Off To Neverwinter
When Jaelyn awoke the next morning, the sun was barely an orange glow on the horizon and there were still a few stars out in the fading violet firmament to the west.
She stretched and looked around the camp, noticing Quin still wrapped up in his bedroll, snoring like a bear for one so small, and then she glanced over to the bare spot by the boulder where a certain ranger was supposed to be occupying the space.
Jaelyn stood up, bent backward with her hands pressing in the small of her back to rid herself of the kinks one receives from sleeping on hard ground all night. True, she had spent a good deal of her life sleeping on hard cavern floors and mentally, she had gotten used to it. Physically was a different matter. Humanoid bodies were just not meant to sleep on hard surfaces.
She peered out into the dully lit forest, searching among the trees and brush for any man-shaped shadows or, really, any shadow out of place. She saw nothing out of the ordinary.
Jaelyn set out for a short walk to scope the path they would take to Neverwinter. They still had a ways to go yet and the thought of walking for another day made her groan inwardly. She was a ranger, sure, but that didn't mean she had to like walking long distances. She was sensible; she would consider other possible, more convenient ways to travel.
She came to a tiny clearing in the woods and considered the ring of sky over it, wondering if a dragon might fit through it.
Only one way to find out.
Jaelyn moved into the center of the clearing and stood there, closing her eyes.
Against the backdrop of woods, a shadow moved and paused, turning eyes in her direction curiously.
Jaelyn focused her will and sent her mind out to make contact with her bond-mate. She could feel it reaching across the distance and it was a strange sensation, as if her mind was being stretched like a rubber band. She found what she sought almost immediately.
What do you want? came a familiar irritated voice in her mind.
Is that any way to speak to your sister? she replied psychically.
Oh...I thought you were someone else.
Someone else? Who else do you share a bond with?
Er...no one. No one you know of, that is.
Jaelyn could feel the humor in her bondmate.
Are you doing anything at the moment? she asked.
If you must know, I was having my breakfast. Well, at least trying to, but this interruption has made me lose focus and my breakfast is now safely back at its home village.
Village? Jaelyn was shocked. You're not eating people again, are you?
Don't be absurd. I learned my lesson the last time. People tend to squirm when they go down; it's not pleasant to feel your meal moving around while you're trying to eat it. No, I was after a particularly plump cow.
Ah, I see. Well, come find me.
Er...I want you to meet some people.
Jaelyn heard and felt a sigh enter her mind.
Meet people? Do you mean going to a village and scaring all the people off while trying to avoid becoming a pin cushion for crossbow bolts being hurled at me by the local militia just to free you from jail? That kind of meeting people?
No, I mean it this time. I want you to meet these two fellows I ran into.
You actually met people that didn't want to kill you or lock you up on sight? That's a first.
She didn't appreciate the amusement in the voice inside her head.
Just get here, damn it.
On my way. That is, after I pick up a quick meal. Can't fly until I've eaten, you know.
With a sigh, Jaelyn broke the link between her and her bond-mate and then turned to make her way back to camp.
She froze in mid-step when she saw the scruffy man standing there on the edge of the clearing, considering her with a strange look.
For some reason, a little bit of embarrassment crept into Jaelyn and she cleared her throat nervously.
"How long have you been standing there?"
"Long enough." replied Bishop. "What exactly were you doing just then?"
"Uh...when?" Jaelyn asked, feigning puzzlement.
The ranger gave her an impatient expression. "You know what I'm talking about. A moment ago. You were just standing there, still as a corpse, with your eyes shut."
Jaelyn shuffled her feet. "Er...well, I...um...I was sort of talking to someone."
"Yourself? There's no one else out here."
"Not that kind of talking." she said. "It's a sort of talking with the mind."
He rose a brow. "You were talking to your mind? You're a little off, aren't you?"
Jaelyn sighed heavily, dropping her arms to her sides. "Do you have an animal companion, like most rangers?"
He nodded and made a gesture to the woods. "He's somewhere around here."
"You can communicate?"
Again, he nodded.
"Then you should know what I'm talking about. I was speaking to the mind of my bond-mate. It's kind of like how a ranger communicates with their animal companion, only it's much stronger."
"Is that all? Then why didn't you just say that instead of twisting your words and making it all confusing?"
Jaelyn shrugged. "I don't know. You being there startled me. No one's ever seen me in my communing state before. I wasn't drooling or anything, was I?"
He gave her a strange look again. "Not that I could tell. Do you normally?"
"I had a seizure in one once...er, so yeah, but only that once."
"So, you were talking mentally with some dragon?"
She nodded. "Yeah, Elegy. Actually, he should be here soon."
The ranger's gold eyes widened and his hand cautiously slipped down to the hilt of the sword strapped at his left hip. "Here? What?"
Jaelyn waved her hands around. "Calm down. Elegy is harmless. That is, he's harmless when no weapons are being drawn on him."
"Why in the Nine Hells did you call that thing here in the first place?" demanded Bishop, accusingly.
"Well, I thought I'd get us to Neverwinter faster."
"On a dragon?"
"Yes, you know, 'cause dragons happen to travel a hundred times faster than people." Jaelyn replied in irritation. "What's your problem?"
"I particularly don't want to be eaten by a dragon, that's my problem."
"Elegy doesn't eat people." Jaelyn snapped in defense. "They're too squirmy for his tastes."
"Look," Jaelyn said, trying to keep her voice calm. "On Elegy, we'd make it to Neverwinter in an hour or two. On foot, we might make it there after midnight and that's if we choose to keep traveling after dark. And you know as much as I do how treacherous the land can be at night. So, which would you prefer?"
"I'd prefer not to be eaten and to have both feet on the ground." Bishop replied smartly. "If we were meant to fly, we would have been born with wings."
Jaelyn looked at him hard with her head to one side. She saw something flash in the depths of those gold eyes at the mention of flying. It had looked like fear, but she wasn't exactly sure.
"Are you afraid of flying or something?"
"What? Don't be insane! Flying just isn't a normal way of getting around."
Jaelyn's pale green eyes lit up with amusement. "Ah! So, you are afraid of flying!"
"No, I'm not." he snapped.
He was actually telling her the truth. He wasn't even the slightest bit afraid of flying. He was afraid of heights. Flying was the easy part, he reasoned, it was being a thousand feet above ground that was the hard part.
"Whatever." Jaelyn said. "We'll just ask Quin for his opinion."
Bishop smirked. "Fine by me."
He knew he had this one in the bag. Halflings were notorious for their fear of heights as well.
"Why, what a clever idea!" Quin cried, excitedly to the scruffy ranger's shock. "We'll save loads of time!"
Jaelyn beamed smugly at Bishop, who scowled. Just his rotten luck, he had to get the only halfling in all of Faerun not afraid of heights.
