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ralenthra
11 March 2010 @ 08:55 pm
I was lying on the sofa in Seledra's sitting room, reading, when she came home from work.

"What're you reading?" she asked.

"Deliliah's Delights."

"Ooh, which one?"

"#87, Crossed Paths."

"Ah, that's the halfling one, right? That one was pretty good. Have you gone out today?"

"Nope."

Seledra sighed. "You can't stayed cooped up doing nothing indefinitely."

"I haven't been doing nothing. I cleaned the bathroom, dusted the sitting room and dining room, and made a steak and no-kidney pie for dinner. It should be just about done."

"Steak and no-kidney pie?" Seledra raised an eyebrow and sniffed the air.

"Yep. I left out the kidney, since I know you don't like it, so it's just beef and vegetables."

Seledra wrinkled her nose. "Then why do I smell kidney?"

"Because I fixed that for myself for lunch."

"Ew. And anyway, that's not the point. I don't want a housewife, and this fake cheeriness is creepy. And I'm worried about you."

I waved it off. "Don't be. I've had kind of a rough week, you know? I just want to relax and lie low a bit. It's only been a couple of days." I sat up to give Seledra room to sit on the sofa.

"You would feel better if you just talked about what's troubling you," she said.

"Feel better? Like you did when you told me about those dreams that I know you've been having since Everlund? Oh, that's right, you still haven't talked about those."

Seledra blushed. "That's different. My problems aren't that serious, nothing I can't handle. But you've been through some real trauma, and I want to help you. At least tell me what Thralia said when she came to see you."

I leaned back, threw my hands over my head, and closed my eyes. "Fine. She said a lot of things. They mostly boiled down to I'm a slacker and I'm not meeting my potential. Oh, and I have to work for what I want." I neglected to mention that I received a similar message from another source recently.

"And how did that make you feel?"

I looked at her. "You're not serious."

"I'm trying to help! Come on, please?"

I shrugged. "She's right. Not really much else to say about it."

"And? What are you going to do about it?"

"I don't know yet. Haven't decided."

"Anything else?"

"Oh, only that Tordrin still loves me, and I should apologize to him." I rolled my eyes. "That I'm not buying."

"Listen, about Tordrin . . . "

"I don't want to hear it, 'Ledra," I said.

"No, you don't understand . . ."

"Don't. Start. With. Me." Seledra looked down and away. I sighed. "I'm sorry. I'm just not ready to talk about that. It all happened too fast. I let it happen too fast. I'm willing to admit that I may have . . . overreacted a little . . ."

"A little?" She looked back at me.

I glanced at Seledra and went on, ". . . but it would be a mistake to try again, even if he's not playing the field already. Which you're not going to convince me he's not. I have other things to concentrate on right now, anyway."

"In other words, you're embarrassed to face him."

"Now who's jumping to conclusions?"

"You could at least talk to him," she said. I opened my mouth to retort, but she held a hand up. "All right, all right. How about this: I won't bring it up again, if you agree to go out with me tonight."

I glared at her for a few seconds before speaking. Finally, I said, "You are a manipulative little minx, you know that?"

She grinned. "So that's a yes? Great! We'll leave as soon as you've changed." She got up and grabbed my hand to pull me off the sofa.

"But--the pie!"

"What about the pie?"

"It's better when it's fresh. Steak pie's not something that can just sit around, you know."

Seledra threw her hands in the air. "What is with you and your Dalelands 'cuisine'?" she asked.

"I could say the same about you and your Shou takeaway. And that better not be sarcasm I detect, there. Beef and kidney pie with a fresh salad is good, hearty food. Fills you up for a long night of prowling."

"Fine. I will eat your steak pie. And then we will go out and have fun."

"Yes, ma'am." I gave Seledra a mock salute and headed for the kitchen.

***

Of course, she wanted to go to The Dancing Goat.

"You tricked me," I said to her when I saw the sign ahead.

"No! I won't make you do anything you don't want to do. But I ran into Kronk today, and told him I'd meet him here."

"Oh, this just gets better and better."

"Hey, Kronk is really sweet! Give him a chance."

"Is he the only one of our new friends who's going to be there?" I grinned.

"I . . . don't know. I haven't seen Magnos since Methrammar picked me up, but he did say he goes there sometimes."

"Ah, so he might just happen to be there."

"He might," said Seledra.

"I don't suppose it occurred to you that you could have invited Kronk to meet you someplace else, where the boy you claim to dislike is less likely to just happen to be?"

"Why should I stop going to my favorite pub just because someone else might be there? And when did this become about me, anyway?"

"It's more fun when it's about you."

Seledra gave me a mock shove in the arm. "You're the worst best friend ever," she said.

"That's because I'm a drow. We're bad people." We burst into giggles and went inside.

The dinner rush was over, and the dancing was in full swing. Kronk was already there and had procured the corner table for us. Perhaps having a big, scary-looking acquaintance wasn't such a bad thing, after all.

"First round's on me," I said as we sat down. Kronk grinned.

"That's very . . . generous of you," said Seledra. "What brought this on?"

"Just making up for my rude behavior the other night, is all." Actually, I'd decided that when that dwarf I'd bumped into realized his purse was gone, I didn't want to still have it.

"I see," she said.

"Kronk not argue with free ale."

I scanned the room; I managed to avoid looking at the band, though I could hear Tordrin harmonizing with Thralia. The mystery elf woman was there again, sitting in the back again, only this time, she shared a table with Meree.

I also spotted Magnos, sitting with the wizard who had crafted the magical eye drops for me, whose name I could never remember, and an elven girl. I did not point him out to Seledra.

I didn't need to.

Within ten minutes of our arrival, he sauntered over. "Mind if I join you?"

Seledra said, "Of course not!" and shifted her chair over to make room for him. Kronk glanced at me over his turkey leg, and I smirked back.

"Did you just get here? I didn't see you," Seledra continued.

"No, I was here with a couple of friends, but they decided to head out early. I wasn't ready to go yet, and fortunately, I spotted you."

A barmaid came by with the jug of ale we ordered, as well as a pitcher of water. "One more mug?" she said, eyeing Magnos.

"No thanks, I brought mine from the other table." He held it up.

"Sorry, sir, didn't see it." She curtsied and moved away.

"So what have you girls been up to for the last couple of days?" Magnos said.

"Hey, what about Kronk?" Kronk asked.

"Fine, you, too." Magnos said.

Seledra and I looked at each other.

I said, "I was . . . not feeling well, so I haven't gone out."

"And I was out of town, on a-- a visit." Seledra said.

"Kronk visit friend, too."

"A visit? With . . . Methrammar, perhaps?" said Magnos.

Seledra bristled. "You know, it's really none of your business what I do in my free time."

"Hey, I was just making conversation. You don't need to get all up in arms about it." Magnos said, holding his hands up.

Sun and Moon struck up a traditional dance tune that I knew Seledra loved. I grabbed her arm. "Forget about him," I said. "Let's go dance."

"You want to dance? That's unusual," she said.

"I'm making an exception."

Seledra let me lead her to the dance floor, and I could see her relax again as we whirled and stomped and traded partners. When the song ended, Thralia announced that the band would take a short break before their next set. Which was a good thing: I was totally out of breath, and I wasn't sure I'd last through another dance.

"That was fun," Seledra said, hardly even winded. "Dancing makes everything better, doesn't it?"

"Oh, yes, especially when you end the dance with three more purses than you started with," I said.

"I don't even want to know," she said. We stood by the bar for a moment so I could catch my breath.

I looked at her and said, "You don't have to put up with him, you know."

"Put up with who?"

"Magnos. We've done our little mission together for the city; there was no stipulation that we all had to be best of friends when we returned."

"I know. But he's not a bad guy, really. Just a little annoying, at times."

"He doesn't remember what you remember."

She blushed. "No."

"He flirts with every other girl just as much as he does with you. Do you think he'd be any different if he did remember?"

"I don't know."

"I don't like him," I said. "But I can't tell you what to do. Just . . . take care."

We wove through the crowd back to our table. I stopped short when I saw the beautiful elven woman sitting there making conversation with Kronk and Magnos. Magnos was smiling and animated and looked like he was having the time of his life, but Kronk looked uncomfortable. He hardly spoke, and practically crushed himself into the corner, glancing every now and then toward where the woman had been sitting earlier.

I looked that way, myself, and Thralia and Tordrin were there, the latter propping his head in his hand.

Seledra gave me a push. "Come on; you're not running away again and doing something stupid like the other night." I sighed and kept walking.

The woman got up as we approached and stuck her hand out to shake mine. "You're Ralenthra, right?"

I nodded, guarded.

She grinned. "I'm so glad to finally meet you. I'm Erdri Windweaver. My brother's told me a lot about you."

"Air-dree nice lady," Kronk said.

"She brought us a flagon of elven wine!" said Magnos.

My jaw may have actually hit the floor. "B-brother?"

"I tried to tell you, but you didn't want to talk about it," said Seledra.

"It's okay, we all get a little rash when we're hurting, don't we?" Erdri said.

"You-- you don't look much like the portrait he showed me," I said.

"Portrait? Where did he get a . . . oh, that must be that old graduation portrait. Ugh. My parents wanted me to be a proper Evereskan lady. Whatever that even means. Hah! You can see how well that worked out."

"Wait, did you say elven wine?" Seledra said. Magnos was already pouring her a glass.

"Wine okay, but Kronk like ale better."

