Witch Queen of Perrenland

Kirk and Aaron were just two travelers hoping to find adventure in Greyhawk’s most notorious drinking establishment. Little could they have known that adventure would find them just a few feet from the Green Dragon. Joined by the mysterious and tight-lipped merchant Rarsirrien, a female thief, and a disgraced Paladin, they become caught up in a plot to thwart the infamous and evil Iggwilv from obtaining the secret to immortality. To do so, they must breach the magically protected borders of the secretive Valley of the Mage. If they succeed, they will have to find Iggwilv’s agents while avoiding detection by the most powerful spell caster on the continent. Discovery will mean capture and death, and failure will mean the loss of countless lives to Iggwilv’s cruel experiments. But in the Valley of the Mage, not everything, nor everyone, is as it appears. Along the way, our heroes will have to confront the demons of their past and a few in the present. If they succeed, their reward will be freedom, fame, and the riches that come from it.

Tillahi's Estate

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Rarsirrien had to wake Kirk and Aaron. It had been the most comfortable night’s sleep they had had since leaving the Rangers. Desprae had already packed her items and had even made them breakfast. Kirk and Aaron stared at each other.

“What have we done to deserve this?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe we should test it for poison?” Aaron jokingly replied.

“It’s not poisoned. It’s surprisingly good.” Rarsirrien told them.

Desprae handed each of them a small slice of bread with what appeared to be some honey jelly. They both took a cautious bite. “Not bad. Sweet and kind of nutty tasting.” Aaron remarked. He looked at Kirk, who had already finished his. “What is it?”

“A Drow dish made of moon worms fried in honey. The honey was easy to find; the worms took a little digging.”

Aaron choked and set what remained of his portion down. “Who thought that would be a good combination?”

“Drow, obviously. You going to finish that?” Kirk pointed at Aaron’s remaining piece.

Aaron handed it over to Kirk, “You will literally eat anything.”

“Better to eat than be eaten. Besides, you might want to try and adapt a bit. There is no telling what the future holds, and we’ve been lucky so far to make it with our provisions and what we have been able to hunt along the way. We may not always be so fortunate.”

Desprae looked at Aaron. Kirk could see the look of disappointment in her eyes. “Don’t mind him; he’s a fussy eater. That’s a euphemism for ‘big pain in the ass.’”

Desprae smiled and then went to tend to her horse. Once she turned around, Kirk kicked Aaron. “What’s wrong with you?” He whispered. “First time she makes a nice gesture, and you have to be like…well, you.”

Aaron shook his head. He knew Kirk was right. Still, fried worms in honey. Who thought that was a good combination?

A moment later, both Rarsirrien and Desprae joined them. Rarsirrien had his map out and sat down between Kirk and Aaron. After a moment, the map filled in the details around the red dot marking their current location. Another dot appeared about thirty miles southwest of their current position. They were just on the edge of the Kron Hills. They could see the main road heading south and then west to Enstad.

“What’s that?” Desprae asked.

“That is our destination for today,” Rarsirrien told her. “It is called Tillahi’s Estate. She is an old friend of mine, and we do a lot of business together.” Aaron thought back to Rarsirrien’s cellar and the horde of wine from Celene. “Traveling openly through Celene with a female Drow is dangerous, and she is the one person I know who might be able to help us.” Rarsirrien paused for a moment.

“But…?” Kirk asked. Rarsirrien looked at the man.

“There’s always a ‘but,’” Added Aaron.

Rarsirrien sighed, “But…she is an elf and a wizard, and she has no love for the Drow, so there is no way to know how she will react. She could help us, or we may never leave her estate.”

“Well, I’m glad my last night on Oerth was at least comfortable.” Kirk stood up, dusted himself off, and asked, “So are we going just to sit around here talking all day, or are we going to get this over with?”

“I don’t know what you three are worried about. She’ll likely roast me and let you go on your merry ways.”

“You still have the potion I gave you?”

“Yes, safely stored here,” she patted her left breast pocket.