"You understand what's going to happen, don't you?" he said to the halfling. "We're going to be thousands of feet up in the air with nothing securing us to the beast."
"Yes," Quin said, nodding. "Isn't it going to be exciting? I've always wanted to ride a dragon!"
"You're both mad."
Jaelyn smiled and slapped the man on the back in a good-natured fashion. "Cheer up, Bishop. The trip'll be over before you know it. And besides, with me on board, your safety will be guaranteed. Elegy will never let anything bad happen to me."
"Would it surprise you if I said I was not reassured?"
Jaelyn stared at him and smirked. "I didn't peg you as the cautious type. I thought you were one of those men that dived head first into danger."
"Look," Bishop replied without hesitation, now being driven by his own pride and dignity as one of the male species. Male Pride had already taken one beating by this woman. Another would not do. Sheer, reckless determination had replaced common sense and now the only thing that mattered was making sure she didn't get him again.
"All I'm saying is," he continued. "I don't want to go plunging to my death from five thousand feet above."
"You won't," Jaelyn assured him. "You have my word."
But her words were not enough to quell the little butterflies of terror currently flitting about in a mad panic inside his gut.
Those panicky butterflies increased in number when the dragon finally presented itself in the clearing a few yards from their camp.
It came on the heavy beat of leathery wings, which disturbed the trees around the clearing, their limbs flailing about in objection, and then it landed with an earth-shaking thud, which caused a sandstorm-sized cloud of dust to billow up from the ground, and even uprooted a few adolescent trees.
The violet-scaled dragon was enormous to the ranger, though in actuality, Elegy was small for a song dragon, which were one of the smallest dragon breeds in existence. However, this was the first dragon Bishop had ever seen outside of a book.
"Holy shit!" he swore, drawing his sword reflexively and backing away.
Quin was standing in front of him and glanced back with an amused look. Jaelyn was standing beside the dragon, proudly until she looked up and saw the look of outrage on Elegy's reptilian visage.
He flapped his large leathery, dark purple wings, blowing up dust that flew directly around Quin and right into the ranger's face, despite the physical impossibility.
"Put your puny weapon away, lower species!" Elegy bellowed in an otherworldly voice. "It shall do you no good. No pathetic human-constructed weapon could harm me."
Rubbing dirt out of his eyes, Bishop glared over at Jaelyn.
"It can talk?"
Jaelyn shrugged as if the whole thing had been obvious. "Of course."
"It?" Elegy demanded. "It? How dare you! I would eat you if your kind was not prone to squirming in my jaws like the little pathetic worms you are! Hardly capable of making a mouthful."
"Good, I wasn't exactly looking forward to becoming dragon fodder." replied Bishop severely.
Elegy lowered his large, violet-scaled head to peer at the ranger through narrowed, reptilian, yellow eyes.
"Something tells me you would cause indigestion." commented the dragon.
Jaelyn elbowed the dragon in one of his front legs. "Knock it off with all that. You sound like an ancient red, which you're not, by the way."
The dragon seemed to shrug. "What? Oh, come on!" he replied in a completely different voice that reminded Bishop of street vendors everywhere. The ranger was almost expecting him at any moment to start trying to sell his wares to them in a very loud voice. "I have to keep up appearances, you know. Besides, I saw fear in that one the moment I landed. I had to play off of it; it's a dragon's right."
"Well, refrain, please." Jaelyn replied. "Because they are my friends. Well, Quin is at any rate. The other one is simply along for the gold, I expect."
"And don't you forget it." Bishop snapped at her and then backed up another few feet when the dragon glared at him as if he'd stolen something off his vendor's cart.
"Very well." Elegy said. "I'll try my darnedest. Now, I believe some introductions are in order here."
The halfling, who had been stricken with wonderment, finally came forward, holding out a hand to the dragon. "Greetings there, dragon! I am Quince Bramblebrow, but you can call me Quin. Well met, well met!"
Elegy lowered his head again, so close to the halfling that the ranger couldn't help but think, any minute now, we're going to hear a snap and that idiot half-man will be no more. Truly, Bishop didn't see the point. The halfling would probably get stuck in the dragon's teeth first and even if he did make it onto the tongue, it would probably be no different than if a human ate a grain of salt.
"You have a strange smell." said Elegy. "Like the bottom of a burrow."
Quin scratched at the back of his head in confusion and looked at Jaelyn for help. "Do I need to take a bath?"
She shrugged and looked up at the dragon, which caused her neck to pop in protest. "This, as you now know, is Quin. The other one is Bishop."
Elegy stretched his neck out toward the ranger again and stared at him through narrowed eyes, scrutinizing him icily. Bishop was unimpressed.
"Don't even bother." he told the scaly beast. "I invented that look. And if you think I'm scared of you, you got another thing coming."
The dragon sneezed on him.
Bishop found himself covered from head to toe in warm, oozing dragon snot. Something inside him screamed in revulsion and wanted nothing more than to shrivel up and die. Outwardly, he stood there like stone for a few moments, and then slung dragon mucus out of his eyes.
Jaelyn stared at him through wide eyes, a gloved hand over her mouth to smother the laugh that was threatening to come out. Quin was grinning, inanely.
"Pardon me." said Elegy with amusement. "I am allergic to bullshit."
Rage burned deeply in the ranger's gold eyes, turning them into flames and a split second later, he was charging at the dragon with his sword raised.
"Don't!" Jaelyn cried.
Her warning fell on deaf ears and never had a chance at the ranger's anger-numbed mind.
She had a moment to dive on Quin, though and slap her hands to his ears.
"What're you doing?" the halfling cried in surprise.
"Just wait." she said to him. "And try not to listen."
Elegy moved back from the advancing human, smirking in a very reptilian fashion at the ranger's attempt to attack him. He had to admit, the man had spirit.
The dragon opened his muzzle and from deep in his throat came the Song of Nod, which washed over the ranger. It slowed his charge to a halt as he took on a drowsy expression, swayed a bit, and blinked sleepily.
Mesmerized by the sweet, lullaby-like song, Bishop's mind filled with thoughts of soft pillows, warm blankets and silent nights. Fatigue sank into every limb, wove its way through the rest of his body until it was comfortably nestled in his brain.
The sword fell out of his hand, landing on the ground near his foot. He didn't even feel it, nor did he feel it when his body made the same journey.
When Jaelyn decided it was safe to remove her hands from Quin's ears and get to her feet, she turned around to find the ranger lying face down in the dirt. Quin was up behind her, staring down at the sleeping man as well. Jaelyn looked up at Elegy with an accusatory look, hands on her hips. The dragon managed an innocent grin full of razor sharp teeth.
"Was that really necessary?"
"What was I supposed to do?" Elegy replied. "Let him stick me with his sword?"
"You know it wouldn't have hurt you any."
"Nah, but he was getting on my nerves."
Quin nudged the ranger experimentally with his boot, earning a deep snort from the unconscious man.
