Wherein the Duchess of Fennas Ëar entertains a newly arrived guest from the faerie courts and plots a daring attempt to free the Speaker’s Cur from the influence of a cursed magical relic.
Part I: Thorny Secrets
“Hey, got a minute? I need to talk to you.” Eqximiye looked up from the latest set of reports to see Y’Draesk standing in the doorway of her office.
“Sure,” she replied easily.
“That spell you were talking about…the one with the mental bond?”
“Rary’s Telepathic Bond, do you mean?”
“Yeah, that. Can you cast it now? I want to test it out, see how it works.”
“Drae, I’m in the middle of fifteen things, and none of them are as annoying as you.”
“Dammit, you know I wouldn’t take you away from all THIS just for laughs," he said as he waved dismissively at her office around him. Just humor me, alright?” he snapped.
Eqximiye raised her hands in surrender. “Fine, fine. If you’re going to be cranky about it…”
She stretched dramatically and rummaged in her desk, finally pulling out some pieces of eggshell. Some of the pieces appeared to be regular chicken eggshells, easily found anywhere in Fennas Ëar. The other shell fragments were green on one side and yellow on the other. Crumbling the shells together in her left hand, she began murmuring under her breath.
As usual, when Y’Draesk tried to listen to the words of the casting, they slipped through his mind, slick and smooth, with occasional sharp edges that gave him a headache. He always tried anyway, no matter how much it infuriated him. When she stopped, there was a moment of profound silence in the room.
What’s on your so-called mind? Eqximiye said, with humor. She sat back and looked at him, waiting for a response. Her lips twitched at his expression.
Cute, he replied, rolling his eyes. Are you absolutely sure no one can hear us?
Positive, came the reply. Yestamir might be able to hear us in the right circumstance, but he is not here.
He took a deep breath and thought Hey, Ashenthorn…buddy…can you hear us? There was no reply. Eqximiye cocked her head to one side and looked at him curiously. Ash? Need to talk to you too. C’mon, stop your dreaming of bleeding and burning things and talk to me. Ash? There was no response.
Does this really block him out?
Of course it does. He is a separate entity. If you wanted me to include him, you should have told me that before I cast the spell. Eqximiye rolled her eyes. Shall I cast it again?
No! He responded, slamming his hand down on her desk, alarm and dread filling his eyes. I need to be sure he can’t hear us. You must be absolutely certain. It’s important that I talk to you alone.
What’s wrong, Drae? Eqximiye leaned forward, all pretense of annoyance gone. What’s going on?
I can’t control him anymore. Y’Draesk swallowed. He hated this part, hated even thinking it to his best friend. Sometimes, he began. Then he paused, gathering his courage and facing his dread for the admission. Sometimes, I can’t control him, and he can even control me. He swallowed, choking down nausea. He closed his eyes for a moment, and concentrated on breathing. When he opened them, Eqximiye was frowning.
How much control does he have? For example, can he make you kill someone? Can he control the ring without you?
There was a long pause as he avoided meeting her eyes. Yes. And yes. He pressed his lips together in a tight line. Admitting that made him angry, but not as angry as being controlled by a creature he had once considered a friend. Maybe not a friend in most ‘culturally acceptable’ ways, and certainly with limitations, but still a strange sort of friend.
You can’t remove the ring, and therefore, can’t remove his influence. Eqximiye was thinking swiftly, her eyes shifting from right to left rapidly.
Help me. His jaw tensed. He hated needing help, even from people he trusted. He despised asking for it even more.
He must not know. He felt rising panic at the thought of Ashenthorn realizing what they were plotting, taking over his body, murdering his friends. Ash could turn the ring into a sword and run her through as they sat there. If he knew. He couldn’t bear another Tinweon, another Morlelaith reaping through his soul.
He won’t. We will never speak of this aloud. You need to come up with something to tell him about this conversation if he asks.
How will we plan this without him finding out?
That statement brought him up short. What do you mean?
I’ll take care of it.
Eqximiye, he snapped, he’s dangerous. Besides, I want to know what you’re planning. He’s capable of horrible things. You have no idea… what… what He, what I… His mind was somehow choking and stuttering.