“Good, but don’t use it. It won’t work inside Tillahi’s borders. After all, she’s the one who gave it to me.”

The four finished breaking camp. Desprae was already on her horse and looking toward the road when Rarsirrien rode up beside her. “He’s still there, laying low in the grass. I spotted him last night,” he told her. “He’ll likely wait until we have moved on a bit, and then I’m sure he’ll follow.”

“Maybe you should ask him to join us.”

“Ask who to join us?” Kirk asked as he joined them with Aaron close behind.

Rarsirrien looked toward the road one last time, “No one.” With that, he started west, heading towards the hills, which seemed much closer now.

As they rode, the terrain became more lush and green. In the distance, Aaron could begin to discern a tree line in the distance and rows of grape vines lining the hillsides. A light breeze began to blow, cooling them and their horses. The air was clean and refreshing and strengthened them. Rarsirrien signaled for them to pause.

“I’ve known Tillahi for a long time. She has been a good and close friend. She can also be a fierce adversary, so mind your manners and be respectful. Desprae,” he paused. “Probably best if you only speak when spoken to. I know.” He cut off her protest before she could get a word out, “Please trust me. If you are to make it out of Celene alive and free, we need her help.” Desprae swallowed her protest and nodded. Rarsirrien looked at both Kirk and Arron, who also nodded. He hoped they would be welcomed, but showing up with a Drow would not be something she would expect from him. They rode in silence, the trees and hills in the distance getting ever nearer.

It was Kirk who broke the silence. “Rarsirrien, should you ride ahead while we wait here? If her help is so important, and we don’t want to offend her, maybe you should let her know we’re coming?”

Rarsirrien slowed and said over his shoulder, “I appreciate your offer, but she knows we’re coming. In fact, she knows we’re already here. Look.” He pointed ahead to the tree line, which had previously been uninterrupted, now had an opening, and Aaron could see a white, paved way between them.

As they rode beneath the branches, the large leaves of the ipt trees provided a cool shade, a relief after riding for several hours in the open under the sun. The trees not only ringed the estate, but they also lined both sides of the road. Aaron could see fields through the trees on both sides. Some had just been tilled, and others already had crops growing. Potatoes were nearing harvesting while the corn was just getting started. In the distance, he could see elves tending to the grapes on the hillsides. The road began to slope upwards slightly, and he could hear what sounded like a fountain and smell water in the air. They continued for about a quarter of a mile, passing between two low hills, when the road curved gently right and continued along the edge of a small lake or huge pond. Near the center, a fountain sprayed water almost thirty feet in the air, with smaller jets radiating out in a criss-cross circular pattern about half that height. A large wooden structure was on the near side, where the road appeared to end. Aaron recognized the wood as bronzewood and could see bronzewood trees behind the house. On the west side was a large terrace, and providing shade were several galda trees, with their whiteish cone-shaped fruit still in the early stages. They wouldn’t ripen until early summer. Facing them, extending out into the lake, was another large wooden terrace, and above it was a large balcony with several open doors. The roof was thatched with dark green reeds, which matched the color of the leaves on the bronzewoodse around the house.

As they glanced around, they could see some of the elves working in the fields stop to take notice of them, but then they returned to their labors. As the road curved back towards the front of the house, the two large bronzewood doors swung open, and a tall, slender female elf walked out to meet them. She wore a white linen gown with silver stitching and a silver chain belt. Her hair was silver or white depending on how the light struck it. It was held in place with a platinum band. She carried herself with dignity and strength.

Rarsirrien brought his horse to a halt and held up his hand, signaling them to stop. There was an awkward pause, and then Rarsirrien dismounted and waited. It seemed to Aaron that it was like a child waiting to see if its mother was about to praise or punish it.

Tillahi held out both arms, palms raised upwards, and smiled. “I’ve never seen the magnificent Rarsirrien so sheepish before. I rather like seeing you uncomfortable; it happens so seldom. Do you think if you weren’t welcome, you would have made it this far with a Drow in tow?”

“I dared not presume, my lady.”