Erdri said, "Help yourself! Anyway, I came over here to talk to you, because my little brother is too much of a CHICKEN to come over here, himself." She turned a little to shout the last part of her statement at Tordrin, who now sat with his face buried in both hands, while Thralia laughed her ass off. She gave me a little wave when she caught my eye.

I smiled in spite of myself.

Erdri looked at me and said, "There now! What a pretty smile you have. You are every bit as lovely as Tordrin said. He always did have good taste in girls." Then she leaned toward me and touched my arm. "You know what? Forget about my brother. He's always on the go, anyway, with his band and his Harper work, and all. Have you ever been to Baldur's Gate? I have a lovely home there." She put her arm all the way around my shoulders.

Kronk stared open-mouthed, while Seledra spewed a mouthful of elven wine across the table.

"Awesome," said Magnos. "Can I come, too?"

It was too much for me; I burst out laughing.

"You-- you're not-- you can't be serious."

"Well, no," she said. "I couldn't actually do that to my brother. But I am a little disappointed that he met you first." She winked. "So now that we've had a good laugh and we're friends, how can I convince you to talk to Tordrin?"

Seledra said, "I've tried. She's stubborn."

"At least she's not a tease," said Magnos, scowling.

"I'm stubborn?" I said.

"That's all right. I'm stubborn, too," said Erdri. "So how about it? Look, in all seriousness, I'm not going to make excuses for Tor. I wasn't here, and I only know his side. But my baby brother turned up unannounced on my doorstep a tenday ago, absolutely beside himself. Whether what he did was right or wrong, I can say with certainty that his feelings are genuine. I won't ask you to take him back. Well, not right away. But at least give him a chance to properly explain himself."

I looked at Seledra, who kissed me on the cheek. "She's sincere," she whispered.

"All right, I'll go," I said. Erdri smiled and held out her hand; she led me over to where Tordrin and Thralia still sat. Thralia grinned and leaned back in her chair.

"You don't get to stay for this, Lia." Erdri said. "Shoo! Shouldn't you be getting back on stage, anyway?"

Thralia got up, pouting, and Erdri gently pushed me into a seat. She said, "I'll be upstairs if you need me, Tor," and kissed Tordrin's cheek.

I sat staring at my hands. We didn't speak for several minutes, until the band started playing again. Then:

"Look, I just want to . . ." "Ralenthra, I'm sor . . ."

"Ladies first," said Tordrin.

"I . . . owe you an apology for overreacting the way I did. It was wrong of me to have gotten so angry with you. But I don't . . . I'm not sure I . . . I don't know if we should resume our relationship."

"Ralenthra . . . listen, I guess . . . I guess it's best to start at the beginning. When I heard about the attack in Cormanthor, it was more than a tragedy, to me. I was there at the start of that group, and I felt . . . responsible for them, somehow. When I found out that there was possibly a survivor, even just one, and they weren't even going to look for her, well, I was angry. And I built up this romanticized idea in my head about her--about you. And when I met you, and I suspected who you were, I was too caught up in my idea of you--and the idea that I could be the one who saved you--to find out what the real you was about. That was not fair to you, and I'm sorry. I'm sorry for everything."

"I wasn't exactly willing to let you know what I was about. You're not entirely to blame."

"Look, Ralenthra, I know your mind's probably all made up, but I thought maybe . . . I mean, I was hoping . . . " Tordrin sighed; out of the corner of my eye, I saw him rake his hands through his hair. "Can . . . can we just start over?"

I looked Tordrin in the eye for the first time. He held his hand out across the table. "Hi, I'm Tordrin," he said.

For a moment, it was as though he were the only person in the room, and I was keenly aware of the tense set of the shoulders, the sheen on his brow, and the tremble in his hand.

"Nice to meet you, Tordrin. I'm Ralenthra."

I wiped my palm on my skirt and reached across the table . . .
 
 
Current Location: The Dancing Goat
Current Mood: embarrassedembarrassed
Current Music: Sun and Moon
 
 
ralenthra
11 March 2010 @ 05:42 pm
"Nobody knoooows the trouble I've seeeeen, nobody knoooows my sorrooooooow. . . ."

"Is that the only song you know?" I said from underneath my hard pillow. It was midday, and my latest cellmate, a man called Grom, had been singing the same tune over and over since his drunken hide had been hauled in the night before. He knew the guards by name and seemed to be something of a regular.

"Oh, does it bother you?" His voice dripped with false concern. "Whaddaya gonna do about it, blackie, take off yer bandage and bleed on me?" The man gave me a mostly-toothless grin and resumed his singing with greater relish."

"I think there's some pus now, too, so you better watch out for her!" cried a woman at the other end of the cell. But the groans from the other cells told me that I was not the only one who wasn't a fan.

After my first day of incarceration, the guards stopped indulging new prisoners who didn't want to be near the foul drow woman. Except the ones who could afford bribes, of course. And the folks who were thrown in with me had quickly figured out I wasn't a serious danger to them. The cut on my hand was more severe than I had thought in my drunken state; it still seeped blood and was now infected. My back was still sore, but was getting better. It was probably just bruised. But my ribs still felt like someone cast Burning Hands on them every time I breathed. Or sat up, or stood up, or bent over, or just twisted funny. Several ribs were probably cracked. A healer had been in to see me, whether standard procedure or at Thralia's request I didn't know, but she only bandaged up my hand, gave me a once-over and said "She'll live."

My collective injuries weren't that bad, even taken together--they were nothing compared to what I had sustained at Olostin's Hold--but they were enough to restrict my mobility somewhat. Enough that I couldn't effectively threaten anyone; they could see there would be no follow-through. So my ever-changing group of companions took the opportunity to mock a somewhat-less-dangerous-than-most drow mercilessly and with impunity.

"Meal time!" Two guards came through the cell block, one of them pushing a cart. One of them slid three plates of gruel into my cell.

Grom scrambled to grab his, while I sat up slowly.

"Perhaps we'd better help the wee dark lady with her porridge," said the woman. "She might have trouble holding the spoon with her bad hand, there!" She cackled.

"Thank you, but I do not require assistance," I said, with as much dignity as I could muster in my torn, soiled dress and bedraggled hair.

"Oh, listen to the lady's fine manners!" said Grom. "She mus' be used to havin' servants to help her. We can't let her down, now, can we?" I supposed I'd brought that one on myself. Grom sat next to me and tried to spoon feed me, while I tried to swat him away.

It had been two days since Thralia's visit. No one else had come; Seledra was probably still with Methrammar. I still didn't know how Thralia had known so quickly that I was here. She had to have had someone tailing me; it was the only way. And I hadn't even noticed. This alarmed me. I had been deep in my cups that night, to be sure, but how many other times might I have been followed? At Thralia's behest or anyone else's? In Everlund I was certain someone was following me, but I was looking for it, and I had thought it was merely Nimos keeping tabs on me. It was as Thralia had said: I simply wasn't as good as I held myself to be. Her words still stung. Especially after our mission to the monastery, which had been more of a challenge for me than I wanted to admit.

Thralia was right, of course. Once I established myself in Menzo, I found a level of competence I was comfortable with, and I stayed there. I made a point of not distinguishing myself, doing just well enough at my various jobs to not be thrown to the driders, reining in the potential I'd always been told I had. When something came along that stretched my skills, or promised to bring me a little extra attention, I found a way out of it. If I couldn't get out of it, I moved on. Getting myself noticed by House Drii-Upoth wasn't an attempt to improve my station so much as an escape from an employer that was starting to expect more of me than I was willing to give. And when Drii Upoth started to expect more, I moved on from them, too. I was like a mule hitched to a grindstone; always moving, never getting anywhere.

And I'd done it on purpose.

How different I was from the driven girl I'd been in Cormanthor, pushing myself to my limits, alternately trying to defy and impress my aloof father. When I fled, did I leave my motivation behind with home and clan? I was proud of what I accomplished back then. I thrived on the accolades of my peers and the approval of the clan's leaders, especially my father. But I didn't need approval anymore, I told myself. Getting by, merely surviving, was enough, I told myself.

Then again, merely surviving was a big part of why a toothless, hungover vagrant was at that moment dribbling lukewarm gruel down my face and chest. Perhaps it wasn't such a great plan, after all.

"For the last time, I don't need help feeding myself." I finally grabbed the spoon away from the fool with my good hand and smacked him with it.

"Ow! Guards! She's a-hittin' me! Help!"

A little too quickly, the door to the cell block opened.

"If she's been free to go for two days, why in the hells is she still here?" rang out a familiar voice.

"I'm really sorry, miss, but the instructions said we was to let her out if she asked or if someone came for her, but she ain't asked! And ain't no one else come until you! The Harper agent gave us extra money to feed her an' everything!"

"Just. Let. Her. Out."

"Okay, okay, just stop yellin'," the guard muttered, and came up to my cell. "Sorry, Grom, but I gotta take away your plaything. Miss Aerynrae, someone has come to claim you. You're free to go."

"But we was just gettin' to be friends, weren't we, pretty lassie?" Grom reached a grimy hand out to grope my rump, but I whacked him again, wincing as I did so. Then, finally, I was out of the cell, and the guard led me toward the door.
 
 
Current Location: still in the pokey
Current Mood: annoyedannoyed
Current Music: Grom's singing
 
 
ralenthra
11 March 2010 @ 11:21 am
Punishing daggers of morning sunlight pierced my jail cell. My back ached, my ribs burst into fresh pain with each breath, and my hand was sticky with half-congealed blood. My head felt like an overzealous orc's war drum. The morning jailer, when he paced the cells each half-bell, liked to hold out his Billy club so it banged against each bar as he walked past; he laughed when the previous night's drunks clutched their heads at the sound. The only thing that was almost good was that I was all but alone in my misery, as the other prisoners refused to share a cell with a drow. Some had even bribed the guard so as not to be thrown in with me.

