There are few footfalls along the path of life that we choose for ourselves. We are dragged through hoping that, at least, the prints we leave will tell our story as we hoped it would be.
We rejoin the four that brought us to this point. Socair, Óraithe, Rianaire, and Aile still live, as best they can, in a world that moves ever closer to war. Perhaps they will struggle against it, perhaps they will walk with the changing winds.
They each see the path laid behind them through their own eyes. It is through the eyes of others that shadows grow. One is never asked, but still, they will each come to understand the weight of their own shadow.
Cover Art by: Anna Dittmann
HAVE YOU SEEN THIS BOY
MEET THE AUTHOR
You were probably wondering if Randall Fitzgerald was willing to write a special first line for each of his books. The answer to that is… maybe.
Randall was raised in rural North Carolina and is currently living in Portland, Oregon. He’s trying not to let the constant motion sickness caused by rapidly moving plaid destroy his productivity. Other than that, he writes books. Sci-fi and fantasy, probably. Maybe with some other stuff in there.
Requisite snide remark about Portland out of the way, Randall is continuing to refer to himself in the third person and it makes him sick. He’s going to stop writing this bio now.
KEEP IN TOUCH
Socair – Part 1 (From Book 1)
It was the 11th week of Saol and the heat was nigh unbearable even without the fighting. Socair sat on the crumbling ruin of what had been the wall of a house, her brigandine, doublet, and vambraces on the ground in a smelly heap. They weren’t impressive pieces by any means. Dull brown with a solemn green stripe down the left breast and subjected to more patchings and repairs than a poor farmer’s cart. Sweat had long since soiled her underclothes and now all she cared about was finding some relief from the heat.
She’d been among the first through the gates and the heat had taken its toll on near as many as of her people as the centaur. She’d been cut shallow along the cheek in the initial push with the vanguard and at the time she’d thanked the Sisters that the blood somehow felt cool against the skin of her neck. In the heat of the day the blood had turned to a thin, irritating paste and Socair found herself cursing the centaur and the heat as much as her lack of vigilance. Wherever the blame lay, she was uncomfortable and there wasn’t spare water enough to warrant using it to wash. The tip of her left ear twitched as the sound of her name snapped her out of an exhausted daze.
She stood to meet the pair and recognized the male. Crosta, a member of the Binse of the Treorai of Abhainnbaile and leader of campaign against the centaur. He was a capable enough commander, tactically speaking, but he was famously short tempered and uncharismatic besides. The woman was unknown, but judging from the fine dress she wore and the shine of her hair, Socair assumed her to be the Regent of what was left of the hamlet in which they now stood.
“Socair.” Crosta called flatly as they approached. “This is Rún, Regent of the south and a close friend of our Treorai.”
Socair managed a slight bow, her muscles screaming in protest. “Milady.”
“She became indelibly curious when she heard the Goddess of Glassruth led the van and insisted I bring her to you at once.” There was the slightest twinge to his lip that let show an annoyance his tone would not betray.
She spoke before Crosta could start again, a softer, more pleasant voice than Socair had expected of the sharp features the noble bore. “I’m afraid the Binse has the truth of it and I fear I’ve troubled him with my selfishness.”
Rún turned to face him. “If it please the Binse, I am sure I will be well cared for in the hands of such a capable warrior and you may return to your duties.”
Crosta snapped a tight bow, four fingers across his chest in salute. “Then, by your leave.” He turned and hurried away, shouting orders as he went.
As soon as he was out of earshot, Rún heaved a sigh and rolled her head back in resignation. “By the Sisters, I was beginning to think he’d want to stand here and hold my hand. Insufferable twat.”
“Ha!—” Socair couldn’t stifle the laugh entirely and the overburdened muscles in her abdomen punished her for trying. She doubled over and grabbed her side. “Gah!”
“Oh! Are you injured?” There was genuine concern in Rún’s voice. “Sisters, I didn’t mean—”
Socair held up a hand. “It’s fine. I have had worse, I promise you.”
“I suppose I ought to trust you. You are well built, to say the least.” The highborn elf looked her over.
