He stood in front of the wooden door, trembling inside. He’d thought, through all of this, that it was just his fear of being caught that caused that twisting feeling in his gut. It wasn’t until that woman changed it. Tindomiel. Her pushing and prodding that brought his feelings into sharp relief. It was the one on the other side of the oak door before him. His fear…was for her.
Inside the room, Sellynna played with the small tassels on the edge of the pillow. She waited, as she was told, in the solid hope that he was safe. The Other had said he was, but, until she was able to hear it from Borænin’s own lips, she would be wary to trust it. She lay there, contemplating sleep in a room far finer than she had ever known. The room held another bed, smaller than the one she had settled on. She stared at it for a long time, debating possibilities. Someone knocked softly on the door, interrupting her daydreaming. “Come in,” she said quietly, not even deigning to look up.
The latch rose with a soft scraping of metal, allowing the door to swing open wide. Borænin stood, looking at her for a moment, before whispering her name.
Sellynna sat up with a start, her eyes wide. “You’re all right,” she murmured, sliding from the bed.
He nodded, stepping all the way into the room and closing the door. “A bit of a headache, but none the worse for wear,” he told her.
“A headache? What’s wrong,” she asked frowning. She started to reach for him, suddenly remembering herself. She took a step back and bowed.
Borænin chuckled ruefully, inclining his head to her. “I made rather an ass of myself, I’m afraid. That human they had watching over their Lady Niquisse took matters into his own hands and knocked me out.” He held up a hand as he saw her expression shift to one of alarm. “I earned it.”
“Why would you have earned it? Why did he hit you?”
He sighed heavily. Spotting a bench at the foot of the larger bed, he gestured towards it. “May I sit?”
“Of course,” she answered, stepping to the side.
He settled onto the polished wood and took a breath. “I’m afraid the Lady Niquisse did not respond well to my presence.”
Sellynna furrowed her brow. “But why? She’d met you before.”
“I am uncertain. Some hints have been dropped that she has suffered some form of trauma, but I don’t have specifics.” He held a hand out indicating to her to join him on the bench. “She became agitated and afraid. I became flustered and misread the situation. I handled it about as badly as I could.”
She sat down gracefully beside him, sighing. “I warned you something was off with her…”
He shrugged. “Well, if it makes you feel any better, you were correct. And now I have a new lump on my head to show for it.”
The Novice shifted up onto her knees and reached back to check it.
“I’m fine, Sellynna. Really,” he tried.
“Let me see,” she asked, her tone stern, asking, but not. She climbed up behind him and sat on the footboard. He sighed, but did as she asked, allowing her to gently probe until she found it with the tips of her fingers. “It’s not too bad,” she soothed, feeling him wince beneath her attentions. “You do have a nasty lump and it bled a little. You want me to clean it up for you?”
He smiled faintly, whispering, “If you wish.”
“All right then,” she chuckled. She rose from her spot and moved to the table. She picked up a pitcher and poured some water in the washbowl. Gathering up that and the towels nearby, she carried them over, setting the bowl on the bench beside him. She placed her hands on his shoulders, indicating for him to turn to the side.
He did as she bid him, continuing. “At any rate, that guard waited for an opportunity, then clonked me on the head with the pommel of his sword. I awoke in a windowless room; a basement, I think. I don’t know where it was, as I never saw the rest of it.”
Sellynna wet the towel and wrung it out. Moving behind him, she gingerly cleaned the blood from his hair. “But they didn’t hurt you? Beyond this, I mean.”
Borænin started to shake his head and she grasped either side to stop him. He chuckled lightly. “They set me in a chair and bound me with runes. I was questioned when I woke. By the Other, oddly enough.”
Her eyebrows both shot up as she rinsed the cloth. “Him? I spoke with him earlier. He’s actually…well, frankly, he’s nice.” Ever-so-gently, she cleaned the small wound. “I will be honest, I wasn’t expecting it. When I realized who he was, I,” she smiled self-deprecatingly. “Well, if I am honest, I was terrified.” Once she had finished, she carefully combed his hair back down with her nails.
“I surprised myself by keeping my head when I saw him.” He sighed, relaxing. “Thank you, my dear,” he whispered.
