Author Topic: Only A Friend  (Read 3279 times)

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Offline Miss Sakaki

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Only A Friend
« on: April 21, 2005, 09:54:30 AM »
Notes:
This story contains two men falling in love, so if you don't like reading about that, don't read this. However, apart from that it's probably rated a PG13.
"Garrick's" song is in fact "Endlessly" by Muse.
Fuscienne is my first PC I ever played in BG2, a neutral good beserker. This story is set after Shadows of Amn.

***

Fuscienne huddled a little, pulling her pale blue cloak closer around her. Her head ached with dull thuds; her thoughts didn’t help, rushing and rushing until she was so tense that she couldn’t-

She felt a hand on her shoulder and looked up to see Anomen. She flinched, then cursed herself for the insensitivity of her reaction. He was only trying to help, after all. “Sorry,” she muttered. “Thank you. I’m twitchy. Nothing personal.” She stared unseeing into the flames of the campfire until her eyes ached and she looked away, blinking.

“As are we all,” said Anomen, smiling. He squeezed her shoulder, sitting beside her. She leaned against him and he touched her hair lightly.

It made her want to weep, his kindness. He was never anything but considerate yet she could not even thank him properly.

Despite regaining her soul she still was uncomfortable in her skin, the reason that she continued to roam the lands rather than settling.

“I hate what I am,” she whispered, so the others would not overhear.

There. It was said. The worst of it was that she found normal battle rage so soothing, so uncomplicated; it was only a small step from that to the bloodlust of the Slayer rushing through her, uncontrolled, ready to kill anything that moved. Nagging at the back of her mind was the constant fear that it could happen again.

“I know,” Anomen whispered back.

Fuscienne gave a shuddering sigh. Of course he knew. He was her best friend, after all. Anomen enveloped her in his arms and she slumped. Her tension abated enough for her to be momentarily amused by the image of them in her mind: the muscular, bearded knight shielding his damsel in distress.

Appearances were deceptive, for despite her slight frame she was stronger than Anomen and none who saw her messily cropped black hair and could call her a damsel. As for being his, well, she would do anything for his wellbeing and for a little while they had made the mistake of thinking that their mutual protectiveness meant something more than friendship. After several embarrassed kisses, however, they both recognised that it would not only be awkward, but also disastrous, for them to be romantically entwined.

-   “My lady, I- it simply feels-”
-   “Wrong?”
-   “It is nothing to do with you, I swear it-”
-   “Don’t worry. I know what you mean.”
-   “But can we not be, well, friends?”
-   “Of course! I mean, of course, Anomen. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

She drew back. Her lips twitched upward slightly in an approximation of a smile, the closest she had come to one in recent weeks.

“You taught me,” murmured Anomen, “that one does not have to succumb to their blood.”

Fuscienne nodded weakly. When she had particularly bad days, when she wondered if she was capable of goodness, she tried to hold on in her mind to the fact that she was able to prevent Anomen from following his father’s wishes. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t, and she sunk deeper into anxiety and self-disgust about her father’s evil blood in her veins.

“Oh, is our joyous leader in one of her moods? (They are about as frequent as the beating of a hummingbird’s wings.)” Edwin’s thickly-accented voice, usually able to cheer Fuscienne up, served only to make her scowl.

“Edwin,” warned Anomen. “Do not be so disrespectful!”

“And what would you do to stop me, knight? Hit me with that absurd flail? (I am far too powerful to be hurt by such paltry threats.)”

“No, but I would hit you with Daystar,” said Fuscienne wearily. The tiredness was making her body, as well as her head, ache. She adjusted the sword on her belt to make her point.

“Barbarian,” said Edwin sulkily, but took the hint, turning his irritability on a weaker target: Garrick, whom they had met in Athkatla shortly before bidding farewell to Jaheira. He was down on his luck, having broken off his engagement to a young woman named Asalie, singing in seedy taverns to make his money. Fuscienne remembered him from her travels in Nashkel and immediately suggested he join them. He had fitted in well, his natural high spirits cheering the sometimes-dour group. However, Edwin constantly baited him for his lack of magical knowledge. “And what are you staring at?” he demanded of the young bard.

“Nothing,” Garrick demurred. He looked down and busied himself tuning his lute.

“Insignificant worm,” muttered Edwin.

Anomen sighed and started to make his bedroll. Fuscienne rubbed her hands together for warmth and was struck by a powerful wish for Imoen to be there. Not only for her cheerfulness, but also for the kinship. Imoen knew better than any the emptiness of having no soul.

But she had gone too, to live with the dryads in the Windspear Hills. On her worse days, Fuscienne suspected that it was because of her that Jaheira and Imoen had left: they recognised the danger of her tainted blood. On her better days, she was able to convince herself that it was simply because they wished to settle down. Jaheira had met a warrior named Matthias and was living with him now, while Imoen craved the tranquillity of the forest.
   
She made her own bedroll, undid her armour and lay down to sleep. In even shorter a time than usual she began to silently cry.

It was a long time before Fuscienne ran out of energy. She curled in agony and scrubbed her eyes with her cloak. No. No. Every night. Every single night! Why did it have to be this way?

***

“Khalid! What are you doing here? You’re dead.”

Khalid smiled at her gently. “I c-came to help you,” he said. “J-Jaheira and I swore to p-p-protect you.”

“So what are you going to tell me? That everything’s all right and you’re watching over me? Spare me.”

Khalid sighed and pulled her into a hug. When he let go, his eyes were shining with unshed tears. “Fuscienne, child, I w-would not t-tell you lies. You’re not all right and I c-cannot watch over you, not all the t-time. B-but I’m here n-now and you must realise that you’re n-never alone.”

“I am alone.”

“What of your friends?”

“They’re scared of me.” Fuscienne heard the sulkiness in her voice and hated it.

Khalid sighed. “W-well, if I c-cannot do anything to ch-change your mind, I w-will simply tell you: sleep.”

***

Fuscienne jerked awake as a hand touched her shoulder. “Edwin, if that’s you I’ll rip out your-”

“No, it’s Anomen.”

“Oh.” She relaxed a little and fell back asleep.

***

“Wake up, little one.” Cernd was gently shaking Fuscienne’s shoulder. “You are by nature a day creature.”

She grunted and opened her eyes. Cernd smiled at her. “You look better,” he said.

“I’m not little,” she complained. “If anyone is little it’s Garrick. I could kill you with a single blow.”

“Of course you could, child,” said Cernd humouringly. “Now come and eat.”

“Who cooked?” asked Fuscienne, sitting up. Her sleep had been unbroken after the ridiculous Khalid-dream and, she guessed from the brightness of the sun, lengthy. Her mind felt blissfully unfogged. Maybe this is how it feels to be Imoen, she thought.

“I did, ingrate,” said Edwin from the fire. “Eat. Ever since that Irenicus business you have looked like a waif. It is not healthy. (And, I might add, not attractive. The shadows under the eyes severely undermine her dubious natural charms.)”