“I… thank you, Regent.”
“There is no need for formality. Not with me. Call me Rún.” She smiled politely.
It was uncommon for highborn to forgo such pleasantries as the meaningless gestures tended to wax their egos. Socair was intrigued by the woman, to be sure.
“Would you dine with me?”
“Dine? In the keep? I am only a sword arm, Rún.”
“Nonsense,” she said. “You lead the van of the First Company and you saved my precious city from ruin. I insist upon it. Come, follow me.”
Rún lead her across the yard and to the keep. When they had passed into the entry hall, Rún was called away and she informed Socair that attendants would come and see to her. A few moments later a pair of shorter women came and whisked her off to some corner of the keep. Socair did not know the place, though the room was nice enough. If she had balked at the Regent’s request, she’d like to have heard an earful from Crosta when they returned to camp.
The attendants saw to her needs, whether they were truly her needs or not. Her short hair was combed and run through with all manner of things she had never seen put to hair before. Scented waters and powders and finally a sort of wax that made her hair glisten.
When they had gone, Socair looked down at the ill-fitting finery she had been stuffed into. Rún was a nice enough host, but formal dinners were… well they were foreign to Socair. She didn’t know anything of polite society. It hadn’t been her way. Raised among boys in a family whose sole pride was their martial prowess, they were insular and strict. She’d lived in the hand-me-downs of three older brothers until she outgrew the lot of them, standing half a foot taller than any elf she’d ever met.
Now here she was. In some town or other, in a keep she’d only vaguely known existed until she was told to march there. Socair was anything but cultured. She knew the lands well enough and their histories, but its inhabitants were another thing.
The situation was not entirely miserable. At the very least, she’d avoided frillery and gowns and the like. She’d never so much as held a dress up to look at and to her great relief the keep’s servants couldn’t find anything close enough to her size to alter in time for the dinner. As it was, she wore basic tan trousers, a white shift, and red waistcoat of crushed velvet that had been quickly altered to fit her length and allow for her breasts and hips. Her shoes were her own, cheap leather things she wore when sabatons wouldn’t serve. Even the shoes had been oiled and polished.
She was fretting over the buttons on the vest when there was a knock at the door. “Ah! Uh, come in.”
Rún opened the door holding a greatcoat. At the very least it was understated, Socair thought. Rún, on the other hand, couldn’t be more excited. She practically tackled Socair in her excitement.
“Absolutely gorgeous!” Rún was clearly pleased.
Socair sighed and worked at the buttons. She felt clumsy and horribly awkward.
“Oh, let me.” Rún lightly slapped Socair’s hands away and began to work the buttons on the waistcoat. “I know, I know. It must seem ridiculous to you.”
“It does,” Socair admitted, “It’s just… this is no place for me. I am a soldier.”
Rún finished with the buttons. “And a soldier cannot be a guest? Would you wear your armor at the dinner table?”
“I would.” The waistcoat was tight on her chest. It wasn’t the comforting security of her brigandine. Her breasts were too pronounced. She was too exposed. She was not herself.
“Well, had I not smelled it earlier, I might have even let you.” Rún paused at that. She frowned and looked up at Socair. “But I am a selfish Regent and I wish to feast the savior of my people. And if I was forced to have a meal alone with Crosta, I’d likely fling myself from a balcony.”
With that she smiled and left, reminding Socair to put on the greatcoat before dinner. Socair did as she was bid and left to find her way to the dining room. She lost her way twice, though the keep was small, and had to be escorted to the hall by a maid in the end.
The doors opened into a beautiful room of marble and stone, lined with busts of former Treorai and luminaries of Abhainnbaile culture on pedestals. It was smaller than rooms in which Socair tended to take her meals and far less noisy. She missed the noise now as the sound of the door drew the eyes of the assembled party to her. Sisters, she was uncomfortable. She reached for the comfort of the hilt of a sword that wasn’t there and placed the hand at her side instead.
