Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A brief tale...

Anora "Annie" Stouthart

This was originally posted for a bunch of my friends elsewhere. It's a scene that makes use of characters all of us play in one of our D&D games, and because I'm drawing a blank on what to post today, I thought I would share it with all of you. (If you've already read it, feel free to come back tomorrow). Most likely it won't make any sense to people outside of the group I play with, but, eh. Here you go!

Tea and Conversation

Heart fluttering against her ribs like a dove beating against its cage, Anora Stouthart awoke in alarm.
Laying still in the darkness of the room, Annie was barely able to subdue her panicked breathing. Images continued to flash through her mind's eye: fire, cries of terror, a train of twisted bodies, shame searing her soul as a pirate flew back in pain, a red child hanging limp on a cross, the angry mob sweeping her sister Alia away as Annie jumped aboard the Tranquility, a vampire holding her aloft and ravaging her mind...
Several minutes passed, but finally the after images of her dreams subsided and her breathing returned to normal. Cold sweat coated her forehead. Shakily, her hand reached up to wipe it away.
A loud rasping sound from the end of the bed made Annie sit bolt upright with the return of terror.
Annie barely suppressed a hysterical laugh as she recognized Ameron snoring loudly. Closing her eyes, Annie murmured a brief prayer to Arawei, and gentle calm soon encompassed her. Once she felt sufficiently in control of herself, Annie opened her eyes again to look at her companions, asleep in the predawn light that shined down through the port-hole. Her fellow halfling was all but indistinct beneath the covers. Only the grating snores and gentle rise and fall of the dark mound told her he was there and alive.
Quietly, so as not to disturb her bedmate, Annie swung her feet over the side and padded a couple of steps over to her other sleeping companion. An apparently human woman, Ky shifted restlessly, her covers tangled about her legs. With deft care and strength that belied her small size, Annie managed to untangle the blanket and tuck it around Ky, murmuring soft, soothing words until Ky's movements stilled and her face relaxed.
Normally the large woman would have started awake at such ministrations, but Annie had brewed the sleeping draught Ky had taken herself. Annie's teachers had been most thorough in her education, despite her youth.
Small, clever fingers gently brushed Ky's hair back from her face, causing the apparently human face to flicker towards something far more frightening, blue horns appearing briefly in Ky's hair. Annie was still greatly disturbed by what the older girl had revealed the previous night. The description of what the Silver Flame had done....
Annie shook her head to rid it of the images before they could form, and she lightly kissed the forehead of her almost-sister before withdrawing to the side of the room to put her boots on. Dawn was only an hour or two off at this point, and she knew there would be no more sleep for her that night. Thankfully she didn't have to worry about being too quiet, due to the background noise provided by the halfling paladin. After splashing her face with water and patting it dry--attempting to ensure no signs of her poor sleep were obvious--Annie slipped out into the main room, carefully closing the door to the small bedroom behind her.
It was a pleasant stateroom all things considered, though several objects and decorations that had once hung on the pristine walls were now littered about the floor, casualties of the previous night's explosion. In the center of the room, directly in front of the main door, Aurora sat in meditation, her unseeing light eyes staring straight ahead. Watching the Eladrin meditate always caused a bit of uneasiness in Annie. Even Rauthur, the resident deva, with his never sleeping disturbed Annie less than this meditation. It was unnatural to sleep with one’s eyes open.
Against the wall, not far behind Aurora, Gwalcavad's quill made a comforting swishing noise as he penned a note to his superiors. Several sheaths of parchment already lay to the side. Either the Breelish spy was having difficulties wording his report, or he was providing more details than Annie could think of at that moment regarding the insanity of this cruise.
Annie craned her neck to see if she could catch sight of any of those writings, though she was still a good distance away and the desk was as high as her head. Since joining their merry little band, Gwalcavad had sent a couple of reports back to his masters, and the one time Annie had managed to see one of those letters, it was written in some sort of cipher she didn't understand.
Still, she couldn't help trying to catch another glimpse.
The dark mound next Gwalcavad's desk shifted, and what Annie'd first assumed was a shadow was revealed to actually be be a wolf. Two green eyes gleamed at her as Eredrog raised his head. The halfling tried to make a shushing motion at him, but the wolf's tail thumped against the wall a couple of times in greeting.
Eredrog's movement had drawn Gwalcavad's attention to the new occupant in the room. Annie assumed an innocent expression as those cool grey eyes turned towards her. He quirked an eyebrow in surprise. "You weren't down for long. I expected you to sleep for at least a few more hours."
