Aug 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)

Meren and Kryro found themselves assigned to new locations in the forest with each passing season. While so far their positions had proven uneventful, Meren figured it was at least a change of scenery, and a nice change to boot. The southern part of the forest was particularly vibrant in autumn.

Assuming they were in for another long, quiet day on watch, Meren climbed into the fiery orange leaves just off the narrow forest path. Kryro continued deeper into the wood, his brown coat and tanned upper torso blending him into the surrounding foliage. Meren was settling comfortably on her branch when the rumbling of heavy footsteps sounded from the east.

She braced her back against the trunk, bow at the ready, but these were far more intruders than one quiver of arrows could take down. Knowing her bow to be of little use against a great rank of orcs, she instead tucked it over her shoulder and stretched out flat on the tree limb to get a better look at the monsters as they filed past. She could not tell what they were saying as they hurried along, driven on by a single orc near the back. This one was garbed differently than the rest. Instead of leather armor over a ratty tunic and carrying rough spears or notched swords as the rest did, this one wore an assortment of mismatched leathers and furs. He waved 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 this one was a shaman, never a type of person to mess with, especially not when surrounded by a heavily, if shabbily, armed company.

It would be wiser to let them pass rather than make her presence known. She remained still and hoped Kryro would do the same. He was further back, but with all the racket the green intruders were making he had to be aware of them. Once she judged the orcs to be far enough away, she swung herself down from the tree and darted off to find her brother. 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 with his club. He knew many of Meren's kin were not overly pleased that she chose a non-elf as her scouting partner, but he was a member of her tribe and he was a centaur. It was not too odd for wood elves and centaurs to work together, although he supposed it was more than slightly strange for one to be allowed the status of elf. 

Yet the tribe leader had approved of him. To reassure himself of this fact, 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 their much more expansive tattoos. Kryro, however, also possessed the rune for his adoptive sister's name inside the design, which signified there was one elf in particular who vouched for him. Or something like that. He had never quite understood what this all meant, although Meren had assured him this was a great honor.

While this memory bolstered his confidence, the disapproving 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 to pull aside the tent flap so he could duck under. Once inside, the high roof left him plenty of head room to stand comfortably. This comfort only extended as far as the space around his body, however. The glares he received from two of the four elves at Eryndir's side did little to make him want to stick around.

Meren stepped into the center of the tent, 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 repeatedly surprised Kryro. When he once asked Meren about this particular action, she'd explained it meant that she was admitting 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 Kryro had always been curious about yet 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 wore it only as an accessory rather than for purpose, tuning out the necessary greetings and established words. This was another thing he could not understand 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 warband of orcs led by a shaman. They were on the east path heading north."

"You are certain one was a shaman?" asked one of the elves. This was not Eryndir, but the tribe's own shaman, an elf 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, the shaman 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 rarely go into combat with their troops."

Kryro could tell Meren really wanted to fire off a rude retort at this condescension and 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, as I would hope you would. If she says she saw a shaman-led warband, then there is one heading north."

Meren let out a sigh of relief only audible to Kryro because he stood near her. He knew that while her father did trust her, he also did not like to speak dismissively to the other tribe elders. Now the centaur hoped the news he was about to give would be taken so well.

Kryro stepped forward and mirrored the movement Meren had done in greeting, feeling somewhat foolish because he did lack a quiver. For all that he was courageous out in the forest, no matter the problem, stick him in front of an audience and he felt like a colt again.

Trying to make his voice sound with a confidence he lacked, he said, "Sir, I have information as well. As they went past, I heard what I assumed to be the shaman telling another, possibly an underling, they needed 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 his habit of babbling when nervous! However, he was not really sure how to explain what he heard any better than this. While he knew at least a handful of languages, 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, her green eyes flitting to his face in an unasked question. Had he forgotten to inform her that he knew a spattering of Orcish? "Hey, Meer, can you guess what horrible monsters I can converse with today?" was not a sentence that came up in daily conversation. Reminding himself to apologize later, he looked over at the older elves. While most appeared to be at least some level of skeptical, Eryndir gave a nod. His green eyes, so much like Meren's, were 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 his knowledge of that language is flawed. How would we know if this is the truth?"

That was not what Kryro had said. His rather low ego gained a boost when Eryndir again sided with the young scouts. "Kryro has proven his reliability in the past, as well as his skill with languages. Although he may admit to not speaking perfect Orcish, likely he knows it better than he is claiming. We should heed the information he carries."