This was not the high-security dungeon we’d been taken to the day of the festival. This was the regular jail, for common criminals and drunks. No one here recognized me from the events of a few days ago.

It had to happen sooner or later. We all get caught once in a while. Maybe when I’m feeling better I’ll try to break out. Maybe.

The hours passed painfully, until just before noon, when the jailer appeared right in front of me, bashing his club between two of the bars of my cell.

“You have a visitor!” he said. “An important one, too, looks like.”

I sat up carefully. I couldn’t believe Seledra would be here already. I thought she was going back to work today, so she shouldn’t even have realized I was missing until late afternoon. I wasn’t sure I was ready to go home.

“Well, well, look who can’t keep herself out of trouble!” A rich, melodious voice—not Seledra’s—filled the room.

I flopped back onto my bench and turned to the wall as the speaker approached my cell, and shuddered in pain.

“Oh, yes! I’d heard you’ve been very dramatic lately. Perhaps you should apply at Fochlucan.” Thralia said.

I turned and glared at her. “Why are you here?”

“I suppose you were expecting Seledra? She doesn’t know you’re here yet. In fact, she might not know for a while. Methrammar picked her up right from the tavern last night, while she was still dancing on the tables. I'm not even sure where they are to send her a message.” Thralia gave me a wide-eyed, innocent look.

“Fine, don’t answer. I don’t really care, anyway.” I turned away again.

“That’s right, because no one really understands you except your one true friend. Never mind that you treat her with the same callous disregard as everyone else.”

I’m not going to react . . I’m not going to react . . . I’m not . . .

“He threatened her, you know.” What!

“Who?” I said, still not looking at her.

“Nim Tagen, when he questioned Tordrin. Me, too, but I had nothing to tell. Seledra’s freedom was as much at stake as yours if Tordrin hadn’t told Tagen what he knew. Even if he thought you could take care of yourself--which he didn’t, by the way--but even if he did, there was someone else to consider.”

I wanted to tell her she was lying, I wanted to believe she was just manipulating me, but I saw Seledra when they let her out of that interrogation room. Captain Tagen had apparently behaved quite differently with each of us; I could believe almost anything of him. I didn’t answer Thralia, but I couldn’t stop the tears from streaming down my cheeks.

“You think you can take care of yourself, but can you take care of your friend, too? If they’d tried Seledra for treason on your account, could you have helped her? Saved her? Could you?”

“I don’t know,” I whispered.

“Good,” Thralia said softly. “At least you have the grace to admit it.” I turned back to look at Thralia.

She didn’t wait for a further answer. “You know what your problem is? You’re not willing to put in any real effort at anything. I don’t even mean being a thief instead of working an honest job. You beat some pretty spectacular odds, and you think that makes you special, and now the world should simply bow to your desires. Well, you know what? You’re not special. You think you’re the only one who’s had it rough? Do you think Miri and Venye’s childhood was filled with rainbows and candy? It wasn’t. They survived some pretty spectacular odds, too, and you don’t see them resting on their laurels. You don’t see them saying 'Oh, woe is meee! I’m a droooow! Life is haaaaaard!'” Thralia flailed her arms about for effect. She turned around when the other prisoners started to laugh. “Shut. Up,” she said before continuing.

“No, they didn’t do that, and they still don’t. They worked hard for what they have now. Yes, Venye turned to theft to support himself and his sister, just like you did. But he became one of the best assassins in Waterdeep, not just another petty pickpocket to look out for on festival day. You think you’re so good at what you do? Do you really think Nimos Talerlir didn’t have your number? You may have surprised him when you broke into his office, but you don’t get to be head of a Thieves’ Guild by being a fool. He humored you because you amuse him—among other things. Don’t think for a second that he couldn’t have tailed you out of that city and all the way to Amalith, if he were inclined to do so. And he just might have, had the local Harpers not put some extra pressure on him to let it go. Precious little of what you’ve accomplished recently was done without help. You, my dear, are simply not as good as you think you are.

“No, you’re so intent on keeping your secrets and staying hidden that you’ve done precious little to develop your innate talent. And you have talent—oh, yes. You could do great things, but you’re too—what? Afraid? Yes. You’re too great a coward to fulfill your potential. What have you done for the past ten years or so? Odd jobs. A whore, a mercenary, a spy for one of the least important Houses in Menzoberranzan . . . you’ve done nothing, really. You’ve wasted ten years, is what you’ve done. If I were you, I’d have spent those years training, improving, becoming powerful. So powerful I could go back to Cormanthor and challenge those who forced me to flee.”

And I thought that window last night packed a wallop.

“Stop. You’ve said enough. I don’t want to hear anymore.” I knew, deep down, that Thralia was right, and I didn’t want to face that truth. “Please, just go—leave me alone!”

“What, aren't you going to ask me to get you out of here? Oh, wait, you probably have some grand plan to break out yourself, right?”

I glared at her. “Nothing you’ve said here makes me think you would say yes. Besides,” I muttered, “I’m not sure I want to go home. I can’t face Seledra yet.”

“Oh, good, you do have a sense of shame. But what will you do if she comes to bail you out? Tell her you want to stay?”

I shot Thralia a defiant look. “Maybe. I don’t know.”

Thralia didn’t speak again for several minutes. Finally, she crossed her arms and said, “You should talk to Tordrin when you get out here. You owe him an apology. The gods alone know why, but he’s in love with you.” Now, that was too much to be borne. I sat bolt upright, and very nearly fell over again.

“In love! With me? Do you think I didn’t see him last night? I’m pretty sure I was the last woman on his mind.”

Thralia gave a humorless laugh. “You are a little fool, Ralenthra. Regardless, you owe him an apology. I hope you think about what I said. It seems you’ll have plenty of time.” She walked away and knocked on the door between the cells and the booking office.

“Are we releasing the prisoner, Agent Ma’freyja?” the jailer asked when he opened the door.

“Oh, no! She wants to stay!”

“She wants to . . .” He turned to me. “You want to stay?"
 
 
Current Location: in the pokey
Current Mood: gloomysulking
 
 
ralenthra
10 March 2010 @ 09:02 pm
"So, shall we head out for a celebratory drink before we go our separate ways? I mean, I hope we're not actually going our separate ways, of course, since we're friends now. Right?" Magnos gave his most charming smile as he spoke. I'm sure it worked on other girls. Or sometimes Seledra.

Or even Kronk.

"Of course we friends!" He boomed before Seledra and I could do more than share pained glances. “Even though you magic person. Tonight we sel-- sella-- DRINK!! Together! We drink!" As though he weren't already attracting enough attention, Kronk threw his hands in the air in a gesture of triumph, before crashing them down around our shoulders, one around me, the other pinning Magnos and Seledra together. You'd almost have thought he was already drunk.

Of course, after that, Seledra and I could not refuse to go.

"As long as I can stop home and change first.” Seledra said, freeing herself from Kronk and Magnos and moving to walk beside me again. “How about the Dancing Goat? It's our usual spo—" She stopped when I elbowed her. "I'm sorry, I forgot," she mouthed before continuing normally. "Or, um, we could try someplace else. I'm always up for something new. What's your favorite tavern, Magnos?"

"Nah, the Dancing Goat works for me. My buddy Jonah goes there sometimes, and he's the only one of my friends I really care to deal with right now."

"Kronk never see goat dance before. Like to see that."

"There's not an actual dancing goat there, Kronk," I said. "It's just a name."

Kronk looked disappointed. "Oh. Well, Kronk still like to go."

So it was settled. We would go to the Dancing Goat, where Sun and Moon would undoubtedly be bringing down the house. In a few weeks, I felt, after settling back into normal life, I could meet Tordrin with an appropriate amount of apathy, but so soon?

Seledra put an arm around my waist and spoke close to my ear. "You can't avoid him forever, you know," she murmured.

"Sure I can," I replied. "I'm certainly never going to speak to him again."

"I'm sure he had a reason for what he did. Won't you at least give him a chance to explain himself?"

"Ladies, ladies," Magnos interrupted, moving between us and putting an arm around each of our shoulders. "If you're going to get intimate, shouldn’t we wait until the three of us can get a private room?" Seledra and I each replied with a good, hard whack to the stomach and walked on without him.

"So, shall we split up to clean up and change and meet at the Goat in, say, an hour?" Seledra said when he caught back up.

"Or two," I added.

Kronk replied, "Where Kronk go? Kronk not have other clothes, anyway."

"Oh, well, I guess you could just hang out at our place then, unless you want to go straight to the tavern," said Seledra.

"I don't think I need to change, either," Magnos chimed in. "I look . . . manlier, this way, don't you think? Maybe even heroic." He struck a pose. Seledra giggled.

I wrinkled my nose and said, "I don't know about how you look; I'm too distracted by your smell."

"That's a manly smell," he replied. "Besides, I think we should stick together. The streets can be dangerous, you know; I might be ravished by lovestruck women on my triumphant return to the College."

Seledra, heaving a dramatic sigh, said, "Fine, whatever. you can both come. Just . . .try not to get dirt and sweat all over my furniture, okay?"

When we got home, Seledra took her bath first, while I stayed downstairs with our guests.