“Nor should you have. No dragon could approach this close undetected, Steel or otherwise.” Her tone was stern and had a touch of admonishment. At the mention of the word dragon Rarsirrien, she winced.

Desprae leaned forward, “Told you.”

“Silence!” Tillahi snapped at Desprae. “You’re only still breathing because you’re in his company. You would not have made it past my borders alive if he had not been with you.” She paused and took a breath. Her face resumed its more pleasant and friendly appearance. Then darkened again. “You’ve been followed.”

Rarsirrien nodded; he had been expecting this. “He is called Dread Naught, and we encountered him first in the woods of the Enlanefel. He has been following us for several days.”

“I’m not referring to that broken-down disgrace of a Paladin. He’s no threat to us, and there is nothing I can do to him that would be worse than his current fate, nor could I help him even if I wished it. No, I’m referring to an assassin from the Brotherhood.”

Rarsirrien was visibly surprised, as were the rest. “I was not aware, though I should have been. It makes sense now. Two Rangers accompanied us into Celene, and they sensed we were being followed. I had assumed that it was Dread Naught. I would say that he has been following us since we left Greyhawk. We had some problems initially on the way, but it begins to make sense now. I thought that we had evaded any spies.”

“This brings me to my question. Why would the great Rarsirrien suddenly show up on my doorstep unannounced with a human, a drow, and a valley elf?”

“Half-elf,” Kirk corrected. Rarsirrien closed his eyes and let out an audible sigh, but Tillahi seemed not to mind the interruption.

“Indeed. Even more curious. I like a good mystery.” She smiled again. “You should get off your horses; I’m afraid they won’t fit inside. I’m not going to roast you where you stand. Well, not yet, anyway.” Her gaze was fixed on Desprae.

“Begging your pardon, my lady,” Aaron interrupted while looking at Desprae, “but could you please explain what you meant about a dragon?”

“I could, but I won’t. That explanation is best left to Rarsirrien and shouldn’t be conducted standing on my front porch. Let’s go inside and get comfortable, as I have the feeling it might take a little while.” She turned and disappeared into the house. Soon after, two elves came out, took their horses’ reins, and led them around the side of the house.

Rarsirrien followed Tillahi and disappeared inside. Desprae, Kirk, and Aaron followed and found themselves standing in an open room. The house was much larger on the inside than it appeared on the outside. It was how Kirk imagined an elvish princess might live—ornate and decorative carvings in the wood beams and panels. The decor harmonized with nature, and it was incredibly peaceful. For Desprae, it was still too open, but better than being out under the open sky. For Aaron, it had a familiar feel, but the quality of the craftsmanship and artistry was far above anything he had seen in Sunndi. Tillahi led them through a set of doors that opened onto a large terrace next to the water. Several benches that could sit two to three elves were arranged in a circle with soft white upholstery. A single high-backed chair was at the start of the seating ring facing the water. Tillahi walked over to it, turned, and signaled the others to sit, and then she sat down. After days of riding and sleeping on the hard ground, having a proper seat with cushions was a welcome relief for their sore backsides. As soon as they were all seated, several more elves appeared with trays of meat and fruit and decanters of water and wine.

“Rarsirrien,” Tillahi began, “I suppose you have some explaining to do before you can tell me why you are here.”

Desprae remained silent, but the look she gave Rarsirrien spoke volumes.

Rarsirrien looked at Aaron and Kirk. “What do you know about Greyhawk dragons?”

“Very little, other than colored dragons, lean toward various degrees of evil alignment, and metal ones tend toward various degrees of good or neutral. Fortunately, I’ve never encountered any, and the closest that I’ve come to one is that Rothcore that you mentioned a few days ago.” Kirk finished and shifted in his chair.

Aaron glanced around, “Not many dragons where I come from. Nothing really worth anything to a dragon.”

“You both could have come much closer to a dragon and never even known it. As for what dragons value, that depends a lot on the dragon’s personality. Some prefer treasure like silver and gold, some works of art, and others prefer magic items or scrolls and books.” Rarsirrien paused, “I’m sorry, Tillahi, but all this talking is drying my mouth. I don’t suppose you have any of the five fifty-nine left by any chance?” He sounded like a child asking his parents if any sweets were left.