"Well, he's not dead." Quin noted.
"Of course not." Elegy said. "It's just a minor sleep spell. He'll be up annoying people before you know it."
"I hope so," Jaelyn said with a frown. "Because we need to get to Neverwinter."
"Neverwinter?" Elegy seemed surprised. His bond-mate wasn't known for liking cities, or them liking her, for that matter. "Why?"
"There's a boat we have to catch there."
Elegy gave her a puzzled look. "How do you catch a boat? Some kind of special net or something?"
"I don't mean literally catch a boat. It's a figure of speech, El. The three of us are going to travel on a boat to an island in the Trackless Sea. There's supposed to be some treasure hidden there."
"Treasure, eh?" Elegy grinned again. "Getting back to your dragon roots, I see. Although, song dragons aren't known for treasure hoarding, you know."
"I don't plan to hoard it." Jaelyn said. "Not exactly. I want to raise enough money to build myself a place to live in the wild somewhere. Or maybe to support an adventuring career. I haven't decided yet."
"Right. Then why did you call me?"
Jaelyn's face reddened, though being as dark as it was, no one could actually tell. So, really, it would be safer to say that she felt her face grow hot and managed to look a little guilty about something.
"Er...we need a ride." she replied hastily.
Elegy's serpentine eyes widened. "Ride? You mean...Oh, no! I'm not anyone's transportation!"
"Come on, El. It's just to Neverwinter."
"And how far away is that?"
"Um...I can't say for sure. About seventy or eighty miles to the south."
"And I suppose you'll be wanting to bring that along?" Elegy looked down at the sleeping ranger with a disdainful expression.
Jaelyn nodded with a smile. "I think it would be better if we waited until he was awake, though. I'd hate for him to gain consciousness in mid-flight."
Elegy grinned again. "I wouldn't. In fact, I think it would be quite humorous."
Bishop came to with a groan, finding a pretty, dark gray-skinned face with pale green eyes looking down at him, framed by a shock of pure white hair.
"Urrrggg..." said the ranger in the groggy fashion of one who has just awakened from a forcefully-induced deep slumber. "What happened?"
That pretty faced grinned at him, which made it all the more prettier.
Nice smile, he thought tiredly and then shook his head. Stop thinking like that.
"You laid down for a nap." she said in amusement.
His memories flooded back. There was a dragon, which had given him a very reptilian look of cold scrutiny. Then it sneezed on him. Then he got angry, because he was dripping in snot. And then...oh, yeah.
Bishop shot up from where he lay, an infuriated look contorting his features as he fumbled around for his sword, which he seemed to have misplaced.
Fine time to lose your sword, genius! said a sarcastic voice in his head. An inward glare put it in its place.
"All right," he said, hotly. "Where's that little scaly son of a lizard at?"
Jaelyn laid a patient, restraining hand on his chest. The contact made him look at her and narrow his eyes in warning.
"Calm down." she said.
"Calm down?" he demanded in outrage. "Calm down? That overgrown reptile drenched me in snot!"
"Well, you're not drenched in it anymore."
"That's not the point."
"It doesn't matter now." Jaelyn said, sighing. "Elegy agreed to fly us to Neverwinter. Don't ruin this."
He glowered at her. "Fine. But I'm not going to forget this."
Jaelyn smiled at him. "Would it help if I offered to buy you a few drinks once we get to the city?"
He raised a brow. "Are you trying to ask me out on a date?"
Jaelyn laughed. "Of course not. What would be the point of going on a date with someone who hates everyone?"
Jaelyn stood up from where she sat and headed over to Quin, where the halfling was talking to the dragon, flailing his arms about in that way he had. One thing about Quin was that he could never seem to talk without moving his hands around in dizzying patterns.
Bishop watched Jaelyn for a moment, wondering if that had been bitterness and disappointment he'd heard in her voice a moment ago. Then he rose and joined them, glaring at the dragon, who was now on the ranger's black list.
"So, now that we're all gathered, can we get this over with?" Elegy said with a bit of irritation.
Quin was already trying to mount the dragon, using his scales as steps until he was seated firmly at Elegy's neck.
"Eager much?" remarked the dragon.
"Indeed!" Quin replied, patting Elegy on the neck as one might do one's horse. "I've always wanted to try this."
"All right, all right," Elegy replied and looked down at Jaelyn. "Well? Hurry up, will you?"
Jaelyn rolled her eyes, gripped the scales on Elegy's flanks and began climbing as graceful as a cat up his side until she was sitting behind Quin. All three of them looked expectantly down at the ranger, who was busy looking out in a copse of trees nearby, as if searching for something.
Jaelyn coughed, loudly.
Bishop looked over his shoulder. "Yeah, in a minute. I've got something to do first."
Without waiting for a reply from the others, he walked off toward the trees, leaving the three to look around at each other in confusion.
"Where's he going?" Quin wondered.
Jaelyn sighed. "I don't know, but he better hurry it up."
Meanwhile, the ranger stepped carefully around the trees, following the scent of his animal companion. The wolf had a particular lavender smell embedded in his coat. It came from years of Bishop having him roll around in the plant. Lavender was good at keeping fleas away and the floral scent was a bonus. Though, admittedly, it was a girly scent, it still beat the smell of a dirty canine anyday.
He paused. The scent was getting stronger.
Bishop gave a quick, high-pitched whistle, and moments later, the wolf came bounding toward him from some shrubs he'd been sniffing around.
Karnwyr was small for a wolf, but not any less vicious. He was remarkably fast and terribly silent on the hunt. He'd killed countless animals and even a handful of armed men. Those were pretty good statistics for a runt.
Bishop had found the wolf over five years ago. He was only a pup at the time, maybe a couple of weeks old. He'd found him caught in some kind of net trap, yowling. He had obviously been abandoned by his mother.
Normally, Bishop wouldn't have bothered with something like that. He would've ignored it and went on his way, but that yowling struck a cord in him that couldn't be ignored. It was like the wolf was yelling at the world, trying to tell someone how unfair it all was. Bishop understood well how unfair it was and understood even better about being abandoned and trapped. It was the cord of empathy that had been struck and on a level in him that had never been struck before. He took the wolf into his care. He raised him to be self-sufficient and trained him to survive. In the beginning, it was done out of mutual understanding, but the relationship gradually grew into friendship, something the ranger came upon rarely in his life. Karnwyr was loyal to him and he was loyal to Karnwyr.
The wolf bumped his right side into the ranger's knees in greeting. His bushy tail went into a side to side frenzy.
Bishop knelt down to his level and gave the canine a good scruff on the back of his neck. Karnwyr accepted the touch, eagerly.
"Gotta go away for a while, runt."
The wolf turned his head to one side and let out a small whine.
Bishop smiled faintly and shook his head. "You can't go where I'm going. Stay in the area and wait for my return."
