These are the collected, surviving journal entries of Cleo, ranging from the 7th of Davor, 1328, to the 1st of Sad, 1328, plus several extant stories.
Journal entries extend from as follow:
1328: Davor 7th, Cal 9th, Trical 5th, 11th, 17th, and 19th, Trical 27th, and Sad 1st.
Tales: Living Dead Girl, The Demon Within, Innocence Lost, Aftermath, and Connecting Dots.
I guess I am the definition of a street kid, tough and brash, never trusting anyone for a second. Everybody wants something, even if they don't ask outright. Or do they? Jenna has saved my ass twice and has asked for nothing in return. Why? I have nothing to offer this beautiful and graceful woman. The uncut diamond I gave her, HA! She didn't even know what it was. I mean, what kinda girl doesn't recognize a diamond? I thought it was genetic in all of us.
I try to keep the balance sheet even between us, but I haven't been able to come up even and I hate it! I don't want to owe anyone anything, when you owe people they tend to collect at the worst time. She brings out the part of me I try so hard to bury. I don't want to care for anyone, people I care about always leave me. My parents, my family, my first boyfriend, anyone who ever called me friend, they're all gone now. Even the Old Man, he was nice to me and he didn't treat me like a common whore, he treated me like I mattered to him, and he's gone now too.
I don't know what to do now, I want to stay, but I want to go. If I stay, maybe I can make things even between us. I know I saved her life in that cave, but I did it to save mine, so it doesn't count, I still owe her. Once we're even I can go, 'cause then I won't owe her and I won't feel like I do now anymore. I'll be me again. For now, I gotta stay, especially since Gunju is after her now.
Oh, I saw what happened, she kept him from killing himself and now he's pissed. Her watching him so close gave me my chance, if those priests hadn't got there when they did, I woulda done myself. It hurt so bad, I just wanted it to end! But if Gunju tries anything with Jenna, he's gonna wake up without his head one night! If he hurts her, I'll slip a blade between his ribs so quick he'll never know what happened!
The rest of them are okay, I guess. Lucian is civil to me, he hasn't really hit on me or anything, and I think he actually likes me. He has come to my aid a few times, so I guess he wants something from me too. N'Kara I don't get. She's the most beautiful girl I've ever seen. So quiet though. She seems to like me but I'm not sure, I mean, I've offered myself to her and she said no, but maybe she just isn't into girls, heck, I don't care. I have caught her looking at me a few times though, makes me wonder.
I stood by myself, not listening to the discussion around me as the gruop tried to figure out how to get down the 400 foot cliff before us. My mind was elsewhere. It had been elsewhere for the last day or so. Ever since the darkness almost killed me. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't the first time something tried to kill me, it was just the first time that the darkness tried.
The darkness, that warm, comfortable place I could always turn to so I could hide away from the world when it all got to be too much. The place I found when I was six, and the undead horrors took my parents from me. The place I went everytime someone I cared for left me. The place I hid when the city watch came looking for me when I lifted something I shouldn't have. The place that was my only home. It tried to kill me.
So where could I go now? I don't know. I can't go to the dark places anymore, I'm afraid of them now. I keep my ring face up so that the tiny gem casts its light around me constantly. A fine thing, a rogue who is afraid of the dark. I can't go into the light either, though, I've done too much for the dark to step out there where everyone can see me. Where everyone can see just how useless I am now.
I woke up with Jenna holding me like I was some helpless child. Maybe I am now, I don't know. I know that I am scared and I hate it. The others look at me funny and don't really say anything, but I see it in their eyes, they think I've broken and they'll have to carry me the rest of the way. They won't have to though, I'll show them. I'm still 'One Eyed Cleo' one of the best, and I'll prove it.
I pull my ropes from my backpack and begin tying them together. I don't speak as I do it, I concentrate on the task. Finally someone notices what I'm doing and some other rope is handed to me, I don't remember asking for it but maybe I did. I attach the rest of the ropes and I hand an end to Gunju. He's strong, he can take the weight easily. I kick the rest over the edge and watch it fall.
It's too short, it only reaches halfway. I start to get ready to shimmy down it but then I change my mind. (If you want to prove you're the best, climb down, don't use the rope.) I reel it back in and separate the sections again. I tell the group the rope is too short, as if they couldn't see that for themselves. I put my pieces back into my pack and shoulder it. I make a quick check that everything on my body is secured and then I move.
Before the rest of them know what I'm up to, I swing out over the ledge and begin to climb down. Somebody, Jenna, I think, calls after me to wait. I don't answer, I just keep moving. If I don't look at them, they won't see my fear. I've never been afraid like this before – if I can't do this, I'm a failure. If I'm a failure, I don't deserve to be with these people who care about me.
I figured that out today, too. They care about me. If they didn't they would have just let me die. I feel bad now, for the harsh words I said to them the other day. I can be such a Bitch and it's all because I am afraid to trust and care for others. But they trust and care for me, so I have to return the favor.
I'm halfway down now, I chance a look back up but I only see the glow from N' Kara's ring, the twin to mine. I look down now, the cavern floor is just visible to me. I reach for a new hand hold and it happens, I miss it and lose my grip. I fall, biting off a scream.
I flail desparately for a grip as I fall and I get lucky. My right hand grabs a rock and I latch on with everything I have. A cry of pain escapes me as blood sprays across my face from my fingers. I pull myself up and look at my hand. All of the fingers are split open to the bone from the impact. Oddly, it doesn't hurt too much. I spend a couple of minutes resting and thinking.
I can hear the group above me calling out, trying to see if I'm alright – I ignore them. I have to finish this on my own, I can't let them know just how weak I have become, I can't ask them to carry my weight. It wouldn't be fair. I close my eye and for a minute I remember how safe I felt with Jenna's arms around me, how it reminded me of my mothers warm safe arms all those years ago. Was it only ten years since I had felt those arms?
I open my eye and exhale a breath I hadn't remembered holding. Time to go now. I reach and begin to move down again. And I fall again, my right hand betrays me and I feel myself falling backwards. I close my eye and grin a little, I won't survive this one. (You don't really care anymore do you?)
I feel strangely at peace as I feel the air rush past me. I know now where I belong, not in the darkness anymore but in the light of a near-forgotten meadow. Where the smell of fresh bread and my mother's perfume fill the air. Where my father is waiting to lift me onto his strong shoulders and cart me into house. Where I am a happy, giggling six-year old again. I briefly wonder if the rest of the group will miss me. I wander if Jenna knows I lov-
I just can’t believe it. They brought me back. I never thought anyone could ever care enough about me to do something like that. I guess I was wrong. I’ve been wrong about a lot of things lately. Maybe I’m not as smart as I thought I was. Of course, brains were never my strong point anyway, I’m more of a hands on girl.
It’s a lot to think about, really. I mean, one minute, I’m dead, well, undead really. See, I was a lost soul, no god claimed me, so I got to hang around waiting for something else. Something that would devour my soul, not a pleasant thought. I even saw it a couple of times, glowing eyes is all I let myself remember.
That’s why that Xzax guy scares me, his eyes remind me, right now I don’t need that. He’s new to the group, him and that other Elf, Seamus. Seamus is cute, got him a real nice body and he’s not stuck up like most Elves. N’Kara told me he was raised by Dwarves, so I guess he would be different.
Jena had to leave as soon as she brought me back, N’Kara brought me up to speed on her situation. Can’t say I’m real surprised, but really, I thought she would’ve had enough sense to take a few precautions. Oh well, her loss. I hope it works out for her, I think she’ll be a great mother, Gods know she got enough practice on me. Still, I miss her.
Lucian and N’Kara are here with me though, so I should be alright. Lucian is still as unreadable as ever to me, he did seem pleased to see me again. He seems a bit different, though, stronger somehow. N’Kara is almost constantly by my side. She has appointed herself my protector, I think it’s adorable. Right now, I need some protecting. I’m as weak as a kitten.