Tillahi smiled, “I’ve kept six bottles aside in case you decided to visit again. I suggest you make the most of them, as they’re the last of their kind.” She motioned to the elf on her right, and he stood, bowed slightly, and went inside. “He’ll be back shortly, Rarsirrien, so I think you can safely continue your story without too much fear of losing your voice. Besides, unless something has changed, once you start drinking, I won’t be able to get you to shut up.”

“Very well, my lady. Kirk is generally correct. There are a few dragons in the area around Greyhawk. They like it there for various reasons, and it’s not really important to my story. Some like to collect information, gossip, and other material treasures. Most people wouldn’t be comfortable with a dragon just walking up and starting a casual conversation. Some dragons can assume other forms.” He waited a moment to see if what he had just said had registered with Kirk and Aaron. He stroked the steel gray streak in his beard. “When a dragon takes another form, there is always some tell-tale feature that links back to their true nature.”

Kirk and Aaron looked at Rarsirrien, but he could see they weren’t assembling the pieces. He might have to be more direct.

Desprae leaned forward in her chair and exclaimed, “He’s a steel dragon, you idiots.” She shook her head, “You two are thicker than a bronzewood tree.”

At that moment, an elf entered with a tray of glasses, and the elf sitting next to Tillahi returned with several bottles, which Aaron recognized instantly from Rarsirrien’s hidden cellar. Suddenly the pieces began to fall into place for him. “So your interest is in magical items and information. So if I didn’t have this sword….”

“We likely would never have met.” Rarsirrien took two glasses from the tray, handed one to Aaron, and then took a small sip from his own.

Kirk was now glaring at Desprae. “How long have you known? You could have told us.”

“I knew almost immediately. I’ve always been able to sense when someone has shapeshifted. I assumed you both knew, but when he snuck off to change his form, I figured he had kept his identity a secret.”

“Don’t be too angry with Desprae. I didn’t give her much choice in keeping my real identity a secret.”

Aaron took a sip of his wine. “So what, you threatened to eat her if she told us?”

Rarsirrien broke into a toothy grin, and the pupils in his eyes switched back to his dragon form. “Yes,” he said.

Aaron choked on his wine. He had been joking, but clearly, Rarsirrien was not.

“To move this along and get to the point for our more-than-gracious hostess,” Rarsirrien continued, “Steel dragons prefer being around humans, and we are often interested in advancing and collecting knowledge and art. For myself, I found acting as a merchant allowed me to collect those things that interest me and have an income that would not raise too much suspicion among others. I would expect that each of you would keep my secret. To do otherwise could have serious consequences.” He refilled his glass and took a long drink. “My dear lady, we have come to ask for your assistance. Originally, I had not planned on intruding on you, but our circumstances have changed somewhat. The instigation for our travels was a request from Walgar.” He did not have to say that the request came from Bissel since Tillahi would know that from the name. “His border watch detected four necromancers crossing into his lands from Iggwilv’s Horn. Rumor is that the Mage has finally discovered a form of immortality that avoids the unpleasantness of becoming a lich, something Iggwilv would dearly desire. Walgar requested that I, or rather the three of us, look into the matter. He tries to avoid agitating either party but is interested in ensuring Iggwilv doesn’t discover this secret.”

Tillahi shifted forward in her seat. “Indeed. With Iuz and Graz’zt, and not fearing death, she would be a powerful force for evil. Such an advantage in her hands would not bode well for her neighbors. It would only be a matter of time before they threatened the whole Flanaess and plunged the continent into war.”

“Our original plan was to pass through Enstad and resupply and recover before taking the road west through the Ulek pass. Traveling with a Drow now makes that impossible.”

“Indeed.” Tillahi faced Desprae, “Tell me your story, dark elf.”