Kryro felt his face flushing. 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 by the leader's next words to them. "Thank you both for relaying the information here with such haste. The elders and I must now discuss how to handle this situation. You both 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 Meren to move the flap for him as they left. Kryro was actually glad to hear the elves bickering behind them since it meant they probably were not paying attention to his fumbling. It was bad enough a centaur was Meren's protector. A clumsy one was even worse.

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 interspecies 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 during a time of threat and any intruders anywhere near their border would be dealt with quickly and efficiently, never knowing what hit them. Kryro wouldn't be at all surprised if by the next morning an equally large vanguard of elves were gathered, sent off, and halfway to wherever the orcs were heading with the orcs 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 the independent elven spirit! Kryro thought. Possibly not the best time for it, but it was his job to follow. He could drag Meren away if there was a problem.


Kryro's assumption was correct. Without waiting to see what her kin decided, Meren led them with little pause for rest back to where they last saw the orc company. 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 had for the forest.

As they pushed their way through, Kryro'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 at the obvious question. "Orcs, Meer. I do not think any orc in existence has looked at a tree and thought 'Gee, I should be its friend'. Only you elves voice that ideal."

She continued walking, pausing only long enough to say over her shoulder, "Come on, horsebutt. We have forest-wrecking green things to find." 

He really wished she would stop calling him that.

They made good time and by sunset reached the edge of the forest. The orcs had led them straight to the abandoned human village, which felt strangely familiar to Kryro. He took in the high stone wall and an iron gate off in the distance. "Now they are fortified as well as numerous. I very much hope you have a good plan."

Meren nodded her head towards the gate. "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 invariably 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.”

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 centaur presented itself. One was locked tightly and one apparently rusted shut; those were 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 caused this left Kryro more worried than he'd been when they first arrived.

"I'll have to scale the wall.” Meren's eyes were bright with the prospect of a climb.

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 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 pop in, look around, then climb back over. Okay?"

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 landed lightly on the other side. Then she'd crept 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 made it halfway across the town when her scout training failed.

With 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 the remaining wall not chosen this moment to collapse. Most of the stone rolled harmlessly but loudly in the other direction, but a few rocks joined her inside the new hole. As Meren stood on a shaky ankle, one of the smaller, far more enthusiastic stones ricochet off the cellar wall and beamed her on the back of her head. When the world went dark, she wished her brother had fewer legs.

Part 3 can be found here.

Aug 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, 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."

Aug 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!

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!

I've been gradually improving this costume, so eventually I'll do another photo shoot.


Aug 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 glanced 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 weatherworn 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 learned, however, 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. A decade ago she certainly hadn't expected to find a colt asleep inside her tribe's storage tent with a half-empty bag of grain near his hooves.

Meren made a face 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."

Meren briefly wondered if this would in fact be possible to do by traveling from branch to branch and tree to tree, but he unfortunately did have a point, irritating though it was.

"Okay. I'll go." She paused, then admitted sheepishly, nodding towards the north, "I'm wondering about the town out there."

Kryro 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?"

"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. While she was crouched, she reached out to touch a tiny sprout with a vine-patterned hand. She loved early spring with the plants beginning to bud with the promise of new life. There was so much potential everywhere she looked and she couldn't help wishing that her own life and career had as much possibility.

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

"Sounds like snare number three may have caught something interesting,” he said with an "I told you so" look. Spirits, did she hate it when he did that! He was so annoyingly right all the time that just once she wished something would happen that she predicted.

Meren shrugged, not wanting to admit that he could be right yet again. Besides, their patrols were always boring. She was under no delusion that this one would be any different. "We'll see about 'interesting'. Likely it's a squirrel or a goblin or something.”

It was perfectly normal in their line of work to list small woodland animals and humanoid monsters in the same category of nuisance. Both regularly got tangled in the traps, although the animals were generally easier to take care of. Those she could simply set free. With this assumption of what they would find firmly planted in her mind, the two sneaked towards the trap as quietly as someone with hooves was able. Meren, far more light on her feet, continued ahead.

Well, that's certainly not a goblin, she thought as she eyed their visitor.

Dangling upside down from the rope snare was what appeared to be a human, specifically a young human who would probably have been rather attractive if not inverted with his warm brown face flushing to a deeper red. The human flailed at his embroidered black robe that entangled him better than the simple rope caught around his ankles. To Meren's surprise he was able to wiggle like a fish. Within moments he'd writhed out of the robe, dropped it to the ground below his trailing dark hair, and produced a dagger from somewhere. Seemingly with little effort, he swung himself up and reached for the rope caught around his legs.

