1201, The Year of Embers

At length, Yave was convinced that retrieving her gruesome gift was the only way to save the family’s honor. When it suited his needs, Joneleth was very compelling. Velemir was not sure it was the wisest course of action but kept his doubts to himself, as he realized that Jon was set upon his chosen path, and would not tolerate any interference. Truly told, the moon elf was in a kind of frenzy, not unlike the one that came over him when he was possessed with one of his more reckless sciential ideas. Once that mood came over him, Velemir recalled, it was impossible to argue, as even a mild remark diverging from his opinion would be met with an angry snarl and an icy stare.

Entering the RoyalPalace without being apprehended by the guards was a tricky business, although possible for a mage of Jon’s talent and skill in the Art. There were few spells of the IllusionSchool that he did not know, or could not master on short notice, albeit they still required time for preparation. And time was something they did not have at the moment. But most importantly – they had no idea where the many gifts sent to Ellesime were kept, once inside the royal residence. Yave’s unfaithful lover, Keth’roen Thistleleaf, could have been very useful in this situation, as he was the captain of one of the guards companies belonging to the Clan currently in charge of queen’s protection. But of course, he was unavailable.

Velemir did not understand that business very well but from Joneleth’s and Yave’s brief explanations, he gathered that the command structure of the copper elves military force was rather chaotic and Clan-based, with each House competing with all of the others for the queen’s favor. It looked like the only way to keep them all happy was to rotate the commanders in charge, and the contingent of her personal guard on a quarterly basis, so that every Clan had an honor of royal service in their turn. Usually the best of the Clan’s capable warriors were assigned to defend the queen. In this manner, the guard companies were kept in a good fighting shape and never got tired of their duties. On top of it, Ellesime had military advisers in charge of the overall coordination between the individual Clans. These were appointed by her own choice, which gave her almost unlimited power over the elven militia.

"There is one person in Keth’s unit who maybe willing to help," Yave muttered reluctantly. "His name is Ryndeth, Ryndeth Elmbow. He is only a friend ... but a good one."

"Let’s hope that he is loyal enough to help you in your time of need. And by the Gods! I don’t care if he is a friend or another beau, as soon as he gets me into the Palace and inside the gifts’ vault."

"But Jon, you cannot simply take the parcel, and remove the finger with the ring. Surely it is already entered in the palace’s accounting books." Velemir said reasonably. "Sooner or later someone would notice it is missing."

"Trust the merchant’s son to notice such an obvious blunder on my part!" Jon looked at him with approval, and poor Vel was not sure if he should puff with pride or feel humiliation of the subtle insult. Joneleth was often like this, and his words almost always bore the second meaning.

"I think I have the solution, my boy. I can only wish that the other part was that simple. The Queen will receive a small gift from her most loyal subject. Yave, I hope you can write a small note expressing your feelings. And I know just the thing that would do. Wait for me here."

A quick flash of long fingers, and he was gone, disappearing almost instantly under the cloak of the invisibility spell. "You must realize that Mother should be kept ignorant of the whole affair," his cool, detached voice said from the empty air.

They waited for him in the soft darkness of the night that stealthily ascended on the city while they were talking. The lute music was no longer flowing in the night air, and the family treehouse looked strangely abandoned, as the only small light on the upper floor was coming from the lady Nyonin’s bedchamber. She must have grown tired of waiting, and retreated to her quarters, Vel thought guiltily. Joneleth came back in awhile, and quickly shed the concealing magic like a discarded garment.

"What is it?" Velemir nodded at the small pouch in his friend’s hands. Then he almost choked with sudden recognition. "You cannot mean to give away this! It is Luewyn’s birthday gift, is it not?"

"So it is." Jon pulled the strings open, and produced a small piece of jewelry, shining softly in his hand like a forlorn star fallen from heavens. It was a cloak clasp, wrought from silver wire in a shape of half-open flower bud, and beset with a constellation of flawlessly polished moonstones.

"It is perfect..." Yave muttered in admiration. "Did you make it yourself?"