But I won’t stay that way. I’m back and I have to make up for some lost time. Even more interesting, I have both eyes now. My left one was restored somehow when Jena brought me back. No one noticed, and I’m not going to let them know just yet. It will be one of the things I drop on them later. Like the fact that I feel a strong attachment to dark places for some reason.
So I guess that’s where I stand. Watch out world! One Eyed Cleo is back! And she has two eyes now, so no one’s purse is safe! Ha! Life is so good!
Hey, it's me again. I just wanted to drop you a short note to let you know how I'm doing. It's only been a week, but I already feel much more like myself. I've got my strength back and I'm finally okay with everyone else (I think). N'Kara has been wonderful – she really took care of me the first couple of days and helped me get back on my feet. Lucian has been around, he seems to be good. Seamus and I had disagreement the other day, and the SOB threw me overboard! It was freezing cold, and that no account wanna-be-dwarf threw me into the river! The absolute nerve! What was he trying to do, freeze me to death? It took all day for my leathers to dry out! I got him back later though: I hid his ink vials in the bilges at the bottom of the ship.
Anyway, after you left, we went to some place Seamus called the Rock, where he hired some crewmen to help out with the ship. Of course the first one he hired was a smelly little dwarf named Thalst. Gods but that guy reeks of booze constantly! Then he brought on a half-elf girl they call Quill: she NEVER shuts up! I swear I'm going to end up leaving her tied and gagged in the aft hold yet!
Then we went down the coast to Teras where Thalst went looking for more crewmen. He found a tomanth named Visik, a really big guy named Gheledon, another big foreign guy named Maui, and a cleric named Aust. (Seamus threw me into the river here.) I spent some time talking to Lucian and we got to know each other a bit better. We even went shopping together, since most of my stuff was destroyed when I died. We were shopping when he ran into an elf he knew.
That's when things went bad. I spotted a spider nearby (a really big one!), and when I warned Lucian, the other elf did something to me. I woke up some time later, tied across a saddle. I managed to get loose without being noticed and then waited for the horse to stop. When it did, we were in some kind of stable. They pulled me off the horse and I ran for it. I hated to leave Lucian, but there were two of them and the spider. You know I'm not really a good fighter and I figured I could lead the others to Lucian.
I hid out in this ruined elven city for a while and then I got bored. So I started setting fires to try to smoke out the guys who had grabbed Lucian. It didn't work, as nothing would really burn for long, but it did let the others know where I was. Seems Alora had gone back and got them while I was out. Boy was I glad to see them! Seamus had N'Kara, Xzax, Aust, Maui and the tigers with him. After a tense fight, they killed the two elves and rescued Lucian.
Turns out one of the Elves was Lucian's father. The other guy had reanimated his corpse. Lucian took it real hard, and he and Seamus got into a fight when Lucian tried to desecrate the body. Seamus won but he got hurt pretty bad in the process. When did Lucian get to be so scary? Anyway, I looted the body when no one was looking and I got me a pretty new sword. It's a rapier like Seamus' and I think it's magic – it glows red. I found some other things, but I put them away until I can figure out what they are later.
We all went back to the ship and Xzax and I talked to Lucian about what had happened. I think my first-hand experience may have made him listen to me a bit. He was so sad about the whole thing. Then I got an Idea: I took him downstairs and taught him how to play strip poker! I won; he didn't get a single thing off me, and I had him naked in five hands. Then I told him I wouldn't give him his clothes back until he talked to Seamus! It was cold and windy, so it worked. They are at least back on good terms now. Yay me!
The next morning, we sailed upriver to the town of Rilan. There wasn't really much for me to do here, and I spent most of my time resting below decks. I don't know why, but since you brought me back, I am far more comfortable in dark places. I find myself avoiding sunlight and open places – weird huh? Anyway, Lucian actually asked me out on a date! Wow! Who knew? Anyway, I got all prettied up, changed my entire look for him and all, and what does he do? Lays out a picnic on the deck! I mean, really, I'm not worth a meal in a nice place? I went off! I told him where to put that basket and then stomped off.
It really hurt you know. I thought maybe he liked me enough to take me out and show me off somewhere, but I was wrong. I went back to the dock and Seamus was there, laughing at Lucian. I got mad at him and started to tell him off but then he shocked me by asking if he could take me out for a real dinner. He even called me 'A vision of loveliness'. He really has a way with words when he wants to.
So he takes me to this nice resturaunt in town. All the staff were drow elves and it was wonderful! I had such a great time! N'Kara and Xzax were there too, I don't think they even recognized me at first. Seamus played his bagpipes with the bard who was already working there and everything. No one has ever done anything like that for me before. I had a wonderful time.
The next day we went to someplace called Lok Magius. It was a long walk up a mountain and through a COLD winter storm. We arrived and were made most welcome there. It seems the place is some kind of school for mages. There were all kinds of strange and unique people there. We were shown to a kind of common room/bar and we spent quite a long time getting to know some of the other people. Seamus showed the head lady some kind of ring and they agreed to identify all the stuff I had collected.
That was going to take some time, so we all hung out and had fun for a while. It turns out that Maui is completely unaffected by rot gut. This was a source of amazement to lots of people there, and he drank the stuff all night like it was water. Seamus told me that the stuff could strip paint. Then it got really funny, A dwarf showed up and, get this, he thought he was an elf! Seamus didn't find it funny at all. I laughed until I cried, especially after the guy tried to turn Seamus into a real dwarf. We managed to separate them and then Lucian provided entertainment. Seems he couldn't figure out the bathroom here.
N'Kara and I snuck over and watched him try to figure it out. We were laughing so hard that I peed myself! Really! Then we went in and figured it out ourselves. Magic toilets are so neat! Things kinda wound down after that. We went upatairs and went to bed. Sometime during the night, I had a really bad dream. I've been having them sometimes, but this one was bad. I went in search of N'Kara but got lost. Somehow I ended up in bed with Seamus.
Before you freak, nothing happened. I just borrowed some body heat and used him to snuggle up to so I could sleep. I left before he woke up so I don't think he knows. This is so weird: I don't think I really even like him, but I keep finding myself with him in some way or other. He's also way older than me. He's like 115 or something. How old is that in human terms? N'Kara says I have his scent on me now, whatever that means.
Anyway, the next morning we found out what all those items were, and I kept the sword, and a cloak – it's really neat, I can even hide from Xzax with it! I gave away the rest of the stuff to the others since I don't need most of it, though I would have liked to have kept the gloves of arrow snatching. I gave them to Xzax since he had made me such nice armor. They were so neat, and I saw how he got mad watching that guy snatch his arrows out of the air, so I figure this evens us up a bit.
Lucian is staying here for a couple of weeks to learn new stuff, while the rest of us go on to Seamus' home. He is terribly worried about his family. Something happened in that area and he wants to make sure his clan is alright. The rest of us are going with him.
Well, that's about it for now. I hope we get to see you soon. Say Hi to Gunju for me. I miss you.
Hi again. It's time to let you know what's up in my life again. Before I begin, I have to ask you a question: What is love? I know what lust is – heck, I've known about that for a few years now. What I need to know is, how can I tell the difference between the two? I know what I feel for you and N'Kara is love of a sort – well, okay, there's still a bit of lust there for N'Kara, but that's not the issue here. The issue is the way I feel around Seamus. He is incredibly infuriating, but can be so kind to me. He is arrogant, but then understanding of my feelings; orders me around like one of his crewmen, but then asks me nicely to do things; flirts with everything in a skirt, and then tells me that I'm the most beautiful girl he's ever met; he teases me about my age, and tells me how talented I am – but most of all, he sets me to tingling with want, just by the way he smiles at me (though lately he isn't smiling so much). I need to know, because I think, for the first time in my life, this could be love I'm feeling for a man, not just lust.
I'm so confused by him. I spend my days below decks on our little ship, hiding from everyone because I feel uncomfortable with myself. I went for four days without even talking to anyone, just watching them from the shadows as they went about their business. I watch him especially closely. He is so graceful, yet he moves with a determination and sense of purpose. He handles this unruly mob of a crew with unrulyness of his own, but has kind words for all who need them. He kills without remorse, but weeps for the victims of the plague. He is brave (Foolish?) to a fault, but fears letting us down. I honestly don't know what to make of him.
