Monday, August 29, 2011

Hidden Magic - Story, Part 2

Banner art by JackOfClubs (jack_spire on livejournal).
You can find the whole cover art here- JoC did a great job on it!
There's also a great mix/soundtrack that goes with this story- you can find that here.

Hidden Magic, Part 2
(Prologue, Part 1, Part 3)

Seasons passed. It was autumn and Meren and Kryro were now assigned to the south; so far it had been uneventful but they figured it was at least a change of scenery. Assuming they were in for another long, quiet day on watch, Meren climbed up into a tree just off the narrow forest path while the centaur took up position further back, his brown coat and tanned upper half blending him into the surrounding foliage. The wood elf was just getting settled comfortably on her branch when she was startled by heavy footsteps sounding nearby that were approaching at a good speed.

She braced her back against the trunk, bow at the ready, but what she saw was far more enemies than one quiver of arrows could take down: a great rank of orcs. Knowing her bow to be of little use at the moment, she instead tucked it over her shoulder and stretched out flat on the tree limb, trying to get a better look at the monsters as they filed past. She could not tell what they were saying as they hurried along, but they seemed to be driven on by a single orc near the back. This one was garbed differently; instead of leather armor over a ratty tunic and carrying a club, spear or sword as the rest did, this one was wearing an assortment of mismatched leathers and furs and waving around a large staff, from which bones and other nasty looking adornments dangled. Meren wrinkled her nose, although it wasn't from smell; she was too high off the ground for that. Something told her that this one was a shaman, never a type of person to mess with, especially not when surrounded by a vanguard of heavily armed warriors.

Knowing it would be wiser to let them pass rather than make her presence known, Meren remained still, hoping that the centaur would do the same. He was further back, but would have had to be deaf to not hear the racket these green monsters were making, which she knew he was not. Once she judged the orcs to be far enough away, she swung herself down from the tree and darted off to find Kryro. This was too many for a single elf and her partner to deal with; they were going to have to alert her kin. She frowned at this realization and silently chided herself, That's what I get for wishing for some excitement.


As they neared the wood elf encampment, Kryro could not help fidgeting nervously. This was never a place in which he felt particularly comfortable. He knew many of Meren's kin were not overly happy with the fact that she had chosen a non-elf as her scouting partner, but he was a member of her tribe and he was a centaur, not some strange non-woodland race. It was not that odd for wood elves and centaurs to work together, but he supposed it was more than slightly strange for one to be allowed the status of elf.

The tribe leader had approved of him, though... Without paying attention to the fact that he was doing so, he reached across his chest to touch the vine tattoo that trailed from his right shoulder to his collarbone. Mixed in with the green tendrils, hidden to all but those who knew what to look for, was the symbol of this wood elf tribe. Meren, along with the rest of her kin, also possessed this mark somewhere in her much more expansive tattoos. Kryro, however, also had the rune for his adoptive sister's name woven into the design, signifying that there was one elf in particular who vouched for him, or something like that. He had never quite understood what this all meant, but Meren had assured him that this was a great honor.

This reassured him slightly, but the not-particularly-approving looks he received from a few of the elves in camp still left him unnerved. When they reached the command tent, Meren gave him an encouraging smile before stepping in ahead, pulling aside the tent flap so he could duck under. Fortunately, once inside, the high roof- high for an elf, anyway- was above his head so he was able to stand comfortably. Well, comfortably in terms of space; the glares he received from two of the four elves at Eryndir's side did little to make him want to stick around.

Meren took a step into the center of the room, moving a pace ahead of the centaur. She bowed her head and brought her right hand behind her neck, the action for greeting elves higher than one's rank. The fact that a group of seemingly feral and individualized elves actually had some sort of organization had always surprised Kryro. When he had once asked his sister about this particular action, she'd explained that it meant that she was admitting that the other elf was in control; the movement signified drawing an arrow from her quiver and offering it to his or her service. What would happen if the elf doing the bowing were not wearing a quiver at the moment was something the centaur had always been curious about but too embarrassed to ask. Then again, he could count on one hand the number of times he'd seen a wood elf sans archery equipment.

As Meren began talking he wondered idly if some just wore it as an accessory rather than purpose, tuning out the necessary greetings and established words. This was another thing he never really understood about the elves. Why did they take so long to get to the point? Finally he heard his companion say, "Father, Kryro and I discovered what appeared to be a warbard of orcs led by a shaman. They were on the east path heading north."

"You are certain that was a shaman?" asked one of the elves. This was not Eryndir, but the tribe's own shaman, an elf seemingly older than the rest with jagged red hair streaked with a few strands of white. This was not one of Kryro's favorite people, to say the least; in the centaur's opinion, he always showed very little respect towards the young elf.

Frowning at Meren, the shaman continued saying to her, "As I am sure you are aware, orc shamans very rarely go into combat with their troops."

The centaur could tell that Meren really wanted to fire off a rude retort, but was relieved when she answered simply, "Yes, sir. I am positive of what I saw."

The shaman looked over at the leader, a deceptively unremarkable elf with close-cropped brown hair, clearly expecting some support there. Instead, Eryndir nodded. "I trust my daughter's judgment here, as I would hope you would. If she says she saw a shaman-led warband, then there is one heading north."

Meren looked pleased to hear this. Kryro knew that while her father did trust her, he also did not like to speak dismissively to the other tribe elders. Now the centaur just hoped that the news he was about to give would be taken so well.

Kryro stepped forward and mirrored the movement his sister had done in greeting, feeling somewhat foolish because he did lack a quiver. Trying to make his voice sound with a confidence that he did not feel- for all that he was always courageous while out in the forest, no matter the problem, stick him in front of an audience and he always felt like a colt again- he said, "Sir, I have information as well. As they went past, I heard what I assumed to be that shaman telling another, possibly an underling, that they had to hurry because someone else was seeking... something. A kind of magical item from the context, but I will admit that my Orcish is not quite perfect and the one speaking was vague about the subject matter." He was rambling, he knew it. Oh how he hated that habit of babbling when nervous! However, he was not really sure how to explain what he had heard any better than this. He knew at least a handful of languages, but Orcish wasn't one of his more fluent ones.

He glanced down at Meren in time to see her open her mouth then quickly close it, but her green eyes were wide. Had he forgotten to inform her that he knew a spattering of that language? It was not as though that came up in daily conversation... "Hey, Meer, can you guess what horrible monsters I can converse with today?". Reminding himself to apologize for that later, he looked over at the older elves. Most looked at least some level of skeptical, but Eryndir gave a nod and his green eyes, so much like Meren's, looked worried.

One of the elves, a blond female Kryro knew to be the scout leader, was the first to speak. "Eryndir, I have not heard of this and the centaur himself admits that his knowledge of that language is flawed. How would we know if this is the truth?"