“I should put a couple of stitches in there, but they took all of my things.”
“Mine as well. I was forced to choose clothing from cast-offs. Fortunately, someone around here has the same taste in colors.” He picked at the shirt, trying to make it sit more comfortably.
“I wasn’t offered a choice. Just handed a basket with this dress and a pair of shoes. Everything almost fits.”
“Hmm… I suppose we should be happy they didn’t lock us up naked.” His eyes trailed down to her bare hands for the briefest of moments before he forced them back to her face.
Sellynna instinctively pulled her hands into the folds of her skirt. She chuckled mirthlessly. “I was told we were brought here to be safe. Although I am fairly certain we are expected to stay put.” She picked up the washbowl and towel. Moving to the window, she opened it and dumped out the bowl before taking everything back to the table.
“They told me the same,” he replied. He watched her move, grateful to be in her presence. “Now, my dear, you must bring me up to date. How did you come to be here?”
She sighed and leaned against the table. “I couldn’t find that woman. Sulime’s counterpart. And then I couldn’t locate you. I reached out through the shadows, but I couldn’t sense you anywhere in the city. So I did as you instructed and went back to the shop.”
He nodded. “They had me extremely well warded. So, did Lady Niquisse suffer your presence better than mine?”
She shook her head. “She wasn’t there. At all. At first I thought the shop to be empty, but then a voice cut through thin air. A dwarf, hiding up in the rafters.” She straightened and started to pace a bit. “He was the House spymaster. Never did give me his name. He told me he goes way back with the Patriarch.”
“Ever more interesting. Have you met the Patriarch yet? I did,” he said softly. “Briefly.” He gestured to the spot beside him on the bench.
“No,” she answered. “only the dwarf, the Lady Tindomiel, and Gilræn.” She winced as she spoke the final name. “After I was questioned by the dwarf, he had me follow him to a tower in Westfall. Said I needed to speak with the Lady.” She moved back to him and settled by his side, leaving a breath of space between them. “She was very kind. She asked a few of the same questions the dwarf did. Though, she always seemed to guess what I was intending to say. Like she was a little ahead of me.”
“Hmm,” he said, almost knowingly. “Go on.”
“Well, we spoke for a while and she smiled. Then a Kal’dorei woman with bright blue hair, whose name I was not given, entered the room and opened a portal. They brought me to this rom and told me to wait. These clothes were delivered and all of my things were taken away.” Her fingers moved slightly on her lap, though she managed to maintain her distance through sheer force of will.
“And you said after that you spoke to the Other?” His eyes darted down, catching the movement. His calm exterior broken by a small hint of a smile.
She nodded, glancing away, a touch of color rising to her cheeks. “He came in and introduced himself. Offered for me to have a meal. Which I wanted to refuse, but my stomach betrayed my hunger. Loudly.”
The Hierarch chuckled lightly.
“And he…Borænin, it was the oddest thing. He held out his arm for me to take and walked me down the stairs like I was a proper lady. It was…I don’t even know what to call it.”
Borænin arched an eyebrow. “His manner with me was a bit colder, I daresay. I imagine it has to do with Lady Niquisse. He calls her his granddaughter.” He sighed heavily. “I frightened her; I think he is being a bit protective.”
She scratched her cheek. “If she is his granddaughter, and they are the only two left, it makes sense.” Bolstering her courage, she reached up and gently caressed his arm. The soft smile on his face took her breath away. She pulled her hand back, her cheeks flushing.
His chest rose and he closed his eyes a moment before clearing his throat. “Anyway, as I said, I woke, runebound. The Other entered the room and sat opposite me. He questioned me for a while. Where we come from, why we’re here. The sort of thing you’d expect. At some point, I don’t exactly remember the context, he turned and asked the empty air behind him a question. And a man appeared, as if from nowhere.”
Sellynna blinked, her head tipping to the side.
“Kalithil Silverthorn,” he said quietly.
Unable to prevent herself, Sellynna gasped. “You…you met him? The Dwarf, he told me that he was alive. Said something about finding out that he was the only version of himself alive would make him impossible to live with.”
His brows knit together. “Strange…”
“Something about him being a bit vain, I think?”