I have been sneaking into his bed at night, just lying there with him and reveling in the feeling of warmth and safety I feel lying there with him. I am always careful not to wake him, for his sleep is often disturbed, but he quiets when I am there with him. I find that this makes me feel needed, something I could get used to quite easily. I finally reached the boiling point a couple of days ago and I actually jumped him! It was wonderful! I began kissing him and running my hands all over his body – he was surprised at first, but then he began to kiss me back! Then he did something that I didn't understand at first. He stopped and pushed me off him – I had managed to get us horizontal by this time, and I had his shirt off him (I am a pro, you know!) – and he told me that while he appreciated my interest, he didn't feel right about what we were doing because I am so young. He didn't want to do something I would regret later. HE ACTUALLY CARES HOW I FEEL! Once I figured that out, I wanted to climb the mast and shout it to the world. It also made me want him even more. I have now enlisted N'Kara in my efforts to get him. He of course, is now doomed. The two of us have come up with a plan (of sorts) to snare him for me. I'll keep you posted.
I had to write you another note, some stuff happened that you need to know about. Seamus did something that caused a problem between him, Lucian and N'kara. I can't tell you exactly what he did because I promised him I wouldn't, but it was serious. I managed to convince Lucian and N'Kara to talk to him and they did. Things are better now and I helped! Yay me! Sometimes it pays off to be the one no one notices.
Now on to a totally different topic, I've been having nightmares since I came back, but the one I had last night truly scared me. A little background here: when you brought me back, it was explained to me that this was a new body – my old one was left in that cavern. You follow me so far? Anyway, last night I dreamed about me – the old me, and she was evil and vicious. I'm afraid, Jena. What if someone or something has got my old body and corrupted it into an evil version of me? Is this possible, or is this a figment of my overworked imagination? I really need some advice on this one. I know I was never a saint, but what I saw in that dream was true evil. What should I do?
Well, I gotta go. Thanks for listening to me ramble. Tell Gunju to relax for me – I'll bet he's going stir crazy, isn't he?
It's funny the things you think about when you die. I mean, really, who thinks about perfume while they're dying? Apparently I do. I'm lying here on the floor with my own dagger in my stomach, and what am I thinking about? The smell of N'Kara's perfume. Is it even perfume? For all I know it's her natural smell, kind of a woodsy, spring grass smell. I think I'm gonna miss that smell. I'm gonna miss a lot of things, but that one sticks in my mind as the light fades. I hear N'Kara sobbing my name and I try to tell her I'm sorry, but my body isn't responding to my mind anymore.
Well, here I go again. Death isn't new to me; I've been here before. I just hope this time I don't end up stuck on this plane again. I took up worshiping Galunus to avoid that fate the next time I died. I hadn't planned on it being this soon though; I hope it's enough. The last time I died, I was trapped on this plane because I didn't have enough faith for a god to claim me. That really sucked. That's what caused this whole mess. Maybe I should explain the events that led to this point. I don't seem to have anything better to do right now.
It all started on the sixth of Cal, which was the day I died, the first time. I tried to climb down a 400-foot cliff and I fell. Hey, I made it 250 feet before I fell, so cut me some slack. Anyway, I hit the floor of that cavern hard enough to make my body into abstract art. I didn't get up from that one. I was dead. And none of what I expected to happen, happened. I realized something was wrong when I found myself in that cavern, looking down at my body.
I don't know how long I was there – time works differently when you're dead. It seemed like I spent years wandering around down there in the dark. And then they came. Things. Demons, I guess. I saw them and I tried to run and hide from them, but they always seemed to find me, and I would run away from them again. I felt like I was doing this forever. And then suddenly, I was yanked away from there. It was like something grabbed me up and carried me away.
Next thing I know, I'm in a dark room, naked and shivering. Then I felt hands on me and I looked up to see Jena holding me like I was the most precious thing in the world. She had been blinded and couldn't see me but she was murmuring soothing words to me and rocking me in her lap. I did what any other 16 year old would have done, I passed out cold.
I woke up almost two days later. N'Kara explained everything to me then, Jena had used a scroll of powerful prayers to bring me back on the fifth of Trical, almost three months after I died. The spell had temporarily blinded her but she would recover. And she was gone. She and Gunju had left to have their child in a safe place. I was so happy for her, but so confused, why had she brought me back?
The next two weeks answered that question quite thoroughly for me; she brought me back at the request of Seamus. He was new to the group but he had uncovered a part of the prophecy that he interpreted to mean that I was needed to do something. And Jena needed very little convincing; she and I were sisters in all but blood when I died. N'Kara told me how she cried for days when no one was looking, or at night when she was sure everyone was asleep. It has got to suck to be a leader, trying so hard to keep us together and being strong for everyone else. I don't know how she and Seamus do it.
During this time, I discovered several things – I didn't sleep well at night, I had terrible nightmares about my time dead, I took a definite liking to the dark and avoided the light of day and open spaces, and I discovered Seamus. I found myself seeking comfort at night by lying in bed with him and listening to him breathe as he slept. It was several kinds of strange for me, I usually follow a set routine with men, see, want, have, forget. Not with him, for some reason I felt something else with him, love maybe? Now I'll never know for sure.
N'Kara became my other sister during this time, just a week ago, I promised her I would kill anyone who hurt her, even Seamus. I can do it too, no one sees me unless I want them to, I've gotten to be that good. She spent so much time with me, helping me to open myself up to people again. She was wonderful, If she weren't so far gone for Xzax, I would have tried seducing her again. I like girls as much as I like guys, and she has always had my attention, I settled for a sisterly friendship though.
The nightmares got worse. I began to see my old body in possession of a demon who used it for evil. I awoke screaming a couple times over that one, especially after I saw it stalking Jena. Then we arrived a Loc Sadic. That night a dwarf was murdered. We used the cats to try to track the killer, and they came to me. I was terrified, I knew I couldn't have snapped his neck and stuffed him up in the rafters like that, but I had a slight memory loss. I remembered going up to Seamus' room to wait for him and then nothing until I heard the cries of the watch.
The baron ordered me arrested and held until the next morning. N'Kara stayed with me all night and comforted me. No one believed I had done it, but no chances would be taken. I could only think of the nightmares, had the demonic me followed us here? Was she even now stalking us? I was too scared and upset to sleep. It was a long night.
The next morning, Aust cast a truth spell on me and asked me if I did it, I said no. I was so relieved to be telling the truth, I almost passed out. We were allowed to leave then. We continued our journey to Mt. Basilisk, the capital. A huge city inside a mountain. Everyone was nervous and edgy; whoever had killed the dwarf had not been found and could still be out there stalking us. I was quiet, not wanting to draw any more attention to myself.
We arrived in the capital and made our way to the lower levels. Poor N'Kara and Xzax were miserable, they hate being underground. We walked for a long time before we finally reached the waiting area for the royal offices. Seamus was escorted in and we were told to wait for him. As we stood there, I noticed some kinds of symbols in the floor. They were lighting up when I walked over them. Several other people had noticed also, including the guards.
I heard Aust, Xzax, and N'Kara speaking to a dwarf in priest's colors and robes, I drifted a little closer and listened in on what they were discussing.
“What do the runes mean?” Aust asked.
“They indicate the presence of a possessed being.” the dwarf said.
“What do you mean 'possessed'?” N'Kara asked.
“She has another entity residing within her body. She must be placed under guard until we can determine if she is dangerous.”
I unbuckled my sword belt and handed it to N'Kara. Then I fished two of my daggers out of my boots. I handed my crossbow and cloak to Xzax. I didn't want to appear to be any kind of threat to anyone. Then the dwarf said something that made my heart stop.