I never said that, Kryro grumbled to himself but gained a boost to his rather low ego when Eryndir again surprised him by siding with the young scouts. "Kryro has proven his reliability in the past, as well as his skill with languages. He may admit to not speaking perfect Orcish, but likely he knows it better than he is claiming. We should heed the information he carries."

Kryro could feel himself blush; he could not recall Meren's father ever directing such supportive words towards him. He bowed his head again, half to show gratitude, half to hide his face behind his long hair. The leader's support was not gaining him, or by extension Meren, any friends, however. When the centaur lifted his head again, he saw that now all four of Eryndir's companions were frowning at them. He was relieved when the leader's next words to them were, "Thank you both for relaying the information here with such haste. The elders and I must now discuss how to handle this situation. You two are free to leave."

Meren and Kryro bowed again and it was all the centaur could do not to flee out of the tent, which was fortunate because his hooves likely would have gotten stuck. As it was, he again needed his sister to move the flap for him as they left. The centaur was actually glad to hear the elves bickering behind them since it meant they probably were not paying attention to his fumbling. Hopefully. It is bad enough that a centaur is Meer's protector, but a clumsy one is even worse, he silently berated.

As if sensing his mood, Meren placed a hand on his side as they left the last tent behind them. This action did help and Kryro couldn't help smiling down at her in gratitude. It was not always easy, but having a sibling and a scouting partner he trusted entirely did make all the interracial interactions worth the awkwardness. He worried for a moment if the elves would take a while debating this, then shook his head at his own obtuseness; of course they wouldn't. Wood elves were all about action and any intruders anywhere near their border would be dealt with quickly and efficiently, never knowing what had hit them. Kryro wouldn't be at all surprised if by the next morning an equally large vanguard of elves had been gathered, sent off and halfway to wherever the orcs were heading with the monsters taken care of by nightfall.

And judging by Meren's determined look and the direction of her steps, her goal was to get there first. Ah, there is that independent elven spirit! Kryro thought. Possibly not the best time for it, but it was his job to follow. He could always drag Meren away if there was a problem.


Kryro's assumption had been correct. Without waiting to see what her kin decided, Meren had led them with little pause for rest back to where they had last seen the orcs. From there, picking up the trail had been simple. "Nothing like a troop of heavy-footed monsters to leave their mark on the place," he heard Meren mutter as she took in the blatant disregard they'd had for the forest.

As they had pushed their way through, the centaur's reaction was much the same and he shook his head at a snapped limb on a young sapling as they walked past. "There's a blasted path here!" Meren complained, "Why'd they have to destroy all the plant life around it?"

Kryro raised an eyebrow as though she'd asked the world's dumbest question. "Orcs, Meer. I do not think any orc in existence has ever looked at a tree and thought 'Gee, I should be its friend'. Only you elves voice that ideal."

Apparently choosing to ignore that comment, she continued walking, pausing only to say over her shoulder, "Come on, horsebutt. We have forest-wrecking green things to find."

I really wish she would stop calling me that, Kryro grumbled to himself.

They made good time and by sunset had reached the edge of the forest. The orcs had led them straight to that village, as the two of them could have guessed had their memories of the existence of the place not been horribly fogged.

"Oh, how wonderful," Kryro remarked sarcastically as he took in the high stone wall and the iron gate off in the distance, "Now they are fortified as well as numerous. I very much hope you have a good plan."

Meren shrugged. "I'm going to sneak in and scout ahead. I want to see what they were after."

Kryro rolled his eyes skyward. That was exactly the reaction he feared she'd have. Wood elves were not known for heading towards danger equipped with a plan and always assumed their bows would be all they needed. "I said a good plan. Going in alone is not a good plan, and unless those gates open, I cannot follow."

"We'll see." Meren said simply.

Kryro doubted even orcs would be dumb enough to leave their front door unlocked and sure enough, after circling the wall as stealthily as possible and checking the four gates they passed, no entrance passable by a man with four legs presented itself. One had been locked tightly and one apparently rusted shut; those had been the two most likely candidates. The farthest one had large boulders of fallen masonry blocking the entire entrance and the one they were now standing at had actually been melted into a mess of metal. What had caused this left Kryro more worried than he'd been when they had arrived.

"I'll have to scale the wall," Meren offered, her green eyes bright from the prospect of getting to climb something.

Of course, Kryro thought with a shudder, leave it to an elf to find any opportunity to end up high above the ground. "I was afraid you would say that. Are you certain that you do not want to wait for your kin?" Here was his stupid question of the day; of course she would not.

Meren smiled at him, clearly doing her best to make it seem like this was no big deal, which, to her, probably wasn't. "I'll be fine, 'Ro. I'll just pop in, look around, then climb back over. Alright?"

The centaur sighed, then gestured upwards. The sooner she got this foolhardy plan over with, the sooner they could leave. "Be careful."


Which she'd tried to be. She'd silently tossed a rope over the wall, dexterously climbed it and had landed lightly on the other side. Then she'd quietly snuck around, listening keenly for any sound of approaching footsteps. What she'd failed to do was wisely keep an eye on the ground in front of her. She got halfway across the town when her elven senses failed.

Her back pushed up close to the one remaining wall of a crumbled building, she took a step sideways. The weight of a small elf was too much for a wooden floor that had already met its share of fire, falling timber and clumsy orcs. It gave way, dropping her through the floorboards onto a dirt floor coated in dust. She would have been fine, had that remaining wall not decided to join her. Most of the stone rolled harmlessly but loudly in the other direction, but a few fell into the new hole, much like a large game of pool. As Meren stood on a shaky ankle, one of the smaller but far more enthusiastic stones ricochet off the cellar wall and beamed her on the back of her head. Her last thought as she fell forward was, "Dammit, 'Ro was right." Luckily it was a small rock because those would have been embarrassing last words, but as the world went black, she wished her brother had fewer legs.

Part 3 can be found here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Acolyte's Map - Story, Deleted Scene

Banner art by Artmetica.
You can find the whole cover art here- the art is gorgeous!
There's also a mix/soundtrack that goes with this story- you can find that here.

The Acolyte's Map, Deleted Scene
(Prologue, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4,
Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10)

(Months after posting this story, I recalled that I had written a scene somewhere in the middle that didn't fit with the flow of the rest, so it was removed. After talking to my writing-partner-in-crime, she told me I should share it. This isn't particularly polished and it's downright sappy probably why I dropped it early on, but when your elfsister asks for something, you give it to her. Unless you happen to like brooding, love-sick half-elves, feel free to ignore this. ;) ~Meri)

Raff was on watch or, rather, staring off into the distance with a hand wrapped around the jade pendant that hung from his neck and watching nothing but his thoughts, when he felt someone sit down on the log next to him. Too close next to him, as he scooted away with a half-hearted glare. Apparently not deterred by the stare, Charity moved a bit closer and asked, "What's bothering you?"