"Of course not! What do you take me for – a silversmith?" Jon retorted angrily, as if ashamed to be caught possessing something so exquisitely impractical. "I only drew the design, and added a finishing touch of magic. The moonstones enhance one’s affinity to the School> of Divination. This trinket has a subtle spell woven into it that can be activated once per day. It allows you to divine the whereabouts of one person if they are close enough. Lu always wanted a bauble like this, though it looks like she would have to go without it this time." The moon elf smiled pensively, and Velemir decided that he did not look particularly sorry or displeased, rather - dreamy and wistful.

Vel sighed, and wished that his heart would stop lurching from some deeply unsettling premonition. Their task was going to be difficult enough even with Yave’s friend help. But surely, nothing bad could come out of it, as everything was working out for the best. After all, Joneleth was in love with the queen, and this whole ordeal was a perfect opportunity for him to declare his feelings.

Velemir could never forget that night. The shadowy, whispering mass of trees crowned with the fantastic structure of the Royal Palace bespangled with multitude of tiny lights caught in the ethereal weave of elven architectural magic, loomed before them as a veritable island in the hazy sea of summer night. It was an assembly of fragile turrets, arched galleries, and gilded ornamental metalwork that adorned every balcony and every doorframe of the elaborate edifice. Somehow, the SuldanesselarPalace reminded Vel of a giant anthill, built by fastidious workers to protect the most precious of their treasures – the queen. Except of course, it was not an ugly pile of sticks and pine needles but a magnificent example of elven naturalistic architecture, characterized by smooth, harmonious curves of the individual towers that clung to, and spiraled above the supporting tree trunks, blending with the trees into an inseparable whole, creating a living, breathing entity that was also a habitable building.

Yave left them at the obscure little platform, clinging to the northern side of the Palace that was adjacent to the guards’ barracks, and the servant’s quarters. She soon reappeared, followed by a spindly youth, who was wearing a familiar leather outfit of an elven guard, and carrying a short spear decorated with feathers and carved with his clan totemic designs. His smooth, bronze cheeks and brow were tattooed with the same blue-green swirls, bolts, and spirals. Velemir decided that if these tattoos were supposed to give the young elf a fiercer appearance they failed in their purpose, for the boy looked even more confused than Yave herself. His grey-green eyes were wide and weary, his lips set into a stern line of disapproval. However, if Ryndeth (that was how the young elf was presented to them by Yave who was anxious to have the introductions done quickly) hoped to have his say on the subject of their mission, it was a futile aspiration. Jon was in a highly excited state, his movements sharp and precise, his voice empowered with that mesmerizing tone of command that was impossible to disobey. Velemir glanced into his friend’s transfixed eyes, and for the first time tonight felt truly scared. Joneleth looked like he was drunk with a concentrated desire, oblivious to anything that could stand on his way, and lost to any logical appeal or consideration.

Whatever lies or half-truths Yave had told her companion, they were sufficient to bring him here, and from that point forth the young elf was lost, completely overwhelmed and enthralled by the pure power of Joneleth’s personality. Vel listened with his mouth open, wondering idly if that was how he himself looked when being seduced into participating in yet another insane experiment, or into testing one more of Jon’s wild arcane theories. When the two elves departed together, Velemir and Yave were left behind to await their dubious return, and ponder over many unanswered questions and terrifying possibilities. And although their parting was brief and sensible, Velemir had time to notice that Yave’s cheeks became pink when she haltingly thanked Ryndeth for help.

The half-elf sighed, wondering idly if he was forever doomed to play the role of an impersonal witness to others’ passions. Most of the time Vel did not mind it, but sometimes he felt a strange longing when thinking of all the stupid, dangerous things his friends did to feed their obsessions. Jon of course, was the first example that sprang to his mind. The moon elf looked so cold and logical to a casual observer, as to seem untouchable by any strong feelings or destructive emotions; yet inside he was burning with fervor that frightened Velemir to an extreme. Joneleth’s obsession with Ellesime that was revealed so remarkably in the latest affair was only a tip of an iceberg. The fatally dangerous bulk of those emotions was hidden from a careless eye under the deep, cold waters of Jon’s self-control. Vel remembered the strange conversation he had had with Lady Nyonin in one of the first days of his stay in Suldanesselar.