The wolf whined again.
"I don't know when it'll be. Just wait."
The ranger stood, looking down at the animal. "You know how to survive on your own."
He turned away to head back to the others, but he paused in his stride and looked back over his shoulder. The wolf was still standing there.
Their gazes met, gold on gold.
The wolf seemed satisfied.
He turned from his master and went back to his former business of sniffing around in the bushes.
Bishop watched him disappear into the foliage and then he, too, turned back to his former business awaiting him in the clearing.
The drow and the halfling were staring into the trees when he reappeared from them. The dragon appeared to be staring ahead, but it wasn't hard to tell that he was watching the ranger out of the corner of his reptilian eye. Humans could easily pull that off, but it was rather difficult for a dragon, whose eyes were nearly as large as a male human's hand.
"Where did you go?" Jaelyn inquired of Bishop.
The ranger scowled. "None of your business."
Jaelyn rolled her eyes. "Fine, then get up here so we can go."
His scowl deepened as he looked over the dragon and then back up at the other two.
"I hate you all." he stated and then began climbing up the dragon's side, cursing all the while.
When he was sitting awkwardly behind Jaelyn, he reached out, wrapped an arm around her waist and jerked her back against his chest, holding her there firmly.
Jaelyn tensed and sucked in a startled breath at the same moment. "Wh-What're you doing?"
"If I die," he growled in her ear, the stubble on his face scraping lightly against her cheek. "I'm taking you with me."
Before she could speak or jab an elbow back into him, Elegy spread his wings with a loud snap, bowed his body toward the ground and lifted off in one great spring that had the trio on his back holding their breaths and holding on for dear life. His large wings flapped against the air and they began to rise farther away from the ground in dipping motions that had the ranger tightening his arm around Jaelyn's midsection until she feared he'd crack her ribs.
"Ribs! My ribs! Let up!" she shouted at him over the sound of Elegy's flapping wings.
It took a moment, a few of them actually, but Bishop eventually loosened his grip...until Elegy's bulk jerked forward and they began flying a couple of hundred feet off the ground. Then he had both arms around her in a tight grip that made her feel like her guts were going to squirt out of every orifice. If she could've looked back and saw his face, she would've seen a rare look of terror there, his teeth clenched and his eyes squeezed shut. But she had her own problems, like trying to breathe.
Jaelyn pinched his arm hard, which only earned her a small groan of pain for her effort and did nothing to lighten the crushing force of his arms.
She turned her head to the side and saw out of the corner of her eyes that he was staring down, his eyes wide and she kept hearing a strange clicking noise that could only be coming from his throat.
"Don't be afraid." she cried over the wind and he did not mistake the humor in her voice.
He hated her for it.
"Heights..." he was able to choke out. "Ugh."
"It just takes getting used to." she told him. The humor was gone now. He liked her for it. "I used to be afraid of heights, too."
Somehow he didn't believe her. She wasn't even holding onto anything.
"Let go." she said.
"Hells no." he replied without hesitation.
"Just trust me."
Somehow he did, though there was currently something inside him screaming Why? Why, damn you? Why in the Nine Hells would you go and do that?
When Jaelyn felt his arms unwind, she took him by the wrists and spread his arms out wide. He gave a strangled sound that made her grin.
"Just feel it." she said over her shoulder. "How his body sways. Sway with it. It's no different than riding a horse."
"Are you kidding me?" he shouted. "It's a hundred times different than riding a horse!"
"Not that much different."
"It's a hundred times bigger, a hundred times faster, and a few hundred feet off the godsdamned ground!" he cried. "Urrrrgh." He felt sick.
To make matters worse, Jaelyn had to go and be a show off.
She pulled her legs up and rose up a bit so that she was squatting and then after shifting her balance to fit Elegy's natural sway, she rose up completely until she was standing there between Bishop and Quin, her arms spread out as if she would fly herself, her long white hair streaming out behind her in the wind. She laughed wildly and Bishop couldn't help but stare up at her in alarm with a dash of admiration and a spoonful of contempt. This drow was clearly insane.
"Sit down, please." came Elegy's voice over the wind. "I've told you about that."
Grinning, Jaelyn slid back into position and arms immediately came around her again.
"If I could do that, you don't need to do this." she said in a sigh. "That's why I showed you how easy it is to ride."
"Nah," replied Bishop. "I like my arms where they are."
The slow undulation of Elegy's flight was beginning to make ignoring their close proximity impossible, at least from Bishop's point of view. He had no idea if she noticed it or not, but every time the dragon undulated, her backside rubbed against his...well, let's just say that her southern region was making a lot of contact with his and it was beginning to stir up trouble down there.
He groaned inwardly. If only they weren't on that damn dragon. Better yet, if only that halfling wasn't in the way. He could gather the courage to forget about heights if it meant screwing a drow in mid-flight on a dragon. Now there was something to brag about! The dragon probably wouldn't appreciate, though.
After this, he was either going to have to find a good brothel or a cold shower.
"Hnh?" he replied, dazed.
Jaelyn cleared her throat. "Uhm...would you happen to be carrying something in your front pocket?"
He cleared his throat, noisily. "As a matter of fact...yeah."
"Nope." he lied. It was better if she didn't know.
Jaelyn let off a sigh of relief. "Okay, good."
But he couldn't help himself. "What did you think it was?"
As he expected, she said in a somewhat nervous tone "Oh, nothing. I was just...um...making sure...uh, you know what? Nevermind."
Forty-five minutes later, Elegy was landing somewhere in a field on the outskirts of the city of Neverwinter, out of sight. At least that was what the dragon had thought. However, Jaelyn had noticed one gate guard fall backward into a faint when he saw them, which meant that they would be gathering a small force to come investigate once their comrade gained consciousness.
"We need to do this fast." she said as she slid down from Elegy's back. "We were seen."
The dragon snorted. "All that effort I made into not being seen, wasted!"
"Some effort." remarked Bishop once he landed firmly on the ground, deeply relieved that he was feeling solid dirt under his feet again and that he was not six feet under it. "You're a godsdamned dragon. You can't not be seen. Unless you have the power to go invisible. I'm guessing you don't."
The dragon swiped his long, barbed tail at the ranger, narrowly missing him as he dodged away. A shame, too. He would've knocked the sarcastic bastard right into a tree.
Quin was the next to dismount the dragon, holding the large sack that contained his and Jaelyn's equipment. Unfortunately, Quin went off the dragon first and then the sack followed, landing squarely on top of the halfling. Jaelyn leaped forward to help while Bishop laughed and the dragon snickered.
"And here I thought that half-man would be good for nothing." the ranger said. "Turns out he's good for a laugh."
"You could help, you know." Jaelyn scolded him.
Bishop shrugged. "I could, but I'm not going to."