Do you trust me? The question brought him up short and he looked at her. She grinned impishly at him, her eyes crackling with humor.
Of course I do, Ex. Between them, there was no other possible response.
Then trust me with this. You will be free! With a snap, he felt her end the bond. He shook his head slightly and blinked.
“Satisfied?” she asked drily. “May I please get back to these reports now?”
“All work and no play makes Eqximiye a royal pain in the ass,” he quipped back.
“Bite me, wolf boy.”
“Hah! You’d enjoy it too much, and your dearest would be oh, so jealous!”
She rolled her eyes and gestured to the door. “Out!” He went.
Eqximiye stared at the door pensively as it closed behind Y’Draesk. Her eyes narrowed and one finger tapped rhythmically against the top of her weirwood desk. She picked up the stack of papers she had been reading when Y’Draesk arrived, and continued where she left off.
Furthermore, the witness claimed the assailant was some kind of wolf man, walking on two legs, with 2 foot long claws, and poison dripping from its jaws. Its eye glowed with an unholy light. She ran while it killed the other man, the one who had attacked her.
She flipped to the next page, and then the next.
It was a werewolf! I was lucky to escape with my life! I fled while it gorged itself on another innocent bystander!
She continued flipping through several pages of ink-stained parchment, all filled with statements given to the City Watch by survivors and witnesses of a series of brutal murders that apparently occurred over the past few months. Several statements were given by the deceased.
Who killed you? I don’t know.
What killed you? A werewolf.
Why? I don’t know.
She turned impatiently to final sheet in the packet. It is written in a different hand, and signed with the stamp of an official City Watch Inspector.
This is the eleventh such corroborating report we have received. Many of those killed were criminals in their own right, and even the surviving witnesses are largely an unsavory bunch of people. However, the possibility that a werewolf is hunting unchecked in our city can no longer be ignored.
I am aware that one of your associates is familiar with the affliction of lycanthropy, and was hoping that you or he might be able to shed some light on the habits, strengths and weaknesses of the average werewolf. It is only a matter of time before the Watch comes into contact with the killer, and we must be prepared.
I remain your dutiful servant,
Inspector Austenial Silverspear
Eqximiye reached up to rub her temples. She could feel the headache, pounding lightly now against her skull. “Son of a bitch!” she cursed, feelingly.
That evening, she sat curled in a chair, her feet tucked under her, enjoying a glass of feywine with Kelroth. It was a rare occurrence that these two should have an evening to spend speaking of nothing but childhood memories and cherished dreams. After laughing together as Kelroth reminisced about a prank he and Tirmirian played on their teacher, Belroth Carnen, he grew pensive.
“What is it, Kel?”
“I was just thinking about Port Dawn.”
“What of it?”
“I was thinking of Sir Tanis again. Wondering what happened to him.” Kelroth stares glumly into his wine. “We have lost too many good men, stalwart defenders of our people. What if he lives somewhere, captured and perhaps tortured? What if he fell? It isn’t fair that he should have no burial. It isn’t fair.”
“I know you liked him.” Eqximiye said quietly, without inflection.
“You didn’t.” It wasn’t a question.
She sighed heavily. “I would rather have said that he never liked me. It’s hard to like someone determined to dislike you before you ever meet.”
Kelroth’s jaw tightened. “He had…has reason.”
“No. Telandir Ellanta has reason. Tanis Vale has none.”
“Except his friendship with Telandir Ellanta.” Kelroth said pointedly, before draining his glass. Their eyes met for a long moment.
“Point taken.” She looked away first.
“Is there any news of Surian?” asked Kelroth grimly.
She shook her head. “None of my people have heard word of him, nor had any success scrying on him.” She drained her glass and stood, looking out the tall window towards Silmerhos Bay. She refilled her glass, never taking her eyes from the horizon. Slowly, she turned and refilled Kelroth’s glass as well. For a time, they drank in companionable silence.
“Do you think he’s dead?” Kelroth asked.
“Surian? No, I don’t.” she said quietly. He gave her a hard look, but decided not to press the issue.
