p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"A/N: For those of you still awaiting updates for other, long neglected stories, please know that I update this with immense guilt. The only reason this written piece ever came into being was as a gift to one of my very close friends for Valentine's Day. Yet, the more I pondered on it, the more I desired to add it here. Even though much has changed for Zar, my love for his story remains the same. At this point, we can assume that my youthful writing of his tale is just that, youthful (and full of many things I would, and should, correct). Please assume that anything written from this point is truer to his story than the direction I originally took (even I still love that rendition of his story for its time and place in my life). I won't promise continued telling of his story, but if anything else manifests itself from my fingertips, for this story or any others, I won't leave any of you out. Thank you to all of you that have continued to support me and my ridiculous ideas./span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt; text-align: center;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"- - -/span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"They had moved through the Dalelands and into the wooded hills over the past many tendays. When he had agreed to "accompany" the.. Darthiir on her quest, he'd set some traveling standards. Despite what she called the days being of "good weather", he refused to travel by day. He did not understand what she found so surprising about this obvious rule, or so difficult to follow. Enough kept him belligerently awake by day; birds, wind through trees, wind in general, the searing headache, finding somewhere slightly less blindingly bright to get shut eye.. that it seemed as real as being prodded awake every hour when she added to that ruckus. When he could blame her, it became personal./span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"Her disruptive antics became rarer, as the days wore on, and as she endured the much deserved punishment of his resulting mood and her own fatigue. Yet here in this very moment, in the more shaded part of their shallow cave as that hellish fire was rising, she was singing loud and clear. He could have jumped up, crossed the threshold, and killed her then, without remorse. He could do it anyway, he reminded himself. His anger broiled further as he reminded himself that that was, in fact, a complete lie. He wrinkled his face, squinting his eyes shut and curled his arm over his ear as he rolled over. He imagined her trying to make that goddessless, yet unmistakenly charming, and yet so very grating sound, as he strangled her. He fumed, arguing with himself, begging her in his head to please, for the sake of her own life and his dwindling patience, to just shut up./span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""What in the nine hells compels you to SING at this goddess forsaken hour!?" he snapped. He sat up, swiveling where he sat with hands on his face in frustration, before gesturing flippantly toward her. Pandora halted a moment, looking up from whatever it was she had been doing, her lips were parted, frozen mid note. The corners of her mouth curled upward a bit, an expression that served only to add fuel to his anger. His frown deepened, and she, with a tiny smile still on her lips, continued on with her song, amused and undaunted. He stared blankly at her, unable to catch up with the conflicting, yet naturally loathing, feelings that stormed through him. Should his brothers and sisters see him now, they would surely have the best laugh of their lives./span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"Except Zephanian, who would only chuckle quietly for entirely different reasons, of course. Zar's rage muted itself, and he dropped his hands into his lap, an exhausted defeat slumping his bare shoulders. It was sure to be a murderously hot "pre-summer" day. His eyes fell shut and he drew in a long and deep breath. He considered exhausting himself with running until he found a new cave without a noisy faerie. He considered a bit of practical swordplay. He considered a lot of things, until a tin plate was gently placed in front of him. He turned his gaze up to her without moving the angle of his head, making his seething disappointment with her as glaringly apparent as possible. No holds, no bargains, no truces. He would not be soothed./span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""It is the morn of Greengrass," she said very simply, her own unique accent smoothing out the corners of Common's rampant use of consonants. Looking down at the tin plate, he saw a tedious arrangement of foraged foods, and wondered why she didn't simply speak her native tongue. He'd been graced with the awful experience of growing up among his lighter skinned cousins for at least a decade or two. Yet they met somewhere in the middle, opting for an ugly and overly simplified language with which neither were entirely comfortable or familiar. /span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""Which is…" he stated flatly, demanding an explanation as a means of humoring her. She had clearly put time into this.. decorated garden plate of local foliage. He didn't touch it. He didn't know what to do with it. All he'd wanted was to sleep. Yet she treated him with an apathetic patience he found disgustingly familiar. Something he missed, but to which he would never admit./span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""A celebration of the warmer seasons. When things live, thrive, and grow," she recited with a small smile, stalling gently with each word as she considered them carefully. Her cadence of speech was expectedly musical. He ran his tongue over his teeth, looking further unamused, which only made her chuckle softly. He sighed harshly in immediate response./span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""I do not take part in these celebrations." He stated, already making to turn away. She quickly snatched his wrist, and he snapped his gaze back to her with an expression of murderous intent on his face. Her own bore a well practiced story of stern and resolute expectation. She had no intention of letting him sleep just yet. Her brow furrowed, she picked up his plate and held it out to him. He wasn't sure if it was because, in that unique moment, she was a female echoing an authority he found extremely familiar, or if it was because of that dreaded and weak softness that brought him into this conundrum in the first place, but he took the plate and hunched over it. Sitting with his legs crossed, he watched her roll nuts and berries into some springy green leaves before taking a bite. He rubbed his brow with one hand, and then his eyes, before copying her motions./span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"They were undeniably delicious. He hated it. They ate in silence for a long while./span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""On this day," she began rather suddenly, though with a whisper in her voice, "it is custom to show gratitude to one's companions, and hope for futures that remain positively intertwined." She gestured to the empty plates, dashing her lips with the end of a small handkerchief and displaying that infuriatingly shy, but ridiculously proud, smile. As usual, it stole any expression from Zar'thaen's face, as neutral was home for him when he was both exhausted and confused./span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""This was a gift," he concluded, finally, and she huffed a single, whispery little laugh before quickly covering it with her hand cloth. She nodded a few times, her eyes closed with an amused smile still playing out across her mouth, before looking at him with apparent, unhindered, mirth. He