“It could be a lot of things…” He was telling Aust, “Demonic, divine…”
I stopped listening and began to cry quietly, I knew then, my nightmare had come true, only the demon wasn't using my old body, he was using this one. I knew it had killed the dwarf at Loc Sadic, and I knew it would kill again. I couldn't let it. It could go after Jena and N'Kara, I couldn't let that happen, I would rather die. That's when it became clear, if I died, it died with me. My family would be safe.
I looked up at N'Kara through my tears and I smiled at her, I wanted to remember her face as the last thing I saw. My right hand went up my left sleeve and pulled my last dagger free. I never surrender all my weapons, I always keep something back, just in case. Before she can even react, I plunge it into my abdomen, angling up for my heart. I feel myself falling but N'Kara has me and eases me to the floor. Everyone is shouting now but I only hear her as she says 'no', over and over again.
I feel her tears as they fall onto my face, I think that was the last thing I felt as I began to fade away. So here I am dead again after only about three weeks. Not much of a second life but at least I took the demon with me. I hear a shriek as the light fades, and somehow I know, it was the creatures death cry. I am at peace now.
And then I jerk back to life with a scream. I don't believe this. They brought me back again! I look up and see N'Kara's tear streaked face, “Let me die.” I beg her.
“No. I can't lose you.”
“No! You'll be fine.” Her hands begin to glow that shade of green that tints all her magic. She is going to heal me. I try to pull away but I'm too weak. I break down into sobs. Dimly in the background, I hear Seamus and Xzax arguing, I want to tell them to stop, but everything goes gray and I slip away.
I don't know how long I was out of it. I come back to awareness slowly. The first sensation is that I am lying on a bed, the second is that someone is sitting next to me. I open my eyes and get a shock, things look different. I am seeing things differently somehow. I feel the beginnings of fear in my heart. I try to speak but my mouth is dry, I lick my lips and get another shock – I have fangs!
I scream and sit bolt upright. I scream and scream. This can't be happening to me. I feel someone’s arms around me, it's Seamus. He's trying to soothe me, telling me it's all right, but it's not. Something is wrong with me, something terrible I just know it. Aust moves in and begins talking to me, he is saying something about my being possessed and it not being evil. It's too much for me to take in so suddenly. I don't really hear anything he says but I calm down some. Seamus tells me something, but I don't hear what he says. He tries again and tells me that he loves me and I react in panic.
I grab him by his arm and belt and I flip him away from me. He is launched up and over me, he doesn't touch the floor until he impacts the wall with a thud. I stop and stare in horror. What have I just done? I don't have that kind of strength. Everyone in the room is now staring at me. N'Kara is next to me reaching out to me warily, Xzax is behind her, watching me. Lucian is near the door, staring at Seamus as he gets to his feet with a groan. Maui is getting up off the floor, how did he get there? Did I do that too? Chimera and Aust are on the other side of the room watching everyone else.
“Cleo?” N'Kara's voice snaps my attention back to her. She places her hand on my arm. “It's ok. You're safe here.”
“Safe?!?!” I croak, “I think you should be worried about being safe yourself. I-I don't think I'm safe to be around anymore…I don't think I'm even human anymore.” I began to cry again, tears running freely down my face.
She moved in and hugged me. I broke down and hugged her back. “What's happening to me?” I whispered to her.
“We think you were possessed by a demon. Aust asked some questions of Galgiran and he had answers for you. Xzax and I are going to take you to see Jena.”
“NO!” I sit up and look into her eyes, “I can't see her like this! I could hurt her or the baby!”
“Cleo, you won't hurt her. The demon isn't in control, you are.”
“But what if I lose control?”
“You won't. And besides, you'll have Xzax and I, Gunju and Xzax's family there.”
I took a deep breath and got the tears to stop. The door opened and Prat walked in. N'Kara helped me to my feet and we walked over to stand next to him. I had almost forgotten how big he was. Xzax joined us and then Prat tore open space and time and we stepped through.
We stepped out at the other end and I promptly got sick. This is not a good way to travel unless you are used to it. I got back to my feet and then the fear hit me. I wanted to run and hide in the deepest, darkest hole I could find. I couldn't make my legs work, but the thought of a dark place to hide triggered something in my mind. I thought of darkness, and I suddenly had it, all around me.
Funnily enough, I could see just fine. Xzax and N'Kara couldn't though. Then the darkness vanished and Xzax's family were there. Xzax turned to me told me to go with N'Kara to see Jena, that he would be along in a bit. I went with her with a growing sense of unease. I was so afraid of what I could be capable of now. I mean, shit, I can see in total darkness, can cause darkness too, come to think of it, have fangs, and am incredibly strong. If it weren't for the fact that I was standing in the sunlight, I might have entertained the thought that I was a vampire.
N'Kara and I were led into the nearby buildings by Artimus. I was happy to see him again, he had been nice to me before I died the first time. He brought us into a library, and there they were, Jena and Gunju. For a moment, they didn't notice us and I took a moment to just look at them. Jena looked as beautiful to me as ever, her hair was a bit longer than I remembered but she still wore it so it partially hid the scars on her face and neck, Gunju looked the same, but something was different. It took me a second, but I realized that they both were relaxed and comfortable. Something I rarely saw in our group.
Jena looked up and saw us, she gave a squeal of delight and got up and rushed towards us. N'Kara met her half way and stopped to speak with her. I didn't hear what was said as I took a step to the left, placing myself in the shadow of a bookshelf. I do that sort of thing without thought most of the time, but right now I was afraid. What if she took one look at me and decided I was evil? Would she kill me herself? Would Gunju do it for her? Worse, would N'Kara interfear if either of them did? I fear more for her than I do for me.
“Cleo?” Jena's voice and the gentle touch of her hand on my face snapped me back to what was happening. She was standing in front of me, her hand cupping the left side of my face. She looked into my eyes and I looked back into hers.
“You should have never brought me back.” I said more harshly than I intended. I dropped my gaze to the floor, “I came back possessed. Something used me to try to get to you.”
“Oh no, sweetie. It's all right. I had the nightmares about you. I knew something was after you.” She told me. She pulled my face back up to keep eye contact, “Bringing you back was not a mistake.”
“But I'm not even human any more! How can you be sure I won't hurt anyone?” I cried, trying not to begin crying again. I pulled back my upper lip in a sickly smile and showed her the fangs.
“Because you're still you. A couple of changes to your body don't change who you are. If you weren't you, you wouldn't be so worried about us.” she told me gently. Then she pulled me into a hug and I did begin to cry again, damn being sixteen, won't I ever get a handle on these emotions?
“But I killed a man! That thing used me to kill someone! And I threw Seamus across the room!” I sobbed.
“Yes that thing used you, but it's gone now. We'd be able to tell if it weren't. And I'm sure Seamus won't hold it against you, not if half of what I've read in your letters is true.” She said as she rubbed my back like you would a child to soothe him.
“I had to kill myself. It was the only way to kill it.” I said. The tears were finally stopping.
“I know. N'Kara told me. You're a very strong girl, you know that?”
“I don't feel so strong right now.”
“Sweetie, anyone who did what you did to protect her friends is strong. Most people aren't half as strong as you are.”
“How do you always know how to make me feel better?”
“Part practice, part natural talent. C'mon, let's see a smile there.” she poked my lips with her index finger and I smiled out of reflex. “You look like a teenage vampire.” she giggled.
“I'm sure I do. Just imagine how much fun that's gonna make my life from now on.” I said somewhat grumpily.
“I know you, you'll find a way to use it to your advantage.”
“Don't I always?” I was grinning like an idiot now. She always made me feel so much better about everything, I hadn't realized just how much I missed her just being around for me. Somehow she made everything okay again. I realized then that what I have with her is something very precious. I don’t have many friends, and no real family, but she and N’Kara are both to me now.
I don’t know where I’ll end up from here, but I’m sure now that as long as they are around for me, that I’ll be okay. I may even work out what these feelings I have for Seamus are. My life has been so strange, and my experiences with death have changed me in ways I could never have imagined. I guess I’ll do what I always do, make everything work for me. It’s gonna be interesting.