“What next?” she asked lightly, after a pause.
“I leave for Greycliff in the morning. Keep me appraised of any news regarding Surian or Vale. I will not rest until I know their fates. I need to get things in order there, and then I will be in touch. Celethor has a few tasks for me.”
He stood and drained his glass one final time, bowed and placed his glass on the table. “Good night, cousin.”
“Good night, Kel.”
After Kelroth left, she remained sitting in silence, looking out the window. Her thoughts turned inward, she considered the events of an evening not too long ago…
Y’Draesk was standing in her office, leaning against one wall, frowning at her.
“I have something to tell you.”
“Do you remember my friend Surian? Elrohir Surian?”
“I’m hardly likely to forget, with Kelroth breathing down my neck wanting me to locate him.
“Well, we have a problem.”
Eqximiye frowned, and gestured for him to continue.
“You know I went to the Hoarder’s Club with a friend last night.”
“Right. A friend. Angelina?” Y’Draesk glared at her. “Not Angelina?”
“So…a different friend, then?”
“Are you done?”
“Done? I’ve barely started, but we’ll set it aside for now. Please, do go on.”
“She said she had a surprise for me.” He paused, and Eqximiye raised her eyebrows expressively, but said nothing. “It was Surian. He sends his regards.”
There was a moment of silence, so complete it led Y’Draesk to reflect on the phrase dead silence. Then, finally, Eqximiye spoke.
“What the fuck do you mean, it was Surian?” she hissed. “What the fuck do you mean he sends his regards? What regards?”
“We kind of… sprung him at Port Dawn. There was a bit of trouble.” He paused, but Eqximiye had fallen silent once again.
“Tanis Vale almost caught him. Surian killed him and dumped his body in the bay.” She stared at him uncomprehendingly for a moment. She opened her mouth to speak, and then closed it again. She took a deep breath, and tried again.
“A bit of trouble.” She squeaked. She cleared her throat and tried again. “Drae, are you seriously telling me that you killed Sir Tanis Vale in cold blood, while freeing a man that Kelroth arrested, and dumped his remains in the bay?”
“No, no, I said Surian did it. It’s not my fault!” Her nostrils flared in response.
“Kelroth is going to go spare.” She said faintly. “Sweet Correllon, what a disaster.”
“We’re seriously screwed on this one,” Y’Draesk agreed heartily.
“We?” she asked sharply.
“Um yeah, that’s the other thing. Since I am, ahem, The Speaker’s Cur, Surian and his new friends assumed that you and I planned this together. That’s why he sends his regards.”
“What new friends?”
“Um, apparently he fled to Lëiore, where certain people are hiding him. He’s going to help them train a fighting force loyal to them. They now pledge you their support, in light of these events.” He grimaced as he said it.
“What new friends, Drae?”
“They call themselves the Arrows of Correllon.”
“Gods above and below, Kelroth is going to kill us both.” She closed her eyes. “Son of a bitch!”
Part II: Canine Conspiracies
Eqximiye hesitated before knocking on Nique’s door. From inside, she could hear the sounds of three women laughing and giggling. Then someone squealed. “HAHAHA! That tickles!”
Eqximiye smiled to herself and knocked briskly on the door.
“Who’s there?” called out Nique breathlessly.
“Oh! Come in if you like.”
Eqximiye opened the door and stepped into the room. Nique was lounging across several cushions and her friend the nymph, Laire. Seluna, the lillend, was partially curled on a long, low settee. She was reaching out with one wing and tickling her friends with her primaries. None of the three were dressed.
“I apologize for disturbing you,” said Eqximiye.
“Nonsense. You are our hostess. You are always welcome to join us,” replied Nique, sending her friends into fits of giggles.
“You are too kind. I confess I have come to ask for aid.”
Nique’s eyes opened wide, and she sat up quickly. “Aid? Of…of course.”
“Are you familiar with an item known as a Ring of the Valiant?”
“This is the ring that manifests various enchanted silver weapons at Y’Draesk’s command, is it not?”
“Correct.” The Speaker nodded.
“What of it?”