Anomen gave Fuscienne a tense look: Irenicus, and souls, and Bhaal, were not spoken of. But she simply rolled her eyes and began to eat ravenously.

“I’m not a waif,” she objected when she paused for breath. “You’ve all got it in for me. First Cernd calls me child and then you call me a waif.”

“I’m glad you’re feeling better, my lady,” said Garrick.

“At least someone is being nice to me.” Fuscienne glared pointedly at Edwin, who glared right back. Yesterday, digs about her looking young for her age would have made her cry or shout and she was uplifted still more by the fact that she was able to joke about it. She was always careful to be nice to Garrick since Edwin was so insufferable to him all the time. Besides, she suspected that he was a little in love with Imoen and he would make a sweet brother-in-law.

“Eat,” said Cernd, gesturing to her bowl. “All creatures need energy and you are no exception.”

Fuscienne smiled. To her own surprise, it was wide enough to show her teeth. “Thank you,” she said.

“Sound the trumpets! She smiles! (And about time too: my cooking is exquisite)” said Edwin.

Garrick’s face broke into a wide smile. Anomen looked profoundly relieved and gave her a tight hug, nearly knocking over her breakfast. “Helm be praised,” he murmured, kissing the top of her head. She started to eat Edwin’s stew again: a miracle in itself.

Even the drizzle that began shortly after breakfast failed to lower her mood. She hummed one of Garrick’s tunes as she buckled on her armour. We showed you, Firkraag, she thought smugly, donning her cloak.

They were about to leave when Garrick gave a shriek. Five phase spiders materialised beside them, their pincers skittering eagerly. Edwin threw Minute Meteors at the nearest in quick succession while Fuscienne closed her eyes for a second. When she opened them she felt soothing waves of bloodlust wash over her. She killed three of the spiders without any trouble.

It was over quickly. Garrick made gasps of pain, his face white. Poison. “Heal him,” Fuscienne snarled. Anomen obediently whispered a healing spell and Garrick smiled at him in thanks. Fuscienne glared at Edwin as she sheathed her sword; Edwin glowered back, replacing his stoneskin.

The bloodlust faded, leaving an almost-crippling weariness. Fuscienne stood still, waiting for it to disappear from her body. She knew how it went but familiarity did not make it any easier. Why was everything outside the fury so complex?

She shook her head as the weakness left her body. All her companions were watching her anxiously. “I’m fine,” she said impatiently. Anomen sighed, shaking his head a little. More gently, she said, “Come on.”

Cernd had been examining one of the spider’s bodies. “Fuscienne,” he called softly, “you might wish to have a look at this.”

Fuscienne nodded and went to his side. The spider was still twitching slightly but she hunkered down next to Cernd.

“Look,” he said, pointing to one of the legs. She looked blankly at it. “See the yellow stripe? Spiders such as this are not native to this area,” Cernd explained. “Someone must have brought them here.”

Fuscienne frowned. “Someone wishing to hurt the natural balance?” she suggested.

“Perhaps. Whatever it might be, I suggest we keep on our guard.”

She nodded, her mind glad to have a problem to solve. “We could go to the druid grove,” she said; it was close by and they had been planning to visit Ahsdale in any case.

Cernd’s face was lit up by a smile. “That would be excellent,” he said.

***

After more spiders’ attacks on the way to the druid grove, Cernd was not in a good mood, muttering about the irresponsibility of introducing a new species into the environment. Edwin, too, was irritated, since the spiders had a habit of going for him and forcing him to suffer the indignity of being healed by one of the group.

Nevertheless, they reached the grove with a minimum of injury and Fuscienne was in good spirits, having slept quickly each night and having no nightmares. She suspected that it was because there was something concrete to do: after their time in Suldenessellar they had merely been wandering around. Or maybe there had been more to that Khalid-dream than she had thought. Either way, she was glad.

“Father!” cried Ahsdale as they entered the grove. The toddler ran over to Cernd and leapt into his arms. Cernd hugged him close, his face showing the familiar conflict of happiness and sorrow that came to the surface whenever he saw his son.

“How long will you be staying this time, Lady Fuscienne?” enquired Verthan, the keeper of the grove.

“There is a problem with the natural balance,” said Cernd quickly. “Unfamiliar spiders have been attacking us with increasing frequency. The obvious culprit would be the Drow but these are not creatures from the Underdark. Rather they appear to be from the Icewind Dale area.”

Verthan nodded gravely. “We too have noticed such creatures, and have slain them where we found them. But we had not realised they had spread so far.”

Cernd sighed. “I will investigate,” he said.

“Excuse me,” said Edwin. “What if your loyal companions” – his mouth seemed to twist over the words – “do not wish to involve themselves in this ridiculous crusade?”

Anomen rounded on him. “You will involve yourself because it is a fight against evil!” he snapped.

Edwin snorted.

“I have to leave now,” murmured Cernd to Ahsdale. “But I will return soon.” Ahsdale nodded sadly and wriggled to be let down.

Fuscienne watched him go, then looked at Cernd. “You don’t have to come if you don’t want to,” she said.

He shook his head. “I know,” he said, his voice and face strained. “But … there is my duty to the balance to think of. Ahsdale will understand one day. And I will be back here soon.” He sounded more as if he were trying to convince himself rather than Fuscienne.

She nodded. “Very well,” she said.

“I suggest that we head toward the north,” said Cernd.

“Why?” asked Garrick.

“The frequency of the attacks increased as we travelled north. There is an area of thicker forest there too, which would provide ample hiding for an enemy.”

Fuscienne nodded again, inwardly amazed at Cernd’s tactical aptitude. Her own tactics consisted of rushing into a battle and hoping for the best.

***

They made camp at the edge of the forest as the sun was setting. Garrick immediately sat down and started writing on a scrap of paper, occasionally strumming a note on his lute.

“What’s that you’re doing?” asked Fuscienne.

Garrick looked up twitchily. “Ah … it’s a song I’m working on,” he said, trying to hide the words.

“Don’t be so shy,” she said, “you’re a good poet.”

He blushed. “Thank you. It isn’t finished,” he said, and passed her the piece of paper. It read:

There’s part of me you’ll never know
The only thing I’ll never show
Hopelessly, I’ll love you endlessly, hopelessly
I’ll give you everything, but I won’t give you up
I won’t let you down, I won’t leave you falling
If the moment ever comes.

Fuscienne passed it back to him. “Is it real?” she asked.

Garrick had been staring into space. Fuscienne turned to see what he was looking at and saw Anomen cleaning his armour. “I – no, of course not.” He grinned and started to play the lute: a signal for her to leave him alone. She wondered if it were about Imoen, and made a mental note to talk to her discreetly about Garrick next time they met up.

Oddly the thought of Imoen did not disquiet her. She settled next to Edwin and said, “How are you?”