Rún approached with the half dozen nobles and Crosta. Introductions were exchanged and the announcement was made that dinner was to begin. The lot made their way to the seats, Rún at the head of the table. She insisted Socair take the seat to her right with Crosta to her left. They were the guests of honor, after all. As they sat, the servants took Socair’s greatcoat. “Why even have me put it on?” she wondered. “For show?” They weren’t even her clothes so why show them off?
For all her consternation at the pomp of the evening, the food was the best Socair had ever tasted. The most amazing soup. They’d called it some name she’d never heard and didn’t bother remembering but it was fresh and rich and tasted of tomatoes and spices she didn’t know. Salt and pepper were luxuries for soldiers and most who added strange greenery or seeds from the roadsides ended up sick for their troubles.
After, there was roast of snow pheasant. A bird from the north, she’d heard of it vaguely from the yearnings of some foot soldier. To her it looked of the prairie grouse she’d chased on long training retreats her father had taken her on, but the taste was much more succulent. The grouse were wiry things and tough. Built to spend their lives fleeing. She was considering what sort of lives the pheasant must live to end up so juicy when she chanced to hear her name punctuate the sentence of one of the guests.
Wide-eyed, she lowered her fork and looked around the table, remembering the alien situation she’d nearly managed to put out of her mind. Much as she hated him, it dawned on her that Crosta had managed to draw the focus of the table for the better part of a half hour. Their curiosity could no longer be shifted away from their strange guest.
“P-pardon?” She sputtered, nearly spitting out a bite of pheasant.
“Hoh!” The laugh seemed to shoot out of the nobleman covered with as much fat and sweat as he was. “It would seem that the food agrees with the lady.” He seemed the jovial sort, but she couldn’t remember his name or station.
Rún moved a gentle hand toward Socair’s shoulder. “No need to be nervous.” Rún’s hand found Socair’s but the gesture did little to calm her. “The good lords and ladies are simply curious about you. How you came to be so fierce and deft. Why you fight.”
“Aye! And what your mother fed you to grow you so big,” the fat lord said in jest. The table joined him in laughter.
Socair waited for the laughter to die down. She had no mind for speaking to highborn folk, especially not about herself. She was confident in her abilities and her mind and her body. But her tongue? That was a whole other thing. She stared down at her plate for a moment, wondering what she could say.
“My lords, I apologize. I fear I am not entirely sure how I should answer.” She started almost mindlessly. “It would be as useful to ask a sword why it is swung or a sharpened edge why it cuts.”
An older nobleman at the end of the table with a large mustache pounded the table. “Hear, hear! Spoken like a true warrior!” There was applause. Socair was just glad to be done with it. She wanted to retreat back to the meat and her ponderings.
“Certainly,” Rún said, “there must be something for which you fight?”
Socair thought on it for what felt to her like an eternity. “When I was a child, my father took my brothers and I to see what had remained of a horde encampment.” She stared down at her plate. “We were happy children, he’d said to us, but we must understand what the world truly was. Inside the camp there was a strange box covered with dirty canvas. When he pulled the canvas away, there were bodies, emaciated and sickly grey. He told me later that he had meant to ask us each how the sight made us feel…”
“But?” Rún interrupted the dead silence of the dining room.
“He tells me I drew my short sword and began to hack at the door to the cage, crying and screaming. When he tried to pull me off, I slashed him across the chest and returned to work on the cage until I fainted.”
“By the Sisters, is it true?” The meek voice of a frail looking noblewoman was a mix of concern and disbelief.
Socair looked up, realizing the entire table was staring at her, mouths agape. “Ah! Oh. I’m not sure. I remember standing outside the camp that day… but I don’t remember much else. I was sick a while after that.”
The gathered highborn just stared at her as if she were on fire. Had she been too honest? Was it such an odd tale? Surely they had seen the true horror of the war. Surely they understood.
Mercifully, the next course arrived and broke the silence. The mustachioed old elf at the end of the table began to talk about his time in the war and the glory of fighting for Abhainnbaile against the monstrous hippocamps. People seemed to brighten up at that, which gave Socair some peace of mind. She realized she hadn’t finished the pheasant and the thought saddened her but there was plenty left to eat.