"I am glad Joneleth found you," Jon’s mother said casually, upon finding him alone in the library one evening. "I was scared for him for before he befriended you, he had no scale to measure up to his own mortality. Perhaps I am still worried, for he thinks that the boundaries imposed upon us by the Gods are something put there to test our merit, not to protect us from what lays beyond."

"I don’t understand you my lady," he mumbled blushing to the roots of his dark, curly hair. "Truly, I am very fond of Jon but I am afraid I cannot protect him from himself."

"You don’t have to," she shook her head with a reassuring smile. "Just be there for him, and hopefully that will be enough."

Velemir remembered it now, wishing he could understand her better, but perhaps her words were not meant to be understood at all, but merely acknowledged as given.

He shook his head in frustration and tried to imagine how Joneleth and his guide were crawling along the shadowy corridors of the Palace to their secret goal, avoiding the guard’s posts and occasional servants that at this hour would be busily cleaning away the mess left after the day’s festivities. He remembered the subdued opulence of the throne room, with its elegant furnishings, and grass green carpeting, and the winter garden filled with a song of ever bubbling fountains. Ellesime must be running her little forest kingdom very efficiently, he thought, if she could afford all that luxury. Or else, her resources were as exoteric as her heritage. The rich wares of the Suldanesselar Trade Quarter spoke for the former rather than the latter, and Jon had mentioned many small farms and a rural village or two nested inside the borders of the mythal, which supplied the city with all the needed produce. It was the queen’s duty to care for the safety of Suldanesselar and her lands, and to maintain the favorable trade relationship with her neighbors. Judging by the city’s prosperity, Ellesime was excelling at her job. The queen was a wise ruler, and a paragon of unearthly beauty. And she was an immortal half-goddess by birthright.

"How can so many virtues reside so firmly in the body of one woman?" Vel wondered admiringly. No wonder Joneleth was so besotted. But he deserved her, for he was no less gifted with arcane talent, even without the additional advantage of divine heritage. "If the Seldarine are willing, she would love him in return," he thought mellowly. "And maybe, everything will turn out for the best, for she is wiser than me, and would be able to understand his thirst for breaking the limits of mundane perception, and take care of him much better than I ever could."

So engrossed was he into these obscure speculations, and romantic dreams of his own, that he did not notice the passage of time, and was utterly surprised when Jon’s warm hand landed on his shoulder. It was very late. Yave was crying softly in her young friend’s hands, hiccupping like a small child, while Ryndeth was murmuring the shallow words of admonishment into her ears. Velemir raised his head to ask the obvious question but the triumphant smile on Joneleth’s face spoke for itself.

"It is done," the moon elf said quietly. "Let’s get out of here quick."

"What about the ring?" Vel asked curiously. "What are you going to do with it?"

"Ah," Jon nodded thoughtfully. "We shall speak of it later. Yave, are you coming with us now?" She only shook her head defiantly, and her young companion gathered her tighter to his chest. "Women," Jon muttered with a lazy smirk. "All this tragedy over something as simple as a pair of warm hands around her waist. I hope you will find the consolation you need, Yave. Ryn," he nodded to the young elf, "it was a pleasure meeting you." The boy flashed him a wary glance, muttering the words of goodbye, and the young couple was gone, lost in the shadows surrounding the Palace grounds.

"We should follow their example and head home," Joneleth suggested wearily. "I have another sister to confront on the morrow, and it is not going to be nearly as easy."

"I gather – she is not getting the ring back?" Vel inquired as they treaded the rope bridge on their way home.

"Not if I have something to say about it. I do not intend to make a hobby of breaking into the RoyalPalace after dark."

"Oh, I am sure you would prefer to visit it on a more legitimate basis," Velemir could not stop himself from muttering but if Jon have heard anything, he did not show it.

