Walking the city all night did nothing to ease Borænin’s doubts. He slept for several hours and dressed. He made his way back to the Mage Quarter, and leaned against a tree, watching the people coming and going through the center courtyard.
As he was doing so, a Ren’dorei woman strode past him with a confident air, moving towards the Blue Recluse. It struck him that he knew that face very well. “Lady Niquisse?” He straightened and moved two steps closer.
The woman released an aggravated sigh before turning towards him and wandering back. The expression she bore showed none of the sweetness of Niquisse’s spirit. She crossed her arms over her chest, jutting out her right hip. “No, I am not. And I am rather weary of hearing that name.”
Borænin blinked and glanced around looking slightly confused, so he peered at her more closely. “Oh…” he winced. “My apologies, I mistook you for another.”
She waved it off. “You are not the first to confuse me with her. Now,” she gestured towards the tavern. “If you don’t mind, I need a drink.” She strode inside, bumping his shoulder with her own as she did so.
He followed her inside, doing his best to maintain some decorum. “I’m sure I don’t know what you are talking about, my lady. I simply mistook you for the tailor who works across the way.” He gestured out the door.
“Yes,” she muttered, rolling her eyes. “The little tailor that works over at Larson’s. That is,” he voice shifted into a soft, almost syrupy tone. “Oh so sweet to everyone.” Borænin tried to suppress a snicker and mostly failed. “This is funny to you?”
“Your characterization was very accurate. She seems a sweet child.” He tilted his head to one side and furrowed his brow. “You do look ever so much like her…rather eery, actually.” She sighed heavily in response. He held a hand up. “My abject apologies, my lady. I see ’tis a sore spot.”
“How would you like it if people were constantly calling you by another name and then felt the need to tell you how much you looked like someone else?”
“I daresay it would make me testy,” he answered. She nodded curtly at him. “Perhaps if I bought my lady that drink she needs in recompense?”
She shrugged. “I’m not going to turn down a free drink.”
Borænin smiled. “And who would? Shall we?” He gestured down into the main portion of the pub. She turned and headed further in, looking for an open space. “Lively this evening,” he commented as he followed her to the upper level. Pointing to a table along the balcony railing that overlooked the tabes below, he slid into the seat with an easy grace. She slid the bow and quiver from her back and settled down across from him. A server approached them and Borænin indicated his companion, “Give this lady anything she wishes. Keep it coming until she is satisfied or unconscious.” He grinned wide.
The woman raised a long eyebrow and turned to the man standing table-side. “Whatever passes for red wine and if you have anything hot to eat, I will take that as well.” She reached into her coin pouch and withdrew a few coins to pay for the meal.
Borænin held up a hand. “I shall be covering the lady’s tab. All of it.”
“You offered a drink, you need not pay for the food too,” she objected.
“And yet I will. Wine for me as well.” He paid the server, who nodded and stepped away.
She tugged off her gloves and tossed them to the side before pocketing her change. “I see the Void had the same effect on you?” She pointed to his hair before touching her own purple locks.
He pursed his lips a moment, forcing his eyes not to trail down to her now exposed hands. Compose yourself. “I don’t like to say the same. The Scholar in me is holding out for more information, but essentially, yes.”
“Forgive me, I was simply trying to make conversation.”
He smiled. “Sorry. I’m afraid I can be a bit of a pedant. As I said, I am a scholar. My employer is funding my research into the effects of the Void on our people. The least he could do, given that he is the reason I ended up this way.”
“Your employer huh? Same here.”
He raised both eyebrows. “Indeed?”
The server arrived, delivering two glasses of wine and a bowl of stew, she nodded to him. Turning her attention back to Borænin, she expanded on it. “Yes. I was tasked with watching Umbric’s activities.”
Borænin arches an eyebrow and offered her a sly look. “Tasked…” She lifted her glass and took a sip, wrinkling up her nose just a bit. He leaned in a whispered, “The wine is terrible, is it not?”
“It’s horrible. I think a pig bathed in it,” she agreed.
“I’ll not gainsay you.” He chuckled. “Their ale is better. A coarse drink for the coarse-minded.”
She laughed lightly. “And yes, you caught my tone. I was spying on the man.”
