As the buzzing of enchantment fills the room I am aware of the gears of time spinning to a stop. What would we look like to someone outside of time, observing us like figures on a postcard?
I am half crouched, rising to my feet with my gaze fixed on the scene in front of me. I can feel the weight of my beaded robes around me - I can remember every pattern. My garb is the last thing connecting me to where I grew up, aside from my golden, dragon-like eyes and dark skin. In my hand I am gripping my knife, also etched with strange designs and runes. These are less friendly than the ones on my robe. To my right Ash is leaping forwards, spear in hand. As a dragonborn, he is stupidly noticeable and his red scales are shimmering in the sunlight. He is leaping at by far the most noticeable thing in the room. The dragon. Ashardalon the red dragon, hundreds of years old, having fought his way back from death itself. Currently with wings outstretched, about to disappear. Which he can’t do - not after everything we sacrificed to find him.
Sixteen-year-old Rasa is staring at this scene with wide eyes, and I don’t know if she’s about to stab someone or stab herself. Farther back is Anastri, her hands raised and blue ice already forming in the air in front of her. Her blonde hair is pulled back in a braid and her pointy ears are visible. Warren, his obsidian skin making his red eye stand out, is staring in shock at the scene playing out before us. Mio is... slow on the uptake, as usual. He’s in the entrance of the room, staring with shock and - rage? - at the dragon. Now that’s strange. Mio is as familiar to rage as a bird is to tunnels. It doesn’t sit right with him, which is probably a good thing since his shining greatsword and armor barely give him pause.
At the point where the enchantment is occurring, two other people stand. Lycinth, a thin blond-haired man who I know all too well, is struggling to rise after his fight with the demon. I neutralized it, but we’ll see how long that lasts. Standing in front of him is von Course, holding his plain-looking ring. The ring is what is doing the enchantment, stopping time, and there is nothing I can do to prevent it. As the spell reaches a crescendo of white noise, I know there will be nothing more to think unti-
Time pops back in, with a few important changes. Lycinth is dead, holding the hilt of a sword buried deep in the dragon’s thigh. The dragon is dead too, in the process of crashing to the ground. Everyone is looking around with absolute horror - Except for Rasa, who is staring at me with a burning hatred. I smile. My job is done, and my mission complete. I don’t need these people anymore, and Rasa will be the first to die.
Some strange sensation makes me reach my hand up to my neck, and it comes back red with blood. My head is spinning and my vision is tunneling - but I see Rasa’s smirk as I collapse to the ground with blood pumping out of my throat.
*this is a repost of one section of a story already posted and since deleted titled Snapshot. I decided to repost it so that I could organize it more effectively into a book format. If you're interested in the story like it or comment and I'll tag you on future installments!
Who am I? You don’t need to know that, I won’t be here very much. No, I’m not that extremely annoying young woman we just heard from - thank goodness no. This story is not mine, nor will I take credit for it. I merely compiled it, pieced it together from hopes and thoughts and tales and dreams. Think of me as a chronicler, if you will. I am here to smooth transitions, explain concepts, translate languages. Telling a story is a complex task.
Is the story true? Hah.
I like you. You’re curious.
The story starts, as all stories do, in a pub. I’m rather good at pubs, I must say. Please, enjoy. It’s not meant for me, after all.
Warren entered the bar, his shock of pure white hair - he thought to himself - adding just the right flair to his eye-skin-clothes combo. He glanced around and spotted Anastri heading to the bar, so he steered himself the other way and sat down across from a tiny old woman, her hands clasped around a beer. Old ladies were always chock full of information, little tidbits they had saved up like nuggets of gold they were only too willing to give away.
“Good evening, ma’am,” he said in what he hoped was a friendly voice. “I’m War- uh, Coin. Nice to meet you.”
She glanced up at him and smiled. Her eyes were a deep green, and now that he was closer Warren realized that she was a gnome. “What have you come to talk to me for? You know I’m trying to enjoy my drink.” Her voice was pebbly, like river stones clattering together.
Warren winced. “Ah, sorry. Look, I’m really just interested in the Sunless Citadel. As soon as I know what it is, I’ll go away. Please?”
Sighing, the old gnome set down her mug. “How do you know about the Sunless Citadel?”