“I have recently become aware that Y’Draesk’s ring has been cursed. An evil spirit has invaded the ring and seeks to control his bearer.”
Laire sat up as well, crying out, “Nique, this is dreadful! You must help!” She bounced up and down on the cushions in agitation.
Nique nodded. “Of course I will help,” she said decisively, stroking Laire’s hair comfortingly. “What do you know of this evil spirit?”
“Little enough yet. It calls itself Ashenthorn, and is the spirit of a nightmare. Previously, it was bound to an Obsidian Steed statue. When the statue was destroyed, it took shelter in the ring. My hope is to banish it, allowing Y’Draesk to keep his ring, which is a useful weapon. If that fails, we may have to remove the ring by force.”
“Can he not remove the ring?” asked Selune.
“No, he is not able to remove the ring.”
“Is this curse a result of the possession?” interjected Laire.
“No. The Ring of the Valiant has always been thus.”
Nique frowned. “This requires further research. You realize that in order to remove the ring, we may have to remove the finger.”
“I am aware of that possibility. I hope to avoid it.”
“How quickly do you need answers?”
“I am not going to rush matters until I know more. I also need to enlist the aid of a cleric. I have been unable to contact Fo’wyn, so must soon travel to the Isle of the Moon to seek out Leone Ashenfell.”
“We will assist as we may. If we discover anything useful Nique will come to you,” Seluna stated firmly.
”In turn, I will keep you apprised of any new information I obtain.”
“Agreed. Until next we meet.”
Eqximiye departed, satisfied with Nique’s promise of aid. Over the next few days, she held similar discussions with Thangil, Quingle and Umbrecrom, in the hopes that their combined resources could solve Y’Draesk’s prickly problem.
Thwack, thwack, thwack, swish. Eqximiye paced up and down her small office. It was exactly three steps from the north wall to the south wall. The Speaker had recently returned from an unfruitful trip to the Isle of the Moon. Neither Fo’wyn nor Leone was in residence, and Morran Tel Kittoren was indisposed.
Thwack, thwack, thwack, swish. Thwack, thwack…
Suddenly, she stopped. She rolled her eyes at the ceiling and slapped her palm over her face in irritation. Then, she turned and swiftly exited the room. She moved hastily through the palace corridors, bypassing various councilors and functionaries, until she passed into a wide courtyard. The ground beneath her feet was covered in marble, which occasionally erupted into a low table with benches, seemingly grown rather than made. Moving around a large tree, she finally spotted her quarry.
A tall grey elven man sat at one of the marble tables, seemingly meditating. As she approached, he looked up, and carelessly brushed his multi-colored hair out of his dispirited blue eyes.
“Lady Carlack,” he said formally, rising to bow gracefully. “It is a pleasure to see you here today. Is this a chance meeting, or were you looking for me?”
She smiled in response. “Erenion, I have told you to call me Eqximiye. There is no need for such decorum.”
He shrugged in reply. “Old habits die hard, I suppose.” His gaze drifted sadly towards a splendid oak tree, straight and tall. He stopped and shook himself, returning sharply to the present. “How may I be of service to the Speaker of the Eldar?”
“Let us walk together,” Eqximiye suggested. He shrugged in response, and gallantly offered his arm. She accepted and the two began to meander through the maze of tables and greenery.
“I have come to ask a question of you,” she said simply.
“It may be that I have an answer, of sorts,” came the reply. “I have seen and done much in my years.”
“What do you know of…possession?” At the question, Erenion paused in surprise, but then continued walking.
“Of all possible topics, I confess you have surprised me.” He fell silent for a few moments, considering. When it seemed she would speak, he held up one hand, and she fell silent.
Finally, he spoke, “I know many things…and more about this topic than I would prefer. Why do you ask this? I cannot believe it mere chance.”
“Not chance,” replied Eqximiye. “Fate.” She stopped and looked at Erenion, her eyes burning through him, assessing his strength and wisdom, even as she leaned on his arm. “You see, it is for Y’Draesk that I am here.”
The two spoke for several hours, comparing magical and divine lore, and eventually found themselves seated on a marble bench at the far end of the courtyard.