“Hmmm,” he responded. “I shall respect your privacy and not ask for whom you did it.” He leaned in closely, his eyes sparkling slightly. “But I am burning with curiosity.”
She shrugged. “I was a captain for the Farstriders. His activities were questionable among our people. Not really much mystery there.”
“Ahh, I see. And you were caught up in the…ah…incident.”
“Yes,” she snapped, scowling. “Incident my ass. His damned hubris caused this.”
His face tightened slightly. “Yes,” he whispered. “Indeed, my lady.” He gestured back and forth between himself and the woman. “You and I have something in common.”
“Oh?” She took another sip of her wine and followed it quickly with a bite of meat from her bowl.
He lifted his glass and swirled it around, looking at the red liquid perhaps a little too closely. “My own entanglement with Umbric was at the behest of another. And it cost me dearly. Like you, yes?”
She chewed a bit, nodding. “Everything,” she confirmed with a mouthful of meat. Borænin smiled sympathetically. “So you hold the same distaste for the man?”
“Umbric?” She nodded. His eyes went very cold. “Distaste is rather an understatement, my lady.”
She pointed to the bow resting against the railing. “Let me know if you would like some company.”
He grinned at her. “I may indeed, my lady. When the opportunity presents itself.”
“No time like the present.”
Borænin smiled wanly. “I fear other concerns weigh on me more heavily at this time. I cannot yet pursue this course.” She grumbled irritably. Borænin stood suddenly, looking exasperated. “Bah! Look at me! My manners are atrocious tonight.” He bowed before her. “Borænin Sunspine, my lady.”
She stood and wiped off her face. Returning the bow, she smiled faintly. “Sulime Dawnfeather. And you can stop calling me Lady.” She flopped back down into her chair.
Borænin made to resume his seat but stumbled slightly, just catching himself. Sulime? I found her counterpart! Quick, cover yourself. He looked down, glaring. “Loose floorboards, me thinks.”
“Are you all right?” She looked him over carefully. “Or shall I go beat the tavern owner for such shoddy maintenance?”
Borænin chuckled as he settled back into his seat. “I doubt the guards outside would appreciate your concerns. I shall live.”
“Good to know.” She speared another piece of meat with her fork and popped it into her mouth.
Borænin peered at her intently. She is sharp-tongued enough to be Sulime’s double. But this one is not so easily played as ours. “Dawnfeather…I fear the family is unfamiliar to me.”
“Not surprising,” she said. “It was just my mother and I. Her family was small before they passed.”
“And yet, a Farstrider? That is no small feat. The Farstriders are an exclusive order.”
She shrugged. “I have no skill with magic, but I’m a damned good shot.” She took another sip of wine before squeezing her eyes shut and shaking her head, a look of revulsion spreading across her features. “Ugh… gross. Anyway, it helps when you make friends with the trainers at a young age. I caught the eye of one at a competition. He thought my skill with a bow decent enough to take me in as an apprentice.”
“A good shot, and wise in her choice of friends. You are a rare vintage, my lady. Unlike this appalling wine,” he complimented.
Sulime pushed her glass away. “If I don’t find something worth drinking soon, I may start using my skills to rid myself of these fools.”
“Now, now, my lady, that is hardly charitable. As sympathetic as I am to their mistreatment of the grape, I do not think the death penalty is called for.” He grinned, proud of himself for that remark.
“Maybe not today,” she muttered. Borænin chuckled in response. “So. Who is it you are working for?”
He sighed. “A rich idiot who prefers to remain anonymous.”
“One of those.” She shook her head. “I’ve worked for a few in my time.”
“Mine is one of the worst, sadly.”
“A child, masquerading as an adult?”
Borænin smirked at her. “The Lady has hit the nail squarely.”
“Worked for a couple like that. Almost killed one of them before regaining my composure and resigning instead.”
He sighed. “Sadly, I lack that option at this time.”
She arched a long eyebrow. “But it is one you wish to pursue?” She picked up the bowl and brought it to her lips. Tipping it up, she drank the remaining broth.
“The resigning, or the murder,” he asked in a slightly ironic tone.
Setting the bowl back down, she grinned at him. “It’s not murder. It’s relieving the populace of a portion of stupidity.”
