Created: 1/28/2007 -- Last Updated: 7/18/2007
Chapter 1 -- Ill Met by Starlight
Chapter 2 -- Sand and Glass
Chapter 3 -- Interlude, with Foreshadowing
Epilog -- Turnabout, Game, and Match
Ill Met by Starlight
A NWN2 / Elder Scrolls crossover
“Have you stumbled up here to save my soul, clumsy godsman?” Or perhaps to chide me? Did my Dunmer manners offend you as well?
Casavir hesitated. Dunmer? The stranger’s Amulet of Tongues translated the alien word as “cursed dark elf,” but he had seen nothing in this tall woman's earlier... indiscretion... that brought to mind drow arrogance. Quite the opposite in fact, and he should reassure her. Still, she did seem to be part elven, and her red-rimed eyes might mean more than that she was still recovering from the aftereffects of a concussion combined with a near-fatal dose of magebane, in which case the reassurance might be taken as an insult.
“I would not pre…”
He was not at his best, and knew it. The sun would be rising in an hour or so and this night's quest for sleep had come to little. Earlier, his rest had been disrupted by noise from the rowdy crowd of Axil’s thieves that had taken to reveling away their evenings at Duncan's inn. The remainder of the night had been sabotaged by the unwelcome upwelling of his... concerns... at having the Harborman away on Ironfist's fool mission with only the most chaotic and untrustworthy of their band as backup.
“Forgive me, lady, I did not mean to...”
Despairing of rest, the Paladin had decided on fresh air as his next best option, drawing on boots, trousers, and tunic and making his way up narrow steps to the Flagon's small widow's walk. Only to nearly run down the dark-shrouded figure already occupying the cramped planking between the inn’s wall and the balcony's derelict railing, invisible to human eyes in the moonless darkness.
The startled and off-balance stranger had reacted with impressive speed, grabbing his shoulder and steadying both of them while he was still teetering and flatfooted.
“Or perhaps you would like something delivered, or fetched, or escorted?” By Tyr's Oath, she was nearly as tall as he was. Not elf then, but not human – or at least not mostly human. Aasimir? Teifling? Sand had said he smelled death on her, and his own Paladin's senses screamed outworlder.
But not evil. Despite Duncan’s having come upon her in the process of offering a “thoughtful gift” to the Greycloak sergeant sent to investigate the presence of five foreigners -- “poor lost pilgrims” -- who had appeared seemingly from nowhere on the docks, Casavir's divine insight detected less of evil in her than it found in several of his own companions.
“I won’t be in very good condition for such things for just a bit, with my magic all but burned out of me.” Her first spike of adrenaline-charged anger dissipated, the biting tone of the stranger’s opening salvo was trailing off into something like resigned self-mockery. “Perhaps there’s a barrow that needs ransacking? I was good at that when I barely knew a cantrip.”
Casavir’s eyes had begun to adjust to the faint glow of distant streetlamps and starlight, and with this last turn of phrase he could just see her silhouetted shoulders slump. Then straighten, and square, as if by an act of Will. His breathing fell into synch with hers as it slowed, deepened, and became regular, pressing down despair. She's had training for control. (Sand had implied as much.) Not a sorcerer.
He recovered her cool hand from its death grip on his shoulder, taking it between his stronger ones while he called on his Aura of Courage. Thanking Tyr that neither Bishop nor Neeksha was present to set another barb concerning Paladin's charm and maidens in distress, he channeled the blessing into an enfolding cocoon of solace.
“What are you doing?” The stress in her voice pulled him from the hypnotic effect of the shared moment. “When you first came up here it felt like sunlight on my skin, and now it feels like I’m being comforted… or blessed.”
The woman’s breath caught. “You were the one they called when I...” She stiffened and attempted to back away, but he gripped her hand more tightly, aware as he was that and only an unsound balcony railing stood between the two of them and a night-obscured 20-foot drop onto cobblestones. What aasimir would fail to recognize a Paladin’s auras?
“Please, Lady Sera. You were ill, blinded and headblind as well, and awoke in a strange place where you could not understand the speech of those about you. Your husband… Martin, would not have faulted you for your fears were he here. Nor did I.”
The Paladin had been out on an errand when her party of five exhausted and injured foreigners first straggled through the door of the Sunken Flagon. According to Duncan, two of the woman’s armed and armored companions had been all but carrying a third, and she had been so heavily muffled that bets had been laid as to whether her cloaked, shawled and generally cloth-camouflaged form was male or female.
Her spiritless figure had failed to react to even the rudest of jibes, however. Slouched and silent, she had waited in ashen stillness while Baurus, the dark skinned one of her cohort, attempted to negotiate for sustenance and beds. Frustrated by the lack of a common language, the black man had finally given up on being understood and tossed down a handful of gold while holding up three fingers, then taken the room keys Duncan tossed down in return.
Then, with enough respectful deference that it dissuaded Duncan from the thought that he was witnessing a kidnapping, Baurus had simply picked her up and, following Duncan’s lead, carried her to her room. And that was the last that anyone had seen of her, until three days later when her horripilated early morning screaming for Martin had awakened the Flagon, alerted the nearby guard post, and even brought Sand running from his shop.
Smoothly, carefully, Casavir continued his intervention. “If you feel you must take leave of me now, please let me slide past you so that you might reach the stairs in safety.” The feminine hand between his own was firm, hardened from more than holding a pen or a wizard’s staff. Perhaps she’s a bard. Perhaps they were performer’s calluses.
