Haley Starshine was resplendent. Waves of orange hair cascaded down her shoulders contrasting beautifully with a black gown which sparkled like the night sky. Taking one last look in the mirror, she decided that a thin scarf would be in order. She had taken hours attending to every detail. Every little thing was going to be perfect. This Valentine's Day her dinner with Elan would be perfect.

As she scanned the closet's contents her mind shifted down darker paths. Memories engulfed her consciousness. Her upcoming dinner with Elan put her in mind of her dinner with Nale. The dinner that had nearly spelled her doom. If Elan had not showed up when he did… with a leprechaun orc… she still wasn't sure she fully understood that part… "But not this time," she reassured herself. "Tonight, dinner will just be me and Elan. No Nale."

"Well, half-right," came the voice beside her. Haley started. How had she missed her listen check?

Sabine was dressed in red leather, demonic wings in full evidence as a sinister smile pulled at her lips. "Well hello, Haley. So nice to see you again."

Haley forced a smile of her own. "Well hell, skank. It really has been too long. Provided that by 'too long' one means 'not nearly long enough'. How are you…" as she spoke, her fingers snuck around to the side of the dresser where her bow should have been hanging.

"It isn't there," Sabine giggled with the playfulness of a kitten stalking its' prey. "You really did fail your checks pretty badly. I presume you must have had a negative modifier from your distraction. It was supposed to be a big night for you? Wasn't it? Such a romantic Valentine's day evening. But as I said, you are half right. This time, Nale won't be there."

Haley's eyebrow rose as she caught on. "I won't let you hurt Elan," she cried, grabbing an arrow and trying to look threatening.

"Stupid girl. Did you really think we'd let you remain around to stop us?"


There was a thud as the club connected with Haley's head. "Thog hit girl," the green orc declared.

"You even failed your spot check after you all ready knew I was there," Sabine laughed at the unconscious thief as Nale and Thog bound her hands and locked her in the closet.

Nale's smile would have seemed unusually devilish if not for the fact that such a smile was actually remarkably common for him. "This time, we have the perfect plan. The fatal flaw with disguising me as my twin brother was that Haley was too clever…"

Thog wrinkled his brow. "Problem not that Haley figure plan out. Problem that Elan and Thog interrupt."

"Quiet, Thog," instructed Nale dismissively. "This time, it is Elan who we will deceive. And I do not believe anyone has ever accused my dear brother of being excessively clever." He laughed at his joke. After a minute, and a meaningful glare from Nale, Sabine joined in the laughter. "Now, Sabine, you will…"

"Darling," said Sabine quietly. "You do realize that we all ready know the plan, don't you?"

"Well yes," he said. "I'm just outlining for whoever happens to be reading this story. So Sabine, you will be assuming Haley's appearance and accompanying Elan to dinner, following which you will lead him out to the terrace where Thog will be lying in wait. Together you will destroy him. Meanwhile, I will take the crystal and activate the Statue of Seraliem securing for us ultimate power."

"Thog not remember crystal or statue."

"Well, yes," Nale allowed. "We discovered those in an unwritten adventure. Best not to dwell on it."

"Then," Sabine picked up the narrative, "you and I will meet back here."

"Where Thog?"

"You'll be off somewhere eating ice cream," Sabine said.

Thog smiled. "Thog like ice cream."

"We meet back here," Nale agreed, "where we will share the pleasure of ridding the world of Ms. Starshine." He spoke as if it were the most romantic notion in the world. Which, for them, it was.

Sabine nodded, her features shifting into Haley's elaborately spiffed-up likeness. In mere seconds she had duplicated the work of Haley's hours of primping, years of staying fit, decades of growing up, generations of evolving. "I never will understand," she reflected, "why you mortals feel the need to spend so much time attending to your appearance."

Elan was all ready there, their table prepared and Haley's favorite h'ors d'oevres waiting when Haley-when Sabine-arrived. (Moving forward she will simply be referred to as 'Haley' since it would be pointlessly onerous to say 'Sabine disguised as Haley' each time she was mentioned and really, why bother putting a bunch of extra words in which don't really add anything to the story. I would never do that.) Elan hopped up to pull out her chair for her and was startled as Haley flew into his arms. (Not literally, Sabine's wings were in fact entirely concealed by the glamour.) Haley was, as has been previously noted, resplendent. The glorious dress brought out each of her alluring attributes perfectly. The beauty of her hair, orange as flame. Her cheekbones. Her… Elan's thoughts did not proceed further, perhaps out of a certain delicacy but probably because she was all ready in his arms at this point. Her gorgeous hair seemed almost to leap forward to tickle Elan's cheek. Her kiss was different from usual, more viciously passionate but almost as if lacking the experience of Elan's preferences, deviating from the patterns Elan's kisses with Haley usually took. The way her body pressed against his too was different from Haley's usual impassioned embrace. Really, Elan considered, if felt more like that one time in his father's kingdom when Sabine had kissed him. Eerily similar, actually. Elan quickly reached the obvious conclusion—clearly Haley behaving oddly because she was excited about the evening. He would do all he could to make it memorable and happy for her.

After a kiss which lasted a bit longer than expected, Elan caught his breath and announced, "Wow. Haley, I know you have a high charisma score and all, but right now you must be getting like a plus five circumstance bonus to all social skills.

"I took twenty when I was getting ready," she answered with a smile.

Elan pushed Haley's chair in for her. Then he realized his mistake and pulled it out and waited for her to be seated before pushing it back in and taking his own seat.

