Haden and Talan sat in the living room of the town house. Haden was ensconced, as usual, in the most comfortable chair, a book in his lap and a glass of wine at his elbow. He’d taken to reading since Cerellis’ funeral, rendering the evenings unusually quiet.
Talan was trying to convince Ari not to use the couch for a bed, with mixed results. Usually Ari took well to training, but she really loved the couch. Mostly, she obeyed when Talan was in the room. Otherwise, not so much. She briefly gave up her attempts to conquer the furniture and curled up in front of the fire with a sigh. It was cold outside and the warmth was very welcome.
Sheen arrived at her usual time, her hair still damp from scrubbing. Yolette trailed behind her, immediately heading for the kitchen to grab a snack. Sheen paused beside Haden’s chair and brushed her lips against his forehead. He glanced up at her and smiled.
“Haden, I’ve been meaning to ask you, what are you reading?” Talan asked.
“Well . . . nothing much, really,” Haden replied.
“You’ve been so engrossed in it . . .”
Haden flushed a bit, embarrassed. “It’s just some histories about my father and grandfather. I never really knew my family very well.”
“Your father was a great man,” Talan announced. “I’ll bet those histories are fascinating. Maybe you can share some of them with us.”
“They’re certainly startling. This book actually mentions a fiend named Kalisa, if you can believe it.”
“Really?” Talan blinked. “What does it say about Kalisa?”
“Just that Faodhagan convinced her to assist the rebels during the Myrstas Crusade, adn that she came out of the darkness. She’s only mentioned briefly, around the time Fagan met Kerry, my grandmother.”
“Are we ever going to meet someone who isn’t related to you in some way?” Sheen asked, flopping down in a chair.
“Don’t blame me,” Haden said, chuckling. “My family gets around. Celestials and fiends live a long time. I th ink they probably all meet each other eventually.”
“I’d hate to be the one trying to map your family tree,” Talan said.
“Do you have any idea how long you will live?” Sheen asked curiously.
The front door opened with a bang and Mal came inside, shaking off the cold. “I found her,” he announced blandly to no one in particular before trotting up the stairs.
“Good to see you, too, Mal,” Talan said.
“Where’s he going?” Haden asked.
“Who knows,” Talan said, shrugging.
Sheen nudged Haden insistently. “Well, do you?”
“You’d better answer her,” Talan encouraged.
“No, I have no idea,” Haden replied. “I have enough immortal blood that I might make it a few centuries, but since the two types seem to fight each other, I might not even make it through one.”
“Hmm,” Sheen said, sitting back in her chair and frowning.
“Why?” Haden asked.
“Oh . . . no reason,” she murmured. Haden rolled his eyes.
“How about you, Sheen?” Talan asked.
“Elans don’t get old,” she said.
“What happens to them, then?” Talan asked.
“They just keep going,” Sheen replied. “As far as I know, in the thousands of years that elans have existed, not one has ever died from old age.” There was an enraged squawk from upstairs and Mal came bounding back down the stairs, looking a bit ruffled.
“Excuse ME!” Hexla exclaimed. Talan jumped to his feet.
“Is everything all right up there?” Mal opened the closet door with a flourish and vanished inside as Hexla came down the stairs.
“I’m fine,” the witch said, smiling at Talan. “I just tried to come down the stairs at the wrong moment.” There was a crash from the scullery and Hexla shook her head.
“Is Yolette cooking again?”
“It sounds like it,” Sheen said, beginning to extricate herself from the chair.
“Don’t get up, I’ll handle it,” Hexla said, and disappeared into the kitchen.
Haden put his book away. “So, can I ask you a question now?” Sheen nodded. “How old are you?”
“I’m twenty-one,” she said, chuckling.
“Good,” Haden said, grinning a bit like his old self. “I like younger women.”
“Don’t let Annali catch you saying that,” Sheen shot back. Talan tried to hold in a laugh and wound up coughing and sneezing helplessly.
“Talking was never really her thing,” Haden said. Sheen made a face, but it seemed good-humored. The front door opened again, letting in another blast of cold air along with Joris. He smiled at the sight of Talan, Sheen, and Haden gathered in the living room.
“It’s strange to feel like I’m heading toward middle-age when I may literally have all the time in the world,” Sheen mused.
“You are not middle-aged,” Talan laughed.
“In Waterdeep, a woman is considered a spinster if she’s not married by the time she’s 18. Of course, among the dwarves it’s considered shocking to marry before you’re sixty. Maybe I should just split the difference,” Sheen said.
“Waterdeep? That old anthill?” Joris asked, dropping into a chair in a way that resembled a collapse.
“It’s the City of Splendors, not an anthill,” Sheen informed him.
“I know,” Joris replied, “it just seems different to think about it now.”
“It just seems like one city among many,” Sheen said.
“That’s what I mean. That’s it exactly.” The cleric sighed. “I’ve been having no end of trouble with words.”