“As well as can be expected, in this desolate hole and with such abominable company,” said Edwin with equanimity.

“Good.” Fuscienne smiled slightly and patted Edwin’s shoulder. “You know we all appreciate your skills, don’t you?”

“Bah! (They do not know the half of my skills. If they did they would be quivering in terror!)”

She sighed. “By the way, you’re on first watch,” she said.

Edwin made a noise that she supposed was a growl. “Very well,” he said, “but do not blame me when you find all of your toes roasted.”

“I won’t. Goodnight,” she said. So much for trying to talk to Edwin. Still, she knew he was as reliable as Jaheira, having travelled with him from the beginning. His reasons for staying around were transparent – the rewards to be reaped from Fuscienne’s travels were myriad – but she knew he liked her despite his complaints.

***

“DIE, MAGICAL SCUM!”

“YOU SHALL NOT KILL ME, BARBARIAN!”

Fuscienne jumped awake, unsheathing Daystar and leaping to her feet. She was sure she had recognised the first voice but put it down to her sleepiness. She ran to Edwin’s aid but his assailant was suddenly not an assailant any more but a surprised-looking statue.

“Whassgoinon?” demanded Garrick.

“We were attacked,” said Edwin smugly, “but I fended him off.”

Fuscienne squinted at the statue. Edwin had kept the fire going and now that she looked at the attacker properly she recognised him. “Valygar?” she said.

“But what’s he doing here?” asked Cernd.

“Who is he?” asked Garrick, scrambling to his feet.

“And attacking us?” said Anomen.

“But who is he?”

“Do you have Stone to Flesh memorised?” demanded Fuscienne of Edwin.

“Why would I use such a dull spell? Abi-Dalzim’s Horrid Wilting all the way. (And then looting the bodies! The world shall be mine!)”

Garrick tugged her sleeve. “I have a Stone to Flesh scroll,” he murmured.

“Thank you,” said Fuscienne.

Garrick smiled and read the scroll unhesitatingly. Colour returned to the statue and Valygar lunged towards Edwin with his katana. Fuscienne grabbed him and wrestled him backward.

“Lady Fuscienne!” said Valygar. “Why are you involved with this mage?”

“Perhaps he’s lost his memory,” Cernd suggested.

“Edwin has always travelled with us,” said Fuscienne slowly, still holding Valygar’s arms away from her. “Do you not remember how he killed that golem in the planar sphere?”

“I have not lost my memory,” snapped Valygar. He tried to free himself but Fuscienne refused to let him move. “Let me go and I will explain.”

“If you promise not to hurt Edwin.”

“Fine.”

She released him and he sat beside the fire, rubbing his hands together.

“Who is this?” asked Garrick quietly.

“Valygar is a tree-hugging backstabber,” said Edwin uncharitably. Valygar glowered at him and made to stand, but changed his mind and settled down again.

“Valygar is a Stalker,” said Fuscienne to Garrick. “We helped him with a problem with the Cowled Wizards a while ago. Which does not explain why he attacked us.” She glared at him.

“What are you doing here?” demanded Valygar.

“You could tell us that, since you’re the one who attacked,” she said.

“I am here to stop the wanton destruction of nature,” snapped Valygar. “A paladin sent me a message.” He dug in his pockets and brought out a note, which he handed to Fuscienne.

Valygar Corthala,

I apologise for my intrusion but there is a matter of utmost importance arising close to Trademeet. A group of mages are killing animals with no regard to goodness or balance. I must ask for your assistance, for I am unable to destroy this evil myself: I am still in my training. However, members of my family in Trademeet have sent me word of this atrocity and I am honour-bound to help however I can.

Please do anything that you can to stop this destruction.

Yours,
Nathaniel, Paladin of the Order of the Radiant Heart

Keeping her eyes on Valygar, Fuscienne gave the note to Anomen. “Do you know this man?” she asked.

“By Helm! Of course. He is one who deserted the Order many years ago.” Anomen’s disgust was evident in his voice. “We must go to Trademeet immediately and mete out justice!”

“It would appear that you’ve been duped,” said Fuscienne.

Valygar glared into the fire. “If you would have me, I could join you to ferret out this man,” he said.

“Thank you,” she said; she had enjoyed Valygar’s company during their brief travels despite his seeming belligerence.

“But what of the troubles these spiders could cause in this area?” demanded Cernd.

“Killing this false paladin is far more important,” snapped Anomen.

They began to quarrel and before it got too heated Fuscienne held up her hand. “Ssh,” she said. “We’ll sort out this spider problem and then Nathaniel. The people who are introducing the spiders must be related to him and there might be clues about him.”

“Very well,” said Anomen sulkily.

Fuscienne laid her hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry,” she said, “we’ll find him.”

He looked at her. “I know,” he said, “but … to give up that honour…”

“Of course. It’s wrong, and we’ll fix it.”

Anomen nodded. “Fuscienne,” he whispered. “I-”

“What?”

“Ah, it is nothing.”

***

Even Edwin had to admit that having Valygar as a companion was invaluable. The combination of his affinity to the outdoors and his natural stealth made him able to slip through the trees and act as a scout, warning the others of potential danger to avoid. He was now returning from just such a venture. “I found something,” he said.

“What?” asked Anomen.

“A group of druids.”

“Shadow Druids?” asked Cernd.

“Perhaps.” Valygar fell back behind Anomen.

Cernd made the plans for attack, making sure everyone understood what to do. Valygar made a couple of quiet suggestions.

“Here,” said Valygar as they reached a small clearing in the trees. He pointed through a gap and Fuscienne spotted a stone building.

“Right,” she said.

They made their way as quietly as possible towards the building, then an arrow zipped past Fuscienne’s ear. “Go!” she shouted, feeling the strength and vitality of fury rush through her. As druids came out of the building, Cernd began to cast Creeping Doom while Garrick stayed at the back, firing crossbow bolts and singing an ancient battle song. Edwin lazily cast four Abi-Dalzim’s Horrid Wilting spells during a Time Stop. Anomen ran in with his flail and Valygar methodically backstabbed.

“HOLD!” shouted a voice. A woman dressed in a deep orange robe, holding a jewelled staff, stepped out of the building. The druids obediently sheathed their weapons, but Cernd ran towards her.

“How dare you disrupt the balance!” he shouted, shifting into a werewolf as he ran.

“What care I for the balance?” snapped the woman. She cast a spell freezing Cernd to the spot and smiled icily at Fuscienne. “Attack my druids and I will kill your pet,” she said.

Fuscienne sheathed her sword, trying not to allow the woman to see her momentary weakness as the berserk state faded. “Why did you send Valygar to kill us?” she demanded.

“I did nothing. That was Nathaniel. I am Freyja, of the Dale, his … companion.”

“You dragged him down from the Order with your wiles!” yelled Anomen.