Can't she see I want to be alone? Raff moved away again. "How do ye know something's bothering me?"

"Because you've been staring at that same spot for twenty minutes; at least we know nothing is going to attack from that direction," she replied with a mischievous grin, "And you won't let go of that necklace so whatever is bothering you must have something to do with that. I'm not blind."

He looked down at his hand as if just noticing that he'd been holding it and let go, trying to hide his embarrassment with a shrug. "I'm just worried is all."

"'Worried' seems to be an understatement. Is there anything I can do to help?" the woman asked in a soft voice. Is she flirting? Normally Raff wouldn't mind some amusing and harmless flirtation, but he was far too preoccupied to be anything but irked at this.

"Unless you know how t'tell if someone far away is safe, then likely that's a no," he answered, trying to keep his voice just on the chilly side of calm. Yes, she was bothering him, but she also didn't deserve outright rudeness. Yet.

Still not getting the hint, or at least blatantly ignoring the hint, she continued prying. "Ah, that would be the girl who gave you the necklace?"

He silently cursed the inquisitiveness of his clerical brethren, but knew full well that he'd annoyed enough people the same way. He sighed, knowing that she wouldn't leave him alone until she got the truth out of him, but he couldn't help being a little sarcastic in his answer, "You're half right. Aye, I'm worried that something may have happened to her."

Inquisitive though she might be, Charity wasn't stupid. She caught that change in tone and Raff was pleased to see her quickly drop the flirtation act. Probably thinks that would be futile, which isn't strictly true, but I'll let her keep believing that. "He's another Messenger, isn't he? And since you mentioned that he's far away, you probably haven't heard from him in a while?" she asked, sounding genuinely concerned.

Raff blinked, both startled and impressed; he knew by now that Charity was quite intelligent, but she was even sharper than he'd have given her credit for if she could jump straight to that conclusion without missing a beat. "How'd you know that?"

"Like I said, I'm not blind. Whenever something about this quest and the attacks are mentioned, you get really quiet and grab that necklace."

"I didn't realize I was being so obvious." Raff had always prided himself on his acting ability and now it seemed to have failed him at a time that he really needed it.

"I doubt anyone else noticed. Everyone's rather preoccupied," she reassured him. "I only noticed because I was... um..."

She looked embarrassed, so Raff just shook his head, knowing the reason. "Don't worry about it. You didn't know." Changing the subject, he continued, "But aye, I am very worried; normally he sends me a letter every fortnight or so but I haven't gotten one in almost three months. I know letters can take a while t'catch up to us when we're on assignments, but it shouldn't be that long."

"Maybe his were stolen?" That had also occurred to Raff, but hadn't cheered him up any then, either.

"That's what I'm wondering. The thought of some sick thief reading it isn't a good one, but it's better than what has me so frightened. What if he was attacked by that same thug who went after me? Last I knew he was over on the coast, but that was months ago and without a letter I don't have a clue where he is."

The woman thought for a while before saying anything else. "Do you think you'd know if something happened to him?"

"I don't know. Possibly. I hope I would." With a wry smile he added, "Although now I know why we're not really supposed to become close to anyone; in a situation like this it becomes a burden." The woman saw his smile grow softer as he went on as if just talking to himself, "But I'd never swap that burden for being in a position where I didn't have someone t'worry about..."

He'd spent much of his life worrying that his boyfriend would get himself into some horrible trouble, so this was nothing new; yes, he wasn't completely innocuous and was actually far better than Raff at magic and let's face it, far smarter, Raff's thoughts chimed in to his vexation, but what good was magic if you were already run through with a sword or eaten by a dragon? Possibly you could still cast a spell while inside a dragon, but it wasn't something Raff had ever wanted to test in order to allay that particular fear. Yet all that worry was somehow worth it. Love really does make for a complete lack of sense, but as mine has pointed out numerous times, I'm already good at senseless. What's one more personality quirk when I already pride myself on possessing an assortment of them? He grinned to himself, not caring if Charity saw.

She noticed, but was just glad to see that he'd gotten himself out of his funk. "Ready to finish watch now? We don't want any orcs swarming camp, right?" she asked with a smile.

Raff stood up and dusted his robe off. "You know as well as I do that there aren't any orcs left in this part of the world." He returned the smile and gave her a hand to help her up. "Next time say kobolds or goblins. Nice try, though."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Costume time! Channeling a wood elf

I've been knocking around ideas of dressing like my characters for a while. Eventually I'm going to be making a red robe and cloak so I can dress as V from Order of the Stick, possibly next year (maybe I'll get to a con next year? Who knows!), but the main appeal of that character is that I can use the same costume to dress as one of my Messengers for Halloween. I look nothing like Cyn, being a slight, short, pale elf-girl, but Raff I could pull off. Wouldn't be my first male costume. ;)

Unfortunately, fabric is expensive and I'm not so great at sewing yet, so I decided to work on a different costume first: Meren. Or a wood elf in general, but I look a lot like her so I'll say it's her. ;) So if you wonder what a real-life Meren would look like, it would be something like this:
Wood elf costume!

Wood elf costume!

Next time I wear this costume, I'll paint more tattoos on me since I now know the paint works well- and because Meren is covered in tattoos, as are most wood elves. (I do need a smaller brush, though, because the face vines were hard to keep thin.) Meren usually wears her hair in a ponytail, but I couldn't do that because then obviously my real ears would be visible. And I have to break the boots in better. Talk about ouch! I crocheted the green overskirt and made the leather cuff around my calf- you can't see it in the pictures, but it's this:
Leather and feather armband

I do need to fix it because it ended up too loose for my arm. Most of the rest of the costume is handmade, too- the bodice/vest, bracers, pouch, ears, boots, makeup and necklace all came from artists on Etsy or Artfire. Yay, handmade! (Click the links to see the shops I found them.)

After wearing this to the renfaire for a bit, I realized no one knows what a wood elf is! I got called "Frodo", "dryad" and something from WoW. Next time I need more tattoos, I think!

It's not odd that I want to dress as my characters, right? No odder than the rest of my cosplays, I guess!


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hidden Magic - Story, Part 1

Banner art by JackOfClubs (jack_spire on livejournal).
You can find the whole cover art here- JoC did a great job on it!
There's also a great mix/soundtrack that goes with this story- you can find that here.

Hidden Magic, Part 1
(Prologue, Part 2)

"Meer, snap out of it."