“Well, you’ve come to the right place, then,” Haden said.
“What’s wrong, Joris?” Talan asked.
“I’d be surprised if it was anything else,” Haden said.
“I can’t tell if I’m getting through to her. I’m starting with simple virtues, but when I tell her the parables it’s like they’re just stories to her. She doesn’t know what it means to be mortal. She’s three hundred years old.”
“Maybe you should show Joris the book you’re reading, Haden,” Talan suggested. Haden reached under his seat and flipped through the pages for a while, then passed it to Joris.
“She may even have been a different type of tanar’ri before, she just doesn’t remember it—or any mortal life she may have had before that.” Joris skimmed the page, then slowed down and began reading carefully.
“So, it’s like she’s never really lived before,” Sheen said.
“Right,” Joris responded absently.
“She’s trying, though, that’s a start,” Talan said.
“Trying and succeeding are two different things, though,” Sheen said.
“I think she is trying, but she’s a very chaotic creature and teaching her to overcome temptation through discipline doesn’t seem to be helping.”
“She’s like a child,” Sheen said. “She needs a family.”
Joris smiled. “Maybe. Would you mind if she and I moved in here?”
“It doesn’t bother me,” Haden said. “There’s plenty of room.” The closet door opened, ejecting Mal among a tangle of brooms and mops. “Mal, what the heck are you doing?!” Haden demanded.
Mal looked down at the scroll in his hand blankly, then said, “I found the Lady of Mirrors.”
“So, you found what you’ve been looking for?” Talan asked, mystified.
“Very nearly,” Mal said. “I know where I have to go. The Eye is Hers, I must return it to Her.”
“Does she have anything to do with the City of Mirrors that Gyderic mentioned?” Sheen asked. Haden made a face at her and she sighed. “Yes, he’s dead, but if we don’t ever find out what he was doing, we may find ourselves in even worse trouble.”
“Perhaps,” Mal said. “Perhaps not.”
“It’s really the only lead we have,” Sheen insisted.
“Whatever happened to me, I know Her hand is in it,” Mal said.
Haden shrugged. “You helped us, we can at least return the favor.”
“That would be very kind. That elf woman, I saw her in the Library of the Lady. She told me where to look.”
“Elf woman?” Sheen asked. “Firil?”
“Maybe?” Mal conceded.
Haden shook his head. “Hopeless.”
“She told me the cabal of faerie wizards that created the Isle of Black Trees is called Viridian and they hold court with the Lady in a place called Selwyn’s Grove, on a Prime world called Thazia.”
“A Prime?” Haden asked. “Visiting a different prime is, in many ways, more dangerous than visiting any of the Outer Planes.”
“How so?” Joris asked, startled.
“Primes are unpredictable,” Haden said. “You never know what you’re going to find. At least, so I’ve been told, I’ve never been to a Prime before.”
“What, never?” Sheen asked.
“Never,” Haden said. “Is it true that a terrible ball of fire burns in the sky?”
“Are you talking about the sun?” Sheen asked after a moment.
“Son of what?”
“No, the sun is . . . oh, nevermind, you’ll understand when you see it.”
Joris chuckled. “Primes won’t call you Clueless, at least. They may throw rocks, though.”
“I wouldn’t like to bet on their chances if they try throwing rocks at Haden,” Sheen announced primly.
Hexla emerged from the kitchen and put a load of dishes down on the dining room table with a loud thump. Talan bounced to his feet and began helping her. The smell of food drew everyone to the table and for a time all conversation ceased.
Sheen pushed her plate aside and yawned. “I’m sorry, but I’m going to head on home. I’ll tell Dr. Rhas that I’ll be out for the next few days and we can ask Lissandra about finding a portal to Thazia tomorrow.”
“Sleep sounds good,” Talan said, from where he was helping Hexla with the dishes again. Yolette quickly put on her coat and went to wait for Sheen by the door.
“Shall I walk you back?” Haden asked, trying to sound diffident. Yolette immediately said, “Sure!” but Sheen hesitated. Talan shook his head.
“It won’t kill you, you know,” Talan remarked.
“Come on,” Haden encouraged. “You know I’m just trying to get out of doing the dishes.”
“All right, all right,” Sheen said.
They left the house and walked in uncomfortable silence, Yolette bounding cheerfully ahead of them. Sheen stopped in the doorway and looked at Haden. He bowed politely and turned away to begin walking back. Sheen caught his arm.
“Would you like to come up?” she asked. Haden propped his shoulder against the doorframe and leaned forward, looming over her.
“Would you like me to come up?” he asked. Sheen bit her lip and reached out to brush her fingertips against his face.
“Yes,” she said.
Talan stepped out of Vander’s and looked at his friends, shrugging helplessly. “The innkeeper says Lissandra isn’t here. She might be out looking for a portal near the Night Market, though.” Haden wrapped an arm around Sheen’s shoulders as they began walking, and she leaned against him slightly. Talan and Joris exchanged a significant look.