Hi, it's me. This will be a short note to let you know I'm okay, and to tell you thanks, again. I don't think I would be okay if it weren't for you and N'Kara. My worst nightmare came true and you two, more than anyone, pulled me through. I can't tell you how much it means to me to have people who love me so much. I went so long without anyone caring at all – that I got used to it. Now, I have to get used to people who love me again. I do have to ask one thing though – if I do die again, don't bring me back this time. I think if I get whacked three times, it must be a sign.
I told you that Seamus told me he loved me, but I didn't tell you what else he said. He told me that he couldn't see his life without me in it! I am kind of overwhelmed here. I have been trying to sort out how I feel for him (Is it just lust or is it more?) for a while now, and his telling me that cleared up how he feels about me in my mind. Now I just have to figure out what to do next. Any ideas here? I'm a pro at seduction, but I have no idea how to proceed in a serious relationship. To make things more interesting, I get to meet his family tomorrow. I've died twice and this scares me more than dying ever did!
Well, I've gotta go now. I'm gonna go see if my new dental work makes kissing dangerous. I hope Seamus is up for it! (Get your mind out of the gutter girl! I don't think we're gonna do anything real serious until I figure out where to go with this.)
Hey, how are you doing today? This is another short letter to let you know how we’re doing. Things have gotten interesting to say the least. I met Seamus’ family and they seemed to accept me well enough. Are all dwarves as strange as his family I wonder? Anyway, I finally decided how I feel about him. I think it could actually be love, but I’m not sure. We’re officially a couple now, and I got him out of his clothes – finally.
N’Kara and Xzax came in the next morning and gave us a bit of a hard time, but I got even by tossing the blankets off and inviting her to join us. She hopped in as a joke and it freaked Xzax out a bit. It all turned out okay in the end after she explained that it was a joke. (Sometimes I wish it weren’t – but hey, that’s the breaks.)
We went looking for Seamus’ friend Kip and ran into a mess of undead. Aust and Maui kicked their butts! Most of us had nothing to do but watch. We kept looking, but Seamus figured out that the kobold we were tracking wasn’t Kip, so we went back to his home.
We hadn’t been there long when Seamus’ father came up and asked us to defend a passage. It seems that there were more undead attacking. We held all night against a horde of the damned things, and I even had to fight. By morning, we had held, but were worn out. Fortunately, Seamus’ uncle came down and sealed the passage.
We’re all going to rest up today and then we’re leaving. Seamus says we’re coming to join back up with you and Gunju, so I guess I’ll be seeing you soon.
Things have definitely gotten interesting, tonight. First, I got to scout a pirate camp while invisible. Second, we found out the mages we were looking for were being held on the bigger ship. And third, our silly asses were going to try a rescue. That's right – six of us against about three hundred pirates. Have I mentioned, lately, that I must be out of my mind to keep hanging around with this bunch? Love makes us do funny things, I guess.
Anyway, let me fill you in on what's going on… Yesterday morning, we set sail from Gridolin to check out a report of pirates on the north coast of Hallis Island. Seamus figured that if was a small group, we could deal with them. It took most of the day to get up to the north coast, and once we got there, Seamus set to searching the inlets and coves for any sign of recent use. We found one cove that had marks in the sand where boats had been pulled up. A few hours after that, we found them.
There were two ships – one the same size as ours, and one smaller. We fought them – crippling the larger one, capturing and sinking the smaller one. We took about thirty pirates prisoner, too. We headed away to lick our wounds and decide what to do next. That was when Seamus discovered that the pirates were holding a group of mages prisoner.
One thing about my current squeeze – he’s a hardass. When it comes to tough decisions, he takes ‘em head on. He knew we didn’t have enough of a crew to keep our prisoners under control while the rest of us went after their prisoners, so he did the one thing that could solve that little problem: he ordered trials for them all, and hung most of them. Ruthless? Yes. Practical? Always. Right? Not for me to judge. Did it cause problems? Oh yeah.
Lucian had a big problem with that one. Never mind that Jena, our moral compass (if ever there was one) said it was the right thing to do – he just had to make an issue of it. Stupid, if you ask me. Seamus is the Captain, and at sea, his word is the law. Myself being familiar with the laws and various ways to break them, I know when to avoid an ugly situation. This was definitely a bad time to break the law. Lucian, of course, didn’t think the law applied to him.
He changed his tune when Seamus ordered him clapped in irons for mutiny. Lucian heard that order and he jumped overboard. Did some sort of spell and swam away. Stupid. All because he thinks his way is the only way. Men. Some days I wonder why I don’t just give up on them completely and just date other women… Wait a minute, I do date women, come to think of it. I just can’t seem to settle on one or the other.
After that little episode, we rested up for the night. Aust broke out some booze for the rest of the crew, and I spent the night consoling Seamus in my own special way. For all of his tough as nails act, he’s really a very insecure guy. He doesn’t let that show to the rest of them, and he rarely shows it to me – but I know. Of all of us, only Xzax and I have any idea of what he is really like underneath his acts. He’s a man driven by fear of failure. And that night, he felt he had failed.
The next day, we put ashore, and sent the ship back to Gridolin. Our little band of trouble headed overland for the cove we had spotted the prior day. It took us most of the day to get there. We got there just before dark and, sure enough, there were two ships in the cove below us: the big one we had disabled earlier, and another smaller one. Oh, yeah, and about three hundred or so pirates. (Wouldn't want to forget them.)
Anyway, after it got dark, Xzax and I did some scouting. Xzax spotted their nearest guard post, while I went into the camp to look for any prisoners. Seamus used a handy invisibility spell to make my job easier. If I didn't already love the fool, I would probably really love him for his devious mind. I'm hard to find, anyway – he just makes it harder on everyone. I searched the whole place, and didn't find any sign of the prisoners though. Just my luck, they weren't in the camp.
I returned to our little camp and compared notes with Xzax. Between the two of us, we had a really good idea of the layout of the camp. Jena decided that maybe they had taken the prisoners further inland. We decided to check this possibility in the morning, so we settled in for the rest of the night. About a mark before dawn, someone (I never found out who) spotted a magical light on the bigger ship. Of all the damnable luck, these prisoners just had to be on the big ship! Some days, I think we're cursed with ill luck.
A hasty attack plan was put together, and we were off – Seamus is going to circle the camp while invisible, and then create a distraction on the other side. That will be the cue for the rest of us to rush the beach, grab a boat, and storm the big ship to rescue the prisoners. Simple – five of us against the crew of a large ship. We are so doomed. As good as we are, the numbers may just do us in yet. And so help me, if Seamus gets his stupid ass killed, I’ll have Jena or Aust resurrect him so I can kill him myself.
So here I am, squatting next to a boulder, waiting for something to happen. Gods, this is the worst part. My mind just can't stop playing through a hundred 'what ifs'. Xzax is nearest to me, his bow nocked and ready. He already eliminated two sentries earlier on our way down here. I helped him finish the second one off. The first man I've ever killed. And I didn't even get a good look at him before I put a crossbow bolt through him.
I know… Everybody would probably shocked if they knew that I've never killed before. The undead don't count, as they're already dead. I guess everyone figures that, given my background, I had killed before. They are wrong, though – I wouldn't kill, I'd run. Until I hooked up with this bunch, I wasn't much in any kind of a fight. Now that I'm part demon, I'm downright scary in a fight. Seamus says that it just seems unnatural for a tiny thing like me to be as strong as I am. I tend to agree with him.
Okay, back to the business at hand. An orange flare just went up on the other side of the camp – Seamus' signal. We all break cover and make for the beach. Xzax is already firing at the nearest pirates, Jena and Aust are behind me, and N’kara is to my right with both the cats (woe to the fool who crosses her path this night).