Once Jaelyn got the halfling to his feet, Quin wobbled, looking dazed and Jaelyn had to steady him. After she was certain the halfling could stand on his own, or at least sway equally to each side, she looked up at Elegy, pulling the hood of her cloak up, tucking any stray strands of pure white hair back.
"Thanks for the ride, El."
"Anything for my bond-mate."
"You better get going before those gate guards show up." she said and went to the dragon, wrapping her small arms around his leg in an embrace. "Give my love to the clan, will you?"
Elegy nodded and brushed a wing against her back. "Take care, Jae."
He turned his bulk toward the ranger, who backed up a bit in caution. Elegy lowered his head until they were nearly eye to eye. He noted with satisfaction that the human held his breath.
"You." Elegy addressed him in gritty tones. "Watch over my bond-mate."
Bishop opened his mouth to protest, but the dragon drew away, lifted into the air and disappeared over the horizon, blowing up dust and uprooting more trees in his wake.
A moment later, a group of soldiers from the city came stumbling half out of breath toward them, their weapons drawn.
"Dragon!" one of them was able to spit out between frantic breaths, his eyes wide inside his metal helm. He jabbed a finger at the sky for emphasis. "Big...dragon!"
Jaelyn looked among her companions as if confused.
"Did either of you see a dragon?"
"Dragon? What's a dragon?" Quin replied with a grin.
"Actually I think I saw a-oof!" the ranger's words were cut off by a stomach full of elbow, which just so happened to belong to the irate drow standing next to him.
"No dragon?" one of the soldiers asked, eyeing them suspiciously.
"We didn't see anything, sorry." Jaelyn said.
The group of armed men looked around at each other, shrugged, and then trudged back to the city, seeming incredibly relieved.
When they were gone, Jaelyn spun on her heel to face the ranger, rage in her eyes.
"Next time, it'll be a knee to the groin!" she shouted at him, jabbing him hard in the chest with her finger to emphasize every word, and then she stomped off in the direction of the city.
Quin looked at him, humor on his small face. "You're not doing so well with her, you know."
Bishop shrugged. "I'm not trying to."
He stalked off after the drow.
Quin shook his head, sighed, and hurried after them, dragging the sack behind him.
The trio passed the gate into the city, and the small troop of guards they had seen earlier were now standing together, their attention on one of the gate guards.
"I tell you, I saw a dragon! A violet one!" the man was saying desperately, waving his hands about in excitement, as if it would make them believe him.
"Sure ya did." one of the other guards replied with a voice laced in sarcasm. "And I'm the friggin' queen of Illefarn. 'Twas no dragon ya saw, Larl. I say you's been taken to the bottle on duty again. The cap'n's gonna hear 'bout this."
"I tell you..."
The gate guard's voice faded out of earshot as the three companions made their way across the cobbled street, pausing as they came to an intersection.
Neverwinter was a sprawling cosmopolitan where just about anyone that could do anything that even remotely resembled a talent could find a place for themselves. Even the thieves and murderers had an easy living in Neverwinter. Its rich architecture and wide avenues lent an air of sophistication and serenity. It also attracted many visitors from all over the Sword Coast. The city's current population stood at a whopping twenty thousand and rising. Most of the residents were either human or half-elves with elves coming in at third place, and only a light sprinkling of gnomes and halflings. It wasn't impossible to see a half-orc or two prowling around, though they mostly kept to the Docks where they made a living as pirates or thieves, or the occasional tavern strong-arm. The Merchant Quarter was well-known for its assorted vendors, where one might find just about anything one wanted, from weapons and armor to exotic foods, herbs and potions, both legal or otherwise, though the procedure for purchasing the latter was nearly always 'under the cart' or in dark alleyways.
In the northern half of the city, sitting upon a hill, loomed Castle Never, which peered down its stone nose at the 'lower' parts of the city. Blacklake, the district belonging to the 'upper crust' of Neverwinter sat just below it, where the lords and ladies of Neverwinter milled about the polished streets with a self-imposed air of pompousness. Unlike the other districts of the city, Blacklake was patrolled by an elite guard, who stubbornly and brutally enforced the laws of Neverwinter's ruler, Lord Nasher Alagondar. The Docks and the Merchant Quarter, however, were patrolled day and night by the Citywatch, Neverwinter's lower level law enforcers-notoriously known for their lenient dealings with criminals-and the thorn in the backside of almost every thief in the city, who usually had to bribe away freshly-stolen gold just to avoid an hour long 'stern talking to' or receiving threats of having their naughty deeds exposed to their parents.
At the moment, the mid-afternoon sun shone down upon the City of Skilled Hands, reflecting off the cobbled streets and glittering upon the surface of the ocean, which stretched out lazily from the harbor. Anchored boats rocked with the water's gentle sway, knocking timidly against their piers. The wind was calm where the ocean was concerned but it blew forcefully into the white sails of the docked ships, which slapped back in defiance. The docks themselves were swarming with longshoremen, who ran to and fro as busily as ants who'd just woken up to find that a particularly large bread crumb had fallen from the unknown and landed just outside their hill. Large wooden crates and other cargo were being moved about at break-neck speed and were eventually getting mixed up in the bustle. The dock-master stood in the midst of the chaos overseeing the operations, barking orders, sweating a lot, and losing his temper everytime recently unloaded cargo ended up getting loaded again, or loaded cargo found its way back to the dock, or when some idle dock-hand felt it was the perfect moment to plop down on a crate and have a smoke.
The rest of the city was relatively peaceful. Citizens strolled the avenues, greeting neighbors and strangers alike before continuing on their journey to No Where In Particular. Vendors and their carts crowded the streets as they peddled their goods at the top of their lungs to startled passersby. A few people stood about idly, engaged in aimless conversation. A child ran after his dog in a failed attempt to leash it. His mother followed behind with the day's news parchments rolled up into a canine disciplinary tube, an irritated look on her face.
Citywatchmen strolled by every once in a while, looking mostly harmless in their shining metal armor and royal blue cloaks, and holding an expression of wistful boredom.
Then there were the three newcomers, looking mighty out of place in the midst of city life. One of them, a rough-hewn, human male-and a ranger by all accounts-glanced around through narrowed, disapproving golden eyes. Beside him was a female shape, cloaked, hooded, and wearing dark leathers. Every inch of her was suspiciously covered. Though no expression could be seen through the dark hood, there was an uneasiness to her stance as she fiddled with a dagger on her belt. Standing before them was what, from a distance, could have been a child, but was in fact a halfling. He stared about with wide, gleaming blue eyes, a grin of excitement plastered on his face. He might have been a child at a carnival. He was dressed in black leather and cloaked in deep purple. He half-carried and half-dragged a large sack that was nearly as big as he was.
"I say," Quin spoke, his voice a plethora of joy. "I've heard the tales of Neverwinter, but I never imagined it to be like this!"