Freyja snorted. “Nothing of the sort,” she said. “You knights are so willing to blame the woman in a situation. In any case, he was all too willing to Fall; I had nothing to do with it.”

“What is going on?” snapped Valygar.

“Well,” said Freyja. “You people are getting so powerful, outstripping our achievements.”

“No wonder, since you are evil!” cried Anomen.

“Be quiet, puppy,” said Freyja. “As I was saying, Fuscienne and her companions are well-known names here in Amn. I joined with the Shadow Druids and brought a collection of spiders to lure you nature-lovers to rush in and help. Corthala was an afterthought. Nathaniel is an Inquisitor – the less magical heritage in the world, the better.”

“But why?” snapped Fuscienne, losing patience. At least Irenicus had not gone on so!

“Does one need a reason? You have a great deal of money and treasure and we want it. Also, Asalie was our friend; that foolish bard left her.”

They all looked round at Garrick, who looked at the ground.

“I don’t suppose you feel like having a single combat?” said Fuscienne hopefully.

“Why would I do something that stupid? No, I’m cutting my losses.” Freyja shimmered briefly and vanished. Cernd’s bonds disappeared and he growled, flinging himself at the nearest druid. The druid shrieked and dropped his club, holding up his hands.

“Surrender!” he cried.

“All right,” said Fuscienne. “Head south, there’s a Shadow Druid grove there. They should offer you shelter.”

As they scurried away, Garrick sniggered. Fuscienne turned on him.

“I don’t know what you’re laughing about. Are there any other friends of your fiancée planning to come out of the woodwork?”

He paled. “N-no … I had no idea…”

She relented slightly, shrugged and went into the building. After rifling through one of the chest of drawers she found what she was looking for: a letter from Nathaniel.

Soon, darling, they will be arriving. If you need it I will send druidic reinforcements. I am staying at Vyatri’s Pub. I hope to see you soon.

“Convenient how these fools always give clues to their location,” sneered Edwin. “(In their situation I would have done something far more intelligent.)”

“It should be no problem,” agreed Fuscienne, “after – well, you know.” Still she could not bring herself to say Irenicus’ name, though she could think it.

***

In Trademeet they were welcomed by clamours of peasants shouting about heroes returning. Edwin glared at anyone who dared approach him but Garrick smiled rapturously at them. Though he was not among the original Heroes he enjoyed basking in the reflected glory of Anomen, Fuscienne and Cernd.

A woman came up to shake Fuscienne’s hand. “My, you’re smaller than I expected,” she said.

Fuscienne bared her teeth in a smile. Why did this idiot think that was a friendly opening to a conversation? “Remind me why we bother,” she murmured to Cernd.

“Humanity is one of the few creatures who feel the need to appease,” said Cernd, which Fuscienne took to mean agreement.

“And what a nice husband you’ve made,” continued the woman.

“What?” said Fuscienne, then realised that the woman was looking at Anomen. “Oh! No! He’s not-”

“Of course not,” said the woman knowingly. She gave Cernd a look of complicity. “The young, eh?” Cernd gave her a blank gaze that seemed to unnerve her enough to leave them alone.

Fuscienne and Anomen reminisced as they walked across the cobbled square. Catching sight of their statues, they laughed. Fuscienne looked insipid, Anomen naive. Edwin was benevolent and Cernd’s face was fixed in a faraway expression that Fuscienne supposed was the sculptor’s idea of wisdom. As for Jaheira, Fuscienne didn’t think she’d approve of the sweet and submissive look of the statue.

“Who is that?” asked Garrick, pointing to the final, much shorter statue.

Valygar shuddered but made no answer. “That is Jan Jansen, a pathetic runt,” said Edwin helpfully.

“Edwin!” admonished Fuscienne. “Jan is a gnome, Garrick, who’s a little-”

“Strange,” finished Cernd. “He has a strange fondness for turnips.”

“Ah,” said Garrick, frowning.

Fuscienne led the way into Vyatri’s Pub and asked Vyatri about recent guests. “A man named Nathaniel…?” she pressed.

Vyatri looked uncomfortable. “Now, Lady Fuscienne, you know I do not betray confidentiality,” he said.

“I could cast Domination on him if you would like,” said Edwin from behind Fuscienne.

“Dammit, this man’s threatening the town’s safety,” she said crossly, ignoring Edwin.

Vyatri appeared to be undergoing an inner conflict. Eventually he sighed and said, “Fourth room on the left.”

Fuscienne sprinted upstairs and kicked open the door. The last she saw were coloured bubbles speeding towards her.

***

“Fuscienne. Fuscienne…”

She opened her eyes and sat up. “Where is he?” she demanded.

Anomen sat back on his heels. “There was nothing in the room, nor any of the other rooms,” he said. “Evidently the traitor is cleverer than we thought.”

“It would not be difficult,” sniffed Edwin.

Valygar reached and pulled her upright. “Are you all right?” he asked.

“Yes. Thank you,” she said, a little surprised.

Vyatri came upstairs, followed by a small girl. “This young ’un wants a talk with you, Lady Fuscienne,” he said.

“Of course,” said Fuscienne, smiling as best she could at the child. Children made her nervous.

“There’s a – a monster in the crypt – Lord Coprith wants you to help, please-”

“Of course we shall,” said Anomen. The girl looked up at him with awed, wide eyes.

“Are you a paladin?” she asked.

“No. I am a knight.”

Edwin glared and muttered something about wanting to sleep rather than kill an absurd monster but he didn’t otherwise object. Valygar fished in his pocket to give the girl a gold piece and she led them to the crypt.

Fuscienne peered inside. It was a tendency of hers that she had tried to erase, but she still was not fond of the dark. “Valygar, you first,” she said, reaching in her bag and getting out three lanterns. With a confidence she did not feel she followed him into the tunnel. The lanterns made it better but the feeling of walls pressing in on her did not abate. Fuscienne concentrated on the sandy floor.

There was nothing of interest until the path split into three. Fuscienne halted, glad of the excuse to stop. “All right,” she said. “Valygar and I will take the left hand path. Anomen and Garrick, the middle. Cernd, Edwin, the right. Don’t attack if it’s something big. Make yourselves invisible. You know what to do?”

They nodded.

“Right. See you back here. Shout if you need anything.” Fuscienne began to walk with Valygar.

There was a light ahead. Fuscienne started to thank the gods but then her brain kicked in and she halted. She held her finger to her lips and Valygar nodded. Softly he walked forward, blending into the shadows. After a couple of minutes he returned.

“Paladin,” he whispered in her ear, no louder than a breath.

She nodded and they made their way forward. In the pool of light was a man sat at a desk, writing. Freyja was sitting next to him, her hand holding his free one. Fuscienne would have been touched at the tender scene had they not been in a burial crypt.

The man looked up and stood with an exclamation, drawing his sword.

The two and their summoned skeletal warriors were quickly dispatched, not because Freyja and Nathaniel were weak but because Fuscienne and Valygar were capable of such fast movement.