Kronk took Seledra's warning about dirt almost too much to heart; he sat gingerly on the edge of the sofa, looking around and fidgeting with his hands.

"Pretty," he said as Seledra headed up the stairs.

"Aw, thanks Kronk!" she replied.

Magnos, on the other hand, could hardly stay still for a second. He was all over the downstairs, sitting down, standing up, looking for food in the pantry, messing around with Seledra's knick-knacks; I don't think there was a single thing in sitting room he didn't touch. At least he washed his hands in the kitchen first.

It didn't bother me, though, until he tried to go upstairs.

"Oh, no, you don't," I said as he put his foot on the first step. "I am not going to let you go up there and harass Seledra while she's trying to get dressed."

"I'm not going to harass Seledra; I just want to see what's up there."

"There's nothing up there but our bedrooms."

"Now, that just makes me want to go up there even more," said Magnos.

Kronk chuckled. "Ralenthra walk into that one!"

"Not helping, Kronk," I said. "I swear I will slice you from neck to navel if you go up one more step."

Magnos grinned, the cheeky bastard. "Sounds kinky!"

I threw my hands up. "Fine. Do whatever you want. I don't care."

He only got about halfway up.

"What are you doing, Magnos? You can't come up here!" said Seledra, appearing at the top of the stairs. Magnos backed down.

"Good, you're done. Now he's your problem," I said as I pushed past Magnos to take my turn in the bath.

"Hey, what are you going to wear?" Seledra asked we passed each other. She was herself wearing an apple green dress with yellow ruffles.

"Nothing special."

"Why? We're celebrating! And it never hurts to look nice."

"Fine, fine," I said. I bathed and dressed as quickly as I could, putting on something nice enough to please Seledra, but still fairly simple. I trotted back down the stairs.

"I'm ready," I said. "Let's go."

The Dancing Goat was packed when we got there. It seemed Sun and Moon drew in more than the usual crowd, which was just as well. More people meant it was less likely Tordrin would see me there, provided Seledra didn't drag me onto the dance floor.

Despite the throng, we managed to snag a table in the back corner; I sat as far back in the shadows as I could get and didn’t budge. I didn’t even try to work the tables. And much as I’ve never been one to overindulge in alcohol, that evening, I allowed Seledra to ply me with ale and wine.

That was my first mistake.

***

"He sure doesn't ssheem to be sh-shuffering much," I said to Seledra. I had tried to keep my eyes off the stage, but sometimes, I just couldn’t help it, and since we’d gotten there, Tordrin had been smiling and winking at every pretty girl who came near the stage, occasionally reaching out to touch their outstretched hands.

"Well, he'ssh a performer. What do you expect?" Seledra snapped back. "He has to be alwayssh ‘on’ when he's on sshtage."

"Exactly. He'ssh a performer, jusht like he performed for me," I replied. Seledra sighed and turned away. I’d been behaving badly all evening, and she was getting exasperated with me. But I’d had quite a lot to drink at that point, and didn’t care anymore.

Magnos interrupted our impending argument by returning to the table, looking dejected.

“Shot down again?” I asked sweetly.

“She says she’s with the band.”

A woman sat alone in the back of the room, and we had all caught her straining to look in our direction several times. She was a particularly beautiful moon elf: porcelain-white skin, a short, curly mop of blue-black hair, and eyes that sparkled like cut sapphires even through the haze of lantern and pipe smoke. Of course, Magnos had assumed it was he she gazed at so intently, and had reacted in his typical fashion.

“I guessh it wasn’t you she was looking at, after all,” I said.

“She just doesn’t want to admit it. She’s probably intimidated by me.” Magnos never lost his confidence for long.

“Perhaps it’ssh Kronk she’s interested in,” Seledra suggested with a giggle, earning a particularly dirty look from Magnos and a startled one from Kronk.

As Magnos babbled on about his next move, the stage cleared and the room quieted slightly. Thralia reappeared alone on stage and began an old Calishite lay, accompanied only by Ariadne’s yarting, from somewhere off stage. The dance floor cleared as she sang about a cleric who was saved from a dragon by his faith in his goddess.

Magnos stopped short in his monologue, but he wasn’t looking at Thralia. “That guy? Really? Gods-damned elves get all the girls.” We all looked back to the elven woman, only to see her smiling brightly at Tordrin, who sat down next her, planting a kiss on her cheek.

“Sho, you think he really lovesh me, eh?” I muttered to Seledra, who stared open-mouthed at the pair.

“I’m sure there’s sshome . . . sshome explanation. I’m sure they’re jusht good friends, or, or something.”

Very good friends, from my view,” said Magnos, glowering as Tordrin put his arm around the woman’s shoulder.

“I am going to find out what’sh going on,” Seledra declared. “I’m sure it’s not what it looks like. And if it is . . . well . . . no one can do that to my friend.” She got up from the bench.

“No, please, don’t!” I frantically grabbed her hand and pulled her back down. “I mean, I’m not interested anymore, anyway, so he can do what he wants.” I tossed my head. “It’s jush-- jusht . . . proof that he was only playing me all along.”

Magnos looked at us, as though only just realizing that we weren’t talking about him. Just then, the elven woman touched Tordrin’s free hand and gestured in our direction.

“I’m going.” I pulled the hood of my cloak up over my head, and turned so Tordrin wouldn’t see me.

“Okay, somebody’s gotta tell me what’s going on,” said Magnos.

“Kronk confused too,” said Kronk.

“Wait, Rolly, I’ll go home with you!” said Seledra, putting a hand on my shoulder.

I shrugged her off. “Not going home,” I said sullenly and skulked away.

That was my second mistake.

***

I wandered aimlessly a bit, looking for a good mark. It was not yet twilight, and the streets were still crowded. My head felt a little less fuzzy after a few minutes in the fresh night air. I was not so drunk to just stumble into a ditch (better if I had been, perhaps), but I was drunk enough to not know just how impaired my judgment—and finesse—was.

I headed across the Moonbridge toward the Lady’s College. Students were always good hits; the ones with wealthy parents hardly paid attention to where their coin went.

Not far from Sorlan’s Smiling Satyr, my eyes lit upon a brawny, hirsute human trying to talk up a couple of young half-elven girls, who were having nothing of it. Even better than a student. For the first time that evening, I was glad Seledra had talked me into wearing something nice. I ran my fingers through my hair and sauntered over.

“Forget these little chits,” I said, flicking my hand dismissively at the girls. “They’re practically children; they can’t appreciate—or please—a real man like you. Leave them to play with the little boys, and come with me instead.” I inserted myself between the man and his targets, running my hand over the big man’s chest. It was a good thing I was somewhat used to this; the man smelled like he bathed about as often as he scored with women. For their part, the girls made their escape, giggling in commingled relief and disbelief.

The man went slack jawed for a moment. I suspected this was a new experience for him. But his baser impulses quickly got the upper hand over his shock, and the lecherous glint returned to his eye as his hand found my rump. “I suppose I could buy a drink or two for fine woman like yourself.”

I made an encouraging noise and pressed a little closer to him, running my hands around his waist to find his purse. His odor was enough to turn my stomach.

“How could I say no?” Yes, because a little more wine was just was I needed right then. Fortunately, I had found his purse strings. “The Satyr’s right here, shall we . . .” I fumbled with the purse strings as I tried to untie them and tugged a little too tightly.

“Hey, just what are you tryin’ t’pull?”

“Oh, I . . . you just make me so hot, I can hardly restrain myself . . .” And then I was overcome with nausea. “Oh gods—“ I blurted out, before leaning over and vomiting on his boots. And part of his trousers.

“Hey, hey, hey! You black-skinned bitch! Them are brand new boots! And me only clean trousers!” I clung to the man, shaking, while he tried to paw me off of him. He finally gave one strong push, and I toppled away from him. But Tymora was with me, for I realized as I watched him stalk away, cursing and muttering, that I still clutched his purse in my hand.

I crept off to one of the Silverymoon’s many small parks, both to recover my composure and check out my take. I was sorely disappointed. The man’s purse felt heavy, but was filled mostly with coppers. A scant handful of silver, a single gold piece, and an oddly twisted piece of iron rounded out my bounty.

I went through all of that for this?

I got up, dusted my self off, and grabbed the nearest tree branch for support when the city began to spin around me.

Seledra’s right. I’m better than spending my days picking pockets and cutting purses, only to get a few paltry silver a day.

I had moved slightly away from the campus district, into a chiefly residential part of the Southbank. I looked around at the mostly-dark houses around me. It had gotten quite late.

Breaking into the Thieves’ Guild back in Everlund was fun. I haven’t done that since my mercenary days in Menzo. Enough of this pansy pick-pocketing and play-acting! It’s time for a good, old-fashioned burglary.

That was my third mistake.

***

After prowling a few blocks, I discovered a townhouse very similar to Seledra’s in construction, and surmised that the inside layout might be similar, as well. Casing the building quickly, I determined that the sleeping quarters were likely all on the second floor, and the first floor was, as far as I could tell, utterly unoccupied.

I tried to pick the lock on the back entrance, but I didn’t have my usual gear with me. I tried to improvise, but my fingers were uncharacteristically thick and clumsy, and I ended up only cutting my hand. I gave up on the door, and checked the windows.

I found a window that was already cracked open. I gave it a gentle push . . . and it didn’t budge. Pushing a little harder, I only managed to move it a fraction of an inch. I did another walk-around, only to find that the rest of the ground floor windows were latched from inside. Any other night, I would have simply moved on, but I was still filled with ale-induced confidence.