Meren was so surprised by the fact that someone not appearing to be of elf-kind could move so lithely that she almost forgot her job. After mentally chiding herself for being so distracted, she grabbed her blowgun from her belt. Without taking her eye off the captured man, she stuck a dart inside the tube by feel and fired it off. A lucky shot- the barb stuck in his hand. He gave a startled exclamation that could only be a curse and dropped the dagger, which landed point-down in his discarded robe. He glared in her general direction before he swung loosely back down, stretching to try to snatch up the hilt just beyond his fingertips. Surely his glare was a guess at a direction. Meren knew her tattoos and mottled brown and grey clothing blended her into the trees, although melding into the forest would have been easier had it been summer instead of early spring.

Concerned that he might be able to contort enough to reach his weapon or that he had another one tucked inside his clothing, she called out, "Do not move or I'll fire something worse."

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

Here he again said something that Meren did not understood. Greatly wishing she carried her sleeping draught-filled darts rather than the plain barbs so that she and Kryro could do their usual "knock out and drag from the forest" act, she drew her bow and silently strung it. While she was not keen on firing at someone trapped, perhaps she could frighten him. She stepped out of the sparse underbrush with an arrow at the ready.

She wasn't sure what she expected, but the human crossing his arms over 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. 

These words caused Meren to lower her bow. How did he know? Only other elves had ever been able to pick up on the fact that she was partly something else. She looked down. No, her feet were hidden away in boots. This young man was most certainly strange: a dexterous human who spoke the halfling tongue and could pinpoint a hidden race? Although if he knew halflings, that could partially explain his level of coordination. She had never learned much about this part of her heritage, but she did know they were almost as dexterous as the elven side of her family.

Breaking off her stream of consciousness, 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 he sounded rather less confident as he gave up smoothing down his shirt. "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."

Just as quickly as she said that, she wished she hadn't. Wood elves weren't supposed to share information with outsiders. There was something about this human, however, that caused Meren to ignore protocol. Possibly it was because while upside down he hardly posed a threat.

Kryro, on the other hand, wasn't so kind. He walked forward with his large club raised in what Meren considered a needlessly threatening manner.

The human gulped. Nothing like a seven and a half foot tall horse-man to inspire fright where a small elf could not. "Look, I'm sorry. Can you let me down? I'll leave."

Meren thought about this for a moment, then nodded to Kryro. When reached up to untie the rope, he didn't bother to steady it, causing the man to swing in what had to be a nauseating circle as the knot unwound. Kryro was generally more careful than this, so Meren assumed he wasn't pleased with her decision.

The human fell and turned the drop into a kind of cartwheel. Kryro rolled his eyes, clearly not amused by this show of acrobatics. The man pulled on his robe, which now had a rip in the right sleeve from the dropped dagger, and said shortly in Halfling, "Watch it, horse."

Kryro's annoyance turned into heated indignation. As he reset the snare, he replied in the same language, "And you should watch what you say, two-legger."

The human brushed strands of his waist-long hair out of his face so that he could stare at Kryro for a moment. Meren stifled a snicker when he held his hands up in a complaisant manner. "Sorry sorry. Chalk it up to a bad day. I meant nothing by it."

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

"I used to know some halflings when I was young.” He gave her a small smile that seemed more genuine than the casual smirk he had been wearing. “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 halflings were ones she was related to.

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. Yet 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 from where you could possibly get your bearings."

The man shrugged at her vague northward gesture, as if the prospect of getting lost didn't bother him. He peered over at the centaur distrustfully and whispered to Meren, "Thank you. Sorry to have caused a problem."

Meren glanced down at her boots to try to hide her embarrassment. She really shouldn't have spoken so openly to him. She didn't want him thinking her kin was friendly. 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 human wasn't a threat she couldn't handle. He seemed rather nice. How nice can someone be if they're sneaking around the forest with no apparent reason to do so, a logical part of herself chimed in.

It didn't matter. He was leaving and he wouldn't return. So far no one she or her brother sent away had ever returned.

Kryro watched to be sure the human left the treeline and had vanished around the wall of the old town, then turned to Meren. "Do not do that again. How do you know you can trust him with the knowledge that your people claim this area?"

Meren stared at him, then at the wall, then back at the forest behind them. She couldn't figure out why her brother was chastising her. What him? "Trust who? What did I do?"

Kryro scratched the back of his neck with the side of his club and said hesitatingly, "There was a human... was there not? We caught... no. We were on border guard, keeping an eye out for orcs."

"Like always.” Meren nodded in the direction of the wood elf encampment. “I really think those are a story made up by my father to keep us occupied."