The other courses passed uneventfully. The nobles seemed to avoid conversation with Socair after her story. So much the better, she thought. After all was said and done, the party retired to a common room with a balcony. Socair could not have found her way onto it more quickly.
Socair leaned on the railing and looked out across the city. To the south some few houses were still on fire, sending orange light and the ghosts of their wooden walls up into the air to join the clouds that dotted the sky. The small, red moon was full and bright in front of her sister’s dim milky crescent and in the north she could make out the fires of the First Company’s encampment. She thought of her vanguard and what they must be doing. Toasting their victories with cheap spirits and reveling their dead with the same.
Socair heard footsteps from behind her and turned instinctively. Rún seemed unperturbed at the swiftness of the move. She walked calmly past Socair and leaned on the railing herself.
“I should apologize for putting you in that room for my own selfishness. And I hope you’ll pardon my guests.” Rún’s voice was more solemn than Socair had expected. “They don’t understand the true horror of this war. Nor do they wish to. Even those who have fought tell stories to which they have no claim. Each of them, officers and politicians.”
“Then why surround yourself with them?” Socair was, perhaps, being impolite but she felt Rún was at least different enough from her guests to speak to plainly.
“Ha! I’ve inherited this lot and their ilk.” Rún rolled her eyes. “It’s a game, all of it. They will pretend to like me so long as I am useful and I will do the same. At the very least, I can bear with the ramblings of a few highborn to secure a better life for those that weren’t lucky enough to wriggle out of some gilded cunt.”
Socair laughed, the pain wasn’t as bad now. “Inherited friends, is it? Is that how high society works?”
“Sisters, yes.” Rún scoffed. “Breaking the bonds of noble blood,” Rún put on a mocking tone, “oh, one simply mustn’t. It just won’t do.”
“So you aren’t of noble blood?”
“I am, for whatever it’s worth. My mother’s mother was the cousin of some soldier who was ascended to a knight under some eastern Regent. She was granted a parcel of land and… ugh, it’s such a boring tale. One day, my father came to call on my mother to marry. Mother died, father became a drunk, and a violent drunk after that.” Rún looked off into the distance at nothing in particular.
“She fell ill?” Socair asked, not thinking much of it. Highborn were sickly sorts.
Rún stood and looked at Socair. “You are not the only little girl to see the inside of a horde cage.”
Socair’s eyes widened. She never thought… and Sisters, wasn’t that the problem? How could she be so thick? She grabbed Rún and hugged her tight. Rún let out a gasp, clearly she hadn’t been expecting it. The hug tightened, Socair’s nose filled with Rún’s scent and, for some reason, it made her want to cry.
Rún finally managed a word. “Uh… Socair, darling?” She just managed to get the words out.
“OH! Ah! Fires take me, I’m sorry! I get… I just…” Socair dropped the noblewoman.
“It’s,” She sucked in a big breath, “it’s fine.” Rún laughed, still catching her breath. “You can’t help it, can you? What was it you said at dinner? Why does a sharpened edge cut? What else could it do?”
Socair looked away, embarrassed. Rún teased her and took a step closer. “Come now, Socair. You—”
“There you are, Vanguard!” The voice was Crosta’s. Socair went to attention almost instinctively. “I hope she’s not bothered you unduly, Lady Rún.”
“Oh no, Crosta dear. Quite the opposite.” Rún smiled politely.
Crosta seemed unsure of what to make of the quip, but either way his face showed displeasure. “Well, good. Still, we must retire. There is some way to walk to the encampment and Socair yet has a debriefing to issue.”
“Very good, Binseman. But if you would go on ahead, I should like to have one final word with your soldier.”
“I…” He hadn’t expected that, but what could he do? “Very well, Lady Rún.” He turned to Socair. “Vanguard Socair, you are to return to camp immediately when Lady Rún dismisses you.”
“Sir.” Socair bowed and put four fingers across her chest to salute.
Crosta left brusquely, his face betraying his distaste for whatever secret talks he imagined were going on.