I positioned myself for the best possible leverage and alternately jimmied the window to loosen it and pushed it as hard as I could while still being quiet. Little by little, the opening widened. Several times, it moved with a great scraping sound, and I had to duck into the bushes and wait a few minutes before I could be sure I had wakened no one.

When the window was nearly open enough, I did hear a voice: a little girl.

“But Mama, I want a glass of water!”

“Go back to bed, Lissa, before you wake the baby,” replied a second voice, in a low hiss.

I relaxed when I realized the voices came from behind me, in the house next door. Still. I waited several minutes after they stopped talking to resume my work.

Finally, the window was just open enough to fit through. I swung one leg up, and then the other, and was just getting ready to shimmy the rest of the way in when another voice rang out, closer, this time.

“Mama, there’s someone climbing in the Baleys’ window!”

I glanced behind me to see a small boy peering out from the dark window right across from me.

“Shush, Garen, I’ve had enough of your stories! Get back to bed this instant!”

“But Mama, look!”

I decided my best course of action was to get into the house quickly, where I wouldn’t be seen, and then make my way back out through one of the doors before the neighbors could come over to investigate. In my haste, though, my foot got caught in my skirt, and I fell backwards against the windowsill. The force of the sill across my back knocked the wind out of me for a moment. As I sought purchase with my feet, I struck the leg of a small table, and something crashed to the floor.

Well. Crap.

“Garen, I swear to Tyr if you wake that baby again . . . Aieeeeeeeeeeee!” A flickering light, probably a candle, appeared behind me as the woman spoke, but went out with her shriek, only to reappear a moment later. At the same moment, the window that had been so difficult to open loosened and fell; it smashed into my ribs, pinning me in the window.

As I struggled to raise the window again, an infant started to wail, and muffled voices sounded in the room above me, and footsteps clattered down the stairs across the room from me, and there was another scream, and a baritone voice somewhere outside called “Constable! Constable! A thief!” . . .

After an eternity of screaming and yelling and children's voices clamoring “Can I look?” and “I wanna see the thief lady” and “Mama, Garen won’t make room for me,” the constable’s torch over my upturned face came as a relief.
 
 
Current Mood: soreso much pain
 
 
ralenthra
03 March 2010 @ 04:29 pm
I leaned my head against the well of the small room we'd found and decided to rest in. I'd lost track of how long we had been inside the abandoned monastery, but I estimated that it was probably late evening. At any rate, we were all too exhausted to continue. Except maybe Dorn, who did not betray anything, one way or another.

This was unlike any team mission I had ever been on. I had been a trainee, working with highly experienced teams. I had been one of a handful of scrubs on large team operations, working under a structured hierarchy based on experience. I had been paired as an assistant with a more experienced partner on small-scale missions. Experience, as one might guess, was the common denominator of all these situations. I had never seen a totally untested team sent out to do, well, anything. Especially for a mission that seemed as critical as this one. A plot to overthrow Alustriel? And they weren't sending their very best people?

But it did no good to dwell on the whys and the wherefores; they had sent us, we were there in the middle of it, and knowing what in the hells was going through Nim Tagen's head wouldn't help us accomplish what we were there to do.

Granted, it wasn't going as badly as I'd feared. We weren't exactly a crack team; we'd made some mistakes, and Dorn had already had to save our asses in combat once. No one had any appreciation for the art of stealth. ("I'm pretty sure they already know we're here" Magnos said at one point. "That doesn't mean they need to know exactly which corridor we're walking down!" I'd hissed in return.) But Seledra was turning out to be a natural leader, and had some good fighting instincts. Not to mention how critical her healing skills were to our survival. Ever loyal, Selune darted in and out of combat to harry our enemies. Kronk had an intuitive sense for danger that kept us from being totally surprised by some of our combatants, and what his berserk rage lacked in finesse, it more than made up for in sheer power. Even Magnos had turned out to be useful, however grudging I was to admit it. He was smart as a whip--a useful trait in just about any situation--and his Magic Missile spell proved far more useful than the ones he'd demonstrated on the road. His sharp-eyed familiar, Hedwig, was invaluable in surveying our surroundings, when she had room to fly. She was friendlier than her master, as well.

Now, if only we could have stopped arguing with one another, I would've thought we showed real promise. If I'd thought the bickering on the road had been bad, it was nothing compared to what went on inside the monastery. Fights over who should go first, fights over who killed more enemies, fights over how to split up the treasure we found, fights over who carried the treasure we found. In fact, that one was still ongoing:

"Right, so, why are we letting the person known to be a thief be in charge of the loot?" Magnos asked Seledra as they prepared our evening meal.

Seledra replied, "Because she's the one with all sorts of extra pockets and hidey holes to carry it all in. Besides, as a thief, she has natural accounting skills."

"Yes, but none of that means she's trustworthy."

"I can hear you, you know," I interjected.

Magnos continued, "Who's to say she won't run off with all our gold as soon as we get back to the city?"

"I trust her," Seledra said, "And I kinda know where she lives, you know?"

"Okay, so maybe she won't run off with your share, but what about mine?"

"Maybe we're in league together, and we've already agreed to split your share." Seledra stuck out her tongue.

"Fine. Don't treat my concerns seriously. I'll remember that next time you need one of my spells."

Personally, I never thought skimming a bit off the top as a "carrying charge" before distributing the take was unreasonable. Just because I didn't plan on telling them about it didn't mean it was wrong.

While this argument was going on, I was rigging a simple trap on the door of our small haven. Nothing truly dangerous, just enough to wake us up if something tried to get in.

In such close quarters, the native musty smell of the monastery mingled with the scents of unwashed human and unwashed half-orc to create an odor even more offensive than the sum of its parts. Interestingly, I did not notice unwashed dwarf in the mix, though Dorn was there, sitting in the corner looking suspicious, as usual. I couldn't begrudge his presence too much, though, as it had quickly become apparent that we needed his expertise. Had he not been sent along, I would have suspected that our mission was no more than an indirect method of execution. But perhaps that is only my drow upbringing.

Kronk came up to me while I was working and plopped himself down with a grimace.

"Kronk say we leave them here and find new room." He gestured toward our bickering companions.

"That's very sweet, Kronk, but I don't think you're my type."

He clenched his fists in exasperation. "That not what Kronk mean! Magic person and elf girl . . ."

"I know, Kronk. I was making a joke." I made the final adjustments to my trap and sat to face him.

"Oh." He paused for a moment. "Kronk walk into that one?"

"Sure did. Joking aside, don't forget about 'safety in numbers.' Besides, what they might do given a little privacy could attract unwelcome guests to our little corner of the monastery here."

He grunted. "Kronk know. Just sick of watching. They not fool anyone."

I grinned. "Sure they do! They're fooling themselves. Which is who they're trying to fool to begin with."

Kronk grunted again and got up. "Kronk see if any food left."

"You do that."

I could have (should have, Seledra would--and did--say) been less condescending toward Kronk. He wasn't a bad guy, if somewhat lacking as a conversationalist. And certainly useful in a fight. But he was loud and reckless and had a tendency to barrel through doors that could very well be trapped or bash things with his axe that I could open much more discreetly given half a chance, and since I didn't really expect to see him again once this was over, I didn't feel overly burdened to be nice to him. A little nicer than I was to Magnos, perhaps, but only a little.
 
 
Current Mood: exhaustedexhausted
Current Music: Magnos and Seledra bickering
 
 
 
ralenthra
03 March 2010 @ 01:24 pm
Kronk woke up not long after I did and went down to the river to wash himself. Dorn was already awake, and sat under a nearby tree watching us. When Kronk came back, Seledra pulled a small bag of oats out of her pack.

"I wish there were a way to carry eggs with us. Plain porridge doesn't sound too appealing." Seledra twisted her mouth in distaste.

"It better than no food," Kronk said.

"He has a point. But put in some of that dried fruit you bought. It will improve matters greatly."

"Oh! Why didn't I think of that?" Seledra slapped her forehead.

"You haven't eaten enough pasty, plain porridge."

Seledra stuck her tongue out at me. "Anyway, now all we need is a little protein. . . ." Seledra turned to her pack.

"Oh! Kronk have sausage!" The half orc started scrabbling through his pack, but quickly grew first frustrated, then frantic. Finally, he bellowed. "Magic person stole Kronk's sausage!"

"Don't worry about it, Kronk I brought . . ." Seledra started.

"Kronk saving it! Now it gone." Kronk said mournfully.

"Kronk, it's all right . . ."

"You can have what's left of mine." I offered. "I don't want it anymore." I dug part of a stick of sausage out of my pack.

"Guys, I have . . ." Seledra stopped and looked at me with wide eyes. "Wow. That's really generous of you, Ralenthra."

"Not especially."

She cocked a skeptical eyebrow at me. "Do tell."

"We are all relying on each other in this mission. When one is part of a team, it is in one's best interests to keep all team members at their peak. Kronk is not only larger than I am, but he is clearly more of a physical fighter than I am, which means his caloric needs are higher. If we're in a fight, and he is weakened from hunger, that reduces my chances of surviving battle as much as it does his. So, while from your perspective it seems like I'm doing something 'nice,' from my perspective it is self-serving, in the long run. Besides, like I said, I don't really want it. Gave me . . . indigestion last night."

"I didn't think drow were that cooperative with each other."

I laughed. "When our own survival depends on someone else's, we can force ourselves. It doesn't mean we're not still plotting against each other for when we get home. And Cormanthor drow are marginally less back-stabby than Menzo drow, anyway." I held my hand up, my thumb and index finger a hair's-breadth apart.