Desprae told her what she had already told the others. Kirk told her how they battled the small group of raiders, freed the prisoners, and discovered Desprae. Aaron had primarily remained silent throughout the conversation. He should have detected the signs that Rarsirrien was not what he seemed. He thought back on the little things, the blood in his beard when he didn’t even have a scratch, his times on watch where he would be out of sight, how he knew details about the terrain that couldn’t have been more than a few days old. It was Tillahi’s voice that brought his attention back to the present.

“Don’t be too hard on yourself, Aaron. Even I was briefly fooled by Rarsirrien. For a few hours at least.” She stood, “ I think that is enough talk for now. Let us have dinner and talk about more pleasant things. You can rest here tonight, and we can discuss what lies ahead tomorrow.”

They were taken into a large dining hall dominated by an ornately carved bronzewood table. Tillahi sat at the far end in an equally ornate bronzewood chair. Rarsirrien sat opposite in a slightly smaller and plainer wooden chair. Aaron and Desprae were set on one side, and Kirk had his side to himself. The remainder of the evening was spent eating and making small talk. Neither Aaron nor Desprae said much, but Kirk was more talkative after several more glasses of wine. Tillahi listened politely as he talked about his time growing up on the streets of Greyhawk and then about his time in OldRed and how he came to be in the city’s service. Tillahi asked how he and Aaron had met, and when he mentioned Valandil’s assassination, he had her full attention.

Kirk took a last drink from his wine glass and yawned. “I think we should show you to your rooms so you can get a decent night’s sleep.” Tillahi stood, and one of the stewards showed Kirk, Aaron, and Desprae the way upstairs. From the top of the stairs was a hallway with rooms on three sides and a railing that allowed you to look down into the entryway. Kirk and Aaron were put into one room together, and Desprae was shown to the room next door, where an elven guard was already waiting.

Desprae sighed but went into her room without uttering a complaint. She had already been shown more courtesy than she had expected. The room was not her style, with too much wood elf influence, but it was a welcome change from sleeping outdoors or in a prisoner wagon. The room had a large double bed and faced two doors that opened onto a balcony facing the large pond. She moved the curtain aside and looked out into the clear night sky. She could see the stars reflected on the still surface of the water, like a giant mirror. She tried to open the door to walk outside but found it locked, so she turned back and dropped down onto the bed. She laid back on the soft blanket and closed her eyes. In a moment, she was asleep.

Kirk and Aaron’s room was similar to Desprae’s. There was only one bed, but it was large enough for them both to share without a problem. Aaron opened the balcony doors, and a soft breeze carried the fresh smell of the fields into the room. He stared at the water, “What a change from the past few days, eh?” There was no answer, just the sound of heavy breathing. He turned and could see Kirk had fallen asleep sitting on the bed, his boots off but both feet still firmly on the floor. Aaron walked over to his friend, picked his legs up, swung them over and onto the bed, then threw a light blanket over the sleeping man. He removed his jacket, sword belt, and dagger, fluffed the pillow, and placed it under his head. The bed was extremely comfortable, and he was determined to make the most out of this night since he had no idea when they might be this comfortable again.

After the others had left to go upstairs, Tillahi motioned for Rarsirrien to sit by her side. “I certainly can’t say you never surprise me, old friend. I’m troubled by the presence of a Drow and a member of the Scarlet Brotherhood so close to you. Do you think Kirk is right that Aaron’s father’s death resulted from mistaken identity?”

“I had until now. There could be more to it, and I may have an idea what but not why.”

“And what would that be?” She could see Rarsirrien hesitate. “You’ve brought a Drow and a half valley elf into my home, and you’re being followed by an agent of the Scarlet Brotherhood and a disgraced Paladin. If you want my help, you must be honest with me.”

“The sword is Aaron’s fathers. He was also a former Ranger of the Gnarley forest. Celidone was his friend and told me much about Valandil and Aaron’s mother, Ondoher.” He paused momentarily, stood, walked behind Tillahi, and closed the door. As he sat down, he continued, his voice just above a whisper, “I believe Aaron’s sword is one of the five blades, Larendenjo to be exact.”