I start for the nearest longboat, but then I see the mass of men between us and the boat. There are just too many for me to try it. That’s when N’Kara does her thing – suddenly, most of the beach and all of the pirates I can see are tangled up in vines. She got the nearest three boats too. That means someone will have to get the last boat. And it’s the farthest away. I guess I’m elected. Crossing the beach is out. I have no desire to end up tangled up, so I take to the water. I slip in, ignoring the chill, and begin swimming toward the last longboat.
Of course, by now, the alarm has been raised. I see men on the decks of both ships beginning to appear on deck with bows ready. Arrows begin to sail toward the beach a second later. Damn! That’s what I get for letting my better sense be overruled by my loyalty! I call up my darkness and change course. I head for the closest ship, the small one. My darkness acts as a shield for my friends, as I move. It’s not much, but it’s all I can do to help for the moment.
As I get closer I see that several men have already got into the water to head for the beach. They are now splashing about, lost as my darkness covers them. I decide to deal with them first. I move up behind the first one, silently and without any splashing to give me away. I pause for a moment to study him – he’s actually not bad looking, but the fear and confusion on his face spoil his looks.
“I can’t see a cursed thing!” He growls angrily to someone.
“Neither can I, you cussed fool! Can you find the ship?” His friend, less than ten feet to his left replies angrily, “If you can find the ship, we can hold onto it until this passes!”
As if you’ll get the chance, I think as I pull one of my daggers out. I slip my left arm around his face and pull him toward me – my right hand slips the dagger into the space between the bones in his lower neck. He jerks as I twist the blade, and there is a muffled pop. I let go and he slips under without a sound. I didn’t even get any blood on me with that trick.
His friend is next. I move up behind him and jam the dagger into the hollow on the right side of his neck, angling up. He jerks and spasms as the blade scrambles his brains. I pull the blade free, quickly, and leave him twitching as he begins to sink. He’s dead but it will take a minute or so for his body to realize this fact. I resheathe my dagger and move over to the side of the ship.
I find some hand and footholds, and I climb aboard. It isn’t difficult, as the deck is only about six feet above the water. As I climb over the rail, I take in the sights around me. I’m on the back part of the ship (the quarterdeck, I think Seamus calls it) and there are five men here with me. I take a minute to study them – three of them are archers, with longbows, one looks like a common sailor, and one is barking orders and trying to make sense out of the chaos.
He’s probably the captain. An idea forms in my mind as I begin to move towards him. I stop, draw my dagger, and plunge it into the left kidney area of the nearest archer. He goes down with a grunt of pain. Now my path is clear – no one between me and the man shouting orders. I cross the space quickly, returning the dagger to it’s place.
I come up behind him and slip my arms around him. I nuzzle my face against the side of his neck and lightly run my tongue over the pulse I feel there – he feels my fangs graze his neck when I do so, and he freezes.
“Mmmm…. Tasty. If you want to live… surrender this vessel now… otherwise… I’ll have to kill everyone on board.” I whisper to him huskily.
He is a smart man, fortunately. He can’t see anything, but he can feel me, and he felt the touch of fangs on his neck, and smells the coppery scent of blood from the archer I stabbed, so he concludes that I must be a vampire. His sword clatters to the deck, and he tries to speak, but all that comes out is a squeak. He tries again.
“Alright… I’ll surrender the ship.” He manages to gasp out. I smile and begin running my hands over his chest.
“Good. Master would be very angry if you hadn’t. Now, tell your men to drop their weapons. Remember, I can see them, even if you can’t.” I began to lick his neck and nibble at his earlobe. He was beginning to tremble a bit by now. I found it to be strangely exciting.
“Drop your weapons, lads! We’re surrendering!” He shouted. Several men dropped their weapons, but most simply looked around in confusion.
“You’ll have to do better than that.” I purred to him. He was beginning to sweat now.
“Drop your weapons and surrender! I’ve got a vampire holding me by the throat here!” He shouted. Weapons began to hit the deck, but then I saw several men begin to pick up wooden stakes.
“The next man to pick up a stake dies, after I kill you.” I said sweetly. I began to run my right leg up and down his, “Master told me I could eat as many of you as I wanted to get the ship. I haven’t had anyone to eat in days, so I’m very hungry.”
“Throw down all the weapons, including the stake and assemble on the foredeck! Now dammit!” He was shouting in desperation. The crew complied, slowly, but there were doing as ordered. I was trying not to laugh – this was easier than I thought it would be.
“Good. Now tell them to jump overboard, and swim to shore,” I whispered, as soon as I had enough control not to giggle.
“Everyone, over the side and make for shore! Hurry it up… Let’s go!” He shouted. The men began to go – slowly, in ones and twos at first. Then in larger groups as they saw that no one was stopping them. I watched until there were none left on the deck, then I released my hold on him and turned him to face the bigger ship.
I dropped my darkness then. I let him see the other ship that was now ablaze and had run aground. She was starting to sink as well. He stared in open-mouthed shock, “They made Master angry.” I smiled. The look on his face was priceless.
He sat down on the deck, white from fear, and I stepped away from him a bit. It had worked after all. The others had rescued the mages and were pulling toward this ship in a longboat. I took a second to count heads – everyone was present, though Seamus had an arrow sticking out of his left shoulder. I raised my right hand and waved to them. We had pulled off another insane plan and made it out alive.
I sometimes wonder how we do it. I think a bit about the men I killed tonight, and I discover that I feel nothing for them – no remorse, no pity, no joy. How odd – I would have thought I would feel something, but the only thing I feel is relief that my lover and the two women I think of as sisters, are safe. I wonder: is it me that doesn’t care about the killing, or is it the demon within that doesn’t care?
(You couldn’t protect them… You couldn’t protect them… You couldn’t protect them. You couldn’t protect them. You couldn’t protect themyoucouldn’tprotectthemyoucouldn'tprotectthem…) It was running though my head like some sort of mantra as I spurred my horse into a faster gallop. I couldn’t seem to get it to stop, either. Right then, I hated myself with a passion and intensity that I’d never felt before.
I spared a quick glance down at myself as the horse came out of a turn on the narrow forest trail – I was still covered in a mixture of troll blood, and blood from the little girl it had killed. (You couldn’t protect them…) Some of the blood belongs to Seamus, my lover, the man I’m pursuing right now. (You couldn’t protect them…) But none of it is mine. Somehow that makes it worse.
I had come out of the rage in the cellar to find that Seamus was gone. Angus was lying dead on the ground, Aust looked like he had been beat senseless, N'Kara had turned into some kind of half-tiger, and Jena was burning the remains of the last troll – things had gone completely to hell. As soon as I saw Angus, I knew where Seamus had gone – he was heading back to Gridolin, to sail home and tell his family that he had gotten Angus killed. Damn fool.
I had to stop him. None of this was his fault, but he would be thinking otherwise. (You couldn’t protect them… You couldn’t protect them…) I ran to where the horses had been left, leapt onto mine, and lashed it into a run. I rode like the fires of hell were after me. I had no idea how much of a head start he had – surely no more than five minutes, but I had to catch him quickly. The damn fool was hurt – hurt badly, and in no condition to do what he was trying to do.
As I rode, all the frustration and fear of the last fifteen minutes came boiling out of me. I screamed mindlessly into the wind. Tears for my failures and losses came pouring out. The drumming of my horses hooves reinforcing the mantra running through my head. (You couldn’t protect them… You couldn’t protect them…) How I wished that damned troll had killed me. At least then I wouldn’t be seeing that little girl's face as it crushed her, over and over again in my mind.
I wouldn’t be seeing Seamus lying on the cellar floor, ripped open and nearly dead – I wouldn’t see Jenas face as she realized that the troll had killed the child it had been holding hostage – I wouldn’t see N’Kara’s face as she smelled the child’s blood – and I wouldn’t know that if I had just been able to get into that cellar sooner, none of this would have happened. (You couldn’t protect them…)
Suddenly, I spot him ahead of me – I spur the horse again, and I close the distance rapidly. In a minute or so, I have pulled alongside him. I cut him off and he reigns in his horse. I see him in the light of day, and my heart shatters: he is a mess. His armor is torn away, along with his tunic – his chest is a mass of angry, oozing cuts. It would still be open wounds if it weren’t for Gunju’s potion.