The house was eerie empty as they made their way to Jon’s studio. The dispatching of the ring and the finger was done swiftly and thoroughly. As the older elf finished chanting the incantations, Velemir saw the blackened digit burst into flames. The silver band followed, melted into an ugly lump of white metal speckled with red stones. But even that was not enough for Jon, and he finished the destruction by evaporating the silver nugget into nothing with yet another burst of magic.

"It is done." He concluded tiredly. "Now, I suppose you would want to retire for the night, and I need to meditate over what had transpired today. It is growing so late that soon it is going to be early. Sleep well, and I shall see you in the morning. I advise you not to discuss the subject with anybody, especially Bodhi when you next see her."

But in the morning, Joneleth was not in the house anymore. When Velemir came down, Lady Nyonin greeted him with her usual calm smile, and a cordial invitation to the breakfast table. Once he inquired about Jon, she informed him that he was already gone, departing even before sunrise. "I suspect he went to visit the Tree again," she added as an afterthought. "He and Bodhi had a disagreement, and I don’t expect him back until afternoon. He used to go there often, when he was in that mood."


From the odd, undated, yellow parchment stained with obscure fluids

Hollow shells of emotions, pitiful scraps of former passions, and rage burning brighter than furnaces of the Abyss – is it all that remains of my former self? Maybe the question should be worded differently. Do I even care to preserve what is left? It is often said that a written word possesses a magic of its own. If a gang of paupers in painted sackcloth and gilded cardboard can recreate the fall of a kingdom, and make crowds weep with chimerical sorrow or laugh with fabricated joy, so can a procession of odd black symbols marching across a blank page in the ridiculous dance of cursive. The mere process of dragging an inked quill over a pristine surface of vellum should help me summon amorphous ghosts of feelings that are more than dead – reduced to dust and ashes. I would settle for these as a beggar, who is grateful for leftovers of a royal dinner. I had tried everything, and still my memories are fading faster than a thin sheet of snow in a high desert. But if there is one instance of my past life that I want to preserve in the failing grasp of consciousness like a desiccated body of an ambered fly in its translucent grave, or an imprint of a strange prehistoric fish in a piece of crumbling shale, it is that long forgotten morning in the shade of the Tree of Life.

Why I came there in the early morning hour was unclear even to myself. My brief visit to the city of my birth caused nay but trouble, bringing discord and discontent to the family, and a stinging bitter disappointment to my heart. It was time to withdraw, carefully retracing my steps back to the cold halls of the MagicAcademy, and later to the remote peaceful glades of Evermeet. Yet I lingered, restless and unsure in my mind, and drawn to the source of my weakness like an addict to the weed of his choice. I sat between the coils of the Old Man’s roots with my back to his trunk, sensing the rough hardness of the ancient grey bark through the thin fabric of my shirt. As always, it was a strange experience. The flow of primordial energy spread from the spine into my limbs and my weary head, bringing with it the calming sense of security, and perfect clarity. Perhaps, that was exactly what I sought from the Tree, when I left the house in a flash of anger after another senseless confrontation with Bodhi.

The Old Man was always a bit of a mystery. The legends told that it stood there, on the fifth Hill of Suldanesselar, from the time before the first nomadic tribes of the People came to Faerun and populated the vast forests of Wealdath, conquering the land from the grasp of fire-breathing dragons, and brutal hill giants. Suldanesselar was built around the Tree, spreading over the hills that surrounded its humongous trunk, and growing profusely inside the protective shell of the mythal like a lush exotic plant inside a glass dome. Every child born in the city and her lands could feel the Tree and its protective powers on the deeply ingrained, innate level. It was something taken for granted, and thus never wondered about, or considered unusual. Yet, after almost twenty years outside the mythal, I felt a stirring curiosity that was not there before my rushed departure and almost reluctant return. I remembered that my first act upon entering the city was to come and see the Old Man, as if I was drawn there by an invisible but powerful force. And the very first person I met after spending hours meditating among the waving, whispering branches was Ellesime... I was dreaming of her up there, unconsciously channeling the essence of my desire for her into invisible energy threads that always emanated from the Tree, like tendrils of smoke and cascades of sparks from a bonfire. Perhaps the Old Man heard me, and summoned her by some unknown means? Possibly, they shared a link on some deeper, mystical level. She was, after all, the daughter of the Great Oak.