didn't know what to do with her, or what to make of it. /span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""Well then thank you… and goodnight." The words came out far more harshly than he'd intended, but he didn't try to take back the undeserved tone for reasons he found too exhausting to consider. Exasperated, but now finding hard feelings difficult to come by in the presence of her humor, he bowed his head to her before leaning back to drop it against folded cloth and packs. She lingered a moment, and he cracked open his eyes from under one forearm when he heard the tin plates softly come in contact. She was looking at the plates as she made to stand, and he couldn't read her expression. He did not know the customs of gift giving amongst her kind. He had never truly interacted with any of his lighter skinned cousins unless he'd had to, and even then, really only ever with Alhandrea. Even then, every interaction had been so painfully uncomfortable that he explicitly avoided them, and clearly also had avoided learning anything from them./span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"Drow did not give gifts unless they expected something in return. Gifts were merely promises of debt in the form of expected future favors./span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"Yet this was not his celebration nor of his choice. What he expected she'd intended as kind selflessness, rang in his mind as a notion that he would owe her later for the meal he had not asked for. Laying on his back, now completely and absolutely unable to find sleep, he vacillated on the expectations of this gift and sudden recognition of their companionship. There were always meanings within meanings behind what a drow said and did, such was expected. And yet in all his time amongst many of the surface folk, he found that their words and actions were often extremely, glaringly, direct. In his limited experience, even he understood that she most likely expected nothing of him in return. Yet, enculturated as he was within the society of his own people, he felt rather suddenly concerned./span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"'It is only natural to wish wellness upon others whom so graciously bestow it upon yourself,' a familiar voice sang gently, but he didn't feel the need to glance around. A mere memory curling in his inner ear, reminding him of all the lessons the older drow had imparted upon his ignorant sibling. All those ridiculous concepts that Zephanian found so alluring. He would have loved Pandora, of that, Zar'thaen was absolutely certain. He would have given her something in return for the sheer joy of it. Letting out a long sigh, Zar rolled over and pulled his cooled chainmail shirt off the floor and put it over his head. He truly needed sleep./span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt; text-align: center;"- - -/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"Sunset was often the time he awoke. The atmosphere changed so dramatically around this time, even though it was much akin to surface folk waking prior to sunrise. In a fog, he sat up, hair in several directions, and pulled on his loose, dark blue and long sleeved, shirt. Glancing across the way, eyes hooded with poor sleep, he saw Pandora propped in a sitting position against the cave wall but a few feet away. Her things were piled around her, books she'd unloaded from her endless bag of holding. One such book lay open, upside down, in her lap, as she sat in reverie. He quietly crossed the few feet and sat beside her, reaching out to pick up the book as she stirred awake, recognized him, and then innocently dropped her head to his shoulder. He suddenly felt much less interested in the book, surprised by her level of comfort around him. For some reason he just expected her to be irritated by him sitting so close, expected a reaction of revulsion, was baiting it, to be honest. He didn't know what to do with a response so dissimilar from any before. The book was written in some form of High Elven, truly complicated text beyond anything he'd ever read in the local languages of Elven he'd learned within a few decades. He let it drop into his lap and closed his eyes, fingers idly playing with his inherited family pendant./span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: italic; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""Letrael l'Velve," /spanspan style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"he uttered quietly, and, knowing she was on the fringes of reverie, that she certainly heard him. He felt her head tilt back, and stole a glance toward his shoulder to see her giving him her undivided attention in proper questioning. With his free hand, he unclasped the pendant and held it out in his palm. The symbol was worn from exposure to the sun, it's time away from the radiation of the Underdark having taken its toll. Yet the artistry was clear enough, with fine, Dark Elven lettering, bordering crossed blades. They were similar in design to the short, slightly curved blades he actually wielded. She gently took the pendant from his hand, looking at it more closely as she turned it between her fingers./span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""What does that mean?"/span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""Promised blade," he said, and then added, "though the family name goes now by Ken'lyl, of course. Sworn to the blade." His voice remained hushed, looking down at the pendant with her, remembering when it functioned as more than an item of nostalgia. All nobles were given such a pendant upon their 25th birthday. It marked a turn into young adulthood, recognition of nobility, and access to magical spells such as levitation at the behest of a light touch. It was useless for all of those things now, of course. Fitting, he figured./span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""What does this say?" She asked, pointing to the separated line at the bottom./span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: italic; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""Ulu khaless zhah ulu N'rieth dosst ap'za," /spanspan style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"he obediently answered./span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""What does that mean?" She asked, just as he was drawing breath to translate./span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""To trust is to seal one's fate," he answered, an amused smile fighting for one corner of his lips. She was always overwhelmingly seeking answers to everything. He could appreciate the irony of his family's chosen motto, one that dated far back as a euphemism amongst his people. One that he and his brother seemed to struggle in heeding. One that she clearly failed to heed often. Perhaps it was important that he remind her. He watched her stare at the pendant for a long while before moving to hand it back to him. He responded by holding an open palm to her in a dismissive gesture./span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""It is a gift," she said in quiet surprise, her earlier mirth from this morning rapidly returning. Clearly, she approved./span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""Yes," he confirmed, dropping his hand into his lap and crossing his ankles in front of him as he leaned more comfortably into the wall. She considered it a moment longer before sitting up, her back facing him. She pulled her hair aside and made to put it on. It felt natural for him to reach up and help her clasp it, and so he did. It felt just as natural then, when she resumed her leaning position beside him, her cheek resting against his shoulder as they both considered the sunset in mutual and comfortable silence. Perhaps they would sleep in on this "special" eve./span/p