“Bandages,” Demaris ordered and Olena held them out to her.
“We’re running pretty low,” Olena warned. Barak dropped to his knees on the pavement nearby and sighed in exhaustion. He reached his hands towards the injured man Demaris was working on. Seemingly without looking up or noticing his existence, Demaris pushed his hands away.
“I’ve got this one. Go get something to eat, man, you look like hell.” Olena winced, expecting some kind of explosion, but Barak simply sighed.
“You don’t look much better,” he said after a moment.
“Yes, but my method doesn’t involve taking people’s injuries on myself. I know it hurts. A lot. And it keeps on hurting even after you’ve healed yourself. I know. After a while you get sort of numb, and that’s when it’s dangerous because you’ll wind up pushing yourself past the limit.” She looked up at him briefly. “I don’t have bandages to waste saving you from your own exorbitant generosity.”
“And how do you know, exactly?” Barak asked.
“How do you think I know?”
“I thought you didn’t use any magic or powers.”
“I don’t use them any more,” Demaris corrected after a moment. She sat back and stretched, grimacing as her spine popped and cracked. “That’s the last one. We’re out of bandages, we’re out of thread, we’re out of uninjured patches of Barak, we’re done.” She stood up and Barak climbed to his feet as well, stretching his own aching back painfully.
Olena got to her feet a bit tentatively and staggered; Barak caught her before she could fall. “I’m sorry, I don’t know how you do it, you two are like . . . like machines.”
Demaris sighed. “We’re not any tougher than you,” she said, holding out a hand that shook visibly. She pointed down at her feet. “You see that? That’s sheer cussedness holding me up right now.” She pointed at Barak. “He’s got his fair share, too. C’mon, Barak, you take that arm, I’ll take this one, and we’ll walk.” Demaris took hold of Olena’s left arm and draped it over her shoulders. They left the makeshift hospital slowly, occasionally pausing so one or more of them could fight off a dizzy spell. They had just reached the entrance to the building when Fa’ss’th appeared.
“Elminster says there’s someone here looking for us,” the lizard reported. “He wants us all to meet him in the council chambers in an hour.”
“Elminster can . . .” Barak uttered a stream of profanity involving animals and perverted sex acts. Demaris burst out laughing and nearly lost her balance; Olena caught her.
“I don’t think I want to be in the room when you tell him that,” Fa’ss’th said. “Maybe I’ll peek through the window or something,” the lizard continued, grinning. “Anyway, he—or someone, I’m not entirely clear on who’s in charge at the moment—assigned us some rooms in the palace. That, and they saw fit to reward us with some equipment out of the Council armory. So I’d kind of like to go, you know, have a look at it.”
“Where’s the palace?” Demaris asked. “I don’t think I can walk very far.”
Fa’ss’th pointed across the square. “It’s that big huge building right there.”
“All right, all right,” Barak said, and they began walking again. After a meal, a bath, and a change of clothes they all felt sufficiently revived to meet with their visitor, whoever it was.
The Council chamber was in the center of the building, situated under a vast stone dome pierced with narrow slits that sent shafts of bright sunlight spearing down towards the wooden table below. The table was a huge round affair carved from some rare and expensive wood and inlaid with red gold. Twenty people could easily sit around its circumference. A small throne sat against the far wall like an afterthought, and it was not surprising that Gariad had ignored it, preferring to sit comfortably and democratically at the table with Elminster, an unfamiliar dwarven woman, and . . .
“Sam!” Barak shouted in delight.
Sam grinned. “Still alive, I see,” he said. “A little beat up, but that’s to be expected. This is Elice, she’s an old friend of mine,” he continued, standing up and stepping sideways to avoid Olena’s enthusiastic pounce on her brother.
“Pleased to meet you,” Elice said. Barak shook Sam’s hand, then suddenly looked away, fighting to hold back tears.
“What’s wrong?” Sam asked suspiciously.
“Nothing. I’m all right,” Barak insisted. “No, really I am. I’m just tired.”
Demaris took a seat at the table and an unfamiliar lizard leaned over, presenting a clawed hand. “The’ss’it,” he announced.
“What’s he doing here?” Fa’ss’th demanded, glaring at his sister. She shrugged.
“He says he’s looking for you.”
Elminster harrumphed irritably. “If you could save the reunions for later, we have some business to conduct. Firstly, His Majesty would like . . .”
“I can speak for myself, if you don’t mind,” Gariad said mildly. “I’d like to thank you all for your assistance in freeing the city from the clutches of evil. I would prefer to avoid any official reward ceremonies given the state of the city, but if you would like one . . .”
“No,” Demaris said shortly. “That’s not necessary.”
“It probably isn’t wise to draw a lot of attention to ourselves right now, anyway,” Olena said.
Gariad nodded. “You are welcome to stay here in the palace for as long as you’d like, but I expect that you have other concerns that will take you away before long.” He smiled. “Adventuring can be like that. That’s really all I have to say, so I’ll leave you to handle your own affairs, now.” He stood and gestured for Elminster to follow him. The Sage glared, obviously curious to hear the rest of the meeting, but obeyed, grumbling quietly under his breath. When the doors had closed, the dwarf woman stood.
“You’re a varied lot, you are, but alloys are stronger so that’s all right. You don’t know me, but I know who you are, so I figure it’s up to me to do the explaining. My name is Baugetha . . .”