The Hierarch barked out a laugh. “I like the way you think. But sadly, as I say, not currently an option. My employer, despite being a bottomless well of stupidity, is a quite adroit sorcerer.”
“Well at least someone does,” she muttered.
“My lady seems so melancholy,” he looked at her sympathetically.
Sulime frowned a little. “This has been the first truly pleasant conversation I’ve had in a while. Not with someone trying to cheer me up or tell me that my frustrations are misplaced. Or trying to convince me I belong to their weird family.”
Borænin blinks, unprepared for that. “All right, I understood the first half, but that last bit? I must admit that confused me a little.”
“That girl you confused me for?”
“The tailor, Niquisse Greythorn.”
“Yes, that one. Her some multiple times great grandfather thinks I am a Greythorn as well. And that also makes me a Silverthorn. One of the ghosts. You know, the really pale ones?”
Borænin goes completely still for a moment, then very slowly arched an eyebrow. “I believe I have heard of such people, yes.”
Sulime’s eye twitched. “You went a little weird there. What do you know?”
Sighing, he held up his hands. “Ok, you caught me. I was just struck by the coincidence. I had a conversation with a Silverthorn just yesterday.”
“Her name was Kalimè. She said her father was Kalithil.”
“Ahhh, the old one’s kid. She’s got a twin brother too. And the guy I was telling you about?”
“He’s supposedly their half brother.”
“He half brother,” he repeated, disbelieving. “Who is the Lady Niquisse’s grandfather, many times removed.”
“That..makes no sense.”
“His name is Gilræn Greythorn,” she told him, shrugging. “He said he changed himself over time to match what was happening with the Quel’dorei. Like I said, weird family.” Borænin got a very strange look on his face. Sulime pointed at him, chuckling. “That’s probably what I looked like as they were telling me all this stuff.”
He sat across from her with a stunned expression. “I…words fail me.”
She snapped her fingers in front of his face and waved a hand before his eyes. “You with me?”
“Just.” He shook all over. “These are indeed strange people you associate with.”
“Ok, I know it’s weird, but you look like someone who just had his grave stepped on.”
His shoulders came up as he smiled at her sheepishly. “My apologies. My scholar’s sensibilities were rebelling at the very idea. The Lady Niquisse seems wary, but pleasant enough.”
“Oh, yeah, her.” She sighed, and for the first time, she seemed to soften on the mention of that name. “Girl was already afraid of a lot. Then she got attacked last week by some human.”
“Attacked.” It sounded somewhere between a question and a statement.
“Yeah. I heard a bit of it when they brought her in to get checked over.” Borænin frowned deeply. She continued, “Our kind are not welcomed by a lot of them. I’ve had more than my fair share of threats since arriving. Some veiled, some not.”
“What do your Silverthorn friends say about that?”
She shook her head, unsure. “That I didn’t have to stay here. They brought me to their fortress. Gave me a room. Said since I was one of them, I was welcome and protected.”
Borænin blinked. That is not what I expected to hear. “Well…” he cleared his throat. “That’s…well that’s nice, isn’t it?”
“I told you, weird. It was nice for no damned good reason. Kalithil took one look at me and was convinced. It was bizarre.”
Borænin’s eyes widened ever so slightly. “You met the man?”
She nodded. “Yeah. Kind of egotistical. All done up in blues and golds. He spoke to me like whatever he decided was how things would be. Invited me to get my stuff together and said his wife would be along to collect me.”
Sounds like someone else I know… “I see… You say he seemed to just…know?”
She nodded her head and picked up her glass without thinking. She took a sip and gagged. Coughing, she continued, “Gods…Yes. My understanding from the others I have been accosted by, that is not unusual for him.”
“Accosted” he asked, bemused.
“These people,” she smirked. “It’s like one after the other. They all have to come talk to the new person and try to convince me I belong.” She shuddered. “I admit, I’ve not been ill-treated, but it is exhausting.”
He smirked slightly. “Not ill-treated but you still don’t care for it.”
She chuckled. “I know, I sound ridiculous. But I am unused to all the attention and much prefer to be left to my own devices most of the time.”