“I… well, when the Other and Kalithil spoke to one another, a lot of it went over my head. As though they were inside jokes. Some of the time, both the Other and Forosuul seemed to be teasing him.”
“Teasing the Founder. This was…permitted?”
“He did not react to it. In fact, Forosuul, their Patriarch, called him fantastically lazy and laughed about it.”
Sellynna stared at him in utter disbelief for several long moments. Eventually she blinked and rubbed her face. “I haven’t been on a mission before. Is the drastic difference…normal?”
“It is hard to say,” he admitted. “I have never met a Kalithil before. But they are nothing like what I would have expected.”
“Borænin,” she said pensively.
“Are we in trouble?”
He frowned. “What do you mean? We have embarked on a very dangerous course, Sellynna. You knew that already.”
“No,” she answered, shaking her head. “I mean, have we leapt into a mad house?”
“They don’t seem mad to me. Simply different.” He offered her a reassuring look. “They mostly eschew titles, at least two of them have chided me for saying Lord or Lady. Kalithil himself being one of them.”
A great sigh of relief exited her. “The Other did as well. He even hinted that I should call him Gil. It was… disturbing.”
She nodded. “Gave me this little wink when he told me that as well.”
Borænin blinked. “I am trying to imagine the Lord Protector’s reaction if anyone were ever to approach him and say Hello, Gil.”
“I am fairly certain he would simply kill them.”
“On the spot,” he agreed. “But these people, there is an… informality about them. This is not entirely unusual. The Kal’dorei are generally less concerned with propriety than our own people. Let me tell you though. When the Patriarch speaks, they jump.”
“Is he especially powerful?”
“He is a demon hunter, that is all I know of him. However, he is used to commend, you can feel it roll off him.” He turned in his seat, facing her in a far more conversational position than she had ever seen him in before. “He came in towards the end of my questioning, made a joke, then ordered the Other to have portals opened. And he hopped right to it.”
“And the others, they all fall in behind him?”
“Even Kalithil obeyed him,” he replied with a nod.
“This makes no sense, Borænin. Isn’t Kalithil the Other’s father? Why are they all listening to this Forosuul?”
The man shrugged. “I don’t have all the details, my dear.” He paused, getting a faraway look in his eyes, his brow creased. “You said you were brought to a tower, yes?”
“Yes. The very lower room looked tired and abandoned. But the next floor was beautifully appointed.”
“Was it round?”
She nodded. She took a moment to describe the stonework; how the stones seemed at the same time random, yet planned in their rectangular shape. The open center that held a spiraling ramp that permitted one to both rise up into the tower, and descend into the depths.
The Hierarch suddenly snapped his fingers and began to laugh. “Clever bastards,” he declared. “We were in the same place.”
“That’s not possible,” she replied. “I would have felt you.”
“Not with the wards they had on me,” he chuckled, once again admiring the skillfulness of their work.
“So they brought me to you, but didn’t? To what end?”
“To compare stories, I imagine. When the Patriarch came in, he told the others he believed me. They looked almost shocked. Then he looked upwards and said he thought he’d heard enough.” His body language, likely in an unconscious way, matched what he was describing of the Patriarch’s actions. “He listened in on both interrogations.”
She shook her head, sighing. “Because we were both honest, everything lined up.” She scratched along her hairline, near the top of her ear. “It’s brilliant, actually.”
Borænin’s expression shifted, as though something had suddenly occurred to him. “Oh… Did the Other… did he question you about our…um… relationship?”
Her cheeks suddenly felt hot, the tip of her tendril betraying the slightest of movements. “Only a little. I told him I am your subordinate, but that we had shared a single night together.”
He bit his lower lip, his eyes seeming to search her words for more meaning. “I see. The Lady Tindomiel… she seemed particularly concerned by it.”
“I did not give him any details of what we did, I swear it to you,” she added hurriedly.
He waved it away. “It’s all right. It is just personal and I don’t see why they feel the need to discuss it.”
The novice laughed lightly, covering her mouth quickly to stop herself. “You haven’t read your own training regimen in a while, have you?”
“I fail to see what that has to do with anything.”
“Knowledge of relationships is key to helping assess how one might react in given situations. Among those you are working with closely, this can produce dangerous situations. Among your targets, opportunities.” Her recitation ended, and her eyes shone with pride.