“You’re hurt,” said Valygar, nodding to Fuscienne’s arm, which was, she had only just noticed, deeply gashed.

She shrugged and bent to examine Nathaniel’s body as Valygar healed her. There was no insignia of an organisation, no suggestion of a wider plan. She hated to admit it but she supposed they were a simple pair of treasure-seekers. Not to mention revenge-seekers. She had to ask Garrick about his separation from Asalie-

There was a rumble from nearby. Fuscienne ran with Valygar back to the fork. The middle passage was blocked but it felt as if it had collapsed on top of her. She stared at the rock, willing for it to vanish. A part of her thought: The rod of ressurrection. Another part thought: But what about their wounds?

“I-” she began.

“What has happened?” demanded Edwin. His eyes went to the blocked passageway. “Ah. The fools have got themselves trapped. (About time too.)”

Cernd’s eyes widened. “Oh - oh no. We must fetch help.”

“Yes - of course-” said Fuscienne. “Why didn’t I think of that?”

“With all due respect, you are not the wisest of nature’s creatures.”

***

Anomen gave up pushing the pile of rock and slumped down. Even bolstered by all his spells he could only hope to move it a little, and there was the risk of causing another cave-in. He looked at Garrick, who had returned from the opposite direction.

“Nothing,” Garrick said. “A dead end is only a short distance away.”

Anomen saw that Garrick was shivering. He took off his cloak and handed it to him. Garrick murmured a thankyou and wrapped it around himself.

“Much as it pains me to admit it, we are trapped,” said Anomen. “We must wait until Fuscienne fetches help.”

“Can’t I do something-” Garrick started to chant a spell and Anomen grabbed his hands to stop him.

“It could make another fall,” he snapped.

“Sorry. I just want to-”
   
“Just think things through,” said Anomen, trying to control his temper and imitate Cernd’s placating tone. He felt his head threatening to spin and blinked, rubbing his hands together.

Garrick sat beside him, still shivering. “So what’s going on with you and Fuscienne?”

“We are ... she is my best friend.” Anomen didn’t feel irritated by the question and a part of him was surprised.

“But something happened,” said Garrick, as eager for gossip as any bard.

“For a time we thought we could be lovers. But it did not work.”

“She’s done a lot for you.”

“Yes. She helped me stay on the lawful path when – when my sister died.”

“Why would you want to do that?”

“Well, you see, it is just what I am.” Without any prompting Anomen launched into an explanation of the Order of the Radiant Heart. His head was becoming lighter and he and Garrick were soon laughing about Edwin.

“And then there was the Nether Scroll - by Helm, that was hilarious!”

Garrick giggled, leaning towards him. “What happened?” he asked.

“He thought it would make him immortal but it turned him into a woman!”

“Really!” said Garrick, his eyes wide. “No wonder he’s always so moody.”

“No, that is just his natural disposition.” They burst out laughing again. Anomen saw that Garrick was shaking once more. “What is it?” he asked gently.

“Oh - I’m so cold - and what if they can’t get through?”

“Ah, do not think like that,” said Anomen. He put his arm around Garrick’s shoulders and pulled him to his side. “There. Does that feel better?”

“Yes. Thank you.” Garrick buried his face in Anomen’s arm.

Anomen was suddenly aware of how warm Garrick felt despite his shivering, and how in need of his protection he was. It was … like Fuscienne but not like her; when he held her he felt affection and love but not in this way, not even during their minor disaster.

His mind was pleasantly floating, free of its usual inhibition. In this new state of mind, he remembered what he had not let himself remember: that he had felt this before, about boys of his acquaintance, but had ignored it as a childish fancy, pushed it down.

He let Garrick softly nestle and put his other arm around him too, kissing the top of his head. When Garrick looked up, his face filled with desperate hope, kissing his face seemed the natural progression.

Anomen half-closed his eyes as Garrick started to stroke his hair. “Would you permit...” he whispered, sliding his hand under the collar of Garrick’s jacket and touching his back with his palm.

He heard shouts from nearby and leapt up, dragging Garrick with him. “Here! We’re here!” he yelled. The sudden movement cleared his head and he stared in horror at Garrick, who had an expression of dreamy contentment on his face.

“Do not mention what happened,” he commanded, grabbing his cloak back and quickly fastening around his neck.

“Why not? It was-”

“A mistake,” said Anomen firmly, cutting him off. “My mind was fogged from lack of air.” He was uncomfortably aware that Garrick’s face was falling and that if he really had wanted to stop he would have.

***

“Garrick! Anomen!” shouted Fuscienne as the dwarves dug into the rockfall.

“We’re here!” she heard Anomen’s voice cry faintly. She closed her eyes and offered a thankyou to any god who might be listening. Cernd placed his hand on her shoulder for a second.

After several tense minutes the dwarves unearthed the two men. Anomen looked uncomfortable, Garrick upset. “Oh, thank goodness,” said Fuscienne. “Are you hurt?”

“No,” said Anomen shortly. “Let us get to the surface.”

“Are you sure?” she asked anxiously. “We must get Cernd to have a look at you both-”

“I am fine,” Anomen insisted. “The surface!”

Fuscienne blinked, then dismissed it: Anomen was sensitive and he’d had a shock, so there was no point in worrying unduly.

***

Anomen sat in his room reading a treatise of the Order. His armour had been carefully placed in the corner with the rest of his belongings and he was in bed, warmed by the softly-flickering fire. Ordinarily he would have been completely content, but his mind kept skittering back to the cave and what it meant about him. He had thought that he had left such, well, inclinations behind in adolescence. He evidently had not left his childhood behind – and what did that meant for his prospects as a knight?

There was a knock at the door. “Come in,” Anomen said, and immediately regretted it for in came Garrick, his eyes eagerly appraising him.

Helm preserve me, thought Anomen scornfully, ignoring the tiny voice in the back of his mind saying how the Garrick’s cloak looked so pleasing on him. “What do you want?” he demanded.

Garrick looked crestfallen. “Well ... I-I-”

“Well? What is it?” snapped Anomen.

“It’s just, I was lonely and I thought of you. That shirt looks wonderful on you.”

“No, it does not. Now leave me in peace.”

“But, my Anomen-”

“Silence!” Anomen snapped. “Do not call me by that ignoble endearment. You will address me as ‘Sir Anomen if at all.”

“Sir Anomen, I love-”

“And do not refer to that - incident - in the cave. I was not myself.”

Garrick nodded silently and left the room. Anomen glared at the door and tried to return to his reading.

Garrick went to his room and wrote several very bad love poems. Then he tore them up, threw them petulantly out of the window and collapsed, crying, on his bed.

***

Both Anomen and Garrick were tired and pale the next morning. Fuscienne watched them anxiously for signs of injury from the cave-in, but the problem did not seem to be physical: Anomen was tetchy and Garrick was melancholy. It was the melancholy that worried her the most, for its rarity.