But it is his eyes that break my heart. His merry green eyes, normally so full of life, are as dull and lifeless as a corpse. I know… I’ve seen enough zombies to recognize the look.
“Seamus! Stop!” I yell as he tries to get around me.
He ignores me and I reach out and backhand him across the face. He falls from the saddle and hits the ground with a grunt of pain.
I dismount and move to his side. Blood is beginning to seep from the cuts again. I reach down to him, but he bats my hand away.
“Dammit, girl! That hurt! Now, help me back onto my horse!” He orders me in a pale shadow of his command voice.
“No.” I tell him as I stand over him. “I’m bringing you back. They need you now. Your cousin needs you.”
“Angus is dead!” He snarls, eyes now ablaze with rage, “I got him killed, and I have to tell his father! The hell with the others!”
I don’t even stop to think – I just hit him. It has every bit of rage I’m holding in behind it. I connect with the side of his jaw, and I feel as well as hear it crack. His eyes roll up into his head and he slumps to the ground unconscious. I love him, but right now, I don’t have time for this. I pick him up and toss him over his saddle.
A few minutes later I have him tied securely, and I’m leading his horse behind mine. I bring the horses to an easy canter – no sense tiring them further now, and I think about what I’ve just done. I punched out my lover. I understand that he wanted to face his family and tell them of Angus’s death, but there is still a chance. Aust said that if we hurry, we still might save him. To do so, we need Seamus.
Movement ahead catches my eye – it’s Jena. She’s coming up fast on Apple Demon. The thunder of his hooves comes to my ears a second later. She reigns up beside me a moment later. She looks behind me at Seamus’ form on his saddle, and then she looks to me for an explanation.
I shrug as I hand the reins to his horse to her, “We had a disagreement.”
She gives me an odd look, and I look at her again with a sad smile – she too is covered in a gory mixture of troll and human blood, her face is streaked with dried tears like my own. I fear that none of us who were in that cellar will ever be quite the same.
“Take care of him.” I say to her as I turn my horse and spur him into a run, “Tell him I’m sorry, and that I love him.”
She won’t follow me – she has to see to the others. I know this, and I use it to my advantage – I use everything to my advantage. After I am out of her sight, I dismount and lead the horse. I will follow them, and watch from a distance until I figure out what I should do next. I got that little girl killed, and nearly Seamus as well – Angus probably would still be alive as well if I had done my part correctly.
I can’t look at any of them now without being reminded that I failed to protect a room full of children from a monster. The last bit of innocence in my soul is gone now. There hadn’t been much left, but what had been there was precious to me – and now it’s gone. I feel like I’ve died again – only this time, it’s my soul dying, not just my body. I sit down beside a tree and I cry for the loss of myself. I don’t move for a long time.
I stood up a little too fast and had to grab at the tree next to me for support. I was cut up badly and had lost a lot of blood – you’d think I would’ve known better than to stand up fast under those conditions, but no… I had to get to my feet and warn the others. This bunch wasn’t as dumb as most of the undead we had faced before – this crew was smart enough to set out traps around their turf, magic as well as mechanical.
I took a minute to let the world around me stop swaying, and then I started moving from tree to tree. I can move like a ghost, normally – right now, it sounded to me like a herd of elephants was crashing though the trees. Was I really that noisy? I mean, I know I’m hurt bad, but I didn’t think it was enough to make me that noisy. Finally, it sinks through my dizziness that it isn’t me – I’m standing still, and whatever it is, it is coming towards me in the dark.
I slide to the ground and draw my sword as the sounds come closer. After a minute, I make out a humanoid shape moving through the trees. I squint and manage to make out a face: it’s Aust. He’s moving as quietly as he can, but to me, he sounds like the city watch tromping to the walls for a shift change. I’m actually glad to see him – this means I won’t have to make it the half mile back to the group. He can go, and I can rest here. Rest… Mmmmm… Rest and sleep….
WHOA!!! I nodded off there for a second – that’s not good. I blink the black that is creeping into my vision away, and I stand up and call out to him quietly, “Aust! Over here.”
He starts a bit – good to know that I’ve still got it, even if I’m dying on my feet. He moves over and catches me as I stumble a bit. His eyes widen a bit as he sees the wounds and blood covering my body, then I hear him begin a prayer chant.
“Never knew you cared,” I whisper as I feel the tingle of healing magic begin to course through me. I really like healing magic, it just feels so damn good. Shame I’ve had to get so used to it of late.
“What happened?” he asked quietly.
For a moment, I was tempted to forget that he was a priest – his arms were very warm and comfortable. Fortunately, I knew that a lot of what I was feeling was aftereffects of the magic, so I behaved myself.
“Ran into some kind of magic barrier.” I said as I sat down against the tree. “This bunch seems to be smart enough to protect their headquarters. Shame, I was really hoping they were a bunch of idiots.”
Just about then, Xzax appeared behind Aust. He’s almost as good as me at hiding and moving quietly – better in the woods, I think. Aust jumps a tiny bit when Xzax places his hand on his shoulder.
“Cleo. What’s going on?” Xzax asked.
“I just got my ass handed to me, that’s what.” I replied irritably, “That damn medusa bitch is smart enough to trap the area, and she has friends.”
“What kind of ‘friends’?” Aust asked.
“Two of those giant skeletons, about two dozen of the regular type skeletons, a bodak, a female drow, and a male human.” I told him.
There was a moment of silence as they considered what I had told them.
“Can you lead us in safely?” Aust asked finally.
“Traps aren’t really my thing, but I can try.” I told him after a moment.
“Good. Xzax, can you lead the others back to us?”
“Child’s play.” Xzax replied.
Sometimes that half-dragon can be arrogant as hell, but it’s only because he’s good at what he does, so I don’t hold it against him. If he weren’t hooked up with my sister, I’d give some thought to finding out what else he’s good at. Whoa… Healing magic after-effect there. Not as intense as Seamus’ magic, but there nonetheless. Seamus told me it’s because his goddess is the Goddess of Fertility – good thing I’m barren – otherwise, I might have Jena’s problem. I really don’t need kids in my life.
Xzax vanishes into the night and I pull my cloak tighter around myself, not because I'm cold or anything, but because whatever that barrier was, it tore up my leathers pretty good – I'm practically falling out of them. Considering the effect healing magic has on me, I think it best not to leave too much exposed – it wouldn't take much to get me going right now. Sigh, what a time to be frustrated and horny.
Aust, of course, is oblivious to my problem. He leans in close and whispers to me, “I am really glad to see you, Cleo.”
I don't mean to be abrupt or rude to him, but I'm still uncomfortable about my actions last week in the village. I still see that little girl's face in my dreams. I couldn't protect her, and it's killing me inside. That's why I've been shadowing the party, instead of riding with them. I just can't bring myself to look them in the eyes. I'm afraid they'll know that it was my fault. I don't handle rejection real well.
Note to self… Feelings of guilt and inadequacy make horniness go away. I talked to N'Kara about why I was staying away, the other night. She understands me the most, I think. I told her how it felt and why I couldn't face the others. She listened without comment until I finished, and then told me to do as I see fit. No matter what, she told me I would have her support and love. What did I ever do to deserve her, I wonder.
We sit there in silence for several long minutes, until I can't take it anymore. Ordinarily, quiet and darkness are comforting to me, but at this particular moment, with Aust sitting there watching me, it isn't. I give him a signal to follow me, and he does. I move towards the undead command post. I move cautiously and slowly, checking everywhere for anything out of place. Hey, I learn from my mistakes. Nothing like being cut to ribbons to make a girl cautious.
We get to within about two hundred yards of the camp before I find the first trap – it’s a clever one, a camouflaged pit with spikes in the bottom. Ten feet deep and about twenty feet wide, anyone falling into it would be hurting in a big way. I pull on two limbs that support the flimsy cover and it falls in with a muffled swish. If you were more than ten feet away, you wouldn’t hear it.