“Safety? Of course… it’s night and you can’t see. No wonder you’re…” her preoccupied voice trailed away and he heard a rustling sound followed by a snap. “Wait, this will do, though things will look a bit green.” A pause, and she continued, “Give me back my hand, serjo,” – hero, the Amulet of Tongues whispered – “I would not have you at a disadvantage.” At that, he could hear a smile in her voice, even if he could not see it.
As he reluctantly released her fingers, he felt her slip something - a ring - upon the first finger of his own right hand. And, yes, the sudden light that sprung up about them was greenish, but it was enough. The hood of her enveloping cloak was thrown back, her features revealed.
In the unflatteringly verdurous light he could tell nothing about her hair beyond that it was pulled back and it was dark. Her face, however, was a handsome compilation of human and non-human features, broad browed and dignified, with high cheekbones, a cupid’s bow mouth and upswept elven ears. Strikingly exotic… were it not for the tattoos and her still horrifically bloodshot eyes. He decided he would have to see her in daylight before he could decide if she were beautiful despite the disfigurations but at least there were no horns.
His reverie was interrupted. “Serjo… Sir Casavir?” It was a question, and a demand for his full attention. He nodded as she adroitly reversed their previous station, taking his hands between her own smaller ones.
“Listen, for thus comes wisdom.” The phrase had a ritualistic feel about it, as if she were quoting from some well-thumbed text.
“Sera” – worthy, whispered the Amulet – “is a Dunmer honorific, not my name. You are welcome to address me thus, but my name is Aylenbrae Etienne. Though I was long known among those of House Telvanni – magicians (warlocks) - as Spellwright Pwendomyr, and still answer to Pwen if it is your pleasure to address me so.
“Further, Martin was not my husband, he was my liege. I was his Champion, his bodyguard.” Shame crept into her voice. “He… was lost to us on my watch, and it plagues me worse than my memories of Oblivion.” – demon planes - , whispered the Amulet.
“Adored him,” she confirmed. “I never told him, I told myself that there was never time. Besides, he was a Priest of Akatosh and heir to Kings, and I was a daedra – chaos demon, whispered the Amulet – worshipping mixed-blood Telvanni ex-convict more than twice his age.
Akatosh? Daedra? Convict? ”But who –“ She was a warlock. No, she couldn’t be a warlock -- he no more sensed the stink of abysmal chaos on her than he did the reek of evil.
“No. No more questions.
“I am sorry, but I have one more point to make, and then I must ask you to leave me alone with the stars. The sun is near to rising and there are… past due divinations that I believe I may be recovered enough to complete, that are only possible at dawn or twilight.
“Please,” she added with a wry smile, softening the harshness of the emphatic negative that had come before.
“Very well, …sera.” He would not call her by a name or title used by those who made pacts with demons.
“Thank you, kind sir.” That too had a ritualistic ring.
“So. Finally, I tell you that I am what happened to my companions. “The poison the assassins used is called magetear. It wracks those born under the star of the Mage with violent hallucinations, but leaves them with their magica and their volition intact.
“When the fetchers” – Casavir blushed at what the Amulet translated this time – “who did this thing saw that their trap had been sprung, they opened the portal that dropped the seven of us… here. A far land under threat, where those not affected by the magetear could neither speak nor understand the language. I am reasonably certain that this is not even our world.”
“Seven? Duncan said he saw only yourself and your four...” Casavir paused. He had been about to say bodyguards, but if she herself was a guard, not the coddled lord’s wife -- mistress -- their first encounter had conditioned him to expect, what was her relationship with her cohorts? They deferred to her. Was she their leader?
She looked down and away from him. “My apprentice, Marcus, killed himself in the first thrashings of the drug, but I am battle trained. I struck out, killing Gothren before Caius managed to drag his stash of skooma – addictive, mind-destroying drug, murmured the Amulet - from his pack and Evaine and Aryar managed to bash my brains in from behind and hold me while he poured it down my throat. And I am the one who broke both of Caius’s legs for him in the process.
“So. You see, it was my companions who mageburned and blinded me, knowing full well that their only other options were to kill me or abandon me trapped in dangerous madness. And they were right in doing so,” she added quietly. “Perhaps it would have been even better if they had killed me. Gothren and Marcus are in their graves for no other reason than that they traveled with me.”
“Do not say such a thing. Tyr himself would not hold you responsible for…” Her face turned back to his, eyes glistening with unshed tears.
“Then you, with your oh so overweening indor – chivalry (mad foolishness), translated the Amulet of Tongues – in stepping in to comfort the poor blinded ‘maiden’, and Sand with his well placed silence spell and the amulets that translate, and Duncan with his discrete hospitality for those so far from home, saved my dear friends from having to live with the sort of failure I…” Her voice broke.
And continued, “…am forever in your debt.”
“But, it was my…”
“Duty,” she completed for him, lifting the backs of his hands to touch her forehead, then pressing soft lips to the center of each palm before releasing it. “To your god. I know.
“The whys of noble and compassionate acts rarely matter overmuch, I have found. Though Stendorr himself, I think, would find no fault in your heart.”
”Lady, why did your companions hide you from us?” If they had taken you to the Temple of Tyr, or even of the Morninglord, you need not have endured…” Stendorr? Who or what was Stendorr? Tyr’s Oath, this whole conversation had taken on the shape of ritual – of some sort of test.
“Morninglord. Yes, it is
morning. Please do not let me detain you,” her words were sweet but
her dismissal allowed room for no dissent.