Maybe the Tree of Life and the Queen were inseparable, entwined like the two aspects of a mysterious dual deity? The bright beacon of power, burning on the inner landscape of my mind with the ferocity of a supernova, and the immortal green and golden goddess, whose mere presence in the same room with me set every inch of my skin on fire, and drove me numb with passion and despair. It was pure madness, and yet it had a consistency of an old, time-honored nightmare. I must have been in love with her ever since I could consciously remember myself. Although at first, these dreams were simple fantasies of an adolescent elf coming into an age of desires. To think of it, every youngster in the City of Trees was in love with the queen at one time or another. But with me it did not run its course with the passage of time, rather grew deeper and more turbulent, eventually forcing me to seek a cure by putting enough distance between me and the object of my passion. It was a wise decision for one taken by a green youth, and it gave me twenty years of respite and contemplation away from Suldanesselar. Unfortunately, it never brought me peace. I was now certain that Ellesime would never love me in return, and that after yesterday’s hasty and reckless move with a personal gift presented in a bag marked with the house insignia, she may even consider me a boorish lout, deserving of her royal displeasure. Although more likely she would laugh over it in the embrace of her current lover...

I sat there contemplating my misery, and pondering over the best way to retreat from the dangerous situation, without causing any more trouble to the family. They were not responsible for my indiscretions, although Bodhi had a share of her own that were no less dangerous, albeit less conspicuous. It had to be done smoothly, yet in a timely manner, so that the rumors would die away faster than the prejudice against the House Ithilnien will take root in the public mind. A shadow felt across my knees, and as I raised my eyes, Ellesime’s smiling face floated into the field of my vision.

"Amin mela lle,"> was all she told me, bowing to touch my lips with the tip of her finger.

I could hear the hurricane of blood ringing in my ears, reflecting from every blade of grass and grain of sand under my feet, from every trembling leaf in the Old Man’s crown. Her fingers ran through my hair, caressed my cheek, and moved to the sensitive tips of my ears. She bent her knees gracefully, and lowered herself into my lap, cupping my stunned face in her small, elegant hands. My face was burning under her cool touch.

"Amin mela lle,"> whispered her lips moving across my skin with reckless abundance.

I was gasping under her hands, unable to breathe or twitch a muscle in my feverish stupor. She laughed and placed my palms on her shoulders, urging me to move them lower. I tried to open my lips and match her earnest admission but was afraid to stir, unsure that any move, however subtle, would not disrupt the fantastic dream that had obviously descended on me, when I fell asleep under the Tree...

"Amin mela lle,"> said her eyes as her hands snaked under my tunic.

The last thing I remember, before the golden cloud of her hair veiled my eyes, and her fragrant lips found mine, were two emerald eyes sparkling with delight through the dark net of her lashes. The world ebbed and abated around us; its colors ran and fluxed into an amorphous nebula. The time stopped, the morning collapsed into a single point of light, sharp as a pinhole.


The text is distorted by a violent stroke of a pen that tore through the parchment.


1201, The Year of Embers

Two nights before that fateful kiss under the Tree of Life, a soft breeze blew from the south, bringing with it a subtle fragrance of jasmine, nutmeg, and another, more dangerous and exotic note, as a pair of young lovers threaded grassy paths of the ancient forest. They walked together, tangled in a passionate embrace. The night was velvety soft and moonless, but the silver light of many stars in the sky reflected merrily from the slow black waters of the river, and that was sufficient to define their path, since their night vision was excellent as befitted the elven race. Her lover’s hands caressed the curves of her hips and the perfect domes of her breasts, as they strolled along the grass-covered bank of SuldanesseRiver. Upon reaching a particularly inviting spot, the elf maiden smiled seductively, and deliberately kissed her companion on the mouth, as if daring him to answer with the same ardor. He laughed and stopped by the dense clump of willows and black elders, pulling her closer. She raised her hands and took the hairpins out of her raven-black locks one by one, letting her hair cascade down her milky white shoulders. They tumbled on the ground, without bothering to remove their garments (that were not very copious to begin with), and soon she was moaning eagerly, visibly enjoying the act of their ardent lovemaking.