“Who can tell with those two,” Talan said queitly.
The Hive was as crowded as ever, although their first visit seemed like a long, long time ago. The merchants hawked their wares with vicious enthusiasm, as always, making the Night Market seem more like the early stages of a riot than a place of business. They found Lissandra speaking to an old crone, her book under one arm. The crone didn’t look entirely human, but that wasn’t especially unusual.
“And where did you see it?” Lissandra asked. The crone pointed helpfully. “How many people came out?”
Haden winked down at Sheen, then threw his arms wide, nearly knocking over a vendor. “Lissy, my dearest, what are you up to?”
Lissandra looked up, nodded once at Haden, and held up a single finger until the crone finished speaking. Then Lissandra turned around in a leisurely fashion. “Pleasure to see you, Haden. I’m very sorry about your father.”
“That’s kind of you to say,” Haden replied. “It’s how he would have wanted to go, I think.”
“We need to ask you about a portal again,” Sheen added. “We’re looking for a way to get to Selwyn’s Grove in Thazia.”
“Thazia?” Lissandra asked, her face scrunching up with the effort of memory.
“It’s a Prime,” Mal intoned. Lissandra pulled out her book and removed a quill pen from behind her ear.
“So, are you treating my friend all right?” she asked Talan as she leafed through the pages. Surprised, Talan blushed and stammered.
“Ummmm . . . yes.”
Haden grinned slyly. “He never beats her with a stick wider than his thumb, and she gets all the turnips she can eat,” he announced. Talan turned a deeper shade of red and favored Haden with a glare when Hexla started to laugh. Haden just looked amused.
“Wait, my mistake, that’s what Hexla does with him.” Talan’s face took on a purple tinge and Hexla had to sit down on a bench, tears of laughter streaming down her face.
“Oh, give him a break,” Sheen said, elbowing Haden in the stomach.
“I don’t have anything for a ‘Thazia’, sorry,” Lissandra said, coming to the end of her text. “Primes are tricky to get, if you find one I’d love to have it.” Mal seemed to shrink in disappointment.
“Any ideas on where we should look or someone we can contact?” Talan asked.
“Well, if you can find a native, ask them how they got here. Then I can analyze the portal and find the key for you.”
Haden’s mouth opened, then he closed it again and frowned. “What?” Sheen asked.
“Didn’t . . . didn’t that idiot kid, Tulio, say he was from Thazia?” Everyone stared at Haden, surprised.
“Wow, I think you’re right,” Talan said. “But how are we going to find him now?”
“I told him to head for Chirper’s, but I never did see him there later. Maybe someone else there did, like Marlow or Sigrund. I hope he didn’t go back home.”
“Probably not,” Joris said. “He said ‘things are very bad there’, remember?”
“Yeah,” Haden said after a moment.
“Let’s just hope he hasn’t managed to land himself in prison,” Sheen said, turning to walk away.
“Let me know what you find out either way,” Lissandra said. Haden bent down and smooched her on the cheek. Lissandra froze, either shocked or horrified.
“Thanks for your help!” Sheen grabbed his arm and dragged him away.
“Are you trying to make me jealous?” she asked as they walked.
“You’d get jealous over me?” Haden asked.
“Um,” Sheen said intelligently.
Joris, hurrying behind them, couldn’t help snorting in laughter. “Just to be clear,” he asked when they both turned to glare, “are you two an item now?”
“Well, are we?” Haden asked.
“Um . . .” Sheen said again. “Well . . . I guess.”
“Good!” Joris said definitively.
“You guess?” Haden demanded plaintively. He sighed, then smiled and hugged Sheen around the shoulders again. “Well, I can live with that. For now.”
“Don’t be embarrassed,” Talan said.
“I’m not . . . embarrassed,” Sheen demurred. “Not exactly. It’s just something I was enjoying keeping to myself.”
Sigrund waved to them enthusiastically as they reached the awning at Chirper’s. Then his expression changed and he bowed to Haden, offering muttered condolences. Haden muttered some approximately appropriate gratitude in response. The common room was filling up, inside. While they still stood blinking, waiting for their eyes to adjust to the indoor lighting, Thea came bounding up to them.
“Hi, Thea,” Haden said with little enthusiasm.
“I’m soooooo sorry about your father!” she squealed and threw her arms around him. Haden cringed involuntarily, then belatedly tried to hide it.
“Thank you,” he said, grimacing and disengaging from the hug as politely as possible. “He’s in a better place now.” Thea looked around at the rest of the group. Joris attempted to hide his face and managed a halfhearted wave when Thea noticed him.
“We’re actually looking for someone,” Talan said, trying to break up the awkward moment.
“Really? Well, I need your help!” Thea said.
“What?” Talan asked. “Why?”
“I need you to help find my friend Tulio!” she said. “I think he’s in terrible danger!”
Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.
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