“Not at all, my lady.” He took a deep breath. “Well, it’s a fantastic story, to be sure. In my researches of various branches of the elven people, I have, in fact, come across some old tales of a tribe of Kal’dorei like the Silverthorns.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Oh? What did they say?”
“They were quite a large and influential group many thousands of years ago.” He steepled his fingers for a moment before spreading his hands apart. “They declined after the Sundering. That is how I ended up talking to the one I mentioned. I had been…” he cleared his throat nervously. “Following her. To try and work up the nerve to speak. Her appearance put me in mind of those old tales.”
Sulime blinked. “You were following her?”
He looked over at her sheepishly. “Perhaps not my best day,” he admitted. “But how does one approach a random person and ask if they are from a legendary bloodline of pale people?”
She shook her head, laughing aloud. “I suppose a smarter route would have been simply to walk up and say hello.”
“As I said, I was working up the nerve. Then of course she called me out for following her.”
She laughed again. “So you are stalking around behind her and she noticed. You are really terrible at this.”
He looked properly chagrined. “I am not accustomed to such activities, my lady. I am a scholar.”
“Well, let me tell you this much. I’ve not met one of them that doesn’t give me a sense of…power,” she warned. “You might be wiser to just say hello. You could give them the wrong impression and I wouldn’t doubt it would end badly.”
“Power,” he asked, frowning.
“The Patriarch is a Demon Hunter. And from what I know of their ilk, the way his tattoos are done speaks of something very nasty inside. And the way he spoke, such a level of command, I would not wish to test him.”
He inclined his head. “My lady seems very observant.” He took his glass in hand and gestured towards Sulime before taking a sip. “Is that a natural trait or Farstrider training?”
She shrugged. “Perhaps both. I’ve always been reasonably good with details.” Borænin nodded. She raised her glass in thanks to him for the compliment and took a sip before pushing the glass away, shaking her head. “Light save me, I cannot…where is that server? Hello? A little help here! I need something to wash this out.”
He chuckled. “An observant lady of discerning taste. I find myself glad we met.”
“I will allow that your company is far better than others,” she replied. He barked out a laugh. “What?”
“My lady is sparse with her praise.”
“Should I be glowing over your attentions or something?”
“I think glowing might be a bit much.” He chuckled. “But you have provided me with the first good conversation I’ve had since my arrival.”
“I will agree to that. I would raise a toast to it, but I am not putting that,” she snarked, pointing at the glass, “In my mouth again.”
He chuckled. “Surely they have something at least slightly more palatable.”
The server finally returned to them, apologizing for the delay. “Forget all that,” she said, holding up two fingers. “Bourbon, the best on your shelves.”Borænin arched an eyebrow. He paid the server who ran off to get the order. “I had it once here, last week. It will whisk that sour taste away in no time.”
“I have to admit, I am unfamiliar with the spirit.”
“Well, you will be trying it with me in a moment.”
Borænin nodded. “I bow to my lady’s guidance.”
She held up a hand to him, cutting him off. “ I am not saying you will like it. But you won’t taste that swill anymore.” The server returned, setting two short glasses filled a third of the way with a deep golden liquid.
Borænin held his up, peering at the candlelight through the amber drink. “Lovely color,” he observed.
“Sip it,” she instructed. “Don’t take too much at once.” He lifted the glass, watching the light play through it again. Bringing it to his nose, he inhaled, causing him to sputter slightly. “Something wrong?”
“It seems very…potent.”
“Oh, it is. That’s why I said to sip it.”
“Hmm. Well, here goes then.” He held the glass aloft a moment more then he brought it to his lips, taking a sip. Sulime grinned wide as she watched his reaction, taking a sip herself. He started coughing suddenly, his eyes watering.
She chuckled, her blue eyes glittering with mirth. “Breathe through your nose.”
“Well,” she chuffed. “You’re a light one, aren’t you?”
“That is…well,” he gasped. “That’s like lightening in a bottle, isn’t it?”
She barked out a laugh. “That is nothing, but I suppose if you aren’t familiar, it would seem that way.”
“Is my lady trying to poison me,” he asked in a mock serious tone. “Did I offend?”
“Not at all!” She laughed. “But the question is, can you still taste the wine?”