The young wood elf looked down from her vantage point in the lowest branch of a mulberry tree to see her scouting partner giving her an exasperated look, an expression she was all too used to seeing on his tan face. He stood with his hands on his hips... flank... whatever it was called. Even after years of being his constant companion, she was still not sure which terms to use regarding her brother. She had, however, learned that he very much disliked the nickname "horsebutt," so of course she used it whenever possible. He wasn't her sibling by blood, which would be even stranger than her actual heritage, but sometimes life hands you family you wouldn't predict, and she certainly hadn't expected to find a colt in her tribe's storage tent a decade ago, asleep on a large bag of grain.

Meren made a face down at the centaur. "We're on guard. I'm keeping watch. What's the problem?"

"The problem is that you have been on that branch most of the morning and you have traps to check, which I am fairly certain you cannot do from a tree."

The wood elf briefly wondered if this would in fact be possible to do by traveling from branch to branch and tree to tree, but realized he unfortunately did have a point, irritating though it was. "Alright. I'll go." She paused, then admitted sheepishly, nodding towards the north, "I'm just wondering about the town out there."

Kryro looked puzzled and tilted his head to the side. "Why? What about an abandoned human village draws the attention of an elf away from what she should be doing?"

The wood elf chuckled wryly. "Oh, come on, 'Ro. You know we were sent to this border because nothing ever happens here." When she saw that he was about to speak again, she added, "And I don't know, okay? It just has me curious."

She swung down from the branch and joined her much taller companion on the ground, hardly making a sound as she landed in last season's debris.

"If you're so keen on checking them, let's-" she was interrupted by an abrupt "snap" to the east, followed by a muffled shout of some kind.

Kryro gave her an "I told you so" look. Spirits, did she hate it when he did that! He said, "Sounds like snare number three may have caught something interesting."

Meren shrugged, still not wanting to admit that he had been right. "We'll see about 'interesting'. Likely it's just a squirrel or a goblin or something," she said, thinking nothing was strange about listing small woodland animals and humanoid monsters in the same category of nuisance.

The two snuck quietly towards the trap, or as quietly as someone with hooves was able to be, and the elf continued ahead, being far more light on her feet. Well, that's certainly not an orc, she thought to herself as she eyed their visitor. What they'd caught wasn't the monster (or fuzzy thing) she'd been expecting; dangling by his ankles from the rope snare was what appeared to be a human, a young man who would probably have been rather attractive if not upside down with his face turning red, flailing at his black and silver robe to get it out of the way. To Meren's surprise, though, the man seemed to be able to wiggle like a fish. Within moments he'd writhed out of that robe, dropping it to the ground below his trailing dark hair, and had produced a dagger from... somewhere. Seemingly with little effort, he'd swung himself up and was reaching for the rope caught around his legs.

Meren had been so surprised by the fact that someone not appearing to be of elf-kind could move that way that she almost forgot her job. Mentally cursing herself for being so distracted, she moved to grab her blowgun from off her belt. She quickly stuck a dart inside and fired it off. A lucky shot- the barb stuck in the young man's hand. He gave a startled exclamation that could only be a curse and dropped the dagger, which landed point-down in his discarded robe. Surely not able to know where it came from, because she knew her green tattoos and forest-colored leathers and clothing blended her into the woods flawlessly, he still glared off in her general direction as he swung loosely back down, stretching to try to snatch up the hilt just beyond his fingertips.

Afraid that he just might be able to contort enough to reach, Meren called out, "Do not move or I'll fire something worse."

The man froze, but from the look on his inverted face, it was more out of confusion than fright. He said something again that Meren didn't understand. Now she was regretting leaving her brother behind as he was far better at languages than she. Trying one of the few phrases he'd taught her in the human tongue, she tried again. "Do not move. Trespassing you be."

Here he said something again, once again not anything the elf understood. Very much wishing she'd had her sleeping potion-filled darts on her rather than the plain barbs so she and Kryro could just do their usual "knock out and drag from the forest" act, she drew her bow and silently strung it. She was not keen on firing at someone trapped, but perhaps she could frighten him? Nocking an arrow, she stepped out towards the human.

She wasn't sure what she had been expecting, but the man crossing his arms across his chest and saying rather confidently in the language of the smaller forest folk, "Aren't you awfully tall for a halfling?" certainly wasn't it.

How had he known? Only other elves had ever been able to pick up on the fact that she was a half-breed. She looked down, but no, her feet were hidden away in boots. This young man was most certainly strange- a dexterous human who spoke Halfling and could pinpoint a hidden race? Although if he knew halflings, that could partially explain his level of coordination...

Breaking off her stream of thought, she answered in the same language. "I am an elf. You're trespassing on our land."

The human shrugged, which must have been difficult to do while upside down because his shirt got tangled on his shoulders for a moment. "And how was I to know? There were no signs, no warnings."

"This is the warning. You have crossed our border."

Now the black haired man looked rather less confident. "This is a warning? I'd hate to see the threat."

Meren raised an eyebrow, causing the green tattoos on her face to shift, and lowered her bow. "You wouldn't, believe me. Most of my kin don't even give warnings." Why had she told him that? Wood elves weren't supposed to share information with outsiders, but there was something about this man that caused Meren not to follow protocol.

Kryro, on the other hand, wasn't so kind. His large club raised in what Meren considered a rather threatening manner, he came forward. Nothing like a seven and a half foot tall horse-man to inspire fright where a small elf could not. The human gulped. "Look, I'm sorry. Can you let me down? I'll leave."

Meren frowned, then gave a small shrug. "Alright." She nodded to Kryro and he reached up to unknot the rope, not looking overly pleased to do so.

The man fell, but was able to turn the drop into a kind of cartwheel. Kryro rolled his eyes, clearly not amused by this show of acrobatics. Tugging on his robe, now containing a rip in the right sleeve from the dropped dagger, the human said shortly in Halfling, "Watch it, horse."

Now Kryro's annoyance turned into a glare. As the centaur reset the snare, he replied coolly in the same language, "And you should watch what you say, two-legger." The human's dark eyes widened and Meren stifled a snicker.

The man held his hands up in a complaisant manner. "Sorry sorry. Chalk it up to a bad day. I meant nothing by it."

Meren had to choke back another laugh at the snort of contempt her brother made. Yes, this was rather interesting. "You must leave the forest, but... how did you know I wasn't fully elven?" she couldn't help asking the newcomer.

He smiled sheepishly. "I used to know some halflings when I was young. Something about you reminded me of them."

'Young'. Meren knew enough about humans to know that this one couldn't have been any more than twenty, meaning this was recently. Or "recently," coming from a half-elf, anyway. She wondered if those were ones she was related to, but before she could ask, Kryro cleared his throat. "Yes, yes, how convenient that you speak her language. Meren, let him go." Switching to Elvish, he told her, "You know quite well that you are not supposed to be friendly towards intruders."