Warren could barely contain his excitement. Finally. “So it is real! Where is it?”
“Oh, several days travel down the Old Road. I’m don’t go there - the goblins up there will kill you as soon as rob you, and they rob you pretty quick.”
“Why would goblins be hiding up in the woods? Especially on a road no one uses anymore.”
She eyed him. “They found something. Something hidden deep in the bowels of the Sunless Citadel.”
He leaned forward, breathless. “What?”
Suddenly, she sat back in her chair and sighed loudly. “Ah, well. Looks like my beer is gone, and when my beer is gone it’s time for me to leave.” She reached for a knobbly stick leaning against the table and began struggling to her feet.
“Wait!” Warren began, panic coursing through him. “I- would you like another drink?”
The old woman stopped and sat back down again, wreathed in smiles. “Don’t mind if I do - the old brain needs a pint or two for stories.” She watched carefully as Warren ordered another round, and then (mug in hand) continued. “The goblins claim that they have a magical tree, hidden in the depths of the citadel. Every summer solstice it provides a magical apple of healing, and every tenth winter solstice a deadly poisonous one. Of course they auction them off for exorbitant prices and no one is sure whether they really work or not. Such is the beauty of rumor.” She took a smug drink and settled back in her chair.
Warren could feel a tingly sensation running up his spine. An apple of poison. What he wouldn’t do to get his hands on that. He turned back to the gnome. “So why is it called the Sunless Citadel? Does it not have windows?” But she was snoring softly, her shawl draped round her shoulders and her hand still clasped tight around the mug.
Anastri walked into the bar, her green eyes peering around the room as she entered. She was nervous and excited, the lead she’d been hunting down for weeks finally - possibly - within her grasp.
The room, while touting a picturesque exterior had a gloomy atmosphere. Grimy and smelling of who-knows-what, it gave the impression that it had died a long time ago and only now had realized it. Several small clusters of drinkers were scattered about, huddling over the scarred tables and talking quietly. Warren (of course) headed straight for the easiest target, a little old lady, and the others were dispersing around the tavern so Anastri headed over to the counter. Behind it stood the barman, a gruff-looking dwarf who made her wish she had knocked Warren over on his way to the old woman. Or at least told him his charm would be best practiced on someone under sixty.
Sliding onto a rough wooden seat Anastri flicked her long braid over her shoulder so it wouldn’t drag, and tried to avoid looking at the ominous stains on the counter. Instead she focused on the clientele, which honestly wasn’t much better. There were two figures drinking next to her, both so bundled up it was hard to tell anything about them. They both gave the characteristic signals of someone who has been drinking a substantial amount and is now in the stage where they are going over all their past wrongs in their head. Not exactly a great time to engage them in conversation. Sighing, she turned to the unwelcoming dwarf.
“Hello. A glass of water please,” she said to the barman. He was a typical dwarf, long of beard and low of brow. His black eyes looked tired, and his face wore the run down look she saw so often on the faces of other half-elves she’d come across. He grunted acknowledgment of her request and turned to fill a dirty chipped glass. She pressed her acorn bracelet tightly with her hand and tried not to look disgusted at the blatant disregard for hygiene, because she did need information. “I was wondering if you knew anything about the Sunless Citadel. Me and my friends are here looking for it.”
He eyed her suspiciously. “Why should I be interested in your lot goin’ to the citadel? Seems to me that you’ll just rile up the goblins and get yourselves killed.”
Anastri sighed. It was always like this. “I could… make it worth your while,” she hinted, jangling her coin pouch slightly. To be honest there wasn’t that much there, but it was enough to catch his interest. “I’d very be grateful, and I’m sure the citadel has been a great bother to your town. Me and my friends plan to rid you of any evil that lurks there, and I plan to pay you personally for any information you’d be able to give me. How about it?”
His eyes widened almost imperceptibly and she could tell that she had him. She slowly pulled a silver coin out of her pouch and slid it across the bar to him. With a sudden grin, it disappeared into a pocket and he began to talk.
“Well, I don’t know much, but what I do know is worth a pretty penny. The citadel has an ancient and terrible history, which I can relate to you, but I won’t ‘cause it’s borin’. Suffice to say that the ancient dragon Ashardalon sank it into the earth ages ago, and evil has lurked there ever since. Goblins set up camp there, and no one uses the Old Road anymore on account o’ the bandit activity. They’ve made it as inhospitable as a place can be, but I know for a fact that two others have already gone seeking this place.”