As I squatted there admiring my handiwork, I heard the rest of the group approaching. A minute later, Xzax slipped up next to me.
“How’s it going?” he asked.
I grinned and indicated the open pit in front of me: “Someone takes their work real seriously,” I whispered.
He merely nodded and I began to move around the pit.
A few minutes of slow movement later, I found the next one – this one was really nasty, a trip wire that releases two sets of blades that are attached to tied-back branches. Somebody out there had way too much time on their hands, earlier. Gotta give them points for creativity, though. What – I appreciate quality work, even when it’s used against me. I spent a tense minute disarming it, and then Xzax, Aust and I moved forward again.
We work our way forward to a tree that we can see the camp from. There they are, in all their undead glory: two score skeletons, two of the giant skeletons, a bodak, the medusa, a female drow, and a human male. Quite the formidable force, I’d say.
I pull Aust over to me and whisper into his ear, “Okay, we’re here. You do have a plan… Right?”
He doesn’t reply. Instead, he smiles that tight grin of his, and all I can do is mutter ‘Oh shit.’ to myself. I know that grin – it is usually followed by the eruption of chaos and mayhem. I don’t mind chaos and mayhem. I just prefer not to be in the middle of them. I pull out my crossbow and load a bolt. I just have a feeling I may need it.
Aust begins chanting quietly, and Xzax readied his bow. I feel better, knowing that he’s going to be backing us up – he’s one hell of a shot with that bow. I settle into a comfortable crouch and wait for the fun to begin. I don’t have long to wait. After Aust finishes chanting, a five-headed beast appears directly in front of the bodak and blows flame from all five of it’s heads. 'Impressive' doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Xzax lets fly three arrows a split second later – two miss, but one thumps into the drow. I figure she’s as good a target as any, and I loose my bolt into her as well. She goes down – great, now all we have to worry about are the rest of them. The human was caught in the fire blast, but he seems to be unharmed. I hear Xzax mutter something about him being an illusion – great. The bodak seems unperturbed by the fire as well – not good.
The hydra and the bodak began to tangle, and Xzax fired off three more arrows at the human this time – all of them were stopped before they could strike him. I held my fire and watched as Aust moved up next to the hydra, chanting the whole way. As he finished with a shouted ‘Begone!’, all the undead crumbled. The hydra vanished, and the human stood there alone with the most shocked expression I have ever seen.
Aust fixed him with a piercing glare and uttered a single word. “Surrender.”
After a moment's hesitation he did. Everyone came pouring out of the woods at that point, and I faded back into the woods away from them. They had done it. The medusa that defeated them a year ago was no more. I should have been elated, but I was only tired. I’m still feeling the pain of an innocent child’s death, the fear of rejection for my causing it, and the loss of my lover in the process.
It seems so unfair that in this moment of triumph, I can’t seem to share it with them. I turn to walk away, and I find N’Kara blocking my way. I look at her without speaking for a moment, and then she places her hand on my shoulder, “Go to him. He misses you.”
“I don’t know if I can.” I tell her, “So much has happened… I don’t know what, or even if I feel anymore.”
“You do. The hurt you radiate is almost visible. He’s hurting, too. You need each other, now more than ever. Just talk to him. If it doesn’t work, at least you tried.”
I don’t reply. Instead, I grab her up in a hug and I allow her to walk me back to the group. I have come home, now. In the aftermath of the worst day of my young life, I have found a home. Ironic, isn’t it?
If someone would have told me last week that I was going to be contemplating my future as a bodyguard for my best friend, I would not have thought much about it, after all, I owe Jenna my life anyway. If someone had told me that I would be lusting after Seamus in a big way, once again, no big shock, he and I were lovers for almost six months, and he's damned easy on the eyes. If someone had told me that I was going to be so relaxed among the small party of people I had come to regard as family, I would heve told them they needed their heads examined for contusions. It was only a couple of weeks ago that I was so uncomfortable around them that I ran away.
Maybe I should explain here. A few weeks ago, we fought a group of trolls in a small village. We got our asses kicked. Sure we killed them all, but the fight cost the lives of a small child, a barmaid, and Angus, Semus' cousin. I was in the room when the troll crushed that little girl, and I blamed myself for not getting to that roomful of children in time to save them all. I despised myself so much that I ran away from the others. Sure, I stayed around just out of sight, but my self-loathing was so intense that I couldn't bring myself to look at them. I was afraid of the disgust I would see in their eyes, disgust at me for being too weak, or too stupid to find a way to save those children.
I showed my face long enough to help defeat the vampiric medusa a bit later, but it hurt so much to see them all looking at me. N'Kara convinced me to rejoin them, but I was by myself, even among them. I ended the relationship Seamus and I had carried on for nearly a year, and I kept to the fringe of the group. Why? I was afraid I would let them down again. And then, a few days ago, it happened. We were all ouside the Burning Sun Monastary, we had celebrated our victory over the undead and had gone to sleep.
We all dreamed that night. We all dreamed of a world 30 years from now. A world where we had killed Jenna and she had been reborn as a Celestial Being, a world where I had aged four years instead of thirty, a world where Seamus was an Admiral, Aust was the Chosen of Xoriah, Xzax was an ambassador for the Dragon Nations, and my dear N'Kara had a child that mirrored her so well that it hurt. A world that was being killed by invaders who had proved to be unstoppable. I saw what I was going to become, an outcast whose only friends were undead creatures I had summoned to aid me, and I didn't like what I saw. I saw a lonely, bitter woman who cared for little outside her own comfort. It scared the living hell out of me, and I've died twice, so I know what's on the other side.
We all woke to utter chaos: fireballs were raining from the sky, the horses were panicing, save Apple Demon, and Jenna was running to him. I followed her, resolving in that moment, that I wouldn't let her get more than an arm's reach from her ever again. Anyone who tried to hurt her would have to come through me first. I know, big laugh at first glance, she's a Paladin of Yentindar, and I'm only a slip of a girl with no real fighting skills. But I have other talents, the shadows are my friends, and if you can't see me, you can't stop me. And I know now what I'm going to be capable of in just a few short years. No one will get anywhere near her.
We both climbed onto Apple Demon together and rode to the monastary, what was happening there took my breath away, Aust was linked with the other Priests, chanting, and calling down the wrath of the Gods on an army of dopplegangers. Impressive is really an understatement here. Seamus and Angus turned up next, and Seamus joined in, then Jenna as well. I got wet just watching the raw display of faith and power, I've never come so close to publicly grabbing someone and fucking them on the spot, but as they finished, it took everything I had not to grab Seamus and do him right there. Fortunately, he got called inside before I could.
Lucky me. That left me outside with Jenna for a little while, and that was of the good, since being near her always makes me feel good. We spent seveal comfortable minutes in silence until Seamus returned. With white hair. Things just get stranger and stranger around us. I eavesdropped on his explanation to Jenna, seems his Goddess put in a little personal appearance. And she gave him the lowdown on this little quest we're on. Like I said, stranger and stranger.
Then he held a little conference with Jenna that I sat in on, I won't repeat any of what was said there, but some issues seemed to be laid to rest. The rest of the group gathered and we gained 3 new people, some Constable or something who had this really scared looking rogue in custody, and some guy carrying a big spear. Didn't really get any names aside from the Constable who said his name was Roberts. There was some sort of legal issue Jenna resolved for them all and now they're with us, I have no real idea why.
Seamus took the Rogue and made him part of the crew along with the guy with the spear, and I think Roberts may be too…I'm not really sure as I spent the next two days with Jenna running back and forth to the keep trying to find Prat once we got back to Gridolin. When all was said and done, we were ready to sail on the Rattler, and Seamus had another 100 crew that came straight out of the mines. Boy this should be amusing. Anyway, that's it for now. I'm tired and want to go talk to Seamus for a bit, after he announced that his clan had been overrun, he went off on his own. I think maybe I can comfort him a bit, and I'm curious to see if the carpets match the drapes.
Later: They do!