Tanya watched the last of her customers leave for the evening as she polished her bar top. The only customer left was still sitting in the same chair she’d found six hours ago. In that time, she’d never put her hood down and stayed huddled over her drink, but Tanya knew who she was all the same. It troubled her greatly to see the traveler like this. It didn’t sit right. She and everyone else in the town that knew the traveler from years ago, but out of respect they let her be. It was obvious she didn’t want attention.
Tanya went to the door and dropped the bar in place, then passed behind the bar again to pick up a bottle of wine imported from the Midland Cities and a pair of brass wine cups.
The traveler looked up and Tanya met her eyes. It was exactly who she thought it was.
“I’m sorry, Tanya, I don’t mean to keep you open late.”
Tanya waved it off. “Stay.” She poured them each a cup. The traveler’s cup had been empty for hours. “Okay, tell. Why are you all the way down here? I heard the Gilded Tower was doing real well, people were happy. I’d heard you’d even taken vacation to go visit your people in the Princeweald.”
The traveler pushed her hood back. She’d always been fair-haired, but Tanya would have sworn it was just a little darker than the platinum blonde it once was. Still blonde, but more sandy. The fine features were still there, too, perhaps even finer, more a woman than a girl now. Like most of her people, she didn’t show her age, though even if she did, she’d still be considered a very young adult among her people. Lunars lived for centuries, not decades.
“I did,” said the traveler. “Business is good at the Gilded Tower and my trip to the Princeweald was very successful. All three of them.”
“Yet Duna says that when you healed her leg today, the only payment you asked was to be called Inylene’e. She’s told everyone in town that, just so you know. But I’d like to know why you of all people would be slinking around town hiding from your own friends.”
“Because I screwed up really big and now I’m paying for it.” Inylene’e wiped at her eyes despite the fact she’d told herself she wasn’t going to cry over it anymore.
Tanya looked alarmed and reached for Inylene’e.
“You bore the weight of the world once, for real. But you didn’t have to bear it alone then, and you don’t now. Spill. I’m a good listener.”
Inylene’e shook her head. “No I can’t. Thank you for the drink, but I can’t put this on you.”
Tanya still had hold of Inylene’s arm and she wasn’t letting go. She could tell Inylene’e was going to make a move and slip away and she worried that it would be the last time she saw the wayward young woman.
“Fina Blackwell, don’t you walk out on me now. Just sit down and tell me what in the gods’ names have you so wound up.”
Inylene’e sat back in her chair with a thump and a pained yelp. She lifted her hip and rubbed her rump. “That. That right there is why.”
Tanya obviously didn’t understand. “Are you okay? Did you trip and hurt yourself?”
Inylene’e sighed. “I didn’t trip. The only thing injured here is my pride. Very well, I’ll tell you what happened. Who knows? Maybe my example will be a useful lesson to someone someday.”
Inylene took a long drink, then sat back. “When I declined the Great Spirit’s offer to ascend me to godhood, I pretty much lost all my abilities. Sarai, my goddess, had left with the others. I couldn’t do magic anymore, like all the priests of the world. In time, as you know, the other priests either chose different lives, or were found worthy by the old gods’ successors and granted power again, in the name of the new gods. But no-one had taken Sarai’s place. I felt alone, cut off from a source of support that I had counted on for so long that I didn’t feel whole anymore.
“I tried to move on, build a new life. I created the Gilded Tower and made sure everyone had a livelihood and a home. I couldn’t really take clients anymore and I missed it, but without magic I had no defense against anyone who might want to test the Great Healer herself. Being a courtesan could be dangerous as it is. But with the legend about me that sprung up? I couldn’t live up to any of it. I couldn’t even measure up to what I was in Cliffs Hollow. I couldn’t protect people. I could barely go out without fear someone who demand something or try something.
“After a year of that, it was simply unbearable. I went to the newly built temples in Blackwater and threw myself upon the mercy of the only goddess left I thought might understand me and let me be who I am. For five years more I went to the temple every morning and night looking for Her favor. I could feel myself growing bitter and angry, but I didn’t know what else to do. I threw everything I had in my soul into appealing to the Goddess
“At last, Vanima answered my plea. “I told her if she would make me her priestess, I would spread her worship to all the elves. She had seen how Ragoth’s power was growing by great leaps because every evil humanoid race was flocking to his banner. Val’tor was seeing his worship spread to the great cities, and even Nagral, the dragon of nature, was finding new worshippers among wild elves and shifter tribes. She didn’t want to be overshadowed by the other gods, so she took me up on my offer.”
Inylene’e smiled bitterly. “You see, I had a secret plan. I know Vanima’du has a very dark side to her. I wanted to bring other traits, virtues to the fore. And I knew that gods are shaped by the perception of the worshippers. So, when I brought word of her to the lunar elves of the Princeweald and then to the forest elves in the Greenwald, I emphasized her most positive attributes. Allure and beauty, magic and healing. After much work on my part, they began to call to her and, unwittingly, she answered.
“Now the wheels are in motion. Vanima will be beauty and darkness, not just beautiful darkness. It is in her very name, for in the fey tongue, vanima means beauty and du means dark.
