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.
(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
Raff was on watch, which was to say that he was 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 that jewelry?"
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."