"Right. Whatever it takes to rationalize it to yourself." Seledra said, smiling. She started to unwrap a paper parcel she had pulled out of her pack.

"Kronk confused. Drow girl still give Kronk sausage?"

"Yes, Kronk. Sorry." As I got up to hand Kronk the sausage, I realized the parcel Seledra unwrapped contained a slab of meat, which she was getting ready to slice with a large hunting knife. "Why didn't you tell me you had bacon? We could have avoided this whole conversation!"

She gave me her best death glare. "I tried."

Dorn started to chuckle. It was not a pleasant sound. "Greenhorns," he said. Seledra and I both cast dirty looks at him.

Kronk said, "Kronk not have horns!" Then he felt his head to check. Seledra and I glanced at each other and burst out laughing.

Still giggling, Seledra said, "All right, let's get back to work." As she sliced off a few rashers of bacon, she glanced back toward the nearby tent. "He cannot still be sleeping. How could he have slept through all of this?"

"I don't know. It's not like we've been quiet. Maybe he's avoiding us? Did he grope you? Did you grope him?" My last words, whispered, earned me another death glare.

"NO. Anyway, we can't just sit around and wait for him. I want to hit the road as early as we can."

"I'd be happy to wake him up for you." I grinned.

Seledra looked at me suspiciously. "I don't know, you seem a little too eager . . . "

"Yeah, Kronk glad he wake up already."

"Oh, please. I wouldn't actually hurt him. Without good reason. But if you'd rather, I'll take over breakfast and you can go . . . "

"No, you go. I don't want to talk to him." She waved me off.

"Don't want to talk to him, huh? Are you sure you didn't make an . . . error in judgment?"

"Just. Go."

Snickering, I turned to the tent. As I walked away, I heard Kronk ask "What 'error in judgment' mean?"

"Never mind, Kronk. Here, why don't you go fill the cook-pot with water for me . . . ."

***

"Rise and shine, Rel Astra!" I yelled outside the tent. I listened carefully and heard a murmur, then just a soft snore. I stepped through the tent flap; it was bisected by a sheet on the inside--probably Seledra's doing. I shook my head. Where'd she even have that packed? Oh well, it's not like we're gonna have to do this again. Magnos lay on the other side of the barrier, prone, spread-eagled, and with a little bubble of spit growing at the corner of his mouth as he breathed.

"Maaagnoooos!" I sang. "Wakey, waaaakeeeey!" I nudged him with my toe.

"Go 'way, Jonas." He muttered. "Na goin' t'Sortann's." He drew his arms in and rolled to his side, facing away from me. He smacked his lips a little.

I nudged him hard in the back. "Magnos. Wake. Up." He just rocked back and forth. Unbelievable. What I wouldn't give for some marking paints, right now.

I got on my knees behind him and shook his shoulder. "By the Nine Hells, wake up! We have things to do today, and you are not going to hold us up."

"Susan? 'Zat you? How'd you ge' away from Selcar?" Susan, eh? I filed the knowledge away in my head, in case I ever needed it. Magnos reached behind him and started to feel my leg. "Mmmm, leather. You know wha' I like . . ." He laughed softly.

I could just stab him to death right here in his sleep, and he wouldn't even feel it.

I grabbed his wandering hand by the wrist; I leaned over him slightly to place it in front of him, but he rolled onto his back. I lost my balance and ended up sprawled right on top of him.

He laughed again. "Susan, you li'l minx . . ." He reached up with his other hand just as I was trying to right myself, and . . .

. . . he groped my left breast.

"Oooh--smaller than I 'spected, but nice an' . . . firm. . ."

I stopped just short of punching him in the kidney, and smacked him in the shoulder instead. Then I stood up and ripped the dividing sheet down and threw it at Magnos.

"Fine! Sleep all gods-damned day! I don't care!"

"Susan? Susan, don' go . . . Wha'd I do?" he muttered, before curling up on his side again, clutching the new sheet.

I stomped out of the tent and over to the campfire; Kronk was stirring the porridge pot, while Seledra heated up a small griddle for the bacon. I plopped down on the ground.

"You wake him up from now on," I said to Seledra. "We can just leave without him for all I care."

"What happened?" she asked, handing me a cup of tea.

"I don't wanna talk about it."

"But he's awake now, right? Is he just getting dressed?"

I laughed, perhaps a little maniacally. "Awake? No. He couldn't be more sound asleep if he were drugged." Seledra gave a panicked glance at Kronk, but he was barely paying attention to us.

"Well, I guess we'll just have breakfast without him, then." Seledra scowled as she laid the rashers on the hot griddle. "If he wakes up, fine. If not, we all get some extra."
 
 
Current Location: still in the woods
Current Mood: aggravatedaggravated
Current Music: the sweet sizzle of bacon
 
 
ralenthra
03 March 2010 @ 01:12 pm
I chuckled as Seledra trundled into the tent. I watched the movement of the tent as Seledra and . . . probably Magnos moved around inside. Pity the wind and rain were too great for any voices to carry back to me; I couldn't for the life of me figure out what they were doing that required that much movement. At least, what they were doing that they would do in the same "room" as Kronk.

The sides of the tent finally stopped undulating, and I started to turn my attention to starting my trance when a faint glow caught my eye. It was the tent again, and I almost fell out of my perch when I saw Seledra's lithe form silhouetted in all its glory against the fabric. I covered my face with my hands as I laughed and briefly wondered if Dorn were in sight of this, as well. I bet she didn't even realize what she was doing.

I really wonder about that girl, sometimes.

I couldn't help but watch the going-on's in the tent a while longer, especially with Magnos running outside for a late-night wash. Talk about a show. . . . I think I finally figured out what Seledra saw in him. Ah, darkvision . . . .

Eventually, I was able to tune out the distractions, and I slipped into trance a little while after the glow in the tent winked out.

***

The room is hazy, but familiar. A glance out the window reveals the stone spires of Menzoberranzan. A drow woman sits on the bed, naked, her back to me.

"You're going to leave me, aren't you?"

Imrae. The vision clears, and I know that I stand in Imrae's bedchamber, in House Alaenrahel. It is the last night I spent with her. The night I disobeyed my order to kill her.

"Why do you want to leave me?"

Now, as then, I stand mute. My body dissolves, and the room grows hazy again. Imrae alone remains clear. She does not move, but her bed becomes a stone slab, the room a glade, the glow through the window a shaft of moonlight. She turns to me, but this time, her gaze is not accusing, but sorrowful.

It is not Imrae.

"Have you no better answer for me than you did for her?"

"I have had nothing but trouble since I let you into my life."

She reaches out to touch my cheek. "Oh, little one, so much anger. . . . I have never promised that mine would be an easy path."

"You promised to bring us peace. I have had no peace. No freedom."

She smiles gently. "Peace does not come simply because one wishes it. We must fight for it. You must fight for it. We work together, for the betterment of all."

I cross my arms and look away.

"Has nothing changed for the better? Is there no good in your life that you wouldn't have had you never stepped down my path?"

Still sullen, I refuse to consider the question she asks.

"Why am I so important, anyway?"

"All my drow children are important to me. You stumbled on the path, and I have come to help you to your feet."

"I've never asked for any help."

"Perhaps someday you will learn there is no shame in doing so."

"Perhaps I don't believe that you can help me. Perhaps I don't believe in you, anymore."

"Is there anything you do believe in?"

I stare at her, startled by the challenge. Then I bow my head and close my eyes. I see a flash of dark red and a glint of steel, and I hear a voice, speaking in my defense, at a bar, a city gate, a crowded room in a small town inn.

Her laughter is unexpectedly throaty. "That's a start, little one."


***

My eyes popped open. The moon was at its highest point; the storm had subsided, and all that remained were soft night sounds. And Kronk's snoring, which I could hear even up in my tree. The dense foliage of the tree had sheltered me well. I was damp, but not soaked through.

That did not just happen. That was not real. I am simply not important enough for that sort of divine visitation. That had to be some sort of hallucination.

I briefly wished Seledra had not gone into the tent for the night, but then I realized that it was perhaps best if I kept this from her. No use handing her ammunition. There had to be another explanation.

That is the last time I have flatbread with cured sausage before bed.

Still shaken, I shifted back into a comfortable position and attempted to resume my trance. It took some time to clear my head, but I finally tranced a couple more hours. I awoke again just after dawn; Seledra was nearby, at prayer. I quietly climbed down as she finished and moved toward her.

"How was your night?" I asked quietly, but with a smirk.

She glared at me. "Fine. If a little damp."

"By the way, I would suggest you learn to change your clothes in the dark."

Seledra stared at me blankly. "What do you mean? Why?"

"Just sayin'." I grinned.
 
 
Current Location: somewhere in the woods
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ralenthra
03 March 2010 @ 12:34 pm
The townhouse looked so . . . normal. Logically, there was no reason it shouldn’t have, but after all we’d been through the day before, somehow, it felt like a kind of affront that the house was so unaltered. It should have been a comfort.

Seledra and I looked at each other, then at our guards. If it hadn’t been for them, we both might have peeled out of our filthy, ragged finery right there and tossed it in the gods-damned fireplace. At least I might have. I stank of sweat and fear and helplessness, and I hated it.

“Hey, what’s that?” Seledra asked suddenly. One of the guards had picked up a parcel from the bench in the entryway so that he could sit down.