“I made a mistake. I was Fina Blackwell, Healer of the World. I knew Vanima when she was just a priestess of Bellath, a goddess of lust and pain and cruelty. I thought I could change a goddess without consequence. It was pride that made me do it. I see that clearly now. It was pure hubris. How could I not think she wouldn’t realize what I did? I thought it a truly worthy cause, something worth my very life, but I didn’t realize that some things carried a price higher than that.
“Vanima knows what I have done and why. I am her priestess after all; she knows my heart. She visited me in a dream on my last night in the Princeweald and confronted me with my crime against her. Of course, I didn’t know it was a dream. To me, she really had turned me into all manner of horrible creatures, one after another. I won’t tell you about that; it still gives me nightmares when I think about it too much. By the end of it, I was pretty much done with pride. I begged her to forgive me, and asked if she would really curse the most faithful and skilled priestess she has in this part of the world. I remember her response word for word. She said, ‘Curse? No my child. I give you my blessing. You will become more than you are now, just as you had intended for me. You will share my fate, but for you it will be oh so much more delicious, so much more visceral.’
“So she made me fey, Tanya,” Inylene’e said. “I don’t have a fairytale home, but like the lords and ladies of the fey, my power is bound in my name. And so I am also bound by my name. Unlike the fey, however, everyone knows what my name is.”
Tanya puzzled over that. “I don’t get it. Doesn’t that mean you get powerful magics and you can bestow wishes and stuff like that? What’s so bad about knowing your name?”
“Because there is power in names. Well, true names — the names that form who and what you are. Vanima linked my name to my own true nature. And that means those who use it can bind me, compel me, even summon me if they know the magic and likewise banish me. Lucky for me, I don’t have an extreme allergy to iron, though. That’s only certain other kinds of fey.”
“So by fey, you mean like a genie in a bottle?” Tanya asked.
“Kind of. I mean, I have limits to what I can do. But as one of the only priestesses of Vanima that has reached high mastery of all the magic Vanima can grant, those limits are rather high.” Inylene’e continued, “See, the most important secret a fey being can ever have is the secret of their own true name. But my secret is out.”
“Well, you can just pick a new name. People don’t know you by looking at you,” Tanya said.
“More people do than you think. And I can’t have just any name. Vanima gave me the name Inylene’e to teach me humility, but also grant a small measure of mercy. She can’t stop what’s going to happen to her over the next century. It terrifies her. She wanted me to feel that same fear and sense of helplessness despite all my powers.”
Tanya took a few minutes to absorb all that. The gods are defined by their own people. In the end, that meant all the powers they had, their very existence was defined by the power of faith, which in turn was based in what people believed. Slowly she nodded her understanding.
“So I returned to Blackwater,” Inylene’e continued. “It was there I discovered the true magnitude of Vanima’s ‘blessing’. Luckily no serious damage had been done. I was able to cover up an incident, but because I had started taking the occasional client again, I knew I couldn’t stay. Soon, someone would figure things out and my life would change dramatically — probably for the worse. I didn’t want to stick around and find out.
“Of course, nothing in my life is simple. On my way out I ran into my good friend Captain Harless.”
Tanya blinked. “The pirate?”
“The same. He’s still quite a rascal, but just as handsome as I remember,” Inylene’e said with a mischievous smile that made her look much more like the Fina Tanya remembered. “And sexy. I told him that I was on a new adventure and that I’d be leaving my past behind me. New name, new home and… I might have let slip I was planning to come to Rowyn Port.”
“Well, I did tell him that and made him repeat the name of this town back to me so I knew he would remember.”
Tanya sighed and rubbed her forehead. So she had that to look forward to…
“Okay, so now I understand why you are here and why you want to be called Inylene’e. Why are you broke? I always thought you did quite well,” Tanya said.
“I did do well and I loved my job. That’s why I would take some clients. But the money I made I mostly put toward a retirement fund for my employees. Anyone who started to feel trapped by the job could cash out, as long as they’d put in an honest effort and some time. The Tower provides for its own, just like the Manor always did, but it’s not cheap to do so. Most of what I had after that I spent on my travels. I used the last of my funds to buy passage here.”
“Do you have a place to stay?” Tanya demanded to know.
“You have a room here.”
“But I can’t pay. I’ll be all right, Tanya.”
“Look, you risked your life to cast a spell to heal the world and you did it. I think I can afford to give you a place to sleep for few nights.”
Inylene’e saw the set look in Tanya’s eyes and knew there’d be no argument. “Okay. But I’m going to need to make my own way. I’m not a charity case. Maybe I could help serve tables around here, maybe clean rooms, or I could go entertain travelers down at the docks.”
Tanya thought to herself, No, no and hell no! She was pretty sure she knew what “entertain” meant in Fina-speak and that wasn’t happening if she had any say about it. Inylene’e or whatever she called herself, might not have much pride left and that was understandable. But in Tanya’s opinion, she was too good to be wasted on menial labor or things like selling her body. So she said, “We’ll talk about it.”
“Soon. For now, you stay here as a guest. No sweeping floors and definitely no ‘entertaining’ my guests in their rooms.”
Inylene’e smiled. “Yes ma’am.” To Inylene’e, Tanya had grown up an awful lot in the last ten years. But to Tanya, Inylene’e was the same Fina as always.