Tillahi raised an eyebrow when Rarsirrien mentioned the sword’s name. “Stalker. A powerful weapon in the hands of a Ranger. What about the ring? Not typical of a male.”

“From his mother. There doesn’t seem to be anything magical about it. Nice craftsmanship and simple.”

Tillahi took another sip of her wine, “And the Drow?”

“Complicated, but I believe her story, and she could have done us harm if she wanted and revealed my secret even when I asked her not to. I think being outcast from her own race and how they pursued her and tried to kill her may have opened her eyes to how evil the Drow can be.”

“I don’t know that what Walgar has asked you to do is as simple as you may think. Dealing with Iggwilv alone is dangerous enough, as you well know. You barely survived the one encounter with her. Add to that the Scarlet Brotherhood and Jason Krimeah, or the Mage of the Vale, as Walgar calls him, even though he knows his true name, and you may have bitten off far more than you can chew. Pardon the expression.” She watched as Rarsirrien drank the last of his wine, then she leaned forward, placing her hand on his, “We share a special bond. I do not wish you to come to any harm.”

Rarsirrien placed his other hand over hers. “I do not wish that either. I think this is enough for one evening and it’s getting late. I think I shall go and get some rest. My usual room?”

Tillahi smiled and nodded. “Good night then, old friend. I will see you in the morning.”

Rarsirrien stood, bowed slightly to Tillahi, then turned and walked out of the room, closing the door behind him. He knew the estate intimately and walked to his usual room without thinking about it. He entered and closed the door behind him. As he glanced about, everything was exactly where he had left it on his last visit late last year. The room was large and open, with a bed large enough to accommodate him and an ample open space that would fit his dragon form. “Not tonight,” he thought to himself. He would remain human for now.

Tillahi sat alone for a little while longer. She thought about what Rarsirrien and the others had told her and what she already knew. Desprae bothered her. She never liked, much less trusted, any Drow, no matter what they said or did. She knew them as masters of deceit. She would have to find out where Desprae’s loyalties lay.

A thud outside her door woke Desprae from her sleep. She lay still, her eyes straining to hear. Seconds passed, and there was nothing. She knew she had heard something, or had she? No. She wouldn’t ignore her instinct just because she thought she was safe. She sat up in bed and took the dagger from under her pillow. A shadow passed in front of the doors that opened onto the balcony. She had checked them earlier, and they had been locked from the outside. Then she heard it; the sound of metal on metal. Something or someone was picking the lock. She slid out of bed, quietly crossed the room, and stood behind the curtain, her dark form blending into the shadows. There was a click as the lock was opened, and then the door swung in slowly. Desprae held her breath, dagger firmly in her grasp, waiting for the intruder to enter. After what felt like an eternity, a shape crept low and slow through the open door. Desprae was about to attack when whatever it was suddenly rolled away from her and sprang upright. In front of her stood a female Drow in matt-black leather and a black cowl covering her head and face. She placed her finger over her lips, signaling her to keep quiet. Desprae shifted the knife in her hand to defend herself against any attack.

“Who are you? What do you want?”

“I am Ilmra Vrinn. I have been sent to bring you home,” replied the intruder.

Desprae sneered, “I don’t believe you. I have been an outcast and hunted. You intend to kill me and collect the reward for my death.”

Ilmra relaxed her stance and stood upright and proud. “Now, why would I do that when the Demoness herself commanded me to find you and present you a way to reclaim your and your family’s honor?”

“What would that be, slitting my own throat for you?”

“No. If you were to kill Rarsirrien yourself, you would gain her favor, and the past would be forgiven. You are now close to someone she would much rather see dead than you. A clean slate.”

Desprae studied the intruder. There was something oddly familiar about her, and she was trying to place her. “And if I refuse?” Ilmra drew a large, black dagger from behind her back, and Desprae could see the blade was coated in poison. “Then I will kill you and Rarsirrien and gain much more favor with Her than I will as a simple messenger.”

Desprae relaxed just slightly to appear less threatening. “How do I know you will keep your word? As soon as I kill Rarsirrien, you could kill me, escape, and claim to have killed us both.”