“An anti-magic field should allow him to remove the ring,” postulated Erenion. “But from then on, we must contain it.”
“The cursed thing could just find its way back to him, unless we find a new wielder. Such curses are devilishly hard to break. I am by no means sure that a Banishment spell would force it out of the item. We must be certain.”
“Devilishly hard?” chuckled Erenion. “My friend, I believe you have made a joke.”
“A weak and feeble one,” sighed the lady, resting her head on one hand dejectedly. “I do not know how to bring our power to bear on Ashenthorn himself.”
“On Ashenthorn…himself…” said Erenion slowly, eyes widening. His gaze snapped to her fiercely. “Is Yestamir still in residence?”
The next day, in the latter part of the morning, Eqximiye emerged from her office. Rille, as always, was seated at a desk in the antechamber, working on various reports.
“Lady Carlack,” he said, bowing low. “Good morning to you.”
“Good morning, Rille,” she replied. “I need to know who is in the palace.”
He looked confused. “Everyone?”
“No, not everyone,” she said humorously. “Specifically, which of my friends from the Raptors and the Shards are in the palace today?”
“Ah. Of course.” Rille hesitated and then bowed again. “If I may be excused Lady, I will obtain that information for you.”
“Rille,” she called as he sped from the room, “invite them all to join me for lunch.”
Eqximiye sat at a large table, with Quingle on her left, and Y’Draesk on her right. Thangil and Umbrecrom sat further down the table, eating with gusto. Erenion wandered in an out of the room, seemingly at random, entering various conversations momentarily before drifting away again. When Nique finally arrived, she wasn’t alone. At her shoulder was a small fey…a pixie.
“Greetings! I am Juniper of the Grey,” the pixie announced, bowing grandly before Eqximiye. “Are you my Hostess?”
“Welcome to Fennas Ëar, Juniper of the Grey.” Eqximiye said formally. “Would you care for something to eat?”
“No, thank you, I have already eaten,” came the reply.
“Perhaps some wine then?”
“Yes, thank you,” said the diminutive woman. Eqximiye poured a small glass of lorien for her new guest, who began to sip it appreciatively. Juniper took the opportunity to question the elves about certain friends of her from Court.
Before the conversation could progress further, Erenion walked calmly up to the small fae saying “Oh my, look at that!” As he pointed over her shoulder with one hand, he cast Detect Evil with the other. The pixie drew herself up sharply and hissed in offense. “How dare you!” Erenion shrugged carelessly, and poured himself a glass of lorien.
“It is nothing more than I expect from a servant of such an undependable Lord,” she sneered, tossing her hair over her shoulder in disdain as she looked at Erenion. Suddenly, everyone was talking at once.
Eqximiye stiffened, saying coldly, “I beg your pardon? Are you speaking of my patron?” At the same moment, Y’Draesk leaped up in outrage, crying out “What do you mean by that?” Thangil and Umbrecrom both pushed back from the table hastily and made for the door.
Juniper blinked and quickly reassessed the temper in the room, which was considerably less friendly. Realizing she had insulted her hostess, she made a hasty apology and withdrew, to try again later.
After the pixie’s departure, Thangil and Umbrecrom slid back into the room, checking for evidence of violence. They were followed closely by Yestamir. Erenion clapped his psionic friend firmly on the shoulder and looked into his eyes. They both turned and nodded to Eqximiye. “We’re ready,” said Erenion.
Eqximiye turned to Nique, who gave her a half-hearted nod. Umbrecrom and Thangil both gave her a thumbs up sign. Quingle carefully placed his napkin on the table. “Ready,” he said simply.
“What’s going on?” said Y’Draesk with a frown. Yestamir approached the table quickly, coming around on the right side where Y’Draesk was seated. Eqximiye turned to look at him. She reached out with her right hand and laid it over his left one.
“Do you trust me?” she asked gravely. Y’Draesk’s eyes widened as Yestamir stopped in front of him, reached out psychically and invaded his mind. As he lost consciousness, he heard the whisper of a woman’s voice saying, “I wish this spell will work.”