Which she did know, quite clearly, but... she'd always had a problem being as reticent as the rest of her kin. And this human intrigued her. Still, she did have a border to protect. "I must lead you to the edge of the forest, mysterious Halfling-speaking person. There's an old human village that way," she gestured vaguely north, "where you could possibly get your bearings from."

The man shrugged, as if the prospect of getting lost didn't bother him, but was it her imagination or did he startle when she mentioned the village? He looked over at the centaur distrustfully and whispered to the elf with a small smile, "Thank you. Sorry to have caused a problem."

Now it was Meren's turn to shrug as she tried to hide her embarrassment. As they led him through the woods, Kryro stayed a pace behind, acting far too much like he was guarding her for her liking. Surely this man wasn't a threat? He seemed rather nice. And someone who was sneaking around the forest with no apparent reason to do so, a logical voice inside her chimed in. Giving a mental shrug, she drowned out that voice with the thought, No matter. He's leaving now and won't return. So far no one she or her brother had sent away had ever returned, although little did she realize it was more because of where they had guard duty than any specific skill they possessed.

Kryro watched to be sure the man had left the treeline and had vanished around the wall of that old town, then turned to Meren. "Do not do that again. How do you know you can trust him?"

Meren's forehead wrinkled in confusion. Why was her brother chastising her? "Trust who? What did I do?"

Now it was the centaur's turn to express confusion. "There was a human... was there not? We caught... no. We were on border guard, keeping an eye out for orcs." He didn't sound so sure of himself, however.

Meren glared back in the direction of the wood elf camp. "Like always. I really think those are a story made up by my father to keep us occupied."

Kryro looked skeptical, but nodded. "Possibly, but we are still guards. We should go check our traps."

"But we just did." Hadn't they?

"Right. However something tells me we should again."

The elf shrugged her heavily tattooed shoulders. Her partner's attention to detail was rather obsessive at times, but she was used to that.

Still, for some reason before slipping back into the dense forest, she glanced back at the high stone wall in the distance, all that could be seen of the village.

Part 2 can be found here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hidden Magic - Info and Prologue

Banner art by JackOfClubs (jack_spire on livejournal).
You can find the whole cover art here- JoC did a great job on it!
There's also a great mix/soundtrack that goes with this story- you can find that here.

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10)

Story info:
Word Count: 22,053
Rating: PG
Warnings: Unreliable magic? Rather vague battles? A surplus of wizards? Yeah, this story doesn't really need a warning. ;)
Summary: Meren, an unusual elf girl (and her more unusual centaur "brother") take up the task of hunting down a band of orc trespassers. When she stumbles into a pitfall, Meren finds an object: an amulet that gives strange new powers. Little does she know that an increasingly desperate young wizard is looking for the very same amulet, and that their paths are destined to crisscross in a weave of chaotic magic...


The frantic pounding at the upstairs door startled the young wizard; he dropped the vial he'd been preparing and it shattered on the workroom's dirt floor. As the liquid soaked into the ground with a slight hiss and a poof of odorous smoke, Wendell cursed under his breath. "What do they want now?" he grumbled to himself as he ran a hand through his short dark hair in frustration. Unbeknownst to him, the powder still on his fingers tinted it slightly white, although this did little to make him look any older than his twenty-five years.

He glared up at the ceiling in the general direction of the knock then nudged the pile of broken glass with his boot, surveying the newest damage. He gave a shrug. Just some more mess to an already littered room, but he could almost hear his former master complaining about a wasted concoction and such a disorganized work area. The old wizard had passed six months ago, but still his once-apprentice continuously felt the need to look over his shoulder lest his magic (or lack there of) was being watched by the keen eyes of his teacher. Besides, I work better with a mess, he tried to reassure himself to get that voice to leave, but it was no use. He knew it was more out of laziness than purpose.

He climbed the narrow, rickety staircase and once on the ground floor, closed the trapdoor. With a grunt- how had the old man done this so easily?- he managed to drag the small bookshelf over the entrance. It was probably a pointless try at camouflage as anyone who really wanted to get into the workshop could find it, but the young man had never been good enough at protective magic to try to seal it the way his master had done. Wendell's only result had been melting the padlock into a jumble of metal, which he now used as a paperweight, thus summing up his magical prowess in one simple action.

Taking a moment to beat some residual soot from his simple brown robe, Wendell opened the door just as the youth on the other side had his arm raised to knock at, or rather flail at, the door again. Momentarily thrown off balance, the young half-elf grabbed the doorframe.

"Yes? I had an important spell going," Wendell said as he crossed his arms over his chest and frowned down at the boy. No need to tell the youth- Dav, one of the helpers at the inn, as the wizard knew- that the spell had been simply a kind of cantrip for a bit of continuous light in a room without windows.

The boy didn't look overly impressed, but he did look worried under his mess of brown hair. "A band of orcs was spotted just inside the treeline to the southwest. You're needed at that gate," he informed the wizard, shifting from foot to foot.

"Am I?" The wizard frowned. Surely this was more a job for some archers or something? "Aren't guards ready on the wall? Shouldn't you be alerting the sheriff instead?"

Dav hastily nodded. "Aye, already have, but you're our wizard." He said this in a way that seemed to come across to Wendell as 'You're our wizard so you better well go do some wizarding'. "The old one. I mean, the previous wizard, always said he had some kind of magic to keep the village safe."

Wendell sighed. In his opinion the villagers had become far too dependent on magic and had a bad habit of asking for something he couldn't supply. It wasn't so much that he was loath to help, but for every little spell he cast for them, he had to spend a great deal of time resting to recover from that energy drain. 'Wendell the Wondrous', he cynically snorted to himself; his master had given him that title once after one of his experiments had actually come to fruition and it had stuck with him ever since, much to the young man's annoyance and the amusement of the villagers. For all that the old wizard had been brilliant, he just couldn't seem to grasp that his student would never be a particularly powerful spellcaster.

But his master had been perceptive enough to leave something behind for his less adept apprentice. Now where is it... he'd promised to keep it on his person, but a wizard's pockets were never a secure location. Digging through a multitude of pockets, flaps and pouches and dislodging an assortment of baubles and a small beetle, the wizard finally felt the chain. The youth caught a glimpse of something green and yellow before the wizard dropped it into the slightly more convenient satchel hanging at his hip. The beetle, now sensing impending freedom and possibly a chance not to be poofed out of existence as a spell component, scurried away.

The wizard echoed that scurry as he was all but dragged out the door, to the wall and up the stone staircase. The high wall encircled the entire town, except for two gates to the north and two to the south, giving a fairly good view of the area from the top. A view which left the wizard quite uncomfortable, first from the height, then from the sight of a group of monsters. A group far larger than a band, so either more had arrived or the boy wasn't particularly good at math. The wizard gulped. Yes, those were orcs, alright. Even from here he could almost smell them.