She, on the other hand, was feeling better again. After her stilted conversation with Anomen she had talked to Valygar and Cernd long into the night.

“What are you so pleased about?”

“The bright new day, Edwin,” said Fuscienne with equanimity, “and seeing your joyful face.”

“Bah! Do not insult me, wench. I have more power than you could possibly imagine.”

“Do not call her wench, wizard!” snarled Anomen.

“She does not care. You are making far too much of it,” said Edwin. “(Obsessive fanatical undersexed puppy.)”

Anomen bristled and reached for his flail.

“Ah, yes, the flail. I am quaking in my boots,” said Edwin. “I find that members of the Order of the Radiant Heart always need something to compensate for their, how shall I put it, lack of masculinity-”

Anomen lunged forwards, but Cernd intervened. “Edwin, don’t bait your fellow creatures,” he said calmly. He gave Anomen a cool look and Anomen dropped his eyes to the floor. Edwin muttered something about not wishing to be a creature if it meant being lumped in with the absurd cleric.

Fuscienne sighed and went to talk to Lord Coprith about Nathaniel and Freyja, explaining that it was they who had been the “monster” in the cave.

“Ah,” said Lord Coprith, nodding. “I see that I was right to call upon you, Lady Fuscienne. Might I prevail upon you once more, however?”

She nodded. “Of course.”

“I would be grateful if you could check that the Shadow Druids are safely disposed of. My councillors are concerned, considering our previous problems.”

“Yes, that would be fine,” she said. “We were planning to return to the druid grove anyway.”

“You have my thanks.”

Back at the inn, Valygar was forcibly restraining Anomen from attacking Edwin, who was looking uncommonly smug. “I see I have touched a nerve,” Edwin drawled.

Fuscienne glared at Anomen, who subsided slightly. Valygar released him. “Back to the druid grove,” she said. “Lord Coprith wants to make sure those Shadow Druids are totally gone.”

“Excellent,” said Cernd.

“I’m sure they are,” she said, “he just wants us to check.”

***

As the group approached the grove, Fuscienne heard shouting and the sounds of elementals. She experienced a sick feeling in her stomach as she realised what she had done by sending the Shadow Druids here.

“Valygar-”

He nodded and sneaked closer to the Shadow Druids, but Fuscienne saw one of their summoned air elementals blast a gap in the grove’s defences. She drew her sword and ran with the others into the fray. She saw one of the druids, a robed woman, begin to chant and as pink gathered at her fingertips she recognised the preparation for Creeping Doom.

“Valygar! Get her!” she yelled, but he was too late, and a swarm of insects flew directly at Garrick. He fell to the floor. “Heal him!” she shouted to Anomen.

“I’m busy!” he barked.

“Cernd-” she began, but he was in the middle of summoning a fire elemental. “Hold on, Garrick!” she shouted, dispatching two of the druids while Edwin started throwing Minute Meteors at another. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Garrick take out a healing potion but his hand was shaking too much and it fell to the floor, smashing.

Once the Shadow Druids were dead Fuscienne ran to Garrick’s side. His face was white and he was biting his lip to avoid crying out. Verthan came forward and clasped Fuscienne’s hand in welcome.

“Our thanks to you,” he said. “Bring the injured one inside.”

“That’s quite all right,” she muttered guiltily. “Anomen, heal him, quickly!”

Fuscienne and Valygar picked up Garrick, swatting away the insects threatening to attack them too. They placed him gently on the floor once they were inside one of the rooms adjacent to the challenge chamber.

Anomen turned away, shoving the flail into his belt.

“Anomen?” said Fuscienne. Garrick made a strangled yelp.

“Make Cernd do it,” snapped Anomen. Cernd gave him a look, then swiftly healed the prone Garrick. He stayed by his side: the Doom had not yet faded.

Fuscienne let rage take her over. “ANOMEN!” she roared. “You WILL do what I SAY!”

“I was just-”

“You were just NOTHING!” She punched him in the chest. “Now WHAT IS IT?”

“I-” he gasped, reeling backward.

“ANOMEN! I am stronger than you in EVERY WAY! Now TELL me!”

“It is nothing,” snapped Anomen. Garrick screamed and Cernd whispered another healing spell. Fuscienne, losing what little patience she had held onto, punched him again. Anomen gave gasps of pain and indignation, then left the room.

Edwin laughed, then flinched as she rounded on him. “Oh great, she is Confused,” he muttered.

“I am NOT Confused,” she snarled, “just irritated.”

“OK, OK,” said Edwin in a tone that was the closest to pacifying she had ever heard him use.

“Are you quite well?” asked Cernd. Garrick gave a cry and Cernd turned back to him, his forehead furrowed with concern. “Here, child,” he said, putting a bottle of healing potion to Garrick’s lips. He gulped it down as the Creeping Doom faded, but he was still shaking violently. He stood up, stumbling as he did so.

“The group must function,” said Fuscienne, alarmed to hear a defensive note in her voice.

“You do not need to make excuses,” said Edwin. “(Besides, I like a domineering woman.)”

“Yes, do not worry,” said Cernd, looking faintly disturbed at Edwin’s comment.

“We can rest, of course,” said Fuscienne to Garrick.

“Thank you,” he murmured. He started to walk and Cernd went to help him to his room. “I’m sorry to be so much bother,” he said.

“Every creature has its limitation,” said Cernd soothingly, drawing the covers over him. “Now rest. You need it.” He gave Garrick’s shoulder a pat and left. Garrick lay in bed for a couple of seconds before getting up again.

***

Anomen didn’t look up when Garrick came into his room. His mind was a rush of guilt, anger and confusion. A part of him kept thinking, You would let him die. Despite everything, that is wrong. Evil.

“Sir?” said Garrick tentatively.

Anomen leapt up. He shouted, “Leave me alone! Why do you think I want to be around you?” He pushed Garrick on the shoulders and he fell backwards, hitting his head on the wall.

Garrick looked up at him, his eyes heartbroken. They filled and he burst into silent tears. Anomen felt his own eyes prickle in response and tears spilled down his cheeks. “Why - why?” Garrick sobbed. “Why do you hate me? The cave was - was - it was wonderful, and - and - I love you-”

Anomen stared at him, frozen. Every time he blinked, more tears blurred his vision. His knees buckled and he sat heavily on the floor. Love, said the insidious part of him that was probably his conscience. You spurned love. Is that the behaviour of a knight of the Order?

“I - am sorry,” he whispered. Garrick looked up and the sight of his brown eyes filled with concern was too much for Anomen to bear. He slumped his forehead on his knees, feeling his shoulders shuddering with guilt.

After a few minutes Anomen felt a pressure on his shoulder blade. He looked up to see Garrick. His hand was on his shoulder and he was smiling shakily.

