For the past several days, Miles Langley has been researching the history of the murdered king, Dominik, in the palace library. Miles is a traveling bard and was asked to write a requiem to honor the king. He is tired and ready for sleep, but that must wait…
My eyes grow weary and a fog settles in my mind. It’s time for rest and I decide to retire to my room. A few days ago, I fell asleep in the stacks, which would have been alright, but my neck and back ached for days. I’ll not do that again.
Today, I worked on the score for Dominik’s Requiem. Normally, the library would be filled with visitors and regular patrons, but the whole palace is in mourning, or perhaps still in shock. At least no one complained as I tested notes on my flute and the vocals for the song. Surprisingly, the library has great acoustics.
Nyreece visited me today, my only visitor. She wanted to know if I had seen Rashel. I hadn’t. She also asked if I had found any arcane scrolls that she could examine. I hadn’t. She must have thought she needed another reason besides Rashel to come to me.
The requiem is almost finished and just in time. I really need to complete it tomorrow if I’m going to be ready to leave with Nyreece and the others in two days.
I reach my room, exhausted. As I step in I deposit my papers on the writing desk near the entrance. Almost immediately, I feel the cool evening breeze come through the balcony doors. Didn’t I leave those shut?
The last two weeks has seen a surprising rise in the temperature. The entire lowlands of Soravia are now thawed, though certainly the high hills and mountains still have their impressive snow drifts. For a moment, I consider shutting the doors but decide the evening chill would be a welcome change. One of the best parts of staying in the palace is the wonderful heated beds; nothing like a cold room and a warm bed for a good night’s sleep!
I start to undress and realize that I’m standing in front of the full length mirror near the wardrobe. It’s another one of the luxuries to be found in the palace that even the best Soravian inns can’t hope to match. Standing six feet tall with an ornate brass frame, it would be worth a small fortune in the eyes of a commoner.
Strange how a few months can change a person’s perspective. Just last fall, this mirror was worth more than everything I owned. Well, worth more coin at least. Being confined in the stacks for days and now to be shaken by the cool breeze and the beauty of the surroundings, I find myself drawn to the mirror. Eximius! Look at those intricate carvings… and those jewels. Was this here all along?
A familiar voice snaps me back to reality, “I love a good show. Do you take tips? And if you do, where should I put them?”
I spin around to see Rashel standing in the balcony doorway, leaning against the frame. She’s dressed in an oversized, white blouse, tied loosely in the front. Her dark hair, now somewhat longer than I remember, flows over her shoulders. It waves gently in the breeze like a dark banner. Her tight-fitting leather pants and soft, high boots are both predictably black. There is no sign of her familiar short swords. Instead, she comes armed with a large bottle.
“Join me for a drink?” Rashel seems to have an empty smile and her eyes are half shut. It appears that she’s using the door frame for support.
“Well, I suppose, but, what about you and Nyreece? I thought you two—”
“Damn it, Mi—”
“Ah, never mind that. I can see that you’re not here for her.” I put on my most charming face and continue, “in fact, if I’m not mistaken, it looks like you’re here to seduce me.”
Rashel takes a few uneasy steps into the room, looks at me with bloodshot eyes, and says, “Right you are, sir.”
Seeing her like this, I get a little worried that she’s not in control. “Are you are okay – I mean emotionally? I… I don’t want to take advantage of anyone vulnerable.” Rashel vulnerable? What the hell are you saying Miles, she’s the least vulnerable person you know. Remember, she took out those four henchmen by herself—herself and her two swords.
“Has anyone ever told you that you think too much?” asks Rashel.
Perhaps, but this time I’m going to pay attention. Rashel is here for me and me alone. I make my way toward her, taking the bottle when I get close enough. “Here, let me pour us a drink.” Damn, she’s already had about a third of this.
I take two glasses from my dinner tray and fill each almost full. I offer Rashel one, and I sniff the contents of my glass up in a vain attempt to determine what type of liquor (or poison) it could be.
“Let’s make a toast,” I say as I raise my glass.
“For someone who sneaks around in the shadows, you sure do like to be the center of attention.” She flashes a grin and gestures to me, “Alright, let’s hear what you’ve got.”
“To all that is good,
To all that fate decrees,
To friends and lost family,
Tonight, we celebrate life!”
“What you said,” she says right before downing the glass.
I’ve never seen this side of Rashel before. In fact, a shiver runs down my spine as I begin to realize that it could be the demoness Idalla posing as Rashel again. “Rashel—if that is who you are—whatever your plans are tonight, I hope that killing me isn’t one of them.”
Her face turns into a scowl and she just stands there. I know the look. I’ve seen it before. “Okay, okay. You’re Rashel. And I’m an idiot.”
I take a drink, watching her as I pull the glass to my lips. It’s a very strong liquor with a rather foul taste that takes concentration just to keep down. It must be either dwarven or orcish. I really hope its dwarven, though. When the glasses are empty, I take hers and place both down next to the bottle.
“Miles, you’re thinking again. If you’re going to keep that up then I’ll just have to take my bottle elsewhere. Drinking and thinking don’t mix!”
She snatches up the bottle and takes a swig. She tries to suppress a recoil to the rotgut. “Srac! Dwarves must have cast iron stomachs!”
“Alright then, no more thinking…” I grab the bottle from her and, after a brief hesitation, I take a swig myself. What little courage I summoned to down the drink was quickly overcome by the stout liquor. I put the bottle back on the table and take Rashel by the hips, pulling her toward me. With one hand on her back, my other starts to untie her shirt.