Y’Draesk’s body seized as Yestamir’s presence burst inside his consciousness, grabbing hold of some indefinable essence inside, and twisting sharply. Less than a second later, the party appeared inside a harsh and unforgiving landscape.
They stood on the inner plane of a large thorny ring. Past the curve of the horizon was burning light, as though something large was ablaze. A voice echoed throughout the space in which they stood.
“You dare! You dare to invade me! ME?!” The very floor began to burn beneath their feet. Immediately, Erenion began casting, protecting everyone from the elements. The air grew thick with smoke, and clouds of ash began to flow towards the group from all directions. Ashenthorn was nowhere to be seen.
Umbrecrom opened his pack and poured holy water on the ground, provoking a scream of pain, as the mist coalesced around them. Several members of the group saw nebulous figures moving steadily forward through the steamy, vaporous landscape. The spellcasters took the opportunity to cast various spells of protection, as the heat intensified. The party realized that the figures in the fog were illusion, just as Yestamir realized that his body was under attack.
The combat, which was happening at the speed of thought inside the mind of the nightmare Ashenthorn, did not preclude events happening in the real world. The bodies of Yestamir, Eqximiye, Nique, Quingle, Thangil and Umbrecrom had gone slack, as their spirits did battle with the hellish fiend. Y’Draesk’s body, however, was moving. His hand was slowly raising towards Yestamir.
Inside the mindscape, the thorns began whipping back and forth, attacking people. The party members screamed and the thorns tore through their flesh. In retribution, Quingle and Eqximiye began casting spells at the ground beneath their feet, mimicking Umbrecrom’s earlier success. Sadly, these attacks did not avail them.
In desperation, Erenion cast a powerful divine spell called recall agony at the ground. Pain wracked through Ashenthorn and the beast shrieked in agony. Regrettably, so did everyone else, as they were forced to live through the destruction of its former home. As the spell ended and the group stood panting and shivering, Erenion determined it would be best if he didn’t cast that particular spell again in this environment.
At that moment, Yestamir, realizing the attempt was doomed unless they defeated the evil spirit quickly, teleported the group to the opposite side of the ring. There, Thangil spotted Ashenthorn above them. The group immediately began their attack. Ashenthorn retaliated violently, while in the real world Y’Draesk’s hand came level with Yestamir’s right eye. The ring began to change, a point starting to form outward, as the tip of a spear.
Eqximiye, seeing the fiend cried out “Lucien protocol!” Immediately, the group sprang into action. Eqximiye cast another wishing spell, and said clearly, “I wish Ashenthorn fails to resist the next spell cast against it.” Erenion quickly cast a spell to lower the creature’s natural magic resistance, if indeed it had any. Finally, Quingle cast a disintegration spell at the nightmare. Thangil continued his barrage of arrows and Umbrecrom prepared to bull rush the enemy.
Ashenthorn gathered its strength, and began casting a spell of its own. Quingle recognized the spell and immediately responded with a counter-spell. This was fortunate, as Ashenthorn’s intent was to magically flee the area, forcing the friends to take more damage from the heat and smoke as they searched for its hiding place. Since the spell failed, the devil prepared another attack.
Finally, as spells and arrows showered down on Ashenthorn, it gave a fierce and despairing cry. Yestamir, realizing their foe was destroyed, quickly grabbed hold of the group and transported them back out of the Y’Draesk’s mind and back into their own bodies.
Y’Draesk stood next to the table, trapped in an interminable moment. Realizing he could move, he looked around at his friends in shock.
“We have defeated Ashenthorn, Drae.” Eqximiye said softly. He turned wildly to look at her, and then stared down at his hand for a moment, where the Ring of the Valiant rested on his finger, the spear tip created by Ashenthorn already vanished back into the ring.
Suddenly, he shifted into his hybrid werewolf form and pushed his way out of the room. He sprinted madly through the palace yelling, “He’s gone, I’m free! Free! I’m Free!”
Back at the table, the Speaker of the Eldar poured herself a slightly larger than normal glass of lorien and toasted her co-conspirators. “Well done, everyone,” she said softly. “Many thanks to you all.”