Anastri tried not to sound too interested. She’d never have pegged him for a storyteller, but silver can do wonders for the memory. “Really?” she said, pushing another silver piece across the bar. It likewise disappeared, and the bartender began to warm to his subject.
“Oh, yeah. Both of ‘em came through here they did. A bar’s the place to meet everyone and see everythin’. ‘Bout four years ago this old robed druid came by. Said somethin’ about the Citadel havin’ some sort o’ healing miracle tree. I didn’t pay no attention, ‘cause nothin’ good comes out o’ there. Mostly what I remember about him is his pet. Yeah, he had this massive tree frog, came in and got its stickiness everywhere. I told him what I knew of the place, and he headed right out. No chit chat, just gone. And I ain’t never seen ’im again. S’pose ’es dead.” Here he paused and looked at her pointedly. She slid another coin across the countertop and the flow of words resumed.
“Th’ other one was a mite more interestin’. Said ’is name was Lycinth. Fine lad, seemed at his prime, but very worried. Kept fidgeting, right, not at all composed. ‘E asks the same questions, but follows ’em up with gold, which is my kind of guy. I tells ’im and ’e takes off too! No sense in it at all.”
Inside, Anastri was nearly dancing for joy. This was exactly what she’d wanted. She pushed another coin across and stood up. “For your troubles, sir. Thank you so much for your time.” He took the coin without complaint and she set out to rejoin her companions outside the bar.
Warren was already outside, seemingly dazzled by the bright sunlight streaming across the town. The third thing you noticed about him was his build. He was tall and willowy, although sinewy might be a better word. When he moved, it was with the maximum economy of motion, with every action carefully plotted out. The second thing you noticed were his eyes. One red, one black, they gave him the appearance of a volcano with lava simmering just below the surface. The first thing you noticed about him was that he was a drow, and this colored every subsequent observation. Despite his bravado and questionable morals, Anastri couldn’t help but feel a sense of kinship towards him - from one ignored species to another.
Solus stepped through the doorway of the unimpressive tavern they’d ended up at and suppressed a snort of disgust. She couldn’t believe that such a once-great city could fall so far. Next to her stood Ash, who jerked his head towards the far end of the room before heading towards the nearest corner. Sighing, she headed in the direction he indicated and sat down across from an elf and a figure she assumed was an elf, both in heavy black armor.
“Hey there, how’re you?”
The elves eyed her disinterestedly. One, with a blue jeweled hair clip and two enchanted swords, answered. “Alright. What are you doing here? It’s surprising to see a new face.”
This was one occasion in which Solus’ Sing-style eyes and skirt would come in handy. “I’m a history student. I’m exchanging from Homana’a because of the fascinating structures here.”
Now the other elf showed some interest, although it was near impossible to make out their face. “Homana’a. You’ve come a long way. And all to see our titchy little village?”
Hair-Clip grimaced. “Please, excuse Salorien. We-”
Salorien leaned forward and let her cowl fall back, revealing not an elf as I’d thought, but a tiefling. Interesting. Her skin was tinted purple, one eye was covered by an eye patch and she was smiling slightly too much - probably to show off her fangs. “No no,” she said with delight. “I am fascinated. Clearly they know how to pull off skirts in Sing, I may have to drop by sometime. And the language -”. She turned to Hair-Clip. “Miriam, I have never heard vocals like those Naior-i who came up from Sing’s coast last year.”
Hair-Clip - Miriam put her face in her hands. “Moryap, kill me now before I murder someone.” Salorien grinned.
“Oh, we’re praying now, are we? Si’la won’t be happy about that - I heard that he doesn’t appreciate other gods.” This part was directed straight to Solus, who sighed. She had to have heard this line at least a thousand times before.
“Outside of the empire it’s much less strict. Besides, I’m not extremely connected to Sing. We parted ways a long time ago.”
Salorien seemed to be about to speak, but without missing a beat Miriam slid a fresh cup of beer across to her and started talking. “So what do you need? I run a bakery, if you need anything of that sort. This wild creature here,” - she gestured at Salorien, holding the mug for dear life with both purple, black-clawed hands - has a moderate singing voice and a viol that she can sometimes play.”