“Didn’t I tell you? Insufferable.” Rún laughed to herself. “Don’t worry, it’s just one little thing.” Socair turned to face her.
Rún motioned for her to lean down. Socair did as she was bid. Socair looked away as not to stare at Rún, expecting her to whisper some tiny secret.
Socair felt hands on her face, her eyes shifted but before she could react she felt Rún’s lips against hers. The warrior stumbled back, blushing hard. “I… I don’t…” Socair couldn’t find the words.
Rún grinned, satisfied. “You are dismissed, Vanguard. And thank you.” The Regent turned and leaned back on the rail.
“But… I… B-by your leave, milady.” Socair bowed and made for the changing room as quickly as she could.
“It’s not possible,” Socair thought as she hurried to return to the comfort of her armor. “I will never understand nobles.”
ÓRAITHE – PART 1 (From Book 1)
Óraithe nearly lost her footing as she rounded the corner. The guards couldn’t be far behind. Stupid as they were, they were quick. Still, they didn’t know the streets as she did. The bastard lot spent their time standing idly by the fronts of brothels and whatever eatery they happened be favoring that week. The backstreets Óraithe called home were no place for law enforcement, no matter how ineffective.
She rounded the next corner, more deftly this time, and heard crashing and swearing in the alley she’d just left. Still, she didn’t slow up. Not yet. A few more bends and she saw it, stained red and as welcome a sight as it ever was.
The curtain hung with as much dignity as any could in the slums of Fásachbaile and bore the telltale sigil of an alchemist, the silhouette of a lush tree with an up facing crescent moon cut out of what would have been the leaves. The shop was quiet before Óraithe burst through the curtain, knocking several tinctures off of a nearby table as she arrived.
“Óraithe!! Damn it all, girl, you—” Cosain’s voice came gruff and tired. He looked up to better survey the damage Óraithe had brought clattering in with her. Her eyes, flitting between his face and the curtain, weren’t so full of regret and pleas for forgiveness as he’d hoped. “Into the back with you. Now.”
“Sorry. I’ll pay—” Óraithe held her hands up to beg forgiveness as she ran by but a dismissive wave of the hand from Cosain sent her on her way.
The back room of the shop was spartan to say the least. A tattered bedroll in the corner was the only thing among the rows of supplies that could be called a luxury. Óraithe sat clutching the bread that had been the reason she was running from the guards. She took a large bite, deciding it was like to be the last decent thing she’d have if the old man was less than convincing. She moaned at the taste, the smell of it. Fresh bread from the High District. It wasn’t anything more than a trifle for the highborn and their whelps. She’d enjoy it so much more than they could ever know. Why shouldn’t she have it?
Muffled voices from the front of the shop rent her from her justifications. She tried, fruitlessly, to overhear the tone of the conversation. Not that there would be much escape from the back room. Maybe up the ladder and to Cosain’s house proper? It didn’t bear thinking about, she figured. What’s the worst they could do but take the bread?
“Take… the bread?” she mumbled to herself staring down at the pilfered meal. She wouldn’t have it. She tore into the bread, eating it as quickly as she could manage.
Not more than a few seconds after the muffled voices had died out, Cosain whipped the curtain over the back room open.
“BAH! Fires take you, girl! Just what do you mean leading a pair of the fool’s guard here?” She’d not seen him this angry in a long time.
“Mrphh!! Mrph mnff!” The bread. She tried to choke it down and succeeded only in choking.
“Chew properly, stupid child. What good is the work I’ve done in sending off your friends if you’re going to die on my floor?” Cosain’s expression softened and he made his way to his work desk. He pulled the chair out and sat facing Óraithe. He slumped. “What am I meant to do with you, child?”
Óraithe protested. “I’m no child! I’m 20 and a woman grown! For four years now!”
“Then perhaps you should put away this childish rebellion of yours.” It was a line Cosain had repeated more times than he could count.
“Perhaps you should stop letting rebels sleep in your workshop, old man.”
“If you persist in meddling with the High District and its people, you’ll find your face on posters soon enough. Would that I was black enough of heart to send you out into the world with no home to return to. This is not what your parents…” He looked to her, realizing she must have understood what he meant to bring up.