"Did I please you, a’mael?" the young wood elf asked his paramour after they satiated their passion, and lay in each other’s embrace entangled in rumpled folds of their clothes, and fragrant grasses. The night smelled of river water and crushed sagebrush.

"What a question to ask a girl," she said mockingly, caressing his smooth tattooed chest. "Of course you did, silly boy. But Keth, I have summoned you tonight for something more serious than mere pleasures of flesh. Though of course, I enjoyed that part very much," she added seeing his discontent.

"What is it, vanima?" The young warrior asked petulantly. "You still love me, Bodhi, or do you? Your sister ran into me today, and tried to convince me that you don’t."

"And what did you tell her?" The elf woman’s voice sounded troubled, and her lover grinned proudly, deciding that she was jealous.

"That it was all over between us." He answered smugly. "That I always loved you, a’mael. Even when I was with her."

"Amada!" She cried out in genuine irritation. "I mean... Yave was foolish enough to assume that you would desert me so easily." Bodhi looked at her young lover with an indecipherable expression, and her bright blue eyes glowed with strange inner radiance. "I want you to be kind to my little sister, Keth. I am worried about her. And besides ... she may yet get me into trouble. Can you at least pretend to be less infatuated with me? Leave her some hope, or even better – bed with her again. You should have enough energy for both of us. I want her to be content. We need to calm her down, or else she can get out of control and betray my secret."

"You are speaking about that thing, aren’t you?" Keth’roen tried to grab a small pouch suspended on a piece of string from his paramour’s neck but she slapped his hand back angrily. "Why don’t you get rid of it?" He continued with more passion. "I knew something sinister was at play from the moment I followed you two into that cave. And I am still not convinced that it is safe, whatever your brother says. You should give it up Bodhi."

She hissed like an enraged panther, snarling at him and trying to disentangle herself from his arms but the young elf only held her tighter.

"Please, Bodhi," he pleaded softly, "for the love of good, please give it up. I should not have listened to you when you stopped me from going to your mother. Lady Nyonin is wise and knowledgeable in things magical. She would have known what to do with it."

"Oh, Mother surely would have taken the ring to the Sehanine’s Temple to be ‘cleansed’!" Bodhi spat out. "She was always set to deny me even the tiniest scraps of magic, even as he played with powers beyond any mortal imagination. Joni is her idol, who cannot do anything wrong, even as I am always the perpetrator, and the scapegoat!"

"But Bodhi..."

"Silence, you simpleton! Stop pestering me with your insidious advice. Or do you think I would have lain with you if not for your ill-timed discovery? You’ve spied on me and my sister, and used that knowledge to coerce me into giving in to your desires. Now, stop pretending that you did not know it from the start, and let me think the things over. And if you want to keep me in your bed awhile longer, you better forget about taking away my ring. I have paid for it dearly, and I am not about to let it go after all that trouble."

"You... you did not mean it." Keth’roen’s bronze triangular face turned grey under her burning gaze. "Please tell me you are lying."

 Her lover's slanted green eyes were huge with shock. He stared at her with an expression of such intense pain and adoration, that it would have melted the heart of an ice statue. But this only further infuriated Bodhi, and she scowled with distaste at this display of weakness.

"I actually fancied you had the guts to blackmail me into this fallacy, Keth. I had to break my word to Yave, and mellow you to keep your mouth shut about the ring, but at least I felt you were interesting enough to pull such a scheme." The young huntress’s pretty mouth curled into a vicious snarl.

How much of that rage was only another act, aimed at bringing her rebellious lover to heel was unknown, perhaps, even to Bodhi herself but she played it to the hilt. "I can’t believe I’ve fallen for a spineless worm, with the brainpower of a dung beetle! I am going home now. And if you want to continue receiving my favors, I expect you to go straight to Yave and beg her to take you back. She may even fall for it, as she has this strange weakness for you. And if you dare to utter one word about the ring to anyone, I will ... I will kill you with my own hands. I swear this by my passage to Arvandor!"