"You've never been here?" asked Jaelyn.
"Nope, I'm a Neverwinter virgin. So, where shall we go first? I'm eager to get a look at the city."
"Shouldn't we find this boat?"
"No need." Quin replied with his trademark grin. "I can see it from here."
"You can? Which one is it?"
Jaelyn followed his pointing finger to an impressive, double-masted vessel with broad white sails, dark, beautiful wood and with a carved figurehead of something with the lower half of a fish and the upper half of a wolf, which snarled in their direction.
"That's her, the Seawolf; a merchant ship, from what I hear."
Jaelyn looked down at Quin with a raised brow. "Isn't that an odd name for a merchant vessel?"
Quin shrugged. "I didn't name her."
"Are you sure this friend of yours will let us on? I imagine he's got better places to go than twelve hundred miles into the Trackless Sea."
Quin's mouth spread into another grin. It wasn't the trademark grin. It was a grin full of mischievousness; a grin that meant trouble.
"I wasn't planning on asking him, actually."
The ranger looked at him with a scowl. "You planned to have us stowaway?"
"Then what?" Jaelyn asked. "If we don't ask your friend or if we don't stowaway, then I don't see how we're going to get on this..."
She trailed off as a horrid thought occurred to her. When she looked down at Quin's impish face again, the thought was confirmed.
"Steal it?" she said, shocked. "Are you crazy? Why would you steal your friend's ship?"
The halfling boiled over with laughter. "I never said he was a friend. I just said I knew a guy with a boat."
Jaelyn sagged. "I knew I should've asked a whole lot of questions before I agreed to this."
"Don't worry, Jae Bird." Quin said. "It'll be a cinch."
Jaelyn took a deep breath to calm her nerves and then straightened up with what she hoped was a bit of confidence. "All right, so what do we need to do, then?"
"Hold on," Bishop interrupted. "How in the hells do you expect us to get anywhere on that ship with no one to navigate it?"
The grin came back again, leaving the ranger perturbed. "Don't worry. I've got it all planned out. You just leave everything to me."
"Somehow, that doesn't seem wise." said the ranger. "Why do I get the feeling we're going to find ourselves hopelessly lost in the middle of the ocean?"
Jaelyn peered at him from behind her hood, a thin smile on her lips. "Being hopelessly lost would be a picnic compared to the other things we might face. Did you ever consider that we'll be sailing a merchant ship in a sea teeming with pirates? I've heard the stories about what happens to women captured by pirates. They're...not pleasant."
Bishop snorted. "What've you got to worry about? One look at you and they'll reconsider any salacious motives."
Jaelyn glared at him.
It was strange. He could in no way see that glare, but he sure as the hells could feel it. Even stranger was the fact that it had a feel as if she had reached out and smacked him in the face.
"What's that supposed to mean?" she snapped.
"Come off it." he replied with an impatient roll of his eyes. "You know as much as I do that no surface-dwelling male is going to bother with you, not even the worst kind of male. You're unnatural."
His cruel words did what they were set out to do. They hurt.
Jaelyn stood there a moment, stricken and at a loss for words. Warm moisture stung her eyes. Then, still in that silence, she turned away and walked off toward a nearby tavern, her emotions racing. It looked like Despair would come out the winner, but it was too depressed to heft the trophy.
The halfling turned to Bishop. He was frowning. Sort of. Even frowning Quin looked like he was smiling. The tone in his next words, however, belied his perpetual happy-face.
"Who in the hells are you to say something like that to her?" Quin demanded, angrily.
Bishop shrugged, uncaring. "And what would you have me tell her? Some fabrication to give her false hope? That'd do more damage to her than the truth ever would."
"No, it wouldn't, because there actually is hope for her in this world." the halfling said, solemnly. "If there wasn't, would we be here?"
The ranger frowned, not following Quin's train of thought. "What?"
"You say no one will ever accept her."
"Have we not accepted her?"
"Maybe you have..."
"You're saying you don't accept her?" Quin replied. "If you didn't, you wouldn't be traveling with us and you most likely would've attacked her on spot the same way everyone else does."
"Look," Bishop growled at him out of impatience with the whole conversation. "I don't care what she is or what she isn't. And that's exactly the thing. I just don't care. It has nothing to do with me accepting her. It has to do with me not giving one damn about either of you. Get it?"
"But that's something, isn't it? I mean, it means something, doesn't it, that you see past her heritage where others don't, even if it is merely disregard for people in general? Maybe people in the world need to be more like you. I mean, if more people just didn't give a damn, I think there'd be a lot less hatred."
Bishop shook his head in astonishment. "I think you're a little touched in the head, half-man."
"What?" Quin replied, spreading his hands before himself helplessly. "It makes sense."
"Only to a halfling."
"I think we should go with Jaelyn." Quin opted. "Maybe you could apologize to her. It was an awful cruel thing to say."
As they set off toward the Golden Apple, Bishop glanced down at the halfling with a smirk.
"Sure, I'll apologize...when the hells freeze over."
"One layer of the hells already is frozen." Quin pointed out.
"Fine. Then I'll do it when they all freeze over."
"I could apologize for you."
Bishop glared at him. "Do that and I'll remove that hideous, empty thing from your shoulders."
Quin gave him a quizzical look. "What hideous, empty thing?"
Bishop grinned, nastily. "Your head."
The halfling frowned. "You're a very insulting, violent person, aren't you?"
"Figure that out all by yourself, did you?"
Neverwinter's docks district had only two taverns. One of them was called the Sunken Flagon and was looked upon as a reputable establishment, favored by the docks' hard-working, law-abiding inhabitants and curious, out-of-town visitors. Then there was the Golden Apple. Although it was not the worst tavern to be had along the Sword Coast, it did have a reputation as a place that saw its fair share of shady activity, most of which revolved around Neverwinter's underground circuit of thieves and smugglers. Also, it was known for its countless brawls, which were said to occur at least twice every hour of the day.
So, it was not surprising that when Quin and Bishop approached the door, they could hear the unmistakable crashes, thuds, and muffled cries of pain of yet another infamous Golden Apple tavern brawl. The ranger was the first one to make it to the door and the moment his hand fell to the handle, a large man went flying out of the window at his left in a shatter of glass. The cacophony of aggression and violence spilled out of the broken window into the street. A couple of people passing by didn't even bat an eye.
The large man, who'd just had his first failed lesson in flying, gurgled on the ground in agony and then lay still. He wasn't dead as far as the ranger could tell, just deeply unconscious. There was a large cut on his forehead, leaking blood down his ugly, scarred face.
A feminine scream broke his attention from the man and brought his gaze back around to the door.
"That was Jae." Quin spoke up from behind him in a tone of anxiety.
The halfling prodded him in the small of the back urgently. "Come on."
The ranger was in no hurry. He already knew what he would find when he opened the door. The drow's cry had not been one of distress.