Annie shrugged one shoulder and moved towards a sideboard where a still-steaming teapot sat. "Ameron snores so loudly that at first I thought there was a breach in the hull," Annie said as she knocked on the wood of the sideboard. With everything else that had happened on this ill-fated voyage, it did not due to tempt fate.
Gwalcavad smirked as a louder than normal snore trumpeted from the closed bedroom door. Annie had never heard the human laugh, though she had hopes of fixing that one of these days.
"Thank you for knocking. The last thing we need is for one of these damnable bombs to actually succeed," Gwalcavad said.
"They should stop now, since those pirates are down in the Vault," Annie replied. The Baron's grimace of pain again flashed through her mind, but with her back to the spy he could not see it's effect on her. She hoped. "Would you like some tea as well?" she asked.
"That would be most welcome," Gwalcavad said. As Annie busied herself pouring them tea, the spy began gathering up the papers and setting them face down to the side. Annie wanted to cluck her tongue in frustration, but knew it would do no good. Eredrog had his mouth open in a canine grin, and if she didn't know better she'd swear the wolf was laughing at her.
"How long has she been out?" Annie asked, gesturing with her head towards the Eladrin on the floor as she set his tea on the desk in front of him.
After a murmured thanks, Gwalcavad turned his gaze towards Aurora as he sipped his tea. A dark look settled on his face, "A few hours. She should awaken soon." Gwalcavad looked back at the tiny halfling who sat down on the stool next to Eredrog. "Do you know where she was when all of that... insanity... last night was going on?" he asked, unknowingly echoing Annie's own description of the night.
Annie sighed into her teacup. The man's suspicious nature could be quite wearying at times. "I was with you most of the time, remember? Ky was with her, though," Annie said. "That's good enough for me." And should be for you too went unspoken. The halfling's reverence for Ky's insights was well known.
"Indeed." Gwalcavad said. His long fingers curled around the teacup as he breathed in the steam, which seemed to relax him. "Speaking of the fair Ky," Was that a hint of sarcasm? "she is going to be most displeased with you when she wakes up."
For the space of one heartbeat, Annie considered feigning ignorance or innocence. But before the thought was fully formed, the cleric quickly discarded the idea. She was too tired to try and play games with the spy.
"In case you hadn't noticed, in the three days we've been on this ship she had yet to truly sleep. She's become so twitchy I'm amazed those paladins are still alive." Not that Annie blamed Ky. Not now. Not really. "Things are tenuous enough," Annie was proud of herself for not stumbling over the word, "without a half-mad, sleep-deprived ti--terror of a paladin raging about the ship," she said. That was a dangerous slip of the tongue. Perhaps she should have tried for another hour or two of sleep.
Gwalcavad's brows began to furrow before smoothing back out. He stared from his teacup back to the halfling healer. "She'll still take it amiss that you drugged her," Gwalcavad said. Before Annie could do more than open her mouth, he raised a placating hand and continued, "But you're right. Ky was becoming a bit... unhinged."
One of Annie's hands had started unconsciously stroking Eredrog's fur as the spy and cleric chatted. The wolf leaned his head into her caresses, and Annie complied by vigorously scratching his ears as she sipped her tea. "Not unhinged--stressed and tired," Annie said. Here her eyes narrowed a little as she peered intently at the spy, noting the stress lines at his eyes and mouth, the tired droop of his shoulders. "As could be said of others."
Smirking again, the spy leaned back, balancing on two of the chair’s four legs. Gwalcavad gestured expansively with one hand, holding his tea in the other. "I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about. There's no reason at all why any of us would be stressed. This is has been a most enjoyable, uneventful pleasure cruise."
Rolling her eyes, Annie did click her tongue in frustration this time. "Why I bother trying to take care of you lot, I'll never know," the child said grumpily, sounding for all the world like an aged matron.
"You'll have to try harder than that, my dear girl," Gwalcavad said, a mixture of amusement and perhaps even fondness in his voice as he reached over and tweaked one of her buns. At Annie's offended glare, he actually grinned at her before taking an exaggerated sip of the tea.
Annie couldn't help but smile back. At this rate, she may succeed in getting him to laugh yet. The two settled into a companionable silence, each drinking their tea.
The cleric's hand continued its way down Eredrog's back, the wolf helpfully standing up so that it was easier for her to reach. Even though she sat on the stool, the wolf's head was now higher than she was. Annie set her half-drank tea on Gwalcavad's desk so she could more thoroughly pet the wolf, studiously ignoring the way the spy watched her every movement.