There was a spray of alcohol scented mist from the other end of the table. When Salorien stopped choking she snapped, “Excuse me Miriam? What have I done to deserve this treatment?” She turned to Solus. “Impressionable stranger. I am the greatest viol player ever to have lived. ‘Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair,’ yada yada.” With a flourish she pulled an instrument in remarkably good condition from her bag.
“It has a scratch,” Solus pointed out bemusedly after a moment. “You’ve kept it in good shape overall though.” The look of absolute hatred emanating from Salorien’s eye almost made this conversation worthwhile on its own.
"How. Dare. You. This viol was handed down through my family for generations."
Miriam winked conspiratorially at Solus. "She stole it from a merchant's house her first day in Flosa City".
"I've spent countless hours perfecting my rhythms and chords."
"That one's true," Miriam conceded. "So far she's perfected the ear-splitting screech and the caterwaul."
"I have protected this viol with my life on multiple occasions."
Miriam was nearly doubled over laughing at this point. "Tell her! Tell her what happened!"
Salorien glared at her. "I don't have to tell her anything."
"Then I guess I'll have to." Grinning, Miriam turned to Solus. "A cat attacked her viol and managed to scratch it before it was defeated."
Solus frowned. "Are you sure this happened? Cats don't normally attack viols."
"Yes." Salorien sighed. "How else do you think I lost my eye?"
There was a short pause. "Wait, what?" Solus burst out. "You lost your eye in a fight with a cat over a musical instrument that you stole?"
"Yup." She appeared unconcerned. "Anyway, what was it you wanted to ask?
Solus shook her head, trying to get back on track. “Uh- I don’t suppose you’ve heard of the Sunless Citadel? My companions and I are looking for it.”
“The Sunless Citadel? Never heard of it,” said Salorien in a cold voice, still attempting to skewer Solus with her eye. Miriam rolled her eyes.
“Oh Salorien, it’s almost like you haven’t been literally obsessed with that thing for months now!” She turned to Solus. “Salorien is an interesting character, as I’m sure you can tell. When she heard from this girl she hooked up with a couple months ago that there was a poison apple guarded by goblins down there, she literally could not think about anything else.” She paused, then added, “Except for her viol. Of course.”
Now it was Salorien’s turn to roll her eyes- eye. “Yes, alright. I have heard of it. I did travel out to see where it was. No I did not enter it. And YES, my viol is my soulmate who I will never part with.”
Miriam grinned. “Salorien, you should go with these people! You can show them the way in, and they can kill the goblins!”
Salorien snorted. “No way.”
“She knows a lot of music magic,” Miriam whispered conspiratorially to Solus. Solus was extremely uninterested, but had to admit that it could be useful to have another person on their side.
“I’d be very grateful if Salorien came on this excursion with us. It’s true that none of us have ever been to the Sunless Citadel, and we don’t know what to expect.” It was also very useful to her - having someone lead them there would save Solus a lot of trouble in the long run.
Salorien groaned some more, but it was clear that she was eager to go. After several more minutes she and Solus stood up and walked out of the bar, Miriam waving fake-cheerily behind them. As they walked Solus asked, “So why is it called the Sunless Citadel? Does it not have windows?” Salorien’s raucous laughter made her answer barely intelligible.
“Oh... oh. That is the funniest thing I’ve heard all day. It’s in the ground, - I’m not sure I caught your name? No, I am sure. I just didn’t get it.”
“Ah, that my friend is a quality name. Anyways. No Solus, it is in the ground and therefore no sun shines upon it.” Solus shook her head, and led the way back to rejoin the group.
Confused yet? Don't worry, we'll get there. This is a real story, and those are tricky to understand. Real stories are twisty and clever, darting out of sight behind pillars and slipping out of reach. They thrust you into the action and then pull you back out again just as quickly.
Real stories, my friend, are almost as complicated as real life. All the little threads, the backgrounds and bridges and connections, the motives and lies. No real story can be unfolded, one layer preceding the next preceding the next. You have to work for it, starting in the middle of the string and finding both ends, or finding where they connect to others and slowly, ever so slowly, making sense of the whole picture. In real stories, nothing is an ornament. No detail is too small, no character too insignificant.