Óraithe stared silently down at the half-eaten bread and frowned.
“Óraithe, I…” He had meant to apologize.
Óraithe threw the bread against the wall. The sight of it disgusted her now. “You are not wrong, you know? My rebellion is childish. I know that, I do. But small as it may be, my rebellion is just.” She stood and walked to the old man, placing a hand on his shoulder.
“Besides…” She smiled down at the alchemist. “Childish is a start.”
The rest of the night passed in silence. Cosain worked at his potions and Óraithe buried herself in a book. She could tell he had finished what he meant to do for the day, but what little light from the moons found its way to back room of the shop was too dim to read by and he had only the one oil lamp. He often pretended to continue his work for sake of her reading. It was one of the few things she truly seemed to enjoy. When she found a place to stop, she closed the book loudly and Cosain took his lamp, bidding her good night. She slept easily with the smell of the bread still wafting through the dark room.
When she woke, Óraithe pulled on a tattered dress. She wished she’d had a pair of trousers to wear under it. It was certainly out of step with the fashion of the day but it would be all she could do to keep her legs protected when she might have to run through Sisters knows what to avoid the guards. She’d have taped her breasts down as well, she thought, if they were substantial enough to warrant it. She had pulled the neck of the dress out and was staring down at them when Cosain entered the store-room.
He was carrying a small crate of some sort of herb and almost didn’t seem to notice her at all. At least that’s what she’d hoped. He placed the crate on a workbench and turned to address her. “You’re headed out, then? Even after yesterday?”
“Oh, you mean to make me a prisoner, old man?” She hadn’t meant to snap at him, in truth. She felt bad about it but her pride demanded it.
The alchemist didn’t rise to the jab. “The guards do,” he said plainly. “You ought not think you can play so close to the fire and never feel the touch of the Black Sister.”
Óraithe became annoyed. “And what should I do? Sit in your shop and wither like your damned herbs?”
“It would be a better end than you’re like to find out there.”
She spat at the ground and made for the curtain to leave. “And that’s why the world is as it is. Cowards and fools who would rather shrivel and die with what they are given than claw what they deserve from betters.” The word was as much thrown at the ground as spoken.
She was done. Óraithe grabbed a cloak from the wall and wrapped it around herself as she left.
Out in the alleys the heat was as oppressive as ever. The cloak and shadows of the three and four storey stucco buildings helped keep Óraithe from the sun directly. Cosain, frustrating as she found him, was right about the guards. Their memory was not so short as a day and she’d do best to avoid at least those involved in chasing her.
She passed across a through street and was nearly bowled over by a rush of shavers making for the main street. “Little bastards!” she called after them. One turned to make a rude face but was implored by his friend. “Don’t mind that hag or we’ll miss it!”
Miss it? Óraithe hadn’t heard of any nobles coming through today. What could they mean? She decided to follow and see what was happening, if anything. It could just be some clown or candy maker. She cut over to a thin alleyway that she knew exited to the main street. One that wasn’t like to be used by the rabble. She could make out a line of silhouettes along the street at the end of the alleyway. Whatever was going on, it’d drawn more than the whores’ whelps she passed before.
She came to the end of the alley and found herself staring at nothing but shoulders. She cursed her height. The Sisters had not been kind. She was short to the point of mockery most times. Not dwarfish just… tiny. Tiny in so many ways, she thought, and placed a hand to her breast. She’d managed to anger herself and began trying her damnedest to shove through the rabble.
Her elbows were sharp but the throngs were not quick to part. She shoved forward with what weight she had and found it slow going. She’d nearly forgot why she was forcing her way through a crowd in the heat of Saol but the murmuring picked up and brought her back to her senses. What was out there? Just one… more… push…
She burst through, but she’d put too much momentum into it. She awkwardly loped out into the street, just keeping her balance. She was looking down at dirty cobblestones. Oh no, she thought, breath catching in her throat. She was in the middle of the street. She looked behind to see a few elves pulling themselves up from the ground. The crowd hushed and the voice sounded as if it was inside of her very mind.