"You are truly bewitched by this thing, ruthaerea." Keth’roen muttered in horror. "You cannot give an oath like this, and get away with it. The Seldarine would surely punish you, and me in my turn for consorting with the one possessed by darkness. I understand now," the young warrior said, suddenly taking spirit in this new idea. "It was not truly you speaking – it was that ring! I have to save you from it, even against your wish." He continued with even more pathos in his voice. "When they take it away from you, you will have to go through the atonement and cleansing ceremony, but you will be fine afterwards. You will be grateful for it later on, I am sure you will."

The wood elf jumped to his feet, hastily adjusting his suede vest and short kilt. His feet were bare, and he did not wear his belt with a customary sikil – a short hunting knife, as there was no need for a weapon at his late-night assignation. Bodhi watched him sullenly, even as expressions of rage and uncertainty fought for dominance on her perfect face. She had made one mistake after another, first by underestimating his feelings for her, and second by provoking this absurd fit of stubbornness. Keth now firmly believed that his only hope in regaining her ‘love’ lay through betrayal of her secret. Bodhi decided it was time to change tactics, and launched her inimitable, time-honored attack.

"Calm down, foolish boy. I was only testing the strength of your love. I will get rid of it...eventually. It is only a pretty bauble with a red stone and a little bit of magic. Now, come to me, and let us forget about this nonsense." She opened her hands invitingly, trying to fake a fit of infatuation, but a hard glint in her eyes betrayed her true feelings, and Keth was not falling for it. Candidly, her heart was not in it after his foolhardy confession. The huntress could never feel desire for a man, who was so helplessly in love with her. It simply was not in her nature.

He backed away with a look of stubborn resolve on his face, and Bodhi had to advance a step forward. Something was whispering in her ear, urging her to open the bag and pull the ring out. It was such a strong temptation that the elf maiden could not resist it any longer. She beamed her anxious friend a coyly seductive smile, and loosened the strings of the velvet pouch that was hiding her treasure.

"Come on, darling," she cooed, beckoning him to come closer. "You wanted to take it away from me. Surely, you must want a better look at what it is."

Perhaps, Keth was particularly unlucky that night or Bodhi’s resentment for him, which accumulated over the last week like dark water in a putrid sump, finally broke the dam. At the sight of his further retreat, she whipped out the petrified finger with the silver band coiled around it like a pale worm, and waved it at her frightened lover. A tendril of white smoke drifted towards him, then another one joined in, and soon the air between them was filled with transparent fog. The tendrils coiled together, wavering and shaping into something vaguely familiar. In a moment, a ghostly clawed hand formed in the air before her and lunged at the young elf, who was watching the entire display in a terrified stupor, unable to decide what to do.

Keth only had time to scream once, before the pale claw grabbed him by the throat, wrapping its long fingers tightly around his windpipe, and almost pulling him off the ground. His neck snapped sharply, and that sound brought Bodhi back to her senses. She hissed furiously, dropped the finger with the ring, and seized her lover’s limp figure by the shoulders, accepting the whole weight of his still warm body into her hands. The spectral hand hovered in the air above her head for a few moments, then slowly dissolved into nothingness. Desperately, the huntress tried to shake Keth’roen awake, or slap him into consciousness; but he was utterly, irreversibly dead, his head twisted into an oddly unnatural position, and his wide-open green eyes still staring at her in frightened disbelief.

"Damn you, stupid boy," she cussed at his unmoving form, finally giving up on her attempts to revive the cooling body. "Even now, you are enjoying your untimely trip to Arvanaith, and I am left to deal with the consequences!"



Amin mela lle - I love you (elv.)

a'mael - beloved (elv.)

vanima - beautiful (elv.)

amada - fool (elv.)

ruthaerea - angry one (elv.)




Last modified on March 31, 2003
Copyright © 2003 by Janetta Bogatchenko. All rights reserved.