Pay attention - I won't say this more than once.
Out of the musty interior of the tavern, Anastri breathed a sigh of relief. Solus wasn’t out yet, so she settled herself on the stone step outside of the building. Ash was seated nearby, his weapons scattered around him like toys. She poked him, and he opened his eyes with a grunt.
“So... did you learn anything?”
“We should wait for the group.”
Anastri rolled her eyes and returned to her seat. That was Ash, talkative as ever. They worked well together and she wasn’t complaining, but would it hurt him to engage once in a while? It wasn’t as if nobody else did. Shaking off that train of thought, she instead looked over at Warren, leaning against one of the wooden posts that were holding up the rickety awning. He wasn’t taking any notice of her either, his eyes on the dagger in his hands. It was possible he’d talk to her, but before she could say anything the door to the tavern burst open and Solus came out, trailing behind a tall tiefling with a viol, something Anastri hadn’t seen since she’d lived with the elves.
Even that little detail brought back a flood of memories, warmth and light and music and - a wall of darkness. No regretting what happened. That was a long time ago, and she was better off without them.
“Anastri?” She blinked, and realized that the tiefling was standing in front of her, hand held out expectantly.
“Oh! Sorry.” She jumped up and shook the tiefling’s hand, still reeling from the memories the viol brought back.
The tiefling cocked her head and said with a wry smile, “Salorien. And you are?”
“Anastri. Good to meet you. Also, what are you doing here?”
Solus stepped forwards. “She knows the way to the Sunless Citadel, and also a lot more about it than we do. It’d be useful to have her in the group.”
Anastri frowned. She was never sure if Solus was angry or not - she always seemed on a knife-edge of tension, able to boil over at any moment. “I’m not opposed to that, as long as Salorien isn’t. Good to have you on board.” She smiled, and then frowned at the viol. “That’s a very nice instrument, how’d it get that scratch?” Solus let out a bark of laughter and Salorien scowled.
“It’s not important, and it’ll stay not important if I agree to work with you, alright?”
“Ok, ok. Sorry about that. It’s a very nice instrument.” Slowly, Salorien relaxed into a less aggressive posture and nodded curtly.
There was a tense several seconds of silence, suddenly broken when Ash got to his feet. “So are we gonna tell each other what we learned?” Solus nodded briskly.
“We should definitely get started. We’ve wasted enough time already. Ash, do you want to start?”
Ash sighed. “Fine. I asked a group of people about it. They said they’d heard about it, but never seen it and that it was down an old, unused road running out of town. I think one of them was lying though. He seemed suspicious. What did you guys find out?”
Warren spoke for the first time. “An old gnome lady who was overly fond of the drink told me that goblins infest it, and that it was buried in the ground by this dragon named Ashardalon, and that the goblins claim they have a tree that grows one apple of healing every year and one apple of poison every ten years. Who’s next?”
“I’ll go,” Anastri offered. She was encouraged by the fact that Warren also mentioned a tree - it meant that she was on the right track. “I talked to the barman, who told me that there was something going on with a magical tree of some kind too, and that there were two other people who have already gone searching for the citadel, both presumed dead. An old man with a large tree frog who was interested in the apple-bearing tree, and a younger man with armor who seemed anxious or preoccupied named Lycinth. That’s it, although he also mentioned goblins Solus?”
Solus grinned. “As you can see, I brought a live presentation for y’all. This is Salorien, who has been to the Sunless Citadel site and knows a fair amount about it. She agreed to come with us as long as we take care of the goblins.”
“And I get my fair share of the spoils,” Salorien added. “Also, it’s he now. I’m not feeling quite as evil.” He looked around at their faces. “What? When I’m nicer, I’m generally a dude. Don’t worry, I’ll keep you posted.”
Ash clapped his hands together, which made a strange clicking noise as his scales collided. “I propose we move forward. Salorien, how far away is the citadel?”
Salorien frowned, thinking. “About half a day without horses. And I assume we don’t have horses. There used to be a road going right past it, but it’s so overgrown now that a cart would drop a wheel as soon as it came in sight.”