“Well, perhaps. But I am not used to those standards being applied to me,” he responded, as he shot her a very sour look.
She winced, drawing away from him and shrinking inward. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“Don’t, please…” he said quietly, reaching a hand out to her, trembling. “I am not him.”
Her body relaxed, albeit only slightly. “I didn’t mean to upset you. Please…forgive my reaction.”
“I will adjust,” he offered, his eyes dimming. “My old rank means nothing here. You are not my subordinate any longer.”
“What am I then,” she asked softly.
He sighed, lowering his hands to his lap. “We are in this together. You are my friend. My compatriot.” His eyes lowered, unable to watch her expression as he continued. “Perhaps more,” he whispered. He turned his face away, embarrassed.
She nodded slowly, her eyes widening as he finished. Her hand raised slowly, coming up along his cheek opposite from her. Gently, she turned his gaze back to her own. Her thumb stroked his cheek lightly. “I will be here for you, to assist you, in whatever way I am able.”
“Bear with me, please,” he said quietly, his pale eyes closing.
“I’m still sitting here, aren’t I?” She smiled faintly. She let a number of silent minutes pass as she waited for him to look at her again. Eventually, she lowered her hand and cleared her throat. “You made that rule for yourself, didn’t you?”
“That while on missions, we are to keep ourselves clear of any and all entanglements.”
“Ahh…yes, in part. It is good advice, generally.” He relaxed and straightened. “But yes, it is how I have survived. How I have managed to keep going.” He smiled mirthlessly. “I had to close myself off.”
She placed a bare hand on his chest. “You let me in when and if you ever want to,” she murmured, peering at him through her lashes.
His dusky face turned a much deeper shade. “All right,” he whispered. It took all of his considerable will power not to raise his hand and cup her cheek.
“Oh Shadows…” she gasped, pulling her hand away. “I… that was too much. I apologize.”
He shook his head. “It was not.”
“I do mean it, Borænin.” She twisted her hands around in her lap. Why was she so nervous? It must be all the stress of this. She brushed it aside. “If we survive all this, of course.”
“We have dark days ahead, Sellynna,” he sighed out.
She nodded. “Where are you staying?”
“Across the hall,” he replied, gesturing towards the door. “Your room is nicer,” he added with a faint smile.
Sellynna looked at the extra bed, then over to the large bed she had been laying on. Do I dare it? She contemplated her question for a moment before glancing at him. “You are welcome to share it with me. There is plenty of room,” she said softly. “Provided that is allowed.”
The Hierarch’s eyes widened ever so slightly. “I…I would like that,” he said softly. “Well, I was told I am not a prisoner, so rather than ask permission, I shall simply expect forgiveness.” He glanced up at the door. “I would say I’ll move my things over, but I have no things.”
That drew an unexpected laugh from the younger woman. “I wonder if we will be given anything else to wear. One dress and no night clothes makes this…interesting.”
“I imagine at some point our belongings will be returned,” he reassured her. “Lady Tindomiel seemed surprised they were taken.”
“To be honest, I was as well. I expected they would want my weapons, but everything else came as a shock.” She stood and moved to the window. She peered out at the deep sky with the strange stars.
“Who took them from you?”
She turned to face him again and leaned against the sill. “After I had changed, the blue haired lady handed them to the dwarf who began to inspect them closely.” She grinned wide, drawing an inquisitive look from Borænin. “I doubt he will find my extra pockets.”
He chuckled. “Don’t be too sure. They seem fairly competent.”
“Damn.” She suck out her lower lip into a pout that he found oddly alluring. “I hope they don’t take my needles.”
“We need them to be smart, my dear. And capable,” he reminded her. He rose and moved closer to her. “We need allies who are worth their salt.”
“They can be smart all day long,” she replied. “It took me a long time to find someone to make those hidden daggers properly.”
“I doubt they will damage them.”
Sellynna ran a finger gently along the side of his face, pushing an errant lock of hair back behind his ear. She studied his smile that tried too hard to hide his embarrassment. Very slowly, she took his hand in her own. Stepping closer, she laid her head down on his shoulder.
He turned his gaze out the window to the stars in the deep blue sky. “And now we wait…”