“Oh gods, it’s that cloak.” I replied. I’d forgotten all about it.

“Cloak?”

“Tordrin gave it to me yesterday when he met me at the festival. A gift.” I rolled my eyes as she took the package from the guard and examined a corner of the fabric.

“Oh,” Seledra said softly. “Maybe . . . maybe that means he really does care about you. Why would he give you a gift if he meant to betray you the very same day?”

“I’ve given plenty of gifts to people I didn’t really give a damn about.”

“It’s very nice . . .” I snatched the package from Seledra.

“Well, then, some vagrant will really appreciate it.” I marched into the sitting room, opened one of the windows, and chucked the parcel outside. “I’m having nothing to do with it. I don’t need gifts from false friends.” Seledra opened her mouth to say something else. “Don’t even start. You’re not convincing me to keep it.”

“Uh . . . A brief rest before we head out for supplies?” Seledra said instead. I nodded, and we headed for our separate rooms without another word.

I let her have her bath first; it gave me some time to examine the things from the festival that the guards hadn’t managed to divest me of.

I sat on my bed and dumped out my purse. I was amazed I still had my purse at all, but the guards had found the Lauthal token before they got that far. There wasn’t much. A small amount of gold, a few trinkets, mostly tawdry tourist trash. One brooch that was potentially valuable.

I shoved it all off the bed. The brooch caught on the sheet where it hung over the side; I pulled it off and whipped it at the wall. As it rolled across the floor, I slumped over onto my side until I heard Seledra finish her bath.
 
 
Current Location: home
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ralenthra
03 March 2010 @ 12:27 pm
It was late when Nim Tagen was through with us, and in light of our agreement, we were transferred from our cells to more comfortable rooms for the night. They didn’t lock us up, but the windows were barred and there were guards at the end of the hallway, to make sure we didn’t leave. We would be allowed to go home in the morning, under guard, to get out of our festival finery, such as it was now, and to gather supplies for our expedition. We were to set out the following morning, at first light. I stepped out of the chamber Seledra and I shared and leaned against the window at the end of the corridor, feeling sorry for myself, and feeling weak even for that.

“I'm sorry; I had no choice.” It was Tordrin, coming down the hallway. I couldn't believe he had the gall to come talk to me, after what he'd done. I'd been such a fool to trust him. I should have followed my instincts. He came up behind me. “There are worse things to be wanted for, you know.” He tried to caress my hair, but I jerked away.

“Than something I didn’t do?”

“Than espousing the cause of a good goddess. Look—“

“You betrayed me!” I whirled on him.

He looked a little bewildered at my behavior. Maybe he thinks he can still fool me.

“Listen,” he said, “I don’t know what happened at the festival. I’m already working on that. I know you and I know Seledra, and I know Kronk, sort of. I’m sure someone planted those tokens on you, but it’ll take time to find out who, time the Guards in Silver won’t give. In the meantime, I couldn’t withhold the information they wanted, not this time.”

“This time?”

He put his hand on my shoulders. “You know very well that Thralia and I knew about your other . . . identities . . . since Everlund, and I suspected more, even if I didn't know all of it. The guards here ask questions when there are drow around, even when they've been vouched for. Especially when their activities in the city are slightly suspicious. We’ve been questioned since we came back into the city and our recent association with you became known, and we've covered for you. I've covered for you. A lot."

"Well, of course you did. You hadn't gotten everything you wanted from me, yet."

Tordrin looked stricken. "You can't really think that. . . . You must know how much I care about--"

"If you truly cared, you wouldn't have told them everything," I said coldly. "You would have kept your promise. Why couldn't you just tell them that I'm a thief and mercenary from Menzo? Why, if not because exposing me was your plan all along?"

"I had no intention of exposing you. You have to believe me!"

"Then why?"

"Because it was better for you that they know the whole truth."

"How? So they can extradite me back to my own people, as punishment for my crimes here? At least if they just imprisoned me as a thief, I would've had a chance of escaping!"

"Do you really--" Tordrin stopped and let out a deep breath. "Ralenthra, can't you see that I'm only trying to protect you?” He leaned toward me, but I pushed him in the chest, hard.

“Protect me?” I was shouting, now. “I was doing just fine protecting myself, you know!” I moved to hit him, but he grabbed my arms, tighter this time.

“Were you?" Tordrin raised his voice at first, but took another breath before continuing. "Your elaborate misdirection last week may have thrown people off your scent for a while, but not forever. What are you going to do when they find you again? Because they will. You can’t pull the same trick again. Will you just slip away and move to a new city? How many times can you do that?”

“As many times as it takes.”

“What about the friends you’ve made here? There are people who actually care about you, you know.”

“I’d have been able to hide here longer than I will now that you’ve let everybody know who I am! You may as well have sent a letter to all my enemies inviting them to Silverymoon to kill me! Drow don’t just throw you in a cell and give you bread and water every morning. For all I know, by the time I get back from this—this suicide mission—if I get back—they’ll all be here waiting for me. And it’s your fault! You’ve probably been planning this all this time; you’re just as bad as those people from Olostin’s Hold! I wish I’d never met you!”

I heard Magnos shout from his room, “There are people trying to sleep around here, you know!”

A gruff voice called out “What’s going on out there? Agent Windweaver, d’ya need some help?”

Tordrin turned to respond to the guard, “I’ve got it covered, thanks.” His momentary lapse of attention allowed me to wriggle out of his grip, and I ran toward the door to my room, where Seledra had just stepped out to find out what was going on.

“If you want to protect me, leave me the hell alone!” I shouted as I flung myself onto Seledra. I wasn’t going to look at Tordrin again. He betrayed me; I don’t care how much I hurt him.

Seledra hesitated, then drew me into the room and locked the door behind her. She sat me down on a bed and held me as I broke down and cried for the first time since my childhood.

*********

Weak. My parents, Rizzen, they were all right; I’m just weak. He fooled me so easily, and I actually began to trust him. I should’ve known better. I did know better, and I ignored my instinct. My father was right; trust is a weakness. Love is a weakness. I’m even crying over him, like a fool.

They all lied to me. Tordrin, Thralia, and especially her. All those dream visions—she promised peace. I haven’t had a single moment of peace since I started following her. Another moment of weakness.

Why couldn’t he leave me alone? Why did he have to dig into my past? Why did he work so hard to make me trust him? Why did I fall for it? I’ve hidden from my family for over ten years; they never would have found me here, until now. It won’t take long for this information to reach my father.

Seledra hasn’t said anything, but she’ll probably back him up. She won’t understand. She’s never been hunted.

I will never let my guard down again.


Seledra interrupted my reverie. She was still trying to comfort me, but she hadn't spoken until then.

“Why does it matter, that anyone knows your real name? The people from Menzo are after Corael, aren’t they? They won’t keep coming after you just because you’re involved with Eilistraeeans, will they?”

“Them? Probably not for that. But they’ll find out that Corael and I are the same person, and Corael made them lose favor with Llolth. It’s . . . a big deal. They'll probably stop looking for me eventually, if I can keep away from them. It’s a waste of resources. But they won’t hesitate to kill me if I run into any of them”

“Then what are you so worried about?”

“My father. You think you’re family is messed up? My mother wanted to kill me when I was a small child, because I was small and sickly.” Seledra looked horrified. I shrugged. “It’s the drow way. Someone, my aunt, I think, convinced my father not to, that he should wait until I grew some more, to see if I had other talents that made up for it.

“My mother was furious, but my father forbade her to harm me. He’s a high priest of Vhaeraun, so he had enough authority in the clan to make that decision. My mother left soon after; she had never fully bought into the idea of equality, and she rankled under the authority of a male. She went back to the Underdark, I’m not sure where, to serve Llolth.

“But my father let me live, at a time when the Auskovyn were struggling to carve out a home on the surface. He gave me precious resources that could have gone to someone who would’ve better benefited the clan. He invested in me. When I was training to be a ranger, he knew I cheated, but he let it go on, because I’d finally proven I had a skill that could be valuable. When he caught me with the Eilestraeeans, it was more than a crime; it was personal. He will never stop hunting me, because he invested in me, and I proved to be a waste.

“Maybe he was right.” Seledra drew a breath, as though to speak. To protest, no doubt. The fair elves are so emotional; they don’t see the weakness in it; she wouldn't see my weakness. "I told him, you know." I could feel Seledra's shoulders grow tense. "I told Tordrin everything. And he used it against me, the first chance he got. He told me he'd never tell anyone, and I believed him. I'm such a fool, Seledra. Such a fool."

Seledra's voice quavered a little when she finally spoke. “Maybe this mission is a blessing in disguise for you. It . . . it'll give you some distance, some time to think, you know? And if you stay moving with the rest of us there to all watch each other’s backs…okay, Magnos will probably only be looking to save his own skin, but still…on the run or in Silverymoon, you will be safe with us. Maybe you’ll be able to keep using ‘Mayurra’ as your identity here. Maybe the Captain will keep his word and ‘Ralenthra’ will remain a secret.”

“That’s a lot of maybes, Seledra.”
 
 
Current Mood: morosemorose
 
 
ralenthra
03 March 2010 @ 11:11 am
I wasn't sure how long I'd been alone. Well, I wasn't entirely alone, for that insufferable human mage was in the cell across from me. I wondered what Seledra had seen in him. I could certainly understand why she'd drugged him after; if I 'd been her, I'd have drugged him, too. When they first took Seledra away for questioning, he spent his time alternately quizzing me about his chances with Seledra and trying to cajole his way into my own bed. I ignored him; his needling dwindled. A good while after I thought he'd capitulated, he spoke up one last time.