"Possibly, but we are still guards. We should go check our traps."

"We just did." Hadn't they? She was pretty sure they had done that already. Her head felt strangely foggy, as though she had grazed herself on one of her sleep-draught darts. She glanced down at the case on her belt. No, she didn't have those with her today, only the simple barbs. Strange.

"Right. However something tells me we should again." Her partner's attention to detail was rather obsessive at times, but she was used to that. Kryro was Kryro and she loved him for it, even if he could sometimes be a know-it-all.

She glimpsed over her shoulder one last time at the high stone wall in the distance before they slipped back into the forest. Sometimes when the wind blew from the north it still carried a lingering whiff of smoke and ash. What had happened there so long ago?

Part 2 can be found here.

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 into dropping the vial he was preparing. It shattered on the workroom's dirt floor and 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 ran a hand through his dark hair in frustration at the interruption. 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. Just some more mess to an already littered room. 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. It was no use. He knew this was out of laziness, not purpose.

He climbed the narrow, rickety staircase and once on the ground floor, closed the trapdoor. With a grunt, he managed to drag the small bookshelf over the entrance. It was a pointless try at camouflage when anyone who really wanted to get into the workshop could find it, but Wendell was far from 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 lump.

Taking a moment to beat some of the residual soot from his plain brown robe, Wendell opened the door just as the youth on the other side had his arm raised to pound at the door again. Momentarily thrown off balance, the boy grabbed the door frame.

"Yes? I had an important spell going." Wendell crossed his arms over his chest. No need to tell the boy- 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.

Dav seemed decidedly unimpressed as he shifted from foot to foot. "You gotta hurry. A band of orcs was spotted inside the treeline to the southwest. They told me to tell you you're needed at that gate.”

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

"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 one before you, always said he had some kinda 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 the 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 apprentice'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, Wendell's hand brushed the chain. He tugged this out and 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. Wendell 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 wide 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. Wendell gulped. Yes, those were orcs, all right. Even from here he could almost smell them.

As the monsters began to approach, Wendell'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 it felt as though it was trying to do... something, although a stone acting on its own 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, "Okay, 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 always 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 necessary combination of gestures.

The stone grew 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 with 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, Wendell instead concentrated on something more specific and less violent. Protect the gates. Make them stronger so nothing can get through them. He felt the amulet heat again, this time giving off a slight grey light, and let out a sigh of relief. He glanced over the wall, trying unsuccessfully to ignore the wave of vertigo, and saw the first ranks of orcs propel off of what appeared- or rather, didn't appear- to be an invisible barrier. Clearly confused and somewhat dazed, a few looked up and made 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 boy who had followed Wendell, "Dav, go run north and see if the sheriff is in place."

Dav nodded and took off running as the innkeeper shoved Wendell aside. He took the position the wizard had been occupying and fired 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 radiate a 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 he found 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 and if the amulet could only protect a small area at a time. If this was the case, surely his master would have pointed that out. Unless he had? Wendell 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 low rumbling sound filled the air. 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 before 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, 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 archer nearest him brushed flakes of mortar off his shoulder using the fletching of an arrow.

Now the stone beneath Wendell's feet started 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 archer 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. He still considered his point valid.

The archer gaped at what he saw, then grabbed the arm of the archer next to him to get her attention. He pointed and when she noticed the wall, he ran to alert the next one down the line.

Word spread, but not fast enough. Before most of those stationed along the wall could do more than move a few yards 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 pay the others much notice as he scrunched his eyes closed, the tower exploded downwards. It crashed through the stone walkway below and took a large chunk of the wall on a sudden downward trip to visit a few unsuspecting 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 Wendell went, tripping over the uneven stone. His ears still rang from what he was now thinking had been a sort of magical alarm bell.

While stumbling along, he caught a whiff of smoke. Oh no. Don't tell me the damn amulet 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 could help.

That thought in mind, Wendell ran back to his home and muttered a curse when he realized he'd left the door open. This time he kicked it closed behind him, rattling the door frame. 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. He placed the amulet on the table, then 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 better see and wishing he'd had the chance to finish that light spell he'd been interrupted from, he 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 so he could 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, the rickety staircase behind him creaked. Supposing it could be that boy again but thinking that wasn't likely, he reached over to snatch up the heavy glass bottle he'd knocked aside. This vanished into 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 an expression 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 oil 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, Wendell hoped that for once in his life luck would prevail.

With the knowledge that 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 into place that he 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 his home.

The next part of the story can be found here.

Aug 17, 2011

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.


Aug 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.))