“Do not,” said Anomen, trying and failing to brush him away. “Please, for your own sake, leave me here. I do not wish you to be tainted by the darkness in me.” His voice cracked and more tears threatened to come. This time he was able to blink them away.

“Darkness, sir?”

“And do not call me that. I am unworthy of the name.”

“You’ve got no darkness, Anomen.” Despite Anomen’s steadily more half-hearted protests, Garrick wrapped him in his arms. Anomen looked squarely into Garrick’s face.

“Why do you forgive me?” he asked hoarsely.

“Because I love you,” said Garrick simply. Anomen wished for a second that it were that simple, then realised that it was that simple. He was just too stubborn to have seen it before.

“I - love you too,” he whispered. Garrick made a pleased and contented noise and kissed him. Anomen felt stirrings of the desire he had felt before and broke away. He felt more nervous than when he had fought any enemy, more nervous even than when he had confessed to Fuscienne that she was not the one for him. Now he realised that the reason why she was not right was that she was a woman. “The - bed would perhaps be - more comfortable,” he said in a rush.

“Yes,” Garrick agreed. Shyly they stood up. Garrick rubbed at a small dent on the shoulder of Anomen’s armour. “That stuff’s looking worn,” he said irrelevantly. “You should get it repaired.”

“Well, let me - remove it - that is, if-”

“No, let me.” Garrick fumbled with the straps, lifted Anomen’s armour and carefully placed it on the floor. He smiled at Anomen with a touch of hesitation.

Anomen touched Garrick’s cheek with the back of his hand. He felt a little better knowing that Garrick felt as anxious as he did: it made him feel more confident in himself. He got into the bed and Garrick followed. He smiled and stroked the side of Garrick’s head; Garrick pressed against his hand like a cat. They embraced tightly.

Anomen felt Garrick’s breathing becoming slightly faster and kissed his neck, sliding his hand under the bard’s shirt and sliding it off his shoulder. He found that all his anxiety had evaporated, leaving only a certainty that this was right.

***
   
Fuscienne paced around the bar, feeling more restless on each circuit she made. Edwin gave her an irritable look as she came nearer to the rest of the group. “You are making me dizzy,” he said. “Stop, or I will cast Abi-Dalzim’s Horrid Wilting on you. (Perhaps a Flesh to Stone would cause more peace and quiet.)”


Garrick was asleep. Anomen smiled at him, touched his hair and got out of the bed. He went downstairs and was greeted by, “BAH!”

“What is it, Edwin?” he enquired.

“They – bah!” Edwin gestured at Fuscienne, who was holding a note and smiling widely.

“Matthias and Jaheira are marrying,” she said. “This is their invitation. We are to meet Imoen and her companion in Athkatla.”

Anomen did not have to fabricate the wide smile that came over his face. Despite their poor start, he and Jaheira had gained a respect for one another and he was pleased that she was finally going to be happy.

***

As they travelled towards Athkatla Fuscienne found herself overwhelmed with happiness: meeting with Jaheira and Imoen again was something she was looking forward to greatly. Then there were the other guests Jaheira had invited, some of whom Fuscienne had travelled with too. It would be wonderful to see them again. Even Anomen and Garrick were getting on better; though she could not hear what they were saying, they were constantly talking.

“You are a bright flame,” murmured Anomen, “that I was drawn to against my will. But now I find the process ... most pleasurable.”

Garrick flushed slightly and smiled at him.

“And I took the liberty of picking this flower for you: it is delicate yet flamboyant and passionate, rather like you.”

Garrick took the flower, looking as if he might swoon with delight. “Thank you,” he said.

“Do you always go around picking flowers, knight? (I swear, his lack of masculinity never fails to astonish me.)”

“It is ... a bardic exercise,” said Anomen frostily. “Comparisons to the natural world. For example, you, Edwin, are like a deadly nightshade: poisonous to all, wily and the epitome of evil.”

For the first time in their acquaintance Edwin smiled at him, nodding approvingly. “Ah!” he said. “I misjudged you. You are not as abysmal a judge of character as I have always imagined.”

Anomen shook his head and smiled as Garrick’s hand brushed his arm. “I love you,” he whispered. Garrick glowed.

***

Once they reached Athkatla, they went to the Den of the Seven Vales, where Patricia grumpily gave them a set of rooms, wondering aloud why Fuscienne travelled with so many men when women had much more good sense.

“Of course they do. But I was otherwise occupied.”

Fuscienne wheeled round to see Imoen grinning widely. Imoen rushed forward and hugged her tightly. “It’s so great to see you!” she whispered. “You’re looking a lot better.”

“So who’s this companion of yours?” asked Fuscienne.

“Oh yeah.” Imoen broke away from her and grabbed the red-haired young man’s hand. “Guys, this is Kelsey Coltrane,” she said, pulling him forward. He was wearing a shimmery blue robe that made Fuscienne’s eyes blur when she tried to look at it. He smiled a little uncertainly at the group.

“Hi,” he said. “Imoen’s told me a lot about you all.”

“Oh dear,” said Fuscienne. “Imoen, what have you told him?”

“Ah, the usual,” said Imoen breezily.

“How’s the Order going?” Kelsey asked Anomen politely.

“Excellently, thank you. And yourself? What is your profession?”

“Oh, I’m a sorcerer,” said Kelsey, looking at the floor.

“Don’t put yourself down, sweetheart!” cried Imoen. “He’s great. He does this - ah, never mind.”

Fuscienne sniggered. “There there, Imoen,” she said.

“I was disappointed not to be Maid of Honour,” said Imoen. “I guess bridesmaid has to do. D’you know who it is?”

“Not yet. I suppose a friend from before she knew us.”

“Huh.”

***

Anomen and Garrick lay sleepily squeezed into Garrick’s bed, Garrick with his head in the crook of Anomen’s shoulder.

“Sweetheart,” he murmured, snuggling.

“Yes?”

“Nothing; I just like to say it.”

Anomen smiled, hugging him more tightly. “May I ask you something?” he asked.

“Of course.”

“What happened to your fiancée of Calimshan?”

“Ah...” Garrick sighed and hid his face in Anomen’s chest, but Anomen anxiously tilted his chin to make him look up. “Oh, very well. Her name is Asalie. As you know. She’s from Icewind Dale, actually, that’s how she knew that weird paladin and his friend.”

“What happened?”

“Ah, we were together for a while and then, well, then I realised.”

“What?”

“That the reason why I didn’t think we were suited was because she was a woman.” Garrick smiled ruefully. “I mean, I’ve always known.”

“Known?”

“That I like men as well as women.”

Anomen sighed. How easy it must have been for Garrick. He wished he could have been so honest with himself.

“I just didn’t realise till then that I like them instead of women. It was a bit of a shock. So, I left, saying some stuff about how it wasn’t working. It hurt, but it was a relief too, I guess. Then I came to Athkatla with hardly anything – that’s when I met up with you and Fuscienne. I wrote you a poem.”