Morning comes quickly and I wake with a slight hangover. For a few moments I just lie there looking at Rashel and thinking to myself. What the hell happened last night? I hope that Nyreece doesn’t find out about this. It’ll be a tough one to explain.
I whisper, “Rashel, are you awake?”
She’s still asleep. Of course, she was very drunk when she got here and we finished off that bottle and another one I had stashed in my gear. She’s going to feel like Xian’s bear mangled her when she wakes up.
I nuzzle up next to her. She’s warm and I can feel each beat of her heart. As I lay there, I drift in and out of sleep until I feel her stir a few hours later. She sits up in bed, her back heaving softly taking in the morning air. I notice several scars from old wounds.
Rashel looks around the room and, after a moment, whispers, “Miles?”
“How do you feel about mercy killings?” Rashel asks as she rubs her forehead and temples. “Right about now, I’d welcome one.”
I sit up and put my hands on her shoulders, “What do you mean?”
As Rashel pulls away, she says, “It’s my head. A nice decapitation would feel good right about now.” She walks over and snatches her pants off the floor, and puts them on.
“Nothing. Just this damn hangover…” She goes over to her boots and picks them up. Even with her aching head, Rashel moves gracefully. She balances on each foot as she pulls her boots on.
“For a moment, I thought you were upset with me.”
“Miles, for the last time, stop thinking about this. We’re both adults and we don’t owe anyone an explanation. Anyway, Nyr and I have an arrangement. Hell, it was her idea. And I haven’t done anything I said I wouldn’t.” Picking up her blouse, Rashel continues, “Do you really want to know why I came here last night? I was lonely, and I couldn’t go to Nyr.”
It finally starts making sense. Nyreece has been acting strangely around Rashel for the past week. I shrug it off, apply a sharp grin, and say, “Glad to be of service. But, if it’s just the same, don’t mention this to Nyreece.”
Rashel searches for the sleeves of her shirt, her chest bare to the morning sunlight revealing more scars. She lets out a tiny laugh at my worrying, but winces again, right before pulling her shirt over her head. “Ow. Ow. Laughter is not the best medicine when your head is ready to split open.”
I go over and gently kiss her forehead, “I wish I could make that head pain go away, but I’m not decapitating you.”
I sigh, “You know, we’ll be leaving the day after tomorrow heading for the Evercaps east of Ostrala. Are you going to be okay? I mean, how are you going to deal with Idalla?”
Rashel laces up her shirt, “Idalla? I have no idea what to do about her. Since the conspiracy seems to be over, and the king’s son taken away by the constables, I’m left with too much time on my hands and nothing to do. When I’m busy, I can put off thinking about Nyreece, but now, she’s always on my mind.”
“You should relax and take a few days off. I will do everything that I can to help clear up this Idalla mess. After all, it was Nyreece and I that retrieved the banishing scroll and then like naïve children handed it to Idalla—”
“Miles! You’re not naïve. You and Nyr are the smartest people I know, especially when it comes to books and arcane lore. You couldn’t have known that Idalla would use her magic to make herself look like me and trick you two into giving her the scroll. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
Maybe she’s right. Idalla is the most powerful creature our party has encountered. But there is hope. “We’re going to Wivligg’s lair and get his books on demon lore. Hopefully, we can find some defense against Idalla’s unearthly powers.”
“Wait a minute, Wivligg? You mean the evil wizard they scare little kids with? You think there’s some truth to the tales?”
“Yes, the very same Wivligg. And yes, he’s real.” I put on my most nonchalant face, “It will be quite dangerous exploring his lair, what with the stone creatures and dragons around the cave entrance. But I think if Xian could summon one big pissed off bear, we could have a chance—ah hell, who am I kidding. There’s not a bear big enough for this job. I guess that the four of us will just have to do.”
Rashel asks, “Have you found Wivligg’s hideout?”
“I’ve not been spending the last week in the library just to research and write a requiem. I’ve been looking at maps and scrolls, finding a clue here and there. But the biggest clue I got was from an elderly woman a couple days ago. She told me that she saw a caravan chased away by a statue. She also said that a scaled, flying creature that ‘spat lightning bolts’ guarded a cave. I’m sure it’s the entrance to Wivligg’s hideout.”
Intrigued by my discovery, Rashel asks another question, “What do you expect to find there?”
“I expect to find the answer to all the questions about Idalla: what she really is and how to destroy her. And perhaps we’ll find a little treasure. Truth be known, I don’t know what we will find there. With my luck—our luck—as long as we get close enough, the answer will reveal itself. You have to trust in fate and let it guide you.”
Then something registers in Rashel’s mind, “A dragon?! Are you nuts?! Tell me you aren’t planning on facing a dragon.”
“Not by myself, of course not. But Xian, Nyreece, Charmaine, and myeslf, sure. It’ll be tricky. I just hope we find the beast in the cave where it can’t move around easily.” That is, if we’re really, really lucky.
“Forget I asked. I don’t want to know any more. I need to get going anyway. Maybe I’ll see you again before you leave, but if I don’t, keep an eye on Nyr for me.” Rashel moves to the balcony, shielding her eyes from the morning sun. In a quick and fluid motion, she leaps over the edge. I barely hear the soft landing two stories below. Those are really nice boots.
Alone again in my room, I look around with a hazy recollection of last night’s debauchery. My gaze then focuses to the writing desk piled with yesterday’s research and the score for Dominik’s Requiem.
Well, that was a nice interlude, Miles. But it’s time to finish that composition.