The sun was already high in the sky, and Anastri wasn’t sure that going into the citadel at night was the best idea. Besides, she realized as her stomach gave a growl that they hadn’t eaten yet today. “Maybe we should rest and prepare today, and leave early tomorrow morning? That way we can get some food and we’ll still have some sunlight left when we get there.”
“I agree,” Ash said, straightening up from where he was slouched on the ground. “We shouldn’t rush in without preparing, and the goblins will be much more dangerous at night.”
“To those who can’t see, maybe,” retorted Warren. “We need to get there as soon as possible, and I for one don’t need sunlight getting in my way. I’m half blind as it is.”
Anastri winced at the raised voices. Something seemed to be on Warren’s mind. He was flipping his dagger in agitation and his voice held an urgency that she’d never heard before.
“Warren, look. We can’t just jump in to this. From what we heard in the tavern, there are a lot of goblins in there and that sort of fighting is Ash’s job. We need to prioritize him this mission, and you’ll already get enough time out of the sunlight in the Sunless Citadel.”
Solus stepped forward, leaving Salorien seated on the small stoop of the tavern. “I hate to say it, but Anastri is right. We have no idea what we’re getting into. Anastri and I need to prepare appropriate spells, we all need to get a night of rest.” She walked up to Warren and gripped his shoulder. “Whatever it is that’s got you so riled up, it can wait.”
Warren looked down, his blade flashing faster between his fingers. “I- fine. One night, and then we head out.” He hesitated, then shook his head and abruptly turned back into the darkness beneath the tavern awning.
Anastri stared at him - something was definitely wrong - but he was ignoring her, packing his bag and disappearing into the tavern. She entered the tavern along with the rest of the group, and went to sleep intrigued and worried about his strange behavior.
Warren nearly dropped his dagger on his foot as Anastri ran through what she had discovered. Two people had come here seeking the Sunless Citadel. An old guy with a tree frog and... Lycinth. Lycinth? How did he get here? More importantly, why did he go to the Sunless Citadel without me? He grabbed his dagger tightly and shoved it roughly into its sheath, trying to ignore the flood of memories-
but it was too late.
The city, rising out of the black depths of the cavern, strewn with a million tiny lanterns. Ssussun, the City of Light, never stopped being more beautiful than a starry night to Warren.
That year, the year he left Ssussun, was memorable to Warren for a lot of reasons. Abandoning his home was only one of them.
"Yeah?" He remembered leaning on the saddle of his ruskan, the oversized lizards that were the steed of choice in the Under-dark. The drow who had spoken - Arris - was a fellow scout by day and fellow black-market dealer by night. They'd worked together for years, providing alibis and fudging records back to back. He was probably the closest thing Warren had to a friend.
That was the thing about the drow - friends weren't an option. And even to the extent they were, Warren himself wasn't interested. With no family but some distant relatives and his only ties in the shady trading business he had few opportunities to form connections like that. First and foremost, he followed the gold.
"We got another crop of flowers coming in a week from now. Should be easy money, but if you're interested I can cut you in as a bodyguard."
Warren was surprised. "Done." Flowers rarely needed guarding and Arris was right - it was easy money. "You expecting any trouble?"
"Not sure. There's been rumors that the Lilio have figured out there's a greenhouse. They might be poking around, but it's nothing serious."
Arris and occasionally Warren had been doing this beat for years, and it was only a matter of time before the Lilio - the divinely mandated armed force of the city - discovered it. The cities of the drow were strictly run and any item connected with the Surface was considered extremely suspect. Drow found in possession of one of these items could certainly be fined or killed for treason.
"I'm willing. It shouldn't be too hard to throw them off our tracks, and at the end of the day money's money." Warren urged his ruskan forwards and rode down the sloping mouth of the tunnel into Ssussun, Arris right behind him.
From closer up the eye was better able to pick out the buildings and towers of the city, made entirely of the same black rock that blanketed every surface of the immense cavern. The lanterns added depth, giving slight illumination and texture to the otherwise plain looking city. Ssussun was one of the larger Under-dark cities, being situated as it was by a massive underground river system which was perfect for transportation and gathering food (one of the main issues of living in the Under-dark).