“Do you have business with me, child?” The accent was foreign, like nothing she’d ever heard. The voice, husky and confident. Óraithe turned her head and saw what had caused the fuss.
“D… Drow?” Óraithe stammered somewhere between awe and terror.
“Elf.” The Drow squinted at her in the light of the day. “Your skin will burn if you spend so long in the sun.”
Óraithe held her breath and stared. She was mesmerized. A Drow! No more than an arm’s length from her! Light purple hair pulled back tight, the shifting grey skin. It seemed to run through colors between the greys. A deep rainbow in between gulfs of darkness. Her eyes, black as coal.
The Drow put a hand on her hip, growing impatient. “Well, elf?”
Before she knew it, Óraithe was darting for the other side of the street. The crowd parted to let her through and she made it to the dark comfort of the alley way. She slumped to the ground, back against a cool wall. The murmuring continued. A few curious elves looked down the alleyway toward her. She had to get away.
Óraithe got up and began walking briskly. She’d meant to meet Teas! She’d nearly forgotten. Her walk became an open run. She was late.
Teas was standing at the edge of the alleyway they normally met wringing her hands and looking back and forth. She spotted Óraithe running toward her and crouched, not sure if they were running from something or not. Óraithe held up a hand and shook her head to signal that things were fine. Óraithe clopped to a stop in front of Teas.
“So…” She caught her breath. “Sorry! I was late. There was…” she stopped herself and looked around.
She grabbed Teas by the arm and pulled her into the alleyway. Teas was a good deal taller than Óraithe. A half-foot or so. She had the light hair of the northern elves and something of a fat face. Óraithe found it incredibly endearing. She was innocent and looked as though she should be. They’d been friends nearly as long as Óraithe can remember.
“Why were you late? Did something happen? Cosain?” Teas seemed concerned for Óraithe.
“No, no. Well, yes, but that’s not what kept me. Fool old man.” Óraithe looked to the side, frustrated remembering the morning’s conversation.
“He just cares for you,” Teas offered.
Óraithe scoffed at the thought. “He cares for comfort and peace. He doesn’t…” She realized she was getting off track. “AH! A Drow!”
Teas raised an eyebrow. “A brow? I don’t…”
Óraithe threw her arms up and spun around, elated. “There was a Drow! She was just walking down the main street! Sisters, she was magnificent! Much prettier than they say. I wonder what she—”
“You saw her?!” Teas was excited at the idea.
“Saw her?! I near touched her! She wasn’t any farther than you are from me now!” Óraithe was practically swooning.
“Oh! That must have been scary.” Teas put a hand to her mouth.
“It was amazing!” Óraithe grabbed Teas by the shoulders. “She stared right at me. Her eyes were like black diamonds. I wanted to touch her so badly! And the way she walked, it was as if she owned the world!”
Teas rolled her head back and looked up at the pale blue of the sky. “It must be nice, such confidence. And can you imagine? Being stared at like that? By so many people?”
“What I wouldn’t give to talk to her. She must have so many stories.”
Teas sighed. “I want to have stories.”
Óraithe was silent a moment, looking up at the sky. After a time, she spoke. “Why shouldn’t we?”
“Hm?” Teas asked, as if she had only been half listening.
Óraithe grabbed her friend by the hand which brought the taller elf back down to the world. “Why shouldn’t we have stories?”
“Well, we’re lowborn slum elves, for one. And you’re short and I’m a coward.” Teas said it matter of factly.
Óraithe persisted. “Aside from your booming confidence, then. Why shouldn’t we?”
Teas shrugged and Óraithe clapped her hands. “Then it’s decided! We’ll make our own stories.”
The pair headed to a potshop, continuing to talk of adventures and the stories they’d no doubt be a part of. Óraithe told of her adventure with the bread from the day before. Teas’s mouth watered to hear about it. She wished she’d had some to use on the awful stew. Óraithe protested, insisting it’d be a waste of such heavenly bread.