“Indeed not. The wine is now a distant memory of swill.” He coughed again. Borænin took another cautious sip.
“You, sir, have never been among the common ranks, have you?”
He stared at the amber liquid through tear-filled eyes. “From what substance is this elixir made?” He glanced over at Sulime.
“Grains,” she replied simply.
“Hmm. I fear my lady has caught me out. I have been lucky in both my birth and my patronage.” He chuckled self-deprecatingly. “Well, lucky from a certain point of view.”
She swirled her glass around, taking another small sip. Raising an eyebrow, she asked, “You do not feel that to be true?”
Borænin shrugged. “I lead a relatively comfortable life, but the one I serve is…” he took a moment, trying to decide how best to word it. “Problematic.”
He nodded. “A man-child with unfortunate influence and power.”
She sighed heavily. “Are you so bound that you could not look for another patron?”
He smiled tightly. Holding up a hand, he showed her the dusky violet of his fingers. “Would I be in this state if I could?”
She shrugged it off. “That was before. The question is, why remain?”
He looked distant for a moment. “One does not leave the service of my employer,” he stated quietly.
She scowled. “Then you are a slave. And as such, he should lose the privilege of breathing.”
The man smile faintly. “My lady’s concern gratifies me. Sadly, matters are rarely so simple.”
She pointed at the bow leaning against the railing. “Seems pretty simple to me.”
“Many arrows have tried to find their mark in his flesh, my lady,” he chuckled. “None have struck their target.”
“They were not fired by me.”
Borænin took another sip of the drink, his eyes going slightly wide again. “Your confidence is charming, my lady.”
She snickered. Lifting her glass, she swirled the bourbon around as she raised her glass to him. Her eyes never left his and she downed the remainder of her drink in a single swallow.
The Hierarch’s jaw dropped slightly. He looked again at the amber liquid. “I feel I am being challenged.”
“No, I am making a point,” she countered. “But if you wish to try, go right ahead. Just face the other way when it comes back up.”
He arched an eyebrow at her. “I feel I may have missed this point, impaired as I am by this heavenly poison.”
“The point is,” she laughed, “I am not what most people expect. So perhaps, I stand a chance where others have failed.”
He studied her face with a sudden intensity. Sulime blinked, unsure what it meant. He lifted his glass, raising it towards her in toast, then threw it back in one swallow. Borænin clenched his jaw, his eyes widening and watering prodigiously. Sulime pointed towards the corner. He let out an anemic cough, but otherwise maintained his composure.
“Hey! You did it!” She clapped at him. “Congratulations.”
“Pampered I may be, my lady, but I come from strong stock.”
“I see that.” She watched him as he gazed at her as if trying to make a decision. “What’s going through that head of yours?”
“I fear your demon elixir may be lowering my normally very rigid inhibitions, my lady.”
She sighed heavily, her shoulders visibly dropping. “All right?”
His eyebrows shot up. “Not your intention?” She shook her head but said nothing. “Hmm…I see.”
Quickly shifting topics, she offered a weak smile. “So tell me, scholar, what new things have you learned?”
He furrowed his brow. “Tonight,” he inquired.
“Or this week, whatever.”
“Well, this week I learned that the Silverthorns are more than legend.” He shook his head, his eyes slightly wider than their usual. “I learned that a man named Kalithil actually exists.”
“Aye, and the Silverthorns are weird.”
He waved that off. “Weird is relative,” he commented.
“Some might apply that label to you, my lady. Or to me,” he replied, smirking.
“What would qualify as weird to you,” she wondered aloud.
“A woman plying me with liquor then being coy as to her motives,” he explained.
“My motives were to make myself less irritable,” she sneered. “I offered you an alternative to that disgusting thing they call wine here. Nothing more.”
He arched an eyebrow. “When I mentioned inhibitions, you let forth a weary sigh. One that came from deep within.” She waved it off, looking down on the patrons below. Borænin wagged a finger at her. “Oh no, no, no, my lady. I am a scholar, I am curious about everything.”
She sighed, rubbing her face with her palm. “As you wish. In my experience, when someone tells me that they have had enough to drink to…feel emboldened, it usually means that they are about to…well, become overly complimentary.”