As they got closer the city grew until it was too large to take in as one entity. They were riding down a long, sloping path that curled around the wall of the cavern until at last depositing them in front of the main road. Ssussun had no gates or walls - if anyone unauthorized so much as stepped into the cavern they wouldn't even know they'd been spotted before they were dead. Entrances and exits to the city were guarded extremely carefully, and the very few that had been overlooked by the Lilio had been memorized by the black-market types such as Warren or Arris.
Warren jumped off of his ruskan and led the way towards the cavern where they would leave their mounts when inside the city. "So when is this event?" he asked, tying the ruskan to the pole there for that purpose. "I don't expect to have to prepare that much, but there are some precautions that'd be nice to take even so."
Arris winced. "I... may have set it for tomorrow night. Sorry!" he added defensively at Warren's glare. "You know as well as I do that flowers have got to be sold as quickly as possible. None of that Surface junk lasts long. But honestly, this Lilio rumor isn't that scary even if it is true. They have a suspicion that there might be a greenhouse. Not exactly enough to inspire panic."
"I suppose," Warren admitted grudgingly. It was true that he didn't really expect to get raided. They'd been doing this for years after all, and just because there was a rumor didn't mean it was being acted upon. "I'll be there." There was a small tunnel system off one of the three exits to the cavern that wasn't being watched by the Lilio. It had a bunker, supplies, and their stash of emergency funds, but most important of all it had access to the surface. That was where they had hidden the greenhouse, the closest spot that had any sunlight.
"Great," Arris responded. "See you there." They parted ways, Arris going to report to the Lilio, Warren to prepare for the upcoming job.
That was the last time Warren had seen him alive.
Apologies, friend. I must once again interject. Another thing about real stories is that they have meaning. Not just the meaning found at the top, skating on the surface tension of the plot. Not even the deeper meanings placed like veins of iron beneath the crust of the planet. This meaning is your meaning, the message you make using the threads of the story, braiding and twisting and knotting using the firing neurons in your own head. This story is for you, specifically. For you to pick and choose the threads you need for your own tapestry of imagination.
I am often doubted, you know. I have heard it said that none of this happened, that it was all a dream or a game. That elves don't exist and magic is just misunderstood science. I can conclusively dismiss this. I was there. Not in these scenes, exactly. I wish I'd gotten there sooner, but I was held up.
I picked their brains, these curious creatures. And each one, whether they were elf or orc or human, truly existed. Their stories are true. They left their footprints on the world. They deserve to be remembered.
Solus woke in the dingy little room the inn had given her and stared at the ceiling, her eyes catching the stains and peeling paint. What a mess. This whole venture was a mess - barely workable at the best of times and steadily getting worse. With a sigh she slipped out of the creaky bed and packed her bag, her own voice echoing in her ears.
What have you gotten yourself into now?
Shut up. This isn't my fault.
Oh yes it is. Who decided she needed a group? Who picked the group?
And now look at you. Lycinth is mixed up in this somehow. He could jeopardize this entire venture! Not to mention Belak.
I don't know that Belak is involved in this.
Oh come on. Old man with a giant frog interested in trees? There can only be one. Besides-
"Shut up!" Solus hissed as she shut her bag with a sharp, angry snap. "There's nothing I can do about it." Standing, she turned to leave her room - and nearly ran into Anastri, standing in the doorway.
"Sorry for startling you. I didn't mean to bother you, but the inn is serving breakfast and it's first come, first serve. And most have already come. Are you interested?"
How long had she been standing there? Solus gritted her teeth, forcing her features to remain neutral. "I'll be down there in a minute."
"Alright." Anastri was watching her closely, a line appearing on her forehead.
Solus glared at her. "What?" she snapped, grabbing the strap of her pack.
"Nothing," Anastri replied hastily. "Did you sleep well last night?"
Now it was Solus' turn to be confused. "As well as I could sleep on that squealer," she answered, pointing out the rickety, much too loud bed. "Why do you ask?"
"I thought - I don't know. Never mind." Anastri shook her head, wiping away some thought. "Shall we go see what's for breakfast?"
Bemused, Solus muttered, "Lead the way," and followed Anastri down the passage. Privately, she was half worried and half relieved. It didn't seem as if Anastri had caught her slip earlier, but at the same time she did seem to have something on her mind.
What could possibly have shaken the unflappable half-elf?