They parted ways after a few hours’ time at the potshop. Óraithe wandered the streets alone for a time. She couldn’t shake the Drow from her mind. Where could she have been heading? The High District? Did they even allow Drow there? Óraithe hadn’t thought they allowed them into the city at all. She asked after the woman to a few passersby. Most ignored her but finally a fat drunkard of an elf directed to an alehouse not far from where she was.
She approached the alehouse with caution. It was loud and night was falling outside. Óraithe’s heart had been in her throat since the directions, thick with the stink of alcohol, had made their way into her ears. It was dangerous, she knew. She hesitated. Should she go in? It was apt to end poorly.
“If yer goin’ in, get on with it, whelp.” An angry voice barked at her. Without thinking she pushed the curtain aside and stumbled in. No one seemed to notice but she made her way quickly to the corner of the place nonetheless. It was dimly lit inside and smelled more of piss than ale. Across the room from Óraithe was a staircase leading up to a few rooms, no doubt. She scanned the room for the Drow. The grey skinned woman was sitting at a table in the far corner. Her seat faced out over the room. Surely she’d seen Óraithe come in. What would she do now? What had she come here for? To gape at a Drow? Would the Drow even talk with her? Is that what she wanted?
Óraithe didn’t quite know. But she knew she was curious. She made for the stairs as casually as she could manage given the raucous temper of the place. She reached the stairs and climbed them quickly. Something in her chest loosened as the sounds of revelry became muffled by the floorboards.
It quickly became clear that Óraithe had failed to think this through properly as she scanned the doors laid out before her. She wasn’t sure if she should check each room or even if the Drow meant to spend the night at the inn. Fires take her, she should have planned. She turned to go but stopped herself spinning toward the stairs when she noticed a door with slightly better fittings around the knob and hinges. That was it, something inside her called out.
She walked to the door and reaching for the knob.
“Perhaps you are lost, little elf.” That accent. Óraithe froze in place. “Or did you hope to share my bed? I’m not one for bedding anything without a cock to put between my legs. Though with tits like those, I suppose I could pretend.”
Óraithe put her hand on her chest and clinched her teeth. She wanted to turn and run. Maybe she could knock the Drow over and get past her before she— Her planning was cut short by the feel of steel at her back. The point of a blade and then the warmth of a body. The Drow had pressed herself against Óraithe. A slender grey hand reached around the shivering elf to unlock the door. It swung open and Óraithe was shoved inside.
Her knees gave out from fear and Óraithe found herself staring up at the Drow from the floor. The darkling sheathed the blade and strode patiently to a chair in the corner of the room. Óraithe looked around for the first time. The room was far finer than the main floor would have led one to believe was possible.
“Is it that you fancy yourself a thief, elf?” The Drow crossed her legs and considered. “It would fit one of your size. You are scarcely taller than me. Rare for your type.”
It was true. Óraithe had been so excited by seeing the Drow that she scarcely noticed the size of her. She’d heard they were short but she’d never met anyone smaller than herself. Could she overtake her, maybe? With her size? Óraithe shifted to sit properly.
“I… I am no thief.” Óraithe finally had managed to force words from her throat. “I was… I was curious. About you, I mean.”
“Goddess! You elves are intolerable. And on a night when I am so busy.” The Drow grew impatient, agitated, like an animal who thirsted for blood and found only water.
The grey woman stood up, her skin dark in the dim light of the room and more imposing than it had been in the street. She was beautiful still, but sinister now. She walked to Óraithe and crouched. Her black eyes seemed to burn. An inky fire that burned away everything Óraithe thought she knew about the world. “You are weak, elf child. And the weak do not interest me. Go.”
Óraithe would not wait for a second invitation. She scrambled to her feet and burst out of the room with all haste. She didn’t stop running until the light of the alehouse had long since fallen away to the twists and turns of the slum alleyways. She wanted to go home. She wanted to sleep in her bed. She wanted to be safe. Onward she ran, in the only direction she’d ever known. The taste of bile rose at the back of her throat. She never wanted to go home. She wanted to sleep where she fell. She wanted to be scared.