"You're really missing out, you know. I guarantee you've never had a man like me before!"

I could stand his posturing no more.

"I assure you, I've been with more men, of all different types, than you have hairs on your head. I probably had a dozen men like you before you were even born." He blinked a few times, then rolled his eyes and finally turned away from me.

At least the half-orc only slept.

Finally, I heard a ruckus coming from the end of the short hallway. Seledra's questioning was apparently over. As some guards manhandled me out of the cell, I thought I heard Methrammar's voice, and then saw the man himself, clutching Seledra to him as though for dear life. It occurred to me that it ought to be the other way around.

"What did they do to you?" I heard Methrammar say as I was led through the door Seledra has just come out of. Captain Nim Tagen closed the door behind me before I could hear her reply. So, they had roughed her up. Well, if that was how it was going to be, I was prepared.

I was not prepared, however, for what actually happened. The Captain quite courteously guided me to a chair, and even pulled the chair out for me, as though we were merely dining together. After seating himself across from me, he remained silent for several minutes.

Then, finally: "Quite the fascinating history you have, Ralenthra Ilphukiir of Cormanthor." The words were like a blow to the head, and I reacted accordingly. Captain Tagen continued smoothly, "Ah, I see I'm getting ahead of myself; you didn't expect me to know that, did you?"

My mind reeled; there were only two possibilities. Of course, he had only just questioned Seledra, but that didn't mean he didn't already get the information from Tordrin. He'd let us stew in those holding cells for quite some time before calling for Seledra. But if he'd beaten Seledra, it was possible . . . no. It had to be Tordrin. I hadn't known Seledra long, but I hadn't seen her take the easy way out on anything. Well, except for drugging that mage . . . But she'd stuck by me many times, even when she thought I was doing wrong, even against Methrammar. . . .

It had to be Tordrin. I had to believe that.

"I suppose you're wondering who sold you out?" Captain Tagen asked when I didn't respond to his first question.

"I already know. What did you offer him?"

"Him?" Tagen looked mildly surprised. "Miss Nailo looks very much like a her to me."

"Seledra didn't tell you anything."

"You seem very sure of yourself." He spoke quietly, twiddling his fingers idly.

"You had more than enough time to find and question the Harpers before you started questioning Seledra." I sounded more confident than I felt.

"The Harpers? The ones who just came into town this past week? They knew? I'm going to have to have a little talk with them about keeping critical information from us. Damn Harpers think they can do as they please, even here in Silverymoon. I suppose I must thank you, Miss Iphukiir, for cluing me in to that problem. " Tagen seemed a little too nonchalant, and my resolve strengthened just a little.

"Do you think I've never been taken in for questioning before, Captain? I find that hard to believe, since you apparently know my whole history. I know how you people play your captives against one another, and how you lie to get someone to slip. It's not going to work. Seledra didn't tell you anything."

"How can you be certain? Have you considered that perhaps she already came running to us weeks ago, even months ago, and that we've merely been watching you since?"

"Do I look stupid? I know that there's a penalty for falsely vouching for someone. You can't expect me to believe that you would have just given her a hand wave, just because she freely confessed herself. Besides, she wouldn't betray me. This I know." I think.

Tagen chuckled. "You think you really know Seledra Nailo?"

"Look, If you want to question me about those Lauthaul tokens, then ask me about them," I said, irritated. "Or the festival. But please don't play games with me. I know you got your information from Tordrin Windweaver; trying to convince me otherwise is a waste of your time." I'd have said mine, too, but at that point, it seemed I had all the time in the world for pointless questioning.

"All right then, we'll set that aside for the moment. What do you know about Miss Nailo's relationship with Methrammar Aerasumé?"

"What does that have to do with anything?"

Captain Tagen sighed and bowed his head for a moment. Then he reached across and patted my hand where it lay on the table. "Forgive me, Miss Ilphukiir, if this line of questioning seems . . . tangential to the matter at hand. I understand your plight, perhaps even better than you do. Silverymoon is sympathetic to the Eilistraeean movement, you know, though we keep quiet about it. If you cooperate, we might be willing to overlook your . . . recent activities and let you stay. I won't pretend to know what it's like to be on the run from the drow, but I appreciate that sometimes one must act against one's nature in order to survive." He sounded oddly solicitous. What was he playing at now? "Now, as I said, I do understand your situation. A secret Eilistraeean, only recently escaped from the Underdark, you came across someone who seemed friendly, helpful, who gave you sanctuary, even. But you have no idea who you fell in with when you met Miss Nailo. That's why we have to ask you these strange questions."

"What in the Nine Hells are you getting at, Captain?"

Tagen took a sheet of paper from a stack near him and handed it to me. "Perhaps this will explain better than I can. Please, take your time."

I glanced over the paper. It was a summary of Seledra's transgressions at the Lady's College, nearly twenty years ago. I read of her opening the portals between dormitories after curfew, which apparently involved seducing priests of Deneir. I read of her stealing a map of the College from the Map House and replacing it with a counterfeit. And finally, I read of her attempted plot to break into the Hall of Records, combined with an incident involving "public sex acts."

I looked at Captain Tagen incredulously. "'Ledra did all this?"

"Yes, miss. So you see--"

I grinned. "That's my girl!" It was the Captain's turn to look surprised, and a little more irritated than he'd let show before.

"Miss Ilphukiir, this is a very serious matter. Miss Nailo has a history of stealing, or attempting to steal, official documents and artifacts from the city of Silverymoon." Suddenly it hit me.

"So you think that she stole the Lauthaul tokens? From Methrammar Aerasumé?"

"Ah, you're as intelligent as I'd heard." His put on his pleasant veneer again. "Now that we're on the same page, tell me what you know of their relationship."

"There's not much to tell. They met by chance in Everlund, but I wasn't there. What Seledra told me was that the encountered each other while she was shopping, and he invited her to dinner. He was attending the same wedding that Seledra was to officiate, as a representative of Silverymoon, and he monopolized her free time there. Since returning here, he has continued to pursue her."

"So to the best of your knowledge, " Tagen said, frowning, "Methrammar has been the initiator of the relationship?"

"To the best of my knowledge."

"But you have not actually been witness to most of their interaction."

"No."

"Anything else you know?"

"He asked her not to associate with me, especially at the Festival, and she refused."

"I see. So Miss Nailo's affection only goes so far. She still gets what she wants, eh?"

I would have to be more careful what I said, lest I paint Seledra as an opportunist.

"It means only that she's unwilling to compromise her convictions, even for someone she cares about."

"You think she does care about him, then?"

Well, I didn't really know the answer to that question, did I? And I couldn't very well tell Tagen that the son of Lady Alustriel, the High Marshal of the Argent Legion, was bad in bed.

"I believe so. She's certainly attracted to more than his position." Which I was reasonably certain was true, at any rate.Tagen looked a little frustrated, though. It made me happy to see he wasn't getting what he wanted from me. He changed tactics.

"There is, perhaps, more you ought to know about your 'friend.'"

"Oh?"

"Her associates tend to come to . . . misfortune."

Well, that got my attention. "How so?"

"For instance, her accomplice at the Lady's College, a promising human wizard, was targeted with a disfiguring curse shortly after his graduation, in retribution for testifying against Miss Nailo."

I pondered this for a moment. "Wait, so what you're telling me is that people who inform on Seledra come to bad ends? And how, exactly, is that supposed to motivate me to speak against her?"

Tagen gave a wry smile, "I realize how it must sound, but since we now know there is a risk--which we did not with poor Master Vihuel--we can protect you. We also must ascertain if the girl poses any danger to our High Marshal. We believe Miss Nailo has--or had--in her possession a Potion of Forgetfulness. It went missing from the Lady's College shortly before her expulsion. We are afraid she might have used it on Methrammar in order to obtain the Lauthaul tokens. Or if she still has it, she may use it against you, if she decides not to keep you around anymore. Do you know anything about this potion, did she speak of it, or did you see her with any suspicious vials?" A potion of forgetfulness? Perhaps that is what she gave that smarmy wizard. If that was it, her use of it certainly didn't fit Tagen's theory, and I figured it probably wasn't anything he needed to know about.

"No. She has never mentioned such a thing to me, not have I seen her with any potion that wasn't clearly related to her druidry work. You're barking up the wrong tree, Captain. I don't know anything beyond what I've already told you, and I won't just go along with whatever little story you concoct. Why don't you ask me about that mage you arrested with us? I'd gladly throw him under the wagon, if I knew anything. But I'll be happy to make up false accusations for you about him."

"I was afraid you might say such a thing. I had hoped to convince you that your loyalty is misguided--but perhaps you truly don't know anything. Maybe you were the recipient of that forgetfulness potion. . . ." Tagen got up, and gestured for me to do so, as well. He placed his hand on the small of my back and led me to the door. "If you think of anything that might be . . . of use to our investigation, don't hesitate to ask for me," he said, before he rapped on the door. "Anything you might be able to tell me will only help your case. I'm sure you're aware there are several outstanding wanted notices for you; I wish I could say Silverymoon could protect you from them, but if you can't help us regarding Miss Nailo, I'm afraid I can make no promises." Two guards appeared and walked me back to the holding cell.

I barely greeted Seledra when they locked me back in. I wasn't in the mood to talk. Now that I was released from the more immediate tension of the interrogation, I was free to dwell on the fact that I'd been well and truly had.
 
 
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