When the two males entered the tavern, they both looked upon the chaos, sighting Jaelyn, who stood in the midst of it all, surrounded by a ring of angry men.
Bishop wondered if they had found out what she was. He hadn't remembered hearing any cries of 'drow!'. In fact, all he'd heard before they'd entered was a lot of men groaning and grunting in pain.
He looked back at Jaelyn and noted that not a single scratch lay on her and that there was a good number of unconscious bodies at her feet. Some of them were probably never going to get up again.
A strange feeling came over him then, something warm and tingly that he didn't much care for. It was a small degree of admiration.
The halfling moved forward, his stride full of purpose, but Bishop pulled him back by his collar, shaking his head when the short man looked up at him with inquiry all over his face.
"Let's see how this plays out." he said to that look, which then contorted into a frown.
"We can't let her fight them alone." Quin insisted.
"Something tells me she's not going to need the help." the ranger replied with a smirk, returning his gaze to the drow while keeping a firm grip on the halfling.
They stood back and watched, closely.
Jaelyn, unarmed, faced five royally pissed men, armed with an assortment of weapons. One man, the largest of all of them, carried an axe, two had swords, another wielded a cudgel, and the final man had a rapier.
The man with the cudgel came at her first, followed by one of the sword-wielders, who moved up behind her. The cudgel came hard and high and at the last moment, Jaelyn ducked low and heard a loud crack, followed by a deep groan and a solid thud. When she straightened up, she saw that the man with the sword was now a heap on the floor, his head leaking on the hardwood.
The cudgel came again. She dodged it and was lucky enough to get her hand on the man's arm, holding it in a grip that was near impossible to escape. He jerked and pulled, but she held on like a ravenous tick on a particularly fat dog. There was a sick snapping noise as Jaelyn twisted the man's wrist until the bones there decided they could no longer handle the pressure. He stumbled back with a high-pitched cry, holding his oddly proportioned hand to his chest. He looked up at her with nothing but hatred in his gaze, trying in the name of male pride to peer past the shadows of that hood to look upon the kind of woman that could break a man's wrist with almost no effort at all. It was probably better that he didn't know.
Wisely, the man decided it was probably not a good idea to stick around for more abuse. He stumbled his way toward the door, pushing past the ranger and the halfling.
"This one thinks she's tough, she does." said the other man with the sword. "Let's see how well she stands against three of us at once."
They all charged at her as one and then something happened that Quin and Bishop would never forget.
The moment the brutes closed in, Jaelyn threw herself down into a crouch and then somersaulted to the side where she slipped in a puddle of spilled ale and rolled under a table. The three men, trying to untangle themselves from each other, scrambled after her. The large man with the axe reached her first. He had the unfortunate stupidity to think he had enough power to send his axe through ten inches of solid duskwood in one go. The axe came down and sunk into the wood with a deafening crack. The wood did in fact split, but it held under the assault all the same. The man growled in irritation as he tried to wrench his axe out of the table unsuccessfully while the other two waited with impatience for him to get out of the way.
Under the table, Jaelyn lifted a foot and drove it effectively into the man's groin. Bishop winced, feeling a small degree of male-inspired sympathy for the man who had just keeled over, curled into a ball of agony and vomited. Quin groaned and held his privates as if what had just happened had been mutually felt.
The other two men closed in on the table, nudging the large ball-shaped man-who was now unconscious in a puddle of his own puke-away.
A rapier thrust under the table, blindly seeking flesh and Jaelyn flattened herself against the floor, waiting for the blade to withdraw. When it did, she planted both feet up against the underside of the table and kicked with all her might.
The table flew up and overturned on the rapier wielder. Both landed with a crunch, man first and table second. The sword wielder had enough sense to jump out of the way in time.
He spun to face her now, a sneer on his face that quickly transitioned into a wide-eyed expression of terror and hatred.
It was an expression Jaelyn knew well, an expression that greeted her at every city gate and every village approach.
"Dro-" the man began to cry and was made silent just in time by a gloved fist.
He crumpled into a heap at her feet and Jaelyn quickly pulled her hood back over her head, stepped over the unconscious man and went to the bar, unaware that her companions had been there the entire time.
She leaned over the bar as Quin and Bishop came up to join her.
Through the entire ordeal, the barkeep had been crouched behind his bar to wait out the storm, swigging from a bottle of whiskey and trying to remember why he thought it was a good idea to open a bar in the rough part of the district.
"Do you mind?" Jaelyn said to him, impatiently.
The bald man looked up at her, brows wrinkled and his mouth set in a thin frown. "You done destroying my tavern?"
She shrugged. "That depends on how many more idiots decide to annoy me. A good drink might calm me down, though."
Another face appeared over the counter at the barkeep, a rough face set with a grin.
"I'd hop to it if I were you." said Bishop. "She just took out an entire tavern of cutthroats. I don't think you want to keep someone like that waiting."
Jaelyn turned slightly, regarded him with an unpleasant look that he could not see (but could feel), and then gave an indignant sniff as she faced forward and sat hard in a stool.
Apparently, she was still in a taking with him for his comment earlier.
A small hand slapped against the small of her back as the bartender dragged himself to his feet.
"I say," Quin said. "Way to put those miscreants in their place, Jae."
The bartender stared about his establishment and then looked at her in shock. "You did all this?"
She shrugged. "They asked for it."
"How did this all start?" Quin asked.
"Some presumptuous fool got it in his head that I'd enjoy being randomly groped." she replied and then waved an indicating hand at the mess behind her. "Obviously, I do not."
The barkeep sighed miserably. "What a disaster. This'll take me weeks to clean up!"
Jaelyn wasn't in any mood for complaints. "How about a little less whine and a little more...well, wine."
She pulled a pouch from her belt and sat it on the bar in front of its owner. "That ought to cover some of the damage, as well as our bar tabs. Now, fill'er up."
The barkeep frowned, opened the pouch with dirty fingers and peered inside at the many, many gold coins. He then looked up at her with brightened eyes, shrugged, and pocketed the gold.
"Well, what'll you have?"
"Two shots of Gibbering Lich." said Bishop, earning a raised brow from the barkeep. He glared. "What? I didn't stutter."
"You don't look like you can handle it." the barkeep dared.
"You're paid to make drinks, not comments." Bishop snapped, hotly. "So make it, before I make you a corpse."
The barkeep frowned. "No need to get all violent about it. I was just making an innocent observation."
"Yeah? Like making observations, do you? Then observe this."
The ranger's hand was a blur of movement and then something zipped by the barkeep's ear, nicking it before it embedded itself in the wall behind him. The barkeep spun about to see a dagger quivering in the wall. When he looked back, Bishop was glaring at him again.
The barkeep blanched and touched his bleeding ear. "All right. All right, you've made your point."
