face, marks of desperation and love. "I love you, voronwer. I will see you soon."
She raised her hands as the cat gave her one last plaintive look. She ignored it and instead murmured an incantation, one Valen had never heard before. The panther howled, a bone-chilling sound, as a bright white circle surrounded it. The animal glowed bright white before it disappeared completely, the circle full of sparks and ozone, same as the portal that delivered them to Lith My'yathar. Valen stayed where he knelt, watching the elf battle her grief at having to send her companion away.
She sunk to her knees, and futilely wiped at her eyes. "That was... harder than I expected." She remarked to no one in particular, before she turned to Valen. "You have blood on your armor."
"What?" He started. He craned his neck to study his plate mail. "Where?"
"Where you caught Shery." her voice was soft, blameless, but he still flushed at her words. She turned from him and walked to the pool's edge to retrieve a small wet cloth. She returned to stand at his side, the cloth twisted in her hands. "Um... you'll have to sit." She flushed a light pink as she added a bit grudgingly, "You're too tall for me to reach."
"I can clean my armor myself." he snapped, embarrassed that she would do something so... intimate.
"And I'm sure you can." she snapped back. "Consider it a peace offering, you stubborn brute."
Valen nodded, somewhat reluctant, as he found a dry patch of floor. He seated himself with care and closed his eyes. To push the demon farther back into the recesses of his mind, he forced himself into a state of light meditation, a handy skill that the Seer had taught him when he first arrived at her city.
Elowayen moved behind him, the rag damp in her hands. She had only offered to show him that she did not blame him for what happened, and in all honesty was rather grateful to him; he had shown her that Shery could have and probably would have died in the Underdark, and that was something she could not allow. She began to lightly clean the blood from his armor's spikes, the motions somewhat familiar and still somewhat alien. As a druid, she never truly had spikes in her armor, preferring the more natural leathers and hides that her order used. Mischa, however, was a fan of metal plate, and they had spent several afternoons in Hilltop, polishing her armor around the fire as they joked and told stories.
They sat in silence for a few minutes before Elowayen cleared her throat.
"Oh... you never did say why you came down here." she whispered. She gently scrubbed at a particularly stubborn stain; she hoped that it wouldn't need a full cleaning, as she had seen Mischa groan and complain about the hassle of it too many times to count.
"The Seer wished me to escort you to the room they have prepared for you." he replied softly, his eyes still closed. "Nathyrra was her first choice, but she has disappeared."
"Probably to go humiliate some poor male." Elowayen huffed before she moved on to the other side. "She seemed to be of the opinion that simply because I follow the natural ways, I would be most... forthcoming about my past endeavors and partners. I've never been so uncomfortable with a companion before, and that includes the hafling."
"The halfling?" Valen questioned, curious.
"His name was Tomi, and he positively lived in the gutter. Filthy little street rat." she explained, her voice affectionate. "I worked with him briefly, once before in Neverwinter, before I met Linu."
Her voice turned sad, and Valen opened his eyes as he turned to face her. "Linu?"
"My dear friend, Linu." Elowayen shook her head. "Now is not the time to speak of my adventures in Neverwinter, or what came after. Now is the time for sleep." She gently pushed at his shoulder to turn him in another direction to finish cleaning his armor. "There. You'll probably need to polish it, but you should be fine for now."
"My lady..." Valen cleared his throat as he caught sight of the dried blood on her face and robe.
"Yes?" she cocked her head to the side curiously. "What is it?"
"You have... blood on your skin." he looked away, his face hot with embarrassment once more. "From when you hugged your familiar."
"Oh!" Elowayen darted to the pool's side and leaned over to investigate. She missed the strangled noise that came from the tiefling when she flashed a bit of posterior. "Drat. That whole bath was a waste." With a sigh, she slipped out of the robe and back into the water. She ducked beneath the surface with a small splash; Valen turned beet red when she resurfaced and climbed out with no regard to his presence. She picked up the soaked robe once again and inspected it as he spun around. He mumbled apologies as she shook out the fabric and ignored him completely.
"No hope for this thing now." she muttered, and tossed it to the side. She reached for a large towel to wrap around herself instead. "There. That should keep the males at bay."
At least, the drow ones, anyway, she thought to herself, her gaze turned to the embarrassed tiefling in front of her. With a smile, she watched as his tail twitched agitatedly, almost like Shery's when she wasn't allowed to go hunting under a full moon.
"I believe you said that there was a room for me?" she said lightly. She grinned inwardly when her voice caused the tiefling to jump slightly. With a devilish grin, she walked up behind him and made certain to brush against his tail in passing.
Valen stiffened as he felt the wicked elf brush his tail- his tail- as she walked past him to get to the doors. She gave him a smile that sent a rush of heat from his horns to his feet before she bent down to retrieve her traveling pack. "Coming?"
"When my men first told me you were here, I didn't believe them." Imloth chuckled as he made his way over to sit next to a sulky Valen. "Apparently, even the greenest recruits can be right on occasion."
"That woman is a devil." Valen spat. He glowered at his tankard as if it were to blame for his troubles. "There are no words for just how-"
"Lively she is?" Imloth suggested as he raised his hand to signal for a tankard of his own. "I spoke with Nathyrra- you've never experienced a druid before, have you?"
"No." Valen admitted before he took a drink. "Are they always so... so open?"