“You’re one of Nymbus’ first group of students,” Fa’ss’th said, shooting upright in his chair.
“Yes, I was his student at the same time as Athur, who you’ve already met, correct? He sent me here to find you and bring you some news.” Baugetha pursed her lips. “I don’t really know any good way of saying this, so I’ll just say it. Nymbus has . . . died. We’re not really sure how it happened, he was in perfect health apart from being unconscious, but one moment he was alive and the next moment he . . . wasn’t.”
“That’s not possible,” Demaris said. “It is not possible.”
“This wouldn’t have happened if you’d just come with us when we first found you,” La’ss’a said.
“Is that so?” Demaris demanded. “And what could I have done if I HAD been there, exactly?”
La’ss’a sniffed. “You only have yourself to blame for your grief.”
“Oh, I’m not upset that he’s dead.” Demaris said. La’ss’a sniffed again. “Yeah, fine, look at me like I’m some sort of freak. You know what my first memory is? It’s of my father, yes, my dear, beloved father that you’re all so fond of, pitching me off a cliff into a pit of lava. He was more than a little startled when I managed to survive. Of course, you think I’d be over that by now, seeing as how it was over five hundred years ago, but that’s when he decided to start up his plan.
“I don’t even really know how old I am, since I’ve spent most of my life being carted from one plane to another so that I could be trained. Trained like some kind of dog. A useful dog, one with some impressive tricks, but a dog nonetheless. I spent decades with the githzerai, learning to control chaos stuff with my mind alone. He wanted me to be strong. Well, I got strong. Strong enough to tell him he could take his plan and leap straight into the abyss. I am not going to be anyone’s pawn ever again.”
“We didn’t know,” Baugetha said awkwardly after a few minutes. “I’m certain that if he could take it back, he would . . .”
“I know you never knew. He’d probably mellowed a bit by then, it was hundreds of years before he got the idea into his head to take on more students.”
“In his journal, he said he was sorry . . .” Fa’ss’th offered.
“Oh, I’m sure he was, but it’s too late. It’s too late for apologies or forgiveness. And anyway, it doesn’t matter now,” Demaris said. “It’s over, and there’s work to do.”
Baugetha nodded and pulled several large pieces of colored crystal from her belt pouches. “That is what Athur said, or close enough. He wants to offer you our support in tracking down Sulveig and his allies while we try to gather our planar allies. He sent me here to offer you access to our stronghold.” She gestured with the crystals.
“With those?” Fa’ss’th asked.
“Yes,” Baugetha said. “Nymbus made these for us a long time ago, they can grant you knowledge of a way to travel through the astral plane. It’s the only way to reach the stronghold, it is a pocket Nymbus made, a demi-plane. It stood unused for years, but he granted us access to it when we . . . split.”
“Now I remember,” Demaris said. “Philosophical differences, wasn’t it? What was it he wanted you to do? Raise an army to conquer the Realms?”
“That’s immaterial now,” Baugetha said, bristling.
“It was, wasn’t it?”
“If you must know, yes. Athur believed it was . . . unwise.”
“Hah. Ambitious, my father certainly was. We should all thank him for everything he’s given us. Knowledge. Power. Sulveig. Hey, two out of three isn’t bad!”
Sam slammed his fist down on the table, raising only a dull, undramatic thud out of the heavy wood. “That is enough! Hate him if you want, but don’t think for one minute that we have to think the same way. Nymbus saved my life and it’s a fair bet that I knew him better than you ever will!”
“Think what you like,” Demaris said stiffly.
Baugetha coughed nervously. “Well, I really should be going, but do please come have a look at the stronghold, at least. Most of it is still closed off. There may be things there that you can use.” She held up her hands, there was a brief glow, and she vanished.
Fa’ss’th snagged the crystals. “So how did you guys get here, anyway?” he asked La’ss’a.
“We stole Sulveig’s ship,” she said smugly.
“Oo, that I want to see.” They left, followed by The’ss’it, Sam, and Elice. Kyrian followed them, too, but Olena looked uncomfortable.
“Oren’s been gone a long time,” she said. “I should go find out whether he’s all right.” Kyrian raised an eyebrow at her.
“I’ll go with you,” he said.
“No, I’d . . . ah . . . I’d really rather go by myself.” Kyrian’s eyebrows rose further.
“Well, all right,” he said. “But come back soon, I want to catch up!”
Demaris sat at the table, idly tracing the gold patterns on its glossy surface with a fingertip. She jumped when she felt a hand on her shoulder and looked up at Barak.
“You don’t have to pretend to feel sorry for me,” she said. “It’s a stretch, I know.”
“I don’t feel sorry for you,” he said. “And I’m not pretending.” He sat down on the tabletop, leaning back slightly and crossing his legs. “Is this how it’s always going to be with you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you going to spend your entire life hating everyone and everything because you didn’t like how your father treated you when you were a child?”
Demaris looked down at the table again. “The only thing I ever wanted was to be left alone. That’s all. What do these people want with me? I’m no use for anyone’s ambitions and I like it that way!”
“If you really want to stop being their pawn, you have to do something other than just reject them. You have to let it go so you can think clearly.”
“Yeah.” Barak stood up and began walking away. “Hey,” Demaris said.
He shrugged. “Thank me by doing it.”
Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.
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- In Color
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- Cold Bood: Shopping
- Cold Blood: Sheen's New Job
- Cold Blood: Session 8
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- Psionics Game: Council
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