As the monsters began to approach, the wizard's hand found the amulet without him being aware that he was looking for it. Was it his imagination... no, it did feel warm, and for some reason he was getting the feeling that it was trying to do... something, although how a stone would be able to act was uncanny, even to a wizard. He frowned and closed his eyes. Whispering to it and feeling like an idiot for doing so, he said "Alright, you gaudy piece of jewelry. Time to do... whatever it was you were made to do." He was really beginning to wish he'd paid more attention when his master had explained this, but that man could ramble on and on and the apprentice had lost interest not long into the lecture.

Let's see... grip it like so... Don't think there was a phrase to say, was there? Please don't be something I'd have to say... right, concentrate on what I wish it to do. Get rid of the orcs would be a prime desire right about now, he thought to himself as he began to recall the needed combination.

He felt the stone grow warm again, but just as it seemed ready to act to his will, it flashed back to cold. "Curse it!" Why didn't that work? His master had explained that this was a protective amulet and that with a little effort it would protect the town. Great, but unfortunately rather vague.

Maybe 'getting rid of orcs' was too offensive for a protective magical item? Trying again, the young man instead concentrated on something more specific and less violent. Protect the gates. Make them stronger so nothing can get through them. As he felt the amulet heat again, this time giving off a slight grey light, as well, he let out a sigh of relief. Glancing back over the wall and trying to ignore the wave of vertigo, he saw the first ranks of orcs propel off of what appeared (or rather, didn't) to be an invisible barrier. Clearly confused and somewhat dazed, a few finally looked up, making what could only be rude gestures towards him. One, probably a leader judging by how much it was shouting to the others, had the wits to hurl a spear up at the wizard who dove out of the way just in time. As it quivered in the wooden crate next to him, Wendell, also now quivering, explained to the people stationed next to him, "Whatever I did, it won't stop weapons. Ducking would be wise, I think."

The nearest archer, the innkeeper, rolled his eyes. "Fighting by cowering is a great battle tactic. Go check on the other gates and get out of our way, please." In a far less sarcastic tone he directed to the half-elf, "Dav, go run north and see if the sheriff is in place."

The boy nodded and took off running as the innkeep shoved Wendell aside and took the position the wizard had been occupying, firing off an arrow.

That's the thanks I get? Wendell grumbled to himself as he scuttled low on the wall towards the next gate to the east, not noticing that the iron of the one he'd just left was beginning to give off a low, dim red glow.


Other than a few townsfolk keeping watch, nothing had been near the southeast gate. Wendell continued circling the town until he reached the northeast one. Here, though, was a commotion, but not one that he had been expecting; there were orcs, but none were bouncing off invisible walls. Wendell wondered what he'd done wrong. Does that amulet only protect a small area at a time? But surely his master would have pointed that out. Unless he had? The wizard once again mentally cursed the fact that he hadn't paid much attention at the time.

Not only were the monsters not being kept from the wall, these had come prepared. A group had laid claim to a fallen tree and were using it as a battering ram, shouting as they charged the iron gate. Judging from how said gate was beginning to bend after each strike, it didn't look as though the it would hold up much longer. With each bang, Wendell cringed. Why couldn't this have happened a year ago? What do I do?

Gripping the pendant and chain tightly in his right hand, he tried thinking at it again. Do something, would you? That wall thing, fire, sudden localized earthquake, something-

Before he could finish that thought, a rumbling noise sounded; with each hit of the gate, it grew louder, as though echoing the movement. I was joking on that last one! he quickly shot at the item in his hand, but he realized it wasn't the ground shaking. It sounded more like it was coming from ...above? But why would something up high rumble? As his eyes rose, he noticed small pebbles and bits of masonry begin to rain down from the guardhouse built atop the parapet. No one else seemed to notice this, although the man nearest him had begun brushing flakes of mortar off his shoulder using the fletching of an arrow.

Now the stone beneath Wendell's feet was beginning to... pulsate, was the only sensation he could equate it to. And if stone suddenly became able to throb, that wouldn't end well for those relying on it to stay stationary. Grabbing the man who was now sporting a slight layer of dust, he shouted, "Get everyone away!"

The man glared at him as he drew another arrow from his quiver, "And let them break through? Are you crazy?"

"Look, would you!" Wendell shoved the man around so he faced the now trembling wall. "They're shaking the foundation! Guarding the gate is all well and good, but not if it's going to fall on you!" Okay, so the gate wasn't the problem here and he didn't think the orcs had actually been the cause, but he still considered his point valid.

The man's eyes widened. Winning the award for obvious understatement, he exclaimed, "They shouldn't be able to do that!" He grabbed the arm of the archer next to him and pointed, then ran to the next.

Word spread, but not fast enough. Before most could do more than move slightly along the wall and out of the way, the guardtower... sunk. Majestically. After a shrill sound that caused only Wendell to cover his ears, not that he was in a position to notice this as he scrunched his eyes closed, it exploded down, crashing through the stone walkway below it and taking a large chunk of the wall on a sudden unexpected trip to become far too large hats for orcs. As more of the wall began to crumble, the townspeople on either side of the recent gap fled, some west, some south, and some down what remained of the stairs that led back into the village. The stairs were nearest, so downwards the wizard went, tripping over the uneven stone. His ears still rang from what he was now thinking had been a sort of magical alarm bell.

Stumbling along, he caught a whiff of smoke. Oh no. Don't tell me it heard that, too! How is this protective magic? He had to be doing something wrong. Perhaps his master had left some sort of written instruction somewhere?

That thought in mind, Wendell ran back to his home, muttering a curse when he realized he'd left the door open. This time he kicked it closed behind him, rattling the doorframe. The bookcase was still in place and he gave another grumble as he shoved it out of the way with his shoulder, then yanked open the heavy trapdoor to take the ramshackle stairs down three at a time. Placing the amulet on the table, he fumbled to get the old lamp to light, burning his thumb on the firestick before he was able to ignite the wick. Now able to see better and wishing he'd had the chance to finish that spell he'd been interrupted from, he frantically began to search the workroom for his master's old spellbook or any kind of note he could have left behind. He ripped books and scrolls off shelves, heedlessly tossing what was of no use onto the floor and shoving anything with potential into an old rucksack.

After exhausting almost every shelf and surface of written material, Wendell finally located what he sought behind a dusty bottle of something that was blue and mostly dissolved. This he shoved aside to grab the thick, also dusty, book at the back of the shelf. He jammed the leather book into the bag and pulled the drawstring tight. As he threw the sack over his shoulder, he heard the rickety staircase behind him creak. Supposing it could be that half-elf kid again but thinking that wasn't likely, he reached over to snatch up the heavy glass bottle he'd knocked aside; this quickly became hidden in the folds of his sleeve. Armed as best as he could be considering the location, Wendell swiftly turned to face whatever had caused the noise.