"So," he began as if they had all ready been mid-conversation, "I told Banjo that he couldn't come, that it was a private dinner for two. And then I explained that he wasn't one of the two."

"Who's Banjo?" Haley asked.

"Banjo the Clown."

Haley paused before hazarding "Your puppet?"

Elan nodded quizzically. "You know about Banjo, Haley. Honestly," he added, laughing, "It's almost as if you weren't really you but an imposter disguised as you in an attempt to earn my trust or something. You know, like Nale's girlfriend."

Haley laughed nervously.

"Anyway," Elan continued, "I bought a marionette this morning. I call her Mary. I chose the name Mary because she's a marion…"

"Yes," Haley managed with nearly superhuman patience, "I do follow the logic of your naming choice."

"So Banjo and Mary are having their own little dinner party back at my room. They really seem to have hit it off. I hope their families don't object—you know taboos, some people have problems with puppets and marionettes together. Anyway, I think their night might go really well. Do you think we could spend tonight together in your room?"

Haley restrained the urge to point out that they were discussing inanimate objects which demonstrably did not have emotions or intentions of any kind, let alone the specific ones Elan claimed, made no comment on the ludicrousness that those selfsame inanimate objects might require a bit of privacy. Instead she eyed Elan suggestively and practically purred, "Sweetie, it's valentine's day. That has always been my plan."

"Really?" asked Elan with a confused look. "I thought the plan was that we were going to spend the night at my place." Haley silently cursed herself for her carelessness. She should have considered that the two lovers might have had such a pre-existing arrangement. Elan continued, "I guess I had just misremembered. Well that works out perfectly."

In the interest of prudence, in hopes of avoiding other such mistakes, Haley resolved to let Elan do most of the talking. It was not difficult. What would have been difficult would have been to get Elan to shut up. He carried on about his puppet, about the difficulty of coming up with witty puns while fencing, about how pretty Haley's eyes were, about any number of topics. Then, he paused. "Haley?" he asked.

"Yes?" she answered with a suggestive smile.

"The way your foot is brushing against my calf… that's intentional, right?"

"Yes." She answered, the word positively dripping with the underlying suggestion.

"Ah, well that's good. If it was an accident then it would be less likely to repeat or continue."

It did continue, along with a sufficient quantity of other cues-a disturbingly large number of which went straight over Elan's head-that Elan was both very distracted and very amenable to moving quickly to the next stage of their evening, at which point she and Thog would be able finally to dispatch the onerous fool and be rid of him.

Nale smiled warmly as 'Haley' returned. "Ah, there you are, Sabine. How went the evening?"

"Nale," she responded, a smile keeping the edge out of her voice, "don't ever force me to execute such a revolting task again."

Nale was genuinely confused. "Revolting? You found killing my brother revolting?"

"Not killing him. Putting up with his painful prattling while waiting for the opportunity to spring the ambush."

Nale nodded and laughed. He noted with approval that she had changed outfits into something less ostentatious but more provocative and naughty. "I see. That makes sense."

"Anyway, the fool is dead. Thog has his ice cream. How has your quest, which has remained oddly off panel, progressed?"

"The statue has been activated. Now that Elan is dead it will build power until we are unstoppable."

"I still don't understand how killing Elan powers the statue," she confessed.

Nale shrugged. "The writer didn't think that one through too carefully. Best not to dwell on it really. So darling, I love how you dressed for the occasion. Are you ready to kill the Starshine girl together?"

"Ready and anxious darling," she replied. "But first…" she pulled him into a tight embrace, sharing an extremely arousing kiss. She was changing up her style again, and Nale enjoyed it thoroughly. She leaned even further into him and her lips brushed his ear as she whispered, "sneak attack."

Nale's eyes at first didn't register the pain from the arrow she had plunged by hand into his gut, didn't register anything but raw confusion as she kicked him away from her. He managed only an utterly stupefied "Sabine? Why…?"

"Haley," Haley corrected with a sneer. "Honestly, Nale, for someone who's supposed to be so genre-savvy you'd think it would occur to you that a rogue might have put a few points into escape artist and open lock? And don't even get me started on the ridiculousness of leaving your enemy in an easily-escaped trap. Have you never read the Evil Overlord list? For Random Unspecified God of Thievery (TM)'s sake, Elan could have spotted the holes in your plan a mile away and much as I love him he isn't the brightest light spell in the players' handbook."

Even as Nale grasped at his injury, his free hand had been heading to his own knife, preparing to hurl it at the figure above him. Now he was in position to send the blade sailing into her throat.

"I think I'll have a stab at preventing that," Elan announced, his epee knocking the dagger out of his brother's hand. "I'm not a light spell," Elan added to Haley.

"You didn't think I'd let you get away with harming my precious Elan, did you?" Haley snorted, raising her bow. "You've caused us trouble for the last time."

"Don't kill him!" Elan exclaimed.

"Elan," she said patiently, "he keeps threatening us, endangering our lives. If we don't act now it will never stop. If we just send him to prison, do you really think he won't escape?"

"Of course he'll escape. He's a major recurring villain. But as a major recurring villain he'll be back whether we kill him or not. There will always be a convenient plot hole to make it possible. But we are the good guys so we will win in the end. And killing isn't what good guys do."

Haley's brow furrowed. "We kill all the time."

"Well sure, chaotic evil creatures and unnamed NPCs. But Nale is a named character."

Haley lowered her bow reluctantly.

"Come on," said Elan, "let's get Nale tied up and we can take him into custody along with Sabine and Thog. Then I owe you a valentine's day dinner. And… dessert."

Haley smiled, resplendent.