He pulled the dagger from the wall, handed it cautiously back to the ranger and began preparing his drink first.
"Well," Quin said after a moment of silence. "You two enjoy your drinks. I'm off to inquire to some friends of mine about a certain boat."
He winked at them and then hurried out of the tavern.
A few moments later, the barkeep served their drinks and said "You need anything else, I'll be in the back."
He disappeared through a door behind the bar, leaving the two rangers alone. Well, technically they weren't alone. There was still a number of unconscious men laying around behind them, but it was incredibly silent. It was one of those silences that stood out and couldn't be ignored, a silence that was louder than noise.
Bishop peered down at one of his drinks and without looking at her, he slid it across the bar to Jaelyn.
"Why?" she said in a snappish tone.
"It'll help that attitude of yours."
She didn't reply, she wasn't in the mood to. She looked down at the brown substance that seemed to have a life of its own inside the shot glass. She was almost afraid it would come alive, hop out of the glass and walk across the bar.
Bishop smiled faintly. "It's got personality, that's for sure. One shot will get anyone drunk. A second has been known to kill."
Jaelyn looked at him from the dark recesses of her hood. "That's got to be tavern talk."
He shrugged. "It's not. I can hardly make it past one and I consider myself a heavy drinker."
She gave him a nasty smirk. "Alcoholic?"
"Nah. I just like to drink." he replied without offense.
"That's something an alcoholic would say."
He gave her a firm look. "Just drink it and shut up."
Jaelyn looked down at the shot glass, uncertainly. She picked it up and brought it to her lips. The drink had a stomach-turning smell. She noticed then that the ranger was watching her with something that passed for anticipation and curiosity.
She pulled it back a moment. "Stop looking at me like that. You're making me think I'm drinking poison here."
"Could be." he hazarded.
She wondered if he was challenging her or warning her. Her competitive nature won out over caution, which was sulking quietly and with great care.
Jaelyn brought the small glass to her mouth and threw it back neatly.
There was a moment where Jaelyn tried not to gag at the taste, and just when she was about to determine that it was not that bad, all hell broke loose in her mouth and throat. It burned like fire, then tingled, then grew cold, and then there was a brief lull as relief flooded her senses only for her mouth to start burning like acid again. It was mouth torture. Her eyes were watering and her nose felt like someone had shoved a lit torch up each nostril. The gods only knew what it would do to her insides.
When the torment finally ended, Jaelyn produced a neat chain of swear words that would've offended a Luskan pirate and had the ranger laughing hard, which was a feat in itself, for he was not prone to true laughter, or any pleasant emotion or reaction, for that matter.
It wasn't fall-out-of-your-chair or tears-of-mirth laughter, but it was enough to give the muscles in his gut a little work out. They were aching when it was all over and done with.
Jaelyn could feel the alcohol already taking effect on her mind, which was gently reeling about.
"Whoa..." she muttered. "That didn't take long."
Bishop grinned. "Never does."
He downed his own shot finally, unable to suppress a grimace as it burned like lava down his throat and probably had the same destructive effect as well.
There was that loud silence again, broken only by a muffled groan from some unconscious person behind them. Anyone had yet to come to.
Jaelyn took a long pull from her tankard of ale, which earned another rare look of admiration from the ranger. Anyone who could chase a shot of Gibbering Lich with anything was a tough cookie in his book.
Maybe he'd been wrong before.
No, that wasn't it. He was just drunk.
And it was probably the intoxication that began speaking for him, for he suddenly said, or tried to say "Maybe before I shaid...I mean, before I didn't shay...uhm..."
The room was spinning. He rubbed his forehead as he tried to remember what he was going to say.
"Did I shay summin?"
Jaelyn looked at him through her unfocused, spinning vision. She was swaying a bit on her stool.
"Somtin un...untural..natoril...um...wha word ish it?"
"Unnuetral!" the ranger said triumphantly and then frowned. "No...errr...un...unneutered!"
He slapped her on the back amiably. She almost fell off her stool and her hood fell back.
"Thas it! Unnotnormal!"
Jaelyn grinned. "Right! Uhm...wha 'bout it?"
"I shaid that...before."
Bishop leaned very close to her and smiled stupidly.
Jaelyn blinked. "S'not?" She laughed loudly. "Snot."
"Huh-uh." He leaned against an elbow. "Know whas unnotnormal?"
"Lossa things." she guessed.
He nodded, but only because nodding was so much easier when your head feels too heavy to shake.
"I mean spefishcially..."
Jaelyn giggled in a way she hadn't since she was a little girl.
He was vaguely aware of her hand on his knee as one might notice a harmless fly on their arm, but when he looked down at it, all feeling traveled there at uncanny speed, and then he was aware of only her hand on his knee.
She was staring at her hand as well, wondering in astonishment how it had gotten there, but she realized that she didn't mind it being there, and actually, it felt kind of good to make contact with another person. It was a bit mesmerizing, for she had never touched another human before, at least not in any gentle manner such as this.
Jaelyn flushed and took her hand back.
She inhaled in surprise when his fingers closed around her wrist. Jaelyn looked up at him, their eyes met, and the rest was inevitable. There was a gleam of drunken lust in his gold eyes, and his libido, made indomitable by a potent cocktail of strong alcohol, attraction to the woman next to him, and a few tendays of sexual deprivation, took hold.
In the space of a heartbeat, he closed in on her and grabbed behind her neck. She squeaked in surprise, but it was muffled a second later by his mouth, which pressed hard and demanding against her own.
For a moment, she responded to him purely out of instinctual desire. He was a man, an attractive one, and she was female. Therefore, loins were bound to stir. It was only natural. It had nothing to do with him personally.
But cold, hard realization cut through her intoxicated haze, gifting her with a moments worth of sobriety. He had actually initiated the whole thing, which left her perturbed, because she was drow, thus any instinctual desire couldn't exist on his part, or so she believed.
She mumbled something against his mouth that drew them apart.
"Huh?" he said, blinking at her.
"Drow. I'm a drow." she said, her pale green eyes filling with tears. "You can't."
Bishop's eyes narrowed in further confusion. "Eh?"
"I'm drow!" she shouted in despair while grabbing his shoulders and shaking him wildly. He could actually feel his brains rattling like dice inside his skull. "Ya know s'not right. So, why? Why, damn you?"
He shoved her away with a glare. "Cut it out, you crazy bitch!"
Jaelyn, half-sobbing, turned and fled the tavern, stumbling over an unconscious man and falling before she could make it to the door.
When it finally slammed behind her, the ranger, trying to hold on to his spinning head, stared at the door for a moment, then shrugged and reached across the bar to grab her tankard, which was still half-filled with ale.
He drained it and then tumbled, unconscious, to the tavern floor.
Fortunately, neither of them would remember anything passed the point of drinking the shot of Gibbering Lich. However, a certain barkeep would.