Sure enough, it wasn't the boy. Standing at the bottom of the stairs with a notched short sword in hand and its expression one of permanent angry underbite, was an orc. Why do I never remember to lock the door? Wendell cursed at himself as he took a step back from the table in the center of the room. Would there be a way around it? Could he possibly sneak upstairs and lock the thing down here?

This idea was quickly dismissed when he feigned a step to the right; the orc lunged with the sword, seemingly to aim at the wizard, but the gas lamp got in the way. Had the floor been clear, this would not have been a problem and the dirt would have extinguished the flame, but in Wendell's frantic search the floor had acquired a carpet of parchment. As the fire began to leap from paper to ancient book, the young wizard hoped that for once in his life luck would prevail.

Knowing he lacked any kind of water spell, he tried the only option available in the rapidly smoke-filling room. While the orc was momentarily distracted by the flame, Wendell hurled the bottle at its head and ducked under the table, shoving the monster aside when he got to the other side. It wasn't until he'd reached the top floor, slammed the trapdoor shut and pushed the shelf back in place that he finally realized a flaw in this plan. Everything of any importance in his workroom was flammable except for one item: the amulet, which he'd left on the table. He hesitated for a moment and glanced at the floor, then decided no malfunctioning piece of jewelry was worth facing fire, smoke inhalation and an angry orc. Shifting his pack into a better position on his back, he fled from the building.

The next part of the story can be found here.

Art for Hidden Magic

Since I wrote "Hidden Magic" for a writing/art challenge, this meant that I ended up with art to go along with the story. Yay, art! In this case, my fiancé picked my story and decided to draw Meren and Kryro, two of the four protagonists:

Josh based the character design for Meren off of this one that my friend Niere drew, which is probably really obvious. ;)

I'm just happy that he did in fact draw me my horsebutt, as I affectionately call Kryro, because Josh has never drawn centaurs before and I didn't know if he'd be inclined to do that or not. And Meren's in a tree, of course, which is her usual state of being, so yay!

Really happy with the drawing! I would have done the tattoos and Kryro's hair a bit differently, but that's a style thing, really. Although he did forget Meren's quiver so now she has a random extra belt. Which is fine. One can't deny the functionality of belts!

There's one other character in that story that I'd love a drawing of, so I'm going to see if Josh can do that one for me, too. I may try myself, but I'm not sure if I can do him justice or not. I did, however, already make a plushie of him, so I'll be posting that soon. :)

As for the story, I'll start posting it either tonight or tomorrow. Look for that soon!

Edit: There's also a soundtrack for "Hidden Magic", complete with album cover! You can find the cute songs and the cover art here.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Adventures of a Young Messenger - And Here Begins a Lifetime of Pranks (Part 6)

Part 6 - And Here Begins a Lifetime of Pranks
(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5)

A strange sound close by Cyneric's head woke him the next morning. Opening his eyes, he saw that he was practically nose-to-nose with a small brown mouse that was sitting on his chest and chittering. He blinked at it in surprise a few times; he was more startled that an animal had already located him than at finding one there, however. "Good morning, little guy. How'd you get up here?" he asked it through a yawn.

As he sat up and moved the mouse into his hand, it chattering away in its rodent language all the while, he noticed there were a few bugs on the blanket, as well. That's rather odd, he thought to himself, but shrugged. A mouse showing up to have a morning conversation wasn't particularly strange, but bugs were new. Transferring the mouse onto his shoulder, he scooped the stray bugs into his hands and got out of bed, asking them in a soft voice how they ended up in here. He didn't expect an answer, but it had become instinct to talk to small critters, even the crawly ones.

It wasn't until Cyneric had walked over to the window to set the insects free that he noticed three of the other kids standing in the room, eying him in what looked like confusion mixed with amusement. One was a blond boy who had probably been the youngest acolyte until yesterday, another was a slightly older dark haired girl, and the third was the half-elf Cyneric had noticed the day before. He looked to be about fourteen, but with elves and half-elves, who can tell? With all those eyes on him, especially the uncannily bright green ones belonging to the elf, Cyneric became embarrassed, assuming that they had heard him speaking to the bugs; he didn't have a good track record for people reacting well to that kind of thing. He felt himself blush even more when they failed to say anything. I hate being the center of attention, so why are they here? They had to see how uncomfortable he was as he looked from the mouse to the floor, not daring to make eye contact.

Finally the younger boy broke the awkward silence and said simply, "Well, that backfired."

That got Cyneric to finally look at them from behind a curtain of black hair. "What?" That didn't even make any sense. He wondered if he should doubt the other boy's sanity, but realized he probably had no room to talk judging from the mouse perched on his shoulder like a parrot.

The older boy- the half-elf... what was his name? Something with an 'R', right?- looked sheepish. "We thought ye'd be afraid of them." He had an odd accent and spoke with something of a brogue, and, while understandable, still didn't make any sense.

Perplexed, Cyneric asked, "Come again?"

The girl ever-so-helpfully commented without elaboration, "The bugs and rat."

At the same time Cyneric and the half-elf corrected her by chiming in "It's a field mouse". They looked at each other in surprise but the human could tell that the other's was cheerful astonishment by the fact that he was trying to hide a grin behind his hand. Without thinking, Cyneric had defaulted to what his brother referred to as "annoyingly know-it-all", so he was glad to see that grin since it meant they likely weren't going to take offense.

Still not understanding, the newest acolyte asked, "Why should a mouse and an assortment of insects frighten me?"

"We heard you were … um..." the girl fumbled for a word to use here.

"Rich," the younger boy immediately supplied.

"Lyle!" That was obviously not the word she'd been looking for. Or possibly it was the word she had been diplomatically trying to avoid.

The boy shrugged. "What? Elli is and she's afraid of 'em."

She rolled her eyes in an exasperated manner. "Still, that's not polite, you know."

The half-elf meanwhile looked at the other two in amusement and explained further, "We thought it'd be a good prank t'hit ye with."

The girl shrugged. "Not the best try, I'll admit, but Lyle thought it would work."

"Hey, it should have!"

The half-elf and girl were both now rolling their eyes, but didn't actually seem upset at him. Cyneric began to get the feeling that those two didn't often go along with Lyle's ideas, but liked to humor him. Needless to say, he wasn't feeling so shy or embarrassed anymore, thinking the three were more comedy act than threat, even to someone so introverted. "You mean you thought I'd be afraid of a little mouse and some insects because I'm from an aristocratic family?"

"Possibly?" Now it was the girl's turn to look sheepish.