Imloth chuckled again. He slid over a coin to the bartender when he appeared with his ale. "At times. Some are a bit more than others. Did our fair lady proposition you for a night's worth of favors?" Imloth's grin was wicked as he watched the tiefling squirm. "Or did she do something even more sordid than that?"
Valen was silent and waited until Imloth had taken a hearty swig of ale. "She touched my tail." he muttered, and watched with secret delight how the drow choked and sputtered on his drink.
"She what?" Imloth coughed. He grabbed a napkin and wiped at his tunic and leggings. "Your what?"
"She touched my tail." Valen repeated as he watched Imloth's antics. "When she left the bathing chamber, she made sure to brush against my tail."
"I'm certain I'm missing something about tieflings and their tails that I do not want to know, but..." Imloth shook his head. "What exactly does that mean?"
"Do you remember when Matron Myrune... accosted you in the temple?" Valen smirked over his tankard as the drow commander shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "Essentially, that."
Imloth stared at Valen for a long moment before he burst into laughter. He thumped his hand on the table in delight. "Well, looks like she's declared her interest clear enough." he chortled, and raised his tankard in a toast. "My congratulations."
"I am not sure she meant to do so." Valen muttered as he took another drink. "I... think she did it as a form of revenge."
"Revenge? Why would the girl have any need for revenge against you?" Imloth inquired. He leaned forward eagerly; it was so hard to get good goss- intel, he correctly mentally, intel- in Lith My'yathar.
Valen sighed as he began to tell Imloth just what transpired between him and Elowayen in the temple baths. The drow stayed silent throughout the tale, even though his eyes would occasionally flash with annoyance at certain parts- most notably, when Valen admitted that he nearly killed their "savior's" companion.
"You're a fool, tiefling." Imloth leaned back when Valen finished his tale. "To braid a woman's hair like that, any woman's, is a sign of intimacy and trust. In all truthfulness, you propositioned her first."
"I did not mean-" Valen began to speak, only to have Imloth interrupt.
"No, you didn't, but in the end, you still did, and she was merely responding to your challenge in kind." Imloth shook his head. "Gods above, boy, did no one teach you how to handle women?"
Valen barred his teeth at Imloth. "Perhaps you forget, drow, but handling women was not a requirement for a soldier in the Blood Wars."
Imloth shook his head again, still in shock over the tiefling's lack of foresight. "Look, if you're not interested in her, tell her you're sorry for being... forward. If you are interested in her, just let her be for now. I'm certain she'll make up her mind regarding you soon enough."
"He what?" Nathyrra burst into peals of laughter and rolled around on Elowayen's bed. The other elf regarded her amusement somewhat sourly before she pointedly cleared her throat.
"He braided my hair, and then acted like a scalded cat when I touched his tail." Elowayen grumbled at the drow encamped on her bed. "Move," she commanded with a light shove, "I want to change and you're lying on my shift."
"You'll have to forgive me, Elowayen, but this is just... oh, this is wonderful!" Nathyrra shook her head, a grin still in place as she obligingly handed over the shift. "Valen is always so stiff, and here you are, running about naked and wet and-"
"Healing my mortally wounded companion and best friend, who he just happened to stab with his armor and fling into a wall?" Elowayen countered, her voice cold. "And then he offers to help. To help! As if some bumbling oafish warrior like him could possibly ever know anything about-"
"Well, he does." Nathyrra shrugged, sitting upright and watching as Elowayen donned her shift, a relatively short, loose garment of raw linen she had picked up in Hilltop before she left.
The only reason she still had it was because she wore it when the assassin struck- even then, she had to beg Tamsil to mend it. She left instructions for the girl to leave it with Thesta when she was done- luckily, Tamsil had done just that, and one of the few possessions that Elowayen brought with had been saved.
Elowayen broke out of her reminiscing by Nathyrra's polite cough. "As I was saying, I've seen him keep a scout from bleeding to death before we could get him to the healers."
"Well bully for him." Elowayen grumbled. She sat on the bed next to the assassin and reached for her brush. "And then this stupid braid of his!"
"It's a nice braid." Nathyrra said innocently. She grinned when the druid glared at her.
"I want it out." Elowayen muttered petulantly. She tugged at her hair, reluctantly impressed that it was still holding without a tie. "I don't want a reminder of tonight and this stupid thing won't come out."
"Should I hunt down the master braid maker himself to untangle it for you, my lady?" Nathyrra teased. She admitted part of her amusement out of this whole thing was that she got to see the flush of anger on Elowayen's face. After all the trouble of Halaster's dungeon, Nathyrra thought she was owed some amusement, especially at the druid's expense.
"I will smite you." Elowayen hissed, turning a bright pink. "Just help me get it out!"
"I'd like to see you try." Nathyrra challenged. She turned the other elf around with a laugh and a shake of the head. "Sit still and stop grumbling. The least you can do is tell me about the surface while I undo this monstrosity our general has created."
"What would you like to know?" Elowayen replied. Her eyes closed halfway as she felt Nathyrra's fingers in the twists of her hair.
"Tell me about your homeland."
"I grew up in a small city near Evermeet." Elowayen began, her voice soft. "My parents were highly successful merchants, and raised my siblings and I in relative comfort..."
Translation of Tel-quessir words and phrases:
Voronwer – loyal one
Tampa tanya – Stop that!
Amin hiraetha – I am sorry
Mellonmin – my friend
Taur'amandil – druid
Heru en amin – my lord (non familiar)