“True. Then as a gesture of trust, I give you my weapon.” As she spoke, she held out the dagger for Desprae to take.

Doubly on guard now for any possible trick, Desprae cautiously took the knife from Ilmra. “Very well. I accept your offer. He’s in the room at the top of the stairs. I assume you’ve eliminated the guard outside my door so we can enter there. He wouldn’t expect anyone who is a threat to enter from the inside.”

Ilmra nodded, “I can watch the stairs and hallway. Once it’s done, we can escape over the balcony. I’ve ensured we can escape the ground undetected, assuming you can do the job quietly and efficiently.”

“I can,” she replied. “He trusts me, so it’s the last thing he would expect. Stay close to me, as we won’t have much time. Is the poison fast acting?”

“It will incapacitate him in seconds, and death comes in a minute or less.”

Desprae slowly opened her door. The hallway was dimly lit, with only a torch burning at the top of the stairs, but just outside Rarsirrien’s door. She would have to enter Rarsirrien’s room quickly as there were no shadows to hide in. The two moved silently down the hall until they were just outside Rarsirrien’s room. Desprae turned the knob slowly and felt the latch clear the catch. Odd that it wasn’t locked, but then she thought, why would it be? He was in a place he felt safe with those he trusted; why would he have locked the door? She slipped inside the door and disappeared. The move surprised Ilmra, so she quietly entered the room behind her.

A moment of searing pain flashed in front of Ilmra’s eyes. Her head was being held back by her hair and her throat exposed, and at it was the dagger she had given Desprae. Rarsirrien was up in a flash knocking over a pitcher of water he had left on the nightstand and sending it crashing to the floor. The noise woke Kirk and Aaron, who ran to Rarsirrien’s open door. When they arrived, they saw him standing next to his bed with his sword in his hand. Just inside the door, Desprae was standing holding a knife to the throat of another Drow.

“Now, I will cut your throat and prove my loyalty to my friends rather than to you and Her,” Desprae spat.

“Wait!” Commanded Rarsirrien. “Look.”

Desprae looked at the Drow, but the black hair that she had been holding was now white, and instead of a dark elf was their hostess.” She released Tillahi and sank back against the wall. “Why?”

“I needed to be certain about you. I do not trust your kind. I still do not trust you completely, but I do more than I did moments ago. Rarsirrien is special to me, and I would do anything for him.”

Desprae looked at Rarsirrien, “Did you know? Were you part of this plan?”

“He knew nothing. He trusts you, and that would normally be enough for me if you weren’t what you are.”

“So you used magic to appear as a Drow to test if she was loyal?” Kirk asked.

“Not exactly.”

Rarsirrien placed his sword down and sat on the bed. “ A dragon’s soul bond acquires certain…abilities. As I said, I have known Tillahi a very long time.”

Desprae was still leaning against the wall, staring at the floor. She didn’t know how to feel or what to think. She thought she had earned some level of trust and repaid some of the kindness shown to her. Instead, she was treated the same as always, just like all other Drow. She could feel the anger rising inside her. Then she felt a cool hand on her shoulder, and the anger began to melt away like snow in the sun.”

“Do not be angry with your companions. I was the one who doubted you. I’m sorry for the deception, but I thought it best to test and see if you could be tempted into betraying them. Come, let me walk you back to your room. Tomorrow is another long day, and we can discuss this more in the morning after breakfast.”

Desprae allowed Tillahi to walk her back to her room. She entered and turned, but Tillahi had already closed the door. She waited, but the sound of the lock never came. She reached and turned the knob slightly, and the door opened. No one was outside her door, and the hallway was empty. She could hear Kirk and Aaron in the room next door. The balcony door remained open, as it was when Ilmra had entered. She walked out onto the balcony and stood at the rail overlooking the pond. She took a deep breath of the clean, cool night air. She turned, opened the remaining door to fill the room with a slight, cool breeze, and then crawled under the blanket. It took a while before her mind was calm enough to fall back asleep, but she finally managed to drift off.


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