Cyneric pretended to eye the mouse suspiciously and said to it, "Are you in on this, too? You're not actually a rat in disguise, are you?" He was rewarded with more chittering as a reply, not that he knew if it was agreeing or not, but it was well-placed chittering at least.

He gave a small smile, trying to be friendly but being rather at a loss as to how to go about doing so; this was the most social interaction he'd had in... well, ever. "I guess next time you know not to get me this way." An idea occurred to him and he added, "If animals and such work on this Elli, perhaps I can help you catch them in the future? I'd imagine toads would function well."

The trio gave almost identical roguish grins and Cyneric couldn't help breaking into laughter. Maybe it won't be so hard to fit in here? As if echoing his thoughts, the older boy told him, "I think ye'll fit in jus' fine. Anyone who starts off wanting t'prank Elli is welcome in my book."

Cyneric grinned and handed him the mouse. "Would I be correct in assuming this is yours?" The animal acted more like a pet than something wild and he knew it was unlikely that field mice would be living in a city church. He supposed it was rather species-ist to assume an odd pet belonged to an elf, but sure enough, as soon as the mouse was in his hand, it scampered up his arm and onto his shoulder, where it promptly began to chew on one of his long braids.

The boy chuckled and asked "Are ye sure you're not pulling our legs and are actually a really young ranger?"

The baffled look the young human gave him caused him to laugh and he added, "'Tis strange, is all." Noticing Cyneric's returning embarrassment, he thankfully changed the subject. "Ye've probably forgotten all our names- I know I couldn't keep track when I got here. I'm Raff." Ah, so it is an 'R' name! Cyneric thought. Raff gestured towards the door, through which the other boy had already wandered off through during the mouse exchange, "That numskull was Lyle."

Here the girl added her introduction, "And I'm Liz. Pay no mind to Lyle- he doesn't mean to be rude but... the boy has no attention span."

Cyneric shrugged. "Not a problem. Okay, Raff, Lyle, Liz. Well, that's a start and hopefully I will remember what name goes with who."

Liz grinned back. "As long as you don't think either of us are Lyle, you'll be fine."

Cyneric smiled, mirroring their impish grins without realizing. "Ah, so you don't want to be mistaken for him. I see." Being who he was, though, he couldn't help asking about the mouse. "Now, does the mouse have a name, or is that going to make this name thing even more confusing?"

"Of course she has a name," Raff answered as he stroked the mouse gently between the ears, "It's Tyu." Well, that answered the last part of my question, too, Cyneric thought.

Echoing that inner comment, Liz piped up, "Which falls under 'more confusing'."

Raff laughed. "Nah, it's easy. And ye can call her 'Cheese' if ye want- that's what it's short for."

Realization dawned on Cyneric. "Oh! That's Elvish; I should have caught that." As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he realized how conceited that made him sound- again- and he started to apologize.

The half-elf looked rather shocked, but waved his hand to dismiss the apology. "You can speak Elvish?" he asked in said language. Cyneric thought that it sounded more like his reaction was over the fact that he knew the language, not over that specific comment, thankfully.

"Yes." Feeling that he should be truthful, he added, "However, it is the only other language I have learned. Is that odd that I speak it?"

"You know, I think I caught all of three words in there," Liz said in what appeared to be mock indignation before Raff could answer the question.

Apparently ignoring the girl, he nodded and answered, "Yes, it is sort of odd. I think you are the only other acolyte who came in knowing Elvish and you are excessively human."

"Thank you, I think?" How could one be excessively human, anyway? I guess from a half-elf's point of view, that statement works, Cyneric reasoned.

Raff shook his head, his braids whipping back and forth. "I just meant that it is surprising. There is more to you than you think, Cyneric."

That bewildered him; how was knowing a language or being good with animals surprising? It's not as though those were rare abilities, and neither had ever been particularly useful. Cyneric felt himself blush and switched back to Common so as to not leave Liz out of the conversation- and so that he could change the subject. "If you say so. But please just call me Cyn."

Liz jumped on that; Cyneric was beginning to notice that she'd take any opportunity to play a game of wits. "I take it not like moderate evil?"

Cyneric snickered, catching the pun. "Definitely not. Slightly, perhaps, but never moderately."

"Sure ye are," Raff grinned, then asked, "But why not 'Eric'? That would avoid those kind of comments."

"Gods, no. Definitely never 'Eric'." Noticing that the half-elf was taken aback by his empathetic reply, he tried to explain in a calmer voice, "That's a family name ending and I'd rather not be associated with them."

"Don't get along with them, I take it?" Liz asked.

"That would very much be an understatement." Cyneric shrugged, brushing this off and changing the subject again. I'm not very good at this, am I? "If you don't mind me saying, 'Raff' seems a strange name for someone who looks like an elf."

Raff tucked his brown hair behind an ear, as if that comment had drawn attention and reminded him that they were pointed. "Ye shorten your name t'avoid your family. Mine's short because my family made it too long- try getting stuck with a name like Rafion Goldenstrings."

Okay, maybe I have no room to complain about my name; at least it's normal. "Ouch. But that doesn't sound elven either." He quickly caught himself, not knowing what the half-elf's opinion was about his heritage, and added, "I am sorry! I mean, if you don't mind me saying so."

Raff smiled, apparently not offended. "'Tis fine. Blame my da- he decided his surname was too hard for audiences t'remember, and switched t'something easier. Unfortunately 'easier' also meant 'absolutely silly'."

Not knowing anything about that kind of subject, Cyneric asked about the part of the sentence that had caught his attention. "Audiences?"

"He's a musician."

Here Liz threw in another of her sarcastic retorts, "That certainly explains your flair for the dramatic; it must be hereditary."

Raff winked at her and said dramatically, "Alas! Ye have discovered something I keep secret. Here I was thinking I'd tricked everyone inta thinking I was bland and morose."

Liz broke into a fit of snickering and was finally able to quip back, "Right, keep telling yourself that, elf-boy. And Cyn here really is an ancient ranger."

Cyneric was really starting to enjoy the company of these two, out of his element though he was, and tried his own silly comment in defense, "Perhaps I am just cleverly disguised as a bewildered young priest-in-training. You never know." As if on cue, the mouse started chittering again and he added, pretending to understand it, "See? They don't believe us, Tyu."

As Liz started snickering again, Raff grinned at him and said "Ye'll fit in great here. That mouse's a good judge of people."

Said to almost anyone else, their reaction probably would have been laughter at that statement, but Cyneric just grinned back. "I hope so."

((And back to Cyn for a bit! I realized I'd almost finished this months ago but have been so distracted by writing Meren's story that I never posted it. I did change narrative styles, though; now that Cyn's backstory is crossing over with Raff's, it makes more sense to tell it in 3rd person since in the future I'll be switching back and forth between them for stories.))