Anomen took the piece of paper and read it. He smiled at him, then frowned, “Did she hurt you?”

“Well – she wasn’t very nice about it.”

Anomen squared his shoulders and glared at the ceiling. “If I were not compelled to speak chivalrously of women, I would-”

Garrick made a pleased noise. “Oh, Anomen, I love it when you’re righteous.”

“Hmm. It is just how I feel. I cannot help myself.”

Garrick made another noise that was suspiciously like a squeal. “So how did you find out?” he asked.

“Oh…” said Anomen vaguely, still feeling shy about talking about his feelings for males, and Garrick in particular. “There were a few … when I was young … nothing happened but … and I had forgotten about it, almost … I wanted to forget about it … but then there was you and – and I am in love with you.”

Garrick nestled his head against Anomen’s chest contentedly, kissed it a little, then his shoulders started to tremble.

“Garrick! What is it?”

Garrick looked up and his eyes were streaming with tears but he was smiling. “You’re so wonderful,” he said shakily.

***

As they were eating breakfast the next morning, they were interrupted by Patricia.

“There’s a man wanting to see you, ma’am,” she said, leading Fuscienne to the kitchen. Fuscienne readied her sword.

“Oh. It’s you,” she said. “What do you want?”

“I bear a message for Sir Anomen,” said Terl, looking fidgety. “Look, don’t shoot the messenger, all right? It isn’t my fault that they always select me to-”

“All right, all right. Anomen!”

Anomen came to the kitchen door, followed closely by Garrick. He gave Terl a suspicious look and took the letter from his outstretched hand. He looked at the seal.

“Ah, it is from Bylanna,” he said. “Perhaps the trial against Saerk is being prepared.” He opened the letter and as he read his face turned pale, making his eyes look frighteningly dark. He reached the end and swallowed as if he were about to be sick. Pushing the letter into Garrick’s hands, he muttered, “Excuse me. I - I must go.” He flung open the back door and ran out.

Fuscienne glared at Terl, who had the grace to flush and creep away without asking for payment. “What did it say?” she asked softly.

Garrick bit his lip. “I ... it says that Anomen’s father is dead.”

“Good!” she snapped.

“I agree ... but - oh - it was in pursuit of Saerk ... it was he who arranged for Moira’s death after all...”

Fuscienne felt as if a weight had dropped on top of her. The certainty with which she had told Anomen to stay on the lawful path! How could she have been so stupid? It was obviously Saerk’s fault all along-

“We must go to Saerk’s estate,” she said. “Come on.” After swiftly telling the others of what had happened, Fuscienne stopped and said, “Imoen? Can you Haste us?”

Imoen’s face was white. “N-no, I haven’t got it memorised.”

Kelsey raised his hand. “I can,” he said.

Fuscienne nodded. “Thank you,” she said. “Hurry!”

Edwin started to grumble about being marginalised by this new sorcerer but Fuscienne didn’t hear the end of what he said because she and Garrick were running, running to the Bridge District.

“Excuse me! Where’s Saerk’s house?” demanded Fuscienne breathlessly of one of the numerous children.

“Mama told me not to talk to strangers,” the boy lisped. Fuscienne fought the urge to slap him and went to one of the fishmongers.

“Saerk’s estate?” she asked. “It’s important.”

“First on the left. You can’t miss it, it’s like a palace.”

“Thank you,” she said, grabbed Garrick’s hand and ran again. Once outside the house she drew Daystar and battered the door until it broke down. She caught Garrick looking at her with a slightly scared expression but ignored it. They rushed down the passageway that was immediately inside the doorway, Fuscienne feeling a sick sensation in her stomach as she saw the bodies lining it, doubtless guards. Garrick made a gagging noise and she put her hand on his shoulder.

“And that is why you shall not live!” Fuscienne heard Anomen’s roar and the sickness intensified: she had never heard him that furious, even when someone insulted her. She and Garrick quickened their stride.

The hallway opened out suddenly into a wide and opulent hall. There were more bodies around two figures: a man whom Fuscienne gathered was Saerk, and Anomen.

“Anomen!” shrieked Garrick.

Anomen looked around, his face wild-looking. “No!” he cried. “What are you doing here?”

“You mustn’t do this!” shouted Fuscienne. “Please! It’s against everything the Order stands for!”

Anomen’s face took on an ugly expression. “The Order stands for justice!” he snapped. “Justice was not done, and I intend to mete it today.” He drew his flail from his belt.

Garrick darted forward before Fuscienne could stop him and grabbed Anomen’s arm. Anomen snarled at him and tried to shake him off but Garrick held on. Fuscienne watched, bemused, as Garrick said things to Anomen in a murmur so soft and quick that she couldn’t distinguish words. She took the opportunity to grab Saerk to prevent him from running off.

Anomen’s face gradually softened as Garrick spoke and his arm dropped. His eyes shone in the candlelight and he blinked furiously. “I ... am afraid,” he whispered.

“Of what?” Garrick’s grip on Anomen’s arm had turned into something suspiciously like a caress.

“That I will ... become like him. That my anger will not be held in check-”

“Anomen, I’ll help you hold it in check. I mean, sometimes I don’t see why law is so good but it’s important to you, and you’re so important to me, and I won’t let you make yourself less than you are!”

Anomen smiled weakly. “You can be righteous too,” he said.

“Only with relation to you. I love you, and I’m not about to let you go, especially not to some merchant who’s trying to make you do something you’ll regret.”

Anomen squared his shoulders. “Very - very well. We will go to the authorities and put this dog where he belongs. Fuscienne?”

Fuscienne was busy digesting the conversation she had just heard. It suddenly made so much more sense: Anomen’s anger, their improving in relations lately... How could she have been so dense?

“Bah!” snapped Saerk. “I am glad your father died as he did: he would have been ashamed of you, effeminate whelp!”

Garrick marched up to Saerk and glared up at him. “You watch it!” he snarled, murmuring a spell that Fuscienne guessed was Emotion, for Saerk went very white and slid down in a faint. Garrick scowled. “No one insults Anomen.”

“I quite agree,” said Fuscienne. She picked up Saerk easily and they walked towards the exit. As they went into the bright daylight, she turned and looked searchingly at the two of them, who were now holding hands. “By the way...” she said. “How did you find out?”

Anomen’s cheeks were suddenly tinged with pink. “Ah, well...” he said with a cough.

“Well,” said Garrick, getting into storytelling mode. “It all began with that cave...”
Would you give a guy a foot massage? If so, maybe you'd like Nathaniel.

What's a little falsehood between friends? The mysteries of The Luxley Family are soon to be unravelled.

Offline coyo

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sorry!
« Reply #1 on: June 19, 2006, 11:05:54 AM »
I didn't read the rules properly. So sorry!
Anyone alert me when there is a continuation to Ascension (or ANY mod) where you end up becoming Mrs Irenicus, would ya?