She had progressed to scratching at the base of Eredrog's tail before Gwalcavad spoke again, "Tell me, how does one of House Jorasco's child prodigies end up running around with a band of mercenaries?"
Hands spasmed on the wolf's back. Though Annie had steadily gained a veneer of sophistication since "running around with a band of mercenaries," she was not yet so sophisticated to control her surprise at the spy's question. Annie had to open her mouth three times before she could formulate an answer.
"Whatever would make you think I'm one of 'House Jorasco's child prodigies?'" the girl asked weakly.
Gwalcavad just looked at her. "I've worked with my fair share of healers, many three times your age, and they have not had half your ability to heal the wounded," he said.
"Arawei gives many gifts to her children. Mine happen to lay in aiding life to regain its full strength," Annie said, as if by rote. "So the priests of Arawei have told me."
During her little speech, Gwalcavad had placed his tea beside hers on the desk. As Annie finished, the spy gave a slow, but quiet, clap. "Very good. If you'd done that first, I might be a bit more inclined to believe your misdirection," he told her. At the tension apparent in the halfling's tiny frame, Gwalcavad sighed and ran one hand through his hair, making it stand up in twelve directions. "Annie... Anora, I mean you no harm. You know that. I'm just genuinely curious how a girl who can close a gaping wound in the shoulder of pirate to where it doesn't even leave a scar managed to wind up..." Gwalcavad gestured vaguely about the room, "...here.
Annie glared at the spy over Eredrog's back, causing the wolf to look between his human and the girl in confusion. He'd been set to guard the halfling on numerous occasions, and she'd always reciprocated with excellent ear rubs. He didn't understand the tension between the two now.
Seconds loudly ticked by on one of the clocks, the snores having gone quiet, before the halfling exhaled, shoulders slumping. I'm too tired for this. Aloud, Annie said, "My sister, Alia, and I left House Jorasco after my mother died. I don't know why--Alia has never told me, and I have never asked." Here Annie straightened back up, staring the Dark Lantern in the eye. "I spent a year living amongst the priests of Arawei, seeing my sister only rarely. When the, um... incident... in Ninety-Nine happened," a wonderful euphemism for the coup that occurred there, "Alia entrusted Ky to get me out of there. I've stayed with Ky ever since. Sooner or later she'll catch back up with us."
The spy slowly nodded, and was that a look of regret on his face? Why? Because he'd pushed to know from whence I came, or because he already knows more than I myself do?
"Ah. I forget sometimes that you are not actually from Sharn." Unlikely, but a pleasant fiction none the less. "In Breland, a healer of your skill would have had a very hard time leaving House Jorasco. In that place, though, many stranger things have happened," noted Gwalcavad with a wry tone.
When Annie said nothing, an apologetic look softened his features. "I beg your forgiveness, Anora. I did not intend to frighten you. We are both tired, and this was ill-done of me," Gwalcavad said, a surprisingly earnest cant to his voice.
Annie actually laughed. The sight of the normally reserved man looking contrite and making a formal apology was the last reaction she had expected.
"I was not frightened," Annie declared, putting her hands on her hips as though more offended at that notion than his inquiring into her past. "Now, I know you aren't done with your missive," another grown-up word successfully deployed, "so get back to work. When you're done, rustle Ameron out of bed and get some sleep." Annie glanced at his now-cold tea, "Otherwise, I'll have to go ahead and slip you something as well." Quicksilver, thy name is Annie.
It was Gwalcavad's turn to look surprised. After the abrupt shift in the halfling's mood and the sudden scolding, the spy actually had the audacity to chuckle.
Oh, yes, --now-- you laugh for me. You absolutely infuriating, incomprehensible, frustrating example of a... a... a human!
Grumbling something about insane Breelish men, (and privately wondering at her strange mood-swings--they were most unlike her) Annie shook her head with irritation as she headed towards the door leading out. She paused briefly in front of Aurora, unable to restrain an urge to peer intently at the Eladrin's unseeing face. Still creepy.
"Where are you headed?" Gwalcavad asked, looking much more sober of a sudden.
"To find some breakfast on this gods-forsaken ship. If you're nice I might even bring you something back," Annie said.
"Don't worry about me. My healer gave me strict orders to finish my work and go to bed. I try not to upset someone who may be poking needles in me later," Gwalcavad replied as he turned back towards the paperwork.
"As if I'd have to resort to such barbaric practices," the little halfling sniffed, though a mollified smile was beginning to peak through. "I'll catch see you later today then, Gwalcavad."
The man waved one hand absently in fare well, already returning his attention back to his writings. Sooner or later Annie would get a chance to study his cipher.
She hadn't gone more than ten feet from the stateroom behind her when Annie heard the human's voice through the open door, though she couldn't hear what he said. Three seconds later Eredrog padded out and came up to where she stood.
"Why doesn't anyone trust me to walk around this place alone?" Annie wondered aloud. Eredrog just sat back on his haunches, staring down at her eyes. With a wry smile, the halfling laid one hand on the wolf's head and scratched his ears. "Come on, Eredrog. Let's go find everyone some breakfast."

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