Borænin looked thoroughly amused. “My lady believes I was about to become…forward?”
“That has been my experience to date.”
“If this were hypothetically true, I assume such attention would be unwelcome?”
“Let us say yes.” She pressed a knuckle between her eyebrows.
He chuckled. “Should I feel personally rejected or is this your general attitude?”
“This is how I feel about the entire matter, if that helps any,” she answered, exasperated.
“Understood. Let me relieve my lady of her burdens. My talk of inhibitions did not move in that direction. I was speaking more of the loosening of tongues,” he offered by way of explanation.
“Ahhh,” she said, visibly relieved. “Well, wag your tongue as you wish. Just as long as it stays over there.”
Borænin laughed aloud, causing her to blink in confusion. “I am very glad that I do not lack confidence, my lady, else your bluntness might wound me.” He signaled to the server to refill his bourbon.
Sulime held her glass up to the man as well before returning her attention to Borænin. “My apologies if I was rude.”
“It was direct, and that is not unwelcome.” He sighed and gazed at Sulime, pursing his lips. He scratched his chin a moment before asking her, “What if I told my lady that I had spent many a long year searching for aid in breaking my servitude? In, shall we say, removing its focal point.”
“Hmmm,” she replied. “I’d say how can I help? I have no love for anyone that keeps someone so trapped.”
The server returned with two new glasses and whisked away the empty ones as Borænin offered him more coin. He hurried away from the table to help the people below. Borænin picked up the glass, swirling the amber liquid inside before taking a sip. Sulime raised her glass, sipping it slowly as she nodded to him. “Why would you do such a thing,” he asked quietly.
She set her glass down carefully, turning it between her hands. “Because you are like me. Stuck in a form you did not want. Trapped because of someone else’s hubris. And frankly, I’m mad enough about it to kill a few people.” She watched as his features shifted until he appeared almost stricken by the words. “I’m sorry. Did I say the wrong thing?”
His voice fell to a whisper. “Not at all, my lady. Merely something unexpected.” She smiled faintly, not certain if he was being wholly truthful with her. “I…thank you for your offer of aid, my lady. I do not know if I can accept it.”
She inclined her head. “The offer will remain, all the same.”
“I have searched a long time,” he explained quietly. “I have no desire to try and fail, you see? Simply to get my compatriots killed for their trouble. I always thought I would know it when I found it.”
She sighed heavily. “Borænin…I am old. I don’t have many years left to me. If I were to fail, well, to be honest, I don’t think I would even be missed now.”
“Well, my lady, you would be missed by me, that much I can see.” He laid his hand over the top of his glass, resting in there. “For whatever that is worth.”
She shook her head, chuckling lightly. “You don’t even know me. What would you even miss?”
“I know you as well as you know me. And you volunteered for a dangerous task on my behalf.” She shrugged. “And, as you say, we are of a kind.”
“If this employer is as you say, he will keep doing this to others. There’s only one way to deal with him.”
He smiled faintly. “Oh, you have no idea.”
“Then there is nothing really to discuss, is there? Other than what it is you need and when we can begin.”
Borænin looked at Sulime, shock on his face. He looked suddenly at the glass beneath his hand and shook his head as though to clear it. “M-my lady…”
“I fear I must leave. I have said far too much already.” He stood and tossed a few extra coins onto the table. “Please excuse my rudeness.”
“Have I done something to offed?”
“Not at all, my lady. Quite the contrary,” he offered as a comfort.
“So I haven’t offended you, but you are leaving?”
He looked at her, pained. “I must. Please forgive me.”
She shrugged and sat back down. “All right,” she replied, no longer looking at him, her tone growing cold. “Take care, I guess.” She picked up her glass and brought it to her lips.
“Shadows protect you, my lady. I hope you find your place here.” He bowed low to her, watching. She nodded, but still would not face him. She threw back her drink in one swallow and picked up the remains of his. He sighed and turned away, heading for the stairs.
She watched him out of the corner of her eye. Once he had crossed most of the pub, she gave him one final glance. With a sigh, she finished his drink off and picked up her gloves. “Why do I keep finding the fools,” she wondered out loud to know one in particular. She stood and made her way out into the night.